It´s not such a lonely planet anymore. The guidebooks pettle clichés and backpackers trample the same path, robotically feeling whatever ´the book´ has predetermined for us to feel. We are like sheep to the pied piper of someone else´s fears and inclinations. We focus too rashly on´capturing´ travel. Moving rapidly, accumulating, consuming; I fear that we seldom take the opportunity to drink in a unique, unplanned experience.
I don´t think that it was a coincidence that I read about John Ruskin (in The Art of Travel) on the same day that I noticed so many people sketching urban landscapes in Valparaiso.
Ruskin was a Londoner whose life was focused on the proper response to beauty. He believed that by describing something artistically, you learned it from the inside-out, developed a conscious understanding of it, and were thus able to possess it. Succinctly, Ruskin was interested in fostering the ability to see, as opposed to merely looking. In a way, Ruskin has articulated a kind of theology of drawing.
This blog is one form of my effort to see through ¨word-painting.¨ Ruskin has inspired me to begin to draw more as a means of fostering wonder and gratitude over my surroundings.
I like to draw when I go to art museums. I find a painting that moves me in some way, and I´ll sit for some hours and make a raw, fledgling sketch of lines and smears and shading, hoping something of the essence is revealted.
I´m not a very talented drawer, but Rusking has helped teach me that the product is the least important part of the experience. Drawing (and writing, for that matter) forces you to slow down and to ¨be¨– authentically, in the moment, consciously noticing textures, smells, angles, and emotions. In the end, you are rewarded simply by the ¨search for an authentic representation of an experience.¨
Valparaiso is a city of crooked, cobblestone alleys, pastel-colored house fronts stacked steeply up hilllsides, rickety ascensores peddling tree-top routes, switchbacking staircases, crowded oblong plazas, rooftop terraces, and intimate bars and cafes.
Its got a little bit of San Francisco (myriad forms of transportation, steep hills), Seattle (staircases as major thoroughfares, underground scene), Key West (pastel), some of the grittier parts of Paris (French doors and windows overlooing streets, cafes shoved into spaces you´d never have thought possible), and a hint of Barcelona (The Neruda trail mirroring that of Gaudi in the heights of the city).
Yet it remains distinctly South American. It thrives on chaos and pulses a revolutionary energy. The streets are filled with sleeping dogs, bootleg vendors, and more mini-buses than anyone should be able to ride.
¨Bohemian¨ seems to be the catchphrase, and it´s not a bad one.
Street jugglers step into intersections during red lights, hurling flaming sticks and bowling pins.
It is more of a surprise to me when I don´t see a protest march then when I do. Yesterday, the profesors of a local university blocked traffic in the center of town.
I´ve never seen so many people with sketchpads in any one city in my life. Everywhere I walked, there was someone sketching something in a book.
The Plaza de las Armas in Vicuña, Chile daily hosts the Indy 500 of mini, plastic electric jeeps and corvettes, driven by little children of 5 or 6 years with littler concern for whose fee they drive over. It reminds me of my niece, Alex, who patrols her sweeping yard outside Nashville, Tennessee with a pink Barbie jeep of similar make and model to the ones currently endangering my toes. I withdraw my feet from the dusty red and white tiles to lay supine on the kakye park bench to enjoy the warmth of the sun on my face, and influenced by the astonishing discovery of cable in my hostal room, begin to wonder who will be the next Ricky Bobby.
It reminds me again how similar we all are. We may look different and act different, but deep down at the core, we all just want to drive fast and flirt with the hottie in the car next to us.
There is a local teamster´s chapter for babies and their mothers in each south american town. They gather before sunrise each morning amidst cigarette smoke and nescafe to negotiate. The veterans get the choicest routes while the rookies are left to earn their reputation on the cold altiplano routes. Their mission is simple, to make sure there is a crying baby on each and every bus on the continent. It is imperative, of course, that every bus route is covered. Otherwise, there might be one person, somewhere, sometime, that accomplishes a modicum of sleep on a night bus.
They´re everywhere. Even on the nicest buses, with first class leather seats and fully reclining ¨cama¨ seating. They come in all shapes and sizes, all bundled up for warmth and full screaming power. They look innocent enough–adorable bronze faces with dark pools for eyes and noses that sniffle just enough to be cute. But when the lights go out–watch your ears, you´ll think a siren is going off in the row behind you. Believe me–common ear plugs and I-pods are no match.
The mother´s role is to clear the scream passage, set the baby up for the best acoustics, and let ´er rip. The key is to give no effort whatsoever to actually stopping the baby´s crying. A requisite ¨shush¨ just for show is the extent. The most common strategy is to prop the baby up on the mother´s lap. That way, the appearance of pacifying is given, while the noise is lifted to cover the entire bus. It´s really quite well done.
Military strategists need to learn their organizational strategy, for it appears flawless and without gaps. Big buses, small buses. City buses, rural buses. Camionetas and Colectivos and Combes. Corporate or privately-operated.
In an era of increased political power for leftist latin american leaders, it is clear from the ground who has the true political power here. The Blessed Union of Babies and Mothers. Community organizers, mount up.
The only problem I have with snowboarding is that I hate being cold. The Peruvians and Chileans have come up with an ingenius solution–sandboarding.
Biking to the hill, I was like a drag racer trying to reach full speed with my parachute open. The board strapped to my back perpindicularly, making me look like a fly, or hopefully some less disgusting animal.
Pretty fun stuff. Try it now in a desert near you.
I rented a bike today and rode 4 kilometres into the Atacama desert, the driest in the world, apparently. Perching atop a sand mountain (this was more than a dune) to admire the view, I looked down upon the badlands of the Cordillera de la Sal and the town of San Pedro beyond it. The Andes mountains framed the vast desert which in turn enveloped the pueblo. My perspective about the town began to change.
I began to contemplate (as spectacular vistas are wont to make you do) the last week in Bolivia, and indeed, my entire journey thus far. As I did this, it became clear that what I posted yesterday, if not inaccurate, was possibly a bit simplistic and maybe even trite.
Perseverance is nice, but what perseverance requires is a cosmic perspective.
In business terms, when the Dow Jones hits 8,000, you don`t sell everything and move to the woods to wait for the end (you didn`t did you?). The market has proven historically to rebound and build over time.
The recurring them of the Hebrew scriptures is collective amnesia: a merciful God having pity on his people, his people excitedly accepting the gift, and by the next time trouble comes along, forgetting that it ever happened. As I anxiously pleaded with God in delirium, God may have been replying to me, Have you forgotten already? Now, that may not quench a fever, but it leads to the right frame of mind. More importantly, it places History:past, present and future, into compassionate hands, as opposed to bacteria or volatile market conditions.
An additional realization is the importance of community. How much more miserable an experience to be isolated not only from civilization, but from people who were able and willing to help.