Sunday, October 28, 2012

From Zion to Gomorrah

The route between Salt Lake City and Denver was snowy and flat, with the exception of some conical formations dressing white kilts. The hotels have no longer pool but skating rings. My head hurt as when you eat an ice cream very fast, and my fingers were so insensitive that I couldn’t pick up a dime.

But once I got to Denver the temperature became bearable. 

I couldn’t help but sense the big contrast between the perfection of the downtown of Salt Lake City and this square spot of the Midwest. The small details, as the undergrowth among the fissures on the bridges, reminded me that I was getting closer to the East.  

Again I found a large homeless population walking up and down, importuning the passers, as a social plague of professional losers.

The sharp edge of the buildings wasn’t telling me a lot, and I felt that my stop in Denver may be shorter than planned. The streets looked empty and boring.

Then, the night came. A myriad of festive creatures emerged. True, it was the last weekend before Halloween, and people are crazier than usual with these festivities, but my hostel was located in the epicenter of the bars and clubs that will flood the streets with this eruption of twisted humans, and I am an avid spectator of extremes.  
I started to walk Broadway and take one of those cheap flavored vodkas you can find nowadays. The groups were very open. In minutes I was involved in a game of dices with other three customers of the bar, one of them a beautiful young woman with blue eyes. I learned really late that she was engaged with one of the guys, but I’m not sure if that information would have made me stop. After some physical interaction with the girl that I will intentionally fail to detail, the clueless guy came back from the bathroom, hug her, and told me with his chest full of proud:  “This is the woman I’m going to marry”. Heavens, we men are so vulnerable when we fall in love.
Women in general were eager to propagate the species that night. A German girl started to talk to me in a corner while we were waiting for the street light. She wanted me to join her and her friends in a private party in a hotel room. The other guys in the group pulled me enthusiastically but then an angry tall woman disguised as Dracula came, reprehend her in German and grab her from the arm. I guess she was the designated driver.

Then I got into a gay bar. I didn’t know it was gay but in Halloween all bars look like gay bars. The interesting couple there was a fifty years old gay wizard with a beautiful niece out of character. I was trying to get to the nice, but it turns out to be a package that included the uncle. The girl was cute… but after a short cost-benefit analysis I decided to walk away from the deal.

Then I went to walk to the 16th Street Mall. I got to say that this is a recent and extraordinary idea. Denver transformed its centric 16th street into a boulevard with free shuttles going up and down. It really makes the city attractive. That part of the downtown escapes from the square patterns of the rest and lightens the night in an elegant way. The new architecture in Denver is aggressively breaking the edges of the old town.

When I returned to Broadway I thought the party would be over, but no. In the same block of my hostel, there was a stairway pointing underground with sparkling lights at the end. It was just $5 to get in. Here, the creatures of the night that I saw on the surface as festive students transformed themselves into basement monsters. People were dancing and brandishing green phosphorescent sticks as if it was the erotic version of Star Wars.  No clearly defined couples. Practically everybody was dancing with everybody. But it wasn’t impersonal at all. There were actually two straight couples having intercourse over the tables. But nobody was messing with them; they were working in their own hookups and creating green figures in the air.

I love extreme manifestations: sunsets, volcanic eruptions, nine-inning home runs and orgies. All those things you positively can miss from the crypt.

Talking about Halloween, is interesting to note that every time we try to celebrate death, we end up making hyperbole of life. That's way I saw the quiet streets of Denver transformed into the most vigorous Gomorrah I have seen in the US.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Religion Gene

I really knew very little about Salt Lake City. The roads were full of snow, so I decided to stay there for a couple of nights.  

When I drove into the downtown, I had the immediate impression of been into one of those models that architects use to present their projects. Everything was extremely well distributed: the size of the streets, the location of the parking spots, the train, the sidewalks… not even an ounce of improvisation.

I immediately got interested in learning how this city came about and the history is fascinating. A group of Mormons, kicked out of two different states, walked across the desert and settled in such an isolated area so nobody will come to bother them. It’s portrayed as a rampant example or religious discrimination in the middle 1800s, but the history is more complicated than that. They gained enough enemies as to have governors sending militia after them. But the effects of their perseverance were remarkable. In the middle of nowhere, they started to draw granite stones from the nearby mountains and cut them in pieces to build a temple with donated time of the church members. It took them forty years, but they put the last stone of this cathedral in 1893
Now, don’t get me started on the theology of their faith. An angel named Moroni revealed to Joseph Smith the secret location of one book written on golden plates that were buried in New York. The book tells among other things how Jesus came to America. Joseph’s mission was to translate the book.
The first question that pops up: Where is the original book of golden plates? The answer: Oh, Joseph returned it to the angel. 

Even the earliest Mormons were skeptical. There are at least six branches of this movement, some of them don’t endorse the story of the angel Moroni.

But forget about all that. This is the fact: a group of people carrying their belongings through the desert was cohesive enough to build a city with a disproportionally big cathedral. It’s inspiring and scary at the same time. All this was triggered by a man who was able to convince people that he was having conversations with biblical prophets (and the angel Moroni).

Today in National Radio they recalled the Orson Wells radio theater that brought people to the border of hysteria in 1938. The same joke was repeated in Ecuador in 1949 (six deaths in that occasion) and again in Buffalo in 1968. The history was “Mars invaders are coming to the Earth” and millions bought it.

I don’t think that stupidity is the explanation. I always thought that well-told stories have a quasi-hypnotic effect on humans. Once we get into the plot, we WANT to believe it. That’s why we cover our ears when somebody tries to tell us how the movie ends. We enjoy being told out of reality. We consume those fantasies. And because of that feature, we do things expecting nothing in exchange, which is essential for social organizations.

After building two cities, the Mormons are currently organizing complex charities around the world, channeling volunteer work and training people in distress rather than just giving things away. They are brilliant people. So the Maroni story triggered the sense of community, and later, an avalanche of constructive social effects.   

The story of the invasion from Mars triggered the same irrationality in a destructive way.

But it seems that once the behavior is accomplished (build, defend, run, attack, etc.) the logic behind it is no longer important.
I want to learn more about the formula. How can I tell a story that makes people build cities in the middle of the desert?

Snow for beginners

Since I started this trip, I was clear on avoiding driving on snow, since I have no experience and I wouldn't like to acquire it in the curvy roads of an unknown mountain. So, as soon I hear the reports of snow hitting the northwest I headed to the east. Fortunately, it was already late. Had I succeed with my caution I would miss in one of the most beautiful sceneries I have ever seen.  

For the first time in my life, I saw the mountains covered with snow on the top. It is truly the whitest thing you can see. The contrast with arid rocks in the middle and green pines at the bottom was breathtaking. The day was entirely clear. I have never seen so much land towards the horizon without been on the air.

Then I found pines on both sides of the road, with the top half of the branches completely white and the bottom half still green. This is the first time I see natural Christmas decorations.

Then the scenery changed. The mountains turned into hills, more like a bunch of hands laid on the surface of the Earth, still holding snow between its fingers. But then I entered Utah, and the Rocky Mountains appeared on my left side. They had white winter at the top, red autumn in the middle and still green spring at the bottom. With the shadows of the sunset and the little villages of the meadows, it completed another landscape to reverence.

I stopped on the road to take pictures and in less than a minute a trooper with a very curious ascent knock my window. “Hi, I’m the officer Smith. I see that you are taking pictures. I recommend you a view point two miles ahead. We prefer to keep this area clear to prevent accidents. Have a nice day.” Where he came from? I didn’t see him pulling over. Well, no ticket, and I was impressed with the efficiency. 

I drove to the recommended spot, and after that, I stopped for a cup of French Vanilla in a 7-Eleven. The view from there was still beautiful, so I took my camera and shot a couple of pictures from the parking lot. I swear, less than three minutes later another trooper showed up smiling: “Hi, I’m the lieutenant Conrad, and I’m here because a neighbor called concerned about somebody filming his house. Are you shooting the mountains?” – looking at the plates – “Oh, Florida.  I guess you don’t have those down there. Ha, ha. Have a nice evening.” And he drove away.

Well, I feel secure in this city.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Emotional Algebra

One of the most pleasant discoveries during my visit to Seattle was The Market Theater in the Post Alley. This theater features exclusively improvised plays. That can result in an excellent display of talent or a disastrous failure. I had the opportunity to see both. The modality that works better is the “theater sports” where two teams compete against each other and the audience throws topics for the sketches. It is the kind of entertainment that you can afford every day. Literally, the tickets sell for $5 and for $15 depending on the event. Sundays are free as you can see a group of students putting together a play base in a single word or situation. Last Sunday it was rainy, and I was the only one that came to the show, so fifteen students played for me for one hour and a half. They improvised a play based on the word “market” that I suggested. With very few lags, those kids delivered a clever piece of entertainment; much better than many paid shows I have seen in the past.

That triggered my interest in studying the talent of the actor as a subject for psychology. The amount of information these people digest, use and twist with efficacy reveals not just a privileged brain but an emotional virtuosity that allows them to land a punch line less than two seconds after receiving the first stimulus. That task is way more difficult than just memorizing lines and delivering expressions with plasticity. So far this outstanding ability is displayed for entertainment, which I consider an underutilization of a precious talent. 

That reminds me the time when engineering knowledge was used mostly for toys and amusement. We played with electricity and magnetism for many centuries before digging into their principles. And even after getting to the Maxwell equations, it took us another generation to actually apply this information to mass communication. I think that art and sensitivity are following the same path. We are just playing with music, words and images. We know that logos stick in our minds, we know that speeches drag nations to war, and we know that well-told stories persuade more than a piece of legislation. Yet, we haven’t used art as the powerful and transforming tool it can be. Yes, we have “propaganda” and “marketing”, but they work on an empiric basis, not in a general body of acknowledge. This body can’t be just a group of observations and statistic machinery since effective art involves fluent ties with emotional abilities. For a theoretical body to exist we first need to create the emotional algebra that explains our basic reactions. 

We know from experience that, in emotional algebra, one plus one may be different than two. Numbers may be the wrong alphabet to spell emotions.

In the mean time we keep playing with the sparks we get when a part of our brain touches a particular spot in our heart. At that moment the musician makes us cry, the comedian makes us laugh and the politician makes us vote. But we have not yet the tools to understand what is really happening.

An emotional algebra would mark an era where artists will stop making toys (as commercials and comedies) and will start leading social transformation. Then, they’ll top the pyramid of prestige on society, as it was done by warriors in the past and by technocrats in the present.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Seattle, more than the Space Needle

I had really low expectations for Seattle. People in Portland described it to me as an “industrial” city and the only thing you know in advance is the Space Needle. So I thought that I may stay one night or two.

I ask my GPS to show me the way to Seattle, and sure enough, it led me directly to the needle. It was a clear afternoon and the sun was starting to camp in the cloudy blankets of the horizon. I went up to the restaurant for dinner and the view was actually breathtaking. This is the most beautiful downtown of the whole United States. Nobody warned me of the orange tones of the sky reflected over the ocean. Nobody warned me about the triangular edge of sailboats cutting the sparkling surface of the water. Nobody prepared me for the lament of the ferries, the hydroplanes descending between skyscrapers and the flames of light reflected by the windows.   

I ordered a smoked salmon and some wine so my blood could match the landscape. Now there was glory in both sides of my skin.

Why is this place so beautiful and why nobody talks about it? 

The next day I went to the local market so I could see the most spectacular places at the end. Well, the Pike Market of Seattle had me captive for a couple of days. This market makes the whole downtown smell like aromatic herbs. I have learned a huge lesson in urban fashion just in this pair of blocks. The street musicians are organized in a roster, so everybody has its chance, and they can only perform in the designated spots. At some point, there was even a guy playing piano on the street. How the hell he brought that?

This city also has a good selection of coffee shops. So it called my attention to see a line at the nearby Starbucks. I was wondering why?  Turns out this is the very first Starbucks ever, and they even keep the original logo in it, with the topless mermaid.

I was walking through the main entrance of the market when I hear some joyful screams and tourists running with their cameras. Then one guy started to throw fish in the air to get caught by another man on the stand. There was nothing else happening, so I began to make questions. Turns out to be one of those marketing phenomena you can learn from. That place was nothing but an ordinary fish stand close to bankruptcy in 1986. So they decided to call themselves “world famous”, even when nobody knew about this little market stand, and added this performance of throwing the fish from one place to another. Sure enough, people came to take pictures in this “world famous” stand, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Behind the market, I took a ride in a large wheel that gives you a beautiful view or the coast. Then I went for some crab soup in the restaurants that surrounds the pier.

At night I got lost and end up in a scary alley.  I noticed a wall completely covered with chewing gum in the bricks. There was an entrance, and a guy selling tickets for five dollars to see an improvised series of sketches performed by stand-up comedians. First, you go to a little bar and have some buzz to reduce your laugh boundary. Then you go to this small space and have one of the most enjoyable moments you can have in a theater. The sketches are actually improvised, and to prove that they are based on characters, situations and quotes suggested by the audience on the spot. Very talented people. I can't believe none of them is famous.

Back to the hostel, I spent two hours philosophizing with my roommates and then had a good rest. The next morning I had breakfast surrounded by barefooted young women that grab some toast and coffee before heading to the shower.

Seattle also holds the title of been the city where I experienced my first kiss in the US. I’d love to share the story with you all, but I have to be a gentleman. But don’t worry, I may decide to be an artist instead.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hostel savings

Never occurred to me that I could be spending time in a city for less than I was paying for rent. That’s because I never tried the hostels. The idea of sharing rooms and bathrooms sound like an experience you may want to avoid, but there are more benefits than disadvantages.

First, the flow of people and the opportunities to establish new contacts can’t be compared. In a hotel, you need a reason to stand up and talk to the person at the next table. In a hostel, it’s actually expected for you to step in and introduce yourself, your country and the purpose of your trip. Since I’m not American and my English is deplorable, I fit the “foreign creature” criteria.   
There are weekly activities that intend to integrate the community in some hostels, like brewery tours across town so you can crawl back with new friends. At night, you have a label for your bed and you sneak into a room with up to twelve people in different stages of intoxication. But the place doesn’t smell bad. My jacket caught a consistent essence of pot that mixes very well with my cologne.

Not all are kids. There is a fair share of people in their thirties. The last one I saw was a funny guy with gray hair. He was trying to make friends with the girls, but they would smile politely and run away, what had him very mad. But he had bigger concerns: the man was running away from two hit men from Los Angeles. At night, when he wasn’t snoring like a dying elephant, he was jumping up and down in his nightmares, begging to his executioners to spare his life. I was worried about the fact that the room is easily accessible from the street. My hope was for the gangsters to be professional enough to check names in the beds before start shooting, but I made extra big letters on mine just in case.

The next day I left Portland for Seattle. Don’t stay close to a target if you don’t know for sure the caliber of weapons that are pointing in that direction.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How are you dreaming?

This trip is like a serial stimulation therapy. One day I wake up to cold weather in the lake shore, drive to a high volcano, walk by boiling mud, take pictures of an endless horizon of hills, and finish in a hostel made of wood where nobody speaks English as their first language.  

Cities are just like movies, music or any other set of consistent stimulation:  it pleases you if it fits your current state of mind; the one for the long run (personality) and the one you change over time (maturation).

I liked Portland, but that tells you nothing. I will try to tell you what state of mind Portland is suited for.

You are in a period of your life when observation is very important and you have no bank account. You may like to take long walks and stop compulsively for coffee, read or writing down notes of what you just thought. You may like to take the StreetRail and observe the rain pour over the sidewalks and take a glance at the moss and vines that wrap the trunk of urban trees. You may feel like having some fresh unhealthy food today and then head for the Powell Books, a whole block with four floors of books you never imagine someone had the time to write down.

In my personal language, Portland suits a college age person with a lot in store. But if you stole time with a slow aging body and lightweight luggage, you may still grasp that state of mind, moreover without the distractions of testosterone and the convenience of a good credit score.

But there's something I have to say about today’s dreamers.

In the 60s, youth seemed to be eager to put the world upside down. Today’s dreams are boxed in recycling bins. It’s like a new religion of all organic, save energy, buy local and hate corporations. And those corporations are finally making a profit out of this counter-behavior because they can put the finger on it. Is the system of those against the system, and there is a huge market for it. Starbucks, Wholefoods and even oil companies are jumping on the wagon.
I can sense the frustration in the new “outlaws”. They are trapped in a system in wich the rebels do “the right thing”.
When you oppose something you end up been that something with a negative sign. 

You had to read for a while before been a rebel in the 60s.  In Latin America you were expected to read The Capital from cover to cover to be taken seriously. Nowadays, kids rent “The Inconvenient True” and that’s the intellectual baggage they use to skip showers.
It’s not enough to hate your current world, you must love the next one. You must have a clear, ambitious, irreverent and confident - death confident - idea of what do you want to do with History and why. Marxists didn’t make it to the new century, but they had a hell of a laborious social theory to dig in. It has to go beyond conspiracy theories and quotes without source. You can even skip the hatred part and go directly to love the world of your dreams. But before trying to change the rules of the game, learn about the current ones and win. Then come along and change something. Your sanitized tattoos and your mediocre guitar skills don’t move me. Don’t try to make me cry. Rise above me. Seduce me. Use me. Grow some muscle under that beautiful soft skin. 

Monday, October 15, 2012


I arrived at Portland exactly on the first rainy day of the season. That was just fair because a sunny Portland wouldn't be Portland. The minute you get into the city you feel like your car doesn’t fit in. You may want to make it disappear because there is no place to put it. But once you left it behind, you realize that this city is one of the most walkable urban areas you would ever find. The downtown itself is relatively small and you can get to every point by bus or train. The city is absolutely better off without cars.

The first thing I notice is that the population is very young and very white. I’ve been living in the US for nine years and this is the first time that I find a place that matches the branding or America. This is a vibrating spot for liberal artists. You can see their expression and you can tell something is ticking in their brains all the time.  It’s not the neutral gesture of someone that goes to the office every weekday but the distressing face of someone who is not contempt with the world as it is. You can see them writing, drawing and reading in every corner. 

The selection and quality of cafes and restaurants are overwhelming for such a small area. Looking for a regular breakfast late in the morning I got into a place called Irving Street Kitchen. Any of these restaurants are worth driving twenty miles in any city, and here they are, one after another, with a bright and inviting design that pleases the eye. 

I went for a Salmon Gravlax Benedict. The service was so good that I felt guilty. None of the waitresses let my cup of coffee go empty while I was waiting. When the plate came out and I tried it, I felt like Julie Andrews in the famous opening shot of “The Sound of Music”. But I was afraid that the check would make me feel like Edward North in “American History X” in the scene when he got raped in the showers. Surprisingly the price was comparable with a regular IHOP meal, while the quality was Paris like.

In most cities, you find square and unorganized stores and sporadic elegant spots with personality. In Portland the equation is inverse: Most businesses have a very inviting atmosphere with cutting edge design and a generous use of space; so the regular Payless store looks ugly in the same block.  

The little plazas are conceived in such a minimalistic and asserted way that you get into the habit of buying more coffee just to be seated in there doing nothing. Actually, the whole city smells like fresh coffee.

I passed by the iconic Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and found that the Oregon Symphony will be playing the Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” the same day. I asked if there was any space still available and the guy in the ticket box told me that someone actually canceled and he gave me his entrance for free. I enjoyed the passionate direction of Carlos Kalmar and the immaculate performance of a first class Symphony.

I’ll have a hard time trying to remember how my life was before all this.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

After Tahoe

In my first post about Tahoe, I asked: “how you leave a place like this?” Now I know: you leave crying. 

The purpose of a trip is not taking pictures but stimulating your senses in such a way that makes you change. Tahoe did that for me. I can tell with certainty that the man that came out of the lake is different than the person that got in.

I’m not telling you that a beautiful landscape will shock you to the next step of personal development. You can try the same trip and find nothing while having a profound spiritual experience with the fortune cookie of your local Chinese restaurant. What I’m telling here is that, in my particular case, a missed piece was found. I was able to envision love and affection in a way completely unknown for me until now. Now I understand that certain feelings can be irrational and constructive at the same time.

I was raised Catholic, and we are trained to cross ourselves when passing in front of a church. I erased that reflect long ago, but now in front of the lake, I feel the same urge. It was interesting to learn that natives actually consider this lake sacred.

The sensation is that you can give everything without measure. Eventually, that value comes around, but the real peace resides in not been waiting for that reward. That doesn’t make sense for the individual mind, but it does for the aggregate. Life can be and is unfair, but you keep loving her. (I know that I should use “it” in the last sentence, but in Spanish, life is a feminine noun, and it’s so appropriate that I won’t change it).  

You love life, and you give everything, on the understanding that you are more likely to lose. But the alternative of been cautious converts you in such a square and boring person that you may as well save the world all the water you are polluting.

This trip is working.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


As I keep traveling, I get increasingly suspicious of the world “historic”.

Here is the Historic town of Truckee, for a while the closest you can get from Lake Tahoe by train.

There’s actually a map at the train station detailing the history of each building. But you go on and read things like “House of Doyle McGwinn build in 1895, who grew up to be the town butcher for many years.” Then you go to the house of the butcher and find that it has new interiors to allow for electricity and plumbing.

History is just a show featured for the present. And tourism is a hype of locality to sell souvenirs made in China. To make an analogy between society and the individual, History is like nostalgia, and tourism is like scar bragging. The reminiscence is more a reflection of current concerns, and the scars have nothing of the original injury but the pattern.

But one thing has been kept alive as it was in the old days: there is nothing to do. Business close short after lunch and the only crowd are tourists wandering around for a cup of coffee. 

There was one fascinating thing, though. Uphill, a glacier made a huge rock laid on another in such a position that it will balance with the touch of a finger. Well, that was the case until somebody pushed so hard that it actually made the rock sit still, so it doesn’t move anymore. So the only interesting thing in town was set to be quiet and boring as the rest.

I’m writing this to save you gas. Go to Tahoe but skip Truckee. And explain your travel partners the myth of history and the deception of tourism to support your omission.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Healthy Discrimination

Nearby there is a sign that warns the public: “Spitting on Sidewalks Prohibited: Penalty $5 to $100”. It makes you wonder about the difference between a $5 and a $100 spittle, but it should be enforced in every city. In any case, it’s working but not for the threat. Here is a town of people that don’t spit on the streets by its own nature.

So far the only attitude filter we use is purchase power. Works roughly but it creates class resentment and the impression that your value can be measured in dollars.

It would be sweet to allow access to people based on their proved disposition. A person known for its kindness and respect for others should be granted more confidence than those caught on senseless vandalism or noisy behavior. Actually, we make that discrimination every day. But those impressions are hard to enforce and to record systematically. We live the principle of “all man created equal”. But that doesn’t mean that they all remain equal. A human is his own craft, and some may not deserve our confidence.

When I walk through a beach, I usually pick up at least one plastic bottle from someone else and walk to the next trashcan. I’m not a good person, I’m just one with dignity, and I would like to be surrounded by the same breed. Having natural resources open for a destructive crowd is a decadent interpretation of equality.

Behavior is the new race, and we all have the right and the duty to discriminate on that basis.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Four Blocks

Tahoe doesn’t make you wait until you get to a famous landmark. In the morning you look out of the window and get caught by the picture of giant acorns on the ground. The leaves around them alternate between light green and brown. Some trees were already wearing red globes at the end of their branches, showing their punctuality to the autumn.

Then I start to walk down the street.  I like to look back because the hostel is at the foot of a hill with a hairstyle of high pines. The triangular shadows from the other side of the road make the town look like part of the woods.

The narrow roads and the odd distance among houses add to the impression of spontaneity and wilderness. Trees and buildings live together, sharing space and light. Colorful flowers are planted at the front side of the windows, and only bees dare to touch them. I thank any trace of beauty that depends on the cooperation of the neighborhood because that tells me not just “here is a pot of flowers” but “here is a group of people that respect a pot of flowers”.

Even the local tattoo artist decorates its shop with colorful petals. It’s funny to see a corpulent guy with a dragon in his chest standing among sunflowers.

One of these flowered businesses is a mini golf. A proud sign claims it was founded in 1957. The small ticket box was closed with a sign reading: “Thank You. See you next summer”. Sounds like a healthy business model: make money, but not too much. It has a fence at the level of your hip, but nobody jumps in to mess with the toys. The place will be respected as it is for three seasons. 

Next down the block is a Dog Bakery. The concept was new for me. It’s a store that sells things that dogs like to chew. It’s an authentically old wood house, not a new one designed to look rustic. The windows are open and their doors have big pine shape holes. Inside you can treat your pet with bones of diverse materials. Americans have always been criticized for their love to pets, but I have a word in their defense: dogs are more than animals, they are affection conductors. Love comes easily in and out of them, while for people there are a lot of doors to be open and a bunch of protocols to be followed before the first hug. 

The next business I ran into was the Brockway Theater, a wood made cinema. There’s no parking lot or lobby with pinball games, just the screening room and some popcorn for sale up front. I got in to see “Hope Springs”, and the movie was shown just for me since I was the only one in the room. By the way, Tommy Lee Jones makes his better performance ever. Meryl Streep is also excellent, but she can’t surpass herself.

After the movie, you can enjoy one of the most authentic hamburgers you will ever taste. You will see the flames from across the street. These burgers are so good that you will need a written pardon from your coronary system.

All those experiences take nothing more than four blocks.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Emerald Bay

Emerald Bay is so beautiful that it's dangerous. There's a narrow road running one thousand feet high, and people tend to stop trying to capture the view. But once you find the proper spot, your eyes can enjoy the image of an island that seems to be supported for the reflection of trees in a horizontal blue mirror.

If you park and walk down a trail, you arrive at a little Scandinavian style castle built in 1930 for someone who could afford to buy two hundred acres of land in the bay. Now the beach belongs to a national park and everybody can sneak in. The only island of the lake is in front of this castle, and a tea house remains on the top of it. Maybe because these things are not one hundred years old, people are allowed to go in private boats to the island and try to climb.

The sand at the bay looks like the chemistry games they used to sell on Christmas, full of samples of different pulverized metals. From there you can assess the devastating effects of an avalanche that ran from the top of the hills throwing rocks and trunks that missed the castle for not much in 1955.

I also got lost and ended in a river where red salmons were swimming stream up. Eventually, I found the way to the coast, walk to the ruins of an old luxury resort and came out to the main road.
Even in the day you less expect it, you are guaranteed to burn a ton of calories. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tahoe City

Even a regular bus stop matches the wood feeling of Tahoe City. I found this town too small for its touristic potential, but it is a welcome anomaly since you tend to think that such places no longer exist. 

You walk into a business with a little bit of apprehension since you feel like you are getting in somebody’s home. They are houses indeed, just with a bell hanging from the inner side of the main door. Inside you will find artwork, chocolates, organic food and antiquities for yard decoration. Even the auto parts shop obeys the design rules for the fa├žade, so the main street has a consistent view of brown porches decorated with colorful flowers. Some businesses add stone walls and bear statues climbing them.

Even the mall was made of wood. You just go ahead some steps and find again the incredibly clear waters of the lake, proving that it’s not an accident or a visual effect of Sand Harbor. The image of the rocks underneath has a healing impact on your soul. It revitalizes your faith in beauty and makes you eager not just to preserve this place but to build similar landscapes in the rest of the world. 

The clarity of this water is a combination of temperature, controlled pollution and adverse condition for the growth of algae, while still optimal for salmon. Science is closer to understand how all this is happening. We may be getting closer to an age where instead of suffering from the loss of natural resources we may be able to reproduce them. Proactive ecology.

And today is the time to realize than protecting this environment is not doing it a favor, it’s our duty. The transparency of Tahoe Lake is decreasing by one foot every year. The damage can be quantified and repaired with projects that are in place right now like reducing erosion by temporary closing certain roads and filtering the channels that drain water from the streets to the lake. If a number can be placed alongside the restoration cost, a fair tax can be charged to the visitors to compensate for the damage we inevitably do with our sole presence.

This spot is so beautiful and unique that its protection shouldn’t be considered an American affair but a universal obligation. 

I feel an ambitious optimism flowing trough my veins, not a lame song of tragedy blowing out of my throat.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Tahoe at last

I dialed the number of a small hostel in Tahoe. It’s a business that doesn’t accept credit cards to save on fees, so to reserve a room you need to be there. I explained to the kind woman that I was in Sacramento and would not be able to get there before 7 PM when they close the office. That was not a problem. She left the door open with the key of my room at the front desk, and we would talk about money the next day. I thought to myself “are there still places like that in this world?”

I arrived in North Tahoe Lake at night. I looked around and found the little hostel. The door was open indeed. There was a cozy fireplace with couches and cushions; a bookshelf with used books and a guitar leaned in the base.  The front desk was a little wood fitment. Over it, a note with my name and the keys. Next morning the young woman welcomed me and showed a big loaf of bread that she just baked to share. I had not seen the lake yet, but I was already in love with the place.

I have been dreaming on Lake Tahoe almost all my life. There was a documentary that hooked me up, so many years ago that I can’t remember. But since then I had this obsession of touching the lake. I did it finally at the point of Sand Harbor. No calendar picture can prepare you for the heavenly beauty of the water twisting the shape of rocks on the surface and blowing little flakes of copper between them. It’s so transparent that you can submerge to the neck and still see the nails on your feet.  You can also swim between rocks that form natural pools beside the pines. Some brave fishes will come tickling if you stand still.   

The water is so blue that it looks like the eyes of the world. Regardless of your theological convictions, this is for itself a religious experience.

The spark of the sun over the waves, the shadow of the sailboats and the crest of the mountains are almost too much beauty to assimilate in a single view.

The effect of this landscape on people is amazing. Everybody is smiling and greeting strangers as they pass by. I can’t find ugly people here, maybe because my mood has been elevated to a state of contemplation.

At night I went to the local bar and I was treated as if I was a member of the family coming back from a long trip. How you leave a place like this?