Monday, March 31, 2008

Papa and Mexican Fishermen...Doing So Much With So Little

Today Catherine and I sat on the porch, well fed, rested, looking west at the great Sea of Cortez and talking of literature and booze and travel and love and sex. She is a woman whom for 25 years has traveled east to Spain to watch the running of the bulls in unrelenting tradition of excess that has been around for decades longer than us. It was Spain that Papa, Earnest Hemingway, wrote about in his novel The Sun Also Rises. I tried to recall a quote I had committed to memory so long ago....about living as though our actions had no consequence....Papa drinking Absinth and eating and drinking and not sleeping and waxing philosophically and whatnot for days on end. Catherine knows, at least more specifically in this instance, of what he speaks....and so Papa came into focus.
Catherine then shared a story about how Hemingway was once asked in a bar...or should I say he was challenged in a bar to write a short story in 6 words or less. His response, with his usual laconic and economical brilliance was:

For sale, baby shoes, never worn.

We got to talking about how, despite his brilliance he was rumored to be an arrogant womanizing prick...and I had recently read how, although she adored him, he was cruel to Dorothy Parker, that great modern, unrepentant self-possessed femme smartass. But as usual, I digress....

For it is the doing so much with so little that moved me to recall again how every time I see Mexican fishermen in their sparse pangas working the sea I am reminded that so many do so much with so little. Yesterday we passed a small fish camp on a remote shore of the Sea of Cortez where the men sat sewing, repairing their nets, sitting next to their meek shelters made of driftwood and tarps....we passed on our hearty quads noisy and powerful offering smiles and a buenas tardes. They work without the proverbial net....taking to the sea with little but their wits and a few resources and old outboards whose parts they know better than their wives bodies. They work the sea and cook fish-head soups at night on the beach and drink when it's available and talk of the return when sex and a bit more comfort will be theirs.

Later that night I sat in an austere restaurant in old Kino...where the locals go. It presents the aesthetic of an old cafeteria....with tile floors, cheap paintings, horrible lighting, the irony of a huge flat-screen TV blaring Mexican pop music. And the proprietor greets us with a handshake and the warmth of a family member and we make our order in Spanish and drink a Bohemia and talk of the day while in the back they prepare for us in a simple kitchen the fruits of those humble fisherman. We munch on chips and guacamole and wait in the grease saturated time we sit before our longosta and camarons presented on hearty old plates with an iceberg lettuce garnish and carrots and onions and cucumbers. We eat. We fill ourselves. We linger and talk of the things that educated gringas talk about. We are languid and lazy and we leave a generous tip and shake hands and smile and wish buenas noches and head back through town to sit on the porch and nurse another Bohemia under the temperate Mexican night....and later, I think about those fishermen on the beach....and the cook in the back of that modest restaurant preparing our fare....doing so much with so little.

Some men do it with nets and muscle....and some men do it with words. And I appreciate the skill and temerity of both.


Alas, today, we challenged ourselves....Catherine suggesting we write out six words as a biography. We sat and played with the language for a spell...and then we landed, for now, on the following:

Catherine's are:

Growing up was never an option.

Grad from Stanford, went to bulls.


A kind broody nut we love.

Butch, brave, kind, and slightly neurotic.

....and so it is.

...and one for the road:

Mescal and lime, a perfect marriage.

Care to take the challenge?

Standing in Quiet Appreciation...the Art of Accepting What's Offered

When a man offers you a cold beer in the middle of the dessert in a third world country...even though you know it will harden your arteries and make you fat, you nod and smile, take the beer...let the coolness slide down your throat, and stand in quiet appreciation.

When a man offers you a cigarette and lends you his flame...even though you know it will rot your lungs, you nod and smile, take the draw, and as the buzz stand in quiet appreciation.

And when a sweet waiter brings you pan, bread, and you know the doc said gluten is no good for nod with a gracias, and sit and eat in quiet appreciation.

I step out under the brilliant midnight Mexican sky and look west while the sea whispers to me something familiar and transcendent....something words cannot capture....she has comforted and calmed me for a lifetime....and I ponder the balance between temperance and vice...and understand that I am only a and always, I am only a visitor...and so I stand in quiet appreciation.

And I will return to the states and eat salads and drink water and work my body and abstain and....sit in quiet least for a minute or two.

Other Writers

Steve Sanfield is a great haiku master.

He lives in the country with Sarah,

his beautiful wife,
and he writes about the small things
which stand for all things.

Kyozan Joshu Roshi,
who has brought hundreds of monks
to a full awakening,
addresses the simultaneous
expansion and contraction
of the cosmos.
I go on and on
about a noble young woman
who unfastened her jeans
in the front seat of my jeep
and let me touch
the source of life
because I was so far from it.

I've got to tell you, friends,
I prefer my stuff to theirs.

Leonard Cohen

Gotta say, I am with Leonard on this one.....

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I Speak Man

That's right, I speak least a couple of dialects....I am most fluent in blue-collar-man (BCM). Although I will never be totally fluent having not been born a man so never will I have the total embodied experience one needs to be fluent. But I get by more than most women....with my female accent and all.

I am in Kino Bay, Mexico, at the edge of the eastern shore of the Sea of Cortez. I spent the day with my world traveled and learned friend Catherine, and two scrappy middle-aged blue collar blokes we met and ended up venturing into the dessert with for a day of dusty exploration on two quads....and so I spent much of the day speaking BCM.

Unlike many of my beautiful straight friends most of the time when such men meet me it is not fucking me that seems forefront on their minds. It was not long ago that a wise and beautiful friend of mine (queer of course) pointed out the obvious...that although I do not present as a picture of femininity, I relate well to men...and that it is actually my masculine energy that they connect with. It is not blurred with the veil of desire...sexual desire.

So when I meet a blue collar dude I start to speak their language and reveal that I can cast pretty far in the surf and know how to grease a spinning reel or that I have ridden an old Honda 175 as a crow flies across chunks of Death Valley ...and I can talk about the old noisy two-stroke engine with enough tork to climb a tree. I have ridden an old ATC Honda 185 with a thumb throttle that when held down firm will get you to 50mph on a dry lake bed. And I can talk about the recoil of 306 or a Remington 870 twelve gauge or call a spoon lure by name or point out a whooly-bugger in a tackle box...I can tie a nail knot, a fishermans loop, and a bowline...the latter two with my eyes closed. I can talk bikes and guns and fishing and marine engines. I draw from my past when I was a gun-toting motorcyle riding hard drinkin' desert rat...(before I morphed into an REI shopping low-impact camping environmentally aware yuppie...but that's another dialect).

I can meet men, sailors, and go on for some time talking about messing about in our floating sweethearts and the interminable frustrations and joys. My exes brother-in-law, John (a man with south Philly roots whose dad is a game warden and works the rivers off a boat catching poachers) and I would talk for hours troubleshooting the frustrating overheating problem I was having with my old Atomic 4 marine engine. We prattled on about raw water cooling and manifold rust and temperamental thermostats and heat exchangers and compression and the fact that no matter how small the job, when one works on a boat engine, one leaves with a bloody knuckle...or three. My exes father-in-law would look at us and and say, "what the hell are they talking about...they're speaking another language." We were. He doesn't speak least not very well.

I remember years ago a poignant moment of bonding with such a involved an old Buck knife. I was living on my boat at the time and had attended an advanced coastal navigation class taught by old salty sailors. Our last class we all brought food to share...I came with various cheeses and crackers and my old Buck knife. The knife was given to me by my high school boyfriend whom I rode motorcycles with through the desert and drank an ungodly amount of beer with sitting around campfires in the middle of nowhere. For my birthday, Drew gave me the Buck knife....a handsome implement of quiet peerless quality. I felt very grateful for the gift as it showed that Drew got some degree....even tho I was a closeted butch dyke with whom he had no hope of a future.

My Buck knife has traveled with me for over two decades up tall mountains, into the back country of many states...I have slept with it for protection when camping alone...I have cut my steaks and ropes and cheese and vegetables...opened boxes and cut slivers out of my own flesh. It is a loyal companion for which I have a seemingly unreasonable affection....its weight, the way it feels in my grip...the way I have trained myself to open it with one hand.

Back to the sailor party....that night I left and forgot my knife. Hours later I realized my error and I was panicked! How stupid was I! I called the teachers and no answer...left messages. At last an old salt called me back, said he had my knife....I explained that it was a special knife that had been with me a long time. He heard the profound relief in my voice and gave me directions to his house. An hour later I was on his porch, shaking his hand, telling him of my panic, thanking him profusely....and he nodded knowingly.... and in BCM, with laconic precision, said, "I understand." And I knew he did.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Dudamel Delivers the Sublime!

Last night I had the privilege of watching the San Francisco Symphony perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Stravinsky’s The Firebird conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. It was fabulous!

Now in undergrad I was forced to write a piece comparing Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Picasso’s Guernica, and TS Elliot’s The Wasteland….a daunting task indeed to a young scholar. But I did it and in the process cultivated an aversion to Stravinsky (although Picasso and TS remain favorites of mine…but not The Wasteland with its interminable literary and biblical allusions…not learned enough to appreciate the depths!). But I digress. I went to the aforementioned performance with tempered anticipation, having developed an appreciation for the clean resolution and harmony of Bach and Mozart and the like…and dreading a bit (ignorantly) the anticipated complexity and potential atonal meanderings of Stravinsky. But went I did and what a treat.

Dudamel unassumingly took to the stage with a springy gate and his wild curly hair bouncing playfully about. He took his station in front of the huge orchestra…3 harps, 2 pianos, several percussionists and an army of horns and strings. He nodded…and then without a score drew from that assembly of virtuosos something absolutely sublime. It was stunning.

I am not a sophisticated audience for such performances….I sit with a common man’s understanding, a gross and course perception….much a nuance is lost on me. But even I could appreciate the extraordinary magnificence of the performance. I felt blessed.

Adding even more to the experience, my date was a friend who has played the violin since she was 4 years old…having attended a conservatory and committed in her youth to serious study. Although she plays only for pleasure now, the sensibility of that instrument is in her bones….it is part of her. And so my enjoyment was hugely enhanced by feeling-hearing-seeing her respond to the brilliance of the performance….sitting next to her helped me hear with more depth and appreciation.

The performance was met with a resounding 5+ minute standing ovation and several curtain calls by Dudamel. Everyone was abuzz as we all poured out of Davis Symphony Hall. Drinks at Jardinière afterwards we were surrounded by the musicians getting a late night bite and a drink…their instruments laying this way and that….musicians and audience all mingled and casual once again….and the perfect consummation of the evening lingered.

Titles of Essays I Have Been Writing in My Head

  • Ode to Vice (Seriously...)
  • Pursuing an Operative Definition of "Truth"...Good Luck with That!
  • Six Ways to Love a Friend
  • The Semiotics of Internet Dating
  • Fear and Loathing in Hayes Valley...with Valet Parking
  • Quantos Para mi Vida Loca?
  • Blanche DuBois and the Wisdom of Depending on the Kindness of Strangers
We'll see if these essays get successfully extracted from my head and written on the proverbial parchment...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring is Springing

No longer just flirting, it seems that she has come on time this year, sweet spring and all she brings. The doors are open, the dogs are shedding, the weeds are thriving…sitting on the deck in a t-shirt and the sun saluting higher in the sky…the shadows have shortened and the call for activity has sounded.

This year I feel like I have missed most of winter having spent the bulk of it in Antigua Guatemala where the sun shines every day…a wonderful city that sits thousands of feet above sea level and the air is dry and clear and the temperature is as close to perfect as is possible.

As one who needs the sun and grows weary and sometimes sad about its long absence during a Northern California winter…it was different this year. No pining, no sadness…bolstered by a protracted season of sun in Central America. I find myself in the unusual position of craving rain. Perhaps just 3 days of heavy downpour where the sky just lets loose without apology. Three days where I can sit in my little office and feel warm and protected. Winter is the season for going inside and being quiet…I play my guitar, write, read, watch movies…use my windshield wipers and put the collar up on my leather jacket…take hot showers just for the warmth…light a fire. Could use a few more days of that…the quiet that it brings…the comfort one must create in response.

I wish it would rain.

But spring has sprung and I am looking at the yard and feeling the draw to go buy some flowers and put my hands in the soil and watch something grow…something with color. And the boat sits in her slip, neglected, waiting for me to come clean her up and hoist her sails and let her stretch out and roam the bay and see the beautiful San Francisco skyline. Then lumber west towards that iconic passage…under the Golden Gate bridge to the edge of that unfathomable great Pacific Ocean…the rollers lifting me up on my sturdy little boat…knowing they have traveled all the way from Hawaii and Japan and places so far from here….sharing hints of winds and storms and currents I can only imagine.

Spring…when the distinctions of “in here” and “out there” wane. Spring…a time for integration when the world beckons us out of our cocoon…invites us to interact with the elements in a more conciliatory way. No longer a battle against cold or wet…just come outside, walk, sail, wear some sunscreen…feel the wind….see the hills and Angel Island and the grand bridges and the jutting headlands and the sea. It is a call that’s hard to ignore.

But I really do wish it would just rain. Hard. For three days.

Then I think I would be ready to answer her call.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Orange Glow of a Stranger's Living Room

Under stars of violet
Under stars of green
Under stars of silver
Under stars.. of you

When i walk the city streets at night
I'm scared shitless
When i walk the country roads at night
I'm scared shitless
But still i go out'
Cause i get so restless

Under stars of violet
Under stars of green
Under stars of silver
Under stars.. of you

The orange glow of a stranger's living room
Looks so much warmer than mine

by Smog

There are songs that to me are so tight, so true, so complete with laconic beauty...I listen with envy, with bittersweet appreciation. I listen with a quiet and profound admiration...and I am so very thankful.

There is a Kingdom

Just like a bird that sings up the sun
In a dawn so very dark
Such is my faith for you
Such is my faith
And all the world's darkness can't swallow up
A single spark
Such is my love for you
Such is my love

There is a kingdom
There is a king
And he lives without
And he lives within

The starry heavens above me
The moral law within
So the world appears
So the world appears
This day so sweet
It will never come again
So the world appears
Through this mist of tears

There is a kingdom
There is a king
And he lives without
And he lives within

by Nick Cave