31 August 2009

Fabien


I said goodbye to the Frenchman last night. He is on his way now to Oaxaca city, where his brother will join him for a time, and then to the state of Chiapas, to Guatemala, and on to Brazil with a detour somewhere in there to British Columbia to work a harvest or prune trees or something.

A Bit of History Picked Up Along the Way


Maga has pointed out to me that the year 2010 will be a significant year for México. It will be the bicentennial of Mexican independence from Spain won in 1810. It will also be the centennial of the Revolution of 1910. I have been obtaining a far better grasp now of the broad significance of the Revolution than I ever did while accumulating three semester hours of B in Latin American History at the University of Iowa in the fall semester of 1968. And what a flat out great story with Emiliano Zapata fighting in the south and Pancho Villa in the north!

30 August 2009

Stop Worrying about the Environment



I wish folks would take a deep breath and stop worrying about the devastation we are working on the environment. Sheez! It is all blather and a lot of it. The coming market in carbon credits or whatever it is? Give me a break. So much uselessness.

The fundamental misconception of these people wringing their hands over the state of the environment is this. They regard Mother Earth. . .Madre Tierra in Spanish—isn't that beautiful? . . .they regard Mother Earth as some weak, defenseless, piddling thing that we are bullying, as if we could. The truth of the matter is quite the contrary.

Mother Earth possesses massive, almost inconceivable, powers of self-defense. The reason that it may appear otherwise to us is that those powers of self-defense operate over geologic time. If there is anything that is difficult for human beings, and apparently doubly so for environmentalists, it is thinking in terms of geologic time.

What we have wrought on the environment of Mother Earth is already irreversible in the very near term. Any moron can see that. But the near term is not the point. Eventually, a devastated Mother Earth will fumigate itself and shuffle off this infestation of human beings. I do not pretend to know the precise device that Mother Earth will employ. Perhaps the plague. Perhaps mass starvation. Perhaps we will simply drown in our own shit. Once we are gone, however, Mother Earth can begin to cleanse herself. I mean for chrissakes, water and air do not disappear. They are just a little filthy right now.

The atmosphere will ever so slowly reconstitute itself and climates will stabilize. Then the big reforestation can begin, perhaps not in the Amazon basin because of continental drift but somewhere, maybe around a newly tropical Peoria. New species of animals—fish, fowl, and otherwise--will originate to replace those that we have exterminated.

All that will remain of human beings will be a very thin, sooty stratum riddled with microscopic pieces of plastic bottles and tiny fragments of heavy metals there amid all the strata in the earth's crust. If the stratum marking the era of the dinosaurs is three meters thick, for example, our era will be memorialized in a stratum around a millimeter thick. There is a beautiful little side benefit to all this, also. When that time comes, who is going to care that you personally fucked up a time or two?

And when that sooty little stratum is buried deep in the crust, up on the surface of Mother Earth will be a lush, redolent carpet of new growth forests becoming old growth forest populated with a delightfully diverse collection of new animal species—until, that is, one of those fuckin' animals goes out of control, in which case the whole fumigation and cleansing process of Mother Earth will start all over again. And with the same results by the way. So do not be concerned about that either.

I promise you. You need not worry. Do not buy into that defeatist environmentalist crap. Stop hugging that tree. You look silly. Kick back and relax and try to think in terms of geologic time. Join the Republican Party and turn that thermostat back up this winter. Live a little.

Our descendants who witness the final end of our species will have experienced some discomfort in the final lead up, a feeling of pressure, as the dentists say--a little mass migration here, a little genocide there, all over terminal resource issues. But in the long haul Madre Tierra will be just fine. Sound as a dollar. Trust me on this.

I feel as if I ought to have put some links in this entry. This is a blog after all. But links to what?

28 August 2009

In the Moment

I am tired of Indians. In fact I have had it up to here with Indians for the time being. They will have to make their way without me for awhile.

