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The Mexico Papers – Part 2

Two people living in a ’72 Datsun hatchback, sleeping in police station parking lots, required creative attention to personal space. The front passenger seat, tipped as far back as it would go, was Les’ domain. Pushing the back of the driver’s seat forward against the steering wheel, and then collapsing both back seats gave me a head-in-the-trunk bed.

Crawling into it through the hatchback, I lowered the trunk with a piece of string and tied it, open about two inches, to the clasp. Now I could keep a secret eye on our perimeter, and breathe. If a dangerous perpetrator escaped custody, all I had to do was pull the string to lock us in.

Driving through Texas, I was scared:

“Texans are proud of their lone star state,but, “saw a man in jeans and a check shirt wearing a holster and gun and bullets and a Stetson, no uniform… A lady in the drugstore told us they’ll rip open your car doors and yank you out at a red light in the city… Stove is broken, cooked hot dogs over a garbage fire on a rest stop barbecue grill. Have a lot of garbage by now.”

Does this explain why we went home for the night with Louise after meeting her, Leroy and Paul in a Waxahachie diner?

“Leroy has been married four times. Paul’s wife is gone. He is old, and he’s a great dancer. Louise, 55, is a widow, a really amazing woman whom all the town kids call Mom. She now goes with Leroy, but she and Paul are real show outs at the club where they go dancing… Slept in a real bed. Louise made us Texan biscuits with cream gravy, eggs, bacon, pork chops and coffee for breakfast.”

No intuition was needed to sense these people’s kind generosity. They were also rednecks, “their prejudice open and deep, like hunger…”

We had to reach Mexico City in time to meet my parents — their Canadian embassy contacts would have freelance story ideas — but we had no idea how far south of the border it was. Finding a map finally, 100 miles north of Laredo, we discovered that we still had 850 miles to drive.

“We have to make Laredo tonight… Decide to find a motel on the border side of town. Suddenly there is a bridge. We pay the toll and cross, see the sign ‘Rio Grande’ halfway across. Two policemen are chatting in the middle of the bridge. Then the signs are all in Spanish. People are yelling and blocking the street, cops at every stop light. We are in Mexico with no insurance, no tourist cards! There was no border. We panic, pay another toll and cross back into the U.S. A border guard asks us how long we have been out of the country.”

A long night with Mexican truck drivers, a plane ride into the southern jungle: join me for The Mexico Papers – Part 3 on March 14.
Thanks for visiting,
Jane

The Mexico Papers – Part 1

“Am lying in the back of the Datsun (blue ’72 hatchback,) the smallest mobile home on the road, which now looks like a tenement, towels strung over the windows. Typing on my pillow, (on a salmon pink portable typewriter) braced on elbows, undercarriage dangerously close to Les’ stomach.”  

Cameras can nail an image but word pictures let the reader into the smell-sound-feel of a place. These snapshots of the United States have been buried at the back of my closet for 40 years. Two 23-year old women, we were our way to Mexico, to make our fortunes as a journalist and a photographer.

“Met Fred from New York State, who gave us homemade apple pie and fuel for our Coleman stove… Trying to figure out what is going on in the Arab-Israeli war. A man heard us asking where to buy an Indiana newspaper and gave us his.” Then:

“It was dusk. A half-ton pickup played leapfrog with us on the highway. We turned off to visit nature, found ourselves driving down a lonely road in the bush. Suddenly there was the half-ton behind us. Scared shitless. Turned into a small side road, truck turned in too. ‘Could this really be the end?’ A small cluster of houses appeared. Turned into a driveway. Truck drove on by. Was it a coincidence, was he going home for dinner, or was he following us? We will never know.”


Everyone says the Ozarks is hillbilly country, that you’ll never get out alive, but the friendliness is overwhelming. Bought corn cob pipes, heard Spiro Agnew resigned.

We were staying off the “completely sterile” interstate highways,“trying to get a feel” for this country. “Most of our knowledge of the U.S. comes through tv, movies and songs, but where does truth end and exaggeration begin?”

In a Tuckerman diner, an Arkansas state trooper invited us to sleep in his station’s parking lot. Gratitude, joy, relief! Could there be a safer place to spend the night?

The next night, in Beebe, Arkansas, another scary man followed us, but:

“As long as we stay on the road we are all right. It’s late and we’re tired, but I can drive forever if I have to.” By the time we reached Jacksonville, it was 10:30 pm:

“We find the cop shop downtown, where there is a display of dope pipes in a glass case that also contains tools used by abortionists, and heroin needles, heavy drugs and other artifacts. Find a cop heavily laden with gun, whistle, and other goods. He was scared of us!” He did, however, let us sleep in his parking lot.

Revisiting these word pictures I feel 23 again. Thrilled and appalled. Would I do it again, knowing what I do now? In a heartbeat.

Thanks for visiting. Next time, (
February 21) food, Texas, and a borderless border in The Mexico Papers – Part 2. You can make sure not to miss it by clicking the email button below
Jane

Coming About!

Some of English’s most colorful expressions originated in the mouths of British Royal Navy sailors. I learned about some of the power behind them near Oak Island, off the coast of Canada’s Nova Scotia, while doing atmospheric research for my novel The Oak Island Affair (which has just been re-released in print and as an ebook by Iguana Books.)

