Alameda Park, Casa de Azulejos

Posted by admin on Wednesday Jun 27, 2018 Under Uncategorized

Mexico Series: Part 10Mexican Flag

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We’ll turn around now and head toward Alameda Park on the Western side of the Centro Historico, looking at two important buildings — Palace of Iturbide and Casa de Azulejos-before crossing Alameda Park and heading to the Franz Meyer Museum to see the collection of Viceregal art. That cup I showed you is from that collection.

Palace of Iturbide

The Palace of Iturbide, built in the 18th century ,belonged first to the Count of San Mateo Valpariso, an incredibly wealthy silver mine and cattle baron. Story goes the count gave this palace as his daughter’s dowry. She was marrying a spendthrift son of the Sicilian nobility — the Marquise of Moncada. In order to protect his money, the Count of Valparaiso sank 100,000 pesos (sort of like building a 15-20 million dollar home now) into this piece of real estate. On the request of his future son-in-law, the most famous architect at the time — Francisco Guerro y Torres — was hired and instructed to build the future home as a replica of the Palace of Palermo in Sicily. The interior courtyards are Renaissance with Tuscan columns, and it was the first four- story building in the New World.

You know you’re in trouble when your son in law requests a replica of a famous palace for a home. After the Count of Valparaiso died, the Sicilian son-in-law entered into countless legal battles with his mother-in-law over money and finally fled Mexico for Sicily under mysterious circumstances. He was never seen again the New World.

In 1820, Agustin Iturbide, emperor of the brief First Mexican Empire after the War of Independence, claimed this building as his palace. Hence the name Palace of Iturbide. There is a fascinating story of Iturbide’s son who married an American diplomat’s daughter, which is the subject of a wonderful novel — the “Last Prince of Mexico”, by C.M Mayo. I’ll tell you more of the story in the next part of our tour. But just to finish up, the Palace of Iturbide is now owned by our own version of nobility –the bank. In this case, Banamex, where they hold fabulous art exhibits.

And last, The Casa de Azulejos.

Casa de Azulejos

Built by the Count of Orizaba in 1737 and completely covered on three sides with tiles, it shows again the wealth of the Mexican upper classes, the blending of architectural styles, the Moorish from the mudejar — the tiles themselves are from the moors through Spain and were made in Puebla, a town an hour or so southeast of Mexico City. You can also see the Baroque decorative elements around the doors and windows.

In this building what you are also witnessing is the rise of the Creole class’s identity as Mexican as opposed to Spanish, a rising awareness of their own power and wealth. This awareness combined with legal discrimination against the Creole class erupts in the War of Independence in 1810.

Casa de Azulejos Restaurant

Anyway, this is where my mother and I would often have lunch, and I still love it to this day. So we’ll stop here for a limonada just to imagine all the history of the building.

The street at the time the Casa de Azulejos was built was called Calle Plateada because of all the silversmiths and silver merchants on the street. Later during the late 19th century the building was the location of the most exclusive men’s club in the capital—the Jockey Club. If Mexican television ever made its own version of Dawnton Abbey, scenes would have to be shot here. We’ll also look at a famous Orozco mural in the patio dining area.

We’ll leave the Casa de Azulejos, now owed by the fourth richest man in the world — Carlos Slim of TelMex. How he became so wealthy could be the subject of yet another novel, this time by Carlos Fuentes or even Roberto Bolano. We’ll wander through Alameda Park to the Franz Meyer Museum to look at the household furnishings and get a sense of the lifestyle of the rich and famous in 17th 18th century Mexico.

Alameda Park Fountain

A bit about Franz Meyer and his collection. Franz Meyer was a wealthy Jewish financier who came to Mexico in 1920. At that time no art collectors were interested in art of Colonial Mexico, so he picked up all these remnants of the Viceregal Period and donated them and the Colonial building to the City of Mexico.

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Palacio Nacional in Mexico City

Posted by admin on Wednesday Jun 27, 2018 Under Uncategorized

Mexico Series: Part 9Mexican Flag

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Palacio Nacional Mexico City

We can look in front of us now at the Palacio Nacional, built by Cortes as his personal palace and government offices in the fifteen hundreds.The red stones used to build the Palacio Nacional are called tezontle, and they came from the buildings of Moctezuma—the private dwellings and pyramids of the Aztecs. Tezontle is a light weight volcanic rock and rather easy to chisel into bricks. The sober structure is embellished with Baroque touches in the Churrigueresque style, a particular kind of Baroque façade developed in Spain that reached its height in Mexico. Inside the Palace itself you will find yourself skipping ahead to the 20th century the magnificent murals of Diego Rivera depicting the history of Mexico. Just one thing, notice the window in front of the Palacio. The trim is Baroque, the bell is from the war of Independence and the little face above the awning — the face of the Aztec god Tlaloc — layers of Mexican history.

Cathedral Mexico CityWe’re going to leave the Majestic and walk around, over to the Cathedral, where we’ll notice the types of architectural styles employed during the 200 years it took to complete this cathedral — Gothic, Baroque, And Neo-Classical. We’ll look at two particularly exhuberant Baroque elements — the front of the Tabernacle and the Altar of the kings. This is what the wealthy merchant class spent money on — massive amounts of gold leaf.

As we walk, you’ll notice how uneven the stairs and so on are, that’s because the whole city is built on what was formerly a lake. After a big flood in 1630, the Spaniards had the whole lake drained, but needless to say the 17th century engineering feat was less than successful, which is why Mexico city to this day deals with sinking and flooding.

Sor Juana Inez de la CruzAfter that we’ll wander down a side street to the former 16th palace of one of Cortez right hand men, now the Museum of the City of Mexico. We’ll pass the giant serpent head used as a cornerstone of the building that came from the great pyramid itself, and then we’ll head down another street to the Cloister of Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz. No trip to Mexico City with a writer would be complete without a pilgrimage to her study.

So who was Sor Juana? Only one of the most important poets in the western hemisphere. She lived in the mid-16 century, achieved great heights of learning at a time when even well born women could barely read. She was the very beautiful illegitimate daughter of a wealthy creole woman. At age 13 or so she was sent to live in the court of the Viceroy in Mexico where she became the Vicereine’s favorite companion.

At 16 she entered a convent, where, because of her close relationship with the Vicereine, she was granted incredible privileges. Her study walls were lined with hundreds of books and she spent her time studying and writing poetry — many of them it is believed — were love poems to the vicereine herself veiled in formal verse and with religious allusions. The brooch at Sor Juana’s neck carried an image of the Vicereine and when the viceroy was commanded back to Spain, Sor Juana lost her protection was forced to confess her sins and to give away her books and live in a simple cell until she died a few years later.

Building where Sor Juana Lived till her Death

Books, plays movies etc. have been made of her story, whole university departments are devoted to the study of her life and work. Perhaps the best way to get a feel for viceregal Mexico is to read some of these accounts.

Or you could do what I’m doing and read a trashy romance published last year by a California writer, a Harvard grad no less and another student of Sor Juana. The book is called the “Sins of Josefina.”

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Manila Acapulco Galleon Trade Route

Posted by admin on Wednesday Jun 27, 2018 Under Uncategorized

Mexico Series: Part 8Mexican Flag

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Manila Acapulco Galleon Trade RouteThe accounts of travels on the Chinese Galleon, the Manila Galleon, the Nao de China — the ships were called many things — were harrowing. It was a six month journey to cross over from the Phillipines to the coast of southern California always with the threat of running out of water or being caught in a typhoon. From California, the vessels sailed down the coast of Mexico to Acapulco where they stayed for many months until the winds were right for the three month voyage back.

Once anchored in Acapulco bay, the trading companies set up markets, and all the wealthy merchants from Mexico City descended on Acapulco to barter and haggle for goods to fill their shops.

And those shops were right here below us in the first floors of all the buildings you see here in the Zocolo in this painting of the Zocolo in the 1600s.

Marquesas and CondesasJust imagine wealthy silver mine barons and merchants and Spanish Lords wandering in and out of these arcades on their way to the Palacio Nacional of us, past all the overflowing shops. Imagine Marquesas, and Condesas — because royal titles were also something that could be bought by pure Spanish blood creoles — dressed in gowns made of these opulent silk brocades purchased in the Port of Acapulco. Here’s a a description from a visitor to Mexico in 1625.

“I am astounded by the thousands of horse drawn carriages that do exceed in cost the best of the Court of Madrid, for they spare no silver of gold, nor the best silks of China to enrich them. Both men and women are excessive in their apparel, using more silk than stuffs and cloth. A hat band of pearls is ordinary in a tradesman. And in the hat of a merchant you will find rosettes of diamonds.”

Remember this was at a time in our own country when the pilgrims were stomping around in the mud of Plymouth Colony.

Daughter of a CaciqueThe women would be wearing collars of convent-made lace from France purchased in Veracruz, their hair studded with pearls and quetzal feathers, as they were carried by liveried Indian servants on silk canopied sedans. Here’s one such young woman — Daughter of a Cacique. In their hands they would hold a coconut shell chocolate cup like this. These cups were part of every well-established household, a sign of status, and even bringing them to mass was such a common practice that the bishops complained about it to Rome! What I love about this little household object is that it is absolutely Mexican — the silver, the coconut and the chocolate. It is little details like that which begin to show a rising sense of a national identity apart from Spain. This would, of course, erupt later.

These ladies would have left homes that cost 300,000 pesos to build — at a time when a good living in Mexico could be had for 300 pesos a year — homes where each family member had between 2-4 servants to attend to their every need. Is it any wonder as Spain mired itself more deeply in debt that industrious young Spaniards found their way to the New world?

Many came as newly graduated law students and government bureaucrats. Along with the elegant ladies, these young men would be seen rushing across the plaza on their way to the Palacio Nacional, hurrying to court or to attend to the endless duties of running the Spanish empire in the new world.

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Centro Historico

Posted by admin on Wednesday Jun 27, 2018 Under Uncategorized

Mexico Series: Part 7Mexican Flag

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Now to the Cento Historico . . .

Palacio Nacional

The best place to observe the Zocolo, the Palacio Nacional, and the Metropolitian Cathedral is from the roof terrace of the old Majestic Hotel. It’s a bit down on its heels these days, which makes it all the more bohemian. When the Mexican writer and former ambassador to the US Carlos Fuentes was asked to write about the Palacio Nacional for the Mexico’s bi-centenial, he choose this terrace as the place to take notes for his article.

Majestic Hotel

Here, high above the noise and hustle and bustle, you can begin to image life in the zocolo during the Viceregal Period in Mexico — that 300 year period from the conquest to the War of Independence.

ZocoloWithin 100 years after the conquest, Mexico would go from being a Spanish outpost in the new world to one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world. The conquistadores’ search for precious metals finally hit the motherlode, so to speak, in the silver mines of Mexico during the mid-1600s. By then the power and prestige of the conquistadores had waned — in fact Cortez himself was reduced to re-enacting the conquest once a year in an annual pageant in the zocolo much like Buffalo Bill and his Wild West shows — and a new merchant class had arisen.

The utopian vision of the early clergy, which had seen that the first printing press in the new world was established and the first university, which had tried to mitigate some of the harsh realities of the Indians lives if only to still have souls to save had been overlaid by a huge group of Spanish immigrants who filled the government offices with letrados, or government bureaucrats, and the courts with judges, lawyers, the church with increasingly misogynistic clergy and of course the Inquisition.

Manila GalleonInto all this poured the lower echelons of the Spanish ruling class, those with titles but no money who could marry well and confer status to a wealthy creole daughter and any one with a get-rich-quick scheme. Really, the characters in this period could populate volumes of historical romance novels with villains and beautiful maidens and thieves and poor but noble heroes, Dickensian pickpockets and Margaret Mitchell Rhett Butlers.

In a certain way, the story of Mexico in the 17th and 18th centuries is a story of silk and silver. The silver mines in Zacatecas and Taxco yielded unbelievable amounts of ore. In fact, the total amount of silver in the world at that time — the mid 1600s — doubled within a few years because of Mexican silver production.

The ports of Acapulco and Veracruz opened up the New World to trade with Europe and the east and silver bullion was the currency. Through the port of Veracruz came wine, olive oil, olives, — why we have the famous dish huachinango Veracruzana made with those ingredients from the old world — Venetian glassware, furniture from Europe and so on. Through the port of Acapulco aboard the Manila Galleon came the riches of the east: silk, pearls, Chinese porcelain, teas and spices, mahogany wood, and if I were writing the novel there would be opium, of course!

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Tenochitlan and Coyoacan

Posted by admin on Wednesday Jun 27, 2018 Under Uncategorized

Mexico Series: Part 6Mexican Flag

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La MalincheAbout the sacrificial platform — The Aztecs believed the gods were weak and required human blood, especially blood of the human heart to succeed in the battle over the forces of night. I’m not going to dwell on this. It really requires a more complete understanding of the Aztec worldview and religion than I have time for here. I think it is important to understand ALL of Mexico’s history to understand Mexico City not just focus on its pre-Columbian past, so I have to edit this talk or we’ll be here for days!

We don’t really know how Aztec society would have developed, whether human sacrifice would have been abandoned and the emphasis on art and poetry, technology, and craft would have won the day. One thing we can be fairly certain of is that there would have, at some point, been a rebellion against Mexica tyranny. In fact, there was. When the Tlaxcalans formed an alliance with Cortez and when La Malinche, the slave girl given to Cortez, acted as a spy enabling the Spaniards to escape slaughter at the hands of the Cholulans, these acts were manifestations of that rebellion.

But at any rate with the aid of La Malinche — pictured here in Diego Rivera’s mural — Cortez marched into Tenochtitlan in 1519 and within two years had completely vanquished the Aztecs.

Bar OperaI am not going to go into all the battles, Moctezuma’s weaknesses, capture and death, the Noche Triste when the Spaniards were defeated and had to escape with their lives, smallpox during the Spanish siege of Tenochitlan, the capture and torture of Cuahtemoc, the last emperor of the Aztecs. Only to say that by 1521, the Aztecs were defeated, the city of Tenochitlan razed and Cortez began to establish the first Spanish capital in Mexico. For that, he settled in a Tepanac stronghold called Coyoacan.

We”ll now spend some time in the impressive Museum of the Templo Mayor to take a look at the Aztec art and then wander over to the Bar Opera, into which Pancho Villa once rode his horse and shot a hole through the wall, where we can knock back a few tequilas to celebrate our first day in Mexico and also the end of longest section of my talk.

Day Two Coyoacan:

When the Tepanacs, enemies of the Mexicas, invited Cortez to build his capital in Coyoacan, the city was separated from Tenochitlan by rivers and forests. Today the sprawl of Mexico City has reached Coyoacan, but still it is a wonderful place to spend the day, full of parks, charming side streets and lovely little plazas, like the one surrounding the first church built in the new world — Capilla de la Santa Maria de la Concepcion Imaculata, or La Conchita as it is called.

La ConchitaIn this church, we see the blending of the old and new worlds, the mudejar arch of the moors, the early Baroque and so on, the indigenous religion — the sun and the moon and the floral pattern in the reliefs on the church facade. We see the artistic manifestation of the social experiment, if you will, of mestizaje, a mixing of the races that took hold in Mexico as in no other country in the western hemisphere and shaped its art, architecture, government, economy and even its national psyche.

This simple church, the first one built in Mesoamerica, would be followed by another small church for the Indians called Santa Caterina and finally, once Tenochitlan was habitable again, by a small church in the Zocolo, or Plaza Mayor, of what was now the new Mexico City. It would take two hundred years to become the magnificent, baroque Metropolitan Cathedral that it is today.

However right now before we leave Coyacan, we’ll have to psychologically propel ourselves out of the 16th century and into the 20th century for a stop at Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul just a few blocks away.

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Affordable Care Act: It’s the Law

Posted by admin on Tuesday Oct 1, 2013 Under Uncategorized

obamacareI was all set to start blogging on my author site Mexico Trilogy.com as part of my marketing campaign, just something light and breezy, and then –- damn! — if those tea party Republicans didn’t get on my last nerve when they shut the government and the economy down.

While my neighbors who work in the National Parks will be getting their salaries docked, our Representative Tom McClintock is raking in several hundred dollars a day plus government healthcare, healthcare he wants you to be free enough not to have. Since he makes roughly $174,000 a year, he really doesn’t need his gold-plated federal employee insurance for himself and his family, but I haven’t seen him offer to give it up, you know, just on principle. Neither did I see his name on the list of Representatives who have decided to forgo their salaries during the shutdown since other federal employees, like the many who work in ALL the Sierra National Parks in McClintock’s own district, aren’t getting paid.

Time to call BS on this guy, or you could just call him. The number? (202) 225-2511. Ask him when he’s going to pony up. I did, and his secretary told me it was an appropriations problem. Not for the other representatives it wasn’t.

It’s time to remind Rep. McClintock that the ACA is the law. Remind him that this law was declared constitutional by the US Supreme Court, that the guy who put the Obama in Obamacare got re-elected, and the guy who wanted to repeal it got defeated. What’s next? Repealing the law that gave women the right to vote? Or Blacks? Wait. That IS what North Carolina is trying to do.

If you’re reading a blog written by a retiree about gardening, recipes and life in the country, you’re probably on Medicare, in other words, Obamacare for seniors.

How’s that working out? Pretty good, huh.

conserv-exchangePANELJust so you know. Obamacare is not going to do anything to your Medicare. Period. In spite of Ronald Reagan’s prediction that Medicare would be a disaster and that you’d be “spending your sunset years telling your grandchildren what it was like in America when men were free”, you’re probably glad you’re not dead broke from medical bills and forced to move in with them. Trust me, they are, too. It’ll be the same with Obamacare. People will like it. Even young people will like it. Yes, even those poor, young people the Koch brothers say are being forced, FORCED to buy insurance they don’t need will be glad they have it.

Yoo-hoo. Everyone needs insurance, especially young people with their whole, and we hope healthy, lives in front of them. Have any of the geezers in the tea party actually been around any young people lately? Do they let them into the senior living parks where these people are hunkered down?

If not, here are some notes from the field: Young people ski, snowboard and mountain bike on dangerous trails. They are always getting rescued by the ski patrol or medevac’d out of the backcountry. They drink and fall off second floor decks. They go to Frat parties and end up in the emergency room with alcohol poisoning. They speed; they ride motorcycles without helmets; they break their arms playing ultimate Frisbee at college. They have raging hormones, pick up guys in bars and end up with one of those social diseases you sure want to make sure doesn’t get passed around. They travel to third world countries on the cheap and come back sick as dogs or have to take isoniazid because they got exposed to TB.

girlscancunWhy do young people do this? Because. They. Are. Young. They take risks. Oh, and they are all going to live forever. That’s why older people have to nag them to get insurance, have to be, you know, responsible adults not well-paid shills for the Koch brothers.

Tragically, every now and then, one of those young people does develop cancer and would, without Obamacare, never get insurance in this country again. You should be so lucky if your kid pays for insurance and NEVER has to use it. That’s the point, people.

Obamacare does not cut the insurance companies out of the loop here, is not National Healthcare like they have in most of the developed European countries, because God forbid we should be like, let’s say, Denmark—that socialist hell-hole.

I mention Denmark because my cousin and her husband experienced the full impact of National Healthcare there once on a Baltic cruise. Freedom-loving Americans here’s the story. You’ll be in tears afterwards, I promise, just not for the reason you think.

A few days into the cruise out on high seas, my cousin’s husband, an LA surgeon, realized that what he had thought was a bad cold was much worse. Turned out he had pneumonia and had to be transported to Copenhagen where he was in the hospital for three weeks in the care of American-trained doctors who sadly were laboring under the yoke of socialized medicine, a real tragedy. The state also provided room and meals for my cousin while her husband was in the hospital, just to let you know how bad it was! She missed all the fun of staying in one of those $200 dollar a night Extended Stay motels next to the freeways. Sad.

My cousin’s husband soon realized that the doctors treating him were using very sophisticated techniques. At one point, he asked a group of them, since they’d trained at places like Cornell Weill, why they weren’t practicing medicine in the US where they could make so much more money.

Here’s what they said: In Denmark all of their medical school bills were paid for. Their healthcare and their families’ healthcare were covered. Daycare, kindergarten and schools were all good and all free. Their kids’ college costs were covered, plus if the kids continued on to grad school they would be considered “national treasures” and given stipends. If you factored in what they would have to pay to practice medicine in the US what with accountants, malpractice insurance, a staff, healthcare for the staff, healthcare for themselves and their families, college and so on, they were much better off in Denmark even with high Danish taxes. Plus, they worked fewer hours with much less paperwork, and they had a guaranteed pension that was more than enough! Why should they move?

happy3See it’s sad what national health care will do to people. They’re employed, so what? You only know what real freedom is when you get laid off, have no health insurance and you have a gun. Pay taxes? What a bunch of lazy chumps. Can’t they at least TRY to figure out how to squirrel their money away in the Cayman Islands? LOSERS! And who cares that, in an international study, Denmark was deemed to be the happiest nation in the world. What do these people know from happy? True happiness is when your kid with a Master’s Degree finally moves out of your basement because he got a part time job at Starbucks with health benefits.

But, here’s the really sad part. You know how much it cost my cousin for three weeks of state-of-the-art medical care?

Nothing. Nada. Zip-wah.

National healthcare. Sucks doesn’t it?

Like I say, you don’t know what freedom really is until you get to pay $12,000 for a rooster-comb injection in your arthritic knee like Dave did. True story. I swear to God. Dave thought the bill was a typo. It wasn’t!

As far as Obamacare goes, I’m afraid a small minority of House Republicans are on the south end of a north moving horse on this one. Don’t get in line with them. Trickle down will have a whole new meaning for you.

As of the writing of this, two million people in New York have visited the website for healthcare exchanges. In Connecticut by 9:30 am, 10,000 people had visited the site set up there. In Kentucky, there’s been huge interest. Sorry Rand Paul. And then this: The federal site, where people from the 36 states that refused to set up their own exchanges will be signing up, has been deluged with requests. More than one million people hit the federal exchange site, Healthcare.gov, in the past 24 hours, five times more users than have ever been on the Medicare.gov website at one time. I’m sure it’s more by now.

The Affordable Care Act. It’s the law. Go online to Healthcare.gov and see how it can help you or a loved one. Time to get informed. You’ll be glad you did.

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Speaking Truth to Power

Posted by admin on Thursday Sep 26, 2013 Under Uncategorized

For the next three months, I’m going to be blogging over at my novel’s website MexicoTrilogy.com, which I set up to market my book. I should probably be Tweeting, and Facebooking, and sticking pictures up on Pinterest, too, but since there are only 24 hours in a day, I’m hoping SEO will get readers to my site and to my book. I’d actually like to be, you know, writing novels. Anyway, visit me over at MexicoTrilogy.com, and let’s see if I can meet my goal of selling 500 books.

gabbyThroughout this whole process of putting a book out, I’ve been thinking a lot about what women must do to be part of the cultural and political discourse. Unlike me, some risk their lives.

In January 2011, Gabrielle Giffords was shot in a supermarket parking lot. Her crime? Holding a constituents’ meeting in a public place in a country so addicted to violence and guns it can’t think straight.

On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban terrorists on the way to school. Her crime? She wanted an education, to be able to read and write. For this, she was shot by a patriarchal group addicted to violence and women-hating.

wendy_davis_memeLast year when the Texas legislature held a special session to deny women access to reproductive medical care, Wendy Davis, at one time a poor, single mother herself, stood and filibustered for eleven hours so that other women might have the same opportunities and choices she has had. The Texas law that later passed is a legal shot in the head for women.

That Gabby Giffords lived to be a beautiful, bright voice of reason is nothing short of a miracle. That Malala lived to speak so eloquently for the rights of girls is a miracle, as well. That Wendy Davis had the strength to stand up to the whole male establishment in the state of Texas is awe-inspiring. They are speaking truth to power.

This phrase—Speak Truth to Power— comes from a document created by The Society of Friends, the Quakers, in response to the arms race.

They identified a country’s worst enemy as not something external to that country, but something internal. They concluded the enemy within was:

1.) The Lust for Power
2.) The Addiction to Violence
3.) The Denial of Human Dignity

boehner092013Nowhere did we see that enemy better illustrated than by Republican members of the House of Representatives at the victory party they held after cutting funds to the SNAP program, funds that go disproportionately to children, the elderly and, increasingly to military families. That many of the members who voted to take food from the hungry also personally receive millions of dollars in farm subsidies, which they all voted to renew, is beyond hypocritical and power-lusting. It’s vicious. It’s venal. Words fail, really.

If you count these congressmen’s addiction to the NRA, you’re pretty much looking at what Quakers consider to be our worst enemy. It’s us. We voted for this. And if we didn’t vote for it, we didn’t speak truth to power loudly or often enough.

So where does that leave a Romantic Suspense fiction writer, a self-published one at that? Where does that leave me?

Jimmy Carter SayingIf I don’t speak truth to power in all ways available to me, in my blog, in my books and at the scariest of all — family gatherings, I will have aligned myself with cowards, hypocrites and Machiavellian ideologues.

Self-publishing my novel Palace of the Blue Butterfly was one little way of speaking truth to power. The novel tells the story of an older woman who longs for some kind of transformation. There is romance but not on the man’s terms. It explores the terrible period of McCarthyism in this country. It does not glorify the very rich, and it refutes the lie that Americans are comfortable perpetuating—that Mexico is a backward country full of desperately poor campesinos and drug lords.

When the powerful in my little world said that the Mexican setting wouldn’t sell, that the love interest couldn’t be Mexican, that my protagonist was too old, I could have remained silent. I did not. While there was no gun to my head nor was I in anyone’s crosshairs, it took a certain bit of courage to demand to be heard. It was a small step, nothing as huge as the women above, but it was a step.

It’s interesting that at last year’s Romance Writers of America annual conference, the largest workshop— standing room only—- was on self-publishing. Women storytellers are no longer allowing themselves to be silenced.

What if the writers—the actual workers in the 1.5 billion dollar a year industry that is romance novel writing— organized, demanded better contracts, created more publishing houses than three media conglomerates? Think about it. That’s close to a million women writers. If they started speaking truth to power, our whole collective narrative could change. No longer would women feel they had to be thrilled by heavily armed Navy Seals or whip-wielding plutocrats like in Fifty Shades of Grey. They could fall in love with bumbling guys you wouldn’t even want carrying a leaf-blower. You know men who are kind, gentle, soulful and who aren’t addicted to violence or lusting for power.

I can almost see a collective sneer. Romance Writers. Who are they? A bunch of fluff ball girls. Alas, there are so many ways to extinguish women’s voices, and this isn’t the worst.

malalaTo the Taliban, Malala was an infidel, Gabby Giffords was in the NRA’s cross-hairs, and Texas Republicans have tried to slut-shame Wendy Davis by calling her Abortion Barbie.

Really, doing almost anything that isn’t sanctioned by a male institution is subversive. I would add now after Citizen’s United that doing anything not sanctioned by an extremely wealthy white male institution is subversive.

Of course if we care about democracy, this is exactly why you, we, I have to speak truth to power every chance we get.

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Lookaway, Lookaway: North Carolina and the Not-So-New . . .

Posted by admin on Friday Sep 20, 2013 Under Uncategorized

. . . South

As everyone around here knows, I’ve been sick, really sick. After several days of terrible pain, Dave drove me down the mountain to the emergency room—otherwise known as The Village of the Damned—where I waited for five hours before being seen by the ER doc. The other lost souls in the waiting room included a stroke victim slumped in a wheelchair, a half starved, young woman clearly in the throes of a psychotic break, plus the usual folks with no health insurance, their faces covered with paper masks, who use the ER as a primary care facility.

lookawayFortunately, I had a really good book to get lost in, Lookaway, Lookaway, by Wilton Barnhardt of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Years ago an agent told me I should exploit my Southern background in my writing. She meant Southern as in mansions covered in honeysuckle, spirited young belles and old black maids dispensing the wisdom of the ages. I tried to explain how the south wasn’t really like that anymore, probably never was, but it took this author to really nail it. Barnhardt is Dickens with a drawl, doused in bourbon, ready to put to rest every illusion and delusion the south has manufactured about itself since the first convict ever set foot on Georgia soil.

The Charlotte, North Carolina portrayed in this novel IS my southern background. In fact, it’s where I was born and raised. Finally, someone got around to skewering the antebellum fantasies of Southern gentry and laying waste to the crass culture of Banktown, as Charlotte is known these days.

Barnhardt spares no one — not the golf-playing alcoholics at the country club bar decked out in plaid pants and pink Polo shirts, not the fans of southern romance novels who swarm to a local writer’s book signing in a soulless strip mall, not the real estate developers who stub out depressing lots in a sprawling suburban wasteland, not the sanctimonious church goers lurking on a hook-up site called charlottedownlow nor the couture-wearing society dames who bare their well-manicured talons on the local museum board. No one.

About the only three things that survive this writer’s close-to-the-bone satire are the lush Piedmont landscape, Carolina barbeque (both eastern and Piedmont style) and Carolina coleslaw.

Praise the Lord. No more low-country, jasmine-scented scenarios. This book is as raw as the red clay landscape it comes from.

You see, I always thought I might go back to North Carolina. I mean, I bought the whole thing about how North Carolina was the New South, forward thinking, poised to be a leader in commerce and the arts. In fact before we bought the ranch, Dave and I looked for property there once, wading through underbrush-covered homesites always on the lookout for copperheads everywhere we stepped.

You know, North Carolina has more venomous snakes than any other state in the nation, and that doesn’t even count its new governor, former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory, and the rest of the state legislators.

Unless you’re from NC, you’re probably not paying attention to what’s going on in the great Tarheel State. Let me explain as simply as I can: The Klan (or descendents thereof) has ridden into Raleigh. Only this time its members are dressed in Brooks Brothers suits instead of white robes and are armed with Mont Blanc pens instead of burning crosses. In a few short months, they have managed to do the unthinkable: They have turned North Carolina into South Carolina — a backward place I always thought of as full of redneck racists still fuming about the War of Northern Aggression, still mourning the Dreadful Surrender. Short of hush puppies and the beaches, I didn’t really see how SC contributed much to the national well-being. Ah but, that was before its former governor went “hiking on the Appalachian trail” and gave us all a new euphemism for cheating on your spouse and something to laugh at, which is always good for the soul. So, there’s that.

Lookaway, Lookaway pulled me through some dark hours, made me laugh, even though I was sick and in pain, and helped make sense of my upbringing as in — You have not been alone, Jane. Someone else was right there with you rolling their eyes.

yosemiteI go back to NC these days to see family, and after a few days spent with bankers and stockbrokers in the humid air under the crepe myrtle and magnolias, I start to get itchy for something a bit more rugged. These guys give the appearance that the hardest thing they’ve ever done in life is hit a golf ball over a water hazard. Foreclosing on poor people? They don’t even break a sweat doing that, so it doesn’t count.

I can never really relax until the plane is over the granite spine of the Sierras, and I see Yosemite’s alpine meadows and the snow covered north faces of the mountains.

The mountain west is my home now. It can be a stark landscape, full of rock, sky and icy lakes, but there’s something about it that makes me feel stronger, wilder, more imaginative, freer.

And then there are the cowboys. You’ll never catch them wearing plaid golf pants and pink shirts. Trust me. Never.

Robert Redford, cowboy

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Ladies, need I say more?

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Antoinette Tuff: The Power of Stories and the Power of . . .

Posted by admin on Thursday Aug 29, 2013 Under Uncategorized

. . . Compassion.

A remarkable young woman prevented another shooting in a school, and she did it without a gun.

oaklandFor a number of years, I taught ninth grade English in Oakland Unified School District, a job Wayne la Pierre and the NRA would like me to be armed for. I started out in a school in a mostly Mexican neighborhood so bad it was called “the kill zone”. Everyday, I parked my car behind concertina wire and passed through a metal detector to reach my classroom.

I believed it was my job not only to teach English but to teach the path of peace. My students saw so little of it.

We started each year with an essay by Alice Walker describing how she lost her eye in “gun play,” and then we moved on to a story by Fresno writer Gary Soto called, “Being Mean,” which the kids all loved. In the story, the children of a couple who are employed in a broom factory are left to their own devices during the summer. They do all the scandalous things you would expect kids to do under those circumstances, and needless to say, it does not turn out well. The first line of the story was this: “We were terrible kids I think.”

gary soto3By the end of the student’s writing and reflecting on the story, I always revealed something of Gary Soto’s biography, that he was the son of farm workers in the Central Valley and now was a full professor of English at UC Berkeley and a renowned poet. Is there anything in this story, I would ask, that would predict this transformation from a terrible kid to an English professor? Just as I hoped, someone would inevitably point to the first line, to the phrase “I think”. The writing assignment that night always involved comparing a time you acted without thinking vs. a time you acted upon reflection.

By the time we got to Romeo and Juliet, the students could see that Romeo’s impulsivity led to his being banished etc., and they did not think he was “Fortune’s fool,” as he wailed at the end of the Act. “He should have reflected on his actions,” they would write.

Can you imagine my teaching those lessons with a loaded gun?

This stupid idea reveals many things, but for sure, it shows an absolute ignorance of teaching in today’s world. Does the NRA think that teachers are standing at a podium in front of a chalkboard like in the 1800s, gun at the ready? Maybe. But in the real world where I lived, the kids worked in groups; I moved all over that classroom, guiding, questioning and so on.

Tell me where would the gun be then? Locked in my desk? It would HAVE HAD to have been locked in there, you know. The key, of course, would have had to have been in my purse, which would have been locked in my file cabinet. Well, you get my point.

Maybe the NRA would suggest that I put it in a shoulder holster and strut around the room with it. And what if a rather large ninth grader, maybe even a kid held back who was maybe fifteen or sixteen, decided to wrestle me to the ground for it? What then, Wayne?

I’m sure the NRA answer would be more guns. They are, after all, a gun manufacturer’s organization in the business, you know, of selling guns.

My answer is more people like Antoinette Tuff. (and Gary Soto,too.)

Here’s what she did:

antoinette-tuff“Tuesday’s gunman incident at an elementary school near Atlanta ended with no injuries or deaths. This is mainly thanks to Antoinette Tuff, a school clerk who spent about an hour calmly persuading the gunman to put his rifle down and surrender.

Tuff feared the worst when she encountered the gunman carrying an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons in her school office. She told reporters, “I saw a young man ready to kill anybody that he could.”

She told ABC’s Diane Sawyer that much of her conversation focused not only on trying to understand the gunman, but also on trying to get the gunman to relate to her. “I just started telling him stories, ( emphasis mine)” she said, and things like, “You don’t have to die today.” Tuff told him a story of tragedy in her own life, and explained to reporters that she simply asked him to put his weapons down and surrender to police. She “talked him through it” by reminding him that “life will still bring about turns, but we can learn from it.”

Thank you Antoinette Tuff and all who walk in the way of peace.

(from Ranger 995 on Daily Kos)

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Fish Stew: Like One of
Ina Garten’s Recipes Only . . .

Posted by admin on Thursday Aug 22, 2013 Under Uncategorized

. . . easier ( and just as good).

Paso Robles Wine CountryUnless you’ve been hiding under a rock and not reading my blog or downloading my book( link), you probably know my great affection for Mexico and all things Mexican.

So, it’s not surprising that one of my favorite little California towns is Paso Robles or La Ciudad del Paso de los Robles, with its leafy town plaza and wineries.

Okay, so now the town is sort of like Old Mexico meets Italy and Spain infused with San Francisco foodie culture. It was a great place to celebrate our anniversary this year before heading to the coast.

We wined and dined at the enchanting Villa Creek restaurant, the area’s old Mexico roots showing in the restaurant’s decor — oxblood colored walls, tapestries from Oaxaca, wooden box beams, austere Mission-style architecture, and of, course, a charming patio garden.

Villa Creek was serving a Fish Stew that was a lot like my recipe, and as it turns out a lot like Ina Garten’s recipe. What can I say? Great minds and all.

I thought I’d write this up for everyone. I have never served this dish that someone has not requested the recipe. It’s a lot easier than Ina Garten’s Fish Stew recipe.

The real trick to this is the quality of the seafood. I’ve used a combination of Cod, Monkfish, Filet of Sole, Shrimp, Scallops, and Clams. But, ALWAYS use shrimp and a little Filet of Sole. The Sole sort of falls apart, leaving a nice texture and some sweetness that I like. The total amount of fish shrimp and fish should equal four pounds.

Jane’s California Coast Fish Stew

(with a nod to France and the Mediterranean)

Ingredients:
2 lbs. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 medium raw Idaho potato
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. hot pepper flakes
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsps. dried basil
1 tsp. leaf saffron, crumbled
2 whole cloves
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 cups peeled tomatoes, fresh or canned
1 cup dry white vermouth
1 lb cod cut into large pieces (or other white-fleshed fish like striped bass)
1/2 lb. filet of sole
1/2 pound monkfish cut into large pieces
( You could also use bay scallops, but throw them in at the end and cook just until opaque)
1 TBS. Pernod

Directions:
1. Clean and shell shrimp and set aside
2. Peel the potato and split in half lengthwise. Cut each half into slices about half an inch thick. Drop the slices immediately into cold water and set aside.
3. Heat oil in a dutch oven. add onion and cook until translucent
4. Add the garlic, hot pepper, thyme, basil, saffron, cloves, salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes and vermouth and bring to a boil. Put through a food mill and return to skillet. Add the potato, cover and cook fifteen minutes.
5. Add the cod, monkfish and filet of sole. Partially cover the pot and cook eight minutes.
6. Add shrimp and cook about five minutes, partially covered
7. If adding bay scallops, throw them in after the shrimp has cooked about three minutes. Cook until scallops have just turned opaque,
8. Right before serving add the Pernod.

Serve this stew with crusty bread and a simple salad. A chilled Viognier would be the perfect wine.

California Coast

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Ina Garten’s Recipes Only . . .
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