As this blog has progressed, there have mercifully been fewer and fewer entries of a retrospective focus. This is an auspicious trend for reasons that will become apparent later. However, this entry will buck that trend a bit.

This morning, for better or worse, I stumbled upon an article in the New York Times about Cedar Rapids. In spite of my providing that link, I do not expect anyone to read the item. In a nutshell it is a technically well-written article the theme of which is that Cedar Rapids remains devastated as a result of the flood last year, that recovery has stalled, and that the nation has now forgotten the city.

On the periphery of that city all the big and little boxes, white, yellow, and green continue to percolate along:

IHOP
Best Buy
Lowe's
Applebee's
Walmart
Burger King
BP
Chili's
Acura
Home Depot
Remax Realtors
Target
Starbuck's (A large number of the names of our national and international franchises are rendered in the possessive. What's the deal with that?)
Conoco
Olive Garden
Honda
Kmart

(See entry of April 28.) The entire local sampling of homogeneous, ubiquitous American and International Capitalism survived the flood perfectly intact. And that is just fine.

The only thing that was destroyed was that which distinguished Cedar Rapids from any other American city and the only thing that rendered it visually recognizable as Cedar Rapids and not Peoria--the then resurgent downtown along the river. It was the downtown that I frequented as a little boy with my aunt and grandmother. My office was there for years. The library. I went to courts federal and state there. And on and on. Amid all my difficulties and joys, I ever loved that downtown even in its bad times. It has been unquestionably destroyed forever to my way of thinking.

I know Mike Papich, the funeral director featured in the article, very well. I represented the sellers in the long, tedious negotiations and ultimate sale to him of his business about ten years ago. I trod delicately in that affair because I came to like Mike far more than I did my own clients, who were difficult people. Both his home and his business were devastated. My heart goes out to him now and all those others.

At the same time my heart leaps with joy that I am out of that now God-forsaken place. As a result of a series of events, I was already well done immediately before the flood occurred. You could have easily stuck a fork in me. But it was the flood that destroyed downtown that was the last straw, the event that motivated me to undertake the long ordeal of shutting down and leaving.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


Space limitations preclude me from elaborating on my mental segue from the previous section to this. At the risk of holding forth and sounding like treacle from a Hallmark card, I nevertheless wish to write this down, one of the very few things of this life that I have come to know to a certainty.

There is no such thing as “might have been.” “Might have been” has no existence. It is nonsensical. It is a clear absurdity. It is not that “might have been” exists, and we must talk regretfully to Jesus about it. “Might have been” is simply not a part of life as we live it that we must deal with in any way whatsoever. To think that we must come to terms with “might have been” is to think as a child.

There are no good “might have beens.” There are no bad “might have beens.” There may be black whites. There may be good evils. There may actually exist a plethora of oxymorons and other seemingly nonsensical things. I do not know. But I now know something so profoundly that it is part of my identity. “Might have been” has no existence whatsoever.

It does not exist NOT because I do not want it to exist. It does not exist NOT because the God of the brilliant Jews did not create it in the first seven days. No, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it does not exist because it is nowhere in this universe, in these cosmos, in the heavens, or any bigger fucking word you can think of. It is impossible.

In fact "might have been" takes nonexistence to a whole new level. It is such an utter nullity that if God had attempted to create it, “might have been” would have swallowed God's own very existence because "might have been” is the ultimate black hole. I could go on, but you get the idea.

With that axiom in hand, here is my own Theory of Relativity:

1. During each MINUTE that we ponder “might have been,” we are actually expending or burning off measureless HOURS of our life and hastening the day of our demise. That is the nature of the black hole of nonexistence that is "might have been." Its essence of nonexistence swallows time as well as everything else around it.

2. During each minute that we consider the future, plan for the future, and anticipate the future, we can add measureless hours to our life and delay the day of our demise.

And here is the kicker:

3. To the extent that we can live in this moment totally, in this moment of the "right now," the one here right in front of our noses--en este momento as my friends in San Miguel would say--then we can stop time and be immortal in this same moment.

