Magritte - Painter of Dreams?

Magritte - Painter of Dreams?

You can call me odd. I am one of those rare breeds who takes their dreams very seriously. I dream every night … usually multiple dreams in a night. And I ALWAYS remember my dreams. I wake up and stay in my dream. My roommates used to laugh at me because if someone woke me up I would tell them to give me 10 minutes to “finish my dream.” And I would literally go back to sleep and finish my dream. While I can sometimes control my dreams, I am usually surprised and thrown off course by the content of them.

In the past week alone I have dreamed the following topics:

  • Falling into a lake infested with Crocodiles after flying around in large circles on a loose vine and dropping at the end of the trajectory
  • Watching someone else´s baby and forgetting to take care of it (oops!)
  • A boxer´s life story revealing his secret life as a dancer
  • A department store that´s really a hospital … with a hidden chamber in the basement with two brothers fighting over stolen, one-of-a-kind classic red sports cars
Fractal Art by Vicky Brago-Mitchell

Fractal Art by Vicky Brago-Mitchell

I sometimes think that if I could just learn to write better, I could write some amazing stories based on the material of my dreams. Or perhaps they would just sound like crazy, doped-out, incongruous randomness … hard to tell.  Some of the dreams are quite scary. More than once I have woken up scared of the creepy creativity possible in my very own mind. And I wonder, do the horror movies come out of whacked-out dreams? Is David Lynch just a dream-writer? Do we have to enter into this dreamy state to harness our true creative powers? Do artists take drugs to try to mimic the effects of natural dreams? And my most important question … how can I make money from this odd, sort of creepy talent of mine to dream and remember it all? Comments dear readers?

Max Ernst ... used nightmares for inspiration?

Max Ernst ... used nightmares for inspiration?

Looking for fast internet? The Corner Taco Stand.

Looking for fast internet? The Corner Taco Stand.

Today I had the fortune to visit a different neighborhood, leaving the richy-rich area which has gradually engulfed my life in recent months. I happily took the opportunity to walk a few blocks before hailing a cab from the street. NOTE: CABS ON THE STREET IN MEXICO ARE PERFECTLY SAFE, IN MY OPINION. (But if you happen to hail a sketchy cab and get robbed one day, I am not taking responsibility. It is best to check out the driver and assure they have proper identification painted on the cab.)

So, today I strolled down Insurgentes, a big busy street with lots of action, and happened first upon a large, sprawling display of pirated movies with a police man standing guard. I couldn’t figure out if the policeman was selling the pirated movies or waiting around to arrest someone for buying one, or perhaps he was just visiting with his girlfriend who happens to sell pirated movies. I was tempted to look through the selection and pick out one or two, but decided against it, what with the armed policeman confusion and all.

I strolled on, trying to decide what I might like to eat. (My second favorite past-time, after aimlessly strolling the streets of Mexico City, involves discovering new and fun places to eat on the street.) I used to feel a little uneasy about eating on the street – not for fear of getting sick, but rather because I didn’t know the proper way to go about eating on the street.

  • Do I sit on the little stool or stand?
  • Which of the 5 people behind the counter do I order my food from?
  • And how do I know how much it costs? (prices are rarely posted)
  • And what should I order? what is best?
  • And what do I do with my dirty plate?
  • Then, who do I pay?

So many doubts. So many little unknowns making the experience more stressful than it was worth. But as a good anthropologist, I realized that with a bit of observation, a few shameless questions and some trial and error, I could get the custom down pat.

Now, after living in Mexico City for nearly 3 years in total, I am almost an expert street-stand taco customer. Here´s my technique.

  • First, I look for a busy stand with local customers. Locals always know best.
  • Second, I look for a stand with other women. It may sound strange, but I feel a little intimidated with a bunch of dudes staring at me while I eat.
  • Third, I make sure there is a big dude behind the stand making tacos – I personally believe chefs should not be skinny.
  • Fourth, I do a brief check to see if the place looks semi-clean. Presence of napkins and clean plates is a must.
  • Fifth, I make sure I have enough money so I don’t have to worry about the cost. Pay at the end.
  • And lastly, I try to smile or say something to my fellow taco-stand-eaters. It makes the whole experience nicer.

So, I followed my personal street taco eating guidelines, found a busy, semi-clean looking taco stand with lots of woman and a nice, chubby Mexican dude behind the counter. I sat down to order my tacos and almost fell off my little stool when I realized that sitting on the stand before me was a modern laptop, tapped into some wireless connection (surely “borrowed”), playing the real-time version of the Mexico-US soccer game from the Coca-Cola website. Amazing. I have never seen such a delightful mixture of technology with tradition. Good greasy street food with a fast wireless connection. Deep-fried tortillas filled with sketchy meat happily married to a shiny silver Dell laptop with streaming video. I think Mexico just might be headed in the right direction after all.

Evidence of love

Evidence of love

There are some sights that literally tickle me inside. Make me laugh to myself, smile girlishly, turn a slight shade of pink in the cheeks. One of them is a frequently occurring sight in Mexico.

Couples Kissing. Legs intertwined, making out, unashamed, in front of the world. Physically lip-locked and emotionally tied-up in each other as if they were the last two people left on earth. Oblivious to others walking by, and as most grew up in this environment here, most passersby also seem to be oblivious to them.

But not me. No, I didn’t grow up in a society of public making-out. I am not accustomed to seeing it on literally every park bench in the city. It still shocks me, even after more than two years of turning my head twice, I have not become accustomed to the habit. I might just be one of the only people in Mexico who feels a hint of shyness when I see two people swapping spit.  But I have to secretly admit that I really don’t mind.  I actually like looking twice and giggling to myself. And hearing that old familiar phrase in my head, “Get a room!” But perhaps it is nice that they DON’T get a room. Perhaps it is wonderful that here in Mexico people are unashamed of showing the physical manifestation of their love. The very visible sign of pure, honest lust for another. I suppose that is a beautiful thing.

One of my favorite places to go in Mexico is to the park on a Sunday afternoon. You see all kinds of people there doing all sorts of “typical” mexican park activities … eating, playing, laughing, relaxing, doing absolutely nothing …

A bite to eat

A bite to eat

I first discovered the Latino Love for the park back in the US when I used to teach classes of English as a Second Language to groups of Latinos. During our classes on Monday nights I would get them to speak the few words of English they knew by asking them what they did over the weekend. Week after week, the response was always “I go park .” My goal was to get them to say went instead of go. Even after 8 weeks most continued to say go. oh well. at least they knew the word for park!

Going the Distance, Going for Speed ...

Going the Distance, Going for Speed ...

And I learned that the park is a comfortable outdoors space where even people without resources to have a yard can go and enjoy the feeling of having some personal green space. In Mexico, the typical use of the park is for picnics, and families tend to spend a good portion of the day relaxing, eating, talking and laughing, playing games and enjoying the sunny afternoon outside together.

Kids fascinated by the life-sized Toy Soldier

Kids fascinated by the life-sized Toy Soldier

But in Mexico the whole concept of a park comes a little closer to a “theme park,” as we say in the US. With clowns, toys, ice cream, remote-control boats, electric mini cars for rent, super-developed play areas for kids, and more, the basic green space urban park is transformed into a verifiable fun house for kids and families. Add a big bottle of Coca-cola, some chicken, tortillas and salsa, and you have the recipe for a Sunday of relaxing family fun!

Ice Cream in the Park

Ice Cream in the Park

I recently returned from a trip “home.” (though I am never quite sure where home is anymore)  I went back to the US. To small town, Western US. To Wyoming. To the mountains and nature. It’s always nice going there. It reminds me of some of the great things about the US.

Yellowstone

Yellowstone

While we can always complain about government and management of public programs, I have to say that the US system of National Parks, National Forests and Wilderness Areas is pretty awesome. There are so few protected areas around the world, free from human disturbances and housing, and the US has thousands of square miles (or kilometers) of just such land (though it is a bit disturbed by humans, for sure). It is really incredible. We took a drive through Yellowstone National Park and saw elk, deer, antelope, buffalo (with babies), a moose, marmots, fish, a baby black bear, and many other animals. Not to mention the breathtaking views of waterfalls and geysers and other natural phenomenon.

Yellowstone Canyon

Yellowstone Canyon

Living in Mexico City can take a toll on one´s need for clean air, green spaces, and most of all wide open spaces where you don’t see any cars or buildings or people. That´s one thing I love about Wyoming/Montana/Colorado … there is so much vast, open space. Land free of civilization. Even compared to Europe it is a shock to travel to the West of the US and experience the physical difference in size of landscape, and so much without any evidence of people “taming” the land. I guess that´s the magic of the “wild west” of the US. It never has quite been tamed. Too bad there aren´t more places like that left in the world. 

Yellowstone Geyser

Yellowstone Geyser

I have to believe that a country like Mexico has places to go backpacking and hiking and camping, but I must admit that after over 2 years living here I don´t know of them … sure there´s the big forest near the city called “Desierto de los Leones” … that is neither a desert nor has lions. Strange. and my greatest personal discovery of late has been Valle de Bravo — a lovely town perched on the edge of a (man-made) lake – great for hiking, biking, flying :), sailing, water-skiing and more, and I know you can always camp on the miles of Mexico’s Pacific coastline. But I dont know much about hiking/camping in mountainous areas … any advice out there? or hiking/camping guide books?

