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Archive for September, 2015

The skies are a clear deep blue above the Golden Hills. The days are very warm. A slight breeze makes them tolerable. All in all, it seems like paradise. But, the leaves curling at their edges, the yellow lawns and the silence tells us all is not well. Ants rush around desperate for moisture while we humans complain that we have less water to waste.

One day I went into Sacramento to wait for the car to be serviced. I had coffee at Chicory, the coffee-house with the tattooed baristas that I like so much. After, I walked across the street to Capital Park. I felt a bit down for some reason. Passing by the Weeping Lawson and Mourning cypress trees did nothing to raise my spirits. They perked up, however, while I sat on a bench under a Magnolia tree in the center of the park contemplating whatevers. I love this park. It is a tree museum.

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Another day I drove down to Vallejo to deal with my grandson’s legal problems. We interviewed a highly regarded criminal law specialist. He was an impressive older man. Unfortunately, his firm represented the other defendants, so he had a conflict. Nevertheless, he spent about a half hour with us giving some background on the judge, DA and other criminal law attorneys.

While listening to him drift off into stories and insights, I began to feel I had taken a wrong road in life. When I began law school, I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney. I could not see any other purpose in being a lawyer. Throughout law school I interned with legal aid at 125th St and Lenox Avenue in Harlem. I was there for the great Harlem riots of the early 60s.

During the riots I travelled back and forth between Harlem and Rikers Island arranging bail and interviewing detainees. It was then I first learned the great difference between the riots, demonstrations and crises reported by the media and its reality.

At times, during the riots, I stood on the corner of 125 and Lenox along with some of the denizens of the area, drinking coffee or something stronger. Every once in a while a young man would detach himself from the group of young men who were shouting and chanting in the middle of the street and throw a rock at the line of cops just waiting for something like that. They would rush forward and our rock thrower would run back to the safety of his compatriots. Sometimes the rock thrower would slip and fall or be too slow and the cops would catch him beat him a few times with their billies and haul him off to the paddy wagon for the trip to Rikers. The locals on the corner with me would cheer or hoot as the case may be and then go about their business. Now and then, a garbage can would be set on fire. In the evening, the looters would come out and break the windows of a few stores. Tear-gas canisters are shot off. Often it seemed that there were more media personnel on the scene than cops or protestors. On TV that night, it would appear as though the entire area was devoured by fire and smoke with hoards of dark beings struggling with each other in the foreground. Meanwhile, away from the corner of 125th and Lenox, life continued more or less normally.

Anyway, after law school, for some reason I felt that legal aid would not be the best place for beginning my criminal law career. I also rejected the DA’s office. Instead I joined an insurance defense firm, the lowest of the low, in order to get the maximum trial experience possible. I amassed a record of consecutive victories among the three best in NY history at the time, thereby denying justice to many people who had been injured through no fault of their own. Then things happened and my dream died. But that is a story for another time…

Back in EDH, one morning the sun came up red like blood. I later learned that there was a massive fire down near Jackson about thirty miles away southeast of us. For the next few days the skies hung heavy with black smoke —the air filled with grit making breathing difficult. The fire is still raging as I write this but the smoke and grit has lessened.

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This is a photograph, posted on Facebook, of one of the fires devouring the State. It sort of resembles the end times, doesn’t it?

Then to make matters worse, SWAC arrived like the evil one herself, breathing fire and self-pity. I think it’s time to get out of town.

On Sundays, we have breakfast at The Train Stop in Roseville. After breakfast, we usually go to Denio’s where I look for walking sticks (with little success) and $2 Hawaiian shirts (more success here). Then we search out newly open malls or stores. Last week, we went to the new Bass Pro Shop in Rocklin. The huge store is dedicated to the sale of things usable in the type of outdoor recreation that generally involves killing, like guns, bows or fishing gear. With the disappearance from the environment of large animals and things like that, I wonder what they can use those things to kill now. It has been estimated that in about 70 years from now the human population will reach over 11 billion that is 4 billion more than we have now or more than the current population of China, India and the US combined. Maybe everyone is just preparing for a new kind of outdoor sport…well, maybe not so new.

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Bass Pro Shop
My Kindle for Mac stopped working. Back to paper books? — Pookie the recidivist.

The sun has emerged again from the curtain of smoke. All is well again in the Golden Hills. The victims of the fires are not fortunate. The sun’s emergence does not brighten the anguish of losing ones home. I would suggest praying for them, but I believe praying usually only benefits the prayer. It helps alleviate the guilt of not doing more. On the other hand, I guess if you tell the victims that you prayed for them, it may make them feel better. Food, clothing and health services would probably make them feel even better.

Ha, I fixed my Kindle — Pookie the computer expert. Now I can help make Jeff Bezos even richer and bury myself in ebooks so that I can avoid doing anything for the victims of disasters and instead insist that government handle it — but not raise my taxes to do so. Hmm, that is a lie. I do not pay taxes so I probably will not care if they raise someone else’s.

Sometimes, in the evening, I just sit in the park.

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I. England

In 1968, I was living in London with my two and a half years old son Jason and decided it was time to visit my relatives in Sicily.  No one on my side of the family had visited there since 1912 when three of the four siblings of my maternal grandparents emigrated to America. So, one rainy and foggy London morning I, with my son and my luggage, walked to a nearby used car dealer and bought a Trojan 200. I bought it not because I thought about whether it was suitable for the trip, but because I liked the way it looked and it was cheap.
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The Trojan 200

Britain’s Trojan Cars Ltd under license from Germany’s Heinkel Flugzuegwerke sold the Heinkel’s bubble car as the Trojan 200. The car had three wheels and weighed a little over 1000 pounds. Powered by a one-cylinder four-stroke air-cooled engine it produced a grand total of 9 horse power that could push the vehicle to a top speed of a little more than 50 miles per hour over level ground. Portions of the automobile were constructed from surplus WWII airplane parts.
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The Engine

I immediately piled my son, the one suitcase that held our worldly goods and a huge supply of disposable diapers into the vehicle and took off in what I had hoped would prove to be the general direction of Sicily.

The first problem we faced was the British convention of driving on the left side of the road. I exited the used car lot directly into a busy one-way street in the opposite direction of traffic. There was not enough time to panic (as I am sure I would have preferred) so, I maneuvered my way through screeching tires and blaring horns until I reached a place where I could move on to the proper lane.

The second was escaping from the maze that is London in the general direction of Dover where I was reasonably confident I could find a ferry that would transport us to the continent. By keeping the River Thames on the right side of me, I was able to make my way to the edge of the city where I located signs pointing the way to the coast.

We soon found ourselves driving along a pleasant rural road towards our goal. Suddenly the car stopped cold.

I tried to suppress my worry by attending first to change my son’s diaper and carefully depositing the used one behind a nearby bush. (In 1968 I had not yet become environmentally conscious or for that matter socially responsible.) We then went for a short walk to observe the visual pleasures of the English countryside.

Upon our return, I placed my son back in the car, went to the rear of the vehicle and opened the cover of the engine. There I saw staring back at me a grimy little thing that seemed too small to propel a toy wagon much less an automobile.

My working thesis was that by staring at it long enough I would either be able to figure out what was wrong or frighten it sufficiently to scare it into operating again. After a few long minutes, it was clear the first option was not going to work, so I closed the cover, returned to the cab and turned the key to start the engine. I do not recall whether or not I was surprised but the engine started right up and we soon found ourselves back on the road.

Every now and then, throughout the rest of the trip, this mysterious stoppage would recur. Rather than worrying, it gave my son and I the opportunity to commune together on beauties of whatever countryside we were passing through at the time.
Not too long after, we arrived at Dover or Folkestone or wherever the ferries docked. I originally wanted to take one of the hovercraft that had been newly introduced but the fare was too expensive. So, we parked in the cavernous hold of one of the regular ferries and immediately went up to the top floor and sat in front by the big glass window.

The sun had just parted the clouds leaving us in glorious sunshine. We chattered happily to each other and bounced up and down on our seats as the boat sped across the silver water towards the dark line of the continent on the horizon before us.

II. France

I do not recall where we landed, Calais perhaps. Jason and I got back into the Trojan 200 and drove off the ferry into France.

I had never been to Europe before. As for France in particular, for some reason I had been convinced the French were rude, arrogant and anti-American, and so it was my intention to drive through the country as quickly as possible, hopefully in a day or two.

It was late afternoon when we entered the old town of St Omer, not too far from where we disembarked. We were both hungry and tired so I checked us into a small hotel with an attractive restaurant on the ground floor. I thought a good night’s rest and some food would better allow us to push quickly through France and into Italy as I had planned.

The room was pleasant and after we rested a bit, cleaned up and played around with the bidet and giggled (we had never seen one before), we went down to the restaurant for an early dinner.

As we entered the little restaurant, a rather arrogant looking waiter, a bit chubby with curly reddish hair, a bow tie and striped starched shirt and apron approached and motioned for us to follow him. After we were seated, he said something in French that I did not understand. I responded, in English of course, that I would like whatever he considered appropriate for dinner with an extra plate for my son. I also requested a glass of the house wine. He reddened a bit, made a slight noise like the chuffing of a hog and disappeared in a huff.

