Monday, August 31, 1987

Mexico Journal: Aug. 31, Elsa Cross, Mexico City

August 31, 1987

Comida at Elsa Cross's home. Elsa, Alberto Blanco, and Sandra Cohen are working on John's latest book. Discussion leads to the maldito artists, the bad ones who write good books. Neruda, Pound Dalí, Melville. I've just written a very wicked book and I feel clean as snow.

We leave for home in a few hours, loaded up with John's boxes of books, from the International Mexican Poetry Festival, which was fairly conservative.

Last night John knocked on the door and we talked most of the night as we did on the first night that we had arrived here. We were jockeying for position on both sides. He thought we had reconciled and I thought we were off. So finally, a slow reconciliation. And we fall into an uneasy sleep under the moon, perhaps reconciliation will come in the morning.

This is the last page of this notebook. I hate to end it on reconciliation. I hate to use all the pages of my notebooks, and this is probably the first time it's happened. I began this journal last day of December and at completed it on the last day of August. There are many lapses in between, a record of the rocky months between us, and yet we persevere.



Sunday, August 30, 1987

Mexico Journal: Aug. 30, Elsa Cross, Mexico City


Elsa said she liked my work very much. Gloria, also. I'm pleased and surprised that they've even read my work. Jorge will present his third espectaculo in November at the Book Faire in Mexico City, our work set to music. I wish I could be there to hear and see it.

When Lordes sang Horseflesh, my poem to John, I was moved beyond words. She sang so effortlessly. We attended her solo performance at the National Palace last night. She is not only really good, she is fantastic.

Elsa and I talked of the writing process and we discovered that men tend to write daily while women write in spurts. Whenever we can. Being a poet is more than just writing poems, it's the other living that we do that we must bring to our work. Because there is a long time between poems, I feel guilty. I'm not a poet…

Elsa said her first husband wrote two or three poems a day, and she felt she was not a poet. Elsa Cross! I feel all these lines churning in me, a month's worth of images, but what I want to say, I have no idea, it hasn't distilled yet.



The other night, in my tirade against the Ladino culture, comparing it to the US, I noted how they've taken our bad habits and made them their own: the drunk in the street, the greasy Guatemalan or Mexican ogling, molesting women, the use of banned herbicide, the salesman on the plane selling 24D to the Guatemalan peasants so their corn will be pest free. Bbut he doesn't tell them their children will have birth defects.

We are poisoning the earth in the name of progress. Why can't there be potable water here? Why do they accept so much filth? The bathrooms in even the upscale restaurants, can only be imagined. It isn't just the poverty, and thre's plenty of it, it's an attitude towards the personal self, and the global environment, that sets my teeth on edge.

I accused John of being in love with this Ladino culture that is so shortsighted. He's defensive, taken aback, but I sent him to thinking, challenging him. His poem Poison, broaches the subject

All this street sweeping of ancient men with brooms made of branches, all this rain, it pours out of summer skies, flooding the streets, but it won't scrub the centuries of grime and oppression from this city. Every city is covered with the same carbon and diesel soot, the difference between Guatemala and Mexico is in name only.

The same peasants move to the outskirts, outwaiting the weather, hoping to seek a better life. Yet death comes anyway in corrugated tin and plastic shantytowns that grow like a malignant fungus on the outskirts of the city. But life is surely better than being dirt poor in the campo. Cambio, is change in both senses of the word.

I use the price of a cup of coffee to keep things in perspective.

The price of 4 cups of coffee buys the time of two maids for four hours. A movie cost less than a cup. The woman who owns the largest coffee finca in Antigua, runs a bookshop.

When we come to this place, open armed, bearing books, the natives treasure them, making a pleased fuss. John says our job as poets is to report back to the gringos our observations. As Carolyn Forché told us, bearing witness. Full circle.

In the taxi, there was a commercial for Laguna Verde, Mexico's first atomic plant, scheduled to go online in September. It spews out facts: the safety and the cleanliness of nuclear energy. I tell Gloria Novio of the huge sponges growing off the Farallone Islands mutated by radioactivity.

I imagine Mexico disposing of radioactive wastes in the local basurera, the garbage pit. I can't imagine them disposing of it properly. There is no proper way. They can't even clean up their own gas crisis, the smog in Mexico City is incredible. And it isn't even necessary.

The excuse is always la ack of money, or the money that never comes trickling down to where it's needed. The fatcats claiming at all. That's why there are no toilet seats in the public bathrooms, nor toilet paper. Priorities: wipe your ass with newsprint, use yellow journalism journalism, put it to good use.

I was appalled by how the natives of Tikal lived. The outhouses are alive with flies, the single room partitions with thin wood and blankets divided into sleeping compartments, mosquito netting over the beds. At a low white table, an old man puts the finishing touches on his morning shave, and steps out of his hovel, looking for fresh and wholesome. Such contrasts.

My period is days late, it comes slowly, one months to the date. I'm afraid of being pregnant. If I have the kid I raise it alone. If I have the abortion I'll probably break up with John. Either way, I lose.

The women here just have babies, they don't have the agony of choice. I state that I don't want to raise a child alone. It's an unacceptable alternative. John tries to place as much distance as possible between his responsibilities, the idea of me having a baby is too threatening for him, and to his daughter. He claims first loyalty to his daughter, and is jealous of that role.

The women here just have babies. If the water were potable, if there was enough food, if they'd quit destroying the jungle, the birthrate would soar. Eliminate disease, the population explodes. But it's exploding anyway, why not to improve the quality of life?

Some of the Indians don't understand why we have spent all our money to visit all those remote villages. Others assume we are all rich and deserve to be ripped off. How can I explain the concept of rent? Jorge's three-bedroom apartment cost $65 a month. John's cottage, at $600 a month?

In the US, the cost of a cup of coffee is 15 times that of Mexico. I think of all those coffee bushes growing under the jungle canopy, some of the berries are turning red now. Cherry coffee ready to pick. What are a day's wages for a coffee picker in relation to the price of a cup of coffee in the US?

Coming from the jungles of Tikal to Mexico City in the same day, at 7000 feet, I get a head cold and can barely understand Spanish. My English is broken too.

People here sell sweets, and newspaper on the streets. We're all sitting targets at red lights. People here are not unemployed, just chronically underemployed. How many chicles does a little girl have to sell just to break even? When does she still have to sell enough to help feed her family? While she's working the stoplights, others more fortunate than her attends school. Later she will discover it's more lucrative to sell herself at the red lights.

There are 20 million chalangos living in this underbelly of the world. In less than a century, the lake has long since dried up and and now the only the remnants of the lake are in the city sewers. Downtown, at the Zocalo, one can see the same level of water throughout all the grates, and some of the sunken, flooded buildings.

Most of the sidewalks have healed themselves since the 1986 earthquake, but the buildings look as if a giant hand had pushed them off-center. It makes one giddy trying to decide which is level, the buildings or the sewers? The answer is the sewers. Under the streets of Mexico City, water seeks its own spirit level.

