Finding the Saint of Finding Things

 

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In the Tlacolula market on Sunday, I am determined to find a picture of Saint Antonio. Rumor has it that he is a saint of miracles and can help mere mortals find lost items—like love. Here, in Oaxaca, legend has it that you simply need to turn the image of Saint Anthony (usually holding an angelic looking child) on his head (a cabeza) and pray. http://www.stanthonyfinderoflove.com/About_St_Anthony.html

I see a stand selling religious books and jewelry and ask the woman if she has an image of Saint Anthony. She does not, but she offers me directions to a shop two and a half blocks off the market. It is called Adonay. I do not hesitate to head in that direction. I consider it a small Spanish test. Can I find the shop on this unknown street in this unknown town? Do I even know what two and a half blocks might be? I have a hat for the sun and it is not raining. I am confident I will find the shop.

C, who is with me, is not so confident. He does not understand why I don’t just download a picture of this guy from the internet. Always a provocateur, he also asks the woman if we will find readings on atheism at her shop. Her face says no. Then, she abruptly confirms: No.

It is definitely farther than three Sacramento city blocks, but we arrive at a beautiful shop with giant Jesus and Mary statues and portraits. It is part garden, gift store, and gallery.

The patient shop keeper tries to sell me a practically life-size Saint Antonio. I assure him that my luggage cannot even accommodate the baby Antonio holds in his arms. He laughs and suggests I get larger luggage—for next time.

He helps me find five cards with the Saint. It turns out C wants two.

C asks to use the restroom, and the kind man says certainly—after I have paid for the cards. As he leads C into the house, a small dog with a pink bow emerges from her doghouse and tries to attack C. The parrot above starts to squawk. I literally scream because I had no idea we were so close to wildlife.

The dog is named Greta. She turns out to be sweet. C finds the children in the back room painting images of Jesus. There are three of them; the husband runs the shop. The wife is the woman we met in the market, the lady of the good directions we name her.

Back out in the chaos of the streets, we have to smile at the adventure and how we never cease to be surprised by what we will find.

I often ask folks if they were to open up a store in the capital (Oaxaca) what the store would sell. Usually people are set on food because everyone needs to eat, but C decides this afternoon that it might be good to sell religious materials, like these tourist-sized images of Saint Antonio that we picked up for under a nickel each. Yes, we could mark them up double and it’d still be cheaper than downloading him from the internet. And, we could help people find things—as we found this little shop.

I’m in the Art Show

Last night I went to a German artist’s show at the contemporary art museum.

I knew nothing of the artist, Sigmar Polke. I went because it was free and on the way to a free jazz show. The art was an interesting blend of painting with printing and stamping. The images were intriguing, but, for me, the titles were the arresting element. One painting was named something along the lines of:  an old man and a punk rock young man are sitting in a dark living room full of antique furniture and the father says to the young punk, “someday all of this will be yours.”
At the Saturday intercambio, I am sitting with Julio, Valentina, Mariela, and Gabriel. I mention the show and the vast titles to Gabriel who wants to learn German. Valentina says my description of the title reminds her of a truck commercial in which a man says to his son, someday all of this will be yours, referring an expanse of property. And the son asks: and the truck?
I am walking along the pedestrian corridor planning what I will say to the woman at the bakery as I request a sandwich. I walk and negotiate with myself, and then I am interrupted. An elder with coin purses yells at me in English to buy what he’s selling. I pretend I cannot hear him though my ears are open for any suggestion of English.
It strikes me that my entire month here is the art show and each post I can offer is perhaps a long title to accompany the piece.
  • Of course, this experience of being a painting makes me think of Linda Pastan’s incredible “Ethics.” http://shenandoahliterary.org/blog/2011/09/linda-pastan-ethics/ I’m not suggesting you should elect the same question (a Rembrandt painting/or an old woman who hadn’t many/ years left anyhow?) for your writing. Maybe you ought to increase the stakes?

“That Honey You Carry in Your Mouth”

tunas

I am delighted to see the Tuna, a male musical group, much like mariachis, whose members play musical instruments and sing Spanish folk songs. The group members are typically university students and are dressed in short pants that are both wide and tight at the knee, tights/long socks (green for apprentices), a blouse, a jacket, and a cloak decorated with colorful ribbons and patches. They perform to keep the tradition alive. However, the groups originated as a way for university students to perform in exchange for small amounts of money or food.

The tambourine and guitar are key to the joyful and playful serenades that engage this audience enjoying nightfall on the plaza outside of Santo Domingo church. As they sing the traditional “Clavelitos,” I realize that I learned the word carnation (the title of the song) this summer, and I smile at the part that refers to a carnation a woman wears in her hair.

In the dark this evening and caught up in the crowd clapping and singing along, I realize the connection between playing music and playfulness–the pure pleasure of these merry singers as well as what they stir in us.

