live from boca grande
The position of La República Libre de Boca Grande is for your wayward thoughts. Those times when you need to be focused but begin to drift. Boca Grande is, on these pages, the singular designation for multiple cities, countries and dusty islands – quiet, tense bits of life around here – from the last 13 years hopscotching the Tropic of Cancer while living in that mother port of New Orleans (for the second time).
The Boca Grande of Joan Didion’s 1977 novel “A Book of Common Prayer” is the fictional Central American nation where most of that book takes place. That Boca Grande exports parrots, anaconda skins and macramé shawls and has 18 slot machines at the airport. “The Last Thing He Wanted” (1996) is another dire story that Didion set throughout the precise lands we’re discussing, and I found them both to be so astonishingly familiar – at a cellular level, in the minute way something is when time on the ground has been extensive and impactful – that this non-fiction archive took shape, after the fact, within her fiction … an ambiguous reversal of Didion constructing novels out of locations she had reported from.
Throughout these common lands, there are, incidents, always near. Just infrequent enough to let you slip into believing you’re in control enough to sustain a life here. These occurrences are equally sudden and expected; consequential and tedious; both preventable and Acts of God.
This is a series made up of our days going on, amidst and despite the social, political, environmental unrest. Where we’re all named for Amerigo and where, across all those invisible lines that only mean something when someone of note wishes them to, we share our favorite saints, and our intrinsic graft, and the waves of violence that have no low tide, and the same mosquitos and their fevers, and our survived flood lines. (We close our eyes during the same storms—the ones that come for six months every year with names echoing some harmless aunt or uncle, showing up in alphabetical order, as if being polite.) A series made up of the days in between the stranger’s arrival so that they can say into your television sets, “Reporting live from Boca Grande” with just a hint of pride.
All of the fluid colonies, empires and their flags, the whims of others and of nature, stay in these places, molding and reshaping our little worlds forever. Sinking, washing away, breaking open.
I think of these images as little poems, little shrines, pieces of the street that I live just to dote on. Nothing too precious here, more like scraps of paper—a reporter’s notes from a decade on the Caribbean Desk. Here are two norteamericanas, from very different backgrounds, moving through the same quietly volatile spaces across decades, recording very different views of the same street. The scenes depicted here come from the sidewalks outside of the dining clubs, presidential palaces, embassies and parlors of Didion’s page. Dread, however, lives across the latitudes; both up and down the hills, plenty to go around.
Her words, like my images—ardently straightforward yet laced with tangents and musings that invariably add more haze to the “facts on the ground.” Like the lobby of the Managua Intercon that January full of Major League Baseball scouts booked in the Jacaranda III conference room on the morning of the Nicaraguan World Series. “Review and Update of the World Bank’s Safeguard Policies” was convening for seven hours down the hall, but the fledgling business of the fledgling national GDP was no doubt remedied in time for the Farach-Aguilar civil wedding ceremony.
The ominous molecules are always here. We know it. And when they become charged, we can feel that too—the social and atmospheric shifts. The wind feels different. The body will buzz. More neighbors than usual pause to check-in at the corner hangout, maybe the humor becomes darker (how could it really). Just get on with it and come out the other side if you’re lucky. Different, but still here. I’m too weak to survive a jungle not made of cement. So I live in these ports on the edge of all that green. So close that the vine takes over what it wants and we only meagerly try to keep it back. We know better. But it gives us something to do anyway. To pretend we’re in control of these lands and seas. And just try to stay afloat.