Thursday, April 28, 2011

Super Duper Limpio

It’s checkout time at the Chichen Itza Lodge, the air is limp as a sauna by 11AM. Unlike the other hotel guests who seem to samba their way by in breezy pants and shirts, the husband and I stand in solidarity in our North Face rain jackets, roll-able suitcases in hand.

It’s the first day of 2011.

“Sweetie, aaaaaask himmmm …” I mouth out the words, pointing to the moustached man behind the front desk.

Flashback to the night before: we’re sitting at a table overlooking the observatory of Chichen Itza, one of the world’s new seven wonders; we’ve just finished an entire bottle of complimentary sparkling wine, a bottle we’ve been saving for this night, a birthday mistake delivered to our room, our first night at a swanky four star all inclusive hotel (Thank you Mrs Paju). We talk about our dreams for the new year, where we see ourselves, what we’d like to do. We talk about the mighty Mayan civilization and how grounded we feel here in this place, amidst the humdrum of the tourist crowds, pictures of Jackie O hanging all around the hotel lobby walls, the $389 USD a night, private suite named after Pavaratti. As we reminisce, the husband tells a story about a ceremony in Guatamala performed by Mayan priests…and the realization of finding something similar here?? A way to kick off the year! Why not! A fantastic idea, CLINK! our glass collide, the red glow on our faces, we’re all smiles and giggles….Until the next day, in the sobering light and heat, as we lay in bed wondering if we ought to follow through with it or....

“Senor, your receipt. Is there anything we can help you with to make sure you have a pleasant trip?” moustache man asks.

”Well, yes, there is one thing. Do you know of say, a Mayan priest, we could talk to, maybe by chance he’s walking around the grounds, communing with the sacred Pachamama, blessing wild orchids or talking to a mystical parrot or doing some sort of special new year’s ceremony not intended for the gringos, maybe we could…have a little peak…and then we could be blessed ourselves. That sort of thing.”

“Yes senor? What would you like to ask?”

“Yes, um there is just one thing my wife and I want to do before we leave Chichen Itza. “Is there”…. The husband leans in closer, “any Maya new year ceremonies going on today?”

“Maya ceremonies? We’re not planning anything at the hotel…but there could be something in the town that I could check on. Would you like me to look into it?”

One more try.

“I mean, maybe there are special Maya ceremonies led by priests.”

“I’m sorry senor. I don’t know what you mean. If you ask any of the other Maya staff they might know. Feliz ano.”

Devastated we retreat back to the bar area where we start to vulturize all the staff with seemingly Mayan credentials?

“Maybe he would know”, I nudge my head sheepishly toward Aurelio.

Aurelio, a man of 5’2. On check-in day, he carries both our 50 lb suitcases as if it weighs of pillows.

“Oh, you mean a limpia, a cleansing? Says Aurelio when he finally pieces together what our words are trying to mean.

“There’s a priest right outside the hotel. He’ll be there throughout the day. Next to the cenote.”

The hotel sign starts to materialize in front of me now, underneath Today’s Specials, “Ritual Healing. Go straight ahead, pass the parking, next to the water hole. Don't forget to tip!”

As we walk to the cenote, or a “big pool of water”, I start to recall the chapter from the Yucatan – Chichen Itza, Lonely Planet.

Cenotes were used as a source of irrigation and as sacred places where rituals were performed. Believing that these pools were gateways to the next life, the Maya often made offerings…

Gold, yesterday’s roasted peacock sandwich, grandma?

We arrive at the scared pool; there’s an altar, a white table with an arch adnored with leaves. 24 hours ago, I’d spotted the very same altar when we started our walking tour of ancient ruins…except it looked more like old patio furniture someone forgot to throw way. Who knew it was in fact, well a portal into the spiritual world? There were bowls of leaves, a repurposed Aquafina bottle containing swamp water. Maybe, we needed to be stripped naked and have herbs rubbed all over us. Maybe were going to chant ancient maya text or…

Maybe we were interrupting two men discussing what they had for breakfast.

One was an elderly man with a wizened face, the color of bark. The other was a younger man dressed in the white hotel uniform, brown sash and name-tag.

We face the old man. 

“Good day, senor. My name is Cedric. I am originally from France and my wife from Vietnam. We wish to have a blessing on this auspicious day.”

“Oh, you want a limpia?”

“Yes, that is exactly what we would like!”

“Well then, why don’t you ask him?”

We turn around and face the hotel employee who is severely....cross-eyed.

