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.
One minute a bunch of San Miguel youngsters are rounding the bases and heading for home in a lively baseball game against their parents. Moments later, they are rounding the same bases in single file, carrying a creche on a platform and singing the traditional songs of the Posada.
And shortly after that, the kids were back swinging a bat — only this time at a candy-filled pinata.
The Christmas origin story has taken a real beating on television in recent years.
The film factories don’t follow a script. The have a playbook. There are fixed characters, types. There are predictable situations. There are tried and true bromides. There are fixed plays. And there are utterly predictable endings in which the “true meaning” of Christmas is disgorged just before credits roll.
And the sudden appearance of the much-anticipated snowfall at the end is a complete surprise to everyone but the audience.
Sunday night was the first night of Chanukah — the Festival of Lights — and the lighting of the first candle of the menorah. The Chanukah celebration is observed for eight nights and days, with a new candle being lit each evening.
I know all this because I was walking Moppit in Parque Juarez when I happened upon members of Chabad San Miguel de Allende lighting the community menorah in the park’s gazebo.
I missed most of the dedication, but I happened upon the gathering just as Rabbi Daniel Huebner was explaining the significance of this year’s menorah, created by artist Meila Penn.
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.
It’s like something out of a Disney/Pixar movie where a once-beloved and cuddled family Bug grows old as the family grows up and is eventually abandoned in the Shed of Lost Car Souls where it withers, rusts, and decays for decades until the troubled teenage grandson discovers the car and with loving assistance from grandpa restores the Bug, restores his own self-confidence, and restores grandpa’s long-lost memories as he regales his grandson with tales of family road trips and adventures in this very same car — and in the end, grandpa and grandson trundle down the road in their magnificently restored Bug on the Mexican road trip of their lives.
Traffic finally emptied on the Ancha at 8 p.m. Monday and down the broad street, and out from the Rosewood resort, streamed hundreds of Catrinas, Catrinos, ghouls, skeletons, and even an underworld creature or two.
And they came on fast — as if all the pent-up energy from last year’s cancelled parade was unleashed atop this year’s and resulted in a headlong rush to the finish.
The crowd where Nemiseo Diaz meets the Ancha was so thick and eager that costumed paraders had to run a tight gauntlet, elbowing their way to the merger point.
It wasn’t so much a parade as a fast jog of the living dead in glorious technicolour and fabulous costumes. They marched, they merged, they posed for pictures, they trundled up Zacaterous, turned onto Canal and cascaded into the Plaza Principal where the crush of Catrinas and onlookers must have been something else.
Plus: The 10 Commandments for successfully shooting City Market
Also, how Prince Valiant’s graphic art layoutcan help tell your story
Congratulations, San Miguel Facebookeers! You are creating a new photography genre — City Market Art. Your orgasmic uploading of scores of images from the newly opened high-end supermarket “experience” has been a visual feast worthy of the artfully displayed departments of bread, fish, wine, vegetables, chocolates, and meats.
This is commercial exhibitionism at its finest.
Because you are all so good — and prolific — I am proud to announce the first-ever open invitational online gallery of the year’s best City Market images. I will create a gallery page for your very best images and keep posting new ones through the end of the year.
By which time we should all feel we’ve fairly well exhausted the subject …
Don’t let your best images languish on a single Facebook post, only to disappear in the relentless and voracious feed cycle. Let me offer you a slice of immortality!
Send images to email@example.com — and be sure to include your name (for credit) and a little something about each image. Sorry, this is all for the glory. There is no compensation, honorarium, prizes, or lecture chairs to be gained. The images remain yours and yours alone. I promise to put your name in bold face type.
They will be lovingly posted and curated in the order in which they arrive, on a timely basis.
Be selective. Send your favorites. Volume is not art. And I am only one guy. Send a few at a time, or only the one you really really like!
Be creative. Edit. Photoshop. Play with images. Create compositions. Express yourself through your images. Be irreverent. Be ironic. Be playful. Make a statement. Have some fun. Get serious. Make art. Make commerce.
Maybe there will be artistic or psycho-sociological revelations to be had by the end of the year. Who knows until we try, eh?
City Market Photo Galleria will open when enough images arrive. It will only take a few to launch
The 10 Commandments — urgent suggestions, mostly — for getting the best out of your City Market photo shoot.
Pro-tips for the several thousand San Miguelians photographing the new City Market with your cell phones and posting on Facebook:
1. Occasionally incorporate foreground objects for perspective.
2. Compose your picture within the frame before you shoot. Crop before you publish.
3. Create a composition that tells a story: Isolate your subject — say, the wine cellar, or the chocolatier, or the fish monger’s. Then compose three shots — a closeup (detail), a middle-ground, and a panoramic. (Think of the “Prince Valiant” Sunday comics spread. See some examples at the bottom of the page.).
4. Vary the perspective — sometimes you need to get down on one knee or raise the camera above your head, or get your nose into that school of sea bass swimming in a bed of ice. Don’t always shoot straight down into the cold shrimp.
5. Look for interesting patterns, artful combinations, playful images. City Market begs you to be ironic.
6. Volume is information but it is not art.
7. It is not all food porn, but it doesn’t hurt to “think sexy” when you shoot. City Market is commercial exhibitionism at its best. Roll with it.
8. Your cell phone has amazing photo editing capabilities. Yes, yours. Sit down and order a coffee and play with your pictures before posting.
9. Put people into your images. So far, most images have looked like the store is a lovely sexy empty mausoleum.
10. Keep those photos coming!
And here’s some old Prince Valiant Sunday comics that I promise. Harold Foster was famous for using the three visual elements — closeup/detail, middle ground, and panoramic — to tell a whole story in one page. Newspaper photographers have used that same technique for decades.
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.
It is clear to me that the single greatest invention of our civilization has been the wooden toast tongs.
Since the time of Medieval toasters, this device has safely extracted piping hot slabs of bread. Perhaps even earlier, if certain Egyptian hieroglyphics are to be interpreted correctly.
Suspected fact: Leonardo da Vinci may have invented the wooden toast tongs before there were electric toasters, once again anticipating the needs and aspirations of future generations.
Toast tongs made it possible for countless writers and poets through time to sit at their humble desks and create, undistracted by the burning sensation on their fingertips that a tong-less household brings.