Back in Uvita

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Sunday, October 14

Iguana crossing: There are several of these signs on the way from San José to Uvita. I kept my eyes peeled but didn’t see any actual iguanas.

I’m back in Uvita after several days in the States, and it really felt good to return here. I was dreading Friday, which was an airport gauntlet (Dubuque—>Chicago—>Miami—>San José), but the only real problem I hit was a minor delay on the San José flight. I stayed at the airport Marriott Courtyard Friday night and then my driver, Fernando, picked me up Saturday morning for the 3+hour drive down to Uvita.

Fernando doesn’t speak much English, and my Spanish is severely limited, but we get by fine. At one point, we were rocking out to Sweet’s
“Fox on the Run.” At first I wasn’t sure if Fernando was playing the local classic rock station in a bid to appease me or because he genuinely likes it. But when this tune came on, there was no doubt: He’s a fan. Credence was another band that clearly is among his favorites. Best of all, Fernando’s a very good driver, finding the right balance between speed and safety.

We did pass some downed power lines and trees when we went through Dominical, which is about 25 kilometers north of Uvita. Apparently, there were nasty storms last week while I was in the States. An American honeymooner  is missing and presumed dead after getting caught in a flash flood in Dominicalita. I think we’re in for another rainy week, but I’m not complaining. It was in the 30s when I flew out of Dubuque on Friday. We even had to de-ice before taking off.

Overall, the trip was a success. Best of all, my ankle did really well. I’m not ready to start hiking on it now, but I looked at the pedometer on my iPhone and I hit 5,000 steps on both of my travel days without substantial pain. It’s best described now as sore unless I turn my ankle while walking. I’m going to continue staying off it in the hope that I get get it almost healed by the time Lara arrives in less than three weeks.

During my airport purgatory, I finished reading The Golden Ass, which I enjoyed immensely. My only complaint is that some of Lucius Apuleius’ digressions became tedious at times, though it generally was bawdy enough to keep my interest even then. And the translation by Sarah Ruden was superb.

After the Ass, I moved on to George Saunders’ short story collection Pastoralia. Another winner. As Thoreau wrote in “Walden,” “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” This collection was Saunders’ effort to come to grips with that sad fact. There is some transcendence in there, but it’s largely existential angst.

Been So Long

Finally, I started listening to the Audiobook version of Jorma Kaukonen’s “Been So Long: My Life and Music.” I’ve been a fan for a long time, from Jefferson Airplane to Hot Tuna to his work at Fur Peace Ranch in Southeast Ohio, and I’ve met Jorma a few times and came away impressed at how grounded and humble he appeared to be. That comes through in the audiobook, which he reads himself. His range of interests is amazing. Everything from motorcycles to speed skating, and there’s plenty of musical discussion, including the details guitar geeks would crave about his guitars and how he gets his sound. My main disappointment is that he tends to hold back. He discusses Marty Balin’s departure from Jefferson Airplane in a few sentences. No insight into what drove it, and while I understand he might not have been central to that, he must have at least had an opinion or seen the impact on the band. There’s a guarded nature to the book overall. His shields are up, though he does drop them occasionally. One of my favorite anecdotes was his discussion of jamming with Janis Joplin in 1964 while his wife at the time, Margareta, was typing away in the background. It was recorded and became known as “The Typewriter Tapes.”

Returning to Costa Rica

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Friday, October 12

Somewhere between Dubuque and Chicago. Listening to Ray Wylie Hubbard and flying high.

I had to get an early start today. I’m flying from Dubuque to Chicago to Miami to San José, where I plan to stay at an airport hotel before finishing the journey with a 3- or 4-hour drive to Uvita Saturday morning.  I’ll be in the country for another month before returning to the States for good.

It’s been a great trip. Very productive and the ankle is holding up well. Here’s hoping the return goes smoothly.

I was  delighted by this morning’s Google Doodle of Roberto Clemente, the greatest baseball player of all time. It brings back a lot of fond childhood memories. I still have a tattered 1971 Clemente baseball card squirreled away somewhere …


Out of the jungle

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Thursday, October 11

I made it to Iowa, and thanks to Lara and FedEx, I didn’t have to wear my jungle loincloth to my meetings. In fact, I fit right in with the rest of the business casual crowd.

