Category Archives: friends

Through other eyes

If you get the news in any format, you’ve heard the whining, cursing and lamenting about the weather in the east.  It is severe, for sure, but it is just weather, we can adapt; and as I heard from a guy at the Swedish embassy a while back, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”  I personally like inclement weather in general, and snow especially, and even as an adult get up in the middle of the night to take a look.

But we have in the house now Cynthia, a Californian who doesn’t see much of it.  Yesterday when she came into the house, without taking off her wraps she went over to the sink, where I saw her bent over gazing down. At what, I wondered.


There was a small mittenful of show she wanted to savor up close, in this way.


She is not weary, jaded or inconvenienced by snow, but has a fresh childhood fascination. Neither that nor the snow will last forever.

ImageEnjoy them while they — and you — are here.

a happy holiday

I find myself within this family that I have joined and the stuff that comes with it:  tsk-tsking about a family member who, alas, has become Christian, and what would the atheist parents say about that!; the family matriarch,  a retired Ivy-educated professional woman, whose every waking hour is dutifully prepping or cooking the next meal for her adult partner and other family members; my in-laws who after 30 years of marriage – the second for each of them – openly show affection; a “walk” in the woods that includes shears and shippers to make the trail as they go.

What the hell am I doing here?

Helen Hine 2

I escape the death house. 

When I went in to leave off some food I would not be able to use before leaving Mexico in two days’ time, Helen was lying on her bed, bloody from breaking through her own skin, wet from urine, clutching Deborah, the young housekeeper recently brought in to help, with a relentless grip on her arm and thick braid. She was saying something in neither English nor Spanish over and over, not responsive to anyone.  An hour earlier I heard a solid five minutes of “no, no, no. . .” 

It seems that Helen was going to die on this night, 30 October.  I had understood that her son Keith was on his way, coming last night, but family friend Pablo said that he had no valid passport, so will arrive with his wife on Friday 1 November instead. I would like to meet him, after our brief phone conversation in which he seemed to share a lot about Helen’s life with Agostino, his readiness for her death. He thanked me for what I have done, which is nothing aside from an email to strangers to ring an alarm that there has been a downturn.  I sent also the two photos I had taken of Helen, and the mention that I had wanted to write up notes about my conversations with her.

While I thought she was in the process of dying, I left for the sacred space of San Pablo (discovered while I was on a solo walk on March) to hear the music of Nybram, a musical group from Colombia.  I heard them in concert two nights earlier in another sacred library space, Biblioteca Henestrosa.


I have almost written some positive things about the Catholic Church here. Its buildings here in Oaxaca are ancient by US standards – 200 years old, some much more — generally open to the public for a sit-down, cool in the summer, warmish in the winter, with artwork ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Churches are state-owned and the flock of padres and sisters are not supposed to be on the streets in clerical garb.  But the spaces that seem “sacred” are libraries.

One big rich guy – the cousin of Carlos Slim — has attached his name and money to a foundation that funds the salvage and beautiful restoration of libraries, open to the public. In the case of the two I mentioned, Henestrosa and San Pablo, glorious open courtyards, chapels, and contain fountains and space for music, dance, lights, and books for reading, for adults and children.  On this night, chairs were arranged around the central fountains for the audience. The program was completely different from Tuesday’s, what I would call music associated now with Christmas, though not of this century:  Adeste fideles, late-16th-century melodies Greensleeves and Coventry Carol, the traditional Dona Nobis Pacem.  

Nybram is a sextet of voices, cello, violin, mandolin/lute, flute and soprano saxophone, which I’m not sure I’ve seen or heard before, but the range of which seems identical to that of the violin and the human tenor voice, so that the toss-off from onto the other is understood by looking more than hearing. The primary vocalist of the group is Julian David Trujillo Moreno, and it is this voice that completely fills the space and pierces through whatever else I might have been thinking. 

A gang of four unison chanters trouped through in medieval monk toggery, singing Latin texts a capella with a chiming bell while ascending the stone stairs to the balcony, then descending, echoing all the way, tapping into a modern sense of the romantic and sacred, pure. The sextet alternates or joins in.

If tonight I were Helen, writhing at the end of life, this voice, this perfect music, would keep me alive another hour or another day, lodged between here and somewhere else, painlessly sensate.


Café Royal

Cafe Royal

A beautiful exception to the painted-on signage, at the corner of calles Garcia Vigil and M. Bravo. Drinks and snacks here with friend Jeremy.

O lucky mishap!

ImageFull moon over Oaxaca, as seen from a front row seat at the Victoria Hotel bar.*

I don’t know whether your little e-device alerts you to the phases of the moon, but each year when I buy my spiral-bound paper-page version of a calendar, I immediately note the dates of the full moons.  I think the full moon is such a wonderful event to share with friends, as you can easily find full moons by simply looking up and no special snack foods or costumes are required.

So, when this year’s October “hunter’s moon” or “harvest moon” was coming around, I thought a party would be in order. I gave William notice of Thursday night’s event.  I told a couple others too and up we trooped to the spectacular vantage point of the bar of the Victoria Hotel on Fortin Hill at about 5,300 feet above sea level (1,600 m), a couple hundred feet above where I usually sit.  The vigorous climb justifies the beer and peanuts with garlic and chilis at the top.

But I screwed up somewhere; luna llena was actually two nights off, Saturday. I confessed my error, though Thursday night was clear and we wondered at a a gorgeous imperceptibly not-quite-full moon.

Then Saturday night brought clouds and another heavy rain.  No moon was visible.  Looking up would have given only a faceful of water.  My mistake was a beneficence.

At this full moon, I calculated how many have occurred in my lifetime, when I did notice and when I did not.  So many.  Next month, there will be another, I’ll have the date right; I’ll look up again in wonder.


*This photo is an aberration.  Years ago I pledged never to take a picture of a full moon, a sunset or a butterfly, since I found myself dozing off looking at such in other people’s vacation slides.

Travel companion


Above: William, strugging for the right proportion of mezcal to Fresca.

Just came back from another overnight, this time to a town in the guidebook section on “Mixteca Alta.”  We had unexpected happiness in Teposcolula.  Sweet little town, though hard to find coffee.

We found out that William will blow a blood vessel in his brain if he goes to any more “mercados,” but later said, “It’s hard for me to admit, but I really do need you in my life.”  There.  The beginning and the end. I’ve spared you the middle 24 hours.

Readers, digesting

William at OLL -- 3 oct 2013

William at OLL — 3 oct 2013

The Sacks book is not the only book I’ve read in a month, though it is a treasure, especially here and now.  My reading pace has been good, but I am jealous of William’s. He can read really fast and can stay up all night to finish a book.  He loads up at the library, and has probably read at least 12 books, fiction and non, about Mexico, the Civil War, Dien Bien Phu and more.  (Without irony, he thought Mexico Profundo was “deep.”) He says he’s read three paperback novels – by Stephen King, by Tammy Hoag, and one called Wicked Delights of the Bridal Bed.  That last one slipped past me.  “Actually a good story,” he said.

Those of you know William will want to be seated when I tell you he accepted an invitation to give a little talk at the library introducing some of the volumes from the ‘new books’ shelf.  He was told he need only read the cover blurbs and maybe get a few tidbits off the web, but he read the books; he looked stuff up to accessorize.

I stayed in the next room, but as the participants left the session after more than an hour, I heard how good and lively it was.  This may be a new side to him.  Who’s not surprised?


One I picked up is a British detective story – I’d never heard of it but maybe it’s well-known – Sudden Vengeance by Edmund Crispin.  I don’t know that I’d recommend it, but I can’t remember a fiction book with so many words I had never seen before.  See if you know these:

cheroot – n. a cigar having open, untapered ends.

affray – n. a public fight; a noisy quarrel; brawl.

eupeptic – adj. having good digestion

resipiscence – n. acknowledgment that one has been mistaken

adumbrate – v. to outline; give a faint indication of; forshadow; to overshadow; obscure

rheumy – adj. damp and unhealthy

sequacious – adj. archaic. imitating, or serving another person, especially unreasoningly

I especially love these.

Re infecta – n. the business being unfinished.

Vade mecum – n. something a person carries about for frequent or regular use, literally, “go with me.”