Sunday, June 22, 2008

One year to the day.

May 30th marked our #ONE year in Todos Santos and we are happy to be in a town where everybody knows our name.

It’s a good feeling.

The fiber of my people.

Through the year after attending special regional celebrations like the one for the Patron Saint of Todos Santos “Saint Pilar”, the local dances in the town square, watching the whales go by and/or sitting to watch one of the surfers catch a wave I have started to carve my own space in this small piece of the earth.

It has all come back to me: the fiber of my people, the color of my country, the freshness of the sea water, the comfort of my own language and inevitably the nuances of my culture.

I giggle inside my head when I see the little car with a big speaker on the roof driving around promoting a restaurant, a new business, a politician or the next dance over the weekend. Or, look out the window when I hear the honking of the fish guy, or the gas truck, or the water delivery guy. Which one of them is it today?

It pains me when I hear the cry of the man who walks all over town saying “Vendo ollas, vasijas, tarritos y muchas cosas de barro”, over and over again. While he carries a big load of pottery on his shoulders. Or, when I see the 80 year old skinny guy, wearing his big old hat, push the ice cream cart all over town. Up and down busy streets.

The need for survival is the norm in every third world country.

Casa Montemar

Mid-February the beach house (which we named “Montemar” after my Grandmother) was ready for us to move in. Still with a few rough edges but mostly finished we made our move. It was so quiet, and it was so special to sleep & wake up to the sound of the waves crashing. This is a dream I always had and never knew I could actually experience every day.

This is happiness to me.

Christmas (Navidad) 2007

Christmas was special and spent with our family here in TS. We went to pick our tree from one of the neighboring desert hills. The tree has a long stem and horizontal branches with a dried flower at the end. It is about 6ft high. And it’s “dead”. This tree happens to be the flower of the agave cacti. And when it dries out it can actually be cut without hurting the plant. The horizontal arms give space to hang the ornaments. We just strung blue lights around it and it looked gorgeous.


An opportunity arises to take over a small bakery business in town. George, in the last years has become an incredible chef and got very excited about the possibility of this part time seasonal business. Without too much thinking from the brain but mostly thinking from the heart we jumped. And the next few weeks were spent learning how to make bread.

Making bread is a noble business we thought… and it is.

December 1, 2008 we opened “Peace and Loaf” Bakery under cloudy skies and pouring rain (…it only rains 5 days a year in TS). Nevertheless lots of people showed up, the skies slowly cleared and the bread was baked and sold. The following four months the bakery was opened twice a week and I was able to spend less and less time in my art. My hands were getting sore from the kneading of more and more bread to fill the demand. But every ounce of work was worth it. The community came together in our little bakery. There was congeniality, sharing, eating, laughing and living. It brought life to us and we think to the town. Visit

6 Weeks in Connecticut.

A previously planned exhibition took me to CT for the month of September/October.During this time in addition to the events tied to the exhibition I spent all my time visiting our daughter, friends and creating some silk screen prints with photographs I took in Mexico. Everything seemed so very familiar; I kept driving to my old house instead of the friend’s house where I was staying. The visits with my friends were like a second round of “despedidas” (good byes). After the 6 weeks went by and I found myself back in TS, I realized how much I missed everyone and how connected I still was to my life in the US. It totally threw me for a loop. I had to start my adjustment exercise all over again.

It made me think that we are animals of routine, and it’s so easy to fall into the familiar.
We have to work hard at being open to new experiences and particularly new ways of doing things.

But soon enough the bumps on the road, the dust in the cars, the rooster’s crow and the occasional wild horses running loose on the country roads settled me back in.

Then another jolt.

Digging our heels.

As the months went by we dug our heels and decided TS would be a good place for us to stay beyond our sabbatical year. The next stage was dedicated to finding a permanent place to live. This led to the building of a beach house. A creative project encompassing doing something we had never done, the use of different construction materials, building trust on our contractor and workers, placing positive energy on our patch of land and managing our costs.

Being humble.

I see the raw hands of the workers. I see the hard work in their callused hands. I have seen them trying to sell a plant that they just dug out of some arroyo in the area. Or a load of rocks, which they got the very same way.

The “need” to survive is the hay that moves the horse.

There is incredible generosity amongst these gentile souls. The farmer that shares with us a little of every crop, or invites us to eat “birria” (meat stew) on the day that his butcher friend has given him a cow’s head.

