I haven't been doing any blog writing since mid fall. Starting in early October I've been in an intense grind of laptop-based writing - first a sea turtle grant, then a series of textbook jobs, then two whale grants. The sea turtle grant turned out beautifully but also gave me tendonitis in my right hand, which became persistent enough that I decided I wouldn't do any other writing, beyond that which was absolutely required. And no drumming.
Actually though the other reason I haven't been writing is that I've been kind of bummed. About leaving Portland. Just didn't want to write about it.
My teaching job in Portland ended way back in December 2009. There's not really that many jobs around in Portland for endangered-species biologists, so for all of 2010 I've just been burning through savings. The savings are gone - I was just about down to zero - and I'd finally got an awesome new job starting in January in Boston. So in October and November I wrote my sea turtle grant (for the new job) and started preparing for my cross-country move to Boston.
Kind of fun packing up, actually. Jettisoning everything. I'd just watched a friend do a Seattle-to-Maine move, and watching her shell out $5000 for the cross-country moving truck convinced me that I would be better off just getting rid of everything. So I sold/discarded/scanned all of my cds, photos, all my paper files, all but one box of books (The Handbook of Marine Mammal Medicine, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, The Windward Road, a copy of my mom's PhD thesis, a copy of mine, and not much else.) I sold all my camping equipment, more than half my clothes, and half my shoes. I sold or gave away my dumbeks, frame drums, the beautiful zabumba, three huge surdos, my white-rim caixa, a tan-tan, a fine shekere.... I gave away my fabulous Samba Gata black-feather headdress (to a great young player who'd joined our group recently). On and on it went. Toss, sell, toss, sell. I even finally repaired my strange, beautiful, cracked, hand-carved timbal, the one that was damaged in transport way back in my very first trip to Salvador. I spent a couple hours one afternoon gluing the cracks, hammering the bottom hoop back on, drilling in new bolts to keep the hoop secure. The whole drum pulled back together amazingly and actually started to sound good. (It went to a mom who bought it as a birthday present for her capoeira-addicted son - a fellow who's not really a serious drummer but who wanted something beautiful, something from Salvador, something unique, just so he could have something to practice some capoeira patterns on. The perfect home for that timbal.)
One by one all the drums left, off to their new homes, or packed up. It felt good, actually, to clear it out. Enough already with the hoarding of multiple things that I never play. Do I really need five surdos? Three timbals? Four shekeres? Three caixas? I mean, seriously.
I stored a few things I just couldn't bear to part with: The two alfaias from the brilliant maker Recife. My favorite timbal that Kaboduka picked out for me in Salvador. The wonderful 16" skin-head surdo that I played in my first season at Banga. My 2010 Cubango costume, which took up an entire crate, and which I'd sworn I would give away... but somehow I just didn't.
December arrived. Two days before my departure date. I packed up my car as a trial run; would it all fit? No, it turned out. I shipped a couple boxes. I decided I had to leave the repique behind. It just wouldn't fit. Maybe I'll get it shipped later.
In the end I took: One caixa, my favorite choro pandeiro, my best shekere, and my tamborim, frigideira, and a chocalho. A small selection of mallets and sticks and just two straps. And, in an odd moment of Boston Irish sentimentality, my Irish bodhran that I haven't touched in years.
On December 4th I started driving. Three thousand miles in mid-winter and across a half dozen mountain passes, stopping in almost every city to see friends and family. Through Snoqualmie Pass over the Cascades, past vast eastern Washington, then seemingly a year crossing the snowy Rockies in Montana - possibly the most beautiful state in the nation in winter? - and then the vast, endless, flat white plains of North Dakota, past the mysterious huge North Dakota billboards that just say "BE POLITE" and "BE KIND". Christmas in Chicago. Then suddenly in the dense ugly East Coast toll roads, past the grim Great Lakes industrial areas, shooting through New York State, and suddenly in Massachusetts.
I pulled in to Boston on December 30th, moved into a new house on January 1 (a place I'd signed a year lease on without meeting my housemates nor seeing the place in person), and immediately threw myself into my new job - setting up a new marine biology lab at the New England Aquarium. The first two weeks were a ceaseless whirlwind of grant-writing; twelve-hour work days and scampering home through the blizzards, with not enough warm-weather clothes (oh... subzero... I just forgot what it FEELS like, subzero temperatures. I forgot how it bites the inside of your lungs.) One of my new housemates flaked out almost instantly, storming out of house discussions and moving out, but the other three turn out to be amazing, and the house is incredible.
It has been terrifically surreal and strange to be flung back into this snowy, wintry, beautiful city from my childhood. This rich, vibrant, city, with its ten thousand squirrely, wiggly streets that change names and directions every block; its amazing history (I trot through the old City Hall, under the old gilded colonial lion & unicorn statues, and over the paving stone that marks the site of the Boston Massacre, every morning on my way to work); working on the beautiful waterfront, with the sun rising every morning over the sailboats just outside my office window. Excellent clam chowder and lobster rolls in every one of the eight Irish pubs that stand side-by-side in the three blocks around my work. Walking past world-class hospitals, colleges and universities on almost every other block (there are fifty-two major colleges and universities just in the metro area alone).
But what's surreal is that I'm not playing samba. Instead I'm back in a full-time lab job - the same kind of job I had before Brazil - the kind of job that I ran away from, five years ago, to go play music in Brazil. Suddenly it seems I'm back where I started, writing grants again, buying pipettors and vortexers and stirring hotplates again, planning fieldwork again, setting up a lab again.... On the plus side, I love the job, the city, my incredibly fun new housemates, my house, my rapidly-gentrifying-but-still-very-Hispanic neighborhood. And I definitely love having family nearby. But on the minus side - No Lions. No Gatas. No Axe Dide. No Portland. My wonderful circle of musician friends has been torn away.
I can't shake the eerie feeling that I'd imagined the entire last five years... all my Brazil visits, all my gigs with all my West Coast bands, all my Lions history. All my friends. Best circle of friends I ever had. I wake up at night periodically, sometimes just baffled and disoriented about where I am - what city am I in? what country? what bed is this? - and sometimes almost shuddering at the sense of something disappearing out of my life, something lost. Half awake and half dreaming, but aware that something is fluttering away, getting just out of reach, something important.
A new TV show called "Portlandia" has just started up on cable tv - a comedy about Portland, Oregon! The place "where young people go to retire", "where you can put a bird on something and call it art." I watched an episode last week, and the characters were referring constantly to Portland landmarks and streets - Hawthorne, Burnside, Powell's - and each time, I'd think "Oh, that's about a mile away to the southeast, isn't it?" and ten seconds later would come the slow, puzzled thought: "No, it's not a mile to the southeast. It's three thousands miles to the west." (The first time this happened, I started to choke up.) Later in the episode I thought "Portland is just such a cool city. I'm so proud to be a Portlandian!", and again, the delayed, slow, stumbling thought "I'm not a Portlandian any more. I don't live in Portland any more."
I'm still on the Lions email lists and keep getting emails referring to new rehearsal locations, recent meetings, big restructuring discussions (about which more later). It's so frustrating to get these scattered, out-of-context, puzzling emails, knowing major changes are going on in the Portland samba scene and wishing I could be a part of it. I've been here a month and a half and haven't even put my caixa back together yet! For three weeks it was frozen into the rooftop carrier of my car, actually; I finally chipped the thing open and got the caixa pieces out, but now it's just sitting in pieces all over the floor.
I put a picture of a lion up on my wall by my mirror. (It's a painting by one of my Portland artist housemates.) To remind me of what I am. Or of what I want to be, I guess. Of what I must not lose.