Magical Mexico

(Photo by: Jami Buck-Vance)

A day removed from a pit of Mexican fire in my stomach, which burned bright with tequila and salt, I comfortably reflect on Zona Polanco in Distrito Federal of Mexico.

Polanco, in effect the Beverly Hills of Mexico, from Burberry to Gucci to my favorite, the eclectic Common People where we bought beautiful soaps and bath salts and a brightly-colored magnet of the Lady of Guadalupe, radiant against a red background. That’s Mexico for you these days: radiant and resiliently shining, yet against a red background of worsening drug violence. We didn’t see many other Americans during the trip but always felt fairly safe.

Mexico City boasts more density than New York City while it is vaster than North American land giant Los Angeles, with a total population roughly equal to both of those biggest of United States cities combined. Thirty million people hived around us seeing about their day, while the affluence of Zona Polanco was perhaps most striking. The pedigreed pooches in sweaters and bows, with well-coiffed and attired owners in tow, themselves with expensive sweaters tied around their necks, so Euro. The rolling tree-canopied park and the finest shopping, the restaurants where I found so many friendly tables.

Past the biggest flag I’ve ever seen, one Zona over is the giant park, the public lake where families and couples cruise on peddled boats, the museums and street food vendors. On a Sunday afternoon, we strolled amongst thousands, one street vendor saying, “Wow,” at the significant beauty of my lady, as the sugar of the churros stuck to our hands.

We stopped in for a margarita at a swank spot playing NFL games and then were given a free ride back to our hotel in their comfy courtesy van…the big city night still awaiting us.

Fitting that I’d just bought a souvenir folk art miniature Mexican Cantina in Cuernavaca, I thought later, as we explored the nightlife in Mexico City, with somewhat mixed results. Our credit card stopped working and required a phone call to rev back up at what could have been an inopportune moment, and the tequila eventually hit me too hard.

Before all this was the mansion once owned by the lovely Hollywood actress Brigitte Bardot in Cuernavaca, Land of Eternal Spring, where we stayed in the guest quarters. Cuernavaca is a city of around one million, an escape from Mexico City, a city behind gated walls which opened to reveal large homes with majestic gardens and outdoor spaces.

The place we stayed was cobalt and white and flowing and as majestic in taste and decoration as any I’ve seen below the border, a shrine to all that is good about Mexico, and there really is so much.

The smell of steaming tamales removed from foil and banana leaves, for breakfast. The memory of Texas relatives whom loved the culture. The feel of being seated outside under a temperate sky and consuming cold Mexican beer with limes sliced sideways, with the woman I truly love. The thronging Zocalo and the reverence and spectacle of Mexico’s churches. The taste of piquant salsa verde and wholesome handmade tortillas. The art and color – yellow, cobalt blue, galaxy blue, Aztec blue, pink, hot pink, red, orange, all popping against the expected browns and tans. My single favorite art piece I saw was the Diego Rivera mural depicting the history of the state of Morelos, which filled the largest walls in the main public building in Cuernavaca’s downtown.

To-and-fro Cuernavaca, we traveled by luxury bus, from the airport in D.F., where we shared our first Mexican meal, a delicious bistec torta (sandwich). The city is mammoth from the air and feels enormous while navigated by auto. Housing packed on top of shallow stores and restaurants selling food and goods to the multitudinous masses. Soccer facilities and parks along the graffitied Metro train line, as we bounced in the bus through the crush of traffic.

Followed by the rurality of mountains and fields of hay that is most of the land in the nation of Mexico. Coming into Cuernavaca, we felt the energy rise again. And life did pulse there, with the same Mexican fire that we felt of the biggest city in the world, 100 years after the revolution, 200 years after declaring independence from Spain.

Students flock to Cuernavaca to study Spanish; while Capitalinos (as residents of D.F. are known) retreat the short distance to Cuernavaca for cleaner air and relative calm. Mariachi players wait near the Zocalo in full uniform ready to be rented to play. And a raucous mid-day celebration once swept us up, a tipsy local painted as an Indian for the festivities putting his arm around me and introducing himself and his less than pleased date, as we charged down the street with them. He told me I should have been out there at 10 a.m.

The silver town of Taxco that we visited on a day trip was brimming with humanity – flooding narrow city streets, full of pedestrians and vehicles and thousands of shops, every structure white with only black-lettered signage. There, I prayed in the most ornate church I’ve ever seen and then had a drink at the rooftop bar across the plaza. Next, dinner included chicken enchiladas and a hilltop view of the entire village from a large restaurant/hotel.

Our last night in Cuernavaca, fireworks bombastically filled the air from the club next door, as we finished with fine dining in a gorgeous open air restaurant. The Mexican night felt so perfect to us, under the candle and lamplight. And we anticipated the frenetic energy of the megalopolis of D.F., which was again on our agenda.

Back inside the mansion that night, we settled in to fall asleep and then were at one point suddenly awakened to noises on the tiled ceiling. We moved to the kitchen, and two curious Coatis glanced at us through a window from atop the property’s wall, before one bounded over the other as they exited our view. The magic of Mexico evident to us.

Hawaii (on the cruise)

Big Island is big adventure more than relaxation, we see from the rest of the guests at the B&B. But not for us. Not yet. We plan to drive all the way around the island, to hike the volcano, to see black sand beaches, to stay in three divergent areas.

Every morning as we enjoy our farm-to-table breakfast and Kona coffee at a communal table full of folks much older than us, we hear of their adventures: repelling, hiking, exploring, and then the spotlight shines on us, and we say not much. “We had a massage: an hour-and-a-half massage…outside.”

on the cruise

We hang out with the staff and they attend solely to us, while the other guests depart for more adventure. We say, “Maybe a swim in the pool after our morning nap. I like to read and stare at the pineapple and listen to the birds sing. We are just enjoying the property and our suite together…and the little town. We may walk out for lunch, again. Maybe a late lunch.”

Our favorite staff member tells us, “You are on the cruise. Go relax by the pool and I’ll bring you some scones and delicious iced tea in a half hour. We baked extra scones this morning because you like them so much. It’s good to be on the cruise.”

Hawaii (we ascended)

Sweet dream songbirds sing me awake, as the sheer joy of realization dawns. We are here, perched in the suite of an open window resort atop the Kona coffee region of Big Island Hawaii. The busy tourist port of Kailua Kona visible to me as I stand, yet so far from our reality.

suite

Only yesterday, my true love and I landed in the tiny Kona Airport, invigorated but exhausted from our far journey from the World’s Busiest Airport in Atlanta. We’d had an early dinner in the Jetson’s-like Encounter restaurant at LAX, where the fresh Cali cuisine was only a tease for the bounty which awaited us many miles across the Pacific. Plane two seemed to soar forever.

The rental car ride revealed a bleak black frontier of lava burnt earth. After stopping in Kona for a quick glance at the ocean and an adult refreshment, we ascended.

ART BOX pARTy, Curated by: Han Vance

Kudos CFPP and Atlanta INtown paper. What a great event! Mind blowing poetry by Collin Kelley and FOCUS (and me). ATL’s very own dooGallery is my favorite almost-famous spot. American Spirit Whiskey and Asahi Beer and Sandwich Buddha ~ delicious. June’s ATL ART STARS were bright: Jackie Ducros, Ted Murphy, Charity Lindop, Travis Smith, Jolene Wheeler, Frances Byrd, Stephanie Anderson, Suzanne Bobo, Dan Curran, Jen de Plour, Linda Costa, PaperFrank Dunson, William “KING POP” Floyd, Kendrick “GREATeclectic” Daye of Art Nouveau magazine, and the incomparable Ashley Norfleet:

Volcano (Park) – from “Hawaii triptych”

Volcano (Park) (C) 2010:

A:

Almost canyon-like,

the great crater we

walked through under a blazing

Hawaiian sun, after the rain

forest. After  the volcano, another

stretch of rainforest, a lava

tube. Songbirds don’t live in resort

areas or near cities, and

neither have we – we – have been

Holualoa-Inn and the lodge named

for the volcano, in the

Village of Volcano.

