Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Las Cruces NM 2019: Squash Body

Butternut squash. February 2019.

My photos of this butternut squash bottom do not satisfy me.

But not one to be wasteful, I will present them anyway because it is the essence of squash that does satisfy.

The butternut holds its seeds in its uterine space, cradling them in a sinewy net, swaddling them within thick, soft-strong flesh, finally enveloping them with a thin, sturdy shell.

Butternut squash. February 2019.

The butternut shell deflects crawling and flying marauders, too much cold and too much heat, too much rain and too little rain.

It cracks open to my knife.

I roast this butternut.

I eat its softened shell.
I eat its butterscotch flesh.
I eat its crunchy seeds, salted and shiny with sprayed oil.

All that I leave are strings of sinew and that hard nub which once connected my meal to her green matriarch, rooted in the earth.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Las Cruces NM 2019: You Look Lovely in the Morning

Coffee on the counter, Las Cruces, New Mexico. February 2019.

You look lovely in the morning, ma chère boîte jaune.

Coffee on the counter, Las Cruces, New Mexico. February 2019.

How the sun streams across your brow.

Coffee on the counter, Las Cruces, New Mexico. February 2019.

You always leave me wanting more.

Location: Las Cruces, New Mexico, home for a month.
Model: Cafe du Monde Coffee and Chicory can, gift from Agnes when she opened her Opelousas home to me for a month. Originally filled with said coffee, of course, but now filled with another delicious brand of the drug.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Las Cruces NM 2019: Organ Mountains: Snow Dust

Snow in southern New Mexico. Erg. Go away.

However, I had to admit the snow dust on the Organ Mountains was so pretty on Saturday afternoon.

Snow dust on Organ Mountains, Las Cruces, New Mexico. February 2019.

Snow dust on Organ Mountains, Las Cruces, New Mexico. February 2019.

Snow dust on Organ Mountains, Las Cruces, New Mexico. February 2019.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Las Cruces NM 2019: Jazz 1

Canyon Quintet, Mesilla Valley Jazz and Blues Society, Las Cruces, New Mexico. February 2019.

Beck, one of my temporary Las Cruces housemates, is a jazz fan in a major, major way. Beck listens to jazz all day, every day, which he streams from a radio station in California. He's an ardent support of the Mesilla Valley Jazz and Blues Society. Because Beck is in his 80s and because he has adored jazz since his young adulthood, he has seen and heard a lot of musicians, in a lot of places.

Beck spent much of his life in central Missouri, and because I also lived there for a number of years, we can talk about various venues we both have known, and some artists we both know and like. (Example of a Missouri musician who Beck and I "know" and admire: Hilary Scott.)

Hilary Scott and band, Columbia, Missouri. December 2006.

Hilary Scott and band, Columbia, Missouri. December 2006.

Beck invited me to accompany him to the February gathering of the Mesilla Valley Jazz and Blues Society, at which the Canyon Quintet performed, as you can see below

There we met another Missourian-by-birth, a woman who has lived in Las Cruces for 20 or more years. She came up in Kansas City. She and I chatted about the "correct" pronunciation of Missouri: Muh-zur'-ee versus Muh-zur'-ah. I am of the former ilk, she of the latter. (It just occurred to me that this conversation might be the equivalent to the conversation natal Michiganners have when they put up a palm, thumb extended, to point to where in Michigan they call home.)

Speaking of Kansas City: Because it was February, thus Black History Month, the California jazz radio that Beck listens to devoted hundreds of playtime hours to black jazz musicians, which indirectly resulted in a spotlight on Kansas City jazz musicians.

One day, Beck expressed the wish to share a video of a jazz performance with me. Only mildly interested to begin with, I felt a tad alarmed when I sat next to Beck in readiness for said viewing, as I noted that the video was ONE HOUR! Thankfully, I received assurances from Beck that he would honor my limited attention span, and I could wander off when I wanted, no hard feelings.

Well, hell, it was a monster-good performance! This was my first exposure to Regina Carter, who worked her violin but good, in this 1998 (!) set at the Newport Jazz Festival:

Thank you, Beck!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Las Cruces NM 2019: Contra Contra Dancing

Bayou Seco, Las Cruces, New Mexico. February 2019.

