Friday, September 28, 2012

Conservationism - No more "cat" events

I’m enjoying the marvelous views of Yosemite. If sequoias make me feel like an insect, those granite mountains make me feel like bacteria. I had no idea how the park was distributed, and that was a good thing because it took me by surprise. All the sudden I was in this small valley surrounded by huge columns of granite. The river is like the central pin of a continental necklace. No picture can make justice to the sensation of insignificance that you feel looking up to those solid gray masses.  On this era of Photoshop, when you are trained to suspect even from beauty, these landscapes prove my cynicism wrong once again. This is wonderful.

It looks like we are actually moving forward in this conservationist movement. When the last hotel burned to the ground for itself at Glacier Point, it wasn’t reconstructed again. The chance was taken to stop developing in areas where people come to enjoy nature, not infrastructure.

Yosemite Village is actually in better condition now that it was 80 years ago, way better. You have to be careful while driving, not because of rules but because of creatures crossing the road. I stop for squirrels, deer, raccoons and even bears.

Some signs remind you not to feed these animals and explain that we should leave them wild. Immediately I tried to picture a group of conservationists Egyptians keeping people from feeding felines five thousand years ago. We wouldn’t have domestic cats today. We can use the same mind exercise for dogs, horses, mules and other kinds of animals that are tied irreversibly to our history. The point is that we are part of nature and the impact we have on it is also “natural”. But at some point, we decided that “human will” and “nature” are antonyms. 

So, what is nature? Is it just a series of random events? Why this “nature” keeps doings things way better than we? So far we suspect these random events to be self-selective, so just the best processes survive. But even after we understand the processes and try to reproduce them, something is missing. We comprehend the endocrine system (so we say), but by trying to fix one part, we break another. So, what is nature? Is it whatever is happening now that we don’t completely understand, so we better leave it alone?

I think humans are creating a second nature for themselves. That’s why we go to see Nature as a tourist because we feel already separated from her, so we come to pay mother a visit. And that can be easily proved by sitting a civilized person in the middle of the woods and see if that individual is even able to make clothes before winter.  

So we created this second nature on which we depend, but keep the first one intact because we never fully understood why it works so well. I agree with that.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hugging a Giant

Talking about religion, just by the time Jesus was born, there was a tall sequoia tree no too far from what we call Fresno today. It had been raising to the sun for about two hundred years by then. Now it’s 2200 years old and still alive. That’s just natural for his species and it has another thousand years to go.  I went to pay him a visit and there it was, surrounded by a solid shield of silence that absorbs even the sound of dry leaves creaking under my steps.  Besides him, a huge branch that just felt some years ago, heavy as a truck, full of lovers' signatures. The air is chilly, but not cold. The light of the sun reflects as artificial flames burning statically in one of his sides.

Under this giant, I hear the word "beautiful" in many languages. One kind Swiss guy made me the favor to trigger the camera while I was standing at the base for size reference. In the middle of a small conversation, I told him what I love most of such enormous and old creatures: the fact that they make my problems look like grains of sand. He stood silent and turned his head towards the top of the tree as if he was looking at it for the first time.

This is not even the tallest tree is the world, it’s the one with the biggest volume. But then again, the volume is a concept that is important for us, humans. We like to put things on lists and keep records. In the same forest, you can find the tree that has the record of the biggest base area. It’s all geometry games we play in our heads. The tree itself is hardly an individual; it’s more like a constant flow of life that runs from the floor to the sky until it’s so tall that it falls and starts all over again.  

I found revealing the fact that sequoias NEED wildfires to survive. As the humans were protecting them, they were interrupting their natural cycle of reproduction and actually killing the trees out of love. Now there are controlled fires around the base to allow for the acorns to actually be fertile, among other more complicated process we are now aware of. 

Human medicine needs to reach the same point where we understand destruction as part of construction and death as part of life. Death is not a sad debt to be pay, it’s actually necessary to sustain the progress of the most formidable forms of life.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Getting out of LA

You don’t arrive at Los Angeles, you penetrate the traffic.  I had plenty of time to contemplate the skyscrapers from the slow motion 101 highway in a beautiful sunset. Once you get there, you wonder if this city realizes how much it overgrew itself. 

At night, the neighbors park on both sides of the road while the streets have still traffic in both directions, making you feel like you are about to lose a rearview mirror at any moment.   

During the day I walked through Hollywood Boulevard and had that obligatory shot with the big sign on my back, but there was nothing in that city to hold me for another night, so I’m heading north.

