Friday, October 14, 2016
Monday, October 10, 2016
Just to think, I may be the first.
I walk through the small iron door,
small like an Anasazi opening.
There on the stool
a bearded English man pours sour ale.
The stained glass windows speak a story:
a running rabbit, a human caterpillar,
a disappearing cat, and a queen of hearts.
My emotions ebb like those of Alice's, out of place.
Outside the window—
a green hill supporting Windsor castle.
It stands like an adobe village atop a mesa.
The ground is black soil,
No signs of the red reservation dirt.
A small black bird perches on the wooden sill.
Is it a corn-stealing reservation chicken?
No. It's a Scottish raven, and Indian crow mirage.
No frybread with mutton stew.
I order Yorkshire pudding,
A meat pie.
Around the pub
spreads the spired city of learning: Oxford.
Like tipis of the annual Crow Fair,
these colleges choke the town:
Pembroke, Old Crow; St. Peters, Black Eagle; Christ Church,
Red Wolf: Magdalen, Old Coyote . . . .
Here in the pub
Queen Elizabeth rules by her crown.
Across the great diving lakes,
Within the sacred mountains,
Grandmother Little Owl weaves her loom.
In this room,
I am the red Columbus.
There are no Indian brothers.
I hear the echo of an eagle,
The sun dance drums,
But the wailing spirits of Stonehenge
silence their chants.
I truly am the first Navajo in the Wooden Duck.
Hershman John, I Swallow Turquoise for Courage (2007)
I see him as a funnel and through this funnel the New World pours into my genes and becomes, perhaps, the saving remnant. For what this discovered hemisphere gave us is a chance to recover the irrational, the illogical, and the powerful. The forests that overwhelm us, the mountains that dwarf us, the forces that crush us. Here the drums were not yet stilled. Here God still lived, though at times God drank copious goblets of blood, or was a stone, or a buffalo skull, or a mountain.
But the mess we lament, that is the thing that part of me celebrates. The strange mongrel mixture of races, ideas, seeds, spores, viruses, bacteria.
The landmass we call Europe had been butchered, all the forests made groves, all the meadows made fields, all the ground made tame. All the signs of decadence were present and this failure of the heart was seen as innovation. A new burst was occurring in writing, in painting, in machines. The things scholars for the coming centuries would celebrate and call a rebirth, these things were actually signs of a vast dying of the spirit. Of this I am convinced because five centuries later I live at a similar moment in the history of my breed. We too live in a dead culture with dead gods and yet we are flailing outward into space, the depths of the seas, the secret crevices of the earth, the once sacrosanct gardens of our cells. We are mining the double helix, poking about in the strange codes of life itself. We sail on our clumsy caravels and galleons just as Christopher himself once did.
What the jungles and plains and mountains and deserts and forests of the New World accomplished is this: they permanently poisoned the faith of Europeans in rationality. They brought us back the night.
Friday, August 19, 2016
You might be easily forgiven for at first mistaking the Ruby Crest with a kind of cloying, sweetsy kids’ toothpaste, or a new flavor in the vending machine (“Crystal Pepsi,” “Sierra Mist,” “Shasta Twist,” etc.)
Peruvian forests range from the coast, to the Andes, to the Amazon: palms, orchids, bromeliads, lianas, bread nut, fig, innumerable and untold. But no quaking aspen, shimmering like the surface of a pool stirred by an unseen hand at certain seasons. Or like a mirage in the memory after returning home.
hyperobjects of the basin and range
Other migrants, transplants, fellow wanderers, pilgrims, and visitors to the Rubies that week included:
hundred of small, hungry cutthroat trout
Himalayan Snowcock (who we did not see)
a young day hiker, two weeks missing (who we also did not see)
Perseid meteor shower (which we did see)
Perseid meteor shower (which we did see)
several small companies of solemn bow hunters
the state game warden
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Imagine the problem is not physical. Imagine the problem is that we cannot imagine a future where we possess less, but are more. Imagine the problem is a future that terrifies us, because we lose our machines, but gain our feet and pounding hearts.
Then, what is to be done? We do not want to learn another way to live. We would rather die.
Or, perhaps a voice will come down from the mountain, a bush will burn, new tablets of stone will heave into view like spacecraft. We could turn it all around. Take power. The answers are as simple as the questions.
We are an exceptional model of the human race. We no longer know how to produce food. We no longer can heal ourselves. We no longer really raise our young. We have forgotten the names of the stars, fail to notice the phases of the moon. We do not know the plants and they no longer protect us. We tell ourselves we are the most powerful specimens of our kind who have ever lived. But when the lights are off we are helpless. We cannot move without traffic signals. We must attend classes in order to learn by rote numbered steps toward how to love or how to breast-feed our baby. We justify anything, anything at all, by the need to maintain our way of life. We have a simple test for making decisions: our way of life, which we cleverly call our standard of living, must not change except to grow yet more grand. We have a simple reality we live with each and every day: our way of life is killing us.
Still we could be free. We could walk out the door. We can still walk a little or at least crawl.
We can, actually, do anything. Anything at all.
Thursday, June 30, 2016
Virtually everyone in Teotitlán del Valle has a deep and detailed knowledge of weaving and dying, and all that goes with it—carding, combing the wool, spinning the yarn, raising the insects on their favorite cacti, picking the right indigo plants. A total knowledge is located, embodied in the individuals, the families of this village. No “experts” need to be called in, no external knowledge which is not already in the village. Every aspect of the expertise is located right here.
How different this is from our own, more “advanced” culture, where nobody knows how to make anything for themselves. A pen, a pencil—how are these made? Could we make one for ourselves, if we had to? I fear for the survival of this village, and the many like it, which have survived for a thousand years or more. Will they disappear in our super-specialized, mass-market world?
— Oliver Sacks, Oaxaca Journal (2002)
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
The men who have done most of the work are those who enjoy those sidewalks less. Only sidewalks. And I say for myself, the moment I get on one of those sidewalks, I start to fall down.
— Emiliano Zapata, December 1914
City streets, like city parks, were public spaces. Anyone could use them provided they did not unduly annoy or endanger others. Under this construction of the city street, even children at play could be legitimate street users. Some proposed a more radical social reconstruction of the street as a motor thoroughfare, confining pedestrians to crossings and sidewalks.
With these perspectives went diverging answers to the question “who belongs in the street?” To protect pedestrians, some proposed restricting their use of street space. Pedestrians angry at the automobile’s intrusion resented such ideas, and demanded restriction of the car instead. As disputes grew hotter, automotive interests began to appreciate their own stake in the result. They lost confidence that safety councils could prevent accidents without curtailing the car’s urban future. By late 1923, therefore, motordom joined the safety fight as an independent player. It struggled to stop definitions of the safety problem that threatened the automobile’s place in the city.
. . .
Motorists hit upon the most effective epithet early: “jaywalker.” A “jay” was a hayseed, out of place in the city; a jaywalker was someone who did not know how to walk in a city. Originally the term applied as much or more to pedestrians who obstructed the path of other pedestrians—by failing, for example, to keep to the right on the sidewalk. As autos grew common on city streets, jaywalkers were more often pedestrians oblivious to the danger of city motor traffic. According to one early, more general definition (1913), jaywalkers were “men so accustomed to cutting across fields and village lots that they zigzag across city streets, scorning to keep to the crossings, ignoring their own safety” and “impeding traffic.” Advocates of pedestrian control fought to classify as jaywalker any person who walked anywhere in the roadway, except in intersections at right angles to traffic. To work, the epithet “jaywalker” had to be introduced to the millions. In 1921 a collector of dialect found the term “not common.” That would have to change. In city safety campaigns, safety reformers found their opportunity. In Syracuse’s pioneering safety campaign of December 1913, a man in a Santa Claus suit used a megaphone to denounce careless pedestrians as “jay walkers.”
. . .
Boy Scouts in Providence, Rhode Island, summoned jaywalkers to a “school for careless pedestrians” for reeducation. In many cities, police or Boy Scouts distributed anti-jaywalking cards to pedestrians who crossed streets in disapproved ways.
. . .
In 1920, when the wave of public safety campaigns was just beginning, “jaywalker” was a rare and controversial term. Safety weeks, more than anything else, introduced the word to the millions. Frequent use wore down its sharp edge, and it passed into acceptable usage as a term for lawless pedestrians who would not concede their old rights to the street, even in the dawning motor age. In 1924, soon after the intense publicity of safety weeks, “jaywalker” first appeared in a standard American dictionary. The entry officially gave the word its new, motor age definition: “One who crosses a street without observing the traffic regulations for pedestrians.”
— Peter D Norton Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City
The Central Actor
The city is inhabited by people, therefore it should be for them that the city is conceived, built, and modified. At the same time, there are distinct groups of people and specific needs. This diversity must be at the axis of transformations of urban space.
Oaxaca’s Casa de la Ciudad isn’t asking a lot. Their mission is pretty straightforward, as “a center dedicated to the study and analysis of the city,” and, in particular, defending “the development of a city that is humane and safe, economically just and environmentally healthy.” Here’s a bit of the permanent installation.
Unlike average tourists—who, as soon as they arrive in a city, begin hanging awkwardly around the alien city center—I make it my policy to head straight for the suburbs so as to learn my way around the outskirts. I soon discovered the rightness of this principle. Never had the first hour been as profitable as the one I spent in and among the inner port and dock installations, the warehouses, the poorer neighborhoods, the scattered refuges of the destitute.
Belt that cinches against the city and the country, these outlying districts constitute their pathological side; they are the terrain upon which the great decisive battles between town and country are continuously being fought out. It is the hand-to-hand combat of telegraph poles with agaves, barbed wire with prickly palms, the stench of steamed-up corridors with the damp sycamore lined, brooding squares, shortwinded flights of steps with overbearing hills.
— Walter Benjamin
Fotopiso: Historic Maps of Oaxaca City.
And here’s Mexico’s Liga Peatonal presenting on the Statement of Pedestrian Rights earlier this month. (Much thanks to Queretaro’s Editorial El Caminante for their great work on this!)
Asael Arista was also there making pedestrian postcards with the kiddos (pequeños peatones). This all happened as part of their 30dias del Peatón show.
Meanwhile, back on the streets: