A Drink of Pulque - In Memory of Irit Levi

Bad news comes when you’re in the middle of an ordinary day. Irit Levi was found dead in her home a few days ago. I just found out. She apparently just keeled over. No known cause. When I called Mickey Freeman to tell him he said something like, “Life! What is it that Irit is suddenly just… dead?” Like the many mysteries we can’t fathom, Mickey, at that moment hit the apt chord.

Irit was a Tenderloin yGroup member, prickly rough and raw as a maguey cactus.  But you can make pulque out of maguey and Irit was a drink of that ancient ceremonial beverage which certainly goes back to the Mayan long count (3114 BC) and before.

From Wikipedia: “For the Indians of the central highlands of Mexico, the imbibing of pulque was done only by certain people, under certain conditions. It was a ritual drink, consumed during certain festivals, such as that of the goddess Mayahuel, and the god Mixcoatl. It was drunk by priests and sacrificial victims, to increase the priests’ enthusiasm and to ease the suffering of the victim. There are many references in Aztec codices, such as the Borbonicus Codex) of pulque’s use by nobility and priesthood to celebrate victories. Among commoners, it was permitted only to the elderly and pregnant women.” I’d say there were many levels in Irit’s life which resonate with the powers of pulque.

She did some powerful acting in her time, both at our Tenderloin yGroup Faithful Fools Wednesday night workshops and in the films she did with us, NEED, 2004, SAND, 2010 and her terrific lead role in THE STEPPES, 2011, which played in the Perspectives Competition at the Moscow International Film Festival. And she was in Woody Allen’s BLUE JASMINE as well.

What can you say? Suddenly just… dead? Right. It feels like walking through the snow when suddenly you feel a terrific blow to the back of your head. But your assailant didn’t hit hard enough, and you have the strength to stagger to safety. But just not this time.

You couldn’t know Irit without struggling with her, arguing with her, fighting her back as if your own survival was at stake. But, looking back, you fought with Irit and every time you looked back, there she was. Ready to go at it again. She didn’t hold grudges. She was a loyal combatant, smart, funny, literate and all of a piece. A valiant friend who never gave you a break. In her way, she insisted on truth as she saw it, and never failed to state it.

She was one of the most unique people I’ve known and along with the other fallen workshop members of the Tenderloin yGroup enters a Pantheon of the Tenderloin streets where we made our 9 @ Night pictures and others besides. How could we miss her? She’ll be there in memory jabbing at us, clawing at us, insistent that we listen up and acknowledge the things we don’t want to see, and holding her place in the Circle with defiant glee.

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