Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Do I Have the Reverse Midas Touch?

I reported back in January that my bank in Morocco had spectacularly failed due to fraud. Now I find out that my current bank, Washington Mutual, has also failed, and been bought out by Chase Manhattan. There was no notification on the Washington Mutual website, or an email. The failure was reported by the media in the early morning, and by evening I received an email- from my new bank, Chase, welcoming me to the family, with no information as to why the change took place. To date I still haven't received anything from Washington Mutual.

I can't help thinking the real reason why they failed. Some time while I was in Morocco, they started publicly calling themselves WaMu, in their bid to become bigger and better and more national. They lost touch with their roots. They lost touch with the great state of Washington. Even within the state, they sought to downplay their connections, as if they were ashamed of Washington.

Ironically, I was having to switch banks, as there are no Washington Mutuals in Wisconsin. But there are plenty of Chase Manhattans. However, I have found an excellent local bank, with only a few branches, right here in Waunakee, and with no fees, but they even give you a minimal interest rate on your funds, in a combined checking-savings account. As soon as we ever get to sign our rental agreement and can prove we live here, I'll be signing up with the State Bank of Waunakee, Cross Plains. They tell me they have a great loan:equity ratio, and are in no trouble at all. But you never know. Now I'm putting my money with them, and I'm considering what happened the last two times...

Monday, 22 September 2008

Thank God, I'm a Country Boy

We've made it, and the area around here is beautiful. Though I've often lived in large cities, like San Francisco, London, LA, Seattle, Casablanca, or Detroit suburbs, at heart I'm a country boy. Growing up, only one year was in a large city, and about half my memories come from living in the country. I enjoy the countryside, or better yet the wilderness, far more than the large cities. Sure, cities have their pluses, but about the only thing I can think of that they have over small towns is clubs, and clubs remain more of a dream than something I actually go out and do.

So this is what it's like living in a park in the countryside, surrounded by cornfields. The dog is going insane with joy. There are some hot bitches on both sides, and he has a cornucopia of smells to investigate all around. He's even become somewhat blase about all the frogs hopping around. (Poor thing- he doesn't realize there won't be anymore of them in another twenty years.) I've taken him on some walks through the pea and cornfields, up the hill, to an old crumbling stone wall- but I'll share more on that another time.

The frogs come from a pond and wetlands nearby, which turns out to be a flyway, with egrets and Canadian Geese honking overhead every morning. (More on that later too.) Also from a sewage treatment slough, which is not as cool, nor are the occasional breeze of cows working hard to become alternative energy sources. But no place is perfect.

Some parts of the park are rather old-fashioned. After I washed my clothes at the laundry, I looked around for the dryer, and couldn't find it. There was these behemoths, but I thought that surely they weren't it. The park manager had to come out and show me that I'd missed the one modern dryer, but the large round green machine (whom we shall christen Betty) was actually a dryer, industrial strength, taking one quarter at a time, and requiring many quarters to actually dry. Turning her on is rather complicated, requiring a lighter for half the broiler, which lights with a great woosh and clanging racket.

The park is full of trees, and very friendly Wisconsinites. (Wisconsonians? Wisconsinians? Wisconsinii?) It was originally a farm, slowly sold off in parcels, so that now farms surround the park, and a barn and silos remain- though the silos are due to come down in the next couple months. (When I was lost briefly coming in, my dad told me on the phone to turn "at the two silos". That's a bit like telling someone to take a right at the Starbucks in Seattle, or when I told a friend I was lost in Casablanca, but was next to a hanut.) The good news is we'll be safe- the storm shelter is only a few steps from our location.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius

We rushed and rushed to get to Wisconsin on time. After innumerable delays, we arrived just the night before. We were coming for a party, hosted at the Damrows, for Rich Haas, Mike Damrow, and Mole, who all have their birthday on the same day. Sadly, Rich Haas, who I haven't seen for over twenty years, was unable to make it, though my mom traveled out to Wisconsin just for this event. Many I knew from Jesus People Milwaukee and Europe were present, and many more I didn't know. The last half of the evening we were treated to a concert by Mole and the Damrows.

Bill sang a beautiful folk melody.

I'd always thought "Come, Jesus Come" was an original Servant song, until I heard it on the Sheep CD, originally sung not by Sandie but by Mary Damrow.

The Hamburger Song makes no sense outside of the Lonesome Stone musical, where it speaks of pursuing radical ideas in the San Francisco Haight, like vegetarianism- but it remains my favorite from the CD. Mole was kind enough to take a special request. (However, despite repeated attempts, there was no light available, so you'll just have to listen.)

My dad gave a speech, thanking all for their generosity in helping us get across the country. I thought it was just going to be a quick speech, and not a full sermon, so I unfortunately didn't record it. It turned out he was exhorting us to consider in prayer a reunion tour of Sheep and others from the Jesus Movement days. It was an excellent extemporaneous sermon, full of Spirit and fire. However, Lynn Malmberg recorded it, and should be posting it shortly. At that point I'll update this entry to link to her post.

Friday, 19 September 2008

St. William of Tuscony

We had one more leg to go. Get from Kansas City, through Missouri, Iowa (also now known as Obamowa), and on into Wisconsin. On the way we passed this interesting tidbit at a rest stop. I'd never heard of the Amana Colonies, but my dad was very familiar with them. Evidently they're the most successful communal experiment in American history. The rest stop had a marker commemorating the efforts. I was shocked at what was on the flipside. Here was a people who had successfully created a commune, sharing everything in common. And then, in the end, they had given in to that dread demon, mammon. They had changed from an enterprise where no one counts his own goods as his own, to something that was the epitome of capitolism, with stock options and everyone looking for his own bit of the pie. The worst part of it was it was so easy to see how this could happen. Every religious movement wanes in successive generations. Lasting for 100 years is a great feat. And when the fire has died, you look to continue in a way that makes sense, that fits the culture of the now you are in. It was all shared before. Let us continue to share. But we are each going his or her own way. So we must share individually. We will have our own share of the pie. We will have our own stock options. We will fit in to American society, while still retaining some of our roots. Because if you can't take it with you, better get it before you go.

Thirty minutes out of Madison, we broke down again. It was now 3 PM, and we had to be in Middleton by 7 in order to return the trailer and not have to pay another $20 penalty. (Every day we're late we have to pay an extra $20. As of today we've been delayed a week.) Bill went off to get some more parts for the RV, and was gone for over an hour, as he searched for a store in the middle of Wisconsin farm country.

I don't pretend to know all the problems with this RV, and all that happened to it. It's some mixture of not having gas, and the carborator, and the alternator, and the starter, and all those a few times. I don't know much about cars. But Arthur C. Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." A primitive society would see what we do as either magic or that of God. So let us review.

Bill came and fixed the RV, making it run again. Miracle One. A few miles down the road it broke down again, with a different problem. Bill fixed it again. Miracle Two. And today, he returned, like a white night, in his white cowboy hat and leather boots, with the right part, and suddenly, the RV was running again. We drove down the road, the dog house off the engine between the front seats, and Bill spraying WD-40 straight into the engine as he drove. As Leonardo da Vinci is rumored to have said, "Still, it moves." Miracle Three.

It takes three documented miracles to make someone a saint, according to the Roman Catholics. This is why I declare he is now St. William of Tuscony. He brought us all the way from Belen, New Mexico, to Waunakee, Wisconsin, where we sleep tonight in our assigned lot in the park. We stopped on the way to return the trailer, and praise God, we were charged only $25 for the damaged plastic fender. Today, this week, Bill was the manifestation of God to us.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Worship Freedom

After working all day, Bill was able to get the RV running again. We left late in the afternoon, with me driving independently so as not to cause an extra strain on the RV. But I received a call shortly thereafter, telling me the RV had broken down again. After some confusion as to which exit the RV was actually at, I met up with Bill and my dad, ran over in my car and got a gallon of gas, and Bill slowly pushed the RV to a nearby gas station. We were next to a Native American casino. overlooking a gorgeous lake and RV park, that we had originally hoped to reach, before we learned how high the towing expenses would be. There Bill discovered the new problem- we were out of gas. Which was odd, as we had gassed up recently, just before the mechanics in Truth or Consequences supposedly fixed the vehicle.

