Zeta #AtoZAprilChallenge



The Zeta function ζ(s) is defined as above, for example :

ζ(2) = 1/12 + 1/22 + 1/32 … = π2 / 6.

This converges for s>1 (i.e. tends towards a limit), but diverges for anything else. The Riemann Zeta function extends this range to allow us to compute the result for any complex number. The Riemann Hypothesis claims that the ‘zeros’ or ‘roots’ of this extended function, i.e. solutions for which ζ(s) = 0, have the form 1/2 + ai, i.e. where the real part of the complex number is always 1/2 (as well as certain ‘trivial’ roots which don’t have this form).

Unsolved! Proposed by Bernhard Riemann in 1859. This is one of the 7 ‘Millennium Prize’ problems, for which there is a $1m reward.

Get cracking!

There’s a number of consequences if this is true, but perhaps the most important is that it reveals the distribution of the prime numbers. The Prime Number Theorem allowed us to estimate the number of primes up to a given number. If armed with all the roots of the Riemann Zeta function, then we can work out the exact number!

Yawpa #AtoZAprilChallenge

Mocking Bird (Audubon).jpg

Yawpa is the Hopi name for the Mockingbird. “The mockingbird fluttered around the bamboo, calling out, ‘Pashumayani! Pashumayani! Be careful! Be careful!’ This is the way the people departed from the Lower World” (from The Four Worlds: the doorway to the Fourth World, in ‘The Fourth World of the Hopis’, by Harold Courlander.)

From Wikipedia, the Northern Mockingbird:

It also features in the title and central metaphor of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. In that novel, mockingbirds are portrayed as innocent and generous, and two of the major characters, Atticus Finch and Miss Maudie, say it is a sin to kill a mockingbird because “they don’t do one thing for us but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us”.[47]

Hush, Little Baby” is a traditional lullaby, thought to have been written in the Southern United States, its key first lines, “Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. And if that mockingbird don’t sing, Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.”

The song of the northern mockingbird inspires much of classic American folk song of the mid-19th century, “Listen to the Mocking Bird“.[48]

Mockin’ Bird Hill is a popular song best known through recordings by Patti PageDonna Fargo, and by Les Paul and Mary Ford in 1951.

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, had a pet mockingbird named “Dick.”

The sound of the Mockingbird

Image: By 21_Mocking_Bird.jpg:
John James Audubon (1785–1851)

Alternative names
Birth name: Jean-Jacques-Fougère Audubon
American ornithologist, naturalist, hunter and painter
Date of birth/death
26 April 1785
27 January 1851
Location of birth/death
Les Cayes (Haiti)
New York City
Work location
Louisville, Kentucky, New Orleans, New York City, Florida
Authority control
VIAF: 14765625
LCCN: n79018677
GND: 11865098X
BnF: cb118895048
ULAN: 500016578
ISNI: 0000 0001 1040 5229
WP-Person21_Mocking_Bird.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13259783

X #AtoZAprilChallenge

nascent love like –

the new moon turns

its face away

Beginnings glow, and often fail to spark much longer. When we met we knew a few things, that experience was not measured in promiscuity, that love is for most of us a mirage, that looks and bodies change – over time – and “bien fol qui s’y fie”, as le bon Roi Henry reputedly said…

Our geometry evolved, by trial and error, infinite patience, a shared belief in waiting, respect, and, yes, tenderness, without which physical love declines into hell. Early on you decided you’d be on top, mostly. I respected your will to be in control, to decide when, in the end, to rely on this man to be what he claimed to be – nowhere to hide, the armour-less knight. One night we became what we are now: lovers for the long haul, interminable foreplay, exploring the far away shores. Once, I could have made the mistake of dreaming to tame the panther, and was saved by humour, and you showing me the way to understand myself, the feminine side of me.

For now, every time, we discover more, those secret paths that lead to new delights, the beautiful corners of ourselves we have not yet explored, in new geometries of body and soul…

mountain summit

how easily reached

by the autumn wind

– Johnny Baranski

Original Post

Walpi #AtoZAprilChallenge


We leave Flagstaff on the I89 direction North. Soon we see the sign for the Sunset Crater and Wupatki, but today we are heading further up in the Navajo country. Shortly after Cameron we cross the Little Colorado River, theatre of many migrations over two millennia of Native American history.

We turn off East, toward Tuba City, named for Tuuvi, a Hopi Indian who converted to the Mormon faith. A small sign shows us the way to the Dinosaurs footprints. A young Navajo man welcomes us and gives us a guided tour of the prints: mind-blowing, 65-million-year-old tracks on the red rocks and sand. He explains the discovery, and that in due course more prints will appear as erosion does its work. We understand the sanctity of the place, and the due regard to time’s work: no hysterical digging here! On the horizon we see a green line following presumably a river bed: there is water there for sure, and the guide explains that farmers have been cultivating corn and other plants there for a thousand years. For $100 we could have an extended guided tour of the Western Navajo Reservation. But today we want to continue our exploration further East. We thank him, leaving a gift of $40, and after a long look at one huge footprint, we resume our voyage.

