Bici en Merida

December 5th, 2016

img_20161204_112908I am trudging down a back street in Merida, Yucatan, sucking a lime popsicle and dribbling sweat. I spot a handmade sign out front of a mom’pop storefront: Rentas Bicicletas. In the cool shade of the shop a family is stringing Christmas lights. I spy a sweet little wine-purple step-thru cruiser.  Papa Alejandro cranks the seat up a bit higher for me and I am sold. I rumble off down the cobblestones, cool breeze lifting the sweat from my skin. As if it could be any other way.

But in fact, I had actually almost resigned myself to navigating Merida on foot. Cycling in Merida looked terrifying. Buses and mini-buses, diesel-spewing trucks, cars, motorcycles, horsecarts, all crammed into the teeming downtown streets. Hibbledy-jibbledy pavement, potholes, cobblestones, random piles of trash. High curbs with no curb-cuts to the sidewalk, and treacherous foot-wide gutters alongside. Careening in and out between the buses and horse carts: bicycle cowboys on bmx’s and clunky mountainbikes, plus cargo-trike vendors loaded down with water jugs, baskets of fresh bread, loads of tomatoes and pineapples. Basically, chaos – in an unknown city, in a language i barely understand

I have a reputation as a cruiser-hating snob, and the little purple step-thru is just the sort of ride i might sneer at in mountainous Vancouver. But it is the perfect Merida machine. Simple and upright, with fat sturdy tires. Kitted out with a basket and rear light, a chain-and-padlock, kickstand, and even a helmet – which i wear, even though it marks me as a total tourist geek. I quickly realize, in getting intimate with the topography of a place as you only can on a bike, that Merida has the secret virtue of being flat as a pancake. On my humble cruiser i ride upright and effortless.

I have zero innate sense of direction, but I got oriented pretty quickly on the bike (by my standards, which means I only got lost several dozen times). Merida is a neat grid of numbered streets. Odd numbers run east-west, even north-south. All the streets are one-way traffic so even busy intersections are easy to navigate and I soon adjust to the rhythm of look-right-look-left at each alternating corner. The purple cruiser bumps easily over the cracks and cobbles. What really takes me by surprise is that although the heavy traffic looked so intimidating from my perspective on foot, the drivers seem remarkably aware and courteous, giving me wide berth and stopping completely to make eye-contact at intersections. Of course it helps that I am clearly a gringa tourista so assumed to be clumsy and oblivious, which I kind of am. But i think the main reason i feel so safe riding here is because drivers are used to negotiating bikes on the road, along with horse carts and buses and trucks. More bikes, more safe. Simple.

This morning I headed over to Paseo Montejo, site of the weekly ‘bici-ruta’, where every Sunday morning the majestic avenue is liberated from cars for a rolling fiesta of skateboarders, bladers, dog-walkers, art, music, and bikes bikes bikes. In the passing parade, someone calls my name – Alejandro!- waving as he rounds the corner on his bici. In the afternoon I ramble westward in the Sunday serenity, pausing to take in a service at Cathedral Santa Ana, crash a baseball game in an outlying barrio, and eat coco helados in a bustling mini-amusement park. Going nowhere in particular.

I smack myself in the head, recalling what I tell customers in the store every day, when they excitedly rent bikes to cruise Stanley Park: there’s no better way to get to know a city, than by bike. To think i almost forgot. That.



Dreaming of a small world

November 7th, 2016

I dream of a world where people live small. It’s happening. It’s a meme.ben-chuns-friends-tiny-house

Small houses, small gardens, small vehicles, small pleasures. Small incomes. Small needs.

My path is to live and to model that life. Enrich my networks. Take care of what I have and get rid of what I don’t need. Place myself in situations of humility and of trust: monasteries, communities, neighbourhoods, islands. You can’t be small in isolation. Living small means asking for help, accepting it, giving it back.

My caution is to resist letting my needs mushroom mindlessly. The goal is to simply stay small.


My dental vacation

October 11th, 2016

angrymolarThe angry molar is gone. In its place is a stitched excavation bleeding into a wad of gauze. Before Dr. Loo yanked it out I ran my tongue over its pitted surface one last time and thanked it kindly for almost five decades of loyal service, but when he asked me if i wanted to keep it for a souvenir, i declined. It was a good long run but it’s over.

I could rant on about the scam that is the dental industry but I won’t. Well actually i will. It pisses me off that the only people who get all their dental bills paid for them are the ones who can easily afford to have their own teeth fixed. If you work for a corporation or institution you make a fat wage, plus get your teeth fixed and your glasses bought and a year off to tend to your babies. Self-employed people, or part-timers or wage slaves, have to foot their own bills and those bills are high. I’m not talking about cosmetic dentistry, I’m talking about the care we need to maintain our health and our livelihoods. It’s not easy getting a job, let alone a date, with no front teeth. But Canadian medicare covers none of it. Why? Who knows?

Am I just a little bitter about that? Hell yeah. I know it’s my choice to live outside the box, but I’m pissed. I know couples who have not-one-but-two cushy benefit plans, so simply choose to mine the fattest and let the other one lapse. I’ve thought about placing an ad offering my services—sexual or otherwise—in exchange for an unused spousal benefit plan. But since I’m legally married now I guess that’s no longer an option.

Which leads me to the next possibility—the dental vacation. In the works: a trip to Merida, Mexico, where D. will brush up on his Spanish while I brush up on my teeth. It is rumoured that the well-certified and gringo-friendly dentists of Merida can repair my congenitally crappy teeth for a fraction of Canadian fees. That, plus a few cheap margaritas, should go a fair way toward relieving my dental malaise.

The monkish (married?) life

September 4th, 2016

buslife2I’m living the monk’s life in my green turtle bus, up on the bluff over the lagoon.

Wake up, chop wood and carry water, wash my panties in a pail and hang them to dry in the sun. Sit a bit, stretch a bit, watch the tides roll out and in. Out, and in. Soak some beans, then boil them slowly on the two-burner hotplate, seasoned with garden tomatoes, zucchini and herbs. Eat. Wash. Empty toilet bucket into pit. Sleep. Start again.

I wonder how my monk life will mesh with my married life … I wonder, but can’t know. The beauty is, we are grownups. We make up the rules.  It is my life, it is our life, it is art: all one grand experiment.

Carmen getting hitched

August 10th, 2016

dc-collage-signed-smDig this: Carmen is getting married. Yes you heard that right: CARMEN is getting MARRIED.

I’ve been super skittish about outing myself on this because frankly, it is about the scariest thing i’ve ever done in my life (and i’ve done some pretty scary things).

What is most scary about it I realize – what is actually flipping my stomach over and keeping me awake nights – is not that i don’t want to do it, or that i think it is a bad idea. I’m into it. What is scaring the living shit out of me is that getting married totally messes with the carefully constructed edifice of identity that i have spent 53 years building up. I swore I would never do this, and ha ha, the gods laughed. (The gods on their mountain snicker into their sleeves when they hear the words ‘never’ and ‘forever’.) Read the rest of this entry »

Mountains and molars sesshin

July 23rd, 2016

View-from-the-Lookout-at-SSRC-AfternoonI sat this sesshin with my best buddy, the angry Molar.

The Zen retreat was at a small Tibetan Buddhist center at the foot of Black Tusk, in the forest near Squamish. I got a ride up to the retreat with Kaye, an RN specializing in mental health care. She counselled me to take Ibuprofen at regular intervals, and if my face puffed up,  to get myself to the hospital pronto. She also divulged my job assignment for the sesshin: I was to be Ino. The Ino’s job is practice coordinator, aka, mother hen. My job was to care for everyone else’s pain. Read the rest of this entry »

Angels on every corner

July 2nd, 2016

brianMy bike got nicked while I was running the door for PattiPow’s choir concert, at the Korean Hall at Hastings & Clark. The ol’ slippery pole trick got me. I locked my bike to a sign post with not-one-but-two heavy-duty U-locks, and even gave the pole a firm tug to ensure that it was solid before I walked away. The thief simply pulled out the bolt at the bottom of the post and slid it out. Bike vanished, U-locks and all.

PattiPow hugged me and said don’t worry chum, I’ll help you. Tomorrow we will go out and look for your bike. We’ve done this before and we’ll do it again. Conrad Schmidt was loading a/v gear into his van behind the Hall when I came trudging down the alley in the rain, feeling pathetic in my yellow bike jacket with my helmet on my arm like an empty shell. Quick, jump in the van, Conrad said. We’ll drive around and look for your bike. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t lose your bike key

June 18th, 2016

mutantbikeWhen I help a customer in the bike shop to choose a new lock, my standard spiel includes: “…and it comes with five identical keys. Don’t carry them all around together”.

So guess what I did?

Five days ago with the best of intentions, I finally reclaimed my old mountainbike from Red Sara’s crowded shed. This is a strange little brass-coloured mutant my brother Bennett bought for me at a Toronto auction maybe 15 years ago, which I brought back to Vancouver on the plane. It is a weird unlabeled prototype with fat aluminum tubing, high-quality components and fancy gold axles. Read the rest of this entry »

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