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I watched this tonight on the Criterion Channel. If you’ve hung around here for a while, you know that noir is one of my favorite genres, both in print and on film. I just find it fascinating expression of existential tension, both in general and in the context of mid-century, primarily post-war America. You can always find social anxieties and concerns expressed in genre films, whether they be action, westerns, science fiction or what have you.)

This was interesting, but not great. It’s Raymond Chandler’s only original script and (you will be shocked to hear) that the studio forced a change of the ending because didn’t want a serviceman depicted in a negative light. That’s not too much of a spoiler because there are three servicemen characters, and people, this is an almost 80-year old movie. I mean, don’t be mad, but guess what? Rhett leaves Scarlett and Rick makes Ilsa get on that plane.

Something I read offered that this movie could be seen as a precursor, in a way, to The Best Years of Our Lives, which came out a few months later. Of course the latter film is much better – a classic everyone should watch, today, if you can. I can see it – three servicemen just returned from the war, dealing with trauma, injury and family tensions. But of course Best Years is a deep-diving classic, while The Blue Dahlia is a relatively light, convoluted piece highly dependent on coincidence (Veronica Lake just happens to pick up a stranger on the road – who happens to be the trudging-in-the-rain Alan Ladd miles away from where her husband – a fantastic Howard da Silva – has had an affair with his wife. Sure, Raymond.)

That said, there’s a bit of snappy dialogue here and there, Alan Ladd is nice looking and short, William Bendix is traumatized, the female actors, including Veronica Lake are, as most female actors of the time except for the top tier tend to be, stiff. Doris Dowling’s screeching confession that no, her and Ladd’s son didn’t die of diphtheria during his tour – he died in a car accident! caused by her! drunk! driving! was not so much sad as incredible, in the literal sense. I mean, that’s a hard secret to keep, even when your husband is in the Pacific theater. Da Silva was the best part of the movie for me. Casually, confidently unctuous and thoroughly natural in his affect, he made the film.

Oh, and there’s this uncomfortable element – the Bendix character, as I said, has been injured. He’s got a plate in his skull, gets headaches, hallucinates a bit and reacts pretty violently to loud, jazzy music, which he shouts is “Monkey music!” Errr…Mr. Chandler? Really? Maybe that could have used a re-write, instead.

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The problem with the film adaptation of Dan Delillo’s White Noise?

There’s not enough of it.

White noise, that is.

Or spirituality for that matter, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

DeLillo’s book is (in part) about the landscape in which we postmoderns dwell, a landscape suffused with, well, white noise. A continual buzz of stimulation, information and entertainment that surrounds us, builds narratives and ultimately distract us from the issue that’s tormenting us all: death.

In Baumbagh’s film, while mostly watchable and entertaining in its own way – until the painful last third – we don’t pick up on that, we don’t sense that, we don’t hear or see any of that. It’s a mildly quirky suburban dramedy that resolves itself in near-sweetness, which the novel does not, at all. He captures the “white noise” of family life, but beyond that, no.  There’s really not much mystery here, and White Noise the novel is suffused with uncertainty and mystery. The most concrete example of this is the Toxic Event itself – its nature is never made clear or explicit in the novel, but in the film, oddly, it’s explained (a collision). I think that’s the movie’s biggest mistake, by far.

(There are others: Both Gerwig and Driver are a bit too young, Gerwig especially. In the movie, the youngest child, Wilder, is the offspring of the oft-married Jack and Babette, but in the novel, none of the children are fully related to anyone else in the family, which is important – the family is thoroughly postmodern – a collection of individuals. In the novel, Babette doesn’t appear in that last sequence of events.)

This isn’t a film I want to write about as much as I want to chew over it with someone else who’s seen it and also read the novel. There’s just a lot to say, notions and insights that emerge when I consider, not what the film includes, but what it doesn’t.

First off, please know that, um, I’d never read DeLillo before last week, when the coming film inspired me to check out the novel. It wasn’t as long as I expected, and I thought I’d knock it off fairly quickly, but that didn’t happen. It took me a good week to finish it, not because it’s impenetrable or dauntingly complex, but because it’s stuffed. I wouldn’t say it’s rich, either – just…stuffed.

And so I think this post will turn more on the novel than the film, with a bit of circling back at the end.

As I read White Noise I was put in mind of Walker Percy, and wondered if anyone had ever written comparing the two. A quick search didn’t turn up much, but yes: the vaguely apocalyptic landscape, the fractured family, the puzzled male protagonist, and – this is important – the medicalization of soul problems. When you are taking pills to ward off your fear of death, seems like that’s Percy territory.

Not surprisingly, I experienced White Noise (the novel) as not just a satire of contemporary American life, but also an exploration of spiritual presence and absence. Joshua Ferris lays it out quite well in this piece, so I’ll quote him. At length.