We are now travelling on Highway 264 in the direction of the Black Mesa. Traffic becomes rarer, mainly the occasional pick up trucks. We miss the Gold Mine canyon (no sign!) and soon we see the settlement of Old Oraibi. We are in view of the Third Mesa, in Hopi country. We pass the Second Mesa, and we drive up to the Hopi Cultural Center, it is lunch time already.

After we have sampled some delicious Hopi cooking, my partner Gorgeous goes negotiating with the lady in charge of the gift shop. After half an hour of diplomatic exchange, always cheerful, we receive authorisation and detailed instructions for a visit to the ancient village of Walpi on the First Mesa. Our guide, Chucky, will wait for us there.

We drive past the I87 junction, admiring the new Hopi Health Center on the South side of the Highway. We drive over Wepo bridge and shorty afterwards turn left toward the First Mesa villages. We drive slowly and carefully through Tewa and Sitsomovi, children wave at us, we wave back. We park the car on the gap, just before the village of Walpi. Our guide appears, we exchange greetings.

The site of Walpi, at the tip of the First Mesa is a wonder: high above the plateau, with 360 deg. views all round: to the North toward the Navajo Reservation and the immensity up to Utah, to the South toward the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest (which we will visit the following day.)

In sober words, and with smiling eyes, our guide explains the village, its old houses (most of them it turns out were built in the 17th century.) He points out the patient works of maintenance to repair roofs and walls, visible on several houses. Some of the carpentry must be more than ancient. The village is immaculate: wood and stones, under the cloudless blue sky. The guide points out a steep staircase going down to the ground far below. Occasional fences protects pedestrians from falling off the street which is circular around the village. We see ancient stone ovens, clearly still in use. We see a well! We are told about the kivas, the underground ceremonial chambers much mentioned in the tradition, recognisable by the long pole merging from the opening. We are told about the kachinas, the Spirits and their representation, in ceremonial dances and in the special sculpted dolls, that are one Hopi speciality.

The village seems deserted, but it is not as we soon find out. Our guide points out his house, and we soon arrive at the Plaza, the center of village life, social and ceremonial. Walpi is special and the plaza the center also of a deep mystery: the Sipapuni, or, traditionally, the place of  emergence from the Lower World. We are told that when time comes, boys are sent to the desert to collect snakes. They are then to spend the night before the ceremony, in the kivas, with the snakes. The medicine men ensure no-one is hurt, even if a snake bites! Our guide undertook the rite as a fifteen-year old and still smiles about it…

We are shown the Sipupani, in the center of the plaza, where all tribes, including our own, came from. Is there an opening? Or the symbol of it? This is the special meaning of Walpi, and the reason why, twice a year, for the arrival and departure of the Spirits (in their own migration from and to the Sacred mountain white people called the San Francisco peaks, near Flagstaff) the main ceremonies are held in Walpi. Hopis are summoned nowadays by the Hopi radio station and the Internet. Our guide has spoken to the village chief before our arrival: we are authorised to take a picture of the plaza: awesome!

We slowly continue our walk: then our guide knocks at the low door of a small house. We are invited to enter. The room is spotless, strangely light despite the size of the very small window, and immediately its owner introduces himself. This is the workshop of a master carver of kachinas. A wood stove is burning but the room is cool. On a low table we are shown a collection of beautiful kachinas. One tall sculpture represents the gods and dancing ceremonies, with the village at the base, two eagles surveying the scene: a marvel. Our guest explains that it took him ten years to carve. Other kachinas represent spirits and dancers, there seems to be a kachina for all occasions. We see a beautiful dancing Butterfly maiden, dressed in the customary dress of the Butterfly dance: a delicate and beautifully coloured doll – what a present for a young daughter (we negotiate the price, and both of us feel good about the transaction.) The craftsman explains that such a doll is used for the education of the girls, to teach them the ways of the Hopis, their role and responsibilities.

We could listen to our guest for a long time, but we have been in the village for two hours already! We thank our guest and guide, who makes sure we are back to our car.

Slowly we drive back through the villages, children wave, we wave back. Our minds are full of images from this magic village. We take the I87 southwards, in the direction of old Homolovi, and the modern Winslow. The three os us are now four, with the Butterfly maiden, silent and smiling.

Image: the plaza at Walpi, First Mesa, courtesy of the Walpi village chief, and our guide Chucky.


Vanished #AtoZAprilChallenge

Dedicated to the Native American tribes, victims of the greatest genocide in history, who knew agriculture, and the art of living, when Europe was starving, crawling in medieval darkness.


He stands on the red rocks, alone with ghosts, his sight on the painted horizon.

Slowly they appear in his vision: the millions, slaughtered by disease, hunger, the swords and bullets of the invaders.

