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Archive for February, 2010

The Cloud People

I’ve my got my head in the clouds…

…in the Oaxacan clouds to be specific. There is something magical about the Oaxacan skylines, and it has taken me a couple months to pinpoint what it is that I love. It’s the nubes, the brilliantly dramatic and dynamic cloud formations that hover in the horizon between the mountain peaks. I find myself on the roof of my office in a full stand-still, fascinated at each curve, shape and color of these amazing puffs of water just waiting to pour down on some lucky village.

My obsession has even tickled my subconscious toes, as I now even dream about clouds. The other night I dreamed I was in a large field looking at the horizon during a pink sunset. In the cleavage between two distant mountains, a woman’s face appeared in the grey clouds. Both her face and her features were short and wide, and she was so peaceful. She had thick, pursed lips that smiled at me, as if to say “don’t worry, yes I am a cloud woman – totally normal, carry on with your day.” I whispered something to her, or breathed perhaps, and her lips mimicked mine. I opened my mouth wide, and she parroted me. I remember laughing in my dream; it was a beautifully surreal, yet comforting encounter. As I walked to work the next day, I looked to horizon hoping she would smile at me again. Unfortunately, she did not make an appearance. I guess my dreaming mind is much more imaginative than my awake one.

As most things in my life, my new-found infatuation with clouds, and my consequent dream, are not coincidences. Today, while researching indigenous populations in Oaxaca for a grant proposal I’m working on, I came across an interesting piece of information – I’m living in the land of the Zapatecos. Although the name in the n├íhuatl language means “the people of Zapote,” they called themselves “be’neza” meaning “the people of the clouds.” Little is known about the origin of the Zapotecos. Unlike most indigenous populations of Mesoamerica, the Zapotecos had no tradition or legend of their migration; only that they believed they were born directly from the clouds. Hence, there are known as “cloud people”.

So apparently it’s not just me. There is something magical about these Oaxacan skylines, and it is not a recent phenomenon. Their nubes contain a magic that has survived over thousands of years despite conquests, migration and marginalization – a struggle which has not been so easy for the Zapotecos.

I’ve always been a bit in the clouds anyhow, but now my woolgathering moments personify into cloud people. If it is true that the Zapotecos were born directly from the clouds, well then I guess I met their mother in my dream! Perhaps her smile was one of content, that this guera in Oaxaca stops to ponder her wonderful creation.

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Dolphins on my mind…

Outside my window the rain is pouring. Inside my window I sit here snuggled up in bed with a large bottle of water on the bedside table. I am looking through my pictures from playa San Agustinillo this past weekend, mainly at all the blue shots of water with the dolphins popping up all over the place.

I am tired and would love to fall asleep, but I have water – and dolphins – and my Dad – on my mind.

There is a long-standing joke with my friends from middle school about how I used to be a dolphin in my past life. When these same friends are not teasing me about my dyed purple jeans I brought IN style in the early 1990s, they never miss a moment to remind me about my odd, early teenage obsession with dolphins.

Yes, it is true. I used to tell people I was a dolphin in my past life, with such zest and craziness that they thought that I believed it to be true. They would probably argue that I did believe it was true. I guess it didn’t help that I wore dolphin rings and a huge dolphin pendant necklace, and would make myself cry when telling my past life stories.

I had invented animal past lives for all of our friends at the time (which in retrospect I guess is a bit strange), based on their physical appearances and/or their personalities: Ashley was, and remains, a turtle. Andrea was, and remains, a camel. Halsey, with all her freckles and speed, was obviously a cheetah.

Then it came time to invent an animal for myself, and for some unknown reason I chose a dolphin. I either had a wild imagination or perhaps a sixth sense, but my story developed over time and I used my aquatic “past life” to explain certain desires and fears. Previously a dolphin, I was naturally drawn to the sea and needed to be by the beach at all times. But at some point in middle school I developed a strange fear of the ocean, to the point that I did not swim for years. I used my dolphin past life as a way to explain this fear: simply put, I was caught in a tuna fish net and died (which simultaneously explained why I hated tuna fish).

From time to time I am reminded of my odd behavior, but to be honest I haven’t given my past life as a dolphin much thought in years.

As it turns out, my Dad loved dolphins too. He used to (repetitively) tell us this amazing story about an encounter he had with dolphins in the deep-sea. His eyes would get all big and wide and his body would flutter around like a fish as he excitedly told his story.

Life is funny. I used to always tell him, “Yeah Dad, I know, you’ve already told me this story about a million times,” and yet, now I cannot seem to remember the details. I really wish I had listened better.

From what I remember, the story involved him on a sailboat with a bunch of guys that woke him up in the middle of the night. They dragged him out of bed and forced him over the edge of the boat, dangling him by his feet. My Dad thought he was being hazed (apparently there is a hazing tradition of some sort for sailors crossing the equator for the first time). He was scared, and struggled to get right side up and back on the boat. And then suddenly he heard the dolphins. They were all around the boat playing and my Dad was right down there with them, floating in mid-air as the dolphins jumped around him. As I recall, the sun was even rising on the horizon (of course it was, as my Dad’s stories were always exaggeratedly perfect).

When my Dad passed away a couple of years ago, according to his wishes we spread his ashes at sea. He loved the ocean, and had spent most of his adult life living on islands: Tahiti, Fiji, Hawaii, Coronado. We tossed bouquets of flowers and rose petals overboard to accompany his ashes. With mimosas in hand we toasted my Dad and watched in silence as the tide pulled his ashes and the flowers gently away from us. Some long, sad minutes went by. It was so hard to say goodbye.

The flowers drifted far from the boat, but our gaze stayed on them. And then suddenly, like in a dream, dolphins appeared around the ashes – swimming and playing all around my Dad. And I couldn’t help but smile. It was the absolute perfect ending for my Dad, and I guess for me too. My last vision of him was dancing at sea with dolphins. What is not wonderful about that?

As a result of that bitter-sweet day, my old school obsession with dolphins returned. My imaginary past life transformed into my Dad’s imaginary future life. I just know that somewhere in the big sea out there, our “non-lives” are playing and swimming together.

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