Sunday, May 01, 2016

Loire à vélo

One of the main reasons I had come back to Tours was for the biking.  I had found a great deal last time I was here, where I could rent a bike for the price of 2 days (23 euros) but could keep it for 3.5 days because the store was closed on Sunday and Monday (It's France...).

But the weather had not been cooperating.  It had been cold and rainy last weekend, and cold all week.  I was hopping to go this weekend but Saturday was rainy and grey.  I had planned to take the bike Saturday so I could have it Sunday and Monday, which were supposed to be nice.

I ventured out into the cold, drizzly afternoon to pick up the bike.  I arrived at 1:15pm but the store was closing for its lunch break.  I tried to explain that I had just walked over in the rain, but their lunch was sacrosanct so I left and wandered around some department stores and had a coffee to kill time.  I returned at 2pm to get my bike for the sunny days ahead.  Turns out that such arrangements only worked during the low season, and now I would only have it for two days as paid for.  Not wanting to lose a rainy day, I decided I would just return Sunday morning to get it for two days proper.

I studied away the rainy afternoon, until the clouds passed and the day finally opened up.  I stopped in the Forum Les Halles, the wonderful fresh indoor market in town.  I picked up a small hunk of comte for breakfast for tomorrow and for a picnic cycle.  After my market visit, I headed down to the river, and walked along the banks of the Loire River, its turgid waters swelling from the prodigious spring rains.  It was golden hour as the day's fading light cast its bright glory on the spring leaves.  It was warming, as I found what I was looking for: signs of printemps.

I ended my Passover fast over pizza and beer.  I was excited to say the least.  I got a Champêtre pizza, a pizza with tomato sauce, chèvre, emmental, and crème fraîche. They make their pizzas très fancy in France. I said haMotzi over the pizza and a Grimbergen ambree in the bar.  I worked on an essay in French about travel recommendations in Brazil (Le Bresil), before turning in for the night.

Today was bright and beautiful with only a hint of the lingering chill. I made my way down to the bike shop and was there as it opened.  I used my French to get the bike.  The gentleman was giving me the helmet, the pump and my shit.  Okay, I can take my shit.  I was a lil surprised by his cheekiness.  He then asked me if he said it right in English.  What?  The last word, your shit.  OH!  No, you didn't.  That is a sheet not a shit.  Sheeet.  Sheeeet.  We practiced, and I gave him some alternate words to use.  Like form.  This is your form.

And then I found two euros....

Which I took as good karma as a reimbursement for the price of me renting a helmet to protect my cabeza.

I returned to the dorm to have breakfast of baguette pieces with the rich comte cheese and beure, along with my usual coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Also a pain au chocolat that my friend Stela had saved for me in honor of the end of Passover.

And I set out on my ride via the Loire à Vélo route.

I weaved my way out of Tours and down to the path to the lake and park.  I got crossed through the park, getting lost a few times trying to stay on the trail before finally getting myself fully out of the city and into the rolling fields.  I wished some cows grazing: bonjour.

I had been on this path before, but it had changed a bit since the autumn.  Like beautiful fields of yellow flowers.

And it was all yellow...

I sang to myself the Coldplay tune and dreamed of other fields of gold in India and on the road to Poitier.

I biked past the beautiful city of Savonnières, the previous place I had biked to before.  I kept on until I reached Villandry.

Villandry had an interesting history.  Its name came from the original Germanic name Andric, and from the Latin villa or domain.  At Villandry, the Cher River meets the Loire River.  This junction point is known locally as "the end of the world."  Having been to the end of the world at the bottom of Tierra Del Fuego, I laughed at such pronouncements and thought back to a certain lighthouse that graced their fin.

And this tidbit of history of Villandry:

"Its population was at its highest around 1830, 1,054 inhabitants counted in 1836. It fell when the local industry of hemp-growing declined."

It was only midday, so I decided to press on to Chateau Azay-Le-Riddeau some further 16km on.  The Chateau Azay-Le-Riddeau is supposed to be one of the finest in the Loire Valley.

So I continued on the further 13 km to the chateau.  I passed more fields and forests, and cute sheep grazing.

I finally reached the chateau...only to find it closed.  May Day.  Merde.  The place is closed three days of the frekin' year: Jan 1st, Christmas...and May Day.  The Japanese couple who had also just arrived looked on in surprise, and the gentleman raised his arms in a WTF gesture.  I explained it was May Day, and he just shook his head.

