Krewe du Vieux

The parading Mardi Gras revelers of the Krewe du Vieux Carre, generally referred to as the "Crew do voo," marched last night through the Marigny and French Quarter of New Orleans, slinging beads, sexual innuendo, and satirical political commentary along the route of their parade. Unseasonably chilly temperatures inspired some of the fastest parade marching I've ever witnessed, but the climate could not chill the revels. It kind of reminded me of a party in Antarctica.







Reading: William Christenberry by William Christenberry (Aperture)

Some regular readers of this blog may have begun to wonder whether its temporary transformation into a clearinghouse for updates on the grave situation in Haiti risks becoming permanent. Although I will do my best to continue the flow of Haiti news, especially once the major media has inevitably turned away from what will certainly be a very long story, I want to assure you that I will never abandon antarcticiana's core mission, which consists in large part of posting long and generally unread reviews and remarks about books I'm reading, regardless of their publication date.

It is always a delight to discover a great artist about whom you were totally ignorant, despite the embarrassment. For instance, I keep wondering how a cultured fellow like myself, interested in photography and sculpture, can have lived forty-six years without the name William Christenberry ever having registered in my consciousness? It's mortifying.

On the drive to New Orleans, Laura and I made a detour, a sort of pilgrimage, through Hale County, Alabama, a couple of counties south of Tuscaloosa, off the interstate. It is one of the state's poorest, and Alabama is one of the poorest states. In a couple of arenas Hale County might even be considered an icon of American underdevelopment. Many of Walker Evan's photographs for his depression-era collaboration with James Agee, Let us now Praise Famous Men, were taken there, of malnourished back-country folks living in grinding poverty. Christenberry's work in Hale County, so near his home town, was in part inspired by his discovery of that book when it was reprinted in 1960.

And in the 1990s, Hale County became the favored petri-dish for the late MacArthur genius architect Samuel Mockbee's Rural Studio, a unique effort to put cutting-edge avant-garde architecture at the service of the poor. Our intention was to go and see some of the houses his students have built there, at extraordinarily low cost, for marginalized families more accustomed to living in rotting single-wide trailers than in Dwell-Magazine-like splendor.

I'm now working on a story about what we can learn from Mockbee about architecture, so often an elitist profession (how many in the middle class, let alone the poor, have the resources to hire architects?). It was while researching that I discovered Christenberry, who was born in Tuscaloosa in 1936 and began taking strangely intimate photographs of buildings, trees and objects in Hale County in the early 1960s. A multi-disciplinary artist, Christenberry first began using photography as a kind of notational system to feed his other work, but fifty years into his career, the photograph seems to me to be at the center of his enterprise.

Returning to Hale County again and again, perhaps annually, he has photographed and rephotographed structures and locations and vistas in decline, evolution and transformation. His work also sums collectively into a kind of catalog of vernacular typologies, of farm structures, churches, and collapsing houses. (This links his work directly to the aesthetic and approach of the Rural Studio. The small green barnlike structure on this page--I coincidentally took this photograph of it before I had come across Christenberry via Google, a day or so after arriving in New Orleans--is one of his favorite and most photographed structures. It is right next door to the patchwork of rusted tin roofs that make up the cladding of an adjacent Rural Studio building).

Christenberry's images are in some ways conceptually similar to the work of other photographers I number among my favorites: Bernd and Hilla Becher, Camilo José Vergara, and Eduardo del Valle and Mirta Gómez. I've written here about the Bechers, whose rigorous (dare I say Germanic?) adherence to consistent, repetitive compositional strictures is essentially clinical. There is nothing elegiac or emotional about their collections of dozens and dozens of water towers, framework facades, or grain elevators. Considering their choices of subject matter as a whole it seems clear that they are interested in artifacts of human endeavor and industry that will one day inevitably fade into obsolescence, but there is no lament to be found in their clean compositions. In Christenberry's work, however, I sense a deep and abiding longing for the landscape. His revisitations are not an exploration of architectural form so much as a plumbing of his own memory and imagination. He returns again and again to Hale County, to dip his bucket into the well of inspiration.

