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Hernan Illiscas

Dream of Life, but really of death. Complicated & endless absorbing. By Hernan Illiscas.

I’ve fallen for this Cuencan artist. He was responsible for the mural I like so much & today we went to his gallery, the first floor of his home. His wife showed us around, including some wonderful drawings on rice paper, both tender & forceful. I was too shy to ask prices. If I couldn’t afford them, my hopes would be forever dashed, & if I could, I would have to decide among so many that I liked. He also has a group of 8 murals at the Hall of Justice, right off Parque Calderon, so we trotted over there. The big picture, in each case, is striking, & the details are intricate & evocative. 

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Monday Quote

Having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know. 

~ William Wilberforce, early 19th-century British politician & philanthropist who worked to abolish the slave trade


Likewise, Martin Luther King Jr: 

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.


I’m saying this to myself & to anyone who wants to listen. It’s so easy to live in the immediate — we need milk, I have a dentist appointment, hold on the phone is ringing — or to feel overwhelmed when the need is great. No excuse. We all know that but we don’t all act on our knowledge. If crisis & danger were ever clear, it is NOW.

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More details

This is a snippet of a mural on a wall outside the governor’s palace or state building. Several walls insides are covered with portraits of provincial governors (all men, no surprise) going back at least 200 years (oddly, they don’t seem to be presented in chronological order except for some grandee types clearly from 400 years ago, all the way up at the top). There’s also an abstract ceramic mural inside, in shades of the rust & pink that make up most of the roofs of Cuenca.


If I could, I would post a picture of this whole mural, which I couldn’t stand back far enough from to take complete. In it you can see a panel of Panama hats, workers, corn and other ancestral food, doves, traditional occupations, and more, much that I don’t recognize. 


Cuenca! you’ve won my heart!

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I let the clocks run down

to stop you leaving

to stop time stealing you

         goddess of longing


you ran from animal jaws

I ran to let you shiver

here in my arms

         golden with longing


sparrows impatient to fly

branches of snow-ruined trees

clocks that lifted their faces

         late and longing


we knew & let it go

we hovered away & back

we had one design


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Looking closely is the only way to make it mine. 


Much as I am enjoying Cuenca, & Ecuador, so far I have a relationship only with this bit of wall high up in the New Cathedral. 

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I could do nothing else than go in a church every day & have a great time. 


I’m doing more! Seeing Cuenca, hanging out with people, doing karate in the park, reading William Carlos Williams, I may even cook one of these days. The only hard part is remember what day it is, what I meant to do or did.  Read More 

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Monday Quote

Billy, me, Teresa, Steve. 

It is easy to love people in memory; the hard thing is to love them when they are there in front of you.

~ John Updike


Perfect quote for this trip, which was largely undertaken in order to spend time with 3 of my oldest friends. Steve & I met at the last big anti-Vietnam War demonstration on April 24, 1971, and have been close ever since. We are now in Cuenca, Ecuador, spending as much time as possible with Teresa & Billy, who I haven’t seen in quite a few years. That doesn’t matter. We are connected in a primal way & there isn’t a moment of fumbling to start talking. A lot of what we talk about is how our experience together affected us—transformed us—but we also are enjoying each other’s company in the here & now. 

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The New Cathedral at dusk, from the window of my Cuenca bedroom.

Here I am! Though I left New York on Wednesday morning, we only got to Cuenca on Friday afternoon due to Willis being delayed by weather in Atlanta. Going from sea level to 8,000 feet feels a little jet laggy so only now writing. First impressions? People in Ecuador are the kindest in the world. For example, everyone has been entirely patient with my attempts at Spanish (turns out it’s not even passable, despite the studying I’ve been doing).I have never seen such open smiles. Cuenca is a beautiful colonial city that reminds me of Spain, unsurprisingly. We are staying in a gorgeous huge apartment half a block from Parque Calderon. I probably could sit in the park & do nothing else this whole trip, and have a wonderful two weeks. 



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And off I go

Packed? Pretty much. Passport? Mos def. Drink the water? Simon says don't & he's from there. Everyone else says yes. 


Am I ready? I guess so. South America, here I come! 


I'm expect to blog while I'm there but ya never know what my days will look like. 


Canda munani! (Quicha for "love ya")

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Teeth Street

This terrific little artwork was made long ago by Tim Milk. 