As any solipsist worth his salt will tell you as he taps his head knowingly, it is all up here, not out there.

A word of warning though. If you actually start to act in conformity with Part 3 of my Theory of Relativity, your smile muscles will get sore now and again.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


I am tired of tortillas, tortas, quesadillas, gorditas, and tacos. In fact I have had it up to here with tortillas, tortas, quesadillas, gorditas, and tacos for the moment. I have not had any bacon and scrambled eggs and fried potatoes and toast made with shitty American bread since I left Texas. I am going to post this, plug in the toaster, step out of the camper, ignite that little stove, and make some of all of that for myself in this moment at 9:57 p.m., August 28, 2009.

Hasta luego.

27 August 2009

Quemado II

[For any newcomers—and I do not know that there are any—you can find an account of an all-night purification ceremony presided over by a Huichol shaman at July 20. This is where I made the acquaintance of Fabien and Maga. You can find an account of a Temazcal, a sweat lodge ceremony, at July 27.]

The mountain top—and certainly any mountain can do this--forcefully brought me back real close to a fact having nothing to do with any spiritual bullshit. The physical me, that which has temporarily taken the form of my body, is incontrovertibly a small parcel of all that is around me—the dust, wind, fire, and water, as the Huichol would have it. And it always has been. And it always will be after it loses this form. . . .I think. Let us just say that it always will be until the cosmos themselves are swallowed up in the abyss. I need to check with the Huichol on what happens then. Or maybe we just worry about that when the time comes.

25 August 2009

Quemado

This is the Sierra de Catorce mountain range as seen in the distance from the desert campsite below. I readily concede that these are not the Rockies. They are not overwhelming. However, they made for a truly pleasurable experience for me on August 24.

Real de Catorce III

August 23, 2009



Real de Catorce was very nearly a ghost town at one time earlier in the 20th Century after the silver mines had closed. Very many of the buildings in the city are still in ruins, which makes for fascinating walks about. There is one long east-west street through the middle of town full of the usual souvenir shops, but that stuff is all quite well confined to that area.



When people began to reoccupy Real de Catorce, they would not demolish the old ruins and build something completely new. Rather, they would clean up the site and make use of what good masonry remained from the 1700's or early 1800's by simply adding onto it with additions of concrete or cinder block. That is the sort of thing that makes purist preservationists freak out, but what the hell?

This is a quite beautifully restored building above us, now a hotel.

Right next door to that hotel is another building on which work has only started. (And it appears that the money has already run out.) If you click on this picture to enlarge it, you can see that the original wrought iron work is still in place in the windows of the top floor.


Hotel San Francisco Toilets and Showers.

The hotel in which I am staying right now, Hotel San Francisco at 150 pesos per night (11.63 Dollars American), is a good example of what I am talking about. I will see if I can show you with pictures.

The outer walls and many of the interior walls are original antique masonry. This place appears to me to have been a home at one time.

As you look down into the original courtyard of the building, you can see the laundry room, bathroom and washstand constructed of concrete and cinder block that were added recently in the corner.

Here is a ceiling of concrete that was poured on forms in between the old walls to make a new room.



Plumbing and other "modern" fixtures are simply affixed to the exterior.

This is the inside of my room so that you can see the spartan results. That is a faux window. If you pull back the curtain, all you see is more masonry.


"Death Fight"

The art work in my room is a cock fighting poster.

One can still find many traces of the older, more elaborate construction. This is the base of what once was a decorative arch at the end of the second floor balcony.

This is typical old decorative, exterior masonry work.

The old masons and stone cutters made some strange choices at times, however. The guys who installed these two stones in this corner of the balcony decided for some reason lost in antiquity not to trim off the ends.

San Francisco at watch above the main courtyard.



I inadvertantly slandered México a little. . . .

Regarding the footnote to the previous entry on the subject of restroom facilities on the road. . .

I realize now that I may have inadvertently slandered México a bit by making my remarks sound too general. It is 3:30 a.m. now, and I am home in San Miguel after a long drive back south, most of which was on México 57. Less than two days after writing that footnote, I enjoyed this beautiful four-lane with many Pemex stations, all with beautiful facilities.

What I said is certainly true of the bush, which is where I have been driving for the most part. However, it is impossible to generalize in any way about México. México is enormous, and nothing is the same anywhere. I shall take more care in the future for the very obvious reason that my experience is still very limited in time and space.

Nonetheless, if you come, bring toilet paper.

After I sleep, I will tell you about the glorious hike today up Quemado, the sacred mountain of the Huichole Indians.

Extraordinary. Absolutely extraordinary.

23 August 2009

Real de Catorce II




I am in El Café Azul, “The Blue Cafe,” with wifi in Real de Catorce, an old silver mining town where silver was discovered by the Spanish in 1772. As I said before, Real de Catorce is about 9,000 feet above sea level in the Sierra de Catorce range. It was a bustling town during the mining days until a couple of civil wars came and went, particularly the revolution in 1910, when it became nearly a ghost town. It has slowly come back as a tourist attraction. About 7,000 people live here now.


Yesterday the young people and I drove up here on an unbelievably terrifying old one-lane mountain road with the truck in four-wheel drive and low gear all the way for a hotel room and shower. The young people to whom I refer are Fabien the Frenchman and Maga the artist. They are perfect traveling companions--very knowledgeable about México, Mexican history, and Mexican art, and very patient. . .and they pay for their share of the goods. The icing on the cake is that they are both hardcore wilderness freaks, real tree-huggers, and I have come to love that.



The truck did well, Spike, but we used up some of its useful life, I am sure. As we were coming up, we would occasionally meet a Jeep Wagoneer-type vehicle coming down the road chock full of passengers, including passengers on the roof. I would have to locate a wide spot in order to pull over to let it pass. This happened three or four times. There was a constant sheer drop-off on the right side and never anything that would remotely pass for a guardrail. This was truly hair-raising maneuvering, especially backing up. This was the only time I have ever wished that I had a manual transmission in that truck instead of an automatic one. Wow!


That road is not the only way here. There is also the road with the mile-long tunnel. But the young people wanted to come up this way, and so we did.





Before that, we were camping for two days and three nights under two of the very few trees in the deep desert about 900 feet below here, Valle del Salado. That place was absolutely flat, absolutely empty, and absolutely silent. With no light pollution, the sky at night was. . .well, I know I am using too many superlatives. I can only say that I had forgotten what the night sky looks like without extraneous terrestrial light mucking it up. I truly had. That desert sky at night was spectacular.




The boy on the horse is a goatherd who stopped by our campsite a couple of times to chat.


* * * * * * * * * * * *


* * The following is in the nature of a footnote. I have put off explaining this to you long enough. This trip has reminded me of it. I am going to tell you about toilet paper, papel hygienico, on the road in México. Some of you know about this, but many of you do not, I am sure. Those of you who are uncomfortable reading about how different people deal with elementary bodily functions should stop and read no further.

On the road in México, you will encounter very, very few restrooms wherein toilet paper is furnished. In fact, you will encounter very few restrooms. . .period. There are no “Rest Areas” per se. And those few restrooms that you do encounter never have toilet paper. They may kindly furnish you with a toilet paper holder but never the toilet paper itself.

Let me amend that. Some restrooms at the bigger government-owned gas stations, the Pemex—and all the gas stations are Pemex—do have toilet paper, but it is in big rolls on the walls outside the door of the restroom before you go in. So you unroll a swatch, and take it in with you. There is an attendant who watches you.

“Not too much toilet paper, please,” is the message.

The problem is elementary. The sewerage disposal systems are simply not equipped to handle all that paper. So here is how we solve this problem down here. You always, without fail, have with you a shopping bag with a couple of rolls of toilet paper in it, your brand of choice. You also keep in that shopping bag a plastic grocery sack. In the public restrooms you must refrain from flushing toilet paper down the toilet. Instead, you put the used toilet paper in the receptacle furnished—the waste basket.

But wait. There is more. It is not uncommon at all for there to be no waste basket, no receptacle at all, in the restroom. In that case you put your used toilet paper in the plastic grocery sack, roll it up, and put it in your shopping bag with the unused rolls of toilet paper until you reach the next garbage can.

Everybody has their own system, but they all approximate my system, which I have described here. For example, women may carry toilet paper in their big purses.

Have I mentioned that garbage cans are somewhat rare on the road, too, particularly in the outback?

I suggest that you carry your shopping bag in the trunk or back there in the bed of your pickup.

I thought that I would never become accustomed to this. Nonetheless, I have. Perfectly. I am by no means making fun of this situation. It all makes perfect sense to me now.

I have no appropriate pictures to accompany this footnote.

* * But please see entry of August 25 immediately above.

19 August 2009

Real de Catorce

It's about 3:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning. I am looking forward to a forthcoming side trip to Real de Catorce and having a little trouble sleeping as a result. The home security system of preference here is dogs. . .and more dogs. . .and more dogs. And boy, can they raise hell in the early morning hours with their barking.

Real de Catorce is an old mining town, now essentially a ghost town, about 200 miles north of here where silver was discovered in 1772. It is situated in the Sierra de Catorce mountain range at about 9,000 feet above sea level. One has to drive through a 1.5 mile-long, one-way tunnel to get to it.

I have grown so attached to the high desert around San Miguel, which is at about 6,000 feet above sea level. (See entry of July 25.) Real de Catorce should be like the high desert with ice cream on top. We will also head out into the Valle del Salado to the west. You gotta love a place named Valley of the Salt, I would think.

I am driving up with the children, Fabien the Frenchman and Maga the Artist. The truck is washed for the first time in a long time. We have our tents and sleeping bags and equipment packed and will be leaving in a few hours.

It appears that there is an internet cafe in the village up there. I will take my laptop and see if I can post an interim report or two here on the blog while we are there.

Tip of the Day: It is best not to sleep in black clothing. Evil spirits tend to stick to black. On the other hand they slide right off of white. Therefore, it is a good idea to sleep in white or nothing at all.

17 August 2009

Another House

Life flows by so easily right now, but as a result there are fewer Mexican adventures to report in the blog.

Steve the Musician (see July 28, 2009) is no longer staying here at the tennis courts. He along with his daughter and son-in-law are now house-sitting for a rich norteamericano. They hosted a dinner party last week. I arrived early and photographed the house. This house was built and then turned over to an interior decorator. These are the results:


The Grill

14 August 2009

Maga


I was at a gallery showing today. Some of the works on display were by the Frenchman's girlfriend, who also happens to be a very serious artist. Her name is Maga.

13 August 2009

Bargaining

I have been involved in some bargaining sessions of various sorts in my life. Never though have I ever before bargained over the price of some consumer item with a merchant in a retail establishment. Previously, the clerk simply told me the price of the item, whatever it was, and I wrote a check. Or passed over a card. I was determined to learn how to bargain over consumer goods in Enrique Ramirez Market in connection with the purchase of some very spiffy new cowboy boots.

In preparation for the showdown over those boots, I spent two days working on my bargaining vocabulary in Spanish. For example, I simply memorized the sentence, “Eso es mas de lo que puedo gastar.” [“That is more than I can spend.”] I was set on that sentence as my opener no matter what. Then I had various other phrases memorized for use depending upon how things went from there assuming I did not get thrown out of the shoe section of the market, and I knew that would not happen.

I know. I know. You are waiting to hear about another language barrier induced catastrophe for Señor Steve. Not so. I persuaded the man to knock fifty pesos off the price of those boots. It does not sound like much. But believe me. This may have been no step at all for mankind, but it was a giant leap for Señor Steve.

For the information of the curious, I paid 700 pesos for very high quality, ready made boots. Our neighboring city of Leon is one of the boot, shoe, and leather capitals of the world. Seven hundred pesos is about $54.00.

