Thursday, August 11, 2011

Unfocussed moments and Driving

         I am having a couple of slow days. Yesterday I felt tired all day and read in the hammock and today I have a chin of diarrhea and the blahs. I got dressed and had coffee with Altagracia and Jhoanglish, who spent the night after a day off from the bomberos yesterday, and, walked them, with Chloë up to the blue water tank but now I am lying in bed listening to the sounds of the street-- the horn announcing the arrival of the potable water truck which will fill your 5 gallon spring water jug with osmotically filtered pure water although Altagracia says, “¡Mentira, agua de cualquier rio!, or Bullshit, that’s water from the handiest river!; the dogs across the street barking at selected pedestrians or motorcycles and thankfully the young shaggy  blond bitch is not in heat anymore-- she was very busy there for a while!; and Chavela moving around in the kitchen, putting habichuelas on the stove to simmer and there is the occasional shouted greeting to her from the street from friends and admirers. My lower back is a little sore and the back of my neck is warm and I think I might have a slight fever. I haven't eaten anything I thought was risky recently and my intestinal trouble of last year has almost entirely subsided.
         So I lie here slightly dazed and wonder what I am going to do. The excitement from the museum show is dying down although my big photos are still on exhibit and one of my images appeared on the cover of the, roughly annual, Journal of the Museum which is a classy publication. We are all still awaiting the finished catalog for the show, which I suspect has been forever derailed due to squandered or embezzled funding and so it would be tricky to ask the Foundation Garcia Arévalo for more money to continue photographing just yet.
         In this first month and a half here this year I have spent more money than I had planned, unlike last year, and I am not sure I can stretch my saved summer earnings enough to last until May, although Kiki is still far away and Jhoanglish and Chavela are working. I like my daily rhythms -- I often cook the lunch and otherwise putter in the kitchen, now that the new countertop of cement and stone marmól is in place and the kitchen faucet now delivers water-- the internet is a 10 minute walk away, we take the guaguita on field trips every other day or so; I do most of the food shopping by myself which cuts down on spats with Altagracia since we have very different styles of shopping. My Spanish learning is on a long, nearly flat plateau so I have begun to read more and check more words and grammar in texts and online.
         With the roof patched and painted and the kitchen sink remodelled the big projects for the year are out of the way and I can now scrape and paint inside at my leisure.
         The neighborhood has changed since last year-- La Rubia has taken up with a new chulo and moved away with him (after borrowing a last 100 pesos from us) leaving her grown children to finally fend for themselves in the little pink wood house-- but nobody sells chicken anymore out front. Many tigueres including Herman, the snaky killer, Demonio and Britania of the knife and bottle fight, Nati the thief, Lao and various others (including Kiki) have all moved on. Guangu helped me apply a plato fino, or finish coat of cement on my leaking roof but otherwise is not around much since he has a new woman in another barrio and only occasionally sleeps in his house (reportedly in the same bed although far from Miguelina, his estranged wife). We have not been to a rezo in a long time although, sadly, Anahai’s 15 year old brother was hit by a SUV and killed last week while on the same motorcycle and crossing the highway at the same spot where their father was killed by a dump truck last year.
         My environment now seems less exotic than before. If I feel a little better I will wash the guaguita this afternoon.

         Man, can it be tough to shop with Altagracia! Yesterday afternoon after work she, Niningo and I went to La Sirena, a mammoth, crowded department and grocery store, mainly to buy something for Kiki since we will be seeing  him in Elias Piña on Christmas Day which is also his birthday. Walking down the blue jean aisle which was neatly organized with the prices clearly posted above each column of shelves of jeans she asked constantly how much are those and how much are these and grabbed folded jeans off shelves and tossed them back roughly and would spend minutes minutely examining a pair  with a 30 inch waist whereas Kiki wears 34 or 36. Niningo and I made a deal behind her back and attended her in shifts of 10 minutes so the other could wander off and take a break. The long selection process was particularly frustrating because I figure Kiki will probably sell the $15 jeans for 50 pesos ($1.75) before the dust on our way out of town has settled. After the jeans were finally selected, and the cart was full of $3 dolls for the nieces in Elias Piña and an oven thermometer to replace the one I burned up somehow roasting a turkey on Thanksgiving, and a polo shirt for Niningo we got separated when Altagracia darted up a shoe aisle and I took the opportunity to sneak off to the perfume counter to buy her a vial of Café, which does not smell at all like coffee but is a heady floral scent that Altagracia is crazy for, which took longer than I thought. When I got back to Shoes Altagracia was nowhere to be found. The cellphone signal was weak inside the big store but I was finally able to call her and we met near the front doors and Niningo eventually showed up but no one had the shopping cart because Altagracia had left it behind in a fit of pique and we didn’t find it until it had already been rounded up by the abandoned shopping cart patrol and most of the stuff had already been sorted out into other carts for reshelving but we were eventually able to recollect everything.  As we headed toward the check-out line Altagracia started to veer back into the store toward the grocery area but we grabbed her and lied to her and said that we had bread and cheese and yucca in the house to get her to leave quietly because hog tying her and dragging her out would have been the next option. When she tried to bolt from the line I waved my fingers, which smelled of Café Perfume, under her nose, and that calmed her down and on the way back home we stopped off at Hipermercado Olé and bought our needed staples without incident.

