Micro-Miniature Mania

California & Zona Sur - June 2005

Interlude in California

International Volunteering can be tough on your body. Mysterious sca
rs suddenly appear; your internal organs will run the gamut of the usual tropical infections and your digestive system will become acquainted with several thousand new microbes who will want to make their new home in your intestines. Up to now we have both been pretty lucky, especially in an area where malaria and dengue fever were practically invented. However, we just had a brief interlude in California which was extended by medical circumstances beyond our control. We originally went for a wedding (Huzzah for Matt & Amy) and just as we were about to return home there was a reoccurrence of a “condition” that had occurred at New Year (no, there was no copious amounts of alcohol involved in either case), thus we were frantically checking in and out of medical appointments to get cleared to return.

The happy triple.

Juliascopic view at the Getty.

Luckily [name of International development agency removed by request] paid for everything (including our return ticket) and even allowed a generous daily stipend of $12 which doesn’t even buy two cappuccinos and biscotti in San Francisco these days but it’s the thought that counts. No grapes please, I am 100% fine. The blood is now back on the inside where it belongs and I can personally ascertain that medical science and the miniaturization of exploratory scientific cameras have reached levels of quite mind-blowing sophistication. The doctor told me it was “laughingly unserious” and ruled out my entire list of possible “lifestyle changing illnesses” which considering the severity of the symptoms was good to hear.

You Say Watt?

So we had plenty of time to catch up with people we hadn’t seen for two years plus we made a road trip to the always bizarre city of Los Angeles. We made a pilgrimage to the mysterious and amazing Watts Towers. For those of you who don’t know, Watts Towers was constructed by the eccentric Italian immigrant Sabato “Simon” Rodia (1879-1959) who spend 33 years constructing what is basically a scale model of a clipper ship out of concrete, steel rods and the ubiquitous “found” objects, mostly broken crockery and toys right in the middle of suburban South Central LA, right over his house.

Things are looking up in Watts.

"Real" culture comes in the form of
vintage polynesian kitsch.

At 100 feet tall it is the largest pieces of art ever constructed by one man and one of the finest examples of folk environmental art in the world. Imagine if Howard Finster had been allowed to have a crack at rebuilding the World Trade Center and you would get something like Watts Towers. However, after a fire in 1959 the L.A. Building Department made plans to demolish what they called the “pile of junk”. They brought in some testing apparatus to declare it unsafe. One thousand “supporters” cheered when—after applying a force equivalent to 80MPH winds to the tallest tower—the testing apparatus started to bend while the tower remained unaffected. Thus the towers were refurbished and re-opened in Oct 2000.

Mini Mickey Mouse

Los Angeles other fantastic not-to-be-missed attraction is the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Almost an art piece in itself, the museum is a veritable curiosity box of exhibits ranging from micro-miniature art to a special exhibit on trailer parks. This was our second visit and they now have a cabinet theater and a delightful Victorian tea room which are almost worth the suggested donation alone. The miniature art is just incredible. You have to peer down myriad microscopes to view tiny Disney characters in the eye of a needle or Napoleon balancing on a human hair. The exponent of this peculiar art form is a Russian by the name of Hagop Sandaldjian. He perfected this art over a lifetime. Apparently the work has to be done “between heartbeats” in order for the hand to remain steady. He once made a micro-miniature windup flea for Tsar Nicholas. Other notable L.A. haunts include Tiki-Ti’s Tiki Tavern, the La Brea tar pits (still free!) and possibly the most exciting shop in the world, “Wacko” featuring the Galeria de la Luz de Jesus.

Micro-Miniature Goofy atop a needle.

A mastodon is taken by the tar pits.
Don't try this at home.

Tiresome Antics

On the way back on the freeway we drove over a small piece of freeway flotsam, no doubt carelessly discharged by some recently jolted over-ladened pickup. Thus we were stranded in the middle of nowhere on highway 101 with a flat tire. Now like every full-blooded American/European hybrid male, I like to think he can wield a monkey wrench and fix a car when required. Julia even now chuckles with mirth over my futile attempts to try and unscrew the wheel nuts by jumping up and down on the jack (and yes, it was the correct direction). We eventually had to request the help of a small Latino man on a bicycle who just happened to be passing. Somehow he managed to unscrew the nuts almost as easily as the cap off a tube of toothpaste. I must have loosened them up a bit. Along with the tire, my ego was also deflated a few notches as we drove back to San Francisco on the spare.

Capitol City Bound

So we’re back in Honduras. After three weeks of luxuries, convenience and options it’s hard to switch back to living life at it’s most basic level. Most of our work in Zacapa has wound down. We also came back to the news that the nuns had been asked to leave. What possible chance could we have if the town didn’t even want nuns? Apparently they were being outspoken about some political issues and the “accused” wanted them “out the way”. The prospect of spending three more months here was beginning to get us downright down and dumpy. However, we have been given an amazing opportunity to move to the big capital to work at the United Nations. Yes! We are to become serious young people in important trousers. More that he prestigious security passes we will be living in Central America’s most culturally challenged yet unexplainably personable city. Needless to say this is a step up in our lives. Details to follow.

Fruit sculpture at its finest.
Julia and Lemon in the big city.

Honduran sex. Some scamp drew this
on the "door" in my classroom.

No Sex Please We’re Honduran

Honduras is a conservative country my nearly any measure but when it comes to sex, the cultural attitudes are staggering although judging by the high birth-rate, there seems to be a lot of it going on. The HIV/AIDS rate is one of the highest in Latin America. Sex education in schools is restricted to the purely biological. Sex outside of marriage is always looked at as immoral. Sex toys and pornography of any kind are illegal. However, I was intrigued to discover that it is culturally acceptable for men to have seven different affairs at one time (eight is going too far apparently). The quota for married men however, is just three (not including the wife).

This is all part of the Latino tradition of “machismo” passed down for generations since conquistadores introduced it back in 1492. Needless to say, this is one Honduran custom I will not be assimilating into my own personal life. However, for the record, my brother who is currently delving into the annals of family history just uncovered the juicy titbit which proves that it’s not just developing countries that are guilty of cultural misogyny. It was reported in the Sussex Weekly Advertiser that in Brighton, in February 1799, my great, great grandfather sold his wife to a Mr. James Marten for 5 shillings and 8 pots of beer. Apparently the practice of “Wife Selling” in England between 17th and 20th Centuries was quite commonplace.

The Latino tradition of "machismo".

A new Honduran makes a dramatic entry.

Baby On Board

On a routine bus trip to nearby Siguatepeque we were seated behind a woman who had boarded the bus the same time as us, rather obviously heavily pregnant. When we got off the bus she was no longer pregnant and there was an extra passenger. Amazingly we didn’t notice a thing out of the ordinary until another passenger frantically jumped up and asked if she wanted to get a taxi. She was remarkably calm and even let me take a photo. The bus drove to the nearest Red Cross office and the mother and baby (still attached) we unloaded and attended to no different to if we were unloading a sack of corn (with a smaller sack of corn attached by a rope). Another one of those “only in Honduras” moments. The only person remotely ruffled by the occasion was the bus driver who was not looking forward to mopping up the puddles of afterbirth.

Here’s Something I Rote

There’s no question that education is the biggest problem holding back Honduras. The standard is low by any standard with 16 year olds often teaching classes based on the rote memorization system. There is no critical thinking and the drop out rate is outrageously high. This results in an ignorance among many of the population that can be quite shocking. It’s quite normal to encounter adults who have no concept of World War 2, nor of any culture outside of their own with the possible exception of the US. Their perception of the world is based on action movies and hearsay.

The "mojiganga" returns for Zacapa Fería 2005
(later the head fell off)

Battery-powered entertainment.

With this in mind I hauled my laptop and battery-powered inflatable speakers for two hours along a tick infested riverbank to show cartoons to a community that had never seen television before. I explained about the solar system and showed them where Earth—and then Honduras—was on an inflatable globe. I then described cheese to people who had never seen or eaten cheese before and also delved bravely into the topic of space exploration and the concept of gravity. Then we settled back and watched Wallace & Grommet build a space rocket and fly to the moon. I have to say the experience was a bizarre one. There were 20 people in the “classroom” which was made of sticks and mud and they all tried to get as close to the screen as possible. I don’t know how successful the class was in teaching them about astronomy and dairy products but they were certainly excited.

Batman Versus Mapman

I have now completed four maps. The latest took us into the belly of the south where surprises await the tenacious and persevering tourist. For example the scruffy town of San Lorenzo features perhaps the most bizarre and whimsical central park of all time. There are huge cartoon sculptures of sea creatures including a crab and a seahorse. A veritable Honduran Disneyland. The south has a reputation for unrelenting heat but with the exception of Choluteca, the towns are mostly situated in the highlands overlooking the Nicaraguan border.

A hungry crocodile awaiting
a good Christian meal.

The beautiful Island of Amapala.

San Marcos de Colon could possibly be the sweetest town in Honduras with several restaurants with colonial courtyards serving half-decent food. The south also boasts caged animals, crocodile infested mangrove swamps, bat-filled caves and turtles... lots of turtles. We were lucky enough to be escorted around the island of Amapala off the southern coast where you can literally flit between three countries in the space of thirty minutes. My idea of having a package tour for breakfast in El Salvador, lunch in Nicaragua and dinner in Honduras was actually taken very seriously by the enterprising persons of the Choluteca Chamber of Commerce.

Free Surf Music

Despite not owning a guitar, drum kit, bass or keyboard, my Honduran dreams still include being in a surf band. And so the god of illegally downloaded sequencing software waved his wand and lo and behold I was able to make my dream come true. It won’t be long before you will be able to record a symphony on your mobile telephone. Welcome Monkey Versus Robot who’s first song—a cover version of the SpongeBob SquarePants theme—will be available soon on the “Beyond the Sea” compilation CD from those fine folks at Cordelia Records. Place your order here (or download it for free here).

Lemon is pleased to meet the friendly kinkajou

Boats awaiting the tourist boom.

It’s Raining Hen

Yes, it’s hurricane season here in the Central America/Caribbean region. Although away from the coast we are unlikely to suffer the sort of damage that hurricanes are famous for, one thing we do get is a lot of rain albeit in remarkably short but ferocious bursts. Rivers start flowing where rivers did not flow before, sometimes carrying hapless foul to places far away. Sadly we have come to discover that our usually sturdy and safe concrete house leaks during the more heavy downpours and with the heat-cracked ceilings getting older and older we now have rather spectacular waterfalls inside our very own home!

This makes for an interesting ritual in which any rain or threat of rain means moving all furniture and items to dryer land and off the floor which usually floods to about one inch. Umbrellas are useful inside the house at a time like this despite superstitions to the contrary. The rain also brings insects into our lives like never before including huge bat-like moths which are perfect subjects for photographic study. Plus it’s not often you fill find a Preying Mantis alighting on your pool cue as you are about to sink the black.

Until the next dispatch from cosmopolitan Tegucigalpa… it goodbye from me, and it’s goodbye from him.

A 8" cricket on your laundry is almost as
fun as a praying mantis on your pool cue

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J. Lemon / Lemonworld 2005. All rights reserved. This web site is not an official publication of the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government. The contents of this Web site reflect the personal opinions and observations of the individual(s) contributor(s) and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.