The Fence



How did she get here?

She walked…walked toward the fence.

It’s the one constant.






There’s always a fence.

She came alone. Swept along

with the refugees.






Maybe an orphan –

but no one knows for certain.

She stands by the fence.









Waiting. She watches.

Expecting someone to come

from across the fence.







Little refugees

grow up waiting by the fence…

older and angry.




A Syrian refugee boy stands behind a fence


They survived a lot.

So now they stand by the fence.

Waiting for something.







Flying Down to Rio

IMG_20150119_080731On sort of a whim my daughter and I spent a few hours at the historic KiMo Theater in downtown Albuquerque watching Fred and Ginger dance the Carioca in a classic old musical, Flying Down to Rio.

I’ll talk about the theater in a while but first let me try to make sense of the movie. Flying Down to Rio was  made in 1933 at the height of the depression. There was a bunch of escapist musicals produced during those years and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were a big part of that era. This movie was the first one they were paired up to do although each had been in earlier films. You will notice from the poster that Ginger Rogers got higher billing than did Fred Astaire. I hope she enjoyed it because that never happened again.

Essentially this is a little story about a struggling dance band that gets a gig in Rio de Janeiro which happens also to be at the very same hotel owned the uncle of the band leader’s (Gene Raymond) romantic attraction (Dolores Del Rio). Seems like the hotel is struggling too thanks to some crime boss hanky-panky and corrupt local politicians. The plot deals with how the hotel is saved and the girl gets her true love…maybe the band leader. Meanwhile, Fred Astaire is the band leader’s pal and accordion player…yes, he plays an accordion… and fills in as the band director when the leader is off chasing his lady-love. Ginger Rogers is a singer for the band and seems to have a little more dialogue than usual.

The task of getting to Rio isn’t easy. The band leader  tricks the girlfriend into having him fly her down in his little single engine plane…which happens to be equipped with a piano. Surprise, surprise, the plane has engine trouble and they have to land on the beach of a deserted island and spend the night. Only the island isn’t really deserted and there as a peculiar scene with “wild men” including one guy who shows up as a golf caddy who directs them to the local airport.  So, anyway, they all get to Rio in time for the hotel’s grand opening except that the city won’t issue an entertainment license because the bad guys want the hotel to fail so they can take it over.

The band members kill time by absorbing the local musical entertainment and are taken by the Brazilian music and dancing. The Carioca is all the rage in Rio and the Americans are enthralled. FlyingDownToRioPIC-106Fred and Ginger can’t contain their enthusiasm and jump up and run down to the dance floor to join in on the fun. The dance number goes on forever, it seems, with new herds of dancers joining in each time you think it is almost over. This is a huge dance number. Apparently, this version of the Carioca is a dance where the two partners have to hold their foreheads together while doing fancy footwork. Of course, Ginger Rogers does it in high heels and backwards.  This is all a lot of fun but there is still a problem with the hotel and the Americans won’t have a job unless the hotel opens as planned.

In order to save the hotel, the band leader concocts a crazy plan to have an aerial extravaganza with chorus girls wired and strapped to the wings of a half dozen or more rickety airplanes.  You will notice on the poster the reference to “200 beauties”?  Most of them are strapped to the wings of these airplanes. I don’t think this was supposed to be a hilarious movie back in 1933 but I admit that I guffawed loudly several times as the girls performed on the wings of the airplanes as they flew over Rio de Janeiro.


One group sprouted parachutes and flew off the wing of the plane to land somewhere in Brazil…we never saw them again. Another girl fell off one plane and landed in the arms of a couple guys dancing on the wing of another plane…didn’t skip a beat. Another batch of dancers sprouted parachutes which ripped off their costumes and revealed their racy 1933 swimming outfits but they just kept right on dancing. At the same time, Fred and the barely disguised band members reveal their true identity and burst into music on the hotel veranda to the overwhelming enjoyment of the hotel guests. The hotel is saved because the mayor shows up and likes what he sees. It’s not every day that you get to watch dozens of girls dancing on the wings of airplanes flying over your city.

Flashback — I forgot to mention that the girlfriend is engaged to a local guy who works at the hotel so there is a three-way thing going on. The band leader finally decides he’s not right for the girl and books a flight on the Pan Am Clipper (passenger sea plane) to go back home to the good ol’ USA. Not so fast…the boyfriend decides that the captain/pilot of the sea plane can marry them so he grabs the girl and they both race to the dock and board to sea plane and it takes off over the sea as the girl realizes that the band leader is on the plane. The boyfriend (still wearing his parachute from the aerial dance number) says he wants the other two to get married and he opens the door of the plane and jumps out with his parachute – we think he landed on the beach but maybe not. We are left to assume the band leader and his girl live happily ever after.

This was a technological marvel in its day because the aerial dance extravaganza took place on the ground but it looks like it is going on in the air over Rio. A special process was created by Linwood G. Dunn to merge two images…the dancers and the planes with the aerial footage of Rio de Janeiro. Dunn also worked on King Kong and even the early Star Trek series.   Here is a link to the Youtube clip:

As I said, I suspect that the movie wasn’t intended to be as funny in 1933 as it now appears to be. It was entertaining and made me laugh.

f16_000The KiMo Theater was built in 1927 in downtown Albuquerque in Pueblo Deco architectural style. It was a marvel in its day and there are really no other similar theaters that come close to matching the style.  Over the years the theater fell into disrepair, like so many other large movie houses, and was damaged in a fire in the 1960s. It was slated for demolition in 1977 but city voters approved a bond issue to save it and the city put up extra money to complete the renovation. It is now operated by the city and is once again showing films and hosting stage performances and concerts. It is open most days for self guided tours.


The balcony railing turned out to be too low in height to meet city building codes when renovation took place. The legs and the necks of the cranes depicted on the railing had to be lengthened to meet the building code.


The seating and some of the other furnishings were updated but the theater retains its original splendor and seemed like the perfect spot to watch an old  black and white musical.

I Have a Dream — Still

I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.   Martin Luther King, Jr.


Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned eighty-six on January 15th — although we choose to observe his birthday tomorrow on January 19th because it is more convenient, being a Monday.  He died at the age of thirty-nine…  yes, only thirty-nine. He was just then maturing into a voice for broader issues and, had he lived, I think the world and our country would have been much better for it. The issue of race was not resolved in his mind or in fact but he was beginning to turn his thoughts toward issues of general exploitation and oppression, human rights and world peace. Issues that went beyond skin pigmentation.

MLK has been gone almost forty-seven years and there is no one like him today in America. There were a few people who stepped up over the years and spoke out but today we really don’t have anyone of his stature who can serve as a voice and conscience of America.

Unfortunately, in the vacuum, we have folks like Al Sharpton and a few others. Sharpton recently voiced outrage over the Oscar nominations and the fact that no African American was nominated in a top acting role. Well, it’s true, for the first time since 1999 there has not been a person of color or a Hispanic nominated for an Oscar in an acting category.  Does that mean the well ran dry and there will never be another nomination that he will feel good about? No…  Is Sharpton only going to be pleased if African-American actors are nominated?  I suspect so. For him it is mostly an issue of skin pigmentation.

MLK served as a worthy lightning rod and absorbed and deflected a great deal of hardship and criticism in order to further his cause. He was the tallest tree in the forest. He did not often intentionally seek that type of negative attention but there were many willing to provide it. There still are. Today, Sharpton is the only tree — there is no forest — and because of that he draws a lot of attention and enjoys it. I find it odd that he chose to get upset about the Oscars given the many other issues that need attention.

This is not a blog about Al Sharpton. He is simply an example of how things can go wrong. The topic is more about skin. Skin pigmentation is simply a genetic trait. I suspect that, at the dawn of human existence, we were black. We were living in the tropics and all mankind rose up and populated the world from our African cradle.  Blackness, then, was our uniform coloration. Whiteness, or various shades of lighter skin, came later as an adaptation to climate and environmental conditions.  Thousands of years ago some little gene on some little chromosome mutated and a change in skin tone took place…and we’ve decided that that is cause for classification and generalization and worse.

For some reason, whiteness is desired by a large number of people. I sometimes watch Spanish language TV and saw an infomercial on some product that, if used as directed, will lighten the pigment of the user’s skin. They showed before and after photos and the images before using the product were only slightly darker than the after images but they looked sad and not as cheery or agreeable as after the product was used.  Being a white person myself (though somewhat mottled at my age), I was a little puzzled. White folks spend good money and a lot of time trying to obtain a darker shade of skin color. The ideal among whites is a slightly tanned — just look at movie posters and advertising images. On the other hand, some people whose skin color is naturally a darker shade, close to the ideal in those advertisements, are trying to become noticeably paler.  Among African Americans there is a subtle difference in perception and, in some cases, social behavior based on pigmentation…it seems that lighter is, or was, considered better in some way. How odd we are and how preoccupied with something so meaningless.

I recently had my DNA tested as part of a genealogical project. I’ve been curious about my roots for many years and decided to look at the topic from a genetic standpoint. I’ve worked on family tree information for a long time and figured I knew pretty much what to expect. My father’s family is entirely German as far back as I could go, but “Low German” from coastal areas. My mother’s family is more of a mix but is half Irish with the rest being English, Dutch, Bavarian and Walloon/French. I’m firmly European and probably northern European…I figured. Well, not so fast. The results confirmed some of what I expected but I’m surprised to learn that I’m not entirely what I thought I was. My German-ness took a back seat. I’m mostly Irish and English. I’m also Ashkenazi, Druze, Finnish, Scandinavian, Balkan, Iberian and North African. I’m 3% Neanderthal, which is somewhat greater than average. I wasn’t interested in skin color but lots of people of varying skin shades have paraded through my personal genome. Most were light skinned Europeans, I guess….but it is just the luck of the draw. There is some debate about genetic skin pigmentation (and I’m no expert)  but it seems to be partially centered on chromosome 15. My chromosome 15 seems to be linked to my Irish/British, Ashkenazi and Scandinavian ancestors…but it could have gone another way.  And, just because these people had a similar skin color doesn’t mean they were kind or even friendly toward each other. The Vikings were not very agreeable people if you were Irish or British and if you were an Ashkenazi Jew you were an easy target for all sorts of abuse from everybody.

Not long ago scientists discovered the gene that controls left-handedness and about ten percent of the world’s population is left-handed. My dad was left-handed and so was my mother’s sister. I’m right-handed, like my mom, and so is my brother…but it could have gone differently. Most people — today — treat left-handedness as a novelty at most and it is generally not even noticed. Not that long ago — less than 100 years ago — lefties were looked upon as somehow defective and they were abused by teachers in school. My aunt was hit with a ruler if she used her left hand for school work. We have changed our perception and approach to left-handedness. Why can’t the same thing happen with skin pigmentation? Wouldn’t it be great if skin pigmentation, if even noticed at all, was looked upon the same way we do right- or left-handedness today? Maybe the content of a person’s character  is of more importance than all of the artificial things we set up as false barriers.

Wednesday Roam — Random Rambles

The year has started off with a flurry of activity. Usually this is a dull and sometimes reflective time following the holidays.  Our winter is beginning to wind down but it still holds some surprises. I’ve enjoyed the company of visitors from distant lands. I got my first iPhone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPecos National Historic Park– I spent some time with visitors up in Santa Fe and we took a side trip to Pecos National Historic Park. It was a crisp and breezy day so we didn’t linger too long out on the trail but it was enjoyable. I need to go back in warmer weather.

This is the site of a large Indian Pueblo community east of present day Santa Fe that flourished from 1450 until the arrival of the Spanish and the Pueblo uprising in 1680. At its height there were 2,000 residents in the pueblo village.  The Spanish conquistadors passed through in 1540 and came back to colonize the area around 1600 with settlers and Franciscan missionaries. The large adobe structure is the remaining portion of the second (18th century) church built on the site. The park service has stabilized the ruin and keeps it from deteriorating.



Winter — Even though the calendar says it is January, our weather should start to get better pretty soon. December is usually our coldest month. We will have 60 degree days in a week or two. That doesn’t mean that winter is finished with us. We had two days of snowy weather in a row — unusual. Normally we get polite little snow storms that deposit an inch of snow that is gone by 2:00 in the afternoon. The streets get wet and a little slick but drivers here don’t know how to drive in snow and they had to close I-40 briefly because the inch of snow was too much for some people.  I went out and tried to get a few pictures but it was melting pretty fast.

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River of Lights — Each year Albuquerque’s Bio-Park has a holiday light display at the botanical garden. I tried to go last year but the crowds were so bad I couldn’t get close to the place. This year we went after Christmas and it wasn’t so crowded. It was a relatively warm evening and well worth the effort. This is just an example of the hundreds of lighted figures



The Place at Loma Barbon

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI own a small parcel of land separated from my house by a few miles. I was once going to build a home on it but gave up the idea…or at least shelved it. It is a little further out in the desert and somewhat isolated but civilization is slowly encroaching. I wanted to be a pioneer but it costs too much these days. They are building a new water tank about a quarter mile away so I guess people will follow. I have given thought to selling it but I’ll wait a while.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI enjoy going up there a few times a year just to look the place over. By “up” I mean vertical distance…it is a few hundred feet higher than my home place near a hill called Loma Barbon.  I guess it serves as sort of a lab in the sense that I see it as kind of a control — a piece of desert that is not subjected to development. My home place has been sterilized and mucked up a bit by the previous three owners.  I blogged here earlier about trying to reintroduce cacti to the place and I’d like to see more yucca. I’ve got a lot of sage and saltbush but no Junipers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other place, higher up, seems to have some added moisture in the soil. It has a bunch of Juniper trees struggling to survive and some interesting plants that don’t seem to grow lower down the slope. There is a sort of Zen-like quality to the undisturbed desert. Sadly, we have been in a serious drought — maybe the worst on record — and some of the old Junipers are dying off. You almost never see a young Juniper seedling — conditions are not right for them to grow and the birds are desperate to eat the seeds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI took a mid-winter walk up on the hill and noticed how things were changing. There is a busy animal population up there. I saw  tracks and dens everywhere. The coyotes seem to be in possession of the place based on the tracks but there is an abundant population of rabbits and desert rats and mice. In warmer weather there would also be lizards everywhere and probably a snake or two, although I’ve never seen one. There are lots of birds and the hawks and owls will take their share of smaller animals.

The coyotes have been busy. I found where they caught a rabbit. Rabbit fuzz was everywhere. To my amazement I found another spot where they must have tried to take down an Elk. There were bits of Elk hair strewn around but I think they were unsuccessful. I’m astonished that there would be an Elk that far down from the mountains and reasonably close to civilization. Testimony to the serious drought, perhaps. I suppose it could have been a deer but they stay close to the river and I’m somewhat familiar with Elk hair from tying trout flies. I’m still puzzled. There are Pronghorn Antelope that might be close by but I don’t think they have the same kind of hair and I’d be surprised if a coyote could catch one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy ancient Juniper, Carlos Rey, seems to be hanging on in spite of the drought. That tree once belonged to the King of Spain and very possibly witnessed Coronado’s trek through the area. Coronado and about  2,400 conquistadors and Mexican Indian allies spent the winter of 1540 a couple miles down the hill. They generally made a pest of themselves for a couple years before going back to Mexico City. Desert Junipers grow very slowly — taking 100 years to grow a branch as big as your forearm. I consider Carlos Rey to be the local champion but there are others that are rivals. They probably were there when Governor Juan de Onate arrived in 1598 to colonize Nuevo Mexico. They were there in 1680 when the Pueblo Indians rose up and drove the Spanish back to Mexico and they witnessed the return of the Spanish in 1692 and the establishment of local settlements along the Rio Grande. They managed in good times and bad but the drought is taking a toll. As you can probably tell, I get irritated when developers bulldoze the Juniper trees instead of trying to save as many as they can.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Prickly Pear and Cholla cactus suffer through the winter as best they can. Rabbits and Desert Rats will nibble on Prickly Pear if they have to and cause a lot of damage. Chollas are taller and seem to be struggling from the drought more than anything. When they die, a Cholla cactus reveals a skeleton made of interesting lattice work that supports the plant’s stalks and is covered with spines. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChollas bloom in the spring with large rose-like flowers and they develop a bright yellow fruit that stays on the branches through winter. I understand that the fruit is edible but I’m not going to try eating one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are roads up into this undeveloped area and I’m seeing where people are using some accessible spots as dumping areas.  Not a good sign. Some folks use the area for off-road joy riding. A couple years ago there was a rash of brush fires set by a local fire-bug in the area. I guess that is civilization’s first calling card.

I’ll make another trip up here in the spring to see how things fared. We are actually on the downhill side of winter. Days are getting noticeably longer and temperatures will slowly start to climb from now on. This is desert so we will have freezing temperatures at night well into April but the days will be sunny and warm.