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Cops & Robbers: Stuck in Oaxaca

I had pretty much decided to leave Oaxaca a week earlier than I originally planned. What had I been thinking? A month in Oaxaca? A week or two would have done it, I would have had my fill of the markets, the parks, the ruins, and the weddings, especially the very loud explosions of the almost daily weddings.

So I decided to load up Rojita’s travel carrier with all the cold weather clothing I didn’t really need and put it in the car in preparation for departure. As I neared my car, parked a block away from the apartment on Reforma, I noticed the window behind the driver looked very clean, sparkling, as if you could reach your hand right in. Which, to my shock, I could. A jagged line of glass glittered where the window should have met the door. I had a moment of unreality, an instant of “Could this be true?”

It was. I looked within to a carpet of shards on the back seat. Just as I was absorbing the reality of the situation, two motor cycle cops roared up, parking behind my car.

“How long have you been parked here?” one demanded accusatively. “Two days,” I replied, not really sure. “It’s been broken two days,” he snapped at me. That pissed me off: “So it’s my fault?”

Something about my reply changed his attitude from Bad Cop to Good Cop. He and his partner encouraged me to unlock the car, see if the battery or the spare tire had been stolen. In shock, I couldn’t really remember what had been in the car to steal–nothing, I thought. (In time I was to realize a small electric heater, my raincoat, two cushions I use for driving, and three or so care packets I carry for migrants were gone.)

Feeling helpless, I turned to the pair and said plaintively, “But where can I get this fixed?”

The second cop moved into action on his radio, making some rapid-fire enquiries. He came up with an address nearby and offered to guide me there. So I had a motor cycle escort through the neighborhood to Cristal Facil, as it turned out a country-wide chain of auto glass repair shops.

The cops stood around while I queried the young man behind the desk about ordering a window and what I needed to get my insurance to cover it. At first all three men assumed it was an American car, and the agent shook his head discouragingly. “But it’s Mexican. I bought it in Mexico!”

As I talked details the cops hung around for awhile and eventually departed with my enthusiastic thanks. Later, less preoccupied, I wished I had given them a tip. (“But they were just doing their job,” a Mexican friend later reassured me. Still, I thought….shouldda.)

The young man, not very enthusiastic, just doing a job, said “Ocho dias“- eight days to get a replacement window. I had a feeling this might be optimism.

Next I struggled through a phone call with my insurance company, eventually getting an order number fifteen digits long. For anybody who hasn’t dealt with an insurance company in Spanish over the phone, you cannot possibly know my pride of accomplishment.

I phoned my landlady and pleaded with her to let me park in the enclosed space beneath the apartments. “Ocho dias? OK, ocho dias.”

Even as I climbed the stairs to my temporary home, though I was kind of amazed at the calm with which I had handled it all, there was an underlying agitation. I assume that pretty much everybody gets robbed at some point in their life, one way or another. And the sense of violation is sometimes stronger than the sense of loss. (Though I was really pissed about my raincoat!)

When will the window arrive? When will I be able to go home?

I know, I know: “Poor me, stuck in Oaxaca.”

But stuck is stuck, doesn’t matter where.

Monte Alban

It must be 35 years since I last visited. And it has changed, especially the approach. The road curves up the hillside to a big open paved area circled by puestos for venders. Beyond is a large parking space. A wide rock walkway, adorned with large clay pots of colorful geraniums leads further up the hill. There is now a museum, a ticket office and an entry. Of course, I walk on the wrong side of the path, and the ticket taker gestures me over. She asks if my dog has papers, and I answer, of course. Could I show them to her? I explain I don’t have them with me. I’m thinking health certificate, shots, etc. Finally I understand that only service dogs are allowed entry. Very unhappy, I tell her I have come all the way from Centro, that it was an expedition for me, scary. (This is all true: driving in large unfamiliar cities is unnerving.) I must have looked dismayed, and she took pity, convinced that clearly I am in need of a service dog. She tells me to go and get my ticket, and we agree that I have shown her Rojita’s papers, but that I must carry her in the PocoPet bag I have brought, just in case. We’re in!

Unfortunately, Rojita is not as small a dog as one might wish while hauling her around in a bag. And getting her into it is always a challenge. I talk her though it, bit by bit, but she remains upright and quivering the whole expedition.

It was obvious this would not be a stroll through the spacious and extensive ruins. I huff further up the hill, finally reaching The Tree, the iconic guardian that awakens my earliest memories of this ruin.

Brad and I first rolled up to this beauty in our blue Volkswagen van in 1968. The key klicked, the engine ceased its grinding, and there was silence, with the spacious beauty of the site spreading before us. We spent the night there.

So all of the rock work and landscaping has been slightly disorienting until I see The Tree, still alive, now so ancient its branches are propped up by slender logs, like me with my walking stick.

A sadness sweeps over me for those long ago times. And a memory pops into my mind of the time Churpa and her godfather, Jacques, set out cross country from out hotel on the outskirts of the city and spent a day walking to the ruin, clambering all over and returning through the countryside. Churpa couldn’t have been more than eight years old., since Jacques could still carry her on his shoulders. What a challenging distance for a child. She had a wonderful time.

So I soldier on and find a wall to sit, resting Rojita in her bag beside me, stare out at the vista of the handsome rock structures, so stately. Nearby some men are working on one of the steep sides of the ball park, maintenance. The sky is blue with soft clouds passing occasionally before the sun, large swathes of green separate the structures, and a light breeze refreshes me.

Despite my nostalgia, my spirits are lifted. I have spent the previous four days walking the hood, surviving the hectic sensory overload of the market, enjoying a meal on the zocalo, as always beleaguered by an encampment voicing their protests through loudspeakers. Rojita and I have spent hours in the Llano park, enjoying the trees and activity.

But it’s city life. I didn’t know it, but I was gasping for the air and space and greenery of the campo. the countryside, where I spend most of my days normally.

It’s hard to tear myself away, but back in the parking area I buy a bag of banana chips and stare through the trees to the distant city to which we must return.

Getting There

Sometimes I forget that the goal of “arriving” can interfere with the trip. Yesterday, leaving home, tense about the road, the destination, my phone’s ability to guide me, tense about everything, really, all’s I mostly saw was the road directly in front of me. In fact, lying sleepless in my hotel room that night, I continued to see the highway unfurling in front of me, as if I were still driving. Sure, I got some glimpses of roadside flowers, but I was so fixated on the goal that most of the day was passed in a sort of hypnotic trance driven by will.

Today’s drive is different. It’s like I’ve woken up to the world again. And perhaps it’s because the geography is so powerful. As I drive each ecosystem unfurls around me, extending away toward distant mountains, which are dark, almost blue. The world reaches in and touches me, insisting on its character at this moment.

First I slide through a terrain of tall spindly cacti, each emitting a glow, as if haloed in light. Maybe the sun catching the spines is the cause of this peculiarly holographic look, as if I could almost see through them. They are all tall and spindly, nothing unique about any, a magician’s illusion repeated endlessly across the land.

And then, abruptly, with hardly any transition, the highway curves gracefully onto long yellow rimmed bridges stretching above deep canyons, and the land mutates into long stately layers of sedimentary rock, stalwart mesas, still with the blue mountains a distant backdrop. Occasionally an abrupt squiggle in the steady layers, an aberration, marks some moment in the past of upheaval and motion. And then again mile after mile of these steady markers of time, aeons.

To my delight, the earth darkens to a deep rust red, reminiscent of Utah or New Mexico, time travel to previous adventures so far away. The soil looks loose, friable, and I imagine an iron taste, rusty, dried blood. This is by far the most dramatic landscape of the day, insistent in its character, demanding attention.

I feel high. I’m flying through world after world, each with its own peculiar beauty, each a turn on. My sense of adventure renewed, my senses awakened, the highway descends into the valley of Oaxaca, and soon I’m enmeshed back into the urban world imposed by humanity. Now there’s traffic, and hubbub, traffic signals, and on Oaxaca’s outskirts, my phone suddenly insists “Turn left, turn left!” Against all my instincts, I follow its commands and find myself on a rocky road in a nameless barrio where, my phone asserts, “You have arrived.” Apparently there are two “Reforma’s” in this huge city.

Pissed off, I find a place to make a U-ie and fling myself back into the heavy traffic aimed toward the ever elusive “Centro.” I reactivate my phone’s search and get new directions that take me to a sky blue building housing a gallery. I double park behind a coca cola truck, ask the aid of a passerby who kindly inquires and finds the daughter-in-law of Adrianna, whose apartment I have rented.

I have arrived.

But the trip didn’t just pass me by.

about that hotel…..