Mexico Journal, August 30, Sunday, Alberto Blanco's house, Mexico City

August 30, Sunday

We have a long cena at Alberto Blanco's house Elsa Cross, Jorge Luján, his wife, Rebbe, Gloria Givertz, etc. Such talent all in one room. I'm not sure I'll ever see them again.

Last night John did the sea-cucumber whole gut spilling again, said he was looking forward to a two-month separation. This morning he was contrite, he says he does want to be with me.

I dreamt I was on a chair chain ladder, I was able to climb up it. But not down. John was at the top. There was no way to grasp the smooth surface without letting go of the chain. No transition to firm ground, terra firma to such lofty heights. John reached over to help me but began slipping in his rival persona, his alter ego rescued him. And he was resentful.

Always the dilemma of yes but no. There are two of him, two sides fighting, one on firm ground, the other on more treacherous ground, with me in the middle, with the most danger of falling. I stand the most to lose.

Tonight John wanted to make love. I said I didn't want to because we were separating for two months as agreed upon in Oaxaca, and it was easier this way for me. Apparently, he thought because he had redeclared his love, though amended, the arrangement was off, but he forgot to tell me that.

So I spent the day severing myself from him, I'm always hurt by his sea-cumbering, the  repetition only serves to make me isolate and wall off the pain in the same manner as I do for my chronic neck and back pain. The cellular approach. How do I feel inside? I honestly don't know. The thought of separation is painful, but I'm also really tired of this routine. I'm less willing to put up with it.

He moves to the couch for the second night in a row. I don't sleep well either way. I want things more concrete. If he says separation, then let's do it, not use it as a morbid bait. I almost don't even want to commit the details to paper because it seems so counterproductive to be in this space again. Oh God, not again.

My last night in Mexico ends the same way my first night here began, in separate beds, with the threat or the idea of the impending breakup looming over our heads.

Wednesday, August 26, 1987

Guatemala Journal: 26 Aug., Tikal, Guatemala City

26 August

Guatemala airport, we're waiting to get out of here on standby. John bribes the airline ticket clerks. I sit atop a pile of luggage. The latest US invasion of Honduras has thrown the airport into chaos.

I can't believe how much we got screwed by Avioteca's travel agent, Señor Gamboa. He overcharged us for the hotels and the taxi we paid for, never came to pick us up.

John raised hell this morning. We got 80 quetzales back, that about covers the fraudulent taxes we paid. Their attitude is that we're all rich and we deserve to be ripped off. Not exactly great for the travel industry.

I forgot to mention the amazing toucans flying from tree to tree with their ridiculous rainbow striped banana shaped bills, or last nights dinner of venison, puerco, and some piglike animal, tepasquintle, it sounds like the Honduran capital that we didn't get to visit. I'm sure it was either a tapir or a large rodent (like agouti).

We're all a little weak need from the trots and various ailments. I slipped on the Flores dock with my sandals on slick wood, and my heavy backpack threw me off balance. At one point I barely managed to keep from falling over the rail into the lake at Petén.

I was cinched into my backpack with bellyband and breastband, wondering if I could unhook it in time, or drown trying. I'm about to fall overboard, and no one sees me, they'll wonder where I went off to. They'll never think to look in the dirty lake. I compromised and did the splits, landing on my operated knee. It's swelling, but I think it's okay. Better than the alternative.

The woman doctor drinking coffee in the airport, bandaged my knees. We talked of the troubles in the Petén. She said it's very dangerous there because of the soldiers. I couldn't quite get it correct, the language barrier. Anyway, it's a bit scary here and we're rocking the boat with this travel problem. What are we supposed to do? Smile when they rip us off because we're gringos? And we don't want to be disappeared?

The Indians or the Indios, have a stoic attitude "live for today "that's all they have to look forward to, is today. The now.

Guatemala City Aug 26 postcard

















26 August. Guatemala City airport. Hi gang! Well, no one can say this hasn't been an eventful trip. The Guatemalan highlands are beautiful and the Indians are amazing. They are the most Mayan of all the tribes we've seen so far. The 20th century has landed softer here than in Mexico proper. But there is lots of racial tension between the Indios and the Ladinos. There are soldiers all over. Tikal is occupied by the Guatemalan Army. Roadblocks everywhere – soldiers with machine guns horsing around – some as young as 15 years old – themselves, Indians guarding the other Indians who have a stoic practiced calm attitude about them. The motto of "live for today" is all that they have. After of couple of exciting jungle adventures with the local travel, make that robbery industry, and the US invading Tegucigalpa, it's too hot. We decided we've had enough of Guatemala, and are trying to get out today on standby. My advice to future travelers is to avoid the cities: Antigua and Guatemala City have too much going on. The civil war is very present. The villages are wonderful, but the guerilla activity and the roadblocks are too unnerving. Too many people disappearing.

Tuesday, August 25, 1987

Guatemala Journal: Tikal (photos)


August 25 — Another Mayan mishap. Maya International Travel didn't pick us up from Tikal. If it weren't for Eric, a Frenchman with a Suzuki jeep, offering us a lift out of the jungle, we'd still be in Tikal waiting for a taxi that will never come.




We passed three or four roadblocks. The soldiers are more scary than the guerillas. And the Tikal guards were the worst. One flagged us down looking for subversives. Five gringos and way too much luggage piled up the roof of the jeep, there's no place to hide a guerilla.

We kept thinking about the Guatemalan archaeologist who was killed last week for running a red light. The police fired one warning shot and when she didn't stop, they open fire and killing her, and a lawyer friend. A stink was raised only because she was a prominent person.

The story of the two French girls comes back to me. The war here is very real. Eric is looking for his sister, a nurse who has disappeared. He fears the worst.

Two soldiers gather water from the alligator pond this morning in a huge 20 gallon aluminum pot. Ugh. Strain the water. A bush camp in the Tikal jungle, is a military training camp—halfway between Flores and Tikal.




The peasants and soldiers alike are constructing new palapas, new houses, or Mayan na. This raw jungle is new homestead land, they are relocating the peasants from the guerilla war zone.


All studied calm expression, the soldiers horseplay with their guns waving wildly at all of us. They are Uzis, that's how you can tell the difference between one group and another.

Another soldier casually points his gun at a the peasant lying on the ground. They too are Indios and everyone is so young. Children with guns.  The boy who flagged us down at the jungle roadblock, was no older than 16.

We hope we don't witness anything unusual for that would invite certain death.


Guatemala notes


We learn firsthand of the multinationals. Think Kraft, Wonder, Kentucky Fried. Monsanto invented 2–4 D, the pesticide that's killing the campesinos. The United Fruit Company has vast holdings in Guatemala. The stock market adds new meaning to the idea of a Banana Republic.

Then there's CIA intervention. With the help of the CIA (Operation PBSUCCESS), Guatemala fell back into the throes of dictatorship. And past direct military aid from the US, the UFC has kept them in power. The Bank of the Army is the largest bank in Guatemala.

The cutback began during the Carter era. Which changed the country's wealth.

An independent peace policy is not part of the US ballgame, like in Honduras. US support in the Petén jungle is anti-guerrilla. It has fallen to the role of the Armed Forces to resist the communist guerillas who have ties with Nicaragua and Cuba.

Prensa Libre, the anti-Nicaraguan columns, a conservative rag, and the FMLN in El Salvador, are enemies of the state. The elite class vs the farmers and the campesinos.

Missionaries in Oaxaca are converting the campesinos, in Antigua it's insidious. The evangelist take is all about hellfire and brimstone, domination, and Armageddon. Right wing religion is alive and well in Guatemala. Jehovah's Witnesses in Antigua, it's an imperialist takeover. The Catholic conservative liberal theology of upholding basic human rights has been completely subsumed. Washed in the blood of the lamb.

Evangelical protestants are extremely right wing. There is God, and there is politics. The premise of the evangelical movement: the Apocalypse is upon us. Ironically it really is upon us, thanks to the doings of Monsanto, the United Fruit Company and the Guatemalan Army fighting the campesinos.

Who gets saved, it comes down to individual initiative and free enterprise— it's a wide-open field to save all those souls and make some money on the side. It's all about money in the end. The primeval Mayan Lacondones are now the prime target of the Seventh Day Adventists. Just leave them alone. They don't need your religion.

Guatemala is the overseas empire for religious zealots. What's in it for them besides saving 7 million souls? Why are all these conservative Christian millionaires dying to save so many souls? Does it all come down to United Fruit stock? What is the position of United Fruit in the community? There is that evangelical savage attitude toward Indian communities. There are goon squads waiting to kill those who step out of line, or protest.

At Santa María de Jesús the missionaries were looking so superior, so smug, wearing those false pious faces. The evangelicals and the soldiers have teamed up against the Indios. They plan to break the resistance with religion and guns and bad rock and roll.

Tikal is a strategic hamlet, an outpost of soldiers, while the guerilla are back of the volcanoes in the highlands. Otto-Raúl González, the former communist Minister of Agricultural Reform was fighting for peasants' rights. Human rights. His law degree thesis was on the socioeconomic reality of indigenous peoples, and agrarian reform—placing the ownership of land back into the hands of those who work it, not UFC.

Peaceful peasant groups organized, and were killed. Robertija Nunchu's younger brother was lit on fire. The Guatemalan military has absolute government power to eradicate what it perceives as enemies of the state from every walk of life. And we put it there. Opponents of the state are disappeared.

At the ruins near the zócalo at Huehuetenango, the birthplace of the ancient ancestors, the campesinos gather. The children are not in school, they are selling their pulseras on the streets. There is not enough to eat. Visions of the future. The status symbol of who grows up to be soldiers, versus guerillas.

Soldiers of the Criollo-run Guatemalan Army, the Ladinos, carry the Uzis. The guerillas, the Indios, and the left-wing students, carry AKAs which is a Czech version based on Soviet AK-47s. I now know the difference between UZIs and AK-47s. This isn't going to end well.

We have entered the politically correct country, a dictatorship of US-owned bananas and coffee.


Guatemalan Highlands, postcards



Indigenas mercado de Chichicastenango
Mercado de Palin

Lake Atitlan postcards








Monday, August 24, 1987

Guatemala Journal: Aug. 24, Antigua, Guatemala City, Tikal


Monday the 24th (catch-up journaling, storyline's a bit convoluted)

No use explaining about the way time evaporates here. Sean says to Terese, Time is like a river. When you die you hold your breath forever. In that instant between life and death is the end of the universe.

Climbing the pyramids of Tikal, we watch howler monkeys and wild ocellated turkeys and bands of parrots. The roaring jungle. It is not quiet here, insects are like rasping saws, or the metallic roar of lawnmowers in synchopated rhythm, some like distant phones, others like roaring furnaces.

There are diminutive paths through the jungle made by leaf cutter ants. Outrageous butterflies, toucans and stunning birds with bright feathers traverse the humid air.

At the Temple of the Jaguar, the steep ascent was scary and the descent was even worse. When I looked down, I thought I was going to faint at the top of the Temple of the Jaguar, and fall all the way down to the ground.

I look out over milpias, cornfields and learn that la canícula (dog days) is their name for Indian summer after Sirius, the dogstar (they, being Indios, it would be silly to call it Indian summer), and cayucos are dugout canoes. So Cayucos in California is the place of canoes. You can hear the work kayak embedded in the Spanish cayuko as well, from caique, related to coracle, and curragh? Convergent evolution or coincidence?



I never even mentioned Antigua with its one-story buildings and the numerous ruins of churches. The last big earthquake in 1976 leveled most of the town. Bernal Díaz del Castillo, the first governor de la ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemalan, (Antigua), once a Mayan capital, Quauhtemallan (forested land), was buried here. But the church fell down on him. James of the horsemen of the forested land.

When the crater rim of Volcán de Agua collapsed, the city (Ciudad Vieja) was was destroyed by a lahar. The new city, Antigua Guatemala (got that?) founded at Pachoy, was the capital of Guatemala. But a huge earthquake in 1773 destroyed it, causing Volcán de Fuego to erupt. The capital was moved to the ruins of another Mayan city, Kaminaljuyu, and renamed Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción. Guatemala City too is plagued by earthquakes, but not like Antigua.



We wandered into the ruins of El Castillo (Iglesia y Convento de la Compañía de Jesús?), the thick walls were two stories high. There are no tall buildings here. It is the land of earthquakes. Fragments of glazed tile glisten like jewels among the rubble. A Humpty Dumpty kind of town.


I think this is La Iglesia y convento de las Capuchinas
Convento e Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza




Santa María de Jesús, on the saddle slope of Volcán de Agua, ten miles from Antigua, is called the cantina where the men cry. Not sure why, but ice is gathered from the volcano, perhaps to chill the chicha?

Santa María de Jesús has been overrun by Mormons and evangelists proselytizing with dueling electric guitars in the plaza. Bizarre. Hard to say which European religion has done the most damage in Latin America.

We climb the steep slopes. I watch the volcano for signs of smoke. Volcán de Fuego has been grumbling lately. Last major eruption was in 1974. Smoke rising from the summit. Small earthquakes rock the region. The earth is shaking like a wet dog, the churches are the first casualties.





We don't like Antigua, after Panajachel, we make wild plans to escape. All our wild plans to Tikal fall through, and re-materialize. The men go for the package deal, which includes transport and hotels. They have made a decision. Forget about the fine print.

When we arrive at the jungle hotel we discover we been ripped off for over $100 US. John loses his suitcase, there is no hot water for three hours, and we only have three hours of light by generator, and dinner is a dive. We pass a bad night, banks of mist collecting in the treetops, where fireflies continue the patterns of the Milky Way into the darkness of the trees and mist.

The tail of Scorpio is nearly overhead. We have been stung over and over. There is no light pollution here for miles and the stars are numerous and bright like in the Sierras and we are only 300 feet above sea level.

The jungle is cooler than we expected but even still, it takes something out of us, and it saps most of our energy just to explore the rooms. There is so much to see, and there is still so much unexplored.

The lights dim even as I write, the generator threatens to fail and leave us in total darkness. It is really dark here. Heart of darkness. You can't even see your hand in front of your face and there are animals out there who love human bodies. Aside from the mosquitoes who are illiterate, and bite us, no matter how much bug juice we apply. Dengue fever from the day mosquitoes, and God knows what from the kissing bugs who nest in the thatched roofs.

The archaeologist have removed much of the undergrowth, leaving an incredible landscape of pathways. Strange to see all these houseplants are growing wild. Philodendron, liana, ceiba trees, zapote trees for lintels, and chicle, (a wood harder than iron 70 pounds per cubic foot).

Strange foot-long orange millipedes and hummingbirds bathing in puddles.



Yesterday, a hummingbird caught behind the glass door at Lillian and Raúl's place in Guatemala City was nearly inhaled by one of the dogs. I grabbed it to let it go thinking of its poor heart, as Raúl turned gray and sat down. His heart is acting up and he uses enough nitroglycerin to knock out a horse. It absorbs through the skin he feels a bit better.

I immediately fall in love with my friend Donna's cousin Raúl, but John sees him as part of the ruling class. Perhaps. But Raúl and I get on like a house afire.

Sr. Raúl Moreno shows us his extensive Mayan collection which is larger than most museum collections. I hold a clay pot that is 4000 years old. I play on tiny ocarinas. Raúl and I play a tinny duet on instruments that are thousands of years old. He said that many objects were smashed during the big 1976 quake, and yet nothing on the shelves is protected by glass.

Much of his collection has been extensively photographed and appears in books on Mayan art, and has been loaned to museums. He excavated most of the work himself. They call him Professor Moreno. Sr. Raúl Moreno is an amateur archaeologist who is in love with learning.

Raul shows me a smoking mirror made of magnesite, metal from a meteor, not obsidian. It is so highly polished, I can see myself. He sticks a magnet on the back, it's made of  interstellar iron, of course. I can't quite grasp that I'm holding a piece of the fallen stars in my hands.
I am reminded that in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, all the saints wore as many as three mirrors, so that when you worship them, you saw yourself in their realm. The mirror is at hand.
Later they drive us back to Antigua and we nearly faint from fear with Raúl behind the wheel, his eyesight can't be too good with the diabetes either. I don't know which is more frightening, the guerillas, the Guatemalan Army, or Raúl behind the wheel.


I take very few photos of Indians. I don't like intruding with the camera. Much of what I've seen in Guatemala I'll take back as a memory, rather than a photo. I've done very little writing except to catch up on the events in spurts, and certainly no poetry has stumbled forth waiting to be born. There's so much to absorb.

Huxley was right, this is the most beautiful country in the world, with its remote volcanic lakes, its highlands, and Indians and ruins.

It seems we've moved from one guerilla territory into another. Many more soldiers in the Petén jungle than in Atitlán. They are army. They scare me with their casual pointing of guns. The natives don't seem too alarmed. Or maybe it's a studied calmness. I can barely look at them, and give them a wide berth.

The French girls recount how the army stopped the bus from Atitlán, they made everyone get off the bus and everything was searched. The girls didn't have their passports on them, and were harassed. Moral: don't go anywhere without a passport. It could've been worse. People have been shot for less.

The roadblocks are real, though we've only passed through them, and have never been searched. There are several gates, and roadblocks manned with soldiers who look like they'd be happy for an excuse to test their guns. It makes spontaneous travel a bit pressured. We're careful to stick to the touristed areas.

Saturday, August 22, 1987

Guatemala Journal: Aug. 22 Panajachel, Santiago Atitlán (photos)

22 August

Our first night at Panajachel, we couldn't find a place to stay, and spent the night at what everybody called the Nazi's compound, sharing a great two-bedroom bungalow. The taciturn owner was seriously creepy, dressed in tan jodhpurs, black riding boots (nary a horse in sight,) with his doberman pincers patrolling the grounds. Compared to the other places we saw, it was very expensive at 92 quetzales each, which is something like $2.55. Port in a storm, John said.



The next day we moved around the corner to Casa de Huéspedes Santander, which was very cheap, but it was quite nice. No weird vibes. A good thing too, as John finally came down with the 24-hour fever, replete with aching and trots. The rest of us are recovering slowly. We've already been there and back again.


Casa de Huéspedes Santander

We took the mailboat boat to the tiny village of Santiago Atitlán and wandered through the marketplace and got a sense of what a Mayan village is really like. We towered over the diminutive Mayans. And I'm not tall.


The mailboat boat to Santiago Atitlán

For sale: baskets of tiny dried fish in three sizes. Crabs trussed with palm fronds really got John's attention. How to you keep your live crabs from walking off. Such strange fruits. Considering how far away we are from the ocean. I thought maybe they were land crabs. But the fisherman assures me that indeed they come from the lake. Was it once part of the sea? It's a caldera.



Everywhere we look, it's a riot of color. It doesn't seem appropriate to shoot photos here. Sean shows me how to shoot from the hip, but the shutter is so noisy that I'm spending all my time looking not recording via camera, or by journal. I want to buy a purple woven top and skirt, but John buys it for me.I am touched by the gesture.



The xocomil, the afternoon winds that carry away sin, rise up and churn the surface of the lake. I think Lake Atitlán was once a very large crater. Two huge volcanoes Volcán San Pedro and Volcán Tolimán, in the middle of the caldera, rise up to 10,000 feet. The tallest, Volcán Atitlán (11,598 ft) near the southern rim, is almost a perfect cone, all part of the Ring of Fire.

Volcán San Pedro

The lake itself is over a thousand feet deep. One of the most beautiful lakes I've ever seen. Aldous Huxley thought so too. Atitlán means "at the water" in Nahuatl. The water never escapes the crater to find the sea. Introduced bass have eaten most of the native fish species, and crabs, which has in turn, endangered the giant Atitlan grebe.


In 1976, a 7.5M earthquake fractured the lake bed, causing the water level to drop seven feet within a month. More than 26,000 people were killed. The drop in the water level, revealed several ancient Mayan villages, Sambaj, and Chiutinamit, like the mythical underwater city of Kêr-Is, or Ys, dates back to 250 AD.


Panajachel, surrounded by steep crater walls, sits on a rich alluvial plain made by Río Panajachel that fans out into the lago. Panajachel means the "place of the matasanos," the white sapote fruit tree in Kaqchikel, a Mayan dialect. Nahuatl tzapotl means a soft, sweet fruit. Native orchards of sapote, pitahaya (dragon fruit), and avocados amid the coffee fincas.

Some pitahaya (dragon fruit) at the market.

We spend our last evening buying native weavings on Calle Santander. I buy red placemats, napkins and table runners. There is one television hooked up outside the cafe at the crossroads, everyone brings chairs, or petates, native Guatemalan mats, and sits right in the street to watch the TV, their only link with the outside world. The Black Christ, or is it Maximón? watches on.

Panajachel nestled in the Sierra Madre range, in the southern highlands, more than met up with my expectations of Guatemala. I am sorry to leave this place. Like Chichicastenengo, Panajachel is a Hippietenengo haven on the Gringo Trail. Somewhat glad that the civil war has kept the mostly German hippie influx at a minimum. I don't think I could bear it otherwise. Onto Guatemala City.



(expanded & revised 10/17)

Friday, August 21, 1987

Mexico Journal: Aug. 22, crossing the border


Many days later, so much as happened after Chamula, we discovered the nightmarish apparitions I was plagued with were for John. Sure, I could blame the 24-hour bug for my delirious delusions.

But it turned out that his friend Kayla really had died that night. She appeared three times in my dreams, she wouldn't go away. When I described what she was wearing and showed John her stance, he said that's Kayla. it was a message for John. They had parted on bad terms over poetry. I guess it was payback time.

San Cristóbal de las Casas is so full of tension and hatred especially toward women. I was glad to leave the place. At the Guatemalan border, an official tried to exhort a thousand pesos from the couple in front of us. We squawked loudly. A comedy of errors, we team up again with Sean and Terese. It's four against one. We all get in free. No additional mordita. Things are looking up.

We board a Bluebird yellow schoolbus and head for Panajachel. I marvel at the dark green Naugahyde seats, and turquoise ceiling. The bus brings back childhood memories. So that's where all our old school buses went, to Guatemala, on a banana republic student exchange visa.

Wednesday, August 19, 1987

Mexico Journal: Aug. 19, San Juan Chamula on horseback (photos)


We rode to the village of San Juan Chamula on horseback, 6 miles each way. No roads. It's good to be back in the saddle after so long, but I'm sore. John's horse spooked when his rain gear whispered and flapped and nearly bucked him off. I nearly fell off my horse, laughing. The land is severely eroded. Red earth bleeding.




At Chamula, where you purchase the tickets to enter the church, is a stash of confiscated cameras. An effective warning. We are here on their terms. Photographs are forbidden.

Hybrid Catholic Mayan church, San Juan Chamula

Inside the hybrid Catholic Mayan church, large bolts of chintz material are draped from the rafters spanning the ceiling. There are pine needles on the floor. And all the saints lining the sides of the church wear shaving mirrors at head height to remind us. And the floor is lit with candles everywhere.

Mayans chanting. Copal burning. Coca-cola bottles, the gods' drink of choice and home brew. It is very spooky and is very holy. It is the center of power, you can feel it, we've been searching for this place without knowing it.

I was overcome with tears at the main altar. We offered up pine needles and rose petals and lit two candles, concentrating on the convergence.

At the altar of the three Marys we light another candle. And the soft voices of Mayans chanting in an alien tongue fills the darkness.
Outside, we greet the elders who give us permission to take photos of the outside of the church for 300 pesos. We offer them two old silver quetzal coins. They are very pleased by this gift and don't let us pay the full price.We are no longer tourists, but long lost friends. We shake hands several times to come to complete this transaction. It is sealed with aguagardiente.

The ride back home to San Cristóbal de las Casas was long and cold. But good. A long day.


This might have been Aug 18. I didn't date it.

Tuesday, August 18, 1987

Mexico Journal: Unharmonic Convergence


Last night, a series of nightmares plagued me. During the long night of the Harmonic Convergence, three green apparitions kept reappearing. During the first nightmare, I screamed. And woke myself up. But I could still see the greenish apparitions. 

The second time it happened, I was irate and wanted them to go away. But as soon as I fell asleep, they reappeared, coming at me until I was up, awake, screaming, and running around the bed, scaring the crap out of John. It was as if I was in a fugue state. I was tired and just wanted to sleep.

I showed John how one of the dream beings came to the foot of his bed —how it stood there, and how it moved. An older woman with grey hair in a loose ponytail, dressed in a jeans skirt, a baggy turtleneck, wearing Birkenstocks. Very Berkeley.
I  mimicked her stance and mannerisms so perfectly, John said, That's Kayla, whom I didn't know.

By that point we were both thoroughly wide awake, so we spent the rest of the night sitting cross-legged on the roof. We sat back-to-back, with our elbows interlocked—facing east and west like mirror image Chaak-mools. The roof became our ceremonial square, the center, its navel. Forget the ley lines. We needed a midnight curandero ceremony to set the world right.

We watched the Milky Way whirl overhead, dazzlingly brilliant, watery stars—no light pollution. We worshipped the moon. We watched dawn break over the mountains, and the path-sweeper, Venus, fade on the horizon. Then we stumbled down off the roof to reclaim our murdered sleep.

The second presence was someone I thought knew, someone saying goodbye. (Later I would find out it was Dave Evans). We weren't sure about the third presence—it felt both insular and ancient, it was both good and evil. A dark animalistic
Tzotzil Mayan entity? A bat god? Tzotzil means "people of the bat," 

I had trouble convincing myself (or John) that I wasn't making this stuff up. Or was it merely a dream, the aftermath of fever? Harmonic Convergence? I think not. The Katibak, the world of the dead was upon us. I dreamed of quetzal feathers, and wondered who my animal spirit was. How to reclaim my soul.

But there have been so many murders in Chiapas this summer. And it seems most of them were women. There is palpable tension between the Indios and Ladinos and the gringos. The unrest of the indigenous peoples is gaining strength, even among the Lacandón, said Trudi Blom, the Swiss anthropologist of Casa Na Bolom. 


San Cristóbal de las Casas carries a heavy psychic burden. It is not a place for the faint of heart.


Monday, August 17, 1987

Mexico Journal: Aug. 17, San Cristóbal de las Casas storm (photos)

17 August, Monday, San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Since Oaxaca, it's been a full schedule. Again, where to begin? Silvio Rodriguez is soothing our frayed nerves this morning. The Harmonic Convergence has been anything but. The dark side is strong here. We've been battling with the gods, and they have found me.

Yesterday we hiked up to the source, Ojo de Agua, the eye of water in search of the Moxíquil for the convergence. We're climbing straight up the steep hillsides. we had mucho fear of robbers the ladrones. The tall, stolid Anglo girl we met at the bus depot—her tale of being raped in the country three days ago, leaves us stunned. There's so much misogyny and hatred here.

The footpath is the only highway to the mountain villages. Tzotzil-speaking Indians. We adopt an elder indio couple for protection. Their Spanish is very weak and she warms up when I ask the names of plants. We tell them of the uses for a plant I recognize: Indian soaproot. He translates this for his wife. We have made a bond. I plucked white geraniums from the trailside.

At the trail of the three Ys, we turned right and the couple hiked onto their village, With many fond adioses and hugs, we sadly part. The trail to the right eventually leads to another village on the outskirts of San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Later at Casa Na Bolom, I learned from Trudi Blom that bunches of geranium with pine needles are gathered to dispel bad dreams. I must've unknowingly kenned that. All I needed were creen crosses and copal.



The boy driving the burros and the horse up the mountain doesn't know where the temple is. No one we meet does. We descend into the village an hour later and catch a collectivo back into town. There are so many people inside the van, we are riding shotgun.

We barely make it to the Santo Domingo church before the cloudburst. Hail. Hail the size of peas. Torrent after torrent pouring off the church gutters. Hail bouncing across the wooden floor during mass, and everyone taking shelter under the church eaves. The Tzotzil name for this place is Jovel, “the place in the clouds.”


Water runs down the streets as if they were canals. And we have to wade from corner to corner. Indian women barefoot, or in plastic sandals, plunge right in, heedless of the flood.



Saturday, August 15, 1987

Mexico Journal, August 14 or 15? Living theater event, in the courtyard of an old hacienda

(I wrote this in my imperfect Spanish, probably because I couldn't simultaneously translate and write, so this is a loose translation from my poor comprehension of the language. And since I'm transcribing these journal notes in 2017. I remember I fully entered into the drama, as it unfolded, and was transfixed. There were ghost characters interacting with the main characters. The playwright used personal experience to characterize the larger social issues Oaxaca is facing on the eve of revolution.)

Living theater event, in the courtyard of an old hacienda, Oaxaca.

The maestro de teatre introduced himself and gave a discourse on the premise of living theater. He said the function of theater is very important and the form is the total sum of the differences between the reality of life, and the grand passion of the Catholic Church. (Church and state vs. the real drama of life.)

The premise is of a mother and child from the campo, surviving in the city. It brings up the past, spliced with familial memories, and juxtaposes them with the present day reality. There is a proposition and the possibility that takes the powerful moments of life and juxtaposes them with the ideal situation where everyman too is represented. It's a very powerful message, defined by a life of possessions. And there is possession of the spirit  too.

The sentiment of the other function, the other arts, we communicate with this process. The function of class signifies everything, it is the reason for the arts, for music. And we quickly go with the rational process. It is not solely national, it is not solely based upon positive emotions. And I think it makes us want a more relevant God.

The maestro continues: I think it's very interesting, at 2 AM, the terror in the night comes. Yeah it is bad, it gets ugly for about 30 minutes. The emasculation of the cast. I very much would like the participants (you) to think of the motive, it's very facil, and it's revealed, little by little. The theatrical piece is ambiguous, with many profound ideas. (He breaks the fourth wall.)

He said: I look at the miracle of Brecht and think on the social structure, in the practicality of life. The plays of Brecht, I understand, but I don't do sentiment, exactly. The work is hard, and is socially profound. It is meant to be difficult. It's the theater of change, the theater of life. It is authentic theater.

(OK that premise was blowing my mind as I am a Brecht fan, and I have been involved with the living theater of Julian Beck, and have seen productions of The Committee, so, in a sense, it was old home week. Something I certainly didn't expect to see in Oaxaca, which I had labeled a provincial town.)

He continued: There are many controversies within the strength of living theater. For example the inspiration, in some cases, it's 70 years too late for change. The social context of the lands of the country has changed, for example Columbia, the tribulations of the country is interesting. Meanwhile there is much violence.

The Latino theater of the United States, the people get it, it's very clear and very explicit, it's curious, and relevant. It's all about the individual. The change is active and it brings out the commentary and the neuroses, it's also a very necessary social function. It preserves the political, and honors the land. It takes the cojones of imperialism of the United States, and adds the customs and the values of the people, this is the theater of Latin America—very curious.

The international theater focuses more on imported classicalism. And caught in the middle are the artists. We have to go back and look at the Mexican theater, it's very satisfying, and 80% of the people believe that it is a mirror of society. Focusing on the little houses, the microcosm, then it's just there. We have to look at the theater from the outside to understand the values or the strengths. It's a pertinent art form.

Yes, there are anti-Latin Americans in the United States but the process of art is also the process of life. It is the public personae. Though it is one language and it's ceremonial, but it's also factual. It includes contradictions, and it is very smooth. I don't know about the causes, all I know is the country. The situation of the campesinos is horrific, and you have to capture it and then process it....
(.....I'm bailing on this because it's too hard to translate from Spanish.) He talks about the social context in various countries, Columbia.... Not sure if he's referring to the Zapatistas. But he mentions the violence. Which was palpable in Oaxaca. This theater movement seems important, the theater of change.... It was a memorable theatrical experience.)

Mexico Journal, broken camera, Oaxaca


My camera is fixed! It cost 10,000 pesos: 5000 for a light meter and then 5000 for fixing the lens. The camera repair man said the little eyes of the light meter are smashed beyond help, that the lens he packed with grease and he tightened and the advance knob fixed.

But the eyes of the camera, the eyes that read the light are smashed, and they are unfixable, he said. I am trying not to think this is a metaphor for things to come. I am so grateful, I could kiss his eyes.

I buy a used Weston light meter made in the 1950s, just like the one I have at home, which was my uncle's, for $10. Now I have two old light meters. A new one from another store, was $32 very expensive. Muy caro, I said. I learned to use the light meter. Finally. My darkroom co-worker, Phil Osborne, at The Paper, will be pleased.

Never drop a camera from a height of 5 feet onto a cement floor and expect survival. John was moving my things in the cupboard and didn't see the camera nestled on top. I feel extremely lucky. I was afraid the internal damage would be too extensive. But the Panasonic K-1000 bodies are built like tanks. But the Vivitar lens spits out  a trail of tiny ball bearings every time I zoom.

The eye take on a new form. The pineal eye that sometimes appears on certain species with no known reason, the light, how to view the world. The light.


no date Aug 15? also not sure where. Oaxaca?

Friday, August 14, 1987

Mexico Journal: Aug. 14, Oaxaca postcard

















Well, it rains like hell here. Summer is the wet season. Thunderclaps loud enough to scare the wits out of you. Big zags of lightning, mountain valley., Zapoteca Indians, mosquitoes, and ruins. Monte Albán. Numerous sacred sites, some still in use. A sidetrip to Puerto Escondido. The Pacific, warm enough for a hot tub. The coral, bright fishes. We found paradise at Hotel Santa Fe for $20 a nigh. Muy caro, very expensive, however the open air restaurant facing the sea, the palapas with their thatched roofs and Spanish tile work, and a pool and the architecture, well worth it. We've made a serious dent in the pulpo,  the octopus population. Octopus with garlic is $4-5. A bathing suit here is dress-up. If you really want to wear shoes, well sorry. Next stop San Cristobál de las Casas. for the Harmonic Convergence on August 16. Have you been reading your Doonesbury lately? PS this card may arrive in September. Save the card for me please.

Mexico Journal: Aug. 14, Friday, back in Oaxaca, Casa Arnel


14 Friday Oaxaca:

We're glad to be back at Casa Arnel. Afer two bad days of turista, aches, fever etc. and then it's gone. The dead man brought it on, I think. The extra days we stayed in Puerto Escondito, were spent in shock. And I was too sick to travel. I think my camera is beyond repair.

I've discovered the people on the gringo trail all seem to be alike. Or is my tolerance just way down? I can't stand it when John goes into guide-bookese speak, partially because I'm really tired from the turista. Nothing like a good bout of tourista in paradise.

I think I like being mute, preferring the solitude that Spanish lens. Me, because I understand more than I can speak. And no one knows, not even John.

The woman brings the parrot out on a broom. For once Michael is mute. But Ruby wants his fried egg now, he says in parrotese. The small birds come and steal their food. The canaries are silent, still under wraps.

I like the poem Denise Levertov wrote about the dying woman's garden. Better than her Oaxaca poem.

The cat, missing her kittens, is quiet with milk fever. The Señora comes in from marketing, she's carrying roses. All the roses they sell here. There's nowhere one can sit without the flower sellers swarming you. Chiles and more chiles. A weeks worth of chilis—more chilis than I could use in five years.

The parrots clatter on. And we joke about feeding them chilis. There are so many people living here, I can't figure out the connections. Who is family and who are the servants? A foolish pigeon with  missing tail-feathers, struts close to the cat. The cat rolls in the morning sun. I peel off a perfect replica of my nail, a thick plastic layer of nail polish.

We are on the Gringo Trail, on the way to the Harmonic Convergence, the first globally synchronized meditation event. We are converging from all corners of the globe all because John's friend, poet Ivan Argüelles twin brother José, said so. OK, so he invented Earth Day, I'll give him that. He's an interesting painter.

But this is BS and everybody's cooing over it as if it was the next great thing. What if we awaken the Mayan gods, then what?


Mexico Journal: Aug. 14, pots at the museum


Descending lizard pot. Fat dog pots. Foot cups, leg cups, hand cups. Cups for every part of the body. Yes, that too, drink from the spout of the penis cup.

An old woman with a few teeth, gladly welcomes us with outstretched arms and hands, she bows. Wrinkled and flaccid.

A comical man wears his sandal straps between the middle ring toes, ouch! The pouch around his neck is empty. He wears leather wristbands with key latch knots. His tongue is out, is he chewing on a cigar? Is he lacing his tongue with a scourged rope? Bloodletting?

A mask of a corn god with his eyebrows raised, his smile is slightly askew. He's very much a human individual, he is not stylized. The model is at hand.

The fertility god has ropes across his body. A trinity of ear and lip plugs distort his face. He's kneeling, a sacrifice?

A flock of three-legged pots look like they'd like to all run off but aren't sure how far they'd get. Running in circles. What was stored in them, cacao?

A codice with tiny footprints lead the eye from the story frame, to the story henge. One codice of a mission, and one of an Indian priest sitting down on his throne outside.

One notes the styles of headdress, another depicts a thatched hut, or na, that demonstrates how the fronds are attached. An encyclopedia of daily living.

Several parrot heads are painted on a frieze. All the little footprints lead out of the na, the house, to the garden. Ceiba trees, and in the garden, there is maize, and peppers, sapote and cacao orchards, and thousands of frogs.



no date, no place, I suspect it's a museum in Yagul, or Oaxaca.

Mexico Journal, August 14, the ball court mural

Jugando de Pelote mural

At the ball game of life and death there are three players on each side of the court, and 26 viewers, with four at each end. The high priest stands in the middle. A referee.

A mother with babe in arms, and friends, many lovers gather round. A child, looks off to the back of the courtyard. The woman with the baby in her arms, is gossiping with a man. She is not paying attention to the game.

Another woman sits with knees cradled in her arms, staring with frank approval at the men. A tired child rests on his father's shoulders, who also isn't paying attention to the action.

The players in woven jerseys, are broad shouldered, they square off, and bluff it out. Player A is guarding the ball. Player B is standing at the ready to intercept. The goalees are alert for a skirmish.

This is a ball game that was important enough to be reported on the temple walls over 500 years ago. We will never know what team lost their heads.




No date, no location. Probably Yagul

Wednesday, August 12, 1987

ON THE WAY TO THE HARMONIC CONVERGENCE


In Mexico City, on the third day of August
flaming horses fell from the sky.
16 Argentine gods fell on scores of people
waiting in line for the bus on their way to work.

In Puerto Escondido we watched
them pull a drowned man from the sea.
His heart stopped but his watch
was still keeping perfect time.
And the children screamed at the horror
of this hulk that once was a man,
their father, now a frothing deadweight
as they tried to raise the dead.

We swam in the blue depths with the fish
and saw the last things a drowning man sees.
Those children will grow up hating the sea.
What it took from them.

The tourista takes me in
with fevered images along with real ones.
Who could have forseen flaming horses
falling from the sky like that?
The dead man was hefted up,
a slippery weight upon the shoulders
of his bumbling rescuers.

I've broken my camera.
This place cries out to be photographed.
I'm a one-eyed bandit
creeping after form and color,
light and shadow,
trying to memorize the light.

In dreams the oracles begin to speak
through me. I try to memorize what was said,
but the words are always gone by morning.

11 or 12 Aug. 1987

Tuesday, August 11, 1987

Mexico Journal: Yagul, the Valle de Tlacolula, Mitla, Oaxaca (photos)


I've lost nearly all the photos of Yagul (Yegüih), in the Valle de Tlacolula, the camera opened when it fell from such a height. Photos of the largest ball court in the Oaxaca Valley, fretted stone mosaics—gone. Also many of the photos of  Monte Albán, one of the earliest cities of MesoAmerica (500 BC), gone. But I will never forget los danzantes. Like Matisse's dancers, carved in stone.



We climbed out of the precipice, even there, pre-Columbian pottery embedded in the walls. They must've broken many pots and deliberately put them between the stones and adobe. I imagine the pot breaking ceremonies we used to have in Thano Johnson's ceramics class. We hold pottery that is 500 to 800 years old.

Yagul is half-way between  Oaxaca and Mitla. Yagul, from the Zapotec, ya (tree) and gul (old), or old tree. Yagul, aka Pueblo Viejo (Old Village), was considered a late site, on par with that of Mitla, and was first settled ca. 500-100 BC, but most of what survived is from 1250-1521 AD.

The name Oaxaca is from the Nahuatl, Huaxyacac, from huāxcuahuitl, (Huaxim in Mayan) referring to the guaje trees, aka mimosa, wattle, or acacia (scourge of California), the leaves and pods are a staple food, and forage legume (another name is horse tamarind.) 

We hiked down the spine, there are acres of corn 500 feet below us, like verdant lakes, reminding us that Mitla is the homeland of domesticated maize. The guide takes us back into the labyrinth, to the throne. We step on the displaced round stone stairs that leads to a ball court. John describes the game in lurid detail. A high-stakes game where you don't want to lose your head. Literally.

The labyrinth of the six courtyards still has its original stucco. Each room has its own tomb.

A jaguar and morteros, holes filled with slimy green water on the bluffs where the constant breeze took the chaff away. An abandoned metate, and mortars near the path as if someone had just stepped out for a smoke.

This is the first place I felt the presence of the gods, or at least what it was like to live there. Mitla's palaces are less imaginable to live in. Amazing, the stonework, where we had lunch in the museum, I want to paint and paint.


Not sure of the date

Sunday, August 9, 1987

Mexico Journal: Tule, Oaxaca



The Tule Cypress tree at Tule (Santa María del Tule), the stoutest tree (33 feet across)  in the world, with a circumference of nearly 140 feet, is about 2 to 3000 years old— older than Christ.  Only our redwoods match it in venerable girth and age.


El Árbol del Tule is often called the Sabino tree, or el ahuehuete (āhuēhuētl, old man, or drum of the water) in Nahuatl. Some say that the Montezuma bald cypress (Taxodium mucronatum), was planted by a priest of Ehecatl, the Aztec storm god.

Whatever you prefer to call it, El Árbol del Tule is the sacred tree of the Zapotec creation myth. The tree has long since outgrown the church plaza, they say it is slowly dying. Though it is drought tolerant, the tule springs that once fed it, and kept its roots wet, can no longer quench its thirst.

Someone tells us to look for the six dwarfs, the jaguars, the giraffes, and the elephant hidden in the gnarled folds of the trunk. What ever animals you see in the folds of the trunk, it is a party animal, and has its own annual fiesta the second Monday in October.

There are six other massive cypresses in town. Valle de Oaxaca must've been a marshy lake-bed at one point. Even the native acacia trees here are old and venerable.

 


No date. Written near Aug 9 post.

Mexico Journal: Mitla, Lambityeco, Oaxaca


In Mitla, the colonial church constructed atop the pyramids, is not a pyramid but is similar to the governor's palace at Uxmal. Mitla was the main religious center, so the church had to obliterate the claim.

Mitla, in the upper end of the Tlacolula Valley, has the grandeur that other Zapotec, or Mixtec structures lack. Not a korbeled arch, but lintels are carved in the famous  Mitla design, mosaic of waves and cloud patterns, the column of life.

Settled about 11,000 years ago, Mitla his the homeland of domesticated maize around 3-2000 BC. Natives ate maize, beans, tomatoes, chili peppers, squash/gourds, and chocolate.

It was hard to see the sculptures of the dancers, but there was a wonderful Jaguar tomb. Mitla, from the Nahuatl, was called Mictlán, the nine underworlds of the dead. Sort of like Dante's Inferno.

At Lambityeco, we followed the path down to the creek, and found good examples of pre-Columbian pottery including including a leg from a small breasted pot. It was three legged with a hole in it to keep it from exploding during firing.



Lambityeco is a part of the larger site, Yeguih, or Yagul which either means small hill or old tree. You pick. Lambityeco is a Zapotec word for hollow hill (salt mines), or, still mound—a good thing when gravesites are involved..

The guard showed us his collection of stylized polychrome shards, jade beads, obsidian arrowheads, granite axes, etc. Later, some young boys approach us and offer to sell us a small Tlaloc or Chak-mool sculpture, but we decline. I am torn by the duality of their wanting to preserve the past, but their need to make money off it in the present.

There are also good 3D examples of stucco clay sculptures over the two entrances to the tombs. I am agog.



No date. Written near Aug 9 post.

Mexico Journal: Aug. 9, Puerto Escondido, Puerto Angel

Aug 9 Sunday

Puerto Escondido: finally we're in paradise, I am so thankful to be in the tropics at sea level— after a rough morning. Dropping my camera on the cement floor like that, I am without my eyes, and that she bitch on the other side of town, made it the way all to the plaza before dying. People walked around her, thinking she was asleep. And in death she achieved the escape she sought.

Would they understand if I had put her out of her misery? The slow lingering death of a dog one tropical summer afternoon. Her bony hips like a blonde mountain. She died silent, not noticing the change from day tonight.

Without eyes, my mind frames photos all over the place. We're staying in the best hotel in town, at $23 a night, but it's worth it. Yesterday with no room reserved we went to El Jardín, only to witness the patron stash a few ounces of grass outside our window.

I'd had bad vibes about the place since we first set foot in it. John was saying, Any port in a storm. A shitstorm waiting to happen. And we got it the hell out of the place with fear in our eyes.

The first hotel we wanted, Hotel Santa Fe, suddenly had a room available. The gods were with us. But sleep was fitful. I kept waiting for the masked entrance of a murderer.

In all of this traveling, I've lost a few days. Here in Mexico, only a week; I feel like I've had three vacations. First in Mexico City, second in Oaxaca, and third one here.



Gabriel from DF (De Effe), Mexico City, is translating some North American poets Lowell, Whitter Bynner, etc. He gets to stay in paradise for a month. God, that restaurant facing the sea, barefoot, enjoying cafecitos. Eating pulpo al mojo de ajo every night, and putting a serious dent in the octopus population. Ah, to have a palapa in Yelapa.



The geckos have come out, hunting moths as the gray sky fades to obscuridad. Too bad they don't hunt mosquitoes too. A gecko nearly shits in my dinner. Beware of small foreign objects falling from the ceiling.

Pulpo al mojo de ajo—octopus and garlic. Divine.
Yesterday, a man walked from the surf carrying a small octopus.
Today's dinner?



Puerto Angelito

Snorkeling in murky water, angelfish dark and rise in a multitude of blues. A boxfish eyes me. Blennies and wrasse everywhere. Blennies, with their suction mouths, move away, the wrasse follow the path we break in the water, nibbling on extra tidbits kicked up by our passing.


If I hadn't put Sunday in my journal, I couldn't have dated this entry.

Tuesday, August 4, 1987

Mexico Journal: Aug 4 María Engracía & Jorge Vallejo's party


Last night's party one of those perfect events where everything is so memorable, in focus and one is aware of the specialist at the time and place, it was perfect harmony. 

Lourdes sang my poem, Horseflesh, with an effortless beautiful voice. It was very moving, the song is included in Jorge Luján's Espectaculo, mine is the only one in English. Also included were poems set to music by e.e. cummings T.S. Eliot and John Simon. What a lineup.

I gave María Engracía the Chichén Itzá book of photos of the Museum of Anthropology. I should send her some other larger prints. Alberto Blanco liked his photo, even with the lampshade halo over his head. When we return from Guatemala, I will do more for him possibly for an upcoming book photo.

John and I decided not to go to Belize after a Belize Airlines plane from Argentina crashed into Mexico City, killing 40 people on the ground, its cargo was 18 horses. Polo ponies. 14 horses were killed outright, one died later. Another was found grazing on the embankment, but he was so badly injured, he was put to sleep. I am haunted by dreams of horses falling from the sky.

Meanwhile in Mecca, nearly 700 pilgrim pilgrims were killed. The Iranian pilgrims burned an American flag, and the Saudi police fired into the crowd. Getting the news is rough these days.

I gave Monica Monsour a copy of Carolyn Forché's Gathering the Tribes, and I gave Alberto Blanco a copy of Robert Hass's Praise and I gave Jorge some new e.e. cummings books. Something of my homeland. 

The wines I bought from Sonoma County, we drank last night. Jorge Vallejo, the archaeologist, Maria Engracía's husband, was very appreciative. I love great men, we chatted about anthropology for quite some time, and he was very good at explaining Spanish idioms to me. It was a sublime Spanish lesson. 

It is much easier for me to speak Spanish when the other person has a few words of English to help me out and to correct me, it also helps if I'm a little bit drunk. The words come easier. 

August 4, 1987