We drove until late in the night. Somewhere East of Albuquerque we attached the car to the trailer again, and kept on driving. We pulled into a Dairy Queen parking lot early in the morning, and went to sleep. But perhaps because of my anxiety over us being parked illegally, I couldn't sleep, and so elected to keep driving through the night. Come daylight Bill took over again, and we rolled into Kansas City this evening, to see the ministry that Linnea's been involved with. And just as we pulled in, the trailer hit an illegally parked garbage truck, ripping off the trunk's bumper and the plastic wheelhouse of the U-Haul trailer- the one not covered by insurance.

Linnea's been guiding a community of artists, interested in Jesus to varying degrees. There are musicians, visual artists, and actors living together or near a common house, meeting regularly to worship, and pursue or consider life with Christ. I had the privilege of being able to attend one of their gatherings the evening I was there. Immediately you could tell it was a different sort of place. A spirit of openness and freedom had been cultivated. One young man would spontaneously break out into skits or come up with country songs on the spot related to the conversation, while another would provide accompaniment that he had just created. People weren't there out of obligation, external or self-imposed. They were there to find some joy, and experience it.

Linnea facilitated the meeting, as she seemed to do regularly. She does not lead, as much as try to encourage growth and leadership in others. (Which is for me the epitome of excellent leadership.) The guy who was leading the worship was uncomfortable, as he had never done it before. Additionally, he didn't know how to play any of the songs the group usually sung. So instead- he wrote his own songs. I'm not making this up. He wrote about five songs, and they were the songs of Heaven. I only wish I had been more alert, to be able to follow and participate more fully, but I was exhausted from the all-night drive. These were choral songs that can easily be sung to, with melodious beat, and deep, penetrating lyrics. Everyone joined in, harmonizing or in counter-point, letting the Spirit move them towards new heights off the riff of the creator. When he stopped playing, all demanded more. While his talents were recognized, what moved was the presence of the Spirit penetrating the music. For the first time I saw before me displayed the merging of the Holy Spirit and what in another age was called the Muse, and I understood, if only for a brief moment. I only hope I can get ahold of the lyrics and words again, for it would be a pity to hear such beauty only once this side of Paradise.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Thank Dog, We Found the God

The dog rushed out the door to take care of business as soon as we got home. Unfortunately, no one made sure to tie him up, primarily because he never runs away.

But the dog is in a new place, after living in Surf City for the past three years. He ran around the corner, and disappeared.

We looked everywhere for him last night. I wandered around the RV park using my eyes, and then the flashlight, while my dad called out to him from the RV. I got in the car and went up and down the road, though I thought it unlikely for him to have gone far, as Sammy has arthritis. I drove down to the newspaper office that I'd walked him to earlier today. I couldn't find him. I came back and looked on foot, while my dad got in the car and drove up and down. We both have the squeakie toys that Sammy likes, and were squeezing them and calling his name. We couldn't find him. I heard barking in the distance, but my car came by at that moment, and it was impossible to determine where the barking was coming from or from how far. At one point I began running up the road, as about 1,000 feet away I could see a white shape in the night coming towards me. I called out, but on getting closer saw it was a man in a white shirt coming in to work the nightshift.

My dad was in tears, for Sammy is his most visible reminder of his wife, departed only this past March. We'd looked everywhere, and now headed to the police station to report him missing. Just as we pulled into the station parking lot, my dad got a call. A man had found the phone number on Sammy's tag, and was reporting that he was there at the Holiday Inn, next door to the RV park.

Evidently, somehow, Sammy with his arthritis had gone down a steep cliff to the Holiday Inn, which, of all the buildings in the vicinity of the RV park, looks most like the Fountain Glen Community that Sammy was living in in Surf City- especially in the near black and white a dog sees. But in truth he's my dad's dog. He realized the RV park was roughing it. Always, a Holiday Inn is the top-of-the-line, and Sammy had decided to upgrade his accomodations.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

U-Haul From Hell

Today was the experience with U-Haul from Hell. Early in the morning I got a voice message from U-Haul informing me that we were late returning the trailer. I knew this- the RV had broken down. So I called U-Haul to inform them and smooth everything over.

U-Haul was incredibly generous. When I told them that two mechanics who had looked at the RV had suggested that faulty wiring on the U-Haul trailer might have caused a drain on the battery, causing a breakdown, U-Haul told me they would send someone out to check the trailer connections, at no cost to us. This was despite my informing them that the RV was broken down, and not the trailer. Of course, U-Haul doesn't rent RVs.

U-Haul also told me that, because we were broken down, the rental of the trailer would be extended out, automatically, at no cost to us. I had expected neither of these supports, and so was impressed at U-Haul's generosity. I received a couple more calls from U-Haul, informing that they would momentarily be sending out an agent to check the wiring. Then I received one more call.

Sadly, I missed the call by nine minutes. The voice mail from Laura stated that, because the contract was overdue, U-Haul could not come out to check the wiring until I went to a U-Haul company in person to extend the contract. There was no explanation as to why they had changed their tune. There was no mention of what town this company was in, or how to get there. There was no explanation of what it meant to extend the contract. There was no explanation of how much money I would have to shell out, or even indeed if I had to shell out money.

I called the number the voicemail was called from, only to get the main U-Haul number, and listened to their standard greeting stating, "In order to insure that we keep our promises to you, all conversations will be recorded." I was transferred a few times, and eventually made it back to Laura's office, but she was busy. They were able to inform me that, yes, I had to renew the contract; no, they couldn't explain why; no, they had no idea if there would be money involved, or how much; no, they didn't know what town their location was in that I needed to go to; and yes, they had the phone number of the place.

I called up the location, and was told that their location was in the next town over. The guy on the phone informed me that they also didn't know if I would have to pay money or how much. But he assured me that I would have to give him no money. It took a couple minutes for us to establish that they were living in 1960, and the guy on the phone thought there was a difference between money and a credit card. He told me the guy who handles U-Haul wouldn't be back until 3 that afternoon, and I could come by then. That meant no one could check the trailer connections until late that afternoon. It was now 1045, and I'd been on the phone with different calls for 15 minutes.

I called U-Haul again, to find out if I would have to pay, and to find out what happened to their generous promise of automatically extending the contract at no charge to me. I was told that the Regional Office couldn't answer questions of fees- I needed to speak to Roadside Assistance. I called Roadside Assistance, and was told I needed to speak to Customer Service. Customer Service has very long hold times. After ten minutes, someone came on and told me that I was at the Customer Service Switchboard, and they'd now transfer me to Customer Service. After twenty minutes, I got Customer Service. Customer Service said I needed to speak to the Regional Office. The Regional Office told me that I needed to speak to Roadside. Roadside sent me to Customer Service. After another twenty minutes on hold, I got Francisco.

Fransisco is not your ordinary customer service rep. He firmly believes in creating as hard of a situation as possible for his customers, costing them as much money as possible, and doing everything to insure that they never use the services of his company again. I told him that I had a question on fees, and that Roadside had told me I needed to speak to Customer Service. He told me I was wrong, and that Customer Service doesn't handle questions of fees- I needed to speak to the Regional Office. I assured him most heartedly that this was not the case, and that I'd been through this a few times before, and that I'd been told it was definitely Customer Service that handled questions of fees. He disagreed. At one point he even told me that I needed to present my credit card in person at the U-Haul location, and after I gave them the credit card I would be told how much I would be paying- in complete countenance to all laws and regulations in the United States. And as I was telling him, "Definitely, do not transfer me- it won't help, they know nothing," he stated, "I'm transferring you now," and did so.

Never in my life have I experienced such rudeness and ineptitude, where a rep transfers you against your will, forcing you to talk to a department which you have told them will not help you, and that you have spoken to previously multiple times.

I was back at the Regional Office. They sent me to Roadside. Roadside heard my story, and told me to ask for a supervisor in the Customer Service Department. I called Customer Service, and after twenty minutes, got a rep, and told them I needed to speak to a supervisor. After stating my story, I waited for another ten minutes, and got a supervisor. Guess who it was? Wait for it...

Yes, Fransisco is what evidently passes for a supervisor there. I began to tell him my story, and he told me that I had just spoken with him, and demanded to know if I'd spoken with Regional. I told him I had, and reminded him that I had told him multiple times that it wouldn't help, and not to transfer me. He told me he was putting me on hold, and before I could protest, he put me on hold. Then he hung up on me.

I called Regional again, who transferred me to Roadside. At this point, near tears, I told the story again. They sympathised, but there was nothing they could do to help me, because they had no knowledge of fees.

At this point, it was 2:30 in the afternoon. I had been on hold or talking with U-Haul reps for four hours. This was approximately with twenty different people, being transferred some 15 times between different departments. All of this was on my cell phone, in the middle of the day, so I was paying for the right to be screwed by U-Haul. (There's some sort of word for that.) That was four hours of my hard-earned money, going to my cellphone bill. Not a single person could tell me if I would pay fees for this renewal of the contract, how much the fees were, what a contract renewal was, and why U-Haul was going back on it's promise. Only in the final conversation did I get someone asking me the basic question of who it was I had spoken to who had made that promise, but of course, after twenty people, I couldn't remember the name of the second person in the chain. (Back then, I had been trusting U-Haul.)

The good news is there was no longer a need to wait to visit the U-Haul location, as it was now close to 3 in the afternoon. I drove down to the place that rents U-Hauls and makes chili, and they were very kind and helpful. They looked up some information on their computer, and were able to tell me that there would be a fee, and how much. Extending the contract, it turned out, meant closing the existing contract, and starting a new one for $250 to Wisconsin. This was of course too much, and had I known this beforehand, I wouldn't have made the trip out of town to the U-Haul station. I told the man that we would just use the expertise of our friend Bill to check the trailer wiring, and would simply pay the late fees when we got up there to Waunakee.

By the time I returned home it was now 4:30 in the afternoon. Six hours of my life, wasted by U-Haul, because no one in their company knew basic information, like if there would be charges and how much they might be. There were many kind people at U-Haul, unlike Francisco, but there is a massive systemic problem in the structure of U-Haul, such that no department knows what information they are supposed to dispense, and every department passes the buck on basic information.

Rest assured, U-Haul, I am not a happy customer. I call on you to hold to your promises, as you state in your voicemail introductions. (The irony of listening to you state that all 10 times I called you was just too great.) I call on you to do the right thing, the just thing, and reimburse me for my cellphone minutes, and dispense with the late fees, as you stated to me initially. I call on you to make me believe that U-Haul is a reputable company, and worthy of doing business with.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

It's Sunday. It must be New Mexico.

It's Sunday, and it's been awhile, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to visit a church. There are no Christian Quaker churches in New Mexico, so I looked for the next best thing, another peace church, the Mennonites of Belen.

I've been to a Mennonite Church before, when I visited my friends Paul & Lydia up in BC, who've been part of the Mennonites for many years. This was different. The first clue might have been after I used Google Maps to find the church, and Google sent me eight miles down the road to the middle of nowhere, before a friendly pickup driver told me the Mennonite Church was eight miles behind me. That wasn't the clue though. It was when I mentioned this directional error to one of the church members, and he told me, "Google Maps? That's something on the Internet, isn't it?"

Yes, this was Conservative Mennonite. An unusual experience, to be sure. The men, all in white shirts and black slacks. (Well, except for me.) The women all in white bonnets and traditional dresses, like what I grew up with. Women on the left, men on the right. And a conversation before service when the church member derided those "liberal Mennonites" for being only fair-weather pacifists. (I didn't even really realize that the Mennonites had these distinctions.)

The singing was hard to adjust to. They have learned to sing very well, because they use no instruments; only a harmonizer before the hymn. I tried to hit the notes, but it's difficult when one has grown up all their life singing to instruments, and when you have a very cute two-year-old next to you really trying to hit the notes too but not even knowing that there are words.

