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Excerpts from the Oaxaca Journal:

Date: Sat, 8 Dec 2001
Subject: On post-feminists, cats, dogs & "development" in Mexico

… Have been wondering on the contribution of American women to the consciousness of Mexican society — and vice versa — and the nature of extreme opposites. Have been fascinated watching a number of young American [women] … the "post-feminist" generation — who have taken semi-long-term positions in Mexico, and the attendant transformation that goes with it. Before I came here, I read several very PC advisories to women about the "hyper-feminine" style of women in Mexico vs. advisories on conservative dress. Don’t you love that? Is Madonna/Whore only a literary archetype? I suppose Lonely Planet is not going to go quite that black and white, but it is fascinating to be in a place where so much seems, at least on the surface … of things, to operate in zones of black and white. Again, such a strong reminder of my Catholic upbringing; something that left me firmly convinced that most of life occurs in the grey areas.

I have seen a number of well-educated young women come to work here, and immediately adopt as work-wear skin-tight, bra-less itty bitty camisoles, short, short skirts, high, high heels … and enough black eye make-up to put Debby Harry to shame … Equally interesting are some of the telenovela-style scenes I've witnessed with local men that would do real credit to the cheapest pot-boilers: … women pounding chests, tipping their faces upward so their hair appears longer and their lips … more inviting; and every conflict charged with the promise of having — or never having again — hot make-up sex. It makes me wonder what young women are missing in the US that they find permission for here. Are these the real consequences of men and women in the workplace, or are they just the indulgences of juvenile women in a country where they don't believe the consequences can stick? For my own part, I have to say that after years in Theater where there were no rules and everything was sexually charged, it was very nice to go to work in a place where there were professional boundaries and I felt that my first value was on the work I produced. On the other hand, after a number of years in that environment, I felt completely sexually invisible and like a bit of a bloody drudge, and I can relate a little to the desire to just napalm the whole thing with a good old display of female sexuality...

… I think it’s likely that one only develops an ethic by beating up the rules a little. But it does make me wonder — both about what these young women are taking away with them, and about what these young men are gaining from the experience. These are, after all, mostly very smart young women — frankly, a lot of them are Anti-Cheerleaders, the kinds of girls who were in the band, chess-club, winning the spelling bee and junior achievement awards and scholarships. Many of them have come here with very idealistic/imperialistic ideas of "helping" or "educating" The People … Certainly there is a little black and white that goes on in our own country, relegating smart women to the realm of the unattractive and assigning "bimbo-hood" to anyone even slightly pretty. And of course, there is the confidence of unaccountability, of being able to leave it all behind that makes one bold to experiment.
I, however (rest assured), am indulging in no such experimentation. Did all that in my youth (in the US, where the consequences might, and in fact, do visit me from time to time — ahem!) and am suitably weathered by it all. Here, I wryly evoke my old age and keep my focus on art, friendship, culture (and the clash of cultures), and cat-sitting. How boring, huh? Que triste! Well, I imagine that even Mexico will eventually feel the impact of globalization, and this escapist experiment will change…

Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2002
Subject: The Oaxacan Map

In the prev couple of weeks I am pretty sure that I have visited all four points of the Oaxacan compass. And for all that, having started into painting pretty intensely, with a severe case of Painter Head, I often walk out the door and wonder where I am — as lost as I am in what's in my head and what's happening on the canvas, I could be anywhere. But there are the street sweepers with brooms made of twigs, the open-front casket shops with the miniature white niño coffins, the moon high in the daylight sky in a countless array of completely confounding positions, the trumpet duo in the street collecting tips for melting music that goes free to the vast majority, the young women in short skirts, heels, halters and product-sponsored beauty queen sashes hawking juice, booze and snacks in the grocery store, there's the whole neighborhood running for the garbage truck at 6:30 AM, there are the dragging chains that announce the gas truck, the horn and the strong, clear tenor distinctly Mexican voices calling out "aguaaaaaa" — definitely Oaxaca!