And the jacuzzi

is set to

104

(Photo by: Han Vance)

B:

Next up is old downtown

Hilo, more dark sand. On the

drive to Volcano, from

Holualoa, we stopped at the

black sand beach & a few

observation points: Hawaii

is everything. Big. Life.

When I see a color, that

color tends to be vivid; when

I taste a fruit, that fruit

tends to be succulent and

sweet. And the fish is good,

the people are very good and

my travel companion is great

Happily Floating In Big Blue America,

Han

My Last Hipster Run

(Photo by: Han Vance)

My hair was overgrown, so I took out my peanut and shaved the sides up – way up. I looked a bit like Crispin Glover as I made a deposit in my bank and quickly walked the rest of the way down Ponce to get my haircut. I wanted to make sure the sides were right, and the line was perfect. I trusted only myself. I had the rest done relatively short and usually left it product-mussed. I broke out my dad’s old cover sunglasses, as huge as any they wore in Manchester and Miami. I started wearing bright tight shirts everyday, which almost fit me, as I’d recently lost ten pounds. I longboarded as much as I could and strutted to the transit station or took cabs everywhere else, except on the weekend mornings when my curvy fiancee’ drove me to work at the Euro-cafe’ in Midtown. Those mornings, I would finish a can of Coors Light in the bath to rally. Then we would sit in her car and make out while I swayed about to the space age Athens weirdness of Of Montreal. Then I would walk inside and make myself a double espresso. I was drunk in bars with thirty-somethings, with twenty-somethings to the point of belligerent incoherence and laughed and talked too loudly. I proudly peacocked amongst fellow urbanists whom would never have my flair for extravagantly varied fashions or my honed way with words. I worked a final lunch shift, had a huge late lunch, walked back to the cafe’ and had my free birthday shot, a Strega. Shared a toast with the definitely-old-enough-to-know-how-to-live-way-better-but-still-clinging-to-it-for-some-reason bartender, had a drink with the actor Paul Walker as we discussed Hawaii and my California book and my afternoon pool party planned for the next day. Walked away and had a few drinks in various haunts with a career student. Met my love in our suite. Went out by taxi for sushi and for wine by candlelight. The city glowed around and for me, as we stumbled to the disco lounge without panic or pretense. An off night in the Southern sprawl of summer ATL, but an on one for me, I suppose. My last as a hipster. As she and I had done so many times in the old loft where we deeply fell, we sat perched atop our city as midnight neared. I counted it down like it was New Year’s Eve. Five-four-three-two-one. Suddenly, I was 40. And I went to bed.

The 4 types of elopement

(Photo by: Han Vance, Hotel Oceana)

We each came to understand that we wanted to be together forever, well before we dared to utter. Then we did, eventually, and it was just letting the truth out more than it was any sort of a revelation. And considering I was still in rewrite and final edit of my Cali travel adventure memoir at the time, we – I – postponed. It was untoward to move forward while clinging back like I was. And a memoir is nothing if not a cling back, especially when one of the strong themes of said memoir is divorce.

Speaking of divorce, she’d been through it, too. More recently, so her wounds were fresher. Mine were deeper, as I’d made grave mistakes last time around and though we all fall – I’d really fallen and failed. And I have two children; she has none.

Of note: we were married in the same facility in Atlanta, just not to the final spouse. This is final. This is real. This is forever. Forever – ever…

Her mom’s in poor health and shouldn’t travel. We’ve both done the whole big wedding thing before. We both know everybody and would have to offend or invite everybody. So, elopement was an obvious choice.

