A Month Off

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You take a month off from your real life, every summer, to just think, walk, eat, see, sleep. It’s simple, and here you are simple with your small grasp of the language and culture, with your wonder at the world surrounding you.
Though you are alone and have no one to take care of you, this is the closest you will be able to get to your childhood, to carefree afternoons spent in a park chasing pigeons to singing into the wind from the bed of a rickety pickup truck.
Back home, lists of chores await your return, and you know, for now, they can wait, so you refuse their entrance to this wonderland though some nights they return as insistent nightmares causing your jaw to ache, reminding you you are still an adult.
Sometimes you know you need more than a month of simplicity and make lists, like recipes, to retain or regain this peacefulness.
But in reality this leisure, this luxury of time and reflection, is unrealistic, is rapidly ground down by impatience and the demands of adulthood.
This morning I promise to savor the month, to prevent preoccupation with priorities, and to lounge in the luxurious mornings as if there’s nothing left to be done in this life.
From Morning
–Billy Collins
Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,
then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?
This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso—

Going for a Run

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Every morning, I leave the Posada at 7 am to go for a walk. Every morning, Miguel catches me and asks: you going for a run?  The first fifteen times I said, no.
Then, I got with the program and said, yes. Clearly, I will run. I will run as a gorilla does. He says, no, a rabbit. I agree and walk into the cool morning.
Israel, the man who sells beef brain on the corner, calls his dishes kisses of beef. Nearly every time I pass him (sometimes more than five times a day), especially if he has customers, he loudly says, hello, Heather, many kisses for you. I say: yes and thank you.
This morning, feeling sluggish, I hardly accede that I will run. I am going to run as a snail or, I hesitate, a stone. No, Miguel insists, I am a puma. I try to tap my puma mind. I still would prefer to be a pampered, domestic feline lounging in the morning sunlight.
The Mexican tourist asks her five girlfriends, did you just hear what the white woman just said?  She’s laughing at me because in offering to photograph her and her friends (after watching them attempt an impossible selfie) with her iPhone, I promised not to run away with the phone.
As I backed up to include the church in the picture, she giggled nervously. I assured her that I cannot run–fast. They laughed as I snapped the shot.
Tomorrow, Miguel will assert, you’re going for a run. I will wholeheartedly agree. I will run as a turtle does, I will promise him. He will correct me and say, no, like a hummingbird. Of course, I will say, now I remember.
The cool morning, breezy afternoon, post-rain twilight all beckon me to run and run.
  • Langston Hughes’s poem “A Dream Deferred” is an excellent example of similes: https://readalittlepoetry.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/a-dream-deferred-by-langston-hughes/ 

    A Dream Deferred
    Langston Hughes

    What happens to a dream deferred?

    Does it dry up
    like a raisin in the sun?
    Or fester like a sore–
    And then run?
    Does it stink like rotten meat?
    Or crust and sugar over–
    like a syrupy sweet?

    Maybe it just sags
    like a heavy load.

    Or does it explode?

    Check out the simile generator at: http://writingfix.com/right_brain/Serendipitous_Simile_Prose1.htm

This Little Piggy

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I came across ¡Pío Peep! Rimas Tradicionales en Español (Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes) and was immediately struck by the unique adaptations of the rhymes. They are clearly not straight translations and made me wonder what makes a rhyme work in two languages and what is lost and what is found in the process of adapting–especially when rhyme is a central part of the experience.

In Spanish, “El sol es de oro” is, although concise in both languages, very different in English.

El sol es de oro

El sol es de oro

la luna es de plate

y las estrellitas

son de hoja de lata.

Directly translated:

The sun is of gold

the moon is of silver

and the little stars

are of tin.

 

The English adaptation, on the other hand,

The Sun’s a Gold Medallion

The sun’s a gold medallion.

The moon’s a silver ball.

The little stars are only tin;

I love them best of all.

Clearly different.

One that was closest in translation was unfamiliar except for the form. This one seemed to be counted on the hand as the more familiar (to me at least) “This Little Piggy” is counted on toes.

Aquí puso la pajarita el huevo

Aquí puso la pajarita el huevo.

Éste lo agarró,

éste lo partió,

éste lo cocinó,

éste le echó la sal,

y este pícaro gordo

se lo comió.

 

Here the Bird Laid the Egg

Here the bird laid one round egg.

This one found it,

this one cracked it,

this one cooked it,

this one put salt on it,

and this fat rascal

gobbled it up!

from ¡Pío Peep! Rimas Tradicionales en Español (Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes)

  • What is lost and found in translation? How does this rob or enrich you or a character? What happens when we try to rely on literal translation?

Finding the Saint of Finding Things

 

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In the Tlacolula market on Sunday, I am determined to find a picture of Saint Antonio. Rumor has it that he is a saint of miracles and can help mere mortals find lost items—like love. Here, in Oaxaca, legend has it that you simply need to turn the image of Saint Anthony (usually holding an angelic looking child) on his head (a cabeza) and pray. http://www.stanthonyfinderoflove.com/About_St_Anthony.html

I see a stand selling religious books and jewelry and ask the woman if she has an image of Saint Anthony. She does not, but she offers me directions to a shop two and a half blocks off the market. It is called Adonay. I do not hesitate to head in that direction. I consider it a small Spanish test. Can I find the shop on this unknown street in this unknown town? Do I even know what two and a half blocks might be? I have a hat for the sun and it is not raining. I am confident I will find the shop.

C, who is with me, is not so confident. He does not understand why I don’t just download a picture of this guy from the internet. Always a provocateur, he also asks the woman if we will find readings on atheism at her shop. Her face says no. Then, she abruptly confirms: No.

It is definitely farther than three Sacramento city blocks, but we arrive at a beautiful shop with giant Jesus and Mary statues and portraits. It is part garden, gift store, and gallery.

The patient shop keeper tries to sell me a practically life-size Saint Antonio. I assure him that my luggage cannot even accommodate the baby Antonio holds in his arms. He laughs and suggests I get larger luggage—for next time.

He helps me find five cards with the Saint. It turns out C wants two.

C asks to use the restroom, and the kind man says certainly—after I have paid for the cards. As he leads C into the house, a small dog with a pink bow emerges from her doghouse and tries to attack C. The parrot above starts to squawk. I literally scream because I had no idea we were so close to wildlife.

The dog is named Greta. She turns out to be sweet. C finds the children in the back room painting images of Jesus. There are three of them; the husband runs the shop. The wife is the woman we met in the market, the lady of the good directions we name her.

Back out in the chaos of the streets, we have to smile at the adventure and how we never cease to be surprised by what we will find.

I often ask folks if they were to open up a store in the capital (Oaxaca) what the store would sell. Usually people are set on food because everyone needs to eat, but C decides this afternoon that it might be good to sell religious materials, like these tourist-sized images of Saint Antonio that we picked up for under a nickel each. Yes, we could mark them up double and it’d still be cheaper than downloading him from the internet. And, we could help people find things—as we found this little shop.

I’m in the Art Show

Last night I went to a German artist’s show at the contemporary art museum.

I knew nothing of the artist, Sigmar Polke. I went because it was free and on the way to a free jazz show. The art was an interesting blend of painting with printing and stamping. The images were intriguing, but, for me, the titles were the arresting element. One painting was named something along the lines of:  an old man and a punk rock young man are sitting in a dark living room full of antique furniture and the father says to the young punk, “someday all of this will be yours.”
At the Saturday intercambio, I am sitting with Julio, Valentina, Mariela, and Gabriel. I mention the show and the vast titles to Gabriel who wants to learn German. Valentina says my description of the title reminds her of a truck commercial in which a man says to his son, someday all of this will be yours, referring an expanse of property. And the son asks: and the truck?
I am walking along the pedestrian corridor planning what I will say to the woman at the bakery as I request a sandwich. I walk and negotiate with myself, and then I am interrupted. An elder with coin purses yells at me in English to buy what he’s selling. I pretend I cannot hear him though my ears are open for any suggestion of English.
It strikes me that my entire month here is the art show and each post I can offer is perhaps a long title to accompany the piece.
  • Of course, this experience of being a painting makes me think of Linda Pastan’s incredible “Ethics.” http://shenandoahliterary.org/blog/2011/09/linda-pastan-ethics/ I’m not suggesting you should elect the same question (a Rembrandt painting/or an old woman who hadn’t many/ years left anyhow?) for your writing. Maybe you ought to increase the stakes?

Dancing in Llano Park

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The Zumba class in Llano infatuates the whole park. Who can resist the joyful music and movement? The way they sway those hips!
Even this construction worker joins in. He’s  on an eight-foot ladder, readying a structure for a canopy, when he suddenly, rapt by the music, breaks into dancing.  How gracefully he maneuvers the ladder, as if he’s on stilts, as if this is just something one does.
That’s the secret to this city. I know better than to question the magic. I just need to let myself be swept up in the music.
  • Umberto Ak’Abal writes, in “The Dance,”

    All of us dance/ on a cent’s edge

    (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/dance)

    Upon what edge are you or your characters dancing? And, what happens? And, what do those watching fear will happen?

Back in Oaxaca

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The officer at passport control in Mexico City asks where I am coming from. I offer Sacramento; he counters with Atlanta. But I am so tired I don’t recognize the word Atlanta. I start to nod no. He repeats, slowly, A T L A N T A. I agree that’s where I have been most recently.

He asks me why I am in Mexico, and I want to tell him that I long for music in the streets, tacos in the park on Fridays, children roaming freely into twilight, a ride in the back of a truck, Indigo skies over Santo Domingo church. Instead, I sneeze the word: tourism, and he sends me off for two rounds of suitcase inspections and impromptu Spanish tests.

I’m usually up for trying out my comprehension, but I left Sacramento at 11:05PM and arrived in A T L A N T A at about 3AM my time, to take a train and find a gate in the vast terminal and then tried to sleep while a little old man loudly read the newspaper and slurped steaming coffee.

The officer has caught me at 10AM his time, 8AM mine, 11AM Atlanta’s.

Before meeting him, I have mostly fruitlessly tried to sleep in three time zones: pacific, eastern, central. I will have experienced a handful of solid minutes of sleep without disruption.

I will, at last, nap deeply in the small plane over Oaxaca and then briefly in a taxi-van full of seven men in the bustling streets leading to my stop (second-to-last) and my room, my comfortable room, at the posada.

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  • April Bernard, in “Roy Orbison and John Milton Are Still Dreaming” (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/roy-orbison-and-john-milton-are-still-dreaming) delivers us the joy of waking from a satisfying nap:
    You know what I mean: In the instant
    of waking in bliss, the whole body smiles—
    Then, she shows how though the mind may want to wake “in bliss” (as in the joy of landing on Oaxaca and being delivered to the posada), reality is often not as generous. In her poem, Bernard offers a list of “happy facts.” What are the “happy facts” that fill one of your characters?