Here is my first book column, which appeared in the May 19 fiber edition of Tempo, the arts and entertainment magazine of The Taos News. I was away at the time, so here it is.
The two books have common themes about life and death. A Taos artist, known for using images of death in her works, reflects on having a life in full in her food-infused memoir. Meanwhile a psychic shares interviews she collected of people whose lives were never the same after undergoing near-death experiences.
Coyota in the Kitchen: A Memoir of New and Old Mexico
Artist Anita Rodríguez aims to nurture readers with recipes and stories about her life in the two Mexicos.
First, an explanation about the book’s title is in order: coyota is a term for a female of mixed heritage — half-Hispanic and half-gringa.
Rodríguez’s father was a Taoseño who worked as a druggist on the Plaza. Her mother, who had a genteel Southern upbringing, came from Texas to study art.
She recalls classmates taunting her for being a “coyota,” which inspires her to create stories in which the animals are her real relatives.
“Don’t pay attention to those two-leggeds. They’re stupid. Come with me. Let’s go steal chickens and howl at the moon!” she imagines a coyote saying.
Such cruelty makes one sad for that little girl.
But then again, Rodriguez’s own opinions about outsiders come through with such observations as: “A person doesn’t exist in Taos without an identifying family. Until you have lived here for two generations, you are transparent.”
In her take on the food-based memoir, Rodríguez recalls good cooks and some really horrible cooks such as her paternal grandmother Hipólita Ramírez Trujillo. Grandmother’s food had one constant ingredient: rancor.
“Occasionally, Mother’s food was good, but mostly it was just so-so. Once in a while, it was a disaster,” she writes.
Likewise Rodríguez gives unflinching descriptions of her relatives.
Her life story thus far includes working in a California restaurant, where she learns about good cooking from its owner. Later, as a single mother in New Mexico, she raises a daughter under harsh living conditions. She searches for gainful employment and finds it as an enjarradora creating mud plaster for adobe structures and building fireplaces, hornos and mud floors. She lives in Mexico for 15 years before returning home.
Rodríguez is an artist whose paintings and illustrations typically contain images of death — skeletons enjoying what the living do. “Besides, death is so deeply a part of the human story that omitting it diminishes life, takes away its wholeness. If that’s not enough, you can blame my love of painting skeletons on a near-death experience, after which I became an artist, hiding in plain view the knowledge that life is eternal.”
“Coyota in the Kitchen,” a paperback published by the University of New Mexico Press, contains her illustrations and several paintings, including “Pie for the Dead” featured on its cover. Unfortunately the plates inside the book are not large enough to do her art justice.
Now about the food: Rodríguez includes numerous recipes throughout the book from Biscochitos to Frijoles con Chile Colorado to Chicos from the Ground Up. Several recipes were discovered during her travels.
Her advice for making Chile Caribe begins: “If you are going to make a lot of chile caribe, use rubber gloves. If you handle enough of it, your cuticles and hands will begin to burn.” Readers certainly will be grateful.
Life After Near Death: Miraculous Stories of Healing and Transformation in the Extraordinary Lives of People with Newfound Powers
Debra Diamond left behind a successful career as a Wall Street money manager and university professor after discovering her psychic and clairvoyant powers during a transformational experience in 2008.
Diamond, who is a part-time Taos resident, shares first-person accounts of “science-based, cognitive and physiological near-death aftereffects.”
The people she interviews developed such new skills as heightened musical and artistic talents, spontaneous healing and electrical super-sensitivity. A man she meets in Taos has enhanced hearing among other gifts.
Given the subject matter, this should be a fascinating book. Perhaps it will be for those involved in the field. But as a layperson, I wanted to know far more about the people Diamond interviewed and less about her psychic abilities.
Do we really need to know she took a sip of lemonade while talking with a subject or that she put two crystals beside her computer before she did a Skype interview? I wanted to read about the transformation her subjects underwent.
Life After Near Death, published by New Page Books, is available in paperback.