Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

lunes, agosto 27, 2012

A Sense Of Place

The entrance to Nah Yaxche from the Beach in Bahia Soliman

Today while walking on the only road in Bahia Soliman, as I do virtually every morning, I stopped and stared at a huge house that has been under construction for at least two years. The gigantic, very tall, concrete building with a small faux bell tower, has a huge advertisement in front of it stating that it is an “investment opportunity” that you can get into for as little as a mere $50,000.00 US money for starters. But what caught my attention today is that amidst the mass of concrete, an actual palazzo at the entrance to this seeming palace, which will eventually (thank goddess) be behind a high wall, there is now a tall, concrete fountain reminiscent of Versailles. I didn’t believe this. The building itself is not even finished. Of course not. But now there is a fountain worthy of Louis XIV. And it stands prominently in the entrance palazzo. Which will probably be finished in marble. This fountain is not depicted on the investment advertisement.

I don’t quite know what to make of this structure and my overwhelming distaste for it. I consider it a monstrosity. Or worse. I have ranted before about some buildings’ inappropriate adoption of Hacienda architecture in this Mayan part of Mexico and the historical significance of all that, true, but this building makes all of those complaints about history and symbolism seem hypercritical. And maybe even unjust. No. This house is the new nadir. This house is the prime example of not fitting. I am not even going to think about whether it might be a misplaced homage to Carlota, Hapsburg Empress of Mexico. I prefer not to speculate about the how that could even transpire.

What ever happened to the idea that a building should actually fit in its environment? Just because the lot size in 20 meters in width is not an invitation to build to 18.5 meters. Just because there is a height restriction is not a reason to build exactly to that height. Just because cement and rebar, sliding doors and channel windows are available is not a reason to use them. Just because you can buy marble for the floors and countertops and brass fixtures and gigantic air conditioners is not a reason to do that. Just because you can build something that is excessive and overcooked and gaudy and gauche is not a reason to do that. And if one does all of that, as I think it happened in this case, the very first casualty, and probably the most important is that the building no longer fits this environment. At all. It becomes an eyesore. It does not fit Mayan Mexico, the jungle, the mangrove, the beach. It does not fit in a country that is not a monarchy. It is a white elephant. I spare you the conjecture about where such construction might belong. And I spare you my hypotheses about the psychopathology that this kind of grandiose, ill fitting, pompous structure evidences.

I note in passing that Bob’s Store, a tiny, new convenience vendor next door to the horrid Palace, has a sign leaning against its wall that says “Colonial Café.” You cannot invent these kinds of ironies.

I am probably preaching to the choir. It’s a sermon I’ve given before. Often. I beg that you forgive my ranting.

I don’t want to dwell on the ugliness. Eventually, if we are all lucky the Palace of Versailles, Bahia Soliman Branch, will be completed and be practically invisible from the beach, and when its gates are closed it will be screened from our further appraisals by a high wall, hopefully with a thick, locked, impermeable Hacienda style gate or barricade.

When I returned from my walk, I immediately noticed the contrast, how brilliantly my house, Nah Yaxche, had been designed to fit right here. I can take no credit for this. None. I didn’t design this house. It was the first house built on Bahia Soliman more than fifteen years ago. It is basically as it was then. It has been slightly updated and improved. But its essence has always been preserved. I just love it and maintain it and admire it. That is what one does with a treasure.

Nah Yaxche’s design is round. In that it echoes on a somewhat larger scale traditional Mayan homes for the past 3 millennia. I yesterday found a 1981 tour guide to the Yucatan (Loraine Carlson, Traveleer Guide, Upland Press, Chicago). In it is an old black and white photo of a traditional Mayan home: round, palapa roof, stone or cement walls, window openings for cross-ventilation. It’s essentially the archetype from which Nah Yaxche sprang.

Another important part of the design of Nah Yaxche is the jungle on all sides of the house. The plants are absolutely critical to its seclusion, its being cool, its being a refuge from the direct heat and sun of the beach, its being quiet. When the wind blows you can hear the sea, and you can also hear the plants and cocos rustling. In other words, you are in Bahia Soliman, not insulated from it. TS Ernesto did not severely damage the plants in front of Nah Yaxche, as Wilma did. In fact, the plants sustained a little salt damage (they were flooded by the sea) and a little wind damage (some cocos' leaves are a bit yellow at the edge), but they are going to be just fine.

Being in this environment and sitting in a house that fits, makes for wonderful relaxation and calm. And oceans of gratitude for this house. I consider Nah Yaxche a refuge. And I am utterly delighted to be able to share this with others who come here.

UPDATE: August 28, 2012 9:40 am: I awoke this morning to a gentle shower. And the thought that many readers may have thought,"Oh, Mi Bloguero, you always exaggerate and expand, and that fountain cannot possibly be as garish as you made it out to be." OK. Have it your way:

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jueves, agosto 23, 2012

Fellini In Tulum

Apparently, Fellini's film was never made. But there is a graphic novel on the topic of his journey to Mexico to meet Carlos Casteneda and make a film about it.

I am in Bahia Soliman, in paradise. Yesterday, after a sumptuous comida, chicken and rice with potatoes and beans and tortillas all lovingly prepared by Flor and Dos X, I settled into the hammock for a sweet 4 pm siesta. My feet were toward Bahia Soliman, and the hammock blocked the view between my feet. I fell asleep. When I awoke there was to my surprise an attactive young woman wearing a black bikini on the beach in front of me learning to juggle three Indian pins. Red, blue, and green. She repeatedly dropped number 3, but she had a futbol move to pick up the dropped pin without having to bend over. She walked juggling from left, where I could see her, past the hammock, where I could not, to the right juggling, and then back again, where I could see, and where I couldn't. When she dropped a pin, she kicked it back up. Was I dreaming? I was fairly sure I might be.

Evidently not. The house next door had many guests, a large extended family. I think they were all speaking Italian, though I'm not sure. It was not a language I know. I did not speak to any of them. The juggler, however, showed they were doubtless from one of those countries where property lines have symbolic but not actual, behavioral significance. Do not consider this a complaint. It is not. It is definitely not. I enjoyed watching her juggle. I fell back asleep a few times. I doubt she knew I was there. Or she didn't care. I don't know how long she was there practicing.

It was as if I had awakened in 8 1/2 at a circus. Only it was the beach near Tulum.

I fell back asleep. When I awoke again, she was gone. Later in the early evening, I saw her on the beach showing an older woman, maybe an aunt, how to do it. It was clear that the aunt didn't know anything about juggling. So my theory that they might be a circus family on vacation was wrong.

When I was waking up from my siesta I had some thoughts I've been thinking about on and off since. At first I thought that maybe people sleep better when they are in love. That might be so. Then I thought that I liked sleeping best when I was in love. That somehow love made sleeping better. Maybe that's because dreams were more active. I don't know. This afternoon this idea morphed into the idea that sleeping deeply, comfortably in one's lover's bed, after s/he has gotten up is a pinnacle of intimacy. I'm sure there's more too this.

I have no idea what this has to do with the juggling on the beach. Or the siesta. I'm happy to admit that I do not know the connections between any of these things. I suspect, however, all will eventually be revealed.

lunes, agosto 20, 2012

No Fun

Just in case you may have thought that Facebook wasn't all about commerce, I offer you this very brief anecdote.

Yesterday, I was struck by this stanza in Allen Ginsberg's epic poem Howl:

who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of ambiguous postcards of Atlantic City Hall

I thought, "Oh. Nowhere Zen, New Jersey," inserting a comma. "Sounds like my home town." Actually, I was born in Newark and went to HS in Westfield. But Nowhere Zen, New Jersey captured me and it touched me the way nighttime, grimy, deserted downtown streets and their shuttered warehouses and rusted doors and yellow street lamp light and peeling graffiti hearken me back to old Newark. Yes, my spiritual hometown. The roots.

Unfortunately, M Zuckerberg and his army of coders have made it impossible for me to make Nowhere Zen New Jersey my home town on FB. Unless, of course, there is a trick about which I am unaware that could fortuitously produce this result. Instead, when you begin to type it in, you are prompted to "Nowhere, Oklahoma," which I assume actually and/or unfortunately exists, and then the void if you don't put in that comma before the state presently suffering deepest drought.

Why is this? Let me offer a guess: it's all about commerce on FB. And if you live in the Dream Antilles or Nowhere Zen New Jersey or Oz (not the Country nicknamed that) or Narnia or [fill in this stream with many more lovely, evocative places], you and your location cannot be sold because your location is, well, fictitious. And not to be found. At least in the material world. And this, I opine with a shudder, is what FB is all about.

And so we all lose out on the fun. You can't make your home town LaLaLand, and I can't make mine Nowhere Zen New Jersey. We're all poorer for that. I spare you my inevitable excesses by refusing to expand here in my usual way on how very much poorer and surplus capital, etc.

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viernes, agosto 17, 2012

Bahia Soliman Again

Bahia Soliman

In the beginning, there was only the bay, Bahia Soliman, just north of Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico, in the Mayan Riviera. The reef protected the bay from storms, sheltered the coral forests, and tinted the water the most gorgeous turquoise. You could hear the wind and waves rumble at the reef. Pelicans dove, frigate birds cruised. There were fish hawks. And barricudas. At the shore there was only the most gentle undulation and the turtle grass moved like a tai chi master. The sand was smooth and white. I love the Bay. I have loved it since I first saw it many, many years ago. And so, early next week I return there for a short stay.

There will, of course, be occasional postings, pictures while I am at the Bay. Maybe some new Tulum photos. But in general, my keyboard time will greatly decrease, and my blog output will become a thin trickle, maybe just a sporadic dripping, maybe even complete silence. You could imagine here instead of my voice, the clacking of the cocos in a humid breeze, the songs of birds and insects, the sounds of waves as they gently groom the reef. Sounds of life. Sounds of nature.

This is one of the cycles of creativity. Inhaling inspiration and exhaling words, dreaming and writing, abandoning conventional time, contemplating, renewing, resting, reinventing. Imagining. A lull, a pause, a brief hiatus. Who knows what will happen when time gently expands itself so that every minute has 63 seconds? Who knows what is hiding in plain sight? Who knows what treasure is in the lost and found?

I am bringing with me Novel Three. There are only about a thousand words, and there are, of course, lots of ideas. It is just a tiny, new sprout. Will it grow? Will it be nourished? What will be revealed? Of course, I'm aware of the injunction I received, that I should write even more joyfully. That seems good advice. I will take it.

Imagine now that this post is a small, shiny soap bubble and that when we come to the period in this sentence it will rise safely up through the cocos into the deep blue sky and silently disappear.

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domingo, agosto 12, 2012

Tax Returns? Ah, No.

A 2005 1040 form, just like the one Rmoney filed but won't let you see

Willard Rmoney, presumptive Republican presidential nominee, apparently asked vice presidential hopefuls to give him "several years" of their income tax returns so he could vet them. He didn't pick Tim Pawlenty, who told ABC he had turned over "several years" to Rmoney. And didn't Pawlenty look uncomfortable making that revelation? Rmoney did pick Paul Ryan. Who also turned over "several years" of tax returns to Rmoney. "Several" means "more than two but fewer than many in number".

Bring on today's Sunday talking heads on the TeeVee. Day 1 after the Ryan announcement. Here's Sam Stein writing about it at Huffle Puffle:

Presumptive vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said on Sunday that while he turned over "several years" of tax returns to the Romney campaign during his vetting process, he would only make two years of tax returns public for voters.

The Wisconsin Republican, appearing alongside Romney on "60 Minutes" for their first joint media interview, seemed poised and assured throughout the 15-minute segment. When pressed with a question about tax returns -- a topic that has dogged Romney -- Ryan had a ready answer.

"It was a very exhaustive vetting process," he told CBS's Bob Schiefer. "It is a confidential vetting process. So there were several years. But I'm going to release the same amount of years that Governor Romney has. But I got to tell you Bob -- two, I'm going to be releasing two, which is what he's releasing -– what I hear from people around this country, they are not asking, 'Where are the tax returns,' they are asking where the jobs are? Where is the economic growth?"

Romney, in fact, has not yet released two years of tax returns. He released his 2010 return (with some elements missing) and an estimate for 2011. The campaign has said that a full 2011 return will be made public before the election.

Yo. Paulie. If you were listening to me, you would have heard people asking "Where are the tax returns?" You would have heard that if you listened to the news on a regular basis. You would have heard it from other Republicans. You know, Republicans like Ed Rollins, William Kristol, George Will, and Haley Barbour to name a few. You would have heard it everywhere. Know why? Because it is the current stink hanging around Rmoney. Don't tell me you can't smell it.

The Short: Team Rmoney once again refuses to turn over more than two sets of tax returns to the general public even though Team Rmoney itself wanted to see more than two years of tax returns before choosing its own running mate. Is that weirdly inconsistent? Does it suggest that something really big is being hidden by Rmoney? Is what Harry Reid said about not paying any taxes for a decade really so after all?

And so, once again, the Rmoney campaign blunders. Despite their hope that the Veep announcement would push the persistent tax return issue off of the front page and put some other issue up in neon until the Triumph in Tampa, Team Rmoney got only about 24 hours of relief. And then, ut oh, it's back with a vengeance. And it still reeks. And it still hangs in the air. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

There are fewer than 88 days left until the election. In that Olympic contest to decide which presidential campaign in the past half century ran the worst campaign, Team Rmoney seems to be going for the gold, even edging out Dukakis 1988, the previous world champion, who refused to release his medical and/or mental health records.

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martes, agosto 07, 2012

Judith Crist, RIP

The New York Times:

Judith Crist, one of America’s most widely read film critics for more than three decades and a provocative presence in millions of homes as a regular reviewer on the “Today” show, died Tuesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 90....

Ms. Crist came to prominence when film was breaking with the conventions of the Hollywood studio era while experiencing a resurgence in popularity. She championed a new generation of American directors like Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen and new actors like Robert De Niro and Faye Dunaway.

Her commentary had many homes: The New York Herald Tribune, where she was the first woman to be made a full-time critic for a major American newspaper; New York magazine, where she was the founding film critic; and TV Guide, which most defined her to readers. Her reviews appeared there for 22 years at a time when the magazine reached a peak readership of more than 20 million....

A Harris Poll of moviegoers in the 1960s cited her as their favorite critic. When TV Guide decided to dismiss her in 1983 to replace her column with a computerized movie summary, executives told her that they might beg her to return in six months. The magazine was deluged with letters and asked her back three weeks later. She was given a raise and stayed until 1988.

The best part obviously were her reviews. They were magnificent:

Her zingers could be withering. In March 1965, she panned three major releases in a single “Today” appearance: “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (“A kind of dime-store holy picture”), “Lord Jim” (“A lot of heavy five-cent philosophy”) and “The Sound of Music” (“Icky-sticky”).

Reviewing Anne Bancroft’s performance as a troubled wife in the 1964 film “The Pumpkin Eater,” Ms. Crist wrote in The Herald Tribune, “She seems a cowlike creature with no aspirations or intellect above her pelvis.” Of “The Sound of Music,” a box-office smash in 1965 and one of the most popular films of all time, she said, “The movie is for the 5-to-7 set and their mommies who think the kids aren’t up to the stinging sophistication and biting wit of ‘Mary Poppins.’ ”

She kicked up storms almost immediately after the paper made her its movie critic in 1963. Six weeks after her appointment, her scathing review of “Spencer’s Mountain,” starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara, led Warner Brothers and Radio City Music Hall, where the film was shown, to briefly withdraw their advertising. The Herald Tribune’s publisher stood behind her. The ads soon returned.

Her put-down of “Cleopatra” the next month “as a monumental mouse” added to her notoriety. There were threats, soon forgotten, to ban her from screenings. The critic Roger Ebert told The Chicago Tribune in 1999 that the movie industry’s retaliation for her commentary “led to every newspaper in the country saying, ‘Hey, we ought to get a real movie critic.’ ”

She was, as Robert Ebert put it, "a real movie critic." She will be missed.

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Rafalca, The Tax Credit Horse, Doesn't Make The Finals

OK. I might not be the perfect person to write about Rafalca and dressage and Ann Rmoney. After all, I have piloted a horse exactly once as an adult. The particular horse was alleged to be the gentlest, calmest, oldest one in her group. I don't think she liked me any more than I liked sitting on her back. And given an apple recently to feed a different, smaller horse, which horse happened to have the job of pulling a wagon (don't ask), I asked somebody more experienced in horse matters to do it instead of me. I didn't want to put my clean hands near said equine's mouth. In fact, anybody would have been more experienced with horses than me.

Yes, some of my friends and neighbors have horses, or ride, or are interested in or compete in simulations or actual barbaric sports in which simulated or real foxes are chased with reallive hounds. I live in the country, after all. But I know nothing about the details of those outings. I am just not a horse person. I have nothing against horses. But horses, as opposed to race horses and betting, are not something that the formerly urban, lower middle class (that would be my family of origin) generally deals with. Yes, the kids occasionally got in touch with a pony or two, but that's it. And my experience with horses was limited to day old Racing Forms.

I was delighted nevertheless today to read the following in the newspaper of record:

As he rode into the ring on his horse, Rafalca, the equestrian Jan Ebeling blew a kiss to a few women in the stands he calls the three amigos: his wife, Amy Ebeling; Beth Meyer; and Ann Romney, whose husband, Mitt, is the presumptive presidential candidate for the Republican Party.

They share ownership of Rafalca, a 15-year-old mare, and they were on hand at Greenwich Park on Tuesday morning to see what would be Ebeling and Rafalca’s last ride at the London Games.

“I’m really happy with her piaffes,” Ebeling said about Rafalca’s moves in the ring after their turn in the Grand Prix Special portion of the dressage finals.

Ebeling and Rafalca received an individual score of 69.302, not enough to advance to the Grand Prix Freestyle on Thursday. Ebeling and his “three amigos” learned on Tuesday afternoon that the United States finished sixth in team dressage. Britain won, followed by Germany and the Netherlands.

Look. We're talking here about the New York Time. The Gray Lady. They're three women, so they are tres amigas, or if you insist, three amigas, but they cannot be three amigos. And then we have the piaffes. Ignorant moi. I thought there was only one, Edith. How little I knew. I didn't know horses could talk , let alone sing. Except Mr. Ed.

But enough of this confused quadruped palaver.

The best news of all: this horse hasn't made the grade. It will not advance. It will not be on NBC Olympics, though it might be on the news. Again. On MSNBC. I wish I had said this:

Mitt Romney would have us believe that he cares nothing about the Olympic performance of his horse Rafalca. Why, then, own this exquisite and superbly trained animal whose housing costs alone are nearly $29,000 a year? Could it be that the horse yields the Romneys a $77,000 plus yearly tax credit?

Our family owns an adorable and very spoiled Dachshund who animates the household with her cheerful attitude and her unconditional love. Yet, the cost of her housing, food and veterinary care do not qualify for a tax credit.

Why does the United States tax code discriminate in favor of fancy horse owners as opposed to those of us who love dogs? Both Rafalca and pet dogs are luxuries and not essentials. They are not business investments but choices to enrich our lives. But, maybe there is a distinction based on who influences and produces the tax code to the benefit of some and not to others.

Hah. Why indeed. And that's the conservative Union Leader's editorial staff talking about Rafalca.

This is about a $77,000 per year tax credit on a horse that is 15 years old. So would that be like 15 x $77,000? I spare you the math: it's $1.15 Million. I also spare you the inevitable comparison to US annual household income. Let's just say the horse's numbers are higher. Significantly.

So I'm happy that this particular tax boondoggle has now failed, at least as far as Olympic medals are concerned. It's certainly succeeded in the 1040 arena. It's apparently succeeded wildly. But I confess, this really makes me want to see Rmoney's tax returns. I want to see these tax credits for horses like Rafalca and heaven knows what other nonsense he's making a killing on. I'd like to see all of that for the past decade. I bet it would make my eyes fall out. And you know what? I bet he knows that our eyes would fall out, too, so he's going to prevent the Affordable Care Act replace our eyes by just not showing us the returns.

I know. I know. I'm never gonna see those returns. I'm going to have to trust Rmoney on this one. Know what? I don't think I do. I don't think I do at all.

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viernes, agosto 03, 2012

The Importance Of Being Ernesto (II)

This seems now like an annual ritual. I see a map like the one above. I write this essay or one like it. The hurricane projections seem to be pointed directly at my front door in Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico. I didn't invite Ernesto, but here he is, threatening a visit. Doesn't he realize that he, Ernesto/Algernon, is supposed to decline this and all other invitations to visit his invalid friend, Bunbury, in the country? No? This storm has no lit cred. None at all.

So, once again, it's time to make offerings to Chac and Kukulkan, asking them to spare us, to turn the storm away from us. And it's time to note that indigenous architecture-- palapa roofs, windows without glass-- is the best way to deal with the tropics, and that huge, towering McMansions with glass sliding doors, windows, air conditioning, and tile roofs are just a bad idea. At least if you want to have a house after a big storm. With traditional buildings, after the storm, you just shovel out the sand. And maybe you replace a few palm leaves in the roof.

I've talked about exactly this at length in my novella, Tulum.

And of course, the turtle nests on our beaches will now have to be moved indoors, so that storm does not destroy them. The turtles are endangered. We do what we can despite the storm to keep them going.

