31 January 2010

A Walk With Zumm: Installment I

The whatever-it-is tree in the courtyard loves January.

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My wall.

I have enjoyed many a walk with Mr. Anchovy and his dog and 27th Street. I decided to grab the camera and take you along on a walk with Zumm. In the past I have been inclined to post pictures of the quaint, the picturesque, and the beautiful. Zumm prefers going in the other direction deep into the heart of Colonia San Antonio.

It is what the realtors would call a “mixed neighborhood,” I think. The following are an assortment of dwellings.

Across the street. Everyone, regardless of income, loves potted plants.

I like this house. Surprisingly, Colorado plates on the vehicle. What are they doing over here?

My favorite hardware store in passing, closed for the Sabbath.

Another dandy.

Some abandoned projects. Sometimes folks just run out of money.

A lot for sale. In case you are interested, I have included the realtor's sign.

Looking back on Calle San Jorge at the dome of San Antonio Church in the distance.

At the end of Calle San Jorge before the descent.

In the forthcoming second installment, Zumm and I will descend down into the area of the low income housing project and run the gauntlet of our nemeses, the dogs there.

My wall.

The Mex Files

And I must mention The Mex Files again. The Mex Files is a very serious blog with more than one contributor. It features very intense and well researched commentary relating to Latin American affairs as well as some great sardonic humor. It is “must reading” in English for anyone interested in Mexican current affairs, as most Americans most singularly are not.

Recently, another great piece was posted on the giant shadow economy of marijuana. Is "shadow economy" the right phrase?

I was also interested to read that Latin Americans are the happiest of the happy.

After such serious reading, one simply must visit Four Dinners just to cleanse the palate.

The Bumbles Blog

I have been spending Sunday morning in quiet contemplation catching up on the other blogs that I follow. One is the referenced one. Molly is one of my reading pals, a happy gal and more importantly a great Red Sox fan. She is attempting to start a little movie meme at this entry: The Bumbles Blog: ON MOVIES ~ Beyond the Screen...

So then I read another of Boggerboy's great film reviews at his blog: Welcome Visitor: Two in a Row. (For some reason I cannot make the link work for Welcome Visitor over there in "Blogs More Worthy of Your Time and Effort." Perhaps he does not want such a thing to work.)

So then I am pondering how to get those two together, and I have started experimenting with this “Link” thing. This is my first attempt. Which then took me off into Google land, and I am trying to figure out this sharing thing in the Google Reader. The whole Google empire is a maze, and it is amazing.

By the way, Pilsen at Stagg's blog is a fascinating series of photos from that neighborhood in Chicago, apparently mostly Mexican.

Thusly the morning was wasted away with Zumm harassing me for a walk. Pleasantly wasted though.

Although I was stunned--absolutely stunned--when I looked at the electric calendar and realized that tomorrow is February 1.

29 January 2010

Health Tip Number Two From México

Avoid all sexual contact with other human beings. Learn to take care of yourself.

We are talking of more than the flu here.

Dr. Steve

A Health Tip From México

I have written of this before, but it is worth repeating. The secret to continued good health in this flu season is to wash your hands frequently. With soap. Do not forget to keep scrubbing your hands with soap until you have sung The ABC Song in its entirety. This helps to insure a thorough scrubbing.

Again, I have found here in México that if you are in a public restroom, it is best to sing The ABC Song silently--to yourself. Or at least sotto voce, as the Italians say. Singing it loudly has an odd effect on the other patrons in the restroom.

If you have forgotten the lyrics to The ABC Song, let me know in a comment. I will be happy to print them out for you. Or you can seek the assistance of any bright three-year-old in your area.

Here's Fred

The neighbor's house. No glass shards on top of the wall!

On Tuesday I began house sitting for a Mexican friend who is in the big city for a week on business. I am here until next Monday. 2666 by Roberto Boaño had arrived from Powell's on Monday morning just as I had finished Barbara Kingsolver's novel, The Lacuna, about which I have written a bit.

The house is deeper in my neighborhood, which as I have explained is called Colonia San Antonio and is very Mexican. The house has a high wall around it with broken bottles embedded along the top and comes with a large yellow dog named Zumm. There is a great interior courtyard with lots of large plants where I read in the sun during the day. No heat inside at night, but I am used to that.