In a project with comparable elements, José Vergara photographs the same stretches of inner-city blight again and again, over years. Camden, Detroit, Newark and Harlem are some of his favorite haunts. He has, I sense, a love-hate relationship with his subjects. He cannot live without his beloved ghettoized landscapes of collapsing, humble buildings and transitional shopfronts, for they are his constant inspiration. But taken as a whole, his photographic catalog of devastation is as incisive a critique of racist political attitudes, unequal resource distribution and failed urban policy as any written sociology. He is little concerned with lighting and composition and the other niceties of the medium, all of which would distract from his rush to capture the enormity of the wasted landscape, lest we continue to forget it, continue to avoid it. No one single Vergara image stands alone as an artistic masterpiece; instead, his work's power resides in its breadth and totality. The website Invincible Cities presents only three of Vergara's subject communities, but contains hundreds of images of each, like a personalized google map charting decades of wanderings in the ghettos of America. There is nothing relaxed, or relaxing, about this, in contrast to the work of Christenberry, which finds the author returning to the spiritual home of his imagined and remembered landscape. In the Hale County revisitations the maniacal creepings of the kudzu are like the fond but suffocating embrace of an old friend. The slowly collapsing sheds and old barns have a humanity to them, a sedate and tranquil mortality. His objects and structures slide over the years into a dignified decline. Their destiny is a gracious death by natural causes.

Del Valle and Gómez are more directly concerned with death and decay, primarily in Mexico. Their multiple photographs of the same modest Yucatecan structures document an evolution from wattle and daub Mayan building techniques to the supremacy of the economical and convenient but aesthetically inferior cinderblock. This work isn't about architectural progress or regression, however, so much as it is a meditation on the passing of culture. (Had the palm-frond huts of Haiti never been "improved" by cement, the loss of life there would have been diminished by magnitudes). The Cuban-born couple also owe something to Hollis Frampton, who once filled a developing tray with Spaghetti-O's and photographed it daily as the strands mouldered, shriveled, and dessicated, an experiment much more sublime than it sounds. In contrast to Del Valle and Gómez, when Christenberry goes back again and again to Hale County, he often chooses different angles and vantage points from which to capture his subjects. Rather than documenting change, it seems to me that he is always trying to find something new in those familiar places, something he missed before.

I'll be leaving New Orleans soon, and I'm thinking I'll pass back through Hale County myself, to see what else I might find.

Let's be clear: I took all the photographs here before I had even come across Christenberry, so at best they are an idiot savant's homage.


Tragedy in the Grand Rue

It seems almost impossible to contemplate that only two months ago I was in Haiti to write about the Ghetto Biennale, an international art event whose very existence I interpreted as representing a moment of comparative optimism for the country. My various blog postings on that brilliant spectacle, with links to some of the media outlets I covered the story for, are HERE.

The Grand Rue was exactly the kind of neighborhood worst hit by Haiti's ongoing series of earthquakes, a place dense with shoddy cinderblock construction, wholly ignorant of building codes. Building after building sprouted ersatz bits and extensions, tacked on into a dense cement patchwork, to house expanding families and country people driven to the city by the neo-liberal plan's near-total undermining of the agricultural sector. It was a claustrophic experience to walk this warren of nerve-wracking construction even without the most distant thought of hurricane or earthquake in one's mind.

BEFORE photo: Chantal Regnault

Is it good news, or bad news, that "only" one of the four Grand Rue artists was killed last week? Louco, whose portrait is just visible atop the right-hand column of this inviting entryway to the Ghetto Biennale, perished. May he rest in peace.

AFTER photo: Leah Gordon


Report from Petit Goave: No Aid getting Through

This is a list of facebook posts by Ed Lockett in Petit Goave, Haiti, which has been devastated by the earthquake. It was emailed to me. Because not everyone has access to facebook, I've reposted it here.

