Today’s Palindrome Date: 4/14/14

But wait!… It gets better!

ALL of this week’s dates, when read backwards, are the same as when read forward — at least in America where we place the month first in the line-up.  Europeans tend to put the day first, so this post is not for them!

4/13/14

4/14/14

4/15/14

4/16/14

4/17/14

4/18/14

4/19/14

Nice.  And, a good thing I had to enter a note into my phone calendar or I might have missed this meaningless, numerological event.

A side-light: I have long been on a crusade to get people to adopt my way of date-stamping.

I put the day first, then the month, followed by the year.  BUT… I use a Roman Numeral for the month so my international clients are never confused as to my dating. Example for today: 14.IV.14

Finally, all this nonsense reminds me of my favorite palindrome:

“A man, a plan, a canal. Panama!”

 

R.I.P. Peter Matthiessen

The First Issue of The Paris Review, Spring 1953.

The first issue of the Paris Review, Spring 1953, published a couple months after I was born.

The only writer to win the U.S. National Book Award in the fiction AND nonfiction categories, Peter Matthiessen, has died of leukemia at his home on Long Island.

Among the acts in his storied life was co-founding the Paris Review, a literary magazine that, along with tons of publishing firsts has maintained a series of interviews “Writers at Work,” which Joe David Bellamy, in his book, Literary Luxuries has called, “one of the single most persistent acts of cultural conservation in the history of the world.”

Peter Matthiessen was, in many ways, the most normal of ‘famous’ men. As I write this I can look at two full shelves of books authored by Mr. Matthiessen, many of them signed when I met him for the first time at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences in 1983. When one of my colleagues, who did not bring his books along, asked if he might send them to Long Island to be signed, Matthiessen said “sure” and wrote out his home address on a slip of paper. After the books were sent and signed they were mailed back to Philadelphia. Accompanying them was a note saying the wife was a bit unhappy that their home address had been given out to a stranger and could that original “slip of paper please be torn up and thrown away?” How many famous names can you think of who would kindly write out their home address for you? (The handwritten piece of paper was duly tossed but, today, would be a nice memento stapled to that returned note!)

Peter Matthiessen was, also, the most observant, clear-sighted and questioning of men; traits enhanced, no doubt, by his Zen practice. He always thought of himself as a fiction writer first and foremost, continually grappling with many of the central concerns of our existence. Additionally, he brought this focus to his great non-fiction, the works  I treasure most.  He seemed to think of these books, however, as his trade-craft, workman-like, earth-bound output with fiction being his artisanal craft on a higher plane that might, in fact, break free of the plain and soar.

And, now, today, he has joined that body of marvelous work.

R.I.P. Peter Mathiessen (22 May 1927 – 5 April 2014).

Today is 3/14/14, but next year….

3.14159265359

The number π is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle‘s circumference to its diameter, approximately equal to 3.14159. It has been represented by the Greek letter “π” since the mid-18th century though it is also sometimes spelled out as “pi“.

Being an irrational number, π cannot be expressed exactly as a common fraction. Consequently its decimal representation never ends and never settles into a permanent repeating pattern. The digits appear to be randomly distributed although no proof of this has yet been discovered. Also, π is a transcendental number – a number that is not the root of any nonzero polynomial having rational coefficients. This transcendence of π implies that it is impossible to solve the ancient challenge of squaring the circle with a compass and straight-edge.

Fractions such as 22/7 and other rational numbers are commonly used to approximate π.

For thousands of years mathematicians have attempted to extend their understanding of π… – Wikipedia

 

The Buick Stops Here. A Chris-tastrophe Jams N.J.

Apologies for the puns but they are springing up everywhere. NY Daily News in their current headline (they must have been hoarding it) reads: Fat Chance Now, Chris.  Assuming Gov. Christie of New Jersey is telling the truth about not knowing his staff and a NY/NJ Port Authority appointee (and a best friend) purposefully closed lanes of eastward traffic on the George Washington Bridge, it’s going to be a bad time for the rising star of the GOP. The fact that it was traffic into New York City on, of all days, 9-11, will speak volumes to residents of the Big Apple.

If you at seated at the top, the culture surrounding you takes its cue from you.  If that culture shows itself to be mean-spirited, petty and vindictive … well… you get the idea. Further, if it is shown that the woman who died, because the emergency services could not get through, might have survived, it begins to sound like the kind of (justified) litigation that could drag on until the next presidential primaries.

I suppose many far-right Republicans are silently cheering more than the Dems as Gov. Christie is not exactly a darling of the most conservative wing. People love it when meteors plunk down as meteorites.

