Christmas in Palenque

The Town of Palenque, Chiapas, Near the Ruins

The year was 1979. My brother Dan and I were traveling in Southern Mexico, roughly following the route Graham Greene had taken in his book The Lawless Roads (1939), when he was doing research for his novel The Power and the Glory (1940).  It was Christmas, and we were in the little town of Palenque, just a few miles from the Mayan ruins of the same name.

Dan liked hanging out in the cafés along the zócalo, because that part of Chiapas was a major coffee-growing area, and Dan is a coffee aficionado the way I am a tea aficionado. You have to understand that Dan was wearing slip-on loafers. While we were munching away, we were approached at our table by a shoeshine boy. Dan slipped his shoe off and handed his foot to the boy, which foot was clad in bright red wool socks. The whole restaurant erupted in laughter, including the shoeshine boy.

Mexico has some wonderful Christmas customs, especially the posadas. Between December 16 and 24, children travel around singing carols. We always donated to them.

Christmas Posadas Singers



Redwood Camp Lodge

The Log Home My Brother Is Building in Idyllwild, CA

I may have mentioned once or twice that my brother is a home builder. He started building log homes in Minnesota, then moved on to the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, subsequently diversifying his efforts in Paso Robles. Now he lives in Palm Desert (near Palm Springs) and is working on a log home in the San Jacinto Mountains at Idyllwild. What distinguishes his log homes is that they do not employ any kind of mortar, or “chinking” as it is also called, between the logs. Instead, the logs are scribed by chainsaw to fit exactly one on top of another, as shown in the following photograph:

Logs Put Together Without Mortar

To see the realtor’s link to the project, click here. To learn more about Idyllwild, click the city’s tourist website. Dan originally planned to build the house for himself, but found it was more convenient to headquarter himself in Palm Desert.

Below is a picture of my brother Dan which I took in Ecuador. Here, he is examining religious sculptures from the former Cathedral of Cuenca:

My Brother Is the One Leaning to the Left

You could do far worse than live in one of Dan’s superbly built log homes.

Pre-Christmas Break

Dan at the Parque del Condors in Otavalo

Dan at the Parque del Condors in Otavalo

I will be taking several days off from blogging. The whole Paris family is gathering at Dan’s place in Palm Desert this weekend, and Martine and I will also be there.

When we get back, I’ll have some interesting Coachella Valley material to post beginning on Monday. While we’re there, we’ll also celebrate Christmas.

For Ecuador With Love and Squalor

Cañar Indian Woman in Alausi

Cañar Indian Woman in Alausi

Late last night, I returned from Ecuador to another Los Angeles heat wave. It was yet another wonderful South American trip, with a number of highs and one very big low.

That low had nothing to do with Ecuador, and everything to do what happened to our country last Tuesday. Watching the election returns on CNN from my hotel in Quito, I spent a sleepless night twisting and turning, only to wake up early to leave for the airport.

But then, the Trumpster is our own American nightmare; and Ecuador for the most part cheered me and even amazed me. Even on the way to Mariscal Sucré Airport, my taxi driver pointed out the snow-covered Mount Cotopaxi looming to the south in a moment of extreme clarity. (It is not usually visible from Quito.)

Ecuador is a country with a number of viable indigenous cultures. In Otavalo, Alausi, Cuenca, and even Quito, I saw a number of what we incorrectly call Indians. I took a number of candid pictures, such as the one above.

One special feature of this trip was that I spent the first two weeks with my brother, and the last week alone, as Dan had to return to Palm Desert to fulfill some construction obligations. It was fun sharing my vacation with him, and it was a very different experience for me. I am not used to sharing the decision-making process during my trips; but here it worked out. We may be very different people, but there is considerable overlap in the matter of preferences.

It’s good to be back, even if it is to a Frankenstein-Dracula America. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Viejo Cuba

Our Boutique Hotel in Quito

Our Boutique Hotel in Quito: El Viejo Cuba

For almost forever, I have been in charge of planning the vacations for Martine and myself. My brother Dan knew that, so I thought I’d let him have the upper hand. As we tend to think alike on most issues, that will be no problem.

We will be in Ecuador together for two weeks, then he will return to L.A. by himself because of business obligations. I will have an additional week in Southern Ecuador all alone. For those last seven days, I will do all my own planning as before. I think that’s a good compromise.

One thing that will be different is that Dan wants to rent a car and drive. That gives us a much broader choice of places to stay and allows us a lot of flexibility. I keep thinking of the three all-night bus rides I took in Argentina and Chile. Although I rather enjoyed them, I don’t think that Dan would quite so much.

That puts me in the role of navigator, which is a role I enjoy. Whenever, as a child, I went anywhere with our family, I was the one hunched over a map and dictating directions.

Our first stop in Ecuador will be the Hotel Viejo Cuba (illustrated above).  It’s a few blocks north of the popular Mariscal Sucré neighborhood, named after Bolivar’s favorite general.

This trip will be different, but I like the way it’s shaping up.

Back from the Desert

Me on the Randall Henderson Trail in Palm Desert

Me on the Randall Henderson Trail in Palm Desert

I had a great time in Palm Desert with my brother and sister-in-law. While Lori worked on Saturday, Dan and I hiked the Randall Henderson Trail off Highway 74 in Palm Desert. My brother took the picture with his cell phone.

Fortunately, my legs were in the picture. As my Dad always used to say, if you don’t include the legs in the picture, people will think that I have no legs. Well, now you know…. And my Dad, looking down on us from the heavens, will be gratified.

In my right hand, I am holding my own digital camera against the belt holster I use for carrying it.

After the hike, Dan took me to a great Mexican place on Date Palm Drive in Cathedral City. It had the best tacos el pastor that I have ever tasted. I loaded it down with pickled jalapeño chiles and a hot green salsa. The burning stopped only when I took a sip from a giant cup of horchata. If you are in the area and want to try it, look up El Tarasco at 34481 Date Palm Drive. It’s a bit of a dive, and you are not likely to run into any gringos there. Be sure to order the tacos al pastor.

A Weekend With Dan

My Brother Dan in the Thousand Palms Oasis

My Brother Dan at the Thousand Palms Oasis

I will be taking the next three days off from posting on this website. Tomorrow morning, I will pick up a rental car and start heading for Palm Desert to spend some time with my brother and sister-in-law. Among other things, I need to coordinate with Dan about our upcoming trip to Ecuador.

Unfortunately, Martine will not be coming with me—at her request. Not only does she hate the desert after spending two years working at the Twentynine Palms Marine Combat Center, but she is now on a super-strict diet regimen called FODMAP.  That’s short for Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols. (You’ll need Adobe Acrobat to be able to read this file.)

Two weeks ago, she finally saw a gastroenterologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and was told to avoid onions, garlic, and virtually all foods that have vowels in their names. She has done a fair job of adhering to it, and she has been free of abdominal pain and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) during that time. I wish her luck, and I very much want one day to travel with her again.

If I have the time, I hope to have some new desert photos to share with you.


To South America … Again

View of Quito’s Old Town

View of Quito’s Old Town

Once again, Martine does not want to travel with me. Her continuing problems with back pain when sleeping in soft beds and almost continuous irritable bowel syndrome makes her want to stay close to home. This year, I will go to Ecuador, especially to the Andes region.

The good news is that I will not be traveling alone: My brother Dan expressed interest in joining me. The last time we traveled together was in 1979, when we did the circuit Mexico City-Villahermosa-Palenque-San Cristobal de las Casas-Oaxaca-Mexico City. It was the same circuit described by Graham Greene in his book The Lawless Roads (1939). We traveled by air to Villahermosa (not a high point in any sense of the term) and by bus the rest of the way back to Mexico D.F.

Dan and I are, I think, good traveling companions. He’s not very interested in ruins (there aren’t that many in Ecuador), and he is very interested in native crafts (as am I). He has already been to Guayaquil and the Galapagos and said that travel to the latter was much too regimented. I was hoping he didn’t want to go there again because (1) when we’re going is the wrong time of the year (October/November) and (2) Zika.

At this point I’ll tell you a couple of anecdotes about traveling with my brother. We were in Palenque at the time of the Christmas Posadas, and Dan loved the coffee served in the area—it was grown locally. When we were in a café one evening, a shoeshine boy came up to us and asked if we wanted a shine. Dad slipped his foot out of his sandals and set it on the stand. The trouble is: As far as anyone could see, he was wearing only bright red socks. All the locals burst out laughing. No matter, I was wearing leather boots and gave him my business.

Another Palenque incident fortunately turned out the right way. Dan ducked out frequently in the evening to satisfy his coffee cravings while I remained behind reading a book. I heard a commotion in the street, and Dan came up shortly after. Apparently, a police informer tried to sell him “magic mushrooms” (psilocybin), and Dan guessed his intent at once. No sale.

There are some other stories from that trip that I’ll write about some other time.

Living in the Desert

By the Thousand Palms Oasis

By the Thousand Palms Oasis

When my brother first told me he was thinking of moving to he Coachella Valley, Martine and I both thought it wasn’t a good idea. Martine had lived for a couple of years in Twenty Nine Palms, where she worked at the Naval Hospital at the Marine Combat Center there. She hated the desert. As for me, I do not like living in a hot climate.

Of course, if anyone could make it work, it’s Dan. After all, his previous home in Paso Robles was almost as hot as Palm Desert. When he wanted to call down, he and Lori would drive to the beach along the Central Coast, which was frequently 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. Living in Palm Desert, he is surrounded by mountains. He is already working on a log home at Idyllwild in the foothills, where the elevation of 5,413 feet (1,650 meters) affords some protection from the summer blast on the floor of the Coachella Valley.

I love visiting the desert, especially in the cooler months. Dan is not far from Joshua Tree National Park and Anza-Borrego State Park, which are two favorite destinations of mine.


Tarnmoor’s ABCs: Zsófi, Elek and the Two Boys

Our Family Around 1962

Our Family Around 1962

All the blog posts in this series are based on Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland, Yucatán), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, Borges, and Shakespeare); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland, Dartmouth College, and UCLA), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives and Tea), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This is my last entry in the series, having gone through the entire alphabet from A to Z, including even the difficult letters like J, Q, and X.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the series, which you can review by hitting the tag ABC’s at the bottom of this post.

Above you can see a picture of our little family taken around 1962. I was about to enter college, while my brother was in the 6th grade at Saint Henry School on Harvard Avenue in Cleveland, from which I graduated in 1958. My mother is Sophie—Zsófi in Hungarian—and my father is Alex—Elek in Slovak and Hungarian.

This was a difficult time for the family, as my father was under suspicion of conducting an extramarital affair with a married woman. With the tense atmosphere at home, I was eager to attend college in New Hampshire, some 600 miles east, where I would be out of the fray. Although there were some bad times around then, my mother and father stayed together. They loved Dan and me, and in the end that kept them together.

For the next twenty years, Mom had few good words to say about Dad. Except, when Alex died in 1985 at the age of of 74, he became a saint. I went along with that, because all my life I tried to please him.

Dad never understood where I was going in life. I wanted to be a professor of film history in criticism at the university level. One day, I made the mistake of calling the profession “cinematology.” Ever afterward, Dad pronounced it as if I had said “cosmetology.”

Although Dan was more like Dad in being an athlete, Dad was harder on him. When Dan was at Macalaster College in St. Paul, Minnesota, he took some time off to travel around Europe and North Africa, thus delaying getting his college diploma. (He did eventually, but Dad kept riding him for his gap year.)

I like the above picture. It shows a normal family in which all the stresses are carefully kept hidden. But the fold lines over time come out as if they were fault lines along which our family could fracture.

Fortunately, it never did.