If you are jonesin’ for Game Of Thrones

may I recommend:


Never read the Game Of Thrones books.  Don’t know why, that specific kind of nerddom is not my kind.  I bet George RR Martin has read this book.  It is fucking incredible.

You are very busy so let me summarize it for you.  I’m reading the translation by JM Cohen:


(I’m about to quote pretty generously from it.  If any of the attorneys who read Helytimes could advise me on the legality of that, it’d be great.  I think it’s ok, because I’m not making any money from this, and the whole point is to encourage you to buy this book.)

Bernal Diaz was eighty-four, blind, on an estate in Guatemala when he decided to dictate what he remembered from when he was twenty-seven, in 1519, when he went along with Hernan Cortés on an expedition to the interior of Mexico.

This is the best source, as far as I can tell, for what happened.  Cortés wrote letters to the king of Spain, but if you read them you won’t come away with the impression you can trust him.

There exists also a sort of “Aztec” (not the preferred nomenclature) source: the Florentine Codex:

FC 1which has its own insane story, it was written by a Franciscan friar who learned Nahautal and went around listening to and summarizing oral histories.  So this is written by a Spanish guy, too, history is written by the winners, but at least he was asking around.

I’m gonna steal from the drawings inked into the codex.  If you want you can look at it yourself here or here:


Diaz says, when they landed:

There were five hundred and eight not counting the ships’ captains, pilots, and sailors, who amounted to a hundred,


sixteen horeses or mares, the latter all fit to be used for sport or as chargers.

Some Campeche Indians saw them and shouted castilan!  castilan!

Like, “Castilian”?  What the fuck?  How did they know where they were from?

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The natives communicated somehow that there were other Spanish people there.

So Cortés wrote down a letter, and bribed the natives with beads to bring it to them.

Some days later there arrived a man in a canoe:

As he leapt ashore, [he] exclaimed in inarticulate and clumsy Spanish: “God and the blessed Mary of Seville!”

This was Jeronimo de Aguilar.  He was a Franciscan friar and he had survived a shipwreck, eight years before.  Maybe fifteen other people had survived, too, including two women:

He, his companions, and the two women had then got into the ship’s boat, thinking they could reach Cuba or Jamaica.  But the currents were so strong that they were thrown ashore in this country, where the Calachiones of the district had divided them up, sacrificing many of his companions to their idols.  Some too had died of disease, and the two women only recently of overwork, for they had been made to grind corn.  The Indians had intended to sacrifice him, but one night he had escaped and fled to that Cacique with whom he had been living ever since.  Now, he said, the only survivors were himself and a certain Gonzalo Guerrero.

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When Aguilar got Cortes’ letter he was ecstatic.  He sent a letter to Guerrero, who lived several villages away.

Guerroro wrote back (paraphrasing): I have a face tattoo now.  I have an Indian wife, and half-Indian kids.  I’m with these guys now.

Aguilar says this is true, Guerroro was actually famously respected for his courage.  Aguilar wrote him again, saying like “but what about your Christian soul?” Guerrero didn’t write back to that.

When Cortés heard this he exclaimed: “I wish I could get my hands on him.  For it will never do to leave him here.”

Years later, it’s said, the dead body of Guerrero was found after a battle in Honduras.  He got shot fighting with the local tribes against the Spanish.

Aguilar was happy to go with his countrymen.  He told them how he had been entirely true to his vow of chastity even despite the local chief tempting him:

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So says Washington Irving.

Aguilar could translate the local languages.  The Spanish unloaded their ships:

When the horses came ashore they were very stiff and afraid to move, for they had been on board for some time.  Next day, however, they moved quite freely… The best horses and riders were chosen to form the cavalry and little bells were attached to the horses’ breastplates.  The horsemen were ordered not to stop and spear those who were down, but to aim their lances at the faces of the enemy.

aztec gods

Down the coast, they were spied on and then attacked by, says Diaz, the locals.  This built into a massive battle:

I remember that whenever we fired our guns, the Indians gave great shouts and whistles, and threw up straw and earth so that we could not see what harm we had done them.  They sounded their trumpets and drums, and shouted and whistled, and cried “Alala!  Alala!”*

Just at this moment we caught sight of our horsemen.  But the great host of Indians was so crazed by their attack that they did not at once see them approaching behind their backs…

When it was over, we bandaged our wounded with cloths, for this was all we had, and sealed the wounds of our horses with fat from the corpse of an Indian that we had cut up for this purpose.  We then went to look at the dead that were lying about the field, and found more than eight hundred, most of whom had been killed by sword-thrusts, and the rest by cannon, muskets, or crossbows.

On the Spanish went.

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On the morning of March 15, 1519 [Cohen says this date is incorrect, but that’s what Diaz says]:

many Caciques and important persons came from Tabasco and the neighboring towns and paid us great respect.  They brought a present of gold, consisting of four diadems, some ornaments in the form of lizards, two shaped like little dogs and five like ducks, also some earrings, two masks of Indian faces.

These gifts were nothing, however, compared to the twenty women whom they gave us.

Among these women was one who ended up with the name Dona Marina.  Diaz says you could tell just by looking at her that she was a princess and a “mistress of vassals,” though he doesn’t explain that.

Cortés doled these women out to his top officers.  He gave Dona Marina to Alonso Hernandez Puertocarrero, but when he went back to Spain, Cortés himself impregnated her.

Dona Marina could speak several of the local languages, including one Jeronimo Aguilar understood, so between them they could translate.  Over and over again she warned Cortés about traps he was going to fall into, plots he wasn’t seeing.  Diaz says he’s sure he and all the rest of the Spanish would’ve been killed without her.

la malinche

Cortes asked them where they procured their gold and jewels, and they answered from the direction of the sunset, saying “Culua” and “Mexico.”

Onward they go.  A scout reports unsettling discoveries:


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Some Indians come up to them to more or less surrender, and offer their allegiance.  They’d decided Cortés, and the new guys, must be better than the man who was boss for five hundred miles, Montezuma:


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Some of Cortés’ guys wanted to get back on the ships and go back to Cuba.  “We’ve done enough!” was more or less their argument.

Cortés says, “Fine.  Go ahead.  Get on a ship.  I’m not stopping anybody.”  They’re kinda confused.  Nervously a few of them get on a ship.  They start getting ready, and are just about to leave, when Cortés drags them all back.  Cortes is like “you assholes.  You’re not going anywhere.”  Just to make sure, says Diaz:


It’s time to go.  Cortes gives a final speech, and he rounds up 200 of his new allies to help:


Time to go inland:


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Along the way, they meet the locals, who all tell them more about Montezuma:



Scary warnings:


more sacrifice

Different methods of religious conversion are discussed, and the terrifying hound:


Another battle:


Strange discoveries, the bones of a giant:

IMG_7416Some of Cortes guys’ want to quit.  To which he says, basically, “we ain’t going back”:



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Montezuma, meanwhile, was freaking out:




Diaz says they got to the town of Cholula – maybe twenty thousand people, who are not sure what to make of what’s happening.  The Spanish round up the nobility of the town in the central square, and then, on the signal of a gunshot, they start massacring them all.


Diaz says this was all justified:


head rack

On the Spanish go.  By now they have a growing mob of natives with them.

They come to a fork in the road.  One side is blocked by pine trees.  That’s the road that leads to Montezuma’s capital.

The Spanish climb over the ridge.  And when they saw what was down there, Diaz says:

We were astounded… Indeed, some of our soldiers asked whether it was not a dream… it was all so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen or dreamed of before.

Next time on helytimes: the city of Tenochtitlan.

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*Several times in his letters Cortés describes native temples as “mosques,” mezquilas.  Kind of interesting.  The Spanish had been fighting the Islamic Moors of North Africa for seven hundred years.  Recent historians of all this consider this “Reconquista” important context for how Cortés and his guys did their thinking. 

Bachelor’s Mexico


Helytimes readers – hey guys – will no doubt have noticed a decline in the quantity (but not quality?) of posts here lately.  That’s because the deadline for my book keeps creeping up on the calendar.

That project’s got me pretty well busy, among other things with research.  Today, for instance, I stopped by the Central Library in downtown LA to get my hands on a copy of Hernan Cortes’ letters to the Spanish king.

While I was in the “history of Mexico” section, a colorful volume attracted my eye:



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Most interesting might be the handwritten edit I found inside:


Other books by Boye de Mente:

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From his wikipedia page:


De Mente with Ben Carlin during their crossing of the Pacific Ocean by amphibious vehicle in the late 1950s.


The Ragged Antique Phonograph Program

Reading this article about The Best Show:

Like WFMU itself, which takes pride in its esotericism (the lead-in to The Best Show for years was The Ragged Antique Phonograph Program, which played only 78s or cylinders on period equipment), The Best Show is a cult phenomenon. Its most hard-core listeners can literally become card-carrying fans: “Friends of Tom” are issued membership cards signed by Scharpling. For years, finding out about the show took some digging. Chicagoans who wanted to hear it had to visit the tristate area or find one of five CDs that Scharpling and Wurster self-released between 2002 and 2007. That finally changed in 2008, when they added a podcast.

and was like “haha what a hilarious gag from Scharpling and Wurster.  That’s just the kind of well-observed satire of the excesses of eccentric fandom they specialize at.”

But no, apparently, that really was the lead-in.  Here’s a photo of the hosts from their website, where you can listen to probably over a hundred episodes.


This world is truly amazing.  I wonder if there’s a big future in documentary or “reality” comedy, that’s not making anything up but just observing and capturing the absurdities of what exists, the way all my friends watch documentaries now?  The trouble there might be it’s very difficult to construct a documentary that is purely funny without a strong dose of some pathetic sadness or hopefulness or something — you can’t get undiluted laughs out of unconstructed reality?  If the goal is simply, “watch something that makes me laugh” might be hard to capture.

Anyway, best of luck to Scharpling in continuing Best Show:

James Joyce: hot or not?

James Joyce

Talking the artist as a young man, not the old blind guy.  And, of course, bae (rnacle):

Nora B

How about this eerie family portrait?  bottom left is daughter Lucia, who got dance lessons from Isadora Duncan, fell in love with Samuel Beckett, and had Jung for a shrink (lotta good it did her):

Joyce familyTop right is son Giorgio.  “He spent his days in an alcoholic haze,” says The New Yorker.

Book I’m always recommending

pop crime front

Bill James you may know, if you read Moneyball or follow baseball.  In the 1970s, while working as a nighttime security guard at a Van Camp’s pork and bean factory in Kansas, he spent his spare time researching interesting questions about baseball, writing them up, and self-publishing them:

A typical James piece posed a question (e.g.,“Which pitchers and catchers allow runners to steal the most bases?”), and then presented data and analysis written in a lively, insightful, and witty style that offered an answer.

Editors considered James’s pieces so unusual that few believed them suitable for their readers. In an effort to reach a wider audience, James self-published an annual book titled The Bill James Baseball Abstract beginning in 1977. The first edition of the book presented 80 pages of in-depth statistics compiled from James’s study of box scores from the preceding season and was offered for sale through a small advertisement in The Sporting News.

beans 2

Bill James was also the last person from Kansas to be sent to Vietnam — that’s just the kind of trivia he likes to uncover, turn over, and then decide is interesting but irrelevant.


Bill James’ other passion is reading true crime books.  In Popular Crime, he rounds up, summarizes, muses on what he’s learned from reading, he says, over a thousand true crime books.

This book has a fantastic table of contents, allowing you to skip about to the crimes that pique your particular interest:

pop crim contents 1

pop crime contents

It’s also written in a terrific, casual style, that trusts the reader’s common sense and intelligence.  Here Bill James talking about how serial killers get caught, and a fact he’s concluded about serial killers:

pop crime serial killers

pop crime serial killers 2

Here’s an excerpt on the OJ case – chose this more or less at random to show his style:

pop crime oj

A James question from me: why isn’t this book more popular?  I think everyone I’ve recommended it to loves it, yet no one seems to have heard of it.

I’ve genuinely considered getting more into baseball just so I could read more of Bill James’ writings.  It wouldn’t be right to call his style “amateurish,” but there’s something about it that’s free from professional stiffness, though I suspect it takes years of practice to sound this natural.  It’s refreshing, and surprisingly rare.  He’s not trying to sound like anything except himself.

Here’s an interview with James on the book conducted by Chuck Klosterman.

Poignant Message

on the website of texasindians.com Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 5.49.32 PM We found your site very helpful and wish you all the best!  Let us know if we can help!

Mountaineering movies on Netflix Instant, ranked.

Touching The Void

I like watching movies about mountain climbing, and I think I’ve seen all the ones avail on Netflix Instant.

1) Touching The Void

See Touching The Void.  One of the best documentaries, period.  Incredible story, great twists, so intense but also there’s a lovable semi-schlub who got caught up in things.

2) Beyond The Edge beyond the edge 3

Very cool.  Doc/reenactment about the first successful Everest ascent.  Worth watching just for the fashion, the style on these guys was rad.

beyond the edge 1A great story of internal competition as well, as the team members were vying to be the guy who got to make the final ascent.  The brash New Zealanders against the stuffy English public school guys.  Edmund Hillary and Tenzing such cool examples of calm badassery.  Hadn’t occurred to me that Hillary, who in his old age was usually portrayed as a kindly old hero, was also of course an extremely intense, driven, and competitive athlete, more Kobe than Dalai Lama.

There’s lots too on the great John Hunt, who organized the expedition.

Also has some of the clearest visualizations of Everest’s geography I’ve seen.  You can really wrap your head finally around, like, where the Khumbu ice fall is.

Everest map

3) Nordwand/Northface

Some great shots of old school climbing.  But it’s set in 1936, it’s in German, and the characters are not not Nazis enough to really get behind.

4) The Summit

Compelling characters, a good story, kind of frustratingly told.  Odd editing choices botch a compelling narrative of how fuckup x fuckup x fuckup + misfortune = catastrophe.

5) Everest IMAX

Some cool shots I guess but this is elementary stuff.  We’re past this.

Would most like to have on Netflix:

Valley Uprising

The Blue Light

K2.  What is this movie?  It started as a play?


Always enjoyable

British House Of Cards

I have to credit my bud and debate partner Dave King* with putting me on to the British House Of Cards.  Just watch the first two minutes — so wonderfully, insanely British.

* not to be confused with South African businessman, fraudster, Rangers football club shareholder, and sometime golf caddy Dave King

Dave King