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It was Autumn in Paris. We walked down Rue de Grenelle on the left bank, my arm around her shoulders. She wore a long checkered coat. We stopped to look into the window of a shop selling antique playing and tarot cards. I pulled her towards me. We kissed. We were very much in love. We stood there arms entwined gazing at one another. She was very very beautiful.

That was the point when, last night, I realized I had been dreaming. I could feel myself being pulled away into wakefulness. My dream me cried out. I, however, felt no tears. I lay there in bed the rest of the night unable to get back to sleep. It had been like a reverse nightmare, waking up was the horror.

The whole thing reminded me of a poem I had written many many years ago when I was much younger and living in Rome. I fancied myself a poet then (more a lifestyle than a profession). I lived in a small pensione on the top floor of a building on a side street just off via Nationale across from St Paul’s within the Walls, the major American Protestant Church in Rome. In the evenings I would sit in my room by the open window and listen to the then love of my life, practice on the piano in the church rectory were she lived having been sent there by her exceedingly wealthy Danish parents to study music at The National Academy of St. Cecilia in Rome. She was exceptionally beautiful, an accomplished musician, a doper and a bit of a groupie, especially attracted to bass fiddle jazz musicians with lots of hair. Eventually her family felt she was spending too much time with a certain Italian-American drifter and called her back from Rome to marry someone more appropriate. She is now Chairman of the Board of a major subsidiary of the family’s shipping empire. Sic transit gloria.

I hung out with a group of ex-pat would be poets none of whom ever made it as poets (one became a high school teacher in Santa Rosa) and a few con-man who also to my knowledge never made whatever it was they were hoping to make. In ex-pat communities world over, there are always a lot of those on the con. How much less interesting would the world be if there were no con and no grifters to fashion them. Movies often tend to make the grifters happy-go-lucky sociopaths, sometimes even with a heart of gold. Although they smiled a lot, most of the sociopaths I knew were anything but happy go lucky and as for their hearts, it was far more likely they were lined with lead.

The poem was part of a lengthy piece most of which I no longer recall. It was lost many years ago along with all my other attempts at turning doggerel if not into gold at least into something useful like molybdenum. Pretentious Imagist drivel, it went like this:

The wanderer travels not by hook
But sprawled upon the empty tides of fairy world and real
And the sham cult darkness lie that was
Yet will not be
Marks its passage on nothing
But cognition.

The entire poem ended with perhaps one of the more tragic images in all of literature, “red sails returning.”

Tristan, before embarking from Cornwall on his latest war in Ireland, promised his beloved Isolde that upon his ships’ return, if he were still alive, he would unfurl his white sails but had he died his men would put up red ones. Upon word of the ship’s approach to the harbor, Isolde sent her handmaid to the top of the tower to report what she sees. Tristan, still alive, orders his men to unfurl the white sails. Unfortunately the sun was setting at just that moment causing the sails to blaze a bright red. Upon the maid’s return from the tower Isolde asked her the color of the sails. “Red” she answered not knowing the significance of her response. So, in sorrow and despair Isolde killed herself as did Tristan when he discovered his beloved’s body.*

I always envied Tristan. As far as I know, there have been very few people who longed for my return after I left the room.

* It should be noted, that there are several versions of the Tristan tale many of them that differ substantially from what I have described. First of all, in a lot of them Isolde waiting in the castle in Cornwall was not the beloved Isolde, but Isolde of the White Hands, T’s wife.

It seems that while T and the beloved Isolde were playing hide the salami, she was married to Mark the King who was also T’s boss. Eventually the lovers agreed T would go away because, in part, they both liked Mark the King and felt bad about what they were doing, but mostly because Mark the King was the King and if he found out what they were doing he would cut off their heads as well as other important parts of their body. So T left and married the white-handed Isolde because he liked her name and she had a castle near the water. Frankly, when T returned from his slaughter of his Irish kinsmen and found white-handed Isolde dead due to a mistaken perception, he was not too broken up about it.

There are also many versions of how T died. Some have him poisoned, probably by a jealous husband and others have him chopped to bits in the midst of one of his ethnic cleansing jobs. I, on the other hand, believe he died in a bar fight with some bikers in Pocatello Idaho.

However it was that he died, I am not particularly jealous of this version of T. He seems to just be like a lot of men – completely fucked in the head.

I just finished Nesbro’s “The Redeemer.” It deals with events that take place before those in “The Snowman,” the previous book of his that I read. It features, as do all the novels in this series, the screwed up alcoholic Norwegian police detective, Harry Hole (pronounced Ho – Lay). I identify with Harry because he is fucked-up, capable of turning every success into life-altering self-destruction, and a confirmed obsessive-depressive who cannot maintain a relationship. He also has undertaken the hopeless task of raising someone else’s son and massively failing at it.

In this novel Nesbro does an interesting thing. He uses changes in points of view to provide the “red herrings” and diversions that appear in most modern mystery novels. In effect he relies on the readers tendency to assume that where there is no obvious indication that there has been a change in the point of view within scene, they are experienced by a single actor.

We learn in the novel that the Salvation Army, those uniformed, buttoned up, music playing, individuals who come out at Christmastime and stand beside a hanging iron stew pot ringing a bell, are in reality at times sex-crazed perverts and serial killers. They also hold summer camps where the adolescent future officers in the Army gleefully rape one another in preparation for the inevitable competition they will experience in their efforts to gain power within the organization.

Now, I was sent to summer camp for several years during my early adolescence and the most sex I ever experienced was a brief kiss (my first) with a blond-haired girl from the girls’ camp on our the way back from watching the lights of the Village of Ossining dim as the town’s electricity was briefly diverted to Sing Sing prison’s electric chair during that evening’s execution. The only other sex I recall was standing around the campfire with the other boys jerking off into the fire. I assume they did not do this at the Salvation Army camp (or Christian camps in general) because of the number of potential Christian souls that would have gone up in smoke. That always struck me as highly inefficient. If all we do is wade through life so that God and Satan can divvy up the souls at the end with more than half those souls thrown into the fire anyway, why waste the time and effort, especially if it is all predestined? I guess you can say we wee lads at my camp were up to God’s work around those campfires.

Perhaps the primary difference between the camp in the book and my own summer camp experiences was that the former was a Christian religious camp directed to saving the souls of the committed while mine was diverted to saving the disadvantage from something even less comprehensible. For example, my camp contained young people dragged out of the slums and ghettos in the area in the belief that exiling us for two weeks in a somewhat remote sylvan setting would save us from a life of crime, alcoholism and self-abuse. Actually, none of us really understood the forest setting business since we were housed in army tents set up on dirt clearings and never ventured into the surrounding woods for fear of poisonous snakes, giant flesh-eating raccoons and The Croton Creeper who our camp counselors assured us at night crept through the forests by the camp looking for little boys to devour.

I do not recall any rapes or violence like those that occurred at the Salvation Army camp in Nesbro’s book. Unless of course, one considers the violence dished out by one counselor or another who now and then for some reason no one could understand would become overcome with rage and beat the shit out of some luckless camper. One of the first things we learned upon arriving at camp was who were the counselors most likely to exhibit this brand of craziness and how best to avoid them. If one could not avoid them, then it was best to scrupulously follow whatever direction they gave you, even if it ment jumping off the bridge into the stream were the Creeper lived. This reign of terror we later learned supposedly taught us discipline.

There were several classes of boys at the camps. There were those I called the heroes. They were usually larger more athletic boys so comfortable with their own vanity that they rarely troubled anyone. They were immune from threat by the bullies. The counselors liked them also.

There were of course the bullies who preyed on most of the rest of us. It would not be summer camp if there were not a lot of them around.

Among the rest of us, the real or potential victims of the bullies, there were those boys who were socially mature and aware enough to be able to divert the bullies attentions on to others not so accomplished. Eventually, I learned that this group usually became those who later in life were considered by many to be successful.

Obviously there was also the prey themselves. These were the repeated victims of the bullies. Without them no summer camp would be complete because then there would be no bullies. The prey was usually small or fat and cried a lot and sometimes wet the bed giving the bullies one more reason to humiliate them. They often became scientists or suicides when they grew up.

