Saturday, February 23, 2008

Angelus Part 6

Part VI: “Miguel’s Most Artful Persuasion” (841 words)
“Loco Leads the Locals, in Blindfold!” I can see the headlines now. What’s been dinging my buttons all these years about this angelology is very simple, amigos: I’ve been pitching my own example of high expectations, of perfectísimo, here, for years, obsessive in my twirl, in almost every action I’ve chosen to do, as my concept of creative living. Subtle compulsion, with all the best intentions. It’s worked milagros here for many, including me, raising up with others the lives of hundreds.
My most constant word in español en mi vida loca is “Perfecto!” I haven’t been lying. So much really is in Teote for me, past chunchas—things--which here are Dollar-Store-Puro, unless handmade by local artisans with some excellent craft. I never thought I’d been pushing my expectations of myself on them, but I have, lo siento, and they’ve almost universally lived up to this unconscious challenge, grácias a Diós, so in most ways, everyone’s a winner, a good sign of Ángel Flying. Yet, still . . . it’s been a ton to work for, for nigh on 16 years! They must breathe a sigh of relief when I leave for another year.
My God, what an unconscious, gringo controller I can be, though in my soul a Chéli! I’ve been denying my own fear of flying off target here—Believe me, I have, big time, in the past!—protecting my crazy life from Nicaragua’s blatant craziness with excruciating standards of personal perfection. Voila! I’ve created what I most fear--unattainable external demands like the ángel-chuncha--the standard outcome for this type of subtle mania. We manifest what we most fear, almost all the time. In the process, I’ve unwittedly projected expectations on a whole Olmec-Mayan clan; then, I’ve been unfairly angered for seven years, put off by their simple expectation of the same ángel perfectÍsimo from me! Now that needs rectifying by forgivenance. Then, says The Course in Miracles, another miracle can happen.
Clarity of vision, por favor! Projection’s an old, old story of mine; the pattern’s emerged frequently, especially in the 70’s, but also in my just-past teaching, my academic standards a consciousness-raiser for my increasingly successful students, but—“Diós, perdóname!”—I was such a whipmeister, albeit with a grin. I feel sorry for them, now. Pretty controlling, as my wives have said. But, now that I’m a Nicaraguan gentleman farmer, in my family compound, I need to settle down.
I’ll retire the whip until I’m playing Zorro, in bandana, cape--a black rain poncho--and a zip-zap-zingy, handmade leather faja, bought to play a wicked banker in a Glenwood melodrama, now here, hanging at the head of mi cama, where Nicaraguan dons keep them, against the terrors and ladrones de la noche. Mamacitas keep one hanging en la cocina as a visual discipline tool, as well, to chase piglets out of the casa. I’ll be The Masked Bandito, a surprise sensation, at the family fiesta this year for me, with a marimba band, maybe, dancing en la sala de la casa de palomas, soon to be concrete for dancing and no fleas, with chocolate cece y gelado in five angelic flavors: Ay, Chihuahua! I doubt, though, if Catarina Zeta Jones will appear at this April’s Palomas Ball.
This time, I’ll take a growth step here: instead of covering up my fear of failure with perfectionism, when faced with choices, I’ll rise into a “more or less” approach, straight up the spiraling way of balanced opposites. I’ll say what Nicaraguans say, “más ó menos,” when asked, “Como está?” I’ll answer “Más ó menos” in the mañanita, with my usual angelic smile, instead of “perfecto,” except when extending complimentos to my well-paid familia workers, for their “perfectísimo trabajo, gracias.” That sounds muy tranquilo for us all, especially for this viejito don. Más ó menos is perfecto. The only time I’ll claim my majestic angel status is when working one-on-one with others and when I’m polishing my writing, where I’m definitely a Giant Ángel de Diós, though of the almost secret kind.
How life twists most here when I least expect it!
Now, what’s the Michelangelo thing to do? Ah, in truth, the artist in me whispers in my ear, in answer: each of us is clearly an angel, standing sword ablaze against the sky, a smile to hosts of others, the standard gleaming of righteous angels. Nice. While I’m not sprouting chicken feathers or getting married—Diós no la permite!--and I’m staying extra-close to mi tierra and my clothes, I’ll trip a light fandango with these darling family ángeles, as we perfect, más ó menos, our Indio-Espano-Celtic melting pot of love, just one more wrinkled don de los Estados on a well-saddled pinto, with silver jangles and spurs, slowly trotting up the spiral to the Angels from the bottom of the well, sombrero in hand, en paz. Más ó menos, perfectísimo. I’m finally resting in my old, world-weary heart, safe with the protection of San Miguelito, in Teote, Nicaragua.

Angelus, Part 5

Part V: “One Foot Over the Line, Verdad?”(691 words)
By 2005, on a quick trip south, though, I thought the ángel-chuncha with don Moncho had gone too far, past the line between honor and reasonable awe to a stance of fervent católico devotion, better left to Diós in the charming new Iglesia—Ee-glay-see-uh--such a melodious word for church. Mi padre couldn’t stop telling his amigos in the streets , the tiendas and his Católico pequeños that “I had no needs but peace” (true, in a way, but I approached 280 pounds on a 5’6” frame of tiny bird bones, from nervous eating in the States, an indication of major distress). He crowed that miracles surround his family with grace when I’m around (also verdad, but it takes the whole grace-filled family); he chanted my praises to the heavenly skies and began revering chicken feathers at my feet. “Entonces,” he whispered, lit with passion and glee, in the ears of half Teote, “Douglas must be sent from Cielo,” as well as the States, “to earn his wings.” I felt an overweight but somehow venerated holy relic! I kept expecting him to check my back for wing buds or to bring me an angel’s bell, a la It’s a Wonderful Life, one of my favorite Capra movies.
I’m hardly a celestial being, as my former wives can attest, nor do I want to fight those ancient battles of right or wrong, in life or international relations, a quagmire of guesswork in both. I prefer romantic logic with classical tools: both sides being valid, then, “Let’s fly up the middle with Miguel, transcending discord for mutual peace,” I say to mis hijos. But, I’ve got plenty of personal quirks, sins and raw, wounded skeletons grinning ominously in my closet, not on public view. So, the angel elevation felt, though a distinctly luxurious box, just too confining, one I could not humbly live with. What a weird responsibilidád, to be an angel! I told him, por favor, to cut it out, for the sake of my ballyhoo’d celestial tranquility.
And, so, he did, thank the stars.
Now, it’s up again, after last night’s tete-a-tete over rice pudding, when he whispered it, una más vez. I imagine now--God forbid!--I’ll have to do something really-truly—horribly non-angelical, like dancing through the streets desnuda, with all my leftover flab hanging out, covered with pasted-on feathers; or painting my fingernails bright black, like las brujas from Honduras who, according to the local curandera Esmeralda, dance sin ropas at the snake-infested hot spring up the river near the border, once a month at full moon. Whoo-ee! That would be a wicked picture to point at for proof! Or, perhaps, I’ll get disgustingly drunk on guaro in the baño, easy enough to do, but I’m no longer one for booze.
Something’s missing here, a solución less painful, pronto! H-m-m-m? Why is my imagination running towards nudie shots?
Maybe, I should troll los calles for una enamorada here, to show I still have at least some carnal needs? However, sending all the mamacita matchmakers loco with delight for the futures of their charming daughters, “Soon to live with don Douglas in the States, un rico fabuloso, I hear!”—Ay, Chihuahua! That’s dangerous territory, es cierto, for a confirmed bachelor with very little money, though none here believe it, in a very small town. I’m clearly, in potential, the most desirable, antique Sugar Daddy in all Teote, and probably for another hundred miles in all directions! Talk about cosmic jokes! I’ve been celibate, by choice, for most of twenty years. Everyone here loves—covets--the Chéli, the North American Teotano from La Brigada de Glenwood Springs, with the loco Nicaraguan heart. It all seems just too much, an incredible amount of trouble, guaranteed to spin in the wrong direction a very graceful, very simple life, lived cleanly, but only somewhat angelically, , here in my comfortable, far south of the border quietness.
Ay, Chihuahua, I’m such a crazy perfectionista, who wants his things and life just so, that’s claro. I check it, now I’m retired, all the—Oh, ay de mí! Click! That’s it. Hallelujah, Nicaragua!

Angelus Part 4

Part IV: “Laughing with Los Ángeles” (717 words)
Seven years after my first angelic trip in 1993 to Teote , by Y2K, after divorcing my second wife stateside, after having a heart attack and angioplasty, though, still, like the fool I can be, smoking plantations of cheap cigaros, I built a room by hand of adobe, wood and tin, at la casa de palomas, for $400; I wrote 100,000 words about Teote in 4 months of inspired frenzy; I also danced in los calles with jubilation during Semana Sancta; bought the banana and coffee finca, with the help of San Miguel; and lost more than 40 pounds: all this, while, apparently, floating up from honored brother, in the family’s esteem, to North American angelhood—For Goodness Sake!--one of the most quiet kind, I assure you: it was disconcerting, es cierto, though not unpleasant, es verdád, when a multi-tasking whirlwind like me, freed from years of paper-grading up north, took on the wildly circuitous hinterland of Nicaragua. It gave further spin to my tornado.
Phew! What a sentence! Magisterial!
Árcangel Miguel was usually with me here, after all—Qué Guardia!--and mi vida loca in Teote, a constantly numinous south-of-the-border treat. It still is. It was an easy transference for mi padre to make, just a shift from a capital letter, really, though no less mistaken, for all his seriousness. When don Moncho Betanco, with tears in his eyes, named me in 2000 el norteamericano ángel de Diós--albeit one from the States, a curious place for angels to derive--I made it a joke. I carried ‘round a walking stick I called “my sword of truth,” to much alegría de mi familia. As I usually stepped into caca de vaca at the ranch when holding mi espada aloft, it was pretty comical, and I loved it. When I’m in Nicaragua, I’m a star. It became another joyful cuenta de Douglas about their new hermano, the loco from the States.
It helps, I suppose, that I’m a regularly generous hombre, both here and in Glenwood, with time to listen and a tithe shared among my friends, family, charitable groups and Teote, in gracias. It also helps that I’d come back six times in seven years by then, leading Brigada trips, and in 1994 brought cash to buy mi padre a nursing cow. He’d built a rusty herd of dairy cows, before Hurricane Mitch wiped it out here in ‘98. So life usually flows—Rollercoaster!--when on a farm outside a backwater campesino town in Nicaragua, where “everything mad, bad, or sad usually happens, at least once, or all at once, sometimes,” as I wrote back in 2000, “one vast cosmic joke after joke after joke,” still bitter about those colorada cows in Heaven. I need to take it with a tad more cosmic salt, so I’m Kokopéli here, a major trickster, a Palladium vaudeville comedian, for my own sanity. Laughter really is the best medicina, even if los Betancos are right, and I really am a gentle ángel.
I’m a pretty shiny guy in Peasantville; in fact, I work to be the best norteamericano—with-nary-an-ugly-bone--when in Teote, a model of equivalence to balance out the shells my haunted government bought in the Contra War, supporting the tyrannically-evil dictator Somoza instead of cheering on the Sandinistas, democratic to their ultimately capitalistic cores. What in the world does that say, amigos?
I’ll probably buy another milk cow for la finca next year, with the interest, pretty low, on some personal micro-enterprise loans coming due in April, when corn prices get higher, before the planting of next December’s harvest: there’s thirteen Betanco kids living there, two miles east of Teote, with their madres and their abuelos, thus more need for milk de vacas. That’s no joke for me, our body’s thirst for leche and calcium. I too want more liquid freshness left for me, for warm milk in the evening. I’m a viejito, after all, my sleep’s often interrupted by dogs and the town’s chorus of roosters, and my bones are Celtic-fragile: I also have no feathers, no fur, no outstretched wings for bad-fall protection, while standing on my deskchair in the night here, leche-sated, picking orchid candelarias, arcing out of trees in my jardÍn perfectísimo, in resplendent Nicaragua.

Angelus Part 3

Part III: “Ángeles in Teote” (482 words)
The loco-ángel-bit surfaced first, from the don, when I was here on sabbatical from papers and faculty politics, from March to June 2000. Angels, though, always envelope our conversations here, and have, from the very first time I lived in la casa de mi padre, in 1993. “Wake, Lazarus,” a sonnet, came out of stories, full of angels of mercy, from the War Zone, right in the middle of this town:
“Wake, Lazarus!” ©Doug Evans Betanco 2008
Teote is a bone house,
A scarlet, earthen vessel
filled with pale white skulls,
soldier’s bones. Too much blood
cakes cracked adobe walls, muddies
toes of grinning street boys, starved
bellies bloated. What eyes they have!
Their teeth like ivory, angels breathing
light, in this night of bones, haunts,
keening crones, crowing roosters,
danger zones: bright, unburied
of risen flesh, of ribs and hair;
undusted freshness, grounded in air.

Cielo profundo! I do love this concrete poem, almost the first I’m proud of, both classical and romantic, at once, but I loathe the misery of war fought here, so omnipresent when first I came. Back then, unpacking, I pulled out a laminated picture of Archangel Michael, with Sword of Truth raised against the fires of Satan. A friend gave it to me for protection against los ladrones, bandits, still plaguing the highways of Nicaragua in 1993, robbing passengers of buses and the backs of cattle trucks, especially if carrying gringos on their way to the hinterland. Not honorable work for campesinos, but the war, just over, had left many Contras unemployed in their native land. Our hosts from Teote drove with us, carrying AK-47’s.
When I showed my angelcard to don Moncho, he jumped for joy, then explained that Miguel, one Really Bright Ángel, was the family’s patron saint as well as the Árcangel-in-charge of the Sandinista Revolution here in Nicaragua. Half the boys in the family had Miguel or Miguel Ángel as their name, and a few Miquelas, as well. Major synchronicity! This called for a celebration, so we toasted with some of my precious bottled water from Managua. He’s a model for AA. I’m a big fan of this ángel, have been since 1985, when, I swear, he lived under a spruce tree with me, in my magic summer garden office on Blake Court in Glenwood. With don Moncho, I loved toasting him in clean, clear agua, a sacred bonding ritual, padre y hijo y Arcángel, in the name of Diós, the first of multi-many synchronicities.
Little did I know, then, in 1993, that this angelic connection would lead me, 15 years later, to consider a dash through the village at noon, baring all, leaping al Cielo, whirling like a loco dervish with a mop on my head, screeching “Over the Rainbow” too loudly--Oh, well!--way too deep in my asylum--Crazy Central--in Nicaragua.

Angelus, Part 2

Part II: “Ángel Flying” (795 words)
It does have a nice ring to it, ángel. But—Diós mío!--they’re much too cosmically actualized, for my lifestyle or comfort or good, to be, even in a seemingly God-forsaken place like Teotecacinte, Nicaragua, awash with the tears of Diós. I’m also a tad bit shy of heights, though I’m quite the jetsetter these days, and I’ve caught outrageous flying dreams, for years, swooping here, darting there, like Mercury transcendent. In those, I’m free, with no restraints of gravitas or gravity: I leap to the sun for lunch, amigos, to the moon for tea, then, cruise the tops of trees and montañas, even enter distant wormholes, then—whoosh--off to other galaxies, in sueños muy profundos. But that’s flight dreams for you, which we all have in our sleep, perhaps when we need more conscious freedom. I used to have them frequently when beleaguered by the 75,000 papers I’ve graded over the CMC years. Otherwise, I’m firmly tied to the ground, even after losing close to 100 pounds in the last two years. I did once draw a map of Glenwood Canyon from 4000 feet up for the Highway Department, back in ‘76, but, I swear, that was just creative visualization. I’m no light-blooming arcángel, as most in Glenwood know.
I do have a history of somewhat angelic proportions, there, though. Since my 30’s, I’ve been a seeker after truth, a la Socrates, in and out of myself, a guarantee of iluminación, occasionally, and a ton of blind alleys, as well, mostly kept dark in my sanctum sanctorium closet. I’ve also caused heartache to others, long-distance especially, sharing visiones profundos, in the artificial perfectísimo of letters and words, even when written with the best intentions. I wooed my first wife, for instance, a former high school sweetheart, with missives románticos, worthy of a latter-day Shakespeare, winging seductively in 1972 from Jersey to the ski-slopes of Vail. Ay, Chihuahua! The reality of our brief marriage was hardly angélico! I now prefer eye-to-eye conversation, to avoid painful pratfalls en la futura.
Eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart, it’s the only way here in Teote. Beyond the fact that many here don’t read or write at any depth, most are gifted conversacionalistas, gauging truth or lie with pointed discernment, from centuries of foreign manipulation. Perhaps, since I’m a master gardener, after all, I trace this campesino groundedness to their devotion to agricultura, because most have honeyed hands in the soil with plants and seeds and weeds and mud, for all their humble lives. It takes a focused gardener to know one. Trust and honor, here, are earned with a scan of the eyes, a very good lesson in dialogue leading to mutuality, the gift of los ángeles, worthy of intense cultivation, with ample fertilizers of gracias and verdad.
Even though my whole familia de ángeles son locos, this craziness is a long-standing family joke, stemming from my first trip. In a night of story-telling, playing “Truth or Lie”--Verdád ó Mentira—around the fire on the floor of the sala, lit to discourage mosquitos, to bring light to our faces for discerning wheat from chaff. Don Moncho stood on one leg, atop the hot seat in the middle of the family circle, with a mop on his head, a bright red poncho for a capo, his machete aloft, pretending to be “San Miguel to the Rescue” when Contras invaded his cocina, looking for fresh recruits from among his young sons, in 1983. “Miguel,” he said, “had spirited his hijos to the iglesia in the upper town, for a night of prayer.” Even Contras understood the call of the Arcángel, so they left the house alone. Denis, Jose Ramon and Luis were really undercover, beneath mi madre’s altar table, with its trailing oilskin. Laughing like a loco at his wit, I told him that “all Betancos are crazy.” He agreed, as did the rest, and it stuck. We all agreed he’d told the Truth in the telling, even if he’d sort of told a lie to the soldiers. I’m sure the teens were praying to San Miguel y La Virgen y Jesús y Diós, while under the altar, very hard, and for the rest of the scary night, with gracias, again in their camas.
About this other ángel bit, mi padre won’t take “No” for an answer, “esta vez,” he said, directly to my eyes, with viejito firmness. He’s very macho, campesino stubborn when he thinks he’s correcto. So am I, es verdad, when I get my feathers—Oops, I mean, my rooster hackles—riled up. Then, I can really be a very persuasive fighting gallo, mano a mano, without scratching a soul. We’ll see what’s what, what’s not, what’s up, what’s down--Good Lord!--in the flighty hills of Catholic Nicaragua.

Angelus, Part 1

Part I: “Miguel’s Betancos” (864 words)
Oh, man! They’ve started it again, my bonded campesino family here, los Betancos, at the end of the road in Teotecacinte, Nicaragua. Good Lord! It’s 2008! They should know me better, by now. I’ve travelled here, hat in hand, for 15 perfect years! They’re dear and ancient souls, who shine, up front, from the heart, on their sculpted faces, and, most brilliantly, from deep within their Polynesian-Indios eyes. Their faces in candlelight speak of Easter Island and Samoa. It’s a walk through human history to know them, though in Teote, there’s not too much Castilian beyond an occasional horseface—No one here looks bleached-out by the sun, as in some, more aristocratic colonial cities, where women use umbrellas for shade against a healthy tan. So close to ancient Maya, almost everyone’s a delicious café-con- leche, honeyed with an inner golden glow. I spend a half hour without a hat in the early afternoon sun, just to catch up with the local color.
Don’t tell my family, por favor, I called them “Indians,” in any part, as my family counts every blanco genome in their DNA a beauty, every colorada mark of The People on their faces a curse. Only Diós knows why, given the ugly rape of Nicaragua from 1500 on, by Indo-Europeans, continued by later, more Nordic gringos feos, even as I write, still searching for El Dorado, to steal it from los Indios. They just don’t realize the oro of the campesinos not in the ground, but in the heart. Don’t get me started on that. Mi familia Betanco holds such triumphant, pre-Mayan joy inside, incandescent when I’m here with the locos, it’s hard to keep from gushing ecstatic all day long, from my crib in the corn god’s kitchen.
I’m angry at the lot of them, ángeles though they are.. I just can’t believe it! Again! Ay, Chihuahua , I’m spewing, a venal sin in writing. Tone it down, don Dugla! But, mierda! What’s really pushing my buttons? There must be something I’m denying, refusing to look at in myself. While I feel I live in the heart and mind of Diós in Teote, and I’m grateful for it, I’ve human reason and ego, as well, the gift of Eden, when in front of my laptop. But, really! How dare they?
Loco, sí, they are, every single one. It’s grounding in Teote for me, un loco norteamericano maxísimo, to remember it. Mi padre, don Moncho, took me aside, en la noche, and said it once again, after keeping shut of the subject for at least three years, at my request. It came late last night while eating warm arroz con leche, a satisfying rice, milk, cinnamon and sugar dish to whisper over in the candlelight at evening’s end, when everyone en la casa is sleeping, except for viejitos. I was at Papa’s finca for the night, something I can only do occasionally, because, without electricidád, I don’t write much anymore. I do generate poems by hand with a flashlight-pen, in my writer’s journal, late in the Nicaraguan night, with bats flying through the open rafters. I find this very romantic, conducive to musing, as long as I have a mosquito net over the cama. And then, as well, there are the fleas in the beds. Unavoidable ravenous beasties--pica, pica, pica through the tossing night--despite doña Eva’s constant washing and cleaning and sprinkling down, as they live in the dirt floors and walls, swept and washed and swept again, to no avail. Aerosols don’t stem the biting horde, and who wants to sleep with the smell of Raid! in the bed? Fleas are great survivors, content with dry dust and any passing animale, including me. It’s on my agenda to layer the adobe with painted stucco, at least in my studio, there, en la futura. I’d rather deal with angels any night.
Occasionally, it’s good for a writer to rough it, choosing “machine-denial” and less comfort. No one would choose fleas, but, part of the finca picture, even they’re a blessing. Both force my senses to seek inner springs from the deep well, within, past my often irritating voice and circumstances. Luckily, I was tranquilo, last night, with cicada songs in a dusk of my muse’s nudges and a promising poema. When my father spoke this locura, I immediately pooh-pooh’d my loco friend, of course, with a snort, a sigh, and a giggle, then some more than gentle persuasion, but he just won’t listen to reason, not even from me.
He, at a miraculous 79, was serious, as only a Nicaraguan católico can be, glowing with pride and love and awe at his last new son, now 15 years in his life, don Douglas Betanco de Teote (63), as the villagers here call me, since I now own property in my name, here in Teote. But, right now, I’m more concerned with mi padre’s doubtful sanity.
He honestly believes I’m a giant angel, resplendent in celestial light—I mean, really, gang!--a “norteamericano ángel de Diós.” He peeked like a duenna, when I bathe desnudo in the río that flows through the farm, for signs of some very white wings!

Whirling in Teote, Part 4

Part IV: “Good Juju and Bad” (912 words)
Our haunted government and the MNCs, unfortunately, have built a ton of bad juju in Latino America, I’m sorry to say. The Federal “client states” and their peoples, trapped by imperious thumbs, remember this painful economic pressure a tad more than our more philosophical—though no less important--gifts to the health of their psyches. Even though we’ve gifted them the tools to build self-esteem, peons need reasonable pay for their work, too.
I hear the Giants try to palm off this outrage, these allegations of collusion with the overseers, as the rhetoric of communist rebels. Hoo-Hah! Scratch a campesina and a highly-functional capitalista appears, even if she hides her coin under the mattress with garlic. She’d never trade food slavery for Lenin, just another form of tyranny. It’s not about turning “Red”; it’s about shaking the vine enough for beans to fall to the ground, opening up the cash flow downward, spreading the dollars’ manure to the roots of this ailing beanstalk. How? Eliminate, as the Free Traders do, a few tiers, between the peasants and the American market, of key-stoning middlemen. These freeloaders in the distribution channels who’ve never seen a campesino or a tobacco field could stand to sweat a little harder, while the campesinos certainly deserve to feel as valued, monetarily, for their labor as we do in the States.
I’m not suggesting that they be paid at American minimum wage: even a raise, at first, to $1 an hour from $.67 would do wonders here, promoting waves of pure American capitalism--of the dream kind--since they could and certainly would plan their futures with some cash sequestered in their wallets. A little extra discretionary income—an unheard of concept here, would also allow their children uniforms and shoes for school, spreading education, and would improve children’s health with fuller nutrition. Mark my words: if we want the world marching to the drums of globalization, we must enrich the soil, however slightly, at the bottom. Cash would also do more to spread democracy than all the military aid and surplus food we slip into the pockets of families topping each branch of the beanstalk, aid sent from our taxes that the campesinos never see. If we wish the world to flourish with democracy and fresh capital spending, we need to grease, instead, the palms of the peasants where they live, work, eat, and, someday soon, even save for their children’s future. Now, that’s a real Jimmy Carter dream, for all the Americas.
We could also exert pressure for the poor of Latino America at the grocery stores where we buy our staples. “Any Fair Trade coffee, today? And, oh, who actually grows this sugar? Anything produced stateside for at least minimum wage?” are great questions that could really make an intelligent difference. It’s our dollars spent here that fuel the whole teetering vineyard. I might as well choose a banana in health food stores supporting organic humanitarians, getting dolares to the campo or to North American farmer’s markets, hurt almost as much as the peons by the Giants.
Anyway, taking without giving in return is abysmal juju hanging like a sullen cloud over the Beltway Bubble, prime Giant territory. H-m-m-m? We’d each better play it safe and buy a ton of garlic cloves, as well, blessed by the local priest!
Now, though, mi hermanos and I, locos Betanco, total, place our hope and passion for justice in our kids, some headed one day to the States. Let’s hope the new Chief Giant at the top, with his or her ultra-chic, Nieman-Marcus goose, chooses generosity and compassion, this time, in place of massive people-squashing. This election is very important: we need cosmic justice change, up there, right quick.
In Nicaragua, now, gracias, out here beyond the Pale, it’s quiet, noisy only with perros barking en la noche, with roosters’ crow, early in the mañanita. Sandinistas turn capitalistas, building safer, cheap retirement—Surprise!--for us gringos pensionados, a third and growing source of dollars for Nicaragua’s peasants on the ground, where dolares rarely go, where it’s possible to quintuple the reach of our incomes, in comfortable quarters. The jet to Managua’s full of U.S. viejitos, us new-aged-rainbow-baby-booming-pension-stretching-hippies. We’re legion soon. Our Judy Garland gold dust twinkles lightly at our feet, flying south to warm adobes out of cold February, full of gracias, and closing the migratory circle.
At least this new migration south is mutually beneficial, equal, eye-to-eye, without exploitation, neither up nor down the beanstalk, and, since we older ones give back in gratitude at least as much as we take, the very best balanced juju, verdad?
So, really, amigos, por favor? Who’s using whom, and, really, who cares, on this crazy-swinging vine, gyring in Katrina’s tragic wind?
We’re holding on, here in the Americas, for our own-dear-precious-lives and, maybe, for others, bending with the tumult when we can, straightening when we must, and praying esta planta gigantisima won’t come crashing down. It’s been around, es verdad, at least since Campesino Jack planted his heat-seeking bean, gained by bartering his worthless, dried-up cow for food, multi-many magic legumbres ago. Gratitude, mutuality and clearest light, the best fertilizers, might make its stems twine even higher, past that McMansion we’re all seeking, and up to even friendlier skies. At least, that’s as it appears in a world of frijoles, to me, one grateful viejito master gardener, sort-of-quasi-permanently-planted, deep in the heart of Nicaragua.

Whirling in Teote, Part 3

There’s other profit in this northward thrust for freedom, past jangling pockets: it’s probably stayed, momentarily, the
shrill song of revolution, whistled loudly south of Texas, all the way to Patagonia. If self-determination explodes en masse within the Latino hinterland—“Diós no la permita! No más La Guerra, por favor!” I cry to mis hijos!--forget the North American economy. Prices would most likely blow sky-high—30 bucks a pound for coffee!—and manufactory, pretty thin already, would probably fail for lack of materials , if multinationals had to pay real value for goods produced by multi-millions of food slaves for the Giants’ local suppliers. Convenient for the MNCs, who practice denial in the mirror about the slaves indirectly feeding them—“What slaves? In the internet Age? Absurd!”--while working on their golden parachutes. For minerals to factor our machines; for coffee; for sugar to make our booze; for cotton and tobacco; for fruit, flowers, beef and timber; even for our illicit drugs: for this handmade bonanza, up to 70% in some southern populations sweat for tin pennies, gone before they’ve finished being hungry.
We take this cheap flow of manna for granted, but these hungry campesinos, if denied the “out” of hope trips up to the northern castle, would simply not take nada for their work any longer. “Life’s too short,” they say, “I’ve got to follow my dream.” I can’t imagine where they might’ve picked up that slogan. Perhaps, I let it slip into the family patois, myself, an inveterate dream-tender. That potential possibility, alone, of touching the goose egg, keeps my older hijos teotanos, born fatherless to my sisters, ten years after the Contra terror, from piling barricadas in the streets of Managua, as did their fathers and mothers, 30 years ago, against the same economic tyranny. We would, too, if it came to that: that’s why our mostly-peasant ancestors got sweaty to come to America, and why our earliest patriots died. It’s a noble heritage to rise to, being scions of revolutionaries, one we share with Nicaraguan campesinos. Since the bloody 60’s, though, we’ve mostly forgotten that.
By the by, amigos, revolutions in the Internet Age probably won’t be locally-contained events, as in the past. Peasants, here, formerly land-locked in this remote mountain valley, are talking to their counterparts in Mexico and Peru, by email; they also speak as one, in halting English, with Africans and Asians, sharing photos of common inequities and luxury dreams, beyond language, building trans-cultural identity while fanning their desire for golden assets. The Internet’s just a bus ride and ten pesos away. It doesn’t judge them down based on national, racial, ethnocentric or financial myths. It’s worth a loaf of sweet bread, but it’s got more value. It could swell to a campesino chorus, a la Ernesto Cardenál, for redress. An awaking new Giant, I’m thinking.
They think it’s way past time for change, with very good logic. Like campesinos everywhere, they know, through millennia of pain, when they’re replanting in a changing campo, it’s more pragmatic to grow beans with hands down deep in the fairgrounds of their souls, con la gracia de Diós, the richest tierra, with special, sequestered seed from tender-loving gardens, than to risk the taint of frijoles or bancos or burócratas from the worldly, festering mercado.

Whirling in Teote, Part Two

Part II: “Abuse, Juju and Kite Flying” (633 words)
To be exploited here for cents or in the Promised Land for dollars, that’s the question. The work’s pretty much the same. However, I know not one CMC student in 26 years, especially now with our multi-tasking millenials, who wouldn’t, in reversed situation, answer as the young Teotanos do and follow the whiff of cash, seeking more freedom. So many here have “gone mojado,” to restaurants in Aspen, to taxis in Atlanta, to knackers in the snow of North Dakota, the town’s futbol team is hurting!
Seriously, if businesses in los Estados were not so eager to hire “illegal” labor, muchachos certainly would not go. They fill the exploited niche few citizens will consider. Perhaps our federal laws aren’t facing—or, rather, for the sake of the economy, conveniently overlooking—our shady hiring practices? Unfortunately, though I love the growing Hispanic influence in the Roaring Fork Valley, I feel I’m “aiding and abetting,” somehow, whenever I buy a burger, the fault of law turned upside down for profit, not of those cute food servers. I’ve no solution, past realistic legislation, yet, clearly, if profit’s maximized by cutting outlay for labor, nationwide, at the lowest levels, then, legal or not, like it or not, nothing will stop this trip to Mecca. If it did, there’d be fewer coupons to clip, for the “pobres” at the top.
Once Teote’s sons get jobs, often way below minimum wage since “illegals” are easily exploitable, muchacho’s earnings head south, another point of contention, into wallets of wives or mothers who raised them. Padres open bank accounts, often for the first time, becoming interest-earners. After stashing more under the mattress, with garlic cloves that bring good juju, campesino families, those with northern sons, arise, like gold-and-silver kites in a wind-dance, in gyres of acquisition, buying land, Brahma bulls and caballos; then, tractors, taxis and motobicicletas, guzzling $.90 a gallon gasolina; next, a million plastic chairs. Everything’s at least an eighth the price here, and land’s even cheaper, so we’re not talking massive gold drain, maybe $50,000 yearly, huge only in Teote.
Even for all Latin America, this money sent south can’t come close to the googleplex of billions in natural resources we extract from them each year, at exploitation prices, paid to rico families in capital cities, who also control the local banks, medicine and food supplies, the markets where Teote spends its dollars. As they, in turn, reinvest their profligate nest eggs in safer American markets, usually in Miami, it almost all comes back to us, in the long run. Only a negligible pittance returns to the peasants from the Fire Sale of their work and national heritage, from a fire the Giants started. Not good juju, amigos, way out of cosmic balance, for four hundred years.
The Betancos, jealous, want those shining kites for our sons, but most have no coyote money. “No, con mi dinero,” I’ve said, many times, but dream denial’s really not my strong suit. Since I’ve nine unofficially-adopted kids, los hijos de don Douglas, born to fathers who abandoned my sisters, a couple full-grown sons, chomping at the bit, a few much younger daughters, I’d love to pave their way to opportunity beyond providing a just father’s love; unless the immigration laws change, though, they’ll need to find their path to Disneyland on their own, and they probably will. In the American Century just past, we’ve taught the poor not only to dream our way, but also, “Do it now, amigo,” then, “Do it even better, mañana!” It’s our pragmatic, progressive gift of love and honor to the world, complete with our well-known blindness to borders, returning right straight home to us, con muchas gracias de los campesinos de Teote, Nicaragua.

Whirling in Teote, Part One

Whirling in Teote

Part I: “At the Bottom of the Beanstalk” (655 words)
In 2000, when last a viejito in Glenwood’s Sister City for an extended stay, I saw minimal economic change—a bit more food--since the Contra devastations in the 80’s. From 1979 to 1990, almost every family lost sons, casas, farms and livestock, livelihood, in La Guerra. After “Reconciliation” in the 90’s, Teote, just ribs, hair and hunger at the end of the road, flooded with refugees, with international aid workers as well, Brigadistas. For ten more years, campesinos fared poorly, their pay for piecework in the fields just a meal, enough to make it ‘til morning. No cash. Too often, niños died of diarrhea, from drinking river water.
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch, seeing a bad situation, made it worse. Herds died from river-borne disease, when outhouses upriver cleaned out in the floods. Homeless vagas from Honduras, living in the forests by day, stole anything not nailed down in Teote’s lampless night. Without help from Glenwood and other Friendship Cities, plus, of course, the resilient joy of these magnificent people, Teote would’ve stayed a sorry wasteland. While other Nican cities writhed under global massage, especially after 9-11, Teotecacinte, the corn god’s kitchen, still held out its begging bowl, and no one here liked it, at all. The young men talked again of new revolt.
Now, a whirlwind of cash twists through this village of dust in the viento. Dinero comes in two ways: first, in pay envelopes from Cuban or Columbian cigaro plantations, in cahoots, of course, with Big Tobacco; and, second, from Western Union money-grams sent monthly by the prime of Teote’s youth, now working up north in the Land of Opportunity. These dolares, both blessing and curse, ring with charges of abuse and criminality, from both sides of the border.
Southside, tobacco men know well how to wring dinero from campesino poverty: for $.67 an hour, a peasant works a 48-hour week, without benefits, without redress, “at will.” This hourly pays for food, at local prices, for one, after overseers charge hefty kickbacks, off the top of the envelope, for lunch they do not serve. With little business, no industry, and no profit in growing corn, many villagers must pray, “This too shall pass,” in order to eat. Still, these envelopes, so meager with inflation, twirl each casa like dust devils on the campo. Since every centavo replicates twice before it’s spent on rice and beans, more cash-in-hand means pollo on every plate, plus a flock in the solar for huevos, and some, indeed, for sale. Campesinos are nursed on stories of turning dross to gold and water to wine, through cunning, magic, and la gracia de Diós. Especially here, so long at survival, eating’s been a daily crap shoot, with “The Man” in Managua, the only clear winner. Now, cellulars chime in a town still without landlines since the Contra cut them, in 1982. Portable TV antennas tune to Dallas-like novellas de los ricos. Best of all, thank God, there’s a bright, metal outhouse with a fresh-dug hole in every campesino yard.
Except for those living on the local rotgut, no one starves here anymore. The water’s potable and constant, while healthcare’s improving. However, the perfume of money doesn’t mask for long the stench of grinding exploitation, entrenched since the conquistadores here, at the bottom of Jack’s giant beanstalk. While little opportunity exists within Teote to shinny up higher to the castle, with few magic beans of capital and connection, visions of TV-land ‘s golden eggs shimmer aplenty, right in their eager faces. Meanwhile, the precious leaves they tend metamorphosize to puro primo, very long cigars, sold as Cuban art forms, though grown in Nicaragua by food slaves, to discriminating smokers in the finest hazy clubs, for $100 a crack, mostly for tiers of middlemen. The pennies dribbling from Big Tobacco just clink more falsely on a campesino’s second-hand plate, here in Northern Nicaragua.

Friday, February 15, 2008

What I Eat Creates Me

Food—la comida—is a very big deal in Teote, now above the no-survival level, but still beneath the shady leaves of Jack’s giant beanstalk, where little sun shines. The corn god’s kitchen is part of global economics, es cierto, but, as well, apart, below its diligent radar, though such transparency’s hard to imagine for a viejito from Glenwood, a town so totally connected to the world’s banking stream. At the end of the road in Nicaragua, surrounded by undeveloped Honduras, Teote’s not exactly a New-Venture-City, except for growing marijuana—Not an option!—or, perhaps, building a fat farm and spa for overweight boomers, since a very hot spring, currently infested with coral snakes and stinging fire ants, gushes from the banks of the Limon, upriver. Maybe I need St. Patrick, who expelled culebras from Ireland.

Ridding self of weight here, however, doesn’t take a blesséd saint: the campesino diet empowers that, thank God, mostly local rice, red beans and corn tortillas, handmade from maís every morning, pure energy food. With chicken soup, fresh veggies and fruit, crisp plantains, plus boiled milk from mi padre’s cow, I find the food full of savor and texture, constantly surprising, and, with an hour’s saunter daily ‘round the campo, guaranteed to drop ten pounds a month from my sagging frame. Que milagro! Yet, truly, for me, this diet’s not sacrificial. Of course, I’m not a drinker, here, except for an occasional local cerveza, but, then, I’m cosmically-high already on my writing, at least eight hours a day.

Here, the chicken soup (sopa de pollo) beats anything my grandma used to make. Its base, a fresh-killed, quick-browned, unskinned hen in pieces, stews in salted agua at a slow boil, at least three hours, with onion, tomato, minced garlic to taste, and a pinch or two of cumin. Later, we add chunks of challa—a vine-borne squash that grows up trees—of yuca (peeled cassava root), and sometimes a handful of Spanish parsley (aka perejil) or manzanilla (camomile) leaves, to break a fever, or noni, extra good for the kidneys. Lip-smacking heartiness, it’s served at least thrice a week for lunch or dinner, especially in the rainy season, June to January, sometimes chilly from the damp. Though it rarely goes below 60F, everyone wears a second-hand parka if it gets that “cold.”

The speciality of the house, nacatamale, is an amazing enfolding of rich corn masa--Si, with lard!—‘round bits of pork in cumin-garlic juices, with delicate pinches of rice, onion, tomato, potato, and petit pois from Jolly Green Giant. La mama wraps it in 4x6 envelopes of green banana leaves, tied with string, and steams these for hours in an iron kettle with the lid on. We do about 30 at a time. One, served warm, stays with me for a day of fullness, but it’s best to be wary of too many in a week, if I want my stomach to shrink.

Other treats, dipped in unsweetened coffee to jumpstart the morning, golden roquillas, chewy-crunchy in turn, are rings of corn masa and egg, rolled by hand and baked in an adobe orno. It takes two hours to burn enough wood to heat it, but, then, they’re quickly in-and-out with a long-handled, wooden spatula. A variant, roquettas, are pressed cookies of slightly sweetened masa with a dab of honeyed goat cheese on top, bubbled ‘til caramelized. Yum. We use up the heat baking gingered corn bread or wheat cake tortas, glazed with sugar and egg. This seems a ton of baked goods for a diet, but, all’s in moderation, and working: at weigh-in, this morning, I broke 190, for the first time in 7 years. I almost cried. If my VVH-HMR diet coaches read this, they’ll jump for joy. That’s 8 pounds lost, in less than two weeks. I’m totally back in weight loss, ladies, straight arrow for my target. Hoo-hah!

There’s plenty of fresca, to flush out my remaining flab, with pulp and juice from fruits in season in the yard, usually limes, oranges, coconut, or uba, grapes, bought in Jalapa, from Chile. In addition, pinol and cacoa seed, picked in my family’s orchard, sundried and roasted to peel, then ground and boiled in leche, makes a before-bed tonic improving the circulation, so says the local curandera. As well, a few spoons of oatmeal (avena) with a little sugar, bought in packets and added to hot milk, thickens a breakfast shake to die for. It sticks to my ribs all morning, while I’m sipping my home-grown coffee, burnt black in my sister’s cocina. That’s when I’m fed by my writing.

H-m-m-m! Perhaps a writers’ workshop for sedentary scribes from los Estados? Guaranteed weight loss, stewed in fertile, transcendently creative juices!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

In Nicaragua

It´s taken me a while, but I´m here in Teote, and my datacard needs to be re-enabled, so right now, 2-6-08, I´m sitting in a computer cafe in Jalapa, Nicaragua, a busride away, typing out a new post quickly. I really wanted to have the only active internet connection and computer in Teote (silly boy, for such an ego trip) but this will do until I figure out what´s up with the Verizon machine. I do know the satellite in the southern skies is working, so it must be my card. Perhaps, like just about everything else in Nicaragua, it just will take longer or it just doesn´t work here. The most common sentence in Northern Nicaragua must be Ësta Nicaragua, no sirve!--It´s Nicaragua, so, of course, it doesn´t work!

I figure I must be meant to be more social for a while, instead of holing up in my room in Teote, writing, writing, writing all day and night, with which I am a tad obsessive but very loving and fulfilled. I am having a good time today at the computer cafe, fairly new here. It certainly was not a part of the Upper Nicaraguan scene when I first came back in 1993.

Anyway, on my arrival, everyone at don Moncho´s finca was very glad to see me, because (this is so don Moncho) I had left money when I last was here to build a new outhouse on the farm, the old one being so smelly and dilapidated that I just couldn´t abide it anymore, PLUS IT WAS READY TO FALL IN ITS OWN HOLE; he built it, but then locked it up for two years (I had an operation in ´07 and didn´t make it down last year) in order for me to be the first one to use it. Ha! So we had a ritual yesterday morning, opening up the new outhouse for everyone´s use, and all are grateful.