Sunday, September 29, 2013

Toe in Political Water

I mostly steer clear of politics here. Why? Because that's what I do for a living and when I'm here I want to think/talk/write about other things that interest me. But this morning, a good friend of mine sent me a note about what she thought should be shut down in the government: The NSA (fat chance), Homeland Security (George W's favorite invention) and things like that. I agree with a lot of what she said, though I don't think it will come to pass.
    But at the bottom of her email was a note from someone named Lorraine, in which she talks about what President Obama is threatening to defund if there is a government shutdown--and then goes on to rail against Michelle Obama's expensive vacations. Well, it's such bullshit that I had to respond. So here it is:

Dear T:  What the woman Lorraine wrote is utter and complete hogwash. The president makes no choices about spending money in the United States. All monies are appropriated and spent by Congress and Congress alone. All debt is debt belonging to Congress--including the monies spent for the secret service and Airforce One used by the President and First Family. In terms of presidential and first family vacations, Ms. Lorraine apparently does not know that the actual vacations, the clothes, the food, the house staff, the non-presidential and non-secret service cars, the rent on the places and all party expenses unless directly related to a matter of State--are paid for out of the private pocket of the President and/or his wife. He's made millions on his books, gave the Nobel prize money away to charity, and like other presidents has no problem paying his own way.
   As to Lorraine's claim that the president "threatened not to pay:
    -Social Security Retirees
    -Military Retirees
    -Social Security Disability
    -and Federal Retirees
--well, again it's nonsense. Why? First, because the president does not have a say in who or what gets paid on any level; and secondly, because the things Lorraine mentions are all in the permanent budget: They get paid whether there is a government shutdown or not. As will Obamacare. As will Congressmen, Senators, their aides and so forth. What gets shorted financially are all of the "discretionary spending" items: NEW claims on social security; tens of thousands of non-vital federal employees, the Smithsonian, National Parks and the like. But certainly not Social security or retirees or military retirees. Current military, they get screwed by a shut down, but not retired military.
    I don't mind a good argument. Nobody has to agree with what I believe. But when things like this note from Lorraine get passed around as if there is one iota of truth in it--and then millions of people believe it and pass it on--well, that means there is a lot lot lot of bs flying around. 
    So your idea about getting rid of a lot of the TSA, most of Homeland Sec--just bring back the border patrol, I say--yeah, I can see the value in those things disappearing. But I get put off a bit when I read nonsense and outright lies put out by this Lorraine woman. PS: I'm guessing she's not a real person, but if she is, I'm sure she's nice. So I don't mean to offend her personally. I just wish she would take three minutes to actually look the stuff up before mindlessly copying the abject lies of FOX news, Hanratty, Limbaugh and the rest of the people with a single agenda: Put down that black man cause we whites won't have no black president.
    And have a great great day. It's beautiful here in Texas.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Too Efficient for My Own Good

Well, I'm either getting too efficient for my own good or I'm the laziest man alive. Today is Saturday. I had a list of things to get to and did my best to avoid them. I did toss in a wash early today, then clean up the kitchen from last night and read the computerized newspapers while having coffee, all before 7 AM. Washed a floor, dug out a box of slides I needed and spent time going through them. When Madeleina woke I made us carrot/celery juice, then took a nap. A NAP at 10 AM because I couldn't figure out what else to do. The lawn needs doing but I'm still fixing the lawn mower. The garbage has to go to the dump but I'm not supposed to go to the dump with my leg on the chance I might pick up another infection if I slip in the muck--and everybody slips in the muck at the local building where we all go to toss our trash. The floor is a half-inch deep in other people's rotten chicken and the ick from the occasional dead animal tossed in there.
     Got up from the nap, made three more calls for a story I need to finish by Monday, arranged for friends to visit in early November, commiserated with a friend going through a divorce, wrote emails, got Madeleina off to her marching band duties, came home and made five calls and sent three emails for a cover story I need to have done in a week or two. Got responses almost immediately and now have added a whole new angle to the story--and still have some responses that will come on Monday. Then I headed out to see Madeleina's band play, got caught in a thick storm, which canceled the event, headed over to the supermarket, got some good stuff for dinner (chuck steak, seared black on both sides, then sliced thin and put back in the scalding pan for a moment with garlic, sliced, not diced, onions, lemon and a dash of Worcestershire sauce served with small roasted red potatoes (small portion), a little steamed broccoli and cauliflower and a mixed salad with a shallot/balsamic vinagrette).
     Got home, took a shower, changed my leg dressing, cleaned the cat box and still don't know what the freak to do. I mean, before the leg, this is when you burn off the energy with lawn mowing. This is when you clean the house, but I already cleaned the house.
     So I didn't do anything all day, but managed to kick it quite a bit, really.
     Oh, an after one last search for the photos of a former football player that NFL Films called me about, I managed to find them.
     But I'm still feeling like I cheated because I never broke a sweat.

Gold Mine in the Closet

Someone from NFL films called recently to ask for a photo of a former player that I'd taken some years ago. Well, I looked in all the places I thought it would be--I was looking for a box of slides, really with maybe 6 good photos of the player--and couldn't find it. Which led me to have to dive into the box of slide sheets. Well, once I started, it was hard to stop. Most of the slides deal with Peru: From Iquitos in 1984 through the Cold Beer Blues Bar. The boats I rebuilt and took out onto the Amazon and then up the Jivari; Belen market over the years, Machu Picchu, riverboats, sunsets, ayahuasca, my friend Pablo's Matses camp and the first photos ever taken of Sapo, the Matses medicine extracted from a frog that's dabbed on fresh burned spots generally on the upper arms. There were photos of Matses hunts, and the use of Sapo, and plant medicines, and fiestas on the river and photos of the jungle three days, four days deep into the damp green. Things most people don't get a chance to see. There were photos of a couple of the women that the Matses stole years ago, and which I wrote about on my blog recently.
     And then there were photos from India and Morocco, stories I did for High TImes. And then photos of Leary and Richard Schultes, and a younger Dennis McKenna and Ram Dass with his arm around me and a host of photos of key members of the marijuana movement from the mid-1980s through the late 1990s: Dennis Peron, Brownie Mary, Jack Herer, Steve Hager, my boss at HT, two of the women of the cannabis movement, Debbie Goldsberry and Monica Pratt, and reformers like Julie Stewart who fights so hard against mandatory minimums and Brenda Grantland, who founded Forfeiture Endangers American Rights, and Ben Masel and Dr. Tod Mikuriya and most of the folks who were receiving government medical marijuana at the time.
     I never did find the photos I was looking for, damnit. But I did find a gold mine and wish I could think of something to do with it, because while they're not all the greatest photos in the world, an awful lot of them are pretty unique.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

More on Irked...and Guilty as Charged

So a friend of mine has been guarding someone's ayahuasca camp for several months and not been paid. At least that's what he tells me and then he asked me to get in touch with the owner and ask when money might come. I did and the owner responded that it was all a lie.
   Just then someone wrote me about someone being able to make a good deal of money from some jungle products and I sort of blew up--you know, that freaking feeling of being irked again. So off I ran my mouth about people opening ayahuasca centers and being all holy and who knows what and my friend wrote back: "Well, that begs the question of why you take people out to the woods to drink ayahuasca."
    I knew the answer. It's great medicine and the only way I can get my jungle fix. I also knew/know that what I do is not take people out just to drink ayahuasca--I take them out to teach them about the river, the people, the food, the jungle, and in the course of that they have the opportunity to drink ayahuasca. Drink it the way I was taught it: as part of the jungle experience, not apart from the jungle experience.
   And I would say that maybe one out of every six people I take out on my jungle intensive courses does not drink ayahuasca. They enjoy the ceremony as a rule, but don't actually drink the medicine. Which does not mitigate the fact that most people who come on my trip damned well expect to drink good ayahuasca, have their lives changed for the better, and would probably toss me off the riverboat if I didn't deliver. So I'm guilty as charged.
   This is what I wrote to my friend: Yes, well, unfortunately, I was one of the people who started it all and have been remorseful ever since. If I didn't start it, I was certainly there at that point and will suggest that my great friend did. And I agreed to take gringos to the jungle and make ayahuasca available because I'd moved my family to Peru and when I realized I had to feed an extended family of 23 at least three meals a day at $1 per meal--well, they were either going to starve or I was going to accept taking gringos out occasionally.

   BUTTTTT......I keep my place secret--even Alan has never been there and never met Julio when he was alive: I didn't see what good it would do Julio, though it would have done Alan a world of good to have Julio at the first couple of conferences. I also try to keep my guests from talking with any other gringos until after the trip--no false info from people who are willing to share it. We eat at Miriam's or outside of the city--at Miriam's I'm a known commodity but other gringos--and I'm not talking about the regular ex-pat crowd but the new true believers who need to proselytize the medicine, don't talk with them. Then I whisk them out of town and no one knows when we left or where we're headed.
   And Julio's son, our curandero, is kept a secret as well, so that he can mature into a good curandero, rather than, like a lot of the others, become gringo arm-candy at some semi-luxury camp somewhere on the carretera where the object is to keep the real jungle out but keep it looking like jungle.
   Why do I keep doing it now that I no longer live there? It's the only way I can get my jungle fix. Plus, it's gotten to the point where I know a boatload about the rivers, the jungle, the people, the medicines, the food--and I love sharing that with some well-vetted strangers a few times a year.
   So I am guilty as charged. Phony as bad boloney. Hypocritical as a bad pickle. In my defense, I will say I resisted the urge for 15 years, even when good money for private trips was offered. The people I'm angry with seem to get the calling within weeks of airport touchdown and first ayahuasca takeoff, even if they don't speak Spanish. And then they buy 20 hectares or 50 hectares--which truth be known they probably don't actually own because it's very complicated to get a clean title, as you know--and then they tear down a bunch of it, then have people tear down a bunch elsewhere to provide the wood to build their places, then have other people scour the jungle for every inch of ayahuasca vine so that it gets impossible to find, burn tons of wood daily to keep the ayahuasca fire going, try to make gobs of money and tell people they're helping the locals. HA! Bringing people into the money system, unless you can guarantee you can keep them there for life if they so choose, is a ruthless thing. You get people hired by these camps and then camp goes to ruin and they no longer want to farm because it's too hard and they got used to the other life. So you have brutalized them on a lot of levels.
   I guess that's some of it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

I'm Irked and It's Been Pouring Out of Me...