25 January 2010

The Gospel According to Kahlo II

I finally found it in the book. The first time Frida Kahlo says it, precisely:

The most important thing about a person is always the thing you don't know.

The context is double-barreled. First, she has just pulled back her full length, Indian dress to show her butchered up leg to our protagonist for the first time. Shepherd had commented innocently on her extravagant and famous manner of dressing. She then showed him the primary reason for that manner of dressing.

Second, the other subject of the conversation was her very personal paintings and some nasty reviews in New York and Paris. All great paintings portray something hidden in the subject. (My theory, not Ms. Kingsolver's, although I am sure that I picked that up somewhere else.) In Frida Kahlo's case the subject is herself.

The Gospel According to Kahlo

From The Lacuna and attributed to Frida Kahlo:

The most important thing about any person is what you don't know.

I continue to ponder that. There is much truth in that, I think.

24 January 2010

I must be careful.

I must be careful. I could get so immersed in this Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera/Leon Trotsky thing that I could go off the deep end and become a total bore.

It reminds me of when Don Imus, the radio jock whom I favored, got obsessed with the whole Whittaker Chambers/Alger Hiss story about twelve years ago after reading Whittaker Chambers: A Biography by Sam Tanenhaus.

Siqueiros and Trotsky

For anyone considering reading this novel, here is a paragraph on The Lacuna from The New Yorker, which does not contain spoilers. The extended and glowing review from The New York Times certainly does contain spoilers.

On that score if one is a spoiler freak to the extent that one considers any discussion of the fall of Moscow to Napolean's army to be a spoiler of War and Peace, then probably one should not read on here.

I am at the half way point. Trotsky has been assassinated, and the diarist is about to return to the United States for the second half of the book. The novel is a good read through the middle.

Ms. Kingsolver presents Leon Trotsky in a very favorable light. An understatement actually. It is as if she has never shed a 1968 infatuation with Trotsky that other old leftists long since have. Robert Service's recent book Trotsky probably presents a more accurate picture of this ruthless, egotistical revolutionary. But I wrote that off with the thought that an author of historical fiction is free to portray historical figures in whatever manner he or she wishes.

Nevertheless, her two acknowledged sources concerning Trotsky are Alain Dugrand's book, now out of print, Trotsky, Mexico 1937-1940, about which I can find nothing, and Trotsky's own autobiography, the aptly named My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography, which I have read. Questionable fare for coming to a true understanding of the man.

But then I must say that I have learned something from Ms. Kingsolver. The great muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros personally participated in the first failed attempt on Trotsky's life in Mexico City. This was the attempt when home invaders sprayed the place with machine gun fire and threw incendiary bombs, but succeeded only in wounding Trotsky's only grandchild. (Trotsky's four children had all previously died or been hunted down and murdered by Stalin's minions.)

I was rocked back on my heels a bit by this. It is quite apparently true. Siqueiros himself apparently bragged about his participation in the attempt later after charges against him were dropped for lack of evidence.

How did I miss this tidbit before? It just goes to show you. You can try to pay attention, but you can still miss things.

23 January 2010

Reading Project

The Lacuna is Barbara Kingsolver's newest novel, which is set in México. I have launched into this novel in anticipation of her appearance here at the San Miguel International Writers' Conference next month. I will be attending that, including the question and answer session with her regarding this book. If anyone happens to be reading this one and wishes to pose some piercing question to her by proxy, let me know. I will hold her feet to the fire and get an answer for you.

There is the end of the substance of this posting. Read on only if you have time on your hands.

I have not read one single thing by Ms. Kingsolver. Never been tempted. Perhaps I am the only one hereabouts who has not read The Poisonwood Bible. She has her avid fan base, she does.

Book club members all over town are also reading The Lacuna in anticipation of her appearance. This phenomenon is primarily at the encouragement of The San Miguel Literary Sala. I note this statement at their site:
No matter where you live, or where you'll be in February when Barbara Kingsolver is in San Miguel, you can be in the literary vortex, right here, online (though you know we'd rather meet you in San Miguel!).

I cannot figure out what that “online” business means. Moreover, I am not a member of any book club here wherein I might ask since I prefer my own online discussion group, Constant Reader. It is so difficult to get up in the middle of an “in person” book club meeting and leave. Anyway, for what that is worth.

Lastly, I was amused to note this in the billing for the conference:
In celebration of Kingsolver's persuasive defense of eating local, organic food in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, your meals will be local, organic, and gourmet - hosted by international culinary master planners & chefs, Michael Coon & Kim Thomas.

Some time ago, one of my online friends wrote that upon reading The Bean Trees, she found Ms. Kingsolver to be preachy. This view was further supported in October 17, 2007, when another online friend wrote that while she accepted the premise of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, she wanted to hit Ms. Kingsolver over the head with a shoe just as she had wished to do with John Robbins, the author of Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness and the Future of Life on Earth. In view of the fact alone that he came up with a title like that, I could understand her sentiments concerning Mr. Robbins.

I am going to assume that Ms. Kingsolver's alleged preachiness is limited to her non-fiction work until I learn otherwise.

21 January 2010

Your Quote for the Day: Hernan Cortés

I continue to move through the great Rebecca West's unfinished work posthumously published under the title Survivors in Mexico, which includes a magnificent, short primer on Pre-Columbian Aztec civilization.

20 January 2010


This is Antonio. I met Antonio during that visit to the spread near Mineral de Pozos. He lives on the grounds of the complex of four or five hacienda-style homes and is the man who makes it all work. I found him fascinating.

19 January 2010

Mineral de Pozos

On Sunday I attended a birthday party near Mineral de Pozos, a tiny colonial mining town to the east and a bit north of here, about an hour's leisurely drive. The birthday party was for Joe, the inspiration of and moving force behind the local opera.

I did not have a chance to wander around the area, and I intend to return to this little town soon to do just that. The birthday party was also leisurely, lasting the afternoon and into the night. I stayed over and had plenty of time to stare at the high desert from the veranda.

16 January 2010

Live From Daryl's House

Just a heads up that the latest episode of Live From Daryl's House is up now. It features guest artist Eli “Paperboy” Reed, a disgracefully young guy who has it figured out. If you enjoy classic R&B, you ought to watch this episode. Big horns. Alan Gorrie is the Scot on Bass and one of the founding members of The Average White Band. The whole package, and lots of fun.

If you listen to nothing else from this episode, listen to Take My Love With You all the way through.

The stream seems to work a bit better for me on Internet Explorer than it does on Mozilla Firefox.

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The following is something I posted elsewhere concerning Daryl Hall's site last September 18:

Episode 22 of Live from Daryl's House with Smokey Robinson. Great talk, killer music with quality sound--especially through the headphones--no commercials, and absolutely free.

Ooo, Baby, Baby is tacked onto the end of Sara Smile and is not listed.

I have been following this site for a long time, the 15th of every month, although somehow I missed August 15. The podcast is really a trailer. You can download the complete shows directly from the site. The primary advantage of downloading is that you can more easily skip through Daryl's monologues. I generally just stream it on the computer.

As I said before, the sound is great, at least to the extent that my old ears, burned out by so much rock n' roll, can still judge it. I just put the earphones on and crank it.

In this episode, blessedly, Daryl Hall does less talking and Smokey Robinson does the most--charming reminiscences. This is an extraordinary episode as a result.

That which I truly enjoy are the episodes in which Daryl Hall brings in young, lesser known artists that he has found as guests. Episodes 10 ("Chromeo") and 12 (Eric Hutchinson) are my favorites in that regard. Although "Company of Thieves" from Chicago are very good (Episode 15) and so is KT Tunstall in Episode 5.

KT Tunstall is Scottish, and she is killer. That little gal's voice has some real punch.

And, oh my goodness, I neglected to mention Mutlu from Philadelphia in Episode 7. Mutlu was a revelation. I purchased his disk from iTunes and listened to it damned near all the way to México.

Okay. Let me just concede that my favorite episode is the one that I watched most recently.

Personal Hygiene

There was a recent conversation here concerning Madame de Staël and her famous salon in Paris in the late 18th Century and early 19th Century where intellectuals from all over Europe gathered for interesting conversation of their own. Actually, that is neither here nor there except that it caused my mind to wander. I started to consider the everyday life of those folks and most particularly one small facet of that everyday life. It must have been very easy for them to put off washing their hair, let alone bathing, in the winter time.

One has to get into the age of photography to see the graphic evidence of this because the portraitists using oils routinely idealized their subjects. Here is a photograph of the famous French artist Eugène Delacroix from the early 19th Century.

I did not chose Delacroix for any particular reason. It was just the first photograph that I came across that portrayed what I was looking for. Such photographs are easy to find. Notice his hair.

Delacroix's hair is noticeably greasy. This is not a hair care products issue, although I am sure that played into the phenomenon. This is a bathing issue.

I am not getting on Delacroix's greasy hair in order to make fun of him. Quite the contrary. I sympathize with him. I would lay money that this photograph was taken in the winter. Just imagine the problem.

You are living in Paris in the winter with the temperature routinely at 40° F. (4.4° C.) or less. Your quarters are heated with a fireplace or a variation on the Ben Franklin stove, assuming you can afford fuel. You decide to take a bath. To do that, you must heat water over a fire in a kettle and then pour it into a copper tub. That does nothing to change the ambient air temperature, however. That is a daunting task and an easy one to put off. I will guaran-goddamn-tee you that you will not do it every day.

Now, you might say that if the bather were a person of means, he could simply order the young scullery maid to heat some water and perhaps even assist him in bathing, which could be a pleasant thing. To which I ask in reply, what does the scullery maid look like? Does she have all her teeth? How much does she weigh? Is her own hair in a big greasy pile, perhaps infested with vermin? So there you go.

And I am not such an insensitive lout that I do not appreciate that great numbers of people in this world today who live in climates where there is a winter face this same situation. Most people are poor.

All I am saying is that when it is cold outside and inside, bathing and getting your hair washed is a very easy project to put off. That's all. Greasy hair becomes less of a vital concern in daily life. I have a better subjective feel for all that now. I no longer even put it in the category of personal hygiene. Personal hygiene consists of brushing your teeth and washing your hands. Period.

Another photograph undoubtedly taken in the winter.

15 January 2010

Report from Luckenbach

A friend from Texas has sent a report that one of the roosters at Luckenbach did not fair well in 2009.

But he is still standing tall and ready for a new year.

Hunter S. Thomson, May God Rest His Drug Addled Soul

That favorite quotations thingie over there on your right throws up random quotations of this or that person that appealed to me. It changes every time you log in. The following one, however, deserves a bit more permanent place here:

We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to fear—fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a terrorist sympathizer.

--Hunter S. Thomson


We are not quite through with the subject of weather. I have continued to stay hunkered down, waiting out January. Today, just to add insult to injury, it rained. A lot. I got caught out in it.

Rain like this is unheard of here in January. This is the uptown bus stop. Those sculpted trees are amazing. They soak up a lot of rain before it starts to drip through underneath.

If you want Juan the Movie Pirate's café to yourself, go there in the rain.

And if a level table is absolutely essential for your dining experience, forget about Juan's.

The roof drains were raising hell with those of us on the sidewalks.

This, my friends, is hail. Shop owners routinely set out buckets to catch rain water for use in mopping and such. Water is life, you know.

My most trusted weather source says that it will be sunny and back to 73° F. (23° C.) next Wednesday.

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While hunkered down, I got caught up in a project over at goodreads.com /Constant Reader /Classics Corner /War and Peace /page 4. The long discussion of War and Peace took place some time ago. However, a reading friend, Molly, who blogs at The Bumbles Blog, is just now taking up the novel and intends to blog it while reading it. Another blogger friend of hers is going to do this, too. Molly is a New Englander and a hard core Red Sox baseball fan and Bruins hockey fan, too.

Molly wanted suggestions as to how to divide up some of the major characters between them for the purpose of this blogging. Of course I waded in with a suggestion, which resulted in the whole discussion being revived again. It is done now once again, thank God.

I mention this because if any of you have had the desire to take up this novel but have never got around to it, now is the time. Reading it along with Molly would be a trip, I think. A good trip.

12 January 2010

Some Perspective

It always seems that just when you are hard pressed to think of something to bitch about, life presents you with something to bitch about. In my case life has presented me with the coldest January in this city that anyone around here can remember, including the old salts.

As I type, it is 44° F. (6.7° C.) and heading for a low tonight of 39° F. (4° C.) But I am an Iowa boy. What is so bad about that? Well, again, it is very nearly the same temperature inside that it is outside. Not just in my shelter. Everywhere. That is what makes it interesting.

I need to get real about this. The fact is that life has never been better. There will come a break in this weather soon, and we can get back to talking about food, everyone's second favorite subject.

11 January 2010

A Diversion

I look back at the last entry concerning those films, and I realize that I have become irascible. Insulting to the folks who read this blog and their spouses and children, too, if they have them.

It is just that I am so goddamned cold.

08 January 2010

The Movies

Bloggerboy's Welcome Visitor has featured recent entries on the subject of vintage Italian films. Those entries are excellent, and I have enjoyed them immensely. They have inspired me to recommend three films that I myself recently watched again.

Of course as recently as three and a half months ago, I had sworn off watching any films other than Casablanca for the rest of my life. Then I discovered Juan the Movie Pirate and his wonderful café and rethought my resolution of abstinence. Now, what with the weather, I have rigged up a situation where I can lie under multiple blankets in a sweat suit and watch movies while I wait out an entirely unseasonable, dreary, cold rain.

So I go through phases. Everyone goes through phases, don't they? However, I assure you that I am not watching any of that bullshit that passes for film work in Hollywood nowadays.

07 January 2010

Sanborn's and the Quake

Sanborn's is a large department store chain in México City. The store downtown features a grand restaurant in the middle, an obviously popular place among the office workers for late breakfast and lunch.

06 January 2010

Coming Clean

I feel called upon to come clean about something for the benefit of those of you in colder climates. Now and again—not too often—but now and again here I have raved about the weather I have been enjoying, simply to perpetuate the idea that I am lounging around south of the Tropic of Cancer in the sun dressed only in short pants deepening my tan while you freeze your tushes off up north. That amused me. But at present, my friends, nothing could be further from the truth.

I had been warned about January in San Miguel de Allende, but I did not take those warnings seriously. Once again, I failed to take into account in my own mind the phenomenon of altitude.

The Game

Last night I executed my plan that I set out here a week ago. I watched the University of Iowa football team play in the Orange Bowl in Miami. The little gal at Manolo's put it on the big screen for me. Everyone else in attendance was nicely neutral.

It was an object lesson. Again, my only objective going in was to prevent the Hawkeyes from embarrassing and humiliating themselves through the force of my own will. At the outset I really did not care whether they won or lost. I simply wanted them to play well, and I was concentrating on that. My head was in the right place in other words.

Then, much to my surprise, they jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead. They were playing very well. That is precisely when I started to backslide into my old counterproductive mind set. Suddenly, I was not satisfied with the fact that they were playing well. Suddenly, I wanted them to win. And as soon as I started wanting them to win, all hell broke loose. In the blink of an eye, it seemed, the score was 17-14 and the game was very close.

Thank goodness I realized what had happened in my head before it was too late, and I was able to readjust my frame of mind at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes won.

Now there is a pretty example of how a solipsist partakes of spectator sports. He actually believes that he can affect the outcome of an athletic contest with his own mind. And that is precisely why he must be very careful about how often he partakes of this. It is more seductive for him than heroin after the first pop.

I shall now leave spectator sports alone until the beginning of the World Cup in South Africa. . .

On second thought I might take in one or two basketball games this winter. Just to keep my hand in while I await the World Cup. I do not see what harm that could do.

05 January 2010

The Cathedral

Some photos of the México City Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas. It was constructed off and on from 1573 to 1813.

It was nearly too large for me to photograph. I have lifted some images from elsewhere on the internet.

The organ:

The sacristy, my favorite room:

The reliquary. In this case the relics were the bones of a saint:

The Tabernacle next to the cathedral: