August 09, 2013

Mexican Vacation Day 6: The Search For My Own PROMISED LAND

"The land just turned brown and died."
Our last full day in Mexico.  After sleeping in a bit, we drove down the street to visit the Ik-Kil cenote, which is a naturally occurring underground freshwater pond located in a limestone cavern that's open at the top...essentially a giant sinkhole, but much prettier than it sounds:

You can swim freely among the small black catfish in the clear spring water or jump from a series of platforms carved into the cave walls.  We spent half the day floating about and diving from the highest platform, which was about 18-20 feet high.

I even tried a few cannonballs, and got the bruised, purple thigh to prove it.

Jamie took a brief siesta in the afternoon before we drove back to Valladolid in search of a new pair of aviators (success!) and one last local meal.  We found a lovely spot with an outdoor courtyard and an old stone fountain, and after sampling some mescal...

...I decided to dine on some conchita pibil, which is a slow roasted pork served on a bed of banana leaves in a small tin box.  It's possible I was inspired by the truck full of live pigs we were driving behind on the road there.

After dinner and some tasty ice cream (pumpkin Oreo!) we returned to the hotel for the saddest of all vacation activities: packing to go home.  While we loaded up our suitcase, I put on Gus Van Sant's Promised Land, written by and starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski.  It's a cautionary tale about the dangers of fracking and the extreme lengths that large corporations are willing to go in order to make a buck at the expense of ordinary people, all while claiming to be working to help the little guy.  The movie rightly acknowledges the frustrating double standard of natural gas, namely that it's a cleaner, more abundant alternative to oil and coal, but that the actual method of extraction is both environmentally and morally questionable at best.  At the same time, it's an issue that doesn't get much attention in the national media for the exact same reason that natural gas corporations have been so successful: those most directly impacted are often small town, under-educated folks who live in rural communities facing dwindling and/or failing financial situations.  In that light, it's nice to see guys like Damon and Krasinski use a little of their star power to shed light on on a topic that is both important and largely ignored.  It helps that the story is pretty entertaining, with lots of talented folks in supporting roles and a decent twist ending.

But something about Damon's Steve Butler really struck a chord with me.  Butler is a guy who grew up in a small farming town but saw the writing on the wall and left for a fast-paced, big city life.  He's now a salesman of sorts, using his small town bona fides to convince people to sign over the rights to their property so that his company can get at the natural gas underground.  The thing is, he's drastically short-selling these people without a trace of remorse because his utter disdain for the rural farming lifestyle outweighs any potential guilt he might feel.  In a way he thinks these people have brought it on themselves by clinging to a lifestyle that is clearly unsustainable, and the more time he spends there, the more frustrated he becomes.  But there's clearly a healthy dose of unspoken self-loathing behind Butler's eyes; the fact that he can still easily relate to these people he doesn't respect probably frustrates him more than anything.

The decision to leave home is never easy, and once you've left and you've settled into a new life, you can romanticize your roots to a certain degree.  It's always easier to deal with those conflicted emotions when they're boiled down to an abstraction from the past, but to return to that life and confront those frustrations that initially drove you away...well there's a reason they say you can never go home again.  In a way it's something I deal with on a frequent basis; I left home to pursue a certain career and lifestyle, and yet I now find myself living in the same city I grew up in, working the same job I had in college with only an amorphous plan to leave again sometime in the future.  There are things about Boston that I absolutely love and always will, but there's also plenty that drives me up the wall and, quite frankly, leaves me terrified that I'll become stuck here.  Emotionally I've come back around to a place of needing to get the fuck out of dodge, but for a number of practical and logistical reasons I know that's not going to happen anytime soon.  And so I guess that feeling of constantly being surrounded by all those things you thought you'd already put behind you, those things that fill you with simultaneous adoration and revulsion, those things that make you want to smile while running away as fast as your legs will take you, that's a feeling that really resonated when I saw it in Steve Butler.  While  Butler eventually chooses to embrace his roots in light of the Machiavellian practices of his employer.  I find it unlikely that I'll make a similar choice.

I still want to run.  It's just a matter of when and how far.

Title: Promised Land
Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski, Rosemary DeWitt, Hal Holbrook, Titus Welliver, Scoot McNairy, Lucas Black
Year Of Release: 2012
Viewing Method: Redbox DVD

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