.L.Y.F.E.

sits in the curve of a duck's bill

things were a lil’ too good to be true

Things have been amazing here. Yes. Blah blah the amazing food blah blah the dolphins the magic oh the wonderful people. It’s all true. It IS amazing (except maybe the food part). But just to remind me that I am in a *real* part of the world, and not some exoticised / fetishized fantasy land, two not so fab things have happened, that in my annoying way I secretly found weirdly fabulous.

1) I got REALLY sick. Like, think the girl from The Exorcist … replete with endless writhing, moaning and projectile vomiting. But, there are no stairs here so I didn’t get to run down backward like a possessed crab. This is the first time I’ve ever had a Delhi Belly kind of experience, and oh man does it suck! But …. there was something kind of cool about coming to after several days of being flat out in bed (or next to the toilet), walking outside and seeing that the world was still there, fresh, clean, airy and new seeming.

2) I got mugged. The day after I had recovered from being sick. I was walking with my co-resident Wilma in a part of central Salvador where there’s a leather market. At the end of the leather market the street carried on around a corner and turned into a longer street which sold clothes. After I’d bought a leopard print leotard (I have a problem! help me), Wilma and I were casually wandering along when what I thought was a tap on the shoulder turned into a burning sensation at the back of my neck, and a painful ramming against my left side.

One guy had reached up under my side plait and grabbed my necklace from behind, ripping out a chunk of my hair at the same time. Another guy had come along at the same time from a different direction and tried to sort of shunt the bag off my shoulder. Neither guy was successful. My necklace fell forward and I caught it, but he’d broken the clasp. And my handbag is one I LOVE so I held onto that sucker for dear life.

The two guys ran off up the street about thirty meters, then stopped, turned around and SMILED AT ME! Self-satisfied smiles, real kind of teenage-wanna-be-a-big-boy-gansta smiles. It just infuriated me so much and my natural instinct was to run after them and punch their heads in. Luckily, sense got the better of me and I turned around to walk away, and found the whole long street of people stuck on pause, staring at me.

For a split second (and I mean the tiniest of split seconds) I thought I might cry. But then I just couldn’t be bothered. Nothing had been taken. I wasn’t seriously hurt. And …. stuff like that happens here all the time I think, as it does in many other places throughout the world. I just got on and enjoyed my day.

Thursday was this ridiculous

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Thursday was one of the most amazing days I’ve had here so far. And that is saying a lot because so many of the days I’ve had here have been extraordinary. Like the day that also had a night attached to it, and during that night we went to a Candomble ritual where various people were possessed by nature Gods. Sounds like a tourist trap. A bit naff. A bit fake. It wasn’t either. It was profound and moving. The roof was hung with thousands of cut plastic bags strips, which looked like long grass waving in the breeze. The dancers moved with their eyes closed lost in trance, never banging into one another as if following lines of energy. The Gods hugged us. Gave us pieces of grass. We were fed blessed food. And when asked to leave by their minders, the Gods refused, and had to be ushered out. They wanted to keep dancing. Apparently, the Gods like it here.

Or the local celebration of Corpus Christi, where the kids were dressed like angels and many in the town held candles. They carried an idol down the street on a float of flowers and lace and then with a great singing roar they surged the float up and into the church. The church had an interior like a great pink wedding cake and with all the candles and singing it felt like the world was alive and shouting in a strange and wonderful voice that I’d never heard before. I didn’t even know the world had that kind of voice.

But, Thursday was by far the most miraculous. Danny, a co-resident here at Sacatar and the head of the Daniel Gwirtzman dance company in NYC, came to my studio window a short time after breakfast and asked if I’d like to go for a morning kayak. Not being the ‘kayak-ey’ type, and feeling I had a bit of writing in me that wanted to get itself out, I at first said no. Then said I’d think about it. Finally I realised that, yes, it was a gorgeous day and that there was no excuse not to go for a quick kayak about the shore.

By the time Antonio, one of the four guards here, had helped us get the kayaks down to the beach the tide was well and truly going out. We knew that very soon we’d be in the situation of having to drag our kayaks for quite a ways back up the beach once we’d finished paddling about. So we agreed on a short-ish kayak around to the next bay and back. Once out on the water, everything shone. It was just one of those glowy days where everything looks alive and almost stupidly healthy.

What about, Danny said, kayaking to that island over there? There was an island out in the distance, not too far away, and it looked like a nice place to visit. I told Danny that I’d had a few experiences with islands being much further away than they at first seemed. But we both agreed we had a whole day ahead of us, no time constrains and an obligation to make the most of this tropical paradise that we’ve found ourselves in. So off we set. After an hour or so things weren’t getting much closer, but we weren’t bothered.

The island is beyond this horse:

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Off in the distance I saw something glinting. I pointed it out to Danny who at first couldn’t see it. There, I said, see? It’s like a line of black rocks, like a reef or something. But …. it seems to be moving. And sure enough, out in the harbour something BIG was moving about. Something long and big and black and wet. It was far off at this point, but we were headed towards it as it seemed to make a barrier right across the main part of the bay we needed to go through. As we got closer, it became clear that they were one of two possible things. A large school of dolphins, or, a group of feeding sharks. Whatever they were, they were big and moving around a lot. Then, one leapt out of the water, they’re dolphins! I screamed like an exhilarated child. Danny screaming along with me. But then our fear took over, the fear of ‘what if they’re not dolphins, what if they really are sharks’. The distance made it hard to tell and there is something about being in a kayak out on the open sea, with a big dark group of something up ahead of you, that makes you second guess a) your eyesight and b) your knowledge of the difference between the way sharks and dolphins act when feeding.

A large boat was coming our way and just out of habit and friendliness I waved, although subconsciously I think it might have been a mini wave for help. The boat turned around and Danny and I felt utterly gringo-fied. Danny mentioning that the only thing he’d be able to say in Portuguese would be ‘BIG FISH’ while pointing wildly in the direction of the whatevers. The boat circled us and we flailed toward the group of things. It took a while but then the man yelled ‘sim sim! Golphina! No problem no problem!’. It was SUCH a relief, and so off we set again right toward the dolphins.

We paddled right through the middle of a pod about fifty strong. They were hunting in small groups but there were so many. They flipped and dove around us. It was incredible and quite unnerving. I know they’re friendly but they are so big and strong and so ocean-ey. It was one of the highlights of my life so far, as I am not a kayak person, let alone an ocean person. So this was pretty big for me.

Anyway, on we paddled and after some time realised that this island was not close AT ALL. In fact, it never really seemed to get any bigger. At a certain point we looked back and realised that our institute and the houses and building on Itaparica from where we’d come, were very very far away, but still comparatively bigger than the small clutch of houses we could see on the island we were headed to. It was very hot and Danny and I had brought neither sunscreen, nor water, nor shirts, nor shoes …. nothing actually.

Between us we had 18 reals which is about 12 NZ dollars. Not enough to buy lunch once we got there, and certainly not enough to get a hotel or a ride home. Also, it was a public holiday, Corpus Christi and everything on our island was closed. From the distance we were at it looked as if the island only contained a tiny farm with a few buildings strewn here and there. It didn’t look like the kind of place that would even have a shop to buy water from, never mind beans and rice or a ferry ticket.

We knew we couldn’t paddle back. What are we gonna dooo?! I wailed at Danny, trying to supress my rising anxiety. I am going to ask every single boat on the island for a ride home, until we get one, Danny said. I loved him in that moment. I knew I wouldn’t make the kayak home. I was barely making it there.

After about 2 and an half hours my arms started to get the better of me, and the island with its little patch of cultivated land and buildings just never seemed to get an inch closer. The desire to complain wildly and completely give up started to wash over me in strong, hard to resist waves. Danny noticed but wasn’t willing to listen and aside from a few short breaks, just kept paddling. Thank god. I guess if we’d gotten into one of those ‘survival’ situations, it was pretty clear who was going to get us through. I’d be the complaining dead-weight and Danny the hero.

FINALLY we made it, and as we came in the last 50 or so meters we realised that this was no farm but a tropical paradise. On the beach a large group of shirtless Bahian men were playing soccer, there were bars and small restaurant carts set up along the beach, there were lots of little boats in the bay. There was a stunning church up on the hill. The whole island was alive with local Salvadorians enjoying the public holiday. And, there wasn’t a foreigner in sight, and so naturally all attention turned to us –  Danny in his day-glow-yellow cap, and me with a blue cotton towel wrapped around my head like a camel herder.

There was absolutely NOWHERE close by that we could have come from. They all gazed on in an understandably miffed fashion. Ok, Danny said, they’re all looking at us and all going to be like ‘where on earth have these gringos come from’, so, lets not make a scene, lets glide in and get out of the kayaks as naturally as possible. This was like tempting the ocean gods. I tried my best, but no sooner has he said it than my kayak ran aground and a tiny, and I mean microscopic, wave hit the side of my kayak, and I fell out sideways headfirst into the shallow water, getting drenched from top to bottom. I was laughing so hard that I found it hard to get myself up.

Anyway! No sooner had I stood up than both Danny and I had been given beers, and a group of people had gathered around us asking us where we’d come from. Upon hearing Itaparica, we got a few reactions. One was of utter disbelief. One man just said over and over – I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you. I just don’t believe you. Another man said we were heroes, courageous and very strong. Other people just gasped and look toward Itaparica with large, stunned eyes, making vague pointing gestures. We agreed we were heroic and drank our beer. We couldn’t believe we’d made it that far either. About five minutes later we were offered a ride home.

Anyway …. the group of people who welcomed us, gave us beer an offered us a boat ride home, also adopted us for the day. They cooked us fried fish, took us to a compound run by an old Bahian dude who asked Danny why he hadn’t proposed to me yet, and said he would set our wedding up for us, there at the compound, very shortly (Danny will marry his fiancé this year). They took us to the island’s well and washed the salt off us in multiple buckets of cool spring water, they pointed out three chameleon looking things in a tree, one of which the main man of the group chased down into the water reserve trying to catch to show to us.

They took us to the local bar and bought drink after drink. Dropped peanuts everywhere. Made out with one another. Laughed and jibed with the youngest of their group – a 9 year old girl of quite an interesting and powerful character – a bit like a witch. Caught a tiny yet proportionally perfect snake and let us hold it. AND gave us a ride all the way back to Itaparica on their little boat.

They dragged our kayaks on board, all of us drunk and we wove off into the ocean with the sun going down. We stopped half way in the deep ocean to jump off the boat and swim about.

The tide was too low for them to drop us directly at our jetty, so we jumped out and they threw our kayaks overboard, and we paddled / dragged them the last hundred meters or so in the dying light. Antonio the head guard was waiting for us when we reached the jetty. We’d told him we would be heading out for an hour tops, and had been gone for about 8. Apparently he’d been watching out for us all day. What a guy. What a day. What a wonderful group of folk.

Beautiful Occurances

I spelled occurrences WRONG! eeep.

Work in upcoming journals

During the months of June and July I have poems coming out

here:

Hue & Cry issue 7

You can order Hue & Cry online here, or get it from Auckland City Art Gallery / ARTSPACE  / Unity Books / UBS Auckland / Crane Brothers / Timeout Book store / City Gallery Wellington / Dowse Art Museum etc.

Also here:

 41 sport flyer sae

Sport 41 is available at all good bookstores or can be ordered as a magazine or an e-book online here

And one poem here at the Australian website – the Cordite Poetry Review.

Bad Cartoons #2 – The Mysterious Case of Yemaja and Oshun.






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Oshun (Oh-Shoon)

The Animals of Itaparica at Night

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Technically Challenged

Some little, badly drawn cartoons.

I’ve spent (wasted) most (all) of today trying to get my new printer to work. It’s been infuriating in the kind of way that makes me want to do an Office Space on its a#$ …. take it out into a field and beat it to death with a baseball bat. So to kill the time between fits of rage I drew some pix.

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How to (?) Build a Coherent Galaxy

Been contemplating this whole minimalism thing in my own writing, not that I write at all in a minimal style at the moment, but have been thinking that maybe I should investigate. What I think is that I am not *actually* thinking about minimalism per-se but rather about simplicity of language and strong placement of words. Letting the language speak for itself rather than trying to say it all, or fill in all the gaps. 

During my MA year I developed a style of writing which involves the gathering of interesting language (total stealth magpie styles) and then rearranging this random cosmos of words into some kind of functional solar-system. Will the moon (word or phrase A) sit closely enough to the earth (word or phrase B) to have a sufficient magnetic pull on the earth’s ocean? How many words do I need to make up the moon, to make it strong enough to have adequate influence? How much can I scalpel out and still have the language relate and work and move and be real and convincing in the separate universe that is the poem? 

So what I do, and what I will continue to do is gather language, and like a kid making a collage from magazines, cut and cut and cut the language into tiny squares of paper, and then begin to arrange and pin and glue them into new blocks of sense. It doesn’t have to look anything like the original pages of the magazine, but the final product, much like children’s art so often does, has to have its own distinct mana. 

My current process (aka shoddy work system) looks like this: 

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This way of writing lets me do a few things. The first is that I get to see how many uneccessary words there are in the box of language I have cut up …. articles, modal verbs, prepositions and so on, while they can be really useful in the right places, aren’t needed in such prolific amounts. So I can see this whole pile of ‘the’s in the box and can choose not to use them unless I really have to.

The second and I think most important thing that it helps me to do is find new voices. I can take sentences I’ve heard people say in real life or sentences I’ve stolen from T.V. or other poets or novelists and I can cut them up and arrange them into sentences that don’t really sound like me. It’s not my voice and the register of the rearranged and odd sentences often sounds almost like normal language but not quite. Something is a bit off or on or out about the register and I love that. I get so tired of my own voice, my overuse of the words ‘totally, ‘hardcore, ‘oh my god’ and ‘weird’ among many others. And it’s the same with the stories I have to tell and the way I tell them, there is such a ‘me’ ness to the way I tell about the world, and it gets really f%$cking boring! 

This way of writing gets me out of that. Phew. 

The other thing on my mind with this whole simplicity of writing thing, is how strange it is that the final part of my thesis last year was about magic, and included magic spells, and here I end up in a part of the world where magic truly still exists for the local people.

Candomblé and its voodoo style practices and rituals is alive and kicking here. Yesterday we visited a shop where you could buy different coloured candles to burn for your own personal Orixá (God), beads to make necklaces to wear in honour of the Orixás, shells to throw like runes as messages from them … and so on.

The owner, a towering, handsome Candomblé priest, told us casually (translated from Portuguese) how earlier that morning a woman who wasn’t supposed to be practicing Candomblé rituals at that time (I think that what he said is that she had her period and so was forbidden until it was finished) had practiced anyway, and as a result had been possessed by an Orixá who was angry with her, and so had possessed her angrily and caused a scene in the church. It was a laughing matter, as if it happened regularly – although I think only retrospectively as I assume the practices are taken seriously when happening. 

So, I wonder if minimalism / sparsity in language should be my main concern at the moment, or whether it’s more wise (wiser?) to pay attention to the clear signs that this experience here on the island of Itaparica is related in an obvious way to my already established interests. 

many mother