A writer friend from Alaska, Lizbeth Meredith, is visiting South America. We’re having fun discussing books, writing, our mutual love for animals, and the signs in life which point us in the desired direction. Elephants have always been a positive sign for me. Corgis speak to her.
“Wherever you go, there you are…” is a quote attributed to the teachings of Buddha. No matter how far one goes to find greener grass, there’s no getting away from ourselves.
My husband and I moved to the mountains of central Mexico in 2006 and got to work designing our dream home on an extra large lot in the small village of Tzurumútaro, Pátzcuaro. We lived in the small casita while our big house was being built. Our Mexican contractor decided our dream home should be even grander and built us a beautiful Mexican colonial mansion with cut pine beams (which we learned about much later, that’s another story…), ceramic floor tiles, beautiful stone arches (noticeably lacking the keystone), three fireplaces finished with elaborate wood mantels, a circular staircase, new windows to accent exquisite views, and French doors opening to the closed courtyard on one side and the large garden with a pond on the back side. It was beautiful and spacious. Perfect for indoor and outdoor living.
But after the sledge hammers stopped pounding from gutting old walls and the concrete mixer’s revolving drum stopped its noisy spin, we realized the noise would not stop.
Trains rumbled through our village up to ten times a day and blew horns to caution pedestrians to move off the tracks. Since our property line was less than 70 meters from the track, the noise was unavoidable. Besides the rumble of engines and screeching or axles, the loud train horn: LOOONG LOOONG SHORT LOOONG preceding the town’s two level crossings. One of which was one block from our home, and 15-20 seconds before the train arrives, as law requires. Opposite, two houses down, we’d hear the loud frantic squealing of pigs. We never found out for sure what that was all about. I wore earplugs to muffle that. And, every time someone died, the local religious rites included fireworks set off every twenty minutes to commemorate the life of the deceased. Rockets soared up 100 meters then exploded with deafening concussions and continued until someone took away the body. In the meantime, all dogs for miles around howled and barked for hours on end, making it difficult to sleep at night and to concentrate and write by day. A writer friend of ours, doing research for a book on the culture of Mexico, concluded that Mexicans are sleep deprived because of noise.
Mexicans know how to celebrate and do it often. There are official holidays observed nationwide and many local festivities to honor religious events or public celebrations. In 2008, I counted forty-four holidays celebrated with rockets, firecrackers, sparklers, rattles, drums, loud music, a parade, and lots of noise. Many times, in the middle of the night, aerial explosions jolted me awake. And after experiencing the war in Cyprus in 1974 where the bombs bursting in air were real bombs, I cringed at the cacophony of any nerve racking noise.
In 2009 my husband and I traveled from our small village in Mexico to a small country in South America which got good reviews and seemed like a quieter place. Although we loved many things about Mexico (the customs, the traditions, the art, and the delicious food), the constant noise wore us down.
While vacationing in a small Uruguayan beach town, we often sighed and smiled at each other realizing we had found a perfect place. By day, we walked the beach and explored other small towns and villages nearby. All seemed tranquilo compared to village life in Mexico. Each night we slumbered, lulled to sleep by the soothing sound of waves lapping and swirling along the sandy seashore. By the end of our first stress-free week, we decided to move to Uruguay. My head tingled with excitement, knowing I could finish an important project I had been working on for many years—my memoir.
I felt a flood of creative energy wash over me as I walked barefoot along the sandy beach near our new home in Atlántida. I could hear myself think. Aha! Gentle waves tickled my toes and senses and writing became a joy again. I finished my first memoir, The Lullaby Illusion, in 2013, and counted only seven noisy holidays in Uruguay that year. I finished my second memoir, Good Morning Diego Garcia, in 2016. I heard more noise that year but not enough to interrupt my creative flow. At present I’m working on screen scripts and loving the SHOW, don’t TELL way with words.
As the Uruguayan economy grows so does the noise, but I’m happy to say no rockets explode in mid-air. And our two avocado trees yielded several hundred delicious Fuerte avocados this year. So I keep writing, awaiting next year’s harvest.
Do artists create works because they are producing objects for future generations to view? Do writers write to inspire and influence others? Or, is creative work conductive to our happiness? Our purpose? In my interview series with creative people, I hope to find answers as we explore the creative process and motives.
Today I welcome Author, Artist, Poet, Cook, and Traveller, Syd Blackwell to my Why Create? interview series!