He remembers: a people in tune with nature, who understood the path of Mother Earth, as no-one since has understood Her.

And, now, he, the white scientist, knows the end is near: his own tribe will have to leave the Fourth World, and find solace in hell.

Then the braves will rise from their forgotten graves, as trees from the desert.

Written originally for the #FiveSentenceFiction prompt “Abandon”

Photo: 12th century Wupatki ruins, Wupatki National Monument

Unlucky #AtoZAprilChallenge


Captain Le Guen was a Muslim, a faith he had inherited from his mother, who, as a young child, had been rescued by the Franj from her burning village in the Aurès, during that war. He had been born in Qimper in Brittany, where Le Guen père, an officer in the Navy, had wanted to respect his wife’s wishes to bring up the boy in the faith of the Prophet. His side of the bargain was to send young Le Guen to Saint-Cyr. His religion made Le Guen a rarity in his regiment, although not in the army. A veteran of Chad, Somalia and Afghanistan Le Guen spoke Arabic fluently, and moreover the dialects of the Tuareg. At Saint-Cyr, the Franj’s officers school, he had been a distinguished linguist.

He had stopped his column in the early evening, letting the men relax, and was consulting the old Tuareg who was his guide. Their advance had been rapid, perhaps too rapid, and they had met little resistance, and recovered few weapons. As they moved further North and to the East the maps had proven less accurate, and the satellites’ positioning coordinates at time unreliable, as if someone was warning him. They were now in the desert, having left the relative moisture of the Sahel hundreds of kilometres down South.

“Two kilometres from here, said the old man, you will see an expense of darker sands, towards the North.” He paused, and Le Guen was silent, knowing better than interrupt the old man’s story. His help had been invaluable, telling him when to steer his convoy away from mine fields and other vicious traps.

The indigenous troops – Southerners who suffered a lot in the searing heat – were afraid of the old Tuareg, and had begged Le Guen to disarm him: that is to take away the ornate and ancient knife he wore at the belt of his woollen robe. Le Guen had refused, explaining in sober words that the old man was his guest, God willing. The Southerners were Muslim too and they understood, keeping their disapproval to themselves.

“Those are moving sands, resumed the guide, make sure your men understand they must not approach them”. There was a long silence. The Tuareg’s deep blue eyes, the only part of his face visible through the blue headgear, were scanning the dunes.

Le Guen exchanged a few words with his NCO’s on the short range radio, and waited. He knew the story may be continuing. “Our tradition says that a Pharaoh’s army disappeared here, many years before the Prophet himself came here. They were swallowed by the sands, men, horses, chariots, all of them.” Le Guen was listening intently. Was the story a parable?

“At night, if one is very quiet, one can still hear the horses, and men shouting.” Images of ancient warriors haunting the dunes came to Le Guen’s mind. His father had told him similar stories, from the high plateaux of Laos. He waited. “You see, the track you are now following is very old, and my people know its history…” concluded the guide.

It would be much colder tonight, and the captain had warned the men from the start. As they moved deeper into the desert the nights would get to temperature thirty or forty degrees below those of daytime. Further North Saharian nights before dawn could reach Siberian temperatures of −30 or -40 degrees centigrade.

“You asked me why you haven’t found any weapons”, said the old man in a soft voice modulated by the wind, “but you see, the weapons are here, the raiders have no need to hide them.” The guide, Le Guen noted, had used the name for cattle thieves to describe the insurgents. The captain was now looking straight at the old man. The deep blue eyes held his stare: “If you are unlucky, God forbid, you will be bringing those weapons to them, mon capitaine”. The old man lifted his arm, and turning back pointed at the long convoy, behind them, bristling with the best Franj weaponry.

Image: Algerian Tuareg, By GarrondoOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4613636

Original post

Trinken #AtoZAprilChallenge


It is a threat, and a pleasure, perhaps the most pernicious risk to mankind since the Black Death… Yet, how could we give up those marvels of nature, human skills and poetic evocations? Just think: from the Old World to the New, Pino Grigio, Montbasillac, Saint-Emilion, Burgundy, Champagne, the marvellous Australians, the North-Californians, the Cahors, the sunshine from South-Africa, the smiling Italians, the harsh Spanish, without forgetting the gold and diamonds of South America… the inexhaustible riches of the grapes! And what is cooler than a glass of iced Grappa after a Mediterranean meal?

And how to drink with moderation? Perhaps it is a matter of location, of space, of atmosphere? The geometries of drinking are as varied as the colours of the rainbow.

Think: drinking alone, drinking at two, with many? At home, at the dinner table, in the lounge, in the bar? Champagne at breakfast, Pinot Noir at seduction time? And who seduces whom? The possibilities are infinite…

The Public Library of South Australia has a beautiful and well researched site on the subject: “Wine Literature of the World”… But what about writers and drinking? No shortage of amusing and frightening examples here, from Poe’s “What illness can be compared to alcohol?” to Hemingway’s “Paris was a moving Feast”, and many who sought inspiration, or absolution, in the bottle.

Yet at least one of the great religions of the world, Islam, bans the consumption of alcohol. And for good reasons: the series of disasters caused by alcohol abuse is endless, from horrific drink and drive dramas to domestic violence and costs to society… But is prohibition conceivable today?

Then there is the variety of beverages, the beers of Germany and Czech Land, Belgium, India, Italy, Alsace… and of course the grapes and grain alcohols: from the sumptuous Cognac and Armagnac to the wonders of Scotland, the sharp Schnapps and Vodkas, without forgetting Grappa and the Kentucky treasures.

And so, what of this blogger then? Smiling all the way to the cellar: learning to drink – with reason if not moderation – takes time and… love: a shared pleasure, and, yes, part of the geometry of living.

Original post

Image source

Sipapuni #AtoZAprilChallenge


When a stranger comes to the village, feed him. Do not injure one another, because all beings deserve to live together without injury being done to them. When people are old and cannot work anymore, do not turn them out to shift for themselves, but take care of them. Defend yourselves when an enemy comes to your village, but do not go out seeking war. The Hopis shall take this counselling and make it the Hopi Way.

– from the Palatkwapi story

In the beginning there was only Tokpella, Endless Space. Nothing stirred because there were no winds, no shadows fell because there was no light, and all was still. Only Tawa, the Sun Spirit, existed, along with some lesser gods. Tawa contemplated on the universe of space without objects or life, and he regretted that it was so barren. He gathered the elements of Endless Space and put some of his own substance into them, and in this way he created the First World. There were no people then, merely insect-like creatures who lived in a dark cave deep in the earth. For a long while Tawa watched them. He was deeply disappointed. He thought, ‘What I created is imperfect.These creatures do not understand the meaning of life.’

So Tawa called his messenger, Goyeng Sowuhti, Spider Grandmother, and told her to go down and prepare the living creatures for a change. Spider Grandmother went down. She spoke to the insect creatures, saying, ‘Tawa, the Sun Spirit who made you, is unhappy because you do not understand the meaning of life. He says: ‘The creatures are fighting among themselves. They see but they do not comprehend. Therefore I will change things. I will make a new world, and I will perfect all things that have life in them.’ This is the message Tawa asked me to bring. Therefore prepare to leave this place to enter the Second World.’

… When at last they emerged into the Second World they looked quite different. They were animals that somewhat resembled dogs, coyotes and bears. There was fur on their bodies, their fingers were webbed, and they had tails. They lived in the Second World and were happy at first. But because they did not have any understanding they grew bitter and warred upon one another, even eating one another. Tawa saw how the creatures of his Second World were living. He saw that they did not grasp the meaning of life. And so again he sent Spider Grandmother to lead them on another journey.

While they travelled, Tawa created the Third World. He made the atmosphere a little lighter and gave them water to moisten their fields. When the creatures followed Spider Grandmother into the Third World they discovered their bodies had changed again. Their fur, their webbed fingers and their tails had disappeared. Spider Grandmother said to them: ‘Now you are no longer merely creatures. You are people. Tawa has given you this place so that you may live in harmony and forget all evil. Do not injure one another. Remember that Tawa created you out of Endless Space, and try to understand the meaning of things.’

… The people made their villages. They planted corn. They lived on. They were in harmony, and they were grateful to the Sun Spirit who had created them and given them a new world to live in. Yet things were not perfect. There was a chill in the air, and the light was only grayness. Spider Grandmother came and taught people how to weave blankets and cloth to keep their bodies warm. She taught the women how to make pots out of clay so that they could store water and food. But the pots could not be baked and they broke easily. And the corn did not grow very well because warmth was lacking.

Then one day a hummingbird came to where the people were working in their fields. The people asked, ‘Why are you here?’ The hummingbird answered, ‘I have been sent by my master.’ They said, ‘Who is your master?’

The bird replied, ‘He is Masauwu, Ruler of the Upper World, Caretaker of the Place of the Dead and the Owner of Fire. He has observed how you live here, and he says, ‘The crops do not grow well because the people do not have warmth.” The people said, ‘Yes, it is true. Warmth is lacking.’ The hummingbird said, ‘I have been sent to teach you the secret of warmth.’ And he gave them the secret, showing them how to create fire with a fire drill. After that he departed.

Now that the people had the knowledge of fire, they gathered grass and wood and made fires around their fields, and the warmth made their corn grow… They learned the secret of baking pottery… Those who had received the secret of fire from Masauwu’s messenger became known as the Firewood or Fire People. They said, ‘Masauwu is our relative.’ Now things were better in the Third World.

It was the powakas, or sorcerers, who brought disruption and conflict among the people. They made medicine to injure those whom they envied or disliked. Worse yet, they turned the people’s mind from virtuous things. The younger people grew disrespectful of the older. Husbands sought other women, and wives sought other men. Instead of caring for their fields, men spent their time in the kivas gambling. And instead of grinding corn, women went to the kivas to join them. Children wandered about unclean and uncared for, and babies cried for milk… Dissension spread everywhere. Instead of seeking to understand the meaning of life, many began to believe that they had created themselves.

In the beginning , life in the Third World had been good. But because people succumbed to the evil unleashed by the powakas, things began to change. The cornstalks in the fields withered before the ears were formed. The flowing rivers moved more sluggishly and the springs dried up. Clouds drifted over the fields but did not release their rain. Squash and melon stopped growing, and sickness came into many houses.

Now, those who had not forgotten that Tawa was their father worried greatly about the way things were going. Night after night they met in the kivas to discuss the corruption that was spreading in the Third World. They encouraged the lazy to work, admonished women for their promiscuous ways, threatened the powakas with punishment and sought to create order, yet nothing changed. There was evil and chaos all around them.

Tawa saw what was happening to the world he had made. He called Goyeng Sowuhti, Spider Grandmother, and sent her to the people with a message. Spider Grandmother… entered a kiva where the people were gathered. She said, ‘Tawa, the Sun Spirit, is displeased with what he has created. The powakas have made you forget what you should have remembered. Therefore all people of good heart should go away from this place and leave the evil behind.’ The people said to one another, ‘Where can we go? Is there another place?’ But they did not know of another place anywhere, and they were troubled.

Then an old man said, ‘Have you not heard footsteps in the sky, as though someone is walking there?’ And other old men replied, ‘Yes, there has been someone walking above us up there. We have heard it many times when the air was still.’ Other people said, ‘Let us discover what is there. Let us send a messenger to investigate things…’

So began the search for the ‘hole in the sky’, the doorway to the Upper World. The chiefs resolve to send messengers to seek the passage, and contact whoever lived ‘up there’. Eventually a catbird finds the way.

So the catbird flew up and passed through the opening in the sky… He came to a place of sand and mesas. He saw large fires burning alongside gardens of squash, melons and corn. Beyond the gardens was a single house made of stone. A person was sitting there, his head down, sleeping. The catbird alighted nearby and waited. The person awoke and raised his head. His eyes were sunken in deeply, there was no hair on his head, and his face was seared by burns and encrusted with dried blood. Across the bridge of his nose and his cheekbones two black lines were painted.  Around his neck were two heavy necklaces, one made of four strands of turquoise, the other of bones…

The catbird recognises Masauwu, Spirit of Death, the Owner of Fire and Master of the Upper World. The catbird explains the state the Lower World is in, infested with evil, and that many people wish to come and live in the Upper World. “The people of good heart ask for your permission to enter the Upper World and build their villages here.”

Masauwu said, ‘You see how it is in this place. There is no light, only grayness here. There is no warmth, and I must build fires to make my crops grow. But there is land and water. If the people wish to come, let them come.’

The catbird left Masauwu and returned to the opening through which he had passed. He went down to where the chiefs and the medicine men were waiting. They asked him, ‘Did you arrive there and find the one who walks in the sky?’

The catbird explains what he saw, and Masauwu’s willingness to have the people come to the Upper World.

Hearing this, the chief of Fire People spoke. He said, ‘Masauwu is our spirit. We are the ones to whom he sent the secret of fire. He is our relative. Therefore we are willing to go.’ Others said, ‘Yes, let all of us who wish to escape from evil go there. The Fire People can lead us and speak for us to Masauwu. Let us prepare for the journey.’

It was agreed, then, but the chiefs and medicine men looked upward, saying, ‘How shall we ever reach the sipapuni, the doorway in the sky?’

Once again Goyeng Sowuhti, Spider Grandmother, comes to the rescue, with her young grandsons, the warrior gods Pokanghoya and Polongahoya. She sends her grandsons to find chipmunk, the planter.

Spider Grandmother said to the chipmunk, ‘It is you who have been chosen to make a path for the people into the sky. For this you will always be remembered.’ And she explained what had to be done.

The chipmunk planted a sunflower seed in the center of the plaza. By the power of singing the people made it grow. If they stopped to catch their breath, the sunflower stopped growing, and Spider Grandmother called out, ‘Sing! Sing!’ As soon as they started to sing again, the sunflower continued growing. In time the sunflower stalk reached toward the sky, but just as it was about to pass through the sipapuni it bent over from the weight of its blossom.

Then the chipmunk planted a spruce seed, then a pine seed, and all failed to reach the sipapuni.

Once more the chipmunk planted. This time it was a bamboo. The people sang hard and made the bamboo grow straight and tall… Spider Grandmother went back and forth exhorting the people to sing the bamboo into the sky. Thus it went on. The people began to fear that they did not have breath enough to do what was required of them. But finally Spider Grandmother called out, ‘It is done! The bamboo has passed through the sipapuni!’

