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Tropeiros are the famed muleteers of Brazil, who in the olden days transported goods over the Mantiqueira mountain chain of eastern Brazil. These days, descendants of the orginal tropeiros get together annually to celebrate and preserve their culture. And they come by horse. Tatiana Cardeal, a Brazilian photographer who has built a huge following on her Flickr site, recently documented a Tropeiro reunion. Her photos appear below.

The tropeiros come from many miles away.

Antônio Bastião and Zé Carlos (with straw cigarette) make coffee over a wood stove.

Seu Zé Bernardo, with his medal for having participated in the opening march.

Tatiana's commentary: "Maurício Bezerra Soares had a very interesting face to me and reminded me of a clown. Also, his hair seemed like his candies. He said, 'Tell them, I'm from the city of São José dos Campos' I don't know why, but it was very important for him."

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Back from the C.S.A.

Wow, has it really been 17 days that this blog has been fallow? Guess so.

I took time for some intense soul searching at the Landmark Forum, which certainly gave me a kick in the poto and prompted me to think differently about my priorities.

Then it was on to our first family vacation with all four kids. We drove through Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennesee and Mississippi to see Grandma in her new home in Jackson, Miss.

Not your father's family trip. The kids were sedated with doughnuts, gameboys and DVDs.

Here are a few notes, observations and speculations gathered along our trail of tears:

Donde está mi gente?
Here in Minnesota, my hispanic bretheren are legion. And most certainly we're a formidable presence in my home turf of Chicago, as well as in St. Louis and Memphis. But it's simply a fact that once you cross from the outskirts of Memphis into Mississippi, you don't see tons of "hermanitos." But, according to my mom, who quickly tapped into the hispanic network after moving there, the ethnic makeup of ole Miss is changing pretty quickly. Canton, a town north of Jackson and home to an enormous Nissan plant, apparently has a burgeoning hispanic population. Given the quality of life around Jackson, this will probably continue. ¡Que viva!

Hernando was here

He conquered...so that we might play the nickel slots: Hernando de Soto's legacy in northern Mississippi.

In northern Mississippi, a bit south of Memphis, you run into the town of Hernando, in DeSoto County. Following a hunch, I cracked open my copy of The Florida of the Inca, which is the story of Hernando De Soto's explorations in the southeastern U.S. in the 1540s, as written by the Peruvian chronicler Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. Therein I discovered that Hernando had indeed been up all over that place. In what's now Alabama and Mississippi, he battled the Chicaza (Chicasaw) Indians, who clearly didn't expect and weren't about to tolerate the Spanish Inquisition. I also see that De Soto attacked a Chicaza fort at a place called Alabamo (whose name is the origin of the state name) and eventually reached the Mississippi River, which was called Chicagua by the locals. Finally, I see that De Soto had a gentleman on his team named Elvas. Having driven by Graceland only days ago, I have to wonder...is there a connection?

Flat land = wealth

Illinois: 7 hours of corn and beans.

I'm not far enough along in Guns, Germs and Steel to recite Jared Diamond's key arguments about why some countries rule the planet and others don't, but I believe it has a bit to do with geography. And driving the length of Illinois, you quickly realize a couple things. One, it's a flat, boring state. If it weren't for Chicago's dazzling architecture and glorious corruption, Illinois would be exposed for the big yawn that it is, and we Minnesotans would be cracking jokes about the Land of Lincoln, rather than the Hawkeye State. More importantly, as you drive past endless miles of corn stalks that jut out of black glacial silt, you realize that we Americans simply got handed some of the best cards in the deck. What country has this much flat, arable and easily dominable land along with such a favorable climate? Brazil comes close. And, in fact, it recently surpassed the U.S. in soybean production. But that's a topic for another day.

Do Catholics have more fun?
After a few days in the Bible Belt, where dry counties and blue laws still predominate, we made our way to the Gulf Coast resort town of Pass Christian, an hour from New Orleans. As you move toward Louisiana, things become more noticeably French. The architecture. The cemeteries. And, thank the lawd, the food. Dishes like Gumbo and Ettoufe begin crop up on restaurant menus. For me, it was a supreme pleasure last week to take my oldest daughter Sophie to the Old Coffee Pot in Bay St. Louis for Beignets and coffee.

Typical home in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Cemetery in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

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Chronicle of a death foretold

Associación "María Elena Moyano", Chalaco, Perú. Photo Ángela Valverde Ortiz

Rummaging through the blog of a development worker in the northern highlands of Perú, I saw this photo of a flag belonging to an agricultural cooperative. The name on the flag, María Elena Moyano, is one I'd forgotten since I first heard about her murder back 1992.

Moyano was one heck of a brave woman who took on Sendero Luminso (Shining Path) during the peak of its violent revolution. She had gained popularity as an organizer of communal kitchens and women's support groups in Villa El Salvador, one of Lima's most crowded and impoverished slums. Her trajectory culminated in her election as deputy mayor of Villa El Salvador.

Unlike many leftist revolutionary groups, Sendero didn't make war strictly on the oligarchy. Community organizers and labor leaders were attacked with equal vigor because, according to Sendero logic, they were interfering with the revolution by making conditions more tolerable for the masses.

Moyano, center, with her two sons, who witnessed her assassination.

As the story goes, Moyano became more visible as a political force and more vocal in her opposition to the revolution. Sendero made death threats and attempted to kill her in her own house with a shotgun. But she continued to speak out against the violence. Eventually they succeeded in silencing her by machine-gunning her in front of her kids and then blowing up her body with dynamite.

Not a happy ending. Except if you consider that Moyano quickly became (and continues to be) a legend to the poor and disenfranchised of Perú, as evidenced by the photo of the flag. She was also celebrated by the middle and upper classes, who were equally frightened by the prospect of Maoist guerrillas running rampant in the streets of Lima.

Red Cientí­fica Peruana has a Marí­a Elena Moyano tribute site (in Spanish), including a short biography in English.

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Are Latino birds more romantic?

Male club-winged manakin. Photo courtesy Science.

The male club-winged manakin serenades females with violin-like hums that are produced by vibrating its wings in a shivering motion at 106 times a second, which is the fastest known in the animal world.

The strange sound intrigued Charles Darwin, who wrote about the club-winged manakin in 1871 in his treatise the "The Descent of Man." Although his book contains illustrations of the bird's unusual feathers, Darwin did not know how the sound was generated.

With the aid of high-speed cameras, scientists Kimberly Bostwick of Cornell University and colleague Richard Prum of Yale University answer that question in the current issue of Science. Read more at the Discovery Channel Web site. (via Mirabilis.ca)

By the way, the club-winged manakin is only found in a narrow strip of the Ecuador rainforest. Which means you've got about two months to go see it before it's bumped off by environmentally friendly oil drilling.

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