Monday, October 14, 2019

Pondering the Question of Tibet

As we know, China is the rising super-power while the US continues to falter and decline. The Chinese have created a nigh-on miraculous transformation of their society in a very short time, and this isn't the first time they've done it. The whole Mao-ist revolutionary period was one enormous transformation after another, almost unprecedented in world history. The current rise of China would be unbelievable if we didn't have the prior examples of Chinese transformations to consider.

Part of that transformative process has involved Tibet, a supposedly autonomous province of China that has been subjected to repeated waves of "reform" by the Chinese under Mao and every subsequent central government with the stated objective of getting rid of Tibetan barbarism, backwardism, and worse, while bringing the benefits of modern civilization to uplift the Tibetan masses and guide them into the 21st Century -- while preserving as much as possible of Tibet's unique and ancient culture.

That has meant in practice overthrowing rule by the lamas, exiling the Dalai Lama, disrupting and partially destroying the lamasery system, freeing the Tibetan peasantry from what had amounted to serfdom and in some cases outright slavery, bringing codified law, plumbing, drainage, electricity, roads and railroads, universal education and so on to the masses, instituting public health practices and much more in what is objectively a colonial/imperial project, driven from Beijing, to integrate Tibet into the Greater Chinese Domestic Empire.

In the West there is a highly romanticized notion of what Tibet was like prior to the Chinese revolution. We are ledto believe it was some sort of primitive paradise under the lamas, happy people spinning prayer wheels all the live long day while the Dalai Lama and his lines of Buddhist monks and nuns preserved, protected and defended ancient peaceful Buddhist practice from the Potala in Lhasa to the hundreds of lamaseries throughout the country.

Truly, that romantic version of Tibetan Shangri-la is... off the mark by quite a bit.

The Chinese knew how phony it was, but so did numerous Western travelers and observers -- prior to the Revolution, that is. Tibet as it was, and as many observers testified, was demon-haunted, riven with violence and intense poverty and disease, grossly and deliberately kept backward by the lamas, and despite the constant spinning of prayer wheels, was a society that was too often behaving the opposite of Buddhist practice.

Chinese intervention was not welcomed, not by a long shot, but resistance was futile, as is so often the case with colonial/imperial projects launched from powerful centers. There was-- and still is -- resistance though, and China has not been able to fully transform Tibet into a glittery simulacrum of what so many people seem to believe it once was. It's an uncomfortable hybrid of Chinese driven "progress" and oppression together with surprisingly strong remnants of its former lama-driven but essentially cruel feudal past.

This is the Chinese propaganda version of the Tibetan transformation since the Revolution:

Nice, right? Well, it's not quite like that. The gloss is not quite so shiny, and the benefits of living under strict Chinese colonial control are less than ideal for many Tibetans who face severe restrictions on their freedoms of belief and action and punishment for disobedience and resistance.

This is the Dalai Lama's propaganda version of Tibet Today and Yesterday:

Horrible, right? Well, it's not quite like that.

A different take:

Like most colonial projects, Tibet since the Chinese take over has been a mixed bag. There has been immense material progress while suppressing the lamaseries. There has been resistance and acquiescence. The Chinese have sought to sanitize and monetize the Buddhist, lama-dominated  Tibetan culture while exploiting the land and people for the benefit of China. All of which is typical of colonial projects undertaken in the West over the past centuries.

In addition, Han Chinese have emigrated to and settled in Tibet in numbers sufficient to make them the majority of the population. It's not clear to me whether they are unwelcome, any more than it was obvious that the British were unwelcome in all of their various colonies during the Imperial period.

Colonization is a mixed bag.

This is something I sometimes get into with regard to my Irish ancestry. Ireland was for 800 years a colonial possession of Britain, and for much of that time, the British behaved badly to say the least. Eventually, the Irish achieved a rough form of autonomy and then independence from Britain -- except for those in Northern Ireland who are still to this day subject to the Crown.

The Irish Republic, however, is almost as proud of its British heritage and legacy as the home country is.

You would think that once Ireland achieved independence, the Irish would reject pretty much everything the British imposed on them, and they haven't. Not even close. Same with India, Ceylon, Burma, Singapore, etc., etc. The United States, among so many other former colonies, treasures its British colonial past.

And so it goes. From the outside, it looks like that's the course Tibet is on as well. Ultimately, China's colonial impositions will be put in an overall positive context while acknowledging the bad things that happened.

Under the lamas, Tibet was a cruel and brutal feudal and demon-haunted place, not at all like the Shangri-la paradise of lore and legend or as hinted by mostly Western "Free Tibet" activists. The lamaseries had so many thousands of monks and nuns in part because they were places of refuge ("I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the Dharma; I take refuge in the Sangha.") from a truly awful outside reality, full of suffering and woe. The Chinese disbanded and destroyed many of the lamaseries -- and preserved others -- while transforming the domestic society into something more closely resembling the modern material societies in China and elsewhere.

Is this a good thing? Not entirely, and not necessarily in any case, but given their druthers -- which is unlikely -- I doubt that most Tibetans would want to go back to the way things were before the Chinese took over.

They, like most colonized people, like much of the material benefit that comes with colonization. They like running water, decent housing, electricity, paved roads, automobiles, and electronics. They like education and opportunity where once there was none outside the lamaseries. The elements of progress make their lives easier and potentially more rewarding. They like the end of arbitrary rule by cruel landlords. lamas and village chiefs. They don't like the oppression and suppression that seems to be built in to the Chinese psyche. They don't like having their faith and beliefs challenged by modernity and materialism, even if they like the benefits. They don't like their traditional ways of life being replaced by... what? Colonialism always leaves the question open.

I ponder the question of Tibet these days because of my slow-walking return to Buddhism after so many years in another realm of existence altogether. Tibet is a primary Buddhist center, both for philosophy and practice, and the Dalai Lama is the principal Buddhist spokesman in the world today, widely revered even by non-Buddhists.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

On Rule by Bullies and Their Toadies

It's gobsmacking how the bullies and toadies of the Trump regime are constantly able to pull victory from the jaws of defeat -- no matter what.

Even if the Impeachment Circus manages to culminate in Trump's removal -- I doubt it will -- the legacy of chaos, corruption, lies, fantasies, fabrications, and bullying will remain, not to be easily undone, perhaps forever more.

Some observers like to say that whatever is happening, whatever the regime is doing, whatever Trump is saying, and however much is disrupted, it's all "wonderfully clarifying," as if we wouldn't have known how rotten and diseased our politics and ruling paradigms are otherwise. Bollocks. Utter bollocks. We knew, we've known, I've been writing about it here since 2007 and before that in many other venues almost since the Internet began in earnest.

We knew. We know. "Clarification" is not the necessary element at this point. What's needed is action, profound and serious, to correct course, and I simply don't see that anywhere in the political firmament or in the increasingly captive realm of influencers and commentariats. It's almost all ruled by bullies and their toadies. No one else has a voice. And there is no goodness at or near the top anywhere.

Certainly there are no saviours. Not in today's politics, nor in academe, nor in any of the various sectors that rule us. Trump and his regime may represent the worst of it, though I'm certain there are worse examples we could dredge up from the depths of the muck, but taking them out of the picture, it's still really dreadful. As it has been for many a long year.

Yet we carry on because we must. It's instinctive.

Goodness may not be on the horizon no matter how hard we yearn for it, yet there are always escape hatches and alternatives.And they'll be turned to more and more as things deteriorate for the masses.

A key to understanding the situation is the realization that We, the Rabble are expendable. That's key to recognizing how bullies and their toadies are able to rule no matter how bad or incompetent or worthless they are. None of us, the Rabble, are necessary to their way of looking at things, and the only reason we're here at all is because they let us live. Period.

Some of us may have some utility some of the time, but none of us are necessary.

That is supposed to lead us to being grateful. If we're not, there are always things that can be done to make us feel appropriate gratitude or to relieve us of our mortal coil. It's just that simple at bottom.

Whoever/whatever replaces the Trump regime may or may not be qualitatively better, may behave less outrageously, may show some signs of competence and compassion, but at bottom will still believe what the Trump regime believes about the rest of us, and will still act on that belief one way or another -- though perhaps with more caution than the Trumpies have.

We will not elect a Good Emperor after this shitshow.

No, a dismal precedent has been set in concrete. Elections may continue indefinitely -- they did in Ancient Rome, after all -- but their meaninglessness will be made clear as well. The Emperor will be chosen, by whom is not entirely clear, but it won't be by the People. Neither will it be by a monolithic Ruling Class. That class is riven with factionalism, fractured and in disarray. The young-ish "disrupters" of Silicon Valley are jockeying for ultimate power, and so far, the Ruling Class resistance to them is more stylistical than substantive. As long as the disrupters are able to keep the masses from coalescing, so be it. Otherwise, though, no.

So Zuckerberg may be a strange, alienish, robotic something or other, and Bezos is a bizarre offshoot of the human race, and so many of the other would-be High and Mighty tech tycoons likewise, they are useful enough that they're kept around by the faltering and factional Ruling Class. They may one day emerge as the successors to today's Ruling Class, but they will be no better. Arguably, they will represent the continued devolution of the Class.

And they are no less devoted to bullying and toadying. It is how they've achieved what they have, and how they fully intend to expand and maintain it.

To the extent they are able to exploit the rest of us they will do so. Otherwise, enh.

What to do?

Tolstoy wrote a book (173pg pdf) that seems almost as pertinent today as it was 130 years ago.

I may have more on this topic shortly, but for now...

Wednesday, October 9, 2019


This is our Buddha shrine. There's more to it, but you get an idea. It combines some of the aspects of the Buddha stories including the elephant, horse, other animals and plants, followers, centered meditation, and so on. It's not a place of worship, it's a place of reminder. As are a number of other shrines in the house, some focused on Native elements, some on St. Francis, some of them unfocused, such as the one in the bedroom that includes several carved birds, a dinosaur model, a tiny black and white cat, and cornmeal offering.  Not to forget the skull images from Dia de los Muertos. Of course.

This is New Mexico where a polyglot amalgam of faiths is relatively commonplace. Honoring tradition is a basic cultural element in these parts, and tradition plays a huge part in faith communities. What was done hundreds of years ago is for the most part the same cycles and rituals done today.

I don't know the history of Buddhism in New Mexico, but there is a strong and growing community of practicing Buddhists and a diverse community of laypeople professing some aspect of Buddhist practice. I wouldn't call it "belief" because there isn't anything in particular to believe in Buddhism. One practices. One sits, one meditates for varying lengths of time, one goes about one's day. One studies the sutras or not,  one questions, one takes action to be kind, compassionate, joyful, and "detached." One is not what one does or says or thinks or believes. All of that is illusion.

Even the concept that one is is an illusion. But this path of thought cannot lead to Enlightenment. It is more like an eternally turning wheel, not the Dharma Wheel, but not not it, either. Letting go of the concept of Is-ness is itself an element of Buddhist practice, but even perfect letting go is not sufficient in itself to achieve Enlightenment or Buddha-hood. Not that that is necessarily desirable in and of itself. It is simply something that may happen -- or not.

I've had the Diamond Sutra on speed dial lately. It never struck me as particularly profound, and I'm not sure it's meant to be. It's more in the nature of a reminder of how transitory our corporeal existence/experience is, and how false in some ways (all ways, no ways) it is. We live in illusion, creating that illusion as we live.

A talk on the meaning/not meaning of the Diamond Sutra is appended herewith:

Zazenkai: Inside the Buddha’s Body

(email sign up required to listen, but it's relatively stress -- and marketing -- free)

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Was Greta the Catalyst for Impeachment of Trump?

The Speaker of the House at long last has announced the "official" start of an impeachment inquiry into the actions of the President of the United States -- apparently over the revelations that the Intelligence Community's Inspector General received a "credible" complaint by an internal whistleblower about...something... an unspecified official (presumed to be the president) did that was inappropriate and possibly illegal with regard to a foreign leader earlier this year.

OK. This is all pretty murky. The IG made a presentation to the House Judiciary Committee but was unable to supply the requested complaint itself as the Director of National Intelligence had refused to release it to Congress on advice of the Department of Justice, despite clear language in the law that required the matter to go before Congress for consideration.

Apparently the DoJ in the person of the Attorney General decided to override the law, claiming to have evaluated the matter as "not urgent."

The matter is assumed by the media to be about the president pressuring the recently elected leader of Ukraine to reopen an investigation of Hunter Biden, son of Joe Biden, with regard to his service on the board of a Ukrainian gas company some years ago along with Biden's father Joe's request of the former government of Ukraine to remove the prosecutor who had been investigating the company but who was considered irredeemably corrupt both inside and outside the country.

But it is not entirely clear that's the case.

Up to now, Nancy Pelosi has been adamantly opposed to any formal impeachment process in the House of Representatives, often claiming that "the people" aren't supportive of it, and therefore it shouldn't be done.

Suddenly something changed.

Meanwhile at the United Nations, Greta Thunberg made an impassioned speech to the Climate Forum, j'accuse style, that set the world abuzz.

Take a listen:

She shamed the leaders of the world in less than five minutes, shamed them for doing less than they should, or doing nothing at all, in the face of a global existential climate crisis that if unaddressed spells doom for her generation or shortly after. "How dare you!" she bellowed, and her rage was felt around the world.

Meanwhile in DC, the same levels of outrage had been building for years at the inaction of the US Congress and (usually) the courts to hold the current ruling regime and the president to account, to curb their excesses, and to look into impeaching Trump's sorry ass for numerous offenses against simple decency and law, let alone the unending chaos of his regime.

Nancy wouldn't do it. Republicans wouldn't do it. Nobody would. The shit show went on and on, and nothing was done about it by anybody who could do anything about it. The leadership in DC at every level of every party was failing badly.

And then Greta made her speech at the UN and things almost immediately started changing. Maybe not fixing climate, no, but starting finally to think about fixing grossly dysfunctional governments that have failed badly for a generation or more. It's long past time.

At this point, though, it may be too late, either for the climate or for governments. The tipping point may be passed, and there is no going back.

We'll see...

Monday, August 26, 2019

Among the Swells in Santa Fe

As many know, Santa Fe is home to a lot of rich people, mostly older people who made their money elsewhere and have retired to this tail end of the Rocky Mountains to live and love among their own kind but with "Santa Fe Style".

While we are older, we are far from rich. We don't live in Santa Fe, and truthfully I wouldn't want to -- though Ms. Ché occasionally casts longing glances there or toward Taos -- but in the little town where we do live our income makes us pretty well off. I sometimes think that we could afford to live in Santa Fe (it's a very expensive city) but barely. Half or more of our income would go for housing; we'd have little or no discretionary income for doing the things we do, whether it's travel, education, health care, or purchasing art. We are only able to donate a substantial portion of our income to various causes in part because we don't live in Santa Fe!

And because we are able to buy art and donate to museums and educational institutions, we are sometimes invited to mix and mingle among the swells of Santa Fe, which in fact we did a while ago at a get together of museum donors, art collectors and fancy people at the home of one of Santa Fe's big collectors in Las Campanas, a very tony newer large homes-on-acreage development on the outskirts of the city.

We'd never been to Las Campanas before. We'd heard about it and about the kinds of people who live there, mostly retired rich people who want to live in something newer that they've had built themselves rather than the often rattletrap money pits on the tiny lots of the Historic Eastside where some of Santa Fe's highest dollar movers and shakers have lived for generations. It's freedom to be out in the country on acreage, with views to die for, and little of the hub bub of the city. In town living is not for faint of heart. Despite the fact that Santa Fe is a small city, traffic can be horrendous, and it can be difficult to get around at the best of times let alone when one or another market or festival is under way. Which is pretty much always.

So, out to Las Campanas we went, taking the trusty red van because the car is in the shop, tooling along seemingly forever on the "Relief Road" to get to the entrance road to Las Campanas, Camino La Tierra, then to thread out way along twisty-turny one lane, one way roads up hill and down dale, making only one wrong turn until we got to the gate that blocked access to the house where we were to have a tour and eat some grub. Handily, a security guard was on duty and opened the gate for us with a great big smile, and we found some place to park on the narrow street out front of the house. There were already a lot of cars, and we weren't even particularly late. My. It seemed like there would be many more than the 40 guests maximum, but no, when we got inside and made a quick count, there were barely thirty, and as the evening progressed no more than an additional five or so arrived.

We knew some of them, but many more were strangers to us, and I'm afraid I was somewhat standoffish with people I didn't know. The hosts were new to us, but very charming, and we felt warm and welcome in their company. We did not initially make a thorough inspection of their collection, but my goodness, just the things within the walled outdoor area were breathtaking.

The house was not as large as I expected, but it was on a three acre lot on the brow of a ridge, and from the back patios, the view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was spectacular. Thunder storms were gathering, but we paid the weather little mind as we munched on brie and prawns and homegrown grapes and chatted with various guests, most of whom were our age or older, much richer, and -- perhaps sadly -- mostly lone females. Oh, how many were widows?

The hosts were an interesting couple. He considerably younger than she. She was from Germany, and she reminded me very much of a charming German woman I'd met in Albuquerque some years ago at the Peace and Justice Center where we attended a PBS film about Native children in New England who had been taken from their parents and raised in the equivalent of old-line boarding schools or farmed out to foster care and how they were coping with the experience as adults.

Most Americans have little idea there are present day Native tribes in New York, New England and on much of the east coast as far south as Virginia and beyond. The stories of removal of the Cherokees and others from the Southeast are so strong, there is little inkling that a few Natives still populate many areas of the east. The stories told of the horrors many have endured and still do, however, are heartbreaking.

I chatted with this German lady (whose name I don't recall) after the film presentation because she wanted to talk about how she became interested in Native Americans. How did she, a middle class girl in Germany, become so fascinated with Native Americans that she eventually moved to the Southwest and immersed herself in American Indian culture, lore and legend? She asked me if I'd ever heard of Karl May.

Oh yes, my yes.

I had recently studied some of his works for reason I don't recall (memory not being my strong suit any more). Karl May was a prolific German writer in the last quarter of the 19th Century and the first decade of the 20th Century. He wrote novels, essays, magazine articles and so on, hundreds and hundreds of major works, and probably thousands of minor works and sold hundreds of millions of volumes, many dealing with the American Wild West -- where he'd never been.

His stories of Winnotou the Apache chief, and Old Shatterhand, the white adventurer, were wildly popular in German speaking lands, a popularity that continues to this day, somewhat like the works of Mark Twain in the USA.

The German woman I met and chatted with at the Peace and Justice Center in Albuquerque had grown up reading Karl May novels of the Old West, and as soon as she had the opportunity, she had traveled to the Southwest US to see the lands and people May had described in his books for herself.

She said what she found was even more wonderful than Karl May's invented world, and she vowed one day to live here. And so she did. The story of how she came to live in the Southwest US was as much of an adventure story as anything Karl May wrote. I won't go into the details -- partly because I don't remember them all -- but as we toured the home of our hosts and heard their stories, I was strongly reminded of the stories I'd heard from a lovely German woman years ago. Could I be hearing from the same woman at her home now? I was hearing about Karl May, about her determination, about adventure that continues today, and about a deep and abiding respect for American Indians, a view and respect of the Native Peoples she had learned from popular novels in Germany.

I don't know whether the women were the same one or doppelgangers of one another. I didn't have the opportunity to ask our hostess whether we had met years ago in Albuquerque, and knowing how nervous Santa Fe residents are regarding Albuquerque ("I wouldn't go there for any reason, except to pick someone up from the airport -- and then only if I had to" we've heard more than one Santa Fean say) it might not have been appropriate for me to raise the subject among so many Santa Fe swells. But I continue to think she might be the lady I'd talked to about Karl May years before in Albuquerque.

The art collection we'd gone to view was certainly extensive, and according to our hosts, they'd had the house built specifically to showcase their collection. It did that very well indeed. Many -- perhaps most  -- of the collection had come from their home in Virginia after being transported there from Santa Fe over many years of back-and-forth. Now they had returned to Santa Fe.

Most of the collection focused on Native American art and artists, but there were some remarkable "other" things, including a Kandinsky, a Warhol, several Red Grooms works, a Janis Joplin drawing, and so on. The non-Native works were mostly confined to hallways, offices, and other less public areas of the home.

Among the Native American artists featured were three or four we knew well, and their works were all over the house, so many of them we felt like this couple were their primary patrons. Could be.

Our own collection cannot compare in terms of monetary value. I would estimate the value of the couple's collection at several million dollars, possibly as much as $10 million. Conceivably more.

That's not all that unusual in Santa Fe, but we were chatting with some gallery owners/operators a couple of weeks ago who said that the art market is doing poorly these days, despite the fact that some people are doing very well financially. There's plenty of money sloshing around. The problem seemed to be that older people with money were disposing of their collections -- which put downward pressure on prices -- while younger people with money weren't interested in purchasing art. They wanted to travel, buy fine cars, eat well, and they kept their residences small and simple with little or no room for art. It was a dilemma. There was so much art on the market but too few buyers.

One of the galleries had really high-end historic regional art for sale, paintings from the early 1900s to the 1970s, breathtaking prices --$100,000 +, and yet they were actually 30% to 50% lower than they might have been 10 years ago. I've seen the same phenomenon happen with (some) classic cars, antique furniture, and other collectibles. Despite obscene levels of wealth among the high rollers, what they buy these days is not what once appealed to them. They aren't even buying expensive jewelry at anywhere near the amount they once did when they weren't as rich. What gives?

I have a theory which I can't document, it's just a sense. These people know quite well the peril the planet is in due to the consequences of climate change. They've been preparing for years, and part of the preparation is finding locations that will be relatively safe from sea level rise and temperature extremes -- Santa Fe and environs is one of those locations.

I've written about Jeffrey Epstein's Zorro Ranch up the road from our place and 20 miles or so south of Santa Fe. Well, it's just one of many similar retreats should everything go to shit.  He bought and built it 20 years ago, and ever since the tendency to establish such retreats from catastrophe has only accelerated. They're expensive.

To have one that is both accessible and defensible (as Zorro Ranch is/was) is difficult and costs a fortune. To keep it supplied, patrolled and defended even more so. To the extent the money of the rich is going anywhere, I suspect that's where it's going. Priorities...

(Just a quick note on Zorro Ranch activities lately. We pass by it every time we go to Santa Fe and return, so we can keep tabs on visible activity there. There are parts of the ranch we can't see from the road, but we can see the gigantic hacienda, the worker-village, the gate to the property, the microwave and cell-phone towers, the cattle, etc. New No Trespassing signs have gone up on the fences by the road. There's a prominent one beside the gate. Exterior lights are on at the hacienda, but there don't appear to be interior lights on in the house much any more. Lights are on in the workers' village. We have not seen patrol vehicles since that one time I mentioned weeks ago. There have been attempts to enter the ranch by people unknown. For example, one day there were two white SUVs stopped at the gate, both apparently filled with passengers. A young-ish slim brunette woman was standing beside the first SUV talking to the driver. I'm pretty sure she was part of the party trying to get in.. I suspect they were media. There have been previous unsuccessful attempts by media to get through the gate. Once a British accented woman answered the gate buzzer and was quite curt with media trying to get in. Staff in pickups comes and goes periodically. The exotic cattle still graze. In other words, the ranch appears to continue in operation, but except for that one time we saw the hacienda lit up as if for a party, the main house appears to be unused. But who knows? And yes, there is supposed to be a secure bunker of some sort under the hacienda. Speculate as you will...)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Lights Were On at Zorro Ranch Last Night

Hm. As we were coming back from Santa Fe last night around midnight, we passed by Jeffrey Epstein's  Zorro Ranch as we often do, and sure enough the "hacienda" on the mesa-edge was blazing with lights as if someone were there.

Epstein has been dead for a week or more not quite a week,  so they say, and as far as we know he hasn't been at the ranch for years, but that's really hard to confirm because there is a secluded airstrip on the ranch that can't be seen from the road or anywhere the public might have access to. If he'd flown in, who would know? That's always a question with people like this. Who would actually know except his closest inner circle?

Despite reports of his death in custody in New York, there has been speculation that he's alive and all of the news reports are a distraction and a ruse. Supposedly -- if he is alive -- he's been spirited to Israel or Europe or somewhere. Maybe. I'm not buying it, but it's a thought. And why wouldn't he be spirited to the ranch for that matter? It might make more sense in some ways.

But we don't know, and we're not likely to know, the truth of what's going on here, in part because it doesn't concern us. Our Betters will take care of it as they always do. We should just let the show proceed, no?

[Not only that. Yesterday we saw a car patrolling the perimeter of the ranch, something I don't think we've ever seen before. It looked a lot like an unmarked police car, not the usual ranch vehicles we've seen quite often. Interesting...]

Friday, August 9, 2019

Seeing Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood [with updated notes]

Before all the recent massacres, we went with friends to see a movie, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," after consuming way too many plates at the Albuquerque sushi joint we like to patronize. It's on Tramway just below the  rise of the Sandia Mountains, and like many areas of 'Burque, it reminds me a lot of parts of LA a long time ago. V. B. Price calls Albuquerque "City at the End of the World" partly because of those mountains rising heavenward on the edge of forever. Los Angeles, where he and I both had shallow roots, has many similar mountains, and when I was a kid in far eastern LA County, the mountains I saw out my living room picture window were the San Gabriels, with Mount San Antonio ("Old Baldy") gleaming with snow all year long as the anchor to the mountain range. This is a Google street view of the mountains from the vantage point of the street where I lived from 1954 to 1959. The yellow house on the left is where I lived.

Imagine the scene without the trees and you have a good approximation of what I could see out my living room window.

Well, when I could see the mountains at all. It was a smoggy era, and more often than not, the mountains and everything else were obscured with a thick, choking yellow-brown haze. The smog defined what you could and couldn't see and more often than not, you had a very limited view no matter where you turned. The smog was worst on the still summer days when it built up so thick and heavy, you could feel it pressing down on you and you hesitated to take a breath.

I left LA in 1959 and didn't go back until 1969 when on a whim one June or July late summer day, Ms Ché and I drove down the coast on Highway 1 from San Jose in the 1951 Buick I'd purchased a few weeks before. * We were headed for who knew where. Somewhere south, places I'd known as a kid, maybe to a mission or two. I didn't know.

We wound up sitting in front of the house where I'd lived from 1954 to 1959. How I was able to find it with hardly a wrong turn on the road after ten years away and never having driven in LA before, I can barely imagine now. But there we were. The house had been painted yellow and looked much shabbier than I remembered. The whole neighborhood was shabby it seemed to me, and it seemed almost as if the life had left it. The smog was as thick as ever. It was a little before noon. I asked Ms. whether she wanted to see Hollywood and Beverly Hills and all that. She said "Sure."

This was Ms. Ché's first trip to LA and she seemed to like it. It was my first trip back but my umpteenth time in the City of Angels. And I didn't like it much.Which surprised me, because I'd long felt that LA was my home, and I had faced extreme culture shock leaving for Northern California when I was 10. Yet coming back when I was 20, more of a hippie rebel and wanderer than not, I felt it was a phony and dismal place, ugly at heart, and as we toured the sights in Hollywood, cruising Sunset, I got this notion that's never left me: LA is a killer culture. I was lucky to be out of there. I doubted I would have lived had I stayed.

I didn't tell her at the time, though. I'm not sure I ever have.

The Tate-LaBianca murders hadn't happened yet [*See below, yes they had], but there was definitely something in the air -- besides the smog -- that presaged a coming bad thing, something spiritually, psychically foreboding.. I attributed it at the time to my own personal sense of that killer culture I'd never quite grasped before. [As I've thought back on it, the murders may have been an underlying reason why I wanted to go back a few weeks after they happened, even if I wasn't consciously motivated at the time. Maybe I wanted to see for myself...]

I showed her places I recalled in Hollywood and up into the hills [was I looking for Cielo Dr.? Could be...], but mostly we just drove around at random and finally wound up at the ocean at Santa Monica Pier. A brief stop there, and then it was back up the coast, headed north, spending the night in Santa Maria, then in the morning driving nonstop up 101 to San Jose again then across the Valley to our home. An almost three day adventure.

So when we went to see the movie, before all the recent massacres, it was with a sense of anticipation and not a little dread. We knew what it was about --or thought we did. We were not Tarantino fans, but at least I had an open mind about what the picture might have to offer.

It didn't disappoint.

Though its climax shocked and appalled and horrified, it was a cartoon, and because it was a cartoon, the horror of the climax ultimately evaporated almost like a dream. This didn't happen. You imagined it. Or rather, Tarantino imagined it for you.

The climax is very bloody and worse, but... it wasn't real. That's not what happened.

The Tate-LaBianca murders really did happen. They were a pivotal event and not only in Hollywood. They began to bring the curtain down on an era. The Counterculture had run amok. Woodstock was yet to come and the dreadful Altamont. We continued to protest and march against the Vietnam War. Nixon was a lightning rod for youthful anger.

But after the murders, something changed --again, not to forget all the psychic changes after the assassinations and insurrections of 1968 -- and there was no going back.

Tarantino is too young to remember much of the '60s, and yet he recreated a version of Hollywood c.1969 that mostly felt right. I'd put it this way: we didn't know what was to come, and because we didn't know, we put on a brave face and continued with our lives regardless. That's the case for the characters in the movie as well..They could feel that things were changing, particularly the main characters, but they didn't know what or how. My guess:50 years on, and they still don't know. They're in the business of creating illusion after all, an illusion which reality rarely penetrates.

After the movie, I said to our friends (all much younger than us and with no memories of the '60s or Hollywood as it was or... well, you get the idea ... that what really bothered me about the picture was the license plates on the cars. (They were the right color/style for the era -- black with yellow letters and numbers, though they would start changing to blue and yellow in 1969) -- but Tarantino was fucking with our memories by jumbling the letters and numbers, instead of having plates with three letters followed by three numbers the way they were in California back then. He was fucking with us.

Yes. Yes he was. Quite deliberately too.

Things really did change in 1969. Nothing would be quite the same again. LA and Hollywood wouldn't be the same again.

Having someone too young to remember tell us old farts what happened -- as he sees it -- is really more valuable than not. No, his history is skewed, but what if...?

What if...?
* Ms. Ché and I were talking about it the other day, and she remembered something that was going on at Cal Expo the day we left, so she said we could probably figure out the date from that. Sure enough, it was September 4, going into the weekend after Labor Day. This struck me as odd at first because I thought we were still taking classes and would have to be at college. She said, "don't you remember?" I graduated that June and she'd graduated the year before. We were done with our educations for the time being. Oh. No. I didn't remember. Later that month I would take a job in Stockton and we would move there.

September 4 was several weeks after the Tate murders, so obviously, they were on our minds. No one knew who had done it, though the caretaker had been arrested. At that time, the Tate murders were not officially connected with the La Bianca murders nor with a string of other murders the Manson followers would be accused of. Arrests of Manson Family suspects for the Tate murders would not come until October.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere in LA, heavy with smog as it was, let you feel the burden of death. How much of it was on our minds, I don't know. But Ms. Ché confirmed that we went out to Santa Monica before leaving, and it was a relief to be by the ocean and feel the ozone wash over us, almost cleansing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Blumenschein House, Taos

Star Road and White Sun by Ernest L. Blumenschein c.1920, Albuquerque Museum 

Since I've been on this dwelling theme for a while, why not continue for a bit longer, eh?

I was back in Taos over the weekend to pick up Ms. Ché who'd finished her writers' conference, and we decided to stop at the Blumenschein House on our way out of town to compare and contrast it with the Couse House which we'd visited the prior weekend.

Blumenschein, together with Bert Phillips, started the process of making Taos into the place it is today when their famous Wagon Wheel broke a couple of dozen miles from town and Blumenschein won the toss to take it into the hamlet somewhere down below them to get it fixed. They had to wait, as one can imagine there in the middle of nowhere, and so they did.

While waiting, they became enchanted, so the story goes, and they spent the rest of the summer awestruck and delighted, painting up a storm, and pondering their own futures.

Phillips stayed in Taos the rest of his life. Having settled in, there's no other place he'd rather be. Blumenschein went back to Paris where Joseph Henry Sharp had told him and Bert about the enchantment to be found in Northern New Mexico, and one thing led, eventually, to another, and all of them wound up living and working in Taos at least part time, and Blumenschein and his wife Mary settled in themselves, purchasing Buck Dunton's place (or part of it) on Ledoux St, where they set up quarters of a sort and a studio in four ancient rooms said to have been a part of the village defenses against the Indians when time was.

I won't go into that history, but quite a few of the Spanish settlements in Tierra Adentro were consciously built as fortresses, and the village of Taos was no exception. The Indians were wild back in the day, particularly Kiowa, Comanche, Apache and Navajos.

The appropriate tangent at this point is to mention that there are three distinct "Taos"-es. There is the ancient Indian Pueblo at the foot of the Mountain; there is the village some three or four miles south; then there is Ranchos de Taos, several miles south of the village, where stands San Francisco de Asis mission church that's been painted by Georgia O'Keeffe dozens of times and by other painters endless numbers of times.  Side note: Dennis Hopper is buried in Ranchos de Taos, and his grave is a pilgrimage site for a diminishing number of aging Easy Riders.

Surrounding all of this is an amorphous outlying settlement area dotted with ranches and ranchettes and earthships and what have you where by far the largest number of Taoseños currently live scattered to the winds perhaps, but partaking in their own way the essence of that Sacred Placewhere they don't have to mix too much with the tourists.

At least it's not as bad as Sedona.

Anyway, none of the Taoses would be what they are today without Bluemschein and Phillips and the other members of the Taos Society of Artists and their numerous offshoots and successors and the many other influencers who have passed through or settled there since that fateful Wagon Wheel broke in the summer of 1898.

Blumenschein returned to Taos in the summertime for years, but he lived in Paris or New York, making money as a successful illustrator for magazines and books, until 1919 when he purchased "four rooms" from Buck Dunton, another member of the Taos Society, and settled in, or at least tried to. This was like camping out for the Blumenscheins and most of the other artists attracted by the Blumenscheins and others to Taos. The four rooms were built of mud and timbers, some of the structure apparently among the oldest still standing in the village, they had little heat, no electricity or indoor plumbing, and like everything else in Taos they were at the edge of Nowhere. It's hard to explain how difficult it was to get to Taos from anywhere else, and to get from Taos to anywhere else. This isolation was both a handicap and a blessing.

The house as it stands today is a rambling L shaped structure around a lush courtyard, in one corner of which is Buck Dunton's studio -- which he apparently kept even after all the other rooms on the property  had been purchased by the Blumenscheins. This part of the story is a little confusing to me. Apparently Buck bought part of the rambling structure from earlier residents, but most of the structure was owned by and lived in by long-time Hispanic residents who one by one were persuaded to vacate by Blumenschein's offers of cash money. At least that's how I interpret the story of how Ernest Blumenschein eventually acquired the entire property.

This is a pattern that repeats over and over again -- even now --throughout the fancier and more tourist oriented areas of New Mexico. It's a form of gentrification, pushing out the original settlers and descendants to make way for the shiny, sophisticated newcomers. "Sophisticated" is the key.

The Blumenscheins were nothing if not sophisticated, and yet their mud house on Ledoux Street is a curious amalgam of its primitive Hispanic roots and the high style that the Blumenscheins had acquired in Paris and New York. Curiously, there's almost no Native influence in the house at all, though apparently they employed Native servants as well as Hispanic ones (this was typical of the art colony.)

The Couse house shows lots of Native influence or at least artifacts, and Mabel's Place up the road from the Couse House was built by Native artisans from the Pueblo, and of course, Mabel was married to Tony Luhan (who had his own house on the property) who was born and raised (and had another wife and children) on the Pueblo.

There are a number of other Taos Society historic sites to explore, and eventually we may get to them, or not. I started my explorations of this sort many years ago at La Fonda de Taos where I stopped one evening to take in the D.H.Lawrence scandalous paintings. The ones there now are reproductions, but I saw the originals... and to be kind, I wasn't moved. But it started my journey to learn more about the artistic history of Taos.

It's a story of colonizers and colonization, one that has transformed some of New Mexico yet has left much of the rest of the state practically untouched.

On our way back from Taos this past Sunday we stopped off at the Santuario de Chimayó where a large group of East Indian pilgrims was taking all the Holy Dirt out of the Holy Dirt Pit and transporting it away in gallon containers. There seemed to be none left for the other pilgrims. We sat beside the abandoned crutches and Santo Niño and shook our heads in wonder and wiped the sweat from our brows as the heat and humidity of the day was surprisingly intense. We nodded to the statue of Father Roca in the courtyard. His generosity of spirit will live on....

Saturday, July 13, 2019

I Lived Here

This is getting bizarre. I wasn't sure about the address. After all, I left this place when I was three or four years old, but some numbers came back to me, and when I plugged them in, up popped this duplex. Sure enough, it's where I lived with my mother and sister in 1951. Not sure when we moved in. Nor am I quite sure when we moved to the other side of the tracks* -- either 1951 or 52. I remember that in 1953 we moved to Los Angeles County. This duplex is in Santa Barbara County.

The exterior is almost exactly as I remember it. The colors are the same. The windows are different, the front doors are solid --they were multi-pane glass when I was a kid -- and the fence and overhead on the left side (the side we lived in) weren't there, but otherwise it's remarkably preserved.

The interior is a different matter. It's been so radically renovated that I barely recognize anything. It almost looks like it's been made into a four-plex rather than the duplex it had been, but I can't tell for sure, and the listing states a duplex with two two bedroom one bath units. The interior photos, however, are very confusing with bathrooms opening off living rooms and kitchens tucked into odd corners, nothing at all like the place I remember fairly well after all these years.

The trouble is there's another house down the street -- two bedroom, one bath single family home that strongly resembles this duplex -- where I think we lived before we moved to this place. Or possibly after. My memory is scrambled when it comes to these houses. I distinctly remember living in a duplex but the picture I have in my mind's eye is not this one -- although we definitely lived here. It's a duplex on another street and my memory of it is quite dreadful. It was tiny, stinky and dark. This one is quite light  especially in the morning for it faces east.

The house down the street is similar, but it is laid out differently. The bedrooms in that house, for example, are on the right side with a bathroom in between. There's a living room, dining room and kitchen on the left side. There's a fireplace in the living room. All of which I remember, and none of which are/were in this duplex. So I don't know what's going on. It's possible that we didn't live in the house down the street, but I stayed there during the day while my mother worked. But maybe not..

I don't know.

This is the house down the street I remember:

There was a big field behind it. Maybe we lived there briefly before moving to the duplex or maybe it was the other way around.

The confusion is part of the reason why I'm working on a mapping project as an artistic way to remember or forget. I've lived in so many places in my life, and honestly, I don't remember half of them, or if I do, it's just snapshots divorced from locations.

We'll see if another one turns up in a real estate listing.

*the tracks mostly aren't there any more, but like most California agricultural towns, the railroad was critically important to moving produce and people and for the development of the town and region.  In this case, the tracks which ran north and south divided the town in two. West of the tracks was Tigertown, very much a working class area of very modest homes and industrial/equipment plants. East of the tracks was something better, whiter, and much more at ease.  When we lived in the duplex above, we lived just west of the tracks -- close enough for me to hear the whistles and the clanging bells in the morning, but not quite close enough to see the engines and cars passing by.

Living in Tigertown didn't bother me, but then I was three, what did I know? Moving across the tracks was more of a culture shock than one might think for a white boy, but there you are. Certain assumptions were made by our new neighbors since we had come from "over there" and given the fact that my mother wasn't married, well, you can just imagine...

Again, though, it's another story for another time.

I Lived Here

This was my father's house in Iowa. It had been his father's, and for years in the 20s, 30s, and 40s it was used as a family "spare" house. Many members of my father's large family lived here for varying lengths of time until the late 40s when my father and his youngest sister movedin permanently.

The small window on the first floor is where the front door to the house and then to the upstairs apartment was. I'm not entirely sure why it was closed off. Now the main entrance to the house is on the side under the porch roof, where the downstairs apartment entrance was back in the day, but it makes getting to the stairs awkward as hell, as they are still where they were when my father lived there.

It was a very old house, or at least parts of it were. It started as a two room single story house perhaps as early as the 1840s. It was gradually added to in the 19th century, gaining a number of wings and a second story. Later, long after my father died and the house was sold in 1969, an extension was added  to the back of the kitchen, and even a two car garage was built beyond that. It appears to be quite a large house now, but I know it is not.

I lived there from the time I was born until my parents' divorce, essentially only 9 months, though I returned to Iowa in 1961 and 62 for a couple of months in the summer each year. The first summer I stayed in the upstairs apartment that had recently been vacated by the death of my father's youngest sister who had lived there for decades. At the time, the house was divided into two apartments. I don't know when that happened, but it had to have been no later than about 1930, as I've found many records showing various members of my father's family living in the separate units upstairs and downstairs.

The second summer, I stayed at a hotel down the street because my father had rented out the upstairs apartment.

The house looks large, but it's not. The rooms are tiny. Unfortunately, the interior pictures in the listing are very poor, and it is difficult to gain any sense of orientation and size of the rooms. When I first saw them, I couldn't figure out where in the house most of the pictures were taken. After studying them a little while, however, some of the pictures of the interior began to make sense.

For example: this is a picture of what had been my sister's downstairs bedroom when I was and infant and was transformed into a cramped living room when I visited as a pre-teen.

The room is about 10' X 11' in size. The three panel window was added by my father to please my mother. It's somewhat similar to the front window of the house where my mother grew up in California. 

The doorway on the right leads to the stair hall, but it was been closed off when the house was split into two. Apparently it was reopened when the house was renovated and turned back into a single family residence several years after my father died.

This picture is of what was the living room when I was an infant and the dining room when I was a pre-teen.

The room is about 10' X 12' or a little smaller. The windows were added by my father to please my mother. The first time she saw this house, she complained that it was dark and musty. There was so little light and air that she said she was depressed and she wouldn't live there. Not only that, the rooms were so small and so badly arranged, it was a nightmare just to get around. For example, the door to the right of the windows leads to a small entrance hall, and the door to the right of that leads to the room that had been a living room or a bedroom. 

This is a similar view taken by my sister shortly before my birth. 

Parental units having a gimlet before dinner? Who knows?

This is a downstairs bedroom. It's about 8' X  10'. It was my parents' room when I was an infant, my father's alone after they divorced. Behind the camera is a bathroom. 
There may be another bedroom beyond the bathroom. I have vague memories of another room there, entered from the kitchen(?) that was used for storage. And then when I went back to the house after my father died, I seem to recall that there was a bed in there together with other bedroom furnishings, and I thought my father had been sleepng in there during his final illness. But my memories of it are not clear.

This may be a picture of that room:

It may also be a room in another house altogether.

This is the west side of the house

The upper window in the projecting bay was originally one of those Gothic windows like you see in the well-known Grant Wood painting of an Iowa couple. 

You wouldn't know it from the outside of the house, of course, and as far as I can tell from the pictures in the listing, you can't see the Gothic arch from the inside of the house anymore either, but when I stayed in the upstairs apartment in the early 60s, indeed, the interior window frame was still in place, and its resemblance to the window in Grant Wood's painting was plain to see. The woman in the painting rather resembles my Aunt Alice too, but that's another story for another time. 

I saw the painting at the Art Institute in Chicago that summer, and I was quite taken with Wood's technique. I remember being surprised at how large the painting was, as I had only seen illustrations in books previously, and I assumed it was fairly small. I mentioned to my father that the window was similar to the one upstairs in his own house, and he said that the house -- or that part of the house -- was probably built at about the same time, which I would much later learn was the 1880s. 

An this is the north side as it is now

The extension on the back of the house is much larger now than it was when my father lived there. The kitchen and a breakfast room area had been added to the first floor of the house -- I'd guess in the 1930s -- but it only extended as far as the double doors onto the deck in the picture above. There were no double doors or deck at that time; there was only a window on that side and a back door at the rear of the house onto a utility porch with steps out to the back yard. 

There's now a double garage beyond the rear extension. There was no garage when my father lived there. He parked on the street. 

The house is listed for sale at a discount price. Not sure why the price is so low except that in this neighborhood, many houses sell for much less. This part of Iowa is not very prosperous, and nearly all the houses on this street -- houses which had once belonged to my grandfather -- are old and dilapidated. This house is actually in better shape than many of the others nearby, but the last time I saw it in person in the early 80s, it was a wreck, painted dark brown and very broody looking. Its current yellow-ness is cheery by comparison.

Again, this is a memory exercise. Finding other houses I've lived in now listed for sale is something of a quest because I've got to remember addresses as well. This one was relatively easy. Others will prove more of a challenge.

Thursday, July 11, 2019


So Jeffrey Epstein is in the news again and "questions" are being asked about his connections with various pols including the incumbent president. Hm. Well. Who'd a thunk it, right?

"Questions" are being asked about his money, too. Where does it come from? How much does he have? Or used to have. Or something.

And what about the girls? All those girls? Where did they come from? Where did they go? And what was done to them? Why has he been allowed to get away with so much?

And will this sex scandal finally bring down Trump?

The answer to that last question is "Probably not." Which gives you a clue to the sclerotic state of our politics.

I've mentioned a few times that I live not far from Epstein's New Mexico ranch, the Zorro Ranch it's called. For years we'd pass by it on the way to Santa Fe, and we had no idea he owned it. His "hacienda" was perched on the edge of a mesa quite a distance from the road, and it seemed to us that the place must be some kind of religious retreat, so we called it "the Monastery." Even from a distance, it's obviously huge.

The ranch itself is an 8,000 acre working ranch with some rather exotic cattle. There's a little village with barns and I assume quarters for the hands. About a year ago, another barn -- or is it mother-in-law's quarters? -- was built about a mile away from the main ranch/village complex.  Epstein's abode on the mesa is also about a mile away from the village in the opposite direction.

The video posted above gives some idea of just how ugly and tasteless the hacienda on the mesa is. It may be enormous, but it is very, very ugly. Supposedly, some of the trysts arranged for Epstein's clients took place there, but who, when and how is something of a mystery. When we pass by the place at night, we rarely see any lights on, but a couple of weeks ago, it was lit up like I don't recall ever seeing before. Somebody must have been home, eh?

We have seen staff coming and going from the place occasionally -- not often -- driving their working pick-ups and such. Only one time did we see a modest convoy of black Denalis or Escalades passing through the gates. There may have been three, possibly four cars. It was more than a year ago.

There is what appears to be a helipad up on the mesa beside the hacienda, but we've never seen a helicopter going to or from the place. Supposedly there is an airstrip, too, but we've never seen an airplane headed toward or away from the ranch, either.

We can see two microwave towers on the ranch from the road. I don't know why they are there, but I suppose if there are important guests, they would need to be able to communicate with their people, no? The thing is, there don't seem to be guests very often. So far as we can tell, there is hardly ever anybody up on the mesa.

But there is something going on vis a vis the whole Epstein story being suddenly renewed. Of course, the summer news hole is always filled with sharks and missing white women and... sex scandals. There seems to be nothing new in this particular re-telling of Jeffrey Epstein's proclivity for underage female companionship, but "questions" are being asked this time around that didn't get asked last time.

I doubt it will lead anywhere because too many Men Who Matter might be soiled. On the other hand, this effort to throw Epstein to the wolves --- again --- seems tailor-made to protect some of those men from scrutiny.

Could one of them be named Trump? Time will tell.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

I Lived Here

Nearly 60 years ago, I lived in this modest house in a fancy neighborhood in California.

The front and driveway and garage haven't changed a whole lot, though they aren't quite the same. The house is now gray with brick porch and trim; it was white when I lived there, and the brick was painted gray. There were no planters in front, nor were there any round stepping stones.

The house was built in 1939. There were two bedrooms, one bath, an enclosed back porch leading to a knotty-pine paneled family room, a kitchen, laundry room, dining room and living room with fireplace when I lived there. Since the early 1960s, the house has undergone an extensive remodeling. The family room added onto the back of the house in (probably) the early 1950s was demolished and a new much larger addition was built. Two more bedrooms and baths, a kitchenette and a smallish living room were added, pretty clearly intended as another unit. The screened patio attached to the garage was also demolished to make room for the larger addition. The many fruit trees in the back must have been uprooted. I recall apricot, peach, plum, pear, orange and lemon trees.

These pictures are from a recent real estate listing for this house. The front part (the original house) hasn't changed much since I lived there, except for the kitchen and laundry room, and essentially is the same as when it was built in 1939.

The living and dining rooms from the front entrance. The rooms were painted off white, not HGTV gray-green, when we lived there; the fireplace did not have an insert, there were no can lights in the ceiling and there was a rather forlorn crystal chandelier in the dining room. Otherwise, even the furniture arrangement is practically the same as when I lived there. Is this the current owner's furnishings or has the house been staged for sale? I don't know. May be a bit of both.

Another view of the living room showing the little entrance area. The stained glass octagonal window was clear glass, otherwise, the same as when I lived there. We had a pair of wingback chairs by the windows, the usual table and lamp in between. The lower part of the windows had muslin café curtains.

In the dining room as mentioned, there was a crystal chandelier, and the furnishings were arranged pretty much as you see here. Instead of a credenza we had an "Early American" hutch, and the table and chairs were sort of "Shaker" -- very simple (round) table with four ladder-back, rush-seat, chairs. In the living room on the far wall by the entrance was a desk and bookshelf.

The glass door led to what was called "A Room" -- what had been a back porch when the house was built. It had been enclosed some time in the 1950s, and served as a passage to the added on family room beyond. I recall it flooded a couple of times, but I don't remember whether there was a roof leak or water seeped from below. There was a window in "A Room" so there was some natural light in the dining room. What seems to have happened since then is that the addition of two bedrooms and baths plus other rooms to make what appears to be an apartment has cut off any natural light to the dining room.

From this angle, you can see a bit of the kitchen, which I will not detail because it's changed so much, it's almost unrecognizable in current pictures. When I lived in this house, the kitchen was straight out of 1939, very simple and plain. We had a portable dishwasher, though, so there was that.

This was the front bedroom. Although it's set up as an office here, it's not hard to see how it would have been as a bedroom.

A view toward the hallway. Essentially nothing's changed except the paint color. The shelves in the hallway are original.

Except for new fixtures, flooring, and window, the bathroom is pretty much the same. Small, utilitarian, the way they were back then.

The second bedroom. Identical arrangement when I lived there. Another view below:

Could be my room spiffed up somewhat after nearly 60 years.

The rest of the pictures in the listing are of the addition and the remnants of the backyard, so I won't post any. They evoke no memories because when I lived there, the back of the house was completely different.

I like most of what's been done to the place -- except for the addition -- and I wouldn't mind living there again. It evoked other houses where I'd lived, particularly a cozy place from about the same era in West Covina,  and another house in Los Angeles County that had similar qualities though it was built in 1954 (based on plans from the 1930s, I'm sure).

Every now and then, I check to see if former places I've lived are for sale to see if I can snag some images of what they're like now. Houses always evoke strong memories for me, and as my memory deteriorates (another topic for another time) it's more and more important for me to retain as much memory as I can. This particular post is an exercise in memory. Not just of the house but of the neighborhood, my schools, friends, activities and so forth.

I've started working on an art series I call "The Mapping Project" which is a series of graphic interpretations of 20 places I've lived over the years. It's still percolating in my mind, though I've done some preliminary sketches. I hope I can complete it. It will be mostly abstract, but here and there, some elements may be nearly photographic.

We didn't live in this house very long -- 1960-62, perhaps, though we may have moved in late 1961 -- but it made a strong impression on me and there were some... interesting... events associated with it (including a fire, but we'll deal with that another time). The house is listed for sale at a rather breathtaking $589,000 with a pending offer. It's not by any means the most expensive in the neighborhood, but it's up there. Housing price inflation in parts of California is insane.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Couse House Taos

What a day.

Those who doubt climate change should have been here yesterday Saturday when a chilly monsoon storm enveloped northern and central New Mexico leaving us surprised and wet and shivery if we weren't bundled up like ticks. The weather forecast was sunny-ish and warm. Day before the temperatures were in the 90s. Not so yesterday Saturday.

The trip up to Taos from our place takes about 2 ½ hours on a good day. Yesterday it was closer to three thanks to the rain that stayed with us or followed or preceded us pretty much the whole way.  Sometimes light, sometimes torrential, it rained and rained and rained. There were plenty of thunder claps and flashes of lightning, a few of which fell quite close to the road we were taking, the Low Road to Taos it's sometimes called, as opposed to the less traveled but better known High Road.

The Low Road to Taos back in the day
The lady in the first car looks thoroughly exhausted, and I bet she is. The road is a little better now and cars are a bit more comfortable, but it can still be a challenge to get up the hill to Taos along the Rio Grande -- which was flowing deep and fast and brown, full of rafters intent on running the many rapids, no matter the weather, before the end of the Fourth of July weekend.

So we went, and we went for a specific purpose, to attend the opening of an exhibition of photographs of Pueblo (primarily Taos Pueblo) Indians used as models by E. I. Couse, in the early 20th century.

It was.... interesting... There were a couple of dozen photos in what's called the Luna Chapel which E. Irving Couse had used as a studio until he built a new one onto the side of the house. Two models were featured over and over again, Ben Lujan and Jerry Mirabal.

With a few exceptions, they were posed crouching. The crouching Indian was a consistent theme of Couse's and it would show up in the works of a variety of other Taos and Western artists and probably still does, though I haven't really checked recently. The Cowboys and Indians genre is very popular in Southwest, but it's really not my thing.

The Couse House is a rambling adobe and frame house perched up on a tiny mesa top down the hill from Mabel Dodge Lujan's Los Gallos place where we've stayed a number of times over the years and where we feel surprisingly at home. Perhaps in our previous lives we were guests of Mabel or maybe it is something else.

The Couse House has been preserved by the artist's granddaughter pretty much as it was when he died in 1936, whereas Mabel's place has gone through a number of overhauls and other uses since she passed in 1962, most notoriously its phase as Dennis Hopper's Mud Palace.

Couse was an original member of the Taos Society of Artists, arriving not long after the artist "discoverers" of Taos, Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips whose broken wagon wheel made them linger in Taos while it was fixed in 1898.

Couse had a long time association with Joseph Henry Sharp, whose studio is on the premises, and who, in Paris at the Academie Julien suggested to Blumenschein and Phillips, and later to E. Irving Couse, that they head West and check out Taos and New Mexico for a breath of fresh air and the endless inspiration of the people (especially the Indians), the land and the sky. And so they did. Sharp had been in the area earlier -- I think 1893 -- but he hadn't settled there, nor would he, so far as I can tell, for many years after the initiation of the artist colony which became the Taos Society and its successors. In fact, though Sharp had a house and studio adjacent to Couse's place, he may never have actually "settled" in Taos at all. He may have been more like Blumy, who had a house and studio of his own in Taos and spent summers there, but did not "settle" until 1919, long after his first visit, and even then, he was on the road a great deal of the time he lived in Taos.

Much art would be -- and is today -- made in Taos, but then and now, it has to be sold somewhere else. Taos is today a small town (abt. 5000 population) and back then, it was tiny. It could be and sometimes still is a challenge to get to and get out of. The market for Art was elsewhere, and to a large extent, it still is. One may create there (as I have done on occasion), but if one is serious about selling (as I am not) one must locate other places for outlets -- even though now there are lots of galleries in Taos.

The "crouching Indian" theme was what drew us to Taos over the weekend.  Sure enough, we weren't disappointed. There were dozens of photos taken by Couse of his Indian models crouching by the fire, crouching in the grass, crouching along the trail, crouching, crouching, crouching, and in his studio, there were more prints and paintings of crouching Indians examining pots, wearing bizarre and un-Pueblo-ish costumes, and the last painting Couse was working on, still on its easel, barely sketched in oil, shows yet another crouching Indian. It was his thing.

I took few pictures while we were there and this is not the painting he was working on when he died. It is an example, however, of his crouching Indian genre.

Ms. Ché wrote and read a Crouching Indian poem during one of her sojourns in Taos, and she's going back for a writer's conference on the upcoming weekend. I might go over to the Blumenschein house just to compare...

Meanwhile the new It-Boy in Western art, Mark Maggiori, sold one one of his cowboy paintings at the Scottsdale auction for almost $100,000 with fees. Before last year, he was barely a blip on the artscene. How quickly they rise!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Adventure at Pueblo Shé

Map of (some of) the ruins at Pueblo Shé. Nels Nelson, 1914 

Up the road apiece, past the Zorro Ranch and over the ridge into the Galisteo Basin, the vast acreage of the Singleton holdings goes on for miles and miles. The Singleton ranches have various names. I forget most of them, but all along the route north almost to the village of Galisteo, the red and white painted gates sport the Bar-S brand signifying yet more of the Singleton properties.

Up over a hill past the Anaya Ranch, and across the road from Tom Ford's 20,000+ acre Cerro Pelon Ranch, is a gate that is sometimes open -- say when a movie is being shot on the land (part of Hostiles was) or cattle are being driven, or once when I saw a cowboy hauling bales of hay for the horses.

June 2,  the gate was open and we turned in, waving at the dudes by the gate -- "Just follow the road" they said, a dirt track really, but not in bad shape despite the rain the day before. 

We were on our way to Pueblo Shé. The weather was distinctly cool and foggy and threatened more rain, but we didn't much care. It seemed like a good day to go exploring on forbidden land, this place now called San Cristobal Ranch, yet another of the Singleton family properties in New Mexico. They have ranches all over the west, and in the Galisteo Basin, big ranches are liable to host one or more Pueblo Indian ruins, and the ruins can be enormous. Pueblo Shé is one of the bigger ones.

We jounced along the dirt road around curves and up hills and down, past log cabin ruins that were used in the filming of Hostiles and maybe some other pictures, too. We kept going and going, close  to arroyos and stands of cholla and piñon pine until we came to a series of tents and lots of cars and cattle lowing in the distance. This was the place. We would be joining perhaps two hundred others going to the ruins in small groups led by volunteer archaeologists, each of whom had their take on where we were and what it meant in the vast eternal scheme of New Mexico's long habitation by its varied populations.

Our group was an early morning one, and we set out relatively promptly once everyone on the list was assembled. We were warned by our tour leader that the hike would be about two miles some of which would be fairly strenuous, but accommodation would be made for those who might be slower than others. We could expect to be out exploring for about two hours. We should be prepared for rain.

I looked around and it seemed to me pretty much all the dozen or so in our group were in their 70s and a few were even older. There was one young fellow, Paul D., who was one of three archaeologists in our group. He said he was with the City of Santa Fe, and he'd never been to Pueblo Shé before -- well, except for the previous Friday when the volunteers were taken around . None of the archaeologists had. Not even our tour leader, John W., had been there before last Friday. It was to be a new adventure to all of us. Access was so restricted that the ruins hadn't really been investigated or excavated for more than 100 years.

Ms. Ché and I had brought our walking sticks so the first part of our trek up hill from the tent encampment was... OK. The ground was rough and dotted with snake holes and cow-pies, but this was no great problem. We noticed right away pot sherds on the ground. Lots and lots of them. We climbed a slight rise and John W. explained it was one of the trash middens left by the peoples who had occupied Pueblo Shé, and he said that as far as anybody knew the site had been "de-populated" and abandoned sometime after 1500 but before the Spanish arrived (starting with Coronado in 1540). Why it was abandoned was a mystery, but several of the pueblos in the Galisteo Basin were abandoned about the same time, and a theory was that there was an extended drought, and the populations of abandoned pueblos migrated to other pueblos or areas where water remained accessible and available. Perhaps.

John also said that it wasn't entirely clear who had lived at Pueblo Shé. There were a number of different Native kin and language groups who lived in the Galisteo Basin over time, and every indication was that these groups mixed and mingled and there was no way to say that this group or that were the exclusive residents of any one pueblo. John was convinced that pueblo populations were always mixed throughout time as they are today.

What we saw on the ground was an indication of the complexity of the site. There were hundreds -- thousands -- of pottery sherds, many of them highly and finely made and decorated. Other household objects had been retrieved from the trash middens and from the nearby room blocks, one of which was our next destination.

Climbing a low mound, we looked down into a squarish pit. "What do you suppose this is," asked John. Some of us said a kiva. Nope, wrong answer. No, this was one of the excavations made at the site by Nels Nelson in 1914, the only real archaeological excavation that had ever been done there.

Nelson excavated approximately twenty rooms and a few kivas at Pueblo Shé, ran a trench through a trash midden, collected lots of things and shipped them off to AMNH New York where they still are, stored in boxes out of sight, and that was that. He went on to his next excavation and recovery site in the Galisteo Basin and eventually went far beyond. Nelson is credited with refining if not originating stratigraphic excavation and interpretation of archaeological sites, techniques he practiced at Pueblo Shé and elsewhere in the region.

Nelson determined that there were more than 1500 rooms on the ground floor of this pueblo complex. There are 7 main buildings at Pueblo Shé arranged in rows facing south. Several have wings facing east/west. There is also a detached section that we would visit. It appears to have been started but never completed. It's as if the footings or foundation had been laid but no superstructure had been built.

Like most of the rest of the pueblos in the Galisteo Basin, Pueblo Shé had been built of puddled adobe interspersed with local stone. The adobe had melted away while the stone had tumbled to the ground. Nothing was left of the pueblo but scattered squarish stones and low mounds. But the shape and extent of the buildings was easy enough to trace on the ground. Each mound was several hundred feet long, forty or fifty feet wide, and most buildings had probably not been more than two stories high. One building, which we would explore late in the tour, had left a taller mound, quite steep to climb, a mound that John W. said indicated at least three storeys and possibly more.

Some of us noticed right away that there were no vigas in the ruins, nor any sign that there ever had been any. Vigas are cross beams, usually ponderosa pine in Northern New Mexico, that are used as roofing beams and floor beams of multi-storey buildings. Their apparent absence at Pueblo Shé was interesting to some of us. Had there never been any? If not, how were the buildings roofed? If so, then where did they come from and what had become of them? Toward the end of the tour, John W. suggested the vigas would have to have come from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains some distance away and they might have been taken and recycled at other pueblos after Pueblo Shé was abandoned, as was the rule for valuable and not easily replace lumber not only prior to the arrival of the Spanish but since then too.

After checking out several of the building mounds and some Spanish era foundations that John W. said was likely a colonial era house (and someone on the tour suggested might have been a chapel), we headed off to a hill overlooking the ruins.

The approach was not particularly steep, but once we got near the top, the climb became rocky and precipitous. We were expected to 'summit' -- and it was clear there was no way I would be able to do so. John warned the group "You may have to do some scrambling" and most were able to make the steep and slippery climb to the top, though one lost her shoe, and several slid down before they figured out a way up.

I stayed behind with Paul D. who was kind enough to share pictures he'd taken at the top on Friday. There were petroglyphs. Not a lot of them. Two large ones only. He asked me what I thought one of them was. I said it was an antelope. He said that's what he thought too, but he was told it was a macaw or a parrot, very exotic birds in this area, as they could only have come from Mexico or Central America. Images of macaws are not rare in New Mexico, however, regardless of how rare the birds may or may not have been.

The other petroglyph I thought was a turtle or tortoise. Paul D. said it wasn't clear to him what it was. I've since done some research and realized that what I thought might be a tortoise was probably a representation of a pueblo resident protected by a large oval shield. These representations are found in many locations in the Galisteo Basin. On our way to the base of the summit, we'd both noticed a large flat-faced boulder on which was carefully pecked the letter "A".

 It wasn't too long before the group that had clamored up the sheer rock face to the top of the hill started picking their way down on a less steep path and we headed off to the next destination.

Little did we know what a challenge it would be. Remember, this was a group of mostly elderly people, spry though most might have been. John W. (no spring chicken himself) wanted to show us something he thought was vitally important. And getting there would take some doing, specifically climbing down into and then up the other side of a deep and steep-sided arroyo. OK, then.