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Archive for October, 2014

“I am an old woman now, with one foot in the grave and the other on its edge. I have experienced much ease and much hardship from the day I was born until this very day. Had I known in advance half, or even one-third, of what the future had in store for me, my heart wouldn’t have been as gay or as courageous it was in the beginning of my days.”
Peig Sayers, Peig.

Peig Sayers’, Peig, is considered one of the classics of Gaelic literature as well as all literature. She lived much of her life on Great Blasket Island off the Western Coast of Ireland. The island at the tip of the Dingle Peninsula is bleak and barren. It housed between 100 to 150 souls until in the 1940’s the Irish Government in a fit of uncharacteristic responsibility removed the remaining twenty-two of them and resettled them in other parts of the country. As far as I know, none of the islanders objected to the relocation.

Peig was an old woman when approached by a representative of the Irish Folklore Commission and asked to write the story of her life on that forlorn island.
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Peig in her cottage

40 years ago I travelled to Blasket. I ferried there from the mainland in one of those tar covered little leather boats that used to be common in the western part of the country.
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Drying the boats

I met the ferry-man in the pub that stands on the bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and persuaded him (for a few dollars) to row me there. There is a regular motor ferry now.

Although the passage between the islands is no more than a couple of miles wide, it was too stormy and impassable during much of the year for the small traditional row boats available at the time the island was inhabited. So, the residents of Blasket were often marooned and had to live exclusively on what they could glean on the island.

The tiny village on the lee of the island lay in ruins and deserted. I climbed through the ruins and into Peig’s cottage. It was little more than rocks piled on one another for walls with more rocks to make the roof (I understand it has been made into lodging for a small hostel now). Peig’s home contained a single room in which she spent most of her life.
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Peig’s cottage today

Beyond the village exposed to the fierce winds off the Atlantic a thick mat of furze, Irish gorse and heather, with peat (or bog or turf) beneath much of it covered the rest of the island. When I walked on it, it supported my weight. It felt as though I was walking on a springy mattress. There were no trees or bushes. I climbed part way down the cliffs on the island’s north side where the residents would scramble down to pilfer the eggs of the shore birds that nested there. I did not go further than perhaps 10 feet or so because the cliff quickly became much steeper. It was on those steep cliffs according to Peig that several of Blasket’s citizens met their death trying to secure enough food to carry them through the winter storms.

As hard as life was on Blasket, during the Irish persecutions and famines several mainland families settled on the island, “Because life was better there.”

Perhaps the most astounding thing about Blasket was that Peig was not the only one from there who wrote a Gaelic literary classic. Two others, Twenty Years a Growing and The Islandman, were written by Blasket natives also.

How hard was life on Blasket? Tomas O’Crohan in The Islandman wrote the following about his children:

“Ten children were born to us, but they had no good fortune, God help us! The very first of them that we christened was only seven or eight years old when he fell over the cliff and was killed. From that time on they went as quickly as they came. Two died of measles, and every epidemic that came carried off one or other of them. Donal was drowned trying to save the lady off the White Strand. I had another fine lad helping me. Before long I lost him, too.”

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Blasket Village ruins. Ireland in the distance.

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It has been a while since I have written about Pookies adventures. For some reason I seem to have lost interest in it, preferring instead to sit around contentedly watching the trees shed their leaves and winter settle in. Perhaps the increased dosage of my happy pills have turned my frustrations with life away from an acute pain needing immediate attention to simple dull aches that soon disappear. I guess artists and those who seem compelled to do things beyond simply maintaining their existence are not a particularly happy lot but do what they do in an effort to find it. Don’t we all?

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I travelled to Mendocino with Hayden, my sister and her husband George to spend the Thanksgiving holidays there. The weather was perfect, clear blue skies, sparkling waves, the temperature brisk but not cold. One day we walked along the Fort Bragg ocean-front from Glass Beach almost all the way to Ten Mile Beach a distance of several miles.

Fort Bragg is sad little coastal town that had consumed at least a score of years trying to recover from the loss of the logging industry that had been responsible for its foundation and the mainstay of its economy. The ocean front, tucked behind blocks of decaying commercial buildings, moderate priced motels, and some small homes, is a magnificent stretch of coastal dunes, and meadows, small coves and large sandy beaches.
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A view of the Fort Bragg oceanfront

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Winter has struck El Dorado Hills today, freezing cold, grey lowering sky and rumors of snow. I spoke with my son Jason yesterday. It seems that the City had restored most of the salary a wage cuts to employees instituted during the recession and his bitter struggle for the basics of material survival have lessened a bit. Alas, holiday season is coming and, for most of us, the forlorn hope that the festival of lights will illuminate our lives with joy often leaves us only disappointed and more in debt.

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Speaking of Christmas and the Festival of Lights, one of my pleasures of the season is observing the competition among the residents of the neighborhood to adorn their homes with the most garish and elaborate displays of lights. Having watched my friend Al’s weeks long obsession with mounting of his display and the misery to which he subjected the rest of his family while doing it, my enjoyment of the spectacles is somewhat diminished. When I was a kid, and even now, I hated the Holiday Season. What began for me as greedy hope for Santa’s promised riches, ended in listening to loud bitter arguments often ending in tears.

