January 2, 2009
Wake up in Oaxaca
fall sleep in New York
One day I’m sipping an agua mineral on the zocalo; the next night I’m at the Met seeing Don Giovanni. Such is life—mine, anyway—in the modern age. I arrive at JFK still wearing my summer sandals, just in time for the first big storm of the season. Thanks again, New York, for smacking me in the face with the reality of your climate, because I still fantasize about living here. Nuh-uh. It’s 21º at noon. I need ice skates on the sidewalk today.
CALL ME CORNY
but I like my own country.
I’m glad I’m back in it. I’m glad my shoulders aren’t getting sunburned in December; I’m glad I’m standing instead in the doorway of Tea Lounge, brushing the snowflakes out of my eyelashes and off my coat, stomping my boots and shaking out my hat and scarf and gloves and ordering up some hot apple cider, checking my email to the smooth sounds of Vince Guaraldi. It’s a Brooklyn Christmas. Friend Jon Crow has his traditional upside-down tree hanging in his front window.
I love travel, but afterwards I just as much love coming home, and I’m glad I can walk down the street without dozens of vendors, from the youngest and shrewdest of children to the oldest, most wizened of women, repeatedly pushing Chiclets and beaded necklaces, rebozos and embroidered blouses, hand-woven hangings and rugs, hand-painted bookmarks and letter openers, shellacked toy alligators, wooden combs etc. in my face. You buy a thing or two at some point; then the no, gracias gets automatic. I’ve got to hand it to them, young or old, they’re out there working hard trying to make a living—selling, offering something, not just panhandling.I’m glad I can be understood by everyone I talk to, say just what I mean in my native tongue, and have dollars in my wallet. But a dose of magic was called for, and Mexico never fails to provide.
WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR LEG?
I don’t know, I think I injured it climbing a pyramid. My right thigh is one vast black-and-blue bruise. The archeological site known as Monte Albán, the holy city of the Zapotecs, baking in the Mexican sun, is one of the power spots on the planet. Atop a mountain and overlooking the Oaxaca Valley, the ancient ruined city is open to the sky and the elements. There is a palpable aura of lives lived—not just by people, but their civilization—a kind of mystic vibration in the air, still radiating the spirits of those who built and made this place their home, that gives me a chill. I’ve felt such a presence as well at the Coliseum in Rome, the haunted site of so much violence and death; the walls seem alive with the blood and screams and jeers of thousands. Also in the Tower of London, in the room where queens were beheaded, a sense of place and history emanating from a given physical space.
The field trip to the ruins was one of the highlights of my Oaxaca writing workshop experience, as well as visits to artisan villages to see weavers and rug makers at work. It was gratifying to be in environments where the crap of the world does not intrude—just silence, creative work, a few chickens clucking in the yard, and no running Jon Stewart commentary.
Gratifying too to spend a week surrounded by writers, to receive praise and advice from same, to linger in the cozy library for late night writing sessions, to wander the beautiful grounds of Casa Colonial, to wake up knowing breakfast is waiting for me.But then it was time to leave and board my flight to New York. Call me sentimental, but I was ready to go from sunshine and flowers to snow and ice.
STARBUCKS STORMED BY POMPADOURED EVANGELIST
I. Just want to testify. Jon Crow and I followed Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Choir from his Christmas Revival at Dixon Place to the Starbucks a couple blocks down, where he messed with the primal forces of nature by exorcising a cash register. The police arrived with their “All right, break it up” routine just as we were leaving. The service had featured a performance by one of the choir members of Ned Beatty’s Boardroom speech from Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network.” I’ve been meaning to write about that movie for a while. It begs for re-release. Not to be remade, like “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” another oldie but relevant goodie, but displayed in all its original prescient glory.
Here’s the speech by Arthur Jensen, head of the UBS network, railing at Howard Beale, the veteran newscaster who ran out of bullshit.
“Network” came out in 1976. Harold Beale’s frightening forecast for the United States rang true, especially during the Bush Administration:
FOR THE FIRST TIME
a long time, one has the opportunity to wonder, is it possible that the Obama Hope Generation will reverse the trend? That democracy will not founder but flourish? Obama’s already sick of his press and security detail and the man’s not even president yet. Let’s hope, faced with the enormous responsibilities of his post, that he is not overwhelmed, that he flourishes, not founders. If not, to the recession, will America add depression.
OH THE INHUMANITY!
Have you ever noticed how many commercials these days use CGI-characters instead of live actors? Why do we accept these images of sham stand-in people, why do we hardly notice them anymore? Don’t we have to dehumanize ourselves a bit to let this pass? I, for one, don’t like it.
TRAIN 649, THE “KEYSTONE,” TO HARRISBURG
Lord, am I ever happier than when I’ve settled my butt into my desired seat on a train about to take off? Still, full of dread and biting my nails, standard behavior before trips to the family manor. You are the bright light of their lives! Jon tells me, they hardly ever see you! Yes, I guess I am. So I’d better just shine, shine, like the crazy diamond I am, while I pick my cuticles.
and I’m off! to a grumbling, rumbling start on Track 12W at Penn Station. A Long Island Railroad train pulls in as we pull out. Goodbye, New York, and your crowds of people shoving past each other on the break-your-back icy streets. Newark, NJ is a good place to rest my eyes and take a nap, and I wake up just in time to raise my head and see my favorite sign: TRENTON MAKES, THE WORLD TAKES. Which means it’s time to gather my bags and “detrain,” in Philadelphia.
WELL, THAT’S JUST GREAT
The holiday week here, then my favorite thing on earth: a cross-country train ride. My friend asked me how I’m getting home. I said I’m taking the train to the train to the train to the train to the shuttle to the train to my lofty San Francisco pad and my three cats. The Fox Chase train to 30th St, Station, Philadelphia and train 195, the “Northeast Regional,” to Washington DC train 29, the “Capitol Limited,” to Chicago train 5, the “California Zephyr” to Emeryville, CA and via Amtrak shuttle bus to San Francisco Ferry Building, whence I take the BART train home.
But now I read that there was a freight train derailment and bridge collapse outside of Reno, on the very line I’m taking, the California Zephyr, through Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. The scheduled time of the trip is 51 hours and 20 minutes. Union Pacific swears there will be no delays on the line as there is a parallel track trains can be routed over. But we shall see. It’ll be 51 and counting…
Happy New Year, my friends. Next post comes to you from Somewhere in America.
The author enjoys some Crazy Cock on Cruella’s couch. Photo by Cruella.
Mexico is magical
The author is riding the rails for you.
copyright Alexandra Jones 2009