Cleaning up after two months in the jungle

Four Mounds, the facility where we met, is just outside Dubuque. It’s a wonderful old building — series of buildings, actually — and I always enjoy coming here. The photos don’t do it justice.

Outside of the main building.
Living area of the main building, where we gathered to discuss strategy in front of the fireplace. It was cold in Iowa …
View of the Upper Mississippi River from Four Mounds. Quite a difference from the Pacific Ocean. They’ve had a lot of rain here, like Uvita, so the river is running high and muddy.
I love the restoration they did here. This is the bathroom sink, complete with original fixtures.
It took a degree in rocket science to figure out which combination of knobs to turn to get a hot shower. After several failed attempts, I finally figured it out.
This door knocker outside one of the suites is very cool.

Next stop, Iowa

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Wednesday, October 10

Sunrise over Miami, as seen from the fifth floor of the Courtyard Marriott near the airport.

I woke up in the United States this morning for the first time in two months. The trip thus far has been uneventful. I hired a driver, Fernando, who got me safely and quickly from Uvita to San José, where I spent the night in a Marriott Courtyard near the airport. Nice hotel. The flight out was no problem and the only complaint I have on the trip thus far was a long line at passport control coming into Miami, including an asshole French Canadian who decided to just walk past everyone in line until he got to … me. I stepped in front of him and he got a little indignant. But he wasn’t willing to push the issue. He went through after I did.

I’m flying out this morning for Iowa via Chicago. More fun and thrills in airports. This is a lifestyle that I don’t miss in any way, shape or form. I think there was one year when I worked for Scripps that I traveled 40+ weeks. (Some of those trips were one-day jaunts, but still … 40 weeks of airports and hotels and crap food. I’m still not sure how I survived that.) So far, my ankle is holding up really well. It was sore after yesterday’s travel but not abnormally so.

I also started reading The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius. It was written in Latin in the second century A.D. and I did a little research on translations after initially downloading the 1566 translation by William Adlington from Project Gutenberg. I just wasn’t up for wading through archaic English spelling and style while trying to read it, and I also wanted a more contemporary take since the book is pretty bawdy in spots and I didn’t want to read  through the gauze of some translator trying mightily not to offend.

Enter Sarah Ruden. Thus far, I’m really impressed with her translation. I have both her version and Adlington’s on my Kindle so I’ve jumped back and forth a bit to see how they compare. Very similar, but her language is much more fun and interesting. I’m glad I opted for it.

This book is the story that inspired Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Instead of a cockroach, the narrator here is turned into a donkey when he messes with witchcraft that he doesn’t fully understand. It’s an early take on the picaresque novel that Don Quixote, Tom Jones and Confederacy of Dunces all took inspiration from. I also am working on a sub-theme in The Book that is inspired by this story. So there’s that.

Onward to Iowa. Hopefully, no one will turn me into an ass. Or a bigger ass, as the case may be …

Banana update. Shot this Monday before leaving for the States.

Drying out after the deluge

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Saturday, October 6

This beauty emerged after the rain finally relented.

After five days of pretty much nonstop rain, the skies cleared last night in a spectacular way. There have only been one or two nights since I arrived here (almost 8 weeks ago now) that we’ve had clear skies in the evening.

As if to make a great situation better, the power went out, creating blackout conditions. I walked out into the parking lot to star gaze. There are few things more humbling that standing beneath the stars in pitch-black conditions. That almost made all the rain we endured worthwhile.

The lucky streak continued this morning with brilliant sunrise filled with bird songs and the distant sound of surf. I was struck with inspiration and awoke at about 4 a.m. and started writing. I do that pretty frequently. The sun rises here every day around 5:30 and I love to sit there and listen to the jungle wake up while the light starts to filter in through the Treehouse. After all that rain, it was wonderful to walk out into a sunny morning after I was done writing. I guess the bad news is the inspiration created more complication in The Book. I was running parallel story lines. Now I have three, including a retelling of the Joe Magarac tall tale. It’s coming together in increasing strange yet interwoven ways.

I read Flannery O’Connor’s short story “The River” the other day for the first time in years. What an astounding story driven by her typical themes of the Southern grotesque and redemption. Her ability to craft rich, complex characters is second to none I have an anthology of all her short stories and I almost kept reading, but her work is so dense I decided to move on to something else. So I picked up Conrad’s Lord Jim, which I made a run at once and ran out of steam. I’m faring much better this time but still believe he should have made it a novella, ending with the trial Jim is subjected to. I haven’t finished yet, but the tale of Jim’s years in limbo after the Patna incident feels anticlimactic thus far. I love the way Conrad works the pace of the story, sometimes entering the “ripping yarn” territory and other times slowing down to dive deep into the characters’ inner impressions and motivations. That quality always floored me when reading Heart of Darkness. If you just pull it apart and put it in an outline, it’s an action-packed adventure tale. But he intentionally retards the pace, forcing the reader to turn inward and focus on the motivations and subtexts behind the action more than the action itself.

Gian swung by on Thursday and took me out to a resort south of here where I booked a room for when Lara comes to visit in early November. She’ll be here for about 5 days and then we’ll return to the States together on Nov. 7. Initially, we were going to go the discount route, but it will have been almost three months since we’ve seen each other so I figured, what they hell. Let’s go 4-star. Cristal Ballena definitely is that. It has a wonderful view of the ocean. While I was checking out the room options it was raining, obscuring the ocean in a thick, misty haze that was every bit as stunning as a clear Pacific view. Vultures circled lazily and a pair of macaws squawked there way through the rain toward the ocean, disappearing into the murk.

I’ve decided to name my favorite agouti — he is now Fela Agouti after the late, great African music legend Fela Kuti. He joins Chuckles the Gecko as my constant companions here.

This week, I head back to the states for a business meeting, but I’m not swinging through Ohio. I return here late Friday night, but I have to admit, I’m greatly looking forward to being able to walk into a store and asking for something in English and being understood. I’m just hoping I can navigate the airports without a setback for my ankle, which continues to improve in its glacial way.


How to be a monkey

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Thursday, October 4

I wonder where the howlers go after they’ve spent a few days raising hell outside my window. Their calls grow progressively more distant over subsequent days until they disappear into the jungle. Then the cycle repeats.

A new website, How To Be a Monkey, attempts to answer that question. The site offers an inside look at what monkeys in the wild are up to. I’ve poked around in there and love it, even though my limited bandwidth here makes it slow at times. They’re tracking a group of capuchins here in Costa Rica at the Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve, about 145 miles north of Uvita, near the boarder with Nicaragua. The star is Winslow Homer, a baby monkey that researchers tracked all day on Jan. 24, 2014. They then posted the results in a way that’s both educational and entertaining.

In a story about the project, I was particularly struck by the comments of Susan Perry, an anthropology professor at UCLA, who notes the negative and positive impacts of technology on science education:

This is getting to be true even in Costa Rica, where kids … have some of the most endangered and interesting habitats in the world in their backyard. But they never go in their backyard because they’re looking at the TV or their laptop or their phone … Part of my job as an educator is to try to lure people in to nature. And also get them to understand that even if they don’t want to be bothered to walk outside … that they should at least be able to appreciate what’s out there enough to be the kind of citizen that promotes the conservation of those areas.

I haven’t had access to TV now for two months and I don’t miss it at all. And while I twitch uncontrollably at times because I don’t have the Internet bandwidth I’m accustomed to at home, even that has proven a gift. It’s amazing what you see when you go outside, get quiet and watch.

For the past few days, we’ve had drenching, nightlong rain. No thunder and lightning. Just rain. It abates midmorning before continuing again later in the afternoon, and during that pause, the jungle jumps to life.

A coatimundi. Photo by Clark Anderson, via Wikipedia and creative commons license

The other day I heard an aggressive snorting followed by the squeal of an agouti, who shot past me with his hair standing on end. I jumped up to take a look at what had rattled him and saw a coatimundi — a cousin of the raccoon— stomping around where the rabbit-like agouti normally forages for papaya scraps. Moral of this story: Don’t mess with a coatimundi.

I’ve also been fascinated by the blue flies who harass me as I write. I’ve never seen anything quite like them and haven’t made a specific ID yet, but they’re impossible to kill. They fly up and hover, drone-like, in front of me, but the second I move to swat them they zip off. I’ve yet to hit one despite numerous attempts and strategies. (It’s important to note here that I am not an amateur killer of flies; I’m able to snatch run-of-the-mill U.S. flies with my hand and hurl them to their deaths). It’s almost as if the singularity has occurred, but instead of humans merging with machines, these strange flies have beaten us to it.

I haven’t heard much from the howlers the past few days. I think when it rains like this they pretty much hunker down and ride it out.

Odds and sods

  • I finished Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. Loved it. I’ve finally found one of the Russian masters I can relate to, though I intend to start revisiting the others now.
  • I read Henry James’ The Aspern Papers, which was mentioned several times in the fiction writing lectures I’m listening to. The way James crafts his characters is amazing, and the use of an unreliable narrator is subtle and very effective. The ending also fits John Gardner’s criteria for Resolution, where no other action can logically take place. One of the most difficult things in fiction, I think, is the ending. I’ve read so many great books that ran out of steam at the end or seemed contrived. Since I don’t know yet how The Book will end, that’s an ongoing concern I have.
  • Next up, Flannery O’Connor’s short story The River. This is driven because I’ve been listening nonstop to Ray Wylie Hubbard’s 1999 masterpiece Crusades of the Restless Knights. There’s not a bad song on it, and most of them are outstanding. Patty Giffin’s backing vocals are superb, especially on the song “The River Runs Red,” which apparently is based on the O’Connor short story. My obsessions sometimes become microscopic in this way. I just let them run their course. There’s also a wonderful bluegrass waltz on there, “After the Harvest,” that I can’t get out of my head. I think I’m going to quote part of it in The Book. Here are the lyrics (as transcribed by me, so they might be a tad off):

After the Harvest
Always before us
there have been true believers
rising up from
the rank and file drunks
now for a short time
we gather small treasures
and after the harvest
there’s sweet kingdom come

Once we had wings
and could fly over mountains
and in the blue yonder
we had a home
there was a time
we could all walk on water
if we saw a reflection
then we’d sink like a stone

There are these bridges
from the past to the present
there are these bridges
from now until dawn
there are these rivers
that flow on forever
we are like rivers
on our way home

A geek screed from the jungle

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Monday, Oct. 1

Breakfast of champions: Papaya, pineapple, banana, mamon chino, Costa Rican coffee and locally baked ciabatta. The jam is pretty damned good, too.

At least once a week, I consider blowing up my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Google profiles and giving up on the social web. The data breaches alone are horrifying, and the intrusiveness of advertising increases daily. Heavy handed advertising ruined TV sports for me, making games tedious waits during commercial breaks for another tidbit of action. I gladly pay each month for an ad-free Netflix. And advertisers’ voracious taste for data is leading the Web down the same path. I use an ad blocker on my Chrome browser, which helps, but it doesn’t stop that constant, invasive data harvesting that occurs in the background. Not to mention the outright data breaches.

I have completely minimized my use of Yahoo! over the breaches they suffered and their criminal delay in acknowledging or acting on them. Someone should be doing time for what happened there. I keep that email address on life support with an auto-response warning senders I don’t monitor the account closely. Why don’t I just kill it outright? Because some key products/platforms use my Yahoo address and no sane, elegant way to change to a new address. I’m looking at you, Apple …

That’s why I’m cautiously enthused to read that Tim Berners-Lee, the “inventor of the World Wide Web,” is taking a sabbatical from MIT to work on a platform called Solid that will attempt to decentralize the Web, focusing more on peer-to-peer interactions and hopefully disintermediating middlemen like Facebook and Google. Pivotal to Solid’s thinking is the idea that your data will be stored by you, and you will decide with whom and under what circumstances that data will be shared.

Berners-Lee’s blog post makes some grandiose claims for what Solid will deliver. If someone pitched it to me via PowerPoint in a boardroom, I’d probably walk out shaking my head, thinking them quixotic, at best. But this is a windmill that’s worth tilting at, so it’s worth keeping an eye on.

My main fear is that they’ll build an Egghead Ghetto, a cave where only geeks and data junkies gather to hide from the commercial web. Getting regular users and attaining scale would be critical to the success of Solid. Developers and normal people would have to embrace it. That’s why I haven’t blown up my social media accounts. Like that Yahoo account, there is still some residual value there, some ability to connect with people I wouldn’t otherwise be able to, or with whom it would be much more difficult to interact.

Godspeed, Solid. I’m rooting for you.

