Oaxaca, Mexico Forging New Universes…in Long Island

So I’m in Mexico. Kind of a spontaneous thing.

I spent two months at my mom’s house in Westport, shuttling back and forth from the city a couple times each week. I enjoyed seeing people. I loved spending time in New York. But I wasn’t holding together very well.

There’s a clock in my mom’s house that chimes off the hour. I don’t wear a watch and never think about it otherwise. My only reminder that it’s passing is that hourly clanging. It strikes once, twice, three times, and that sounds about right. Then it strikes again and I’m thinking, "Four o’clock? How did that happen?" A fifth strike, a sixth, a seventh. I realize it’s seven o’clock. The day is over. I’ve done little more than roll out of bed.

This is what I looked like most of the time.

Img_2795

That was most of the last two months for me. And every day I’d get flashes of swimming through the holds of the Fujikawa Maru — exploring hallways teeming with coral and fish, watching beams of sunlight dance across the stairwells, finding that octopus on the bow — it’s like the desktop wallpaper in my brain. I had to get moving again. I’m not done traveling.

I did do a few interesting things while I was home. Right after the blackout, I went along with my dad to the Brookhaven Laboratories in Long Island. See, my dad’s a big physics nut, and they’ve got this particle accellerator there that is currently the most powerful in the world. It’s not the largest, but it’s the first to use superconducting magnets to pull particles around the loop and that puts it in a whole new league.

…hmm, okay. The basics. A particle accellerator is a big, huge, giganormous loop with tons of powerful magnets all around it. They stick protons in the loop and pull them around and around by turning on the magnets then turning them off one at a time. It’s sort of like how those fake rabbits work at dog tracks, except it’s magnets instead of rabbits, and they don’t move, and there’s lots of them instead of just one…nevermind. Point is, they get the protons going really really fast — I mean like speed of light fast. As one of the Brookhaven physicists explained it, "It’s pretty much the speed of light. It’s incredibly close. It’s 99.999% of the speed of light. Of course, getting it up to the actual speed of light would be impossible, cause the particles would then have an infinite weight, but it’s as close to the speed of light as you can possibly get. That’s basically what it is. For all intents and purposes, you can think of it as the speed of light. There wouldn’t be any point in getting any closer…"

They’re physicists, not public speakers. You get the idea.

They have two separate tracks in the loop and they get two batches going in opposite directions. Then, once they get these protons going at what is pretty much basically the speed of light, they make the tracks cross and smash the protons into each other. Here’s a better analogy than the dog track: it’s like one of those Hot Wheels smash-up race sets. It’s what every eight-year-old boy does with his toys, except it costs billions of dollars and you could probably argue that what the eight year old is doing has more useful applications to the outside world.

Why do they smash protons into each other at the speed of light? To see what happens. They take all sorts of measurements and it somehow tells physicists what the universe is made of.

So what’s so special about the Brookhaven? Well, because it’s so damn powerful, they’re able to use stuff a lot heavier than itty bitty protons. A few months ago they started spinning ionized gold atoms that weigh two hundred times more. This means much bigger explosions, and it means that last year they viewed for the first time something called quark-gluon plasma. Don’t ask me to explain what quark-gluon plasma is. I’m told it’s as important as it sounds.

Getting back to the story, the Brookhaven announced they were opening their lab up to the general public for one day only. My dad was giddy with excitement, and it was an infectious kind of giddiness that makes you want to tag along.

Another reason for the trip was that the facility is only minutes away from the Hamptons. For those who don’t know, the Hamptons are where the richest and most famous people in the world go to play. It’s a modest little suburb packed with the sprawling estates of Hiltons, Vanderbilts, Spielberg, Seinfeld, and everyone else with disposable income in the ten digit realm. So that was interesting.

We didn’t end up seeing much in the Hamptons, because the favorite competition of all its residents is growing the tallest possible hedges around their property. The coastal roads are like giant paved hedge mazes. They’re generally about twenty feet high.

I did see more Ferraris in one day than I’ve ever seen in my life, and other instances of conspiciuous wealth were all around. That was even more of a brainsmack to me — still only weeks removed from some of the poorest places in the world — than I imagine it’d be to the average gawker. To compare the main street of Southhampton with the slums of Calcutta, it’s hard to fathom that they’re on the same planet. Clearly something is broken in the machine. Clearly it’s not functioning properly.

