Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Cup of Sticks

There’s an enormous wild mint bush growing on our back patio. When I feel so inclined, I boil some of the branches and enjoy a cup of rather feral tasting tea while thinking over my most recent lessons, how many articles from the local paper are about exceedingly distant parts of the world due to the lack of existing actual local news, or why the man with an insufferable perm is so intent upon sabotaging the romance between the muscular archeologist and beautiful memory-loss-ravaged-orphan/circus-acrobat-runaway named “Cielo Magia” (“Heaven Magic”)in the novella I’m following for practice. This just so happens to be one such occasion, but as my stay here is drawing to a close, my cup of boiled-untamed-porch-leaves turns my thoughts to a my confusing emotional state half way between nostalgia and wanderlust- which, according to most reliable dictionaries, are near exact opposites.

I can’t decide if I’m growing to like turning points as their frequency of appearance in my life during recent years allows room for me to grow accustomed to them, or if I’m developing an increasing annoyance for them as they continually recur just as I’m settling in after my exhausting conquer of the last one. I have a feeling there’s a mix of the two in me- though more of the former than the latter. Regardless, I have only twelve more days left here, and that means twelve more days until the next relapse of “what now?” questions and the nagging sense of urgency that comes with them. In theory, I’m putting all these on hold for the time being so I can enjoy the relaxed lifestyle of the Latin world while I still have it, but I won’t say my dreams haven’t been becoming steadily more complicated and filled with characters from past decisions of which new direction to take. (Though I’ve also had a dream about a pet cockroach named Dorothy who wore pink curlers in her antennas and another about riding on swings made out of thick red ribbons tied to the feet of pelicans in the last few weeks.)

Now that I’m taking inventory of everything in my mind, it’s unbelievable how much I’ve learned here. I really feel like something just fell into place in my mind for the first time this week and I’ve been able to communicate with more fluidity than ever. Today I was sitting at the table reading the local news paper while my Mama Tica was making dinner and chatting away, as always. She asked me what I was reading, to which I answered, “Según este artículo, ha sido un epidemico de cólera en Zimbabwe hace casi dos años; yo pensaba que no la existía más en ningún parte del mundo.” Which is, “According to this article there’s been a cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe for almost two years; I thought it didn’t exist anymore in any part of the world”. I think one of these verbs were conjugated wrong if not more that I didn’t notice, but even still, I nearly spilled my plate of rice out of shock when I realized a few seconds later I was having a conversation about plagues in various regions COMPLETELY IN SPANISH after only a little over 2½ months of being here!
The human mind is such an incredible thing… and the force of wanting something as well…
I’m convinced that if I hadn’t wanted this as badly as I do I could easily have left here with no more understanding of the language than it takes to make some grammatical flashcards. But I feel like every part of me grows in proportion to the development of my understanding. As if I’m actually expanding from within to make room for this second world that now must be accommodated because I can never again simply stop knowing about how different history and existence looks here. I don’t know why I feel it to be such an improvement. In all honesty, I would try somewhere else if I decided to live in a Latin American country for an extended period of time. There are a lot of factors that come into play… the sort of lack of national identity I’ve yet to formally address here that causes every wisp of influence from the outside to be accepted with open arms and make things feel in many ways unsteady and unoriginal… the 73% divorce rate caused almost exclusively by infidelity which has created an enormous disenchantment with the idea of matrimony, virtually obliterated the thought of father figures entirely, and thereby resulted in generations of men who manage to be both domineering and dependent toward their women… the less important but nevertheless evident personal preference I have for styles of music/art/dress ect that are very different than those provided here… Don’t get me wrong, there are reasons to stay too. But I can’t help enjoying the idea that learning to understand other people-regardless of the location- changes you so significantly. I have a feeling I could continue expanding in this way through empathizing equally with people when I’m home again too, but when you’re busied with your every-day life nothing seems to prompt the need for such understanding- at least not to the same extent as in these cases. Anyway, the point is that I hope to maintain as much of the differences I’ve encountered in these few months after this is all over as possible- especially my Spanish. Though I suppose I never will learn what happens with that turbulent history behind all the fake curls and muscles and circuses in the end. I seriously doubt they have much of an audience in the states.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Restofmylife Resolution:

I solemnly swear that if I have even the most insignificant form of control over it I shall never again in my entire life live farther from the city than I can ride a bike. I grew up with such romantic sentiments about small towns. I always thought I’d love to live in one until I did. Unbearable.

