#2: A Road trip that follows the beatnik movement across the country

By Nicolas Vergara

The first time that Vivian read something about gangs in Toronto was Christmas 2010, in Ireland, when she was nineteen years old and studying English Literature. The gang in question was MS-42 and its name appears in a draw that she found in one book at Temple Bar Book Market.  The name of the gang was written in a bookmark, and the complete sentence said Peace for MS-42 or something related to pigeons. In one of its corners, the bookmark also said Toronto, 2007, and something about donations or charity. 

She google the gang and found this:

In the middle of November, David Dang, nineteen, was kidnapped on his way out of a Blue Jays game. Although the street was far from deserted, there were no witnesses, except for five David’s classmates, who saw him head to a Tesla car, where a person in sunglasses was waiting for him. That afternoon, David didn’t come home and his parents filed a police report few hours later, after they had called few of his friends. When he was found, two days later, his body shows unmistakable signs of strangulation. A Greek immigrant found his body near Thomas Merton School. The greek was accused of the homicide and spent one week in a cell, at the end of which he was released. When he got out he was a broken man. He was asking for his son, and a month later they left together Canada, via Niagara, to the United States. The police report said that the Murder was made in the name of M-42.  In January 2009, five members of M-42 gang were arrested. they were accused of several murders committed after Davi’s one. 

From that day on, she became an enthusiastic follower of that gang, and set out on a quest to find more information about them. For years, she thought that Canada was a peaceful place, but she realized that was just ideology —as her professor loves to say—.  She told this story to Andres, one day that they were having a picnic. That day, they were also doing a map about On the road.  

The map looks like this one:

ON THE ROAD MAP

London, Ontario. Paris, Texas

By Nicolas Vergara

Many years ago, Andres watched the movie Paris, Texas. Before that, when he was 13, in a Library in Serbia, he read these wise words: good novels are impossible to summarize. The words came from W.H. Auden, but they could belong perfectly to a German Literary Critic or an English one in the 80s, for it sounded wistful and convincing.  Andres, like many people from his generation, believes that you can easily apply ideas that come from literature to movies; and when he watched Paris, Texas, he decided that that was a movie impossible to summarize, and then he decided it was an amazing movie.

Four years ago, he tried to write a story about Paris, Texas. The story began in York University. In the story, Wim Wenders was smoking a cigarette at the main entrance of the University. A young woman stopped by him and asked if he could sell her a cigarette. He offered one, and then she started to tell him why she was so sad and frustrated about a recent exam that she couldn't pass. Wenders gave her some advice, based on his experience as a filmmaker. As a consequence of that, she told him that she went to the same school as Justin Beber, and even she was about to go on a date with him, but that didn't happen because her mother asked her —that night, that unlucky night— to take care of her little brother. 

He had other scenes in mind that he didn't get around to writing. Mainly meeting and visiting, and one that happens in London, Ontario. In London, Wenders was walking by the highways that go to Detroit. Nobody knows how the filmmaker got there, and how he was able to avoid the Grizzly bears, which everybody knows are more frequent than snowy days in that area. He was walking, and in a charging station for electric cars, he found a Tim Hortons. He felt asleep at one of the tables. The manager —a Nepali guy tired of being called Indian— tried unsuccessfully to wake him up. He decided to call the police. 

The police found Wenders’ brother address and they called him. Wenders’ brother was living in Yukon, where he had a publicity company for road advertising. He lived with his wife and a child. He drove his car to find Wenders. When they finally got together, Wenders’ brothers asked:

—Where have you been these last 15 years? I’ve been raising your child since then. 

The filmmaker seemed confused, and he was just able to reply: 

I need to go to London, Ontario.

 

FINDING A JOB LOOKING AFTER HORSES

By Nicolas Vergara

This story is very simple, although it could have been very complicated. Also, it is incomplete, because stories like this doesn't have an ending. It was afternoon in Eugene, Oregon, and it had been raining all day. The rain stopped and almost immediately, it started to smell like very deep frozen seaweed which smitten(?) Andres and Vivian with feeling of utter happiness.

The barn was closer to the mountains. The job advertising appeared in Craigslist, and they decided to apply because they also offer a place for living.

There are at least three different ways of taking care of an animal, but my favorite —Vivian said—it’s the one that you rescue an animal from dead or at least from an ominous life. I’ll give an example, Vivian said, and here we have the example:

You find a baby raccoon by itself in the forest. You take it with you, with the same feeling that inspire some parents towards adopting a child from the third world. You give it a better life at your home. If you are lucky, the animal won’t get sick or won’t be killed by another animal. Nature has always been a school of the uncertain, and bad luck in nature is one of the way that human drama enhances it. The rest is Disneyland (including, for sure, ecology).

The horse was as tall as a basketball player and as white as a wise old man. It was running in circles, leashed to a big stick. There was also a woman. She was saying or broadcasting something that was obviously addressed to the horse. If the aim of her work was making the horse run, she was successful. The barn was humid and its high roof made it look like a streetcar storage. 

Ninety days in one country is enough time just for tourism or journalism (who are, at the end, professional tourist or writers). They should wait for the same amount of time for being banished from the U.S. because the didn't get married when they should have. Then ask for refugee visa in Canada, that was the plan.

What happen if we get attached to the horses? In the scale of separation, it is easier leaving a horse than a dog or a cat, unless you were a horse riding fighter or a peasant. And our couple was just a couple trying to stay in Canada.

WINTER BLUES #2

By Nicolas Vergara

Speaking about days, the only reason for writing 90 days instead of 93 or 91 (if those days happen in a leap-year) is the same one that supports prices such as $3.99. Deadlines and sales have something in common —Andres thought— and also those kinds of numbers that physics and real scientists know are pale, dark and unstable. 

The closest city from the United States border was Buffalo. Andres and Vivian had done that trip many times before. However, for Andres the number and dimension of the electric stations that were visible everywhere was always something new. A long time ago, in his native country Serbia, one of his friends said that it was possible to measure the country´s economy just by considering its energy supply. When he made the trip between Toronto and Buffalo for the first time, he also wondered if the shape of the electric stations —which could easily be confused with UFO remains -  could say something else about Canada. So many cables were crossing the river that separate the United States and Canada, so many that they made him think the countries were trying to show how many cables could be extended between them, and how proud they felt about that.

When they got to the border, Vivian asked for the fiancé visa. The border official gave her a paper for signing, which has a big blue eagle at the center.  

The eagle has the same pose as a fly resting on a window. 

Andres signed it and waited for his passport back. The official gave him the passport and theyheaded to the bus. They had been planning what they would do during these 90 days in the U.S. Here is the list with potential activities:

  1. Visiting Chicago and verifying how much better it is than NYC
  2. A Road trip that follows the beatnik movement across the country
  3. Going to one of the famous bridges in San Francisco and spitting
  4. Finding a job looking after horses
  5. Going to a gospel church and trying to became friends with the community and—why not— become part of the chorus
  6. Visiting the publisher of magazines addressed to veterans and have a networking meeting with the journalists there. 
  7. Developing an international art performance between London, Ontario and Paris, Texas.

To be continued

winter blues

By Nicolas Vergara

This story is about two people. Two adults, Vivian and Andres, and other adults whose names are on a badge. The first two adults were partners. The other adults were border officers. The story is about, in a way, North America in general.

Andres and Vivian were living in Toronto. Vivian was a Ph.D student. Andres was a successful writer and consultant who went to Canada for learning English. Why English? Because ten years ago, his favorite poets were English writers (or at least, people that were using English as a way of expression). He loves French and German poets too, especially the ones that were writing in the 1940-50s, but during that time —despite the technological advances—, Europe was looking so far away. 

After three years, they became common law. Before that, Vivian got a Ph.D in English literature, Andrés’s mother passed away and they traveled together to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Patagonia, Chile and the United States. Officially, their home was in Canada, in a basement shared with a few bugs in summer, which probably disappeared in winter because of the cold. 

The bugs and the cold have names. The potato bug was named Ramiro. The centipede was called Frederic. Every family has its preferences and this was not an exception: the appearance of Ramiro was always celebrated but the reaction that Frederic provoked was controversial. Vivian says Frederic was gross, what happens if it climbs the bed. Andres agreed in part with her, elaborating an explanation about how centipedes don't like beds, but that was never satisfactory enough to Vivian. Frederic made Andres think of the kind of bugs that you can find under the soil. Could my mother be eaten by something like Frederic? He thought, but luckily those kinds of ideas disappear quickly from his mind.

Technically, the cold doesn't have a name. It has adjectives. The cold in a basement is kind of a strange animal that is always changing. One day you experience his gaze like a friendly pet, other days the cold is something threatening, which you feel lucky is in a cage. Sometimes, the cold is resting in one of the corners, and you can barely notice that it is there. You think it must be liberated, because Zoos aren’t good places for animals, no matter the sustainability or the noble aims that humans could have. The day that Vivian and Andres spoke about the immigration process, the cold was an animal that was walking from side to side, aimless. Although, the warmness of their bodies was a spring animal. 

The plan was the following: they will get the fiancé’s visa in the United States, break one of its conditions and then ask for a refugee’ visa in Canada. The fiancé’s visa says this: “you have 90 days to get married, otherwise you will be expelled from the country”.

To be continued…

 

AFRICAN COWS

By Nicolas Vergara

Have you ever gazed at a cow for more than five minutes? A friend asked me ten years ago, and since then I have been perplexed about those animals, that most people identify with black & white colours and a farm. They are slow, peaceful and pensive animals, I used to think, after my first encounter with African cows. What is an African Cow? It’s the kind of cow that can manage very well high temperatures and a lack of water. If cows could drive a car, these kinds of cows would be riding camels. How do these animals survive? That is a frequent question between camels and tourists.

I saw them for the first time in Costa Rica. At first, they captured my attention just in the way of my farmer’s interest (which I developed after years of observing cows), but besides the discovery of a new species in my mind, there wasn't anything new about them.  I was visiting Costa Rica as a snowbird, and my type of bird was a Robin and the snow was just the snow: too much snow. 

One morning, I was invited to do a hiking trip with a group of germans. The idea was to travel to a place well known for the chance to see animals. The place also had a few small and hidden beaches, where we were supposed to end our hiking. It sounds like a good Idea, I said to my partner, and she agreed. 

When we realized that we had been walking for more than 30 minutes, my partner and I had a little conversation about the aim of the trip. Germans love nature, we knew that, and we also knew that when Marc —my german brother-in-law— called a trip a “very easy one” or “not tiring at all” you should take his words as a statement from one that wakes up every day at four am for not losing the opportunity to ride his bike.  We were tired and thirsty watching how the group of germans were leaving us behind, when suddenly a group of cows started to gaze at us. They were in line, with their big ears framing their black deep eyes. This is weird for a cow, we thought, and we didn't give it more attention. I had to recognize that it is a little bit creepy walking through an aisle where on one side was a wall made by cows and the other side was a landscape where other cows were coming to us. 

Before the cows started to make a circle, running around us, I thought that my partner could be feeling a little bit scared and I went closer to her. I was scared too, and we both started to analyze the situation, looking for a way to escape (the river, no, full of crocodiles; climbing a tree, no, full of poisonous snakes). When the cows started to make a circle around us, a german woman started to clap and move her arms. The result: the cows broke the circle and let us go.  The woman told us that she grew up in the countryside of Germany, and that was the reason that she knew how to manage cows. Have you ever gazed at a cow? She asked me, —No, I answered—, while I was thinking about the kind of people that came up with these kinds of questions. 

 

CANADA + SOMETHING

By Nicolas Vergara

There are many ways to escape from cold days: some mammals have long naps, others complain about weather, but there is a kind of special mammal that likes to invest its energies in going to the movies. I become the third kind of mammal when homes, books, bars and restaurants don't look appealing, or when my friends —first or second kinds of mammals— invite me to watch a movie. When these kinds of mammals get together having fun becomes an activity of complaining and criticizing that frequently ends in drinking. That ground is fertile for ideas and for the development of a friendship based on hate and resentment. 

