Thursday, November 29, 2018

Mexico City: My Daily Eats

My typical fare in Mexico City. November 2018.

In my early days here, I had my share of tacos and gorditos deliciosos, but then I settled down into more typical eating for me.

Most days, I boil eggs or make an omelette for breakfast. Day-to-day, my lunch, dinner and night-time meal are a variation of:

  • Bread from my preferred panaderia;
  • Hard, salty farmers´cheese from the Saturday market;
  • Tomatoes;
  • Fruit;
  • Carrots;
  • Jicama.

In the photo above is a giant, angry-red orange from Michoacan. It is sweet with a fragrant, sharp note.

Also above is a clutch of variegated rosemary, which I add to my tomato sandwiches or omelettes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Mexico City: My Laundry

Lavanderia, Mexico City. November 2018.

Once a week, I take my laundry to one of the several lavanderias in my neighborhood.

Lavanderia, Mexico City. November 2018.

Sometimes my laundry is ready for me to pick up the same day, sometimes I´m asked to pick it up the next afternoon.

To have my items washed, dried, folded, and placed in a tightly-wrapped plastic shroud, it costs 20 pesos per kilo.

Lavanderia, Mexico City. November 2018.

One time, my laundry weighed 3.5 kilos and it cost me 70 pesos (about $3.50 US). Another time, my laundry weighed 3 kilos, so it cost me 60 pesos (about $3 US).

Lavanderia, Mexico City. November 2018.

The people who operate the lavanderia that I patronize are amiable and professional.

I estimate a minimum of three lavanderias within four square blocks of my residence. Does the local demand for external laundry services support such an intense supply or is the competition to attain and retain customers fierce?

Are the lavanderias owned by a chain, franchised, or individually owned? I see the name "Edison" associated with them, but I don´t know if this is a chain brand or perhaps the brand of the machines used.

I don´t know the answers to any of these questions.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mexico City: My Bakery

Mexico City bread. November 2018.

Every day, I go to the same bakery. In addition to offering the prosaic bread I seek, it seduces its visitors with sweet concoctionary dreams.

From the crowded sidewalk, the interior looks like this:

Mexico City bread. November 2018.

Bolillos, white and brown, nestle in a wide, deep nursery of sorts, sometimes warm from the oven, where they await plucking by those of us ready to gobble them up.

Mexico City bread. November 2018.

A brief tour in this video below:

Let´s talk costs of my daily bread:

  • White bolillos x 2 = 3 pesos
  • Wheat bolillos x 2 = 5 pesos
  • Seeded, flat roll x 1 = 5.5 pesos
  • Total for day = 13.5 pesos = 66 cents US

I am put in mind of the Bowie Bakery in El Paso´s Segundo Barrio.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Life Hacks From the Road: The Fine Print, Literally

Blurry product label.

When shopping, there are times, even with my reading glasses, I can´t make out the small print on a product package.

Damn it, that´s frustrating.

One day, a hack occurred to me.

I whipped out my phone, selected the camera, and used the built-in zoom.

Voila! I can read the tiny print!

I´d forgotten this hack the other day when shopping for coffee at the Walmart in Mexico City. I had to ask a passing woman if she could tell me whether the chocolate flavoring of the coffee meant there were added calories.

Clear product label.

Other life hacks from the road here.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Mexico City. The Prosaic and the Profound

Pupusas being born. Mexico City, Mexico. November 2018.

Today, this is what happened:

A refugee Salvadoran family of four, some of my housemates, invited me to a dinner of homemade pupusas and curtida. Delicious! Served with the curtida, a sort of cabbage slaw, and a drizzle of thin salsa atop the pupusa, one eats it with one´s hands, tearing off a portion of the puposa and folding, then embracing a bit of curtida, then bringing it to your mouth for a smooth, crunchy, tart, bean-y, fatty bite.

The pre-dinner conversation among the Salvadorans at the guesthouse was of how flavorfully important pupusas are in the culture! It was a passionate conversation. Not just anyone can make a great pupusa!

