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Posts Tagged ‘Cities’

Reticence

It to me a while to put my finger on the overall predominant vibe in this city. it is neither friendly, nor unfriendly. If you approach, people are polite, but even in tourist places, i feel you need to work to elicit information, and even then all is not given, and nothing extra is offered up. It is not unhelpful, but it is not helpful either. It is not forthcoming. It is reticent.

You have the feeling that people ignore one another or turn away, and while this can be common to larger cities i feel it is more pronounced here. That there is more a “putting up” with others, and an unwillingness to engage, probably due to the underlying divisions in this town. Most often is seems that people pretend that others are not there. In any case, the overall vibe is not welcoming, it is not unwelcoming, but it does not welcome. It neither smiles nor scowls, but either stares blankly or turns away. The “excuse me” in places can be clipped as if to accidentally touch were a sin. At times i feel the truce is uneasy, with an undercurrent of disapproval and judgement running beneath the surface in many directions and a wariness of others can be felt. But people coexist, and in that sense get along. Yes some are friendly, service is polite and I have yet to meet someone who is rude, and one on one i’m sure many do interact, but my overall feeling is that beings are closed and energy does not flow or connect.

Or perhaps it is just me, and i have put up my own shield of reticence, which as i think about, it one that i unconsciously use – and so perhaps i am here to see what it looks like shown back at me (again). I know that i have retreated here, and often fail to engage, and often am not forthcoming myself. I try to reach out, but find it more difficult to do here, for it is not something i see all around. i find i withdraw from the place around and feed the cycle. And i see that although the energy it closed, it still flows in a sense, for any energetic matrix ‘encourages’ more of the same, and closure can feed closure as much as openess and feed openess.

Am i projecting this vibe, or am i really feeling what it there? A bit of both, i believe. I know that what i write is not false, but i also know that it is not complete. The overall vibe of reticence does exist, but i also see people engage. I see now that i am atuned to pick up on this reticence and let it feed that which exists within. I do not know if i can change my patterns here, but at least i have become more aware. In that sense, i am thankful for being here.

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I have entered the dark zone. Concrete covers the earth. Clouds hide away the sun. Pikes Place Market bustles with life, food abounds but i cannot eat. tulips sell for $1 stem and bouquets are $5 and for a moment i smile. I have returned to tourist zone as out of towners crowd the aisles and look on. I walk to a parkette nearby with a view of the bay with people snapping photos and others, downtrodden, sleeping on the bench. I turn and look back at the tall buildings, and feel something evil and foreboding there.

Cars whiz by on the highway below. It cuts of the centre from the waterfront and the neighbourhoods that surround. That multi-lane road of traffic circles the downtown and tourist core acting as a barrier to the other life and trapping the dark energies inside. The sound does not cease. It feels like a barricade, like one of those walls in medieval towns, or a moat around a castle. And the castle is rotting and i am trapped inside.

The centre of town feels dark.Nobody lives here, just people passing through.On a saturday, tall buildings stand empty. The sky is grey. I feel trapped. I do not want to enter the commercial zone with shopping malls and chain stores. The tourist zones twinkle but all feels false. So much grunge around in other directions, shabby men hunkered down and the street kids with dogs. Big attitudes talking trash, dressed in cheap clothes wait at the bus stops on the decaying transit mall. A hustle of sorts in the streets. And i want to escape feeling something foreboding lingering here. I walk down the stairs to the waterfront which looks a lot like fisherman’s wharf but without the charm. The highway sounds above high above, fast-moving tires on concrete, and cars streaming by. I go back up to the market full with life, but it too feels transient, and i feel the grunge lingering beneath.

I wish to go beyond, to another zone, this centre feels so dark. My energy becomes heavy and starts to gather in my joints. there is something wrong here – something i have felt before. And i remember life lies beyond. The sky threatens rain, but i walk under that highway the surrounds. I can cross through that barricade.

I breathe deep and decide to walk on out, pass under bridge and to that zone on the waterfront beyond where the highway rises above. I cross that barricade. I made it though, my eyes change focus, all seems brighter and i smell the kelp. i see the hills and mountains that lay across the waters and begin to appreciate the shape of the clouds that form the roof over my head. My energy activates and i feel more alive. I smile at the dogs, and i think they smile back at me. Still, i stay in the centre and return back there. But i have crossed outside, and i know i can cross back out again.

I return to my room and am agitated but sluggish inside. darkness surrounds. Drums beat outside and traffic hums around. A higher vibration than the mere gloom, but edgy, edgy, edgy. I feel the stagnation in my joints and my belly goes soft. I am restless wanting to break outside but it is late at night.

It is sunday morning. I walk outside and through the deadening commercial downtown zone on almost the empty street, past stores just opening and cold hard-edged buildings and cross the bridge. I cross the bridge over the highway that circles this darkened zone, and slowly make my way to a better place where life seems more real.

At first the change feels subtle with lower buildings, independent stores and some edgy folk. Again i feel like i am in bit of twilight zone. I pass a park, and turn onto a side street with apartments and homes, a place where people live. I notice the plants and the trees and the few people who walk around. It feels so green, so lush, the flowers are showy and bright. I enter a park where life blooms full, and come to life again. A change comes over me. And i feel that this is a zone where i would like to be.

But then i make my way back to the centre to the place where i do stay. My mood changes as i re-enter this zone. The life that pulsed through my veins slows down, and the smile slowly disappears from my face. I wonder why i keep coming back here. This darkened zone that draws me back is the same zone as at city centre hostel in SFO, and i have found myself wandering these areas in many places a long time ago. It closes in and it cloys but i now know that i can cross the bridges or the waters and leave here anytime. But i also must move through this zone for it has its tentacles in me, and i find myself returning again and again – to different locales but to the familiar zone. The barricade is an illusion though it might be filled with rushing cars, and i can find my way across.

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The fort has been transformed long ago and it helped transform the spirit inside me. I arrived at Fort Mason, the home of Fisherman’s Wharf hostel and much more, and immediately felt at ease after the bustling of the city i had come through. It is an oasis, one of several, in this city of San Francisco by the bay. It sits on a small headland between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Marina District, but is a place onto itself. Up top the hostel sits, along with several buildings and here i make my temporary home. The landscape is green, and i feel at peace, away from the city but so close.

I had come into the city the night before and stayed downtown near Union Square. The canyons of concrete and steel and the rush of traffic replaced the mountain valley and the sounds of the creek where i had been. I went to the downtown hostel, a place i had been several years before, and had avoided until now – it had been renovated i had heard and I decided to give it a chance. The building buzzed from the sound outside, the chaotic centre with traffic, car alarms, music playing and people passing by – it was a hum, no even more, a buzz, i felt the vibrations of the sound and the energy that was around. I could not sleep, despite the now comfortable bed and the thick curtain that was meant to block the glare of the parking garage across the street.

Despite the buzz, the place felt sad, maybe a remnant of days gone by. The paint was dark, an olive green in the lobby and the narrow halls, and a deep grey in my room, the white trim now dirty, the baseboards chipped. The carpets were dark and the ceilings low. The kitchen had been completed, but it was not a place to sit – a depressing feel clung to the place. Outside, the old “hotel virginia” signs hung from the shabby facade, the blinds not quite fitting the windows, and only at the door, was the HI sign more visible. And what was this hotel in the days before, was it possible to transform it from inside? How much of the energy clung here, the gloom and the buzz.

Maybe it was the location on the border between union square/powell circle and the tenderloin, the place where tourists pass through with maps and shopping bags, and that where the down and out live, and here the two meet, and the hustle is deep. I hear the partying, the buzz of the night, The unsettledness of the locale resonates with that which lay deep inside and i know i must leave. I cancel my second night and head down to the hostel at fort mason where i still remain.

The bus i must take cuts through chinatown late on a saturday morning. I walk to the stop, with my pack and more, past union square where the tourist bus huskers hand out leaflets. The stop is crowded, a full bus passes by, and then another with people going to chinatown for their saturday shopping – a return to the centre they have left. I look around and know that cannot climb on with all my stuff. I walk a few blocks under the bridge to a stop where i know many people will get off. I am almost at the stop and the bus pulls in and i ride through chinatown, down columbus street, and through the upper wharf, until we stop outside the gates. I walk the path, the pack on my back, but feel lightened already.

I dump my bags and register, to early for a full check-in. fatigue overcomes and i go outside, sit on the picnic table near the eucalyptus trees. I breathe in rich fragrance of the trees and the moisture of ocean air and become revitalized. The sound of birds has replaced that of cars, and a dog plays on the lawn. The place feels good, the buzz falls away.

I walk out to the main path that connects fishermans wharf to the marina, and look down at the buildings below, the warehouses on the piers, concrete but not as dark, full not of goods but of life, cultural organizations, events and more. I admire the bridge crossing the bay to the hills to the north. Tourists cycle or walk their bikes up the hill, the blazing saddles map to guide their trip over the bridge. Joggers pass by, and a few stand or sit admiring the view.

I walk down the steep narrow stairs to lower fort mason. I want a coffee. I stroll through the parking lot and to the library book store with a full bin of dollar books outside. So much choice, i browse the titles and pick up one, i go inside, pay for it, and spot yet another bin, and find myself picking up another. Music wafts out of a building across the way, i sit on a bench by the water, seagulls staring me in the face. A child watches the seal who swims around, and a man tells her a tale. I open my book and am transported to another place, but still remain where i am. I grab a coffee and return, rested, peaceful and read for a while on a saturday afternoon. When it is time to leave, i walk by one of the buildings, people dressed up high, a wedding reception with a playroom for tots.

I exit the zone, to the grocery store, and return to the green and read some more. The joggers and cyclists are on the path, and groups, pairs and singles sit, eat, play, nap and read on the grass. A wrinkled asian woman sorts through a garbage can wearing plastic gloves, collecting the recyclable bottles and cans. A cool breeze comes in and slowly i make my way up the stairs, and under the eucalyptus trees.

The place is tranquil but is full of life. It is a place that was transformed from the inside. An old army base is now part of the golden gate national park area, the lower section a place for the arts, with theatre, art, schools and more and the barracks a hostel for travellers from around the globe. A place renewed, with many lives, a place with a centre in the heart.

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The city is alive with a diversity of people passing through, dancing the dance of life. I walked down to the civic center bart in the early morn – workers in suits streaming up the elevator and walking up the street, some more casually dressed, and those who live in the area and it made me think how the city is so alive and open and tolerant with so many types of people living here.
Still, when i get down i think about how amazing it really is – people, men and women and some who are a bit of both, of a variety of backgrounds, from places around the globe, of different colours, values, material wealth, young old and in between live, work and/or play (or for some merely survive) in this place. And coexist. But at times that is all.
It draws people in and away, at times overwhelms, like it has to me. I see the drawing in on the bart in the streets, people on their phones, chatting or texting away connecting with what is not physically present. And with their ipods or a few with papers creating their own world inside.
I leave the city on the bart to the land of suburbs where people live everyday, I think about it more – by those who live around, it is the Bay Area, San Francisco only a small part, existing more in the minds of some tourists i think. I get off in Walnut Creek, a place i had heard of, a mini-core, and think of the nodes around, the nuclei, how there really isn’t a centre to which the energy is drawn, but how it is spread out, in a multi-tangled web, centre is not dead, but is just a part like so many other areas, other centres.
I look at houses on tree-lined streets and i want a life there. A life where so many different people live – for the areas around are as diverse, if not more so, But the zones are more spread out, but in the city there are zones, for different activities and for different people, they are more tightly linked, and the boundaries porous as you pass through, but they are real. But i pass through, areas like vallejo, napa and i think of my journey up from the south a few days ago, they are linked but a web of roads, of trains, of thought, in the definition of an area, and through these roads we move.
I go out and away to a place that is hard to get to. To a place where people seek refuge and similar minds, similar vibes. A place away from it all, where you can create something new. A world where you vibe and can leave behind the complicated dance. Can you? Should you? Can you really create such a space. Some are more open some are closed – difference is people may know you and accept you or reject you based upon who you really are.
The city offers so much opportunity for connection, but how little really happens, Not possible to connect with it all. You choose, draw back, accept, reject, some of what you do not call flows though and other is blocked, But you cannot connect with all.
I think about this more as we enter on the highway, 6 lanes of cars in each direction, closing the human energy in, separating it, creating an energy of it own. By cutting ourselves off from the common energy of all, we the drain energy of the earth of “fossil fuels” and pave the tops of the ground, blocking more flow.
But i think about the cars again as i play the familiar game in a bus – looking at the number outside, and plucking them off the road as i fill up the bus with people in my mind. But as i leave the city with the intensity of the buzz, i realize what i have heard about before – that time in the car, time alone behind the wheel, is often the only time people have to themselves, to be alone with thought. Alone, or connecting, the cell phone and the radio bringing the outside in. but in the self-contained bubble, the create a world, less effected by the outside, travelling along, self-contained through space, not touching but following the flow – unless it slows down or there is a crash, and still having to negotiate a way through space, but protected by the bubble that encases, the bubble that is material.
But with the car the sprawl increases, the zones of diversity and chaotic energies. and why do we need it alone. i have been sleeping in dorms, with others in the room, and i think that a garage is larger than family homes in much of the world, and how many still share a bed not only with their husband or wife, and did for a long time too. And why now do we need to much personal space, is it the intensity of the world we live in? That in urban/suburban areas you just cannot take it all in?
I go out to the country, to the small towns where all is much more calm. It is a different zone, more homogenous, or split in two or three. And i remember there are zones in the city, neighborhoods where you go, or do not, or rarely, depending on who you are, but they intersect and cross over, and are porous, as is all.
I travel past the chains that cover the landscape, the Bank of america, mcDonalds, taco bell, walgreens and walmart and the list goes on. I often see them as an eyesore, of a stripping away of what is unique in different places, of corporate control, but today i think differently, – maybe they are a way of reminding us how time and space are so linked, and despite our differences and distances how much alike we all are – the sameness in the diversity of life.
The city is long gone in my mind as i finish this entry. I am in a town where people talk and say hello – it is manageable here, and nature surrounds. Still there is a divide, and the city comes here – for the roads come through and energy travels.

 

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It was supposed to rain today. I thought it would despite the sun in the morning. Massive clouds could be seen in many directions. A single short shower was all there was – i only noticed because the sidewalk was wet when i stepped outside. I was hoping for rain – rain as an excuse to sit inside in front of the screen and write. I did my laundry in the morning, sitting on the plastic chairs in greyish room, and then went out for what i imagined to be a brief walk – to stretch my legs and my back before sitting down – visiting the water one last time.

The sky was grey so i decided to go to the ferry building one last time – i am drawn to it, but every time i go i ask myself why i went. The organic foodie food that i do not buy? The view on the water of the bay bridge with ferries coming in and out? I walked through the business district, past a different crowd than in the tenderloin, many with black blazers, and the smell of perfume was more prevalent than that of body odor – a stench i find harder to ignore. I sat by the water, my head became clearer but at the same time it told me to go away. Still the sky was becoming more blue.

I told myself i need to write, and started the walk back – need to figure out my plans as the ones i had were not working out. I walked through the streets of the business district, the canyons through the concrete mountains, after staring at the core for a while – not wanting to walk through. Though it was dark in the shadows of the buildings, the sky was now completely blue. My energy became worse as i walked on through – the city was closing in – dispersed vibrations of peoples thoughts, people not communicating, of cars and of concrete and steel, all bouncing off the buildings. I had reached my saturation point. It is a place where people come to work inside and do not live. Though there is life on the streets it is fleeting.

Do i go to the mountains i ask myself – leave the sea behind? – one last view i told myself so i took the 40 minute bus ride to the beach – a different bus than i normally take. Though i had things to do, the sun called me forth after the rain of yesterday it seemed special once again. After we crossed past the downtown and the tenderloin, crossing Divisidero my energy calmed, and i felt a relief. My thoughts became clearer, and did so increasingly as i walked on the beach. Still as i walked in the sun, the roar became loud, and i just wanted to sit down and write. At the same time i did not want to come back to the land of concrete. I watched the water, a man got wet in the incoming tide, and then i tore myself away.

It was two and a half hours after i decided to write that i finally sat down and inside this building my thoughts do not seem as clear. It was supposed to rain today, like it did the day before. The greyness of the sky and the moisture taking one inside, inside buildings and inside oneself. I looked forward to the rain that did not come, just as i had dreaded the very same rain a few days ago for today i wanted to stay inside

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Another city, i sit and observe, watching life stroll by, drink coffee, smoke and write. A sadness overwhelms and i do not know what i do here, why i am here. Awoke this morning to the sound of cars rather than of birds or dogs or something. I sit here watching – i know that i am part of the interplay of life that goes on, just as i see others, others see me, but despite all the people i feel alienated and cut off in a cafe in the main square. San Cristobal is both a tourist town and a real city with people going on about their lives, and i do little, like i have in many places, and here i feel lost. I know the calm inside should be regardless of where i am, but i dont know why i am here. Life goes on – work, study, family, friends, suffering and indulgence, but i cannot relate. I want to talk to god and the spirit, but i do not connect with the spirit that lies inside us all. And i walk up and down the streets, over and over like i have so many other places. looking but not seeing, hearing the noise but not the voices, feeding myself on coffee, smokes, a bit of food, but not on god, or so it seems, though i try. I do the circle of the churches, not ornate and welcoming as i remembered (but i now think that was another city, or was it just my imagination) but they seem harsh and cold, with flat ceilings and bloody crucified Jesuses on crosses, and dark painting of pious looking saints in the front above the altar surrounded by gold (or copper) – it is austere and not joyous – though one on the hill was full of flowers on the altar and people praying and a louder procession left from the cathedral yesterday – but they are not places that lift my spirit and call to me. in a few i sit briefly and others i walk around, stare blankly and leave, feeling cut off and wanting to join with god.
So i sit and drink coffee – the pace of life goes on with little boys incessantly, persistently, selling their wares, forceful at times, almost aggressive and refusing to leave until you get harsh on the 6th no. And the women and little girls and grandmothers left alone selling. And i remember this feeling – as i sit here, rich compared to them, indulging in a coffee with time to sit, becoming at times closed and hostile, not a five minute break, cannot be.
And i remember thinking, in san marcos, thinking of my return to the us, where i am on the outside, one of them, that we/they – the beggars, the homeless, the poor, are but shadows – shadows of poverty and wanting that exist in the shadow of indulgence and ¨the good life¨ – a life not for all, denied to many, and with the disparity borders get drawn even more intensely, and the gap grows and i sit here drinking my coffee – a privilege, a normal habit but a luxury for some. And it is more here, a little barefoot girl – 3 or 4 goes around asking for pesos, learning to beg – but am i really any different. And the guilt grows, i buy a trinket, but it is just a drop in the bucket, more to assuage my guilt. At times i think they are there to teach compassion and loving and giving.
But it is more in the tourist zones and in places where the gap is big. The eyes that look longingly at the table – mainly of the young who have not yet learned to avert them, the young like the shoeshine boys who later sit outside another cafe indulging in a frozen mocha. But i know that look, face to face with what you cannot have, standing outside, looking on, longing, for i too have had that look many a time.
And the peddlers and beggars are more intense here than they have been elsewhere in central america. Is is just the gap – for you go through much of the rural areas (except near here) where people are poor, but still seem to have something – not as ground down. Or is it also another loss, a poverty that is not only material, but spiritual, a poverty that is deeper, that cannot be solved by buying a trinket today. I think of my time in Nica, which was poor in material things, but also seemed rich – a sense of spirit and connection that existed in places with the very basic simple life. Or is it the people – but no – i have seen the maya in their communities and know that not all are pushy sellers, the aggressive merchants, but here with those who now live in the slums on the edge of town, the aggression is worse. Or where there is the gap – tourist land, pana at the lake, or the frequent thefts in san marcos. but i drift away from this place.
And is that what i see here, amongst those, like me at times, the travellers who wander, looking, or those who live the good life – possibly materially wealthy, but spiritually poor, and seeking to fill up. A woman with goods walks by, i avert my eyes, do not want to see, cannot buy from all, she reminds me, i hang onto what i have, close my heart instead of open it, or do i, for it aches with pain and guilt. A smile, a kind word is not enough, and their resentment of me turns to resentment of them. i try to open my heart, send love, a smile.
And the traffic circles on and people walk through and i am back to searching, on how to leave this place, feeling trapped, no where to go, enthusiasm down, flight to usa in a week and have no home, my temporary privilege, the one sitting on the seat facing the square is over, to i the one who looks on longingly and cannot join in. And in many ways does not want to – the feeding of emptiness, of internal poverty.
And in the city i long once again for where i am not – a place to be in nature, commune with god, and light up and see the spirit inside all. and perhaps i am here to learn, to do that here as well, the calm inside when there is noise without, and to feel the interconnectedness of all, and not apart, and to remove the veil from my heart and soul in the places where it is more difficult.

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I was right last night when i said that i would miss the oppressive air of the jungle (entry still to come) and in some ways i was right. Tonight i find myself in San Cristobal and i wonder what i have done. I have been here before, three years ago, and it was a significant place in my travels then for it was here that i turned back and did not continue on my journey south to Guatemala and to las pirimides, a journey that i now have done. And it was here that i made that phone call – to my mother – after no replies from her on my last blog – and realized that she no longer wished to speak with me and that i had been cut off – and that i would never see her again. So this place is significant, and maybe that is why i had to come back to truly let it all go. Or at least that is what i thought this morning, laying in bed, in shoddy cabana, listening to the sounds of the jungle – i had bought my ticket yesterday. And this was the place i imagined going way back in October, when i planned this journey on rainy october day in Buffalo – the place where i was born. And maybe this central american journey has been a bit of the same as my last trip to mexico – a fleeing when i felt rejected. But i finally made it to the other places, and now maybe i can break free – not let old pain stop me or block my path – or twist me up inside.

And so i am here, already thinking of leaving but to where i do not know. i am not giving it my full energy i know – maybe i already had let it go. Again i am at that point – my ticket out of Guatemala City in a week and a half, into NYC, but there i have nowhere to go, and returning here, and to palenque the other day, i question my previous desire to return to the west coast. But i must make a decision.

It is interesting returning to a place you once visited, (but unlike the circles i have been making – in the more distant past – 3 years – but a lifetime ago) memories of place return and in some ways you question them. I am staying in the hostel where i stayed last time – but i remember it as calm and nice – now twice as many beds in the dorm, packed. And the city seems bigger, and livelier with more tourists around – prices still low, but the tour operators no longer have discounted prices listed outside. And another street, so it seems, has been closed to traffic and is filled with restos and cafes and people wandering up and down. Or maybe it is just a saturday night, where people come to let loose.

And maybe my discontentment has to do with where i have been – Antigua, Granada, colonial towns – and in many ways so similar – tourist zones. The central square, the old churches, the cobblestone streets, and the restored historic buildings and the dedication to tantalizing the senses – much a pleasure to the eyes (especially compared to the chaotic practicableness of regular towns of concrete) with nice places to stay, to eat, to drink, to live the good life but on a cheaper budget. All so nice, but somehow lacking a soul – devoted to tourists pursuing please with historic ambiance mingled with modern conviences. A place to relax, being ¨cultured¨, though without the plethora of museums and arts – some, for us. It is nice here and cool (maybe even cold), but it merely seems indulgent, the ¨good life¨ a surface pleasure and not a deeper resonance. A tourist place all the same – the colonial town – a zone, a place though it has many different physical locations in different countries – it is oh so similar. I look at more crafts, drink a coffee, walk the cobblestones, eat a meal, look at a church and feel empty. The novelty gone.

What will tomorrow bring?

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