Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"If Only We Had Waited a Little Longer"

One of life's supreme ironies lies in our feeble, human efforts to figure out exactly why things happen in our world, and we will go to absurd extremes to assign "reasons" for them.

I was in college when a bunch of us bohemian, art students were sitting around at a friend's apartment, drinking cheap wine at and watching one of those South Sea Hollywood movies, so popular back in the 50's and 60's

In this one, a ship crashes on the reef of South Pacific island, and a White man, half-drowned, is rescued by a tribe of Natives. He is dragged to safety and slowly nursed back to life. Neither he nor the primatives understand one another's languages.

When his health returns, he quickly catches the eye of the beautiful, luscious, dark-skinned Chief's daughter, who has been his nurse throughout his ordeal. She, of course is also taken by this handsome, mysterious White Man, but the Chief makes no bones about the unspoken edict that he is not to mess around with his precious child, since both are from two different worlds. Regardless, their passions get the best of them and they sneak embraces and forbidden smooches in the bushes behind the coconut trees.

One day, the dormant volcano on the island suddenly erupts, and the Natives go berserk! The castaway looks with wonder at the mayhem. The Chief calls an emergency town house meeting, but all their banter is but gibberish to him. Suddenly, the daughter approaches the father and he looks deeply into her eyes, then at rolls his eyes toward the volcano. As she bows her head submissively, the significance of glance and the body language slowly dawns on the White Man: She will be sacrificed to quell the anger of the volacano!! He rushes towards her, in an effort to stop this primitive madness, but the villagers quickly subdue and lashed him to a coconut tree.

With tears in her eyes, as she obediently makes her way up the volcano, she looks down passionately at him. He lunges towards her, but to no avail! The beating drums begin to reach a crescendo. Higher and higher up the slope she edges. This is madness!! When she reaches the cone, it is furiously sputtering molten lava high into the skies, and she gazes longingly, one final time, at her forbidden lover below. "No! No! No!!" He cries. But it is too late. She leaps into the volcano and a gigantic plume emerges. In moments, the volcano emits one last belch... and subsides! The White man collapses in shock.

There is a long and awkward silence in the room. Suddenly, one of my buddies mumbles, "God, if only she had waited five minutes more, maybe the volcano woulda' stopped by itself!!!"
 Like the volcano, we all erupt in laughter and roll around on the dirty carpet until our stomachs hurt."What a waste," someone else mutters and we all explode into laughter again.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Los Tres Grandes": Finding The Voice Of a High School Junior

Souls trod off to the Mexican Revolution by Jose Clemente Orozco
"The New Democcracy" Mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros
"Tenochtitlan" mural by Diego Rivera

Los Tres Grandes

I was just a junior in high school when my Junior Composition teacher assigned my first Term Paper, on a subject of our own choosing.

When I scrambled in terror reading the guidelines for the assignment, library research, footnotes, citations, a bibliography, I felt overwhelmed. I would be doomed to a D or F paper; I knew it! Although I had been an avid reader to this point, and I loved libraries, I had never written a term paper. Where would I even start? I panicked!

As the due date loomed, I forced myself to choose a topic. Since I was of Mexican decent, maybe I could choose something Mexican. Since I loved art, I should choose something to do with art, right? So I decided to look under "Mexican Art ". In these days, they still had the old, dog-eared Card Catalogues in our library, listing bibliographies of books and periodicals by subject, by title, by author, in alphabetical order. You would pull out the long wooden trays with little the brass handles on the ends, and thumb through the alphabetized listings. I even loved their smell.

Then, by accident (or by Fate), I found a book enttiled "Los Tres Grandes", full of color plates depicting the paintings of three of Mexico's greatest muralists, Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Mind you, I was a scrawny little 17-yr. old kid who never even knew Mexico had artists, let alone famous ones!

The book was filled with beautiful color plates of murals created in public spaces throughout Mexico during the 30's, 40's and 50's by these prolific painters. When I began to read about their lives, their philosophy, their art, I was stunned. It had no idea that art could be such a powerful commentary on society. Art could be public. It could be big. It could glorify, but it could condemn. I had grown to believe art had to be pretty.

This art glorified the raw endurance of the poor, Los Pobres, the indians, the Meztizos, the downtrodden. And it condemned the audacity of the Church, the priests, the brutality of corrupt politicians, the inexhaustible materialism of fat politicos, the rich, Los Ricos through 300 years if colonization, a war of independence and and a revolution.

I dutifully copied quotations, including page numbers on my little 3x5 cards as instructed.  I found a few more books, articles and recorded all the bibliographical information, the titles, authors, publishing companies, editors names and dates of publication for my bibliography and sheepishly turned in the finished product,  convinced I that with a little luck, I might even score a C- on it.

Weeks passed and we went on to other assignments. I dreaded the day the papers would be returned. I held my breath when it finally arrived. My English teacher addressed the class: "Class, before I turn back these papers I want to read to you one paper. It is an outstanding example of what a term paper should be". It was mine!

I shrank in my seat as she read, convinced that everybody just knew it was my paper. I turned red.  I would be laughed at. I would be ridiculed. But instead, my fellow students congratulated me. That moment is now thoroughly engraved in my book of good memories.

I would go onto to love and master the art of writing Term Papers in college. But more important, was having discovered my roots, my connection to my people. This was to direct my life's work which continues to this day.

In the years that followed, I would make several pilgrimages to Mexico to stand before the real murals for myself. Nothing, not books, not articles, neither plates nor reproductions could be a stand-in for this.

But wait, maybe that's not the whole truth. Having researched the lives of these maestros, Los Tres Grandes, their work, and their accomplishments only made the experience of gawking at massive walls and cielings filled with their murals, all the sweeter, albeit bitter-sweet.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bringin' Home Da' Bacon: The New Hunter/Food Gatherer

Me and my Homies on a typical day Bringing Home the Bacon.
The thought of our ancient cousins hunting animals and gathering food in order to survive is subconsciously ingrained in our mind's eye. It must have been rough.

Yet, for us guys, it must have defined our manhood. The ladies stayed home, wove blankets, nursed the kids and cooked. A neat division of labor which worked well until women decided they were sick of it and went to work.

As a kid, I grew up with the concept that it was the man's job to "bring home the bacon" or the frijoles in the barrio. The hunting and gathering had now metamorphosed into getting a job and a paycheck and bringing it home to the old lady. I did a pretty good job at this for most of my life. My wife never worked and I brought home my paycheck while she paid all the bills, shopped for groceries and did all the cooking.

Now that she is ill, and I am retired, the roles have reversed. My retirement check still brings home the bacon in a sense and I have figured out how to retain my machismo (manhood) as Hunter/Food Gatherer. Now, I hunt for bargains in the stores, check out the sales, and gather the food for our dwelling.

I hunt for milk, coffee, eggs, bread and meat at Grocery Outlet, Costco,the 99 Cents Store, Food 4 Less, and Safeway. I gather fruits and vegetables from the Farmer's Markets and neighbor's fruit trees whose branches lean over the fence to my side of the yard. I gather tomatoes and chiles from the scant plants in my back yard, offering them to my mate.

I hunt for space in the Refrig to gather the fruits and vegetables into. I separate the meats from the hunt, ribs, hamburger and wieners (sometimes New York Steaks when they're on sale!) into Ziplock bags and gather them into the freezer. It is I who hunts for pots and pans with which to prepare the meals.

I gather bleach, fabric softener and detergent, to wash clothes with. I hunt for mismatched socks after the dryer ends it cycle. Does anybody know where socks go to? I have a dozen without mates.

As the sun sets, I lift my spear skyward. I am still da man: Bringin' home da' bacon (and chorizo too!)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Depends on How You Look At It: Musings On Miracles

"Where there is love there is always great miracles."
I just read that an airliner crashed and broke into three pieces and that it was "a miracle" that only one of the 133 passengers died. But what if we ask the one passenger who died if he agrees?

We constantly hear people attribute miracles to all kinds of ordinary events usually when things wind up going the way they think they ought to go.

Typically, we think of the miracles of Jesus as the standard, the blind man seeing, the dumb speaking, and the deaf hearing or Lazarus raising from the dead.

To be sure, these are extraordinary, the quintessential definition of the act, paranormal, supernatural events which transcend what we deem humanly possible. Something only God can do.

There is an interesting discourse on this topic between the two priests, Father Jean Marie Latour, and his vicar Joseph Vaillant, in Willa Cather's excellent novel Death Come For The Archbishop. Set in the American Southwest during the mid-1800's.  Latour tells Joseph about the great miracle of the apparition of The Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico in 1531.

Fr. Vaillant knows that "Joseph must always have the miracle be very direct and spectacular, not with nature, but against it... a miracle is something we can hold in our hands and love." To Latour, miracles do not "so much rest upon faces or voices or healing power comment suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is always there about us." (50)

Sometimes I think either nothing is a miracle, it's just natural, or everything is one, every birth, every breath, every action, every reaction. People constantly say almost as prophecy that "everything happens for a reason." Maybe everything happens because it has no other choice?

Anyway, I do know that a lot of things depend on how we look at them and that we don't all look at the same things in exactly the same way. Who knows maybe this post happened for a reason?

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Moderate Conservative or a Liberal One?

The political jargon that surrounds any discussion these days has reached the theater of the absurd. Good used to  mean good.
Bad, well bad. Right used to mean right, and left, left.

Que paso? Now, we speak of liberal consevatives, moderate ones, and the Far Right. We speak of liberal moderates, consevative moderates, and moderate liberals.

We say that the rise in foreclosures is dropping. That the upswing in unemployment has decreased.

We say that more is less. 

Yet, I love the verbal encounter in "Through The Looking Glass" when Alice encounters the egg, Humpty Dumpty sitting on a fence and a debate ensures over his definition of the word "glory" and Alice complains "The question is whether you can make words mean so many things." Humpty makes his classic rebuttal: "The question is which is to be master, that's all."

Yes, we are the masters of words no doubt. But are we. Shakespeare said a rose by any other name smells
just as sweet. But can a horse by another name smell just as bad? I think words are charged (Visa/Mastercard). For instance, illegal means Mexican. No one conjures Irish, Italian or Canadian illegals.

America mean the U.S. Yet, Mexicans and South Americans often refer to their countries as American.
Mexico and Central America was once referred to as Middle America, naturally to be tucked neatly between North America and South America.

The word tragedy as the Greeks saw it was once reserved for kings and royalty who had it all but lost it in one of three manners: Their own stupidity, a character flaw, and fate or destiny. Now it's a tragedy if my huevos con chorizo are served cold.

Great was reserved for greatness. Now, we praise our kids for failing by saying "great try, kid."

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!!" Oh, yeah Pendejo"?