Sunday, September 18, 2016

Interstellar Trail: Short Piece

Interstellar Trail
By Armando Ortiz

Buddhist teaching,
word and symbol,
Vajra standing
on paper still.

Diamond sutra
hemp on plaster,
hand moving faster
laying a path of ink.

Holy priest floating
riding on tiger clouds,
dismembering ego
promising redemption.

Horse of the Great Plateau
rumbling into war
chariot of fire
demolishing walls.

Flying creature
found in white clouds
on frozen blue sky
protects the spirit trail.

Ancient pilgrim
walking through desert
passing through gorges
finding knowledge in the sacred.

Old Tibetan libraries
under constant repair
after years of cultural warfare
on silent mountain valleys.

Ring the bell
of present chant,
the setting sun
washed in corral dye.

Sketched masterpieces
capture the moment
the violet sky turns onyx
revealing the source of clamor.

Palace of refuge
with dining hall
where longing gets quenched
in a banquet under Guanyin’s eye.

Master’s imagination
sketched on paper
for blind men to follow
the pattern of the shining
interstellar ember.

Sutras kept alive
on blue print scrolls,
four sided walls repeating

the devine cycle that’s law.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely

Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely: Review and Reflection
By Armando Ortiz
Dunbar Hotel, 1930's.
Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely is a quick reading novel that takes place in the late-1930's, and begins along Central Avenue in Los Angeles. There the private detective Philip Marlowe finds himself in front Florian’s, a hotel that’s lost its glitter and now is mostly a seedy gambling den. For one reason or another, he is in search of a missing person when he is swept up by a chance encounter with a man who is also looking for someone. This part of Los Angeles is now considered the historical Jazz corridor of the city, which back in the day, between the 1930’s through the 1950’s, was a place where African Americans were allowed to own businesses. Marlowe becomes a quasi-accomplice to a murder that happens in the building. The crime is eventually solved though to get through to the end one goes through a roller coaster ride of intrigue, action, racism, mystery and emotions. Chandler manages to capture Marlowe’s ebb and flow as a heavy drinker, and also gives the reader a glimpse into a Los Angeles that was less populated, where its streets and traffic were barely beginning to have congestion. More important to the landscape, Marlowe swims in the midnight waters of the deep underground where gigolos, con-artists, gamblers, gangsters, former convicts and corrupt officials mingle in hidden dens, within canyon mansions or boats that are anchored a few miles from the coast.

Marlowe’s office is located in Hollywood, but he is constantly zipping to the beach, police stations around downtown L.A., and driving up desolate canyons that today are riddled with multi-million dollar mansions.  He describes places, like Central Ave where now the majority are Hispanic, but that back then was a place where African-Americans made up the majority, but this was mainly due to laws that segregated them to a specific area of this urban oasis. Through his literary lens, Chandler gives the reader a context to the different waves of residents that the city has encountered throughout the years since its establishment, while at the same time showing us a glimpse of how crime was treated back in those days. According to the novel, if a white man killed a black man it would only be considered a misdemeanor, which in a very interesting way sheds light into the manner the media sees crime in Los Angeles.
Santa Monica early 20th century.
Some of his descriptions are flawless. The beach which is at the edge of Bay City (Santa Monica, CA) is described in a very beautiful manner, making it at once the delicate bracelet of a Hollywood starlet, as seen from a boat that floats in the ocean from a mile away, but also as a place where the smells of tar intertwine with the coastal breeze. He makes you stand at the top of a hill, maybe somewhere along a ridge in Temescal Canyon allowing you to see what he saw. The once desolate canyons are now secluded enclaves for the rich with foreign people that continue to serve the residents there and make the daily commute from the forgotten pockets of L.A. that never make the evening news. In recent times it has been in the canyons of Los Angeles where dismembered body parts have been found, most recently in 2012.
Central Ave today.
The apartment buildings and its front gardens are similar to the ones I saw while growing up in Los Angeles and continue to see in some of the older areas that have yet to be touched the bulldozers or replaced by mega-luxury apartments that are completely enclosed and exclusive. Art-deco structures built with walls that could hide a bed with a slight lift from one end, and iceboxes that were built into the wall of a kitchen, though no longer functioning makes one wonder what could be found in the more moderns structures of today. Places like Central Ave that were slowly going through a transformation is where you now find people that are mostly of Hispanic heritage, walking along its much more rundown side streets and who drive up and down the avenue that’s lined with small ranch markets, discount stores, church congregations, shamans, tattoo parlors, seedy beauty salons and mechanic shops. African Americans, now are an old remnant of the past, having spread out to different parts of the city, just like the white folk that peppered those areas when Chandler was alive.  
Santa Monica.
Sage is natural feature that is a prominent in the story as it engulfs Marlowe when he visits the surrounding hillsides of the city. You know you are entering or have arrived at a more solitary place because the artificial lights and neon signs disappear, the sky becomes particularly darker, and again, the smell of sage hovers and blankets the uninhabited areas of future suburbs. The sounds and smells of the ocean also become accentuated by the more desolate areas of Bay City, making the reader appreciate what once was but that which continues to endure though maybe now you have to drive a bit father to encounter what he saw, like the city’s long arid coastline, and canyons that in spring give birth to many types of wild flowers, though more sparsely now than before.

