Caveat: Jalapeños

We are in the Mexican city of Xalapa (or Jalapa), Veracruz.  This is where jalapeños come from, of course.  But it is also one of my favorite Mexican places, right on the edge of the altiplano as it drops to the rainforests of the gulf coast, it is a bit steamier and much wetter than mexico city, but still not like being at sea level.

This morning we went to the state anthropology museum, which is one of the best outside of the main, national one in the DF.  Lots of giant heads and interesting masks and statues.  I found myself thinking of a story that could develop in relation to confusing the statues with reality, somehow.  A hallucinatory experience inside the museum.  It was sunny when we got there, and cloudy, sporadically thunderstorming, when we left.  We had some chicken at a chain restaurant, and walked toward the centro again.  Stopped in a spectacular park, all jungly and in a sort of arroyo, birds and koi swimming in ponds at the bottom and flowers and children running about playing.  Quite idyllic and earthy.

It began to rain quite hard, and we sat on some steps of a building under construction, and watched the sky wash some motorcycles on sale on the sidewalk.  I took a photo of the license plate of the car in front of me, with a flower fallen from some tree above it on the bumper like a dead creature.  Striking and strange picture, I was thinking.  I will post when I get a chance to upload pictures.

So now we are back downtown xalapa, and Phil is resting in the hotel while I strolled downhill to this internet cafe.  Got an email from my new employer in Korea, confirming receipt of a photograph I emailed him since I had failed to include one with the packet of other documents sent by courier last week with the signed contract.  An emergency ad hoc photo taken by someone at the Casa in mexico city, I find it striking/weird that my visa photo for my new Korean job was thus taken of me standing against the wall of the lounge of my first overseas job 21 years ago.  I love little synchronicities of that nature.

Caveat: Historical Revisionism

I ask myself, what is this process of going back to "old" places (where I once lived or traveled) that I've been doing so much of?  Being here in Mexico City causes me to examine my "agenda" in remembering things, reciting old narratives, visiting with old people or remembering people.  Many people (most) acquire a sort of rose-tinted vision of the past, and conversations about "old" things seem fraught with "it used to better" kinds of remarks.  I, too, practice this rose-tinting – I know I do.  But perhaps that's the difference – it's intentional on my part, and there are other times when I can revise my own historical narratives in profoundly negative directions, too.  I feel that, objectively, the past is merely different – neither better nor worse.

I went to see Guti Aviles this morning – she was a former member of the Casa staff, and was a sort of godmother to me during my year and a half here, feeding me garlic and papaya ("para tu salud m'hijo") and such.  A very caring, gregarious person, now over 70 and with an inoperable brain tumor, nevertheless she seemed cogent and after a bit of chatting seemed to remember me at least enough to repeat my name a few times as we talked.

Yesterday, an afternoon in the Casa like so many from so long ago – long, long hours of political and cultural debate or discussion with interesting, engaging people – a young man named Colin from Seattle, anarcho-socialist and with experience in developing-world communities from western China to Guatemala.   Another mellow world traveler Yaniv from Israel (though currently resident in Madrid) with fond recuerdos de la casa and a very generous, wide-open personality.  These sorts of people and the wonderful, brief relationships that can be build are part of what make this "casa de gringos" (entre otros) so unique in my traveling experience.

Today Phil and I are going to leave for Xalapa for a day or two, so as to experience something external to the gran ciudad podrida.

Luego, más.

Caveat: “Un hombre que grita no es un oso que baila”

La frase citada arriba aparece en una columna llamada "navegaciones" en la edición de hoy de mi periódico favorito La Jornada (traducción del original en francés del poeta Aimé Césaire: "un homme que crie n'est pas un ours que danse").  El autor de la columna, Pedro Miguel (también tiene blog) lo cita aludiendo al fenómeno del reality show, esta tendencia en la cultura popular contemoránea del convertir todo en espectáculo, incluso la guerra en Iraq.  Acerta que la vida real no es espectáculo:  de acuerdo.  Sin embargo, yo he vivido y sigo viviendo, de cierta manera, una vida de espectador, y suelo mirar al mundo de una manera pasiva pero interesada.   ¿Significa ésto que me he sometido a esta cultura de epectáculo a que el autor alude?  ¿Representa entonces alguna deficiencia moral para mí?

Caveat: Lev Bromstein is still dead

This infinite city repossesses my soul.  Each street is a neighborhood, same-yet-different from any other:  poor or bourgeois; green with trees or grey with concrete; festive in colors of political advertisements or gang graffitti.  Last night Phil and I walked back to the 'casa' (the Casa de los Amigos, AC where I lived and worked for over a year in 1986-87) where we're staying as guests now, across the plaza that's in front of the Monumento de la Revolución, and at 8pm there were:  1) a marching band practicing (sound of cars crashing); 2) some boys playing football (americano! – not soccer – los chilangos love american football); 3) a permanent political protest encamped and playing traditional music through loudspeakers; 4) taxistas loitering; 5) men and women selling trinkets or candy or videos or music; 6) tourists strolling (that would have been us, I suppose).  It all felt vibrant, and so typical.  A city full of lives being lived.

This city.  And Manhattan, where I was a month ago, too.  These places always recall to me my untold tales of the truly infinite city.  A city in a Borgesian mode, genuinely devoid of limits or boundaries.  Some authors of science fiction have postulated cities that cover entire planets (Asimov or Walter Jon Williams), but I think there's a germ of something different, unique, evocative (and personally compelling?) in the notion of a city-universe. 

Yesterday, Phil and I took the bus from Autobuses del Norte (terminal) out to the pyramids at Teotihuacán.  We climbed the piramide del sol, saludabamos a los dioses moribundos y mirabamos a la muchedumbre de turistas que estaba ahí.  Sacabamos unas fotos.

We returned to the city, amid the haze of the north side of the valley and the grey suburbios climbing the hillsides, which were punctuated with occasional brightly colored declarations of incipient middle-class wealth in the form of well-built two story houses amid the slums.  Without map or guide I took us from Metro Indios Verdes to MA Quevedo at the south end of the city, and found unerringly but instinctually my favorite Mexican bookstore, la libería gandhi.  Once a sort of counter-cultural institution, this business has in recent decades grown to a sort of Border's-of-Mexico, with multiple locations and a very nifty website from which I've even ordered books from the states, although the cost of shipping is a tad exhorbitant – oddly, it's cheaper to order books shipped from Spain than Mexico.

I bought a spectacular book of short stories, very recent (2004?) entitled El materialismo histérico, by Xavier Velasco.  More on this gem, later?

This morning we went to the museo and casa de Leon Trotsky, who lived his final days here in exile before being murdered by a proto-KGB agent in 1940.  We walked around Coyoacán, had some lunch, and returned.  I met with Rosita, a woman who was one of the cleaning staff when I worked here 20 years ago, and now, despite her 70 years, is still spry and works occasionally to make ends meet.  We chatted and walked over to try to find Guti, another person who was like a godmother to me during my time here, who has been ill.  But she wasn't home or didn't hear us yelling up from the street ("mexican doorbell").  I know where she lives, though, and will try to come back to see her at some point again before we return to L.A.

Caveat: Mexicopolis

Greetings from mexico city.  Walking around with my father, showing him my old haunts, moving efficiently through the subway system on kinesthetic autopilot.  We went to the torre latinoamericana this morning and up to the observation deck (floor 42), but the view was hazy and only a few kilometers visibility – couldn't make out chapultepec or popo, but could just see congreso to the east and torre pemex to the west.   

This afternoon spent a few hours at the museo nacional de antropologia.

Had dinner just now at a traditional style argentine parrilla – I had a pretty nice steak.   Anyway, I'll meditate on my experience and post more later.

Caveat: Obsolescence

I guess I was expecting this to happen, at some point. Last night, my beloved little laptop computer (a Sony Vaio) decided it was done. It's display gave up the ghost – I've seen LCD screens die like this before – something about a just-not-quite-right impact, or too much extreme of temperature (heat, in this case, sitting baking in the heat of my truck cab), and suddenly there erupts an orthogonal rainbow of colors, while the background washes out.  If you bonk it around a bit, squeeze where you know the contacts are inside the plastic case of the lid of the laptop, you can get the colors to come back and make out what's on the screen, but the rainbow remains, and each reboot brings in a few more streaks of color, widening from a mere inch to nearly 50% of the screen in the last 5 reboots.

I've managed to rescue my data, my website development files, pictures, email, but I don't think I'll be getting in there again.  I'm confident not to lose anything, as I'll extract the harddrive and slave it to my desktop when I get back to Minneapolis, but meanwhile, I'll be computerless for at least a short while – though I hadn't been planning on taking the thing to Mexico anyhow, and I leave for thereparts tomorrow morning.

It was a good run – by far the most pleasing laptop I've ever owned:  amazing battery life, compact and lightweight (under 4lbs) and with enough processor power and memory to run my database applications slowly but reliably.   I've definitely recommended Sony Vaio to many people because of the experience over the last several years.

So.  I'd actually been toying with the idea of buying a new machine before taking off for Korea next month, but this, obviously, decides it. The real question is whether, given my strong concerns about Windows Vista (which is the only Microsoft OS being offered now on PCs), do I make the transition to Apple?  I've been on-and-off considering it, but, given I just ported my entire website apparatus to a Microsoft-only platform (ASP.NET 2.0), I'm not sure I want to face re-migrating the thing to something I can maintain on a Mac.  Of course, there's the dual OS option, but there's a learning curve there, too, running some old copy of XP on a Mac – plus, I've heard about performance issues with Windows-on-Mac, even under dual boot (as opposed to virtual machine).

So… we shall see.  I have the next week, in Mexico City, to think about it, and meanwhile, I'll stay "connected" via internet cafes and borrowed computers – I'm writing this from my father's computer here in the hills of L.A.

Caveat: Desert and Smog

The drive from Minneapolis to Phoenix went well. Bernie really got into it – here's a photo: I've never tried posting a photo to this blog before.

20070724_bernietakesadriveWe saw mostly clear, hot weather on the drive, but between Flagstaff and Phoenix met some spectacular thunderstorms and downpours, gorgeous summer "monsoon" as they call it in Arizona.

I stayed a few days at my sister's in Phoenix, watching the cat go through the initial stages of adjusting from a one-human household to a two adult humans, two child humans plus one dog household. I think she'll do fine, in the long run, but the short term involves substantial time camping out in her litter box and behind the refrigerator in the kitchen where no one could get to her.

I managed to spend some time messing things up on my sister's computer, in the name of trying to help her fix it. I'll blog this bizarre technical experience seperately, perhaps – I've definitely reached a new low in my level of respect for Hewlett-Packard.

Jameson and Dylan, my nephews, are great fun to interact with and watch. It was particularly fun to see them playing "dog" – where Jameson led his compliant and cheerful brother around on a leash:

20070724_dylanandjamesonThis morning I left Bernie the cat in Phoenix, adapting to her new home, and drove to L.A., across the smoggydusty desert. It was a sad parting, for me, as I've grown quite attached to my cat, but my commitment to go to Korea to try my hand at teaching is complete, now, so I'm glad to have found a new, caring home for her.

Caveat: Gainful Employment

So, I'm hesitant to announce this widely, for fear of jinxing the process – but I have been offered a one-year contract to teach at a school in Goyang-si in South Korea.  I still don't have the contract in hand, but it should be showing up via email any day now.

Interestingly, Goyang is an exurb northwest of Seoul, along the same commuter rail route and trunk road I used to take between my Army posting (near Munsan) and Seoul – so I actually carry a fairly vivid picture of the town (as seen from a slow-moving train) in my head. The school is exciting – it does not just offer EFL (English as a Foreign Language) but instead offers its curriculum in English.  So I'll get to teach social studies, literature, even math or science to middle/high school students in English, much the way I turned my AP Spanish class at Moorestown, NJ, into a social studies and Latin American history class that just happened, coincidentally, to be taught in Spanish.

Meanwhile, my sister has consented to adopt my cat, Bernie. So, within hours, Bernie and I leave for Phoenix on a short highway odyssey.  Bernie actually turned out to be a very good traveler when we did the trip here to Minneapolis from LA last year, so I'm not terribly worried.  Once she spends an hour or so yowling over the changed circumstances she settles down on the dashboard and watches the world go by fairly contentedly.  Now that I own a camera, maybe I'll even take a picture of the experience.

More later.

Caveat: Robbery

I witnessed a robbery today.  Sitting, eating lunch in the Burrito Loco a block or so east of Hennepin on Lagoon in Uptown, a guy came in and took a well stocked tip jar.  An on-foot chase ensued, police were called and eventually arrived, events were discussed.  Ain't life interesting.

I had a great visit with Jeffrey who came down from St Cloud last week for a few days, intersecting with my sister and her family from Arizona.  We experienced a walk to Lake Calhoun, lunch at Barbette (a cafe I'd been meaning to try – I tried a tofu noodle concoction that was the best tofu I've ever had), afternoon at Mall of America (oh dear, yes, indeed, and the nephews had great fun on a few of the rides and saw the Lego Store).  Next day, we went to the Como Park Zoo, and then lunch at a Korean restaurant I'd wanted to try, on North Snelling – not far from the old neighborhood near Macalester.  Then Jeff and I went and played a round of disc golf (which is his big thing, I think, at least currently) at a course in Highland Park (off Montreal Ave) which is where I first encountered disc golf with Mark about 20 years ago.

I drove Jeff back to St Cloud, and saw Samara and co. off at their motel the next morning.

I've begun trying to scan old photos, and take new ones (finally bought a digital camera).  I'm posting them on my website ( will get you there [UPDATE 2010: this is no longer true.  Some photos are on this blog host {but not well maintained}, and some others are on my facebook page – the preceding website link takes you to my "professional" site, now]).  My ambition would be to get everything scanned before leaving the country in late August – not sure I'll get there, but I'll give it a try.

Caveat: Abstract Expressionism

When I was at the Guggenheim in NYC last week, I stupidly did not write down the name of an artist I liked, thinking, oh, I’ll remember that. So now, for the last week, I’ve been trying to figure out who it was. I know that it was in the category of abstract expressionism, grouped with in the museum’s “founding collection” in a gallery alongside Braque, Rudolf Bauer, and lots of Kandinskys.
So I went to the MIA [Minneapolis Institute of Arts], thinking I’ll look for the artist there, on the off chance they had one – but they didn’t.
Having learned my lesson, however, I did write down the names of some of the artists I saw there that I liked: I’m going to go to museums, I need to resurrect my old habit of journaling the visits extensively, so I can access the artists and works I liked later.
Here are some of the works I found striking at MIA:
Leonora Carrington’s “Never since we left Prague”
Yves Tanguy’s “Reply to Red” (daliesque)
Joan Miro’s “Head of Woman”
Dali’s “Portrait of Juan de Pareja”
Grant Wood’s “Birthplace of Herbert Hoover”
Luigi Lucioni’s “Village of Stowe Vermont”
Robert Koehler’s “Rainy Evening on Hennepin Avenue”
Morris Kantar’s “Untitled (portrait of mother)” (and I remember Tadeusz Kantor’s work that I saw at the national museum in Warsaw in 2005 – or was this in Krakow?)
I have a definite leaning toward modern and abstract art – I’m not sufficiently sophisticated in the field to explain what it is I find compelling about this type of work, but I do.
I have been putting some work into getting my personal website up and running again, and have finally re-posted some of my own drawings and paintings. I make no claim to be an artist – at the least, I lack the discipline to make it a go of it. But I harbor vague ambitions, I suppose, and I’m fairly certain that if I did pursue it in a disciplined manner I’d have “something to say” – so to speak.

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