Monday, March 1, 2010

I gave my heart to Valparaiso.

I arrived in Valparaiso at midnight. Nevertheless, I fell in love immediately, as soon as the taxi driver got to the Cerros. The Cerros are hills, and they are old. They have a beautiful view of the harbour. Hills give a city such character, I should always live in a hilly city. And I swear they somehow foster the creativity in artists, juding by the hilly cities I know. Valparaiso's buildings are jumbled one upon another. You see stairs rambling off all over the place, like an Escher drawing. Valparaiso is not a city your mom would like, or approve of. It's a bit gritty. I don't know who commissioned this, or gave permission, but almost all of the old buildings in the cerros are covered in art. And not just the standard graffiti you see splashed up in every city. It's more like hundreds of different artists used the walls of Valparaiso as their sketchpads, their notebooks that they doodled and explored upon. Art, creation, expression is a presence there, and it seeps into every nook and cranny. And it seeps into you. There are studios around every corner. Anyone can make their mark, wherever they want. There are growing things everywhere, popping out of the middle of streets.

Valparaiso. No wonder it fostered people like Pablo Neruda. I think any artist would delight in it, love it, want to live in it.

I should have stayed.

My first day there I walked the half hour to Neruda's house, La Sebastiana. I want Pablo Neruda to be my decorator. His house was so full of life, whimsy, expression, personality. It was so friendly. I love looking at people's houses, apartments, rooms. You can learn so much about a person and their stuff. I generally think well of an anti-materialist tendency. But I cannot deny that, like Neruda, I love stuff. I love my stuff. It's not that I pride myself in the ownership of something like a BMW, it's more like my things are an extension of me, and an expression. I will never be one of those people with a minimalist decor. I will always have books spilling from their cases, being piled in corners. Mementos, reminders, items that inspire me. Not complete clutter, but happy gatherings of things. It makes a space more vibrant, more living. More fostering of my creative bent. You can ask anyone who's lived with me, I am not a stridently tidy person. I did not inherit that from my mom.

There were some performers singing and playing live music when I got to La Sebastiana-- best live music so far. Phenomenal guitarist, great singer. I was sitting there, completely overflowing with happiness. And while once in a while I still feel that I am not experiencing the full potential of beauty or joy because I have no one to share it with, at this particular moment I was just sad that no one was there to receive this extra vibrant joy that was pouring off of me.

Valparaiso. I was so happy there. I couldn't believe how happy I was. I have hit this level of general happiness that seems absurd. I, as usual, am over-analyzing everything, and my brain can't stop thinking how strange it is that I am so euphoric. I don't know when the last time was that I felt this way for such a long period of time. Every day is a gift. They are shot through with dazzling, gorgeous rays of gold. Every moment is more intense, more concentrated. I feel like a kid again in that I have recovered a remarkable sense of wonder. I feel so inspired and am planning so much for when I get home.

It reminded me of the following quote from one of my favorite films, Before Sunset:

"I remember as a teenager I went to Warsaw, when it was still a strict communist regime... Something about being there was very interesting, I found. After a couple of weeks something changed in me. The city was quite gloomy and grey, but, after a while, my brain seemed clearer. I was writing a lot more in my journal, ideas I'd never thought of before... It took me a while to figure out why it felt, you know, so different. And then, one day, as I was walking through the Jewish cemetery, I don't know why, but it occurred to me there, I realized that I had spent the last two weeks away from most of my habits. TV was in a language I didn't understand, so, all I'd been doing was... walk around, thinking, right! My brain felt like it was at rest, free from the consuming frenzy, and I have to say, it was almost like a natural high. It felt so peaceful inside. No strange urge to be somewhere else, to shop... Maybe it could have seemed like boredom at first, but it quickly became very, very soulful, you know?"

While my trip is not exactly like communist Warsaw, traveling has taken me completely out of a situation I know or am comfortable in. I am constantly surrounded by strange places and strange people. I have my internet connection with my old world, but that takes up a very marginal amount of my day, and sometimes I am disconnected from that for several days at a time (which feels like an eternity). Meanwhile, I have so much time at my disposal to just let my thoughts roam, wander free, with no direction, no guidance. I used to hate being left alone to my thoughts, I found they would easily wander into negative territory. I certainly still have my moments, but they are so few and far between. I constantly find myself in vast vistas of beautiful natural landscape. I read a book once about yoga and meditation, and it advised me to walk about in nature for an hour every day. Our bodies, our souls, our minds, respond to it. It is far too small a part of our lives anymore, especially as I live in the concrete jungle of New York City. I find that in these spaces everything about me breathes deeply, and opens up.

It has been interesting being, for lack of a better term, at my leisure for 5 months. The last time I was not at school or work was right when I moved home after graduating, and I was out of work for a month. I was miserable. I think there were a lot of factors contributing to that misery, but I generally like to be about something. I feel uncomfortable at my leisure. Before that month, the last time had to be in high school. At the beginning of my trip I wrote about how ridiculously difficult it was for me to lie on a beach all day in Cancun. I didn't like it. Well, my beach days have turned out to be as productive in a different way. The thoughts I explore, the words I explore through books, the beauty I soak up. It is easy to get caught up in work. Away from work, for so long, my brain has cracked wide open.

My situation, as an artist, is a little different from your regular careerist. My day job is certainly important, I need to pay my rent, and it behooves me to find a day job I can have some amount of passion for. But my job isn't my life's work, as it is for some. And I think I have been too caught up in it. That is easy to do-- it's where I go most days. But there is so much more of my life that I have been neglecting somewhat in favor of that day job. My brain, my life, my passions are big enough to hold my job as well as the plethora of other things I should be doing and exercising.

Life is more full, more varied, more exciting. I intend to bring this back home with me. I, in fact, have developed a list. Of course I developed a list.

-I want more art in my life. Everywhere. When I get an apartment room again I am painting on the walls. Yes, direct inspiration here from Valparaiso.
-I have been very frugal for the past year in preparation for this trip. While I have other things to be saving for, I want to stop sacrificing art and life. I will buy a new album every two weeks.
-I will not, however, be allowed to listen to my iPod on the subway. Subway time is reading time. I should be ripping through more books. On more subjects.
-I am going to listen to live jazz once a month.
-I am going to see plays whenever I want. (Thank god for student-priced ticketing, my BYU ID without an expiration date, and my youthful face.)
-I want to cook more good vegan food. I will cook one full-fledged good meal (and desert of course) a week, which I am not allowed to eat by myself, I must always invite at least one friend to come share it with me. (This one directly inspired by Pablo Neruda. He considered a meal eaten alone, a meal wasted.)
-I will take my camera out once a week.
-I will get my hands on photoshop and learn how to use it to increase the quality of my photography.
-Volunteer for Greenpeace more than I was before.
-I will go hiking or camping once a month.
-I will go to brunch with a friend every sunday.
-Acting is my career, I will treat it more like a career. I will enroll in an acting class, voice lessons, and audition regularly (once I get my bank account back on track).
-I will buy a guitar and learn how to accompany myself so I can start performing regularly at open-mic nights.
-I will go out with friends more frequently. My NYC experience suffered while I was being frugal. I am a single beautiful woman in Manhattan, I need to be taking advantage of that.
-I will go to the gym 4 times a week. Obviously.

Valparaiso. I wandered, I conversed, I brewed in cafes. One day I visited a vineyard, a small fishing village, and Pablo Neruda's third home, Isla Negra. Well, the man can stick to a theme, I'll give him that. His third home is overwhelmingly dedicated to the theme of the sea. Seriously. I like a figurehead probably a little more than the next person, but he probably had 20 of them in his house. It was fantastic. I especially loved a couple of rooms that was filled with knick-knacks from around the world. Fascinating.

He has a stunning view of the rugged Chilean coastline and Pacific from his grave. Some of his words are definitely going up on my wall.

The other great thing about Valparaiso was that I met some great people. People that I hope stay in my life. They will. I didn't get to spend as much time with them as I would have liked, so I will remedy that in the future. I could go more into this. But I won't.

There have been two places in my travels down here that I absolutely didn't want to leave. That I was a little miserable leaving. Salento was one, Valparaiso was the other. If I had been there earlier in my travels, I certainly would have stayed. But at this point, down to the wire, I felt that I had to move on. I bought my bus ticket the first day I was there, but after my few days in the city I certainly regretted it. I should have stayed.

Valparaiso did, however, give me a lovely parting gift. While pausing at a stoplight, a singer with an accompanying guitarist and drummer were performing in a square at the bottom of my Cerro. It was a lovely example of how alive, musical, and creative this breathing city is.


Unknown said...

"I am a single beautiful woman in Manhattan"
it's about time i heard that. i can't wait to see you.

Rebecca said...

I love your list! I'm excited that you're going to be pursuing acting, and also that you want to go out and do stuff! I'm SO on board for brunch and for having dinner together at our respective apartments. I'm so excited to see you!