Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Streets of San Cristobal (for a brief interlude during troubling times)

Note: When he was 19 years-old, Anthony Reza experienced one of the worst battles of the Vietnam War, leaving him wounded, physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Four decades later, the 66-year-old history professor-writer heads for a vacation to Mexico City, hoping to clear his mind for the start of a new semester of classes, barely a week away, but instead of staying in the relative safety of Mexican capital, as he promised his wife, he, spontaneously, changes plans and boards a bus to Chiapas, site of the 1994 Zapatista rebellion. Revolutions fascinate him. Five hours into a fourteen-hour bus ride, his mind begins to calm, that is, until he notices a Mexican soldier glaring at him from across the aisle.                                                                                    
Mexico moves on wheels
     Above the driver's head, the clock says 2:07 AM. I look through the windshield and see a busy, freeway, three lanes on either side. The bus moves fast, maybe 70 miles-per-hour. Outside, the lights are a blur. I’m groggy, not sure if I’m asleep or awake. It’s all so hazy.
     The bus pulls to a stop, a small settlement, bare lightbulbs hanging from a thatched roof. A new bus driver steps onto the bus and into the driver seat, a fresh replacement. I rise to my elbows. Some passengers disembark. I take out my cassette recorder and try describing what I see. Fifteen minutes later, they board again, loaded with coffee, sodas, muffins, and chips. I see the name, Armadillo, funny name for a town.
     “What is that?” I look up. It's the young soldier from across the aisle, who has had his eyes on me since I sat down. He is now standing over me. My first instinct is to tell him it’s none of his business. I know better. “It’s a recorder.” I hold it out so he can see.
     He takes it from me and turns it over, as if looking for a secret compartment. He asks why I have it and what I am saying into it. Now, I am annoyed. It’s early, and I’m tired. He stands, legs apart, a defensive position. Other passengers turn to look. He shows them he is in control. I speak softly so only he and those nearby can hear. I tell him I am a visitor from the United States, a teacher on vacation before I begin work again. I know most Mexicans respect teachers.
     He asks to see some identification. I hesitate. I don’t need him getting off the bus with my personal documents. The new driver waits, the bus engine still humming. I hand the kid my passport, faculty ID, and military disability cards. I want U.S. Government in his face. He looks at my documents. I smile at him, friendly. He remains stoic. He returns my documents and recorder. He looks down at me, threateningly. Before he says anything, I tell him, “I hope to visit my cousin before I leave, Senator Miguel Reza Mireles.”
     “Senator…Mireles--from San Luis Potosi?”
     I’m impressed the kid knows the name. “That’s right. I haven’t seen him in a few years. I emailed him before I left home. He’s expecting me. I wasn’t sure if he is still in Mexico City or back in San Luis.”
     "He is in Mexico City," he says. "My duty was to guard the senators when the legislature was in session."
     "Ah, perfect," I respond.
     It’s like a poker game. I can see the kid thinking. “Thank you for your documents,” is all he says before turning, picking up his bag from his seat and exiting the bus.
     The people around me return to their own worlds. In a minute, we are back on the highway. I am disturbed, yet relieved, but it’s like I’ve been violated. He could have ordered me off the bus, and lord, who knows what then, a huge fine, bribe, or something worse.
     I always wondered if one day my cousin’s name and position might help me. I haven’t seen him in ten years, and I don’t know how his name just popped into my head like that. I lie back, toss for another half-hour or so, and succumb to the darkness.
Anthony will learn the charms and intrigues of San Cristobal's streets 
     The next time my eyes open, golden streaks of light flood the bus. I pull back the curtains, and the early morning sun rushes in. Low, round, mountains surround us. People on the bus are stirring about. Along the highway, people mill about in small hamlets, smoke rising from thatched roofs. The smell of burnt wood engulfs us.
     We’re on a two-lane road, still moving at a fast clip. It’s a beautiful morning. I push the incident with the young soldier from my mind, simple, just like that. An hour later, people stand and reach for their belongings. The bus slowly edges its way through narrow city streets. Swinging in a wide arc, it pulls through the entrance and into the Central de Autobuses, Tuxtla Gutierrez. Fourteen hours have passed since we left Mexico City. The bus driver calls, “Fifteen minutes.”
     I ask the driver if he knows where I catch the shuttle to San Cristobal. He looks at me as if I’m joking. “That’s my next stop.”
     “The ticket agent said I needed to transfer to a shuttle.”
     He shrugs. “Can I buy a ticket from you?” “No, inside, at the counter. Leave your luggage underneath. I’ll be waiting here.”
     I step down from the bus and head to the terminal. The luggage handler, a young man, calls me back. “What about your bag?”
     “I’ll be back. I need to buy a ticket to San Cristobal.”
     “Let me see your ticket stub.” I hand it to him. “Your destination says Tuxtla Gutierrez. Your luggage is already inside.”
     “The driver told me to leave it on the bus.”
     “Go to the luggage area.”
     Inside, I locate the baggage claim. I give the man my ticket. He hands me my suitcase. I go to the counter to buy a ticket. Five minutes have passed. Two people chat and laugh with the woman selling tickets. I’m impatient. I shouldn’t be. No one hurries in Mexico. That is part of the attraction. When I reach the counter. I ask for a ticket to San Cristobal. “The bus leaves in ten minutes,” the agent tells me.
     “Yes, I know,” I answer, annoyed. “In Mexico City….” She’s isn’t listening. I walk towards the exit to board the bus. A security guard stops me. “You must go through security.” I look out at the line of people waiting to have their suitcases, boxes, and bags inspected. “I just got off that bus,” I say pointing. “The driver told me to buy a ticket and get back on.”
     “Maestro, once inside the terminal, you must go through security to exit, no exceptions.”
     It's getting warm. Perspiration builds on my forehead. The word maestro throws me. Mexicans use it as a term of respect for anyone with graying hair. My mind says I am in my thirties; my body knows the truth. Mirrors are my enemy. Reluctantly, I head for security. There’s a long line. One lady has five bags. The inspectors open every bag. Ten minutes have passed. I decide to buck the line, hoping my maestro status will offer some advantage.
     My too casual Los Angeles professor, hippie attire doesn’t scream “distinguished” in Mexico. If anything, it screams privileged Hispanicized pocho. I walk up to another inspector and explain my situation. He looks me up and down. “You need to get back in line.” He is firm. Then comes another thought. I am being set up for a huge mordida, you know—the big bite—the bribe? In Mexico, I’ve learned never to argue with authority, like the young soldier on the bus. One pleads, bribes, cajoles, or is smart enough to know the difference. The lower the authority figure, the more manipulation it takes. I use a calm, respectful voice, “Inspector,” I assume his title. I may be overdoing it. “I just arrived on that bus after a fourteen-hour ride. The driver told me to buy a ticket to San Cristobal and get back onto the bus. He is ready to leave.” Under stress, my Spanish awkwardly becomes a direct translation from English.
     “The driver will wait,” the inspector answers.
     I know in Mexico only planes and buses keep a schedule. Through a plate glass window, the driver sees me. I raise my palms, a signal of distress. He looks annoyed and checks his watch. The inspector doesn’t budge. Two more people have gotten into line ahead of me. My heart races. I need to exercise more. This can’t be healthy. The line crawls. Everyone wants to talk and joke with the inspector. One woman starts to tell him a story about her son. My toes are curling. My luggage is dead-weight in my hand. My bus driver is heading towards security. He talks to one of the inspectors. The inspector calls me over. Here it comes. They’re going to shake me down and split the money between them. I just know it. And I only have a hundred-dollars cash on me. How much will they want? Here’s where they will take me into the office.
     “Give me your luggage?” the inspector orders. Shit, I think. It’s starting. Will they stash drugs in my bag, arrest me, and want thousands of dollars for my release? I hear Serena repeat that she won’t put the house up as collateral if I’m kidnapped. She warned me to stay in Mexico City and not go traipsing off into unknown neighborhoods. If only she knew.
     I offer the inspector my suitcase as if I’m offering a sacrifice. I watch closely. He places it on a shiny metal table, unzips the bag and moves my things around. I look for something in his rubber-gloved hands, a plastic baggie or white lump of some kind. It feels weird, another man’s hands on my underwear. When he’s finishes, he puts my clothes back into place. He zips my suitcase and hands it to me. “Hurry, Maestro, before you miss your bus.”
     The driver is back behind the steering wheel. When I pass, he says, “Didn’t I tell to leave you luggage underneath?” I shake my head.
     The bus heads up the steep mountain, the Mercedes groaning. I sit back and breathe deeply. I turn to see Tuxtla behind me, a gleaming white splotch splashed in the green valley below, and mountains rising in the distance, like a National Geographic photograph. It’s as if I’m on a plane going into the clouds. My nerves begin to settle. In no time, we’re at the outskirts of San Cristobal, the clouds behind us. The bus weaves slowly through the narrow streets. San Cristobal de Las Casas shimmers under the morning sun, a classic Mexican town, straight out of a John Houston movie set, colorful walls, red-tiled roofs, cobbled stone streets, stores, and cafes.
Even in 2013, Anthony sees the Zapatista National Liberation Army maintains its presence
     Then, out of nowhere, I imagine armed Mayan rebels running through the streets attacking the town, tourists fleeing in every direction. For a brief instant, it’s 1994 again. I step down from the bus and get my suitcase, keeping my bag close to my side.
     Inside the bus terminal, I pass by dreadlocked, European backpackers, tanned, and laughing, girls and guys, some wearing multi-colored Mayan blouses, waiting for buses going farther south to the Yucatan, Guatemala, and Honduras. They don’t fear corrupt police, kidnappers, or murderous cartels. Youth is the antidote to fear. They are adventurous and alive. Maybe that’s my real reason for travelling here—to regain my youth. Too much is going on. I will call Serena from the hotel, once I find one.
Agua Azul is a magnet for Anthony's spirit of adventure
     I look towards the information desk. On the walls, posters promote hotels and guided tours of San Juan Chamula, Palenque, Agua Azul Falls, and the Lacandon jungle. The name Hotel Los Angeles leaps out at me. I exit the small, bustling terminal. Taxis wait at the curb. Again, I remind myself to be aware of taxi drivers taking unsuspecting tourists to desolate locations where kidnappers or thieves wait. I hesitate. I scold myself for giving into such nonsense, damn American media. I’ve been traveling to Mexico all my life, even finding myself lost in mazes of city streets, day and night, never once being threatened. A driver waves me over. “Where to, maestro?” I look around, mostly Mayans and mestizos, and some tourists going about their business. I remember, “Hotel Los Angeles.” I trust my fate to a poster on the wall.
