Archives for the month of: August, 2013

I have been working with a new craftsman to develop a design based upon one of his 1950’s era models but built to my specifications including: the addition of a toe thong, higher quality leather, improved insole, all double lock stitched onto recycled airplane tire soles. I’ve been wearing them these last couple of days and they’re so comfortable I forget they are on my feet.

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Oh, and a sunrise photo from a couple of days ago –

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It was another Super Menudo Sunday morning at Gaby’s. I set aside this specific weekend morning’s breakfast to sip that soup and eat those unctuous stomach bits floating in a red chili broth garnished with fresh chopped white onion, oregano, and squeezes of fresh lime.

Ramón was setting up his own food stall when I arrived at the Mercado. He was melting down a big hunk of lard in the huge stainless steel vessel built into a table from which he chops up and fries pig guts and onions like he has been doing for the last 50 years. So as an old guy his work has been made more difficult these past 2 weeks with his wrist in a cast and his entire right arm in a sling. But he still managed a big smile and to greet me warmly with his diminutive for me where he calls me ‘Philippine’. I call him Ramón but roll the r extra hard just like you’d pronounce a double r which cracks me up because whenever I say Ramón using that exaggerated Spanish pronunciation my mind conjures up an imagine of  a glue sniffing Joey Ramone dressed in skinny knee torn blue jeans.

I ask him how the wrist is and he tells me much better and that the cast comes off in two weeks. He holds up 2 fingers on his left hand to emphasize the point and then stops, looks at his fingers to realize as if for the first time in years that his middle finger is only a nub. And after a pause also realized that he was only holding up a week and a half of fingers. He unsuccessfully tried several combinations to put together a contiguous set of two intact fingers before finally settling on his little finger and ring finger. We both laughed like it was the funniest thing in the world.

A couple of weeks ago Roberto, the carpenter down the street finally got around to getting his skinny little mutt, Candy deloused, bathed and trimmed for the first time in maybe forever. A sweet little dog but was always so nasty looking that petting her was a chore. I once saw her crossing the plaza running in this crazy bucking motion as every other step she’d turn around to snap at some flea on her ass. So anyway the dog finally gets cleaned up and it turns out she was cute little Schnauzer under all that ratty, stringy fur. But philosophically speaking the make-over worked (or didn’t) depending on where you happened to be sitting at the time. I don’t know if it was the new pink ribbon on her head or what but two days later she got dognapped and hasn’t been seen since.

Oh, and a last little story of color. I was riding the combi-bus back in from the valley the other day and the driver stopped with his full bus load of passengers to get gas. He got precisely 30 pesos worth; that’s two and a half liters, less than a single gallon’s worth of gas. One of the other passengers looked at the meter on the pump and then looked at me and rolled her eyes. If he is like the other Ruta-Gris (Gray Route) guys then he works 12 hours a day and a single loop is 2 hours and 10 minutes meaning he makes 5 loops per day. I haven’t done the math but I reckon he must stop for gas a lot if that’s his modus.

Most of us can only write about what we do and what we know which probably explains why a lot of Hollywood movies are situated in California. I know Hemingway wrote pretty much experientially. There were exceptions like Saul Bellow who wrote his brilliant ‘Henderson the Rain King’ without foreseeing the necessity of actually having to visit Africa to write about it. And the Argentine, Jorge Luis Borges who was such a mad genius that he actually wrote about things and places that no one ever has or ever will visit.

But unfortunately I am one of those experiential guys and guilty as it might sound I have been re-watching the ‘No Reservations’ episodes; the Travel channel’s answer to everyone else’s food shows. So instead of writing about something critical like the world health crisis or the upcoming free elections in North Korea (kidding) I can only pull culturally and experientially from the Tony Bourdain shows that I’ve been watching of recent. Or I can talk about running some more but I can also do that next time.

Everyone today seems to have an obsession with food. And every country today seems to have multiple food shows. There is the good, the bad, and the ugly. In America and the American export markets there is Tony Bourdain. Coming in a very distant second place is that short, fat guy who tries to more or less do the same things as Tony – travel, write, eat – but he does it so bad that the show sucks so majorly it just reminds us how bad everyone else is below him. Which like I said makes Tony, like it or not, the proverbial one-eyed king in the land of the blind.

TV is so hard to get right that I had to let mine go 22 years ago. But I still watch some of the programming (DVDs, streaming) from time to time. And like now I can’t help myself: to watch, to ruminate, aye, even to nit-pick a little as I re-watch ‘No Reservations’. But I will not let myself get swept down that rat-hole of opining where I somehow feel it’s incumbent upon me to moralize about food. But likewise I need to remind you, gentle reader that I am in Mexico without so much as library card and so food fiction in whatever media format has somehow become necessary again. Yes, I am watching it on my 10” netbook but the standalone speakers are stereo so it’s [almost] not as bad as it seems.

But at least I am not in Afghanistan like my old work colleague, Willie who I just got an email from this morning. I replied that they must be paying him a butt-load of money for him to leave the comfort of the Washington, DC suburbs for a place like Afghanistan. There might be a significant amount of violence and mayhem down here in Mexico but at least you can go out somewhere for a decent drink. And wouldn’t the entire Middle East be a better place all around if its arm-bearing citizenry put down their guns long enough to pick up a serious cocktail habit? And I know for a fact that it’s really hard to fight when you’re really drunk.

Maybe American foreign policy would improve if we started sending guys like Jack Daniels and Jim Beam as ambassadors. I mean send drunks, not politicians to ambassador (verb). And arm their C-47’s with full cargo loads of American whiskey to distribute by way of America’s newer welcome wagon like approach to a more gentle diplomacy. I mean come on; we’re going to send that vegetarian Kennedy girl as the ambassador to Japan? Like that’s a great idea. A privileged and mis-fit American royal operating in a culture so alien that we might as well just blast her to Mars.

And forget the $1B aid package to Egypt. We should take that money and spend it at the distilleries and the drop-parachute pallet after pallet of cases of Jim Beam and Old Grand Dad whiskeys out of the ass-ends of C-47s until the country is entirely covered in the stuff. Don’t you think that would make the people happier than just buying the ruling regime more damn guns?

And all diplomacy period should proceed out of an invitation to stop by for drinks.

Take Churchill for example. Drank like a fish all day long then worked and partied all night. We’re talking about a guy who would sip a ‘weak’ scotch and soda while reading correspondence; all before getting out of bed. It took time but Roosevelt finally figured out how he did it. He found out that Churchill would slip off for a long mid-afternoon siesta to sleep off lunch which in turn served to gird his loins for a late evening of work and yet more drinking and eating.

I’ve pretty much always enjoyed Tony Bourdain and his wit long before the cable TV show. I think I am one of the original discoverers of his now famous ‘Kitchen Confidential’. It  has kitchen stories that I now have to somewhat include among the pantheons of greats like Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’; a practical, sad, biting humorous epic that truly captures the long drudgery of those who are made slave to the kitchens.

I have found some irony in the early episodes whenever Tony squints after taking a bite of something delicious and then repeats one of his trademark lines of  ‘that’s good’ when I remember that it wasn’t until much later into the show (like several seasons ahead) where he quits his two pack a day habit. Cigarette smokers in case you didn’t know do not have a very good sense of smell or taste.

I think his greatest episode through Season 6 is ‘Madrid’; a great city with a great food tradition. In the second part of the show he has the same likeable Spanish chick from an earlier season acting as his host. But first he has this great old retired international war-covering journalist now food writer dude who serves up some pretty knowledgeable local food info. You could just tell just by looking at the guy and the way he wielded his knife and fork and especially his wineglass that he was a someone who had systematically over the course of his life pretty much shot up and robbed the entire pleasure train. Ambrose Bierce defined debauchee as ‘someone who has so seriously pursued pleasure as to have had the misfortune to over take it’.

