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Hold Your Horses

Dr. David, Editor / Publisher

Fifteen years ago up on my land in Vermont, I hosted an event with David Bradshaw, well-known for the use of firearms and explosives in the creation of his art. We set up 3' x 7' sheets of metal on four, longish, upright logs, like table tops and lit fires below them to slowly add a little kinetic energy to their molecules. Then explosive charges were detonated on top of them, to suddenly add a lot more. The results were explosive waves of energy caught in steel. They were remarkably organic, flower-like.

There is an etiquette with exploding things, a formal procedure that is followed. With the bomb that David built on top the metal sheet, at the moment of truth, we were all a good way off, crouching behind and peeking over a barricade of fallen trees. With a couple of seconds between each command, David called out: "Clear! Ready! Fire in the hole!" and then twisted the detonator handle.

David Bradshaw, champion marksman

In the German artillery, in an era when everything was already motorized and horses were no longer employed to haul the cannon, the etiquette observed around their explosions involved a strange requirement. There was a soldier standing by, who just before the boom held up both of his fisted hands just in front of one of his shoulders. The position was one of someone holding the reins of horses, restraining them from bolting at the cannon's boom.

Here in San Miguel, I have often observed women disposing of the water used in the mopping of their floor. Standing just outside their front door, quite intentionally, they sling the bucket, tossing a large portion of the water first to one side and then to the other and then forward, in front of the door, thoroughly wetting the sidewalk and street. The whole process has a deliberate, ritualistic air about it, that made me wonder if there weren't some pre-Hispanic or, at least, Catholic explanation for it.

As a New Englander, I find it strange how short Spring is here in San Miguel. At the start of February, I was leaving my front doors open to admit the sunshine to warm the house up. By the end of February, I was leaving them closed to preserve the interior cool.

I have two front doors. Both open directly onto the short, dead-end, alleyway at whose terminus I reside. One of these doors has no step up. Some time ago, sweeping the small leaves and petals away from it so that they would not blow inside, I understood why the women were slopping water on the sidewalk and road.

There was a time when there were no sidewalks or cobbles; all then was dusty earth. These women were doing what their mothers and grandmothers did, wetting, tamping down the ground in front of their houses so that the earth doesn't blow or track in so readily. Except, now there was no ground, only concrete and rock.

When the Inquisition was active, Spanish Jews who had converted to Catholicism were not allowed to emigrate to the New World. But as many of these conversos secretly continued to practice their Jewish religion, risking a tortuous death, many broke the rules and did emigrate to Mexico. When the Inquisition did arrive in this country, first in Mexico City, many of these crypto Jews moved north, and continued moving north, always away from its deadly, expanding reach.

The House of the Inquisitor, San Miguel

Today, there are women on both sides of the US/Mexico border who, on Friday night, light candles inside a cabinet and then shut the doors, leaving them to burn unseen. As far north as Arizona and New Mexico, there are women who, in the Jewish tradition, use two sets of plates in their kitchens, one for dairy and one for meat. When you ask them why, they reply, "My mother and grandmother did so."

Hemingway tells a story of two GIs in Italy when WWII was newly over. One, whose parents emigrated to the US from Italy, wants to go visit his great-aunt, living in an isolated mountaintop village. The other tags along.

Arriving at her door, one Friday afternoon, with gifts of food, introducing himself as her grandnephew, they are invited in. But the old woman is clearly discomforted, mostly at not herself being able to perform the required social courtesies. And so, the GIs cut their visit short, retiring to the local bakery/restaurant.

There, over leisurely cups of coffee, they observe an old man come in. The proprietor produces an enormous loaf of bread, which the man pays for, puts into a bag and straps to his back. The man exits and for some time later the GIs are able to glimpse him at various points descending along the winding, mountain path. The man is hurrying home to light candles before dark and place the loaf on the table as the centerpiece of a meal, he no longer remembers, is in honor of the Jewish Sabbath.

The women in Arizona are motivated, unintelligibly, by an indistinguishable ancestral fear of prying eyes, to close their cabinets after lighting the Sabbath candles within. So well has their once dangerous, familial identity been obscured, that they do not even appreciate that these candles, they kindle so religiously each Friday, are for the Jewish Sabbath.

The cleaning women of San Miguel, slopping their bucket of water outside the front doors, have also lost the origin and intent of their now ritualized ablutions. If you were to ask them why they make their wettings, they would reply, "My mother and grandmother did so."

There is an old joke. A man comes home from work to find his wife dressed only in her bathrobe. He opens the hall closet to hang up his coat and sees a naked man standing inside. "What are you doing there?" he demands of the stranger. The man replies, "Everyone has to be somewhere".

We all have to be somewhere. We all have to make sense of our lives. Our "truth" is a story that we tell ourselves. Most often it is a cobbling together of inherited impressions and ideas picked up along the way. Sometimes it is a belief that we adopt wholesale, a movement that we join. But what we all admire most is the person who artistically weaves a tapestry from the diverse strands life presents him.

In this I am reminded of a story by Borges (The Garden of Forking Paths) of a man who realizes that he is only the dream of another man. Writing this weekly column, I am making my own sense of what I experience during the week. Through the meditation that this composition requires, I create my "reality." I produce myself, like Escher's print of two hands drawing each other. As Borges might allow, I am dreaming myself.

There are no longer any horses, but like the German artillery-men, many of us keep holding them: "Clear! Ready! Fire in the hole!"


Dr David invites you to see San Miguel online. Visit SMA's digital town square, our local social network, Lokkal.

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