My appetite is not for places where big things happened to other people. Those landmarks are just unanimated echoes of someone else’s dreams. My thirst is for contact with humans, and there are so many in LA that I found none.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Three Pictures

I left San Diego and keep traveling north in quest of images, stimulus and trouble. Before going further, I want to post three curious pictures I have on my camera.

Even by getting into a 7-Eleven you still sense the proximity with Mexico.  There is a brand of ice cream called Mexico, and they even have one flavor of cucumber with chili.  I bought one, thinking “yeah, right, it must be one of those artificial flavors that they approach by… Ahhh!!!!”  The freaking thing was actually spacy; to the point that I needed to go back to the store and buy some milk to dissipate the burn. That was terrible. The rest of the flavors are very good.

I also the spotted a pawn shop called “Monte De Piedad: (Mount of Mercy)”.  I picture immediately the customers crying over the counter to get their furniture back from the merciful pawn owner.

And the third picture was taken at a dollar store in downtown San Diego. At It turns out, Jesus is now a collectible plastic superhero. I found it ironic to see Christianity, that grew so vast and strong since the antiquity, to be reduced to another icon of urban mythology. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Old Town - New Fantasy

I'm in Old Town, San Diego. This was the original downtown of the city. According to historians, since it was admitted into the United States in 1850, the investors felt the need to break with the established Mexican culture and built an American San Diego closer to navigable waters. What happened then was that the original distribution of the first center remained undisturbed and a very nice tourist project grew around the old plaza.

Of course, the town never looked as charming as it's today. I went into a tiny store where I bought a cup of coffee. They have the products displayed on jars and the attendants are dressed as if it was the beginning of the 1800s. It’s like buying in the Oleson store from the Little House on the Prairie. Outside, the house has a plate that reads:
  • 1830 - Single-story adobe home built by Francisco Maria Alvarado and his wife, Tomasa Pico
I have seen pictures of the place at that time. None of the inhabitants were as handsome as the employees in customs now attending the stores. Also, the place is now perfectly clean. A thin path of sand has been put in front of the porch to simulate the dust that was part of the real scenery. But above all, the current house is made of wood and cement, not adobe. I know that because I grew up in an adobe house and there is no way you can punch a wall without taking down a piece of dry sludge. If you try the trick with this one, you can get a fractured phalange.

I’m not criticizing. My point is that reality and memory are always two separate things. The old town was displaced for economic reasons, and now, economic reasons bring it to life again. Most buildings have been reconstructed at a millionaire cost and the setting is so beautiful that it looks like the best place for dining in San Diego for my taste.

In the past, this was a harsh and dry town with horse manure in the streets where people lost their molars before 30 and had no the luxury of taking a bath every day. 

At night I was walking down a street full of cheerfully illuminated bars when, in a bad turn, I ended up walking over the old cemetery. Some historians recovered the exact spot of some burials and you can read the complete list of people under your feet. Most were just months old. I bet if they were given the choice of living in our time or theirs, they'd be with us.  

Someday people will take the fuselage of an old Boeing 747, charge tickets to sit at first class and have a dummy robot dressed as fly attendant explaining how we were able to put that thing on the air when there was enough oil to burn. Today is when paradise happens. Even yesterday's hell seems heaven when we reconstruct it for tourists.

I live the habit of been nostalgic about events at the very moment they occur.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pacific Beach

Today I drove to Pacific Beach and La Jolla, also part of San Diego County.

I don’t know how South Beach keeps its popularity.  If you are looking for nice restaurants with tables at the open air, fountains, cafes and romantic hotels in an attractive beach setting and you live on the West coast, there is no need to go East.

This place is excellent for 30 something people ready to deliver that engagement ring. Everybody is walking in couples. There is a Hotel of small wood cabins built over a docket. You can even park your car in it.  That’s the place you want to be if you are a dead-hard photographer and want to capture a big tsunami coming directly from the open sea. But such a spectacular end is just for the few. Most will live on and complete the damage by getting married and have a set of wedding pictures in Balboa Park.

The city is not as clean as San Diego downtown, though.  There is a lot of money in the buildings but modest investment on the streets.  

After seen so many miles of restaurants, bars and nice hotels, you end up with the impression of having an economy that runs on oil and alcohol.

In the same city, I found a library of “Christian Science”. They’ll be very aggravated if you ask them for Tom Cruise, that’s “Scientology”. They have a whole article explaining the differences.  I also found a coalition of associations of atheists just for the San Diego Area. There are more than eighteen, including “San Diego Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers ”, “San Diego New Atheists and Agnostics” and “San Diego Skeptics”. I’ve never been in a city where religious and non-religious people were so well organized.

I'm not surprised to find people of different believes getting organized. What always strike me is to keep finding people that think they can persuade others. If religion was nothing but a collection of theological reasons, that might be possible, but in reality, people use religion for social purposes; logic has nothing to do with their affiliation. So, I'm not trying to convert people to Zeus.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I don’t have to “like” you

I just walked by a statue in a shopping center who asked me to “like” it on Facebook so I can receive news and deals from the mall. Who in the world wants to volunteer himself for spam in exchange for absolutely nothing?

Everything passes. One day we will remember these time where every brand was contaminated with that blue “f” in the corner. Let me make you a question.  How many of you have “friend” Burger King, or American Airlines, or Toyota?  I know the pitch. When the marketing guys speak so loud and for so long people start to take them seriously. That’s a good reason for wearing a tie: it doesn’t matter how many times you get it wrong, they keep paying attention to you.

I think that Zuckerberg is sincere and passionate about his mission of connecting the world, but the whole market has fallen into a “me too” attitude. It’s too complicated for a marketing director to explain to his boss why the company is not on Facebook; it’s easier to go ahead and pay for the time to have it done (that is not his money anyway).  So the next time the old man comes alone and asks for “the Facebook thing” he will have a simple answer: “yes, we are working on it.”

We are still to discover the next marketing revolution: plain truthfulness.  People have an armor of sarcasm that protects them from decades of marketing lies. “Our number one priority is customer satisfaction.” Shout up! Nobody is listening! Hey, if you what my money, that’s ok; I like to get some in my wallet for committing myself to something too. But don’t tell me you love me, please! I’m still waiting for the first company to understand that simple formula.

Can you imagine a McDonald's ad stating: “Ok, we are not your every day’s healthiest choice, but once in a while who else can offer you a milkshake for less than two dollars?” Or a Spirit Airlines advertising as: “For this price, I’m sure you can keep up with a rude hostess for a couple of hours, instead of paying double to make up for other people’s luggage.” 

The first time a homeless guy wore the sign “What I really want is beer” it was a success. Everybody celebrated the sincere cynicism of that brave human. Corporations have not the same courage. There are too many mediocre people in the law department getting pay to say “no, no no!”

People are ready for the truth. Marketing hasn’t got the fact that people behave on emotional grounds more than rational ones. So, if the deal is illogical and immoral, they may still sing for it if the other side looks sincere instead of manipulating. People keep doing absurd things that are not in their best interest, and they know it, but they do it as soon as the counterpart has an attitude of complicity rather than supremacy. Don’t tell me that the deal is over once you gave me your product and you took my money. Don’t say I’m getting a steal. I know what a bottle of beer will do to me. I have no problem with you taking advantage of my current weakness. But don’t tell me you are doing me a favor, please. At the very least, shot up. I’ll keep buying if you take me for a drunk but not if you take me for a fool. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

We Need The Contrast

The power of an experience is not absolute. Visiting Louvre is exciting for everybody but the guard of the Etruscan Hall.  It depends on the contrast with your current complexion and the novelty of the stimulus itself.  One way to renew our impressions about an old experience is by contrast.  The US border with Mexico has just that. 

Just in the limit, there is a huge mall. It’s not that different from the rest of the malls in the USA. Every single franchise is represented... everyone: GAP, Levis, Nautica, Old Navy, Tommy Hilfiger, Reebok, Skechers, Banana Republic, Victoria Secret, Bank of America, McDonald's, IHOP and a whole building for Nike. This last one looks hilarious because the rusty fence of the border is just behind and you can see the border patrol cars driving around with a big logo above reading “Just Do It”

No doubt in my mind, this country has produced the greatest material wealth ever generated in history.  It gives us the precious opportunity of coming here, progress, save, succeed, buy… and get tired of it. This last experience is the most valuable of all because it tells us that even with two cars, a home paid for, a corner office and a trophy wife, happiness seems to be always somewhere else.

The place we are now is not the problem. We are just like the guard of the Etruscan Hall of Louvre; walking too many years through the same marvels to appreciate them. We need the contrast. And we humans like to make the contrast in the upper direction.