I lost the first one in a fight

that was all right

the gap balanced my gat-toothed grin

another couple rotted away          family trait

that was all right too           I stole from my father's grave

I donated a few to the chinese vase industry

& a chubby cherub winged another

wisdom never did strike so from 28 I was down to 17

      next to go were the canines

they withered away when I gave up eating meat

   as I grew vague & dreamy I had no further use for incisors

        my lover swallowed several in vigorous kissing

& to give better head I had the rest removed:

gone gone gone

    what you see now are pearls of great price

intricate carved scrimshaw from longdead great whales

a mouth replete with radio receivers television antennae ebony

cradles tiny camera miniature quill pen cuneiform tablet

each spot has a function disguised as a tooth:

I cook my mouth's garden in my mandible wok


1978 or 1979

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Monday Quote

Patriotism is animated by love, nationalism by hatred. To confuse the one for the other is to pretend that hate is love and fear is courage.

~ Jill Lepore, This America: The Case for the Nation

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Getting ready to hit the road (sky)

I'm pretty much packed, with all the codes, passwords, reservations, etc, sorted out. I'll be in South America in just a couple of days. I have no real frame of reference for this whole continent, unlike Europe, where I've been many times & where my people come from. I suppose Ecuador is no more like Peru or Argentina than France is like Germany or Italy.


Will I feel tall in Ecuador? I remember Markos & I in a subway car in Mexico City, talking over the heads of every other passenger.


I will try not to forget anything. As long as I have my passport & some money, I can get whatever I need. I always say that when I travel. Whatever I don't have, I can get. I was sleepy & nervous & despondent but today i did the laundry & errands, & now I'm excited to go.

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The office ghost?

I found this record—I'm sure I've never seen it before—in my office, not even behind a million things. Where did it come from? Do objects roll up like rocks in a field? 

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From the vault

Me, Varda, Charlie. I'm 16 or 17 in this picture.

Still feeling low. Too much tRump. Still shocked at the racism & cruelty that feels overwhelming this week. This picture cheers me up. My beloved sister & brother, when we had all the future in the world. They are wonderful, then & now.

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Cowboy Jazz

I've been thinking about the terrific band Cowboy Jazz. I had cassettes of their two albums, Swing Boogie and That's What We Like About the West. I've never found a CD or mp3 files. They were from Baltimore or DC area & I have no idea who turned me on to them. Three women singers & a lineup of sensational western swing musicians. I guess they're Asleep at the Wheel with women leads? 


I bought a Tony Kosinec record because I'd loved him long ago but I hardly got through it - not even close to in tune & the songs were awful except for one, it had a car in it but I can't remember more than that. 


All I do is recapture my old interests, it seems

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Catching up

Robyn knew what this thrilling operation was all about—construction. 

My computer has been in the shop & now is like new, with a replacement trackpad & hard drive. It's almost exactly the same except for a a few glitches that I'm trying to fix. 


Kid Sean came over & he helped clean my office & came with me to the Brickman for light-blocking film for my windows—& I discovered a spray paint that makes them opaque. I probably got a brain tumor spraying them today but now light gets in & people can't really make out what's going on in my office. Which is in a half-basement, putting the windows at street level. I've had black curtains for years. Right now I feel exposed but I think I'll get used to it. 


I had class & Sylvie & Robyn & I went to a cool show on Ludlow Street, a young Pakistani-Canadian painter whose name I don't know, sort of a more vibrant Lichtenstein.


Sunday was beach training, a nap, & then we saw Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which I liked much more than I expected to & it didn't seem long at all. 


So this is, like, 10 blog posts rolled into one. 

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Monday Quote

Make the wrong thing difficult & the right thing easy.

~ Bruce Nauman on breaking horses


but doesn't this work for politicians, husbands, kids?

if only it worked for cats:

how serene & unbitten my toes!

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Was it a dream?

Det Norske Sovebiblioteket – The Norwegian Sleeping Library


a room on a street

to lie down with a book

lamp throws apricot light on the bed

we doze & drift & doze

Horace, a poet of another dimension,

orders a whiskey sour





I translated it into norsk with a little help from Tone & Berit (but not MUCH):


Det Norske Sovebiblioteket



et rom på en gate

legge seg ned med en bok

lampen kaster et aprikoslys på sengen

vi døser og flyter og døser

Horace — en dikter fra en annen dimensjon — 

bestiller en whisky sour

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I'm not a fashion maven, never have been, but I wish I'd been able to get to Spain for "Balenciaga and Spanish Painting" (through September, so maybe...). His incredible dresses are matched with, in dialogue with, really, works by El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, Murillo and others. 


Hey look, I can get the catalogue, every garment & every painting, for only $75. That's a LOT less than a plane ticket to Madrid, though not nearly as fun. 

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