With apologies to Stan Brakhage

Moth Armageddon at el Dorado, on the Cuchillo de San Lorenzo in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. An impressive quantity of insects were stirred into a suicidal frenzy by the dim glow of one lonely porch-light in the jungle. Here, the morning after, they cling, in death or exhaustion, to the windows of the comedor.


I would have chosen Martinique

Major Grey's Mango Chutney, courtesy of Vimal Imports

I'm headed to Montreal for the weekend, to drop off my niece Sophia at a homestay, in the hopes that she will learn French. Nothing so remarkable in spending a teenage summer like this, perhaps, at least assuming you accept that the sort of nasal yak-herders dipthong stew that issues from the average Quebecker mouth might actually be characterized as French. Except for one thing: my niece lives in Paris. In France. The country. Has done, for almost two years. It turns out she spends so much time doing the Soulja Boy Dance with the rest of the expat ballers that French, so far, has turned out to be more of an ambiance than a language. However, I wish her luck!

Gray condiment of the Major's Mango, courtesy Google translate and bi-lingual Canada

Sophia, some years ago, learning her first language.


A grisly plot worthy of Leonardo Padura Fuentes

"...a watchman saw smoke coming from the church, entered and found the body of the Rev. Mariano Arroyo Merino in his room lying on a burned mattress, and he picked the man up to get him out of the room before he discovered that he was dead and soaked in blood."
-- from the Latin American Herald Tribune

"El Cobre," the cathedral-sized chapel outside Santiago de Cuba, venerated by Catholics and santeros alike. (But take note: the two forms of worship are in no way mutually exclusive).

In a demonstration that truth is always stranger and more perverse than fiction, a second Spanish Catholic priest has been murdered in Havana, some five months after a first gruesome torture-murder. The possibly serial nature of the crime, with its threat of further victims to come, makes this the perfect case for Leonardo Padura Fuentes' thoughtful, and in this instance unfortunately fictional, Lieutenant Mario Conde.

We learn from ABC news Spain a detail: the murdered septuagenarian was "an expert in religious syncreticism." Furthermore, the neighborhood of Regla, where he preached, is known throughout Cuba as a stronghold of santería. Despite rumors, the seventy-one year old Colombian vicar of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor), who was to have substituted for Arroyo Merino at the church in Regla during the latter's upcoming vacation in Cantabria, "denies the existence of any bad relations between the santería community and the Catholic congregation."

I envision a novel in which the dominance of the Spaniards within Cuba's Catholic Church, set against a backdrop of resurgent religion in the post-Soviet era, becomes a metaphor for the still-scabrous wounds of colonialism. Followers of the politically correct tendency in Miami santería, which increasingly dismisses any European component within the religion of the African saints, calling it a whitewash, manifest themselves in Regla as a violent fringe movement. It will take Mario Conde to penetrate this murky world and uncover the conspiracy.

If Padura Fuentes doesn't go for it, maybe I'll write it myself.


Adios, albacore...

Walking along a sandy trail through dry tropical forest, toward the frothy blue Caribbean, Laura and I met coming down the path one of the staff of our rustic lodging in Tayrona National Park, the Finca Don Pedro. There we had pitched our tent between two coconut trees in an immaculately manicured jungle clearing. Our friend, one of the guys responsible for collecting dried coconut husks and weedwhacking the constant onslaught of tropical growth into a serviceable lawn, had just returned from the beach. Laden with fish, he had been at the shore at just the right time to purchase the pick of the morning's catch. He was carrying a string of bright-eyed snapper, some jack, and a long, silvery, eel-like tangle he declared was "mas sabroso que el dorado" (even better than mahi-mahi). The fish that caught my eye, however, was a diminutive tuna, fifteen inches of steely wet sheetmetal, sleek and stiff and glistening. He called it an albacora.

It was our last morning in the park. We said goodbye, heading along the coast to make the long trek up to Pueblito, the ruins of a pre-Columbian indigenous village hidden away in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This massive, isolated clump of the Andes tumbles down into the Caribbean here. The vast boulders scattered along the coast, the craggy, sandy terrain, and the last remnants of towering coastal forest are what make Tayrona such a spectacular place.

All day long I thought about that fish. Laura is amazed at my unfailing ability to manufacture stress and anxiety out of even the most blissful of situations, and later that afternoon, as we sat on the pearly-white sand and dabbled our toes in the azure water, things were no different. "I should have offered to buy that fish right then and there," I whined. "I should have put a deposit on it." Laura pointed out that nobody else was staying at Finca Don Pedro except for three Argentine hippies we suspected of being vegetarian. "I don't know," I said. "I'm worried. I'm going to be really bummed if he already unloaded it. What if we arrive back in camp and someone else is feasting on it?"

At dusk, we hurried along the trail through the forest, swatting mosquitoes. Once back at Don Pedro's I wasted no time, poking my head in the doorway of the outdoor kitchen, an array of propane burners and a makeshift sink set up in a thatched lean-to. "I want to inquire about a fish we saw this morning," I said. "Do you still have it?"

The owner of the fish was summoned, and I was led in the gloom to a battered styrofoam cooler, tucked between the stalks of two banana plants growing out behind the open-sided hut where the workers sleep in a row of hammocks. There was the tuna, illuminated in the glow of my headlamp, packed tightly in ice. After a quick and most reasonable negotiation, it was ours.

"Do you mind cleaning it for me?"

Cooking methods are not subtle in the jungle. After a few slash marks down the side of the fish, in it goes to the vat of bubbling oil. A few minutes later,

Conversation was limited, as we were too busy gorging.


Disposable Income Dept.

Driving the stretch of I-85 from Atlanta to Charlotte one could be forgiven, while looking out the window and tuning the radio, for thinking that South Carolina’s two major exports are broadcast interpretations of the word of God, and firecrackers.

On July 3rd, it is difficult to find a parking spot in the sloping lot in front of Shelton Fireworks in Fair Play, SC. A stream of gunpowder enthusiasts emerging from the triangular warehouse push shopping carts laden with rockets, bombs and other explosives toward their trucks and SUVs.

Inside, towering piles of cardboard artillery wrapped in cheap colorful paper form aisles of product, a destructive fantasy superimposed on a supermarket. The carefully piled stacks of identical packaging recall the dry goods at your local megacenter, but the brands and products are unfamiliar. Boxes of detergent, cans of coffee and jars of marmalade are here replaced with TNT wrapped in a lurid but predictable iconography. Superheroes and villains promise violence, flames, deafening booms, adrenaline, sparks and patriotism. Gangsters mingle with Martians, and Uncle Sam unleashes his wrath. The colorful labels and the cardboard bangers are manufactured thousands of miles away, in China, with July 4th in mind.

Fight the fight...

Nine shots of voodoo...

Hellfire barrage...

American valor™

Land of the free, Home of the brave®