Thursday, September 29, 2011

Church of Tabor

Have another try at what I was groping for yesterday.  Maybe this time it'll take.

Today, I climbed up Tabor from the east side.  I was coming from PCC at the intersection of 82nd and Division.  I'd just dropped Maty off at class.

A warm pink light hung across the city.  Old Man Hood exuded a livid alpenglow.  It would already be deep dusk in the purple shadows on his flanks, where the westering sun did not penetrate.

I stopped to pay him homage on my way up, but I was deaf to any wisdom he might have imparted.  My mind was occupied by minutiae --all those things that I use to distract myself in these uncertain times.  Bills to pay, chores to accomplish, goals to consider.  Circular thought patterns brought on frustration and ennui and robbed me of my humility.  I began to imagine that I did not deserve the troubles that beleaguered me.

At the top, pilgrims were gathered at the altar that looks away west.  A congregation of lovers, friends, athletes, photographers, children, dogs --all sitting or standing quietly --paying homage to the sunset. I joined them.

Do you know what is most frustrating?  Just this:  I can't seem to remember to never take myself too seriously.  I wish I could.  It makes life so much easier.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Middle-aged body

32" in '91
I miss my 30-year-old body.  I miss standing on my bike pedals all the way up to the top of Murray Hill.  I miss charging up the steep trails in the Columbia Gorge only to look around and wonder why others were still huffing and puffing further down the slope.

What happened?   

Somewhere along the way, something changed and I smell a conspiracy.

I've always been a big eater, but I don't eat any more now than I did then.  Restaurateurs have apparently shrunk the space between table and bench.  I never had to squeeze into a seat in my twenties.

Brewers and distillers have changed their products, too.  I used to drink plenty every weekend.  Sometimes I had hangovers, but they were nothing like the debilitating malaise that descends upon me nowadays if I so much as sip a beer or two of an evening.

42" in '11
Don't bring up waist size, okay?  I don't want to talk about how my waist has expanded 10 inches over the last 20 years.  Don't mention weight, either.  I don't want to talk about those extra 60 pounds that came with the expanded waist.

It's a conspiracy, I tell you!  And I don't want to hear anything different.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sunset eulogy

Hopeless yellow blooms
On the watermelon vine
Promise wee melons

Never to ripen
Displaced by jack-o-lanterns
Grinning in the rime

Dusk creeps like frostbite
Summer's gone.  Weep if you must.
But, friend, summer's gone

Rare, vivid palette
Of evening's call to glory
Sunset eulogy

Monday, September 26, 2011

Flawed yellow diamonds

The early dusk of autumn was settling over rush hour when I made the top of Tabor and looked out on the city to the west. The sky was thick and pale.  A warm wind carried traces of rain.  It wasn't yet dark, but headlamps marked the traffic crossing the river.  A string of flawed yellow diamonds.

Rush hour traffic on Ross Island Bridge:  the swollen artery of human endeavor at full pulse.  The heart rests between beats.

I crossed Tabor's crown, seeking out the Old Man to see if he might offer anything that would help me grasp the significance of the moment. 

"I'm sad that summer is gone.  I think about those people across the river and the flawed yellow diamonds.  I wonder how it will be when the lights go out."  That is what I meant to tell him. But he had veiled himself in his brilliant cloak, stranding me well short of his wisdom. 

So I just went home.  I took the most direct route.  Dusk was thick and heavy when I finally got there.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Movie review: Drive

After a long cinematic dry season, I really missed going to the movies.  Hard up, as they say.  So I was almost ready to go see anything.  But when I noticed how the reviews were running for Nicolas Winding Refn's new flick, Drive, I began to hope I might find something good.  (Critic reviews for Drive have been running generally positive, while fan reviews are mixed.  That's almost always a good sign.)

Ryan Gosling plays the unnamed driver who makes a living in Los Angeles as an auto-mechanic, stunt driver, and wheelman for heists.  (Good-looking fellow, I must say.)  He is stirred from his shadowy, solitary life  by his neighbor, Irene (Cary Mulligan), a vulnerable young mother who is living alone with her young son.  Meanwhile, his mentor and agent, Shannon (Bryan Cranston), peddles him as an investment to mobbed-up money man, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and his partner, Nino (Ron Perlman).  When Irene's hubby, Standard (Oscar Isaac), finishes his prison time and comes home, the fuse is lit.

It's a short fuse.  With a big bang.  The second half of Drive is chock full of eye-popping violence.

This film was my introduction to most of the cast, and to director Refn.  Albert Brooks was fantastic as the brash, no-nonsense Bernie Rose.  Rose is a collection of contradictions.  He is both ruthless and compassionate. He's honest and a double-crosser.  And he has a terrifying talent with sharp things.

Bryan Cranston (of Malcolm in the Middle fame) was excellent as scheming, well-intended Shannon, the one person whom the driver trusts.  Carey Mulligan was also good as the brave-but-overmatched Irene.   (I guess I saw her in Public Enemy, but I don't remember.  That was a forgettable flick.)  And Ron Perlman was solid, as always. 

This was, I think, Gosling's biggest lead role to date, and he pulled it off admirably.  His character is silent and detached, mean and noble.  Behind the ice cold detachment lurks a hero.  (Well --kind of a hero...) 

This is one of those films in which the mood never lapses.  The dialog is tight and meaningful.  There are a constant menace and a somber calm overlaying the story --a calm that erupts into sudden, shocking violence.  I was reminded faintly of  Jim Jarmusch's 1999 flick, Ghost Dog (featuring a brilliant performance by Forrest Whitaker).

I've read that Drive belongs to a genre known as "L.A. Noir," which might explain why the cinematography seemed to place so much emphasis on shadow and contrast.  The flick is visually appealing, maintaining an eeriness, an unease that contribute to the whole.

Director Refn made an excellent film.  I wouldn't recommend it to my poor, sensitive mother, or to anyone else who is bothered by digital violence.  But, man!  Drive is one good flick.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Douglas-firs in Laurelhurst Park

I bid farewell to summer yesterday with a walk through Laurelhurst Park.  The big Dougs were bleeding sap like nobody's business.

David Douglas, the famous Scottish botanist, is the namesake of those majestic kings of Oregon's Cascade forests. Douglas earned the honor by introducing the mighty conifer to Europe in 1827.  Douglas-firs are not true firs.  They belong to a genus known as Pseudotsug, which was created specifically to distinguish them as unique from other conifers.  (Dougs have distinct cones that set them apart.)

It's good that they're named for a Scot, because I can imagine no more apt appellation for these magnificent trees.  Tall and proud (sometimes attaining heights of over 300 feet), they remind me of nothing so much as the fearsome, kilted warriors of the highlands, the mountain men who stood fast in the trenches at El Alamein, and who fought bravely in the face of defeat at Culloden.  Their needled canopies are a deep Tartan blue-green.  The sap flowing down their trunks is like blood streaming from the sword pricks of vanquished enemies.

In my boyhood, I would listen to the wind passing through the boughs of the Douglas-firs on my maternal grandfather's farm outside Salem.  It was like the roar of distant waves.  Or perhaps it was some defiant echo, a ghostly challenge from some Scottish host confronting its enemy on a long-ago battlefield.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rick Perry needs a history lesson

"Stahs and bahs forevuh!"
Is Rick Perry getting senile?  I ask because he seems to have trouble remembering his own public remarks.  Did he graduate high school?  Because he also has an astonishing ignorance of the US Constitution.  You know?  That (supposedly) sacred document which he so piously claims to revere?

Now that he is an announced candidate for the presidency, Perry says all his rooty-tooty redneck quips, all his nutty neo-Confederate annunciations, all his twangy Texas tough talk --all of that was taken out of context.

Last night, on Sean Hannity's show, Perry denied ever having suggested that Texas might choose to secede from the United States rather than bend the knee to the federal government.

But there's a problem.  His words are in the public record. Here's what he said:
"We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that? But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot." --Governor Rick Perry, April 15, 2009
Now he says he didn't mean it the way it sounded.

That's not all.  Here's what he said more recently. 

Here's the money quote, in black and white:
...when we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation. And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again. --Texas Governor Rick Perry
Aside from the offensive nature of Perry's remarks, they reveal a remarkable ignorance of the US Constitution.  This is on par with any of the stupid things that Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann has ever said. In 1869, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on this constitutional misinterpretation, saying:
 [t]he union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration, or revocation, except through revolution, or through consent of the States. --Texas vs. White
As I wrote, back in April, 2009:
Maybe someone can remind [Perry] that Texas actually did secede from the Union in 1861. Ken Burns made an excellent television documentary that can help educate the governor as to how it turned out last time.
The sight of Rick Perry standing on stage, holding his hand over his heart makes me want to puke.  A secessionist playing the patriot.  Simply revolting.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Beautiful sunrise

Beautiful sunrise
...see the sunrise this morning?

