Sunday, May 1, 2011

Practice, Memory and Song

Hugo is one of my favorite people. We met in an Italian restaurant in Portland, where I got my first real job at age 16. Pazzo provided an introduction to many things for me, including forbidden love, polenta, pinot noir, The Beastie Boys, people dying of AIDS, and much fodder for my developing fascination with human nature. Hugo and I used to meet in the afternoons before our night shifts to drink coffee and draw and talk about things. I remember being inspired by how everything he did seemed to be a work of art – a conversation, making a latte, folding a napkin. I was and still am pretty hopeless when it comes to drawing, but our tradition and friendship have endured.

After having visited once for my 30th birthday, I spent three months in Guanajuato a few years ago when I needed a break from New York, and have been back to visit every year since. While on hiatus from my life, I worked with Hugo and a cast of characters at his bed and breakfast in this picturesque and provincial town in the central highlands of Mexico -- where the church bell’s deafening toll reverberates several times a day, where there is an on-going battle with the taquero who sets up his cart on the corner and a never-ending variety of human drama unfolding. Latin Americans tend to love a bit of drama – perhaps inspired by their deeply entrenched relationship with telenovelas -- and so do the gringos who take refuge here from colder, darker northern cities.

Before arriving in Mexico, I enjoyed my last couple of days Brazil with Sandra and her Norwegian boyfriend, Kåre – we saw a Spanish movie with Portuguese subtitles, practiced yoga, socialized over some awesome fried-something-with-meat in a jazz bar with some other friends, relished Kåre’s culinary talents, and marveled at having cooking gas delivered on Easter Sunday morning. My image of Brazilian men of being somewhat contrary to stereotype was challenged upon meeting a surfer named Anderson on my flight leaving the country. With my cab driver on the way to the airport, I finally decided to change my name to ‘Eleanora --’ which is my middle name and was plan B after repeatedly being met with confused looks upon citing Hillary Clinton as what I assumed was a universal reference. It seemed important to leave Brazil with some kind of new facet to my identity.

These last days in Guanajuato have been a perfect finale to the last several weeks of wandering around – it is both known and unknown to me; it is familiar and yet still I am an alien here. I don’t really mind, though – the whole alien thing is kind of familiar and I’m mostly used to it. Hugo is also a popular outcast, so we understand each other. People here are friendly and curious, even if it takes a little work to get past their initial suspicion. I guess if I didn't find these challenges inspiring or interesting somehow, I would probably stay at home. I sang with a jazz band the other night at this restaurant where we always go – just one song, but it was a fun exercise in flinging myself out into the world in a new way. I experienced some molecular fusion cuisine for the first time, learned about Haikubes – which anyone who comes to visit me in Brooklyn will have a chance to experience, -- spent some time working with Hugo in his studio, contemplated an adult move like buying real estate, practiced yoga with cousin Daniel, and spent a couple of breakfasts breaking down some important universal questions with a feisty Brazilian advertising executive who was a guest in the b+b with his boyfriend.

Now it’s time to return to New York, wear some coconut jewelry to work, hang up my new lamp and watch the light and shadows it casts.