 I'm irked today, partly regarding ayahuasca. For those who know it, my rant might make sense: To others it will be ridiculous so you can quit now--unless you love a good rant. And since I have hurt every day, every minute of every day for the last month or so, well, I'm always in a foul, ranting sort of mood. With that in mind, probably several times today I have received letters, had friends call me and so forth, each with some definite thing about ayahuasca or the jungle. Definite is the operative word and that's what's irking me. One friend wrote about the dolphins and I've already tried to clarify that in an earlier post--and if I forgot to say the dolphins might actually physically transform or become fantastic teachers to some people, forgive me.
    But just half-a-hour ago a friend over for dinner picked up a book on jungle medicines and came out to the front porch and said: "Oh, the spirit of Una de Gato is a big black monkey, eh?" Una de Gato is a shrub with cat's claw like protuberances that's fantastic for improving the immune system and eliminating excess water in the body, among other things.
    Being in a semi-precious, stupid, foul, in-pain mood, I said that was ridiculous. I said I was tired of people who visit one curandero, listen to what he or she says and repeat it as if it's true. That's how bullshit gets spread around. What was true was that for that particular curandero in the book, he happened to see the spirit of Una de Gato as a large black monkey. But in fact, it would be nuts for a plant to have a monkey spirit. What happens is that we humans have to compartmentalize things so our brains don't explode. For that curandero, his brain compartmentalized the disembodied spirit of that plant as that monkey, which also allowed him--in all likelihood--to return to that spirit's presence. But someone else might see it as a wasp, or a rock or whatever.
    So what's irking me are people who get part of a story and repeat it as rote, rather than stepping back and trying to see how that story fits into the larger world picture. How many people have I met who have spent a month in Peru and told me they were called to open an ayahuasca center? Ten? Twenty-five? One is too many. Get your ass down there. Learn. Spend some years, two or three or something more than a month or two before you think you know how to serve people medicine. Want to write that book? Talk to three or five or fifty ayahuasqueros who have 1000 years among them serving the medicine and ask them what the spirits look like: You will probably wind up with a mosaic with a couple of archetypes rather than a list of animal totems that's really meaningless. Pablo Amaringo painted what he saw. Don Francisco Montes paints what he sees. His wife paints what she sees. And while there is something alike among them, they are all quite different.
    And me? I don't know anything, except what I've seen and learned but I know that 1) that's a very small window on a very large universe, and 2) my perceptions are colored by my life experience and should never be taken by anyone for reality, just my perceptions of what occurred. And I guess I'm just old enough to be tired of people who are spreading falsehoods in the name of truth. Even if they think it's the truth, it's just their truth, or the truth of their curandero/curandera, not some measurable truth. I think, and I'm sorry I've been rude in getting here but have also enjoyed it, that's important to remember.

Couple of Things About Getting Married in Iquitos, Peru

I don't know if all of this still applies but because there is a rash of gringos marrying Peruvian women from Iquitos, I thought I'd post it--being someone who married a young woman from Iquitos.
    As a preliminary heads up, let me say this: Remember that you are the hunter, and other than providing food and protection, not particularly necessary. What is necessary is that the women in the family, the tribe (as most are not more than four generations removed from deep tribal life), get to be together all of the time. If your wife has three sister and they live in Lima, well, sooner or later you will live in Lima or the marriage is done. They are the focal point, you are the hunter. You provide, then disappear. It can be loads of fun so long as you know what's coming after the first year or two or marriage.
    On the mundane level, there used to be several papers you needed to get. When you're getting married you have to put an ad in the most read daily newspaper (La Republica) for three days running, announcing the marriage and asking for anyone who know it shouldn't happen to come forward. If you are a US male, you will be sent to Lima to get a Certificate of Bachelorhood, which will prove that you are not currently married, that your divorce has been finalized if you are divorced and that you are not responsible in any way for another woman as a wife.
    The US Embassy in Lima has no such document, but will, after some begging, write a note that says you have sworn you are not married and are free to marry. That has to be notarized in the Embassy. And if you don't know that it is coming, well, it will be a pain in the neck to suddenly have to fly to Lima before you can be married.
     In terms of parties, I don't know if this applies to all Iquitos marriages, but certainly did to mine: We began having parties--or providing cases of beer, anyway--to people about 5 days before the wedding. The first group that had to get lots of beer were people who hated the family I was marrying into and would be willing to hire a brujo--bad sorcerer--to make our lives miserable. So we had to make them happy and keep them drunk until after the wedding.
    The next night was a party for all the families that simply had grudges against the family I was marrying into: Neighbors they'd fought with, authorities that didn't like us and so forth.
    The third party was for people we didn't hate but certainly didn't want anywhere near something as intimate as our wedding.
    The fourth party was for the people we liked but didn't like enough to invite to a wedding.
    And then finally, there was the wedding for the few dozen people we liked--or whom the family liked.
    Very important to keep the bad vibes away and 15-20 cases of beer per night is not a big price to do it.
    Then we had our own parties: At one, my future wife invited all of her sexiest friends and some prostitutes who sat in chairs at one point around the outside walls of the room. Someone starts music. You--me--are told to pick any woman to dance with. They're all dressed to the nines.
    I finally went to Chepa and told her I didn't want to dance with anyone else, regardless of the rules.
That was a good thing, because if I had picked another woman, that would have been reason to cancel the wedding.
    Not long after the wedding, the bride gets in a motokar and drives away alone. She is going to see all of her former lovers. If she doesn't return, it means she was seduced and changed her mind. If she returns fairly quickly, she love you.
    Then there was the US Embasy and the attempt to get Chepa into the US.
    We arrived in Lima, went to the Embassy, did whatever we were told, filled out the paperwork and so forth. The next day, when we returned, I was told I'd have to go to the US to get a letter from my bank, notarized in the city in which I lived, telling the Embassy how long I'd been banking there. It didn't matter, I was told, how much money I had, just get the letter.
    With--at the time--a 37 percent surcharge on flights originating in Lima, I paid about $1500, flew to New York, got the letter and returned in a couple of days.
     The Embassy personnel took the letter, then said I had to get a letter notarized in New York from the people I worked with telling them how long I worked there. I was furious. Who were they to do this to me. They said they were the ones who could give Chepa a green card and just get on with it.
    So I did.
    When I returned they told me to go back to New York and get a copy of my signed apartment leased and have it notarized there.
     When I finished that--altogether, including keeping Chepa in Lima with a sister for 26 days or so, plus getting the AIDS test the insisted she have, plus her fingerprints and all that--I was out about $10,000. And the Embassy person, with a straight face, said something to the effect that most Peruvian women being brought to the US are brought there for sexual slavery. Going rate for gringos was $10,000, so that's what they made me spend. If I was taking my new wife to the US to sell her into slavery, I wouldn't be making money.
     The second issue, the Embassy person said, was hot pants. Gringos get hot pants for these beautiful dark-skinned Latinas. So they make it hard for you to bring them home because once there, you might learn that your beautiful dark-skinned Latina is actually a very short person who doesn't speak English, doesn't know anything about our culture and winds up being dumped by the hot-pants gringo once the hot-pants cool off and ends up on welfare.
    So they do everything in their power to discourage you from taking the new wife to the US.
    I asked why they couldn't tell me that earlier: I was told that would constitute discrimination and they would be open to law suits. So they did it their own way.
    In my case, while it wasn't easy, the first five years of marriage were so fantastic, that it was all worth it.

