Monday, March 27, 2006

Mexico - "Doctor without Borders"

Tijuana, Mexico 3/27/2006
Anyone who works in the television and film industry in San Diego long enough eventually finds themselves in a studio, soundstage, or location south of the border. It’s just cheaper for the low budget production companies and independent film makers. And San Diego locals don’t give it a second thought when the set location is in Tijuana - atleast it’s closer than Burbank.
As I wander through the turnstiles toward downtown Tijuana, I think nostalgically back to my first gig in Mexico, shooting a commercial at the Rancho La Puerta Spa. I was treated so well, spending a relaxing day getting pampered, sauna’d, massaged and fed and all the while getting paid for it. When the commercial aired, I was a blur in the background for all of 2 seconds, hardly worth the residuals, but jobs like that make the audition:casting ratio all worthwhile.
Today I am in Tijuana, for the shooting of a "theatre of the extreme" piece by Sarah Kane, called "Psychosis 4:48." It was her last script which she never finished - choosing instead to end her life. My role is that of her psychiatrist - cold, detached, intimidating, and clearly unable to reach the soul of this depressed, suicidal woman who cuts her skin. I prescribe too many medications. I say all the wrong things, ask the wrong questions, and, from my patient’s perspective, lie lie lie with falsehoods like "I’m glad to see you". But before you wonder if I am being typecast here.....
Just last week I worked a modeling job where I was also cast as a doctor, in a much different light. It was a photo shoot of marketing stills for a healthcare organization, and it was all about being personable, approachable, friendly, warm, professional and reassuring. All of which I conveyed effortlessly, in set ups with patients, nurses, children, and other medical staff. An entire floor of a local hospital was sectioned off for the shoot, and the model release indicated usage would include print, web and billboards.
Meanwhile, this non-sync-sound short filmed in super 8 and black/white will be used as part of a visual art piece to go on exhibit in a gallery this fall. A multi-media portrayal of depression.(Ah, there’s my call to the set)
6.5 hours later.....
And it’s a wrap. Another doctor role, another border crossing. But apparently the doctor theme is not over yet. A call from my agent confirms my current marketability...an audition for a pharmaceutical industrial; the role, a doctor. I’m going to have to add a lab coat and scrubs to my wardrobe if this keeps up.
So, back to the theme of this blog which is travel, not doctors, I should mention that this is my third trip to Mexico in the past 5 months, each time a different destination, and with a different purpose. Last fall I was in San Miguel de Allende, one of my favorite places on the planet. Anyone who has been there knows. Anyone who hasn’t, well, you’ll just have to trust me on this one. You won’t regret it. I stayed in the same villa where Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith stayed during the filming of “Zorro.” (Speaking of films again, sorry). A child-friendly casa in a child-friendly town in a child-friendly country that is Mexico. Guanajuato and Dolores Hidalgo were part of that itinerary in the colonial central highlands north of Mexico City. Don’t go there without children (Antonio and Melanie brought theirs), and if you don’t have any, borrow some. You’ll be treated like royalty.
2006 began with a week in “another Mexico” (as my daughter calls it), Loreto, a small laid back fishing town on the Sea of Cortez. Still very much a Baja feel to it, but a trip up to the magical Mission of San Javier puts you in a whole different place and a whole different pace. That’s another blog entry though, for another time.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Arizona - "Hands On Photographer"

February 2006 - Queen Creek in Superior, Arizona

I was recently on assignment in Fountain Hills, Arizona shooting images for the FH Convention and Visitors Bureau. While there I met up with my old college friend Marie who is an avid rockclimber. I thought it'd be a great idea to get some climbing images in my stock and so I took advantage of the opportunity to "hang out" with her. When I first pulled up to the trail head there were two big bad looking Harley riders staring up at the rocks towering high over the road. I looked up to where they were staring and there I saw little specks of color clinging at various heights against the sheer red rocks. One speck was waving, it was Marie. I waved back, and one of the Harley guys said "you're not one of them crazy rockclimbers are you?", to which I replied "No way...I'm one of them crazy photographers that's gonna dangle from a rope hanging off the rocks to take pictures of them crazy rockclimbers!"

Well, before I set out to photograph any sport like surfing, golfing, trapeze flying, and now rockclimbing....I like to try it myself so I can truly "know my subject". I left my camera with Marie to document my ascent, and I left my life in the hands of a guy half my age to belay me as I inched my way up the face. It's one of those situations where you put your complete trust in others because you have know idea what you're really getting into. I lay my hands onto the rock and became familiar with its texture and warmth. It felt good. strong. solid. reliable. Marie and her partner Eric coach and guide me along vocally with reassurance, directing my feet and hands one at a time into safe holds. Marie had said before I started "you can climb as much or as little as you want, you can come back down anytime, you don't have to go all the way to the top." The first few moves and reaches were the hardest, but not being one to give up easily, I went for it. Just knowing I could back down at any moment sort of gave me the momentum to keep going. Somewhere around halfway, I quit thinking....and it became more of a dance...a flow of movement along the planet's face choreographed by gravity. Next thing I knew, I was at the top, and it was truly a high in every sense of the word. Now I crave it. I am definitely hooked on the rocks!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Kenya - "The Last Town"

Isiolo, Kenya
The drive from Mt. Kenya to Samburu is fantastic, I love this part of Kenya, best appreciated from ground level, though most visitors tend to fly over, missing so much of the heart of Kenya.
The paved road leads north through Nanyuki, Timau, and on to Isiolo, the “last town”, where the pavement ends. The town is divided down the main road with Muslims on the west and Christians on the east. Although still a full day’s journey away by dirt road, the next frontier beyond town is the border to Ethiopia. Throughout the day, Ethiopians and Somalians arrive into Isiolo with truckloads of goods, and camels, to trade.
The town hosts a regional market where livestock is bought and sold, along with other necessities of food, clothing and bangles…yes, bangles….plenty of bangles “for a cheap price”. The street is crawling with people. There are nomadic Masai herdsmen in red, Muslim women draped in black, privileged teens in school uniforms, vendors in traded western t-shirts and baseball caps, and tiny children in nothing. A city boy bikes past with a goat in his basket heading to market. A vibrantly dressed woman prepares the bananas to hang in her stall just so. Mothers tote babies wrapped in swaths of color. Muslim women cower behind veils. Christian women daunt their baubles. And in the street, they all mix, mingle, and co-exist; blind to tribe, nationality and religion.
This is life. Everyday life in the town of Isiolo, and we pass slowly through as the vendors harass our vehicle and the children dare a curious glance. Our white minivan and white skin are as much of a spectacle for the people of this town as their lives are for us.
Just beyond the livestock market, the road becomes dirt and the mud hut bomas start to appear in small clusters. More nomadic goat herders, more wayward children, more babies peeking out from swaddles on their mothers backs. Skinny legs…knobby knees…begin to prevail. These are a different people with beautiful features, not so beautiful dispositions.
They are the Ethiopians and Somalians. Some have traveled the entire day clinging to the top of a truck piled high with goods and covered in tarps. Some have journeyed even longer by camel with only trinkets to trade. Some have been here too long and will never make the journey home. Not so many smiles here. No waves. No broken English efforts. No words at all. But they will watch us and look at us, turning their heads as the minivan passes. What eyes. What a gaze….absolutely penetrating. They stare right through me, and wonder about my life as I watch theirs from behind my glass. I cannot tell if they detest me or admire me. Perhaps it is both. I gaze back with my green eyes, wishing if only I had more time…a week…a month…a year…a lifetime…to spend in Isiolo.

