Friday, November 30, 2012

Georgia: Traditional Dance: Racha

Racha, Georgia

As part of a Dance Friday series, here's the first of the regional dance videos from Caucasus Georgia - from the region of Racha.

I defy you to watch this video without smiling.

I think the dance from Racha is my favorite of the traditional Georgian dances. It's so vigorous, and the women's role is as interesting as the men's. 

And here's a reprise of my trip to Racha.

To read about a year in Georgia from its start, go here.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

And Even More on Tiny Living

Room at Yeni Hostel, Istanbul

Home, squeezed home: Living in a 200-square-foot space was in yesterday's Washington Post. It also points readers to a good article here: White Paper: The Small Spaces Trend

I've visited this topic several times because it calls to me: 


This year, I happen to be living in a 832-foot apartment in Alamogordo. The space is so luxurious, I can't tell you.
But just as satisfying have been much smaller spaces. When I was in Addis, I met an Italian professor, teaching in Addis, who lived in the Taitu Hotel in a spacious room with a balcony. There was a sink in the room, but he had to go out and down the hall for a toilet or shower. I loved that room - just a huge square space with tall windows (if I recall correctly) and lots of light. And the balcony! Wood-plank floor, waist-high wall, overlooking the hotel/hostel's grassy cafe.

My rooms in Dubai and Istanbul - also livable for a long period, albeit tiny.

The trick for making tiny spaces truly livable seems to me to be the accessibility to usable outdoor space, whether that's, literally, a space just outside one's door where one can relax in some comfort (i.e., not in a climate that is too cold for much of the year), or figuratively, with an affordable cafe society or nearby public parks and the like. And certainly there needs to be easy access to food supplies, to eliminate the need for storage space to keep the food. (Or live in a location where it's more economical to order out than to make one's own meals.) 

Some issues I don't see talked about in re: the urban, tiny-living trend: 

People still drink water and generate human waste, regardless of the size of their residences. If tiny urban living really takes off, resulting in a significant increase in the population per foot of a city, what is the net ecological and economic impact? 

Should every metropolitan area encourage tiny housing, if the likely net outcome is increased population, such as cities that already consume too much water for their indigenous climate or rely too heavily on climate-control energy sources? Desert cities such as Phoenix, Tucson, or Las Vegas, for example.   

With a greater concentration of tiny houses in urban environments, shouldn't there be a conversation about built-in green spaces for each tiny-house enclave? Otherwise, when it comes to ecological impacts or quality-of-life points, how would a cluster of tiny houses without green space be much different than slapping up an apartment building? Just a false entitlement to smugness about one's carbon footprint, I think. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Credit Card Slut?

Photo credit: Public Domain

Two seductive invitations in two days:
  1. Air Trans is offering me two round trip tickets if I charge $2000 in the first three months of using its card.
  2. Delta Airlines is offering me 35,000 miles if I charge $750 in my first three months of using its card

Well, I'm pissed at Delta because it charged me for a piece of checked baggage on a technicality when I flew between Istanbul and St. Louis. The employee could have used his discretion, but no he didn't, citing the fact that the travel agency had booked two separate tickets: one from Istanbul to New York and another from New York to St. Louis. So even though I had free checked baggage on the international leg, I got zinged for the NY to STL leg. ... I'm getting irritated all over again just writing about it, the assholes. So, no, Delta, I'm not going to accept your offer. You did me wrong back in July.

So .... two round trip tickets? I have no grudge against Air Tran. I'll have to crunch some numbers. See, the thing is, although two round trip tickets somewhere sounds nice, there are collateral costs that come with a trip that maybe I hadn't planned on taking.

But now that my head has been turned (sorry Chase), I've a mind to see what else is being offered out there.

We've already established I can be bought, now it's just a matter of negotiating the price.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

One and Two Years Ago Today

On this day in 2011, I was in Caucasus Georgia looking ahead to .... today. Kind of weird, huh?

On November 27, 2011, I was in the application process for Teach for America, and lining up possible Plans B and C if that didn't transpire. Well, I didn't make it into Teach for America, and here I am living, which plan? I don't even remember. But it's a good one. So, hello to my past self: It all worked out fine!

