Ladies and gentleman, the moment has come: it’s time for me to mutate into a banana. “Bay to Breakers” is a do whatever you want day and I must dress for the occasion. I should also give use to the banana costume I’ve been carrying around the US for the last three years. In theory, this event is a race from the Bay to the Breakers, that is, from one side of the San Francisco peninsula to the other. In practice, most runners do it dressed up, half of them drunk, and some of them naked.
Even though I try to get to the race on time, the Bart is too crowded, and when I arrive everybody has already left. I don’t care. I jump in the Muni and put on my banana skin. As the metamorphosis takes place people look at me with curiosity, but not too much, it is in agreement with the context… I do feel weird though… Ok, I should get drunk soon.
I go alone, as usual. When I step down by the Panhandle I rapidly acquire abundant rum and coke, which I will share with four frenchies dressed like the Beatles. Soon I realize I’m not the only banana walking around. This costume used to be cool when I exchanged it for a bike four years ago in Exeter; now it’s vulgar. It was a blue bike.
The French Beatles and I end up joining a random barbeque and sleeping on the grass, with a colorful variety of mammals spinning around as the sun hit our pale faces. I think about my blue bike, and that brings back all the memories from my year in England, including a visit to the Cavern in Liverpool. A perfect mimesis of the Beatles was playing when I walked in, the exact opposite of the bunch of French drunkards that surround me at the moment.
I work from home, editing. Sometimes I edit in coffee shops, where I sit by the window and people-watch for hours. My mom and my aunt visit me and I start working at nights, because during the day I try to do the tourism I couldn’t do in the last two months due to lack of time, and money.
In only one week we visit the Golden Gate, Bolinas, Napa Valley, Chinatown, Japantown, the Mission, the Castro, North Beach, Marina, Sutro Baths… we eat at Burma, at Pizza Delfina, Farina… we see the pre-Raphaelites at the Mission of Honor, Jean Paul Gaultier at the De Young Museum, experience an earthquake in the Natural History Museum… but what touches me the most is, again, an unexpected sculpture: Goethe and Schiller in the middle of the Golden Gate park.
Two great minds who contributed to one of the most fascinating moments in human history: the German Romanticism in the Republic of Weimar. It’s either then, or the V century b. c. in Athens: those are my choices if I was ever offered to go back in time. Both were extremely rational as well as transcendental periods, in which the spirit of time, the zeitgeist, displayed the utmost self-awareness. Europe still lives off from those exceptional periods when the ideal and the real were as close as humanly possible.
Rapamycin is an immunopressant drug regularly employed to prevent rejection in organ transplantation. “Immunopressant” means that it reduces the activation or efficacy of the immune system. Its name comes from Rapa Nui (Easter Island), where the bacterium Streptomyces Hygroscopicus is to be found. Some experiments have recently shown the potentiality of Rapamycin to combat cancer, although it was believed that it actually increased the chances of developping it.
I know nothing about what I just wrote, but I’m editing a set of talks on Evolutionary Medicine for the Palo Alto Institute and indirectly learning about the resilience mechanisms of our bodies. Each talk lasts about 20 minutes, “the right size for the brain”, they say. The symposium took place at Stanford, where PhDs from all over the US gathered to talk about how pernicious the environment can be to an organism that has been slowly adapting to a substantially different context. That is, how we grow stress from noises and traffic, how we develop short sightedness, how there’s more diabetes, asthma, allergies, cancer… What’s going on? It looks like we have created a world to which we haven’t had time to adapt.
The archaic method of curing by blood shedding –which was widely spread for centuries–, fasting, pruning, doing exercise, using vaccines, are just little aggressions that, far from debilitating, invigorate our bodies. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Obviously one shouldn’t try to fight liver cancer by fasting, but giving some blood for example is healthy from an evolutionary point of view, as well as exercising every day or starving a little every now and then. For the same reason, one shouldn’t eat too much sugar or fat, since they weren’t abundant back in prehistoric times. There are no gains without losses…
My friend and I walk towards Bi-Rite. I just want to buy a liquid yogurt. Suddenly: “I applied to work here once, I wanted to set up the vegetables”. Bi-Rite, on 18th Street, is a legendary grocery shop where the local/organic movement started back in the day. The vegetables indeed look gorgeous. Close to Dolores Park, the Mission and the Castro, Bi-Rite is so popular that one has to fill up an application to work there, and my friend, who is the personification of delicacy, was actually rejected. She just wanted to set up the vegetables, like Archimboldo.
I need an apartment for a week. I visit a penthouse in Oakland. It’s a great place but… Should I put Oakland in my life? Probably no. The girl who sublets it is called Sparlha. What a weirdly beautiful name. We talk for almost two hours. After twenty minutes of chat I decide not to rent the place, and I tell her, but she doesn’t seem to care about that anymore, she just keeps talking, and I listen. Then comes my turn, and I talk, a lot, as she listens attentively. We seem to share the same flaws of character, namely: instability and playfulness.
That’s one of the genuinely American habits I still find absolutely wonderful: two people confessing everything about their lives just a few minutes after meeting. I feel like I’ve told Sparlha more about myself than to some of my friends. Maybe we have the same horoscope or something. Maybe our signs are highly compatible. Probably both of us are a confused and in need of understanding.
She tells me that she has changed cities every 3 years during the past 12 years. I tell her I have changed cities every year in the past 4 years: Exeter, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco… “Anywhere but here” I say, conspicuously. “Wherever you go; there you are” she replies, resigned.
