...and they lived happily ever after. Smith & Lady: poets, artists, photographers & adventurers.
Our relationship was forged to the soundtrack of Yoko Ono's magic,
frenetic, love-laden song, "Walking On Thin Ice." ( play song )
Archive for February, 2008
Friday, February 29th, 2008
political poster – foto by smith
“I hear a child. Let’s go eat it.”
that’s not what i usually hear from Lady’s mouth. i glance at her to make sure she’s not a pod. i’m thinking she’s been around me too long. i say things like “babies belong – in cages, or soup cans” and “eat a fetus, eat a fetus today.” (that was my single solution to two big problems – world hunger AND over-population). when folk ask if i want a dog or cat, i reply “no thank you, i’ve already eaten.” if they ask me to babysit, it’s, “i can’t. no room in my freezer.”
Lady’s making black bean soup, adding avacado leaves for the first time. she’s also been experimenting with adding fresh mint and ginger to her soups, something she picked up from our Zapotec hostess. and adding fresh vanilla bean to our oatmeal. delightful taste. what a way to start the day. she culls culinary clues from each country we’ve lived in. she cooked moroccan in morocco, croatian in croatia, french in france, english in england, and mexican here. can’t remember what she did in poland. in amsterdam we bought delicious tidbits from the supermarket and ate on the stone steps stoned in the sun. she also cooks thai and indian no matter where we are. i’m hoping she’ll do a food blog soon. glad she’s feeding me. left alone, i eat food units, and food units are seldom healthful – cookies, pizza, bananas, toast, cereal, popcicles frozen juice sticks icecream bars. lost 10 pounds when Lady moved in.
the black beans she’s using for soup come from our Zapatec friend’s land, as do the vanilla beans, ginger, and mint. we’ll be buying dwarf bananas from her weekly as well. they’re baked in the oven and eaten hot – taste peach-like. we’ll buy their honey too. the honey they served at meals still had honeycomb and bees.
they also gave me a Granada to try – a small yellow leathery 4 inch oval fruit filled with what looks like gelatenous fish eggs gone bad, or alien diarrhea, or small black oval brain parasites individually incased in transluscent grey mucous slimey goo. yet such a subtle delicate delightful taste – a hint of kiwi fruit. part of the pomegranate family. brought two back. one got squished and slimed my bag. i ate the other. that’s usually the other’s fate in this life – to be singled out and eaten.
granada fruit – foto by smith
how to ruin a wonderful planet:
1) suck oil from earth.
2) foul earth sky making plastic.
3) foul human body using plastic.
4) contaminate earth and sea trashing plastic.
5) repeat until deplete.
too many wearing dirty glasses, my look see not a lot.
though there’s always hope.
Oaxocan graffiti – foto by smith
Thursday, February 28th, 2008
poster outside Tanetze home – foto by smith
the indigenous Zapotec couple we stayed with 3 nights in the mountain-side coffee village of Tanetze (population 2,000) work a lot. they slept in to accommodate us and got up at 7. worked 2 hours. ate hour breakfast. walked down the mountain carrying heavy things. picked coffee beans from trees for 5 hours. hour lunch. 2 hours picking. back up mountain carrying heavy things. work 3 hours. eat light supper. socialize. sleep. start over. 7 days a week. most every day of the year. without us as guests, they probably get up at 5, put in at least 2 more hours of work.
Tomas said, “work work work all the time. we’re crazy.” yet he’s constantly whistling (sometimes i swear double notes), singing, humming, laughing, or shouting “Estabon!” that’s me (estabon = steven). i couldn’t understand a tenth of what he said, yet he wouldn’t stop talking to me, asking me questions, forcing me to follow with hand gestures and vocal mimicry. he made my mind feel slug slow, gave me incentive to study spanish harder. i need to be able to communicate ideas with someone that alive.
Elvira & Tomas are delightful people – gracious, friendly, generous, open, funny, alive . . . and in really good condition. strong too. Elvira is a head shorter than Lady’s five foot five, yet she pulled tree tops down for Lady to pick, and she carried weight up and down the hill that plain tuckered me out when i carried them for her.
neighbor woman working coffee on her roof – foto by smith
while Tomas works the coffee beans on the roof, Elvira fires up the tradition wood burning concrete oven. it’s a large thick hollow slab of concrete with a hole in the side to add wood and declivities on top to hold clay pots to heat coffee, soup, etcetera. there’s also a two foot diameter metal circle called a Comal to cook tortillas and such – about the size and thickness of an oil barrel lid. it’s been used for thousands of years. concrete’s been around for 7,000 years, and folks been living here since before the pyramids. at least since 3,500 BC.
while we pick coffee beans, Elvira starts lunch on the concrete stove down at the coffee plot. she makes soups and stews and such in clay pots that cook for hours while she picks.
coffee tree with ripe red beans – foto by smith
it’s not difficult to pick coffee. pick all the beans that aren’t green. sometimes you can strip a whole branch into your bucket, sometimes you have to pick one at a time. often the branches bow down before you, other times you have to bend the tree down, holding it with one hand, picking with the other. the hard part is doing it for 8 or 10 hours while standing on the uneven side of a steep mountain. we probably picked one bucket for every 5-10 of theirs. they didn’t invite us for our help – more for sharing experience.
coffee beans on roof, in various stages of drying – foto by smith
picked coffee beans are bagged. carried up mountain on 2 horses. soaked in bag. run through a husk cracker. soaked longer. washed. taken up to roof. spread out, worked with blunt wood to break outer shell. bagged over night. each morning he re-spreads various stages of coffee beans to dry on roof on mats. pick day one, dry day two, dry day three, re-bagged each night. heavy bags, 75 – 100 pounds or more. there may be steps or stages i missed.
one day’s picking – foto by smith
basically if Tomas isn’t sleeping, eating, doing maintenance, cutting undergrowth with a machete, or picking coffee, he’s working the coffee in various stages on the roof. what a roof. the village hangs off the side of a mountain, and their house is the last house down. so you stand on the roof and look down down down the mountain to the valley and up to the mountain across from you, or the mountain to your left, or right, or the ones beyond those. wild banana trees everywhere.
end of first day, Lady and i were so tired we went to bed at 8. skipped supper. next morning they said we didn’t have to work if we hurt too much. before we started back down the mountain, my left lens fell out of my glasses, along with the screw. . i need glasses to see both near and far clearly. i found both. fixed. Elvira was going to carry a gunny sack almost as big as she was down the mountain using the traditional head strap. i said i’d carry it for her. couldn’t believe how heavy it was, more than 50 pounds. wasn’t sure i could make it down the mountain. on the worst of the path, we startled a campesino. he couldn’t believe a gringo was carrying Zapotec weight down the mountain the Zapotec way. he said “you be careful.” made it down, told lady no way could i carry anything back up.
at the end of the day, Elvira tied the head strap to a 40 pound basket. i couldn’t bear to see her carry it up the mountain, so i took it. going up the steepest part of the path, my lens fell out again. lost the screw. found the lens. tried to walk with one lens, but the bi-vision made my head feel funny. walking up a mountain at dusk with hazy vision and pack animal weight across my forehead somehow made me feel good, alive, of use, a force for good.
there’s much much more. “muy mucho mas” as i say to folk’s amusement here – very much more) – but enough’s enough for now.
Tanetze, Oaxaca, town church gate – foto by smith
Thursday, February 28th, 2008
Palm frond shadow – lady
I’ve been sick for three weeks with mild diarrhea. It’s worrisome, because it has mucous in the stool. And it’s getting worse. It’s painful to poop. I had to take a taxi to school today because walking was too painful for my stomach. Talked to my Spanish teacher today about it, and she thinks I have a problem with amoebas. She said that Mexicans take a medication every six months to help with this, and that she also avoids eating the street food. Bad news to me, because my favorite food here is the street food. Even lots of restaurants are not safe, according to her. Food preparation safety is generally not followed. I asked her if grocery store meat is safe. Nope. She said the best market for meat is the Merced, which is fortunate, because the Merced is near and dear to us. It’s half the size of Cleveland’s West Side Market.
We’ve learned to wash our hands frequently. Mexicans wash theirs before every meal. I remember Grandma asking me to do this, but I’d never made it a habit. In Mexico, hand washing is mandatory.
There’s not much rain, and the streets are caked with dirt. We walk everywhere and we touch the walls, bend down to pick up garbage for street art. We wipe our hands in our eyes without thinking.
Dirt everywhere. It blows into the house and settles on the floor. I must wash the floor twice a week, and rinse it off well. There’s no good place to put the rinse water. I push it out the door onto the furthest corner of the service patio, where it joins a cake layer of previous accumulated dirt. The water sits until it evaporates. The drain in the patio is plugged. I am reluctant to buy anything I don’t absolutely need, so I haven’t yet gotten an expensive wringable mop and bucket. I have plans to wash up the caked dirt on my hands and knees repeatedly, and use the water to flush the toilet.
Water is a problem. It’s not drinkable from the tap. We buy all our water for drinking. We have no hot water to wash dishes, and we’re not inclined to boil it because we pay for our own gas. We use a special cold water soap.
Our kitchen sink is on the dirty service patio. The sink’s really meant for laundry. The draining rack for the dishes is in one half of the sink where Mexicans would normally scrub their clothes. The roof of the patio is also caked with dirt. If a heavy truck goes by, the roof shakes, and dirt falls onto our dishes, and we have to wash them again. We’ve learned to cover the draining rack with a towel or plastic sheet.
Water is also rare. People run out of city water here, so they have reservoirs under their houses that they pump up to a tank on the roof. During the hour per day that the city water is on, they try to remember to replenish their reservoirs. Sometimes the city runs out of water for extended periods. In that case, our landlord has to call a water truck and have his reservoir filled.
We conserve water. We flush only once a day, so it can get horrid. The flocculates in the water coagulate with the urine and create a glistening yellow saran wrap layer on top of the toilet water.
The toilet doesn’t work well. We leave the top off the tank so we can see if the stopper nestles properly in its hole. I think mosquitoes like to hang out in the tank. When we flush the toilet, there’s a huge GLOP sound, and a miniature water fountain burbles out of the SINK. I try not to touch the bathroom sink unless necessary.
The cockroaches like to hang out in the bathroom at 3 a.m. at night. I haven’t seen them much in the kitchen, only twice. But I think they crawl into the bathroom walls via the storage room. Our landlord must keep garbage in the storage room.
Last night Smith saw a three inch cockroach creeping in the sink. “Turned on bathroom light last night. Three inch cockroach in the sink. Startled me. I didn’t want to kill it. It saddens me to kill things. But I couldn’t not tell you saw it. And I couldn’t dare tell you I’d dare let another one go.”
“Yeah, those buggers lay eggs in your jelly,” I said.
“But I figured the other one and I had an agreement. I let it go, it respected my jelly. Gives that old Tommy Roe hit Jam Up Jelly Tight a whole new meaning. Although Jam Up Jelly Tight is a damn fine sexual metaphor for a teeny bop song. Cockroach tried to get out of the sink. I grabbed the Fabuloso bottle. I used it as a sword; I kept thrusting the cockroach back into the sink. Roach dashed one way and another, and I’d counter thrust. Finally I turned on the water, pushed him into the water, and forced him down the drain. But the drain has a bar across it three inches down, so cockroach couldn’t go. He lay there, covered in water, pretending to be dead for a while. Then he lurched the water to the surface, just like one of them horror movies. He took three steps out of the water, and I squished him with the bottle. He sorta looked around to see what happened and I squooshed him again. Then I picked up the squooshy bits with some toilet paper and noticed he’d lost a couple legs and two feelers in the process. Cleaned those up. Then scrubbed out the sink with cleanser and washed my hands with soap. And felt sad that I’d killed something. But I gotta be reasonable. If I gotta choose between the cockroach and my wife, I’d better choose my wife.”
I get my slice of life in Paradise – lady
Thursday, February 28th, 2008
flowering tree down by coffee trees, Tanetze, Oaxaca – foto by smith
don’t know why, but my slut count is way down. used to get 5-6 myspace slut friend requests a day – frequently from gals with different names who all had the same face. it’s been days since i’ve been propositioned. maybe they found out how small my penis is from all those enlargement ads i’ve been getting.
more good news – a book is coming out exploring the cleveland (ohio) poetry scene from the 1920s through the present. i’m mentioned two or three times, both as a poet and publisher of 20 years of ArtCrimes (and maybe AgentOfChaos.com). i’m one of 9 poets born in the 1940s they included. they’re using 3 of my better poems. not bad.
contents – page 229: Steven B. Smith – Alone This Train, Dear Occupants, Accidents & Occidentals, White Boy Blues.
book includes Hart Crane, Langston Hughes, Russell Atkins, d.a.levy, Daniel Thompson. not bad company for this poor boy from the pacific northwest.
it’s titled Cleveland Poetry Scenes – A Panorama and Anthology. Edited by Nina Freedlander Gibans, Mary E. Weems, Larry Smith. Photo Editor: Jim Lang. Bottom Dog Press. Huron, Ohio. 296 pages. out late spring or early summer.
since i’ve always been the “ultimate outsider” according to the Cleveland press, this is rather sweet. it’s sort of sad how much i find i like official recognition. turns out “we don’t need no stinkin’ recognition” is a lie. considering my outsider outlaw status, seems i’m having it both ways.
i’m a poet, and now everybody will know it.
further word from our coffee picking past, part 2
will have to wait a day or two. life is too full and overwhelming right now to do now and then simultaneously.
flowers in front of coffee trees with red coffee beans – foto by smith
Wednesday, February 27th, 2008
looking north from front porch, Tanetze, Oaxaca
a friend called me “amazing smith” for carrying a heavy weight with a forehead strap up a mountain the way the Zapotec men and women have done for thousands of years.
i replied “call me amazing senor smith – that would equal ass – after all, i was a beast of burden.”
lady said “i don’t get it.”
“A(mazing) S(enor) S(mith). i’m a little too subtle for some.”
“write that down, it’s poetic.”
as i did, she inquired “is that how you spell subtle?”
“Yes. Why, is subtle too SUBTLE for you?” i laughed maniacally, sprayed spittle on her laptop screen.
“you just spit on my screen. that wasn’t very subtle.”
welcome to another episode of the smith & lady comedy hour. but first, a word of our adventure.
lizard among coffee trees – foto by smith
we’re back from the mountains, two days traveling, two days picking coffee. or rather back from their mountain to our mountain with many mountains in between.
Lady and i stayed 3 nights with a Zapotec couple named Alvira & Tomas in Tanetze de Zaragoza, an indigenous coffee village in the mountains 50 kilometers away. but those 50 kilometers are in a straight line. and there ain’t no straight lines in the mountains. bus took four & a half hours there, 5 hours back. that’s 7 miles an hour. except we went 150 to 200 miles up down in out mountain roads to traverse those 31 miles. our speed frequently was under 20 miles per hour, and often less than 10 – both going up and going down.
the sun set before we hit the real curves. i watched out the driver window as green growth and stone wall took turns whisking fast past the glass one way, then the other, 10 minutes at a time. stone and tree too close to be real. looked like a fake back-lit amusement park video ride – the Bump Bus Back Bounce Lurch-O-Rama.
that was the good road. the pavement ended, and we went down the mountain in the dark. when we got to our Zapotec village of Tanetze de Zaragoza, the bus had to back unstraight up a slanted slope tilting one way, then thread itself into an opposite tilted downward road to make the turn.
coming back in daylight, we saw where the paved road had “disappeared” – stone wall touchable out left window, nothing but straight down out our side. way down. but o so beautiful. looked back and saw the road had washed or worn or avalanched away, and they used it as a dirt road anyway. the roads seriously switchbacked – i’d look across a quarter mile chasm to the road on the other side going the opposite way and know it was ours.
bus was big school bus sized, full with passengers standing. it had a see-through excruciatingly suffering Christ carrying the cross religious screen behind the driver, and Jesus on the sunshade, and sad upbeat mexican pop music blaring from the cd radio. the driver was amazingly adept, the bus named Indomable – Indomitable. bus leaves Oaxaca for Tanetze 4:40 p.m., leaves Tanetze for Oaxaca 5:30 a.m. – one bus a day each way.
our hostess Elvira makes the trip every thursday with her fruits, vegetables, coffees, spreads, etc, sleeps thursday on a friend’s couch, sells friday, couches friday night, sells saturday, buses home saturday night. once home, she and her husband work 12-14 hours a day every day of the week.
to be continued . . .
2 large vulture-like birds at dusk in Tanetze, Oaxaca – foto by smith