All this makes you humble.

Fall arrived; I started to let go.

I brought with me a little tiny pillow that has the word “simplify” embroidered on it.
I placed it on top of our bed and everyday it reminds myself to keep things simple. By doing this I have more time to think, more space to move and breathe.

I have opened my eyes to nature. The sky is magnificent. I can see everyday, the sun go down on the ocean and the moonrise above the mountains. It is a site to remember.
Although these days I am trying to live “in the moment” and not rely on what I might want to remember but only focus on the experience at hand. If I may remember it or not it is inconsequential. As I age, I find I can remember less and less anyway.

Mexico after all these years, in my absence sure has changed in some ways, but in others it is still the same. The social structure is still the same. It is here, even when many do not like to accept it. I speak the language and have an easier point of contact with the Mexican community. But there are still the worker bees and those who can afford the services. There are those that need the work to survive, and those living from their rents.

Summer 2007.

After several months we managed to meet quite a few people of the local expat community as well as the Mexican community. Sunday mornings brought two options: One, going to Mass at the Catholic Church in the center of town. Loved watching the kids in their best attire, boys sitting on one side of the church and the girls on the other. All singing in synchrony and surrounded by their mothers, fathers, and grandparents. The whole community holding hands while singing the Our Father, always brought tears to my eyes. Or, the second option was to go to el Arca (local community center), where Robert Hall leads Dharma talks covering Buddhist principles about life. Which always
got the mind and the heart talking. As well as, created food for thought. Both good options.
After a beautiful July, the temperatures started rising. The morning walks required only shorts and a tank top, a hat and big sunglasses. The evenings were equally warm but pleasant to sit outside and for us girls, nice to be able to wear a cute slinky summer dress out to dinner.

However the middle of the day was best spent at the beach swimming, or inside in a cool corner reading a book.

It became harder and harder to sit outside to work, past 10am. The sun would beat too hard and the flies started to arrive in packs and with a vengeance.

The computer became one of our best friends. It could be used inside, in a cool room and it would put us in contact with the rest of the world.

Keeping in touch with the rest of the world is a big theme to discuss in my “Year in the Life”. Internet connections here in Baja are intermittent and totally inconsistent. We tried Skype with our friends and family. So we could call and see them on the screen. However the image wasn’t so hot and the sound even worst. I remember having a conversation with our friends Oskar and Carmen and they kept telling me I sounded like a bird, they could not understand a word I was saying. It was all chirpy.

We tried keeping in touch with most of our friends, family members and colleagues, and it became increasingly difficult to do so.

There were several things going on: the lousy internet connection, the guilt and anguish in falling behind on the e-mail thread, attending the opening at a gallery, the local fiesta of the Pueblo, the local bocce ball night or just plain “I am going to see the surfers at Pastora beach” tonight. The intertwining new and old coming together. How do we keep our worlds, our many lives overlapping each other… or not.

Here is where my worlds started to collapse. I started to feel that my quest to “live for today only for today, for the moment” was being compromised.

How to keep it simple… how to keep the guilt at bay…. how to keep the massive web that forms the loving relationships of so many years still growing, still nurtured.

I hit a wall.

Life is simple...

Life is simple here in “Todos” (as the locals call it). Yoga starts at 8am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It ends at 9:30am and after a cup of coffee with other yogis and learning a bit of the local gossip it’s time to do a few errands if needed or head back to the studio.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The sky.

Next, we started driving around to the different small towns, beaches, taking short hikes along the local arroyos (creeks) and every night we ran to a perfect viewing spot to see the sun fall into the ocean. We have earnestly tried to see the green flash, which everyone talks about, but that has not happened yet.
The desert and its multitude of plants, succulents, cacti of many types, creatures, and color has been fascinating to me. With my camera I have been able to capture many images, which have become inspiration for my artwork. It is amazing to see these very unfriendly, full of large spine plants, have very soft and delicate flowers. The contrast is amazing. In my mind I mostly see them in black and white, I have worked with them in high contrast and transferred these images into soft creamy wax. They become soft etchings. It balances its roughness and encases it in a soft environment.

