“When I was 31, it was a very good year…”

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo & Julie Schwietert Collazo

As the last two weeks of 2008 spin towards history, I find myself in bitingly cold New York City, where I’m wrapped in at least two layers of clothes by day and sleeping under two comforters at night.

New York has been my home since I moved here in 1999 after graduating from college, accepting an internship, and deciding to stay. It’s a city I love for a thousand reasons at least.

But in 2008, I didn’t spend a lot of time here. It was a very good year for travel–the best yet–and now that I’m finally settling down at home for a period of more than a week, I’m sorting through the year’s (and a 250 GB hard drive’s) photos, stories, and memories.

Here are a few I wanted to share with you….

JANUARY, Cuba/South Carolina, Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Puebla, Tijuana, San Diego, Pacific Coast Highway, and San Francisco:
Francisco and I started the new year apart, he with family in Cuba and I with family in South Carolina.

We met up at our part-time home in Mexico City, made quick trips to Cuernavaca and Puebla, crossed the border, and then drove the Pacific Coast Highway before…

FEBRUARY, New York:
We practiced settling for a while in this city where we met each other and where we both feel at home. We saw a Gonzalo Rubalcaba concert, watched old buildings be demolished and observed the new contour of this city begin to take shape.

MARCH, Mexico City & New York:
A split month, half in el DF and half in New York. In DF, I’m working on an assignment. In NYC, I’m a passionate observer of my own neighborhood.

APRIL, New York, Washington, D.C.:

It’s spring in the city, one of the very best times of year for a New Yorker. But I’m getting restless. I organize a trip to Washington, D.C. for my mom’s birthday.

Francisco and I also meet fellow Matador editor and the amazingly talented photographer, Lola Akinmade. Still, there are stories all around, as there always are, no matter where we are.

MAY, Cuba:

I visit Cuba for the first time since Fidel handed power over to his brother, Raul. Of seven or so visits to Cuba since 2005, this is the most special one, filled with incredible moments.

I interview Chinese Cubans, spend hours with a Cuban musicologist, & work on a documentary about Juan Antonio Picasso.

Francisco’s son and I go to Mariel, where Francisco set off from Cuba in 1980. We visit Cojimar and Hemingway’s home. And I celebrate Mother’s Day with Francisco’s mom and the mother of his son.

JUNE, New Orleans:

Francisco and I meet up in New Orleans to volunteer with the Culinary Corps and write about New Orleans. Seeing the state of New Orleans three years after Hurricane Katrina reminds me why traveling and stories are important & why I believe so passionately in both.

JULY, Colombia:

A full month in Colombia, with the bulk of our time spent in Mompox, where we meet the coolest kids in the world and begin making plans for an after-school program for them.

We also visit Cartagena, Santa Marta, Taganga, and Barranquilla.

AUGUST, Guadalajara, Mexico:
Back home in Mexico, we also visit Guadalajara on assignment. Not only does Sally Rangel and the staff of Villa Ganz set a totally new standard for service and hospitality, we discover that Guadalajara is quite possibly the only city where we’ve enjoyed every single meal we’ve eaten in restaurants. We were also fortunate to participate in and interview others who attended the Iluminemos Mexico march for peace.

SEPTEMBER, Perote and Veracruz, Mexico:

Perote: The town that tourism forgot. Not for long, if we have anything to do with it. Along with our friend, Carmen, we toured the San Carlos prison, visited an ostrich and orchid farm, dreamed about opening a bed and breakfast in an abandoned hacienda in the middle of a corn field at the base of some mountains, and found ancient pottery sherds just littering the side of the road as we drove up into the mountains. We also happened upon a local boxing match.

We drank strong coffee and had my palm read in Veracruz.

OCTOBER, Mexico City & Oaxaca, Mexico; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba:

October was all about connection.

We met Matador member Teresita and her husband, Ibis, at our home in Mexico City, reconnected with my old friend, Arely, and her husband Ivan at an airport restaurant, and visited with weavers at their home and interviewed protesters in Oaxaca.


I also traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to report about the military detention facility there.

I could have spent weeks there. In any event, I have a notebook full of stories that I’d like to write.

NOVEMBER, NYC, Washington, D.C., Chile:

NYC: To vote. Of course.

Washington, D.C.: To blog live from NPR on election night.

Chile: The press trip of a lifetime: 7 days. Santiago, Valparaiso, Punta Arenas, Torres del Paine. Cordero (lamb). But most of all… incredible people: Roberto, Francisco, Andres, Paloma, Carolina… que buenos son!

DECEMBER, Puerto Rico:
Francisco and I moved to Puerto Rico (shuttling back and forth between the island and NYC) in 2005 and left for good last December. While we had no active plans to return for a visit, our friends Wally and Marina asked us if we wanted to take care of their dogs for a couple weeks while they went on a much-needed and deserved vacation.

It was nice to see the sun every morning, to feel it on my skin, to watch as it penetrated just-rained skies and made light shows with rainbows, and to collect the grapefruit it ripened and scattered the ground with.

As visitors, we also went to places we’d never visited as residents, including the small island of Culebra and the town of Guanica, where the US invaded Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War 210 years ago.

*

As I write this, I begin to realize that everything important is left out. It’s the people and the stories, and there’s a hundred folks at least. And for every person, a hundred stories.

I haven’t forgotten a single one of them. The stories are on the way….

Marriage

…sabía que vendrías,…
con tus ojos, tus manos y tu boca
pero con otro corazón
que amaneció a mi lado
como si siempre hubiera estado allí
para seguir conmigo para siempre.

…”I knew you would come…
with your eyes, your hands, and your mouth
but with another heart
that awoke at my side
as if it had always been there
to be with me forever.

-Neruda

*

If you had known me eight years ago, you would have known that marriage was the last thing on my mind. Among all my friends, I’d likely have been the last one you’d expect to get married.

And then, everything changed.
*
I fell in love with mi media naranja (my other half) and when we stood on a beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico with friends and family during our wedding, I knew that I had made one of the most exciting, important decisions of my life: the decision to wake up each morning and choose again (and again and again) to practice love, to practice radical acceptance, to make mistakes and practice forgiveness, to remain curious about and appreciative and unconditionally committed to another human being as amazing and as flawed as I am. It’s a conscious choice that I make every day.

*
I recently joked with some friends that I missed the days of marriage when everything I did was the source of fascination, excitement and appreciation for Francisco. The couple laughed, perhaps in recognition. Having articulated the thought jokingly, I turned it over in my mind for a few weeks, wistfully.

And then the lines of Neruda’s poem “El Dano” came to mind:

“Tú entre todos los seres
tienes derecho
a verme débil.”

“You of all people
have the right
to see me weak.”

Love, marriage… they evolve. Each new phase takes you to a different place, if you’re willing to go there together.

Snapshots of Chile

Text & Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo

This week, I’m traveling around Chile (that long, thin country in South America), and have found myself falling in love–yet again–with another Latin American nation.

Highlights?

Sharing dinner and some local wine under the stars with Chilean bloggers and podcasters in Santiago, talking about national identity, digital media, and–of course–Obama!

Eating the freshest seafood ever and realizing I actually like it.

Listening to a live karaoke rendition of the song “Sweet Child of Mine,” a heavy metal favorite from my adolescence, at a bar in the capital.

Watching the sun rise over the Andes this morning.

Fulfilling one of my life dreams of seeing the home of the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda (well, one of the three, anyway).

Tromping around the raw, wild landscape of what’s just shy of the southernmost point in South America, penguin watching and meeting super-friendly locals for conversation around a fireplace.

Turning around and seeing a double rainbow out my window this afternoon.

Walking everywhere with these words of Neruda in my head:

Voy a cumplir con todos
porque debo
a todos mi alegría.

No se sorprenda nadie porque quiero
entregar a los hombres
los dones de la tierra,
porque aprendí luchando
que es mi deber terrestre
propagar la alegría.
Y cumplo mi destino con mi canto.

What do you know about Chile? What would you like to know? Have you ever thought about visiting? Leave a comment below!