In the event you haven’t the slightest clue as to what this blog is  about: the allegation is that senior staffers of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie closed three of four east-bound lanes of the country’s most heavily used bridge — for four days in September 2013 — as retaliation for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, not endorsing Republican Christie in the governor’s re-election race – a contest where he was ahead in the polls by about 25%. The George Washington Bridge crosses the Hudson River connecting Fort Lee, NJ (and points west and south) to the northern section of New York City (and points east and north.) ALL traffic hugging the east coast of the United States crosses that single toll bridge. Delays during the four-day lane closures were as long as 4 hours.

Two damning emails have been unearthed by digging Democrats. One is: Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee (from Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs.) “Got it,” was the reply from David Wildstein, the Port Authority’s highest-ranking political appointee. Another, from Wildstein, regarding school buses stuck in bridge traffic: they are the children of Buono voters (Barbara Buono was Christie’s Democratic opponent for governor.)

Aside from the $60,000 reported as the cost for conducting the lane closures, there must be hundred’s of thousands of more dollars involved. How much overtime had to be paid out to freight drivers heading to New England? How many delayed shipments delayed yet other shipments? How much gasoline & diesel was consumed by stuck traffic? (320,00 cars per day, both ways on both decks. There are 4 lanes each way on the upper deck and another 6 lanes on the lower deck. I assume, from the photographs, the closures were on the upper deck, but have not been able to find out if this is correct.)

There is always a chain of consequences in such ill-advised stupidity. Or, perhaps, they just didn’t give a damn.

Other headline suggestions around the country were:

Bridge Set Me Up / Bridge To Nowhere / Payback’s a Bridge / Bridge Troll / A Bridge Too Far

 

R.I.P. Simon Hoggart

We  lost one of the planets most entertaining writers yesterday. Simon Hoggart (26 May 1946 − 5 January 2014), Parliamentary sketch writer for The Guardian Newspaper and wine columnist for The Spectator. He might well have become a tennis star but for serious injuries that led him to consider journalism. Tennis’ loss was the written word’s gain (and broadcasting’s, on both sides of the Pond, as well.) Always writing, he published about twenty books, the last two after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2010.
Hoggart’s insights and witticisms are legion. Herewith, a few:

Watching John Major run the country is like watching Edward Scissorhands make balloon animals.

I’m just back from a week in France. Naturally I took a case of non-French wine over on the ferry so as to have something decent to drink. The French are terrifically complacent about their wine, believing that the worst they produce is better than the best from anywhere else. They are wrong, and there are few sights more depressing than the parade of tired, ill-kept, dreary bottles on the shelves of French supermarkets. The humblest British high street off- licence has wines from a dozen countries, and frequently twice that; in France it is hard to find wine from outside the region, never mind abroad. It may cost i1 or so per bottle less, but that is no compensation for Chablis like acidulated chalk dust, or clarets which have finesse and backbone but no discernible taste. I know many older drinkers like only French wines, but this is force of habit; just as men over 50 tend to prefer stockings to tights, it’s a matter of how you started. — 19 April 1996, Diary.

I loved his testimony (before Parliament’s Public Administration Select Committee) in 2009 about the bleaching effects of politicians’ jargon when they seek to white-wash political acts. He began the hearings by re-stating one of Churchill’s war-time phrases as if it were re-written by a modern government wonk, turning “We will fight on the beaches” into “an ongoing programme of hostile engagement in littoral sectors.”

Gotta love it! He and his writing will be much missed.

Simon Hoggart  photograph courtesy © BBC 

Slow News Day

Good thing it was not the Cannibal Chef!
Good thing it was not the Cannibal Chef!

As few of us work on New Year’s Day there is often time to search out the arcane and humorous. Here is what many journalists, yesterday, were calling the greatest headline in the history of The New York Times Newspaper. It appeared in 1922.

I have placed this entry under the category of Food & Drink  but, technically, there was, as far as I know, no drink involved.

 

_____________________________________________________________________

This Year’s Holiday Card

This is the image for our 2013 Holiday Card. The text reads:

Darn!  Where’s that fat guy in the funny red suit when you need to make a getaway?

I think he’s behind us…    What’s that over there?    UH-oh, I did something in my pants….    God, I never get in the pictures…..
Yeh, if I squint I can see it too.  I’m going back – why did I agree to carry this baby?  I know he’s coming & I’m glad I brought my brother!
Man, you guys are crazy – what a waste of time.   I’m hiding my face in case they catch us.

