Archive for October, 2008

The car radio said Tony Hillerman had died on Sunday in an Albquerque hopspital, aged 83, and we stayed in the car after pulling into the garage to hear the full story.

Memory took me back a few years to Anne in that city and the invitation she’d received to attend a gala function honoring Hillerman. The Albuquerque Museum Foundation in 2004 was saluting Hillerman as another outstanding son of New Mexico.

Anne and Max were friends from fitness spar outings in St. George, Utah. We had gravitated together not only because they were married in Trinidad and had gone back for their 50th anniversary.

She knew me as a Hillerman fan was was particularly happy to give me her invitation, as a souvenir, since she was sure she wouldn’t be attending, in the absence of Max, who had passed away.

I got to know Hllerman’s work in St. George — a sweetly apt refuge from those punishing jaunts up Snow Canyon. His quiet pace and the serene ways of his protagonists, Navajo tribal policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, were just the thing for winding down after hours doing all that good to one’s body.

The radio said Hillerman had come in touch with Native Americans as a child, in a school for girls, actually, and later,  as an adult, was moved by a blessing ceremony for returning Indian soldiers. Perhaps that’s why his first novel was The Blessing Way.

Hillerman steeped himself in Navajo lore, for the love of these people, and wrote a number of detective stories set in the Four Corners region of Arizona and New Mexico. In these stories he accurately wove the life of the Navajos into his work and was eventually honored by Navajo elders for what they considered his value to their way of life.

I still have two of his reservation police books for reading, Hunting Badger and Skeleton Man. I’ll miss the gentle ways of Tony Hillerman, a decorated World War II veteran who found his niche in the Indian region I now call home.

And I still have Anne’s invitation somewhere around.


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Navel of the world

The official center of the world, would you know it, is in California, near the Arizona border, the spot marked by a pyramid. And I found it while trying to take a picture of a church on a hill.

A lonely white church on a hill had long attracted me as a good subject for photography, and driving home from San Diego, with time on our side, I decided to go for it.

Taking Sidewinder exit 164 we quickly entered a  compound that presented itself, surprisingly, as the center of the world! Intrigued, we pressed on into the enclave, which seemed to us deserted, raising thoughts about trespass.

But the church beckoned so we parked, uneasy at the seeming absence of activity but I was able to snatch a few pictures, still worried we were treading on some special preserve. So we quickly departed, heading for Yuma. Much later Google filled in some blanks.

Jacques-Andre Istel is the man behind this center-of-the world spectacle. Apparently he convinced Imperial County, California, to recognize, legally, a spot on his property as the official center of the world. And he plans to build a town named Felicity already incorporated, to flesh out the spot, now marked by a 21-ft pyramid.

Now there are pieces of sculpture scattered about the place, one of them a spiral staircase to nowhere, salvaged, we are told, from the Eiffel Tower and commanding your attention as you enter the parking lot.

This indefatigable fellow, wanting a church on the premises, apparently hauled 150,000 tons of earth into a giant mound, the Hill of Prayer, on which he built The Church on the Hill, its white windowless walls and blue front door echoing the clear desert sky.

That is what first drew my eye, and happily this picture is now on my Flickr blog.

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Native Obama

Fascinating to hear Barack Obama’s name declaimed in an Apache language spiel — and to hear each mention of his name jubilated by the clamor of horns from 40 or so cars of approving listeners. The Obama rally by the White River Democrats was in full swing in the heartland of the Apache nation in Arizona, some 45 minutes from where we live.

Fascinating, too, to note the  hint of Caribbean coloration out here in Indian country. Bob Marley “survival” T-shirts were in evidence when we were here six days ago to help voter registration, and this morning, pulling into the rally parking lot Limbo Rock was on the loudspeaker.

Vote for Obama, an Apache Vietnam vet said, “because he is a minority like me.”

Another fellow said they were called to fight for their country in the old days before they could even vote for their country.

The chairman of the Hopi tribe, passing through, joined the call, saying the current administration did not sufficiently respect Indian traditions. A fellow standing nearby told me, when the chairman was finished, that a Hopi woman, Lori Pietsewa — he wrote down the name for me — was the first woman in the U.S armed forces to be killed in the 2003 Iraq war.

A young woman read a list of numbers relating to cuts in funding for Native Americans the administration had decreed for 2009.

A rap artist implied that there was an all-Indian gathering for Obama, claiming that the Crow nation had endorsed him, suggesting, as well, that they had made Obama an honorary member of the tribe.

The natives were certainly restless, and were on the move.

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An exciting call from Trinidad: Danielle LeGendre is heading to England for the world premier on October 11 of an opera for which daughter Dominique has written the music. An email from Skye with information from the Nicky Thomas media consultancy in the U.K filled out the information.

Seems that the Royal Opera House concertmaster had commissioned Dominique to write an opera based on Seamus Heaney’s Burial at Thebes. Derek Walcott will be making his U.K directorial debut with this work.

Dominique is composer-in-residence with the Manning Camerata and worked with Derek in 2005 adapting his Tales of the Islands as a chamber music suite. Apparently she was the first female composer commissioned to write an opera for the Royal Opera House, in 2006, so Burial will be her second full-length opera commission.

Burial is Heaney’s adaptation of Antigone by Sophocles, and Walcott is setting the piece in a contemporary South American republic.

Dominique talks about the inspiration for the piece as “the rhythmic directness of Seamus Heaney’s translation that sits beautifully in operatic form, and the melodic rhythms of Rapso, the contemporary version of calypso.”

A Port of Spain girl and her quatro, two Nobel laureates, and Sophocles!

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