jueves, 14 de agosto de 2008

29th June 2008

I am listening to Kumbia Kings in the kitchen of a hostel in Zihuantenejo. I have a feeling that my enthusiasm for Mexican pop will not be shared once I hit London; the idea of Estos Celos blasting out of speakers in my beloved grey city seems on the verge of absurd. It fits here. It fits life here, and it is truly something I will miss. I spent an hour or two in a hostel in Mexico City where they were playing music made by boys with guitars and sepia videos, droning on about some emotional fuckwittery or other; just, in fact the type of music that I used to like very much. It just made me crave some unashamedly cheery sounding Mexican music; despite the fact that half the time they are singing about their depth of love and the other half is about how they’ve been cheated on, they are not afraid to use a few trumpets or cumbia rhythms to bring their point home. Britain will seem truly grey and quiet without this music blasting from every conceivable corner; shops, cars, taxis, buses, people. A bus that does not judder dangerously each time it breaks, a bus without mirrors, dedications to Christ and the Virgin de Guadalupe and rosary beads, without Te Quiero on the radio, people attempting to convert you or sell you something, is a boring bus indeed. Even better were the onboard buskers; Julia and I used to catch the bus together, attempting to sit as the bus lurched, without spilling our precious Oxxo coffee, and every now and again we were joined by a group of busking Mariachi, which cheered up the morning no end. It was sensible on their part too; the air-conditioned buses were a blessed relief in the Monterrey heat. Less enjoyable was sitting on a bus in Saltillo once and having a musically challenged young busker sing a group of love songs into my face, inches away. Minutes felt like hours.

It is strange to contemplate how it will be to be in London again; the difference in air and climate, attitudes and people, manners and tips, values and way of going about things, the size of the city, and how everyone and everything is packed in together; none of the room to sprawl luxuriously, lazily and unattractively, like the cities here. I imagine the strangest feeling will be the immediate familiarity of all of the above; all of that which seems far away and foreign now.

28th June 2008

Alex and I are travelling south down the coast. At each village or crumbly town we reach, at some point it invariably crosses my mind; what a strange corner of the world to end up in. I generally say it each time; considering my repetitive conversation, it’s a miracle she’s still with me. We are travelling in low season. The places we reach show signs of previous tourists; shops of inflatables and sarongs, T shirts and shot glasses, but we are in the Marie Celeste of travelling. We have hotels, buses, restaurants and pools to ourselves. Calculating the number of days it is since we have spoken to another person (waiters and ticket booth operators aside) has become a running joke, and more so, the number of hours we actually don’t say anything at all. We snatch Wimbledon matches and bad MTV programming while we can and while we are in lifeless towns and chose restaurants solely because they have other people in, but we take pleasure in all that seems funny solely to us too.

What a strange corner of the world we have ended up in; a village called Caleta de Campo on the edge of the pacific. We jumped aboard a second class bus as it was leaving for a five hour bus ride. We painfully felt the lack of air-conditioning although the open window blasted my face with salty air, leaves and water, which was the less technologically sophisticated version, but effective in its own way. The hours and minutes slipped past, dragged past and barely passed at all, as it became obvious that five hours was a rough estimate. After hitting the coastal road, the green jungle corridor either side of the road, the repetitive rising and falling of the road and corner after corner for hours on end was almost trance inducing and depending on whether you prefer my or Alex’s bus ramblings, a version of hell or real life (‘Which pill? The blue or the red? We took the wrong bloody one if we ended up on this bus’). Eight hours later we peeled ourselves off the seats and did the usual humiliating farce of getting the bags off the bus at the same time as ourselves. We had arrived.

The saving grace of the village is our view; yesterday evening, wiped out from the journey, all it took was a beer in hand and our view over the ocean; the swell and the rocks, an altogether more rugged view than Barra de Navidad, to regain contentment. We sat on the balcony, shuffling cards with no game in mind, and talked, until we could no longer see the difference between sky and sea; both were black.

We were woken in the early hours by a light storm – enormous flashes of light, eerily without rain or thunder. I lay in bed, my face up against the window, trying to keep my eyes open to watch the flashes of light over the bay. Finally the strange silent movie of a storm was broken and it hit in full force; thunder, rain and wind attacking the trees outside the hotel. Alex crawled across the room, wrapped in a sheet, to my bed. Her bed was soaked by the storm. The windows refused to close. The storm raged.

Now, the morning and in the light, post-storm and post-broken-sleep, we are gathering ourselves. It is time to pack again and stagger through the village. Another bus, another bus station, another town and place to see, afterall, in a week, I’ll be at work. Horrible thought.

jueves, 17 de abril de 2008

No sleep last night, no sleep tonight

Just to keep up with the tradition, or boring thematic repetition of these posts, it’s Sunday evening again, Carne Asada outside again, and I shall tell you that in my dark room, light from the kitchen falls outside my door, and the first isolated words of Because by I Am Kloot are dropping into the silence.

I should be asleep. How I should be asleep. I have another early morning and a 5.15 alarm programmed into my mobile, but I have snoozed on and off throughout the day, and since sleep has now become vital, it has also become elusive. Julia is in her room next door in a haze of smoke, talking to Germany and I am here cross legged on my air bed, too warm to wear anything but a sheet. I have worn it nearly all day, tied around the back of my neck like a dress and sweeping to the floor in a satisfying fashion.

Last night was really good and lots of fun. Ana and Gigi had a bienvenida party of white - white clothes, and drink and food on a terrace with candles. A lovely atmosphere and combination of languages, wine and mojitos, white chocolate and smiley people on a warm evening. It all became a little bit hazy around the edges and we sped away from it all in an early morning taxi. I shall miss the friendliness and laughter, the switch of one second to a language or another, and translation, the interest and the difference.

Alison Krauss just started singing go to sleep little babe at me. I feel as if I should take her advice.

Oh Christ. Whitney Houston is back.

domingo, 6 de abril de 2008

No words No word count

It is Sunday afternoon. I can smell carne asada outside, which is usual for a Sunday. Julia is playing a Whitney Houston song after I accidentally reminded her of its existence by shouting abuse at someone in the barrio who also feels the need to play it on a loop, along with I will survive. I am staring into the face of the fact that two thousand words I should have written this week are incomplete. More like a paltry thousand, in Spanish I feel I should point out. In my essay career so far, my best word-time ratio was a cool thousand in an hour, sat on the bottom bunk of the green room at Osborne Drive, Belfast, watched by my Dad’s old toy soldiers. Relatives in the rooms below lay prostrate on sofas recovering after Grandpa’s birthday meal, and when I finished, I padded down the staircase into the kitchen to discover that in the McDonald family a bit of bread and cheese, a glass of wine and some left over pudding is always squeezable in for supper, however late or large is lunch.

My word count has not been helped by the clocks stealing an hour of my time and the way I punctuate my days with useless activity; absentmindedly listening to BBC podcasts featuring Richard Dawkins and some infuriating woman who is under the strange impression that religion is a serious business, rediscovering the Walk the Line soundtrack, holiday-skinning my legs, writing this, making a splendid salad sandwich, watching a portion of last night’s DVD with Spanish dubbing and subtitles just to watch the strange disparity between the two, and deciding that afternoon tea should be indulged, and going to buy a Bimbo cake to eat with my tea. It was probably memories of Belfast that have persuaded my subconscious to persuade my conscious to go to the little shop to buy what we succinctly call Bimbo shit. Bimbo products do truly challenge all normal rules of science, staying soft and squishy and apparently fresh for days running into weeks. Moreish pap.

Apparently this week, the temperature this week is going to hit forty degrees. Likelihood is I won’t see it. I hope not. I spend inordinate amounts of time in one room in the uni, to the point where four walls just do not seem sufficient. In moments of weakness I lean up against the air-conditioner to feel my skin cool and watch what passes for television in this country. I think it’s the worst I’ve seen, and I’ve lived in Italy. It truly looks like a group of friends who have become intoxicated by the sheer amount of make up on their faces, stolen a television studio and are pissing about solely for the amusement of each other; every two minutes they dance like idiots and cackle. It looks, at least, like they’re having a good time. Mexican daytime television strikes me as a series of had-to-be-there moments.

I went on holiday over the Easter holiday. Monterrey, to put it mildly, is not my spiritual home, so visiting other cities and finding I really like them always has a touch of poignant disappointment that I wasn’t placed there. I reassure myself with my ability to visit them, and the knowledge that I can talk with glowing terms about Mexico- the country, and the people, if not the concrete and fast food jungle in which I currently reside. Perhaps I am being overcritical. It is a concrete jungle set in the most incredible craggy mountain ranges and impressive landscape.

To get to Guadalajara, it took the first of two twelve hour bus journeys of the holiday. It did not go well. We arrived in a bus station resembling a pan shot of a city in flight; families squealing at each other over trolleys full of all of their worldly possessions and utter confusion over bus numbers and destinations. Becky was ill, without voice, and my intelligent self, after having with relief found the right bus, stored our luggage and set out, realised my jumper was still in our friendly taxi service. I shivered away the twelve hour journey in a vest top and utter discomfort, resenting Julia-two-hoodies beside me, and the well prepared families with blankets behind.

Guadalajara was great; a clean, white hostel with high ceilings and books, cycling through the city (not me, obviously), squares and cathedrals, Tlaque Plaque and I have to say the worst meal I have had in as long as I can remember. I never know you could make pasta so truly repulsive, but failing to cook the flour in a cheese sauce is a good start. I felt worst for Becky; a painful chest infection, having to watch me nose-bleed at inconvenient moments and then a plate of raw flour and slime.

We moved on to Guanajuato and my new favourite place. It’s not that hard to be my new favourite place; it requires cafes and good places to eat, cobbled streets and colour, trees and hidden plazas, interest, at least one market, the ability to walk most places. A Mexican Margie running a bed and breakfast is an added bonus. Oh, and cable television. Being deprived of television does at least give it a great novelty, especially when you discover the strange culture shock of being able to watch some mid-nineties Changing Room episodes at breakfast time in Mexico. The city was full of people for Semana Santa and getting street treats and elote (with mayonnaise, cheese, chilli and lots and lots of lime) in the evenings was a bit of an enjoyable scrum.

martes, 5 de febrero de 2008

If you can't stand the heat...

Laura Marling and Hot Chip are waiting on youtube. My feet are in a bowl of water, trying to remove the dirt ingrained, playing catch barefoot yesterday. We are planning to gather some bodies for a hotch potch, approximate rounders game; in the February sun, revisiting July Friday afternoons in school. I hope I discover I like rounders, no false memories of joyful, scratchy, grassy afternoons, when the truth is closer to absolute athletic humiliation. We shall see.
It’s Pancake Day and I have only just remembered, and it’s touch and go whether I’ll make them. The more I think about it, the more I think I will; the crunchy sweet sour, lemon and sugar mixture might be too much to resist. Although actually it will be the slightly more exotic lime and sugar, since lemons are non-existent.
It’s only a couple of weeks after bone-shattering cold nights and cold air whistling past my ears; Julia and I huddled together in the same bed for warmth. An enormous pile of blankets, almost pinned to the bed, and a small nest of heat, a shock of cold if you dare to move your toe beyond the boundary to the cold sheet beyond. That is all past and I can hardly remember it now. The heat has begun in full earnest. It’s only the beginning of February, and apparently Sunday hit 40 degrees, although I was snoozing it away, so I can’t be quite sure. Already stepping outside feels like stepping into an enormous hot bath, the warm air pressed up against you. My fear of coping with the heat when summer truly hits is genuine. Becky and I remembered all the aspects of life that come with Monterrey in the heat. When the heat well and truly hits, I will:
a) Be sporting mosquito bites, in the double figures. Current record stands at 16 on one leg; a September special that one; heat, wet weather and windows with holes in combined. Apparently I have sangre dulce, which seems to be from some a compliment, although I would rather have disgusting blood and less bites.
b) Carry a jumper through the heat, to wear in any enclosed space; Stepping from a warm air bath into a sharp, cold, air-conditioned shop or room or car or house or building causes my muscles to contract, my shoulders to jump and the particles of sweat that live on every hair to form a small layer of ice. All within 10 seconds.
c) Spend a significant proportion of my pay in 711 on cold, cold drinks, packed with a sugar hit to get me through the next staggering 20 minutes; then, I come to the next 711 and pop in for another Sprite, or iced tea.
d) Spend minutes at a time with the fridge open in the above shops looking for the above drinks, as an extra cooling technique.
e) Have no choice of hairstyle- jaggedy fringe across the face is all very well and good, as well as tendrils to hide my lack of jaw line, but plastered in sweat to the edge of my face? Not a good look. It is then made worse by the constant movement in and out of air-conditioned areas, creating frizz that had previously been considered impossible by science.
f) Be extra grumpy, grouchy and sleepy.
g) Entirely unable to walk normal distances.
h) Dream of nights when curling up in covers was possible, rather than stretched out, wearing as little as possible, waiting for the beautiful sensation of air movement from the fan, on the edge of sleep.
i) Become suddenly aware of the backs of my knees, the little space where my glasses rest, my inner arm, between my toes, and anywhere my underwired bra meets my skin. All places, where, without care, sweat collects. Urgh. How unpleasant.

It sounds like a gale has just started outside. It is suddenly dark. Perhaps I should relax for a while.

sábado, 12 de enero de 2008

Yellow Lemon Tree is on the radio.
I’ve just polished off a slab of white bread, slathered with a little too much Nutella. That is the only way to eat Nutella I think. Stinginess does not come easily to Nutella, and in unfortunate stingy circumstances, it really only succeeds in gluing a piece of bread to the roof of your mouth. But instead, being indulgent, I have achieved the burning sensation of sugar at the back of my throat and left chocolate finger prints on the pages of my book. Nutella is a food that is intensely associated with holidays in Europe. A non-specific and vague continental memory; campsites, salty sun-kissed skin, ruffles, Principe biscuits, yoghurt and sugar, bread and olive oil, white peaches, a shiny red hire car with Nora snoozing gently to the left, and me, gormless and slightly hypnotised by the rhythm of the alien road signs swimming past the window. Moments of hysterical fear and cackling laughter, when my Dad would absentmindedly swing his arm around the back of the driver’s seat, to try and grab my ankles. I would squeal and draw my feet up on the seat, eyes locked on Dad’s blind hand, patting the car floor in the hope of grabbing an ankle or foot, before some kind of driving manoeuvre required two hands. Perhaps my hysterical, half pleasure, half pain, can be traced back to an all too vivid imagining of the dreadful fate of Jim, being eaten bit by bit; most significantly, feet first.
So, it is January. The European contingent in Monterrey is returning after travelling far and wide, probably taking in most of the country between ourselves. Slipping back into lesson preparations and days spent at the faculty, it feels like I never left, and my visitors, oases in the desert. However, the wealth of photos suggest otherwise, as did the warmth of many voices and proper meals. The pyjama clad padding of the first minutes of the day; Closed-eye listening to coffee and toast preparations, Nora’s warm weight beside me, and the first hours of the day, where inaction and domesticity is wallowed in.
I visited so many places I am already unable to get them quite straight in my head. I was aching for a departure from Monterrey and work when the parents arrived. The grey lockers and furniture where I am interned at work was working its way into my brain. Their trip had an unprepossessing start; the day was cloudy and oppressively warm. Pollution sat in a haze over the city, and hid the mountains, its best feature. They rise above the often bleak and ugly buildings with craggy majesty. But not on that day.
We left the next day for Morelia.-The first of enough flights to make an environmentalist blush. It charmed us.