Today we travelled to our next stop, a colonial mining town called Guanajuato. The bus ride was only a couple hours, but we stepped off into a different world.
Guanajuato is up in the mountains. The streets twist around the central ravine and climb up the slopes. There are tunnels everywhere. It’s beautiful. We got in late in the afternoon, but there was no rain, so we were able to spend the evening wandering around and taking in the atmosphere.
For dinner, we picked a place on a quiet plaza but noticed all the Mexican tourists were going to the restaurant next door. So we did too. Had a huge plate of fajitas!
We both brought shorts and t-shirts because it’a summer but hadn’t realized how much cooler it would be at higher altitudes. Wish I’d brought more pants!
Our last day in Querétaro, we crossed the river and explored the quartier San Sebastian, which is outside the historical district.
After lunch at the breakfast place from yesterday, we visited the Museo de la Restauración de la Replublica, which deals with the overthrow of the Hapsburg Emperor Maximillian. From there we walked to the municipal museum, which is currently full of comic book paintings by local artists.
Two things stand out about the day though. First, there were no storms in the early evening. So we were able to see the city at night, which was a nice change.
Second, earlier in the day, The Beav saw an ad for a musical adaptation of Frederick Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba. We didn’t know the play, wouldn’t understand the lines but figured that, with the singing and dancing, we could make something of what we saw. Wikipedia said it was a play about a widow & her five daughters. What we didn’t know was that in this adaptation all the actors were men!
The theater was in an old two-story courtyard that was only half covered, and a storm stopped everything for twenty minutes early on. But the show must go on! And once the worst of the rain was past, staff mopped off the stage and the troop came back and finished. It was amazing.
Today started off with a great breakfast—a spicy bean and chorizo soup—and thank goodness, because meal done, we walked from one end of the city center to the other and back again (and again and again).
We finally have a sense of how everything fits together, but I think we’ve walked out feet down to nubs. Still, it’s impossible to walk and not see things and we saw tons. There was the Teatro de la Republica.
Also the 18th century aqueduct.
Then there was Querétaro’s Museo de Arte, which was housed in a magnificent building that caused The Beav to start singing “Hands Up!”
And last but not least, there were the street scenes and people watching.
By the time we got home (just before the rain started!) we were pooped.
Our place is in the heart of the Old City, and it’s a great first landing spot: well situated with a rooftop terrace for having coffee and pastry as you’re waking up. (There’re lots of coffee places in every direction and a bakery half a block down from the front door.)
It thunders and lightnings all night here, but by mid-morning the skies are blue and clear.
We walked around today getting oriented and had lunch in a local restaurant where we ordered bottled water and again got juice and tap water! We didn’t drink much of it. (Sigh.)
Later we toured the church of Santa Rosa and a small museum.
The day ended with a huge storm. We dashed out when the rain stopped for a half hour to get tamales from a local shop.
The streets were full of water. Back at the apt, we ate and began to read. Then lightening hit something nearby and knocked the power out. (It’s back on this morning.) Looks like weather will be like this for a few more days.
The day started early because we had to be at the airport for check-in at seven. We’d stayed near the airport though so we had time for insanely over-priced breakfast before the flight.
We landed in Mexico City at two and, from there, took the three o’clock bus to Querétaro.
Querétaro is the capital of—wait for it—Querétaro and is pretty huge. We had rented an apartment in the old and much smaller colonial center through AirBnB. We’d used the site once years ago in New York right before the city started changing laws and regulations. Figured we’d try it again and were pretty lucky with the apartment we wound up in. So score one for the internet.
We were pretty tired when the taxi dropped us off, so after unpacking and a quick nap, we walked to a place down the street for dinner.
The food was great, but seduced by the name “agua de piña” and mistaken about what it implied, we drank tap water from day one. After my near-apocalyptic gastro at Christmas in Santo Domingo, this had me worried a bit, but it had been a long day and the drink was just too good to leave untouched.
Dinner done, we rushed back to the apartment to avoid the lightning storm rolling in. From there we called it a night.
This is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm; the experiences that are called “visions,” the whole so-called “spirit-world,” death, all those things that are so closely akin to us, have by daily parrying been so crowded out of life that the senses with which we could have grasped them are atrophied.
Rainer Maria Rilke, quoted by Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard
The news from South of the Border (yes, that’s you, US of A) now operates exclusively in a rhetorical mode I’d call “the premature superlative.” Each day, an “-est” blares out from the news—the cruelest, the dumbest, the meanest, the rudest, something—and each day’s tomorrow reveals that in fact that day’s news wasn’t the cruelest, the dumbest, the meanest or the rudest, that the new day’s news is in fact worse, that the bottom (if there is a bottom) is deeper than anyone had suspected and that people are worse than anyone feared.
Sitting here north of the border, the horror show is unbearable to watch (but who can look away) and terrifying to think about. When Doug Ford swept the Ontario elections, I felt doomed, felt that the madness was infectious. Where the States goes, so goes the world. Or so it seemed.
It’s tough now to read the bleakness and resignation of my summer 2016 post on Trump’s prospects without wondering if, despite my careful hesitations and hedges, something in me understood my own family enough to know what was going to happen in that Fall’s election. Reading now with hindsight, I sound like a drowning man looking up at the small circle of sky visible through the water’s surface hoping to see a hand reaching down to pull him to safety.
Which brings me to Pride Month and the image sitting at the bottom of this post. I first posted it that same summer. I’m posting it again now because the idea that a presidential candidate—any candidate—actually circulated it seems like something pulled from a utopian fiction. After all, in the time since I first posted it, we’ve learned that I don’t even have the right to order cake anymore. I mean I can order and maybe get one if I’m lucky, but it’s not me who decides.