Odds and sods

  • Today marks 3 weeks since I mangled my ankle. Progress continues, slow but steady. The meds are really helping, the swelling is down some and there’s a bit less wobble to my hobble.
  • I’ve started reading Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. I picked it up after Karl Ove Knausgaard discussed it at length in his book, Spring. My attempts to read the great Russians generally peter out before I get to the end. I greatly admire them, but they’re so heavy with religious themes and moral hand-wringing (not to mention the length) that it wears me down. Not so Turgenev. He’s more of a naturalist or realist and seems interested here in the idea of love, the relationship between generations, and how we behave in the face of societal change. His Bazarov character, a “nilhilist,” seems to herald some of the stupidity that would emerge decades later from the Russian Revolution.
  • Wildlife update. A blue morpho butterfly flittered past as I was writing this section, and last night, for the first time here at PurUvita, I saw a pair of macaws. They were distant — across the road, high in the trees overlooking the beach — but I heard their unmistakable squawks and after scanning the area for a few minutes spotted them right before they took flight, heading north up the coast. I wasn’t close enough to ID the specific type of macaw, but their profile in flight was unmistakable. They were raising majestic hell the entire way.
  • My next task this morning is a rewrite of a chunk of the The Book in third person. I’ve been worried that I’m outrunning my supply lines writing it from multiple first-person vantage points, and the fiction writing course I’ve been working through discussed the relative merits of each approach during the lectures I listened to last night. This seems a good time to do a gut check to make sure I’m not painting myself into a corner. I am smitten with that multiple first-person approach, though, especially after having read Tommy Orange’s magnificent There, There recently. But I’m not Tommy Orange … and maybe a more conservative approach would make sense here. We’ll see.

Sometimes nature comes to you

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Sunday, September 30

Gratuitous flower photo.

Sometimes you just need to hunker down, get quiet and let the jungle come to you.

I was working in the bar area the other day when I heard the incoming buzz of a cicada. I hardly flinch now when they scream past, but this time a yellow flycatcher blew in right after it, missing me by about two feet and seizing the insect midair. It was astounding. I almost applauded as the flycatcher landed over near the banana trees to finish off the bug.

A photo of me enjoying the wildlife here in Costa Rica.

The bar area, in fact, is turning into my Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom. In the evening, I turn on the overhead lights, luring in a variety of insects for the house geckos to feast on. Add a soundtrack of Lee Dorsey’s funky take on Allen Toussaint tunes and Tim Maia’s psychedelic Brazilian soul and I’m as entertained as the lizards.

In the mornings, there’s almost always some strange visitor hanging out from the night before, from scorpions to frogs to chachalacas. And the agouti come out doglike, waiting for me to toss papaya scraps their way. They’re incredibly timid and it doesn’t take much to send them screaming back under the fence and into the jungle. I heard one screeching a few days ago and when I went over to take a look, a coatimundi had taken over, apparently running off the agouti. The coatis have a lot more attitude and don’t seem too perturbed by my presence. I’ve also been seeing black squirrels during the day eating the little berries that Uvita is named for (they look like tiny grapes, which is uvita in Spanish).

My one disappointment has been the green iguanas. They’re incredibly twitchy and bolt the second they become aware of my presence. A 4-footer lumbered up near the laundry room the other day but thrashed away before I could grab my phone for a photo attempt. I saw a smaller one escape into a hole on the hillside several weeks ago and I scan that area regularly but haven’t seen him since.

I’ll admit I was never a big Marty Balin fan, but I was really touched by Jorma Kaukonen’s tribute to his former bandmate, Now We Are Three. Hard to believe Jorma, Jack and Grace are all that’s left of Jefferson Airplane. Jorma’s blog, by the way, is definitely worth following, if for nothing else than the incredible drone shots he posts from Fur Peace Ranch and from various places across the country where he’s performing. I’ve met him briefly a few times and he comes across as the anti-rock star — quiet, unassuming and approachable. The tone of his blog very much reflects that.

Balin isn’t the only musician who passed recently. We also lost one of my favorite bluesmen, Otis Rush. I’ll be adding him to my play list today. Here’s a link to the New York Times obituary.

This quote in the obit, from Robert Palmer, sums up Rush’s work,  I think:

His guitar playing hit heights I didn’t think any musician was capable of: notes bent and twisted so delicately and immaculately, they seemed to form actual words, phrases that cascaded up the neck, hung suspended over the rhythm and fell suddenly, bunching at the bottom in anguished paroxysms.

Another gratuitous flower photo.

Good morning …

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Friday, September 28

This little guy was hanging around when I came down for breakfast this morning.

I’m sitting here writing, not even 8 a.m. yet, when I hear a squawk. Then another. Then a third. A branch crashes down, landing less than 20 feet from where I’m sitting. And that sound. Very familiar. Like Sydney, our umbrellas cockatoo, when he’s extra full of himself.  I jump up (praying Sydney hasn’t somehow found me) and peer up into the tree in time to see a toucan — a Fiery-billed Aracari — raising hell about 30 feet above me. Then another. And then two more. That’s the most I’ve seen together here. Mostly they come through in pairs, but this morning there are at least four. And they’re whipped up. They don’t hang out long before soaring up the hill, deeper into the jungle.

What a great wake-up call …

Banana update … major progress since last weekend.

Contemplating Cortes

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Thursday, September 27

Pineapple in progress here at PurUvita.

As I hunker down to let my ankle heal and attempt to spit out The Book, there hasn’t been a lot to report. So updates are becoming less frequent.

I have about 20,000 words written and spent about 6-8 hours both today and yesterday writing away. More accurately, perhaps, I’ve been rewriting, editing and researching. Themes are becoming clearer and characters are growing more well-rounded. The Scrivener software I mentioned the other day has proven invaluable. I still have a long way to go, but I’m up above the trees now, getting a sense of the forest.

The ankle continues its slow progress. It’s a struggle to stay off it instead of testing it, but I’m sticking to the former. I sat in the bar area last night and watched a drenching rain, punctuated with considerable trueno and relámpago. After waiting about 90 minutes for a break so I could walk to the Treehouse, I gave up and got drenched. The rain continued until well after I went to sleep, though today we were rewarded with a cool, breezy respite filled with sunshine.

Tomorrow I’ll give Yair the taxi driver a shout and get a ride into town for food and prescription refills. It’s hard to believe that I’ll be heading to the States a week from Monday for a business meeting, returning here the following Saturday. From there, it’s just a few more weeks until Lara visits and then we return home together. I’m now in my sixth week in Costa Rica, and even with the mangled ankle, I have no regrets. This has been a phenomenal experience, and I can’t honestly recall I time I was more productive.

I launched into another book yesterday, Matthew Restall’s When Montezuma Met Cortes: The True Story of the Meeting that Changed History. It’s a fascinating attempt to dispel what he calls the “mythistory” of the meeting between Cortes and Montezuma and the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire. In short, he’s arguing, with extensive evidence, that Cortes was not the godlike conquerer of a leader who cowered at the sight of his galleons, guns and horses. Quite the opposite, he claims Montezuma toyed with Cortes, luring him to Tenochtitlan to study him almost as if he and his crew were zoo animals. Restall also notes that Cortes was not the mastermind warrior history remembers him as, reminding the reader time and again that the winners, in this instance, Cortes, control the historical narrative. In reality, Cortes was a barely competent Spanish commander, one of many vying for power and prestige in the New World. His real gift was his persuasive powers and his duplicity. The Spaniards spent almost as much time undermining and fighting among themselves in the early stages of the conquest as they did fighting native peoples. And the initial meeting, which has been portrayed as a surrender by Montezuma, was no such thing and that Montezuma wasn’t subjugated until after the actual war broke out, which was more than 200 days after Cortes, his men and members of the Triple Alliance entered the Aztec capital.

One of my favorite sections thus far is in his debunking of the myth of Cortes brilliantly burning his boats to ensure his men had no option but conquest. As has been noted before, the boats weren’t burned. They were sunk. And Restall cites evidence indicating they were actually grounded, not sunk, because several of them were rotting and no longer seaworthy. By grounding them, it was easier to harvest the hardware and rigging for future use. In fact, one ship remained seaworthy, and there was a force sailing from Cuba that could have rescued them (albeit a force sent by Cortes’ nemesis, Diego Velázquez, to rein him in, even though that force ultimately joined forces with Cortes’ men to help overthrow Tenochtitlan.)

There’s still more to read, and in the end, the real truth is known only to those who were there. But Restall is making a compelling argument for rethinking much of what we thought we knew about the conquest. He even calls it the Spanish-Aztec war, instead of conquest, reflecting the fact that it was a pitched battle where the Spaniards and their allies ultimately prevailed, not a cowardly capitulation by the Aztec leader.

As I wrote this, the sun set, the clouds crept in and a gentle rain began to fall. Let’s see if it goes nuclear again …

A lime ready for harvest.