Tuesday, October 30, 2012

To Sopla or Spritz

On a forum I occasionally join, someone has recently been discussing the use of utilizing atomizers rather than sopla when cleaning people. Okay, that's insider talk. I'll try to make it mean something. In South American curing, what people call shamanism or curanderismo, it is believed that people often pick up negative energy which can become illnesses or debilities. When they go to see a curandero or shaman to have those negative feelings looked into, a curandero or shaman (man or woman) will generally utilize smoke and perfume to help them "see" the negative points or junk on the person. The way that's done, with smoke, is to take a hit from a mapacho (black tobacco) cigarette, then blow it out over the person feeling the negativity. It might be repeated several times. The smoke, considered sacred, will help a curandero/curandera or shaman to focus on the areas around the person, or on the person, where there is a disturbance: The negativity. Once located there are many ways to eliminate it, "cleansing" the person/their aura, which leads to the end of the debility it caused.
    Now perfume is also used for the same purpose: the standard perfume utilized in the Amazon is Agua Florida, a cologne that smells like orange water. In the mountains, Agua Florida is also sometimes used, but more generally Agua de Kananga is utilized. Both are made by the same company, Murray and Lanman, a company based in New York and Peru.
    To utilize the liquid, the curandero/shaman pours a small amount of it into his/her mouth, then sprays it out like an atomizer in a rainbow over the recipient's head. It is often done several times, creating a sort of veil through which the curandero/shaman can see the negativity that has attached itself to his/her patient. The spraying of that perfume is called "sopla" from the Spanish verb, soplar, which means "to blow." So Sopla'ing is "blowing"--as in spitting out the rainbow of perfume.
    Now a friend of mine has been suggesting that the idea of a sopla is old fashioned and that people should get with the program and start using spritzers or atomizers to spread the perfume. The rationale is that a sopla gets mixed with spit and if you have a virus you might pass that on. Also that the material burns your mouth--which it does--and isn't necessary as a tool in South American shamanic practice.
    I'm old fashioned and I disagree. I think it's very important. And I've written a few answers in the thread, but just wrote one that I think makes it very clear why I stand where I do. Here's what I wrote:
     You guys are still missing the point, I think. The spray doesn't matter, the smoke doesn't matter-in and of themselves. What matters is that the person doing the sopla is passing their spirit through the smoke or the agua florida to the recipient. There really is no spit, as anyone who sopla's knows. And no disease in the world is going to last in Agua Florida with its 96% alcohol base--with water, yellow die and natural essence of flowers. But to pour it on someone does not impart your soul to them. To spritz it on someone does not impart your spirit, just the material. I think what you sopla with doesn't matter at all: things like Agua Florida got used because someone brought it up and down the rivers and mountains and sold it to lots of people. Just like Taboo, ayahuasca's favorite cologne: Someone brought that up and down the rivers 90 years ago and it became the standard cologne to use in ayahuasca ceremonies in the lowlands. To me, those are pretty incidental. What's vital is that whether you use water, beer, whiskey, whatever, you have taken the liquid to be sopla's into your mouth, taken a moment to put your soul into that, and then with full spiritual intention, used that spirit power to clean/protect/pray for the recipient in the moment you sopla them. That protection lasts a long time, longer than any perfume or cologne: You have given the gift of your soul. And I don't see how you do that from a spritz bottle.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Oh, Sometimes Being Dad is a Pain in the Butt

Madeleina, my baby, hates me. She has not been here for 5 days--unheard of. The problem is probably normal, but killing me. She's in the band, and then she failed a course so she was suspended. I don't mind that. But she was telling me, for the whole first six weeks, that her work was done. And then it turned out that three of her teachers called me in the sixth week to say she was 6-8-10 homeworks/tests behind. When I asked her about it there was an excuse. Well, I wasn't great about that. I gave her three/four days off from school to catch up, but at the same time I was stern in that I told her I never ever wanted her to lie to me again. If you didn't do the work, admit it. If you need help because you don't understand, I'll understand. But if you tell me no sweat, that it's done, when you know damned well it's not done, well, that's a lie. And I'm not big on lies. Not saying I've never lied. I am not a saint. But I try my darnedest to be honest, even when it kills me.
   She understood.
   Then last week she called Chepa to take her out of school because she was unexpectedly bleeding. Well, I'd taken her out of school two weeks earlier for the same thing. And unless she's bleeding to death, one of those two was not true. Chepa said that when she got home it turned out that she said it was a mistake, that she wasn't bleeding at all.
    I called Madeleina and asked her to explain. She couldn't/wouldn't. She just didn't want to go to a tough class.
    Next day Chepa called me, nearly in tears, saying that Madeleina was screaming that she'd be a prostitute, go off and be a bum, but she didn't want to go to school. Didn't need school. Would not talk with me about it.
    I calmed Chepa down, then calmed her down two more times that day. Chepa was upset, and it takes a lot to get her upset.
    That night, when it was time to pick Madeleina up, she wasn't there. But an hour later she called from a phone that wasn't hers and a dozen kids were screaming "help" in the background. Then she hung up. I called back: They were still screaming and she hung up again.
    Two minutes later she called to say it was just a joke and they were having a good time and come to pick her up. I was pissed off. To say the least. I told her that she was facing three nights without television or internet or phone: Just homework.
    She hung up. And I have not heard from  her since.
    This is a beautiful, fantastic girl who has never been spanked. Not once. Never been grounded. But she is pushing limits here, reasonable limits with adult conversations that she appears to understand. I miss her like crazy. She won't talk to me. Chepa says that Madeleina thinks I'm still upset.
     I'm not actively upset. But for lying to me, for lying to her mom, for not doing the work she said she did, for letting her band mates down by failing...well, she still has to pay the piper with a couple of days of just doing homework.
     I miss her like crazy. But parents know better most of the time. I was 15, I know about rebellion. I also know that getting taken to task now and then is a good thing, finally.
     Dad still loves you endlessly, Madeleina. But you think you're old enough to drive a car? Not if you won't take responsibility for telling the truth about your homework or if you let your team down by getting disqualified, you don't. That's just reality, girl. It is not what we want, but it is the way this world works.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

