Babies learn about the world by putting everything into their mouths. I have learned what I've learned about the world and people by bumping and jumping into things - sometimes without looking. This summer I did a blind experiment: rappelling into three new cities with three different languages and cultures without doing any research - apart from learning how to say 'hello,' 'please' and 'thank you' in Portuguese and Croatian (I already speak Español decently well). While this way of being feels liberated and fluid - and is the way I like to roll, - bumping and jumping has also catapulted me into suffering on more than one occasion.
|Badass Croatian children|
My brilliant and beloved friend, Nupu
|The Blue Cave and an underwater land bridge|
|Hope is the taste of the sea|
|The Alcazar - Seville, Spain|
The Iberian Peninsula, where Spain and Portugal reside and with its history of Moorish occupation, is covered in decorative tiles - which, some argue, are a visual response to the fear of emptiness, or 'horror vacui.' This kind of visual over-population or crowding is also associated with art made by artists who resided in psychiatric hospitals and prisons. We seek to fill the emptiness - the empty stomach, the empty heart. In Buddhism, the space of the empty mind is actually a goal. Personally I'm afraid of words that are empty - words that have ceased to hold any shared or enduring meaning, leaving our communication as little more than lobbing beautiful iridescent bubbles back and forth. Love. Friendship. Truth.
As much as I enjoy telling stories, I’ve never been good at telling jokes. Invariably, I forget to include some critical piece of information until it’s too late for its inclusion to have any dramatic effect. I have also been known – believe it or not -- to be a little slow in understanding jokes. E.B. White said that explaining a joke is a lot like dissecting a frog – edifying, but generally fatal for the frog. By that rationale, I suppose it’s best to let jokes – and stories – exist simply for what they are, without connecting all the dots, dissecting or explaining.
|portrait of a married couple by brilliant and self-taught Heremenegildo Bustos|
|from Chavez Morado mural|
I heard a story the other day about a wealthy Spaniard in Mexico whose first wife, an English woman of noble birth, was an art collector. The wife was ill for a long time, and the Spaniard started to have an affair with another woman. Of course the wife knew something was going on, and said to her husband, ‘Please, just be with her – be happy. I’m dying, anyway. Life and love are precious.’ So the wife died, and the Spaniard married his mistress, who was a Mexican woman. While he loved his new wife, the Spaniard insisted that she keep the house exactly as his wife had it -- the art continued to catch the sunlight at the same times of day, the furniture occupied the same places in the same rooms, and not a drop of paint was applied to the walls. The new wife respected the sanctity of the late wife’s home, not wanting to offend the dead or to cause trouble with her husband.
Over time, the friends of the couple noticed that the mistress gradually started to take on the dress, hairstyle and general appearance of the deceased wife. She cut and dyed her long black hair and traded her colorful dresses for conservative, neutral clothing. Finally, one of the Spaniard’s friends approached him and said, ‘Why don’t you turn your house into a museum in honor of the memory of your late wife – and build a home for your new wife so you can start a new life together?’ The Spaniard saw the logic in this suggestion, and he did just that. The Mexican woman and the Spaniard moved into their house and began their life together. Slowly but surely, though, the house began to take on the characteristics of the museum they had left behind – the furniture, the colors, the way they had the rooms arranged. . . and the Mexican woman and her Spanish husband found themselves living in the shadow of the past, ever-reaching for but never being able to rest in the light of the present.
Despite E.B. White’s wisdom about jokes and frogs, my impulse is to analyze and to find meaning in the story. Maybe the past is bound to become the present. Maybe the shadows and the light are all part of the same day. Maybe sometimes we choose to wait rather than to act – or maybe waiting is an act in itself. We could talk to Hamlet about that. Maybe all we can do is recreate and repeat the past because it’s what we know, it’s who we are, it’s in our bones. I guess the job of the storyteller is to draw the dots, not necessarily to connect them. Connecting the dots is the job of the hanged man in his state of waiting; it is the job of living and of the dying. We are all of those things at different times of day.
|Cosmic retablo by Bustos. . . the sun!|
I met a lovely Cuban architect on the coast in Oaxaca who told me many interesting stories -- including a parable about a fisherman and an investment banker. Feel free to exchange the characters for say, yourself and any bossypants know-it-all who wants to give you advice about how to live a good life.
A banker is on vacation, sitting on a pier in a peaceful coastal village in Mexico when a boat approaches. The banker admires the quality of the fish, but notices there are only three in the basket; he asks how long it took the fisherman to catch them. The fisherman said it only took a little while. “Why not stay out longer and catch a few more?” the banker asked.
“Well, I have one to eat now, one to give to my wife to prepare later, and one to sell in the market.”
“But what do you do with the rest of your time?” The banker asks.
“Well, I sleep in, do some fishing, play with my children, take a nap with my wife. . . and then we usually take a walk in the village, have a glass of wine and play a little guitar with my friends. My life is busy and full.” The banker digests this.
“. . . but if only you spent more time fishing, you could sell more and buy a bigger boat – then eventually a whole fleet of boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middle man, you could sell directly to a processing plant. . . you could even open your own cannery. With the success of your business, you could move to Mexico City, then to LA. . . maybe even to New York City.” The fisherman contemplates this possibility.
“How long do you think that would take?”
“Probably 15-20 years.”
“. . . and then what?” The fisherman asked.
“Well, this is the best part: at that point, your company will be worth millions, and you can sell stock in the business and become very rich!”
“Hmm. . .” The fisherman considers this. “What would I do with all those millions?”
“Well, then of course you would be able to retire to some small fishing village where you could sleep late, fish a little, spend time with your friends and family and play guitar.”
I greeted 2016 with some wonderful friends in Cuernavaca, about an hour south of Mexico City. We had a feast and fireworks, and Lya and I climbed a mountain on New Years Day. At the top of this mountain in Tepoztlan – a town which is categorized as a ‘pueblo magico,’ along with another of the towns I happened to visit – is a pyramid. On the journey to the top, we were accompanied by people of all ages and states of health -- adorning footwear of varying degrees of practicality.
|Teddy and Noura|
|Lya, David and Teddy|
|Lya, Teddy and Noura|
|Peacocking inspiration. I don't look this good when I do it.|
We took our party south to a favorite spot on the coast of Oaxaca. There we visited with new and old friends, watched sunsets and moonrises, sang boleros with Mario at the dinner table, roamed remote beaches and let the waves wash away 2015 and carry in the possibilities of the weeks and months ahead. In a neighboring town, I met an old friend who I call The Tall Spaniard -- we bathed in the salty sea, I taught him how to open a coconut with a machete, and I allowed him to defeat me in various racquet sports before I returned to the cliffs above the ocean for a few more days of rest and yoga and music. A group of birdwatchers arrived, quietly watching and waiting.
|early morning surfing (I watched)|
|Pierre found this in New York and was reminded of a song by The Snow|
All roads seem to lead back to Guanajuato, my home away from home. Here, I am floating through the days, taking my time, not worrying too much about anything, doing a little tan maintenance, and slowly plotting my next steps with my friend and soothsayer, Hugo.
|watching over the winding alleyways leading up to El Pipila, the hero of Guanajuato|
|age, layers, beauty|
|Hugo and afternoon coffee in a Parisian cafe, just steps from home|
Torino, Italy - Photo by Ingi Erlingsson
I wrote an advice column in 7th grade, West Sylvan Middle School. My fellow counselor was Maggie, the new girl in school. Some deeply innovative and collaborative thinking led to the name of our column, “Dear Hilary and Maggie.” I saved the letters we received – they were carefully folded and placed in a silver Converse shoebox, stored under my bed. I don’t remember as much about the advice we gave as I do about the questions and worries and dilemmas our fellow adolescents shared in their queries.
I was reminded of this – one of my first social service endeavors -- during my recent retreat in Colombia, where I read Cheryl Strayed’s collection of letters and responses from her advice column, Dear Sugar. I devoured the book, Tiny Beautiful Things, over several days of yoga, tropical fruits, meditation, mosquitos, song, and consultations with oracles of various kinds – all the while among an impressive multi-lingual group of seekers from around the world. We were disconnecting from ‘reality’ and reconnecting to something more fundamental that exists in each one of us, asking the same kinds of questions collected in Strayed’s book -- and even those submitted to me in seventh grade. That I felt I had advice to offer anyone about anything at age 12 is, on one hand, ridiculous -- but on the other hand, kind of makes sense. Perhaps at that point I wasn’t influenced quite as much by my mind and all its impressive exercises of thinking and consideration, and maybe instead had a little more connection to a different kind of knowing – one that generally has to be recovered in adulthood and requires more subtraction than addition, more simplicity and less complication.
Earlier this year at a Brooklyn house party filled with musicians, I’d asked my friend Andi -- playwright, professor, mother, and wife of one of my favorite songwriters -- to be my manager; I wanted someone to ‘produce’ for me, boss me around and tell me to get over myself. She gave me an assignment, I said I’d consider it, and Andi reminded me that ‘considering’ was bullshit, that I should stop thinking and just do something. Of course she was right; I had to agree that all my careful consideration isn’t winning me any Pulitzer Prizes or Grammy Awards.
|Advice from Andi|
Coming from a commercially-sponsored tour of the UK and Europe to film various football teams in the service of selling electrolyte replacement beverages, I’d put most of my personal and creative agendas on-hold, including my assignment. The time in Colombia gave me an opportunity to shed cumbersome winter clothing as well as other unnecessary layers – and reminding me of Andi’s words of advice: Don’t consider it; do it!! Now! Don’t think!
|Madrid, Spain - Photo by Jayanta Jenkins|
|night time departure|
|Liquid light, London|
|Dream production team, Madrid|
Before returning to winter, I journeyed further south to meet my friend Doug – who was nearing the end of his global tour while the rest of us acquiesced to darkness and hibernation. After a long journey and four airports, I arrived before sunrise in Buenos Aires to a lovely sparkly-eyed Porteño named Fernando, who ferried me back to his tastefully-appointed town house in Almagro with my suitcase full of filthy clothing to meet Doug. Fernando welcomed us like old friends as we occupied two of the three rooms he and his boyfriend offer on Airbnb. I slept for a couple of hours and went upstairs to the roof terrace to join the hombres for coffee. Was I still dreaming, or were two men hanging my clean laundry to dry?
|Church, Buenos Aires|
Deep-and-meaningfuls continued as I spent the next days with these gents. Fernando – with his fellow Argentines, – has learned to live with a lot of instability and uncertainty, and has found in his work as an architect and designer that perseverance wins in the end: Do something for long enough and you'll probably reach a reasonable level of accomplishment. Doug’s mantra comes from Shakespeare, the readiness is all: We can’t control what happens to us, but we can train and shape ourselves to be prepared for whatever may come. It is no coincidence that Doug and I met and became friends years ago when training in martial arts. I suppose it is again no coincidence that readiness is basically the same ethos that governs production: make plans but also expect the unexpected, and be ready to handle whatever happens. Without thinking too much about it, I would borrow a mantra from Bruce Lee: be like water.