Monday, 28 January 2008

Walking in the Sierra De La Lagunas


Todos Santos sits where the massive Sierra De La Laguna mountain range falls down to the sea. It provides a beautiful scenic backdrop, and collects rainfall that feed the springs which, in the past, and even now, provide the life blood for the town. Follow the dirt roads that lead you to the base of the mountains, and, even though you are still physically close to the familiar, you enter a different world, away from the hustle of the town itself, and entirely different in sound and nature from the relaxed, open environment of the beaches.

Silent Warfare


It’s silent here
No remnant sounds of trucks or construction
To drag us back
No wind rustling the bounty of dried seedpods
Decorating the trees
No melodic chatter of birds
So numbingly quiet
We feel a need to fill the awkward gap
Speak too much
The sounds of our brave voices
And our footsteps
Out of place
But swallowed as soon as created
Leaving nothing

But under the veneer of peaceful silence
In this natural cathedral
A battle rages
So slowly we hardly notice its progression
The roots of fig trees claw
At raw rock
Pierce through weaknesses
Clinging
Perhaps for support
Or sustenance
Or simply to wring life from inanimate matter
Cactus, tree and vine entwine
In a fight to reach the sun first
And in the sandy echo of a river bed
Smooth granitic boulders
Wait patiently, silently for the summer’s rain
To continue their grinding
Path of destruction
To the sea.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Having a whale of a time in Todos Santos


One of the more magical elements of the “Pueblo Magico” of Todos Santos is the arrival of the grey whale migration, which usually peaks in early February, but started this season in mid November. I have to admit I am not entirely sure why the whales make it down this far, since the calving lagoons are quite a bit north of here (around Guerro Negro). Perhaps they too enjoy the warmth and the sunshine before heading back to the grayness and cold of the North?

Whales have an ability to draw loving attention from almost anyone who sees them. Just the sight of their vaporous spout, drifting backlit along the sea, is enough to make people drop what they are doing and look. When they decide to perform and leap continually out of the water, close to shore, there are usually shouts and sighs of “Ahh!” across the beach.

Realtors are very aware of the universal, mystical appeal of the whales. They have a saying “See a whale, make a sale”, and it is not all in jest.

Quite why these lumbering creatures illicit such a reaction, I do not know. Part of it is indeed their size, which seems so out of the ordinary that we are entranced. But then we don’t celebrate such largeness in all things. The term “beached whale” when applied to a large person sunbathing on a beach is not usually a term of endearment. The fairy dust appeal of the spouts loses something when you get close enough to smell its odour of rotting fish, and up close, the smooth sides of the whales are pocked with barnacles and other debris.

I suspect that the appeal has something to do with their gentleness (for all their size, they don’t attack other fish for their food, and content themselves with tiny amphipods that no-one really cares about), their apparent embodiment of family values as they swim lazily along in pods, and their seeming indifference to all the strife around us. Whales are, well, just serene, and maybe we wish that we could be too.

Of course, being humans and anything but serene, our attempts at connection and hence maybe sharing some of that elixir are intrusive. There are many whale watching trips offered and, driven by the insatiable demands of the public, and despite regulations that prohibit it, these boats approach far too close and finally disturb the whales. The latest abominations are powerful jet skis that time-starved tourists can use to go bother them directly and quickly with maximum noise. Being whales, though, they very rarely take revenge.

There can, however, be real danger in watching these creatures. The photo at the head of this posting was taken last year from one of the prime whale watching spots on the beach here, by La Poza Lagoon. The whales come within 50 feet of the shore, probably attracted by the fresh water seeping through the sand and the creatures that thrive in this brackish environment. One day after I took this photo, the place I was standing was swept away as the lagoon breached, and one person drowned.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Truth in Todos Santos


When I was little, I was taught that the truth is singular, black and white. I liked the simplicity and straightforwardness of that perspective. It’s probably one of the reasons why I studied Pure Mathematics at university, where there was only one correct answer (though possibly many ways to get there). As I grew up, I learned that truth was more complex; a scale of greys, due to the flavourings and interpretations placed on observations by us mere humans.

