I'm getting read to go visit Paul. I leave Wednesday for Ecuador. Saturday we will go to Peru. I'll be gone not quite 2 weeks. To prepare, I got vaccinated for hepatitis and typhoid. My tetanus shot was up to date. I declined the malarial pills because of side effects and the fact that I won't be in a jungle. I purchased bug spray with deet, anti-bacterial towelettes, and immodium, pepto-bismal. I've read that I should not drink the water, avoid ice, refrain from eating uncooked vegetables, avoid milk and dairy products, avoid fresh fish, not swim in fresh water (except, perhaps, for a heavily chlorinated pool), and not eat anything from an open air market. I need to be careful with my wallet, purse, backpack, and all personal items because of theft.
Thinking about all these warnings, I started to wonder about my naivete with regard to notions of revolution or emphases on trying to find alternatives to capitalism and democracy. Maybe it's a kind of Monty-Python reasoning along the lines of "what have the Romans done for us"--so, what has capitalism and the liberal-democratic state done for us: "well, we don't really have a problem with malaria and the water is potable."
But, then I realized some flaws in the argument from Monty-Python. First, it relies on an implicit 'best of all possible worlds' vision of the US and Europe. Second, in its reliance on a simple and pathetic us/them, primitive/developed, third/first world binary, it disavows the splits within each 'world'--you'd think that Katrina would have eliminated that sort of elementary blunder. Third, and I think most important, the argument from Monty-Python erases 'our' (the US, neoliberal capital and its corporate agents) role in the picture. It absolves the US and Capital from any responsibility for producing inequalities.
So, now I think that all the precautions I'm advised to take point in the opposite direction--which, incidently, seems to be the view of Ecuador's new government, already allied with Hugo Chavez.
It's remarkable. No matter how long between visits, whenever I return, there it is, the damp. I'm tempted to wonder if writing produces the damp, if the damp oozes from the words, the writing, the worry, the anxiety, that's it not a matter of a house in a swamp but of something else, some sort of primordial damp that expresses itself first in writing and then as moisture. Spurious suspects as much:
I think it's speaking through me, a word of damp from within,
penetrating out, and condensing outside, along the white page of the
It's reassuring, in a way, that this damp always returns or never leaves. Perhaps the comfort is like a womb. Or, maybe the primordial damp is amniotic.
Paul left Quito today for the Amazon. He will be in a rain forest for a week. Some of the students view the trip as 'spa week'--they will diet (not as much food as they are used to), detox (little coffee and alcohol), and sweat (in the humidity). Paul is concerned with caffeine withdrawal, as well as his customary late night snack and scotch. And then there are the bugs and snakes, not to mention the monkey who attacked a student several years ago, necessitating a number of skin grafts. Student shouldn't have thrown a rock at it.
I don't have a segue or link to the rest, although I could probably force one via the notion of what returns, what can't be avoided, what comes from within even as I experience it as something else, some kind of intrusion or circumstance or setting that I want to avoid, that tires and perturbs me even as it arises in part from and through my words. How is, I wonder, that I argue for a living, that nearly every breath, every moment, every thought, is engaged in argument? Trying to get my students to understand, even a bit, The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, encouraging them to question and criticize, staging interventions and disagreements to open up a range of options? Rewriting an article, taking into account the comments of the reviewer, arguing against other theorists, taking and defending positions? Reading the work of my honors student, trying to push her to clarify, strengthen, and develop? Arguing with colleagues about faculty governance, providing arguments for or against a tenure case, the contract for a manuscript, the publication of an article?
And, these are just the job--what about arguments, a request for reason, for an explanation, for an accounting, from schools, doctors, pharmacists, my children's father? What about the arguments associated with other parts of my life--arguments with judges on American Idol, the bizarre audience votes, arguments in the blogosphere, arguments in my town regarding Wal-Mart, anti-war demonstrations, and flags?
One of my friends argues, there it is again, spreading and staining every aspect of my life, that there is a fundamental right to justification. Is my disagreement part of a hope for a refuge from argument, an argument free space, a space to say, "no! I will not explain myself!" And, if so, why do I persist? What is speaking through me, penetrating out and condensing outside?
This is a male frigate. I've always wondered if the puffed out part could pop and if that would kill or hurt the animal (I usually think about that with respect to frogs or toads).
