Girlpool and That Dog

The first thing I notice about Cleo Tucker is that she has the same haircut and general style as my sixth grade best friend, back in Ridgeland, Mississippi in 1993. Cropped short, plastered in front, frizzed in back, that cut reaped ridicule on my friend and her dumpy, too short overalls and harem pants didn’t do much for her awkwardly pubescent proportions. The difference is that my friend was actually trying to attract boys, a little, and mostly trying to evade “mean girls,” and this look represented her idea of trendy coupled with her attempts at blow-drying kinky curls straight and her extremely limited knowledge of styling products.

If we’d been seven years older and living in Olympia, my friend would’ve been a total babe.

Cleo Tucker is a total babe, as is her bandmate Harmony Tividad, and they don’t care if you think so. (In fact, if Instagram can be trusted, it seems Cleo has worn the same grubby thermal shirt and baggy overalls nearly every night of this tour.)

Girlpool is Brooklyn-based by way of Philly, with a heady dash of La-la land childhood, offset by La-la land’s all-ages scene. (They met at DIY space, The Smell.) The duo is punky, folky, minimalist and sex-positive, with songs examining hook-up culture, their own privilege,  gender and friendships. And these songs started making traction a couple of years ago, when they were still in high school.

The lyrics are clever, poetic and intense, but the delivery (Cleo on guitar, Harmony on bass) lightens things up. It’s simple, raw and twee, with gorgeous bursts of short-lived distortion.

Seeing them play almost feels like crashing a band practice or maybe even a slumber party. Or actually, not even crashing — seeing them play makes you feel like an invited guest. These girls clearly love and enjoy each other, and their intimacy envelopes the audience. Often their vocals are harmonies, two distinct voices blending into one. On instrumental breaks, they face each other, grinning, Cleo rocking back and forth slightly manically, Harmony swaying side to side. Sometimes they let us in on the joke, like when Cleo spent half a second b-boxing, sending Harmony into a giggle fit. (In interviews, Cleo has mentioned a childhood obsession with hip-hop, marked by sagging her pants, tucking her ponytail under a hat and free-styling.)

Watching Cleo (because from where I stood, I could barely see Harmony) made me think, this is what Angela Chase would’ve been like if she’d played in a band, all scrunch-faced and silly and sensual, crowding the mic, nearly biting it, teasing it with her lips.

They seem self-possessed, older than they are — Harmony especially, who introduces herself with a firm handshake. But they also seem exactly their age, excited and curious, occupied with the now, but in a really productive rather than destructive way. We left the show buzzing and hopeful and excited about life. They make you wish you could be their friend.

And for some reason, they made me want to go home and watch these videos, because when I was their age, these are the girls (and guy) I was rocking out to.

Hipster bands cover classic rock (sort of)

How am I just discovering the AV Club’s six-year-old undercover Youtube series?

Here’s your top 10 cheat sheet (i.e. a roster of current crushes). You’re welcome.

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The Invisible Teardrops, Never Mind the Sandra Bullocks

Here are some pics from when I saw my friends Katie Kat and Jamie’s band, The Invisible Teardrops, play at my old stomping grounds, The Princess Theater, in Columbus, Mississippi.

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Ming Donkey’s newest band with the Hartle Road boys, Never Mind the Sandra Bullocks, also put in an appearance.

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Meanwhile, this was happening at the same time in the next room…

Oaxaca, Mexico

I’ve been a terrible blogger. I’ve avoided even looking at this blog, because I’ve gotten so far behind, and because I feel like I should be doing something more formal here — maybe getting off WordPress, getting a proper website? I had a photography portfolio on Jux, and it was lovely, and as soon as I finished making it, Jux folded and it went away forever.

Plus, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the internet. I love, love, love information at my fingertips. I can’t even imagine how journalists did their jobs prior to the existence of this incomprehensible resource. But I hate the constant pressure to create content and keep up a public persona, and the idea that if you don’t do this, you don’t matter and you’ll disappear. Although I guess it’s not too different from the pressure to publish, to have fresh bylines, and that’s always been there, and who are we kidding? Most of us don’t matter (in terms of the public sphere) anyhow.

In the words of Courtney Barnett, “No one really cares if you don’t go to the party.” Or at least, no one cares until they do. (My guess is, in Courtney’s case, these days people care very much).

All a digression… My trip to Guerrero and Oaxaca was half a year ago, now. I’m going to give you the fast and furious run down anyhow.

HERE GOES. From Puerto Escondido, it’s easy to get an overnight bus into Oaxaca City, and I arrived in the first week of a huge, annual indigenous culture celebration called Guelaguetza. (Lucky coincidence for me, worth planning a trip around for you!) There were Aztec dancing demonstrations, mezcal tastings, prehispanic food offerings and more bazaars than usual, in a city that’s known for bazaars.

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11800188_10153006793937256_2680298169460908307_n.jpgOaxaca is a colonial city, so it has a bit of a European vibe (ornate cathedrals, universities), and it’s the capital of the state of Oaxaca, so it’s also quite urban (fantastic restaurants, street art, museums – including the stellar contemporary art museum MACO – and galleries and boutiques). Because of it’s strong indigenous culture, it’s a political city. There are constantly people demonstrating. When I was there, there were multiple protests — an artist camped in a tent in front of Santo Domingo church, on a hunger strike against deforestation, and hundreds of teachers who had been living in tents in El Zocalo for months, protesting low wages.

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If you want to buy gorgeous, handcrafted textiles, Oaxaca is the place. If you want to eat chocolate for every meal (hot chocolate for breakfast, mole for lunch and dinner), Oaxaca is definitely the place. And the food on the street is as amazing as the food at the trendy restaurants, so it’s really a matter of atmosphere and how much you want to spend. (I only went to one “high-dollar” restaurant, which is priced “moderately,” $15-20, by American standards. Casa Oaxaca, in the upscale, arty neighborhood of Reforma, is bright and uncluttered, in terms of both decor and food.)

Convenient day-trips from Oaxaca include Hierve el Agua, a calcified waterfall about two hours from the city, with two spring-fed, nature-carved “infinity” pools. The pools are open for swimming (the springs are hot, the pools are not), and there’s hiking and abundant mountain views. 11825101_10153006795327256_4617242949785079079_n.jpg11800605_10153006797662256_4286658464374899989_n.jpg11207294_10153006797917256_4281099815965630343_n.jpg

Milta, a charming little wander-able town with an important archeological site and more bazaars, is the halfway point. Usually hotels can set up a tour for you that includes Hierve, Milta and mezcal factories, but I just took a collectivo and skipped the mezcal factories. (If you do it this way, you might get to ride in the back of an open-air truck. This is great fun, because the views are stunning.)

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From Oaxaca, I flew back to Acapulco. NOTE: IF YOU DON’T SHOW UP AT LEAST AN HOUR AHEAD OF TIME, AEROMEXICO WILL GIVE AWAY YOUR SEAT. And that will not be fun. You will end up spending a night in Mexico City at your own expense and getting up for a 5 a.m. flight, so you won’t even get to enjoy your cushy hotel.

Before this mishap (I showed up 45 minutes ahead of time), I’d booked an Acapulco beach hotel and planned to spend my day lounging, before catching an evening flight back to Arkansas. Because I actually arrived in Acapulco in the early morning, I had no need for a hotel, but I didn’t want to waste the entire day at the airport. I was also low on cash, had maybe 50 pesos — way too little to take a cab anywhere, and I didn’t want to change any money, since I was on the way out.

One of of my favorite things about traveling is finding yourself in unusual situations and having to make it up as you go — seeing how you react when you can’t communicate well and spent hours on a bus, only to end up in the wrong town, or you find yourself broke in the middle of nowhere, with no ATMs, or your hotel room door doesn’t  lock and the “manager” is nowhere to be found. I like the challenge of having to be unexpectedly resourceful.

I wanted to go to the beach. Mexico beaches are public, but beachfront property is private, so I knew I had to access the beach through a hotel. And beachfront hotels don’t let you near the beach without reservations. I schelped my bags to a bus-stop and took a local bus to a fancy hotel complex. Then I took a cab into the complex, because I was pretty sure arriving on foot wouldn’t be very convincing when I told the guards I was on my way to make reservations. The guards didn’t speak English, and I pretended not to understand their Spanish at all. They didn’t want to let me in, but I was persistent and really played up the miscommunication thing, and ultimately they let me go.

Once I hit the beach, I was home free…I picnicked on airport food purchased with vouchers (my Aeromexico consolation prize, since my seat was given away) and swam, always with an eye on my bags, then cleaned up after in the hotel’s poolside bathroom and bartered a ride with a local cabbie back to the airport. (Told him I had 35 pesos left, and he said fine. He’d just been hanging out chatting, anyhow.) And that was that.

Hasta la vista, Mexico!

Puerto Escondido: the locals’ beaches

Okay, more nifty stuff about PE:

  1. Swampy’s been there. That’s a long way to ride the rails, from the U.S. to the second-to-southernmost Mexican state. IMG_0244
  2. The local beaches are fascinating. My favorite two are Playa Angelito and Playa Principal.

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Angelito, guarded by an altar, is miniscule, claustrophobic and crowded. Fishing-boats come close, cutting off swimmers’ access to open sea. But that’s okay, because most people are waders, anyhow — adults packed into tight kiddie inner tubes, kids in water-wings, everyone squealing and clutching each other with each wave. A motor-boat pulls tykes around on, no joke, an inflatable hot dog. Gulls circle low to catch one-off’s from the fishing boats. Men on the shore hawk “seven beach boat tour” to tourists, except that there really don’t seem to be many tourists. The shallow expanse of sand is ringed by hut-style restaurants, and little boys stand on the wet rocks and fish using a line and a cardboard square, and grin and scramble when a fisherman whistles at them and tosses handfuls of guppies. The small fish flash silver on the rocks and the kids grab them in bare handfuls and shove them in a nylon backpack to use as bait.

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Playa Principal is the downtown beach, sunk just below the main drag. It’s wide, gritty and teaming, best at dusk, because that’s when the fishermen bring in their catch. There are naked tots and competing boom boxes, kids tossing balls and playing chicken. The street alongside the beach turns into a night bazaar, with people offering indigenous crafts alongside cheap trinkets. It all feels summery and festive, like a grand place to stroll bare-shouldered, enjoying soft air and eating ice cream.

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3. Pablo and I finally made it the tiny cove on Playa Carrizalillo. Maybe because the power was “harnessed” by rocks, the surf was completely wild. It churned up huge shells (I found one the size of a small plate) and knocked us off of a rock we were using as a lounger. I got a huge bump on the back of my head, and Pablo’s glasses were knocked off his face. He didn’t notice till we had hiked the hill back to the main beach. Then we went back to look for them, though he was sure they were at sea.

I nearly stepped on them. They were sitting on the beach, lenses up, neatly folded, like someone had placed them there intentionally.

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That’s it for PE. Next up, Oaxaca city!

Puerto Escondido, water for every whim

Puerto Escondido is fabulous, and I wish I had more time there.

My hostel, Casa Losodeli, was full of 20-something Europeans and Americans who had essentially moved in. It seems anyone willing to tend bar and set out cereal is welcome to a free private room. Some had been there for weeks. Some had been there for months.
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These lifers spent large swaths of the day at the hostel, occasionally leaving for an hour to run or wash clothes or surf. They played Davila 666 and Beach House (the San Fran bike messenger) and Vampire Weekend (the Austrian) over the common space speakers, and read or used wifi at the wooden tables on the thatched-roof patio They grocery-shopped and cooked in the hostel kitchen and shared with each other, or split giant pizzas. The Europeans speak four languages and bitched about how broke they are and how their parents ignore their requests for money.

There were also Mexican guests at Casa Losodeli. Confusingly, they lounged by the small, kidney-shaped pool, ignoring Puerto Escondido’s loveliest beach, a mere three block stroll.

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I befriended, Pablo, a 28-year-old insurance salesman from Mexico City, who had planned to travel with friends. They ditched at the last minute,  so my first full day and his last, we got up early and descended the hundred-plus stairs to Carrizalillo Beach, a half-moon of pleasant pounding, gradiated blues and tropical foliage. (It’s also great for surfing, if you’re not quite up for “the Mexican Pipeline” that is Zicatela.)

We swam out far, past the breaks and the surfers, and I spend a lot of time floating on my back, trying to tilt and crane enough to keep the mansions in view, scattered about the green bluffs. I also spent a lot of time marveling at the convex sky and thinking about how much I love the ocean, being simultaneously contained and infinite (a mantra, of sorts).

From the sea, we saw two things we hadn’t noticed from the beach — a tiny, secretive cove that we could maybe access if we climbed a small bit of bluff, and the remains of a house in the hills. We decided to try the ruins first.