Syd Blackwell is a native of Rossland, BC (Canada), a tranquil mountain town that was once a booming mining town. The peace of nature, and the remnants of history were instrumental in his formative years. He became a teacher and worked in schools and colleges for twenty-five years. These work years were interspersed with acting in amateur theatre, and planning set and sound work. Syd co-authored an historical atlas, wrote poems for a collection called Life Is A Poem, became a weekly newspaper columnist, featuring the local bridge club, created a newsletter for high school student recruitment, and wrote many published articles.
When Syd retired from teaching, he helped design a bed and breakfast inn and became the innkeeper of Wintergreen Inn in Revelstoke, BC.
I first met Syd and his wife, Gundy, when my husband and I visited Uruguay in 2009 to see if it would be a good country to move to from Mexico. As we pulled into their front drive, in Atlántida, Uruguay, I noticed a “hand-painted” sign on the gate. “Casa Inspiración.” I heard dogs bark, welcoming us, and thought, Ah, interesting people! That was eight years ago and we continue to marvel at the lives of these two curious and creative souls.>
Susan Joyce: Syd Blackwell, thanks for allowing me to quiz you regarding your life and various projects! How did you meet your wife Gundy? Why did you move to Uruguay?
Syd Blackwell: In 2002, I was an innkeeper. A woman bought a small B&B on the other side of Revelstoke. A couple of months later, she phoned to ask if she could meet me to ask some questions. I agreed. When she showed up at my inn, dressed in a black business suit, carrying a black attaché case, I hid my amusement. She had found it difficult so far, and sought experienced advice. Possibly my first suggestion was a more relaxed wardrobe. During the discussion, I learned she was single. Later, I suggested that she needed to know the area better to provide service to her guests. Then, I invited her to join me on my daily dog walk. And then things progressed.
In 2006, we came to Uruguay on a two-week trip seeking a quicker medical solution than Canada could give for Gundy´s deteriorating hips. Before we came, we checked out online house listings between $40,000 and $65,000. One, seemed much better than others. We thought we might look, if we found time. Well, we found time to look at several houses, and the one we had seen, with three bedrooms, carport, closed barbecue area, swimming pool, and perimeter fence, for $45,000, was such a remarkable deal that we agreed to buy at once. Five hundred dollars from an ATM started the process. So, we found ourselves on the plane heading home with the realization we had, de facto, decided to sell our businesses and retire to Uruguay. Quite a surprise, really! Later, Gundy got her new hips.
Susan Joyce: You taught art and music. Do you play a musical instrument? Do you sing?
Syd Blackwell: I took piano lessons as a child, but was never very talented. I played French horn throughout high school, but never since. Even the shower shudders when I sing.
Susan Joyce: The shower shudders? Oh dear! What did you learn through teaching? Did it change you?
Syd Blackwell: The most daunting challenges become smaller when you take the first step. Teaching forever changed me. Although I left teaching, teaching never left me. In this century, reconnecting on the internet with dozens of former students, has been most enjoyable.
Susan Joyce: I’ve observed, through your written works and art that you always tell a story. Did teaching help you develop storytelling?
Syd Blackwell: I think teaching provided more stories. I have always felt a need to tell stories. For example, in junior high school, we were tasked with writing a story and then reading it aloud in front of the class. A horror for most. At my turn, I began my story of “the life of a penny”. I already knew it was longer than most had written, but when the first funny line appeared, and the class laughed, I improvised more than what was on the page. I got top marks for presentation and a few questions later from Mr. Buchanan, about all the missing bits from my written copy.
Susan Joyce: Quite impressed that you have visited nearly fifty countries over the years. Which is your favorite and why? Which is your least favorite and why?
Syd Blackwell: I could make a case for one country to answer both questions, but as I only visited two places in Indonesia, Bali and Jakarta, it would hardly be fair. Besides, the Bali I knew doesn’t exist any longer. My favourite country is Canada. It is so amazing and big and diverse, but, as I am Canadian, I will pick New Zealand, which has abundance and variety of natural beauty. My least favourite is also the smallest, the Vatican. I don´t think this is the place to discuss why.
Susan Joyce: In your travels, did you have any dangerous situations? Any scary moments?
