How do you know?

bar

It is time for a turn in Spanish at the Saturday intercambio, and I’m not sure what to talk about. In the English hour, we’ve already covered: names, ages, birthplaces, pets, favorite foods, education, hobbies, travels, dreams. I’m not ready for religion, and (pun intended) God forbid, politics.
So I start with the strangest Oaxacan adventure I have had this year. This is teaser enough to pique their attention.
Thursday night, after teaching English to some delightful children in Teotitlan del Valle, one of my fellow teachers, a German woman, suggested that we go to a bar in the town.
It turns out the micro finance program we volunteer with helped finance the bar, a seriously interesting prospect as the group finance only women and focuses on empowering them to improve their communities.
Because it is the last class for two weeks of vacation and because this teaching team will head off into four different parts of the world by the end of the month, we are excited to celebrate.
The four of us crowd on to a moto taxi that slowly crawls up a steep hill. After ten bumpy minutes, we arrive at a blue door. No sign. Nothing that indicates it is more than a doorway.
We knock.
The woman tells us to come in.  The bar is the size I have always imagined a cave to be. Small. It is about the size of the tack room we had when I was a child–and as dark. Made of adobe, it is also cool.
There are three tables in the bar. There are the four teachers and four other patrons, the woman (and occasional appearances by the husband and young daughter).
The bottles are placed in front of a mirror as they would likely be in a city bar. The bar top is an old door on a pile of bricks.
The other bar goers are interested in knowing what brings us to these parts. They interrogate us and offer to buy us a round.
After we have already tried five shots, I’m unprepared for my free cup, so I offer into to our kind hostess. She’s happy to oblige.
One of the patrons has become the house DJ and is playing tunes in English. He tries to see through the darkness if we are pleased. We are.
It is a sweet evening. And I swear my Spanish is smoother when I’m tipsy.
One of the men knows California and Sacramento; he’s been to the corner store in my neighborhood. He seems to have as much nostalgia as I for this place I call home. He shakes my hand for a long time. He urges me to travel safely, to return to Mexico as promptly as I can.
I tell the ladies at the intercambio, it was unbelievable, this nameless watering hole. One woman suggests: maybe it was just a dream.
Another asks: “How do you know you were there at all?”
  • Moira Egan, in Bar Napkin Sonnet #11, writes about drinking too much mezcal, including a reference to the worm… What does your character learn when she drinks too much?
    Things happen when you drink too much mescal.
    One night, with not enough food in my belly,
    he kept on buying.   I’m a girl who’ll fall
    damn near in love with gratitude and, well, he
    was hot and generous and so the least
    Read the rest of the poem at:

    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49272/bar-napkin-sonnet-11

Ceramics

I head to the workshop of Oaxacan master ceramicist Vicente Hernandez. He has a large workspace and six dogs that are jealous because we are taking the master’s attention.
He shows us how he cleans the clay, throws it in a roll to get all of the air out, turns it into a cup or a bowl, dries it, glazes it, fires it in his gas oven, designs it–etching with a nail, glazes it, and cooks it again.
The dogs are relentless though his children try to calm them. They bark and sniff and lick and poke and bark and bark and lick some more.
I think I am not a dog person, and I am incapable of running the potting wheel, but I can listen (even above the barking) and celebrate the birth of cup after cup. In the hour-long session, a man pulls more than nineteen teacups from the block he is working on. He seems to be in his own world, but he says salud twice after each of my sneezes.
The showroom is up the road, closer to the main highway, in a two-story house that is mostly empty.
I find a two couples of shot glasses I like (copitas), and I am determined that I will transport them back home whole and without tears.
One of the daughters packs the copitas into a bag with the business name: Tierra Quemada, scorched earth. I recognize it as a shop off the pedestrian walkway, on Abasolo. According to the maestro, his interests vary. I may be able to see more of his intricate designs.
  • Ekphrastic means writing about art. Including, I wonder, the art of creating art? Kay Ryan, former US Poet Laureate, reflects on Ekphrasis here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2006/12/journal-day-two-56d34c8126d79. Ryan writes about the challenges of chasing after reality with a butterfly net: “I have always been uncomfortable describing what already exists. Existing things are just too hot, too self-radiant. My words get soft and gluey if I try to mold them into a facsimile of something. If I were a sculptor, it would be as if I were forced to work with clay that clung to my fingers instead sticking to my projected dog sculpture.” Be a lepidopterist.

A Pillowy Warm Secret

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I used to be able to say that I dislike most bakery items in Oaxaca. I dislike the besos, the bigotes, the roscas, the ferrocarrils, the conchas, the donas, and especially the (sub Saharan) bisquits, and (Mojave) panques for these bakers too often seen to fail to distinguish between sugar and sand.
But ever the willing sampler of regional delicacies, I tried what appeared to be a dinner roll dusted in powdered sugar. It was carved open on top and filled with custard. Real, ambrosial custard. It was like biting into a pillowy warm secret that sparks joy. Oh, I think, this is how sweets should be done!
I paid 30 pesos for five things that were awful (although quite beautiful) and this toothsome surprise of a dinner roll.
I will give the bag of leftovers to the child whose father plays the accordion all day under the mango tree. He too can sample the sweets and decide which ones are delicious, which ones are for the fat birds.
  • Pablo Neruda writes odes to common things, including bread. Write an ode to an everyday item.
from Ode to Bread
–Pablo Neruda
Bread,
you rise
from flour,
water
and fire.
Dense or light,
flattened or round,
you duplicate
the mother’s
rounded womb,
and earth’s
twice-yearly
swelling.
How simple
you are, bread,
and how profound!
You line up
on the baker’s
powdered trays
like silverware or plates
or pieces of paper
and suddenly
life washes
over you,
there’s the joining of seed
and fire,
and you’re growing, growing
all at once
like
hips, mouths, breasts,
mounds of earth,
or people’s lives.
The temperature rises, you’re overwhelmed
by fullness, the roar
of fertility,
and suddenly
your golden color is fixed.
And when your little wombs
were seeded,
a brown scar
laid its burn the length
of your two halves’
toasted
juncture.
Now,
whole,
you are
mankind’s energy,
a miracle often admired,
the will to live itself.