Considered a sign of beauty and nobility, Maya believed that being cross-eyed was attractive. So they tied a bead on the front of a child's head so it dangled between their eyes. The child would become cross-eyes by looking at the bead.

“Oh, hello. Yes, my wife and I would like a cleansing. We don’t know how it works. We would provide you with an offering? How much would we give?”

“You can give what ever you want. It doesn’t really matter.” He says gently.

He smiles and guides us to the altar. He signals for us to sit on the ground and close our eyes.

I hear him pick up the tree branch. He’s chanting. I feel the branches being placed on top of my head and on my shoulders. It smells of, I sniff instinctively like a trained Beagal on duty at the airport, yes, it smells familiar, like bay leaves, pepper, minty...

The light is flashing in my eyes. And I can feel the tiny brush head against my teeth….”Try to floss whenever I can”, I say. “But it’s been so busy lately…yes, tea, a couple cups a day now. Yes, I should do a better job…” And the liquid suction rubs against my tongue. The dentist blots my dry lips with the…peppermint chapstick…

I hear something placed next to my ear. What is it? It’s driving me crazy, what is he doing? I can’t help it and I take a peek at the shaman standing in front of the makeshift altar, the sun is above us now and I can see the light shining through his pristine white hotel uniform….are those fruit of the loon white briefs?? He turns around. And I quickly close my eyes as he comes back to us to continue the ritual. Avoid the eyes. I smell alcohol. It’s sprinkled on my head.

And he tells us to open our eyes and it’s over. In the time it takes to brush my teeth, the limpia is complete.

11:30 AM, 2011. Breakfast, check, check-out, check, cleansing ritual by a Mayan priest, check.


We find a nearby tree to expend the moment. I try and meditate for a little while before the ants start biting, tunneling their way underneath my jeans.


Four months have passed now. Back home in San Francisco. Things are changing. So quickly in 2011. I realize that it’s mostly internal things that I’ve started to cleaned out. It’s not because of a miracle or magic. It's internal work, I do willingly, mainly because I’m older, officially entering midlife (oh damn!). I've realized that it's time to clear out the old and make room for the new….so I start letting go…mostly things that aren’t as important, even shedding light into old haunting shadows and broken pieces here and there. Then there's making space for stillness and dreams that one day can come true if given enough focus and attention. And why not? Life is too short.

I don’t know what happened that day, but I can feel the shift inside me like finding a new voice that I never thought I had. It’s the desire to claim my life again. A life that is too easily taken for granted or easily preoccupied by distractions, indulging in the harmful or stagnant tendencies because it’s safe and predictable. The role we keep because they were given to us.

Maybe there is some truth to what William Blake wrote more than two centuries ago.

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narow chinks of his cavern.

It’s early spring again. It smells of cherry blossoms and ocean mist. One evening, we’re in the Latin, hipster district called the Mission.

“Look…” The husband points at a coin-up laundry mat. It’s called “Super Duper Limpio.”

“Super Duper Limpio!" I love it. Maybe I'll be ready to ask for it next time.

By Mai Brehaut

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jesus Shaves by David Sedaris

A piece by my favorite writer. Happy Easter! Audio from this American Life.


"And what does one do on the fourteenth of July? Does one celebrate Bastille Day?"

It was my second month of French class, and the teacher was leading us in an exercise designed to promote the use of one, our latest personal pronoun.

"Might one sing on Bastille Day?" she asked. "Might one dance in the street? Somebody give me an answer."

Printed in our textbooks was a list of major holidays alongside a scattered arrangement of photos depicting French people in the act of celebration. The object was to match the holiday with the corresponding picture. It was simple enough but seemed an exercise better suited to the use of the word they. I didn't know about the rest of the class, but when Bastille Day eventually rolled around, I planned to stay home and clean my oven.

Normally, when working from the book, it was my habit to tune out my fellow students and scout ahead, concentrating on the question I'd calculated might fall to me, but this afternoon, we were veering from the usual format. Questions were answered on a volunteer basis, and I was able to sit back, confident that the same few students would do the talking. Today's discussion was dominated by an Italian nanny, two chatty Poles, and a pouty, plump Moroccan woman who had grown up speaking French and had enrolled in the class to improve her spelling. She'd covered these lessons back in the third grade and took every opportunity to demonstrate her superiority. A question would be asked and she'd give the answer, behaving as though this were a game show and, if quick enough, she might go home with a tropical vacation or a side-by-side refrigerator-freezer. By the end of her first day, she'd raised her hand so many times, her shoulder had given out. Now she just leaned back in her seat and shouted the answers, her bronzed arms folded across her chest like some great grammar genie.

