Friday, June 28, 2013

Love and Garbage, Joy and Vieques



What tied me most firmly to my life was writing: anything I experienced would become images for me.  At times they would surround me so completely that I felt I was in a different world, and my stay there filled me with happiness or at least a sense of relief.  Years ago I convinced myself that I would be able to communicate these images to someone, that there were even people about who were waiting for them in order to share my joys and sorrows.  I did all I could to meet their supposed expectations: I was doing this not from pride or any sense of superiority but because I wanted someone to share my world with me. – Ivan Klima, Love and Garbage



I stumbled upon this paragraph, sitting on a hammock, overlooking a pool, deep in the woods in Vieques, one of my favorite places in the world.  We’ve been staying here for a week now, as we’ve done for several years now.  Klima’s words resonate as a way to describe a way of living historically, writing reflectively, and simply being.  Maybe they explain why I blog or just try to position my life as a living narrative, hopefully leading somewhere.  I read about Klima in one of the guidebooks in for Prague a few weeks ago during my journey there.  Since then, I came back to New York, finished my semester, turned in my grades for my students (no grade appeals thank goodness), finished a few manuscripts, rode around the city, and journeyed out to Montauk and then here.  Hopefully, I can write and live in the same way, connecting my own life with a moment in time, which is both pregnant with contradictions, love and garbage, pain and connection, social movements and hope, efforts at creating change and disappointment.  I remind myself that that Prague Springs and related movements arise and are crushed and rise again.  Living in between requires a fair degree of perseverance and faith.  It also reminds me that its ok just to walk.  Some call us flaneurs, those of us who walk and walk, meandering through the streets of cities, town, aimlessly looking.  Doing so, I commune with my heros, Mario Vargos Llosa who used to get lost in Lima, Guy Debord, whose method for strolling through Paris after drink, sex, and experience became the subject of a new methodology – a psychogeography – of street ethnography.    Most every day, I wander on my trip here. 



When I stay here, I love reading novels and non-fiction, while staying away from the news of the world.  Glimpsing at the papers on Wednesday, I saw that the US Supreme Court gutting the Johnson era Voting Rights Act, a cornerstone of the Great Society and Civil Rights years.  I groan. So five men, appointed by Republicans can repudiate the culmination of generations of Civil Rights struggle, born of the street, civil disobedience, assassinated presidents, murdered school children, exiled leaders, heros and villains, who helped create the climate for President Johnson to sign the landmark legislation and give the pen he used to sign it to Martin Luther King.  Other notices suggest, the supremes may save face by honoring marriage and annulling the Defense of Marriage Act, which I abhor.  Such are the dialectics of progress- steps up and back.  Legislation passed and nullified, movements advanced, neutralized, and corralled into digestible bits.

As friend Andy Humm aptly puts it:

My theory on why the Supreme Court ruled for gay marriage (and even then not going all the way to a national right) while issuing reactionary decisions on Voting Rights and affirmative action and weakening anti-discrimination laws and the Fourth Amendment: On the gay case, there were five Justices who just could not face their gay friends if they voted against them. But not enough of the men of the court (the women are fine) are connected enough with the poor and disenfranchised people of color who will be devastated by their other rulings. We need a court more representative of the American people. Please remember how important it is to vote in the midterm elections in 2014--and every chance to you have to vote.

 My immediate reaction, was its better to  hit the pool or go snorkeling at the Mosquito Pier, where there are so many more fish living without worrying about such matters, rather than get consumed in the muck.  In the era of the Roberts Court, I am not very optimistic about democracy.

“It’s the United States of Corporate America,” explained another traveler staying here.  Looking at the Citizen’s United ruling, it is hard to disagree. 

As I write now, its my last few hours here.  The night crickets and frogs, the symphony of sounds which fill the evenings in the forest are subsiding.  But I can hear a few birds in the distance.  The white stray cat who has been making his rounds, pokes his head in.  Birds chirp in the trees here at the eco lodge where we are staying. 

We had a great journey out from New York to San Juan, arriving in Isla Verde just after nightfall, in time for a walk to the beach.  



Meandering through the night, we played on the beach, said hello to a favorite tree, and dipped into a bar for a Pina Colada and some dinner.  Game seven of the NBA finals was on, as it seems to be every year I’m here.  Strange enough, half the pub cheers during the national anthem – a strange thing for a place many still consider a colonial out post.  Why else is Puerto Rico a part of the US “commonwealth” without voting rights or statehood or its own independence?  Some suggest the island is roughly split in three electoral blocks – those who want things to stay as they are, those who want to be a state, and those who want independence. 



The next morning, we meet for breakfast, enjoying a swim in the hotel pool, where the kids would rather stay than journey out to an isolated Island.  I run off for a lovely swim deep in the warm waters before wandering home to catch the taxi across the island to catch the 1 PM ferry to Vieques from Fajardo.  The taxi warns us ferries are running late and I can see this in the long line waiting for a ticket.  A half hour later, the line is still not moving.  No one is moving. 

There is a veteran from the Iraq war in line with me. “Three years ago I could not have stood in a line like this, out in the open,” he explained, referring to the residual memories so many veterans experience, the trauma.  “But now I’m fine.”  He pointed out a scarred, burned arm with a US Army tattoo.  When we miss our 1 PM ferry, he leaves, wondering why no one has given us any information.  But he seems fine with it all.  Word through the crowd is that there is a 4:30 ferry and we will have to wait for tickets to go on sale.

Ferries are all full.  It’s the most busy weekend of the year, a full super moon in Vieques this weekend so everyone is traveling there.  I’m always the last to know?

I talk with the ticket guy who seems oblivious, and certainly can’t sell me tickets for the 2:30 cargo ferry.  Caroline and the girls go get lunch, while I wait, starting to take notes for this blog.  “Everyone is feeling good,” I scribbled on my pad.  “Waiting for the 4 PM ferry.  You can’t control travel, right?”


Peter and I text back and forth.  I talk with my brother who is off to Italy to hang with our mom, now teaching in Venice.  And Caroline texts me.  “I have a beer and a Cuban sandwich for you.”  By 2:15 the man selling tickets takes pity on those of us in line, selling us tickets for the next ferry. 



I join the girls for lunch, enjoying where the trip was taking me.  If the ferry had left on time  I never would have enjoyed this lovely sandwich and beer into this bar seemingly lost in time. 

The girls go back to the ferry. I  walk through the streets of Fajardo, looking at the trees, the piers, the fisherman and the Caribbean streets, men in bars, hanging out…



No one is swimming in the brownish water so I don’t. 

We play games, hopping and skipping waiting in the line. 



Finally, around five we make the cargo ferry.  Apparently, the commuter ferries have broken down. 

It takes another hour before the boat takes off, with water splashing us as we look at the boat ebb up, lunch down, crushing into the sea only to rise again. 


Arriving in Vieques, the streets of Isabelle’s its busiest hub, they feel like the South Bronx, bustling with energy.  Sunset making way for a rising full moon. 



We drive to isolated the ego lodge where we stay, enjoying a drive through single lane streets up and down through the hills, into the woods, crickets chirping.  The one way streets take us up so we can’t see who is coming.  And we honk, hoping someone in the distance will hear us, just as we have done driving through pre automotive streets Greece and Southern Italy. 



Arriving we all swim in the pool, enjoying the pulsing stars, cleansing ourselves from our long journey. 

Scenes from the lodge.  Pepe the Lizzard was a constant visitor. 





Over the next few days, we hit the pool in the mornings, enjoying café bustelo.   We drive through the island, admiring the wild horses, drivers are obliged to make way for.



We all go to sea glass beach…  our favorite beach…



And later meander out to our favorite fisherman’s bar, an international pub by the ferry. An iguana eats flowers in the distance next door, below a sign declaring “Vieques is not for Sale!”



