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.

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