But this isn't about commerce. Or the joys of Mayan architecture. Or what we have to do to protect endangered sea turtles. No. This is about something really big: the fact that this is a small planet, and that humans have raised its temperature, including, of course, the temperature of the Caribbean. And so tropical storms like Ernesto are far more likely. And those of us living on the coasts or near them know that despite whatever the deniers say, hurricane seasons like this one, with more intense storms, are our current reality. They are what we now expect. They are what we have to deal with.

More in the next few days, when it's clear whether Ernesto is coming ashore here.

Meanwhile, may all be safe, may they find shelter, and may all be well.

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jueves, agosto 02, 2012

The Importance Of Being Ernesto

Well, how discouraging. It is at this point in the farce that Algernon/Ernesto is supposed to make excuses as to why he cannot possibly visit Tulum this week, i.e. that he has an invalid friend named Bunbury in the country, whom he must now visit, because he, the friend, is doing so poorly, etc etc. Ernesto/Algernon has apparently abandoned the script and is now ad libbing to potentially disastrous effect. Those who know the script, though not surprised, are shaking their heads in disbelief or are angered. Why, they want to know, is Ernesto taking these liberties? Why this course?

I remain hopeful that Ernesto will soon turn right. Yes, turn right in the next few days and avoid my house and its house party. But I confess: I am slightly disconcerted about the map.

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The Fire And The Air

Last night, TCI in Ghent, New York had a fire. The fire started after midnight. It was still burning this morning. TCI is a recycling business. Long story short: the fire may have released into the air toxic material including pcb's, sodium, petroleum, what have you. I write "may" because in the aftermath of the fire, an emergency evacuation was ordered for people living within half a mile of the site, and a 15 mile radius, including where I am now, was told to close the windows, turn of the air conditioning, stay inside, and wait for air quality results from the state. This order was made "out of an abundance of caution." So, as I type this, I am in the house, windows closed, dog and cat inside. I don't have air conditioning, so that is no issue.

Meanwhile, Channel 10 has reported that the emergency is over:

Residents can now go about their business, but it is recommended that anyone within a 15-mile radius of the incident limit strenuous outdoor activities until officials get a better idea of what is in the air as they are testing it.

Yes, you can go out, just don't breathe too deeply or something. Say what? What exactly is in the air, if I may be so bold as to ask? Can I be told exactly what new, horrible stuff I am now breathing? The Channel 10 report hasn't been confirmed by Columbia County 911 or Columbia County Emergency Management.

Meanwhile, the weather is beautiful outside. A lazy, hazy day of summer. Hot sun, and a nice breeze. I can't smell anything unusual, and my throat isn't burning. If I didn't have a computer would I know about this event?

Is this what Chernobyl would have felt like?

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miércoles, agosto 01, 2012

I Do Not Like It, Sam I Am

So. The forecasters say that what is now called Tropical Depression 5 has "potential." So we have to watch it for the next few days, to see whether it thinks it has an invitation to come in the front door of our house in Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico. No, it's not welcome. No, we do not want that. But sometimes these storms don't get the message, so we sometimes have to turn them. And sometimes we have to make offerings to Chac and Kukulkan. And sometimes we have to call the curandero, Don Obdulio, and ask him for a protection ceremonia. The best of what Don Obdulio does to turn storms is in here.

So it's that time of year, again. May all be safe, and may all have appropriate shelter. And may the glorious summer Caribe and its sun bring delight.

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Gore Vidal, RIP

The New York Times:

Gore Vidal, the elegant, acerbic all-around man of letters who presided with a certain relish over what he declared to be the end of American civilization, died on Tuesday at his home in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles, where he moved in 2003, after years of living in Ravello, Italy. He was 86....

Mr. Vidal was, at the end of his life, an Augustan figure who believed himself to be the last of a breed, and he was probably right. Few American writers have been more versatile or gotten more mileage from their talent. He published some 25 novels, two memoirs and several volumes of stylish, magisterial essays. He also wrote plays, television dramas and screenplays. For a while he was even a contract writer at MGM. And he could always be counted on for a spur-of-the-moment aphorism, putdown or sharply worded critique of American foreign policy.

Perhaps more than any other American writer except Norman Mailer or Truman Capote, Mr. Vidal took great pleasure in being a public figure. He twice ran for office — in 1960, when he was the Democratic Congressional candidate for the 29th District in upstate New York, and in 1982, when he campaigned in California for a seat in the Senate — and though he lost both times, he often conducted himself as a sort of unelected shadow president. He once said, “There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”

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