On this National Voter Registration Day let’s register, if we are not already, and think about the people and things we all love.
NOTE: there is audio with this incredible, zillion photos, 1 minute video from my friends at AVAAZ.
On this National Voter Registration Day let’s register, if we are not already, and think about the people and things we all love.
NOTE: there is audio with this incredible, zillion photos, 1 minute video from my friends at AVAAZ.
The Notorious R.B.G. (15 March 1933 – 18 September 2020)
I have sent three Tweets in my life and one of them was to Justice Ginsburg. It was an inquiry asking if she was going to make the season at our great Opera here in Santa Fe. She visited in the summers and could be seen with her omnipresent Secret Service detail headed to her seat in the lower central section of the open air house.
The first time we met her, however, was a big surprise. It was September 27, 2000 and we were at a conference in Ottawa, Canada with a group from The World Bank Ethics Office. Being interested in circumpolar artifacts, Donna and I took some time to visit a shop that specialized in Inuit art. While browsing the great wares a guy with an ear bud attached to a spiraling line came in, stopped and gave a slow survey to the store. He reminded me of the Secret Service executive protection guys we would always see around Washington, DC and it made sense as we were in the capital of Canada. Just the day before I had taken a really atmospheric portrait of Joseph Jacques Jean Chrétien, 20th Prime Minister of Canada.
Suddenly a second ear-bud guy came in. Then in walked a diminutive woman who was unmistakably Ruth Bader Ginsburg followed by yet another agent. My first impulse was to go to her and simply say how I admired her and the work she had always done. So, of course, I stepped toward her. Immediately the Secret Service guys took alert positions and the front one moved to block my advance. I quickly realized how stupid I was to make such a sudden move so made an apology and had my say from where I stood. She graciously acknowledged my fandom and we all went about looking at the art in the shop.
“She had this uncanny ability to be very much in the weeds, if you will, of the intellectual legal arguments and yet never lose sight of the human impact of her decisions,” was a description Former President Clinton used to describe Ginsburg.
No doubt part of her common-sense nature came from being a mother before she went to law school and having a difficult time getting a job with a top-flight firm even after graduating first (shared with another graduate) in her class. My wife has reminded me that when she was a young woman she needed a man’s signature to open a bank account and it was also impossible for most unmarried women to get a home mortgage. The Dean of Harvard Law reportedly invited the female law students (only 9 in a class of nearly 500) to dinner at his family home and asked the female law students, including Ginsburg, “Why are you at Harvard Law School, taking the place of a man?
We have Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, along with a host of other talented and determined women, to thank for leading the way to necessary and long-overdue changes in the way we men handle affairs that affect everyone. Alas, we are just not that good at sharing.
The Notorious R.G.B.* will be sorely missed.
* a law student bestowed this moniker on Ginsburg that is take-off on the nickname of the late (also) Brooklyn-born rapper The Notorious B.I.G.
There are myriad qualities that make us human but few, other than the wide bailiwick of ‘culture’, have tentacles that reach – or should reach, as far into our psyches as the pursuit of justice.
All the qualities are evolutionarily useful, of course, and some are shared with other species: tool use for example. Plus we have the category of emotions – but we have no lock on exclusivity there, either; witness your dog jumping for joy when you return to your home (even after being gone for only 10 minutes!) or elephants grieving their dead. Then there is the neurological brain and unfathomed mind terrain of morality, ethics, mutuality, competition and the like.
I, and millions of others on this hunk of rock speeding through the universe, think the historical Buddha was onto something when he hit upon desire as a main cause of human misery. And, again, when he taught that wisdom and compassion were two primary keys to the alleviation of much that passes for our distress in this world. Notice that I used the past-tense ‘taught’ (teach) and not ‘preach’, a signal difference between Eastern and Western approaches to the divine. Preaching is an activity wherein someone with a supposed special insight and connection to the spiritual expounds to a (mostly) passive audience. Other than the “call-and-response” in traditional black churches there is precious little two-way communication going on.
Teaching in the active sense is a whole other endeavor altogether. It is what Doris Lessing (“Introduction” to the Grove Press edition of Ecclesiastes) identifies as the “experiential Path” vs. the “passive” one. When we hear and learn of concepts like “Justice” in our schools and places of worship we internalize, if we do at all, an intellectual concept. When we grow up in an environment with parents and a community that teaches us about “Justice” we internalize it in our hearts. It is closely linked to compassion for the Other. To see a black citizen beaten or killed on an anonymous video stream causes every right-thinking person unease. To walk out of the house knowing that this treatment might be your own lot brings on another level of apprehension altogether.
In many ways ordinary, middle-class white people in our society are privileged not so much by what has happened in their lives as by what has not happened.
The last time I drove cross-country from Ohio, then to Chicago for a Leica meeting and then home to New Mexico I was stopped not once, but twice by states highway patrol. In Illinois the trooper was right behind me as we drove 70+ mph along the Interstate. I decided to move back to the right lanes after passing a car and in a few seconds saw the flashing lights go on in the patrol car. I dutifully pulled over and awaited the standard visit from the cop at my Mercedes Sprinter van window.
When he finally came up I asked what was the problem. He said that in Illinois there is a law that a driver cannot change lanes on an Interstate within 275 feet of signaling a lane change. I asked him to repeat the statement as I was trying to internalize his comment (which was not as succinct as my version of it.) Then I did a quick calculation and said that at the speeds we were driving, 275 feet go by in less than three seconds. I added that I did not have a stop-watch but was pretty certain the legal time had transpired and I had, after all, signaled my intentions. He said, yes, I had signaled but he was pretty certain I had moved into the right lane too early. When I let out an exasperated breath (I was trying to get to my meeting hotel before nightfall) he added that he was not going to give me a ticket, only a ‘Warning’, and that I should leave my van and get into his patrol car. I responded with, “Really!” He said, “Yes, you need to comply, sir.” As I opened the door and stepped out he suddenly said, “Are you armed?” I looked at him with incredulity and said, “Are you serious? No, of course not!”m
As I approached his car I reached for the back door handle but he said, “No, get in the front passenger seat.”
“Okay, cool, I can look at all the toys!”
I did not get much done by way of inspection because there was a police major in the back seat who grilled me on fly-fishing in New Mexico when he saw the Catch & Release sticker in my rear window. I got the idea he was trying to ferret out whether I knew anything about the great art of casting with a fly or had stolen an expensive vehicle.
