Paul Theroux’s Mexican Journey ~ NYT

Screen Shot 2019-10-02 at 7.35.35 AM.pngAmalia Cruz Martínez, a member of the Zapotec indigenous group, walks towards the town of San Marcos Tlapazola, near Oaxaca. Credit Cesar Rodriguez

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  • In the casual opinion of most Americans, I am an old man, and therefore of little account, past my best, fading in a pathetic diminuendo while flashing his AARP card, a gringo in his degringolade. Naturally, I am insulted by this, but out of pride I don’t let my indignation show. My work is my reply, my travel is my defiance.

Sometimes, a single person, met casually on a journey, can be a powerful inspiration. I happened to be in Nogales, Mexico, to talk to migrants — and on that visit I saw a middle-aged woman praying before her meal in a shelter. She was Zapotec, from a mountain village in Oaxaca state, and had left her three young children with her mother, intending to enter the United States and (so she said) become a menial in a hotel somewhere and send money back to her family who were living in poverty. But she had become lost in the desert, and spotted by the Border Patrol, seized and roughed up and dumped in Nogales. The image of her praying did not leave my mind and it strengthened my resolve to take a trip throughout Mexico, but concentrating on Oaxaca, one of the poorest states; and on my trip whenever I felt obstructed or low, I thought of this valiant woman, and moved on.

I studied the map. I had no status except my age, but in a country where the old are respected, that was enough — more than enough.

So I took an improvisational road trip along the border and the length of Mexico, from the frontier to Chiapas, with the kind of excitement I felt as a young man. One of the greatest adventures of my traveling life, this trip on the plain of snakes (as I thought of it) was enlightening and pleasurable, Mexico’s splendors vastly outweighing its miseries, and, though I had been warned repeatedly beforehand, I did not die.

Overlooked No More: Robert Johnson, Bluesman Whose Life Was a Riddle

Johnson gained little notice in his life, but his songs — quoted by the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin — helped ignite rock ‘n’ roll.

Credit© 1986 Delta Haze Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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Little about the life Robert Leroy Johnson lived in his brief 27 years, from approximately May 1911 until he died mysteriously in 1938, was documented. A birth certificate, if he had one, has never been found.

What is known can be summarized on a postcard: He is thought to have been born out of wedlock in May 1911 in Mississippi and raised there. School and census records indicated he lived for stretches in Tennessee and Arkansas. He took up guitar at a young age and became a traveling musician, eventually glimpsing the bustle of New York City. But he died in Mississippi, with just over two dozen little-noticed recorded songs to his name.

And yet, in the late 20th century, the advent of rock ’n’ roll would turn Johnson into a figure of legend. Decades after his death, he became one of the most famous guitarists who had ever lived, hailed as a lost prophet who, the dubious story goes, sold his soul to the devil and epitomized Mississippi Delta blues in the bargain.

In the late 1960s, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelincovered or adapted Johnson’s songs in tribute. Bob Dylan, who, in the memoir “Chronicles: Volume One,” attributed “hundreds of lines” of his songwriting to Johnson’s influence, included a Johnson album as one of the items on the cover of “Bringing It All Back Home.”

Rō’bear Re’por going to the dark side

Unknown.pngDear Readers

Rō’bear is going to the Dark side for a few weeks beginning Sept. 14th. Traveling south to check out rumors of a Deep State in the Central Andes along with some fly fishing and of course observance of the daily Pisco Hour.  He will procure assistance from local personas de mala reputación y conferencistas invitados residing in Rio Blanco, Portillo & Papudo Chile  …  then hopefully return with a few stories early October to share with rŌbert devotees.

While the jefe is visiting the Dark Side you can go to the bottom of each page in the Re’por to Older Posts which will take you back in time to past stories from the bad old days.

“It’s the truth even if it didn’t happen”  Ken Kesey

Seguro, 

The Management

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What Samantha Power Learned on the Job ~ NYT ~ Book Review

Credit Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

 

THE EDUCATION OF AN IDEALIST
A Memoir
By Samantha Power

Whenever The New York Times invites me to do a book review, I look for an excuse. I’d rather spend my extra time writing books than reviewing them. But when the Book Review editors asked me to review Samantha Power’s “The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir,” I said yes, without hesitation. It wasn’t because I suddenly had time on my hands. And it certainly wasn’t because Power is a friend. I’ve met her only once — in her last week as Barack Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations. No, it was because I knew only one thing about Power — from afar. She was a table-pounding idealist and human rights advocate, and believed in using American power to protect innocent civilians and advance democracy. And lately I have struggled with that position.

Having been a foreign correspondent in London, in Beirut during its civil war, in Israel and then the foreign affairs columnist for this newspaper since 1995, I’d long wrestled with how much idealism one should allow oneself when advocating for or against the uses of American power abroad. I began reporting from the Middle East in 1979 with a lot of Minnesota optimism in my DNA. Alas, idealism is now a recessive gene in me after so many crushed hopes and covering one-too-many massacres. I am much more wary today — not isolationist, but wary — about what well-intentioned outsiders can do to sustainably reshape another country or region.

George W. Bush was right on one thing about the Iraq war — many Iraqis wanted to be free to be more democratic once the tyranny of Saddam Hussein was lifted from their necks. But many other Iraqis wanted to be free to be more Shiite, more Sunni Jihadist, more corrupt or just more powerful than the tribe or sect next door. No, Toto, everywhere is not like Kansas.

The only Arab Spring country that was able to make the transition (albeit still tentative) from dictatorship to democracy, and to power-sharing between Islamists and secularists, was Tunisia — the one Arab country America had nothing to do with. Think about that. And Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi showed how even a Nobel Peace Prize can’t guarantee that today’s human rights heroine won’t become tomorrow’s victimizer. Yet Obama’s intervention in West Africa to stem the spread of Ebola — maybe his most significant foreign policy achievement, for which he got little credit precisely because it worked — demonstrated that without America as quarterback, important things that save lives and advance freedom at reasonable costs often don’t happen.

Ram Dass is ready

was tripping today when i found this in the NYT

 

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For more than 50 years, Ram Dass has watched as other nontraditional spiritual leaders have come and gone while he has remained. He has been active since the early 1960s, back when he was still known as Richard Alpert and worked alongside his Harvard psychology department colleague Timothy Leary, researching the mind-altering effects of LSD and psilocybin and helping to kick off the psychedelic era. Later, as did many people before him, he ventured east, spending time in India as a disciple of the Hindu mystic Neem Karoli Baba. Upon his return, newly known as Ram Dass, he wrote the philosophically misty, stubbornly resonant Buddhist-Hindu-Christian mash-up “Be Here Now,” in which he extolled the now-commonplace, then-novel (to Western hippies, at least) idea that paying deep attention to the present moment — that is, mindfulness — is the best path to a meaningful life.

Published in 1971, that book, an early classic of New Age thinking, has sold around two million copies, according to his website; Ram Dass, who has since written a dozen other books, continues to find new readers via praise from the likes of Lena Dunham and the presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. The 88-year-old’s archived lectures have also found second lives as popular podcasts, and he has been the subject of multiple documentaries, including the life-spanning “Becoming Nobody,” which premieres on Sept. 6. “First I was a professor,” said Ram Dass, who in 1997 suffered a stroke that affected his speaking ability. “Then I was a psychedelic. Now I’m old. I’m an icon.” He smiled knowingly. “There are worse things to be.”

In “Be Here Now,”  I would never argue that the contents of “Be Here Now” have a ton to offer as a systematic philosophy, but there is something comforting about its litany of exhortations, like “When you know how to listen, everybody is the guru.” you write about going to an ashram in India and spending months in deep meditation. Most of us can’t drop out like that and can find it hard enough to not check our phones every five minutes or get away from work email for a day, let alone spend hours a night focusing on breathing, as you did. All of which is a preamble to asking: Is modern Western life anathema to the effort needed for the kind of spiritual development you espouse? Yes. Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts: Those are the daily attention-grabbers that make it so that you can’t come from your mind to your heart to your soul. The soul contains love, compassion, wisdom, peace and joy, but most people identify with the mind. You’re not an ego. You’re a soul. You’re not psychologically full of anxiety and fear.

Ralph Metzner, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass) in 1965 in Laredo, Tex., where Leary was standing trial on charges of marijuana possession. Lawrence Schiller/Polaris Communications/Getty Images

 

Speak for yourself. If you identify with the ego plane, you’ll find you’re in time, you’re in space, you’re a little body. But go to the spiritual heart, and there will be a doorway to the next plane of consciousness: soul land.  My guru  Neem Karoli Baba, whom Ram Dass refers to as Maharaji, taught from an ashram in the Himalayan foothills in northern India. Steve Jobs went on a pilgrimage to meet him in 1974, only to learn that he had died the previous year once called me over after I threw a plate of food at a Westerner at the ashram. Maharaji said: “Ram Dass! Is something the matter?” I told him my complaints about the Westerners who were hanging around, and he got a glass of milk and fed it to me, and he said, “Now, you do it for them.” So I fed the milk to every one of the Westerners. It made me feel good in my heart. Feed them. Love everybody.