We got in use to electric light, so we made computers. We got in use to planes, so we built spacecraft. We got in use with vaccines, so we are fooling around with genetics. And we will get there, and we will get bored again, and we’ll look for the next impossible. 

That’s why working in a solved problem is like poisoning our souls. We are dreamers, creators, poets and entrepreneurs. We breathe innovation. We live because there is something else to be done. We are not equipped to survive, we are meant to bright.  

Yes, there are those who carry, push and repeat; I call them animals. I like them, protect them, feed them, but I’m not in their group. Their mission isn’t mine, nor their nature, neither their destiny.

We are creators. We refuse to let this world in the same position we found it. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sunset Hunter

I have spent a couple of afternoons chasing sunsets. The pier where the old ferry arrives at Coronado Island has an excellent view of the downtown and the bridge. It's more impressive when the light is turning orange and the sun is reflected in the fa├žade of the skyscrapers. The park that is surrounding the area is so welcoming that you want to stay there the whole night. The kids play in the water and let their bicycles unattended, which is a clear sign of peace and security.

The small shopping center is unpretentious and it lets the view to make the show. I love to see old people juggling along the costs, loyal to life and dignity. It’s beautiful. The only sad thing that night was a wedding under the moon. I think it’s dishonest to celebrate the unions with so much champagne and make the divorces on private; it perpetuates the myth of a happy ending.  We should celebrate divorces too. After all, the guy gets his freedom back and the bride gets a complimentary monthly check.

Beside the “dog freeway” that I found in the Balboa Park, there is another one even more liberal in the Sunset Cliffs. I went the next day to capture the light of the sun as it melts into the Pacific Ocean and I found that there is a huge beach where the neighbors concur just to splash around and play volleyball.  Here, dogs run unleashed and free. There is no happier creature on Earth than a dog on the beach. And when you add the social factor of making new friends, they may actually take this as their heaven. There are dispensers with plastic bags and trash cans so the owners can clean after its creatures.

You need to be very careful because they tend to obey nature without objections. A fit woman came alone behind me screaming “Spirit.  Go back, Spirit!.” It looked like a spontaneous exorcism but it was actually his boxer Spirit that was trying to make love with a miniature snoozer.

Beyond that point, you find the cliffs the beach was named after. It’s a very romantic scenario. The ocean looks like lava once the sun is out of sight. A couple of beautiful girls, more like Victoria Secret models, sat just behind the “Stay back” sign that warns about the unstable cliffs. Their accent told me they were Brazilians. They asked me to hold an iPhone with a pink case and take a picture of that purple horizon with the shape of their hugging hips at front. Of course, the first take is never the best, so much more were needed. I was as happy as the dogs on the other beach.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Naked Sunset

Just colliding with the University of California there is a steep and dangerous cliff.  The land is open in width cracks where you can fit a truck.  Many years ago some people managed to build a trail that goes 300 foot deep, but it’s out of maintenance and I have to say it’s quite dangerous, and not just for American standards. Your steep gets accelerated with the inclination and suddenly you need to turn 90 degrees or fall to your death, as many have already done.  Add the fact that the earth has been moving lately here in San Diego.  I felt a 5.4 last Sunday that made me feel like home. 

But if you survive and get to the bottom of the cliff, you find one of the biggest groups of young naked people you'll ever find in the USA.  I remark young because since there are nudist beaches in Florida, the retirees make it look less sexy and more… natural.  Here you find the college educated skin that screams for attention, as Mother Nature has mandated.

There are actually two courts where people play naked volleyball. It seems that we have been wearing underwear for so many centuries that our bodies are no longer fit for those sprints after the ball.

The scenario is very photogenic. The sky is full of skydivers that challenge the edge of the cliff over a long mile of shiny tan butts.  It’s beautiful. 

Of course, the clothes are optional, so I got rid of everything as it’s expected for a man of my endeavors.

A twenty-two blonde stepped in front of me:

-          Nice.  How far can you get with that?
-          To the top of the cliff.
-           I need some binoculars like that.  Can you take pictures with them?
-          Yes, they have a memory inside.
-          Take me, take me!

And she and her friends started to jump around me. The atmosphere is that jokey. 

There are some groups camping at the bottom of the cliff, which is clearly prohibited, but they take their chances just for the experience in an open field.

I love the age when people feel this natural impulse of breaking the rules.  As individuals, they may experience some nasty consequences, but as a generation, they always manage to inject some progress and illusion to the human kind before they get lost in the tramp of paternity.   I honor that attitude over the corps of those who fell from the top of the cliff.