Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Guest: Thelma Reyna. News 'n Notes. Hallowe'en Stories

Guest Columnist: Thelma Reyna
With Poem from New Book by Pasadena CA Indie Publisher

Thelma Reyna

In the wake of historic consecutive hurricanes slamming our nation’s Gulf Coast and the Caribbean—Irma, Jose, Maria—and their unprecedented destruction, our collective anguish has turned to rebuilding and rescue efforts that are expected to last for years. Much has hinged on the U.S. president’s responses to the disasters: his mobilization of federal resources and oversight of FEMA, as well as commiserating with the suffering of the people.

"Hurricane hitting the Island" foto:msedano
Sadly, the current office holder’s report card on handling disasters falls short. His own rave self-reviews aside, the man’s tardy outreach to console the stricken people and his lack of authentic compassion in his demeaning tweets and visits to the storm areas have reinforced the public image of him as self-congratulatory and out of touch with real people’s suffering. Nowhere can this be seen more starkly than in his response to the nation receiving the least of his attention and the brunt of his disparagement: Puerto Rico.

Today, 41 days after PR was struck by Irma, conditions on the island are only slightly less dire as on day one: the death toll has risen; potable water is still unavailable for all; people struggle with insufficient food, power, and communications; patients in hospitals continue to die. Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of Puerto Rico’s largest town, San Juan, appeared regularly on TV for weeks, weeping in frustration, begging aid from anyone in the world, criticizing our federal response to their life-and-death struggle, and generally sounding like a broken record: We need drinking water, food, and medicine! People are dying.

But as the world now knows, Mayor Cruz’s reward for caring about Puerto Ricans’ survival was surrealistic: The American president publicly called Cruz a bad leader, depicting the disaster victims as lazy and wanting to “have everything done for them,” which was far from factual. He did not visit P.R. as readily as he did Texas and Florida, both large red states with huge electoral votes. Instead, P.R. had to wait 13 days before their nation’s president went to “the island in the big ocean very far away,” as he referred to it while he golfed and relaxed on his resort, tweeted slanders at Cruz, and Puerto Ricans perished.
"Hurricane damage" foto:msedano   
My new book about life in the United States of America since the election of this president includes the poem below about Puerto Rico’s fate thus far in the hands of the man who—when he finally, reluctantly made it to P.R.—scolded island officials for putting the federal budget “out of whack” because of funds channeled to assist them; implied that the deaths of 16 Puerto Ricans (the death toll at that time) was insignificant, unlike the “thousands” who died in Katrina, “a real catastrophe”; and all but ghosted Mayor Cruz while he praised himself endlessly and praised his FEMA team hyperbolically. He topped off that disastrous visit by throwing paper towel rolls at anxious recipients of aid, instead of taking that opportunity to meet them face-to-face, shake their hands, embrace them, or console them. He “toured” the island for less than half an hour, then departed quickly. He failed in attempting to be human.

Yet, in his callous charade, he continuously gave himself an “A+” for his work and required, as has become typical of him with large groups, that officials in the room praise him lavishly in round-robin fashion, much like “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Un. In the days since this fiasco, “45,” as some refer to him, threatened to pull all FEMA assistance and complained that the U.S. cannot continue providing aid and military assistance to the island for much longer. So, while Texas is favored with thousands more boots on the ground providing relief, though their situation is not as dire as is Puerto Rico’s, 45 continues his inhumane marginalization and cruelty toward our fellow Americans in P.R.

Here is a look at the heroic P.R. mayor, from my new book of sociopolitical commentary in poetry and prose about the era of the man who would be king. The book is due for release later this year or early next.

By Thelma Reyna

“When it bothers someone that you’re asking for drinking water,
medicine for the sick and food for the hungry, that person has much
deeper problems than what can be discussed in an interview.”
--Carmen Yulín Cruz

He called her “nasty woman,” so she wore “NASTY” like a medal on her T-shirt on TV.
He called her a bad leader, so she focuses like hell’s laser on saving her people’s lives despite him.

He thinks he can tweet her into silence, degrade her into turnabout.
She’s a Latina after all, poor, homeless, with a heart that feels every cut the broken branches make on her people’s hands when they clear roads.
She feels every parched breath pushed like knives into old people’s throats in a nursing home when generators sighed and died.
She feels brittle bones of people she helps pull from waters toxic and putrid.
She feels men’s pain when they cart sisters and mothers and fathers from splintered homes sodden and deadly.
She feels the abyss of grief when she sees toddlers and children muddied and still.
She feels the rumbles and stabbings of hunger and thirst of people stranded alone.

Mayor Carmen wears glasses, rubber waders thick and heavy to her hips, wears her outrage and pleas on her face and lips like Melania wears de la Renta with heels.

Mayor Carmen knows no vanity, like him and her.
Mayor Carmen knows no rest, like him and her in their resort when he lambasted her.

Mayor Carmen knows death and fear, desperation and tribulation, isolation and abandonment every day that breaks.
We don’t have time for her political noise, Trump’s team says.*
Mayor Carmen knows he doesn’t care.

It’s not politics, she said to him.
We need water, she said on TV for the thousandth time with the death toll 39.

But for him it always is,
and they’ll have water when he gets around to it.

*Three weeks into the natural disaster, Mayor Cruz asked again on TV for water for her nation. 
The Director of FEMA, Brock Long, replied: “We filtered out the mayor a long time ago. 
We don’t have time for the political noise.” 

THELMA T. REYNA, Ph.D. Thelma’s books have won 8 national literary awards. She has written 4 books and, as Poet Laureate in Altadena, CA, has edited 2 anthologies showcasing the poems of about 100 local and regional poets.

The title of Dr. Reyna's new book is:
READING TEA LEAVES AFTER TRUMP. Pasadena, CA: Golden Foothills Press. ISBN 978-0-9969632-3-7

Thelma's fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have appeared in literary journals, anthologies, textbooks, blogs, and regional media for over 25 years.

Thelma Reyna is an editor with her writing consultancy, The Writing Pros; and Chief Editor at her indie publishing venture in Pasadena, CA, Golden Foothills Press. Dr. Reyna holds a Ph.D. from UCLA.

Visit her website at www.GoldenFoothillsPress.com

News 'n notes
Alburquerque Gente Can Sponsor a Piñata At NHCC
Click here for more piñatas
Email link: Tey.Nunn@state.nm.us

Poli Marichal Animated Gem At Latinopia

Multi-talented artist Poli Marichal discusses her interests in digital and animated art. A noted printmaker, Marichal's stop-motion animation, Sin Fronteras, is visually arresting, an especially useful way to involve audiences in the ideas threading through Sin Frontera's visual and aural delights. And, being digital, a viewer is free to start and stop, rewind and look again, before moving on, then repeating the experience as many times as one clicks.

Be sure to visit Latinopia for the full interview with the Los Angeles-based artist. 

It Happened Along the Old Road
Michael Sedano

I didn't want to stop, in fact my pace picked up but then I stopped. The joke has a lot of truth in it, though the gente in that house have no idea how their tableau unnerved me with its faint then insistent recall of one of those life's scariest moments.

The road from Redlands to Hemet winds along the eastern edge of the cemetery where Alessandro Road descends into San Timoteo Canyon. In those days, the road fords the creek near the forgotten indian graveyard to cross into San Timoteo Canyon, where the two-lane blacktop hugs the bluffs of the broad creek on its way to Live Oak Canyon and the pass to the Moreno Valley.

The young man drives his Model A with practiced ease. He's made the trip to Hemet every weekend since the chavacanes got ripe and his girlfriend's family went to la pisca. He started work earlier than usual that morning, to be able to work a full day and still get away early. As it happened, that day the foreman assigned him to prune deadwood from a neglected row of yellow limones, the tree with thorns.

His arms itched from hundreds of needlepoint wounds and he wasn't paying close attention to the switchbacks along the rising road. But he realized it and slowed. Approaching "dead man's curve" he downshifted into second gear against the climb to the top of the ridge, and prepared to brake and let gravity wheel him around the series of "S" curves at the summit.

He is thinking of his girl. Only fifteen, her father insists that the two chamaquitos keep the enamorados in their sight. The young man doesn't mind, just being near the most beautiful woman in the world is his only pursuit in life.

At the final "S" curve, his foot off the gas, the Model A's headlights leave the pavement to swing across the open space above the valley floor. Into the curve, the headlights find the gouged walls of fossil-bearing ancient mud. He loves the sight of the beams sweeping across open space until the first salt bushes appear at the right of his vista that beams across bushy sage and flowering buckwheat and in a flash across the final curve, a horrible sight.

Here, at the most treacherous curve, at the highest point of Live Oak Canyon Road, a shiny black Phaeton hangs over the precipice. The young man's lights had swung across the chrome hood ornament, a rampant eagle, claws deployed in the act of killing. His headlights caught the driver's door, hanging open. A figure sitting on the running board, a figure, a woman cradling a baby. Then his headlights swung out into open space, the Phaeton and the mother a burning afterimage in his vision.

The young man carefully pulls out of the curve onto the shoulder. He stops and sets the handbrake. His flashlight batteries are old but able to cast dim yellow light giving a ghostly cast to its world. The beam finds the rear bumper first. As he moves closer, the beam shows the left rear wheels planted firmly on earth but the Phaeton's right-side wheels disappear into the blackness waiting to claim its next victim.

He speaks English as he approaches, shining the light at the rear passenger door, not in her face. The shadowed woman hums to calm the swaddled form. Her elbows rock slowly. The young man stops ten feet from the teetering Ford. "Let me help you," he says.

The darkness beyond swallows his voice as completely as it swallowed his headlights. The words fall flat yet he remembers them as booming in his ears. The woman stops humming.

In the moonless night of Live Oak Canyon, alone on the old road, his eyes lock on her head. In the silence she looks up. A gloved hand pulls aside her mantilla. When she makes eye contact with the young man, he flees in terror from the skeleton face that glowed out of her hood.

In Hemet that night, the teenager wonders about his absence. Had her father scared him away?

The old road is gone now, a lot of years. When motorists speed along the sleek blacktop into Moreno Valley from Live Oak Canyon now, not many of them look up at the ridge, where the curves are tighter and here and there, patches of the old pavement still hold their ground and their memories.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Interview of Hector Luis Alamo

Interview of Hector Luis Alamo by Xánath Caraza

A Chicago writer now floating on the edge of Las Vegas, Hector is the editor and publisher of Enclave, as well as a guest columnist for Chile’s Prensa Irreverente. He is the former deputy editor for Latino Rebels, as well as the former managing editor for Gozamos, a Latino "artivist" site based in his hometown. He's contributed to RedEye, a Chicago daily geared toward millennials, and La Respuesta, a New York-based site for the Puerto Rican Diaspora, plus a number of publications, including the Huffington Post. He studied history at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his focus was on ethnic relations in the United States.

1.     As a child, who first introduced you to reading?  Who guided you through your first readings?

When my mom moved my brother and I to the suburbs, the local elementary school was named for Frost -- the first poet I'd ever heard of up to that point, and who has since become one of my favorite poets of all time. (Another school nearby was named for Longfellow.) Then in the fifth grade, a new principal, Mr. Crocker, launched an innovative reading initiative. He would open the school at seven on Saturday mornings to let kids play basketball or play on the computers in the library. He even supplied as much doughnut holes and orange juice as we could swallow. The only requirement was that we first read in silence for an hour. He, the librarian and a few volunteers supervised the whole thing, so no one ever got away with playing or eating without reading first. We could read from whatever was available in the library, so there was a wide variety. I mostly read the newspaper because that's what Mr. Crocker and this older kid I looked up to read. I wasn't much of reader myself, only looking through the science and nature magazines for kids, plus whatever was assigned in class. (I knew TV like the black of my hand, though.) So being forced to read was a lifesaver. And my brother, our friends and I kept going to the Saturday morning reading program straight through our first years of high school, eventually becoming volunteers ourselves.

The middle school I attended was named after Oliver Wendell Holmes -- the poet, not the judge -- and others in the district were named Cooper and London, which brought more literary names, if not their works, into my bubble. In my eighth-grade creative writing class the students were asked to give a presentation on a piece of literature of their choosing. I chose Poe's "The Raven," having heard it read by James Earl Jones during a special Halloween episode of 'The Simpsons.' I wanted to impress the class (and my teacher, I guess) by reciting the poem from memory, but I only managed to memorize the first two stanzas and the last. (Which wasn't too bad for a chronic slacker such as myself.) I ended up merely reading the whole thing off an overhead projector I put together, but I still raised a few eyebrows by reciting the last stanza off the top of my head. I fell in love with Poe then, and it's him whom I credit for sparking in me a love of poetry. (That same year, in a drama class, I had to perform the orchard scene form 'Romeo & Juliet' -- as the hapless heroine herself.) 'Where the Sidewalk Ends' by Shel Silverstein was my first favorite book of poetry, though I didn't see it as poetry at the time; I'm positive I didn't know what it was, only that it was fun and clever. But Poe I read and reread every year to this day. It's his lyricism, I've admired, even as an eighth-grade kid who mostly listened to rap music.

But I should stress how little I read, and how much I generally hated reading. In high school, just to be a punk, I'd refuse to read the books assigned for summer reading, taking the zeroes with the devil-may-care attitude I assumed throughout my adolescence. (My acting out was clearly a defense mechanism, but I'll save that story for another interview.)

2.     How did you first become a poet/writer/columnist?  And, what impact did seeing your first publications have on you?

In the second grade I wrote and illustrated a little book about hibernation -- which animals hibernate and how they go about preparing. It won me an award from Young Chicago Authors. Then, in eighth grade, I wrote a poem about Watergate that my English teacher made me read in front of everybody, and that was the first time I realized that I could do something that most others couldn't, though I still didn't think I could be a writer. I didn't know any adult who was a writer, first of all, or any kind of artist for that matter. All I knew was that I was different.

Throughout my school days I would also write love letters and poems to the girls I liked. And when AOL Instant Messenger came along, I spent hours talking to as many female classmates as I could, trying to get as deep and intimate with them as I could. (To say I was a bit of a Lothario would be less an understatement and more a lie; I was pathological in my hedonism, specifically during the high school and college years. Nonetheless, my skirmishes with the opposite sex taught me a lot about love -- what it is, and what it isn't -- valuable lessons for any writer-in-waiting.) I kept a journal, too, of all the drama I was creating around me. I was getting inside people's heads, and taking notes.

One funny coincidence occurred during my sophomore year of high school. I was arrested for vandalizing a school park -- my elementary school, actually -- and as part of my punishment, along with twenty-five hours of community service, was to write an essay on what the incident taught me. The essay was to be review by the president of the park district who, as it turned out, also taught high-school English. When I turned in my essay, he complimented on my writer and told me I should focus on school. I made like I wasn't listening to him, but I was.

When I entered the honors accounting program at DePaul (being completely aimless at the time), I was extremely lonely and depressed. I'd go back home every single weekend to party with my girlfriend and our friends, and I started blogging about all of our adventures and misadventures. I had just heard about blogging -- this was at the beginning of 2004 -- and I saw it as a natural outlet for my predilection for sharing personal details about myself and the world around me. I started writing about more and more serious topics, however, and eventually launched another blog where I discussed politics, religion, philosophy and history. Long story short, I switched colleges a few times, switched my major to history, and started writing for the student newspaper at the University of Illinois-Chicago, first as an opinion columnist, then as the editor of the Opinions section. (When the paper folded, a few of us alumni even launched a short-lived replacement.) Seeing my byline in print made me realize I might actually be able to be a writer out in the real world.

I'd never forgive myself for not mentioning the immense encouragement I received throughout from a number of teachers -- two in high school, Mr. Cushing and Mr. Wool -- and especially Professor McCloskey. She not only had a deep love and understanding of history, but also held strict views on writing. She taught a course I took at UIC which taught history students how to approach the writing of their senior theses. I impressed her, according to her. She always gave me an A on our weekly papers, evening leaving a note on one which read: "You have the horsepower to earn a living with your pen!" Her encouragement was either a blessing or a curse, because it was all I needed to then decide I would write, if not for a living, then at least for life.

Still, had I known what being a writer would demand of me, I might've shied away from it. As it is now, I'm too far gone to turn back.

3.     Do you have any favorite poems by other authors?  Or stanzas?  Could you share some verses along with your reflection of what drew you toward that poem/these stanzas?

As I'm sure you're well aware, being asked to name a favorite poem, or even a favorite author, is like gazing over a field of wildflowers and being asked to choose your favorite one. It's impossible, especially since I haven't nearly read all of the great works out there. Still, there are poems and authors whose words I find myself returning to almost every week.

Poe, as I said earlier, was the first to stick, and no matter where I am, or what's happening to me, his words are always on the tip of my tongue:

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

How beautiful is that! The rhyming scheme of the whole of the whole poem is so genius, so difficult. It's Poe flexing every poetic muscle he's developed -- not only putting together an extremely complex rhyme pattern, but also telling a good story while doing it, a story about loss and hopeless despair. I'm a big fan of taking something ugly and making something beautiful. Because what else is there to do with life's ugly parts?

Then there are the last lines to Frost's "Road Not Taken," which have become a personal manifesto of mine:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Any Latino with the nerve to be a writer immediately understands what Frost is getting at here, maybe even more than he did when he wrote it.

There are a lot of poets whose words I hear echoing in my mind on a constant basis: Sandburg ("Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth"); Whitman ("Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul"), Martí ("Yo soy un hombre sincero"); Owen (His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin"); Hughes ("What happens to a dream deferred?"); Levine ("They feed they Lion and he comes"); Angelou ("I am the dream and the hope of the slave"); Auden ("The Ogre does what ogres can"); Nas ("Life is parallel to Hell, but I must maintain"). The list goes on and on -- Williams, Pound, Neruda, Donne, Shelley, Thomas, and Shakespeare of course, but I never was a fan of Eliot -- and I'm always rediscovering poets and falling in love with their work.

My list of favorite writers and authors is many times as long as my one for poets, so I won't bother mentioning them. I'll just summarize by saying that I like the so-called "minimalists" and "dirty realists" -- the aesthetic of my own life as I see it. The book that really turned me on to fiction -- which I read with pure excitement and made me want to try my hand at it -- was 'The Sun Also Rises,' mostly the Pamplona stuff, and especially his description of the bullfights. I think about that book all the time, as well as the vignettes Hemingway wrote when he was practicing in Paris. Because even though I believe bullfighting to be morally reprehensible, he was such a master writer that he made something so ugly seem so beautiful. Only a true poet can do that.

4.     What is a day of creative writing like for you?  Where do you write?  How often?

Except for the act of putting words to page, writing fiction is almost completely different than journalism. I can write an essay or article from anywhere, at any time. But writing a story -- well, that's a lot like making love. You have to put yourself in the mood or else it'll feel too mechanical, and it'll read that way, too.

I just started seriously working on short stories only a few months ago, which means I've been writing fiction at my desk almost every morning from about nine till about noon, right around the time my wife comes home from work. It's good that she comes home and interrupts me, or else I might keep writing and do nothing else, like eat lunch, read, shower, or leave the house.

I've always been a morning person, but it's taken me a few years to settle into the right schedule that works for me. Since I'm also a bit of a night owl, I used to save my writing for after dinner, when the rest of the world was quiet, asleep. It also felt sexier writing at night -- the image of a tortured writer burning the midnight wax -- and since a lot of my early writing days involved a lot of posing, I had decided that I would do my writing at night. But my days were filled with so much other stuff -- especially a lot of reading, but a lot of life in general -- that I would have almost no energy or creative juices left for writing at the end of the day.

Now I wake up, eat breakfast (almost always microwavable oatmeal), feed the dog, read a bit of the news (just to know the rumors, as Hitchens put it), kiss my wife on her way to work, and head to my desk with a cup of café con leche. It's hard to shut off the rest of the world first thing in the morning, especially coming from the blogging world, but that's what you have to do if you plan on getting anything done, to create something that's meant to last a little longer than twenty-four hours.

5.     When do you know when a text is ready to be read?

Never. It's never ready, is it? Even Whitman kept revising Leaves of Grass. It can always be written better, or you can write a better poem, or tell a better story. It's never perfect. It'll never be perfect. And that's what drives me to keep at it. I'll never write the greatest story ever, but I'm willing to try because trying is what makes me happy, what fulfills me and gives my life some semblance of meaning. My Lothario days are behind me but I'm still in love with chasing beauty -- only this time, instead of chasing after beautiful faces, I'm after beautiful phrases.

Also, you can always retell the same stories without people ever even catching on. The details would be different -- the settings, the characters, and so on -- but the stories would be more or less the same, about the same things. Isn't that what Hemingway did, after all?

6.     What projects are you working on at the moment?

I've always had a one-track mind, and my sole focus these days is on writing better short stories. There are things I can't express in a column or essay, things I can only show through storytelling, and so I'm forcing myself to become proficient in that regard. The artist in me keeps toying around with voice and setting and structure and all that, but my main goal is simply to become a good fiction writer. What "good" means, I'm not sure, but I think I'll know when I get there. Anything I achieve beyond that would just be nice.

7.     What advice do you have for other writers?

You have to decide what kind of writer you want to be and what you're willing to do -- or what you're willing to give up, rather -- in order to become that kind of writer. It'll be way harder and take way longer than you can possibly imagine. You'll get deeply depressed, suicidal even, doubting yourself almost the whole time. But keep your tunnel vision, find all of your enjoyment in the process of becoming a better writer, ignoring all the setbacks. You wanted to be a writer just to write, and nothing more. Not be famous or rich, because if those were your reasons for picking up a pen, then you're in for a very rude awakening.

Writing is very lonely. It's not going to be like young Hemingway in Paris. No, it's more like Thoreau at Walden Pond. Read biographies of writers to give you a better sense of what other people have endured for the sake of their work. Read about Martí's life; it'll keep you from complaining about your own.

And even the people who say they believe in you won't really. If you're lucky, your partner will support your dream even though they personally don't care about literature whatsoever. And other people will tell you things like, "You should write a history book for kids! That would really sell!" But if you wanted to "sell," you would've been a salesman, not a writer.

Read Bukowski's advice to aspiring writers. Read all of the advice you can find. You'll need it.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Chicana en Serbia: What I've Seen So Far

Perhaps my interest in travel stems from mis papas often taking me to Mexico to visit familia in the summers and mid-year holidays when I was young. I quickly learned how to navigate the various communities where my Mexican cousins, aunts, uncles lived:  Mexico D.F. (as it was known then), Torreon and Gomez Palacio en Coahuila; Chapalita en Guadalajara; Leon en Guanajuato, Morelia en Michoacán. One summer we even took a month-long road trip all the way down to Oaxaca, hitting the lesser known towns.  I remember coming back to Los Angeles, after that trip, feeling mentally burst open--amazed at the world and wanting more. I also witnessed interesting political moments while abroad.  For example, vivid in my memory: sitting with my cousins at their casita en Guadalajara, watching Richard Nixon announcing his resignation.  Or, much later, living and studying in Spain during the signing of the Spanish Democratic Constitution in 1978.  I was always observing how people live in places they call "home"-- from domestic quotidian events to the larger political and social implications affecting an entire nation and beyond. My parents and my Mexican aunts, uncles, cousins were always politically, socially, artistically astute and ready for a discussion. 

Now I write from Novi Sad, Serbia-- a place most would find quite removed from not only the U.S., but Mexico. And yet, connections abound. Then there are the many wars within the Balkan History.  Below is a photographic narrative of some of the experiences/scenes I've encountered so far:

Portrait Art in downtown Novi Sad gallery---- Soon after arriving in Novi Sad, during one of my initial walks through downtown, I came across this gallery which was featuring the work of  ŽIVKA  SUVIĆ  PETROVIĆ, an artist from Novi Sad who is a member of "The Artistic Association of Serbia," (ULUS). She has had 13 independent exhibitions and over 60 group exhibitions. 

At first, her portraits had me thinking about the Balkan Wars. Are these faces illustrating the pain and frustration during or after the wars?  Or maybe the artist(s) are depicting life right now-- young Eastern Europeans who are at a crossroads in their lives.  Should they leave this area that they may feel offers nothing to them, becoming immigrants in order to find what they feel may be better lives?  Or maybe, as in the one portrait with the words "COMPASSION" (see further down)-- these portraits seem to be instructing viewers about themselves. Since I do not read or understand Serbian, I could not ask the gallery attendant (who did not understand Spanish or English) about any possible interpretations from the artist. And so I leave you, La Bloga reader, with these portraits to interpret.  

After viewing these portraits, I headed over to the downtown promenade. I offer my own portrait of a traditional flute musician who gave me permission to photograph him.  I was told that the tune he was playing was an old Balkan wooing melody.  

Food in Serbia continues to surprise me because of its many similarities to Mexican foods.  Below is a photo of what are called "chicharrones" in Mexico.  These are fried pork rinds.  Here in Serbia, they are called "cvarci."  Both words (chicharrón and cvarci) have that same CH sound that mimics what pork rinds sound like when you crunch into them. 

Baked goods are everywhere in Serbia.  There is a "pekara" (bakery) on every corner.  In this photo below, this Serbian-type croissant looks very much like the familiar (to me)  Mexican "CUERNO."  

All kinds of salami and smoked meats (salami/bacon) are typical here.  I took this picture not for the meats but for the garlic.  Garlic is abundant here.  

Serbia is also known for its red peppers-- these large peppers are described as "horned peppers."  They are quite meaty.  Serbians roast them, peel the skin, and cook them with garlic, spices, and roasted eggplant to make their famous "ajvar" (pronounced "AY--VAR").  It is, in my opinion, the Balkan hummus, only better because of the spices. It has become my favorite condiment.  

During a wine festival, they had a public viewing of how ajvar is cooked.  Above, the red peppers roast and below, the skin of the roasted peppers are stirred until they become soft mush.  

Below--looking more like Ajvar!

The University of Novi Sad is my academic home this year.  I am in the English Department which is called "Faculty of Philosophy" here.  This is very much like Spain where I studied under the discipline of literature, called "FILOLOGIA," which is (in my opinion) a much more apt title because it literally translates to the study of literature, the history of literature, linguistics...

And while writing here, what is helping tremendously, is an intensive class on the Serbian language.  I've been learning how to read Serbian in Latin and in Cyrillic-- a real challenge since this is an archaic language.  There are so many exceptions and rules all due to wars, upheavals, whims.  The language was standardized in the nineteenth century (which includes the Cyrillic).  However, since then, there continue to be changes. The Balkan Wars of the 1990s brought yet more transformations to the language.  

Learning a language is opening a door into the heart, soul, and history of a people.  Each word, each nominative form created from joy, from pain, colonization, genocide.  At the most general level, there is also a visceral aspect to this linguistic discovery.  As I study, I notice how the words feel in my body, each sound shaping sentimientos de la historia de esta tierra. I feel I am bowing respectfully by struggling to emit plosives and fricatives I had never attempted before.  Or what happens to my thinking when I hear a Serbian word in class and am directed to write what I hear in cyrillic: I feel the synapses in my head connecting through completely different pathways.  

I don't expect to be fully literate in Serbian by the time I return home.  I believe the attempt is what is important, especially in this historical moment when the policing, strangling, language eviscerated is at its height in so many areas of the world.  In The Balkans, this language took a major hit.  In her novel, The Ministry of Pain, Dubravka Ugresic writes:  

"Not that the language as it was before the divorce -- Serbo-Croatian or Croato-Serbian or Croatian and Serbian -- represented a better, more acceptable linguistic construct that the war had then destroyed.  No, it, too, had performed a political function: it, too had been backed by an army; it, too, had been manipulated, polluted by a heavily ideologized Yugospeak.  But the history of melding the linguistic variants into a single construct involved a much longer and more meaningful process than the overnight divorce, just as the history of building bridges and roads involved a much longer and more meaningful process than their overnight destruction" (36).  

Ugresic's description brings me to Nahuatl and the Codex Mendoza.  The Codex was created 14 years "after" Spanish colonization under the direction of Don Antonio de Mendoza, the Viceroy of New Spain.  

This page from The Codex Mendoza describes the required "tax" (paid in animals hides/plants/objects)
that the Aztecs required from other indigenous communities they had conquered.  
Mendoza's intent was to send a record of events to the King of Spain (Charles V).  It is an amazing record but each time I peruse the artwork, trace my finger over the Nahuatl, I wonder what is true, what was forced-- all the "linguistic variants" "manipulated/polluted."  Yet, this is what we have.

During my time studying in Salamanca, Spain-- my favorite thing to do in the afternoons walking to my class on "The Golden Age of Spanish Literature," was to stop at one of the many little stores along the way to pick up a small "Carlos V" chocolate bar.  The chocolate was unlike any I had tasted in Los Angeles. Here I was eating chocolate named after a Spanish King (who was the motivating force behind the Codex Mendoza), chocolate that had originated not from Spain but in what was now called Mexico, a place (Tenochtitlán) where the Aztecs prized the cacao bean, saw it as a gift from Quetzalcoatl. In Spain, "Carlos V" bars were known as "The King's Chocolate" and in 2005 Nestlé took it to the United States. Today the package looks very different describing "swiss style" chocolate  with artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers. Food, language-- all colonized.  

I think of Gloria Anzaldúa who writes:  "Chicanos, after 250 years of Spanish/Anglo colonization have developed significant differences in the Spanish we speak.  We collapse two adjacent vowels into a single syllable and sometimes shift the stress in certain words such as maíz/maiz, cohete/cuete. We leave out certain consonants when they appear between vowels: lado/lao, mojado/mojao . . . We tend to use words that the Spaniards brought over from Medieval Spain . . ." (Borderlands/La Frontera, 79).  

But I digress in my photographic narrative here . . . Below is a picture of my efforts in learning cyrillic and the Serbian language . . . 

Below: One of the main buildings across from the Faculty of Philosophy building. Any visiting prime ministers/diplomats come here to make their presentations/give their speeches. More than once, I've walked by and TV stations are interviewing or reporting outside, at times police are present.  

At the beginning of the semester, students are able to buy used books (below)---

A beautiful fall day on the University of Novi Sad campus!

A photo (below) with Professor Aleksandra Izgarjan while in downtown Novi Sad.  I am teaching Chicanx and Latinx literature with her this semester.  

Amelia M.L. Montes and Aleksandra Izgarjan
And while writiing/studying Serbian, you can find me at either The Frida Kahlo cafe below . . . 

Below--interior of the Frida Kahlo cafe--

Below-- interior of Frida Kahlo cafe (my little writing desk):

You can also find me at Che's Cafe Cubano.  

Che's Cafe Cubano

And after you've had your coffee or tea, you can then get into hiking mode by visiting Fruska Gora, (click here for more info).  Fruska Gora, a mountain above Novi Sad, is known for its many miles of hiking trails.  It also has over 10 monasteries (very old monasteries that are still active and thriving).

 Below:  Fruska Gora

Below-- the Danube and the Petrovaradin Fortress dating back to the 1600s.  Again-- a site of multiple historical events, the latest were the bombings during the Yugoslavian (1990s) war that destroyed all of the bridges in Novi Sad, including the one that connected the city to the Fortress.  Serbians had to take a ferry to the fortress until a new bridge was built.  

Below is what is left of the Armenian Church. During WWII, the Nazi's razed the church.  This is a memorial.  

 Below (two photographs) are the Orthodox Cathedral and the downtown square.

 Downtown Serbia---

The Jewish Synagogue (below). Unlike the Armenian church, the Novi Sad Synagogue was spared during WWII.  However, it's Jewish community was decimated-- another important history.

Just a few days after arriving, I stood silently in front of the synagogue (taking this photograph above).  This Jewish Synagogue, and its neighboring building, houses offices and cultural study spaces.  Before WWII, over 4,000 Jews lived in Novi Sad (80,000 in what is now Serbia).  Roughly 1,000 survived and many fled to Israel.  In addition to thousands being sent to concentration camps, the Danube River also holds their remains.  The Danube crosses through a number of countries in this region, one of which is Budapest where, between 1944 and 1945, "The Fascist Arrow Cross Militiamen" ordered hundreds of Jews to take off their shoes and stand at the bank of the Danube.

While these victims stood on the edge of the Danube, the Militiamen shot them and either threw them into the icy river, or they fell into it.  "The Shoes on the Danube Bank" is a memorial in Budapest, Hungary, honoring the memory of these victims.  Just a year ago (2016), Serbia passed the following law on the restitution of Holocaust victims' assets: over 3,000 buildings expropriated during WWII will be returned to Serbia's main Jewish organization. The Federation of Jewish Municipalities of Serbia will also be given a budget funding of 950,000 Euro per year for a period of 25 years, starting THIS year (2017). They will be using it to finance Jewish research and education, scholarships for students and young talents in Serbia. Serbia is the first country to do this. All of this is paramount to remember and witness in this historical moment we are living in right now.