Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Guest-blogger Claudia Long: 5 Delicious Links on the Food of Baroque Mexico

Growing up in the United States, I never once, that I can recall, heard of Sor Juana. But once in Mexico—- I arrived some 25 years ago-- I found her to be ubiquitious, literally. She's on the 200 peso bill right now. You cannot visit a bookstore in Mexico without finding something by or about her. Back before Mexico was Mexico, that is, when it was still a Spanish colony, Sor Juana, which means "Sister Juana," was a nun and a literary prodigy taken under wing by the vicereine, and given a provocatively promininent place in court. One might imagine how this went over with the grimly-bearded Church fathers who were, now and again, busying themselves with burning people at the stake. Once the vicereine returned to Spain, things did not go swimmingly for Sor Juana. Hers was one of the great intellectual tragedies not only of Mexico but, one could argue, of humanity.

Josefina's Sin, by Claudia H. Long, is a story of love, poetry and the Inquisition. A sheltered land-owner's wife goes to the vice-royal court in colonial Mexico, in 1687, and meets the famous poet, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Sor Juana teaches Josefina about the terrors and joys of writing, loving, and living life to the fullest, under the cruel and watchful eye of the Holy Office.

Claudia grew up in Mexico City, and lives in California. Her book has received critical acclaim and can be bought at bookstores, and the usual on-line sources, including Amazon.

As an historical novelist myself (The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, set in the 19th century), I can well imagine some of the struggles Claudia must have faced in getting the details just right. And because, in Mexico anyway, Sor Juana is such a major figure, anything inauthentic, ayyyy ... No doubt every historical novelist loses sleep over this (I know I did).

Over to you, Claudia.

+ + + + + +

5 Delicious Links on the Food of Baroque Mexico
By Claudia Long

When I was writing Josefina's Sin, which takes place in Mexico from 1687 to 1690, I thought feeding one's literary characters would be a simple task, but that's far from the case! Did you know that rice did not originate in Mexico? It was brought during colonial times. Sometimes, what seems so "typically" Mexican is really an import.

Josefina goes on a picnic with the ladies from the court. A tree with large, dark green, glossy leaves and hanging green fruit provided shade. Ah, a mango tree, I thought. Not so fast, said the editor at Simon & Schuster. Mangoes weren't introduced into Mexico until 1775! My mistake—- it was a papaya tree!

It's not hard to find out what food was available to the indigenous people of Mexico before the European colonization:

And it's not hard to figure out which foods were ultimately imported to Mexico:

But it's really a question of "When?" What did they have? And what could they have had? If the first mention of mangoes was in 1775, they could well have had them in 1750, but there wouldn't be a mature tree sitting conveniently near my ladies in 1687!

Once I had the ingredients, I had to prepare them. Some of our favorite Mexican foods are easy to make, and were likely done the same way.

Take "agua de jamaica," or hibiscus tea. Jamaica flowers originated in Africa, and came to Mexico during the colonial era. The refreshing tea became popular for its great taste and medicinal value.

Here's a fun, timeless recipe for jamaica water.

One ingredient we know with certainty was native to Mexico: Chocolate—- amazing, wonderful, and powerful.

In 1519, when the first Spanish conquistadors entered the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, where today Mexico City stands, they found chocolate. Today, we may sweeten it with sugar (sugar cane came later. . .) but we enjoy it as much as Josefina did.

And now, back to our papaya. Papaya is native from Southern Mexico through the Andes of South America. We love it cut up, sprinkled with lime. But some things have definitely changed since Josefina's day. Enjoy this entertaining suggestion for preparation of a papaya for modern times:

"First, you need to soak the outside of the papaya for 20 minutes in water with "microdine" iodine drops to kills any latent bacteria." I know Josefina never did that!

--Claudia Long
+ + + + + +

Further surfing:

> Claudia Long's Shelf Awareness profile

>Claudia Long's page at Simon & Schuster, which includes an informative brief video.

>Octavio Paz's book, Sor Juana Or, The Traps of Faith, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden.

>Sor Juana's Poems, Protest and a Dream, selected and translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, introduced by Ilan Stavans.

>Sor Juana's The Answer / La respuesta, translated by Electa Arenal and Amanda Powell

>Guest-blog post here at Madam Mayo by Russell M. Cluff to celebrate his musical CD of Sor Juana's poetry.

---> For the complete archive of Madam Mayo guest-blogs, click here.
Recent guest-bloggers include midwife and memoirist Patricia Harman; traveling (to some strange places) reporter Gerry Hadden; and spiritual reporter Mare Cromwell.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic

Just in time for Halloween or, I should say, Day of the Dead:

So very delighted to see this: the new anthology edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown, which includes my translation of Agustín Cadena's masterful short story, "Murillo Park," just got this review in Publisher's Weekly:

Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic
Edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown, intro. by Bruce Sterling. Small Beer (Consortium, dist.), $16 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-931520-31-7

By turns creepy, self-consciously literary, and engagingly inventive, these 34 stories selected by translator-scholar Jiménez Mayo and writer-critic Brown offer some excellent and ghastly surprises. Entanglements with characters who aren’t entirely human and may well be dead provide one intriguing theme; in Agustín Cadena’s “Murillo Park” a middle-aged narrator befriends a strangely anachronistic older widow who goes by Jorge outside his office on his lunch hour, but recognizes to his sorrow that she belongs to a lost world of vanished clubs and hotels. . . . Several of the tales envision a marvelously collapsed dystopia where anarchy and violence reign such as in Liliana V. Blum’s “Pink Lemonade,” where a “Somalization” of the world leaves the survivors fighting each other for food. “Wittgenstein’s Umbrella” by Óscar de la Borbolla cleverly supposes the death of the second-person narrator, while Pepe Rojo’s “The President Without Organs” is a grisly sendup of the national preoccupation with the president’s physical health. These are punchy, ghoulish selections by south-of-the-border writers unafraid of the dark. (Dec.)

Further surfing:

>Agustín Cadena's blog, El vino y la hiel

>An interview with Cadena apropos of my translation of his short story, "An Avocado from Michoacán"

>Small Beer Press

>Co-editor Eduardo Jiménez Mayo's home page

>More of my translations, including Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion, which includes Cadena's haunting short story, "Lady of the Sea" and Eduardo Jiménez Mayo's translation of Bruno Estañol's "Fata Morgana."

(So are Eduardo and I related? ¿Quién sabe? Probably way back when!)

Trailer for My Translation of "Bhima's" Manual Espírita

A new trailer (about 1 and a half minutes):

Forthcoming this fall as an e-book from Dancing Chiva Literary Arts. Want to be alerted when it's available?
>>Join the Dancing Chiva mailing list
>>Join the C.M. Mayo mailing list

UPDATE October 15, 2011: The book now has its own website, with extensive Q & A, resources for researchers (bibliographies, lists of archives, films, podcasts,and more).

Friday, September 23, 2011

Workshop, Podcasts, Newsletter for September 2011

--> Tomorrow, Saturday 24th, I'll be giving a one day only workshop on "Techniques of Fiction" at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland (near Washington DC). Visit my "Workshop Schedule" page for details.

--> If you can't make that, or, even if you can, may this podcast, "The Number One Technique in the Supersonic Overview," be of use for you with your writing.

--> More podcasts, workshops, the best from the blogs, and notes on current and forthcoming publications, are in my September 2011 newsletter which just went out to subscribers. (I use, whence the funny picture of the monkey. )

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Guestblogger Midwife and Author Patricia Harman on 5 Sites to Help You Go Green

To the average reader this might seem silly, but we writers tend to obsess about publishing-- so should it be any suprise that what first caught my attention about Patricia Harman's books was that they are published by Beacon? For those of you don't know Beacon, it's one of the finest small literary presses in the U.S. (it also happens to be the publisher of my amiga Sara Mansfield Taber's splendid Bread of Three Rivers.) So I knew Patricia Harman's memoirs, based on her many years of caring for women as a lay-midwife and later, as a nurse-midwife, had to be something very special. Harman's first book, The Blue Cotton Gown, is about her patients; her second, the recently published Arms Wide Open: A Midwife’s Journey, tells the story of growing up during one of the most turbulent times in America and becoming an idealistic home-birth midwife.

From the dust jacket text:

Drawing heavily on her journals, Arms Wide Open goes back to a time of counter-culture idealism that the boomer generation remembers well. Patsy opens with stories of living in the wilds of Minnesota in a log cabin she and her lover build with their own hands, the only running water being the nearby streams. They set up beehives and give chase to a bear competing for the honey. Patsy gives birth and learns to help her friends deliver as naturally as possible.

Weary of the cold and isolation, Patsy moves to a commune in West Virginia, where she becomes a self-taught midwife delivering babies in cabins and homes. Her stories sparkle with drama and intensity, but she wants to help more women than healthy hippie homesteaders. After a ten-year sojourn for professional training, Patsy and her husband, Tom, return to Appalachia, as a nurse-midwife and physician, where they set up a women's-health practice. They deliver babies together, this time in hospitals; care for a wide variety of gyn patients; and live in a lakeside contemporary home--but their hearts are still firmly implanted in nature. The obstetrical climate is changing. The Harmans' family is changing. The earth is changing, but Patsy's arms remain wide open to life and all it offers.

Her memoir of living free and sustainably against all odds will be especially embraced by anyone who lived through the Vietnam War and commune era, and all those involved in the back-to-nature and natural-childbirth movements.

"There are more honest, revealing moments here than in many memoirs. Harman, whose prose is sparse but not simple, covers a span of decades, deftly revealing her own youthful struggles with identity through the children we witnessed her raising earlier in her book, revealing, in short, a full life." —Publishers Weekly

+ + + + +

Five Great Websites to Help You Go Green, A Little Bit at a Time
By Patricia Harman

Once, I confess, I was a total eco-freak. Forty years ago, I lived in a cabin without electricity and running water. We used hand tools because we didn’t want to waste non-renewable resources like oil and gas. We tilled the soil by hand, grew our own food organically, canned it in mason jars and stored it in a root cellar we dug into the side of the hill.

Looking back, I wonder at our extreme life, but at the time we were worried about pesticides like DDT killing the eagles and power plants polluting the air. We were looking for a way to live lightly and sustainably on the earth.

Then for thirty years, in the rush of raising kids, going back to school and working as a midwife 70 hours a week, I forgot all that. We moved up in the world, started our own OB-Gyn practice, got a house on the lake, two gas-guzzling vehicles and a jet ski. My youthful ideals receded to an amusing antidote about my past.

Lately, however, my conscience has bothered me. The world we face now seems so much more dangerous than in 1970s. With climate change, extreme weather, the disappearance of honey bees and wars in the Middle East fueled by competition for oil, my concerns about the environment have returned

Now, I’ll admit, I’m not interested in returning to a life without running water, electricity, or indoor plumbing, but I’m worried enough to begin altering my ways. Maybe it’s time, for all of us, to again consider how we can live more sustainably. Maybe it’s time we all think about what we can do to save Mother Earth. Maybe it’s time we all consider how we can be a little more green.

Here are some websites I’ve found helpful and inspiring on this, not so extreme, journey.

1. Natural Life Magazine
(35 years of inspiring articles about green family living.)

2. Mother Nature Network
(Recycling, home renovation, sustainable communities)

3. Mother Earth News
(Guide to Living Wisely, how to do it)

4. The Green Grandma
(Homey and witty)

5. Sustainable Communities
(The big picture…world view)

--- Patricia Harman CNM, midwife and author

+ + + + +

--> For the archive of Madam Mayo guest-blogs, click here.
Recent guest-bloggers include travel writer and reporter Gerry Hadden ; master gardener and spirituality reporter Mare Cromwell; and narrative arquitect and app designer Julia Sussner.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Techniques of Fiction: New Podcast & Workshop This Saturday at the Writer's Center

A new podcast went live this morning: "Techniques of Fiction: The #1 Technique in the Supersonic Overview"--- apropos of my one day workshop which will be held this Saturday, September 24th from 10 - 3 pm (includes a free hour for lunch on your own) at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland (just outside DC).

To register on-line, and for more information about the Writers Center and this workshop, click here.

P.S. Many more podcasts for writers here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Guest-blogger Gerry Hadden on 5 Great Places to Visit that You'd Probably Never Find (and 5 links to learn something more)

Gerry Hadden is the author of a book just out from HarperCollins that, as a long-time resident of Mexico City-- the very navel of the Americas, IMHO-- I am especially anxious to read: Never the Hope Itself. It's been garnering rave reviews, including from Publisher's Weekly, which calls it, "Offbeat, gripping....It's the rare journalist who shows such a mystical bent, but Hadden's quirks and openness give his book a rare charm."

Here's the catalog copy:

A former NPR correspondent takes you into his own ghost-filled life as he reports on a region in turmoil. Gerry Hadden was training to become a Buddhist monk when opportunity came knocking: the offer of a dream job as NPR’s correspondent for Latin America. Arriving in Mexico in 2000 during the nation’s first democratic transition of power, he witnesses both hope and uncertainty. But after 9/11, he finds himself documenting overlooked yet extraordinary events in a forgotten political landscape. As he reports on Colombia’s drug wars, Guatemala’s deleterious emigration, and Haiti’s bloody rebellion, Hadden must also make a home for himself in Mexico City, coming to terms with its ghosts and chasing down the love of his life, in a riveting narrative that reveals the human heart at the center of international affairs.

+ + +

Five Great Places to Visit That You’d Probably Never Find
Gerry Hadden

1. The shaded stream that circumvents a Garifuna village near Punta Gorda, Belize.
I was floating in it with a young Garifuna known as “the Jamaican” among the drug dealers in Queens. He was back in the village, trying to start over. He had seven bullet scars. “Look,” he said. I turned my head. Inches from my nose began an endless floating field of tiny white flowers, stretching upstream. I don’t know how they all ended up in the water. They moved passed us like silent boats, tickling our necks.
-->Learn to speak Garifuna.

2. The forest brothel along another river, Veracruz state, Mexico.
Sitting in the open shack, under Christmas lights strung in trees, talking to the girls, waiting for my interviewee. A mean guy showed up first, put a knife and a bottle on the table, made me drink with him. The sugarcane worker I was waiting for arrived. “Leave the Gringo alone,” he said. The mean guy stood, smashed his bottle and pointed it at me. I ran like hell. Then I turned back. I didn’t want to leave my contact behind. But when I reached the brothel all the lights were out, the music turned off. I ran again.
-->Hear some music from Veracruz(search Graciana Silva).

3. A ridge in the sierra outside San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.
A shaman showing me his garden: plants to staunch bleeding, to help with birthing, to cure the chills or the fear of walking alone in the dark. The view looked West down a sloping valley crisscrossed with hills fading one into the next. Foreigners were coming to steal the shaman’s medicinal secrets. I never wanted to leave.
-->Take a canoe ride through Chiapan culture.

4. A field behind a voodoo temple, Western Haiti.
They were holding the ceremony so that Jean Bertrande Aristide would win the presidency and be a good leader. That was a lot to ask. A bonfire burned. Women circled it dressed in white and blue, singing something beautiful. We men formed an inner circle. The priest danced close to the fire and then let a goat have it with a machete. The rest is history.
-->See some of the best photos of Haiti.

5. A wooden meditation hut in the highland rainforest outside Xalapa, Veracruz.
I’d complained to the Buddhist monastery’s abbey that I couldn’t concentrate. The constant traveling had my mind racing. But after a week of solitude I began to feel grounded again. Upon returning to Mexico City that peace evaporated quickly. Okay, this last place you can find.
-->Here’s the link (in Spanish only).

-- Gerry Hadden

+ + +
---> For the complete archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here.

Guest-blogs on travel in Mexico include David Lida on 5 secrets of Mexico City; Nicholas Gilman on 5 funky foods in Mexico City and where to find them; Stephanie Elizondo Griest on 5 glimpses into the Mexican underworld; and Isabella Tree on 5 favorite books about Mexico.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Francisco I. Madero by Stanley R. Ross

Re: The rightly famous and splendid biography by Stanley R. Ross, Francisco I. Madero: Apostle of Mexican Democracy. If you're interested in learning more about Mexico, put this on your short-list for reading ASAP. Originally published in 1955 by Columbia University Press, it is the first major biography to include original archival research as well as interviews with eyewitnesses, including Madero's widow, Sara Pérez de Madero.

For Americans, it explains much of the hostility many Mexicans still feel about U.S. involvement in the overthrow of Madero, who was not only the leader of the 1910 Mexican Revolution which torched the decades-long rule of Porfirio Díaz, but, after De la Barra's interim government, Mexico's democratically elected President. In Ross's work, U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson comes across as a coldly contemptuous and narcissistic intriguer. In 1913, in the aftermath of General Victoriano Huerta's violent coup and Madero's assassination, Ambassador Wilson was, quite rightly, recalled by President Woodrow Wilson (no relation) shortly after the latter assumed office.

Though backed by deep research, Ross's biography reads like a novel, each chapter ending in a cliff-hanger.

Its major drawback is that Ross does not give Madero's Spiritism the serious consideration it deserves for, neither Madero's political career nor his downfall can be understood without taking his deeply held, if unorthodox beliefs and his mediumship into full account.

Ross does address Madero's Spiritism in the opening chapter, explaining that, when a young student in Paris, Madero came upon the Revue Spirite, the magazine founded by Allan Kardec, the 19th century founder of Spiritism. Without delving into the nature of Spiritism, -- then already well-established among Mexican urban and provincial elites--nor the extensive writings of Kardec, nor his followers, Ross, as if swatting a fly, dismisses it thus: "Madero lacked sufficient preparation to develop his own doctrine and did not subject his acquired beliefs to penetrating analysis."

Then briefly, in a single paragraph, Ross covers the influence of the Bhagavad Gita, the holy book of the Hindus. Ross does not mention that it was from this book that Madero took his pen name, Bhima, for his Manual Espirita, published in the same year Madero took office, 1911. Nor does Ross mention Madero's Manual Espirita or even include it in his bibliography.

Both U.S. Ambassador Wilson and General Huerta referred to Madero's "peculiar" beliefs with acid contempt and even discussed whether or not Madero should be confined to a lunatic asylum. Ross quotes them both, but does not probe the reasons underlying such hostility. No doubt, in part, this was because Madero was, in fact, a leading evangelist for Spiritism, even as he fought the Revolution and then defended his administration. The narrative begs for more explanation.

Others, including Enrique Krauze, Yolia Tortolero, Ignacio Solares, Manuel Guerra de Luna, and Alejandro Rosas, have written about Madero's Spiritism. To be fair, however, until Krauze's work came out in the 1980s, for historians, Madero's Spritism was something to be mentioned only as briefly as possible, for it was too strange and, for many, embarrassing, to treat seriously. Fortunately, this is changing. There is also a fine documentary on the subject. I'll be commenting on these works anon.

UPDATE: My book, Metaphsyical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual, which includes my complete translation of Madero's Spiritist Manual of 1911, is now available in paperback and Kindle and in Spanish.

More blog posts on this subject here.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Guest-Blogs on Wednesdays...

Except when not. Alas, the one I'd hoped to post today didn't come through-- although already in line for next week, still-to-be-formatted, there's a fascinating guest-blog post from travel writer Gerry Hadden. So herewith, five of my favorite guest-blog posts (ask me tomorrow and I might make a different list):

App designer Julia Sussner: 5 apps to explore for yourself

Organizer Regina Leeds: 5 + 1 resources to make a writer happy in an organized space

Poet Christine Boyka Kluge: 5 sites for hybrid writing, collaboratiopns, and experimental work

Writer Paula Whyman: 5 + 1 sites for books on baking -- for writers and other breadheads

Writer Sheila Bender: Top 5 books on writing

---> For the complete archive of Madam Mayo's guest-blog posts, click here.

More anon.

Monday, September 05, 2011

New Podcast-- A Traveler in Mexico: A Rendezvous with Writer Rosemary Sullivan

Just uploaded a new podcast: my reading of my article for Inside Mexico, "A Traveler in Mexico: A Rendezvous with Writer Rosemary Sullivan." Sullivan is the author of Villa Air-Bel: WWII, Escape, and a House in Marseilles, a beautifully written and deeply researched work which tells the harrowing stories of several refugee artists, including many who came to Mexico. (Fans of Leonora Carrington, P.K. Page and Remedios Vario, this is for you!)

Surf on:

>>Read the original article on-line at Inside Mexico
>>Visit Rosemary Sullivan's webpage
(and you'll find there "The Road Out," a documentary about Villa Air-Bel)
>>Read "Three Traveler's in Mexico," by Rosemary Sullivan in Literal
>>Listen to all C.M. Mayo podcasts on podomatic or on iTunes
>>Podcast page