Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ziggy Played Guitar

This video was a bone of contention between Jenny and I.

I was always trying to get Jenny to admit that Bauhaus' version of "Ziggy Stardust" was better than the David Bowie original.

I finally got her to admit, at least, that it was louder. And, for me, louder is better.

Jenny always preferred Bowie, The Doors, The Beatles to my Dead Kennedys and Bauhaus (not to mention the bands I'm less proud of having liked, such as Iron Maiden, Def Leppard--what was I thinking?)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


One book Jenny loved was "Housekeeping", by Marilynne Robinson. We first read it when we were in a book group featuring women authors.

The book affected Jenny so deeply that she bought a copy whenever she saw it, on the premise that she might give it to someone as a gift or require an extra reference copy. This meant we had quite a few "Housekeeping"s sitting around the house.

The book might be too sad for me to read now, because it's about sisters, but I do remember one of Jenny's favorite passages that she referenced in a performance piece. The sisters, I think, are reminiscing about a beautiful pocket watch that, even as they hold it, fills them with longing for the pocket watch. Then, Robinson cites a poem by Basho:

even while in Kyoto
when I hear the cuckoo sing
I long for Kyoto

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A bloggy find

Whilst researching how to build a tiki bar (for an article, not for real life...though I should add that work soon re-commences on our rooftop palapa hut and garden area), I ran into a lovely blog:

Junkyard Clubhouse

Now I am a dedicated anti-consumerist, and rarely feel the need to identify with anything considered stylish or supposedly necessary, but when met with the raw beauty and allure of the Lego Halloween set discussed in this blog, I was tempted. How to resist a Lego coffin and a ghost in chains?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Miracle Drug

The first year we lived in Oaxaca, I was befuddled by the absence of all my favorite home and alternative remedies. I love zinc and airborne and certain vitamins that I just could not find.

The second year living here, I have developed newfound love for Oaxaca's home and alternative remedies. I take Una de Gato to fight a recurrence of cancer. I take SimiImmune (from Dr. Simi!) for everything. I love sal de uvas--grape salt--for tummy stuff. And then there's Vitacilina.

Vitacilina is one of those things I started out mocking. I was over at a friend's house and she saw the bloody gash on Max's arm from when he put his arm through the window at school. She scolded me, "Aren't you putting Vitacilina on that?" Well, I would if I knew what it was.

She ran and procured a tube of it from her medicine cabinet. It was a small green and white tube and inside, was, I could swear, just plain old Vaseline Petroleum Jelly, the gross yellow color and the haunting yuck of petroleum products bringing me back to my Nana's bathroom where she had some scrungy old jar of it on the counter, covered in the dust of time and baby powder.

Vitacilina. Well, why not? When in Mexico...

Max's arm healed up, and we had the remainder of the tube my friend, Gabi, had given to me. Geni had diaper rash, so we splooged on some of it. And then there was the bug bites Steve got on his ankle. I had itchy legs from the cold weather snap (yes, folks, it dipped below a high of 75). Steve got a little rash on his back, or sunburn. I had a scar from when I cracked my head on the tile floor.

And so we find ourselves buying more and more Vitacilina. I have grown to appreciate it almost as much as those pharmacists who have tile murals dedicated to its image plastered on the outside wall of their shops. There it is, in nine square tiles, a beaming giant tube of Vitacilina, with the pharmacy's entire exterior often painted a complementary color as if to say...this Vitacilina, this is what we are about.

I understand the seductive power of Vitacilina when I find myself reassuring Max, "Don't worry, we'll put some Vitacilina on it." Mothers everywhere in Mexico are midnight witch doctors, rubbing Vitacilina on everything from blisters to bites, reminding their children that soon, so soon, everything will be better, because Vitacilina has this mystical power to carry all their woes and worries away.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cult of Popularity

I've been researching cults for an article and I was fascinated by one of the conditions that is necessary to create thought control:

Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order. The group has a top-down, pyramid structure. The leaders must have verbal ways of never losing.

This concept, to a T, was applied in my Open Court training program for Oakland public schools. It is so challenging to capture the evil of Open Court but, in essence, it was a scripted reading curriculum that was about eradicating critical thinking in favor of the "drill and kill" approach to teaching students, in which they had to repeat finite, decontextualized bits of information ad infinitum.

The truly fascinating, horrible thing about Open Court were the trainings to which I was forced to succumb. They were at the Oakland Airport Hilton and they were as scripted as the curriculum. We were not permitted to argue Open Court's merits, or lack thereof, and were essentially directed to repeat the crappy information, just as we were instructed to do for our students.

And then there was a catered lunch, and back for more horrible thought control. I always told me students, "I am presenting this information because I have to, not because I believe in it. We will get through it quickly and then move on to what really matters." But what was I really modeling there, I always wondered. That we must swallow what we are given publicly and wage our revolution privately? That we as students and teachers ultimately have no power and have to follow the ill-advised directions of our supposed superiors? That our own voices and thoughts are to be mistrusted as somehow being less?

Someday, Open Court will be revealed for what it is: a curriculum that hates the poor, hates people of color and, most of all, hates individual voice and thought, just like cult leaders do.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I Don't Mind the Gap

The language barrier is one aspect of living in Oaxaca that must be overcome. But since I can handle some street Spanish and academic Spanish, I find the culture gaps more challenging and fascinating.

Yesterday, Geni's teacher at Colegio Teizcali came to me after school. "She doesn't eat her lunch."


"No. So I have made a list of the foods she likes."

This was so incredibly kind! I do really love Geni's teacher and how she looks after every little thing. I took the list and read it: "Jello. Marshmallows. Chocolate." I looked at the teacher. "Thank you so much, maestra. But don't these all have a lot of sugar?"

She nodded. "Yes. Maybe just send Jello."

Can you imagine how ecstatic my children would be to get lunches of Jello, marshmallows and chocolate?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama Obama Obama

My head just keeps saying "Obama" to me over and over again. I did not think my country could pull this off.

I have to admit, I have the tendency to hang my head in shame whilst making my rounds in Oaxaca, what with my representing the land of take and take some more. While I would never say I am proud of being an American or proud of my country, since the election results, I felt some of that shame wash away from me.

A Oaxacan friend said, "This is the revolution."

Max said, "Maybe the teacher won't keep saying how bad the United States is."

Our friend, Dave, who lives in Kenya wrote, "Kenyans have named tomorrow a national holiday."

And I flashed on a moment, a decade ago, of me standing in front of my fourth grade class. I was teaching them about Malcolm X, because I wanted them to talk about him in conjunction with Martin Luther King, Jr. They sat in front of me, African-American and Latino, and I desperately wanted to think that their vision, their voices could somehow be a part of what happens to the United States. And I wanted it to happen by any means necessary.

Never did I dare to hope that in my lifetime my country could make this kind of a turnaround. And if it can do it once, it can do it again.

Go Obama! Let's get on with it!