Syd Blackwell: Quite a few of both. One dangerous encounter was in New Delhi. I was weak, recovering from hepatitis, and doing an evening walk in a narrow street near my lodgings. I was being pestered by persistent people trying to sell things. One kept grabbing at my shirt as I tried to ignore them. Hepatitis doesn’t help your patience, and after the second or third warning, I turned around and hit him in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground. Well that wasn’t the right thing to do, as an angry crowd instantly materialized, screaming, yelling, and threatening. I had my back against a wall and worked my way as quick as I could back to the corner and a busier street, where the crowd dispersed.
Of the many scary things, climbing Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia was terrifying; I have acrophobia. I wrote a poem, Vertigo Australianus.
Susan Joyce: One fun thing I’ve learned is that you judged the annual Amsterdam Cannabis Cup. What year? How did this opportunity arise? Was it a fun assignment? Did you write about it?
Syd Blackwell: In 2001, I decided to celebrate my 55th birthday. On the internet, I found that the 13th Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, would nearly coincide with my November birthday. I invited my friend, Byron, who had helped at my inn, to join me. Soon, another friend, Phil, decided to come. We landed in Amsterdam on my birthday. The Cannabis Cup, involving judging marijuana and hashish samples from 22 different coffee houses, began two days later, and lasted four days. There was private bus transportation between coffee houses. There was also a trade show and nightly musical acts. Anyone who paid the $200 fee could become a judge. It was fantastic – as far as I can remember. I have told the story often, but not written it.
Susan Joyce: Why do you make art? Why do you write?
Syd Blackwell: I create because it makes me feel good. I am happy when others can also see and share in my pleasure.
Susan Joyce: Your walking sticks are awesome! What projects are you working on now?
Syd Blackwell: I already have too many Travel Stories and Travel Highlights for entry into Robert Fear´s newest contest, yet I just wrote another one today. Check out Red Shoes by Syd Blackwell.
No new mega-projects happening, like last year´s privately circulated Uruguay Days, a book of poems and photos.
We witnessed horrendous storms in Uruguay end of October. Our sandy beach became cliffs—impassable for several days. This weekend we visited friends (who have a beach front home closer to the outer shores of the Atlantic Ocean) in Aquas Dulce. Their home got pounded when a powerful cyclone hit and more than 50 homes were destroyed.
Happy to report, no lives were lost because people were warned, shuttered their homes, and moved inland. It was sad to see the loss of so much property. Fortunately for our friends, extra sandbags and rocks brought in before the big one saved their home from destruction. Their neighbor on the left lost the front third of his house. Neighbors, to their right, were not so lucky. They lost everything.
Walking along the beach at low tide, I saw destruction everywhere. I was reminded of the power of nature and how lucky I was to survive so many horrendous storms in the Indian Ocean in monsoon in 1974.
This Thanksgiving, I count my many blessings. I am grateful to be alive and to have a place to call home. Happy Thanksgiving to all!
According to meteorologists winter is the three calendar months with the lowest average temperatures. In the Northern Hemisphere, December, January and February are the winter months. In the Southern Hemisphere, where we (my husband and I) spend most of the year, our coldest months are June, July and August.
In late June of 2014, I took this photo of a colorful sunset in our backyard in Atlantida, Uruguay. The view was framed and partially blocked by several fast growing Eucalyptus trees in our neighbor’s yard.
On 22 July 2016, when we returned home from an exciting tour of ancient civilization sites in Peru and Bolivia, I realized I missed sunshine. It was abundant during our travels closer to the equator. Looking out my office window, I saw a bleak winter sky blocked by rain clouds and the Eucalyptus trees; now towering 40 meters or so to our northwest.
The rain and clouds cleared a few days later, but my office continued to be dull. I wondered if painting the walls a bright color would help illuminate the dark room. Perhaps color would make up for the lack of natural light.
Early the next morning I heard the buzz of a chain saw and saw tree limbs falling from the neighbor’s yard. My upstairs office brightened when a rather large branch catapulted to the ground below. “Here comes the sun ….” I heard myself singing one of my favorite Beatle songs. I could hear a guitar strumming and drum beats humming as more branches fell.
I ran downstairs to tell Doug the good news. We walked outside into our garden and watched a guy with a chainsaw about half way up the tree yelling at a ground crew below. They yelled back and pulled on a long rope to show him where to drop his next cuts. The saw buzzed and more branches fell.
At this point, half the tree was gone. We marveled at the increase of light in our back yard. Doug mentioned that the neighbors will have a few years of good firewood out of this.
