Communing with the Desert

The Cactus Garden at Sunnylands

Tomorrow, I’ll be driving to the Coachella Valley to spend some time with my brother and his family—a mini-reunion of sorts. It’s wonderful that I could go to the desert when the weather is perfect for hiking (highs in the mid-sixties), rather than having to slave away on processing tax returns. (I’ve already filed my tax return a few days ago.)

My next post will be on Monday or Tuesday of next week. See you all then.


Good Time

Dancing the Charleston

On a cruise to India around the Cape of Good Hope, Aldous Huxley laments the behavior of his fellow passengers. The following is from his 1926 collection of essays entitled Jesting Pilate:

Everybody in the ship menaces us with the prospect of a very “good time” in India. A good time means going to the races, playing bridge, drinking cocktails, dancing till four in the morning, and talking about nothing. And meanwhile the beautiful, the incredible world in which we live awaits our exploration, and life is short, and time flows stanchlessly, like blood from a mortal wound. And there is all knowledge, all art. There are men and women, the innumerable living, and, in books, the souls of those dead who deserved to be immortal. Heaven preserve me, in such a world, from having a Good Time! Heaven helps those who help themselves. I shall see to it that my time in India is as bad as I can make it.

I like Aldous Huxley. I admire his questing mind and, with him, deplore those who pretend to be “with it” but who actually are as boring as drying paint.



Things That Are Not News Any More

Flag at Half Mast for Depredations by Trumpf and His Minions

The following sources are no longer to be considered as newsworthy:

  • Anything appearing in a tweet, irrespective of from whom.
  • Anything said or tweeted by our current presidente.
  • Anything said by Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Tami Lahren, Sean Hannity, Fox and Friends, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Bill O’Reilly, Stephen Miller, Kellyanne Conway, and their ilk.
  • Any word that “The Internet” had just punished or shamed somebody, anybody, for what he, she, or it said.
  • Any predictions from any source.
  • Any descriptions of rants from anybody.
  • Any comments from Evangelical sources impinging on politics, or on anything for that matter.
  • Any agonized analyses of mass murderers employing gunfire.
  • Any thoughts or prayers regarding man-made calamities.
  • Any comments to social media posts.


B Traven and the Jungle Novels

British Arrest Photo for Ret Marut (B Traven?)

One of the mysteries of 20th century literature was the identity of B Traven, who is probably best known for having written the novel that the film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1947) was based on. In the late 1960s I first ran into the subject from a leftist magazine, probably Ramparts, which in the 1960s speculated that Traven was a German author and anarchist named Ret Marut who fled to Mexico in the early 1920s.

While in Mexico, B Traven wrote a series of novels that dealt with the exploitation of the Indian population by Europeans and Ladinos (Europeanized Mestizos). In addition to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1927) and The Bridge in the Jungle (1929), which I think is his masterpiece, he published six Jungle Novels:

  • Government (1931)
  • The Carreta (1931)
  • The March to the Monteria, a.k.a. The March to Caobaland (1933)
  • Trozas (1936)
  • The Rebellion of the Hanged (1936)
  • A General from the Jungle (1940)

To date, I have real all but Trozas, but I am about to remedy that within the next few weeks.

Traven lived in Mexico until his death (at the age of 87?) in 1969.


Serendipity: The Lacandon Apocalypse

The Late Chan K’in Viejo, Lacandonian Chief and Elder, in 1933

I have just begun reading Christopher Shaw’s excellent Sacred Monkey River: A Canoe Trip with the Gods, a book about the river waterways used by the ancient Mayans for trading. The Lacandonians are a very traditional Mayan group that live along the Usumacinta River that forms part of the border between Mexico and Guatemala. In 1992, I saw a Lacandonian selling bows and arrows in front of the Casa del Balam Hotel in Merida, Yucatán. The following passage in Shaw’s book caught my eye:

Kayum, one of Chan K’in’s sons, a painter of naïve but arresting jungle scenes with one-man shows from Barcelona to Seattle to his credit, looked up from his ax work and gently scolded Victor [Perera, author of The Last Lords of Palenque] that he must let go of the world. It is creaking and groaning like an old man, he said. Everything prefigured the imminence of xu’tan, he said, the Lacandon apocalypse. The proper attitude of a hach winik [Lacandonian, “real person”] was to welcome it and the new era of creation it anticipated. He spoke with the deep calm and conviction of a believer. Victor never forgot it, though he never accepted it either, Kayum’s willingness to watch and welcome while a thousand generations of accumulated beauty and uncatalogued nonhuman life got traded for the shortest of gains, or in many cases no gains at all.

The Usumacinta River Near Piedras Negras


Thoughts + Prayers = 0

Crosses Memorializing Victims of Vegas Shooting

Here we are with yet another mass shooting, and more thoughts and prayers—especially from people who do not intend to do anything about it. Sure, set down those Teddy Bears and lit candles and be photographed hugging other people. Let’s take a look at ourselves in the mirror. We are seen as being barbarous because of the things we allow to go on in our country. Selling automatic weapons to lunatics and children! And merely shaking our heads when those weapons are put to deadly use.

Sometimes, I think the thoughts and prayers of the families of shooting victims are not as strong as the thoughts and prayers of people who are members and fellow travelers of the NRA.


Los Encuentros

Highland Guatemala Town

I picked up a book from the library today by a Fulbright Scholar named Stephen Connely Benz entitled Guatemalan Journey and found the following poem entitled “Los Encuentros” in the front matter. I hope you like it as much as I did:

The phrase book tells me I’m at a crossroads,
I should expect encounters
in the vellum margins of this highway
where buses cough black clouds
and hanging men cry out destinations
I cannot find on the map.
I’ve heard rumors of what lies
ahead, the incidents hidden in hairpin
turns, dire straits for those who seek
passage through gullies, ravines, lava valleys.
The topography of this country,
an explorer said, is like a crumpled page:
palimpsest mountains, parchment plains,
hieroglyphic highlands awaiting interpretation.
Lexicographers take notes on each twisting
nuance in the road, turns of phrase promise
arrival or departure, movement along this text
I’m traveling. I read ahead
through the codex of curves
And straightaways to the congested towns
where babblers hail strangers
in unrelated vocables.
I study the morphemes in a parrot’s squawk,
signals sent up in volcano smoke,
stories revealed in aboriginal textile.
I skim long vistas of calligraphied macadam,
an endless panorama of road signs encoding
a traveler’s tale, a new message
But the phrase book’s no help now,
it all translates the same—
I’m at a crossroads,
expecting encounters, still waiting.

The book itself seems like an excellent introduction to Guatemala. I wonder if he wrote anything else.