Well, along those lines, your belief is that the universe is unfolding perfectly. So how do we, as human beings, make sense of that perfection given the impending awful catastrophe of something like climate change? Humans can have consciousness on two planes. For example, when you are a reporter at The Times, it’s a game. It’s a dance. How many people do you have to impress? It’s stuff like that. But the soul has in it the witness, and it witnesses our whole incarnation. The soul watches the game without judgment.

Am I playing the game the right way? Um, no.

Ah, Christ. Is there at least a “but” coming? But your intellect will keep you on track! I sense that you are in your spiritual work. You are a soul. Your baby is a soul. Your wife is a soul. The reader is a soul. The editor is a soul. I am a soul. But many of those people don’t identify with their soul. There’s a metaphor that Maharaji described for me: There’s a fisherman, and he’s got a pole, and you’re the fish and I’m the worm. In India, they say: “Don’t look for a guru. The guru looks for you.”

You believe that the “I” is an illusion, and in your most recent book That would be “Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying.” It was written with a co-author, Mirabai Bush. there are quick references to your being gay, which isn’t something I’d seen you mention before. But what does individual sexual orientation mean if the “self” is just a construct of the ego? It’s part of a dream. From when I was a teenager until I found Maharaji, I was homosexual in my head. In high school, prep school, I was attracted to men. That tendency shaped my life. Owsley — you know Owsley?

“A Discussion of LSD and Consciousness Expansion” poster for an event with Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass). The New York Public Library Digital Collections

James Ellroy on His Life in Crime, His Imaginary Dog and the Need to Provoke

“I’ve had precious few moments,” admitted the novelist James Ellroy, “where I’ve said to myself: ‘Ellroy, you are the king. You’re the greatest crime writer that ever lived.’” A comment like that might be insufferable if it weren’t delivered, as it was by Ellroy, with a grin and if it didn’t also have a plausible claim on the truth. Ellroy’s morally complex, baroquely plotted, sprawling and highly stylized novels — “The Black Dahlia” and “L.A. Confidential” chief among them — constitute a singularly intense body of work. In the 71-year-old’s opinion, he has reached a new peak with his latest, “This Storm.” But he’s not taking that as an invitation to coast. “The reflex kicks in,” Ellroy said, and it tells him: “You’ve got more work to do.”

Almost all your books are set and I know that you’re intentionally disconnected from modern culture. Are you missing out on something important by not living more deeply in the times in which you live? I have a quotation here. [Ellroy removes a note from his shirt pocket.] This is the great pianist Glenn Gould on the great composer Richard Strauss. “The great thing about the music of Richard Strauss is that … it presents to us an example of the man who makes richer his own time for not being of it, who speaks for all generations by being of none. It is an ultimate argument of individuality, an argument that a man can create his own synthesis of time without being bound by the conformities that time imposes.” That says it all.

O.K., I know you like to do shtick in public. Is that about concealing anything? A lot of it is being the pit bull staked by chain to a spike in the front yard. I’ve been writing a book for a couple of years, and then they slip the chain off and I can run wild. But I realize part of it is a cover-up. My early life was horrible privation living with the unhousebroken dog and telling me, “I [expletive] Rita Hayworth.” I passed that off as [expletive], and then 10 years after my dad died I saw a Hayworth biography in a bookstore and looked his name up in the index. It didn’t say he’d eh eh eh but it did say that he was her business manager between about 1948 and ’52.

Could any of your self-mythologizing stand to be deflated? The more I look at my own life, the more I realize that traumatic influences have played a part in it. I’m talking about.

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

Buying Greenland? That’s Nothing To Gabriel García Márquez ~ NPR

August 24, 20197:00 AM ET

NINA MARTYRIS

9780060882860_custom-2e7ffd4de919acf9491be791bad70fb3d9982a69-s300-c85.jpg

by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Paperback, 16 pages purchase

When President Donald Trump declared that he wanted to buy Greenland, reactions turned swiftly from hilarity — he can’t be serious — to appalled embarrassment when it became clear that he was.

In the midst of it all, one could hear the ghost of Gabriel García Márquez chuckle.

Gabo, as the late great Colombian writer was known, wouldn’t have been in the least startled by the U.S. President’s sense of entitlement. On the contrary, buying an island nation would come across as rather tame compared to the audacious real estate transaction that takes place in his 1975 novel The Autumn of the Patriarch, where the United States buys the Caribbean Sea from a tinpot tyrant and ships it off to Arizona, leaving behind an enormous crater of dust.

The nameless dictator — known only as the Patriarch or the General to his subjects in an equally nameless Caribbean country — is one of the great grotesques of modern literature. The novel itself stands out as a scathing critique both of the ravages of power and the ruthlessness of capitalism. Complex, confusing, and magnificent, its labyrinthian sentences mimic the paranoid labyrinth that is the dictator’s diseased mind; Gabo called it “a poem on the solitude of power.”

The dictator starts life as an unschooled soldier, but one with an “extraordinary instinct for power.” The British, who recognize a colonial puppet when they see one, help put him on the throne, and the Americans keep him there. Altogether monstrous, with enormous elephantine feet, smooth girlish hands, and an enlarged testicle that he softly caresses, the only person he loves apart from himself is his mother. Otherwise, he rapes his concubines, pursues a beauty queen whom he never wins, changes the clocks and the seasons, orders 2000 children to be deported in boxcars and then blown up with dynamite, and serves up an enemy on a silver platter “stuffed with pine nuts and aromatic herbs.”

In short, his 200-year reign is a prolonged and sanguinary opera buffa marked by slaughter, torture, and ultimately bankruptcy. It is the latter which leads to the sale of the sea: The American ambassador comes calling to collect the ballooning debt, and bluntly tells him “either the marines land or we take the sea, there’s no other way, your excellency.”

How can anyone buy a sea, much less transport it to Arizona? The dictator thinks it impossible, but he hasn’t bargained on America’s dazzling technological wizardry. The gringo engineers show up “with gigantic suction dredges” and get to work, resulting in one of the most hauntingly beautiful passages in the novel:

Good coward that he is, the anguished General hopes the people will rise up to drive the Americans away, but the people know better. They have protested before and been mowed down by the General’s guns, so they stay put at home. Plus, after enduring two centuries of the dictator’s depredations, the sale of the sea is just one more in a long list of insanities.

The gringos take not just the salty water but “the flora and fauna belonging to said waters, its system of winds, the inconstancy of its millibars, everything.” They leave behind “only the desert plain of harsh lunar dust” and — in a nice comic touch — the lighthouse, which flashes away uselessly like a “fantastic starlike firefly,” driving the dictator mad. Equally comic is the wind machine that one ambassador presents him with to make up for the lack of sea breeze — a realistic detail characteristic of García Márquez’s writing. As the dictator walks through his gloomy mansion, he is cooled by “the cross currents of the tardy trade winds and the false mistrals from the wind machine that Ambassador Eberhart had given him so that he would not think so much about that bad business with the sea.”

The novel itself stands out as a scathing critique both of the ravages of power and the ruthlessness of capitalism.

García Marquez wrote the novel in Barcelona during the last throes of General Franco’s rule, but Franco wasn’t really the role model. For that, he foraged closer home, and was spoiled for choice. His monster is a glorious mythical composite of all the monsters who have ruled different parts of Latin America. Like his nonfictional predecessors, he has total control of the media, and lives in a world of news that is as obsequious as it is fake. He crowns himself “general of the universe,” and ultimately believes that he is — not the Chosen One — but God himself, and names his son Emmanuel.

Convinced that “he alone was the nation,” his rotting body becomes an embodiment of the body politic. When it begins to exude a salty fluid and sprout crustaceans and polyps, he is convinced that the sea is returning. “Seas are like cats … they always come home,” he tells an American named Johnson, who is unfazed by his optimism.

When the dictator finally dies, the wind machine lies abandoned in the corner. The only breeze that wafts out of the palace is the one fanned by the flapping of vultures that feed on his corpse. It is a warm, foul scent, but for a country awaking from the “lethargy of centuries” it is the scent of freedom.

The sale of the sea — and all its teeming flora and fauna — will endure as a brilliant satire not just of a ruler drunk on power but, equally, of American capitalism run amok. Both maladies, it would seem, are alive and well.

Nina Martyris is a literature-focused freelancer. Her writing has appeared inNewYorker.com, The Paris Review Daily, The Guardian, NPR and elsewhere.