And one of the Madrid’s episode’s highlights is where he interviews a newly married couple who had teamed up to create and manage a highly innovative and very successful city restaurant. The young chef is very cool, the Chinese inspired food is also very cool, and his new wife is a major babe with quite possibly the sexiest silliest sexiest voice on earth. ‘Madrid’ was great.

I have found that Tony and crew are most challenged in places that do not have both a broad nor deep food culture. He has fared best in places like Italy and France. He did some great shows in Asia but fell flat on his face rather miserably in Singapore and Tokyo. I can understand screwing up the Tokyo episode because of its rather narrow food culture but still is that any excuse to backfill half the content with the stupid flower arranging, the long Kendo scene, or that execrable scene where a bartender spent a really long time to make him a sophisticated cocktail only to have it turn out as silly looking? Hello Kitty.

But how did they manage to screw up Singapore? I ask again, just how do you screw up an episode on Singapore’s food? Yes, he found the hawker stalls all right but he didn’t do the food justice. Singapore has this righteous blend of India, China, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesian cultures; not to mention some Filipino now that I think about it. And the food reflects it. There are only a few other places on the planet earth that has the same breadth and depth when it comes to their cuisine and Tony, you blew it. He did get it right when he said that the best food in the world could be found there but then again he had kissed and lied before when he proclaimed that very self-same thing about a few other places too.

I found the ‘Pacific Northwest’ show offensive. It had that unavoidable vibe that goes with all that smug self-confidence of living an expensive all organic lifestyle. Ughh.

Tony’s future wife is introduced in Season 3 in the Tuscany episode as a critical and opinionated bitch. And after seeing her again in Season 4 at the end of the first Spain episode and then again in Season 5 where he introduces his new family in the Sardinia episode I still can’t shake that original first impression nor dissuade myself of the notion that she is a ticking time bomb of a big divorce settlement just waiting to happen.

I like Tony but I wish he’d gracefully bow out of popular culture about now. He’s had his moment in the sun but his act has been getting rather stale these last couple of years.

So Tony, if for no other reason but for the sake of dignity, please make your last few million, pay down your lifestyle and get the hell off the stage.

I just got an email from Justin at JJJJound, the premier fashion lifestyle media website, and he said that they were going to publish a photo of my hand braided tejido leather Colombiano sandals.

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That is pretty cool news.

The day started a little earlier than usual with the 5 am fireworks and all. The resulting explosions were surround sound with all three Iglesias’s (churches) participating. There was an explosion every 15 seconds for 2 straight hours. The sun comes up at 7:15 so this is going on for 2 straight hours before daylight. It turns out that today is Mary’s name day (as in the Mother Mary).  Everyone has a name day; it’s like a birthday. Then there are the saints days.  And there are the trades days; carpenters, etc. And there are tons of other reasons to pretty much have a year around party.  So Mexico can be a noisy place but still if I were a nine to fiver and had a long commute to look forward to I’d be seriously pissed when my alarm clock got pre-empted by mortar fire.

But I really don’t mind anymore. And I am a morning person after all so getting up a little earlier than usual doesn’t bother me. And I had lots to do. It was a run day. I had sandals to ship. I’m working on a new bag. I am also working with a new huarachero to adapt one of his classic sandal designs onto my sole (recycled airplane tire) with a better grade of leather for the upper – and with a couple of other very small modifications… and I am heavily engrossed in writing my maybe never to be published, next novel.

I drank coffee and worked on the party chapter for novel numero dos waiting for Gaby’s to open up at 8. I walked down for a very tasty breakfast of eggs, beans, homemade salsa and fresh tortillas. I wished she served coffee but she like so many others here in Latin America have somehow gotten Nescafe confused with real coffee; art imitating life and all that I guess. Anyway, damn those wily Swiss!

I wrote for an hour after breakfast before suiting up for my run. That’s running shorts, sandals, and a bandana around my head to keep the sweat out of my eyes.

