Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Strange kid

I've heard from child psychologists and experts that children assume every family is like their own, because it's the only thing they have ever known. I don’t know if that's true in general, but I do know it's not true for me.

Having grown up in Mexico in the 1970’s, I always knew that other people's parents were married to each other. That other people did not have brothers and sisters from different mothers or fathers. That other people went to mass on Sundays and I went to the movies. That while other people went to summer camp or Disney World I went to Egypt, China, Italy, Greece, France and Japan.

My mother hated Walt Disney. I didn't know who Snow White was, Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. I never assumed people lived happily ever after. I was not once even offered a bite from the poisoned apple of fairy tales.

In the stories I was told, the only girls who wore fluffy white dresses and dainty shoes were the dancers of Degas. I did not believe I needed to be kissed to wake up and I did not believe waiting for anything would be conducive to my happiness. While I never believed in Prince Charming, I did believe the image of a pipe was not a pipe because it said so.

Distinguishing between a villain and a hero was never black and white. Attila the Hun promised his brother tribe, the Magyars in Hungary, that he would always be there for them. He said if they needed him they would hear the thunder of the hoof beats of his horses as his troops came to their rescue. “Alive I shall cross the Earth” he said “and dead I will descend from the heavens”. Ruthless, maybe, but Attila kept his word to the people that he loved.

I heard more about tropical islands than enchanted castles, and yet I never really warmed up to Gauguin, who left Van Gogh when he needed him the most.

I learned that if even the Gods living in Olympus had characteristics of mortals, then it was fair to make allowances for a mortal's limitations.

In our house, there was no honor in having ruby red lips and blue eyes with long lashes. Admiration was reserved for heroes, for the man in the arena, for people who achieved against all odds, for men whose reach exceeded their grasp.

At school, after the teacher heard fourteen "How I spent my Summer vacation" recounts, I would talk about the 8,000 terracotta soldiers of Xian, how each of their hair styles and faces was different, how the site included terracotta camels and horses, and that I had seen them all.

By now you’ve probably gathered I was not the most popular kid. The funny thing is, contrary to everyone else, I did not ever feel that these differences made me strange. I assumed they made me special.

You can expect this from children, you know. Being made to feel special was the only thing I had ever known.

(Photo: my mom and me, circa 1969.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Like a horse

It's a recurring dream. Or rather, a recurring interruption of whatever it is I'm dreaming. A presence somewhere over my shoulder, a nuzzling on my neck. Like a horse, its hot, moist breath, the brush of its velvet lips. Except that the smell is not animal-like. It’s more like warm bread, nutmeg and bed linens. Then a stream of sound I can't make out – a radio frequency?

This happens almost every night for as long as I can remember. I've grown so used to it it doesn't occur to me to wonder what it means.

It takes me seventeen years to finally understand. It's a human voice, deep and lush, and it's saying something. It's words, and they are clear and eloquent, if somewhat redundant, like a mantra. And they are in English (I grew up in Mexico, so words in English can only mean one thing.)

You are the most precious, beautiful girl in the world, the voice is saying. There is nothing you can't do. You are a miracle. You are here against all odds. You are here for a reason. You are going to change the world.

The words begin to irritate me, because I'm so tired and they just keep coming. I feel exactly the way you do a few seconds before you gather the strength to finally reach out for the snooze button.

I tighten my eyes shut, crunch up my shoulder against my neck, hoping. It. Will. Go. Away.

It doesn't. The fourth "There is nothing - nothing - you can't do" finally does it. I'm now fully awake. I open my eyes and in the dark make out my mother's figure, kneeling on the floor in her nightgown, her elbows on the edge of my bed, her mouth grazing my ear. I roll back, alarmed.

"Mom!" I say, "What are you doing"?

"I didn't mean to wake you.” She says this kind of unapologetically. "I'm just whispering things in your ear."

Like this is perfectly logical.

"What kind of things? I mean, you woke me up! I was sleeping, mom!"

"I say things to you while you sleep so they will go directly into your subconscious." Her tone is clinical, like when a doctor says "I'm afraid this will require antibiotics." "I didn't mean to wake you. I guess I was talking a bit louder than I usually do".

"What do you mean 'usually'"?

"Go back to sleep, honey" she says and backs out of the room. "I'll see you tomorrow".

Saturday, October 20, 2007

My favorite cities in the world

I recently spent a week in Mexico City. I went there for work, so stayed at a hotel in a neighborhood I had never stayed in, rather than at my father's house. I really enjoyed seeing a whole new side of the enormous urban sprawl I lived in for most of my life.

From Mexico City, I flew directly to New York (again for work) and spent a week there. This unintended big city trend, coupled with my penchant for list making, sparked the impulse to share with you my favorite cities in the world:

1. Mexico City (it's insane, chaotic, overpopulated and polluted, but it's mine and I love it.)
2. Milan (construction of its Cathedral - The Duomo - began around 1380 and it's not finished yet. Need I say more?)
3. New York (it's electric.)
4. San Francisco (my city by the bay.)
5. Paris (no matter where you go, you have 360 degrees of pure aesthetic perfection.)

I suspect London would be on this list but I've never actually lived there. I need to live in a city for at least a month straight before feeling I have the right to consider it, which is why I'm leaving other cities out, such as Vancouver, which I also love.

Finally, to this I have to add I am not really a city person. I love living in Montara (population: 2,000). But any of these cities is a welcome break to my small town life and a proven cure to any few and far between little town blues that might afflict me.

What are your favorite cities in the world?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog action day and my red bucket

Every morning, I used to turn on the water in the shower and then wait a minute or two for it to get hot. Perfectly good, clean water right down the drain.

So a few months ago I got a small red bucket. Now I turn the water on and it falls into the bucket, which I later use around the house: most often to flush the toilet with it, or to water plants.

Is there anything you do that’s easy and obvious and that you think contributes to use less resources, particularly water?

In honor of blog action day, I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The matter of mattering

Yesterday, while waiting for the elevator, I looked out the window down onto the street below. I was up so high that people looked small, like toys, with their briefcases and sneakers and coats flapping in the autumn wind.

I wonder, how many times does someone see me from a distance?

I don't really mean watching me as an individual, as someone that has been attached to a specific identity. I don’t mean attraction or curiosity or being noticed, but rather the opposite of relevance.

How many times am I, say, on a Ferry on the San Francisco Bay while someone is looking at the boat from a car driving across the Golden Gate Bridge?

How many times does someone lying on the beach see the plane I'm in slowly move across the arch of blue sky in his span of vision?

How many times has someone taken a photograph and caught a fragment of me as I move across the frame? How many albums do I live in as even less than a stranger, the tip of my shoe intruding on a picture, a brown blur caused by a curly strand of my hair ruining an otherwise perfect family shot?

How many times does someone look down and notice people look like toys, with their briefcases and sneakers and coats flapping in the autumn wind; and realize they not only seem small, but trivial, deceived in their sweet sense of self importance, foolish, really, to be hurrying along as if their efforts really amounted to anything?

What I mean is, how many times is one of those minuscule, ant sized people way down below me?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

All that glitters

I recently found myself at a shoe store, staring at a pair of crinkled metallic gold shoes. I'm not the kind of person who owns crinkled metallic gold shoes, and my first thought was "Wow. Those are kind of ugly". My second thought was "I have to have them". I apparently have alter-personalities living inside me that I don't know very well.

I carried the metallic gold shoes around the store while I looked at other things. I am not an impulse shopper so the part of me that thought they were ugly did not really take the part of me that had to have them very seriously. Until I walked up to the cash register and paid for them.

Now my new metallic gold shoes sit in my closet, in a world of gray, brown and navy blue clothes. I can see them peeking out of their shoe compartment. They are completely out of place, devilish, defiant. I wink at them before reaching for my trusty brown boots.

I haven't worn my new metallic gold shoes yet, but one day I will. I can't wait to see where they take me.