The road to the Upper World was finished, and the people rested. Spider Grandmother spoke, telling of the things to come. She said, ‘The journey will be long and difficult. When we reach the Upper World, that will be only a beginning. Things there are not like things here. You will discover new ways of doing things. During the journey you must try  to discover the meaning of life and learn to distinguish good from evil. Tawa did not intend for you to live in the midst of chaos and dissension. Only those of good heart may depart from the Third World. The powakas and all who perform wicked deeds must stay behind. As we go up the bamboo to the Upper World, see that no one carries evil medicine in his belt. See that no powakas go with us. Leave your pots and grinding stones behind. Up above you will make more of these things. Carry nothing that has to be held in your hands, for you will need your hands for climbing. When we have arrived in the Upper World I will tell you more about what is expected of you. Meanwhile, remember this: In the Upper World you must learn to be true humans.’

… The people prepared, and on the fourth day they gathered at the foot of the bamboo. The chiefs stood in front – the village chief, the crier chief, the singer chief and the war chief. Behind them the people stood waiting for the journey to begin… Spider Grandmother went up the bamboo first, followed by the boy warrior gods. The people moved toward the bamboo to begin to climb. But now the chief of the Fire People protested, saying, ‘Wait. We are the ones who are entitled to go first, for Masauwu is our special benefactor. We shall take the lead.’ The others deferred to the Fire People. After the Fire People began their ascent, whoever could get to the bamboo took his turn. The mockingbird fluttered around the bamboo, calling out, ‘Pashumayani! Pashumayani! Be careful!’ This the way the people departed from the Lower World. They moved slowly upward, and in time the entire bamboo stalk was covered with human bodies.

As the first climbers emerged through the sipapuni and stepped into the Upper World, Yawpa the mockingbird stood at Spider Grandmother’s side and sorted them out. ‘You shall be a Hopi and speak the Hopi language,’ he said to one. ‘You shall be a Navajo and speak the Navajo language,’ he said to another. ‘You shall be an Apache and speak the Apache language,’ he said to a third. He assigned every person to a tribe and a language, and to each tribe he gave direction to go in its migrations. He named the Paiutes, the Zunis, the Supais, the Pimas, the Utes, the Comanches, the Sioux, and the White Men…

More people were coming up the bamboo stalk. Finally the chiefs decided that “all those who chose to depart from evil are here. Therefore, let no more come through the sipapuni.”

The village chief went to the opening and called down, ‘You who are still climbing, turn and go back. It is because of you that we chose to leave and come to the Upper World. Do not follow us. You are not wanted here.’

But the climbers persisted, saying that they also wanted to be in the Upper World. So the warrior gods, Pokanghoya and Polongahoya, grasped the bamboo stalk and pulled its roots from the ground. They shook it and all those clinging to it fell back into the Lower World like seeds falling from ripe grass. The chiefs said, ‘Now we are secure from the evil ones. Let us make camp.’ The people camped near the sipapuni and rested.

From: The Fourth World of the Hopis, The Epic Story of the Hopi Indians as Preserved in their Legends and Traditions, Harold Courlander, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, © 1971 by Harold Courlander

Image: Tim Nicola, Woman With Shawl, ca. 1992, Alabaster Marble, Courtesy Tucson Museum of Art


Rendezvous #AtoZAprilChallenge


For the first time the voice he heard, in his sleep, was not Melissa’s. The woman introduced herself as Gabrielle, Melissa’s teacher, and proceeded to explain where he would find her, in clear, geographical precision, courteous, but leaving no doubt that he was expected to attend. The message was delivered without preamble, as a matter of fact. That night Melissa did not talk to him. But she had previously said she wanted him to meet Gabrielle.

The date was three days hence, and he wanted to think about it, to discuss it with Sarah. Why meeting the teacher before the pupil, or was the pupil attending too? He was intrigued, a little excited, his mind considering all weird possibilities. If the whole story was an hoax he might discover who was at its origin. He may even get a glimpse of his friend, or someone related to her. He thought of the avatar – was there another way to describe that vision? – his sister Jane had met on Chi. What computer wizardry had created that encounter?

In the following three days he worked and trained. He was reading The Passage, a  tale of human madness and of the destruction of America. The book reminded him of The Stand, perhaps his favourite novel of the last thirty years. In The Passage, the character of Amy, the Girl from Nowhere, and ultimate saviour of mankind, was immensely attractive to Julian. As in The Stand, the primary cause of the disaster was military delusion and political ineptitude, a cocktail he recognised in his own country.

The night before the meeting, which was set in the evening at eight, Sarah and Julian talked about what they knew so far. Melissa, a friend of his school days, or pretending to be, had contacted him and continued to communicate with him, although so far never in person. Jane had seen someone claiming to be her, on a virtual world where Melissa had invited Julian. Through her Facebook page they knew – or were led to believe – that Melissa had been murdered some twenty years ago, which would make Melissa a ghost, or a pretend one. Yet Julian had been given detailed information, in his dreams, about Melissa’s studies and progress in mathematics and physics. Sarah thought that if Julian was to meet anyone, it would be whoever was behind the “tale” of Melissa. She wanted to play down the possibility of her husband meeting the actual Melissa. Julian agreed that the the most probable outcome was that a friend, or relation, of his dead friend would then explain why and perhaps how he had found himself the target of the story.

The following day he stayed at home, reading and meditating until the evening. Before leaving the house he dressed as he thought suited to the chilly walk that awaited him once he left the underground. The part of the city Gabrielle had indicated was not known to him. He got off the tube at an unknown station. The streets were crowded with late shoppers. The air was chilly and damp: he was pleased to be wearing his heavy parka and warm walking boots. He walked along the main street for half an hour, aware of the mix of ethnic shops and suburban squalor: the area may not have changed much since the last war, a home for newcomers, from far-away war-torn corners of the world. He thought of the evacuation of Cincinnati, narrated in The Passage.

As he was instructed he turned off into a quiet side street, which after two hundred yards exhibited a very different landscape of narrow town houses, evidently very old. He walked past a long brick wall with overhanging branches of yet older trees: a very strange contrast with the high street he just left. After ten or fifteen minutes the street appeared to narrow into a medieval looking lane, with a cobbled surface. The night grew darker, and the street lights were dimmer and far between. He looked for the number plate of the house. He nearly missed it, hardly visible, above the door of the thin facade of a very old house. The enamel of the plate appeared cracked and ancient. The house was in darkness. Following his brief he used the door hammer – an old brass object polished with age – and knocked twice. The sound seemed to be swallowed by the door. He then waited. There was no-one in the street, and the sky was hardly visible from the threshold of the house. After a few minutes the door opened silently on a dark corridor, and Julian walked in. As he took a few steps along the corridor he knew the door had shut silently behind him, in front of him there was a faint light.

Julian stopped, disorientated, listening to voices that appeared to be coming from inside the house, women’s voices, but not words he could understand. Suddenly he was in front of a closed door, with light filtering from underneath. The door opened: a short woman of indeterminate age was standing, inviting him through:

“Welcome Julian, I am sorry not to have met you at the front door – you must forgive an old historian, lost in her reveries…” The lady was smiling, gesturing to a comfortable-looking sofa facing a chimney. A large bay window gave a view of a garden in shadows. A bright wood-fire was burning in the chimney. “I am Gabrielle” continued his host. “I am very grateful you could come all the way to our little place, I find it more difficult to negotiate the city at this time of the year” she added with another bright smile. She sat on a chair facing the sofa and invited him to make himself comfortable. “Melissa’s making coffee” she said, “or would you rather have tea?” Julian replied in a shaky voice that coffee was fine. So, was Melissa living here? Gabrielle’s hair was a soft copper with grey streaks, she wore thick glasses that seemed to protect her clear blue eyes: the image of a mature, benevolent academic, or scientist.

“I know you are anxious to meet your friend, and I owe you some explanation. You see, I am very fond of Melissa, you could say I am her adoptive mother, if I may use these words…” Julian was trying to control his nerves: the house was silent, only Gabrielle’s voice, the crackling wood fire, and the sound of his own blood through this body. “I hope you have the time to listen to a long story, but tell me if you need a break, just stop me” she said looking at him with a gentle and protective look. “I will use some visuals to help you along the way”, but Julian felt he was falling into darkness: the room had dissolved, leaving him in infinite space, then he heard Gabrielle’s voice again: “I must first explain who I am and why I am here…”

Space was filled with a majestic view of a galaxy: Julian was trying to recall its name, when Gabrielle’s voice  resumed her narrative. The image – if it was that – was a high resolution three-dimensional view, of extraordinary clarity. The galaxy was slowly rotating, and bright spots, like explosions, appeared her and there in its midst. “This is where I come from. You call that area M31, or Andromeda. I know you may find it difficult to accept, and I will not try to convince you of anything, yet. But I have to be absolutely honest with you. My species is high on ethics – I think this is the right way to express it…” The view was changing, homing on a cluster of five stars, figures and symbols appeared around one of the stars, and Julian guessed it was some system of coordinates. The depth of the view was staggering. “This, Gabrielle said, is my home star, the equivalent for me of your sun, and as you see the planet system around it is not that different from yours, but there are have five stars, you could say, looking after my species”. Julian was now looking at a long perspective of perhaps twenty smaller bright spots of various diameters, rotating in a complex pattern around the stars: a planet system. He wondered if what he saw was a live view: he was no longer questioning Gabrielle’s words. The image changed slowly, zooming to show a silvery structure, visibly artificial, that reminded Julian of the Peï pyramid in the Louvre’s courtyard in Paris, but this was suspended in space and, probably much bigger. “Our species is also strong on engineering, but”, Gabrielle said, “for some time now, we have evolved a collective way of thinking everything. I just wanted you to see one of our early creations: this is quite old, although our sense of “old” is somewhat different from yours…” Now Julian was looking at a wide sweep of space, and another galaxy, seen from the edge, as gradually he realised that this was his galaxy: the Milky Way, seen from space, from a point possibly situated half way between it and Andromeda. “Julian: this shows you what you would see, travelling from my place to yours, as we are really neighbours, in cosmic terms. And, yes, the being you see has been visiting your world”. The view changed to one Julian recognised: the solar system, approached through the asteroid belt and Pluto. He saw the rings of Saturn, and Jupiter’s massive bulk, surrounded by the five moons. He was now aware of the extraordinary clarity of the image and wondered about the structure of the lens that had taken the photography or the film. As if reading his thoughts, Gabrielle continued: “ Those images are simplified, using filters specific for the human sight: I am showing you only a small fraction of the information held on those records”. The earth appeared, the familiar blue and white sphere, the liquid paradise he was the product of. “Now I suggest we make a pause” said Gabrielle, and you may have some questions for me.”

He was back in the room. The fire was burning. He said hesitantly: “How long have you been here, on our world, Gabrielle?” Gabrielle’s kind eyes were observing him, quietly and gently. Finally she replied: “I am a recent visitor, a mere five hundred years, but my kind has been observing and studying this world for much longer, let us say, since well before you came in”. With a sinking feeling Julian tried to gather his thoughts. “And how did you come across my friend?” Gabrielle was hesitant for some time. “Certain views I can show you, but please be patient. Shall we say we have started a journey? I am a historian, as I said to you earlier, when you came in. My job, is to gather facts and evidence on human development and evolution.”

Julian was now immersed in an aerial view, as if taken from a helicopter, of a small town. The image was again clear, as if in slow motion. He could see smoke rising from tall chimneys, a river, some old buildings. After a few minutes he realised this was his childhood town, where Melissa and him had lived all those years back. The “camera” was now zooming on familiar places, the town main square with the big lions, where the library was. The traffic was light, and Julian saw that the cars were vintage of his youth: this was a recorded film. Now the film accelerated, with sweeping views taken along narrow streets, as if whoever held the camera was riding through the air, almost touching the walls. He recognised the market place, the small park, and the canal. Tall trees were lining the canal: how well he knew this path! Small tears were running down his face. The view was now of a small lane bordered by crumbling walls and badly kept gardens. For some reason the camera showed a corner of the lane, covered with muddy grass and small stones, then froze. He was back in Gabrielle’s room. “That was where Melissa was murdered” said Gabrielle with a tender and sad tone of voice. “That is where I found her, too late to save her, but not late enough to be unable to save her… memories.”

Julian felt his heart sink into a well of ice and sorrow. “Are you saying that Melissa is really dead?” he managed to ask –  “She died, and she lives again” said Gabrielle calmly. Then Julian was aware of a presence next to him, close, on the sofa.

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Q #AtoZAprilChallenge

Thomas Muentzer.jpg

Q“, authored by the Italian writers’ collective Luther Blissett, now morphed to “Wu Ming“, tells the story of Gert-from-the-Well, a young student from Saxony, in the aftermath of the monk Martin Luther’s ninety five theses, pinned on the door of the Wittenberg cathedral church in 1517.

I am on my second reading of Q, and have read the “sequel” (a misnomer) “Altai” by the same Wu Ming. Q is, in part, straightforward adventure through the troubled times of the various revolts that then momentarily challenged the power of the princes, the massacres of insurgents, the Anabaptists’ heresy and the horrors of the Counter-Reformation/Inquisition. The other face of the novel is a reflection on politics and the meaning of truth, perhaps reflecting the authors’ own questions on the state of post-war Italy.

The book starts in Wittenberg, where Gert meets his mentor, Thomas Müntzer, and finishes in Venice, with Gert now an ally of the rich and at time powerful Miquez family, and lover of Beatriz de Luna. On the way Gert is countered by the one who becomes his arch-enemy, the spy Qoelet, working to the service of Gianpietro Carafa, the future  pope Paul IV. Q infiltrates the insurgency, and tracks Gert to Venice where they finally come face to face. The narrative is fascinating and often puzzling. What was to become Europe was then in the midst of continuous horrendous wars, fought through mercenaries and bands of thugs that terrorised the peasants and extracted what they could from the towns. In the background, violence is fuelled by the rivalries between the Emperor, Charles V, the German princes, the pope, Italian principalities, Venice, the King of France, and, the Ottoman Empire. The Jews have been expelled from Spain, and resettled in Venice, and soon Constantinople. Worse was to come, when the Tirty Year war ravaged most of what is now Germany, and concluded only in 1648.

A good read for those interested in European history, or simply a great adventure novel.

Image: Thomas Münzer By Christoph van Sichem – Das Wissen des 20. Jahrhunderts, Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, 1961, Rheda, Bd.1 S.395, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26253b

Doña Gracia Nasi’s entry in the Jewish Womens’ Archive