Art 2.0: Stateside — Starting with Oaxaca

Much has happened since I decided to undertake Art 2.0: Stateside--too much to write real-time posts…but I’ll distill a bit; in not-too-distant retrospect. Beginning with the beginning…     October 23, 2015

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Landing at the Distrito Federal Airport in Mexico City

Oaxaca. Land of my heart. Montana’s Mexican doppelganger, in certain very important ways.
Originally, this was an acceptance of an invitation, a challenge to the “I can’t” mindset that seems to have hijacked my 50’s. A willingness to put my $$ into friends, culture, travel…instead of clothes, videos, other comforts and counteractions to the isolation and stress of the dreaded d.j.
Then it became…what? One more item to check off the ludicrously long to-do list that I have been pick-axing my way through every single day since Aug 1? One more thing to be done…because I had already purchased the ticket? Because I had been looking forward to it, before my world shifted on July 31?
More than a decade ago, Oaxaca solidified my art, made it real…but this last year has taken me the furthest I have been from art-making since then. I haven’t even been able to pull out art supplies for a potential re-boot. I don’t know where they are, in my freshly-packed and -stored belongings.
My gut says the best vacation for me right now would be sleeping. Lying in the sun, swimming. Good food. Maybe just being completely alone for a day or two. A week. A month? Silent. Invisible. Reconnecting to paint. Surrounded by known comforts. No fuss…
And when I return from Oaxaca: one day in SF, then straight to Seattle to work the CoCA art marathon.
Not sure, really, what this is.     Dias de los Muertos, days of the dead, of course.     With loved ones…which is important.     But at this point, I think, I’m just taking the ride because it was pre-scheduled…like my first trip to Oaxaca, 10 days after 9/11…because, though I am in shock, there doesn’t seem to be any reason not to go.     And I guess that’s good…
So here is Mexico again, immediately present in three quintessential airport interactions:
The aroma of a Mexico City bathroom—you become accustomed to it, a sort of perfumed hint at something you don’t really want to know about: plastic bags infused with scent to disguise the odor of urine and feces, in a country where paper in the plumbing is not done. In truth, the description is worse than the reality; the hot, dry air evaporates a fair amount of the ick away. Generally, it’s more distinctive than disgusting.
Machismo in the simplest stance of men. Attention-getting in that of women. On the plane from D.F. to Oaxaca, the man in the seat next to me expands his arms onto the seat divider and into my space, making contact. Why wouldn’t he? We are in Mexico, where men are everything, and women are nothing without them. Un mundo where niños determine a woman’s value. (Frida’s intense desire for children encompassed more than most Americans understand.) If not children: sex. The man-centered conduct of women—either striving for the desire of men, or the safety of santidad—is ordained.
It strikes me again how the sight of a woman simply occupying space, with no reference to the men around her, is a rare thing in Mexico; worthy of note. No wonder this place lights me up.
Navigating the D.F. Airport—de-boarding instructions on the plane are given in Spanish in a sharp, clear female voice, easily distinguished above the roar of the plane (but my ear is too out of practice to pull meaning from the disembodied recording). In English, instructions are given in a deep, indistinct male voice, completely lost to the engines. Seriously, this can’t be unknown to Aeromexico, right?…They’re fucking with us, right?
Once through Customs, I ask for information from every relatively open face. Do I need to retrieve my bags somewhere? No. Escorted gallantly to my first wrong line. Make it all the way to the front, to find I need a form I haven’t received. Out of line to find one, fill it out. By this time there are bags standing in the middle of the hall, so I ask another only-mildly-annoyed-looking face if I, traveling from San Francisco, through D.F., to Oaxaca, should retrieve my luggage somewhere (cannot for the life of me think how to say “checked through” in Spanish). This time the answer is yes…just as I see my bag join the huddle. Back into line #2 with bag, through detectors to other side, to…where? No signs, double back to ask, follow the wave of a hand, through doors straight ahead…and find myself on a curbside, in a flurry of city life, taxis rushing for openings at the walkway, the whistles of traffic conductors blaring. Retreat behind the doors, find another non-hostile face to ask where to find connecting flights. Directed to the far end of the hall. Line #3 for ticket review, told my bag needs to be checked on the opposite side of the hall. The clock is ticking now. Run the length of the hall towards a conveyor belt swallowing luggage, all but throw my bag into the arms of a diligent-looking handler, turn back without confirming it made it onto the belt, and dash to the previous side of the hall into line #4. Up an escalator to a second floor. Emerge to a row of shops…and mystery: no indication of where to go, no signage with directions to gates, no gate numbers. Ask a Banamex model which way to go; she’s handing out promotional materials—like an episode of Mad Men without the ironic distance, the stewardesses and pitch-girls wear regulated short skirts, high heels, pinched waists and propped up bosoms, and the identical shade of blood red lipstick (see Machismo, above)—targeted to men; I’ve broken the unspoken rule that these women are not to be bothered with other women. The eternal eye-roll initiates, but still, she flicks a disdainful finger in a direction that turns out to be correct. Run miles to gate. (Miles? Yes, I think miles. At least mile.) Boarding on time, but departure delayed.
So I sit on a strangely beautiful Mexico City runway, knowing Adrian’s mother is waiting for me in Oaxaca (and I am now late), while every practical, physical fact of my life at home has been undone just in time to put me on this plane. I have been some surreal combination of steely-eyed Valkyrie beating a hideous stream of bureaucratic and logistical bullshit into cowering submission, and a jangled nutjob on the brink of collapse, for two solid, unrelenting months…but here I am. Becalmed by the glittering grid of runway lights, stately lines of airplanes lit up like Christmas trees, each with a red and a green glow on separate wings, progressing through figures, woven with one another, crossing, turning in time, bowing past the service vehicles flashing golden warnings, a silent dance from where I sit, peering out at the patterns in a magical, near-romantic D.F. twilight.
Here I am. Once again, a guera.
Traveling alone.
In Mexico.