Ride for Peace

Motorbiking Around the World

Jeffrey Polnaja stopping on his international Ride for Peace at Sipapu, New Mexico for the BMW annual Bavarian Mountain Rally
Jeffrey Polnaja stopping on his international Ride for Peace at Sipapu, New Mexico for the BMW annual Bavarian Mountain Rally

I rode my BMW R1200RT to the New Mexico annual BMW motorcycle rally last weekend and had the privilege of meeting Jeffrey Polnaja. Jeffrey, from Java, Indonesia, has been riding his GS BMW motorcycle around the world on a Ride for Peace. He is into his 78th country and 52nd riding month and has, he figures, around 24 months more to go to cover the rest of the western U.S., Central and South America, New Zealand and Australia. He has only taken a break once — when his bike was stolen (with all his possessions) in Amsterdam in a plaza in front of a police station. To replace it he had to buy another in Indonesia where the customs duty doubles the price of the bike to around US$45,000. He got a break and only had to pay $30,000. He also used the waiting time to write a book about the southern Asia, North Africa and Western Europe part of his journey. He hopes the book will one day be translated into English.

Since he began his journey Jeffrey has learned how to repair the elemental mechanics of the bike, learned how to use his small helmet and chest-mounted cameras as well as a large Nikon, gotten really good in making slide shows and movies with his laptop computer and, incredibly, learned how to speak passable English.

The impetus for this huge undertaking began when he and his family were watching the awful events of September 11, 2001 on Indonesian television. His young son asked him why someone, someone who was Muslim as Jeffrey and his family are, would do this terrible thing. After trying to explain to his son the nature of evil his son asked him why he did not do something to stop such evil. Like most of us, Jeffrey asked his son what could he, a simple small businessman in Bandung Province with no special skills, do? His son asked why he couldn’t ride around the world taking the message of Peace. Unlike most of us, Jeffrey decided to do just that. He sold his business (rubber parts for motorcycles) and in April 2006 began his international journey.

“I am just a rider, but I hope to see peace in the world. I hope (politicians) will make peace part of their policy.”

Jeffrey’s ready smile, gentle spirit and iron-tough will (he would add his belief in god) have kept him in the saddle though events that would stop many, maybe most, riders. I think just the official international border paperwork and petty theft would rob most of us of our sense that we can make a difference.

He has been shot at in South Asia and hit by a drunk driver in Baluchistan. The hit-and-run collision damaged his bike, destroyed his navigation system and cracked his right wrist (he has a great photo of buzzards flying overhead after this accident when he awoke the next morning lost in the roadless desert). He had to negotiate to be allowed to cross the Khyber Pass into war-torn Afghanistan and required armed escort for part of his ride there. He had motorcycle mounted, heavily armed, gendarmeries flank him across Algeria and was charged only $30 for a $3000 per night hotel room in Dubai. He was hit by a truck driver in Kazakhstan with crushing wounds to his left leg. The doctors said he would need a month in bed before putting weight on it. Jeffrey decided to try the healing meditations monks in Tibet had taught him. After eight days he thought his leg felt better and asked the doctors if he could go. They checked his leg and the fracture had healed — he was released to continue his ride.

Here’s hoping his ride has an impact on as many people, in as many places, as possible.

Ride Safe, Jeffrey.

 

Writers Lifeguard

Pay the Writer!
 

I was reading Querencia, Steve Bodio’s Blog (altho he also published a great book by that name, too), and found a video entry with a Harlan Ellison (justified) rant about paying the writer for his or her work. The original diatribe comes from the documentary about Ellison, Dreams with Sharp Teeth. I followed the link on Bodio’s page to a blog titled Writers Lifeguard. A reader wrote to the blog asking about the origin of the site’s name. The response, below, struck a chord as I hail from an Appalachian mining region; 80% of the land in my home county is owned by coal interests.

Jules Older, the blogger for Writers Lifeguard says its name is a tribute to his favorite union-organizing song,

Miner’s Lifeguard

Miner’s life is like a sailor’s.
‘Board a ship to cross the waves.
Ev’ry day his life’s in danger,
Still he ventures being brave.
Watch the rocks, they’re falling daily.
Careless miners always fail.
Keep your hand upon the dollar
And your eye upon the scale.

CHORUS:
Union miners stand together,
Heed no operator’s tale,
Keep your hand upon the dollar,
And your eye upon the scale.

You’ve been docked and docked, my boys,
You’ve been loading two to one;
What have you to show for working
Since this mining has begun?
Overalls and cans for rockers,
In your shanties, sleep on rails.
Keep your hand upon the dollar
And your eye upon the scale.

CHORUS

In conclusion, bear in memory,
Keep the password in your mind:
God provides for every nation
When in union they combine.
Stand like men and linked together,
Victory for you’ll prevail,
Keep your hand upon the dollar
And your eye upon the scale.