There is much more to be done in this area. I am only getting started. After so many years living in a green, lush and manicured environment, the roughness of the desert is an eye opener. My feet started to grow calluses, form walking with sandals or barefoot in the sand. But my calves got stronger from walking on the uneven sand.I am finding my far sight improving because there are very few lights at night. We can count every star night after night. I can see black. I can see further.

The sky meets the ocean at the horizon. The sky is big and blue. The ocean is big and blue. It is a magnificent feeling to find oneself sandwiched in between these amazing two bodies.

The art.

They say that, "Mexicans are pretty resourceful". The reason we are is because we come from a country were nothing is wasted. Every inch of the bull is eaten. Every car has 50 lives, every appliance at home does too. Our toaster was fixed at least ten times before we disposed of it. We have learned to work with what we have. There are no special tools to fix stuff. There are no clippers or hedge clippers. We have "machetes".

So working with found objects is rather sweet for me, because it allows me to bring an ordinary disposed object and placed it in a different setting giving it a new life.

The studio

Every day we would take a long walk. We got to know pretty much every neighborhood in town. I set up a little make shift studio in the terrace overlooking the ocean. It was a little windy and a fly would make an occasional landing in one of my waxy pieces. “All part of the experience, I kept telling myself”.

After so many years away from my birth country I found it hard to fathom, why so much garbage was left unattended. So the next project was for me to pick up a found object, something discarded in a construction site, or simply thrown away by some walker by.

I decided to create a small 12” x 12” art piece of each of these pieces. So I went to the local everything hardware store and found some long dusty pieces of wood in the way back (wood is very expensive in Mexico and not used in construction). So I asked a nice man (by the name of Bernardo) working with some wires in the back of the shop if he could help me. I needed him to cut 16/12” x 12” squares for me. At first he gave me a blank look, “why would I (…a girl… need wood in the first place and 16 pieces, please”). I explained they were for an art project. He finally agreed. A half an hour later I found myself holding a very long piece of wood over a tall bucket while Bernardo proceeded to cut with a hand saw each of my squares. We managed both to keep both our hands intact, the wood was loaded into our car and I was ready to start work in my studio.

I wanted to start work right away and not loose any momentum. The work went pretty well and every day after my walk, I had a new little treasure to place in my art piece. Still with lots of free time on our hands (and no TV) we spent hours reading and quickly going through the small aisle of books that we brought with us.

The path.

Most of the time I would carry my camera along and the first thing that started to call my attention was the large number of dogs on the streets. Well… and animals in general. Sometimes we would cross paths with a horse, or a pig, or a chicken, or a rooster, or a goat. But so many dogs… I started to take pictures of all the dogs I would encounter and towards the end of the third month I had hundreds of pictures all put into a slideshow with Elvis’ “You are nothing but a hound dog” playing in the background.

The arrival.

Todos Santos was the destination we had selected after some previous travels, because of its simplicity, small quaint town atmosphere, still being under developed and having what seemed like an eclectic, artistic small community. After our arrival, settling in was pretty easy. The rental house we had arranged for was waiting for us, and we were ready for it after our 5000-mile drive from up north. Two “Pacifico Beers” in the refrigerator were the best welcome. Salud to Todos Santos.

The next few weeks we spent getting our bearings, learned where the tortilleria (tortilla shop), the local grocery store, the vet, the pharmacy and the yoga classes were. A few walks around town answered most of our questions. Pretty soon we were living in Todos Santos. However it really didn’t feel like that it felt like an extended vacation.

Spring; the journey.

Our journey had started as we were trying to welcome each new breath of air. The environment kept changing, more so when we stepped across the border into Mexico.
Particularly when we realized that we had somehow missed the customs office and
found ourselves driving as outlaws all the way to Guerrero Negro (which divides Baja California Sur & Norte) where we found another office. They were kind and did not give us a terribly hard time.

The stunning boulders of CataviƱa, views of the unique Cirios trees, the somewhat deserted highways and incredible views of the desert and the Sea of Cortes were only some of the magical surprises to our senses.

A Year in the Life.

April 30th 2007 marked one year from a late afternoon when I found myself in tears, at a local Comfort Inn in Danbury CT, writing some last minute good-bye notes to friends. The following day George, Bogie and I left the area that was our home for 27 years. We drove across the country through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and across the border into Baja California. We visited friends and family, stopped at some new destinations, had a one on one Yoga class and a scary stay in Ogallala.