Wednesday, January 03, 2007

a POW in the War on Cliche 

So I'd heard about Saddam, but it wasn't until today, sitting in a bar with the TV on, that I saw the snuff film.

What a fucking shit-show. Has this been televised in the US? Extensively? What the fuck?

Moving on...

So the Intergalactica ended yesterday. Mercifully. Not that it was that bad in general, but...well personally I didn't have the best time.

We got in to Oventik the morning of the first day. Oventik is the second of five Zapatista "Caracoles", which are their largest organizational unit. The town is at the end of an hour long drive from San Cristobal de las Casas. The drive takes you high up into the mountains, and when you pass a village named "Tivo" (I shit you not.), you know you're close.

The first time I was in Oventik was the 22nd of December for the Oaxaca Solidarity Rally. We drove in on a winding two-lane mountain road with no guardrails in an '85 Camry with no seatbelts. Our driver seemed to feel that he was being judged on time and that having someone in front of us in our lane was an impermissible evil. So white knuckles were the order of the day. It also continually damaged my calm that he would periodically cross himself, although I later learned that he did this whenever passing a church and not because of the repeated successful tests of his savior's beneficence.

We finally arrived in a community that was as poor, but much more orderly and less squalid as the ones outside of Zapatista territory. There were unarmed guards at the gate who directed us into a small wood building with some other officials who told us to go to another building. This was the Junta de Bon Gobierno (Good Government Council), the highest Zapatista civilian governing body, and had five or so council members inside. We were asked to state our business and fill out an entry in a notebook, and then given a chance to make a statement. We didn't have much to say except, "thanks for having us." so they told us that we were free to roam around, but not to take pictures until they told us we could.

Zapatistas wear ski masks, they call them 'pasamontanas' or 'mountain passes'. They wear bandannas too, but mostly ski-masks. They say that they were faceless before they rebelled, and that the only way that society would recognize that they even had faces was to put masks over them. When the government told them to take off their masks, they refused. They told the government that after 500 years, you only care what we look like because we put a mask on, but now its too late.

They don't wear the masks all the time however, only when dealing with non-Zapatistas. So for the whole day of the 22nd they walked around the caracol without their masks on, which was why I was forbidden to take pictures. This posed a unique cinematic problem that I was unable to solve.

The 22nd was uneventful, so I'll skip it. On the first day of the Intergalactica however everyone was masked up. There were several thousand foreigners with cameras in attendance. We stopped in to the "Che Guevara Collective General Store" and had a quesadilla. Oddly, you can buy Coca-Cola and other Coke products at the Che Guevara. Mexico has the highest per-capita Coca-cola and soda consumption of any country in the world, including the US. So to them perhaps, its not so weird. I found out later that they were planning on phasing it out.

You can get Coke, but not booze. Zapatistas don't drink or smoke cigarettes. Under Zapatista Revolutionary Law women have full rights. A few years ago they were fed up with the problem of domestic violence and decided to block every decision in council until they got a no-booze rule passed. So there's no drinking, but there's less women getting beaten.

We went down to the parade ground/pavilion to watch the opening ceremonies. A few EZLN Comandantes and Comandantas took the stage as did several JBG councilmembers, two bands, and many Zapatistas in traditional indigenous clothing. They all saluted, with the left hand, as the color guard came out. They sang the Mexican National Anthem, made a speech, said a few "Vivas!" and sang the Zapatista Hymn as the color guard retired. The bands started playing frenetic Mexican folk music. Everyone went to lunch.

I skipped lunch as my stomach wasn't feeling too well. Seems that the quesadilla did not agree with me. I realize I'm conceding a tactical defeat in the War Against Cliche by recounting this, but it really happened. After being in the country for almost two months I got a bug. Turned out to be the usual Revenge with a little something extra, maybe Montezuma's Plus. The bonus was vomiting.

Not that I was vomiting right away. It took a few hours to work up to that, although on the positive side it did afford me an exclusive inside tour of the Oventik health clinic.

The only other scheduled event that day was a panel discussion on Zapatista life. This took place in a large wooden building with a corrugated tin roof and a floor covered in fresh pine needles. On a platform was the panel, consisting of JBG council-members, in the audience was everyone else. Each panel member had some time to speak, then the MC read submitted questions from the audience. After the Q&A the floor was open to anyone in the audience who had anything to say vaguely relating to the topic at hand.

So the movement that is dedicated to remaking a new world in the shell of the old has demonstrated that it can have boring professional conventions like everyone else. All of the panels were structured this way and were held on various topics throughout the conference: women, eductation, commerce, art/media/culture, and a few others. As I suppose is normal at these types of things it seemed most of the interesting stuff was going on in between the meetings.

Actually that´s not quite fair. I got bored fairly quickly, partly because I was mostly focusing on internal orifice security measures and partly because my Spanish is middling to poor. Probably when I have the tapes translated it will be more informative.

Eventually the sun went down. It got very cold. The nausea increased. The talking did not end.

So ended the first day. I took a bus back to town and proceeded to puke quite a lot. Spent the next day, New Year's Eve, in bed. I rang in the New Year by myself, watching a crappy bootleg of the Animatrix dubbed into Spanish.

next: days three and four


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