31 July 2008

I wanna go

The Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive is running a month-long tribute to noir writer David Goodis called Streets of No Return. There are times I miss living in Berkeley. Mostly, I don't miss the noise, traffic, and increasingly frantic busy-ness of urban life. But I want to see these movies! Eddie Muller will be on hand to introduce two of them, and he's a fave of mine. His book Dark City is de riguer for buffs.

David Goodis was one of the bleakest and darkest of them all. His stories are peopled by angst-ridden low-lifes who just hope they can catch a break. Hard Case Crime recently put out The Wounded and the Slain among its fine series of reprints and new noir novels. A story on SF Gate today tuned me in to the PFA GoodisFest. Streets of No Return runs from the 1st to the 23rd of August.

30 July 2008

El Espíritu del Lugar

That, I hope, translates as Spiritus Loci, or The Spirit of the Place. For Oaxaca, it is Benevá. Benevá is mezcal. I found the añejo to be the most pleasing--a complex drink with a peated-whisky smokiness.

Like tequila, mezcal is made from agave. It has a similar overall nose and flavor, and not being much of a tequila drinker, I was not prepared to like mezcal all that much. But when you are in a place, the flavor of the local spirit takes on new qualities. It is almost as if you have to enjoy the drink. And enjoy I did. The city has several Benevá shops, including one in the airport, where a pretty señorita will fix you up with a bottle or two or three. We sat on the patio of the B&B most days and sipped the añejo, and sampled the blanco (drier, and to me, harsher) as well. They have a "worm" product, the con Gusano de Maguey, which we didn't purchase. It was not from a sense of squeamishness--I didn't know what con Gusano meant at the time! In fact, you get a baggie of a dry, yellowish powder called sal gusano (worm salt) with your purchase. It is a chaser, supposedly. At the pre-wedding cocktail party, the local hombres had us drinking the mezcal with a lick of sal gusano, a bite of lime, then the shot. I bought the blanco only because I thought the con Gusano was merely blanco with the sal pre-mixed. Duh. Sometimes you have to embrace being an ignorant tourist. Regardless, I embraced El Espíritu de Oaxaca, and came home with an enhanced appreciation for an authentic native drink.


p.s. I was tempted to call this post "I went all the way to México and all I got was this stupid mezcal bottle tag." Be glad I didn't.

29 July 2008

The Postman Always Seems Nice

They're here! Limited edition. FIFTY copies.
You want one. Call TEN POUND PRESS to-day!
(Operators are standing by.)
No charge. Just postage.
Send me a buck, I'll send you a book.
Hell, an e-mail will do. A plaintive whine. A simple request.
Name your price.
Come in today, we got herds o'Winnebagoes, we're givin' 'em away!!

24 July 2008

This guy is on to something

If you haven't met Matt, you should. This guy's got it figured out. You must watch the Dancing 2008 video. If it doesn't make you--at the very least--grin, then you are dead. Or you lack a human soul. So watch it, fer chrissakes, and make yourself happy. Then send it off and make some friends of yours happy.

At the wedding in Oaxaca, we did some weird napkin dance. Is that a normal thing in México? Or just at weddings? Or just at this wedding? Regardless, it was fun. Very fun. Everybody was happy and smiling.

Here's me doing the napkin dance:

Now you go to some foreign country and do some funky dancing. Make sure you get a picture of it. I'll bet people will be happy and smiling. Meanwhile, check in with Matt.

Have a nice day.

22 July 2008

México on my mind

Mexico's greatest leader, Benito Juárez, was a Zapotec from Oaxaca. In fact, the city itself, capital of the state of Oaxaca, is known as Oaxaca de Juárez. In Mexico City, the international airport is known as Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez. So it is no surprise that Sr. Juárez' countenance graces the twenty-peso note. $20 Mexican is about $2.00 US. Lincoln and Washington grace our fiver and single, so it seems reasonable that the best guys get the lowest denominations. After all, Juárez was famously a "man of the people," and the people handle a lot of $20 notes. You can get a cold beer delivered to your seat at the ballpark for fifteen pesos, so it was the perfect bill to have on hand. Like the UK and Ireland, Mexican paper money is colorful, and the smaller denominations are smaller in size. I remember my Irish cousin asking, astonished, when I explained that US money is uniformly sized, "but what do your blind people do?" I said "trust someone." That wasn't a satisfying answer for either of us. The reverse of the bill features Monte Albán, naturally, Oaxaca's most famous landmark.

