Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Plasticity


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.

1 comment:

Ian Lidster said...

May your winter relocation go as it should and hope you both are well. We owe you dinner and missed you this time around. After Hawaii things got a bit hectic and time slipped away. But, we shall make up for it. Good to visit here again.