No creo en Dios.

My atheism has come up a surprisingly large number of times. I've been asked by three people on the floor, and each time greeted by a general shock. What do you mean you don't believe in God? What do you believe in then? When you have a problem that men can't solve, who do you ask for help?

I try to explain. I try to say that it might be a comfort but it's certainly a dangerous one. I try to say that I refuse to believe in universal guilt, especially if it comes from an act comitted before the guilty party knew it could be wrong, knew there was such a thing as wrong. That whatever the aims the biblical story strikes me as rather cruel, unable to explain away the misery of the world.
It's really hard to say this in a language I don't speak very well, to a group of people convinced of the rightness of their joint position. It's harder to hear them condescendingly say it's not her fault, it's her culture, if people there don't have faith...

But the hardest thing to bear is to hear my own condescencion. Hear myself thinking that I'm sure I've thought more about my atheism than they about their faith. I've read some Augustine, as well as some Camus and Diderot and other atheist thinkers. Have you? I should not look down on people. Instead I should consider whether atheism might be a luxury of the lucky.


My Fair Leidy

This weekend I spent a fair bit of time at Jinette's (my host's) grandmother's house. She lives in a part of town that Jinette introduced to me by saying:
"Rich people don't live here."
Litotes, of course. Not that this is dire, desperate poverty - houses are small, but not too much so, the road is paved and sidewalked, there is or seems to be a TV in every home, and there is an Internet center that people can afford. It's a poor place but not unlike poor neighborhoods in the United States (and the same people live there, after all).

Aside from the matriarch herself, there are always people about. I've only been there with Jinette's mother, but she seems to spend several hours a day there. Her brothers also come, and their children, occasionally wives, and some people I think are just neighbors. The TV was on continuously, mostly but not only displaying a baseball game. I spent a fair bit of time sitting in the front-porch rocking-chairs, listening to the conversations and almost dozing. I also talked a bit to some of the children.

Mostly I talked to Leidy.
Leidy is not related. She's the girl who takes care of la vieja, the old woman. I assume she's paid, and I know she lives there. She goes to school: again my assumption is that this is a cheap private school rather than a public one, but I don't know. According to Jinette, this is a way for one (better-off) family to help another.
Leidyis 13, and one of the brightest and nicest children I've met. I've been teaching her some phrases in English, because she started asking me, and she learns them quite fast, and pronounces them well given that English has sounds in it which Spanish is incapable of. She's almost driving me crazy with her eagerness to learn and soak things up.

It makes me quite sad. I want to do something for Leidy who's so much like me but born in a bad situation, but I don't know what.


La Planta

Mostly I've been packaging. The amount of packaging in this industry strikes me as amazing. For instance there are clamshell-ish packages, where various parts are arranged one by one in plastic cases, or there are bags. Contacts, for instance, the metal parts of a plug, were being put in tiny little bags of five, then in bags of fifty fives. Then that bag would go with small bags of six other sorts of parts in a really big bag, and that goes in a cardboard box. And it takes up maybe a fourth of the box, so they put some brown paper in the rest, then they ship off say four boxes. Does that seem right to you?

Everything is labeled also. So every medium-size bag in the above example, as well as every big bag and every box. And in the clamshells, there are, say, ten units per plastic sheet, each unit with many different parts. So each unit is labeled, and then ten plastic sheets go in a box, and that's labeled of course. Once on the floor and then again by the delivery people.

Various DR things

They kiss to greet here, like you'd expect from a Latin culture, but once where we do it twice. It's rather difficult for me to get used to.

Apparently this is mostly a Santiago thing, but they drop Ss at the end of words. So they count 'uno, do', tre', quatro, cinco, sei'...' This is not really difficult to get used to. I'm even starting to do it myself - bad idea.

The main roads are in pretty good shape - not really highway quality, but like Township roads after a bunch of snow. The electricity goes off occasionally - on Tuesday there was a storm so it was off for a long time, and yesterday night there was a short blackout. Third-world-ness is most visible at stop-lights, where there are often people selling things - flowers, for instance. I saw once some folk wiping a wind-shield for a bit while the light was red.

In un-DR news, I should find out my college soon.



So far, the biggest surprise I had was the supermarket. Apart from a fleeting memory of Sam's Club, I've never seen such abundance. For instance they had four or five brands of Oreo-style sandwhich cookies, and each took up its section of shelf, floor to ceiling.
There didn't seem to be anything particularly good, but a huge quantity of ordinary packaged branded food. Everything was in English, too. There were things like 'Aunt Jemina's Home Pancake Mix,' marked "EXPORT ONLY" in big yellow letters. Most was not export only, but even what was was not labeled in Spanish.

Also, to call there's no need to type in 011, but the number works as dialed.

On a similar note, the people who work in the office at Souriau are completely bilingual. Many of them have lived in the United States, either as children or for school or at any point, and in their conversation they switch very easily from one language to the other.

I almost feel as though Spanish here were the indigenous language and English the colonial tongue.


More High Line

Courtesy of the Friends of the High Line website.

This picture helps illustrate one of the features of the High Line I was originally doubtful of. While the flooring changes, most of it is these long concrete panels, which are there to, I suppose, hint at the linearity of rails and be vaguely reminiscent of the sidewalk and hence the New York City fabric.
Where the flooring gives in to grassy spots, as it does with some frequency, the boards thin and rise up in a sort of wave, which is what this picture doesn't show. At first I thought it broke the unity of it, and felt quite superfluous. But because they rise up, the effect of the grass poking through is quite complete. It becomes quite wild - more so than ordinarily, as though it were coming of its own free will through borders. It feels like wild growth is possible, responsible, and also very much controlled and unthreatening.

Very well done.


The High Line

Went to New York on Sunday, largely to see the High Line, which just opened. Sitting in a park, especially a well-desigened, peaceful park, like walking through it, is a wonderful feeling. Perhaps not usually what one goes to the city for, but I would posit that a quiet environment within a quiet environment cannot match the feeling of islandness, where traffic noice and a wind over the Hudson mouth become the same background vibration, where one has the feeling of being within a beating heart, amidst people, yet on some level alone, somewhat removed.

It's like the feeling, in a way, of being alone in a crowd. That alienation in The Scream, in some Hopper paintings. It's a feeling that is supposed to be a rude shock, a physical manifestation of the alienation of modern life, of a city where neither fellow humans nor god have any relation to us at all.

To me, it is a wonderful feeling. It makes me feel alive, vibrant, part of something, in a way that mere companionship, wonderful as it is, cannot. Alone in a crowd, one is a cell in the city's meta-organism.