The day was announcing itself as we drove east on Hawthorne Boulevard.  Maty and I were enchanted by a rare and roseate dawn.

A layer of clouds reached out from the west, forming an inverted topography.  Stubborn patches of departing night lingered in cloudy folds, blue as any mountain lake. Westward, where nighttime was thickest, lay a forbidding, inverted ocean --mysterious, malicious, in full retreat.  To the east, where the sun was yet hidden by Tabor's silhouette, the cutting edge of daytime shone like the firmament.  Or like the Holy Host marching to victory across the coral cloudscape.

All of it inverted, of course.

We looked on, just as stars might do, were they to gaze upon us now and then and be stricken by our own beauty.

But shortly, events pulled us back to our grubby, summer-dried boulevard.  I regretted turning away while the moment lingered.  .

A sunrise is a brief and beautiful thing.  Perhaps we are thus to stars.

Monday, September 19, 2011

George RR Martin: American Tolkien?

Quoth Time Magazine's Lev Grossman:
In 2005 I wrote a review of George R.R. Martin's novel A Feast for Crows in which I called him "the American Tolkien." The phrase has stuck to him, as it was meant to. I believed Martin was our age's and our country's answer to the master of epic fantasy. Now it's six years later, and I've read Martin's new novel, A Dance with Dragons, and I'm happy to report that I was totally right.
Well, Mr. Grossman, don't throw your arm out patting yourself on the back.  Proclaiming George RR Martin to be "the American Tolkien" is all well and good (and really rather obvious).  But there's a huge problem:  it also happens to be totally wrong.

Yes, both Tolkien and Martin write about dragons.  Yes, they both have "RR" interposed between their first and last names.  Yes, they are both revered by socially-inept, bookish Dungeons & Dragons players. But that's about as far as the similarities go. Try and stretch the congruity any further than that, and you're spoonin' up some pretty thin gruel.

I'm currently reading the most recent book in the Martin series, A Dance with Dragons and I'm completely enthralled.  Martin is a fantastic story-teller and a great writer.  A Song of Ice and Fire (which is the title of the series) is a complex and intricate web of plots and story lines.  Martin has his world well-populated with interesting and distinct characters.  He has a knack for vivid (sometimes bordering on hallucinogenic) description.  He creates textured scenes full of sounds and smells and tastes. 

But he writes pulp.

For all its entertainment value, A Song of Ice and Fire is raunchy, and often distasteful.  There is no theme; there is no moral.  When reading the Martin books, one catches a strong whiff of making-it-up-as-he-goes each time Martin introduces some new and unlikely wonder in his fantasy world.  (Lady Catelyn the zombie, anyone?)

Martin is good diversion, but don't look too deeply.

Not so, Tolkien.

JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, aside from being a great read, is a work that withstands (indeed, demands!) scrutiny.  Tolkien was a devout Catholic and his faith guided his work.  The tales from Middle Earth offer wisdom and insight into the nature of good and evil.  The Lord of the Rings never for an instant loses its majesty or nobility by descending into tastelessness or crass language.

With The Lord of the Rings and the larger scholastic work from which it is drawn, Tolkien hoped to create a mythos for Britain. He sought to instruct as well as entertain.  And like all great works of literature, his books present subtle truths that readers will recognize.  That recognition is the reward that comes from reading good literature.

Mr. Grossman, there are many, many reasons that your cavalier proclamation of Martin as "the American Tolkien" is absurd.  But I'll end with the most stark:  Martin writes for money.  Tolkien never did.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The passing of summer, 2011

These are the last days of the Summer of 2011. A kindly summer, but a summer that saw very few of those most glorious days that summers in this part of the world can offer.  C'est la vie

Sometimes, when the zenith of summer passes, truths are unveiled, plot lines starkly exposed.  There will be scarcities and hardships.  There will be fear and anger.  There will be grief and tears.  

Times are tough and getting tougher. 

It is prudent in such times not to expect too much of a summer.  Or of anything, for that matter. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Forty-six million in poverty

According to new census data released on Tuesday, the number of Americans living in poverty in 2010 reached 15.1% of the population. (The federal government sets the poverty line for a family of four at $22,314 in annual income.  For an individual, the amount per annum is $11,139.)

Forty-six million people in the United States are living in poverty. One of every six. Right here in America.

We're hittin' the skids, people.

Check this story from Indiana:

Or this from Washington, DC:

Even the most tax-begrudging conservative can see that not all of these people are dead-beats and loafers.  These are not irresponsible people who can't manage their money correctly.  They aren't basement-dwelling stoners or welfare queens. These are people who, ten years ago, were living more-or-less middle class lives; whose jobs were destroyed in the wake of the massive financial collapse at the end of the Junior Bush era

Meanwhile, corporate profits are up 8.3% over 2010, which was itself a record year for corporate profits.  These are profits reaped by the same corporations that extorted the federal government out of billions in tax-payer bailout dollars in late 2008.  Bail-out dollars that were necessary because of the criminal behavior of corporate executives motivated by greed.

Someone, please tell me...  How can a reasonable person argue that the solution to the problem of poverty in the United States is to eliminate corporate taxes and slash social programs?

Or, if that question doesn't suit you, try this one:  How long before we start seeing the riots and social upheaval that are precursors of something much worse?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Loud and proud at the Tea Party debate

It would be disingenuous of me to feign surprise at the antics on display, both on-stage and in the audience, at the CNN-sponsored Tea Party debate for GOP candidates on Monday.

Anyone who has seen the scooter-riding, diabetes-inflicted, angry white folks waving around signs that say things like "Keep your government hands off my Medicare" can't really be surprised.  But offended? Disgusted?  Horrified?  I wouldn't argue with any of those.

The most hilarious moment came when Michelle Bachmann legitimately pointed out that in 2007, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed an executive order requiring schoolgirls be vaccinated with a serum that prevents infection by the sexually-transmitted HPV virus.  Congresswoman Bachmann protested on libertarian grounds, and also pointed out that Perry's chief of staff was a top lobbyist for Merck, the pharmaceutical manufacturer of the vaccine.

"The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor," Bachmann said. "And this is just flat-out wrong."

Perry's response?  Wait for it... wait... wait...

Okay here it is!  Quoth Perry:  "The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million. And if you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended."

That's telling it like it is, eh?  Five thousand dollars?  Pshaw!  That won't even buy you a place to stand on the Rick-Perry-for-President rope line, for God's sake!  (Oh, and by the way, according to, the actual amount Perry received from Merck was more like $23,000.)

The audience, of course, was not to be outdone.  Libertarian Ron Paul was presented with a hypothetical situation in which a healthy, 30-year-old man without health insurance suddenly lapses into a coma and needs intensive and expensive treatment.  The query was posed:  Should “society ... just let him die?”

Before Congressman Paul could respond, the Tea Party folks took it upon themselves to answer for him.  "Yeah!" they shouted.  "Let him die!"

(Remember how, the week before, the audience at the NBC debate hooted and cheered when Brian Williams mentioned Rick Perry's record of 234 executions in Texas?  Death revelry, indeed!)

I feel for Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney.  Those are two more or less decent men, forced to stand on stage with a passel of koo-koo crazies.  From Neo-confederate, rooty-tooty Perry, to Crazy-eyes Bachmann, to repugnant and repulsive Newt Gingrich.  From squeaky-uptight Rick Santorum to spacey Herman Cain (who has got to feel a little itchy around the collar when he looks out and sees all those pale-faced rednecks with their stars-and-bars belt buckles). 

The GOP has always had this ugly, negative element, this redneck component.  I've just never seen it this obvious before.  Not even in the days of Junior Bush.

Fall in line, liberals.  These people must be stopped.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

PRp (Pt. VI): Puerto Rico retrospective

Puerto Rico promise: In 2002, I was reunited with my cousin Danny after several years. Danny and I share a wealth of memories from our childhood. At that time, I promised him that I would visit him and his family at their home. (They were then living on Guam.) Eight years later, I made good on that promise when Maty and I went to visit Danny and family at their new home in Humacao, Puerto Rico.

Read Part I, Delayed in Dallas, here.
Read Part II, Borinquen, gateway to the Americas, here.
Read Part III, The caves of Camuy, here.
Leer Parte IV, Los gatos del Viejo San Juan, aquí
Read Part V, El Morro, here.