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We’d eyeballed the distance using a large white house which, upon walking up a dirt road, we identified as the hotel with the best terrace restaurant for watching the sun set over the ocean (as we discovered that evening), called Villas Carrizalillo. There are briars and a bit of downed fence behind the villa and a small, overgrown path that leads to what seems to have once been a private residence.

Much of a narrow kitchen is intact, with some painted tile remaining. Street artists had been there before us and it looked as if someone had used part of the place for dumping, but the floor is made of large cool tiles, the view is amazing and it would be a perfect place to camp, unless you’re worried about snakes or scorpions slithering through the night. (I am maybe, a little.)

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There were also bats in a stone chimney, and when we spoke into the void, they emerged in a chaotic, thrilling mass.

We hiked back and ordered lunch from the family-run, open-air restaurant on the beach. Pablo asked for fish, but by this point, I’d eaten loads of fresh, spiny, flat-eyed fish. I wanted the chicken mole the cook was feeding her children.

Pablo negotiated this for me, and at first the woman was reluctant, since the mole isn’t on the menu. But ultimately I was presented with a plate of thick, rich chocolate sauce over boiled-to-disintegration (i.e. perfectly moist and tender) chicken and rice and a stack of handmade tortillas, which Pablo rolled and dipped in the mole and said that’s how Mexicans do it.

It was way better than his fish tacos, and it ended up costing much less — about $2 US.

Then we took a cab to Playa Zicatela, but it was too early for the surfers. Cautious people avoid the water at Zicatela. We plunged in, of course, and it immediately became apparent why this is considered one of the most dangerous beaches in the western hemisphere. There are killer (literally) rip tides. You can see them, like a giant zipper being dragged up and down, just under the water.

But if you avoid these zippers, the waves are great. Standing in thigh-high water, you can catch a swell and body-surf the hundred or so yards to shore. And when the waves are big enough to be terrifying (every fourth wave or so), simply dive under them, the deeper, the calmer. But I like to surface dive, to feel the bubbles skimming my body like fizz on a soft drink. I love how each beach has entirely different types of waves, which lend themselves to entirely different forms of play.

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When we’d had enough, we got massages on loungers ($8 US, from women walking up and down the beach seeking customers), and then watched the surfers (7-8am and 5-6pm, usually) weave through raging, 15-20 foot tubes.

Then we had mezcal-coffee shots at a bo-ho bar called Casa Babylon. It wasn’t open yet, but we convinced them to let us in.

They were playing some chill electronic lounge that sounded like early-90’s New York, and the ceiling and walls are a museum of wooden artifacts, including indigenous masks. There are couches and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and signs about yoga, and I know that if I lived in PE, I’d be a quick regular.

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But here’s the highlight of it all: that night, we went swimming on the moon.

Except the moon is called Manialtepec (meaning “place of the lizards”) and it only exists during the rainy season (May to November), and it’s currently only accessible via a stinky motorboat that’s likely not doing its amazing biosphere any favors.

Without signing any sort of releases and without life vests (oh so different from US tourism), we joined a guide and random others in this stinky motorboat and rode 20 minutes out into a pitch-black convergence of salt and fresh-water.

Then we were told, unceremoniously, to jump in.

Hope the “lizards” are iguanas and not crocodiles, I told Pablo. We jumped.

The water was soft and warm, like Mississippi summer nights. And as we moved around, we saw little flashes of white light, like Mississippi summer fireflies, except they started increasing in intensity and merging together creating little “trailers” to mark our movement.

We were told that motion disturbs the phytoplankton who sometimes live in the lagoon. Then they light up as a defense mechanism, and then you dance and spin and make water angels, trailing circles and sparkles.

If you push from your chest, a la basket-ball passing, you fling a ball of white energy, like a wizard, commanding a spell.

I could have stayed forever.

Apparently, no one else could. An hour later, only Pablo and I were still swimming.

It had been raining for awhile, and every drop coaxed a blink-and-you-miss spark from the dark water. The sky had fallen to earth and we were star-swimming.

It was sheer magic. Then it was sheer panic.

The lightning had been in the distance, but one slash was frighteningly close and instantly, I was grasping the (gulp, metal) ladder, hauling myself onto the boat.

We shivered through the ride back, the plankton drying on our skin as shimmering, chalky powder. I slept still wearing moon-dust — a perfect ending to a perfect day.