Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fossils Galore


Facebook fixed. Dysfunctional app on IPad fixed. Still a few techno-glitches in my life to test the nano bit of patience I have, but I'm packed and ready to go to CT for a few days. Figured it was wise to check out life in the humidity lane before heading to the Rhode Island beaches in a week.

But back to the CO, Utah, Wyoming road trip. The thousand year old pictographs and petroglyphs etched into the canyon walls appear as contemporary art in this environment that began its uplift 60 million years ago. I wonder if the petroglyph of the man playing a flute is someone putting his individual 'Kilroy was here' stamp on the rock ledge or if the artist is praising all flute players, all music, playing to the gods, or just doing some random sketching. Stopping at a sheltered area called Swelter Shelter, we bend down and walk into the protective area where the temperature immediately cools down. Etched into the rock at this place are all sorts of names and Ken loved Barbie sorts of inscriptions. No more pictographs (other than the occasional heart and arrow), just names of folks from the 20th and 21st centuries. Makes me wonder when someone figured the name was more important than the image as identifier.

Speaking of identifiers, we spent the following day at the Dinosaur Monument's actual dinosaur monuments. It's a ride down the main road, as if the two sites were disconnected, unrelated. And here is the quarry, with fossils intact, just as they were found in the early 1900's. Big bones, huge thighs, whole forms just as they were found in this original Jurassic Park.
After the stunning discovery by Earl Douglass of the Carnegie Foundation, the unanswered questions was: 'Why did so many dinosaurs die in this spot?"  After years of speculation, the current thought is they didn't die in that spot, but were washed down from some other spot following a dramatic flood. The tales are always in the making, rough drafts as it were, as scientists continue to unearth new information. A few more people here, many with children. It's a great place to take the kids, as they say; I say it's an even better place to take the adults.

A modest information building with the requisite souvenirs to be bought. Small, tasteful. Not a soda machine in sight, not a piece of food to be purchased. No ice cream cone or popcorn as reward for not touching the fossils. Refreshing, so refreshing. Feeling gratitude for all those preservationists out there, all those people who feel and protect the oneness that is the universe.

Into the Past

Hacked on Facebook. Not sure what it really means, but after a six-day trip, almost Ipad, computer, IPhone free, I went on FB this morning to find three messages from me that I hadn't sent. It's bad enough to open one's e-mails to find almost every message - and there are plenty of them - can be deleted without even opening.
This morning is supposed to be devoted to unpacking from the Utah trip and packing for a trip to CT early tomorrow morning. But I guess I'll have to figure out how to make some FB changes to thwart the hacker.

The trip to Park City, Utah for the wedding was spectacular. Got to drive down and down through millions of years into the canyons of Dinosaur National Monument. This area, for some reason, is not a tourist attraction, so we essentially had the journey to the beginning of time to ourselves. The road, smooth and easy, is maintained by national park services. In our two and a half hour drive in and out of the canyon we saw three other cars on the road and four cars of people camping by the side of the Green River.
Certainly puts some perspective into how long it took for the present state of humans to evolve and how short a time we've been on the scene. I've had the same powerful experience only two other times in my life - once in Africa and at the Grand Canyon. I've been to other national parks, places marked by millions of years of growing, but these three experiences have spun my soul way back in space.

But this moment I am thrust into the future and figuring out why strange messages, allegedly coming from me, are showing up in the virtual world. More later.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

On the Road


Road trip to Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and then to a wedding in Park City. All new territory for me. Semi-formal attire for wedding; hiking boots for Dinosaur land. Kindle, IPad, phone. Feel an obligation to fill the car with my 'what if' hats, jackets, shoes.

See you next week.
 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Huck Finn as Pilgrim



A beautiful deer loped by me this morning in the park. She slowed down and, uninhibited by my presence, came to a standstill on the football field of the high school.  Directly ahead of her was a busy street; to her back was a busier street. To her left was the park, just a few dogwalkers doing the morning stroll. She looked back where she came from, turned towards the busy streets, nodded at me, and sauntered towards the open park. Wise decision. Hope she finds her way to some open, safe site, but she's smack in early morning rush hour with city traffic all around her.

Thought I'd post a recent update from Ann Sieben, Winter Pilgrim. Her Huck Finn adventure is a perfect example of why she is a pilgrim and most of us are not. It's one thing to have the internal motivation, the strong religious conviction that she has, but it's another thing indeed to have the perseverance, skills, and flexible mind she has. The intellectual and physical strength and courage she has goes far beyond that of anyone I've ever met.

It's the Huck Finn adventure that knocked me out.

from winterpilgrim.blogspot.com. Pilgrim Ann Sieben:

The midday sun seems to rise early and last until well after sunset here in the barb of Mexico.  People kept telling me that El Salvador and Guatemala would be the hot zones and things would cool off in Mexico. Liars.  Things haven't cooled off yet and I crossed the border 300 kilometers ago.  Every day in the week since I crossed into Mexico, by midday, the temperature has been past 40 - climbing beyond 105.  I haven't seen any mad dogs or Englishmen, but iguanas abound, and colorful lizards and snakes - bright green ones, like my shirt - beautiful birds with funky headdresses and flocks of great white herons, and on the toothier side, an uncomfortably close crocodile... lots of chattering wildlife with me out in the midday sun, along with the giant white humped cattle called cebú, yet I'm the only one dripping with perspiration.  The dryness of this particular rainy season hasn't helped.  In another week, I'll start climbing the mountains to Oaxaca, which is at 3,700 meters and can't possibly be so hot, right? 12,200 feet?  I cherish the ascent.

Rivers abound, too, and as I've been following an out-of-service rail line, many bridges have been washed away.  On the first that I encountered, a steel trestle lay on its side in the water far below the sheered rails covered in jungle grasses.  I contemplated the alternatives, backtracking is always the very last option, and began to think that the dreaded highway would be the better camino here.  But, using my hiking sticks as machetes, I plunged into the thicket with determination and whacked my way down the steep slope (a prime location for seeing snakes) to the water's edge and judged it passable if I could manage to stay on the big submerged rocks, otherwise it would be too deep for me and my backpack.  The trestle itself was more of a rusted danger than serviceable avenue.  Three rocks into the wide river and I realized I needed to rethink the method.  The clear and refreshingly cool water was running too swiftly to stand on a rock even with the water there up to my knees.  Back to the shore, I took a page from Huck Finn and constructed a little raft from broken bamboo and other branches lashed together with the vines conveniently hanging from high tree tops awaiting such a use.  How wonderful it was to doff the boots and socks and outer clothes and swim and lunge my way across the river, very much in over my head, tethered to my bobbing little raft.  I beached the raft on the far side and swam for another 15 minutes, rump-bumping through the whitewater.  Adventures like these are so fun to relate after the fact, but at the time, quite alone in the jungle, quite far from any village or vaquero or road, there was a bit of apprehension, to be sure.  With the success, it turned out to be a great way to beat the heat even for short breaks.  I've crossed many rivers each day, but now that I've seen the croc, I'm a bit more apprehensive again.  Prudence.

Twice in a week I've heard of another pilgrim!  An Italian on pilgrimage from somewhere north of Mexico to Brazil.  He passed through some months ago.  He's got a credenzial like I do, but pulls along some type of little handcart instead of a backpack.  I'm curious to know more about him, but we've so far only passed two places in common - Ciudad Hidalgo and Pijijiapan.  How exciting - in all this distance from Buenos Aires, I haven't heard of any other pilgrims.  Buen Camino, Pelegrino Italiano!

I've got a route pretty well worked out to Oaxaca, and based on distance, it will take 12 days more to reach the goal.  August 10th, looks like it.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cinderella


"You're either Cinderella or you are not."  Those were the words I heard long ago in a writers' workshop. So, it's not the story - because there are only a few themes out there in this life - but it's how one tells the story that matters.

Well, standing in DSW shoe store yesterday, I learned once again that I'm not Cinderella. Deciding I needed new shoes for a semi-formal wedding in Utah this coming weekend, I stuck my feet into more shoes than I thought possible. Too big, too little, too garish, too plain. Surrounded by shoe boxes, I realized I needed higher heels.  Made my way three aisles down and found some good-looking heels in my size. Amazingly, they fit, so I decided to walk my way down to the mirror and take a look.
These heels of mine haven't been that elevated in a long, long time. And they seem to have forgotten how to walk and be elevated simultaneously.
My left ankle twisted to the side, and it was only the counter that saved me from tumbling to the floor. As I stumbled to regain my footing and return to safe ground, I realized I'm not Cinderella. And I have a slight pain in my knee to remind me of my status and my heels' desire to stay close to the ground.

Later, I went to the health club to a yoga class, wearing my trusty headscarf on my peach fuzz. Finished up, took a shower and prepared to get dressed when a woman said to me, "You have hair. It's elegant. Wonderful. Why are you wearing that shmatte on your head?" 
Just the day before, showing my peach fuzz to a friend, she said "Great. In a month or so you'll be able to go without your scarf or wig." 
Caught between wearing a shmatte or exposing my head too soon, I realize once again - head to toe, I am not Cinderella. And I need a better storyteller.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Draft Urbanism


Spent some time yesterday afternoon looking for the four architectural installations on display for Denver's Biennial of the Americas. As they are all located downtown, within blocks of one another, it should have been a smooth trip. Draft Urbanism is the theme of the Biennial, and the architectural displays will stay in play though September of this year.

We found 2 1/2 of the pieces on display. The half is a piece called The Hotel Rehearsal and is a hotel room on top of a van, so it's a mobile home, representing, as the website says, "Denver's urban trajectory,...presents an alternative perspective on the surface parking lot...and becomes a dynamic building block for a small-scale provisional city."  Sounds interesting. Our problem was that on Sunday the elevator/hotel room piece wasn't on display. It had all been folded down into the small van. So we kept walking past parking lots, looking for something that wasn't there. Finally walked through a parking lot and found the van with a roof top open, walked over, and saw that was the installation, but just half of it was on display.
No hotel rehearsal on Sunday.

Not far away, we found the rather obvious Mine Pavilion, said to look like a billboard to drivers but a tunnel to pedestrians. It's both a bridge and a tower, evoking the mining settlement that once was Denver. To me the piece represented or symbolized the great gates in the walled cities of Europe. No walled cities in CO, no need for walls when our cities were built. Great installation when one observer is thinking of mining and the Gold Rush, and another is thinking about Bologna, Italy.

We also found Skyline Cloud and hope the installation becomes a permanent part of the city. Skyline Park, is a small space, centrally located downtown, but it is rarely used. But Skyline Cloud is a series of structured spaces that provide shade. The structure appears as fabric clouds, closely connected. Well, this hot Sunday, groups of people sat under the protective fabric domes, bicycles lined up by each section. Older people, guitar strumming local types, young families with children having a picnic were side by side, filling the usually empty space with laughter, conversation, song. A huge shoutout for this installation that provides a magnet for civic engagement.

Alas, we just never saw The Mirror Stages, a series of butterfly cages on the 16th Street mall. We tried to see this by peering down the 16th Street mall, by now too hot to walk the walk and take our gazes upward. Apparently the butterfly cages contain various pieces of furniture from the site, but we missed it all. From the short distance where we stood, we saw only people sipping iced tea, lattes and cold Frappuccinos. 

So, one and a half installations to go. Somehow, or so it seems to me, if the city commissions outdoor installations to display its commitment to art and culture, then I/we have an obligation to participate, to engage, to visit such sites. Happy to have Draft Urbanism on display in Denver.
 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Good morning, young lady


"Good morning, young lady."  Two times, before 7:00 a.m., smiling faces uttered that phrase to me. As is always the case, the greeting was uttered by friendly young men. I see the African-American man often on the path, and he always has a smile on his face as he jogs. The other man was someone I'd never seen.
Usually, it's the male staff in big stores or small restaurants who seem to think "Good morning, young lady" is a cheerful, complimentary phrase.
Alas, I don't feel that way.

Yesterday, when the Emmy nominations were revealed, I was also feeling old before my time. I follow several of the top series on television, but haven't followed House of Cards. Knew about it, but don't follow. Then I realized that House of Cards is on Netflix. Netflix streaming. That's when it hit me - I am only familiar with films and shows from other sources that one can watch on Netflix, not realizing that Netflix has shows of its own.
It's not so much that I haven't watched the show that makes me feel out of touch with what's big these days, but that I didn't even know I sit in a house with a television capable of providing those shows for me. Even worse, I am one of the last holdouts who watches television on television, not on my computer. And that brings me to the deep, dark, almost unforgivable fact that I use a desktop more than I use my IPad. Hopeless.

So, with all that rumbling around in my mind, I sipped my coffee and began reading the Denver Post in paper mode, another sign of my antiquated ways.
There it was - headline and big articles about 2013 UMS, the largest indie music festival in the Rocky Mountain region. I know it's indie, and it's all about the yet-to-be discovered artists, all four hundred of them. I just wanted to recognize one name. Not a one.

So back to "Good morning, young lady." Two cheerful, outgoing men meant to start my day off on a happy, affirming note. But their innocent comments launched my laments on growing older. I'm going to find and watch at least one House of Cards show this weekend. And maybe I'll watch on my I-Pad.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fallible People



Is there anyone who hasn't thought about writing his or her memoir? Bookstore shelves are filled with memoirs and readers are eager to learn about someone else's life.
I've been to my fair share of memoir-writing classes, taken many a stab at writing memoir excerpts, tried to turn the memoir into fiction. On-line publishing has expanded the memoir on an exponential level. Now it is possible to publish an attractive book, filled with a life story, and only print twenty copies to be given to family and friends. Sure, it's a field driven by a bit of ego and the possibilities of becoming filthy rich.

My brother Garrett (teaching a memoir writing class) recently sent me a quote from writing guru William Zinsser. The quote has had me thinking about how different my memoir would have been depending on my age when I wrote it. There were decades where I didn't really understand, misunderstood, or just wouldn't think about certain experiences. Times when I analyzed everything relentlessly, times where forgiveness wasn't on my radar, times where compassion had gone missing. The facts remain the same, but my perspective is in a constant stage of continental drift. It's drifted to a far better place than it was a couple of decades ago. Zinsser explains the success of some recent authors' memoirs.
                     
from Writing About Your Life by William Zinsser

Anyone may think the domestic chaos and alcoholism and violence that enveloped those writers when they were young would have long since hardened their heart. … Yet they look back with compassion… If these books by McCourt, Hamill, Karr and Wolff represent the new memoir at its best, it is because they were written with love. They elevate the pain of the past with forgiveness, arriving at a larger truth about families in various stages of broken. There’s no self pity, no whining, no hunger for revenge; the authors are as honest about their own young selves as they are about the sins of their elders. We are not victims, they want us to know. We come from a tribe of fallible people, prisoners of our own destructiveness, and we have endured to tell the story without judgment and to get on with our lives.
We come from a tribe of fallible people... and that's our story.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Connected


Denver's Biennial of the Americas opened last night with Tina Brown moderating a panel discussion on Unleashing Human Potential. John Malone, the original Cable Cowboy and Chairman of the Board of Liberty Global, Eric Schmidt, Executive Chair of Google, and Arturo Sarukhan, Mexican Ambassador to the US until this year were the eager discussants.

Each seat at the Buell Center had an electric response gizmo on it and before the talking began the audience had clicked in age and gender along with choices about the most important issues facing the Americas.  Within minutes of doing the survey, the responses were up on the backscreen: 60% of us were female, 50 years or older, 90% from CO, and the majority thought, by far, that education and global education were the most important topics.

Although the question wasn't asked, judging by the responses to some comments, the majority of the audience were of a liberal persuasion. However, Tina Brown learned early on in the evening that anti-Republican jokes weren't really going to work, so got on with the topic.

It was a brilliant panel, with Eric Schmidt of Google, leading the pack. All three panelists were appalled by the delay in passing the Immigration Bill and don't understand what the politicians don't understand about the importance of passing the bill. Lots of commentary about the growth of the middle class in South America and Mexico and what that means for the future as the U.S. middle class seems to be shrinking. 

Pretty clear that the smart phone or handheld device is leading the way in unleashing human potential, changing the world in ways some of us haven't even considered. But you knew that. I just hadn't truly understood the impact on global change and education in the whole world. A night well spent.

Eric Schmidt, quoting Steven Johnson, emphasized the importance of understand that
                   Chance Favors the Connected Mind.

Way back, Louis Pasteur had said
                     Chance Favors the Prepared Mind.

No way for Pasteur to imagine the connected mind. Prepared and Connected.
Three more panel discussions this week, free parties at night in the park, and art installations, indoors and out, across the city. A great week to be in Denver.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Missing a Shoe?


One shoe? When you threw that shoe into the big plastic bag filled with old clothes, worn-out blankets, three Christmas decorations, some plastic Easter eggs, a toaster, books and the paint-smeared rain jacket, did you really think someone would show up at the thrift store looking for one shoe, size 8?

As for the well-intentioned person or business who anonymously donated three huge boxes of unused leather clothes to the faith-based thrift shop, I wonder what you were thinking. Now, these weren't boxes filled with fine leather jackets, vests, or belts. No, these were leather goods for entertainment - leather goods that might have been used for Fifty Shades of Gray promo.

I learned a lot sorting bags at a thrift shop the other day. The range of donations is astonishing. I unwrapped barely-worn, washed and ironed shirts, pants, dresses and jackets that would send several kids to school looking as if their parents had gone on a shopping spree at an upscale mall. Came across many beautiful women's sweaters, made slightly less appealing by the 90+ degrees outside and the one small fan in the room with the bags to be sorted. Very used underwear and underwear with the tags still on. Same with socks. Towards the end of the day someone brought in four newly dry-cleaned, upscale brand men's suits.

Still, I am left with the single image of a large box in which the volunteers deposit the single shoes. Sneakers, slippers, very high heels, sandals, hiking boots in pink, black, brown, green.  The box was full at the end of the day. No matches found. Go figure.

Monday, July 15, 2013

It's Not Right




(captured this from Meriah Sage on FB. Can't remember how I found it as, unfortunately, I don't know her.)  BUT

The excerpt from To Kill A Mockingbird says what I'm thinking far better than I can. Actually, all of To Kill A Mockingbird says what needs to be said. Time to bring out the book and bring in required reading.

There's nothing about the outcome of the Treyvon Martin case that feels good. Actually, there is nothing about the event that makes sense, nothing about the explanations or nothing about the trial that makes sense.

I'm going to leave it to the unlimited number of pundits out there to analyze and dissect it all. I will say that for those of us who have been around the last fifty years of advocating for civil rights, it feels as if we may have moved along in terms of the law, but moved nowhere in terms of attitude and inner thoughts. The glaciers are melting more quickly than the hearts and souls of some people. And what can I say to those who thought we moved into a post-racial world after Obama's election?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Dilemmas


 How do people go on a walk and watch birds at the same time? Every morning, I hear different bird sounds; every morning I want to stop and identify the bird making the sound. But I am on a walk, allegedly staying physically active, getting some needed exercise. If I stop at every sweet or unusual tweet, it will take all morning to complete my jaunt. I'm one of those early morning walkers who heads out the door, destination in mind. I walk the walk and as I complete the wide circle look forward to a cup of coffee upon my return.

How's that for a non-existential dilemma of the day?

Speaking of dilemmas, here's an interesting one. A friend, in addition to her endless and smashing wardrobe and jewelry collection, has some good-looking knockoff purses and jewelry. She decided to take a huge haul to a consignment store to see what she would get. The shop keeps 50% and she will get the other half. A couple of weeks after she dropped things off she received a call, telling her there was a check for her.
Along with the check is an itemized account of what was sold and for how much. It turns out that the knockoff Tiffany bracelets, bought out of a truck in NYC, netted her half of what the authentic bracelets would have cost. It was intentional; she just put all the jewelry in one pile. Turns out, she and the shop owner have done well on these very inexpensive bracelets.

Nothing illegal has been done; no-one intentionally set out to scam anyone. The shop owner apparently took on good faith that the little Tiffany symbols were legitimate. My friend was merely trying to unload clothes and jewelry she no longer wears. Still...someone paid a lot of money for fake jewelry. Nothing can be done about it now. But something just doesn't feel right about the whole situation.  Sounds like a job for the NYT's Ethicist, but I'll hand it to you instead.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ramadan remembered


A bright, well-educated woman, in her 50's - 60's, asked me yesterdat if i could explain Ramadan. She knew it was beginning today, knew it was a Muslim religious tradition, but that was about it.

So I did my best. The discussion reminded me of a time - decades ago - when I taught English as a Second Language in a summer program at a University. Most of the students were from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, with a few students from France and Germany in the mix. It was a hot, humid New England summer, and the students lived in dorms without air conditioning.
The classes were intense - 8:30 - 4:00 - all day and cultural activities at night and over the weekend.
Those of us on the faculty thought we knew what Ramadan was, thought it was no big deal, and just continued on with our regular schedules. We dragged those students to art museums, baseball games, town and state fairs, Mark Twain's house and the home of Noah Webster - all in the name of culture. The students were polite, but sluggish. They became less and less engaged.
Finally, a couple of students came to us and explained what their days were like - how they would get up early and pray, have nothing to eat or drink all day long. They would find places to pray during the day. Then, once classes were finally over, they would walk to the local grocer's, buy some food, come back, clean up, cook, pray and prepare to eat at sunset. Sunset is late in the summer in New England. After feasting and praying, they would clean up.
Then they were supposed to do the assigned homework. It wasn't working, as they would all fall asleep within five minutes of opening a book and trying to read in a language that wasn't their own.
Once we finally understood, we were appalled at ourselves - appalled at what we didn't really know and understand about Ramadan, its importance and its depth.
We made some changes, but couldn't change the fact that the Mark Twain and Noah Webster houses were hardly old from their historial perspectives, couldn't change the fact that going to state fairs meant they had to stare at pigs. And so it goes.
Every year I am reminded of that particular summer; every year I go back to the humility pool and the lessons I learned about Ramadan.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mystery Solved

Mystery solved. For the past several weeks if I walk early, and walk the sidewalks instead of the park, I hear whistles, loud yelling of orders, and the 'hup' 'hup' of what I consider the military voice.

I've asked several people on the streets if they knew what was going on, but they were as uninformed and puzzled as I. I had two scenarios in mind:
a. Prisoners doing environmental community service work getting instructions for the day and b. ROTC training. I imagined faces, stories, backgrounds for both groups - how and why they got either to prison or the military. A more talented writer would have a short story or two drafted. But I just stuck to my visual images and my own internal monologue as I walked by each morning.

This morning, I asked a young woman sitting on a bench, waiting for a bus. Young and athletic looking, she had her bike with her, a pensive look on her face. Our brief dialogue:

"Excuse me, but do you know what is going on over there?"

"Over where?"

"Where the shouting and whistles are coming from."

"Oh, that's swim team practice. I had to leave early today, but that's our coach."

"Oh, my. I thought it was ROTC practice."

She laughed and laughed. "Nope. It's just us swimming. Our coach is a great guy and we're practicing hard this summer."

End of story. End of fantasies. The only unsolved mystery is how she will explain her encounter with me to her swim team.

 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pilgrimage



Spent a fair amount of time yesterday complaining about the heat, then came home to an air-conditioned space and read the latest post from Winter Pilgrim, Ann Sieben.
There's a perspective - looking forward to getting to the cooler temperatures in Mexico.  It's been a long time since Ann landed in Argentina, walked through Chili, Peru, Eduador, the Panama (without proper credentials was held for 18 days until a fine was paid), on to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Salvador, Guatemala ....
By comparison, I try to get my little walk in before 7:30 in the morning, so I won't have to feel the heat or intentionally cause my body to sweat. Such is the pampered life.
I like to think of myself as a pilgrim on a journey, but mine's a different category than that of Winter Pilgrim. But it's all a matter of perspective - you're on your journey and I'm on mine. And we are all supposed to know that it's the journey that matters, not the destination.
So here's the latest from Ann, posted yesterday. When it reaches 90 degrees today, I will make the short pilgrimage to the wall and click on the air conditioner.

Day 298 If it's Tuesday, this must be Guatemala...

I've been hiking quite a pace through hot and hilly Central America, but how can it be helped? The towns the explorative Spaniards left behind are not spaced 40 kilometers apart, as is the norm for a colonial day's walk, but more consistantly closer to 50 kilometers. It's a pleasant stretch of the legs I can't complain about, but by the time I get to a town, find the smiling assistance I need who will get me tucked into a parish house, convent or private house for the night, clean up and eat, there is just no time to even ask if there's internet available. In these 18 days since my last blog, I've logged more than 800 kilometers, an average of 46 per day - and in such heat and humidity! though when I climb the shoulders of the dormant volcanoes, into plantations of coffee trees and rolling fields of corn, the cooler climate is welcomed. Honestly, except for devoted sun-worshipping pilgrims, I can't recommend this area for long pilgrimages because of this brutish combination of heat and distance... It's hard to image why the Spaniards pushed forward to establish more widely spaced towns here. Optimistically, I look forward to slightly cooler temperatures as I head northward into Mexico. Another five days of walking and I'll be at the final border crossing of the journey.

Don't go thinking that I, the intrepid pilgrim, want the pilgrimage to end soon - no, no just the heat, and Central America is always hot, so it's unavoidable. I had thought that walking through during the rainy season would be a bit easier than during the dry season - sound planning - but it's been a rather dry rainy season everywhere I've walked, one everyone is blaming on global warming and we're all somehow serving collective penance together. Next pilgrimage will be deeply in winter where the world is covered in snow, so soft on the feet.

A highlight of my walk since the last blog has been the stopover at the Santuario de Esquipulas, the first night in Guatemala. I stayed with the fellas at the Benedictine Monastery and Seminary and was lulled by the chanting within the stone walls. Further on, I passed through a valley town called Mataquescuintla after a 2,000-meter descent and asked about a brilliant white church on the opposite mountainside. A sanctuary, I was erroneously told, that compelled a visit. There I found 32 nuns, with white habits and lispy northern Spain accents... quick to recognize the significance of the scallop shell on my backpack, they ushered me to a seat at the table, offered cafe-con-leche and bocadillas (little sandwiches) and to put a stamp in my credencial. Their mission of the last 11 years since the house was founded has been perpetual adoration - for 24/7 a minimum of two nuns kneel before the monstrance to adore a consecrated host. Perpetual anything is something to be admired... perpetual. Eleven years may not be much, but someday, centuries from now, its significance will count for a lot, and they plan to continue for all time, eternity, without ever stopping. You've got to start somewhere. Something like the first pilgrimage begins with the first steps, and now I've tallied more than 30,000 kilometers (and at roughly 67 strides per 100 meters, that's...more than 20 million steps in this pilgrim life of mine).

Monday, July 8, 2013

Lighthouse


What are the chances I'd be sitting in the back seat of a car on Saturday as the two women in the front realize they had both spent time in Broken Bow, Nebraska? The chances I would have heard of Broken Bone are zero, and the chances of having been there even less so. But that took the conversation to different twists and turns about Nebraska, Kansas and other landlocked places.

Both women are members of Denver's Pen Women group, which meets once a month, and we were on the road to Conifer for the July meeting. Nancy Mayborn Peterson, sitting in the passenger seat has just published Not To Be Forgiven, a tale about German prisoners of war who came to Nebraska during WWll, so  I guess her research might have led her all sorts of places, including Broken Bow. I think Kelly Ann had a distant relative who taught school in Broken Bow. Their geographic adventures sure kept me captive as we drove up and around the hairpin curves. Speaking of captive, wonder what happened to those with the broken bows.

At lunch, preparing for the poetry workshop, people talked of images and someone asked how many people had been to New England. Aha! Now I'm in familiar geographic territory. One woman responded, "Oh, we were going to go to Cape Cod to see a lighthouse, but somehow we had to cancel the trip."

A trip to see a lighthouse? Turns out several people had never been to a lighthouse. How could I be in a room with people who have never seen a lighthouse? Is that equivalent to being in a car with someone (me) who never heard of Broken Bow, NE?  It took me a senior moment, but it finally made sense. Why would someone from the landlocked mid-west have seen a lighthouse? Even someone who travelled to both coasts could stay in NYC or San Francisco and never see a lighthouse. I began to think about all the places one could travel and still never have seen a lighthouse.

However, because I've lived on the east coast, where lighthouses abound, gone to the beach for decades where the evening walk includes an ice cream cone and a walk to the lighthouse, I assume everyone has seen a lighthouse.
My travels have taken me to lighthouses in Europe and other places, but that doesn't mean other people have seen lighthouses.

The light shines on my assumption. Wonder how many other assumptions I operate on, assumptions that will go bump and crash in the night if they ever come to light?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Back to Eighth Grade



When and where did the hot dog eating contest emerge as a Fourth of July tradition? Last time I looked it was about fireworks and parades. A hot dog or hamburger might be part of the prelude to the fireworks, but that was it.
Now the official Hot Dog Eating contest is heralded in all sorts of media.

Fourth of July is also a time of nostalgia and stories. It's a 'remember when' time, memories of people, places and times. For me, it's memories of family picnics at Uncle Joe's, potato salad, watermelon, and shooting off our own firecrackers with my brothers and cousins.

Wednesday before the 4th, I spent some time with good friends, having lots of laughs and trading stories. As we were leaving, my friends were talking about the past and reflecting on their mothers' lives. "Of course, they were happy. No-one worked. They didn't have to rush off to a job, but had coffee with their friends, chatted on the phone, played bridge, smoked cigarettes and then had cocktails at 5:00 when their husbands came home. Remember the Jordan's almonds they always had at the bridge game?"

And so the conversation went. Without warning, I was plunged back into 8th grade. My mother worked. No-one else's mother worked unless they were volunteering for some socially acceptable cause. My mother didn't play bridge, didn't have cocktails, didn't have time to chat with anyone on the phone. She might have had coffee out of the thermos she brought to work. She did smoke cigarettes, but only at break time.

Today, just as it was back then, my friends took their lives for granted - assumed that their way was the norm, life lived out as it was supposed to be done. Wednesday, I chuckled at the stories and nodded my head, as if the lives they lived were similar to mine, that their mothers and my mother were alike.  I felt the same disconnect that I felt was back in eighth grade, but let it go.

Enjoy your memories. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Inaugural Poet on America




América
I.
Although Tía Miriam boasted she discovered
at least half-a-dozen uses for peanut butter--
topping for guava shells in syrup,
butter substitute for Cuban toast,
hair conditioner and relaxer--
Mamá never knew what to make
of the monthly five-pound jars
handed out by the immigration department
until my friend, Jeff, mentioned jelly.
II.
There was always pork though,
for every birthday and wedding,
whole ones on Christmas and New Year's Eves,
even on Thanksgiving Day--pork,
fried, broiled or crispy skin roasted--
as well as cauldrons of black beans,
fried plantain chips and yuca con mojito.
These items required a special visit
to Antonio's Mercado on the corner of 8th street
where men in guayaberas stood in senate
blaming Kennedy for everything-"Ese hijo de puta!"
the bile of Cuban coffee and cigar residue
filling the creases of their wrinkled lips;
clinging to one another's lies of lost wealth,
ashamed and empty as hollow trees.
III.
By seven I had grown suspicious--we were still here.
Overheard conversations about returning
had grown wistful and less frequent.
I spoke English; my parents didn't.
We didn't live in a two story house
with a maid or a wood panel station wagon
nor vacation camping in Colorado.
None of the girls had hair of gold;
none of my brothers or cousins
were named Greg, Peter, or Marcia;
we were not the Brady Bunch.
None of the black and white characters
on Donna Reed or on Dick Van Dyke Show
were named Guadalupe, Lázaro, or Mercedes.
Patty Duke's family wasn't like us either-
they didn't have pork on Thanksgiving,
they ate turkey with cranberry sauce;
they didn't have yuca, they had yams
like the dittos of Pilgrims I colored in class.
IV.
A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountain's majesty,
"one if by land, two if by sea"
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the "masses yearning to be free"
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,
as well as pork.
V.
Abuelita prepared the poor fowl
as if committing an act of treason,
faking her enthusiasm for my sake.
Mamà set a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven
and prepared candied yams following instructions
I translated from the marshmallow bag.
The table was arrayed with gladiolus,
the plattered turkey loomed at the center
on plastic silver from Woolworths.
Everyone sat in green velvet chairs
we had upholstered with clear vinyl,
except Tío Carlos and Toti, seated
in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I uttered a bilingual blessing
and the turkey was passed around
like a game of Russian Roulette.
"DRY", Tío Berto complained, and proceeded
to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings
and cranberry jelly--"esa mierda roja," he called it.
Faces fell when Mamá presented her ochre pie--
pumpkin was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.
Tía María made three rounds of Cuban coffee
then Abuelo and Pepe cleared the living room furniture,
put on a Celia Cruz LP and the entire family
began to merengue over the linoleum of our apartment,
sweating rum and coffee until they remembered--
it was 1970 and 46 degrees--
in América.
After repositioning the furniture,
an appropriate darkness filled the room.
Tío Berto was the last to leave.
From City of a Hundred Fires, by Richard Blanco, © 1998. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the publisher.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Cultural Beliefs


Another cultural belief shattered. For decades I believed that the Chinese, Japanese, Native Americans and other cultures looked up to the older generation and respected the elderly as holders of wisdom.  That was one of the many differences between their cultures and ours. We know the social media in the US adores the young; know that it's important for us to understand that 60 is the new 50; spend millions on anti-aging creams; adore young entrepreneurs. That probably isn't going to change.

But yesterday I read that China has just passed a new law, imposing fines on sons and daughters who don't visit their elderly parents at least twice a year. Where was I when the Chinese stopped paying attention to the old folks, the keepers of tradition? How did I acquire this belief anyway?

I don't know what is happening to the elderly in China, don't know if old people are just abandoned in rural areas or in the cities, don't know if the problem is that China doesn't have 'senior living communities' or ways of providing social venues for the old. I've heard the numbers are pretty grim in the US when counting the people who never have visitors in some of the homes for the elderly, but those folks have some contact with the paid workers and volunteers where they are. The truth be told, I just read a short article yesterday about the new law in China, so can't be the bearer of truth on any of it.

If nothing else, the news caught me off guard, and reminded me that there are probably many myths or cultural beliefs I hold that aren't true.
 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Restructuring



Yesterday I spent over three hours listening to the story of a woman who is no longer employed because of re-structuring in the workplace. Her tale was a re-telling of Death of a Salesman.  "He deserved more."  She deserved more.

This woman had worked full-time fifteen years at the organization and the last year as part time. Her unemployment benefits will be based on her part-time salary. She turned down the modest severance pay she was offered because it required that she not talk about her situation. This is no highly paid woman, not part of the management chain, but part of the supporting staff. She can't afford not to work, can't afford not to have money coming in to pay the rent, but she felt the need to tell her story was even stronger than her need for money.  "I am rich in friends and that is enough," she said quietly.

Right now, she's a broken woman, shaken to the core by the separation from her community. Her self-confidence is shot; her ability to believe in herself and her skills is gone. She feels betrayed, humiliated, worthless.

It's a sad tale, and something that probably occurs more often than I know. Listening to her, I realized she was right: her need to tell her story, to talk with people in whom she has trust, is probably more important than the money is right now.  It's not about the money, the question of retirement funds, health insurance, monthly payments on a mortgage that was going to be re-financed. It's about pride. It's about walking away with some dignity, feeling good about herself and her workplace. I don't know if there is some magical way to strip someone of their long-time professional and social community, but I'm hoping there are ways \ to make the break without breaking the person.

 

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Gospel at Colonus



About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.....  (
W.H. Auden, Musee des Beaux Arts)


No-one captured suffering, the human condition, or tragedy more powerfully than Sophocles. Shakespeare comes close, but - at least for me - Sophocles is the master. Decades ago, I taught the Oedipus trilogy, but never focused much on the middle play, Oedipus at Colonus. And I hadn't seen the adaptation, The Gospel at Colonus, so was excited when Su Teatro, a performing arts center in Denver, decided to present the play.

And what a presentation. A collaboration between Su Teatro and The Source brings together a Latino and African-American cast to perform a production that integrates the music and traditions of the African-American church with Sophocles' play. It's not an update; we're right back in Colonus, where Oedipus and his daughters are living out his final days. But the chorus, the music, the tale of suffering, the hopes for redemption come through the traditions of gospel music. So powerful.

It was uncomfortably warm Saturday night when we went to Su Teatro, and the theatre was packed. Su Teatro doesn't yet have air-conditioning, but somehow that was fine. We in the audience were encouraged that fan or two worked.  The chorus, sitting under the bright lights on the stage, vigorously moved their little paper fans when they weren't singing.  Hard to explain, but the conditions seemed to bring the audience closer to the actors, to encourage the call and response interaction that helped make the play work so well.  The audience was predominantly African-American and Latina, and fully engaged with the music and the narrative.

Sophocles got it right indeed. The story of Oedipus is as alive and forceful as it was centuries ago. It had never occurred to me that gospel music, the call and response, the songs of tragedy and hope would fit so well with what we call the classics. Been thinking about Oedipus at Colonus and The Gospel at Colonus all weekend; the play(s) even came calling in my dreams last night.