From: Joel Goldstein

These are the Facebook messages from Ed Lockett this morning. The situation
where he is in Petit Goave is deteriorating fast and growing more desperate.
Most recent messages from this morning are first:

Edwin J Lockett Jr Here's an article from the news I just found.

Edwin J Lockett Jr The longer they wait to help, the harder it will be to
help... and the fewer there will be to help.

Edwin J Lockett Jr I am venting these feelings with the hope of sharing more of
the human element involved here. People here have felt abandoned for years. The
world goes by as they wait to die.

Edwin J Lockett Jr It is unnerving to hear so much noise in the night. All of
this in the pitch black. If not for the Lord, we would perish with fear. Danger
in the streets from gangs and thieves, danger by the water, the mountains
continually rumble, and danger IN YOUR HOME. Where? Where do you go?

Edwin J Lockett Jr The hungrier people get, however, the more they will start
doing anything they need to to survive. There is also an anger boiling that
nothing is being done here in this area. We hear of PAP and all the help there
while we whither away here. There is enough for everyone, but it is clogged up
in politics and poor planning in PAP.

Edwin J Lockett Jr The house is standing but we do not trust it yet. I'm also
very concerned that the longer we go without help, the more people will start
roaming in gangs and looking for food and things to take. Right now the
population is ready to, and will, kill any thieves that get caught. There is no
jail now. Several thieves have been killed in PAP and some in this area.

Edwin J Lockett Jr Imagine a world where taking a nap on your bed has the very
real possibility of killing you. Praying to live through each shower.

Edwin J Lockett Jr We have enough food for ourselves for a few more days. We're
not eating real healthy, just eating. I have yet to get my appetite back. The
kids are all pulling through. The Happy House is still standing with what
appears to be not too much damage. But the continual tremors make it a scary

Edwin J Lockett Jr So where are, the Happy House folks at? We have been helping
a few hundred people by giving rice, beans and medicine. We have sent a
continual flow of money and food to several families, groups, and
neighborhoods. We had a bunch of rice and beans in the school for our feeding
program and have given all of that away.

Edwin J Lockett Jr Each night that goes by, sleeping in the streets, dealing
with tremors, running out of food, no help coming, all of this puts everything
closer to the edge of a population earthquake. There are more and more thieves
at night. Gunfire at night. Dogs everywhere bark all night long. The nights
here are not restful but keep getting noisier and more dangerous..

Edwin J Lockett Jr Eight days after the quake, helicopters pass over head but
do not touch down. No soldiers or police in the streets. People's nerves are
getting thinner because many feel we are not on the help map and we are just
waiting to die. The tremors keep everyone on edge and they feel if death
doesn't come by another earthquake, it will come by starvation.

Edwin J Lockett Jr Here is what is happening on the ground in Petit Goave. The
population, all of us, continue to sleep outside. Food supplies are going down.
Gas is at best very hard to find. When a little comes in, there are long lines
and fights at the gas station. Needless to say the price has gone up
considerably. We get NO news her...e of any kind of a schedule or of plans for
help to start arriving.

Edwin J Lockett Jr Tuesday 8:11 AM Still here. Still waiting. I am truly amazed
at the lack of communication and lack of coordination in this relief effort. We
have a UN base here in town but there is no activity coming out of there. No
police in the streets. A building full of rice was looted right up the street
from here yesterday.


An eBay auction with a Conscience

Get your Pat Robertson commemorative voodoo doll here.

We have to take the auctioneer's word for it that all proceeds will go to help Haiti. Also, since these sorts of auctions have a tendency to spiral out of control and often end up being canceled by the 'Bay before they have run their course, I thought I had better post an image:

My dear friend David Belle's report from Port au Prince

via Charles Arthur's Haiti Support Group email list:

Ciné Institute Director David Belle reports from Port-au-Prince:

"I have been told that much US media coverage paints Haiti as a tinderbox ready to explode. I'm told that lead stories in major media are of looting, violence and chaos. There could be nothing further from the truth.

"I have traveled the entire city daily since my arrival. The extent of damages is absolutely staggering. At every step, at every bend is one horrific tragedy after another; homes, businesses, schools and churches leveled to nothing. Inside every mountain of rubble there are people, most dead at this point. The smell is overwhelming. On every street are people -- survivors -- who have lost everything they have: homes, parents, children, friends.

"NOT ONCE have we witnessed a single act of aggression or violence. To the contrary, we have witnessed neighbors helping neighbors and friends helping friends and strangers. We've seen neighbors digging in rubble with their bare hands to find survivors. We've seen traditional healers treating the injured; we've seen dignified ceremonies for mass burials and residents patiently waiting under boiling sun with nothing but their few remaining belongings. A crippled city of two million awaits help, medicine, food and water. Most haven't received any.

"Haiti can be proud of its survivors. Their dignity and decency in the face of this tragedy is itself staggering."
David Belle, January 17th, 2010


Jacmel Film School survives to film Earthquake aftermath

I'm desolated to report that despite the comparative optimism of a message from Jacmel indicating that all students of Sine-Lekol had survived the earthquake, one of my students, Rose Laure Charles, is unaccounted for. She is last known to have left Jacmel on the Tuesday of the earthquake to go to Port au Prince for a doctor's appointment. So far there is no further word.

Nonetheless, there is some good news from Jacmel. The students of the Sine-Lekol, using whatever equipment they could salvage from the wreckage of their facility, have been filming and are providing the only substantive news I have seen coming out of the decimated and now-isolated town.

Here is a report from Simeus Fritzner:

Report from student: Fritzner Simeus from Jacmel from Ciné Institute on Vimeo.

And one from Keziah Jean:

The Victims In Jacmel : Keziah Jean reports from the field (subtitled) from Ciné Institute on Vimeo.


One of the best things I've ever seen on television

Why I'm not going to Haiti today: "More doctors, fewer journalists!"

From ABC News, via the Haiti Support Group:

"We hear on the radio that rescue teams are coming from the outside, but nothing is coming. We only have our fingers to look for survivors," said Jean-Baptiste Lafontin Wilfried.

Despite the launch of the massive aid operation, there is no sign of heavy-lifting equipment among the rubble even as tons of material and badly needed supplies flooded the airport.

The rapidly decomposing bodies are also posing a major problem.

Port-au-Prince resident Jacky Dodard says corpse disposal has been random and chaotic.

"What is happening is that there is no help in the streets. Personally, I haven't seen any help," she said.

"So everybody is trying to drop their dead bodies somewhere. They don't know what to do with the dead bodies."

Haitian officials have warned the overall death toll may top 100,000 as a result of the powerful quake that ripped across the poorest nation in the Americas.

The International Red Cross said the quake, the largest in the Caribbean island nation in more than 150 years, has killed between 40,000 and 50,000 people.

"If international aid doesn't come, the situation will deteriorate quickly. We need water and food urgently," said Haitian survivor Lucille, still dazed by the scenes of devastation and carnage.

"More doctors, fewer journalists," one man yelled angrily, shaking his fists at a foreign media crew.

Please contribute to

Episcopal Relief and Development

Partners in Health

The Lambi Fund of Haiti

Partners in Health report from Haiti

I'm recopying in full the email I just received from Paul Farmer's Partners in Health NGO. You can donate to them HERE.

The tragedy in Haiti is more dire than we could have ever expected it would be in the hours following the earthquake. But thanks to your support, we're already making a difference.

We received a report from Cate Oswald, one of our staff in Haiti, who traveled through the Central Plateau to Port-au-Prince yesterday with two truckloads of meds and supplies. She described the scene:

"We started seeing destruction from Mt. Cabrit (where big rocks lie in the middle of the road) through Croix de Bouquets where it doesn't seem as bad but lots of walls down. Then the scene gets much, much worse. Tonight, everywhere throughout the city, as we drove by the national plaza, there are thousands of people sleeping outside. While I was in Port-au-Prince, there were still aftershocks being felt. I didn't venture into other parts of the city, but as you all know, koze sa pa jwet menm [Haitian saying literally translated as "this is not a game"]."

The trucks met up with PIH staff, including Dr. Louise Ivers, at the UN's logistics base in Port-au-Prince. Louise was one of two doctors attending at the time, and they had nothing but aspirin until our trucks showed up.

Our leadership is in Port-au-Prince now determining the best location to establish a base of operations. Their assessment includes laying out all the next steps for getting supplies, equipment, and additional staff to the people most in need.

Your donation is already providing critical relief to the people of Haiti - but we have a long way to go. Please tell your friends about the critical work Partners In Health has done in Haiti for more than 20 years, and the urgent support we need right now:

Share this important update with a friend

Another of our Haitian colleagues, Patrick Almazor, reported today that he and several other doctors have set up mobile clinics in the Delmas section of Port-au-Prince.

"We have a lot of fractures," he wrote in an email. "We are running out of meds, I'm on my way to St. Marc [a PIH facility] for supplies."

Importantly, given the patients already flowing out of Port-au-Prince to St. Marc and our other facilities outside the city, we cannot leave our hospitals understaffed.

So we are recruiting surgeons, anesthetists, nurses, and other medical professionals to travel to Haiti in the next couple of days to help with staffing, particularly as many of our staff have lost family members and friends.

There's still so much that needs to be done for the people of Haiti. Your help in spreading the word can make a tremendous impact:

Share this important update with a friend

A handful of our colleagues remain unaccounted for - we continue to have every hope that it is due to lack of ability to communicate via telephone and the lack of electricity for computers, but we do not know.

Our staff has more or less been working around the clock in Boston and Haiti. I am incredibly lucky to work with such a passionate and committed group of individuals who will not stop unless their job /task /mission is done.

Thank you for your solidarity during this crisis,

Ophelia Dahl
Executive Director


I want the US Navy to collaborate with the Cuban medical profession, now

Is it too much to ask that Obama immediately give orders to get a 5,000 bed nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Haiti and have it fully staffed with medical professionals and standing by offshore within a two-minute helicopter flight from downtown Port au Prince?

I don't have the heart to post more of the devastating photographs that are coming out of Haiti. Daniel Morel, who I met in Port au Prince during the politically dark fall of 1993, is the professional photographer I know who has the longest and most intense commitment to the country. He has lived there for most of the last twenty years. Apparently he was on the Grand Rue when the earthquake hit and emails that André Eugene of the Grand Rue artists is alive and okay.

His photos from yesterday are here. But there have been no new ones for the last eleven hours, and aftershocks continue this morning, despite fifteen powerful ones last night. This is likely due to worsening communications infrastructure.

Richard Morse, the proprietor of the beloved Oloffsson Hotel in Port au Prince, and the leader of the band RAM, has a twitterstream here. Much news amidst much repetition can also be sifted from the twitter hashtag #haitiquake. Apparently the Oloffsson Hotel is intact, presumably because it is a rickety old building made of wood, rather than a brittle building made of concrete and block.

From the Jacmel Film School, the Sine Lekol, where I taught sound recording this last September and the year before, reports are that students and staff are safe, but all facilities are destroyed and that the beautiful and historic town has suffered major and widespread damage.

I'm feeling totally impotent at the moment, and wondering what I can constructively do to help. Reading tweets and posting updates is an interesting experiment in comprehending the power and limitations of new instant crowd-sourced media like twitter, but at the moment my attempts to find out what is going on, and even to spread the word, feel onanistic.

What I would say is that this is clearly a massive humanitarian disaster. The non-existent public health infrastructure in Haiti means that yesterday's death and horror will be compounded in the days and weeks to come by outbreaks of cholera and typhoid as ruined buildings and whole neighborhoods remain unexcavated and even unsearched. Within days, and possibly within hours, depending on the "competition" from other news stories, the major media will move on from its coverage of these multiple earthquakes and it is then that we need to maintain our own compassion and sustain our own efforts to assist, whatever they may be.

The following charities have been suggested:

The Lambi Fund of Haiti is helping in rural areas and as a long-term goal addresses the environmental degradation that radically intensifies the destruction caused by natural catastrophes like these earthquakes and hurricane flooding.

Oxfam America.

As the comments point out I neglected to link to Paul Farmer's excellent Partners in Health I have been to his operation in Haiti's Plateau Central and can wholeheartedly endorse, and just gave to them myself.

My father suggests
Episcopal Relief and Development.

Also, although collaboration with Cuban doctors may be too much to ask, the USS Vinson aircraft carrier is en route to Haitian waters, and two Canadian naval vessels are departing, or have departed Halifax, Nova Scotia, to aid in relief efforts.



Does Google know what you are googling before you google it?

The consistently fascinating boing-boing has a post up about those little strings of anticipatory text that pop up once you start typing in your Google search window or search bar.  It seems there may be a lot to be learned about the habits and interests of your fellow humans through some amateur sociological analysis of these suggestions. Or maybe not. The original post, at predictably irrational, gives the impression that the content of these autofills emerges out of a kind of democratic sampling of the millions of similar searches carried out by all the other internetters out there. The further implication seems to be that the suggestions appear in order based on the frequency with which they are searched. This could all be true. I don't know, but beyond the plausible inference, I'm not sure there is any evidence. Certainly they have to come from somewhere.

If pure democracy is at work, then, as one commenter pointed out, men across the nation and the world should certainly be embarrassed that the first suggestion offered to complete the search string "How can I get my girlfriend to..." was "give head." I tried this same search myself after reading the post and "give head" didn't even make the list, even if, as you can plainly see in the snapshot I took of my version, "blow me" appeared in position number 8. Presumably, the folks over at Google had so little to do today that they spent much of their morning reading boing-boing, then convened a meeting to discuss whether the term "give head" is or is not obscene and objectionable, and then had another meeting to determine whether to intervene and prevent this suggestion from ever again rearing its ugly... presence.

Despite my uncertainty about the origins of these suggestive strings of text, I was inspired to try out a couple more searches in the hopes that I might learn what the great mass of humanity is thinking:

Even if the jury is still out as regards the actual methodology, it seems quite clear that everyone hates politicians of all stripes.


Reading: Pacific Agony by Bruce Benderson

One positive legacy to emerge out of several decades of over-infatuation with post-modern critical theory is the ongoing debate over the blurry line between fact and fiction. The subject came up during the recent conference on Alexander von Humboldt and travel writing at the British Academy in London, in which I took part.

A kind of memoir, travelogue as a genre floats in the subjective space somewhere between journalism and literary fiction; it isn't always clear the extent to which the employment of novelistic techniques or the shortcomings of the working method divert the reader, and the writer, from a factually accurate presentation of events. During the Cuban travels that became Walking to Guantánamo, for instance, I never pulled out a notebook and started jotting down my interactions with Cubans right in the very moment of speaking with them, as a reporter might; instead I did my best to remember the substance of conversations that evening, or the next day over breakfast, jotting down the turns of phrase and perspectives I thought most intriguing. Much later, those skeletal notes of distant conversations were fleshed out into scenes. It wasn't that I was trying to conceal my intentions from the people I met, it simply seemed intrusive.

Certainly my intention was always to be as true to my experience of events as I could manage, but there can be no doubt that this kind of working method operates in a murky and subjective realm, where the influence of my preconceptions and even state of mind on a given day can neither be known, nor discounted.

The boggy rainforests of the Pacific northwest make a good metaphor for this squooshy literary territory, which may be one reason Bruce Benderson set his novel, Pacific Agony, in the region. By pure coincidence, I was in the midst of reading it when I came to London. The front cover announces "a novel," but the text is pure travelogue. Whether invented or not, Pacific Agony recounts an author's commissioned journey through Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Think of it as a fiction that employs travelogian techniques.

As a narrator, the jaded and overeducated Reginald Fortiphton has more than his parodic north-eastern liberal-elitist name to overcome, should he hope to weasel his way into the reader's sympathies. He is a dissolute, substance-abusing, convicted pedophile, wallowing in the sordid dregs of an unpurposed life. However brilliant and acidic and witty, his unremittingly bitter and cynical pose has grown stale. Our antihero is near bottom, but somehow he has bluffed his way, perhaps with a few well-crafted sentences, into a contract to write an outsider's meditation on the renegade heritage and splendor of the moist and dripping northwest.

Ooh, he is a noxious and tortured fellow, this pill-popping squalor-seeker. So what does it mean that I secretly agree with his every criticism of our tragic, misguided society? I, too, am seduced by the earth-firsters; I downloaded and read the Unabomber's manifesto with fascination and interest, and was sympathetic to the cause, despite thinking Ted's terrorist tactics repugnant. I am as overwhelmed as Fortiphton by the cancerous creep of the strip-mall and the mind-deadening homogeneity of our franchised culture, and at least as ambivalent about the illusory benefits of choice. I hate cars but, oops, still ride in them. "Nowadays," writes Benderson-Fortiphton, "the term 'increased mobility' had become a ruse. It was about the movement of the next generation from one curtailed space into another, eating at a Denny's or a mammalian Hooters that is exactly the same but in another location, producing a new family unit in another town bound by the same suspicion, resentment, and fear."

Fortiphton dismissively deconstructs the pillars of Oregonian and Washingtonian identity, making snide remarks about supposed regional characteristics like spunkiness, frontier grit, expansiveness of spirit and a firm sense of independence. These platitudinous qualities are defended by a reader, one Narcissa Whitman Applegate, who footnotes and attacks the passages in Fortiphton's manuscript that most offend her sensibilities. The conceit, essentially, is that we are reading her annotated copy, sent by the publisher for her comments and fact-checkery. Benderson's inclusion of the Applegate notes is a crafty device, but Applegate is so shrill, pinched and literal-minded that for most of the book she operates as a sort of self-satisfied caricature of the prim librarian rather than as a fully-realized foil for the decrepit and indecent Fortiphton.

Somewhere along the guided tour Fortiphton discovers, or thinks he discovers, a kind of eco-terrorist conspiracy and game-changing revolutionary spirit personified by his elusive love-interest, an unwashed crusty youth named Judas. "How much I wanted to be a part of their imagined doomsday scenario," he muses about Judas' crew of "ragged marginals, fueled by deep resentment," intent on the overthrow of a "seamless, corporatized hegemenony." Fortiphton spirals into paranoid delusion, and begins to believe that the sponsors of his journey are persecuting and manipulating him. He flees his itinerary, and his per diem, taking shelter in the anonymity of a Vancouver encampment of homeless. At last Applegate shows her usefulness. As she doggedly fact-checks Fortiphton's more and more obscure meanderings her antagonism intensifies, but a seed of doubt begins to germinate in the mind of the reader. "Bizarre that F's references actually are in accordance with known Pacific coast Native American rituals," says footnote #87, "or would be if this were happening more than eighty years ago...."

When her contempt for Fortiphton confronts his recounting of the sorts of trivial historical fact that she perhaps believes only herself qualified to know, she becomes the narrator's unwitting collaborator in the battle between fact and fiction. Despite all his paranoid rantings he is writing a travelogue, and he wants you to subscribe to his version. When Applegate wonders how it is that this derelict could possibly know so much about Quileute folklore we have no choice but understand that he speaks the truth, and sign up.


Come on down to New Orleans...

Walking to Guantánamo, not the book, but the photography exhibit, opens January 9th at the Antenna Gallery in the New Orleans Bywater at 3161 Burgundy Street. Hope to see you there!