Commentaries - March 2013

'Between that disgust and this': Trash talk at the Conference on Ecopoetics

by Angela Hume

Paul Klee, "Angelus Novus" (1920)
Paul Klee, "Angelus Novus" (1920)

Trash. Garbage. Junk. Waste. Refuse. Rubbish. Detritus. It was on everyone’s mind at the Conference on Ecopoetics. The dreaded contradiction: With a gathering of 250 of even the most environmentally minded poets, scholars, educators, and activists comes, by the end of a long weekend, a heap of trash — empty cartons and wine bottles; used paper cups, napkins, and towels; soggy tea bags and even some food waste (in the English lounge, we ended up with one to two large bags of trash by the end of each day, excluding recyclables). As we all know, it’s impossible to travel, convene, eat, and live in our society while not, at the same time, creating waste. And despite a 50-year-old modern environmental movement, today we send greater amounts of rubbish to landfills and incinerators than ever before.[1]

That said, Conference on Ecopoetics participants made an admirable effort to keep waste to a minimum. Almost everyone drank their water, coffee, and tea from reusable water bottles and travel mugs. If anything, trash was of foremost concern — and this fact was certainly reflected in panel, roundtable, and seminar presentations and discussions. As part of the panel “The Thingness of Things: Connecting with the Culture’s Material Trace,” Allison Cobb presented her “conference codex,” an array of discarded plastic items that she had collected from in and around Wheeler Hall — disposable silverware, food containers and lids, cigarette wrappers, a Starbucks cold-drink cup, a broken vinyl record — “the record of our presence here that will outlast us for the next several centuries and serve as our trace,” Cobb explained. Cobb related her surprise at how much plastic littered the halls and lawns of the UC Berkeley campus. But, she explained, “I realized soon after I got here that [Berkeley] is just like America.” (America, indeed — a country where more people recycle than vote, and yet, at the same time, 80 percent of consumer products are still used only once and then thrown away.[2]) According to Cobb, her trash-collecting exercise in Berkeley is part of a larger project, for which she has been systematically collecting discarded plastic items during her daily walks and cataloging them at her blog, and which will inform her new book, The Autobiography of Plastic. During her presentation, with her “codex” spread out in front of her, Cobb asserted, “There is no difference between this, and you. You are this. This is you. You are looking at your past, your present, your future.”

Kaia Sand also gestured toward the complex temporality of trash during her presentation on “The Thingness of Things” panel, reflecting on the way objects come and go quickly in our wired lives, so soon obsolete, yet continue to circulate, reverberate, and “add up” in and through commodity chains. During her performance of her poem "Tiny Arctic Ice," Sand read fragments written on a "logjam of e-waste" (to use her words) — obsolete cords and cables, cameras, and dongles. In this way, the performance presences that which we would prefer to write out of our narrative of technical innovation and “progress.” The poem, for Sand, is “ledger”: “This and this and this. Watching. Researching. Collecting.”

Walter Benjamin’s angel of history comes to mind, with that pile of debris heaped before him, growing skyward, amidst the storm that Benjamin names “progress.” To think these methods — these temporalities of trash — I would argue that what we need is perhaps not “object-oriented ontology” (a catchphrase of the weekend) but rather good old-fashioned historical materialism, which has long been one of our most authentic object-oriented philosophies. It is Benjamin who wrote in (and of) his own Arcades Project: “Method of this project: literary montage…the rags, the refuse — these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them.”[3] (And it is Theodor Adorno who suggested similarly that it is theory and art’s task to “deal with [the] unassimilated material,” the “waste products” that fall by the wayside of the dialectic.[4]) In this way, for Benjamin, method (what we might also call creative practice, or poetics) — contrary to the interests and institutions that facilitate the casting off of “refuse” in the first place — "annihilates within itself the idea of progress."[5] And so, in Benjamin's terms, what Cobb and Sand offer us is perhaps more than anything a kind of "dialectics at a standstill": an image of the relation of the what-has-been to the now [6], a performance of the moment in which “alienated things” become legible as “genuinely historical.”[7] (As Wallace Stevens suggests: that “truth” which manifests “Between that disgust and this, between the things / That are on the dump.”[8])