I wonder if those poor people selling stuff in that market realize the gravity of the trouble they are in now that I am getting the hang of this bargaining thing.

08 August 2009

War and Peace

War and Peace (Paperback - 2007) War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I believe that I have solved a huge problem here. Nobody need read Part Two of the Epilogue anymore. For those of you who have already not read Part Two of the Epilogue, I have gotten it down to a page. Here it is:

07 August 2009

Little Big Man

I love embed code and internet gadgets like that. I could not resist trying this one, which links to my long standing book discussion group, Constant Reader, at www.goodreads.com:

Little Big Man Little Big Man by Thomas Berger


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this novel cover to cover over three days in Mexico lying in bed with a fever. Read a little. Nap a little. Read a little. Nap a little. I highly recommend this approach to it. Jack Crabb relates his adventures in the Old West as he alternately lived with and fought against the plains Indians. His fictional voice comes so alive that you start talking back to him.

I am hard pressed to think of any better American picaresque novel.

In the name of everything sacred, I beg you. Please do not suggest On the Road in response.

View all my reviews >>
Little Big Man Little Big Man by Thomas Berger


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this novel cover to cover over three days in Mexico lying in bed with a fever. Read a little. Nap a little. Read a little. Nap a little. I highly recommend this approach to it. Jack Crabb through his distinctive voice comes so alive that you start talking back to him.

I am hard pressed to think of any better American picaresque novel.

In the name of everything sacred, I beg you. Please do not nominate On the Road in response.

View all my reviews >>

Sitting Up

Whew! That was character-building. A good thing because life had been getting too easy.

I have just spent the last three days in bed in this camper with a fever and “flu-like symptoms,” that marvelous euphemism for nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. I did not eat but forced myself to drink water. Dehydration is not a pleasant sensation. One becomes incredibly lethargic, unable to accomplish the simplest things.

My bed is in the back of my camper, which is no more than four feet from the vine-covered side fence of tennis court number two. I have lain there with a fever during the day every day for three days listening at close range to bankers, real estate developers, investment advisors, and the like play tennis with a particularly east coast raucousness. Barry, Jamie, Sebastian, and all. This experience has not deepened my affection for their ilk.

The second thing this has done for me in addition to build character is render me immune now to one more of the world's pathogens.

Before this episode I could not remember the last time that I was sick. That is the third thing this experience has done for me. I can now remember the last time that I was sick.

I feel pretty good this morning but very hungry. And to be perfectly honest, this place is a mess.

05 August 2009

Status Report

I have a bit of a bug. I am not seriously ill but ill enough that I do not wish to do anything but lie in bed.

I shall return.

02 August 2009

Sunday Dance

First, I think you will notice that the picture and sound are much better here. I believe that I have found the optimal combination of hardware and software among what I have without purchasing anything new.

Second. . . . . .I forgot what was second.

I know that at times this is frustrating because of interference by some people in the videos of others. I am aware of the problem, and I will get better at avoiding it.

The Sunday Dance in San Miguel de Allende:

Sunday Dance from Uncle Steve on Vimeo.

A Little Walk; A Little Talk

This video records a little walk around the main square, El Jardin--The Garden. It is twelve minutes long with nothing really special in it. However, as I have said many times, nothing spruces up a blog like some video now and again.

San Miguel de Allende from Uncle Steve on Vimeo.

01 August 2009

José Antonio Madrazo

Ruth, the artist's name is José Antonio Madrazo. The bartender at El Pegaso was ready to murder me because I made him write it down while he was in the midst of a busy Saturday lunch hour.

It so happens that the artist runs a mail order site for the sale of Mexican folk art here. Push "Click to Play" in the upper left middle of that page.

If you let this page load completely you will see a little slide show of nichos, which is what the little boxes are called.

Unfortunately, the nichos in the slide show are boring and in no way representative of the delightful pieces that I saw in the restaurant.