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n. infantile pattern of suckle-swallow movement in which the tongue is placed between incisor teeth or between alveolar ridges during initial stage of swallowing (if persistent can lead to various dental abnormalities) v. [content removed due to Bush campaign to clean up the internet] n. act of nyah-nyah v. pursuing with relentless abandon the need to masticate and thrust the world into every bodily incarnation in order to transform it, via the act of salivation, into nutritive agency
Monday, May 30, 2005
the Leche Wars II: Attack of the Moans
I've never been so amazed at the kind of solicitude and all-round curiousity, concern, and fanatic fervor that the mention of "coffee problems" generates in a group of Pacific Northwest Friends. Earthquakes: nothing. Student foibles: no word. People with Crops: one comment and motherly chuckles. Coffee Problems: 16 emails over a three-day period.
[On a side-note, I recently wrote a formal proposal to Amnesty International and Unicef regarding means and methods of "catching the attention of the traditional Pacific Northwestener" in order to channel "their extremely kind hearts and energy towards international crises" and generate "goodwill towards those less fortunate." I don't really have time to go into the details, but it did involving "flagging" the fact that most malnourished children, inmates punished for their political crimes, and impoverished countries "do not have access to real (or at times, any) coffee." I reasoned that a regional campaign might start with billboards like such: "Somewhere in the world, a child is having to drink Nestles coffee this morning. Wouldn't you want your child drinking the real stuff? Please, contact Unicef today." The picture I took was really telling... you can spot fake crystal anywhere... it pulled the heart-strings in ways that words cannot express. Anyhow, serious considerations.]
Speaking of shameless, since I am slowly wearing down the storage of emails to re-read, I figured I'd make a not-so-subtle move to return to the topic that garnered me so much love and affection.
After my words of bloggy sadness, I happened to casually mention (I swear it, in this instance) to my Dutch boss, A., that I "couldn't eat anything right now" because I had stomachache "due to instant coffee, I think." The next day, there was a coffee pot on my desk with a note attached to it telling me where I could get coffee, and what brands were the best. I teared up, I swear to god. Holland, Pacific Northwest, Holland...hmmmmm.
But unfortunately, it took me until two days ago to get to the grocery store... craziness ensues with the papers (not to whine or anything [really, I'm actually whining this time], but I clocked myself at 13 hours Friday, 10 hours Saturday, and 14 hours Sunday, for a whopping 37 hours of grading/prep over a 3-day period of time. Fishing is easier than that shit) and I wasn't able to shop or anything. Picture me suffering through the ongoing weeks with Nestles... eventually managing to get Lola to grudgingly not heat up my milk--which, by the way is never a consistant achievement; I sometimes still catch her either heating the milk on the sly and pretending it's for "everyone," or on her way to the microwave. Also, the water temperature was not scalding as I slowly snuck my way into temperating cold leche.
I finally decided that although I am annoyed by it all, the Leche Wars is a result of more than a simple cultural distinction. It is also a climate-difference. Right now, we are in the "cold" months (I don't generate rivers of sweat at night as well as day), which means that everyone here is cold (sweaters) and needs their scalding coffee, much as we need our scalding coffee when the rain never ceases or the snow is on the ground. For me, this fust makes me think Frappichino. For them, it makes them think super-conductors and fireplaces.
Anyhow, I got some coffee on Saturday, during a two hour break in which I downed one Strawberry Daquiri and looked longingly at my empty glass before heading home to grade grade grade and gloat over my soon to be coffee.
And yes, the Colombian coffee that filled the pot was wicked thick, had to be scraped really from one container to the next, and deposited vicious bitterness and kick on my tongue. Yes, one really should be kicked into wakefulness with such a taste as that (in comparison to wide-caliber drills). The amusing bit is what a to-do it was... Lola and Norma clustering around to see what I was doing. Norma telling me to instruct Lola on the art of coffee making, etc. I felt guilty too, because I was not thoughtful enough to make a full pot, but instead selfish and hoarding (I won't do it again). It wasn't so hard, the water hissed and steamed, the filter filtered, the water darkened, the kitchen smelled like home...
I told Lola that I would prep the coffee-pot every night, and asked her if she could turn it on at 7:30am, whether she saw me or not. I then poured (scraped) my coffee into a cup and went to the table.
At that point, Norma headed to the fridge to heat my milk and I cut her off at the pass, dealing ironically with the same issues I had already somewhat sucessfully dealt with when battling Lola. It's moments like this one that make me doubt my Spanish more than anything. It strikes me as not so confusing to say "No quiero leche caliente," but the looks of extreme confusion that phrase, or something like that phrase, generate are enough to get me suspecting that I just used a little of my seldom-used Russian. Holodna, devushka, Holodna.
One might think that I won it. Done, complete, finito. One point J., no points Coffee-Unappreciaters. Hot coffee scraped. Wafting. Joy.
This morning I woke up late, late late, after reading about subject-auxilery verb inversions, and I jumped into the shower quickly only to realize that there was no hot water. Usually, this would mean only one thing: no shower. I don't mind being dirty, grimey, smelly, etc. Nope, don't mind it. But this morning was the day after a center-of-the-sun fust day, so fusty I graded inside instead of the terrace because I felt ill when I went outside, and I was very dirty, smelly... to the point that I knew my students would comment. So, cold shower (I actually think I cried a little... like I said before, I need little excuse and cold water in the morning is a good one for me).
Then, even later as it took me longer to rinse the soap off while trying to keep out of the water, I raced to the kitchen and reached for my cup. (7:30 had long since passed). Nope.
I spent 30 seconds extremely pissed at Lola for not being able to push a button, until she explained that the coffee machine was broken and wouldn't turn on...
Saturday, May 28, 2005
favorite student verbalization of the week
So, I had assigned dialogues that were supposed to use: simple past, past progressive, past perfect, and past perfect progressive (if you´re curious, no, I had no idea what those were before two weeks ago). So, part of the conversation went as follows:
1: How have you been?
2: I have been fine, thank-you. Why do you have broken legs? Have you been kicking balls?
3: Yes, I have.
It was hard to distiguish whether the word was bulls or balls, but both were equally intriguing, and made for good conversation in class afterwards.
By the way, I´m actually enjoying parsing the English language out into definable units... it removes much of the taking the construction of language for granted. It can be very hard to explain why we do something if you can´t quite see the patterns language holds.
A recipe for driving me into my second temper tantrum in two weeks:
*Glue beautiful marble tiles to the floor of the new, being-renovated apartment on the floor directly above my squished bedroom.
*At 9:00a.m. Saturday morning use a wide-caliber drill to burrow holes in the abovementioned marble.
*Icing on cake: make sure I went to bed at 3:00am the previous night.
For addition flavor: make sure the reason I went to bed at 3:00am the previous night was not because I was out partying, but rather because I was grading an eternal pile of student papers that have me at full panic.
Decoration options: make sure that there is no coffee, cheese, tomatoes, or in general, food for consumption available after the temper tantrum sees a pillow thrown across the room.
dreaming to make up for not much
really, it has been quite boring this week... much slog-work as I hit midterms and not only have to turn in mid-term grades but also syllabi for next quarter.
But I did have a very weird and vivid dream last night.
Everyone in the whole world had turned into zombies that would chew your neck out if they had half a chance, with the sole exception of those in Bville, which had built up baricades and gates all around its perimeter. It was Christmas Eve and I had a dream (within a dream), Cassandra-style, that predicted the future. In this 2nd dream, zombies would make it in around 11:30 of Christmas morning, just before Person X opened their gift, which would be a yo-yo. I told everybody that we were in danger, that I could predict their every action, but they ignored me and celebrated. I convinced a few people to pack their bags, but not to leave.
Right at 11:30, the house I was in was surrounded by zombies, and a few people and I escaped by climbing out a second story window and climbing down a tree before they broke into the house. We were running for the woods, but all of a sudden we realized that the government was in on everything... helicopters started rotating around town, and all the trees were being cut down. People were shot with machine guns, and I started running in an increasingly large group to find any place to hide, which drove us to ¨Baker River¨(in the dream, Bville was along a river in the mountains, not by the sea). By that time, I was with my sister, Peter, and mother.
On the beach, Dad was sprawled out on the sand, relaxing in a white sweater and when we told him we were being invaded and needed to escape, he said, ¨oh, alright¨ in the most nonchalant way you can imagine. Finally, we decided we all needed to jump into the river. We waited for some logs to come, and then started riding the rapids on some tumbling logs, with helicopters rapping behind us, and machine guns spitting at the water near us and zombies swimming after us. Mom was on my left, and Ali was on my right, and we rode....
Next to that, the most interesting thing of the week was Big Tom getting incredibly shnockered, hitting on me (not too badly), and then insisting that we call Duboi, which is in the United Arab Emerites, to talk to a friend of his, for whom he has no number. The conversation was quite amusing as he insisted that calling the UAE information and getting a listing would take no longer than a few minutes. Tom said he didn´t like me anymore when I was teasingly-sarcastic about likelihoods. I was a little more sober than he was...
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
to the mountains...
Guinea pigs roll on spits, their crusts brown and spiced.
A girl I met in Cuenca pointed out that the locals do not remove the skin from the rodents (no drying pig pelts stretched on racks in the backyard to be made into something Novel and sold in the local market), and wondered how the hair was removed. I suggested that perhaps right after their little necks were slit, the locals take a buzz razor and run it up and down the pig backsides. Guinea pig buzz cut: I’m sure my childhood pet—Mr. Rusty Curly Cubes Pig—was rolling (and reeeeeping) in his grave as I walked along the market, wondering what-the-hell-rodent with big front teeth was being roasted. And when I looked into the hand-braided basket sitting in the center of the outdoor market, I’m sure that my comment was "ahhhhh, cute" rather than "mmmmmm" at all the little cuddling creatures. Apparently, they're supposed to be a delicacy.
I put on socks for the first time in a month. I also donned a light jacket and jeans. It's not that it was cold; during the day, it was warm—t-shirt weather—but with a curl of breeze coming along. I was surprisingly happy to be out of fust and sweat county where I have to wipe my chin every twenty minutes to ensure that zits don’t sprout like little water-induced volcanoes.
Here’s the journey: Guayaquil lies along the coast, centered in the mire of humid-inducing rivers with floating veggies and small fishing crafts, like canoes with sails. Cuenca is to the southeast of Guayas, and involves a trip past mangrove preserves (invisible behind flat farms of bananas with plastic baggies wrapped around cones) and suddenly, incredibly suddenly—like the difference between 180°-flatline and 70°-degree sloping—a mountain sprouts out of the earth. Not a hill, but a mountain, with the base covered with deciduous alders and bushes and trees I don’t know, a summit of alpine desert—low scrub and yellow spikes, not a tree to be seen, lakes dotting the crags—and everything blurring and spinning in between. On the trip: huts with bananas hanging, children hunkered into a pile of cement bags, a two-year old boy standing off the edge of the sidewalk and throwing a rock at the passing bus, colors and dripping scent and growing cool and the images:
N looking at bicycles rolling along the Vietnam jungles
L deciding the best way to make everybody fam-happy as she says yes
F visiting before too long
S going a 100 miles
S buying a house
S returning home, home, home
A licking his chest
C joining the fust after me, I want to give her thousands of possibles
E making parties and stirring chai in the mornings of choice
I can’t name them all, but…like I said, they watch. It amazes me how selfish and unselfish love is simultaneously, how real and faith-based.
In general, I’m trying to find connections between the heres and the theres. I decide that, with acknowledgement of the limitations (and downfalls) of comparison, the mountains I travel along are like a combination of the Canaries (hot, terraced farms of potatoes, yucca, succulents, tropical sensation) and Switzerland (vast huge plains of existence, cooler, a darker green) and Llavorsi, Spain (red-tile roofs, white buildings growing into the walls of cliffs, people carting puppies over hills in bags along their backs). I want to map out all the flowers I know and have planted, and all the ones that are new for me. I come down a little from the circle of mountains that cups the Ecuadorian highlands, and as I go into town, there is a pile of bananas about twice the size of those dumptruck dirt mounds you get for the garden and slowly etch away with buckets.
Cuenca is like the muddle of the cobblestones. Right in the muddle. Narrow streets, delicious white, slower cars, and churches with domes sprouting on tight-woven corners. I buy a cookie from a boy who grins at me and ducks behind a bunch of pans. For some reason, I feel almost invisible here, safe, free to do as I please. What pleases me is to check into a hostel that is billeted as “popular place for international travelers/ backpackers.” Yeah, I’m up for that.
And, just as maybe I hoped, but hadn’t been lucky enough to find yet, I meet people… a girl from Holland who is 21 and has been traveling by herself in South America for about 5 months, and a guy from Uruguay who looks like a grown-up little boy (cute), smiles, and is generous of language with me. Although Selma speaks perfect English, Carlos does not, and so we speak in halting Spanish and worm our way through it with the delicious realization that we are not communicating to make something tangible happen (use the bathroom, find the way, get here to there), but something intangible—for enjoyment, for the getting to know you, why not, and very nice to meet you.
We sip daiquiris together after I spend the afternoon rambling the town. I get drunkish, feel pleased that my Spanish seems to be adequate for the figuring out of abstractions, and listen to descriptions of Uruguay, which frankly sounds a bit like a heaven… places you can swim with dolphins and such. We go dancing… salsa (yes, I acquiesce grudgingly but lightly because all things are good that involve dancing)… and I imagine and laugh and smile at all the ways my distant friends dance here. Who are, of course, present – because I will them to be: I enjoy the vision of how each of them might fill their share of the floor with raising shoulders, spinning arms and open mouths, huge laughs, or closed-eyed meditations. I dance with two guys – a stranger who spins me perfect and makes me feel like I do indeed know salsa, and Carlos, who I spin and tease and flirt with friendly. I end each song by surprising myself with a sound I never knew I made—something like… triumph?
I leave the dancing early and dream of a dog giving birth. A towncryer yells from her tower that she sees a mongrel lying on something, and I go over and nudge the dog off the two babies whom she is trying to protect. The mother is still breathing strange and I, without a sense of trepidation or even pause, reach my hand inside her and find a third puppy lying breach. I straighten it out, pull, and she arrives in my lap, where I breathe air into her furry nostrils. I wake with a hangover and the tingle of wriggling puppy on my legs.
The hangover (why? I only had three drinks!) gives me the dizzies, reminds me of StarWars III, which I watched the night before coming to Cuenca. Dizzy because right in the middle of the movie, the second earthquake the area’s had since I’ve come hit. It’s actually scarier than I thought it might be to be sitting right in the middle of a potential screaming mob as a building moves around you and all the Jedi’s are killed on the screen. In case you’re curious, I’ve asked three groups of people: although small quakes are not uncommon, big quakes and tsunamis aren’t an issue in the area. Not that I panicked or anything. But, up in the mountains, no quakes, just a dash out the door at 8:00am without any food in order to catch another bus…
With hours and hours spent on the bus, I have time to admire hats. Ahhhhh…hats. The people of Cuenca—not the modernos, but the indigenos, los campesinos—wear bowler caps. I am exceedingly jealous. It gives all the women a sort of naughty look, like they could sock it too you gangsta style, ‘man. It is new on me to see bowler caps perched jauntily on the foreheads of women in short embroidered and hand-made skirts, white linen shirts, and llama-wool shawls wrapped around shoulders. Actually, there are two types of hat—the one I love, bowler rough, and a round topped white one (occasionally with bobbles hanging off the top). The latter one looks a bit like one of those white boiling pots turned upside down. I desperately want a hat, but all the stores are closed up… I will have to return.
On the bus, an indigenous man smiles shyly at me, clutching his bag to his lap, and says “Vamos a Riobamba.” He wants to take me under his wing and show me his town. I have the feeling that it is a generous offer, not one to steer away from, but it is two hours away from where I’m going, which is Incapirca, the “largest Incan ruins in Ecuador.” In order to get there, I have to hop into the back of an open truck and ride on gravel roads smelling gas fumes for about twenty minutes. I travel there with Carlos and Selma, and when we get there, we wander around a bit. Selma is not easily impressed by much, but while the ruins look like something I might have been able to build myself if I had the right type of round-hewn stones, the landscape of the area is incredible, unbelievable, green and farm-laden. Carlos and I are both grinning and sneaking pictures of the gorgeous clothes of the locals.
The end flies fury and before I know it, I am riding welter along the switchbacks of hills, the bus driver speeding like he’d really like to leap from curve to curve rather than take the gentler way down. This I understand.
Friday, May 20, 2005
A few in my family are stuck with it: a throwback from the time when we were all chickens gathering feathers to paste into nests with scratched up mud and feces. In those days, we walked on hardened claws and pecked the ground for litter to fill our throats. For my family, something was passed down from those days; even I, the normal one, feel it sometimes at night when the fan is on, almost as if my pores sprout bristles and all the little barbs and barbellas on my wings need preening against the cool soothe of wind. And these veins and arteries and arches of capillary aren’t so reachable in my body, but are shifted inward, protected by thin bones so light I could just imagine a sky and my body would fill it. Or sometimes I feel it when I’m angry, my face getting so hard and long I’m sure I could snap the head off a fish, or crush a shell with a snap of my lip. But for me, the thought, the sensation of chicken or kingfisher or nuthatch, is simply a night visitaton.
It’s Monsieur, my grandfather, who really had the trait. Maybe he wasn’t the first, but he was the first to acknowledge out loud the full-blown deformation, if you want to call it that, which was to become our familial identificater. And boy, he suffered for strutting out the whispers that had blown around silently for years. Apparently, and this is all hearsay because there were never any reconciliations to allow me other perspectives, my great-great grandfather dropped dead at the dinner table when Monsieur demonstrated his skill. But his family was so proper and proud that they never even knew gg-gramps was dead until the end of dinner, when they lifted their eyes from their shiny-clean plates and saw him nodding over in what they initially assumed was a nap, but soon realized was not. And so, the gist of the interaction that was said to have killed the Great Great started when Monsieur, who was then thirteen, initiated dinner conversation by announcing:
“I think I have a skill.”
My great grandfather, Henry Barthel, who was big into modesty, simply nodded, and said, “Don’t we all, son.”
“No, but mine’s unusual.”
With this statement, everyone at the table looked expectantly at Monsieur. I like to imagine my great-grandfather as a stouch fat patrician-type fellow, the type of man who remembers, just before sitting down to dinner, to take off the hat and loosen his tie. He probably had thick eyebrows like cock-feathers, and was able to lift one brow up or down to suggest surprise, invitation, or disapproval, depending on the angle of tilt.
The rest of the claim was, I’m told, composed of three boys younger than Monsieur by at least eight years, and two girls, only one of whom was older than Monsieur, but who was hardly even noticeable, a brown sprat of a girl who never married, never spoke up, and who was the only one of the entire group besides my grandfather to live past the fifties fire that took down the house and inhabitants. This I only know because I once got nostalgic for folks I never knew, simply because I thought they might have some form of stability I could don in a surrogate fashion, and so looked them up on the web. I found the mousey newspaper picture of my great aunt, the survivor, and also the title “Young Lady Burns Her Family Alive.”
Along with my great-grandmother and the man who was shortly to die, this was the crew that looked at Monsieur, and waited for the skill to make itself manifest. I try to imagine what Monsieur was thinking at the time. At fourteen, was he less confident than he was for the rest of his life? I wonder if he was shaking. With pride? With fear? Did he really want to demonstrate deformation to his world? Regardless of emotion, Monsier lifted picked up a quarter he had resting on the table beside his plate. He considered it, the same way he had been considering it in his room: the flash, the shine of pure silver, the thought of machinery churning, churning, churning out such trinkets to hold the world together. He looked at the quarter, held it up to the light, where everyone in his family, I think, contemplated it like a wish before he opened his mouth, set it on his tongue, tasted the metallic glint and suggestion of palm sweat before swallowing it.
I’m sure that, at this point, my great-grandfather lifted one of the brows for which he was famous, and perhaps it was connected by invisible floss to his upper lip, which no doubt revealed evidence of sneer as the entire family contemplated Monsieur’s actions and tried to deduce the “skill” that it indicated. Monsieur has, for the entirety of his life, had some sort of natural drama about him, a sense of punchline and imminent hand-clap, and so I’m sure he waited for a sufficiently long time—just three seconds longer than anyone expects (the formula for drama)—to allow their incredulous emotions to set in. And right when he could see it in all their eyes—his father’s, sister’s, benign mother’s, brothers, and grandfather’s—that mystical scorn, he started the show of his true talent. At that time, and this is how I know it is a chicken-related inheritance, Monsieur needed to tuck his hands under his armpits. Once this was accomplished, he started bobbing and stretching his head, twisting around his throat, his mouth open and empty.
If any of you have ever held a loved one, or stranger who you nevertheless love, while they are spitting up their guts over the toliet, or on the wall of a distance subway station, you know that puking involves the diaphram. It starts down so low you can watch bowels move themselves upwards slowly like a backwards-climbing slinky. The lungs get pushed up against the clavicles and shoulders expand, and then deep down with the sound of an approaching tunnel train, out comes all the contents of the evening, mixed with the mystery of body we are so very unpriviledged as to never see firsthand except in uncomfortable moments. The diaphram, creature of hiccup and solid opera technique, muscle of extreme and ephemoral power, was not the muscle Monsiuer had honed, nor were the gyrations of his upper torso indicative of complete regurgitation of stomach contents.
Rather, his movements were centered above the shoulders, perhaps rooted in the apple Adam has choked on for all history. His head twisted up and down, up and down, never torquing off the course of linearity. Before too long, he stuck out his tongue, and resting on it was a perfectly dry and untouched silver piece. It wasn’t much, but his movements were so unexpected and unique that my Great-Great Grandfather’s eyes got sorta blank, and while everybody else in the family became so confused as to return their gaze simply to their plates, where roast beef and green beans waited for proper consumption, Great-Great Grandfather simply knew he had seen the beginning of something that necessitated a great leaving, and so departed the body that had once held my family’s future locked in miniscule sperm cells.
With bitter practice, the time given by embaressed ejection from his household, Monsieur was quickly able to store food the size of pebbles inside his throat. But it wasn’t really in his throat, the common reference to the esophagul passage each of us is priveledged to own. Rather, it was in a small bag located roughly in the place of ancient sin. Officially, the word for this bag is “crop,” but about two weeks into his lifetime stint at the traveling circus, Monsieur insisted upon calling it his holster, a practice that everyone laughed at until he started working up to larger, more ominous, objects than simple coins.
Hours before leaving the Zone, and all my sister, Sparrow, can do is cry. She goes to the bathroom, washes her face in cold water, comes out and smiles, pretends I have no idea what is going on. Her smile is, I think, so incredibly perfect for the job of masking (except for those two of us who know her so well she frequently asks us who she is, as if to check in or figure things out that are inexcessible from the inside), because it is so disproportionate to her stature. She has the type of body that people want to pick up and carry around like one of those fru-fru dogs that all the celebrities are suddenly toting in small bags to their hair appointments. People want to tuck her in bed next to them, pat her like a stuffed animal, and feel safer for having something to care for.
But her smile, her smile is something else. I once saw a comparison when I was traveling near the equator. Up where we’ve spent most of our life, the great Pacific Northwest of rain and omnipresent green, there are times in the day when the moon slips out and sits pale like a reverse shadow in the biggest blue. I’ve always called this daytime phenomena the Ghost Moon, a reference I got when once Monsieur told me that this type of moon is really a memory we can’t forget, even though we want to, sitting out there for everybody to ignore. Ghost moons, so slyly discreet, slipping between clouds and taunting us with the immenence of evening, when history grows so large we can’t help but see ourselves slipping through chasm.
But at the equator, there are no ghost moons for technical reasons having to do with the sun’s direct rays on a surface and the thinness of atmosphere in a place that is consistantly close to our sun in a way not found in places of fickle-passion where the sun pushes away in a fury, and then changes its mind come spring. During the day at the equator, the moon does not beat around the bush. It is a flashlight, a beacon, a glowing glowing half orb. Once I looked up and saw this dome as a great expectant brain eminating Idea. I wanted to touch that Idea, have it come inside me and make this small ignorant body fill with the type of understanding that makes faith possible. This is my sister’s smile, so very near perfect for masking.
And she uses it, walks from the bathroom to the kitchen full of smile, her tears hypothetically erased by splashed water and eminating Idea. Our mother sits in the kitchen at the table and sips her whiskey, pulls wispy gray hair out of her face. She sees Sparrow and feels sorry for herself, to be losing a daughter. I bite my tongue for once, try not to shout at my mother, who shuns the knowledge that Sparrow is running to get out of this crazy family, to leave twenty-three years of taking care of parents who can’t take care of themselves. What choice does Sparrow have but to flee, now that she has sold the stocks that were her inheritance from our dead dead dead maternal great aunt, in order to finance the first house my mother has ever had since marrying Taro, our father? We sit in the house that carries the Zone that Sparrow holds deep far incredible low down inside her crop.
Outside the dogs are lazing in the first true Bville spring heat, and Sparrow leaves the kitchen, throws herself on the turf near them, and curls her face close to theirs. Dogs, no matter what their insecurities are, always make Sparrow feel safe, like it’s all going to be okay. I can see Sparrow asking herself why she is crying nonstop on a day when she’s facing escapist adventure to another country. Tied up in a Zone she can see too well, not well enough, she’s been finding this journey for so long: the same sounds of her brain tic-ticking, with the main new occurances being buying houses, becoming pennylessness, finding out that she has a life-long disease, learning our brother has AIDs, and working through a series of jobs she always started with inspiration and finished with new disillusionment. She has been rutted, and she knows it, I know it, and anybody who gives a damn about her knows it.
It’s common sense to know that there’s no reason to be worn and sad all the time with all the Incredibles, but for Sparrow, it’s almost like there’s a bathrobe by the door of this place—blue and threadbare around the edges—and all she can do is put it on.
The holster registers differently in each family member who has it, as if it is a viral mutation rather than a consistant genetic disorder. Monsieur, the first to acknowledge the holster, made his living out of it, a fact that rooted a new rambling, lazy, nomadic quality in our family. He also got into some deep trouble with the holster. But I always remember the wonders of the crop, not the holster—the fact that Monsieur could gather food for us, deposit it into our open maws as we sobbed in hunger. He was handy on airplanes and long journeys. He was handy in the grocery store when there was not enough money to buy the food we needed. Maria Fernanda Garcia Cueva, also known as Mafer, fell in love with him because he always stored silver bracelets and earring for her, never once mentioning where he picked them up.
His daughter, Muebla, exhibited the holster in a slightly different way. Everything you ever said to the woman was just a weapon she could later point at you. She was fast on the regurgitation, and because she swallowed sounds whole, incredibly precise. Conversations recycled themselves.
“But you said you loved me,” she said to Taro when I was ten.
“Well, yes,” he acknowledged, not one to debate.
“And,” she continued, “if I remember correctly, you said: ‘May the sky belch feathers the day I walk away from you.’ You said you’d do anything for me. You said that love was unselfish and you’d always be good to me, and couldn’t stand it if I ever thought something bad about you. You said the soul matters.”
Or there was another time:
“You said you were going to the store to pick up pampers, a six-pack of beer, carrots, lettuce, Hamburger Helper, three cans of tomato soup, milk, sliced ham not the fatty kind, yogurt, bread, hummus, Lucky Charms, fresh coffee, hot chocolate, and eggs. You never said you were going out to pick up genital herpies.”
Or the time:
“In the interview, you said that you like people to take initiative, show independence, and think in unexpected ways.”
The thing about Mom is that she always had the holster prepared with the violence of truth, but never realized that truth always finds a way to hide underneath the cliché’s and words people parse out with little care for meaning. After a lifetime of her holster, I once broke down and bought her a book on linguistics, signs and signifiers, and the uncommonalities of reference point, with the intention of making her holster into a crop, but she was highly insulted and kept the book underneath our camper porta-potty.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Here I am pretending that I don’t still have seventeen papers to read at 11:30 at night. All day I have been promising myself time on my computer. Me time. My computer, mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, es la mia, no la tocas (pendejo)!
Sorry, I got understandably carried away there, as I have been taking my computer to work with me, trying to get a projector hooked up to it in order to be able to teach my class without dealing with a) copy center, or b) whiteboard snowfield, or c) copy center. But for some reason, the projector is finicky, and the “tech” dude really has no idea how to fix it. The part that irks me is that he takes off for lunch as soon as I’m not teaching classes, and so it seems that the only time option for me to try and resolve tech issues is during my class.
But during my class, I am actually handing back papers, talking about things, and not really paying attention to “tech” dudes who assume that dimming my screen to black, injuring my K key, and disabling my mouse-pad functionality will make the projector work better.
I had something of a two-hour panic attack until I managed to hunt down a computer-administer who knew something about the control keys that one might use in lieu of a mousepad in order to turn the mousepad back on. Senorito Computer-Administrator is the new hero and love-interest of my life. One should always consider breaking with personal tradition for a man who knows his way around a DOS-shell. It’s just that sexy.
On a same-day-if-you-believe-it note, I was locked behind bars by guards who growled (breed estimate=German Shepard meets Benji) at me in a very menacing manner that had me near tears. Near Tears is not a Good Start to the morning. Neither is Behind Bars. I’m not kidding here. There was my class of students, all lined up with their sweet little faces (whimpering that I wasn’t there), waiting for me in class, and there I was behind bars, begging in broken Spanish to be let go.
I’m sure you are all excessively curious about what wicked behavior I must have done to warrant being thrown behind bars. I’m a little embarrassed about that, but I must ‘fess to all misdoings.
Well, it all started with me taking a little ride on a bus the day previous to the day I was locked up. When the bus got to school, it turned around, the driver pressed the remote control to open the gate, and then reversed into the bus parking space. At this point, the gates closed and I got off the bus. It wasn’t a paying situation, so the fact that I didn’t pay has no bearing on this case. Anyhow, I went to the gate, and discovered to my chagrin that, even though it was the 16th, my new card didn’t work like they promised it would on the sixteenth.
A note here: to get out of the bus parking area, one must walk through card-regulated metal spikes that spin around. The part I really really love about the metal-spike twirlers every time I see them is that they are all two-way. This means that there are lines on both sides of the twirlers, and people just try to get their card swiped faster than the card on the other side, so that the Green Light flashes for them (ha!) and the twirlers shuffle them in the direction most conducive to their future plans, not the person’s opposite them. By the way, these aren’t revolving metal spikes exactly, so much as they are half-revolving spikes, so there isn’t a mutually-helpful sneaky way to beat the system.
Anyhow, back to my sins. My card didn’t work, so I went to the office to get them to let me through the back way. But I was told that I needed to get the card fixed. I was there an hour early at the horrible-to-admit hour of 7:30am, and so I figured I could take the time to get my card fixed. I waited in line, and then waited fifteen minutes longer as the computer-woman entered my card fifteen times (the same way) and got fifteen error messages. She said something fast to me in Spanish and I nodded, made an escape and vowed to get the issue resolved when I wasn’t dizzy with tired.
Flash forward one day: everything goes exactly the same up until the point after the computer-woman once again cannot fix my card. Everything but one aspect: I am not there one hour early, but rather three minutes early, and I’m already starting to be late. Now to the After. The card is no-go, she can’t fix it, but at this point, the guards arrest me. I am not allowed through. I have to wait (I try to ask them what for, since I already waited in line twice with little results, but they don’t like my question, and this is when the growling starts). Anyhow, after my question and telling them that I already waited, a little altercations follows, sounding something like this:
Me: “No soy una estudiante. Soy una profesora. U-na pro-fes-sora. (sound familiar… see copy center lines a few entries earlier)
Them: No importa. Tiene que esperar como todo la gente aqui.
Me (with distinct annoyance): Pero tengo un clase en este momento. Mis estudiantes estan esperandome!
Them: Lo siento. No importa. Tiene que esperar como todo la gente aqui.
Me (my Spanish slipping a little): No puedo quedar! Tengo que ir! I swear to GOD ALMIGHTY que regresso a la una. A la una, you can have five goddamn hours for all I care, but right now mis estudiantes estan esperandome! And what the hell is going to be achieved by me waiting in line to be helped by a woman who can’t help me anyways!
Them: GrrrrrrrrrrWoof,RRRRRRRRRR, slam (that was the door), rauwf, grrrrrrrr….
For the sake of expediency, I did drop a few steps of mounting tension in the middle there. I didn’t suddenly get pissed and rowdy, really. It was a slow evolution.
After the door slam, and my very loud English not-blameless cuss words, I almost started crying. Around me, the walls seemed to grow… tall black spikes. Fences with spaces too small to slip through, even for an anorexic such as myself (haha). I imagined spending the day there, under the hot sun, the bus fumes starting and stopping, the gates opening, me trying to dodge through them, and then the rough maws of the guards as they nip me into subservience. Two buildings away from there, I could hear the laments and deep sorrow of students who knew that with each moment they were falling behind in their work. And on top of it all, I had only managed about thirteen hours of sleep for the two nights before (not enough for a big sloth like myself), and was using up my not-cranky reserves, so that those poor innocent students probably would not be the winners of the situation.
Above all, I cursed myself for being a temper-tantrum girl who gives up after five minutes and lets everybody walk all over her, instead of one of those smooth calm, kill-you-with-my-facial-expression folks who say little but always win (like my mom). I hate Near Tears, goddamn it!
But then I called my lawyer (boss, savior, and a KYWMFE-person, Anita). The guards were reluctant to let the phone through the doorjamb, but my release was arranged within 30 seconds of higher-administrator talk, and I was only about 10-15 minutes late to my first class. My students were ecstatic to pull all their books back out of their bags and get to the grindstone of English grammar!
Okay, now, I have another confession to make: my assignment was to write at least 300 words on one of the following topics: happiness, love, humor, goodness, friendship, etc. I believe it was a sarcastic assignment, and I figured that the best response was to be a disobedient student (nyah, nyah, pie in your eye, I’m a teacher, don’t gotta do nothin’ I don’t want to…), and combine one of those themes with reciprocated tone. So there. Maybe I’ll change my mind later, but not until I want to. My computer. Mine, mia, mine!
PS and By the Way: for no reason that I can determine, I’ve been very cheerful today. I danced to some music in my room, and my butt looked cute in the mirror and I smiled and felt really really Pleased With Myself.
a note on pictures
hey there folkses... i've been working on how to post pictures to the blog, and I've started to get there. If you're interested... you can run through old posts. I put in some pictures when I'm talking about something. I know the formatting is crap, but I'm working on that in html. Also, how are these puppies downloading? They aren't huge files, but I can start making them smaller if that would be preferable.
why I love my students
1. “Then the crime reached me. One time I was returning from my school to my home, in the buss, and [a thief] told me: 'Give me your watch or I will kill you.' Of course I am alive and I still have the same watch, how?
I told him 'what about if I bought you some candies?' Fortunately he agrees.”
2. “People often confuse happiness with actually being in love. They think that because they are happy, that they are in love. When in fact for the most part they are just happy with the idea of being in love and spending the rest of their life with someone. Most people break up and get divorce.”
3. “The people in Ecuador have a very singularway to celebrate the new year. Each family makes or buy a rag doll made in some cases of newspaper sheets, wood, clothes and glue, another cases they are made of clothes and others materials. They burn it when is exactly 00h00 the first day of the year. The believe is that when the rag doll burn the fire burns all bad thing that have happened at the past year and it makes people take the new year with optimism and wishes for a progress year.
Other belive and tradition that day is to eat grapes during the 12 firsts seconds of the year, one for each second. People have to make a wish on each grape. Also some people wait the new year with money in their pocket because they think if they began the year with money in there, they wont have money problems during the year. Other people have the custom of running around the corner just at midnight because they believe that doing that they will have travel vacations many times at the soon year.”
4. “Not always you are going to find good friends. Not all the people have good intentions. There are people that are masks instead of friends. So be careful. They used to call themselves friends. They aren’t. They request more information of you than friends usually do. They are like many snakes, waiting for an important and big bite where hurt.
It doesn’t mean that you have to be afraid of people. It means that you have to choose correctly…
Friends are the light of our lifes… If you think that a friend is not important, you are wrong. They are important as you are.
Sometimes it is difficult to find a good friend. But it is not imposible. The world is plenty of good friends.”
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
by the way, i´m not writing anything long today, because i got a writing assignment. it´s a tough one, so i´m going to have to work on it.
love and love and love to wonders, such people i know!
Monday, May 16, 2005
Q: What is the worst that can happen?
Nothing, nothing, nothing. I’d rather be robbed, assaulted, raped, or murdered than live a life bowing to the Nothing. The Neverending Story got it right: the Nothing devours and shreds life, particularly the life of the brain, the imaginative forces that give a semblance of meaning via story, via adventure, and the structures that help us cohere the stories within us. Meaning is the structure. Meaning is the way we paste together characters and visions. In the Neverending Story, the Nothing eats the forces of “evil,” just as surely as it eats the rock-troll, the racing snail, the riders of life. All that is left is the luck dragon and the dreamer.
And maybe the meaning I’ve been structuring lately is a little dark, but it’s better than the impulse I’ve been struggling with, to simply stop structuring stories, allow the flow of life to take over, to not “lift the stick” or “imagine that fire is magic.”
Q: What is the worst that can happen?
WA: Not having friends.
Friday night, and I’ve spent the day fiddling around with computers, sending a few emails, watching TV, and missing people. I think about the people I miss. I start a list and am surprised by the combination of people I was spending lots of time with before I left, people I was spending little time with, and people I have not spent time with in a very very long time. I dream about all these people, and wake up surprised at how effectively my brain can construct a person’s face, the details and expressions of such variety. I have dreamed about a new student-turned-friend of mine, and also of high school associates, and surely I didn’t have enough time to so perfectly observe all those turns of heads, smiles, laughs, etc.. Surely?
I sit in front of the TV and want to leave, get out of this place. I call Tomito, but he is in Montanita with some buddies of his, and I don’t have the time to go there this weekend. I just want a couple of beers. Big Tom, his own story, is upstairs watching TV too. I can hear it through his window when I go outside and shout up for him. He either ignores or does not hear me. I still think he’s pissed I’m a dyke. I think of my resources: Richard and his wife are in their fifties and not the type of folks for me to run the beers with. There’s Chris, the German woman, who asked me three time via telephone text, “Who are you?” and then apparently was unable to translate any of the variety of answers I gave her… name, description, abstraction. Nah. I think about how odd it is to live in a place where I have no female friends.
On the TV, Kieran Culkin gets hit, that Irish dude stands in a phone booth to avoid the explosion of a bomb, and Ben Affleck lays a “gorgeous” lesbian (wasn’t there another flick with that same rough idea and cast? I think about writing a paper about Men-Getting-the-Pretty-Dyke Movies: Chasing Amy, Gigli, She Hate Me).
Q: What’s the worst that can happen?
A: Getting lost.
Outside, it is dark. Sunset and sunrise are depressingly well-spaced – 6:00 and 6:00. I waited until 10:40, thinking about how nothing starts really until at least 11. I spend a girlish amount of time choosing my clothes, but in the end, it comes down to the following question: which underarms stink the least? When I’m done, I think I am cute, but tough-enough looking that I hope nobody will mess with me. I head out, waving to the security guard as I pass through the quiet streets.
If I were to listen to the fear-mongers, there wouldn’t be children playing with their fathers on the swingsets at 11:00pm. There wouldn’t be kids running back home with freshly bought ice cream in their hands. There wouldn’t be people sitting outside little kabob kiosks, smiling and licking the sauces from their faces. I imagine this place darker and dirtier when I am not out in it. I imagine going around a corner and having a knife pointed in my face. But it is warm, a slight breeze, and everybody smiles except when they see me. Although I’ve been told that Ecuadorians are extremely friendly to outsiders, I’ve noticed that some sort of light goes out in them when they look at me, and they always look at me—long and surveying. I’m not sure what they are mapping out.
My plan is to wait for the downtown bus. I figure that it won’t be working when I’m coming home, but that it probably runs until midnight. I’ve asked Lola just to be sure, but she doesn’t know. She “rarely goes downtown.” I wait on the sidewalk for the 55, and watch as three 57’s go by, each spaced about 5 minutes apart. I look at all the people walking by on the busline street, and start to relax. I’m not going to get lost. It really isn’t a big deal; it’s just a town with a bunch of people like me, like Bvilleers, like everyone the whole world over, living and breathing, eating and laughing, and as I remember this, I start smiling. I start feeling good, maybe it’s the way my muscles relax.
When the buses start passing by with their lights turned off on the inside, I decide to catch a taxi. To catch a taxi in Guayaquil, you just stand in the road, watch the thousands of taxi’s that pass by every moment, and flag down the one that doesn’t seem to be sending sparks from a dragged-along-the-road transmission. I get one, and he understands my Spanish.
A note on my Spanish: I am in the no-progress zone. Someone once described language acquisition as a process that resembles a lightening bolt caricature on the graphs. Up up up, and then you hit the gorge. Or chasm, as it feels in this instance. I mean well, but I’ve been scared to talk lately. I’m starting to realize how different the Ecuadorian Spanish is from Mexican Spanish. The accent sounds to me as though a Mexican shoved two cotton pads in each of his/her cheeks. G’s and C’s and others are simple “removed.” Amiga becomes amia, Cola becomes –ola, etc. And the words aren’t the same either. I’ve been in a state of Spanish-panic and try not to open my mouth, which I know is the worst thing I can do, but I’m allowing myself a few more days to process the realization that I am not a ten-year old in Spanish like I thought, but more like a two-year old. Regression is the hardest thing to accept.
But the taxi driver needs no repetition and takes me downtown, charging only a simple two dollars when normally they try to stick me for five or six since I’m a gringita.
Downtown, I am lost for a few minutes. I cannot find the street names and I’m nowhere near where I thought I’d be. But I feel content about it, pleasantly tranquil. People are walking soft through the streets. The downtown at night is so quiet, clean. I walk past a semi-gothic cathedral with pink lights reflected along the sides. An abstract sculpture with a body raising hands in supplication. A store that makes me laugh: Elizabeth, el Centro de Belleza Unisex. Before long, I pass a street crowded with cars, Latin techno pumping through. I notice that on the hill in front of me is a lighthouse, and I know where I am: heading the right way, towards Las Peñas, the little knob on the edge of the city and river.
Q: What is the worst that can happen?
I know where, approximately, I want to go: a discoteca called El Vulcano, a queer spot that I looked up online since there aren’t exactly queer listings around town. The adverts make it sound like it is mostly men, but I figure even if I am the only girl surrounded by all men, at least they won’t be paying attention to me—better things to look at and all. I find the street, but do not see any blaring signs, only a large white wall with a large white door. Several men in yellow shirts standing by, and a bunch of good-looking men glancing curiously, idly, at me. I walk by, and head around the block.
I tell myself that’s where I want to go. I want to dance, I want to see something. I want to take a risk, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a horrible nasty place with men fondling men and looking at me as if I shouldn’t be there. If it’s bad, I go in, buy a drink, look around, find characters for a story, and then leave. It doesn’t matter if I’m embarrassed. What matters is that I tried, and that I don’t just walk around this block seven times pumping myself up for something that I don’t even have the guts to check out. I take a deep breath, and when I get back to the white door, I ask, “Es el Vulcano?”
Si, si, es el Vulcano. I follow a group of men into the canal corridors of the discoteca, and pay the seven dollars it takes to get me in with a white-light stamp on my arm and two tickets for beer. Inside, it is almost all men and a bunch of empty space. The music is extreme techno, but nobody is dancing, but rather hanging around in the corners. I breathe, tell myself it’s okay to be noticed, and go and grab a beer at the counter. The bartender asks me where I’m from, but the music is so loud he has to repeat himself several times, switching into English the third time. He smiles when I tell him, and tells me he has been to New York twice. I nod and flee to the corner with my beer, try to look busy by taking out my cellphone and pretending to call the person who is going to meet me here. I think I’m pretending to myself as well as the watchers.
A half hour passes and a man begs me to dance although nobody is on the floor, and then swings lecherously close to me as I agree. I manage to slip away for awhile, and then he is back, his hand out. “I need you.” I shake my head and notice three fat lesbian-looking women by the bar, one of whom is beckoning to me. To escape, I go join them. The beckoner starts talking to me rapidly in Spanish, and I swallow and tell her that I don’t understand much Spanish. Might as well be open about it. Her face opens up with understanding and she smiles and slows down, introduces herself.
Viviana is the one who beckons. She is large and wears a bright red shirt. A tongue stud snaps in her mouth, and she has a tattoo on the small of her back. “Tres equis,” she tells me, and I struggle to understand. XXX, one more equis than the beer. She is the feminine one of the group, and her face fills with smiles. She puts a hand out to halt the man who is still begging me to dance: “Ella no quiere bailar contigo.”
“How did you find yourself here?” she asks in Spanish.
“I wanted to dance.”
“But you know this spot is for gays and lesbians.”
She gives me the names of her friends, Annie and a girl whose name I can’t quite catch. Lilia or something. Lilia is huge and surly-looking (a fact that doesn’t change all evening). Her hair is pulled behind her head, and she is wearing drab-looking clothes and a suspicious glance. Annie is an older, matronly-looking butch, reserved. She switches back and forth between English and Spanish to show me she can. I strive for Spanish. Annie plays soccer and is a secretary at a school. Viviana is a student of graphic design. They are pleasant, and I can’t help noticing how grateful I am for their company.
As the evening goes on, I notice that they are a little subdued, and like many subdued dancers, they sway rather than move. They stay in a circle, and I try to break it up a little, move into the floor where people gather thicker as the evening goes on. Nothing much starts until midnight. Around midnight, the place is filling, and I am relieved to note that there seems to be an even mix of men and woman. There are plenty of good-looking women to glance at, and I glance at them while trying to ignore the fact that Annie is looking more and more interested in me as the evening wears on.
I look at the faces, the handsome men, the goofy ones with beer bellies and ragged goatees. Nobody dances as well as I’d imagine gay Latin men and woman would dance. I watch the pretty girls, making-out on the floor and gathering each other into arms they couldn’t wrap in public. When I see that effusion, the dance-joy, flash here, there, here across the room, I am full, nowhere near the Nothing I swim against almost every moment of every day. I dance hard, no longer embarrassed to be the only blue-eyed person in the joint. When you’re happy, there’s no room for embarrassment.
Q: What’s the worst that can happen?
WA: Falling in love.
Before the evening is over, there is a drag-queen show. It starts at 3:00 am, and I am wondering how long this crowd could hold on. The drag-queens are incredible in various degrees. Most have gorgeous legs, some the best asses I’ve seen. I’m entranced by their outfits, examine whether they have shaved their legs and arms. To what extent would I believe them women if I passed them on the street? A few of them, I’d have no idea if they were XX or XY. They give a show that leaves my mouth dropped, closed, dropped; they dance sexy, sometimes furiously, waving bleach-blond wigs across the audience. Jennifer Lopez, Shaquira, and Priscilla-queen would be jealous of their likeness.
Watching the show, I fall hard hard in love with the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Her eyes are huge, and her hips are perfectly flush and round. She smiles the hugest and sweetest reflection of soul I’ve seen. Her face is the epitome of the kind of values I need to surround myself with. I want to sit and stare at her the whole evening and longer, want to consume everything about that face. I want to talk to her, hear what her life has been, how she got to be the most beautiful creature in the world. I fall hard in love with a drag-queen, and my heart hurts that I will never meet her to tell her how she gives off the same sound as wind passing through a long chime.
I make up for the heart-hurt by loving her via distant speculation. This is enough.
Q: What’s the worst that can happen?
I dance, and that’s not nothing. I fall in love, and that’s not nothing. I ride the taxi, find my way, give it a shot, get some phone numbers of people who might be fun to hang out with. I am gentle with Annie, who is by the end of the evening rubbing her hand across my back. I do not tell her that she’s not my type (butchies never are), or that she is too old for me (by about ten years), or that she doesn’t dance well enough to attract me (I never go out with anyone who can’t dance), or that I’m not looking (one risk at a time). I simply smile, kiss her on the cheek, and move away into my taxi.
When I get home, I feel like writing about possibility.
Friday, May 13, 2005
the Leche Wars
I never knew I was such a cranky, or perhaps particular, morning person. Perhaps it’s because it’s been a long time since I shared my mornings with anyone, and have come to value the quiet time, the shift from blur to less blur. Back home, I would make my espresso and go to the deck outside, cold or no, sip it over a thirty-minute period of time, and think about what I was going to do. Or maybe just think about the sound of the stream out back, the variety of light coming through the trees.
But here, noise starts early: pounding of renovation, shouts of voices, barks of dogs, the movement of trucks through the streets. And while I have more or less adjusted to the change of sounds around me, I find myself in a minor skirmish with the maid, Lola. In general, Lola and I have an amiable relationship based on the fact that while she is sweet and I value the fact that she cooks and cleans for me, I am unused to the care, and might even prefer to take care of myself. And especially in the mornings, I would much rather prepare my breakfast myself. After all, I only eat bread with cheese and tomatoes, and drink coffee and orange juice.
A note on the coffee in Ecuador: Although one of Ecuador’s chief exports is coffee, it is extremely difficult, if not currently impossible, to locate whole beans, or even good ground coffee, to have a decent cup of coffee. Coming from the NW, I am a bit of a coffee snob. I admit that this is not the best way to go about life… depending on exports from poor countries that have been exploited by the IMF to sell coffee for under-living-wage prices… but I have always made up for it by striving to buy organic, and always buying coffee that has the Fair Trade seal of approval. So, my snobbery is somewhat okay by me. Here, it is a snobbery that will only get me in trouble, as the main type of coffee seems to be Nestlé’s instant coffee, which is rather quite undesirable. I have asked for “café pasado,” but have not been lucky enough to get Lola to agree to find me such a delicacy as real coffee passed through a form of filter.
So, really, the coffee preparation should be simple enough for me to do it myself. Pour the hot water, stir the crystals, and add a little cream. But no. And so begin the morning Leche Wars.
Instead of water, they use super-heated milk to pour the coffee crystals in. Moderately milk intolerant, I would prefer to just add a dash of milk. The other difficulty is that I give myself about 10-15 minutes to eat breakfast, and would like to instantly drink my coffee without burning my tongue. Thus, the advantage of adding cold milk.
Well, the first part of the wars started with me insisting that I do not drink coffee that is made only with milk. So, the transition that followed was Lola first preparing various quantities of hot milk in the microwave, and then preparing a half-cup of hot water in the microwave. Over the past three weeks, I have gotten the quantity of milk down from 100% to about 40%, and I am still aiming for about 20%. This I hope to accomplish by only using about 20%, which perhaps might allow Lola to eventually register the rest as “waste.”
The second part of the wars is the endeavor to get Lola to give me the milk cold. This is my main irritation, and although it entails less work on her part, it seems to be something she refuses to budge from. For now, two hot cups are presented to me, and I pour one into the other, spilling half of something because neither cup has a pour spout. And then I burn my tongue because I’m in a hurry and have to go quickly.
It seems so simple. Is it really a war? Why am I being so particular? There seem to be no really good solid answers to any of these questions. I recognize that I should give in, accept what I receive and call it good, but this gets back to the initial realization of my crankiness in the mornings. I can’t let it go. I sit and seethe and feel frustrated that my tongue is burned, that I’ve spilled milk that has made the unnecessary transition into its own cup and then into the microwave and then, five minutes later, in front of me. I start my mornings by grinding my teeth and wishing I could be by myself.
I’ve asked if I could prepare my own breakfast, but that met with shocked, and hurt looks. Of course not! It is Lola’s job, and apparently, it would be a breach of maidly etiquette for me to prepare one meal of the day by myself. Every so often, I cannot stand it, I get impatient, and then I get up, start pouring. Lola hovers under me, reaches for cups and grabs spoons to give to me. We smile and laugh at each other, full of “glee” at the ridiculousness of the moment. Underneath, I know we each think that the other is doing our own job, and making a crappy-ass stab at it, too.
The Terrace Tomas has a crush on me. I’ve mentioned this before, but it has started to get a little out of hand. He bought a bottle of white peach wine for me, and we discussed its value as he tried to get me to drink it with him on his bed. Every time I want to go up to the Terrace and sit in the fust with the city-wind blowing over cooling, Tomas is waiting. He stands two feet away and looks at me full in the face. His head tilts up, and I look back, wondering just what exactly he is waiting for. And I know he is waiting; his eyes are expectations.
I want to stand, look out over the rooftops – so many white similarities in this city, so many antennas and wire lines stretched out for electricity and laundry. Occasionally, you can look out over La FAE and all you see are formations of linen waving and snapping. If you look down, people hover and walk on the streets. Last night, a woman under a tree with her head bowed. Three girls huddled gossip-poised in a doorway. Two boys at the corner market, hand in one pocket, hips tilted, eyes looking for passers. The chickens and ducks are bedded in the dark, and light spits selectively from posts. There is no grass, but rocks, dry dust dirt, litter, and weeds. Security guards stand about every two blocks, a whistle around their neck and a rifle in their arms. They whistle whenever they see something “suspicious.” Apparently, Big Tom is always suspicious.
This is why I go to the terrace, but it doesn’t matter why I am there, because Tomas is always waiting, and he always knows that I am there to see him, to look at his small brown face, the mustache below his aging nose, and say something. He has been in Guayaquil for nine years, he told me, but he has no friends and never goes out unless it is to get drunk. He has been waiting with this look on his face for nine years. He gathers himself in the hammock that hangs, keeps a beer near his hand, and looks at the terrace flowers he waters every night at five-fifteen prompt. I get the sense that whenever I am there, he feels like something new has come into this life that has become pure routine and loneliness for him. But unfortunately, I cannot help silent faces that look up at me, that cajole me to sit on their beds and drink wine with them.
the poem I liked
If this is paradise: trees, beehives,
boulders. And this: bald moon, shooting
stars, a little sun. If in your hands
this is paradise: sensate flesh,
hidden bone, your own eyes
opening, then why should we speak?
Why not lift into each day like the animals
that we are and go silently
about our true business: the hunt
for water, fat berries, the mushroom’s
pale meat, tumble through waist-high grasses
without reason, find shade and rest there,
our limbs spread beneath the meaningless sky,
find the scent of the lover
and mate wildly. If this is paradise
and all we have to do is be born and live
and die, why pick up the stick at all?
Why see the wheel in the rock?
Why bring back from the burning fields
a bowl full of fire and pretend that it’s magic?
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
teaching is for suckers
man, mock seven on the prep, the day goes from 7 until 11, and I feel guilty about the two hours I give myself to watch trashy trashy tv. and of course, I alternate enough between loving and hating the students to alternate between security that this is exactly what I want to be doing, and that the pure knowledge that this will kill me. death to over-preparers who want the copy center to stand at attention when they are near. cool phrases to know:
si, en dos lados... todo en una pagina, por favor.
diesiocho copias, por favor.
ustedes tienen las copias para mis tres clases, pero mis estudiates dijeron que no hay estas reservas. Donde estan, y porque mis estudiantes no puedan encontrarlos?
si, soy profesora. pro-fes-ora. no estudiante. Enseno pricipio, composition, y structura. Pro-fes-ora.
And on top of it all, I got in a massive fight with a red pen today. It bled on me, stuck pig fashion. The humidity fucks with great pens, something else to know.
Sunday, May 08, 2005
don't burn your flanks
I have been thinking about the idea of fear again lately... what it is that stops us from trying new things, going new places. I tried to get Tomito to go on a trip to another beach with me this weekend, but was unsucessful, and after working all day on Friday to prep classes for next week, I couldn´t stand the thought of staying put. Big Tom upstairs stays home on the weekends, watches TV, plays computer games, goes to the gym, and drinks in the evening, and he is happy. I wish I could be content with that, but every time I think of sitting still and doing nothing, I get the ´I´m wasting my life´ panic attacks. When does it become a liability to always need to be on the move, to have a sense of progression, and when does it become an insatiable stress, obligation, and need to deny the Empty. The Great Empty.
I´ve been running, running, running, and I always feel like I´m standing still. It´s not a physical thing... that all changes... but the emotional stasis that pins my arms down, tells me that the same Empty will continue forever, and I will always think the same thing, even as outdoors, banana leaves float by, irrascible and blowing.
anyhow, I decided that I was going to continue to fight the fear, and went on a weekend trip by myself. Odd to realize that this was the first time I went someplace by myself... not with the purpose of meeting someone, but with the purpose of visiting a place, an idea from a map. Or maybe the purpose was to know that yes, I could pay the 25 cents, hop on a bus to the main bus terminal, find the right busline out of a terminal with more at least a hundred different companies operating. And from there, get to a place, find a hostal, secure a room, and entertain myself by myself without the addition of friends, tv´s, or anything. I realized as I did it that, yes, I was proud, and yes, I´m going to do it again, but no, I don´t particularly like traveling by myself. I like being quiet when I want to, but then getting excited with someone nearby who is getting excited in a different way. I realized I am a social creature. I love the idea of people being with me, and so I carry them, I look at their pixed images crawling out of my handbag, looking out the window with me.
Ellen would say this. Natalie might say that. Sarah would know that. Alison would be excited with that. I try clustering everyone around me so tightly, that I don´t just have to depend on my own confused reaction. It´s hard though. I found myself crying the whole way to Playas, trying not to be visible (yeah, try that as a tall gringa on a bus) underneath my sunglasses. I wonder about all the tears, the endless flood as I watch. I feel sometimes like I won´t ever be able to close all that up. Close me up. Why don´t I have a choice?
And Playas... well, it wasn´t as lovely as Montanita, but it was something. A tiny wrinkled woman in a skirt and yellow baseball cap tilted sideways on her head. She sits on the beach all day and guards the tent-umbrellas that she rents shade-space under. They are like small cloth boxes with the side facing the water open upwards. She sits there and sells beers and water. I wonder what she thinks of me when I casually ask her if I might have a beer as she is reaching for water. I want a beer. When she smiles, it is with gaps in her mouth, and she gets nervous when I tell her that the waves nearby are larger than furhter down, because she thinks I might be indicating the preferable nature of other places. But large waves are fine with me, even though my bikini wants to exit my body constantly (I´m thinking of sewing). I burned my flanks sitting near the woman with a yellow hat.
The best thing about Playas besides the woman, is the ceviche... a new discovery. It is created with some form of seafood (i had both shrimp and crab) and involves salty lime, red onion slices, green and red pepper, cilantro, etc., poured over the seafood of choice. I drooled into the bowl. I closed my eyes and came. I ate slower than I wanted to. The friend plantains that are served along with it... sorta like french fries... are a little plain, and I could care less if I never have them again, but I ate them to fill up and acknowledge my full love of the ceviche platter.
The nights are very noisy, noisy noisy. Off-key karaoke wakes me up off and on throughout the night, and it is not through the ceiling, but rather because it is piped onto the streets with speakers that must rival the cars for parking space. Loud, loud. Cats on tiled rooftops crying. Shouts. Music overlaying the karaoke... these people do not sleep until four or five, and the wake at seven. They have energy, undebatable. They walk around in pairs,... I noticed out on the beach, embracing young couples were evenly distributed, as if applying laws of gases in contained spaces, throughout the area. If I had to guess, it would be one yoga position per every .2 km of beach space. When they are not finding each other´s pulmones, they are walking, arms linked. Girls do that too... three in a row, out for a walk. Wearing low-cut jeans and tight femmi tank tops. All the clothes look the same... homogeneity with economic differentials.
White small cranes (there´s a name I´m missing) walk along the shore.
Along the drive, the land can be lush lush... with careful management, it is so beautiful, and it gets wetter and more tropical as you approach Guayaquil. The best looking farms tuck their banana trees in small dips and valleys, and allow the other vegetation to stand and protect. The worst spots look stripped and started from dry exposed dirt. They have their work. Cut. I watch the banana cones pass by, longing, wishing the bus would stop at the stands and I could grab a cone of green bananas... I could show it to Lola (the maid) and say, ¨like this... not the brown ones, please.´ Diet is strange... there is so much I want to do by myself, but being fed is definately handy.
I also noticed that most of the buses have seats that are arranged for a people much much shorter than me. I wedge. It is uncomfortable. Especially with red flanks. The little girl behind me played with my hair on the way, the wind was lovely, and a baby fell asleep on her mother´s lap. I didn´t cry coming back, but I felt alone, walled behind a bad book that I cling to. I keep looking for other travelors... Ecuadorians or International, I don´t care, just people carrying backpacks, looking strubby and wanting to tell me stories. I want stories. I dream of people I know all night long.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
This morning, I did the 6am wake-up call again, only this time apparently for no reason, as all the buses passed full to the brim, and as soon as I hailed a taxi with a few other students waiting, the bridge apparently became "closed" due to intangiable misery factors that include needlessly waking me up at an ungodly hour in the middle of dreams about cooking, building things, and shopping for twinkies. To hell with the copy center! To hell with class prep!
I wonder if it will get easier to wing it here, as I was starting to do up north. I wonder, I wonder.
I figured I would start describing the house situation.
Well, I live in the neighborhood La FAE. Guayaquil is divided into inumberable such neighborhoods, and if you are sending a letter to Guayaquil, the address includes this title. I imagine it is much like New York with its Queens & Brooklyn, etc. All the taxis know where to go when you give them the neighborhood title. Within La FAE, I am roughly in the center of this small neighborhood that is directly next to the airport, and probably inhales and exhales its fumes. Most of the houses are medium size, but with marble or dirt courtyards wrapped by glass-shard-rimmed fences. Almost all houses have two stories... the one I'm in is two with a terrace on the top that has three additional rooms.
I'm on the base floor with Norma & her husband, Norma's daughter Mariola & her daughter Denise, and Lola, the maid. I almost never see Norma's husband, Mariola (who I've been told works two jobs & is attending school for tourism), or Denise, and spend most of my time with Lola, who is very clearly one of the poorer indigenos of the area. She is short and quiet, hard for me to figure out, but not particularly wise. The lack of wisdom is demonstrated by the fact that she stares at me in the morning at 6:30 am when I am tired, trying to drink my coffee and force myself to eat something before my stomach has arisen. I used to think I was a friendly morning person, but I find myself craving solitude at this hour more than any other. Nevertheless, Lola seems to be a sweet person with a high curiousity about the machinations of foriegner's lives. I sometime get the sensation that I am completely opaque to Lola, just as she is to me.
Norma is the one who spends time talking to me in spanish and letting me know what it going on in the world and such. She is medium height and appears to me to be at least partially black, although Tom, one of the other boarders, tells me that she is racist against blacks. Oddness. Aside from Mariola, Norma has also birthed Max, Marlo, and Mario. I find myself chuckling at odd hours with MMMM-MMMMM-MMMM being the sound of my amusement (perhaps more like a snicker). Max lives with his young girlfriend, Shavira, upstairs. I think, although I might be incorrect, that I was told Shavira is pregnant, but she is not showing and Lola seems to have a low round belly, I'm thinking my spanish might have backfired. I figure a few months will let me know anyways. I truly like Shavira, though. She has traveled to Germany, and seems to understand the need for much articulated conversation to practice langauage and feel like there is some form of interaction in this world. She is, however, a busy girl, and so I rarely see her. Max, her husband, seems convivial enough, although I've been told he gets randy and forceful whenever he's tossed. Who knows? Mario I've only met in passing and Marlo, never.
Also at the house is Big Tom, another boarder, who initially hails from Illinois somewhere, and who has taught law at the same University as me (UEES) for the past few years. Despite the years he has racked up, he still speaks very, very little spanish, and totes an ugly accent. He alternates between pissing me off, and being one of my only stolid acquaintances, dialoguers, and friends around the spot. I think Tom's neglect of the spanish language might point to the characteristics that might generate the frustration I have with him in matters beyond simply language. But I respect him more and more as I come to get around the walls he sticks up around him... he is an interesting and intelligent fellow.
Upstairs on the terrace, Tomas and some on-again boarders, live in the three little cute rooms. One of these rooms is empty, and I would ask for it, if it weren't for the shared outdoor bathroom with the other upstairs boarders. Tomas has been putting the moves on me, in a "gentleman" fashion as he told me, despite the fact that I am a foot taller, two decades younger, and quite different from him! I think he is a nice man, albeit lonely, and I am trying to get myself into a position where we can chat without my discomfort.
Anyhow, my bus should be coming before too long and so I'm going to cut out now.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
So, I´ve had my first two days teaching and have discovered that not too much changes with the students, the exception being that you don´t know how large the collective vocabulary is. So, more than ever, I might be talking and talking and nobody might be understanding. Which gives me more motivation to stop talking and check to see what is being understood... ah, the teacherly inquiry.
I have also found out that I will never again whine about the hoops, bureaucracy, random necessities of college adminis-distraction again after having copy-center, bus-center, and computer experiences from hell. Not really from hell, because I´m not at the point where I care too much, but to the point rather where I could see that these could simulate hell with the right sort of impatience factor. The copy center, in case you wondering, fronts as the college bookstore (copyrights to hell), and everything I want my students to read, I need to put on ¨reserve¨ there, although it appears that certain sections have been lost, and I´m not sure what materials I really am using anymore. I plan on getting there early tomorrow and seeing if I can make heads or tails of anything.
It's a good thing I am enjoying my students, who seem as sweet and cajoling as any students, and have already proffered a great deal of excuses that I´m going to allow for a week before busting a move. But they at least ·seem· to be laughing with me, not at me, especially when I demonstrated my hopping-on-the-bus experience.
This weekend was probably just the prep that I needed before hopping down on the tracks. I tried to drag friends somewhere (anywhere) with me on Saturday, without much luck, and even called the German woman who gave me her number to see if she was up for a tour in exchange for dinner, but she ever-so-politely asked for my name three times, ignored it three times, and then never got back to me. By the way ¨calling¨ someone here means ¨texting¨ them via cellphone, since it costs dollars, not cents for a few minutes on the phone, but a text message is about 3 pennies. Back to the point, while I´m not exactly giving up on the people I´ve met, I´m not exactly counting on them for hanging out. So, I went to the city-center by myself and had a great time.
I took the bus for the first time, even climbing on while it was still moving, as if I had been doing it for years. I got scared that maybe I was going to the wrong spot, but quickly realized that I could ask someone, and did so. It´s pleasing and surprising sometimes to realize that you do indeed have words and the capacity to break stranger bounderies.
Downtown Guayaquil is an interesting spot... from block to block you wander from tourist centers, slums, business centers, black markets, town beautifician project, and upscale stores. One block smells like piss and the next block sports colors you would lick if they were lollipops. I climbed to the top of ¨Las Penas¨ and noted that Guayaquil is a vast white series of barrios with new little nobs at the center, from which I could see very very very far, both down along the swampy river with its floats of vegetation and Venitian boats, and also out into a great smoggy white sheen of houses. I live to the north of the two nobs, next to the airport, which I can hear at all hours, and I could see it from the nob of Las Penas, even better from the lighthouse on the top of the nob of Las Penas. Up there, the air is lovely, a breeze that floods water out of the air, and the fresh fresh smell of a salty-seeming river. It smells like a port town.
I also got to go to a contemporary art museum, which was well worth the 3 bucks it cost to view modern/realist/surrealist/parodic paintings, drawings and sculptures from Ecuadorian artists. The focus seemed to be on representing the struggles of the subaltern, los indigenos, los negros, y todos los pobres de este parte del mundo. A full room for ¨boundary-crossing¨ art, which made me think of NAM who is studying the lands of crossover, clash, head-bashing, and blurring. I was also happy with two hours of air conditioning.
Speaking of which, this town is cooling down, and I´m surprised to hear myself say words I never imagined myself saying: thank-god for a cooling. Anyhow, times up at the La FAE cybernet cafe.
Sunday, May 01, 2005
la copulacion de monos y los rios
today, to the flowers/zoo. saw a fully-endowed and extremely-excited monkey making it with another species of monkey. a guide came by with a group of 20 and i stayed to see what a guide might say in spanish about ¨socializing¨ monkeys. only that they can swim, apparently. i must be more immature than other tourists.
i´ve discovered the reasoning of the dragonflies... this cities is built on rivers. streams of vegetation and floating islands run across the top of wide shallow rivers.
downtown, a pigeon with its eyes pecked out hunkered near the crevice in concrete. i thought he might be ignored, but families walked, stopped, pointed, one little child stooping to pick it up. The guard looked concerned, confused, and I wondered what he would do if I made the right move, walked over and snapped the creature´s neck.