“Blessed are the pacemakers”

RIP: Seamus Heaney
(13 April 1939 − 30 August 2013)

Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, born Castledàwson, County Londonderry, was that rare writer, even rarer poet, who produced work with political content that was actually readable. It lacked the shrill, pedantic, humorless tone that so often gives such work a justifiably bad name. He was, simply, gifted in a way that made the reader nod in agreement when running across a marvelous passage that evoked truth in graceful, pleasingly patterned, numinous language (his later work) or wrested great emotion in lines of earth and torment (his earlier.) And, he had a well-developed sense of humour. A few years ago he received a pacemaker for his ailing heart. He loved saying, “blessed are the pacemakers,” and you might have had to think for a second trying to figure out whether that Irish voice had said pace or peace.

“Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August… the barley grew up out of our grave.”
— “Requiem for the Croppies”, 1966, on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Printed in Door into The Dark, 1969.

 

“Be advised my passport’s green.
No glass of ours was ever raised
to toast the Queen.”
Untitled, written in 1982 as an objection to being included in an anthology of British poetry.

 

From The Frontier Of Writing

The tightness and the nilness round
that space 
when the car stops in the road, the troops inspect
its make and number and, as one bends his face

towards your window, you catch sight of more
on a hill beyond, eyeing with intent
down cradled guns that hold you under cover

and everything is pure interrogation
until a rifle motions and you move
with guarded unconcerned acceleration—

a little emptier, a little spent
as always by that quiver in the self,
subjugated, yes, and obedient.

So you drive on to the frontier of writing
where it happens again. The guns on tripods;
the sergeant with his on-off mike repeating

data about you, waiting for the squawk
of clearance; the marksman training down
out of the sun upon you like a hawk.

And suddenly you’re through, arraigned yet freed,
as if you’d passed from behind a waterfall
on the black current of a tarmac road

past armor-plated vehicles, out between
the posted soldiers flowing and receding
like tree shadows into the polished windscreen.

Goethe: It Depends On the Vintage

Wine rejoices the heart of man and joy is the mother of all virtues.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832)

 

On a clear and beautiful day in late December 1999, wandering around the town of Malcésine on the north-east shore of Lago di Garda (Lake Garda, Italy) we happened to see a bronze plaque on a building and, as I always do, walked closer to investigate. It was one of those “a famous person slept here” signs. In this case it was for Goethe and I was delighted because the stop became a featured episode in his escape-from-official duties-journey that had been spawned by a period of mental turmoil.

Here J.W.Goethe made a drawing of the castle in Sept. 1786

Here J.W.Goethe made a drawing of the castle in Sept. 1786

Goethe’s visit to the city on September 13, 1786 was unplanned. Intending to travel by oared boat from the north end of the lake, at Torbole, to the south near Sirmione and thence to Italy’s archaeological wonders, he encountered a storm with contrary winds. Lacking sufficient manpower, the boat pulled into port at the city of Malcésine to wait it out. Always a man of industry, Goethe assembled his drawing instruments at a quiet spot on Via Castello to sketch Scaliger Castle. The plaque above commemorates the location.

Finding a man with a German accent engaged in detailed drawing of the fortress, local citizens thought he might be an Austrian spy and reported his sketching activity to authorities. Goethe recounts the story in Italian Journey, his book published many years (1816-1817) after the incident:

This evening I could have already been in Verona, but here nearby there was this majestic wonder of nature, this delightful picture called Lake of Garda, and I did not want to miss it. I was profusely rewarded for having taken the longer way.

Rowing was impossible against the strong wind, so we were forced to land at Malcesine. This is the first Venetian village on the eastern shore of the lake Garda… I want to take full advantage of this stop, especially to draw the castle beside the lake, which is a good subject…I made a sketch today when I passed in front of it.— September 12th, 1786, Malcesine, Italy.

Next day: As usual, I spent some time at the old castle which is open to all because it lacks windows and doors and has no custodian or guards. In the castle courtyard I sat in front of the tower built upon a rock. I found a cozy place to draw, sitting near a closed door three or four steps above the ground…

Goethe was brought before the local magistrate based on the suspicion he was an Austrian spy. He was saved from imprisonment, or worse, by a man familiar with Frankfurt, Goethe’s hometown. The man testified that Goethe was, indeed, German and and not Austrian. (The Habsburgs ruled much of northern Italy and there were always tensions with the independent bordering states such as Venice that controlled eastern shore areas of the lake.)

Scaliger Castle has a small museum about Lago di Garda, Goethe and Monte Baldo, the peak that towers over the town. The museum has a room dedicated to Goethe and his visit with copies of the sketches that caused all the trouble. Goethe said that it was in Malcésine that he began to write Iphigenia.

