Flag Football


Habia lluvia en Cd. Oaxaca. It was raining in Oaxaca, so they took down the flag.  We Estadounidenses are used to seeing our flag folded briskly and neatly into a tight triangle when it is taken down for the night or inclement weather.  In Oaxaca, and I presume in the rest of Mexico, the red end of the flag is bundled up by one person, the juncture between the red and white by a second, and so on, and then it is marched back to its storage place like this.  I’m not sure how it is stored.

It is a ritual that is curious to me and I am sure commonplace to Mexicanos, likely dating from the early years of the Mexican State, hundreds of years ago. It occurs to me that many of the cultural differences we find so intriguing in foreign countries date from long ago, when we were more isolated from each other. Just as birds with a common ancestor will evolve into different species on different islands, humans develop different languages and different idioms within those languages, different preparations of food, architectural styles, and more when they are separated by distance and time. Then there are the deliberate and arrogant constructions of difference, such as “American Football”, which bears almost no resemblance to the football played by the entire rest of the world. A melting pot of all the world’s cultures, we desperately needed something to call our own.  We took cricket and shortened it, making it slightly less boring, renamed it baseball, and then held “world championships” that excluded almost the entire world.  We took football (which we renamed soccer), crossed it with rugby, and made it less exciting than either. Of course we also have world championships there too.  The United States, after all, is the entire world to most of its inhabitants.

I am looking forward to enjoying the World Cup in Oaxaca.

The Power Of Shadow


I often see tourists on 4th avenue, a quirky stretch maintaining a tenuous foothold in the 60’s, 70’s, and maybe 80’s. They walk around with cameras around their necks or cell phones extended, making memories of things I have lived with since 1983. Cell phones didn’t exist back then, and I don’t think I ever really photographed the city.  In 2001, when I moved back here from my ten year stint in Hell, otherwise known as Phoenix, I purged, throwing away boxes and boxes of photos, mostly of the desert. I kept the ones with people in them and sent them to my sister for safekeeping.

My external hard drives overflow with more than 100,000 memories of places I have visited, and still more of the desert and mountains around Arizona. Not so many of Tucson, its buildings, or people other than friends.

During the four or five years I freelanced for McGraw-Hill Education, I traveled to a dozen countries, and took a lot of pictures of buildings, people, and nature.  My choice of subject was somewhat guided by what I thought MH would license, but mostly I just photographed what caught my eye.

When you venture out into a new place, with a different culture, a different history, different shadows from the ones cast by your past, everything is exotic, the smells, the shapes of faces, the colors and designs of everything human-made, even the landscape.

The more time you spend in a place, the more familiarity casts its own shadow over the illusion of uniqueness.  Your eyes no longer fix on the same highlights, excitement drains from the mere act of exploration. Mundanity overwhelms your environment. This is not to say that you no longer see beauty, strangeness, or shadows, just that they are cast upon a familiar canvas, thus taking on a familiarity of their own.

As a photographer, I find that when I initially visit a place, I spend a lot of shutter clicks recording the new and exotic.  Once I have been there longer, or spent multiple visits there, my photography becomes less documentary and more artistic. I find myself taking photos like the one above, from my last days in Oaxaca, just because it made a good image, not because it was cool and new.

The shadow of the bars and vines lends a distorted perspective to the commonplace window, rendering it more beautiful than it might have been in daylight. So too the shadows of our pasts combine with the shadows cast by what we do not know about a new place bring exoticism and beauty to what is ordinary to those who live there.



This map was displayed in a case in the historical museum at Plaza Sto. Domingo in Cd. Oaxaca. The first thing you notice is how crude and inaccurate the depiction of the Americas is when compared with that of Europe, Africa, and Asia, where sailors had been transporting cartographers for centuries. I don’t know the date of this map, but I deduce that explorers had reached up the west coast of North America, but not to Alaska, and their landings on the northeast coast were so spotty as to make them think that Greenland was connected to what is now Canada.  The northern borders were all drawn as if they were bounded by navigable waters. A bit of wishful thinking which may now be manifested thanks to the melting of the icecaps.

Yesterday I listened to a fascinating podcast featuring Donald Hoffman, who has a intriguing theory on the nature of reality. Long story short and very simplified, our perceptions are all false, they are just the interface by which we navigate the operating system which is consciousness. It is a truly mindbending 54 minutes.  He is very good at making his theory intelligible to ordinary brains.

For 35 years I painted abstract acrylic canvases which created illusions using the brain’s ability and tendency to fill in the blanks where information is lacking. I was also a wake-n-bake weed smoker for many years.  One thing I noticed about THC is that for many people, it obscures the ability to read other people, to pick up on cues as to their thoughts, to read between the lines of their behavior.  This creates gaps, which our brain fills in.  Another effect of THC is mild paranoia, which affects the way those gaps are filled, to the detriment of interpersonal relationships. This became particularly clear to me in the 90’s, when I quit smoking and my girlfriend at the time didn’t. We didn’t last long.

Our ability to recognize patterns and to extrapolate the connections between divergent points of knowledge has been critical to our survival as a species and to the development and expansion of our understanding of the universe around us. Now Hoffman comes along and says none of it is real.  The trippy thing is that he has come to this conclusion through the lens of the same false patchwork interface that, according to him, we all use to make sense of life. He proves all of this using mathematics.  I have not seen any of the equations in question, and I doubt I would understand them, but the theory rings true.

The map above illustrates how easy it is to get things very very wrong if you don’t have enough data, and also the confidence with which humans extrapolate and draw the map of their world in the face of this lack of knowledge.

I am about to embark on a major transition.  In 8 months, I will start collecting Social Security.  During the subsequent year, I will prepare and finally move to Oaxaca to “retire.” I am taking this step based on a very small set of data.  I am sure I have drawn the map of this adventure to include a clear Northwest Passage which doesn’t exist, and that the coastlines I have drawn are woefully inaccurate.  Still, I will travel to this new world and learn its true boundaries, it’s beauties and perils.  I will live, as humans always have, refining my interface with consciousness by navigating the unknown.