Taller Leñateros

While aimlessly surfing the web in hopes of finding something to blog about, I came across a fascinating little publishing collective called Taller Leñateros. It is located in a little town in the state of Chiapas, Mexico called San Cristóbal de las Casas. It consists of a group of modern Mayans who are keeping their traditions, and the Tzotzil language, alive.

Their website is equal parts delightful and confusing. It lists their extensive catalog of books, postcards, and posters. They make their own paper and ink in the traditional Mayan way, so each item in the catalog is a work of art. Indeed, some have won awards. If you are interested in a specific title, you then have to (unfortunately) write it down, and then go to the “sales” page and check it off. The prices are only listed in Mexican Pesos, so you then need to find a currency converter to figure out what everything costs. I have no idea how they determine shipping and handling, or if they can even ship internationally, because I have yet to purchase anything, but I plan to, if possible.

Their books are full of Mayan poetry, songs, art, incantations, and stories, and can be purchased in English. Each one is beautiful and intriguing. Published by hand, I’m sure they will be collectors’ items.

Here is a tiny taste of the first few paragraphs of their beautifully written “about” page:

“We are the woodlanders who walk in the hills gathering dry branches and deadwood from fallen trees, collecting firewood without chopping down the forest. We come down from the mountains, carrying bundles of wood, of pitchpine and split encino, for the hearths of the Royal City of San Cristobal de Las Casas. We walk through the mist, leading our burros, selling firewood from house to house. We knock on people ’ s doors, offering pine needles as well, to spread on the floor, moss, flowers of bromeliads and orchids for manger scenes.

“Thirty years ago we rented an old adobe house in San Cristobal and we planted a little avocado tree in the patio. The sprout took root and grew and now it’s as tall as the tree where the Moon showed the first Motherfathers how to weave. The house shrank under the shadow of the leaves and filled up with dreams and we called it a «Workshop,» first «of Dreams»and then «Woodlanders’» Something between theatre and witchcraft.”

I hope you will take the extra effort required to support this collective, because according to this article, they’re struggling to survive. Their headquarters are on a dusty little side street in a dusty little town in Southern Mexico. And while they’ve been there since 1975, someone is trying to push them out, and they’re mired in lawsuits. I hope they find a way to keep going. I hope someone helps them improve the website and ramp up their online sales. I think if the world really knew about them, they would not only survive, but thrive. I wish them Lekuk me avo’ra. (Good luck.)

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20-Foot-Tall Slime-Covered Corn Plants Might Just Save the World

I’m nearly incapable of passing over an article with a strange title. And so it was that I read this scientific article in the Smithsonian Magazine entitled, “The Corn of the Future is Hundreds of Years Old and Makes Its Own Mucus.” How could I possibly skip over that? I ask you.

This corn was found in Oaxaca. It takes 2 to 3 times longer to mature than the corn that you and I are used to. But it can grow in the worst soil conditions imaginable, without any fertilizer. This is great, because fertilizer is really bad for the environment. For example, when it washes into waterways it can cause algae blooms. So yeah, less fertilizer is good.

How can this plant thrive under such conditions? Well, it produces mucus, and that mucus attracts bacteria, and that bacteria pulls nitrogen out of the air and converts it to something the plant can use as natural fertilizer. Isn’t that something?

If that trait could be bred into other plants, we’d need a lot less fertilizer in the world. That would make farming less expensive, and would reduce greenhouse gasses, too. But it would also make farming more slimy. There is that.

I encourage you to read the article for more details. Some of the science is beyond me. But there’s one thing this article didn’t address, and it’s something that I’d dearly love to know. What does this corn taste like? It boggles the mind.

This isn’t the corn part of the plant, for what it’s worth…

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Tomorrow, In Mexico, A Day Without Women

Femicide. It’s a word I’d never heard until a friend of mine in Mexico introduced me to it. It seems that violence against women is an ever-increasing trend in that country. In fact, according to this article, they averaged three femicides a day in 2019 and one in three Mexican women is a victim of sexual harassment or violence. That’s horrifying and unacceptable.

As is typical of most governments these days, the Mexican government doesn’t seem to be taking women’s issues seriously at all. So there has been an outcry on social media asking women in that country to “disappear” for a day. Don’t go to work, don’t go to school, don’t go out at all. Women comprise 52 percent of the population, 50 percent of the students, and 40 percent of the work force, so this could potentially have a huge impact on the country.

According to the New York Times, this day was sparked, in particular, by two recent femicides that rocked the nation. (Brace yourself.):

Ingrid Escamilla, 25, a Mexico City resident, was stabbed, skinned and disemboweled. Her body was found on Feb. 9, and photos of her mutilated body were leaked to tabloids, which published the images on their front pages, adding to the public outrage.

On Feb. 11, Fátima Cecilia Aldrighett, 7, was abducted from her primary school in Mexico City and her body was discovered wrapped in a plastic bag next to a construction site on the outskirts of the capital.

If enough women participate in this day without women, it could cost the Mexican economy 1.37 billion. (I’m unsure if that’s pesos or dollars. The Times didn’t specify. Still, it’s a lot.)

Protest today, March 8th, International Women’s Day. Take to the streets, if you feel safe doing so with COVID-19 lurking about. (I know the Women’s March here in Seattle has been cancelled, and even though that’s understandable, it saddens me.) Then drop out tomorrow. Let them see that they can’t survive without you.

Please join me in standing in solidarity with the Women of Mexico in their efforts to feel safe in their own land. Every woman, every human being, deserves that basic human right.

#UNDÍASINNOSOTRAS, (A Day Without Us).

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It Is NOT a Small World

For those of you who think it’s a small word after all, first of all, sorry for the earworm. But I also have two words for you: Atlas Obscura. It’s an online travel magazine that allows users to catalog unique and curious places all over the world. They also have published a best selling book about these places, and they lead fascinating, unique trips for small groups. I’d love to work for these people.

If I’m ever feeling bored and uninspired, I go to their website and click on their “random place” button. It never fails to entertain me. Here are a few random places I’ve read about on this amazing site:

  • One word: ShangriLlama. It’s a replica of an Irish castle that is actually home to a herd of llamas that you can interact with. It’s located in (where else?) Texas.

  • In Ajijic, Mexico, there is a primary school that is covered in about 1000 clay skulls, each one labeled with the name of someone who has died in town. It’s called The Wall of the Dead, and toward the end of October, each skull is lit from the inside with a candle.

  • The 100 Roofs Café in Dalat, Vietnam is a labyrinth of tunnels, stairs to nowhere, strange sculptures, gardens, and amazing views. To explore this magical place, simply buy one drink at the bar.

  • You can visit Marlene, a 40-foot-long whale that is one of very few taxidermy whales that sport its original skin, at a museum in Fribourg, Switzerland. For free.

  • In Chamarel, Mauritius, you can visit a group of rainbow colored sand dunes called the Seven Coloured Earths. They range from red to brown to violet to green to blue to purple and yellow. They sure look stunning in photographs.

  • You can bask in some hot springs atop an active volcano on Deception Island. That is, as long as you’re willing to travel via icebreaker from mainland Antartica.

No, this isn’t a small world. It’s a huge world full of complex variations. We all have different ways of living, different histories, different landscapes and different cultures. Isn’t that exciting? I wish I had more time to travel, but at least I can do so vicariously through Atlas Obscura.

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The Seven Coloured Earths

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Ancient Teamwork

I just stumbled upon a CNN article entitled “Mammoth traps containing remains of 14 of the giant creatures discovered in Mexico”. It went on to say that anthropologists found a man-made trench in Tultepec, Mexico that was 5½ feet deep and 82 feet long. In it were mammoth bones, one even arranged symbolically, as well as the remains of camels and a horse. This trap is said to be 15,000 years old.

Creating something like that took a lot of planning and digging. It required vision. It required trust. It took imagination and teamwork and delayed gratification.

And then once the thing was built, they had to strategize and work together in the hunt. They had to drive these animals toward the trap, most likely with torches. Everyone would have had to have been on the same page.

Afterward, there was a lot of meat to share out. The article states that the tongue of a mammoth alone could weigh more than 26 pounds. And they also used the bones for tools. People would have had to communicate and agree to various work roles and outcomes.

And yet, when we think of “cavemen”, we still tend to imagine them grunting, and living nasty, dirty, brutish lives. Lest we forget, if it weren’t for their survival skills, none of us would be here today. And anthropologists have found art, musical instruments, tools, and ritual burials that attest to their sophistication as well.

These people did more than just grunt. Now there’s a trench in Mexico to prove it.

Photo by HO_INAH_AFP via Getty Images
Photo by HO_INAH_AFP via Getty Images

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El Norte

After graduating from college for the first time, I was struggling to figure out what to do with my life, so I took a series of jobs. None of them were a perfect fit, but they all taught me a great deal.

At one point, in an effort to keep the student loan wolves from the door, I took a minimum wage job at Video Action, a video rental place in Apopka, Florida that, needless to say, no longer exists. I was only there for two months because I needed to make more money than that, but I remember the place fondly.

Working there was fun. To prevent theft, they’d leave the video boxes empty on the shelves, and then when the customer brought them up to the counter, you’d have to go get the vhs tape from the back for them. There was a lot of running around, and a lot of fascinating people to meet. The shift always went by quickly.