After several days in Chicago I headed back to the Interstate toward New Mexico. That evening late, just west of St. Louis, a car kept tail-gating me closely for miles. Rather than hit the brakes, which I would have done in my youth, I simply slowed down. Who wants to get the driver behind alarmed and pissed-off enough that he/she pulls up and sends a bullet thru the driver side window?
As I slowed those flashing lights came on! He kept me waiting for a long time before coming up to the window. Tired and (again) exasperated as I was trying to reach my usual hotel, I asked what took so damn long. He said he saw I had an old arrest record at the White House but could not find that it had ever been settled. It took him a long time to find it had been adjudicated (‘don’t return to DC and cause trouble for at least 6 months.’)
Then, I got the only laugh I have ever received from a state cop during the many times I have been stopped: “Officer, first things first. I am very proud of that arrest. It is a sterling moment of civil disobedience from my youth. I made national TV and got a televised comment from my state senator, John Glenn! Second, why did you stop me in the first place?”
“I could not read your license plate or see a sticker to see if it is current.“
“My date sticker is right there for all to see.”
“Yes, I see it now, but in Missouri it is illegal to drive with a license plate that is hard for an officer to read. Now, I’m not going to give you a ticket, but….”
Another ‘Warning’ ticket in my pocket after a stop that lasted ninety minutes.
Many of you will laugh at these stories, and I can, too, now. But, the significance of them is that any ‘untoward’ action or displayed anger on my part could have ended badly for me. Driving while brown can be a risky practice in many places in the United States. What proved to be remarkable was that the very next week the NAACP issued a notice that read, “if you are black you should avoid driving through Missouri if at all possible.” This is an incredible piece of advice in 21st century America.
These examples of state police action would be simply idiosyncratic stories if not for the fact that they are repeated across this nation every day. I am lucky in that I am sure the officers’ calculus of behavior was influenced by my educated flat, mid-Western speech, my demeanor and my expensive set of wheels (both officers were impressed by my great Mercedes vehicle), i.e. ‘he can probably afford an expensive lawyer’.
To sum, dear Reader, do not assume that your peaceful and secure daily existence is the norm for everyone in this country. Do not assume that those who are executed with impunity by state actors had it coming. Do not assume that after we have conquered Covid-19 everyone will return to a life of beauty and personal empowerment. Do not assume we must all color within the lines as dictated by the mandates of the 1%. Yes, applaud those officers who “take a knee” in solidarity with the people they have sworn to serve and protect but remember that real change is not a cosmetic application of soothing words and easy actions. True justice requires vigilance and perseverance – the hard work of all people of good will.
“History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure.” – Justice Thurgood Marshall
“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” – John Stuart Mill, 1867
“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” ― Frederick Douglass
The great Irish poet Eavan Boland (1944-2020) has gone beyond to the Irish pre-Christian Otherworld of Mag Mell (the Plain of Delight) or, perhaps, Tír-na-hÓige (land of the [ever-] youthful) where worthies engage in poetry, music, entertainment, and the feast of Goibniu that grants immortality to those taking part.
If Americans know Eavan Boland it is most likely for her poem Quarantine from her 2001 book Code, reproduced, below, courtesy of Carcanet Press, All Rights Reserved.
Boland lived in New York from 1956 to 1960 when her diplomat father had a posting. Though the poem Quarantine is about Irish history, she often wrote poetry reflecting the lives of those who live in Dublin’s contemporary suburbia.
Boland said she wrote this poem after reading an anecdote in an early 20th century memoir of the famine, Mo Scéal Féin by An tAthair Peadar Ó Laoghaire. It has been estimated that more than a million Irish died from starvation and disease in the period 1845 to 1852 and a million others emigrated, a period we know as the Irish Potato Famine. Although almost documentary in nature, I prefer to read Quarantine as a love poem and admire the use of repetition (‘worst’, ‘last heat’, ‘last gift’), the phrase ‘freezing stars’ and a reference to the horrible British administration of the country during the famine where tenant farmers actually grew enough wheat to feed people but had to ship it off for English tables (‘Of the toxins of a whole history’.) The next to last stanza brings to my mind the phrase, ‘Never Again!’ but, of course, we humans are slow to learn and even slower to react.
In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his
He was walking—they were both walking —
She was sick with famine fever and could not
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they
In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.
Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the
There is only time for this merciless inventory:
Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.
Arma virumque cano….
The Aeneid is the story of how a refugee from beaten and destroyed ancient Troy preserved his people, via divine authority, by founding Rome, with his descendants going on to establish an empire.
In 19BC the Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro left Greece, where he had been conducting research for The Aeneid, to return to his home in Rome. He shipped out on a vessel with the Emperor Augustus, as one does. They stopped at Megara where Virgil contracted fever (or heatstroke) and he died as the ship docked in the southern Italian trading port of Brundisium. Among his last thoughts was his dissatisfaction with a 10-year long writing project, this book, The Aeneid. Rather than let an unfinished work see the light of day, he asked his executors to burn the manuscript. Augustus, who knew something of the book as Virgil had read him three chapters, stepped in and ordered the work to be published ‘as is’.
The Aeneidis an acknowledged cornerstone of Western literature and by two centuries after his death was a prerequisite in Latin education, which is to say, any western education above the rudimentary. Even in the 19th century it was often a requirement of students to memorize the whole of it! Its 9,896 lines have been printed in hundreds of editions in both its original Latin dactylic hexameter and in poetic and prose translation. Its opening line was even found in excavation as graffiti in Pompeii: Arma virumque cano, “Of arms and a man I sing.”
In 1680 Henry Purcell published the music for one of my favorite operas, Dido and Aeneas with Nahum Tate writing the libretto. (Tate is today mostly remembered, when he is remembered art all, for rewriting Shakespeare’s plays so that every scene would be “full of respect to Majesty and the dignity of courts”. Yes, the more things change, the more they stay the same!) I have many versions of The Aeneid shelved in several libraries around the house. My current favorite is the translation by Robert Fitzgerald (1983). I own four copies of this translation: one (trade paperback) in the sunroom library, one (mass market paper) in the research area for my work on wine in life and literature and two in the bedroom (first edition hardcover and a trade paper to share my enthusiasm by lending to friends.) Hmmm…. maybe this is why I have more than 5,000 books!
Virgil was a talented writer and superb stylist who cleverly knew his way around alliteration, onomatopoeia and other wordplay. His poetic lines are of a grand and stately solemn nature, very foreign to our modern ears attuned as we are to formulations of unstructured free-style verse and sentences. His goal in The Aeneid was to create a work that would glorify Rome and rival Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. There are twelve books (what we might call chapters) in The Aeneid, written using the same syllabic and metrical line as used by Homer. The first six chapters play on the Odyssey and the last six the war and battles in the Iliad.
Though a great work, The Aeneid has not been free of issues. Yes, there are literary ones (it is a bear to translate as it is composed in what the Germans call kunstsprache, an artificial or invented artful language; I never truly mastered it in my school Latin.)
But, the problems I address here are political in nature. The work was ‘co-opted’ right from the beginning by Augustus. The emperor is kindly mentioned by name in scenes where Aeneas is gifted sight into the future when he enters the Underworld to visit his late father, Anchises. Augustus’ reign came after decades of instability (the Roman Civil Wars) following Julius Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon in 49BC, taking his legions into Rome and eventually becoming Dictator. Augustus was seen by many as savior and last hope of the Roman people for peace after the civil turmoil. Likewise it has been used through the centuries as a support for the aggrandizing and subjugating nature of colonization, a classical ‘white man’s burden’ made flesh.
But, to be fair, The Aeneid has also been interpreted as an anti-war poem and it is this tack I take. The language and potent imagery is second to none – cinematic even. The battle scenes do not require a very active imagination to visualize. It is sad that Virgil is no longer on the required reading list of our schools. It still has a lot to teach us about myriad human qualities like devotion, piety, hubris, rage, fate, courage and love in all its incarnations. Stop in and borrow a copy or buy your own if you are unfamiliar with the joy of reading this fine story.
Below, a section from “The World Below”, where Aeneas, led by the Sibyl, travels to the Underworld to see his father. She is carrying, under her dress, their entry ticket: the golden bough. It had been torn off a tree by Aeneas who was foretold it was needed as a presentation to Charon to get him to ferry them across Cocytus, the Stygian river leading to Hades. At the other side of the river there is another obstacle, the huge three-headed dog, Cerberus, but he enters the picture some lines later.
(If the words ‘golden bough’ seem familiar look up J.M.W. Turner’s painting of the same name and, also, the early anthropologist Sir James George Frazier whose work greatly influenced a generation, including Freud and Jung; Aleister Crowley; T.S. Elliot and William Carlos Williams; Hemingway, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Robert Graves and Yeats; and the man who founded anthropology ‘off the verandah’, the founder of my university’s department, Bronislaw Malinowski, who was prompted to lay out the first statement of the aims of ethnography in his ground-breaking Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922). Though now superseded in scholarship, for many years The Golden Bough exerted a profound influence upon literature, anthropology and intellectual thinking.)
Selection, below, courtesy of Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, NY. The Aeneid Translated by Robert Fitzgerald, Book VI, lines 331-402. Copyright 1980, 1982, 1983.
The cavern was profound, wide-mouthed and huge,
Rough underfoot, defended by dark pool
And gloomy forest. Overhead, flying things
Could never safely take their way, such deathly
Exhalations rose from the black gorge
Into the dome of heaven. …
The Sibyl cried, “All those unblest, away!”
Depart from the grove! But you, Aeneas,
Enter the path here, and unsheathe your sword.
There’s need of gall and resolution now.”
She flung herself wildly into the cave mouth,
Leading, and he strode boldly at her heels.
Gods who rule the ghosts; all silent shades;
And Chaos and infernal Fiery Stream,
And regions of wide night without a sound,
May it be right to tell of what I have heard,
May it be right, and fitting, by your will,
That I describe the deep world sunk in darkness
Under the earth.
Now dim to one another
In desolate night they walked on through the gloom,
Through Dis’s homes all void, and empty realms,
As one goes through a wood by a faint moon’s
Treacherous light, when Jupiter veils the sky
And black night blots the colors of the world.
Before the entrance, in the jaws of Orcus,
Grief and avenging Cares have made their beds,
And pale diseases and sad Age are there,
And Dread, and Hunger that sways men to crime,
And sordid Want – in shapes to affright the eyes –
And Death and Toil and Death’s own brother, Sleep,
And the mind’s evil joys; on the door sill
Death-bringing War, and iron cubicles
Of the Eumenides, and raving Discord,
Viperish hair bound up in gory bands.
In the courtyard a shadowy elm
Spreads ancient boughs, her ancient arms where dreams,
False dreams, the old tale goes, beneath each leaf
Cling and are numberless. There, too,
About the doorway forms of monsters crowd –
Centaurs, twiformed Scyllas, hundred-armed
Briareus, and the Lernaean hydra
Hissing horribly, and the Chimaera
Breathing dangerous flames, and Gorgons, Harpies,
Huge Geryon, triple-bodied ghost.
Here, swept by sudden fear, drawing his sword,
Aeneas stood guard with naked edge
Against them as they came. If his companion,
Knowing the truth, had not admonished him
How faint these lives were – empty images
Hovering bodies – he had attacked
And cut his way through phantoms, empty air.
“EVERYTHING WE DO BEFORE A PANDEMIC WILL SEEM ALARMIST. EVERYTHING WE DO AFTER WILL SEEM INADEQUATE”
“Viruses have been circulating around the globe for millennia. One family of viruses that have been circulating are referred to as Coronaviruses. About a quarter of common colds are caused by Coronaviruses. Our bodies form antibodies to foreign invaders such as bacteria or viruses. If we have antibodies from a previous exposure then we can rapidly ramp up the production of those antibodies if we are infected by that same virus at a later date. This is why you only get Chicken Pox and the Measles once. The first episode generates protective antibodies so you can’t get infected a second time. For other infections, previous exposures do not make you immune to future infections but it does make subsequent exposures milder.
COVID-19 is a severe respiratory illness caused by the virus named SARS-CoV2. It is a novel virus, which means that no one in the world has antibodies to it because no one has ever been infected by it before. As such, when the COVID-19 virus invades our body we do not have pre-existing antibodies. We do not have a template to utilize from a previous exposure to rapidly create a defense against the virus.