The friendly young hotel clerk directed me to a colorful cafe around the corner, as the Rincon Poblano restaurant was closed, and I was starving, having eaten just an apple and sunflower seeds all day. I enjoyed the best Enchiladas Suizas of my life, in a creamy almost fluffy green sauce, a side of refritos, topped with slivers of red onion and sprigs of a pretty unidentified plant. (I should have asked!)

That was the highlight of my night. It was all downhill from there.

I forget how noisy Mexican hotels are. When given the choice of a room with or without a window, I made the novice’s mistake of opting for the window. What was I thinking? My window faced on a busy street where muscle cars and wheezing buses, revving and squealing, respectively, waited for the green light.

Then there was the couple overhead, her high heels clacking on the tiles. Tacones, the onomatopoetic Spanish for these shoes, says it best.

Soon I realized why this was a “pet friendly” hotel, cover for the resident hysteric, yipping all night. Just when there was a moment of silence, before I even had time to appreciate it, the yipping began again, a piercing complaint into the night.

And let’s not forget the guy inspired to warble a loud and off-key love song sometime long after midnight.

Meanwhile, the couple upstairs started rearranging their heavy wooden furniture, just as the jolly groups returning from a late dinner and drinks, bellowed their enjoyment together.

In other words, a typical night in a Mexican hotel. I gulped a valium, knowing sleep was hopeless, but at least I could relax.

Oh, almost forgot the snorer, several rooms away. I was glad not to be sharing his room, but I have to say, after twenty-three years alone, a distant snoring is kind of comforting.

Oaxaca 2022

I had a sudden whim. Why don’t I go spend a month in Oaxaca. I haven’t spent time there in years. Why not? I just have been dividing my time between life in the rancho near San Miguel, the beach and visits to the Pacific Northwest. What happened to the rest of Mexico that Steve and Churpa and I used explore, immersing ourselves in one adventure after another?

I admit I make hasty decisions. Not for me the careful planning, a balance sheet between plus and negative, least of all a consideration of what I would do there. I was going. I booked an apartment through a friend. I had a month to pull my life together after a trip to the US that ended in emergency room visits and hospitalization. OK, so start checking off my list: buy bultos of food for the 13 feral cats I feed. Pay Felix a month’s salary in advance. Contract with Jorge’s team to lob branches and top the three soaring pirule trees that threaten the house and the capilla. Pack. Often cold, I packed for winter, even though I was headed south.

Some people can do the drive in one long day. That’s not me. I wavered between an overnight in Tehuacan and one in Puebla. Thank you, Jesus, I settled on Puebla. But I gave a pass on my favorite, expensive former convent; this trip is back to basics, and I found a cute little two star hotel that was pet friendly. I couldn’t quite tell where it was, but in Centro.

I’m a nervous wreck starting a trip. Ever since Steve died 23 years ago, I’ve lost the confident pack up the car and go attitude. Age? Driving alone? I’ve lost my confidence, so depend on various tinctures “for Nerves & Stress.” Take a swig, open the gate, and we’re off! (We is me and Rojita, my rescue of two years who rescued me from the slow slide into depression of the pandemic. She has insisted on waiting in the car as I load, not one to get left!)

Once on the road, I calm down. The Mexico City Highway is a solid mass of semis. We spend a boring 45 minutes virtually inching along up a hill towards the cause of the jam: the caseta de cobro. Later, when we’re moving again I’m thrilled to see the countryside is aglow with bright yellow zuchiles, bright pink cosmos and that feathery pale pink low lying bush whose name I’ve never learned.

I only stop once, after about 4 hours, and wonder if I can make it. A small cold coca cola peps me up. Rojita takes half of dozen of her miniscule pees. “Cowboy up, Tina, you can do this.” (I talk to myself a lot, and to doggie.)

Things are relatively copacetic as we near Puebla, when my phone poops out. And my car charger has gone missing. “Oh, well, I’ll find a taxi driver to guide me to the hotel.” Meanwhile, an offshoot road offers “Cuota directo a Puebla.” Funny, I never noticed that on previous trips. We head optimistically following the sign. There’s about a kilometer of good road, which suddenly deteriorates into your usual pot-holed gnarly narrow Mexican road where the tarmac humps and dribbles. As I enter an urban area, all the signs read “Cholula.” No, says the lottery salesman I accost, his arms draped with tickets, you’re not lost. ‘Derecho, derecho, Puebla Centro!”

Puebla and Cholula are joined at the hip, and that appealing offshoot road has funneled me into the twin city, allowing me to drive through miles of traffic before signs start to say Puebla.

I continue to ask directions here and there, occasionally pulling over out of the traffic to rest my nerves. It’s rush hour, of course, with the usual motorcycles zigging and zagging like drunk mosquitoes, lumbering belching buses changing lanes, pick-ups double parked, wherever.

By the times we get to something that is starting to resemble the center of town I remember, I now start asking for the street. This city has chosen a system of north/south, east/west, all one way. I can find 11 East but not 11 West. A cheerful driver yells over through his open window that East becomes West after Calle 16 de Septiembre. The mystery is revealed. I manage to make it to the western blocks and miraculously, rounding a corner, I find my hotel, Rincon Poblano.

I never did manage to flag down a taxi to lead me!

Consciousness

Exploring consciousness has always been the driving force of my life, the web that has held my life together and maybe explained it, if that is even possible.

Of course, I didn’t call it that when I was a little girl. Raised a Christian Scientist, I believed that healing occurred by aligning my mind with the Divine Mind. Physical reality could be changed by mental alignment with a higher reality. I also believed that physical reality, what we perceived and lived in, was an illusion, an imperfect version of the unseen perfect template. I guess I would say Mary Baker Eddy was in the long tradition of Hindu maya or Plato’s shadows cast by the fire on the cave wall. In Christian Science humans were in the image and likeness of God, in our true nature, not the flawed one we exhibited in our daily life.

Naturally, I didn’t make that comparison until years later, when I’d stopped believing in “God” as conceptualized by mankind, a god in man’s image, a fiery patriarch behaving in bizarre manners and either ignoring or punishing his children.

But enough about God. I’m getting off topic.

From early childhood I was filled by aspiration to lift or transform myself. And I was to spend the majority of my life, all 77 years of it now, in that endeavor.

I read recently that consciousness is all that matters, and I agree.

I’m not sure this essay is going to follow a chronological order. And it may be more of a manifesto or very tardy Mission Statement for a Life.

Seen from the distance of almost four decades, the two values in my family were Healing and Art. My father was an Italian immigrant, spiritualist, painter and amateur musician. My mother was a schooled musician with a soaring soprano voice. She brought the family Steinway grand with her when she first moved from Minneapolis to Portland. Muriel and Alfonso met in a traveling opera company that went bust in southern California when the manager ran away with the money.

So I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a writer (art) and a healer (person capable of aligning with the Divine.)

The question of what exactly was Divine, or Sublime, was to make a nuisance of itself until I stopped naming it and let all things be a matter of energy. The nagging need to know how to work with energy, how to help (or let) it flow, how purify, how uplift, how to survive my own personal roller coaster of spirits–depressed, ecstatic and confused–fueled my meandering explorations.

At University, during a freshman course on the History of Western Civilization, or “Western Civ,” friends and I declared ourselves Aryan Nestorian (lost word) Christians. I don’t recall why that label seemed to suffice, but I believe it had something to do with direct contact with God.

I finished college with a Major in English (Stanford doesn’t have a Creative Writing Major) and a Minor in Italian in 1965. We were all by then hurling into the 60s, some at comet-like speed, others more cautiously.

I recently watched “John & Yoko: Only the Sky Above.” The film impacted me in unexpected ways. It haunted me. The following day I found myself bursting into tears. Because it was all there, those years we thought we could change the world, we thought we were changing it. Their Christmas Times Square ad!

Unfortunately the 60s is commonly sabotaged with the tag “Sex, Drugs & Rock & Roll.”But it was so much more than that! It was a world-wide arousal of consciousness, a generation of youths and some elders dedicating their lives to Peace and to Love and to the belief that we could transform the world from its devotion to war. It was up to us. “War is Over! If you want it.”

I think I cried after watching it because we failed. And because all the faces were so young. We were such babies, and yet so very enthusiastic and empowered and aware.Maybe my nostalgia idealizes the past. And yet.

In my most cynical moments I think that all that society got out of it is that yogurt and yoga are mainstream. Oh, yeah, and the organic foods movement.

I digress. Back to the 60s. I tried it all, starting with pot as I hitch-hiked across the country with a ne’er-do-well, Stewart, who considered selling me to one of our drivers. Winding up in Baltimore, I had my first hash experience, where sounds became colors. The world was shifting. What I had long suspected, the world was not “just” as it appeared; there were layers. My first acid trip was in a loft in the West Village where the walls dripped blood, but it wasn’t scary at all, just a current event. Later Freddy and I took a walk down Christopher St., and I couldn’t tell what sex anybody was. Again, that shifting, sliding, unreliable nature of matter.

After about a year in New York I took a two week trip to Mexico and fell in love, completely and forever and still, with a country. I was 22 years old. I stayed two months, went home to visit Mama for Christmas. She gave me $150 for a winter coat, and I promptly returned to Mexico for six months, hitch-hiking my way around the country, from Oaxaca to the Yucatan.

It was in Mexico, in a garden called Happy Valley, high on a hill with a cobblestone street that I first began to experience on acid a degree of dissolution of self, not complete, but a state of expansion, of brightness, of love. A friend told me I glowed. Well, yes, we all glow when we’re in love, even without an object.

Now I was really fascinated. I read: Hubbard’s Stranger in a Strange land, Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience, Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness.

I moved to New Mexico with “my old man,” Brad. How language dates us! We bought a small property with a tiny adobe house outside of Santa Fe in Cañada de los Alamos. I was weaving, Brad worked in a photographic studio, we had my first garden. It was here that one day I had my first experience of utter dissolution of self: there was nothing but brightness and love. I don’t know how long it lasted. This experience kicked off a life-long exploration of how to achieve that open ness, that boundless, all embracing love, without drugs. After all, one couldn’t take “Sunshine” or “Windowpane” every day (though some did.)

I took Kundalini yoga classes from devotees of Yogi Bhajan, a Sikh master with a local ashram. I’d get up at 4:00AM and drive up Canyon Rd. to do Breath of Fire and other exercises I supposed were intended to arouse the Kundalini and drive it to the top of the head for an explosion of ecstasy.

Years later, living in the Coast Range of Oregon, a circle of women practiced Wiccan rites together, attempting to lift cones of energy for healing. I was a daily practitioner of Western Kabbalah, doing meditations on the Tree of Life with the Tarot. I sweated and sang and prayed in Sweat Lodges in our Valley. I attended Jewish holy days, casting bread on the waters and doing an annual self-inventory to clear relationships (somewhat similar to Alcoholic Anonymous’ fourth and fifth steps, which was also part of my consciousness cleanse after an adult life of copious alcohol consumption.) Our family made two pilgrimages in the desert with a Huichol shaman who had become our friend and her extensive family searching for and harvesting “hikuri,” the sacred peyote.

Yes, all of these things worked, to a degree. They uplifted. They created moments of shared group consciousness, when “I” became less than and more “a part of.” What I was learning was that expanding consciousness was a steady, constant development of awareness of the moment, a letting in of all of life, immersion in a stream. Sometimes it was as simple as sitting in the sun on our porch, watching our cat sit prettily on a bench in front of the sprawling hydrangea bush

In 1990 a dear friend sent me an application to a ten day silent retreat. “You’ve gotta go, Tina. This is right up your alley!” And so began my 31 year practice of Vipassana Meditation as taught by S.N.Goenka. My first course was a trip. I started hallucinating Day One. I struggled to follow instructions and not get lost in the alluring visuals. I had a splitting headache at the back of my head, but somehow, using the technique, I was able to continue. By the end of the course, I had undergone a complete transformation of character. I was less tense, less anxious. A dark, snarky, bitter side of me had dissolved. I don’t know that my friends could sense it, but my consciousness had definitely mutated.

That was enough to get me going and keep me going. I’ve had some amazing experiences over the years. The hallucinating has only recently toned down. But the transformations, slow, steady have continued. My old habit of withdrawing into cold silence when angry or hurt, a coping mechanism, is much reduced. I can catch myself.

I keep reminding myself to wake up, be present, just sit and enjoy the beauty, set aside the constant jumble of inner blah blah, even for a few moments, and feel something different, a part of things, a calm, even at times bliss.

So this is where I’ve gotten to date. I struggle with isolation, with the humiliating depredations of old age, with self-pity, with wondering about the mechanics of death. But I rejoice in the life I have lived. I’m grateful, so grateful, for being part of this ocean of consciousness that we share.

Were I to have a headstone, might it read, “These eyes have seen so much beauty.”

Solstice 2020 & Musings about the Element of Water (Wait for it….I get there!)

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Such a high energy day, celebrated for so many years in my personal and communal life: the longest day of the year when the planet turns us toward winter and short days and long nights.  Today  we celebrate the daylight that  grows our gardens and brightens our spirits, but in our genes we know this is a turning toward the darkness, the time to huddle in the cave around the communal fire, taking safety in our tribe from the predators without.

And I’m feeling a real longing for tribe, for community. Zoom and messaging are no substitute for person to person talk, though I just had some good laughs on-line with my daughter. In the past three and a half months I’ve had just minimal “real life” contact: with my gardener Felix, who comes for one hour a day, six days a week, with Toni Roberts every week or so, when I pick up food orders that she has generously allowed to be delivered to her home, and recently the first honest-to-God social “event,” when friends rode out on their scooter from San Miguel and we took a walk down to the Ojo de Agua, a spring, below my property. I had forgotten my walking stick for hoofing it up and down hills here, and Jean Paul offered me his shoulder for balance as we climbed down a particularly steep and questionable part of the path. When I put my hand on his shoulder I realised that was the first human touch I had experienced in over three months!

Two weeks later, the 14th week of my stay -at-home-as-much-as-possible-policy, which went into effect March 16 when I put Churpa on the bus to Mexico City, I’m on Day 4 of worrying about sharing a table on the terrace at Juan’s Cafe with a woman newly arrived from the state of Florida, where the virus is surging. (In case you haven’t noticed, cases are rising all over the United States.)I was so intent on getting my first cappuccino of over four and a half months, it didn’t even occur to me to get up and leave rather than sit with her. Each time I go out into the world I suffer the uncertainties of infection for a week, which now seems to be the timeline when most symptoms surface.

And for some reason, I’m thinking about the elements. Water. I’ve had such a longing for it during these first months of isolation. I miss the ocean. I miss Xote, the hot springs near my home where I was swimming twice a week. I miss  Deadwood, Oregon, where two creeks converge in a lovely swimming hole where I once observed a black bear traversing a log from one bank to the other while I stood naked in water up to my waist a few yards away.

I’m thankful, though, for the water recently sweeping down from the sky to the thirsty earth. But the dank chilly morning is not calling me out for the walk I need to take, as much for my emotional state as for my heart, lungs and bones.

The element water fascinates me. There is the single drop, the myriad droplets, the individuality of the element, and yet, all the tiny units can unite, coalesce, cohere and become the stream, the creek, the lake, the ocean. It’s the best metaphor among the elements for me of the collective and individual experiences of consciousness. As humans, we individuals have the ability to meld, to flow together in union, both sexually and in the other energetic modes of heart-flow, eye-contact, a passionate sharing of ideas and feelings.

And now we seem challenged more that I can remember in my life time as to how we can respect and generate the essential quality of the element–its innate tendency to unite, to cohere, to coalesce. How do we do this? With our neighbours and friends? As villages and towns and cities? As states and countries? As a globe? Especially at a time when we have to “social distance” to preserve our lives?

Can we conjure that quality within us, within the individual droplets? Are we willing to cohere, sacrificing some of our ego and individuality to the collective consciousness available to us? And how do we go about it?

In Vipassana meditation while we pass our attention through the sensations through out the body it is sometimes helpful to observe the presence of the predominant element. Say if there’s a lot of heat we ascribe it to the element fire, which governs all temperature. Or we might perceive the heaviness (or lightness) of the element earth, governing weight. Sometimes we’re aware of movement or a piercing quality, which is air. A teacher once told me that the element of water was the most difficult to perceive, but not for me. When I’m aware of my entire arm, for instance, or even my entire body, or even just a finger, it is the quality of cohesiveness, of water, that informs my perception.

So now in the era of Covid, of the surge of protests on behalf of black lives, of the rampant violence and fascism of reactionary forces, of the sweep of a dust storm from the Sahara across the southern US, the alarm sounded, “I Can’t Breathe,” I feel such a longing for unity, for the coolness of sharing water with a brother or sister, of sharing and combining our breath of life into a stream, much like the streaming of people marching together up the avenues and streets of US cities that I’ve watched on media, a great coming together of longing for equality and unity, so much fiercer and more basic than any political agenda.

And so my thoughts once again turn to that element, water, in longing and in hope.

Solstice 2020 & Musings about the Element of Water (Wait for it….I get there!)

Such a high energy day, celebrated for so many years in my personal and communal life: the longest day of the year when the planet turns us toward winter and short days and long nights.  Today  we celebrate the daylight that  grows our gardens and brightens our spirits, but in our genes we know this is a turning toward the darkness, the time to huddle in the cave around the communal fire, taking safety in our tribe from the predators without.

