Tiempo Funky - printed in Blackbook Summer travel issue 2006
I have never been one of those people who has an easily magical time when I travel. I end up sitting in the equivalent of a Houllihans (green booths, a red-colored bubbly shaped logo, mozzarella stick menu) in whatever city I am in – Athens, London, Mexico City, Paris. Then I spend hours scanning websites and pink triangle papers to find the gay club. After deciphering maps and taking six subway lines, I get there and the bartender tells me no one shows up een dees playce until 10 in the morning or the next afternoon or only on Thursdays. Then I go back to my hotel, alone, and watch an effusive soap opera or weird cop film starring Billy Zane.
Since I was a pre-teen, I have waited patiently for the time when I go to a foreign country and meet a polite man wearing beads who locks his gaze with me and says, “Come, let me show you my city.” I imagine this man having a kind of Cameroon vibe, with a deep musical voice. He understands me and sees something deeply beautiful past my damaged, consumer-abused MTV personality. We spend a golden weekend walking through an ancient ruin, eating earthy food with his open-minded family, seeing a bewitching dance in a town square, and eventually having a fight about who we are to each other. I grasp onto a balcony railing and must make a decision to stay with him, or go back to my crazy pressured life in New York. When did my inner life become a Valerie Bertinelli TV Movie?
This We Channel fantasy is just one more example (I guess a really gay one?) of a myth we all share as Americans of easy, entitled escape. In the back of all our “everything is for sale” minds, there is this perception that if things get too Reich-like in the United States, we can always buy land in some underprivileged country and start again with this gob of money we assume we will have. Everyone has this secret mental escape-route. In 2003, for instance, when Bush was elected again, I often heard people say “That’s it I’m moving to Berlin/London/Montreal!” with pissy liberal exhaustion.
After that election I traveled to Uruguay to see this hot med student that I met four years previously in Acapulco. We were both vacationing there and then kept in touch through emails and cellphones, and finally I had enough money to see him.
I thought: I’ll go to Montevideo, and be swept up in the intrigue of another country just like I have always hoped for. He will say “come let me show you my city,” and we will see real, gritty things untainted by American reality show cameras – places Rachel Ray would never know!
I imagined that I would find a more grounded selfhood and acquire a sort of far away expression on my face and say things in a softer accent. I would probably move there and leave this emotional wasteland behind, with its Targets and Pussycat Dolls and unfocused men in 90 dollar tee shirts!
I met my Uruguayan at the airport and at first it felt romantic and real. We were joined by his friend Dante who seemed less forced and under-styled, wearing jeans that were naturally distressed, and went to a bar with a worn-in wood interior and gas lamps on a street where everything looked genuine. It’s easy to do when you just see billboards and ads in other languages.
But I think I started to annoy the med student. Having grown up in poverty, he was not at all interested in romanticizing the rough edges. Where I wanted wooden bowls and paint-chipped facades, he wanted high design and clean lines. For dinner, he would pick slick, moderno restaurants that seemed like they would exist in Miami. His favorite store was this one called “TiempoFunky” – a Sharper Image-style store that was stocked with miniature zen rock gardens and poetry magnets. Meanwhile, I would see an old woman selling second-hand clothes or a diseased dog limping down an alleyway and swoon with authenticity.
I probably don’t have to tell you the outcome. We didn’t even have a dramatic fight over our differences. I returned to New York City, we called each other less and less, and drifted apart. And I blame it all on my warped worldview. Since then I have tried my best to shake that Lonely Planet Romanticism-- to throw this minor myth of entitled escapism into the giant landfill of American broken promises I have been fooled into believing throughout my life -- like Santa Claus, “hard-work-pays-off,” and cheap real estate. But I can’t! Even now that the world doesn’t seem to be that distant and magical anymore -- having witnessed the bombings in London, Madrid, Bali, the riots in Paris, and the violent demonstrations opposing those dumb Danish cartoons -- I just can’t let go of “Let’s Go!” I still constantly daydream about some serene, sun-bleached spot with woodcarvings and organic food and that magnetic man, and how much more “real” I would be there. I suppose I am outsourcing my emotions to some cheaper location. Very American of me.
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