The Tlahuelpuchi Epidemic

In this installment of my Mexican Monstresses series, folklore meets real life when the bloodsucking tlahuelpuchi strikes a small rural community.

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December 8, 1960: an unseasonably cold night in San Pedro Xolotla, a rural, primarily Nahuatl-speaking community beneath La Malintzi volcano in the Mexican state of Tlaxcala. Filemón and Francisca, a couple in their early thirties, were working late carding wool and making yarn; like most households in the community, they supported themselves with their weaving. They lived in one room of Filemón’s parents’ extended household with their four children: two boys and a girl between 5 and 14 years old, and a seven month old daughter, Cristina. Around midnight, Filemón’s older brother returned from Mexico City, where he had gone to deliver an order of sarapes. The three of them had coffee and chatted, then all retired for the night.

Filemón, exhausted, fell asleep immediately, but Francisca gave baby Cristina one last breastfeeding. Then she put Christina back on her petate (sleeping mat) before going to bed herself.

Two or three hours later, Francisca awoke and saw an intense light moving around outside the window. She tried to get up to investigate, but her body felt heavy and unresponsive, and she soon fell back asleep. A little later she half-awoke again. A strange mist filled the room, and out of it materialized a chicken-like creature, blue and red. Again she tried to get up, but the mist overcame her. That’s all she remembered.

At six AM Filemón awoke and noticed that the door to the room was partially open. Then he saw baby Cristina lying not in her petate, but on the floor some yards away. He got up to investigate. Francisca was still fast asleep.

It took several minutes for Filemón to wake Francisca from her deep slumber with the terrible news: Cristina was dead. The skin around her chest and neck was mottled and purplish, her chest covered in scratches. She had been sucked to death by that shapeshifting vampire known as the tlahuelpuchi.

And on that morning of December 9, six other mothers were shaken out of trance-like sleeps to a similar discovery: a still, tiny body, sometimes an open door. Seven dead babies. It was a tlahuelpuchi epidemic.

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An Afternoon at a Coal Miners’ Cemetery

Did you know there was coal mining in California? I didn’t learn that until recently. This, despite the fact that the Mount Diablo Coalfield, the largest in California, was in Contra Costa, the very county where I was born. From 1850 to 1906, mines in the Mount Diablo Coalfield, many under the operation of the Black Diamond Coal Mining Company, produced 4 million tons of (low grade) coal, the primary source of coal and energy in California over that period. The region was home to five mining towns, the largest and oldest called Nortonville.

In 1885, the Black Diamond company shut down its mines in the region and moved its miners to Black Diamond, Washington, where the mines produced better coal. They dismantled the railways and the towns completely, leaving nothing but some brick foundations in Nortonville, some great piles of dirt where the openings of the mines had been, and the cemetery, now known as Rose Hill Cemetery, which overlooked the town of Somersville.

Here’s Somersville in 1878. You can see the cemetery up on the hill to the right, and the great mounds that mark the openings of the mines.

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Photo from The Contra Costa County Historical Society

 

Here’s that region today.

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A view of Rose Hill Cemetery from afar. (Click to enlarge)

 

You can’t see it in this photo, but the mounds over the mine openings remain. Nothing grows on them. The region is now part of the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, just outside the city of Antioch.

We visited the park on a cool, overcast March Sunday. Early spring is the best time to visit that area; there are hills that block the ocean breezes from that part of the county, and in the summer it can be twenty degrees warmer — or more — than it is in San Francisco, only an hour away. It can also be very dry and brown. I was a bit worried, since we haven’t had any rain, but the hills were green and blooming with wildflowers.

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(Click to enlarge)

 

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A Twenty-first Century Ghost Town

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I’m walking through the housing development where my parents live, in the Sierra foothills, a half-hour out of Reno. I can’t get over how silent it is. No cars drive by; no music or conversation leaks out of the houses that I pass. No birds. No insects. The sounds of the highway and the town don’t reach out here. There’s nothing but the sound of my footsteps. Even the lone dog that finally barks as I pass only serves to accentuate the stillness.

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I May Need an Intervention…

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We had some errands to run on Clement Street this noon, so my husband casually suggested that we stop in at Green Apple Books. For a quick browse, I thought — why not? But no, it was actually because he wanted to see if our book was still on the shelf there…

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It was. This was the first time I’d seen it on a bookstore shelf — one usually buys technical books online these days — so it was a treat. I admired it briefly, took a quick photo, and then turned for the stairs. Bookstores are a wee bit dangerous, for me. But just a quick browse; what could it hurt? I hoped to escape Green Apple unscathed, but nooooooo….

Jules Feiffer’s latest, the noir-tinged graphic novel Kill My Mother, has just come out. Green Apple had it. Into the shopping bag. I picked up several more enticing volumes, then put them down again, because the Feiffer was a bit extravagant. Just one, just one, I’ll be fine!

Then I saw The Book of Monelle by French symbolist Marcel Schwob, whom I’d recently been reading about at Weird Fiction Review — they’ve put translations of two of his stories online (here, and here). My fingers twitched. Into the shopping bag. Quick, close my eyes, to the register, pay — go!

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Google Translate vs. Bing Translate

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Just stumbled over a post announcing that Yelp will be using Microsoft Bing (rather than Google) to translate reviews on its iPhone app. I suppose this is noteworthy because one never thinks of Microsoft beating Google at anything (though I must say I like Bing maps better than Google maps, usually).

Normally, I use Google Translate, but just for fun, I typed the passage from the Garcia Lorca poem pictured above into both Google and Bing to compare. The poem, by the way, is called Casida del herido por el agua (Casida of the one wounded by water). According to Wikipedia, a casida (or qasida) is “a form of Perso-Arabic lyric poetry.”

From the translation by Paul Archer:

I want to go down to the well,
I want to climb onto Granada's walls
to gaze at the heart impaled 
on water's hidden spike.

It’s a lovely piece, though a mysterious one.

Here are the two machine translations:

Google:

Want to go down the well,
I want to climb the walls of Granada,
Heart to look at the past
By the dark waters of the punch.

Bing:

I want to go down to the well,
I want to climb the walls of Granada,
To watch the last heart
By dark waters punch.

Granted, poetry is especially hard to translate, and neither is very close on the last two lines — why do they both associate oscuro (dark) with las aguas (the water) instead of with punzon (punch, awl, or pick, according to my dictionary)? Still, comparing the two, I’d say Bing did the better job.

Unfortunately, Bing doesn’t translate Filipino (Tagalog), or any other Filipino languages, so I can’t give up on Google translate yet. And clearly, it will be a while before machine translation will do as well as a human translator. Mostly, it’s handy for gaps in your vocabulary.


Image: A plaque on one of the exterior walls of the Alhambra, Granada, Spain. It’s a tribute to Garcia Lorca on the centennial of his birth. Photo: Nina Zumel

Turtles, Pregnant Airplanes, and Iron Fish: Remembering the Native American Code Talkers

Chester Nez, the last of the original WWII Navajo code talkers, just passed away.

Here’s an interview with him, from 2013:

Code talkers, for those not familiar with them, are speakers of rare or obscure languages who are used to transmit sensitive information over possibly unsecured communication lines. The combination of an obscure language and a (usually simple) code are enough to keep the messages secure. The most famous code talkers are the Navajo code talkers of WWII, but there have been code talkers in other Native American languages, as well as in Basque and Welsh.

I got curious about code talkers about a month ago, thanks to Eagle-Eyed Editor’s post on Mr. Nez’s memoir (co-authored by Judith Avila), Code Talker. As I poked around the internet after reading EEE’s post, I found the interview above, and (somewhere) a casual mention of code talking using other Native American languages. I made a note to myself to look that up, someday.

And that day was the day before yesterday, the day before Mr. Nez passed away. One of life’s odd juxtapositions….

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Don’t Lose Page Updates: Facebook Interest Lists

I’ve seen a rash of complaints lately on Facebook pages that I follow, about how Facebook has been throttling the number of subscribers who see a page’s updates, basically blackmailing page owners into paying to “boost” their posts to increase their audiences. Facebook has been doing this for a while, so I don’t know if the problem has gotten worse recently, or if people have only just begun to notice it.

At any rate, I’ve been thinking about making this post for some time, and kept dismissing it as a silly idea. But given how often I’ve seen the above complaint recently, maybe it’s not so silly. So here it is. If you want to support a page that you like (by making sure you see its updates) then put it in an interest list, and encourage your friends who also like the page to do the same.

Pages I Watch

Facebook automatically gives you a couple of default interest lists, one of which is called “Pages I Watch”. You can get to it from the sidebar; I’ve circled it in the screenshot below. It’s like a more focused page feed (the other default list is called “Pages and Public Figures”, which I think is a feed for people you follow, but didn’t friend). I don’t remember how it’s initially populated, but you can use it to keep track of pages whose updates you especially don’t want to miss, or pages that update relatively infrequently and tend to get lost in the noise. The “See All” link (also circled in the screenshot) will give you a popup where you can see who’s in Pages I Watch, and lets you edit it.

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RSS: Sometimes Old School is Best

I went back to using RSS to follow blogs and other websites recently; I don’t know why I ever stopped. My email doesn’t get clogged by notifications anymore, and I don’t lose blog updates in the ever-flowing stream of Twitter or Facebook or the WordPress reader. I can follow any blog on any platform as long as they have an RSS feed, and I don’t need to have accounts on every possible platform, either, just Feedly (and not even that, if I didn’t want to sync between devices).

It also occurred to me that RSS is really the best medium for following small-scale amateur bloggers like me, especially ones who are social-network introverts. I don’t blog on an absolutely regular schedule, and my tweets and facebook updates tend to get lost amongst others who status-update or tweet (or in the case of WordPress reader, simply post) more frequently than I do.

So I’ve added a “Follow me on Feedly” button to the side of my blog; if you use another RSS reader, like Bloglovin or NetNewsWire, there is a generic RSS widget, as well. Even if you follow me other places – Twitter, WordPress, or Google+(*) — please do consider also following me (and other bloggers you love) via RSS, so you will be sure to never miss my blog updates. Thanks!


(*) I’m on Facebook, too, but it’s my personal account, not a Multo page. Strictly speaking, the Google+ account is also a personal account, but I only use it to announce blog posts.

Twenty-five Views of the Alhambra

Many of you are familiar with the (multiple) series of Japanese woodblock prints known as Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji; Hokusai produced a series of that name, and so did Hiroshige. You may also be familiar with Henri Riviere’s homage to Hokusai and Hiroshige: Thirty-six Views of the Eiffel Tower (video of all 36 prints; link to a book of the prints).  This is my contribution to the genre.

In the blockprint series, the monument in question isn’t always the focal point of the images. Riviere’s images are especially subtle; I still can’t find the Eiffel Tower in several of  the scenes. My photos aren’t always so subtle; I was in full-blown tourist mode, after all. Still, the Alhambra dominates the older section of Granada in such a way that when I looked through my snapshots, I discovered its distinctive towers peeping out from unexpected corners. I’m especially proud of my photo of the Alhambra through the windows of the Generalife. I hope you enjoy.

Pentametron: Twitter Poetry

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I was working on another post, and it’s not going anywhere right now, so instead I give you: @pentametron. Pentametron monitors Twitter for tweets in iambic pentameter: ten syllables, in the rhythm

da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM

and then retweets them in rhyming couplets.

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow them, but the couplets don’t come together; sometimes the two lines can be several minutes part. You should check the @pentametron stream directly every so often, so you can take in the versification all at once.

Here’s a little ballad I put together by cherry-picking from the stream. Enjoy.

Friend zoning has become a mastered art
we should’ve grown together.. not apart

Live half a life and throw the rest away.
Don’t even matter what the haters say.

I’m looking at the mirror on the wall.
My body’s just a canvas. Scars and all.

I got a very patient boyfriend — #blessed
depressed depressed and very badly dressed

Que sabra esta de amigos no?
I will forever be a loser so.

Come out the dark and step into the light
I’m ready for another snowball fight