Their services are long. They have cars, but are generally anti-technology. So there is of course no website, no answering machine, and no one even answers the phone. I had to guess on the time of service, and arrived 20 minutes early. Sunday School is first, but it is melded in with the rest of service, such that there is singing before hand, the kids leave during adult Sunday School, and then there is no chance to leave before the sermon begins. Which was unfortunate. To be fair, I think the main pastor wasn't present, but the guy speaking for fifty minutes seemed to be under the impression that a sermon was a string of Biblical cites with reading of verses under various points, all without explanation. Worse yet, the sermon was on how the Bible was the Word of God, to be taken as literally true, and the sole illumination for life, supported with out-of-context eisigesis like every reference to "the Word" assumed to be referring to the Bible, or "scripture" assumed to be referring to the New Testament whenever a New Testament author used the word. With a very wakeful dog the night before, I found it quite difficult to stay awake.

Thankfully, the interactive Sunday School in the hour before was much more illuminating, encouraging, and instructive. It was on the tongue and it's dangers, from James. I reflected on how when this passage was written, most were illiterate and even more never wrote. James here speaks of how we communicate, and how dangerous an idle word can be. How much then does this passage also apply to not only our spoken word, but the written and typed word as well? Many men shared some insightful thoughts on this, but sadly, not the women. They were present, listening, and silent the entire time, no doubt from a literal interpretation of Paul's passage that women should not speak. Thus we men were greatly disenfranchised, from lacking the opportunity to hear the insights of our sisters across the aisle.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

The Oldest Town in America

Seattle was founded in 1865. El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de la Porciúncula (L.A.) was started in 1781. New Amsterdam - New York, in 1625. St. Augustine in Florida has had people living there since 1565, which is pretty impressive for a white city in the New World. At the time that the Spaniard were settling St. Augustine, Acoma Pueblo had been inhabited for five and a half centuries.

Today I visited the oldest inhabited town in America, started sometime in the 11th century. Acoma is not easy to get to. It's an hour and a half from our RV site, and poorly signed, so I found myself backtracking numerous times. As I got closer on the First Nation land, it began to feel like I was in a different land, with cows walking along the road and grasses encroaching on the main road. Mesas rose out of the ground, and in the distance, Acoma Pueblo on its safe high ground.

Below the mesa is a Visitor Center, where you pay $10 for entrance and $10 for the right to take pictures. (If you take video, they will destroy your camera.) The most interesting part of it is this door, opening like nothing else I've ever seen.
(The video camera I had with me doesn't allow for rotation, so you'll have to tilt your head to view the video.)
Shuttle buses run you up to the top of the mesa. I've been in 7,000 year old ruins before. You want to rest and meditate and take in the sheer age around you, remembering that countless generations have lived here before. Unfortunately, at Acoma they run you through a tour the entire time, and you don't have a chance to truly appreciate the ancientness around you.

There are no building regulations, running water, or electricity. Homes are constructed however the owners want, though most choose adobe for it's cooling. Most families have homes down below, essentially summer and winter homes, as it's so rustic on top of the mesa, but about 13 families live on the mesa year-round.

By far the most impressive feature of the pueblo is the mission. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed of it or the adjoining cemetery, going back centuries. But the interior of the mission was amazing. Giant wooden beams cross the top, brought in through slave labor when the Spaniards forced the First Nation Peoples to carry them from miles away without touching the ground once. Along the wall are frescoes, paintings, and sculptures going back centuries. Now there are benches, but traditionally it was only a large vacant space, cooled by adobe walls.

The treatment of the native peoples goes a long way towards explaining the deep animosity our guide had towards Christianity. There were numerous attacks by so-called Christian Spaniards, including at least one massacre. Ultimately the Spaniards forced the First Nation peoples to accept Christianity, at the point of the sword.

The mission is also used for traditionalist celebrations, and mass only celebrated there on high holy days. No priest is allowed at the mission, as the Catholic Church doesn't approve of the extensive syncretism occurring among the Acoma people. Along with the Catholic saints there were also native traditionalist religious icons inside the church, representing the animism that is still practiced by about half of the Acoma people. Indeed, the guard made it appear that the Acoma only follow animism, and give a veneer of Christianity in order to satisfy the oppressors in the past. Now she felt that it was some symbols pulled in from Christianity, but the real heart of the people was still Animism. I was so surprised at how she didn't have a single kind word to say about Christianity, that I asked other Acoma down below. They stated that in truth, the Acoma population was about split between Animism and Christianity, which is what I'd read previously.

At the left is a traditional gathering area for practicing animistic religion. There were small holes carved the adobe to hide what they were doing from the Spaniards, who didn't allow the traditional religion to be practiced. A lookout would shout out if a Spaniard was coming. Today they are still used for traditional religious gatherings, but only men are allowed inside. (The guide suggested they were also used for the men to watch Supebowl games without women around.) Among the Acoma, men run the government, and women own the land, with houses passed down mother to youngest daughter. The understanding is that the youngest is the last in the house, responsible for caring for her parents, and therefore has the right to the property.

There are two watering holes on top, in the past used for horses, but today certainly not potable. All water must be carted up from below. The joke Acoma Foreston the pueblo is that this is Acoma Forest, the one tree growing on top of the mesa.

I was pleasantly surprised to see something familiar at the pueblo. The invading Muslim armies from North Africa brought special ovens to Moorish Spain. The Spaniards continued to use them after they drove the Muslims out, and brought them to the New World, where the Acoma were happy to adopt them. Indeed, I later discovered that one of these ovens is at the RV park we are currently staying at.
Moorish Oven

Oven Interior

The guide took us to the edge of the pueblo, to look down over the cliff edge. She told us the story of some of the Acoma who were encamped on a rocky outcrop of the mesa, when lightning struck, demolishing the rock isthmus to the main section of the pueblo. The people were now isolated on the rock, with no way across, and no way to climb down the sheer cliffs. They were close enough to talk to, but not to get food. Eventually some threw themselves over the cliff face, and the rest starved to death.

This is the rock outcrop where they lived their last moments.

Another image like out of Morocco: "mica" windows, occluded so only light goes in, butMica-style Window no images.

At the end of the tour, we had the option of heading down the road or via the shuttle buses. I took the third option, of the ancient trail down the mesa. It was incredibly steep, so that at times some (not me) had to turn around and go down backwards facing the rock. But I have the feet of a goat.

Below the mesa are traditional fences, the Camel Rock, and two rocks that are widely interpreted as people kissing.

Friday, 12 September 2008


Bethlehem is a town of great renown, of utmost importance to the history of this planet. Belen, the Spanish for Bethlehem, is not.

We waited many hours before AAA came to tow us again last night. They had to transfer us around to many different AAA headquarters in different states, and hang up on us a few times, before they could call back to verify that the information we had given them on our whereabouts and destination were indeed correct. A couple hours later a tow truck arrived. We are not impressed with New Mexico AAA.

In order to tow, they have to disconnect the drive train. They don't actually, but they are worried about being sued. In order to reconnect the drive train, you have to pay them an extra $105. However, we got a very kind-hearted tow-truck driver, who argued vociferously on our behalf with AAA, and reduced the tow price from $1200 for a mile of towing to $100. (Honestly, if AAA wasn't going to be in our corner, someone had to be.)

So now we are stuck in a campground in Belen, Hub City, the center of nowhere. I do not say this of my own accord. A number of residents of Belen confirm it. There is one video store in town. There are no movie theaters. For something to do in town, Belenites go to the Wal-Mart. Nothing happens here. (Actually, this is beginning to sound a bit like Bethlehem, B.C.) It's a town of less than 7,000, a place even Palin could handle governing.

La Mirada RV Park is in the middle of the nowhere of Belen. There's a diner in walking distance, and...that's it. But we have beautiful views and very friendly staff, while we wait. Dave and Vinny had to bow out of traveling with us, as they'd already greatly exerted themselves on our behalf, in packing my dad up and traveling in a dilapidated RV over a third of our journey. So they've returned to their homes in Albuquerque. On Monday we hope to find a new repairman, perhaps even the great Bill Lowery, to come and fix the RV, and maybe travel with us the rest of the journey.

Today a fierce storm rose up, with mighty gusts of wind and a driving rain. My dad quickly realized that this might blow the canopy off, and so we hurriedly pulled it down, just before the drenching downpour and tropical storm-force winds arrived. After it all, the earth was fresh and clean, the skies blue, and a promise in the sky. We are delayed, but the journey continues.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

On the Road Again...?

When last we saw them, our intrepid adventurers were stuck beside the road in their broken RV, as trucks bore down them at 65 mph and a dust storm of Biblical proportions scoured the land and our heroes very skin. We now join them, already in progress...

It was a long evening, waiting for AAA. Then, out of the inky blackness, a hero arrived. He came in the black super-pickup, attired in his signature costume of alligator boots and Texas wide-brim hat. Bill was here, to save the day!

Bill Lowery knows a thing or two about fixing automobiles, after having so many hundreds of buses and trucks as part of Christ is the Answer. He took the dog house off the engine, and began to work on it right away. Indeed, though taking an hour to drive up from his house for us, he was nearly done by the time AAA got there and towed us the 2,000 feet off the freeway, for only a few hundred dollars. While I went to get drinks for people just after sunset, he finished the work, and the RV was fired up and ready to go. (It's like Bill was a devout follower of Obama!)

We arrived at Bill's estate late at night, only one day late. The following morning I again woke up early before everyone else, and wandered about with the dog. Then I saw our true environs, like something from the African Bush.
Estate Entrance

About us roamed rattlers and scorpions, lizards and quail, rabbits and the occasional mountain lion. And exquisite falcons.

Inside the conversation roamed to the Jesus Movement days, and current politics. Bill's house was pure Texas, with a cowskin rug he'd skinned himself on the floor and a Texas Longhorns above the mantle. (I understand he wrastled the cow to the ground himself.)

The second evening at the Lowery Estate approached with great anticipation, as I got to see Melissa, who I used to work with at GWA. She stayed an extra two years in Morocco, and so I had not seen her for a long time. But serendipitously, she was from Tucson, and lived only 10 minutes from Bill. And we had a great time catching up on the latest gossip over Mexican food.

The Warning.The next morning, we were off, with a freshly refurbished RV. Though perhaps our first stop should have been a warning.

Entering New Mexico we were filled with gorgeous skies and sedimentary deposits.

The land broke out into gentle rolling hills, and then an approaching storm.

And thus, with a sputter and a growl, the RV ground to a halt up a steep hill, just beyond Truth or Consequences. It would start, but as soon as it was put into drive, the engine would stop. Brake lights worked, but those were the only lights. We finally gave up and called the police, but the New Mexico police told us that the freeways were outside the jurisdiction of their highway patrol. We called AAA for a tow and a mechanic, but they instead sent us a pickup with a non-affiliated mechanic. We spent the night at a hotel in Truth or Consequences while the mechanics worked on the RV.

This morning I watched my first 9/11 coverage. I hadn't realized that they cover it every year. In 2001 I was in Seattle traffic, and missed most of the attacks. In '02 I was in Alaska for National Marine Fisheries Service Observer Training. 03-06 was Morocco. I was just unaware and without cable in 07. So it was rather moving and gut-wrenching to watch the play-by-play of the planes flying into the towers. Like a bad movie, you know what's going to happen, but can do nothing to stop it.

The mechanics proudly returned to tell us this afternoon that it was all fixed. Just to be safe, as we were entering a region of steep hills, I detached the Saturn and drove behind. Since I could travel 20 mph faster than the RV, it wasn't till I was 35 miles South of Albuquerque that I got a call from my dad saying that the RV was again exhibiting exactly the same problems as before it was "fixed"- though they were only half an hour out of Truth or Consequences. Electing to try their luck rather than turning around, they got it running again, and met me in Belen. I followed behind, just in case it rained or got dark too soon. And as soon as we left the exit, the RV came to an irrevocable, gut-wrenching halt, signifying that all that had come before was a mere pause. It was as if the mechanics had done no work at all, but merely took $1200 from us.

Truth or Consequences indeed.