To buy it click here (Iguana) or here (Amazon)

Oak Island was closed to the public, but Vanessa, the novel’s main character, and her friend Brigit sailed there. I hired a shoestring-budget sailor to take me on the same trip


We landed at Joudrey’s Cove (straight ahead in the picture.) No one was around so I walked the beach, smelled the air, listened to the wind in the rigging, watched the cormorants. It was early June and chilly, but we were dressed in waterproof pants and jackets. All was well. Until we pushed off again.

The wind had picked up so much that my skipper decided to sail on only the small jib sail.

“Prepare to come about!” The skipper calls this to warn all hands of a change in tack. When the boat’s bow comes up into the wind and then through it, the sails will catch the wind on the other side. I uncleated the jib sheet.

“Coming about!” 

I crossed the cockpit as the boat turned. Mahone Bay‘s spring winds are capricious however, and our twenty-foot boat was too little. No sooner had we come about than a gust blew in from a different direction, catching the sail at the wrong moment, heeling us over too far. The sail caught the water, and the next thing I knew I was in the Very Cold Atlantic. Ropes swirled around my head. My running shoes and waterproof rain gear pulled me under.

Fortunately I am a strong swimmer. I have also been a writer since the age of thirteen. What I thought, with excitement, as I kicked towards the surface was:

“I can use this!” And I did. (See more Oak Island pictures on My Books & Plays page. Sample The Oak Island Affair at Amazon.)

Here are some other expressions the Royal Navy has given us:

Let the cat out of the bag: when a seaman broke the rules he was tied to the mast and flogged with a knotted rope called a cat of nine tails, which was kept in a bag.

Loose cannon: the most dangerous thing on a wooden warship rolling and pitching at sea was a loose cannon.

Learning the ropes: the network of sheets and lines on a British navy sailing ship was complicated. In a strong wind, your life could depend on knowing what to pull, what to loosen, how to make the right knot.

Touch and go: when ships met at sea, sometimes they came close together to exchange people or goods. Their hulls would touch and then move apart, a delicate and precarious moment. (CBC Sunday Morning)
 

May all your verbal hands be on deck, your English expressions rich and varied — even if it sometimes means sailing too close to the wind!
Thanks for visiting,
Jane

“Social media” is a misnomer

The word ‘social’ has its origin in the Latin ‘socius,’ meaning friend. In real human relationships fundamental messages travel back and forth behind the words. We listen for tone, nuance, watch body and facial expressions even as we choose our words. Feeling, touching, smelling each other emotionally — being our full selves — we  explore, expand, dissect, disagree, creating whatever comes next.

Facebook, Twitter and the rest are “about bits and bites,” a young adviser told me recently. It’s like going to a cocktail party, according to a New York social media expert at Toronto’s Book Summit last June. She’s both right and wrong.

We can share a laugh or a rant, say ‘look what I did,’ solicit sympathy from “Friends.” Instant gratification is ours when someone “Likes” what we’ve shared, or a friend sends us a little “Comment” boost. We like this very, very much. We do it everywhere, all the time. A couple sits in a restaurant, both of them staring at their cell phones. A father walks down the street, one hand holding that of his toddler, the other a cell phone raised to eye level. And we want “Followers.” So much so now that some people buy them. 

    Cruising the “social media” equals spending hours in a single-focused, out-of-touch-with-anyone-present space in which we are blind, deaf and oblivious to the subtle messages coming from those around us. Clues that emotionally crippled people put out can easily go unnoticed. Is it a coincidence that the number of unfathomably violent shootings across the globe parallels the growth of what might more aptly be called the “asocial media?” Or the “mirror media?”

    What do you think? Has too much online Soduko bent my mind, or is this something we need to address?

    Thanks for visiting,
    Jane 

    Words’ Worth

    Words are dynamite. They torture, poison, blow apart relationships, incite riots, create hope, compassion, great love. Wow. Little collections of sound, or written squiggles bunched together, how do they do all that? Fifty years of fooling around with words (I started Very young) leave me marveling at this most powerful gift/tool/weapon.

    Sound is power. “In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was God,” said John in the Old Testament. Once I took a self defense course. Our homework was to practise shouting “FUCK OFF” at the top of our lungs (to shock a would-be attacker.) Even in an empty house it was hard, jarring the system, shattering conditioning. Try it. Raw sound — especially at the top of your lungs — splashes inside your cells, affects your heart, blood, nerves, skin, feelings, thoughts.

    Vowel sounds, variations of ‘a,’ ‘e,’ ‘i,’ ‘o,’ or ‘u,’ are the breath of life. Ancient Hebrew words, written, included no vowels. These sounds were added in the speaking. (Deepak Chopra: Journey to the Boundless) The breath of life: in the beginning I picture humans standing up, grunting or barking to show what we wanted, murmuring our pleasure. And once we get an idea it doesn’t take us humans long to run with it. Soon we were shaping the sounds, adding syllables, prefixes, suffixes to communicate feelings, plans, ideas. Making stories, changing our world.

    Some sounds are the same no matter what the language. ‘Ma,’ denoting mother, is there in ancient Sanskrit (matr), and the Romantic languages (madre in Spanish, mere in French) and German (mutter) and English. Every word carries history, sometimes thousands of years old, and that is so totally rad, man. Once I finish this blog, I’ll upload it and then? Omigod who knows? LOL.

    Make up a word, something wriggly or obtuse or just plain obfuscatious. Now use it, I dare you. Have some fun watching people’s reactions. Shakespeare coined thousands of words, and look what a good time he had. 
    Thanks for your visit,
    Jane
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