It was originally a Zapotec center. Today, the signs are in Spanish, English, and Zapotec. Pairing it with Juárez was the obvious choice. His story, from illiterate peasant to president of the nation, is one that resonates with all peoples. It is even more remarkable when you consider the racism against nativos (indigenous Amerindians) at the time. México is a place of great ethnic variety, another part of its unique allure. Our country's future is inextricably linked with that of our southern neighbor's. After all, our entire West once spoke mostly Spanish! With immigration, NAFTA, the drug trade, tourism--I can't see how any norte can keep from thinking about México. Maybe we'd be better off working with the people we share a continent with than running off to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Just a thought.

21 July 2008

Hot off the presses!

FIFTY, my collection of all 50 Matt Cadd mini-sagas, is now being assembled here at Ten Pound Press. Distribution will begin this week, so check your mailboxes, there will be a few "early birds" for special customers. Most won't get out until the following week. Stay tuned for updates, mates.

20 July 2008

Plata Mexicana

Around the corner from Casa de las Bugambilias we stumbled upon a shop (Antiguedades de Oaxaca), where I found this silver coin:

The 1970 World Cup was held in México, this commemorative lists (the fine print) all the previous winners ("holders" in FIFA-speak) chronologically from Uruguay in 1930 to England in 1966. I'm guessing this is the obverse. Here's the other side:

The fineness ("LEY 0.975") is listed just above "MEXICO." I had to use a 10x hand lens to read it. I loved the design, the modern footballer alongside his ancient counterpart. We had just been to Monte Albán and seen the ballcourt, and the friendly norte in the shop got us excited about an even larger site, Yagul. So excited in fact, that I negelcted to ask more questions about my purchase. So here is a commemorative silver coin of Mexican origin celebrating sport (deportes), friendship (amistad) and peace (paz), and I can find nothing about it. It weighs in at about 51.7 grams. A troy ounce of silver is about 31.1 grams. If the amount of silver in the alloy is indeed 91.75%, this fat boy tips in at a little more than 1.6 troy ounces of plata. (Check the spot price for silver here!) According to our yanqui acquaintance in the shop, Yagul was less developed, freer of tourists, and more impressive than Monte Albán. We got instructions on how to take the bus out there and back, and we left excited about a full day's adventure for our last full day in Oaxaca. Alas, I got a hold of the turistas, the mal de gringo, Moctezuma's Revenge, on that penultimate day. At least I was trotting to the toilet in the privacy of our room at Casa B rather than down the narrow isle of a Mexicana jet. I wonder how the US Customs crew would have reacted to my dancing, glute-squeezing, dehydrated, miserable self frantically trying to find a men's room in the bowels of LAX! Glad I didn't have to find out.

19 July 2008

No House Limit

I'm a big fan of the Dorchester/Winterfall line of Hard Case Crime novels. HCC-045, No House Limit by Steve Fisher is the latest (July '08), and one of the best. The copyright is fifty years old this year--maybe that's why so many HCC's have 1958 dates! (The afterword is written by one of the late Mr. Fisher's sons.) Steve Fisher is another one of those forgotten noir greats. He wrote the novel I Wake Up Screaming, which served as the basis for the 1941 film, and he also had a hand in the screenplay for Dead Reckoning among countless other projects. No House Limit is a fast-paced story of gambling in Vegas during the early days of the Strip. The action centers around a hard-boiled anti-hero, casino owner Joe Martin, a defiant independent in the land of corporations and syndicates. Good side stories, more than one romance angle, some mystery, suspense, violence, this book has it all, and it is well-told, smart and engaging. I like a book that can talk about hope, faith and dreams but keep its feet on solid ground with sweat, tears and blood. Mr. Fisher pulls the balancing act off nicely, mostly by creating some memorable characters and giving them plenty of chances to pull out the stops and follow their passions. Noir at its best.

18 July 2008


On a hilltop outside the city of Oaxaca, México, is a spectacular archaeological site called Monte Albán. We were fortunate to have a funny, knowledgeable and articulate guide during our visit there. I'm not much for tourist spots, but Monte Albán was beautiful, and a worthwhile destination. That's a photo of the ball-court. Who knows what kind of crazy ballgame the Zapotecas played? México is a great place for juxtaposing the old and the new. Sure enough, in the city we found our way to the parque de béisbol, where we got to watch a more familiar, modern game. They love baseball in Estados Unidos Mexicanos (yes, they are the "United States" too!). How can you NOT like a place that loves baseball? Naturally, we had to attend the games every night. We tried three times, got rained out once, and would have done a fourth and fifth but the wedding celebrations got in the way. After all, we did travel to Oaxaca for Ron and Susana's wedding, so we couldn't just blow off the cocktail party, ceremony and reception for a weekend of cervezas and cheerleaders, could we? Here's a look at the estadio, inside and out:

You can see the tarp crew at work. It was the wet season there, and we had showers most days. The Valley of Oaxaca was lush and green--it was hard to imagine that their dry season can go as long as nine months. A few times, when the sky overhead was filled with clouds and the air moist with impending precipitation, I squinted my eyes and thought I was in Ireland. Mexicans drive like the Irish, a pedal-to-the-metal "we're in God's hands now" fatalistic mad careering through narrow streets and around blind turns. And Mexicans, like the Irish, are impossibly friendly and generous, especially to American tourists. They play weird ballgames in Ireland, highly entertaining, impressively athletic, but not baseball. Here's some scenery that might make you think of the Emerald Isle:

Stay tuned for more México stories and photos!

17 July 2008

Free of earthly bounds

On Independence Day, a wonderful writer took his own life at the age of 68. Thomas M. Disch was a creative giant. He wrote everything from gothic novels to SF to poems to librettos to children's books. The Priest, The Genocides, Echo Round His Bones, and The Man Who Had No Idea (short stories) sit above me on the bookshelf. Mr. Disch was always dark and violent, proving again that noir is a universal schtick, not confined to "crime writers." He was funny, as well, in a grim and fatalistic way, but it was his speculative power that hooked you. He could really take you places, and manage to talk about love and death and beauty and horror and anguish and redemption at the same time. He was a cynic and a heretic, but his writing is inspirational and uplifiting. He had some chops, that's for sure, and I've got several more of his books on the "must-read" list.

Recqueiscat in pacem.

13 July 2008

New Brews

Our stay in SoCal after México gave me a chance to see hermano menor J-O, who had a fabulous new brew. Reissdorf Kölsch is a golden ale from Köln (Cologne), a Roman city on the River Rhine in Germany. The beer came in tall, brown 0.5-L bottles, and poured clear and bright in the glass. It was light and refreshing, but had a satisfying fullness and clean finish. Eminently quaffable, especially in the summer. In Oaxaca, we found a Munich-styled amber lager called León. It had a lovely softness in the malt flavor, not too sweet, and finished dry. León is a Grupo Modelo product, the folks who bring you Corona. I have a great fondness for mass-produced Mexican beer, there's just enough variation from similar beers in the States to keep them interesting. The light lagers have a little more body and flavor, and there are actual choices of darker beers on the menu! Maybe it is just México, the state of mind, that makes all those beers--Dos Equis, Tecate, Pacífico, Bohemia, etc.--taste so good to me. Two new brews, one German, one Mexican of obvious German lineage! The Kölsch I would like to taste on draft in the city of its birth--the so-called "real ales" in the UK can only be properly appreciated at the source. Someday, perhaps, there'll be a beer pilgrimage to Germany. And someday, perhaps, there'll be a return to México, and I'll find a place with Léon on tap. Till then? Cheers, mates.

12 July 2008

Latin noir

In a gift shop in Todos Santos, a busy town on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur, I found reprints of some Spanish-language film posters of the noir era. I should have bought the damn things and mailed them home. Instead, I bought greeting cards featuring miniatures (4 x 6) of them.

The Waitress of the Port Cafe is a Cuban film from 1950. The director, Juan Orol, was born in Galicia, Spain, and died in Mexico City.

Noir is not confined to the good ol' US of A.