House of Horrors

Mummified Corpses in Guanajuato’s Museo de las Momias

In this month of Halloween, I thought I would make mention of the most horrific museum I have ever visited, the Museo de las Momias (that is, Mummies) de Guanajuato.

Imagine to yourself a museum consisting of corpses dug up in a Mexican mining town that have been naturally mummified because of the mineral content of the soil. Many were interred during a cholera epidemic which filled the local cemetery to such an extent that the town had to charge a fee for the right to remain buried. According to Wikipedia:

The human bodies appear to have been disinterred between 1870 and 1958. During that time, a local tax was in place requiring a fee to be paid for “perpetual” burial. Some bodies for which the tax was not paid were disinterred, and some—apparently those in the best condition—were stored in a nearby building. The climate of Guanajuato provides an environment which can lead to a type of natural mummification, although scientific studies later revealed that some bodies had been at least partially embalmed. By the 1900s the mummies began attracting tourists. Cemetery workers began charging people a few pesos to enter the building where bones and mummies were stored.

When I visited Guanajuato in the late 1980s, my introduction to the museum was itself grim: A young father was carrying a child’s coffin on his shoulders to be buried, with no one else in the family following him.

Shades of Edgar Allan Poe: The Wikipedia entry continues with this grim fact:

One of the mummies who was buried alive was Ignacia Aguilar. She suffered from a strange sickness that made her heart appear to stop on several occasions. During one of these incidents, her heart appeared to stop for more than a day. Thinking she had died, her relatives decided to bury her. When her body was disinterred, it was noticed that she was facing down, biting her arm, and that there was a lot of blood in her mouth.

The only way I kept the contents of my stomach under control while I was in the museum was the extent to which I busied myself taking pictures. None of these are in this post, as they have yet to be converted to JPEG files from the Kodachrome slides I was then shooting.

Even a writer like Ray Bradbury had trouble seeing the displays of mummies in the museum:

The experience so wounded and terrified me, I could hardly wait to flee Mexico. I had nightmares about dying and having to remain in the halls of the dead with those propped and wired bodies. In order to purge my terror, instantly, I wrote ‘The Next in Line.’ One of the few times that an experience yielded results almost on the spot.

A Movie for 2020

Vincent Price as Prince Prospero and Patrick Magee as Alfredo

As we approach Halloween, I propose a 1964 film by Roger Corman as the perfect paradigm for our year of coronavirus and Trump—namely, The Masque of the Red Death.

The story concerns a gathering of wealthy friends (let’s call them billionaires) of Prince Prospero at his castle while the Red Death plague rages through the land. It is my favorite Roger Corman film, with elegant color photography by Nicholas Roeg.

Unfortunately, the character of Vincent Price’s Prospero, nasty as he may be, is played by too interesting an actor to be a stand-in for Donald J. Trump—though he wealthy guests are perfect. One can imagine the My Pillow Guy and the founder of Goya Foods at this party.

You might also want to read the Edgar Allan Poe story from which the film is drawn. You can find it here.

Death Is Stalking the Land in Masque of the Red Death

In the end, Prince Prospero and all his guests come down with the Red Death, which they had so studiously tried to avoid. And curiously, the character is plays the personification of the deathly plague is, once again, Vincent Price.

A Poem for Halloween

Jack O’ Lanterns

Here is a poem redolent of the season by the U.S.’s new Nobel Prize Winner in Literature for 2020: Louise Glück.

All Hallows

Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
sleep in their blue yoke,
the fields having been
picked clean, the sheaves
bound evenly and piled at the roadside
among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:

This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended, as in payment,
and the seeds
distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.


Poet Louise Glück

Notes from a Libtard

These People Have Every Reason to Hate Me

Even though I am no longer a Democrat and by no means a Republican, I am still very much a liberal. Strangely, I come from the same background that many of Trump’s supporters come from: white non-college-educated blue collar workers. (I myself am college educated and have held white collar jobs during my working life.)

What holds “The Base” together is fear and hatred: Fear of immigrants and people of color and hatred of coastal elites.

I propose a new political party. We can call ourselves the Libtards … it doesn’t really matter! My main complaint about these people is that they wrap themselves in the American flag despite having little or no knowledge of the rest of the world.

How Ignorant People See the Outside World

I think the Libtard Party should go in for political re-education. I don’t mean sending people to political re-education camps the way the Viet Cong did when they took over South Viet Nam.

  • Every American citizen should have a passport
  • Every American citizen ought to travel to so-called Third World countries for extended periods—and not via luxury cruises or staying at fancy hotels
  • Every American should be made to read other books than the Bible or religious tracts and submit book reports written in correct and grammatical English.

I don’t particular object to being called a Libtard. Just so long as we’re the ones in control. The Village Idiot Party (VIP) has held the reins of government since 2017 and made a sad mess of things—while thinking they have performed admirably. Hah!

Fanatical About Libraries

The LA Central Library Flower Street Entrance

I have always depended on public libraries for much of my reading material. When I lived on the East Side of Cleveland, I went to the Cleveland Public Library branch on Lee Road, where a fellow Hungarian, Mr. Matyi, was the librarian. He also played the oboe for the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra.

They had a summer reading program in which I participated for so many years that they had to invent a participation certificate at my advanced level. (I wish I still had them.)

Even then, I also visited the main library on Superior Avenue in downtown Cleveland:

It was really quite beautiful, being funded by Andrew Carnegie’s vast fortune. (Can you imagine a modern billionaire doing something like that?)

When I came out West, I started by going to the main library in Santa Monica at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and 6th Street:

Although it was fairly large with two stories full of books, I actually outgrew it. I found that they got rid of too many of their classical titles, replacing them with more recent … well … dreck.

I was elated with the Expo Line connecting Santa Monica to Downtown LA opened in May 2016. At once, I signed up for a senior pass which enabled me to go from the Bundy Station (about a mile south of I lived) to the 7th Street Metro Center, which was three blocks south of the Los Angeles Central Library—for a mere 50¢.

Even with the library building being closed due to the coronavirus, the LA Library has started a “Library to Go” program which enabled me to put a hold on the books I want to read. Within a few days, I get an e-mail saying they are holding them for me, and I just take the train downtown to pick them up.

Over the last week I have been busy reading these three books:

  • Kōbō Abe’s Inter Ice Age 4, a 1958 sci-fi novel about global warming
  • Ivan Klíma’s Waiting for the Darkness, Waiting for the Light, about Czechoslovakia’s rocky path from Communism to Capitalism
  • Tim Butcher’s Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart, about an English writer who re-traces Henry M. Stanley’s journey along the length of the Congo River in the 1870s.

América Tropical

The Reconstruction of América Tropical in Downtown LA

In the 20th century, Mexico produced three great muralists: José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. On other occasions, I have written about the influence on me of the Orozco frescoes at Dartmouth College. Sometimes, I think that my interest in Latin America began in the Reserve Room of Baker Library, where the frescoes were located.

Los Angeles has only a reconstruction of David Alfaro Siqueiros’s América Tropical, which was created in 1932 at its present location on Olvera Street. Unfortunately, Siqueiros’s revolutionary message angered LA business leaders, who had the mural painted over.

Reconstruction of Detail

Today, the fresco is restored—but, alas, only in black and white. Below is what the original looked like:

The Fresco As It Originally Appeared

It took a quarter century for the Getty Conservation Institute to restore the image which was obliterated by layers of white paint. You can read about it here. When the Covid-19 outbreak comes to an end, you can view the restoration in person.

A Long Flight to … Where?

This may sound strange to you, but I am surviving the rigors of self-quarantine because I am good at lying to myself.

The Coronavirus Quarantine Is Sort of Like Jet Lag

I have on occasion taken some longish flights to Europe and South America. The ones to Europe are particularly problematical because I arrive early in the morning after a night that has lasted for only a few hours. I know that if I drop into bed upon check-in at my hotel, I will awake while it is still light; and I won’t be able to go to sleep until the next morning.

So what do I do?

  • First of all, I pretend to myself during the flight that I am somehow outside of time, and that during the flight, time has no meaning.
  • Most important, I set my watch to the time zone of my destination. Nobody else I know does this: They insist on holding on to the time zone of their city of origin.
  • When I arrive, I stay awake until it is a reasonable bedtime in my destination.

When I went to Iceland, for example, I arrived in June—when the sun doesn’t set until the wee hours of the morning. I ate extra meals, went on a walking tour of Reykjavík, and finally collapsed in bed while the sun was still up around midnight. I woke up refreshed at an acceptable time the next morning.

So what does all this have to do with the coronavirus? Fortunately, Martine and I are retired, so I could pretend that this whole period of the outbreak is like a long flight to nowhere.

A Nook of My Library Circa 2002

I have in my apartment several thousand books as well as hundreds of films on DVD. With my subscription to Spectrum Cable, I have access to hundreds of films for no additional cost using their On Demand service. Plus: As a member of Amazon Prime, I have access to thousands of other films.

So on my “flight” to nowhere during this seemingly endless quarantine, I am reading 12-18 books a month as well as seeing 25 or more feature films a month. (And in between reading and film viewing, I do all the cooking and go out for walks.)

I realize I would be in a radically different situation if I had to worry about a job, but fortunately I don’t. I have to worry that that madman in the White House may decide to cancel Social Security or destroy the value of the American dollar, but other than that I am not dependent on the workplace—though I am affected when restaurants are shuttered, museums and libraries closed, and so on.

There is an 1884 novel by a French writer named Joris-Karl Huysmans called Against Nature (in French À Rebours) about a dilettante names Jean des Esseintes who, instead of actually going on a vacation, does an armchair traveler “staycation” and is happy about it. The epigraph to the novel is a quote from the 14th century Flemish mystic Jan van Ruysbroeck:

“I must rejoice beyond the bounds of time…though the world may shudder at my joy, and in its coarseness know not what I mean.”

Magical Architecture: Mesa Verde

It’s Like a Miniature City Cut Inside a Cliff

As a kid, I got a lot of my inspirations from Carl Barks’s Uncle Scrooge Comics. One episode that particularly got me going was entitled “The Seven Cities of Gold,” about a city of cliff dwellings made of gold that the Spanish conquistadores had somehow overlooked. It was called Cibola.

After the city was accidentally destroyed by Huey, Dewey, and Louie, I vowed to find it—and I did. It was at Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, Colorado. Here are a few images from the comic:

Uncle Scrooge Finds the Seven Cities of Cibola

If you ever get a chance to visit Mesa Verde, be sure to visit the Cliff Palace ruins. You can actually climb down to see them with a ranger (that is, when the coronavirus infestation finally dies down). Martine and I saw them some years ago, though Martine was troubled with altitude sickness. The elevation there is between 7,000 and 8,500 feet (2133 to 2591 meters).

Anasazi Ruins at Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park

Life must have been difficult for the Cliff Palace dwellers, as they had to haul water in using ladders. The ruins were deserted around the same time that many other Anasazi ruins, such as Chaco Canyon, were abandoned.

What happened to the inhabitants? As I wrote earlier regarding Chaco, I am sure their descendants are the Pueblo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico.

Karma Is a B*tch

Both Trump and Melania Have Come Down with Coronavirus

The new has gotten around that both the President and his First Lady have contracted the Covid-19 virus. Although my contempt for Trump remains at high levels, I do not wish this type of evil upon him or his family—well, maybe for Don Junior.

I see our President as a man wracked by fear and uncertainty, but afraid of acknowledging that, as a human being, he can take sick and die. In his book, that would be considered “losing.” Hey, we are all losers one way or the other. The real measure of a person is how he or she rebounds from it.

Just today I was reading a fifty-year-old Japanese sci-fi novel by Kobo Abe entitled Inter Ice Age 4. In it, I found this wise quote: “I do not know how many props support the world, but three of them at least are obtuseness, ignorance, and stupidity.” How true!

I realize that the President’s illness throws all kinds of monkey wrenches into the upcoming election, particularly if his illness becomes threatening. If, as a result of this, Americans begin taking the coronavirus threat more seriously, it will save lives.

One thing for sure, the dialogue about the virus can be expected the change suddenly and markedly.

Magical Architecture: Santa Catalina (Arequipa)

A Warren of Narrow Pedestrian Walkways

Surprisingly, the most magical places I visited in Peru were not the world-famous Inca ruins at Machu Picchu or other places, but rather the Spanish churches and convents. After all, the Inca had no writing, so while their ruins showed an incredible knowledge of masonry that could withstand severe earthquakes, there was little that aroused my imagination.

A place that did, however, was the giant convent of Santa Catalina in Arequipa. It occupied something like a whole square mile that was walled off from the city that surrounded it and had a warren of narrow pedestrian walkways.

It Was, After All, a Convent

I spent an entire day, from morning to late afternoon, wandering around the grounds of Santa Catalina, with its monastic cells, courtyards, kitchens, chapels, and even a strange room where the faces of nuns who had died were painted on canvases and displayed.

At Times, It Was Almost Like Modern Art

As Christianity begins its slow fade in the Western World, I begin to look upon religious monuments of the past as being every bit as interesting as that of ancient civilizations. In Peru, I loved visiting the old churches, convents, and museums of ecclesiastic art. I must have attended a dozen masses, just because they took place while I visited.

The Walls Were All Either Blue or Dark Orange

I took dozens of photos which I could have shown here, because Santa Catalina mesmerized me. If you should happen to go to Peru, you will probably wind up in Cusco and Machu Picchu, but for your health, it is better to go first to a place where you will not be so afflicted by the dread soroche (altitude sickness). Arequipa, at 7,660 feet (2,335 meters) is a good place to prepare yourself.

And not just because of Santa Catalina!