Thursday, January 29, 2009

Humberto Batista's strange, beautiful assemblages

I recently wrote an article on "The Wild Visions of Oaxaca's Painters" which included a section devoted to my friend and great artist Humberto Batista.

We bought our beautiful papaya, pear, and Olmec head painting, "Viva la Raza" from Humberto. He has also been working on assemblages that incorporate antiques, found items and bits of random hardware and junk shop kinds of things, and it has this beautiful nostalgic quality. They look like totems or talisman.

Humberto is fascinated by the theme of "el nahual y la muerte", which is essentially the notion of human beings containing an animal being or soul that is wild and joyful, and how that concept is reconciled with the inevitability of death.

I'll post pictures of his assemblages soon.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Rising, Like Phoenix, From the Ashes

It was about 30 minutes out of Los Angeles when the car windows stopped working. And the fuel gauge, temperature gauge, air conditioner and the tiny little fan that you never think about but is actually quite important that is hidden inside your vent. And the seat belts in the front.

But I wanted to get out of California before we got caught in some traffic jam, so we sped on until Max threatened to pee in the car.

We made Phoenix our goal. A big city, lots of cheap motels on the outskirts, an easy spot to find dinner. We jammed on with our broken car. At a truck stop, we stopped to buy fuses, but they only had some of what we needed. Steve was determined to conduct a full fuse makeover to see if the various problems would go away, so he got what they had and we moved on, the seat belts just hanging there lifelessly in front of us, as if to mock us about the fixer ticket we were sure to get.

Phoenix is far, so we stopped at rest stops and raced each other to the vending machines and back again. Before kids, I was never a rest stop person, I was like Calvin Trillan in that essay Jenny read me, putting the car in neutral at red lights and running to switch drivers, all in the name of making "good time". There is no good time with children. But good times, yes! Like Geni singing to us from the car seat or Max spending two hours muttering to himself in an alien voice, lost, somewhere.

It turns out Phoenix does not exist. I don't understand it. We looked and looked for it, we even exited at a sign that seemed to imply Phoenix, but it wasn't, it was just an empty business park, like a deserted movie set for the movie "Phoenix". Is Phoenix an empty business park?

We wound up on an empty, dark street way far from the freeway, with no restaurant in sight and the kids crying from hunger. In the distance, like a beacon, I saw a neon sign with a red K. If I hadn't seen "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" in college (maybe thrice, even), I would not have known what I was seeing: Circle K. We pulled up, bought crap, had a picnic on the cold car hood in the dark while some serious street action rolled around us in the parking lot. I went back in to ask the cashier that all important question: "Where are we?"


Tomorrow: Tumbling tumbleweeds

Thursday, January 15, 2009

On and on and on the road

It occurred to me by day three of our infinite road trip from California to Oaxaca, Mexico, that I had never done anything like this before with my children or even with Steve. Our longest car trips had been a couple days to Portland or Seattle and then back to Oakland. I watched them sleeping in their hotel beds and wondered what on earth I had been thinking to not only agree to this road trip, but to actually be the person who thought it up, convinced others, and planned it. No one to blame but myself.

I learned things about Steve that before, I had only suspected: When in doubt, he drives fast, perhaps to flee a situation. He's not the car-singing, car-game type. He forgets to check the price of that three-dollar bottle of water at the supermart. He not only hates papaya, but he believes the person who deigned to serve it to him did so with malice. Steve was also full of pleasant surprises, thankfully, like when he jammed his booty into the back seat as I screamed along at 80 mph, so he could set up the laptop and catch a little “Scooby Doo” with the kids. Or how, when we would run out of cash, he would magically pull a $20 out of his pocket. He also guarded our possessions with his life, hauling a guitar, mandolin, two laptops, mountains of stuffed animals, clothes, and Hanukkah presents into room after room and out again.

