Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mad River

I don’t always do or feel the things I’m supposed to do and feel: I rarely get eight hours of sleep. I was not dizzy with excitement during the 2008 presidential election. I opted not to take an SAT prep course. I have yet to fully appreciate One Hundred Years of Solitude. I never saw “Titanic.” Some people might call it defiance or peculiarity; I just don’t like feeling obligated or confined by other people’s rules. Anyone who knows me probably already knows this. Blame it on genes, astrology, familial conditioning, or maybe a minor personality disorder. In any case, I have never been one of those people whose dream it is to visit Macchu Picchu; I always thought it would be interesting and would surpass its revelation through a glossy coffee table book. Nonetheless, I felt myself resisting every time someone insisted that if I was going to be in Peru, I was obliged to brave the crowds and inflated prices to wind my way up to its hallowed site in the clouds.

Of course when push came to shove, I ended up going, but not before first resting in the arms of the verdant mountains of the Sacred Valley. I spent a day and a night in Ollantaytambo, a beautiful little village that boasts some impressive Incan ruins, an other-worldly blind musician and a rushing river. It took me as long as I was there to learn to pronounce it, and I never learned to pronounce the name of the hotel – a hotel owned by one of Erika’s cousins, the Hotel Pakaritampu. The pace of Ollantaytambo was as gentle as a passing shadow. I bought a bottle of water there from an old man who ran a little store on the main plaza, a transaction that was drawn out over the space of about ten minutes while he smiled at me as if I was the first person to ever make a purchase in his store, asked if I was traveling by myself, opened his money drawer and fumbled around as if he’d forgotten why he was there, closed it again, looked at me and remembered how much change I needed, and finally sent me on my way with my water and my eight soles 50 centavos.

You may be aware that there were some serious floods in the Cusco and the Sacred Valley in January. Several people died, others were injured, thousands lost their homes, and even more lost revenue as Macchu Picchu was closed until April 1st while repairs were made to the train tracks that carry thousands of passengers daily to and from the pueblo that lies below the lost city in the sky. It reminded me a little of the swine flu of 2009, except that this was a bona fide natural disaster rather than a conspiracy perhaps dreamt up by some pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. Mexico is, by the way, still struggling to recover from the destruction the big ‘epidemic’ caused their businesses.

The train wound alongside the River Urubamba, taking its sweet time (about an hour and twenty minutes) to travel just 17 miles from Piscacucho to Aguas Calientes (also known as Macchu Picchu Pueblo). . . not that I was in any hurry. The descriptions I’d read and my own distaste for heavily-touristed places had left me with very low expectations of Aguas Calientes, but I was greeted at the station by a lovely young guy who walked me to the hotel his family owned where I’d made a reservation. He encouraged me to check out the hot springs up the street, which were open until 8:30pm, but upon seeing the line up at the gate, I sort of lost my motivation and decided instead to get some dinner and go to bed early so I could wake up before dawn. The whole point of spending a night in Incan Disneyland is in order to be one of the first to enter the ruins, which sit about 25 minutes and several thousand feet above the town. Thousands of others making this pilgrimage arrive later in the morning from Cusco or from other towns in the Sacred Valley.

While I won’t attempt to do the work of Lonely Planet or Wikipedia in my fact reporting, I will say it is one of the more striking natural settings I have had the fortune of visiting – and I’ve been to a few natural places. The ruins are, of course, very impressive – especially when you consider the technical skill and physical labor required to construct such sophisticated edifices in such an extreme location. . . and all without the aid of any machinery. More than the ruins, though, the majesty of the natural environment transported me – even beyond the shrill cries of a pack of Israeli teenagers being led around by their flag-wielding guide, Humberto. After spotting what I could not believe could possibly be people on the side of Wayna Picchu (“Young Peak”), I signed in the guest register and made my way up the thousands of stairs to its summit at 8900 feet. I heard at least seven or eight languages along the way, ran into a few New Yorkers, got a helping hand from a Frenchman, a word of sympathy from a Japanese guy who witnessed a minor fall, and reassured some Bolivians that they were close to the top.

