Sunday, March 30, 2003

It was winter in Paris - early january. The day was clear and cold. Days earlier, I had just celebrated New Years with L. on the rooftop of the Centre Pompidou. Now, we were on an urban train on an overland route. We were near the river, riding through a desolate, semi-industrial area - clumps of scrubby bushes, parking lots and distant buildings providing the only source of scenery. The train had slowed down, presumably because of traffic ahead.

The action unfolds in a moment even though, in retrospect, in memory, the scene has the quality of a studied documentary: L. shouts. Oh my God! It's a man!. She is excited but nobody moves. The passengers, paging through Le Monde or engaged in hushed conversations do not move. It is a dark comic moment. I gently remind her that she should exclaim in French which she speaks well. Un homme! C'est une homme la! Then the passengers start moving. One man seems to be already talking to the conductor on the speaker at the end of the car. The train comes to a halt. We all look at each other and wait. As the train car door slides open, we see the young conductor standing next to a sprawled man.

The man on the ground could have been any man. He looked like a young professional. His shirt had flown up a bit though and my attention was drawn to his exposed belly, the waistband of his checkered boxers, these minor indignities. He was on his back, head slightly turned as if he had just received a tough blow in a barfight. He also had a line of blood which ran down from his mouth.

The moment seemed unreal not because it had drama but because it lacked it. It all seemed so banal, so stupid, a band of dusty commuters, a conductor acting through a script, the equally young doctor in blue jeans who was summoned and leaned down over the corpse. I look around at the other passengers and notice one of them, a woman, has stayed in her seat and is quietly looking down at the floor in front of her.

Then, as if a hospital curtain had been quickly invoked, the car door closes. The conductor is gone and the train starts to move again. We all realize that the man near the tracks is still there, unattended. Where is the police, we are thinking? Were they called? What if the man had been murdered and the murderer was still nearby? Nobody was there to answer our questions.

The train enters a tunnel and then pulls gently into the next stop. The car door opens up to reveal a few hapless commuters, who had been impatiently waiting for our train. The woman I had noticed earlier clutches her purse tightly as she walks out the door. I can hear the receding clicks of her heels as she disappears into the tunnels of the station.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Eric Drooker is responsible for many of my favorite New Yorker covers. It is not all just eye candy. Take a look at some of the graphics on his site, many of which are fiercely political, with themes of riots and imprisonment and injustice.
The newest band getting regular play around here is an Icelandic band - Mum (pronounced 'moom')

The music is quiet but lifting, the sort of small harmonies one might hear in the dawn after an icelandic snowstorm, at least in my imagination. One of their tracks you can pick up on the playlist (see below) I am including two more here:

1. there is a number of small things
2. the land between solar systems

Saturday, March 22, 2003

The above image is a sketch by the architect Lebbeus Woods. Woods is notorious for his fantastic creations. Formally, one might regard him as a deconstructivist architect. He is less interested in amending current architectural programs than in re-defining the role of architecture. For him, architecture arises out of the landscape as a new organic form - it is an extension of the inhabitant and the environment.

At first, Woods' visions seem like glimpses of an alien environment - strange antennae, irregular walls and bodies and cells which seem like components of an unknown biology - or like a building in mid-construction with scaffolds and half-completed bridges. It does not look like a building that was designed for human habitation. But, that is the point. Woods sees designs as templates, as elements of an externally imposed order. Gravity is itself a constraint which must be defied (or more accurately, ignored)

He has worked with and is an admirer of Johansen. Johansen in turn is an advocate of a native, organic architecture - a nanoarchitecture which might arise as the fruits of a genetic method. Johansens latest imaginations are also an architecture of defiance, an attempt to redefine the bare notion of an enclosed space. As chaos intrudes on the constructs of a community, a new design, post-apocalyptic, emerges. This is the architecture of decay, the architecture of the imagination.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

I once wrote this:

Each of us is an ever-changing chorus of voices, a small tribe of motivations, trying to advance their own desires. Nominally, one of those voices is in control but sometimes overthrows can occur as when we lapse into a cult or fall in love. A schizophrenic is not someone with "extra" voices", it is someone whose voices have lapsed into anarchy.

This still stands. And the idea goes back to Jaynes. We are not a unified whole but rather a loose collection bound together with thin rope, a bouquet of personalities.