But it matters not, truth lies in the journey not the port as Eduardo Galeano wrote.

I sat out under a tree in the tiny city center, and had a delicious lunch.  I ate my fromage comte in crusty baguette pieces covered with honey and confiture de cerise.

After lunch, I stopped in a little patisserie for a dessert snack.  I got a wonderful scoubichac, which I imagine to be a French way of saying "scoobiesnack."  It was a pastry of chocolate and nutella wrapped in buttery pastry dough.  C'est magifique dans le espresso.

I begin my long journey back.  While Chateau Azy-Le-Rideau had been closed, there was another chateau I passed in Villandry on my way back. I headed back past the sheep grazing, and made my way back to Villandry.  The Chateau Villandry was indeed open, so I got a student ticket to visit the chateau and the lush gardens surrounding the estate.

The Chateau Villandry had been a fortress before it was acquired by Jean Le Breton, basically the Defense Minister for King Francis I.  The chateau remained in the Breton family, until it was later acquired by the Marquis de Castellane.  It was siezed during the French Revolution, then later taken by Napoleon, and given to his youngest brother Jerome Bonaparte.

In 1906, it was acquired by Dr. Joachim Carvallo and his wife Anne Coleman.  The Spaniard and the American met in the midst of the Spanish-American War (awkward...) in a research lab in Paris.  It helped that Anne was an heiress to an American iron and steel fortune, and they bought and restored the chateau.
 Apparently, they needed a good place for their panting collection...

The place was lovely in its grace and splendor, and the gardens were magnificent. I strolled through all of it before continuing my final 25km back to Tours.

In total, I did 70km (about 45 miles), which is a personal best.  See what I am capable of with the return of carbs.  More importantly, it was great to just bike and stare out at the beautiful countryside--getting some time to think and also some great exercise.

Saturday, April 30, 2016


Au revoir Passover!

So long matza--le pain de l'affliction.

Bonjour croissaints et pain au chocolat!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Not feeling the Bern

"With the Democratic primary basically over, I want to step back a bit and explain the big-picture reason that I never warmed up to Bernie Sanders. It's not so much that he's all that far to my left, nor that he's been pretty skimpy on details about all the programs he proposes. That's hardly uncommon in presidential campaigns. Rather, it's the fact that I think he's basically running a con, and one with the potential to cause distinct damage to the progressive cause.

 I mean this as a provocation—but I also mean it. So if you're provoked, mission accomplished! Here's my argument.

Bernie's explanation for everything he wants to do—his theory of change, or theory of governing, take your pick—is that we need a revolution in this country. The rich own everything. Income inequality is skyrocketing. The middle class is stagnating. The finance industry is out of control. Washington DC is paralyzed.

 But...the revolution that Bernie called for didn't show up. In fact, it's worse than that: we were never going to get a revolution, and Bernie knew it all along. Think about it: has there ever been an economic revolution in the United States?"
-Kevin Drum, "Here is why I never warmed up to Bernie Sanders"

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The commercialization of empowerment

Hillary the Hawk?

I admit, I read the article about Hillary the Hawk and got a little uneasy.  I have been supremely pleased with President Obama's reticence to get us involved in more wars.  Was she really a vulcan, and where would lead us as president?  I am glad to read this piece that looks a bit deeper at the claims of Hillary the Hawk, and gives it a bit more nuance.  Also, this one about her Iraq vote.  Both stories allay my fears a bit.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Paris Pics

Joyeuse Pâques

"Joyeuse Pâques" as they say in France!

Happy Passover! Matzah goes soooo much better with stinky French cheeses and wine.

Mmm...matzah with chevre and pesto is worth fleeing Egypt... and matzah with bleu cheese and honey is worth 40 years in the desert

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Return to Tours

Passing three-armed giant windmills amid fields of spring gold in the French countryside. The low-hanging white clouds dot the blue horizon. The sea of yellow is radiant, and reminds me of a long-forgotten ride from Varanasi to Delhi.

The return to Tours began first with a return to Paris. I flew out in the evening on Iceland Air via Reykjavik to Paris. The stopover in the Icelandic capital reminded my why I am keen to visit the isle of ice. The terrain always looks so otherworldly—in its mix of black soil covered with green-orange moss.

I arrived without incident to Paris Orly and caught the RER train from the station to Invalides, and then the metro on to Le Marais to meet my mother at our AirBNB apartment. She had arrived earlier that morning on a flight via Chicago. It was a rainy afternoon, and we hung out before grabbing some delicious french onion soup and a caprese salad at a nearby cafe.

A bit of jet-legged sleep, and the next morning we feasted for breakfast on some wonderful comte cheese that we had bought the night prior at a local fromagerie. We ate the rich comte on a 7-grain baguette from a nearby boulangerie.

We made our way to the top of Montmartre to enjoy the view across the city. I managed to get out of a hustle by speaking a few words of Wolof to some Senegalese touts trying some bracelet scam. They laughed that I knew a couple key phrases and left us alone. We wandered through the meringue Sacre Coeur, and down Rue Lepic—stopping for coffee at the Amelie restaurant.

We headed over to the area Monceau—the home of the Jewish nouveau riche from a century ago. My mother had read a book about the area and the families that inhabited it. We visted the Musee de Nissim Camondo, which hosted the decorative art collection of the Camondo family. The Camondo family was a wealthy Jewish banking family who had emigrated from Constantinople in the mid-19th century. Moise Camondo was a prolific art collector, and with the death of his son Nissim in the Great War, he willed his extensive collection and palatial mansion to the French state to become a museum. The museum and collection was excellent, and a sombre story as the family perished in Auschwitz.

From here, we headed down to the center of town to take a ride on the Seine on the bateux mouche—the boats that tour the vein of Paris. Neither of us had ever done this tour, and it was a wonderful little tour that offered a different view of Paris.

After the ride, we headed back to the Marais and had a similar dinner of French Onion soup, gnocchi in blue cheese sauce and a warm lentil salad with duck breast.

Saturday consisted of a similar breakfast of rich comte cheese and crusty grain bread. We made our way over to the Jardin de Tuileries to visit the Musee d'l Orangerie to see Monet's waterlilies. These waterlilies were enormous panels that wrapped around the austere grey room. These were some of Monet's finest works, with enormous panels of the lakes in his gardens reflecting the clouds, trees and waterlillies. The rest of the collection of the museum was great too, but this was spectacular.

The rains came back in the afternoon, and after a delicious late lunch of grilled paninis, we headed over to southern Paris to visit the ugly Tour Montparnasse. While the skyscrapper is ugly, the view across Paris is spectacular. Neither of us had visited the tower before, and it was quite a vista.

That has been the trick of the trip—finding different views of Paris that neither my mother nor I have seen prior. We have both been to Paris many times, but between the bateux mouche and Tour Montparnasse, I found a few new experiences, as well as the Musee d'l Orangerie, which she had not visited.

We ended the night in Boulevard Saint Michele in the Quartier Latin. My mom surprised me with her desire for a kabob, so how could I refuse. We wandered our way back across the city, stopping for some immaculate gelato at Amorini—a place I had not visited, but will visit again.

We got ourselves out this morning with the usual Parisian breakfast. We handed back over the apartment key and hopped the metro to Gare Montparnasse. From there, we caught the fast yet smooth TGV train to Tours. The French bullet train sped out of the capital and through endless fields of yellow.

Monday, April 18, 2016

On Choices

"There is no simple choice between the children of light and the children of darkness”
Saul Bellow, in his Nobel acceptance speech

Sunday, April 17, 2016

On the Artist

"Perhaps the primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid; the state of being alone. That all men are, when the chips are down, alone, is a banality — a banality because it is very frequently stated, but very rarely, on the evidence, believed. Most of us are not compelled to linger with the knowledge of our aloneness, for it is a knowledge that can paralyze all action in this world. There are, forever, swamps to be drained, cities to be created, mines to be exploited, children to be fed. None of these things can be done alone. But the conquest of the physical world is not man’s only duty. He is also enjoined to conquer the great wilderness of himself. The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place."
-James Baldwin, "The Price of the Ticket"

On Human Existence

“The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”
-Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams and Reflections

Death of a Video Store Salesman

Willy Loman's last VHS lament. The poignant piece on the connections between community and its video store, and the human ties that bound in VHS rentals as the last of the dying industry closed:

"That was flattering and sad, and ultimately all we could do was agree: Yeah, we wouldn't be there. There were tears and gifts and genuine concern (not unfounded) about what my coworkers and I would do to survive, a phenomenon both touching and illustrative of how identified we were with the role we played in their lives. A great video store is built on relationships, in some cases relationships that had gone on for years. Our customers were losing the people who'd helped shape their movie taste, who'd steered them toward things we knew they'd like and away from things they didn't know they'd hate. We were losing the people that we, in our small way, had been able to help. We were all grieving the loss.

Over the years, we'd come to know our customers' tastes, their pet peeves, and their soft spots. Our experience and movie expertise helped us make informed, intuitive leaps to find and fulfill entertainment needs they didn't even always know they had. I've had parents hug me for introducing their kids to Miyazaki and The Iron Giant. Nice old ladies have baked me cookies for starting them off on The Wire. "

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Brazil's soft coup

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff is facing a trumped-up impeachment that looks more like a "soft coup."  Similar to the Republican leadership's impeachment of President Clinton over his immoral dalliances, while they all had their own paramours (except Hastert who had been fondling children), the Brazilian politicians gunning for Rousseff all face far worse charges.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Euro round-up

With all the focus today on the problems in the Middle East, it's easy to forget that for most of the 20th century, Europe was the central US foreign policy problem and the source of massive wars that cost millions of lives. The solution to this problem was European integration — a heavily American project, in large part because it served US interests so well. 
And, broadly speaking, it has been an enormous success. Sure, the European Union spends an absurd amount of time failing to decide things and talking about the proper curvature of bananas or the health effects of chlorine-washed chickens. But such technocratic boredom was always the goal for Europe, and it is an infinite improvement over bombing each others' cities. Europe became peaceful and prosperous, in effect a solved problem after centuries of conflict.

-The Czech Republic may be becoming "Czechia."  Personally, I would go with Bohemia--which has a much better brand association than some unknown construction that is Czechia or Czechlands.  Or just create a union with Slovenia and become: Czechoslovenia.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The revolution is not coming...

Let’s start by stating the obvious: I agree with Bernie Sanders on almost every policy issue at the macro level. I do, in fact, think the game is rigged for millionaires and billionaires. I like peace. I think his proposed reforms for criminal justice will do more for black and brown people than anything any of the other candidates are suggesting. I think climate change is real, and a real problem.

 What’s more, I like Bernie Sanders. I like irascible New York Jewish liberals, and I would be one if one could choose such a thing. He’s the only candidate running for President this cycle that I would want to have a beer with. But, I won’t be voting for him in the New York Democratic Primary. Bernie
Sanders has failed according to the terms he established for himself. His stated plan for enacting the lofty goals and principles he talks about on the campaign trail is that he will usher in a “political revolution” that will sweep away the entrenched opposition of Republican officials and established Democrats.

After many speeches and debates, I see no “revolution” coming in the poll results. Bernie’s support comes from educated white males, young white women, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and the Screen Actors Guild. That’s not a political revolution, that’s the check out line at Whole Foods."
-Elle Mystal, "I'm with her...I guess"

H/t GM

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

I am

I am—yet what I am none cares or knows; 
My friends forsake me like a memory lost: 
I am the self-consumer of my woes— 
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes 
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed 

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise, 
Into the living sea of waking dreams, 
Where there is neither sense of life or joys, 
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems; 
Even the dearest that I loved the best 
Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest. 

 I long for scenes where man hath never trod 
A place where woman never smiled or wept 
There to abide with my Creator, God, 
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept, 
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie 
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.
John Claire, "I Am"

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Auguries of Innocence

To see a World in a Grain of Sand 
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
-William Blake, "Auguries of Innocence"

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Story of my life

Story of my life: hustled my way into the first class lounge on an expired gold club card.  I toast myself with 18 year-old Botran rum.

I should add: I also hustled my way into gold priority check-in. Membership has its privileges--but so does bullshitting.

Adios Land of Forests

Goodbye Guatemala ("Land of Forests"), I will miss being the tallest tree here--it is a rarity that I tower over most.

I head back to a land where a clown is running for president, from a country where a clown actually is president.  Yes, Guatemala really elected in the last election a clown as president, Jimmy Morales, who ran on on a slogan "Ni corrupto, ni ladrón" (Neither corrupt nor a thief”).

Morales beat another former First Lady, Sandra Torres--a woman who divorced her former-president husband because relatives are barred from serving in the office of President.  She said she would be "married to the people."

What the World Costs-Guatemala II

Free: tea and coffee at the International Mochilero Hostal from 8am-10am, 5pm-7pm; a month trial of Netflix
1 quetzal ($.13): one brown egg at the store; 4 tortillas bought on the street
1.5 quetzales ($.19): fifteen min of internet
2.25 quetzales ($.29): 5 oz refried beans
3 quetzales ($.39): a baby snickers; 30 min of internet
5 quetzales ($.65): 1 lb of rice; a cup of tamarind juice; mangoes with chili, lime and salt; 12 oz cocal cola in a glass bottle; empanda de pina;
6 quetzales ($.77): gansito (Central American Hostess-style cake); oatmeal-raisin cookie at Dona Luisa
7 quetzales ($.90): 250ml bottle of Venado Aguardiente
8 quetzales ($1.03): a tube of Colgate toothpaste
8.5 quetzales ($1.10): mississippi mud ice cream in a cone, covered in chocolate sauce and cookie crumbs
9 quetzales ($1.16): 1 piece of fried chicken (breast)
10 quetzales ($1.30): 1 hour chicken bus ride from Guate City to Antigua; can of tuna at the grocery store
11q ($1.43): 225ml of crema pura
12q ($1.56): jar of Cafe Quetzal instant coffee; 1 litre whole milk; espresso macchiato at Cafe Refuge
14q ($1.81): Traditional Guatemalan Hot Chocolate with milk; Espresso Cortado Doble at &Cafe
15q ($1.94): large fresh-squeezed carrot-orange juice; entry to Museo del Libro Antiguo (5q for Nationals; 30 q for foreigners; 15 q for me); 350ml Gallo beer
20q ($2.58): large lemonade with soda; pipian de pollo w/ rice and avocado at La Canache; caldo de rez in the market
21q ($2.71): Huevos Rancheros at Dona Luisa
22q ($2.84): Bottle of Gallo at Cafe No Se; Bottle of Dorada Draft at Restaurante Calle al Fondo, Desayuno Chapin
23q ($2.97): 2 pieces of Guate Fried Chicken, fries and spicy coleslaw.
25q ($3,23): 15 minute taxi ride from Zona 10 to Trebol; a pina colada at El Viejo Cafe; a shave
30q ($3.87): entrance (for foreigners) to Museo de Santiago de Caballeros (nationals is only 5 q--I'm not sure even that would have been worth the entry); Pollo Asado, salad and potato salad at Rincon Tipico
33q ($4.26): Mezcal Mule at Cafe No Se
35q ($4.52): a glass of Malbec at the wine bar (5 quetzales discount on each subsequent glass); chille rellenos with rice, beets and soup
40q ($5.16): 375ml bottle of Ron Botran 12 year Rum; whole fried fish w/ rice, guacamole and salad on Lago de Atitlan; entrance to Las Capuchinas convent
50q ($6.46): dorm in Antigua, no breakfast
55q ($7.10): a 2cl glass of Mezcal Anejo at Cafe No Se
56q ($7.23): two caldo de gallina and two Negro Modelo
58q ($7.49) Kaq-ik--Mayan turkey soup at Restaurante Fondo Calle Real
60q ($7.75): a bottle of Argentine Merlot at the store
72q ($9.30): A plate of Pipian de Pollo, rice and tortillas at Restaurante Calle al Fondo
80q ($10.33): 3 hour tourist van from Antigua to Lago de Atitlan; shuttle from Antigua to airport
100q ($12.91): room at Hospaje de Santo Domingo in Lago de Atitlan, no bathroom, no breakfast;scuba gear
2,500q ($322): 25 days stay at an apartment with a kitchen and private bathroom (with hot water)
3,829q ($547): roundtrip flight to Guatemala

Monday, March 21, 2016

Last evening in Antigua

I wandered out into the day's fading light.  I headed over to a cafe in the parque central that had become a semi-regular evening spot.  The place had immaculate hot chocolate--stirred by hand, and a great view of the purple Jacaranda trees in the park.

But today, I looked out towards the west, towards the sun setting behind the majestic volcano.  The volcano was wrapped in a shawl of clouds.  The sun's fading light shined out from the clouds behind the peak.  It was a stunning bit of white light filtered through the clouds as the sky was slowly fading dark.

I sipped my velvety hot chocolate, and watched the clouds pass over the face of the volcano and slowly across the horizon.

To the east, the almost-full moon began its rise in the night sky.  In the cool blue evening, the greenish-white moon was beginning to show.

A nice end to remember Antigua by.

I had planned to make my last meal in Antigua at Pollo Campero, the famous Guate Fried Chicken restaurant.  They do it so proper they have table service for fast food fried chicken.  When Pollo Campero opened in the U.S., there were ridic lines.  But I just couldn't eat anymore Guate Fried Chicken, as good as it is.

So I opted for a meal at the nice local spot Restauant Fondo Calle Real.  I had been there once prior, and had not been impressed but they had a dish I wanted to try: Kaq'-ik.  Kaq'-ik is a hearty turkey soup with tomatoes, chilies, spices, cilantro and mint.

It was absolutely wonderful.  It had the rich achiote paste flavor in the complex soup.  I added in rice, pieces of tortilla and white tamale.  The turkey on the bone stayed cooking in the warm soup and was tender and flavorful.  I sipped a black beer, Moza, to accompany the Mayan meal.

A nice end to remember Antigua by.

Clinton-Warren '16

Clinton-Warren '16.  How is that for a ticket.  Shows that the nominee is listening to Dems and gets a diehard Progressive on the ticket.  A first female ticket and one that would be exciting.  And perhaps prime two terms of presidents of the fairer sex.  

Clinton-Warren '16.  You heard it here first.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

the dawn of time

It's interesting--I admit I have become pessimistic about the present, feeling lost in a tangle of worlds that seem so topsy-turvey,  Yet through this increased pessimism in the present I have also become more interested in the very, very distant past.

While in Eastern Africa, the cradle of humanity found in Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia, I became quite intrigued by mankind from a million years prior.  I tried to fathom the eternity in human skulls from 1.75 million years ago.  I saw Lucy in Addis, whom dates back some three million years.

I have been trying to wrap my head around the shear volume of time that man has existed and evolved on Earth. I have been reading more on Neanderthals, and their breeding connections to homo sapiens. Also the Denisovans, and their continued existence in Melanesians 

I find it fascinatingly incomprehensible of this human-like species disappearing.  Yet disappearing in a 10,000 year period or so.  Ten thousand years.  As I mark my monthly paycheck and worry about my daily life and time slipping by.

I think part of this fascination with ancient, ancient history is to try to come to grips with the present realities.  In short, if we can survive so many thousands-upon-millions of years, perhaps we just make it out of this election-year-decade-century-millennia still alive.

Sobering Reflection

"A sobering reflection on the complexity of identity: If I were to die rescuing a child from a collapsing building, news reports would describe me as “a college lecturer popular among his students and colleagues, a dedicated teacher of aikido, and a devoted husband and father.” And this description would be factually accurate.

If, on the other hand, I were gunned down by police, news reports would describe me as “a 200-pound developmentally disabled man with a history of violence.” And this description, too, would be factually accurate."
-Nick Walker

Scenes from Antigua I

Some pics from Santiago de Los Caballeros de Guatemala, ot St. James of the Knights of Guatemala aka Antigua Guatemala or now simply Antigua.

 It was Cortez' right-hand man Pedro de Alvarado--a man known even among conquistadores for his brutality, who conquered Central America and in 1524 founded Santiago de Los Caballeros de Guatemala--the city to become Antigua. Santiago was once the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala. 

The Kingdom of Guatemala, or The Captaincy General of Guatemala, was the seat of Spanish colonial power in Central America for centuries. From Santiago-to-be-Antigua, the Spanish controlled a Central American empire that stretched from Southern Mexico to Costa Rica.

Saturday, March 19, 2016


Oh, the surprise of the day: those were not a bag of raisins I bought in the market, and I put a handful into my mouth. They were tiny desiccated HOT peppers.

Children's Crusade

Yesterday I stumbled upon a Children's Crusade through the streets of Antigua.

 Processions of children cucuruchos (penitents) traversed the cobbled streets in purple robes, carrying the Passion Play on their backs.

 Young penitents swung their thuribles of frankincense to fill the air with incense smoke. Little vestals in white carried the Virgin Mary in their tiny white-gloved hands.


The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted   
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
-Billy Collins, "Forgetfulness"

Friday, March 18, 2016

Presidential Clown

Presidential clowns, eh?  And I am not talking about Trump.  Guatemala's current president is indeed a clown.