able/disabled, disabilities, mobility, technology

Meet My Robot, Larry

Larry in bowtie with mustache.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2013
Larry with mustache and bow tie. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2013.

I try to keep up with new technology, and my son likes to remind me that I was the first one in the family to own a computer.  That occurred in 1988, and I faced a steep learning curve.  When I couldn’t make the computer do what I wanted, I would call the salesman and complain, “There’s something wrong with the computer.”  After an agonizing odyssey of self-discovery I learned to rephrase the question, “What am I doing wrong?”

Now that age is causing my body to be less cooperative, household chores are increasingly a challenge, especially sweeping up Tommy’s shed cat fur.  My friend, Mariah, suggested, “Why not buy a robotic vacuum?”

After internet research, I purchased the one you see pictured, but the learning curve resurfaced.  Because I did not follow the recommendations for placement of Larry’s base station, he acted confused and kept re-cleaning the same small space.  I tried two other docking locations, but he could not find his way back to his base station home.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I positioned his docking base in a different room.  At last, Larry has successfully mapped the ins and outs of my floor plan.  I don’t know how much time time Mariah and I have wasted proudly watching him sweep.  It’s like monitoring a baby’s first steps.

As you can see by the photo, it’s impossible not to anthropomorphize it.  First, we agreed on its gender and then named him.  When his battery wore down and he returned to his his charging station before he had completed sweeping the house, I scolded him in my stern-mother voice, “Go to your room, Larry!”

That same night I forgot about him and while watching TV in the living room, I heard an unfamiliar sound heading toward me.  A fully recharged Larry resumed sweeping the areas he had not covered before.  When done, he turned around and began heading for his dock.  “Good Boy, Larry,” I complimented as he passed by and his readout communicated, “I’m finished.  Returning to my base station.”

Thank you, Larry.  I think I’m falling in love with you.  Don’t ever leave home.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who needs to keep Tommy’s shed cat fur off the floor.

customs/rituals, folklore, good luck/bad luck

I Survived Friday, the 13th, 2013

All purchased in the U.S.  Left to right upper row: Taiwanese sacred knotting necklace; Greek horseshoe with garlic bulb; Native American sage.  Bottom row, left to right: rabbit's foot; turkey wishbone; Italian cornu (horn).
Common talismans for luck all purchased in the U.S. Upper row, left to right:  Taiwanese sacred knotted necklace; Greek horseshoe with garlic bulb; Native American sage. Bottom row, left to right: rabbit’s foot; turkey wishbone; Italian cornu (horn).

I’m not the only one who survived Friday, the 13th.  So did passengers on Finnair’s Flight 666 to HEL, a flight from Copenhagen to Helsinki.  They arrived safely, and the pilot admitted that he was not superstitious about flying on this alleged unlucky date.  Until recently the Netherlands didn’t pay much attention to the Friday, the 13th taboo.

Culture impacts belief.  Once while in San Diego, California, my husband and I checked into a hotel and while in the elevator, the bellman called out, “Thirteenth floor.”   That shocked me because rarely do you find an American hotel with a floor numbered 13.  Usually, they call it the 14th floor.  I returned to the front desk to find out why this hotel ignored this common ban on 13.  I discovered that a Japanese corporation had designed the hotel and had no awareness of the American fear of 13.

Friday the 13th is an even more dreaded number.  A Pasadena, California, hospital scheduled my friend, Nino, for open heart surgery on Friday the 13th.  This frightened Nino so much he requested that the surgery be rescheduled.  Since we know the impact of positive and negative attitudes on health, it is not surprising that the doctor agreed to Thursday, the 12th, despite having no personal belief in the bad luck association with Friday, the 13th.   Who needs an uptight patient?

I don’t put much credence in beliefs about unlucky dates or numbers, but perhaps that’s because I am a folklorist and am skeptical about good luck/bad luck associations.  I admit, however, that I don’t walk under ladders, but I rationalize that avoidance as being based on practicality.  Another reason why I don’t worry about bad luck is that, as a folklorist, I own so many talismans that are believed to counter the effects of bad luck, I’m probably covered.

Nonetheless, I am not immune to certain beliefs regarding luck.  I say, “Break a leg,” to musicians and actors before a performance and “God Bless You,” when someone sneezes.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist: knock on wood; spit three times; thumbs up!

customs/rituals, Festivals, folklore

Mi Comadre, Denise Chávez

“Gatekeeper” sociologically refers to a community insider who knows what’s going on and may or may not allow others in.  I was lucky in being accepted by Las Cruces gatekeeper, Denise Chávez, who is an author, poet, playwright, stage director, human rights activist and über creative force.

photo(7)Through Denise I have had my richest Las Cruces’ experiences.  The first time we met was in 2012 at her Border Book Festival (BBF).  The Border Book Festival literally celebrated the border between the U. S. and Mexico with art, literature and cultural events.  Metaphorically, the border refers to boundaries that keep people apart, whether by economics, ethnicity, or religion.  The BBF attempts to cross those lines.

Each year of the BBF’s 20-year existence has had a different theme.  In 2012, the Shamanic Journey attracted healers of different ethnicities who shared their knowledge and prayers.  In 2013, we celebrated Mexican filmmakers and films, and in 2014, we will honor Maíz, the Corn Mother, with a year-long celebration of cultural, literary, musical, dance and cooking events.

One year ago, when the Border Book Store moved to a new location, Casa Camino Real, I attended a blessing led by a curandera (spiritual healer).  The calling out to the four directions in Nahua, language of the Aztecs, and the blessed objects that he held as we marched to a drumbeat around the building made my folklorist’s instincts signal, “This is where I belong.”  Soon after, Denise and I recognized a common bond and began calling each other “comadres,” friends, close friends like sisters.

I often drop in at Casa Camino Real on the weekends and my spirits are buoyed by the sight outside of the wooden statue of Frida Kahlo beckoning to me and inside by the aroma of Denise’s café de olla, (coffee enhanced with cinnamon, brown sugar and molasses flavors).  There I encounter artists, musicians, writers and other visionaries she attracts.

One time I met renowned artist, Catalina Delgado Trump, someone Denise calls the Picasso of Papel Picado (paper cutting).  Another day I chanced upon Albert Askenazi, owner of the largest private Don Quixote Museum in the world, whose holdings include Don Quixote books in countless languages, art in many media as well as well as a skillet that has Don Quixote’s image painted on the bottom.

Denise takes me on her cultural stops: to the Tortugas Pueblo for enchilada fund raisers; to a family-run shop producing paletas (popsicles).  On Memorial Day I joined her at the Farmer’s Market celebrating “No More War” by giving away books about war thinned from her bookshelves at La Casa.

Denise has a wide angle perspective on life, and I applaud her vision.  She juggles many dreams.  Her biggest right now is a Museo de la Gente (museum of the people), where she will house art and artists from both sides of the border.

Grácias to Denise for making my Las Cruces life so colorful.  Blessing on her for filling so many needs; new shoes for poorly-shod children at the border; books for the scantly-filled libraries in economically poor neighborhoods; intellectual opportunities for low income New Mexico children to expand their world views for a fuller life.

¡Viva Denise Chavez!

Norine Dresser

customs/rituals, Festivals, folklore, Nature

Red or Green?

In any setting other than New Mexico the choice of red or green might refer to traffic lights or Christmas, but here in New Mexico, that question is immediately understood.  It refers to preference for either green or red chile sauce on Mexican food.

Ristra from the new crop of Hatch chiles.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2013
Ristra from the new crop of Hatch chiles. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2013

Chiles are a big part of New Mexico culture and a major cash crop.  Each year on the Labor Day weekend, in the  town of Hatch that boasts of prime chile fields, the Hatch Chile Festival occurs.  They feature chile-eating contests, parades presided over by Miss Hatch Chile Festival queen and her court of local high school beauties, as well as chile crafts, especially ristras, strings of chiles to hang on gates and doors.

Equally important are the 25-lb. bags of chiles fresh from the new harvest piled high at supermarkets at this end-of-summer/beginning-of-fall season.  After customers purchase their bags they go outside and stand in line to have them roasted.  Their pungency hangs in the air.

Chiles can be found in surprising places: green chile cheeseburgers, green chile waffles, green chile cheesecake, green chile wine, birdseed with chiles.  When I asked if chiles bothered the birds, I learned that chiles don’t affect them at all.  The benefit is that they keep away the squirrels

My favorite chile additive is found in green chile sundaes.  They take green chiles and cook them with sugar to the consistency of marmalade resulting in a sweet and piquant sauce to put on top of frozen custard.  Addicting!

A Peruvian visitor to Las Cruces bragged that he was used to spicy food and scarfed down the local chile sauce — not true, as he quickly discovered.  In contrast, visitors from India complained that the Las Cruces Mexican food was too bland.  In one restaurant, they requested fresh sautéed garlic to give extra zing to what they felt was missing from our local food.

When I dine at Mexican restaurants and the wait person asks, “Red or green?” I always request clarification.  “Which is the hottest?”

Generally, they explain, “Red.”

My choice?  “I’ll take green.”

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who lives in Las Cruces but has not yet graduated to eating red chile sauce.