I liked, however, hearing the carols and songs of the season especially those sung in latin by the choir of the little Italian Church I attended. I enjoyed the pomp and color of Christmas High Mass much more than what went on under and around the Christmas tree in my home.
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Mornings in Mendocino we spent walking along the ocean bluffs and into the town where I would enjoy my caffe latte and brioche. Later I would accompany Hayden to the local book store and then to the two delightful toy stores in the town. One toy store boasted of no electronic toys whatsoever and the other was devoted exclusively to science.

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Hayden in Mendocino standing in front of the “science” store and the book store.

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One day recently, I spend most of the day in the Roseville Galleria, a mega shopping mall a few miles from where I am staying.

For much of my time there, I sat staring at the Santa Claus exhibit where children and their parents, for between $20 and $40, can have their picture taken sitting on Santa knee. The red-faced Santa had a real beard and would try to cop a feel from many of the good-looking moms who had their picture taken with him. Hayden at almost 9 years old still fervently believes in Santa. He told me that the Santa’s in the malls are all fake and the real Santa lives at the North Pole and is too busy to sit all day at the mall. Interestingly he also believes that Santa does not begin making his list and checking it twice until December 1. Presumably one can do whatever one wants the rest of the year.

I stopped believing in Santa when I was six or seven after my older cousin explained that the whole thing with Santa was a fake. As a result I stayed awake that Christmas eve to find out if what he said was true. I was convinced after catching my father placing the presents under the tree.

I began believing in Santa again when I turned seventy. There must be, I reasoned, something transcendental that rewards unmitigated greed since that seems to be the way of the world. Santa is as likely a culprit as anyone or thing. I call my religion Santaism. And, if Hayden is correct only worrying about doing the right thing for one month every year seems to be a pretty good deal.

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While traveling to Mendocino we stopped off in Healdsburg for dinner. The town has changed a lot since I had last seen it almost 30 years ago. At that time it was a run down hippie magnet, art pottery shops and tie dye emporiums. Situated helter-skelter in the hills surrounding the town were quaint little shingle houses overlooking various streams housing counter-cultural types of all varieties. With the advent of the wine bubble, the town gentrified and now looks more like Rodeo Drive in the boonies. I assume the creek-side shacks have mostly morphed into multimillion dollar designer homes.

I used to spend a lot of very happy time there with my son and a woman I knew. She lived in a cute little cottage on the edge of a bank overlooking a pretty stream. She was a teacher. I met her while introducing some novel lesson plans into the Santa Rosa School District based upon Bucky Fuller’s various manifestoes. Bucky was one of the heroes of the counter-culture. I had run his San Francisco World Games Workshop sometime in the early 1970’s. After that I had a brief career consulting with local school districts preparing lesson plans based upon Fuller’s geometry concepts and history lesson plans derived from his insights regarding integration of large systems into historical analysis, an approach different from the politics of nations and great man biographies that passed for history at the time. This latter course was directed at high school students. The mathematical course was aimed at elementary school. Interestingly the geometry engendered a surprisingly positive reaction from some of the students in the so-called at the time 600 classes, the extremely slow learners. We eventually recruited these students as teaching assistants to help with the advanced students who in many cases were experiencing difficulty with the concepts.

Anyway, after my relationship with the woman ended, she went back to school to acquire a PhD in geology and later joined the US Geological Survey and ultimately stationed in Alaska. I few years later I read in the newspaper that she had been out on a field survey when a bear attacked her. It an effort to save her life, she played dead. It worked as far as her life was concerned, but not before the bear had chewed off both of her arms. A few months later I saw a photograph of her in the newspaper right after she had been fitted with a prosthesis on both of her arms. She was always a very positive and upbeat person and in the story that accompanied the photograph she had indicated that her misfortune would not deter her from proceeding on with her life doing whatever it was that she enjoyed doing.

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One day while driving I was listening to the local classical music station when the announcer indicated that the next piece, a concerto or something like that, was written by my old client Danny Elfman. The music was tinkly and repetitive but seemed as good to me as much of the other music played by the station.

Danny was the brother of another client and friend, Rick Elfman, a director of some notably bad movies one or two of which were so bad they became cult classics. Rick was the father of the actress Jenna Elfman. He made his professional boxing début as one of the oldest boxers to make their début in Canada (he was too old to be allowed to do so in the US). The match was terminated before it began when he injured himself stepping into the ring.

Danny had exhibited scant aptitude for music in his childhood, however, during his mid teens he picked up a guitar and found he could play it quite well without instruction. He promptly disappeared with his guitar into Africa and emerged two years later with a vast knowledge and repertory of African music and musical techniques. Thereafter he and his brother created the rock group Oingo-Boingo which led eventually to Danny writing the music to Pee Wee’s Playhouse and fame, ultimately winning him a couple of Oscars for his music and Bridget Fonda.

The last time I saw Danny was at a warehouse in Venice or Santa Monica or Malibu, I cannot remember which, but it was in the Coastal Zone in any event. Now that he was an “artist,” Danny wanted a studio worthy of his fame. He planned to convert the warehouse into a series of studio’s where he could enhance his artistic capabilities. He wanted separate studios for his music, painting, sculpture and who knows what else. He wanted my advice on securing a Coastal Permit for his dreams. I told him he would be better off to keep the changes he had planned internal to his existing building making only minor changes to the outside of it.

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My grandson HRM wrote the following note to the tooth fairy which he placed under his pillow along with the detached tooth:

“Dear Tooth Fairy,

Did you ever take John Cena’s tooth? Yes__ or No___

Please respond.”

Clearly the lad will become a future CEO; dynamic and imperious behavior set in an imaginary universe.

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