Back in town later that afternoon, I was mildly alarmed to discover that the one functioning atm in town would not accept my debit card and my soles were few. I was sure there had to be some kind of solution in a town that received so many tourists. I had enough cash to get myself back to Ollantaytambo but not enough to pay for my stay in the hotel. Few but the most luxurious businesses in Peru accept credit cards, so that was out of the question. Unaccustomed to such inconveniences (although those who live outside New York City might disagree), I found myself quietly railing against the senselessness and injustice of having money but not being able to access it.

I began to descend into several circles of useless machinations – I didn’t have and could not get access to the pin for my credit card to get a cash advance from the atm, I couldn’t use a public phone to call the toll-free number on the back of my credit card, the phone card I purchased to make the call from my cell phone ran out after three minutes of security questions, the woman at the bank told me that – as a national bank – she couldn’t give me a cash advance from my credit card. . . blah blah blah. The girl at the internet café reminded me to be patient, and I returned to my hotel to tell the nice old lady behind the desk that I had no way of paying her for the night I had already spent there. She smiled sympathetically, ‘Ahhh. . . siii. . . .’ and rubbed her hands together while she considered this news. I humbly offered my apologies and explanations, albeit with some defensiveness, ‘I have the money – I swear.’ She replied that times had been very difficult since the floods, that they had had these problems with the banks and the trains and with getting supplies into the town. . . this woman was no stranger to the frustration of not being able to make things happen.

Where was I going next, she asked. The woman’s daughter had gone out for supplies and would be passing through Cusco the next day, where I could give her the money for the room. I assured her I was good for it; she told me not to worry and I was on my way.

Back at hotel in Ollantaytambo that night, I sat down in the restaurant filled with small groups of older married couples and a book of Latin American short stories, prepared for a quiet evening. A wild-haired woman sitting at a table behind me asked if I wanted to have dinner together; I got over my Lucy Honeychurch reservation and said yes. She proceeded to order an awesome bottle of wine (not Peruvian) and to entertain me with stories about her unusual and peripatetic life as a Norwegian ex-patriot living on an island in Panama – her exile in Greece, her paranoid cocaine addict ex-husband, her years working as a caterer in the film industry in Northern California. We became fast friends and planned to meet up again the following night in Cusco.

After a day and night in Cusco, I returned to my family in Lima long enough to shop for and deliver gifts and to graciously be fed and have my laundry done. Karla -- sister of Erika and the director of the daycare center I visited in Ica -- invited me to meet up at her natural food store, which is part of the ‘Club Regatta,’ where Karla is famous not only for being the unofficial curandera of the oceanside community but also because she is a champion of a Peruvian racquet sport called Paleta Fronton. We were serenaded by a neighboring table of viejitos (old dudes) when we sat down for lunch; I smelled like cologne for the rest of the day. After some incredible ceviche, we stopped by the club’s best coffee vending machine (even the coffee from a vending machine in Peru is pretty dope quality) and enjoyed a perfect sunny afternoon walking along the beach promenade. We stopped by Karla’s husband Juan’s incredible new television/photo studio (talk to me about production services in Lima), and headed home to take a pre-flight run. Lucho, my favorite Liberace fan and Lima taxista extrodinaire, chatted me up as we traversed the insane Friday night traffic in Lima to carry me to the airport. To my chagrin, a stopover in the US was unavoidable enroute to Mexico, and this of course included an extensive process with immigration and customs officials who looked at me askance as soon as they saw the countries I’d been visiting. Good thing they didn’t know I’d been hanging out with Pablo Escobar.

Now I am in Guanajuato, enjoying the beauty and familiarity of this city where I’ve become a regular visitor – and most of all, enjoying the company, creativity and unique brilliance of my friend Hugo, as well as his family and other friends here.

Wherever it may carry me next, I ride the mad river that floods my heart.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hope for Wild Life

It’s difficult to encapsulate the range of experiences I’ve had in the past week – I smoked a joint rolled in a page from the Bible with a woman going through a mid-life rebirth. I wandered around in a convent and contemplated the notion of a cloistered existence. I taught kids how to wash their hands. I sampled Peruvian wines and Piscos in the vineyards outside Ica. I sang to two 14 year-old girls in a town plaza. I slept in the vacant hacienda of the proprietress of an artisanal chocolate factory. I floated in the waters of the Hitchcockian-reminiscent Islas Ballestas. I saw a real oasis.

I’ve mentioned my surrogate family in Peru. I met them through a friend of a friend I worked with in New York, and they have taken me in like one of their own without really knowing me at all. One of the two sisters, Karla, is the director of a daycare center for children living in what they call a ‘human settlement,’ just outside the city of Ica. Ica and the surrounding area was devastated by a massive earthquake in 2007; while a typical earthquake lasts between 20-30 seconds, this one lasted four minutes. Corruption and misuse of government funds and international donations has resulted in a town that still barely seems to be getting back on its feet, even three years after the fact. Imagine the stalled reconstruction efforts of Ground Zero but covering the surface area of an entire city.

These settlements existed before the earthquake, though, and I’m sure they exist all over Peru. Basically it’s a shantytown built on a gigantic sand dune – houses of cards, literally, held up by sticks and covered by tattered woven roofs. A family’s latrine might consist of a tarp stretched around a shapeless frame reaching a few feet off the ground. There is no water, save for the Rotary International-sponsored spigots that appear here and there, irrigating the towns – and that’s when they’re functioning. The day Karla and I walked through the neighborhood (which had some kind of euphemistic name like ‘The Beautiful Hillside’), they neighborhood had been without water for four days; the people of the town had gathered around one providing faucet and were joyously filling their buckets and large plastic tubs. We stopped to talk to a few different people; Karla wanted to check up on how people were doing with their small gardens -- another project that the daycare center helped implement.

It wasn’t until after I had spent a couple of days pushing the kids on the merry-go-round, spotting them across the jungle bars, auditing their Spanish language classes, which were right around my level of sophistication (‘Fresa, manzana, tomate. . . que color es? Rojo!') taking their photographs and generally enjoying a Madonna level of celebrity that I heard some of their stories. As is often the case, the most heart-breaking moment happened at lunchtime.

I’m not sure why but I’ve always felt that lunchtime or perhaps the meal ritual in general is something that exposes people’s vulnerabilities – a packed lunch reveals a lot about where somebody comes from. The girls lined up to wash their hands; I assisted with the washing and the teacher dried. Next came the boys. The quietest table would be rewarded by having their lunches first; the kids, all around four years old, put their heads down dutifully and took their turns retrieving their little lunch bags from the cubbyholes. Incidentally, the cubbies were filled with ants – which one of the teachers attributed to Diego’s lunch bag.

One of the many goals of the center is to teach people better nutrition; at three or four, many of these kids already have rotting teeth and have subsisted on diets of potatoes (I have heard estimates ranging from 350-1500 varieties of potato that Peru produces) and candy and soda. They had crackers, fruit, bread, eggs. . . almost all of them had an old soda bottle filled with water or juice. . . progress! Then there was Luis. . . little Luisito. Luis opened his bag and pulled out one article, a plastic bag filled with orange liquid, which I can only guess was some kind of orange soda. Seemingly unperturbed, Luis brought the bag to the teacher to help him untie the knot and she looked at it disapprovingly, then turning to the class to solicit donations for Luis’ lunch. The children came forward, one by one, offering a piece of fruit, a cookie. . . all until Luis had a decent lunch. I couldn’t help but feel the embarrassment that I imagined Luis might be feeling – the shame in not being provided for and needing to ask for charity. Of course, it’s possible that I was just projecting and that Luis is too young and too pure to have any problem with the situation at all. . . there was just something about the whole scene that tore me up.

At the risk of approaching a Mexican telenovela level of drama in my storytelling, I will also recount that one of the other little girls, Soledad, lost her mother and two sisters in a car accident when she was just a few months old; Soledad survived because her mother threw her from the window of the moving car (she’s the little biscuit with the monkey t-shirt). One of the boys had been found dying in a backpack at around four months by a cancer-ridden taxi driver. The driver took the child as his own and after a multitude of treatments, his cancer has gone into remission -- and the boy is happy and healthy.

Karla and I encamped at the practically-vacant hacienda of a friend of her mother’s, a confectionaire and singer named Helena who started a chocolate factory in her kitchen when her family’s other businesses and assets were claimed by the Velasco Alvarado regime (a president who won his seat by coup d’etat in the late 60s). The dramatic contrast between this gigantic empty-but-for-the-caretaker Spanish-style house and the shacks meant to shelter five, six or seven people was a bit hard to process.

After a brief stopover in Lima – long enough to peace out with and enjoy the Jewish motheresque caretaking of Vito and Erika – I landed in Arequipa, the white city of the south, named for its construction in sillar (a white stone). The streets of the center of Arequipa are lined with tourist agencies, most of whom promote a trip to the Colca Canyon – which is mostly in a bus and required more days than I had. After stopping in several times at Naturalezza Activa to see if any groups had formed, I arranged for a private bike tour with the owner, Lalo. Lalo seemed to have some kind of outsider status in the tourist business, which of course made me like him more and also compelled me to promote his business – which, unlike the others, seems tailored to the individual and doesn’t hard sell a bunch of crappy expensive bus tours. Lalo and I spent a day cycling the streets and dusty hillsides of the small pueblos that surround Arequipa, finishing the tour with an exotic beverage new to my seasoned palate: Coke and beer -- a cocktail of contrasts, a toast to Peru.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Smooth Rides, Fairy Tales and Visions

My journey began in darkness and rain, a taxi ride in the hours before dawn at the intersection of three countries. I was picked up in Colombia, dropped off in Brazil, waiting for a boat to Peru. After refusing the offers of the local drunks to carry my bags, my only company was a couple of grizzled old river porters, their waterfront bungalow adorned with posters and calendars of 80’s-style pin-up girls – one for which I would clearly not be mistaken. It was a moment for waiting. A handful of other respectable-seeming passengers trickled in with the April rains, including a matronly Brazilian woman who reassured me I was in the right place. A water taxi left us in Santa Rosa, Peru. All baggage strapped onto my body, I walked a long muddy plank to a very unofficial-looking door and knocked. One menorah candle burned sheepishly in a refuge camp of immigration paperwork. Documents signed, we set off along the Amazon toward Iquitos, one of the sailors standing statuesque on deck with a light to burrow our way toward the sunrise.

Other passengers carried suitcases, coolers, garbage bags filled with various treasures, plants, animals. . . a man boarded in a small town about two hours into Peru, his leg in a cast and with an i.v. bag in his hand. Twelve remarkably comfortable hours of dozing and daydreaming later, we disembarked in Iquitos, Peru – a city of about a million people in the middle of the Amazon. The price of my mototaxi ride plummeted from 40 soles to 1 sole in the space of about three seconds, which gave me a sense of the inflation rate for the less assertive negotiators.

Amid the decaying grandeur of the rubber boom days – a bit of Spanish colonial architecture, colorful ceramic tiles, the requisite green central plaza – lay a town with an innocence I found exotic and hard to understand. Come to think of it, a lot of the places I’ve visited in Latin America feel that way. I find myself constantly wondering, questioning and marveling at complete strangers who welcome me into their lives, invite me into their homes and families and offer me all sorts of help, assistance and friendship. Something about this embarrassment of generosity makes me slightly uncomfortable – maybe because it makes me see how we operate in such stark contrast. Something – probably a lot of things -- about our way of being has jaded me and us. Latin America itself is full of dramatic contrasts, which is another part of being here that keeps me thinking all the time.

Of course there’s a time for thinking and there’s a time for flinging oneself into experience. I met a curandero through a Colombian friend (not Pablo Escobar) and accepted his invitation to a medicinal healing ceremony at his center in the jungle about an hour’s drive outside of Iquitos. As you probably know, the Amazon is tapped by healers and pharmaceutical companies alike for its wealth of trees and plants with curative properties. In this part of the world, it’s not unusual for shamans work in cooperation with western medical doctors, thus lending the tradition of plant medicine a measure of respect that it doesn’t have in mainstream US culture. I’m far from being an expert on this topic but I hear there’s a writer/anthropologist named Wade Davis who can tell you what it’s all about.

The curandero dropped me on the side of the road with a few essential items – the rest I left back in my hostel, most curiously free of charge -- and one of his workers accompanied me through the moist earthy depths of the high jungle. I talked a bunch with a South African couple that had worked extensively with this curandero; they spent an entire month at his center last year, following this dietary and social regime (lots of solitude) and attending three ceremonies per week (lots of vomiting and visions). They seemed authoritative about the curandero and about the plant medicine, in general, so I felt free to spend the remaining 24 hours leading up to the ceremony in the hammock in my cabin, again alternately daydreaming and napping like an old man. Between the heat and humidity and my body adjusting to a cleansing diet – no salt, no sugar, no caffeine, no alcohol, no meat, no dairy, no chilis, no oil, -- my usual energy was reduced to a low but steady hum.

While I can’t say that I saw god or discovered the true meaning of life, I did experience something unusual and positive with a cast of international characters, including a lovely French drummer who was also an initiate. For most of the ceremony, I found myself waiting for something to happen, and ultimately it was a gentle and interesting introduction but kind of anti-climatic. I’m glad for having had the experience, even though it will mean a month without eating chilis or pork, including a week I will spend in Mexico. These are the sacrifices we make for purification and vision, I guess. I did break my alcohol fast tonight in the company of my new adoptive family in Lima with my new favorite drink, the Pisco sour – fresh lime juice, Pisco and whipped egg whites.

I returned to Iquitos on a microbus, which is a minivan utilized in ways that boggle the mind. Just when I thought there was no way we could possibly pick up another passenger, the van would slow down just enough for someone to hop on board with a bundle of wood, a chicken or a large bag of something, thus making us yet more deeply reminded of our respective relationships to the concept of personal space. Sometimes the least pleasant situations make for the most entertaining memories. Carlos Alberto, the interpreter for the ceremony and my companion for the journey back to town, prattled on tirelessly – lifting his shirt and asking me if I thought he was fat, asking me if I could send him a John Denver cd, telling me about his various ex-wives and children and occasionally breaking into “Take Me Home, Country Road.” Also among the passengers was a certain Juan Maldonado, allegedly the oldest jungle guide (ie, an expert in the plants and animals of the jungle) in the Amazon and – so he told me – the guide to Werner Herzog and company during the filming of “Fitzcarraldo.” It was Juan’s 64th birthday, and he told me about a Facebook-assisted discovery of his long-lost U.S. American daughter who he hadn’t seen since he left New York when she was one year old. She will be coming to visit him in June for their first meeting in 37 years; he has been waiting.

A little relieved to leave the humidity, heat and squalor of the jungle city, I arrived in beautiful, sea-fresh Miraflores (the most touristy and ‘charming’ neighborhood in Lima) on Saturday night to a hostel owned by a Limeño surfer and gastronome who invited me to a parilla (ie, lots of meat) dinner as a way of apologizing for a long wait to get into the room I had reserved. He was injured and unable to surf but on Sunday showed me the famous Herradura (horseshoe) beach, which was completely full of muscled wave-chasers because of the seasonal swell. From there, he dropped me off with yet more friends of friends of friends, who promptly invited me to cancel my hostel reservation and stay with them. One of them, Erika – former Miss and Mrs. Peru, free spirit and lover of life -- whisked me off to witness the famous Peruvian Paso de los Caballos – a competition of saddle horses known for their elegance and smooth ride. Erika and her husband Vito, a well-known Peruvian painter http://www.vitololi.com/index-sp.htm, and I watched one of their favorite movies tonight, “August Rush.” I had never heard of it -- a fairy tale about an orphan child/musical prodigy who reunites with his long-lost musician parents in a concert in Central Park. The three of us sat on their bed and ate popcorn and grapes. They both cried, and I let myself believe the story.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mañana Gris

Sometimes small steps require Herculean effort – finding foreign language symbols on a US keyboard, for example. Connecting to the Internet is another minor but vexing hurdle almost everywhere I go. Locating supermarkets and drugstores, purchasing minutes for cell phones, finding streets and addresses that aren’t labeled by visible signs. . . these are all the sorts of mundane challenges of living in unfamiliar places, and all which demand the employment of both patience and intuition.

In the last few weeks, I have crossed Colombia from north to south. I have eaten exotic fruits; I have shared beds with cats, dogs and other animals; I have imbibed with Colombia’s second most famous living painter, Jacanamijoy; I have walked barefoot and in wedge heels; I have bathed in private Caribbean beaches; I have dodged errant motorcycles driving through flooded streets in the Amazon; I have been taken repeatedly for being Brazilian and Colombian. Yesterday I did something I thought I would never do but which I’ve been encouraged to do for years: I scaled the face of a rock.

Two of my friends from the yoga retreat spent the last several days entertaining me in Bogota after Pablo Escobar departed for his sister’s wedding in Manizales, leaving me in La Macarena in his hammock-endowed penthouse with panoramic views. Bogota was blissfully tranquil as city dwellers took to the mountains and the sea for Semana Santa, so Natasha, Jaime and I took advantage of the empty streets and made several trips back and forth across the sprawling brick-colored city for various gatherings and activities. Jaime is a painter and a rock climbing enthusiast, among other things, and invited Natasha and me to spend Easter climbing with him at Suezca, just a couple hours’ drive from the center.

Rock climbers, I’m beginning to understand, are a rare breed – they are people who choose to ascend the vertical faces of rocks that reach thousands of meters above the ground using little more than their will and the rubber soles of the binding footwear that make ballet toe shoes look like bedroom slippers. By virtue of this activity, they have to tap into a certain calm and determination and faith.

Jaime patiently explained how our security system would work, and what each of us needed to do to ensure its proper function. He went up first, making a path for our safety rope and setting up a station where the three of us would meet. Natasha followed, making sure the rope was properly threaded for my ascent. I brought up the rear, collecting all the security equipment along the way. The rope is just insurance; it’s something you want to have in place but you never want to actually have to use it. The other thing about the security system is that it linked the three of us together and made our survival dependent on one another. It seems like maybe a good activity for the next United Nations summit.

Confident that my flexibility, physical proportions and the offering we made to the rock that morning would make climbing easier for me than most, I took my first steps on Mañana Gris, the 5.7 trail we followed (ranging in difficulty from 5.3 - 5.14). Any cockiness I might have had about my physical abilities was quickly done away with as I clung to the face of the rock, breathing and calculating my next steps – how to get from A to B. The scariest moments had little to do with being high above the ground; it was not being able to see where to move or how that left me momentarily paralyzed. Jaime and Natasha waited for me above, and a couple of times Jaime told me where to put a hand or a foot. He helped me see my next steps – and having made even the smallest moves helped me see what the next move could be, and the next. What I realized is that it wasn’t the rock that changed; my feeling of being stuck or knowing where to go had everything to do with my own perspective and self-belief.

We talked about Colombian politics and the upcoming election – Jaime and Natasha are in a burgeoning love but polarized by their political viewpoints – Jaime in favor of the radical/inventive but not very politically experienced Mokus (of Lithuanian descent) and Natasha favors Santos, a professional politician (allegedly corrupt and dishonest, but knows how to play the game). Colombian politics and the social/economic problems Colombia faces make the US look in some ways utopic – which of course it is far from being. In spite criminals who pay off the cops (who are egregiously underpaid) to look the other way while they wreak havoc; dramatic contrasts between rich and poor and all the strange formal and informal institutions in place to maintain this imbalance, Colombians are admirably optimistic, life-loving, warm and generous. One friend explained to me that he feels it’s his duty to have a housekeeper because he is providing a job for someone who might not otherwise be employed.

On the topic of coincidences and rocks (piedra = stone), I met another Pierre last week at Cafe del Mar on my last night in Cartagena – this one was an Italian from Bari, and we were instant friends. This was strange, of course, since it isn’t an Italian name at all. His real name was Pierro-Andre but he went by Pierre for simplicity. He spoke four or five languages and was funny in all of them. We were serenaded by a beautiful Spanish flamenco singer who was part of our group. I also bumped into some friends I met at Yos and Claudia’s finca – a Frenchman and a Colombian woman. First I ran into them at La Cevicherria in Cartagena, a restaurant made famous by being given Anthony Bourdain’s seal of approval in 2008. All I had to do was mention my friend Diane’s name (Bourdain’s producer) and I was treated like a queen. I ran into the Franco-Colombian couple again almost a week later in Bogota, at a concert that was part of the bi-annual Iber-Americano Theater Festival.

Now I am in Leticia, the southernmost town in Colombia, bordering Brazil and Peru – Leticia lies in the middle of the jungle, 500 miles from any major city. I arrived last night to torrential rains that sang through the tin roof of the Hotel Yurupary until late this morning. I have already had my passport stamped to exit Colombia and have a taxi coming to pick me up at 3am for the boat trip along the Amazon to Peru. I am following the Pablo Escobar-guided tour of Colombia and Peru, the next stop of which will leave me in Iquitos, a city which can only be reached by boat or plane and which was made famous by the movie “Fitzcaraldo,” with Klaus Kinsky. There’s something liberating about surrendering and following someone else’s directions – not that I’ve stopped caring or making my own judgments, but letting someone else’s conviction drive things along is refreshing. I will take my next small steps and trust that they will continue to reveal a path for me.