My Uncle Neale

My uncle Neale has passed. Earlier this week, my uncle Neale F. Hooley left this plane at age 81. Good for him to make it that far. He was the youngest of the Hooley Clan, my mother's side of the family. My mother was 15 years older than him and she was several years younger than her brother Jack Hooley, the oldest of the seven Hooley kids. I always liked the name Hooley. A Hooley is a sort of mayhem in the streets. The word hooligan comes from Hooley, so that gives you an idea. Hell raisers.
    There were seven kids in all: My uncle Jack, a newspaper reporter who covered wars and strife; my aunt Ag, a professor at Bowling Green University who helped coach a couple of women's olympic teams; my uncle Clem, a great big guy who used to do cartoon work for the Farmer Gray type of cartoons, then became a salesman, then won a Pillsbury National Cookoff; my aunt Sienna, who made a living as a speedreader and pinched our cheeks mercilessly when we were kids; my mom, a New York Times lingerie model who went into radio acting and invented what was later known as the "Brooklyn" voice, you know, "des, dems, dos..."; Neale, who was the baby who played Class B baseball after college--I'm not sure it was after or before his stint in the marines--and then became a lawyer and finally a judge. Dick Hooley is the last of the family: An economist who's worked with several presidents and the UN. What happened to me? Don't ask. But the Hooley's were a good bunch. Full of fun, full of vigor. Big people--Way bigger than the Gorman side of the family. Jack Hooley, grandpa, was probably 6'4" and he was born in the 1880s in Ireland and came over to the US as an indentured servant working the Boston Rail Yard. When he finished his stint he went to NYU and became an engineer with 41 patents to his name. His kids were raised at a gorgeous house in Larchmont, NY, and then at their sprawling Park Ave. apartment at 1296 Park Ave. at 96th street, where we used to go as kids to watch the Thanksgiving Day Macy's Parade with all the floats and Irish marching bands.
   All our aunts and uncles were cool. Jack (probably Jr. though we never heard that term) introduced me to Chinese food on a visit to his place sometime in the 1960s. Clem was a riot, always saying he wasn't hungry but tasting about 1/2 of all the food meant for our family of eight, plus him. Ag taught us ferocious volleyball. Sienna just made us laugh. Mom, Madeleine, well, she was mom and everyone came to visit us on the holidays. And Neale was the baby. He was a strapping boy: I mean he was probably 6'1" and all muscle. He was just a wall of a man when we were little kids. My sister Regina reminded me today of when he got his first car, a Volkswagon bug, and we were all excited and he took us for rides in it. When he got older and made some money he switched from Volks to collecting a few old Bentleys. And Regina also reminded me of the time when we put a piece of plastic cheese into a sandwich we'd made him. "Do you remember? He kept trying to chew it and couldn't!" she laughed.
    We had some memorable times with him. A few stand out: Once, when I was looking to sell things on the street in front of our house--my allowance wasn't big enough for my comic book and candy appetite--I found his military pistol and put that up for sale along with all the metals I found on his dress military jacket. I think one of the neighbors bought it and brought it back to my mom, suggesting that I probably shouldn't be selling an automatic .9mm on the street.
    Another time he was babysitting my younger sisters Barbara and Regina and me. We were in the girls' bedroom jumping off the top bunk bed. Well, we, probably me, wound up dropping an 8' length of ceiling molding on his head and he was upstairs in a split second threatening us with mayhem if we did not just sit down and be quiet for a couple of hours. (My dad made me spend two days screaming and kicking with him while he found the lumber, glue, gesso and paint and rebuilt the damned molding to look like the original.)
    And then there was baseball. That's where we really, really converged. He'd played pro, as I said. And my brother played at Archbishop Molloy and then at St. Johns, both perennial powerhouse teams. They would go out nearly every Saturday and bring a big bag of balls and pitch to each other. I'd sit myself in left-center and catch or chase the balls. They would each get about 20 swings, then reverse the order. Both had good arms and pitched hard. I want to say they'd each get about 100 swings--which meant I learned to shag flies and pick up line drives on a hop pretty well--before they'd call it quits. And then they'd give me maybe 20 swings before we all went in Neale's Volks for a soda. I often got a good cream or root beer. I always resented that I only got 20 swings after shagging 200 balls, but at the same time it made my arm so strong that even now I can throw the hell out of a ball if you give me just five or ten warm up tosses.
   So almost that whole family is gone. They were a great family and I'm glad I was allowed to be part of it. And Neale was a great uncle to have. We always kept in touch, at least at Christmas. He had kids I only met once or twice, and a lovely wife I met a couple of times. I mostly knew him when he was younger and I was a kid. I hope his passing was easy. I hope he's in a good place with my mom and his brothers and sisters. I hope his kids and wife are alright.
   Thanks for being my uncle, Neale.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