And I’m feeling a real longing for tribe, for community. Zoom and messaging are no substitute for person to person talk, though I just had some good laughs on-line with my daughter. In the past three and a half months I’ve had just minimal “real life” contact: with my gardener Felix, who comes for one hour a day, six days a week, with Toni Roberts every week or so, when I pick up food orders that she has generously allowed to be delivered to her home, and recently the first honest-to-God social “event,” when friends rode out on their scooter from San Miguel and we took a walk down to the Ojo de Agua, a spring, below my property. I had forgotten my walking stick for hoofing it up and down hills here, and Jean Paul offered me his shoulder for balance as we climbed down a particularly steep and questionable part of the path. When I put my hand on his shoulder I realised that was the first human touch I had experienced in over three months!

Two weeks later, the 14th week of my stay -at-home-as-much-as-possible-policy, which went into effect March 16 when I put Churpa on the bus to Mexico City, I’m on Day 4 of worrying about sharing a table on the terrace at Juan’s Cafe with a woman newly arrived from the state of Florida, where the virus is surging. (In case you haven’t noticed, cases are rising all over the United States.)I was so intent on getting my first cappuccino of over four and a half months, it didn’t even occur to me to get up and leave rather than sit with her. Each time I go out into the world I suffer the uncertainties of infection for a week, which now seems to be the timeline when most symptoms surface.

And for some reason, I’m thinking about the elements. Water. I’ve had such a longing for it during these first months of isolation. I miss the ocean. I miss Xote, the hot springs near my home where I was swimming twice a week. I miss  Deadwood, Oregon, where two creeks converge in a lovely swimming hole where I once observed a black bear traversing a log from one bank to the other while I stood naked in water up to my waist a few yards away.

I’m thankful, though, for the water recently sweeping down from the sky to the thirsty earth. But the dank chilly morning is not calling me out for the walk I need to take, as much for my emotional state as for my heart, lungs and bones.

The element water fascinates me. There is the single drop, the myriad droplets, the individuality of the element, and yet, all the tiny units can unite, coalesce, cohere and become the stream, the creek, the lake, the ocean. It’s the best metaphor among the elements for me of the collective and individual experiences of consciousness. As humans, we individuals have the ability to meld, to flow together in union, both sexually and in the other energetic modes of heart-flow, eye-contact, a passionate sharing of ideas and feelings.

And now we seem challenged more that I can remember in my life time as to how we can respect and generate the essential quality of the element–its innate tendency to unite, to cohere, to coalesce. How do we do this? With our neighbours and friends? As villages and towns and cities? As states and countries? As a globe? Especially at a time when we have to “social distance” to preserve our lives?

Can we conjure that quality within us, within the individual droplets? Are we willing to cohere, sacrificing some of our ego and individuality to the collective consciousness available to us? And how do we go about it?

In Vipassana meditation while we pass our attention through the sensations through out the body it is sometimes helpful to observe the presence of the predominant element. Say if there’s a lot of heat we ascribe it to the element fire, which governs all temperature. Or we might perceive the heaviness (or lightness) of the element earth, governing weight. Sometimes we’re aware of movement or a piercing quality, which is air. A teacher once told me that the element of water was the most difficult to perceive, but not for me. When I’m aware of my entire arm, for instance, or even my entire body, or even just a finger, it is the quality of cohesiveness, of water, that informs my perception.

So now in the era of Covid, of the surge of protests on behalf of black lives, of the rampant violence and fascism of reactionary forces, of the sweep of a dust storm from the Sahara across the southern US, the alarm sounded, “I Can’t Breathe,” I feel such a longing for unity, for the coolness of sharing water with a brother or sister, of sharing and combining our breath of life into a stream, much like the streaming of people marching together up the avenues and streets of US cities that I’ve watched on media, a great coming together of longing for equality and unity, so much fiercer and more basic than any political agenda.

And so my thoughts once again turn to that element, water, in longing and in hope.

Waiting for the Plague-A Work in Progress

January, 2020

ViewPlayaMoraOcean

Beach time! My favorite beach in the world. My energy was good, the water was silken and clear, and I was in the good company of old beach pals and my daughter. The only shadows were the schools of fish flitting beneath me in the topaz blue water, the shade cast by the palm fronds as the sun set behind them in the creamy sky of pink and mauve clouds.

I must have heard about the virus sometime that month, but it didn’t register adequately. I remember the second mention of it I saw was a meme joke of a drunk lying in the street next to a bottle of Corona beer. Obvious, I thought, and not so very funny.

And there were omens, a disturbing morning’s walk revealed both a dead seagull on the sand, and a dead dolphin lapped back and forth by waves at Playa Mora’s ocean beach.

By mid-month I was preoccupied by some wonky heart thumpings and traveling home to the rancho in Guanajuato to get tests done. Results showed damage, and, facing my own mortality, I opted to sign up with The 24 Hour Association, a San Miguel organisation that takes care of all legalities and disposal of your body when the time comes.

The time was coming around for other friends too. My beloved Pilar, whom I had met in Guatemala where we both studied back-strap weaving with our diminutive teacher, Doña Paula, appeared at the end of a morning meditation, floating up through the air, dissolving, and I knew her battle with cancer was over. Seemed like indications of mortality were everywhere.

But I didn’t actually write the words, “Corona Virus,” in my journal until February 26.ViewPlayaMoraOcean

January 20 was the first official case of corona virus in the US.

February, 2020

Home, home in the rancho, I replaced my ocean water therapy with swimming at the nearby hot springs. Desert living requires a generous dollop of the watery element, one way or another. I luxuriated in floating in the hotter pool after doing my laps.

I’ve been experimenting with altering consciousness all my adult life–everything from coffee to psychedelics to meditation. Meditation has proved the most satisfactory, at least for me, with a daily practice of Vipassana for 30 years, with an additional 12 years previously trying out all manner of mental manipulations.

Recently I had been re-reading Echart Tolle’s The Power of Now, trying out his little exercises to detach from thoughts and open to what he calls,  appropriately, Presence or Being. I found that by the combination of floating in the warm water and focusing on sensations at the top of my head, I enjoyed some minutes of that expanded experience, a pause, as it were, in the jumbled interior monolog, relief. Often the state became an impulse generating love and compassion in all directions. Yep, it got me high!

And the world was pressing its demands upon my own mental resources with growing vigour and insistence. A journey planned months ago with my niece, Hannah, to travel to Puebla to play tourist and explore, was becoming more and more of a frightening challenge. Not only did I have to drive us there, always a Mexican game of what Steve used to call “Truck Polo,” but it appeared we were setting off on a trip just as a global virus was taking off.

On 2/26 I wrote rather inelegantly in my journal: “Anxiety about everything! Driving to Puebla. Getting plants and seeds into the ground. Corona Virus! End of our Republic! Fascism! End of the planet!” I wouldn’t doubt that at that moment I was experiencing the collective group mind  of any number of fellow humans. The pressure was mounting. We were about to be tumbled like raw rock in need of a polishing.

On February 28 the first three cases of Covid-19 were detected in Mexico.

lady

March, 2020

March has been a real game-changer, a whole other “kettle of fish,” as my mother would have said.

My niece was due to arrive for a week’s visit On March 2, and I spent the previous week cleaning out the Guest Chapel and washing and oiling my floors. On a previous visit Hannah and her son had had a couple of heart-stopping encounters with scorpions…so severe that I offered them beds in my house, and I took the chapel. But that was the rainy season. In these dry desert days I found only one scorpion and did my usual catch and release.

But the reality of the world-wide crisis was not to be ignored. My journal entry for the day of Hannah’s arrival: “Really starting to feel like the end of the world. 6th Extinction. Corona Virus. Market crash. Rivers of refugees the world over. End of Rule of Law. Massive economic inequity. Christian white supremacy jihad. Here we are setting out on a tourist jaunt to Puebla when we should be hunkering down to survive. And my shortness of breath is getting worse.” (Should note, the latter is a left-over from walking pneumonia about 3 years ago.)

Since I’m writing this toward the end of the month, I’m struggling to reconstruct the chronology of events. Hannah and I did drive to Puebla and spend three days there in a four hundred year old building, a former convent, now a deluxe hotel with an enormous courtyard where we breakfasted, sheltered by a sliding roof. Our tourism included some serious shopping for talavera pottery on Hannah’s part and unexpected drama at the astounding Museo Barroco on my part when I suddenly felt depleted and had to lie down on a bench, hovered over my museum personnel. (I later figured out it was dehydration.) Hannah was already practiced in sanitising protocol from her airplane travel and quickly encouraged me to get on board. (I had made a batch of hand sanitiser using alcohol and aloe vera.)

On Friday we traveled home, picking up Churpa at a hotel conveniently located on the Queretaro highway. On Saturday the 7th we watched the sunset from the roof of old Alaskan friends Bonnie and Hayden’s beautiful colonial home in San Miguel and enjoyed a dinner together. We  already suspected this might be our last “normal” social event for some time.  The next day I journaled, “What if Cheeto closes the border or transportation ceases or it’s just too dangerous to travel, and I never go to the States again and never see my friends there again?” And a more horrific thought: “Who will be the first person I know to get the virus? To die?” (Haven’t we all harboured these silent questions?)

Hannah made it safely home to Oakland, and on March 11th  a worldwide pandemic was declared. On Friday the 13th a site I was now following daily predicted that Mexico’s wave of infections would occur between the 20th and the 30th, and Churpa’s boy friend Clayton arrived to spend the weekend. Since he had recently returned from the US, he and I maintained very careful distancing, as it would now take two weeks to know whether or not he had been infected during his travels. On Sunday we indulged a last effort at normalcy and drove up the hill in the heat of the day to Macehual, a hotel of cheerful brightly painted bungalows with a restaurant over looking a field of lavender blooming brilliant purple with a vista towards Atotonilco, a famed religious center for the “Penitentes,” a cult that enacts self-inflicted punishment for their sins. This was to be my last meal “out” in who knows how long?

macehualview

Monday I drove the kids to the bus station. When they got out of the car I said, “You know, we may never see each other again.” Clayton answered, “That’s always true.” “Yes,” I agreed, “but it seems more true now.” Nobody hugged good bye.

ladies

March 15: Mexico now has 41 confirmed cases of Corona Virus, up 15 from the day before.

Sheltering in Place

Well, not quite yet, strictly speaking. I want to make a last Costco run for supplies before I burrow in here in the rancho. Bonnie and Hayden want to go Monday, which is a “puente,” or 3 day weekend. I suggest switching to Tuesday, but sooner is better, they say. We can get there early, before the rush. I reply that 11:30 is hardly “early,” but my friends have a NBN (Never Before Nine) policy and, anyway, I’m getting the kids to the bus at 10:15.

When we arrive in Queretaro we’re able to snag a last parking space on the edge of the gigantic Costco lot. We have to wait until Hayden is able to purloin a couple of shopping carts. We spray and swipe and head into the morass. Since “no more than 50” is the current recommendation for “safe” public gatherings, we are way into the danger zone. The place is a zoo. And I don’t know the lay-out here so can’t find the things on my list as I dodge and weave down aisles. Before I’ve made a complete circuit I find myself at the end of a tail of carts already in line for the check-out. I spend 45 minutes pushing my cart forward at long intervals and racing down aisles to the side to see if I can find anything of value, forget my list!

Chatted with a couple of old dudes (probably younger than me!) in long check-out line, both named Enrique, who have been friends since grammar school. As they left, one extended his hand for me to shake. I think it was a test. Without a thought my hands went to namaste gesture in front of heart and I bowed. The cashier smiled. “Que le vaya muy, muy bien,” I added. “Cuidanse mucho!” Feeling full of love for our frail human family.

March 17 is my first official day of hunkering down.

Mexico now has 82 cases of the virus.

Not Death by Costco

So today it’s Day 14 since our outing to Costco, and I don’t have symptoms, so that’s a good thing. I did go out one more time, to the bank, so I’ve got three more days until I clear that hurdle.

A lot has happened in two weeks. San Miguel finally got with the program, even as Mexico’s President was still hugging people and expressing confidence that he was protected by an amulet from the virus (But what about the rest of us, Dude?) Our municipality closed the schools and cancelled all public activities. On the 13th of March I read a prediction that the Mexican wave of virus infections would occur between March 20th and March 30th. On the 18th, Mexico had 82 verified cases. Today, the 29th, the official number is 848, almost double what it was yesterday. And the United States now leads as the country with the most cases. (Guess we’re finally Great Again.)

While the news states that one fifth of the world’s population is “stuck at home,” a friend recently pointed out that, on the contrary, we’re fortunate to have a home. More than 70 million people have been displaced worldwide. Where do they find shelter from the virus?

Like many of my friends I careen about a bit madly in where I put my attention and what emotions I’m generating. I can watch Chump in a fury, go through a spate of sharing giggle posts, sink into grief as I hear the latest numbers and then swing to an ecstatic hope that the virus may save the planet: after all, with reduced activity pollution is down, and the dolphins are back in the canals of Venice.

And I’m cultivating my little garden spaces that I actually got around to planting this year. Now I watch the growth of the small sprouts and the starts given me by a friend with more than a degree of possessiveness. While I will never be able to grow enough food to keep myself alive, I can provide myself with some, if the bugs and critters don’t get it. I’m more than a little pissed when I notice something is eating off stems of chard–I’m scared. Something’s getting MY food!

What fascinates me is that we, as a species, are collectively facing our individual mortality.  (Well, some of us are. There are still the deniers, the spring breakers, the delusional ersatz Christian fringe applauding the coming “Rapture,” reminiscent of The Two and their followers in the 70s waiting for the Alien Pick-Up.) But the rest of us no longer have the luxury of denial: the possibility of death is right here and now. Even though that was always true, we didn’t have to look at it constantly. Now, it’s everywhere.

So, how are we spending our time?

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Hunkering Down: A Typical Day

MagnificentManchas

Early on, I figured I needed a routine, or at least a list of things I would try to do every day. It is pretty short and simple:

  • Exercise (Walk or Stretches)
  • Spanish- Reading Aloud
  • Plant/Water Garden
  • WRITE something!

There are a couple of other “Options.”

  • Cook
  • Mirrors

I’ve been taking walks with the Magnificent Manchas, pictured above, for more than ten years now, at least two or three times a week. Manchas is an avid hiker, ranging all over the hillside as I trudge along the ley lines of the paths that criss-cross the eponymous Montecillo of the rancho where I live. Her joy on greeting me at the gate of the neighbours when I come to let her out is contagious; my joy amps up as she leaps around me.

After we clamber one of several optional loops and I return Manchas to her compound, with a last cookie treat, it’s time to feed the cats their second breakfast. (First breakfast, “petit dejeuner,” is in the kitchen before I have tea and meditate.) I should explain these are seven adopted semi-feral cats who live outdoors. Their mama originally hooked me in when she showed up pregnant and had her first litter of four in nearby bushes. So I HAD to feed them all and embarked on a catch and sterilise program that involved cages borrowed from a local cat shelter and many trips back and forth to the vet. Unfortunately, mama got pregnant again before she wandered into a cage, so soon I “had” nine semi-feral cats, plus three or four additional drop-by neighbourhood cats. Because I traveled so much, nobody really got tamed so I never got a “lap cat.” Over time two of the family, including Mama, fell to mysterious night-time predators, hence the current seven.

For second breakfast, I sit outside in back in the cool early morning sunshine, small platters of cat food all around me, and read aloud in Spanish from Elena Poniatowska’s lyric novel “Tinîsima,” a meticulously researched recounting of the life of Tina Modotti, an Italian photographer, whose heart adopted Mexico as her home, and Communist party member who served with the Republicans in the War against the Fascist Franco. The book is 660 pages, weighs about a kilo, and I’ve been reading it for a little over two years. But the loss of the weekly Mexican literature group, a major factor in my limited social life, has inspired me to get on with it and finish the book! The cats crunch away at the food to the sound of my voice.

As to the garden, it has been years since I’ve had even semi-successful plantings. Because I traveled so much, the plants never got the consistent loving care they required, even with Felix’s waterings, and the plants that did survive eventually got decimated by the annual plague of grasshoppers that started about six years ago and has arrived like clockwork with every rainy season. One year I even sewed giant net bags for my poor little fruit trees.

But now everything is different. This is a “Stay at home” year. So I’ve planted both my raised beds with tomatoes, lettuce, arugula, chard, beets, and carrots. Not everything has come up. I’ve planted one flower bed with nasturtiums, calendula and marigolds and a couple of pots with white daisies and onions. I planted a hill of cucumbers and yellow crookneck squash, which the cats immediately trashed. Now it’s almost thinning time for the tiny beets and carrots.

But, truthfully, what keeps me going? What gives me the most pleasure and satisfaction? The writing. Because the writing is something that happens to me, that reveals my own experience to me, that sorts out and gives meaning to the quandaries and confusions and changes that this new and very different world faces each day, where each of us are making our way without a chart or a plan or even a destination. And what supports me even more is that some persons, like you, are reading my words and hopefully finding some comfort, or inspiration or even the occasional giggle for your own hunkered down day. (Please feel free to comment!)

March 31st: Mexico now has more than 1,000 cases.

My daughter is deciding whether to stay or go home to Oregon.

What do you think she should do?

My Big Adventure! (I went Out!)

Sometimes I get so discouraged listening to the updates and my news sources ( Thom Hartmann and Rachel Maddow) that I feel totally hopeless and helpless. I’m not alone, I know. When I feel that way I have to DO something pro-active, something positive.

So on Wednesday, the 30th, I busted out of my property and out of Montecillo de Nieto. I set a little pot of arugula starts in Marta (my 2003 dependable Toyota Matrix), opened the gate and set out into the world. Let me just say, I felt trepidatious, not just about leaving home after so long, but at the thought of actually seeing a couple of friends; was I still capable of social intercourse after so long social distancing? Did I know how to act around other people?

As I drove up the hill overlooking our rancho, where I usually walk most mornings, I felt my chest expanding, as if I were breathing more air, the windows wide open; I felt heartened by the vista, by the forward movement of the car, going somewhere.  Before the crest I phoned Steve & Emilia to warn them of my arrival. (We already had a plan.) They live on the other side of the hill, a couple of ranchos over, a place called Montecillo de la Milpa.

It was a delight to wind down the other side through San Miguelito, noting the barking dogs, the dusty houses, the homes with the carefully tended little gardens. The street curved past the small homemade shrine under a over-hanging tree to the bridge crossing the low river, impassable during the rainy season. I drove through Atotonilco, the site of the famous Penitente church, El Sanctuario, a pilgrimage site at Easter (and during the year for believers who sign up for a ten day interment of self-whipping and other penance). There were still food venders with tables and stools set up under awnings, but I saw no customers.

The dirt road to Steve and Emilia’s farm and hobbit house always seems longer than I remember, but today I was glad of every minute of freedom. I parked at their gate, put my purple latex gloves and mask on and grabbed the pot of starts, intending just to leave them at the gate, perhaps chat a moment, but Steve invited me in.

“I’ve only handled this pot with my gloves on, I told him,” as I followed him toward the house, “so you don’t have to worry.” We took a detour through their extensive garden so Steve could show me the cages he grows his young squash plants in to keep them from sprawling. “We’ve only gone out to get tortillas and booze,” he told me. “We’re eating three meals a day out of the garden.” When I mourned my lack of squash seeds, he said maybe he could spare some. We continued up to a sitting area outside their beautiful home which fits into the hillside like it grew there. (Steve’s fanciful and organic designs make him Mexico’s Gaudi, in my esteem. You can see his work at flyingconcrete.com. He designed and built my home, Casita Amarilla.)

Above me on the hillside Emilia was working on cleaning and peeling some nopal leaves for nopalitos. We waved our greetings and chatted about the nutrition available in native Mexican plants. I vowed to get out my books on the subject and actually read them. Emilia is a beautiful green-eyed woman with a thick braid that reaches to her butt. It felt good just to be talking to someone. She and I always manage some laughs together, and that felt really good.

When Steve brought out some envelopes labeled with squash names, he mentioned they’ve almost sold out of their Echinacea tincture. He joked about the price going up with the last bottles. I’ve used their Echinacea and Valerian tinctures for years, to good effect, and opted to buy a bottle “Before you start gouging us,” I laughed.

It felt so utterly normal to be sitting at a table near the arbor with the yellow flowering vine whose name I can never remember, just chatting, as if the world were not completely changed, the only sign of that our distance and my mask and bright purple gloves.

When I left with my valuable stash of seed and some Forget-me-not starts, I determined I would brave the world further. I’ve had this idea of expanding my tiny garden (two small raised beds) to a more productive area. It was only a little further  to the highway and a local building supply business where I could buy posts and fencing materials. All the women working there look alike: round faces, glasses and curly black hair–it’s a family business. They cut the six meter poles into manageable two meter lengths and measured out 15 meters of chicken wire. I was the only one wearing protective gear. When I paid my bill I thanked the woman who had done the most work, hoping my smile, hidden by my mask, was visible in my eyes, “Gracias, muchas gracias. Que cuidense mucho! ” (Take good care of yourselves.)

I felt different when I got home. I was glad to be there, revived by my outing. I no longer felt trapped in the miasma of bad news and foreboding. I was going to do something positive, about as Pro-Life as it gets: I was going to grow food! Despite the death sentence hanging over the world, over each of us, I could DO something.

fencingmaterials

 

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How Long?

That’s my question now, on April 18, the conclusion of my first month of “sheltering in place” or “Life as we now know it,” my preference. How long must I keep this up? I know it will be at least another month, which makes May 18 look even further away than just one flip of the wall calendar’s pages.

But it could well be two months, or even three, or even more. I can’t quite face up to that possibility at the moment. I mean, I’m doing OK, I think, just the occasional moments of panic, sweeping waves of sadness and nostalgic longing for the days when I could sit in our crowded room at Juan’s Cafe & More with our Spanish literature group and argue the motivation of characters in the current book of short stories, always by Mexican authors. We were each quietly proud when we managed to successfully maneuver our way through a subjunctive and often applauded each other. I’d grown quite fond of almost everyone, and Jose, our enthusiastic teacher, had given us all nicknames. There was “Pollito,” (Little Chicken) named for his bright yellow shirt and “Memonopio,” a play on words combining the nickname for “Guillermo,” (William) and a character in the one novel we had read so far, “El Murmullo de las Abejas,” (The Murmur of the Bees). I became “Tinisima,” from a novel by one of my favorite Mexican writers, Elena Poniatowska, about the photographer and activist, Tina Modotti, like me, of Italian descent. There our resemblance ends, as Modotti was a member of the Communist party on the front lines of the Spanish Civil War when so many artists and idealists joined in the fight against the Fascist, Franco, and she was devoted to Stalin’s leadership and the dictates of the Party to the end of her days.

Yes, there was a lot to be nostalgic about, even though the room was crowded and the heat often unbearable,  the lighting and the art on the walls equally glaring and my own aversion to loud voices and personalities often challenged. But now I am nostalgic, even about that.

I miss walking up Hidalgo from whatever parking I had been able to score in the Guadalupe area, the turn up the single block of  Callejon del Pueblito  with its softly muted sunset colored walls splashed with the brilliant purples of bougainvillea or cerise. Loaded down with a plastic mesh shopping bag of books to exchange at the library and a list of errands to complete in town, I always felt hurried and hoped there was time for a carnitas sandwich at Apollo 11 or a vegetarian pita at Genesis. I wish now that I hadn’t always had a schedule and had reserved more time to enjoy just strolling around “centro,” or the Historic Center, as it is known.

Yes, there’s a lot to miss.

And I haven’t kept too well to the list of scheduled activities I made for myself a month ago. Instead of exercising each day (usually a walk with Manchas up onto the hill over-looking the rancho) all my energy is devoured in a couple of morning hours by my inner manic gardener, a recent acquaintance. Yes, the idea that this pandemic which eventually will  most likely infect 80% of the population has no termination date on the calendar has spurred me into survival mode. Since my purchases of fresh vegetables and fruits are severely limited, well, I’ll grow my own! (And anyway, who’s to say there will be anybody left to truck the produce in to stores and supermarkets?) This turns out to be a fairly grandiose project, since the only open sunny spot on my land is a former gravel driveway, requiring the vigorous application of a “barra” (metal bar) followed by heavy digging. And the soil is grey and under-nourished looking. But in the last two weeks, Felix has managed to complete the fence, and I’ve managed to create one bed for planting.

Felix&Fence

Squash

Neither have I kept my vow to read Spanish aloud every day. When I finished “Tinisima,” after more than two years, I celebrated by taking a break, which continues to this day.

Instead, every day I wash some laundry in my tub. Without access to my favourite “lavanderia” in town, and lacking a washing machine or dryer in my home, my only option is to do my own, and I had a full basket waiting to go to town, when this all started. I am several extraneous heaps behind on “catching up.”

Well, at least I’m writing. (Today, anyway.)

When I first started hunkering down, Mexico had 82 known cases of the virus. Today, there are 6,825 with 546 known deaths. Global cases number 2,258, 926. The US leads the world in known cases with 733,863 cases diagnosed and 39,768 deaths. My daughter flew home two weeks ago tomorrow and has self-quarantined in our pole house home in a rural Oregon community. There is already one case diagnosed in that valley. The first case in San Miguel de Allende was announced on April 2. Who is safer, her or me? I’m hoping she is.

 

I Develop a Social Disease

masked

I haven’t left my property in almost two weeks. When I finally get myself together for a town trip, the mask, gloves, clorox spray and disinfectant gel all loaded into the passenger seat, along with kleenex and paper towels, the car won’t start.

