Friday, May 17, 2013

Cow's head

Today I brought up the subject of May, explorers' month, to S. who was buying Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca's account of his years in the newly discovered Americas: The shipwrecked Men, also my last volume of the adorable Penguin editions, the Great Journeys.
The conversation spiraled into the unknown and intriguing territories of the brain and I am going now to trace it back to where Cabeza de Vaca meets the brain because the link is not as stretched as it sounds.
It all started when, talking about traveling and exploring in a very general and broad way, we observed how strong of an impact the encounter of different cultures has on our mind (brain), in fact so strong that we constantly need to keep going back to our own point of reference in order not to lose our mind, especially if exposed to those differences for a prolonged amount of time.
S. pointed out how some cases of schizophrenia were diagnosed in several immigrants coming to the United States in modern times from very far away places; basically they came they staid  they went nuts. The brain just could not process the massive amount of incomprehensible information and lost its ability to operate normally altogether. A bit like a long stay on Mars, where Mars were inhabited by aliens who not only spoke to you in their alien language but expected you to walk hopping on a tail you don't have and using those extra pair of legs to keep up the pace; after a while you just want to get the hell out of there.
Our friend Cabeza de Vaca was the only survivor of a shipwreck, the last one of four men, after having started a journey to the Americas from his mother land, Spain, with more than 200 men. And once he survived fate's tricks eating his horses and burning their shoes to make tools, he was captured by the Natives and that is where his real journey began and his brain had to change.
From a prisoner and a slave he became a trader for the Natives and from a trader a traveler trader who met many tribes and finally he even became a Shaman. His brain must have found a way to adapt and cope with life on Mars holding on to his strongest point of reference: religion. He convinced himself and consequently everyone else that his survival was part of God's intention for him to be a healer, so from slave they elected him a Shaman. He built an identity for himself among the Natives and therefore found a way to create a recognizable system that helped him survive.
Identity and lack of...a whole new chapter.
To make the story short, he ended up back in Spain where he died in poverty, so I guess if you go up to Mars and manage not to go crazy, don't come back down to Earth cause you will then.
Travel on...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

carpe diem

After the traveler woke up from his or her repose under the generous shadow of the contorted olive tree's slender leaves, he or she spat (probably a he then) the chewed up stem of wheat, lifted up the dusty back pack, looked up at the cloudless sky following the apparently random flight of a sparrow and continued his journey across the land of the written words....
The names came to his mind as he was strolling along the trail (the inspiration is in the movement)....Gertrude Bell, T.E. Lawrence, Sir Richard Burton ( our traveler must be of English descent)...and as he was pulling these names out of the brain archive he suddenly realized that a month is not nearly a speck in the universe enough to walk through those paths, but what impressed him even more was that it is a fact that dogs bark, cats meow, fish swim and human beings explore and we do it in all sorts of ways; another form of Play, that essential activity we seek after, from the cradle to the grave, (a topic brilliantly explored by Diane Ackerman in her book "Deep Play") sometimes rough sometimes not, at times good at times not, but that in the end always accomplishes what all the other animals already know how to do: be here, now
more to come....