The Golden Gate Bridge turns 75. The coral necklace of the bay deserves a proper festivity. Thousands of gentle people fill up the Presidio Park, some of them with flowers in their hair. They attend the concerts that have been set up for the occasion as they wait for the final show: the fireworks.
The expectation rises, as it gets darker. Suddenly the bridge becomes a cascade of fire. Everybody is in awe. A homeless woman sitting somewhere among the crowd expresses her admiration with excess. Her involvement with the show is absolute. If she is high on something, which is probably the case, the spectacle must be unbelievable. Maybe she didn’t know anything about the fireworks. After the initial surprise most people calm down and show less enthusiasm, but the woman can’t get enough of it, she’s just stuck in permanent awe. She won’t stop hollering until the last firework explodes.
Jannette takes me up all the way to Dolores Park on a Sunday. We reach the top to enjoy the views and from there she shows me the different districts of the city. She also points out the existence of the “gay curve” (right below us), a side of the park where a crowd of exceedingly handsome men get tanned during the weekends. We actually have to go through that curve in order to get a burrito at La Cumbre, the best in town, according to her.
We start descending across gayland and when we reach the middle of the curve I start feeling a weight on my rear. I look back and realize that the weight is from the sight of all the men looking at my ass, and even commenting on it. I press my buttocks and accelerate my march as I tell Janette how uncomfortable I feel, although I don’t really mind… “That’s how it is being a girl”, is her answer.
Dinner at Tommy’s with M. Margaritas and ceviche. Throughout the years I’ve come to realize that tequila hits me in a place I’m too weak at. Too drunk too soon drunk, I go pee and see a world map upside down on the wall. It is inevitable to think about how different we would perceive our planet if always represented like that… Lost in such banal thought I get back to the table and tell M that:
“It is hard, almost impossible, to be overtly communicative and sensitive at the same time. Aristotle insisted in his Poetics and Rhetorics that it is very important to feel the right emotion at the right time. Some people, and I include myself among them, are unbalanced by nature and tend to want to feel, instead of just feel. Therefore, they are emotionally unpredictable and difficult to deal with”.
I automatically shuffle to another thought as decontextualized and irrelevant. As I fight against my superego for another margarita, I tell my ego that I should learn to let go. I aspire to a sort of coherent incoherence, or the opposite. M looks at me and yawns.
I read in Kierkegaard: “The mass of connections, stimuli, and hindrances make it ever more impossible for one to win any deeper knowledge of himself. It is true, that a mirror has the quality of enabling a man to see his image in it, but for this he must stand still”. I have the feeling that during the last few years I’ve had trouble meeting with myself due to too much movement… I can’t focus. Traveling is enriching but at a certain point it starts being counterproductive. “Nothing in excess” said the oracle. Also: “Know thyself”.
As I try to make sense of my experiences I usually feel like those astronomists prior to Copernicus who came up with epicycles in order to explain the erratic orbits of certain planets. I also try to categorize, conceptualize and theorize to see if I can make sense of a world that outgrows me, but many times my featherless biped animal is more of a chicken than a human being… Nothing I see is intrinsically part to reality. What does it mean then to be human then? To be blind in a land of darkness.
Last Chance Saloon. Jack London Square. Here I am, where Hemingway used to get drunk. The bartender gives me a beer:
– Here you are sir.
– Nice you.
My dyslexia is getting out of hand.
I feel sheer admiration when I see someone doing something extraordinary effortlessly: when exceptionality becomes normality. A person lights a candle with a piece of bread, for example, or a bottle is opened with an eye. These things do happen, all the time, everywhere. Utterly persistent exceptionality is what what holds together the world we live in.
Bach composed most of his works with a little harpsichord. Forgotten musicians that had much more acceptation in his epoch –including his sons– used many more technical resources. Everything can be told with almost nothing, with just a few variations, with the obstinate re-visitation of the same. When I asked him about the most important lesson he ever learned Antoni Pitxot told me that: “All the interesting things are always surrounding you”.
I’m out. I love the Bay Area, I love the people, the food, the atmosphere… but I’m out. I must go back home. Sometimes, maybe too often, I feel I’ve travelled too much and too far. Then I think about the Odyssey and it makes me want to travel for another four years… I guess I want to be both the host and the visitor at the same time.
Throughout the past four years I’ve learned to value the different modes of hospitality; how each person, each family, has its own unique way of hosting visitors. In ancient Greece strangers were protected by Zeus and deserved all sorts of honors. The rituals of xenia and reciprocity were sacred, since any xenos could be a disguised divinity. Gods liked to present themselves as foreigners.
Hosting is an ancient art, and the Vella family is virtuous at it. They’ve made me feel like another member of the clan, with all the privileges and obligations, and with the extra generosity and understanding that someone in my circumstance may require. They’ve been my solace after too much Los Angeles, and I feel thankful for having come across them in my journey. “You will be back” Michael told me as I walked through the door.
Pandora. 80s station. A-ha. Take on me. While I cross the Bay Bridge I lower the windows and the air rushes with violence. The Sun is setting and its light shines on the buildings of both sides of the estuary. I accelerate a little. Tomorrow I’m going to sell my car and go back to New York. I have never felt so free.
 Name of the bar where I will have the last supper before leaving San Francisco along with Juan, Ricardo, Martiño and Luis Carlos. Dionysus will be honored thoroughly during that night.