Monday, March 26, 2012


The Pope's recent visit to Guanajuato, Mexico, made me think of something I'd written over a decade ago, after visiting that lovely and peculiar city. Here it is -

Guanajuato – excerpt from a Mexican travelogue 

In Guanajuato, a wealthy and sophisticated mining town north of Mexico City, things fall prey to a macabre whimsy.

To enter the town, whose name means “place of the frogs,” you navigate tunnels buried in mountains that used to be full of silver. The streets mislead, surprise, wind and turn into hidden plazas where lovers love and children play.

The spirit of Cervantes presides over Guanajuato’s cafes and little theatricals under perfect skies. The trees are carved into geometric forms that sing with hidden birds. Private homes are warrens full of bright furniture and brighter tile.

Guanajuato is also home to Museo de las Momias - the Mummy Museum, which originated by a chance discovery early in the last century.

It seems the town requires its citizens to pay a certain fee for perpetual cemetery maintenance. Families are supposed to cover for those who die without having paid their dues. If the merry town doesn’t receive payment within five years of your burial, it evicts you from your grave.

Soon after this policy was implemented, it became apparent that the unearthed residents of Guanajuato’s cemetery were failing to cooperatively decompose. Something in the soil, they saw, was turning them into calcified mummies.

If death can have its little joke, the town seems to have reasoned, so can Guanajuato. The remains of those in default are put on display in the museum. Well over a hundred momias are housed in glass cases there, where, for a few pesos, the public can examine their rotting boots, their death wounds, their gaping mouths.

On the day we paid our visit – the National Independence Day of Nov. 20th – it seemed as if the whole town had turned out for a viewing – after the morning’s civic pride parade, kids in tow . . .


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Monday, March 19, 2012

Snap judgment

"Something snapped in him," is the mantra that USian media are using as the all-purpose explanation for Robert Bales' act of extinguishing 16 Afghan civilians.

This sort of empty linguistic nonsense passes for interpretive thinking at The New York Times, at the Diane Rehm Show, at NPR.

It assumes there is a place in a human's head where something can happen. It has nothing to do with military operations or ideology, it's a psyche thing.

What if human psychology were merely a negotiated protocol? A way to not understand anything?

What if there is no inside in Mr. Bales's head or in anyone else's? Where then might "something" snap?

What is a snap? What is "something?" We really do not want to understand, we just want to make verbal noises? The Times utters a meaningless noise and our cognitive intelligences all sit, like dogs?

What if the something that snapped was not in him? What if it had something rather than nothing to do with ideology, with a history of violence, with a hatred that began 4 million years ago. The heart of war lies in ideology, in stiffness, in the cohesion of wills crushed into refined cocaine, fusing blood and lies, and explanations a la The New York Times.

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