(Re)making history out of “trash” — we saw a strong interest in it on the panel “The Ghost in the (Drum) Machine: Tracking Remix, Reuse, and Return in Contemporary Ecopoetics” as well. In their presentation “Radical (Re)assemblages,” Patrick Rosal and Ross Gay performed a piece in response to police violence against young men of color, a remix in which they layered recordings of bees over audio from police dispatch calls and interviews with citizens about murdered young men (e.g., question: “Who is Oscar Grant?”; answer: “I don’t know”). Remix, for Rosal and Gay, is “making music of detritus.” Moreover, they argued, it’s a practice that reconceptualizes time, collapsing time, evoking the imminence of our own disappearance — what they call our “ecological condition.”

Importantly, though, as Joshua Schuster pointed out in his paper “After Recycling: Environmental Conceptual Poetics” (on the panel “The Troping of Ecopoetic Form”), “recycling” in language and art can only tell us so much about the chemical process that is the recycling of actual matter; recycling in art is not the same as recycling in the real, material world. That said, Schuster argued, conceptual poetry’s immersion in “artificial environments” and “junk spaces” (citing, for example, both Christian Bök and Tan Lin) — coupled with the “ethical neutrality” of some of these practices, in contrast to the moralizing of some ecopoetry — is promising for any ecopoetics interested in getting away from the paradigm of “sustainability” and exploring the concept of ecology from other perspectives (and so, for Schuster: from “sustainable” poetry to the “purposeful purposeless” of conceptual poetry as a “blatant act of expenditure”).

Physical trash was not the only form of waste under consideration at the conference. Rob Halpern read from his recent book Music For Porn on Thursday night at a Bay Area Public School off-site event and also at the Friday conference evening reading. In his book, which reflects on the condition of the militarized body under the American biopolitical regime, Halpern repeatedly takes up the question of “waste”: "From somewhere deep, waste returns, my constant theme."[9] It is from this place and time, where and when bodies are increasingly devalued by capital, in which a surplus of life is thrown off by capital itself in its late stages[10], and in which life is more than ever before administered, policed, and mechanized by the state, that Halpern writes — “Having arrived at junk status myself, declassed by overproduction."[11] And in my own paper on “bodies at risk,” part of the panel “Emergency, Ethics, Ecopoetics,” I discussed the chronic wasting thematized by Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. On my reading, Rankine's book registers the abjection of the racialized subject under the biopolitical state, a state that, according to Rankine, is characterized by a proliferation of chronic disease, policing, and preventive warfare — what Rankine names the “wasting away” of life, and what Lauren Berlant aptly calls “slow death”: "the physical wearing out of a population," the structurally determined and administered "attrition of human life."[12]

Trash, remixing and recycling, waste and wasting — if you have been thinking about these concepts and phenomena in your own creative work, please contact Laura Mullen (lmullen@lsu.edu) and/or me (angelamariehume@gmail.com), as we are co-curating a special issue of The Volta on “trash" (forthcoming fall 2013). We would love to consider your work for possible inclusion in this issue.



[1] Heather Rogers, "Garbage Capitalism's Green Commerce," Coming to Terms with Nature, ed. Leo Panitch and Colin Leys (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2007), 238.

[2] Ibid., 231.

[3] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002), 460, my emphasis.

[4] Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott (London and New York: Verso, 2005), 151.

[5] Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 460.

[6] Ibid., 463.

[7] Ibid., 466.

[8] Wallace Stevens, "The Man on the Dump," The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (New York: Vintage Books, 1982).

[9] Rob Halpern, Music for Porn (Callicoon, New York: Nightboat Books, 2012), 7.

[10] For more on the phenomenon of surplus populations, see Aaron Benanav and Endnotes, "Misery and Debt: On the Logic and History of Surplus Populations and Surplus Capital," Endnotes 2 (April 2010).

[11] Halpern, Music for Porn, 25.

[12] Lauren Berlant, “Slow Death (Sovereignty, Obesity, Lateral Agency),” Critical Inquiry 33 (Summer 2007): 754.

Synonym for Untitled: Andrew Lampert at Whitney, March 15, 2013

Lampert and maitre d' -- Monica de la Torre

from the Whitney description:
.. a dinner length performance at the Whitney Museum, but specifically in their restaurant, Untitled. It features the participation of poet Mónica de la Torre, musicians Okkyung Lee and C. Spencer Yeh, and Felix Bernstein. Chef Chris Bradley has created a menu based on a list I made that pairs artists in the Whitney’s collection with ingredients (Ellsworth Kelly is an anjou pear, R.H. Quaytman is potato chips). SYNONYM helps to celebrate the release of a limited edition 7-postcard set of my photographs being issued by the Whitney.

 

Inspired by the Whitney’s offices, storage spaces, shop, and its restaurant, Untitled,  Andrew Lampert presents an immersive evening of live performance and culinary invention. In Lampert’s words, the evening will be an earnest attempt to forge a new model for museum-going that, at long last, acknowledges the café and bookstore as primary components of an audience’s experience. A dinner-length experiment, SYNONYM FOR UNTITLED is built around a tasting menu specially prepared by Chef Chris Bradley. Lampert created a grocery list/score for Bradley that makes associative pairings between artists in the Whitney’s collection and ingredients (Ed Ruscha is butter, Robert Mapplethorpe a jalapeno pepper). Neither a reality show nor dinner theater, the event features contributions from poet Mónica de la Torre, cellist Okkyung Lee, and violinist C. Spencer Yeh. Expect multi-sensory stimulation and simultaneity galore.

 

Lampert with Zazie


 
Susan Bee & Melinda Shopsin


Okkyung Lee & Felix Bernstein


napkin


museum tour (with Kippenburger)

A conversation with Alice Notley on the poet's novel

Laynie Browne: In your recent book, Songs and Stories of the Ghouls, you write:

“Poetry tells me I’m dead; prose pretends I’m not” [1]. 

Can you elaborate on this statement?  To put it in context, this line is embedded in a section where there is a momentary switch from prose to poetry: “I’m afraid prose won’t go deep enough.”  A few lines later “And yet I go on in prose.”  You suggest limitations of prose but a choice to continue in prose.  Or maybe what is necessary is the movement between the two forms within the work?

Alice Notley: “The Book of Dead” contrasts two states, that of Dead and that of Day.  Day is what we have generally agreed life is; Dead is a world where boundaries are erased.  It resembles dreams and is where the ghouls live.Poetry is more like Dead than like Day, but prose is more useful for describing what goes on in Dead — how it works.  Prose is more useful for flat and general statement.  Poetry tends to abolish time and present experience as dense and compressed.  Prose is society’s enabler, it collaborates with it in its linearity.  A poem sends you back into itself repeatedly, a story leads you on.

Browne: I am especially fascinated with your statement “A poem sends you back into itself repeatedly, a story leads you on.”  This seems a great insight into beginning to understand the tremendous fluidity you  have in moving from poetry to prose and between each of your poetic projects.  Can you elaborate ?

Notley: A poem is never over when you finish reading it, and you can’t possess it linearly or cumulatively even.  You have to keep rereading it to try to understand it — it isn’t flat, and if it’s relatively transparent then that’s a mystery too.  A poem fascinates, and traditionally you end up unconsciously memorizing it like a song.  Whereas with a prose story you keep wanting to find out what happens and so you never stop.  A story is pretty flat, but suspense keeps you going.

Browne: Do you think of narrative differently when moving to prose? 

Notley: Yes.  I usually prefer poetry for narrative, but I sometimes have to slow down to prose in order to get at what I want to say.  And sometimes I want the sound of prose.  It is a more lento sound; I have a tendency to write books in sonata form, fast - slow - fast, and Ghouls is like that, as is Désamère.  Here, before I forget, I want to say that my most novel-like book is Culture of One, which is a book of poems, but has character, plot, dialogue, and all  the trappings of a novel.  But back to Ghouls, I found myself wanting to describe this world of Dead, and I would have done it too fast in verse and it would have been harder to get.  I was essentially telling it to myself in prose as I began, and I decided to follow the prose impulse.

Prose slows and demands more words.  I like poetry for narrative because it’s so much faster and I can leave out so much more.  I get sick of those little words -- all the articles and the she-he stuff, I detest scene-setting.  I always skim-read novels when I can.  Prose fiction limits experience too much, it believes in climaxes and endings as if life had them -- poetry uses them for shapeliness and not much more.  When I move to prose I think about what I’ll get out of it.  I usually feel something different happening in the sound and the thought process, and then I think about whether I want that. I have some very short stories in the middle of In the Pines influenced by having read Kawabata’s Palm-of- the-Hand-Stories.  I guess what I got out of them was a feel for collaborating with society, as if I needed that at the time; but it was fun to get to be so short.  In “The Book of Dead“ I got to take pleasure in Medea’s and the narrator’s characters, which I probably wouldn’t have done as much if I’d written the book in poetry.  I don’t really believe in character, and in verse I let it take care of itself more, whatever it is.  But Medea is a fiction, she just is that because of her historical longevity and implications and thus has to have a character.  I made her funny and also generous.

Browne: When I asked you about the Poet’s Novel, your immediate response was to talk about the middle sections of  Desamere or Songs and Stories of the Ghouls, which might be considered novellas. What I’m wondering is why of all of your texts would you say that these might be novellas, as opposed to say, any other of your texts? 

Notley: Because they are in prose and observe the rules of prose fiction.  They are fictional prose works of a length between the story and the novel.  I began my writing career as a fiction writer.  I was accepted by The Writers Workshop as a fiction writer on the basis of a short story and went there (Iowa) to learn to be a novelist.  My MFA is in fiction and poetry.  I have a feel for the traditional form of the story/ novella/ novel — I think it’s a difficult form to execute though its language is usually too slow and flattened out for the way my mind works.

Browne: You mentioned that Culture of One is your book which is most like a novel.

You write in a section titled “The Book of Lies”:

Do you believe this stuff or is it a story?
I believe every fucking word, but it is a story.” [2]

 In that quote, the characters are thinking, (Marie and Eve Love), but the question and answer seem central to this question which runs through much of your work asking what is real and what is imagined- or often, what is real and what is fabricated for the benefit of few.  So my question is, do you think that poetry and fiction play different roles in awakening a reader to the “real”?   Can both be equally potent?  Do you believe that the best poetry illuminates the difference between honesty and falseness in some way?  Do you see that as part of the task of the poet?

Notley: You are leaving out an essential fact here:  Culture of One is a work of poetic fiction.  It is poetry and fiction.  The two are not different from each other, not dichotomized or at cross-purposes.  I am often a writer of poetic or verse fiction at this point, and I prefer poetry for fictional ends.  If you mean do poetry and prose fiction play different roles in awakening the reader to the “real”:  prose fiction seems to me to be incapable of doing this, although it may provide some amusement and distraction.  I’m not sure poetry does this either — and I’m certainly not interested in being honest.  It’s more as if poetry, great poetry, is the real — the real is composed of endless, overlapping poems.  Stories, on the other hand, are imposed on the real, in an afterwards sort of way.  But I persist, too, in going after them but in poetry.  I must think that if something is happening, it’s happening in the way of poetry, in layers, densely and all at once as far as temporality is concerned.

Browne: You mention that you began your career as a fiction writer.  Can you talk about when and how you began to gravitate more toward poetry?  When did you begin to think of yourself primarily as a poet ?  And what pulled you in that direction ?  What drew you initially to prose? Or was it always both that were of interest?

Notley: I started writing poems as soon as I started meeting poets and hearing poets read their work, immediately after I arrived in Iowa.  I had begun with stories, because that seemed the normal thing to do.  It never occurred to me to write poems as long as I was in a culture of prose fiction — that which it all still is.  There were two things going on with me as a undergraduate:  I was trying to learn how to write stories, and I was trying to understand how classical music worked.  I wrote my stories a little as if they were movies:  I tried to visualize everything that happened action by action, moment by moment.  And I took music courses trying to figure out something about musical composition.  I remember analyzing the tone rows in Webern’s Symphony Opus 21 (I think that’s right) for a music course and then receiving an A- because the analysis was correct but there seemed to be no reason to do this — the minus.  When I got to Iowa and began to write poems, I think I had finally discovered how to compose on some level; I was composing the poems.  They proceeded harmonically and were both emotional and abstract.  I of course would never have said this at the time.  The second poetry reading I attended was by Bob Creeley, and I was tremendously impressed by his musicality and the fact that I couldn’t understand him and didn’t at all mind that.

Browne: On the surface there is the  way any text appears on the page (verse or prose). But prose doesn’t always indicate fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc., and I’m more interested in other determinants such as your intent.  Does a movement to a “poet’s novel” involve any shifts in process, consideration of language, content or structure?  What circumstances or projects might impel your work to shift genres?  

Notley: Now we get to the question of whether there is such a thing as a “poet’s novel” and I would probably say no.  The phrase makes a poet’s novel sound like a failed novel.  Or we could be talking about something like the experimental novel, but how is that different from Joyce?  I don’t always know why poets call their works novels.  But I assumed from your initial email that you were talking about prose fiction written by poets in some sort of traditional way not experimental way.  It’s possible I don’t know what we’re talking about! 

Browne: I wonder if there were times you felt more drawn to prose- both as writer and  reader?  What circumstances draw you toward prose?  What works of fiction do you return to?

Notley: I’m never drawn more to fiction than poetry, except when I need to read a lot of detective or spy or sci-fi novels.  I sort of disapprove of fiction.  It’s always telling people what they’re like and what life is like.  It constrains us.  When I want a prose hit, like I need the pace of it, I read guides to rocks and wildlife.  I read the others for story; I don’t watch TV or go to movies.  I suppose I read genre novels because they’re like crossword puzzles, though some are very good.  Ross Macdonald sometimes seems to me as good as any contemporary poet, especially if you take the whole oeuvre all together mixed up -- it’s like a long poem.  I’m very fond of the Dune books, but now I remember what happens in all of them and can’t read them for awhile.  I’ve recently over-read Len Deighton’s Bernard Sampson books, the Spenser books of Robert B. Parker, and, I’m afraid, the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich.  I don’t have very good taste.  However, if you wanted to go at it from another angle, it’s possible that my entire poetic output, practically, owes its existence to Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.  Also the one where Reba walks barefoot and pregnant to wherever it is.  I haven’t read these since I was young, but they are the ones I read when I didn’t have to read books for a college course, when I was home from college in the summer.  I was fascinated by how I couldn’t understand them and read them repeatedly before I became a poet.  About ten years ago for teaching purposes I opened up a novel by Faulkner and my whole arsenal of tricks was there; I closed the book quickly and freaked out.

Browne: It would be great to hear a bit more about how Faulkner is such an important influence.  

Notley: I can’t talk about Faulkner, I can’t say his name again.  

Browne: Are there novels written by poets that have been particularly important to your writing? 

Notley: Phil Whalen’s Imaginary Speeches for a Brazen Head has been very important to me.  I read it too many times awhile ago and haven’t been able to reread it since, but I’m currently conscious of its influence on me in regard to its notion of time.  Doug’s The Harmless Building has also been important.  And I typed up Ted’s Clear the Range for publication — it is a novel made by crossing out words in the eponymous cowboy novel by Max Brand.  Since I did all that typing I rather imagine that I’ve been influenced by it. 

Notes:

1. Alice Notley, Songs and Stories of the Ghouls (Middletown CT, Wesleyan University Press, 2011), 39.

2. Alice Notley, Culture of One (New York, Penguin, 2011), 74.

Buffalo Poetics Program archives

Poetics Program (historical/archival)
The Poetics List
Historical set of Wednesday at 4 posters and calendars (1990-2005)
1991 First Poetics Program flier: pdf
New Coast Conference flier (1993) : jpg
"A Haven for Poet-Scholars: Poetry Program in Buffalo Blends Creativity and Criticism" by Liz McMillen in Chronicle of Higher Education, July 28, 1995: pdf
1999 Poetics Program flier / intro
"Letter from Buffalo" by Paul Quinn, TLS, June 30, 2000: pdf
A Web Site Grows New Poems, Sometimes Right Before Readers' Eyes [on the EPC], by Zoe Ingalls, Chronicle of Higher Education,July 25, 2000: pdf

Crossing the Andes — 2004 — with an Excerpt from Diane Rothenberg’s Journal (redux)

Jerome Rothenberg, Cecilia Vicuña, Nicanor Parra Photo by Francis Cincotta
Jerome Rothenberg, Cecilia Vicuña, Nicanor Parra Photo by Francis Cincotta

The Andes crossing was part of my reading trip with Cecilia Vicuña through Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, & Brazil. Our other companions were Diane Rothenberg, the photographer & filmmaker Francis (Frank) Cincotta, & Ariane Braillard. Besides Cincottas photographs & films, the only records of the crossing are my series of poems (later published in Ram Devinenis Ratapallax) & Diane Rothenbergs ongoing journal, both excerpted below.

CROSSING THE ANDES
for Cecilia Vicuña


La Difunta Correa

 She died & from
her breasts
her newborn babe
sucked life.
Her sanctuary
at the Inca’s lake
still fills
the flattened earth.

And here Cecilia offers
rocks & roses
where two condors bow to us
guarding the sky.
.

A Natural Bridge

above a raging stream.

Cecilia running.
.
The young man
wraps a heavy rock
in orange
next to a standing pool.
.

Colors of the Mountains

tan .......... brown
green ...... red
yellow ..... orange
pink ........ black
grey ........ white snow
.

Argentina

mountains of fine
swept sand
& angry rocks
.

white body
with a lion’s head
astride the mountain’s
side
.

low wall of sand
so sculpted
you would think
a city lay behind it
-- under siege –
turns into streams
of mud
unformed
.

desert on the left
poplars on the right

(a river runs through it)
.

Mountain Graffiti

Cristo viene
Jesus está aqui

Christ among the ruins
.

A Thought for Midnight

I want to see
the southern cross
by god!

November/December 2004


FROM DIANE ROTHENBERG'S JOURNAL

11/20/04 This was our day to cross the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina, and all kinds of anxiety were rampant leading up to it. Cecilia had arranged through an agency in Santiago to have a van and a driver take us over the mountains. The weather had been very unsettled while we were in Chile, with a lot of rain and storms, enough that there had been a rockslide on the road to Argentina and traffic had been delayed a couple of days. Until the last minute, then, it was not certain that we would be able to go at all. It had also been, on the whole, a lot colder in Chile than we had expected, and this had supported Cecilia’s predictions that we could anticipate freezing cold in the mountains, particularly if we were delayed and were in the mountains after sunset. There was a plan to buy blankets for everyone, but that never happened, and we concluded that we would layer clothing and hope for the best. Jerry and I figured we could add clothing as we went; the others were padded up at departure, but then they reasoned that they could later take things off. Altitude sickness was another concern considering we would be up about 14,000 feet, and for that we were armed with a jar of mate de coca, kindly supplied by Andrés Ajens back in Santiago and prepared the night before by Cecilia. We did sip it from time to time and we did not have altitude sickness, but that was not a controlled study. Needless to say, we were supplied with a lot of food.

One of the students had approached Cecilia the evening of the reading in the dunes, asking whether he and his girlfriend could hitch a ride with us to Mendoza. He had prepared several long lengths of orange fabric that he stretched along the dunes, and now he proposed to use them for a performance in the mountains. We had agreed, and the two of them showed up as we were leaving and settled down to the breakfast that Cecilia’s mother had prepared. They had brought no food with them, so they mooched from us, but it didn’t work out too badly and we managed to avoid taking them out for dinner in Mendoza. As the others got irritated with them for one thing or another, Jerry got more and more protective, as he always does, and kept them supplied with food. In return the young man created a wire, stone and rubber sculpture for Jerry while we waited (later) to cross the border.

Because Peter Kroeger hadn’t managed to show up the evening before to give Jerry the 25,000 pesos for the Valparaiso reading, and because we were all of us eager to see him one more time, he also came by before we left and gave us a small wooden sculpture that he had made for us. The van arrived and we piled in about 9:00 in the morning and went north a bit before we went east through very rich, very green looking countryside. Because Chile is so narrow (150 miles at its widest), we were soon climbing the mountains, sometimes covered in clouds but always with snow visible on the peaks. The road was one lane in each direction and frequently under repair, but a good mountain road. We stopped early at a restaurant/rest stop and bought an empanada that was being baked in an outdoor oven, stuffed with meat and vegetables and ample enough for the seven of us to get our fill.

Always in the distance was the summit of Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas, or so Cecilia told us. Snow covered and very imposing, and we made our little gestures of respect when we first saw it. Cecilia feels very connected to the landmarks along the Andean route and planned to do several ceremonies in places she had already chosen. Of course Frank was to document these, and the student intended to do his own thing, essentially wrapping items in the environment with the length of orange cloth he had brought along from the performance in the Dunes.

The first place we stopped was a pond connected to a marker to designate the spot where, as tradition had it, an Indian woman, carrying her baby on her back, had died of exhaustion and cold. The baby found his way to her breast and fed there until he was found by passersby. This miracle is commemorated by a kind of shrine, so Cecilia did a little ceremony there with flowers that her mother had given her from her garden for that purpose. We then moved across the road to a river fed by snow melting in the mountains, and there the offerings continued.

The driver, a very pleasant man, was eager to get on and grew somewhat impatient at the delays, particularly the next one, at la laguna de los Incas (?), a large lagoon or lake also fed by melting snow and located behind a major ski resort on the Chilean side. Although there was no longer any skiing, there were many people there for lunch and walking around. The lagoon was very still and surprisingly without birds, but a beautiful color in a beautiful setting. Cecilia and the student did their ceremonies, and Frank photographed them in the process.

Shortly after that we came to the border with Argentina where we were forced to get in the line for buses rather than in the line for cars. The inspections were thorough, each busload of passengers being made to disembark, go through long lines and then have their bags inspected. All in all, it took us three hours to cross the border and the van driver was still amiable although rather frantic. Contrary to expectations, it was very warm on the higher elevations and the sun was very strong and, rather than adding clothes, we found ourselves removing them.

The landscape changed dramatically on the Argentinian side of the mountains. The rain falls on the western slopes (the Chilean side) so that is very green. It does not fall on the other wide where it is dramatically desert-like but with amazing rock configurations and colors. We drove for hours through this landscape, stopping once at a natural rock configuration that looked like a man-made bridge and was covered with yellow sulfur deposits from which local artisans fashioned trinkets, and we never tired of calling each other’s attention to one amazing rock outcropping after another.