This world has shaped me but it has not shaped all of me. There are aspects of myself and of others that are more difficult to instruct, to change, to persuade. I do not feel that I have conscious control over my deepest fears. I will still jump at noises in the dark regardless of how safe i know I should be. I will still feel, though reject, pangs of guilt or envy or lust at moments beyond my control.

Perhaps this sometimes ignoble element of ourselves is our core, the inner brute, the constant within ourselves upon which our other selves cling. Ultimately they are slaves to this inner passion. To fall in love is to command all of our resources, our charms, our words, our talents all bent to the will of this spirit inside.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Saturday, March 15, 2003

When I walked into her bedroom, her walls were soaked with red paint. The scent was strong and pleasantly toxic. She sat, cross-legged, smiling, her mind carefully toying with some new idea. What do you know about the Kabbalah, she asked. I dont know anything, I said. Jewish mysticism, ancient scriptures. And so she returns to her inward gaze. It was always like this. She seemed always to be in the midst of unraveling life, knowing in her own mind, that the world as we saw it was a mere mask, an adornment. She loved to explore these depths, the sometimes grotesque faces of this world that may have best been left unrevealed.

I once remarked that she reminded me of an Egyptian Princess, like a dark Cleopatra. I'll admit that I could have imagined her from an old black and white movie, emerging fully-formed, with those black-painted eyes.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

San Francisco Resources

The best website for SF nightlife is SFStation.
Flavorpill has a nice weekly calendar with recommendations.

For more out-of-the-way events, try the underground list, Squidlist. You can sign up at their site but you will quickly get flooded with email. I prefer to consult this nifty calendar that some guy built.
The Squidlist is the only way to discover things like the power tool drag races.

Friday, March 07, 2003

You can find my playlist of 35 here.
This was inspired by an idea of Mina's.

Much of the earlier stuff is music heard around my house as a child (not the pink martini!)
My mother, I knew, had a crush on Camilo Sesto. She told me so as she played his music, a secret smile across her face.

Most of the rest carry other meanings with them. On them hangs a story or a place or a time.

Monday, March 03, 2003

"Shhhh", my grandmother whispered. "I will tell you the story that never ends. Now listen, Ricardo. Deep in an old forest, untouched by men, where animals had not yet forgotten how to speak to each other, there lived a little rabbit, a small creature who made his way in the world by living off the fruits and plants of the forest. Every morning he would rise early, right before dawn and hop out of his burrow to greet the sun, embracing the new day. 'Today is a good day!' he would tell himself silently. The world is alive and I am a creature within it! After finishing his breakfast, he would setout to greet his friends."

His friends were many and included other animals - the thrifty squirrels, the wise owls, the chirping birds. As he greeted each creature, they would share stories, their plans, their misfortunes, tales about their day. My grandmother would vary the story each time. Perhaps the squirrels were concerned about lost food or one of the birds had injured its wing. Little by little, my grandmother was constructing a small world, a fixed place in my imagination. After the rabbit had made its rounds, he would inevitably encounter the fox. The fox was a suspect character, speaking in double meanings and it was clear that he intended to eat the rabbit. The rabbit, thinking quickly, proposes that he tell the fox a story and if the fox is pleased then he would let the rabbit go otherwise he would be eaten. The fox agrees, thinking that he could eat the rabbit in either case.

And so the rabbit begins,"Here is the story. Deep in an old forest, untouched by men..." My grandmother would continue, retelling the story, with small variations up until the rabbit met the fox again and, if I was not yet asleep, would continue, going deeper, telling the story within the story within the story... El cuento de nunca acabar.

This story my grandmother would whisper to me as a small child, intimately, as I lay in my bed. Her soothing voice, the story which was familiar and yet kept unraveling in my mind - provoking small questions (What happened "after" the story? Were the rabbit and fox trapped in an endless game?) were the last fragments of this world that I carried with me into my dreams.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

This photo was taken from the loft where I lived in NYC - the corner of West Broadway and Houston.

Back then I was working as a consultant in Manhattan and living with Paul and Teri. Paul is now a photographer. Teri is a high-profile investment banker.

I moved to San Francisco in 1996 just as the Internet Boom was unrolling. I turned down an offer for an executive position and employee #5 at this new startup called (yes, that one) to take an executive job in San Francisco launching a new division for a major company.

I left them in 1998 to start my own company, the first of two. That second company is where I work now.

I graduated fromn Harvard in 1990. If you are a fellow alum, drop me a line. I was in Adams House.

