One Heart, Three Tragedies

One Heart, Three Tragedies

Three places I love are bleeding and all I can do is watch and pray.

Mexico

As many readers know, my years in Mexico and Central America provided the impetus for my mystery and thriller novels and part of my heart will always be in Mexico. But the country has been rocked by the horrific story of the September 2014 disappearance of 43 students from the rural teacher training college in Ayotzinapa, “a college with a tradition of left-wing political activism,” according to BBC reporting.

flag printAuthorities in Mexico City say the students were rounded up by police “allegedly on the orders of the mayor of the nearby town of Iguala, “who wanted to prevent them from disrupting a speech his wife was giving at a public event that evening.” The students were then handed over to a gang known for violence. Gang members killed the students, burned the bodies, and discarded the remains in trash bags. One student has been identified from the remains. No closure for the other 42 families as of yet, despite more arrests.

Gang members, the mayor, his wife, and the police chief have all been arrested. Now there is a call for an investigation into the army. Meanwhile, the hashtag #YaMeCanse (I am tired) has become a rallying cry against Mexico’s drug violence and the mounting numbers of missing.

Related post: Entitlement, Mexico Style

If all this wasn’t enough, as federal investigators were combing the hillsides of the state of Guerrero (where the Emilia Cruz mystery series is set) they kept finding other mass graves. How much is too much!?

Surely there will be an end to the violence someday. In the meantime, I’m praying for answers.

Greece

I also have wonderful memories of living in Greece and regularly correspond with friends who are still there. In fact, Greece is where I wrote the first, 800-page (!) draft of The Hidden Light of Mexico City. We treated the crazy Greek bureaucracy, radical protests, and garbage strikes with humor. But in time we realized these events reflected systemic failure.

broken old potteryThis coming Sunday, Greeks will take to the polls in yet another drama related to the country’s ongoing financial crisis and overwrought political scene. Riding high is Alexis Tsipras, from the far radical left Syriza Party which would do away with the austerity measures Greece was forced to adopt in order to get billions in bailout money from the EU. The Wall Street Journal reported that the already beseiged Greek economy is in a tailspin over a potential Syriza win at the polls.

Should Tsipras win and make good on his promises to walk away from Greece’s promises to the EU, it would mean an epic financial crisis. But maybe he’s got support because austerity has simply exhausted the Greek spirit. The Economist reports that “Although the economy is now growing again, Greek voters remain understandably enraged that GDP should have shrunk by almost 20% since 2010 and that unemployment is still as high as 26%.” According to UK newspaper The Guardian, “Many Greeks will be inclined to vote for the insurgents as much out of hopelessness as helplessness.”

No matter what the outcome, I’m praying for restraint.

France

I went to college for a year in Paris, long before there were euros and the internet. My best friend and I lived in the 17th Arondissment–the high rent district. It was a year of important life experiences, set against the backdrop of the City of Lights.

Girl Meets Paris book coverBut the news coming out of Paris this month has been nothing like that. Terrorist rampages, manhunts, sleeper cells, mass shootings. Like so many others, I’ve been glued to the news, remembering locations and events that brought me so much joy, and shocked by what today’s  journalists are reporting.

I’ve been tinkering with a memoir, based on my letters, of my year in Paris. “Girl Meets Paris” captures all the joy and excitement of discovering Paris.

Maybe publishing could be part of the healing process, because I’m praying for recovery.

 

The Right Fork

The Right Fork

A number of years ago, when my children were young and we were living in Mexico, my family was invited to the residence of a NATO ambassador and his family for a New Year’s Eve dinner.  Our children were all the same age and the wife and I were close friends, both of us dealing with the challenges of setting up house in a new country, helping our children adjust, and learning a new language.

I’d been told that dinner would be casual but it was in the formal dining room with a table that could easily seat 30. Placesettings were as elaborate as if this was a diplomatic affair, with enough sterling silver on the table to make a small battleship and rows of wineglasses above each fine china plate. The meal was served in courses, starting with an array of caviar and smoked fish on a tray passed around by the butler.

My son, then eight, was seated next to me and watched the butler’s progression with alarm. “What fork do I use?” he whispered urgently.

There were four forks at each place: salad fork, dinner fork, fish fork, dessert fork. I silently thanked the fact I’d been brought up near the Oneida Silver factory store where Oneida silverplate was the mandatory gift for every occasion. “Start at the outside and work your way in,” I replied out of the side of my mouth.

The next course came. “Which fork this time?” my son asked.

“The next one over,” I told him.

“There’s a fork on top,” he said worriedly. “Dessert,” I hissed.

“What if dessert is flan?” His whispering was beginning to sound like a bad off-Broadway ad lib as our host’s mouth twitched with suppressed laughter.

“Use the spoon.”

“Which one?”

And so the long night wore on.

When we got home, I realized that my children needed to learn a few more skills in order to be prepared to go anywhere and participate in the world in any way they chose. I wanted them to be able to learn from and ultimately be enriched by the culture around them no matter where they went.

In an increasingly mobile world, we can travel anywhere, talk to anyone anywhere around the world, all at the push of a button. Citizens of the world. But what does that mean?

Here’s what I came up with:

  1.  Manners:  A World Citizen is aware of the local cultural norms and social etiquette wherever they go. They know what is polite and what is regarded as rude. They actively try not to offend.
  2. Desire for Information: A World Citizen has an open mind and is ready to put in the effort to learn about other cultures, the history that has shaped them, and why that culture is what it is.
  3. Connected:  A World Citizen uses technology to seek out information and connect with others.
  4. Tolerance: A World Citizen accepts that others will have a different belief system, or none at all, and does not judge (at least not in public.)
  5. Environmental Awareness:  A World Citizen realizes that we aren’t getting any more real estate on this planet and doesn’t trash up their part of it or anyone else’s. They respect efforts to renew and reuse and understand the need for basics like water and sanitation.

I’ll be sharing more here on what it means to be a World Citizen and asking you for your own ideas and experiences. Connecting across cultures isn’t a new concept but reading the news on any given day suggests we haven’t gotten very good at it.  So let’s start a new dialogue and see where it goes.

Maybe if we know what to do with all the forks, we won’t need so many knives.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

The Friday Fiesta: Travel with a Filmmaker, A Camera, Disappearing Destinations, and Titanic II

husky with suitcaseAs a fiction and mystery author I draw on my own world travels and experiences living in Mexico and Central America. But online travel is also a  terrific way to discover news and places worth celebrating. Let this review turn your Friday into a fiesta!

Life Tips from a Director

Director of Oscar-nominated film Beasts of the Southern Wild Benh Zeitlin talked to Filmmaker Magazine and while you might think this doesn’t have any relevance for you—especially if you didn’t see the movie which didn’t star any Hollywood big names. But the thoughtful interview, in which Zeitlin “proves that to make a powerful film today, you don’t need gimmicks, a convoluted strategy, or even connections in the business” is a lesson in what success should mean for each of us. Zeitlin believes that “all you really need is a story so strong that it’s impossible not to make.” Read the interview with this thought in mind—if your life was a movie, what story would you believe in so strongly that you’d have to make it come true?

50 Photos From an Airplane Window

It takes time to load but this gallery of photos from twistersifter.com is worth the wait. The photos have all been taken from the window of an airplane and are simply the most arresting collection I’ve seen lately. Mt. Rainer, San Francisco, Rio, Mexico City, Greenland, Miami—they are all gorgeous. Two or three don’t show but don’t let that stop you from being amazed by this stunning virtual photography exhibit.

Disappearing Destinations

Gadling.com blogger Reena Ganga offers a review of travel destinations that are focused on preservation efforts or groups that can use your help to spur preservation efforts. My favorite idea from this post is to volunteer at a World Heritage center. “There are volunteer projects across the globe, including diving along the Great Barrier Reef to help threatened coral, conserving the Medina of Fez in Morocco, and restoring archaeological sites in Tanzania.” Many countries don’t have the resources to take care of historic sites. Travel with heart and your next vacation could be anything but ordinary.

Related post: 5 Ways Historic Preservation Scares Us and Why That’s a Good Thing

Iceberg Beware

The new and improved Titanic will sail again, according to AOL’s travel site. A perfect replica of the ship is being built by Australian zillionaire Clive Palmer. If things go according to plan, the Titanic II will cross the Atlantic in 2016. Passengers will wear period costumes to mimic the original Titanic’s 1912 cruise. What won’t be imitated is the original brush with that fatal iceberg. Palmer reportedly told a UK newspaper that due to climate change “There are not so many icebergs in the North Atlantic these days.” Titanic II will, however, have enough lifeboat and life rafts to accommodate all 2,435 passengers and 900 crew members. Cue Celine Dion!

 

Friday Fiesta: Saving the Food Chain, A Language, Literary Thought and Your Self-Esteem

dog with sifesaver

As the author of a mystery series I love to weave unique cultural gems into the plot. Most of the time I draw on my own world travels and experiences living in Mexico and Central America.

In these Friday Fiesta posts I highlight cultural stories worth celebrating. The unique, the odd, the thought-provoking. Join the movement and share your stories on Twitter with hashtag #FridayFiesta.

The Fish at the Bottom of Your Food Chain

The Peruvian anchovy, known as anchoveta, lives at the bottom of a global food chain you probably have never thought about. According to AP, the little silver fish “thrives in the cold, plankton-saturated Humboldt Current along the coast of Peru and Chile and accounts for about a third of the global fishmeal industry used to fatten farmed seafood and livestock, from salmon in Norway to pigs in China.” But due to overfishing, the anchoveta population is about half what it was 10 years ago. That’s a serious concern for people who know what a food chain is and Peru is taking action by setting quotas, levying fines for illegal harvesting, and making the fish more accessible to its own population to combat childhood malnutrition. Paul Phumpiu, Peru’s vice minister of fisheries, framed the situation: “It’s a paradox, having a resource so rich that it feeds other parts of the planet but barely reaches Peruvians.” A little fish with a big job, it seems.

Saving the Language of Jesus

Writer Ariel Sabar recently followed scholar Geoffrey Khan of the University of Cambridge through Chicago in his quest to find speakers of pure Aramaic, the 3,000-year-old language of Jesus. Aramaic, the language in which Jesus uttered his last words, is down to its last generation or two of speakers. Khan looks for “elderly folk who had lived the better part of their lives in mountain enclaves in Iraq, Syria, Iran or Turkey” and records those whose language skills have not been diluted by slang or dialects. His work is “an act of cultural preservation and an investigation into how ancient languages shift and splinter over time.” This terrific article, published in The Smithsonian, is beautifully researched and written.  I loved this line: “the sounds of a language in twilight.

Be Proud, Get a Badge

Lifescouts.org is an online social community of people who share life experiences and get real badges for those experiences. You can join the social community and store the story about how you earned a certain badge like Sky Diving, Haunted House, Swimming With Dolphins, etc. More are added every month. Each Lifescouts badge costs 3.00 BPS and comes as a round enamel pin. I love Lifescouts for two reasons: 1. Find other folks who have similar experiences and 2. My daughter realized that she’s accomplished more than she sometimes gives herself credit for. A couple of little pins is a terrific reminder of our Small Victories. And some big ones, too.

A Literary Festival in Myanmar. Really

Myanmar recently held its first literary festival, the Irrawaddy Literary Festival. As reported by Publishing Perspectives, it drew “thousands of attendees attracted by the opportunity to hear speakers ranging from Vikram Seth, Timothy Garton Ash, William Dalyrmple, to the festival’s patron, Nobel Peace Prize winner and worldwide icon for democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi.” It was organized by the wife of the British ambassador to Myanmar, Jane Heyn who saw opportunity in the country’s recent loosening of censorship. Two years ago, such an event—attended by previously jailed writers and others who once had to hand out their works in secret–would not have been possible. While creatives still must tread carefully in Myanmar, the literary festival was “a platform to exchange ideas,” according to Heyn. That can only be a good sign.

 

The Friday Fiesta: An Outdoor Seat, Music, Chocolate, and a Story

As a fiction author I love to weave  unique cultural gems into the plot. Most of the time I draw on my own world travels and experiences living in Mexico and Central America.

In these Friday Fiesta posts I highlight cultural stories worth celebrating. The unique, the odd, the thought-provoking. Enjoy and share to make the world a little smaller today.

Have a Seat

The website theverybestop10.com brings us a montage of park benches around the world that is surprisingly startling and thought-provoking and nearly had me running for my passport. From a bench that looks as if it is part of a giant slingshot by German artist Cornelia Konrads to book-shaped benches in Istanbul and a shark attack bench in Bangkok, these photos and the imagination behind them are a guaranteed smile. Check it out—there might be a bench near you.

The Landfillharmonic

There are a few YouTube videos on the small orchestra created in Cateura, Paraguay, using instruments made from trash from a local landfill. I recommend a quick view of this 3 minute short. The stringed instruments sport odd shapes and labels from the boxes, cans, and other containers cannibalized to make them but the music—and obvious dedication of the music teacher–is worth celebrating. You can check out this Facebook page for more about the orchestra and the documentary about it from an often overlooked part of the world.

Saving Chocolate

The cultureist.com online magazine—one of my favorite feel-good online locations—carried this interesting story about cocoa farmers in the impoverished Democratic Republic of the Congo. Candy maker Theo is producing two new organic, fair trade certified chocolate bars: Pili Pili Chili, “an intensely warming blend of cocoa, vanilla, and spicy peppers; and Vanilla Nib, a scrumptious mix of cocoa, creamy vanilla, and crunchy cocoa nibs.” The website reports that Theo says the “fast-growing, high-yield crop requires minimal re-planting, prevents deforestation, commands solid global prices, and is a major source of income.” Theo chocolate is sold online and at Whole Foods Market stores.

Story Sees the Light of Day

“The Tallow Candle,” a handwritten early story by Danish storyteller Hans Christian Anderson—author of “The Little Mermaid” and other famous tales–was recently unearthed in a box of miscellany by local historian Esben Brage in the National Archive in Odense, Andersen’s home town. Published in English by Danish media outlet politiken.dk after validation by experts including Ejnar Stig Askgaard of the Odense City Museum, Bruno Svindborg of the Royal Library and Professor Johan de Myliu, you can read it here. As the UK’s guardian.co.uk reported, “The story tells of a little candle, dirtied by life and misunderstood, which eventually finds happiness after a tinder box sees the good at its heart and lights it.” Given the news lately, this discovery is pretty timely. We all need a little more light in our lives.

Find Carmen’s books on amazon.com today

Crafting a Christmas at the Mercado

This is the year my Christmas won’t be Made in China. Instead of the usual commercial shiny things we all know and love, I’m aiming for a simpler reminder of what the holiday is all about. Decorations, cards, and gifts will reflect skill, art, and natural materials instead of glossy plastic and machined perfection.  My sources will be local craftsman, a few boutique stores, and several charities.

A stroll through the mercado de artesanias in Masaya, Nicaragua last weekend was the starting point.

typical market scene

Just a typical aisle in the market which is located in an old colonial building with plenty of light and a restaurant on one side.


woven textiles

Most of the textiles in the mercado are from Guatemala. We saw scarves, table runners, and placemats but only a few larger pieces.


The terracotta pots on top look like smiling faces. Or maybe the Kool-Aid jug guy.
I had a sizzling pollo a la plancha after a day of hard shopping and it was delicious. Washed it down with a local beer and was ready to spend a little more!
Pottery plate

This beautiful plate is typical of the colors and motifs found in Nicaraguan pottery.

If you are having Christmas in Mexico this year, check out my post on favorite markets in Mexico City and have a wonderful time!

The Friday Fiesta: Turkish Delight, Brit Food, Art and Drink

As a fiction author I love to weave  unique cultural gems into the plot. Most of the time I draw on my own world travels and experiences living in Mexico and Central America.

In these Friday Fiesta posts I highlight cultural stories worth celebrating. The unique, the odd, the thought-provoking. Enjoy and share to make the world a little smaller today.

Not Everybody’s Eating This Turkish Delight

Muhtesem Yuzyil, or Magnificent Century, is either a blasphemous mess or a cultural revolution, depending which side of the television the viewer is on. Magnificent Century is a primetime soap opera about Suleiman the Magnificent and Hurrem, the slave who became his powerful wife, set in the mid 1500’s with the same production values and historical punch of the BBC’s Henry VII series The Tudors. The show debuted in January 2011 and immediately elicited 70,000 (!!) complaints, including from Turkey’s prime minister, according to the online edition of The Guardian newspaper.

WeBlogtheWorld.com picked up the story this week, noting that the show sparks both controversy and huge audiences (a recent episode was watched by 85 million viewers in 45 countries including half of all Muslim women over the age of 15)  because “the show presents women as equal to men. There are scenes of kissing, drinking and sex that are formerly unheard of on Middle Eastern television, and, in the case of Magnificent Century, a Muslim leader famous for his religious tolerance and ability to work with people of other faiths.” Popularity and controversy = cultural change? Yikes. Stay tuned.

Surprising British Food

I’ve spent a lot of time in London and generally avoided restaurants with traditional Brit fare (except for Fortnum and Mason, of course) because Brit food is doughy, tasteless, and unchanged since the Battle of Trafalgar.

But matadornights.com is convincing me I’m wrong with a great story entitled “Why British food isn’t as bad as you think.” The post lists the best Brit food, including fish and chips, bangers and mash, chicken tikka masala, Yorkshire pudding AND tells you where the best can be found. With pictures! That actually look good!

The Middle Eastern Art Scene

Abu Dhabi leads the arts and cultural preservation scene in the Middle East and thenational.com does a great job of tracking developments. The website recently ran journalist Jessica Holland’s guide to buying Middle Eastern art. Holland advises collectors to look for a story related to the artwork and understand how the value will be impacted by the country the artist is from. Trending now: art by Syrian and Egyptian artists. Nice to know there’s more going on in the region besides what’s on CNN.

Drinking Advent

I love advent calendars. Remember the bit from the BBC show The Vicar of Dibley with Dawn French?

Geraldine: How many chocolate advent calendars should a greedy person have?

Alice: I don’t know. I should think about 30.

But societeperrier.com’s Cocktail Culture has something even better than chocolate. The ultimate in advent calendars is the Whiskey Advent Calendar! A dram of single malt for each day. One season, two religious experiences.

© 2016 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I’m author Carmen Amato. I write romantic thrillers and the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.  More

10 Mexican Proverbs for Readers, Writers, and Other Adventurers

10 Mexican Proverbs for Readers, Writers, and Other Adventurers

These Mexican words of wisdom were found in Guy A. Zona’s book EYES THAT SEE DO NOT GROW OLD, a collection of proverbs from Mexico, Central and South America.

He who does not venture has no luck.

He who follows his own advice must take the consequences.

The clown is best in his own country, and the gentleman anywhere. 

A good man finds his native soil in every country.

Pay what you owe and you will know what you are worth. 

Each one knows with how many threads he sews.

He who doesn’t look ahead is left behind. 

The thief thinks that all men are thieves. 

He who is ignorant at home is ignorant abroad.

Everyone is the son of his own works.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

The Friday Fiesta: A Ride, A Book, Olives and Remembrance

Party tootsAs a fiction author I love to weave unique cultural gems into the plot. Most of the time I draw on my own world travels and experiences living in Mexico and Central America.

In these Friday Fiesta posts I highlight cultural stories worth celebrating. The unique, the odd, the thought-provoking. Enjoy and share to make the world a little smaller today.

Would You Ride?

The world’s longest and highest cable car service will reopen early next year in Merida, Venezuela, according to a BBC report. The cable system is more than 7 miles long, rising to more than 15,330 feet above sea level at the summit of Pico Espejo — one of the highest peaks in Venezuela’s Andean mountains. Originally built in 1960, the trip of around 2 hours takes intrepid travelers from Merida to the magnificent scenery of the Andes. From the report: “On a clear day, the craggy outcrop of Pico Espejo — where the resident Virgin Mary statue is sometimes covered in ice — provides panoramic views of the surrounding range, as well as a bird’s-eye view of Merida in the distant valley below.” Equal parts amazing and scary.

War and Remembrance

TheWorldisWaiting.com blog gave us a unique take on war museums this week, including some little known museums that capture events and places that are all too easily forgotten. I’ve been to three museums on the list: the Imperial War Museum and the HMS Belfast, both in the UK, and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum in Berlin and recommend them all. But of special note is the JEATH Museum, Kachanburi, Thailand. “JEATH stands for Japan, England, America, Australia, Thailand and Holland, which represent the nationalities of the prisoners of war forced to work on the construction of the famous Bridge on the River Kwai.” It wasn’t just a movie.

In the same vein, here’s my blog post on resistance museums.

The Olive Harvest

Did you know how olives are gathered to make olive oil? Check out the blog post by @ItalianNotes for beautiful photographs and a video on how “In our part of Puglia the old contardini swears by the scopetta. With an old organic broom they sweep a circle around every single olive tree making the red earth hard, smooth and clean, so that olives can easily be gathered, when they are ripe and ready to fall off the tree.” The post is lovely—a simple snapshot of a an industry that reminds us of the value of tradition and the calm that comes from living close to the earth.

The First Book and it’s Not the Bible. 

John Wainwright, a computer specialist, ordered the first book from amazon.com in 1995. Do you remember amazon’s radio ads from that time? They were in an interview format, with the interviewee claiming amazon had enough books to fill an aircraft carrier and other huge spaces.But I digress.

According to The Atlantic online magazine, which has a photo of the book and the original packing slip, the book Wainwright ordered was Douglas Hofstadter’s Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought. A bit of light reading. But that first book illustrates that amazon has been so successful (the website sells my books so of course it is successful!) because it carries something for every interest.

Book cover The Hidden Light of Mexico City“Romantic and suspenseful! A great mix!”

Get THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY on amazon.com today.

What McDonald’s Taught Me And It’s Not About The Food

What McDonald’s Taught Me And It’s Not About The Food

In my quest to find connections across cultures I’ve been thinking about how different cultures influence what we eat (salsa, anyone?) But if we turn that around to look at how a food influenced different cultures we come to one inescapable word: McDonald’s

Yep. The fast food giant has had its share of cultural impact.

After all, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved less than 2 years after McDonald’s opened in Moscow in early 1990. Maybe it was just a coincidence but maybe not . . .

So not to be outdone by the end of the Cold War, here are my top culture-meets-McDonald’s moments:

Vienna

In the weeks after Romanian Communist dictator Nikolai Ceausescu was overthrown, Romanians came by the busload to Vienna, the closest big Western city, to see how the rest of the world lived. They all looked as if they’d suddenly got out of prison. Their clothes were drab, they were all thin, and they looked fearful and excited at the same time.

My husband and I were in Vienna’s two-story McDonald’s. We each tucked into a substantial fast food meal; Big Macs, fries, the works. A Romanian couple our age was in the booth across the aisle, sharing the equivalent of a hamburger Happy Meal. They each took small bites, savoring the strange food, still in their coats as if they expected to be chased out at any moment.

Mexico City

It was my housekeeper’s anniversary and I took her to the big mall in Santa Fe to pick out a king sized bed for her and her husband. After arranging to have it delivered to their house, we went to the food court. She said she wanted to eat at McDonald’s but would not say what she wanted to order.

After a strange and frustrating exchange about the menu she finally said she’d have whatever I had. It turned out that she’d never eaten at a McDonald’s before.

She was 28.

Wellington

New Zealand’s capital is a bit more lively these days but when I was there 20 years ago it was a sleepy town, especially on the weekend. There was shopping and a city tour on Saturday but most things were closed on Sunday. Except the one McDonald’s a couple of miles from my hotel. I walked there for lunch, then went to the movies, then walked back to McDonald’s for dinner.

Without McD’s I would have starved. Or had the hotel’s cold mutton buffet for all 3 meals.

Athens

The Olympic stadium in Athens housed the biggest McDonald’s we’d ever seen and my kids were as fascinated by the restaurant as by the Olympic events. No mix-and-match fast food here, you could only order from a short list of preset meals, including the first salad any of us had ever eaten at a McD’s. We sat in the middle of the huge space listening to the babble of  languages and watching the array of national costumes.

My kids got it then–the fact that not everybody is like them. Meeting people who aren’t is exciting. The Frenchman in the skinny white capri pants and Puma flats is still remembered fondly.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Chain of Fools

Chain of Fools

The little church in Mexico City was decorated for Christmas with 100 red poinsettias. Every pew was filled, many with sleepy but excited children, for a special Christmas Eve midnight mass. Father Richard was leading us in the Prayer of the Faithful when a man staggered up the center aisle, his limbs jerking as he alternately murmured and shouted incomprehensible words. We all shrank back as he made his way towards the altar, an unexpected and volatile presence.

As the congregation looked on in growing panic, the man accosted Father Richard on the altar. The priest didn’t move or stop the prayer, just dug through his robes for a pocket. He pulled out a few pesos and pressed them into the man’s hand.

By that time several of the male congregants had come onto the altar as well and they gently propelled the drug-addled man down the altar steps and through the church to the rear door.

We continued Christmas mass and the addict remained nameless to the shaken congregation. But he was evidence that Mexico’s own drug problem was growing as more and more drugs transited the country en route to the United States.

So the question of the day is what does this anonymous addict, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, slain border agent Brian Terry, and 17 mutilated bodies found this month in the Mexican state of Jalisco all have in common?

The answer is that they are all part of the chain of American demand and Mexican supply of illegal drugs. The links are forged by the unthinkable amounts of cash and pop-culture icon status to be made in Mexico from satisfying that American demand. And until that demand is eliminated, the rewards will always be greater than the risks for many Mexicans who have little upward mobility in their country’s formal economy.

But is reducing American demand a real possibility? Although President Obama discussed it in a recent interview with Univision, drug policy isn’t a deal-breaker in the US presidential elections.  Hollywood–the arbiter of too many things deemed cool in US pop culture–is hardly a force against drug use.

But CNN reported this week that the term “war on drugs” is giving way to “prevention.”

I hope there is something tangible behind that word. It’s a very strong chain.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Like Glass in the Belly

Like Glass in the Belly

Whenever I’ve landed in a new place, I’ve tried to understand the local culture as if it was a system. Mexico was one of my first experiences and there I learned that a cultural system is underpinned by a network of stories and narratives—Bruce Chatwin’s songlines–that run through cultural cornerstones such as language, food, architecture, and the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. But last Sunday, in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakharia, author Salman Rushdie sent my thoughts in a different direction when he referred to a “culture of insecurity.”

Rushdie posited that the “rage machine” we’ve seen reacting to a cheap independent film trailer and cartoons unflattering to the prophet Mohammad—which most of those in the Arab street have probably never seen–is easily cranked up in cultures that are built on insecurity. A culture secure in its identity can dismiss criticism and stupid films.

But if the songlines of a particular culture are defined by what is lacking and resentment toward what others have, then there can be little cultural confidence and emotional security.

To define one’s culture only in terms of what it lacks is a large and disturbing concept. Is a culture built on negativity and rage sustainable?

Well, rage is cheap. Cheaper than fast food, nice cars, sports franchises and higher education. Cheaper than running water and reliable electricity. If rage stems from what a culture is thought not to have—and alternative ideas are weak and no one moves to tamper the rage—it probably can be sustained through several generations, especially if education rates stay low.

But rage on a cultural scale is a huge loss in terms of productivity, economic growth, educational development—the list is endless. Unless someone is profiting by it, common sense would say that profound efforts would be made to reverse the culture of insecurity.

So who profits from a culture of insecurity and the rage it can promote?

Unfortunately this isn’t a hard question to answer and Rushdie noted that the deliberate use of rage is a “political act.” Throughout history we’ve seen people attain and retain power by manipulating populations with negative messages of external threats. Iran. North Korea. East Europe during the Cold War.

I didn’t realize this was ultimately what I was writing about in this conversation about a presidential candidate from THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY:

“This country’s entire social system is predicated on the majority of the people being tolerant. Educated people find things out and aren’t quite so tolerant after that . . . “

Luz blinked at him, struck by the intellect behind his words. “So how do we change that? Make the country . . . healthy.”

“Reform is hard.” He seemed about to say something else, but stopped.

“But if nothing changes,” Luz said, thinking about the dwindling opportunities for Juan Pablo. There would be even less for Martina and Sophia. “What will happen?”

Eddo shrugged. “The leftovers will remember Lorena’s catchphrases. That’s all she wants them to do.”

He was saying such hard things. Luz leaned forward. “Do you mean to tell me Lorena is happy to cry for the pain of the people if it means they’ll stay uneducated enough to vote for her?”

And as for those trapped in a culture of insecurity, to paraphrase a poem by the late Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes; the children in the street will eat glass if there is nothing else to fill their empty bellies.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

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