Thursday, December 31, 2020

Requiem for a Café, in Words Once Found There

Of news about places I loved which are closing forever because of the pandemic, I was most moved by an announcement I read online from San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico. Memories flooded in of Tierra Adentro, a restaurant under a high roof, a center for music and poets, and an outlet for goods made in Zapatista communities nearby struggling for existence. During the days I was researching my firstbook, Maya Roads, One Woman’s Journey Among the People of the Rainforest,  I met friends and sources there, reviewed my notes at night. All around, in  pamphlets for sale, written on rough boards, even printed on placemats, were a memorable words from an eclectic crowd that reflected the spirit of the place. I want to remember some of them (my translations) to make myself feel better, to recall Tierra Adentro in joy. 
Luckily, I saved a placemat.

“That two and two is necessarily four is an opinion many of us share. But if anyone sincerely thinks otherwise, let him or her speak up.  Nothing amazes us around here.”

---Antonio Machado


“Craziness is like gravity. All it needs is a little push.”



“For the one who loves, a thousand objections do not make a doubt; for the who does not love, a thousand proofs do not make a certainty.”

---Louis Evely


“Sorry for the inconvenience. This is a revolution.”

 ---Sub-Comandante Marcos


“Utopia is on the horizon.  I walk two steps, she is two steps further away, and the horizon runs ten steps farther. So what good is utopia? For that, to walk on.”

Eduardo Galeano



     “If there is no coffee for all, there will be no coffee for anyone.”

---Ernesto “Che” Guevara


“My name is Esther, but that isn’t important now.  I am a Zapatista, but that’s not important either in this moment. I am indigenous and I am a woman, and that is the only thing that’s important now.”

---Comandante Esther


And from Guille, the brother of Mafalda:

‘"Isn’t it incredible how much there can be inside a pencil?"






Friday, December 4, 2020



Tuesday, October 20, 2020

                   How Should a Good Catholic Vote?

My latest Op-Ed, running in Newsday, the Sacramento Bee, and a dozen other papers.

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President Trump? Joe Biden? What’s a good Catholic to do in November? | Opinion

Many Catholics are facing a dilemma as they consider the presidential candidates.
Many Catholics are facing a dilemma as they consider the presidential candidates.  GETTY IMAGES 

Catholics are being told not to vote Democratic because the party supports abortion. But we’re also told to oust President Trump because he violates a core Catholic teaching: respect for all life.

Trump, throughout his term, has restored federal capital punishment, put immigrant children in cages and reversed protections for the environment. Oh, and he lies.

So what’s a Catholic to do?

The dilemma throws a light on deep divisions in the U.S. branch of the Catholic Church, which has experienced a virtual schism since the elevation of Pope Francis in 2013. One side, like Francis, emphasizes social justice, a bigger role for women and an openness toward LGBTQ+, divorced and remarried Catholics. The other side stresses personal piety, long-established devotions and an unquestioning obedience to clergy.

Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic reportedly associated with a secretive, authoritarian group outside the Catholic mainstream known as People of Praise, draws support from the conservative side of the chasm. They hope Barrett will chip away at abortion rights.

This divide matters for anyone aiming to predict the “Catholic vote” in November. We are the country’s largest religious denomination (more than 51 million adults), we vote (more than 75 percent in 2016), and the majority of Catholic voters have picked the winning presidential candidate in nine out of the last 10 elections. Last time, most of us went for Trump.

This time, neither candidate can seem to get a firm grip on a Catholic bloc. We don’t align completely with either Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic who carries a rosary in his pocket and comfortably quotes Scripture or Trump, for whom opposition to abortion is a campaign centerpiece. The division in the pews has become too stark.

”We need you more than ever,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York told Trump in an April phone call concerning the plight of Catholic schools during the pandemic. With some 600 Catholics on the line, Trump turned the call into a campaign event, touted his stands against abortion and for “school choice,” calling himself the “best (president) in the history of the Catholic Church.”

The social-justice side of the divide was outraged. Why didn’t the bishops bring up white nationalism or immigration? As 1,500 Catholic leaders, priests and theologians wrote in an open letter to Dolan, “There is nothing ‘pro-life’ about Trump’s agenda.”

The Catholic far-right fringe, however, overlaps with the hardcore MAGA crowd. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a former papal ambassador to the United States, used the language of the QAnon conspiracy theory in a June letter to the president, committing himself and other “children of light” to the “Biblical” contest with the “children of darkness . . . offspring of the Serpent.”

Vigano compared the alleged “deep state” to the alleged existence of a heretical “deep church.” Trump gave Vigano’s followers a nudge toward the mainstream by tweeting his letter and appreciation.

Even COVID-19 causes disagreement. While many U.S. prelates and pastors are opting to follow public-health guidelines by televising or live-streaming masses, others decry restrictions on gatherings as violations of religious freedom. Milwaukee’s Archbishop Jerome Listecki, for example, told his flock that physically missing mass is a sin, and that “fear of getting sick, in and of itself, does not excuse someone from the obligation.”

Despite the severe divide in the church, it is ultimately up to individual Catholics to decide how to vote. But no matter how we mark our ballots, the November outcome won’t be a unified, predictable “Catholic vote.”

As key Catholic thinkers have concluded over the centuries, “one’s own conscience must be obeyed before all else.”

Mary Jo McConahay is an Alicia Patterson Fellow. She is the author of “The Tango War: The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds, and Riches of Latin America during World War II.” 

Tribune News Service

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Animal Dreams

Wild Boar. Barcelona Street

                                        Animal Dreams

This morning the radio came on while I was still half asleep, so that I dreamed the news: a mountain lion was walking on Channel Street, just a few yards from my boat, tied up next to the Fourth Street bridge.  But I didn't live on my boat any more.  What could be happening?

Locked down for months, cities like San Francisco are welcoming animals.  Or, if not welcomed, the animals, at least, are probing, sometimes sauntering down empty streets.

I half dreamed the coyotes that made a den under the massive fig that grew in the orange grove around the house at the foot of the mountains where I grew up.  They kept to themselves under there, especially when the pups were small, but sometimes the mother or the father would prance up the long driveway, have a look at the big white house, turn around and go back to the fig. Coyotes have long been sighted in San Francisco, but they now appear with displays of ownership.  They may stretch along the Embarcadero with the bridge looming like a virtual Zoom background.  Or they are right in North Beach, among the Italian cafes and Larry Ferlinghetti's City Lights. Maybe they cross the Golden Gate at night.

 Monkeys. Near Bangkok

Sea Lion. Mar de Plata Street. Argentina

Silk Deer. Nara, Japan

How thin the line is between civilization and nature, still, even now, and how wonderful that is.  Maybe we will not kill the planet.
The lockdown gives me hope.

Wild Goat, Wales