White Noise begins and ends with a ritual. The first is the cavalcade of station wagons arriving for the new school year, which Jack describes as a spectacle—“a brilliant event, invariably”—and which he has not missed in 21 years. It ends with the communal nightly pilgrimage to the highway overpass where he, his family and his neighbors witness the exalted sunsets that might be a temporary result of fallout from the toxic spill or something permanently deserving of awe. “[W]e don’t know whether we are watching in wonder or dread,” he says, as if commenting upon the entire phenomenon of white noise itself. In the end, neither he nor Delillo provides an answer.

Between these two rituals, the attentive reader encounters the high priest of Hitler Studies who tries to both evade and master death through his submersion in a “larger-than-death” figure; the ascetic-visionary-guru Murray Jay Siskind; the fundamentalist Alfonse Stompanato who discusses pop culture with the “closed logic of a religious zealot, one who kills for his beliefs”; amulets and vestments, like Jack’s copy of Mein Kampf, which he clutches to his chest at moments of discomfort, and his dark black glasses and heavy academic robe which bestow upon him “the dignity, significance and prestige” appropriate to priests; the rhetoric of exhortations as issued from some holy order found in Jack’s command “May the days be aimless. Let the seasons drift. Do not advance the action according to a plan”; amulets like the visor Denise wears day and night and later the protective mask Steffie refuses to take off; glossolalia; invocations (“Dacron, Orlon, Lycra Spandex,” “MasterCard, Visa, American Express”); the use of drugs, in this case not for ecstatic religious purposes but for death assuagement; numerology (“Is death odd-numbered?”); congregations, whether at the supermarket, on the overpass or in the classroom; superstitions (“It is the nature and pleasure of townspeople to distrust the city”); the miracle of Wilder’s unharmed tricycle ride across the freeway; and many other customs, rites and rituals, not only that of Friday-night TV, but Jack’s more “formal custom” afterwards of reading deeply into Hitler; the heavy visitation to the most photographed barn in America (“Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender… we’ve agreed to be part of a collective experience,” Murray tells Jack, elevating a scene typically presented as a lament about the simulation’s preeminence over the real—the photograph of the barn over the barn itself—to one of overt religious import that better explicates Josiah Royce than Jean Baudrillard), and finally Babette’s very secular custom, conspicuously occurring in the otherwise inactive Congregational church, of teaching the elderly how to stand, sit and walk, later upgraded to eating and drinking.

This overwhelming litany of how Delillo fleshes out traditional religious elements in the post-Christian world of White Noise is not exhaustive. He has done nothing short of scuttling the entirety of established religious systems only to remake one, full of the same structures and accoutrements, out of the stuff of American cultural life, very often out of the same white noise that doubles in the book as the agent of death against which those structures and accoutrements are intended to protect. The protective devices of this new pseudo-religion meet with mixed success in giving comfort to Jack Gladney as he struggles with his death fears, but no matter. Their domain is not so one-dimensional as to provide only protective devices. They also reveal to him glimpses of greater meaning, of awe and of transcendence. Above all, they reveal that Delillo goes beyond cultural assessment in White Noise to show—if we didn’t know it already from The Names—that he is a writer deeply, almost preternaturally attuned to the eternal human encounter with what constitutes the religious and the spiritual.


Yes, you’re reading that having watched the film and wondering…what?

In another article (somewhere), I read about the character of Wilder, the youngest child in the family. Those of you who have only watched the film will find my description unrecognizable. What’s in the film in general is very faithful the book – what makes the adaptation so unsatisfactory is what is left out, which is a lot of important elements: most of all, the sense of white noise and the spiritual ghosts, including what DeLillo gives us in Wilder.

In the movie, he’s just a young child who is carted around and only speaks once, and whose presence, his mother says, makes her happy.

In the novel he’s quite different. His silence is often commented upon – it is not clear whether his worldlessness is a choice or a disability. He does make noise, though – especially one day when he cries, weeps and wails from dawn to dusk. This is an important and lengthy interlude in the book. No one knows what to do. Wilder just cries and cries. They take him to the doctor. He keeps crying. But it’s not just crying. It’s a profound, deep keening – DeLillo uses the word – that his stepfather experiences, in part, as something profound with which he feels a desire to connect. In the midst of all the distracting white noise, here’s a deeply human noise coming from a real place, and so Jack, being a human, and being a human who thinks about death, senses it comes from a place where he might find…something. “It might not be so terrible to have to listen to this a while longer,” he thinks.

The family members’ responses and interactions with Wilder are almost like those of worshippers to a holy presence in their midst – they take care of him, they fawn over him, they respond to him ritually (yes yes yes yes). And in the end, when Wilder mounts his tricycle and rides across all the lanes of the highway without being harmed, we sense that he is, indeed, something special – even if that specialness resides in his innocence and, in the midst of a world that fears and denies death, his fearlessness.

Baumbach either didn’t understand or chose to ignore the spiritual implications of White Noise. It really is, as Ferris says, a book that invites us to look at and listen to the world around us and consider the possibility that we are still worshipping, we are still ritualizing, we still are looking for miracles and listening to sacred texts, and none of it seems to be helping.


I want to say something about the closing credits sequence. It’s a long (8-minute) stylized dance routine, involving all the characters, in the, bright, gleaming A & P. In White Noise, the supermarket functions in the same way the village church would – a gathering place, a place to build community, to fill one’s needs, to admire human ingenuity and creativity, but today, controlled and given, rather than evolved from who we are in an organic way. I suppose Baumbach conceived this sequence a way to communicate that. A supermarket scene closes out the novel, as well. But let’s look at the difference:

In the novel, the last chapter is composed of three scenes: Wilder with his tricycle, the gathering to watch the sunset, and then the supermarket. But what happens in the store? Well, the shelves have been rearranged. People – especially older people – are confused.

The supermarket shelves have been rearranged. It happened one day without warning. There is agitation and panic in the aisles, dismay in the faces of older shoppers.[…]They scrutinize the small print on packages, wary of a second level of betrayal. The men scan for stamped dates, the women for ingredients. Many have trouble making out the words. Smeared print, ghost images. In the altered shelves, the ambient roar, in the plain and heartless fact of their decline, they try to work their way through confusion. But in the end it doesn’t matter what they see or think they see. The terminals are equipped with holographic scanners, which decode the binary secret of every item, infallibly. This is the language of waves and radiation, or how the dead speak to the living. And this is where we wait together, regardless of our age, our carts stocked with brightly colored goods. A slowly moving line, satisfying, giving us time to glance at the tabloids in the racks. Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and the extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead.”

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Hahaha. I have no highlights for July.

I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

Why no July highlights? I certainly posted – here are all the July posts, including those on books, movies, saints and gender issues – but beyond that most were travel related – the last chunk of the England/Scotland trip, then Nashville, then driving from Alabama to Wyoming, then at the end a couple of stops on the way to Charleston.

August saw travel as well – back to Charleston for a bit, and then a big solo driving trip to New Mexico and back.

But I did write about other matters in August. Here are all the August posts and then some highlights below.


A space opens up…what do you do?

Whether it be in terms of your career or personal life or just the day, what’s the question you ask?

Is it What do I want to do? How can I follow my dreams today? What are my dreams, anyway?

Or is it…

What is my duty right now? What does love invite, call or even require me to do in this moment?

And one of the points you hear being made about the current situation with the TLM is that it’s a return to the days right after the promulgation of the current Mass, even the days (it is feared) before the establishment of groups like the FSSP, before the indult. It’s an attempt to re-create a moment in time that occurred about forty years ago. It’s a desperate attempt to reclaim a hope and a dream rooted, not in the present with all of its nuances and developments, but in a nostalgic vision of that immediate post-Vatican II era , when all seemed so simple and clear.

You know, those last decades of … the last century.

But I did see and hear for myself how contentious the question was among Catholics. I had one fascinating evening where I went from one parish-related event to another and heard two completely different takes on the situation – one set of conversations assuming that the parish in question was moving too fast towards “normality” and as a consequence, these people would be attending another parish where there were more restrictions in place – and then an hour later, another conversation among many people from the same parish who were happy with minimal restrictions and would prefer none at all.

I think my appreciation of it this time is directly due to other recent (as in over the past year or so) experiences I’ve had – recounted here – of super dramatic praying of the Eucharistic Prayer. I mean – just almost to the point of parody.

What are you doing? Why are you talking like that?

Well, I think the reason the presider in those cases is talking like that – which varied, but in general, amounted to drama – was because he knew he needed to communicate that this moment was special, and all of his formation and (importantly) the assumptions of the congregation in front of him led him to a point of assuming the burden of communicating that sacredness via his personal demeanor.

Kind of like….he’s trying to sell us something.

Huh.


January 2022 Highlights

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Books of 2022

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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

All May posts here.


It also strikes me that intense discernment of “vocation” in the world is a luxury good, an expression of privilege. And in the modern world of self-fulfillment, quite often twisted into a baptized version of privileged “life journey,” and a way to avoid serving and meeting the needs of those right in front of us, right now.

There is a spiritually healthy way of talking about lay vocation in the world, I think, but it’s not a way that centers on personal fulfillment. It challenges us to ask: “What does the world need? What do the people in this world need? How can I help? How must I help?”

I will add that there have always been actually pastoral pastors and ministers who have listened to seekers’ and inquirers’ stories in the mode of the apostle Philip. They have been open to the presence of the seeker on the road. They’ve taken the time to instruct and answer their questions. And when the Spirit moves, they don’t hold up more and more hoops. They stop the chariot right there, and go find some water.

So there’s that.

But that’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? Not just for our family members, but for everyone. This thing we call love takes different forms in various circumstances, but always at the heart of it, it seems to me, are two things: presence and self-gift. That’s where the decision starts, the answer to the question begins.

Whatever you have, whatever you can give to who needs it at that moment…

…that’s what you do now.

To fulfill our duties in ordinary life, letting the love of Christ live and grow in us, bringing Christ to each and every interaction whether it be washing dishes, conducting a meeting, comforting a child, hammering a nail?

To do that? Even those quiet, ordinary tasks are ways to be his witnesses to all nations. 

There is great depth and richness in the imagery of sheep and shepherd, not reducible to simplistic allusions to gentleness and lambs, as appealing as that may be. It has profound historical resonance in relation to Israel and its kings. It is about intimacy and recognition and protection, for, if you think about it, the rod and staff of Psalm 23 are not decorative. They are for support, they are for warding off enemies. The critique of contemporary shepherds implicit in all of the Scripture readings is directed at their weakness and failure to protect the sheep.

Because, indeed, we’re not walled off from the broader culture. People enter into that sacred space carrying everything with them, and Christ seeks to redeem all of it.  So knowing that Mother’s Day permeates the culture, accepting it, but also accepting that motherhood and parenthood in general is far more complex than the greeting cards and commercials and even Super-Authentic-and-Relatable-Instagram-Influencers let on, and that people come bearing, not only motherhood-related joy, but motherhood-related pain as well – the Body of Christ embraces and takes it all in.

Why the heavenly messengers challenge those of us still on earth, are you just standing here? He’s told you what to do …move on and out and get going!

So it’s an appropriate day, it seems, to talk about a unique way in which evangelists in the past took that challenge to heart and, instead of just sitting around wondering what to do – actually did something creative to share the Good News.

***Spoiler alert: it’s a method that was eventually banned by bishops. Of course. ***


January 2022 Highlights

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October 2022 Highlights

November and December 2022 Highlights

Books of 2022

Movies and Television of 2022

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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

All March 2022 posts here.

(As you can see from the images below, it was also the month we saw Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yoakum within a 2-week span. I didn’t write at length about either concert, but the pics are there for my memory’s sake.)


Do you or any of the adults that you know want to talk to other people’s kids about either sexual matters or even your own personal lives? Is making sure that any kids in your circle understand you or even know what you did last weekend important?

Is it even normal for a 40-year old to want a bunch of 11-year olds to “know who I really am?” much less to want to dig into their personal lives?

Um, no.

It would seem to me that after decades of discussing how the “fun mom” and the “cool coach” and the “drama teacher who lets us hang out at his apartment” and the “priest who drinks beer with us” are all basically emotionally arrested groomers and often abusers – we would be determined to insist on more walls between the adults who care for and educate young people and their charges, not fewer.

If Mom is always “doing her best” just because she’s Mom – why the heck are so many of us still grappling with Mom and Dad issues into adulthood?

We waited for the carrier, and when it came, she asked the baggage handler, Maleta? – referring to her checked bag, so now my Spanish vocabulary has been expanded by one more word, and then her phone rang while the baby was fussing a bit, so I took the baby – Jose! – and ended up carrying him through the airport while she talked on the phone, I presume to her relatives who were, indeed, there to meet her, with the women immediately swarming over the baby and everyone saying gracias and buenas noches and some of us…. phew.

In other words, our instinctive reaction to some Catholic moment from the past might be: Wow, that’s pretty crazy. And it might have been! But we might consider a follow-up as we consider our own lives: Wow, that’s pretty crazy, too, to be honest.

As I said, ours is not to point and laugh and bask in our superiority. Because we don’t have anything to brag about.

That is not to argue that the past is golden, ossified and preserved in amber for our devotion and emulation. The Catholic past is a riotous dynamic which includes moments worth reverencing and moments worth critiquing.

For the history of the Church may not be properly understood by the secular definition of “progress” but it certainly has the dynamic of reform baked into it – that is indeed, our history: Establishing a thought or practice or other reality that is faithful to the Gospel, and then, invariably, that moment drifting, corrupting and being an example, no longer of love, but of human pride and folly. And so we pray, discern, perhaps painfully tear down what have become idols, and begin again.

I was once at a Mass celebrated by a bishop, who was very happy at the end of Mass. He crowed, “We were really Church tonight!” I got it. I understood. On an emotional level, it was not an unreasonable reaction. But the point is: no matter how freaking boring it may seem to you– it’s still Church.

So there’s where ritual comes in.


January 2022 Highlights

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November and December 2022 Highlights

Books of 2022

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Time for the traditional end-of-trip summary!

Where: Guanajuato, Mexico

When: October 26 – November 2, 2022

How: Flew from BHM-DFW-BJX. Left Birmingham at 5:30 am or thereabouts, arrived at the airport in Leon at 11am. Got from the airport to the B & B in Guanajuato with a driver recommended by the B & B, but there are plenty of taxis and drivers and buses to get you the 18 miles from the airport to Guanajuato.

Return was the same route, but the flights were not as smooth. Oh, BJX-DFW was fine, but there was a never-really-explained and definitely never-apologized-for 3.5 hour delay in DFW. I had been psyched to get home by 5, but…that didn’t work out.

Airline: American (I have no airline loyalty. I go with whatever’s cheapest with the best routing.)

Why: As I explained in this post, I have been to Mexico a few times, really like the country, and have several areas which I look forward to visiting in the future. I had seen those iconic panoramic photos of Guanajuato with its brilliantly colored houses and churches for years and decided when some time opened up – it was time to go.

Many travelers who go to that part of Mexico hone in on San Miguel de Allende. There is certainly a lot to see there, but it is also has a very high number of ex-pat permanent or semi-permanent residents. Don’t quote me on this, but I’ve read it’s as high as 25% Americans and Canadians living there now. I’ll go someday, but didn’t want that kind of experience this time.

Where 2.0: As in…where did I stay?

I usually go for apartments first when I travel, and I did look at several in Guanajuato and almost bit…but I’m glad I didn’t. In looking at hotels and such, the Casa Zuniga popped up with such stellar reviews and such reasonable pricing, I decided to go with it, and I’m very glad I did, partly because before I went, I really didn’t understand the layout of the city, and I might have ended up with an apartment high on a hill on the other side of town from where the funicular runs. No bueno.

Casa Zuniga is unique in its origins and design, and an absolute delight. Owners – and builders, and cooks, and managers – Rick and Carmen are fascinating, knowledgeable and helpful hosts. My room was the “Ari” – and it was perfect for me. Breakfast was every morning at 9, and it was a time not only to enjoy great food (fruit salad, juice, eggs, guacamole, beans every morning, plus a unique entree – breakfast enchiladas, a quiche/frittata…etc.) but interesting company in conversation with fellow travelers (who, during my time, included, in weird small world moments – a couple from north Alabama, a couple from Charleston, a couple who’d been in Birmingham a two weekends before for work, as well as on the last days, two players from the LA Philharmonic, staying for some extra time after their Saturday evening concert.)

There are plenty of photos on the website – and here are a few of mine. The overlook view is from the patio.

How did I get around? Walked, walked, walked A lot.

The core of Guanajuato – and even a bit beyond the core – is very walkable – if you are in good shape. You can see a lot while staying on the (relatively) flat path through the middle of town – the bottom of the valley – but even venturing a bit beyond that necessitates climbing up, down and around. Casa Zuniga is located a good way up one of the hills, right next to the iconic “La Pipila” statue – and very conveniently, next to the funicular, which takes you up and down the hill at a low price (of course everything in Guanajuato is reasonably priced from a US perspective). The only problem is that it does operate according to specific hours, so if you’re out extra late…you’ll have to walk up (or take a taxi or Uber/Lyft from the bottom up to the top.)

(B & B is near the statue at the top of the hill in the photo on the far left)

What did I eat? Besides a great breakfast every morning at Casa Zuniga, mostly street food – I think I only ate two meals in restaurants: at the B & B recommended and very good Los Campos, and then at the B & B – guest recommended Los Huacales, also tasty. At Los Campos, aside from the guacamole, I had the Camarónes al ajillo which was delicious and which I am going to learn to cook right now. Los Huacales, chilaquiles verde.

Other than that it was tacos and variations of such, eaten from food stands, hole-in-the-wall takeout places and the market. All fantastic and all cheap, of course.

Mercado De Gavira – three levels of deliciousness
By far the most popular food stands were for elote – on the cob or in cups. Always the longest lines.

Health precautions: I’ve been to Mexico four times now, Honduras and Guatemala, with none of those stays being in protected, all-inclusive resort situations. We stay in small hotels, B & Bs and apartments, and eat where everyone else eats, and I’ve only gotten sick once, and I’m pretty sure I know why – that story here.

Before I go, I make an extra effort with probiotics for a couple of weeks. I don’t know if it helps, but I’ll just believe it does. And then…..I DO NOT DRINK THE TAP WATER. Not even to brush my teeth. Not even accidentally in the shower. I talked to a young woman on an airplane once years ago whose Mexico honeymoon had been ruined because her husband brushed his teeth or rinsed his mouth out in a shower in Mexico. I think it was a Sex in the City storyline, as well.

I’m also paranoid about eating the fresh fruit from street stands. They wash the fruit..but in what? It all looks great, but it seems risky to me.

(The tap water at Casa Zuniga is purified and softened, btw)

Did I feel safe? Absolutely. There was some violence in Guanajuato state a week or so before I left, but it was in another small town. Guanajuato city (the capitol of the state) was packed with tourists from all over, had a substantial police presence, and always felt very safe to me, even at night, trudging up those stupid stairs alone when I missed the funicular.

Regrets? I had intended – fully intended – to go to Dolores Hidalgo, which was the center of the movement for Mexican independence. But after my day trip to Leon, I felt…that was enough. There was plenty to see and do in Guanajuato itself. Another time hopefully. (And named, in case you don’t know, after the priest who was one of the movement’s primary leaders.)

The city was a small town known simply as Dolores when Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla uttered his famous cry for the independence of Mexico (the Grito de Dolores) there in the early hours of September 16, 1810, in front of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores parish church. After Mexico achieved independence, the town was renamed Dolores Hidalgo in his honor.

Is that it? I think so. You can find all the Guanajuato-related posts here, but below are the individual links detailing the trip in order. It was great! You should go! Tell Rick I sent you!

Day 1 – October 26, 2022: Travel day, wandering.

Day 2 – October 27, 2022: Churches, museums, tacos

Day 3 – October 28, 2022: Churches, museum, hike up to old silver mine, lunch at Los Huacales

Day 4 – October 29, 2022: La Valenciana church, day trip to Leon, Mass, dinner at Los Campos

Day 5 – October 30, 2022: Two concerts, lots of other music. Enchiladas.

Day 6 – October 31, 2022 Hike up to La Bufa. Parade. Volcanes tacos

Day 7 – November 1, 2022 Shopping, wandering, Mass, 2 saints’ processions, La Catrina parade, tacos

Many other travel-related posts here

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Not quite as much walking on Saturday, but even so, one thing became clear to me Saturday night – I can cross the funicular off my transportation options from mid-afternoon on at least for the next day or so. It’s a holiday weekend, so folks are flocking to town and La Pipila is a major destination – and of course if you can, you want to ride up and down, not just for the ease of it, but for the experience.

(Remember – click on photos for larger versions, and go to Instagram for videos.)

This was the crowd at La Pipila early Saturday evening:

And this was the line for the funicular to go up about 9pm Saturday night:

The line goes in a building and up some stairs, and each funicular car holds no more than 8-10 people. With about five minutes in between loads. So….

Everyday is Leg Day now…

Saturday morning, I started walking with the intention of getting a taxi up to San Cayetano for real this time (remember, I tried, unsuccessfully, on Friday). In my walk out of the pedestrian-only city center, I spied open doors on a church that had been closed every previous time because of reconstruction work they are doing. Popped in to find a small space, packed with images, of course, and also with two groups of religious education students – one younger group at the front, and an older group on the other end. It’s the Templo de San Roque.

Made my way through the already-crowded streets, found a taxi, showed him the place on my phone – and up we went.

You can read the history of the church (and, incidentally, the mine) here. Fraught, to say the least, in my opinion. It’s gorgeous, retablos covered in gold leaf, the picture frames solid gold – in gratitude to God and St. Cajetan for the discovery of the silver mines – which were mined with enslaved and indentured labor.

They manage seeing the church quite closely. The pews are roped off so you can’t sit, there are people supervising, asking you to take off your hat and reminding tour guides not to….guide while they’re inside.

I would have liked to sit for a bit and take it in, but I have no complaints with their rules, because they’re made with their own sense of the sacredness of the space in mind, probably knowing full well what havoc and disrespect tourists can bring with them.

Another taxi back down, this time directly to the bus station, so I could catch a ride to Leon.

Inter-city buses in Mexico are very comfortable, clean and efficient. Buses go between Leon and Guanajuato every twenty minutes, so I paid my 66 pesos (about $3USD), and there was a bus, just about ready to go.

I wanted to go to Leon for a few reasons: it’s a center of leather goods production, and there are heaps of leather goods vendors right outside the bus station, there’s a well-regarded museum of Guanajuato history and culture, and the cathedral – Pope Benedict visited here in 2012. Here’s his homily at vespers at that cathedral.

First stop was a short walk to the museum – admission 25 pesos – a bit more than a dollar. It was a nice museum, spacious, but not very large. There were four main exhibit spaces, only one of which is permanent. There was contemporary art in two of them, a (of course) Don Quixote exhibit in another and then the permanent space, which was very well done, but seemed incomplete – it only went up to the 18th century. There was a closed off door across the mezzanine, which seemed to me to be a continuation…oh never mind. It cost a dollar, for heaven’s sake.

From there I headed in the direction of the cathedral, which was about a 2 mile walk from the museum. I thought I’d walk it to see the city and then cab or Uber back. Which is what I did.

Leon is a huge, busy city – the center is not “charming,” but it’s clean, very busy, with lots of shopping. In gardens and plazas along the way, I saw many quinceañera photography sessions happening, and several shops like this:

Approaching the old city, I saw this looming church and thought, huh, Maps was wrong. Why did it tell me the cathedral was a mile further?

Because…this isn’t the cathedral.

I wish I had done my research and learned more about this before I’d gone – I’d have headed over earlier to give myself more time and toured the crypt as well.

Expiatory Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

My preference is for colonial…well I prefer a lot of church architectural styles over Gothic, but it’s definitely impressive.

Okay. So one more mile and then, here we are:

To save time, I got an Uber back to the bus/leather area.

The driver pointed out what he claimed were the best shops. Well, no matter what, combine the lower cost of living and the made-right-here prices…and you have some deals everywhere.

Also….????

The bus ride back took less time than the first because it was non-stop. About 40 minutes or so. The main bus station in Guanajuato is pretty far out of town, so I took a taxi back, rested a bit, then went out to fight the MOBS of people in town. I had a meal in an actual restaurant, but this is long enough, so I’ll save that for the “what I ate” post. But before that…

..well, one of the most internationally well-known artists to play at this festival was Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the LA Philharmonic. He and the orchestra (I presume just a core) have been touring and this was the last stop. My Pianist Son is a big Dudamel fan, so I’m familiar with him. Tickets for the concert last night were impossible to get, but I thought…hey. I know where the stage door is. Let’s lurk.

(I wasn’t the only one, just so you know.)

I got there about 7:35, security was fairly heavy around the door, so I knew he hadn’t yet arrived. Five minutes later…there he was. One young fellow was brave and leaped over and got a maskless selfie with him – he (the young guy) was ecstatic, and told me, as we were walking away that no he wasn’t a musician, just a fan of great music, he’d been waiting there since 5 and that tickets for the concert had sold out in an hour.

Anyway, here’s Gustavo Dudamel in a mask.

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Well, duh. Of course it was Louis IX. That was who I’d assume it was, but a quick look of images, didn’t give me the crown of thorns. Who knows. I probably entered the wrong Louis in the search box, given I was …pretty…tired.

So, let’s go – day 3.

One of the features of day 3, aside from walking was an approximately 1639% rise in the number of American voices I heard as I walked. I mean – everywhere.

So, back to the walking. The first thing I wanted to do was to see if this one church – San Francisco – which I’d walked by ten times so far, and has always been closed – was open. It wasn’t. But the little church just at the other end of the block was, so I popped in. It’s called Santa Casa de Loreto, and according to what someone said in Google reviews is “used for talks.” It’s quite small, circular, filled with saints in their garb, as it the tradition here.

Click on photos for full, large version. Videos on Instagram. For past days, check the “highlights.”

Next, time to climb. Guanajuato is in a valley, and there are a lot of good hikes in those hills. Friday, I decided to stay urban and just walk up to Mina de San Juan de Rayas. It was the first mine in Guanajuato, discovered in 1550 by a muledriver after whom it’s named.

So remember, Guanajuato is in this deep valley with basically one flat street, and then everything else running uphill from that point, on all sides. So that was my walk – up, up, up – to the first viewpoint, and then down a bit, then back up to the town and the second viewpoint and the – of course – closed church.

Next, I decided I’d either just walk back down to town (a different way) or, if I could get a taxi, go up to San Cayetano to this church.

So I started walking down the road. Within a couple of minutes, a taxi carrying a passenger passed me going up, so I assumed he’d be coming back down in a minute. He did. I hailed him, and said (I thought) Cayetano? He repeated it back to me – I thought. Nodded. I got in.

I guess my accent is much worse than I thought. I was following our route on maps, and it was fine for a couple of minutes, then just kept descending….till we ended up at the Mercado Hidalgo back in town, he put on his flashers and looked at me expectantly. Si?

Sigh. Okay. I guess God didn’t want me to go to Cayetano today. Sure. Saved me a walk down at least.

So, since I was right there, I went to the Museo Regional de Guanajuato Alhóndiga de Granaditas – you can read about its history here. The placards were all in Spanish, of course, but they did have scan codes – thanks, technology! – so you could access English-language information. I was a little scared because in the MesoAmerican room, I’ve gotten to the point where I can sort of differentiate between the cultures just by the look of the artifacts – when I said to myself without reading the card, “Oh, that’s Veracruz” – I knew my life was very strange now, thanks to kids and the way they expand your world.

Lots of Mexican Independence material, since this area was crucial to that struggle. But of most interest to me (of course) was a room full of ex-votos – I’d seen a lot at the Guadalupe shrine a few years ago. Those I highlight here seem to refer to mining accidents.

Then some shopping, lunch at a place highly recommended by another B & B guest – and yes, it was good.

Then up (on the funicular) for a rest before heading out in the night to see what was happening – and one of the things that was happening was Mass at the always-closed San Francisco, so in I headed. The priest had just begun with the Eucharistic Prayer, which was the Roman Canon, by the way. (I would like to take up a collection to purchase wireless mikes for Mexican parishes. In both Masses I’ve been to so far, the priest has held an microphone even during the consecration. Maybe get a server to hold it for you? Shrugs)

The Mass was fairly full, I’m guessing both because St. Jude seems to be an important saint in this parish (his statue was at the front) and because St. Jude is popular – there were several in the congregation holding small statues to be blessed. As per usual here, the doors to the church were open all during Mass, and so people came in and out, and street life noises – including a would-be lounge singer on the plaza – mingled with the life inside.

You might be interested, too – out of a congregation of about 70, only 9 or so received Communion. I’m used to seeing maybe 25% of predominantly Latino congregations receive Communion, and this was even lower. Interestingly, a noticeable number of people left right after the Consecration, as well.

The town was hopping – as it always seems to be. I wandered around, took in various street musicians, then decided to head back in time to get the funicular.

Hahahaha. I missed it by that much. As in – the last one was rising up the tracks as I walked through the door. Cerrado. Menana. Well, I don’t want to ride it manana, thanks.

So, up I trudged, in the process getting caught in a callejoneadas matrix (photo on the far right). Well, at least now I know their route. At one point, there was no way I could gracefully exit the situation, with callejoneadas groups on three sides…well, at least I saw the show (for free)! I think one of the situations was that this particular callejoneadas excursion was only for couples, and then they divided them into two separate groups, telling them that they were going to do separate tours – and then (at the point I arrived), they brought the men out from behind a block of buildings, up some steps to reunite with the women accompanied by some romantic song. I think that’s what was happening, anyway.

(Video on Instagram)

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One of the highlights of my day was not an American woman walking by me, talking on her phone, saying loudly, “You know, Latinos are very superstitious. They believe that having their photo taken steals their soul.”

Nope, not that.

Anyway, day 2 was mostly museums, wandering, and tacos. That’s really why I came: for the tacos. At a plate for about $2.50, when the same at home (authentic tacos even from a truck) run about $3.50/apiece.

First, though, two church stops.

The San Diego is right next to the Teatro Juarez. In it, a group of women were praying – not the rosary, but not sure what – and the photo I posted yesterday was from there. Later in the day, I went to the “museum” in the crypt, which is really just an excavation site of the original structure – which is interesting to see, and I suppose worth the .80 I paid for it.

(Remember – you can click on any photo of for the full version. Videos are on Instagram because I’m not going to gum up my WordPress media storage with videos. For past days, check the highlights.)

Then up to Templo de la Compañía – built by the Jesuits, but only used by them for a couple of years before they were expelled from Spain (and New Spain) – unused for a few decades, then taken by the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. It’s being used as a venue by the Cervantino music festival, and they were setting up and doing sound checks for a performance later today. It was all so interesting to watch that I probably sat there for thirty minutes – not the technical aspects of the setup, but the juxtaposition and the life going on: the sound and visual techs doing their thing, loudly, a group of mostly women gathered right in front of the stage praying, loudly, some workers up around the high interior cross, arranging flowers, tourists, random pray-ers, and then a group of children accompanied by some women and a priest in a habit I didn’t recognize (light brown – really tan – scapular over a white robe).

Then into the huge Mercado Hidalgo – lots of tourist tat on the mezzanine level, but food and your basic goods on the bottom. Across is another market which is all food stalls. The women stand up on stools, wave menus at passers-by and do this tschu-tscu sound. I went ahead and ate there – it was, of course, good – all freshly prepared, etc.

Then to the museums.

First, the Diego Rivera house and museum. Rivera was born in Guanajuato, and I knew about him was “murals” “communist” and “Frida” – so I learned a bit, even though it was all in Spanish – I can make out museum placards just fine, but don’t ask me to tell you what the funicular conductor just said to us on the way down…I hope it wasn’t important, because I have no idea.

Then to the Museo del Pueblo de Guanajuato, right next to the university. It’s a small museum with changing exhibits. Most interesting to me was a current exhibit of paintings from their collection that feature the religious orders vital to the history of New Spain. Also, the most amazing vanitas painting I’ve ever seen. (couldn’t take photos in the other parts. Probably wasn’t supposed to here, but…)

Next, Cervantes.

So, you are wondering, why is Cervantes and Don Quixote so important here? All because of one man named Ferrer: A Spaniard who fought in the Civil War against Franco, was imprisoned in a camp during World War II, but survived and emigrated to Mexico, where he became a media mogul of a sorts. But while in the camp, he had obtained and read a copy of Don Quixote, which had deeply inspired him. He began to collect everything he could related to Cervantes, funded university programs, and finally, bequeathed his collection to Guanajuato.

(Fourth “museum” was the San Diego crypt)

Came back to the B & B for a bit, then headed back down to see nightlife. Someone said “Yeah, people will start coming tomorrow for Day of the Dead” and I am at a loss to imagine what it’s going to be like. Bonkers, I’m thinking.

Loads of music everywhere – in one photo below, to the right, there’s a band playing, and then to the left – you really can’t see – there’s a crowd gathered around a rapper. Street musicians, the Callejoneadas – whom, I must add, do not do their schtick for free. They hang out all day in the town, selling tickets to their walks. I don’t know how or when they look at the tickets – seem you can just join in whenever on the way, but they must.

I also figured out the mariachi situation. The main square in front of the Teatro Juarez is surrounded by restaurants, especially on one side. I was puzzled because there are probably a dozen mariachi bands hanging out around there, and at any one time, there are two or three playing at the same time, sometimes right next to each other. It was explained to me that people pay to have the mariachi sing for them, sometimes sitting on the park benches, sometimes sitting at restaurant tables, so it is just a mariachi marketplace.

Below: food, including much corn.

And then, after posting an Instagram story about how grateful I was for the funicular so I wouldn’t have to climb up and down that hill, I discovered….I had been misinformed as to the closing time of the funicular, so up I went. It actually wasn’t as bad as I thought. And probably good for me.

Also: hmmm.

Nah, too young. But impressive commitment to the look!

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She stood for a very long time in this spot, praying steadily and vocally.

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