What’s Really Warming The World

Jokulsarlon in Iceland; 2007.Arguing the factual basis of anthropogenic climate change with its opponents is like cutting the head off a hydra: state one factor clearly and two more objections appear magically out of the ether, leaving you frustrated because the opponent never provides evidence to dismantle your carefully marshaled facts. It’s only knuckle-dragging dead-enders, but there are a lot of them, yet.

For example, “greenhouse gasses are the largest contributor to anthropogenic climate change (henceforward ACC),” you the responsible citizen argue.

Your opponent replies, “but it’s the solar super cycle! The Earth has been warming and cooling for eons.”

You reply, “sure, that might contribute a bit but no where near as exhaustively as carbon emissions.”

Your opponent is too dim to note the pun you just made, by the way. Your opponent then says, “it’s volcanoes!”

You just smile, as volcanoes spew ash and ash acts as a coolant.

Your opponent then blurts, “it’s the Earth’s axis, you know, the wobble, that drives long term climate change.”

At this point you’re frustrated and trying to remain amicable. You wish you had a ready made tool that could graph all these objections versus carbon emissions.

Well guess what?

Now you do.

You’re going to like using this. It’s helpful and it’s important.

I personally sense a bit of a change in the issue, even here in Texas, so push foward! It progress of a kind.

Life, surreal and ironic. 

Many friends from my youth,17-20 years old, will recall a fierce, callow, wannabe Cold Warrior, ready to arm the Contras to the teeth and drop bombs on Managua and fuck that Commie Ortega while yer at it! Godless Red shitheels!  

Today I sit in my house with my best friend down here, José Lopez Cortez, who literally fought the Contras while I fulminated in air conditioned college classrooms. 

After fighting American-armed traitors in the Caribbean slope jungles, he was subsequently educated in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Baku. Like me his first wife was a Russian. Strange mirror our lives, his and I. We’re the same age. 

Surreal and ironic, life is. 

¿Como no?

The Nicaraguans do a lot differently. (There goeth a man?)

One little thing I like is how they say, “why not?”

I grew up with the Mexican/Tex-Mex “por que no?”

But down here it’s an easy, almost gleeful, “¿como no?”

Note the rising intonation complete with a copious splash of Nicaragua’s notorious sarcasm.

(They’re also notoriously laconic, an economy with words inversely proportional to the wealth they’ve had stolen, multiple times.)

Sarcasm being a necessity, really, because only Mexico (without the wealth of Mexico to sustain repeated fuckings) has been fucked over more regularly by the Norteños. Then again, add in the Spaniards and Mexico has been hate fucked on so regular a basis it’s a wonder the people aren’t catatonic.

Add Flor de Caña rum and you too can be a native!

¿Como no?

Books Read ~ 2014

My Pre-Thesis PresentationI’ll be doing this list just as I have all the others from years past ( 2013, 2012, 2011). You get the name of the book, the author, the genre and the date completed. If the book was worthy of a note–positive or negative–I give it one. Otherwise, consider it an average book. If there is an *next to the book that means you’d be wise to get yourself a copy and read it.

My goal, as it is every year, is to read 52 books a year, that is on average one a week. One thing to note: this year I read almost 25% more than I did last year and last year I read 75, which astonished me. This year? Ninety and heading towards ninety one as I write this.

Anyway, let’s get to it:

1. Du Fu: A Life in Poetry trans. David Young: poetry, completed January 7, 2014

The single greatest Chinese poet ever. This is an excellent volume with which to get acquainted.

2. Time Among the Maya by Ronald Wright: non-fiction, completed January 12, 2014

This was a solid book in the context of my reading: I had just returned from Guatemala and Tikal in particular. Well written and interesting. But, since I returned to the Mayan region in the summer and excavated by hand a portion of a pyramid I no longer have any interest in the Mayans, at all.

3. The Purpose of the Past by Gordon Wood: history, completed January 20, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

4. The World of Late Antiquity by Peter Brown: history, completed January 23, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

5. The Fall of Rome by Bryan Ward-Perkins: history, completed January 24, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

*6. The Columbian Exchange by Alfred Crosby: history, completed January 24, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. This book really needs no introduction. Any man or woman who considers him or herself to be well-educated should have read this book at least once. Linguistics!

