Saturday, October 28, 2006

Oops! I did it again!

It's my birthday. I just remembered.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006


I recently encountered two artifacts. One was scary, the other wasn’t.

The first was Pulse, a Japanese horror film I’d rented thinking it was science fiction. The plot involved ghosts who were using the Internet to communicate, to creep people out, and eventually to transform them into more ghosts. It was basically Ringu, with the Internet substituting for videotape and telephones substituting for, well, telephones.

Despite the reuse of the Ringu formula, the low budget, and the obligatory scene in which the protagonists have to do something bone stupid in order to put themselves in jeopardy, the film was well directed and acted. Special effects were inexpensive but effective. And the final scenes, with the protagonists wandering around an empty Tokyo inhabited only by ghosts, had a poignancy that you generally don’t see in horror.

What the movie wasn’t was scary. There were some genuinely eerie moments, sure, and some disturbing visuals, but I don’t think my heart rate went up at any point.

If you have a couple hours to waste, those hours can be wasted with Pulse. It will do no harm. Just don’t expect to experience a fight-or-fly reflex at any point.

The genuinely scary experience came with listening to the audio book of Robert Kurston’s Shadow Divers. Which was surprising, because the book is nonfiction, about a group of East Coast scuba divers who discover a sunken U-Boat off New Jersey, who learn that there is no record of it being there, and who then go to extremes to learn its identity.

The wreck of the sub is at 230 feet, in very cold water swept by unpredictable currents. This puts it in very dangerous territory indeed, well outside the more shallow, tropical sport dives I’ve dived personally. (In fact I have told Kathy that if she ever hears me making plans to do a wreck dive at that depth, she has my permission to break both my knees.)

During the course of the narrative one diver drowns on the wreck. Two others, father and son, make uncontrolled ascents and die excruciating deaths from the bends. Another uncontrolled ascent shoots the diver out of the water like a Polaris missile, but he survives after some time in a decompression chamber. John Chatterton, one of the book’s protagonists, is caught on debris, pinned by wreckage, and runs out of air while on the wreck, but somehow survives..

When I was listening to this my heart began to race and my palms turned sweaty. I was scared to death.

Few die on scuba from just one cause. There’s usually a cascade of events, often beginning with something simple. Shadow Divers describes how one diver dies on the Andrea Doria because he reaches for his knife with his left hand instead of his right. This begins a catastrophic series of events that ends with the panicked, seriously narked diver wildly slashing at his friends with that same knife, then disappearing into the wreck to drown.

If he’d reached with his right hand, he would have been all right.

That one really got my pulse up. Chills ran right up my spine.

I don’t think I found the book scary just because I’m a diver. It probably helped that I could visualize a lot of what was going on, but the technical aspects of diving are very well described in the book, including the “hammer of narcosis” that requires deep divers breathing air to execute highly complex acts while, basically, raving drunk and with tunnel vision.

I imagine any reader would be subject to the chills when the author simply walks you through the sequence of events leading to the death of a human being, starting with the seemingly innocent act of reaching for the knife with the left hand.

So now I wonder why the artifact that was intended to scare me didn’t, and the one that was written as a factual account had me in near-terror.

Before proceeding I should confess my biases. I seem to be horror-deaf. The works of Stephen King leave me unmoved. I admire the classical structure of a Lovecraft story, but am untouched by fear of Cthulhu. I’m not afraid of werewolves or vampires.

What scares me is what real human beings do to other real human beings.

If I were in Hell, I’d be a lot more scared of my fellow inmates than of my demonic jailers.

I think that vampires and werewolves are things that human beings imagine because it’s more bearable than imagining the sort of thing their neighbors might be getting up to.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that I find nonfiction scarier than a horror film.

But still, it seems to me if you want to scare the wits out of your reader, a few concrete rules apply.

Details Matter. It’s scary when horror intrudes on the world you know, and that world is made up of concrete details. Even though Stephen King doesn’t ring my personal chimes, he did a useful thing when he moved horror away from the isolated old mansions, haunted graveyards, and eccentric aesthetes of Lovecraft and into the American suburbia of tract homes, Snoopy dolls, and mac and cheese. It’s a setting familiar not just to Americans, but (through the miracle of television) to audiences worldwide. It’s the world of Father Knows Best with a tentacle slipping past the door— and it’s the Snoopy doll and the macaroni and cheese that make the world real. (And besides, the macaroni and cheese may give an extra thrill of horror to a French audience.)

