Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I don’t have New Orleans, but I have Puerto Plata. Sometimes all the parts of my life seem to merge, the past and the present--I think this is what happens as you get older, and it also happens when I’m in a place where the past is embodied--where things that have happened make an imprint on the physical world, and are not forgotten--and they are used. The proportions of the old city are like the core of colonial New Orleans--the grand architecture, its proportions stately, crumbling, while life continues unabated--“progress” feels like a kind of dream here, or a hallucination, a fantasy people have of something coming, in the open-ended future, that will bring goodness and prosperity. There is so much dreaming. There are betting parlors on every corner. Yeah, “Make your dreams a reality,” says the handwritten sign taped to the glass in one of them, right next to the bus station. And there is so much religion. A chicken runs, flapping, across the road--a woman stands there, bent sideways, her body freighted and her expression that of one accustomed to having to make things happen by sheer momentum. How else can you make sense of things being so hard, relentlessly, for all the time anybody can remember? Religion and theft, those are ways to hope.

Afternoon in Puerto Plata

Thursday, October 11, 2012

We have been traveling in the guaguas (which here are often small Japanese sedans crammed with people--eight, even ten--of all sizes and ages and levels of garrulity) to Puerto Plata, an hour and some away, for Tallulah's lovely Montessori school. The school is in Spanish, which I hope will graft Spanish onto her mind, and soon it will grow there like a natural part of the organism, bearing interesting and different fruit. Looking out the window, listening to the radio station that the driver chose, reminds me of the best moments of childhood--I am blissfully (almost) not in control of my life, and therefore have no responsibility. 

I imagine what would happen if a screen descended over everything I'm seeing and hearing and translated it all into English. Brought it all into sharp and sudden focus. What would I think if I understood everything? I'm still in the phase of learning Spanish where using it feels like spending play money. That might always be true, no matter how good my grammar gets, because I don’t have it embedded in my cells. But I decided there’s something good about that, too--I have another, lighthearted self, one I don’t take too seriously, that makes weird, sometimes fantastical creations in the air.

Some of the political heroes of the Dominican Republic died along this route, when all this was canefields--where the Lifestyles resort is, and the Super Cabanas, the life-sized papier mâché sculpture of a man drinking from a cow’s udder. The Mirabal sisters, heroines of the struggle against Trujillo, were beaten to death among the sugar by members of Trujillo’s secret police. They had been visiting their husbands in prison in Puerto Plata. The prison was once a Spanish fort, built out of black stone on a promontory overlooking the sea, the doorways low, fitting the size of the colonizers. Looking out at the sea, island life makes perfect sense. And Puerto Plata feels sometimes imbued with death--but death like clay, its edges softened by handling.