My Travel Furies

Whether in comedy or tragedy, I want these three lovely brujas guiding my way.


For all the hoary Catholicism I’ve been enjoying here, there’s also a jaunty liberalism in modern Mex that I love!


Sister Space : Arm in Arm in Mexico City

Bindi & Mette are hands down fabulous travelers. They’re nascent to the effort of getting out in the streets each day, negotiating the madness, and generally tapping into the bubbling magics all around them and then pruning off the exceptional bits to concentrate those in memoriam. Bindi’s super good at looking out for her sister, either lending a grandmotherly protective arm or being the ever present audience to Mette’s jabbering vivid play. They spend long stretches lost in each other’s worlds, we needn’t intercede at all. Voices, characters, enchantments, heady spells of dialogue. In essence, they allow each other to exist within each other’s completely private spaces, sometimes without an inch between them. Sister bond: there seems to be no space too large or small to contain them in coincidence. It’s a parental zenith to walk behind them and watch them with their arms around each other strolling the breezy streets of Mexico.



Ilse remembers rooms like this from her childhood traveling around Europe. I remember it from when I lived in such Parisian apartments in past lives. It’s the setting for a scene out of the opening of a Tropic of Cancer in my mind.

Never letting imagination diminish.

It’s never been about vacation for me. When I go out, I’m seeking direction and meaning. That’s why it’s always a ‘going in’ to the endeavor of travel, not a ‘going out’ from the tasks at hand. It’s always certainly a ‘going away’ from the elements of convention that we often begin to rely on in our days. But it is not to get away from daily life that we go out on the road. It’s to revitalize the notion that Daily Life is the constant Adventure; that the exotic exists in the mundane, that it’s your eyes that need only a fresh tearing of magic to regain their infantile sense of wonder.

Bindi is old enough now to mention to me that this or that holiday hasn’t seemed like itself lately. It isn’t for lack of pomp, circumstance or tradition. It’s got everything to do with an induction into adolescence when simply you’ve spent enough days on the planet to feel reminiscent about childhood. As we stroll through the zocalo, my arm around her shoulder in her short leather jacket against the slight chill of Oaxacan Christmas, I try to explain my theory on this topic:

Imagination is a process of codification. We see things and build boxes to put them in. As children, we don’t have all the boxes yet. We’re building them and cramming them full. We’re constant archaeologists and ethnographers. Everything is a wonder to be noted down. Everything is sparkling and new and bigger and more awesome. There’s so much to take in, and so much neural activity involved in processing this load of information – “new” information – that our brains are on fire and time itself seems to go slower as during a car crash when one’s senses are pricked and you take in so much simultaneously that in hindsight in seems that much information could only have been gathered over a longer time period.
 The great sadness of growing up, I assure my eldest daughter, is that we begin to experience our imagination boxes as tidy and full. We see things and immediately associate them with a codified reflectant. We don’t actually see what we’re seeing, but see rather the things we know by association, and knowing them already, they are vaguely hum-drum. They can be things we love and thus we are excited about them, or they can be things we have no real affection for – a dirty, wet gutter; a copse of jungle trees with reveille in the false dawn whitening, played from tin horns that make it sound like some breathing beast out of syncopation with the tip-tap of rain drops leaf to broad, tongue-like leaf – and thus miss an unmeasured excitement for them.
Getting out on the road helps to re-enliven that simple act of witnessing. It puts us in a recording head that necessarily wants to see things anew, in precisely the childlike way we are constantly growing out of into normal, responsible, predicated, authorized, adult daily life. We see the red streak of betel nut spit juice coursing the gutter water against that ancient dark stone curb which barefooted Ghandi’s have trod a billion times to pillow-like smoothness and we are intrigued. The dawn holds promise for soldiers who might see battle today and the trowel shaped tongues protruding from Mayan war masks take on more than a buck toothed hilarity. The trees outside your screened cabaña porch take on a new menace and verily begin to screech as the host of parrots light in their own riotous morning call to arms. Now this dingy, wet jungle takes on some new life, life it never lost, but that your sleepy eyes with grey gardens and arboretums crammed full had missed. New eyes! That’s the beauty of walking out the door with a camera, it makes you young again. Remember this, my winsome dear daughter, You’re a foal to me and always amazing. May you too be graced with talismanic creatures around you that will spur like muses your urning to see the world without age, without time, without being hampered by our cinnabar boxes that we need for memory, but that can also be tombs for our ability to really witness in original requiem and adulation.

My Mayan Astronauts.

Reveille is being blown in the jungle. The champ of boots trotting around in unison. The sky bluing through the trees that are their own riot above my screened in patio. Parrots, macaws, monkey shit falling on the fronds of my roof. Those boots pounding on some platen of concrete that must be cracked and sprouting grass – nothing, no war beast, no formation holding quarter master, no bellicose pyramid plasterers – can withstand the jungle for long. It consumes with Life; constant, ever present, teaming Life. That’s the voluptuous Life that demands Death, Decay, Mulching and the massive bio-mass trading through Dynasties interwoven with chambermaids and water boys in the name of diversity. All the Mayan warriors like so many bromeliads spiny bright red in the veined and vine’d trees. No flat cement pad can long withstand the need of the jungle to stay full breasted and milking its water and moss everywhere. We all must break under these trees. We can inspect and invade, perhaps flower as these madly bright bromeliads do – even as they did, wow! what a sight, in pine trees, great crimson heart bursts, in the mountains above these jungles we then drove down into. But no empire can stay indefinitely in the Conrad madness of the jungle. They Mayans built up this Palenque through a succession of powerful architecture loving rulers. Tremendous odds of the jungle taking back Pakal’s thriving city; of building bows and limbs and riotous green faster than the Mayans could stack and plaster their stones. And after a thousand years, it did. Why? Did the aliens come and retrieve their lineage. Did the gods and their will peter out. Did war and ball games and language etching and dreams of becoming Mayan astronauts  become more important than keeping the grass shoots plucked from the cracks of sieves? Were the trees just too tasking a master. The ruins hewn back out now represent only some 8% of the entire city that still is out there in the hills and green rush. And thus we go to seek with our own bromeliad eyes the majesty that long danced its dynasty in this peninsular heart of darkness. My girls, there in the rain, drink in the Mayan madness with native zeal and become, with wet sticks in hand, sorcerers, brujas, medicine women in flowing pink plastic frocks. We march no boots in time, we dance instead, through chilling, misting, constant life bringing rain, wet, wide mouthed up and gay as barking forest monkeys.

The CHICKS have gone just about fully Native.


I’m penning my own Tzotzil Mayan religion for the new year up here in the Chiapan highlands.

The Chamulans give me heart to take over a church, throw out the pews, bring in the chickens and Pepsi bottles and begin lighting tapered candles to my own deities. Like the borracho in the one of two shots I snuck. He’s on the nod before the encasement of the Dead One, a babe in arms, ascending the winged climes cool and supplicant. I, too could rest easy amongst the re-defined Saints, arm hewn for their disgorgement from the canon – who needs arms when you can pray with all your soul!?! Saints they’ve claimed to have lost their power and thus their effigies have been sold cheap to the Indians. “Let them bastard their effigies! They run us out of our own diocese!” wail the displaced priests of the hilltop pueblos. “They sent us in flight from the hegemony of our catchy Sundays, our rosy psalms, our testimony upon their knees and now they want disco stars blinking their Nativities, chandeliers above bedspreads hung in palisades swaying in broken window breezes, that strange tree they’ve woven up the nave above a floor strewn with pine needles. Can you imagine the blasphemy! They earthen our tiles and send a million candles’s smoke up to the sun with penniless coffers and more in their Mayan madness! Good thing we emptied out the gold and chalices, the very Virgins! from the altars. We’ve left their shelving empty and they don’t seem to care! They rock on their knees and they foul the place with their antiquity. Let them have their bestial ways, they know not in their simplicity how to run a proper sky show, though they do make things so fetching in those chatty chanting songs. What are they mumbling? And why all this matrix of tallow dipped, multi sized candles. All this light, solemnity, devotion! These were our gods. How’ve they fit in theirs so neatly. Beasts in their black hair shirt skirts and cloaks!”

Elements for the new religion.

I stumble with abandon among the Tzotzil burial mounds in Chumla.

I stumble with abandon among the Tzotzil burial mounds in Chumla.

I’m laying the tenets of my own private Tzotzil Mayan religion here in the highlands this year.

In the hoary grave yard above the indigenously co-opted cathedral of Chamula.

In the hoary grave yard above the indigenously co-opted cathedral of Chamula.

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