Jueves, Nada Mas

No Thanksgiving here in Mexico. I could have gone to any number of restaurants to sit with a bunch of expats eating overpriced and inadequately sized portions of turkey and stuffing with no seconds. No seconds? What kind of Thanksgiving doesn’t involve loosening your belt and reflexively weighing yourself when you go to the bathroom?

I know, the story we were all told about the mythical First Thanksgiving is a bunch of whitewashed bullshit, but Thanksgiving nowadays is so far removed from that as to render it irrelevant. We should be recognizing the atrocities perpetrated on Native Americans every single day, not just on this day we reserve for fighting with our families over politics while eating yams and marshmallows mistakenly baked together 100 years ago and incorporated into the ritual to hide the error.

I missed spending the day with my family. I miss that every year, but what I miss even more is leftover turkey sandwiches with stuffing and cranberry sauce on Black Friday, while reading about all the idiots who crammed themselves into a Walmart to buy the same Chinese crap they buy all year long but at a 5 percent discount with bloody noses thrown in as a bonus.

Here in Oaxaca, people lined up for miles on Thursday to get vaccinated, while unvaccinated Americans congregated in snotty pods, sneezing in the peas and onions and playing touch football in the yard.

Here is a completely unrelated photo from Punta Gorda, Belize, more than a decade ago.

Headless Virgin

I have no idea how this virgin lost her head, or why she still stands behind bars in this niche cut into the aqueduct which runs through Oaxaca.

She is the Virgen de Juquila, famous because a 30 cm statue of her survived a fire that destroyed the entire village in which it was located in 1633. Since the 18th century, the statue has resided in Santa Catarina Juquila. Replicas like this one are found all over Oaxaca.

Thousands of people make pilgrimages to visit the Santuario de Juquila annually, presumably to ask favors of her or just to be close to the power they attribute to a miracle.

Why is it that we as humans have this need for something all powerful, something which can solve our problems, something which will maybe even save us from death?

Is it something born of our ability, unlike most animals, to comprehend the passage of time, the existence of a past and future?

Does our knowledge of the future, which inevitably contains our death, terrify us so?

I know that, as my past grows longer and my future shorter, I contemplate the inevitable more often. I long ago passed the point where I had lived longer than I was going to live going forward. I have most likely now passed the midpoint of my adult life as well. It is an interesting feeling for someone such as myself, having no belief in an afterlife.

Yesterday, I had lunch with an older friend who just lost her sister to cancer. She asked me if I believed in an afterlife, already knowing my answer. I said no, but anything is possible. That is the kindest way I can honestly respond to such a question. I could tell by her demeanor that she desperately wants her faith to be true, and for her sake, I wish it too, but I doubt that it is.

It is a blessing that we learn as children that there is no Santa Claus, no Tooth Fairy, no Easter Bunny. I think it is cruel that people are conditioned to continue to believe in a supernatural caretaker and an afterlife. Because of that belief, they never learn to face the finite nature of both our lives and our relevance to the universe.

Belief in an almighty God brings a life where many of your most vexing questions are answered for you, notably the question of what happens after you die. It also brings a life of confusion and disappointment, where you have to reconcile the many horrors of life on Earth with the supposed benevolence of a Creator, where prayers go unanswered, and where good people die young and evil people thrive. A world where justice does not often prevail, and few reach their potential.

It makes one wonder, did this headless saint worship a heartless God?


This image was captured on my last visit to Mt. Lemmon, in the Catalinas, just outside of Tucson. I was using the nicest camera I’ve ever owned, a Sony full-frame mirrorless. I bought the camera for the Abuelos project I did in Guatemala in 2018. The image quality that came out of it was stellar, especially in low light situations. I was able to record high definition videos of the Mayan elders I interviewed, up to 30 minutes at a time. In short, it was the right tool for the job.

When I moved to Oaxaca, I decided not to bring it along, for a few reasons. First, it was huge. I hated lugging it around, and the lenses it used were massive as well. If I had wanted telephoto capability, I would have been buying a lens for several thousand dollars that was the size and weight of a 2 liter Coke bottle. Also, ever since my first DSLR, I have been using Olympus, who have a 4:3 format. I like it so much more than the 2:3 standard. I still use my Olympus OM-D micro 4:3 camera. It is light, small, has great macro capability, and I have a 600mm equivalent lens that is the size and weight of a 12 oz Coke can.

I don’t even carry my Olympus around much here. Not that I’m worried about it getting stolen. That of course is a possibility anywhere. It just doesn’t matter so much to me these days. I take lots of photos, just with my phone instead of my camera. Of course no matter how many megapixels your phone has, or how good its software is, a lens the size of your pinkie fingernail will never give you the kind of image you can get with one the size of the top of a Coke can, which in turn will never give you the results of one the size of a 2 liter bottle.

What it comes down to is a couple of things. I have moved on from photography, not in the way I have abandoned painting, but these days, all my images are going here or on Instagram (mostly the latter), so high resolution isn’t so important. I save my attention to detail for my writing projects. I still take a lot of pleasure in documenting my journey through life, and finding beauty in the decaying and the mundane, but I am no longer interested in making giant prints on fancy paper with a professional printer. I just want to share them on your phone or laptop and promote my books occasionally.

Maybe more importantly, I don’t want to be that tourist with his camera perpetually dangling from his neck, waiting to be aimed at whatever or whoever looks exotic. I live here now. It is less and less exotic by the day, This is a good thing. I am beginning to see the mundane more clearly. For the moment, I only take my “real” camera when I go out to historic sites or on tours. When I do tourist things, in other words. I use my phone to document the ever-changing art gallery of Oaxaca’s street art, and to capture whatever oddity or beautiful light attracts my eye.

When those seeds take off in the wind, they don’t know where they will land, but wherever that is, they will find nourishment, take root, grow, and thrive. I’m pretty sure I’ve landed. I’m feeling nourished. The rest remains to be seen.

Thorn Bug

It’s been quite a while. I’ve been busy exploring Oaxaca and the pueblos nearby, taking a two month road trip from here to Maine and back, and working on Ocean, the sequel to Atmosphere.

This image is from my 5th trip to Monte Alban. A friend from Tucson was visiting, who happens to be a biologist, so we spent much of his time here at spectacular archaeological sites, looking at plants and bugs. With one exception, I had already visited the places more than once, so I likely would have ended up photographing the mundane anyway. I doubt I would have ever seen this critter, though, had I not been specifically looking for bugs.

I suppose there is a lesson here, maybe something about perspective, or attention to detail. Maybe about camoflage, or adaptation. Or maybe the lesson is that even if you think you know a place inside and out, it will often surprise you.

You could apply that to people as well. You think you know them, or you think you’ve figured them out, when all of a sudden, they throw you a curve ball. I have come to realize that when I am surprised by someone, it is rarely because they were hiding anything from me. It is usually because I wasn’t paying attention, was making assumptions, or both.

When I titled this post, I thought I might make a reference to Greta Thunberg, who continues to stand up to world leaders in defense of the world itself. We would be foolish to not pay attention to her, or to make assumptions about her or her message.

The world is changing before our eyes, and at an accellerating pace. I’m sure nature will survive, and it is likely that a portion of humanity could adapt and or migrate in the face of rising temperatures and sea levels, but is that what we want?

When it comes down to it, I doubt many people prefer smoke filled skies, polluted water, and mass extinctions. I don’t have the answer, but Greta and her generation might.