France - "Paris Encore"

Layover in Paris......ahhh Paris....doesn’t even feel like I am really here. It’s my first time being in a city with someone who so detests it, still, I am excited to be in Paris. The first foreign city I ever experienced at 15, under such a different context. The strange familiarity - the billboards against aged buildings, the same brand diaper ads, the cute citroens and minis filling the long avenues.
We took the bus from CDG airport - my idea, I wanted to see the city as we drive in and get our bearings. He points out Sacre Coeur. Wow, it looks so different. The air is thicker, the city seems to be choking...much more than my last visit over a decade ago. I never imagined such an old city could visibly age even more in my lifetime. But it has. Sacre Coeur sits not quite so majestically white and high upon the hill. Grayer, smaller, and blanketed in smog. Rather haunting to look at it now. There’s the Eiffel Tower, still visible from everywhere in the city, but it looks like it’s getting buried. More tall buildings, more choking haze. Almost like its sinking in a quicksand of concrete rubble. Was this really where I left it? Do the years add color and brightness to photos of the mind, while fading photos of the album?
Or is this city, Paris, aging still.....
Atleast Paris is easy. I know these places, I’ve walked these rues in a different time. It’s so refreshing to stretch the french muscle again...it comes back like an old familiar etranger.
Three spokes on the Charles de Gaulle Etoile takes us to Avenue de Hoche, a short distance to the Hotel Royal Monceau. Never would I be stepping into such a hotel in any of my earlier circumstances. This short sojourn does not involve a Eurail Pass and a last-minute call to Eric, Daniel or Beatrice to ask for a place to coucher. Not this time. Not any time again now that so many years have passed. I’m a grown up this time. Ah, me voici. I’m aging too Paris. Perhaps that is why I will always look fondly on you. That first impression. That first big beautiful glance remains etched in my mind. For once the mind has known the beauty of a place, it never forgets. Paris, you can go ahead and dress in gray and haze on the outside, because I know your beauty exists. Maybe it’s in the smile you bring with your silly Louis XIV furnishings and funky toilet fixtures. Those tiny beds in tiny rooms that people pay incredible monies to call home for a night just because its Paris. Oh but it’s all part of it.
We take a stroll through the Parc Monceau, where the daily lives of Parisiennes decorate an otherwise bleak canvas. Late fall. Some trees still holding on to their last color; yellow leaves dangle while brown ones crush underfoot. It’s 5:30 p.m., and so many people are out. School kids and soccer balls. Gray coats and brown dogs. Couples, singles, mothers with babies. Tout le monde en dehors. Those who walk together and watch. Those who sit alone. And watch. A young woman is singing a tune to the baby in her arms as she rushes past. Nobody is still, everyone has their steps to take.
The gilded gates beckon us back through to the busy streets, unsure if we have had our fill of the fantasy garden. A last glance back at the trees standing guard over white statues. Farewell to the Parc Monceau...a place to return another time, another age. Out and up the winding streets with shops open well past dusk....to a welcoming “Bonsoir Madame” from the Hotel doorman. Madame. Am I a Madame now? Hmph. I’ll leave Paris wearing a new coat...and it’s old and graying. Paris is old and graying. But it is comforting, still. Just open your eyes and let it surround you and ignore you all at once. Paris doesn’t care if you’re here or not, if you’re old or not; but you can’t help caring that you are in Paris.

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3:30 a.m. The room has a smell. I know this smell. It teases my nose when sleeping, but hides the moment I stir. It tempts me, whispers to me. You know me....you remember me....

The bread ovens have been lit.

Merci Paris, for welcoming me back in your own gentle way. J’ai quinze ans encore.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Guatemala - "Comfortable Vulnerability"