     The atmosphere is festive. I see a store advertising Calvin Kline and Nike. Rap and salsa fill the streets. “It is close by,” he answers and loads my bags into the trunk. As I take my seat, I make sure the car has a door handle inside. Cars and people crowd the narrow streets and sidewalks. Horns blare. My hotel is barely a five-minute drive and located in the town’s center, Avenida Francisco I. Madero, easy to remember the name of the duped, spiritualist Mexican rebel president assassinated in 1913. He pulls to the entrance. A hotel employee dressed in white shirt and black pants comes to the car, opens my door, and greets me. He takes my suitcase. I clutch my shoulder bag. “I’ll carry this,” I say. I pay the driver and give him a hefty tip for keeping me alive. He smiles, gives me his card, tells me he gives personal tours, and thanks me.
San Cristobal's streets teeming with life
     I’m in a swirl of activity, the sound and smell of Mexico, earth, burnt wood, and freshly baked bread, exotic, familiar, and euphoric. I breathe deeply, the cool mountain air pushing its way into my lungs. I exhale and relax. I focus on each step. I walk through the open doors, greeted by the sounds of water splashing from an enormous fountain in the middle of the dining area. I marvel at the interior, a spacious lobby, red-tiled floors and mosaics on the walls, potted trees, a hand-carved mahogany counter and room-key boxes on the wall. A smiling young woman welcomes me. I request a quiet room, preferably in back, away from the street. She says she has a nice, single room at the back of the hotel, $25 (U.S.)-a night rather than the normal $60 summer rate. “Cheap”, Jimmy, my son, calls me. “I think that’s the real reason you like Mexico so much, Pop.”
     I pass diners eating their breakfasts. A canopy covers the open ceiling. Along the tiled walk, potted plants and mannequins in traditional Mayan-wear line the walls. Two chairs and a side table, surrounded by tropical plants, provide privacy on the patio outside my door. As I enter, I am relieved to find a spacious room, sparkling white walls, a carved, wood desk, a queen size bed, end tables, lamps, a colorful mural of a Mayan warrior above the bed. The bathroom is completely tiled, immaculate, and a clear glass bowl placed atop a wood cabinet for the sink—very modern, chic.
     I unpack, shower, and pick up the phone for an outside line. Serena and I talk for twenty minutes, debating the first ten. After I’ve described the bus journey, the town, and tell her I’m feeling much better, she calms down. It’s how we operate, let it all out, the bad with the good, our M.O. She ends by telling me to be aware of my surroundings and not be careless. It’s still Mexico, and anything can happen. If I return home safely, then she’ll tell me whether she still loves me or not. I fall into bed, her last words vibrating in my head, over and over, until I sleep.
     When I awake, it’s early evening. I wash the sleep from my face, dress and hit the streets. When I travel for pleasure, I rarely make a plan, no Frommer’s, Rick Steve’s, or Lonely Planet. My habit is to wander through different neighborhoods to get my bearings, feel the spirit of a place, ask a lot of questions, and hang on for the ride. That’s much different than when I travel for work, or with Serena, sticking to itineraries, schedules, very task-oriented.
Anthony is wary of Tzotzil street vendors, always ready to make a sale
     Outside my hotel, the provincial city pulses with life. Locals and tourists, many Europeans, saunter about cafes, stores, and various businesses. On side streets, closed to traffic, they stand, talking in small groups, dogs chasing each other. I know enough to avoid Mayan women and children who crowd street corners selling their wares, knock-off traditional clothing and commercial souvenirs produced in Indonesia and Vietnam. Higher priced stores have cornered the market for genuine Mayan goods, arts, crafts, and clothing.
     At the corner, I cross the street to the zocalo, for a better view of the colonial buildings housing the usual government offices and businesses, a basilica at the other end. A notorious world bank, EuroBank, ubiquitous throughout Mexico, towers over the other stores and holds a prominent spot in the middle of the block, a symbol for whom really controls the country, not the church or the government but big business, the financial world.
     A few years ago, lawyers representing three surviving Mexican families who lost seven members at a wedding celebration, allegedly executed by a drug cartel, sued EuroBank, claiming the financial behemoth knowingly laundered billions it took in from cartels. Rather than fight it out in a long, public court battle, the bank settled, paying the families a few million dollars—a pittance, and it was right back to business as usual.
     In the zocalo, everyone is taking in the dying rays of the setting sun. A cacophony of voices mixes with the cicadas chirping in the trees overhead. I hear the first strains of a marimba band warming up on a large, concrete gazebo. I make my way up the brick footpath, neatly landscaped on both sides, tourists milling about. I hear mostly French, German, and Spanish, no English. A Mayan child rushes to my side. Startled, I step back. Dressed in Indian clothing, he holds a tray full of trinkets, belts, and Mayan shirts. An image of hungry kids in Vietnam comes to me. We gave them chocolate bars from our C-rations. American G.I.s have been handing out chocolate bars to kids in war-torn countries around the world going back to WWI. Chocolate, strange, now that I think about it, a delicacy created for Mayan and Aztec kings, co-opted by the rest of the world.
     I smile at the boy, say no, and pretend to ignore him. Poverty haunts me. Even though my dad worked hard to provide our family a middle-class life, poverty was just a lost job away. I was a Depression grandbaby, heard it all from my parents, the 1930s government handouts of weird vegetables, rhubarb, cabbage, and rutabagas. I watched a few relatives turn to drugs, alcohol, and crime for a lack of an education or trade. I remember Vietnamese kids with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Poverty is the monster at our heels. I turn and read a plaque on the gazebo wall: San Cristobal de las Casas, 1545.
Always the historian, Anthony considers the journey from Tenochtitlan to Chiapas in 1545 
     “They won’t stop, you know.”
     He speaks Spanish, slow, each word clearly pronounced. He is an older man, bald on top and long hair combed back on the sides. He wears a coat and tie, distinguished looking.
     “Yes, I know. I’ve got a room full of souvenirs back home.”
     He gives the Mayan boy a stern look. The child moves on. “It’s a business. They import much of the merchandise.”
     “I am aware. Still, everybody’s got to earn a living.”
     He smiles. “You are new in town?”
     It’s a strange comment considering the tourists all around me. “I mean,” he adds, “American, yes? We don’t get as many Americans anymore.”
     Behind us, the Mayan boy has found a willing customer.
     “That’s right. I am American.”
     “Ah, yes, I saw you looking at the plaque.
     “It’s my first visit here.”
     “Vacation or business?”
     “Vacation, I hope. It arrived this morning on a bus from Mexico City.”
     “For god’s sake! Tuxtla has a fine airport.”
     “It’s a long story,” I sigh. “Cortez landed in Vera Cruz in 1519, within forty-five years, he had conquered Tenochtitlan and came to San Cristobal.”
     He rubs his chin. “The roads and villages existed all the way to Lima, long before Cortez. The Spanish changed the names and turned Indian towns into European towns. Time, and money, did the rest, ah! except for San Juan Chamula.”
     I can’t suppress my smile. “You sound like more of an historian than I do.”
     “Ah, a teacher! Well, every Mexican child learns this history. It’s also, for me, a passing interest,” he says, extending his hand,
     “Samuel.” He only uses one name. Most older Mexicans introduce themselves with full names. He has a strong grip. He offers, “Since I retired, the zocalo is my second home,” then adds, “so, you are an historian?”
     I shake his hand. “Yes, from Los Angeles. Anthony Reza. A visitor in-residence.”
     “No, just Anthony.” I smile. He appears confused.
     “When my parents were children, their American teachers changed their names to English, so Miguel became Michael, Maria, Mary, Jaime, James, etc. etc. My father once told me he didn’t want anybody changing my name, so he named me Anthony.”
     “That is an irony,” he laughs. “Now you return to Mexico, and we want to change your name to what it should be.”
     “That’s how it is.”
     “Ah, very well, Antony,” he says. “Enjoy your vacation in San Cristobal.” Slowly, he takes a path to exit the garden. It’s important I make a contact early. I blurt, “I am working on a project, maybe you can help.”
     He stops. “Ahhh, how is that--a project?”
     “I am completing a book, stories based on interviews, Vietnam veterans, mostly friends and acquaintances, but a few randomly chosen, old soldiers, you might say.”
     He’s watching me, curiously. “You are searching for Americans here, Vietnam veterans, expatriates?”
     “Well, no, not really searching. I am really here to rest, but I am always interested if I can find  veterans willing to talk to me.”
     “Anyone in particular?”
     Again, I think, a strange question. “No, no, just a hope, a chance encounter someone, perhaps. I've heard of veterans who have moved to foreign countries. Truthfully, my wife sent me here, like I said, to rest. I shouldn’t even be talking about my work. But, you see, for me, that is impossible.”
     “What is it you want to know about them?”
     “Anything they are willing to reveal.”
     “You mean are they suffering?”
     “Or how they survived their suffering. It's always with them, the war. My father, still talks about friends killed in combat, 60 years later, imagine.”
     “You are a veteran”
     “That’s how it all started.”
     “She will be upset, your wife?”
     “She knows me well.”
     “A bus, you say? From the capital? For rest?” He watches me.
     “Call it the spirit of adventure. I’ve always wanted to visit Chiapas.”
     He nods. “Expatriates prefer their privacy.”
     "If I can find a Vietnam veteran living in Mexico…well, that could be the conclusion my book has needed. Do you know Chicano veterans living in San Cristobal?”
     “There are people here who don’t want to be found.”
     “Of course, I understand.”
Like the quiosco, Anthony's mind quiets by the end of his first day in San Cristobal
     The music picks up. Tourists rush onto the gazebo to dance, displaying their best salsa moves.
     “You might try the bar Sam Clemons. Expatriates prefer drinking there, maybe even the mercado, some visitors enjoy it.” He rubs his hands together, “Ah! Well, Antony…Antony Reza, right? Now I must go.” A cane hangs from his arm. “I am in the plaza by 10:00 each morning, to chatter with anyone interested. Join me, anytime.”
     “Do you think you can help me?”
     “Remember, you are here to rest.” He waves and crosses the street. He walks into a large, white municipal building.
     I move from the zocalo to the brightly lit neighborhoods, dodging the crowds. Samuel, he said, was his name. I am not sure whether to take his comment about the Sam Clemons or the mercado as an invitation or a suggestion. I look over my shoulder and sense a discomfort, then think, what if I can land an interview a Vietnam vet living here, a Chicano, on the streets of San Cristobal, so much the better.
     The discomfort subsides. After a couple of hours of wandering through trendy neighborhood near the zocalo, stopping to eat at a restaurant along the way, entering a few stores, and listening to groups of people standing about talking, I return to the zocalo. The musicians have stopped playing. Vendors have put away their wares for the night. The shoe shine stalls are locked. I retreat to my hotel room and make a few notes in my journal rather than record them. I fall back into bed where my body has left an imprint from my earlier nap. Something irks me. I don’t know what. I can’t sleep. I reach for my manuscript on the nightstand.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Seventh Week: A Great Book Festival On Instagram

The first bilingual children literature virtual, celebrating Día del Niño. Featuring  bookstores, local authors, and creators from around the world who focus is the wellness, bilingual literacy and education for children.

"Día del niño, or children's day, is an annual celebration held on April 30 throughout
Mexico. ... Usually in Mexico and other Latin countries will host festivals, music shows, magicians, special events with clowns and more for children on this day."
Our mission is to provide a safe space were kids learn and play while they are encouraged to thrive with the assistance of reading, workshops, activities and more.

El primer evento de enfoque a la literatura infantil virtual celebrando el Día del Niño. Presentando  librerías, autores locales y creadores de alrededor del mundo que se enfocan en el bienestar, la literatura bilingüe y la educación para niños.
"Día del niño, o día de los niños, es una celebración anual que se celebra el 30 de abril durante
México ... Por lo general, en México y otros países latinos se realizarán festivales, espectáculos musicales, magos, eventos especiales con payasos y más para niños en este día ".
Nuestra misión es proporcionar un espacio seguro donde los niños aprendan y jueguen mientras se les anima a prosperar con la asistencia de lectura, talleres, actividades y más.





Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Zooming in Plague-time

Zooming Plática In Plague-time
Michael Sedano

La Bloga friend Jesus Treviño has launched a plática series at Latinopia (link). Treviño invited Melinda Palacio, Christine Granados, and me to join him in a Zoom plática on three issues, how has the plague affected your writing, what’s a book you recommend for reading in plague-time, share a message relating to maintaining one’s general well-being.

For some odd reason, Latinopia is embargoed on the Face right now. “Against community standards” the system replies when La Bloga posts links of any sort to on the Face’s property. It’s not like I’m scratching Chuy’s placa on their damn raster or forcing them to think about la cultura chicana,’s métier. La Bloga was outlawed for most of a year, being granted absolution and a GOP-quality apology. will exist once again, on the Face.

Take some time—you have lots of time, que no?—to browse through Latinopia’s blog and video menu. Treviño’s been documenting la cultura since forever, including the earliest vestiges of movimiento, and ongoing literary and cultural developments as recently as the Zoom pláticas on raza in plague-time.

Each Latinopia segment runs a few minutes, allowing generous exploration across subjects, and delving deeply into the musica, or consume all of Diane Hernandez’ cooking videos.

Here's a direct link to the video above, if your technology is being mean like Facebook.

Reading Your Stuff Aloud
Notes on Zooming For Useful Effect

Poetry readings and book release parties take place in cities large and small, they're one important sign of a healthy civilization. We're anything but healthy right now. Our paisanx lack patience and show in droves where they're going to make people sick. Pendeji.

The rest of us do what's possible in plague-time, like staying out of crowded spaces. Enter the Zoom and teleconference. Computer meeting rooms have no attendance limits, recording liberates gente from time and place limits. But like traditional culture readings, Zoom meetings want readers and speakers to (1) not waste their time; (2) speak clearly and meaningfully; (3) delivery that entertains while informing.

Before I went into the Army, I was a debate coach. One event was "television speaking." I'll have to dig out those lesson plans from my voluminous ephemera. Here are a few notes on public speaking on the Zoom medium.

(1) results from being unprepared for the discussion. Preparation begins a day in advance, or more. All have an outline to follow. The free version of Zoom gives 20 minutes or some period that flies by when you're having a dickens of a time getting your message out. Practice.
(2) hardware makes a major impact. I use a Macintosh machine with a built-in lens and adjustable screen. The microphone picks up sounds spoken directly toward the screen. My light source is behind the computer, the space behind has the lights off. I've seen a green screen used to great effect. Take a screen shot of your face and examine the background for oddities, like lamps growing out of an ear.
(3) public speaking face-to-face or interposed through Zoom uses a more limited body space than when you have a platform to move around on. Zoom seated. Remember regular eye contact to the lens, you'll be talking to the screen most of the time, but the audience is in the lens. Practice using your hands and arms within the frame of your computer's eye. Keep gestures within your shoulder span and your gestures will be in frame. Keep hand gestures even with your face and that avoids distorted visuals. Rapid gestures will blur. Lean forward in your seat to provide good eye contact. Lean back when you gesture to enlarge the compass of your body.

Zoom software allows users to share graphics from the user's computer with all the Zoomers. That's like a powerpoint without the speaker turning one's back to the audience! Multimedia made easy, once a user gets control over the technology. Or so it seems. I've practiced a couple times and done one live. It's useful technology, not just now when we're all isolating ourselves.

Writers, get good at Zooming. Now you're not limited to seven p.m. at the local bookseller's shop. In a live event, you'll sell fifteen or twenty copies for cold hard cash. On the computer the best you can do is have a strong presentation and make buying easy. Note: if someone pays you money for product, ship the product the next day or return the money.

Plague-time Pastime: Watching the World Go Past

Back in 2002, Barbara co-chaired the 50th Reunion Committee of Glendale’s Holy Family High School. She made paper souvenirs like name lists and cute name tags at sign-in. My treat to her was a foto booth. After lunch at Tam O’Shanter, each of the alumnae got her souvenir portraits, along with a CD I made for them.

The Holy Family Reunion CD featured number one tunes from Top 40 radio, from their Senior Year of 1962. While I sat at my computer burning disks, I enjoyed thoughts of a 70-year old matron cruising home in her Cadillac, the CD taking her back to seventeen years old her in Senior Year. The first notes starts her toes tapping and a big smile as she remembers a lover’s false promises back when “yes, I will,” was the right answer.

Maybellne, Chuck Berry
Transfusion, Nervous Norvus
What'd I say Pt 1 & Pt 2, Ray Charles
Whittier Blvd, Thee Midniters
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, The Shirelles
Yakety Yak, The Coasters
Beep Beep, The Play Mates

2002 happened ages ago, a lifetime for our household, now that we live with Alzheimer’s Dementia. Ironically, this attack upon Barbara’s memory “progressed” now to where nothing immediate in her world holds longer than the length of the sound of a period.

My wife of, going on 52 years, likes to sit in the room with me watching the world pass by in plague-time. She notices the flow, that not many are passing without remarking on individuals. She’s indifferent to masks. She knows there’s a virus out there. She reads the paper aloud, re-discovering the tragedy when she reads the same article repeatedly, wonders how and why? Finally, she sets down the Times and notices her surroundings.

She observes on the wind moving the towering palm trees, asks if we own this house? I tell her about her determination to own this house, making the purchase while I was out of town, and how she turned it into her hospitality center to share it with all our friends. Yes, we own it. “It’s a nice house,” she speaks with wonder.

“How old am I?” she asks, marveling at the answer. I joke about the number of trombones in her parade. It’s 76, she knows the words.

I play her Holy Families Oldies CD. She sings along, word for word. She won’t sing aloud, in a crowd when she threw a Christmas Caroling Party, she sang. Claims she doesn’t have a listenable voice, but there she sits, listening, laughing and into the sounds. She started back doing the songs she used to do, in 1962.

The songs bring back the experiencing of memory that’s absent in Barbara’s daily world. So we sit and sing, do chair dances, and I quiz her about the songs. She knows the answers and still can make up explanations and analyze characters with the practiced dispassion of a high school English teacher. Her sense of humor springs back when she talks about the plots. Not a whole lot, but it’s still there. The old Barbara was funny. I love oldies.

We play a game, I make up questions or situations where Barbara knows the answers, or she finds material to analyze. Sometimes she connects a song to events in her career or totally fanciful. Writers call this Oldies game “Prompts,” I call them exercises in Barbara’s still here.

The Oldies Game.
Find the titles on the internet and if you know how, make a playlist. Listen. Answer each question with a line from the song.

Will Maybelline ever be true? What were the things she started back doing?
His red corpuscles are in mass confusion and he needs this Type blood.
What State will you be sent back to, if you don’t do right?
Forget low and slow, let’s travel this way when we take that trip.
This is the one you put out when you bring in the other.
Does she want the truth, or an answer?
What was beep-beep’s problem?

He doesn’t know why Maybelline started stealing Cadillacs again. Then again, what if Maybelline is riding in Beep Beep’s Cadillac?
“Hey, Daddy-O, make that Type O.”
“Tell your ma tell your pa, I’m gonna send you back to Arkansas.”
“Let’s take a trip down Whittier Boulevard. ¡Arriba! ¡Arriba!”
“And when you finish doing that, put out the cat and bring in the dog.”
“Tell me now and I won’t ask again, will you still love me, tomorrow?”
“”Hey buddy how do I get this car, out of second gear?”

Oldies abound beyond 1962, don’t they? Now and again, the playlist happens upon some super bonus questions:
Your brujo compañero gives you a spell to cast to give her heart to you. Chant it but cross your fingers unless you mean it.
“Meet me on the mountain,” she whispered. Tom did. Then what?
Where have all the flowers gone?

Here’s an Oldie from más antes.
“One fine day, we’ll see a plume of smoke rising from the horizon…”

Monday, April 27, 2020

Entrevista a Carmelo González Veles por Xánath Caraza

Entrevista a Carmelo González Veles por Xánath Caraza

Carmelo González Veles nació en Tlaltizapán, Morelos, México. Emigró a los Estados Unidos en 1984 con el éxodo de trabajadores agrícolas y se estableció en el Valle de Yakima. Actualmente reside en el área de Seattle en el estado de Washington. En 1997 se graduó en Central Washington University como profesor de nivel medio en las especializaciones de historia, geografía y español. Tomó clases de maestría de Literatura Hispánica en la University of Washington. En 2001 se unió al grupo de poetas, Los Norteños Seattle Writers. Participó leyendo su poesía en eventos como el Día de los muertos, Sustainability/ Sostemibilidad en Benham Gallery (junio 2009), Poets Against Hate (febrero 2016) y Bridges Not Walls (febrero 2017). Sus poemas y relatos han aparecido en Latino Cultural (2008), Río Grande Review (otoño 2010), antologías de Seattle Escribe (2017, 2018, 2019) y Seattle Escribe website, Fue colaborador de La Raza del Noroeste de noviembre 2014 a marzo 2019. Publicó su primer libro de poesía Amor y Camposanto en octubre 2019 y De desapariciones y otras cosas que son 15 cuentos cortos en febrero del 2020.  Al momento está editando, Amor Aéreo: Escalas y Retrasos.

1.              ¿Quién es Carmelo? Un soñador, un idealista y solo un ser humano. 

2.              ¿Quiénes te acercan a la lectura? Mi mamá me enseñó a leer a los 6 años.  Y sí que me emocioné al poder leer por primera vez el nombre de una caja de zapatos. Ya con más seriedad mi profesor de literatura de décimo grado me introdujo a los escritores clásicos como Homero y Dante. Después vinieron autores como Dumas, Cervantes, Víctor Hugo, Rubén Darío y otros. Después de terminar el grado doceavo en México, no pude seguir mis estudios y por un año fui autodidacta y leí a Octavio Paz, Gabriela Mistral, Juan Rulfo, Cicerón, Emilio Pacheco entre otros. Esta etapa de mi vida me enseñó a amar la libertad de decidir qué escritores y poetas me apetece leer.  En estos momentos estoy releyendo Metamorfosis de Kafka.

3.              ¿Cómo comienza el quehacer literario para ti? Inicia como una necesidad de expresar sentimientos de solidaridad. Amor y Camposanto mi primer libro de poesía presenta una amalgama de experiencias propias y de afecto como la muerte de Neda Agha-Zoltan una joven asesinada por el gobierno de Irán en junio de 2009. Mis relatos en De desapariciones y otras cosas (febrero 2020) iniciaron como los relatos de mi abuela que me contaba cuando era niño en la cual la melancolía, la tragedia, el dolor, lo cómico y lo fantástico eran los elementos del escenario y que daban vida a los personajes en esas historias mágicas.  

4.              ¿Cuál piensas que es tu papel como poeta y escritor? Como escritor y poeta estoy dispuesto a asumir varios roles como individuo, y como miembro de esta sociedad en la que vivo. Mis vivencias íntimas dan voz a un yo buscando respuestas existencialistas y que son fundamentales en lo que escribo. En esta faceta para mí la expresión del amor es fundamental en el ser humano. Por esta razón, el amor erótico, el filial y el ágape son elementos que uso en mi escritura. Pero también soy consciente de mi compromiso con mis semejantes y no soy ajeno a la problemática de nuestra época. Coincido con el poeta español Gabriel Celaya cuando dice, “Maldigo la poesía concebida como un lujo cultural por los neutrales que, lavándose las manos, se desentienden y evaden.” Mi poesía la utilizo para protestar contra el racismo, la xenofobia, la represión y otros males de nuestro siglo; ya sea en los Estados Unidos y en otras partes del mundo.  Por esta razón, he colaborado con poetas en Seattle, Washington con Poets Against Hate (febrero 2016) y Seattle Escribe (2017) con mis poemas “Asedio” y “Campo Abierto” que abordan los temas del odio y el de la xenofobia como lo que estamos viviendo los hispanos actualmente en este país.
5.              ¿En qué proyectos estás trabajando ahora? En este momento estoy editando mi tercer libro, Amor Aéreo: Escalas y Retrasos. Además, estoy trabajando en un libro de poesía infantil. Como padre de una niña de 4 años creo que la lectura es muy importante en la infancia. No soy un experto en literatura infantil, pero creo que son pocos los escritores y poetas que exploran el mundo de los párvulos. Recuerdo haber leído Ternura de la poeta chilena Gabriela Mistral y me impacto la sensibilidad de sus poemas. Ella como educadora creo que era consciente de la necesidad de no olvidarse de los niños. En mi proyecto deseo contribuir en ese campo lírico que está un poco olvidado en nuestro idioma. 

6.              ¿Hay algo más que quisieras compartir? La vida nos da experiencias únicas que nos lleva a la reflexión. Por ejemplo, esta pandemia del coronavirus no pasa desapercibida porque nos afecta individual y colectivamente. Sin embargo, la lectura, la escritura y en general las artes nos ayudan a mantenernos positivos es esta cuarentena. Comparto con ustedes un poema que escribí sobre este evento en que todos somos, de una forma u otra, participes o testigos. Y con la convicción de que juntos saldremos de esta crisis.  Además, deseo que dos poemas de mi poemario Amor y Camposanto los hagan propios en sus experiencias muy personales.

Sosiego próximo
Se me va el tiempo
en segundos, en minutos y en las horas
que paseo por aceras de destinos enclavados en trincheras.

La ciudad parece más cerca a mis ojos
como si la lluvia hubiese acicalado sus espejos
donde a cada día el sol y la luna derraman sus destellos.

¡La vida grita de que existe!
Y de que las nubes siguen siendo sombras
y que las siluetas de aeronaves aterrizan en discretos parabrisas.

La vida existe en las sonrisas infantiles
que se encabullen por ventanas
y por resquicios de las puertas hoy cerradas.

El miedo recorre los senderos más transitados
pero el novio desafía las alarmas
al andar unido con el vuelo de gaviotas aventureras.

¡El tiempo grita que la vida existe!
y nos anuncia en sus crespúsculos y en sus auroras
que algún día se volatizaran las horas malas.

¡La vida grita y lucha para proseguir en su existir!
Y la peste será un recuerdo lejos
de que juntos la vencimos,
 eso con júbilo nos diremos:
tú y yo,
yo y tú.  


A Xiomara

Te fuiste al mediodía
cuando el viento construía nidos.
Una voz ha quedado detrás de las puertas,
unas palabras te quemaron las manos.

Sombra fugaz, sol de nostalgias:
¿Volverás al santuario de ladrillos rojos?
Las horas de febrero se han extinguido.

Adiós y silencio,
los caballos azules del siglo XXI.

Seattle, Washington a 4 de abril del 2010

A Paull Shin

Puse lo mejor de mí
para alcanzar la dicha.
Busqué unas voces en los
lugares olvidados en los puentes.
Desenterré pedazos de una noche
donde vagué en las palmas de la muerte.
Tiempo que la angustia y la zozobra
anegaban los senderos.
Partí rutas en los vientos
maduros de julio.
Las raíces desnudaron
las huellas de mis pasos ciegos.

Las banderas blancas no existían
en este campo en caos.
Te abrí mi cofre en la víspera del año.
Te confesé mis luchas con la muerte.
Gemí por los recuerdos
y mis ojos no vieron más el horizonte.

Deseé como nunca tu refugio.
pero fuiste rama caída
durante la batalla entre los vientos.
Vagué por las calles desiertas
por los ruidos de la guerra.
Lloré por días buscando
tu sombra y a tus ojos.  
Palpé los rieles de un tren perdido en el silencio.
Deambulé por los pasillos evacuados
al expiar una jornada.
Un lenguaje extraño
carcomía mis oídos
y escuchaba tu nombre
más allá de una frontera.

Hoy la nostalgia mide
lo que sufro todavía
al desatar los recuerdos de
un miércoles caído.