My traveling companion is nine years old….Paul Simon’s words from Graceland reverberate through my mind, looking at my ten year old traveling companion, who I asked to look out for the horses and dogs, which habit the streets. 

Reorienting ourselves to the Island, we get lost few times, figuring where to go from the house.  Wick up supplies at Morales Supermercato and stroll through Isabelle to the sea market, Pescaderia Angelyz.



Saturday they only have grouper. Which we’ll make later that night, wrapping them in leaves from banana trees, so they do not burn on the grill, where we cook potatoes, drink wing, late night looking at the super full moon. .. a symphony of sounds…


                                                  
The next morning, we jouney to a new farm, enjoying a view of a field where horses wonder.  And get a burrito at Sol Food.  “La Lucca Continua” declares graffiti, commemorating the ten year anniversary of the end of the US bombing here.   “David Sanes April 19, 1999" 

“Who is David?” I ask, referring to the graffiti.


It rains every day. But only for a few minutes with each shower, after which the sun usually follows.  And when it does rain, it is usually warm, as I learned years ago here, watching the surfers undeterred at the beach.  Scarlett and I enjoyed romping through the beach at Plata Paya, despite the beach storm.  With cascades of water pouring down,  Scarlet swimming away into the ocean… we co create stories of where we are going, where we have been, finding each other, losing each other, Simon says… romping through the water… telling stories… lies… etc… The open water opens our minds, soothing us in ways we can dream of places we’ve been in other lives, older worlds. 



When we are not out and it rains, we just sit on the hammocks looking out into the woods, reading,  and daydreaming. This is what the trip is for.  We can do this at home, we all promise ourselves, hoping we will. 

A few nights, we eat, rice and beans. 

Monday, Pescaderia Angelyz has five pound lobsters, we cook, sitting enjoying our nook in the woods. 

With travel, we never quite leave our lives, just giving us time to think and be  in time with what these lives are.  Some nights I dream, wondering about friends, house makes, the house in Brooklyn, contested spaces and ideas in our lives, in Times UP! among our comrades.

Tuesday, Scarlett loses a tooth leaving a note for the tooth fairy.

Raining, we read Huck Finn, enjoying being alive… on our journey down our own river. 

At night, we watch horse movies, old sci fi.



In the day, on Tuesday, we take a horse ride, on wild Caribbean horses.

“You can ride Sorro.  He likes to lead most of the tours.  Just do not try to pull him too much or he’ll buck you,” our guides explain. 



I have not ridden for over 15 years.  And that we on our family farm, not on streets, winding hills and beaches.  Sorro takes off, taking a faster and faster pace.  “Suave Sorro!” I plead, forgetting to post, my back feels every step.  So I ride, knowing it will be more dangerous to try to stop this guy.  He takes me to the beach, into the waters, jumping rocks.  We all enjoy the ride. 



We visit the mosquito pier for snorkeling, looking out at the life below the see and tree meandering out of the ground, their roots holding the most precarious of leaning beauties.

Later in the day, I notice a copy of Rebecca’s Solnit’s The art of getting lost in the library, book exchange. Looking at the first page, I feel like I did not need a copy. I am quite adept at the practice. 



Last night, we go Belly buttons for paella night, reflecting on childhood vacations, where we went to the farm, fought, hung with the cows, got stuck in the mud and rarely went to the beach… the kids may appreciate it when they are older… but for now, its been a great time… full of daily travails, stories and enjoyments.



A storm is brewing for our last day, so Caroline arranges a puddle jumper out.  Four of us are the only ones flying, this lovely little plane, which gets us from Vieques to the big island in less than ten minutes.



The captain invites the girls into the cockpit for a pic.

Arriving in old San Juan, we stopped for a great café latte and fresh croissants with guava butter in an art deco café. 



Finishing the coffee, we started through the cobble stone streets in the direction of the children’s museum, where we usually end up for lunch.  The houses along the way remind me of New Orleans. But instead of walking straight, we walk around this former Spanish town and its fort from 1521, the streets lined with trees.  I notice a sign on a wall for” John Melendes, artista.”  A door is slightly ajar, it is not a school, but a private residence.  Looking inside, I notice a painting.  Walking away, where a young man invites us into the studio, where artist John Melendez, an elderly gentleman, is sitting below a painting by Miguel Luciano.



“Come on in and look around,” explains Melendez.

“This is his studio…” his friend explains.

“What is going on in this painting?” I ask gesturing to the painting by Miguel Luciano.  A pop culture bunny seems to be popping out of a hat with the Puerto Rican flag below.  Other, more indigenous bunnies seem to be hopping around it. 

“We are caught up between worlds,” he explains. “The world of pop and our world clashing.”  Certainly, one feels this in this town, long ruled by the Spanish, until the US took over its own form of colonial rule after the Spanish American War in 1898. 



Melendez showed us his paintings of saints, offering his over imprint on motifs of devotional art, honed, and reinvented by generation after generation of artists.  Today, it feels like outsider art, while long ago, this work felt like the center.  This is the art my mother teaches in Venice.  But I detest the dichotomy between insider and outsider.  Art is art. Scarlett said she wanted a picture of St Jorge and conquering the dragon.  Caroline admired the painting of St Germain, with his golden halo.

Melendez told us he loved visitors.  I asked if I could take his picture.  And he obliged, noting only if Scarlett posed with him.   He noted the children often come visit, seeming to enjoy his work. 



Thanking the artist and feeling very charmed we left, taking a stroll up to the old fort.  A old wall is built around a tree branch protruding through, as the city overlaps and co mingles with the natural world.  

“These are what the streets of Spain look like,” explains Caroline, who has long been trying to disabuse me of the idea of touring Spain.  While I have spent years in and out of Italy, France, Germany up and around Mexico, and Puerto Rico, I have not made it into Spanish, where my little brother walks the Camino every year.  A stroll in the morning, followed by lunch, Sangria, siesta, and more walking – that sounds like a vacation to me.

But for now, old San Juan where the Spanish left their imprint – it will have to do.  I love seeing the descendants – and their mix of Taino people, former slaves, and Europeans. 



Its all my favorite colors in one street, I note pointing an alley of pink, green, blue and red.

Looking at the wall along the fort, we stare into the water.  You can see a house with potted plants, a pub, a crumbling building, and the sea in the distance. 



Over the next hour, we wondered  through a labyrinth of trees, vines, crumbling buildings, into Casa Blanca, a castle on the edge of the city, below the fort overlooking the water’s edge, lined with towering rubber trees from a time outside of time, into silence, where nothing seems to have changed for ages, the echoes of whatever happened still seem to reverberate…. Dark corners, alleys leading to nowhere, wondering what became of people below who may have Comino de Santiago conflict with the general in his labyrinth…



Making our way through another tree lined street towering with vines we stopped
an old Spanish restaurant, a cavernous space in a five hundred year old building where we drink sangria and enjoy a moment in time, looking forward to where our next trips will take us over the next decade, from Ireland to Africa, the girls hope.  I hope we can make to Spain and Caroline wants us to go to Sicily – if we go anywhere at all. 



Flying out, I read Rebel Cities: From the right to the city to the urban revolution.  Its hard to disagree with much here.  Yet, we know we are lost in flight and fight,  between storms.  Not sure, we can make it to LaGuardia, we stop in Ft Lauderdale, wandering through the airports… sleeping at Caroline’s brother in Ft Lauderdale… an 11 Pm swim, early flight out, and a 7:30 Am flight, 26 hours between leaving Vieques and driving out to the puddle jumper, we make out way out of a flight in LaGuardia. 



My ears pop as we descend into New York, on time for hanging out, blogging and the evening’s drag march. But for now, I'm glad I got to swim and meander for the last week. I am also glad to be making my way back to New York for more adventures in our ever changing city.  


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