Wednesday, December 31, 1986

Puffins, Ken Larsen, watercolors


Visiting the Polivka family in Paradise. Their daughter was a friend of Ken Larsen’s. The old folks are gone as is the son who sold Ken the VW squareback I painted. Ken said the family sold  the Paradise house a few years ago. Polivka was an aeronautical engineering who fled Czechoslovakia after WWII.

Below, a study of puffins. Every once and a while, we would get buzzed by puffins blown off course. What those arctic pelagic birds thought of Point Reyes National Seashore is anyone’s guess. My grannie loved watching the puffins when she was a child in Bantry. I did these puffins from photos, I guess. I don’t remember.


Nasturtiums painting

I'm not sure of the date on this watercolor, circa the summer of 1986, or 1987. I had carefully trained these nasturtiums to cover an ugly concrete and rebar wall in John Oliver Simon's back yard. He, not seeing the beauty of my handiwork, tore them all out while he was readying the garden though they were not taking up any garden real estate. I was heartbroken, I salvaged what blossoms I could, and then painted them. Watercolor and gouache.

Nasturtiums 9x12" watercolor & gouache

Friday, December 26, 1986

Christmas Day, hung over, with a parrot, Mexico City

Canadá 40, Coyoacán:

Burrrrro! Oh, burrrrro! Uh-oh! Aha! Anna? Anna! Yo quiero Coca-Cola.The parrot in the courtyard below keeps shouting and whistling TV slogans. He yells Burrrrro! and Lorrrrro! and repeats his entire repetoire at the top of his lungs. I wonder where the burro is hiding. Inside my head. Oh!

John has gone exploring in Coyacán for breakfast. I'm translating Spanish from a parrot. Hola he says. I'm translating messages from the parrot world. Oh, hangover!

Pan dulce, papaya, jugo, we have breakfast at Jorge's. Every place is closed today, it's Christmas. Last night the entire city partied until dawn. No one told me that Christmas Eve, or La Posada, was an all night affair. 

María Engracía's family was wild. At 3 AM I was utterly exhausted, drunk, ready to sleep under the table, but the night was still young. Her husband Jorge, I liked very much. We spent the evening discussing the Rosetta Stone. I found out later he was an archaeologist. I wish I had known, I have so many burning questions. But oh, my head. El perico dice: ¡Lor-r-r-ro!

Mexico journals
added 9/17

When I later told Jorge Luján, who was staying at his girlfriend Rebbe's flat, the story, he said: You must be imagining things. The neighbors don't have a parrot. ¡Ojala, tengo un dolor grande en mi cabeza!

Christmas en DF, Mexico City

Mexico City fragments: Xochimilco


When I was a child, I fantasized about going to Mexico City. I read up on Tenochtitlán, and the canals of Xochimilco, the floating islands, caught my fancy. I wanted to visit the Museum of Anthropology too. Well I finally did get to Mexico City.

You still can see some of the canals and the standing patches of water, but most of the lakebed of Xochimilco is filled with cement. The temples have been torn down. I walked on paving stones that once were part of Tenochtitlan. The basilica of the church is made of ancient dressed stone. Tenochtitlán still lives in the hidden hearts of stone. 

The underground lake still lives beneath the city. You can see glimpses of it beneath the sewer grating on the streets. The ancient lake is hidden in those cavernous depths.


added, slightly rev. 9/17
Xochimilco, in Nahuatl, is: a place seeded with flowers. Xochitl- flower, -milli- seeded land, and -co place.

Thursday, December 25, 1986

Christmas en DF, Mexico City


December 25, Mexico City.

The transition from one culture to another still takes time. Absorbing this culture, I've been mute. John's friends here are all very special, an anchor I seem to need.

On Linea Dos, riding the tram into the Zócalo, the first day here was mas dificile para mi—for me. The first time I went to Baja, the same thing happened. I was overwhelmed by so many little things. But it is the people who have so little, begging for cambio, for change on every corner—the poverty is so deeply ingrained, it profoundly affects me. I am in tears.

On Linea Dos, a blind Indio with his family sang a beautiful haunting melody and people plinked pesos into his cup. Somehow, it was the timbre of his voice, that sobbing pathos one hears in a song, that brought me to tears. Welcome to DF (pronounced De Effe, for Districto Federal), the dark heart of Mexico City.


Tuesday, December 23, 1986

Winter solstice, Chichén Itzá

Winter Solstice, Chichén Itzá

I'm inside El Caracol, Chichén Itzá, at sunset. During the solstice, light neatly passes through one opening unscathed, with little shadow on the side walls. magic.

Sunlight wraps itself around the walls, illuminating them. I go camera crazy. In the top chamber, I take photos of John with refracted light. He is a sun god.
You have to rock climb in order to get up inside El Caracol. The circular stairway ends 12 feet above the outside hall. A tree trunk beam with carved steps near the opening to the roof offers a way up. John enters the circular stairwell. I climb an outside wall. The distance from the beam to the opening is too far for me to span. I need to try another approach.

From the top of El Caracol, on the observatory, you can enter the stairwell but then you must crawl on hands and knees because the stairs were not meant to be used in the upright position. It's about reverence. I scoot up the steps on my fanny, thus startling some Mexican boys on their way down, not many women come here. It's not an easy journey.

On the top of what's left of El Caracol, there are three slots on the roof, sight-lines for star constellations, the moon and Venus. One wonders what other astronomical observations were made here. The guidebooks place an unusual emphasis on Venus. It seems that Venus is well represented, or the guidebooks are all rather simple.

On top of the outer wall, sections of the roof had caved in, one looks down into the dark heart of El Caracol. And dreams. Time stands still. We will never know what astronomical alignments they marked.

The Yucatán is basically a flat limestone terrace raised a few feet above sea level. To the south, a long line of hills breaks the view. these hills or pu'uc rise less than 360 feet above sea level along the rift that shoved them up. A string of cenotes, or sinkholes, are visible from the air. Round wells in various stages of collapse. Jade green water necklaces strung across the Yucatán.

There are tropical fish in the sacred cenotes of Chichén Itzá, at least 100 miles inland from the sea, and there are no natural rivers here. How did the fish get here? By hurricane? By land, or sea? Where they planted here by Toltecs, or by the Mayans? Or were they trapped here during a hurricane and evolved into freshwater fish?

We hiked to the profane cenote, secular is a more apt word, and the soil gives way. We careen down a steep slope and grab at some trees to stop us. The descent into the cenote is like falling into the jaws of an ant lion's sand trap.

Inside the cenote, we discover an overgrown water temple. The land is riddled with limestone arches and partial caves. Some looked painted. So little has been done here, there is still so much to discover—even at Chichén Itzá.

At Kabáh, we find the keystone arch, the gate to the city, 11 straight miles from Uxmal on a straight, raised Mayan road. Sacabe, or sacabeob, the sacred white roads. There are no cenotes here, the Mayans are entirely dependent upon the vagaries of rain, and the capriciousness of Cha'ac, or Tlaloc in Toltec. Near the temple of the long nosed god, there is an altar to Chacmul with his head turned toward the sun. We eat bitter Mayan oranges from a wild orange tree growing in the rubble of a fallen edifice. Bitter orange, naranja agria, or Su'uts' pak'áal, is a medley of all the citrus flavors of the world. It's also the main ingredient in the chicken, and the cochinita, or puerco pibil dishes indigenous to the region.

Each pueblo strung along the main highway that travels the length of the Yucatán peninsula is like a tiny jewel encapsulating several eras of history. The Na, or traditional Mayan thatched huts stand alongside colonial buildings with their imposing tall double doors, replete with windows that open out into the world.

Topos, speed bumps, steep enough to launch your car like Steve McQueen's famous car chase scene in Bullitt, keep most of the cars at a reasonable pace. Iridescent wild turkeys (Meleagris ocellata) and pigs continually cross the road, along with the ubiquitous chickens.

A small Mayan dog, the tz'i', a delicate hound with soft ears, is seen slinking around nearly everywhere. The Mayans have nine words for dog, whether it was eaten, sacrificed, or raised to the status of a deity. In the Mesoamerican calendar, Itzcuintli, the tenth day is the day of the dog.

The diminutive, well-proportioned Mayans readily smile at you. Women carry buckets of corn to the granary, and  bring buckets of cornmeal back home on their heads. More women weave white huipil shifts, long lace petticoats, and the skinny Mayan shawl that doubles as a head cushion for a heavy-headed load.

Men everywhere on bicycles carry large bundles of wood from the jungle. An older man carries wood on his back, anchored with a forehead strap, the bundle of wood nearly as big as he is. Coatimundis and long-tailed blackbirds hide in the jungle, painted with the brilliant plumage of unnamed birds. Chuckwallas, temple guardians, enjoy their small spot in the sun.

I dreamed of iridescent feathers
falling from the sky
and we raced after them,
collecting their bounty in our arms.
A bouquet of such promise.

12/23/1986
Chichén Itzá
added 9/17
minor revision