I smiled. “And we get the winter sun.” A real treat!
I live with my husband Doug, three dogs and a cat, in a sleepy beach town in Uruguay. I’m often asked, “Why Uruguay?” And I answer with confidence, “Why not Uruguay.”
There are dozens of reasons I can state, but the bottom line is nature and peace of mind. I have lived in many other countries and in today’s troubled world, Uruguay is a peaceful place to call home with friendly people and a relaxed life style.
Geographically the second-smallest nation in South America after Suriname, Uruguay is 68,038 square miles and about the size of the state of Washington (66,544 square miles). Washington state has more than 7 million people—and families and corporations continue to move there. In contrast, Uruguay is home to only 3.3 million people, of whom 1.8 million live in its capital and largest city, Montevideo.
The population of Uruguay is of European origin–mostly Spanish and Italian. Other foreign nationalities have immigrated here and contributed to its mix of culture diversity.
And Uruguay’s beaches are beautiful—one of the best kept secrets in South America.
Here’s a photo of our dogs discovering a river dolphin on the beach near our home in Atlantida.
Our quiet beach town of Atlántida, Uruguay has a significant collection of quirky, cool buildings featuring a variety of innovative architectural designs.
One of the most famous structures was designed and engineered by Eladia Dieste, an architect who made his reputation by building numerous elegant structures from grain silos to churches. His buildings are a fusion of cutting-edge design and functionality featuring self-supporting double curved arches, built without any structural columns. We see this church often as it’s located near the butcher shop we frequent. It’s a must-see to share when we have visitors from abroad.
Iglesia del Cristo Obrero, designed by Elasio Dieste was built in 1958.
Another must-see favorite for originality is El Águila – The Eagle. In 1945, Italian millionaire Natalio Michelizzi, commissioned an Uruguayan builder (Juan Torres) to build him a statue of the Virgin Mary. Tores instead built a place where Michelizzi could read, paint and entertain. This meeting place for friends has given rise to several legends—from a Nazi observatory, a cosmic energy center, to a smuggler’s hideout.
And we also find Uruguay to be the perfect base for exploring other countries in South America. We’re traveling to Peru in July to tour some ancient civilization sites. Anyone ever heard of the knotted string records??? They are some of the most tenacious mysteries of ancient Peru kept by the Incas.
I love looking at things from a different angle, a different perspective, or a different point of view. And often, when focusing on pieces and parts of an image, I’m amazed at the story a focused image can tell. Reminding me that LESS is often MORE!
A few days ago, my husband (Doug) and I enjoyed lunch at our favorite restaurant, La Corte, in the heart of Old Town Montevideo, Uruguay. A trendy, business-friendly place with excellent food, it’s always crowded at lunch time. When we were seated at a table for two near the entrance, I told Doug, “A great people watching spot.” While waiting on our server to take our order, I found my eyes focusing on the variety of shoes people were wearing and spent much of my viewing time looking down instead of up. I was amazed at the shapes of footwear entering the restaurant door. Some shoes were obviously intended to protect and comfort the wearer’s feet while others seemed to make a statement about the wearer. High heels for a busy executive. Low heels for a sensible office worker traversing city streets without tripping, and wild shaped platform shoes for the daring young and fashion conscious 20-something, giggling greeters–tiptoeing or tripping through life. While a greeter chatted with a female professional, we captured in a snapshot the story of different generations and the gap.
After a delicious lunch of fresh fish, we strolled through an adjoining park— Plaza Constitución (Constitution Square), the oldest plaza in Montevideo and stopped to see the inside of the Montevideo Metropolitan Cathedral. the main Roman Catholic church of Montevideo. Inside we viewed the sacred alter and images of the Virgin Mary, and the patron saints of Montevideo. Leaving the cathedral, I noticed a sculpture of a sleeping saint. from yet another angle. Doug snapped it and captured this glorious marble sculpture.
As we walked along the city sidewalks back to our parked car, I found my gaze angled downward again inspecting uneven pavers. First and foremost, to prevent an accidental trip on jagged paving stones. Second, to discover unique street art along the way. A few local artists scout out broken pavers and replace them with handmade mosaic tiles in a variety of shapes and colors. I wasn’t disappointed with my findings. This gem seemed especially bright and full of life–weaving fine art into the old city’s walkways.