Sunday, March 5, 2017

flamingo road

Back in December, I was so excited to see flamingoes in the wild in Torres del Paine. And the Europeans were very nonchalant: We have flamingoes in Spain. And then someone mentioned flamingoes in Florida, which led me to Flamingo Gardens. So let's get the flamingoes out of the way.
No one I know in Miami had heard of Flamingo Gardens, but it's just half an hour west of Hollywood, in Davie, a town known for cowboys. 90 years ago, the Wrays built a ranch in the middle of nowhere. Then they planted some trees.
The trees are incredible. Cacao and bananas and mangoes and Meyer lemons. And lots of really cool fig trees.
Orchids and air plants like Spanish moss were plentiful.

Flamingo Gardens is a non-profit sanctuary. There's an aviary, full of local birds, most of them injured. 
 Pelicans and ibises.

Oystercatchers and herons.

The owls were sleeping. Bald eagles strode around their enclosure.
 This pretty blue-eyed bird seemed to only have one leg.
 Roseate spoonbills are not flamingoes.

Even the ducks were adorable.

Moral of the story is maybe you don't have to leave the country to find exotic birds and plants. Sometimes they're hiding in plain sight. Just past the familiar boundary where you grew up.

All in all, a fine day. Then we headed to an early bird dinner for stone crabs and roast leg of lamb. A real Golden Girls adventure.
How about those Florida panthers?

Monday, February 6, 2017

how the West was won

We boarded the train for Elko, a whole day's journey east, for the 33rd annual National Cowboy Poetry gathering in eastern Nevada. I'd wanted to go for years without really knowing what to expect.

The festival is part storytelling, part Western music. It's incredibly rich and gratifying to see people come from near and far to celebrate working farm families as well as the mythology of the West.

Musical highlights:
  • I was thrilled to hear Ramblin' Jack Elliot, who famously inspired both Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Jack assured us that music is a sideline, to pay for his diesel fuel and cat food. True to form, he rambled and ambled, and chose songs to play based on Post-Its on his guitar.
  • Jack was preceded by Mike Beck, a damned great guitarist who also generously taught several guitar workshops. 
  • Sourdough Slim and Robert Armstrong delighted us with a variety of instruments, most memorably yodeling and playing the saw with a bow. I'd never realized a theremin sounds like a saw before.
  • Grammy winner Dom Flemons brought needed ethnic diversity to a largely white and white-haired event. He hails from North Carolina by way of Phoenix and is working on a new album on the black cowboy experience. He plays everything from banjo to guitar to the bones. 
  • Ian Tyson came from Alberta and did not disappoint; multiple artists thanked Ian for inspiring and mentoring them over the years. 
  • Canadian heartthrob Corb Lund delivered his trademark "ag-tragic" ballads with appropriate horror.
  • Kristyn Harris and Brigid Reedy are only 22 and 15 but played guitar and fiddle like old pros. Their Django Reinhardt jam was delightful.

living off the land

Things I learned:
  • Cow-boys and sheep-herders (shepherds) are not the same. RP Smith: Grandma used to say "sheep for money, cows for prestige." Now you know. Steak or lamb chops for dinner?

  • Farm families are traditional. Many are raising food and working land their grandparents first acquired. The land is both symbolic and a real concern, so like horses, it's a major subject of songs and poetry.

  • The language of the cowboy festival is rich: sometimes quaint (by golly) or old-fashioned (baking bread), harking back to a desire for a simpler time "when a handshake meant something." Mike Beck referred to growing up with one radio station and two TV channels, when radio truly was "the soundtrack to our lives." This seems more like the 50s than the 70s or 80s. But it helped explained the enduring popularity of shows like Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk to me, even The King Family and the Osmonds from when I was little. 
  • This is a predominantly white European heritage with many Scandinavian immigrants. But Dom Flemons commented that we often talk about the great migration from the southern states to the north and midwest, but less often about the move westward in the 20th century.
  • Cowboy stories often include love songs to horses. Keith Ward: I found it kind of funny when he called that filly "honey." Also puns. Who doesn't love puns?

Elko is at 6000 feet with a lot of snow this time of year, so I brought my long underwear. I wore hand-me-down snow boots from Ilene's teenaged daughter Sofia and a cool purse I bought on Valencia Street in the Mission. With my blue hair and jeggings, I looked a bit like a stormtrooper punk cowgirl. Hardly authentic, but that was beside the point.

I also got my leather boots (another Ilene hand-me-down) shined by several lovely young ladies from the 4H and then read a story at an open mic.
We enjoyed local food from antelope to lamb shanks, and a bourbon tasting. I was amused by bowls of Jolly Ranchers.

Nevada is a fiercely independent state, and this includes politics. (First rules of campaigning here is learning how to pronounce the state's name. Hint: It's not Ne-VAH-duh.)

More people are registered as independents than members of either major party. For the most part, the crowd at Cowboy Poetry avoids easy categorization. And speaking as a faux cowgirl from a very progressive city, I noticed these openings for dialogue.
  • Clean water and environmental protection are a major concern to farmers. Maria Lisa Eastman told a tragic story of a neighboring farm whose cows drank dirty water and starved on substandard feed. Hers drank more water from artesian wells. Corb Lund from Edmonton sang a moving song "This is my prairie" taking on local oil companies and polluters.
    Ranchers suffer when there's drought or pollution or oil spills, even if their advocacy looks different than a citygoer's desire to protect parkland from development. Another poet described family members whose lungs were black from the mines. Their voices and issues need to be represented.
  • Several performers talked about losing family farms to high inheritance taxes (in the 1970s). Other factors were a move to large farming and encouragement to take out big loans, which bankrupted small ranches.
  • Farm families live in rural areas, and many are homeschooled. Kids grow up working with animals, riding horses, baling hay. The gathering originally provided a place where people could meet other families like theirs. Today there are farm families on social media. 
  • I heard a strong desire for respect for traditions and traditional ways of life--but also what struck me a kind of farm family feminism, recognizing the strength, determination, and resilience of women (and men) continuing to ranch. Performers play at house concerts. Rural priorities are markedly different from urban and suburban areas. That doesn't mean we don't share values.
Of course these are only my interpretations. I encourage you to listen to poetry, music, and storytelling yourself. So many distinct voices, preserving the history and folklore of the west. The festival is a fundraiser for the Western Folklife Center.

Cowboy diversity
  • Canadians represent! To my dismay, Celtic Cowboy said they had no room in the truck for Americans who wanted to come back with them.
  • The festival makes a fine effort to have women represented as well as men, and several of the programs I attended had all-female lineups. These included new generations of musicians and women who'd raised children and roped calves. Doris Daley, the self-described Creampuff from Canada, was an all-around delight. 
  • I was touched by RP Smith's ode to Nezzy, an undocumented Mexican farmhand who "did a lot of things no gringo would and sent home all his pay." Immigrants contribute greatly to farming in this country. Preserving the legacy and folklore of the West includes recognizing that hard work, and where people came from. 
  • I missed the program on the Australian bush and several Native American performers. Of course any historical consideration of the west must include indigenous peoples.
  • Movies screened included Changing Seasons, a sweet documentary about "Mas" Masumoto, whose immigrant dad bought their peach orchard in the 1940s shortly after returning from WWII internment camps. The film is about many things: working the land, being an outsider, but especially about the relationship between Mas and his daughter Nikiko who returns to the farm to carry on the family tradition. "On our farm, we grow stories." Incredible peaches too.
  • The last night, The Moth radio hour came to Cowboy Poetry. Our incredible hostess Dame Wilburn is a black lesbian from NYC. She immediately connected to an older predominantly straight white Western crowd, describing her dual existence as a child between her grandparent's pig farm in Macon GA and school years with her parents in Detroit. I was charmed by her stories and warmth, as the crowd laughed along in real recognition. (You'll be able to hear it as soon as it's posted on the Moth site.)
But enough commentary. How about a little music?

Many thanks to Janet for being such a great hostess. And in memory of Jerry Kumar, who loved this event, and who crossed many state and national boundaries.

We headed home past frozen Donner Lake exhausted but inspired.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Pablo's house

The buses returning to Santiago were booked, so I had to spend a couple of hours by the Valpo bus station, not the most scenic part of town.
After walking through the mercado in the streets, I settled in at La Merced, where vendors sell old magazines and records.
Others gamble at cards. I was amused but not surprised to see my guide from the tour boat.

Back in Santiago, Jorge and Patricia greeted me like a long-lost relative. I set off this morning for Neruda's house, the last thing on my list.

But like Neruda's house in Valparaiso, it had been closed for holidays, and the line was so long, I abandoned it in favor of a splash-out lunch with wine in Providencia.
Sadly, all good trips must come to an end. Otherwise I'd be moving. Time to get back to reality.

Ciao, Chile. See you next time.


In my sky at twilight you are like a cloud
and your form and colour are the way I love them. 
You are mine, mine, woman with sweet lipsand in your life my infinite dreams live.
The lamp of my soul dyes your feet,the sour wine is sweeter on your lips,oh reaper of my evening song,how solitary dreams believe you to be mine! 
You are mine, mine, I go shouting it to the afternoon'swind, and the wind hauls on my widowed voice.Huntress of the depth of my eyes, your plunderstills your nocturnal regard as though it were water. 
You are taken in the net of my music, my love,and my nets of music are wide as the sky.My soul is born on the shore of your eyes of mourning.In your eyes of mourning the land of dreams begin.
—Pablo Neruda

Sunday, January 1, 2017

happy hill

Here in Valparaiso, I'm staying in Cerro Alegre or Happy Hill. It's a charming neighborhood, formerly bohemian, now full of wine bars and cafes and gorgeous street art.
The streets are steep.
The houses are old, or at least as old as Valpo's last big earthquake. As Ruth pointed out, Valparaiso like San Francisco, which it resembles in more ways than one, was nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 1906, and rebuilt in a similar era.
Because it's a tourist town at the height of the season, lots of boutiques were open on my street.
After a suitably late brunch, hanging out with a couple from SoCal on an awesome 6-month trip and my neighbors from Amsterdam, I took the ascensor (funicular) down to the port as Guadalupe recommended.
Also like San Francisco, Valpo has cable cars that run on actual cables, not just electric wires. 
A brake man sits at the top. 
8 or 10 people climb in.

It's a really steep hill.
You pay at the bottom: 100 pesos each way or around 15¢. What's only apparent going up is that it's a balance system: there are two cars and as one goes down, the other goes up. I'm not sure how they work it out if there are more people in one direction than the other.
You do get a great view, looking out over the port.
Next stop was the lanchas—tourist boats that fill up with passengers for a half-hour ride for 3000 pesos ($4.50). 

It was like a ride at Fisherman's Wharf, somewhere I ordinarily wouldn't be caught dead. But in the spirit of things, I bought a giant cone of cotton candy and joined the masses of local tourists.
We had our Gilligan's Island moment, as we headed out to sea before the life preservers were passed out. 

The guide made jokes in Spanish about who would float and who would sink. I understood quite a bit of it, or at least the spirit of it.

As you can see, it's an important working port. Chile is a major exporter of wine, produce, and minerals like copper. Containers lined the docks.

The armada (the Navy) also had a few vessels in port, one of them Colombian.

Here's the view looking back. Feels familiar, right? 

Downtown didn't seem too much the worse for wear, although it smelled awful. Broken glass and confetti lined some of the streets.

Last stop was a charming wine bar back up on happy hill, where I ate conejo (rabbit) served with a puree I thought was beans but turned out to be sausage. Camilla poured me a delicious assortment of Chilean wines to taste. Not a bad way to kick off a new year.
You can see why artists have flocked here for years from all over the world, attracted to the sun and the sea, and the sense of possibility, on the western edge of the continent.