We checked into a hotel and the next morning headed over to Brookhaven. The rest of the crowd was a lot of amateur physics geeks like my father, and a few moms who read about it in the paper and thought it might be interesting for their kids. We put on nametags, got split up into groups, then led onto buses. They showed us the underground tunnel that houses the loop.

Img_2665

Next they carted us over to the stations along the loop where the collisions occur.

Img_2720

I was entirely satisfied with the volume of tubes, wires, and doo-dads that go into the process.

One of the physicists explained that what they are doing with this accellerator is recreating the conditions of the big bang and spawning miniature universes. This prompted me to raise my hand. I asked what the actual difference was between the real big bang that made life, the universe, and everything, and the fake big bangs they were throwing together for shits and giggles. He answered that they both yielded this quark-gluon plasma, and except for the number of particles involved, there really wasn’t much difference at all. I found that answer extremely alarming. I asked what happens to the universes after they’re born, hoping he would say that they fold back up and disappear instantly. He said the particles decay, but I didn’t get a clear answer on what ultimately happens to them.

I know I’m a long way from grasping the concepts, and mine is but a simple caveman brain, but it seems awfully irresponsible to just keep on bringing baby universes into the world like that. For one thing, where do these universes go if ours is already here? And for another…no wait, I’m stuck on that first one. Where are all these baby universes?

The observation equipment had been temporarily pulled out for maintenance, but here is the space where earlier this year, new universes were made for probably the first time since time started happening.

Img_2722

It was later explained to me that they can only recreate the events of the big bang from 10 to the -23 seconds after it occured and onward. Anywhere closer to the actual moment — meaning anywhere between 0 and 0.00000000000000000000001 on the clock — and the laws of the natural world break down such that time itself can’t really be measured. I want you to stick corks in both ears, plug your nostrils, and let that thought rattle around in your brain for a while.

Here is the other collision point on a different part of the track. That narrow cylinder right in the center — that’s where it happens.

Img_2729

By my calculations, a precise hit from a proton torpedo will start a chain reaction that should destroy the entire station.

I went to the gym a lot while I was home. That was one nice thing. I stayed pretty healthy and managed to fend off any serious weight gain for the time being.

Toward the end of my stay, I got an opportunity to see Chuck Paluhniak speak. He’s the guy who wrote Fight Club and a string of other interesting books in recent years. He was at Barnes and Nobles in the city reading a short story he’d written called ‘Guts’. I went with my sister, and the funny thing is that until I got there, I completely forgot that I’d read all about this book tour he’s on and the story he reads. The rumor circulating on the net was that it’s really really gross — so gross, in fact, that audience members were passing out from shock. When I read that a few nights earlier, it sounded like ridiculous hype. I imagined puritanical soccer moms who’d stumbled into the wrong section, fanning themselves theatrically as if their plantations were burning down. I dismissed the whole thing.

So I show up and I find a place to stand and he comes out and I start listening. Ten minutes later I’m in a cold sweat. I’m staring at the floor, breathing deeply, feeling weak and queasy. The story has me struggling to stay conscious.

I’d separated from Kristin, but I later found out she’d taken the escalator downstairs and was covering her ears, waiting for the story to end.

I’m not going to explain what the story was about except to say it was way grosser than you’re imagining right now and there are indeed things you can hear that will make your brain try to shut down. I don’t care if you’re a surgeon, an embalmer, a coroner, whatever. This story was in a whole different league of awful.

I had a small birthday party at Kristin’s apartment in the city. I forgot to take pictures. It was a few of my friends from high school sitting around talking. Fun but subdued.

I really like my friends from high school. Part of me wishes I could’ve stayed there and put a life together. But I knew it wasn’t going to happen and I had to get moving again. I wasn’t done traveling.

My friend Naomi from Australia just spent a month in Mexico City on a litigation case and when she finished, she took a week off. I booked a ticket and flew down two days later.

I spent the weekend with her at the Four Seasons while she finished up, basking in pampered, fully expensed luxury. It’s one of the finest hotels in Mexico and a personal record in my own freeloadsmanship.

I’ll spare the details so Nae doesn’t yell at me.

She was living and working in the hotel non-stop since she’d arrived. The hotel was like a walled compound, and she could count the number of times she’d left on one hand. Last night, she took me up to the off-limits rooftop. We climbed a ladder to a small platform at the very top where we could look out in all directions at the sprawling city — the largest in the world. The lights went off into the horizon in all directions, and I’m sure well beyond. It was beautiful and awful at the same time.

This morning, we went to the city square and looked around. We saw Diego Rivera’s huge mural depicting the history of Mexico. We didn’t have time to look at the Aztec ruins from when Montezuma ruled and Cortez sacked the place. We had to get going.

The car rental was a bit scary. We got a Nissan Tsuru with bare bones insurance. The scary part was when he had me sign a blank credit card slip with no amount filled in — "because we don’t know what the charge will be yet." I generally try to avoid signing credit card charges when I don’t know how much I’m paying, but there was no way he’d let me take the car otherwise. If it hadn’t been a big name car rental company, I’d have walked away. Hopefully I made the right decision.

The road out of Mexico City was a nightmare. They’ve stopped paying attention to things like streetlights here and people just go whenever they want. We got lucky and found an attendant at the rental place who needed a ride home and was going our way, so he rode shotgun and gave directions in Spanish — which was a little tricky, but we used the guidebook glossary and managed to translate the essentials. We beat the odds and got out of there in one piece, but I dread having to drive back in there to drop the car off.

After that it was open road to Oaxaca. We took the cuartos, which is their word for toll highways. See, the government roads in Mexico aren’t so good, so corporations have come in and built their own modern ones, but they charge outrageous tolls to let people use them. The five hour drive from Mexico City cost us around $40. The alternative is libres, which are free but much much slower, and after dark, I’m told, you run the serious risk of getting forcibly pulled over and robbed by banditos. We’d like to avoid that.

I’m practicing Spanish numbers in my head while I type this. Veintiuno, veintidos, veintitres…

I’ll cover Oaxaca in my next entry. Right now I’m going to bed. Veinticuatro, veinticinco, veintiseis…

And I must be transmitting my thoughts too loud. Veintisiete, veintiocho, veintinueve, trienta…

Cause as I count in my head, Nae is right next to me and she shouts out in her sleep:

"Thirty-one!"

27 Responses to Oaxaca, Mexico Forging New Universes…in Long Island

  1. Juan Manuel Gutiérrez

    I can’t believe it, we were in Oaxaca about the same time. Man, I loved your dances. I am from Mexico City, and everything you say is true. =( (About Mexico, I mean). I hope you enjoyed your stay here. You should have stayed more time in Mexico City. There’s lots to city (if you’re with someone that knows the way). By the way, can you email me with the name of the song you used in your dancing video? Thanks man.
    A huge fan.

  2. I really did not red your 32k story about Mexico, onlya part where you said that it was boring. So i just wanted to sugest some fun places in Mexico to you, like Cancun!

  3. ekehrz

    hey matt…
    you have to go to mexico again and dance for your next video… if dont… we will be the same as canadians haha… honest…

    if you go, go to queretaro or some capital… we’ll be waitting for ya..

  4. Carolina

    I haven’t read all your blah neither, but I’m amazed by your strong ability to get bored just everywhere you went in México. The problem might not be the places. As if it wasn’t enough bashing the southern neighbours, Ekehrz in his comments wants to bash the northern ones too. Well, we are not so boring as you seem to be, folks.

  5. Bernhard and Astrid

    Hi Boring Man.

    What do you have in your brain? almost nothing, we visited Mexico many times and we really enjoy Mexico, the cervantino festival is one of the best in the world, I do not know how someone can be boring during that festival, even the crow, Guanajuato is a beautiful city. Then in Zacatecas (ZACATECAS with “S” ), also has amazing things to do there, even if you visited the “Cerro de la Bufa”, we don´t know if you are crazy or something else for to say this city is a boring place, and about Torreon, have you ever hear about “Zona del silencio”, “cerro de las noas” that also has an imagen of Jesus, and I guess this is the second bigest in the world after the Jesus of Sao Paulo in Brazil. And see the desert during the travel to Juarez. In Juarez (besides the histories of crime, similar to the Bronx), the people is soo friendly.

    Boring Man, next time when you travel, first make a little research about the places; first when I saw your video I thought you were a cool guy having fun in wherever place. Now I notice you are a poor man without brain. SO GO TO THE HELL…

  6. Shelly

    It’s Zacatecas not Zacateca. It’s cool u went to Mexico, but next time u go, u should go to Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco. Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico and it’s known as the most Mexican city because in Jalisco Tequila, Mariachi and the classical Mexican dance were created, plus it’s a city that is more than 460 years old; it’s full of young people, arts, music and great architecture. The beaches are great as well. Close to Guadalajara u can go to the beaches in Michoacan (another state) which has beaches where u can go camping and which are only populated by native people. Anyways, go to Mexico again.

  7. Mariana Carrascoza Hickman

    Ok, here’s the thing. I’m from Mexico and I felt really insulted by what you wrote, you basically got bored everywhere, and that’s not our fault. If you get bored in Guanajuato during El Cervantino, you must be the most boring person in the world, I’ve gone there since I was in high school and it’s one of the best things this country has to offer, and there’s no way you can tell if a city is boring or not by just one glance at it (ZacatecaS, with an “S”, you wouldn’t like that if I spelled Seatle like this, would you?). I think you need to do more research before or during your travels, because you seem to just to make the wrong conclusions. You were right about Ciudad Juárez, though. It is one of the most dangerous cities in the country, and you were dumb to just get in a car with someone; there’s been serial killings since 2003 more or less of women, and there has been more than 500 women that have been killed, tortured and raped. Just so you know.
    The south of the country (Oaxaca, Chiapas…) is the best part of the country, but it’s easy to understand that you liked the north better (especially the food) since you are American, and apparently only like American food…
    When I saw your videos I thought you were a cool person, now I’m just disappointed. You’re way too arrogant.

  8. jose

    MR. BORING MAN
    COME TO MEXICO AGAIN BUT NOT JUST TO DO YOUR LITTLE DANCE AND GO BACK, COME WITH AN OPEN MIND TO VISIT REAL PLACES AND REL PEOPLE, THERE IS A LOT TO SEE A LOT OF HISTORY, MISTIC HISTORY, MEXICO ITS VERY LARGE AND COMPLEX, FOOD, WAYS OF TALK, WEATHER, WHAT DO YOU WANT, BEACH, MOUNTAINS, JUNGLE, BIG CITIES, COLONIAL CITIES, PYRAMIDS, GET DRUNK, VIRGIN BEACHS, NICE MANY DIFERENT KIND OF FOODS, SNOW, HIKING, SURFIN, NIGHT LIFE, WHAT MATT TELL US WHAT AND MEXICO CAN DELIVER AND PROVIDED.
    SINCERELY.

  9. Alonso Herrera

    Dude, I’m sorry to say this but your commentaries juts expose an incredible lack of depth and culture.
    I know this is just a journal, but you could be a little more responsible about what you post. Instead of trying to discover the culture you visit, you take your very limited vision, have a small chat with a cab driver and then write all those things as facts. There are so many mistakes in your”facts” it’s boring to enlist (and read) them. Come on man, you couldn’t even pay a little attention at spelling places and people correctly.
    This site resumes perfectly what the rest of the world perceives from USA, a nice dance, a small entertaining gimmick and no depth whatsoever. It’s sad and it isn’t true, but people and sites like yours help a lot to give the wrong idea.

  10. warachida

    what the hell where you doing in Mexico city? ugh!…go to Monterrey, Nuevo Leon!!

    link to en.wikipedia.org
    link to bestday.com

    and if you feel like trying something more folkloric you may be interested into Xilitla, in San Luis Potosi. If you go, make sure to travel with someone who speaks spanish.

    link to pbase.com

    I’m Mexican, so I’m allowed to be honest and tell you that Mexico is composed of many subcultres, the one from Mexico city is the least liked….even by other mexicans…please give Mexico a second chance. Start by visiting Monterrey, the north of Mexico is far different from the rest of the country….

