While Republican midgets debated nearby, Trump swept into Hialeah, FL to whip up his supporters.
The man’s energy, gravitas, wit and acumen are amazing. The last time I saw him in a rally was in Miami just before the election steal of 2020. It appears the more the tyrants try to smear, persecute, and indict him, the stronger he becomes. (Many Democrat friends admit as much, as his poll numbers keep on going up.)
As Tucker Carlson directly asked, what is left to the power-madmen in control of so many areas of American life but to assassinate him? Pray for him and for our country. [please hover over images for captions]
Miami is a border town in so many ways.
Despite being in the Free State of Florida, many cultural institutions suffered, succumbing to fear – or borderline panic.
Read, here, of the New World Symphony’s (“America’s Youth Orchestra”) pre-season opener as it struggles to re-connect with the audience after onerous Covid restrictions last season.
In the last border patrol of his life (six months into mast cell cancer), Zeno performed with flying colors and fulfilled his duty, less than two months before his death.
We have patrolled much of the southern border a number of times, especially along the New Mexican and Texan lines. This patrol, for medical reasons, was a shorter one, from El Paso to Del Rio, Texas along US 90.
In preparation, I read Todd Bensman’s America’s Covert Border War, which detailes the manifold risks even before the Biden Administration intentionally opened the flood gates and became accessories to the greatest invasion in our country’s history.
He presciently foretells, based on the Democrat debates and each candidate’s radical, full-throated support of an open border, that the invasion would far exceed Europe’s migrant crisis post-2015 and the Syrian War caused by the Obama Administration’s mismanagement.
Illegal entries last year alone almost reached the 2.5m who flooded Europe over four years. With the lifting of Title 42, the last protection in place, illegal crossings are estimated this year to exceed 5m, or twice the four-year record in Europe.
Bensman, a counter-terrorism expert, focuses on the terrorist threat, now flashing red.
If it’s fair to conclude Europe did not learn the lessons of September 11 until migrant jihadists struck widely there, neither has America learned the lessons of Europe since 2015. [p.xviii]
Specifically, more Europeans died of jihadi terror attacks between 2014 and 2018 than in the prior twenty years.
Bensman concludes about his area of specialty:
The international jihadist community is aware that people-camouflaged border infiltration will eventually work. [p.219]
Tragically, while America’s elites bewail the lateset European migrant crisis and the Ukraine’s loss of sovereignty, especially along the Russian-speaking eastern border of that benighted country, why is there hardly a peep about the ongoing and massive invasion, now year after year, along our southern border? The Biden Administration has purposefully hamstrung both ICE and Border Patrol, turning them into greeters, and effectively has turned over control of the entire 2,000 mile border to Mexican drug and human trafficking cartels. The damage to our country, and to all those whose suffer rape, sex enslavement, assault, addiction (from the cartel’s flood of drugs) or death, is immeasurable.
Those responsible in our lawless political class need to be held accountable.
Todd Bensman, America’s Covert Border War, The Untold Story of The Nation’s Battle to Prevent Jihadist Infiltration, 2021, Post Hill Press, Nashville [please hover over images for captions]
Zeno’s mission in life (2005-2022) was to bring comfort, a smile, and joy to the lives of all he met. The reason he survived so long – as most Labradors live only 10-12 years – was, I suspect, to give encouragement to the crazy human race during the greatly mishandled crisis of the past two years.
Here are some images from his heroic last roadtrips in the U.S., when he was on both bug & border patrol.
His spirits never lagged – until the last weeks of his body’s rapid decline – and even rallied for a 4,000 mile roadtrip only a month and a half prior to his death. Dogs, like all of us, need purpose in life, and he loved being put to work while on the road.
His last major adventure took us out west, to visit the same New Mexican ranch where his first U.S. roadtrip took us 11 years prior, to smell the dry grasses and sense the wide open space once more before dying.
When we patrolled the border between El Paso and Del Rio, Texas, I picked up a bug. During the two following days with fever, Zeno saw me through long drives without mishap.
He always did his job well and gladly. [please hover over images for captions]
For over 16 years he traveled to many ends of the New World. A quick calculation of his longer roadtrips totals 96,000 miles, or nearly 4x around the Earth’s circumference.
This first post provides some highlights of his early roadtrips in the U.S., which began when he was 5 years old. Before then we lived directly in Tiradentes, Brazil. [please hover over images for captions]
With an ill dog at home, I’ve been renting a car now several weeks in a row. With the mobility of wheels I decided to take a number of afternoon excursions, treating Miami as if a city visited on a roadtrip.
Not surprisingly, Miami reveals herself to be a borderlands city on multiple levels. Meadernings range from the Design District, to Downtown, to Little Havana, Homestead, Hollywood, Overtown, and North Bay Village. [please hover over images for captions]
An old prep school friend asked if I’d volunteer to help receive rescue dogs arrive from Puerto Rico in Miami. Of course.
She’s a Navy pilot veteran and sometimes flies the big bird 767 herself. She didn’t mention when or for how long I could help, no matter. I got her message a few days prior to the Saturday arrival of a cargo load including 27 dogs looking for homes.
When to meet up? She said she’d take a nap and we could meet at Amerijet’s terminal when the paperwork would likely be ready. At midnight.
I took a shared ride out to the nearly deserted cargo terminal and soon enough my friend, Sali Gear, arrived with a boxy outfitted van and her local kennel partner, Chris. The paperwork cleared, we loaded up the van with as many kennels as possible (many with more than one dog) and drove to the nearby kennel (really a ranch house with a good sized fenced-in back yard) to welcome the eager doggies to the mainland.
There we spent the night – mostly quiet, though at times we had to tamper down dog play so as to not awake the neighbors – cleaning out the kennels, walking, and feeding each grateful dog. Until 5am.
The boxy van, specially outfitted with shiny air tubes snaking the conditioned air back to the panting hoard, was carefully repacked for the two day drive north to Virginia, where Sali’s horse farm serves as a distribution center to the continent. Young Nick, hired for the two day drive with kennel stopover in Georgia admitted that, like me, he’s energized by long drives. Good thing, as he had been helping since midnight.
Island Dog Rescue was founded a handful of years ago, just in time to implement critical dog evacuations prior to Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, when the stray population on Puerto Rico exploded due to abandonment. The main hurdle, understandably, is transport, so Amerijet’s greatly reduced cargo rates are crucial. In 2018 alone, the operation flew 3,600 dogs (plus many cats) to the mainland.
Here is a 2/20 video by Nation Swell on the outfit. Read the comments, many by grateful island dog adopters. One calls Sali the Pet Rescue Queen. Indeed. [please hover over images for captions]
Deserts are a landscape of hardship. Yet as has always been my case, “Lucky for me, I love the Desert Southwest.” [Borderlands USA, p.175]
As lovely and pampered and touristed as the coast highways are, I felt relieved to be back on empty border tracks, the narrow two-laners connecting remoteness to nothingness, and rejoiced at their never-ending sameness. Here a sandstorm crosses the road; there a roadrunner, despite the name, does the same. [p.176]
Ever since Jesus Christ fasted 40 days and nights in the wilderness of the Judean Desert, they have taken on spiritual significance.
Come join me for a short border tour of the Arizona Kingdom. [please hover over images for captions]
Paul Theroux is the grand man of living American travel writers and this, his latest tome, is a revelation – perhaps not in the way he intended. After decades of venturing far afield (his career started as a Peace Corp volunteer in Malawi), he started to look closer to home with his last book, Deep South, which detailed exuberant road journeys from his home in Cape Cod to repeatedly visit – for most elites at least – the foreign country that occupies the Bible Belt. There he winningly praises the indescribable freedom of American roads and shares his delight in, for him, new discoveries. (Welcome, Paul, to what many of us roadtrippers have known for some time!)
As a follow-up, it seems, he decides to take his second hand SUV to visit our truly foreign neighbor just south of south. At first he slides along the long and maligned border, from Texas to California, before getting up the courage to plunge deeply south. Part I is titled Borderlands, which makes me wonder if he read my Borderlands USA journey.
Allow me to say upfront: for his 76 years, Theroux (or Don Pablo as he prefers to be called in the book) is incredibly energetic and fearless. He is warned repeatedly of the many dangers served up by narco terrorists, desperate migrants, and corrupt policemen, and encounters the last not once, but repeatedly. He drives his car along cliff-hugging, dilapidated roads hovering over the abyss (which I have also done in Mexico) and braves the bewildering downpours so common to the Latin tropics.
Having said this, Theroux is getting somewhat long in the tooth and long in the text, repetitive, and prone to overwriting. In the book’s introduction:
“…Chiapas is dominated by masked idealist Zapatistas, and – at the Mexican margins – the spring-breakers, the surfers, the backpackers, the crusty retired people, honeymooners, dropouts, fugitives, gun runners, CIA scumbags and snoops, money launderers, currency smurfers, and – look over there – and old gringo in a car squinting down the road, thinking: Mexico is not a country. Mexico is a world, too much of a mundo to be wholly graspable…” [p.3]
Yet, Theroux Inc. is a well-oiled marketing machine – the book’s 2019 launch was accompanied for months by fawning reviews and New York Times Magazine promotion pieces – with the book’s inner flap extolling “the same humanizing sensibility he employed in Deep South.”
The grand man of letters is also accompanied by several photographers – even though the reality and logistics of this is nowhere broached in the text – and following the front piece the Also By The Author list includes 51 books – not the kind of modesty evidenced by other prolific travel writers such as V.S. Naipaul.
One September review in a prestigious journal was titled “Why María Left Oaxaca,” but I would hazard the book is more about why Don Pablo left America.
He is more up front with why:
“Knowing the risks that migrants took emboldened me, and hearing nothing but ignorant opinion about Mexicans, from the highest office in America to the common ruck of barflies and xenophobes (maybe disinhibited by their bigoted leader), I decided to take a trip to Mexico.” [p.7]
So it is more that he felt bigotry towards Mexicans from his fellow Americans and “their” leader, and wished to dilute their load of ignorance with knowledge – an admirable goal, one can readily agree. This was similar to the Deep South’s aim of offering a “humanizing” picture of Southerners – to counter, one can surmise, the bigotry of his fellow New Englanders and others of the cultural elites. Bravo.
Yet, I have to say, Theroux’s “humanizing” impulse seems to fail in the other direction, that of Mexican prejudice towards Americans and specifically our President.
The book’s emotional core, for me, comes half way in, when Don Pablo teaches a writing course, in English, to over a score of local aspiring and established writers in Mexico City. They open many doors for the author and envelope him in the Latin warmth that many of us who spend time south of the border love and admire. (He claims repetitively that he learned much from these students, I lost count at four or five times.)
Yet Don Pablo commits what for me is a cardinal sin of overseas Americans wishing to curry favor with their hosts: he repeatedly goads them (and others during his travels) to come up with epitaphs for President Trump. “What kind of cabrón [translated elsewhere in the book as “dickhead” by the author] is Donald Trump?” he asks his students after a long lunch with liquor.
Due to what I would call the innate courtliness and politeness of Mexicans, “At first they wouldn’t be drawn out, but it was now late in the afternoon…” [p.155]
With more coaxing, he gets them to describe Trump as stupid, vulgar, a jackass, perverse, clownish, vain, decadent and crazy – and so on. Thank you, Don Pablo, for encouraging the bias towards and hatred of both Donald Trump and America from our southern neighbors! Diplomatic he is not – unfortunately, the word craven comes to mind. One has to wonder which emotional needs of Theroux, and not of Mexicans, that are being met. He had even told his students, “One great reason to travel, I said, was to destroy stereotypes.” [p.151] And what of stereotypes of America or its President?
Interestingly, to justify his fishing for epitaphs, Theroux reminds the reader of some of Trump’s misconstrued campaign statements, such as when he crowed:
“‘They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.’ And, ‘The Mexican legal system is corrupt, as is much of Mexico.” [p.155]
Theroux is sufficiently blinkered by his dislike for Trump that he doesn’t seem to realize his travel tale in Mexico confirms, again and again, every one of Trump’s observations – where, it is eminently fair to say, “they” refers to the coyotes and border drug runners, not to Mexicans as a whole. Again and again, with great heart and justification, Theroux laments the corruption of both Mexico and the legal system that poor Mexicans must put up with. As he readily admits, “The natural protections that Americans take for granted are almost unknown in Mexico.” [p.386]
To say that this is moral blindness is not the saddest part of it. It was a tragic missed opportunity for Theroux to encourage love and understanding in the world by actually explaining and clarifying Trump’s statements – even if he didn’t entirely agree with them. That is, to help diminish stereotypes.
Theroux is no dummy, and elsewhere in the book he succinctly details how his Deep South travels helped him to understand how so many Americans felt betrayed by our leaders, the establishment, and the elites. But he makes no attempt anywhere among his countless conversation in Mexico to share any of the same information to help our Mexican friends better understand America’s populist revolt. This seems no less than a betrayal – to Theroux’s own ideals.
But the revelations don’t stop there. The author’s other emotional epiphany comes with the book’s final chapters, in Chiapas. Through contacts made in Mexico City, Theroux is invited to attend and speak at a secret Zapatistas conference in San Cristóbal, where he meets the masked Subcomandante Marcos. Immediately, he recognizes the outlaw’s charisma:
“Perhaps I was projecting, dazzled to be meeting a man I regarded as a hero.” [p.420]
This is not the place to go into the Zapatistas more admirable aspects (secession from the overwhelmingly corrupt Mexican state) or to the less admirable ones (described even by Wiki as “a far-left libertarian-socialist political and militant group,” to which Marcos “add[s] a Marxist element”). While Theroux claims the movement is entirely pacifist, then why do they extol Che Gevara, who is undeniably one of the greatest moral monsters (and cold-blooded executioners) of Latin American history? Nowhere does Theroux critique any of this.
Theroux appears dazzled indeed. Here is the Zapatista school whose slogan is To Resist is To Exist (perhaps coming to a school close to you). There is a comrade named Pablo Casanova, whom Marcos “complimented on his great age and passion” and whom Theroux lauds as “still radical at ninety-six – a great example to me.” [p.425] In Theroux’s speech to the Zapatista throng, he compliments Marcos’s work as a continuation of, and an improvement on, that of Che.
Clearly, radical chic has a long history among our cultural elites. And Theroux – whose interviews prior to the book launch make him sound much more moderate – displays little of the ignorance of young socialists today – ignorance of both our country’s history and that of Communism’s and Socialism’s endless killing fields. So I don’t begrudge Theroux his passions. After all, he sums up,
“I had begun my trip to Mexico in a mood of dejection and self-pity, feeling shunned, overlooked, ignored, rejected – easily identifying with migrants and Mexicans, who knew that same feeling of being despised. I’d hope the trip would be salutary, a cure for my sour mood, and so it proved.” [p.426]
This is the travel lark’s (and yarn’s) promise of transformation, of taking a person out of themselves to better see those around them. But Theroux’s neat progressions no longer seem to add up well. Like the photographers never explained, and his Spanish, which he charmingly admits started out minimal and ends up middling (while the Spanish quoted in his conversations from start to finish, besides admitted fumbles, appears flawless), there seems to be another man, like his hero Subcomandante Marcos, lurking behind the mask.
What a pity. Ideally, travel and writing are about discovering more about yourself by finding out more about others, and getting honest about it. The bane, then, of much travel writing is the leaven of fiction. So which is the real Paul Theroux, the urbane man giving interviews or the Don Pablo narrator of the book?
I am disappointed in my old friend Theroux – or at least he feels that way, since I have accompanied him on so many of his journeys by words. His prior work in Deep South was such a mind-expanding challenge for the author, who brought the fresh perspective and openness to discovery of an experienced foreign traveler to a disparaged area of the country. Perhaps a Woody Allen- and chameleon-like ability to please whomever he is with is one of his secrets as a travel writer, fitting in wherever he goes.
Still, his reverting to radical chic while apparently betraying his own ideals– in the book at least – disappoints.
Paul Theroux, On The Plain of Snakes, A Mexican Journey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, New York, 2019
This is the best border tale I’ve read, a masterpiece masterfully told, the language and dialogue as taut and radiant as the afternoon desert sun. (Some spoilers below.)
Our two teen heroes, living in the frontier of New Mexico’s bootheel, make a bad decision during an encounter with a stranger, a destitute Indian, and the entire family pays a terrible price – eventually.
In the meantime, a she-wolf has slipped north over the border from the Mexican mountains and started to pick off the family’s calves. In the book’s understated style, as coiled and sparse as the local English dialect, it is a struggle for survival – though no one ever claims that and it is only through their actions that we understand the peril. The father and eldest son, Billy, set numerous traps with rusty old steel contraptions baited with strange scents from the vials of a passed away wolf hunter. But the she-wolf, who is pregnant, is too clever for them.
Stoically, Billy Parham continues the rounds, checking traps, moving and resetting traps which the wolf has harmlessly sprung. As if in the she-wolf’s company – which, indeed, he later becomes – he has many episodic encounters, which become The Crossing’s motif: who next will the boy-man meet? And at what peril?
A local rancher lights a cigarette after asking Billy if he smokes. Notice the accumulative declarative sentences and the startling, action verbs. [p.37]
He struck it and a bluish ball of flame wooshed up. He lit the cigarette and snapped the lighter shut but it continued to burn anyway. He blew it out and dandled it in one to cool it. He looked at the boy.
I had to quit usin the hightest, he said.
No sir. I aint but sixteen.
Don’t get married. Women are crazy.
You’ll think you’ve found out that aint but guess what?
She will be too.
When the boy finally outsmarts the she-wolf, whose leg is snared, he is unsure of his father’s instructions – which he must follow or else. Is he to kill her on the spot? What of the unborn pups? It is also late, and his father had instructed him not to return home after dinner again.
So Billy captures the she-wolf – by lassoing her and tying her mouth shut over a hard bit of stick – and decides on something rash. He is going to take her south, over the border, and return her to the Mexican mountains from which she came. He also has the family’s one rifle.
It is the first of several fateful crossings in the book, at a time when border fences didn’t exist and, if you’re on a more traveled dirt road, you are waved through on both sides, no documents needed – just your hat-tip or your word.
The boy’s relation with the wolf becomes focal and she comes to trust him. Eventually she is stolen from him by a corrupt alguacil (sheriff) and placed in a betting ring to fight off packs and packs of dogs. Our hero, defeated, does the impossible, an act of supreme integrity in front of the swollen, drunken crowd: he mercy kills her with his rifle and then trades the rifle, worth many times over the bounty given for a dead wolf, so that he may bury her.
He took up her stiff head out of the leaves and held it or he reached to hold what cannot be held, what already ran among the mountains at once terrible and of a great beauty, like flowers that feed on flesh. What blood and bone are made of but can themselves not make on any altar not by any wound of war. What we may believe has power to cut and shape and hollow out the dark form of the world surely if wind can, if rain can. But which cannot he held never be held and is no flower but is swift and a huntress and the wind itself is in terror of it and the world cannot lose it. [p.127]
In such a closing, a dirge of images and words, ends Part 1, tragically. As Part II cautions from its first sentence, “Doomed enterprises divide lives forever in the then and the now.” [p.129] Adrift, our hero wanders for a time. More emaciated than his horse, he finds much charity and much that is fantastic, especially south of the border. He hears long tales told by former priests, told in the third person that eventually reveal the speaker and subject to be one and the same. (This was the book’s one long plot-digression that I found to be nearly intolerable, after the she-wolf’s burial.)
Eventually he returns home to find tragedy, the homestead destroyed, the horses stolen, his parents dead. His younger brother Boyd, in an adopted home, has been waiting for him. The two abscond south, on a mission to recover the family’s only tangible remaining wealth – and perhaps honor – found in the stolen steeds.
The book continues in like episodic fashion, the bare landscapes, the bare language highlighting the hard ethical decisions the boys must make. From a simple plot perspective, I felt compelled to discover how the boys’ (especially Billy’s) integrity and gumption would take up the next challenge, that character is truly king where every word is potentially lethal. In such a manner it was difficult to put the book down.
The boys, with a Mexican grandmother, are bilingual. Interestingly a fair amount of (brief) conversations on both sides of the border are left in Spanish, a thankfully proper and slang-free Spanish, while the English is free to roam through local dialects.
Language, of course, is a “crossing” itself. So, clearly, is culture, with stark contrasts sharply divided, even though the “bootheel” was part of Mexico historically. Included in culture is a wildly different state-of-mind. Trust, safety, and law are all far greater north; the instinctual charity of the very poorest and over-the-top personalities greater south. As a reader I felt a atmospheric relief when our heroes cross north – just as I do when returning to the States after extended stays abroad.
The crossing, then – like all good borders – is a prolonged metaphor, for a human condition beset by the unknown and unknowable, the tragic and the inscrutable, the here and the thereafter.
Our main protagonist, Billy – whose integrity and bravery startle throughout – at last humbles himself in the book’s last scene:
He took off his hat and placed it on the tarmac before him and he bowed his head and held his face in his hands and wept. He sat there for a long time and after a while the east did gray and after a while the right and godmade sun did rise, once again, for all and without distinction. [p.425]
Here the language soars one last time and nearly becomes biblical. Notice the repetition, so common to the King James Bible; one of the book’s few references to the Creator; and the echo of Matthew’s verse in which “he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.” (Matthew 5:45) In case we didn’t already know, it is difficult to be fully educated without a thorough knowledge of the bible.
This is the middle, coming-of-age book of a trilogy. (Having picked up The Crossing first, I intend to read the others.) The first of the trilogy won a National Book Award and The Crossing was a Book-of-the-Month main selection, deservedly so.
It is a timeless tale, so much so that when toward book’s end we learn that it mostly occurs prior to World War II, it surprises. The tale – save for a few more modern conveniences – could have occurred a century or more before, or after, crossing time.
Take II, also from last December’s Art Basel extravaganza in Metro Miami, takes us down a few more Art Miami corridors and then into the Art Context annex. As always, many attendees put on their own show to compete with the wall flowers.
Art Basel/Miami Beach has expanded over the years, now including dozens of art fairs and events. In December a friend kindly invited me to Art Miami, which occupied the bayfront property where the Miami Herald once stood.
As always, fascination with the female form, followed by celebrity glam, reigns. What looks different – after years without a visit – is how prevalent smartphones are, with many viewers glued to the interactivity of their hand mirror.
(A disclaimer: I first visited Art Miami and the Art Context annex for several hours with friends, without camera. Only days later did I return to take these images.)
Owner/eccentric John Preble, inspired by Albuquerque’s Tinkertown masterpiece (tucked away in the Sandias), opened up UCM Museum – You See ‘Em or, technically, Unusual Collections and Mini-Town – in 1998. You enter via a 1930’s gas station in tiny Abita Springs and stumble mind-bogingly upon 50,000 found and recycled objects or, as the wonderfully outdated and retro web site warns: “Tourists see a miniature Southern town with push-buttons that activate animated ‘displays.’ On exhibit are odd collections, memorabilia, pure junk, and old arcade machines that are fun to play.”
But wait. There’s a “100yr old Louisiana Creole cottage, an exhibition hall of memorabilia and junk, and the much photographed House of Shards…a Mardi Gras parade, a New Orleans jazz funeral, a rhythm and blues dance hall, a haunted Southern plantation, and much more!”
Visually stunning, splattered with humor, and sultry as only the Louisiana bayou can do, all of it resides an hour north of New Orleans. What’s keeping you? [please hover over images for captions]
The Florida Keys – borderlands on many levels – are otherworldly. Most tourists fly by car down the Upper and Lower Keys, Key West or bust, but I prefer poking along, not only for the spectacular views but for a sense of Old Florida, quirky and friendly.
I recently took the drive with some Brazilian friends, a recently married couple. Seeing the Keys afresh through their eyes was a treat. [please hover over images for captions]
As a lovely welcome-back to Miami Beach, I recently attended a dynamic, even aspirational, rendition of Handel’s Messiah in a Jewish synagogue. That’s right, music whose normal Yuletide purpose is to emphasize that Jesus Christ was the Jewish Messiah, as predicted throughout the Old Testament, which they missed.
To add layers, the Beth Shmuel Temple belongs to the Cuban-Hebrew Congregation of Miami. And this being Southern Florida, it was the first time I’ve heard solos sing Messiah with a Spanish accent. But don’t get me wrong: Messiah, one of my favorite choral works, is a cultural mish-mash itself: a German composer, living in England, with a libretto in English.
While I’ve attended even more stretch performances, by Brazilian youth in the country’s vast interior (the youth component making it, by definition, aspirational), the charms at Beth Shmuel were manifold. Not only was the interlude of the pastoral symphony accompanied by an angelic ballerina (from the Magic Slippers Fine Arts Academy) but a third way into the performance, off-stage noises were accompanying in a different way.
The performance was in the temple’s ballroom. Flanking the raised stage on both sides were scrims. Due to the ceiling’s dark reflective surface, mottled by fairy icicle lights, one could see by reflection the cause of the noises: a gaggle of young children. Not only did their sneakers, when in flight, cause basketball-court-like squeaks, but they dropped things now and then with a soft clang.
One could only guess that several of the chorus members were young mothers, who on a Sunday afternoon had naturally brought their children along, but as Latins are by and large a forgiving lot when it comes to rambunctious children, no one from the temple or audience appeared unduly bent out of shape.
A maternal-looking photographer did slip behind the scrim several times, as well as a thin, slightly wizened gentleman, in order to quell the rebellion, but no one was able to fully repress their energies for the duration.
While this was somewhat distracting during arias, the performers had the last laugh, during the rousing Hallelujah chorus, with all instruments, including vocal, at full tilt. As the Florida Opera Prima choral signers rose, the emotive Soprano soloist encouraged the audience to do the same, adding our voices to the hallelujahs, which we did. Suddenly the ballroom lights, along the wall and sprinkled like stars among the ceiling’s pixie galaxy, started to pulse and flash, and we attained choral heaven before spilling out into the mild March afternoon. [March 2018]
Your fearless fellow borderlander returned to Miami just in time to ride out Hurricane Irma. With 6.5 million under mandatory evacuation, it was safer to stay put than add to the chaos of the roads – where gas shortages were prevalent 4 days prior. Then, a day or two before landfall it became likely that Irma was wobbling west. Evacuating inland from the coast would only bring one closer to stronger hurricane winds. In the end, it turned out there was no safe place to escape to in all of Florida, 500 miles long.
Like the true grit shown by Texans during and after Harvey, Floridians also exemplify the we-will-rebuild ethos of many borderlanders, especially those along the hurricane-prone southern edge.
#1 lesson from Irma: what a blessing neighbors are.
From the ever-borderland of Miami Beach, here is some water ballet from the Momentum Dance Company, performed at an Art Deco gem, the National Hotel. ★Happy Independence Day!★
This sprawling journey along the Mexican border is a classic in borderlands literature: it sings the songs of unsung lives while also crossing into identification with our southern neighbors. Identification can help understanding, yet also risks a multi-culti lifting of non-American cultures above our own, on moral or political grounds.
The author is upfront about his fascination:
…I suddenly felt impelled to embrace that country [Mexico]. I was not satisfied to visit, but I had to live there, absorb its language and colloquialisms, master its local gossip, learn to drive in its cities, to seek Mexican comrades, and fall in Mexican love. [p.xiii]
His visits, accordingly, became more frequent and of longer duration. As I also lead a bi-country life, between the U.S. and Brazil, I understand it when he writes, “I returned to Mexico, and eventually learned that when I was in one country, I missed the other.” [Ibid.]
Lucky for him, and lucky for us, he then moves to the border town of Groom Creek, Arizona, where:
In 1985, I spent a year exploring an area of both nations I’d mostly ignored: the common ground between them. I felt amazingly at home. [Ibid.]
As any good exploration of the border entails, our differing histories is revealing (even if the author’s Pilgrim history is distorted):
Their differences were evident in their response to the discovery that the New World was already inhabited. One, here to enrich a distant kingdom and church, originally came with no women. Its conquistadors bred with the locals, and its missionaries shepherded them into its religion. The other arrived with entire colonies, and either killed the natives who were in the way or fenced them off. [p.5]
The journey starts in Brownsville and goes west. In Brownsville, a local politician is quoted:
“Poverty,” he tells his students, “is a normal by-product as capitalism produces wealth and a high standard of living. But if growth is too fast, poverty may become a direct product.” [p.14]
This tendentious view of growth and capitalism bubbles up throughout the book, as interested outside parties push their agendas, causing confusion as well as pushback. The author visits a community organization along the Rio Grande called Valley Interfaith, whose pamphlet
cover bore the silhouette of a Hasidic Jew, supposedly Alinsky.
“What about this?” Ofelia was asked in a meeting by a worried gardener. “Are we communists?”
“The dictionary,” she answered, “says that word means ‘community.’ I don’t know anything about Castro or Russia and I don’t really care about them. I’m not interested in anybody’s regime. I’m just interested in our community.”
While Ofelia may just be interested in community, her definition of communism is a deceptive one and Saul Alinsky was, indeed, the radical progressive who wrote “Rules for Radicals” which he dedicated to Lucifer. The worried gardener was on to something, but that is not the message the book wishes to get across.
It is a pity. For the author tries to be more balanced by book’s end, including this meditation on unemployment (as the justification for illegal immigration):
But the economics of no hay trabajo is the real struggle, and it is North America’s too. For whatever historic and current reasons, economic systems that do not support their populations proliferate in the hemisphere. At this point, ecology, not ideology, takes over, because organisms seek and move toward resources that will sustain them. [p.142]
A certain fatalism extends elsewhere. For neither is Weisman positive about the logistics or validity of the international border, speaking here about the Rio Grande’s Big Bend:
From this perspective, with Texas and Coahuila equally exquisite and overwhelming, the international boundary is pure fiction. The idea that some human being’s whim in Washington or Mexico City could steal the river that carved all this astounds her. To think that the water could drain away during a tug of war between government reduces the glory of wilderness to the level of a functionary’s warped vision. [p.66]
Besides the human trade, of course, is also the drug one, which Weisman positions this way:
The boundary between morality and depravity intersects la frontera. At their junction, narcotics and weapons pour between the Americas. The political division itself add to their value. Danger heightens and profits increase. As they do, hopes decline and drag the future along with them. [p.81]
On the Mexican side, we get an idea of what facilitates the drug trade, with this quotation of a “military commandante” about governmental corruption:
“You know,” he says, “the system is so rotten that it’s what lets us live in peace. It’s so bad, it’s good. The law doesn’t let you do anything. It encourages you to be crooked. You are guaranteed much more that way.” [p.79]
Yet the author’s enthusiasm for the borderlands and Mexico is still contagious. His detailed and exhaustive journey on both sides of the nearly 2,000 mile border, interviewing dozens of people along the way, is admirable. While I have visited Mexico under a dozen times, and my longest stay was only six weeks, I can smile in agreement when he writes, “Beauty being irrepressible in Mexico, in some places even poverty has a sweetness about it.” [p.11]
About my favorite border-hugging road in existence, Texas Farm Road 170, he writes rhapsodically (if incorrectly in one detail by implying Mexico is not part of North America):
On the Texas side, the road is a dinosaur hide, filled with primeval cracks. Blood veins descend the mountain faces, widening into bleached yellow alluvial fans. Rimrock crops out in organic waves. Above the narrow valley, the wind and runoff carve hoodoo canyons of red and gray clay, filled with cathedrals, minarets, hourglasses, and torsos. Few North Americans ever see this country. They generally avoid these forbidding roads that connect distant segments of nowhere familiar, but Mexicans cherish them as lifelines into regions where no one bothers to come look for them. [p.84]
In the book’s final chapter, he sums up:
The border snaps like a taut band. Its ends fly together and converge in this single issue. Aliens are guilty for invading the United States to earn dollars. Employers are guilty for encouraging them. Congressmen are guilty for failing to pass laws that punish employers for doing this. And everybody is guilty for wanting cheaper vegetables.
Mexico, too corrupt to share its wealth among its own people, is perhaps guiltiest of all. But Mexico blames a legacy contaminated by dictators, churches, kings, viceroys, and Aztec emperors, whose centuries of behavior aren’t easily eradicated overnight. Besides, it reminds critics, American corporations and U.S. Marines created the same kind of plutocracies in a chain of banana republics, which in turn produce more hungry, invading aliens. The United States inherited this disregard for native populations from its own brutal history of manifest destiny.
Everyone – our ancestor and ourselves – is guilty. No law or fence will contain the hungry, devastated people we bring into this world, if there are too many of them to subdue. Blaming this on the communists will not help. It is equally doubtful that visions of nineteenth-century cowboys will solve things, either. [p.181]
His last lines are somewhat ominous:
This frontera is the border between the present and the future. Along it, its people must eventually create yet a newer world. [p.186]
For how exactly are newer worlds created? Cue, Saul Alinsky? La Raza?
But don’t be put off by the mildly biased reporting. This classic of border literature is well worth it if only for the abundant history and beautiful black & white photos, many of the them portraits, by Jay Dusard.
[La Frontera, The United States Border with Mexico, Alan Weisman & Jay Dusard, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, NY, 1986]
Where else but in the borderlands of New Orleans can you visit the spiritual borderland of voodoo? Last year I visited the town’s Voodoo Museum, which boasts that it is “the ORIGINAL and ONLY actual VOODOO MUSEUM in New Orleans, and the World.”
Beyond the starkness of the claim, much else is in flux. The brochure, for instance, grants “Voodoo is neither scriptural, nor does it have any central authority, therefore, the only consistency in Voodoo is inconsistency.”
Originally from West Africa, voodoo’s local history interests: its earliest record in NOLA is from 1713, when the first slaves arrived. By 1773 the term “gris-gris” (an object and/or act of “magical supernatural power”) was recorded when a slave was accused of killing his overseer. By the early 19th century, voodoo dances in Congo Square were common on Sundays. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 helped to mainstream the Creole (mixed breed) culture.
The most famous practictioner, Marie Laveau, known as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, was a practicing Catholic (as syncretism abounds) and specialized in affaires d’amour and love potions until her death in 1881.
Even if in need of love potions, caution in the museum is advised, as “one does not choose Voodoo, it chooses you!” [please hover over images for captions]