Magical Mexico

(Photo by: Jami Buck-Vance)

ATTN: A full-length book collection of travel writing by Han Vance is to be published in 2018.

Magical Mexico – originally for hanvance.com

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 the Federal District of Mexico, DF, for short. Think of our DC, meets NYC.

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 always, yet against a red background of worsening drug violence. We didn’t see many other Americans during the trip but generally 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, with 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 tangy 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 memories flood through me, 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 DF, where we shared our first Mexican meal, a delicious bistec torta (steak 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 graffiti-splashed 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 DF 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 as he introduced himself and his less than pleased date, while we charged down the cobblestone 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 sky from the club next door, as we finished with fine dining in a gorgeous open-air restaurant. The Mexican night air felt so perfect to us, under the candle and lamplight. And we anticipated the frenetic energy of the megalopolis of DF, 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 creatures called 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 plainly evident to us.

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.

Play it forward

Today is National Pay it Forward Day. So, I helped a temporarily homeless new friend with an application this morning before heading to the park for a shoot-around. I have hoops fever and am back to my old hard-court and gym rat ways, suddenly. Game last night netted a loss to the 6-time defending league champions and a reality check in terms of the team length required to compete in competitive basketball. My box score was this as 6th man and player/coach: 3 of 7 shooting, 2 of 3 on free throw attempts, 8 points, 3 hard fouls, 2 steals, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. I could have played better, of course, but if you extrapolate that out to a full game where the clock actually stops, I’d have had some seriously awesome stats. I actually shot a bit worse than that looks, but I was fouled on 2 of my shots (1 of which I converted into a sweet 3-point play). When you’re fouled on a shot it doesn’t count as an attempt. First time I’ve played in a league in 7 years.

I slightly sprained my ankle before the game while practicing a running behind the back pass. Notes to self: showboating is bad. Sportsmanship and the sporting life are good. Speaking of that: I saw the great poet Jon B. Goode today. Ever since UGA had a good season and made the NCAA Tourney and I went to the Hawks playoff win with my lady, I’ve been on geek for playing ball, and then my season finally started. I wanted to play again today, so I backpacked and biked it over to the park and shot a few, a few like hundred jumpers, free throws, hook shots.

I was set to leave and then decided to clean all the trash from the park. As I did, a car rolled up full of some of the top poets in the ATL – making them some of the top American poets, period. Jon and Xpj and Tommy Bottoms from the hot scene at Urban Grind and then some other good folks I believed I was meeting for the first time. I may have met that gorgeous Tasha before, or just wished I had. Anyway, Jon is getting married. I’m getting married. Life is moving forward. Pay it forward today, y’all.

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)

20 great things about The South:

1.Southern Girls (and other friendly folks)

2.ATL’s ROCKET SHIP Architecture

3.College Football, y’all

4.N’awlins’ Food

5.Charleston Flavor

6.”30 A” Beaches of the Florida Panhandle – especially Rosemary Beach

7.The Smoky Mountains in autumn

8.Sweet Tea, Grits, Biscuits, BBQ

9.America’s Teams: (the Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Braves)

10.Southern Literary Tradition: William Faulkner, Tom Wolfe, Gone with the Wind, the Decatur Book Festival, Grisham, urban ATL poetry scene, me

11.ELVIS (Memphis, Tupelo)

12.The BeltLine (Atlanta)

13.ATL and Athens Music Scenes – from Outkast to Mastodon to Rhianna to REM to SVA to Of Montreal to the B-52s, from the Tabernacle to Chastain to the 40watt club to TI to Music Hates You, from Pylon to Black Lips to “Superman those hos.”

14.Twilight Criterium (Athens)

15.Lowtide at Tybee Island (GA)

16.The Live Music Capital of the World  (Keep Austin Weird)

17.Mommas

18.Vulcan (Birmingham)

19.Deepdene Park -of the Olmstead Linear Parks (Atlanta)

20.Taco Stand (Athens)

Experience Hendrix

Channelling Jimi Hendrix: the legendary Robert Randolph on slide; Joe Satriani backed by Living Colour; members of Aerosmith & Stevie Ray Vaughn’s band & The Jimi Hendrix Experience; and a cast of music veteran others. The setting was the Fabulous Fox on Peachtree Street in the sparkling capital of the New South, and the stars on the Fox’s ceiling were twinkling and shooting. Buckshot was lovely in purple with her cream skin and dark mane. One of her prettiest nights – and she is always pretty.

First, a perfect snack of margherita pizza at Baraonda was procured barely before the show. Myers Dark Rum and pineapple was the early evening’s beverage of choice. We also had a swell concoction I called for, of Pama, Goose Orange, and pineapple, splash of soda – that was at the Fox’s little martini bar. After it was Apres Diem for chocolate mouse, late coffee, dance beats, hip art and a sexy vibe. I wore all Ben Sherman, black and brown with pink and white stripes. It was another great night out in The ATL.

The music: Could they match Jimi? No, he is the greatest guitar player of all-time and an underrated songwriter who constantly innovated and pushed boundaries, until he was gone too soon at age 27, after choking on his own vomit while drugged on barbiturates. But they were all talented and inspired to bring their best show in his honor.

Hendrix played space music, blues, radio songs, love songs, psychedelic noise – he did it all. An afro-domed man of Jimi’s height danced in a Jimi shirt as he strutted the wide aisle from one end of the building to the other.

