Monday, June 26, 2006

First, There is a Mountain. (In Two Parts)

Note: I realize that these posts are extremely long, and only seem to be getting longer. For this reason, I have separated this entry into two parts, not that it actually makes any differnce. Check back here very soon for mp3s from the people represented in this entry, I just need to get my "webmaster" to upload them for me.

...Still unedited for grammar and spelling.

Part One: First...

Approximately two years ago, my friend Noelle and I decided to visit Mexico, a trip which proved to be nothing short of magical. Last week was Noelle's birthday, and as a celebration we decided to return, but this time to Monterrey. I have to confess that my initial expectations of Monterrey as a city were not great, primarily because when we had driven through it previously I had felt as though I was once again in a typical American suburb, surrounded by the same twelve chain restaurants. Later I was to learn that this district comprises only one part of Monterrey.

The best way to go from Austin to Monterrey is to take the bus, an eight hour journey which costs approximately forty two American dollars. I had been up very late the night before, and thus was able to sleep for a good portion of the journey. We arrived in Monterrey at about seven in the morning in a rather half-woken state of bewilderment, a marvelous combination with my incredibly poor Spanish. After some communication trials we were able to jump in a cab and head towards a randomly selected hotel, coincidentally the most expensive hotel in Monterrey, but still very cheap after the currency conversion. Once we got into the room both of us collapsed on the bed and fell into something of a deep sleep.

At about one o clock we awoke and parted the curtains to get our first daytime look at this new city. From the sixth floor of the hotel it looked very much like an American city, though I was having trouble making any real aesthetic criticisms due to distraction from the largest coca cola bottle I have ever witnessed. Apparently, Monterrey consumes more coca cola per capita than any other city in the world, and as a sign of "thanks and recognition" Coca Cola has adorned the entire side of a tall sky scraper with a painting of the signature bottle. Bizarre and Orwellian though it may seem, there is something very captivating and almost pleasing about the painting, probably because it recalls the artwork of communist propaganda, creating a kind of pastoral appreciation that runs only as deep as the image.

After visiting the Museo del Arte Contemporaneao, we strolled through the more picturesque district of Monterrey and for the first time I witnessed an alternative Mexican youth culture. I have never been under the impression that youth culture is not present everywhere, but it's always incredibly fascinating for me to witness it up close- a spectacle which is inherently remote because we can never recreate time that has been lost. I cannot live somebody else's life but there is something draws me towards those lives.

Let me now provide a bit of background information that will enhance the remainder of the story:

I have a friend named Pepe (whom I have never met, though this is often the case in this age of internet business) who works for EMI in Mexico City. I often write to him for advice/information about how I can bring our music to Mexico, and initially Noelle and I had planned to visit him in Mexico City, before realising that the travel distance in a bus was too great. When we concluded that we would be visiting Monterrey I contacted Pepe to see if he had any reccomendations as to where one might want to go in Monterrey. He provided me with contact information for a man named Gustavo (Catsup) and instructed me to contact him, which I did by email prior to leaving Austin.

Switch back to the Art Museum and the cultural vouyeurism. After purusing the streets and watching two clowns in the main plaza, Noelle and I returned to the hotel to rest for a bit before night fall. There I checked my email and found a reply from Gustavo (Catsup), informing me that his band Quiero Club was playing that very night at a club called "Exit."

I will now switch verb tense.

We make our way to the nightclub, amid a veritable sea of youth. The recreational district of Monterrey at the weekend much resembles the downtown area of Austin, large groups of people swarming in and out of brightly lit on a sloping grid of streets. At the door of the club, we have another bout of linguistic confusion, but decide enter regardless. Inside the nightclub is very large, two stories with a small stage near the front. Above the stage is a video screen on which music videos are being projected, an eclectic mix of mostly eighties and early nineties classics. As the closing bars of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" are fading out, Noelle and I are jerked into surprise by "The Start of Something" booming over the speakers. I peer into the DJ box to my right and witness what might be the two most jovial people in the entire world, a beautiful girl with dark hair in a pleasingly sixties cut and a slender man in a striped purple shirt, the pair of them in a constant state of joyous frenetic motion, passing back and forth between them the largest mug of beer I have ever seen.

I go to the box and introduce myself, and the man in purple emerges from the behind the box and provides both Noelle and I with a warm embrace. In this moment I am reminded of something- a phrase. When we tour is a band I often find myself repeating in my head the following words: "We depend on the kindness of strangers." And we do. Sometimes it seems like the craziest thing in the world, and sometimes it seems like the most natural, the instant community that has been forged by a combination of music and the internet. During our last west coast tour we were en route to a destination I have now forgotten. Incidentally, St. Louis was the city most equidistant so we put out a message on the internet asking if anybody would be willing to house us, attaching my phone number at the bottom. Instantly, I receive a phone call from a girl named Erin and five hours later we are sitting with she and her friend Tim in their living room, drinking beer and watching the Daily Show. There are so many people that have been so wonderful, and that we have cultivated relationships with in a similar fashion: Jill and Julie in Cincinatti, Michael in Chicago, Jason in San Francisco, everybody from Decibully in Milwaukee, and so many others that I am leaving out. For me, having the opportunity to forge these relationships is almost as important as the opportunity to perform the music itself. Last time we played in Chicago, of the aforementioned people, Tim, Erin, Jill, Julie, Michael (as well as my dear friends Ian and Emilie) were all present. To look out into the audience and see that is a truly wonderful feeling.

"We depend on the kindness of strangers."

In this same moment of meeting Gustavo I am also keenly aware of the fact that we are possessed of a similar intent, a mutual desire to "make something happen," born out of a love for music. I think there are millions of people who share this drive, whether or not they are musical performers, and that's such a great thing. As time progresses it will be very interesting to see what various manifestations arise from this kind of subverted global community. Obviously these communities are not limited solely to music, but this is the one with which I am the most familiar.

The rest of my night is rather hazy, primarily after Gustavo's girlfriend, Shantal, aids me in buying a half gallon styrafome cup filled with grape kool-aid and four shots of Vodka. We stop by a party taking place at a hotel pool, I decide to return to my own hotel, we walk outside and a drunk man in the street slaps me on the head with his hat, further enforcing my theory that I should really be in bed. Gustavo and Shantal drive me home and we agree to meet the next day to partake of both lunch and The Mountain.

Part Two: The Mountain

The next day I try to place a call from a pay phone to Gustavo's home, resulting in a nearly comic audio sketch. Sheepishly I ask the lady at the hotel desk to asist me, a task which she performs very professionally for a mere fifteen pesos. Gustavo agrees to come collect us and Noelle and I wait in the lobby. Soon I see his thin frame bounding towards the door and we step outside to meet him. In the daylight, I now understand the nickname: Catsup. Gustavo's hair is a really nice shade of red, reminiscent of my mother's in younger years. My mother has long held resentment against popular media based upon the unfair representations of redheads, and she's right. Think about it- Problem Child, Chucky, Pete and Pete, the list goes on. Red heads are rarely normal or serious, but rather wacky and one-dimensional. I would not describe either my mother or Gustavo as one-dimensional, though perhaps "wacky" has some bearing. Just kidding. Back to the story, we pile into the car and after lunch decide to head up to the mountain. Despite the fact that I have been staring at the mountain for the last forty eight hours I have not fully grasped its magnitude and as we climb higher in the car I am shocked into silence. The sprawling metropolis of Monterrey shrinks beneath us and the vegetation begins to take on an almost prehistoric quality.

We finally reach the point closest to the top and exit the car to find dozens of families recreating in this mountain top resort. For the next hour or so we explore the grounds like so many of the children in our surroundings: testing out echos in the drained concrete pool, cavorting across the astroterf amphitheatre, and being generally wowed by the view provided from the vantage point. Looking out from the ledge one can see even more of the city, to its farthest extents and beyond, a sea of buildings so accutely dwarfed by the surrounding mountains- once again, the inevitable triumph of nature of human progress. At one point I peer to my left and see Gustavo silently angling his body to photograph a group of incredibly large birds that I presume to be vultures, large beasts of the aforementioned prehistoric grandeur. His body adjusts to achieve the correct stance and for a minute he and the vultures are mirror images of each other. Snap. Moment Captured.

Eventually we recoil to a stone ledge at the top of the park and Noelle disappears to a spot where she can most accurately sketch the mountain, both as a souvenir for herself, and for the nursery school class we teach together. Despite having not known Gustavo twenty-four hours prior, the next conversational hour spent with him is one of the nicest I've experienced in recent days. We talk about music, Spain, and the internet among other things, the entire transaction being complemented by a constant and pleasant breeze. I could have stayed up there like that quite happily for an entire day, but soon reality sets in and we are forced to descend from the mountain in order to begin the long process of returning home. Leaving the mountain is difficult enough in a spiritual sense, but to add fuel to fire the downward journey provides Noelle with a nausea-inuduced stomach ache. After reaching the bottom we wind through a residential section of Monterrey in search of Gustavo's friend and business partner, Alejandro. The houses here are primarily modern and geometric situated on quiet streets lush with vegetation, a look not entirely incongruous with that of Austin. we find the house and bang on the door. A man with long hair wearing a suit appears, fresh from a wedding and subdued by the food and drink so often associated with those events. We each open a can of beer and retire to the back garden to rest. Instantly I am transported back to Rome.

Last October, I went to Rome with my friends Freya and Gaia, whom I had met when working in the CCA bar in Glasgow. On the third day of the vacation we went for lunch at Gaia's grandparents house in E.U.R., a Roman suburb just outside the city. Gaia is of Roman birth and lived in this house until the age of nineteen, when she was whisked away to Australia. The feeling of being in that house was very intense, primarily because I was keenly aware of the particular history of her family, and of the events that had taken place there. All houses are haunted, even if the ghosts are not necessarily extreme. I think one's experience depends on how perceptive one chooses to be. This house, however, is particularly remarkable. Large and circuitous, it winds around itself in a way reminiscent of secret passages. In the basement remains something of a discotheque, featuring not only mirror balls, but also a luminescent floor created to resemble the color-block paintings for which Mondrien is most remembered. And then there is the garden, completely linear and contained, square foliage pushed to the edges of neat concrete walkways, formulaic and sensible like everything else in the neighborhood, all part of Mussolini's vision. One source describes E.U.R. in the following way:

"This new suburb was intended for a Universal Exhibition celebrating Fascist Italy - planned in the 1930s and scheduled for 1942 but abandoned upon the outset of war. Only some of the the plans - by architect Piacentini - had been finished, and after the war work continued in a modernist style but without the same political agenda. The Esposizione Universale Romana is known by its acronym EUR (pronounced as one word: Ay-oor), and is now dominated by offices and wide boulevards where well-off young Romans like to race their sports cars."

It's interesting to think how the layout of gardens is specific to certain cultures. English gardens are usually overgrown and wild, French gardens are sort of somewhere in between, a kind of planned and imitated natural spontaneity. The gardens I witnessed in India were beautiful and almost intimidating, definitely implicit of the fact of how many people are required to maintain them. Back to Alejandro's garden. His, as I mentioned earlier, is more of the geometric reserved variety, and I find this model particularly pleasing, a small space of of order and predictability surrounded by a sloping layer of growth, a brief shelter from the inevitable chaos of the outside world. For a while we sit on the ground and then transfer to the inside, discussing a number of things, mainly politics and music and then the two things combined. I get the general sense that people like Alejandro and Gustavo are frustrated, extremely frustrated, by the state of popular music in Mexico. It is, I assure them, not much better in the United States. Most things worth listening to are on the margins.

Eventually it is time to go and Alejandro takes Noelle and I back to the bus station. As we exit the car he says to Noelle and I, "Please, please call me if there is any problem. I would come back for you any time." I realize that this is the kind of hospitality we have been afforded all weekend, and what a rare thing that is. One of my worst habits is that I never listen to names upon the first introduction, which is only a problem when the conversation has become to personal to turn back to that initial, casual process. I ask Noelle to remind me of his name and she replies, "I don't know but I feel instantly close to him. To all of them, actually."

"Me too."

We purchase some brightly colored candy for the kids, and wait patiently for the long journey home to begin. This part of the journey is (theoretically) easy for us, but for many others on the bus, it seems something much more terrifying. I settle into the window seat and wrap my extra t-shirt around my torso. Glancing beside me, I see Noelle withdrawing her sketchbook. She opens it to the page begun earlier and sets to finish off the drawing of that wonderful hour spent taking in the mountain.