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Weekend Wonk

The Pig Story

Welcome to 2009, friends. Looks like things will probably get worse before they get better, so let’s start the year off with my all-time favorite joke. (I always thought of it as a “shaggy dog story” [“shaggy pig story”?] but my research into that wonderful genre suggests that a purist might give me an argument. Whatever.

Adios, 2008

Well, it’s hard to say if 2008 is leaving us like a grand symphonic coda or like dishwater circling a drain. A little of both, I guess. Herewith, a look at some highlights large and small.


Grab your toothbrush—we’re hitting the road again. Unlike Belize, you won’t need your swim trunks, because this time we are going “North to Alaska.” Specifically, we are going to Sitka, one of my favorite places in all the world.

How does Shea know about Sitka? Because our son-in-law went to school there, at Sheldon Jackson College (now defunct). He stayed on, and he and our daughter started their married life there, on Monastery Street. Our two granddaughters were born there, and nursed by grizzly bears (ok, I made up that last part).


I’ve got a real jones for Belize.

Of course, there are a lot of places I would like to visit, or revisit, someday. Australia has always been near the top of the list. Ever since our first visit, in 2007 (see the “A Grouch Abroad” series of wonks), I have had a soft spot for Florence—and Fiesole and whatever else of Tuscany we can manage. I would love to go back to Sitka, Alaska, and hike up Mt. Verstovia in the fog once again. And as a Shea/Driscoll, I should certainly go to Ireland someday and make obeisance to the ancestral haunts before I shuffle off the coil.

Hardware High Revisited

I realized a couple of years ago—and with no small bemusement—that the deep satisfaction that I once felt in a hardware store I now feel equally in an office supply store. At first blush this seems a comedown. The macho builder has been downgraded into the scholar, the teacher, the writer, the man who deals not with hammers and saws and socket wrenches but with legal pads and ring binders, paper clips and post-it notes. I guess this shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, I have earned my living with my brain rather than my hands for many years now.

Yma Sumac

Yma Sumac died a few weeks ago in Los Angeles at the age of 86, a truly unique voice stilled at last. She was born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo in a remote village in Peru. Her father was part Spanish and her mother a full-blooded Incan (in fact, the Peruvian government supported her claim to be descended from the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa). “Yma Sumac” (early on, “Ymma Sumack” or “Ima Sumack”) is a variation on her mother’s name, to which she gave various interpretations.*

Jump on the Bus, Gus

I have taken to riding the bus to UNM these days. It’s more convenient than I would have thought, I don’t have to worry about disposing of the Little Red Beast when I get there (I also declined to renew my campus parking permit), and to top it off, it is free for UNM faculty. And this is one of those fancy articulated buses, so you really feel like you’ve arrived even before you arrive.


I have rediscovered Saki. That overstates the case a bit, because the only stories of his that I knew were the often anthologized ones, like “The Open Window.” (And by the way, he didn’t write “The Monkey’s Paw; that was W. W. Jacobs.). So I have been wallowing in Saki the last few days and thought I would share him with you. And since I find Saki, his pen name, to be an irritating affectation, from here on out he will he H(ector) H(ugh) Munro, the name he was born with.


As I watched los matachines make their stately way down Camino del Pueblo in Bernalillo twenty some years ago, it was, as Yogi Berra would say, “déjà vu all over again.” But it did not take me long to make the connection: the Mummers, back in Philadelphia! I was raised just north of the City of Brotherly Love, where the New Years Day Mummers Parade is a big deal—a very big deal. I can still recall as if it were yesterday (well, perhaps the day before yesterday or perhaps last week), the Mummers, thousands strong, strutting up Broad Street, Philly’s main drag, to the tune of “Oh!


I wonder how many of my readers outside the American Southwest have any idea what “los Matachines” (ma-ta-CHEE-nez) refers to. It’s a strange name for a strange dance drama or religious ritual or mummery or costume play or…something. No one really knows where or when the matachines tradition started, no one knows for certain what the actors represent or what the narrative is. No one can even say with complete authority where the word itself comes from.

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