La isla bonita
The temperature in Portland today is considerably cooler than it has been recently.  The sky is gray this morning but, being a lifelong Oregonian, I can tell that the clouds will "burn off," as we like to say, and the sun will be out by mid-afternoon. Nonetheless fall's approach cannot be denied.  The light at this time of year feels stretched, somehow.

I'm still thinking about Puerto Rico.

Maty demonstrates how to get coconut milk
I'm thinking about mofongo, that starchy, tasty dish the Puerto Ricanos make by mashing up plantains and garlic and serving it up with chunks of beef or pork.  I ate mofongo on the night we kayaked through the mangrove to the bio-luminescent bay where are the light-exuding plankton that caused the bathtub-warm water to glow like neon when we dipped our paddles.  Maty is not an outdoors-woman by any stretch.  Nor can she swim.  Nonetheless she took the prow of our two-man kayak and braved the ebon depths.  My woman is a brave woman.

Fruit vendor in San Juan
I'm thinking about the Puerto Ricanos and the way they live and the way they are:  relaxed, unpretentious, frank.  Egalitarian in attitude.  Less desirous of material wealth, but deeply appreciative of things like family and beauty and a fine day on the beach.  Or in the market.  Or at the café. Even laid-back Oregonians seem uptight by comparison.

And although Puerto Ricanos are really not all that similar to Mexicans (beyond a common language), being among them yet evoked dim memories of youthful summers in the Coachella Valley in California, spent with my Mexican and Filipino cousins.

Cementerio junto al mar
Like Cousin Danny and his son, Taylor.  It had been 8 years since I had last seen Taylor.  The child I met in Hawaii is now a fine young man in Puerto Rico.  What will he be when next we meet?

Tienda en el campo
As for Danny --well, it has been 8 years since I last saw him, but time hasn't made us strangers.  We've known each other too well and too long for that to happen.

Taylor and Danny at the Camuy caves
I'll miss my cousins and I'll miss Puerto Rico.  But I won't forget.  I pray I won't ever forget.

Somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico
This concludes the Puerto Rico promise series.

Monday, September 12, 2011

PRp (Pt. V): El Morro

Puerto Rico promise: In 2002, I was reunited with my cousin Danny after several years. Danny and I share a wealth of memories from our childhood. At that time, I promised him that I would visit him and his family at their home. (They were then living on Guam.) Nine years later, I made good on that promise when Maty and I went to visit Danny and family at their new home in Humacao, Puerto Rico.

Read Part I, Delayed in Dallas, here.
Read Part II, Borinquen, gateway to the Americas, here.
Read Part III, The caves of Camuy, here.
Leer Parte IV, Los gatos del Viejo San Juan, aquí.

El Morro

The actual name of the fortress is El Castillo de San Felipe del Morro.  (Those Spaniards do love their titles, do they not?)  "El Morro," translated into English, means "The Headland."  And it is hard to imagine a more apt name for the old fortress sitting on the headlands overlooking the mouth of San Juan harbor.

In 1519, when the Spaniards established their colony atop the hill that later became the city of San Juan, they were the vanguard of a host of sea-faring colonialist powers on the way to the Americas.  From the Spanish point of view, the need for a military strong point to guard their colony could not be more obvious. The subjugation of the New World, the biggest land grab in human history, was on and there were bound to be some sharp elbows thrown as Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, France and England started laying down stakes.

Seaward ramparts

The value of the headlands, towering over the narrow entrance to San Juan Bay was not lost on Spain's military planners.  They began construction of El Morro in 1539. Over the next two and a half centuries, the fort grew.  Eventually, the outer walls of the fortress were (and are) 18 feet thick, and rose 145 feet above the water.  The fort was (and is) comprised of six different levels, each with its own ports for cannon and mortar; each with a clear view of the narrow channel through which must pass the masted warships seeking moorage in the harbor.  Sentry boxes and well-protected musketeer positions were placed along the walls at intervals.  The landward side of the fort was protected by a dry moat and stone walls.  In the days before air power, this must surely have been a daunting obstacle.