What to do? I try my usual remedies–opening the hood to check the battery cables and  banging on the battery just because that works–sometimes. When both remedies fail, I cart my Plague Apparel into the house. I feel thwarted but relieved. I won’t have to put my life at risk today to pay my light bill. I can put it off until next week.

There’s nothing to do but WhatsApp my beloved Juan Carlos, the angelic guardian of a series of cars dating back to the 1978 Chinook truck I was driving when I first met him. JC has rescued me a number of times over a 20 year period. He messages me almost immediately but can’t come until Wednesday. No rush, I think, you’re  postponing my death by infection.

When Wednesday arrives my anxiety mounts as I consider how to greet my friend. Will he be offended if I wear my mask? Would it be silly to wear it? Am I silly? Am I paranoid? Am I over-reacting? What about my gloves? Should I wear my gloves to hand him the car keys? (Keep in mind my gloves are bright purple latex gloves used in yesteryear for dishwashing–nothing subtle going on!)

What is the correct Plague Etiquette? This is my dis-ease.

I haven’t faced this problem as yet, since I’ve gone out so little, seen so few friends, and the few I’ve seen are pretty much on my page: Stay at home! Everybody I know is in one risk category or another, but most of us are just Old.

When JC and his assistant arrive, neither of them masked. Masked, I go out to greet them. I’ve solved the glove question by leaving the key on the driver’s seat. After a series of efforts, Juan Carlos declares  an electrical problem and says they will take Martha (for Martha Vader) to the electrical guy in San Antonio. “Will you bring her back?” I query in Spanish. Juan Carlos is unsure because he’s not feeling well, stomach stuff, so can’t make any promises. I lavishly thank them both for coming–I am so grateful. As they drive away I shudder at the thought of having to ride the bus into town to collect Martha.

The next day I Whatsapp Juan Carlos and enquire if he is feeling better? He is, and I suggest that since Martha’s already in town, how about he do the much needed oil change when the electrical fix is done? And I take the opportunity to explain why I wore a mask, as much to protect them as me, since we can be infected without showing any symptoms. I wonder why he doesn’t wear a mask at work? He answers that he is part of the Red Cross, so he’s aware of all the info about the virus.  (Indeed, his shop is right next door to the local Red Cross center in San Miguel, and he often works on their vehicles.) As a diabetic, he is in a risk category. (Diabetes has become a health crisis in Mexico.) But he doesn’t answer my question.

It’s only a couple of weeks later that the local government decrees that anybody out on the streets must wear a mask or risk the consequence of being fined or jailed. My social angst about  Plague Etiquette is relieved, my dis-ease appeased.

(Meanwhile, up north, people are marching and shouting and carrying guns because they don’t want to wear masks. What is this: kindergarten?)

 

Cuomo in Leathers (Be Still my Heart!)

Sorry, no, I don’t have a picture of him, just in my head.

I’ve been a Cuomosexual for several weeks now. At the beginning of this plague, every morning when I awoke, first thing, I checked the data, the numbers, world-wide, in the US, in my home state of Oregon, in Mexico, in my home state of Guanajuato, for the cases confirmed, the numbers dead. After a few weeks, it just got too depressing and the numbers beyond my ability to conceptualise in terms of people, real people. (I mean, we’re up to over a million cases in the US, about one third of total global cases, and these “cases” are human beings.)

Instead now I eagerly await Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefing, with his calm, kindly rendering of the facts of the day, his iteration and re-iteration that New Yorkers are tough, smart, unified and loving, his jabs at the federal government’s failures and the intelligent action he and fellow governors in the coalition they have formed are taking on behalf of front line workers and all the citizens of their states.

OK, I haven’t indulged A Crush like this in years. (Well, maybe just a little recently, as Brad Pitt, Hawaiian shirt loosely buttoned, roamed the boulevards of LA in his convertible in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.)

But then, yesterday, Andrew mentioned he was taking his bike out for the afternoon, and that pushed me totally over the edge into fantasyland.

Did Randy Rainbow pick up on it?

I’m expecting an update, Randy!

 

 

Mother’s Day, 2020

EuropeMuriel&Tina

Dear Mama,

This morning I saw you in the mirror, staring out of my face with that slightly imperious look our family knew so well. On occasion, Churpa and I flare our nostrils at each other in remembrance.

You are in my thoughts daily, though you died almost 30 years ago. Your face seeps up into consciousness, or photos from an album that so often supplant our memories of events, seasons, whole epochs, with an instant captured and preserved on paper or, now, on screen. I see you sitting at your desk, the little black desk Churpa still writes at in Deadwood– you wear  your turquoise silk Chinese jacket, the tall windows of our house on Java St. in San Francisco behind you.

Or, many years before, you stand beside a bridge in London, me perched on a stone railing beside you, the Persian lamb collar adorning your coat, a pleasant look on your face, pleased. Though newly widowed you have bravely gathered up your daughter and  boarded an ocean liner  to churn across the Atlantic and visit Europe for a year of studying languages and voice. This is your first sally out of the United States. You were so very brave, and I credit you for turning me into the gypsy I’ve been all my adult life.

For years now I’ve been remembering the details of all that you did for me for which I was never adequately grateful at the time. You were an amazing seamstress. When I got a small scholarship to Principia High School in St. Louis my freshman year, you not only scraped together the dollars on your teacher’s salary to pay my fees and train fare (a rollicking 3 1/2 day adventure), you sewed me two coats. One, the spring coat in dark blue, had push-up sleeves and was an exact copy of one I had wished for in a store. The winter coat was a work of art, in rich warm brown wool, with not just a lining but an inner lining.

When the duplex you built with Uncle Harold and Aunt Maddy on Java St. was complete, for my room you made a fitted bed-cover in glowing golds and muted orange stripes. It had a ribbed edge that had to be gotten just right for the perfect look.

And did I rave like a mad-woman in thanks for these precious gifts? Of course not. I probably managed a sour and gruff hormonally-enhanced thank you, for all I know.

One of the sweetest things you ever did for me was my senior year at Stanford. I had been a hasher every quarter in exchange for room and board to supplement my partial scholarship. (Did I ever wonder what you sacrificed to make up the extra thousand dollars a year that were lacking?) That last quarter, you told me you didn’t want me to work. You made up the difference. “I want you to have time to daydream,” you told me.

How proud I was of you when you took to the stage again in San Francisco, starring in several musicals, one of them the very successful “San Francisco’s Burning,” by Helen Adams and directed by Kermit Sheets, my own theatrical mentor.

CountessofBM

Dorothy Priscilla Muriel Andrews Rosa, Center

The Countess of Barth-Malowe

Your last years were not so sweet. When you and your husband Jean could no longer afford to live in San Francisco, Steve and Churpa and I moved you up to Eugene, Oregon, at first into an apartment. I’m ashamed to admit the apartment was too small for your parlour grand Steinway, and our family appropriated it  to our house in Deadwood, where our new addition became “the music room.” How much did you miss being able to play a few chords and sing a few warm up exercises? My earliest memories of you were of your voice raised in song, accompanied at the piano by our friend the composer, John Edmunds.

Eventually, as happens, Jean died and you were no longer able to take care of yourself, virtually bed-ridden by arthritis. We found you a foster home with the Elliot’s in Swisshome, where we visited you once or twice a week. Another sweetest memory is of a day I visited and threw myself on your bed, where you were sitting. I must have been exhausted with errands and running full-speed as was my uncontrollable habit. You just silently ran your fingernails gently down my leg, soothing me with your touch. It was such a kindness.

You ushered me into the world and this life, and I was fortunate to be able to return the favour, singing a favourite hymn, “Shepherd, Show me how to go,” as you breathed your last in the Florence hospital, so you went out with music.

Mama, belatedly, let me thank you here for all you gave me, so generously. I have but touched lightly on a few memories, a few aspects of the being you were. There are so many questions I wish I could ask you, so little I know about your early life and your struggles.

And I wonder what you would think of this world we live in, the quarantine of the pandemic. Would it arouse memories of the 1918 Spanish flu? You were 15 then. What did you experience? Did you wear a mask? Who did your family lose? There is so much in our current world politic that would shock you, but Covid-19, perhaps not so much.

 

Mid-May: How are you, really?

Just about a year ago I was getting ready to go on an adventure to Alaska with my friend Tia. I have friends who live there, in Juneau, Gustavus and Sitka, and I had been meaning to visit for years. Finally I realised, if not now, when? No more “whenevers.” Thank Gaia we went!

And it was not only the magnificence of Alaska that  imprinted on my being like a plant transforming light into fiber, making me forever different, (because what comes in through our eyes feeds us just as surely as vegetable matter and flesh entering our mouths), but it was the joyful satisfaction of finally, finally seeing beloved friends in their native habitat. There was Mike and Betty’s massive log cabin filled with antiques, with their original slapped together tinker-toy home clinging to the hill above, now occupied by Josh and his little family. There was Butch & Sara’s cozy home outside Juneau, where a path leads through the bushes and trees to a little creek. They gave us just a taste of Alaska wild with a flight in Butch’s plane to view bears on Admiralty Island. I still get little shivers of delight just remembering!

We traveled by ferry to Gustavus where Bonnie & Hayden’s perfect gingerbread house sits in a green meadow, and Tia and I each had our own little guest cabin, separated only by Bonnie’s impeccably manicured and productive garden. I stayed in The Martha Stewart, named for some wallpaper Bonnie had scored years ago at the local thrift store. We got to go halibut fishing in their boat, “La Reina Verde” (The Green Queen), and Bonnie caught us one. Tia and I took a tour and spent a once in a lifetime day on Glacier Bay, sighting bears, mountain goats and, of course, melting glaciers. I worried about how my travel contributes to global warming, and our Park Ranger assured me that if I talked to people about the receding glaciers, my travel was justified.

In Sitka we enjoyed Christie and Colin’s cozy habitat, sinking into giant armchairs after hikes into the woods or walks through the garden of totem poles. In their colourful studio Colin worked on his watercolours while Christie pounded out her brilliantly hued Nuno felting apparel and hangings.

Alaska had been a big part of Steve’s life before we met in New Mexico in 1970, so not only was I getting to experience my living friends’ habitat, but I was getting a taste of Steve Before Tina & Churpa. Habitat forms us as much as we influence and inform it.

As Tia has said recently, I’m so glad I did all the traveling that I did, and so am I. The inability to “get up and go,” whether it’s to the movies, the grocery store or Morocco, is what we’re all suffering from now. And I remember my wise and funny friend, David Watts, who once said to me, “We have our mobility.” He was the first to point out to me that privilege, something I had taken for granted to the point that I hadn’t even considered it.

I never thought I would have to chose between one country and another, that I wouldn’t have the option of traveling back and forth and enjoying both, the US and Mexico. Yes, I chose to live in Mexico, but with the caveat that I could, of course, always go visit friends and family and PNW habitat. It did occur to me, though, that in choosing where to live I might also be choosing where to die. (My younger friend might comment, “Well, that’s always true,” but I’m gonna play The Old Lady Card and answer, “Especially now!”)

Governor Cuomo talked today about mental health. He noted a 38% increase in mental health issues. He said, the question isn’t our usual, “How are you?” thrown out casually without expecting more than the standard, “Fine.” The question now is, “How are you, really?”

And, really, I’m all over the map. My recent cogitations, over the past few days, have been the conjuring of a possible reality: I could, I may, spend the last few years (years!) of my life in solitude, without human touch, without ever enjoying another hug. That is such a big chunk of a thought that I’m just gnawing at it, wondering if I can ever swallow it, digest it and turn it into something nourishing. For now, the idea hangs in the air, looking to land somewhere and take root.

And that’s how I am, right now, really.

 

WTF is next: Aliens?

It feels like we’re speeding along on a bullet train, shooting ahead on high viaducts, with no sense of the destination or ETA. Before the plague, there was tRump, Cheeto, Orange Man, and now Bunker Boy. That was the background condition in which my native country (and the world, which cannot escape the horrid after-effects of his actions) found itself. That was bad enough, without the plague! Then along came Covid-19, and citizens of the US and some other countries were left to fend for themselves amidst a deluge of conflicting information, deliberate mis-information and the rapid response of grifters, especially the Grifter in Chief, to benefit financially from a world-wide pandemic.

Well, even living in the country in a little village in Mexico, there’s no hiding place down here from the reality of George Floyd’s murder, as seen live on video the world over, resulting in protests by thousands of demonstrators in most of the cities of the United States, not to mention countries around the world. And those protests by so many people, LOTS of white people, mostly young, give me so much hope that we are ripe for real change, that consciousness has evolved to the point where this kind of racial injustice will NOT be allowed to continue.

But I’m conflicted, because thousands of people, in close physical contact, many unmasked, in the middle of this worldwide plague, when close to 7 million people are infected globally, when infections are rising at the rate of one hundred thousand a day (DAILY), means we WILL see a spike in cases in under two weeks. And I have young friends who are out there in the streets.

Meanwhile, in response, President Scaredy Pants tear-gasses peaceful protestors in Washington, D.C. and has a second wall erected around the White House…..how ironically appropriate, eh? (I saw a cartoon once of how to protect the US, by walling tRump in.)

So daily my spirits rise and plummet at the news in an erratic manner, somewhat like the electrocardiogram of a faulty heart. And my heart is damaged. We all feel the collective grief of the centuries of pain and injustice suffered by people of colour. We all feel the outrage at the sight of a white cop kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, the most recent murder in a list too long to name. And I know I have not done enough, not near enough, in my lifetime to make change happen. I can only be grateful that now at last there is enough collective awareness to perhaps promote real change.

Unless, of course, the Nazi in the White House, with his personal guard of unidentified military in rag-tag garb, manages to over-throw the rule of law completely, under the tutelage of his mentor, Putin, with the financial backing of Deutsche Bank.

Meanwhile, here in Mexico there are now over 110,000 Covid-19 cases and more than 13,000 deaths. Locally, in San Miguel, we are up to 37 cases and 2 deaths. And the city is in the process of “re-opening.” And I will stick to my routine of staying home, gardening (fighting the plagues of leaf-cutter bees, ants and now the annual arrival of the “chapulines”- grasshoppers) with occasional town trips to pick up grocery orders. And wait for the aliens, who surely are just delaying their arrival for a dull moment.

SquashBlossoms

Squash Blossoms: a bright spot in my day.

 

The Gift I Ignored (& a Shout-Out to Deadwood!)

000_1580It was my gay boyfriend, David Watts, who first pointed out to me the luxury of our entitlement: We have Mobility, he gloated calmly. I had never thought about it: my ability to relocate from San Francisco to Manhattan to find an apartment in the West Village and a job as a welfare worker in Brooklyn. A year later, taking a two-week vacation to Mexico that lasted two months—took me eight years to get back to NY.

Yes, all my life, the lodestar of my white, middle class US citizenship, the true insignia on my privileged brow, has been my mobility.

And my partner Steve Rogers and I took full advantage of that license, dividing our year between a rural community in the coast range of Oregon and our business traveling to Mexico and Guatemala in search of folk art to import or researching travel books. We shared a lack of ambition in regard to acquiring wealth and were happy if we could just get by and have our adventures, and there were many.

After Steve’s death in 1999 I continued our practice of making the long drive to and from Mexico as seasonal as any migratory bird, but in the company of our annoying and adorable dog, Xuxa, found in Guatemala. But after eleven years, the drive got a bit much for me, even after I upgraded from our 1979 Toyota Chinook (which, after all, drove like a truck, with emphasis on the clutch) to a 1988 Toyota automatic van (yeah, the big boxy kind, that you can actually live in.)

By then I had bought a small property in a rancho in the state of Guanajuato and, having sold the Steinway parlour grand piano of 4 generations of women musicians, I transformed the piano into the shell of a small, beautiful house, all curves and light. Because it was so much easier to manage and maintain than our wooden pole house in Oregon, because it was only a 25 minute drive to “civilisation,” (instead of the minimum hour out of the woodlands), because I could actually afford to live well in Mexico on my rather paltry retirement, I moved what possessions I could and relocated to Mexico permanently.

But there was no “permanently” without vacations “home” to Oregon. So my self-indulgence continued for another ten years, with summer jaunts to the PNW, as well as world travels to Greece, India, Nepal and Cuba.

However, those times are over. Suddenly, with this pandemic, mobility is shutting down, bit-by-bit, country-by-country, airline-by-airline, inexorably. My choice is already made. I have chosen my isolated life in this little Mexican rancho, where I have mostly kept to myself, just smiling and waving in passing, having brief chats here and there, never really digging in to the community, because, probably, I’ve discovered late in life my inner loner and introvert.

But I question the wisdom of this choice. In Oregon I have deep connections with community, strung out along a couple of valleys and waterways in the Coast Range. We have done it all together: birth and death, marriage and divorce, feast and famine with all the ceremonial trappings and ritual of sweat lodge and Seder, Christmas carols and chants, Samhain and Easter. The one thing we haven’t done together, yet, is The Plague.

And now, I can’t help but wish I were there, embedded in the friendships that have spanned forty-four years and survived all manner of conflict, diversity, anger and forgiveness. I know our valley will do well in unifying as possible to face this challenge beyond anything we ever experienced previously together. I wish I could share in that effort. I will be watching!