A few weeks ago, I went to the movies to watch Manchester by the Sea. The movie was good for what we needed: an escape from a weird feeling caused by life itself, which is especially strong in winter time. The movie is about how randomly bad things could happen in our life, how hard —and sometimes impossible— it is to get over those things, and how love could be understood as a special attitude for interpreting life. If that were not enough, the way that the story was narrated didn't support the idea that behind life experiences you can find aims, budgets or indicators.

Something very Canadian happened during the movie: one of the characters was wearing a Canada Goose winter jacket. When I saw that, I thought that was the beginning of another Canadian brand conquering the world. Many people in the world just know Canada for its famous ginger ale. Maybe, I thought, if you want to be an international Canadian brand you should just call your product CANADA + SOMETHING, and success will settle over your business as a bird in a nest. 

Canada Goose just opened its first store in NYC (which makes the similarities between Toronto and The City even stronger). I read that many Hollywood stars are wearing the brand too, saying to the world, “I’m capable of being warm and comfy in the cruelest weather and also spending a thousand dollars doing that”. Or declaring: “Looking like a scientist measuring the ice melting in the arctic — it’s stylish” (other brands have built avenues for the fashionable idea that dressing for extreme weather conditions is cool, even though the most extreme weather experience of many people is deciding at what temperature to heat their houses).

In the movie, the protagonist is yelling at his stepson on one street in Manchester. One guy passes them on the sidewalk and gives his opinion about how the protagonist is raising his son. He says something like, “Nice way of being a father” or “You suck as a father”. The guy was the one that was wearing the Canada Goose Jacket, while the protagonist and his stepson were shivering in the cold. “He looks Canadian, but he is acting like an American”, one of my friends said. 

 

YOUNG VOICES MAGAZINE OF TEEN WRITING AND VISUAL ART

By Nicolás Vergara

There is a popular myth in poetry that says your best poems can´t be written after 19 years of age. This is because of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, who decided to stop his production in order to explore other dimensions of life, and in doing that he became an icon in poetry (There are so many poems about Rimbaud’s decision).

At the end of 2016, Toronto Public Library published a collection of teen writing and visual arts called “The Young Voices 2016: magazine of teen artist and visual art.” I saw the publication when I was waiting for a friend outside of a washroom. I took it home, thinking there may be some information about a generation that it is still hard for me to understand. I wanted to understand what it means to be a poet when you are 16 years old, raised in Toronto and born in the 2000s.

When it comes to writing (the magazine has many drawings too) it seems that one of the things teenagers are concerned about is the digital age. Some of the essays reminded me of the enthusiasm of the Italian futurism and its profundity. This teenager generation is ready to defend their way of living, which includes snapchat, Facebook and smartphones, blended with the values and the Canadian History that they learned from school. 

My commentaries are not fair with the content: it’s better to see an example: 

 

August Moon

one week in august,
when my sister hung our laundry on the line
with her two chapped hands,
she found a sliver of moon as thin as rice paper
crumpled neatly in the basket –
still soggy, she hung it up to dry
next to my red shirt,

where it dripped fat gobbets of silver
and sloughed off skin, shiny as pearl and cracked as eggshell

, that melted like butter in the hot, dead grass

Nelka Jankechova, age 14 

 

If you are interested in reading the complete magazine you can see it here.

PHILLIP K. DICK IS A PINK HAT

By Nicolás Vergara

There are many many ways to use literature; some people use it for avoiding eye contact on the subway, other people use it for making eye contact at libraries and the rest of the population uses other and even more sophisticated strategies for doing both, but there is a special way of using literature that just belongs to the media: the use of literature to compare reality with fiction, highlighting the figure of the writer as a seer. The logic behind this is the following: journalists need data. When there is no data they use the fact that once upon a time someone in our world was capable of imagining the present times: a writer.

Have you ever noticed that when Americans get in political trouble their media always start to speak about George Orwell? The future, then, has two choices: either we take the utopian way or the dystopian. Really? Since we were young, we have been hearing that it is foolish to see reality as black and white. Smart people know or at least make the effort to see how colourful life is, a nun said to me not so long ago.

Two weeks ago, I read something that could argue against this point of view: structuring the world in black and white works very well when action is necessary, like during a war or a game. This idea was in a book of psychology and it was referring to the different stages of growing up. Problems arise—the book said—when you apply the black-and-white strategy to situations like personal relationships, but if you must have a decision that implies action, it will be stupid to act analytically: it is always better to divide the world in good people and bad people (even though we, humans beings, are made with many many ambiguities, as the old Greeks told us through the voice of the Famous English Bard).

During the first 30 years of the 20th century, a series of manifestos were published across the Western world. They were published in Italy, France and England, and inspired the manifestos developed in the New World in many many ways. In general, each manifesto was an invitation to refuse the past and adopt a series of actions that will satisfy both the future and the ideas that a group of artists defended. They also divided reality into black and white terms.

Politics has always been important, but it has also become a trending topic these days. In many many ways, this is a time for action, manifestos and pink hats (and the colourful hats that are worn by those that don't know how to speak about themselves). Every time that I read something about George Orwell, I think in the dystopian world of Huxley, and how beautiful his books are about drugs as a way of expanding perception. He uses the word gold many many times, and it makes me think in things that I admire, like old metaphors, some rappers and a few hands. When I read what the media has done with the best, Phillip K. Dick, I value his absence as a way of resistance. 

RAINING CATS AND DOGS

By Nicolás Vergara

It was a rainy and dark day, a type of day where dogs and cats were making it impossible to even see a metre in front of you. 

It was a dangerous day for driving —it was raining cats and dogs. The chance of crashing into one or more cats and/or dogs and also the chance of stopping the eternal fight between cats and dogs over the sky for —everybody knows— sending us rain and agriculture, was real.  At that moment, there was also a man in his early 30s, thinking as If he were 44 years old and suffering as if he were 11 years old. He was trying to follow Joseph Brodsky´s advice —we should fight against boredom because this fight is preparation for the real fight (or something like that)— but he gave up and made a call, looking for someone who would lend an ear. 

On the other side of the phone, a friend said: Come here, we are watching the Jungle Book. Our character called a cab and travelled through the city. During that time, the cats and dogs were developing a civilization, writing epic poems, building epic buildings, killing each other in the name of God or democracy. When our character arrived at his friend’s place, the first words that he heard were: “Shut Up!” These words were sang by a chorus of kids between 10 and 15 years of age. He stared at his bottle of wine and compared its colour and content with the colourful candies and popcorn on the coffee table. He camouflaged the bottle behind the sofa and sat down. 

The Jungle Book is a beautiful movie that talks about Rousseau’s idea of freedom, which is basically humans escaping from being determined by nature. For that reason, we develop culture. That is Mowgli's lesson and the reason that he must abandon his life in the jungle

For a second, our character thought about what would be the right way to communicate this idea to the kids, without looking like an idiot. Fortunately, his sadness didn’t devastate completely his common sense, and he just ate more popcorn silently.

While the movie was playing, one of the kids was playing with a Rubik’s cube. At the end of the movie, the kid explained to our hero that there were basic rules to completing the cube. One of them is following the square in its center as the main clue.  Our character thought: what would happen if we took out that center cube? Could the Rubik Universe be destroyed? A Rubik’s cube, in some way, is similar to Borges’s Pascal's Sphere, he thought, then took a long sip of Fanta. 

Sometimes the will of thinking could be helped by the suppression of one element: if we were capable of making, for a while, the center of the Rubik’s cube disappear, its mechanism would be evident for us, our character thought, while his friend was doing an out-of-time visit to the washroom.

The two friends spoke about politics, people that had passed away and how weird is time when you measure it with the changes that kids go through. Hours later, the friend drove our character back to his place. Upon arrival, he opened the door and lit a cigarette. 

He petted the cats and dogs and went to sleep.