Midway into my run I saw a rancher with two dogs. I only overheard part of the conversation but it started with the big dog saying, ‘I am going to go eat that guy’. The smaller dog wagged his tail in anticipation. The rancher said, ‘No you’re not’. The big dog got up anyway, followed by the smaller dog, and started to cross the short distance of freshly mowed field that separated us. The rancher yelled ‘Venga aca pendajos’(get your asses back here)!. The dogs quit running but didn’t exactly stop either. The rancher said, ‘If you eat that guy I am going to beat you everyday and not feed you for a week’. The dogs reluctantly returned.

Running in the valley I am constantly mindful of three things: First – dogs. Second – not stopping to pee where I have to stand too close to a mound of fire ants. And three – when hunting season starts up in December I need to start early and end early and avoid the weekends when there are sometimes multiple pickup trucks cruising around the canal roads loaded with kids in the back all sporting small caliber firearms. All I can hope is if I do manage to catch a stray or for that matter intentional bullet that it doesn’t hit a vital organ like my liver.

The army with logic and reasons known only unto itself had two trucks patrolling nose to asshole (continuing  to borrow from the ranching vernacular), on the valley roads this morning. Manned and mounted big M-60s with lots of other guys sporting M16s dressed all alike in body armor and sporting scary face-masks. I put up my hands and made a feigning motion as they passed like ‘Don’t shoot’ all the meanwhile reciting The Lord’s Prayer. A couple men laughed at the half naked old gringo running with the water bottle while a few soldiers scowled. I had that déjà vu feeling that there was possibly more than one ‘rancher to big dog’ kind of conversation happening as they continued to slowly traverse in the opposite direction.

I bought my three favorite bumper stickers of all time twenty-three years ago on my first visit to Washington, DC; little did I know at that time that I’d be living there at some point in the future. I bought them from a shop that no longer exists up on 18th St. NW near Colombia Road in the neighborhood of Adams Morgan.

One said ‘Make the World a Better Place – Kill Yourself’. I gave that to my younger sister who was then living in LA but she gave up on it after a couple of weeks citing it was a bit over the top even for a place as crazy as LA. I also bought a bumpersticker that read ‘Pave the Rainforest’ which totally cracked me up. Once the novelty of that wore off I intended to cover it with the more comprehensive ‘Pave the Planet’ one. But it turned out that I wasn’t a bumpersticker kind of guy after all so they sit in a box somewhere in one of my daughter’s closets.

I bring up the bumperstickers merely to underscore how black humor sometimes articulates our worst fears. The future doesn’t scare me (but you’re going to have to read more of this blog to figure out why).And while I personally do not believe that mankind is going to usher in utopia anytime soon I do believe that some of the problems at hand are solvable.

If Malcom Gladwell (‘The Tipping Point’) and Nassim Taleb (‘The Black Swan’) are to be believed then everything comes down to the little things and sometimes the unexpected little things. For example, the improbably huge event that came to be known as Arab Spring ostensibly was started by one very unhappy man in Tunisia.

And a few years back NYC finally began to get its hands around its out of control subway problems simply by starting to stop people jumping turnstiles and riding without paying. And for whatever reason, the bigger subway related problems soon started to fall in line and get fixed too.

Then there is another example that something as simple as leaving a broken window in an urban environment unfixed eventually attracts crime. Criminals figure if no one cares enough to fix the window then no one is watching the house and if no one is watching the house then (and so on). There are many examples of how little things can create small events that in turn have immense consequences.

There are some big problems in the US at the moment. But if mathematics, physics and engineering can be used as an example then more times than not big problems can be solved by first breaking them down into a bunch of smaller problems. Pólya advises: “If you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can solve: find it.”

I got pretty frustrated with American culture last year so I decided to do something about it and moved to the central Mexico highlands. I’ve been down here an entire year now and while it might not be the answer to everyone’s problem I’ve found that it is working quite well for me at the moment. I live in a peso economy. I pay cash or trade for every little thing I need (which isn’t much). I buy made in Mexico products 95% of the time.

The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is read the newspapers over coffee.

I read: The New York Times, Guardian (British), Fox, the Drudge Report, The Telegraph (British), and the rather shameful Daily Mail (which serves up gossip English style).

One doesn’t have to spend too awful much time reading the news to see that there are several ongoing controversies running simultaneously back home. A couple of these controversies deal with what appears to be misappropriated government power in regards to the rights and privacies of its citizens. The other controversies seem directly related to our government’s continued belligerent use of foreign policy.

So it’s not surprising that there seems to be many Americans who are grimly unsatisfied at big media’s rather blasé coverage of these events and ask each other ‘Where is all the outrage’? Organizations have sprung up over time like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movement who try and provide the American citizens alternatives and more honest solutions to the problems posed by big government but they’ve failed.

There have been three significant whistleblowers in the recent past who at great personal peril have attempted to provide some content around the outrage factors. It seems so far they’ve failed too.

So how does someone or some organization succeed where these others have failed? How do you make something big, small again; how do you get the genie back in the bottle once it’s been out having a good time? Conventional approaches like those of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street got subsumed by the immense gravitational black hole of the federal government. The whistleblowers were denounced as traitors. Conventional approaches done more or less within the conventional legal framework sounds like the way go; fair play and all that, but unfortunately none of it has been delivering the goods because nothing has changed. Every politician promises change but most fail to deliver.

So back home there appears to be lots of rage and frustration. Not to mention impotence; we want change but can’t get change so the political reality is making every citizen want to either give up or hang themselves in shame and just let the government do whatever the hell it wants.

But I’ve got some good news for you my fellow citizen; you have more power than you think. And just as equally cool as that – your power has the proverbial moral upper-hand for it originates in a quiet passivity and necessitates no violence of any kind. You don’t have to march, protest or even carry signs. You don’t need to proselytize or even utter a single unkind or controversial word to anyone. In fact there isn’t a whole lot you need to do to affect national change. Do you want to see more and better paying jobs in the US? Do you want to prevent another wholesale collapse of a once great city like Detroit? Do you want your government working for you for a change?

So here is the premise – You support what you spend your money on. What you buy, how little or small: what product, what industry, or what country you buy into or out of is ultimately what you support.  I could go on and on with examples but buy a single cigarette and you just supported the entire tobacco industry. One sniff of cocaine and you’ve just propped up the cartels. Buy meat products from your local grocery store that comes from a big slaughterhouse far away and you’ve just enabled animal cruelty.

So, if you want to be a positive force in something as big and scary and complicated as geo-politics then consider your spending habits.

Buy everything that you can local. Certain countries can’t oppress others if you’re not buying their stuff. It’s hard to finance wars and other acts of aggression if there isn’t any coin coming in. Buying local is also good for a lot of other reasons. Grocery stores will eventually quit stocking certain items if you quit buying them (let’s send Nestle and its manufactured foods back to Switzerland).

Barter – Again, it’s all about keeping it local.

Learn a new skill – Preferably one that will enable bartering as well as render a good service to the community.

Create a new cottage industry in your community – Create a communal business that promotes quality and durability first. (Aren’t you tired of buying shit that wears out?)

Drive your car less – Let’s reduce our support of undesirable regimes.

Find a way to invest in education – Either yours or someone else’s. If necessary make this a community project. Less ignorance in the world results in more cultural tolerance, better choices for people, and greater awareness with greater respect for this tiny little spinning blue globe we all inhabit.

Remember, nobody is going to do this for you.

And no one can spend your money on bad things if you’re not giving it to them.

PS – And turn off your damn TV (and other electronics) and do something wild like get out and socialize with your neighbors for a change.

Running. I went for my first run since Minnesota yesterday. My left big toe had finally healed where I didn’t need to worry so much about the tip exploding off from the forward pressure of the foot strike. The hour long run wasn’t without its own accident however when I almost knocked myself unconscious on one of the low concrete beams that cross the top of the large u-shaped culvert that I briefly mentioned in the ‘Duck Soup’ post. What can you say about those accidents when you smack your head so hard that nothing registers but pain and blinding white light? No thoughts of what just happened or wow, that was stupid; just a baseball bat to the head from nowhere kind of sensation. One second you’re standing and moving forward and then in the briefest white light flash you are on your knees senseless .

Damn I hate that culvert. Walking across the top of it when it’s full of water scares the crap out me because a fifteen foot fall into the canal filled with all sorts of poisonous chemicals, odious waste, and mutated water creatures would truly be an unpleasant way to die. On the other hand walking through it, slipping in cow shit, and knocking yourself stupid isn’t very desirable either. After I picked myself up I thought to myself, ‘Now all I need to do is run into a few pissed off farm dogs to totally ruin my day’.

But the rest of the run went well. In spite of what turned out to be an inch long gash across the top of my head I had a great feeling of well-being waiting for the combi, Ruta Gris (the gray VW van). I got the chance to wave and say hello to a bunch of people that live out there in the valley. I am sure some that some of their smiles were of the nature thinking that crazy damn gringo is back; running in sandals with a rag tied around his head and not even smart enough to put a shirt on in the heat of the day.

Oh yeah, I found a great new place to buy good cheap Spanish red wine and unloading it from my shopping bag three days ago a bottle slipped through my hands and exploded ferociously on contact with the tile floor. A short but loud screaming fit preceded the 30 minutes it took to clean the mess up. Of course there had to have been a small personal injury involved; a glass shard embedded itself into my other big toe so there was blood in addition to the red wine and glass shards everywhere. I gotta say that I am finally starting to get sick of these back to back accidents.

Writing. I’ve decided to quit screwing around and finish the first draft for my second novel. This morning I made some serious structural changes – more organizational than anything – and I can now better see the end game, meaning working on it every morning is going to be more pleasure than pain. The story is a continuation of my first novel and the hero of my story is an engineer. I like that. There aren’t many engineers as heroes in literature and I decided that one of us needs to change that. Paul (the engineer) is mildly reluctant that his persistent side-kick, his humorous foil, is a spoiled Frenchman; a character who I must admit is beginning to grow on me. After I complete the trilogy and sell the movie rights for a fortune then I think that I’ll move to the south of France and live out my days as a gout ridden old drunk.

Eating. I figure that I need to write more about Mexican food; that is the local food from here in Michoacán. So to do that I need to experiment more; meaning I have to learn how to cook these things rather than just be able to order them in the Mercado. I had ‘bouche’ (pig stomach) tacos yesterday followed up by a big fresh fruit licquado (fruit shake) at another food stall. Last night I made a chicken liver spread for appetizers followed by the rest of the chicken finished in bay leaves and fresh tomato sauce served over purple baby potatoes. The beverage was red wine with the meal and ice-cold Corona beer with a shot or two of some very acceptable tequila as a cocktail hour warm up.

Running, writing, and eating. Can life get any better than that?

Why do writers drink? We already talked about that a few days ago. So, I have a new question- why do writers write? Today I don’t know; there are too many people writing to be able to surmise why they write. Fifty or even a hundred years ago writing was a much more limited field and to be a writer back then was to have been a member of a prestigious class. Centuries ago, writing was like any other art, requiring education, the leisure that comes with wealth or having a Medici like benefactor. A hundred years ago, I don’t know what motivated writers. I really don’t care for pre-twentieth century writing; both the language and the customs are so formal and stilted. There are exceptions but they are few. I especially admire Lermontov’s ‘A Hero of Our Time’. The story takes place in the 1830’s in the Caucasus where the Russians were fighting to subdue the indigenous people (ironically much like the Russians are still doing today). Aspects of the story take place as a dream with in a dream. The idea of which I borrowed, using the dreaming as the narrating force when my character, Michael in my first novel dies in a squalid hotel room in Bolivia; hallucinating from illness. It is further ironic to note that Lermontov himself died in a dual exactly as his character, the officer dies in ‘A Hero of Our Time’.

Sixty or seventy years ago literature changed. Granted Hemingway and others like John O’Hara changed literature much earlier on but it wasn’t until a new ethos appeared with the emerging artists who felt disenfranchised from the new culture of consumerism that everything changed again. Immediately following WWII that old bohemian poverty lifestyle reappeared on the scene and literature magically changed hands. What previously was mostly the province of the intelligentsia now with the advent of the Beats writing became blue collar and in the doing suddenly belonged to everyone.

I gave my library away so with no references at hand I can’t say chronologically speaking which of the Beat writer’s landed in Paris first. But that fact is culturally insignificant. I do remember that the Beats didn’t go to Paris to sip cappuccinos and soak up the Parisian culture in the cafes. They didn’t go there because they admired the French and wanted to learn the language. And they didn’t go there because of the arts and writing tradition that happened there 30 years earlier with the likes of Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.

Nope, they went there solely for two reasons. One, Paris in the ‘50s was dirt cheap – especially the rent and wine – and two, the French culture and the language were alien enough for them to be able to totally concentrate on their writing.

For them the typewriter was holy. That machine allowed them to create. The move to Paris effectively cancelled out the noise of back home enabling them to hear only their inner voices so that their work would be authentic and not tainted by the phoniness of popular culture.

Jumping ahead five decades William Gibson wrote in this blog ‘The part of me that’s writing this, now, is utterly incapable of writing a novel. The part of me that just wrote a novel is profoundly unavailable, right now, and will remain so until the next time I have to go out and walk for miles, whistling for it, convinced its finally run away for good and all. People don’t ordinarily meet the part of me that writes novels, and when they do, they must assume I’m not doing very well’.

Some writers need to be surrounded by alien environments that are culturally noise free in order to access what those zen adherents call the original mind. I personally find it pretty useful to just shut off the damn TV; something I did 22 years ago.

Being alone with just the thoughts in your head can be both frightening and lonely. And being a ‘stranger in a strange land’ can also be frightening and lonely. And the phrase didn’t originate with Robert Heinlein in the ‘60s. No, let’s go back a few thousand years earlier to find Moses as the original lamenter about having been a stranger in a strange land.

Cesar Vallejo, the great Peruvian poet, died young, poor and unknown in Paris twenty years before the Beats arrived.

His ‘Black Stone on White Stone’ is my favorite poem:

I will die in Paris with a rainstorm,

on a day I already remember,

I will die in Paris—and I don’t shy away—

perhaps on a Thursday, as today is, in autumn.

It will be Thursday, because today, Thursday, as I prose

these lines, I’ve put on my humeri in a bad mood,

and, today like never before, I’ve turned back,

with all of my road, to see myself alone.

 César Vallejo has died; they kept hitting him,

everyone, even though he does nothing to them,

they gave it to him hard with a club and hard

 also with a rope; witnesses are

the Thursday days and the humerus bones,

the solitude, the rain, the roads. . .

There are easier vocations, friendlier paths, easier and safer ways to live but I think that some writers write because they really don’t have a choice in the matter; even if it kills them.

On the way back from the Mercado this morning I stopped at a florist and bought a beautiful bouquet of flowers. The florist asked me who they were for and I said that they were a gift for my neighbor. She beamed a huge smile and proceeded to make me an extravagantly beautiful mixed bouquet.

I knocked on my neighbor’s gate, the grandfather answered the door and when he saw the flowers in my hand a small storm cloud passed over his face and the first words out of his mouth were, ‘What happened’? I laughed and said, ‘Nothing happened. They are for your wife.’

He called his wife to the door and I gave her the flowers and thanked her again for sweeping the street in front of my house which she does everyday when she sweeps in front of her house. She smiled and thanked me for the flowers and said that the little bit of sweeping that she did was nothing.

The back story to the question ‘What happened’? goes back a few months to the last time that I gave the neighbors flowers. It was by way of an apology for the neighborhood commotion I caused beating on Raoul’s door for so long that my knuckles bled. The details of that night and other interactions with this particular ex-neighbor are covered in several previous posts. Two posts that I can remember are called ‘The Night I Almost Went to Jail’ and ‘Playing Basketball With Raoul’.