Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Thich Nhat Hanh was the right monk at the right time — then came 9/11

Tich Nhat Hanh

A good friend invited me to spend a Sunday in Balboa Park with a Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. I knew very little of him but Sundays in September in San Diego can be glorious and there are few better places than the park for them.

I think it was promoted as a Day of Mindfulness, another subject about which I knew very little.

The day was pretty much a total immersion. We were blissfully adrift in a gentle sea of brown-robed Buddhist monks and nuns. There were dharma talks and long periods of meditation. Some were led by Thay in his soft, barely audible whisper of a voice. Some were led by his followers.

Continue reading
Standard
Memoirs -- fact and fiction, photography, San Miguel de Allende

Early on a Friday morning in San Miguel de Allende, the Parroquia is for balletic pigeons

On a crisp Friday morning, bells peel, pigeons swoop and dive and disappear and return to encircle the spires of the Parroquia de Arc Angel Michael with a feathery halo, in San Miguel de Allende.

Standard
Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Semper Fi, Dad. Semper, Fi.

Robert J. Hawkins, U.S.M.C. medical corpsman in World War II

The machine-gun fire came out of nowhere, the way it is supposed to in war.

Or so it seemed to the Marines who were caught in an open field next to a presumably abandoned farmhouse. Incorrectly presumed empty, as it turned out.

The carelessness cost the platoon one soldier. He lay on the ground about 10 yards away from the stone wall behind which his comrades took refuge.

He was still alive. They could hear his agonizing cries for help. They could see him, lying there out in the open.

The squad’s 19-year-old medical corpsman had already seen his share of death and savage injuries since their battalion had waded ashore on the island of Saipan. And now, more of the same on the neighboring island of Tinian.

During the initial bloody assault on Saipan, the corpsman was encountering a dead or wounded Marine every 10 yards or so, by his estimate. This made his progress slower than the other Marines. They relentlessly pushed the enemy to the other side of the island and the sea, leaving a trail of dead and wounded for the corpsman to sort out.

He’d already taken grenade fragments in his hand, leg, and shoulder —  for which he’d eventually get the Purple Heart.

Continue reading
Standard
Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Poor souls, lost their marbles on the cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende

When I walk the cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende, usually early mornings with Moppit the philosopher dog, I find things.

It is not that I am scouring between the cracks and crannies. It is just that cobblestones can be treacherous and if you are not attentive to your footsteps, well, you can fall.

There is a joke about the number of ex-pats who walk around this hilly town with canes — but I forget how it goes.

Cobblestone streets are the tide pools of very old cities. They tend to trap small and delicate things in the spaces between rocks, much the same way that tide pools trap small fish, snails, squid and pirates’s treasure. Especially after it rains.

Continue reading
Standard
Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende

‘Hit ’em! Hit ’em! Hit the sons of bitches! Hit ’em!’

I stare at this photograph that I took in — when was it? — 1970? 1971? I stare and I wonder, how many of my fellow Vietnam War protesters were part of the thuggery that took place this week at the Capitol?

Some, for sure. They would be in their very late-60s and mid-70s now. I was 21 when I snapped these photos.

A friend who just saw them asked, “Did you and your fellow hippies storm the Capitol?”

Continue reading
Standard
Memoirs -- fact and fiction, photography, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

These are a few of my favorite things, Part I: Salvaging love and beauty from 2020

Well, thank god that’s over. The year, I mean. 2020.

I’ve had just about enough of it and I suspect you have too. Not that 2021 will start off so terribly different. Well, there is the regime change, an inauguration, and the eradication of four years of shitty people running the country.

It will take time, lots of vaccinations, still more wine than we should be consuming, and a Democratic majority in Congress — up to you, Georgia.

Was 2020 really all that bad? Yes. Yes, it was.

Continue reading
Standard
Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Fiction: Hell hath no fury like a seminarian scorned — this is war

Recently I was asked to read a selection of my writing at the Prose Cafe in San Miguel de Allende.

In better times, Prose Cafe is a gathering of writers and others (mostly other writers, I think) in the beautiful Belles Artes. Three or four writers would each read something and take questions. I always found the cafe sessions inspirational. I imagined myself — some day, not right away — being just like them, having something of worth to share with other writers.