… I've even done a little Mexicano dating — definitely the point on the map furthest from my own universe. Pretty much like trying to land a kiss in a hurricane — that's all I'll say about that!

Naturally, I have paintings

Date: Sun, 9 Jun 2002
Subject: Re: El Doble Sentido, Potholes, Health Care & Amor Mexicano

… Well, so listen, on a lighter note — but still in the realm of the absurd — a few observations on the whole [Amor Mexicano] thing. I’ve told about the women who come here on sex vacations, but I have to say that I am finding this more and more inexplicable. From what I can tell, going to a place where men might reasonably be expected to have come to sex in a more natural, informed way promises at least a basic skill level, if not, admittedly, the same level of urgency. But as everyone knows, urgency without discipline is not a particularly good thing!

Before I came here, everyone kept warning me to watch out for Mexican men, and I couldn’t figure out what … they meant. That was soon revealed, and after the first couple of months — once I developed a better sense of where I was going and perfected the Cut-Away Glance — I stopped (for the most part, anyway) serving as human fly-paper for Zócalo boys. Maintaining eye contact for enough time to actually make contact will almost certainly get you an offer of Spanish lessons and a back-handed invite to [pick up the tab for a series of local dates and eventually] take some fool with you to the United States. Of course, this is pure First World exoticism, not to be taken personally, even though after years in San Francisco, being acknowledged by men who do not want to know what shade and brand of lipstick I’m wearing and where I get my clothes is still a minor thrill!

But now I’ve moved on to Phase II. I call it Sex-Mex: what has got to be a unique combination of eagerness, guilt, machismo, inexperience, and infidelity. Or more succinctly: guilt with a lot of tongue. Bad tongue. All the women I know — Gringa and Mexicana alike — joke about the Mexican tongue, a cross between a RotoRooter and a windshield wiper. Granted there must be men out there who know how to kiss — myself, I have met one, and he’s lovely (but he was also forewarned!) — but most of them seem to be plumbing! My friend A calls it a “penetration complex.” Well put! I’ve met 40 year-old men who kiss like they’re licking a platter clean. Yummy Boy not — ya me voy!

Then there’s the infidelity factor, which I can probably illustrate through Two Weeks In The Life ...

After months of flirtatious emails and never-quite-materializing visits from the guy in Mexico City, I finally put together that he was in fact romantically involved — in fact, living with — his American business partner. Well, fine, I had done with that. Bummed for about a week, but then met an interesting African drummer [a well-connected Mexican] who launched a full-scale courtship complete with stomping jealously out of a club where I had been talking with several friends who had just returned from traveling, because I wasn’t spending enough attention on him. Just as I was preparing my “sorry about that, cultural differences” speech, his wife and under 1-year-old child came to town. Not a drop of embarrassment on his part.

Then … the singer of trova music I’ve been getting to know … turned up the juice, launching his own … courtship. [But] I started hearing rumors that he was married with two kids. So, after a bit of three-towel kissing (ugh!), I asked him. He said yes. He thought I knew. What was the problem? Bloody hell.

I still think I might have done my part for Mexican womanhood — certainly for his poor wife — by teaching the fool to kiss! He still does not take seriously that I am not willing to be involved with him merely on the basis of his marital status. Three Points, Sex-Mex Macho-Style.

But all of this is more or less background, because I had been cultivating a really lovely man who I like a lot, who is kind, smart, open, gorgeous, interesting, and he’s the one I was really interested in. After months establishing a really enjoyable friendship, we finally spent a night together. After which he went into a full-scale freak-out—guilt, fear of marriage (I swear on anything anyone holds holy that neither the words nor the concept of marriage ever escaped my lips!), and a whole host of other issues which he seems unable to articulate, except to say that we never should have done it!

Oh my! Time for a Tantric Therapist, eh? I like this man very much, but I just honestly do not begin to know how to respond! Foul Point, Sex-Mex Catholic-Style!