Antigua, Guatemala
The bluebird school bus weaves its way assuredly through the diverse landscape north of Guatemala City to Antigua. As much as my body wanted to nod off like the girl covering her head next to me, I could not shut my eyes from the beautiful countryside we were traversing. The air was fresh, mild, warm, tainted with the smoke of burning trash, and the wind just enough to keep comfortable in this central American climate.
After a quick shower of cool water, I relax on the rooftop patio of my modest accommodations. I hear birds everywhere. Scanning the horizons, I see that Antigua is surrounded on all sides by lush green volcanoes topped off in clouds. I feel the centuries of vulnerability in this place. The crumbled ruins here are the remains of earthquakes, volcanoes, mudslides, and who knows what else. Nestled among the giant mountains, the valley town of Antigua provides a false sense of security – these giants can erupt and destroy the town in any given moment. The earth here is uneasy, the terrain broken and the country is mapped out with fault lines. A land in geographical turmoil, where nature dominates, and humans continue to choose it’s beauty over their own safety. The rich colors of Guatemalan textiles also paint the houses, and a walk through the town is a feast for the eyes. With every disaster, a new and brighter coat of paint decorates the facades. They rebuild and inhabit this valley time after time, and I don’t blame them. It’s a comforting place, and I’m comfortable here, too.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Chile: Spirit Dreams



The road stretched out endlessly before us, and the windswept Patagonian plains pushed out in all directions. Behind us, the pointy crags of Torres del Paine were tucked into clouds and blanketed in dusk. Darkness crept slowly across the landscape.

I was nodding off to sleep on the bus after having had one too many days of hiking and camping, with thoughts of re-naming the range officially to "Toes of Pain". My feet ached, my toes were cold, and I was grateful to be seated up front near the warm engine box.

For reasons unknown, the bus came to a halt and the driver opened the door to the vast, dark emptiness. The winds howled and whistled right through the bus, causing most passengers to shift position and reach for another layer. The driver sat for a moment with his head down, then checked his mirror, closed the door, and began driving again. Civilization and the coast were still 4 hours away.

I was stirred awake by a loud belly laugh and a jab in my side. A spirit sat on the engine box facing me. He was thin and wore a black hat, and held a brown bottle of beer in his gesturing right hand. He was laughing and entertaining as if to a large audience, and I turned around to see that the entire bus was filled with spirits, occupying seats empty and full, and dangling from the overhead luggage racks. I braved a glance at the driver. He too was a spirit, with a soft round head and an eye that kept dropping from his face. The bus itself resembled a spirit in the form of a fat farmer in skinny overalls as it rolled along bumping over rocks and pits. Everyone was jovial, and there was singing while someone in the back was played a tingy sounding instrument. Many of the spirits were drinking or drunk. These were festive spirits.

But what were they doing on the bus?

Most spirits sweep across this land in a dance with the winds. The wind carries spirits from all over the earth, and they converge here, at the tip of South America, for their favorite activity...leaping off the continent to tumble across the seas. It seems that the very winds which blow across Patagonia are accountable to the passing of spirits as they race toward the continent's end and leap off into the sky.

I sat back and contemplated the spirits, gleaning in my new wisdom of the winds. I looked at the spirit on the engine box. He paused his celebratory antics and saw that I was ready for a story. He shut his eyes and began "it was a night just like this....." and softly spoke me back to sleep.

When I awoke, the bus was still bumping it's way through the black darkness, now with only one headlight. It sounded as if the other had rattled loose and was dragging along under the bus - reminding me of the one-eyed bus driver spirit of my dream.

Everyone else on the bus was asleep, except for the driver. I looked at him and smiled in relief that both of his eyes were still intact. Noticing I was awake and wanting to keep himself in such a state, he engaged me in conversation. After a while, I asked him why he had stopped earlier in the middle of nowhere. He paused a moment, and then spoke:

"My uncle was a bus driver. A few years ago on this road, he lost control and overturned his bus, killing everyone. Whenever I pass through the night on this road, I stop at the site of the crash and pick up the stranded spirits so they can complete their journey."

A small light flickered in the distance ahead. Then another. Then, light by light, the town of Puerto Natales took form, as the dawn began to spread through the darkness. We reached our destination.

The driver opened the door, and a few moments passed before anyone stood to exit the bus. I was first to do so. As I stepped down off the bus, I was teased by small gusts of wind. Each gust would embrace and surround me, then be gone as quickly as it came. I smiled, knowing the spirits were also arriving at their destination, and each gently bid me farewell before turning to leap off the continent.