These days, Prose Cafe and its sister gathering, Poetry Cafe, are ZOOM affairs. They are both the offspring of the San Miguel Literary Sala whose wonderful Writers Conference is currently underway — on ZOOM, of course.

I shared the ZOOM space on Thursday, Dec. 3 with two accomplished authors, Molly Giles and Fredrika Sprengle. Both have published works — award-winning books, short stories. I have nearly four decades of newspaper clippings. A good mix, as it turned out. We all leaven our prose (and pain?) with humor.

What follows is the story that I read. As I told the ZOOM audience, this is a work of fiction, except for the parts that are true. (You figure it out).

It is one of a number of short stories in the file marked “Seminary Life” that may yet grow into a full-sized novel.

Declaring war on … well, everybody

It was the beginning of the end — the end of my days as a Catholic seminarian. It came the moment I picked up that heavy metal bucket full of dirty water and heaved it out the third floor window. Sending a loud and long string of curses cascading after it.

Two things occurred to me in the moment.

Continue reading
Standard
Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Soon to be on Netflix, ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ brings back some violent memories

Chadwick Boseman is Levee in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” It was his last performance as an actor before passing away in August.

Netflix begins streaming  “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” on December 18. The August Wilson play has enjoyed an excellent life on Broadway and beyond. And for good reason. It is a powerful creation. 

I think that in the Denzel Washington-produced movie we will see what a treasure and tragic loss was the death of Chadwick Boseman in August. This was his last performance.

This most recent news from Netflix sends me back nearly to the creation of the play, in 1982.

Continue reading
Standard
Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel Prose Café Presents: Fredrika Sprengle, Robert Hawkins, and Molly Giles

You read that right.

That’s me, bookended by two actual accomplished and brilliant authors at San Miguel de Allende’s monthly Prose Café. It is happening this Thursday, Dec. 3, 5-6 p.m. Central.

On Zoom. Not only is this free but no pants are necessary. You only need register right here in advance.

Fredrika, Molly and I will each read something from our own creations and then entertain, oh my, whatever it is that Zoom events generate. Questions? Observations? Static? (That last one’s my personal nightmare. Not theirs.)

Continue reading
Standard
Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

The cabbie’s life: One night in Toronto

Back in the day — before Uber & Lyft, before Google street maps, before the Internet — there was a thing known as The Thomas Guide. It was a spiral-bound book of maps and street indexes for many of the major West Coast cities in the U.S.

It was a godsend for journalists and taxicab drivers alike.

Toronto had a similar book, as I discovered one night when I arrived to cover the Toronto Film Festival for my California newspaper.

“Where to, eh?

“Sutton Place,please.”

“Good, good. Is that cab in front of us going there, too?”

“No, they’re going to another hotel.”

“Good, good. OK. Sutton Place. That’s not far. Do you know where it is?”

“No. Don’t you?”

“Yeah. Well, no. Well, sort of. I usually work the West End. Don’t get up here that much.”

“Um … Bay Street. I think it is on Bay Street.”

“Bay Street? Good. Good. Bay Street. Bay Street. Right you are.”

“I think it is a main thoroughfare here. North and south.Turn here on University. You’re bound to cross it.”

“OK. Yeah. Right you are. Here, look in this book, page four. Got to be on page four or near it. Look on four.”

“There’s no map on four.”

“What do you mean? No! Index. Look at the index. You read; I’ll drive.”

“I can’t find a map. Look here, there’s Bay Street! If you turn here, we ought to find Sutton Place.”

“I can’t turn. See the sign? It says ‘No left turn.’ You really ought to learn how to read that book. You can get anywhere with in this city with that book, you can. Ah, I’ll turn anyway.”

“Why do I need to read this book? I’ll be leaving Toronto in two days. You live here. You learn it.”

“Sure, but what if you come back? You really ought to learn.”

You ought to learn. You live here, you drive the cab!”

“Right you are!”

“Look, there’s the Sutton. Just drop me off behind that car.”

“Right! The old Sutton! There you are! I got you here, didn’t I? You really ought to get one of these books. Invaluable! Fare’s $4.25. Told you I’d get you here. Well, have a good evening then.”

“Right. Keep the change.”

True story.

Standard