 A young woman from Honduras, refugees from one of the caravans, will give birth in about two weeks. Where? She does not know. She and her husband have a cheeky, chortling one year-old who loves to kick a ball in our community room. Can you even imagine what would prompt a young couple with a small child and another due, to leave everything they know behind, to walk into an uncertain future?

After dinner, I learned how to say fart in Spanish. And what you call someone who farts a lot. (BTW, that someone is a "pedorro.")

A woman I know told me of something she did that was so emotionally brave, it kind of blew me away.

Earlier tonight, while I lay in bed, I listened to the young father of the one year-old singing in the shower with a confident, operatic voice.

One of the young Salvadoran women here witnessed a man outside the Revolucion metro station assaulting a woman who was presumably his wife. While other witnesses stood by watching the assault, my housemate ran for the police to get help.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Mexico City: The Community Cold

Anti-cold arsenal. Mexico City. November 2018.

Everyone at the guesthouse has or had (or will have) a cold, including me. Scratchy throat, runny nose, occasional sneeze. I´m getting off easy so far, with no persistent cough.

Reminds me of the first days of school in Rustavi, which made for a happy reunion of all of the country´s bacterial and viral families in all of Georgia´s schools, transportation of said microbial populations provided at no charge via shared cups, utensils, the lack of soap in the school bathrooms, the blithe exchange of promiscuosly-touched coinage with bare-handed clutching of khachupuri. And of this memorable adventure in health.

So, here, at the guesthouse, there is the communality of the bathrooms, kitchen, keyboards, doorknobs, and faucet surfaces. With gregarious contagions transported from the stadium where some of my caravan housemates stayed before coming here, or from the U.S., or from wherever any of us came.

I walked up to Walmart and laid in a stock of:

  • Eucalyptus lozenges
  • Cold medicine
  • Chamomile tea
  • Anti-bacterial liquid

Uncharacteristically, I impulsively bought a can of V-8 juice. I´m not sure I´ve ever bought this product. One does strange things in unfamiliar surroundings.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Mexico City: New Housemates and the Saturday Market

Corn at the Saturday market. Mexico City. November 2018.

Last night, new refugees arrived, this time from the second caravan. They were a group of LGBTQ folk from Honduras, including one group member´s younger sister.

One of the young Salvadoran men from the earlier group of refugees has been looking assiduously - so far to no avail - for an affordable place to live, as his shelter time at the guesthouse is to end in the next 24 hours. There´s not only the tangible anxiety involved in the search -- money + safety + suitability + location to potential employment -- there´s the anxiety of leaving the intangible comfort-warmth-camaraderie of the guesthouse.

Today I went to the nearby Saturday market, where I bought fresh cheese made with peppers, a kilo of carrots, a jicama, some fresh basil, a tomato, and a bag of fresh rolls.

The cheese is less salty than what I bought last Saturday, and a bit creamier.

I subsequently learned that what I thought was the minty-version of basil was really yerba buena - more minty than anything else.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Mexico City: A Mystery at the Plaza de Revolucion

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

I packed some cheese (“salado” - salty) and an apple into my backpack, then stopped at the tortilleria and bought three warm tortillas. I walked to Plaza Revolucion for a picnic lunch.

I ate by the spray park, perched atop a charcoal-black wall, watching a big, well-nurtured German shepherd try to negotiate the spray cycles to get a drink of water.

Teens danced through the spray.

After finishing my lunch, I moseyed around to the monument´s entrance, where I witnessed several people donning white, full-body hazmat-type garments.

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

Two women, dressed in severe, black pant suits, manipulated a mannequin woman into various positions under a tree.

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

Ahhh. Students of crime scene investigators at work.

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

The women in black laid a handwritten note on the pavement next to the tree well. They handed it to me to read, if I liked. I did. It was a suicide note. ……. Or was it?

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

Eventually, the women arranged the deceased against the tree with a noose around her neck. Arrayed in the vicinity were: the “suicide” note, a fresh cigarette, an opened pack of mints, some loose mints from the pack, an empty water bottle, a bit of trash. Even some dog poop, with hovering flies. I did not remember if that was present already or not.

A video below:

A mystery to be solved.

Crime Scene at the Museum of the Revolution, Mexico City. November 2018.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Mexico City: Communal Dinner

Fresh-gathered fruit for the communal dinner. Mexico City. November 2018.

Every Sunday evening there is a communal dinner at the guesthouse.

Last Sunday, a man of faith named John - bilingual Spanish and English - took the lead on the dinner. The centerpiece of the meal was spaghetti. Everyone brought something.

Rasha, of Oman, and I walked up to the corner rotisserie and bought two chickens, which she augmented with several containers of rice and a chipotle-based BBQ sauce.

Others brought couscous, chicken curry, pizza, mole, bread, refried beans, doughnuts, papaya, and freshly-picked local fruits, the name of which I forget.

People at dinner included tourist-guests like me; people of the caravan from Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua; guesthouse volunteers, and other folks connected to the guesthouse in some way.

The men from the caravan set up the tables and laid out plates, cups, and cutlery.

Before sitting, we made a circle around the two tables and introduced ourselves: our names and places of origin.

You can guess what I am going to say, right?

We were just a gathering of people from different parts of the world, some fleeing violence or poverty (or both), and some of us assured in our security of physical safety and food and shelter.

No Wall. No fear. No ugly talk.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Mexico City: I Am a Lunch Guest

Salvadoran chicken soup. Mexico City. November 2018.

On Sunday, I entered the sala to discover the Salvadoran men just sitting down to a lunch of Salvadoran chicken soup. 

Jose invited me to join the group, to sit down in front of a full bowl of savory soup: chicken, planked potatoes, cilantro, a vegetable unknown to me, a pretty broth. 

Someone placed a warm stack of fresh tortillas on the table. 

One of the group led everyone in a pre-meal prayer of gratitude. 

The Salvadoran men are refugee members of the first caravan. The guesthouse has opened its doors to these men, although the only space they can offer is the floor of the upstairs meeting room, where the men sleep on mats. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Mexico City: Sharing Salt

Communal salt. Mexico City. November 2018.

I brought my ancient Tupperware salt shaker with me.

While I reside at the guesthouse, it is in the communal kitchen for all to use. We are the guests from the refugee caravan, casual visitors from the U.S. (like me), legal advocates from the U.S., guesthouse volunteers, visitors from other parts of Mexico.

When I leave here, I will take my salt shaker with me.

Each time I use it, wherever I am, I will think of all the warm hands that enfolded it, from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, the U.S. 

I will wrap one of my hands around the shaker, lift it up, pour the salt onto my food, and think of the warmth.

This thought makes me happy.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Mexico City: Making a Nest

My room. Mexico City. November 2018.

It´s good to build a nest when you´ll be in one place for a month.

This is especially important when sharing two showers, four toilets, one refrigerator, and one kitchen with up to 15 men and five or so women.

One day I walked up to Walmart and bought:

  1. A bathroom floor mat to step on when I get out of the shower;
  2. Plastic sliders with which I can wear socks and walk on wet surfaces, like in the bathroom; 
  3. Apple-cinnamon spray for my room; and
  4. A coffee mug with a lid.

I also splurged on a jar of decaf Nescafe for myself plus a large container of ground black pepper to share with my housemates.

The aroma of the decaf crystals, mmm, nice.

Some other rooms of my past

By the way, most of my housemates this week? They are sleeping on mats on the floor in a meeting room upstairs. They are members of the 1st refugee caravan, lucky enough to be in a shelter with a roof over their heads, a kitchen, some quiet ... safety.

I have a bed. I have my own room. I am the really lucky person, due to a large extent, to a random throw of the dice in our universe.

I do not take this for granted. No, that´s not really true. Most days of my life, I certainly do take much of what I have for granted. I´ll have food for the day, shelter, clothing, the means to clean my clothes, and physical safety.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Mexico City: The Caravan: A Gathering of L'Eagles

A gathering of "l'eagles" in Mexico City. November 2018.

When I came to Mexico City, I didn't anticipate any intersection with the US morality test that is the Central American caravan.

Upon my arrival at the guesthouse, however, I discovered a lucky few caravan members had been given refuge here.

And then I encountered two women at my guesthouse: Rasha, a woman from Oman; and Katharine Gordon, an attorney with immigration expertise, affiliated with Al Otro Lado.

