Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Muse of Vacation


Mural/Mosaic made with bottle caps


Why were you born voyager?
—Robert Hass

Hummingbird Medicine
Once a year for many years Dan and I have come to San Pancho, a village by the sea in Mexico, in winter, on vacation. To vacation is to vacate, to empty out—essential as an exhalation, as ebb tide and waning moon. For us it is a kind of annual Sabbath, a holy time to remember who we are and who we were.

To vacation is to let go schedules, traffic, everyday worries and rituals, to settle into a chaise lounge and listen to the ocean’s murmur and hush—our Mother Tongue, our origin. To watch Her is endlessly fascinating, Her rise and Her fall, Her great blue curl, white crash, spent swirls reaching for the beach.


To hear Her puts me in trance, in a reverie visited by hummingbird in intimate contact with pink hibiscus.


Hummingbird medicine, it is said, is all about beauty and joy, about the nectar of life, the love between plants and creatures—life-pollinating life. Hummingbird feathers will make you a love charm. Hummingbird sightings—the dazzle of tiny wings moving so fast they seem invisible, the bird hovering in mid air—return me to the realm of magic, the interpenetration of inside and outside, of earth, sky and water, of myth and fairy tale, birds and trees, stories and dream. The sound of the waves is cut by the whine of a saw cutting tiles for the house being worked on next door. There’s laughter by the pool, and somewhere, a Mexican love song on the radio.

“Look at those colors” says Dan, framing a shot with his ipad. He takes photos of beach restaurants: houses, playful details, birds, plants, flowers, spellbound by the radiance everywhere. The palette is different here. The bright green T–shirt I buy looks all wrong at home. But here it belongs to the joy of color.



















The ocean is azure at the horizon, goes aquamarine with patches of turquoise until the swell breaks radiant white. Seven brown pelicans swoop down, caressing the waters. There’s a bright orange beach umbrella, intense blue of the roof of the house on the cliff that was lost in a lawsuit. A girl in a purple bikini cavorts with her lover in the surf. A dad, with his lime green boogey board, falls off it numerous times, until at last he rides a wave triumphantly to shore. His daughter laughs. Houses are painted bright shades on the beach and off.



Sometimes when we’re lucky, the night is clear, and the sky reveals its splendor—great wash of Milky Way and countless stars—a sight we city dwellers are never granted at home. We look up, hungry for the bounty and the mystery, until our necks ache. Dan finds the Pleiades. We contemplate the ancients, their intimacy with all those shifting stories in the dark.

The Ballad of Time and Mutability


One of the most beautiful rooms in my life is the great room at Casa Obelisco, our B&B, where we gather for breakfast, meet strangers, hear origin stories about the town and its people. The gracious space, with three open arches framing the ocean view, and high ceilings rising to a cupola, has a Moorish flavor, remembers Southern Spain—the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Sunburst sconces light it in the evening, and star shaped lanterns fill the chapel like dome.


Outside the cupola is covered with Moorish blue tiles. We visit it to watch the sunset from the roof. It is a beloved ritual, to watch the sun go down as people have forever. Every sundown is the same and entirely different.





Time changes on vacation, especially when you stay in one place for two weeks, a place you’ve known and loved for so long. There is a timelessness about it—we’re here, we’ve been here, the gods willing we will be here again.

The Muse of this vacation is a ballad. The chorus is repeated. Our hosts discovered this enchanted place some twenty years ago, and built themselves and us a lovely B&B. They tell this story over breakfast many mornings, when entertaining newcomers. The chorus is the great room. The town is much the same and always changing. Each stanza tells the story of some new eating–place, some gone familiar place. There’s always someone building, someone tearing down. The old hotel nearby has been razed to the ground. There are differing rumors about what will be built there next. That beach restaurant we loved at sunset—where egrets flew into the palms above us, as the light dimmed—is gone. There is a new Italian restaurant right off the plaza, near St. Francis, the town saint. We sat there listening to three old guys talking rapid Italian, shades of Venice where we spent time a few months ago. Trance music, curated by a disc jockey, goes in loops, in circles, a kind of techno ballad—magical, at once familiar and strange, of now and of forever.

San Francisco (near the beach)

Time relaxes. Takes its own sweet time. The muse craves such time—time to ponder, time to get obsessed with a poem, work it, rework it, let it talk back to you in the night and show new facets of itself come morning. Time to forget the latest spasm of outrage in U.S. politics. Time to read the novel that sat on the floor of your study at home for months. Time to write about the time you’re having in your journal, make notes for your blog. Time to sleep in, to remember your dreams, to write them down and work with them. Time to meditate on Robert Hass’ “Meditation at Lagunitas.” Hass floats the notion that “a word is elegy to what it signifies.” I muse on that. My words reflect on what I love. They’re not the thing itself, not the crash of the surf, not the hummingbird. That’s gone, on invisible wings.

For me, much of the meaning in a stay put vacation is time to engage with such loss. Hass begins his poem, “All the new thinking is about loss./In this it resembles the old thinking.” How true of living into one’s seventies, where every pleasure glimmers with its loss, its built in mutability. It’s always been so, but now it’s more so. The B&B, that great room I love, is up for sale—has been for years. One day the market forces will shift and it will be gone. Some extended family from Mexico City will make it their beloved second home. And for us it will be a shadow, a longing, an old flame. My chapbook, The Little House on Stilts Remembers is all about such losses of place. Here is the opening poem:

Her Next Life

All the houses she's loved and sold
remember her
call her by name

What will her next life be? 

In the dream she must change
clothes    stitch mirrors
red thread
on deer skin dress
                             reflect her
                                    journey    temple dancer
                                                           stone chariot
                                                  river at sunset with elephants

All the pretty houses have peeled off
                                     like snake skin

Her feet are listening 
                  Song of the earth 
                                     holds her now



[Photographs -except for hummingbird- by Dan Safran]


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