I am told, again, by Gringas and Mexicanas alike, that these are perfectly common experiences here — the quintessence of Sex-Mex. A mixture of Catholic guilt and body/sex images, a tropical climate, African-influenced music, a physically close and comfortable culture, and very traditional family expectations. I have never in my life, not even in Alaska during the midnight sun (a time/place famous for its over-the-top sexual energy), heard soooo much talk of sex as in Mexico. It’s absolutely [incessant], and more or less adolescent. Men begin by telling you what they are like as lovers — always a bad sign, in my experience. That’s one of those things you demonstrate, not discuss, and most importantly — am I completely naive in this? — it’s one of those things you develop together, not bring pre-packaged to the deal.

Well, what the hell do I know. I’m just a Gringa, and the rap on Gringas here is a love/hate thing with generally very rude expressions. A French friend held up this first two fingers, closed together, and asked me if I knew why this was a Gringa sleeping? because when she’s awake, her legs are open. Charming, eh?

… So many parallels to my Catholic youth, my own marriage, and pre-Women’s Movement America. Love Mexican Style: Sex-Mex. Be forewarned, if you’re a woman. And men, I’d say you could have a field day in this country! An educated, guilt-free and competent lover could likely cut a [love] swath across this country … Mexico is your oyster!

Date: Fri, 5 Jul 2002
Subject: A Bit About Some Art & Democracy

… My friend P tells me there is a phrase in Oaxaca: “Puebla Pequeña, Infierno Grande,” or “Small Town, Big Hell.” It’s funny how true this is, because the population of Oaxaca is the same as that of San Francisco-proper. But somehow, it’s much, much more interwoven here. At the very lunch where I learned that my courting trovado was married, a gay [guy friend] squealed “WHICH trovado?? … because I am having hot internet sex with the ex-husband of the woman who is now pregnant by one of the trova [duo]!!”

Dear god. If Roto-Rooting kissing wasn’t enough to turn a girl off, that sure would be.

… The city is actually ringed with hide-away motels just made for illicit trysts, which even have little car ports with, I [kid] you not, curtains you can draw to hide your car from the prying eyes of the street!

This all goes with the most beautiful romance music I have ever heard, however, so I guess somehow things balance out … One of my favorite [trova songs] — which really doesn’t translate well, but I hope you’ll get the idea, is called “Contaminame,” which literally means “infect me” ... It says, “come, infect me, mix yourself with me.” No, it really doesn’t translate. Well, I’ll tell you what — [the trovados] are releasing a cd soon, so I’ll play it when I get back for anyone who wants to hear it. Believe it or not, it is gorgeous!

Date: Tue, 13 Aug 2002
Subject: A Guelaguetza Farewell

The rainy season in Oaxaca has begun — which actually is part of the reason for the Guelaguetza celebration at this time of the year — and the blazing heat has backed off, replaced with gentle, rain-washed mornings, warm days, cleansing afternoon rains or the occasional all-night down-pour, and then a return to sparkling mornings. It is lovely.

A couple of weeks ago I was walking down the Álcala on my way to the internet cafe when the afternoon rain started. I was two blocks from my destination when a little girl with a backpack balanced on her head ran up and slipped under my umbrella. She gave me a big grin and started to walk along with me. So I asked her her name — Cecilia — and what she was doing, and it turned out she was the child of one of the vendors in the zócalo who were there for the Guelaguetza, and she was returning from school. Right about then it really started to pour and we were still 4 or 5 blocks from the zócalo, so I decided to walk her down to the Palacio del Gobierno. We kept falling out of rhythm and she was getting bumped out from under the umbrella (which was waaay too high for her, even resting on my head!), so finally I put my arm around her shoulder to hold her in, she threw hers around my hip, and we bopped along like old buddies under my umbrella all the way down the Álcala. How I love this place.