When I came to Todos Santos, I learned that, here, this dull perspective is inadequate. Truth in Todos Santos is a Technicolor spectrum, dazzling in its variety. What, in other places, might be stated as an assumption, a supposition, a possibility, a brilliant figment of the imagination, is here delivered as the solemn Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. Even for publicly observable instances such as the building of a large edifice close to the sea, or the unavailability of electricity north of Las Tunas, a whole set of vastly different stories arise, each delivered with the calm certitude of The Truth. Of course, it’s even more extreme when the topic being covered is private, or not directly visible.

When first faced with an alternate story to one I had swallowed whole, it was very dislocating. Especially since I prided my self on my ability to sift through statements to filter out conditioned interpretations, and on being able to intuitively know when I was being fed a line, traits that were an essential part of the work I had successfully carried out for the past 25 years. I soon learned that this was not an isolated example, and I felt as if I needed a complete reload of my discerning software.

So why is Todos Santos such a spring of credible artistic interpretations of the truth? I certainly don’t claim to know, but I have some ideas.

Firstly, there is no investigative journalism here, no source of data to cross-check ideas or suppositions. While my work in the UK, Canada and the US relied heavily on my ability to intuit what was really going on, these soft attributes were based on a grounding of factual research. There is no place or person to go to that will ground stories in Todos Santos, and so no pruning of deviant shoots of ideas can occur.

Secondly, given this setting, and in common with any other very small location, knowledge, or purported knowledge, becomes power or inferred credibility. Showing knowledge about any topic, when all about you there is darkness, raises you up above other mortals.

Add to this mix an unusual assortment of people. Two writers in town have noted that there are an unusually high proportion of sociopaths in town (with their estimates ranging up to 20%). I have no idea how you quantify this (asking individuals isn’t likely to lead to sound polling results), but I can personally attest to encountering several in depth in my brief time here. On top of this, it is said that Todos Santos is overflowing with people who aren’t who they claim to be – whether just as part of a creative rewriting of their life story, or, more seriously, as part of the Witness Protection Program as claimed by some, I have no idea. As some limited corroboration, I do have direct experience of discovering some key deviations from delivered life stories. An eclectic group of people with these characteristics could reasonably be expected to generate more truths than one might encounter in a normal place.

Perhaps the catalyst to ferment this heady mix, though, is a critical difference between Mexico and the rest of North America, namely the lack of personal consequences. There simply isn’t the same set of checks and balances that we might be used to North of the border. This “freedom” is what appears to allow people to happily forge their license tags for vehicles, live and work here without legal authority, whereas they wouldn’t dream of doing so in the US or Canada. The same environment provides no societal disgrace from creating works of fiction and passing them off as Fact, even should that harm individuals.

I’m sure I’ll never know exactly why Todos Santos is such fertile ground for creative truth. I do know that to survive here as a sentient human, you need to have all your senses operating on full power, check what you can, and never assume anything.

And that’s the Truth.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Enraptured by Flowers


I love the beauty of real flowers. Luckily, in Comox, there are plenty of cut flowers to be had for many months of the year. My favourites are the dahlias in the Fall, with their incredible range of symmetrical shapes and pure colours, so reminiscent of English gardens. Todos Santos, like the rest of Baja, seems to focus more on plastic flowers, a great abomination in my view. But you can often get real sunflowers here, and they can bring cheer, temporarily, to any dark space.

Flame out

Petals of purest cadmium yellow
Cluster together in circular symmetry
Entice the sun to look upon its image

And when it kisses the flower
The petals play with the strident light
Softening its harshness
And in their predestined embrace
They glow ecstatically
With the pleasure of internal illumination
Dispelling the darkness around

But in these moments of pleasure
The seeds of death germinate
As the fickle sun disengages
The flower rains golden tears
Petals lose focus
Desiccate
And fall
Leaving yellow detritus
On the dark dusty soil.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Retirement is energizing, isn’t it?


Both Comox and Todos Santos are retreats for the retired or wannabe retired. Their climates, easy-going lifestyles, and outdoor offerings are a magnet for those tired of cubicle land, grasping office politics, and other business games. But the experts warn us that the transition to retirement isn’t easy. I’ve made it even harder for myself by bifurcating my life between two places, and so being a real resident in neither. And, after the heady bloom of novelty fades, I am finding it especially difficult to see who the “new me” will become.

Vacio

I have no simple label
No title to deflect
The opening salvo “What do you do?”
Carrying a lethal load of “Who are you?”

I look with envious pity
On those who bow before their chosen addiction
Whether a noble cause
Or something more easily deciphered

I have no passion to follow
No certain purpose
I bite into all I encounter
Searching desperately for sensory clues
But all is tasteless mastication
All variations on flavoured coatings
Disguising the same blatant diversions

I have no anchor
No fixed positions in my universe
No means to orient myself
And I spin faster
Ripping into all that surround me
In an attempt to connect
But failing, flailing
Rending flesh, hearts, souls
Reflexively

I remember my father’s empty funeral
The friends’ apologies
Due to their need to change buses, or trains
Or maybe the possibility of traffic
And I wonder how far from the tree I fell

And so I rust here now
Neutered and numbed
Circling the black drain
Weighing the residual potential of life
Against the pain inflicted by truncation
And finding it hard to remember
These moments, too, should pass.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

A Foggy Day in Todos Santos town...


Being on the Pacific Ocean, Todos Santos can experience marine fog at times, usually as the land mass warms up substantially in May or June. This year, we have had a couple of instances of fog early in the season, probably because we have also had some exceptionally pleasant heat. The fog changes the town, and the air has a wonderfully fresh quality when it drifts in. The fog doesn’t typically outlast the morning, and when it’s gone, it is as if it had never visited.

Comox also has its fogs: long-lasting, denser, clammier, later in the year, like the impenetrable autumnal “mists” of traditional England. Todos Santos fogs are more like the remembered days of my childhood summers in England, where the transient early morning vapours spelled promise for a delicious day ahead.



Summer Echoes

It starts with a smudging of the horizon
A dirtying of the rim of the pure blue cupola
That mirrors a densely limpid sea

Heralded by a quickening of the air
The fog slides silently over the beach
On the eager morning wind

Tracing the contours of the land
It fills the hollows
With grey opaque softness
Disappearing buildings, gardens, people
Dulling the sounds of business
Returning the town to its empty past

As the sun flickers above
Tendrils caress the palm leaves
Sighing in the soft breeze
The air refreshes
With the contradiction of chilled heat
Smelling of fertile promise
An echo of distant summers long past

The desert sun perseveres
Dissolving greyness wisp by wisp
Increasing chroma
Till all that is left
Is a memory of coolness
And a few drops of dew
Hiding in the greenery.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

The Dance of Life


It’s so easy to get absorbed by the frantic social calendar in Todos Santos in the winter, to move to the common salsa beat of recycled conversations with multiple permutations of the same people. We gravitate to patterns of obsessing about building dream houses, encrusting existing ones with new embellishments, trying to cocoon in a comfortable paradise with no worries – save, perhaps, losing all that to criminal elements.

But quieter moments remind me that these, in reality, are mere diversions.


Life Partners

We skip merrily along
Building ornate edifices and artifacts
To fill the awful vacuum of existence
Weaving glittering fabric of friendships and relationships
To decorate the spaces between
And build what we call Life

While Death and Nothingness
Waltz alongside
Confident in our eventual meeting
Patiently and silently waiting
Behind a mental barrier
That we invoke for safety

But sometimes
When the drapery of acquaintanceship thins
When frantic energy fades
The membrane between us
And our ever present partners
Becomes translucent
Throwing their dark piercing and merciless light
On all that we have built
Illuminating its insignificance and futility
Drawing us irresistibly like moths to the glare
To peer inside their unimaginable bottomless void
Till we can take no more
Must close our eyes
And resume the dance.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

On Hummingbirds, Vultures and True Beauty


Everyone loves hummingbirds. They evoke the universal “Ooh / Aah” gene, and I am certainly not defective in that regard. In Mexico, it is considered great luck to have a hummingbird nest in your garden.

In Todos Santos, we seem to have two main species: the Xantus, endemic only to the southern Pacific side of Baja, which has very recognizable green and black markings, and the Costa, which has an iridescent purple front. In Comox, I have only seen the Rufous hummingbird, a species seemingly aligned with the wilder scenery and blue collar roots of British Columbia, a larger, coarser, more lumberjackish bird.

Why do we like these birds so much, to the extent of buying and provisioning special feeders so they will come and visit us? I suppose it is because they are small, cute and pretty. But just how beautiful are these birds? A male Xantus will defend its feeding perch here, and the nine others within sight, even to the extent of using up its energy and not being able to feed. It will chase away all other males, but also its children, its mate, and other larger birds just waiting to get a beak full. The Costa, exceptionally pretty though it is, is even more aggressive, and woe betide me if I let the feeders run out and go outside without doing anything about it! Despite their outer showiness, these birds are bullies, operating out of a culture of possessiveness and valuing the individual above everything else.

Vultures, on the other hand, are externally ugly. But they patiently wait the arrival of their food (sometimes crassly expressed as “waiting for their prey to die”), and appear to feed together nicely as a family and flock. True, they don’t have the greatest table manners, but they seem grateful for whatever they get. They are also exceptionally graceful as they soar in the bubbles of hot air spilling from the ground. I have, however, never seen anyone put out carrion to attract vultures to their garden.

It makes me wonder just how ingrained it is that we judge the beauty of things by their external appearance. Maybe we should give the vultures a chance?

Friday, 11 January 2008

Coasting On Legends



Ask anyone remotely knowledgeable about places of interest in Todos Santos and they’ll probably mention the Hotel California, and give you a rendition of part of the Eagles song of that name. Never mind that the owners religiously deny that this is the hotel that the Eagles stayed at and that inspired the song. During the season, and especially at weekends, crowds of tourists gather at the hotel and get their photos taken in front of the façade. Now, it is possible that they come because it is a neat boutique hotel and restaurant. I think, however, that the irrepressible legend is part of the draw.

Another legend that has served Todos Santos well is that it is a thriving artists’ colony, usually referring to painters. There are certainly several ingredients that are still here today – many people that come here refer to themselves as Artists first, the light is magical, and there is generally an air of tolerance for all things artistic that does not choke such delicate gifts.

But let’s look at the supposedly thriving painterly scene in Todos Santos. There are only two independent galleries in Todos Santos (one split across two locations). There are maybe 5 sole artist’s galleries, three of which operate out of their homes. In the past 5 years, only two new galleries have opened, to my knowledge (and one has closed). Compare that to, say, San Jose Del Cabo, which has grown over the same period from having 2 galleries to there being an established Arts district with over 14 galleries, and weekly Arts Walks.

If we extend the arts scene to cover all artistic endeavors, then Todos Santos doesn’t score on theatre (the crown, inexplicably for me, rests with the artificially created sports fishing town of Los Barrilles), dance (non-existent), or music (while Todos Santos has musicians, it does not appear to be a nexus for them more than any other town here). While we do have several drummers here, I noted that at the last drumming class, the Todos Santaneans were outnumbered by people from Pescadero and Cabo Pulmo, and the energy centre for drumming, according to the drum instructor, may now be Los Barrilles. We do have strength in writing, but even then I see that most of the people at the monthly open readings are the same, established old-timers, rather than new blood. And we do have a Latin Film festival each year.

Maybe even as recently as 5 or 6 years ago, I think Todos Santos was seen as the arts centre of Southern Baja. There was a certain excitement in the air, professional artists even painted together, and the atmosphere and the promise certainly drew us to this place.

So what happened? It’s easy to point to the changes in the format of the once famous Arts Festival, where, unlike in Los Barrilles, the organizers decided to exclude non-Mexican citizens in order to promote pure Mexican culture (which has resulted in a strange mixture that includes truly Mexican - and extremely popular - events such as Irish and Polynesian dancing, and sale of tacky Indonesian imports at the crafts fair, but a paucity of fine art in the festival). But I suspect the answer lies deeper.

The generation that founded the arts community in Todos Santos is getting older. They have their closed groups of confidants, their frailties that come with aging. I wonder if the fire in their bellies has been dampened, the drive to create something new diminished.

There’s nothing wrong with the pioneers pulling back. They did their bit. What fascinates me, however, is that no-one has moved in to fill the vacuum. Why is that? Ken MacFarlane (http://www.todossantos.cc/todossantosnewsarchives_2005.htm) points to the intrusion of TVs into people’s lives here as a pivotal change and one that diminished the desire for community and caused people to become more self-contained.

I have some other ideas. I wonder if the type of people that Todos Santos attracts has changed. That they are maybe more interested in personal, rather than community development. Maybe they are more drawn by the sea and beach side of Todos Santos than the town itself and the potential for a lively arts scene. I also wonder if the sprawl of the town is taking a toll. I already see signs of balkanization, with El Otro Lado quite distinct from the town, and life revolving locally around each of the spiffy subdivisions.

Given all this, what is the future for Todos Santos? Resting on the laurels of legends doesn’t strike me as a sustainable stance. The path of least resistance, I fear, will be the devolution of Todos Santos into patrolled Carmel-like subdivisions, together with self-contained resort developments, anchored by a content-free, picture-postcard authentic town center.

One person alone can’t make a difference. And I’m still waiting for the crowd to form.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Looking Inside


Not everything in Todos Santos (or probably Comox) is as it first seems. An initial external viewpoint of the town can seem naïve or single-faceted after you are immersed in the environment. And the face that people project here, deliberately or otherwise, isn’t always a solid image of their true self. Stay here long enough though, in this time-suspended bubble of reflection, and you may have to come face to face with these inconsistencies.


A Glassy Stare

I saw him as soon as I entered the room
Strangely familiar
I’d caught glimpses of him before
At social gatherings, reflected
In a glass, or shiny jewelry
Older than me, shorter
Definitely less guapo
Yet so confident
At home in alien surroundings
Flitting from one superficial conversation to another
Like an accomplished dilettante

But now he seems different
Fragile, vulnerable
His face a picture of world weary, ineffable sadness
As if he were lost
He turns to look at me
With a gaze that seeks answers
Demands a response
Trying to connect

I stare back
Drawn as if a passerby to a car wreck
Sucked into the darkness within his eyes
But I have nothing to give back
Can’t break through the gap between us
It’s so uncomfortable
I turn to break the stare
Leave the bathroom
And he leaves too
Mirroring my actions.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

How do you tell it is winter?


I grew used to Canadian winters over many years in Calgary, Alberta. Long, dark nights, bone-chilling “exposed flesh will freeze in 60 seconds” cold, snow that turns to grey frozen slush with the passage of the famous Chinook wind, and brown, brown fields. The off-setting positive was wide-open azure skies and sunshine, though its warmth was imperceptible. Comox is milder. The snow doesn’t stay as long, but in its place, there are grey, grey skies, and rain immeasurable. Or so the webcam suggests. Your flesh won’t freeze, but you may grow webs between your toes.

Todos Santos can be at its best in the winter. The sun continues to shine from summery skies, and it’s still warm enough to wear bathing trunks or a bikini at the beach, but not so hot as to be uncomfortable. But there is still a perceptible and sudden set of changes in nature as the Solstice passes, as I noticed this week with the sudden fall of the leaves from our majestic, ancient Plumeria tree and other plants, and a contradictory rush of flowers on various other occupants of my garden.


Winter wonderland

The sun hesitates
Starting its northward passage
Days now imperceptibly lengthening
And the earth responds

The Plumeria sap stills suddenly, recedes
Turning its leathery green mantle
Into dried, fragile husks
That fall in a parody of New Year’s celebrations
Skittering hollowly on the dusty patio
Leaving bare upturned arms
Beseeching the return of summer

The Ocatillos on the nestling hillsides
Echo the call
Once enrobed in emerald scales
Now alchemized from green to gold overnight
Then shed to enter the New Year
Naked and unadorned

But within my garden
Others fear the coming heat
Seemingly aware of mortality
They trumpet fountains of flowers
In a vain attempt to deny the inevitable

And I sit here
Bathed in bright sunlight
Soothed by perfumed and still warm breezes
Watching these perennial changes
My imprinted mind struggling
To integrate inherent incongruities
In the arrival of a Todos Santos “Winter”.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Reflexive Ownership and other Mexican Customs


I have the greatest admiration for my next door neighbor. He is also our part-time gardener, handyman, laborer, plasterer, plumber, gas fitter, electrician, procurer of necessary services, healthcare consultant, and a full-time good friend. He shies away from drink, cigarettes, and even coffee. He has a gentle sense of humor, as well as very strong hands. The only complaint I have is about his animals. Or to be more precise, those animals that are not his, but just happen to reside with him.

It started when we first arrived, with the hens (no problem) and the rooster (big problem). This rooster is not an ordinary animal. No, it is huge, a freak of its species. I wouldn’t want to meet it in a dark alley without some form of defense. Actually, I wouldn’t want to meet it in a lighted alley without a large stick. This miracle of the animal world used to sit, every night, on the wall between our properties, 8 feet from one bedroom window, and attempt to compete with every other rooster within Todos Santos. Not content with screeching at the break of dawn, it would religiously chime the hours of the night, like a demented cuckoo clock, until it got a response. Then the battle would begin, ending only when the other side admitted defeat.

I talked to our neighbor about the animal in my limited Spanish (at the time), miming the act of placing my hands around its neck and pleasure at hearing its final cry. My neighbor smiled. He agreed. He hated it, wanted it to go. But it just happened to visit his place and his wife fed it. It wasn’t his. End of discussion.

We reassured ourselves with the possibility that it would tire of coming to his place, and if not, would soon die of a sore throat. After all, don’t large animals have shorter lives? In the meantime, we got used to the noise and sleeping with earplugs.

When we returned for the winter the next year, we were surprised to see not only that this rooster was still around, but it had been joined by two others. More discussions with the neighbor revealed his frustration with the new arrivals, but, since they weren’t his, what could he do?

This year it’s cats. My wife and I have a perfectly interlocking, Jack Spratt like approach to animals. I’m allergic to cats, and she to dogs, so we are immune to the demands of Todos Santos society that we adopt a flock or two of either. However, we have a clowder of cats in and out of our garden. The one positive thing is that we have no problem with mice. They can, however, tell that I don’t like them and, when they can, some sneak up to the house to mark their territory and show their disdain for me.

My neighbor despises them too. He screws up his nose and makes disparaging remarks about them. So it was a surprise to me when I came to his house to talk about plans for the next week and found several cats feeding on cat food next to his house. “They’re not mine”, he said, “My wife just puts food out for them”. It’s true that the cats are probably their own owners, and sponge off everyone in the neighborhood. But to join the ranks of the supporters, when you despise them?

I’m sure I’m experiencing several aspects of Mexican culture. The ingrained desire to never cross their "masters", which results in never saying no, accepting no responsibility for things that might displease, giving directions even when you don’t know the way, and saying you will come when you know you won’t or can’t. A dash of fatalism, blended with a full measure of a matriarchal society. And to top it all, I suspect my neighbor is having a little fun with me.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

A Healthcare Test


I did not have the flu. Unfortunately. I had a kidney stone in transit, together with a kidney infection. I realized the inaccuracy of the initial diagnosis after I began to pass blood and clots – not a usual symptom of a healthy Canadian flu.

Over the last few days I have therefore been able, once more, to sample the Mexican health care experience, including emergency hospital care at night. Being sick in a foreign land is one of my pet fears, which is probably why I have been so lucky as to experience it this year and last.

But is healthcare here as bad as a casual tourist might fear? I would say definitely not. The key issue (and it is a big one) lies in having to deal with your medical condition in a foreign language, and the associated stress that this causes at a time when you need it least.

Todos Santos does not have any local facilities to deal with anything beyond basic care. There are doctors, however, who are easy to access and, based on my experience, quite capable of diagnosis without extensive scientific tests. In fact, the reduced reliance on tests, and greater emphasis on experience and human observation appears to be one of the key differences between the Mexican and Canadian systems.

Our hospitals are in La Paz, the capital, and Cabo, both an hour or more away. The one we chose, the violet-painted Fidepaz in La Paz (which, to my confusion, uses a different name on all its signage!) has a curious mixture of high technology (automated IV pumps and an MRI) and antiques (such as the X-ray machine, which would not look out of place in a museum). The care is individualized and excellent, and access to specialists is easy.

Now compare that to Comox. Comox does (at the time of writing) have an excellent hospital (unlike many communities on Vancouver Island), but it is desperately in need of improvements, and it may be replaced with a distant larger hospital to “better” service residents across the North Island. Getting your own GP is, however, a badge of achievement, and many new residents (and all tourists) have to rely on walk-in clinics or taking their chances at the hospital emergency. Access to specialists appears time-consuming and bureaucratic. On the other hand, if you need a dentist, the picture is different. Comox appears to be a gathering place for dentists, who compete with hairdressers to see if they can better the Starbucks approach of an outlet at every corner. In terms of ordinary health care, though, I am not sure the services offered in Comox are better. But at least I have the illusion of being in control as I understand more of what they are telling me!

Stoned

As the light fades from gold through violet
Sucking life from the vacant sky
The Judas accretion skulks from its secure home
Slinking its way intermittently to birth
Rending flesh wherever it touches
And turning urine into wine

Straining to comprehend an alien prognosis
Delivered through the street babble of distorted music
I’m ricocheted from a hasty consultation
Under the dreary monochrome light of a single sad fluorescent
Projected toward a distant hospital the colour of dying sky
An unknown place soon to envelope me intimately

Cocooned in a quiet bubble of light
Suspended from reality for an hour
The strangely unfamiliar desert flashes by
In static snapshots
Of cacti
And washouts
And cows

Mind racing faster than the desert
Multitasking in multiple tenses
Imagining futures, and maybe no future
Dissecting the past for clues for this punishment
But still watching the present, in this suspended state
Watching the stillness of the stars above
Blissfully above this pathetic drama
Constellations prescient harbingers of
The diagnostic images to come

And watching the patient stars
Accompany me with perfect precision
I surrender
To the inevitability of the unknown.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

99.9 Fahrenheit Degrees, stable now, with rising possibilities…


(With apologies to Suzanne Vega)

I have the flu, and I’m definitely running a fever.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to stay well. I religiously got my flu jab before coming down to Todos Santos. Maybe the bugs here are different to those in snowy climes.

I’m aching, my throat hurts, my eyes are sunken. I’m desperately trying to marshal my defenses to mount a careful counter-attack, aware that the thing that caused severe mortality in the last great Flu Pandemic was overreaction of the immune system. People consumed by the very thing that was meant to protect them. And that’s why the highest death rates were in healthy, fit individuals.

As you can see, I am the prototypical male when I get sick. Try as I may, I can’t work for extended periods, and slink back to bed, burying myself in mountains of wrappings and demanding hot drinks, hot water bottles, while all the time bemoaning my fate.

I try to think of the positive experiences with this sickness. That melting feeling when the heat of a hot water bottle sinks into you, dissolving the shivering and surrounding you in a blissful sweaty miasma.

That I am not interested in food, which must help my weight control. Except chocolate. I crave good chocolate when I’m sick, ever since I was a kid when I learned the formula sickness = consumption of candies (and especially chocolate). Now, if I just could drive to Cabo, and raid the Christmas aisles of Costco for their Belgian chocolate. It’s wishful thinking, unfortunately.

But most of all, the greatest experiences are my dreams. Dreams of such complexity, illogicality and of a haunting quality that can’t be matched (legally), except maybe by initial doses of Effexor or similar anti-depressants.

I am standing on a cobbled sidewalk, beside a crenellated wall, watching the serried rows of silver hatchet fish swim in one direction in the water in the street. I cast to them, aware now that there is no water in the road, but unconcerned. I suddenly realize that the obvious reason I am not catching anything is that I am not using “The Special Bread” as bait. I look behind, and in an alcove, there is an upholstered duck, inscribed with all the secrets of my life. Why is it there, I wonder?

I close my eyes and see swarms of small stick people, washing their clothes and swimming in cascading pools of clay-like mud.

But then there is a pounding in my poor head, just like a hammer, rhythmically striking. Wait a moment, that is a hammer, in reality. A neighbor has decided on this, of all days, to construct a wooden hut.

Wonderful as these experiences are, I long to return to the taken-for-granted and ephemeral state of good health.

I wish my readers a healthier start to the New Year. Feliz Año Nuevo!