During the fall, I read a strange, nonfiction book about pickup artists. It focused on a subculture of guys teaching and learning pick up techniques, techniques that would work for any guy, no matter how unattractive. One of the counter-intuitive bits of advice--apparently very effective--was that guys should 'peacock,' adopt some kind of flashiness in their outfit, when at clubs trying to meet women.
I just got the following email from Paul (he got back to Quito last night after a week in the Galapagos):
The real news is that I got mugged about an hour and a
half ago. I guess I pushed it too late at ACLAS [Andean Center for Latin American Studies]. I had made it almost
entirely across the park and I was thinking to myself that I only had
one troublesome bit to get across and then I would be home free. It is under trees and by the botanical garden so it gets dark
I passed 4 guys in their 20s, I would say. Shortly thereafter,
I heard running steps that sounded pretty fast behind me which
immediately caught my attention because at that speed it was either
someone who was just about to start a jog and they will soon slow down
-- but even though I was walking in the area where people actually do
stretch out in the morning before a run, I wasn't aware of having
passed someone. Or, it was those guys who decided to run to catch back
up with me and to mug me. So I starting thinking oh shit I don't want
to be mugged. Then someone passed me on the left at went by me, which
slightly relieved me but I didn't focus on this person since I was
focused on whether I was about to get mugged or not -- which means I
wasn't looking to see if this person was dressed like a runner or not.
Then someone jumped me from behind and grabbed me around the neck and
wrestled me to the ground. All this part happened very quickly, like a
a few seconds. His arms were pretty muscular, but I forced the arm
from my adam's apple -- since it was choking me -- but otherwise was a
compliant victim. They kept saying no problem, no problem, money,
money. They found my wallet pretty quickly and searched me very
thoroughly -- including my crotch -- while the one guy had me around
the neck and other guys kept control of me/ searched me. Then they
kept saying , 'mochila, mochila,' which means back pack, backpack. And
they opened the backpack and spilled the contents on the ground and
went through the backpack very thoroughly. I motioned that I wanted
the backpack back since it had all my class stuff in there and Spanish
books and the book Savages, which I am still teaching in the bidis. I
tried to look around to see if there were any witnesses around but no
one was. As they finished with the backpack I started getting my wallet
and keys back in my pockets -- I was pretty scared that they were going
to take my keys. Thinking of Kim Scheppele [a professor who was mugged last summer in Baltimore], I put my knee on my keys
when they were getting me to my knees so they could search me after
they had gotten my wallet. Finally they left, and I put all the stuff
back in the backpack.
At first, I considered it a pretty successful
mugging from my point of view -- as these things go. I wasn't hurt or
beat up. I immediately checked for credit cards and bank cards and
they had left them in my wallet, so I appreciated that. I also thought
I only had like $35 in my wallet, so I wasn't feeling too bad about the
money. They stole the cell phone but I never used it anyway so I
didn't care about that (frankly, Michael and I can't even figure out
how to make a stupid phone call using them). They stole my watch,
which is a pain, but I had anticipated this kind of thing and did not
bring my nice watch down here -- it was my digital watch -- so that
wasn't too bad. Then, as I got out of the park, I remembered that last
night I had taken $100 out of the ATM precisely because I was low on
money AND, because I was so tired last night, had forgotten to leave
part of it in the apartment (which is what I do) and had forgotten to
hide a $20 in my little jeans pocket (which, as thorough as they were,
I think would have eluded them). So instead of only getting $20-$35,
actually, they got $135. Then, I just realized that they got my ipod,
which bums me out. So actually they gt a pretty good haul and I lost a
good chunk of money (but still, no credit cards), but the Ipod is
something I use 4 days a week when I do class prep in the office I
share with Michael to tune everything out. So that really sucks. Now
I need to rush to the supermarket before it closes in 15 minutes (it
will be very busy!).
Travel can change a person, particularly challenging travel or travel to really different places. I've had some anxiety about Paul's term in South America because I've wondered if and how he will change.
He told me on the phone tonight that he considered buying a poncho.
Paul called late last night to say he's arrived in Ecuador. The phone connection from 'apartmento moderno' wasn't great--the sound would go out or get static-y every minute or so. (I've also notice that a weird computer-y sound sometimes precedes the voice when someone phones me, like a computer or modem or something.) Anyway, two military guys sat behind him on the plane and talked the whole way. They were quite loud the last two hours. The connections in the airport were too tight for Paul to make duty free. That's a shame because he likes his scotch before bed.