Mexican Folk Art from the Casa de los Venados in Valladolid, Yucatán
Perhaps the largest collection of Mexican folk art in private hands is on display at the Casa de los Venados in Valladolid, Yucatán, about a block off the Zócalo. The collection contains 3,000+ pieces of high-quality folk art. If you should ever find yourself in Yucatán, you should consider paying a visit. Not only is the museum an eye-opener, but the city of Valladolid is worth spending several days touring.
A Friendly Demon
You Can See Me Taking the Picture to the Left of the Cross
The Casa de los Venados is probably the best museum of Mexican folk art I have ever seen.
The following paragraph from from a 1949 British mystery novel by Edmund Crispin entitled Buried for Pleasure. In the novel Oxford Professor Gervase Fen is running for parliament, but gets sidetracked by a number of murders and other crimes in Sanford Angelorum. So instead of telling his constituents he no longer wants the job, he delivers the following speech the night before the polling. By the way, he wins.
I shall now tell you the reason why fanaticism of this sort is so attractive to humankind. A contemporary French writer—whose name I shall not mention, since you are probably too stupid either to recognize it or to remember it—has pointed out with unanswerable logic that men adopt ideas not because it seems to them that those ideas are true, or because it seems to them that those ideas are expedient, but because those ideas satisfy a basic emotional need of their nature. Now what emotion—I ask you—provides the chief motive power of the politically obsessed? You do not answer, because you have never given the matter a moment’s thought. But were you to do so, even you might dimly perceive that the reply to my question is the monosyllable hate. Never forget that political zealots are people who are over-indulging their emotional need of hatred. They have, of course, their ‘constructive’ programmes, but it is not these which supply the fuel for their squalid engines; it is the concomitant attacks, upon a class, a system, a personality; it is the lust to defame and destroy. Let no such men be trusted. That they have landed themselves, here and hereafter, in the most arid of all hells as a circumstance which I must confess does not greatly distress me, and with that spiritual aspect of the matter I do not propose to deal.
The Sierra snowpack that is California’s main source of water is deeper this year than at any time within memory. We cannot say, unfortunately, that the long drought is finally over. We began this rainy season in the red as a result of overpumping groundwater. Somehow, we would have to restore the groundwater that has been pumped in the last several drought years. It’s like making a deposit in the bank for the lean years to come.
In Southern California, most of our water comes from two sources. First is the California Aqueduct which draws water from the Sierra snowpack and sends it some 400 miles (640 km) to the reservoirs that supply Los Angeles. The second source is another aqueduct which brings water west from the Colorado River. That source is problematical because the Rocky Mountains have not had a particularly good year; and the states along the Colorado River are feuding with one another over water rights.
The above photo shows graphically how the water level of Lake Mead has shrunk over the last few years. What used to be a rush of water through the spillways is now a mere trickle. I wonder how much winds up crossing the border into Mexico and the Gulf of California.
Is our wet winter something we are likely to experience in future years? And will the Rockies share in the wealth? Or will the present greenery turn bone dry and feed the wildfires of the future?
George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor in Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans
It is difficult to think that the first time I saw F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans was some half century after it was produced in 1927. And now I saw it again, almost a century after it was produced. Each time, I thought it was one of the most beautiful films ever made.
None of the characters in the film are named. Unlike most silent films, there were few titles. Murnau had the unique ability to let the visuals speak by themselves, except for a few times when it was absolutely necessary. We begin with a farmer and his wife whose relationship is falling apart because of a girl from the city who is vacationing in their community and who is targeting the farmer for what she can get out of him.
In one of their trysts, the city girl suggests that the farmer take his wife boating and drown her. She even collects bullrushes so that the farmer can save himself by floating on them after he has deliberately swamped the rowboat.
He does take his wife on a boat ride to the city. At one point, he looms over her scaring her. She knows about the relationship and is scared for her life, and for their child, who has been left at home under the care of a maid. The farmer repents of his intention and works at winning her back once they reach the city. These city scenes are by far the best in the film, as he takes her to a restaurant, a photography studio, a church wedding, a barber shop, a carnival, and a dance hall. By the end of the evening, they are obviously still in love with each other. And Murnau’s images of the city are magical.
The Farmer and His Wife in the Magical City Scenes
On the boat ride back to the farm, a storm rises; and the husband and wife are separated as the boat sinks. Has what the farmer planned to do happened by accident? You’ll just have to see the film to find out. And that would definitely be worth your while.
Now that I have read four of his five novels and will in all likelihood have read most of his work before the end of the year, I can say that Charles Portis is one of my favorite American novelists of the Twentieth Century. He is perhaps the best thing to ever come out of Arkansas, the state where he was born, lived most of his life, and died.
First of all, here are his five novels:
True Grit (1968)
The Dog of the South (1979)
Masters of Atlantis (1980)
Undoubtedly, you have heard of True Grit. Hollywood turned it into two enjoyable movies, one starring John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, and the other (produced by the Coen Brothers) starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin.
The only Portis novel I have not read so far is Masters of Atlantis. He also produced a collection of essays in 2012 called Escape Velocity. The name comes from a quote from one of his novels: “A lot of people leave Arkansas and most of them come back sooner or later. They can’t quite achieve escape velocity.”
Like J. D. Salinger, Charles Portis was a man who avoided the limelight. He would point out, however, that his phone number was in the Little Rock phonebook.
Everything I have read by Portis can best be described as gentle humor. As one reviewer said of True Grit, “Only a mean person won’t enjoy it.” Too true!
The Tomb of Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) in Geneva Switzerland
The title of this post is in Anglo-Saxon from the gravestone of Jorge Luis Borges. It comes from The Battle of Maldon. Translated, it means “Be not afraid.” Toward the end of his life, Borges learned Anglo-Saxon and even studied Old Norse, which is the language of Iceland.
Here is an early poem by Borges (from Fervor de Buenos Aires, 1923) on the subject of death. The translation is by W. S. Merwin.
Remorse for Any Death
Free of memory and hope,
unlimited, abstract, almost future,
the dead body is not somebody: It is death.
Like the God of the mystics,
whom they insist has no attributes,
the dead person is no one everywhere,
is nothing but the loss and absence of the world.
We rob it of everything,
we do not leave it one color, one syllable:
Here is the yard which its eyes no longer take up,
there is the sidewalk where it waylaid its hope.
It might even be thinking
what we are thinking.
We have divided among us, like thieves,
the treasure of nights and days.
The most interesting exhibit I saw yesterday at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City was about human memory. It honored Geoffrey Sonnabend who, in 1946, wrote a study entitled Obliscence: Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter.
Sonnabend’s thesis was that memory is an illusion. The inevitable outcome of all experience is not remembering, but forgetting:
We, amnesiacs all, condemned to live in an eternally fleeting present, have created the most elaborate of human constructions, memory, to buffer ourselves against the intolerable knowledge of the irreversible passage of time and the irretrievability of its moments and events.
According to a summary by Valentine Worth available in the museum’s gift shop:
Sonnabend did not attempt to deny that the experience of memory existed. However, his entire body of work was predicated on the idea that what we experience as memories are in fact confabulations—artificial constructions of our own design built around sterile particles of retained experience which we attempt to make live again by infusions of imagination, much as the blacks and whites of old photographs are enhanced by the addition of colors or tints in an attempt to add life to a frozen moment.
It seems to make sense. I don’t know if I would read all three volumes of Sonnabend’s Obliscence, but I can see how many of my own memories have been encrusted by confabulations just as an old shipwreck is encrusted by layers of calcium carbonate and other concretions. Here is an illustration from his work that shows how complicated it gets:
The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, California
I spent several hours this afternoon visiting a storefront in Culver City, right near the corner of Bagley Avenue and Venice Boulevard, that goes by the name the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Why Jurassic? Does it contain only exhibits relating to the earth between 201 and 145 million years ago? Was there any technology to be found during that period? Were there even any humans extant during that period?
Whatever may be implied by the name, it was a real museum in that it was a collection of wonders, concentrating on smaller exhibits given the size of the property. The St. Patrick’s Day crowd consisted almost exclusively of millennials, who wandered the dark and twisting corridors of the museum peering at such exhibits as miniatures by an Armenian artist named Hagop Sandaldjian, such as this representation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves atop the horizontal eye of a needle:
There was an unusual collection of objects gathered from various Los Angeles Mobile Home Parks, together with an attempt to account for a philosophy of trailer living as a form of reaction to the expanding universe. The museum website quotes an Estonian historian named Ants Viires on the subject:
[T]ime ravages everything, our person, our experience, our material world. In the end everything will be lost. In the end there is only the darkness. …and despite the apparent fullness and richness of our lives there is, deposited at the core of each of us, a seed of this total loss of this inevitable and ultimate darkness.
Another miniaturist on display is the work of Henry Dalton (1829-1911) consisting of images created from diatoms and the scales of butterfly wings, such as the following:
To view these works, it was necessary to view them through a microscope. There were about eight of them in a row, each pointed at a separate microminiature.
On the second floor of the museum is a little courtyard where tea and cookies are served amid the cooing of doves and the gurgling of a small fountain.
It was a fun place to visit. Not all the exhibits worked, but then that is true pretty much everywhere. I walked out of the museum with a sense of wonderment that was quickly dispelled by the rush hour traffic on Venice Boulevard.
Infinite Variety: With/Without Sugar, Salt, Glucose, Etc.
There is nothing like a visit to the supermarket to demonstrate that not all is well with the Republic. It seems that one could buy tomato juice with or without salt or hot chile peppers. Of course, one could buy plain tomato juice, add the salt oneself and even add a few drops of my favorite Marie Sharp’s Chile Habanero sauce. And don’t get me started on milk. If you’re lactose intolerant, you could drink milk made from almonds, oats, soybeans, and (probably) kale. There is so much variety on the supermarket shelves that one is often hard pressed to find what one is looking for.
In case you didn’t know, there are firms which arrange the products on the shelf. Manufacturers pay to be at eye level. If you’re a cheapster selling a basic product, you will be stuck on the lowest shelf, which you cannot examine safely without getting a shopping cart up your backside.
Today, I was looking for a product rarely purchased by most Americans: whole granulation kasha, or buckwheat groats. I like preparing it with egg, onions, and bow-tie noodles as kasha varnishkes, a Jewish dish that Martine and I like. But there were zero varieties of kasha on the shelves, and probably several hundred varieties of rice, mostly not deserving of the shelf space they got.
So, instead, I got a can of clams and some linguine, with which I prepared today and (hopefully) tomorrow. Martine has told me, in no uncertain terms, that she doesn’t want linguine with clams; so she will shift for herself tomorrow. (Today, she finished off he Indian kima dish I prepared on Monday.) That is her prerogative: I remember my youth, when I was the pickiest kid in Cleveland.
Well, that works, doesn’t it? All you have to do is crack a smile, do a happy dance, and you’re guaranteed to be happy, no?
Okay, I’ll believe that works in the case of Charles Schulz’s Snoopy, but it’s a little different for humans. Happiness is transitory, but unhappiness tends to persist. Of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, the first is about suffering:
The First Noble Truth is the idea that everyone suffers and that suffering is part of the world. Buddhists believe in the cycle of samsara, which is the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. This means that people will experience suffering many times over. All of the things a person goes through in life cause suffering and they cannot do anything about it. Instead, they have to accept that it is there. People may use temporary solutions to end suffering, such as doing something they enjoy. However, this does not last forever and the suffering can come back when the enjoyment ends. Buddhists want to work to try to stop suffering. However, the first step is to acknowledge that there is suffering – it happens and it exists.
That’s one of the main reasons I get this smirk on my face when someone does a Happy Dance on TV because his trash is being picked up, his or her skin is free from eczema, or it’s Friday and TGIF.
Is that because I am an unhappy person? Not at all. It’s just that putting on a happy face does not mean you are happy. It just means that you are employing magical thinking to avoid acknowledging the reality of suffering in our lives.
If you absolutely must do a Happy Dance, do it like Snoopy: Realize that life is what it is, and your little dance interlude won’t change that.
You must be logged in to post a comment.