Farewell, George

In fond and rebellious memory of George Salzman, who passed on at the age of 94 in Oaxaca, Mexico, on January 27, 2020. Intended to be shared at a memorial for him today in Boston, now cancelled due to the coronavirus.

When I heard you died, first, I froze. Then, I wept.

Next, I dug out old memories, questioning their veracity but wanting so badly to see your face I gladly indulged them.

I went to a park, walked a looping trail in a field sparsely populated by ponderosa pine.

When I last saw you, you said you didn’t do much walking anymore. But that you still tried to climb the stairs to the Guelaguetza auditorium to get some exercise.

I think you would’ve been able to join on this walk. Had you not renounced your US citizenship.

It would have been ok. We’re not in the US anyway. Here we walk under the gaze of Dookʼoʼoosłííd or Aaloosaktukwi or this place of eleven other names before gringos called it Humphreys Peak.

It would’ve been a nice spot to talk about Palestine. Or the latest of the bizarre email exchanges you always seemed to get into. (The explanations of which were accompanied by your partner’s exasperated shaking of her head.) Or to remain confused by your self-identification as a “former Jew.” That always made me think of Walter Sobchak.

The air has just the right amount of chill in it. Invigorating but not uncomfortable. A deep breath in brings with it the scent of the pines. And as I blink my eyes, I’m with you on the corner of Crespo and Del Carmen, parsing nuances between Magonista and anarchist, trying to make sense of what I dove headfirst into without really paying attention. I should have visited you more often. Thank you for your welcoming, gregarious kindness, the introductions to the expat community, and the use your shower when we ran out of water at CASOTA.

Remember when I told you about the first time we met? In Tuxtla Gutiérrez in 2000. You didn’t remember me. I was glad for that. I was a naïve kid who thought standing in Chiapas made me revolutionary by geographic osmosis. One can always say this about the past, but I wish I was more grown up when we last met too, eleven years later.

Between those two points, so much of everything. But mostly emails. Oaxaca Study-Action Group and Notes of an Anarchist Physicist. The years of virtual communication, through the 2006 uprising with its excitement, possibility, tragedy, speculation, and solidarity. Our reencounter on the ground in Oaxaca. The Oaxaca Lending Library and CASOTA. More excitement and more tragedy, more conversations on anarchism, autonomy, internationalism, colonialism, citizenship, identity, liberation, forms of struggle. You were always up for a discussion, manifesting that unique mix of relaxed intensity. Keenly observant and opinionated. The last few years I did not hear from you but did not forget your either. I should have reached out. I was sure I’d make it back to see you again. I didn’t.

This is cliché, but, honestly, the trail has turned west and the sun is setting behind the pines. The chill is turning to cold. Our shadows are growing longer. Tell me about the Lucy Parsons Center. I want you to finish your story of how an anarchist physicist at UMass Boston ended up in Oaxaca. I know it’s a long one. Yet the loop has ended, bringing us back to where we started, and it’s time for both of us to go home. I wish we had a longer walk. I’ll miss you, compa. Rest well knowing we’ll carry on from here.

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