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Chichen Itza 1982:
Mexico. Where do I begin? I have been here over fifteen times, maybe more...
My Mom came from this crazed cultural collage that was once called Nuevo Espana....
Hispanic, Indian....desert,tropics....shaman, Christian....
Colorful.....all the ranges and hues....
I took a bus to the Yucatan.
To meet those Mayan ghosts. No idle loafers. I visited the jeweled pyramids at Chichen Itza. I could sense rebellious angels everywhere. I was one too....
I was floating in these rarified airs clutching candlesticks for the Mayan altar. The Popol Vuh warned of the coming American Apocalypse....
Cortez, Pizzaro, and United Fruit were now going to pay with interest....
The exotic smells and fruits that had lured my Dad to Mexico flashed bliss into me.
Mexico was causal, corrupt, friendly, violent and bewitching. My ancestors from Spain had done good in this new world....they had been the up and coming aristocracy....until it all collapsed with violence. Yes, the revolution of 1910. Diaz fled. It took a while for the PRI to make things a little better.
But the memory of my Viceroy ancestors was now replaced by this modern pre-Leninist one party state but with tequila poured into it....a new leaf in the wind....
I sat on the glistening beach and let the soft breezes squeeze their darkest secrets into me. You see, the native son was now home.
Mexico City 1984:
I love you. I hate you.
Why are you so you?
The smog is killing me. You are bursting at the seams....
I float in the gardens of Xocimilco. The Zocalo greets me with its chilly arms. My mother calls to me in the Pantheon Jardin next to Jorge Negreta.
The scattered mariachis blow their lazy trumpets. My grandfather is a historian. I am a nut. I float down the Paseo de la Reforma. The nervous angel greets me there high above his column. Where is his pocketknife? I know he's looking for it....
Trotsky, are you there? Did you slyly take it? The monument to Obregon has his pickled hand inside it. It's in a jar with iron bars protecting it. Oh, let's have some chicharon with chili and lime on it....
I am ready for you Mexico.
I walk near Chapultepec castle. The gringos have left a stink here. The Aztec calender says this is the pre-Colombian Jerusalem. The pyramids of Tiotihuacan are near by. They also call....
I fly to the avenue of the dead. The scornful sun and the tortured moon are here. The fierce feathered serpent. Quetzalcoatl. The Ciudadela.
The extraterrestrials have made a skeletal offering. Don Juan are you there? With your peyote, your sackcloths of golden hair.
This is the power spot.
The Virgin of Guadalupe has found it. She tosses a holy sombrero. Mom are you also there? Where are those grimacing students of Tlataloco?
I hear a shot.
You're so violently, violently sweet.
Guatemala City 1984:
The fateful flight to Guatemala left on time early in the morning....it was still dark, but my biological clock woke me up. I took an early taxi. the lonely Freeways were empty. I remember hearing my grandfather tell my grandmother, " He's a traveler, he knows what to do, don't worry...."
Ugly war was raging everywhere in Central America. In Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua....
The plane stopped in San Salvador, but no one got off. But a lot of people sure got the hell on. The pilgrim plane then landed in Guatemala....
Let me add that Guatemala City was a hellishly smelly armpit for sure. The city reeked with these tormented evils.
The military junta's war against the Mayan rebels was exceptionally brutal. Like El Salvador and Nicaragua, Guatemala was now under grissly siege....
I watched some smiling school girls run past me and I snapped some quick photos. It was the least I could do to document some meaning into a totally meaningless situation.
I had a greasy Chinese meal that I still cannot forget. It was prepared in a seedy and mediocre way, but it symbolized my dilemma in Guatemala. I was trapped in this dangerous vortex. Something that would take another ten years for me to understand.
I boarded an early plane to Flores seeking the hidden Mayan ruins of Tikal. I was ready now for the necessary transmission.
I was lost in the most fiercest of time warps. The jungle was battling to reclaim the ancient stones here. While hidden monkeys were howling everywhere.
Tikal was was spooky.
It was also primordial. The energies here were both sluggish and soaring. I took out my creaky drawing pad and sketched.
What really happened here, though?
There was this Egyptian feeling. Somehow there was a mutual connection here with the Middle East, but what was it? I felt frustrated. There was this hidden unity.
The icon lingo was familiar to me and it had this glorious urgency. It was going to free me of useless ideas.
I entered the Great Plaza.
I saw ball courts and calenders. Glyphic writings. I could see a powerful astronomy invented here. The Mayans knew about the Zero and calculated the time cycles on earth and other planets extremely accurately.
I saw something powerful here. The solstices were quick doors to subtler worlds. I now understood that if you calculated the exact second that the sun's morning light went through the hole in the temple wall. You could become powerful and rich. You were now riding the power wave....
This hidden knowledge would be extremely useful for my stock market plays in the near future....
This new concept was furious and alien.
I gazed at the stone ball courts. The losers of this Mayan game were sacrificed. You see, you played for keeps. Was I a Mayan? I felt like UFOs would land here any minute.
It was all very intriguing.
The heat of the day too, was stifling. Thunder clouds roared up above. Toucans, cockatoos and other birds of brighter plumage squawked in remote ways. Subtle and hostile energies were eveywhere.
The massive roots of the Ceiba trees created a jungle canopy that turned this forbidden world into an astral altar.
I listened to a flute concerto on my walkman. I said timely prayers. Everything here was so intricate and complex. All mysteriously etched in the warm stones of a lost world.
Home, I was.
I missed seeing the governor of this province being blown up by just a few hours. But I didn't miss the Guatemalan army being called out out in force. Soldiers were everywhere. It felt oppressive and also comical. These soldiers were too small for the huge American guns they were carrying.
Pana as the natives called this curious place was right next to fabulous Lake Atitlan. Volcanoes were everywhere too. It was all highly explosive and fun.
This was a hippie joint. The toiling locals mixed with the stoned gringos and upscale tourists in perfect harmony.
Real Indian culture could be seen here. The bright colors of the Indian clothes were staggering. I bought a small cloth mural for twenty dollars which would easily sell for ten times that price in the United States. But the female Indian weaver was ecstatic. She had just paid up her monthly bills.
Pretty cool, huh.
I fled to the other side of the lake away from the annoying tourists and spent time with these local Indians. Little Indian girls would come and sell me their exotic trinkets. They also stayed with me at all times speaking in Quiche and Spanish. I could see these little girls come and go as I sunned myself and listened to sweet flute music on my walkman. I was creating a strange Broadway musical in my brain.
But where was I, really?
The brilliant colors of these Indian clothes continued to dominate my violated imagination. They were so bright and chaotic that they seemed to be like brazen hallucinations woven into every cell of the fabrics they were embedded in.
But this beastly chaos had recurring twists to it. I could see haunting asymmetries at work. These were multiple abstract patterns broken up repeatedly with stunning surges of visual counter-point. They echoed back and forth in these curious jazzy rhythms.
Both Bach and Miles Davis were living here in their new Mayan clothes. I saw with my eyes visual syncopated fugues that violently pushed you into an altered state of hyper-focused consciousness.
I was now soaking up LSD both in and out. I didn't care about the material world anymore. I was a spaced out shaman tripping on cultural acid
I didn't want to leave. But the war called me....
So I left.
I could see revolution even from the air as my plane landed in the new Sandanista realm. A crashed plane stewed in the hot sun. I saw soldiers.
The air was electric....
I loved it.
The customs people were teenagers wearing hastily made uniforms. But these kids were efficient and courteous to me. I saw some Soviet airliners parked nearby. I saw black and red flags and also billboards proclaiming NO PASARAN!
The contras will not pass....
The guerilla war had Nicuraugua on a tight war footing. I met an American political science professor who was helping the Sandanistas write their new constitution. He told me that you had to be diplomatic about it. It was their constitution. Not yours.
The American embargo was squeezing Nicaragua. Buses were falling apart. Consumer items were scarce. The Nicaraguan military was now almighty.
I saw young people in brown and tan uniforms positioned on every block. They were group leaders organizing the population for a new unknown era.
Was Managua was getting Sovietized?
I wasn't really sure.
The downtown section of the city was a chaos of ruins. The earthquake of 1972 and the revolution of 1979 has created a crude urban wasteland in the center of town. People got around by using landmarks. There were no street signs anywhere.
Burned out half-tracks, jeeps and other curious military items dotted the forlorn landscape. Somoza was gone, but the revolution was still under bitter siege. Big pictures of Agusto Sandino were everywhere. Was he a Communist? A Nicaraguan nationalist? Or just a simple patriot?
Nobody really knew....
There was psychological smog everywhere.
Fighting was on every border. The Cubans, Russians, and Americans were tussling it out in this new Cold War proxy turf. Poor Nicaragua. Even the geology was against it. No lush jungle. Just yellow and brown vistas looking burned out and dark.
I met many young foreign volunteers in my hostel. Many were educated and idealistic. Some were just looking for new kicks. Managua was steaming hot politically and the air felt tense and confused. Nicaraguans were also total hustlers. I was constantly being hassled for money.
I looked at the funny anti-CIA graffitti on the plaster walls. It all felt quite surreal. I met a crazy German at a beach resort who was pro-Sandanista. He told me East Germans were organizing the Sandanista police force.
One persistent Nicaraguan who I met on the bus kept pestering me to buy him and his friend some badly needed dinner. So I bought two big fish and the hotel staff quickly fried them up. The fish were gone in minutes. The Nicaraguans just pounced on them.
Beautiful Norwegian girls danced on the beach nearby. Nicaragua was dirt cheap.
I took a bus to the Costa Rican border. It was time to fulfill my end of a comic bargain.
San Jose 1984:
I was closely studying a dying bat at the customs office at the Costa Rican side of the border. The poor twisted thing flipped and flopped on the floor and there was nothing I could do about it.
I took a fast bus to San Jose. I now had to deliver.
To check my Dad's gold investments near the Panamanian border. My contacts were in San Jose.
Who were they?
A bunch of shifty freaks. I was introduced to Mr. Woody. An ex-CIA guy who was negotiating with the mining bureau people. Basically he was negotiating the bribes. We owned whatever was underneath the land, but the not the topsoil above it. This was the problem. I found this unusual legal situation pretty bizzare.
Woody was quite a character. He had a big suite at the Talmanca hotel and he enjoyed watching John Wayne movies all day on his VCR. He showed me his Magnum revolver and some special exploding pellets that it shot off. But I was now feeling dubious about the whole silly project.
Woody was a jack Mormon. It meant that he gambled and had wild sex. He told me, " Michael, someone who doesn't believe in God. There's got to be something wrong with him, you know. "
I was put in a light plane and met at the Panamanian border by Woody's shifty assistant. Whose name I no longer recall. Then it was a quick drive to the mines.
The jungle was thick and the earth had a rusty red color. I could see some guy panning for gold in a dirty creek nearby. I was given a pan and got a tiny, shiny nugget immediately. But I was worried. All the mining equipment was in bad shape and it was falling apart, and my Dad's syndicate was pouring lot's off money into this enterprise.
Also no permission had been given to us to start mining after months and months of fruitless negotiations. Yet Woody kept asking for more money.
Woody's assistant picked up a long snake by its tail and showed it to me.
Why was I here?
This adventure seemed ridiculous to me. My Dad was a gold bug waiting for another economic depression. Gold was constantly on his mind. I felt pretty stupid being involved in all this.
Woody's assistant pointed to a road and said, " Over there, That's Panama.
I didn't have a very good feeling about all this....
Panama. What a horrible place. Mean, mean. I saw the canal zone many years ago when my Dad took me on a cruise to the caribbean. But now Woody had some other house here too.
Woody's assistant introducd me to some poor forlorn Indians. They were dressed in natty rags and they wore these cute funny hats. Somehow Woody's connections in Panama seemed crucial to this project. But it was not clear why.
I asked Woody's assistant about why we were trudging in Panama if the gold was in Costa Rica, but he was quite evasive.
I had a painful vision as I squatted in the steam of the wrathful Panamanian jungle. I was dripping with hideous sweat. My sticky clothes were clinging to my body.
Psychological boundaries were now dissolving between me and the jungle. The insect sounds were deafening as I pierced them and went beyond the disjointed walls of my superfical senses.
I was on the other side of a remote echo chamber. I keyed into my senses, but did not get entangled within their iron snare. For a brief second I had a most miraculous choice. I could be trapped or I could be liberated forever.
I could hear gun shots in the distance coming closer, but was not swayed by them a bit. I could sense Woody's assistant by the loud thoughts the he sent out to me. I saw all existence as a vast web of linked vibrations....
I summoned Woody's assistant and quietly told him to take me to the nearest train station. I knew that this frightful mission was finished. The investment totally lost.
Woody's assistant drove me to the nearest town and it was almost pitch dark.
" You know I heard that the spin of the earth is changing...." Woody's assistant uttered. Trying to make some small talk.
I remained silent.
I was through.
Joseph Conrad was laughing somewhere in the distance....
I was dumped in what seemed a seedy hotel. The suspicious manager checked me into a room filled with sketches of women on all four walls.
When I awoke....it dawned on me that had spent a fitful night in a noisy whore house. I packed up quickly and caught the next train to Puerto Limon.
It was time to take stock.
Once upon a time there was a little train that crossed from west to east in a very small country which certain earthlings called Costa Rica. Or the rich coast.
I was on this train. The lush jungle was back. I would gaze at it. Smell it. I watched a young family on the train. A little girl with blue eyes and blond hair reminded me that this cenral American country was different.
The blancos were the majority here. A few blacks on the east coast and a few Indians somewhere. But this was a different country all together. There was no war. So I felt relatively safe.
Puerto Limon led to Cauhita. The most gorgeous beach. I had ever seen. White sand and turquois waters brimming with crystal brilliance.
I rented a hut and read a book called Godel Escher Bach. I left my mind at the door....the book was filled with triple-decker meanings....paradoxes...and intuitive flashes written within a symphonic verbal weave that left me desperately gasping for air.
I listened to Bach on my walkman. I saw that every system folded in on itself with these strange loops of recursive information. All systems were in theory learner friendly and took on a life of their own....in an open system unexpected relationships left us this critical incompleteness of knowledge that then took on strange magical forms....certain patterns simply repeated themselves in systems that seemed to be totally different....
I did not know it yet, but Godel Escher Bach was preparing me for Finnegan's Wake. Also Teilhard de Chardin and Arnold Toynbee. Harold Bloom too. All of these people were systems specialists in their respective fields. All were looking at the same phenomena but from unique and exotic angles. But the rules of observation were the same.....
I gazed at the beach and went swimming. I ate fresh bread brought to me daily by a little black boy who was something of a rascal. I found a dead baby sloth leaning next to a tree sitting in still meditation....
I experienced a disorienting boundary loss, but saw also a complete unity in everything.
But not by reading a book about Buddhism. But by reading a book about Artifical Intelligence. It was such a cruel paradox, but now I decided to start thinking in terms of paradox only. That was the correct way to embrace more psychic distance.
I kept listening to Bach in these warm breezy days that were filling me with so much satisfaction....
The long trek was done.....
I flew back to Mexico City.
My brain totally changed.
I was ready for Tibet.
I was ready to leave UC Berkeley forever.
My academic years were finally finished.....
I just said Hasta La Vista, baby.
Mexico City 1984:
My grandparents were delighted to see me. My grandfather knew I would come back in one piece. He was a doctor, revolutionary, historian, and government offical. He lived in the San Angel part of Mexico City. My Dad had bought this beautiful house for him.
I took the metro to the National Museum. I raced into the portrait gallery and gasped. There he was. My great-great-great-great grandfather Miguel Angulo. A spitting image of my grandmother. He was the last viceroy of New Spain. He ran the empire for the Spanish king just before the impending Mexican war of Independence.
His descendents would continue to hold vast land holdings. My grandmother was the last in line before all the Angulo wealth was lost in 1910. No more straw for brooms in Germany. No more pastry chefs. No more mansions. No more huge dobermans with names like Turin.
Instead my grandfather a mestizo married my grandmother from Lerma. I still remember a faded photo of her holding a rifle and wearing a sombrero.
How unaristocratic, indeed.
My grandfather was indeed a doctor, but he had killed quite a few people. That's what you do in revolutions, you see.
I gave a deep sigh and flew back to California. I would never see my grandmother alive again. My mom was already gone. Soon my Grandfather and Dad would follow and I would now be totally free....