This is the next chapter of my novel. All previous chapters may be found on this blog site. The book was largely written in the early 2000s and has been subsequently rewritten and revised. This is the latest revision. I work on it, chapter by chapter, with the hopes that I will have a final new revision sometime in the coming months. Enjoy. Comments @dedanaan (twitter)
The Romance of the Village of Solución
Tales Collected by Henrietta Pouissiere
The Anthropologist as Hero Part II
September 27, 1999
You must excuse an old woman. It is because I do not have my notes that I am prone to tell stories from which I leave out some of the most important details. You may wonder, for example, how long ago all this happened. Well, I can tell you that I did not begin my field work until the late nineteen-forties and these origin stories were set in a mythic time long before I came to the village. The world of these stories described seemed distant and incredible even when I first heard the people reminiscing about it. Well, it was another world. Even when I first began my fieldwork, it was another world. All of these stories were from a time long before the legendary Tijerina raided the courthouse at Amarilla and reclaimed the land and vowed to drive the scoundrels from the cities and usurpers from the land. Surely you remember Tijerina? Surely you at least remember as far back as the nineteen-sixties? What a hero! And the Chicanos and Chicanas and the founding of MECHA. What exciting times? No? You don’t remember? Well, then, you must simply trust me that Solución was founded a very long time ago.
It was long before stock options and capital gains and letters of intent. It was before the Korean War and Vietnam. Even Vietnam is ancient history today. My own fieldwork began before the Hubble telescope and before anyone talked about multinational corporations, world trade agreements, or the far left and the radical right. Terrorism had a different meaning then. It was a time you may have difficulty imagining. And if you can’t imagine how it was when I began my field work, think how much more difficulty I had in comprehending, much less visualizing the remote world of legends in which the village of Solución reveled.
I cannot be certain these old stories are true. I strongly suspect that they are in large part. Stories like these don’t survive unless they have some foundation in truth and unless there is something about the stories that helps people make sense of their collective lives.
Plus there is independent verification, evidence of the truth of them. I have actually seen flying eggs and other strange things including fireballs in the plaza. So some of these stories are surely true. But because I’ve only been coming here since the late nineteen forties, I just take the old stories on faith and try to collect multiple versions of them from as many people as possible so that I have some corroboration.
Just to be clear, I was not witness to the priest who built the tower and hollered at people to kneel and pray. That was long before my time. But I was around during what the people called the “scourge of the curanderos” when a group of fraudulent healers came to town claiming to have the cure for cancer. That period was bad enough in its own ways. I also witnessed a particularly odd summer when people thought that they must bathe in lime leaves and scatter flower petals at their doors to ward off evil. Someone’s cousin visiting from Argentina suggested that if only the villagers would take to this custom, they would be finally free of the ills that seemed to plague every generation, including the peculiar inability of many of the women of the village to conceive. I hastened to point out to those who became his disciples that Argentina did not seem to be a country that was particularly plague free. The cousin, in his hideously tight pants and shirt open to the navel, confronted me in front of the whole village. He pointed out that I was supposed to be an anthropologist and should not meddle. Quite right.
A Further Note on Field Work
Sometimes it was just so hard not to comment. It’s a weakness of mine, the tendency to comment. People often don’t take it well. One year, sometime in the late nineteen forties or early fifties, shortly after I had begun my field studies, for example, a woman named Matilda, about whom I knew very little at the time, got everyone to drink Mogan David wine with weekly highly ritualized communal breakfasts of scrambled eggs and chorizo sausage. She was convinced that these village wide repasts and the ghastly toasts that accompanied them would somehow help the people rise above their common fates. Matilda pointed to a different person at each week’s breakfast and it was that person’s job to raise his or her glass of the thick, sweet wine and call out some hope for health and prosperity. “May you be dead a half hour before the devil hears about it,” a man called out one week. I traced this toast to the Irish. Another time a woman suggested that everyone should “stick your heads in the ground and grow like onions.” This was clearly a Yiddish oath. I compiled a list of the toasts with a note on their origins. Nobody wanted to hear that they were coming up with nothing original in their efforts to address the complaints of generations. I was, again, told to keep out of it.
Aside from these couple of unprofessional intrusions into village life, I usually simply recorded what I saw or was told. The stories I am writing here are a result of disciplined inquiry, I assure you. Of course, things that happened after 1949 are things that I personally witnessed and can vouch for.
My fieldwork was a chore but I had to do more than I had done if I was to maintain and build a reputation. It wasn’t easy succeeding in academics. Even in the late forties the men dominated department politics. They were still wary of sending women to the field, even though Margaret and others, including me, had long since proven their mettle. But that was part of the problem. Margaret and Ruth and the others were so bright and pushy in their own ways that the more ordinary others of us coming along had quite a job to do to even be noticed.
The men would not work with us in the field for fear of being distracted by sex. Women who went to the field alone were often gossiped about and accused of having wild orgies with “native” men.
It was clear to the men, and we accepted it, that all we could possibly do was to work with women and on women’s issues in the field. We couldn’t study the really important things, the men said, like political and economic systems. We could not explore much with men informants, and certainly we must stay away from conversations about relationships and sexuality. This, we were warned in our departments, would be seen as a sign of looseness. Invading men’s social and cultural space was an invitation to be labeled a slut. This was not entirely a fabrication by our American colleagues. One ill advised young woman, a Columbia graduate student, was actually murdered for trespassing in these areas.
Sending women to do fieldwork when I first went to Moa Nui was just as controversial as sending girls to do battle was in later years.
My mentor in London fought for my right to go to the field. It took a lot of arguing and politicking to make my journey possible.
Even in the late 1940s, with years of work under my belt, it was still not easy. Of course Mead and group were right behind me. There were no funds available to support my research. I had to live frugally during the year and save enough from my salary at McArthur during the year to support myself summers.
I set out on that first trip to Solución with such bright eagerness. I had a 1947 Plymouth convertible coupe with wood grain interior. I had saved and saved for it. It was bright red. My, how I loved that car! I loaded the new car with my typewriter, cut sheets for field notes, notebooks, a large medicine chest, gifts, tinned food, and a footlocker full of toilet paper, books, and clothing.
When I drove into the plaza that first day, children ran out to touch the Plymouth. Old men came from their benches and rubbed their buttocks and calves against the shiny fenders as if they were Aladdin’s lamps. Some women came forward and asked me to have some lemonade with them. I loved everyone instantly even though the village seemed exceedingly dry and there were dead apple trees in the plaza and four or five wrecks of vehicles nudged lifelessly up against an eastern wall, part of the structure that enclosed the plaza.
One woman, a very large woman, whom I judged to be in her early sixties, stepped up with an extra tall glass of water. There were beads of condensation as big as pearls dripping from its ice-cold sides. She spoke to me with a rich, full, booming voice. “You’ll need a place to stay. Come with me. We have a perfect room in our new house. My son Hermes stays now in our old house on the plaza, so, you see, we have the extra room we had planned for him. And we will feed you well.” It was a woman named Ramona looking out for the welfare of her little family. She knew I would be a paying guest and the money would help. It was soon settled. She offered the room and then instantly produced some small boys to carry my things.
The little room was ideal, more than I could have hoped for. It was in the back section of Ramona and her daughter, Epiphany’s prefab home and was located just off the plaza. Though the house had almost no character, it worked out well for me to live with Ramona and the family because the women still tended to go off to the big house to sleep at night. (More on that later.) With the women out of the house most nights, I could work on my notes all through the evening in relative quiet and seclusion. But, oh the days. I had a terrible time that first trip getting used to the lack of privacy. I had a door but it was not appropriate to close it if I were to be accepted in village life and culture. And there was always something going on out there in the other part of the house that I could learn from. Still, it was hard for me.
As a consequence of my “forced” open door policy, I was never alone. People seemed to be constantly talking, laughing, or shrieking about something or other. People dropped in on Ramona and Epiphany every few minutes throughout the day and the guests spilled into my room to ask questions about my work and my life, flip through my journals, read my letters, and finger my clothing. Sophia, Ramona’s mother, who lived in another of the rooms in the house, sat chatting with someone or me most all day long unless she had a birth or medical emergency to attend to. This was good for my work if I could keep her telling stories about the history of the village. She was not bothered by my note taking and questions. But often as not, she talked about things she’d read in magazines or current gossip she’d picked up from some visitor. Also, food was constantly being cooked and served to someone. I felt obliged to help out in any way I could. So I really did need the late night hours to record what I’d heard and seen. There was no way to do it during the day.
I was exhausted from making an effort to listen, engage, “participate” and “observe” at the same time. And I was exhausted from the need to be affable all day long for weeks on end. I am not by nature that affable. So I was “managing” their impression of me by trying hard to be a nice, pleasant person. No one likes a cranky anthropologist.
Going back to Columbia was a relief after that first field trip. All my misery was poured out in a post-doc seminar I was lucky enough to have with Ruth. Her wartime research duties for the government still kept her out of the classroom most of the time so getting into this seminar was a real boon. Although I had felt dismissed by her in the (since she was partially deaf, I may have misread her responses to me) and was so intimidated by her that my hands sweated profusely in her presence, she seemed to warm a bit to me after I’d actually been in the field again. She said I was one of those high minded, restrained, logical Apollonian types trying to make sense of a quite Dionysian culture. I was unaccustomed to the passion and excitement that seemed to permeate Solución and the lives of my hosts. Moa Nui culture produced quite a different character, much more akin to my own. Though there were moments of passion.
I wrote the stories I collected on my little half-slips of paper (copied from my journals) just as I was taught, and dutifully sent one set to my home where I placed them in a bank safe deposit box upon return from my summer of field work. There were some notes I kept quite separate from the ones upon which I thought I might use as the basis for publications. These were the notes that included systematic inquiries on village kinship systems, economic exchange, and political organization.[i]
These more fantastic story notes were notes I knew I had to keep away from other anthropologists and didn’t dare do anything with publicly. I placed these in a bank deposit box all by themselves. A few weeks ago while I was preparing to come here I finally opened the box where I’d secured them. There was nothing but a pile of dust to be found. I can’t think what must have happened. It was as if they had been cremated! But surely, a fire in a safe deposit box would have set off some kind of alarm. And how would such a fire have started? It is a mystery to me. I had other sets of these notes but I think they must have been left in my friend Rose’s mother’s trailer house. I can’t find them. I think I left them there the last time I visited. I must have been planning to come back and work the next summer and I thought they’d be safer in the trailer than with Mildred or in any of the other houses where I had occasionally stayed in recent years. They are gone, apparently, with the fire in the village. Certainly Rose’s mother’s trailer is gone.[ii]
So I’m writing the stories in this volume largely from my journals and from memory. There is no good in continuing to search my mind as to whether there is yet another set of notes somewhere. It will just frustrate me and I have to write now, not later. I do have letters, personal journals, tapes, and the memories.[iii] I’ve brought all that I could find with me. The tapes should be useful. There are dozens of taped interviews. The information is recorded on old reel-to-reel tapes. That means I had to find and bring along with me a really heavy old reel-to-reel recorder so I can listen to them. This machine is nothing like the equipment you can get these days. Well, at least I was using a tape recorder in the late forties and fifties, not the wax cylinders my teachers at Columbia had used in the 1920s. The tapes, however, have deteriorated and with the passing of time. They were made under difficult conditions and I must listen to them over and over to really hear and notate the texts and to understand all the nuances of the tales told.
Sections of the old tapes are stretched by all this playing and so the audio quality is not the best. Also some sections of the interviews are hard to hear above ambient sounds. For example, sometimes people go in and out of houses, slamming doors, while my informant is discussing some important point. Often a radio or a ticking clock can be heard in the background. Sometimes the clock seems to be in the foreground and I can hear a voice only occasionally behind the loud tick tock. Sometimes whole segments of the tape are blank as if someone has intentionally erased a story. Sometimes my informant interrupts herself or himself to cook or bathe a child or scream at a dog.
Difficult as it is to work with this material, at least Mildred has electricity now. If not, I’d be running to town to charge the battery packs my old recorder uses if not.
And who can complain? The tapes have survived while the notes are gone. And I logged all of the tapes years ago when I had a small grant to work on organizing my field notes and tapes. So it is easy to find stories or parts of stories by referring to the log. Except of course, the big blank sections where whole interviews have disappeared. The grant was large enough to allow me to have transcripts made of most of the tapes, but even these are missing a significant number of pages.
By the way, the transcripts and logs and tapes were not kept in that safe deposit box with the notes. They were locked in lovely old oak cabinets with brass fittings and kept in the dusty attic of my house up north. The cabinets moved with me when I moved to a small apartment. There was a storage area in the basement of the apartment building where they were locked until I came down here in August. It turns out the attic and the basement of the apartment building were safer places for archiving than the safe deposit box in my bank! I’ve heard of some anthropologist keeping field notes in the freezer compartment of their refrigerators. That seems to be a safe place, too. Never mind, I have everything left and usable with me now and I won’t let them get away.
It is for this reason, the loss of notes and the loss of the chronologies, that I may tend to ramble or stick things into the narrative when I think of them. It is a truth of age that one must say or write things down as they occur to you because those things, those memories, are fleeting and surprising and may never occur to you again. I hope you have some patience with me. I hope you will allow me to remind you occasionally that though I am old, you do have good reason to trust what I tell you. I know the stories well and I will tell them as truthfully as I can. I will ask Mildred and Crow when and if I falter. I will not omit the bad things, either, merely to save your sensibilities. Though in today’s world, even the bad things I have to tell will seem mild.
By the way, the villagers were still telling stories right up to the end. They were always making new histories for themselves, finding ways to commemorate their time on earth. So, even though these stories of the little priest and the first ghosts and the twin are from a mythic hard-to-date era the people of Solución were circulating quite recent tales that served to mark moments of significance. People in small villages always do seize upon out of the ordinary events to tell and retell. They use them to denote, in short hand, whole eras or specific occasions that signify a turning point for their collective lives.
For example the villagers in Solución would say, “Remember the day Jose’s teeth dropped out after he spent an afternoon in the chicken coop with Margarita?” The villager’s loved to tell that one. Apparently Margarita, a woman most villagers living in the late nineteen forties had actually known as a very good weaver, had a sideline. She built a bed sized “chicken coop,” put a mattress and some blankets inside, and lined the walls with pictures of naked women. Into this coop, men were invited for a small fee. The men were happy with the arrangement since time with their wives was quite limited. Margarita was happy for she made a little money on the side and being unmarried and living alone could use the help. The other women didn’t care one way or the other. Margarita was always welcome in the common bedroom at night no matter whose husband she was rumored to have solicited that day.
Margarita’s house was just outside the plaza, a hundred yards to the east and adjacent to the main irrigation ditch. This respectable distance gave her and her patrons a modicum of privacy. And though her patrons were drawn from every household in the village, the commissioners who were in charge of the ditch found the most excuses to visit. They had, after all, to examine the ditch for the sake of the other villagers and the crops. “Someone has reported that a child has been bathing in the ditch out to the east,” one of the four officials would announce. This was strictly forbidden. The news was, in reality, a signal. Each commissioner would run to his houses for a clean shirt, brush his hair, and pick the lint off his hat. Then off he and the others would trot.
Margarita often stood waiting for customers in the holly hocks near the latched, wrought iron gate of the little fence that enclosed her flower garden. Margarita put down her rake when she heard the footfalls. She took off her apron, squirted herself with a sweet cologne that she carried in the pocket of her dress, and took her position. The men would pretend to be inspecting the ditch for erosion or leaves or brush. “Hallo you good looking fellows,” she called to them from deep in the towering, fluted blossoms. “You must be very hot,” she’d say and offer them a cold drink or a shot of whiskey. The men happily joined her on her shady porch and one at a time went with her to the chicken coop out back.
But one day, Jose, a kindly old man, wandered away from the plaza quite by accident. Margarita was especially nice to him for he was a bit feeble and faltering. He had two whiskeys and devoured a plate of tea cakes. When he and Margarita went to the coop it was only around eleven in the morning. Around noon, he stumbled home, more dizzy and exhausted than ever. And he was full of shame and fear for what he had done. When he awoke the next morning, his mouth was full of something that felt very like stones. He got up and spit into a wash basin. What came out of his mouth, one by one, were his teeth, every one of them.
All the villagers knew this story and each was able to remember approximately when it happened. If someone said “chicken coop” everyone would snicker and remember Jose’s gums. No men ventured near Margarita after that. Jose, even after he was fitted for dentures, dared not ever smile again lest someone point at his mouth and cluck and tsk at him. In fact, that event marked a temporary rise in the moral temperature of the men in the village. They did, after all, believe in original sin and thought the sin of going into Margarita’s chicken coop was about as original as one could get.
Or, more recently, they would say to each other, “Oh, remember the day that the helicopters skittered suddenly out of the sky and hovered above the village.” That was a day that everyone over about age five did indeed remember. The helicopters came and a couple of dark, armored vans arrived at just about the same time. Men in flak jackets leaped from the vans and stormed the crack house where Lucinda and her baby lived. They took her away. A woman from child protective services snatched the baby from her arms and sat with it in the back of a big, light blue Buick bearing official state license plates. Lucinda eventually went to federal prison. The baby was never heard about again. That was a reference day for the villagers that entered the repertoire of stories after about nineteen ninety-five. They all knew what dropping helicopters into a conversation meant and what it portended.
Until the day the village was destroyed, if someone saw a helicopter over head, he or she would run to neighbors and say, “Oh they are coming again. Come look. There is one over head now.”
And someone else would inevitably say, “Well, it happened once, it can happen again.”
And someone else would say, “I’ve heard those kids staying down in one of Pureza’s old trailers have set up a meth lab. I’ll bet they are after them.”
And soon, the whole story of Lucinda and the big Buick would be told again for the benefit of the aged who were losing their memories and the very young who had not been witness. It was a story of warning to all.
The villagers all referred, too, to the fire that took out Ignacio’s computer. That wasn’t so awfully long ago either. The computer ignited and burned down to a wheezing lump. There seemed no real reason for the fire. But there was the undeniable consequence of it: a slag of plastic, wires, and plugs. This was the computer that Ignacio wrote upon everyday and listened to every night.
When the first messages began, he was still working on a government computer at Los Alamos where he held a very good job as an engineer. He had a degree from University of New Mexico. He was the first from the village to complete such an impressive course of study. Everyone was proud of him.
During his workday, he began to receive odd messages, messages that he could not understand. He could not determine the source of these messages. As the messages were regular and frequent, he began to save them and print them out trying to make sense of them. He used his computer to locate and study theoretical papers on the search for extraterrestrial artifacts. He stayed up, sometimes all night, reading and searching and waiting for new messages. He found out who in the lab had access to data from space probes or latest reports from The Very Large Array radio observatory down near Socorro. He found ways to hack into his colleagues’ computer data bases, printed whole books of analyses, and continued to read round the clock. Though his searches were thorough, he could find no communications had been reported that came close to what he had encountered. In fact, he could find absolutely no verified reports of any communications with beings beyond the earth. He decided that he had somehow been chosen as a channel for alien fiction. He was convinced that the strange e-mail was actually the work of a writer who lived far outside of the Milky Way.
From all he had read, he decided that his messages emanated from a system of planets that were attached to the star 55 Cancri in the constellation of Cancer. He began to go out each night and stare up into the western sky, watching for 55, He took a little flash light with him and blinked the only Morse Code he knew: S. O. S. Ignacio, up all night reading and flashing, forgoing dinners, getting little sleep, began to look horrible.
Poor Ignacio. One day he announced his theory about the messages to his co-workers, waving a sheaf of printed pages in his hand. “Look,” he said. “I have proof of the existence of sentient extraterrestrial’s beings. Here, in this lab, I have been receiving, a chapter at a time, the words of a novelist who lives in some far away galaxy.”
This announcement did not sit well with his superiors, whom his office mates notified immediately. The bosses wondered what would happen to the reputation of the lab if this lunatic story somehow got out. It would be, given the secrecy of the place, unlikely to get out. Nevertheless, they proceeded cautiously. The bosses collected his papers. They might have been persuaded to investigate further or forgive Ignacio altogether had the novel been any good. It was, for their taste, quite bad. Characters were poorly developed. The plot line was dull. The writer seemed to tell, not show. Alien or not, the lab did not want to be associated with Ignacio’s work and somebody’s third rate fiction.
Ignacio lost his job within the week, sold his split-level house on the butte, and returned to Solución. He ate very little, drank Coca Cola by the case, chain smoked Lucky Strikes, and stayed plugged in to his email account.
Ultimately, he hoped, with the aid of his computer and the outerspace novel- in- progress, to complete and publish a great and original manuscript and thereby salvage his reputation.
Then, without warning, the wiring in his house shorted, a fire broke out, and he lost everything including what remained of his mind. That was another significant day for the villagers and one only had to mention Ignacio in passing and someone would say, “The Martians.” And everyone within hearing distance would whoop with laughter.
And someone else would say, “I wonder if it was true.”
And someone else would say, “of course it was true, that’s why the CIA came and burned down his house. They didn’t want anyone else to know.” And this comment, amplified by the story of Ignacio’s subsequent disappearance, fueled the era of paranoia that characterized the beleaguered village over these past few years. Ignacio, it turned out, had simply moved to Seattle and taken a job with Microsoft. But the truth did not diminish the strength of the myth.
Other stories helped villagers fuel their resentment of the local white population for their sin of lumping the villagers indiscriminately with Mexicans. A popular story in this genre, told repeatedly in the post office and general store and when people were sitting on the plaza and bored, was the story of Alicia. Alicia found a skinned whole bear hanging by hooks in the locker room of the restaurant where she worked. She mistook it, in the dim light, for a human body. Upon that very day she became an inconsolable lunatic. Of course she lost her job too, though it was not such a good one as Ignacio’s. After nine years as a waitress, she was still making minimum wage and could not feed her family without supplemental assistance. During each trip she made to the welfare office for food stamps, she had to run a gauntlet of unemployed Anglos. They complained loudly, for her benefit, about illegal aliens coming to this country to drain the state’s coffers and take jobs that were by right theirs. Alicia’s family had, of course, been resident in the country for four hundred years. And Alicia was a hard worker. Until, of course, the day that she saw the naked bear. Anyone could have made such a mistake, the people of the village reasoned, and anyone would have found such a job intolerable. Becoming crazy is as good a way as any to register one’s complaint against an unjust life.
Knowing how important stories of the recent past were to the people of Solución, I knew the stories of long ago had been kept alive and told over and over with as much accuracy as possible through the years for a reason. You see, the stories I heard about the twins and the longing and the little priest were a core part of the folk tradition of Solución when I first came to the village.
As I said, I collected stories from as many people as possible. I found that there were several versions of these foundational stories in circulation. Some thought the little priest had come to the village before the twin had died. Some thought the priest had blessed the longing sister and listened to her confession. Some thought the roses sprang first from the mouth of the sister. Some confused the beans with the roses and thought the priest’s coat pockets were filled with various cooked legumes when he came out of his long trance. No one knew when the church had been built or by whom. No one knew much at all, you see, except about Ignacio and Lucinda because their stories were so much more recent. I had to do lots of interviews and prod and pry to understand what had happened with the little priest and the twins? What happened to the woman’s hands? It was my job to listen and sort out the commonalities among the stories and try to separate fact from fiction. And furthermore, I had to fill in the blanks: What happened between the time of the little priest and the time of Lucinda and Ignacio?
And then, after all that work of watching and listening and interviewing, I lost my notes.
It’s easy to remember, though. The constant reminders of the past are around me. The church, you see, was still right there until just a few weeks ago. I visited it every summer and studied the icons and poked around in the priests’ archives. The likeness of the first priest, the small, round, kindly pumpkin face of the little priest, still peeped out from behind bulletproof glass within the chambers of the church. It was painted in thick oils laid on with a palette knife. The painting was gilded at the edges. The roses on the lintels were still as lovely as the day they were carved.
The altarpiece inside the chapel was still as bright as when it first was built, paid for by the crops and backs of those first villagers and then restored after a grim accident in nineteen fifteen or sixteen. (More about that later.) Roses still appeared fresh in every vase each morning. I used to go early, always thinking I might see how this magic was done. But I never could penetrate the mystery.
The whole area directly between the back of the church and the wall that enclosed the village was lively until the fire I’ve been told. In recent years, there had sprung a myriad of village enterprises aimed at the tourists. A tortilla factory sold delicious flavored treats in a shop adjoining the church caretaker’s quarters. Chili powders for every purpose might be purchased from a number of competing vendors housed in shed like structures that abutted the wall. Crucifixes from distant churches that had been dismantled or fallen into disuse could be had for a song in some of these stores. Santos that had been held sacred were happily exchanged for hard cash.
Pilgrims came and some tourists, drawn to the village by billboards on the freeway. The sick and worried, the debtors, and the curious came attracted by the stories of the church, the little priest, and rumors of miracles. They all came and prayed, or tried to pray, and lit candles there. It must be said, in all honesty, the candles seemed not to stay burning very long. Gusts of wind swept through the chapel and blew them out regularly. Though parishioners patched and plastered regularly, their efforts never seemed to stop the great draughts. Parishioners and pilgrims had different goals from those of the tourists when they visited the church. They lit the candles and sniffed the roses and held them dear to themselves. And as they sniffed, they hoped. They hoped because they did not know what else to do. All of them had heard that here was magic. They could only hope. They lingered and prayed. They made the sign of the cross, knelt on their knees, and poured out their stories of grief to blank eyed statues who hadn’t cared a whit since the reformation. Vatican III dealt the final blow. Nobody apparently needed their intercessions anymore. So they just shut down.
The tourists usually did not stay long enough to see their candles extinguished. Most of them lit one then took a rose to press against their cheeks and bosoms, for as surely as a rose was taken a fresh one replaced it. After they had seen the miracle of the roses for themselves, the visitors swooped out the big wooden doors, into the plaza, to have a beer and a taco, and take a few photographs. They did not linger as did the pilgrims and the parishioners.
The tourists, however, paid good money for the candles and the roses. The candles and the roses were indeed a stable source of income for the parish.
“The anthropologist Lola Romanucci-Ross, who once worked with Margaret Mead, observed that anthropological field trips echo the heroic voyages of classical literature. Not just scientific expeditions, they are ‘voyages of self-discovery’ and ‘metaphors for finding oneself…in magical flight, far from creatures of their own kind, [anthropologists]…got to other worlds and return with their versions of them.”
Quoted in Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict: The Kinship of Women
University of Massachusetts Press: Amherst 1999
One time I wanted two moons
in the sky.
But I needed someone to look up and see
those two moons
because I wanted to hear him
try and convince the others in the village
of what he saw.
I knew it would be funny.
From The Wishing Bone Cycle
by Jacob Nibenegenesabe, tr. Howard Norman
[i] Again, none of these have been recovered to date.
[ii] Thus we know some notes disappeared. But clearly Poussiere isn’t certain they are all gone. And this does not account for the notes she had thought to use for publications.
[iii] I haven’t found the letters or tapes she alludes to here.