Rasha, the effusive, sparkly Omani; and Katharine, a mid-westerner; talked about going to Jesus Martinez Stadium the next day, where Katharine and other attorneys could deliver general information about seeking asylum in Mexico and the U.S.

Rasha has experience with giving succor to Syrian refugees who landed on the Greek island of Lesbos. I call her a "woman who loves." She reminds me of another woman who loves.

I asked if I could follow Katharine also, despite the fact I brought absolutely nothing to the table except my eyes and ears as a witness to a diaspora in action from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.

Katharine generously agreed to let me tag along.

We agreed to meet at 8:00 the next morning, at which point we'd head to the stadium.

But the next morning, things had changed. Katharine learned that many of the refugees had left the stadium to begin the next leg of their journey to Tijuana, where they believed they would be met with a more law-abiding US border process (i.e. accepting asylum seekers in accordance with existing American law) than other port entries. In addition, even though Tijuana is father away from Mexico City than other ports of entry, it is a safer route than the more direct ones, which suffer under the weight of  violent cartels.

A gathering of "l'eagles" in Mexico City. November 2018.

A gathering of US immigration attorneys who have flown to Mexico City laid a new plan for the morning: Get together for a brief training meeting at the Holiday Inn Express about a mile from the stadium. Katharine wondered if Rasha and I were still interested in going. We were and we did.

A woman named Gretchen Kuhner, who is the executive director of IMUMI (Institute for Women in Migration), shared some information about how Mexican law touches on asylum for humanitarian reasons.

Also present at the meeting was a team of US attorneys from CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights), in Mexico to offer realistic, general immigration information to the caravan refugees so they could make informed decisions about what to do, such as stay in Mexico or proceed to the US.

Katharine Gordon was present for Al Otro Lado.

A gathering of "l'eagles" in Mexico City. November 2018.

Atenas Burrolas, a human rights and immigration attorney in North Carolina, was on board. As was a New Orleans attorney, Graham Prichard.

With all of the bad press that attorneys get for their avarice and cynicism, I was mighty blown away by the attorneys at this meeting, leaving their homes to share knowledge and expertise with people in flight from their own homes.

A gathering of "l'eagles" in Mexico City. November 2018.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Mexico City: Digital Prey, Part 2

My Little Red.

I had it all figured out, didn´t I?

So the universe had other plans.

To wit:

A day or two before I left for Mexico City, my plan was to arm my back-up phone with a cheap data plan from the US just to get a phone number and run a new Google voice number.

Oho, said the universe. Remember "too smart for your own good"?

First: It did not appear easy peasy to get a sim card for a phone that didn´t already have a phone number attached. By that, I mean a cheap pay-as-you-go plan.

Second: While I perused the options at the big box store, I pulled out my backup phone to see if it was compliant with a card that might work, I pressed the power button, and ....... nada. It was dead. Dead dead.

Thus, new plan. Make my life a lot simpler by just taking my main phone. A relief, really.

Now about my Little Red. I tested her two days before I left, the day before I left, and all good.

But now I´m in Mexico City. And what.the.fuck. I switch her on and get a blue screen with the demand that some bullshit bitlocker thing is being prepared. I need to find a bitlocker password for an app that I had never turned on.

I spent a day in Mexico City trying to crack this problem, to no avail. I´m locked out of my laptop.

Damn Microsoft. The very reason I don´t mess with a microsoft email account is that microsoft locks you out of your email at the drop of a hat and there is no way to get anyone´s attention to get back in. Bitlocker is supposed to be a security thing to protect users, but instead it is keeping me out of my own house, using an app I never signed on for.

The guesthouse where I´m staying has three computers I can use, but there are refugees from the caravan here, and my need for a computer does NOT outweigh theirs, so I have found an internet cafe around the corner to use.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Ferguson: Moving Day

Moving day, October 2018. Missouri.

Relocation #5

And so now I know.

There will always be an unpleasant surprise - or two - on moving day.

It´s just the way it is. The natural order of things, thus no reason to blame oneself.

The goal, then, in the future, is to do what one can to prevent the knowable mishaps and to accept there will be the unknowables.

The two mishaps on yesterday´s moving day were stupid but exasperating ones:
  1. The gosh-darn cable would not unscrew from the modem! I´d already packed everything in the car, so no tools. After pulling away precious skin from my finger trying to wrench the cable end loose, I called the Spectrum customer service number, and they told me I could just cut the cable from the wall. Arghh! Where was I to find a knife or scisssors, already packed or loaded! I stomped downstairs, swearing in futile, childish rage to the universe, all three flights of stairs down to the garage, into the depths of my car, and back up three flights of stairs with a knife. I sawed at the cable until it halved. Now I was ready to take it to the Spectrum office. 
  2. Which brings me to mishap #2. Google maps is great most of the time, but sometimes it is a spectacular fail. This was one of those sometimes. After circling an area like vulture looking for the road that Google insisted was right there, I again called Spectrum´s customer service. After a little more childish behavior on my part, I finallly settled down and the CSR helped get me to my destination. It was not one of my finer moments. 

Sidebar: This is the same company that entered my first name (a common one, with only one spelling, not only in English, but in a multidude of languages) with two letters interposed AND entered my surname with the name of my street! When I contacted the company with the error, the helpful CSR informed me that I would have to go to a Spectrum office with PROOF of my legal name!!!!! 

Sheesh. Instead, I just lived with the wrong name on my account and paid with a credit card with my real name. They didn´t care. 

Anyway, in due time, I was on my way, with the paper receipt that proved a woman with a misspelled first name and her street name as her surname had properly returned the modem.

All was OK.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Travel Security: Digital Prey

My brick phone in Caucasus Georgia, June 2012.

After leaving Ferguson at the end of October, I've got an international trip planned. Ooo, yeah.

Since my last sojourn out of the country (well, other than walking over to Juarez from El Paso), an ugly law enforcement practice that's spread across our national body like a case of poison ivy: Border officials demanding to see communications and other data in travelers' phones and laptops without good cause. Putting travelers in untenable positions if they protest the exposure of their devices' contents to border officials.

Am I likely to be singled out for such attention? Probably not. But I object to abuses of power on principle.

So on my trip, I'll take with me:
  • An old phone that is stripped of everything personal except the barest essentials I might need for travel; and
  • Little Red, my sweet, childlike laptop with a toddler's memory. 

There's another advantage to the above decision. Although my complexion, dress, and accent might not trip the typecasting alarms of border officials, my gender, age, and solo traveling status might juice up the salivary glands of tourist hunters on the other side.

Hopefully, a penetrating gaze that suggests I can kick your ass, despite appearances to the contrary, will ward off attempts to cull me from the herd. But in case that fails, well,  I might get my phone or Little Red ripped off, and that would suck.

But they are my expendable Star Trek extras, and my lead actors will be safe at home.

My brick phone in Caucasus Georgia, June 2012.

A useful article about digital security: The traveler's guide to keeping electronic devices secure during international travel, published in Travel and Transport, February 2017

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Stuff: That bucket

Although a minimalist, I am not immune to shiny things.

Years ago, a folding bucket - or its pretty sister, that folding sink - called to me. I wanted one. It took effort to walk away.

But recently, I walked into my neighborhood Aldi's and saw something similar to this:

I brought her home.

I am only human, Lord.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Ferguson: Winding Down

Stuff of times past, Jefferson City, Missouri. 2009.

It's mid-September and my year in Ferguson will end on October 31. Time to wind down.

In my annual winding-down times, these are my thoughts:
  • What have I accomplished? What am I proud of?
  • What haven't I accomplished? What do I regret?
  • How was the year different from what I thought it would be? In which ways better? In which ways disappointing? In which ways surprising; neither better nor disappointing?
  • What do I want to do before I leave? 

I inventory my stuff. Make preliminary decisions about what to with it before I leave:
  • Consume?
  • Return to the person who lent it to me?
  • Give it away?
  • Toss?
  • Sell?
  • Take with me, at least for the next leg of my annual relocation?

In my inventory check thus far, I know that one of my tasks will be to organize my electronics paraphernalia. For example, do I really need all six ethernet cables that skulked into my space like feral cats? Isn't it time to let go of that years-old, European-currency router? And that peaceful, Caribbean Sea-colored, turquoise Otter phone case (that cost me a pretty penny!) that fit my old smart phone, which is of a size no longer being made? Time to just let it go, let it go, right? And, yes, it's time to say good-bye to my geriatric HP laptop that I actually replaced two years ago.

Stuff of times past, Jefferson City, Missouri. 2009.


Some past inventory experiences

Monday, September 10, 2018

Missouri: Of Wooly Worms, Vultures, and Trance Music

Wooly caterpillar crossing Highway 94, Missouri. September 2018.

Highway 94 is one of Missouri's gems, unbeknownst to most cross-country drivers who zoom through Missouri along Interstate 70, dismissing the state as a boring four-and-some hours they must endure before entering another snoreful passage in Kansas or Illinois, depending on which way they're headed.

But for much of its length, Highway 94 is the Missouri River's playful younger sister. The roadway zips through flood plains, corn and soybean fields. She sidles alongside river bluffs. She chuckles up and down and around hilly woodlands and bosomy pastures.

Wineries dot Highway 94, as do riverine villages. The Katy Trail is a fellow traveler; it is the longest developed rails-to-trails pathway in the country.

I took a Sunday drive the other day, following Highway 94 from Jefferson City to up north of St. Charles. Come join me for a bit of this drive. Put your seat belt on, sha, and listen to Tinariwen's trance-inducing music while you look out the window.

In September, before the leaves begin to turn, the wooly worms dart and scuttle across the road.

Wooly caterpillar crossing Highway 94, Missouri. September 2018.

They move faster than you might imagine, sniffing to the right and left like puppies.

There were so many wooly caterpillars crossing Highway 94, it reminded me of several experiences in New Mexico, also about this time of year:

Wooly caterpillar crossing Highway 94, Missouri. September 2018.

But what were these wooly caterpillars so busy about on this Sunday in September on Highway 94? I'm not always the sharpest crayon in the box, but I was pretty sure caterpillars didn't engage in sex, so I didn't think they were looking for love. So what was the deal?

  • Here is an annoying non-answer. 
  • Still no answer here, but the writer may be a kindred spirit of mine. 
  • This offers an explanation I've read other places, but September seems awfully early for house-hunting in Missouri, so I don't know. 

But there is consensus about how fast these critters move!

On my drive, I also saw a vulture who had to get out of my way during its snack. Normally, I don't think I would have taken this video of a vulture, but earlier in the day, I interrupted a hawk or other bird of prey while it dined, and I regretted not having filmed that. So the vulture shot was likely a compensatory thing. Here it is, accompanied by Tinariwen:

Friday, August 31, 2018

Ferguson: Movie: BlackkKlansman

OK, no, BlacKkKlansman isn't about Ferguson. But, of course, it is, too. So I'm putting it into my Ferguson group.

Many members of the Ferguson Readings on Race Book Club went to see the movie together or within several days of each other.

The movie trailer below:

As entertainment, the movie is a winner. It kept my attention throughout; the two-plus hours flew by. A mix of humor, action, sadness, romance, fear, anger, injustice, justice - all of the things that make up a life were there.

I also appreciated how the movie pressed some buttons on how we, as individuals, have so many intersections of being-ness, and how these sections can conflict. Two examples from the movie:
  1. Being a cop and a person of color
  2. Being a cultural member of a religion often discriminated against versus being a practicing member of that religion 
Two other angles that Mr. Lee finessed well:
  • The devaluation of women as co-actors by white supremacist groups; and
  • How particularly insidious racism is when the person who carries the disease is "nice," such as the wife of one of the KKK members

There was a big ol' Fuck You out loud to David Duke, arching back to the 1970s and into the present. This felt satisfying.

With all that I liked about the movie, there was a fluffiness to it that didn't set right. For example, the happy outcome regarding the bad cop was Disneyesque in its sugar-coated superficiality.

This doesn't take away from my strong recommendation to watch the movie.

Boots Riley (screenwriter and director of the movie Sorry to Bother You) wrote a critique of BlacKkKlansman via Twitter. Fortunately for our eyes, Monthly Review Online laid out the full text nicely for us here. I encourage you to read it; the essay is an appropriate companion for the movie, either before or after you watch it.

The trailer for Mr. Riley's movie:

Sunday, August 12, 2018

St. Louis: For the Senses: Seafood City

Seafood City, University City, Missouri. 2018.

Am I so far off from a dog? I'm beginning to think not.

Seafood City, University City, Missouri. 2018.

A dog of my childhood joyfully rolled in putrefying fish on a stony beach, the rot taking color in yellow and orange, to sing with the squishy stench.

Crawfish, Seafood City, University City, Missouri. 2018.

One of the joys of entering Rouse's Market in Lafayette was the smell of fish, both raw and cooked.

There was that not-quite-right blend of boiled, spiced crawfish with sticky sweet buns and a bottom note of crawfish etoufee at the Crawfish Etoufee Cookoff in Eunice. Here's what I wrote about that then:
It's extraordinary to smell the fragrances of  muddy bayou, spicy crawfish boil, and cinnamon buns all at once. I couldn't decide if I loved it or felt repelled by it. Attempts to come to a conclusion required many careful inhalations, to no avail.

So when I entered Seafood City on Olive Street in University City this summer, the intake of breath brought a sensory rush from the mixture of fresh and fishy, raw and cooked, the living and the dead, beauty and gore.

Seafood City, University City, Missouri. 2018.

There is pleasure in this as there is in approaching a terrifically pungent, soft cheese. The aroma is preposterous, but the flavor and texture are so fully sensual, and the combination of all is splendid. Which reminds me of this one anchovy I consumed recently. This small, floppy grayish-silvery thing, homely; but its oily, fishy, salty dimensions of flavor required deliberation of thought and closed eyes to extend the life of their chorus.

On my first visit to Seafood City, I saw my very first jackfruit. Until then, I'd only read about them. They are huge!

Jackfruit, Seafood City, University City, Missouri. 2018.

The idea of a Buddhist style chicken puzzled me as I guess I thought Buddhists were vegetarian.

Buddhist chicken, Seafood City, University City, Missouri. 2018.

I wonder how "fresh" is defined. Minutes? Hours? Days?

Fresh pork blood, Seafood City, University City, Missouri. 2018.

A slide show of my visits to Seafood City below:

Seafood City, St. Louis, MO

This isn't the first time I've been a "scentsual" tourist. There was a satisfying trip through the Celestial Seasonings plant outside Boulder, Colorado in 2016.

I will likely need another hit of Seafood City before I leave Missouri this year.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Ferguson: "Michael Brown Died Today."

Michael Brown
Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri. Photo: Found at St. Louis Post Dispatch, attributed to a friend of Michael Brown's.

A few days before August 9, 2018, I created a reminder on my calendar for that date, which synced to my cell phone.

The reminder said: "Michael Brown died today."

On August 9, each time I accessed my phone, there it was:

Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.

When I think of Michael Brown, I think of:

.... an image burned into my brain, put there by a racist, hate-mongering individual in South Louisiana who is a minor celebrity. On his social media page, which he proudly affiliates with his employer, was a disgusting image of a "memorial" to Michael Brown, comprised of human excrement.

... the draconian military response to Ferguson protests by then-Governor Jay Nixon.

... people who are dear to me, who must always be ready for that surprise slap in the face, at any given moment, in any given place, by any unexpected person, that reminds them they can't move through their days with the same thoughtless presumption of emotional and physical safety as others can.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

St. Louis: St. Alphonsus Liguori Catholic Church

St. Alphonsus Liguori "the Rock" Catholic Church, St. Louis, Missouri. November 2017.

When I visited Toronto a couple of years ago, it refreshed me to hear a common theme on various public platforms: "We cherish our interculturalism, our varied complexions, our diverse languages."

Is it Kumbaya Land in Toronto? Of course not. But at least there is the public embrace of interculturalism as a national value.

Would that it were so in the United States. Instead, we apply the phrase "political correctness" as a sneer, a smirk. As if being inclusive is a bad thing.  

This thought is my lead-in to a Sunday in July at St. Alphonsus Liguori "Rock" Catholic Church.

My nonagenarian aunt attended St. Alphonsus Liguori High School way back in the day. Then, the church was predominantly white. In 1945, the Archbishop Cardinal Ritter directed the integration of all Catholic churches in the St. Louis Diocese. Today "the Rock" is predominantly African-American. (A brief history of the church here.)

When I think of African-American Catholics, I think of:

Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Opelousas, Louisiana;

Knights of Peter Claver (established in 1909) - and wonder why I never knew about this organization until I moved to Louisiana, despite my having been raised Catholic; and

This bit of Louisiana history, which James Lee Burke described in his book, Creole Belle (2012): 
We crossed Lafourche and Jefferson Parishes and flew over Barataria Bay and then crossed the long umbilical cord of land extending into the Gulf known as Plaquemines Parish, the old fiefdom of Leander Perez, a racist and dictatorial politician who ordered a Catholic church padlocked when the archbishop installed a black man as pastor.
Note: Unable to find this precise historical datum, but here is a similar situation that involved Mr. Perez and an African-American priest in Placquemines Parish. 

Anyway, on this particular Sunday in July, I attended Mass at St. Alphonsus Liguori "Rock" Catholic Church, and:

The entrance processional walked to the altar to the accompaniment of the church choir, which sang a version of the Truthettes' Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus:

The entrance processional was a fusion of our Americanness. It included the ceremonial fragrance of smoking frankincense from East and North Africa and the Middle East, held in a round, wooden, tasseled bowl of African influence, carried by an African-American woman, barefoot, dressed in a caftan that bespoke traditional African dress.

The choir covered New Direction's song, When All God's Children (aka What a Time) during the preparation of the gifts:

During communion, the choir sang Dorothy Norwood's and Alvin Darling's Somebody Prayed For Me:

The choir sent us on our way with This Little Light of Mine:

I didn't think overmuch about the song, This Little Light of Mine, outside of its pleasing sound and lyrics ... until this came across my newsfeed from NPR: 'This Little Light of Mine' Shines On, A Timeless Tool of Resistance.

The introduction to this article:
Ask Freedom Singer Rutha Mae Harris, and she'll tell you plainly: You can't just sing "This Little Light of Mine." You gotta shout it: 

"Everywhere I go, Lord, I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!"

On a Monday morning, Harris' powerful voice fills the small church right next to the Albany Civil Rights Institute in Georgia. She's showing them how she and her fellow Freedom Singers — a renowned quartet that raised money for student activists during the civil rights movement — belted out songs to get through dangerous protests.

..... a unifying affirmation that gives the crowd a taste of that feeling from the 1960s. She says the song helped steady protestors' nerves as abusive police officers threatened to beat them or worse.

And later in the article: "Last year, Reverend Osagyefo Sekou used 'This Little Light of Mine' to curb passions during a counter-protest, before a crowd of white supremacists and alt-right supporters gathered for the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va."

A video of that singing here:

This is yet another example for me of how we are surrounded by history in our everyday lives. A song. A mural. The style of earrings a woman wears; the width and arch of her eyebrows. The waistband on a pair of jeans. How we do our hair. A flag. The name of a street. The route of a road. The cluster of volunteer irises on the side of an empty stretch of road. Why Monday was wash day and red-beans-and-rice day.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Ferguson: Backyard Fox

Fox, Ferguson, Missouri. July 2018.

There was a fox in my backyard early in the morning.

Fox, Ferguson, Missouri. July 2018.

A lanky one.

Fox, Ferguson, Missouri. July 2018.

And entirely unexpected.

Fox, Ferguson, Missouri. July 2018.

I am regularly surprised at the pleasing rural-urban mix that is Ferguson. Having a fox in one's backyard is only one gift of the community.

A shaky video below:

When I think of foxes in a suburban environment, I think of my house in Jefferson City. My immense backyard ended at a creek that you could follow all the way to the Missouri River.

Through the years I lived there, sometimes at night, I would hear an unsettling cry. Like a woman crying out in pain. Or maybe even a child.

Finally I tracked it down to a fox call. A "vixen's scream" to be precise, although it's not only female foxes that make this call.

A sample of this call below, which actually tells an entertaining story: