Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mangos and Sand

In the psychedelic twilight near Comercial grocery store, everything turns indigo, orange, and verde, verde, verde. Yellow gingham tablecloth at El Charro, y uno Pacifico, despues de visitar a Alma. Alma the healer, who works from her bright tangerine home on a side street off the beach in Manzanillo, Mexico.
“I am going to check your soul,” she said, and pressed on my sternum. I cried. For much of the first ten minutes. She told me I don’t let my mind rest when I go to bed—“necesitas descansar la mente”—and that I need to let go of the past. These are clichés only now, as I write them. Coming from her, in that dusty mint green room, with the Spanish chant playing and Jesus in a shrine watching, every word, every touch of her hands, was a discovery, a moment of sheer, almost unbelievable newness. Cracked tile and one burning candle.
I lay on the table, in striped underwear with a white sheet covering my breasts while she pushed on my pubic bone “con permiso de Usted y de Dios.” A quick muttered line, asking permission from me and God to touch my womanhood. I did feel different, better, calmer after an hour with her. Any massage will do this—but they don’t have Alma’s children poking heads through the door to ask about a phone call, don’t have that perfect vocal chant in the background (not new agey, not sterile), don’t have the cars and trucks driving by, don’t have the unfiltered, unconditioned air. Que perfecto, para mi. A massage occurring in life, not as an escape from it. This is what I looked like directly afterwards. Rumpled and curious.
Ahora, Pacifico with lime and chunky sea salt. Taco especial de Adobada. Across the street, people watch a soccer game projected on the side wall of the Office Max.
Due to a fortuitous mix of the generosity of family friends Annemeike and Tom and the impractical exuberance of our own decision-making, I am in Manzanillo with Lindsey and Anthony. We live in a white marble apartment, in a tower of soft round rooms called Burgos II, on a hillside from which we can see Playa Audiencia and a peninsula called The Elephant.

One day, we went to a beach town called Barra de la Navidad.

An hour drive in our new friend Diyana’s yellow jeep through rainforest and shacktowns held up by tarps and ropes. It’s crowded with banana plants and palm trees and the brick and plaster homes are painted bright teal, pink, orange, royal blue. Hand lettered signs on every store. Fruit stands with piles of coconut, mango, prickly
pear. Jackfruit hanging from the awnings like dead armadillos. Diyana is from Jordan and her soundtrack is middle eastern pop—the kind of sexy belly dance beat and electric bass you’d hear in a suave New York lounge called Tantra. Incongruity works here—I love the sounds of the drums as we careen through red lights on newly paved Mexican roads. Thatched roof and rainclouds. We drive through miles of overwhelming green—climbing vines and unruly orchards of coconut palms and banana plants. Life creeps into and over everything.
After winding through a disturbingly well-landscaped and abandoned resort complex/golf course, we arrive at a rickety dock off the Restaurant Calimilla, which is a large sprawl of plastic white patio furniture under heavy palm thatch awnings, say goodbye to Diyana, get in a bright blue and red boat, and speed five minutes across the lagoon to Barra de Navidad, a town from my childhood dreams. Pink and purple umbrellas on the beach. Restaurants open to the air on the water. A town full of little carts and buildings snarled in and out of huge draping trees. Cobblestone walkways and frozen pelotas made from bright green cactus fruit—spit out the seeds or break your teeth on them. Mango with chile melting down my chin. The sweet chicory cream café con leche, in a blue mug by a yellow wall. I want to take 8,000 pictures. I want to smell and taste it again. I want to somehow have it rubbed into my skin every day.
It’s too much to look at or understand, this town. Again, I have option paralysis and buy nothing. Woolen animals hecho a mano, bracelets tightly crocheted with semi-precious stones at their center, thin cotton dresses with tacky starfish and the name of the town printed on them. Every time I remember Anth forgot to put his contacts in, it hurts.
On the way home, we stop at one of the fruit stands. Two starfruit, two mango, a bunch of tiny bananas, some limes, for diez pesos. One coco, cut open for Anth to suck the juice out, for another ten. Diyana says they are usually five and we got cheated.
She drives us on winding lumpy stone roads past huge resort hotels of Las Hadas, Tesoro, La Punta. Mediterranean, domed, turreted, brilliantly white against periwinkle twilight storm-sky. Immediately next door, abandoned homes that overlook the ocean. Unbelievable situation. Americans are so afraid of juxtaposition, confusion. They like their appliances beige and their streets planned. Here, you will have no such façade of continuity.
It’s incredible, actually, how much Americans want to shut out the entropy of life—a middle-class culture that is phobic of bugs, clashing colors, death, smells, germs, dirt. I used to see this as a psychological problem of wanting to shut out pain by becoming control freaks. I now also see it as a political problem of wanting to differentiate ourselves from the poor. We spend a lot of money making things seem clean—but as anyone who has worked in a high-end restaurant will tell you, just as many dirty hands touch your $50 entrée as your $5 burrito. I’m not insulting our potable water or our hospitals. I’m saying we seem more interested in the appearance of cleanliness as a feature of our comfort than I’ve experienced in Europe, Asia, and now Mexico. And, I think it really is an attachment to appearance, not to “real” cleanliness as something that improves our health, helps us think clearly, or produces great art, the way a yogi or monk might care for cleanliness .
Here in Manzanillo, there is no concealment of the facts of tropical life. There is no embarrassed attempt to keep out the flies in the open-air restaurant on the beach. People bring their young babies to the beach and let them get sandy.
Tonight I’m staring at bright lightning, thinking about the quiet click-crackle of palm trees in the breeze, which I don't hear anywhere in L.A. A balm, this balmy air, a soothing softening that's entered my muscles and bones. I am equally relaxed by the lack of artifice in a world where iguanas and egrets hang out as I am by the weather. I'm learning how to stay liquid.


  1. You, rumpled and curious, are too beautiful. Put that away before you hurt someone. Your writing too, is rumpled, and your curiosity is more playful than before.

    I love your indictment of Americlean: cleanliness as an apparition. Like carbon monoxide, it silently strangles our psyches without warning, and was never truly present to begin with.

  2. we're STILL in Mexico!!! thank you for being here with me and writing about it, so beautifully, so politically, so tropically.