I spent the preponderance of Saturday in the center of San Jose searching through various shops and especially through the artisan market, which is essentially a long tin roof supported by beams to protect a tightly woven network of tents overflowing with almost nothing that isn’t handmade from the elements. I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite being repeatedly made to feel uneasy by an unattractive vendor who stood far too close to my face, spoke far too quietly in an attempt to make me lean even closer, and winked so often I was inclined to wonder what on earth he possibly thinks winks mean to Americans- not to mention that his brilliant response to my telling that I simply couldn’t buy a scarf even at his “special (wink) price just for me (wink wink)” because I still need to eat this week was that sandwiches are really cheap. I was horribly curious what his genius thoughts would be if I explained that I’m already living off of peanut butter and jelly (which is even cheaper than proper sandwiches) to ensure that I’ve got enough money to bring anything back for my loved ones at all, but getting myself away from his booth before my flight on the 31st held the higher priority. It’s more work than you’d think.

Everyone who sells there isn’t necessarily this disagreeable, however, which is what made an afternoon at the market, penniless as I am, still enjoyable. I met a girl selling skirts and spent a period of time talking about- of all things- church and ex-boyfriends, then a man who makes jewelry out of various minerals and explained to me how to recognize and work with various ones of them, and then my favorite: the old man with inch-thick glasses. He was selling scores of the most beautiful quilts I’ve ever seen, each elaborately embroidered with dozens of individual pictures of people and animals that had such a rich and ancient appearance. The third or fourth time I stopped to marvel at them he introduced himself and showed me some of the more complicated ones in the piles. He explained to me that they are all made by an indigenous tribe on a Panamanian island that has (and I don’t know how accurate his information is, but it was intriguing either way) the highest population of albinos in the world due to the rampant inbreeding that’s resulted from their isolation. He had a whole book of pictures of them. I can’t imagine where he’d gotten them all from or how he was connected with those people to be selling their wares in the first place, but I would have been just as happy to buy a few of those photographs as one of the blankets themselves. Some of them dated all the way back to the 1920’s and the people look virtually the same in the pictures from the last few years. It hadn’t occurred to me before that I’d never seen an albino in my life, but I’m sure most of them don’t appear as strange as the ones in his book because they have such extensive genetic problems. The people nearly all looked like they could be exactly the same person- extremely short and stocky with identically stretched facial features wearing the same excruciatingly detailed quilted clothing. The only real difference was whether they were an albino or as dark as we normally imagine an indigenous person to be. It was fascinating. I don’t know what I wouldn’t have given to buy one of those quilts, but they were all near $150 which simply isn’t doable, but it’s the frequent conversations like this that make me so utterly unconcerned with the fact I’ve been the only person who hasn’t been able to afford to go to the beech the last several weekends. I don’t feel as if I’m missing out on anything here in the city even if it’s not exactly the city I find ideal due to unusual circumstances…

While San José offers in excess two of my top three favorite aspects of the urban world, which are people with stories worth hearing/willing to tell them and never ever having to say “we can’t go out, everything’s closed”, it lacks a certain element of city living which just so happens to be first on that list: the anonymity of crowds. I always thought everyone was exaggerating to make me unhappy when they talked about the kind of attention blonde hair draws in the Latin world but, whatever their motives, it turns out most of them were either underplaying the reality of it or hadn’t experienced the full capacity of these people to yell and/or hiss (at least for this area, I can’t speak for the entirety of Latin America). I now can stop lamenting that my childhood dream of becoming an actress never quite came to fruition under the absolute certainty that I’d rather die than be a celebrity. The very first thing I intend to do upon my return home is make a dozen laps around the ever-overcrowded Atlanta airport and just relish the beautiful feeling of being ignored. Maybe it’s only because I’m such an excessively private person, but after any length of time grocery or window shopping here I find myself longing for the sweet relief of going back to school the next day which always promises the guarantee of being unwanted by all of the rich art students who , thanks to years of mindless Americans flooding their halls with horrific attempts at using their language and throwing themselves all over the locals, couldn’t be more disenchanted with us regardless of what you look like. The girls seem almost vindictive in their looks- when they look at me at all- but no part of me feels in the least troubled about it in comparison with having strangers put down their phones in the middle of a conversation to stare shamelessly, or swerve their motorcycles at terrifying proximities to ensure their hissing is audible over the muffler-less engine, or blatantly force themselves in my way as I shove through the hoards, or forcibly give me their phone number while I’m minding my own business on the street. (All true stories.) But considering that I have no other real complaint here, and taking into account the fact that this same irritation is also the very reason I have been able to manage so much practice of the language since, in the majority of cases, I have to work to make people not talk to me, I’ve decided to regard this as a fair trade.