The Beartooth Mountains

The Beartooth Mountains

On this trip to the US I talked to my mom a bit about her younger years. Turns out she came to Mexico over 30 years ago and climbed several of the volcanoes here with my father. (el “Popo” and “Itze” as she calls them, which by the way, are over 14,000 feet high – yikes!) It’s crazy to think about my parents as a young hippie couple in the 1970´s exploring wild Mexico and mountain climbing here! And now, years later, who would have thought they would have a daughter living abroad in the now much more developed country south of the border?? Perhaps it´s the natural cycle of life. Be careful where you travel or your children just might end up living there years later!

 

(Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press)

(Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press)

On my walk to a meeting this morning I passed the Canadian Embassy. It´s a rather ugly building with way too much security fencing around it for such a friendly country. I have walked passed it many times and never noticed it, to be honest. (Security fencing is rather common in Mexico.) But today I had to stop my walk and gawk. There was a line spreading three blocks long of people with yellow manila envelopes in hand. They are Mexicans applying for visas. Turns out Canada, the ever-welcoming, open-to-all-immigrants land to the far North has just changed their laws and now requires visas for all Mexicans entering their cold country. Crazy.

I wonder, is it a matter of national security? Are Mexicans flying to Canada and then sneaking south across the border to the US? (Hey, not a bad idea … in the summer.) I suppose I should read some articles on the matter … Apparently it´s in response to a rising number of false refugee status claims. 

So this got me thinking about how so many people want to go somewhere else. In Mexico, most want to go to the US. It is seen as “the promised land” for so many. Where you can work your butt off and make lots of money and buy lots of things and live in a house with a yard. and drive a nice car. and be in debt. and pay a lot in taxes. and live in a crappy neighborhood. and face possibly even more crime than in Mexico. But hey, it´s the American Dream! 

 

The American Dream

The American Dream

 

 

And then I thought about how I am sort-of doing the opposite. Trying to live the Mexican Dream. You know it … on a beach, margarita in hand, not a care in the world, getting a tan. Only my Mexican Dream reality is a little different, a little more concrete and a little less sand, a little more work and a definite dearth of siestas, and my Margarita is a short chubby Mexican lady who cleans my house … hey, at least one part of the dream is pretty fabulous! (gotta love the maid) But I still keep dreaming and hoping that my Latin Utopia will appear before my eyes someday. 

 

The Mexican Dream

The Mexican Dream

I guess we all have our Personal Utopia. I somehow got lost in a Gabriel García Marquez novel, searching for a lost romantic life on a beach in Latin America with soft salsa music playing in the background. My parents are obsessed with Alaska … the land of big open spaces, few people and great fishing. A significant other is eternally fascinated with Switzerland – the mountains with all that snow for skiing, the way everything just works on time, the perfectness of it all. And you? Where is your personal utopia??

Island Sunset in Thailand

Island Sunset in Thailand

I don’t consider myself to be a very nostalgic person. I generally don’t miss anyone or anything. I know it sounds strange, but I attribute it to the fact that with divorced parents I grew up living apart from one or another family member since a very young age. I must have learned that missing doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t make the distance shorter or the time between visits go by any faster. It just sort of hurts. So why think about those things when you can live and be in the here and now. Someday you will see the people you love again, someday you will return to the place you loved.

This sentiment has generally been good for someone living far from family. It helps to not miss family and my home country. But I think as I get older I am learning how to miss. And I admit, sometimes I actually like feeling a bit nostalgic … feeling the dull ache of missing people or places. Or remembering times in my life when I was so incredibly happy. It´s a good exercise to remember really happy times. It can help to understand yourself better, I believe. I just happened upon a camera card with photos from just over a year ago when I was traveling alone in China, Hong Kong and Thailand. It was so cool to see the photos and think about that time and my feelings and see the places again. I had such an incredible trip. Yet even on the trip I had the sense that it might be more amazing when remembered afterward. Strange. Perhaps when we are living and in the moment it is hard to really comprehend all that we are experiencing and feeling and living. Maybe remembering and missing and feeling nostalgia are necessary for our complete mental and emotional registration of the events we experience?? 

The other night I learned a fabulous word in Portuguese from some Brazilian friends: Saudade (pronounced with a beautiful Brazilian accent it sounds sort of like “saoudagey” – which roughly translates to “a feeling of nostalgic longing for something or someone that one was fond of and which is gone” or a yearning toward the past or the future. It is one of those words that so nicely captures this complex mix of feelings of happy sadness, an aching of the heart that somehow feels sort of good, like itching a mosquito bite. I suppose I am feeling this right now — a saudade for life and memories and plans for the unknown future. All wrapped into one. Saudade.