RIP: Little Richard – (Richard Wayne Penniman)(5 Dec 1932 – 9 May 2020)

Poster for a Little Richard Concert in Baltimore, circa 1956
Poster for a Little Richard Concert in Baltimore, circa 1956.
Photograph of poster from liveauctioneers.

Almost 70 years on it is difficult, unless you possessed young ears in the middle of the 1950s, to understand the enormous impact a song like Tutti Frutti had on its listeners.

Everything about Little Richard shouted ‘DIFFERENT!’ Just look at that hairdo – remember this is the staid hung-up 1950s. Our parents, our schools and the ‘establishment’ were still decrying our hair in the last years of the Nixon administration in the early 1970s. Imagine the public outrage (not too strong a word) in the 50s. Of course, the disapprobation of our elders only made sporting the coiffures more fun!

Although I have not looked at the stats I cannot imagine anyone (other than, perhaps, the Beatles – who actually opened some European concerts for Little Richard in 1962), besting his record of 17 hit singles in about four years circa 1955-1959. The man rocked and everyone into the new rock and roll knew it!

Penniman learned his chops in a manner similar to how many African American polymath performers learned theirs in the first half of the 20th century: first in church, then in vaudeville or traveling troups of performers. In his case it was Dr. Hudson’s Medicine Show. He joined in 1949 rather than enter 10th grade. Here he performed a variety of skits, sometimes in drag as Princess LaVonne, and learned to play what church-folk called ‘devil music’. He once said that Louis Jordan’s Caldonia was the first secular piece he ever played (“Caldonia! Caldonia! What makes your big head so hard?”) HISTORIC NOTE: The second(?) recording of this song was where the term “Rock and Roll” originated. It appeared in a Billboard Magazine review of Erskine Hawkins 1945 record: “right rhythmic rock and roll music”.) A year later Penniman joined Buster Brown’s Orchestra where his childhood nickname of Lil’ Richard was modified (he was quite small and had one leg shorter than the other.)

After a couple recording contracts with his records becoming popular in Georgia but not reaching a larger audience, Little Richard returned to his hometown of Macon, Georgia doing menial labor and performing on the side. In 1955 the musician Lloyd Price (with whom my father worked) recommended Specialty Records, the label he recorded for, and Little Richard sent them a demo tape. Months passed with no call. Eventually Specialty’s producer heard Richard sing Tutti Fruiti during an impromtu set at a club – but had to hire another songwriter to clean up the sexual lyrics Little Richard had put to the song. Three takes in September led to a November release and the rest, as they say, is history!In June of 2007 the British music magazine Mojo, based on a survey of music artists (Björk, Tori Amos, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, Pete Wentz, Steve Earle and others), listed Tutti Frutti as Number 1 in their “The Top 100 Records That Changed The World”.

SIDE NOTE: I almost did not include this mention as a decade ago Mojo moved to take over ownership of copyright of their writers and photographers work AND, at the same time, laid liability for libel and copyright infringement onto those same writers and photographers.


RIP: Denis Theodore Goldberg (1933-2020)

Artist's Open Air House in Rivonia
An Artist Friend’s Open Air House in Rivonia, © Wilbur Norman
Artist's Open Air Library in Rivonia
The Open Air Library, ©Wilbur Norman

I just learned that Denis Goldberg, one of the last two survivors of South Africa’s infamous Rivonia Trial (1963-1964), died on April 29th of cancer with Covid-19 complications.

Denis Goldberg, a civil engineer and an anti-apartheid activist, spent 22 years in prison. He was arrested during a meeting of activists and commanders of the MK (uMkhonto we Sizwe) the armed wing of the ANC (African Nation Congress) on a farm in Rivonia. The defendants in the sabotage and treason trial were Nelson Mandela (already in prison under a “citing workers to strike” charge), Walter Sisulu, Lionel Bernstein, Denis Goldberg, Arthur Goldreich, Bob Hepple, Abdulhay Jassat, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Moosa Moolla, Elias Motsoaledi and Harold Wolpe. (Goldreich and Wolpe escaped from prison, after beatings and torture, before beginning their sentence; Hepple fled the country when charges were withdrawn; and Lionel Bernstein was acquitted, rearrested and placed under house arrest before escaping from the country.) The rest beat a de facto death sentence thru what was probably a private treaty with the judge. Goldberg received release in 1985 largely through the work of his daughter and members of her kibbutz and the U.S. and Israeli governments (for many years both close allies of apartheid South Africa.)

Many Americans think the fight for democracy in South Africa was a monolithic black vs. white struggle. This arrest list shows how wrong this view is: those arrested were English, Indian Muslim, Jewish, Xhosa, Pedi and Coloured.

The Rivonia Trial (Rivonia is a suburb of Johannesburg) contained what is considered a founding moment in the attempts to create a democracy in South Africa – 31 years before it became a reality. The ‘moment’ was , in fact, a three hour defense opening statement by Nelson Mandela, his famous “I Am Prepared To Die” speech. Here is the closing paragraph:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

As the only remaining white found guilty, Denis Goldberg was taken to Pretoria Central Prison to serve 22 years. The others served in various prisons with most doing extended time on Robben Island off the coast. Mandela served almost 28 years (18 of which were at Robben), Walter Sisulu served 26 years (most at Robben), Ahmed Kathrada served 26 years (18 at Robben) with the balance at Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison (along with Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi and Walter Sisulu.) Many, perhaps all, of those convicted worked on interesting college degrees while incarcerated. Some may remember that it was Ahmed Kathrada who showed President Obama and the First Family around Robben Island in 2013.

In 2017 the three remaining survivors of the Rivonia trial – Denis Goldberg, Andrew Mlangeni and Kathrada, along with the three surviving defense attorneys, Joel Joffe, George Bizos and Denis Kuny – appeared in a documentary film entitled “Life is Wonderful”, directed by Sir Nicholas Stadlen. These were the words Goldberg’s mother, Annie, is said to have uttered when she learned that he and his comrades had been spared the death sentence. (Annie must have been quite a mom: in 1960 she was arrested with him for supporting strikers after the Sharpeville massacre and they both spent four months in jail.)

Here is an interview with Sir Nicholas about the film: https://vimeo.com/284713545

Kent State May 4, 1970

Mary Ann Vecchio gestures and screams as she kneels by the body of a student, Jeffrey Miller. Photo by John Filo, copyright © 1970 Valley News-Dispatch
Mary Ann Vecchio gestures and screams as she kneels by the body of a student, Jeffrey Miller. Photo by John Filo, copyright © 1970 Valley News-Dispatch


“Mary Ann Vecchio [a 14-year old runaway, as the world later learned] gestures and screams as she kneels by the body of a student, Jeffrey Miller, lying face down on the campus of Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio. On publication, the image was retouched to remove the fence post above Vecchio’s head.” The protest was against President Nixon’s illegal bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Reacting to mass demonstrations on May 1st, Nixon he had called anti-war protestors ‘bums’.

Four students were killed and 9 wounded by the 67 shots fired by the Ohio National Guard that day. Two of the four killed were bystanders and none of the four was closer to the Guard than about a football field in distance. The Guard had been dispatched to Kent State by Governor James Rhodes, at the request of the town of Kent’s mayor, after an arson attack burned down the ROTC building on May 2.

Four million students (college and high school) went out on strike after the news of the shootings became public.

In New Mexico, where I now live, eleven people were bayonetted at the University of New Mexico by the New Mexico National Guard in a confrontation with student protesters on May 8th. The demonstrations in Washington, DC were so combative that Nixon was removed to Camp David for his safety and the 82nd Airborne was lodged in the basement of the Executive Office Building next to the White House. At Jackson State University, a historically black college, in Jackson, Mississippi, two students were killed (and 12 wounded) by police during a demonstration on May 14 – an event that did not receive the same attention as the shootings at Kent State.

I was in high school in Ohio and vividly remember those times – especially when my Draft Number turned out to be 99. For many years thereafter I never ate at Wendy’s because Ohio Governor Big Jim Rhodes (“part P.T. Barnum, part Elmer Gantry, part Norman Vincent Peale” – Dayton Daily News) was one of Wendy’s investors. There are memorial events at Kent State on May 4th every year and I have managed to make it to one (the 30th, I believe.)