… [the Guelaguetza] is sure to be my prev major event here for some time—maybe forever. I simply can't imagine it. Time flies so quickly here, and tragically in a way, because every moment is so precious, every choice to spend it in one way is a choice not to spend it in another. As the inevitability of leaving becomes more real, the thought of losing any single opportunity becomes more poignant. For all that, somehow I have slowed down, turned my focus less to the painting and studying, and more to the life. I have a love affair with my homes here like no other I have ever experienced. My oldest friend G once gave me a gift of an egg-sized rock firmly … nestled into a larger rock that she had found in a river, because it reminded her of how determinedly I have hewn a home out of every place I have ever lived, no matter how inhospitable. Here, I have had to do nothing but move in. All I bring with me is my paintings, which fit with perfect harmony.

I never get out of my bed without delighting in the delicious light that reflects off the goldenrod and brick walls outside my bedroom, filling my room with a warm glow. There is nothing in it but a fuscia Tehuana huipile hanging on the orange wall, a turquoise fan, and a table stacked impossibly high with books. My idea of heaven. I love to simply lie on my fuscia-wrapped bed and watch the driving strings of rain, perfectly perpendicular to the ground, gusting in my window in mists as refreshing to me as to the pink flowering vines covering my patio. How can it be that such a life is not possible at home? I so wish to transport this lovely, community-oriented, musical, artistic, friendly life to the US, where I could enjoy it as an insider. But every time I describe the difference between life in the US and life in Mexico to a Mexican friend — the focus on individualism, on accomplishment and "success," on things and having things — I realize that probably this is not transportable. Don't know what that means in terms of my future relationship with this place, except that I wish very, very much to have one.

… And of course, there are my experiments in Sex Mex to continue! After months of trying to scrape the sweet engineer — my Sex-Mex Catholic-Style foul hitter — off the ceiling, I finally gave up and unwisely took up for a few weeks with a man my friends call el carnicero místico: The Mystic Butcher. On first meeting, he decided not to leave Oaxaca, as he had been planning to do, but to stay to … have a family with me, based on my beautiful soul, which he could see through my beautiful eyes and the shape of my beautiful mouth. Oh my!

I really don't know what I was thinking, except that it would be good to think about someone else for a while. After 2 weeks of poetry, every day visits, cloying diminutives, mind-numbing monologues on the power of crystals, the effect of drinking on his ability to do massage, and the delicious aroma of cowshit (his family has a big ranch in Vera Cruz), capped by a tearful and passionate assertion that he wants to have 10 children with me, I had to call it a day. Certainly he took my mind off the engineer — but then again, really, no mind was required of me — just a beautiful mouth, eyes, and child-bearing hips. I believe this would qualify as Sex-Mex Macho-Style as well — maybe Obsessive-Style!

But don't you know that the very day I [called it quits with] The Mystic Butcher … I finally made headway with the engineer ... Can hardly believe I am trafficking in Sex-Mex Catholic-Style, but a kind soul is worth a lot, and he's one of the best I've met. Another reason to be sad to leave. But such is life, eh?

Date: Fri, 27 Sep 2002
Subject: One Year in Mexico

Well, this really IS my prev missive from Mexico. I’m taking a flight out Oct 1 … and will be back in SF that night …

A few days ago I realized that I had run into ECS, the wife of artist HB, in the first few weeks that I was here. I never followed up on her invitation to B’s studio, though as time passed, I often saw her in the streets of Oaxaca, and considered it. But I had no work of my own here, and was afraid to define myself as a painter. Eventually I saw her pregnant, and then more and more pregnant. Recently I met B myself in a cafe and got the opportunity to tell him how much I like his work, and that I have studied it in Polanco in SF. And he told me that E had delivered them a baby boy (it’s the season for boys, eh??). If anything can mark the passage of a whole year, it’s the planting, growing and delivering of a life in that time. What two-three months has become!

I have thought about how different my experience would have been if I had left at any of the 3-month [intervals] that I had intended to. Had I left in December, I would have produced 2 paintings instead of 24. At 6 months I was so excruciatingly isolated by my foreignness and communications incompetence that I really forced myself to hear and speak better. Not good, but better! At 9 months I was so intimidated by the departure of the prev of my American friends that I just wanted to go home and talk politics in English — but at my 44th birthday party a month ago, I looked around and realized that it was attended by 1 Spaniard, 2 Italians, 1 German, and 4 Mexicanos — I was the only American, the only native English-speaker. And I was perfectly comfortable. It was fun! Had I not been in Oaxaca for my birthday, I doubt I would have gotten an Aztec design of a two-headed snake, Tezcacoatl — Mirror Snake — tattooed on the small of my back. WAHHHHH!!! Still can’t believe I did it, but love the symbolism of it: male/female, life/death, earth/sky, fire/water.

I was here for Sept 11 — marked by an exhibition at the museum at Santo Domingo “Against Any Form of Violence.” A number of artists created huge pieces hung in the courtyard, only one of which was clear to me: a white banner with the block-letter words “Hiroshima” and “NY” at opposite ends with bloody footprints linking the two. (Is a very uncomfortable thing to accept responsibility for your own country’s violent history.) The performance art was as confounding as ever, but I held my flaming torch and hid my confused laughter with the rest of ‘em.

September is also la mez de la patria — the month of Mexican Independence — and is the only month of the year in which the general public is allowed to fly the Mexican flag. When I arrived prev year — in September — I didn’t even notice that there were red, white and green flags flying everywhere. Probably because in September 2001, there were red, white and blue flags flying everywhere in the US. I got to see Fox give El Grito de Dolores, the traditional call to independence in imitation of that given out the bell tower of the church of Dolores in Queretero by Padre Miguel Hidalgo (well, actually, it may have been distributed on pamphlets) when he called Mexicans to oust the Spanish. It’s quite exciting — at 11 PM on Sept 15, the governors of every state cry out el grito from every capital building, and then they ring the bell in the palacio del gobierno, just as Hidalgo did.

Beyond language and culture, I have been able to take the personal journey that only art could take me through and deliver me whole. I’ve been reading Jeanette Winterson’s Art Objects, and what she says about her relationship with literature holds true for mine with painting: “The healing power of art is not a rhetorical fantasy. Fighting to keep language, language became my sanity and my strength. It still is, and I know of no pain that art cannot assuage. For some, music, for some, pictures, for me, primarily, poetry, whether found in poems or in prose, cuts through noise and hurt, opens the wound to clean it, and then gradually teaches it to heal itself. Wounds need to be taught to heal themselves.” Amen, Jeanette!

I have at prev taken my very tardy photos of my work and ventured out to the galleries — much, much later than I wanted to, and with considerable trepidation. This is the hard part! So I’m just getting that feedback now, as I prepare to leave, and it’s a little overwhelming. I had decided that my goal was to secure a show here of the virgin series and return in December to paint the final 6-8 pieces (4 are already in progress). But it seems that that may be a little harder than I expected. An artist’s collective has offered me a show if I want it, but have been trying to approach more established galleries, as I’d like to be able to sell my work and start doing this for good and all … I expected the combination of my lack of experience and my traditional painting style to be the prohibiting factors, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem. The content seems to be a problem! So far, I’ve been told that established galleries like the quality of my work very much, and would like to see other work from me — they have all asked me to come back when I return in December — but they don’t want the virgins, as they think this would give offense to the general very traditional Catholic population. I guess I’d kind of forgotten about that. I’ve had these very staid Catholic boys through my house, and they all seem to have taken some pride in confronting and accepting the work.

Guess I can’t assume the same about galleries! So I now have 4 days to figure out Plan B. One way or the other, I think I’ll still plan to come back to finish the series. And hopefully, now that I have photos … it will be easier to get the work out there. I am actually greatly comforted that they are happy with the quality of my work — and the fact that it has a brain is just like being an actor again: we love your skills, but could you cease with that thinking thing, please? This at least is only commercial, and not sexist. I rather like that … I’m sure there are places that like ideas. Just gotta find ‘em.

And of course, had I not stayed, I would never have had any of my Adventures in Sex Mex. After years in Single-Straight-Man-Free San Francisco, I think it’s been a useful experiment.

