Monday, 17 November 2008

The changing of the palette

I have been waking up much too early recently, before the light seeps into the sky. The arrival of the day heralds a remarkable and ephemeral series of changes in the colours of Todos Santos

Colour Shift

The dew-laden earth breathes subtle cool airs
Fragrant with possibilities
As black turns to diluted grey
Tentative whispers of the pre-dawn town are amplified
I lie in bed, watching colour leach infinitesimally into the sky
Now a deathly grey blue that has no name
Infinite and empty
Save for projected motes floating in my eyes
As the sun leaps over the Sierra de la Lagunas
The emptiness is pierced
By a myriad of fluttering birds
All unique, yet the same in the gilding of the freshly minted light
That now ignites the ochre courtyard walls
In searing contrast to the still cool sky
It’s over in a few minutes
The sun in clear control of the sky
Shocking it into the accustomed piercing blue
Birds regain their rightful plumage
And Todos Santos assumes its daytime palette.

“Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…”

In resonance with the words of the old British song, I have always been drawn towards the waters edge. There is something about the union of seawater and land that attracts me time and again.

There are indeed some obvious and probably universally relevant reasons why the seaside is so seductive. The sensuous sounds of the water lapping the sand, the constant hypnotic motion of the water, the cool contrast of the liquid with hard, hot land all mesmerise and attract magnetically. Presumably, the universal appeal of seaside is the cause of the huge premium that “seaview” adds to real estate.

Recently, however, I have thought more about the deep attraction that the seaside has for me, and my perceptions have evolved. This week I was standing on the ridge above the close-knit hamlet of Las Tunas, on the north side of Todos Santos. I relaxed in the cool breezes that the ridge attracts, and enjoyed the familiar panoramic vista of the azure ocean. This time, though, an element of boredom crept into my consciousness. There was nothing beyond the strip of blue, no distant shore, no boats, no clouds, nothing to provide context and variety. Rationally comparing the engaging quality of the water view to that from our place in Comox, there really is no contest. In Comox, the constantly changing water colour and wave motion is complemented by a backdrop of coastal mountains, capped for much of the year by a frosting of snow that peeks in and out from a corona of fluffy clouds. As the seasons change, so does the variety of seabirds that forage and take shelter in and around the lee of the peninsular. Ferries meander back and forth, intersecting with pleasure boats, and at night sparkling fairytale cruise ships pass by on their way to and from Alaska.

This time, instead of the ocean, my attention was drawn to the opposite direction, a vista over cardon cactus forests towards the magnificent Sierra Laguna range. A view that I previously saw as pretty, but paling into insignificance with the ocean view, even though I knew that the colours changed magically throughout the day and through moonlit nights. This time I saw the magic, and realized that, unconventionally, a house built there should be oriented to take advantage of that panorama.

So why the change in perception? Thinking back to my childhood, “the seaside” was where we, as a typical English family, always went for our vacations. The seaside, for me, is synonymous with escaping from day-to-day life; being part of a family together and at ease, enjoying rare treats. It represents a frozen, intense and pleasurable set of memories.

When I lifted that filter, some of that magical attraction evaporated. I still find the sea draws me, and I enjoy the experience of raw energy and elemental interaction of water and sand, the susurration of the surf, and the cooling breezes. But the intensity of feeling is diminished and my ability to lose myself in the feelings evoked by the experience, rather than perhaps the moment itself, has gone. While, intellectually, I see the value in seeing things as they really are, the loss of the magic, just like finding out that Father Christmas doesn’t exist, in some way diminishes life.

Perhaps, sometimes, reality is overrated?

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


We arrived back in Todos Santos a week ago, after a long and relatively uneventful journey. What was once an adventure, full of anticipation of new flavours, sights and smells, has mutated into a mundane and tiring commute. We disgorged ourselves from the vehicle into the onslaught of the final gasps of summer: oppressive heat (magnified by our tightly sealed concrete house), humidity that caused our eyes to smart from ceaseless streams of sweat, and no breath of wind.

Our arrival appeared to drive out the soporific demons of summer who had well overstayed their welcome, for the following morning there was a perceptible reduction in humidity and the air smelled clean and fresh. So we began the slow and labour-intensive process of rousing the house from its summer hibernation; a process that absorbs all concentration and provides an antidote to days of sitting in the same position in the vehicle.

As I cleaned the accumulated dust, leaves and algae from the summer rains out of the fountain, I noticed that the plastic parts of the relatively new pump has disintegrated, crumbling and cracking in my hands as though attacked by the Andromeda virus. In fact, looking at my outdoor work shoes, I noticed that their plastic parts were also disintegrating prematurely. Restoring the fountain to operation required some ingenuity, but the transformation of flexible functionality into aged decrepitude made me ponder the effects of Baja, as compared to those of Vancouver Island, on both things and people.

Baja is not a gentle place. Yes, the winter sunshine and the seashore are seductive, conjuring up images of never ending margaritas, relaxing on a lounge chair, with no worries in life. Reality is a little different. The overall climate is brash, and takes its toll on both things and people. While my little pump might still be enjoying the mild dampness and gentle light of Comox, the heat and UV here conspired to strip the parts of their plasticizers, leaving the core molecules exposed and subject to decay. Veterans of Baja frequently appear, to put it in polite terms, to be well-weathered by the sun, and few have a complexion that is comparable to the gold standard of an “English Rose”.

The climate, though, is only the visible part of the brashness of the place. As has been pointed out by many, when you come here for more than a holiday visit, you will, at some point, be confronted by yourself, in all your flawed purity. The relative isolation that ex -pats live in, surrounded by a culture that is, strangely enough, “foreign”, the lack of traditional diversions like shopping and sports, and the splintered micro communities combine to cause a space in which there is nothing but yourself. It may happen quickly, or it may be delayed by projects such as building the “dream home” or immersion in sybaritic pleasure, but it will come. And the reaction to this human equivalent of extreme UV immersion is where plasticity is tested.

Some become brittle, needing to protect themselves from themselves by immersion in good deeds or their drug of choice. Some run, blaming everything but themselves for the failure to thrive. And some manage to flex, remain plastic, and evolve to a different understanding of themselves.

On our way down this year, we met some of the casualties of such engagement; long-term Baja residents who had finally been broken by the demands and isolation of the last summer, and were returning to more temperate climes and culture.

Vancouver Island, by contrast, is a much more civilised environment; a place where the greatest challenge may be dealing with days of grey dampness, and where it is much easier to slide into rusting through your life and never waking up. A safe place where timidity is ok – no, probably lauded. Where damp lubrication substitutes for plasticity, and where our home comes to life effortlessly after winter hibernation . It does have its own window into your soul, but it politely beckons, unlike the “in-your face” demands of Baja.

Time will tell whether we have the right stuff to make it in Todos Santos. We will, undoubtedly however, be different people as a result of the experience.