There are still unanswered questions about the timing and personnel involved in the Kent State massacre. A prominent one involves the university- and FBI-informant Terrence Brooks Norman (no relation!), a student who appeared to be the only non-Guardsman individual who was armed at the demonstration.

RIP: Eavan Boland (24 September 1944 – 27 April 2020)

The great Irish poet Eavan Boland (1944-2020) has gone beyond to the Irish pre-Christian Otherworld of Mag Mell (the Plain of Delight) or, perhaps, Tír-na-hÓige (land of the [ever-] youthful) where worthies engage in poetry, music, entertainment, and the feast of Goibniu that grants immortality to those taking part.

If Americans know Eavan Boland it is most likely for her poem Quarantine from her 2001 book Code, reproduced, below, courtesy of Carcanet Press, All Rights Reserved.

Boland lived in New York from 1956 to 1960 when her diplomat father had a posting. Though the poem Quarantine is about Irish history, she often wrote poetry reflecting the lives of those who live in Dublin’s contemporary suburbia.

Boland said she wrote this poem after reading an anecdote in an early 20th century memoir of the famine, Mo Scéal Féin by An tAthair Peadar Ó Laoghaire. It has been estimated that more than a million Irish died from starvation and disease in the period 1845 to 1852 and a million others emigrated, a period we know as the Irish Potato Famine. Although almost documentary in nature, I prefer to read Quarantine as a love poem and admire the use of repetition (‘worst’, ‘last heat’, ‘last gift’), the phrase ‘freezing stars’ and a reference to the horrible British administration of the country during the famine where tenant farmers actually grew enough wheat to feed people but had to ship it off for English tables (‘Of the toxins of a whole history’.) The next to last stanza brings to my mind the phrase, ‘Never Again!’ but, of course, we humans are slow to learn and even slower to react.

Quarantine

In the worst hour of the worst season

    of the worst year of a whole people

a man set out from the workhouse with his

wife.

He was walking—they were both walking —

north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not

keep up.

     He lifted her and put her on his back.

He walked like that west and west and north.

Until at nightfall under freezing stars they

arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.

    Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole

history.

But her feet were held against his breastbone.

The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.

     There is no place here for the inexact

praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the

body.

There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.

      Also what they suffered. How they lived.

And what there is between a man and woman.

And in which darkness it can best be proved.

Adon Olam

Adon Olam (אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם; “Eternal Master/Sovereign Who Reigns Supreme”) from traditional Jewish liturgy. It is usually attributed to Solomon ibn Gabirol (1021-1058, the Golden Age of La Convivencia) but the actual pronunciation of the words points to a much earlier origin. The music in the video below is to the tune of “Happy” written by Pharrell Williams.

This joyful rendition provides an uplift at a time when memorial services are not possible amidst the dying from Covid-19. Tho I am secular now, it still spirits me to my youth when we were made to recite a version of the last stanza before bedtime: Into his hand I commit my spirit when I sleep and I awake and with my spirit, my body, The Lord is with me, I will not fear.

Many will have encountered Adon Olam in Ashkenazi services during Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Kol Nidre. When I lived in London it was, for me, a highlight of Sephardim services sung antiphonally to an old Spanish melody.

Adon Olam may also be read in a room of the dying and in some synagogues as a means of relaying a death in the community (spoken without the musical aid of a cantor.)

Given its ready universality and application throughout the centuries, many have created their own tune to accompany Adon Olam. In 1976 Uzi Hitman wrote what has become a quite popular secular version but the most common melody is probably the one attributed to Russian cantor Eliezar Mordecai ben Yitschak Gerovitsch (1844-1914). Dudu Fisher does a nice job with this as does the singer Fortuna. The group Sabbathsong, below, performs the tune with verve and an unbeatable clarinet!

Adon Olam with transliterated melody and lyrics
Adon Olam Sheet Music

Great Music #1

"Here I Am: Isley Presents Bachrach" CD
“Here I Am: Isley Presents Bachrach” CD

A house is not a home when there’s no one there…

My rockin’ friends may laugh and poke fun accusing me of loving schmaltz with this post (“On the day you were born the angels made a dream come true.”) but I don’t care – and neither will those of you who listen to the music on this CD and the other music listed, below.

In 2003 Ronald Isley and Burt Bachrach teamed for the album Here I Am, a collection of Bachrach’s (mostly) 1960s tunes with Bachrach on piano led by Isley’s poignant, signature falsetto. Both Ronald Isley (Cincinnati, May 21, 1941) and Burt Freeman Bacharach (Kansas City, May 12, 1928) are American mid-westerners (yeh!)

Album:  Here I Am: Isley Presents Bachrach.

Artists: Ron Isley & Burt Bachrach (with many others in the orchestra)

Like most musicians who people believe pop out of nowhere, both Isley and Bachrach had a lot of road behind them when they entered mainstream consciousness. Bachrach studied with famed Darius Milhaud and was a music director for Marlene Dietrich from the mid-to-late 1950s to the early 1960s, touring worldwide and writing songs. When he had an office at the famed Brill Building in New York City he met the lyricist Hal David. Together they wrote many of the greatest popular songs of the 1960s and 1970s, performed to perfection by Dionne Warwick, one of the best selling female vocalist of all time, after Aretha. (And, oh… we all laughed but Warwick made US$3 million from plugging the Psychic Friends Network on late night TV for 7 years!) The Brill is still there and worth a visit if you’ve not passed by. It was home to music publishers and song-smiths including Bobby Darin, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann, Gene Pitney, Johnny Mercer, Laura Nyro, Neil Diamond, Billy Rose, Neil Sadaka and others who worked in small offices with upright pianos (according to my father.)

“Breaking up is so hard to do”

Ron Isley and brothers (variously O’Kelly, Ernie, Marvin, Rudolph) formed The Isley Brothers, an R&B group nonpareil. They made a hit of ‘Twist and Shout’ in 1962, beating the Beatles to the line (1963).

If you are a mid-period baby boomer you most certainly remember the 1971 album ‘Givin’ It Back’ featuring the songs ‘Ohio/Machine Gun’ (by Neil Young /Jimi Hendrix), ‘Fire and Rain’ (James Taylor), ‘Lay Lady Lay’ (Bob Dylan), ‘Spill the Wine’ (Miller, Scott and 5 others) and ‘Love the One You’re With’ (Stephen Stills). The recently deceased Bill Withers played guitar on that album!

Then in 1973 they released the album ‘3+3’ (‘1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’) with ‘That Lady’ (Isley Bros.), ‘Don’t Let me Be Lonely Tonight’ (James Taylor), and more.

When I was in grad school in London the parties the Africans threw were the most fun (check out Osibisa, the first ‘World Music’ group) but for atmosphere and romance one could pull the Isley Brothers in for tactical support. If you could not keep company for the dreary autumn nights with the assistance of the Isley Brothers you were beyond helping!

‘Be mine tonight, let this be just the start of so many nights like this… then seal it with a kiss.’

But I digress.

The CD ‘Here I Am’ with Bachrach will touch a chord with those of us who survived Vietnam, the war of our generation, and the drug- and alcohol-fueled gatherings that took so many of our peers. It is like listening with new (mature) ears.

Full orchestration is not always successful on pop and jazz recordings, think 1955’s ‘Clifford Brown with Strings’ with Brown, Richie Powell, George Morrow and Max Roach – reviewed as “lush settings by some and muzak by others”. However, ‘Here I Am: Isley Presents Bachrach” is, to me, simply gorgeous; Bachrach did not lose his touch with his 1960s work with Warwick. Isley’s interpretations drop his ‘Mr. Biggs’ persona (much in evidence in his collaborations with R. Kelly) and meld tenderness, love, poignant loss, humility and romance all in one grand slow-motion sweep that will steam the bedroom windows.

Listening to ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head’ we are no longer in B.J. Thomas territory riding that bicycle with Katherin Ross in 1969’s ‘Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid’ (the American Film Institute’s 73rd-greatest American film on its “100 Years…100 Movies”, 10th Anniversary Edition and 7th greatest Western (2008). Jack Lemmon, Warren Beatty and Steve McQueen were all offered the role of Sundance by the by!)

(Ah… another recent loss: illustrator Mort Drucker (1929 – April 9, 2020) who drew movie parodies for MAD Magazine from 1956 to 2008 and did the pics for MAD Magazine’s ‘Botch Casually and the Somedunce Kid’, Issue No. 136, July 1970.)

For the more visual among you, there was a PBS Special of these performances, too, that I have not seen.

Listen to this CD and you will be booking a site for a post Covid-19 renewal of your wedding vows!

P.S. For a great read on the relationship between the Isley family and Jimi Hendrix see: “Ernie Isley remembers Jimi Hendrix”. If I recall correctly, The Seattle Times article omits to report that the Isleys bought Jimi a new white Strat because they thought his (which was in hock, sans strings, at a pawn shop) was too tatty for their stage shows.

P.P.S. Dionne Warwick’s extended family is chock-a-block full of the musically and athletically talented. Blood relatives include Dee Dee Warwick, Cissy Houston, Whitney Houston, Gary Garland, Bobbi Kristina Brown and Leontyne Price.

Great Reads #3: Elmore Leonard

In my post about The Aeneid last week I did not include a photo of the actual shelves with books from early authors (Aeneid, Gilgamesh, Dante’s Inferno, The Iliad, etc.) because I had already included two overall images and I thought those enough.

Below is the photo I took but did not use.

Shelves of Classics and Elmore Leonard
Books of the classics and Elmore Leonard

One of the reasons, aside from having already included two pics for my Aeneid post, was that the books of Elmore Leonard intrude onto these shelves. This is the inevitable result of owning more books than shelves – tho it is certainly a lesser evil than books stacked and strewn around the house higgledy-piggledy.

The volumes of Leonard sit below those of Dick Francis, Carl Hiaasen, Robert Parker and Walter Mosley in the vertical stack of this shelf unit. It is the case with my guilty pleasure: mystery novels. Like the shelves with William Boyd, Bruce Chatwin, Robertson Davies, Peter Matthiessen, Thomas McGuane, V.S. & Shiva Naipaul, Salmon Rushdie and a few others whose work I collect, most of the books are autographed to me. Leonard had a long career and began by writing Westerns including Three-Ten to Yuma (3:10 to Yuma). I cannot recollect another writer who had as many of his novels turned into movies, sometimes twice!

For the smart-assed among you, the early writers grouping (‘early’ as in Herodotus) does not contain signed books (well, aside from a few modern editors of these works). Likewise my collections of anthropology and evolution are bereft of signatures except for a few letters.

Getting authors to autograph one’s books or a sheet of paper is an interesting custom. I used to have a nice little letter from Darwin’s son, Francis, answering a fan who wanted Darwin’s signature. Francis lamented he had already given away all those he had inherited. I sold the letter to the great scientist, writer and collector Stephen Jay Gould.

The act of collecting has been the subject of those writing both fiction and non-fiction; Sigmund Freud tackled the subject. He believed it sprang from the conflict of unresolved toilet training. (What a shit that shrink was, altho he did collect antiquities.) Balzac, John Fowles and Bruce Chatwin covered the conflict zone. Mozart continues to entertain us with his opera Don Giovanni and collecting of a different sort: sexual conquest. The psychoanalyst Werner Muensterberger in his engaging work Unruly Passion was onto something and he ought to have known: he collected African art as a youth but lost everything to the Germans in WWII, coming to America with $100 and a mask he sold to Rockefeller. He was an example of people who cannot be held down and his practice came to include patients like Danny Kaye, Laurence Olivier, James Dean and Marlon Brando. Muensterberger maintained a correspondence with many of the great names of the century: Thomas Mann, Mary Wigman, Pablo Picasso, Sigmund Freud, Constantin Brancusi, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein and others.

The list of those exploring the psyche of collecting goes on and on but I love John Steinbeck’s simple explanation: “I guess the truth is that I simply like junk.” Which brings up hoarding – but that is another foible altogether.

One of the favorite items on my shelves is this sheet of text sent to me by Elmore Leonard, ‘Rules to write by’. He originally published it in The New York Times. It is a hoot to read and he gave it to me as a Thank You for showing him a published bibliography of his works that he did not know about – or authorize.

of the favorite items on my shelves is this sheet of text sent to me by Elmore Leonard, ‘Rules to write by’. He originally published it in The New York Times. It is a hoot to read and he gave it to me as a Thank You for showing him a published bibliography of his works that he did not know about – or authorize.One of the favorite items on my shelves is this sheet of text sent to me by Elmore Leonard, ‘Rules to write by’. He originally published it in The New York Times. It is a hoot to read and he gave it to me as a Thank You for showing him a published bibliography of his works that he did not know about – or authorize.

Elmore Leonard Advice On Writing
Elmore Leonard Advice On Writing

I have had many spectacular books, letters, manuscripts and signatures through the years. I am looking for a great photograph to go with the the signature, below. It is Teddy Roosevelt’s and is special because, prior to his presidency, The White House was called The Executive Mansion. Here he has signed a ‘White House’ card!

Theodore Roosevelt signature on White House card
Theodore Roosevelt signature on White House card

Great Reads #2: The Aeneid

Arma virumque cano….

The Aeneid is the story of how a refugee from beaten and destroyed ancient Troy preserved his people, via divine authority, by founding Rome, with his descendants going on to establish an empire.

In 19BC the Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro left Greece, where he had been conducting research for The Aeneid, to return to his home in Rome. He shipped out on a vessel with the Emperor Augustus, as one does. They stopped at Megara where Virgil contracted fever (or heatstroke) and he died as the ship docked in the southern Italian trading port of Brundisium. Among his last thoughts was his dissatisfaction with a 10-year long writing project, this book, The Aeneid. Rather than let an unfinished work see the light of day, he asked his executors to burn the manuscript. Augustus, who knew something of the book as Virgil had read him three chapters, stepped in and ordered the work to be published ‘as is’.

The Aeneidis an acknowledged cornerstone of Western literature and by two centuries after his death was a prerequisite in Latin education, which is to say, any western education above the rudimentary. Even in the 19th century it was often a requirement of students to memorize the whole of it! Its 9,896 lines have been printed in hundreds of editions in both its original Latin dactylic hexameter and in poetic and prose translation. Its opening line was even found in excavation as graffiti in Pompeii: Arma virumque cano, “Of arms and a man I sing.”

In 1680 Henry Purcell published the music for one of my favorite operas, Dido and Aeneas with Nahum Tate writing the libretto. (Tate is today mostly remembered, when he is remembered art all, for rewriting Shakespeare’s plays so that every scene would be “full of respect to Majesty and the dignity of courts”. Yes, the more things change, the more they stay the same!) I have many versions of The Aeneid shelved in several libraries around the house. My current favorite is the translation by Robert Fitzgerald (1983). I own four copies of this translation: one (trade paperback) in the sunroom library, one (mass market paper) in the research area for my work on wine in life and literature and two in the bedroom (first edition hardcover and a trade paper to share my enthusiasm by lending to friends.) Hmmm…. maybe this is why I have more than 5,000 books!

Virgil was a talented writer and superb stylist who cleverly knew his way around alliteration, onomatopoeia and other wordplay. His poetic lines are of a grand and stately solemn nature, very foreign to our modern ears attuned as we are to formulations of unstructured free-style verse and sentences. His goal in The Aeneid was to create a work that would glorify Rome and rival Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. There are twelve books (what we might call chapters) in The Aeneid, written using the same syllabic and metrical line as used by Homer. The first six chapters play on the Odyssey and the last six the war and battles in the Iliad.

Though a great work, The Aeneid has not been free of issues. Yes, there are literary ones (it is a bear to translate as it is composed in what the Germans call kunstsprache, an artificial or invented artful language; I never truly mastered it in my school Latin.)

But, the problems I address here are political in nature. The work was ‘co-opted’ right from the beginning by Augustus. The emperor is kindly mentioned by name in scenes where Aeneas is gifted sight into the future when he enters the Underworld to visit his late father, Anchises. Augustus’ reign came after decades of instability (the Roman Civil Wars) following Julius Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon in 49BC, taking his legions into Rome and eventually becoming Dictator. Augustus was seen by many as savior and last hope of the Roman people for peace after the civil turmoil. Likewise it has been used through the centuries as a support for the aggrandizing and subjugating nature of colonization, a classical ‘white man’s burden’ made flesh.

But, to be fair, The Aeneid has also been interpreted as an anti-war poem and it is this tack I take. The language and potent imagery is second to none – cinematic even. The battle scenes do not require a very active imagination to visualize. It is sad that Virgil is no longer on the required reading list of our schools. It still has a lot to teach us about myriad human qualities like devotion, piety, hubris, rage, fate, courage and love in all its incarnations. Stop in and borrow a copy or buy your own if you are unfamiliar with the joy of reading this fine story.

Below, a section from “The World Below”, where Aeneas, led by the Sibyl, travels to the Underworld to see his father. She is carrying, under her dress, their entry ticket: the golden bough. It had been torn off a tree by Aeneas who was foretold it was needed as a presentation to Charon to get him to ferry them across Cocytus, the Stygian river leading to Hades. At the other side of the river there is another obstacle, the huge three-headed dog, Cerberus, but he enters the picture some lines later.

(If the words ‘golden bough’ seem familiar look up J.M.W. Turner’s painting of the same name and, also, the early anthropologist Sir James George Frazier whose work greatly influenced a generation, including Freud and Jung; Aleister Crowley; T.S. Elliot and William Carlos Williams; Hemingway, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Robert Graves and Yeats; and the man who founded anthropology ‘off the verandah’, the founder of my university’s department, Bronislaw Malinowski, who was prompted to lay out the first statement of the aims of ethnography in his ground-breaking Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922). Though now superseded in scholarship, for many years The Golden Bough exerted a profound influence upon literature, anthropology and intellectual thinking.)

Selection, below, courtesy of Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, NY. The Aeneid Translated by Robert Fitzgerald, Book VI, lines 331-402. Copyright 1980, 1982, 1983.

Editions of The Aeneid
Bedroom Library

Book VI, “The World Below”, lines 331-402

The cavern was profound, wide-mouthed and huge,

Rough underfoot, defended by dark pool

And gloomy forest. Overhead, flying things

Could never safely take their way, such deathly

Exhalations rose from the black gorge

Into the dome of heaven. …

                                                “Away, away,”

The Sibyl cried, “All those unblest, away!”

Depart from the grove! But you, Aeneas,

Enter the path here, and unsheathe your sword.

There’s need of gall and resolution now.”


She flung herself wildly into the cave mouth,

Leading, and he strode boldly at her heels.

Gods who rule the ghosts; all silent shades;

And Chaos and infernal Fiery Stream,

And regions of wide night without a sound,

May it be right to tell of what I have heard,

May it be right, and fitting, by your will,

That I describe the deep world sunk in darkness

Under the earth.

                                    Now dim to one another

In desolate night they walked on through the gloom,

Through Dis’s homes all void, and empty realms,

As one goes through a wood by a faint moon’s

Treacherous light, when Jupiter veils the sky

And black night blots the colors of the world.

Before the entrance, in the jaws of Orcus,

Grief and avenging Cares have made their beds,

And pale diseases and sad Age are there,

And Dread, and Hunger that sways men to crime,

And sordid Want – in shapes to affright the eyes –

And Death and Toil and Death’s own brother, Sleep,

And the mind’s evil joys; on the door sill

Death-bringing War, and iron cubicles

Of the Eumenides, and raving Discord,

Viperish hair bound up in gory bands.

In the courtyard a shadowy elm

Spreads ancient boughs, her ancient arms where dreams,

False dreams, the old tale goes, beneath each leaf

Cling and are numberless. There, too,

About the doorway forms of monsters crowd –

Centaurs, twiformed Scyllas, hundred-armed

Briareus, and the Lernaean hydra

Hissing horribly, and the Chimaera

Breathing dangerous flames, and Gorgons, Harpies,

Huge Geryon, triple-bodied ghost.

Here, swept by sudden fear, drawing his sword,

Aeneas stood guard with naked edge

Against them as they came. If his companion,

Knowing the truth, had not admonished him

How faint these lives were – empty images

Hovering bodies – he had attacked

And cut his way through phantoms, empty air.

Great Reads #1

Migritude
by Shailja Patel

In my spare time, while sequestered to keep Covid-19 at bay, I am having a great time re-reading books and articles I have previously read, looking for those jewels of language and expression that make me smile, nod in agreement, cry and ponder. Sometimes we read a piece that is a wonder of wonders that will stick to our brains until we bid the world adieu.

Here, a poem by Shailja Patel, a Kenyan poet, playwright, theatre artist, and political activist. She is most known for her book “Migritude” based on her one-woman show of the same name funded by the Ford Foundation. CNN characterizes Patel as an artist “who exemplifies globalization as a people-centered phenomenon of migration and exchange.” – Wikipedia

When I lived in Tanzania, East Africa I was often mistaken for a Wahindi (Indian). I spoke rudimentary Kiswahili so I would sometimes correct folks. Other times I just went with the flow and brushed it off. Idi Amin expelled Indians, many of whom owned small businesses, in 1972. Tanzania was a little better but prejudice came to the fore after independence leading many Indians to migrate out. (One guy most people know was from Zanzibar, Farrokh Bulsara, better known as Freddie Mercury!)

Here, a long, but great Patel poem, “Migritude”, (a word she created from the African diaspora movement of the 1920s known as Negritude, joined with ‘migration’ and ‘attitude’.) I know exactly what she means and sometimes think of this poem (especially the section about her father speaking 5 languages) when I am working on my disappearing languages project!

Migritude by S. Patel

“The children in my dreams
speak in Gujarati
turn their trusting faces to the sun
say to me
care for us nurture us
in my dreams I shudder and I run.
I am six
in a playground of white children
Darkie, sing us an Indian song!
Eight
in a roomful of elders
all mock my broken Gujarati
English girl!
Twelve, I tunnel into books
forge an armor of English words.
Eighteen, shaved head
combat boots –
shamed by masis
in white saris
neon judgments
singe my western head.
Mother tongue.
Matrubhasha
tongue of the mother
I murder in myself.
Through the years I watch Gujarati
swell the swaggering egos of men
mirror them over and over
at twice their natural size.
Through the years
I watch Gujarati dissolve
bones and teeth of women, break them
on anvils of duty and service, burn them
to skeletal ash.
Words that don’t exist in Gujarati :
Self-expression.
Individual.
Lesbian.
English rises in my throat
rapier flashed at yuppie boys
who claim their people “civilized” mine.
Thunderbolt hurled
at cab drivers yelling
Dirty black bastard!
Force-field against teenage hoods
hissing
F****ing Paki bitch!
Their tongue – or mine?
Have I become the enemy?
Listen:
my father speaks Urdu
language of dancing peacocks
rosewater fountains
even its curses are beautiful.
He speaks Hindi
suave and melodic
earthy Punjabi
salty rich as saag paneer
coastal Kiswahili
laced with Arabic,
he speaks Gujarati
solid ancestral pride.
Five languages
five different worlds
yet English
shrinks
him
down
before white men
who think their flat cold spiky words
make the only reality.
Words that don’t exist in English:
Najjar
Garba
Arati.
If we cannot name it
does it exist?
When we lose language
does culture die? What happens
to a tongue of milk-heavy
cows, earthen pots
jingling anklets, temple bells,
when its children
grow up in Silicon Valley
to become
programmers?
Then there’s American:
Kin’uh get some service?
Dontcha have ice?
Not:
May I have please?
Ben, mane madhath karso?
Tafadhali nipe rafiki
Donnez-moi, s’il vous plait
Puedo tener…..
Hello, I said can I get some service?!
Like, where’s the line for Ay-mericans
in this goddamn airport?
Words that atomized two hundred thousand Iraqis:
Didja see how we kicked some major ass in the Gulf?
Lit up Bagdad like the fourth a’ July!
Whupped those sand-niggers into a parking lot!
The children in my dreams speak in Gujarati
bright as butter
succulent cherries
sounds I can paint on the air with my breath
dance through like a Sufi mystic
words I can weep and howl and devour
words I can kiss and taste and dream
this tongue
I take back.”

Covid-19: Exponential Growth & Epidemics

Covid-19 virus image
A Covid-19, SARS-CoV2 CoronaVirus

“EVERYTHING WE DO BEFORE A PANDEMIC WILL SEEM ALARMIST. EVERYTHING WE DO AFTER WILL SEEM INADEQUATE”

Immunologically naive populations

“Viruses have been circulating around the globe for millennia. One family of viruses that have been circulating are referred to as Coronaviruses. About a quarter of common colds are caused by Coronaviruses. Our bodies form antibodies to foreign invaders such as bacteria or viruses. If we have antibodies from a previous exposure then we can rapidly ramp up the production of those antibodies if we are infected by that same virus at a later date. This is why you only get Chicken Pox and the Measles once. The first episode generates protective antibodies so you can’t get infected a second time. For other infections, previous exposures do not make you immune to future infections but it does make subsequent exposures milder.

COVID-19 is a severe respiratory illness caused by the virus named SARS-CoV2. It is a novel virus, which means that no one in the world has antibodies to it because no one has ever been infected by it before. As such, when the COVID-19 virus invades our body we do not have pre-existing antibodies. We do not have a template to utilize from a previous exposure to rapidly create a defense against the virus.

Exponential Spread

Exponential math is very hard to grasp. Every person with the COVID-19 virus infects approximately 2 people. Some less, some more. The doubling time that is widely quoted is 6 days. Some scientists are saying it may be as short as 2–3 days (unpublished first-hand information)! Let’s say the infection rate doubles every 6 days. That means that if 50,000 people have the virus today, then in 6 days 100,000 people will have it. In another 12 days it’s 400,000 and less than two weeks later it’s over a million people. We have 330 million people in the US. The experts expect that 40–70% of people will be infected. Exponential growth does not take that long to get to those scary high numbers. Every 6 days we delay the number of infections double. ” – Howard Luks, MD

Here’s a YouTube Video that does a great job of explaining Exponential Growth. It comes from the Animated Math folks at 3blue1brown


WWII Code Name: Beach Red

Terry Holding His Son Jacob
Red Beach, WWII U.S. Marines Landing Area
Guadalcanal Island, Solomon Islands

With his wife and nine children he lives ‘rough’ on Red Beach, the site of the first landfall of the U.S. Marines in the Solomon Islands. The family has only recently returned to this shore-front they say they own. He and his wife are Gilbert Islanders, Micronesians, in this country of Melanesians. Despite their uncertain future, the family and little community maintain the site. The original historic marker has been stolen and moved 500 meters west to draw tourists and our dollars there. (The two Solomon Island brothers who they say drove them away to keep the land for themselves have recently been jailed which has allowed the return of Terry and his family.)

The Gilbert Islands are a group of 32 atolls and reef islands and one raised coral island dispersed over 1.3 million square miles, halfway between Hawaii and Papua New Guinea. It is the nation now known as Kiribati (their pronunciation of the word ‘Gilbert’ — though accented, Terry’s English is a good as mine). The name was coined in 1820 by a German admiral, in the employ of Russian Tsar Aleksandr I, after the British captain who ‘discovered’ the islands in 1788. This mix of European interests in the Pacific is a common circumstance involving changing identities and loyalties for the last couple centuries.

The main north-south line of islands in Kiribati is still called The Gilberts and stretches 780 km/485 miles. It is amazing to me that with a small population and such close proximity (in sea-faring Pacific islander terms) the northern islands were ruled by a chief and the southern islands were run by collectives of elder men. The origin myth of the Gilbertese has the ancestors coming from the West and being whitish-skinned and red-haired. It is intriguing to speculate that the Asian branch of the Neanderthals, the Denisovans, might have been sea-faring!

 

Marker Sign at Red Beach

 

Most Westerners know almost nothing about Kiribati so here are three points of general interest that stand out to me:

– three of the islands were Great Britain’s last attempt at colonization (1938-1963)

– the islands were attacked by the Japanese in December 1941 on the same day as Pearl Harbor. In August of 1942 U.S. Marines landed an attack and 19 were captured as prisoners and summarily executed by the Japanese. In 1999 their bodies were finally returned home by an honor guard.

– three of the islands are U.S. territories, including Palmyra Atoll, the only incorporated U.S. Territory.

(There are a total of 14 Insular Areas around the world that fall under U.S. jurisdiction. Can you name them!)

 

Japanese Type 88 75mm Anti-Aircraft Gun
(with its base just beyond)

Red Beach WWII Rusting Howitzer

Dairy of the Gods

Staying on the topic of dairy (from my last post), this is the September 26 entry in my forthcoming book, Swallowing Time, Drinking History. An Almanac of the World’s Most Important Beverage.

“I’d rather see you drink a glass of wine than a glass of milk. So many people drink Coca-Cola and all these soft drinks with sugar. Some of these drinks have 8 or 9 teaspoons of sugar in them. What’s the good of living if you can’t have the things that give a little enjoyment?”

– Jack LaLanne (26 September 1914 – 23 January 2011). The first American fitness and exercise expert

India is not known for its vineyards, although there is a primary grape-growing region, Nashik, a couple hundred kilometers northeast of Mumbai (Bombay). While there are about 50,586 hectares (125,000 acres) under cultivation, only one percent produce wine. There are references in the Vedic Scriptures that indicate wine-making in India is at least 5000 yeas old. I must confess, I have not tried any of the wines as Indian cuisine, in my mind and palate, does not seem to lend itself to a pairing.

What I do love after, or before, a meal – or, to be honest, anytime of the day or night, is lassi.

Lassi is a traditional Indian ‘drink’ that comes in two varieties, salted lassi and sweet lassi. Both are made of some, or all, of these ingredients: yoghurt, milk, water, and spices for the salted, or sugar for the sweet. Additionally, there may be rose water, cumin, a sprinkle of ground almonds or pistachios and mango or other fruit flavorings depending on the sort ordered. As it is served cold it is a splendid treat on a hot day. In some places it is served thick enough to eat with a spoon, in others it is more liquid and simply drunk as a beverage. I think the best is mango lassi, using fresh mangoes. I will go out on a limb and make a declarative sentence, challenging any and all comers, that the best place to get lassi is at the original Lassiwala’s (Since 1944) near the Panch Batti Mod on MI Road in India’s ‘Pink City,’ Jaipur. They filter their water so there is no danger of getting a traveller’s day of familiarity with the hotel toilet after sipping, or gulping, their specialty. In fact, it is the only thing they sell.

The Original Lassiwala
The Original Lassiwala, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

As one might expect, imitators have sprung up to try and sift off Lassiwala’s customers. Many of these are on the same street just a few doors away but none favorably compare. Accept no imitations! Look for the best and when you see their number, Shop 312, next to the alley and across from Niros Restaurant, duck in. (In fact, resident Indians must feel the same way; there will be lines of people awaiting their serving at Lassiwala and not a single customer at the other establishments. I haven’t had the stomach to try any of them.)

Lassiwala opens at 7:30 a.m. and serves until they run out – which can be as early as 1:00 p.m. so get there early. The shop is small, just a hole-in-the-wall, so you stand and eat on the sidewalk, fending off the occasional forlorn woman begging for a coin. The lassi is served in two sizes, small , 40 rupees and large, 60 rupees, in porous clay ‘glasses’ that you discard in the trash bin in the alley. (60 rupees is about 95 US cents at the current exchange.)

Oh… when you visit, trust me, get a large.

Lassiwala Token
Token used at Lassiwala. When you order and pay the cashier places one, corresponding to your order, on a metal tray in front of him. This signifies that you have paid. The token pictured is for a Small – one that has never been used for my purchases!

I’d Walk a Mile for a Camel. Really.

Who knew that the world of camelids, an even-toed ungulate (Artiodactyla), was so fascinating? The answer, of course, is probably a third of the world’s population what with India, the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa leading the way. In 1856 thirty-four were landed in Texas at the direction of U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to become the United States Camel Corps (a draft animal!) They were to be used to settle, and subdue, the West, an experiment put paid by lobbying military mule suppliers and that bugaboo, the American Civil War. (Jeff Davis, in case you forgot, changed his allegiance.) Even with a small population these camels and their descendants (plus some privately introduced commercial stock) managed to hang on until the 20th century. Living in my state of New Mexico a young, then unknown, Douglas MacArthur heard about a wild camel wandering near Fort Selden in 1885.

Draft Camel
Draft Camel

Imported as work animals into central Australia in the 19th century the now-feral dromedaries in the Land Down-Under reached a population of one million. Between 2009 and 2013 an extermination program reduced that number to 300,000. These stocks are the only wild dromedaries on the planet.

The framing of the question in my opening sentence (camelids) means we also have to include the southern hemisphere of the New World. Llamas, vicuñas, guanacos and alpacas are kith and kin to the standard camel most of us know – or think we know. Scientists have also created a cama, a camel-lama hybrid, using camel semen injected into a llama! They have no hump and are bigger than a llama and smaller than a camel. There was no practical purpose to this experiment, as such, more than to test if the Old World and New World denizens are, in fact, the same species.

Not more than two weeks before we left for India in February I was amused to hear that 12 contestants at the beauty contest at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Rimah, Saudi Arabia had been ignominiously tossed from the competition. Owners were discovered to be cheats; their crime heinous beyond all understanding: they had been injecting their charges’ lips and eyelids with botox – yes, that’s right, the same chemical women use to enhance their looks for us menfolk, enhancing lips to bee-stung proportions and plumping up spaces to render goddess-like anatomies. Confused? Oh… did I forget to mention I am writing here of camel contestants, not the fairer sex of our own species. (I wonder if I can slightly enlarge my old camel hair overcoat with a judicious application of botox?)

If you have ever been up close and personal (OK, maybe not that personal) with a camel you will see they have lovely eyes topped with hooded, come-hither lids rimmed with long lashes. I well remember this one female in Kenya… but I digress.

In my unfolding camelid geography above I did not mean to slight the largest of the species, Camelus Ferus, the wild Bactrian, but these magnificent beasts are not found in India, the focus of this essay to which I am slowly humping. Alas, wild Bactrians are scarce on the ground in their native habitat, too. The last time I was in Mongolia’s Gobi desert I was told there were only 400 wild ones remaining.

Additionally, there is the two-humped domesticated Bactrian (C. bactrianus with a population of two million). It is it’s own species making a total of three living species under the genus Camelus. Aside from slight, invisible genetic differences with this domesticated variety, wild Bactrians are able to drink very saline winter slushies from semi-frozen Gobi salt-pans. From this they seem to suffer no ill effect and it is something their more numerous domesticated cousins cannot do. Bactrians are also one of the few animals able to eat snow to provide their water needs when liquid fresh water or salt slushies are not available. They accomplish this feat using advanced physics – the principal of latent heat, the hidden energy supplied or extracted to change the state of a substance without changing its temperature. This means heat is taken from the camel to melt the snow into water they can then utilize. It is an energy-intensive process so they eat only a little snow at a time.

With your elementary camel knowledge now in order we may proceed to the story at hand: our visit to India’s National Research Centre on Camel, Bikaner. It is a slightly awkward name, true, but it is what is on the campus signs and letterhead so I defer to the Centre’s self-identification (tho the amply represented OCD in me desperately wanted to attack the signs and paint “the” between “on” and “Camel”. My failure to muster up the courage to do so is something that will haunt the rest of my days, no matter I had no ready coloring agent left behind my ears from the Holi Festival. A writer and traveler’s life is not an easy one, fraught as it is by encounters with lapses in grammar that can tear one’s heart out. Every time I read the signs I was sure I detected a disturbance in The Force.)

Camel for Tourist Rides
Camel for Tourist Rides

Be that as it may, at NRCC, the soothing acronym for the Centre, one will learn tons about our friend, C dromedarius, the Ship of the Desert. I would bet dollars-to-donuts that most of you did not know there are four kinds of camels in Rajasthan. They roughly correspond to our more familiar Percheron or Clydesdale horse, a Ferrari, the Holstein cow and, for the sake of a one-on-one comparison, the bovine we call a Jersey. The corresponding camels are the Bikaneri, Jaisalmeri, Kachchhi and Mewari. (And, by the by, there are, indeed, two ‘hs’ in the third type; I am disappointed you would think I could make such an error. Perhaps we cannot be pen pals after all.)

As we walked the camel world, absorbing minutiae such as a dry and thirsty camel may slurp down its 200 litres (53 gallons) in three minutes, an enormous male was indicated, standing in his outdoor stall. His legs were hobbled. Our guide said he was a particularly ornery and nasty bad boy. A big bastard he proved to be when I walked closer to take his portrait and he pivoted away facing west leaving me with only an eastern view. Several times I jockeyed for a better angle without getting too close but he deftly rotated away, giving me the stink eye as he continued to ruin a perfectly good shot. I believe I profaned god in a moment of pique.

Stud Camel at Rest Tied to a Wall
Stud Camel at Rest Tied to a Wall

Not being privy to the dromedary tongue, I could be wrong but I think he uttered something about Camelid Union, Local 666, suggesting he refuse to pose for the western infidel seeking to monetize his good studly looks for financial gain that will not be shared.

As one of the Centre’s remits is the selective breeding of a number of the 314 camels currently in its care, we were fortunate to be visiting during the rut. Camels, if you must know, are the only ungulates that mate in a sitting position and the female does not ovulate until semen is present in the vagina, a sort of cart-before-the-horse-scenario. Modesty prevents me from writing more. That, plus the fact that breeding is a man-controlled affair and, darn it all, we did not actually get to view any couplings, tho you would certainly be amazed at the size and length of the extremity  our young and hip friends labelled a male camel’s junk.

We did get to hear many examples of the male mating call, to which the females were all ears, each pointing toward the sounds of particular males. I managed to get a recording of this remarkable sound and will try to figure out how to edit and post it in the future. It is an incredibly deep rumble that carries a great distance. The closer I stood to a braying male the more physically palpable the rumble. I was reminded of the low decibel notes of whales with their oceanic song moving through the vastness of their seas. It is said that the notes of a male singing off the coast of Maine can be picked up on the other side of the Atlantic! What I find extraordinary, and did not know until looking up camelids a moment ago to find out if I was correct in naming all seven members of the species, is that aquatic cetacea such as whales evolved from artiodactyla, the even-toed ungulates, leading modern taxonomists to sometimes combine these as Cetartiodactyla. My brain leap about the power of the male camel’s voicing does, therefore, have a relationship to that of the whales. “Fascinating, Jim… highly logical.”

A male camel, let’s call him Joe for the sake of anthropomorphizing, does this auditory magic through his dulla, an inflatable sac in his throat. He projects this sac from his mouth during rut, moving air to create the sound. I did wonder why one male’s tongue looked so strange, swollen and pink lolling out the side of his mouth. It was , in fact, his dulla! The actual camel tongue is a barbarous affair able to eat leaves off acacia trees protected by two-inch thorns. They happily munch threw it all.

(Then again, as I ruminate, I realize camels are always chewing because they have cuds they regurgitate from their four-chambered stomachs. Chewing a cud puts Camel Joe on my ritually clean list, as a possible meal, but this is negated by the fact that his feet, thank Yahweh, are not possessed of the all-important split, or cloven, hoof. Leviticus, for us, the Chosen, is nothing if not thorough: pigs, cloven but no cud; rabbits, cud but not cloven. And so it goes. When I went to college I left these laws and crossed over to the dark side. Muslims, notably, do eat camel meat and justify it by pointing to the New Testament saying Jesus and Paul made all foods edible, something the Chinese and Japanese have perfected.)

As a keeper placed an in-hand bridle or halter, on handsome stud Joe to lead him to water, every resident in the female pen about 200 feet away, even the yearlings lying in sternal recumbency, came to rapt attention, heads and eyes moving in locked unison. Befitting his star turn, Camel Joe seemed to add a little extra oomph to his strutting pace (not  trotting – look it up!); his smokin’ chance on the runway of life. With all the testosterone in the air I did not notice if the keeper actually made Joe drink, thus barring me from coining an unforgettable phrase that some long-ago sage beat me to when it comes to horses.

Female camels looking at a braying male in rut
Female camels looking at a braying male in rut. He was just behind me. The standing female on the left is playing it cool on the chance Camel Joe will find her a standout.

 

If you visit NRCC most of the place is off-limits as it really is a research station. But there are a few obligatory rooms of tourist merchandise facing a walkway, all watched over by a few desultory vendors. There is also a little museum and, outside the main gate, next to the admissions window, a place to buy kulfi on a stick, a frozen dairy dessert more dense and creamier than our ice cream. Here, of course, it is made from camel milk. It is divine and the serving size is on the parsimonious side. At $.77 each why not buy two! I tend to avoid dairy products in less hygienic environments (read: the countryside of India) but the NRCC runs a clean food operation. Plus camel milk can be left out without refrigeration for 8 to 9 hours without spoiling.

Female camels running to water
Female camels running to water. I had been standing with my back to the gate about 10 seconds before I took this photo. I turned around just in time to move out of the way as 30 female camels burst through the gate heading to water. NOTE: Never stand between a camel and its water!

 

Arthur:

(The King of Legend, not General Douglas Mac)

 

It’s true! It’s true! The crown has made it clear.

The kulfi must be perfect, all the whole-long year.

A law was made a distant moon ago here:

July and August the monsoons they must bring.

And there’s a legal limit to the snow here

In the Camel-lot.

The winter is forbidden till December

And exits March the second on the dot.

By order, summer lingers through September

In our Camel-lot.

Camel-lot! Camel-lot!

I know it sounds a bit bizarre,

But in Camel-lot, Camel-lot

That’s how conditions are.

I know it gives a person pause,

But in Camel-lot, Camel-lot

Those are the legal laws.

The snow may never slush upon the hillside.

By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear.

In short, there’s simply not

A more congenial spot

For happily-ever-aftering than here

In our Camel-lot.

 

Rats! Not Exactly on the Bucket List

Although India ought to be on the list of world cultures that one visits in a lifetime of travel, it is probably not for all travelers. Well, let me modify that with a caveat. If one includes the category of luxury travel where one essentially floats through an environment in an air-conditioned, antiseptic bubble with your personal Jeeves at the beck and call… if that is your cup of Darjeeling them yes, Incredible India may be for you, too.

One of the Must-Do’s not on my India Bucket List, however, was the Karni Mata Temple in Deshnoke, Rajasthan. It draws Indian pilgrims from far and wide with a smattering of tourists thrown in (I saw one, presumably non-Indian, European while I visited.) But there are about 25,000 kabbas resident here (give or take; I saw a dead one on my exploration.)

A Wikipedia entry, taken from the Lonely Planet travel guide, explains the place best:

“Legend has it that Laxman, Karni Mata’s stepson (or the son of one of her storytellers), drowned in a pond… while he was attempting to drink from it. Karni Mata implored Yama, the god of death, to revive him. First refusing, Yama eventually relented, permitting Laxman and all of Karni Mata’s male children to be reincarnated as rats.”

Yes, you read that correctly; a kabba is a rat. Specifically, it is a member of the species Rattus rattus, the lovable black rat, every child’s idea of the perfect pet and not to be confused with its more malleable cousin, Rattus norvegicus, the brown, better known as the Norway, or Sewer, rat. Everyone on the planet knows this latter beastie because it is the staple of research laboratories, pet stores and is, alas, the most successful and common mammal on the planet – with the notable exception of humans. Only Antarctica has been spared (for now).

Rats Feeding on Milk & Water - Karni Mata Temple
Rats Feeding on Milk & Water – Karni Mata Temple, Rajasthan, India

While I was looking up at the acre of wire mesh that covers the mostly open-air compound and thinking of Yersinia pestis, the bubonic plague, a kabba, scurrying to a destination unknown to me, ran over my right foot. This is considered especially lucky, bestowing only good things upon one so blessed. To my credit I did not scream.

I think the overhead wire mesh is to keep out the large numbers of Columbidae livia, rock doves, whose planetary feral populations have exploded. (I will go out on a limb right now and hazard that they are number three on the list of earth’s most cosmopolitan mammals.) You and I, and everyone else we know, simply call this bird a pigeon. It is a certainty that these rats-on-wings would dive in and settle down to eat the ample food stores spread around for the kabbas, for India, as elsewhere, is profoundly inundated with pigeons. The wire screen roof also keeps out India’s many birds of prey. It would be bad form to let any of the temple’s 25,000 holy inhabitants end up as meals-that-squeals.

Naturally, there is a distinct odor to the complex, one that might charitably be called barnyardy. I suppose it is a combination of the mammal residents, the food spread around by visitors and the excrement left after the food is eaten. As if to get even for their exclusion, there is also an unfair amount of pigeon poop because the wire screening cannot, of course, keep it from dropping in to pay its respects to the unfairly favored King Rat.

As with all India’s sacred spaces, shoes are verboten! 99% of pilgrims leave theirs helter-skelter in the street-cum-public-square in front of the temple, tho there is an official concession for footwear storage just a few meters beyond. The attendants looked lonely so I used it. (No, that’s a lie: they were not lonely; so many people had looked Keenly at my sandals I was worried about some less-than-honest pilgrim waddling off in them so checked my sandals properly.) The shoe storage sits at one end of the row of kitschy concessions lining two sides of the square. All sell sweets, snacks and every tacky knick-knack known to rat-dom (don’t groan, I could have written ‘ratty’ instead of ‘tacky’.) The atmosphere would not be out of place as the Midway of a 1960s circus with touts trying to snare passers-by one and all. I, in thoughtful foresight, wore a pair of those little hospital socks with grippy pads on the soles as an ensemble with my sandals. Lord (Krishna) knows if I would have had the fortitude to cross the street and enter the temple with feet unclad by sox once I checked my Keens into official care.

On a highbrow note, there is excellent architecture to indulge in and a set of solid silver doors, even if the bulk of the temple is painted Pepto-Bismol pink. My one complaint is that the large marble lions outside really ought to have been over-sized King Rats. Attendees may cast this as a matter of little consequence; the lions are rarely visible because of the hordes of Indians who lounge over them executing self-portraits. The European visitor and myself were the only ones I saw actually taking pictures of the temple; everyone else simply used the temple and its parts as their selfie back-drop, as is the case at every other site in India. At least Karni Mata is on flat, solid ground. The railings at the battlements of forts and palaces have oftentimes been installed after someone forgets they are hundreds of meters in the air and leans back for a better facial photo extension. I am not making this up.

For you early birds Karna Mata opens at 4:00 am. It is dark then so for the squeamish maybe that would be the best time to go. As there is so much food about, and rats are easily distracted, there is ample tucker for one and all, including you, dear visitor. It is said that eating food nibbled on by the rats is a high honor. If you will, please let me know how that works out. Also let me know if you see one of the rare white rats. You guessed it: that is also an auspicious honor. In this particular quest I failed. I thought to dash out and cross the square to find a flute (probably available as one is always shown with Krishna in a playing posture) and I’m sure a pied suit could have been procured, as well. Then I came to my senses and ended this line of reverie. Who wants to end up as a fatality statistic after luring all the rats out of Karni Mata just to sight a white one?

Some of you reading this may take my tone amiss, as a bit of unenlightened, agnostic snark. Please do not interpret my remarks this way: for those who travel, if you do not go to India you will have missed a precious and wonderful chapter of the human novel!

Well, that about sums up this installment except to write that while there are many monkey temples in India, Karna Mata is unique, as far as I know. And I am satisfied to report: Been there! Done that!

 

A Sonnet

(with apologies to Miss Freeman, my 8th grade English teacher, from whom I learned the proper setup of an octave and a sestet for the Petrarchan, Spenserian and Shakespearean sonnet forms. First know the artistic rules and then feel free to break them.)

Welcome to Mother India
Wellspring of Religions galore
You’ve probably Tech-Talked to us
Way down in Bangalore

East meets West – We’ve all the Best
Paintings with Class; our Jewelry – a Blast
Music and Dance; Textiles that Prance
Stone sculptures of Schist; Ah… feelings of bliss.

But, as in any form of living thing, mi’ lad
Good lives not unalloyed with the bad.
Meditate on this,
Hurriedly or at Ease:

Enter India if you Please
At some small personal Risk.

R.I.P. Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory

Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory
(12 October 1932, St. Louis, Missouri – 19 August 2017, Washington, D.C.)

Dick Gregory Lecturing at Wright State University, April 1973
Photo: Wilbur Norman

Dick Gregory, U.S. Army veteran, urbane comedian-turned-social activist and writer, actor, businessman and provocateur par excellence, died yesterday at the age of 84. I first met him in April 1973 when he spoke at Wright State University. I would then run into him at various events around the East Coast. I think the last time I saw him must have been in 1987 when he was arrested protesting apartheid in front of the South African Embassy in Washington, DC.

He could keep up a biting and satirical running commentary better than anyone I have ever met, no doubt from practice as a stand-up comedian in his early career. That career was given a big boost by his appearance on The Jack Paar Tonight Show in 1961.

After turning down invitations to perform on the show he was called by Paar to find out why. (Billy Eckstine had told Gregory no black performer was ever asked to sit on the couch after their act.) Gregory told Paar that the reason he was not willing to perform on The Tonight Show was “because a Negro has never been able to finish the act and walk to the couch.” The show’s producers changed this policy, making Gregory the first African American to take the couch and talk with Paar after a stage appearance!

A Lie of the Mind – ‘Trauma, Mystery, Grief’. Samuel Shepard Rogers III

Although I certainly cannot say I knew him, I ran into Sam Shepard (5 November 1943 – 27 July 2017) more frequently than almost any other famous person I have ever ‘known’. And, some of those times I would only realize it was him after he had moved on.

On a blustery early evening in March or April about eight years ago, I was leaving the Asian Tribal Art Show on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street in NYC, head down to counter the cold, when he breezed by me in a stride as brisk as the wind, cowboy hat pulled low over his forehead and the collar of his shearling coat cinched up high; I only realized it was him after he had passed by. But where I saw him most often was in Santa Fe at the great bookstore Op Cit. He was an avid reader (or an avid book buyer) and he would bend his tall frame over, pick up a paperback and check it out much like any lover of the printed word.

And word lover he was in both consumption and production: 55 plays, 50 films, a dozen plus TV roles and at least 7 books that were not plays. Among his additional talents were banjo picker, song writer, Obie Award collector (I believe he holds the record at 10 wins) and voice actor for the audio book of Spaulding Gray’s last monologue. He avidly avoided aviation travel but was sometimes guilty of driving under the influence.

Mr. Shepard turned the final page last Thursday from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, popularly called Lou Gehrig’s disease in the U.S. and motor neurone disease (MND) in Britain.

He and his writing will be much missed.

_____
“Sam always wrote from that place — a zone of trauma, mystery and grief. Whether the play was more mainstream or experimental in its conception, he took the big risk every time.” – playwright Christopher Shinn, The NY Times, July 31, 2017.

何藩 / Fan Ho – R.I.P.

Photographer-Filmmaker Fan Ho / 何藩
(8 October 1937, Shanghai – 19 June 2016, San Jose, CA)

fan-ho-as-evening-hurries-by

As Evening Hurries By. One of the photographer’s own favorites.

Somehow I missed the notice that one of my handful of favorite photographers, Fan Ho, passed to that darkroom in the sky in June of this year at the age of 78. (Many biographies list his birth as 1931.)

In the 1950s and the 1960s, Fan Ho stalked the streets, alleys, tenements, waterways and markets of Hong Kong with his Rollei Twin Lens Reflex, possessed of a deft compositional sense and a patient* eye for light and shadow. In so doing he inadvertently documented a city that would morph into the great metropolis it is today. His poignant, compassionate and artful portfolio from this time relates a humanist sentiment highlighted by a geometric touch salted with intriguing chiaroscuro. He was able, equally, to portray Hong Kong as a hive of activity or as a nearly deserted monument to the individual.

It is unfortunate today that many young photographers are not familiar with his work. For those who are, one of the facts they know is that the Photographic Society of America consistently listed Ho as one of the world’s top ten photographers every year from 1958 to 1965. He was the recipient of some 300 photography awards over a long career and also directed 27 films (also acting in a few!) His diversity sprung, no doubt, from his feeling that, “I hate to repeat myself.”

What is probably less known is that Fan Ho had a self-deprecating and very refined sense of humour; his wit was infectious and ever-present.

Fan Ho was about the last of a generation of image-makers who made photography the modern expression we see today.

He will be missed.

fan-ho-approaching-shadow-1954

* Approaching Shadow (1954). For many years I marveled at this photograph and thought of it as one of the small number of decisive moment masterpieces. Now that I know more about it I still find it entirely captivating as, apparently, did the buyer at Bonhams (Hong Kong) in 2015 who purchased it for HK$375,000 (US$48,000), a Fan Ho record. In fact, Ho used his niece for the model against the wall and a draughtsman’s triangle in the darkroom to create that dramatic edge of shadow! To me the artist’s darkroom manipulation makes this image no less great.

Still the Greatest! RIP Mohammed Ali (1942-2016)

“It was his beauty that beat me.” – George Foreman

In a world where many noted personalities are famous simply for being… well… famous, Mohammed Ali was a giant, a man who not only had a skill and performed colossal feats with that skill (40 Sports Illustrated covers as of next week attest to this) but who stood for something, as well. Ali became a symbol of hope and aspiration for anyone trying to make something of a life begun in humble or deprived origins, for those forced by circumstance into a life of servitude and despair. How appropriate that he was recognized by both the United Nations and Amnesty International as a world ambassador for peace and justice.

I met Mohahammed Ali once. I had, of course, seen him many times on television, flashing that infectious smile and spouting his sing-song braggadocio. What do you say to the man who was once the world’s highest paid athlete and most recognized face and name on earth (as an American, everywhere I went in Africa in the late 1970s people who could not speak much English would raise their arms and shout “Mohammed Ali!”)? I managed to mumble something about it being a supreme pleasure to finally meet “The Greatest”.

What I was not prepared for was his handshake. Ali took both my hands in his and I still remember, and often mention, that my hands (I’m 6 foot, 1 inch tall) were engulfed in what seemed to me to be two catcher’s mitts enclosing my hand. I immediately thought of what it would be like to be hit by such huge fists and said so. He laughed and slowly threw one of his famous mock punches.*

“If you are still the same person at 50 as you were at 20 then you have wasted 30 years of your life.” – Mohammed Ali

When you are “The Greatest”, so you shall ever remain.

* In Philadelphia I belonged to the same club as Joe Frazier and his hands were similarly sized. Plus, Frazier was not that tall but his shoulders extended far beyond my own when we would stand face to face. He was built like a moving , giant cinder block.

I’m Back!

Open Sesame! Door on the Rooftop Cupola at Hotel Raquel, Havana.
Open Sesame! Door on the Rooftop Cupola at Hotel Raquel, Havana.

For some reason that no one at Word Press or its User Group could explain, I have been unable to access my own blog here since September 2014.

Now, through some weird adjustment I cannot really explain or figure out, I am back in the saddle!

But, having not made any entries in 10 months, I am out of the habit and do not foresee blogging with any regularity. And, who knows, maybe I will be blocked from entering my own blog again after I write this and will finally have to give it up totally!

Anyway…. check out my writings and photography pages – that’s where I am spending most all my time.

Doing Well By Doing Good – Nielsen Consumer Survey 2014

Nielsen, the ratings company, published their annual world-wide survey of consumer buying decisions this summer. It has posted some revealing numbers and results. Below, a section of the report:

 

Willingness to Pay More

“More than half (55%) of global respondents in Nielsen’s corporate social responsibility survey say they are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact — an increase from 50 percent in 2012 and 45 percent in 2011. Regionally, respondents in Asia-Pacific (64%), Latin America (63%) and Middle East/Africa (63%) exceed the global average and have increased 9, 13 and 10 percentage points, respectively, since 2011.”

NOTE, below, that American and European consumers lag behind those from…. well, everywhere else!

those willing to pay extra - Nielsen Survey

 
 

Causes Consumers Care About - Nielsen Survey results

 
 

meandering & idle speculations on nothing & everything                                          

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