Half Dead City Is Fully Alive

Zaragoza (Juarez), Chihuahua, street kids at scene of a murdered woman, 05/08

©Bruce Berman 2010

Two border towns.

El Paso and Juarez.

One city is half dead and the other is in a coma. Guess which is which?

As always, a trip to Juarez puts everything in perspective and raises big questions. For openers:  We don’t have to do all the things we think we need to do, there are worse things than physical death and injury, watch out for what you hear, and, we should never believe anything except what our eyes  feel.

My eyes tell me Ciudad Juárez is alive.

I salute you, injured Madame Juárez.

FOR SLIDESHOW, GO TO NEXT PAGE:

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At least 6 police and one sicario killed in Juarez

Dead Police and Murderer in Juarez by heroic

by anonymous El Diario de Juarez photographer

Today in Juarez. More of the same. If this were anywhere else we’d be sending aide and 120,000 troops. Instead we send DEA Agents (under the terms of the “Merida Initiative”) and clandestine military “trainers,” to train soldiers and police…to do what, exactly?

The last time I heard the term “trainers,” it was the early and mid sixties and the trainers were being sent to Viet Nam.

How’d that work out for us?

More importantly, how’d that work out for Viet Nam?

Watch out Mexico, there are many many dollars seeking calamities. Buy cheap, wait, sell strong.

Anyway, six Federales and one murderer (sicario), today, so far.

Same old…

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Border Beauties

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February 13, 2010, the day before the Day of San Valentin – El Paso, Texas

Photographs by Bruce Berman

Pipo’s Hair Salon and School held a beauty competition and the best of the best turned out to coif, spray, paint and shape the “models,” in a competition that determined who was the most beautiful and who was the best beauty maker.

The night’s Dj, a veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq was overheard telling the photographer (me), “I’ve seen a lot of things but I have never ever seen anything like this.

Not even in Iraq.

The border always has a twist. But this event, at least to your correspondent, seemed to make sense.

In journalism, they always teach you to ask, “Why?”

I guess the question here is, Why Not?

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El Dia de San Valentin

La “MC,” Lidia, San Valentin Beauty Show

El Paso – Feb. 13, 2010

El Dia de San Valentin/El Paso, Texas

Candy? Flowers? Lingerie?

Furgidaboutit!

Beauty!

Big day on the border. Everywhere now. Billions in tooth decay. Billions in flowers grown in eco-destroying third world corporate gardens.

Bah humbug (or whatever malapropism you say on Valentin’s Day)!

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Black Cross and Anarchy

5:10pm – December 30, 2009

Last block of America. Or is it the first?

Fifth Street and El Paso Street, El Paso, Texas.

This used to be happy street. It’s still a busy street. It’s the street where the downtown bridge from Juarez exits or, conversely, it is the street where you leave the United States and enter the bridge to Juarez.

There’s a strange urgency on this block now, on this border now, if you’re looking and listening these days. People try to get back to Juarez before dark. Dark is when the heavy killing begins. At least that’s the way it’s been for the last year. Lately, things are getting even crazier in Juarez. Burrito ladies shot in the middle of the street in broad daylight, children executed in plain sight, house invasions and retaliations. Hard to know when a “safe” time to be in Juarez anymore.

Cartel War?

It was.

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My Window and Mi Compañeros a Sur: Season’s Greetings!

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Guadalupe #41, El Paso – Dec. 18, 2009

This third floor window looks out onto the Cordova Bridge to Juarez, three blocks to the south. It’s the Season. Guadalupe, I will light you every night -and a string of Christmas lights too- for the rest of the holiday. If anyone in Juarez sees this, please wave at me, say hello, know I am with you and I am waving at you, too, and I will be visiting with you, soon.

Andale compañeros. Vida sobre todo.

Note: Yes Victoria, I tilted the frame!

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A Warm Farewell

A piece written to my photography students at the end of a fine semester at New Mexico State University. Forgive the “first person.” Originally posted on their class website at www.nmsu.documentaryshooters.com:

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Brucini w/New Blan­ket from a Good Friend, El Paso –Dec. 9, 2009

So it comes to this, the semes­ter ends, we go our own way, we know more for hav­ing known each other.

We have had our ambi­tions and we have had our dis­ap­point­ments but, what we mostly have had, I think, is a jour­ney of discovery.

At least, it’s has been that way for me.

I was given some­thing won­der­ful today: a very warm blan­ket from a very good and thought­ful friend (she had heard that my Loft is frigid in the win­ters, a con­crete old fac­tory build­ing of a palace, not designed to be lived in).

I stopped on the way home for some Christ­mas lights. First time in my life I have bought any. How can one not suc­cumb to this Sea­son when such kind ges­tures are extended?

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Fuzz

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Alameda in Mist, December 2, 2009

The view south, across Alameda street, across the Chamizal, three blocks beyond, across the bridge, into Juarez, into Chihuahua, into Mexico, beyond.

Usually the view is razor sharp. The last few days have fuzzed things up: snow, rain, and, now, this morning, fog.

Been looking south across this razor sharp landscape for a long time and, finally, a little fuzz feels right. There will be no clarity. Better people than I have written and viewed this border, came up with “clarifications,” and “explanations,” and “revelations,” and yet it goes on, untamed, inexplicable, roque.

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I kiss you, SNOW!

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El Puente Cordova, El Paso/Juarez, November 30, 2009

Snow!

A rarity in this no-mans-land.

Hardship. No one is ready for it. Not man nor beast nor domicile. The aftermath will be unnavigable mud on some of the streets in Juarez: there’s always a fire from people using heaters they’re not used to using;  tons of $14.95 coats will be sold on El Paso Street and Stanton Street and the various Fallas Paredes tiendas all over town; car crashes aplenty; you can bet on it. The homeless freeze. Rich people buy juniper logs for five bucks apiece to have their moment of apres ski. Everyone will adapt eventually, but by then we’ll be back in T-shirts and shorts; my loft turns to a freezer;  life is anew. This is a place of the sun, not really set up for anything else.

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Alameda Street (Again)

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Alameda Street #91, El Paso- November 2009

This street is changing. New Medical School and renewed Medical Center just down the block. Oh yeah they have the Grand Plan.

But the south side has its own Plan  and the hot paint keeps coming!

Yeah man, this street is the Grand Plan dealing with the No Plan, the natural plan, the reality plan of the people who hang here, hanging onto the funk, south side people.

Like me.

Like Letty.

Been on this street for a long time.

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“Rats” in a bad spot (or is it pretty?)

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Pretty spot/bad times-Juarez 2009

Juarez / October 2009

Murders continue.

Record year.

Day of the Dead is coming. Like every day hasn’t been that.

The streets have an eerie decay to them. Litter. Boarded up windows. Still a lot of hustle but the nights are empty and in the shadows are things no one wants to see.

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I Am Free

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Johnland,  El Paso – June 2009

Been thinking about this guy and borders and the idea of the Big Picture versus the small picture ever since I made it (the photo) this summer, on an almost rainy night, in the northeast section of town, out by the military base.

John Hughes.

Angry. Joyous. Funny. Dangerous. Sweet. Full of love, hate and ambivalence. Boozed up, half mad, half brilliant.

“I am free,” he shouts at the night. “I am free and I am in hell.”

I ask him if he ever goes across the border?

“I am borderless,”he replies, “aren’t you?” He shakes his hand and does a twirl, almost stepping into busy Saturday night traffic.

He does a little dance and steps so close to the edge of the curb that I go to grab him but he spins back onto the sidewalk and does a very theatrical bow. He is a tight rope walker and it looks like he has done this toe dance forever.

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Dignity In Juarez

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Dignified man #7,  Juarez ©2009 Bruce Berman

Juarez/13 June 2009

So what else is there in Juarez besides murder and catastrophe?

Right now, it doesn’t seem like anything.

But, then, there are those moments.

Tender Mercies.

I walk the streets. I walk the beaten down downtown. I bus through the factory landscape with For Lease signs more plentiful every time. I walk through the night clubs on Avenida Lincoln, defying myself, defying my fear.

But it’s there. The noise comes out of the clubs, loud, but not the joyous sound, more like the power-driven sound of defiance and booze.

People wait for the situation to end. It will. Someday.

Daily, the murder rate climbs, like an upward missile, slicing through the inherent good nature of this state and city, through this sunny northern Mexico metropolis that was turned into, first, a factory for first world consumption and, then,  a monument to the future of world global wage reality.  It was that, just a few years ago.

Seems like an entire epoch ago.

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The Circle On Seventh Street

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Sagundo barrio, El Paso – July 14, 2009

Needed a trip to see someone “rich,” get to my home, my ‘hood, the epicenter.

A day -part of a day- in Americaland was enough for me. Felt sick. Left wobbly. Everyone comes to that place where you’ve got to weigh the illness of your certainties against the “healthiness (or lack of it)” of your insecurities.

I’m there.

I head to the pueblo.

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Murder Is A Teaching Moment (Editor Says…)

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Picture 10

Local TV Handles Vilolence In Juarez (at least Art about violence)

  • SEE FULL VIDEO ABOUT THE ART CONTROVERSY:
  • >http://www.kvia.com/
  • >Go to page #6 of videos
  • >Hit:”Controversial border art makes waves”

Your Editor Stumbles Into a Defense Of Decapitated Heads (Art) At El Paso’s Library

July 9, 2009

Editor’s Note: Here is what they left on the “cutting room floor”

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World In A Pump

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Pumpa Monumental, FBA Project/El Paso -2009

It ain’t all war and drugs and deals.

Or is it?

Right here, in  the midst of it all is…this!

Who made this? Chinese hands? Sweat shop Haitian hands? Don’t tell me North Carolina hands! They did wingtips, right?

Who will end up with this radical pump? Where will they wear it (I think I can imagine)? Is there pain and despair there, or a  happy night? Baile, baile. I hope. Will this end up on the other side of the border or is there a place, close by, that will be dazzled by the wearer of this shrine?

Is this the scariest thing I have ever seen or the funniest and why is it this that provokes my thoughts and not the library or some archive or gallery? Why is it this that reminds me of those who toil without options of what is toiled at? Is everything always going to bring my thoughts to the Cartel, to class disparities, to the haves and the have nots, to the black magic of the border? Is that my fate: to see the most outrageous shoe in the history of my life and I can only think of slavery, not aesthetics?

Can I just let it slide? That seems like a long time ago.

Ah, all this in la pumpa monumental.

I smile. I gather the image. I harness my moment. What else can you do? We’re all stumbling around, teetering on some spiky platform or another. Making it look good. We toil at what we toil at, we dance with the partners we’re given, we all try to slick it up. What else can you do?

Otra vez, calle El Paso…estas el mejor!

I have loved you for a long time.

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Lomas del Poleo For Now

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Tres niños before The Grid, June 2009

Lomas del Poleo/Juarez, Chihuahua/Mexico

June 20, 2009

Lomas del Poleo. The battle goes on. More people leave. People fight to stay.  A mean strip of ten lane highway has snaked its way through Lomas del Poleo (see previous posts or Google it). The Developers got what they needed and left what they didn’t, more or less. They don’t even blink as they plow ahead. This highway is going to happen, no matter what. The development will follow, is gonna happen, no matter what. Nothing stops the grinder. The Grid viene: Diamond Shamrock, The Chicken Colonel, Pemex, trucks full of electronic crap, three bedrooms, two baths, probably a Wal Mart (whoa..let’s not get too crazy!), the same vexing and stinking Grid that we hate and that people fight to have (Iran, Cuba, Libya, you, too, can have it!). There goes the texture, and, in the case of Lomas del Poleo, the isolation and faux rural vibe, the farm at the edge of the city, the special dream that has been Lomas: get out of the city, raise some chickens, leave us alone. A quiet hope on the edge of always possible chaos that is Juarez.

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Centro Family Train

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Family in Segundo barrio, El Paso – 2009

Thanksgiving Day.

Summer of 2009.

I see it every day.

That other day, the one in November, I guess it’s in there somewhere. Eating and stopping the world and traveling and the whole schmeer. That’s thankfulness, right.

What is the word for grinch in Thanksgiving-ese?

I see thanks every day in my barrio. I see thanks for the mere act of being alive and being safe and having someone who calls you Dad or Mom or Mijo.

Yeah, I’m a simpleton.

And I dig it, too.

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There Goes Breakfast

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Rooster man of Chaparral, NM – 2008

He has been raising these birds since he was a teenager. Fighters are they, he and his birds.

Now, cockfighting is illegal in New Mexico. Outlawed. “Civility,” has come to the funklands. God help us. Now come the thiefs with pens. They been fighting this since Billy the kid.

The rooster man keeps raising his birds. Doesn’t know what else to do.

He speaks of the “Old Man,” and “Ralph,” “Juan Pedro,”and the others. Each has a name. There are hundreds.

When he speaks, he says their names softly, a Lover’s murmur whispering his loves’ names.

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