A series of objects, photographs, letters and other items found on the streets of Lincoln Heights.
They look like they’ve just cut a deal. One thousand stuffed and stripped pigs to be made on antique sewing machines. To commemorate what kind of holiday? Or perhaps the blue stripes pay homage to a foreign futbol team? The windows in the photo are the type most coveted in refurbished and remodeled lofts.
It’s been awhile since I posted anything in this series, mostly because I misplaced my collection. Alas, the bag of left behind objects has been located and the sharing of found objects commences. I found the founds.
Sometimes you hang on to objects and you’re not sure why. I bought this back in the late 80s thinking it was funny to see cartoon characters as B-Boys. Now something like this wouldn’t even draw a second glance. Spongebob as an emo? Hardly worth a second thought and to be expected. The lines between popular culture and underground culture barely exist, if they exist at all. The process of recuperation has been so thorough there is nothing left for pop culture to devour. Perhaps it appropriate this image is on a trash can. I still think it’s kinda cute.
It took me awhile, but I finally finished reading The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño. It’s a novel I’ve been recommending to everyone I know.
The first chapters actually affected me physically and I felt almost buoyant and youthful while reading them. Bolaño was able to capture that heady sensation of being in your early 20s and and feeling as if your challenge to the world, to the institutions around you, could result in their demise. It’s a time I truly miss.
The novel is a series of remembrances about a group of Surrealist influenced Mexico City poets called the Visceral Realists. They are a 1970s incarnation of a previous Visceral Realist poetry movement from the 1920s, a group they revere for their outsider literary world status. The poets are on a quest to find the original Visceral Poet, Cesarea Tinajero an elusive figure who holds a mythical position in their pantheon of writers. The book is so chockful of symbolism, literary and political references and countless sidestreet narratives that it probably deserves a second read. I’m quite happy to have gotten through one read for now. Next on the list, Bolaño’s , 2666.
One more thing, while I wouldn’t dare attempt to read the book in Spanish (I don’t have the skills for it) if you can read it in Spanish, I’m sure it’s even better. I kept finding myself translating dialogue into Mexico City slang while I was reading. For instance, what is ‘Luscious Skin’ in Spanish? I’m eager to know.
As you might have noticed, some aesthetic changes are underway on this blog. Changes not entirely by choice, it happened when I upgraded wordpress. I don’t think this look suits me but it will have to do for the time being. Welcome to Helevetica hell!
Since I am here I decided to share with you a song I’ve just heard today and instantly fell in love with. It’s from Fever Ray, a solo project of Karin Dreijer Andersson, one half member of The Knife. The album won’t be out until March but you can hear some of the songs on the Fever Ray website.
The video is absolutely brilliant, as British friends like to say. It looks like my dreams.
These two videos capture what I love most about Flamenco: the visceral emotion, the interconnectedness of everyone involved (not just the performers) and the history that is passed on through every letra, every gesture of the hands and pick of the guitar strings. The artists in these clips are not performing Flamenco, they are Flamenco. Flamenco puro is able to move me like nothing else – it’s like, the very essence of my being reverberates and responds to the music. I know this may sound cheesy but it is completely true.
The first is of Lole Montoya and her mother La Negra singing for Spanish television. In the time soon after this recording was made, Lola would join up with her partner Manuel Molina to create some of the most exciting Flamenco of the 70s, a fusion of traditional Flamenco rooted in compas and flamenco puro and mixed with Arabic and rock elements. Lole’s Arabic influences come from her youth spent living in North Africa with her Gitano family. The above video clip is one of the first documented forays into her Arabic influenced Flamenco, and I think it’s absolutely captivating. It is her voice that first pulled me into my journey of Flamenco discoveries and she remains one of my favorite cantaoras.
If there was a Flamenco heaven it would look a little like this clip. A room full of the best Flamenco artists joined together for a good-natured juerga. These people are my inspiration and the reason why I’ve devoted so much time and energy studying this art form. This little bit of celestial Flamenco could not be complete without Camaron de la Isla, one of the most innovative and talented Flamenco cantaores of this lifetime. Camaron is the one artist that can actually transmit duende through recordings (duende is an overused term to describe the extra sensory feelings that can be transmitted through Flamenco). What’s more intriguing about this clip is the amorous tension between Carmelilla Montoya (the dancer) and Camaron. The way she smiles, the way he smiles…ay!
A special treat: This tune, Sangre Gitana y Morena by Lole y Manuel uses some of the same Arabic letras taught to Lole by her mother in the clip above.
My great-grandmother in the red cape. Boyle Heights, 1975
Of all my family photos, this is definitely one of my favorites. It is of my great-grandmother Guadalupe Martinez (originally from Pastor Ortiz, Michoacan) at a presentation in her honor. She won out over the other women (presumably, her court) to be crowned “Grandmother of the Year.” According to family stories, the other ladies weren’t too happy about losing. It’s kinda apparent, no?
The dance took place at the CSO Center on Brooklyn Ave (Cesar Chavez) across the street from San Antonio de Padua church. I imagine my great-grandmother’s revered role as the founder of the Guadalupana’s club at the church and provider of the feria tamales and bunuelos contributed to her anointment. Strangely, her involvement with this church would benefit me even after her death and in the most unlikely of ways.
I love the band. You can just make out their name, The Fairlang, artfully done in the infamous Mexican Blackletter.
I’ve been reading and obsessed with the book The Savage Detectives and this song sort of captures the spirit of the book in a frenetic way.
(translation from a youtube comment with minor changes by me)
I’ve made my second grade exam in 1975
socialism was like the universe:in expansion
the teacher asked me of Max Robespierre
I told her that Jacobins were right despite the terror
the French Revolution was right indeed
She made no more questions
But we also have many remembrances of that little old world fogazzaro
The 300 hundred points Space Invaders spaceship
Enrico Berlinguer on TV
The Olympic winnings of Alberto Juan Torena in the name
of the Cuban revolution
The Sandinista power in Nicaragua
The cathechist who voted for Pannella
The friends who went from smoking marlboro to heroin (and then they say “the light drugs!”)
Zora’s comic porn
and the prince without return
The divorce referendum
and we didn’t understand why if ‘NO’ would have won the divorce, if it had been ‘YES,’ it wouldn’t
Anna Oxa at San Remo’s festival dressed like a London punk
The Van Halen
The first hand job
My neighbour, a transvestite called Lola, which my mum used to call Antonio to our major astonishment
anybody knows why
A slogan of Reggiana’s Ultras after the American raid on Tripoli in the eighties-it said “Thanks Reagan! Bomb Parma for us!”
And then our fantastic toponomastic
Karl Marx street…
(list of revolutionary street names follows…)
Saeta by Diana Navarro.Saetas are traditonally sung during Semana Santa (Easter) in Spain and often sung from balconies as processions pass below. Interestingly, saetas are said to be be derived from Sephardic songs.
“One may ask, how prevalent was this Sephardic heritage in the history of Mexico and the Southwest? The answer leads to a number of very interesting theories and investigations…”
I left off with this question in my last post and frankly, I’ve had a difficult time synthesizing all the various theories into something comprehensible. In any case, I’ll just jump right in and jump around all the information floating in my head.
According to some of the books I read, Sephardic traditions have been very influential in the culture of the Southwest. From the way people sweep rooms to dishes like capirotada to toys like topos (related to driedels) and matracas, some point to these objects and practices as remnants of a Sephardic past. There are some who theorize that it is possible that most of the Spanish who came during the Inquisition period in Spain were of converso heritage because persecuted Jews and Muslims would be more inclined to leave behind their homes for an uncertain new land.
Trudi Alexi and her book The Marrano legacy : A contemporary crypto-Jewish priest reveals secrets of his double life attempts to document parishes of Catholic churches in Latin America and the Southwest that have secretly been practicing Judaism throughout generations, both priests and parishioners. In her book she claims priests and others have confided in her anonymously and chose not to come out as Jewish because of past and present persecution (namely the inquisition and most recently the holocaust) and nonacceptance from other Jewish traditions like Ashkenazis. In her book, she relates tales of families picking one member to become a Catholic priest as a way to shield themselves from scrutiny, have access to bible liturgy and have the inside ear of the church in order to be forewarned of any investigations. Also, in some families not everyone is aware that they may have some Jewish heritage. The confessions are often relayed on death beds and through secrets passed sometimes from grandparents to grandchildren.
By the way, until beginning this research, I had no idea the term marrano was used to describe Jews and conversos. I grew up with it being synonymous with “cochino” i.e. dirty, pig-like. It is said the term comes from arabic mahrám which means a prohibited item. It was used by Old Christians in Spain to demean new Chritian conversos. I first became familiar with the term marrano because my family and I would go to a place called Marrano Beach aka the Rio Hondo River in Montebello. It was a self-deprecating reference to Mexicans not being able to go to the real beach and therefore were stuck with the river. I wonder if people knew of it’s original meaning.
Entre La Cruz y La Hoguera by Manuel Hernandez Gomez is a Spanish language book documenting crypto-Jewish life in Mexico from the Inquisiton to present times. I admit I’m not the best Spanish language reader so I tried to focus on the bits that were related to my interests. As I mentioned before the state of Nuevo Leon was a known refuge for those of converso heritage but the author also researched other places in Mexico. Most surprisingly, some of the places one associates as being super Catholic tend to be, in his opinion, of having the most deep-seated converso heritage. (Someone like Trudi Alexi would argue the super Catholicism was a cover for practicing Judaism). One of these regions is the Los Altos area of Jalisco, home of the author. He claims this region is so superior in economy, philosophy, literature and culture because the early founders were mostly from Sevilla, a region known to have a large converso population. Some of the authors musings are a little quirky and sometimes disturbing. For instance, he finds it relevant that the Los Altos region and Israel are identical in shape. He also talks about the Battle of Mixton (1541) where a great number of the indigenous people of the area were wiped out in battle and the survivors were wiped out by disease. He writes in the footnotes:
“La extincion de los naturales del lugar, propicio a los conversos la oportunidad para no tener que mezclarse.” The extinction of the native peoples offered the conversos a reason not to mix.
I kinda stopped taking the author seriously after these proclamations. One historical refutation he did make, which I found thought provoking, was this idea that fair skinned Mexicans were the result of French soldiers stationed in Mexican pueblitos. He makes a decent case that most of the French soldiers were shunned as invaders when they came into town. Secondly, most visited prostitutes and there is little documented evidence that they intermarried or even stayed behind in these pueblitos. Also, among the Mexican upper classes the French were looked upon unfavorably.This tale of French heritage is heard all the time from various Mexicans from Jalisco, Michoacan, Guanjuato and Zacatecas. “Oh your aunt’s green eyes and fair skin came from the French soldiers!” It really doesn’t make sense. Interestingly, the areas I mentioned above are described in the book as being centers for conversos.
(to be continued…)
For many years, I attempted to find information on Arabic/Moorish heritage in Mexico and have been unable to find any really good books in English on the subject. If readers have suggestions, I’d be more than happy to receive them.