On November 27, 2010, I was in Playa del Carmen, plugging through that CELTA course, but feeling good that I didn't have to worry about holiday decorating. This is funny to read today, too, because my interior "decor" consists of:
  • Two folding camp chairs
  • Folding table that I use for an office desk
  • Two used, old-timey hospital beds on wheels that I got for $45 each, bought to serve double-duty as chaise lounges and guest beds
  • Airbed
  • Second-hand kitchen table with second-hand molded-plastic "kitchen" chairs
  • Storage bins that I use for tables or an ottoman
  • Two plastic drawer-files
  • One new desk lamp
  • New Mexico maps tacked to my walls
I already feel kind of nostalgic for these hospital beds. I look forward to looking back in the future to find out what I (will do) did with them.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Movies: Long Journeys, Part 1

Recently, I've been watching documentaries about long journeys. Really long journeys.

Here is a selection in no particular order:

180 Degrees South

180 Degrees South.  Beautiful scenery. You could actually pop this movie onto your screen, set it for auto-replay, hit mute, and enjoy a constant loop of outdoor beauty without sound while you go about your business.  You mght want to watch it fully first, though, as it has several stories to relate to you. Good music, too.

In brief:  "The film emulates the 1968 trip made by Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins to Patagonia, but rather than by land, Jeff Johnson travels by sea from Mexico and south along the west coast of Chile. The film opens with original home movie footage as taken by Chouinard and Tompkins, and then continues with Johnson's own footage, in which he includes surfing, sailing and climbing..."

A movie trailer:

Ride the Divide

Ride the Divide is about a 2711-mile bike race along the Continental Divide from Banff, Alberta, Canada, to the U.S.-Mexico border at Antelope Wells, New Mexico.

Riders encountered snow, heat, rain, dangerous inclines and declines, mechanical failures, bears, bison, deer, blisters, open sores, swollen legs and feet, dehydration, and terrible loneliness.  They were awed by transcendent natural beauty, and then, almost bored by it. Assuming appropriate fitness, skill, and properly-working gear, the race, because of its length and solitary nature, was a brain game. 

Here's a trailer:

Running the Sahara

Running the Sahara is about three men (and their rather large support crew) ... running the Sahara Desert. Each of the men has an interesting backstory.  I've got some strong likes and dislikes about this movie.

I liked the soundtrack - music composed by Heitor Pereira. Except. Nothing against Mr. Pereira, but the race went through Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya, and Egypt. Countries with rich, rich musical structure. Mali alone is world-renowned for its music. What an artistic opportunity wasted, to not use the music of the Saharan people.

It was painful to watch Charlie, one of the runners, do a manipulation number on Don's head (the crew chief). Bullshit like, "If you don't want to be here, then leave now." Stoopid. Is he doing the job today? Is he there today? Is he acting professionally? Then whether or not he wants to be there is irrelevant. Although this bit of unpleasantness was explained - quite understandably - as being a result of the severe emotional toll the running takes, I'm guessing this is Charlie's MO when it comes to getting his way on things. ... especially when the petulant behavior continued as the race went on. Could be that Charlie's just kind of a jerk even when he's not doing a 111-day run of 4400+ miles. His teammates, Kevin and Ray, showed a lot of grace when dealing with him.

Some of the scenery is stunning. As with the other journey documentaries, the movie illustrated how critical one's attitude is to sustain oneself through such an arduous expedition.

A trailer:

More to come ...  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Las Cruces, NM: Mariachi Conference: Mariachi music

Mariachi Conference, Las Cruces, New Mexico

After the Mariachi Mass, the second day of a Mariachi Festival was in progress at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum.

Students of mariachi were in competition.

I will admit this: Many of the songs I heard, I couldn't think past chips and salsa in a Mexican restaurant. A pity. Sort of like, for a time, Carly Simon's most famous songs became inseparable from things like ketchup pouring from a bottle.

For example, the pre-ketchup version of Anticipation:

For those of you born before the ketchup commercial, savor the pleasure of the song above, before you watch the one below.  

The ketchup version:

So anyhoo, back to mariachi and the unfortunate Pavlovian association with chips and salsa.

There's much more to mariachi, of course. Here is a beautifully-written history of mariachi, including the people, the instruments, the clothing, the style, and the artistry. I especially like these excerpts: "Mariachi issued from the soul of Mexico like jazz emerged from the spirit of the U. S. .... Mariachi is now a part of America’s musical heritage."