The end of August I went up to the north of Oaxaca state to a small agricultural community, Teotitlán del Camino, where the sweet engineer has a family ranch. Between the vagaries of Sex Mex, La Familia Mexicana, and the Bladder Infection from Hell, I thought we would never make it, but when we finally did, it turned out to be my sweetest time yet in Mexico. Teotitlán is hot and lush and dry, with fruit trees, crows, vultures, conejos, goats, perros, burros and gallinos. And transparent, electric green grasshoppers the size of your little fingernail — saltamontes — that they dry to make chapulines.

M has a long family history there, his father was presidente (mayor) before he died, and is still much loved in the town. I had to take the Bladder Infection from Hell to the local doctor, a chaparrito named MART, who guessed my age to be ... 29? and asked my marital status (presumably because if I wasn’t married, I wouldn’t be having sex, and thus there would be some other reason for my bladder infection??), then empathized with my presumed desire not to marry, as women of my (real) age are at high risk of children with Down’s Syndrome. Oh my!! He was perplexed but polite when I told him that I didn’t think I’d shoot for children of my own at this point in my life, but that nevertheless I think a life partner would be nice. I think the question is why a woman would bother with marriage if she wasn’t going to have children, or more likely, how could a woman hope to secure her marriage if she didn’t have children, but still can’t say I understand all the dynamics ...

I went with M’s Tia S to the local church (natch) of San Miguel Arcangel, the patron saint of Teotitlán, a gorgeously restored 17th-century Franciscan creation in a spanking new coat of robin’s egg blue and daffodil yellow. It had a number of priceless sculptures, and we had no camera. So Tia S went home and pulled out a photo from her drawers of the Soledad of Teotitlán — a big 8 x 10 printed on heavy paper, must have been from the 60’s or 70’s — and gave it to me with the same quiet smile and squeeze of her eyes that she used when she recalled the death of her brother, M’s father, too young. Generosity and resignation in the same gesture.

The family hacienda is about 80 hectares with former homes in various states of decay scattered across it. The house M’s father grew up in is set back along a streambed under huge obo trees (obo is a luscious little marigold-colored [orb] with a mango-y/peachy fruit), still beautiful and shady, with a decaying hammock on the front porch, and colorful tile floors showing through the dirt of the open-air kitchen. His grandfather’s house — or the remains of it — rests on the top of a hill down the road overlooking the rolling hills of the mesquite-covered landscape. It and the stables surrounding it are returning to the earth in that dusty way that only adobe shaped right out the surrounding land can do, with only the cornerstones standing firm.

Everywhere we went, we picked things off the trees and ate them. I say “things” because there is a tree called the ciruela, which has a fruit like obo [turns out to be plumb!], whose leaves you can eat, and they taste like sharp lemon candy. And M cut a hunk out of a big tuberous root sticking out of the road — he eats it for water when he’s working in the fields — that tasted like a fibrous cross between a potato and a coconut. There was avocado, eggplant, mango, limon, tamarind, coconut, mamey, corn, and zapotes: chico zapote, zapote negro. And my favorite, carambola, or star fruit. At the house in town where we stayed there is a carambola tree in the patio, and for breakfast we just picked ‘em off the trees and ate.

That was the good news about that house. That and the vibrant red matrimonio hammock that hangs in the patio at the heart of the house, woven in a pattern that looks like Moroccan mosaic, and that I am sure will be my favorite place ever, until I meet another one to replace it, and that won’t be easy to do. The bad news is that this beautiful home with 15’-high wood ceilings and vari-patterned tile in pink, yellow, green and brick red, was draped in monster cob webs, a layer of dust over everything, a dead alacran lying in the kitchen sink. It was like an abandoned dream, beautiful, intimate and open. The main bedroom is the size of a SF house, and the front door, which opens right down the middle of the house, is solid metal on the bottom half and open grillwork on the upper half. Literally anyone can look right through the house (the mayor used to live in a house with no secrets!). The “indoor” bathroom has an open rectangle of sky and leaves above the toilet and shower — you literally step from the warm bedrooms into outdoor briskness and the odor of woodsmoke, damp, deteriorating leaves and ripe fruit. At night we laid in the red hammock and watched spider fights on the walls while the quiet sounds of a neighbor’s music, a baby crying, chickens, dogs and crickets floated over. And smoked a cigar! Yummy! The town was sleepy and friendly, and had the good manners to use all the same bells and calls as Oaxaca for gas and water and garbage pick-up, so it felt sort of homey. The twice-weekly mercado was only two blocks away, not far from a community center jam-packed every night with people learning traditional dances (of Puebla and Selina Cruz when I went) or guitar.