And finally there were those too socially inept to divert the bully’s attention but who out of fear or some other character defect fought back. Individuals in this group were not liked by anyone, had few friends and were considered troublemakers. About the only thing this last group got out of the camping experience was the knowledge that if for some reason they chose to protect a victim from a bully, they were assured neither the victim nor the bully found their interference welcome. Many of this last group eventually became drug addicts, alcoholics and/or manic depressive.

Note: Nesbro mentions Bangkok several time as the refuge of the parents of two of the protagonists who fled there after abandoning their positions in the Salvation Army. Nesbro is a regular visitor to Thailand and frequents the petite Bloomsbury of ex-pat mystery writers (Steven Leather, Chris Moore, John Burdett, Colin Piperrel and others) who frequently meet in assorted dives off Sukhumvit. I suspect future novels to focus more on Thailand and the Far-East.

Who Created America?

Many consider the American Revolutionary War, The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution as the foundations upon which The United States of America was built. I suspect, however, that the wellspring from which the American culture and society emerged existed long before that.

It sprang into being the day when that hardy band of dour, close-minded, out of work migrants illegally slammed their Doc Martins down upon Plymouth Rock, claimed the land for themselves, evicted the existing residents and ruled supreme for the next 100 years. It is no wonder we fear immigrants so.

We honor their successful takeover at Thanksgiving and learn about it in our schools.

With their arrival, the systematic slaughter of the native Americans began in what was to become the US. Many say that this ethnic cleansing was even greater and more brutal than that visited upon the natives by the Spanish in their area of conquest – at least there many survived, subjugated and brutalized but alive. So, does anyone know why, since they both were harbingers of genocide, we vilify Columbus and exalt the Pilgrims?

Someone whose pen name is MugWumpBlues wrote a blog somewhere about the social and moral beliefs these people brought to our shores and from which emerged a significant portion of the American culture we experience today.

“Forced to flee England during the reign of Bloody Mary (according to the Protestant version), one Puritan group fled to Switzerland. There, they published the Geneva Bible in 1560. Many of this group then migrated to Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Plymouth banned Christmas, gambling, maypoles, and works of drama. Drinking alcohol was allowed in moderation; selling alcohol to natives encouraged; sex outside marriage forbidden.

Martial sex was encouraged. In fact, couples were disciplined for not performing their marital duties. Woman were allowed divorce for good cause. One of every six divorce petitions alleged male impotence, many for some man named Limbaugh.

Like all true believers, Puritans disdained other religious sects, particularly hating Christian Quakers. In 1660, four Quakers were hung for entering Boston. In 1664, Massachusetts enacted an Act of Uniformity, which established worship rules.

England got involved. In 1672, King Charles II finessed the Act by granting indulgences. Indulgences had been made famous by Martin Luther, who protested about the Catholic Church selling them.”

In other words, hypocrisy, violent intolerance, hatred of dissenters, and systematic racism were among their gifts to us, along with Boston of course.

A Gaelic Feast

I have roamed through Ireland several times on extended trips of three weeks or more. In about 1980 or 81, I travelled with a group that took part in traditional Irish folk dancing in pubs throughout the country. Irish folk dancing or ceilthe consists of jigs, reels, quadrilles and the like set to traditional Irish tunes such as “The Walls of Limerick”, “The Waves of Tory” and “Antrim Reel.” On Saturday evenings in the remote villages when they stop serving alcohol in the pubs, they clear away all the tables and chairs, the musicians come in and the people of the village dance until the early hours of the morning.

One Afternoon, while on this particular trip, the group stopped at a pub in a little village in County Clare. There we met Junior Crehan one of Ireland’s greatest fiddlers and storytellers. Sitting with him was the Irish singer and composer Tommy Lenihan and a representative of the Department of Irish Folklore, Tom Munnelly.

Crehan and Lenihan were relatively elderly, in their late seventies or early eighties. We spent the afternoon and evening with them, buying them beer and listening to their music and stories.

Most of the stories described what it was like in the early days when they played their music at remote crossroads before the authorities and the priests found out and chased them away. At one point, however, after playing a tune, Crehan put down his fiddle, took a long swig of his beer, leaned back and said, “There was the time Diarmuid met the Queen of the West Indies.” (Diarmuid Ua Duibhne was a warrior of the Fianna and lover of Fionn mac Cumhaill’s [Finn MacCool in English] betrothed, Gráinne). He proceeded then to relate an elaborate tale about when Diarmuid and Fionn leader of the Fianna travelled to the West Indies and how Diarmuid tricked Fionn, bedded the beautiful but terrifying queen and got away with it. The telling, in obvious poetic rhythms, was mesmerizing and took the the better part of an hour. Later Tom Munnelly told me that he had been following Junior around for ten years recording his music and hundreds of stories of the old Irish heroes and legends and had never heard that one before. The story also does not appear in the traditional canon of Irish myths and legends.

Tom Lenihan lived with his wife Margret in a farmhouse in Knockbrack, a few miles outside Miltown Malbay. He was a farmer and also the local butcher as well as a well-known Irish traditional singer. His most well-known album is entitled Paddy’s Panacea

Lenihan, had just come from working at his farm nearby. When he was not farming he composed songs and sung them in the fields as he worked and at the local pubs. He had composed about seven hundred songs and recorded many of them. He sang a few of them for us. One of those songs was called The American Wake, a beautiful and melancholy tale about a father during the time of the famine seeing off to the US his daughter on one of the immigration ships knowing he would probably never see her again.

The American Wake has been recorded by Irish musicians and singers several times since then but I do not know if they are renditions of Tommy’s original or separate creations. Perhaps someday I may get around to listening to them.

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Tommy Lenihan, Tom Munnelly and Junior Crehan on that day at the pub in Miltown Malbay

A few days later we traveled to Spiddal a Gaeltacht (Gaelic Speaking) village on the shore of Galway Bay a few miles northwest of Galway city. There we met with Mary Bergin and her husband at their Gaelic musical instrument shop. Mary Bergin is perhaps the foremost penny whistle virtuoso in Ireland. The penny whistle became an instrument of choice for Irish musicians because it was easily hidden. That was a necessity during the several centuries of English occupation when after failing in their attempts to kill all the Irish so that the land could be settled by the English they resorted to the interesting tactic of making the playing of music a capital offense. They did succeed in killing all the Irish Harpers. It was during this time that the Irish bagpipes (uilleann pipes) were developed so that the musician could sit down in a cottage and play pipes that were not as loud as Scottish bagpipes and hopefully could not be heard by a passing solider. The pipers escaped the fate of the Harpers because the Ascendancy (Irish Protestant aristocrats) brought some of them into their homes as in-house musicians. Also, at this time Irish step dancing acquired that strange rigid arm at the sides form it is now noted for. It allowed dancing in the tiny cramped cottages where flinging ones arms about would be difficult.

We spent the day talking with Mary and listening to her and her husband play music. Her husband was a well-known craftsman of flutes and an excellent flautist in his own right.

That evening we went to a local pub where we sat with a man who was introduced to us a Ireland’s premier Gaelic tenor. I do not recall his name and although he was relatively young by the standards of Junior Crehan. He only spoke and sang in Gaelic. Although we could not understands the words, it appeared clear that many of the songs were of unrequited love of some sort or another and suitably heart rendering.

I was awakened by the screeching doorbell. I had hoped it was Mavis bringing me café latte, donuts and some after dinner sweets. It was not. It was Joe Vu.

“Hiya Boss. You’re gonna be late. You look like hell. Nice place you got here,” he added as he walked by me into the loft.

“Did you bring the coffee and donuts? I can do without the sweets.”

“Huh”

“Never mind.”

Joe puttered around the house while I showered and dressed. We left and got into the car. It was a big black Lincoln.

“We’re downscale today,” I commented.

“Martin is using the Lexus.”

“How many cars does he have?”

“Lots, he collects them.”

“I saw the movie,” he added as we drove away from the curb.

“Movie?”

“Yeah, The Big Sleep, with Bogart and Bacall that you told me to watch. I don’t know about that Bacall, skinny bitch, no tits or ass.”

“They liked them like that then. Skinny ment rich and elegant. Today we still do skinny, but we add the tits and the butts, often fake ones, like ornaments on a Christmas tree. Zaftig is out in the modern world.”

“I couldn’t figure anything out. Who killed the chauffeur and Rogan? And why was everything so dark? I liked the car though.

” Yeah, it was a sweet Plymouth. Nobody knows who killed the chauffeur or Rogan, not the guy that wrote the story, not the director of the movie and certainly not the actors. Life is like that and so is the private investigation business. Sometimes, hell most times, you simply do not know what happened and never will. And, just like in the movie, it probably doesn’t matter.

As for the dark and the shadows, in films and books that’s called noir. It’s French for dark. Dark shadows, dark thoughts and dark deeds. It’s not like real life at all. Everyone likes light in their life. If it gets too dark they go to sleep. Even bad things are usually done in the light, behind closed doors and in secret perhaps, but the lights are usually on.”

“So, I guess it was like the last one you had me watch, there’s nothing in the movie to learn about bring a private eye?”

“No, in this one there is a lot to learn and remember. For example, you’re never hired by people who have to choose between food and you. It’s always someone who has a some spare cash around. They can spend it on you or a new piece of matched luggage. It’s all the same to them. So make sure you get paid. Up front if you can.

The movie also tells you, don’t work at night. Its dangerous. Sometimes you have to work at night. Like when you’re sitting in your car with your camera watching, hoping to catch client’s husband disappearing into the motel. Still, in the world of private detecting or in life itself, nooners are safer or right after work. Late night trysts interfere with your sleep and should be avoided. Always try to charge more for night work.

Also, if your client has a good-looking daughter, sleeping with her makes the job more interesting. And if he has two, and you have to choose, choose the skinny one.

And finally never, ever have dealings with someone named Eddie Mars.”

“You’re very sick, boss. Why the skinny one?”

“I don’t know. It is one of life’s mysteries.”

The next day Frank and I went to a place in Boca Raton called the Royal Pig (owned appropriately by the original promoters of Hooters) where we met up with a friend of his named Dorian. We ate a lot of bar foods including a tasty fried sweet potato snack. I drank a lot of different fruit juice based cocktails and got a bit drunk.

I remember we talked a fair amount to the bartenders; one a short young woman originally from Cambodia and the other a tall blond girl from Columbus Ohio. Being three Italian-American males of a certain age, we inevitable got around to discussing our ethnic cultural icons, in this case Dean Martin. The bartender from Columbus who is of Italian-German heritage and who’s father pitched for the Mets, shockingly (to us at least) acknowledged she had no idea who Dean Martin was.

Marlena, the director of a local cultural center of some sort, then arrived. She is an old friend of Dorian and Frank. Dorian mentioned that one of her current boyfriends recently had bought her an expensive house, cash. When I enquired how she had managed to accomplish that remarkable feat, she responded, “I owe it all to my golden vagina.”

I also learned that Chuck the Banker who I had met once in San Francisco on some deal or another but who disappeared after scoring some coke, was sitting in his car outside of the bar but refused to come in. We discussed his peculiar behavior patterns for a while.
18 Papa Joe 0001

Achilles

In approximately 1250 BC Achilles dies on the Plains of Troy from an arrow shot into his heel by Paris, the instigator of the Trojan War. He was 28 years old at the time of his death. Two days before his death, Achilles in turning down a request from a delegation of Greek nobles that he return to lead them in their struggle against Troy, said:

“I for my part did not come here for the sake of the Trojan spearmen to fight against them, since to me they have done nothing.”

“…For not worth the value of my life are all the possessions they fable were won for Ilion…”

“Of possessions cattle and fat sheep are things to be had for the lifting, and tripods can be won and the tawny high heads of horses, but a man’s life cannot come back again, it cannot be lifted nor captured again by force, once crossed the teeth’s barrier.”

Within 50 years of their triumph over Troy, the victorious Achaean Greek society collapsed plunging Greece into a “Dark Age” lasting almost 600 years. They even lost the ability to write.

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