When friends Kate and Pam and I went to Tlaxcala, Mexico, a few years ago, we were the happy listeners of a haunting, romantic song from one of the mariachi group that wandered through the plazas. No thoughts of chips and salsa arose there.

Mariachi, Tlaxcala, Mexico

Shortly after I arrived at the Sunday festival, a boy took the stage. The backdrop to his stage had just as much dramatic presence as he did. 

Mariachi Conference, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Most of the singing was in Spanish, and I'm really rusty in same, so I didn't catch a lot of it. But I noticed that humor played a significant role in the mariachi songs. 

Presently, a woman took stage. I'm assuming her dress is a traditional style for soloists in this musical genre. 

Mariachi Conference, Las Cruces, New Mexico

 Some shots of the student mariachi competitors:  

Mariachi Conference, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Mariachi Conference, Las Cruces, New Mexico
Mariachi Conference, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Mariachi Conference, Las Cruces, New Mexico
Mariachi Conference, Las Cruces, New Mexico
In watching the competing groups, I saw that showmanship is as important in mariachi as it is in the Georgian dance. Smiles, gestures, confidence, wit ... all part of the big picture.  

One very accomplished group had three of its girl singers approach the judges' table, where they flirted in song and body language in outsize fashion, wooing high scores from the judges. Hilarious; well done. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Glimpse of the Next Place I Live?

It's too soon to be thinking about this in earnest - that probably won't begin til at least February - but I've been getting flashes of thoughts and the faintest of calls from some places:

  • Stay in New Mexico a second year, but move to the western side of the state for a whole different vibe? 
  • Puerto Rico? Why is that whispering to me? I don't know.
  • Rwanda? This has been on the back burner for quite awhile.
  • Some place where I can continue to have access to my car while it's still in decent shape? Which limits me to North America. Well, no, of course, I could, in theory, drive it down to the tip of South America if I so chose, but, I'm too wussy to do that. But it doesn't rule out a turn in Alaska and making up for the drive to the Arctic Circle that my daughter and I decided not to do on our Alaskan road trip way back when. 
  • Other than NM (and maybe Alaska), there's not another U.S. location calling out to me today to invest a year of residence in. 

I'm curious if any of the above thoughts will still resonate in February.

Friday, November 23, 2012

On My Way Home: Las Cruces to Alamogordo

Dripping Springs Road, Las Cruces, Organ Mountains, New Mexico

When I return to Alamogordo from Las Cruces, if I take Dripping Springs Road to Baylor Canyon Road,  before I get onto Highway 70, I get to look at this:

Dripping Springs Road, Las Cruces, Organ Mountains, New Mexico

Dripping Springs Road, Las Cruces, Organ Mountains, New Mexico

Dripping Springs Road, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Baylor Canyon Road, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Baylor Canyon Road, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Am I lucky to be living here for a year? I think so. 

Las Cruces, NM: Mariachi Conference: Mariachi Mass

Mariachi Conference, Mariachi Mass, Las Cruces, New Mexico

I mentioned here that the Mariachi Mass was a moving example of how intercultural America is, when at its best.

The video below shows the entrance procession. How many cultural threads can you identify?

The bishop of the Las Cruces Diocese presided over the Mass. He has a charismatic air, a good wit, a good singing voice, and he switched between English and Spanish frequently and smoothly throughout the Mass. In reviewing his vitae, it seems he has a strong interest in civil justice issues. The diocese is 30 years old; Bishop Ricardo Ramirez has been its only bishop thus far.

I hadn't been to a Mass in a long, long time. So I was rather surprised at a couple of new touches. One was the raising of one's forearms in a gesture I associate with evangelical services. Another was that everyone held hands while reciting the Lord's Prayer. Oh, and then ending the Lord's Prayer with the addendum about "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and glory." OK, man, these are definitely Protestant influences that have insinuated themselves into the Roman Catholic traditions. (Not that there's anything wrong with that. Besides, see forthcoming post on cultural claims.)

There were two mariachi bands at the Mass. The celebrity band was Mariachi Cobre out of Florida. The other was a local band, Mariachi Aguilas, from La Mesa. Mariachi Cobre are regular performers at Disney World. They are damn good.


If you ever intend to go to the Las Cruces Mariachi Conference's Mariachi Mass, getting there half an hour early is plenty of time to get a good seat. I (and two women behind me) arrived an hour early and, yes, we got good seats, but there were plenty of empty seats languishing while we cooled our heels.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Las Cruces, NM: Mariachi Conference: Matachines

One of the things I love about New Mexico are the layers of culture that thrive here.

Las Cruces, New Mexico: Mariachi Conference, Mariachi Mass, San Jose matachina dancers. Credit: Mzuriana

They couldn't have been more evident than at the Mariachi Mass in Las Cruces on Sunday. I'll try to list the influences in motion at this event:
  • Pueblo
  • Aztec
  • Yaqui
  • Spanish (i.e. the country)
  • Moors (historically, northwest African Muslims)
  • Modern-day Mexican 
  • Modern-day New Mexican
  • Modern-day American (U.S.)
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Evangelical Christian
  • Spanish language
  • English language

Las Cruces, New Mexico: Mariachi Conference, Mariachi Mass, Azteca dancers. 2012.
Las Cruces, New Mexico: Mariachi Conference, Mariachi Mass, Azteca dancers. 2012. Credit: Mzuriana

At the entrance to the Mass venue, before the Mass began and after the Mass ended, were three dance troupes. Indian? And if so, which? There were commonalities to what I'd experienced thus far in various Indian dances, but there were differences, too.

Las Cruces, New Mexico: Mariachi Conference, Mariachi Mass, San Jose matachina dancers. 2012.
Las Cruces, New Mexico: Mariachi Conference, Mariachi Mass, San Jose matachina dancers. 2012. Credit: Mzuriana

I looked and looked for information on these dancers, to no avail, til - doh! - as a last resort, I thought to look at the printed Mariachi Mass program that I still had. And there they were, listed under "matachines."

Matachines? What? I was clueless. I soon learned more. Here is a meaty history and analysis of the matachina dance from New Mexico Arts. But in brief, per wikipedia:
The Matachina dance ... is explained by oral tradition amongst most Indian Tribes as "The Dance of the Moors and Christians" and is the first masked dance introduced by the Spaniards. The Moors were driven out of Spain in 1492 and the missionaries introduced the dance to show the superiority of the Christians. The dance was adopted by the people, and today many forms of this dance still exist. Though the dance steps vary amongst tribes the dance formations are all similar. Masks continue to be used, but the style changes from village to village, or tribe.

The introduction of the Dance of the Moors and Christians gave rise to a further range of masked dances, one of them recounting the Spanish victory over the Indians and their eventual conversion to Christianity. These dances are called conquest dances (also a Matachin tradition), and Cortes and La Malinche (his Indian mistress and translator) often appear in them. It's interesting to note that in many versions of this dance, the Indians wear lavish costumes while the Christians are played by children.

The Matachines dance for a deeper religious purpose, since most of them join to venerate either Mother Mary (Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, Immaculate conception, etc.), a saint (the group usually chooses the saint that pertains to the church they belong to), or simply to worship Christ or God the Holy Trinity, demonstrated by the three forked symbolized as a "Sword of the Holy a Trinity".

As I read the information on matachines (and the above wikipedia excerpt is only a superficial coverage of a complex inter-cultural allegorical dance), I thought: aha! The Indians in Cuzco, Peru, have a similar dance! In that case, the conquistadors are devils. From my journal entry of a long-ago trip to Cuzco during Inti Raymi:  
"Last night I danced with 2 gorillas and got bitten by the devil. It was lots of fun. I also tasted a little of the local liquor; tasted like coconut and was very good. There was a long procession last night through the plaza, with dancers and musicians. ... Annie and I danced with two groups. One group represented the devils and gorillas (with their claws?!). The devils' costumes had a strong similarity to the conquistador costumes. They all wore masks."   
(By the way, it ain't easy to dance at 11,000 feet!)

Here's a sampling of the matachina dance troupe San Jose:

You don't see him in this clip, but in other dances, there was a child dressed in black and charcoal, with a mask. Based on what I've read, I'm guessing he represented the Christian. He didn't dance when I saw him. He stood amongst the dancers.

There was an Aztec dance group also, and I don't know if it falls into the matachina category or is something else entirely. Unfortunately, I didn't get a good video of this group.

Now that I've learned a little about the matachines, I've got to find opportunities to see more.

Bernalillo, New Mexico, has a history of hosting a San Lorenzo Fiesta, which includes matachines. Last year, the event was August 10-11, so in 2013, August 11-12? I'm going to put it in as a tentative on my calendar.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tularosa, New Mexico: Fall Foliage

Tularosa, New Mexico

On my way back from the Festival of the Cranes, passing through Tularosa, it hit me that the trees peaked. On this very day.

Tularosa, New Mexico

Tularosa, New Mexico

Tularosa, New Mexico

Tularosa, New Mexico

Tularosa, New Mexico

Tularosa, New Mexico

Monday, November 19, 2012

Carrizozo, NM: Another Bite

Carrizozo, New Mexico.

I found a charming section of Carrizozo during my first pass-through of town here.

This past weekend, I saw the more glum aspect. The decaying buildings reminded me of Rustavi. There's still time, perhaps, to resuscitate, maybe not. In theory, Carrizozo is in a fairly good tourist location at the junction of Highways 54 and 380, a crossroads to head toward Alamogordo (and White Sands), Socorro, Santa Rosa (and Route 66), or into the mountains.

But there's nothing at that intersection to draw an impulsive passer-by into the village proper. The intersection looks like any number of highway-junction corners with a gas station and maybe a cafe. If travelers saw something to the south that drew the eye and seduced them into this character town, only yards away, they could be persuaded to spend a couple of hours. Spending money.

Carrizozo, New Mexico.

Carrizozo, New Mexico.

Carrizozo, New Mexico.

Carrizozo, New Mexico.

Carrizozo, New Mexico.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bosque del Apache, NM: Festival of Cranes: Rescues

Great horned owl, Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

I spent the first part of my day at Festival of the Cranes at the fun duck-banding activity. For the balance, I visited the many exhibits outside the visitor center.

Kestrel, Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

Lots of raptors! I think there were perhaps four separate rescue organizations represented, each bringing owls and hawks, and one bringing a wolf.

Harris hawk, Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

Back of great horned owl, Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico
Great horned owl, Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

Screech owl, Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

Wolf and penitent owner, Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

About the man with the wolf. He bought the wolf when it was eight weeks old, and quickly realized that raising a wolf is not like raising a dog. His current mission is to educate people about the stupidity of taking on wolves as pets. His wolf, now about three years old, lives in the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, where the man now also lives and works.

There was also a rather large representation of snake lovers at the festival.

Bull snake, Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

I had in mind to take a walk at the refuge, but by the time I finished visiting all of the exhibits, I was ready to push on, thinking perhaps to swing through Capitan on a circuitous route home to Alamogordo. 

On the way out, I stopped by a lake with snow geese.

Snow geese, Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

Heading home, I took Highway 380 east, the reverse of my way to Bosque del Apache in the morning. What a pretty highway, and the foliage is changing color, resulting in soft yellows and ivories, deep oranges.

Colored hills in November, near Fite Ranch, Highway 380, New Mexico

November colors, Fite Ranch, Highway 380, New Mexico

November colors, Highway 380, between mile markers 56-57, New Mexico

November colors, Highway 380, between mile markers 56-57, New Mexico

I passed a tall cholla cactus with what I thought were yellow flowers, but on further research, must be buds, which will transform perhaps to violet-colored flowers. If so, I look forward to seeing that. Anyway, I passed this tall plant, so turned around and went back to get photos. I found a herd of them.

Cholla cactus, between mile markers 56-57, Highway 380, New Mexico

Cholla cactus, between mile markers 56-57, Highway 380, New Mexico

Cholla cactus, between mile markers 56-57, Highway 380, New Mexico

And now that this has been maybe my third trip down this highway, and the spectacular basin view, here's a pretty-good photo of same:

Highway 380, New Mexico, between San Antonio and Carrizozo

But I hope to get many more opportunities to find that perfect shot.

It's pretty special to live in New Mexico for this year, to be able to look at these spectacular sights so often. 

Coming up: Another pass through Carrizozo. And Tularosa.