I do not like contra dancing. In fact, not only do I dislike contra dancing, I harbor actual antipathy toward the genre. It is a living dislike, as if I've got a giant, contra contra-dancing thing in my belly, like a tapeworm.

Not proud of it.

There are people I like who love contra dancing. They are smart, energetic, well-rounded, way cooler-than-me people.

One of these remarkable people will probably read this post. I'm sorry. Can we agree that seafood is delicious but some of us have an involuntary allergic reaction to it?

Although I don't know why I have such a visceral response to the dance style in general, I do know why I struggle with it in some specifics.

The main is: Math + directional challenges

Dance requires both math and a sense of direction.

I talk about this in Part 1 of my series Learning to Dance:

So contra dancing is hard enough, but THEN! it turns out one must learn MULTIPLE dances and patterns of dance in different directions! All in one DAY!

You would think it wouldn't be so bad because there is actually a person with a mic who actually tells you in advance which step you are about to do. But on occasion a caller - who in all aspects of his life is likely a charming, high-functioning, jewel of a fellow - has trouble remembering what the steps are to a particular dance that HE himself has chosen to teach before the dancers actually perform the dance to actual music. What ensues is Pure D hell for the likes of me, as we go hither and thither in chaotic short bursts, then stand for interminable bits of time - ALL TO NO MUSIC YET! - and I wonder about the etiquette of abandoning one's partner on the ballroom floor so I can fling myself off the ship into an ocean. Because I'm not going to get the dance even if or when the caller gets things sorted.

And THEN the next dance will be a completely different dance, but all of my CPU memory will still be spinning from the previous memory-sucking operation, and ... more mixed metaphors will happen.

I'm NOT saying this happened on one beautiful February evening in Las Cruces, New Mexico. It probably didn't happen. Just imagine that it could have happened.

But let's not confuse the dance with the music. The music is roots music, Americana, I like it.

Bayou Seco, Las Cruces, New Mexico. February 2019.

The band performing in February was Bayou Seco. I relished a bit of South Lousiana in Las Cruces. A taste below:

Monday, February 11, 2019

El Paso 2019: The Tumblewords Project: A Brief Love

James Drake, Falling Birds, El Paso Art Museum, Texas. November 2016.

Born in 1995, founded by Donna Snyder, the Tumblewords Project is a writing workshop that occurs every Saturday at the Memorial Park branch of the El Paso Library. Each week, a workshop leader suggests writing prompts to the participants; the prompts usually follow a theme the leader chooses for the session. Everyone is enthusiastically welcomed. If you're just passing through El Paso and happen to be in town on a Saturday afternoon, go! 

My related posts here.

One of my workshop efforts below. Writer and artist, Sandra Torrez, led the day's work, offering Edgar Allen Poe as our inspiration.

A Brief Love

I'll look at you
While you sleep.

I'll touch your sternum, press
Down with the pad of a finger

Like a push of life.

I'll find your pulse, rest
My finger there, and linger,
To absorb your beat.

I'll leave you then.
Push out into
The cold and
Not look back

Because I gotta go.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

El Paso 2019: Ron Stallworth, Black Klansman

Ron Stallworth, El Paso, Texas. February 2019.

I was lucky enough to be in the El Paso area to see Ron Stallworth speak at the local Barnes & Noble.

Ron Stallworth holding up his KKK membership card, El Paso, Texas. February 2019.

Mr. Stallworth is the author of Black Klansman, which Spike Lee interpreted in his movie, BlackkKlansman.

Ron Stallworth and Patsy Terrazas-Stallworth, El Paso, Texas. February 2019.

I watched the movie with fellow members of the Ferguson Municipal Library book club, Readings on Race. So it was especially nice to have my spheres - Ferguson, Missouri, and El Paso, Texas - connect.

Ron Stallworth and Patsy Terrazas-Stallworth, El Paso, Texas. February 2019.

The day I heard Mr. Stallworth was a couple of days before Donald Trump's visit to El Paso. Mr. Stallworth references this upcoming visit, and Trump, in the two pieces I filmed below:

Mr. Stallworth draws a straight line between David Duke, the KKK, and Donald Trump.

Now, Ron Stallworth points out the lack of intelligence on the part of the Colorado KKK folks he infiltrated. He suggests that modern-day white supremacists are also not-bright.

Whether he's right or not, I can't say.

What I can say is this: Stupid people can maim and kill just fine. Heck, brainless bacteria and viruses have brought down billions of humans over the millennia. They have done so despite the efforts of brilliant human minds.

I might almost argue that one must fear so-called stupids more than so-called smart people.

Ron Stallworth and his wife, Patsy Terraza-Stallworth, distributed pins that said: "Infiltrate Hate." It feels good to wear mine.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

El Paso 2019: Temporary Home

My temporary home in El Paso, Texas. January 2019.

Something special has happened this year, my ninth rootless year: The awesome power of a social network.

While still in my Missouri year, I thought about how I'd navigate my way from Missouri to Tucson, my 2019-2020 home.

What would it be like, I wondered, if, on the way to Tucson, I were to:
  1. Drop down to South Louisiana for a few weeks for an injection of danse joyeaux et amis;
  2. Revisit Big Bend National Park for a week;
  3. Pass over to El Paso for a month's revisiting friends and sights there; 
  4. Jog north to Las Cruces, New Mexico, for a month's intermission there; and only then
  5. Land in Tucson? 

And this itinerary would begin after a month in Mexico City!

The plan was so delicious, so elegant, I kept it in a mental recipe-card size box, only opening the lid enough to peek inside occasionally, for fear of drawing the attention of mischievous fairies who delight in tossing mortals' cards into the air and laughing while their victims scramble to catch their wispy little plans before the wind carries them away.

OK, well, I did have that unfortunate car thing (RIP sweet Camry), which extended my stay in Opelousas (never a bad thing), and the weather turned in Big Bend (and on Plan B outside of Corpus Christi), but other than that .... El Paso!

A good six months before the end of my Missouri year, the friend of a friend in El Paso put out the word that she had a room in her house to rent. I noted this information, then pulled it out a few months later, contacting "Audrey," about said room. Still renting? Yes. Affordable to me? Yes. Available for my time frame? Yes.

And the universe aligned it just so. (Except for that car thing.)

A damn comfortable bed. A gigantic shower with kicking water pressure.

When I walked out the front door, this view:

View across the street from my temporary home in El Paso, Texas. January 2019.

When I looked over to my right, the uplifting view of the next door neighbor's house and xeriscape yard:

View of next door neighbors' house from my temporary home in El Paso, Texas. January 2019.

 Damn, I'm a lucky chica.

Now how do I know this friend of a friend, anyway? When I was fresh on the scene in El Paso back in September 2017, I went to Upper Tom Lea Park to participate in a drum circle. I met a woman there, "Dana." One of Dana's many attributes is her pleasure in bringing together people who she thinks might hit it off.

Dana arranged for me and Audrey to meet one day over lunch.

Who'd've thought that more than a year later, I'd leave El Paso, come back to El Paso, and rent a temporary home from Audrey?

Thank you, Dana!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

El Paso 2019: Volunteer Laundress

El Paso laundromat. February 2019.

While in my month's layover in El Paso, I offered my volunteer services to an El Paso organization that serves immigrants and refugees. A volunteer coordinator asked if I'd be able to do laundry.

Oh. My first thought was: That's not what I'd been expecting. Doing laundry is completely behind the scenes. No interaction with the folks being served, no direct observation of how my service impacted anyone. I'll even say this: No volunteer glory. Look, I'm doing good works! A stagehand and not an actor. Hell, not even a stagehand - a stagehand's assistant.

But in the very next moment, I laughed at myself and thought, this is perfect. It is exactly the kind of experience I should be having. And it's what the organization needs, so little ego girl, go sit down on that chair over there.

The romance of laundry

I like the word 'laundress.'

There's the movie My Beautiful Laundrette, which, upon just now visiting a link about this movie, I realized I've never seen it, and had, in fact, confused its title and redemptive vibe with another movie, Babette's Feast. "Ette" is a heady suffix.

There's the chi-chi restaurant in Napa Valley called The French Laundry.

El Paso laundromat. February 2019.

There's something saucy, naughty, about being a laundress, although I could be confusing that with the French maid thing.

There is the sensory pleasure of fresh-laundered sheets, now dry, snapping on a bendy clothesline on a sun-bright day, smelling of bleach and breeze, and feeling warm and firm to the hand as you stroke the smooth cotton fabric.

El Paso laundromat. January 2019.

The unromantic view

Damn, it's dirty laundry. Not even mine, but someone else's.

I pick it up in aggressively industrial-like black trash bags, and when I return the laundry, clean, it is placed atop the somewhat-orderly heaps of other clean towels, sheets, blankets, pillowcases that line a hallway. 

El Paso laundromat. February 2019.

The soul of laundry

There was a TV show called St. Elsewhere. Before it veered off the road with a masked-villain story arc, its wit and elegance of word and story put it among my lifetime favorites. (It was no surprise that the same creators later went on to parent the unparalleled Northern Exposure.)

There was an episode in which a custodian was interviewed. The interviewer asked him about the drudgery, the unpleasantness - the menial nature - of cleaning up bodily fluids from floors, walls, surfaces, toilets - the blood, viscera, entrails, vomit, urine, feces, sputum, et al. The hospital custodian replied that it was - almost - sacred work to remove this human effluvia.

Or it could have been the TV show, ER. Or in my creative memory.

These articles, What You Can learn About Job Satisfaction from a Janitor, and Want to Be Happier At Work: Learn How From These 'Job Crafters,' referenced the work of Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski. She defined "job crafters," people with so-called menial jobs who perceive their work on a much higher plane of vision than what is in the HR job description. For example:
"[These individuals] didn’t see themselves as custodial workers at all. ... Some, when asked what their jobs were, would say 'I’m an ambassador for the hospital' or even, in one case, 'I’m a healer. I create sterile spaces in the hospital. My role here is to do everything I can to promote the healing of the patients.'”

I was impressed by the quality of the towels I washed, presumably all donated by area residents. Sure, there were a few that were a little worn, but by and large, these were thick and thirsty bath towels. How pleasurable, when so many things about one’s life as a refugee is uncertain, you can wrap your body in such a nice towel after a hot shower, or to dry off the skin of your little daughter or son after a good washing up.

A couple of blankets I washed were soiled with feces. A child, an adult? Illness? Stress? Fear? Age-related incontinence?

When I pulled warm pillowcases from the dryer, and folded them atop the laundromat's orange plastic counter, I found myself smoothing the tops of the just-folded covers, imagining the heads of children, teens, men, and women laying their heads on them, feeling safe, perhaps, on that night, as they laid on cots in one of the large, open rooms they shared with family, friends, and strangers.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Flashback: Koremi, Ethiopia

In March 2011, I wrote this post about a trip to Koremi, near Harar, in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia: Baksheesh! Harar, Day 3, Sunday

Irish Edith, the Dutch couple, and I took a contract minibus to the small town of Koremi ("tinnish" - "tiny" in Amharic, one of my new vocabulary words). This trip was taken on the basis of a recommendation in the Bradt Guide. Disappointing and depressing.

Koremi and its immediate surrounding are home to the Argobba, an ethnic group one adds to the mix of peoples in the Harar region - Harari, Oromo, and Somali. In this neck of the woods, the square houses are of golden stone.

Whatever might have been in the past or will be in the future, Koremi presently offers only an exchange of the occasional gawker and the requests for "baksheesh" from young and old in Koremi. I asked the minibus driver if there was a souk here where one could buy something to support the town in a way other than just handing out birr. Turns out, no. Not even homemade bread or yogurt or cheese -- nuthin'. The Argobba girls and women wear necklace and bracelets of plastic beadwork. I cast about for a small piece I might buy. I spied a girl with a bracelet. "Sintinoh"? I asked ("how much"?). She replied with 70 birr, but with the driver's assistance we negotiated this to 50 birr. The girl removed her bracelet, gave it to me, and I felt good about it. Hopefully, she did, too.

Some of the kids and I did enjoy a lively debate regarding the "faranjo" business, touching each other's arms, hair, and clothing, making distinctions between American and Irish and Dutch, for example, instead of just white ("faranjo"), and Argobba and Harari and Oromo, instead of just "brown." (Nevertheless, I strongly prefer "faranjo" to the "you, you, you!" one hears in Awassa.)

Hot, dusty, and thirsty, we drove back to Harar quietly. An interesting note along our return route: There are tree "houses" or "stands" in the fields. These are for guarding maize from thieving birds and chat from thieving humans.

Pizza at Fresh Touch. Photo credit: LNewman
Upon our return to the Hotel Belayneh, we dispersed without processing our day. I went directly to my room, got something to drink, and rested a bit. Later walked to Fresh Touch Restaurant where I ordered an excellent vegetable pizza.

Harar's smiling condom is everywhere. Photo credit: Clare H-P
While I contemplated my tropical-like surroundings, I glanced up at my table umbrella, appreciating its orange and yellow color, and then noticing the artwork. Ah, a smiling condom with sunglasses. Must be related to the smiling condom on the sticker in my hotel bathroom. In that scenario, the happy guy with sunglasses is pointing at a picture of a toilet.


I was joined by Ed, a New Yorker, who arrived in Harar several hours earlier from the north. Another  American, Tom from Atlanta, joined us a few minutes later, also a new arrival. We exchanged the usual, "Where have you been"? "How long have you been/will be in Ethiopia"? "Where are you going"?

We walked back to the Jugal area (walled city). Tom was meeting up with another new arrival, this a woman from Norway. She, Tom, and Ed were staying at traditional Harari houses (now guest houses) within Jugal. (My Hotel Belayneh is just outside the wall, overlooking one of the markets.)

Photo credit: "Stormshadow" at skyscrapercity

Ed had retained a guide for an overview tour of Harar tomorrow, and agreed that I might join them. He  showed me the way to his guesthouse, gave me a little tour, and then he, and the owners (a daughter and her mother), and I chatted about local culture. He walked me back to my hotel, and we popped up to the top-floor restaurant for a beer. Tom and the Norwegian woman were there having dinner, and we had a nice conversation, the Norwegian woman reporting that one of her first experiences in Harar yesterday was being hit on her back by local men.

Harar is, indeed, an unusual place.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Stuff: Lingerie Vegetaria

Peaches, pears, and jicama in lingerie. February 2019.

I bought a trio of reusable mesh bags for bagging produce at the grocery store.

Peaches, pears, and jicama in lingerie. February 2019.

Placed my peaches, pears, and jicama in the soft folds of the bags.

The round fruits and fresh-skinned jicama peeked like brides from their wedding veils.

Or cheekily from white-netted lingerie.

Peaches, pears, and jicama in lingerie. February 2019.

Peaches, pears, and jicama in lingerie. February 2019.

Being green can be sexy.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Rootless: A New Vehicular Mate, Part 3

My new vehicular mate. Highway 9, New Mexico. January 2019.

Relevant posts:

By now, I've driven my new car for a month
  • From Opelousas to El Paso
  • From El Paso to Columbus, NM, and back
  • From El Paso to Las Cruces and back
  • Around El Paso

Learning curve on driving

A very cool car trick: The hill assist. When stopped on an incline, whether at a stop light or when backing out of a slanted parking spot, I can depress the brake pedal, hold it there until a beep sounds, then move my foot to the accelerator without the car rolling back on its own.

Spidey-spatial sense: It was only today when I realized that, yeah, I'm feeling natural about where my car boundaries are within my driving lane. 

Where to stop my 'nose': The Prius' front end slopes oh-so-elegantly down from the windshield base. Result: When you're in the vehicle, it's a crazy design flaw that you can't see where the front end ... ends. I don't know, maybe a tall-ass driver can, but not me. 

2012 Prius v profile. Source: Automobile Mag. Yellow marker added.

Here's an image of what it looks like from the driver's seat:

View from Prius v front seat. Source:

Right. Where's the nose? What's the point of expensive gew-gaws like rear cameras if you don't do something so simple as design some passive visual cues for the front end - not only for parking, but for ensuring you're in the middle of a lane?

As I get more experience driving the Prius, my internal radar is getting a sense for how far to pull in to a parking spot without a wheel stop. This is good; it's reassuring.

I don't yet have a sense for where to stop when I pull into a spot with a concrete, front-bumper-hating wheel stop. I'm hopeful that day will come.

Stuff I didn't know before I bought the Prius

Prius rage. Perhaps a real thing in some places, don't know. Regardless, it has given me pause. I do remember when Prius first came out, and I did do a lot of internal eye-rolling at how smug Prius owners seemed to be about their alleged kindliness for the Earth. Without considering the carbon footprint of throwing away one's older vehicle and building a new vehicle.

Built-in GPS. The tedious and pedantic mindset of the installed GPS in my Prius is just as annoyingly lame as the plug-in Garmin I had a few years back. Fortunately, I bought an air-vent clip-on thing for my phone, so I just use Google Maps from my phone.

Does it seem like I'm caught up in some negativity about my new car? Yes, maybe. A temporary phase, I'm sure. I'm chalking it up to unmet expectations based on assumptions that may not have been realistic. For example, I assumed that a 2012 vehicle would have all the features a 1995 vehicle had.

Some love

Yesterday, I felt my first little surge of love. It happened when I pulled on to I-10 from the ramp. Ohhh, there was some pick-up-n-go there - nice.

The driver's seat is super comfortable.

I've tricked out my center console with small organizer things, so now I've got order among chaos to hold stuff like gum, salt (of course), pens, Crystal Light packets, tire gauge, comb, etc. Speaking of the console, this post by a 2012 Prius v reviewer made me laugh out loud:
Toyota says the deep center console can fit 23 CD cases. In other news, my cubicle has desk space for a typewriter, two slide rules and a Victrola.

It's too soon to tell what my average gas mileage will be, as my car is pretty loaded with stuff pending my relocation destination. Also, I haven't learned many of the tricks long-time Prius owners employ to eke out higher rates. However, I see promising signs.

I've been reading the manual. 

Maybe I'll update my car info in a month or so.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Word of the Year 2019: Action: Legal Observers

At immigrant family-separation protest in Troy, Missouri. June 2018.

Yesterday I attended ACLU Texas' training for volunteer legal observers.

The ACLU's role definition of a volunteer legal observer:
Legal observers act as legal witnesses to political demonstrations and document the events of public protests, including any incidents of police misconduct or violations of the rights of protesters. Legal observers are committed to defending free speech in a way that is as objective as possible so that their documentation can be used as evidence if police misconduct or obstructions to constitutionally protected free speech are challenged in court.

Police with crowds awaiting the arrival of the Georgian Orthodox Patriarch. Rustavi, Caucasus Georgia. August 2011.

The presence of ACLU legal observers at a public gathering:
  1. Carries the political and legal gravitas of an organization with high name recognition and a history of successful and very public litigious actions.
  2. Alerts law enforcement that eyes are on them, encouraging appropriate behavior.
  3. Reassures participants that there are witnesses present who are documenting actions.
  4. Demonstrates a "best practice" in a system that espouses civil rights - keeping honest people honest.
The presence of ACLU legal observers bolsters the voices of law enforcement officers on the ground who strive to "protect and serve" everyone in a public gathering - but whose voices might be drowned out by peers who abuse their law-enforcement authority.

My friend, Kate, the rabble rouser, having her sign broken apart by law enforcement prior to visit by President Bush, presumably because of the wooden sign bolster. Credit: Columbia Missouri Tribune.

The three main tasks of an observer:
  • Monitor
  • Record
  • Report

Until I went to the ACLU training, I didn't know about the National Lawyers Guild. Since its founding in 1937, the NLG has existed to "put human rights above property rights."

NLG launched its legal observer program in 1968! NLG's legal observer program is one component of its larger Mass Defense Program, which "is a network of lawyers, legal workers and law students providing legal support for political activists, protesters and movements for social change."

Here is a link to the 2003 version of NLG's Legal Observer Manual.

Police presence at protest in Tlaxcala, Mexico. February 2009.

Although I'm leaving the El Paso area shortly, I'll try to hook up with an ACLU legal observers group at my new home ground. To take action.