Exponential math is very hard to grasp. Every person with the COVID-19 virus infects approximately 2 people. Some less, some more. The doubling time that is widely quoted is 6 days. Some scientists are saying it may be as short as 2–3 days (unpublished first-hand information)! Let’s say the infection rate doubles every 6 days. That means that if 50,000 people have the virus today, then in 6 days 100,000 people will have it. In another 12 days it’s 400,000 and less than two weeks later it’s over a million people. We have 330 million people in the US. The experts expect that 40–70% of people will be infected. Exponential growth does not take that long to get to those scary high numbers. Every 6 days we delay the number of infections double. ” – Howard Luks, MD
Terry Holding His Son Jacob
Red Beach, WWII U.S. Marines Landing Area
Guadalcanal Island, Solomon Islands
With his wife and nine children he lives ‘rough’ on Red Beach, the site of the first landfall of the U.S. Marines in the Solomon Islands. The family has only recently returned to this shore-front they say they own. He and his wife are Gilbert Islanders, Micronesians, in this country of Melanesians. Despite their uncertain future, the family and little community maintain the site. The original historic marker has been stolen and moved 500 meters west to draw tourists and our dollars there. (The two Solomon Island brothers who they say drove them away to keep the land for themselves have recently been jailed which has allowed the return of Terry and his family.)
The Gilbert Islands are a group of 32 atolls and reef islands and one raised coral island dispersed over 1.3 million square miles, halfway between Hawaii and Papua New Guinea. It is the nation now known as Kiribati (their pronunciation of the word ‘Gilbert’ — though accented, Terry’s English is a good as mine). The name was coined in 1820 by a German admiral, in the employ of Russian Tsar Aleksandr I, after the British captain who ‘discovered’ the islands in 1788. This mix of European interests in the Pacific is a common circumstance involving changing identities and loyalties for the last couple centuries.
The main north-south line of islands in Kiribati is still called The Gilberts and stretches 780 km/485 miles. It is amazing to me that with a small population and such close proximity (in sea-faring Pacific islander terms) the northern islands were ruled by a chief and the southern islands were run by collectives of elder men. The origin myth of the Gilbertese has the ancestors coming from the West and being whitish-skinned and red-haired. It is intriguing to speculate that the Asian branch of the Neanderthals, the Denisovans, might have been sea-faring!
Most Westerners know almost nothing about Kiribati so here are three points of general interest that stand out to me:
– three of the islands were Great Britain’s last attempt at colonization (1938-1963)
– the islands were attacked by the Japanese in December 1941 on the same day as Pearl Harbor. In August of 1942 U.S. Marines landed an attack and 19 were captured as prisoners and summarily executed by the Japanese. In 1999 their bodies were finally returned home by an honor guard.
– three of the islands are U.S. territories, including Palmyra Atoll, the only incorporated U.S. Territory.
(There are a total of 14 Insular Areas around the world that fall under U.S. jurisdiction. Can you name them!)
Japanese Type 88 75mm Anti-Aircraft Gun
(with its base just beyond)
Staying on the topic of dairy (from my last post), this is the September 26 entry in my forthcoming book, Swallowing Time, Drinking History. An Almanac of the World’s Most Important Beverage.
“I’d rather see you drink a glass of wine than a glass of milk. So many people drink Coca-Cola and all these soft drinks with sugar. Some of these drinks have 8 or 9 teaspoons of sugar in them. What’s the good of living if you can’t have the things that give a little enjoyment?”
– Jack LaLanne (26 September 1914 – 23 January 2011). The first American fitness and exercise expert
India is not known for its vineyards, although there is a primary grape-growing region, Nashik, a couple hundred kilometers northeast of Mumbai (Bombay). While there are about 50,586 hectares (125,000 acres) under cultivation, only one percent produce wine. There are references in the Vedic Scriptures that indicate wine-making in India is at least 5000 yeas old. I must confess, I have not tried any of the wines as Indian cuisine, in my mind and palate, does not seem to lend itself to a pairing.
What I do love after, or before, a meal – or, to be honest, anytime of the day or night, is lassi.
Lassi is a traditional Indian ‘drink’ that comes in two varieties, salted lassi and sweet lassi. Both are made of some, or all, of these ingredients: yoghurt, milk, water, and spices for the salted, or sugar for the sweet. Additionally, there may be rose water, cumin, a sprinkle of ground almonds or pistachios and mango or other fruit flavorings depending on the sort ordered. As it is served cold it is a splendid treat on a hot day. In some places it is served thick enough to eat with a spoon, in others it is more liquid and simply drunk as a beverage. I think the best is mango lassi, using fresh mangoes. I will go out on a limb and make a declarative sentence, challenging any and all comers, that the best place to get lassi is at the original Lassiwala’s (Since 1944) near the Panch Batti Mod on MI Road in India’s ‘Pink City,’ Jaipur. They filter their water so there is no danger of getting a traveller’s day of familiarity with the hotel toilet after sipping, or gulping, their specialty. In fact, it is the only thing they sell.
As one might expect, imitators have sprung up to try and sift off Lassiwala’s customers. Many of these are on the same street just a few doors away but none favorably compare. Accept no imitations! Look for the best and when you see their number, Shop 312, next to the alley and across from Niros Restaurant, duck in. (In fact, resident Indians must feel the same way; there will be lines of people awaiting their serving at Lassiwala and not a single customer at the other establishments. I haven’t had the stomach to try any of them.)
Lassiwala opens at 7:30 a.m. and serves until they run out – which can be as early as 1:00 p.m. so get there early. The shop is small, just a hole-in-the-wall, so you stand and eat on the sidewalk, fending off the occasional forlorn woman begging for a coin. The lassi is served in two sizes, small , 40 rupees and large, 60 rupees, in porous clay ‘glasses’ that you discard in the trash bin in the alley. (60 rupees is about 95 US cents at the current exchange.)
Oh… when you visit, trust me, get a large.
Who knew that the world of camelids, an even-toed ungulate (Artiodactyla), was so fascinating? The answer, of course, is probably a third of the world’s population what with India, the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa leading the way. In 1856 thirty-four were landed in Texas at the direction of U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to become the United States Camel Corps (a draft animal!) They were to be used to settle, and subdue, the West, an experiment put paid by lobbying military mule suppliers and that bugaboo, the American Civil War. (Jeff Davis, in case you forgot, changed his allegiance.) Even with a small population these camels and their descendants (plus some privately introduced commercial stock) managed to hang on until the 20th century. Living in my state of New Mexico a young, then unknown, Douglas MacArthur heard about a wild camel wandering near Fort Selden in 1885.
Imported as work animals into central Australia in the 19th century the now-feral dromedaries in the Land Down-Under reached a population of one million. Between 2009 and 2013 an extermination program reduced that number to 300,000. These stocks are the only wild dromedaries on the planet.
The framing of the question in my opening sentence (camelids) means we also have to include the southern hemisphere of the New World. Llamas, vicuñas, guanacos and alpacas are kith and kin to the standard camel most of us know – or think we know. Scientists have also created a cama, a camel-lama hybrid, using camel semen injected into a llama! They have no hump and are bigger than a llama and smaller than a camel. There was no practical purpose to this experiment, as such, more than to test if the Old World and New World denizens are, in fact, the same species.
Not more than two weeks before we left for India in February I was amused to hear that 12 contestants at the beauty contest at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Rimah, Saudi Arabia had been ignominiously tossed from the competition. Owners were discovered to be cheats; their crime heinous beyond all understanding: they had been injecting their charges’ lips and eyelids with botox – yes, that’s right, the same chemical women use to enhance their looks for us menfolk, enhancing lips to bee-stung proportions and plumping up spaces to render goddess-like anatomies. Confused? Oh… did I forget to mention I am writing here of camel contestants, not the fairer sex of our own species. (I wonder if I can slightly enlarge my old camel hair overcoat with a judicious application of botox?)
If you have ever been up close and personal (OK, maybe not that personal) with a camel you will see they have lovely eyes topped with hooded, come-hither lids rimmed with long lashes. I well remember this one female in Kenya… but I digress.
In my unfolding camelid geography above I did not mean to slight the largest of the species, Camelus Ferus, the wild Bactrian, but these magnificent beasts are not found in India, the focus of this essay to which I am slowly humping. Alas, wild Bactrians are scarce on the ground in their native habitat, too. The last time I was in Mongolia’s Gobi desert I was told there were only 400 wild ones remaining.
Additionally, there is the two-humped domesticated Bactrian (C. bactrianus with a population of two million). It is it’s own species making a total of three living species under the genus Camelus. Aside from slight, invisible genetic differences with this domesticated variety, wild Bactrians are able to drink very saline winter slushies from semi-frozen Gobi salt-pans. From this they seem to suffer no ill effect and it is something their more numerous domesticated cousins cannot do. Bactrians are also one of the few animals able to eat snow to provide their water needs when liquid fresh water or salt slushies are not available. They accomplish this feat using advanced physics – the principal of latent heat, the hidden energy supplied or extracted to change the state of a substance without changing its temperature. This means heat is taken from the camel to melt the snow into water they can then utilize. It is an energy-intensive process so they eat only a little snow at a time.
With your elementary camel knowledge now in order we may proceed to the story at hand: our visit to India’s National Research Centre on Camel, Bikaner. It is a slightly awkward name, true, but it is what is on the campus signs and letterhead so I defer to the Centre’s self-identification (tho the amply represented OCD in me desperately wanted to attack the signs and paint “the” between “on” and “Camel”. My failure to muster up the courage to do so is something that will haunt the rest of my days, no matter I had no ready coloring agent left behind my ears from the Holi Festival. A writer and traveler’s life is not an easy one, fraught as it is by encounters with lapses in grammar that can tear one’s heart out. Every time I read the signs I was sure I detected a disturbance in The Force.)
Be that as it may, at NRCC, the soothing acronym for the Centre, one will learn tons about our friend, C dromedarius, the Ship of the Desert. I would bet dollars-to-donuts that most of you did not know there are four kinds of camels in Rajasthan. They roughly correspond to our more familiar Percheron or Clydesdale horse, a Ferrari, the Holstein cow and, for the sake of a one-on-one comparison, the bovine we call a Jersey. The corresponding camels are the Bikaneri, Jaisalmeri, Kachchhi and Mewari. (And, by the by, there are, indeed, two ‘hs’ in the third type; I am disappointed you would think I could make such an error. Perhaps we cannot be pen pals after all.)
As we walked the camel world, absorbing minutiae such as a dry and thirsty camel may slurp down its 200 litres (53 gallons) in three minutes, an enormous male was indicated, standing in his outdoor stall. His legs were hobbled. Our guide said he was a particularly ornery and nasty bad boy. A big bastard he proved to be when I walked closer to take his portrait and he pivoted away facing west leaving me with only an eastern view. Several times I jockeyed for a better angle without getting too close but he deftly rotated away, giving me the stink eye as he continued to ruin a perfectly good shot. I believe I profaned god in a moment of pique.
Not being privy to the dromedary tongue, I could be wrong but I think he uttered something about Camelid Union, Local 666, suggesting he refuse to pose for the western infidel seeking to monetize his good studly looks for financial gain that will not be shared.
As one of the Centre’s remits is the selective breeding of a number of the 314 camels currently in its care, we were fortunate to be visiting during the rut. Camels, if you must know, are the only ungulates that mate in a sitting position and the female does not ovulate until semen is present in the vagina, a sort of cart-before-the-horse-scenario. Modesty prevents me from writing more. That, plus the fact that breeding is a man-controlled affair and, darn it all, we did not actually get to view any couplings, tho you would certainly be amazed at the size and length of the extremity our young and hip friends labelled a male camel’s junk.
We did get to hear many examples of the male mating call, to which the females were all ears, each pointing toward the sounds of particular males. I managed to get a recording of this remarkable sound and will try to figure out how to edit and post it in the future. It is an incredibly deep rumble that carries a great distance. The closer I stood to a braying male the more physically palpable the rumble. I was reminded of the low decibel notes of whales with their oceanic song moving through the vastness of their seas. It is said that the notes of a male singing off the coast of Maine can be picked up on the other side of the Atlantic! What I find extraordinary, and did not know until looking up camelids a moment ago to find out if I was correct in naming all seven members of the species, is that aquatic cetacea such as whales evolved from artiodactyla, the even-toed ungulates, leading modern taxonomists to sometimes combine these as Cetartiodactyla. My brain leap about the power of the male camel’s voicing does, therefore, have a relationship to that of the whales. “Fascinating, Jim… highly logical.”
A male camel, let’s call him Joe for the sake of anthropomorphizing, does this auditory magic through his dulla, an inflatable sac in his throat. He projects this sac from his mouth during rut, moving air to create the sound. I did wonder why one male’s tongue looked so strange, swollen and pink lolling out the side of his mouth. It was , in fact, his dulla! The actual camel tongue is a barbarous affair able to eat leaves off acacia trees protected by two-inch thorns. They happily munch threw it all.
(Then again, as I ruminate, I realize camels are always chewing because they have cuds they regurgitate from their four-chambered stomachs. Chewing a cud puts Camel Joe on my ritually clean list, as a possible meal, but this is negated by the fact that his feet, thank Yahweh, are not possessed of the all-important split, or cloven, hoof. Leviticus, for us, the Chosen, is nothing if not thorough: pigs, cloven but no cud; rabbits, cud but not cloven. And so it goes. When I went to college I left these laws and crossed over to the dark side. Muslims, notably, do eat camel meat and justify it by pointing to the New Testament saying Jesus and Paul made all foods edible, something the Chinese and Japanese have perfected.)
As a keeper placed an in-hand bridle or halter, on handsome stud Joe to lead him to water, every resident in the female pen about 200 feet away, even the yearlings lying in sternal recumbency, came to rapt attention, heads and eyes moving in locked unison. Befitting his star turn, Camel Joe seemed to add a little extra oomph to his strutting pace (not trotting – look it up!); his smokin’ chance on the runway of life. With all the testosterone in the air I did not notice if the keeper actually made Joe drink, thus barring me from coining an unforgettable phrase that some long-ago sage beat me to when it comes to horses.
If you visit NRCC most of the place is off-limits as it really is a research station. But there are a few obligatory rooms of tourist merchandise facing a walkway, all watched over by a few desultory vendors. There is also a little museum and, outside the main gate, next to the admissions window, a place to buy kulfi on a stick, a frozen dairy dessert more dense and creamier than our ice cream. Here, of course, it is made from camel milk. It is divine and the serving size is on the parsimonious side. At $.77 each why not buy two! I tend to avoid dairy products in less hygienic environments (read: the countryside of India) but the NRCC runs a clean food operation. Plus camel milk can be left out without refrigeration for 8 to 9 hours without spoiling.
(The King of Legend, not General Douglas Mac)
It’s true! It’s true! The crown has made it clear.
The kulfi must be perfect, all the whole-long year.
A law was made a distant moon ago here:
July and August the monsoons they must bring.
And there’s a legal limit to the snow here
In the Camel-lot.
The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot.
By order, summer lingers through September
In our Camel-lot.
I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But in Camel-lot, Camel-lot
That’s how conditions are.
I know it gives a person pause,
But in Camel-lot, Camel-lot
Those are the legal laws.
The snow may never slush upon the hillside.
By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear.
In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In our Camel-lot.
Although India ought to be on the list of world cultures that one visits in a lifetime of travel, it is probably not for all travelers. Well, let me modify that with a caveat. If one includes the category of luxury travel where one essentially floats through an environment in an air-conditioned, antiseptic bubble with your personal Jeeves at the beck and call… if that is your cup of Darjeeling them yes, Incredible India may be for you, too.
One of the Must-Do’s not on my India Bucket List, however, was the Karni Mata Temple in Deshnoke, Rajasthan. It draws Indian pilgrims from far and wide with a smattering of tourists thrown in (I saw one, presumably non-Indian, European while I visited.) But there are about 25,000 kabbas resident here (give or take; I saw a dead one on my exploration.)
A Wikipedia entry, taken from the Lonely Planet travel guide, explains the place best:
“Legend has it that Laxman, Karni Mata’s stepson (or the son of one of her storytellers), drowned in a pond… while he was attempting to drink from it. Karni Mata implored Yama, the god of death, to revive him. First refusing, Yama eventually relented, permitting Laxman and all of Karni Mata’s male children to be reincarnated as rats.”
Yes, you read that correctly; a kabba is a rat. Specifically, it is a member of the species Rattus rattus, the lovable black rat, every child’s idea of the perfect pet and not to be confused with its more malleable cousin, Rattus norvegicus, the brown, better known as the Norway, or Sewer, rat. Everyone on the planet knows this latter beastie because it is the staple of research laboratories, pet stores and is, alas, the most successful and common mammal on the planet – with the notable exception of humans. Only Antarctica has been spared (for now).
While I was looking up at the acre of wire mesh that covers the mostly open-air compound and thinking of Yersinia pestis, the bubonic plague, a kabba, scurrying to a destination unknown to me, ran over my right foot. This is considered especially lucky, bestowing only good things upon one so blessed. To my credit I did not scream.
I think the overhead wire mesh is to keep out the large numbers of Columbidae livia, rock doves, whose planetary feral populations have exploded. (I will go out on a limb right now and hazard that they are number three on the list of earth’s most cosmopolitan mammals.) You and I, and everyone else we know, simply call this bird a pigeon. It is a certainty that these rats-on-wings would dive in and settle down to eat the ample food stores spread around for the kabbas, for India, as elsewhere, is profoundly inundated with pigeons. The wire screen roof also keeps out India’s many birds of prey. It would be bad form to let any of the temple’s 25,000 holy inhabitants end up as meals-that-squeals.
Naturally, there is a distinct odor to the complex, one that might charitably be called barnyardy. I suppose it is a combination of the mammal residents, the food spread around by visitors and the excrement left after the food is eaten. As if to get even for their exclusion, there is also an unfair amount of pigeon poop because the wire screening cannot, of course, keep it from dropping in to pay its respects to the unfairly favored King Rat.
As with all India’s sacred spaces, shoes are verboten! 99% of pilgrims leave theirs helter-skelter in the street-cum-public-square in front of the temple, tho there is an official concession for footwear storage just a few meters beyond. The attendants looked lonely so I used it. (No, that’s a lie: they were not lonely; so many people had looked Keenly at my sandals I was worried about some less-than-honest pilgrim waddling off in them so checked my sandals properly.) The shoe storage sits at one end of the row of kitschy concessions lining two sides of the square. All sell sweets, snacks and every tacky knick-knack known to rat-dom (don’t groan, I could have written ‘ratty’ instead of ‘tacky’.) The atmosphere would not be out of place as the Midway of a 1960s circus with touts trying to snare passers-by one and all. I, in thoughtful foresight, wore a pair of those little hospital socks with grippy pads on the soles as an ensemble with my sandals. Lord (Krishna) knows if I would have had the fortitude to cross the street and enter the temple with feet unclad by sox once I checked my Keens into official care.
On a highbrow note, there is excellent architecture to indulge in and a set of solid silver doors, even if the bulk of the temple is painted Pepto-Bismol pink. My one complaint is that the large marble lions outside really ought to have been over-sized King Rats. Attendees may cast this as a matter of little consequence; the lions are rarely visible because of the hordes of Indians who lounge over them executing self-portraits. The European visitor and myself were the only ones I saw actually taking pictures of the temple; everyone else simply used the temple and its parts as their selfie back-drop, as is the case at every other site in India. At least Karni Mata is on flat, solid ground. The railings at the battlements of forts and palaces have oftentimes been installed after someone forgets they are hundreds of meters in the air and leans back for a better facial photo extension. I am not making this up.
For you early birds Karna Mata opens at 4:00 am. It is dark then so for the squeamish maybe that would be the best time to go. As there is so much food about, and rats are easily distracted, there is ample tucker for one and all, including you, dear visitor. It is said that eating food nibbled on by the rats is a high honor. If you will, please let me know how that works out. Also let me know if you see one of the rare white rats. You guessed it: that is also an auspicious honor. In this particular quest I failed. I thought to dash out and cross the square to find a flute (probably available as one is always shown with Krishna in a playing posture) and I’m sure a pied suit could have been procured, as well. Then I came to my senses and ended this line of reverie. Who wants to end up as a fatality statistic after luring all the rats out of Karni Mata just to sight a white one?
Some of you reading this may take my tone amiss, as a bit of unenlightened, agnostic snark. Please do not interpret my remarks this way: for those who travel, if you do not go to India you will have missed a precious and wonderful chapter of the human novel!
Well, that about sums up this installment except to write that while there are many monkey temples in India, Karna Mata is unique, as far as I know. And I am satisfied to report: Been there! Done that!
(with apologies to Miss Freeman, my 8th grade English teacher, from whom I learned the proper setup of an octave and a sestet for the Petrarchan, Spenserian and Shakespearean sonnet forms. First know the artistic rules and then feel free to break them.)
Welcome to Mother India
Wellspring of Religions galore
You’ve probably Tech-Talked to us
Way down in Bangalore
East meets West – We’ve all the Best
Paintings with Class; our Jewelry – a Blast
Music and Dance; Textiles that Prance
Stone sculptures of Schist; Ah… feelings of bliss.
But, as in any form of living thing, mi’ lad
Good lives not unalloyed with the bad.
Meditate on this,
Hurriedly or at Ease:
Enter India if you Please
At some small personal Risk.
This is the image for our 2013 Holiday Card. The text reads:
Darn! Where’s that fat guy in the funny red suit when you need to make a getaway?
I think he’s behind us… What’s that over there? UH-oh, I did something in my pants…. God, I never get in the pictures…..
Yeh, if I squint I can see it too. I’m going back – why did I agree to carry this baby? I know he’s coming & I’m glad I brought my brother!
Man, you guys are crazy – what a waste of time. I’m hiding my face in case they catch us.
Motorbiking Around the World
I rode my BMW R1200RT to the New Mexico annual BMW motorcycle rally last weekend and had the privilege of meeting Jeffrey Polnaja. Jeffrey, from Java, Indonesia, has been riding his GS BMW motorcycle around the world on a Ride for Peace. He is into his 78th country and 52nd riding month and has, he figures, around 24 months more to go to cover the rest of the western U.S., Central and South America, New Zealand and Australia. He has only taken a break once — when his bike was stolen (with all his possessions) in Amsterdam in a plaza in front of a police station. To replace it he had to buy another in Indonesia where the customs duty doubles the price of the bike to around US$45,000. He got a break and only had to pay $30,000. He also used the waiting time to write a book about the southern Asia, North Africa and Western Europe part of his journey. He hopes the book will one day be translated into English.
Since he began his journey Jeffrey has learned how to repair the elemental mechanics of the bike, learned how to use his small helmet and chest-mounted cameras as well as a large Nikon, gotten really good in making slide shows and movies with his laptop computer and, incredibly, learned how to speak passable English.
The impetus for this huge undertaking began when he and his family were watching the awful events of September 11, 2001 on Indonesian television. His young son asked him why someone, someone who was Muslim as Jeffrey and his family are, would do this terrible thing. After trying to explain to his son the nature of evil his son asked him why he did not do something to stop such evil. Like most of us, Jeffrey asked his son what could he, a simple small businessman in Bandung Province with no special skills, do? His son asked why he couldn’t ride around the world taking the message of Peace. Unlike most of us, Jeffrey decided to do just that. He sold his business (rubber parts for motorcycles) and in April 2006 began his international journey.
“I am just a rider, but I hope to see peace in the world. I hope (politicians) will make peace part of their policy.”
Jeffrey’s ready smile, gentle spirit and iron-tough will (he would add his belief in god) have kept him in the saddle though events that would stop many, maybe most, riders. I think just the official international border paperwork and petty theft would rob most of us of our sense that we can make a difference.
He has been shot at in South Asia and hit by a drunk driver in Baluchistan. The hit-and-run collision damaged his bike, destroyed his navigation system and cracked his right wrist (he has a great photo of buzzards flying overhead after this accident when he awoke the next morning lost in the roadless desert). He had to negotiate to be allowed to cross the Khyber Pass into war-torn Afghanistan and required armed escort for part of his ride there. He had motorcycle mounted, heavily armed, gendarmeries flank him across Algeria and was charged only $30 for a $3000 per night hotel room in Dubai. He was hit by a truck driver in Kazakhstan with crushing wounds to his left leg. The doctors said he would need a month in bed before putting weight on it. Jeffrey decided to try the healing meditations monks in Tibet had taught him. After eight days he thought his leg felt better and asked the doctors if he could go. They checked his leg and the fracture had healed — he was released to continue his ride.
Here’s hoping his ride has an impact on as many people, in as many places, as possible.
Ride Safe, Jeffrey.
Wine rejoices the heart of man and joy is the mother of all virtues.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832)
On a clear and beautiful day in late December 1999, wandering around the town of Malcésine on the north-east shore of Lago di Garda (Lake Garda, Italy) we happened to see a bronze plaque on a building and, as I always do, walked closer to investigate. It was one of those “a famous person slept here” signs. In this case it was for Goethe and I was delighted because the stop became a featured episode in his escape-from-official duties-journey that had been spawned by a period of mental turmoil.
Goethe’s visit to the city on September 13, 1786 was unplanned. Intending to travel by oared boat from the north end of the lake, at Torbole, to the south near Sirmione and thence to Italy’s archaeological wonders, he encountered a storm with contrary winds. Lacking sufficient manpower, the boat pulled into port at the city of Malcésine to wait it out. Always a man of industry, Goethe assembled his drawing instruments at a quiet spot on Via Castello to sketch Scaliger Castle. The plaque above commemorates the location.
Finding a man with a German accent engaged in detailed drawing of the fortress, local citizens thought he might be an Austrian spy and reported his sketching activity to authorities. Goethe recounts the story in Italian Journey, his book published many years (1816-1817) after the incident:
This evening I could have already been in Verona, but here nearby there was this majestic wonder of nature, this delightful picture called Lake of Garda, and I did not want to miss it. I was profusely rewarded for having taken the longer way.
Rowing was impossible against the strong wind, so we were forced to land at Malcesine. This is the first Venetian village on the eastern shore of the lake Garda… I want to take full advantage of this stop, especially to draw the castle beside the lake, which is a good subject…I made a sketch today when I passed in front of it.— September 12th, 1786, Malcesine, Italy.
Next day: As usual, I spent some time at the old castle which is open to all because it lacks windows and doors and has no custodian or guards. In the castle courtyard I sat in front of the tower built upon a rock. I found a cozy place to draw, sitting near a closed door three or four steps above the ground…
Goethe was brought before the local magistrate based on the suspicion he was an Austrian spy. He was saved from imprisonment, or worse, by a man familiar with Frankfurt, Goethe’s hometown. The man testified that Goethe was, indeed, German and and not Austrian. (The Habsburgs ruled much of northern Italy and there were always tensions with the independent bordering states such as Venice that controlled eastern shore areas of the lake.)
Scaliger Castle has a small museum about Lago di Garda, Goethe and Monte Baldo, the peak that towers over the town. The museum has a room dedicated to Goethe and his visit with copies of the sketches that caused all the trouble. Goethe said that it was in Malcésine that he began to write Iphigenia.
The internet has many instances of a story about Goethe that I have been unable to ferret out in an original source. All the instances of the story must have been originally copied from one source as they all read alike, word for word:
Goethe, a famous German poet, once was asked, which three things he would take to an island. He stated: Poetry, a beautiful woman and enough bottles of the world’s finest wines to survive this dry period! Then he was asked what he would leave back first, if it was allowed to take only two things to the island. And he briefly replied: The poetry! Slightly surprised, the man asked the next question: And Sir, what would you leave back if only one was allowed? And Goethe thought for a couple of minutes and answered: It depends on the vintage!
As a side note about the area, three kilometers south of the town is the village of Cassone, home to the Aril River, the world’s shortest at 175 meters long!
Ein echter deutscher Mann mag keinen Franzen leiden,
Doch ihre Weine trinkt er gern.
A true German can’t stand the French,
Yet gladly he drinks their wines.
— Goethe, “Auerbach’s Cellar”, Faust, Part 1 (1808)
“Insufficient Funds” still the by-words
The 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech has arrived (and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation) and commentators are tripping over themselves lauding the accomplishments springing from the speech, confusing ‘black faces in high places’ with economic progress of the poorest elements of society.
Conflating improvements in segregation/integration with progress in class mobility is not a mistake Rev. Dr. King would have made and neither should we.
This speech, incidentally, is consistently rated by scholars of American history as the country’s most significant 20th century political speech. Once he got talking King deviated from the original prepared speech. Many of his most eloquent passages were extemporaneous injections from prior speeches as comparison of the filmed speech to his original, printed version reveals. This is especially true toward what was supposed to be the end of the speech when the singer Mahalia Jackson blurted out, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.” After a few sentences and Mahalia’s repeated exhortation King moved his prepared lines aside. His training as a black minister came to the fore and the rest, as they say, is history. But, as all history, it is one where black and white Americans see and hear different ideas in the same narrative with identical words.
FBI assistant director William Sullivan, after the speech, noted “We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.”
I rode my motorcycle from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. to the 25th anniversary celebrations of the March. En route I joined a column of black bikers without knowing who they were, it was just company and a cushion of motor safety on the massively trafficked interstate. When we neared New York Avenue the column got off and, as I was going to the anniversary event, so did I. We all filed into the Mall area and parked. My companions were a biker club from Staten Island, NY. The president had been to the original March in 1963 and was returning with his club members for the 25th. Very nice.
Popocatepetl Eruption Continues in Oaxaca
Popocatepetl is a stratovolcano, or composite, volcano near Puebla, Mexico. These types of volvanos are built up of many layers and often have that cone-shaped mountain profile. They sometimes blow their tops in massive explosions that slump areas or crack off the cone and send debris flying, leaving a caldera (see a previous entry where I briefly describe Valles Caldera.)
Archaeological evidence shows that Popo (smoking mountain) has had many violent eruptions in the not-too-distant past, well… recent past if we are using geological time as our frame of reference. There have been major Plinian eruptions in the last 5000 years and an event 23,000 years ago where a whole flank of the mountain collapsed à la Mount St. Helens. (Plinian eruptions are named after the Roman historian and agriculturalist Pliny the Elder. He died in the famous eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., probably of an asthma attack aggravated by his enormous bulk.) These eruptions, also called Vesuvian, eject columns of gas and ash high into the stratosphere. They also produce enormous amounts of cascading lava in pyroclastic flows. Their eruptions can resemble the photographs we have all seen of the cloud that develops from the detonation of an atomic bomb. The airborne ash may circle the globe for years, even affecting global weather. Depending on the season, Popo’s ash would first fall on the city of Puebla (winter, spring) or Mexico City (summer or autumn.)
Popo (5,426 meters/ 17,802 feet and 5th highest mountain in North America) is one of three mountains with year-round glaciers in Mexico. All three are popular destinations for mountaineers. Mexico’s third highest mountain is Iztaccíhuatl (in my day spelled Ixtaccíhuatl, 5,230 meters/ 17,160 feet) and is quite a slog as the mountain is more like a spine than a cone.
Pico de Orizaba, or Citlaltépetl (5,636 metres /18,491 feet), is Mexico’s tallest peak and the third highest in North America. It is very impressive as, like Kilimanjaro, it juts up from a plain and is visible long before one actually arrives at its base.
Above is a photo I took of our climbing team on a trip one December long ago. My then-girlfriend and I drove our khaki-tan 1979 Toyota Landcruiser all the way from Philadelphia and everywhere the Mexican police would stand around and marvel at the vehicle as it looked so militar. To get the above photo I exhausted myself scurrying across the glacier (ca. 16,500 feet) to get this perspective of the team we hooked up with on the mountain!