My interests are scattered throughout this weblog. Its intent is personal and its main audience is a close circle of friends. I have no intention of adding comments at the moment, but I always welcome email (banubula at yahoo) If you frequent weblogs, I also occasionally post on Metafilter as vacapinta.

Curious as to what I look like? You can get some glimpses in this image-filled post I made on my last birthday.
This consciousness of being separate is a constant feature of our spiritual history. Separation is sometimes experienced as a wound that marks an internal division, an anguished awareness that invites self-examination; at other times it appears as a challenge, a spur that incites us to action, to go forth and encounter others and the outside world. It is true that the feeling of separation is universal and not peculiar to Spanish Americans. It is born at the very moment of our birth: as we are wrenched from the Whole we fall into an alien land. This experience becomes a wound that never heals. It is the unfathomable depth of every man; all our ventures and exploits, all our acts and dreams, are bridges designed to overcome the separation and reunite us with the world and our fellow-beings. Each man's life and the collective history of mankind can thus be seen as attempts to reconstruct the original situation. An unfinished and endless cure for our divided condition. But it is not my intention to provide yet another description of this feeling. I am simply stressing the fact that for us this existential condition expresses itself in historical terms. It thus becomes an awareness of our history. How and when does this feeling appear and how is it transformed into consciousness? The reply to this double-edged question can be given in the form of a theory or a personal testimony. I prefer the latter: there are many theories and none is entirely convincing.

The feeling of separation is bound up with the oldest and vaguest of my memories: the first cry, the first scare. Like every child I built emotional bridges in the imagination to link me to the world and to other people. I lived in a town on the outskirts of Mexico City, in an old dilapidated house that had a jungle-like garden and a great room full of books. First games and first lessons. The garden soon became the centre of my world; the library, an enchanted cave. I used to read and play with my cousins and schoolmates. There was a fig tree, temple of vegetation, four pine trees, three ash trees, a nightshade, a pomegranate tree, wild grass and prickly plants that produced purple grazes. Adobe walls. Time was elastic; space was a spinning wheel. All time, past or future, real or imaginary, was pure presence. Space transformed itself ceaselessly. The beyond was here, all was here: a valley, a mountain, a distant country, the neighbours' patio. Books with pictures, especially history books, eagerly leafed through, supplied images of deserts and jungles, palaces and hovels, warriors and princesses, beggars and kings. We were shipwrecked with Sindbad and with Robinson, we fought with d'Artagnan, we took Valencia with the Cid. How I would have liked to stay forever on the Isle of Calypso! In summer the green branches of the fig tree would sway like the sails of a caravel or a pirate ship. High up on the mast, swept by the wind, I could make out islands and continents, lands that vanished as soon as they became tangible. The world was limitless yet it was always within reach; time was a pliable substance that weaved an unbroken present.

When was the spell broken? Gradually rather than suddenly. It is hard to accept being betrayed by a friend, deceived by the woman we love, or that the idea of freedom is the mask of a tyrant. What we call "finding out" is a slow and tricky process because we ourselves are the accomplices of our errors and deceptions. Nevertheless, I can remember fairly clearly an incident that was the first sign, although it was quickly forgotten. I must have been about six when one of my cousins who was a little older showed me a North American magazine with a photograph of soldiers marching along a huge avenue, probably in New York. "They've returned from the war" she said. This handful of words disturbed me, as if they foreshadowed the end of the world or the Second Coming of Christ. I vaguely knew that somewhere far away a war had ended a few years earlier and that the soldiers were marching to celebrate their victory. For me, that war had taken place in another time, not here and now. The photo refuted me. I felt literally dislodged from the present.

From that moment time began to fracture more and more. And there was a plurality of spaces. The experience repeated itself more and more frequently. Any piece of news, a harmless phrase, the headline in a newspaper: everything proved the outside world's existence and my own unreality. I felt that the world was splitting and that I did not inhabit the present. My present was disintegrating: real time was somewhere else. My time, the time of the garden, the fig tree, the games with friends, the drowsiness among the plants at three in the afternoon under the sun, a fig torn open (black and red like a live coal but one that is sweet and fresh): this was a fictitious time. In spite of what my senses told me, the time from over there, belonging to the others, was the real one, the time of the real present. I accepted the inevitable: I became an adult. That was how my expulsion from the present began.

-Octavio Paz, from his Nobel acceptance speech