Pico de Orizaba

Pico de Orizaba
Taken from Huatusco, Veracruz, the closest town to Margarita's family's ranch.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Before you can run, first you must walk...

The first time I ran long distance was with my mother.  She invited me to run around our neighborhood a couple of times in the evening.  I remember passing her on the hill on Windy Willow Way approaching Old York Road.  As I passed her (or maybe she was passing me) I was spritzed by her sweat, like a sprinkling of raindrops.  At the time, I was too young to sweat.  Later on, I would assess the quality of my workout or run by the amount of sweat that came out of my skin.  Years later we would use that route for our long walks and conversations.  One of the great things about my family is everyone's love for walking.  My earliest memories of visiting my Uncle Henry and Mary Beth in New York City contain standing in the front of the subways watching the rats scurry on the side of the tracks and trying to keep up with my Uncle Henry run-walking to an Off Off Broadway performance or to make it to Yankee Stadium before Bob Merril sang the National Anthem. I imagine a cartoon strip with me holding onto my uncle's hand, trailing him like a kite in a strong wind, my feet lifting off the sidewalk.  I remember the long walks in the woods and fields of Vermont where Henry and Mary Beth rented a house in the country many summers, the long walks to the rope swing over the river.  Their house in Delhi, New York, crossing their 45 acres connected to the 450 acres of their New York City friends and neighbors...  I wondered how I could one day have the $2,500 USD for each of those wonderful 45 acres in 1988 value.  Beth and my walks and dashes to and from Penn Station and New York Hospital.  The long walks and hikes in the Poconos with the NJ "Y" Camps, crossing swamps alongside lakes, old wood forrests, blackberry fields.  The 6 day walk in the northeastern Berkshires during my "pre-college trip" before my first semester started at Hampshire College, not bathing for those 6 days.  Crossing the Holyoke range from Mount Norwattek overlooking Hampshire College and the Pioneer Valley to Holyoke Mountain on the other end and then walking back to campus along the road, thinking that I would never make it back.  The long walks in the snow storms of my youth...  When Anya was away in Kiev, I dreamed of walking across the U.S., inventing a new Ross.  Who would take me in for a while?  I dreamed of walking to Montauk Point, Long Island and being swept away by the sea...  Instead, I was swept away by Joey, who said she would miss me if I left.  One of the things I remember most about Vicky was how she and I walked down the subway steps at the same rate.  We were truly in sync.  But she was alcoholic and was a never recovering from childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her father... wanting love and then rejecting it.  But we walked well together.  

When I mentioned to Margarita about buying the interview recorder and that we should have had it for the time we would be alone in the bungalow near the beach and for the drive back to the ranch, she said, "Not only would we use it during our car trips, but during our walks..."  She had a point.  What began with my mother, I continued with Margarita.  In the very beginning of our relationship at Las Cañadas, February/March 2003, we frequently walked from the ranch miles into town, using the dirt farm roads passing through the cow pastures, Margarita pointing out all the flowers that were blossoming on the side of the road (it was the beginning of Spring in Veracruz).  Sometimes I would challenge her to a race up one of the steep hills.  That's how I knew that we were compatible; the ability to change velocities.

Sometimes it seems that we must be in movement for the conversations to begin, for the thoughts to unravel...

If my mother and I were in the middle of a serious conversation when approaching the house on Old York Road, she would ask, "Do you want to continue? (the walk)."  And, of course, I responded affirmatively...  Our walks continued all the way into Readington township.  During the only summer I spent at home while at Hampshire College, I used the two walking routes of ours for my runs; 4.3 miles that extended to 7.2.  With that sudden increase of distance in less than a week, not only had I entered the Elysium Fields (Eternal Bliss in Greek Mythology, the final resting place for mortal relatives of Zeus, heroes and athletes), I injured myself.  To this date, I think of that route when I think of the best places to run. One of the other wonderful places for running was in Amherst, Massachusetts.  Another was the perimeter road in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. What makes a route good for running are hills, woods, fields, curves in the road (you can't see what's ahead), flats...  What helps me cross the distance and withstand the discomfort or pain is the challenge and the fantasy created by the ever-changing scenery.  In Mexico we have run in many locations that are flat and straight and boring.  One of the last places where we ran was in Manzanillo, Colima; 40 minutes of flat sidewalk and straight street, horribly boring below 90+ degree heat and direct sunlight.  But the good thing about that run is that it ended in the ocean...  If you want a run to seem longer than it truly is, run a purely flat route.  When I run with hills mixed in, I run faster.  On purely flat runs, I don't find a way of increasing velocity nor stride.  Without a "push", there is no incentive for finding hidden reserves of energy. If no one pushes you, who loves you and who you truly love, it's less likely you'll push yourself.  But, if you are pushed against a wall, it doesn't matter how much hidden energy you have, you're not going anywhere...

Our run ended to the right of the hotel
The bad thing about the last run in Manzanillo was that, while making room for someone walking in our direction, I stepped off the sidewalk and walked into a recently pruned branch sticking out like a dagger into the sidewalk.  Since I was still pumped up from the run, I was walking pretty quickly and didn't see the branch until it was about to stick me in the gut.  It didn't break the skin.  But I believe it created some horrible internal bruising just below my right rib cage.  I hardly could walk nor sleep for the following 2 weeks...  This was during the Pig Flu Epidemic of May 2009.  We had bought space in the May Fiestas fair and rented a house in a condo complex with a pool.  A few days before the fair was to start, all closed-in public spaces (or open spaces that would be packed with thousands of people) were shut down in Mexico.  Somehow we were able to catch a bad Nicolas Cage movie, Knowing, in the movie theater a block away from our house before the theater chain decided to respect the National Health Department's restrictions.  Sporting events were cancelled, Night Clubs were closed.  ALL classes were cancelled in ALL the schools for 2 months.  People were advised against going to malls if it wasn't necessary.  Restaurants and Hotels lost hundreds of millions of dollars.  Supposedly the Swine Flu began near Perote, Veracruz where the Smithfield Factory Pork Farms (the largest swine producer in the world) has a very strong presence.  The pork producers suddenly realized the risk to their economy and World Health Organization changed the name of the epidemic from Swine Flu to AHN1 (Non Animal, Non-human flu)...  Sounds familiar?:  the Mexican Congress was about to pass legislation removing from the elementary schools soda machines and candy/junk food tables.  First they changed the bill to come into effect in 2013.  And then they removed it from the table.  Why, if the issue was childhood obesity and Mexico is #1 in the world with Diabetes? 70% of Mexican boys below the age of 12 are listed as being obese; 60% of the girls.  Mexico is the #1 consumer of Coca Cola products in the world.  And Pepsi Co. controls 80% of the fried and bagged junk food industry in the world with their aquisition of Frito/Lay.  Grupo Bimbo was #3 in the world in the commercial bakery industry.  But with the aquisition of Weston Foods of Canada they became #1 in the world and now Bimbo Bakeries USA is the largest bakery in the US.  Just a note: In Mexico there is a prohibition against foreign companies buying Mexican Companies...  

Because of the Swine Flu, we didn't have the money to visit a doctor.  Truthfully, I don't know what we would have accomplished by seeing a doctor other than the doctor telling me that I had bruised myself internally and that I should take it easy for a while.

I started running during my first semester at Hampshire College in an attempt towards lowering my anxiety and stress level.  I had always suffered some form of asthma from since I was a child; one of the reasons I didn't try out for the Somerville High School soccer team; I was told that the players must run 6 miles per day.      After the initial breathing difficulties, after leaving the gym running track for the Hampshire College perimeter road and paths through its woods, I realized that focussing upon the rythm of my breathing (controlling it) and the sound of my footfalls was meditative.  I found myself closed into an internal trance, yet aware of the increases and decreases in velocity and the widening and closing of my stride.  My body became a machine and I became invincable.  Hills became symbolic for life's obstacles and where I increased my stride, lifted my feet, threw up my arms and dropped my head down like a linebacker waiting for the center to say "hike".  There was time for relaxing after passing the apex of the hill entering a flat or straight-away.  If I could overcome the hill, I could overcome the immediate obstacles during the semester.  I learned that pain was subjective; that persevering periods of pain and exhaustion occuring within the run or the workout taught me patience, endurance and faith.  That, sometimes things seem worse than they truly are and that overcoming the obstacle brings you to new levels of challenge and accomplishment; they build an internally universal endurance.

The problem Margarita and I have encountered in making a living travelling around Mexico fair to fair is that we can't create a system of exercise.  At the moment, with the horrible security problem in Mexico, we find ourselves with down times of up to 3 months.  But, normally we work 3 to 4 week fairs, rest for 2 weeks and enter the following fair.  I tried running during the fairs in Tepic and Salamanca.  But, running for 30 minutes and then standing for up to 18 hours up to 28 days consecutively, creates an exhaustion unimaginable.  I had to choose between running or managing the coffee bar.  I chose managing the coffee bar.  Another problem is that most Mexican cities lack decent spaces for running. I detest running in the busy streets; very dangerous and very little pollution control, not to forget about the damage caused to the knees by running on cement or asphalt.

My dream is to work where I live, near where I can run, and how I wish to run, alongside Margarita.  The sad thing is that my dream sounds like a pipe dream.  

This piece is a work-in-progress.  I will continue after my in-laws celebrate my birthday. My mother-in-law prepared Mole with Chicken.  Nicolas baked three of my mother's wonderful apple cakes.  

When we began baking in Xalapa in June 2003, I was using my mother's Apple Cake and Carrot Cake recipes, a coconut-pineapple recipe and a coffee cake recipe I improved upon... We cut the cakes in 12 pieces we sold for 70 cents apiece.  The response was incredible.  The only problem was that, the minute you cut a cake, it begins its entropy, it begins to spoil, especially in Xalapa, Veracruz; especially the apple cakes with all their moisture from the six sliced apples in each cake.   One Saturday we lost a whole apple cake because of the sun hitting it directly on one of our tables infront of the Humanities Department of the University of Veracruz.  The climate is very dramatic in Xalapa; one second you are hoping clouds will cover the sun; the next second you are running for cover because a thunderstorm suddenly appeared... The first summer we had our table in the Lakes, we were repeatedly trapped in 3 hour long thunderstorms, drenched without raincoats and with the equivalent of a beach umbrella covering our table...

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