Decisions Matter. One reason I lost interest in Pulse is that nothing the characters did really counted. They were either going to get eaten by the ghosts or they weren’t. Whether they survived or not was entirely a matter of luck.

While this is a defensible existential position, it doesn’t make for interesting fiction. It should matter whether the diver reaches with the left hand or the right. And even then— even if he reaches with the wrong hand— there are still options that will allow him to correct his situation. The cascade of terrible events can be interrupted, though perhaps at each subsequent point with greater and greater effort.

The lesson is that the horror must not be inevitable. If it’s inevitable it may be tragedy— it may even be real life— but it’s not particularly scary. The horror is in watching the cascade start, the dominoes toppling one by one, and knowing that they could be stopped if only someone knew how.

Suspense Matters. Alfred Hitchcock, who ought to know if anyone did, illustrated the difference between shock and suspense thus: Suppose you’re watching a movie, and a couple old fellows are sitting on a bus talking about football, and then the bus blows up. That’s shock. It lasts a second or two, and then it's over.

Now in contrast suppose that you show someone planting the bomb under the seat of the bus. And then the old duffers sit down and start talking about football. And you cut from the duffers to the bomb and back. That is going to be the most suspenseful football discussion you’ve ever heard. (And Hitchcock did in fact put that scene in Saboteur, his adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, which Hitchcock couldn’t call The Secret Agent because he’d already used the title for his adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden.)

Suspense and its close cousin, terror, depend on careful control of information. In order to be scared, the audience has to be told what the scary thing is, and how it operates, and why they should care. If you write, “the diver reached for his knife with his left hand, and then he died,” the reader isn’t going to be able to make the connection, and isn’t going to give a damn. Explain how the dive gear works, and how using the left hand started that fatal cascade, and you’ve got your audience in the palm of your hand.

Let The Horror Grow In Its Own Time. Say you’re watching a home movie. A couple children are deliberately skidding their bikes in the oil that’s been freshly applied to a dusty street. It’s suburbia: the sun is shining, the lawns are green, the kids are carefree.

This movie is not scary.

Now it’s twenty years later. It’s revealed that the kids grew up in Times Beach, Missouri. The oil was poisoned with dioxin and PCBs. The kid is grown up and is waiting in the doctor’s office for the results of his biopsy.

Scared yet? I am. I got chills just thinking of that illustration.

The moral is: horror creeps. Possibly on little cat feet, possibly on tentacles, but it creeps. It’s a miasm, an atmosphere. It builds.

Let it build.

Let’s all be scary. It’s Halloween.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Okay, So I'm A Fan

Just got back from the Rolling Stones concert. It was a great concert, well worth the bloated ticket price.

It was held in the Sun Bowl, which against all reason has very little parking. I spent 45 minutes circling the stadium amid a swarm of equally bewildered motorists before I managed to find a parking place at the local credit union. I must have been one of the lucky ones, because people kept pouring into the stadium for more than two hours after the show actually started, which it did 45 minutes late, to a stadium less than half full. (Eventually everyone found parking and the stadium filled up nicely.)

The opening act was the Dave Matthews Band. DMB is one of those groups that I've always had the feeling that I'd probably like if I ever really listened to them, but for some reason never have. Possibly it was because every other band in the late 90s was trying very hard to sound just like them, and I got so very tired of the sound.

Matthews badly needs to shoot his sound guy, preferably after torture. Matthews' vocals were mixed at a lower volume even than his acoustic guitar, and though I occasionally heard a word or a phrase, for the most part he was completely inaudible. That forced me to spend my time listening to the music, and the music by itself was not very interesting. Presumably one listens to DMB for the incisive lyrics, not the snappy tunes, which sort of aren't there. For the most part the band just filled in behind the simple chords Matthews was playing on his guitar, though occasionally Boyd Tinsley would cut loose with a fiddle solo. Papa John Creach he ain't.

All a great pity, because the Giant Matthews Head on the huge DiamondVision screen seemed to be putting on a spirited, passionate performance, just one that his fans couldn't hear.

The Stones come with an enormous stage show, which featured the huge DiamondVision screen, several smaller screens, and seven-storey-tall streamlined silver structures on either side of the stage, like the superstructure of an ocean liner as designed by Raymond Loewy. Fans could pay lots of extra cash to sit in these structures and view the concert, though I'm not sure how they could expect to hear anything. Apparently few people actually shelled out the bucks for this, so they gave away most of these seats as doorprizes to people already in the stadium.

The tour is called "A Bigger Bang," so of course it opened with explosions and fireworks. During the course of the concert, there were enormous gouts of propane fire, explosions, a large inflatable lips and tongue, some impressive CGI on the DiamondVision, and a quite respectable fireworks show at the end.

None of which overwhelmed the music. Keith Richards shambled out first, playing the opening bars to "Jumping Jack Flash," and then Sir Mick skipped onstage, prancing, spinning, gesturing, making faces, a tiny little figure behind which this enormous fifty-foot DiamondVision Jaggerman capered. The gestures, dances, and persona were all so familiar from years of film and TV that for the first part of the concert I had to keep reminding myself that I was seeing it live, not on tape.

These old boys haven't lost anything. (Well, except the ability to write memorable songs.) They're still a tremendous concert band, and they're not an oldies band because they include (however uninspired) new material.

Keith Richards looks more than ever like the Portrait of Dorian Grey. He wears a kind of combination turban/sweatband, and likes to play bowed down, as if he were no longer to summon up the energy to lift the guitar. The guitar's about on the level of his knees.

Still, he sings quite well. (Was I surprised!) And I could hear him because the Stones brought along a competent sound guy. And because of that sound guy, I could hear Dave Matthews when he sang a duet with Jagger on "Let It Bleed." It was the only time I heard Dave Matthews all night.

As for Jagger, he was all over the place, using this huge set as his personal jungle gym. What I didn't know from the various videos was how good he is at working an audience. He's not above asking them to clap or do sound effects or sing along. (Well, they were going to sing along anyway.) He actually did patter. He chatted in Spanish to those who had come over from Juarez. He took out an acoustic guitar and sang Marty Robbins' "El Paso," to the astonishment and delight of all.

He is in terrific physical shape. He wore short tops and low-slung pants, and at one point I thought, "This is a 63-year-old Knight Bachelor from England, and he's flashing me his midriff, and I don't think it's gross!"

The biggest special effect of the evening was when a chunk of the stage broke away, and carried the entire band to the other end of the stadium, where they played a few songs for the people in the cheap seats. Later on, Jagger sprinted the entire distance, flanked by a pair of much younger security guards who had a hard time keeping up. This was after he'd been singing for an hour. Then he sprinted back.

Fucking great genetics, the lot of them.

Or a deal with the Devil. Your pick.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Daniel's On A Roll (2)

Stand by for a purely commercial announcement. Which isn't surprising, considering that this blog is (in its own rambling, inept way) all about self-promotion.

What should cause jaws all over the world to drop to the floor is that I'm about to use this space to promote someone else.

Daniel Abraham's new novel, A Shadow in Summer, is just out.

You should buy it.

It's a truly intricate, original fantasy that eschews the twinkly faux-William Morris medieval world that has become standard in the genre. There are no colorful rustics spouting quaint pseudo-Dorset idiom, no wise wizards whose sole purpose is to explain the plot, and no exiled princes. (Well okay, there's one exiled prince.) The population is made up of people who work and sweat and scheme and bleed and succeed and hope and fuck up and have their share of benign delusions, very much like the rest of us.

It's a terrific book. And, because I've had the opportunity to read the next two books in this series in manuscript, I know that the series goes from terrific to brilliant.

So buy this book from the most talented writer of his generation. ("The most talented writer of his generation." I believe I will repeat that meme until everyone starts to believe it . . .)

British Invasion

So I've got my ticket for the Rolling Stones tomorrow night. And I've got my motel room reserved, since they're playing in El Paso. So now I'm ready to get another hole punched in my little ticket of music history.

I believe the Stones may be the only British Invasion band still touring, and the only one I've seen other than the Kinks, who I've seen twice. The Stones passed through Albuquerque a few years ago on the Bridges to Babylon tour, and I debated buying a ticket, and then decided they were geezers and past it, so I didn't go.

Then I saw the concert video, and said to myself, Holy Shit! Geezers they are not! Whatever it was they once had, they still had it.

So let's hope they've not degenerated completely into decrepitude in the last few years.

I will be interested to see if there's anyone in the audience without grey hairs. Probably not, since younger folks couldn't afford a ticket. The whole concert experience may consist of geezers playing for geezers.

I'm told that Young People don't go to these sorts of concerts at all. (They'll go to dance clubs, of course.) But their whole musical education came through MP3 files, and the very idea of hearing live music in a concert setting is far beyond alien.

Or maybe it's just that they can't afford the ticket prices.

Apropos geezer musicians, I heard Rod Stewart on a talk show the other night. His voice is completely gone, poor man, and the voice was the most distinctive thing about him.

I also saw Ray Davies on Austin City Limits. He's promoting his first solo album. (The first that isn't a soundtrack, anyway.) His voice is also gone, but his songwriting is as sharp as ever.

I'm just another tourist checking out the slums
With my plastic Visa drinking with my chums
I dance and swing while ABBA sing
And I flash my Platinum
To the sound of Livin' La Vida Loca
Yes, Livin' La Vida Loca

That's pretty incisive, I have to think.

I also have to think that the album would be improved by Dave Davies' guitar. But the last I heard of Dave, he was promoting a book about how aliens had talked to him back in the Seventies.

(Here's a hint, Dave. A lot of us heard those aliens in the Seventies. We just know better than to write a book about it.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Rift

My autumn rural idyll continues. Last weekend we visited the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, which is open to the public only one day per year.

Sevilleta was formerly the enormous Campbell Ranch, which was deeded over thirty years ago to the Nature Conservancy, which in turn gave it to the government, with many restrictions on how it was to be used.

The land has been unused ever since, inhabited only by wildlife, the occasional researcher, and the public (but only once a year).

We took a geology tour with a professor from Tech, Dave Johnson. Our friend Noel Barstow joined us along with her Nissan Pathfinder 4-wheel-drive, so that we could bound up mountains, crash through arroyos, and zoom along riverbeds with a reasonable expectation of not getting killed, or (worse) of having to be towed out.

Our trip took in a colossal number of features of the Rio Grande rift. There is a pool of magma located roughly under Socorro, NM, which in relatively recent geological history heaved up a great mountainous bulge pierced by volcanoes and volcanic vents. The magma pool then began to act to spread out the bulge to east and west, creating a rift valley bounded by ridges and mountains piled up like spilled dominos on either side.

Or, as Dr. Johnson (ours, not theirs) put it, "A million years here, a million years there, and you get whole centimeters of movement."

The Rio Grande now meanders down the center of the rift, and if the rift formation continues, we'll get an arm of the Gulf of Mexico creeping up from Texas.

The area is still seismically active, with many small shocks every day, few of which ever get to the window-rattling stage. At least the volcanos have stopped exploding.

The terrain at Sevilleta is enormously varied, from mountains to ridges to plains to alluvial rivers. Aside from the primitive roads and the occasional seismometer or tiltmeter, there is no sign of human habitation. At one point we climbed high up a ridge--- see the photo--- from which we could view the entire Rio Grande rift, from the Chupadera Mountains on the East to the Colorado Plateau on the West. (The Colorado Plateau is that which contains the Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon, among other geologic spectacles.)

At one point, as we raced down a nearly-dry river bed surrounded on both sides by spectacular, sculpted alluvial mud, Kathy remarked, "You know, I'm used to seeing this kind of thing from a raft."

At another point, as the Nissan heaved itself out of a canyon and we saw a plain before us, all bright yellow grasses marked by the splodges of bright green trees, Noel said, "It's just like the Great Rift in Africa!" She should know--- when she's not working at Tech, her job is to fly to, say, Kenya, or Tibet, and plant seismic detectors there.

Without a host of cattle grazing the place down to nothing, Sevilleta is slowly returning to its original state. I've never seen such a wide variety of geology packed into such a little space.

Sevilleta will be open again next autumn. Put it on your calendar.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Say This Tongue-Twister, Or Else!

From our friends in Japan, here's another variation on their venerable tradition of sadistic game shows.

Unlike the US, where people need a shot at a million dollars in order to humiliate themselves this painfully, these hardy contestants are probably competing for a wall plaque, a bag of candy, or a selection of beads and trinkets.

I first saw this sort of thing in a hotel in a large American city, where they had a couple Japanese satellite channels. The most memorable example was a variation on a log flume ride. Except that the log wasn't hollow, you couldn't sit in it, you just had to grab it and hang on. And the log was studded with nails. And there was no flume, just a snow-covered mountainside. And the contestants were wearing only those diaper-things.

So the contest consisted of nearly-naked people trying to hang onto a nail-studded log as it bounced, pitched, and rolled down a mountain. The winner was the guy who hung on the longest. And this was only one of a lengthy series of contests, each as challenging and evil as the first.

It reminds me of the time I first heard of the ancient Japanese erotic art of pillowfighting, where you shout "Shizuree!" (or something like that) as you whomp your partner in the crotch with your pillow.

I thought this was charming and fun, until I realized that in Japan the pillows are made of wood.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Win One, Lose One

Elif Shafak has been acquitted of "insulting Turkishness" in her novel The Bastard of Istanbul. The judge took all of 90 minutes to dismiss the charges as baseless. Shafak did not bother to attend the trial, as she was giving birth in California at the time.

Go, her.

Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot to death in her apartment building in Moscow, just as she was about to deliver to her publisher a lengthy article on Russian atrocities in Chechnya. She was hit by four shots from a silenced Makarov pistol.

This is the second female Russian investigative dissident journalist to be shot in her apartment building in a couple years.

It is a hazardous undertaking to contradict the Tsar. Who said, by the way, that the government “will take every step to investigate objectively the tragic death of the journalist Politkovskaya.” First step in the investigation was to confiscate all her papers.

Said Salman Rushdie: “Like all great investigative reporters, Anna Politkovskaya brought forward human truths that rewrote the official story. We will continue to read her, and learn from her, for years.”

It has been a bleak year for democracy and human rights.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Leaf Peeping

Last week, Kathy had a three-day trip to northern New Mexico to recruit students for the college where she works. I decided to go along. This is my favorite season in New Mexico, and this would be a terrific opportunity for leaf peeping.

Our first night was spent in Chama, which sits in a valley of the San Juan mountains. The town is mainly a center for resorts and tourism these days, and includes the southern terminus of the Cumbres & Toltec scenic railroad, lofting visitors over the Rockies to Antonito, Colorado. We'd taken the railroad a few years ago and enjoyed the soul-thrilling views mixed with the oily scent of soft coal and the hiss of steam, but a trip in autumn with the aspens turning gold would have been ideal.

Well, maybe next year. This year was business.

Our drive to Chama took place too late in the day to view the spectacular country on the way. In the motel, I worked late into the night on my laptop while Kathy slept. In the morning, I slept late while Kathy did her presentation at the Tierra-Amarilla high school. The restaurant next to our motel was closed for a private party, so I hiked half a mile down the highway to a local cafe. The breakfast burrito that I ordered was filled with sausage and fluffy potatoes, but no eggs. For eggs you pay extra, and they put them on top, as on enchiladas. Very odd, and very filling, and I missed my eggs.

Kathy picked me up on the highway as I started back to the motel, and we threw our belongings in the car and headed off on the road to Taos. The cottonwoods in the river valleys had all turned to gold, so that the valleys looked like golden serpents winding across the countryside. We turned toward the Brazos Cliffs and began to wind upward through increasingly spectacular countryside. Aspen clung to the mountainside in gold streaks, mixed with the green of ponderosa pine. The air was astoundingly clear and bright. From the top of the cliffs we could see for leagues, the green farm and ranch land, the gold river valleys, the green-and-gold foothills.

On our way into Taos we drove past a large earthship community, each half-buried house with a spectacular view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. These custom-built, earth-friendly, low-carbon-emission homes do not come cheap. At least one of the earthships was open for inspection, but traffic and construction on the highway had made us late and we didn't have the time. I noticed that the earthships all seemed to have a succession of weird domes or hobbit houses on top, as if they were denying the fact they were supposed to be buried and inconspicuous.

I dropped Kathy off at the Taos High School for her presentation and checked us into the Taos Inn, one of the classic old hotels in the area. It's made up of several old adobe houses, now connected, and originally built around a small plaza, which is now the hotel's lobby. We had a small room on the second floor, with what amounted to a private balcony (shared with neighboring rooms) overlooking the lobby. There was entertainment in the lobby every night, and we could watch and listen from our balcony, and drink the wine we'd brought with us instead of paying bar prices for our drinks.

Actually I didn't do any drinking the first night, because I planned to work. Because of a lack of space in our little room, I'd have to take the laptop onto the balcony and work there.

But first, dinner. Kathy and I took a walk through downtown Taos and ended up at La Folie, which claims to serve country French cuisine. Certainly there are country French elements, but until I see jerked chicken offered at Les Trois Merchands in Cheverny I will remain skeptical of this claim.

Kathy had the jerked chicken, which was quite good. I ordered the boudin noir, a black pudding or blood sausage, which had lovely herbal flavors, and which was served on a bed of an over-dry cassoulet, which confusingly had a different kind of sausage mixed in. A bit of a mixed message here, like the restaurant itself.

Behind the restaurant is a separate chocolate shop run by the same brothers. They also do gelato, so we had one scoop of chocolate and another of pumpkin and shared. Pumpkin and chocolate compliment one another extremely well.

We returned to the hotel in time to catch the last set of the acoustic singer, who was pretty good although we never caught his name. As a courtesy to guests who wanted to sleep (I guess), the set ended at 10pm. Kathy went to sleep, and I got out my laptop. I really got rolling and typed something like 1500 words before I crashed at 1:30am, which is an extraordinarily productive day for me. Nothing like clear, rare mountain air to provide inspiration.

Next day Kathy did her presentation at the Espanola High School while I slept late. I had another disappointing breakfast burrito at Michael's, then visited the Fechin Museum, the former home of Russian artist Nikolai Fechin. Fechin seems to have been the most talented of the Taos Society of Artists, but his real masterpiece seems to be his house, which he built by hand during the five years he lived in Taos. It's full of hand-carved carved doors and beams, and is populated by hand-carved furniture he made himself. Russian folk motifs are mixed with Spanish and American Indian symbols, and the whole thing is more cool than I can possibly say.

In the afternoon I took myself off to Taos Ski Valley for some hiking at 10,000 feet, while Kathy wandered around the arts and crafts fair in town. I took the Williams Lake Trail as the one with the best chance of leaf peeping, and indeed there were some great leaves on the way, but once on the trail I was surrounded entirely by pine. I walked an hour up the trail before I ran into snow, which had been packed down so tight by hikers that it turned to ice. I decided that this was too hazardous to continue by myself, and turned around.

That night's meal was at Alfonso's, a country Italian restaurant that serves by-God real Italian country cooking. The waitress was raucous and projected attitude as if she had apprenticed in Flatbush, which perhaps she had. I started with a hearty soup of shellfish in a tomato broth, just right for dipping the round loaf of country bread we'd been served. Afterwards I had the rack of lamb in a strawberry sauce, with big whole strawberries just sitting there in the sauce. I don't remember what Kathy ate, but I know she liked it a lot. There was no room for dessert.

Afterwards we sat on our balcony and drank wine and listened to the blues band playing in the lobby. They were good but needed a real vocalist.

Next morning we had wonderful breakfast burritos at the hotel restaurant--- at last a good breakfast burrito!--- then filled the car with our crap and headed home via the high road.

Instead of taking the Taos Canyon back south--- which is spectacular enough--- we took the High Road over the Sangre de Cristo mountains, through Penasco, Chamisal, Truchas, and Chimayo. I hadn't taken this route in something like thirty years. The terrain alternated between gorgeous mountain vistas and placid view of fields and orchards, all blazing with autumn color.

By the way, this is the route taken by Cowboy, in reverse, in Chapter One of Hardwired. When I composed that scene I was working from memories that were seven or eight years old.

The greatest change has occurred in the village of Truchas. Back in the sixties and seventies, Truchas had a reputation of being as hostile to outsiders as those creepy New England villages in Lovecraft. At least one state trooper vanished from the planet after trying to make an arrest in Truchas. When the New Mexico Prison Riots occurred, the first fatality was a prisoner from Truchas who was believed other prisoners to be a were-dog. Truchas was a stronghold of the Penitente Brotherhood, who had a habit (now denied) of nailing one of their brethren to a cross every Good Friday after a Lent filled with flagellation rituals. (Easter in New Mexico is not a matter for bunnies and baskets of candy, no not us.)

Truchas is now an artsy community full of crafts and galleries. Can yuppies and McMansions be far behind?

I have to wonder at the first person to enter this community with the intention of gentrifying it. How many weapons did he have to carry?

I also remembered a large church--- or possibly a penitente morada--- on the main road through Truchas, with a wide alcove over the main door painted with the pyramid and the All-Seeing-Eye. I put this building in Hardwired but now I couldn't find it. I can't have hallucinated it, and I can't see them tearing the place down.

Another Northern New Mexico mystery.

We descended into the Espanola Valley via Chimayo, where the priests at El Sanctuario will sell you curing magic dirt that you can rub on your afflicted parts. (They refill the hole every night with fresh magic dirt, so they won't run out.)

And from Espanola it was the same boring drive home. No magic dirt where we live now, though as it happens there are plenty of Penitentes flogging each other come Lent, so our lives are not completely without color.