Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The lower east side is hip, surprising. There are colors everywhere, unusual textures, dark bars with exotic music and unexpected encounters, the latest news for eager fashionistas, a hidden coffee shop where tatooted girls kick you out if you dare use Starbucks jargon. Explosive bliss of diversity and wonder, at least compared to the upper west side, my usual territory. It would be perfect, satisfy my intense curiosity for detail of everyday life, except I have an extra sensitive nose. An acute sense of smell that compensates my inability to withstand cold or my weak back. And the lower east side smells. Dog urine, human urine, decomposing japanese food leftovers, scattered paper bleached with beer, even a few soiled blankets next to the recently composted park, which restricts the grass behind fences. My nose wrinkles, my eyebrows furrow from the other summer fragance, the smelly one. This morning, I try to separate the unpleasant smells from the good ones since I still have to walk six more avenues to get to the subway and I'm too sleepy to distract myself with the visual wonder. I try to trick my nose receptors into focusing on the tiny flower beds scattered through the street, pick up some lost thread of coffee from the closest coffee shop, there's one on 5th Avenue and 8th street. Mmhh...I could probably map this city with its coffee shops, I try a mental map of my favorite ones, if I connect them they form a triangle. I walk, and my nose insists on behaving more canine than human, it picks every scent, even the traces of each person that goes by me in their morning rush towards work. A gardenia and basil woman, a pear with a hint of grass after the rain girl, a lavender shaved beard and, yes, several soiled and forgotten laundry men, three dogs that need a bath. I absorb 8th and C, and 7th and 1st avenue, and Astor place, then one of the oldest streets (Gay Street, ironically) and finally, Christopher street and Broadway, where the scents of the subway are ready to go in through my nose and into my memories of this city. It never really stops.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

I'm never in the lab by myself. I tend to come in and out when everyone is here, when you can sit and make a 1min coffee, then sip it and gossip. The latest affair of the curator with the posdoc, the fight over bench space, the failed PCRs, all comes together in the tiniest kitchen, in the highest floor of this museum. Section 20, eighth floor. Today I am alone. I'm sitting on a wooden chair (a bit hard on the rear end) and I'm looking towards the south. Manhattan is foggy, and a red-tailed falcon flies over the Park, wide circles, its light body spread out completely. I'm a bit chilled by the air conditioner inside, always so contrasting with the temperature out there. A seagull cruises over the buildings in front me, perhaps it recognizes the art deco mixed with the classic style, maybe its thinking of landing on one of the sky high terraces and pick at the toes of a fancy neighbor. Helicopters roar in the distance, covering the ridiculous events that make it to the 11 o'clock news. They give this scene a dream-like feeling, a bladerunner might jump out of that helicopter. There is so much fog, I can barely see the Citicorp, there's only a hint of the city's skyline. I suddenly remember that I had this dream. I was 23, sleeping in a bed with two windows on the side, a cold ocean to the east. I woke up enchanted by the details of my dream, I remembered them all, the smell of books in an office, the particles of water in my nose while I walked through fog, the speed of an elevator taking me to the tallest heights, the hairs in my arm rising. I had dreamt of enormous thin buildings, and I was in them, awed by their existence and the fact that I was there. Geese passed migrating below me, wonderful, above the clouds, swift, yet slow enough to remind me I was asleep. I stood there watching, hypnotized by their movements and the blue and gray tones of the moistened sky. I knew I had to be in that city, I was hooked, transfixed. Did I visualize my future in a prophetic moment, or did that dream pushed me here, ever so subconsciously that in the end I migrated too?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I've been thinking about distance and goodbyes lately. I feel I'm leaving to go somewhere, leaving to go back from where I came from, leaving the apartment that only has sunlight in one side. I've been noticing that when I'm alone, I carry the nostalgic and embarrased smile of the friend that will try to keep in touch after he's settled in his new place. Indeed in that smile I feel I'm saying goodbye. And I feel saudade of my city, and of my mom reading a book, the lights of the family car reflected in my bedroom wall, the smell of rain over the pavement near a garden. Except I left that years ago. Its confusing when it comes back ten years too late and I'm forced to distract myself with energetic spurs of activity, with music that will lead my mind adrift and force it to stop feeling sorry for time and places. I've also thought that my inner goodbye stems from the increasing desire to move away from this city, despite its dramatic cultural diversity and its gastronomic wonders, despite its spring cherries and winter flakes, and its general aura of intelectual welfare. Regardless of the fact that summer is near and I will be asleep in Central Park after a concert in the grass, asleep, my hair tended by its tiny blades. I miss, I have a void, a pre-nostalgic feeling of departure from here, and strangely, from what will come next. Perhaps I'm just tired? perhaps all those goodbye and departures are really flexures of my memories, catching up when I stop from my daily routine. Come to think of it, they are really pieces of older routines, intermingling with this space, and this time. Didn't a famous physicist recently claimed that everything, every event, every voice and every dream continues on forever? never ending, never really starting.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

I made my first potato patties the other day. I tried to make them as I remembered from my mom's version of patties. I silently reviewed my recent greek lesson for beginners while I tried to clump the starch and the egg and the flour together. I added a strange mixture of spices that turned out a little too bitter (I corrected this by adding chiplote right before popping 'em patties into my mouth). Alfa, beta, efgaristo, me leme Aggiliki...greek that sounded familiar but inexorable and confusing all the same. A friend stopped by and seemed dumbfounded by my patties, laying there in the pan, ready to be eaten. Potato patties, naturally, haven't you ever seen them? So natural to me, so natural to explain them, all my memories rushing back to my mom and to Mexico and a home of a brother and a father, and sometimes agua de jamaica, that has antibiotic properties and always refreshes the palate. My friend babbled about a chocolate half eaten and another one that had 54% cacao, she had just brought them back from her latest trip, and then she left quickly, leaving a trace of something that as my greek review, seemed familiar but mystifying. And her words, and my memories, and those patties, all suddenly came together in a deep domestic feeling, streching out as an elm tree of the northeast, which throws its translucid, flying seeds right before the summer. And I had to hold tight so tears wouldn't turn into seeds, flying out of me.