Sometimes, when I've been traveling and am tired, I get a sort of vertigo, that sense that one place is superimposed on the other, that a person I see in Marrakesh or Paris or Mexico City is someone I know from Brooklyn or San Francisco. It's related to the classic Freudian definition of the uncanny, the unheimliche, that which has been private and is now revealed in the open.
Some of that is simply all about how people with similar interests/lives find themselves moving in similar circuits. It happened to me a couple of years ago, when I was in San Francisco and saw from the back a man wearing a yellow raincoat and somehow recognized my friend Daniel, who I thought was in Guatemala. He was happy yet shocked to see me, not least because, pointing to a girl going down Valencia on a bike, said, "Mirá, justo pensaba en vos, en como me contabas que andabas por aquí en tu bici."
And it happened to me last year, when I was in a lovely seafood place in Col. Roma in the DF, and ran into writer Francisco Goldman, who I'd seen a few weeks before at a friend's house. I went to say hello, only to find out his wife had died in a horrible accident only a week before.
All this as a roundabout lead-up to a piece I saw on Frank Invita, a blog of Santo Domingo crónicas by poet Frank Báez I've been following of late. After several years away from the DR, I went in January and was stunned at how the economic crisis has radically shrunk public space (everyone talks about getting jacked up). I was really depressed, feeling that my way of experiencing the city, walking it, was no longer available to me.
And that the Zona Colonial in particular, the bohemian space where I spent my childhood and a real interesting year in my mid-20s, the space I use to reorient myself whenever I return, was stripped, closed off. None of the poets and artists were around -- they were in Spain or the US or at home or dead. Less bohemia, more sanitized, tourist-friendly spaces.
But Frank still goes, and reading his crónicas is soothing. Makes me think I need to reclaim La Zona.
In this entry, he writes about El Conde, the commercial avenue turned pedestrian paseo, as Ground Zero of Santo Domingo's Ground Zero (following Junot Diaz's formulation in Oscar Wao). After drinking Long Island Iced Teas (yuck!) at the Hard Rock Café (double yuck!), Frank and his girl walk back to the car and he spots Paul Auster, who I often see around Park Slope:
...just as we pass the outdoor café space outside Segafredo, I see, sitting at one of the tables that nearly hide him, behind four gringo tourists, the writer Paul Auster with his bulging eyes and his alien-digenous face. I look at him intently, for about two seconds. His stare feels rather cold, like a camera that's recording everything, as if he isn't really there and is recording what's happening to look at it later. He raises his martini glass and drinks. Fifteen yards from Segafredo, I tell my girlfriend that I've just seen Paul Auster sitting at Segafredo. My girlfriend barely pays attention and doesn't turn to check if it's him. In El Conde, you don't look back. [my translation]
Not only made me wistful for what La Zona was, what it can still be, but also makes me think that some of the better Dominican writing is actually happening on the web these days.
There's Miguel Mena's excellent cabinet of curiosities Cielo Naranja, which he runs from Germany, the visually lovely online poetry mag Ping Pong, which Frank edits, and Juan Dicent's short story blog, BlogworkOrange. Some real interesting movement happening, less at the scale of the big novel or the gallery painting, but in the smaller, more fragmentary realms of the blog post and the flyer. It's time for Dominican arts to get over its inferiority complex, its hungry quest for transcendence.
Here's a great short film based on Dicent's tight up-to-the-minute story "Entrevista con el taxista."
[bike image via My SF; Zona Colonial foto via escapeartist.com; foto of Moutarde on Fifth Ave. in Brooklyn via Brooklyn Record]