THE CONDUCTOR AND HIS WIFE

I have spent many hours studying the hatched lines to see where the rail roads go. © Lorraine Caputo

 

For many years, I rode the rails in Mexico. Once upon a time (until the massive disappearance of passenger services in late 1997), Mexico was extensively criss-crossed by rail lines. I relished riding the train, experiencing the country on a more intimate level.

Between seasons in Alaska, I sometimes would travel. The winter of 1993-94 I had spent journeying in Mexico and Central America. Returning northward in mid-March, I took the División del Norte train from Mexico City to Ciudad Juárez on the northern border. (Ciudad Juárez is across the border from El Paso, Texas.) This narrative is from that ride.

Aaaaaalll aboooooord!

 

THE CONDUCTOR AND HIS WIFE

The conductor sits behind me. In the light of this car, he does his paperwork while listening to music. His black vest hangs open over a white shirt. His round, black hat lies on the seat beside him.

I settle in my seat on this train from Mexico City, heading north to Ciudad Juárez, and watch the half-moon following us. I wrap my shawl around me and listen to the song that has haunted me the past five months: Lástima que seas ajena … I drift in and out of sleep the entire night. The desert cold seeps into my bones.

Morning comes with the sounds of big band jazz—Gene Krupa’s unmistakable drumming and Frank Sinatra’s smooth crooning, Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade.” I sip a cup of coffee, warming away the chill and last night’s dreams.

At Aguascalientes, the conductor’s wife struts aboard. After the conductor finishes his paperwork, she fixes his lunch. He snuggles her plump body next to his. Throughout the afternoon, they watch the scenery slip by.

The sun has set and night fallen. A bright-yellow banana appears over my left shoulder. I turn to the smiling face of the conductor’s wife and thank her.  Just as I am biting into that creamy flesh, a croissant appears over the same shoulder.

Later, when she and her conductor-husband sit back for their dinner, she lifts up a jug of milk, asking if I want some. I hand her my mug, still with a bit of coffee in it. She shakes her head and cleans it out, and hands it back to me full of milk. Señora, thank you.

Once more, Vincente Fernández’ voice fills the night: Lástima que seas ajena … I drift into my dreams and memories.

The second morning has broken. I listen to Gloria Estéfan, learning the words to her songs, hand-drumming their rhythms. The scenery clicks by as we slowly near Juárez.

 

 

published in:

Foreign Encounters (Writers Abroad, 2012)

 

NEW YEAR’S EVE IN LATIN AMERICA : A Photographic – Poetic Journey

At the stroke of midnight, eat one grape at each toll, making a wish of what you desire the New Year to bring you. ©Lorraine Caputo

At the stroke of midnight, eat one grape at each toll, making a wish of what you desire the New Year to bring you. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

 

Tonight, as this old year ends, people will be celebrating throughout Latin America. Fireworks burst across the midnight sky, and twelve grapes are eaten with each stroke of that hour, to bring twelve wishes to fruition. Viejos (Old Man Year) are set afire, finally exploding into a million sparks shooting into the new year. Food and liquor flow into the wee hours.

 

One of Latin America’s most common New Year Eve traditions is the Old Man Years, often representing politicians, sports stars or other people in the news. photo © Lorraine Caputo

One of Latin America’s most common New Year Eve traditions is the Old Man Years, often representing politicians, sports stars or other people in the news. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

The most explosive of the customs is the Años Viejos (Old Man Years). These effigies represent politicians, sports figures, entertainment celebrities or other famous persons. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, they are dragged to the middle of the street and lit ablaze. Once the flames reach the center of the effigy, the fireworks stuffing explodes.

Some Latin American neighborhoods have contests for the best one, in which civilians and public services, like the bomberos (fire department), participate. In Ecuador, the end-of-year custom also includes displays summarizing the year’s events in political, sporting and other arenas. Often Años Viejos are accompanied with a testamento, a word of advice or with a list of the things to be burned before the New Year begins.

 

Colombians believe that a sheath of wheat placed in your home brings abundant food and prosperity in the New Year. ©Lorraine Caputo

Colombians believe that a sheaf of wheat placed in your home brings abundant food and prosperity in the New Year. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

 

Colombia has a bevy of traditions (agüeros) not practiced in other parts of Latin America. They believe that a sheath of wheat placed in your home brings abundant food and prosperity in the New Year. At the stroke of midnight, Colombians walk around the block with a suitcase (to bring lots of travel in the next year), count money over and again (to make it multiply), or take a champagne bath (to ensure good fortune and prosperity). They also have a number of other ways to draw wealth, good luck — and even to divine the future year.

 

Yellow for luck in life, red for luck in love. ©Lorraine Caputo

Yellow for luck in life, red for luck in love. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

 

One custom that Colombia shares with its southern neighbor, Ecuador, is wearing yellow underwear to draw good vibes. Red will fulfill passionate desires.

 

Ecuador’s most unique New Years’ custom is the Viudas Alegres, or Merry Widows. ©Lorraine Caputo

Ecuador’s most unique New Years’ custom is the Viudas Alegres, or Merry Widows. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

 

But besides the fireworks and the Viejos, that equatorial country seems to have something all its own: the Viudas Alegres, or the Merry Widows. Ecuadorian men dress up as women and joyfully greet all on the streets. Why do the men do this? Some state that these are the Merry Widows of Old Man Year, so happy to see him finally gone and done with. Others say, to disguise themselves from the problems of the old year, so those troubles don’t follow them into the New Year. But you’ll see everyone, man and woman, child and adult, dressing up. Quito’s Centro Histórico streets are crowded with vendors selling everything from cheap, florescent wigs to pointy witches’ hats to help outfit the Viudas.

 

Street vendors and shops begin selling colorful wigs the day after Christmas. ©Lorraine Caputo

Street vendors and shops begin selling colorful wigs the day after Christmas. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

The perfect eyelashes to go along with your new hair-do. You may also pick up shimmering, pointy witches’ hats, and an array of body parts: breasts, tushes, and aprons covering the (ahem) nether regions. ©Lorraine Caputo

The perfect eyelashes to go along with your new hair-do. You may also pick up shimmering, pointy witches’ hats, and an array of body parts: breasts, tushes, and aprons covering the (ahem) nether regions. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Ecuadorian custom is to have a baño – or spiritual bath, to cleanse oneself of negative energies. Business owners also sweep their stores clean, from back rooms to the front door, with brooms made of eucalyptus, rue, chamomile and other herbs, then lock the shop up tight until the New Year.

 

To enter the New Year spiritually clean, Ecuadorians line up for a baño. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

To enter the New Year spiritually clean, Ecuadorians line up for a baño. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

 

Since 1988, I have spent most northern winters travelling in Latin America. I have rung in the New Year in large cities and small towns in Mexico, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina.

One scene that stays with me – that I have never witnessed before or since – are the fireworks in Santiago de Chile: The burst formed one giant blue heart, from which emerged another blue heart and yet another and yet another … Such a beautiful way to end a night of feasting, drinking and bottle dancing in the middle of a street at a block party.

In Trujillo (Honduras), like everyone else, I dodged the Bárbaro. This Garífuna custom involves a bare-chested man dressed in a grass mini-skirt, covered in rouge or grease, demanding spare change from all on the street. (The money is used for community parties and projects.) If you don’t give him even a mere centavito, he will give you a big bear hug – thus covering you with grease (or rouge).

In Havana, I spent the night with Cubans, eating and dancing to the world’s best music. At the midnight hour, the national anthem played, everyone singing along, to mark another year of the Revolution. (Yes, that scene from the Godfather II is true: At the stroke of midnight, dictator Fulgencio Batista announced he was throwing in the towel and, loaded down with millions of dollars in cash, art and jewels, boarded a plane into exile, thus handing victory over to the guerrilleros after their decisive victory in Santa Clara, under the command of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.)

In Bucaramanga (Colombia), at the invitation of the hostels’ family, I lit a candle for my next year. In Puerto Ayora, Galápagos (Ecuador), I saw the beauty pageant in which those lovely Viudas Alegres showed off their talents, modeling and answering “probing” questions.

In Mexico, I pondered what the New Year would bring to a world on the brink of war. In Ecuador, I watched a Syrian refugee immerse himself in the local customs.

Today, let us poetically journey to these celebrations and ponderings.

May the New Year be full of Light, and wishes come true.

Safe Journeys!

 

“ … & at that hour / they are burnt …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

“ … & at that hour / they are burnt …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

WELCOMING THE NEW YEAR

(Colombia)

Midnight approaches

without a

bell toll

 

Already rockets burst

in green & white

in a red heart

against a sooty sky

The old men are dragged

to the streets

 

& at that hour

they are burnt

firework stuffing

exploding

 

& we eat grapes, one

by one

Gabriel counts his money

over & again

Rice is thrown, scattering

in the still air

Someone walks around a block

suitcase in hand

 

To welcome in a

better year

 

published in:

The Blue Hour (1 January 2013)

 

“ … blasts of fireworks / To scare away the demons …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

“ … blasts of fireworks / To scare away the demons …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW YEAR’S TRIPTYCH

(Mexico)

I.

Outside the empty

streets echo

with blasts of fireworks

To scare away the demons

that lurk in the shadows

of time a-changing

 

& within this silent house

my mind echoes

Scare away those demons

of war, hunger, disease

Scare away those demons

of misery & poverty

Scare away those demons

of corporate greed

that is destroying this planet

 

II.

At midnight

the streets fall silent

I eat a grape

at each stroke of the hour

& wish

May there be no war

& wish

May there be peace on earth

 

& then

more cracks to scare

the last demons away

 

III.

Come dawn

the smell of a fire

creeps along the

abandoned streets

A police car’s red-blue-red-blue-

yellow lights silently

reflect off windows

 

Standing in the

ochre fog that slithers

past sleeping homes

& closed shops

I look for an answer

of what this new year

may hold

 

published in:

The Blue Hour (1 January 2013)

 

“& the man in the bright pink wig dances …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

“& the man in the bright pink wig dances …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

DANCE FOR A NEW YEAR

(Ecuador)

The near-midnight streets

are littered with

the frenzied sales of this day

Someone sweeps them

into large piles

& sets them ablaze

On one corner a family sits

drinking to music

 

& the man in the bright pink wig dances

 

On corners

& midways down blocks

the Merry Widows of this dying year

stop cars for coins

dancing, lying atop hoods

 

& the man in the bright pink wig dances

 

On stages decked with eucalyptus

Old Man Years slump in plastic chairs

a DJ spins, a young woman sings

 

& the man in the bright pink wig

dances with abandon

 

The midnight hour

the Old Men are dragged to

the center of those cobblestone streets

gasoline poured & set afire

 

& the man in the bright pink wig

dances with frenzy

 

As far as the streets climb

steeply up, the fires blaze, fireworks

explode

 

& the man in the bright pink wig

frantically dances

to forget he cannot go home

to his war-rent country

his family cannot get out

his uncle dies of poisoned water

a wife to be found, a family to be formed

 

Heavy smoke filled the narrow streets

stinging eyes, burning lungs

creeping past shuttered shops

creeping past the migrant indigenous

families come to the city for work

round dancing to Andean cumbia

 

& the man in the bright pink wig

dances, dances

 

published in:

Prachya Review (Bangladesh) (Summer 2016)

 

“Music of distant parties throbs in the land’s crimps.” photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

MIDNIGHT TOLL

(Ecuador)

Even before those

midnight bells ring

 

This valley resounds with the explosion, the sizzle of fireworks spiraling green, white, red sparks against the yellow-light speckled hills.

The Old Men are dragged to the streets & set afire. Eager to see this year ended, people leap over the flames, beckoning luck to come.

 

Yet I await that

new year hour to toll

 

Awaiting to embrace my future dreams

bursting, sizzling before

 

The fireworks die … fading. Silence fills the streets. Music of distant parties throbs in the land’s crimps.

The smoke of Old Man Year’s fires & of the fireworks lowers with the silence, mingling with the clouds lowering, obscuring this valley’s slopes.

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

 

Another year ends, another yet begins. ©Lorraine Caputo

Another year ends, another yet begins. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

 

CHRISTMAS IN LATIN AMERICA : A Poetic – Photographic Journey

Navidad procession in El Cocuy, Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Navidad procession in El Cocuy, Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The streets are crowded with people rushing from shop to shop, buying gifts. Vendors call, Wrapping paper, five sheets for a dollar! Barely heard above the ruckus are the greetings of the jolly fat man dressed in red, perhaps accompanied by two curvaceous elves dressed in micro-minis. At schools and workplaces, partiers are dressed in costume, and bags of candies or large boxes of viveres (dry goods) gifted.

Pase de Niño. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Pase de Niño. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Processions wind through narrow streets. From before Christmas through the Feast of Epiphany, city traffic will be stopped for the Pase del Niño. Schoolchildren dress as José, María, the three Wise Men, shepherds (pastores) and angels to accompany the baby Christ. And, of course, in the novena leading up to Christmas Day, the pre-dawn prayers and song of the faithful softly echo down the cobblestone lanes.

Large manger scenes decorate the churches, homes and even hilltops. In living rooms, families read the novena in front of the nativity scene. On Nochebuena (Christmas Eve), they go to the special mass where the baby Jesus is presented, kissed by all, then placed in the manger scene. The midnight sky is painted by the bursts of hundreds of fireworks, celebrating the birth of the Lord Savior. After the mass, families retire home for a big feast and to exchange gifts. (In few places do they keep the custom of gift-giving on the Feast of Epiphany, the Day of the Three Magi – 6 January.)

Christmas-season dinners differ from country to country. There may be turkey or tamales (a.k.a. hallacas). A Mexican side dish is ensalada de Nochebuena (Christmas Eve Salad), made of apple, celery and walnuts dressed with heavy cream. In Argentina, they’ll be sitting down to a parrillada (barbecue). A common desert is pan de Pascua or panetón, similar to the Italian delicacy, panettone (a sweet bread with dried fruits and nuts). Rompope, a drink very much like eggnog, will be spiked with rum; this typical drink is called cola de mono in Chile.

Everywhere, villancicos are sung. Some of these Christmas carols are familiar, like Noche de Paz (Silent Night). Others are unique to Latin America, such as El Burrito Sabanero. Unlike northern European (including US) traditions, caroling from house to house is not common.

In Latin America, the weeks leading up to 25 December are like much elsewhere. But each country, each place also has its traditions.

In Mexico, are the posadas, nine days of processions through neighborhoods, topped off with tamales and hot atole drink. Also in Mexico – specifically Oaxaca – is the Noche de Rábanos, or Night of the Radishes, celebrated on 23 December with a popular competition of the best-carved giant radishes.

In Trujillo, on Honduras’ Caribbean coast, the Indio Bárbaro accosts people for donations to community projects. If you happen to be out on the street when he passes by, and you refuse to give him a “tip,” he will bear-hug you with his grease-covered body! Another Garífuna tradition in these Black Caribe towns, is Hüngühüngü (also called Fedu), the women-oriented processions of the singing, dancing grandmas.

Cousin Its in Málaga, Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Cousin Its in Málaga, Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

During the Christmas novena (16-24 December) in the small mountain village of Málaga (Colombia), teens dress up as Matachines (masked, Cousin-It-looking creatures). They prowl the streets, brandishing gaily painted, inflated cow’s bladders. Money collected from would-be wallop victims is used to fund the carrazo floats in the parades at the beginning of January.

Everyone heads to the beach during the Christmas-New Year holiday, if they can. Prices rise – for transport, lodging and food – and the strand is über-crowded with lots of drinking people blaring music. This is definitely a time to witness Latin American partying at its finest. (If you prefer your beach scene to be, well, rather saner, I recommend you wait. Leave the beaches to the locals during holidays – you can go any time.) And some folk, in order to finance these family vacations, resort to petty thievery in the weeks leading up to the holiday: Keep an eye on your belongings!


Since 1988, I have spent most northern winters travelling in Latin America. I have passed the Christmas season in large cities and small towns in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina.

I have witnessed and celebrated many of these traditions. My encounter with the Indio Bárbaro in Trujillo (me, barefoot, recuperating from a broken toe, returning from the beach with nary a centavito in my shorts, is one of the culturally most embarrassing moments I’ve ever, well, enacted …) In Estelí (Nicaragua), I shared a meal with a Quebecois, of whatever special things we could find in the market ($1 US for an apple!). In Chile, I took a train on Christmas Eve, arriving in the capital like the Virgin Mary: no room at the inns.

Today, let’s take a poetic-photographic trip through the sights and sounds of Navidad in Latin America.

And however and wherever you are celebrating this holiday, may your season be bright, and the New Year be full of wishes come true.

Safe Journeys!

 

This beautiful pesebre in Iglesia Señora del Carmen (Pamplona, Colombia) extends half-ways down the nave. photo © Lorraine Caputo

This beautiful pesebre in Iglesia Señora del Carmen (Pamplona, Colombia) extends half-ways down the nave. photo © Lorraine Caputo

For the past few weeks, Catholic churches and public spaces throughout Latin America have displayed crèches, These Nativity scenes – called belén (Bethlehem), nacimiento or pesebre in Spanish – display Mary (María), Joseph (José) and the three Kings (Tres Magos or Tres Reyes Magos) along with shepherds and angels.

Beyond the usual cast of characters, though, is a motley assembly of animals: Among the expected sheep, camels and burros are farm animals – chickens, pigs, cows, etc. – and local fauna, like llama. The animals and humans are of a variety of sizes. It is not unusual to see a cock towering over a Magi.

 

MÉRIDA MAGI

(Mérida, Mexico)

In the oldest cathedral

on the American continent

built of Maya temple stones

On the day the Three Kings

visited the manger

in this side chapel

Mary tenderly places the Christ child in his cradle

Joseph presents him with out-stretched hand

Slowly the Magi approach

passing by a giant cow

by a giant tapir

Yellow lights drape the plastic pine boughs

& dried palm fronds hung

with colorful glass ornaments

They wink in electronic rhythm to

 

Oh, All ye faithful coming

shepherds     magi     & others

Hark! Do you hear the herald angels singing

with the jingling bells?

Even Santa Claus is coming to this town

on this silent night

when joy has entered the world

Frosty the Snowman watches

those who come a-wassailing

 

Through the open windows

wrought-iron-grilled

the sound & smell of traffic passes

The chapel begins to resound

with the cathedral bells pealing

for five-o-clock mass

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

 

Iglesia San Sebastián, located on the eastern flank of the Panecillo (Calle Loja and Calle Borerro) reflects the barrio’s indigenous heritage: José and María are from the Shuar nation. The three Magi are from Otavalo, Esmeraldas and Tsáchila. The scene also includes the fathers and nuns of the Oblate order doing missionary work among Ecuador’s other indigenous nations. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Iglesia San Sebastián, located on the eastern flank of the Panecillo, reflects the barrio’s indigenous heritage: José and María are from the Shuar nation. The three Magi are from Otavalo, Esmeraldas and Tsáchila. The scene also includes the fathers and nuns of the Oblate order doing missionary work among Ecuador’s other indigenous nations. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The infant Jesus is not added to the Nativity scene until tonight, 24 December. At the night mass, the infant is presented to the congregation. Each devotee shall kiss him, before he is tenderly placed in the straw-filled cradle in the center of the pesebre.

The Latin American custom is for the family to attend mass together (however, the Misa de Gallos, or Midnight Mass is quite rare these days), and then break fast with a huge family meal.

 

NATIVITY

(Valladolid, Mexico)

Near midnight       on Christmas Eve

Within the aged church

A line of people slowly passes to the front

 

Each stoops to kiss

the Christ child nestled

in the arms of a woman

A nun stands next to her

handkerchief in hand

ready to wipe away lipstick

 

Fathers with their young sons and daughters

stop in front of the manger

framed in winking lights

to ponder the miracle

of the still-empty cradle

 

After the last mother, the last child

has welcomed that baby

He is laid into the straw-bedded cradle

his hands wide open to this world

his fat legs kicking the air

 

& the families step into the streets

washed clean by the rain

the sunset lightning had forebode

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

 

In many Catholic homes, families also present a manger scene. In the evenings, they gather around it to say the novena and sing villencicos (Christmas carols). It is not uncommon for the manger cradle to hold more than one infant Jesus. They are the personal Christs of several generations of the family: mother, daughters, aunts, grandmother. photo © Lorraine Caputo

In many Catholic homes, families also present a manger scene. In the evenings, they gather around it to say the novena and sing villancicos (Christmas carols). It is not uncommon for the manger cradle to hold more than one infant Jesus. They are the personal Christs of several generations of the family: mother, daughters, aunts, grandmother. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Nativity scenes aren’t just relegated to churches. Many homes and businesses will also have one set up – like this inn in northern Mexico.

 

COURTYARD CRÈCHE

(San Fernando, Mexico)

The moon is almost full

sometimes visible through

the swift heavy clouds

 

Beneath, within the black of this night

Mary recently full, now illuminated

stares down upon her child

Her hands are crossed

against her full breasts

Joseph looks plaintively

upon her child

They are framed

in winking multi-color lights

Each strand alit for just a moment

then still in the gusty night

 

The courtyard is dark and quiet

Puddles from the days of passing rains

glisten in the holy lights of this chilled night

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

 

 

The scene in Quito’s most luxurious church, La Compañía, has a classic air to it, in harmony with the temple’s Baroque interior. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The scene in Quito’s most luxurious church, La Compañía, has a classic air to it, in harmony with the temple’s Baroque interior. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

SOUNDS OF SILENCE

(Quito, Ecuador)

These Christmas Eve streets

echo with the mournful

song of a blind

man’s accordion

 

These Christmas Eve streets

beneath the dim light

of a waning crescent moon

yet to be arisen

 

 

These Christmas Eve streets

echoing with the footfall

of families going to mass

 

announced by silent bells

the cry of a new-born

babe in a manger

 

in a parish church

bathed in the perfume

of palo santo

 

 

The silence of footfalls

upon centuries-old

wooden floors

 

the silence of prayers

before the crèche broken

by a baby’s cry

 

 

These Christmas Eve streets

echoing with the silence

of the departed blind

accordion

 

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

 

The crèche in Iglesia La Merced, in the Historic Center of Lima, Peru, occupies one large side chapel of the church, and includes scenes of the Peruvian life in the countryside and the city. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The crèche in Iglesia La Merced, in the Historic Center of Lima, Peru, occupies one large side chapel of the church, and includes scenes of the Peruvian life in the countryside and the city. photo © Lorraine Caputo

We grow up with the tale of ghosts of Christmas past. In Northern European indigenous traditions, ghost stories are told around the Yule log. This season, it is believed, is one of the times of year when the veils between the World of the Living and the World of the Dead part, allowing families and friends to once again reunite.

One year in Buenos Aires, I could sense those spirits and I thought about relatives who had immigrated to that port city almost a century earlier.

 

MIDNIGHT NAVIDAD

(Buenos Aires, Argentina)

In these narrow streets

of San Telmo

lit by a nearly

full moon

Midnight Navidad

erupts with the burst

of fireworks

set by boys & men

The sparkles reflect

in windows of

Gardel’s day

The cracks splinter the

mourning song

of bandoneón

In the shadows

of doorways stand

families shawled in

the cool of summer’s eve

& the spirits perished

from cholera & yellow fever,

of immigrants surviving

in cramped conventillos

 

published in:

North Dakota Quarterly (issue 86.3 / 4, November 2019)

 

Iglesia Santo Domingo (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo

Iglesia Santo Domingo (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo

One thing – especially for travelers from the Northern Hemisphere – that is much different about Navidad in Latin America is that a White Christmas exists only in song. Only in the extreme north of Mexico (perhaps, depending on the year) and the highest of mountains will you find snow. Most of the region is located in the tropics, and it is summer south of the equator.

 

RESISTENCIA CHRISTMAS EVE

(Resistencia, Argentina)

All day
the heat, the humidity
strummed sultry,
multi-grey cumulus mounding
high into the heavens

until late afternoon
when its crescendo
erupted into thunder
pulsed by lightning

a rain washing
the blistered streets raw
& the clouds
into a uniform tone

Near midnight
the cathedral is dark
A man eats cake
before resting
on his blanket
upon the steps

A few kiosks are yet
grilling sandwiches, serving beer
to customers
at sidewalk tables

All else is closed
(save a pharmacy)
security guards murmur

Festive lights pulsate
in darkened windows
The laughter, the music
of a party drifts
down a deserted street

As that twelve o’clock hour nears
the crescendo of rockets
mounts, pulsed by sprays of
multi-colored sparks across
the heavens, clouds of gunpowder
drifting skywards
Resting birds startle
from a tree

The hotel watchman
sits in a lawn chair
on the front walk,
sipping sidra &
listening to chamamé
on his radio

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

 

A Nativity scene in Esquel, Argentina. photo © Lorraine Caputo

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel – December Solstice 2019

Indeed, my poetry and travel writing continue to appear in journals and on websites around the world – and a new chapbook collection of my poetry!

 

Spend this December solstice browsing through the list (with links) below, poetically journeying to the U.S., Mexico, Cuba, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina – and in my new poetry chapbook, to Chile, Central and South America, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and the Galapagos Islands.

 

In the realm of travel narrative – get the low-down on passenger trains in South America, and follow the Rebel Trail in Argentina and Bolivia, of some of the most-renowned renegades of the 20th Century: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Che Guevara.

 

…. and until we next meet …..

 

Safe Journeys!

 

Beach, sea, Peru

Solitary Shores in Yacila, Peru. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Jungle Dawn” in Chiron Review (issue #116, Summer 2019)

“Flight” in the Aurorean (Fall / Winter 2019-2020)

“Spirit Suite—Étude Nº 17” in The Writer’s Café Magazine (Issue 17, “Masks,” November 2019)

“Saint Dancing” in The Raven Review (inaugural issue, November 2019)

“Rising” in Wend Poetry (Issue 2, December 2019)

“On the Wings of Crows” in River Poets Journal – theme: A Fork in the Road (Volume 13, Issue 1, 2019)

“On the Radio … Replay,” “Santa Bárbara Bendita (fragmentos),” “Solitary Shores,” “The Blind Busker” and “Fugue” – plus 2 photos in Scarlet Leaf Review (November 2019)

“Homeward” and “Midnight Navidad” in North Dakota Quarterly (issue 86.3 / 4, November 2019)

 

And … a very special edition of my eco-feminism poetry …

FIRE & WATER – Red Mare #18 (Pink House, 2019)

Limited edition – hand made

poetry, environment, ecological, feminism

FIRE & WATER – Red Mare #18 by Lorraine Caputo (Pink House, 2019)

 

 

 

Argentina, passenger, train

The train that makes the run from Roque Sáenz Peña to Chorotis, in Argentina’s Chaco Province. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

 

Nicole Buzzing

Riding the Rails in South America: Getting Around the Continent by Train

 

AndesTransit

The South American Trails of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, and Ernesto “Che” Guevara

 

 

If you are in need of an article for your publication or website, a translation – or your dissertation, book or article proofread / edited, please feel free to contact me. I am also available to participate in literary events.

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel – September Equinox 2019

HAPPY SEPTEMBER EQUINOX!!!

In the Northern Hemisphere, Autumn is officially beginning – and here, south of the equator, Spring is springing!

And, indeed, my poetry and travel writing continue to appear in journals and on websites around the world – and a new chapbook collection of my poetry!

Spend this September equinox browsing through the list (with links) below, journeying to the Galápagos Islands … and Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia, the US-Mexican border, Guatemala, El Salvador and Colombia.

…. and until we next meet …..

 

Safe Journeys!

 

Lorraine Caputo, poetry, book, Galapagos Islands

On Galápagos Shores by Lorraine Caputo

 

On Galápagos Shores (Chicago: dancing girl press, 2019)

My new chapbook of poetry – inviting you to spend a spell with me in the enchanted, enchanting Galápagos Islands.

 

“Solitary Shores” in Mojave River Review (Spring-Summer 2019)

 

“Journeying Our Roads” in The Writer’s Café Magazine (UK) (Issue 16, July 2019)

 

“I Cry for the Night” and “Bearing the Bundles” in Voice of Eve (Issue 16)

 

“Along the Rio Grande” in Black Coffee Review (August/September 2019)

 

“A Year After” in La Scrittrice (30 August 2019)

 

(Part 2: Re-Membering) “Silent Courage: Santiago Atitlán,” (Part 4: Seeking) “Epistle” and “Embrace” in The BeZine Arts and Humanities (Volume 6, number 3, September 2019)

 

Sunset, Peru, beach

Sunset at Yacila, Peru. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

 

            AndesTransit

12 Fun and Free Things to do in Montevideo!

 

 

If you are in need of an article for your publication or website, a translation – or your dissertation, book or article proofread / edited, please feel free to contact me.

I am also available to participate in literary events.

THE PEOPLE OF NICARAGUA : A Memoir

 

July is a month of many important events in Nicaraguan history, in its search for true sovereignty, freedom from the claws of the Northern Eagle:

  • 16 July 1927 – In Ocotal, Augusto César Sandino leads an attack against the US Marines and Nicaraguan National Guard, under the leadership of Anastasio Somoza García, who later was responsible of Sandino’s assassination and was made president by the U.S. government.
  • 24 July 1928 – Augusto César Sandino’s movement against the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua officially ends – though the struggle would continue ….
  • 23 July 1961 – The Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) was founded by Carlos Fonseca Amador, Santos López, Tomás Borge, Silvio Mayorga, Germán Pomares Ordóñez and others. (Borges would be the only one of these to see the FSLN victory.)
  • 17 July 1979 – Nicaraguan president-dicatator Anastasio Somoza Debayle (Anastasio Somoza García’s son) resigned and fled to Miami (Florida, USA). He was the third member of the Somoza dynasty that ruled Nicaragua.
  • 19 July 1979 – The FSLN and other popular movements that fought against the Somoza dictatorship declare victory.

 

Soon after that 1979 victory, the Revolution faced innumerable aggressions from that great Northern Eagle. With the ascension of Ronald Reagan as US President (1982-1989), the US would institute a media campaign of mis- and disinformation against the Revolution, impose an economic embargo, mine Nicaragua’s harbors (by the CIA – and condemned by the World Court in its 27 June 1986 decision), illegally establish and arm the Contras (which resulted in the Iran-Contra scandal), and other acts.

The 25 February 1990 elections would mark the turning point. The US promised that if the opposition candidate, Violeta Barrios Chamorro of the UNO party, won, it would end the embargo and the Contra War, and pay the reparations the World Court demanded in 1986. And in part, that is why the Sandinista Party candidate, Daniel Ortega, was defeated. Thus came to an end the first round of Sandinista rule on 25 April 1990, when Barrios Chamorro was sworn into office.

 

As a friend I visited in 1992 told me:

Estábamos entre la pared y la piedra. (We were caught between a rock and a hard place.) We were tired of the war, the shortages. The night of the elections, it was like a grave. No-one was out in the streets celebrating. Everyone was locked away in their homes.

 

I recently read Nicaraguan poet-novelist Gioconda Belli’s memoir. Her recounting of those 1990 elections and the aftermath reminded me of my Masaya friend’s recounting.

 

Gioconda Belli’s book, The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War.

 

In the mid-80s, I listened to many reports of what was happening in Nicaragua: US news and Latin American news. People who had traveled there to witness what was happening, and bring those lessons back to us. The discrepancies in what was going on provoked me to take my first trip to Central America. I left in early 1988, traveling solo overland through Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.

I arrived in in San Marcos de Colón, the Honduras town just north of the only border crossing into Nicaragua open at that time. When I stepped off the combi at sunset, I was mobbed by kids touting places to stay. I got a room in the back of a general store. I heard the people’s scandalized gossip: She’s crossing into Nicaragua tomorrow. She’s traveling alone. She’s going to be raped. I took a walk around town and came across an old-fashioned, evangelical tent revival meeting. It felt as if I had walked into a Twilight Zone scenario.

The next morning I left for the Honduran border post. I had to walk the three kilometers (or was it five?) to the Nicaraguan border post – there was no transportation. I felt as if dozens of eyes and guns were trained on me. (I later learned that there were at least a half-dozen Contra base camps in that immediate area.)

There was no sign of where the Nicaraguan border was. But I could feel it – it was as if the vibes suddenly lightened. I walked past a bombed-out birder post, looking around for some indication, continuing to walk on. It wasn’t until someone sss-sss’ed at me. In that direction, I saw a young man sitting with a gun across his lap. “¡Bienvenida a Nicaragua, compañera!” He then led me to the immigration office.

I spent 10 days on a whirlwind visit of Nicaragua. It was just a few weeks after Hurricán Juana (Hurricane Joan, 22-23 October 1988) had cut a wide swath across Nicaragua. Roads were deeply gouged by raging rivers.

A Nicaraguan friend in Managua could not receive me, as she had to go out to the field to see the damage and plan for new plans for the redistribution of international aid. She told me, “This is your first time in Nicaragua. Stay out of the war zones. Please learn about us and our lives. I highly recommend you include San Juan de Sur on your itinerary.”

In that week and half, I visited not only Managua, but also Masaya, San Juan del Sur (arriving shortly after a Contra attack), Granada (from whence I took the train to …), León (where I went to a huge concert celebrating Nicaraguan-Swedish Solidarity Week), and Estelí (arriving on the feast day of La Purísima). I spoke with people wherever I went.

 


 

Within months of the 1990 change of power, the stories coming out of Nicaragua were not promising. Many of the Revolution’s accomplishments were quickly unravelling. Maternal and infant mortality rates were rising sharply, as were deaths from malnutrition, dysentery and other preventable diseases. Collectives and cooperatives were being dismantled as the moneyed classes returned to Nicaragua.

And I set my pen to paper, thinking about my 1988 journey to learn from Nicaraguans, to learn about their lives, their realities. Today I share with you that prose-poem, those vignettes (which had been published as a chapbook by Twin Tales Publishing, in 2000).

(In later trips to Nicaragua – talking with people on the streets, in the markets and in their homes, volunteering several times at the women’s center in Estelí – I would hear more testimonies of how life had changed for the people in Nicaragua – tales to be shared at another time …)

 

Safe Journeys!

 

 

THE PEOPLE OF NICARAGUA

I.

Carlos shows me to a hotel after we arrive in Managua in the darkening dusk. Cheap, clean and she allows only good people, he assures me. He tells me my friend live only about six blocks away and slips into the night to his mate and four children.

Guillermo tells me I’ve missed my stop. We get off the city bus together. He walks with me, points out where I want to go. He wants to show me Managua at night. I leave him with an unfulfilled promise to meet him later. He runs off, late for work.

Luís is not a Sandinista, unemployed with a wife and new-born in León. He helps me search for my friend though the unmarked streets of Managua in exchange for cigarettes / lunch / conversation. He offers me a place to stay if I need it.

Marcos sits in the Plaza near the museum and market. He waits for the bus to León to see his novia. I wait for the museum to open. We talk about his yearning to see the States, saving for a trip there. I give him my address in case he ever makes it.

A half-dozen men in the back of a pick-up truck, riding to La Virgen when I and two others jump in. One man chews on a piece of sugar cane. I turn to my traveling companion: Been so long since I’ve had some. The man offers me half, shares his half with those near him. I share mine with those near me. Another man has a semi-green orange, peels it and passes half one way, half the other.

A sugar refinery engineer picks us up outside of Rivas. We jump in back to join a man already there, who points out the hurricane destruction in the waning afternoon. After one stop, the ever-quiet engineer gets back in the truck, leans out the window towards us, hands us pieces of coconut candy. It’s late and thought you’d be getting hungry, he says, and turns back inward.

Fernando shows me the way to the train station in León, complains about the situation as we walk through the dirt streets. He thinks the Revolution is bad for the country, says that nothing has been done, points to the deteriorating railroad tracks.

Rosamaría and Tomás sit in the back of the bus. We travel together from León to Managua, joking, talking about life. Tomás teaches me about the passing countryside, its plants and its history, through the window, the afternoon.

 

The giving people of Nicaragua share what little they have, their history / their country / their conversation about life.

Truly Christian in thought and in action.

 

II.

Mercedes, the owner of the Hotel Mascota in Managua, has eyes of a hawk, a mind as quick as an eagle. She sweeps her tiled floor nonchalantly, uses La Prensa for toilet paper.

Concepción – Connie in English, she says – runs an eatery across the highway from the market, places a plate of chicken and rice before me, joins us in a conversation over beer and rum.

The woman at the Museum of Nicaragua offers to guide / teach me their history, their culture. We stand in a room full of pre-Columbian pottery. Where have all the indigenous gone, I ask her. She stares at me, mouth, eyes open wide. Why they’re us, we all are of their blood!

Two women in their best dresses stand near us on the highway outside Rivas. They are traveling to see their mates, who are in the military, for the weekend. We pass the afternoon waiting for a ride with little luck. They teach us the finer points of hitching in Nicaragua.

A young woman watches me fight off the moneyed advances of a drunk, offers me refuge in the now-empty seat next to her. I thank her and mumble: Men. We look into each other’s eyes and laugh.

 

The women of Nicaragua are sharing and loving, are sisters.

How hard must you now fight to preserve your families, you’re her-story, your Selves?

 

III.

Ángel, sitting with me in Connie’s eatery, practices his English over our beer and rum. If you want to see the progress of the Revolution, he says, see my friend who runs a school for mentally-handicapped kids. Under Somoza, there was no such thing.

The doorman at CEPAD in Managua asks a compañero going to the old center of the city to give me a lift. We ride on his motorcycle through the streets, growingly deserted, populated by fields of weeds and trees. At traffic lights her points out the earthquake destruction. At the ruins of the cathedral next to the marshen shores of the lake, he bids me farewell.

Juan, call me John, stands at the roadside in Masaya. What do you think of Nicaragua, he asks me. A beautiful country, I say, but life is so hard. Ay! But the people have such a beautiful spirit! What do you think about the war, he asks. It is wrong, I say. Nicaraguans have the right to decide their own future. The US is not Nicaragua and Nicaragua is not the US. Well said, he says ….

The Sandinista soldiers on leave at a concert in León, talking, drinking beers with us. I offer Pablo a cigarette, and the pack goes ‘round to everyone else, comes back half-empty. His friend and I dance in the calf-high grass.

A man finishing his work meets me in the courtyard of the pensión, comments on my arms full of Che’s books I’d just bought. I see the yearning in his eyes for them. I realize I just spent his month’s salary in ten minutes.

 

The defenders of Nicaragua’s future, holding hope and pride with your spirit.

How hard the struggle must seem now! Do your yearning spirits still fight?

 

IV.

A young boy comes make-believe begging as I finish my soda in a bag in the Plaza between the museum and the market. He runs off in glee when I call his bluff, returns with others who take my handkerchief. We play chase in the Plaza in the afternoon light.

Three neighborhood children gather around me, the oldest girl straddled on her bike. We talk of school on the curb in front of my friend’s house in the waning afternoon light.

Children play in the commons of a friend’s neighborhood in Masaya. I force my attention back to our conversation, our tales of survival.

Five children play a game of baseball in the cobbled streets that slope to the beach of San Juan del Sur. I ask if I could join them, they hand me the bat. I pitch to them in the late-afternoon sun.

The young boy – barely five or six – pulls on my pigtails as we leave a market in León. I turn around with a smile. His mother is apologetic. He’s never seen hair so long, she says.

 

The children of Nicaragua – you were the first I saw in all of Mexico and Central America playing, marveling, being kids.

I wonder how many of you have now died of starvation, malnutrition, disease, diarrhea.

 

V.

A man with thinning white hair sits in a white cane chair next to his wife. He sells me a bag with a glint in his eyes, wants to know if I’ll go swimming with him in the morning.

A man, rotund with muscles and tanned, sits with me in a beach eatery in the mid-morning. He claims to be 64, but looks 50, claims to have two women and sixteen children. He leans forward, asking me to be his third. I decline, waving my hand. I’m already married and one man’s enough, I say. He leans back, laughing. Everyone has a lover here in Nicaragua, he claims, even married women!

Gustavo works in that eatery, finishes his sweeping, grabs his towel. We walk along the rocky shoreline to the best swimming hole. He serenades me along the way, woos me on the rocks overlooking the laguna. In desperation he swims out to the rocks, emerges on the other side, arms streaming with blood. This will be a permanent reminder of you, he says.

 

The men of San Juan del Sur, their hearts full of lust.

I wonder if you still seek a woman’s embrace in the night sea breezes.

 

VI.

A man, blind and leaning on a crutch, boards the bus. He stands in front, relates the tales of his war injuries, demonstrating each scar. He limps down the aisle praying, extending his hand for money. He steps out the backdoor.

A young man, eternally bathes in rum, expresses his hatred for America, his intense sorrow for his brother, killed by Contras two weeks earlier. I see him in the growing light of the next morning, weaving through the streets of San Juan del Sur, singing laments in his drink-cracked voice.

A man lifts himself from a wheelchair to a park bench in Granada. I ask him if I may talk with him. He tells me of the Contra wars.

A hunched-over man, darkened with unkempt hair and dirt, stoops into his open-air shanty in an empty lot near the Cathedral in León in the darkening night sky.

A man leans over the edge of a garbage can in the Managua bus terminal. I watch him as I wait in an endless line for Estelí, watch him run away from an extended hand.

 

The victims of circumstance, of economic hardship / decades of struggle for independence / years of Contra wars.

I wonder how well you yet survive ….

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel – June Solstice 2019

It is the June solstice. For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, summer has arrived. And here, south of the equator, winter has now come (though snow has already blanketed the Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego). In the equatorial Andes, Inti Raymi, the sun festival and harvest thanksgiving, is being celebrated.

 

No matter whether you are lazing in the summer sun or huddling inside in front of a wood burning stove, away from winter’s chill bite – here are my latest publications to while away the time …

 

Indeed, my poetry and travel writing continue to appear in journals and on websites around the world. Spend this June solstice browsing through the list (with links) below, journeying to El Salvador, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Argentina, Panama and Mexico.

 

…. and until we next meet …..

 

Safe Journeys!

 

“The ticky-tacky houses / climbing the steep / sides of cerros…” photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

 

“Short Distance by Stroke” in The Trinity Review (Canada) (Nº 131.1, Winter 2019)

 

“On the Banks” in Red Eft Review (27 March 2019)

 

“Interspace” and “Feeding the New Day” in River Poets Journal – pocket poems (April 2019)

 

“The Road I Journey” in The Literary Nest (Spring 2019)

 

“Crossing” in The Local Train Magazine (Bangladesh) (issue 01, April 2019)

 

“Caminata” in Panoply, A Literary Zine (Issue 12, Spring / Summer 2019)

 

“Entre Ríos,” “Mute to Grey” and “Suspending,” in Poetry Pacific (Canada) (May 2019)

 

“Pale Fragrance” & “Civilized” in POETiCA REViEW (nº 2, Summer 2019)

 

“This Other Day” and “Zipolite” in The Blue Nib (UK) (issue 38, Summer 2019)

 

 

This llama in Popayán (Colombia) may get around by car, but I prefer by local buses. And you? photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

 

            AndesTransit

Regular vs Hop-on buses

 


 

If you are in need of an article for your publication or website, a translation – or your dissertation, book or article proofread / edited, please feel free to contact me. I am also available to participate in literary events.