". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, November 17, 2017

Dream Eagles 11/17/17

     . . . . I was in the process of walking across the

University of Wisconsin Student Center, far back in the day.
 campus of the University of New Mexico, which was really the University of Wisconsin,

North Dakota barn, pasture and slough.
but really was the vast backyard of our farm.

I was on my way to the library, which was really NYC's midtown research library, which was really the

Bobst Library and Washington Square Park.

NYU Bobst Library situated on Washington Square Park, where I was having a class meeting  in my graduate writing program.

There was a brilliant sky marquee in that only-in-New Mexico saturated blue purity, and in it were birds, birds, birds, particularly raptors, and particularly very large eagles. Dream me wondered if eagles were the the source of humanity's dream of dragons? 

As I walked, the campus, off to my left, ended in a large body of water -- a lake or a bay. It too was filled with birds, particularly Canadian geese. 

Twice I watched eagles make a successful hunt on these geese, from the initiation of their hunt, circling high above -- but they were so large I could see the feathers of their throats and wings, to the targeting of the prey, to the astonishing glide-drop to the back of the goose, both going underwater from the impact of the overhead strike’s velocity, then the eagles beating their rise from under the water, up into the sky again, their meal in their talons.

Schwarzman Library

At the same as I arrived at the columned portico of the library (which Bobst does not have, but Schwarzman in midtown has, I had brilliant conception for a novel. 

Then I was in the house that I shared with my writing major roommates. I couldn't wait to describe to them what I had seen, but simultaneously, deliberately refrained, restrained, to preserve the marvel of it -- not just once did I see that successful targeted plunge through air and water and ascension again, but twice! Nor was I going to tell them of my novel breakthrough! 

It was at that point El V woke me . 

I was able to recall in detail the eagles, but not the novel. All I can recall of it is that it involved two women and their relationship to writing, which informs entirely their relationship with each other, and with life generally, which is hardly a brilliant conception, and certainly not even original. Nor have I ever been in a writing program, whether in university or otherwise, though I have certainly been graduate schools!

Oddly, these days when I dream of being back in school, it's always graduate school, not high school or undergrad, as those dreams used to be. Still, as all my life, I still spend a generous amount of time on campuses and in libraries. 

While drinkng tea I realized the landscape of this dream included all four of the landscapes that I have imprinted upon, due to inhabiting - walking, every day for years and years, or nearly every day.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Black Sails and Treasure Island + Outlander and Voyager

     . . . . Black Sails (2017) Season Four, final season was a very good.  At this moment I'm still wondering this may be the most historically accurate action adventure period presentation dramatized on screen (and read in most historical fiction).  Cuba! Invasion of Nassau to put down the motley pre-era of Revolution crew of pirates, self-emancipated slaves, free blacks, indentures and the lower classes in general – as the greatest threat to civilization.

The Black Sails writers really read Marcus Rediker it looks like.

A deluxe 1886 edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island included a treasure map.

 This isn't to say that some liberties with historical facts have not been taken -- for instance the Peruvian shipment on the pirated Spanish vessel, Urca de Lima, was made of valuable commodities such as hides and chocolate,  but not that ever more powerful chimera of gold! gold! gold! which is the ever more enthralling, ever more unattainable source of the stories of  Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and Starz's Black Sails.  But, over all, throughout, Black Sails tacks remarkably close to what historical facts of Nassau's early history we know.

Guess who . . .  he didn't begin like this.

So it matters more for Spain and Britain to cooperate in putting them than the current war between their rulers. Their sheer outrage that anyone not of the ruling classes should attempt to change anything is brilliantly emoted.

These outsiders' ideals of anti-slavery, equality and fairness, have been bubbling along for the previous season, though sometimes submerged either by the imperious demands of survival, which means financing survival, and rivalries and conflicts of interests of all sorts.  In the final season both the ideal, inter-personal conflict and greed are at center of every action.  In the last episodes the audience begins to glimpse through the current action, the characters as we first got to know them in Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Professor Marcus Rediker

After watching the end of the series, I re-read Treasure Island, on Gutenberg since Black Sails is the prequel to the stories of all these characters long and long before Jim Hawkins enters the picture at his mother's inn, the Admiral Benbow, the black spot and all the rest.  Needless to say, in Black Sails, everybody was much much younger and very good looking, which they generally are not in Treasure Island, except perhaps that charming, enticing storyteller we meet as one-legged Long John Silver, with a parrot named Flint (Captain Flint is the central protagonist in Black Sails) -- and many of them had ideals of freedom, liberty and equality, escape from the real evils of the poor and powerless  attempting to create an alternative to Europe's ancien régime.

But in the end, as stolen treasure does, the Urca's fictional gold destroyed them all. And now they're old, so old, if not actually you know,  like Captain Flint, dead. Yet they're still chasing after that damned treasure for which  that hundreds if not thousands have already lost their honor,  blood and lives.

It had been a long time since I'd re-read Treasure Island.  What isn't different though -- and this is brilliant of Black Sails, considering its unique social and political concerns (also so much part of the age), which are seldom if ever found in adventure entertainments --  from the first pages already, the evil miasma of the Urca treasure contagion is in play.  Hawkins, the boy, of course, like we kids who are much of Stevenson's targeted audience, can't see it.  But the boy can see danger, far more quickly than the adults do.

This particularly struck me in terms of Starz's Outlander, both because I just finished re-reading Voyager, the third novel in Diana Gabaldon's historical romance series from which this current season is adapted, and the latest episode takes place at sea, sailing to Jamaica. The ships used in this episode are among those that had been constructed for Black Sails. 
Voyager's action is located in the spread of 1745 - 1765, only a few decades after Black Sails in 1715.  The African slave trade, slavery and indenture slavery were reaching their peak during this entire arc. This is something that the pirates of the era understood thoroughly.  The more oppressed the bottom, i.e. slaves, can be, the more oppressed are every class above them.

Voyager was the book in the series after which I quit, because none of it was working any more. The arbitrary artificiality of the obstacles being put int the way of the twenty years older Claire and Jamie, to have a life without running, and lots and lots of their happy, happy sex is preposterously obvious. This is the point where the series goes off the rails in the books, and probably does on television too.  It's all more likely due to the author's embarrassing caricatures of non-white characters and her ignorance of the cultures in the Caribbean in general.

The author's determination to keep this a romance, is, in the end, makes the effort only about the personal, and by extension to family and clan's well-being, which are still personal concerns.  In Black Sails, romance was not the point.  Sex wasn't even the point., though there was a lot of it, some, unwatchably violent and abusive, detailed and prolonged. Though lesbians were not punished for being lesbian,  gay men had to keep their love a terrible secret, which such demand by society and law at large, has effects on the development of character, thinking and action.

Loyalty and companionship matter of course, but most of all for some, at least, among the Black Sails' crews, there were those who had larger loyalties to ideals of social and political justice, for women and men, for black as well as white. Not only is Black Sails a prequel to Treasure Island, but it's a prequel to revolution, located as it is on the eve of the Era of Revolutions that set the whole world on fire (with help from that anti-revolutionary, Emperor  Napoleon) -- Washington, George Danton, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Símon Bolívar.  But the Outlander books, really about Claire and Jamie's ROMANCE, and  her family and their romance,s as more and younger members of her family arrive in the past from the future, are missing this dimension.

Perhaps that makes the contrast between Starz Outlander and Black Sails all the more stark: Outlander's Voyager turned us cranky and impatient; Black Sails got ever more compelling as the seasons and episodes rolled on.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Chronicles of Prydain -- Best Fantasy Series for the Youth? What About the Animal Heroes?

     . . . . Chronicles of Prydain -- Best Fantasy Series ever?  But is it? 

Is it the very best? -- this person passionately believes it is; at Vox News he tells us that he so much believes it true that he writes to tell us this news every year or so.  Read all about it here

I had all the Prydain books, but they never grabbed me.  I can hardly remember anything about them now.  Perhaps I was already too old when I encountered them in high school? I certainly don't have them on my shelves now, though Winnie-the-Pooh and many other books of fantasy and whimsy, with a sort of non-adult flavor remain. 

Also, the guy writing this is a -- guy, who lurves it that the Hero is a another young guy. That might have kept me from truly rolling with it, perhaps? though the guy-centeredness of so many other books and series never interfered with my passionate attachment to them, from The Black Stallion, his boy, Alec, to Lad, A Dog (see - Lad, another guy!), to LotR, not to mention some of my beloved Zane Greys, and many others -- even Pooh! 

Or -- maybe -- because I was living on a farm, I just knew too much about pigs to suspend my disbelief (always have had some trouble with Charlotte's Web re that).

I loved animal books -- which no longer seem to be written.  Did the Youth lose interest in animal protagonists?  Or was it just the publishing industry?  Anyway, I read every single one that came my way, many of them over and over and over, like the Black Stallion books and the Bambi Books, and Lassie Come Home

I received at least one of that sort of book every Christmas from each set of grandparents and from Mom and Dad.  So that was three books at least every Christmas!

I sobbed every time at the deaths of the animal protagonists in the books I re-read so avidly -- Ginger the rebel / bad slave in Black Beauty, Joe in Beautiful Joe, you name a death and I cried. Albert Payson Terhune's Lad, A Dog (1919), provoked particularly copious tears. Once it happened that I was reading his death while in school (the one-room country school house). The entire room including the teacher were aghast -- what ever could be happening to me? No one could understand how I could weep over a dog, dying, in a book!

I loved all the Terhune books. It wasn't only the canine principals that had me re-reading them constantly though. It was the setting. It was an exotic world, a magical one, as much as any fantasy world I might encounter later (those books weren't around anywhere when I was growing up). The Master and the Mistress, the kingdom of Sunnybank -- which I later learned was in New Jersey, He and She could drive into unknowable NYC for dog shows -- all this was as foreign and unknowable as the moon. This dimmish, but constant background kingdom of Sunnybank that cast a spell as irresistable as any of a fantasy novel. Sunnybank was ruled by Him, to whom Lad owed all his service and loyalty, and Her, who in turn ruled Him, and whom Lad adored in all humility and to whom his devotion was entire -- and that had that inexplicable thing -- servants! who even served the dogs.  Thus dogs' lives and hierarchy reflected perfectly this perfect feudal world, with impeccable class system -- a creation of the plutocratic, bloated Gilded Age. 

