Oh readers of mine, dearest followers of my long and lovely journeys, I shall now take you to the strange and vacuous land I’m currently calling home: Santa Barbara, California.
Jean Baudrillard once wrote of this odd place: “Santa Barbara is a paradise; Disneyland is a paradise; the U.S. is a paradise. Paradise is just paradise. Mournful, monotonous, and superficial though it may be, it is paradise. There is no other.”*
And here, in this mournful little slice of the paradise pie, I find myself.
I read somewhere that in Mexico City the streets, if you wander through them correctly, can lead you as readily through an impromptu poetry as they can through the city. In Santa Barbara, at least in the neighborhood I’m currently calling home, it’s poetry too, of the sadistic, mocking genre.
I assume it was white people who named the streets here, ignorant of the meanings of the Spanish names they chose. But it’s entirely possible that someone in the know wanted to mark some of the violent histories wrought by the makers of the American West. Either way, you have to wonder if you should heed the advice that is offered on Salsipuedes Street (in English, ‘get out if you can’). I’m also a big fan of Quarantina Steet (you guessed it, ‘quarantine’ in my native tongue). Perhaps they passed out the small-pox infested blankets on one of the now nearly deserted corners of this winding way. Then, of course, is Indio Muerto Steet. I’m not translating that one for you.
I myself live, appropriately, on the less morbidly but certainly melancholically named Soledad Street (‘solitude’ or ‘loneliness’ depending on its context).
Hard to say what any of this means but I’ve chosen to take it as the universe telling me I’d be happier in Mexico City. Or Buenos Aires. Or pretty much anywhere but here. But hey, sometimes you don’t choose your paradise. Sometimes it chooses you. And I’m happy in the knowledge that this particular utopia is on the beach, and in the knowledge that unlike a very large number of indios that once roamed in these parts, I might have a shot at escaping for weekends in L.A.
*Baudrillard, Jean. America. London: Verso, 2010.
I have, of late, felt that it might be a good idea for the George Bush International Airport to post that immortal line of Dante’s above the entry way to the customs and immigration hallway through which all arriving international passengers must pass: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
I do not mean that the U.S. is hell (though some of our cultural and political practices seem increasingly geared toward making it so for many, and the George Bush International Airport itself has to be something akin to the 9th circle). I mean that crossing borders, legally or otherwise, is sometimes a dark and dangerous business and is always among the most difficult things we strange beasts do with our precious little time on the planet.
I may be hyperbolic, but I think hopelessness seems an apt description of what one feels as the shock of reentry into one’s homeland sets in, and perhaps, what one feels on crossing the border into a foreign land. This comes, I think, less from the change in environment, language, cuisine, etc. and more from the remarkable way that whatever you left, or whatever you’re coming back to, is lost forever (in the former case) or wholly changed (in the latter). This is the nature of time in general. You can’t be the same person from year to year–even from day to day. Your cells have shifted, died, mutated–to say nothing of your personality, your perspective, your age. Places are like us. They just can’t stay the same.
So now that I’ve been back here in the U.S. for a good three weeks, I’m still a little dazed. Struggling through the purgatory of culture shock has me occasionally blurting out Spanglish words, standing awe-struck in the aisles of the grocery stores to stare at the outstanding array of fantastically designed potato chip bags, and struggling to remember how to ease off the clutch in my car. I’m feelin’ a little longing for that other place and, well, a little hopeless. That Buenos Aires I left–it’s gone forever. Time and space can be real assholes that way.
To cope with the culture shock, though, and the existential ennui brought on by homeward travel, I luckily have Flamin’ Hot Cheetos cheese puffs. And my car for long coastal drives. And when things get really rough, Spanglish. And, of course, summer. But don’t think I’m not filling up my maté gourd regularly. Or that I’ve ceased to long for all things lost. I just do it in a very American way. Perhaps a little addendum to Dante would work for the Houston airport: “Abandon all hope ye who enter, but don’t worry too much, we’ve got thrilling snack foods and freeways galore!”
Oh, readers of mine! Since my last post journeys were made, a despedida was held in my honor*, tears were shed, disasters were narrowly averted and, finally, I find myself in my native land.
It has been a trying homecoming. I managed to hit all three major venues of my past lives in a scant five days: Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and now I am once more in the city from which I hail, Albuquerque.
I will not trouble you with the details of those various visits except to say that, despite all the existential disturbances caused by such acts of returning, I managed to get in some night swimming in the Pacific, fresh doughnuts in a beach town (coerced from the bakers at a closed shop North of Santa Barbara around three a.m.), a very Hollywood Independence Day bar-b-q as well as the consumption of long awaited (and surprisingly high volumes of) hot sauce.
I only now have come to a bit of a resting point in which to reflect on the sweeping transition I am now making. I miss Buenos Aires. I miss my studio departamento. I miss the keys. I even miss (or perhaps most miss, rather than ‘even’) having to move between languages, having to be always somewhat out of place. Though, worry not, I’ve spent plenty of the last handful of days out my comfort zone.
I find it off-putting that people in the U.S. chat with me as if I’ve always been here. They ask where I’m from and where I am going and I find myself somewhat stunned not to have anything but a complicated, circuitous answer: “Uh, well, I’m here for a bit, then I’ll be headed there, then maybe back again over there, then the world will be my oyster,”** etc. Usually after the second destination I list they stop listening. It’s understandable. Even I stop listening.
So, now that the Buenos Aires portion of this blog has, for a moment, come to a close, itinerant me will begin to write about the other cities in which she finds herself a temporary resident. If you require the whetting of your readerly appetite, know this: The chances of me exploring in detail the outstanding and glorious phenomenon of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos cheese puffs are extremely high.
*Perhaps you will not be as excited as I am about this fact, but I assure you, it is awesome. At my despedida I was the only U.S. citizen and also the only English speaker. We went to my favorite bar, La Bella Gamba, and I spent the evening switching between political discussions with the handful of Argentines and crude and fabulous jokes with the handful of Colombians.
**My language, as it turns out, is somewhat stilted as I adjust to constant English. Sometimes, without conscious effort, I insert little words in castellano. The most common is ‘dale,’ essentially the Argentine version of ‘o.k.’. Weirder still, when this happens, I pronounce it with a thick American accent.