         When walking Chloë, my crazy English cocker spaniel, on a leash, which is an undisciplined process at best, she will track straight down the center of a sidewalk but if we step out onto the street she careens crazily toward the center of the road, nearly slipping her collar at times-- it is like trying to heel a lemming along a cliff-- and it does not matter which side of the street we are on or what is on the other side or which way we are going or how much traffic there is.
         Chloë loves the guaguita although she has not yet had a ride in it. If the doors are left open she can be found sleeping in it during the day even if nobody is in the marquisina with her. I think she knows that it is cars that take people farther away from her and if she stays in the guaguita she will not get left behind.
         Chloë will not drink tap water, osmotically purified water, ice water or rain water from her water dish which is a normal glazed ceramic bowl on the kitchen floor but she will drink whatever cleanish water running down the street gutters and loves to drink from a full 5 gallon bucket of water just bailed out of the cistern. I have now placed a new aluminum water dish next to her ceramic one but it seems to be as distasteful.

         Driving here requires a mixture of patience and aggression and constant surveillance using the rear and side view mirrors. Aside from the fact that they are cheaper, many people here buy motorcycles so that they can weave their way through the frequent traffic jams, or tapones, and may travel on the sidewalks and down the median strips as well. Motorcycles frequently shoot out into intersections against red lights figuring that they are agile enough to slalom their way through the traffic and may do so with several children on the bike-- I have seen motorbikes carrying as many as five people, counting babies, at a time. Very few motorcyclists wear helmets and I don’t  think I have ever seen a passenger wearing one.
         (During the period when I was photographing in the caves of El Pomier, Johnny Rubio and I had gotten a ride on a motorcycle to take us down out of the hills and back to town and the road wound down through limestone quarries and was severely potholed and was strewn with boulders that had fallen off of dump trucks and I realized that, ironically, between the three grown men with four bulky backpacks on the Honda 50cc Club motorbike we actually had two helmets with us that we used in the caves but it would never dawn on us to wear them on a motorcycle.)
         (When I stayed for a month at the pensión where Altagracia works, which is located on the corner of an intersection with four-way stop signs in a quiet residential neighborhood I heard or saw three accidents happen because most cars do not stop there but honk their horns and speed up and I would listen to that driving pattern of beepbeepvroom as I was dropping off to sleep nights and wait for beepbeepvroomCRASH.)
         Another driving habit that I am learning to anticipate is that when crossing a big city intersection traveling in the left or center lanes it is not unusual for someone, usually driving a large vehicle, to make a left hand turn, whether or not permitted, across your bow, from the right hand lane. One time while we were with Norkis, our lawyer, and stopped at such an intersection in the left hand lane waiting for a break in the traffic that was still streaming across in front of us against our green light, a large Hielo Nacional ice delivery truck, did just that and drove over the top of Norkis’s front right fender in doing so-- later in the police station the ice truck driver emphatically insisted he had done nothing wrong and was flabbergasted when the policewoman confiscated his license and handed him a summons.
         Solutions to tapones may be creative. I have seen two of three southbound lanes of stretches of Maximo Gomez filled with northbound traffic during the afternoon rush-- moving fast too-- and I was once in three lanes of traffic on a one-way, single lane sidestreet going the wrong way-- many cars had one wheel up on sidewalks and at intersections two or three drivers would get out of their cars and direct traffic in a jigsaw puzzle crossing.
         When breakdowns occur where there is no breakdown lane you might see someone changing a tire in a center lane of a highway and I have seen a whole bus transmission being rebuilt on the sidewalk next to the bus it had fallen out of.
         Cars may swerve crazily in front of you while passing to avoid potholes-- which may be cavernous. The use of turn signals is not unheard of but is not common. Altagracia warns not to put one’s elbow out the window because of the chance of stray chunks of rock or metal bouncing down the road.

         I may have chosen the single worst possible time to buy a car in Villa Mella because construction of the elevated commuter train that will run the length of Maximo Gomez nearly from the center rotunda of Villa Mella which is about one kilometer north of my house south to the Malecon on the sea. Upon the project’s approval by the Senate, work was immediately begun and holes the size of houses appeared overnight in the center of the road dug by large earthmoving equipment as well as by pick-and-shovel. Within two weeks giant towers of grids of 3/4 inch re-bar were lifted into place in some of the foundation holes-- sometimes using ropes and man power and sometimes using backhoes or cranes and in some holes the towers were built in place within a cage of wood staging nailed together with rough sawn lumber. I saw one crane that had toppled over while trying to lift a concrete barrier, but traffic was still able to move under the nearly horizontal boom and the half dozen or so workers that were gathered around it scratching their heads did not seem too bothered. As I write this,some of the steel re-bar towers are being enclosed by round, steel, prefabricated forms that will be filled with concrete and later removed.
         The Metro is being built to alleviate the terrible traffic  problems that plague Maximo Gomez during rush hours but while being constructed is making traffic much worse. While the published estimated construction time is hovering around one year most people are wondering if it will be done in one lifetime because the history here is that public works projects almost always run out of money and if the project lasts for more than one term it may turn out that the next President has other plans. Many different construction companies are working on the Metro and there is much speculation already about how the bidding process was legally completed in the one or two days between Senatorial approval and the start of construction.


No comments:

Post a Comment