Dolphin Love in the Amazon

There are dozens of myths in the Amazon basin that have helped maintain an otherwise very fragile social fabric. Tunchis, ghosts, in the woods keep most people out of the woods at night when the predators feed. Chuluchaqui, a sort of Pan character, can confuse you to the point where it might take days or weeks to return to your home from a walk to your fields--chacras. But Chuluchaqui, even if just a myth, is vital, because of the habit riberiƱos have of leaving their families to visit friends for days and weeks at a time and an inability to explain what they are doing before they do it. Abandoning your family is not good; their boredom is irresistible and they have to go sometimes. Having a convenient Chuluchaqui to blame smooths everything over.
    Dolphins are also vital to the social fabric: The pink dolphins are sirens: They call out to the men and the men cannot resist their charm. The men dive into the lakes and make wild love with them.

    The blue dolphins can transform themselves in the evening to irresistibly handsome young men. When they call to the women coming from the chacras or neighboring villages, there is no way to turn away: You must make love, and it is a ferocious, wild, wonderful making love.
     The stories may or may not be true, but they are a vital element in the social fabric of Amazonia, where making love with people outside of your husband or wife is a pretty regular part of living. A woman coming home at dawn with your breasts and neck covered in hickeys--bite marks--is completely forgivable if you were seduced by a dolphin; it might otherwise lead to a machete or shotgun anger-killing if it was just the neighbor. Similarly, a man coming home drunk with hickeys is forgiven if the cause of the problem was a pink dolphin, rather than the neighbor woman.
    There are no myths in Amazonia that don't have their roots in maintaining the social fabric. They are wonderful survival tools.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Talking 'Bout My Madeleina...

Madeleina, my beautiful 16-year-old daughter, keeps me on my toes. Earlier tonight, after I'd put a beautiful eggplant parmesan in the oven--she's finally old enough to have some things that taste differently from what she's used to, and eggplant, while I love it, is not something an Irish-Indigenous kid grows up with--I told her to get out a table cloth, put on a couple of candles and look for the good silverware.
   "Dad, are we eating before or after you come down from that high you're on?" she asked.
   Tough one.
   Then she whacked me, hard, in the upper right arm--the one that's still black and blue after having had the IV tube to my heart taken out earlier in the week--and said, "Oh, and you know, if this eggplant thing sucks, or if it's good but it sucks because you messed it up, well, I'll just have to kill you while you sleep."
   Tough girl.
   And now, after sitting on the porch swing in the encroaching darkness, watching cars go by on road out front, we came in and I told her I'd gotten my Houston Press Club trophies and that she should open the boxes.
    "Dad, this is just second place for Print Journalist of the Year for Texas," she said. "That means you're a loser. I'm still proud of you, dad, and I love you, but maybe we should move to Canada. They have less journalists there. Maybe you could win there, instead of getting second place. Because, like I said, that makes you a loser."
    You don't think I love that girl? She's the best! She adores me enough to keep me on point and knows exactly how to give me a compliment. That's my baby. And I'm glad she is.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

About the Indigenous Matses Stealing People

A friend of mine pointed me toward The Emerald Forrest, a movie about a kid who is abducted by a group of indigenous Brazilians and grows up with them. He asked if it was a true story. I told him there was a kernel of truth in it as the boy who was stolen was a real case, but that the rest of it was Hollywood doing what Hollywood does: making movies that start with a a kernel of truth and then go off on whatever trail they want to follow, so long as it will put fannies in the seats.
     My friend asked if I'd ever heard of people stealing in the Amazon--and he didn't mean the quite typical baby abductions for adoptions by unscrupulous people--he meant like people stolen and raised by an indigenous group to become members of that group.
     I told him yes. I know one whole small village that are the offspring of stolen missionaries, and I know three people, two women and one man who fit his description.
     Out on the river Javari, the border between Brazil and Peru, there is an entire small village where nearly every Matses is blond and many are blue eyes. It took some digging, but I found out that some female German missionaries had been abducted in the late 1960s--I presume the men were killed--and these are the grandkids of those people. The older ones have the regular Matses hashmark jaguar tattoo around their mouths and running up to their ear lobes, making them look like jaguars, and they call themselves Matses and think of themselves as Matses. No one speaks English or German, that's not something remembered at all.
    Elsewhere on that same river--which I love because it's really the middle of the middle of nowhere in the jungle--there is a woman who was locally famous for being an expert Matses hunter. I'd heard of her for years but never met her until maybe 1993, when she no longer lived with the Matses. She told me she'd been abducted as a young girl, maybe seven or nine years old, and had grown up with the Matses at Buenas Lomas, the largest Matses camp. She loved being one of them, forgot her family--who had all been killed at her abduction--and simply became a Matses. But she also became a hunter, something basically unheard of among the Matses. And she lived with them for maybe 40 years, until her husband died, and then she left and built a house on the Javari. She was still a Matses and still a hunter--she served me sahino-, the small peccary in that part of the world that she'd gotten a day earlier. She had no regrets, no hard feelings about having been abducted, it was all just life.
     Then there was--and I say was because she's since died--a woman who was abducted along with one of her young sons. She explained the abduction in a clear way. She'd been born and raised near Iquitos, Peru, the large city in Northwest Amazonia. But she was a chacarera--a woman who lived on the river, fished for food and raised crops to eat and sell when there was enough. I've known a lot of people called chacareros/chacareras and it's a good life but a hard-scrabble life, with food to eat so long as you fish every day and tend to your chacras, your gardens, which are cut out of the jungle by slash and burn.
      She'd fallen in love with a fisherman who thought there were too many people on the Amazon, so they moved hundreds of miles away to the upper Javari, where she had several kids. One day, she told Chepa--I knew her for years but she never opened up to me; it was only when I brought Chepa, to whom I was not yet married, that she told her story--she and her husband and kids were in a chacra of yucca when suddenly, unexpectedly, they were surrounded by Matses with bows and arrows. With little fanfare they fired on and killed everyone but her and a young, still nursing, son. She was grabbed and made to walk, She said she walked hard, long hours for 18 days. The first night one of the men cut her hair off with fish teeth. She bled, she said, because her scalp was cut. But the same man then took her to a creek and washed her head with leaves for hours.
    The next day they walked again and that night she was bathed again. Then the next day and the next, up and down the Javari, stopping at some Matses and Marubo camps but never for longer than a night before they started walking again. At some point, she said, her head stopped hurting and she forgot her recently killed husband and realized she'd fallen in love with the man who had cut her hair and then bathed her daily.
     At the end of 18 days the whole group returned to Buenas Lomas--the same place where the huntress lived--and she started her new life as the man's wife. He was a curaka--a warrior, a healer, a hunter who had several wives and she was quickly accepted by the others. He was a great hunter, able to support all of the children from all of the wives with fresh meat daily. She herself had one more son and then some daughters. She lived there for years, even after her husband died. As she told Chepa, there was no other home, no other place to go. Her sons were Matses men, fully tattooed; her daughters had married Matses men and born them children. Buenas Lomas was her home.
     Sometime in the 1970s, a group of three people alleging to be missionaries flew their float plane into the river in front of Buenas Lomas. They said they were there to help treat the Matses for pneumonia, which was killing some indigenous in the region. The woman said they made a separated area and would take the most ill Matses into it for treatment. But, she said, most often they died during the night. Sadness overcame the large village. And once a week or so, one of the "missionaries" took some large metal boxes, boarded the little sea plane and left, returning with new supplies and new metal containers a couple of days later.
     She said she grew suspicious because she thought too many Matses were dying--she said no one could fool her because she'd been to Iquitos and knew city ways--and so decided to look into what the three were doing. She peeked into their work area one night and saw a Matses with the grippe--pneumonia or the flu--on a cot. The three had put intravenous tubes in the Matses person's arms and bloow was being drawn into needles they kept changing. They emptied the blood into a small round metal canister, and then put the canister into one of the metal container. She said smoke came out of the container and she knew that it was dry ice because she had seen it when she was young in Iquitos.
     She said she realized that for some reason those people were stealing Matses blood and taking it in their airplane.
      They saw her, she said, spying on them, and told her she looked sick and they'd treat her the next night. She said she knew what that meant and that evening got her two grown sons and left Buenas Lomas, heading to Angamos, a Peruvian military outpost at the confluence of the Javari and Galvez rivers--and outpost built at that spot to monitor the Matses who lived on the two rivers.
      It took days to reach Angamos, and no one there believed her story, or even believed that she wasn't Matses, despite speaking fluent Spanish, unheard of among the Matses at that time--and even into the 1990s.
     But she was safe. The son who'd been stolen with her built a camp not far from Angamos. Her Matses son stayed there as well. She told Chepa the story, on tape, in 1993. I'd met her in 1986 but she never told me any of that story. I only knew her sons as Matses, and when I collected plants for Shaman Pharmaceutical, the son who was abducted was the plant maestro of the village, rather than the son she'd borne to the Matses curaka.
     The good that came out of excaping, she said, was that the three people pretending to help the Matses while draining their blood and stealing it, left shortly after her escape and never came back.
      Years later it came out that several anthropologists throughout the Amazon and into Central America were being paid by forces thought to be U.S. CIA to collect blood and other body parts for study in the U.S. so that people here could learn why the different indigenous were immune to certain physical diseases while very susceptible to others. Among those anthropologists caught in that scandal was Napolean Chagnon, famous for his work among the Yanomami of Venezuela.
      I have never been able to find out the identities of the Matses killers at Buenas Lomas, but there are records of a group of three people having been there for several weeks in the 1970s, flying from Iquitos to the upper Javari and back in a float plane regularly.
      And that's a true story of people stealing in the Amazon.

Mariscos Soup Dinner

Okay, so I picked up Madeleina from school, along with a friend. Dropped him off, got her home. Half-an-hour later it was time to get her to piano lessons, and we got there about 5:21, six minutes late. I got home by 5:30 as it's about an 8-10 minute run from the piano place to the house.
    Here, I realized I had to get dinner going. Tonight it's mariscos soup. That's a Peruvian soup--all Latin America makes it and the Spanish and French and Portugese have versions, but I'm making the Peruvian soup--made from shrimp, mussels, squid, octopus and who knows what else. I had already bought a bag of frozen mariscos, but I had fresh shrimp in the fridge that had to be used as well.
    So I'm looking at things at 5:32 and start to peel the fresh shrimp. Just 20 of them, not very large, and I put the shells in a small iron pot to burn a bit. While they were heating up and getting red, I cut some fresh garlic, diced an onion, four scallions, two tomatoes and four sticks of celery. The ends of everything went into the shrimp-peel pot after the peels were bright red. I added water first, then the vegetable ends, along with a bit of crab boil--a hot soup sauce used in creole cooking.
    I got the garlic, onions and celery and scallions, along with some olive oil, into the soup pot and started searing them while the shrimp-peel pot began to boil over and then I turned that down. When the veggies were see through I tossed in the tomatoes: It was 5:54 and I was going to be late for Madeleina, so I turned everything down and raced to get her.
   Not bad. Veggies done, shrimp ready to go, and the shrimp-peel juice nearly ready.
   We got home, I stirred everything, strained and poured the shrimp-peel juice into the soup pot, tossed in a can of Campbell's tomato soup, some water and two packets of Goya's Achote e Culantro powder. Stirred it up and here I am. Kitchen is clean and wiped down, soup's on: I'll add the seafood and a bunch of fresh organic cilantro--minced--ten minutes before serving, along with some vermicelli. I'll do some pepper--it probably won't need salt because of the canned sou--and maybe a few very hot peppers from Peru that are steeping in fresh lime juice to give it a good Peruvian bite.
   It's a good soup, a good meal, and when I wake up at 3 AM, it will be a life-saving snack.
   I hope all of you are eating as well as us tonight. And if you're not and you're in the neighborhood, well, drop on by because we're gonna have plenty.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Small Thought that Nags at Me Every Day

Okay, so in the last 24 hours, the top 10 countries represented by readers of my blog are: U.S., Canada, Germany, India, China, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Guatemala, Poland, Vietnam. Countries with lesser page views today include Iraq, Russia, South Africa, Camaroon, Brazil, Peru, Egypt, Australia and several others. The question is if people from all those places can get a kick out of reading something as simple as my freaking blog, why is it we can't get along?  I know it's not a serious question, but I sort of wish it were. Left to their own devices, people want the same things: Food, water, health, shelter, enough work, some enjoyment and the safety of sleep without fear. Yeah, some want better shoes or more cars, but people basically want the same things. So why can't we just get along? Why can't we just make certain that everyone has those basics? I know we could if enough of us stood together and made it happen. How to do that? Well, I'm stumped there. But if we got everyone those basics, it would go a long way toward smoothing things out everywhere.
    But then the political writer in me rears his head and shouts: The problem is that some people will do anything to keep other people from having those basics. That's the part we're going to have to work on if we really want to get anywhere. And that part is rooted in deep-seated fear. Fear that the other guy shouldn't get enough to get by because then he/she'd want to take your basics, so you got to keep them down. Fear of other colors so deep that some people don't recognize it's really just a fear of their own inadequacy. Fear of other cultures, fear that your own base desires are the same as everyone else's base desires and giving them a hand up would wind up cutting yourself down. Or things like that. Those fears need to be addressed and overcome somehow if we want to bring peace to this planet.
   And when we think of the 1 percent who want it all, well, they really only want it all because they are afraid of joining the rest of us. They're afraid they'll run out and no one will help them when they do and so they've got to accumulate so much that they can't run out--which is impossible, of course, so they wind up serving only their greed, the symptom of their fear.
   Yeah, I'm rattling on. But this thing irks me daily. It's why I write. There may not be much of a chance of getting 7 billion people on the same page, but if I/we don't try, there is no chance.
   It all reminds me of the biblical story of Jesus and the Loaves and Fishes. It's a new testament thing--and if I've written this before, forgive me but it fits. The Loaves and fishes thing was the story of Jesus of Nazareth somehow getting hundreds, perhaps thousands of people to a hillside to listen to him talk. There might have been others on the bill but we don't know that from the way the story was written.
   The event was evidently not well planned: No vendors, no foot, no available water, and it seems that most people hadn't packed lunch. Or so it seemed.
   People got restive and Jesus of Nazareth got hold of a couple of loaves of bread and a couple of fried or salted fish. Then he began passing them out and miracle of miracles, says the story, he made a miracle and multiplied those couple of loaves of bread and fish and kept passing them out without ever running out until everyone at the event had enough to eat and were once again willing to listen to him speak.
   I never went with that story, even as a young catholic altar boy. Seemed to me that if you had super powers--I mean, if you were god with a capital G and could simply multiply food at your discretion, you should not have let that crowd--who were there to listen to you talk--get hungry in the first place. And if you had that power, well, then you were just using super power and it wasn't a miracle at all.
   My take on the story was always this, and I'm not saying I'm right, it's just my take. My take is that when people got hungry, Jesus of Nazareth talked to the people and said "You know, I'll bet that some of you brought food and some of you brought a lot of food and water and you're afraid to take it out because then you'll have to share." I'm not saying he used those words, it's just an idea, okay?
   And I'll bet he reasoned with everyone that if they all took out all the food and water they'd brought with them, well, there would be enough to go around. And I'll bet those people did that and sure enough, it got passed around and everybody got to eat.
   Now if he did that, well, that's a miracle! Getting people to share ain't easy. But what I'm getting at is that if we could get all 7 billion people to share what they have, no one would be hungry, no one would sleep in fear. And that's a wild dream but one worth working toward and fighting for in my book.

Monday, September 16, 2013

How the Amazon Fills Up

Well, I was thinking about ayahuasca, brujeria, Matses' stealing people who became my friends, and the rise in the Amazon annually and had about 10 pieces I wanted to write. But dinner--simple sauteed/baked chicken breasts with a light sauce of garlic, olive oil, diced onion, tomato and capers with a side of small baked red potato and an organic arugula/greens salad with a nice balsamic vinagrette--is cooking so I only have time for one story.
     So here is the story of how the Amazon Basin fills up every year, rising up and sustaining an eight to 13 meter increase in height for several months--and having that rise and sustained water happen all over the entire Amazon Basin--close to the size of the entire USA--at the same time.
     While I'm not an hydraulic engineer, this is what I see happening: The Andes mountain on the West of the basin, and the north ridge of South America fill up with water during the wet season. In the Andes, particularly, that water freezed either inside the mountains or atop them as snow. Now you might imagine that when those mountains begin to thaw, the Amazon would start to fill up from just east of those mountains and that water, via the river system, would make it's way across the continent over the next several months. But that's not what happens. When the water rises three feet or three meters in the rivers closest to the mountains, it's also rising simultaneously--or within a couple of days--all across the basin.
     What's happening is similar to your old high school experiment, where you put two small plastic tubs next to one another and made holes between them to connect them. Then you put several sponges filled with water in one of them: The water drained into the second plastic but never overflowed. And as the water in the second plastic evaporated, the sponges put out more, until there was an equal amount of water in both plastic tubs. And at that point there was no more draining from one to another.
     So how do the Andes simultaneously feed rivers nearly three thousand miles apart? Well, it's got to do with the makeup of the mountains and underlying stone of the basin: It's primarily limestone. And limestone is soft enough that water will work it's way through, making tunnels, carving out vast lakes within the mountains and so forth. But the limestone is also beneath the basin and so there are little straw-like tunnels--and larger ones as well--that run from the Andes to the East Coast of Brazil. And those tunnels fill up with water at the same time the rivers on the west do, and feed out through beneath the ground--particularly into lakes, swamps and rivers--filling the entire basin simultaneously.
     Rains may raise a river a meter or two for a day or so, but then that water has washed downstream, and if that were the primary device for filling the rivers and lakes, the lakes on the Western side of the Continent would be empty once the rains stop. But they're not. And that's because they are filled by thousands of springs--holes in the limestone tunnels beneath the basin. And in some lakes you get the fantastic effect of hot and cold springs, by the hundreds, within a few feet of one another. The hot springs are fed by rivers that have been exposed to the warm air; the cold springs are fed by water that's been frozen for months and has never seen the sun since it was rain.
     And that's how the Amazon does it.
     You can all return to whatever you were doing now.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

You Guys Did It! THANKS!

Well, you all have done it. You have hit the $15,000 mark--and passed it--on the Indigogo page set up to help defray the medical costs of my bacterial-flesh-eaten right calf. You have sent good wishes, love, light, medicines, contributions and just general great stuff. Thank you all. And then the hospital, Huguley, also kicked in by--for some reason they cannot explain--reducing my costs to date (there will be another stay and another operation or two) from $77,000 or so to $1,500. Plus, the nurses, doctors and everyone at that hospital treated me with genuine care. Fantastic.
    But today, here, I wanted to celebrate you. All of you. What you did for me shows that this small group can come together and do huge things. That is special. If we consider it, you/we--because next time I will be one of the givers and not the receiver--can do anything.
     So please celebrate yourselves. Know that I am thanking you deeply, warmly, wonderfully. If you were all here I'd make dinner for all of you. Which tonight is fresh shrimp with garlic/onions/olive oil and diced veggies (broccoli, tomatoes, cauliflower, yellow squash, green zucchini and spinach) over thin spaghetti. With a side of organic pineapple, raspberries and blueberries in good organic Greek yogurt with a touch of good vanilla.
     And thanks. I'll update you on the progress of the leg as it goes along, mostly on my blog--just look up peter gorman's blog so as not to fill up fb pages. First update: After more than 30 days I finally had my IV PICC (an IV tube with two heads inserted in my right arm and running to my heart which delivered merrem, a powerful antibiotic against the pesky pseudomonas infection, the last of the four to still be putting up a fight) removed. Which means I don't have to watch the IV drip 4-6 hours daily, don't have to worry about "Oh, shit! I just put my hand in the dirty dishwater and got the IV stuff wet with dirty water!!!!" and stuff like that.
    That's for later. Today is just to say thanks. I appreciate it more than you know--being able to buy the meds as needed, pay the home nurse to show up regularly, pay for the docs and labs at the hospital--those things have let me work on healing, rather than worrying about how the hell I was going to pay it. You paid it. You sent love and light. You were fantastic. Thank you.

PS: A huge thank you to Alan Shoemaker, who asked people to send money to my paypal account, and to Morgan Maher, who took that idea and set up the Indigogo account. Neither asked me first, they just did it, knowing that I'd be yelling at them. Those are my friends and I'm lucky to have them.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Strong Kids' Club Failure

When I was a little kid, maybe 7, my sister Peggy was 9; my sister Patty was 11; and my brother Mike was 14. And Mike--who went on to play college baseball for St. Johns, a near-powerhouse in those days, then Vietnam, then became a cop, then a lawyer and finally, on retirement, a part-time judge and the all-time king of "Letters to the Editor" in New York City newspapers, from the New York Times to the Daily News to the Post and every other one--well Mike came up with this idea for The Strong Kids' Club. It was only open to himself, Pat, Peg and me. It just required some painfully Catholic pain-acceptance. There are three key things that I remember--though there were probably others--to becoming a member in good standing of the Club. THe first was getting into the bathtub before dawn. The bathtub was filled with six inches of cold New York winter water and as many ice cubes as we could make. You had to lie in it and not flinch for 30 seconds. If you flinched the timing started again. If the water warmed, more cold water and ice was put in.
   The second was doing cartwheels in your underwear in the snow with no shoes completely around the house. It was a small house but was still probably 54 feet deep and 15 feet wide on the outside. If you failed you had to start over.
   The third was writing your name in blood. Your full name. Which, as Catholics who got confirmed, meant four names. And even though I was too young to have been confirmed, I had to use the name I was planning to take as my Confirmation name. So I had to have my index finger pricked and then write "Peter Thomas John Gorman" with John as the presumptive Confirmation name because it was short (although it did become my confirmation name in the end). But if your blood dried up you had to start over. Which meant my brother sometimes stuck me several times a day before I either wrote all four names or he let me quit.
   And you had to do these tasks every day for that year of the Strong Kids' Club.
   Well, about a week ago, a woman I lived with for a long time--I have referred to her as "my first wife" on this blog I think--evidently saw pictures of my leg at its worst and wrote me an email for probably the first time in 26 years (she was happily married so that was good) and noted that "by now you have to be the undisputed king of the Strong Kids' Club".
    That she remembered that club after 25-30 years blew my mind. That she thought of it as an ongoing competition 25-30 years later and commented on it blew my mind again. What an amazing person to remember that! How fantastic she was/is!
    And when she wrote that my chest swelled up: Yes, I've had malaria, dengue, flesh-eating spider bites, an intestine that exploded and dropped three liters of human waste and acid in my stomach and I've had a small heart attack and was bitten by a baby bushmaster snake and now I have the single most deep and disgusting flesh-eating bacterial wound that most people have ever seen. Yes, I thought, I am the KING of the Strong Kids' Club!
    But then here is the reality: I'm not the king of anything. My left leg, the good one, had a sciatic nerve pinched about three weeks ago and it has left me in pain night and day. I've started with a chiropractor and sleep on the carpeted hardwood floor and have been in agony. Every task I do, just picking up medicines, I tend to take 20 minutes considering before I can screw up the courage to do them, knowing I'm going to be in extreme pain when I do.
    Yesterday, Chepa was over with her new babies and my granddaughter and three neighbor boys and we let them play in the mud created by the confluence of the state putting a new road across my front yard and an extremely heavy rainstorm. It was fantastic! But today, thinking I had to get the hose and clean the flat stones I've put as paths in the front yard and then clean the porch, covered in mud, and then clean my office, which is where people enter this house, and then clean the kitchen and unstop the kitchen sink which got clogged with mud, and then the tub, which got clogged with mud....well, it was all of an hour's work but it took me a full hour to finally get up and do it.
   I don't know if it's all pain or muscular atrophy or simple laziness. But I know it's not the Peter Gorman I know. And I know that if that woman who wrote me could actually see me moving so slowly, so fraidy-cat, she's never have said I was the undisputed king of the Stong Kids' Club. She'd probably just have said I'm a bum.
    So I'm gonna have to change things, because I don't want to be a bum and I don't want to be afraid to move and I don't want to put off chores that I would normally do in an instant, without giving them a second thought.
    Cause just being hurt doesn't make you the undisputed king of anything.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Sometimes Fear Overwhelmes Me

Sometimes fear overwhelms me. The other day my son, Marco, was listening to me go on about how much I had to get done and how impossible it was going to be to do it because I spend hours a day strapped to my IV tubes and then this sciatica kicked in making it impossible to walk 20 steps and each of those was excruciating. When I finished he looked at me and said something like: "Do you know that when we look at you, I mean your family and other people who know you, and we see you have three stories to write, the lawn to mow, tickets to get for guests for Peru, and a million other things, we know you'll get them done. You're like superman. So what if your leg is bad and the other leg is killing you and you have to clean the house and you can't even walk. We know you'll do it. When the infection was eating your leg you still took your group out to the jungle. And sometimes that's why we don't help: You never look like you need it."
   I nearly laughed. If only he saw me the way I see me: That decent 10-year old who lost all the fights he was in as a kid; the 14-year old who was scared to death when I was jumped by three kids, so scared I didn't even fight back; the 16-year old who was terrified of Chris Barker for two years over Diane Zirilli. That's who I see a lot of the time. And I guess I've learned to fake it, and I guess I have picked up some courage and stick-to-it-ness somewhere along the line, but other times, like today, the fear comes and hits me right across my soul.
   I was driving. Going nowhere in particular, just driving to get out of the house. I sometimes feel like a prisoner here with this bum leg and especially with the pinched nerve in the other leg, and a former guest came over and wants to do ceremony tonight, so I thought I'd take a drive and clear my head for it.
   And while I was driving I stopped at Home Depot and got out of the truck to buy my son Italo a wheelbarrow. I walked to the wheelbarrows that were outside the store, picked one out, then turned around and went back to the truck and left. It felt like too much work.
    Then I drove to Walmart to buy some bottled water for the ceremony, if needed, got out of the car, walked halfway to the doors, then turned around and got back in the car and left.
    On the way home I drove down a country road I don't remember ever being on. Lovely, curving road lined with trees, miles and miles long. And I almost turned around on that because I suddenly pictured my truck breaking down and me not being near help. I didn't though.
    Still, I thought about that and realized that neither the wheelbarrow or the bottled water were too much work. I was just scared. Scared that I wouldn't know how to buy them, scared that I was just lost. Scared that my leg is never gonna get better. Scared that I don't know anything. Scared that I am supposed to run ceremony tonight for someone who needs it and who the hell am I to call on the spirits, to ask them for help? And what about the person who is thinking I can? I'm just fooling! I want to scream. I'm just kidding you and me and everybody else! I'm nobody! Nobody!
    And I'll work out of it, but for a little while now that fear has got its goop all over me.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

John Are, Get in Touch, Please

Not much of a post for most of you. Trying to reach my fantastic kitchen partner John Are, whose band Cruel Story of Youth had a fantastic, if over-produced album released in 1989. Unfortunately, their Publicity or A & R guy got fired or quit just after the album hit and a single shot up to maybe #39 if I remember right, and that was the end of that group.
    Butttttt.....John and I worked Wilson's kitchen for years together on New York's East Side, and he was good. Like all good partners, he got things done before you asked for them. Anticipation is vital in a lot of endeavors; in the kitchens it's double that.
    In the intervening years he became an attorney, I think an entertainment attorney down near D.C, but I cannot find him for the life of me. And I wanted to say hello. Just realized I did not look in the Legal Directory and I'll do that now. But if John Are happens to see this, shoot me an email or respond to this and drop your email.