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

miércoles, septiembre 26, 2012

A Feeling Of Sadness

For many years, the rural hamlet of Ghent, Columbia County, New York, had an iconic house. It was on the main street, State Route 66. It was quirky, and it was an eccentric landmark. It was a small house with a porch. What made it so unusual was that an enormous tree grew through the porch. Looking at the house made it clear: the tree came first, far more than a century ago, and the porch, a later, flimsier, manmade object, respected the importance of the tree and yielded to it.

Many people saw and marveled at the house and its porch. More than once when I mentioned Ghent, someone responded, “Is that where the house has a tree through the roof?” Here’s a photo of the house from 2011:

Yesterday when I drove down Route 66 I had an enormous surprise. A real shock that led slowly to despair. Not only was the porch gone, yes, it really was completely removed, but also the tree’s limbs had been removed and the entire tree was coming down as well. Today I found the remains of the tree lying in the yard. Here’s a photo of the house today:

I’m sure there are many seeming reasons for this. The house, after all was for sale last year, and who knows what kind of engineering havoc the tree’s roots did to the foundation and the plumbing. This is private property. It’s not a building preserved by statute or ordinance. But all of that seems oddly beside the point.

This is sad. I don’t want to be overly dramatic about it. But it’s as if a familiar neighbor, an acquaintance who lived nearby has died. I know nothing about why it happened, and I know that things like this happen often, but I feel the loss deeply.

I know the famous gatha well:

“From interdependent causes all things arise, and all things fade away, so teaches the Perfectly Enlightened One.”

I get it. I'm sure you do too. This is only another example of impermanence. It’s only natural that the house would eventually fall down, and that the tree would eventually topple or have to be cut down. And that eventually they’d both be gone. And their odd symbiotic relationship would be ended. Nothing is permanent, everything changes, everything fades away. This includes the iconic Ghent house and it’s giant maple tree, too.

Today, in their place is a pervasive feeling of sadness, which, too, I am sure, will eventually fade away.

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martes, septiembre 25, 2012

Please Support This Judicial Candidate In Upstate New York

Richard Mott

My friend, Richard Mott, has received the Democratic and Working Families nominations for Supreme Court Judge in this area of New York. The Supreme Court is New York's top trial court. It has trial jurisdiction over many kinds of important civil cases. And the district here covers seven counties: Albany, Rensselaer, Greene, Columbia, Ulster, Sullivan, and Schoharie.

Richard is an experienced trial lawyer and father to five children. He was raised in Ulster County and now lives in Columbia County. This is his first election. I have known him for 25 years or more, and I consider him an honest, fair, impartial, talented candidate for judicial office. I am happy to be able to vote for him and support his candidacy.

A very little bit about him:

A native of Esopus in Ulster County, Richard Mott has resided in Columbia County since 1976 in the town of Kinderhook. He has been in private practice at his Albany office since 1982. Mott also served in the Columbia County Public Defender’s Office from 1982 to 1987. He was the Kinderhook town attorney from 1984 to 1986 and has extensive experience in all phases of the law.

The race he is in is a four-way race. There are two Republican incumbents and two Democratic challengers. The top two vote getters are elected. Richard has been found Qualified for the job by the Independent Judicial Screening Committee. But because it's a judicial election, there is very little he can say about his views. Or about his opponents.

Obviously, getting the word about this wonderful candidate out in a 7-county area is an enormous, time consuming, expensive undertaking. This is a sprint. The election is on November 6.

Richard deserves and needs your support. It's an undertaking you can help along by sending a donation of any size to:

Committee to Elect Richard Mott to Supreme Court

P.O. Box 112

Kinderhook, NY 12106

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sábado, septiembre 22, 2012

This Vigil Deserves Your Support

Martin Baumgold

In the wake of 9/11, on Saturday, September 22, 2001, eleven years ago today, my friend Martin Baumgold decided to stand at the Seventh Street Park in Hudson, New York to demonstrate for peace. The world needed to find peace, and he saw that. He’s been at it since. Every week. Every Saturday. People have come to stand with him, and they have gone away. New ones have come and they too have gone away. Usually, there are 3 or 4 or even 5 people standing at the South side of the Seventh Park on Warren Street. Martin is undeterred, he stands anyway. He’s not the leader of a movement; he just hopes that others will stand with him. But even if they don’t, obviously he’s in it for the long haul.

The message is incredibly simple (these are my words, not anyone else’s): make peace, be peace, live in peace. And for eleven years, Martin has showed up virtually every Saturday at 2 pm to stand up for peace until 4 pm. The time is a measure of his commitment.

