A view of Amsterdam — nihilistic photography

Photographs  and pics of Amsterdam, (Netherlands)… of what I usually call, beautiful  irrelevancies. In chronological order, as they were experienced.

Copyright 2009, Pablo Saborio.

More art and poetry

La candela

 

Era precisamente esa actitud que me revolvía las entrañas más que la hipocresía de los políticos y las fechorías de la Iglesia. Percibía a lo largo de la avenida peatonal un gran desfile del más despreciable carácter, me sentía aterrorizado al percatarme de tal brutal condición y descubrir que no era ningún sueño pero la más concreta realidad. Bueno, tal vez exagero al llevar todo adjetivo a un valor superlativo. Quizá lo que descubrí en las aceras del siglo veintiuno no es lo más despreciable y brutal, pero más bien se trata de un resentimiento inconsciente que me mueve a calumniar un mundo que me ha tratado injustamente y en el que no he podido sobreponer mi voluntad. Pero tales consideraciones se las dejaremos a los intérpretes psicoanalistas y sigo convencido que me he percatado de una verdad ignorada—algo que verdaderamente me revuelve el estómago.Es momento de entrar en detalles. Iba caminando por la avenida central, hace dieciocho días para ser exactos, distraído por los vaivenes de la gente metropolitana; un pasatiempo que nunca ha de cansarme. Mirar esa multitud de extraños extraviados, vociferando contra los autobuses que se saltan el alto, hombres silbando a las mujeres, madres comprando  el juguete de moda que venden los ambulantes, amigos hablando entre sí con sonrisas, hombres seduciendo a mujeres que rechazan otro halago falso, mujeres que mueven su pompis con el paso de cada tacón, los niños abstraídos con el vuelo de palomas, todos esos personajes innumerables que uno se puede topar en las calles, mientras cada uno de ellos sigue como a un dictado escolar los comandos de su rutina.  Ese día no estuve por la ciudad con el fin único de captar todas imágenes efímeras de la vida cotidiana de las masas, sino que tenía la necesidad de recoger unos zapatos de vestir que estaba enmendando el señor Gutiérrez, propietario de una anticuada y pequeña zapatería, no de las que venden zapatos pero donde arreglan los mismos. Cuando llegué a su pequeño local había una pequeña fila, el señor Gutiérrez estaba atendiendo a una señora encorvada de sesenta años, de un pelo atigrado con manchas blancas y negras, impresión que solo pude explicar como efecto de reiteradas teñidas de pelo hechas en casa, y probablemente sin un espejo. Después de la pequeña señora se encontraba un regordete de considerable altura con un bigote negro y tieso que le cubría el labio superior. Su camisa tenía varios huecos y no le llegaba a cubrir toda su espalda. Sobre los jeans se asomaba una hendedura perpendicular al borde de esos apretados pantalones, lo que me hizo lamentar que su camisa fuera tan corta y expusiera tan sutilmente su peluda naturaleza. La cuestión es que estaba esperando en fila mientras mis ojos exploraban lo cotidiano cuando paran dos jovenzuelos recién salidos del colegio y se quedan platicando por la puerta del local. Sin intención ni esfuerzo su conversación fue registrada por mis oídos y lo que expresaron me llegó a trastornar. Los jóvenes conversaban sobre su futura educación, las razones por las que hay que optar por carreras lucrativas y prósperas, los futuros bienes materiales que tendrían, la cantidad de hijos que engendraría cada uno y la edad que esperarían morir. No puedo fundamentar mi enojo e irracional desasosiego que experimenté en esos momentos. Los dos continuaban en su conversación, optimistas, pragmáticos, centrados, como si tuvieran ochenta y cinco años y conocieran más allá de toda duda la trayectoria del mundo. Era ajena esa actitud a mis treinta y cinco años, no podía concebir como cualquier persona honesta puede desde sus deseos actuales y pasajeros programar todo el esquema de su vida. El señor Gutiérrez me despertó de mis sombrías meditaciones con un retumbante ‘eeyyy’, del que reaccioné con ingenua mirada y me acerqué al mostrador para retirar mis zapatos negros con una boleta blanca que sostenía en mi mano.Salí del local taciturno, un poco molesto e inquieto. Tal vez no he sido suficientemente explícito en mi narración y deben estar preguntándose porque un episodio ordinario como el anterior me haya llegado a afectar tanto. Es posible que pocas cosas ocupen más de mi pensamiento que la soledad y la muerte. No quiero aquí asustar a nadie ni exponerme como una de esas desamparadas almas que navegan entre depresión y depresión a raíz de su pesimismo y cinismo. Mi metodología con estos temas es sumamente sana y productiva, no trato de extraer argumentos para asediar esta ya agitada vida, sino encuentro en esos inauditos temas las fuentes de inexplicables revelaciones y extáticas emociones. La soledad no me ha parecido nunca tan insoportable, siempre la considero como la oportunidad para estar en contacto directo con aquello que somos, un tacto silencioso con este coloso mundo. La muerte es simplemente la advertencia que nos obliga a despertar de nuestra cómoda burbuja de quehaceres y distracciones, se trata de una sombra, un trazo oscuro entre este mundo de luz y colores, es lo que permite ver la silueta de todo lo que está vivo. Resulta fundamental para mí redescubrir ese contacto primordial con el mundo más que esquematizar la vida en abstracciones ilusorias.Así es que caminé por lo que pudieron ser dos o tres horas y en cada rostro metropolitano notaba esa inagotable sed por hacer cosas, construir, producir, reproducir, generar y gastar. No veía a nadie contemplando las nubes que rayaban el cielo encorvado, no había rastro de algún ser apasionado por el movimiento de las hojas en un árbol, o el sonido de la lluvia sobre los techos de zinc, o el vuelo fortuito de una mosca, o la suavidad de la tierra mojada. Todos estaban ocupados haciendo algo y si acaso solo los locos y los niños se detenían por segundos a apreciar un mundo extraño y encantador. ¿Dónde está ese asombro que experimentamos cuando pequeños?Y ya sé lo que muchos dirían. Déjate de vainas, póngase serio y olvide todas esas preocupaciones fútiles e innecesarias. La vida está aquí para vivirla, no para cuestionarla y explicarla. No entiendo muy claramente porque este mundo moderno a veces me revuelve el estómago y me hace nauseabundo. Solamente sé que yo no quemo candelas solo para quemarlas, yo las prendo para poder ver en la oscuridad. Y si esta vida es una candela, no vengo aquí a gastarla, más bien la enciendo para apreciar mejor lo que ella misma revela, es una oportunidad para explorar lo que ha estado por eternidades en la oscuridad y ahora se hace visible con nuestra presencia.

A man in San José

  (photo by Ryan Moss)

 

 

It may appear imprudent that a story that takes place in a Spanish-speaking city should be told in English. First, and partly, because the English-speaking readers will have a hard time grasping the culture in which the story takes place. Secondly, and conversely, those that can relate to the story are few since the story is narrated in a foreign language. But I will remind the indulgent reader that my situation is a hopeless conundrum. English-speakers constantly visit San José but do not have enough time in the city to experience its routine and tradition. Anglophone foreigners might have come to live permanently in Costa Rica but it is highly likely they have stayed outside the capital due to its ordinariness and its dangerous crime. Likewise those that were unwittingly born in this country have avoided the city because of its pollution, recklessness and delinquency. Finally, those that have actually managed to live in the heart of San José year after year are unlikely candidates to enter this blog and squander a few minutes to the reflections of an (Anglo-phony!) Costa Rican.  I have therefore taken the liberty to entertain only a few at the risk that much of what will be said will be lost in the abysmal gap between dissimilar cultures. Also, it may not be superfluous to add that the message will apply to Anglophone first-world citizens and the English-speaking high-class citizens of Costa Rica, which so eagerly emulate the ideals of foreign societies. 

It is common to step down from the bus and abruptly wake up from your daydreaming as you enter the rowdy streets of San José. Those inevitable reveries that take place while you sit silently on an old American school bus come to an end when the smoke, heat and noise startle you back into reality. The images of the outer world that were streaming like invisible currents in the fabric of your mind become concrete and your attention is no longer floating in careless thoughts. Your vision is attracted to the large enchiladas on your right, the kiosk man selling newspapers and mangos at the corner, the pretty girl with a low-cut skirt, the taxi honking at that young woman, the bus almost crashing into the sidewalk, a big dog followed by three smaller dogs. Your head turns to and fro unless you are already too numb to notice the riot of any ordinary day. Your pace accelerates as you cross the street when the pedestrian light is red or slow down as you inspect the imitation sunglasses in every third store. People cross by you as they speak on the phone, scold their children or speak to themselves in a sometimes delusional manner. The stores’ windows have merchandise in every conceivable quality with prices tags in bold colorful numbers: ¢5,000 for a tank top, ¢800 for lipstick, ¢13500 for wide legged jeans, ¢250 for a pair of earrings, ¢18000 for a new toaster oven. Small cantina bars have brown and white beads-on-a-string hanging from the entrance, palm trees are easily spotted at street corners and if you venture a bit outside the crowded pedestrian streets you may even find trees ripe with mangos, bananas or jocotes. You get on an inner city bus that costs ¢100. When you pay make sure you don’t stand in between the electronic bars that count how many passengers get on and off (a rather recent feature), and then, quietly take your seat and distract yourself with the view of the sidewalks. It was on this Sabana-Cementerio bus that I saw for a quadrillion time the old bespectacled man that takes notes on his clipboard.

He has been working for the bus company for 37 years, out of those he has been in the same position, every weekday, for 35 years; keeping track of how many buses pass by his position, how many passengers were on the bus at each particular time, and making sure the money the bus driver has matches with registered passenger count of the day. It seems the electronic bars are not foolproof, and a good pair of scrupulous eyes is still warranted.  I have seen him so many times I was bound to ask him one day about his job, but as it is common in our country to tattle once we engage in a conversation, I ended up knowing much more than I initially wanted to inquire.   

It may seem strange that a man of sound judgment would choose to work in the same unchallenging job for 35 years. Not unless, we could argue, it was very high paying. But the truth is that a salary of under $325 a month is not very much. Our modern avaricious conscience would rebel against this inhumanity; but our initial repulsion might subdue with what I will now tell. 

It has been the fortune of many of us to never have dealt with the misfortune of poverty. Even if some of us have endured the hardship of unemployment, most of us, I venture to say, have always had enough food on our tables. In this country many have to strive for a decent meal every day and sometimes circumstances are not in favor of poor families that battle just to survive. Our protagonist grew in a similar condition. His mother had to support his whole family because his father had become blind from an accident at a construction site after some deadly chemicals had fallen on his face. Her mother worked in middleclass homes as a maid and on weekends sold knitted sweaters at a street corner in San José. Having four brothers and a sister, they had a very harsh time growing up. One brother ran away when he was twelve, the remaining three had to drop school to help their mother earn a living. Our friend never reached beyond third grade. It was clear from his expression that his early years were tremendously hard, yet I could perceive a certain satisfaction in his eyes. I assume he is now proud that they survived those tumultuous years.   

As a young adult he carried out many different kinds of jobs. He didn’t go too much into detail but he had enough to live on and support his family until the unavoidable crossed his path. He had gone out one night to a salsa/merengue club. Never having a radio or TV at home he grew up unfamiliar with the dexterous moves of Latin dance although he enjoyed greatly listening to the music. (He jiggled his rusty hips, I laughed). He would envy every corrongo male that would sweep women by their dance abilities. That night he was drinking a cold Tropical, a new beer that had just been released in the market by Cuban entrepreneurs, although he hardly had the habit of drinking beer. Eased by the alcohol, he ventured to take out a girl to dance. If it wasn’t for those beers, I would have never asked Yelena out for a dance– he commented. Not very romantic, I know. There’s a common misperception that we Latinos are all desperate romantics. They got married next year and started raising a family. His wife’s father had been working as an administrative director in a bus company and the rest seems logical. 

I didn’t dare to ask him why he settled for that simple position. True, it’s a higher position than being a bus driver but also very monotonous. However, when I was just about to bid him goodbye, in an unusual expansion of lucidity, he reflects on his humble circumstances and pronounces thoughts that have answered my tacit doubts: 

 “No puedo culpar mi familia, mi cultura, mi sociedad, mi país, ni la civilización mundial actual. Mi vida fue la consecuencia de una sencilla decisión: vivir sin la ambición de conocer otros continentes o poseer una abundancia de posesiones. Yo viví así y declaro sin arrepentimiento mi total conformidad con la rutina y singular angostura de mi vida. Me conformo con ser el señor que trabajó 35 años en la misma parada de bus, repitiendo la misma labor día tras día, arruga tras arruga, sin la ambición de buscar algo más que tener la comida en mi hogar mientras veía mis hijos crecer.” 

This can be roughly translated thus: 

I cannot blame my family, my culture, my society, my country, or this modern civilization. My life was the consequence of a simple decision: living without the ambition of knowing other continents or having great material wealth. I lived this way and I affirm without regret my complete conformity with my routine and singularly narrow lifestyle. I’m comfortable being that man that worked for 35 years at the same bus stop, repeating the same activity day after day, wrinkle after wrinkle, without having the ambition to look beyond the meal of each day while I saw my children grow up. 

The end.

Fatalism

If we must submit to the irrationality of following all logic to its end, conclusions may turn shockingly paradoxical. I once heard that we have chosen our life from the very start and that our experience on this planet is simply the revelation of our original choice. If this were true then the absurdity of our suffering would be justified since we have chosen beforehand to experience it. The question that remains would be: why have we forgotten our original choice? Why does life present itself as an unknown unfolding instead of being the realization of one’s desire? By some obscure mechanism our original choice has been obliterated, life remains a permanent surprise. At first this seems like another form of fatalism except for the fact that we have chosen that predetermination. On the other hand, most people believe that the universe is a spontaneous happening and we must choose our way through the hazards of spontaneity. Our life is the result of all our choices, but how do we ever get to choose anything? I sat down the other day to think this one over and I discovered that my choices are really just reactions to whatever is presented to my mind. From the pettiest choices to the most important decisions I simply obey a feeling, logic or a whim. In all of these cases I am subject to what simply happens inside me. Should I buy a black or blue pen? I wait for a moment, experience a certain sensation of pleasure in black and I buy the black pen. Should I live in Costa Rica or in India, I wait for a moment, a logical-emotional labyrinth emerges in my mind and by the end of this involuntary frenzy, I make my decision. Naively speaking, thoughts are like emotions, they arise involuntarily and by a law of their own. Most people are identified with their thoughts, but if you ask them how they fabricate a thought they must inevitably answer: it simply happens. So, if my decisions are nothing but reactions to what is presented to my mind, what is allowing these perceptions? If we submit to modern scientific thinking, to explain a perception in the human mind we must pursue a long path through Psychology, Sociology, Biology, Evolution, Neurology, Chemistry, Physics, and we will end up with an ultimate theory for the universe as seen by man. In very simple terms, what we experience is the result of the whole arrangement of the cosmos, and if we knew every bit of information about this arrangement, we could predict ourselves. Again, we fall into an unremitting fatalism.

 

 

But what’s the use of all this reasoning and the contemporary compulsive adoration to logic and reason?

  

 I choose not to know.

 

 

“Puppet on a string” by Steve Whitney