The internet has many instances of a story about Goethe that I have been unable to ferret out in an original source. All the instances of the story must have been originally copied from one source as they all read alike, word for word:

Goethe, a famous German poet, once was asked, which three things he would take to an island. He stated: Poetry, a beautiful woman and enough bottles of the world’s finest wines to survive this dry period! Then he was asked what he would leave back first, if it was allowed to take only two things to the island. And he briefly replied: The poetry! Slightly surprised, the man asked the next question: And Sir, what would you leave back if only one was allowed? And Goethe thought for a couple of minutes and answered: It depends on the vintage!

As a side note about the area, three kilometers south of the town is the village of Cassone, home to the Aril River, the world’s shortest at 175 meters long!

Ein echter deutscher Mann mag keinen Franzen leiden,
Doch ihre Weine trinkt er gern.

A true German can’t stand the French,
Yet gladly he drinks their wines.

— Goethe, “Auerbach’s Cellar”, Faust, Part 1 (1808)

The Bankrupt Vaults of Justice

“Insufficient Funds” still the by-words

The 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech has arrived (and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation) and commentators are tripping over themselves lauding the accomplishments springing from the speech, confusing ‘black faces in high places’ with economic progress of the poorest elements of society.

Conflating improvements in segregation/integration with progress in class mobility is not a mistake Rev. Dr. King would have made and neither should we.

This speech, incidentally, is consistently rated by scholars of American history as the country’s most significant 20th century political speech. Once he got talking King deviated from the original prepared speech. Many of his most eloquent passages were extemporaneous injections from prior speeches as comparison of the filmed speech to his original, printed version reveals. This is especially true toward what was supposed to be the end of the speech when the singer Mahalia Jackson blurted out, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.” After a few sentences and Mahalia’s repeated exhortation King moved his prepared lines aside. His training as a black minister came to the fore and the rest, as they say, is history. But, as all history, it is one where black and white Americans see and hear different ideas in the same narrative with identical words.

FBI assistant director William Sullivan, after the speech, noted “We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.”

I rode my motorcycle from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. to the 25th anniversary celebrations of the March. En route I joined a column of black bikers without knowing who they were, it was just company and a cushion of motor safety on the massively trafficked interstate. When we neared New York Avenue the column got off and, as I was going to the anniversary event, so did I. We all filed into the Mall area and parked. My companions were a biker club from Staten Island, NY. The president had been to the original March in 1963 and was returning with his club members for the 25th.  Very nice.

Freud in America

We are born at a given moment, in a given place and, like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season of which we are born. Astrology does not lay claim to anything more. — Carl Jung

It was on this day in 1909 that Sigmund Freud (6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) landed in America for the first and only time. Freud had been invited by Dr. Granville Stanley Hall, president of Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts to give a series of lectures on the origin and growth of psychoanalysis. Freud invited his Hungarian disciple Dr. Sandor Ferenczi (7 July 1873 – 22 May 1933) to travel with him as well as another disciple who had also been invited to Clark University, Dr. Carl Jung.

“After insuring his life for 20,000 marks (then equivalent to about US$4,764) Freud took a train to Bremen to join Jung and Ferenczi a day before boarding their ship. Hosting a farewell lunch, Freud ordered wine. Jung, a teetotaler, didn’t want any but at Freud’s insistence agreed to have a drink. Curiously, after Jung capitulated and drank, Freud fainted.”*

On the voyage across the Atlantic Dr. Ernest Jones, Freud’s leading British disciple and later his biographer wrote that “the 3 companions analyzed each other’s dreams — the 1st example of group analysis…”

Before setting sail Freud, a collector of antiquities, confided that all he wanted to see was the Metropolitan Museum’s Cypriot collection and Niagara Falls. While in New York the three compatriots also saw their first moving picture.

Although Freud was impressed by the following he had in the United States, enjoyed a long walk and talk with the dying William James, and received the only academic honorary degree he ever received, he hated the food that inflamed his already bad prostate; thought women led American men by the nose; was discomfited by American women, admitting they kept him awake at night, giving him erotic dreams about prostitutes; and disliked not being understood in German.

“Freud died still believing, as he had once remarked, that tobacco was the only excuse for Columbus’ great mistake in discovering America.”

* “Dr. Freud Visits America” from The People’s Almanac by Irving Wallace, © 1975 – 1981 by David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace.

— http://www.trivia-library.com/a/freud-in-america-part-5-feelings-about-america.htm

Ray Bradbury

Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered.

— Ray Bradbury (22 August 1920 – 5 June 2012). Dandelion Wine, Chapter 3, published 1 January 1957, developed from the short story “Dandelion Wine” in Gourmet Magazine, June 1953.

In this semi-autobiographical book of small-town, midwestern boyhood in the summer of 1928, Bradbury uses dandelions as symbols of a special seasonal rhythm, metaphorically contained in the 31 bottles of wine his grandfather makes from a plant commonly described as a weed. The wine is for drinking but is also stored as medicine against the infirmities of winter.

Dandelion petals, lemon juice and sugar were the favored ingredients in the making of this wine during my midwestern childhood. Fruit wines of every possible kind were much preferred to those made from our native vitis labrusca grapes. They lacked the undesirable foxy, musky qualities of the ubiquitous labrusca grape variety. And ubiquitous they were as we might recall from the fact that Norse explorer Leif Ericsson (ca. 970 – ca. 1020) named the newly discovered coast of North America ‘Vinland.’ (Leif descended from a family of travelers, although they were not wanders-by-choice: his grandfather was banished from Norway for murder and moved to Iceland and his father was banished from Iceland, moving to Greenland…. Westward Ho!)

I have always thought of dandelion wine, and the fruit wines in general, as proof that people will improvise with whatever comes to hand to get a buzz — not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with dandelion wine. I’ve tasted it. I simply find the distilled essences of the fruit wines to be better drinks than the wines themselves.

R.I.P. Elmore “Dutch” Leonard

To some of us, the wresting of beauty out of language is the only thing in the world that matters. – Anthony Burgess

 

I met Elmore Leonard (11 October 1925 − 20 August 2013) around 1999 and, knowing I was going to meet him, pocketed a small paperback bibliography of his works for him to sign. When I pulled it out and asked him if he would autograph it he looked at the cover, frowned and quipped, “Am I getting royalties on this?” After both of us took a close inspection of the sixty page book we determined that, no, he was not. He signed it anyway. As a reward for bringing the unknown book to his attention he also signed and gave me a sheet of his 10 Rules of Writing that he later expanded and published in 2007.

Leonard’s humorously delivered money question never bothered me, unlike that of two other writers whose books I mildly collected. Not long after meeting Leonard I went to a reading and signing of Robert Parker’s and then one with, well, a living writer best unnamed. Parker was forthright in mentioning his writing as his means of income and urged us all to buy his books. The other gent was even more forward and candid on this issue saying he could use the money and stressing that we ought to purchase his books early and often. His prominent and repeated emphasis on this aspect of the evening left a distinctly distasteful memory. It was not that I believed all writers toiled at their craft for the exalted (or unsung) glory of presenting literature before the masses, it was, rather, my perception that these authors seemed to imply they were simply slinging words that we should consume so that they might go on living in the manner to which they had become accustomed.

Fair enough, I suppose, as some folks choose to make their living as bankers, some as cowboys and some as writers. Some because they feel drawn to the work and love it, others because it’s their day job and pays the bills. Years ago I read Anthony Burgess’ You’ve Had Your Time, the second volume of his autobiography. He wrote a lot about his writing from the pressures of (forever) needing money. He churned out book after book to keep his finances afloat, not always successfully. I used to look forward, myself, to royalty checks and a good one would elevate my day while a bad one was a cause for self-criticism: why didn’t I work harder, do more, etc.?

Nowadays, I just deposit the check and move on.

East Indies Golden

Tiring of my normal drink for a hot afternoon (pastis), I thought, today, of having something else. A gin and tonic perhaps? No, too predictable, but maybe something akin. I went to the liquor cabinet to see what I had to add to this standard combo and saw an unopened bottle of Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice.

So, I tipped a generous pour of Bombay gin over ice, added an equal amount of Rose’s Lime and topped off with tonic water. The drink was a golden amber color and was delicious, if a tad on the sweet side. Looking up this recipe to see if someone had already named it I saw that it was a gimlet (gin, Rose’s) plus tonic.

So… I am calling it an East Indies Golden in honor of the South Asian subcontinent’s history with all these ingredients!

I am making tonic water ice cubes for tomorrow’s drink and will vary the amount of lime juice to find the perfect balance. Stay tuned.

Trash Talk, Literally

City of London Tracked Mobiles/Cells Via Wi-Fi Trash Bins

How can the public stay ahead of Big Brother when there are so many ways to keep tabs on citizenry? In what has to rank as one of the most creative methods, the City of London has been able to track Wi-Fi enabled devices that pass within proximity of 12 of the 100 “bomb-proof” recycle bins installed just before the 2012 Olympics. One might have guessed these bins were capable of more sophisticated uses as they sport internet-enabled displays. The 12 sleuth bins were “developed by… “Presence Aware” which markets the technology as providing ‘a cookie for the real world.’” Once again commerce and the security state intersect.

Quartz first broke this story and here, four hours ago, recounted its supposed withdrawal, complete with maps.

Fifty Shades of Grey Matter: A Novel Approach

From “Spotted Dick” to a Toasted One

Anyone familiar with the ‘cuisine’ of England has heard of the dried fruit and steamed suet pudding “Spotted Dick”. Well, London firefighters have found another, more interesting, variation.

In an Associated Press report from London this morning “firefighters say they have freed hundreds of people with body parts trapped in household objects in the last three years, including … 79 people trapped in handcuffs… speculat[ing] that the popularity of erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey may account for a rise in handcuffs-related emergencies.”

“Since 2010, London firefighters have treated … nine with rings stuck on their penises, and one man with his penis stuck in a toaster.”

The AP article ends with the fire brigade’s advice, “to keep the keys nearby when using handcuffs.”

It is hard to argue with common sense advice in the face of really idiotic human behaviour. Clearly, the old saw, “Don’t believe everything you read,” ought to have been expanded to include, “Oh, and don’t try everything you read, either.”

Nature Red in Tooth & Claw

Two Square Miles of the New West

I live in the New West (as in the Longmire TV series ‘west’ that has been filming in the alfalfa field down the road.) Interestingly, no one seems to have relayed this news to Mother Nature. And, as such things go, it may not be all that important anyway. It is worth pointing out, though, for those who require up to the minute briefings, that no text message, not a peep nor tweet about this development was sent to the many new-ish transplants to the region. I’m not sure who is culpable. Nevertheless, the fact is (you heard it here), the New West is as bloody as the Old.

When the church belfry was re-done some time back they discovered tons of collars and tags with names like Muffy, Spot and Max. Needless to say, there were also significant deposits of scat, bones, hair and fur. The pair of Great Horned Owls that are resident hereabouts take no prisoners — or rather, they do, but none escape to bark and meow about it. Before the dead tree by the old acequia pond toppled in a wind storm, I could drive home at night with the sun roof open and see the huge female look down at me with eyes imperious. What other animal observes one with such a superior, disdainful attitude? Actually, I anthropomorphize by writing ‘disdainful’. It is more accurate to say that I was an insignificant speck mostly beneath her concern.

Coyotes abound and a friend told me about a fellow who, while walking his Westies unleashed, had one of his precious white pups snatched by Mr. Wily and carried off to a certain doom. No children’s story of a cute domesticated doggy being taken away and raised by wild coyotes here.

Last summer we watched a coyote in the arroyo valley behind the house entice three dogs in a game of cat and mouse. The dogs, a German Shepard mix and two nondescript but sizable hounds, would chase after the playful coyote. When they tired the coyote would stop, turn around and taunt the dogs with its yipping bark into further continuing the chase. What the dogs did not know, and we could see from our bird’s eye vantage, was the rest of the coyote pack waiting, out of site, along the arroyo. It was like a ring-side seat for a PBS Nature episode. Singly, most coyotes are no match for a large dog, but working as a team, like wolves, they are masters of the hunt. An Australian cattle dog belonging to the neighbor on the next parcel was lost to them last year and one of my workmen had his great Rottweiler destroyed by a pack. The poor beast had to be put down.

I have yet to view a cougar, sometimes called mountain lions, but they’re around. A few miles away, toward Los Alamos, a guy who keeps ducks and geese was awakened by the manic sounds of his birds and went to the fenced area where they spend the night. He was dismayed to see a cougar going back over the fence with one of his ducks in its mouth. A few nights later the ruckus started again and he dashed out to see a black bear scaling the same fence, but with a goose. Drought and habitat loss, they say. And so it goes.

I have not been privileged to see one of the bobcats that prowl round about either. Definitely my loss. When we moved into this house we decided to get satellite TV instead of just staring at a blank screen. One of the features of our Spanish southwestern architecture is the ramada, an open porch roofed by thin beams, essentially an arbor. We have a nice one at the north end by the kitchen. On the section nearest a vertical wall it was thickly covered with climbing silverthorn. The planting expanded everywhere, topping out at the second story. I vividly remember the afternoon I heard a scream from the installing technician. Hurrying outside I expected to find him writhing on the ground from a fall. Instead, he was quivering saying a bobcat had jumped out of the dense greenery, shot past, leaped off the ramada onto the grounds and sped off. It was very exciting but had the unfortunate effect of dislodging the cat forever. My wife said, with little sympathy for any party, “Too bad!”

Snakes, scorpions and tarantulas are part and parcel of rural New Mexico living. I have yet to see a scorpion on the property but red racers, bull snakes and prairie rattlers are par for the course. I’ve taken Dharma, our yellow lab, to snake avoidance training to, hopefully, dodge the bullet that has plagued a neighbor: dogs dying from rattlesnake bite. Because of the nosing behavior of dogs they are most always bitten in the face. Such a bite is invariably fatal if you are not around to rush the dog to a vet for anti-venom. Even so, an unfair number succumb. Better to train the dog to avoid rattlesnakes like the plague.

Ah… plague, the Black Death, yes, it still exists, surviving quite comfortably here in the Land of Enchantment. As does hantavirus. The bacterial vector for transmission in bubonic plague is primarily the flea. It is carried on rodents like our endearing, big-eared and -eyed woodrat, more commonly called the pack rat from its habit of squirrilling away the shiny trinkets and detritus of human civilization. (They seem inordinately fond of the wiring on expensive European automobiles, frequently causing thousands of dollars of damage.) One of my good friends, a sturdy, strapping guy, may hold the world record for plague survival. He lived a week, undiagnosed, before his illness was accurately identified. Most people die a ghastly death by day four if they remain untreated.

Hantavirus in its pulmonary form appears to be spreading out from our Four Corners region. When the infected urine or feces of the Deer Mouse dries, and is aerosolized, it becomes possible to inhale the virus unknowingly. The problem is that it presents as a classic case of the flu. When left untreated it can be fatal.

The small inhabitants of our world are as noteworthy as the large — if harder to find and follow. I have watched a lizard in the back yard attack and tussle with one of the large, native centipedes. Some of these crawlies get as big as a #2 pencil. It was a battle worthy of the cheesy, cinematic, fighting dinosaurs from one of my childhood favorites: The Lost World. It took an hour for the chameleon to down the whole wiggling mass with the yet-to-be-swallowed tail half of the whipping centipede rolling the little lizard this way and that for the first 10 minutes of the fight.

Tarantulas, given a bad rap by Hollywood, are spectacular, large spiders, harming no one. It is a real treat to see one lumber along, minding its own business, heading for its hole in the ground. I am told they make nice pets.

All is not the survival of the fittest, however. (I lie, because really it is, we just don’t see it.) The last couple years the kestrel population has grown from never seeing one to having several resident families. A peregrine pair has returned for the last few breeding seasons as well. I am waiting for one to dive on the non-native intruders nesting in the juniper near the koi pond: Eurasian Collared Doves. First arriving in the States in 1982 they have spread like wildfire over the lower 48, adapting particularly well to human-altered environments. Ours are in their second season of setting up housekeeping.

Is it little wonder that so many of my easily unnerved and queasy coastal, big-city friends marvel at the rough and tumble available simply by stepping out our door? The New West may now be loaded with Birkenstocks, vegans and anti-gun sentiment, but it rides alongside much Old West wildlife and the struggle for survival still.

Oh… I have to stop now. The grand yipping and howling of a nearby coyote pack bears closer investigation. Perhaps they have waylaid a jack rabbit for tonight’s appetizer. Gain and loss, joy-pain, win-lose: the motion of life & death goes on, with or without our noticing or a ‘by your leave’.

As for me, I try to be aware. A key: keep your eyes open. Alert ears help, too.

People mean different things by the word ‘Nature’: some personify Nature; for some, Nature is an impersonal symbol; for some, Nature is an active force; for others, Nature is passive being; for some, Nature means God; for others, not.  But whatever meaning we attach to the term, it is not true that Nature is cruel; and therefore it cannot be true that Nature sets a headline for man’s cruelty… . For nature does nothing idly, makes nothing bad or ugly….  — Arthur Aston Luce, Fishing and Thinking, London: Hodder and Stoughton; 1959.

Coda:      The investigation had to be cut short. Fierce, and uncomfortably close, lightning played in the sky. It might have been the 4th of July. Finally, about 10:00 p.m., after ninety minutes of light show, the sky broke open from the east and we had a real, honest-to-goodness monsoon. A downpour of biblical proportions. The first decent drenching in about a year. A year in which many of our 1200 trees have begun to die; about all the vegetation in the back forty bit the dust by early summer.

When the cold rain hit, mixed with a little hail, I felt like raising my arms skyward in Moses-like supplication, sinking to my knees, kissing the hard earth. If you don’t live in the drought-gripped southwest you might not understand. If you do, you’ll be nodding your head saying, “Amen.”

meandering & idle speculations on nothing & everything                                          

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