(from http://www.abuddhistlibrary.com/Buddhism/H%20-%20World%20Religions%20and%20Poetry/Poetry/Pablo%20Neruda/Ode%20to%20Bread/Ode%20to%20bread,%20Pablo%20Neruda.htm)

Abundant Gifts

In one of the classesIn one of the classes this afternoon, a student asked me about a book. GUIDE TO GRAMMAR BY EDDIE MURPHY.  It was really by another Murphy. But I thanked her for the gift.
I could hardly contain my imagination. The ESL chapter could be called COMING TO AMERICA. Other film titles could control the chapter themes.
One of the artisans in the earlier class had asked me why I would volunteer my vacation time to help them. I respond a simple, it’s fun.
But the real reason is (almost) free and sometimes abundant gifts such as the Eddie Murphy grammar guide.
The lady in the sandwich shop looks at my legs streaked in white. They look dry. I want to explain that while mosquitoes don’t seem to pay attention to Oaxacans, they find me even with all of these streaks of mosquito spray on my skin. I also may seem to have chicken pox for all of the red welts on my skin.
Miguel asks why I do not sit on the patio anymore. He knows I enjoy it. I explain that the mosquitoes are just waiting for that.
He tells me that mosquitoes are family members. We share blood.
  • Receive the mosquito, the misunderstanding, the irritated skin, as you would a gift. See how Rodney Jones does this in his “The Mosquito.” The end follows here:
    I watch her strut like an udder with my blood,
    Imagining the luminous pick descending into Trotsky’s skull and the eleven days
    I waited for the cold chill, nightmare, and nightsweat of malaria;
    Imagining the mating call in the vibrations of her wings,
    And imagining, in the simple knot of her ganglia,
    How she thrills to my life, how she sings for the harvest.
    Read the rest at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51742/the-mosquito-56d22faf940de

Ha’penny Bridge

hapenny-bridge

Lore has it that more than 25,000 people cross the Ha’penny Bridge daily. Dublin’s bustling pace does not make me doubt this number. I think about the crowds I crossed with and how little attention I paid to my fellow pedestrians perhaps due to the weather, rush, or crush of the crowd.

But late at night, the bridge was nearly empty, practically glowing, and ready for strolling despite the cold.  Its luminescence made me think about what we miss when we are on our rushing way to the next place.

Shel Silverstein’s “Masks” (below, from Every Thing On It)  makes me think of Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/core-poems/detail/44272) and how we intentionally and unintentionally carve our way through the woods.

She had blue skin.
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by—
And never knew.

http://thewhynot100.blogspot.com/2014/05/46-short-and-sweet-shel-silverstein.html

  • What mask is your character wearing? Why? How does it affect her way as she wends through woods?

Ai Weiwei: Political Art

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According to Bertolt Brecht, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”

We could not know we were headed into Ai Weiwei’s brain from the lifeboats hanging from the Palazzo Strozzi. We knew, of course, the rubber boats represented the plight of refugees. We knew of Ai Weiwei’s reputation as a dissident, as a prisoner, as a spokesperson for justice and against corruption and censorship.

However, we were overcome with his grief, rage, and  agitation as we were delivered into his hippocampus. We recognized its horseshoe shape and how the monumental installations we encountered there helped him–and us–to process history and emotion.

In the second piece, Snake Bag, he sewed 360 backpacks to represent 360 children killed at a school when an earthquake in China’s Sichuan province killed approximately 90,000 people; as visible in the companion video that shows the recovery of the inadequate rebar, the massive destruction was due to the government cutting corners on construction.

In another series, we see Ai Weiwei’s left middle finger extended to the White House, the Eiffel Tower, Hong Kong, Tiananmen Square, and the Mona Lisa, among others; these pieces are title A Study in Perspective. His perspective is clear. He even has wallpaper that also has patterns of middle fingers.

An ivory porcelain plot of flowers is centered in the middle of one of the rooms. These flowers represent his rebellion against censorship, surveillance, and control. He further addresses restrictions he faced by recreating the surveillance cameras (in marble), handcuffs (in wood), and hangers (from his imprisonment, in wood).

Film, selfies, pamphlets, 32 Qing Dynasty stools assembled into a circle, 3200 porcelain crabs, Lego portraits of Dante Alighieri and Galileo Galilei and three self-portraits (also in Legos) further intensify the multimedia experience.

I am inspired by this tour of Ai Weiwei’s brain and heart. I am reminded that, especially in the face of oppression and restriction, we must use all of the resources we have at hand to fight for what is right. Art can be mirror, hammer, souvenir, warning, flare, lighthouse, tank, lifeboat…

 

The Mask of Evil

by Bertolt Brecht

On my wall hangs a Japanese carving,

The mask of an evil demon, decorated with gold lacquer.
Sympathetically I observe

The swollen veins of the forehead, indicating

What a strain it is to be evil.

  • Ai Weiwei’s installations and representations function as Brecht’s “mask of evil.” What does your character/speaker have or make to remind her of “what a strain it is to be evil?”