Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
I woke up about 30 or 40 minutes before we landed at "BJX" — León-Guanajuato Bajio International Airport. I've found myself able to sleep (or at least doze) more often on flights in the past few years. There was a time in the mid/late-1990s when almost every flight was a white-knuckle ride in which my imagination vividly took me into the vortex of a dizzying descent — sometimes fiery, sometimes eerily pitch-black and quiet — from a couple thousand feet above the ground. I'm really glad that I'm over that phobia. There's still a point during every flight when I have that "what if..." moment in which I over-empathize with poor unfortunate souls who've been in such harrowing mid-air "emergencies," but the feeling passes pretty quickly. And yeah, I'm now able to nap without starting awake in terror every time the captain flashes the seatbelt sign.
Waking up on the approach to Guanajuato, I looked out the window. It was about 9:00pm, so I couldn't see much. Yet, I was convinced somehow that the rooftops and the streetlights looked a little different somehow. The street patterns or something. The burst of a firework a few hundred yards from the airplane — yes, something was different. I thought briefly of another airplane descent, a long time ago, into Kano, Nigeria; I hadn't disembarked then, but I remember peering intently through the thick glass of the airplane, trying to take in everything that was different. I mostly wondered what this Mexican landscape would have looked like in the light of day.
Once we got to the airport and "deplaned" (is that really a verb?), there was still something so familiar yet "foreign" enough about the modern glass and metal terminal. Like the terminal in Lomé, Togo, which felt as if it could have been in Florida, but at the same time was clearly not in Florida at all.
Luckily, Bob was with me and, having made this trip so many times over the years, he was a pro at guiding me through anything that could have even remotely been an obstacle. Collected our luggage at the baggage carousel. Went through the customs document control line, then headed to the actual baggage-control area. This was potentially "fun": one's own personal game-of-chance in which you pushed a big button in order to find out if you were waved through (a friendly green light) or stopped and had your bags searched (a red light and you-picked-the-wrong-curtain-gameshow buzzer). I skated through on Bob's green light since we were "juntos."
We were picked up at the airport by Benito, a "friend of a friend's brother-in-law" (is there a kinship term for this in Latin America? Don't look at me, I was only an anthropology major...). I kept noticing important cultural differences in the airport parking lot: one of the Volkswagen models parked there was called a "Derby" (and I couldn't help wondering if the product marketing whizzes meant for it to be pronounced 'derby' or 'darby'...).
As we headed toward San Miguel via Guanajuato, I noticed the signs for other locales with intriguing names: One was Iratuapo. Another, Silao, looked vaguely Portuguese to my eye, but not particularly Mexican.
It was in Silao that we zoomed past a gargantuan real-live Mexican maquiladora — the kind one reads about in The Economist. It immediately occurred to me that it didn't look much different (if decidedly a bit newer and more sparkly) than the huge Ford plan on US-1 in Edison, New Jersey: You've seen one bone-crushing, soul-deadening arm of the industrio-capitalist machine, you've seen 'em all. I am so kidding! I totally love and embrace the manufacturing economy! All for naught did my own motherland become a notch in the rust belt.
As we skirted the edges of Guanajuato proper on the autopista (if that's what one could call the often-bumpy two-lane highway), I was (here we go again) reminded vaguely of Ghana. I can only distill my description of this feeling as a similarity — vague or vivid — in "developing world" landscapes and cityscapes. Some of the scenes that made me feel this way:
- corrugated metal rolling doors on the front of all kinds of stores and establishments; these were very noticeable since most businesses were closed at that time of night, but this is just not something one sees a lot of in my experience in the U.S.
- tiny "provisions shops" or tiendas that would pop up anywhere along the road; walk-in-closet-sized places with shelves stocked floor-to-ceiling with any and all types of food items, and inevitably sporting that beacon of the multinational food industry, a bright blue Nestlē logo.
- al fresco taco stands every couple of blocks: nothing more than a big old charcoal brazier, sitting on the sidewalk or right on the dirt at the side of the road, ready to serve up myriad delights. So potentially lipsmackingly yummy, and yet soooo scary.
I have wondered a lot if this tendency to perceive similarities might be a completely patronizing "first-worlder" view of things — as if I'm seeing the "griminess" and "rusticity" as some kind of quaint and charming World's Fair Exhibition... When in fact Guanajuato and Accra may be about as similar as Helsinki and Topeka.
In the end, I don't think I'm being unfair or ethnocentric or a particularly ugly American by recognizing some amorphous "Third World" similarities on the surface of things. A day or so after I had been observing this stuff, Bob said as much to me — wondering if I might be seeing and enjoying some similarities between Mexico and Ghana. I replied that yes, in fact, I had been, but I again questioned whether it was in some way patronizing to lump all these "undeveloped" countries into one basket just because they have open-air food stands propped up in the dust at the side of the road.
I'm well aware that one doesn't need to be the type who looks down one's nose at the "filth" in another country to be an ugly, biased turista. It's just as much of a pitfall to be the hug-fest type of tourist who loves the "charm" of the "common people" and does everything to Enjoy! and Appreciate! the Authenticity! of the campo! Please, Lord, let me not be exactly the latter GlobalExchange/Rotary International type of traveler. Let me walk some kind of middle ground of being able to eat tamales on the street while also thoroughly enjoying an icy cocktail in the courtyard of a luxury multinational hotel.
In any case, the urban outskirts of Guanajuato gave way to the long, winding, rural road to San Miguel de Allende. It reminded me in its empty openness of Highway 1 to Lompoc or the twisting black stretch of Highway 33 deep in Ventura County.
I notice road signs whenever I travel, and I try to remember them, no matter how mundane. Favor Disminuya su Velocidad. Directional signs pointing out "Celaya," "S.Mig. de Allende," "D. Hidalgo." Signs declaring that one is entering "La Fragua de la Independencia Nacional"... the "anvil" of independence. I first thought fragua must mean cradle, since that's the popular idiom that sprang to mind, but then I realized that cradle would be cuna. Only the next day did I learn from Bob that fragua means anvil. Does the USA have an "anvil" of independence? If not, why not? Are we more comfortable with independence being cradled and nurtured into being rather than hammered out in a hot, sweltering iron forge?
Finally, some of the most perplexing signs: No Maltrate las Señales.
The ride was beautiful, the road dark and mostly empty, with the lights of the distant towns, including San Miguel, twinkling. There were only a couple of incidents in which I felt my heart beat a little faster, having noticed the speed of the oncoming traffic, including a few fiercely growling dump trucks, on the narrow two-lane road, and just a couple of glimmering white crosses sprouting out along the roadside here and there. Always, encouraging reminders for the adventurous traveler.
Finally, the road wound into San Miguel after circling it and offering a good glimpse of the illuminated spire of the Parroquia. We descended slightly down a narrow but busy cobblestone road — a main thoroughfare known only as La Salida de Queretaro — that felt to me as if it could have been in the Albaicín of Granada. More tiny, inviting little shops that made me think of tins of powdered milk, tomato paste, and chocolate bars.
The taxi let us off at the base of Callejon Cruz del Pueblo, Bob's "street" — an irregular, somewhat narrow stairway-paseo. We passed through the garden wall from the paseo into what I considered a true idyll: quiet and cozy, with an amazing second-story view of the Parroquia and the entire center of town spread out below.
I felt lucky to be there, and looked forward to curling up under a couple of wool blankets in the guest room. Sound sleep had been mostly ensured: no scorpions were found under the clothes hamper.
I awoke the next morning to pure vacation... [Pictures below: 'Casa Roberto']
Monday, November 27, 2006
Friday was Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. I think I am genuinely in love with Kirsten Dunst, even though she sort of has vampire fangs.
However, I am not into royalty. I do not have bookshelves lined with titles like The House of Plantagenet: Anjou by Any Other Name. I mean, the Habsburg part of this saga is all very interesting (Marianne Faithfull was great in all her gravel-voiced splendor as Empress Maria Theresa) -- interesting enough to make me want to pore over a book (or at least the Wikipedia entry) on the subject.
I liked this movie a lot, but I'm not convinced it's a "Great" film. It's not exactly dialogue-driven, which can certainly be an ok thing. In terms of imagery alone, it evoked, well, a certain degree of emotion. Much of it was pure confection, but still, some of the scenes and the photography did evoke feeling. I'm ambivalent about my attitude toward M.A.: was she just a pawn born and bred for her position as a consort and producer of heirs, or, as queen, could she have taken a different tack and an interest in the affairs of her nation, preventing the downfall of the monarchy?
The film definitely doesn't even come close to answering -- or even asking -- those questions. Which is fine; it makes me want to read up on this stuff. I liked the comment by J. Hoberman of the Village Voice, who wrote, "... the filmmaker's attempt to redeem her heroine's shallowness reveals her own." I don't think Coppola was as successful in this endeavor as she was with Lost in Translation. But yet... I liked it and found myself thinking about it a lot afterward. And, needless to say, it was visually amazing: cinematography, set design, and costumes are all award-worthy.
What was best about the film was making one realize that M.A. arrived at the French court as a girl of 15 and -- even though daughter of an Empress -- was thrust into a world of byzantine protocol and luxury without bounds. What was less believable (or even touched on) about the dramatization was the fact that M.A. aged from 15 to 38 during her time at Versailles. Maybe we are meant to believe that she was equally shallow and unquestioning as a middle-aged woman as she was as a teenager, but... something was lacking in that bit of the narrative.
In addition, poor, cute Jason Schwartzman fares badly as a sort of bumbling buffoon of a dauphin/king. I know that partly reflects the historical point of view, but in the end he was more of a caricature than a character (as were many figures in the film). And WTF was Molly Shannon doing here? I guess I respect her need to have a 'career', but all I can think when I see her pinched face is "Mary Katherine."
Saturday brought on The Queen. I can't say anything gushing about Helen Mirren than hasn't already been said. I also ended up liking the film a lot more than I expected to. I was anticipating a fairly dry "television-movie-of-the-week" treatment, but definitely got carried away into it pretty deeply and quickly.
Editorial note to Stephen Frears: Honestly, I think we could have done without the Introspective Symbology of The Stag.
I couldn't help thinking about some of the similarities between E.R. and Marie Antoinette in terms of the "monarchical crises" faced by both, as well as the respective states of "The Monarchy" in general. Again, I am not a big royal watcher, but I'm not a huge anti-monarchist either. I'm mostly indifferent (but in, like, a totally class-warfare informed, Marxist-Leninist sort of way), though definitely swayed now and then by the posh spectacle of it all. (T-shirt/bumpersticker idea: "I'm not Anti-Monarchist; I Hate All of The Rich")
One thing I did realize after seeing Marie Antoinette: I am more sympathetic to the friends I have (yes... I have them... well, at least one) who seem to get all misty-eyed when speaking about The Romanovs. Those silly royals were much more than treasury-depleting, peasant-bleeding, insurrection-crushing drains on the national coffers: they were Human Beings Too! (And I am totally being Serious.)
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
We finally ended up renting a car since the daily rate was cheaper than any of the shuttle or taxi services (I always forget how basically damn cheap it is to rent a car). Had lunch at an unmemorable Tex-Mex place where the soup was better than the entree for which I had high hopes (quesadilla frita con flor de calabaza). That's what I get for being attracted by anything on a menu modified by the word "frita/o". Note to waiters: I am a totally easy-to-please (please, please me) customer -- just keep my @#$*&! water glass filled!!!!
We walked around the few blocks of the downtown area and over to Dealey Plaza. That photo in the upper right is the Texas School Book Depository, and maybe you can see that open window pane on the corner of the sixth floor. History made from such a mundane location.
I'm not going to try to wax poetic about JFK, but it was a fairly interesting way to spend an afternoon. As Americans, the newsreel footage of the motorcade is inescapably burned onto our minds' eyes; however, I hadn't any context -- the surrounding streets, buildings, plazas -- into which to put that motorcade, and now I do. Ever so conveniently, the street in front of Dealey Plaza has two white X marks painted on the blacktop to indicate the exact "points of impact". Yeeesh.
As for Dallas? Meh.
Anyone is more than welcome to invite me back for a return visit and to try to show me such a rip-roaring good ol' time that I'll wish I lived there. But for now, based on the info I have, no. The area in the heart of downtown where we ate maybe reminded me a little bit of Denver or even Colorado Springs -- just sort of generic with several "oldish," "warehouse-esque" brick buildings. Brick isn't something you see everywhere, so it can give a distinct feel. Yes it can.
There was just nothin' about the Dallas I saw that made me think, yep, I'd settle down here.
I have to thank GayProf for his recent commentaries on the Lone Star mentality, and especially regarding the Dallas Convention & Vistors' Bureau's marketing overtures toward the gays. And, hey, GayProf, I can attest that it was really pretty difficult to find the "GLBT" section of the CVB website, even when I knew what I was looking for! However, their site is totally entertaining! All marketingspeak, all the time. Check out the "Diverse Dallas" area for some chuckles.
I love this: "The GLBT community is also a large part of Dallas, which boasts the sixth largest gay population in the United States." Hmm, how much "boasting" about that fact is going on? Someone should totally poll Dallasites on the street regarding that one.
It's almost easy to imagine the writing/editing process that went into producing the copy for these promo materials:
was a once proud, Whiteis a richly diverse American city - over the years it has become a magnet for more and more wetbacks, gooks, heathens and sodomitesa melting pot of cultures, religions and lifestyles.
The history of Texas is deeply rooted in the Hispanic culture
that was here before we whooped brown ass and pushed the border back to the Rio Grande. Originally called Tejas (jota is for jotos), the Spanish founded the state and today there are over six million Latinos (mostly a bunch of illegal aliens and their descendants)living in Texas.
In 1869, Chinese immigrated to Texas to work on the railroads
at slave wages, considering the damn Yankees had just put an end to actual slavery, bringing with them a rich heritage. Dallas now has sixteen different Asian familiesnationalities living in the area.
Whew. That was fun. This final pic is (I just found out) the Hyatt Regency. I love how shiny and mirrored and clean it looks. All sparkly and sleek. My photo doesn't do it justice, but I really did enjoy its slick, mirrored skin. However, I have omitted the giant phallus that GayProf alluded to; it's part of the same hotel complex.
On the topic of diversity, though, I did notice that a lot of the DFW airport workers seemed to be of Ethiopian (or other Horn-of-African) extraction. I need to do some quick wikipedia research on that diaspora.
In the end, Tejas was a nice place to have lunch, but I was looking fondly forward to Guanaxuato...
Monday, November 20, 2006
Spending the weekend in bed isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Oh, and don't ever do a search on Google Images for "staph". You will regret it.
Just send me to the leper colony now.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Call me cynical (who, me?), but everyone talking about how the country has experienced such a wondrous, miraculous sea change in its outlook and values is mostly full of crap. Yes, it's a great thing that Congress now has a different leadership and balance of power -- and hopefully this will change the tone of the legislation that gets considered and/or passed.
All in all, it seems unlikely that the number of voters swayed
by the Macacagate affair was less than the 7,000 margin. And if that is right, then the control of the US Senate and thus the entire legislature may have been turned over to a different party because of one thoughtless nickname choice by a tired and irritated candidate. (That's not an exculpation, by the way. Tired and irritable he was, but reprehensible nonetheless.) It was surely one of the biggest consequences of an on-the-fly nickname choice in all of history. Watch your mouth, politicians. It's a linguistic jungle out there.
However, plenty of the Democrats who gained seats had to do so by being just as anti-abortion, anti-gay-marriage, and anti-tax-and-spend as any Republican ever was. The truth is, huge swaths of this country will probably never be "liberal," and those of us living in coastal enclaves cannot assume that because Virginians or rural Pennsylvanians booted their Repubs out means that they'll ever come close to embracing our leftist selves.
Sure, I'm happy: who'd have guessed that South Dakotans would vote against their abortion ban and Arizonans would defeat their anti-gay-marriage amendment. Except those "victories" mostly seem like sighs of relief that the respective populations haven't gone totally off the deep end. It just still sucks to have to claw onto "anything we can get" instead of being able to make real "progress."
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
My re-entry culture shock hasn't been too considerable after twelve days in "La Fragua de la Independencia Nacional."
Last night's polyglot concert by Pink Martini was definitely soothing to my mangled, dejected nerves, and I even found the inane couplets of their song "Hang On Little Tomato" to be somehow uplifting.
And I have to admit, even though I sometimes prance around my own house singing in Spanish, Portuguese, and Hindi, I find it very annoying that a group of people from Portland have managed to fashion a career out of doing exactly that (well, minus the Hindi). Meanwhile, I have to wake up and go work in an office every day. Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. Jealousy debases all of us.
Somebody told me, I don't know who
Whenever you are sad and blue
And you're feelin' all alone and left behind
Just take a look inside and you will find
You gotta hold on, hold on through the night
Hang on, things will be all right
Even when it's dark
And not a bit of sparkling
Sing-song sunshine from above
Spreading rays of sunny love
Just hang on, hang on to the vine
Stay on, soon you'll be divine
If you start to cry, look up to the sky
Something's coming up ahead
To turn your tears to dew instead
And so I hold on to his advice
When change is hard and not so nice
You listen to your heart the whole night through
Your sunny someday will come one day soon to you
Coming soon: my probably-not-very-original observations about the aforementioned Fragua.