Chandler left behind a literary gem that future travelers, residents and readers of Los Angeles will one day find themselves experiencing as he too explored the city and retold those meanderings through Marlowe’s narration. Reading his novel is like reading a series of vignettes that keep getting your attention, hooking you with his entrancing character descriptions and unique blend of metaphors and word play. His paragraphs seem to be complete scenes that say everything that must be told, but leave enough to have you reading more.  It lets you uncover facets of LA that you might not have been aware of by peeling away at some of the things that sometimes we ignore, like the fine mud pellets that are created by late-summer morning drizzle or like the humming birds that feed off of ruby bottlebrushes. It’s a good read and well worth the time for anyone wanting to read some good literature, but also for anyone that wants to be transported back to a time when city was just beginning to become a major urban center.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities: Review

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities: Review
By Armando Ortiz
In Italo Calvino’s novel Invincible Cities we find Marco Polo sharing with Kublai Khan, former king of China and of the Mongols, his recollections of the cities he came across within the realms of the Khan’s kingdom and those on its margins. Marco engages the supreme leader of the steppe peoples in conversation over games of chess, while strolling through private gardens, and discusses ideas and theories over lavish dinners. In many ways Calvino takes us through cities that could not only exist in the realm of the material but also within the minds of our collective unconscious. The conversations are brief and what we are mostly treated to are descriptions of magical places that seem to just be suspended in a universe of imagination and possibilities. His cities have shadows, and those shadows also make a symphonic cacophony of life that exists there, be it a simple howling wind, the hustle and bustle of nameless bazaars, the smell of burning oil lamps, and the crashing of water onto the rocky coast of a city. Animate and inanimate mirages combine to become places where you find crystal palaces, cities that function as desert oasis to wanderers and travelers alike. The sewer systems of a city, its catacombs and chandeliers also become places where beings gather to create and imagine, and those people in many ways become reflections of other realities.
At one point Marco Polo reflects on the cities that he has encountered and comes to realize that quite possibly he’s been describing different facets of his own hometown, Venice. We might very well be from a place that we think we know well, but when we dissect its different realities we come to realize that maybe what we thought was our city is actually a collection of invisible experiences known to no one else but ourselves. Our backyard isn’t everyone’s block and neighborhood, but in fact just a spec of amazing orbits that make up a larger whole. At one point Polo describes a city that exists suspended in midair and in another recollection, the images that reflect off the water make up the independent realities that those reflections have independent of its originators. It is a world of unlimited possibilities, and through his novel we come to discover we might very well be living in an imaginary city ourselves.
The possibilities presented in Calvino’s book are the limits to our imagination and to our capabilities. Though we might be invisible to others, we still dream and if you imagine it may come to be, and if you desire to explore you might very well realize that this whole earth has been your realm of exploration, like an endless excursion of what has been and what is becoming. We not only are the traveler but also the lord of the things that transpire. Though not the Khan, Marco has managed to captivate the lord’s imagination whose only desire is to bring peace to its inhabitants and become familiar with his kingdom. All kinds of characters make their appearance in the novel and the mythical lives of spirits and gods are discussed, and yet at the end of the novel all we have are two characters one who recounts and tells of his travels, and the other who listens entranced by the tales entering and conquering his mind. Calvino takes us on a journey of dreams that become real and so too our dream can become invisible cities where anything is possible.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Stansport Tent: Denali II Two Person Backpacking Tent

Stansport Backpacking Tent: Reflection and Review
By Armando Ortiz
Spring 2009, first camping trip with tent.
I bought my first camping tent back in 2009 at a surplus store in Moss Landing, California. It was in the back of a huge military storage container tucked in between other larger items, ammunition boxes and wool blankets, where I found the portable ten. It was blue and gray Stansport Denali II two person backpacking tent that I bought that day and since then this living space has given comfort and protected me from different weather conditions that have arisen in my travels. I’ve used the tent mostly to camp in California, along the coast, inside the redwood forest, up in the mountains, and have also used it at local music festivals.
Valley of the Rouge State Park
The tent has held up well, keeping its integrity despite a nick on the floor from grounds that have been covered in rocks, sticks and pine-cones. Nonetheless a good tarp or footprint has provided an extra layer of protection, but as any camper I’ve made sure to clear up areas I choose to hunker down on. The two aluminum poles continue to work fine along with the zippered doors. You can set up the tent in a couple of minutes and move it to a better spot if need be, before the stakes are hammered into the ground to give it better stability. Because it is so light, and can be moved around after the tent is pitched, as you break up camp it’s easy remove sand or debris that makes its way inside by simply picking it up and giving it a couple of good shakes.
I also discovered how versatile this tent can be, with the rainfly helping to keep my shoes and backpack water and dust free, while keeping things separate from inside and yet easily accessible, at arm’s length. The vestibule also has allowed me to redirect air flow into the tent more freely by letting me roll up different parts of the rainfly. The doors of the domed tent can also be rolled up, allowing for more air flow from any direction and yet a high level of privacy is maintained. It conveniently lets me roll my tent doors so that the mesh doors protect me from bugs, giving me a chance to nap in the day time.

Roasting corn.
During my camping trip to Southern Oregon and Northern California this past summer my seven year old tent withstood late spring rains at Valley of the Rouge State Park, kept me warm and cozy at Harris Beach State Park and MacKerricher State Park where the cold coastal winds bring in the summer fog to the camping areas and the temperature drops to the chilly upper 40s. It protected me from the clouds of mosquitoes that hovered over Standish-Hickey State Park and Hendy Woods State Park, turning a nuisance into an opportunity to relax and a book while resting inside comfortably. Because it is backpacking tent, it is very light weight and is kept in the trunk of my car. Its portability makes it ready for any well planned trip or one that has been made at the spur of the moment. It continues to do its job, to protect me from the elements, and is still enduring the test of time. I continue to look forward to returning to the wilderness or of simply finding an excuse to go car camping. I know that this Stansport tent will hold up and continue to give me shelter.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Roberto Bolano's Amulet: Book Review

Roberto Bolano

Roberto Bolano’s Amulet: Book Review
By Armando Ortiz
            Migration of birds come and go every season, during the summer months, they fly north to the plains and plateaus of North America, and return south to the Caribbean and southern parts of Mexico during the winter months. At one time these movements of birds might have created visuals in the sky of ever moving dancers, and clouds could have been metamorphosing into splatters. Imagine farmers and hunters, just four generations ago, shooting buck shots into the air and seeing hundreds of birds just fall to the ground. Mix with that years of polluting fumes and oil spills. Now, all we see are glimpses of things that were, the sounds that we hear are just an acoustic tune to the symphonic sounds that the wildlife of the America’s once breathed. We wake up, and might not put much care to the sounds that emanate from outside of the window. Its background noise that disturbs our waking life, like a squeaky wheel that demands attention, whether you like it or not, it’s there, like the small birds that make tiny dust bowls on the ground of local parks, that is what remains, a forgotten memory mixed with the present.
1968 Summer Olympics, Mexico City.
That is what we have in Roberto Bolano’s Amulet who brings that into focus through Auxilio Lacouture, the main character and narrator of the novel. She is an imaginary figure that survived the Mexican military’s take over the UNAM in 1968, a few months before the Olympics were hosted in that city. By chance she finds herself in the women’s bathroom that’s on the 4th floor of the philosophy building. She claims to be the mother of Mexican poetry, while some characters in the book might contend that she is the mother of all American poetry. Hiding in the 4th floor for several days marks her and those memories become intertwined her legendary status throughout the novel.
We can feel her breath, the passing of time, the withering of her body, but also the hopes that emanate from her spirit. We learn more about her by what she reads, but this is also a way for Bolano to introduce us to more authors, different artists and music that we might not be familiar with from the two Spanish poets that appear at the start of the story, two writers that have very different political views, but similar talents in poetry, to artist like Remedios Varo a surrealist painter who created some amazing pieces of art, and music from Spain. She lives a harsh life, spending time at bars and cafes with fellow writers and artists. She’s is a free spirit, born in Uruguay, living illegally in Mexico City and always doing odd jobs for professors and writers alike. Living a true poet’s life, one that Roberto Bolano probably lived. Though she has not had “success” she is a definite presence amongst the literary crowds of the city, and it is through her encounters with other writers and artist that we also learn and gain insight into the richness of the Spanish language and its legacy in the Americas.
Roberto Bolano and Inferalists from Mexico.
Spending most of the time roaming the streets with fellow artists she is known by the underground and is a close friend to recently returned from Chile poet Arturo Belano, the author’s alter ego. She finds affinity for the young writer because he too has experienced hardships, he too has traveled and walked through the different valleys of Spanish speaking Americas and he too has hopes and dreams like she does.  Bolano shows us how even without her papers being in order, Auxilio is able to navigate herself and intermingle with Mexico City’s creative currents that interact with the seedier sections of Mexican society. She sees the different facets of an artist’s life and the hacks that exist amongst the crowds; she lives a few months in a room and moves on. Her life is a continual ebb and flow of experiences, but poetry and the culture that surrounds her gives her sustenance, which in many ways is a metaphor to Bolano’s life as a writer and testament to his travels throughout the Spanish speaking world. As she reflects on her passing of time and the moments spent in the restroom of the 4th floor it all becomes clear that the only reason to live is to hope for another day of ecstasy where she gets to live through the night again and welcome the rising of the sun and see the inhabitants of the city wake up to a hustle and bustle.

Amulet by R. Bolano.
Towards the later part of the novel Auxilio has a vision or dream where she is walking a tall mountain and she seems a sea of humanity converging into one, and from that crowd emerge a migrating sparrow and the elusive quetzal, indigenous to the Americas, there are defeats and victories, and within that a new hope, a new tomorrow, and a new rise, essentially the forging of a new culture and the dream of having the art of writing nurtured by those who roam the night and write their thoughts on paper. Another way of looking at Roberto’s vision is by looking at a map of the world and seeing that the Spanish world continues to exist and that the influences that each valley, nation, and region have over other Spanish speaking communities is still significant and relevant, with a culture that is flourishing and vibrant.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Autumn Leaves in Beijing

Autumn Leaves in Beijing
by Armando Ortiz
Two shadows were following me last night, giving the body a shivering fright. I turned around to see who was behind, but it was the street lights casting two shadows in the night. Walking home, and hearing noises scattering from the sides, the breeze sweeping the autumn leaves on the floor, but out of sight.

At a distance a black cat ran, crossing my path looking for cover, becoming a discarded newspaper twisting, scattering, and making my thoughts stutter. Discarded rubbish blown along, like dark ocean waves, became black tarantulas that crawled on the ground.

Later, I woke up in a cold sweat to the clanging of the metal door- 
late October, 
when winds shake pots and pans past the midnight hour. 
Traffic lights and flag poles shaking and resonating like a lone drumstick that lands on a snare drum.

On that crisp and starry night, 
I was afraid that death would soon take hold, 
and blind me with nightmare dreams while locked inside an endless dawn. 
Even if living on an island I would not be at peace, 
because something was haunting, 
but the mind remained clueless to what that could be.

In Beijing, 
amongst retired folk that woke up early to do their morning taichi is where I lived, 
frosty breaths blending with dawn’s flowing air. 
They seemed unfazed with nature’s change that was in the air, 
and moved their arms as if spinning and mixing clay-wares.

It was like being in a Bergman film, 
where I was supposed to see my body stiff, 
but then the next day the heater came on, 
and the warmth of my home, 
became a shelter of safety from the cold crawling into every corner of the city.

The last days of autumn, 
when the warm colors that trees wear
fall to the ground, 
and brown dead leaves 
announce the blistering winter’s arrival, 
who with sweeping broom sounds, 
rakes away all that has passed, 
bringing a stiffening cold season 
that will refuse to move fast.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

One Day You Will Remember: Short Piece

One day you will remember
By Armando Ortiz
One day you will remember my love and kindness. Seasonal winds will begin to shift south, heading toward distant reserves, and a misty drizzle will be heard from the window, but outside a sun brighter than light will breathe a baking wind on to you. Then a mountain of butterflies will appear on the date when you should recall my words.

On that day, pine trees will become bouquets of orange poppies that hang from every branch, and the hands of our giving mother will unfold as monarchs that rest on green needles sharing memories of us with every flap of their wings.

It will be a clear autumn day, where delicate yellow like leaves will remain suspended in midair, never to touch ground, under a noon sun. Despite this broken heart, harvester butterflies will pass you bye, and then, when I’m no longer here, they will whisper these words, “My love for you was an endangered phenomenon.”