We traveled to Augusta and being a Southern gentleman I asked her dad, the Colonel’s permission, and he gave consent.

Dreaming of getting married in a beautiful out of country location like on a beach in Mexico or in the rainforest in Vancouver. Means legally nothing in the United States of America. You have to do it again, and we are trying not to do too much. So, USA.

The Texas hill country spawned me and is one of the least known-for-its-beauty, breathtakingly beautiful spots in America. It’s far enough – Charleston is not, Rosemary Beach is not – but Austin is not a beach. Hawaii is something we did last year to great expense and exhausted elation; we want a relaxation vacation. Since I’ve traveled Cali extensively, Jami said pick a place that’s not LA yet in Cali, maybe. So, Santa Barbara, the American Riviera.

And the Spanish-tiled Santa Barbara County Courthouse is noted as the prettiest government building in America. So, there.

This is a planned elopement. Dinner at Bouchon. Hotel on the beach. The dress. The rings. Thoughtful this and that. And here I’d like to mention my guys at JFL Corp. in Atlanta’s Apparel Mart. I’ve bought suits from Jerry and his dad for over 15 years now, and I recommend you fellas do the same. Selection, prompt onsite tailoring, and the unrivaled eye of Jerry Junior are reason enough to go. There prices are unbeatable, too. By appointment only: (404) 523-2498 or 1 (800) 767-2498, www.jflcorp.com. My new suit is midnight blue and totally crushin’ it. My tie and shirt are a gorgeous, regal lavender, and Jerry picked that out too.

Anyway, I came to realize there are four types of elopement:

1. Planned Elopement – as detailed above

2. Secret Elopement – hiding out from family, friends, ex-spouses, maybe the IRS

3. Emergency Elopement – bump of a bun in the oven and her dad has a big shotgun

4. Spontaneous Elopement – VEGAS, baby, VEGAS

Ponce Crush (and skate and stroll)

CRUSH-CRUSH. So the Ponce Crush – the hot new art crawl that roams in and around Ponce de Leon Avenue in The ATL – unofficially starts with Angel Poventud accidentally redialing me from the International Pillow Fight of Atlanta in Freedom Park. Longboarding down from the high land and then back up Ponce, through the fun seekers, the crack dealers and the cars – way too many cars. Not me. I’m just being free.

First stop is Beep Beep Gallery, fitting since a car just honked at me. I greeted a seated Mr. Poventud, bench outside the cute space on Monroe, right across from where Boulevard is becoming something entirely different, the Old 4th Ward shifting to Midtown. Gallery co-owner Mark Basehore welcomed me with an almost-cold, free can of Miller High Life, the champagne of beers, as Angel made a $2 cash donation on my behalf before being called into work.

Mark’s suit and popping bright tie show the seriousness of expression this growing community has for local art. Allen Taylor and Andrea Sanders display a two-person art endeavor, filling the space with color and energy. And the window has a smoke machine meets art screen video montage that invites and excites, while it moves to the music. Sanders’ work was far too dark in subject matter for my taste, but I did enjoy Taylor’s colorful patterned drawings. Co-owner James McConnell offered a warm smile and firm handshake and dressed the part as did his counterpart. Color me impressed with these guys and this space. I believe in space and movement.

So, I was off again. This time with my girlfriend in tow, and we’ve slipped into ’bout to elope soon land, so she’s my fiance, I’d have to say as of that day. What a balmy spring first Saturday of April it was for an art adventure in the city too busy to hate. Next stop was Kibbee Gallery, behind Fellini’s Pizza off Ponce. Big, beautiful house filled with art and beer and food and people hiving together in a communal bonding of appreciation. I most-appreciated Yana Dimitrova’s check to-do list paintings. We all have these lists, and I couldn’t help but crack up at what Dimitrova had done on a large physical scale, here in a piece called The Greatest Achievements. “HALFAWAKE” was the title of the show itself, and the range of vision expressed in these paintings moved me. I also just adored Sarah Daly’s small, bright cityscape paintings in the back of the gallery, sadly finding the one I wanted to buy out of my current price range.

Finally it was time to get crushed, and no place better for that than Young Blood Gallery, near the Highland Inn on N. Highland. Now, the freaks were out. Now, the crowd was revved. Now, I could hardly find a place to stand with such a long skateboard. Can someone invent a lock for these please? I digress, to here mention that “Medicina” as a show did impress. Kris D, from the Classic City of Athens, GA, has teamed with David Hale to show that “all things are connected, all things are one.” This mostly neutral-colored show was voluminous in prolificness and expressed its soothing message in figure-after-figure and pattern-after-pattern. My favorite were the birds, and they alone were remarkably numerous. Over 300 total works were on display. I enjoyed meeting merchandising entrepreneur Brandon Craig who does the new Medicina shirts on my way out, as I’ve also been known to dabble in lowbrow fashion and the commerce thereof.

Night was complete with a snack and cocktail from the pretty patio of Cafe’ 640 next door, while I stared into the face of my true love. Thinking to myself: I have to agree with Mr. Poventud’s earlier gruff-voiced whisper of a statement to me, “I love my life.”

Next Ponce Crush is May 7th (FIRST SATURDAYS!), when I’ll be a bit busy – day after I get married in the American Riviera, Santa Barbara, California. But I’ll definitely be there for June 4th. Please help support local art and this movement that matters.

(Photo by: Han Vance)

My 1st Critical Mass

I used to be a super-sharp dressing and fast-talking parking and transportation regional operations manager, planner and staff writer. Did that relatively obscure mess for eight long years, until I suddenly walked the F out and then wandered Cali for half a summer and wrote a book about it.

I came to know and love trains in that former line of business and had always envisioned myself as this New York-San Francisco-type urbanist, who had never lived outside of the Southern United States of America and lived periodically in suburbs, country, small cities. I’d always liked the notion of not driving everywhere, never drove until I was around 25, and don’t drive now again and am simply much happier and calmer because of it. I guess you could say that I dance to the beat of a different drummer than most of y’all around here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I moved to the Classic City of Athens, GA for school in 1990, I finally found a society where I could fully thrive without getting rides. I walked or rode my bike everywhere I went, and I was constantly on the go and in the know, you know. I managed the Tate Student Center Set-Up Crew, threw epic parties, played basketball everyday, ate at T-stand, lived off campus, watched the Dawgs, met a few cute girls and Michael Stipe, made some new friends I’d always cherish, even studied some. More than anything, I had fun.

At age 40, I’ve finally seen my ATL gain some ground on the rest of the world in terms of becoming a bike-able city. I recently purchased a new-used bike myself, and on my first free Friday in, like, years, I joined up with my dear buddies Angel Poventud and Jason Jarrett and a cast of hundreds at Downtown’s Woodruff Park for my first ever Critical Mass.

My bike’s back wheel didn’t hold up as well as my rickety-old-still-an-athlete body did, as we rode long and far and saw nearly every neighborhood this urbanity has to offer. Beautiful homes, rundown shacks, smiling faces, confused stares, honks, children greeting us warmly and feeling a part of something big while watching from their yards. Happy Friday is the call and the response is universally pretty good, though some people did want us out of their always SUV automobilized wrong of way. Even that’s okay; they are getting an education at least. We are here. We care. We ride. Happy Friday, indeed.

Hamlet in the hills

Craggy Pinnacled

Catawba Rhododendrons

Butterfly Bushed

Blue Ridge Blends

Smoky Mountain-Topped

In Great Green

And Blue That Is

Mountains ‘Round Here

Down Here, Deep – The Ville

Deep South – North Carolina

Hamlet In The Hills