I stepped off the Aeromexico flight and right away I knew that even the extra days I spent to 'acclimate' in one of the largest cities on the planet - and, yes, to see with my own jaguar eyes the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera home - hardly prepared me for the landing in Las Vegas.
I had re-entered a new territory, and this terrain came without sidewalks. Not even cracked tottering foot-high sidewalks like in the streets of San Cristobal de las Casas.
Later that evening, my mom who lives in Las Vegas, drove us to the off-strip casino with the adjacent shopping center and we entered into the cavernous cacophany of the Cheesecake Factory.
The street vendor's tamales at the Oaxaca market, the steaming chocolate at the neighborhood cafe in Quetzaltenago a few alley zig-zags from the town square, the tortillas and the sweet pineapple Christmas-fruit drink (and, yes, you can spike it) that Erica made were still vivid to my tongue, to my nose, to my eyes, to my skin right then.
It's now three years later. Today, the aromas are a waft of memory. But some caresses leave fingerprints like they've never left your body though the touch is no longer evident by sight of a hand.
My eyes did not quite register the 360 degree dominos of marquee neon signs, and water fountains synchronicized to symphonies as I drove my mom's car into asphalt football field-sized parking lots of the convention center. Armies upon armies of HDTVs spinning scenes and MP3 players assaulted me as I entered "the largest technology industry event." (This year 140,000 attendees are expected according to the San Jose Merc.)
Las Vegas may not yet be my favorite city in the world, but I'd never ever had such a visceral reaction like this before. And I've never been back to CES since.
I'd just spent seven weeks in Mexico, Guatamala, and a brief sojourn at the Copan ruins in Honduras when I went to CES 2004. The family I lived with for more than three weeks in Quetzaltenago took me in as their daughter, and I lived with their grandmother, grandfather, Erica's sister and her boy, and their own son and daughter. I went shopping with the family, strolled the streets in December following the neighborhood processions of revelers, ate three square meals a day all including hordes of tortillas in the kitchen, watched the Simpsons dubbed in Spanish with the boy, changed ringtones on teenager Jessica's new cellphone, ate barbequed pork and joined in on the firecracker frenzy when celebrating Christmas and New Year's with their extended families.
I wasn't disgusted by Las Vegas. That's not it. I simply...
Ached. There was a longing like the longing a baby that's been left in the crib for too long might have to be held by its mother.
I don't know need to try to dig up my journal from the trip right now to tell you the thought that kept ringing through my head over and over:
This city isn't built to human scale.
I was in Manhattan this September. I found myself walking as much as I ever did in Quetzaltenago, Guatemala. Walking to the meteoritic hole where twin towers once stood (on 9-11-06), walking to the Alex Grey gallery, walking to the Whitney Museum to meet Senia, walking to meet Rita for lunch and then walking through the flower district with her to see her artwork hanging at her apartment, walking that weekend to the yoga workshop in that little Cuban enclave near the Lower East Side, walking to the deli with Tom in Little Italy, walking through the smattering of darling boutiques and cafes in NoLita (adore Nolita).
Walking, walking, walking. Waltzing! Have you ever noticed that walking and waltzing are first cousins?
Walking connects me with the touch and movement and breath of humans.
Maybe that's the real reason that when my car left me stranded at the Colma BART Station this past November 2nd, I was not very inclined to fix it.
Sauntering: not a tour, but a never-ending enterprise. Playful and serious. Thoreau discovers his own etymology for the word. The saunterer may begin, he says, in the familiar fields of Concord, and some time later find himself in a place where "...jurisdiction ceases, and the idea which the word Concord suggests ceases to be suggested." - Joshua McKinney, Saunter
I say walking. Henry David Thoreau says walking but likes sauntering even better.
Sauntering's roots are tangled with meditating and musing too. And moreover, it means: "Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere," writes Thoreau.
"To use an obsolete Latin word, I might say Ex oriente lux; ex occidente Frux. From the East light; from the West fruit." - Henry David Thoreau, Walking
So I smile when I read the CES coverage in the San Jose Mercury News this morning. Sub-headline: DOT-COM GLITZ IS DROPPED FOR FRUITFUL CONNECTIONS
"HP did briefly toy with the idea of bringing in big-name celebrities, but decided against that. "You don't get the value from it,'' said Phil McKinney, chief technology officer of HP's PC business. "It's about building relationships, and the only way to build relationships is with that face time.'' - "Parties Take on a Different Life," San Jose Mercury News, January 9, 2007
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it." - Alan Kay
So I predict that the time of mass scale will be come down like the Berlin Wall in a velvet revolution yearning for the freedom of human scale.
And this time too, when the Wall comes down, there will be dancing in the streets.
Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nicked and Dimed shares in her brand-new released-today book, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, that "human beings are innately social, naturally taking part in celebrations and festivities that involve feasting, dancing and dressing up. Though these impulses have been suppressed at times,...they can never be kept down; the need for communal joy is a core feature of humanity."
My umbrella prediction (which all other predictions tumble out of) is that 2007 is the year that the Web is likened to a communal table rather than a printing press. Sans piping hot tortillas perhaps or perhaps not, but a gathering that exuberantly explores that human impulse towards collective joy and the delight of sauntering into people on the sidewalk.
Bonus: "We had a remarkable sunset one day last November. I was walking in a meadow, the source of a small brook, when the sun at last, just before setting, after a cold grey day, reached a clear stratum in the horizon, and the softest brightest morning sun- light fell on the dry grass and on the stems of the trees in the opposite horizon, and on the leaves of the shrub-oaks on the hill-side, while our shadows stretched long over the meadow eastward, as if we were the only motes in its beams. It was such a light as we could not have imagined a moment before, and the air also was so warm and serene that nothing was wanting to make a paradise of that meadow. When we reflected that this was not a solitary phenomenon, never to happen again, but that it would happen forever and ever an infinite number of evenings, and cheer and reassure the latest child that walked there, it was more glorious still.
The sun sets on some retired meadow, where no house is visible, with all the glory and splendor that it lavishes on cities, and perchance, as it has never set before,—where there is but a solitary marsh hawk to have his wings guilded by it, or only a musquash looks out from his cabin, and there is some little black-veined brook in the midst of the marsh, just beginning to meander, winding slowly round a decaying stump. We walked in so pure and bright a light, gilding the withered grass and leaves, so softly and serenely bright—I thought I had never bathed in such a golden flood, without a ripple or a murmur to it. The west side of every wood and rising ground gleamed like the boundary of elysium, and the sun on our backs seemed like a gentle herdsman, driving us home at evening.
So we saunter toward the Holy Land; till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, so warm and serene and golden as on a bank-side in autumn." - excerpted from essay Walking, Henry David Thoreau
Bonus: Speaking of Dancing in the Streets: "The best-selling author of Nickel and Dimed peeks inside the group behavior that breeds joy" will be speaking in S.F. on January 18th. Say hi, I'll be there myself.
p.s. Alright, so I'm more of an essayist like Thoreau than a dialogue-and-scene crime novelist. The whole intent is I want to avoid speaking in off-putting gobbledygook like "the timeless spaceless matrix of beingness dissolved into the One which it had always been." The litmus test is if my own family has half a chance at making heads or tails of the post, then I'm happy. He, he, gobbledygook was coined by a guy named Maverick: 'His inspiration, he said, was the turkey, “always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity”.'
Nuff 'splaining Lucy. Like Frida says, ""I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes
through my head without any other consideration." Amen, sister.
images La Molendera, by Diego Rivera (yep, she's making tortillas); my friend and local artist Gilbert Marosi's Looney Gamblers; Frida Kahlo's Still Life with Parrot and Fruit; Henry Gasser's The Lord Loves Dancing