Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Eve On the Levee

This clip illustrats an old, seasonal tradition on the Mississippi river in south Louisiana. On Christmas Eve, mostly in the "River Parishes" (St. James, St. John and St. Charles parishes) and on the east side of river, the residents of the small towns and villages along the River build, and then incinerate, elaborate bon-fire structures, preceded and accompanied by lavish feasting, drinking and celebrations. Folks come from MILES around. Gumbo, etouffe, jambalaya, you NAME it! chers...

Depending on who is explaining it, the fires are lit to point the way for Papa Noel (cajun french Santa figure). Others say it is to help guide ships on the river, during December fog in Louisiana, while others say it is to help guide the faithful Catholics to Midnight Mass on Christmas. The probable trueroot of the practices is linked to the Roman Catholic rituals around what's called "la Posada," lighting the way to a room for the so-called Holy Family when they sought shelter, and wound up bunking in a barn.

Whatever the belief, it is still a strong tradition, every year on Christmas eve. The River parishes are located between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. When we lived in Baton Rouge, groups of us went every year, to a different village, for the gumbo, beer, and good times. The bonfires can get quite large and really detailed and ALOT of work goes into them.

Ceremonies utilizing fire are universal, these longest nights of the year, nest paw?

So if you're ever in the vicinity, be sure to find a party, and laissez le bon temps rouller, cher...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

John McCutcheon ~~ "Christmas in the Trenches"

Garth Brooks has bought his oh-so-sincere whine to a new release for Christmas called "Belleau Wood," about an alleged rapprochement between German and American troops in that famed forest. It must have been the winter of 1917, cuz the war ended in Nov. '18.

It's not that I doubt the tale, exactly. It's just that, well I'd never heard it before, but I had/have heard John McCutcheon talk about and sing his trenchant (sigh) ballad, Christmas in the Trenches, about a real event in the FIRST winter of the war, the first Christmas, in 1915, when it all might yet have ended.
"My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell
Each Christmas come since World War I, I've learned its lessons well
That the ones who call the shots won't be among the dead and lame
And on each end of the rifle we're the same...

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Greendale Experience (Cuz We're Prohibited From Calling It "Education")

This is funny, but 'for-profit' education, the pretensions of which this "ad" is a send-up, is not funny. When people talk about "student debt, they're not mainly talking about people who got loans to attend the local state college or university. The VAST majority of student indebtedness is owed to "proprietary" so-called "schools," like Kaplan, and Phoenix, and the rest, who sell credentials the same way GM sells cars...
With a financing plan!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Whaddaya Mean By "Work?"

Capitalism works AMAZINGLY well--STUNNINGLY EFFICIENTLY-- as the instrument for transferring wealth from the bottom to the top.
For "democracy?" Not so much. Capitalism is an intrinsically monopolistic program. Monopolies are contrary to democratic governance.
So wadda YOU think?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

In Honor of Imaginary Beings

Probably the BEST thing one can say about peoples' devotion to"Imaginary Beings" is that it does produce some lovely and evocative imagery. Old Santa Fe friend María Móntez-Skolnik captured this image recently, around Thanksgiving, at the little "Santuario" in the village of Chimayo, in the mountains east and north of Santa Fe.

The Santuario has gained renown for the curative powers of the mud made from dirt of the Chapel floor. It's been regarded as a "healing" place for four Centuries, or so. And there started to be a problem, cuz LOTS penitents came to acquire the miraculous mud, and the floor of the chapel was continually being gouged out. So now they bring the dirt in from somewhere out in the hills, and the priest blesses it. I guess this 'works' just as well.

The lights with which the structures are festooned are called "luminarias." They're paper bags with the "novena" candles bedded in sand in the bottom. They are ubiquitous this time of year, out here.

Another seasonal/religious tradition is to build small "bonfires" in the streets on Xmas eve, for a pageant the call "Las Posadas," re-enacting the search by the Jesus family for a place to stay, ending at/in the manger. The faithful--and those playing along--light the "farolitos" to guide the "holy family" on its way.

Fyeieio: The tradition of the farolitos/bonfires is exaggerated hugely, and currently is outrageously misinterpreted, down in south Louisiana where I spoent 10 years in the '80s/90s: there, on Xmas eve, the Cajun folks spend weeks constructing HUGE, intricate, fabulous structures on the Mississippi River levees, only to set them alight, on Xmas eve, and dance, eat hugely, and drink and celebrate in the garish light of the flaming structures. It's in honor of the "Posadas" tradition, also, of course. But the (philistine) local media announce faithfully that they do it to "guide Santa" up to Baton Rouge.

Back at the Santuario: Every year, on Good Friday (before Easter), the faithful flock to make the pilgrimage to the Santuario from Santa Fe, a distance of some 20 miles, and even further. Throngs of pilgrims come from all over to visit the site and ask forgiveness for their sins. I have seen people on their knees, moving along the road-side, slowly, painfully. The SHOULDERS on the highways north out of Santa Fe and south from Espanola, and from the west, from the direction of Los Alamos, are always thick with folks walking alongside the traffic, starting on (Holy) Thursday, and going on through the night, and through the next day.

The State and local law, and the tribal cops from the Pueblos over which the pilgrims traverse (and there are several: Tesuque, Pojoaque, and Nambe', at least), keep EAGLE eyes on it. There has been violence associated with or linked to pilgrims, increasingly. One year--2002, iirc--there were even check-points with pat-down searches.

In addition to the "Santuario," the village of Chimayo is home to a large family of Hispanic weavers, the Ortegas, whose work is known and valued in folk art collections around the world. It is also the home of the renowned eatery, Rancho de Chimayo, established on the old (18th Century) family hacienda of the Jaramillo family, who once farmed the valley. They now operate a B&B there, too. My dad and the owner/proprietor, Arturo Jaramillo, were pals. The restaurant became the de facto celebration station for my family from almost the day it opened. The food is delicious (though not cheap), and available in varying degrees of capsaicin-enhancement.

If you happen to dine there, you may want to try the Chimayo Cocktail. I "invented" it, chatting with the owner (at the time), Arturo Jaramillo, after a family gatherning/meal there in the late '60s. It's basically a tequila sunrise with apple cider instead of orange juice, and a dash of creme de cassis instead of the Gran Marnier. Served up, with an apple slice garnish, and cinnamon-sugar around the rim.

¡Su salud! (y pesetas, y amor, y tiempo para gustarlos).