A VOYAGE INTO THE PAST : The Old Patagonian Express

Juan, our engineer on this day. © Lorraine Caputo

 

As the 1922 Henschel steam engine leaves its shed, people gather along the long platform to watch its dance as it couples the eight cars for the journey to Nahuel Pan. For some it will be a many-year dream fulfilled, to ride the famed Old Patagonia Express. For others, like that petite, white-haired woman there, this is a step back to childhood when she first came to Esquel. She had been relieved to step out of her carriage after the almost-day-long journey from Ingeniero Jacobacci on La Trochita, as this train is loving called by locals.

 

The white-haired lady is ready to step back into her childhood. © Lorraine Caputo

 

El Viejo Expreso Patagónico – also called El Viejo Expreso Patagónico and La Trochita – has been the subject of many books, like Paul Theroux’ epic journey through the Americas, The Old Patagonia Express, and documentaries. It was a challenge to build this 400-kilometer (244-mile) narrow gauge line through the desolate Patagonian landscape. When completed, it was the southern-most regular passenger service in the world. It yet holds that distinction, being the main transport for the Mapuche inhabitants of Nahuel Pan.

All aboard! © Lorraine Caputo

 

Those villagers slip into the rear car with the workers while the tourists board the five 1922 Belgian-made passenger cars. In the two dining cars, one at either end of the train, doña Jovita will serve coffee and tortaletas, beer and sandwiches during the trip. As our journey begins, guides tell the historical trek of La Trochita.

 

Inside the Belgian-made cars, built in 1922. In front of the seated woman is a salamandra stove. © Lorraine Caputo

 

Early 20th Century Patagonian villages were isolated. To get their goods to city markets as a three-month or more travail. Under the 1908 Ley Ramos Majía, these communities petitioned for a connection to the outside world.

Water sources where a steam engine could fill up every 40 kilometers (24 miles) had to be pinpointed in the dry Patagonia plain. In 1923 construction began southward from Ingeniero Jacobacci on the San Antonio Oeste-Bariloche line. Narrow gauge or troche angosta (75 centimeters / 29.5 inch) was chosen because of the land’s mountainous lay. Midway down the line, a workshop was established at El Maitén which still maintains these steam engines and makes any parts needed.

Despite icy winters, the global economic crisis of the 1930s and the high cost of laying the line, cargo service finally reached Esquel in 1945. Five years later the first passenger train arrived, with trains running several times per day. Each journey took 14 to 16 hours, longer in winters. These days, the usual speed of the Old Patagonia Express is 45 kph / 27 mph, with a maximum speed of 60 kph / 36 mph, due the winding nature of the tracks.

In 1993, then-President Carlos Menem turned administration of the railroads over to the provinces. Because many could not afford the maintenance, dozens of lines closed nation-wide, including the Ingeniero Jacobacci-El Maitén leg of the Express in Río Negro Province. With determination, Chubut Province has kept La Trochita alive.

 

Over the years of taking trains throughout the Americas, I have learned that three things are always true when a train passes:
• Traffic must stop.
• People – especially kids – wave.
• Dogs bark.
© Lorraine Caputo

 

Between Esquel and the first north-bound station, Nahuel Pan, we cross several modern-day roads. The cars must stop for our passage. We exchange waves as this little train clatters along. A truck on Ruta 40 salutes the Express with a blare of its horn.

La Trochita twisting across the mountainous terrain. © Lorraine Caputo

Watching the terrain of the Old Patagonian Express. © Lorraine Caputo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Old Patagonian Express on the longest curve of the line. © Lorraine Caputo

 

Nahuel Pan Mountain rises beige and faded-green on the east horizon. Across the narrow valley are small farms. Birds wing from our approach. The longest curve of the line is just south of Nahuel Pan hamlet. From the last cars, the engine comes into view. Its steam pumps across the blue sky.

 

The Mapuche-Tehuelche village of Nahuel Pan. Here many passengers will visit the Museo de Culturas Originarias Patagónicas. © Lorraine Caputo

 

The Old Patagonian Express preparing for the homeward journey. © Lorraine Caputo

 

The Henschel refills its water hopper at Nahuel Pan and pirouettes to the front of the cars. Further on are several abandoned engines. Meanwhile, passengers visit the Museo de Culturas Originarias Patagónicas and buy crafts from these artisan villagers. With a toot of the locomotive whistle, we board the wooden cars for our homeward journey.

 

Homeward bound. © Lorraine Caputo

 

The end of our excursion is nearing. Across the vestibule, I see that petite, white-haired woman looking wistfully out her window of the next car. What memories has this trip brought her? Perhaps the smell of sausages cooking on the salamandra stove each passenger car has. Perhaps the bustle of others gathering baggage and bundles as La Trochita approaches its final stop.

 

The summer fields of Patagonia. © Lorraine Caputo

 

All year long, through winter snows and summer fields of thistle, Esquel visitors hop the Old Patagonia Express, once or twice weekly in the off season, daily at holiday times. Once monthly, the ride goes as far as El Maitén, where the maintenance workshops can be visited. In the high season, nighttime rides are offered from Esquel to Nahuel Pan. Another regular run of La Trochita is from El Maitén to Desvío Thomae. About once a year, foreigners charter La Trochita to do the entire line, from Esquel to Ingeniero Jacobacci, a four to five-day excursion. Schedules are posted on the website.

The second weekend of February is the Fiesta Nacional del Tren a Vapor (National Steam Train Festival) in Maitén.

 

Gazing into the mighty Henschel’s innards. © Lorraine Caputo

Guiding the Henschel to bed. © Lorraine Caputo

At the end of the day’s run, La Trochita mounts the roundtable to be turned around before entering the locomotive shed. © Lorraine Caputo

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WANDERING OFF INTO SATURDAYS’ DAWNS (2014)

Many Saturdays, I pack my journal and my camera into my shoulder bag, and go off a-wandering. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Off in another corner of cyberspace, I photograph the dawning of a new Saturday and write a meditation on the day to come.

On weekends, I tend to wake up several hours before the dawn. I find that in the silence of those dark hours, I can more easily sink into words, into creativity (and often the internet connection is much better). The streets may echo with an occasional vehicle, with an all-night party echoing down from a barrio high up on the hills, a procession wending down narrow streets.

Then the dawn comes … perhaps with birdsong, perhaps with the steps of someone out on the calle below. And then the slow revealing of a new day.

 

Saturday is the time of the week to dedicate to household tasks: cleaning, laundry and market.  No matter for how long I stay in a place, I keep this practice, this discipline. It helps me to keep a routine even when I am traveling, and also helps me to keep on budget.

After those tasks, I then have the rest of the day to go off a-wandering and exploring, journal and camera tucked into my shoulder bag, ready to capture lives and landscapes in poetry and photographs.

But, indeed, some Saturdays I cannot escape to go off a-wandering. My desk may be piled too high with projects to complete, or the seasonal rains (downpour – aguaceros) may keep me inside. I take the time, then, to work on poetry or submissions.

 

Today, I share some of my Saturday dawn meditations with you, from 2014. In future weeks I shall share other years’ morning twilight musings with you.

And no matter where or how you live, take a day every week to go exploring where you are. Even if you are not traveling, be a tourist in your hometown. Go off and see the unknown barrios (neighborhoods), museums and markets – and write poetry and stories, take photographs or your day’s experiences.

Where shall I go off to? Where shall you? Until we next meet – SAFE JOURNEYS!

July 26, 2014 – A new day is dawning as I prepare for my usually walk-about, wandering and exploring, journal and camera tucked into my shoulder bag … photo © Lorraine Caputo

August 9, 2014 – This Saturday has dawned golden – hopes of much sunshine provoked. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo © Lorraine Caputo

September 20, 2014

I sit awaiting the dawn to spill colors across a new day.

To have a spectacular sunrise (or sunset), you need to have just the right amount of clouds in the sky. Too little, and the sun’s rays have no place to snag, no folds in which to pool. Too many, and the sun is muted.

But this morning the sky is über-cloudy, with only a few spaces where blue is emerging.

Indeed, here the rainy season has arrived. At 3 in the afternoon (or perhaps at 5), the rumbles begin echoing through the valley and down the narrow cobblestone streets. Then the crisp thunder overhead, the sharp, ragged lightening. Torrential rain and hail. Within an hour – perhaps more – it passes, as to breathe deeply after such wrath. Perhaps it has not ended, perhaps it shall weep throughout the evening, throughout the night.

Perhaps come next morning, the sky will awaken sunny, clear. Perhaps the emotions spent the night before will continue to cloud another day.

 

photo © Lorraine Caputo

November 8, 2014

When I awoke several hours before the dawn, heavy quilted clouds blanketed the sky. A thick band wavered over the unseen river.

But as the first dawn colors began to touch the sky, the quilt began to fray. And once the sun crested the eastern hill of this holy jaguar valley, the day turned golden.

I bathe in that newly risen star, writing these words, tucking my journal and camera into my shoulder bag …

 

photo © Lorraine Caputo

November 15, 2014

I was awake before the dawn. Birds softly sang for a short spell before falling silent. A dog barked – just a few yaps – then quieted. No traffic, no people …

This should have been my clue that this dawn would be mute. Nay – nary a touch of faded pink, of washed gold tinted the sky.

Layer of clouds upon layer of clouds. A thin, white band backdropped by slate-blue. The distant volcano half-visible, its snow blending into the white clouds beyond.

If the rains don’t come too soon this day, perhaps I shall be off a-wandering and exploring, journal and camera tucked into my shoulder bag …

… ready to capture lives and landscapes in poetry and photographs …

 

photo © Lorraine Caputo

November 29, 2014

Morning twilight is just beginning to paint the sky.

At this hour, the bald-headed man in the apartment above the corner bar is still blaring his music – audible through his shuttered doors and windows. (At least the off-key karaoke singing stopped before 2 a.m.)

All night I have been gathering information about submissions – and have sent off two poetry manuscripts.

But now I think it is time to reflect upon this new day a-dawning … and get a few hours precious sleep before heading to the market.

photo © Lorraine Caputo

December 13, 2014

This Saturday had dawned golden …

I walked out to the terrace to bath in that light …

But the call of long-neglected tasks called me to finally be done …

The sky cleared to a deep robin-egg blue, and so I did the wash and hung it

And then a late trip to the market, slipping through crowded streets, protecting my eggs for many blocks from the multitudes of holiday vendors and buyers crowding the walks and streets.

Now at this noon, dark clouds have rolled in …

Usually on Saturday, I go off a-wandering and exploring, journal and camera tucked into my shoulder bag, to capture lives and landscapes in poetry and photographs …

But in this rainy season, perhaps I shall opt to journey within today …

 

Drop by next month to go a-wandering into Saturdays’ Dawns of 2015.

Until then – explore, delight your senses …. and Safe Journeys!

 

 

SILENCE AND SOLITUDE : The Universe’s Call to Disconnect

SILENCE AND SOLITUDE : The Universe’s Call to Disconnect

One of the greatest necessities … is to discover creative solitude.

 – Carl Sandberg

 

Sometimes one needs the silence, the solitude – if for nothing else than to meditate on where one has been, where one is now … and ponder where the road may lead to wander in the future.

Sometimes that silence, that solitude is chosen. A few weeks in a beach hut in Zorritos is always a wonderful tonic for me. To spend long hours soaking in the hot springs up in the desert hills. Hours wandering the beach. Hours swimming in the Pacific Ocean, feeling my muscles stretch with each stroke. Hours sitting on the bamboo porch, writing poetry – or swaying in the hammock reading.

Or anyplace along the Caribbean. That warm sea serenades my spirit. A home for meditating, creating poetry, exploring nature.

Sunset at Zorritos. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Sunset at Zorritos. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Sometimes, though, we are called from without to be in silence and solitude … called to re-learn the old ways, before internet and cell phones (which I don’t have anyways).

And such is my place in this present. A thousand kilometers at sea, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. At night I hear its thunderous voice with the incoming tide. The wind rises, banging my door ajar wide open or closing it with a bang – a ghostly message to open my self to what is happening at that moment. Or a ghostly message to release my self of it.

Such is my place in this present. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Such is my place in this present. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Although the village is just a few kilometers away and its multi-colored lights serpentine across the night bay, here it is another world.

My few neighbors are scientists or students working to preserve these islands’ unique environment, and their flora and fauna. (Me – I’m here to preserve their work for future generations of investigators.)

Like the tourists, though, that flock here to gawk at nature’s bounty, we are here only for a while. We see specimens of that species Homo sapiens turiensis every day. Many colleagues walk or bike those several kilometers to interact with that world, only to return late at night on a dark road.

I prefer to be here at night. I prefer to sit out on the porch, watching the violently colored sunset over in that direction where the town lay. Venus is bright against that pallet. Then I watch the full moon rise above the long-extinct volcano’s slopes, now covered with wild vegetation. To wonder at the multitudes of stars dusted by the Milky Way, Mars bright red near Scorpio’s curling tail.

I listen to the sea, to the call of some night bird, the rustle of something unseen in the heavy growth of saltbush and espino.

Until the clouds begin to drift in off the bay. It is now time to repose, to drift away on that spirit serenade ….

Only to awaken with the dawning of a new day misted by the seasonal garúa and mockingbird melodies.

A golden dawn, assuring more garúa mist top fall this morn. photo © Lorraine Caputo

A golden dawn, assuring more garúa mist top fall this morn. photo © Lorraine Caputo

After a day of measurements and studies, of translations and writing reports, I often head to the beach near my temporary home.

At the gate, village youth park their bikes and head off, surfboards under arms. In these garúa months, the wind comes from the south, causing the bay’s waters to swell into curving waves.

I sit on the time-worn lava rock, watching those young folk bobbing in the platinum-blue waters. When a wave begins to rise, one paddles and catches it, riding the curl until it breaks into white froth.

Overhead fly blue-footed boobies. A yellow warbler hops amidst the purslane, pecking at the coarse soil. Behind me, an iguana sprawls, resting after his algae feast.

Life within a tidal pool. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Life within a tidal pool. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Or perhaps when I arrive, it is low tide (like it was today). Now it is a solitary beach, with only a few errant Homo sapiens turiensis taking photos of a pelican atop a mound of rocks, hunched against the chill breeze.

There is a silence broken by the shriek of an ashen-colored gull. A ruddy turnstone steps across these black fields, as does a whimbrel and over yonder, a dusky heron. Overhead, a boobie passes. A frigatebird circles over the shallows.

Carefully I step across the tumbled, fractured lava and peer into the tidal pools, at the life that is within. How many will find safe haven until the waters once more rise? A yellow warbler bathes in a small pool captured between algae-greened stones.

Yellow warbler bathing in a tidal pool. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Yellow warbler bathing in a tidal pool. photo © Lorraine Caputo

I take off my shoes. Feeling the rough sands of broken coral, shells and sea urchin spines beneath my bare feet, I begin to meld with the energy of this enchanted place. I merge my energy with its during qi chi chuan.

Doing Standing Five Elements, I feel the isles’ volcanic fire and the cool waters that wash this shore. Earth that slowly breaks down into soil, to accept the mangrove woods that take root. And finally the metal of minerals belched from the planet’s soul. Bringing all these energies into me, to balance me.

Then I Yang-dance more than a hundred postures across this coarse strand, shutting doors, grasping a grass sparrow’s tail, my hands waving like the clouds passing through this heaven, waving to Buddha …

Meditatively I close the session. The western sky over the village is awash with golden fuchsia. I gather my shoes in hand and walk barefoot to my temporary home to eat dinner under starlight, to the tidal music.

The full moon veiled by clouds coming in, promising another garúa-misted dawn. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The full moon veiled by clouds coming in, promising another garúa-misted dawn. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Silence and solitude is what this place gifts to me every moment.

Yet sometimes the silence deepens … the electricity may go out, plunging all in lava-black darkness. Not even those multi-color tourist hotel lights paint the bay.

Sometimes the internet fades away, cutting all ties with the outside world that lies beyond those clouds that bear garúa.

This is when I am reminded to return, to re-learn the old ways. To sit at the table on my porch, listening to the mockingbird song and the high tide, writing these words to share with you, to let you know that indeed I am still here.

Hope, I do, to be able to send this meditation to you from this island a thousand miles out at sea.

 

The earth has its music for those who will listen …

George Santayana

 

NEW YEARS 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.
©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) will 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 sheath of wheat placed in your home brings abundant food and prosperity in the New Year. ©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 will walk 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 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. ©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. ©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.

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. ©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. ©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

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

 

Another year ends, another yet begins. ©Lorraine Caputo

Another year ends, another yet begins. ©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

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.

Every year, Quito (Ecuador) erects a manger scene atop the Panecillo, on the south side of the Centro Histórico. The city claims this is the highest nativity scene in the world. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Every year, Quito (Ecuador) erects a manger scene atop the Panecillo, on the south side of the Centro Histórico. The city claims this is the highest nativity scene in the world. photo © Lorraine Caputo

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 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

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

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

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

WHEN THE VEILS PART : Honoring Our Dead – Part Three

Preparing the graves for Día de los Difuntos. El Tejar cemetery, Quito, Ecuador. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Preparing the graves for Día de los Difuntos. El Tejar cemetery, Quito, Ecuador. photo © Lorraine Caputo

1 NovemberAll Saints Day

DAY OF THE DEAD RAIN

Rain falls off the roofs

in cascades,

Rain moves across the street

like ocean waves.

 

A yellow dog stops

in the middle of the road,

looks around bewildered.

 

Beneath a bright green umbrella,

a mother cradles her child on her hip,

carries a plastic bucket with flowers.

 

The wind dies

for a moment …

the scents of marigolds

mums, gladioli drift by …

 

Signs swing,

their hollow tin-clang

is carried away.

 

Children huddle beneath

the roof eaves of the tortillería.

The smell of fresh tortillas

is lost on the strong wind.

 

Three piglets

trot across a dirt lot

seeking shelter from the storm.

Lightning slices the sky

like disappearing scars …

 

 

This morning

I found a dead scorpion

in the bath water.

 

Today

Families will carry the buckets filled with gladioli,

mums & marigolds to the cemeteries.

They will pull the weeds from the graves,

carefully place wreaths of paper & those flowers.

 

Tonight

The brujos will wander these streets—

everything will be closed against their presence.

Teenage students will disguise themselves

stop anyone out, demand money—or assault them.

 

 

Two teenage girls, huddled under a yellow tarp,

their sandals kicking up rain from the road,

carry home hot tortillas wrapped in pink paper.

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

The German community in Osorno (in the Lake District of Chile) has its own graveyard, called Cemeterio Alemán. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The German community in Osorno (in the Lake District of Chile) has its own graveyard, called Cemeterio Alemán. photo © Lorraine Caputo

2 November – All Soul’s Day, Día de los Difuntos

GALÁPAGOS SKETCHES

Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz

The morning dawns with a rain. Not really a rain rain, not really a garúa rain. Something in between. It ends & the day grows humid as we enter this four-day weekend. Today is Día de los Difuntos — Day of the Dead — & tomorrow the city of Cuenca’s Independence Day.
The woman who runs the dry-goods store at the station told me the mass will be at 10 a.m. in the cemetery; she’ll be there to clean her mother-in-law’s tomb.

(How do traditions transfer to a new place, a place without indigenous or native human populations, is one Galapagan facet that has been fascinating me.)

The cemetery is surrounded by a white wall that flows like the sea. Sometimes the stuccoed waves part to reveal a bit of the world within. On the street out front the graveyard gate, vendors are displaying wreaths of plastic & foil flowers, silk bouquets, candles, packs of palo santo incense. Others are just beginning to set up, to hoist blue tarps against the still-cloudy sky.

Within the undulating walls, tombs are being whitewashed. The black lettering of names, of dates is being freshened with a steady (or sometimes trembling, but loving) hand. The perfume of paint drapes in the humid breeze.

In front of one grave, always barefoot, always bare-chested Lobo Marino (so he calls himself) is standing with others with a family from the mainland Sierra. The woman wears a length of dark velvet wrapped around her waist & tied off with a faja, in the traditional way. A pinned-back dark-blue cloth upon her head hides her hair, many ropes of golden beads drapes her neck. The man has his greying hair pulled back in a pigtail; indigenous cloth sandals cover his feet. Their heads are bowed. He looks up & cries, What he would want, what we need is music to give him!

(How does this new species, Homo sapiens, adapt to its new environment? What traditions are continued? How are they adapted to a new environment? Cultural adaptation, cultural evolution.)

 

With a damp rag, man wipes the dust from that tiled tomb there. With a leafy branch, a woman brushes the dirt from this one near the mound of rocks upon which I sit. The bouquets are placed, the wreaths hung on simple gravestone crosses. Candles are lit. The flames dance, perhaps extinguishing in the breeze reviving, dancing, disappearing.

I share cookies with two children & their mother visiting her husband’s tomb. A small basket of overflowing with purple, orange, pink silk flowers leafed in plastic rests in front his name. She stoops to light a single taper. They leave e’er the mass begins.

The altar beneath a tree has been spread with a white lace-trimmed cloth. A man strums a guitar. The purple-albed priest calls those present for the Eucharist. The small choir begins to sing.

Other families arrive during the mass, setting to the task of cleaning & decorating of these final resting places. The adults — wives or husbands, sons or daughters — are seriously intent. The children look ‘round. Some seem a bit lost in these Day of the Dead traditions, some of them seem bored.

In front of a gayly painted tomb is the family of Ozumi. The size of this monument belies the infant cradled within. Mami’s, Papi’s & her siblings’ handprints decorate the sides. The bougainvillea harbor shades them from this tropical sun flickering through the clouds. & here I am, yet perched atop this mound of rocks partly buried beneath faded plastic, foil, silk flowers. A garishly blushed female lava lizard rustles the leaves. Fnches peck through the brush at my feet. The wind rises for a moment, seeming to beckon another shower this morning. A solidifying river of wax now anchors that candle to that wife’s, those children’s loved one’s grave. The flame yet fades, yet revives in the closing morn.

After sunset I return. The tide washes, washes only several hundred feet away. Outside the cemetery, on benches & curbs, a family shares their repast.

I stop at a stall still set up outside the cemetery gate. No, the woman says in a quiet voice, the guagua de pan is all gone. I sip a colada morada as I enter the yard, chewing on the chunks of pineapple, spitting the spicy clove seeds into my hand.

Many more graves are brighter under the haze of a three-quarter-full moon. In the sheltered niches of tomb façades, candles waltz & bow on a gusting breeze. Murmurs of families drift through the worn twilight. Beyond row & row of sites, glasses clink against a bottle. A child’s chuckling laugh further beyond. & singing.

A family of women stands at one monument near the front wall. I promise, I promise her I shall finally…, says one. A sea of tears washes her face shadowed by moon, by clouds, by candlelight. She then strokes the façade, strokes the newly blacked letters before crossing herself & steeping beyond the gate into the new night.

text © Lorraine Caputo

At the end of South America, on the Strait of Magellan, is another one of Latin America’s most beautiful cemeteries, that of Punta Arenas, Chile. photo © Lorraine Caputo

At the end of South America, on the Strait of Magellan, is another one of Latin America’s most beautiful cemeteries, that of Punta Arenas, Chile. photo © Lorraine Caputo

3 November

Though for most locales the holiday ended 2 November, in Coroico, Bolivia (96 kilometers from La Paz), it is just beginning.

No-one knows precisely why this village on the edge of the Nor Yungas jungle celebrates El Día de los Muertos on 3 – 4 November. But on those days, you’ll hear the revelry echoing up the road into town, all day and throughout the night.

On 8 November, in La Paz’ Cementerio General, Día de las Ñatitas

is observed.

So, let’s head down to Coroico to celebrate El Día de los Muertos with them.

¡Buen viaje!

DYING YUNGAS MOON

I.

The near-full moonlight

seeps through quilted clouds

raveling, revealing

a pure-white orb.

 

 

II.

The dusk thunder that

had rolled through these

deep jungle valleys

has silenced.

Its lightning still pulses white

from cloud

to cloud.

The eclipsing moon now

& again glimpsed

through the seams

of this night’s sky.

 

Until she is smothered

beneath a shower.

 

 

III.

All Soul’s Eve

I pirouette beneath

the waning moon,

a brilliant pearl

nested upon

rent cotton-wool clouds

silhouetted midnight blue,

billowing towards

the Amazon.

 

 

IV.

In the dead hours

On the Día de los Muertos

waifly fog drifts

through the village.

Phantom palm trees sway

in their swift

passage.

The moon, the stars,

the mountains invisible.

 

& once departed,

the light of this near-half moon

reveals mountain

silhouettes.

To the solitary song

of a cricket,

higher clouds

slowly thread

scant clouds.

 

 

V.

Lightning & thunder vibrate

through the cloud-

veiled sky

of stars &

half-moon.

The valleys, the

cobbles streets

echo with the music

of villagers feasting

with the dead.

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

The grave of Rachel Parodi Hulerig in the lot where her home once stood; she instantly killed during the in 2007 Pisco (Peru). Depending on the resources of a family, a person may be buried at the spot where she was killed. In other cases (such as road accidents), a “spirit house” will be built or a simple cross placed commemorating the moment and place the family’s loved one was killed. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The grave of Rachel Parodi Hulerig in the lot where her home once stood; she instantly killed during the in 2007 Pisco (Peru). Depending on the resources of a family, a person may be buried at the spot where she was killed. In other cases (such as road accidents), a “spirit house” will be built or a simple cross placed commemorating the moment and place the family’s loved one was killed. photo © Lorraine Caputo

WHEN THE VEILS PART : Honoring Our Dead – Part Two

San Diego cemetery is Quito’s oldest graveyard. Its beautiful funerary architecture is on par with that found in Latin America’s finest cemetery, Recoleta in Buenos Aires. photo © Lorraine Caputo

San Diego cemetery is Quito’s oldest graveyard. Its beautiful funerary architecture is on par with that found in Latin America’s finest cemetery, Recoleta in Buenos Aires. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Last Sunday of October – Visit a Cemetery Day

The last Sunday of October is Visit a Cemetery Day.

Already throughout Latin America, families are going out to the camposantos to clean and repaint the tombs of their dearly departed, readying them for the Día de los Muertos festivities.

Let us go to one of the most famous cemeteries in Latina America: Recoleta in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 

RECOLETA

In this gated

city within

the city

narrow calles

labyrinthing

Rest eternal souls of

doctors & founders

business moghuls

politicians, presidents

& heroes of forgotten wars

(Their grumbling yet

resounds about, around

Evita’s tomb

where fresh flowers

are lain)

 

Beneath their

Gothic spires, domes

beyond Doric columns

fine sculpture

Art Deco reliefs

Behind façades of

dimmed black granite

of façades now crumbled

revealing eroded brick

eroded mortar

Bronze honor plaques

deep-greened

wrought-iron doors

rusting & cobweb-woven

panes shattered

 

Stained glass windows still

kaleidoscope across

fallen plaster, dust of

long-gone flowers

covering

White marble altars

& carved caskets

decaying

in sultry

porteño summers

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

Chile, like its neighbor Argentina, lost many at the hands of military dictatorships. In northern Chile is Pisagua, which at least 11 times in the 20th century was home to political prisoner detention camps. In its cemetery is a monument to those killed in the Pinochet-era detention camp; these victims are commemorated on 29 October. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Chile, like its neighbor Argentina, lost many at the hands of military dictatorships. In northern Chile is Pisagua, which at least 11 times in the 20th century was home to political prisoner detention camps. In its cemetery is a monument to those killed in the Pinochet-era detention camp; these victims are commemorated on 29 October. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The Day of the Dead is not only a time to honor kin who have passed over to the other side, but others. This I dedicate to the estimated 30,000 who were killed and “disappeared” during Argentina’s military dictatorship (1976-1983). In that country, the victims are honored on 24 March.

In Rosario, Buenos Aires and other cities, former torture centers have been turned into museums. In an article, I make this warning about the one in Córdoba: “If you are particularly sensitive to energies, you might find this museum a bit overpowering.”

I wrote this poem upon visiting that center, as a way to ground myself.

 

ARCHIVO DE LA MEMORIA

Walking into that centuries-old building,

through a wall torn down

to reveal the memories

of that dark Dirty War

The testimonies of survivors

splayed through the air

& the memories that still

hang heavy

I sense those spirits

waiting on concrete benches,

cowling in pain

in small windowless cells,

names, dates scratched

in the plaster,

bodies dragged

through the maze of

narrow corridors

The memories

shove me

out

the doorways

of that subterranean

torture chamber

& that one

at the top

of steep stairs

I hear those screams

those thuds

slam

slam

slamming my head

against invisible

palpable walls,

echoing around me

from every corner

within this

Archives of Memory

 

published in :

The Más Tequila Review (Winter 2013)

http://themastequilareview.wordpress.com

A child’s recent grave in Villa O’Higgins, at the end of Chile’s Carretera Austral. photo © Lorraine Caputo

A child’s recent grave in Villa O’Higgins, at the end of Chile’s Carretera Austral. photo © Lorraine Caputo

BLACK ECHOES

I.

Large black moth

high on the

egg-shell wall

Silent       still

It tells no knowledge

except to those who

listen to its darkness

 

II.

Their conspiracy theories

& conspiracies

echo

 

Up stairwells

 

through salas

 

Their talk of death

& war

 

echo

 

echo

 

III.

Another day       another

black moth

I capture it in my

smaller hands

 

& let it escape

 

I speak to it

coaxing it onto

the broom straw

 

& carry it away to

the garden patio

 

It flies above the

third story

into the smoggy

afternoon

 

IV.

Their laughs

echo up stairwells &

through these salas

It’s all superstition

it’s all foolishness

 

The spirits listen

 

The crinkle of wrappers

the crunch       the melting

of chocolates

stolen from the ofrenda

Echo

 

up

 

& through

 

V.

Those laughs       those lies

no longer echo

 

The moths have disappeared

 

No-one is here who

will listen

to their darkness

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

Puerto Río Tranquilo is a hamlet of about 500 (living) souls on Chile’s Carretera Austral. On the south edge of the village is the cemetery. The small, hut-styled graves have an exclusive view of the lake’s turquoise waters. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Puerto Río Tranquilo is a hamlet of about 500 (living) souls on Chile’s Carretera Austral. On the south edge of the village is the cemetery. The small, hut-styled graves have an exclusive view of the lake’s turquoise waters. photo © Lorraine Caputo

31 October – Samhain – All Saints Eve – Hallowe’en

In the indigenous Celtic tradition, Samhain is the new year.

The old year has died with the frost, mouldering leaves and flurrying snowflakes. Death has arrived, and from death comes life.

When the veils between our worlds – of the Living and the Dead – are thin, is a good time to consult the spirits about what the future may hold.

 

SPIRIT SUITE

Étude Nº 13

Samhain midnight

I fall asleep       my future

spread out before me

 

& a while later I awaken

my moon flowing with

the rain along the

clay roof tiles

 

 

Morning       the clouds shower

& dry       & float away

Heat blazes the afternoon

 

& the sun sets in pallid ochres

orchids       peaches

It streaks the ragged

nebulous remnants

Faint stars appear in the

deepening dusk sky

 

 

Across the All-Saints-Day night tejas

the cats stroll on silent paw

Across the blue-grey city night

shuffles       waxes

the white moon above

 

My moon wanes bright red

 

 

All Souls Day       Day of the Dead

The cloudy dawn rumbles

& the soft rain washes

the empty streets

Fallen white tree flowers die on the

green grass of the Plaza

Their damp fragrance wafts

through the vacant air

 

The droplets splatter

on the clay roofs

They dance on the heart-

shaped leaves of the chapata trees

the bronze-green ones of avocadoes

The rain’s whispered song is carried on

the gentle southern breeze

 

 

In the evening       from below

a soft song of a young man

fingering his charango

 

 

This night a friend visits me

again       in my dreams

I ask her, What are you doing here

not wanting to say

because you’re dead

With her crooked smile

she responds

To see what you’re up to …

 

 

In an aquarelle blur

these days wax with

rain & clouds in morning

they wane with humid

sun most afternoons

 

 

Again this evening       from below

that young man’s soft

charango song

I drift away on his melody

 

& awaken at three

The silvery full moon

shines bright behind

the patchy clouds drifting

this time       from the north

 

 

The dawn approaches

bringing a showerless dawn

 

& my moon continues

to wane       continues

to flow       deep red

in drought

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo