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Dia de Los Locos, Philip Roth and the Meaning of Life

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher Lokkal

Allow me to begin, as Vonnegut did in Mother Night, with the moral to this story. And it is the same as Kurt's, “You'd better be careful what you pretend to be, because that is what you are.” I am reading, watching and listening these days to three stories about mistaken identities.* Which brings me to my story about the identity of Dia de Los Locos.

I've read various versions of the origins of Dia de Los Locos. All of them pale in comparison to the version told me by my eighty year old landlady. We live in what was, according to her, the first house constructed in Colonia San Antonio. This seems entirely plausible to me as the house is immediately behind the Church of San Antonio, itself the first building constructed in the then unnamed suburb of San Miguel. It was built for the caretaker of the Church, and has been since enlarged.

My landlady who lives in the second floor addition has lived in San Miguel for over fifty years. I believe her more regarding the origins of Dia de Los Locos than I do the young authors of articles in Atencion on the subject.

She tells me that rich town folk used to come out to the then hermitage of San Antonio to make confession. The monks would prescribe for them a strange penance for their sins. They were told to dance back up through town; perhaps a humbling antidote for their pride. To accomplish this without great humiliation the penitents would don masks to shield their identity. Eventually they danced up in groups. Eventually this became Dia de Los Locos. (The parade does start from Colonia San Antonio.)

Philip Roth died last week. I listened to an archival interview with “the author of a million words” by Fresh Air's Terry Gross, who, by the way, is not very good at what she does. Rarely, if ever do her superficial, nonsequitous questions draw anything out of the interviewee. Philip Roth was more than once amused at or bemused by the sloppy silliness of her questions. As a homeopathic doctor who interviewed patients daily for 25 years I claim a certain profession authority on the subject.

More than once Terry tried to get the aged Roth to speculate on the great beyond. Both times he shut down that discussion on the life after death curtly; once, “I am reasonable”; once, “I have no need for delusions.” So, was this man who defined his generation, defined by his generation.

First, let us agree that there is a possibility that there is life after death. Hence, a belief in some sort of hereafter might be reasonable and not delusional. In fact, the more we know about mind, the more it seems to be some sort of universal substance, ubiquitous and eternal, like gravity, electromagnetism or nuclear forces; not derived from the electrical phenomenon of the physical brain, as was thought by materialistic scientists of the last century, but primal and primordial. It is a small, perhaps nonexistent, step from mind to spirit to soul to a Universal Mind to God. Then Darwin held that somethings are too complex to have evolved randomly, for example, the eye. Now, Darwin's generation's idea of complexity was a clockwork. True they had some very complex clocks, but their most, our most, complex clock is trillions of times less complex than just the protein folding that occurs within the mosquito that you slapped out of existence last night. My biologist PhD friend answered my question on the complexity of protein folding thusly: “Everything is too complex.” More and more, mathematically it appears that we do not live in the random, materialistic universe that was so in vogue among the intellectual, hip crowd in the last century, so de rigueur.

Scientists who say that they don't believe in God, however, do speak of a Great Mystery, how, despite the impossible odds against them, many times impossible, life and the laws of physics came to be. Authors who say that they don't believe in God are just being ignorant, or, with apologies to Philip Roth, unreasonable.

Recently, visiting my daughter in New Orleans, I woke one morning and announced that I had had a dream that revealed the meaning of life. With a strange mixture of sleepiness and enthusiasm she asked, “What is it?” Now, given that these things are particularly hard to put into words, I stumbled out, “Vocabulary.” The meaning of life is what we make it. And it helps to have a rich vocabulary, a lush perception, a grand personal mythology so that we can read more into and make more out of it. Ignorance is the problem.

Now quantum physics tells us that until we look the electron exists in a probability wave, not in any fixed place. It is only when someone looks that the electron assumes a definite position and velocity. Hence the need for a constant observer (mind, spirit, God...) to keep all this material universe on track.

So whether Dia de Los Locos evolved according to my landlady's telling or according to the youthful authors' of Atencion is in some, very real sense a matter of my choosing, my personal mythology, what I pretend to be. To some, and I believe a very large, extent, reality is formed according to our beliefs. What position the electron collapses into is, according to me, anyway, dependent on who is looking and how. At one point, when people would ask me how I was doing I would reply, “Just as well as I imagine... and luckily my imagination is getting better.”

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* reading- Isaac Bashevis Singer's Yentyl; watching- on Netflix Fauda; listening- on Librivox to Balzac's Colonel Chabert

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photo: Alessandro Bo (cropped)

Dr David started this magazine because he could write and liked to communicate. He fully expected that in a town like San Miguel he could find authors to publish in addition to himself. Well, practically no one is submitting anything. Stubborn as he is, he continues, now publishing himself, and a faithful cadre of authors and photographers. His motto continues to be, "It's hard to be ahead of your time."

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