Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Archive for March, 2009


Friday, March 27th, 2009

On our Wednesday in Mexico City I wasn’t scheduled for any activities with the festival, so Ron and I booked a tour to the pyramids at Teotihuacan. There were maybe ten people on the tour, all of them from Mexico or other parts of Latin America except for us, and naturally the guide spoke Spanish.

Now, I took Spanish in high school, and a little in college, but in no sense do I speak Spanish (a fact I really do hope to remedy). So it was a fascinating exercise trying to follow what the guide was saying.

We went first to the ruins of Tlatelolco, right next door to the building where the festival’s literature track was taking place. The guide walked us around, providing extensive explanations. Panels posted at the various sites explained what we were seeing in both Spanish and English. Ron and I read these, but we also listened to the guide, and I was surprised at how much we could guess/understand about what she was saying. Full-immersion language learning does work, but it’s exhausting!

Next we headed out of the city to Teotihuacan. Traffic was no problem, and it took maybe forty minutes. We went first to a museum, and the guide explained extensively the things we were seeing, but after awhile she noticed the befuddled looks on our faces and asked if we spoke Spanish. Umm…no. So from then on she provided an English version of her explanations—and of course spoke wonderful English! As it turns out, she was a history teacher with a master’s in archaeology, and was amazingly knowledgeable. Ron and I are fairly naïve travelers; we hadn’t specifically asked for an English tour, so we didn’t really expect one…but it was wonderful to discover a bilingual guide anyway.

The pyramid complex is astonishing. For me, the most memorable part of the museum was a carved stone panel depicting an Edenic paradise – the state of Teotihuacan when it was first settled. But over-exploitation of the environment led finally to the abandonment of the city.

We entered into the complex through the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, descended a short flight of steep steps, and walked out past some smallish buildings into the vast sweep of the Avenue of the Dead, where the two great pyramids were suddenly looming overhead. Their size is astonishing, and perhaps not well captured in the photos.

From the moment we set out we were continuously offered knick-knacks and trinkets by polite but persistent sellers. We must have said no-thank-you fifty or sixty times. A small dog was on the grounds, howling, and it was a great sound effect. Also, the eagle whistles (one of which I eventually bought) added to the atmosphere.

We first climbed the Pyramid of the Moon, which is the smaller of the two and has only one flight of stairs to the platform, and no stairs to the top. Next was the Pyramid of the Sun, with several sets of stairs that we were free to climb, although we were not allowed to ascend the last stairway to the summit.

As it turns out, we were most fortunate in that we missed the spring solstice by three days. Teotihuacan is a new-age sacred site, and on Saturday there were many, many visitors, and apparently they were allowed to go all the way to the top…ah well. Ron and I were privileged to visit, and the experience will not be forgotten.

The Pyramid of the Sun as seen from the museum grounds.

The Pyramid of the Sun as seen from the museum grounds.


Report From Mexico City

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Hola! I am back from Mexico City and am happy to report that it was a fabulous experience. If you missed my earlier blog post, I was invited to participate in the literature track of the 25th annual Festival de Mexico en El Centro Historico. Six writers were invited, all associated with speculative fiction. We were asked to give a presentation on our personal relationship with science fiction, and to participate in a round table discussion with a moderator.

My husband accompanied me, and from our arrival on Sunday afternoon, to our departure on Friday, we enjoyed the company of gracious hosts and attentive audiences, while also having some time on our own to do a little exploring.

First, I have to say that prior to leaving I reached a point where I stopped telling people where I was going, because the common reaction was “Oh, but what about the crime?” with some concern also for the terrible conditions, the pollution. Well, I can happily report that the pollution was no worse than Los Angeles, and that I did not see criminal gangs waiting at the airport to assault tourists. Mexico City is of course a vast metropolis, and like any big city I’m sure there are parts anyone would want to avoid. But the historic district and the neighborhoods we visited along Avenue Reforma were lovely, and we did lots of walking.

I suppose in Europe it’s a common experience to see new buildings standing next to those that are hundreds of years old, but that’s not the case in much of the USA and certainly not in Hawaii, so I was continuously impressed by the cathedrals and other structures; by the sheer evidence of history that was everywhere.

This is also a city where people read. On the “block of bookstores” there was one bookstore after another, and there were magazine stands every couple of blocks along the sidewalks.

Attendance at our literary presentations was a little slim on the first day, but after that the audiences were impressive, and very attentive to what we had to say. All the writers spoke in English (we were Americans or Brits) but there was a translator relaying our words in Spanish. Questions were taken from the audience, and we were able to hear an immediate translation via headphones. Of course many members of the audience asked their questions in English.

The other writers were Christopher Priest, M. John Harrison, Chris Nakashima-Brown and Mark Dery, with Bruce Sterling joining us on Wednesday and Thursday. All were extremely pleasant to talk with, and we enjoyed several nights of conversation in the hotel bar, joined at times by Mexican writers such as Pepe Rojo, Bernardo Fernandez Bef, and our host Mauricio Montiel.

A few pictures:

Christopher Priest, M. John Harrison, Linda Nagata, Chris Nakashima-Brown, Mark Dery

Christopher Priest, M. John Harrison, Linda Nagata, Chris Nakashima-Brown, Mark Dery



Friday, March 6th, 2009

Twitter has been much in the news lately. I opened up an account back in May with my daughter’s encouragement, used it for a few days, then allowed it to languish–a well-known behavioral pattern, certainly. At any rate, I took it up again several weeks ago, and have been enjoying it. For me, it serves much the same purpose as Mrs. Weasley’s clock.

For those who read Harry Potter, this needs no explanation, but for those who don’t, Mrs. Weasley is a character who possesses a wall clock with many hands, one for each member of her immediate family. The hands point out the current location of each individual, or whether they are in danger (“mortal peril”). For me, Twitter is something like that. As people “tweet” you can see at a glance that they are accounted for, that things are going all right (or not), and get an idea of what is going on in their day.

As you may guess, I mostly follow the young ‘uns of my acquaintance as they travel and work on careers and discover interesting things. But I’m also very slowly expanding that to include more distant people I’ve known. What do I gain? A fuzzy, never-overwhelming glimpse into what others are up to. It shakes up the day a little, and reminds me that I should be getting things done too.

Strange Intersections

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

This is a story with no conclusion; it is just a description of an odd coincidence that still leaves me puzzled.

Recently I re-discovered a CD that was released in 2000 by Nina Gordon, a singer I had never heard of before (or frankly, since). My daughter had purchased it because we were both entranced by a song on it, “Tonight And The Rest Of My Life.”

Move on a few weeks in time…my daughter, avidly interested in Greek mythology, is reading an English translation of “Gods and Heroes” by Gustav Schwab. The book she holds in her hands was purchased by my great aunt, in 1946, as a Christmas gift for her husband. It is one of the very few items from my family that I possess.

So what’s the connection? On page thirty-nine, Zeus has decided to wipe out the human race. My daughter reads the following “[Zeus] was just about to do this by scourging all the earth with lightning, when he held back for fear the sky might catch fire and burn the axis of the world.” She is astonished and comes to show me the quote, because in Gordon’s song, the fourth and fifth lines are
“And the sky might catch on fire
And burn the axis of the world.”

Well, we were very impressed that the songwriter – apparently Gordon herself – had seemingly read the very same book, and been fully taken by the imagery, but we were more impressed that the allusion was revealed to us by such a slim chance.

The meaning of the song is open to interpretation, but the chapter the quote comes from is “Pyrrha and Deucalion.” It is a tale of the Flood, only this one is caused by the Greek gods, who are disgusted at the state of humanity.

So today, instead of doing the useful things I had planned, I let myself be distracted, and spent some time with Google book search exploring some of the other song lyrics [ link ]. Here’s what I found:

On page thirty-seven, the afterlife of the Greek heroes is described as being “…on the Islands of the Blest gleaming in the dark sea.” In the song we have:
“Gleaming in the dark sea
I’m as light as air”

Again on page thirty-nine we have “…only the south wind was allowed to issue forth. Down to earth he flew with dripping wings, shrouded in darkness as black as pitch.” In the song we have:
“Down to the earth I fell
With dripping wings”

On page forty, at the height of the flood: “Everything was sea, shoreless sea.” In the song:
“I open up my eyes
I realize that
Everything is shoreless sea”

And then on page fifty-five, in a completely different story, the tale of Europa, “Soon the land vanished from sight, the sun set, and in the vague shimmer of night, the girl saw nothing but waves and stars.” In the song:
“Everything is waves and stars
The universe is resting in my arms”

What does it all mean? As I said at the start, this is a story without a conclusion. A small part of me is troubled by it, wondering if this is beyond fair use, but mostly I feel the song is a beautiful rendition and interpretation of imagery and concepts that begin in the book.

I am curious to know if the allusions were deliberate, or if they emerged from the stew of the unconscious. I think most writers must worry about this at times – I certainly have – that something read years before might suddenly appear in our own work, and we have no idea it wasn’t original to us. Ah well, life is full of risk!

Oh, and one more coincidence…according to Wikipedia the Nina Gordon album was recorded on Maui, where I live.