A metallic twang, like a note struck on a steel guitar, reveals the mineralized soil in which everything grows. Assaulted by notes of spruce, eucalyptus and dogwood, I inhale an aroma, leafy around the edges, evergreen at its core. Undertones of an old cigar box that has been left out in the rain, creep past my heightened olfaction. And yet—the lingering impression on the tongue is angular, optimistic as a freshly laundered white shirt hung to dry in the chinook winds that blow where the Canadian Prairies and the Great Plains meet. At the edges, I can taste winter, and I’m reminded how much I miss this Alberta air.
I stopped to take his picture but I didn’t stop to ask
Cuál es su nombre?
Or to ask him what he was reading so intently
his finger still marking a passage of time
Leather and tweed
in La Lagunilla, the little lake,
a place my friend Richard calls ‘the Flea’
where lives are laid out for the next highest bidder
And then this man with his piercing blue eyes
like mine, his mother’s hands
like mine, his face carved
like the madera of the instruments he sells
Puedo sacar su photo?
But I didn’t stop to ask his name.
Tiny crescent moon bays undulate down the shoreline, like scalloped lace. The sand is fine and white, rivalling the feel of powdered sugar between my toes. It’s too shallow to dive in, so I wade into the aqua green water until it comes just above my knees, 100 feet off shore. The only sound is a lone pelican diving for small translucent fish that swim just beyond my fingertips. I tilt my head back, let the salty water wash over my skin, and say to the bird circling overhead, “I think I’ve died and gone to Holbox.”
Isla Holbox is a small island off the northeast tip of Quintana Roo in the Yucatan Peninsula. Holbox is the Mayan word for ‘black hole’, in reference to the plentiful fish, including whale sharks, still found in the waters offshore. It stretches 26 miles and is only one mile at its widest point. In order to preserve the streets paved with sand and sea shells, no cars are allowed, but you will see plenty of bicycles. There are also no big resorts, no hawkers along the beach, no air of aggressive tourism. Holbox is, I imagine, what Isla Mujeres and Cozumel were, once upon a time. But where the relentless onslaught of large scale tourism has rendered those islands unrecognizable from their quaint origins, the residents and devotees of Holbox seem intent on preserving the magic here, at least for now.
Niccolo, a transplanted Italian from Florence, greets us as we pull up in our ‘taxi’, a golf cart retrofit for hauling luggage and people but not, apparently, large dogs. Iggy bounced out after a particularly impressive pothole caught the front right tire, landing him indelicately on the sandy road, thankfully wounding only his pride. Needless to say, he was happy when our cart reached its destination. Our home away from home for the next two days is a two room Airbnb, run by Niccolo and his girlfriend. The large wood beam and palapa architecture of Casa Francesca was instantly inviting, as were the adirondack chairs and two hammocks swinging gently under the covered veranda. We had the place to ourselves which is a relief given we never know how vocal Iggy will be in a new environment, especially one that is ensconced in a tropical forest.
Holbox is a unique story. Electricity only came to the island 10 years ago, and at our end of the beach, we walked home by the light of the stars, and my iphone. Humble eco friendly establishments live respectfully with their more upscale counterparts. But the most fascinating stories to me were the art and the animals. I’ll start with the art. Since 2012, the International Public Arts Festival has partnered with artist collectives from around the world to transform the public spaces on Holbox. Throughout Mexico, murals have long been a vehicle for community and political engagement, and these are no different. With developers hovering over this idyllic island like vultures, the murals attempt to capture the dreams, hopes and aspirations of the residents of Holbox, and create an awareness in the broader community of what is at stake here.
And now the animals.
Holbox has a dog population to rival a Disney movie. They come in all shapes and sizes, from Danes to Daschunds, and they wander the streets and beaches in remarkably good health and demeanor. Luca, another Italian we met on our many long walks along the beach said, “Holbox is a dogs dream”. He was preparing the rigging for his daughters sailing lesson, his three happy mutts nearby. “All the dogs here are cut”, he said, using his fingers to emphasize the point. “They do not have to worry about life.” As if on cue, the dogs jumped into the readied vessel, manning their stations at the front of the boat. This collective philosophy of caring and compassion spoke more to me about the island and its inhabitants than anything else I encountered. As we left Holbox on the ferry the next day, a massive Great Dane appeared out of nowhere on the dock, howling as if to say, “Don’t leave, but if you must, then don’t let it be forever.” Iggy barked in return, and we knew we’d be back.
The plane shudders, as if waking from a bad dream. A blanket of bodies stretches out as far as the eye can see, some sleeping, some speaking softly so as not to disturb the air of intimacy. My sister reads next to me, an incandescent glow from her ipad casting a light that reveals her true age. Still beautiful. I turn to the window, pressing my nose against the ice cold surface. The world beyond the glass shimmers in the darkness, like a Polaroid caught between layers of polycarbonate; soft at the edges and intense at the core as only a Polaroid can be. Second by second, the focal point in the ephemeral image shifts with the plane’s descent into Calgary. I can tell it’s cold outside by the quality of the light, and tighten my coat around me as the chill from the window creeps by degrees into my own warm body.
She sits bolt upright in the pitch black of the bedroom, and I can tell my sister is wondering where she is. The sliver of light through the basement window does nothing to illuminate the situation for her, and I remain still so as not to startle her awake. The clock on the bedside table ticks off the seconds and I shift ever so slightly. She moves across the bed to hover inches from my face, her pupils open but unseeing. If I keep very still, the veil will leave her eyes and she may remember who and where she is. Or at the very least, that I am not the enemy. I remember this from our growing up years, when we shared the same Peace/Love wallpapered bedroom, the same bed, and I find myself feeling protective of her still.
“I know you’re talking about me”, our mother calls from the bedroom. And of course she’s right. We’re together because it’s been too long, and because my mother has proclaimed she wants to move – again. Joyce has moved so many times you’d think she was raised in the army. But no, she simply likes change. Craves it actually. My mother’s history of wanton impulsiveness when it comes to life decisions has kept us all wondering who among us will be housing her in our basement one day. But this time seems a little different. My mother must be the only 79-year-old in existence who, instead of insisting that the only way she’ll leave her house is in a box, drops the bombshell that she’s joined the waitlist for an Old Folks Home, Active Living Residence, Elder Care Community—whatever we’re couching them as these days. Joyce often looks like a little bird when she shares shocking pieces of information with her grown up children. Her round blue eyes blinkblinkblink as she waits for the penny to drop. The ensuing caucophany of ‘what about your art school, your garden, your ducks, your view, your friends, your bank account, your dog’, doesn’t seem to faze her. “I’ve thought this one through”, she confidently tells us, “and besides, its a waitlist and I’m not at the top, I’m #2”. More protests. Blinkblinkblink.
I am the sum of my parts. My brothers are my genetic bookends, one older, one younger. We rarely talk but I know they would snatch me from a burning building with perhaps only a second thought. My three younger sisters—like Disney characters in that they are rendered with flawed perfection—are full of forgiveness and often doing rather heroic things in my opinion. My friends are the same. Angry Sue wants to change the world one rescued dog at a time and relishes going through my garbage searching for Recycling Infractions. Madelaine’s beauty is most reflected in her 16-year-old daughter, who writes music that makes me weep and has a depth beyond her years. My friend Judith and I travelled through our childhood, adolescence and adulthood together, in our own version of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. After years of flirting with commitment, she finally married into a family that eerily resembles mine, right down to the dog (she denies this of course). Cynthia, aka Cinammon Lance, is one of the funniest people I have ever known, which I think is partly to do with the fact that she lives with my brother where a sense of humour is not optional. These beloved friends and so many others are all cogs in my wheel, links in my chain, and I find when I’m away from them for too long, I don’t run so well. It’s not true that home is where the heart is because my heart is in so many places, like that travelling gnome. Maybe whoever said that, means that home is inside us, and we take it wherever we go. I like that idea.
It’s cold in this basement, and under the feather duvet, I’ve created a cocoon I’m reluctant to emerge from. In Mexico I sleep on top of the sheets, the overhead fan whispering across my moist skin, like a lover. Not this morning. No whispering. No lover. Just the lure of my family upstairs.
A new Palace of Music. The recently opened Centro Cultural la Cúpula. Gastronomic experiences and award-winning cuisine, charming boutique hotels and AirBnb’s. Day trips to beautiful haciendas, cenotes, and mayan ruins, and mini road trips to beach destinations like Isla Holbox and Tulum. Merida and the Yucatan are on the hipster ‘not-to-be-missed’ lists, and for good reason.
Here are just a few of the stories I’ve come across lately…enjoy!
Conde Nast Traveller: http://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2015-08-27/a-locals-guide-to-the-best-of-merida-mexico-yucatan
Travel and Leisure: http://www.travelandleisure.com/slideshows/exploring-the-chic-inland-towns-of-mexicos-yucatan-peninsula/14
His gentle hand caresses the soft fur as if he is savoring the most delicious thing he has ever tasted. When one hand stops the other takes over, then with both hands, the boy reads every inch of my dog. Iggy is as calm and measured as the child’s breath, understanding somehow that this is what he is meant to do. When the boy finally looks up at me, his smile communicates everything that his opaque eyes cannot. Despite myself, I smile back, knowing full well he does not see me, and knowing full well that it does not matter.
The French Alpilles – an incredible natural treasure of Provence – welcomed the 2015 a-part festival with the grand opening of Face2Face in the magical village of Les Baux. Beginning with a reception at the 5 star Oustau de Baumaniere featuring Kimiko Yoshida, art lovers and artists from France and around the world, wound their way through the tiny cobblestone streets. Each of the seven venues unveiled works by world renowned artists alongside young unknowns, with many of the featured artists in attendance. The contemporary theme of portraits/autoportraits/selfies was brilliantly curated by Leïla Voight, and interpreted through sculpture, photography, painting, drawing and new media.
In its goal to make Contemporary Art accessible, the a-part festival eschews elitism and is free to all. In the words of Ariel Kyrou, Director of Programming, “a-part is an exceptional festival…out-of-line is the name of the game. Not the dull certainty of some aesthetic coterie, but a perpetual immersion into the most exhilarating unknown. That’s the key to these unexpected moments—intriguing and magical encounters that will crowd the memory of festival-goers for a long time to come.”
A live auction will be held July 27th in Tarascon at the Ancien Couvent des Ursulines, at 7pm. For more information about festival events visit http://www.festival-apart.org.