I was too unsophisticated and ignorant to recognize it for the class system that the Terhune books celebrated at the time. So every aspect of this strange world so far away in both time and space fascinated and enthralled me, those times that so-called 'real world' penetrated the world of the characters -- characters that could not have existed without that upper, non-understood plane of Master and Mistress / Him and Her ruling that world.

I'm not sure I'm recollecting exactly how the owners of Sunnybank were called in Lad's mind -- but it was something like that. What I do recollect clearly was how much I liked the dogs having real names, as -- to my mind -- being the significant ones -- while the human beings were -- to my child mind -- peripheral.

Too bad the world isn't really run that way, the non-human world at the center, and we hooman beans the side-bar.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Still Feeling Xalapa: ¡Gatos!

     . . . . I introduced The Young of Xalapa to the concept of "herding cats."

El Azuzul Jaguar Statue. Museum of Anthropology, Museo de Antropologia, Xalapa.

Jaguar statue, Oaxaca.
Olmec Twins & Jaguar: the twins are divinities also. Here they are facing off to the Jaguar God, in the posture of respect, which, we note, is one of the postures common to cats of all kinds.

Due to loss of habitat, jaguars are endangered species throughout Mexico, Central America, South America and Brasil.  It is revered by the cultures in all these regions.

As all of my young friends are more than fond of cats, appropriately as they are descended from people for whom the Jaguar is a divinity, they immediately got it.

In Xalapa they term such a concept as "Xalapeñear."

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Xalapa Siete - Hangin' with los Muertos

     . . . . Our official work is concluded, so we're trying to relax and see as much of this city and state as we can before leaving.

This is the weekend before el día de los muertos (November 1), which is in full swing festivities aleady, making traffic worse, but making every blink of the eye filled with something interesting and fun. Even so, last night, after all the long day of Slave Coast events, I fell out and slept for nearly 12 hours last night.  When last did I do that when not sick?

But awesome el V, after a 45 minute nap, went to work, reviewing essays of his NYU students, and then attended Donald Harrison Jazz Symphony, with himself and his group playing with the Xalapa Symphony Orchestra.  Then, he went to the reception afterwards.  He got in about 1:30 AM.  I never heard him, even though I'd been sleeping for hours already by then.

So much has happened, and so much continues to happen, all this, running in parallel with the city's ever intensifying Day of the Dead celebrations. 

Today is cool and a little rainy. El V and I went to a Day of the Dead tamale festival, where I found cool regalos for mis amigas, including lots of items made out of chocolate (which grows here, btw) and are formed into images that roll with el dia de los muertos. Since I get back Monday, I will be able to give them out on Halloween, most appropriately.  There were many groups of dancers and bands from all over, performing, one after another, including some splendid flamanco, one of my favorite forms of dance - music.  This is going on everywhere!  Actually, it feels like the week of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Donald thinks so, and he ought to know.


El V bought local artisan cervezas.  He also ate several different tamales -- and then we went to lunch with Donald and the guys.

Tonight there's a very large Day of the Dead parade, that passes right by our Hotel Clara Luna, so I have a spectacular view of it from the second floor window overlooking the street. 

Tomorrow we are going to meet with an historian and anthropologist, whose study is the African cultures in the state of Veracruz.  She is the aunt of one of the tremendously talented volunteer organizers who has been herding all the gatos who are the talent of the festival. (Like everyone else doing the actual work, she hasn't slept in days, so I feel a real wimp-fool for my 12 hours fall out last night. El V is particularly excited as Dr. Sagrario Cruz-Carretero is very famous at the CUNY Grad Center among our anthro friends there.  He says, "How envious they will be when we tell them!"

I have uploaded yesterday's and today's photos, but I'm too tired right now to post any of them. But they are colorful!

Ooo, I am hearing the squeals, yells and screams from the people in the street already as the parade begins!  And now I hear the bands!

Xalapa Seis -- Post Slave Coast Performance

     . . . . Considering the sheer talent and the number of dedicated professionals who have been working since late last winter - early spring on the live American Slave Coast performance with Donald Harrison and musicians, it does seem surprising that last night at the State Theater "Gral. Ignacio de la Llave" was a success.

In any case, everyone involved is happy, pleased and satisfied as to how the centerpiece came off and was received.

Two of our new friends, the Ph.D. candidates who guided us through the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa, made two observations that particularly struck me:

1) "After learning all this about los negroes in the United states, I think I am even glad that it was the Spanish who conquered us and not the British";

2) "This is where all this jazz, these Blues, all this music that we are celebrating here in Xalapa has come from -- tragedy.  We had no idea of any of this."

Now, interviews.  Then the academic presentation.  

Woo -- this altitude is really kicking me.  I feel exhausted all the time, no matter how early I get to sleep and how many hours spent sleeping.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Xalapa Cinco -- Rehearsal, All Time, Slave Coast Performance

     . . . . So many rehearsals!  But none of them with the music.  But last night that happened, and it is good.  Alas, one of the actresses seems to be getting sick with a respiratory thing.  This truly, truly matters as she's the one who sings "My Old Kentucky Home." Pobricita.  She's worked so hard to get the song down right -- it hurts me on her behalf that this might go wrong for her.  Plus, she has another big performance tomorrow for another event as part of the festival.

Tech rehearsal at 2 PM.  I don't need to be there for that, as I'm audience tonight, pure and simple.  El V, however, is directing as go-between for the musicians and the actors, as the musicians don't speak Spanish, so he will be helping them know when the music windows arrive.  He is also running the slide show accompaniment to the delivered text.  He's put Spanish commentary with them, to help the audience further understand the significances of what it is hearing.  So he's got a lot to do.

Performance at 7 PM.  Yah, I admit to being excited to see the performance of Slave Coast.  I never did in New York, as I was on stage.

So far though, it's still impossible to believe that our adaptation for live performance from The American Slave Coast -- which totally dominated our lives for the five years of writing and nearly two years of touring --  is really being performed, live, on stage, with Donald Harrison and his musicians, and these wonderful actors, here! in Mexico! in Xalapa! something we've been thinking about for nearly a year now, and never able to actually conceptualize because we could have no idea of either location or the people involved until we ourselves were on the ground.  Now the time for it is nearly here, and every indication we've received is this is going to be a wonderful performance.

It's turned a lot cooler here.  We're both going to need sweaters, so while they are rehearsing, I will go shopping.

BTW, we can hear roosters in the morning.  I could live easily in Xalapa.   It has everything I need, including bookstores and libraries, food shopping is easy, cooking would be fun, the people are wonderful, my Spanish would get really good, and it is very beautiful.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Xalapa Cuatro + Reading On Wednesday

     . . . . Yesterday was a four-hour text rehearsal of "The American Slave Coast: A Reading of History With Music, as it is billed hereThis morning we did another four hours.  We'll finally get to have a rehearsal with the musicians, beginning at six this evening.  So that will go, who knows how long.

We're waiting at the moment to have lunch delivered to us in the hotel room because at four PM we have to do a "Conversation" at the university, with Donald Harrison and someone else I do not know, on the musical history connections among Veracruz, Cuba and New Orleans.  We're still working on the slides that go with the Slave Coast theatrical presentation tomorrow night, and trying to prepare for the 4 PM event.  We also have another one, specifically on the history of Slave Coast on Friday.

Navigating between Spanish and English, the Spanish translation and our English version, all of us -- the Director, the actors and el V and me -- attempting to get the words just right, etc., has left me feeling as though my head is filled with heavy rocks, very many very heavy rocks.  Among other trip and fall spots is that our Spanish tends toward the Cuban, and there are locutions and words and pronunciations we are used to that simply don't exist in the Spanish here among the Veracruz intellectual, artistic and university educated -- and vice versa.  Then there are the trip and falls that have to do with English into Spanish and Spanish into English.  It's been a cooperative effort, everyone from the original translator of our text, to the director and the actors and now us, to make it as fresh, lively and accurate as possible.

Everyone is giving at least 110% to our work. And even more. C, the actress who does the "Letter From Virginia", the heartbreaking, accidentally preserved letter to the infamous slave trader, R.C. Ballard, has memorized it.  She's presenting this complicated text as any actress would expect to.  In truth, it is an incredible role for an actress.  (When we did it at Symphony Space in New York a year ago, the readers were musicians, not actors -- and me who is no performer of any kind.) 

Virginia Boyd was light-skinned slave used by the slave trader and his cronies, passed around among them, literally as a sex slave, and by whom she had children.  Something happened -- we don't know what -- and she, who had had a relatively physically decent life, was no pregnant, which was causing trouble for some big white fella, and she's been sent away from the upper south, is now in a Texas slave pen waiting for auction.  She writing, begging to be spared this fate of being sold away with her children where she knows nobody at all -- and to what? a Texas cotton field?  Because she's now past her first beauty's bloom . . .  We don't know what happened.  It's only by an accident of history that this letter exists for us to read, for her name, Virginia Boyd, to be preserved, and for us to speculate about her.

It's incredibly painful to read.  The actress delivers the content in her native Spanish, and all of the terror, anger, incomprehension -- all of it comes through.  My Spanish isn't good enough to follow the words literally, but the actress's skills are so good that I can follow the feelings.  As mentioned -- this is one hell of a juicy opportunity for a professional actress -- which, of course, we'd never thought of previously -- so yah, she wasn't going to waste that opportunity.  Still, its one hell of a thing to see and hear.

     . . . . Not much reading this last week -- we arrived in Mexico last Wednesday!  It was late, and even later when we got into our hotel -- which had lost power, which had made it impossible for the cab driver bringing us from the airport to find it.  That was our first adventure . . . .

The only book I brought with me is Diana Gabaldon's Voyager, which is where the Starz third season now is -- also the volume after which I stopped reading the series.  The caricatures of non-euro people and the preposterous religion and history that takes over -- the author's ignorance of same, is why.  How the television series will handle this -- I hope better than the author did!  But the earlier sections of Voyager -- 1059 pages long, why yes that is correct, the novel is one thousand and fifty-nine pages -- are perfect get-out-of-where-one's-head/back-is escapism.

ETA:  Returned from the 4 PM conversation at 6 PM.  I am missing the music rehearsal of Slave Coast, because my spine went splah with pain in the chairs provided.  Need to sit stretched out now, with feet up and recover, to get through tomorrow's very long day's work and then the performance.

It also turned cold here today -- down into the 40's tonight and as the Conversation was semi-outdoors, despite my jacket, I got chilled.  Nevertheless, I did my best to follow along in the discussions of the 'negros' and their music in the Caribbean and here, in Veracruz and New Orleans in the 18th century -- which is the era in which the principals of Voyager arrive in this part of the world, leaving Scotland behind forever, maybe.

However, in this original time travel romance, it is impossible not to notice, that as long as Claire stays in her own time, Jamie's life reaches equilibrium.  The very moment she arrives back in the 18th century, it's rapine, murder and chaos, and ooops, on the run again!


Fats Domino has walked to heaven.  1928 - 2017.

We learned of this just prior to leaving for the Conversation.

Our guys, playing the Slave Coast music, are all New Orleans musicians who all knew him well.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Xalapa Tres

     . . . . The artists for the jazz festival started coming in last night.  But too many had horrible journeys here, due to Houston shutting down the airport and canceling flights yesterday due to intense rain.  The guys coming from New Orleans began at 3:30 AM, and didn't get into their beds until 2 AM today.

I began learning all this at lunch, which began sometime after three PM.  And soon I'll have to get ready for tonight's inaugural dinner and party.  I have no appetite . . . .

Because of the theater performance of the translated Slave Coast text with Donald Harrison and his group doing the music, I am in with those classified by the festival as "artist."  So far it seems I am the only woman!  Anyway, I was the only woman sitting at lunch.  (In Xalapa I am not only taller than everyone else, I am the only blonde I've seen.)


As mentioned this part of Mexico feels more like Spain than some other places.  Yesterday, duh! ya, figured out why, duh!

Veracruz is where Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca, set up the first Spanish shop in New Spain - Mexico.  He'd already helped do so for Cuba back in 1519, but he and the Cuban governor didn't get along, so into the Gulf of Mexico and to the mainland he sailed, despite the Cuban governor telling him to stay put.

Rio Huitzilapan (Hummingbird River) down a bit from Cortés's compound.

Horses are honored here, at the spot where they were landed to conquer the Aztec Empire for Spain.

Ceiba trees and their roots are everywhere in Cortés's palace compound ruins.

Coral from the Gulf was used with the basalt and mortar to make the walls of Cortés's compound, as well as the walls of fortification at San Juan de Ulúa.
Perhaps this is the oldest church on the mainland, built originally almost 500 years ago, part of Cortés's compound.  Nothing original remains, but this church in Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz still has congregants (little girls in their Sunday dresses were everywhere around it yesterday) and holds services.

It was in la Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz where Hernán Cortés first landed his armaments and men via the small barcos from his ships anchored in the Veracruz bay, up the Rio Huitzilapan.  We saw it!  and the ruins of his personal palace compound.

The prison at San Juan de Ulúa, reached by a bridge called the Bridge of Sighs, just like the bridge in Venice that prisoners walked to their incarceration, from which very few ever emerged.  Note the contemporary port machinery and technology everywhere.

The official administrative and military center was at what became the port of Veracruz -- begun 498 years ago at San Juan de Ulúa, a small island in the Gulf there.  We toured that fortress as well, which compound is enormous -- and now entirely surrounded by the present day port facilities (petroleum and petroleum products from the fields here, as well as many many other goods manufactured in this state including automobiles) and contemporary Mexico's naval yards and other military facilities. It's so extensive and complex that it is impossible to show it in an entire spread with any kind of camera.  Keep in mind, it was from this fortress that the Spanish beat the butts of Hawkins and Drake in the 1568  Battle of San Juan de Ulúa -- much to their shock and surprise.

So this is why the state of Veracruz feels so intensely Spanish-Spanish -- there's even Arabic language elements in signage and naming of places and things and people here. This is where the conquistadores came first to the southern hemisphere mainland, which soon they'd claim all of for Spain.  This is part of the great colonial territory that made the Spanish Empire an empire.  So many of the men who did this had little prospect of advancement, riches and prestige back in Spain, particularly since the conclusion of the Reconquista -- so to the New World they came, searching for fame and particularly fortune.  And it is the Caribbean and Mexico where they first found both.  Cortés died happy and rich, at home, in Spain, with a Spanish wife and children -- while historians continue to debate what happened to Malinche, his Azteca translator-concubine and the son he had by her, in his palace compound by the Hummingbird River.

As the festival begins now, maybe the sightseeing is over.

La Lucha!

     . . . .  Vaquero now has his own freestyle Mexican wrestling mask, so he too can become a superpowered wild man any time he wishes.

This happens every Sunday night in Xalapa, to the pounding of Rock, techno and other energetic forms of music.  It's a kind of martial arts ballet-acrobatic thing, intensely energetic and theatrical. It's a family affair, with mothers as enthusiastic about verbally abusing and killing the opponent they don't like as their little boys -- who are in heaven, wearing their own masks, of course, whether painted or pulled on.  A little later, little girls joined in then antics in the ring before and between bouts. Lots of cerveza is sold and drunk.

By the way, the number of emporiums in Xalapa selling comix, old and new, and that particularly advertise the availability of superhero books, is very high.

el Luchador Vaquero

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Xalapa Dos-Dos

We have returned from the Veracruz - Cortés expedition -- at the height of un bruto of heat and sun -- to find a beautiful blue and black winged butterfly perched on the mirror above the bathroom sink.  Butterflies of all kinds have been around us all day.  

   . . . . One particular part of yesterday's visit to  El Museo de Antropología de Xalapa have remained with me, recollecting with el V afterward, in my dreams last night, and talking about it with Patricá and her mother today. It has to do with women.

With a single exception that is one of the Colossal Great Heads, there is nothing representing women, the female side of life -- anything to do with them at all, in any of the epochs covered until we get to the last section of the chronology, which is the era of the Azteca Empire and then that of the collision of the Azteca and the Conquistadores at the beginning of the 16th century.

Our young woman guide said, "Wait, when we get there it will be good because this culture admired women."

In fact there was an entire gallery dedicated to female goddesses, and, then, of course, even children, those who died with their mothers during childbirth.  Among them is Tlazolteotl, the goddess of filth / dirt / lust. 


She is the one to whom people come to be cleansed of their crimes and bad deeds.  She is also then, of course, a goddess of the dead, and a translator between the duality of below and above.  I remarked, "Yah, of course, here, just like all over the world, men make a mess, and then expect a woman to clean it up and fix it for them.  Both of the two younger women jumped up and down, clapping and laughing, and going, "O yes, that's right, we're always having to do it."

The two males respectfully did not mansplain or interrupt.  Good guys they are!

When I brought this up with el V later, he responded, "Yah.  This is global by now, women knowing and noticing and its making a difference.  I hope. For s.ome of us men, anyway. I hope."

Today, in the car, to and from Veracruz, both Patricá and her mother, as a matter of course, spoke of women having the rights to be more than they have been allowed to be for so long.  One can see how much / how well! her mother has reared her lovely daughter.  It is so good to witness.

Once again I am struck so hard by the incredible being that a latina or latinx woman is, whether she's Puerto Rican, Cuban, or Mexican or Brasilian.  She's strong, educated, energetic, she gets things done, she is so brave.  She's also feminine in a way that I can never be, naturally and elegantly, and never worries about it either.

I am so fortunate that I am able to keep meeting women like this.  O yah, they sing and dance in a way I envy terribly!

     . . . . One other other thing from the museo comes back to me now.  I had noticed that there are shoe stores of every kind everywhere -- so many of them, and so large.  I saw it in Veracruz today too.  Beautiful shoes, boots, sandals, sneakers -- whatever one could want.  The male guide yesterday pointed out the shoes on the feet of so many of the representations we were viewing. 

Olmec Ball Player circa 1500 B.C.

 He said with pride, "We were making and wearing real shoes -- not moccasins or sandals -- 2000 years ago.  Are the number of shoe stores today connected with this, one wonders? 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Xalapa Dos

     . . . . We have returned from five hours in the Xalapa - Veracruz Museo de AntropologíaWe had not only one, but two, private guides, one of whom speaks some English -- this is what she is studying at university -- and the other a Ph.D. student in the cultures of this part of Mexico.  They were splendid.   Patriciá was with us as well. Among other things, having these three people taking us through these eras of pre-Columbian and Spanish Mexico meant Ned and I were treated to many unofficial legends and lore that they have received from their own parents and grandparents -- these three were each a descendant of one of these indigenous cultures.

Our little group of five were totally fluent in Spanish with the exception of myself. Yet, sometimes it took all five of us, including me, to come up with the correct word in Spanish and English to express a meaning, particularly of everyday objects and practices. We enjoyed ourselves immensely.  I'm sure they did enjoy themselves as much as we did, because it was five hours and nobody was in the least obligated to be there for five hours.

One of the Olmec Great Heads which  date from at least before 900 BC and are a distinctive feature of the Olmec civilization of ancient Mesoamerica.  There are 17 of them; this museum has 9.  This one is known both as #1 (numbered in order of their recovery) and as it was the first one found, The King.  The stone is basalt, which comes from a long distance away from the region where the heads have been dug out. It weighs many tons.

The flat nose is a reflection of the jaguar's nose - face, which animal is of multiple significances of intensity including divinity, and which flows through all these cultures throughout the millennia
The museum itself is one of the most beautiful I've ever been in. It's built over a site that was an indigenous village when Cortés arrived, with burial sites, the pyramid, etc. of one of the subject groups of the Azteca. The architectural design deliberately suggests one of these edifices. There are those who claim to feel the power that still remains not only in the contents of the building, but what is under the ground. The museum is so elegantly and intelligently arranged that we go from the earliest eras up through the arrival of the Spanish in chronological order, and are able this way to see the continuations of the cultures across the millennia.