We finished discussing Bastille Day, and the teacher moved on to Easter, which was represented in our textbook by a black-and-white photograph of a chocolate bell lying upon a bed of palm fronds.

"And what does one do on Easter? Would anyone like to tell us?"

The Italian nanny was attempting to answer the question when the Moroccan student interrupted, shouting, "Excuse me, but what's an Easter?"

Despite her having grown up in a Muslim country, it seemed she might have heard it mentioned once or twice, but no. "I mean it," she said. "I have no idea what you people are talking about."

The teacher then called upon the rest of us to explain.

The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. "It is," said one, "a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and . . . oh, shit."

She faltered, and her fellow countryman came to her aid. "He call his self Jesus, and then he be die one day on two . . . morsels of . . . lumber."

The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.

"He die one day, and then he go above of my head to live with your father."

"He weared the long hair, and after he died, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples."

"He nice, the Jesus."

"He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today."

Part of the problem had to do with grammar. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as "To give of yourself your only begotten son." Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.

"Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb," the Italian nanny explained. "One, too, may eat of the chocolate."

"And who brings the chocolate?" the teacher asked.

I knew the word, and so I raised my hand, saying, "The Rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate."

My classmates reacted as though I'd attributed the delivery to the Antichrist.

They were mortified.

"A rabbit?" The teacher, assuming I'd used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers on top of her head, wiggling them as though they were ears. "You mean one of these? A rabbit rabbit?"

"Well, sure," I said. "He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he have the basket and foods."

The teacher sadly shook her head, as if this explained everything that was wrong with my country. "No, no," she said. "Here in France the chocolate is brought by the big bell that flies in from Rome."

I called for a time-out. "But how do the bell know where you live?"

"Well," she said, "how does a rabbit?"

It was a decent point, but at least a rabbit has eyes. That's a start. Rabbits move from place to place, while most bells can only go back and forth--and they can't even do that on their own power. On top of that, the Easter Bunny has character; he's someone you'd like to meet and shake hands with. A bell has all the personality of a cast-iron skillet. It's like saying that come Christmas, a magic dustpan flies in from the North Pole, led by eight flying cinder blocks. Who wants to stay up all night so they can see a bell? And why fly one in from Rome when they've got more bells than they know what to do with right here in Paris?

That's the most implausible aspect of the whole story, as there's no way the bells of France would allow a foreign worker to fly in and take their jobs. That Roman bell would be lucky to get work cleaning up after a French bell's dog -and even then he'd need papers. It just didn't add up.

Nothing we said was of any help to the Moroccan student. A dead man with long hair supposedly living with her father, a leg of lamb served with palm fronds and chocolate. Confused and disgusted, she shrugged her massive shoulders and turned her attention back to the comic book she kept hidden beneath her binder. I wondered then if, without the language barrier, my classmates and I could have done a better job making sense of Christianity, an idea that sounds pretty far-fetched to begin with.

In communicating any religious belief, the operative word is faith, a concept illustrated by our very presence in that classroom. Why bother struggling with the grammar lessons of a six- year-old if each of us didn't believe that, against all reason, we might eventually improve? If I could hope to one day carry on a fluent conversation, it was a relatively short leap to believing that a rabbit might visit my home in the middle of the night, leaving behind a handful of chocolate kisses and a carton of menthol cigarettes. So why stop there? If I could believe in myself, why not give other improbabilities the benefit of the doubt? I accepted the idea that an omniscient God had cast me in his own image and that he watched over me and guided me from one place to the next. The virgin birth, the resurrection, and the countless miracles -my heart expanded to encompass all the wonders and possibilities of the universe.

A bell, though, that's fucked up.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Love Sometimes Wants To Do Us A Great Favor

by Hafiz

Love sometimes wants to do us a great favor: hold us upside down and shake all the nonsense out.

Your love
Should never be offered to the mouth of a stranger,
Only to someone who has the valor and daring
To cut pieces of their soul off with a knife
Then weave them into a blanket
To protect you.

Stay close to any sounds that make you glad you are alive.
Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.
I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in the darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.

There are different wells within your heart.
Some fill with each good rain,
Others are far too deep for that

Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.

Even after all this time the sun never says to the Earth, “You owe me”

There is no pleasure without a tincture of bitterness.

Khwāja Šamsu d-Dīn Muḥammad Hāfez-e Šīrāzī, known by his pen name Hāfiz (1325/26–1389/90)[1] was a Persian lyric poet


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