“And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!” “By it and with it and on it and in it,” said the Rat. . . . “It’s my world, and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing.” —Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows”
“If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live life a lot differently” — Calvin and Hobbs
“Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence;… to alienate humans from their own decision making is to change them into objects.” ― Paulo Freire
Baaaaaaa. In a lost setting through the small rustic towns of New Mexico, if you drive high enough, and keep on going through patches of shiny cliffs, and yellow farms just the day before Spring peaks it’s little head, you come to the land of the laughing goats.
Local residents drive on up to an obscure piece of property, park their cars about half a miles away they walk down the hill where you see in the distance a fenced area with the blue yoga mats spread in rows about. So far only dogs run freely and folks begin to gather around an area where delicious foods, goat cheeses, wines, cold brewed coffees, water, and sweets await. Not your usual pre game before a yoga class. This yoga class is meant for those to laugh, roll around, play, and allow each moment to freely react.
As you get to know your fellow yogi’s and explore about the fields you continue to wonder, but where are the goats as the anticipation is high. And then suddenly the goat herder appears, and dozens of goats make their way across the plain to their corridor where the mats are already laid out. Meet n greets with each goat take place as you wish or as the goat may wish. There are Cashmere goats, Nubiens and Alpines. The Cashmere goats are the softest and the friendliest. Just there to be loved. I guess that is why they grow cashmere coats, to invite the hands of affection.
It was Kirk, the goat herder’s, idea to begin these open yoga classes. Ancient yoga practices using goats were first initiated centuries ago through Mayan ceremonies and eventually migrated over to the Egyptians. Goats were respected as sacred animals as they provided so much prosperity from milk, cheese, meat, navigation, and to some walking companions. But most of all they give us laughter through their friendly and infectious souls. So you see why goats were the ultimate sacrifice to the gods. These ceremonies showcased similar poses to our modern animal yogi postures recognizing chakra, chi, earths elements and the different phases of the moon. By adding in the animals, they began to feel something different, something less serious, fun and really good. Children and others in the community joined in. Goats became then an important offering in the community.
And it’s just as good for the goats as it is for people.
Roxie facilitates the yoga class and is the shining light showing others the new yet ancient way. Through out the class you are invited to stop and pet the goats as they roam through upward facing dog and imaginary bow and arrows being shot in a warrior pose. They will fart, graze and chew grass near your head and toes. Their presence is comforting and silly. The sun is bright as you lay in Savasana, peak your eyes open and somewhat feel like you’ve been taken back in time to yellow fields of euphoric moments of the sixties. This was my meditation, squinting through rays of sunshine, looking at distance hills, watching the goat roam, and the person next to me take in the real meaning of happy baby pose.
” The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.”
Pearl S. Buck
Where we look up at the stars, smoke the pipe, make love and play on the river all day. And a place where everything that should exist, exists. And everything that shouldn’t, doesn’t.
I stumbled upon a tipi on the river where a boy made his home. He offered to take me on a trip down the river to visit magic caves. But I couldn’t go that day. So the next day I went looking for him again.
When I found him, he said we could no longer go to the caves. Instead, he invited me to go across the river with him so we could get rid of the apples that were going bad.
“But why would we have to go across the river to get rid of the apples,” I asked? “Because I feed them to the horses,” he said.
So we set sail in his canoe, traveling 14 feet across the Rio Grande. We hopped out, stepped through slimy rocks as we worked our way up the messy bank through the dry meadows to find some horses. The ground was layered with wet mud, cracked clay, goat heads that prickled at our feet and patches of horse poop that camouflaged into the dirt. He lifted the wire fence so I could crawl through.
“Can you hold the fence for me too?” As I stood there oblivious, in wonderment, and unsure of what was next. And six feet, 4 inches crawled threw the little opening.
The horses already knew the boy and came running down half a mile to where we were standing. Two beautiful white males and one stunning alpha female took over all my attention as she reached down to take the apples from my hands. We caressed and kissed and these creatures of the canyon layers lured our attention as much as we enjoyed them. It was a feast of love. They followed us back to the fence where we had to part ways.
The boy and I shared radio stories, talked of books and wild circuses as we made our way back to the river.
Once we got to the other side, he said “I promise I’ll take you down the river, but first lets go for a ride.”
He had a two seater Harley. I jumped up on the back and squeezed tightly. Up the canyon we went. He wouldn’t tell me where we were going and so for miles in silence we rode looping around the edge of cliffs, passing through vineyards and looking down at the rapids below. And then he stopped on the edge of the cliff.
“Come on he says,” as he began running down a path of rocks and hot sand all the way down the canyon wall.
“Where are we going?” a little unsure if I should follow. But decided I had no other choice but to trust him.
We arrived at an old precarious bridge with loose wooden panels, big gaps in between and wet deteriorating rope. I watched the boy cross the bridge in his heavy cowboy boots with such certainty. I followed being careful to stay far behind to manage the weight. We crossed along people’s yards, over wired fences and then back into burning hot sand and rocks. My feet hurt just in my sandals. And still the boy wouldn’t say a word. I pondered again to stop and not continue.
We finally reached a teeny diminutive size doorway in the side of the rock. I stepped inside into the presence of a three story cave, carved with shapes and spirals throughout it’s venereal contoured structure. My trust in the boy led me to one of the most magical places on earth. I immediately took off my shoes to feel the coolness of the ground on the bottom of my feet. Tears filled up my eyes. The boy sat in a carved out throne watching as I began to spin running up and down the stairways, sitting in hidden nooks, touching and examining the walls in disbelief, staring up into the sunlight, and making music in the little room where drums were placed. I wanted him to sit with me in each spot, to see the view from all the floors and angles with me. To touch what I touched. Together we brushed the sand covering up the graffiti left behind by some vandalizing lovers as he told me the story of the secret cave digger. And as he told me of the nights of making music and aerialing from the sky. I wanted so badly to stay all day, but there were other things awaiting us. So we began the journey back. This time everything appeared different.
On the way back I found a special Sage bush. The entire canyon is adulterated in the flower. But I was lured to one in particular. The boy told me that I had found a special breed , one rarely found on the canyon. I breathed in its scent, and asked to cut some branches to bring back home.
We stopped at one of the vineyards en route to the tipi. The boy and the man at the vineyard talked of folks from the community. Each did something special. One was referred to as horse lady, the other the Oregano farmer. There was the turquoise guy and the metal shaper.
We decided upon a glass of riesling. I liked that something about him was unconventional, the way he hopped on the side of the wall rather then joining everyone else. Kind of like me. I invited him to sit in the grass nearby where the grapes were growing. We braided grass and covered our toes inattentively as we endured in conversation and in each other for the first time.
The boy and I tubed down the Rio Grande just late in the afternoon. Floating and sipping wine from the vineyard. We chatted for hours. He taught me how to navigate the flow of the river, about eddys’ and the way it changes with every season. We shared stories about our lives and continued to get to know each other through the mini rapids.
Somehow the boy remembered I had a fascination with cemeteries and took me to visit a hidden burial site just above the tipi. Buried under the half sunken rocks were Spanish conquistadors of over 400 years old. The regular eye would never
recognize it through all the cacti and rocks. Each stone had been knocked down and was only vaguely hand marked with the names and dates of it’s occupants.
One by one I repositioned the grave stones and the flowers recently left behind. We were bleeding and covered in cacti from walking through the site, but I couldn’t even feel it. We continued on to climb rocks to the other side of the Mesa before we returned to the tipi for dinner.
As the fires grew we swung on the swing that hung on a tree over the river. Memorized by the ants, I watched them up and down the tree emerging into a colony that was taking over the ground below us. The boy jumped up, grabbed the canoe and began running to the river. Come on he said, I have to show you something. It was sunset. I joined him again on the river, as we paddled down a bit.
“As soon as I tell you when, pick up your paddle and be still.” “Sure, ok, I replied.”
“Ok, shhh, now!”
I picked up my paddle and was completely still. I looked to where he was pointing, and along the river Beavers began jumping off the banks from hidden dams. Swimming next to the canoe they smacked their tails on the water. We whacked the water back with our paddles initiating a battle.
Back at the tipi we smoked hash from the boys special gypsy pipe. A very special gypsy pipe indeed! We spent most of the night on the tipi’s little beach recollecting our ancestors creating an atlas of the stars while making our own map of the sky.
That night we only said goodnight as I went to sleep in the tipi and the boy in his camper. Maybe it was the gypsy pipe, but I would open my eyes to find myself surrounded by lightening bugs and the music of the animals in the sky.
The next morning we returned to the tree swing for coffee and blueberries. Our feet hung once again over the river, the ants continued to maintain the tree, and we lost the time talking so that I was late in leaving. We said goodbye not knowing when we would see each other again.
“To the birds belongs the morning hour; but to us, to you and me, and some of our little brothers of the field and forest, this (twilight) hour belongs. It is the hour when we think about the things that are yet to be. We dream and we listen — listen to the lullaby songs of the trees, to the twilight chorus of the frogs, to the vesper sparrow — to all Mother Nature’s evening music we listen and dream, and in the midst of our dreaming stop to ask Mother and Father about things, where things come from and what they are here for. And some things seem so far away, and some things seem so near in this twilight hour.” – Opal Whiteley
I returned to the tipi after weeks in Central America and visiting family. This time when I arrived it was night during the Perseid meteor shower. And his greeting was different, the boy was waiting for me.
The moon was bright over the canyon. Shooting stars jumped between the clouds. And we made love on the hill above the beach where we sat last time making our map of the stars. It was so much like a fairytale to be believable, yet so real at the same time.
The boys land is like a big outdoor home, divided in many parts just like different rooms of a house. Each part has a different vibe and is sonically dictated by a different part of the river. But each area is just as playful as the other.
So that night going from room to room we played in his homemade hot tub where we observed the river rigidly battle the rocks. Then ran to the other room and listened to the lush, heavy part of the river while laying in the hammock. And then
took a walk near the tipi which enamors an entirely different river sound. If you listen hard enough, you can hear all three parts at once.
I fought with all my might not to fall asleep that night, to watch the meteor showers as they intensified. But I guess I dozed off because I felt myself being lifted and carried back into the tipi.
For three days, we played on the river. This time we rafted to the the burnt down bridge of the hippie biker war of 1964. Then over the rapids where Albert Einstein would sit and fish. And paddled by the photographer, Lisa Law’s, untouched land where wild stallions grazed the bank.
One day a little boy and his mom came with us to feed the enchanted horses. He named all the red dragonflies after a marvel superhero.
In the morning, the boy would make us coffee and we would sit on the paddle board, floating down the river until every sip was gone. I’d lay there topless, hair a mess, teeth still unbrushed, as we’d wave to rafts that floated by. One morning we went on a walk to pick baby apples for the horses. When we entered back into the river, the boy found a giant tadpole that in one more day would be a frog. The boy picked him up and placed him in my hand. We stared into each others eyes, the tadpole and I. He was still as I held him and I gave him a big kiss on his head before letting him go.
In between adventures on the river, we’d hang out in the tipi. Most of the time we couldn’t keep our hands off each other. We’d lay there afterwards, my head on his chest, talking while looking up into the sky. The best was when it would rain and it forced us to stay put. To make love one more time and to just be.
My last night on the river, we rode the Harley up the canyon to an area that brought us to a trail through the Mesa. From way up above we now looked down at the river we never stop playing on. It was dusk, and being careful of rattlesnakes we walked through textures of flora, juniper berries, cacti and rocks. I’d look up and start to happishly giggle because I realized we were literally not looking up at the layers of the mountain, but we were in the layers. We were the layer! We’d climb the rocks and stand with our toes right on the edge. Then the boy would see animals and we’d run down chasing after their foot prints. I’d stare at him examining his walk and the way he moved along the path. A mixture of roughness, grace and owning that turned me on. Then he would do the same as I took the lead, part of my shoulder penetrating out. So when we reached the end, there was nothing more to do but to touch.
It was dark as we walked back through the path, sounds of coyote immersed the canyon. Slowly stars would pop up in the sky. And in the night with new wild life just starting their day and unable to completely see the trail, I felt an over whelming sensation of calm. A fixed smile took over my face. I could have stayed there all night. Even the ride back to the tipi, looking up at all the beauty that surrounded me. In a moment where I should feel adrenaline from the excitement of the ride, I instead felt an ease with the place and an adrenaline that came with that ease.
“Wild Rivers are earth’s renegades, defying gravity, dancing to their own tunes, resisting the authority of humans, always chipping away, and eventually always winning.” – Uncited. I think what matters more is the person who it resonates with.
5:28 a.m. I am sitting in a car in drizzling rain in the middle of a cornfield waiting for the weavers to wake up in the ghost town of Salasaca, watching youtube videos and listening to ridiculous songs about Matilda. Running on no sleep. How does one get here?
It is January 8th, my birthday to be exact. We are parked in an SUV in endless cornfields surrounding what seems to be a house. But we are not quite sure yet, as it is still dark. It’s raining and we can barely see anything around us except the few inches in front of us when the headlights are turned on. We are supposed to be in the driveway of someone who may be able to guide us to find the traditional weavers of Salasaca. At dawn, we will knock on the door looking for answers. In the meantime we have an hour to kill. We are running on two hours of sleep from the nap we took an hour ago in the in the parking lot of a gas station. So what do we do, but watch youtube videos on our iPhones.
I am with my friend Fernando. Who up until about seven hours ago, I had only known from a ten minute conversation two weeks ago when we met at a mutual friend’s concert in Quito. Welcome to the generosity of Ecuador! Fernando has offered to drive me into the middle of nowhere and be my translator. As I am on some last minute mission to learn to weave from the indigenous women of the Andes Mountains. And to source vintage textiles before I return back to the states. I only had six months to do this, but with two weeks left and only four real days to explore, here I am. I wonder if Fernando even knows it’s my birthday.
It’s not quite dawn yet, but with a little light slowly cresting itself over the fog we see a man and woman walking along the dirt paths that intersect the cornfields. They are suited head to toe in the typical Andes Mountain indigenous attire. Except for a baseball cap. Life feels a bit like a hypnopompic hallucination as if we were inside a Grant Wood ‘Ecuadorian’ Gothic painting.
“Roll down the window Fernando, let’s ask these guys… I bet they know.” Fernando calls over the daze eyed couple. They are probably only a little taken back by the fancy SUV stopping them on the side of the road to ask whose door can we knock on to find weavers first thing in the morning before the sun has even come out. I dictate what to say to Fernando in English. He then translates in Spanish. They converse and laugh a little. They are probably making fun of me and the situation. I laugh too, as I understand it is a little ridiculous. They don’t have any answers and explain to Fernando, that weaving isn’t really a way of life anymore in Salasaca. Everything has become machine made or moved to Otavalo. The only real way people make money now is through agriculture or doing construction in bigger cities. But I refuse to give up. We are already here!
The sun has risen now, we decide to drive around a bit to find someone else walking around. When I say driving around, this means driving in circles within a half mile diameter grid of curvy dirt paths inside the cornfields. Once in awhile a cement home peeks out its head and we drive pass the desolate hospital. Which the thought of having to be inside of cringes my soul.
We finally run into an another early morning riser roaming the fields with a machete and pitchfork in hand. Fernando is scared off by the machete and doesn’t want to stop. I have seen so many men with machetes in my time in Ecuador, so I am a bit surprised at his fearfulness and somewhat lack of street smart. I force him to roll down the window. I tell him he’s carrying it because he’s a farmer. “Look around, Fernando!” Fernando seems to be squeamish about a lot. Which I find to be ironic in the situation, as I am the gringa girl who barely speaks Spanish roaming around small towns in a foreign country and jumping in cars with strangers. The guy is talkative, smart, and has all the answers. He leads us to the home of Miguel Andrango, one of the rare few textile designers and handmade weavers in the surrounding area. I think I had read about him on the internet. He’s made a very commercialized name for himself, which wasn’t exactly what I was looking for but…
We head to his house and knock on the door. It was 7 a.m. in the morning. We are welcomed by his wife, granddaughter, chickens and a brand new litter of puppies that chase our car as we leave. Miguel isn’t around because he is in Ambato for business, a town about 30 minutes away. He may be back later in the afternoon so we should return later. In the meantime his wife shows us around his workshop and what is also a small library of weaving symbolism and ancient textile making. We sorted through scrapbooks, danced between draping tapestries and dressed ourselves in vibrant accessories until the whole room had been touched and it was time to go.
After our visit there, Fernando decided he wanted to take a break. It’s only 8 a.m. now, but he needed some fuel. Potentially a nap, shower, and some food! I find out he has an Aunt who also lives in Ambato, we can go there.
Driving 30 minutes back in the direction we came from, we pull up to a beautifully gated home. Af first no one answers, so we find ourselves once again pulling down the seats and sleeping in the SUV. Finally we get a call. I wait in the car as he approaches the gate, goes inside and explains to his family why he is showing up at 9 a.m. with a strange American girl and if we could please take naps and recharge. Behind the gates is the main house. As we walk around the outside of the house we run into a garden, a vintage truck collection and two other guest homes apart from the main house. These are for the help and his cousin. Inside the main house, the story of Fernando’s life begins to unravel through family photographs, expensive artwork and the comfort of a home that seemed like a far cry to the dwelling we were just in only miles down the road.
His Aunt greets us and shows us to two rooms. One for me and the other for Fernando where we can put down our stuff and take naps if we’d like. Fernando immediately goes to sleep, and I join his Aunt for breakfast. Comforted with fresh Guanábana juice, coffee, bread and the traditional Ecuadorian breakfast, our adventure just got a little bit easier. After a few good hours of sleep, a really long hot shower consisting of luxurious hair products and soaps —way more luxurious than the stuff I had brought with me traveling, and some rounds of soccer with Fernando’s cousin on X-Box we had the ammunition to head back to Salasaca for round two.
Miguel isn’t back, but I decide we should still roam around as I had a mission to accomplish. We stumble across a little ghost town esque market made up of diminutive wooden stores with no signs. A simile to a dusty abandoned town in a Wild Wild West Movie. Through the windows I spotted gem after gem of beautiful wool tapestries, colorful belts, ponchos, natural shampoos and spools of cabuya thread.
Finally stumbling upon the only open door, we walk into a tiny room with an imposing weaving loom. With a wooden stick in each hand, a young Salasaca woman sits twirling a spool of thread from the newly shaven wool. She is apprehensive as we first approach. The woman is probably in her early 20’s modestly beautiful, giggly and equally as curious. I ask Fernando to be my translator again as I take a seat next to her to endeavor the process of turning wool into thread. She wraps my waist in one of the colorfully woven belts and hands me two sticks. Lacking in finesse, I struggle with her instructions to get the strand width correct. She entertains my mediocre attempt, and my new appreciation for the procedure travails. Fernando then takes a shot. He does much better than I. He sounds like a pro taking over the conversation asking her questions about the procedure and the Quechua names of everything we are learning She likes him too. As he sits down close to her for his lesson, a shy coquetry takes over and body language changes. Her already sun stained red cheeks turn redder as he continues to ask questions. Another man suddenly enters the room. We assume he’s a friend of her husbands to keep an eye on us. He obviously doesn’t trust our intentions, and doesn’t like the woman’s comfortable flirtation. We purchase two bottles of organic Salasaca shampoo, some woven goods and feel as if our mission was complete. We call it a day and move on to planning some birthday festivities.
5:30ish p.m. Returning to Ambato, I need to go to a Western Union. My mom was wiring me money, because my wallet had been stolen over the holidays in Canoa. We drive around Ambato stuck in rush hour traffic, googling Western Union’s for over two hours. Finally we find one, but I have to jump out of the car, cross the highway ramp to get back down to the small main area of the downtown. Fernando, tells me to hurry, as the place is about to close. He’ll meet me on the other side once he gets through traffic. I wander asking people for the correct drug store, as there are two locations. Only one of them has the Western Union. Just in the knick of time, I find the right place and my pockets were replenished.
We hit the liquor store and meet his cousin at the soccer fields. We drive around Ambato half drunk and bored. Unimpressed with what the town has to offer, I persuade Fernando to teach me how to drive stick while we ponder what to do. On some back cobblestone streets, I sit on his lap in the driver seat. Too short to reach the pedals, he acts as my legs, and I take over the wheel and gears. Fernando thinks it’s fun to accelerate as I switch gears and stall out. We do this over and over, screeching and laughing. Accelerating! Praying we don’t run into another car. We finally get into a good flow driving along the downtown streets and I officially learn to drive stick.
We decide to move on and head to Baños since it was nearby. Although, very much beloved by most travelers, for me it’s always loomed an erie consciousness that I didn’t quite trust. People love it for its jungle like tone and impressive waterfalls that I see as a facade. There is one very narrow road leading into the city, leaving visitors with only one way in and one way out. My subconscious wariness took its course. And it’s onliest entrance turned everything about our day around.
As we drive around looking for a hostel, we can’t come to an agreement on a place to stay. Personally, I’d rather just sleep in the SUV. We walk up and down staircase after staircase looking at room after room and nothing seems to be right. Fernando is having an unusually cryptic conversation on his phone. I sense his tone increasingly growing concerned, fearful and ill-tempered. He is trying to calm someone down on the other line. I am left in the dark, scenarios begin to take over my mind. All of a sudden I remember, we’re complete strangers. I begin to feel really uncomfortable for being there, somewhat apathetic and angry. This is getting annoying, it’s my birthday and I just want to go out and enjoy the rest of the night. Hang up the phone!
Still in the dark and no success in finding a hostel, we end up at a bar that we are both able to agree on. We walk in, order drinks and Fernando leaves me again. I cozy up around a fire with some strangers from Germany and Australia. Almost 40 minutes later, Fernando returns. He apologizes for leaving me and fills me in. Supposedly Fernando had been kidnapped. Yes, my Fernando who is currently at the moment sitting right next to me. He was on the phone with credit card companies canceling his cards so that no one could track where we were. His mom had received a phone call from the police informing her that her son had been taken, and that there was a ransom for his return. She needed to pay the police if she wanted any additional information. Obviously Fernando was fine, he was with me celebrating my 32nd birthday.
From day one, I hated the police in this country. As I walked through the tourist areas of the bigger cities, they always whistled and yelled inappropriate slurs. Please understand, the people of Ecuador are truly some of the most empathetic and giving people in the world. They would give you the shirt right off their back, the shoes off their feet, and walk around naked making sure you were safe. But the police were another story, and they always made me feel uneasy.
We walk across the street, to have another drink so Fernando can enjoy one moment of his time in Baños. Forty-five minutes later the police announce last call by throwing smoke grenades on the small quiet Baños road. These are establishments that do not even understand the word rowdy. Mostly filled with yogi travelers and wealthy tourists. Sometimes even eerily quiet. The police decided to make it a point they were in charge.
After the commotion of the evening, a startled mother in Cumbaya, and the threat of the police tracking us down taking Fernando and maybe even the gringa we leave Baños the same way we came in. I was hanging out with the son of one of the wealthiest scientists in Ecuador. But how would I know that, we were of course only strangers. Driving through the middle of the night, once again stopping for a nap at another random gas station we arrive back to Quito around 5:30 a.m. in the morning.
I was co-running and living in a small micro-brewery in the Old City of Quito. Feeling a little back to normal in our familiar territory, I invite Fernando in so we can enjoy one quick morning bucket brew before he returned to Cumbaya.
This is a story about the Fairy of the Mile End and her two Goldilocks. And how destiny returns to it’s place of creation.
I will admit, I have a bit of Goldilocks syndrome, where my curiosity sometimes leads me to trespass into the unknown. If the door is wide open, I will most likely just walk in. Never with any bad intentions, just politely to explore. On my first trip to Montreal, I spent most of my stay in the Mile End. It’s an artsy and trendy made neighborhood with a vainglorious vibe. Magically charming with romantic european architecture, spiral staircases and vibrant alleyways. The perfect place to take a stroll and venture.
On a beautiful June afternoon, my friend Catalina and I took a stroll to see the Tams Tams in Mount Royal. Distracted by a giant paper mache giraffe hanging out over the balcony, our path took a detour. The door next to the giraffe was wide open, so I decided this was an invitation to see what else could be inside. I really didn’t know it was someone’s apartment, but thought if the door was open, it must be okay to go in. Cautiously, Catalina joins me as my accomplice to take a peek inside.
Upon entering we were enchanted, awed, inspired, and excited. We knew we shouldn’t be in there, but we couldn’t pull ourselves away. It was like being inside a fairy’s home. So like two little girls our imaginations made up stories about the person who lived in this place. And we explored and played.
The green hallway was filled with giant polka dot pop art, little people cut outs, eclectic antique pieces and vintage lingerie. Heaping piles of books pour out of every corner of the apt. The dining room chair is made of rolls of fabric. Even the outdoor aesthetic is as colorful and charismatic as the inside of the apt. The front studio room, is like being inside of a Dr. Seuss, shabby chic, pop up scrapbook. Surrounded by cut outs, little quotes, cardboard boxes, yarns, buttons, stamps and everything that is crafty in between. Beings that inspire her float around the room, a photo of Frida Kahlo sits on the mirror edge and a naked woman Native warrior is stained on the wood door.
I thought maybe she worked for the Vans store down the street, she had so many of their shoe boxes. What kind of a deal had she worked out with them to get so many boxes or did she dig through their trash? Where had we seen her art, and what did she make? The place was so eclectic. Maybe she made greeting cards, no she’s a textile designer? Was she famous? Was it a studio meant to be explored. Why was nobody in there? And when were they coming back? And if they did come back would they care that we were in there? Maybe she was watching us and purposely left the door open for people to wander in. I dreamt of living in her second room, and looking to see if she placed it on Airbnb. We almost left a note, we should have left a note!
We posted our adventure on Facebook, my profile picture was a photo of me and the Native warrior, the quote “art is the guarantee of sanity” became my cover image. Her wall had become a post of inspiration. And we had posted a photo of ourselves on Instagram. I temporarily now live in the Mile End, and since being here often think about this encounter and sometimes finding myself searching for clues to this mystery person.
It was the fate of Creative Mornings that led me to the Fairy of the Mile End. Getting my monthly invite, I did the usual research on the speaker. The Facebook invite posted a video on Patsy Van Roost which shows a peek into her home studio. There she was stitching magical phrases on her sewing machine! I had found my mystical stranger. She was even monikered as the “Fairy of the Mile End.”
The theme at this month’s Creative Morning’s was Empathy. Patsy shared stories that led to her being known as ‘la fée.’ She explores her neighborhood to create participatory and unifying experiences that encourage people to come together and share. Through her projects she has triggered unusual encounters creating links between different neighbors and travelers. One of her projects entitled “vous êtes la” Pasty has put together small experiences for tourists that are emotionally charged introducing them to different areas in her neighborhood that are less traveled. She has planted 15 ‘THERE’ phrases at each location. They are emotions, habits, and experiences related to the places that are important to her, revealing a little bit on the history of the neighborhood and with hopes that it will startle emotive sentiments.
The irony that I would be led to this woman, to her project and her home is so befitting to my time here. The significance to her projects embody almost all of my encounters and friendships I have made in Montreal. Drawn to people in cafes and on the streets, then bringing them together I’ve been able to build a little community that have led me to some incredible experiences and connections.
The intention of Patsy’s project transmitted that day Catalina and I stumbled upon her home, the paper mache giraffe and the open door. She gave us a gift by unconsciously sharing with us a place that was most intimate to her, assenting to her historical presence, and evoking our emotions. Destiny led her mission home.
CREATIVE MORNINGS TAKE HOME ASSIGNMENT:
(these were handed out by Patsy who asked all attendees to please fill out and leave in the mailboxes of our neighbors in the Mile End)
Patsy Van Roost mine goes to you. Bisous.
From The Idea to the Experience: Havana Biennale 2015
Preparing for my trip I read this quote from one of the organizers;“It won’t be a Biennial for collectors or gallerists, but rather to make a connection with the city”. There will be no official opening or specific venue; art will spill out of the galleries, bursting into the streets which will be bubbling with ideas.
There is no way I could describe it any better. Today I spent the day in a run down gymnasium helping an artist here for the first time from France. We were building an indoor skate ramp, but not any skate ramp. This ramp is only a piece of the installation reaching into the souls of the misconceptions of a very specific people representing a very specific lifestyle. Together with a group of local skateboarders we painted the scene black, the ramps, the walls and the speakers. Shadows of all colors each took turns riding up and down the ramps: these strange attractors of the night.
A poem that sets the tone of the exhibition:
The sweeping curve of a crescent moon
A shaped canvas
Painted deep black
Ramps & Rails you asked
Motion I said
A set of values toward which a
System tends to evolve
For a wide variety of starting conditions
A poem you smiled
Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings
Set off a tornado
In Cuba? by: Jean-Baptiste Mognetti
When I chatted with Steve Bauras about his exhibition, 3K, and the reason for the black setting, the darkness in his words, the racial and controversial film clip he chose to use in the background he said it represents a movement. The black and white is a canvas. He says people might see it as only black and white but he sees color. The video playing in the background is from Sam Fuller’s 1963 Shock Corridor featuring a black man praising the KKK in an attempt to trigger some reflection on inter community racism and to pursue the unexpected by suggesting a different perspective and hypothesis. And I asked, why skateboarders? He said because it’s a culture that has brought so many different types of people together. A culture that has broken the segregated barriers. It’s a movement. These aren’t his exact words, but my interpretation.
For me, some of the life experiences are art exhibitions of their own. Ironically, my first night in Cuba, the night before getting invited to watch the creation of this installation I had overwhelming sensation of tranquility come over me. It was the middle of the night, the sky perfectly lit by the stars, skateboarders rolled by, music playing from Loco’s boombox, and everyone walked in peace scattered on the street leading us to the Malecón. Some of the younger kids were trying new tricks, some of us walked in silence with our own thoughts and others conversed quietly. In this moment I just got it, as I payed attention to a people, a lifestyle, weird to say since I’m in Cuba but an inner freedom. This is the movement Steve is talking about.
“Skateboarding is not only sport, it’s a way of living, it’s art, it’s a mentality of freedom between your friends and is being pulled into music culture, paintings, everything revolving around skateboarding. It’s a way of life.” a quote from Che Alejandro Paydo Napoles, a 42 year old tattoo artist and one of the original skateboarders in Cuba.
Although the exhibitions are front and center, behind the scenes you witness many of the struggles and hypocrisy of modern day Cuba which are also politically aligned with the Biennial and expressed in many of the installations. Che, who has been making his living as a highly respected tattoo artist for 20 years in Cuba explains to me that this week, the Cuban government has decided to ban tattoo artistry in the country all together. At the same time as officials are knocking on the doors and closing down shops they invited a famous tattoo artist from Mexico to do a live exhibition giving tattoos as part of the Biennial. Che shows me a photo of the two of them together, they are friends. And then shows me another photo taken the same day of a large group of tattoo artists and lawyers meeting in his living room trying to find a solution to their livelihood. Che is an individual here who excites me and is willing to open up. He loves history and has so much knowledge about the revolution, the people of Cuba, and the street, art and music scene. Like everyone else he is trying to figure out what he wants to do in life, and how to make these things happen to be happy.
As citizens have learned to live with limitations behind the walls surrounding the island, The project Detrás Euro (Behind the Wall), set alongside the Malecón is one part of the Biennial showcasing structures that give hope and insight to the real Cuba. From the Idea to the Experience, you witness the use of Havana’s Cityscape and natural surroundings to bring the exhibition to life.
For me, it started out with José Parlá’s “Mis Realidades Segmentadas” (My Segmented Realities). Cut out rock sculptures standing upright into the sunset. The old rustic texture is splattered with paint intermixing colors together that continue on into a kaleidoscopic sky during Havana’s sunset. Following the rocks is a tent structure made of a conglomerate of fabrics. It blows harmoniously with the wind under the sunset sky. And in some way flows into the vibrant energy taking over the street. Dance music plays in the background, vintage cars drive by, children play on the street and gentlemen fish on the pier. This is where you see the reflection of a place where time has stood still. An energy not distracted by modern day technology or the problems of the rest of the world. But that’s because they are dealing with their own daily survival. This is a beautiful and simple distraction and a necessity to where the city finds happiness.
Strolling further along you find a wooden structure by Othón Castañeda, “Tzompantil” aligning perfectly into the Havana skyline. The framework of a building where you are invited to walk through it’s maze of rooms inside is a reflection of the construction and unfinished homes of many of Havana’s residents.
In an area where tourists delight themselves in taking pictures of once beautiful mansions, Pilar Rubi, a photographer from Bolivia, opens up your eyes by inviting you into the homes of many local residents. Reconfirming the apparent poverty of their surroundings. It seeks to look further inside the superficial image and allows you to get to know the families living there. If you don’t look closely it’s easily missed that you are also standing right next to the building being portrayed in the photos. So bluntly reminding us how we just walk by ignoring what’s really inside. A part of Cuba and struggle that is hard to digest and perhaps we choose not to see.
Photographer Ernesto Fernandez takes another approach with GOTEO asking the question “Who saw our lives?” through a series of lightbulbs filled with images that change as you walk by from youth and innocence to aged men and war. It illuminates moments of past and present, innocence and struggle. Also, recognizing the revolution and the cause and effect it has had on a culture.
Left & Right: Pilar Rubí “Melanín N1”, Center: Ernesto Fernandez “Who Saw Our Lives”
The most liveliest installation taking over the Malecón comes from The Bronx Museum. Completely ironic to Cuba’s infrastructure and the island, Brooklyn artist, Duke Riley has built an ice skating rink. From vintage skates and signage it looks like a perfect replication from the 1930’s. Along for the ride is a crew of other Brooklyn friends, DJ’s and a heavy metal band. The exhibition began with a Ice Hockey game at sunset between The Bronx Museum and Havana’s Belle Artes while two DJ’s played a strew of old school hip hop and funk music. Apart of me felt like I was on a rooftop party in the summer time in Brooklyn leaving me with mixed emotions about the obvious display of rapid changes happening in Cuba. Two years ago, US citizens were not allowed to show at the Biennial and this year our enthusiastic egos made the loudest impression. The next night kids surrounding the rink, heaped over the edge head banging to the heavy metal band, Hell bound Hookers. The ice skating rink will stay up for the entire month of the Biennial.
From ice skating on the Malecón, skateboard ramps, to wild chickens and greenhouses. The 12th Havana Biennial never left you with the expected. It took you to the most obscure areas of the city to witness theater, music, cinema, and live installations. It flows with the people.
There’s an energy that looms the streets in Cuba that you feel is about to burst- it screams to you all around. There’s a movement happening. And it’s easy to notice the little increments of capitalism and new doors opening up. Attitudes have changed with a newer generation. As my friend, Che, still feels vulnerable to his country’s past limitations. Another friend, Tito, a skateboarder with an ambitious voice in Havana, no longer believes in the walls that have surrounded the island. He tells me, Tari if you have the dream, we will make it happen.
From the Idea to the Experience.