Bermuda Triangle

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Already two hours of turbulence, and the only thing he’s thought about is drinking a cup of coffee. Take a seat, sir, the stewardess demands, with a voice so deep that rhymes with her heavy-custard lashes.

They’re flying over the Bermuda Triangle, and he thinks of being gobbled up by the sea, taken by extraterrestrials, seduced by paranormal activity. He concocts scenarios for these potential disappearances, but his more pressing craving, coffee, interrupts these attempts at narrative. If he would only be served a cup, he could be more concentrated.

The scene is of a modern orchestra in full performance, with an audience horrified by the uproar of its wind instruments. He can perceive the smell of vomit increasing. The drama. And now, aside from longing the aroma of fresh ground coffee, he yearns the scent of Brazilian Paprika… that perfume nestled in a miniature khaki-tweed bag packed in his carry-on, the fragrance he wears when he is in fact not in Brazil, a mnemonic device, Proustian madeleine, for his life there.

He only gets goose bumps when, at every jolt of the plane, his one aisle mate clings her nails on his arm; experiences dizziness by his other aisle-mate’s constant air tracing of the sign of the cross. Perhaps some coffee could induce in him a more appropriate level of anxiety, you know, to be more attuned to the spirit of the flight.

His calm body is sandwiched between these two nerve wrecks: one who’s probably never had a grip on life; the other who may have over-done it, confusing her religious ritual with air marshalling, wanting to guide something—this flight, the weather, their mortality—that she, that he, that all there, bound to seatbelts, wont ultimately get, at least this time around. Come on, one can’t even get a cup of coffee.

A ding-dong ring-tone marks survival. The aircraft has stabilized. The window shades are slowly lifted, and the light-blue hue of a clear sky illuminates the interior of the bird. Passengers slowly fall asleep from exhaustion, from their preceding edgy mood. There’s mostly silence, except for the stewards’ usher, their drink carts march. Coffee, sir? , she offers him. No, thank you, he replies decidedly, I’d actually prefer the drink pictured here.

Image: The June 11, 2007 magazine issue of The New Yorker, showing “Roy Spivey,” a short story by Miranda July illustrated with a photograph by William Eggleston.

Superlative Places

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

While I may someday publish here thoughts on my recent visit to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – someday, maybe, when I finish all the texts past due that I am still writing – I want to at least share some snapshots. Here are a few pictures of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar, where I participated last Monday in the first panel of the Global Art Forum. The following day we proceeded to the UAE to attend the Art Dubai fair, one of the forum’s co-organizers and our host for the following days. An interesting group of galleries participated in the fair; most were spaces from that region, and most were showing artists whose work I had never seen. On Wednesday, buses from Dubai took us to the neighboring city of Sharjah, where the tenth edition of its biennial was taking place. Here are a handful of installation views of Plot for a Biennial, the title of such exhibition, including excerpts of the catalog texts. I hopped on another bus on Thursday evening, this time to quickly visit Abu Dhabi and catch the solo-exhibition of Hassan Sharif. Here are some exhibition views of Sharif’s show, presented in what seems to be the temporary venue of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage. It’s worth noting, if briefly, that Doha’s Mathaf, Art Dubai, Sharjah Biennial, and Abu Dhabi’s ADACH are a handful of “locally grown” institutions in the Gulf region. (Besides the well-known Guggenheim Museum projected for Abu Dhabi, there are plenty more educational and cultural institutions brought to the region through a form of institutional franchising.)

Thursday was my last day in the UAE and, aside from visiting Sharif’s exhibition I spent the morning and afternoon wandering through town with a colleague. We first took an Art Dubai architectural tour of Burj Khalifa. This is the tallest building in the world, the tour leader said to us, 828 meters to be exact. To clear up any doubt about what that meant, he explained that the Burj Khalifa measured the sum heights of New York’s iconic Empire State and Chrysler Building. Here are city views from Dubai, taken from that building’s observation deck in the 124th floor, as well as images of the largest aquarium in the world, which is sited in the same building complex. The burj (tower) is part of a new and innovative Dubai, and as big as it is it wasn’t enough for our wandering. We decided to look for the historical side of town. A day before, we had seen in the biennial Kamran Shirdel’s Pearls of the Persian Gulf: Dubai 1975, and didn’t want to leave Dubai without exploring some of the locations in that documentary film. After a taxi ride of some 20 minutes in a billboard-less freeway, we were suddenly set in another Dubai. Our hotel, we realized, was probably a steroidal Las Vegas version of the old town, with all the older building’s original proportions, wind towers and alleys for souks (markets). Indeed, the architecture and urban plan of this part of the city changed from vertical to horizontal. It was a flatterer and simpler, yet seemingly busier and livelier city, at least publicly so. Locals walking everywhere, or gathered in spontaneous meetings in the street or spending time outside their shops, or gathering in corners. Finally, I felt foreign.

Not even twenty percent of Dubai’s population is Emirati.


Nevada on my mind, land art you are so kind

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

What is it about aerial photography that makes plain land so extraordinary, so marvelous? Is it the unusual perspective of something so familiar called the world? Is it the abstractness of it all? Aerial photography reminds me of how much there is to see, how much more there is to experience. No need for a hilltop or penthouse, to see a shot of these a day will do.

Footnote #1 – I took this photograph some days ago at the studio of the Parisian artist Pierre Leguillon. It is of a page-spread in an early-1970s issue of Harpers Bazaar. In this magazine issue is an image Pierre is working with for an art project—one of the best I’ve seen to date—and just pages behind it is a feature article by Bruce Jay Friedman on earth art, a new form of art making for that time. The earthwork figured is by Walter de Maria.

Footnote #2 – In a way, it was by coincidence that I got to this image. This encounter triggered a wonderful imaginary trip that passed through recollections of other stories and impressions far from the magazine until finally hitting a place: this image was so close to a satellite picture showing the abandoned and mysterious landing strip that inspired the recent construction of the International Airport Montello (IAM) by the artist’s group called eteam. Like de Maria’s chalk earthwork, eteam’s IAM is in Nevada. Can this image clue us into the history of the IAM airstrip?

Footnote #3 – Almost two years ago, I visited Michael Heizer’s Double Negative. Its monumentality is impressive. Its arrogance of form yet appropriateness to place is breathtaking. The visit there was part of a longer art-trip made with a group of colleagues and friends, all of who had experienced a flight-layover the day before at eteam’s IAM. And there, on that Sunday afternoon at the side of Double Negative, which is in the middle of nowhere, was The Independent British art critic Charles Darwent. He was on a road-trip across the American southwest on a self-designed Land Art tour. His article is published here, and is a great travel-guide and resource for that kind of trip.

Footnote #4 – Minutes after having published this entry, eteam sent me a note pointing out that this very day The New York Times published a review of the novelesque Spiral Jetta. A Road Trip Through the Land Art of the American West by Erin Hogan. The review is written by Tom Vanderbilt, one of today’s most adventurous and imaginative writers on culture. He is uthor of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us), released this month, and Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America (2002), among other books and articles. Some years ago, Tom also wrote about his layover experience at eteam’s IAM. That piece was published in Modern Painters.

Exploring New Routes

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

When the flight-boarding pass appeared in my mailbox, I had time for nothing else than to pack my bags and leave. This was unlike a gym membership that expires a year later without having to make a single visit, or a supermarket coupon needing to be exchanged before a date some months ahead. This flight to the moon was dated what was then today.

In a matter of days, adding to what began as speculation and quickly changed to daydreaming, was the thought of a trip even further away.

With yesterday’s landing of Phoneix, the idea of experiencing life on Mars during our lifetime entered another stage of crystallization. Suddenly distances shrunk; a piece of outer space, less dark. Water may indeed be found underneath those “parking-lot-looking” grounds, I assented, and we will move there soon after.

Air Lunatique boarding pass by Paul Ramirez Jonas.

***

This is the latest news article, as of the publishing date of this entry, Mars lander completes first day on Red Planet; this other article is the one I reference in this entry, Mars Lander Transmits Photos of Arctic Terrain.

Guest in Training

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

She spoke in a Cantonese dialect. He responded in Mandarin. I just babbled in English.

– Dog or lamb?
– Lamb, of course.
– We ate chicken intestines just days before.

I remember this odd conversation we had earlier today while I lay resting in some structure reminiscent of a bed that feels far from it. In the wall across me hangs an original artwork surely done in one of the many painting factories around here. It’s a generic landscape. A beach, some bay, the view of any country seaside. Recognizable even while it’s hung upside down.

At Guangzhou’s Sun Yat-sen University Training Apartment Hotel, the receptionists, concierge, maids and every other employee are in training. I suppose this makes me a guest in training, too.

Project for a Trip to China

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

The title of this posting is from drawn from the name of a 1978 short story by Susan Stonag, one of eight stories collected in the book I, Etcetera (2002). This image shows an excerpt.

Read here Parts I-III of “A Project for a Trip to China.”

Religions. Surrealisms. Always unfamiliar territories.

Monday, March 31st, 2008

As if weren’t enough, right after the travel adventure in Oaxaca, I headed on a road trip to central Mexico. The trip was to and through the Sierra Gorda in the state of Queretaro, the natural habitat of over 400 different butterflies, among many other species. The first Franciscan missions directed by Father Junipero Serra took place in this region. During a period of eight years during the late eighteenth century, Father Serra founded five missions, today considered by Unesco a World Heritage Site. From here he headed to Alta California (what is known today as the states of Baja California in Mexico and California in the USA). There he directed the creation of various missions, including those of San Diego, Carmel and San Francisco among others. Having grown in Baja California, Mexico and having traveled extensively throughout my life to its border state of California, USA, the visit and architectural tours in the Sierra Gorda became a cultural journey to far and somewhat unfamiliar territories.

For its cultural history, but certainly more for its flora and fauna, the Sierra Gorda is a magical place. There is meeting of culture and nature that is unique to the region. This meeting place is constructed even as a dream: just north of Queretaro, is the site of Xilitla in the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, where the artist, art collector and patron Edward James (1907-1984) built his home and the surrealist garden known as Las Pozas, a construction begun in the 1940s and today open to the public. Last year, Princeton Architectural Press published Surreal Eden, a beautiful and informative book about Edward James and Las Pozas, and, today, the New York Times’ T Magazine published Dream Works, an article about the acquisition and future of this garden. The youtube.com video link, above, is a documentary by BBC about Las Pozas, and one in a series of videos about extraordinary gardens worldwide.

At the Pace of a Turtle

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Grasshopper antennas, their translucent wings and even a couple of the little insects’ hairy legs were all stuck in-between my teeth. My gums itched, and the sensation in my tongue was so disgusting and vivid that it woke me up in a sweat. Thankfully, it was only a dream, a nightmare, really. That evening, our dinner appetizer was tacos de chapulines made with grasshoppers cooked in limejuice, a local delicacy in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I spent a week with my partner, Tom Cruz. With our itinerary inspired in part by Oliver Sacks’s Oaxaca Journal, a wonderful work about ferns and a literary piece that can well be a travel book, and in part by my sisters’ expeditions there, our journey was an adventure in every way. In the city, we visited colonial churches and cultural centers, drank with fresh-squeezed fruit juices and licuados (shakes) at the Mercado Benito Juarez and livened-up our evenings with a variety of local mescals accompanied by orange slices sprinkled with sal de gusano (crushed dried worms combined with chili powder and salt). We also traveled in the Valley of Oaxaca and to its beaches.

To my surprise, one of the highlights of our city tourism was a guided-tour to the city’s ethno-botanical garden. With plants endemic to the state of Oaxaca, including dozens of cacti species, the garden was created ten years ago in an area that is flanked by the colonial sixteenth-century Templo de Santo Domingo, the Museo Regional de Oaxaca and the Centro Cultural Santo Domingo, which are housed in what was the temple’s convent, and an armory building that was built and occupied by the military from the late nineteenth century until 1993 and that is now a public library. The garden’s landscape design is inspired by the cacti fence and the greca engravings of Mitla, one of the three archeological sites in the Valley of Oaxaca that we visited.

Located some 40km northeast of the City of Oaxaca is the archeological zone of Mitla. Unlike Monte Alban, which is a lone site over a hill away from colonial or modern buildings, in Mitla a church stands over a pyramid ruin and homes of locals are in its immediate surroundings. It is said that Mitla’s beautiful decorative frisos on the building’s facades were created about 700 years ago by the Mixtec community.

The once fortified city of Yagul emerged circa 500 BC by the Zapotecs, and was apparently abandoned some centuries later only to be taken-up again by the Mixtecs along the rise of Mitla. Yagul’s ball court (second largest in Mesoamerica) is better known then its labyrinth-like palace of rooms, tombs and plazas. On our way there, we made a couple of stops. One at a mescal factory to learn the way this local liquor is made—from the farming of magueys and the slow-cooking underground cooking of their penachos to the fermentation and distillation processes. The other stop was to check out the monumental Arbol de Tule, a 2,000-year old tree; some say the world’s largest.

At just a 20-minute drive from the city of Oaxaca sits the grandiose site of Monte Alban, founded by Zapotecs circa 500 BC. The main archeological excavations and findings in Monte Alban were directed by Alfonso Caso Andrade in 1931 and 1939, but other excavations happened earlier and have taken place ever since. It was here, in Caso Andrade’s expedition in 1932, that the largest group of gold artifacts has been found to date in Mesoamerica. These were part of the funeral offerings, including more than 400 rich artifacts and jewelry made of gold, silver, jade and other precious materials found in Tumba 7 in Monte Alban.

After some days exploring the city and valley of Oaxaca, we headed further west and spent a couple of days in San Agustinillo, one in a series of relatively virgin beeches including Mazunte and Zipolite, located between the more tourist-filled Oaxaca beaches of Huatulco and Puerto Escondido. The main site of the now illegal turtle industry, San Agustinillo primarily receives foreign travelers interested in bio-diverse landscapes and eco-tourism. Of course, there are other types of travelers that end there–and never leave.