January 31, 1998
(Guanacaste, Costa Rica)
We went, on Friday night, to visit Tia Flor in El Silencio. It made my heart ache inside its cage because the blessed silence was there that once lay over the world before everybody had televisions. All was silent and crisply cool in the moonlight. Through the open-air window a star hung over the mountain and ranas and solococos sang their hymns. Tia Flor gave us coffee and fresh hot bread.
I love my pretty house with its windows and floors and I know I am living a relatively simple life compared to some people in the world, but when I stood in El Silencio I felt the same hunger for simplicity that I felt in the USA, ironically, living here.
November 15, 1999
(Washington State, USA)
I am haunted by Tia Flor. She is what stands between me and any ability to become contented with a “normal” life. She has what I do not.
I thought about her on Saturday night as we were driving out of the Tri Cities on 395 North. It was dark and the cars driving with us and toward us made up a great high-speed pulse. The night was lit up by giant bulbs surrounding shopping malls, over gas stations and on road signs. The earth in all directions: asphalt, concrete.
And here comes the unreasonably agonizing understanding that all of this is artificial. Superficial. Fake. Unnatural. Contrived. Illusory. Night isn’t yellow. Night is black. People can’t travel at 70 miles per hour. People walk. The ground isn’t hard and black. The ground is soft and has many colors. Everything that is the common agreed-upon reality of the moment is bullshit.
I cannot stand it.
Tia Flor appears to me. She is everything a “beautiful”, “successful” person is not. She is old. She is fat. She is poor. Her clothes are out of fashion and her hair smells of smoke. She wears big glasses, cheap flip-flops and her shins are full of lumps. In Tia Flor’s house, there are mice. She has a cat to catch them, to keep them out of the tortilla corn. There are spiders and spider webs connecting the rafters of the house with one bare bulb in each room.
She gave me the most delicious scandalously sweet coffee I have ever tasted that she made on her woodstove and warm bread she just baked over the coals. I sat on a sunken chair too sorry, even, to throw away and looked out her window open to the sky. The moon lit up every leaf on the mango tree and outlined their movements, like dancers, when the breeze ruffled. The rooster crowed from his perch. Frogs giggled and hooted in the quebrada. An owl said it name.
It will drive me mad. These are not pictures of affluence and poverty. They are pictures of illusion and truth. Dementia and sanity. Quebrantamientos and wholeness. It causes me pain to look out the window, to look in the window, and not see black sky, a moonlit mango, a wood stove, a pile of corn. Even now that I know of the hardships suffered by a person like Tia Flor. Even so, she has what I do not.