With the Election Close, I Am Weighing In

Dear Readers: I know that some of you read my blog to see things I post about my family. And I know that some of you read the blog to see things I post about ayahuasca and sapo, Peruvian jungle medicines. And I think some of you read this blog because you hit "Naked swim meets" and I am embarrassed about that but I did write about the one swim meet I was involved in during high school where one of the teams was naked, so I suppose it comes up on google. I don't know why so many people are punching that phrase into google and it sort of gives me the willies. More than that, it definitely gives me the willies.
    But I am primarily a political writer. I write about the underdogs who don't get a fair shake from the system. I write about poor people trying to scrape by. I write about avaricious politicians.
    But now the election is coming up. And I think it is a very important election. I think we have to go to democrats and independents, and the occasional republican who can see what's best for the entire USA rather than partisan politics. And I will vote for those who do that, regardless of party line. Here in Texas, that will mean most/all democrats. But for the first 30 years of my voting life, in New York, that meant crossing all sorts of lines.
     One of the big, recent issues has been the killing of a US Ambassador in Bengazi, Libia, along with three other US personnel. Yes, it is a big deal. Yes, it is a wretched tragedy. But no, it should not be political fodder. And I found myself responding to someone the other day on the DesMoines Register website. And I realized that when I did that I have been silent, mostly. That is the journalist in me: Trying to be fair at all times, not registering my own feelings, or putting them into the fight. But I felt the need then and so I will pass on what I wrote to all of you. If you disagree, okay. Tell me why. Keep it on point and I'll respond. Because the thing of it is that I think Obama is taking heat for this that is so ridiculous that I'd like to talk face to face with everyone giving it to him. In my opinion, most raining down shit on Obama for Bengazi  don't have the first clue about international politics.
   Anyway, here is what I responded to one of the people who was talking about the "cover up" and all that nonsense.

"You're kidding, right Ms. B? I mean, let's say there is an attack on an unprotected consulate in a foreign country--and all consulates are essentially unprotected as that's the law in foreign countries. Do you expect that a sitting president, even if he has all the facts--and those take weeks to come out as a rule, or months, sometimes years--to just glibly get on tv and talk about the attack? Are you out of your mind? In this case there was a seven-man CIA unit attached to that consulate's safe house. You get on tv and they're outed and killed too. Plus everyone you've been working with in the region who is imbedded with the enemy: They die as well.
     To imagine that Obama had full information at real time in so precise a manner that he could talk about it without endangering anyone is just nuts. To think the president i

s beholding to you to discuss state secrets, secret missions, or even the reason an Ambassador was in a dangerous and by-law essentially minimally protected consulate rather than in a fortified Embassy hundreds of miles away--is unfathomable. You discuss secrets of state with operatives, not the general public. Hell, we had the world trade centers come down and 11 years later we are not through investigating. 

    That you, unless you have a good level of clearance, imagine that the president--when he has not gotten all the information, which he still does not have--owes you a guess at what happened halfway around the world, well, if you do I think you ought to come clear about your clearance. Because that information, even if known, is none of your freaking business. Stuff happens. Operatives are in constant danger of being exposed. Secrets need to be kept to protect assets, even in a crisis moment when tragedy occurs and four of ours die. What about the rest of them? What about the seven CIA? Did you want President Obama to go on television and say "Hey, we lost four people today in a consulate where they were warned not to be, but there are at least seven CIA guys who are going to make it out of country alive. They're at the airport now. And we've got another 12 Americans who will be leaving tomorrow. Don't tell anyone..." 

    That's what I wrote. I don't have clearance. But I ran a bar in the Amazon where people who did came in and got drunk and told me things they shouldn't have and I stopped two or three black-ops in their tracks when I printed what was said. So I know something about security and security breaches. And I know that you should not get on the tv--or talk in a bar--about secret missions. So I don't like attacking Obama on this at all. Not one bit. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

New Lawn Mower

Okay, sometimes I'm just not with it. I mean, most of the time I'm ahead of the curve, but sometimes--like learning how to turn on the television without having to call Italo to come to the house to do it--well, I'm way way way behind the curve.
   And today I just discovered another area in which I'm behind the curve: Lawn mowers.
   Now I've only got 1.47 acres here. And once the government actually takes the .30 acres they've taken by eminent domain but not actually taken yet, well that will drop to about 1.17 acres. A big lawn, but not impossible to keep after.
   So I've always had a small push mower: You mow one of the several lawns, then rake it, then move on to the next one the next day. If I did that every day I could do the whole seven lawns every week. A lot of work, maybe two/three hours a day.
   And then about four years ago my mower died and I bought a new one. That had a bag behind it to collect the clippings. That was unbelievable! No raking! Just empty the bag now and then! Why didn't someone think of that before 2008? Who knows? Maybe they did but I didn't hear about it till then!
    So I've had friends in for a few days at a time for several weeks now. Lots of fantastic people, lots of medicine from the jungle, lots of great great great food. But during that time I've sort of ignored my lawn and yesterday I'd had enough. Time to cut the damned thing. Like Tom Waits said years ago: "shave and a haircut, two bits...." So I was trimming the lawn and my friends were raking the very front yard and Madeleina was scrubbing down the front porch and we were all working and happy and then my mower quit. I tried to start it. Maybe 20 times. Wouldn't start. Then I noticed it was leaking gas right next to the spark plug. Which made me glad it wouldn't start. Thank you, powers that be that kept that thing from exploding in my face.
   But I wanted to work and I've already fixed that mower several times. More: My Home Depot credit card was down to $400 and the price of a new mower wouldn't even have it hitting $800 total, so I excused myself from Madeleina and my pals and went and bought a new one. Bought one that was supposed to be pretty good. Got it back and during the Cowboys/Ravens football game I put it together. Later in the day I got it going and mowed half the large front lawn--not the lawn in front of the house, but the front lawn past the fence to the right of that one. About 60' by 100'. I had already done half of half of it when the old mower started leaking, so I just finished the half and called it quits.
    And then today, going through the book to find something out about the mower, I stumbled on the fact that this particular mower has something you push which makes it self-propelled. Self-propelled! Can you imagine? I pushed the thing and the next thing you know I'm chasing the mower, just trying to keep up and aiming it in the direction of the grass that needed cutting! Who ever heard of such a thing? Is this what rich people have? No wonder they don't mind doing the lawn! I mean, you hit an ant colony and normally you have to push through it and push through it: Today, once I found the magic button, the machine just roared through them!!!! No wonder people want to be rich! They get bags that collect the cuttings so they don't have to rake, and they have mowers that drive on their own, without you pushing them! Can you imagine? I'm telling you, it's not a lie. They really have those things! So if you need a mower, get one! This is not futurific thinking, this exists! I am amazed! Who invented this? When? Why didn't they tell me?
    What a world we live in! Bags to collect cut grass! Self-propelled mowers! Next thing someone is going to tell me is that they make mowers you can ride on and drink beer while you're mowing. Like I'll believe that! Ha! How dumb do they think I am???

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Best World/The Real World

Okay, so the best world, in my opinion, happened yesterday. My son Marco came over at 8 AM to borrow one of my little trucks to do a favor for a friend of his who has just moved into his own apartment. The favor was to give the kid a television that Chepa, my wife/ex-wife, had in her garage. So they all got points for that. Then, about noon, my son Italo came over with his daughter Taylor Rain to watch football with me. An hour later Chepa showed up with my Madeleina--who had been at her house for two nights--and Sierra and Alexa, the babies. While Chepa cut my hair, I set out watercolors and paper for everyone and there are now maybe 20 new pieces of art in the house. Then crayons, then chalk, so that the front porch is gorgeous too. And then Chepa looked for the nail polish remover and sat in the sun in the driveway removing her toe nail polish while the kids ran through a huge puddle at the bottom of the driveway screaming "La la la la la la la..." a million times and getting soaked head to foot in the new rain. And while they did that I got out the guitar and began singing the "La la, don't get your head wet" song I was making up which they loved, which segued into the "My mother never bought me a big pumpkin" song when Alexa saw the huge pumpkin I'd bought and started crying that Chepa had never bought as big a pumpkin for her.
   Somewhere in there everyone ate fruit---pears, plums, watermelon--and chicken and rice, and sugary ice pops. And the girls each snuck a bit of coffee and made a mess and it was all just freaking perfect.
   That's the best world.
   And then there is the real world: today I spoke with a woman brought into the holding cell at the local jail who squatted to poop on the pot and was laughed at for two hours because with her knee replacements she couldn't get up. And then I spoke with someone who pays their children in pennies for housework because she can't afford more--and this is a woman making nearly $10 an hour but one of Romney's 47 percent for sure. And then I spoke with someone from my neighborhood who asked where the government cheese is because there are nine people at her house and she cannot afford to feed them--they are all working minimum wage and cannot pay for gas to go to work plus an apartment, plus food. Neither can she. So they are staying with her until they can save up to get their own places. I was thrilled to be able to tell her where to get lots of food. Not of her choice, but lots of it.
    I prefer my "best world" to the real world. There are very very few failures among the people. The issue is whether society has let them down. And the answer is yes. Some people squat on a pot and simply cannot get up because their knees don't work. They need a hand. And laughing at them, pointing fingers at them is not a solution. Putting a handrail in that they can use to give themselves a hand up might be. It's a simple answer but could go a long way to making this a better real world.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Don't Buy This Animal

This is an old piece that I came on this morning while looking for a file I'd misplaced. It was written for a conservation magazine about 15 years ago, I think, but is still a good reminder for all of us who spend time in exotic locales where cute little animals are difficult to resist--and animal parts are often integral to the beautiful artisanal goods offered for sale. Sorry about the type size; I don't know how to change it. Yikes!


Eco-Tourists, Locals, and the Marketplace Decimating Peruvian Amazon’s Wildlife

By Peter Gorman

Carlos Lelaguilar Gomez stands behind his makeshift street stand, showing off his day’s wares: three lionsitos, several piwiches, one lorro, one choshna, several speckled caiman, and a couple of tarakayas. When asked, he also produces a boa, a toucan and a perisoso—a three toed sloth—from two bags he keeps beneath his table.

Gomez is an animal vendor. He sells his animals on Jiron Taia, one of the busiest streets in Iquitos, Peru’s sprawling marketplace of Belen.

“How much for the choshna?” someone asks, pointing to the beautiful Amazonian speckled bear, known locally as the monkey bear. 
“Twenty soles,” he says, about $8.50 U.S. dollars.
“And the lioncito?”
The lioncito is a rare black tamarin monkey. Like the speckled bear, it is an endangered species. Many of Gomez’s animals are. Others, like the parrots and macaws that occasionally appear for sale on Jiron Taia, aren’t endangered but they are becoming rare in many places.
Still, business is good for Gomez and the other animal sellers in Iquitos. He sells two or three animals a day, doubling the price the wholesaler charges. The wholesaler, in turn, is buying the animals for a couple of soles, about a dollar, from farmers coming to sell their goods in Iquitos. For the farmers, the animals are generally “free money,” often caught just to pay their fare on the riverboats that bring them from their fields to the city.
For the animals, the small cottage industry is devastating. Gomez admits to losing one animal for every three he sells, and he’s probably downplaying his losses.
“Sometimes they just die,” he shrugs. “What can I do?”
He has no idea that many of the animals he’s selling are endangered, and that others are protected species. For him, it is a job and a more lucrative one than he had selling coffeepots.
But the animals for sale on Jiron Taia are only one of several components devastating the wildlife throughout much of Peru’s Amazon region. According to Dr. Richard E. Bodmer, who’s been studying primates in the Peruvian forests for several years, the primary impact comes from the market impact.
“While there is some skin trade and some trade in live animals in Iquitos,” says Dr. Bodmer, “the real impact on animal life is in the market. Think about all of the animals killed and sold for meat. And then think about the hunters,” he adds. “While they're out there in the monte, the hills and forest, looking for the valuable market meats like peccary, tapir and jungle deer, they’ve got to eat. And what they’re eating are monkeys, armadillo, the smaller animals. So the real impact is the market. And until that changes there will be problems.”
What Dr. Bodmer says is true for the larger mammals, as well as for the two most sought after species of large river turtles, tarakaya and charapa—both endangered but still openly sold in Belen’s markets—as well as for caiman. But there is no meat-market value for sloths, parrots, macaws, anteaters, jaguars, ocelots, pumas, speckled bears, snakes and most of the primates found in Peru’s rainforest, all of which are being decimated almost exclusively by either the pet or skin trades. An ocelot skin goes for between eight and twenty dollars. A jaguar skin for $50 to $100. Live baby ocelots are sold for under $15. One local woman who recently bought one thought she was actually doing the animal a favor.
“If I don’t buy it it will just die in the market. And when it gets too large to keep in the house, my husband and I will free it in the forest.” In the meantime, though, she’s had its front claws removed to keep it from harming her children. She has no idea that without them it will starve to death within days of being released. 
Locals are not the only forces preying on the jungle and river wildlife. On a typical day in Iquitos, at least 15 vendors hover around the tourist center of town offering monkey teeth necklaces, stuffed piranha’s and baby caiman, snake, ocelot and jaguar skins, and other animal body parts. And at the nationally sponsored San Juan artisania, snakes, squirrels, birds of prey and other animals are kept in cages and groomed so they can be killed, then stuffed and posed for the tourist trade. Most of the tourist trade in Iquitos is in eco-tourism, people who should know better. But, like the woman who bought the ocelot, many of the eco-tourists who buy these animals and their products think that either their buying a single stuffed baby caiman won’t really hurt anything, or that their purchase of a live animal is really doing the animal a favor.
And the sellers are more than willing to tell the right story to get past the tourist’s conscience. Jaguar skulls come from old zoo animals who died naturally; caiman skins and teeth come from animals who were killed for their meat; parrots and macaws were house pets that have to be sold to provide money for food.
Some of the stories may occasionally be true. But that doesn’t lessen the impact those losses have on animal populations. 
To combat those losses, an enormous amount of education must take place. Locals who have a taste for carne de monte, jungle meat, must be made aware of the impact their food choices have on the rainforest ecosystem, that ocelots are not pets and a jaguar pelt hanging on a wall is a symbol of shame rather than a sign of wealth. Eco-tourists must encourage one another that “one little stuffed caiman” will indeed hurt the caiman population.
Some of that education has begun taking shape. To highlight Peru’s efforts to protect some of its endangered river species, several years ago former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori himself went out into Peru’s protected Amazon lakes posing as a fisherman willing to pay a little graft to gain permission to poach. In one instance he wound up firing several corrupt officials willing to take his money. With considerably less fanfare, scientists like Dr. Bodmer have been studying the mammal populations in some of the Peruvian jungle’s most overhunted areas and developing, with local scientists, wildlife management systems which encourage sustainable hunting techniques. But more is needed to keep the current levels of decimation from escalating out of control.
Ironically, for many of the species sold for skin and souvenirs, it may be the tourist trade itself—which encourages the street sellers and artisans to deal in animals—that finally closes the industry down. Several prized souvenir species have already disappeared from Peru’s forests. Others, like jaguars and puma, are becoming scarce. One wholesaler on Jiron Taia said he used to get 10 jaguar skins and skulls a week; now he gets one or two. But while his price to the hunters has gone up, his selling price has remained stable. Other prize skins, like Anaconda, which used to sell for $6 a meter, now sell for only $4—not because tourists want the skins less but because large anacondas are very rare these days and smaller ones simply don’t hold the same allure for buyers.
But nothing will work as well as eco-tourists simply putting their money where their tee-shirts are and passing the animal vendors by.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Sometimes My Head Wants to Explode

Some stories are visceral. You live them, you write them. Others are like math problems. You might have part of them as something you know from  having lived it, but to get that out, to make that important--as important as it ought to be--you have to back up and go through the physical events you were not part of to briefly explain how you got to the visceral, heart, part.
   One of those will show up in my local alternative as a cover a week from tomorrow. I lived part of the story: I got wet, walked in woods wondering if traps were set, crossed a creek or two after I took my shoes off. My camera froze. I didn't get a lot of time with the principals. But I lived a little of the time. But to explain why that little time was important, I was forced to go back several years in physical history to talk about how things came to be how they are. And that was liking eating a bucketful of ice: My brain froze at the idea of needing to look up quotes from more than 100 sources to cross check everything. My brain nearly exploded trying to figure out what was the best way to present the info--the way that would most likely keep readers reading rather than turning my story into fish wrap before they were done.
   I think I've done it. I've been on the case for a month, and history of the subject goes back a couple of years. But trying to piece it together in a new way, with new information, to go over the whole story with people who vaguely remember reading something about it 2-3 years ago, well that was the brain squeeze.
   So now I'm exhausted. The final six hours of today, after days of trying different approaches, seemed to make sense to me. Why didn't I see it before? I don't know. Just had too many facts going on in my head and had not weeded out those that were not the most pertinent--which led me down several wrong paths, which subsequently froze my brain.
   So now I think my story is good. I think next week you will all be in for a freaking treat. I think I've made the very difficult very easy to understand. All it took was about three years off the functioning of my brain.
   I love my job. Even when I hate it.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Italo, Madeleina and Marco, and a Friend

What a fantastic weekend and pre-weekend I had. I'm in the middle of a wonderful story about people exercising their right to object to big business--look for it at the fwweekly.com site a week from Wednesday--and my fantastic boss is on my case to get a draft in. But the news changes daily and life marches on, interfering with everything. For instance: Chepa's boyfriend's parents came to visit her, which changed the times I could visit with the babies, both of Chepa's babies as well as my granddaughter, the beautiful and fantastic Taylor Rain. But then Thursday, the day I was crunching to get my story draft in to my boss, my oven caught fire and burned out two elements in a very scary, smoky way.
   Italo came over--by luck he was off that day--to see what was up, and he figured out what I needed and I gave him the credit card and he ordered the elements we needed. That took nearly 4 hours, all of it with me not writing my story. Then he left, and I had Taylor Rain for three more hours alone, which meant a lot of painting, a lot of wonderful kid stuff, but not much writing.
   Friday morning my friend Jeremy, whom I met when he came into my bar for beer in Iquitos, Peru--the semi-famous Cold Beer Blues Bar--about 10 years ago. He was a youngster compared to me, but we became friends and he decided to visit this weekend. Which killed a lot of writing time on Friday. We had a great weekend visit: We had some Jim Beam, we talked politics and the electronic age, we made fantastic food despite not having an oven or one of the big stove burners, and while he was here Madeleina was here. She played with the band at a football game that Jeremy and I attended on Friday night, the night of his arrival, then had a band contest on Saturday, so wasn't around too too much. But Marco came over twice and Italo showed and Chepa came over with Alexa and everyone ate like pigs and I felt like a dad again and I loved the visit and Today the parts for the stove came while I was taking Jeremy to the airport and my boss is pissed off that she has not got a story-draft yet but I know that having lived these last few days with lots and lots of live around me--plus 5 AM-2PM daily working on the story--well, that's gonna make a better story when I give it to her tomorrow afternoon. And then we'll work it, massage it, fill in the blanks till next Tuesday when it goes to press, and in that time two more friends are coming in from out of town.....boy, I sometimes love my life! I love having visitors, I love having grownups to talk with, I love writing my stories, I love my editor.
   And now, this second, I'm off to put some marinated chicken thighs in the oven that Italo fixed. And I am going to put thin sliced red potatoes in water and boil them, then saute them with garlic till they are good and brown, and then I'm making some simple broccoli. And that's what Madeleina and I, alone again, are going to eat: A chicken thigh, some sliced garlic red potatoes and steamed broccoli. And for dessert we're having Bartlett Pears. While I watch the New York Jets. Whom I hope will remember how to play football.
   Have a good one everyone. Thanks for fixing things, Italo. Thanks for entertaining Jeremy, Marco. And thanks for all the rest, Madeleina. I love you all.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

One More Time: No Sex With Ayahuasca Guests

I'm not sure, but I might have told this story before. And if I did, I'm sure I'll tell it a little differently than I did. That doesn't make it less true, it just means I'm grabbing the imagination and history that I have this second and not doubling back to check word for word what I wrote. The essence is the same.
    On an ayahuasca board on which I blasted last night--and which has left me feeling very humble and vulnerable today--someone has started a thread about a curandero who has violated clients. Had sex with them, and maybe raped them, though since I wasn't there I can't comment on that. But I can comment, and felt the need, to comment on the whole concept of curanderos/people in positions of power taking advantage of people in vulnerable emotional states. So this is what I wrote, and as noted, if I've written this before on this blog, I apologize for repeating.

After my blast on another thread last night, I'm feeling gun shy, but this is an important enough issue that I should speak up. I take small groups out to the jungle, as many of you know. I've always got a bigger team than I have guests--a basic rule for me. My team always includes women, generally several, to keep the right balance on a lot of levels.
     I find ayahuasca sexy. And I think a lot of people do. But there must be the clearest line, people must absolutely trust the people they are drinking with to not cross that line. When he serve, participate in serving, bring people to someone who serves the medicine, we are absolutely obligated to their spirit, their body, their mind. That's the job, and if you can't do it you shouldn't try. Nonetheless, sometimes guests imagine things that are not true, and their imaginings can put us in a quandary. My best anecdote along those lines occurred five or six years ago. After ceremony I invited the guests down to the kitchen for some papaya with lime and hot tea, after which they would go back to their mosquito nets with the idea of finishing their dreaming there. Well, this one young woman, A, didn't want to leave when the others did. So we sat and talked a while.
    So this absolutely beautiful woman stayed after everyone else left and at some point she said, "I love you. I want to sleep with you." Well, that was not gonna happen because rules are rules. But I wasn't sure how to handle it. She was still somewhat under the influence of the medicine and what she really meant was that she liked the way I helped protect her--with my team--during ceremony. Nothing more. But in her state it came across as love and she wanted to share that. So I looked to the heavens and asked for a way out without affecting her with negativity--I knew, for instance, that simply saying, "I don't want to sleep with you" would have been a very wrong thing to say in that instance. She really thought she wanted to sleep with me because she thought she was in love. I knew better. And thank goodness, the heavens answered and I got a solution. After she said the "sleep with you" thing about five times, it dawned on me and I said: "Well, that's a beautiful thought and I'd love to sleep with you as well. Now I sleep on that bench, and if you sleep on the bench at the next table, we'll sort of be sleeping together." Which she did: Which put us several feet apart. And in the morning, after she'd bathed in the river and closed her corona--the chakra at the top of her head--she came into the kitchen for breakfast and thanked me for finding a solution which allowed her to feel close but which kept us several feet apart, physically. And while I still sometimes wonder how nice it would have been to take advantage of what she was offering, I know I'm still a good version of me for not permitting it, no matter how much she insisted. There are lines you cannot cross. Ever. No excuses. Intimacy with a client before or during or after ceremony is one of them. And anyone who is party to the medicine knows this intuitively. So don't do it. Don't accept it, even if the client begs. Cause in the morning, they will feel--rightly--taken advantage of, and right then, in that instant, goes all the trust, all the healing, right down the drain. My two (humble, tonight) cents.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Completely Tired of The Recent Ayahuasca Threads...

I am so tired of the various threads about ayahuasca running around the boards after the recent and notable death of a kid named Kyle at an ayahuasca center. I wish he hadn't died. I'm sorry for his mom and dad and sisters and brothers and the rest of his family and friends. But his death has spawned so much junk that I'm gonna react. And this is what I'm gonna say. And I have a right, I think, to say it.

I have held back, but it's hard...
Listen everyone. I have held back but it's hard. Not just on this most recent Bill Hamilton thread, but on all of them. For Mancoluto: We have no freaking idea how Kyle died. Mancoluto has no idea how Kyle died. If he confessed to burying the body, then he is guilty of that, but unless he actually killed that poor kid, he has no idea how he died--at least that we know of. So stop yapping and wait for pathology. Damn.
   In terms of who knows more about ayahuasca, what a freaking crazy question! This group or that group? Who the hell knows, and anyone who says they do is nuts. The shipibo never never never used a symbol of ayahuasca pre-2003 or 2004. Their beautiful cloths were put in front of their villages to show the maze of how to get into the village and if you couldn't read it you would fall into their traps and die. That's what those cloths are about. Why? Because they enslaved half the Amazon during the rubber boom. How? Because they were the well known riberinos--they had canoes, while a host of tribes didn't, and to save their skin they gave a lot of other indigenous up. Which meant there was a lot of animosity from other tribes. Which meant they had to make mazes to keep those angry groups out of their territory. And they made them on the telas, the cloths. If you could read them you would get in; if not, well, you fell into really horrible traps. Not that they were bad people, but they were saving themselves. And any tela, cloth, which has anything to do with ayahuasca on it, will not be more than 8-9 years old. The old cloths, the ones that are 100 years old, don't have that. That's new.
    So who knows more? Who the hell knows. Remember that until 30 years ago, pretty much only the ayahuasquero drank the medicine. My mother and father in law, my wife and her brothers all went to Tuesday and Friday ceremonies all their life, but they only drank (the women) at menstruation first time; at marriage, and maybe one more time in their lives. The men drank at puberty, marriage, and maybe one more time. Ayahuasca was only for the curandero. You show up, explain your problem, he/she drank, saw the problem and the solution and returned from the dream with the solution, whether it be a change in life for you, plant medicines for you, or whatever. It's only us gringos who demanded to drink the potion, and so these curanderos have no idea what that really means--and so most people will never drink with a real curandero because he/she would never let you drink. But we make these fake people and they serve 12-20-40 people at a time--unfreaking heard of in the Amazon tradition.
   Mancoluto and a number of other well-known curanderos are just a symptom of a disease we created. I'm not saying what he did is okay. And I'm not going to okay a curandero sleeping with a client. But I am really tired of reading people who know nothing about the history/culture spouting off on various threads. Please stop.
    Just today someone wrote me to say she was selling a pretty much ready- made ayahuasca center. I nearly choked. Who the freak was this person to have set up an ayahuasca center in the jungle? What does she know? Has she lived there 15-20-40 years? If not, she has no business, in my book--and no one else does either--in cutting jungle to make a center. Why? Why? Why? For ego? Because you think you've seen the answer on a vision? Cool. Wait 20 years and see if it's a true vision before you co-op locals, cut jungle, build a place.
   Damn, I'm pissed off reading all this bullshit from people who don't know a freaking thing about the culture, the medicine. They want to elevate local doctors on a little tributary to the status of folk hero. NOTICE: Curanderos are just local docs on little tributaries. They don't promise anything to anyone. It's only gringos that extract those promises. We create the disease. Let's stop doing that, okay?????
   A lot of you will hate me for this, but I've been reading so much junk I'm ready to vomit. And not a good, cleansing puke, just garbage.

Recent Cover Stories I've Done

Someone was looking up this blog using the phrase "what does Peter Gorman do for a living?" on google. Well, the answer is that I write and I guide. I write for the Fort Worth Weekly, our local alternative and a fantastic paper; I write a column for Skunk magazine, out of Canada, called Drug War Follies, that covers the horrors of the war on drugs; I freelance now and then as well. And then I have a couple of bucks coming in from my book--which would be a lot more if all of you bought 100 copies tomorrow, for instance--and then I try to make a couple of bucks, often unsuccessfully, from taking people into the Amazon. DISCLAIMER: Even when I don't make money on trips I have one hell of a good, paid for, vacation.
   Anyway, for those who don't know me as an investigative reporter, here are the links to the the cover stories I've done for the Fort Worth Weekly this year. With another coming out next week, but I can't talk about that yet. Just go to fwweekly.com next Wednesday afternoon and you'll see. But this is a pretty good group of pieces, so if you have time, click on them and take a look.

Low-Bidding Mental Illness
This one deals with how Texas has put its mental hospitals up for private company bidding, with the first bidder being GEO Cares, a subsidiary of GEO, the private prison industry giant

Chipping Away
This one deals with the Fort Worth Code of Ethics and how politics runs in Cowtown

Don't Frack With Me
This one deals with the humorous blowback to the natural gas industry, which the Fort Worth Weekly has had the leading reporting on for years now

A Valuable Crop
This one deals with the private prison industry--probably the third cover we've run on the issue in the last few years (and the art director should win a national award for that cover, just sayin'

Your Land Is My Land
This one deals with the fight of Julia Trigg Crawford to keep TransCanada corp from crossing her family's farm via eminent domain for the Keystone Pipeline's southern leg

Don't Drink the Water
This one deals with a community which has had its water supply destroyed by natural gas well drilling

Man, that's a good group of stories. Lots of credit to my editor Gayle Reaves, a Pulitzer and Polk prize winner for pushing and pulling and making sense out of nonsense sometimes.
   Check them out. I'm proud of my work this year. And hell, we're still in the first week of October!