pros, cons, and a day in the life.

22 February 2012 § Leave a comment

Eventually, I’m going to have to buy a computer. I know this, and reject the idea out of hand. Here’s a small brick of my wall: I have never once purchased a computer, an mp3 player, or a discman. Which might show my age a bit, that last one, but certainly not on the first two. For years I was just waiting for processors to be faster, laptops to be more durable, hard drives to be bigger, I/Os to be more hardy and have better preamps (a far-off wish), and until then I was content with my gifted laptops I used for little more than editing photos and processing words, and of course, the internet.

Things like this are what cloud my mind of late. What to do with money, that concept I despise and abhor and all of those other Victorian words but use anyway, live on a minimal amount on and somehow get by very comfortably, usually with a healthy dose of people’s kindness, hospitality, and generosity. And in that, I’ve come to the conclusion that people are generally good, except when they’re given a chance to be evil, and that’s when god dances with the devil, does the tango, and gets dipped a little too far to the floor to come and seek redemption. But I digress. I’m in a conundrum, and the only thing that’s helping is writing, so here I am, writing. Typing. I can’t not anymore.

In light of all these new and novel decisions around my life, such as choosing to be in a relationship – choosing love, one might say – and sticking with the pact I made to my blind spider all those many months ago in Zadar – that my next trip will be about learning a culture, a language, a place, and not cityhopping as I’m prone to do – I’m wondering now that after six months of doing that, can I continue about my old ways, and blast my way north through Central America, hitchhike through Mexico, and make it to my friend’s wedding in Florida in April (which is a promise I made that has turned into a goal, the completion of which that may define me as a ‘man of his word’, which according to the movies is a good thing to be)? Six months is quite enough, isn’t it? Of staying in one place, or a few, and while maybe not keeping up with my Spanish practice but at least keeping up appearances of being a well-traveled soul… surely, that’s enough for me.

It’s time to Go, right? For fuck’s sake, I’m a traveler, and should be traveling! I’m going to have to make a border run soon to renew my visa. That makes me an almost-expat. Or something. I’m a little blurry on the facts on that one, but mostly because I haven’t had to worry about it before. I’ve been in Central America since September, and I’ve only been to three countries! My passport needs more attention, more love from sweaty people in glass boxes than this! It’s only got six years left, and I need to fill up the pages! Anything less would be a waste!

Oh please, Sean. Shut up. You’ve got limited funds, and should probably think about paying back your ex-ex-girlfriend’s dad for helping you out with tuition for that school you graduated six years ago (without whose assistance you wouldn’t have been able to finish) before you go hopping up through Central America, especially when you’re kind of hesitant to do that anyway. Boquete is nice. It’s beautiful, even. And although your feeble fundraising attempt for the volunteer effort exacted pretty much what you expected (your favorite people, however few, donating (thanks, girls and guy!), but overall leaving you to covering the costs yourself), it’s cheap living here, and you can write more (short of the stories you’d gain on such an adventure), maybe even edit that ugly mug of a novel you wrote in November, perhaps even work!

What’s the use of this?

The use of this is yesterday, Carnaval in Dolega. I’m tired of thinking, so this is from the book, dated this morning, at the café with the small tables, up the hill.

I’ve been sweetening all my drinks lately. Taking an extra bite of desserts, knowing I’ll feel a tinge of self-hatred for it the next morning. All because I think that soon I’ll be without this feeling of indulgence for quite some time, that every food and contented state must be followed by one of abstinence and sacrifice. What will the story be this time? That I moved to Panama for a couple of months because a break from university called, and I answered before the end of the first ring? That in my squalor of learning, I committed to a relationship with Heather because I wanted to know if I could stand it?

Is life spent outside my culture only practice for when I return? Or is it just a vacation? Yesterday, I found a reason to travel again, at Carnaval.

Ed, H. and I walked away from the small festivities, toward the rodeo, away from the extravagant car audio systems in Nissans and Hondas, from the kids who jumped into the irrigation canal and were swept downstream by a small desert feat of civil engineering, from the firefighting hoses teenagers pointed at crowds dancing in the streets. We went against the flow of people headed toward them, who were excited to be skipping work for sao, beers, and a soaking.

We stopped at a house for duros, frozen drinks made from fruit or chocolate, or pretty much anything else, to find more things made from nance, a new favorite fruit I’ve yet to find in the jungle. Immediately after sitting down, the woman told us that we speak English, which I thought the case also and was glad that she agreed, and that her sister’s gringo husband not only lived in the house behind hers, but spoke English tambien.

As if a shared language were reason enough to behind a friendship, the woman insisted that we meet him – after all, there was food, and it was a party there all day (which I questioned with some doubt).Thirty seconds after she’d sent the older woman to fetch a chair for me, I was ushered with my friends through a yard where kids screamed with delight and someone revved the engine of a fourwheeler like an inexperienced rider with too much ego. There were Dodge trucks from the 90’s and pretty, pretty motorcycles parked without caution around the yard. I thought it typical of Latin culture, but brushed off the thought when I remembered Don Cheadle’s joke from Crash.

We arrived at a patio where women cooked huge amounts of pork and rice and hojaldres, like the ones I remembered from my childhood in Albuquerque. ‘This,’ I told Heather, holding up the greasy flatbread, ‘is how I fell in love with Latin culture.’ She smiled her grand smile, the one that makes her emerald eyes glow and adds one or two shades of red to her Irish mane. I imagined most people replying to my comment with a crooked face and a chuckle, implying that I’d made some sort of joke.

Not that I hadn’t, mind you. Surely the hojaldres, which I knew as sopapillas but flatter, wasn’t the only thing I loved about the predominant culture of here and my kidhood, for there was something wonderful to be said about the hospitality which even the most formal Southerners couldn’t match, the pushiness of Latin mothers to get their guests and loved ones to eat just one plate more, especially if they bore even a remotely trim body. I tried to imagine a Mexican teenaged girl with an eating disorder, and decided that it must be impossible or rare, which was likely one of the other reasons I thought Latin women were the most beautiful in the world.

It’s amazing the ideas from our childhoods that shape us.

The children lined up to abuse and destroy the horse-shaped piñata, which turned out to be made of something much more durable than paper maché. I remembered doing that as a kid also: when the popular kid at the party, probably the one whose birthday it was, finally decapitated the horse, I had just sat down on the grass and cried while all the other kids mad-rushed the candy, which had exploded from the horse’s neck and all over the grass. This time, I sat with the old people and looked on and didn’t cry. When the father of one of them grew impatient with the piñata’s durability – two broomsticks had been broken already in trying to break the swinging beast – and ripped the thing apart with his hands, the kids, most of whom had grown tired of batting it, rushed with pieces of sugar and decorated plaster with the same energy I saw in my peers twenty years earlier.

Over birthday cake and beer, Ronald Roberts the gringo told us about his thirty years, off and on, in Panama, about his pets, and of his Panamanian family (half of whose names he couldn’t remember, such as his wife’s), and of his military service, and all the things you tell strangers who show up at your house and speak your language. He introduced me to Thor, a rottweiler/black lab mix who was chained up behind his house, and his folded U.S. flag you get when you’ve served your twenty. It listed all the ships he’d served on, whose missions, he said, replying to Ed’s inquiry about how long he would be at sea at one time, he couldn’t talk about.

His wife – whose name was Rosa – spoke to us in clear and slow Spanish, of which I was happily able to understand all but a few words. My conversation practice might have showed me off as somewhat fluent to our hosts, even if in my classes I hadn’t learned the cultural value of talking excessively. Heather tried to understand, and listened as intently as I had to every conversation some months ago, repeating words she didn’t know, but rarely knew how to reply. (Oh, stages of language-learning, how universal you are!) Ed sat back, probably knowing a few words being said, but mostly relishing in the moments as they passed.

Rosa’s mother, a year younger than Ed at 82, had walked him to the patio when we’d first arrived thinking we were being kindly brought into a family restaurant rather than a seven-year-old girl’s birthday party, and sometimes touched his elbow to keep him from running into a banana tree, which was something like holding hands. There are few things as novel and adorable as old people being affectionate with one another, like brittle and saggy skeletons remembering intimacy as the most important feeling of their long lives.

By the time we left, I’d eaten three pieces of cake and a couple of strips of pork besides the nostalgic hojaldres, and was flirted with by someone’s great aunt, all of which I considered to be cultural obligations, rather than experiences I got out of bed for. But we had become family when all we wanted were duros, and also had skipped Carnaval entirely.


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