I had been feeling locked up about painting, and here in Mexico, just as in California, when I need to re-ground, the country is what does it. M and I spent an afternoon on the Río Salado — which is really more like the Stream Salado — a wide, shallow valley cutting through a glowing red canyon of striated sandstone cliffs worn away into otherworldly figures with flat heads of rock perching on narrow shoulders. I could lie on my back in the river, which came up just over my ears, and listen to the gabbling of the water. Every now and then the current would pull me down the river a few yards and give me a sand exfoliation as I meandered along. It was heavenly. We picked through the riverbed, identifying tracks and pretty rocks — brought home a bunch for my sink — don’t have a tub here, it’s the best I could do!

And I got to watch M conducting business Mexican-style — which really went a long way towards explaining one of our bigger bones of contention. He is notorious for not showing up when he says he will, and it drives me mad. In Teotitlán I saw it in action with everyone he dealt with — the man who works the ranch, a woman who owed him money, his aunt and uncle. People work on what seems like a loose system here, but I’m not sure that it is so much that — it’s not that they’re not serious — it’s more that they share an ethos. I think that everyone pretty much knows what their role is in the scheme of things, what will happen, and there is simply no reason for anxiety. Business was done at a yell out the car window. When M and I showed up a day late to pick up the fruit to take to town — I had no idea, I swear! — he simply explained to [the foreman] that we had gone to the river the day before. This was not a problem. Can you imagine?? Telling [an employee] that I blew you off because I went to spend a day lounging in the river with a girl? Hah!!

For all its wonderful reality, Teotitlán with M was almost surreal for me. It was like checking into the hotel of one of my best dreams for a brief visit. It’s a dream of heritage and of balance: a home of my own, a retreat to the country where my memories can live and my soul and mind and eyes can breathe, and from which I can launch back into the world of ideas and pressures and challenges, but to which I can always return. I don’t imagine I’ll ever have it, and even if I somehow arrived at the means to buy such a place, I don’t know where it would be. The memories it would hold would start pretty late in life, because I have had to jettison the mementos of my life as I live it. And a big purge is coming when I return — everyone who ever saw my apartment can see the effects of trying to hang onto those things. But I am thinking that maybe you can have a different form of home by sharing your mementos with the people you love. Then when you visit them, you visit a little of your past as well. There is something so lovely and continuous and comforting about all the history I got to see in Teotitlán. Probably burdensome, too. But it is still my dream. And it was nice to share it with someone who has it, and values it, and seems to carry inside him all the sanity that it provides.

Teotitlán del Camino. The garden of paradise ... with mosquitoes and scorpions. Fruit, snakes, green-trunked mesquite trees, music, country roads and highways again and again shut down to “un solo carril” — one lane — hitchhiking campesinos, lush, earthquake-formed landscapes, and Bible skies. I returned to gentle rain in Oaxaca, which seemed briefly too urban, in time for my birthday, with my energy for painting restored. Started 4 new pieces, and moved fast and happy on them.

There is, probably predictably, a Sex Mex ending to this tale. Upon returning from Teotitlán, M told me he was “programming” himself for my departure, knowing that I was going back to SF where I would undoubtedly find another boyfriend (how does one explain how mutually exclusive “SF” and “boyfriend” are for straight women??). Long story short, he left Oaxaca about 3 weeks ago without another word.

Has left me contemplating love and vulnerability and strength, and under which circumstances we get which. I’m sad, very sad, and miss him a lot. But maybe he’s the wiser one, who knows. Am trying to work the forgive and forget angle, and overall, am still glad I went there. Nevertheless, I hope he has the sense to stay away for the prev 4 days, because I may not be responsible for my actions if I see him! Thank god for Ani DiFranco is all I can say about the present! Girls, do not come to Mexico without at least three of her cds!

So it’s time to go, at least for now. Have a long list of things I am craving: good California wine, Refresh massages and waxes, baths, The Steps of Rome Italian food, H2O bath products, seamless bras and D-cups (for some strange reason Mexico is a B-cup world — I just don’t know how that can be!), proposal-free cab rides (though in SF, one fears for one’s life, and a mere proposal seems preferable to murder — just for a little perspective!), cable cars, not having to request tampons from the farmácia attendant, quality art supplies, a Cipro-free existence (it’s like mammograms — is there really no better way??), TV (please tell me someone taped The West Wing??), MY COWBOY BOOTS, high heels (I know, I know, but it’s been a year in Clark’s walking shoes, for god’s sake!), beloved friends and intelligent conversation in my own language (including word play!), Bass Lake, fog, autumn in Montana, and Rip, Rip, Rip!!! I am intensely aware that the majority of this list is purchased comforts — which frankly, I will not be able to afford — and, brilliant, kind people aside, none reflect lifestyle. THAT is what I will miss intensely about Mexico.

I have learned here, again, the lesson of “enough.” As it relates to lifestyle. Enough time, enough space: a table for my paints, one to draw at, surfaces on which to hang my paintings, light, air, sufficient privacy, sufficient company and stimulation, a kitchen to cook and eat in, a comfortable place for friends to gather, a separate bedroom and bathroom where I can’t break anything just by turning around. A line where I can hang my clothes. A schedule that permits me to stop to talk to a friend or to make a new one or to look at the new and interesting development, calenda, exhibition in front of me. Air around me that is not filled with noise — radios, cars, TVs, traffic helicopters, sirens, construction — but with silence or quiet neighborhood sounds or church bells or music, such that my thoughts can function.

And I guess I’ve learned a little about America, looking at it from the outside. I’ve learned that foreigners hate America for its foreign policy, at the same time that they admire and covet its domestic life. And all of us, Americans and foreigners alike, are uncomfortable with the relationship between the two. I’ve learned that, in a lot of ways, being an American is a much more complicated thing than being a Mexican. I have often been amazed at the details of Mexican history or politics that the average Mexicano knows, things that seem to me sort of arcane, sort of grade-schoolish. Like the policy for flying and folding the Mexican flag, for example. I’m starting to understand that this difference might have something to do with the fact that, in the most “developed” country in the world, in the Super Power, there is a hell of a lot to know. Things change all the time — not just politics and government, but the physical reality of our world, driven by developments in technology, medicine, entertainment, etc, etc, etc. It is an immensely complicated world in which we live, and we are all effected or involved — though rarely such that we’ll lose our lives — and the quaint historical details take a backseat to the demands of a dynamic present. In Mexico, things just don’t change that often or that much. So knowing history is useful. It’s frequently pretty closely related to the present. Most of all I’ve learned that both worlds have their benefits. There is something profoundly informative about your own world and the world at large in getting to visit another country for a long enough period of time that it passes its strangeness and allows you to see its reality. There is real value in other ways, and in our own by comparison. I don’t think I’d want to raise a daughter in Mexico! But I sure think they’ve got something on us in many of their lifestyle values. And many of those values exist simply because they don’t always drive on to the next thing, the new thing, the more convenient thing that allows us to do more, better, faster, and unwittingly makes us insane.

And again for me, it all comes back to art. Another quote from Jeanette Winterson: “Walled inside the little space marked out for me by family and class, it was the limitless world of the imagination that made it possible for me to scale the sheer face of other people’s assumptions.” In America, in Mexico, probably everywhere in the world, art is the unmarked path...