It was a miracle that my back was able to do this.  Fortunately, having private guides who were enjoying themselves, there were no objections to stopping so we could all sit and rest our feet and other parts, while the guides continued giving us stories, histories, legends and instruction.  That was how I managed.  But o do I hurt now!

Patricá, el V and I had lunch in a northern African Mediterranean restaurant afterwards.  Even el V was dragging his tail hard after this marvelous day.  We came back to our neighborhood.

Calle des Diamantes
El V picked up his suit and then we went through the calle des diamantes to look at the jewelry in this long outdoor market.  This being Saturday, all was packed.  But generally the streets and brick and mortar stores are always filled with real people, really interacting with each other and many material objects from roasting corn to be made into masa, and then into tacos! tortillas! and so many other things that are good to eat! to reading newspapers and discussing the contents (as can be imagined, the crisis de Espana and Catalonia is much in people's minds).

What is the most wonderful about being here is the presence of things, from flower markets, husking corn, people talking with each other, playing board games, card games, so many activities, recreational as well as work, that take place in real space and time -- not as pixels.  People have wifi -- many, many public wifi areas (so different from the USA) -- at home, at work, etc.  They have smart phones.  But they are not consumed by them -- at least so far.  They are not living in the internet online-order-and-deliver culture.  The sheer pleasure of stores, filled with attractive goods, good that are necessary to a smoothly running household, adequately staffed by interested, professional people -- the street as economic driver and social, political and cultural space!

Calle Enriqui, the cathedral.  One of its two towers was destroyed by lightening early in the 19th century -- twice.  so there remains only one tower, the people of Xalapa taking it as a sign to leave well enough alone.  Above the cathedral, in a men's shop two doors down from a Sears (!), el V found his suit.  Some distance up from the cathedral is our Hotel Clare Luna.
I have been missing this so much in the post digital age that is NYC and our neighborhood.  

Our neighborhood is packed with pedestrians and traffic, but this density is meaningless, for most of them neither live there nor work there -- they don't even live in the country.  Oddly, here, I revel in the density of pedestrian traffic, because these are the people who live and work there, and it has meaning.

We have at least been able to carve out neighborhood for us long-time residents along with St. Anthony's and some of the long time businesses such as the Bistro, but generally, it's just -- nada.  Tourists and those who extract their money and that's that.  No culture, so social life, no civil life.  I just hate it. 

In Xalapa, meaning still seems to exist among the younger generations as well. It goes on every day, all day, late into the night.  The amount of night life here, even beyond the cantinas, taco places, restaurants -- high end, low end -- theaters, movies, music -- is tremendous.  By the way, bookstores everywhere!  People sitting and waiting, like Patricá when we are in a meeting, reads a real book.  (I too read a real book while sitting around waiting.)

We saw it in Mexico City, the few hours we had between getting into the hotel and having dinner, and going to bed.  In the restaurant where we had our dinner, the young hipsters (it was one of those hipster heaven nabes), we were by far the oldest people there.  The other tables were people discussing politics and literature, playing -- monopoly! -- playing cards, playing games that I had no idea what they were, singing and occasionally getting up to dance. 

Like people in Xalapa and all over Mexico do, we take taxis all the time.  The drivers insert themselves into the conversation as a matter of course.  They like to talk. They seem all to speak English, as they seem to have been either born in the USA or lived there for a long time.  They all seemed to work more than one job in the US, had their own businesses and so on.  But all that entrepreneurial energy, that produced taxes for the public good and paid into our social security has gone back to Mexico, where their contributions and spirit may well transform their country into a global powerhouse, while we, with our mean ugly exclusive spirit goes broke while the obscenely wealthy appropriate whatever is left.  Nor is it only Mexicans that the USA is doing this to.  We are cutting our own gdded throats.

Tonight, we're supposed to be taken out by one of the people who has brought us to this festival, to visit an old school pulquería - cantina.  Popular street culture, el V wants, where he can hear Mexican music.  So far -- blues (the international hipster choice), jazz, etc., but no local Mexican music has been heard by him.  

Tomorrow is going to be another long day, as we drive to Veracruz, tour the castle fortress and look at various slave ship markets and other historical locations. 

Friday, October 20, 2017


     . . . . I've finally gotten it straight, probably because we are on the ground hereWe are in the state of Veracruz, in its capital, Xalapa.  This is not the port city of Veracruz, which is on the Gulf Coast, about an hour and a half away by car.  Xalapa also functions as kind of the equivalent of the Xalapa county seat: the muncipality government, which isn't the same as 'municiple'.

It is also the university town -- 20,000 students enrolled in Veracruz.  So government and students are its chief economy (and agriculture!) -- very like Austin, TX.  It also has three connected lakes, that to unknowing eyes appear to be a river, as does Austin.

But this is very Spanish, as the non-indigenous settlement began in 1519 with the arrival of Hernán Cortés, most definitely not Tex-Mex.  The city twists and winds, goes up, and goes down along steep grades.  Only the most dedicated here bicycle.

We came from Mexico City yesterday, via the Ardos bus line's Platinum (Platino) bus service.  The steps up to the coach, like the coach floor itself, is of polished wood.  There is enormous leg room.  The seats are double or single. The seats recline.  The footrests are adjustable from high to low.  The wifi is free, if one signs in with fb, linked in or twitter.  The movies, etc. are also free, and one does not need to sign in with anything.  One can charge all ones devices right there as well.  A lunch is provided.  The coach was filled up, but it felt otherwise, there is so much room.  Excellent, since the trip was 4 1/2 hours, of which most of it felt as though attempt to escape Mexico City.

I read Diana Gabaldon's Voyager, but mostly looked out the window.  The state of Veracruz is endlessly varied: volcanic mountains rising abruptly from the plains and valleys, forests, farming of all kinds from corn (lots of corn) to produce and fruit.  Lots of horses, cattle and even sheep.  The mountains are very high. It was like flying, one's ears were constantly stopping up and unplugging.
We were met at the station by Patriciá (how she pronounces it), a student who first studied architecture, graduated and started law school, and now is in the arts.  She decided she wanted art, not law, not architecture.  She's smart and nice, and our faciliator.

We're staying in the lovely and well-located Clara Luna Hotel, which has been refurbished and renovated to hark back to its heyday -- Mexico, the Caribbean's and South American's heyday, the 1930's and 1940's.  This was the musicians' hotel back then, so there is a lot of that sort of memorabilia but its integrated into the decor and furnishings, not something to look at.  Out room is huge and the bed is very comfortable.  This is good as we need to sleep a lot because we are still quite high above sea level, and our sea level systems are not used to this, particularly with all the going long stretches down steep grades and up steep grades.

The food is as wonderful as expected.

Luis Mario Moncada
And, now the most important thing.  We have been to a rehearsal of The American Slave Coast with the director, Luis Mario Moncada, who is Mexico's most respected adapter of English into Spanish language productions, as well as her most famous director.  His theater group is the oldest in modern Mexico, founded back in the 19th century.  He's on the faculty here, and the theater group's home is here, when not on tour.

Part of this morning's university's route to the rehearsal.
It is wonderful what they have done with Slave Coast.  We couldn't be more pleased and TASC couldn't be better served.  The actress who reads the letter from enslaved Virginia Boyd to the slave trader who is sending her and her pregnancy to Texas to be sold does it (in Spanish) with grace, pathos and just tears the heart out of one's body.

Everyone is so nice to us!  It's embarrassing as we're aware at all times of how intensely mean, nasty and contemptuously the USA is treating Mexico and Mexicans.  Paul Krugman gave a lecture in Mexico City the night we arrived (that was only Wednesday, two days ago!), which, hugely attended, got written up in all the media.  The gist, that all the newspapers (real newspapers and books are everywhere visible in Mexico!) stressed, of what Krugman said was -- very roughly translated:

The system of the US was designed by men who assumed that it would only be in the charge of sane men.  If someone was elected who turned out to be mad or a criminal, he would be impeached.  Thus the system would survive.  However, the system cannot survive a madman when all the powers of wealth and politics are being served by the madman.

After the rehearsal, and then lunch (4:30 PM, was lunch) Ned and I went back to what is one of the main shopping districts.  He bought and Italian suit for less than $300 in US money.  This morning we got the news a check is waiting for us back in the US, the last installment of our share of the profit for investing in the items from Morocco that DH brought back last year.  So a suit, that is altered in the shop for trouser length, etc. for less than $300 -- and gorgeous – El V looks so good in it! -- seems about right.   

El V would never have gotten it though, if I wasn't with him.  He picked out trousers first, that I thought were not of the quality he should be getting.  The young sales person was terrific, he kept bringing jackets.  I’d say the jacket, though very nice, its fabric didn’t harmonize with the fabric of the pants.  In the end we got a suit!  About damned time!

I'm skipping the music tonight.  Lunch was so late, I doubt I'll be hungry for dinner, which comes after the music, which will be around 10 PM, but maybe I'll join them.  This is all so Spanish -- and  different from Cuba, Puerto Rico, the DR, or the French Caribbean or even New Mexico.  But it isn't Spanish either, not quite -- it's Mexican, and one can see and feel it, though the differences are subtle and I haven't been here long enough to understand in any kind of detail.

I'm fortunate and privileged to have this experience, even as difficult as the last few days of getting ready and traveling have been.  For people with our infirmities mixed into the TSA regs and the airlines' determination to make it as ugly for the average person as possible, and then the wreckage of urban sprawl and traffic to get to and out of the airports, it is increasingly difficult but we're always treated so well when we arrive, and we learn and experience so much.

I'm still running at least 24 hours behind, in attempting to process and remember everything since arriving in Mexico.  It's a lot -- for one thing, it just suffered a terrible earthquake, and I don't forget that.  Here in Xalapa, they had weeks and weeks of rain and flooding -- then a hurricane.

This end of summer has been awful for so many.  Hopefully things finally may settle some for a while -- at least weather-wise . . . .