And it was nostalgic – helping me remember my old friends from Marietta, like the groovy Jeff Edens (RIP). At one point in high school, I had a room that was covered strictly in psychedelic Jimi Hendrix and iconic Jim Morrison pictures. Gone but not forgotten, these great American rock-and-roll Vincent Van Goghs or James Deans.

Can You Cey Hip-Hop Art

My Buckshot and I caught industry pioneer Cey Adams and former DEF JAM promoter Bill Adler’s talk on the expansive world of hip-hop art, design and fashion at Young Blood Gallery & Boutique, in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood of The ATL on friday evening. I scooped up a signed version of their wonderful, colorful new book on the now thirty-five year old movement: DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop. The art in the book just pops off the page, and I highly recommend buying a copy.

I found Cey to be an engaging alternative hero. From his grassroots history as an NYC graffiti artist in Queens, to his friendship with the once-raucous Beastie Boys. From his humorous business dealings with the ridiculously pretentious and driven Sean “Puffy” Combs, to his sense of marvel at the solid work of his peers. From his pride of personal accomplishment in creating a perfect Adidas track jacket, to his real love of what happened as the movement gained momentum in New York and gradually America as a whole. Over the years, hip-hop has culturally captivated the attention of the entire world in ways both surprisingly subtle and oh so obvious.

It was interesting to be getting an education from old school New York hip-hop industry vets in the current world capital of rap: THE ATL. Unfortunate that I found Mr. Adler’s delivery a bit too pompous in tone to add much easily-ingested enlightenment, but he did have a unique take on why Queens was actually the borough of The City where the bulk of creative activity took place: It was more suburban than Manhattan and Brooklyn – and in some ways more openminded because it was less full of ghetto struggle. That was not received well at all from several Brooklynites in the audience, but it was a curious and possibly true take on how and why the scene materialized where it did. The pulsing urban energy of NYC-Manhattan, NYC-Bronx, NYC-Brooklyn, mixed with the relative peace of mind that bred creativity and collectivity in NYC-Queens, where so many of the great performers lived.

Often overlooked fact that some of the more influential people in the explosion of hip-hop and its art were white folks working in predominantly black mediums. Some examples: Rick Rubin (Mega Producer), Keith Haring (Artist), the Beastie Boys (Rap Stars). Though an undeniably black creation of life expression – an African-American art form – the fusion of black urban and often white suburban energies is, to my mind, what pushed hip-hop into the stratosphere of unparalleled commercial popularity it realized.

Hip-hop and its cottage industries demonstrate the cultural power of AMERICA. Hip-hop is modern musical poetry and an all-American art movement. At its worst, it is just crappy noise, but at its best, it is musical art of top form.

Seven Atlanta Favorites:

1. Deepdene Park – The last of the Olmstead Linear Parks to be finished, it offers a duality of coin to the other parks in this chain, which are pastoral in park type and on the opposite side of Ponce de Leon Avenue. Deepdene is walking through the woods, and in the Deep South of The ATL that is a truly gorgeous thing. Frederick Law Olmstead designed Central Park in NYC and Piedmont Park in Atlanta. Olmstead Linear Parks was incomplete at the time of Frederick’s passing. However, his descendants and strong neighborhood and community support ensured that the task saw completion. This is what an Atlanta park can be at its best.

2. Flux (in Castleberry Hill) – Rock out to this most important of all ATL art neighborhoods, all done up in light, for one night per year. Previously entitled Le Flash, Jami and I vow not to miss this annual event.

3. HAWKS games – See and be seen amongst the Atlanta elite in the floor seats; catch a drink at the Absolut bar and Headliners. Then watch 6th-man-of-the-year-Jamal Crawford score at will off the bench, Joe Johnson be unstoppable on offense, Josh Smith (“J-Smoove”) soar and dunk and swat, Marvin for “3” and steady vet Mike Bibby running the floor. Throw in a Za Za for good measure – he is from the country of Georgia and also owns wine and food spot Eno (Midtown on Peachtree Street), now called Eno by Za Za. The Playoffs Are Coming. Take MARTA directly to the arena, 2nd stop on the westbound trains from Five Point’s Station. My girl is into it too.

4. COLLEGE FOOTBALL – From watching the SEC Championship Game live to sitting at home and watching on our TV sets, Atlanta is the undeniable world headquarters of American College Football and a short drive to ATHENS, home of the Georgia Dawgs and my alma mater, UGA, the oldest public college in the USA. My fellow alum girlfriend is really getting into it.

5. FOOD – Atlanta has become a major foodie restaurant scene – and I love to eat out, with my girl, of course.

6. LongBoarding Freedom Trail – Thank you, President Carter and MLK Jr. – You built this road and trail with your words. When I’m flying free on the trail, I feel so alive and awake and in love with life in Atlanta, y’all.

7. Pub Crawls on Ponce – See my boy Ed at El Bar for a shake-shake-shake after a few pops at Righteous Room, maybe a grilled cheese with sprouts and a side for $5 at the Righteous and a PBR with lime or mixed adult beverage while I play Joy division on the jukebox. After El Bar gets too crowded to dance, The Local and Bookhouse Pub can both be good hangs. Friends is probably the best gay hangout for straight people to gain education via jukeboxation. MJQ is still a great Wednesday dance spot for the best DJs. Dugans has great wings if you want them. And the Clermont Lounge is still open, although they finally closed the Clermont Hotel itself to the public. Still hungry as I walk home after maybe skipping those wings? The Majestic has been open 24-hours a day since 1929.

(Photo by: Han Vance)