He’s humble about it. You have to be when you spend more than 500 Saturday afternoons in all kinds of weather standing on a corner with a sign or two. You have to be humble when peace has not broken out in the world. You have to be humble when the occasional car gives you the finger. Or honks approval. But when most people are utterly apathetic about your standing there. You have time to ask whether it makes any difference to be standing there. You have to be humble when others don’t come out in great masses to clamor for peace. And when you seem to be invisible to most people.

A friend of Martin’s realized that today was going to be the eleventh anniversary of the vigil. He put up an invitation on Facebook to an event and invited everyone he could think of. As Saturday came closer, even Martin was taken in. He got a map of the Seventh Street Park, calculated its circumference, and determined that if there were 206 people, they could all hold hands and circle the park. Wouldn’t that be spectacular? Indeed, it would be. It would be monumental.

Earlier in the week the Rotary Club had planted a peace poll in the Seventh Street Park and had a ceremony asking for peace, asking that peace prevail on earth. I am not aware that any of the many people who attended that organized ceremony showed up today to stand with Martin. But the existence of the peace poll right near where Martin stands feels like his vigil has borne fruit.

Today’s demonstration was about 175 people short of the “goal.” No matter. It started to sprinkle. No matter. People stood for peace, they talked with each other, and then they went home. And the vigil will continue. Really it will.

Which brings me to this. This kind of unorganized, leaderless ceremony and demonstration for peace deserves widespread support. So I am directly asking you for it. If I didn’t ask, you wouldn’t know that support was desired.

What kind of support? It’s really simple:

If you’re near Hudson, Columbia County, New York on a Saturday between 2 and 4 pm, please come to the Seventh Street Park and stand with the vigil for peace.

If you’re elsewhere in the world, please let your friends, family, colleagues, acquaintance know about this vigil and that it would be wonderful if they would just drop in some Saturday afternoon. Please forward this and re-post it widely.

That’s it. This is the Internet. My hope is that one Saturday in the not to far distant future, there will actually be 206 people in the Seventh Street Park in Hudson, New York, and that they will be able to hold hands and circle the entire park. That would be a beautiful gesture. It would say to Martin and all of those who stand with him, you are not alone, we agree that peace is important, let there be peace. Make peace, be peace, live in peace

sábado, septiembre 15, 2012

Fake Reviews

The mind boggles. Well, not really, it doesn't. A well known author (no I’m not giving links) writes fake reviews of his books and posts them on Amazon. He gets caught. Not to be undone, other authors (again, no links) hire a company to write fake reviews and post them all across the Internet. The New York Times reveals this. The fake reviews are no doubt still available. Still other authors get their friends to write reviews and post them. Most of the reviews gush about how wonderful the book is. In fact, I’ve read one these books recently and in two words, it was not good. And that’s being charitable.

A hotel hires a PR firm to file fake reviews on TripAdvisor (again, no links). Not to be undone, a hotel offers a free drink to any guest who posts a favorable review on TripAdvisor from the hotel. Surprise, surprise, the hotel has many 5 star reviews. None of them says how expensive and awful the food in the restaurant is. Or that the review was paid for. With a drink. I hope the guests enjoyed their “free” drinks.

None of this should by now be surprising. This is business. This is the everyday world of the Internet. Everybody ought by now to know that this goes on. The story is so familiar and disappointing that it cannot even provoke real anger. It’s just some more dishonest, misleading marketing. Just more shilling. Just more commerce.

But it does present a real problem for consumers, for readers. And for writers and those who run vacation businesses.

How do you know that the reviews of my two books, Tulum and The Dream Antilles, are real?

How do you know that the posted guest reviews of our vacation rental, Nah Yaxche in Bahia Soliman near Tulum, Mexico, are real?

I can tell you this: They are real. Nobody got paid anything for writing them. Nobody was solicited to write them. Nobody received anything in exchange for them.

But forget about me. The important question here is this: can you tell that these reviews are real just from reading them? I hope you can. But I wouldn't be surprised if you couldn't. After all, the sole intent of the fake reviews was to fool you and make you think they were real. So real reviews and fake ones look surprisingly alike.

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miércoles, septiembre 12, 2012

Thomas Szasz, RIP

The New York Times reports:

Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist whose 1961 book “The Myth of Mental Illness” questioned the legitimacy of his field and provided the intellectual grounding for generations of critics, patient advocates and antipsychiatry activists, making enemies of many fellow doctors, died Saturday at his home in Manlius, N.Y. He was 92....

Dr. Szasz (pronounced sahz) published his critique at a particularly vulnerable moment for psychiatry. With Freudian theorizing just beginning to fall out of favor, the field was trying to become more medically oriented and empirically based. Fresh from Freudian training himself, Dr. Szasz saw psychiatry’s medical foundation as shaky at best, and his book hammered away, placing the discipline “in the company of alchemy and astrology.”

The book became a sensation in mental health circles, as well as a bible for those who felt misused by the mental health system.

Dr. Szasz argued against coercive treatments, like involuntary confinement, and the use of psychiatric diagnoses in the courts, calling both practices unscientific and unethical. He was soon placed in the company of other prominent critics of psychiatry, including the Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman and the French philosopher Michel Foucault.

Edward Shorter, the author of “A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac” (1997), called Dr. Szasz “the biggest of the antipsychiatry intellectuals.”

I heard Dr. Szasz speak in the early '70s, and his book was a fundamental inspiration for the work of the Mississippi Mental Health Project in the 1970's to de-institutionalize Mississippi State Hospital in Whitfield. The population of the hospital was more than 3,000 at that time. After years of negotiation and litigation, the population was halved. Other states went through similar changes.

Dr. Szasa's work was indirectly responsible for many, many people's release from unnecessary and probably unconstitutional psychiatric confinement across America and for the former inmates' personal liberty. He deserves our gratitude and appreciation for that.

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sábado, septiembre 08, 2012

Shopping For Tequila In Cancun Airport

Blue Agave (Agave tequilana)

Your Bloguero is a frequent flyer between New York and Cancun’s Airport. It’s an airport designed so that when you are catching a departing flight, you have to walk through the Duty Free Store. You might even have to walk through three of them, as your Bloguero did this week. Is that why they tell you to arrive at the airport three hours before an International Flight? Maybe.

Your Bloguero likes to bring tequila home. Specifically, premium, 100% blue agave tequila blanco, which looks clear. He likes to put it in the freezer, get it extremely cold, and drink it straight up. No salt. No lime. No ice. No nothing. A shot in a really nice Mexican tequila shot glass. The quality and taste of the tequila are extremely important. One does not do this with the cheapass Cuervo Tequila you might find in Gingolandia’s many mall liquor stores. Really. Do not try this with that stuff. Do not.

In the Cancun duty free, they are equipped to let you taste tequila before you buy a bottle. Remember this. This could be very valuable to you: they will let you taste before you buy. They will pour you samples.

Usually, your Bloguero looks for and sometimes buys a bottle of Don Julio Blanco. It costs about $US26. Your Bloguero likes this tequila. He endorses your drinking it. It easily meets all of his many, finicky specifications. Your Bloguero has also purchased other tequilas at Cancun’s Duty Free. But first he has to taste them. This is the key.

Here’s some free advise about shopping for Tequila in Cancun Airport: Go to the duty free and intend to buy at least one bottle of great tequila blanco to take home. Tell the salesperson you want to buy a bottle of Don Julio Blanco, but you wonder whether they have anything that might be even better. The same price, or maybe a little more. Of course they do. What do they recommend? Look: they have tons of tequila, they have bottles that cost up to $200 per bottle, brands you have never heard of (unless you’re exploring the vast, premium tequila market on a regular basis, or its your job), brands you cannot readily get outside of Mexico, brands that are too small to export. They are justifiably very proud of what they have. And what they have is really good.

The salesperson will respond by offering you some tastes of various tequilas in little plastic cups. They will open bottles and pour you samples. Note: the samples are going to be at room temperature. This is salient in deciding what is going to be really smooth when it’s incredibly cold. Some of these are incredibly smooth at room temperature, and have a wonderful nose. Put another way, when you get this tequila really cold, it’s going to be even smoother. It’s going to be like syrup when it’s cold. You can sip these or chug these samples. They do not care. They probably wish they were allowed to sample. And they will keep this tequila flowing in the little cups until you decide something, or become incapable of making a decision.

Long story short: after 6 or 7 tastes (who’s keeping count) and rejecting a very smooth, expensive Cuervo Reserve just because of its name (read: your Bloguero is a complete tequila snob), your Bloguero bought two bottles, neither of which is made by Don Julio. Less than $US80 total. These are now in your Bloguero’s freezer.

No, your Bloguero is not telling you what he bought. That’s a secret for now. And that’s another post. After your Bloguero drinks the new tequilas and decides whether they are as good as he anticipated they would be, you will learn what he bought. And how he found it.

Meanwhile, your Bloguero highly, highly, highly recommends, if you’re flying out of Cancun Airport, that you have 6, 7, maybe even 8 samples of top of the line tequila, buy a nice bottle or two or three to bring home, and have an extremely tranquilo vuelo to wherever you’re headed. This is the great pleasure of Cancun’s Airport. Do not miss it.

The title is an homage to Jeff Greenwald’s 1996 classic “Shopping For Buddhas”.

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miércoles, septiembre 05, 2012

Airing The Laundry

Yesterday, some people I encountered on the beach asked me whether I had read a certain book about Bahia Soliman. Fool that I am, I thought they might be talking about my book, Tulum. No, they said, not that book. Never heard of that book. Well, OK. This led to my downloading and reading Jeff Ashmead’s “Tropical Delusions.”

The short: The book is a roman a clef in which the names have been changed “to protect the innocent” (read: the writer). It’s about Jeff and his wife’s struggles to renovate a building here on Bahia Soliman and turn it into a small B&B or hotel and their ultimately deciding to bail out, to leave Mexico.

I am not in this book, thank goodness. But I recognize every person in the book, because they are or have been my neighbors. Yes, some might be somewhat eccentric. But ultimately, I believe they were not treated fairly. Their charm, their friendliness, their being free spirits, their tackling whatever stood in the way of their living here is ignored. And I wonder whether they would have told their stories to Jeff if they knew these anecdotes were eventually going to end up in print.

The book could have been a simple and in this case wistful memoir like Jeanine Lee Kitchel’s “Where the Sky is Born” (Enchanted Island Press, 2004), the tale of the founding of the Alma Libre Bookstore in Puerto Morelos and of the author’s leaving California for Quintana Roo. But another choice was made here: there is a score to be settled with Jeff’s general contractor and the deranged, annoying neighbor who drove Jeff and his wife away. Significantly, Jeff never fired the GC, who ultimately finished the project at a price below what he expected. And the deranged neighbor is probably in no condition to respond to his anger or complaints.

Also blamed for various unacceptable peculiarities are the Mexican Army, the police, gas station attendants, Federales, municipal and state governments, building inspectors, of course, the neighbors. Jeff thinks that Mexico is the Third World (read: it is not the US). And he thinks that Mexico and Mexicans are his problem, but the fact is that the people he has the most trouble with are all Gringos, like him, and he happily acquits the few powerful Mexicans. Those with less status, not so much. This is an irony, because the author pays obligatory lip service to the maxim that people bring their problems with them to Mexico, even when they think they are escaping them. Evidently, the truism doesn’t apply to him.

Jeff's building is still for sale. I can't understand how this book is going to help sell it. After all, if the neighbor is that big a problem, who wants to buy it?

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domingo, septiembre 02, 2012

Up On A Roof

In late June, before any of the tropical storms or hurricanes came to this corner of the Caribbean, the palaperos came. Four generations of them. Palaperos are the people, traditionally men, who make palapa roofs. Palapa roofs are roofs made of palm thatch. The calling of being a palapero is passed down withsin various families, as its been traditionally way for thousands of years. Typically, palaperos work without nets, without good ladders, without helmets, or restraints. And they wear sandals while climbing in high places on narrow, wood supports.

The roof on the Nah Yaxche, this house, was 15 years old. The original roof was installed by Sixto and his family. And though we'd been repairing it, the time had come, as it does eventually with all things, to replace the roof. It was worn out. And it couldn't be repaired any more. It would not stop leaking from TSs or bigger Hs. This was a big task: the roof is extremely tall,and round, and has many poles supporting it. The supports were all still in great shape, so they did not have to be changed. Sixto again returned and with his family replaced the whole thing. There are before and after and during photos for another essay (one to be put up when I have an Internet connection like a fire hose rather than the straw I'm using here).

This essay is just to show you two photos of the finished roof. Inside:

and outside:

And, of course, to note that this kind of indigenous, traditional, green architecture is art. Of course. Just look at what goes into it and how it's done. But more important, and essential to its being great art, it works. It's cool in the house even when it's bright and hot outside like today. And ceiling fans are more than enough to keep it cool. It's dry even when there are gail winds and downpours from TSs and Hs. Put simply, if you were going to design a green house for this corner of the Caribbean, one with a small carbon footprint, you just not do better than this house. What a remarkable structure it is. Is it any wonder why I love it so much?

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