At Video Action, I met an octogenarian woman who would come in every week and rent about a dozen porn videos. She gave me hope for the future. Getting old doesn’t mean you’ve died.

Another person that gave me hope for the future was the 16-year-old girl who owned and managed the place in order to raise her baby. Jessie was amazing. She showed me that your life is what you make of it. I often wonder how her life turned out.

There was a large Mexican migrant population in Apopka, because it was a farming community. I was kind of drawn to them because I majored in Spanish in college, mainly because I got tired of people being able to talk about me on the school busses in Apopka without me understanding them. They kind of shaped my life without knowing it.

Whenever they came in, I’d recommend the movie El Norte, ostensibly because it was the only bilingual video we had, but also because it is an amazing film about Guatemalan refugees who are forced out of their country due to violence, and they travel through Mexico and sneak into the US, undocumented, in an effort to have a better life, with very mixed results. I figured these people could relate to this video on a lot of levels.

And it’s a beautiful movie, too. In Guatemala, in particular, it’s infused with rich color. And I truly believe it makes you get inside the immigration experience in ways you could never understand otherwise.

Recently I was thinking of this movie and decided to watch it again. Yes, it’s as beautiful and moving as I remembered. The horrible thing about it is that even though it came out in 1983, it’s still relevant to our current immigration situation. If anything, things have become much worse under our current racist administration. How heartbreaking. Shame on us.

See this movie. See the special features that come with it, too. Your eyes will be opened.

El Norte

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Facts about the Caravan

There is so much panic and false information floating around social media about the migrant caravan that’s making its way northward through Mexico that I thought I should weigh in, here. People are using these migrants as political pawns. Fine. But if you’re going to base your mid term votes on this issue, please at least get your facts straight. Then feel free to make your own decisions.

First of all, lets look at the raw numbers. Seven thousand people sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Enough for an invasion. Actually, given that the population of the US is now well over 328,800,000, well, this caravan comprises less than 0.002 percent of our population.

That’s a tiny little number. Think about it. If you had acne on 0.002 percent of your face, you wouldn’t even have bothered asking the photographer to airbrush your high school yearbook photo.

And of that tiny little percentage of humanity, many of them are women and children. So no need to lock up your daughters. You’re safe. (Also, from the looks of them, they haven’t even crossed the bulk of Mexico yet, and they are already exhausted, thirsty, hungry, and hardly in any shape to mount an invasion. Could you walk 2000 miles with toddlers and then kick the butt of the most militarized nation on the planet? I don’t think so.)

Even if all 7,000 were given asylum in the US, that would come to 140 people per state. Surely we could absorb that number. Especially since they are fleeing violence and/or seeking a better life for their families, just as my grandparents did (and yours as well, most likely).

But here’s the thing. 7,000 will never be given asylum in this country, even in a more politically friendly atmosphere. More like a couple hundred at most. If that. You know how I know? Because these caravans have been happening FOR THE PAST 20 YEARS.

Yup. Years. Matter of fact, the last one happened just last April. There was also one in April of 2017. You know why you’ve forgotten about it, even though Trump predictably freaked out back then as well? Because, of the over a thousand people who participated that time, only 108 sought asylum in the US, and of those, more than half were immediately denied. So the world did not come to an end.

This particular caravan just happened to be timed badly enough to be twisted into a conservative talking point prior to the mid term elections, at a time when the republicans are terrified that they will lose congressional power.

Here are some other things you need to know, according to Politifact.

  • Trump tweeted that “unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” with this group, but even he had to finally admit that there is ZERO evidence of that. The fact that he would even say that should show you what his motivations are. He wants you to be afraid. And that will probably work, if you are the type that thinks that all Middle Easterners are terrorists.

  • This caravan is not using trains or buses. The photos you are probably seeing floating around Facebook are from previous caravans. Most of these people are walking, and many have toddlers in tow. They’re lucky to make 10 miles a day.

  • These immigrants are not burning the American flag, nor are they carrying the Honduran flag. They also haven’t painted any swastikas on the American flag, or defaced one in any way. (It would be rather counterproductive if they did, wouldn’t it? Think about it.)

And here’s a good point from Snopes. It’s not the Mexican government’s responsibility to make immigrant decisions for the United States. They are not our servants or our lackeys. They are their own country and can do whatever they want therein. So stop being pissed off at Mexico for not turning these people around before they become “our problem”.

Another point. And I’m drawing from an article in Wired for this personal conclusion: While many conspiracies out there are trying to say that this is some grand liberal agenda, get a grip. Why would liberals want to fire up the conservative base in such a fashion? What on earth would liberals gain?

Please use some common sense, people. Breathe. Think.

And please vote.

Migrant Caravan

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Civil Trade War

So now Trump thinks Canada is a security risk? Oh, come on. Those people won’t even jaywalk at an intersection. Seriously. There could be no cars for miles, and they’d still patiently wait for the crossing signal.

Trump imposing tariffs on Mexico, Canada, and the European Union is like walking up to your three best friends in the school yard and punching them each in the throat. Just ‘cuz.

As if we weren’t already convinced that this man is an idiot, he now decides to do something that has absolutely no upside, even for him. But oh, yeah, it certainly has taken our focus off of Russia, hasn’t it? He does like to stir shit up.

Smoke and mirrors. It’s all smoke and mirrors. The next election can’t come fast enough.

For some reason, though, a lot of people don’t quite get (yet) what a global pissing match Trump has just set off. So let’s scale it down a bit for easier comprehension.

Let’s say the Governor of Maine doesn’t like the Governor of Georgia. So Maine decides to impose a tariff on all peaches. This means that it gets a lot more expensive for Georgia to get their peaches to consumers in Maine. This causes the Governor of Georgia’s head to explode, and he says, “Fine! We are now putting a tariff on Lobsters! Take that!”

Well, messing with Lobsters in Maine is like touching the third rail. This cannot be borne! So Maine says, okay, now we’re going to put a tariff on airplanes. (You may not know this, but Georgia’s top export is airplanes.)

But hold on. Airplanes are also the top export in California, Arizona, Washington, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida, and Connecticut. So they all sit up tensely and blink, too. What’s going to happen next? They all start looking around to see how they can hurt other states who might hurt them. Everyone is poised for battle.

That’s really how the civil war started. Only back then, the commodity was slaves. Not only won’t we buy your slaves, but you can’t have them either. And before we knew it, hundreds of thousands of Americans were dead.

This trade war? Worst idea ever. Thanks, Trump. Way to go.

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A Mental Walkabout

Once upon a time, I’d visit a different foreign country every two years. Those were the days. Now, 60 percent of my income goes toward mortgage and utilities, and I don’t see myself ever being able to leave the country again. That breaks my heart, because travel is my reason for being.

Because of this, I’ve become really adept at doing mental walkabouts. If I close my eyes, I can remember exactly what it was like to walk amongst the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square in Venice. I can also explore the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey. I remember the sights, the sounds, the smells of all the amazing places I’ve been. I can transport myself back to the Mercado Hidalgo in Guanajuato, Mexico, and sample, once again, the Hungarian Goulash in Budapest.

The one percent may make it financially impossible for me to explore the world anymore, but they can’t take away my memories. Only dementia or death can do that. I’m terrified of dementia. Death, from my perspective, is simply another way to travel. (Not that I’m in any hurry to hop on that plane.)

Until then, I’ll travel in my mind. I’ll ride bicycles along the canals in Utrecht, Holland, and swim in the crystal blue Adriatic Sea. I’ll snack on fresh bread and local cheese in the Swiss Alps. No matter how dire my financial straits become, as the saying goes, I’ll always have Paris.

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Me, in Venice, with some feathered friends.

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Sound Memories

This coming June, I’ll have officially lived longer without my mother in my life than I did with her. What a concept. I can no longer remember her voice, except for the sound of one painfully high note she would hit when we’d sing a particular song. “Ain’t gonna GRIEEEEEVE my Lord no more!”

I think she did that on purpose to make me laugh. At least I hope she did. No one in my family is known for singing, but that… that was excruciating.

I miss it.

It’s funny, the things you remember and the things you don’t. Sounds, smells, songs… Sounds particularly stick with me.

I remember the sound of cowbells on a distant slope in Switzerland when I was 19 and more in love than I had ever been before or since.

Travel sounds, in particular, seem to stick with me. Coqui frogs chirping on one swelteringly hot evening in Puerto Rico. A fog horn on the coast of Canada. The call to prayer in Istanbul. Mariachis in Mexico. Flamenco dancers in Spain.

I can hear those things like they are happening right this minute. I also remember hurtful things that have been said to me. I wish I didn’t.

I remember heading out for work one day, just like any other day, except my dog Sugar ran up to the fence and threw back her head and howled like her heart was going to break in two. Before I could leave, I had to run over and give her a hug.

I remember being told I’d never leave the little redneck Florida town where I grew up. Ha! You got that wrong. But you’re still there. And you voted for Trump, too.

I remember a loved one beside me, snoring. I was irritated at the time. Now I’d give anything to have someone beside me, snoring.

“I ain’t gonna grieve my Lord no more…”

coqui

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