Cannon port

Sir Francis Drake, the famous English naval hero who had distinguished himself by helping to defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588 (and who also, let us hasten to add, was a slaver and a pirate and probably not a very nice person) made a run at El Morro in 1595.  He attempted to run his fleet past the fort and enter San Juan Bay.  But the Spaniards had built a companion fortress across the mouth of the bay and the Englishmen were caught in a deadly crossfire.  Further, the Spaniards raised a chain across the harbor entrance, preventing English ships from entering.  According to legend, a cannonball passed clean through Sir Francis Drake's cabin, nearly killing him.  Several ships were sunk; the English were defeated; Sir Francis Drake, himself, developed dysentery and died shortly thereafter.

Sentry tower overlooking the harbor entrance
Three years later, the English made another go at it.  This time, the Earl of Cumberland led a force to attack El Morro from the landward side.  The attack carried and El Morro was taken.  But English blood, apparently, was not well-suited for the tropical climate.  Cumberland was subsequently forced to withdraw as dysentery decimated his troops.

In 1625, Dutch forces made their throw for the fortress, following Cumberland's example and attacking over land. But the Spanish cannons held off the invaders who, in a fit of pique, burned down the township of San Juan as they withdrew.

Musketeer's hidey-hole looks out on the rocky shoreline
The fort saw action as recently as the Spanish-American war in 1898, when United States gunships bombed her.  That war put an end to Spain as a colonial power.  The United States took possession of Puerto Rico and with her, El Morro.  The fort is now a United States national park.

Last of the Old Guard
Which, of course, is how Maty and I and our two cousins came to be there --climbing around the parapets, peering in the stone tunnels, looking out over the emerald water.  Maty spotted a long-tailed iguana sunning itself on the stones.  He eyed us, impassively, while I got him framed in my viewfinder.  He didn't seem much impressed. His ancestors long ago lost any interest in the hairless apes that built the marvelous sun decks.  And he'd already seen plenty himself.

To be continued...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

PRp (Pt. IV): Los gatos del Viejo San Juan

Puerto Rico promise: In 2002, I was reunited with my cousin Danny after several years.  Danny and I share a wealth of memories from our childhood.  At that time, I promised him that I would visit him and his family at their home.  (They were then living on Guam.)  Nine years later, I made good on that promise when Maty and I went to visit Danny and family at their new home in Humacao, Puerto Rico.

Read Part I, Delayed in Dallas, here 
Read Part II, Borinquen, gateway to the Americas, here.
Read Part III, The caves of Camuy, here.

Ciudadano de hecho
La ciudad de Viejo San Juan esta infestado con gatos callejeros.  En todas partes de la ciudad, se puede mirar los gatos, merodeando las calles, cazando los lagartos, durmiendo en las sombras.  

Yo recordé cuando estuve en Pompeii, Italia.  Había muchos perros salvajes allí.  Era un espectáculo lamentable.

Presa para los cazadores
Pero, parece que los gatos de San Juan van mejores que los perros pobres de la ciudad enterrado en Italia.  Los Puerto Ricanos han creado un programa para el control de la población de gatos que es humano y puede resultar eficaz.

Empleados de la ciudad les atrapan a los gatos.  A continuación, castrar a los gatos y limpiarlas de las pulgas. Por último, se les marca con una muesca en la oreja y las vuelta a las calles.

Un gato con oreja con muescas
Eventualmente, si el programa es eficaz, la población de gatos callejeros se reducirá.  Por lo menos, ellos no sufrirán tan mal. 

¡Bravo, Puerto Rico! 

Debe continuar...

Friday, September 09, 2011

PRp (Pt. III): The caves of Camuy

Puerto Rico promise: In 2002, I was reunited with my cousin Danny after several years.  Danny and I share a wealth of memories from our childhood.  At that time, I promised him that I would visit him and his family at their home.  (They were then living on Guam.)  Nine years later, I made good on that promise when Maty and I went to visit Danny and family at their new home in Humacao, Puerto Rico.

Read Part I, Delayed in Dallas, here 
Read Part II, Borinquen, gateway to the Americas, here.

Deep hole
The island that the Taíno named Borinquen rose up out of the sea 190 million years ago.  Geologists say that the island is the result of clashing tectonic plates, which pushed it up from under the water and which continue to shape it with earthquakes and tsunamis.  (The last big earthquake struck in 1918 which, in geological terms, was just this morning.)

Sunlight peeks into a timeless world
In northwestern Puerto Rico, a vast labyrinth of limestone caves and caverns lies beneath the earth, hollowed out by water seeping through the porous stone over millions of years.  So far, 10 miles of caverns and over 200 individual caves are known and mapped, but geologists speculate that this is only a fraction of the entire complex, which is still largely unexplored. 

Stalagmite formations, thousand of years in the making
This region of Puerto Rico averages over 170 inches of rain per year and much of that water finds its way through the earth to join the Camuy River, which is one of the world's largest underground rivers.  The water continues to carve and shape; the caves of Camuy worm in and out of the stone, twisting like a serpent.

Río Camuy surfaces briefly before delving back into his underworld home
The caves were discovered by Europeans in 1958, but there is archeological evidence to suggest that indigenous people knew about them long before.  Regardless, human beings are a brand new phenomenon so far as the caves are concerned.  When the temporal scale is measured in eons, 5000 years is an insignificant blink of the eye.

La Bruja cackles in the darkness
Maty, Cousins Danny and Taylor, and I descended into the caves on a sweltering summer day, where we saw the ageless stone gardens and walked through the eerie labyrinth of eternal night.  It is difficult to comprehend the lifetimes of stone and earth.  But one can at least look on and grasp at the enormity of the forces that govern this Universe; can perhaps recognize that our infinitesimal part within it, while absolutely essential, is after all so very, very tiny.

If one is inclined toward such thoughts, humility is essential.

Back at the surface
To be continued...

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

PRp (Pt. II): Borinquen, gateway to the Americas

Puerto Rico promise: In 2002, I was reunited with my cousin Danny after several years.  Danny and I share a wealth of memories from our childhood.  At that time, I promised him that I would visit him and his family at their home.  (They were then living on Guam.)  Nine years later, I made good on that promise when Maty and I went to visit Danny and family at their new home in Humacao, Puerto Rico.

Read Part I, Delayed in Dallas, here

San Juan cityscape, as seen from the walls of El Morro
Human beings have been living on this island for perhaps 5000 years.  The first people, the Orotoids, came up from the great land mass which is today called South America.  When Spanish settlers arrived, in the 16th century, the Orotoids were long gone.  The residents at that time were the Taíno, who named the island Borinquen.  But the Spaniards viewed the Taíno as just another resource at their disposal, another bounty to be had at the gateway to the newly-discovered world of America.  Spanish empire-builders and the Catholic Church enslaved the Taíno, eradicated their culture, and forcibly converted them to Christianity.  Taíno blood still runs in the 4 million Puerto Ricanos of today, but it is much diluted with the blood of Europeans and Africans.

Una escultura de la celebración de los raíces
The Spaniards held onto the island, by hook and by crook, for 400 years until 1898, when the United States claimed her at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War.  Today, Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, with her own governor and territorial government.  Puerto Ricans cannot vote in national elections, nor do they have representation in the United States Congress.  The issue of statehood is hotly-contested amongst the Puerto Ricans as well as within Congress.  (You can be sure that Republicans will resist a State of Puerto Rico, which would certainly be as "blue" as any state in the nation.)

There, at the far end of the street --that's the Governor's Mansion
San Juan is the most populace city on the island, with some 400,000 residents. Originally, San Juan was a walled township, founded by Ponce de Leon in 1509.  Today, San Juan is a sprawling metropolis, extending far beyond the original city walls.  But the walls still stand, defining the area called Viejo San Juan (or Old San Juan).

One of 5 gateways from the harbor into Viejo San Juan
In 16th century San Juan, Spanish deference to La Iglesia manifested itself by causing the settlement's church with its crucifix-topped spire, dedicated to John the Baptist, to be built atop the most prominent height on the headlands.  When the ships arrived from Europe after weeks at sea, debarking voyagers entered the city on their knees, ascending the cobblestone streets to the church, in a show of gratitude to El Señor for having safely arrived.

Monarch caterpillar in Viejo San Juan
Today, Viejo San Juan is undertaking to become a World Heritage Site, which will afford her protections and assistance in preservation. 

Palomas en la pared
Cousins Danny and Taylor, and Maty and I walked around Viejo San Juan and took in this brightly-colored, fascinating place.  I exhausted the battery on my camera shooting photos.

Cigar seller's window display
Cousin Taylor, Maty, and una doña de la ciudad, having a laugh
Time-etched walls
Proud colors

Puerto Rican graffiti art
To be continued...