In Mexico, you don’t put your trash bins at the curb to be picked up. The garbage truck drives slowly down the street, honking its horn, and residents run out to put their own trash into it. The guys working the truck separate out some plastic bottles and cardboard by hand. I’m not sure where those go in the end. I’m not sure where any of it goes, actually.
I recently made a post of phone pics from San Luis Potosi, one of my stops on the way to Oaxaca. Here is an image from my Olympus taken the same day and converted to B&W.
I’ve now been in Oaxaca for two weeks, and retired for close to a month. Friday, I drove back with a new friend from an overnight with another new friend in San Mateo Rio Hondo (pics later). As I pulled over for the 3rd or 4th time to let a driver who was in a hurry pass, I remarked to my companion that it is nice to be retired and free of time urgency. I feel blissfully relaxed. Each day passes as I want it to, and if something doesn’t work out, there is always the next day. Of course this is an attitude that shouldn’t require retirement to attain, but hey, I’m retired.
I have been writing five days a week at Convivio. Usually I spend between 3-5 hours on the first draft of Ocean.
I have also been devouring other people’s books. So much so that I have reactivated my Goodreads account. I have an author page there, with a journal that I occasionally post to. You can follow or friend me over there if you want. If you have read Atmosphere, I would of course appreciate a rating/review at Goodreads as well as on Amazon. Here’s my latest Goodreads blog post:
I am beginning the last of four days away from Ocean. Naturally, I have read a lot. I just finished The Dali Lama’s Cat, a delightful look into the life of, you guessed it, the Dali Lama’s cat. I imagine it will introduce many cat lovers to the elementals of Buddhism. Before that, I polished off Peter Kuper’s sketchbook journal of two years spent in Oaxaca during and after the 2006 uprising. It was an interesting, thoughtful presentation. I also read Roman Blood, by Steven Saylor. It is your basic murder mystery/detective novel set in ancient Rome. It was OK, if formulaic. Unlike The Skull Mantra, by Eliot Pattison, which delved deeply into and relied on the culture and history of Tibet and the Chinese invasion/occupation, Roman Blood was only superficially dependent on its setting. Next up, Barkskins, by Annie Proulx.
As soon as I download photos from my camera, I’ll post some pics of San Mateo, et al.
That last image connects to the first. When capitalism is unchecked, and income inequality becomes so extreme as to be untenable, Communism can gain a foothold. Desperate people will take desperate measures. The United States would do well to heed this warning, especially the corporatists within the Republican party. Capitalism can work, and work well, but only with healthy regulation and a strong socialistic safety net.
The first mask you saw is from Sonora. Beyond that, I didn’t bother to read any of the labels, I just enjoyed the visuals. The museum was very dimly lit, giving the whole exhibit a very spooky ambiance. All these photos were taken on my phone. The blurriest I didn’t include.
I have no idea why so many of the mannequins were cowboy themed, with chaps and whips or lariats. Well, I suppose the one with the horsey skirt makes sense… It really is a remarkable collection. If you ever stop in San Luis Potosi, I recommend a stop.
Zacatecas is all about exercise. There are no level streets and a lot of stairs. That’s a good thing, as there is a lot of great food here!
There are a lot of tourists in Zacatecas, but I have seen no Europeans or Americans, just Mexicans. I was looking forward to a market I remembered from 2009 that sold only books and periodicals, some quite old. It is gone. The printed page has been replaced by sweets, cheap jewelry, and Chinese junk. Señor Velarde would be saddened.
First job, purging. The goal was to drive south with everything I own while still having a clear view through the back window. I came pretty close. This is everything but the art I have collected from my friends. Once I added that, I covered everything with blankets and had an only partially obstructed view.
Next step, get my second shot. Almost no issues at all. Spent a delightful night in an Air bnb with two friends, and didn’t detect any side effects until the next night when I might have had a fever and a slight chill.
Took three pics on my way through New Mexico to the border town of Columbus/Palomas.
Covid took one last shot at me in the form of documentation. During the pandemic, all car registration was done virtually, so I didn’t have a physical piece of paper for the Aduana, and nobody likes paperwork more than the Mexican bureaucracy. So I stayed an extra night in Deming and printed a copy at my hotel. On the good side, I had a great posole for dinner.
Next morning, I drove across the border, eager to get an early start. Of course the Banercito office that takes payment for vehicle permits wasn’t open until 8, so I stood around before being bounced from window to window so they could make my printed registration sufficiently official. Then I drove through inspection. The officer went through my stuff a bit more than cursorily. I told him my plans to live in Oaxaca. He said I should have paid taxes on all the household stuff I was importing. “So I have to go back?” I asked. He smiled. “No, next time,” he said and waved me through.
I’ve taken the cuota, or toll roads all the way south, except for a stretch between Durango and Zacatecas where there isn’t one. The roads are well maintained for the most part, and traffic moves quickly, at a speed significantly above that which is posted. At times, there is only a two lane road, but Mexico deals with that in a most efficient way. They have a shoulder almost as large as a full lane, with a dotted line. If traffic on both sides straddles this line, there is room to pass without anyone slowing down. This would never work in the US, because of the power of the American ME, but in Mexico, courtesy is in the culture, and this usage of the shoulder is also codified in law and posted on signage. An entire range of speeds and vehicles was easily accommodated.
I saw a few puestos militares in northern Chihuahua, but never had to stop again after that. One Guardia Nacional officer flagged me down because I didn’t have a plate on the front of my car, but after explaining that Arizona doesn’t do that and a detailed conversation about mescal and varieties of agave, I was on my way. In Ciudad Chihuahua, I was pulled over by a bicycle cop for making an illegal turn while trying to find my hotel. That cost me a $50 bribe.
There are eight photos from Chihuahua. These are all taken with my Android, by the way.
I had dinner not far from this spot. Chihuahua, like most Latin American cities, has a large area in its center which is reserved for pedestrians. These areas are always vibrant with life and commerce. The US could learn a lot and benefit from getting people out of their damn cars. One thing I was heartened to see was how out and proud the LGBTQ community is becoming in this traditionally macho and uber-religious country. There was far more diversity in the crowd passing while I ate than I would have seen just ten years ago. Granted, this is a big city, but that is where change starts. Next morning, I headed south for the very long drive to Zacatecas. I have a couple more images from Chihuahua.
I would love to take some photos of the area around Palacio Gomez and Torreon, Coahuila right after a rain. The geology is spectacular. The pollution from whatever industry and mining is going on was oppressive, and ruined the view, along with the lungs of anyone who lives there.
Northern Zacatecas was also gorgeous, and I will take photos next time I am driving through. I was eager to get here and off the road, so I didn’t stop and wait for the perfect light needed to photograph the deep red loamy soil, green vegetation, and blue skies.
After about 8 hours and two tanks of gas, I made it to Zacatecas and my luxurious hotel which costs as much as a Motel 6. I went out to dinner, and on the way back encountered more evidence of Mexico’s maturation, a large manifestacion or protest for justice and democracy. The focus was on women, LGBTQ, and indigenous people. It was peaceful with a police escort, on Easter Sunday.
I’ve written about this image before, and the subtle brilliance of the slogan. The difficulty of revolution, at least for the revolutionaries, is that it ends, and then they must govern. “Hasta La Victoria Siempre” literally means “Always Towards Victory.” In other words, perpetual revolution, with the finish line receding as you approach it. That allows someone like Castro to rule a country for his entire life. A well designed slogan is extremely powerful.
Labels are also powerful, but in a different way. Where “Hasta La Victoria Siempre” is open ended and inclusive, labels are reductive and restricting. They distil an idea, a group, or a person down to one simple idea or a small set of criteria. Sometimes they even do away with ideas and criteria, describing without describing, manipulating by calling up visceral emotions created in the listener at some point in their only vaguely remembered past.
It is especially important to take care when labeling oneself. One of the first questions asked when people meet is “What do you do?”. Most introductions include some kind of label. “This is my friend Dave, he is a writer.” The introduction or the answer to that question give you a framework from which to begin communication with the person you are meeting. By eliminating outliers and nuance, a label enables one to enter some sort of relationship with the person one is meeting.
If you answer the question “What do you do?” with a long complicated speech about your entire life and how you got here, most people’s eyes will glaze over. If they listened, they might have a fuller picture of the person you are, but most people won’t. So you choose something reductive and simple. “I am a writer,” or “I was a painter, then a photographer, and now I’m writing a novel,” which is similar to what I often say.
I don’t say “I am a Democrat,” or “I am a Progressive,” unless the conversation is about politics. When I do self label in such a way, a myriad of assumptions are made by the other person regarding everything from my stance on issues to my moral character. Many of those assumptions will be correct, but many others will not, because, unlike a label, a person is nuanced.
Bernie Sanders would be president now if he had not labeled himself as a “Democratic Socialist.” I don’t know why he chose the label. I can understand it, based on the policies and philosophies he espouses along with my own knowledge of world political history and economic theory. Bernie’s problem is that the word “Socialist” is misunderstood by most people, including his own supporters. Socialism is not Communism. Making our country more Socialist will not turn it into Cuba or Venezuela. It also won’t make us a Swedish paradise. We already have a lot of Socialism built into our political and economic structure. All these arguments were made in support and explanation of Bernie in both 2016 and 2020. It didn’t matter.
As soon as Bernie, or AOC for that matter, embraced that label, they handed their opponents a cudgel and knelt down to be beaten over the figurative head with it. It is one thing when the Right hurls the label of “Socialism” at every program they don’t like. In doing that, they dilute the word, just as the Left neuters the power of “Fascism” when they use it at every turn to describe the Right. Imagine, though, if Mitch McConnell came out and said “I am a Republican Fascist.”
Keep imagining that.
Now do you understand why Bernie lost?