Friday, December 31, 2010
In less than two weeks into the new year will be the one year anniversary of the devastating Haiti earthquake and in this last year what has been accomplished?
There are warehouses full of relief gear such as portable water purification units, clothing, tools and all sorts of other imaginable things that if let out to the agencies to distribute and organize would be wonderful assets for short and long-term recovery.
That there is right now a huge cholera outbreak and still hundreds of thousands almost a year later living in tents makes me wonder where the fuck are the brains of those who run this corrupt little country? Are your needs to be rich that great that you would rather see your countrymen and women and children literally live in shit so you can drive a Benz 4X4? Is your need for baksheesh that fucking great??? How much more do you need?
I am so disgusted with the state of some countries, with those MEN, yes men, who run these countries.....running them into the ground more like it. Where the hell is the UN stepping in to say enough is enough - open up the warehouses, stop trying to extort the aid agencies and please allow them to do their work? Yeah, that is right, the UN is male-dominated too.....hmmmm....sorry boys but I call bullshit on your entitlement and diplomatic immunity.
Haiti was the first place to divest itself of black slavery (1791-1804) but what has happened since emancipation? Haiti has had since then to unfuck itself so why now, almost one year after a disaster of unimaginable proportions is a status quo allowed to deprive its citizens of the very basic needs of life? Why are these bandits allowed to continue the legacy of the "docs"? I am sickened.
I think back to disasters past that I have covered as a reporter, those disasters that I also in part experienced and the one thing, the one truism that was always painfully there was that unlike those whose suffering I was covering, I could leave their area, go back to a comfort zone and feel somewhat normal.
But do I? Feel normal? What the hell is that? As long as I am painfully aware, months and years later as to what has not been accomplished? Yes, I will remain angry. When I see how simple it is to rectify or rather help and not for huge amounts of money - shit - it makes me bristle to no end. If some folks took the time to step out of their comfort zones and instead of sending donations just instead traveled to some of these places.....wow......there would be so many voices out there saying hey wtf is going on?
I heard the excuses this past year with regards to sending assistance to Pakistan in the wake of the most devastating floods - excuses that yes, in some ways made sense regarding corruption in that country and the possibility of funds trickling into the hands of the Taleban but where do we as those who want to help, genuinely help, where do we make a stand and how do we do as such?
Or better yet, who are we to judge? Charity, assistance - whatever......does it have to have benchmarks? Rules? Purposes?
Aid is aid.....it is about time that those of us who can provide it speak up and force so-called governments to hear our voices and accept our manpower....set aside egos for crying out loud. This world, this precious world - I wonder on this new year's eve just what it holds.....for me - perhaps a semblance of promise for so as long as some folks read these words and maybe put into action in their own lives a proactive sense of caring and doing, then maybe there is hope in this world.
Hey, one street, one hood, one city, one province, one country, one continent and one world - yes.....Feliz Ano Nuevo.
Addition made on January 3rd - here is a link to a disturbing article run in November of 2010 regarding the horrible state in Haiti, focusing on the high instance of rape.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
There is a road in my neighbourhood that is not really a road but rather part of an original dike established after the great flood of 1950, a massive thrusting of the mighty Red River that engulfed an entire city, humbling its citizenry, reminding them that there are some forces that are far more powerful than those of mankind.
Water is a force unto itself, a powerful element and one that not only are we made of but one that we need to survive for without it we dry up and eventually perish. Over the millennia we have worshipped it and tried to tame it but in the end the force of water always wins.
And so it was last Saturday that the Red claimed a life. Two brothers who had just moved to the area were off on an adventure as only excited children can embark upon. The ice was not yet thick enough and they both fell into the icy, treacherous waters.
A young man happened to be driving by and was able to rescue the older brother but it was little 6 year-old Nathaniel who would be lost.
The Police Dive Team was deployed the next day in what would now be a recovery mission, a heart-breaking one indeed that due to zero visibility would yield no results. Imagine being in a black, cold space feeling your way around branches and other detritus, your only "security" being a line you are tethered to....you are encased in a dry suit, with two heavy tanks attached....you are literally flying blind and all the time wondering just what it is you may be feeling in those cold, swirling currents. On average a diver will spend between 45 minutes to an hour in this black, icy void.
By Wednesday on the eighth of December the search was called off as conditions were deemed too dangerous to continue the operation.
The river at present is running higher than normal so it is a guessing game right now as to where little Nathaniel may be. The curves of the river and the dense brush that is underwater both serve as two forces unto themselves. He could be trapped in the underbrush or by the vagaries of the currents he could be further down river. Optimists want to believe that he will be found not too far from where he fell through the ice.
This is where we come to today's events......another team is continuing the search under the auspices of the Manitoba Search and Rescue and Canadian Amphibious Search Team - Central Region. The mood at the staging area is sombre, the temperature with the wind chill a miserable -35 Centigrade. Warming tents have been set up and the community of Point Douglas has rallied around to feed and assist in whatever small ways possible these dedicated volunteers who are putting their lives at risk to bring closure to a grieving family.
I walked down that lonely dike road last night because I had to see for myself where it had happened. I could see the flashing lights under the ice that the police team had put into place last weekend......blinking away randomly they were eerie given that this is the season of festive lights. The wreath with the Teddy Bear placed lovingly near one of the bridge buttresses, a lone sentinel of grief, was a stark reminder of what had recently taken place.
As I trudged home, legs and hands going numb from the biting cold I could not help but think of the fragile little boy, his body suspended somewhere in that black void.
I was not going to go to the staging area today but I changed my mind as that old siren call of the journalist was too strong to resist but there was another reason, several actually, that drove me to make that frigid journey today for you see I am a trained rescue diver and divemaster, albeit one who works not in cold water but who has worked in recovery in the tropics and yes, I have been through a recovery operation.
One can watch on the telly all they like about operations involving danger and the recovery of bodies and other various human tragedies and think to themselves "what is the big deal?" Yes, there are folks like that out there who by virtue of never having had to deal with this sort of scenario really have little clue as to the emotions going through the mind of one who has to set aside sadness in order to do a job that is trying under any circumstances.
That this is the recovery (hopefully) of a child makes it all the more difficult to take. I do not envy any of these individuals today and I wish them all the best in their sorrowful task but the pragmatist in me knows that no matter how well-coordinated this effort is, in the end it will be the River and several mitigating factors that will determine the final outcome.
All one can do is hope for the best.
Link to an updated article posted January 30th, 2011
Friday, December 3, 2010
I have been grappling with for quite sometime now several notions as to why our society seems to be on this crazy downwards trajectory. For the longest time I had been unable to pinpoint an exact reason and then I realized that one cannot look at a perceived collective mania as emanating from an absolute but rather as something that has been festering for decades. And I speak not just to the political lunacy but of an overall malaise that I have observed in my last year or so back in the land of the big PX. (military store reference where being back home means you can have everything you have missed materially or otherwise)
One thing is for certain however and I believe that this is true for just about anything we can encounter in life and that is the existence of the monster that is called "fear". All fear needs to sustain itself is more fear and in these days of uncertainty and rapid changes the monster called FEAR has an unlimited food supply and there seems to be no shortage of individuals willing to exploit this situation for their own gains, whatever they may be although I could hazard some damned good guesses as to what kinds of gains could be made.
I was cooking the other night at a local eatery, a "live" production of sorts and invariably after rambling on about some of my foreign food experiences, and yes a few had gathered around to hear my tales, one woman expressed the one word that makes me bristle when talking about travel to Mexico (or almost anywhere these days) and that is "safety". I knew that a frown crossed my face, perhaps too quickly, so I immediately apologized to her after uttering the phrase "what a bunch of shit!". She asked me why and I launched into a my diatribe regarding the fear-mongering of late that to me serves to discourage folks from leaving their immediate environs. After adding some sidebars as to other experiences in places like Bosnia, Kosovo and Guatemala she looked at me and said innocently, but seriously, "is there anything you are scared of?" Without hesitation I said "BEING POOR, truly poor but let us not discount being in constant FEAR for it is fear that I find so limiting and crippling these days and with so many folks, including you, in that fear is stopping you from engaging in an adventure that you so obviously have a desire to pursue."
Yes, that is more or less what I said.....but there are other fears too that can be just as insidious in their own right and these are unfounded fears based on lack of communication, low self-esteem - of being left out perhaps, misperceptions - many of these can be drawn to that one notion of EGO.....I ain't no buddhist philosopher but I do know that ego has been the downfall of many and yes, including myself at times.....having confidence is one thing but not recognizing that sometimes one has to shut up and just listen? Wow, that can be hard at times especially if one is fearful of the great whatevers being generated by some who should perhaps in their own right should shut up as well as they know not of what they speak.
Some games are not mere games - not when it comes to the often-times fragile human psyche. And these days there are just too many games being played and it leads me to ask the one question of why and more so what are the gains to be had in terms of generating and fostering a culture of fear?
Conspiracy Theory buffs would say that the notion of "control" is at the front and centre regarding a fear-based culture. Keep folks scared enough, keep them within sight toiling away and buying more crap for their homes that they seem reticent to leave and you have a willing set of pawns who will buy into whatever notions are being peddled by the power-brokers. Perhaps the present political climate in the United States would be a great example of this theory - connect the dots right? All connected dots lead to key individuals and groups that while they may look disparate on the outside philosophically there seems to be one agenda and that is one of unbridled profiteering. I believe the term these days is New World Order.
The cynic in me would rather not address or give credence to conspiracy theories but rather speak to other aspects of the fear malaise.
We are a superstitious bunch regardless as to how progressive we may believe ourselves to be compared to say certain tribal malcontents who still insist on murdering women because they are witches. And when I say "tribal" I do not mean the obvious inferences for what are we humans but a fractious bunch of "tribes" fighting over turf, assets and power. We, in our pampered and entitled society, we are a bunch of scared little children who would rather have our agenda for living dictated to us rather than us shaping an overall worldwide agenda that at the outset may seem daunting but if for just one moment there was an event or perhaps in a holistic way, a collective will to foment positive change - wow, that could be something incredible.
So there it is, my confession of unbridled idealism......yes, child-like sometimes on my part these desires to see "progress", foment dialogue open to all, eradicate suffering that should not exist in a modern world like the suffering that comes with not having clean water or a reliable food source.....it goes back to my initial expression of "real" poverty being my primary fear for I have witnessed it but by the same token I have seen far more dignity, honesty and spirit in the eyes of those whose daily struggles are usually swept aside by those whose fears do not even come close to being "real"....now that is a loaded statement to be sure but in the greater scheme of life as it exists on this planet what some in our privileged society deem as being worthy of being fearful of - sorry, but I am wont to yell out SNAP OUT OF IT!!! You/we have it good.
Or do we?
We live in a society where anxiety disorders are part and parcel of an active, worry-filled life. We worry about everything even if some of those worries will most likely never affect us. We are told, spoon-fed even, what to fear and that the great boogie-Man is lurking around every corner when in reality we are our own boogie-men......yes, we are our own worst "enemy" so to speak.
Fear is the mind-killer because unbridled, unjustified fear ( how can one justify a particular fear construct if they have never really experienced it?) stymies or retards those very thought processes that are key to problem-solving, discovering, exploring and yes, even living fully as not just a citizen of one microcosm but a citizen of this planet, the only one thus far that we can live on.
This is why above all else I truly fear the notion of such for it limits me from perhaps achieving great things, wonderful things and in turn being able to share those successes and foster intellectual and community growth.
Stop feeding the monsters people......they are more than sated, they are engorged and ready to implode.....
Sunday, November 14, 2010
I first heard of Dr. Oliver Sacks the same way millions of others did - via the 1990 movie "Awakenings", a wonderful film that I wished could have delved more into the frustrations and limitations that the characters were portraying but alas, only so much can be dealt with in two or so hours.
The next time I was to reacquaint myself with Dr. Sacks was when I was living in Oaxaca and my friend Richard Orlandini turned me on to Sack's book Oaxaca Journal, a must-read for anyone interested in Ferns and micro-environments such as one finds on Oaxaca's Highway 175, a road that I never tired of exploring and experiencing. Sacks also captured many of the other delights unique to the Oaxacan culture and geography that at that time I was embracing wholeheartedly and at present miss quite dearly.
And then there was today, this afternoon, listening to one of my favourite radio programs, CBC Radio's "Tapestry"....today's episode entitled "Face Time" - a nice montage on faces, sight, perception and featuring an interview with Sacks no doubt due to his latest book release "The Mind's Eye" which further explores the notions of perception and how some compensate for various shortcomings. Sacks also shares his experiences dealing with a particular visual ailment he suffers from as a result of a cancerous eye tumour.
No, this is not a freebie for Dr. Sacks courtesy of me but rather an acknowledgment and at times confessorial with regards to the hiding of certain afflictions and the problems that in turn can occur due to lack of understanding and empathy by those with whom I deal with on many levels.
Sometimes the impatience of others, that inability to "see" beyond their own experiences can be more vexing than the malady itself.....I must rest now for awhile. I do promise to expand upon this essay. Unfortunately, fatigue is but one of many symptoms that I go through on a daily basis.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Moribund and male-dominated, the United Nations has proved beyond a reasonable doubt just how out of touch with reality that body can be. The decision this past week to have a Women's Board, ostensibly operating as a think-tank of sorts regarding women's rights, and have countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (a country famous for its high instance of Rape) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Wahhabist misogynists) be elected to this board has to rank in my eye as probably one of the biggest WHAT THE FUCK moments ever in the history of this agency. And I have seen some real boners pulled off in the name of "humanitarianism".
Canadian writer and muslim feminist Irshad Manji, author of "The Trouble with Islam Today", gives a nice sketch of UN blunders, corruption and manipulation as of late especially regarding women and the political arms of Islam in her recent Globe and Mail article. To Manji this latest action illustrates the loss of integrity in an agency that many of us used to look up to as an example of what we could achieve as a cohesive, caring voice.
I lost faith in the UN years ago when working in the Balkans and it has been downhill from there ever since. Can we say "Rwanda"? I know that some have vilified me for my stance but unlike those professional bureaucrats, some who have become quite adept at kissing ass in order to maintain a particular lifestyle, I do not engage in my profession in order to curry favour or elevate my status. Rather, I do certain things because I seek a set of truths that may or not emerge, based on my observations and interactions with those affected by a myriad of issues, many of which could be easily eradicated if the will was there to do so. And no, I do not travel around on fat expense accounts nor in bullet-proof land Cruisers. I get down and dirty and have never been afraid to open my mouth - not a good quality to possess I suppose if one wants to join the ranks of the foreign service or barring that advance as a professional woman.
It seems that even in the ivory towers of a so-called progressive and proactive agency the agenda of making the lives of women and girls better is nothing but a joke behind certain closed doors.
Seems to me that it is never a good time to get tough on the asshole nations out there who allow Female Genital Mutilation - heaven forbid we offend someone's culture, right? Rape, "honor" killings, kidnapping little girls for sexual services - the list of atrocities committed by men (and some women) against women and girls is increasing and little has been done except the holding of conferences, the writing of position papers and other forms of "lip service" in the name of human rights - the cynic in me calls it JOB CREATION for the well-educated and connected.
This so-called Executive Board is an insult to this woman. This board should be vehemently protested.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Well kiddies I read this morning that MSNBC news anchor Keith Olbermann, host of Countdown with Keith Olbermann, was indefinitely suspended not because he made three $2400 contributions to Democratic contenders but because, HEAVEN FORBID, he did not get permission to do so from his boss, Phil Griffin. Talk about alpha male pissing matches or what? As a friend and colleague posited to me today, what about all the other MSNBC employees who may have made contributions to whatever party - did they all have to grovel for permission too? I highly doubt it.
This action, which could not come at a worse time, was precipitated more than likely by Olbermann's rocky relationship with his boss. What the hell is Griffin drinking cuz' it sure ain't a "smart" drink. I can bet that certain pubs in Manhattan will be packed today with journos from all sides either spewing venom or rubbing their hands in glee. There were far better ways Mr. Griffin, to deal with this matter. Was it your intention to make your competitor's day? Read: NewsCorp? Sir, you made the wrong move and the Twittersphere is tweeting away rapid-fire as we speak.
We need divergent voices now more than ever in these fractious times and Olbermann's is one that is informed and entertaining enough to have drawn in a substantial amount of new viewers to MSNBC and in a rather nice offset effect make Rachel Maddow as well, a household name. Like Olbermann or hate him - that is not the point. What is of primary importance is diversity in an otherwise very corporate media sphere. Strong, capable and independent voices are in rare supply in a world where being as such is strongly discouraged. The emasculation of media that has been going on now for a good 20 or so years only benefits those who are wealthy enough to play the Wall Street games.....the rest of us just want the information damnit and not hysterical opinion masquerading as fact.
Mr. Griffin - today YOU ARE THE WORLD'S WORST PERSON!
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Wikipedia....Demagogy or demagoguery (Ancient Greek: δημαγωγία, from δῆμος dēmos "people" and ἄγειν agein "to lead") is a strategy for gaining political power by appealing to the prejudices, emotions, fears and expectations of the public—typically via impassioned rhetoric and propaganda, and often using nationalist, populist or religious themes. What qualifies as demagogy has been the subject of debate and ambiguity since Aristophanes first used the term, in reference to Cleon.
Okay so I may not know who Cleon is but I do know that yesterday's election results were partially as a result of the latent whipping up of prejudice (look no further than some of the racist antics that have been played out by some on the ultra-right), emotion (hear them yell and scream at town hall meetings!!!), fears (oh my god!!! Commies!!!) and expectations of the public (whaddaya mean TARP would not instantly work???) and yes, that word "demagogue" kept permeating my pea brain today.
So today my friends let us salute demagoguery - it is the "right" way!
Oh, and a big shout-out to Joseph McCarthy and Adolf H. - demagogues 4evah!!
Monday, November 1, 2010
The goal - 50,000 words in one month, starting TODAY. The website is heavily trafficked being that it is the start today so keep on trying to log in regardless of timing out issues.
Why I am doing this? I am normally a non-fiction writer and this may be an interesting way to look at my crazy world in a different fashion, to step out of my regular "voice". Or this could be humiliating and thus fall under the category of enforced masochism. We shall see.
I have sent out some challenges to friends who also write. If anything it will give us more excuses to get together and drink beers whose names are unpronounceable.
Let the writing begin - No guts, no glory and kids, braggin' rights are worth something!
NaNoWriMo...... click away and challenge yourself!
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Underneath an ad for "historical" flags is this little informational tidbit on the website for the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC), a group that calls the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) a "militant race lobby".
Between 1976-2005, blacks made up 13% of the US population, but committed 59% of felony murders. Overall, blacks are 9 times more likely to commit murder than whites.
Source: US DOJ"
It does not matter what link one clicks, this very important nugget of info is always there, on the right hand side, just in case you, the angry white American, did not have the inclination to read in its entirety the "Statement of Principals" where certain leanings of this group are unabashedly outlined.
Reading this manifesto the word "irony" keeps dominating my thoughts - and "stupidity". Read the following....
"(2) We believe the United States is a European country and that Americans are part of the European people. We believe that the United States derives from and is an integral part of European civilization and the European people and that the American people and government should remain European in their composition and character. We therefore oppose the massive immigration of non-European and non-Western peoples into the United States that threatens to transform our nation into a non-European majority in our lifetime. We believe that illegal immigration must be stopped, if necessary by military force and placing troops on our national borders; that illegal aliens must be returned to their own countries; and that legal immigration must be severely restricted or halted through appropriate changes in our laws and policies. We also oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called “affirmative action” and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races."
Holy shit. Where do I begin? Do I start laughing or should I be scared? This group calls the NAACP a militant race lobby but I cannot recall ever seeing in any NAACP literature an exhortation to ensure that only Americans of "color" should dominate the landscape.
This group states that its objective is to bring power to what they call "the silent majority" of conservative Americans by organizing at the local levels - just like the Tea Party, hmmm? That is a pretty tall order to be making but it does lead one to wonder just what the hell is going on in American political discourse these days and if one has the time or the inclination as they should then it is high time Joe and Jane Average started to do some research before the polls open in November.
That old rub of politics making for strange bedfellows is not too far off the mark.
The NAACP recently commissioned a report on the efforts of ultra-rightists, white supremacists, radical christians, militia types (and yes, even David Duke gets a mention) and their strategies being employed to jockey for position within the fractured but in some ways very powerful Tea Party movements. This is why the C of CC has a hate-on for the NAACP. The proverbial cat is now out of the bag.
Groups like the C of CC while easy to dismiss as whacked out loonies have their genesis in other nationalist, racially-based ideologies and it is often during times of economic upheaval that the radical elements gain momentum and in these days of instant communications it is he who fires the first salvo that gets heard. Does not matter one iota if what "he"is saying is based on conjecture but what does seem to matter is one's ability to pander to those ugly sentiments that are just under the surface of some skins.
Loony or not, these folks are organized, manipulative and they are gaining momentum. Wake up America, please? For those of you reading this who do not want to read the entire 96 page PDF file on the NAACP website there are several excerpts on this page.
I found their analysis to be spot-on and in many ways they were almost apologizing to the Tea Party for even digging this stuff up....I would say they are far more charitable in their discourse than those on the "right" who put down the NAACP.
"I hope the leadership and members of the Tea Party movement will read this report and take additional steps to distance themselves from those Tea Party leaders who espouse racist ideas, advocate violence, or are formally affiliated with white supremacist organizations. In our effort to strengthen our democracy and ensure rights for all, it is important that we have a reasoned political debate without the use of epithets, the threat of violence, or the resurrection of long discredited racial hierarchies."--Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP
Just sayin', casual observations notwithstanding there is some pretty inflammatory language being used these days the likes of such that has not been heard since the heyday of the civil rights movement.
So much for forward momentum.....
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
It is an honest question and it plays to the whole notion of our very wasteful, and sense of entitled society....why? Even though Manitoba has "clean" and "cheap" power, the cheapest on the planet in terms of pennies per kilowatt hour, we, the consumers, are fucked because of waste, pillaging of the pubically-owned corp known as Manitoba Hydro by our very government who started it - oh man....I am pissed off to no fucking end.
LET THE RANT BEGIN....and from some very practical standpoints.
I converted my house several years ago to be heated via electricity. I figured at the time that I would save money and then the juggernaut known as Manitoba Hydro took over the gas company.....I am no economist but does that not scream monopoly???? So much for the New Democratic Party being "socialist" and "caring".....they are all about the money honey.
I have lived in so many places where power was an issue and a costly one and I tend to bristle when some asshole from a Crown Corporation starts telling me to conserve, all the time when they are wasting a resource that is powered by another resource that with Global Warming could be no longer a resource? Wow.
These fat, white guys, in their marble-floored offices, overlooking their empire based on entitlements.....how many boards does Bob Brenneman sit on anyway? Obviously many as his arse looks like it has been firmly planted in many comfy seats of power.
Ad hominem attacks aside, there are those of us who practice conservation not only because we have to but because it is an intelligent thing to engage in.
So why has our government locked into several contracts to sell our precious resource, power, cheaper to the greediest of consumers, Americans ( or rather some ) and in the meantime try to tell me that if I do not pay my one hundred dollar household bill (a bill that took four months to accrue? ) I will be cut off? And this edict is being said to me while I look up in broad daylight at two in the afternoon at bright, blazing street lights???? BTW the bill was paid....as they always are even under financial duress.
Wow. Guess the government coffers are running dry.....just like someday the rivers that power these behemoths of waste will do as well....whatever. As long as that status quo maintains, I guess all is good in the land of Nod.
And our great gods ( all male of course ) of government want to start more hydro mega-projects....that notion however is for another day, another specific topic-focus. For now, I shall enjoy a cold drink, courtesy of my energy-efficient refridgerator.....and not courtesy of a bloated crown corp....peace out....live large....and be kind to hamsters, especially fat ones.
BTW did I say it before? The posted image was shot at around 2 PM today, October 20th when the sun was out in full-friggin' force....arrrggh.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Water Barrels - from the prairies to the tropics, lifelong practices in appreciation and conservation
First Realizations.....lessons learned in childhood
My mother held up the mason jar that had been sterilized, inspecting it closely to make sure it was perfect. Her brows were furrowed in concentration as she did this. As she talked with her father I heard the words lab and alkaline being bandied about.
Like just about every farm in our district we had a well, a very deep one, housed in a little red building, the interior immaculate. No farm detritus contained in there, just shiny buckets and tightly coiled hoses. We children were always told to stay out the well house but for me staring down into that perfect deep and shimmering pool it was a magical portal to another kingdom promising of adventures to come. For my mother however that well was the bane of her existence.
Mother trudged out to the well house with her jar and when she returned minutes later the jar had been filled and sealed with a colorful wrap. She dutifully wrote down the date and placed the jar into a carton festooned with very official-looking words like "Norquay Water Labs Test Samples". When my grandfather departed later that day the box with the jar went with him.
I didn't give the jar much more thought as there were more important things on my youthful mind like going out on my bicycle to explore the prairie world around me. Water? What was the problem? We had a well. What could possibly be wrong with that magic nectar? We had a creek and a small slough and in some springs we had too much water that would flash flood our yard when the snows in the escarpment mere miles west of us would rapidly melt bringing with the melt a deluge.
Two weeks later the phone rings - one long ring followed by two very short ones - our dedicated party line ring. Mom answered in her very official Good Morning voice and within a minute her brows again were furrowed. I could see her nodding her head up and down for yes and then several times sideways for an emphatic no and then she said Thank You Very Much and ended the conversation. She sat down at the kitchen table, heaved a big sigh and poured herself a cup of tea from the china pot that never seemed to go empty and said "R----" we have alkaline water....only she said it like "alkalye" so it took me awhile to find the right word in the family dictionary.
The lab had recommended that we do not use our well water for drinking or cooking. Yes, we could occasionally partake of a glass but to continue imbibing it was not good. Salts, while necessary for our survival, can also be deadly. It seemed that in the case of our well, we had a little bit too much of a good thing.
Good enough for the chickens but not good enough for us. We had to get our water for consumption trucked in after that day. Stored in several barrels in the basement it was to be my task as a child to bring up buckets of water daily for our cooking and drinking. It was a task that stuck with me and those memories of conservation and practical uses came in quite handy when many years later I would find myself in a similar situation, several times over, thousands of kilometres away.
Wet Season, Dry Season...Honduras, Jamaica, Belize and Mexico
There was a neatly lettered, encased in plastic-wrap sign over the communal sink at the hotel where I lived. It stated as such that no taps were to be left running, toilets only flushed with seawater and that showers should be limited to five minutes or less as the hotel relied solely on rain water stored away during the rainy season, which at this time was winding down quickly.
We were coming into the dry which would last for at least six months and even though our cisterns were full and on some days, overflowing when a late-season squall would come roaring in conservation of this precious resource was maintained and enforced. Those of us who were living on Isla Utila, part of the Bay Islands chain in Honduras - a mecca for folks pursuing diving careers, we knew the drill all too well being that many of us had already lived in other places in the tropics that were slavish to the wet/dry seasons. We had to be, what would seem to some, tyrannical in our approaches to wanton waste.
Yes, there were some lucky folks on our island who had wells with beautiful, sweet water and they were indeed the lucky ones but even they did not waste what they had for these old timers knew the vagaries of the skies and in the evenings sitting over beers would regale us newcomers with stories of deprivation during their childhood.
I took my stewardship duties seriously as the one long-term resident of our hotel. Most of the guests who would only be there for a week or two had no problems adjusting to these rules but on occasion the Duena or myself would be in the awkward position of having to correct a guest and in doing so incur their wrath. Hate to say it but the paradigm of Urban versus Rural would be an all-too-common theme in my subsequent observations regarding conservation habits.
One could always tell apart those who had an appreciation for our situation from those who just did not give a shit. One morning I heard one the guests go into the breezeway to use the sink to wash up and brush his teeth. I could hear him cursing about the bucket that we used to draw seawater for the flushing of the one communal toilet that was not hooked up to the cistern supply. The latter invectives being hurled did not trouble me but what he did next bothered me to no end.
He turned on the tap and I started a mental count. I could hear him brushing his teeth but what I did not hear was the sound of the flow of water being interrupted for brush cleaning. This dude was leaving the tap running while he was brushing. Why do people do this? When my count got up to almost thirty I got up from chair where I had been reading, walked over to the sink and turned off the tap, subsequently pointing at the sign which was in English, Spanish, German and French.
He stopped his brushing, forcefully spat out his toothpaste and asked me why I turned off the tap. I went on to explain why and he interrupted me saying I am paying to stay here and I will use as much water as I want to!!! I was shocked at his arrogant attitude and not just because he was paying the princely sum of around six bucks a day to stay here but because he felt it was his right to do as he wished without a care for those of us who months later would obsessively measuring what water was left in those cisterns.
The Duena, hearing the heated discussion, came upstairs, looked this man right in the eye and said I have the right to ask you to leave. The look of shock that registered on his face was priceless and no matter how strongly he pleaded it fell on deaf ears. Within the hour he was gone and our household was peaceful.
Thankfully I did not run into this stroppy character too many times and like most tourists he was gone shortly thereafter leaving the rest of us to deal with those day to day rituals that were far from mundane.
Oaxaca.....beach camping and water barrels...
Prior to living out in the islands I got my first foreign lesson in water scarcity when I was camped out (in my Westphalia) in the fishing village of San Agustine, in the very arid state of Oaxaca, Mexico. At that time it was a sleepy, quiet place, perfect for someone like me who was more or less, self-contained.
I had a ten-gallon capacity in water tank, more than sufficient for my meager needs but how to stay clean? Yes, there I was right on the gorgeous, rugged Pacific Coast but how to get the salt off of me? Where I had parked and set up camp was perfect. Agosto, the gentleman whose land I was staying on had just that year built a cabana for bathing. I was in heaven. For the incredible sum of one whole dollar a day I could dip a bucket into the barrel, bathe and rinse out my clothing. Primitive yes, but I did not care. I would learn some valuable skills here that I would be able to apply years later when living in Jamaica and Belize.
Agosto gave me the conservation lecture over beers and I immediately understood. All one had to do was look up into the hillsides where the only green was that of the succulents and cacti that dotted and dominated the landscape. This was not the tropics of the rainforest.
Near the bathing cabana was a small cabin whose resident, a retired police officer from Seattle, was already a veteran of conservation. We got along famously and once in awhile he would lament our water shortage, having lived in a region that is dominated by rain, but he agreed that by slowing down our lives, parsing out and recycling our water, we were forced to appreciate a situation that millions if not a couple of billion folks elsewhere had to contend with everyday, for years on end, not on their journeys like us. We had that option of returning to civilization with its abundance and sense of entitlement.
Cop Richard, as I came call him, helped me string a line to allow the sea air to "cleanse" my whites. I would only wash when absolutely necessary and when I "bathed" it was standing over a large tub that I had bought so I could capture the washing water to use later to water our veggie plants near the cabana.
We had a good system going and we could stretch out that water barrel's contents for days.....until that is, two more hippie van groups showed up. This encounter was to be for me very telling regarding that sense of entitlement that many travelers have, an almost elite and arrogant care-not attitude. I find it disgusting.
The cabana was not for bathroom duties. In fact we had no bathroom except the wide open sea. I had an army-issue folding shovel, more buckets and of course my own waste paper. I had no problems with venturing into the sea, my front yard at the time, to take a piss. The only time it got dodgy was when the rip tides were in full-force. As to ahhhh, bowel evacuations that is where the shovel, bucket, bleach and asswipe came in handy. Richard kept a chamber pot in his cabin and I would take my bucket into the cabana for my privacy. After using it I would go out for a walk, dig a hole, dutifully bury my waste and then return to camp to clean out my bucket, rationing of course my water use and making good with the bleach.
When these other campers showed up us gringos, at Agosto's insistence for his English was spotty at best, were in charge of educating the new arrivals. Within less than one day the barrel was depleted and the cabana stinking of piss. We were livid as was Agosto, who was also insulted by the sheer stupidity of these "pinchay cabrones". He was in a tough position as he sold cold beers, made wonderful seafood out of his beachside stand, did some fishing etc....in other words he could not afford to toss away these six travelers but ask them to leave he did.
My respect for Agosto's integrity tripled that day and I promised him that I would make sure that I would consume as much beer as I could so he would not be broke.....well, the laughter that erupted from him....precious. As to my liver? Well, that story is still evolving....hahaha.
Catching the rains in Jamaica.....
Jamaica, always being advertised as the perfect island paradise, abundant supplies of clean, fresh water and having a fecundity that is the envy of the Caribbean. Yes, that may be the case but it is not so everywhere.
Perched up in the hills overlooking the sea about ten kilometres outside of Negril were homes ranging from tidy little cottages to the sprawling estates of the mega-rich but there was one thing all those dwellings had in common - cisterns. The very rich of course had no issues with water but those of us who had smaller cisterns were always aware and governed our usage accordingly.
Westmoreland Parish is one of the driest regions of Jamaica and your average tourist who visits the famed seven mile beach of Negril never has to worry about how much water that twenty minute shower uses. The average tourist would never go into the impoverished Negril neighbourhood of Red Earth where squatter's shacks were plentiful and water hauled by the bucket out of rusty barrels. Bathing was done in big old tubs or by using a gravity shower whereby water was hauled up to a container above the shower where the user could pull a string and water would be come out of a calcified and rusty shower head.
My friend Miss Jan's home was thankfully not of the rustic variety and was one of those beautiful homes perched on an escarpment with the priceless seaview. Unfortunately though this location was problematic in that the clouds, swollen with rain, rarely dumped down on us....such are the vagaries of the winds and climate.
We had been rationing for weeks, waiting for rainy season to begin. The cistern was almost empty and we had been forced to drive into town to get water for drinking and as to our bathing routines well, we had an interesting system for that as there were several beach side hotels where we were known so we were granted pool and shower privileges. We were grateful for this kind gesture.
One day, on one of those torrid days when one finds themselves lolling about, tired from the heat and conserving their energies, the skies darkened and we heard the not-too-distant rumble of thunder. We didn't pay it much attention having been "teased" like this several times in just the past week. We did not stir. And then it happened - one humongous burst of thunder the crackle of lightning so close that our power got knocked out. Immediately the deluge came and we women moved fast.....Jan barking out orders to grab whatever plastic tubs and get them under the drain spouts that collected precious rain water.
She had gone to open up the lids of the cisterns so that we could transfer the precious cargo.....yes, the cisterns were fed off of the roof but why waste what was coming down? It was a rather comical affair as her porch was a polished cement and therefore not given to having lots of traction at the best of times. I must have fallen on my ass at least a dozen times with these damned buckets but continuing catching and filling I did. This deluge went on for an hour and at the end of it all the cisterns had been replenished to half of their volume.
Over beers, soaked through we laughed and celebrated our ingenuity. It is a memory that I cherish to this day and one that I could appreciate and that was to be repeated just a few years later at my own little cabin in Belize.
Bakabush and the Rotoplas....a rain celebration after deprivation in Belize
It was those experiences in Mexico, Honduras and Jamaica that enabled me to apply sound stewardship of my own water resources and had in many ways brought me back full circle to my formative years and that damned salty water well.
My elevated cabin although in the part of Belize that received around 55 inches of rain during the wet season was close enough to the sea to render the ground water unusable even for watering plants. I did not even like showering with this water, so slimy and smelly it was so when we first designed our water system I told my then-husband that we needed to build a platform on the upper deck by which to capture the water from the roof so it could feed into the barrel and then allow for gravity to carry it into the kitchen and bathroom. We had an additional ground tank that caught the rainwater as well that had an electric pump hooked up to it so the upper barrel could be filled but that second barrel came more than a year later so for the longest time I made do with a 450 litre container.
I had all sorts of tricks at my employ. Like those camping times in Mexico I made excellent use of laundry lines so my towels and linens would always stay fresh. My gravity fed shower water was never wasted either as I stood in a tub whilst showering, saving the grey water for my fruit trees. Little things like saving my drained pasta water for cleaning out my pots and pans.....we never think about things like that in urban society as we have it all, hot water too, at the flip of a tap.
For me, living in what many of my neighbours felt to be very primitive conditions, I was happy and did not mind adhering to these practical routines. The dry season that year had dragged out and many of the more well-heeled foreign residents faced empty cisterns and were on waiting lists for water to be hauled to them. One never knew where this water came from but one day I made the discovery and I was none too pleased when I caught the water man pumping his cargo out of a stagnant canal where folks tossed their garbage and sometimes animal carcasses. Disgusting to say the least. To say that I felt a bit of schadenfreude when telling some of these snooty bastards where their water came from? Oh well, one cannot always be nice.
I was down to probably my last twenty or thirty litres.....the barrel had been invaded by frogs and geckos seeking comfort from the searing, dry heat....in other words, it was a skanky, slimy mess and I had to empty it and bleach it out. I had no choice. I was worried though what I would do for household water once cleaning out the barrel as there was no rain in the immediate forecast.
A few hours later, cold beer in hand, relaxing in my hammock I heard the rumble. I got up to see the clouds quickly rolling in, the skies darkening and the temperature plummeting. A smile came across my face as the first drops hit the roof. I whooped and cheered as the sound of the rain hitting the tin roof sounded like a freight train rumbling through my home. It was so loud that I could not hear the music nor did I care.
I grabbed the cell and hurriedly dialed my husband in Canada and yelled out my joy. Yes, he could hear the rains. I stripped down and stood outside on my deck not giving a care in the world as to who may have driven by and maybe seen me. I was ecstatic. Now I knew how desert dwellers felt when the rains came.
For the next few months I had too much water, the barrel was never empty but the lesson remained and even after I installed the second barrel I never lost sight of how I had to respect the wet and dry seasons and adjust accordingly my usage of water.
Now that I find myself back here where I grew up, in the land of 100,000 lakes - the remnants of glacial retreat and probably one of the largest watersheds on the planet, I still have what some consider water saving eccentricities. I use my grey bath water for plants, I capture rain water in the summer for my garden and in the winter I leave my hot bath water in the cast iron tub so it can give off needed moisture and extra heat. I only run the dishwasher when it is totally full and no, I do not leave the taps running when I brush my teeth.
Maybe if we all took the time out to just for one week, change some of our habits, I wonder how much water we could save? I regret never measuring empirically what my daily usage was in those far-off locales but I can safely say that it was nowhere near what the average North American uses in one day - the contents of my Rotoplas or rather around 450 litres.....wow.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
A lightbulb burst tonight in my stove in a rather spectacular fashion and it was not the fact that it burst into shards almost getting into my breads that bugged me but rather the memories of the one who would have had been there to ensure that all was well, it can be replaced and I will help you clean up the shards.....
He is no longer here.....yet, in this big old house I am sometimes confronted, maybe even assaulted, with the reminders of him. It could be something as innocuous as seeing his writing on a label on one of my spice jars....he had very distinctive ways of printing.
When well-meaning folks say to me, go forward - you will heal - blah, blah, blah.....there are times when I would love to smack them down hard for they have no idea as to how I truly feel. I am an emotional fraud in that I rarely show my real feelings for it is one thing I have learned hard and that is this - one always gets kicked harder when they are down.
My ass is sore....as are several other body parts suffering too.
Ah, the metaphor part....that may have to wait.....am I building up to something? Yes. Some stories are best told, or in my case, spewed, when the time is right. Consider this part of a dry run.
He is no longer here.....yet, in this big old house I am sometimes confronted, maybe even assaulted, with the reminders of him. It could be something as innocuous as seeing his writing on a label on one of my spice jars....he had very distinctive ways of printing.
When well-meaning folks say to me, go forward - you will heal - blah, blah, blah.....there are times when I would love to smack them down hard for they have no idea as to how I truly feel. I am an emotional fraud in that I rarely show my real feelings for it is one thing I have learned hard and that is this - one always gets kicked harder when they are down.
My ass is sore....as are several other body parts suffering too.
Ah, the metaphor part....that may have to wait.....am I building up to something? Yes. Some stories are best told, or in my case, spewed, when the time is right. Consider this part of a dry run.
Posted by the Stiff Rod at 11:45 PM
Monday, October 11, 2010
Four more days until I post my essay on water.....I am torn as to which way to address this very important issue or do I just go off on one of my usual free-form string-of-consciousness diatribes? We shall see.....until then click on the title link to register your blog. It is an issue that affects ALL of us equally yet many take it for granted....
Posted by the Stiff Rod at 11:12 AM
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
The Latin Americanist: Hundreds buried in Oaxaca landslide (Updated)
It was good to find this blog site today whilst investigating the recent tragedy in my "home" state of Oaxaca.....yes, it has been my "home" off and on for many years. I am worried for the safety of many good folks up in Tlahui.....
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Man, I have been waiting for years to tell this story and no offense to the one who right now knows how to give great face, tongue etc....in so many ways that amaze. This is the story of that one kiss that took me somewhere....a place that I had never been to. It took place in an almost war-zone.....Skopje, Macedonia or rather FYROM (former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia) just prior to the bombing of Kosovo by the Allied Forces. Gotta love NATO and the UN for their love of acronyms. Gotta love working in these places because everything is intense.
Intense, yes, when you think you may die. Anyway, life in a conflict zone or zone of anticipation or staging prior to a conflict can get intense. Damn I love that word.
Now before some politically-correct fuck gets angry about the photo illustration (yes, hot sex may be discussed) it is a stock photo but it beautifully illustrates what a kiss can be - innocent or otherwise.
I first told this story to a man in a bar.....he worked for FOX Sports International (some high-falutin' position like a VP or some shit like that....hehe...none of your damned business)....he loved my story so much that, well....that story is for another telling. Let me just say this - he too knew how to kiss properly and in several spots. My story must have turned him on. Cool.
A great kiss is a kiss that when executed goes right down to one's naughty bits.....and resonates. The telling of said kiss if done right should elicit the same sort of - reaction.
I was alone....not really but think about it - not too many women do the kind of work that I did....ensconcing oneself in that male-dominated environment of "foreign correspondence". I had been invited by this man to be his "shooter"....little did I know that he wanted me to be his "bitch" in that he was actually riding on my professional laurels....what an arse....he was to prove it later at a dinner table where this kiss story begins.
I had been "in country" for 48 hours.....and of course I was staying at the INTERCONTINENTAL hotel....doesn't every hot spot have a hotel named that way? I had been invited to a "round table" dinner.....asshole thought he was the head of said table....little did he know that by virtue of his prima donna attitude that he was already a joke with those in NATO who had the "power" to get him around safely...not that anything hot was happening yet but one must always be ready right? After all, half of Moldavia's available hookers were lining the streets of Skopje.
I was ready. I had a multiple entry/exit visa for Kosovo.....he did not....maybe that is why he hated me....he just showed up to the party believing he would have an invite to the after-hours shit....hehehe....what an arrogant brit arse....figures that he stringed for a Murdoch paper.
THE DINNER TABLE AND WHAT HAPPENED NEXT.....
I had been putting up with this arsehole's condescending shite for over a day already....I was hungry and tired and still jet-lagged. For the time that we had painfully spent together all he wanted to do was boss me around in front of those whom he wanted to impress....at that time I was still somewhat "green" but it did not take me too long to realize what a dick this person was....hell, he showed up without a visa for Kosovo for Christ's sake!!!
So there I was sitting at this dinner table of NATO poohbahs, a few NGO functionaries who were in reality "spies" and this one dude from the Brit forces who was one of their "official" photographers....and there was asshole waxing forth on all of his "experiences" and the whole time I refrained from calling bullshit on him....I wanted him to dig his own professional grave.
His big litany of complaint or rather diatribe, was against North Americans for being so "whatever"....he kept railing on in front of this well-informed group of folks as to how ignorant folks like myself were in terms of international knowledge...I kept wanting to crawl under a rock whilst trying to enjoy my meal.
I really wanted to defend not only myself, but all the other great Canadian and "American" journos....and there are many.....I was tongue-tied.
While this smarmy arse was going on and on and on I could not help but see out of the periphery of my left eye this man looking at me with a very sad and empathetic look. It was the Brit army photo dude.
After the requisite drinks and desserts I bade my leave to the bar to join some colleagues. The man who had been looking at me, I don't know when, joined my gang at our table. I had maybe a polite drink and because I really was tired, said to all present that I was leaving.
THE ELEVATOR, A GREAT FANTASY LIVED....
I made my way to the "lift", a rather old-fashioned affair.....it had one of those really cool oval windows in it. Just as the doors were about to close HE entered, he of the sad, empathetic eyes....or rather he forced the door not to shut and then gained entry.
Yes, of course our eyes locked....as the doors shut. He did not hesitate. He grabbed me and pressed me to the wall of the lift and kissed me deeply....his hands found my places of pleasure in a very fast manner. I could not protest. It felt - it just felt right. I was hot. I was vibrating. I was shocked and wanting at the same time. More. Much. More.
If memory serves correct my leg, the left one, was wrapped around his athletic torso....my left arm arching around his neck in a total embrace....while he was probing my mouth. It was so fast and intense....we got off on my floor, no pun intended.
It is not like I had never been deeply kissed before...but not like this....this was full. This "attack" was with consent and the two of us were - we just were. I was hot, felt hot, could not think. His eyes met mine and there was no question as to where we would wind up.
All I can say is this....the next several hours lasted beautifully until sunrise.
There was after that night, that long night, no awkward greetings.....we spent a great deal of our time when we could, just walking around and exploring the old city....we did not need or want for anything more....sometimes, once is enough.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Not that I am one to count but today is POST NUMBER 45 DAY.....cool. I shall celebrate by sharing some of my favourite wilderness images from a place that has given me much inspiration in the last year or so. Never underestimate the power of inspiration because it is not as if I can wave a magic wand and have gobs of entertaining words spill onto the screen. Wished that were so on occasion especially when ensconced in editing tasks. Arrggh.
When I am not writing I am out shooting, photos that is.....and in doing so I am able to kick-start my brain (as we get older that needs to occur more often than not). I could go on in some pretentious manner here about the creative processes and what brings them about but for now I would rather just remember that day when the light was perfect, the company stellar and the water existing as a canvas by which to riff on.
I saw something that day and when I was able to upload the images onto the craptop I knew I had to play with the contrasts and tints. It is always wonderful to have a "Eureka!" moment. That day I had several. In my world that indeed is a gift because I can be quite picky as to what I feel is worth recording and keeping.
I used to tell my students....take your time and look for the little things and you will be pleasantly surprised at what you can discover by not looking straight ahead. Meandering slowly be it in the woods or across the keyboard.....taking one's time.....no constraints....what luxury.
We should all endeavour to be this way as often as we can.
Posted by the Stiff Rod at 10:17 AM
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Firstly, I must apologize for having gone AWOL for the month of August but sometimes that is just the way I roll, so to speak. Either that or it's that pesky old procrasturbation thing creeping up on me again.....it does happen you know, even to those of us who have lots to do and say.
I am not going to do a line by line bread lesson here....I am not Nancy Silverton, a woman whose bread expertise I respect. Rather I am a person who grew up on a farm and long before the so-called food revolution took place, the one by which we want to be locavores, know what we are eating etc...that was my life - still is for that matter regardless of climactic limitations or geographic location. The experience of the weekly Saturday bake-a-thon down on the farm is one I have carried through to these middle years of my existence and no matter how much the modern world may grind me down at times it is in the process of making breads and other "slow" items where I get my groove back.
The making of breads is not as time-consuming as one would be led to believe. With a bit of that modern notion of time-management applied even the most reticent of home cooks can duplicate to a certain degree an artisanal product - it's just a matter of what they happen to have in their larder. My kitchen is stocked to the hilt with damned near everything I would need excepting some cool toys (don't all cooks get rather obsessed with those accoutrements?) but if all you have is olive oil, salt, two or three kinds of flour, honey and yeast you are good to go. A mixer with a dough hook is nice but if you have a good-sized mixing bowl or two and wooden spoons then what is holding you back?
Small steps right? With a bit of imagination and practice this is what you could be serving at your table.....something tasty, healthy and made by you!
More to come as the day, a baking day, progresses.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Day of the Dead is almost here and I have to admit that I am far more excited this year than last because I have thrown myself into the preparations with gusto. This is far more fun than Christmas as far as I am concerned.
I have been having a rather difficult time trying to describe the flurry and frenzy so this morning I decided I would find a spot to park my ass and just absorb the smells and sounds and all that good stuff. Perhaps I may even be able to share some of that.
Today is the thirtieth and the market is bustling like I have never seen it before. My nostrils are assailed by the odors emanating from the various pots of incense burning. I like the smell when it is outside and not confined in some silly cathedral. It seems more natural and there are many varieties. I am reminded of my trip to Morocco when I smell it.
I am hungry this morning so I head to the indoor market to visit my empanada lady who dutifully tells me the price every morning for my favourite breakfast (3 whole pesos per empanada!!) even though I have been eating here everyday since I arrived. It has become a sort of game with us. Her empanadas are pure Oaxaca, stuffed with the stringy quesillo and flavoured with epazote, a local Zapotec herb that I am very fond of using for frijoles and soups.
Dona Maria must be at least eighty-something years old. Every crack in her face is a story and then some. I dare not ask her if I can take a shot. Instead I burn into memory these lines. It has taken me most of this month to win her over and yes she did remember me from last year but that was, after all, last year. She makes some great salsas and is very proud of her recipe. She gets very insistent with me to slather my empanadas with her concoction and she will watch to see how much I use. Today I used a lot and she was content with that.
I like being back here for I have gotten to know many Mitlenos. They can be a conservative bunch at the best of times but it is festive events that seem to wash away the taint of modern life that has invaded even this staid valley town. Folks from the outlying communities, you can tell because they are dressed up in their Sunday best, have been gathering here for the last several days. This is what I like to call the last big blowout before the spending orgy that entails Christmas only this one has far more significance as far as I am concerned.
Day of the dead comprises more than one day and no I am not going to describe it here. Google it in for there are writers that are far better equipped than me who can give the more anthropological slant. I concentrate on the food and family stuff. In other words I am gonna make you sing for your suppers and yes I am a lazy bastard sometimes.
Mole, mole and more mole. There are several varieties for sale today but most folks will make their own from trusted family recipes. Today for example I will be going to a mole lesson where I hope I will do my teacher proud later when I attempt to do my family's honored recipe that was so good that former President Zedillo ordered buckets of it to take back to Mexico City. I don't think for a second that on my first attempt I will triumph to that degree but as long as it tastes good I will be happy. Sublime will come much later.
Flowers and oranges and more flowers and oranges and apples, so many varieties of such that I am truly surprised. Belize could learn a thing or two if they sent some trade envoys up to live in this valley. I bet they would never go back after experiencing the choices here for fresh foodstuffs.
The orange trucks came in late last Friday and set up on the corners near the main plaza. The oranges are used mainly to decorate the altars that are in just about every home down here. Well maybe not up in the evangelical gringo gulag on the other side of town but who gives a shit about those party poopers anyway? Some altars are very modest and then there are some that defy description and can be so campy as to be cool but they all have oranges and apples in common as main decorations.
There is a Zapotec country woman who has just walked by and I will describe her outfit. She has to be around my age as many of the younger women, even those from the smaller villages, are choosing jeans and sweaters rather than the traditional garb which I believe looks far nicer. Firstly let's see her hair - it is in long pigtails that reach her arse and it is braided in a very loud orange color. Her hair is of course jet black and contrasts nicely with the orange braiding.
She is wearing a crispy white blouse embellished with rocket red roses, hand-embroidered of course, and to top it all off she is wearing a red plaid pleated skirt. Now that is a first for the village ladies tend to wear the same uniform of plain dress covered by hand embroidered full apron, earth-toned reboso (scarf) draped over and around the shoulders. Hair done the same way as the stylish village lady but cloth braiding more plain in colour. Most will also be wearing blue flowered head scarves. You see this uniform so often that when a creature walks by in a red plaid skirt you take notice. Did I also mention that she was gorgeous and that her husband followed her? Cool. He was dressed pretty snappy too and not cowboy kitschy.
Holy shit! Right across the street is my tortilla maestra Josefina clutching a bunch of marigolds that almost obscure her. Well she is a little person but boy does she move fast and her tortillas rock! Yes Marigolds and many more varieties of flowers are for the buying. The flowers are not just for the home altars but for the cemetery (Panteon) that plays a central role this week. This is the week that we honour and celebrate the dead by lavishing much attention on the graves of those who have preceded us.
We honor the spirits, sing to them, give them their favourite treats (in many cases shots of mescal and sometimes joints, toys and foods and will be placed reverently on gravesites) and make sure that every site is honored, especially the sites of the few foreigners who may not have family to clean up or honor their burial area.
Man sometimes it is so hard to concentrate with all the noises and no I do not mean the market and people noises but the new annoying modern noises as generated from the moto taxis, a new phenomena for Mitla. It used to be, and that was just last year for crying out loud!, that if you had a bunch of groceries you could flag down a bicycle taxi and have a leisurely ride back to your home but no more. We now have a hundred of these putt-putt things and it seems that damned near every one of them is driven by someone under twenty-five years of age who thinks he is Mario Andretti. Sorry boys, I am.
Where I am sitting is the main intersection so imagine a traffic jam comprised of these silly machines with drivers impatiently honking their horns as if they are going to get anywhere faster today! Not a chance. The streets are choked with people, livestock, flowers, orangesâ€¦best to walk I would think. Besides, how else is one to get an essence of what is going on? I hope that in the years to come that Mitla maintains its traditions and doesn't get too caught up in the bustle that afflicts Tlacolula just down the road. They don't seem to take Day of the Dead as seriously as they used to. Here it is celebrated with gusto.
It is now just a little after ten a.m. and I am hoping that the ladies with the charcoal grills are preparing chuleta and filete for I am looking forward to having some beef. It is a treat to be sure. Man you could eat market food every day and not break the proverbial bank.
I am now on my third cafe con leche. I love the coffee here for they enhance it with cinnamon (canela) and yes, unlike American coffee it has body for it home-roasted and fresh-ground.
For the last two weeks in our kitchen we have been preparing for this week by making rounds of chocolate spiced with cinnamon for the de rigeur Oaxacan hot chocolate which is served with pan de muerte. Every village has its own particular take on this bread and some loaves are quite ornate. Think of the hennae designs on the arms of Indian ladies and you will have an idea as to how some of these loaves are decorated. Some come with little icing angels on them or Jesus themes. The little angel breads are for the one day that we remember the little children who have passed away.
Folks have been fattening turkeys for sale this week. Turkey is the choice meat to have with the moles. Another village up the road, Teotitlan, serves up tamales made with mole Amarillo (yellow mole) and boy are those tasty tamales.
We are not doing turkey this year but will do instead barbacoa with mole. Barbacoa in this region means goat meat and I for one really enjoy it. Not for everyone but I like the rich flavour and when served on fresh, hot tortillas it makes for an excellent meal.
You have to pace yourself when making the rounds of eating (that is front and centre after the cemetery visit) for each household will offer you hot chocolate, pan de muerte, a mole concoction and of course shots of mescal. It is the latter that can really bite you on the ass so I have a strategy already planned. I will take a small bowl and a small shot glass with me to each home I visit so I do not get inundated for on visiting day I will be going to at least ten homes.
Just outside the cafe where I am there is a group of country ladies sitting down on the sidewalk having their mid-morning snack of tortillas some sort of meat stuffing.
The tortillas in this region are worth mentioning for they are not of the wimpy northern sizes that we are used to. These tortillas can sometimes be
almost two feet across and the so-called regular ones measure a healthy ten inches or so in diameter. They are served hot or crispy and my favourite ones come from a small village and are made with blue corn.
A huge tourist bus is trying to make its way past the square towards the ruins. Hahahaha - good luck buddy. As much as I can sometimes be a real snob about certain varieties of tourists I have to admit that it is good to see them coming back to Oaxaca after a prolonged statewide strike. The local economy has taken a major hit since last year and the recovery of such may never happen.
This cafe is a great vantage point this morning and I wonder why I have never sat here and worked before. Maybe because I always felt like I would be too visible. Today that is not the problem and I am able to write unnoticed which is nice. I have only had one person approach me and that was a gringa looking for ways to get to Hierve la Agua (a spectacular waterfall not too far from here). It just so happens that I know Hugo, the man who drives tourists up there so I told her how to find him but I warned her that Hugo may be missing in action for his wife is really pissed off at him. I will see if he is still alive later this week when Richard and I invade his place for our hot chocolate and mescal. It seems that Hugo got rooked into providing a huge breakfast for a visiting fiesta band and he did not tell his wife of this and if I was her I would be angry too for it would be she doing the bulk of the work! Hugo got conned into this honor� when he was sort of in his cups? Hahahahahaha. Never commit to a favour when you have been drinking. Not a good idea and I am sure Hugo will never hear the end of it.
A lady just walked by with a huge bunch of basil with the purple flowers. I smelled the bouquet long before I saw it! Yes, I have been making pesto. Of course!!
A girl is walking past carrying bunches of sugar cane no doubt to festoon the altar at her home. This is so cool this day and finally the nasty weather that has been plaguing us seems to have vanished. It was windy and cold and miserable to say the least but today makes up for that. I am getting coffee-d out now and have the urge to walk to the net cafe in order to post musings to friends.
Author's note......this first appeared in fall of 2007 on a forum, ourbelize.net
THE BIG AFTERNOON CRYFEST AND THE NIGHT OF THE DRAG QUEENS
Day of the Dead is a celebration, not a time for lamentation. Folks down here have a rather interesting POV when it comes to the concept of death. The ones who have departed come back every year to feast, smoke and drink and sing with the living. In Zapotec culture they believe that death means starting to live. They tend to celebrate deaths moreso than births because of this belief.
I know I am really boiling down some serious concepts here but I am not a trained anthropologist and as far as I am concerned there are some folks in this field that could use an enema or five.
The big afternoon cry fest, post mole production, was not really a cry fest but more a time for my good friend Richard to let off some steam. He had taken some friends, Bill, Alan and Frank, to the ruins in Mitla, appropriately known as the City of the Dead. Richard has cancer and the fact that at this writing he is still alive is a testimony to his need to explore and understand these same concepts that he has been enveloped in for most of his life. I am happy that he got to be around for this particular fiesta for obvious reasons. This is indeed a special time.
I had been told to meet everyone in the courtyard for drinks but when I saw Richard, drinking was the last thing on my mind. One moment he would be crying that he was not yet ready to die and the next moment he would be hysterically laughing that planning a death was not all it was cracked up to be. I ignored as best as I could all of his rantings because I did not want to lose it�. I had made my peace with his disease well over a year ago and I wanted this time to be one of camaraderie and not one of boo hoo hooing. That shit can come later.
Some things remain blurry and for good reason. I am not going to describe what I saw that afternoon for to me that is kind of private and I do not believe that Ricardo would appreciate my telling it here. Suffice to say it was an intense several hours. Alan was headed back to Oaxaca, returning the next day, but Bill was going to sleep in his truck with his corgie. This left mister Frank. I told him to come and bunk with my family as we always can spare space and the family loves to meet new folks. We put Richard to bed for tomorrow he would need his energy for the visitations.
Frank is a fellow writer and when I first saw him earlier in the day my gaydar went right off the scale. We conversed as if we had known each other all of our lives and this my friends is a wonderful feeling to have when you are stressed out. I needed a diversion or five and Frank was to provide diversions not only for me but for my family who were suffering through a particular crises of their own. Let's just say that the visit had been very intense and not just because of the holy times.
Frank, Alan, Bill and Richard had earlier in the day visited the ruinas and Frank had recorded all of Ricardo's words so he could later transcribe them. I thought this was a great idea for Richard always has some sort of bawdy anecdote to add into his historical musings. Frank would have his work cut out for him and I would be able to fill in the gaps later.
Now after I got Frank settled in we decided that the time was right to go out exploring - read - find a bar. It's not that I wanted to get shitfaced for tomorrow would be a busy day but I wanted to sit down with Frank and have, well, a frank discussion about not only the day's events but our collective journalistic experiences.
We caught a moto to Ruben's cantina but he was closed so I asked the driver to take us to any cantina. Now the driver must have had gaydar too for he dropped us off at the home of Mitla's only reigning official Drag Queen Miss Ruby. Miss Ruby is amazing to see with her well-defined Zapotec nose and her statuesque presence - god damn - those heels of hers! She has my admiration for this is one conservative town if there ever was but hey this was October 31st so let the fun begin!
Miss Ruby's family are pretty cool folks for they allowed her to have a cantina/dance/lounging space right in the family home. We met other
folks of the same persuasion and proceeded to have some great conversation. Frank was all pumped up about possibly seeing more DQ's out and about but the big drag event for Day of the Dead that had happened two years ago was a one-shot deal. Ruby confirmed this but went on to tell us that a boffo party was happening at another cantina near the ruins and yes, the DQ brigade would be out in full force.
Now I will digress here a bit. The town of Juchitan in the Istmo region (Tehuantepec area) is a town worth exploring if gay/drag culture is your thing. Those of us in the know already know about Puerto Vallarta's boy's town area but Juchitan is the real thing babies! In this town parents brag about their gay sons for they know that they will have someone to look after them in their old age. In Juchitan the closet has never existed.
We grab another moto, address in hand, and head for the party. Miss Ruby promises to be in attendance later. Typical Queen. She needed to get real gussied up as if she was not fabulous already?
We arrive and are greeted by this wonderful cadre of queens, not as statuesque as Ruby but glamorous all the same. I provided much amusement by letting off some firecrackers at the hangers-on lingering around the corner who were too cheap or scared to go into the party. Tossing small incendiaries by the way is to me, a big part of the fun. The locals seem to think that gringos do not know the system but hahahaha I do. I just wished that I could have had some cherry bombs on hand. Alas, not so. I made do with what I had.
Frank asked me if we should get some mescal. I was a little leery about this because I know how deadly it can be but I threw all caution to the wind this night. Why not? I have pretty much given up hard liquor so a little tumble off of the wagon could be fun? The bartender happened to have a bottle of anejo (old) mescal. We have a joke around here about anejo products. Folks want to impress you, the traveler, so they drag out any donkey piss to serve you and tell you it is anejo. A seasoned mescal aficionado like me can tell the difference but I never say anything. I just do not go beyond the one shot. Being a woman is definitely advantageous for women do not traditionally drink down here so I can bow out of a bad mescal situation without hurting anyone's feelings.
This mescal however was ANEJO and therefore damned good. So good in fact that we got into it and got into good right down to the ground up GUSANOS (worms) flavoured with chile salt. I had maybe three shots and I knew that was my limit. Ahhhh, but as to beers? No limits there. Once the music got going me and the girls had some fun.
More folks started to arrive but there was something really strange about this. The majority of the attendees were young males, definitely not gay but seriously curious. They all sat in a circle hugging the walls gaping at the spectacle. Frank was in boy heaven and I gave him his space. It was fun to watch him govereeting with the young men.
I had a sweater on and was starting to get hot. Dancing a samba will do that to you so I decided to take it off ( I had a decent-sized sport tank bra on) and create a mini-scandal. I love to dance and yes, I did dance with absolute mescal abandon and I could keep up to the frenetic beats. A couple of diesels (dykes) moved in on me and I was so much taller than them but the queens formed a phalanx around me as these chicks were trying way too hard.
The place was getting more packed and the bartender told me I could not let off anymore firecrackers. Okay, that was cool as there was lots of papier mache around that could have caught fire.
A man started to dance with me, obviously straight and his English was very good. He started twirling me around and as I got closer to him he tried to cop a titty feel. Oh that is just so amateur-hour so I gave him a nice little cuff across his left cheek like I would to a stroppy little boy for that is what he was and he was old enough to know better. Now some folks would get angry but he knew that his behaviour was uncalled for and he immediately apologized and bought me a beer. Frank was pissed off that he did not see the exchange for he would have been greatly amused.
The time came soon to leave for I was fading fast. I am usually in bed by 9 PM and it was already two in the morning and that day was gonna be busy. It turned out that my dance partner had a moto taxi and he graciously offered to take us back to Artemio's. I bade the DQ brigade goodnight, Frank got some addresses of folks who wanted him to visit later, and we left. When our driver discovered where we were going he confessed to me that he used to date Artemio's daughter Irma. Hahahahahahahaha! This was just too too precioso.
Lucia had left some food out for us and we snacked. I drank gobs of water because I did not want to be CRUDA (hungover) the next day. Fat chance of that working right? I had somewhat crossed the line of reason but I am one of those folks that no matter what the show must go on.
The church bells were tolling as we went to bed still calling out the Angeles (the little dead children spirits) to come out and eat and drink. On the 31st at exactly high noon Don Juan had stood in front of our shrine saying novenas to welcome the little spirits as Lucia and I had made sure that the little cups of hot chocolate and treats were placed reverently there for them to partake of.
THE CEMETARY GATHERING AND THE VISITATIONS
We arose early because there were many preparations to be undertaken. The day before we had all bought huge bunches of flowers, some to be placed around the shrine and the rest to go with us to the PANTEON (cemetary).
Frank and I wandered over next door to Artemio's bro Ernesto's place, where Ricardo lives, and we had coffee with the family and Bill who had just arrived with his corgie. Alan and another friend, Jody who is an ethno botanist and a woman full of information, had also arrived.
Nobody is ever in a rush down here. I imagine because most of the town was crudo that there were many folks adopting that strategy.
We sat in the courtyard exchanging barbs and of course Richard had to ask Frank and me what we had gotten up to the night before. He of course rolled his eyes. It's funny how our friendship has morphed from drinking buddies to him being an almost father-figure and admonishing me for what may seem to be decadent behaviour. Oh well. I told everyone that I was his bastard daughter from a liaison with a Berlin call girl. He really rolled his eyes then amidst the laughter.
Well he is almost old enough to be my dad.
The time had come to make the important visitation to the panteon. This is the time when folks gather with treats, flowers, incense (copal) and cleaning materials. The latter is for the freshening up of the gravesites so we can festoon them with the decorative and imbibing elements. Some graves even sported joints and mescal in shot glasses.
Richard looked tired and sad and unfortunately I did capture that on the camera. There are some pictures that need to be taken if only to give others an idea of the gravity of a particular situation. I allowed (not like I was in charge) Richard and Jody to walk together while Frank, Alan, Bill and I walked separately. We did not need to mention to each other Richard's situation. It would have been moot.
Richard needed to visit the gravesite of a very old friend. He gave some good stories about this man that when he passed on had the largest funeral cortege ever in Mitla, such was this man revered. Alan had wandered off to take shots but I decided that I did not need to do so. Richard remarked as to the differences between Norte Americano attitudes to gravesites vs. those of Mexicans. We walked all over the tightly packed sites as did everybody else exchanging greetings, shaking hands and hugging those folks that we knew. Back at home I could not imagine a festive situation like this being accepted. The closest I had ever come to duplicating this moment in Canada had been at the funeral of my best girlfriend's brother when we bade all in attendance to release balloons while his favorite song TIME OF YOUR LIFE by Greenday was playing in the background. To this day I cannot listen to that song without crying and laughing at the same time and yes, that is possible to do just that, laugh and cry simultaneously.
Frank, Bill and I went back to Artemio's so Bill could get the truck and fetch Richard and Jody back. Richard needed to conserve his energy for the afternoon visitations. He would try to do four of them but he managed only two. He did two more the next day. Last year we did ten, one in another town down the road so this should demonstrate just how difficult the day would have been for him.
FOOD OF THE DEAD, THE MOLE TEST and many jokes about hangovers
That day we had started off our morning with Caldo Guajolote at Ernestoâ€™s house. I would say that was great hangover recovery food. Served with fresh tortillas and chiles this broth made from the turkey was enjoyed by all. Nothing gets wasted down here foodwise. I do the same thing in my home with carcasses, bits and sometimes offal. The caldos down here are flavorful and are meant to be enhanced by freshly chopped chiles, cilantro and onions eaten of course with the ubiquitous tortillas.
I had taken recently to calling Margarita's and Lucia's salsas SALSA DE MUERTO - salsa of death - named so for they can range from medium to quite fiery but have great flavor layers that are subtle and do not smack you between the eyes like a badly made salsa would.
The ladies, the two sisters in law, love my naming of their salsas so much that now they refer to their salsas that way. The household rivalry between these two women will be explored in further musings. It is thoroughly amusing to say the least the two of them vying for the compliments of the visitors and the opinions of la gringa.
That they value my opinion means a great deal to me for our shared love of the kitchen is something that cannot be described. It just happens.
I had already been sampling and making sauces for almost a month and boy was I ready for the challenges ahead. Our first visitation was for Hugo's place, he of the forgotten breakfast pledge regarding the musicians who had been playing for the San Judas fiesta. I wondered what his wife would be like for I knew that she had been very angry with him just days before.
As I sit here typing warmly ensconced in my reboso (shawl) I am still chuckling about Hugo whom the families call my boyfriend. He is a funny, warm and generous man and as I was to find out, had a wife who was incredibly patient. Myself, I would have bitch-slapped him several times over regarding some of his foibles. Yeah right, like I am some kind of saint? Hahahahaha!
Alan and Bill were not able to stay for the visitations and that was unfortunate for they missed some great scoff. Jody, Richard, Frank, Ernesto and myself made our way to Hugo's where we were first seated in the salon for the initial ritual of beers and mescal. Hugo had brought out the first bottle of a pretty decent anejo. I was not in the mood for mescal but I took a shot glass after much ribbing about the night before. It seems that mine and Frank's exploits of the night before had already made the rounds in this little burg. Oh well, suffer in style sayeth I.
The whole time they were imbibing all I could do was commiserate on the smells emanating from the kitchen. Oh man. Pure fucking ambrosia. Not soon enough for me we were summoned to the kitchen for what would be a veritable feast. I broke my plan of eating small because I kind of figured that due to Richard's flagging energies I would not be doing that many food stops that day so why not indulge?
Hugo's wife had three dishes on tap for us. Firstly a fantastic caldo, followed by the poultry in a chile-based sauce, not a mole and then another dish that encompasses the giblets, some offal, eggs and ham in the same caldo broth. Wow. But before we could start on the courses we had to first have some PAN DE MUERTO (dead bread) accompanied by hot chocolate, Oaxaca style. This is always the format - drinks, chat, bread, chocolate then the food. Now do you understand why one has to pace themselves?
By the way it is seen as gauche if you do not eat all of the bread given to you with your chocolate water. This is why I always ask for small portions of this dense bread for it will fill you too quickly. Mind you, gringos are almost always forgiven for this slight.
The ancho chile sauce could easily have been confused for a mole. Its flavor was dense, smoky, garlicky and sweet/hot but it did not have that chocolate element to it. I loved this sauce and asked how many kinds of meats it could be served with. Many it seems. I shall have to get her recipe as this sauce would be a good start for me to attempt as opposed to the complex mole that I would get into later that I had been observing the preparation thereof.
Almost two hours of great food, conversation and laughter had passed and it was time to take our leave for we had to go to Don Fausto's.
The wind had started to pick up strength and I felt chilled. I regretted having to change from my Mitla-made long skirt into more practical trousers but I was cold. I am a denizen of the tropics and the weather here can be taxing if one is acclimatized to a warmer temperature profile. The blowing dust swirling in the courtyards causes me to serial sneeze. Other than that, all is good in Oaxaca and this is why I am planning on building something here. That will be later though as my heart is Belizean first. Besides, I have digs for now and that is good enough for me to share space with my crazy family.
MASKS, SKULLS, FOOD, FIREWORKS and more ribbings.
Richard, in a rather morbid moment a couple of weeks prior to Day of the Dead had bought this grotesque yet funny mask to wear whilst sporting a classic seersucker suit. This getup was topped off by his favourite hat while he carried a cheesy skull whose mandible could be manipulated. I think he liked the mask for it represented his feelings about the pinche cancer and what it was doing to his body and spirit.
He had decided those two weeks ago to trot out the seersucker because, well, why the fuck not? He looked very dignified and dashing in it but by the same token to me he looked like one of those old Dons which was kind of cool. He is Italian so it was kind of fitting for him to be dressed so even with that damned zombie mask.
It was with Richard and the entourage that we made our way to Don
Fausto's place. He scared the crap outta a bunch of little kids and I enjoyed that.
After tossing more firecrackers and scaring more little kids we finally arrive at Fausto's to repeat the same joyous ritual. By this time I can enjoy some mescal and cerveza. I normally would never have chocolate with beer but in this case I toss aside my prejudices. The fabulous mole is soon produced in bowls with a special piece of the turkey swimming in that chocolaty morass. The tortillas are brought out for we use them instead of forks. Spoons yes, are most apropos as we can taste the sauce at a leisurely pace. Oh joy. I am sorry but this tastes amazing!!! What is really ironic here is that I had tasted this same mole at the same house last year and yes, it tasted the same which was amazing as one would think consistency would be difficult to achieve with such a complex sauce!!
To achieve that sort of consistency I am gonna have to work my ass off.
Oh the food and the company. Why cannot more folks back at home live this way? They are too busy buying shit they do not need.
The town was quiet. Folks were out walking on their way to visitations. The shops were closed down tight and many of the businesses would not be open proper until Sunday. Even the Saturday market was a non-entity and this was a first. For some odd reason Day of the Dead was more observed this year. Maybe it was because this was the first year in several that the valley was this green (it had been an excellent rainy season) and not muted in brown tones. Everything felt more fertile, folks were smiling and no one was in a hurry.
As one of my amigas was remarking to all one day - how green is MY valley.