7. Becoming Mex-Am by George Sanchez: history, completed January 28, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

8. Christians and Pagans by Ramsay MacMullen: history, completed January 31, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

9. The Broken Spears by Miguel Leon-Portilla: history, completed February 1, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

10. Brown in the Windy City by Lilia Fernandez: history, completed February 2, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

11. The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels: history, completed February 7, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

12. Lieutenant Nun by Catalina de Erauso: memoir, completed February 9, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

*13. Cannery Women and Lives by Vicki Ruiz: history, completed February 9, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. This book by historian Vicki Ruiz is splendid. It’s a capsule of a time when collective-action was possible and immanent in America, even for minorities like Chicanas. Of all the Chicano history I read this year–and I read close to 20 books–this book was the standout.

14. The Albigensian Crusade by Joseph Strayer: history, completed February 9, 2014 Readings

Assigned for a graduate history course.

16. Saints and Their Miracles by R. Van Dam: history, completed February 15, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

17. History in Six Glasses by Tom Standage: history, completed February 16, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

18. From the Jaws of Victory by Matt Garcia: history, completed February 18, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

*19. Silencing the Past by Michel-Rolph Trouillot: history, completed February 23, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. However, this was THE book of the year. It is the gold standard of what post-modern theory and methodology can do to the telling and uncovering of history. This is a must read.

20. The Zoot-Suit Riots by Mauricio Mazon: history, completed February 25, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

21. Muhamed & Charlemagne by Henri Pirenne: history, completed February 27, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

22. Muhamed & Charl Reconsidered by Hodges&Whitehouse: history, March 1, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

23. Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon by Mauricio Pagan: history, March 2, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

24. City of Kings by Rosario Castellanos: fiction, March 16, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

25. Youth, Identity, Power by Carlos Munoz: history, March 17, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

26. Forces of Habit by David T. Courtwright: history, March 23, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

27. Raza Si! Guerra No! by Lorena Oropeza: history, March 23, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

28. Early Growth Euro Econ by Georges Duby: history, March 21, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. Readings

29. The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor: travel, March 31, 2014

The final installment of PLM’s great trilogy of his youthful excursion walking from the Hook-of-Holland to Istanbul. The first half was lovely, full of his excellent story-telling prose. The last half was clearly patched together by the editors in the aftermath of his death so as to get something published and finish the story.

30. The First European Revolution by R.I. Moore: history, April 4, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

31. Human Trafficking by Louise Shelley: anthropology, April 6, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

32. Medieval Women by Eileen Power: history, April 11, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

33. History Short Intro by John H. Arnold: history, April 14, 2014

Wanted to see how well the Oxford Very Short Introductions hold up across the board by starting with what I know: history. This one was okay.

34. Marginal Society Paris by B. Geremek: history, April 19, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

35. A Place in the Country by W.G. Sebald: essays, April 22, 2014

Another posthumous book, this one in all parts more coherent and well done than Patrick Leigh Fermor’s, but still lacking in that final draft kind of way. Reading it reminded me that we lost a future Nobel Prize winner when Sebald died. A Little Light Reading

36. Medieval Rural Economy by G. Duby: history, April 25, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

37. My Freshman Year by Rebekah Nathan: memoir, April 27, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

38. A Primer for World History by A. Burton: history, April 27, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

39. The Horse in Human History by P. Kelekna: history, May 3, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams. Future source for Master’s thesis.  A decent history of the role horses played in human history, not without flaws, however.

40. Nomads and the Outside World by AM Khazanov: anthropology, May 4 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams. Future source for Master’s thesis. The gold standard of anthropology on nomads.

41. Early Seljuq History by A.C.S. Peacock: history, May 9, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams. Future source for Master’s thesis.

*42. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes: fiction, May 23, 2014

This was a very fun and interesting spin and take on Noah’s Ark. I highly recommend it.

43. Devil Colony by James Rollins: fiction, May 27, 2014

Garbage fiction, fun to read, good to clear the mind. Ultimately just rubbish. Life of a Student

44. The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell: fiction, June 1, 2014

Garbage fiction, fun to read, good to clear the mind. Ultimately just rubbish.

45. A History of the Seljuks by Ibrahim Kafesoglu: history, June 13, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams. Future source for Master’s thesis.

46. Turkestan Down To Mongol Invasion by Vasily Barthold: history, June 19, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams. Future source for Master’s thesis.

47. Earthly Measures by Edward Hirsch: poetry, June 20, 2014

*48. Ambivalent Conquests by Inga Clendinnen: history, June 21, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams. This book is the book to help the reader gain a better appreciation of the Inquisition in New Spain.

*49. Chess Story by Stefan Zweig: fiction, June 30, 2014

Zweig: what is there to say? Get the book, read it. You can thank me later.

50. Napoleon’s Defeat by Philippe-Paul de Segur: history, July 13, 2014

A personal memoir from one of Napoleon’s aides-de-camp. Quite fascinating inside portrait of Napoleon and how the myth got made. Simulacra

51. The Fire Gospel by Michael Faber: fiction, July 28, 2014

Garbage fiction, fun to read, good to clear the mind. Ultimately just rubbish.

52. Modern Inquisitions by Irene Silverblatt: history, August 10, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams.

53. Go Betweens by Alida Metcalf: history, August 16, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams.

54. Memoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge: memoir, August 17, 2014

This was an excellent, if difficult book. One of the many books circling around Marxism I read this year. Serge is an important character in the early 20th century attempt to create Communism from nothing.

55. Fear by Gabriel Chevallier: fiction, August 24, 2014

France’s version of All Quiet on the Western Front.

56. Metaphysical Dog by Frank Bidart: poetry, August 28, 2014

57. The Professor and the Siren by G.T. Lampedusa: fiction, August 31, 2014

An interesting and edifying novella.

58. Recreating Africa by James H. Sweet: history, September 8, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams.

59. The Faces of Honor by Johnson and Lipsett-Rivera:  history, September 13, 2014

Assigned for comprehensive exams.

60. On Being Blue by William H. Gass: belles-lettres, September 16, 2014

In essence a long essay on the color and definition and uses of the word blue.

61. Women Who Live Evil Lives by Martha Few: history, September 19, 2014 

Assigned for comprehensive exams.

62. The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt: fiction, September 20, 2014

Another post-modern novel. Well done. Not overlong. Compelling story of New York in the 90s.

63. The Mexican Frontier by David J. Weber: history, September 21, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

64. The Anti-Christ by Friedrich Nietzsche: philosophy, September 28, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. Reading

65. Foucault for Beginners by Lydia Fillingham: philosophy, September 28, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

66. Line in the Sand by Rachel St. John: history, September 29, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

67. Imperial Subjects by Fisher and O’Hara, eds: history, September 29, 2014. 

Assigned for a graduate history course.

68. The Great Seljuks  by Aziz Basan: history, September 29, 2014

Future source for Master’s thesis.

*69. America by Jean Baudrillard: philosophy, October 1, 2014

My first full Baudrillard text. Fascinating view of America by one of France’s premier post-modern theorists, especially in the context of my drive to Joshua Tree National Park this summer.

70. The White Scourge by Neil Foley: history, October 13, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

71. Origin Family, Property, State by Friedrich Engels: philosophy, October 19, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

72. Troublesome Border by Oscar J. Martinez: history, October 19, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

73. Three Essays on Sexuality by Sigmund Freud: psychology, October 19, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

74. Marx for Beginners by Rius: philosophy, October 19, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

*75. Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson: poetry, October 26, 2014

A great poem.

76. Civilization and Discontents by Sigmund Freud: philosophy, November 2, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

77. From Out of the Shadows by Vicki Ruiz: history, November 3, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. Color

78. Marx, A Short Intro by Peter Singer: philosophy, November 13, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

79. Before Homosexuality in Arabia by Khaled el-Rouayheb: history, November 21, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

80. Quixote’s Soldiers by David Montejano: history, November 24, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

81. Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste by Philip Mirowski: history, November 24, 2014

Blockbuster book that I will not recommend for the following reason: you must have a.) a background in theory and philosophy and b.) a background in finance and economics to get anything from this book. It’s a tough read but ultimately helped me connect the dots between the neoliberal agenda and why there was no reform after the Financial Crisis in 2008.

82. Warriors of the Cloisters by Christopher I. Beckwith: history, December 3, 2014

Future source for Master’s thesis.

83. Places Left Unfinished by John Phillip Santos: memoir, December 6, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course.

84. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1 by Michel Foucault: history, December 6, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. This was a disturbing book. In it one can see Foucault emerging as a neoliberal. Although he is not quite there yet in this text, he is getting close. The depiction of how power is distributed is also disturbing. The way he relates it, power is of its own self, indwelling, immanent. Human agency means nothing to it. Now, what is says about sexuality is fascinating: basically this: sexuality as the sum of being is principally a Western thing. Other cultures, like Islam and China and Japan don’t see sexuality as the defining aspect of humans, but simply as pleasure. Only the West obsesses about it, which is one reason the West and Islam don’t understand each other. We see Islam as repressed. They see us as debauched. Both views, from the viewpoint of the observer are valid. Study

85. Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon: fiction, December 7, 2014

My first Simenon mystery. Well done.

*86. Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn: history, December 11, 2014
Future source for Master’s thesis. This book should be read by anyone who considers him or herself educated. It’s a part of the modern canon.

87. How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs by De Lacy O’Leary: history, December 13, 2014

Future source for Master’s thesis.

88. The Landbreakers by John Ehle: fiction, December 21, 2014

This book captures the language of Appalachia better than any other I’ve read. It’s like reading Justified, but takes place in 1780s.

89. Red Doc by Ann Carson: poetry, December 26, 2014 Found Poetry

Sequel to Autobiography of RedNot as good as the first.

90. The Archeology of Knowledge by Michel Foucault: philosophy, December 29, 2014

Assigned for a graduate history course. Dense, difficult but important book in the emergence of Foucault as a proto-neoliberal.

91. Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher: theory, December 29, 2014

92. Abolition of Political Parties by Simone Weil: theory, December 31, 2014

This is a book written in 1943 about the Free France exiles in the UK. It has relevance today for contemporary American politics. Political parties should be banned.

Any lessons from this year? No, not really. I read a lot of theory–and I am not ashamed to admit I read several “Beginner’s Guides to So-and-So” first before reading the full text of their works, Marx and Foucault being prime among them. I’m glad I did. It always helps give me a framework for understanding what’s being said.  If you are going to wrestle with the original text of philosophers and know how dense philosophical prose can be, I highly recommend this approach. Most of the theory I read was for one course, A History of Human Sexuality. This course confronted me with multiple ideas and constructs I’d never dealt with before. I can see why modern Anglo-American Conservatives despise the Post-Moderns: they have given historians and philosophers and anthropologists, etc . . . a way of looking at the world that de-essentialized core values, namely Enlightenment Values, and has shown what those core values were built on. For example, people have always wondered about the mindset of a man who could own slaves, have a slave girl as his concubine and write a document as magnificent as our Declaration of Independence, one of the great Enlightenment era texts. Using the tools of Foucault, Derrida, Baudrillard, Lyotard and Jameson one can put Thomas Jefferson in his proper context and come to see how he could essentialize rights for white men, but not include all men (and women, for that matter). It wasn’t hypocrisy for him, it’s just the way Enlightenment thinking was structured. Conservatives don’t want to look at this, and yet they use the methods of the Post-Moderns to tear everything liberals and the Left have done. Once they wreck everything, the neoliberals come in and patch things up the way they want them. To understand how that happens you must read Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste by Philip Mirowski. Good Reading

I also read a fuckton of history. I didn’t read nearly enough fiction, but I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon, what with me being in grad school and all.

I did read five books of poetry. That’s something new I’ve been doing: reading a book of poetry all the way through. What I do is leave the book by my bedside and read a handful of poems every night. I must confess: Frank Bidart’s Metaphysical Dog was pretty lame. My poetry professor, Edward Hirsch’s Earthly Measures, was quite lovely. And Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red was a real standout, although the sequel, Red Doc, was flat out weird and disjointed.

Any large themes? Yes, two. First, this was the year of re-investigating Marx and Marxist thought. I had done this in my undergad, as I almost did a Soviet/Russian studies degree. However, I was young and callow then. Furthermore, this year there are several books that I am reading that remain half done regarding Marxism, including Jameson, Marcuse and others. Second, this year was dominated by Chicano studies. Had you asked me a year ago if this is what I wanted to spend half my first year reading I would have said, “nope.” But I am the better for it theoretically, methodologically and personally. I have a much more realistic grounding of how America has totally dominated Mexico since 1846 and how one of the effects of that dominance is the persistent displacement of people North. This is the big secret no one in the US or Mexico talks about: the dominance, not undocumented labor, which is just a symptom.

That being said, the other half of my year was dominated by Central Asia, which included a return journey and a twenty page paper that now serves as the foundation for my Master’s thesis. The thing I’ve loved the most about this year has been my seminar classes, the rough and tumble of debate, the intellectual ferment, engaging with smart people on an almost daily basis. It’s been fantastic and reminds me that I made the right decision returning to school, no matter my age.

Bookshelf Porn

Merv: A Forgotten Silk Road Metropolis

Merv, My PresentationI should take better care of my blog.

It’s been ages since I posted.

Grad school does that to you.

I wanted to pass along my power point presentation to anyone who is so inclined.

I am trying to find a reliable way to record these endeavors in the future, as there seems to be interest.

Regardless, you can download the powerpoint here.

Well, maybe not. My site is telling me I cannot upload that much. I will find a way. Stay tuned.

Axis and Allies

A little thought experiment:

Imagine if Samantha Power (the US Ambassador to the UN, a very significant foreign policy position in any presidential administration) had been running our foreign policy during WWII? In the quote below, replace Syria with USSR.

U.S. coordination with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the airstrikes: Syria, she said, is not a reliable partner. “You’re committing terror against your people, you’re the ones using chemical weapons and barrel bombs, etc. so we didn’t ask for permission — we just offered a notification.”"

This admin runs foreign policy like Barney Fife.

Oh yeah, and didn’t she call Hillary Clinton a monster once, too?

The point: the enemy of my enemy is my friend, at least until the primary enemy is defeated. Strategy 101 people!

Deserts Aren’t Supposed to Be Green

Crazy Rain, Fort Davis, TexasI’ve never seen Trans-Pecos Texas so green. I’m 43 years old and admittedly I’ve been coming out to the Big Bend area since my late twenties so that’s not a very good statistical sample.

Be that as it may: I’m glad that the West of Texas isn’t in hardcore drought like it has been in years passed. I’m also glad to see just about every creek and river on my route for Fort Davis in good health. All except the Pedernales. That river is just dead. Good job Austin!

Here is a link to the Drought Monitor.It’s current for Texas. Look at the area worst hit in Central Texas. That’s pretty much most of San Antonio’s watershed. Except we get most of our water from an underground aquifer and so we won’t see the effect of this drought for a year and we won’t see the recharge, when it comes, for a year.

I hadn’t realized how bad a year Texas was having until I looked at the details. 59% of the state is currently in moderate to exceptional drought status. Three months ago it was 72% and a year ago it was 89%. That’s bad. It isn’t California bad, but we had California’s bad drought in 2010-2011. Relief is expected over the next few months as well as Texas’ traditional September rains arrive. California, I am very sorry to say, is fucked. Another reason Texas can soon expect more Californians to come live here. 

In retrospect, I suppose my comments about healthy creeks and rivers don’t mean diddly-squat. Still, I’ve never seen the area around Fort Davis so green. I can only imagine what Big Bend National Park looks like? It must be amazing, Ocotillo in bloom all over the place? Prickly-pears of all different colors blossoming in the desert? I wish I’d had time to drive down there but it’ll have to wait until later in the year, if I get back out west at all. I might have some research work overseas during the winter break so we’ll see.

I took a detour about three hours out of San Antonio and headed south across Terrell County through the Pecos River canyonlands. I drove across Independence Creek, filled with insanely glorious water. Water so clear it made me want to drink it. Water so clear it made me want to take my sandals off and get my feet wet, walk up and down the creek for a while like I used to when I was a kid.

Of course, it made sense, looking at the water, why landowners are so protective of entry and exit into the Devil’s River (which is on the other side of the Pecos River canyonslands): open that river up to tourism and it’ll be wrecked in two years, even to the most responsible tourists. Industrial tourism has a way of doing that–and no, I am not one to talk. Some places are better off with a conservation easement but no public access. Some places are just better off left alone.

Some places should remain wild.

Then I drove down into Sanderson Canyon, stopped in Sanderson itself for gas and water and chips and then drove on, eager to drive up out of the canyon onto the Marathon Uplift, as they call it geologically. I fiddled around in the road-cuts along the way, messing around in the rocks like a boy. Then, a few miles outside of Sanderson Canyon it all changes. I call it the most gorgeous view in all of Texas, purple mountains and golden grass filled with pronghorns and cattle and the occasional elk.

Except this time it was green.

Beautiful, yet green.

Compare the view atop the Davis Mountains looking south and east just three days ago, and the view on December 29, 2013.

Same place, damned different colors.

Deserts aren’t supposed to be green.

It rained an awful lot, which feels bizarre in Fort Davis. Clouds obscured the skies at the McDonald Observatory so no Star Party, which was why I came out here in the first place. I did get four solid days of daydreaming before the rigors of scholarship begin. Four days to let my brain do nothing but follow the monkey mind wherever it led. Four days of food, fresh air, wild critters and the occasional bird or two.

If you are so inclined you can check out all the photos here:

Green or not: get yourself out to the Big Bend area and the Davis Mountains. It’s the best country Texas has to offer, and country is something we still have a whole hell of a lot of.

Better Than Ezra

MuralI’m reading another book on post-modernism.

I know, I know, why am I torturing myself like this?

Well, I think it’s critically important to understand the philosophical underpinnings of our age, even if most of us (me included) walk around accepting them and seeing them and acting in accordance to them without really understanding them.

Plus, post-modernism has an element of fundamental weirdness to it: just ask any philosopher or literary or art critic what it is and you’ll get different definitions. Even worse, in order to understand just what post-modernism is, you have to understand what modernism was, which poses its own challenges. One of those challenges being the complicated place Ezra Pound holds in the pantheon of modernism.

When Ezra Pound said, “Make it new,” most writers and critics nowadays, in the present, meaning circa 2014, interpret it as a battle cry to turn the old order over, and start new. In a sense, most people see Pound’s call as a cry for destruction, like Shiva the Destroyer, and then Brahma the creator to rebuild the temple of civilization with literature and art and architecture. A perpetual revolution of the arts.

But this is not what Pound meant. Not remotely. Pound, when he said, “make it new,” meant to take the old verities, truths, stories, fables, myths, buildings and paintings and make them new—not destroy them but mold the stories into a modern context.

For example, take the Canadian author Margaret Atwood. She does this extremely well in “The Penelopiad,” the Odyssey told from a woman’s point of view, but not just any woman. She tells it from the point of view of Odysseus’ wife.
Found Poetry
Or read Zachary Mason’s The Lost Books of the Odyssey, which tell the tale from many new angles, characters silenced in the original.

There is also the fine poet Patricia Smith who retells the story of Medusa.

Yes, all these are literary examples, but how about pop-culture? Easy enough: “O’ Brother Where Art Thou?” the Coen brothers Depression Era take on the Odyssey. These are the true inheritors of Pound’s great battle cry, ‘make it new.’

In his great olive branch of a poem Pound came to Whitman as a contrite grown child:

It was you that broke the new wood,
Now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root -
Let there be commerce between us.

Even Louis Menand agrees, as he writes in the New Yorker: “The “It” in “Make It New” is the Old—what is valuable in the culture of the past.”

I personally like it when old stories are told anew, but I’m weird that way.

What’s even more bizarre is that not only am I beginning to understand and intuit post-modernism, I actually kind of like it. That’s certainly not something I thought I would ever say or write.

Diario de la carretera

I arrive, disembark and enter the massive hall the Mexicans call “TAPO,” the bus station serving the southern states of Veracruz, Tabasco, Campech, Yucatan and Quintana Roo. I find a taxi, negotiate a price to the north station and speed off.
Between Mexico City and Queretaro
“So, where are you going?” asks Sergio, the taxi driver. He’s a slight man, handsome in that Mexican way with little if any Indian blood, lightly mestizo, small nose, thin lips and greenish eyes behind round wire-rimmed glasses.

“I don’t know,” I reply, “probably Nuevo Laredo. I’ve been traveling for several weeks and it’s time to get home.”

“And where is that?”

“San Antonio, Texas.”

“If you like, stop in Queretaro on your way. It is my home town and I must tell you: it is old and beautiful,” he says, a smile beaming from the rear view mirror.

“Is there an Executive Class bus that goes there? And that goes from there to Laredo,” I ask.

“But of course, Queretaro is an important Mexican city. Many large corporations are there. Colgate, GE, Michelin, Samsung. It is very modern too.”

“I might do that,” I tell him.

He drops me at the north station and I wander inside. It is 3:30 PM. I have been traveling since 4:30 PM the previous day. A stop in Queretaro sounds great at this point.

A shower?


Relaxing walks in the old colonial streets Sergio described?

The next bus north leaves at 4:00 and I can be in Queretaro by 6:30 this evening or in Nuevo Laredo by 11:30 AM the next day.

An easy choice.
On the bus I meet Rodrigo—his cousin owns a little hostel on the outer edge of the old town. It seemed foreordained. Rodrigo calls his cousin, whose name turns out to be Juan Pablo and makes a reservation for me.

Looking out the window the landscape has changed subtly. The road cuts are of deep, soft volcanic soil. This is the rich, fertile core of the great Meso-American plateau.

Maize predominates, of course, but there is wheat and other grains and vegetables everywhere: each field bordered by rock fences and all that they imply: permanence, peasants and tradition. It is a gently rolling landscaped sculpted by the eons of annual rain that threatens to begin at any moment.

There is also the small matter of the light: gentle, slanting, almost Tuscan. I can see why my great-great grandfather settled in the area, he must have felt at home. On days like this I understand why he picked Mexico to settle.

The highways are full of buses and trucks, just as the earlier drive. I pass a restaurant with a polar bear holding a clock on the roof. Is this irony, sarcasm, a warning or just the crazy sense of humor of some random Mexican?
The bus descends into a valley, an aqueduct to the north and in the south a pair of skyscrapers that would be more appropriate in China or Singapore greet my entrance to Queretaro.

The taxi to my hotel costs three dollars and the traffic in the old colonial streets is abysmal, but I arrive just in time: the sun is setting.

The Blue Bicycle House sits on a hill and the view is all old world: aqueducts, pastels, the steeples of a hundred churches and shimmering dusk lights running up hills draped in the hues of a perfectly pink sunset.

You know, the shower wasn’t half bad either.

6 Agosto, Diario de Camino

Queretaro was not a place I’d ever thought I’d visit and yet here I am—and that is a story I will get to in a bit. Yesterday, the 5th of August, was one of those days where everything came together—the magnificent drive from Orizaba (Mexico’s big brewing town) up into the Sierra Madre Oriental, the chain of mountains that runs roughly parallel to the Gulf Coast. I’d boarded the bus the afternoon before at 430 in Chetumal, on the Caribbean Coast of Mexico, at the southern end of the Yucutan.

I’d slept most of the night and woke up just outside Orizaba. At this point, my plan was still get to Mexico City and catch the first bus to Nuevo Laredo, walk across the bridge and catch the first Greyhound home. But for the long drive up Sierra Madre Oriental full of blue skies and lush green mountains I would have. The Gulf Coast is terribly hot and humid but once I began the climb it breaks. After a month of inland Belize heat I had no interest lingering. The mountains here are semi-tropical with deciduous trees dominating until half way up and then the conifers show up. The valleys are impossible—filled with switchback after switchback, large 18-wheelers resembling insects thousands of feet below. I’m pretty sure the towering snow clad behemoth I saw was Malinche, named after the Cortes’ famous interpreter and later wife. As I crest the mountains I’ve arrived on a broad upland plateau that’s almost semi-arid, deceptive-like, but not. To me it resembled the Motagua Valley in Guatemala. But then I saw fields of golden flowers, agaves, century plants and maize everywhere.

I speed past restaurants called “Benedicion” and “Esperanza” and “Dolores Milagro,” the Catholicism runs deep here. And then I speed past towns with names like Huixcolotla, Acatzingo and Tlaxcala and the Nauhua runs deep here too, especially with Tlaxcala, the red city, city of treachery, the great unconquered nemesis of the Aztecs and Cortes’ best allies. Had they not allied with Cortes there would have been no Conquest.

And then my mind wandered, lost in random thought. But the fields persisted: perfect rows of maize bordered by prickly pears or agave, sitting between crystal clear streams running down to the Rio Panuco and cypress lined dirt roads that wooden shacks made of tin roofs and some cinder block lead to. Shepherds punctuate a landscape of lumbering volcanoes obscured by clouds, ready to erupt at any moment.

The high plateau ended as it must. I begin climbing downslope to the Great Valley of Mexico, having taken Cortes’ route. I turned a switchback and then the entire valley came into view. Bernal Diaz’s words, one of Cortes’ soldiers, were never more apt, “And when we saw all those cities and villages built in the water, and the other great towns on dry land, and that straight and level causeway leading to Mexico, we were astounded. . . It was all so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen or dreamed of before.”

What a world was lost by the Conquest.

More soon . . . in the meantime, photos can be found here.