That’s where the States are today, and it’s sick-making to think about it.
Elizabeth Kostova’s novel is a baroque return to and elaborate reimagining of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, only this time without any pretense that the women are desperate souls needing protection or that the men can save even themselves. It’s also extremely well written: the narration follows (in every chapter save one) a fixed pattern of frame and flashbacks recounted trough letters, journals or stories told over dinner that, once established, lends real energy to what is a very long book. The complicated reworking of the history of Ottoman Europe is completely fascinating.
I’m a sucker for vampire fictions whether written or filmed, so I often doubt my judgment about stories like these. For this book though, I feel confident recommending it to friends. For my part, as soon as I finished it, I ordered The Swan Thieves.
Octavia Butler’s novel tells of a modern black woman, drawn back through time to save a slave owner’s young son from drowning before returning to her own time. Over the course of the novel she will be drawn back to save the boy repeatedly, will watch him as he grows older. Because time moves at different rates in the two narratives, the protagonist is never sure how long she’ll be trapped living as a slave. Sometimes it’s years. And when her white husband travels back with her in the middle section of the novel, he finds himself trapped alone in the past and grows old there while only a few days pass for his wife.
I didn’t know Butler and didn’t know what to expect, but this book is writing of a very high order. I started reading and couldn’t stop, finishing the novel at a breakneck pace over the course of a single evening. It was that powerful.
He remembers everything,
Even the good stuff.
The gray veined wood of the porch.
The bright sun on the summer leaves.
He remembers the pine straw and the stone BBQ
And the old woman in the chair outside her trailer
Sitting under the shadow of the oak saying,
“Slap the skeeters quick if you don’t want the sleepin’ sickness.”
He remembers the sweet bellies, and the ghosts
Dropping into his body, and the dogs in cages
Hosed down before night came.
He remembers less the present,
The years that flow like the clothes pulled
From his father’s back with the bees.
The honeysuckle on the playground fence.
The teachers striking. The slide, the moon,
And his grandfather’s stories,
How he counted the planes leaving in the morning,
Counted the planes coming back at night.
He remembers the moving line described over peanuts.
The feel of the carpet pile, slick against his feet,
And the cruel bite of the loose screw in the floor vent.
Bread may not always nourish us; but it always does us good, it even takes stiffness out of our joints, and makes us supple and bouyant, when we knew not what ailed us, to recognize any generosity in man or Nature, to share any unmixed and heroic joy.
The worn trail leading past the cow fence to the pond
Lay between the live oak and the old woman’s door.
To go to the fields or to the pond was to go to her.
To come back from either was to come back to her.
She sat on a lawn chair in the shade on bare dirt.
She talked as she looked out at the blinding light
That seared the grass in the open field beyond
The leaves and the shadow. She watched as cars
beyond the grass slowed at the break where
Paved road yielded to grated clay and sand.
The boy sat in a chair she kept ready by her own
As she told stories. Once he asked about the oak,
Was it alive? “Yes!” she said, “And always talking,
Always swapping tales and gossip with the wind.”
Eyes dancing wildly over a smile, she wondered.
“I wonder what that old tree knows on you?”
Another time she told him the name of god.
The boy and the old woman talked in the long heat,
Listening to the chorus of bugs and frogs calling
For the night as the afternoon stretched the shadows.
Then the live oak took a breath, small and sighing.
Another. Then it reached out and up and swept down
the breeze from the retreating sky. The oak swayed
As it sang softly whispered lullabies of cool nights,
Songs of bright stars. It psalmed dew-soaked grass.
It promised the morning. And then morning again.
The small boy asked to dig a hole.
So they gave him a shovel,
Showed him a place under
The far branches of the live oak,
And let him be.
The dirt was sandy, not clay,
Grey-black and cool to the touch.
When the level ground was to his knees,
He felt he was getting somewhere.
He dug that afternoon, fast and deep.
Minutes or hours later,
He stopped digging, done.
Hot and tired but proud too,
He asked for a camera, took a picture.
Years later pasted in a book the print showed
Brown and broken leaves scattered beneath sun
Falling through the branches of the tree above,
The tall shadow of a boy stretched beyond the frame,
And the dirt that wasn’t there.
In the final months and weeks of the 90s—a gentler time when the Internet was still the Web—I stumbled across a slash site. Slash felt like guerilla appropriation. It was fun and exciting on it’s own terms. But what surprised and fascinated me was that these stories of dwarves and hobbits and vulcans and Hogwarts students sneaking off during the breaks between scenes in familiar stories to cuddle, kiss and fuck were mostly written by women. Knowing this, these brief, earnest stories became mysterious and camp.
All of which is the context for my reaction to seeing Plautilla Nelli’sThe Last Supper pop up in the Daily Art app on my phone as the painting for the day. The fresco is a familiar scene and familiar composition, but there’s something special about the central figures—Jesus and John—sitting together in a small circle of negative space, alone and mutually adoring in the busy group of men. It’s a beautiful scene and seeing it, my mind thought unbidden, “It’s slash.”
Ruskin would have hated this book as pathetic fallacy pushed to the far reaches of decadence. Many of my students were skeptical of it for the same reason but without realizing there was a name for what they saw simply as unscientific bias. Those who loved it were mostly silent, only sharing in their essays how deeply moved they were by Wohlleben’s celebration of forest communities.
My thought? Most of my students have never been in woods thick enough to block their view of clear land. I’d be surprised if any of them had ever walked through a genuine forest. So language that pushes them to imagine trees as something other than biological machines for pumping water and sucking up carbon is good for them. And by that I mean good for their souls.