Something wonderful happened yesterday.
This is a thing that might be difficult for some folks to appreciate. In order to make it easier for you, gentle reader, to understand my excitement, let me provide you with just a little bit of background.
I live in a city called Bellingham, Washington. It’s nestled between the ocean and the Cascade Mountains, around eighty miles north of Seattle and about twenty or so miles south of Canada. It is the largest city in rural Whatcom County, and as a result is impacted by a variety of cultural influences. Between that and the fact that it’s a university town, and thus filled with young people, it’s a very generative environment, artistically speaking.
It all started back in February 2013, when a friend of mine posted this photo to her Facebook.
This is a tortilla in a sandwich bag with “emergency tortilla” written on it in black permanent marker. It was left on top of one of our downtown garbage cans.
I was immediately delighted by it. Slowly but surely, more tortillas appeared on Facebook. I started asking people about them… whether they had seen the tortillas, if they knew who was producing them, if they knew the why behind the project. I was sure I was missing some, so I decided to employ the wonders of social media. I got on Facebook and started the Bellingham Mystery Tortilla Appreciation Society. I invited a few of my friends, and they invited a few of their friends, and well… in the last few months, we have collected almost three hundred members and no fewer than ninety-four photos of tortillas. We at the Society have been led to believe that we missed quite a few of them.
They’ve shown up all over downtown Bellingham. There’s a map being maintained (by me, admittedly) of tortilla sightings. They’ve even showed up inside the restrooms of local watering holes.
I wish I could explain to you what it is I love so much about these tortillas. I have a well-known affinity for food, particularly traditional or peasant foods. I love tacos as well. But it’s more than that. In a busy downtown, you know that the tortillas are bound to be taken down quickly, and they’re often put in places where people wouldn’t normally look, like on street signs well above head level, or on shop windows at about knee-height. When you see one, you know that you are there, in that moment, in the presence of something that is special and short-lived. It’s a magical feeling. The things written on the tortillas betray a delightful sense of humor, sometimes with a slight cynical feel. I love them. The fact that someone would spend their time in the wee hours doing this is amazing. They are sexy, mysterious, and yet somehow strangely familiar and sweet. Their embrace of the absurdity of human existence thrills my heart.
My favorite of all the tortillas was also the most elaborate. The policy of the Society is to leave the tortillas in the wild for all to enjoy if at all possible, and yet I still feel sad that I never ended up in possession of this one. The tortilla is made to look like a banjo, and the stenciled text is reminiscent of Woody Guthrie, and speaks of such a tender idealism that it swells my heart. I wish I knew the man that made this tortilla.
In fact, I might know the man who made this tortilla… there is some evidence that the person responsible for these tortillas is at least aware of, and possibly a part of, the Bellingham Mystery Tortilla Appreciation Society.
The tortillas stopped three or four weeks ago. It was bound to happen; this by its nature is a project of limited life span. And there is beauty in impermanence, after all. I was willing to let them go. It had been a beautiful thing to be here to witness, and I’m not a greedy soul.
But this morning, when I woke up, I saw this on Facebook:
It was found outside one of my very favorite local businesses, the Black Drop Coffeehouse (best coffee in town, tell your friends!). After I got downtown, on my way to work, I found five more tortillas. Even though the transience of this sort of art is part of its beauty, I was glad to see them.
I’m sure a lot of people think that I’m at least a bit odd due to the enthusiasm that I display for these little pieces of art, and maybe they’re right. One thing, however, that I have learned in my years of life is that the world is far too bleak and brutal a place to miss a chance to laugh and let your eyes shine.
Nobody makes it out of this place alive. Take every chance to enjoy yourselves.
I love my town.