Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Stage notes for LA LLORONA, a performance I did for Oakland Readers Family Night

LA LLORONA                                                                                   

Welcome/bienvenudos. Me llamo Maureen, o Marina o Maria pequena.  

BEGIN with HOOK: This is a tale, a very old tale...about a girl, a beautiful girl, who...

Sientate mis hijos. Come closer. Donde esta mis hijos? Closer so that I may see you. Venga aca! Sientate.

This evening we are going to visit Mictlan/ the Otherworld para Todos Santos. Cuantos personas comprenden Engleis? How many people understand Spanish? Bilingual? 

Bueno, yo hablo solemente en Russo. 

I’m going to tell you a real Californio ghost story. 

This evening we are going to invoke el duende/the goblin wind with a story that’s at least 500 years old. Cantadora, cuentista, curandera, seanachie...huehuetatlolli (words of the elders), tlapuetzali (story) historia para todos santos. a real temblón, a shiver story.

Listen well to all the parts because after, we’re going to act out the play for the audience. Insert historical info about halloween/Aztecs /oral tradition whenever possible.

HELPERS: Quisiera tres o quatro ninos para ayudarme para traducciones porque no hablo espanol bueno, mi lenguaje es muy simple y rustico, especialmente un historia con lenguagje suave. Disculpeame!

LA INVITADA: THE EMPTY CHAIR. TELL STORY Use Joe Hay’s version. (take audience requests/responses for direction) put on white face as I begin to tell story, transform into character. Black cape with skeleton suit underneath... White sheer scarf for ghost.


Maria (dressed in black or white, with a blank mast, or a horse head)

Abuelita (scarf, shawl)

Hidalgo & horse (hat, hobbyhorse

2-3 children


A river (green silk: 2 kids to wave it)

The wind, The moon


narrator directs

PROPS: flashlight/moon(also for scary bits),

green silk for the River Guacamole

noisemakers, rainstick, fan, bells, etc.

scarves, hats, etc

ELEMENTS: A beautiful, but poor (native/slave) girl falls for a man above her station, a Don Juan, a hidalgo, a Californio, a ranchero, or a Spanish nobleman, and has 2-3 boys by him (living in sin) but is cast off by him for another woman of noble birth, a highborn Spanish woman for his real wife. He either takes her children from her, or comes only to visit them. She either witnesses the marriage, or when he comes for the children, he spurns her, and in a jealous fit of revenge, under a full moon, she stabs. or drowns them in the river, or they fall in (neglect). She dies, falls against a rock, or drowns. Next day she is found by the river and the townspeople dress her in white and bury her there but she haunts the river at night, especailly when the moon is full, and the wind whistling, looking for her children so that she can get into heaven. 

Other tales have her dreseed in black, either with a horse’s face, or blank. She always wanders near water, under a full moon, with the wind whistling, looking for lost children. Whatever version of the story you know, the moral’s the same: a warning to young girls to marry properly, beware of falling for a pretty face, or a man who won’t be a good husband, and a warning to all children come straight home at night or La Llorona will get you. ENVOI: a true tale about a boy who didn’t believe, is caught by her, escapes by praying when he hears church bells.

CLOSURE Tell my real ghost story about la Llorona in San Cristobal de las Casas (Dave Evans & Kayla). OR Have audeience members share their versions.

END with the Provencal Arthurian (Celtic) protection charm:

Avanti avanti maleficium defense (out out, dark spirits)

Honi suit que mal y pense (get thee behind me...)

* * *

(I’m not going to use all of this, it’s mostly background to draw from)

Why this story? perhaps because I just returned from Cayo Hueso, the island of bones, or because it’s almost el dia de los muertos: a tradtiona the Irish and Mexicans share in common. Both suffered from colonialism, and prolonged revolution, and both had their cultures threatened by Colonial powers

When I was a child, I learned Irish stories from my grandmother’s knee. I learned that Halloween, or the old name, Samhain, Feis na Samhna, (the feast of an ancient god), was the last day of the old Celtic harvest year (Oct. 31-Nov 4. There was a calendar shift in 1735) and that it was dangerous to go out at night because the doors between words opened and the sprits from the other world, that enchanted place where the gods and fairy folk, the Tuatha De Dannan, lived. The dead could visit our world, and we could visit theirs...but that’s another story...THE NEW YEAR is brought in with stories.

There were other customs too, putting the hearth fire out, the druids relighting it, cleanig the house, hollowing out a turnip light for each window  —pumpkins are from the New World—putting a candle in it, so that the family’s dead could find their way home. My grandmother dressed in rags, and carried a bull roarer bladder to scare away bad ghosts and went trick or treating. If they sang a song, a poem or danced, they were rewarded with a treat.

But there were also more dangerous beings trapped in the Otherworld as well, and on Halloween they escaped to roam the terrestrial earth. The Cailleach, the hag, and especially the banshees—the women wailers, would roam the hills looking for their kin. This is why we wear masks on Halloween, so they won’t recognize us. Samhain is very similar to El Día de los Muertos. The Irish and the (Aztec/Toltec) Mexicanos share many traditions in common. The Irish myths maintain that their ancestors came from Gaulish Iberia, and the Gallegos, or the Galicians, are distant cousins of our Irish ancestors. The Luisitanii are perhaps the most famous tribe from the port of the Gauls. from them we get place names like Lisbon, and Portugal. Both cultures fought single combat (war fot he flowers) Both believed life was a dream on the way to death (the brave dead become birds and butterflies

I didn’t think it strange that my best friend, ’Lupe—Guadalupe —Villaneueva, knew stories similar to mine, that of La Llorona but I didn’t know her by that name. I knew of banshees, the women of the sidhe (the Mound, the grave barrows of Ireland), who wailed whenever death approached. And the cailleach, the hag who sometimes appeared as a beautiful young woman...Each family had their own banshee, ours’ howled and knocked at the door in the middle of the night whenever anyone in my grandmother’s family died.

Lupe, with her green cat eyes, would scare me as we walked home from catechism on Thursday evenings. We got out of class just as darkness was falling, and walking home along the old road, from Lagunitas to Forest Knolls with only the moon to light the way, we told stories to shorten the road, and it was a long one indeed. More than a mile to Forest Knolls, along the creek. We lived in the country in the days before streetlights. My own road was another mile up the hill, with no one but my imagination to walk me home. And the owl moaning as I entered the forest along the creek, I could see white logs shining with phosphorus, I believed they were chasing me like big white snakes moaning like la Llorona. I was terrified to walk that lonely passage at night, I used to run as fast as my short legs would carry me.

Stories are always being reinvented to fit the needs of the people. Has anyone ever played Gossip or Telephone? (whisper to someone, who repeats it). Well, you know first-hand how stories change with each repetition. At UC Berkeley, I studied Celtic mythology and history, and I studied the cultural anthropology of Folklore. One of the things I learned is that there are many variations of stories and they change from locale to locale, from place to place. How many people know the story of La Llorona? There are many versions. Some say the story of La Llorona is more than 500 years old. Some say it was pre-conquest.

Well, the story of La Llorona began in Tenochtlán. Perhaps in 1502 or 1503, when the Spanish came to the New World. Where is Tenochtlán? Mexico City. Near Xoximilco, the place of flowers. Poetry is the flowered word. Las palabras floridas. I will tell you some flowered words, and perhaps scare you with a story as well.

One verson of the story of La Llorona spread up Mexico and up the Rio Grande, through Texas—wherever the padres built missions, and converted, or subjugated the Native Americans. Another branch of the story traveled up California with Junipero Serra. But there was a large distance between the two places/lugares. And the stories changed.

There are many songs/canciones about La Llorona, and many modern writers have added their personal history to the story: “El Mechudo y La Llorona,” by the famous Spanish poet, Ramon Sender, whose son, a friend of mine, lived in Sonoma County; New Mexico’s Rudolfo Anaya, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Sandra Cisneros, Joe Hayes, Alma Villaneueva. Hector Armenita is writng an opera. Gloria Anzaldua’s version is a children’s story “Pretita and the Ghost Woman.” In 1992 it even entered the New Age market in Clarissa Pinkola Este’s book, “Women who Run with Wolves.” Most people say that the story was told to them by their family, usually by a grandmother...

The Southwest version usually tells of a haughty beautiful but poor girl filled with pride (bad), usually named María, who falls for a handsome but shiftless man above her station. She hooks him, but he leaves her and her three children to marry a noble lady. Like the Greek Medea, she takes revenge, or is driven insane by grief, and drowns her children in the river, and jumps in herself. The townspeople find her along the river and bury her. But at heaven’s gate, she can’t get in without her children, so she wanders the river at night under a full moon with the wind whistling looking for her children, crying “Mis hijos, mis hijos, donde esta mis hijos?”

The California version is more sorrowful with symbols of pain as sadness and probably contains fragments of the myth of the Mexican creatrix goddess, Cihuacoatl, consort of Quetzalcoatl, who is both light and dark; good and evil. We Californians focus on the part of the story where la Llorona wanders the land looking for her lost children, and she has become something of an urban legend, with many sightings throughout California. She is a genious locii, like the Sovereignty figure of Ireland, the land as a beautiful captive woman, weeping.

POSTLUDE: Besides hearing Lupe’s short version, I learned one version from Ramon Sender-Morningstar, and another version from storyteller Georgia Churchill, as “La Girona.” it was years before I realized the connection between Girona and Llorona, merely an anglicized pronunciation. La Llorona, a manifestation of Cihuacoatl, Quetzalcoatl’s mate, or María Coatlalopeuh, aka Guadalupe, or call her Califia, or Gaia. Her handmaidens who guard the corssroads were called the Cihuateteo.  Her cries always herald the advent of war.  "Oh my children!" she wails into the deepening night; "your destruction has arrived. Where am I to take you?"

La Llorona may have arrived with Fray Serra who was fond of "Our Lady of Guadalupe."  The star-draped, turquoise-shrouded Virgin first appeared in 1531 to a poor Aztec farmer recently converted to Christianity. Cuauhtlatoatzin ("One Who Talks Like an Eagle") walks in the Tepeyák hills, a luminous woman appears, singing to him in his native Nahuatl. The figure says she is María Coatlalopeuh, later degraded into "Guadalupe." (Nahuatl doesn't contain the letters d or g.) In his language coatl means "serpent." On the shrine of Tonantzin, the all mother, the virgin. mother of Huitzlopochtli, the war got, she appears. Guadalupe is cast in a more virginal light vs. the shadow: La Llorona, the Weeping One, (María) who, betrayed in love, drowned her children to spare them from growing up in a cruel world and who perished, her white-clad shade condemned to wail and wander near moonlit waters. (She is a dual goddess. La Llorona’s alter-ego, Guadalupe, is named after a town in west-central Spain, the name, a corruption from the Arabic that means "river of love, river of life.")

La Llorona AKA Doña Marina, La Malinche,  Malintzin, Malinali or María Under the fifth sun, in the year One Reed, 1519,  the empire fell, among the many gifts Cortés aseen s Quetzalcoatl, received from Moctezuma is a 14-year-old female interpreter of noble descent sold into slavery by her family, who kept a son, and proclaimed her dead. The Spaniards rename her Doña Marina; the Aztecs call her Malintzin, a variant of Malinali. Cortés is married, but he makes her his mistress. She will be called traitor, La Malinche (Captain's Woman), and Chingada. Malinche bears him a son, the first mestizo. in 1520, la Noche triste, the empire fell. Moctezuma dies. Some say she killed her son so that he wouldn’t suffer the pain of conquest.

In 1532, Cortés names California after the island of gold and pearls ruled by the pagan Queen Califia from Garcia Montalvo's heroic fantasy novel The Adventures of Esplandian. The Baja base closes a year later, but no matter. The colonization of California has begun. In 1550, after the death of La Malinche, three years after Cortés, the story travels north to Alta California. There have been urban legends of sightings ever since. In 1550,  is the first recorded sighting of a veiled, white-garbed ghost of La Llorona, "the Weeping One," who materializes in Mexico City, sobbing frightfully, calling out for her dead children, wandering, inconsolable, near a lakeside lit by a feverish full moon. And in 1810, the Virgin of Guadalupe figures as a source of inspiration in the Mexican Revolution. Sightings of her continue to spread beyond the confines of Mexico. During the War of 1812 with Britain, an earthquake destroys several California missions. (The Chumash believe earthquakes are caused by the movements of a serpent whose immense coils frame and fill the Earth.) 


Wednesday, October 8, 2003


in vino veritas/ in praise of the grape
  —An occasional poem for the Coppola Niebaum Cafe, 10/8/2003

It was on one of those achingly clear days in Fall, like today,
when the coastal ridges bezel the sky into lapis lazuli.
Because the harvest is in from the fields,
long nights of roulette with the weather are done.
Indian Summer has again sweetalked the grape into honey,
and coastal fog suckled up the river canyons at night
has teased that hot, sweet passion of sun and stone
into a diaphanous gown of noble rot and bloom
so that we may freely dance under the Hunter’s Moon.

Kirkegaard said the spirit of occasion recorded in the mind
is an indelible distillation of watery particles of memory—
like the generosity of wine shipped round the Horn.

On the long journey from vineyard dust to the delta of tongue,
we toast that struggle towards civilization: we raise our glasses
to the murals of Las Caux, to the pharaoh’s last offering,
we celebrate the miracle of water into wine, where, under a Tuscan sun,
Caesar’s Gaulish legions drowned solace at the bottom of amphorae,
where Cortez and Columbus decreed wine to grace the New World,
and an army of padres marched north to the tabula rasa of golden Califia
with their precious cuttings for the sacrament of the altar chalice,
where a Hungarian Count Haraszthy, slipped the first zinfandel
into the sweet Mayacama soil, opening her bounteous vein...
We toast the past with this fine wine, older than recorded history,
yet as young as the next harvest, into the poetics of the dream

Where we hold to the party line: In Vino Veritas,
because there will always be poetry, to be sure,
and not only fine conversation steeped in wine,
where we swirl the stem to observe the other
between veiled sheets of glycerin
cascading into a slow waterfall of desire.
And there will be eloquent speeches—
not to be made, except in vino,
and no truth to be uttered here,
excepting that which is in vino—
where wine is a defense of truth,
and truth, a defense of wine.