Now, my mother was a great cook and my family owned a number of Italian restaurants so I was used to eating good food, but I never had experienced the wonders of a full French meal before. I was stunned. Course after course was brought out and, for at least an hour and a half, Jason and I happily and greedily ate them all. (I learned a few years later that this place was a Michelin two-star restaurant)

The only problem was the wine. I asked for a glass and he brought me a bottle. I thought that I was about to be charged for the entire bottle. I was determined not to give the arrogant bastard the pleasure of fleecing me, so I drank the whole thing. (Much later I learned that they only charged for the amount of wine one drank.)

I was no stranger to drinking wine, being Italian-American, but this trip occurred long before the American wine revolution. The wines available in the US then were generally straw encased bottles of cheap Chianti, Italian Swiss Colony Red, Almaden white and the like. They always tasted as though the wine maker left a bunch of metal shavings at the bottom of the bottle. This wine was different, as smooth and mellow as a good night’s sleep.

Following the meal, I staggered with Jason back to my room and after putting him to bed fell into a long deep dreamless slumber.

Thereafter, my plan to race through France was at an end. Every day I would wake up a bit groggy, pack Jason and  myself into the Trojan, drive two or three hours then stop to check into a hotel. We would eat lunch at which I would drink the entire bottle of wine. After this, I would stagger back to our room and we would nap until dinner. As a result, my intention to traverse France in a day or two turned into a ten-day trek before we caught sight of the Alps.

One day shortly before reaching the mountains, we were traveling along a lovely two lane road through the French countryside when I heard a large clank at the rear of the Trojan and it abruptly coasted to a stop.  I got out of the car to find out what was wrong. What I saw appeared to me as though the Trojan was a giant prehistoric bug that had just taken a metallic crap in the middle of the road. The pile of metal was the car’s engine. This, I realized right away, was probably a much more serious problem than the mysterious stoppages.

Nevertheless, I proceeded with my usual approach to these things — changed Jason’s diapers, threw the used one into the bushes lining the road, walked with him a while and returned to the car. There I sat cross-legged on the road next to the pile of metal with Jason nestled on my lap and began to contemplate my options. I certainly did not relish the thought of hitch-hiking the rest of the way to Sicily. Nor was it appealing to contemplate finding a French mechanic who might be able to fix the machine. Eventually, I notices that the pile was composed primarily of two large pieces of metal and a number of smaller ones. This fact seemed to demand closer investigation.  Jason by that time had fallen asleep so I carried him back to the cab, laid him on the seat and returned to the pile.

I picked up the two large pieces and found that they fit together perfectly. I then opened the engine cover and discovered I could fit those prices snugly around whatever was remaining attached to the vehicle. So, taking a long piece of thin wire that a prior owner of the auto had left in the cab, I carefully fitted the two pieces in place and then wrapped the wire tightly around the whole thing until it seemed relatively secure. I then fitted what small pieces I could back into the engine, throwing the remaining ones into the car just in case they proved to be important.

Satisfied with my efforts, I returned to the cab, turned the key and after a few coughs, to my great surprise, the engine started and we drove off towards the looming mountains.
III. Italy

Not long after entering the foothills of the Alps it became obvious to me that a vehicle with an engine producing only nine horse-power had little chance of climbing 10,000 feet or so in order to find a pass through the mountain range. So, I began searching for an alternative —which led me to a train on to which I drove the Trojan and in which Jason and I sat for the duration of the trip under the mountains. It was so much fun. We jumped up and down and squealed with delight as the tunnel lights flashed by the car’s 360 degree view or when we would pass out of one section of the tunnel briefly, see the huge mountains and blue sky and then plunge into the looming dark again .

Eventually we were deposited on the other side of the Alps. We seemed to be quite high up because the road snaked a long way down in front of us. I did not know what country we were in but assumed it was Italy since the signs indicated we were passing through the Val d’Aosta and we could see small villages and large castles dotting the valley or clinging to mountain outcroppings far below. We continued coasting down the south face of the Alps until we hit the hills of the Piedmont and Turin.

At that time Turin (Torino) looked like most industrial cities, dark and grimy. Instead of the floral exuberance of classical and baroque architecture we were met with the basic brutalism of 20th century factories and worker housing. We took a room on the outskirts of the City and left early the next morning for Rome.

A few miles from the city we came upon the Autostrada to Rome. This was the first limited access highway I had seen so far in Europe. The Italian system had begun building a few years before and the road from the North to Rome was the first section completed.

I decided to take the highway believing it would knock several hours off my trip. Almost as soon as I entered on to the highway I realized my mistake. It was an Italian system, which meant its purpose was to test top speeds of the vehicles and the nerves of the already high-strung drivers. Since the top speed of our little car was somewhere between 40 and 50 MPH, even driving in the slow lane I was greeted with loud crashing of horns, red faces and hand gestures, predominating with the extension of the middle finger.

Rather than exiting the system, I decided to try driving on the broad shoulder. This seemed to work somewhat. At least the faces of the other drivers now were less red and sometimes even smiling, the toots of the horns less insistent and the previous hand gestures for the most part replaced by putting the thumb, index finger and middle finger together and shaking it up and down.

In this way we travelled from Turin to Rome dutifully stopping at all the wonderful rest stops in between where we ate and played. Luckily Jason was as willing to eat anything placed in front of him as he was to dispose of it without notice. The only concern I had was the tremendous whomp that would strike the car whenever one of those large two-trailer trucks whizzed by.

We arrived in Rome. After driving around a bit, we checked into a small hotel across the street from the Barberini Palace (now the national museum). The hotel still exists. There we stayed for two or three days. I was too exhausted to run around touring so Jason and I mostly would walk up the Via Veneto stopping at one of the sidewalk cafe’s for an hour or two. I would order an espresso and Jason would have a hot milk and some cookies. At that time the places were still primarily coffee houses and had not turned into the expensively bad restaurants they are today.

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The Hotel

The ladies of pleasure still displayed their wares along the street. At times when one would take a break she would come over and play with Jason for a while. On the second day she decided to take a long cigarette break and walked with me to the playground in the Borghese Gardens. The Gardens had not yet been criss-crossed with highways and was still a wonderful park. I let Jason loose. She went to stand near the kids playground and smoke her cigarette and I laid down on the grass and stared through the pines into the blue sky beyond. I must have dozed because the next thing I remember is her shaking me and telling me she had to get back to work.

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The Borghese Gardens

The next day we left Rome.

Ever since entering southern Europe the three-wheeled bubble car became less a car than a curiosity. So it also was in Rome as I tried to find my way out of the city. People would come out of the shops a stare or wave as we drove by. Years later I discovered that one of those onlookers was my cousin “Gecco.” He greeted us as I drove by with his favorite hand gesture — the first three digits spread wide and twisted like a corkscrew.

I decided against the more direct route over the Alban Hills and chose to hug the coast. Somewhere south of Anzio we passed through the area where the finest Bufala Mozzarella was made. At that time a few rude stands lined the highway where a traveller could buy some of the cheese — as well, if they wanted, some bread, wine, tomatoes or fried peppers and olive oil. I loaded up and then crossed the highway to sit on the large rocks bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea to eat lunch (actually several lunches) with Jason. I then watched him play by the water before we got back into the car and proceeded on.

We arrived in Naples in the evening. The city still bore the horrendous scars from WWII. Whole neighborhoods remained bombed out. Knowing the city’s reputation for crime, I drove directly for the docks and on to the ship taking us to Sicily.

The staterooms I thought were too expensive so Jason and I curled up on the airplane seats in the hold of the ship used by backpackers and were quickly lulled to sleep by the thrumming of the engine.

In the morning we were awoken by a blast from the ships horn announcing we had come in sight of Palermo.
IV Sicily

Jason and I stood on the ferry’s deck as it approached the Port of Palermo, the three thousand year old harbor originally built by the Phoenicians. The morning sun was shining brightly —the water a deep blue-green and the low-lying city a dusty brown with red arabic cupolas here and there and the cathedral a mix or gothic and moorish architecture rising up in the center.

At that time, 1968, the city had not yet sprawled beyond its medieval walls. Along the shore, those walls still bore the scars WWII bullets. Mount Pellegrino loomed over the city like a frozen storm.
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Palermo Harbor with Mt Pellegrino in the background

As the ferry docked Jason and I ran down into the hold, squeezed into the Trojan 200 and waited for the doors to open. They opened slowly. Light penetrated the gloom. The noise was almost painful as the engines in the vehicles revved up together, and then we moved down the ramp and into the city.

We drove into and through the city looking for the road that would take us across the Island to its southern shore and the town of Canicatti our destination.

While driving through the city we passed San Cataldo, The Cathedral and the Opera Houses. Then we passed out beyond the city walls and headed toward the center of the Island.
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San Cataldo

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Palermo Cathedral

At that time, there were no highways in Sicily. Mostly two lane roads often rural and, at times, unpaved crossed the Island. Each road connected a town with the nearest one to it. Then it would pass through the center of the town and meander on to the next village.

After leaving Palermo, the first village we came to was perched on top of a mountain. The road swooped in long switchbacks until it entered the village. We started up the hill but soon the 9hp engine could go no further. So I got out of the car and pushed it up the mountain to the edge of the town. It was getting very hot and I began to sweat a lot. I got back into the car and drove it through the village.

As we wound our way through the narrow streets,The people came out to watch us pass by. Unlike towns in other parts of Italy where the people would shout, smile and gesture, the villagers here lined the road in silence — the women mostly dressed in black and the men with their caps slouched low over their foreheads. Only a child now and then would smile. When we came to the end of the settlement, I saw that the road swooped down from the mountain top, crossed a small valley and then careened up another mountain upon which sat the next village. And so it went. I would leave a village, drive the car as fast as it would go on the down slope so that I could get as high a possible up the next slope, then get out of the car and push.
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The Road up to Mussomeli

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(The above photograph taken in 1970 shows the single narrow road up to the village. It also shows the land as treeless, barren and rocky. It no longer is like that today. After 2000 years trees are again returning to Sicily.)

Finally about eight hours later, I had travelled a total of 80 miles, my clothing drenched with sweat and every muscle aching. I decided I could go no further than the next village but as we emerged, I saw below not another mountain top village at the end of the road but a rather large town in the valley, Canicatti.

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Canicatti

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived in the town. It was larger than I thought. That was a problem. I knew the last name of my relatives, Corsello, and the town in which they lived, Canicatti but that was all, no address and no first names. I had thought Canicatti would be a small village where everyone knew everyone else, but it was a rather large town instead.

I drove into the town past a small park where I learned later my mother used to play as a child and stopped by a coffee-house with chairs and tables sprawled haphazardly about. The wall by the cafe was pock-marked with bullet holes. I was later to find out that is was the site of the Canicatti massacre where American soldiers slaughtered a number of townspeople for no reason.

So, I started asking if anyone knew where a family named Corsello lived. Someone mentioned some people by that name lived just around the corner. We drove there. It was a new building one of the few in the town at that time. I found the name on a card and pressed the button. “Qui e” someone responded. After a somewhat difficult conversation since I did not speak Italian and they did not speak English we managed to discover that they were in fact the right family and they came down from their apartment to greet us. They invited us in. But before entering Vincenzo the patriarch asked, “What are we going to do about the car. We cannot leave it here where it will be stolen.”

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Giovanni, Vincenzo and I in 1968

V. Deterioration and Renewal

In order to store the car during my stay in Canicatti my cousin Giovani called a friend who had a large garage attached to his home. The friend, Luigi (Gigi) Gallo, came over and we took the car to his garage. I was convinced the car was on its last legs, or wheels. The engine stopped working before we got to the garage. We pushed it the rest of the way. Once we arrived and settled the car in the garage, I unceremoniously turned my back on it and walked away.

Today forty years later I feel bad about that. After all it safely took my young son and me almost 2000 miles across a continent from north to south, through one of the earths great mountain ranges. Yet as far as I was concerned its use to me was finished.

During the next four years or so while I lived in Sicily and Rome and even after I returned to the US, I would, at Gigi’s urging, return to the garage and check on it as its tires slowly flattened and dust and grime turned its white surface a pitted grey.

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Gigi and I in 1970

Eventually Gigi took it out to his farm in the country where the children could play in the slowly rusting hulk. One time, for some reason, thieves stole it. Gigi called the police who found it and returned it in even worse shape than before.
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As restoration began

Gigi eventually became a locally well=known race car driver. When his son, Marco, was about 14 years old Marco decided to restore the thing he played in for most of his life. According to Marco, he remembered the stories his father told him about the strange American and his young son who drove in the automobile across Europe from London to Canicatti. He wanted to see what the car originally looked like. So he contacted the Trojan Automobile Club and began assembling the car’s original parts and restored it.

There now are only two Trojan 200s in Italy, one in Sicily and the other in Rome. Marco also became a successful race car driver and now lives in Milan and is a practicing sports nutritionist.
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Gigi and the Trojan shortly after restoration

Today the Trojan 200 of my journey sits in a garage in Caltanesetta Sicily along with Gigi’s race and classic cars. I finally got to see it again after forty years.
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Pookie with the Trojan 200

A few months later I returned to Sicily. This time with my son, Jason. He was too young at the time of our trip to remember it. Nevertheless he had heard about it many times and was eager to see the car.
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Jason, Gigi and the restored Trojan 200

The joy as well as the pain of any journey are increased by who and what one travels with. For this somewhat epic trip I was fortunate to have my young son and the Trojan along. I could not ask for better traveling companions.

End.

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