In Mexico City you will experience a full year worth of seasons in a single day. Mornings start off cold under a thick blanket of gray, which rips open just before noon, allowing the hot hot sun to peer through. You will sweat and squint your eyes, even behind mirrored-sunglasses, and this will last for a good few hours until the clouds return and decide to come down on you with thick fists of hail. The sky in Mexico City will seem so awfully close to your head, which will make absolute sense once you discover that the city is even higher than Denver, America’s touted “Mile-High City”. Why isn’t this fact so popularly known, you will wonder. Until you realize that Mexicans care little for too much branding.
The above is from a short reflective thing I wrote about my time in Mexico City. It can be read in its entirety: here.
Faces were seen that hadn't been seen in close to a decade, most often by coincidence. The dread of repeat conversations completely unnecessary; “what've you been up to” hardly even uttered. Rather than rehash actions and activities, a meandering of thoughts, ideas, and contemplations takes over, like it used to always be a long time ago. Intellect and folk-philosophy propelled by an undercurrent of effortless humor fuel boundless chit-chatter. Minutes easily unfold into hours with little regard for things like “schedule”, a word never once spoken despite it constituting the building block of existence elsewhere, including—you must admit—your own. This singular difference somehow replaces the material world from being the default with something else. Not quite “spiritual”, because that sounds loaded and disingenuous, but a way of being that emphasizes the person and not so much the vessel. A way of being. Being.
This despite the onslaught of very material sensations: crowds, sounds, smells, paper money, and air so thick with dust and car exhaust you can almost grip it in your hands. Conflict, frustration, and alienation combined with familiarity and belonging. But wasn't it always that way, even before your so-called banishment?
Perhaps you've always been of two worlds before materially being between two worlds. Perhaps you were never meant to exist in one or the other, and perhaps that was the very source of your frustration and—by consequence—rebellious streak.
Or maybe you're just old and decadent now. Especially now given the day, month, and year. What are the odds you would experience this now? To cement your existence between two worlds at the exact midpoint of the acknowledged human lifespan. The same age that old bearded idol of yours went shaman and began worshiping an idol of their own making. How you regularly joked you would do the same, but maybe the joke's on you. Either way, it feels good—and one might say necessary—to reconnect. But also, in a way, disconnect.
Atlanta. The South, where it should never go down to 0°C/33°F but is in fact 0°C/33°F. I will have to abandon the trusty electric Spin bikes I've been relying on for most of transportation thus far, on my last day in this glorious city, where the trees are tall, hills are numerous, and clubs are a-thumpin' (not that I would know, being the Covid-conscious fellow that I am).
Last day in the city before I embark on my return to Houston tomorrow evening where quite a bit of work awaits me. THE SOLAR GRID has been almost continuously on hiatus for the past six months due to a cascade of paying work, which is not at all something I'm proud of. I have one more obligation in the way (approximately 2 weeks worth) before the coast is clear for full on TSG immersion.
First moment of peace since arriving in the UK some 2 weeks ago if you can believe it. For reasons I'd rather not really get into, the place we were meant to stay at upon arrival could no longer be stayed at, and we had to scramble to find a new place to crash. Not an ideal scenario in general but especially not ideal if you're also expected to quarantine for 10 days.
We found ourselves holed up in a tiny hotel room in High Wycombe, while trying to coordinate all kinds of NHS and test things over the phone. I gotta say, I'm thoroughly impressed by the NHS. They're so meticulous they had an NHS agent show up at our hotel and interrogate the front desk about our quarantine practices!
Also, I now realize that whatever “lockdown” we might've experienced in the U.S. at any point was so not lockdown at all!
Anyway, did our day 5 Test-To-Release thing (which is so worth it), tested negative, and moved to an excellent AirBnB in Acton (West London). Which, whenever I mention to anyone, the response is always “Why Acton?!”.
I don't get it, it's a great neighborhood, and it's on the Piccadilly line!!
In all seriousness, it's just a strategic enough location to be within reach of central London and easy to get to for family members living in High Wycombe. It is a little funny because as it turns out there's a big Arabic-speaking community in Acton, complete with a mosque and all the scrumptious food.
Truth be told though, wherever I go in London I always hear at least one person speaking in some form of Arabic. Not to mention other languages in general. I really like how multicultural the city is, a true cosmopolitan hub. And although it sometimes feels like I've made the trek across the ocean just to get tested a bajillion times (still one more test to do before boarding plane back to America), I'm really enjoying walking down its streets, and sheltering from the recurring rain in pubs and bookshops. This despite the jam-packed schedule that leaves little room for a care-free snooze.
Writing this from DC where I begin touring with Ramy Essam and his band along the American East Coast. Which sounds a lot more extensive than the four cities it entails (DC, Philly, Pittsburgh, and New York). Here's the poster I designed for it:
I only arrived just last night in time for the first of Ramy's performances, and I've already been asked more than once what my involvement with the tour will be, and well... I'm not quite sure, nor is Ramy quite frankly. But prior to the tour, we had been talking about a lot of visual stuff. Tour posters and merch aside, we've been discussing album art for some of his upcoming releases as well as potential approaches for the making of music videos, and even a bit of fashion. This was all over the phone; What's App calls keeping us connected across continents, me in the States and Ramy in Sweden. He figured his being stateside for tour was probably a good opportunity for us to hang on a day-to-day basis and have the opportunity to discuss and brainstorm things in detail, and I had to agree. On top of that, I'd actually never seen Ramy perform before, not even during the tumultuous times of Tahrir Square some nine years ago—where Ramy first started performing. We were both aware of one another's activities but our paths only ever crossed several years later in New York City, after having both been forced into exile.
I'm not sure enough people—“Western observers” especially—realize the tremendous role played by Ramy, not just back then and not just in Egypt, but even today and from a significant distance no less. Here's one of his songs effectively utilized as a “weapon” on the rebellious front lines of Beirut just last night.
All this to say, it's kind of a no-brainer that Ramy and I would collab. Aside from my tagging along giving us the opportunity to talk lots of shop, I'm also utilizing it to draw inspiration for some of the visual stuff. I'm not sure how that will transpire exactly, but for now I'm enjoying getting a first hand look not just at the performances themselves, but all the lead-up stuff backstage as well as the wind-down that follows.
I'm also enjoying taking the occasional photograph.
It should be noted that last night's concert took place at the Kennedy Center, which is practically the United States most official performance venue in existence. To have Ramy and his band rock out at the Kennedy Center's foyer (non-ticketed, unavoidable to anyone walking to and from any other performance taking place in the building), shaking the walls and columns with Arabic rebel music is pretty fucking badass. Love that they opened with “Age of the Pimp.”
Seated with Ramy in that last picture is TIMEP's very awesome Mai El-Sadany, who is clearly peering right through the man.
Back in Houston from Puerto Vallarta where I got to see humpback whales for the first time.
The thrill of being put into perspective, of realizing how small and insignificant we are, will never ever get old. I've experienced it only a handful of times in my life; one memorable time was in Baharia Oasis in Egypt's Western Desert, where the vastness of desert extends as far as the eye can see. Fish and seashell fossils are clearly visible throughout the various rock formations and there's the occasional “whale” carcass littering the sea of sand (it was all underwater some 7 million years ago)
And now this, within proximity to Mexico's West Coast, realizing that you and the boat you're on—along with all the other boats at sea—are just a bunch of croutons floating atop a big soup of whale and other sea life.
Because the habitat of humpback whales? Well it's kind of the entire Pacific Ocean, all of it. They migrate when seasons change (which climate change will no doubt really fuck up), and clearly things like borders and territorial waters and all the artificial constructs we puny humans have set up mean absolutely nothing to them.
One way for whale-watchers to spot humpback whales is to look for their “foot prints”. Essentially, big blotches on the surface of the ocean that have a smooth mirror-like look about them (pictured above), a kind of imprint left by the whale on the surface just by how its body affects the currents underneath, even at a distance. Seeing these things form and disappear is weird and alien-like, because on first sight it looks like some weird glitch in the laws of physics.
One of the things I didn't expect was how graceful these magnificent beings would be. They swim so eleganty, synchronize their movements and even their breathing—which unlike us, is very deliberate. They breath with absolute awareness apparently, wherein active decision-making is involved with every breath they take.
At one point there was a school of dolphins swimming alongside a group of whales, and just seeing these two different species—very different in size and mannerisms—getting along together and cohabiting the seas together was such a beautiful sight.
We also spotted a big grumpy sea-turtle, and several Mobula Rays (I think) leaping through the ocean surface into the air joyfully flapping their wing-like fins before diving back in. Seeing these things for the first time is like discovering whole new worlds. I failed to take pictures of... well, most things, because at a certain point I realized I was witnessing everything through my viewfinder, keeping me from truly experiencing it in the real. So I just put my camera down, turned it off, and decided to take it all in. Nothing in the way between me and the experience.
Which is exactly how I'd like to live my 2020's; more appreciation for the beauty of the world, for the miracle of being alive, for the air we take into our lungs for sustenance without thinking twice about it; the same air we share with the birds and trees and rats and cows and whales and all form of life on this incredible planet we all share.
Here's to a decade of being kind, loving, grateful, and mindful. Happy new year.
“I remember back when 10,000 pesos got you a house with a gardener!” exclaims the elderly Canadian, 10,000 pesos being the equivalent of 527.55 U.S. dollars. She also remembers when it rained for two weeks straight in 1998. I imagine her life hasn't been all that eventful since.
“Yeah, you can't do that now. I pay 11,000 pesos for a two bedroom.” responds her friend. That's still just 580 U.S.
Five hundred and eighty dollars a month for a place that is a stone's throw away from the beach is not something you can get anywhere in North America. I'm not so sure what these ladies are complaining about.
Puerto Vallarta is an idealic fishing village turned tourist hub on the Pacific Ocean side of Mexico. Even with the influx of white Anglo tourists—especially during the months of December and January where the temperature hovers around an unbeatable 30C/86F—it still hasn't lost its small town charm (unless you spend all your time in the “Zona Romantica”, which is just big hotels and stores for white-tourists). Roads are narrow, paved with uneven stones, houses are small two-three story structures, often adorned with intricate metal gates and a color accent or two. The “central” part of town is designed for walking where you can do everything on foot: go to the marketplace, hit the beach, sit at a cafe or bar, get a haircut, go clubbing, check out an art gallery, try out a different restaurant everyday, go to the bank, buy clothes, you name it. Pelicans hover in flocks, iguanas chill on rocks, and the locals go about their day with the cheerful nonchalance of beachside living. Seafood and fruit are always very fresh and available in great abundance. As are the cocktails. At very affordable prices too (at least by U.S. standards).
I reckon it would be a great place to come for a writing sabbatical (or any kind of “workation” that can be performed remotely).
The best way to do it to have access to tourist/foreign amenities without being too isolated from the town's authentic vibes is to get a little rental somewhere between Calle Allende and Isla Cuale, or within proximity to Mercado Emiliano Zapata (especially if you plan on being in town for a month or more and will need to buy groceries often). Stay away from restaurants that are awfully touristic; food is never as good and prices are usually significantly higher. La Isla de Marin's Seafood is absolutely slamming, as is Balam Balam.
As a rule, if you see too many gringos? Just keep walking (which I understand goes against the nature of many a gringo).