Clavelitos

Mocita, dame el clavel, dame el clavel de tu boca
Para eso no hay que tener mucha vergüenza ni poca
Yo te daré un cascabel, te lo prometo, mocita
Si tu me das esa miel que llevas en la boquita

Clavelitos, clavelitos, clavelitos de mi corazón
Yo te traigo clavelitos colorados igual que un tizón
Si algún día clavelitos no lograra poderte traer
No te creas que ya no te quiero, es que no te los pude coger

La otra tarde a media luz vi tu boquita de guinda
Yo no he visto en Santa Cruz una boquita más linda
Y luego, al ver el clavel que llevabas en el pelo
Mirándolo creí ver un pedacito de cielo.

http://www.e-spanyol.hu/en/lyrics.php

Little Carnations

Girl, give me the carnation, give me the carnation from your mouth

For that, don’t be ashamed

I will give you a little bell, I promise you, girl

if you give me that honey you carry in your mouth

Little carnations, little carnations, little carnations of my heart
I bring you little carnations colored like a firebrand
If someday I am unable to bring you little carnations
Do not think I do not love you, it is that I could not pick them for you

The other evening in the half-light I saw your cherry mouth

I have not seen in Santa Cruz such a pretty mouth
And then, seeing the carnation you wore in your hair,
Looking at it, I thought I saw a bit of heaven.

  • Listen to Tuna perform “Clavelitos;” let yourself get carried away: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6TRYfSyYwQ.

 

Nursery Rhymes, Baseball, Prosopagnosia

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You know how when you learn a word, such as Prosopagnosia (an inability to recognize faces), you start to recognize it in the world–repeatedly? Within a week, I read this word in a magazine then in a book of trivia then in a memoir. The hypochondriac part of me insists I have this disorder. Mine is a mild version. I can identify my own face (some of the afflicted cannot); I can recognize my lover’s, my mother’s, my neighbors’, and my students’, but I often am unable to distinguish between Kevin Bacon and Tom Cruise, between Ashley Judd and Angelina Jolie.

Regardless of my diagnosis, I marvel at the ubiquitousness of words, how they are always out there, operating outside of our consciousness until necessity and circumstance reel them into our regard, until we grasp out for them.

I think of how the rebellion in the streets this summer is more ubiquitous than my new word Prosopagnosia, than the crops flowering in planters throughout the city, than the reliable afternoon rain showers here. I wander the streets looking for parades and celebrations, but I find more strikes, marches, and blockades.

The faculty are everywhere; beyond the bustling intersection absurdly named for hero children (Niños Heroes), they stretch longer than the aqueduct. These educators fervently overflow the commercial centers, the town square, the highways. They threaten to flood the airport first chance they get.

Turn your head for a second, and another couple hundred instructors abandon their scholars for the streets, for the cause, for the promise of change. Meanwhile, our minors learn to exhaust entire weeks treading water in anticipation of their teachers’ potential return for a minute or two before these marooned students dive into the vast expanse of summer.

I think of all of the meanings of strike and wish I could be writing about a match strike igniting children’s minds. Instead, I think of baseball, the whiff of a swing and a miss. I think of the clock striking and the idling children.

I can’t help thinking of the second verse/stanza of “Mary’s Lamb.”

“Mary had a little lamb,”
–Sarah Josepha Hale
Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow;
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.
It followed her to school one day,
Which was against the rule;
It made the children laugh and play
To see a lamb at school.
And so the teacher turned it out,
But still it lingered near,
And waited patiently about
Till Mary did appear.
Why does the lamb love Mary so?
The eager children cry;
Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know,
The teacher did reply.
  • Most of us grew up with nursery rhymes as a first introduction to language play and love of rhyme. What nursery rhyme is related to your characters, to your own development and understanding of a conflict?

Hola, Gatito or Hello, Kitty?

Cat

Do you talk to the cat in Spanish? She has lived her whole life in a sunny garden in Oaxaca.

She is accustomed to tourists. Do you whisper to her in English?

What are you talking to the cat for anyway? I mean, what do you have to discuss? You probably shouldn’t broach politics or religion–even if that is what she seems to want to chit-chat about.

Certainly don’t mention Flaco, your dog friend in the park or the two felines you left at home. There’s no need to discuss plans for the weekend, progress on that writing project, what you like most about visiting her residence; these are all trivia.

Clearly, she agrees the weather is splendid and her coat is exquisite; words would be redundant.

Why waste a sentence when you can tell her how much you love her with a firm stroke from her ears to her tail?

A Little Language

–Robert Duncan

I know a little language of my cat, though Dante says
that animals have no need of speech and Nature
abhors the superfluous. My cat is fluent. He
converses when he wants with me. To speak

is natural. And whales and wolves I’ve heard
in choral soundings of the sea and air
know harmony and have an eloquence that stirs
my mind and heart—they touch the soul. Here

Dante’s religion that would set Man apart
damns the effluence of our life from us
to build therein its powerhouse.

It’s in his animal communication Man is
true, immediate, and
in immediacy, Man is all animal.

Read more at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/46322

Listen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dIAqmJREMU

  • What do you or a character talk to the cat (or another animal) about? Why? Try out dialogue/monologue using this as a device.

 

Celebrating St. Carmen’s Birthday with an Awful Choir

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I enter the church to what sounds like a tired monster karaoking to a song about God being before our eyes. It is a deep voice that, without the raspy, husky edge, could be warm.

The guy sending off the fireworks to get the tardy sinners to church peeks in the side door; despite hearing no pause in the singing, he elects to send off five more explosions into the dawn.

The hoarse voice instigates another song that goes something like Buenos Dias, paloma blanca/ Good morning, white dove. A younger voice joins in, a more human one, but this voice has problems with the micas he leads us in a round of Viva Carnens!

This is the worst choir I have ever heard. And I was in Mr. Tomlinsin’s choir when he told us we sounded like a truck with four flat tires flapping down the road.

The priest welcoming us is undeniably the creature whose exhausted voice drowns out the rest. I decide that maybe he’s just excited about being at the saint’s birthday celebration.

If I’m translating correctly, he just said that we can shout out requests for the choir, since it’s a day of celebration.

Next, there is an open mic session where people speak to Carmen. They ask for peace for the world and for Oaxaca and for all of the Oaxacans in these difficult times.

“Santa Maria” is the next song.

The sky outside is lightening from charcoal to the dense blue that surrounds the sun or accompanies a flickering flame.

A woman hangs a banner that says: Te Suplicamos Madre de la Misericordia/We supplicate to you, Mother of Mercy. It is crooked, and three people conspicuously struggle to rearrange it. It takes an Adrian Monk from the pews to get the job done.

A large dark butterfly flies in, capturing our attention not only because It is as large as a bat.

The swinging incense carrier makes the sound of drumsticks struck together. I wait patiently for this place to break into a flash mob. It does not. The sweet scent makes me hungry.

Creemos en ella y tambien confia en nosotros/We believe in her and she trusts in us. This is the heart of the sermon that resonates above the din of our stomachs which growl back at the choir as if it part of the morning’s call and response.

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Some keep the Sabbath going to Church

–Emily Dickinson

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —
I keep it, staying at Home —
With a Bobolink for a Chorister —
And an Orchard, for a Dome —

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —
I just wear my Wings —
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton — sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman —
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at least —
I’m going, all along.

http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/some-keep-the-sabbath-going-to-church/

  • I am a foreigner to Spanish, in Oaxaca, and in the Catholic church. Most days the differences are magical and result in all sorts of learning and understanding and lingering wonder and delight. Approximately one thirtieth of the the time, being a foreigner is excruciating, practically unbearable. Drill into the ecstasy or misery–whichever is harder.

Forgetting Zebras

In English class in Tlacochahuaya, we play games to practice spontaneous use of phrases and questions to prepare for the impromptu nature of conversations.

This week, to practice the questions: Do I have two legs? Am I brown?  Do I have wings? Do I live in Oaxaca? we played Headbandz (without the headband and with Post Its stuck to our foreheads).

We reviewed interrogative words and the key vocabulary–related to animals and colors and numbers and body parts–before getting started. Though they have the “answers” and questions written in their notebooks, I encourage them to try to play without their notes.

To keep things fun and light, if someone seems to be struggling, we will offer hints. But the hints are only allowed in English; no mooing or barking or clucking–and no Spanish–allowed.

Sometimes, despite the hints and our notes and some more hints, the answer evades us, and the group’s impatience leads to a sense of nervousness that quickly cascades t0 hilarity.

The word for zebra is cebra in Spanish; they sound similar. When one student knew the animal on his forehead had four legs and a mane (melena) and was black and white, all he could conclude was horse and horse several additional times.

After the hint of stripes was hooted out, he conjured: horse. He reiterated horse as a chorus of his peers insisted: the animal lives in Africa.

He insisted horse even as a frustrated peer desperately whispered cebra and another suggested he scan his notes.

We all laughed as he, at last, snatched the blue note from his head and giggled out: zebra.

From Don’t Think About a Zebra

–Kenn Nesbitt

Don’t think about a zebra
no matter what you do,
for, if you ever think of one,
then soon you’ll think of two.

And, after that, you’ll think of three.
And then you’ll think of four.
Then five or six or seven zebras.
Maybe even more.

And then you’ll think of zebra herds
stampeding down the street,
and zebras wearing tutus,
disco-dancing to a beat.

Read the rest at: http://www.poetry4kids.com/poem-746.html#.V6f2VyMrI9c

  • Richard Hugo, in The Triggering Town (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/essays/detail/69402), uses the description of a silo “filled with chorus girls and grain.” Hugo emphasizes the need for knowns and unknowns to both ground us and stimulate the imagination. The zebra is a chorus girl as are so many of the other elements of the language learning experience. Inject some zebras into your writing.