Day 1 was the ride to Los Angeles, where we were full of hope, anticipation, clean laundry and visions of Disneyland dancing in our heads. We arrived at the evil Hyatt Regency Orange, my Priceline “bargain” which is lovely but is staffed by people as mean as I remember them being six years ago when Jenny and I were there. I think the beautiful suite, bargain price, and free shuttle to D-land made up for the visible sneer on the receptionist's face when she saw I was a “third party payer”, i.e. Priceline customer. But, let's face it, I was going to have a great time no matter how disappointed she was with me, so it was time to move on.

Meggie met us at the hotel, greeting me with, “Oh my god, they are so rude here!” Then we set off to buy tix for the next day and to admire the rocking Tokidoki selection of items at the Vault store (I was doubly pleased because I just got an assignment to write about Tokidoki for a fashion magazine). We also toured the Rainforest Cafe like goggle-eyed babes in the woods, oohing and aahing over their beautiful assortment of plastic animals.

We hit D-land at 8am the next day, maps and intricately-drawn plans in hand about how to run to the first ride and how to itinerize the rest of the day so we broke what I like to call The 20-Ride Barrier. I do not call a trip to the D. successful unless we get in 20 rides, ten of which should be before lunch. With little kids, it was more challenging, but luckily there is the Fast Pass system where you get an appointment to wait in a shorter line, so I made my personal goal easily. Max hung with the scene for 15 hours straight, until I begged for mercy. It was 11pm, misting, cold, and Space Mountain was still advertising a wait of 75 minutes, so we hit the gift shop to score Geni a Peter Pan action figure set and then hobbled to the hotel shuttle stop where Max huddled shivering on a concrete bench and considered crying but then decided to reminisce about Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, one of my favorite rides as well. I mean, you go to hell, with a shimmering devil and all.

Tomorrow: Forcing my kids to eat dinner at the Circle K mini mart in Phoenix.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Oaxaca Reads My Mind

Last July, when we came back to Oaxaca after visiting family in the United States, my adopted city felt like an acquaintance who you run into on the street and to whom you can't think up anything to say. This time, returning to Oaxaca feels like arriving at the place I chose.

My first day back, the city keeps reading my mind..It began this morning, when the house was just a mess from construction workers. I called Angelina to babysit (because we all needed a break from each other after 8 days on the road together) and she told me her sister-in-law could come as well to clean up the place. Shortly after, they arrived with the construction worker who set to finishing our rooftop garden with palapa roof.

This left me the chance to work, so I packed up my laptop and walked to the center of town. There lies Cafe Brujula, which I believe translates to the witchcraft cafe, home to what may be Oaxaca's only chai. Unfortunately, it is also carb heaven/carb hell depending on your perspective. I found myself desperately wishing for a fruit plate to offset my weakness for their bagels and such. There appeared on the corner, across from the cafe, a woman selling a tray of mixed fresh fruit which I got with the usual lime and chili.

Inside, the wireless connection was great, an art show was on and the chai perfect. I set to writing. After a couple hours, I headed out to Llano Park to meet Steve, Max and Geni, but I saw a new gallery on Calle Juarez, so I popped in. While I was looking at the paintings, the gallery curator said, “You know there's an installation.” This is one of my all-time favorite phrases. Jenny, Megan and I often traveled hours to hit art installations, like the funky junky Michael McMillan environments made of trash and old belongings, or the room-sized Voudoun altar at Baltimore's Museum of Visionary Art.

This one was modest in comparison. It was set in a series of adobe mud rooms, in the dark. As you walked through, slowly these shrine box apparitions of wax embedded with remnants glowed to life and then faded, while some sort of melancholy music played. I became overcome with my great fortune and decided to feel a little sad about how lucky the morning had been, like my experience of Oaxaca is a work of heartbreaking beauty.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

RIP Oscar Grant

My heart is breaking for Oscar Grant, the African-American man shot by a white BART transit cop this week. He was the father of a 4-year-old girl. He's the age that my first group of elementary students that I ever taught would be right now.