« An Accumulation of Generosities | Main | En/courage/ment »

Jan 28, 2008


Last night I was out with my new Austrian friend V__.  We were walking down Calle 60 when one of the street vendors called out, "Hola!"  He was a 60-something Mexican in a white guyabara, with two boxes of fake Cuban cigars tucked under his arm for sale to gullible tourists. 

To my surprise, V__ ran over to greet him with a hug and two kisses (one on each cheek).  She apologized in her broken Spanish for not seeing him the day earlier when they had made plans to meet.  I can't remember what excuse she gave him, but here is the real story which she told me as we walked away:

"Do you know the word, what is it in English, 'shaman'?", she asked.

     "'Shaman?' Like 'witch doctor'?"

"Ja, that is it.  Well some days ago, I saw this man on the street and he started to talk with me.  He told me he was a shaman, which I thought was interesting so we talked for a while.  He asked me if I would like to see the town with him on Saturday and I said 'Yes'."

"After some time, he put his hand here my upper arm.  I was wearing a shirt with no sleeves and so he could feel my skin.  He said, 'You are 33 years old.  You are doctor.  And you are from Europe.'"

     "My God..."

"Ja.  Mein Gott is right.  How would he know?  Everyone here thinks I look 25.  No one knows what I do for work.  How would he know?  The whole thing was so weird...  I didn't want to be around him again, so I didn't show up for our appointment on Saturday."

I wondered how a person with such magical skills would be poor enough to need to make his living by huckstering idiot tourists.  But doesn't it seem like all the seers and healers of lore are poor?  V__ says that the shaman makes a little bit of living from telling futures for housewives and other people.  But not much.  The rest, I suspect, comes from the tourists.


If you read a lot of older literature (think of Victor Hugo), you are familiar with the practice of referring to people by "Mme. D_____" or "Count _______ from a certain area in Germany." 

The custom, I gather, was intended to preserve people's privacy by not writing their entire name.  I promised this same practice to V___, who still has a medical practice in a certain large European town, and who has some credibility to maintain.  Like me, she believes that the supernatural ought certainly exist, but that it would be nice if it kept its distance.

10:07 PM in Mexico | Permalink


What the shaman did really isn't that hard, especially if he had talked with her "for a while" before making these divinations.

Posted by: Barry Campbell | Jan 29, 2008 3:06:26 AM

Aw man, leave it to a New Yorker to take all the magic out of the magic :-(

I'll email V__ to ask for some more details on when he said what he did. The way she told the story made me think that the shaman was operating on very slim information. But who knows... Did she give him clues? Had he heard about her from some other traveler in town who she might have told her story to? Or was it really magic? I certainly believe in the mundane possibilities, but would like to believe in the other, as well.

Regarding the hot/cold reading: the movie Runaway Jury has a nice example of hot (warm?) reading in one of the opening scenes, in which the lawyer Gene Hackman guesses/deduces his cab driver's detailed familial/health problems from a few little clues in the cab (the driver's brief cell chat, a photo of his family, a hospital visitor pass sitting on the seat). The scene is meant to provide a context for why jury selection is so important, and why trial lawyers might do a lot of background research on potential jurors.

I used to have a book called "How to Read People" (or something like that) written by a jury consultant. The book was OK.

I once won a $5 bet off a fencing teammate for guessing what obscure band he was listening to on his Walkman while we were driving to Cornell. He was singing along to a track (I had never heard of) and said something like, "I love this song. It's by an incredible new group that you've never heard of. They're so cool."

I said, "I'll bet you $5 I know who they are."

"No way! Deal!"

And then I named the band ["The Rogue Carrot" or some such silly name, I can't remember now.]

He was pretty shocked. I don't think I ever told him how I guessed. But 15 minutes earlier while he was rocking out to another tune, he said something like, "The Rogue Carrot is so effing awesome. They rock."

Anyway, he never paid up. He's now a moderately successful movie producer (Exec. Producer on School of Rock, for example) and at least I can say, "Oh that hot shot? Shit. He still owes me money.)

For another example of hot reading intelligence, click here:


Updates from V__ when I get them.

Posted by: Phil | Jan 29, 2008 12:47:28 PM

If you're interested in shamanism, talk with me about it offline sometime. I was really into it and it led me to my current Christian faith. I think there's a lot to it.

Posted by: Celeste | Jan 29, 2008 1:16:51 PM