I pack my Dodge Stratus up to the windows and leave. Alone. There I am, on the road again… I drive through the same streets as always but this time those old paths take a new dimension, a sort of final meaning. It’s the last time I’ll pass by Warner Brothers, where I attended so many screenings, and Universal Studios, where I shot so many production workshops, and NYFA, where I not only studied an MFA, but also worked as an editor… And then, as I head up Barham Boulevard, the song “It must have been love” by Roxette starts playing on the radio.
It’s a sunny day, as always, and the song goes on: “but it’s over now, form the moment we touched till the time I ran out…”. As I run from LA I think to myself that it has, indeed, been love. Although it certainly wasn’t my soul mate, I did love that city. Aristotle said that a justified and preterit suffering could be a reason for future happiness. Looking back at it, all the hardship those Angels gave me feels completely worth.
The song is in its last notes when I suddenly realize that I can leave LA the same way I arrived: Mulholland Driving. As I negotiate the curves I plug my Iphone and look for “Under the Birdge” by the Red Hot Chilly Peppers. I already liked that song before LA, but it has obviously acquired much more significance now… although its tone makes me think more of Los Feliz – Silver Lake – Echo Park, places that I unfortunately never lived in. To the tone of the bass I then become emotionally aware of all the things I’m leaving behind, of the possibilities that are fading away as I move out, of the lives I won’t live…
Sometimes I think that the only thing I’m really good at is traveling. When I leave a place I feel the freedom of a new beginning, my eyes become curious again, and an intense thrill runs through the nape of my neck. I’m, by nature, in constant makeshift.
Precisely because I tend to instability, I have a great need for routine, almost for ritual. Although I usually flirt with existential anarchy, I’ve learned to be Spartan in my own way, that is: to live with barely anything, not even control over my own life. With the years abroad I got used to not needing much. I’m always traveling for autarchy…
In a conversation I overheard at a Starbucks in West Hollywood just a few days ago, a gay guy was telling his girlfriend that the amount of people that live alone has raised by a 30%. She nodded as if that was completely natural and added that since she decided to live alone she was much happier, she felt more free and had much more time for herself… “Yeah, but who touches you?”, answered the guy, embracing himself.
That Starbucks was full of people sitting alone, looking at their computers with the headphones on. The ambient music was so loud that the few people who actually talked had a hard time listening to each other. Living alone is different than traveling alone. Living with people can be as much of an adventure as traveling. One has to work on oneself in order to avoid anal-sphinterized-OCD attitudes with the unfolding of events. Sometimes the healthiest option is to let things be, go with the flow, allow risk to take over… be spontaneous, and the only way of working towards that is firmly believing in one’s own capacity to be so, and then, when the moment comes, let it flow.
All the way down Santa Monica Boulevard, I hit the Pacific Coast Highway. The 1. On my right, Malibu and the Villa Getty, with all its Mediterranean vegetation, the scents of my childhood… On my left, the ocean shines like mirror tessellae, while surfers, dolphins, and seals ride its waves by the shore. As I move out of LA County, the radio stations fuse into each other in the same frequency. Phil Collins meets Sting. I decide to turn off the radio and go back to the Iphone. It’s time to finally hear it: San Francisco, by Scott McKenzie. That song has the quality of being old and young at the same time, like the hippies.
By the time I get to Santa Barbara the sun is already setting, so I decide to spend the night there. Walking barefoot on the Arroyo Burro Beach, with the sun melting on the horizon and the seaweed tangled between my toes, I understand that leaving LA was definitely the right decision…
Later I check in a youth hostel and take a walk around Santa Barbara. I go up State Street at midnight and take pictures of flowers in the dark. The next day all those streets and flowers will look much different, the Presidio will remind me of the everyday life led by the Spaniard pioneers, the beautiful Mission will remind me of the balance between spirituality and nature that many Franciscan monks tried to find there. A certain purity in this existence… And the Amtrak will remind me of home, Europe, and how the train was crucial in the building of the US, but it got relegated to a second term by the car. Video killed the radio star.
What to do when someone tries to govern you? As I leave the hostel I listen to a conversation between a couple of backpackers. She is planning the day out loud. He nods and drinks his coffee with an empty look… We’ve all been there. Bossy people. Maybe he’s ok with it, I think to myself, maybe she always has the initiative. Or maybe not, maybe he’s just letting her talk, but he’ll eventually do as he pleases. Or maybe he’s just mentally asleep…
But I’m not, the caffeine is already kicking in and my synapses flow at the rhythm of Ñico Saquito: “María Cristina me quiere gobernar/ y yo le sigo, le sigo la corriente/ porque no quiero que diga la gente/ que María Cristina me quiere gobernar…” . Sometimes the best way of dealing with bossy people is letting them think that they have the power, that they are in control, but keeping a wider perspective of the situation and subtly redirecting it. I tend to be bossy too, I must admit it. But I don’t really like that attribute of my character, and I wouldn’t want to be perceived as such, so I try to remember those lyrics very often. Show, guide, hint, but not direct. There is a pleasant irony on letting oneself be governed, somehow Socratic, some-other-how Taoist. And in the middle of the process give a little touch, drop a clue, show a nuance… keep the route by not moving the rudder too much, because you know that there’s always a long way to go.
Going north along the windy One I arrive at Big Sur. Going north, where in mythology we usually encounter danger and adventure. Also wisdom… In Joseph Campbell’s terms, from the North one comes back with some kind of remedy, elixir, a magic potion.
But no matter where I go, I never find potions. As the song says: the more I see the less I know… Socratic irony once again. If I ever grow wiser, it can only be among myself, having committed many mistakes, both in the way I look at the world and at my interiors. Literary mistakes that, once mended, will give way to new ones. Because I never learn anything. All I do is look for sincerity and all I get is self-deceit. I can only know myself by examining my actions, judging myself the same way I judge others. Is not that I shift personalities; I don’t think I’m bipolar or schizophrenic yet, I just have a lot of strata to dig in.
The mastodontic pine trees from Big Sur exhale their perfume as the wind blows softly between their branches. Looking at the moon flicker through those green crowns I think about the discipline to which I’ve dedicated the last two years of my life: film. Darkness and light. Fantasy. I also think of literature, my other friend, the one to whom I always return, the one that I like to travel with. As opposed to filming, I see reading and writing compatible with graceful movement, a sort of bearable lightness.
The sound of the leaves slowly turns into silence, and I decide to meander around the sequoias alone, in the dark. With almost no moonlight shining through the forest, that night was designed for me to look back and become aware of how much I’ve traveled thus far, both physically and spiritually, and feel nostalgia for the beautifully traced paths of the past. I’m unstable, I could make myself crazy tonight, I know it… but something pulls me back from the abyss. One day, following my brother’s example, I decided to try to be happy and keep myself sane in this life. It is as if he was always there to remind me.
The giant sequoias, cathedrals of the vegetal kingdom, seem unreachable to the trees surrounding them. It looks like they will never be that big, they’ll just die before that. I think of great authors, Homer, Cervantes, Goethe… and how their magnitude is practically insurmountable too, not only because of their quality, but mainly because of the layers and layers of interpretation they have accumulated throughout generations. The rest of the people, herbs, plants and flowers that cover the earth receive the leaves that fall from those cathedrals. Sometimes I feel extremely small under such natural and intellectual monuments, but after all, it’s natural, normal, almost ordinary.
Since the moment I first heard about it, Big Sur always struck me as the place where the solution would be. I actually thought more of Esalen, but I left it behind for next time… But when I got to the this area, at some random point, I felt the presence of the spirit, a sort of gravitational increase, or decrease… A certain weight on my balls. The telluric and geological manifestation of cosmic forces come together in this piece of coast, setting up all the elements for a natural temple of spirituality.
I decide to spend the night in Big Sur, which means that I’ll sleep in the car, because the cheapest room is a 100$. Right in front of the place where I’m parked there’s a bar, and I feel the need to be with some people before I lock the doors and lay down in the passengers seat. The bar is charming, there’s a fireplace by which I sit while waiting for a beer and a sandwich. I suddenly feel an urge to write I haven’t felt in months. Nothing in particular, just about the fact that I’m there, that I decided to abandon my comfortable life in LA and go north, looking for adventure. That’s a fact, an action that shows character. I’m so ever changing that I need to interpret my own actions and impulses in order to deduce who I really am. And there you are, escaping forward, fleeing, running ahead, getting lost. Traveling by intuition.
Carmel smells very nice. The breeze coming from the Pacific is enriched by the fresh aroma of the eucalyptus. Carmel, in Catalan, means sweet. I drive to the mission, where Junipero Serra, the Franciscan founder of California rests in peace. There, at the door, I meet a woman with whom I talk about the Spanish missionaries and the history of that place. At some point I ask her about the Mission Ranch, the restaurant owned by Clint Eastwood. She starts telling me all sorts of detailed information about the place and Clint, so many that I end up asking her how come she knows that much: “I’m his mother in law” she answers, to my astonishment “Yes, I know… I’m younger than him”.
The Mission is extremely well preserved, not only it has the oldest library in California, but also a gift shop packed with Christian merchandise. As I stand in front of Junipero’s tomb I think about the life of those people… Someone like father Serra who left Mallorca to evangelize unknown lands in the new world, or another of my countrymen, Gaspar de Portolà, who founded San Diego and Monterrey. California saw the decadence of an empire and the emergence of another one, the mundane empires switched, but the spiritual empire of the evangelizers remained, because California spirituality needs to find its way and manifest itself in multiple manners. California tends to fantasy. California dreams.
Image-concept: on my knees at the church, texting God. Writing that I am texting God. Texting myself that I’m texting God. I send messages to myself… To be transparent; able to be the same with myself and the others. Achieve simplicity through complexity, only like that I will be able to make of autobiography something interesting and universal. What are the gospels but biography? Self-narration is the laic spirituality to which I can aspire nowadays… Born in the XVII century, I would have probably ended up in a mission.
After the touristic attraction I go to the actual town, the perfect squared urban grid with little cute houses and elegant shops in every corner. It reminds me of La Jolla in San Diego, just slightly better packaged. I walk around enough to make myself hungry, and I eventually head on to the Mission Ranch to have dinner. The nice smell increases substantially once I get there, eucalyptus and pine trees outside, cooking with butter inside. All the people in the restaurant look affluent, they nod with pleasant attitudes, clinteastwoodians. Old and venerable. White wine. White hair. Just the right amount of everything. There is a pianist playing live music. It’s someone’s birthday and they sing the song, cheerfully, solemnly happy. A gorgeous sunset slowly progresses over the agitated ocean on the far corner of the landscape. Between the Ranch and the water, a beautiful field is spotted with the furriest sheep. As I drink beer and eat French fries side of the roast beef sandwich, I feel genuinely at ease for the first time in months. Completely free, liberated.
After an hour of slow contemplation at the terrace I go into the restaurant to pay, and there he is, Clint, the living legend, in a picture. The real Clint is in Huston shooting a film with Justin Timberlake. Actually, there’s not even a picture of him whatsoever, but one thing that is really there is an inscription hanging above the whiskies on the bar:
“He who goes to bed sober, falls as the leaves do, and dies in October” – but he who goes to bed, and does so mellow, lives as he ought and dies a good fellow.
That very same night I’ll arrive to San Francisco. Robert McKenzie’s song will play in repeat as I try to keep three flowers from falling off my hair. But I’ll get there two hours later than I had planned, because after reading that sign I had to order another beer… In this trip I’ve charged my batteries, I feel a wave of energy accompanying me to the Bay Area. It’s time to surf reality.
 “Maria Cristina wants to gorvern me/ and I follow, I follow her commands/ because I don’t want people to say/ that Maria Cristina wants to govern me”.