  11. Wow! You got roasted here – for what? I love your writing (she said for the 3rd entry). I have been to many places in Mexico, and share your perspectives…I also have additional ones…Mexico and Brazil are two of my favorite places on the planet! The culture,people, history,land,crafts++++. Sakanta Running Wolf

  12. Guillermo

    Matt, just keep doing what you do, I have been in almost all places you were in Mexico and sometimes they are boring, I agree. I do not like the Cervantino, for example, people thinks it is specially fun, but if they need to be in a crowded city full of drunk people to be fun, ups! that is a way to be fun that I do not share.
    I appreciate you write this histories, and understand that you do not say a place IS boring, you say IT WAS boring TO YOU, there is a difference in that. I have been boried in many places too. But sorry, we Mexicans use not to understand that somebody can have other opinion than ours, this a cultural matter.

    Keep dancing awfull, this world needs it!, juar juar.

    Guillermo

  13. FRANCISCO

    MR. MATT

    YOU SHOULD NOT GIVE A HISTORICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE PLACES YOU HAVE VISITED, FOR YOU ARE NOT AN EXPERT AND MANY TIME I FOUND HAT YOU ARE WRONG ABOUT “YOUR” FACTS.

    WHEN YOU VISITED MEXICO, YOU MENTION ASK IF MEXICO WAS COMMUNIST AND YOU INSISTED THAT IT LOOK COMMMUNIST TO YOU. WELL, YOU NEED TO HAVE AN OPEN MIND ABOUT THE PLACES YOU VISIT AND FORGET ABOUT WHTA YOU “THINK”.

    JUST STICK TO MAKING VIDEOS!!!!

    P.S: I FIND YOUR WRITING MATERIAL OFFENSIVE AND I WILL FORWARD THIS LETTER TO YOUR SPONSORS.

  14. Zara

    I believe when you travel with short time there is not really much time to dig into the history of a place and basically fly with the wind and see the most you can along the trip. That will make you miss many things that could be interesting, but it’s an fact you cannot help, unless you know where is what and how to get there, sometimes you wont see it much from each town. I am guessing it’s not easy not to be Anthony Burday and get somebody to arrange you the right person to show you what’s there to try. Since I don’t drink or smoke cigars, I don’t enjoy night clubs, so antros in the cities are not my interest, so If a city doesn’t have information in a accesible place or website it would be hard to “discover” all there is in a place and see it all in one day trip. I am taking your writings and a blog where you just mention what you see under that perspective, I found many people offended here, I would feel like that too, but somehow and not making this longer than it is, once you experience quick traveling to different places in our planet, it gets old to see the same patterns in places where you can easily spot lack of information. I could say, yes, there are many cool things I miss reading in your entries, but I agree, there’s not much to say about Torreon for example, unless you go with a bunch of friends to find stuff out of the city. Once again, you need the information right away and now where and how.

    There’s a lot of paleontology towards Coahuila and Nuevo Leon, but unless you know where and how, you wont find a park with proper information saying what is that you see, and if it’s there, it will probably full of graffiti or you can hardly understand what was written unless somebody give it maintenance.

    Not the proper place to say it, but I see a bunch of information here and as a traveler, it’s not uncommon to go through the same. I hope if there’s a next visit, it could be done with more experience and just avoid those weird looking places at mighnight and stay where it seems safe to be, just preventing bad experiences.

    There will be lots of people happily willing to help you in Mexico and many other places, but that will be also the chance somebody will also try to damage your trip, your experience and the work that many of us have tried to build and create a healthy athmosphere to bring people to know us and to turn things as a friendly place to visit.

    Keep traveling!

  15. Giancarlo

    i am italian, and a traveler too, i have been in Mexico once, and that was enough to realize the big country it is, the awesome culture it has,the great people that lives in there, and the extreme fun it provides. I only can say: offensive, arrogant, dumb… its a shame that people like u visit fantastic countries like Mexico and speaks about it with that poor level of intelligence, LESS DANCING… MORE BRAIN

  16. claudia

    Hi Matt I love you´re video is amazing,it make me cry,so It make me wonder who was Matt.So I looked you up and found your blog,with all the information of all your trips and your honest comments,so if you want to come back to Mexico,ask some one that is from each city because in every city in Mex. there are ruins and beautiful different places,like in Zacatecas there is a disco inside a mine,near Torreon there is a place call “zona del silencio” silence zone,where all the stones are magnetized and you can not hear a sound,magic place,there is a place called “la poza de la becerra” they are like Oasis in the midle of the semi desert.There is a nice place call “las pozas”in San luis beautiful place,there are some cement structures that a guy that was very reach and was from Ireland or something made in his land,and they call it a subrealistic garden,that is in Xilitla,you will love to dance on top of one of those.I hope you will go to other little towns because here in Mexico the people still does what you said in your conference they are in the streets walking,comunicating,the kids playing and Matt you have it very near to you,you don`t have to go to Nambibia to experience this.
    Like you said in your conference you have to make the best of your time,if you feel bored,get out of there and ask the people what do they think,what they love to do,the places to go and see.Keep dancing, enjoy to be alive(that is what your video insipire on me)don`t get bored.
    thanks for the video.

  17. Culantrax

    “Come to Mexico again”? What for? A person who gets bored in every place he visits maybe should go to his home’s closer TacoBell and have some “real, delicious food” since he loves how tasty it becomes once it get closer to the north.

    I did think, too, that he was a cool guy doing some inspiring work. Now I find difficult to keep appreciating that silly dancing and wonderful places once the protagonist has shown little respect and full ignorance about the culture and locations he visits.

  18. carol

    i am in mexico city as i write this and no where in Matt’s blog do i see where he has written “mexico is boring”. i am sure if he travelled the country he would find a beautiful, diverse culture and fantastic people and here in d.f., too. for me, my travels of up to 4 months at a time in places like monterrey (y las afueras), guadalajara, oaxaca, puerto vallarta, d.f., queretaro and taxco just motivate me to see more of the republic and meet more of the people – who have been, almost without exception, kind, generous and open hearted.

  19. !Hey Matt ! you missed Michoacan, there are wonderful places like Morelia,Patzcuaro,Uruapan,and all those small towns arroun de Janitzio,come on! how you were bored? l,m from Uruapan MIchoacan, but now l,m living in Ixtapa Zihuatanejo,Gro you shoul come and visit this beautiful place and then Acapulco, Taxco, anyway keep dancing and have fun!!!

  20. Icono

    first of all, i want to apologize for any grammar or spelling mistakes. Matt, when my husband showed me your last video the night before yesterday, i thought about your strong ability to call people all around the world, i also thought that you even could be a good politician, that you were very diplomatic. i just regret to tell you that indeed, as you say in somewhere of this blog, americans should travel more often. But, what’s the point to travel anyway if we continue to have a narrow vision of the people that live in this world?. What’s the point for americans to travel abroad? The USA is one of the the countries that has a huge cultural diversity, you can see people from almost anywhere around the globe, and still all this diversity at home doesn’t help much. americans have very different subjetivities, well not only americans, everybody in the globe. i think your commentaries sound kind of bias or stereotypical. I just have realize that for some americans, being mexican is a cliche. Have you read Mario Benedetti’s poem: “el sur tambien existe” or Ruben Dario’s “a roosevelt”?

  21. Lieve

    Why is it that people who don’t understand something are the first to be offended by it?

    Maybe artificial intelligence is going to be the only solution for mankind. It’ll no doubt beat no-intelligence.

  22. cc

    pueblas another cool place u should check out if u choose to give mexico another chance… puebla mexico has the pyramid with the largest base in the world.. its height is not that impressive, but theres a lot of history and culture in puebla. popocatepetl volcano would be a cool spot to dance badly. i agree theres some boringness in spots in mexico.. but middle america usa doesnt have a lot to offer either.. u gotta hit the big cities. i love ur videos though, keep dancing badly.. helps people see we’re all the same in a way.. no matter what language, country, or culture.. everyone likes laughing at the guy who sucks at dancing

  23. Zara

    It’s all about expectations. Many people out there adore Matt’s videos and find them inspiring (add here a long list of your qualifications for free _______ ).

    When Matt denotes that found a place like Zacatecas boring, some people found that as a disappointment. Now they are unhappy and they don’t want to know where the hell is Matt. Many will keep watching the videos and yes, that’s for sure until everybody forgets about the videos or, until youtube is shut down. Then, having the book would be a good idea if you want a memory of somebody having his Wargholian fifteen minutes of fame.

    Now, time to adore somebody else before the momentum is gone.

    Such is life.

  24. Abi cue

    What?? Oaxaca, San Cristóbal de las casas, morelia, can cun, Guanajuato, coyoacan in México city, ixtapa zihuatanejo,Also Acapulco … Come again, take a map and explore this amazing country!! México,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *