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Yesterday, I drove to and returned safely from the mall. Just before braving the “real” Thai streets, I practiced driving around the subdivision in order to get my turns straight and condition myself for driving on the right side of the street that here is the left. That’s another problem. Not only do I have to remember the rules of the road but I have a semantic problem as well, so I do not know what I am talking about. Did you know the test for a driver’s license in Thailand, in most jurisdictions, consists solely of a depth perception test?

I learned yesterday that they (whoever “they” are) have prohibited the construction of new commercial structures in the subdivision. Turning part of your home into a shop or restaurant is apparently excepted.

The fundamentalist Christian missionaries, that I mentioned in a previous post, who were sent here to convert the little brown Buddhists to the pleasures of hellfire and brimstone, are being criticized for acting as though they are exempt from Thai law and treating the locals like they do not exist. The huge Christian high school, filled with tall blond blue-eyed teenagers and containing endless sports fields, has been willy-nilly throwing up three and four-story classroom and “dormitory” buildings in the subdivision. It also forces native Thais and not people of European descent to pay a fee if they want to attend their charity garage sales. In addition, the school charges the residents a fee for using the subdivision’s own health club because it is located on the School’s leased land. What this demonstrates to me is that the politics of HOA’s are the same everywhere.

On Friday I get to leave this island of western pretensions and travel to Mae Rim and see the elephants, tigers, monkeys, snakes and whatever.

Joe…

Today’s photo: the view from the covered patio towards the “Sala”. During the day when I am not napping, I can usually be found in either the patio or Sala.

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Last night we had an East Coast style thunder-storm, full of lightning and end of the world cracks of thunder. The lights went out and we rushed around the house closing all the windows. What fun. Then, as quickly as it began, it ended except for some deep rumblings in the mountains that reminded me of Rip Van Winkle and his little men bowling nine pins and drinking beer in the Catskills. I suppose a more Thai related analogy would be appropriate. Like, the screams of the King of the Naga as it rises from the depths of the Mekong, all nine heads of it, to do battle with Rama or the Monkey King (I forget which). I prefer old Rip’s tale. By the way, did you know that the giant catfish of the Mekong can weigh up to a ton?

Yesterday I practiced driving on the wrong side of the street. I got tired of waiting for the driver for every trip to the mall I had to make to buy some toothpaste or the like. The insanity of a 70-year-old man learning to drive on the wrong side of the street and braving the impossible Thai traffic in order to go to the mall is appalling. After all, this is Thailand and one expects elephants, tigers in the bush, secretive mountain tribes deep in the jungle, dope smugglers staggering under their loads on narrow mountain paths, white sandy beaches, and elegant hotels and so on. Instead, here I am living in a subdivision with a bunch of fundamentalist Christian missionaries, the remnant of the “faith initiative”, the vanguard of the Armies of Armageddon, and loving every minute of it.

Today’s photo: me having my morning coffee.

I nope everyone is doing well.

Joe..

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FROM MY JOURNAL:

January 22 2010.

Noon
Let’s jump to today. Tai called. Said the baby has been in Hospital since Tuesday. He could not keep down the milk and has a fever. Said she was at Hospital all alone. Mother not in BKK. The doctor said baby ok just a typical problem at one-month-old.

Said she did not return to my hotel because baby was throwing up and she went to Hospital. Tried to call but did not get through. Did not get note I left on her email. Needs money.

Belief??? It was Sunday night that she did not show up.

Started email correspondence with Irwin. Am enjoying it so far.

Began novel with Story Mill, first task. Stymied on second task. Cannot figure out disaster events.

Supposed to go downtown today. Natalie last night said she would call driver for 10 o’clock. At 11:30 after some communication difficulty with the maid she called someone whom I assumed was the driver. I asked him to come right away. He has not arrived yet.

He arrived as I wrote the above.

8:00pm
Went to Big C got 25,000 baht from ATM. Went to Central, ate lunch at McDonald’s. Tai called. Located BKK Bank sent her 10,000 baht. Went to Nokia shop bought Phone. Spoke with Tai again. Bought a Thai flower identification book and one for orchids. Waited for the driver. He did not come. Found taxi driver who charged 150 baht. for the same distance as airport driver charged 100 baht. Went to Hayden’s school and walked home.

Gave Hayden long thin bamboo type stick and we pretended to fish the canals. Stopped to watch two men who had spread a net in the large canal but caught only two fish.

Identified Tulip tree, Spider Lilly and a few other flowers from the book.

Hayden went bike riding with Leo and his father while I napped. Natalie arrived with driver. She seemed to be in a relatively good and friendly mood. Driver gave me the wood restoration oil spray can. Nat said it was not the right kind. Dithered to put her off.

Hayden returned, Went to restaurant in a street end in subdivision run by a 73 year old shriveled woman who had been the wife of a mayor of Chiang Mai. Ate a good but very spicy dish made from vegetables and herbs grown on site and drank a herb wine made by the woman from unknown herbs and fruits. Quite enjoyable chilled. Two of Hayden’s teachers arrived. We paid for their meals and ours. About 8 American dollars for all five meals plus wine.

Went home and now I am in bed. G’night.

January 23 2010.

2:39 am
Awoke, cannot get back to sleep. Do not feel like doing anything. Practiced typing.

10:00 pm
Waited for Cordt. Gave me the phone number of fixer for a visa. Went to the same restaurant.

Earlier went to Central. Withdrew 20,000 baht. Gave Natalie only 15,000 baht for “hot water” repairs. Got haircut. Played with Hayden constructing a new Leggo set Natalie bought for him. Used the spray can on the wood foot stool and a few other wood items. Looked pretty good will get more after Nat leaves.

Frank called. Things are looking worse for him.

Nat gave Hayden a time out. Not sure why.

Monday January 25 2010.

2PM
Natalie left at 11 AM to catch a noon flight to Bangkok. I do not know if she told Hayden she was leaving. Nikki is scheduled to arrive tomorrow.

Worked on my novel. supposedly a one paragraph synopsis. I have written about five so far and am not finished. Should go back and condense.

Tai called. Needs money. Maid called driver. No answer. Called Tai told her I will try again tomorrow.

Wrote long email to Irwin.

COMMENTS:

From Ruth Galanter:

At the risk of seeming pedantic but out of loyalty to the legend, I have to remind you that it was supposed to be Hendrick Hudson’s men bowling. Same region as Rip van W, but slightly different story. But I have the same association with thunderstorms.

I must say I’m glad I’m not driving with you while you practice driving on the wrong side of the street. Drive carefully, as “they” say.

Nice photo, but I miss the beard.

Joe’s Response:


You are right. Irving had the bowlers as H. H.’s men’s ghosts. They did drink beer though. I was recalling an illustration of the story showing the bowlers to be definitely on the short side.

I made it to the mall and back.

From Ruth:

What are you doing in the middle of a community of Christian missionaries? It’s interesting how much religions may differ but homeowner associations don’t.
Send photos from the jungles!

Joe’s Response:


They moved in after I built the house. They, of course, are all staunch Republicans.

I do not know if all religions are so different. The “People of the Book”, Jews, Christian and Muslim, appear to me mostly male centered and authoritarian. The Jews at least were forced to adopt independent interpretation as a result of the first century dispersion. The far eastern religions at least avoided the Western hard edged authoritarianism by encouraging their devotees to look inward and submit to secular autocrats instead .

More democratic style institutions appear alike because of their inevitable focus on short term minutia.

Will send pictures.

I had a back yard (or in my case a front yard) barbecue last night.

From Ruth:

You’re right, the religions differ only in superficial ways and I think the Jews may not hate as virulently as some of the others. the differences among religions sometimes remind me of the politics of academia–the less that is at stake, the greater the hostility

I am hoping one day to get my yards (front, back, and side) fixed up. I got a rain barrel through a city demonstration program, now will get a free consultation on how to do yard for optimum water conservation. Every time I look at a “water feature,” all I can see is the ticking of a meter. Same with “decorative lights” and those horrible little lights on appliances. I paid a lot of extra money to get a stove that doesn’t have a clock and little lights telling me things–unless something is on. And I’ve got my dishwasher (which I finally justified as “resale value”) plugged into the circuit designed for a garbage disposal (which I didn’t get) because otherwise it has a whole array of stinking little red lights on all the time. I know they don’t use “much” juice, but I can’t think of a reason to use any unless I’m actually using the appliance. When I left the city, one of my gifts from DWP was a desk lamp made from an old electric meter. It still works. Turn on the lamp and watch the meter chug along….the water side of the dept gave me a clock made from an old water meter, but it’s on a battery. I’m the first person not directly involved in the water services branch to have received one. Since then, I’m told, several officials have “demanded” them.

Joe’s response:

Your garden plans look like they will keep you busy for a while. I do not have any idea how green my landscaping here is. We have a pump that moves water from a well to the house. It has been suggested that we water are garden from the canal behind our house. However when I look at the putrid water in the canal it does not look so appetizing to spread it on the grass.

All male dominated organizations that rely on the unverifiable (e.g. Religion, patriotism, etc.) are authoritarian ( maybe women dominated also but we have little recent experience). Except for the fundamentalists (and maybe the Mossad), thanks to Hillel and his brethren, the jews escaped most of it.

I have imagined that the religions in their constant wars for dominance expected their opponents to feel the same way “”convert or die” and felt it was the natural way of things. Imagine when they met the jews. “what do you mean you do not want to force us to adopt your belief and in fact do not want us in your club at all unless we can show our maimed membership card. That is unnatural and therefor you must be wiped from the face of the earth.”

That’s the problem with being taught by Jesuits. You never lose your fascination with what you do not believe.

From Irwin:

joe- my walking stick and i are now going for our morning walk, completing the circuit of los jardines east to where it meets los jardines west and back to where it again becomes los jardines east (“road trip”). we will pass the 21 acre green valley park, the north pool (home of the green valley dolphins swim team), the adult pool (not heated in winter) and the family pool and center (don’t think the pool is now heated). i also pass two elementary schools which one or both of my children attended. as perhaps a forewarning about the ethnic makeup of the community, one of the schools was named after the first japanese american (from this area) to die in wwII. at that school i also had planted a tree in memory of a friend who was from turkey but killed in a car crash in laguna beach. while a cup of espresso is not on the tour i will be within say one hundred feet of a pho shop which i have yet to try – it’s two doors up from nick’s pizza which is an abysmal place which we only went to once in all of the years we have lived here. it had, as i recall, lots of spaghetti and bad red sauce plus plastic grapes hanging from the ceiling. i suspect rumors of alleged anti-semitism also helped to discourage frequent visits. after i return i shall take a nap; if i am lucky i will sleep until three when i can go visit my mother or buy a lotto ticket or goods for dinner – there is the possibility i may go to the mall and have garlic and cracked pepper french fries with a draft root beer all for under five dollars. i will also be stopping at the mail box to insert a letter to my psychiatrist in which i express my dissatisfaction with the psychiatric services i have/have not received from kaiser permanente for over forty years and explaining that i took and anti-depressant for over ten years and see no reason to take another (which he wants me to do) if he or one of his fellow wizards won’t give me the psychotherapy which i think i need in order to rid myself of deep seated emotional issues and weekly co-pay. seems their current practice is to prescribe drugs and see the patient bi-monthly to checke how the drug is working or to place the patient in a cognitive therapy group consisting of fat or ill-dressed women and one older gay guy who is having a crises because his long-time live-in is expressing discontent about something the gay guy won’t face. then there was the woman who was shacked up with this guy who was talking marriage until she passed the bar and then decided not to practice law upon which (duh) he stopped talking marriage. i need to be with mentally ill people if i’m to be in a group again.

today’s photo is of our neighbor “felix the cat”. i am far from being a cat fancier, however there is something unusual about felix i think he is a reincarnation of someone i once knew but can’t remember. here he is sitting on an old stool outside my french door in the computer room. he knows better than to poop in my yard which my gardener jose jimenez would have to ignore as he does most everything else that should be done.

From Irwin:

j.d.salinger died. aside from being notable for his writing (i.e. catcher in the rye) he was also famous for not wanting to be famous and lived in isolation for the last fifty years.

i have wanted to be famous for the last fifty years and now am living in isolation. for this i am not notable.

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The weekend passed by quickly — mostly waiting for the biopsy on Tuesday. Not having an automobile (it is in the shop having its crumpled fender and other maladies attended too), cuts down on my activities. I had to turn down an assignment from the Scooter gang over the weekend. So, I read and went on walks through the Enchanted Forest. I get all the angst and despair I can handle from social media and television news.

Well, well, — I went for my biopsy yesterday and for the third time during my age of physical deterioration, the doctor, in this case wielding his sonogram, could find no reason for a biopsy. In other words, he could not find a mass in which a malicious deranged cell would hide. I do not know whether or not to be embarrassed after spending a month or so in gloomy speculation and endlessly disclosing my fears to all who would listen — I guess at my age I should not be embarrassed by anything I do anymore. Anyway, I know it is, at best, only a temporary reprieve.

Onward and upward as Terry always advises. Lack of a car limits my mobility and the awful air pollution from the fires restrict my walks and swimming. So, I sit at home, watch Naida work on her memoir, read as much junk as I can, and nap a lot. So goes the winter of my life. It’s not too bad. I could still be sitting around wondering about the results of my medical tests.

This evening was spent watching Janette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy movies. The last movie ended with the Canadian Mountie and the Opera star in an embrace and singing:

You belong to me
I belong to you.

We then rolled up the stairs to bed singing, one with a professionally trained voice and the other with a throat ruined by radiation therapy:

When I’m calling you, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh ooh
If you answer too, ooh, etc.

That means that I offer my love to you
To be your own
If you refuse me, I will be blue
And waiting all alone

But, if when you hear
My love call, ringing clear, ooh, etc.
And I hear you’re
Answering a call so dear, ooh, etc.

Then I will know
That our love will be true

What could be better than that?

The next day I swam in the Nepenthe pool. It is my first time swimming in over a month. It felt good. While sitting by the pool a woman got out of her car and started banging on the gate demanding to get into the pool area. Eventually, she somehow got in. She was hugely pregnant. She took off her shoes, then jumped, fully clothed, into the pool, swam its length, got out, picked up her shoes, returned to her car and drove away. I did not realize it was that hot out. Life is wonderfully surprising even when you are doing nothing but staring at the leaves of some trees.

Today I spent the morning watching Doris Day — Gordon MacRae movies. Listening to them sing “Tea for Two” is an experience I rank somewhere between being drowned in a vat of medicinal cannabis or smothered in meringue.

Later I went to the pool and fell asleep in the shade only to be awakened by the sound of ten-year-olds doing flips into the water. I did my laps while trying to determine if I was in a good mood or bad. Gave up and went home.

My sister Maryann and her husband George dropped by on their way back to Mendocino from Nevada City where they were making arrangements for the wedding of their son Brendan to Ashley his intended. A few weeks ago, I discovered that a friend of mine from my childhood who I haven’t seen in almost seventy years, Snookie Salerno, now lives in Nevada City. I have been told he never returns calls from his old friends (Would you return a call to someone who called you Snookie?). He did not return my calls. So I left him a message inviting him to the wedding.

Anyway, I took Mary and George on a walk around the Enchanted Forest and along the banks of the river. Mary seems well recovered from her bout with breast cancer. I am well recovered from my bout of hypochondria.

I did not watch movies of any sort this evening. Instead, I went to bed at 8PM. Tomorrow the automobile comes out of the shop. I am relieved. I now can drive aimlessly about. I like that better than “tea for two.” Check that, it depends on whom I am having tea with and what kind of tea.

Picked up the car. Have not yet driven it aimlessly but have driven it between the shop and the house with great determination to avoid another crushed fender.

The days pass on — driving the scooter gang around, walking through the Enchanted Forest, swimming in the pools, singing show tunes, drinking margaritas, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, petting the dog, crying over Aretha Franklin, watching old movies, laughing at old jokes — the wheel turns on. And then there is this:

“For the past 2,700 years we have been evolving through the ascending Kali Yuga, and this Yuga is coming to an end in 2025. The end of the Yuga will inevitably be followed by cataclysmic earth changes and civilization collapses,…”
Bibhu Dev Misra

This morning when I left the house I ran into one of the TURKEY GANGS right beyond the front door. Yes, the Enchanted Forest is plagued by several TURKEY GANGS. They lounge along the pathways, mumbling threatening sounds and forcing residents to walk around them. They litter the sidewalks and don’t clean up after they leave. They terrorize small children and small dogs. They are huge, hulking, ugly creatures often four feet tall or more. Something needs to be done about them by the HOA. Perhaps once a year say in November we could have a community Thanksgiving Party and eat a few. They are so large they could each feed several families.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, isn’t that the celebration of a group of immigrants saved by the citizens of the area who in turn demonstrated their gratitude by slaughtering their rescuers and taking their land? Instead of Thanksgivings Day shouldn’t the day be called something like Ingratitude Day?
On Saturday morning, we attended then weekly Saturday Morning Coffee put on by the Nepenthe HOA in the Enchanted Forest. The usual group had assembled. I had a lively discussion with the 93-year-old architect about our various maladies. Later the woman that seems to run these things announced she was not going to run the “Sock Hop” in September (don’t ask — I think it is some attempt at replication of an ancient mating ritual that everyone believes existed and they experienced but it didn’t and they only imagined it. Ask yourself, “Did you ever attend a ‘Sock Hop?’” And if you did, did you think the experience was such that you would want to replicate it in your old age?). This set off a flurry of whispers. Later I learned that there is a conflict between the Nepenthe HOA and the nine other HOAs over the running of the social events. I did not understand the politics involved but agreed with Naida who leaned over and said to me sotto voce, “It seems pretty silly to argue over who gets the right to volunteer.”

There are three Ages of Declines:

The first Age of Decline is now. It is the first time in history that a majority of a generation lived to old age together, declined together and ultimately will die together. As usual for the past 80 years or so, we have, for better or worse, been the pacesetters.

The second type of Age of Decline is the end of an era. In our case, the end of the greatest Golden Age the world has ever seen.

The third version of an Age of Decline is experienced by all of us that live beyond 75 or so years. Not only do our bodies begin to undergo the inevitable physical and mental failures faced by all biologic creatures who have exceeded their use by date, but also our functions in society at large begin to dissipate. Oh yes, some of us keep on working and striving — and good for those of us who do. Others of us can sometimes pass through a brief period where we are consulted (not very seriously) or honored (weekly or monthly visits) by younger relatives or friends. But really for most of us, we ultimately gather in homes for the elderly or periodically meet with other elderly friends where we attempt to create a small replica of the society that we strode through in our past life — much like the members of the Nepenthe morning coffee, complete with its politics, petty annoyances, and amusements. Lucky are those of us who instead fall in love and experience a decline no less painful but much more blissful.

For the second time in a little over a month, I have been attacked by a Russian Bot. Three critical comments from the same person appeared on my Blog, Trenz Pruca’s Journal — https://trenzpruca.wordpress.com/. This is unusual because almost no one ever comments on my blog. Two of the comments were general criticisms of my writing competence in two of my blog posts. A criticism I believe fully justified. In the third comment, this time on my blog about Vladimir Putin (https://trenzpruca.wordpress.com/2018/08/07/petrillos-commentary-who-is-vladimir-putin-and-why-is-he-an-enemy-of-the-united-states/. Also, reproduced below.),

He not only objects to my writing style but included an example of how it could be improved by changing my criticism to a justification of Putin’s behavior.

I am so proud to have been noticed.

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The imagination and inner force of Shakespeare’s villains stopped short at ten or so cadavers because they had no ideology…. It is thanks to ideology that it fell to the lot of the twentieth century to experience villainy on the scale of millions.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

 

 

 

 

It has been only three days since my return, jet lag lingers on and worries about my health persist, but hey, I’m home and that’s a start.

As the trip back slowly recedes and disappears from memory, I try to think of the high points that I can write about but, except for tasting with Nikki the various after dinner drinks and chocolates served to First-class passengers on Alitalia’s flight between Milan and New York, nothing comes to mind — except, perhaps, hearing “A Hard Rains a-Gonna Fall” and a rousing version of “Try a Little Tenderness,” on the planes audio.

It was good to see Naida again and hear the soothing whispers at night and the sighs of pleasure and feel the handles of home drifting back into my hands.

I guess I should begin by telling about my latest health worries since at my age they have the ability to crowd out a lot of life’s greatest pleasures. It may develop into a saga, maudlin or boring, tragic or comic, who knows.

I came home with a numbness of the skin on my throat along with pain underneath. Yesterday some swelling appeared also.

Today, I visited with my primary care physician, a man not ranked too highly in his profession by either his peers or his patients. At the appointment, he was giddy with anticipation of his pending retirement from the practice of medicine within the next two months and insisted on spending some time with me discussing the travel options available to him in retirement before getting to the purpose of my visit. Following my description of my symptoms and a lot of feeling around my neck and some hmms and ahhs, he said that he thought it could be a blockage in a vein or artery and prescribed a sonogram and a chest x-ray. This, of course, did not alleviate my anxiety because if the blockage is caused by a clot of some kind and is lodged in my vein then it is an arrow aimed at my heart and if in an artery then it is aimed at my brain — the choice between a potential myocardial infarction or a stroke seems to be not much of a choice at all. But what else can I do but go through the tests and wait for my appointment with my oncologist next week and hope that, in the meantime, I do not keel over and collapse somewhere along the overgrown paths that I walk on in the evenings beside the river?

I apologize for writing about my health so much but when we reach this age it is often the most exciting and interesting thing we have going — an adventure, but not one where “no one has gone before” but one where everyone has gone before who have gone before. It may be boring for you, but it is new to me. It’s a lot like being that person early in a horror movie who decides to walk down the dark hallway alone or like waiting for Freddy Kruger to show up for dinner. You can either laugh or scream. I prefer laughing although a good scream now and then can do wonders for your peace of mind.

The next day, I was X-rayed and sonogramed. They showed that neither vein nor artery was clogged. So by the end of the day, I was back where I was before walking into my doctor’s office — with a pain in the neck and lost in hypochondriaville. I now wait a week more before my oncologist can see me and after feeling around my neck and a lot of hmms and ahhs send me off to be probed by large expensive machines tended by smiling people dressed in blue or green outfits and looking a little like the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

Walked the dog to the dog park this evening. There are three benches in the dog park each about as far away from the other as can be and still be in the dog park. There were two other people at the park with their dogs curled at their feet. They sat on two of the benches, I sat on the third bench with Boo-boo who promptly curled up at my feet. We sat there unmoving. Time passed, a lot of time. Then one person got up, hooked the leash onto the collar of his dog and slowly left the park. We remaining two and our dogs sat there, silently, in the dusk, until the other person finally got up and left with his dog. I waited until it was almost dark. Then, Boo-boo and I also left and went home. It all felt like an Edward Hopper painting as a slow-motion uTube video. Ennui at the dog park — life in the second decade of the 21st Century.

Naida is off to the California State Fair presiding over the booth featuring California authors with books to sell. The temperature is expected to hit 104 to 105 degrees in this part of the Great Valley. I remain home with the dog, pecking away at my computer and now and then listlessly reading various blogs on economics and dozing off when the words blur and their significance sounds in my mind more like the buzzing of mosquitos than packets of meaning.

Not so good a night though — crumpled part of the fender on the car trying to get into the garage after dinner, followed by scary nightmares that even frightened Naida. Perhaps, I am unraveling. The next day was not so good either. There are just some days like that. But, as the time grows shorter, I certainly can use fewer of them. Perhaps, those are the days to catch up on my sleep.

Anyway, HRM called me to drive him to the skate park. So at about 3:30 that afternoon, I took off for The Golden Hills in my car with the crumpled fender.

The boys were waiting alone at the house. Dick was at work and SWAC, who only within the past few weeks had criticized him for leaving HRM alone as a latch-key kid, was gone to rummage around at the mall. So, I picked him up and drove him and his friend Jake to the Citrus Heights Skateboard Park where some sort of competition had been planned. There they were to wait for Dick to pick them up and take them home.

During the ride, they excitedly told me about their adventures so far this summer. It seems this was the first vacation that had impressed upon them the possibilities and joys of life. They have a few years yet before being introduced to its sorrows.

They talked about their plans to buy two vans after they graduate high school and drive them around the world living off the proceeds of their professional scooter careers and a uTube video program they would produce about their adventures. I said, “It sounds like the Sixties all over again.” They asked, “What’s that?”

It is difficult to comprehend — no, more likely, accept — that to these children The Summer of Love is as far in the distant past as World War I was to those flower children gathered on old Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York on that warm summer afternoon in 1969 — as far distant as “Over There” is from “Bad Moon Rising.”

Imagine, I and those of my generation have lived a full one-tenth of the time that has passed since the Fourth Crusade and the final destruction of what little remained of classical Europe; one-tenth of the time since Genghis Kahn released his hoards to plunder and subdue almost one-quarter of the globe; one-tenth of the time that has passed since the reluctant King John signed the Magna Carter and Marco Polo returned from his journeys to the FarEast. Either we of my generation have lived long or human history has been far briefer than we imagined.

For the next few days, little or nothing happened that raised itself above the gray morass of a deteriorating memory. We ate lunch at a nice little outdoor restaurant where I had an east-African hamburger (chopped-meat mixed with yams and African spices), watched a Tarzan movie on TV where the actor playing the lost earl was so unmemorable that his name was not even listed in the credits and the chimp hammed up all the best parts and I spent a lot of time fingering the emerging lump in my neck and worrying.

One day, I walked the dog along the levee in the blistering heat and the silence. Eventually, we turned back into the cooler tree-shaded paths of the Enchanted Forrest until we came to the small swimming pool shaded by the tall pines and redwoods that I like so much. There we sat by the water in the stillness but for the barely perceptible splashing of the woman swimming laps and the whispers of the breeze through the trees. I waited there until dusk then walked back home. That night, I slept well.

It has been several days since I have written here — not because I have been busy with things to do or adventures and not because life has become so boring that my consciousness has shut down in response, but because just moping around seemed to be as energetic as I could manage.

On Monday, I drove Naida to the State Fairgrounds to close out the California Authors exhibit. It was fun. There were a few other authors there packing up their books while hoards of workmen trundle about taking down the various exhibits.

Later, HRM called and to take Jake and him to the mall. The day seemed to be looking up so I put a turkey feather I had found lying on the ground in the Enchanted Forrest into my hat band and left for the Golden Hills. I looked jauntily idiotic.
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Jauntily Idiotic

I arrived at the house ready to push on but they first had to watch “Sponge Bob” on the TV and finish eating a pizza for lunch. I waited and watched the idiotic animated sessile metazoan his moronic Asteroidea buddy and his dyspeptic sepiida co-worker cavort across the TV screen until the homo-sapiens sapiens adolescents had finished their pizza. We then piled into the car with the crumpled fender and left to pick up the third member of the Scooter Gang, Graham.

The Scooter Gang, HRH, Jake and Graham (Tyson, the fourth member, was busy playing X-box games) asked me to drive them to the mall in Roseville so that they could shop for backpacks for school and some other things that I tuned out in disinterest. At the mall, I sat at the coffee-shop and played on my computer while they shopped. After not too long they gave up, having purchased nothing but some sour tasting candy. They then asked me to drive them to someplace near Denio’s where Jake was to be paid by someone for a paintball gun he had sold in order to finance his purchase of a bicycle. It all seemed fishy to me. The street was in one of the more down-scale parts of Roseville which is saying a lot since up-scale Roseville does not seem to exist. They told me to wait while they went in search of the house of the person owing Jake the money. After a few minutes, they returned with Jake clutching a $100 bill. Do you think I was an unwitting accomplice in some sort of illegal juvenile caper?

A few days later, I met with my Oncologist. After telling him my symptoms and him feeling around my neck, voicing a few hmms and ahhs, and shoving a long tube through my nose and down my throat, I said, “So tell me doctor, am I a dead man walking or will you have to tear out my throat to save my life?” He seemed to be taken aback a bit by that and when it turned out that his office had misplaced the CAT scan I had taken in May upon which he made his previous diagnosis that I was in remission, he began to stutter, explaining that he does not think there is a problem, since everything looks ok inside my throat, but to be on the safe side I should have another CAT scan and biopsy “as soon as possible” to be sure. I then mentioned my numbness on the left side of my face and asked how that affected his diagnosis. He explained that there is a nerve which could be impacted by the so-called “slight swelling” on my neck causing such an effect. I suspect he was guessing.

The next night, I went to the sleep clinic he prescribed when I was still in remission. I do not know why he prescribed it. At the clinic, they wired me all up. I was placed in a room with a double bed that would not be out of place in a Motel 6 except that it lacked a television. They put something around my nose they said would pump air into my lungs but I had to keep my mouth closed or the air would escape and they would have to replace the nose thing with a mask that covered my nose and mouth. Every so often during the night the technician would come into the room and jiggle the wires and things that they had attached to me. I did not sleep well.

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Pookie Wired.

Two days later I had a CT scan followed by a surprisingly enjoyable dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in Roseville. Next week comes the biopsy. I now realize getting old is not so different than being a soldier in war or an explorer in a dark jungle somewhere, every step may be your last. It’s all very exciting if you are one of those who finds shitting in one’s pants an adventure. Some people find all this terror something to approach with grim heroism, others prefer screaming all the way down. I am beginning to get bored and more than a little bit annoyed.

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‘’ When the long nights would come long ago, the people of this and another village would gather together every night sitting beside the fire or wherever they could find room in the house. Many a device they would resort to shorten the night. The man who had a long tale, or the man who had the shorter tales (eachtraithe), used to be telling them. At that time people used to go earning their pay working in County Limerick, County Tipperary and County Cork, and many a tale they had when they would return, everyone with his own story so that you would not notice the night passing. Often the cock would crow before you would think of going home.”
Leabhar Sheáin Í Chonaill (1948)

 

 

MEMORIES OF BLASKET ISLAND, IRELAND.

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40 years or so ago, I traveled to Great Blasket Island off the Western Coast of Ireland. This bleak and barren island located off the tip of the Dingle Peninsula housed between 100 to 150 souls until the 1940s when 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 nor made any attempt to return.

I ferried there from mainland Ireland 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. The village is in the background.

 

I met the ferry-man in the pub that stands on the bluff overlooking Blasket and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. For a few dollars, I persuaded him to row me there. There was no regular motor ferry to the island then but there is now.

Although the passage from the mainland to the islands is no more than a couple of miles, during much of the year when the Island was inhabited, it was too stormy and impassable for the small traditional row boats available at the time to make the crossing. As a result, the residents of Blasket were often marooned and had to live exclusively on what they could glean there on the island.

Even though the sea was relatively calm during my trip, the waves and currents in the straight threw the little boat around quite a bit causing the oarsman to strain at the oars and me to question the rationale for my visit.
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A traditional leather covered boat (a type of coracle) approaching Blasket Island. I took a boat like this on my trip.

 

We landed on a tiny bit of dressed stone surrounded on three sides by large rocks making an anchorage about ten feet or so wide. We tied up to a rusty and corroded iron ring.

I left the ferry-man there with a promise to return in an hour and a half.

In the only habitable place on the lee of the island lay a tiny village in ruins and deserted. I climbed through the ruins and into the abandoned cottage — Peig’ cottage. It was my reason for the trip — to pay homage Peig Sayers.

Peig was an old woman and seanchai (storyteller) who when approached by a representative of the Irish Folklore Commission and asked to write the story of her life on that forlorn island, did so. Much to the surprise of all, it became perhaps the greatest work of Gaelic prose literature.

The Book opens with the words:

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.

 

In the evenings the people on the Island would gather in Peig’s cottage to listen to her stories. Seosamh Ó Dálaigh wrote the following about these sessions:

‘I wish I had the ability to describe the scene in Peig Sayers’s home in Dunquin on a winter’s night when the stage was set for the seanchaí’ ‘When the visitors arrived (for all gathered to the Sayers house when Peig was there to listen to her from supper-time till midnight) the chairs were moved back and the circle increased. News was swapped, and the news often gave the lead for the night’s subject, death, fairies, weather, crops.’ All was grist to the mill, the sayings of the dead and the doings of the living, and Peig, as she warmed to her subject, would illustrate it richly from her repertoire of verse, proverb and story…

Great artist and wise woman that she was, Peig would at once switch from gravity to gaiety, for she was a light-hearted woman, and her changes of mood and face were like the changes of running water. As she talked her hands would be working too; a little clap of the palms to cap a phrase, a flash of the thumb over the shoulder to mark a mystery, a hand hushed to mouth for mischief or whispered secrecy. ‘When the fun is at its height it is time to go’, runs the Irish proverb; and when visitors went each night Peig would draw the ashes over the peat-embers to preserve the fire till morning, reciting her customary prayer: ‘I preserve the fire as Christ preserves all. Brigid at the two ends of the house, and Mary in the centre. The three angels and the three apostles who are highest in the Kingdom of Grace, guiding this house and its contents until day.’

 

Her home there on Blasket was now little more than rocks piled on one another for walls with more rocks added 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 in her cottage.

 

Beyond the village, exposed to the fierce winds off the Atlantic, the island was covered in a thick mat of furze, Irish gorse, and heather, with peat (or bog or turf) beneath. When walking on it, although it supported my weight, it felt as though I was walking on a springy mattress.

There were no trees or bushes to be seen anywhere. I climbed part way down a steep incline towards the cliffs on the island’s north side where the residents would scramble down to pilfer the eggs of the shorebirds 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 Blasket’s citizens often met their death trying to secure enough food to carry them through the winter storms.
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The north side of Blasket Island and the cliffs.

 

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.”
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A Better Life?

Perhaps the most astounding thing about Blasket was that Peig was not the only one from there who authored 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 Island Today.

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“We ain’t tourist’s honey — travelers, buy there or mail it back.”
A friend of the Old Pirate.

 

 

 

Remember July 15 in National be a Dork Day.
Be a Dork, I know you can do it.

 

 

 

A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN CROATIA:

 

It was a lovely sunny warm morning when we left for Croatia. Our first stop, of course, was at Lucia’s Petite Cafe for coffee, brioche, and hugs. For me, it was especially sad, since at my age I cannot know if I will be back again. I even hugged Danielle, Lucia’s somewhat dissolute and shaggy boyfriend. Then we were off.

The drive to the border of Italy and Slovenia was relatively brief. We passed Trieste on the way, a surprisingly small city nestled among relatively gentle hills surrounding the bay and the Adriatic.

After a drive of not much more than a mile from the Slovenian border we reached its border with Croatia and passed through without incident. This portion of Croatia, Istria, had been part of Italy or some Italian City State since Roman times except for a period of Austro-Hungarian rule in the 18 and 19th Centuries but eventually passed to the old Yugoslavia after WWII.

After a brief drive through some low hills, we entered a low flat plain containing Mediterranean type forest vegetation and few people. According to Hank, Goldman Sachs plans to buy up just about everything it can get its hands on in this area, even its toll roads (one or more of the people we will be partying with over the next two days is [are] involved somehow). They want to make it into a tech hub for Europe like Silicon Valley (Facebook already is building a facility) and some sort of Adriatic vacation paradise. In the meantime, it remains someplace one would like to visit, easy going, pretty and slow moving.

Our first stop was at some Trulli type buildings. Actually our first two stops. Initially, we halted at the side of the road to view an abandoned Trulli. A road maintenance vehicle then appeared to see if we needed any assistance. After explaining that we stopped only so I could take a photograph of the abandoned building, the worker then offered to sell us truffles, olive oil, and grappa. Hank bought some truffles, I took some photos and we continued on our way.

A short time later we stopped at a place with considerably more of those buildings, in fact, the whole area was some sort of archeological park. Trulli-type buildings are conical stone buildings common throughout Europe in one form or another. They were built mostly in the 19th century as agriculture in Europe moved into less ideal areas because of rising demand. The buildings (and walls) were built from the stones taken out of the cleared lands. The most famous or at least picturesque of these are the large conical stone homes In Puglia, Italy. Since that portion of the trip had been jettisoned for logistical reasons, I felt that a photograph of me standing beside any like structure would be a satisfactory replacement.
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Pookie and the Trulli in Croatia.

 
We eventually arrived at our hotel near Pula. A nice little place not too far from the harbor where the ferry to the Island National Park disembarks.

Many stories I either heard, saw or experienced on this part of my trip — much too many to write about here but some of those I remember most vividly follow. Many were told by Hank. But, be aware, their veracity depends upon: the accuracy of my memory; may be affected by what I may have thought I had been told; my additions where I could not recall what I had been told; what for one reason or another I avoided; and whatever I have added in an effort to make the story more interesting, After all, isn’t that what history is all about, a few truths surrounded by a lot of little lies and highlighted by a few big ones.

To pass the time on the drive, Hank told me the story of Paul Bingham who was Tennessee Williams lover at one time and lived at Hank’s house and died there. Hank ended up with many of the letters that passed between Paul and Tennessee which he still has. He also told me about someone he called “Doc.” Doc was one of Hank’s professors at college. When Doc retired from teaching he also retired his suits and other clothing replacing them with bib overalls, tee shirts, and black work boots. With the time on his hands that often comes with retirement, Doc got involved in various dicey projects and would often persuade Hank to join him — apparently a not too difficult task. Projects like growing okra for profit. One time Doc went into the illegal fireworks business and blew up his house. Homeless, he moved in with Hank and stayed there until he died.

We arrived at our hotel, a pleasant little place not too far from Pula and near the warm where the boats depart for a national park located on an island a few hundred yards away. After checking in we left to visit our friends at Tito’s old vacation estate.

We arrived at Marshal Tito’s vacation estate in Pula on the Adriatic coast at a place called Volkane.
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Tito’s villa.

 

Tito had the villa built to his specifications. He also had all the lands that could be seen from the Villa which were treeless, reforested — planting over a million trees in the area. Now that the trees have reached maturity some of the people in the area complain that the trees obstruct their view of the water and of the other trees.
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The view from the terrace.

 

At some point, Tito gifted the villa to his chief of intelligence. That spy’s daughter lives there now with her husband an ex-marine officer who at one point had been an Assistant Under-secretary of Defense for the US by the name Jolly (he was the tallest man in the marines at the time and was nicknamed the Jolly Green Giant shortened to Jolly. He liked the name and it stuck.) He was a trained psychologist and was sent around the world to, as he put it to me, “Find out the truth.”
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Jolly.

 

The villa and part of the estate stand upon an old Nazi bunker one entrance of which remains. An ancient Roman wall surrounds part of the estate.

Every year on or around the 4th of July, Jolly and his wife hold a party for about two hundred of their nearest and dearest friends among which, due to Hank and Camille, I found myself included.

On my first day at Volkane, I met some of those that lived there, the sisters of the spy’s daughter and other relatives and friends who visited during the day. I also stared a lot at the pleasant view of the Adriatic. The air was warm, full and restful. I walked several times through the gate onto the rocks by the water and along the shore to a bench where I would sit for a half hour or so after which I would make my way back.

In front of the villa, there was parked a large black Mercedes. I was told the Mercedes once belonged to Tito. It now belongs to an aging local rock star who lives in one of the three units the villa had been divided into after Tito’s death. The name of the rock group was Atomic Shelter and had a bit of a reputation in eastern Europe.
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Tito’s wheels

 

 

A lot of time was spent telling stories. Mostly by Jolly about his life and times in the military and going and coming from some clandestine doings in some backwater somewhere, but never about the nature of the clandestine doings themselves. Most of the stories, I do not remember, or remember vaguely, his time in Thailand, his selection for his job or jobs and so on.

He told one about his great-great-grandfather, Christopher Sheats. Sheats from Winston County Alabama was one of the delegates to the convention of southerners who drafted the Articles of Succession that began the Civil War. He objected to secession but lost. Upon returning to Winston County he, at a meeting of Union sympathizers held in Looney’s Tavern, a local meeting place and center of Pro-Union sentiment, declared the county a free state arguing that if states had an inalienable right to secede from the Union than counties have the same inalienable right to secede from a state. He called it the Free State of Winston and sought to join the Union. The Confederate State of Alabama arrested him and sentenced him to death by hanging as a traitor. The rope broke saving him. He was imprisoned and escaped, fought for the Union using freed slaves and, according to Jolly, never lost a battle. After the war, he served in Congress. Because of threats on his life, President Grant appointed him Ambassador to Finland. After he died, the county refused to bury him in the whites-only cemetery so he was buried in the Blacks-only cemetery with many black people attending the ceremony. Since then almost all members of the Sheats family have chosen to be buried in that same black cemetery. The Incident at Looney’s Tavern, a musical drama performed regularly in Winston County, tells the story of Christopher Sheats and the Unionist meeting at Looney’s Tavern. It is the official state outdoor musical drama of Alabama.

Another story I remember from lunch the following day — Jolly had been asked to serve as a chief judge in the court-martial of a women soldier who, when told her husband had taken a women into their bed while she was at the base, bought a 45, went home, and promptly shot he erring husband in the nuts.

The young military attorney from the Judge Advocate General’s office chosen to prosecute her charged her only with assault with intent to kill. At the trial, when questioning her the young attorney asked, “Sergeant ___ when you shot your husband you intended to kill him did you not?” She pointed to a gold marksman medal on her uniform. “ See this” she responded, “I won the pistol shooting competition at the Olympics and when I qualified as a marine marksman they gave me a gold marksman medal rather than the silver in honor of my Olympic victory. I assure you I intended to shoot him in the nuts. If I wanted him dead he would be dead.” Jolly and the other judges ruled her innocent of the charge, stating, “The defendant may be guilty of many things regarding the shooting, but not of the only charge before us today, shooting with the intent to kill”

A few years later it happened that the sergeant was assigned to Jolly’s unit. When he asked her about the trial she told him that, had she been charged with anything else, she would have pleaded guilty, but not to the charge of intent to kill. When Jolly inquired as to how she has been doing since then, she responded, “Pretty well sir, but it’s been hard to get a date.” (Note, I suspect Jolly made this one up because I seem to remember having heard tales like this before but who knows maybe those tales were about Jolly.)

We had lunch, with a small group on the terrace that day.
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Lunch on the terrace.

 

After the lunch, Hank told me a story about the sister of Jolly’s wife, Mary (she is the blond woman second on the right in the photograph). When she was about three or four years old she had been captured by the Nazi’s but released in a prisoner exchange. A year or two later she was trained by her parents to operate the clandestine radio transmitter that was secreted in a place too small to get into for anyone but her and thereby able to avoid the Nazi search teams.

The next day was Market Day in Pula, the streets were full of stalls selling whatever and everything. I could smell the aroma of freshly baked bread. The cafes, like the streets, were awash with people. The place seemed vibrant and alive as did many of the tourist cities in Italy when I first visited them 40 or 50 years ago. Now with prosperity, restoration, tourism, and the departure of the young to the largest cities they often appear dead, dying or mausoleums celebrating a culture that never existed. Cities are always becoming, a mixture of despair and of hope. When they don’t change they die no matter how pretty they may appear.

I strolled through the town, drank prosecco in the cafes, browsed the stores and visited the port and the Roman ruins. There’s a bitchin Roman Arena here also. It seems those Romans dropped them everywhere like rice at a wedding. When one considers the cost and turmoil surrounding the building of the relatively few large sports areas around the world today, the efforts of the Romans seem even more amazing.

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The Amphitheater.

 

.The following evening was the big party. It was also the night of the World Cup match between Croatia and Russia. A large screen was set up so everyone could watch the game and eat hot dogs and hamburgers before the party began. There were many local notables including the head of Goldman Sachs for this area and much of adjacent Europe. I was told he was an ex-Mossad agent.

Now you must be wondering why and how over the last month or so I have managed to come upon so many ex-spies or relatives of ex-spies — Two in the Enchanted Forest; one who I met two days before in Sacile retired from the military whose job he said was to examine military construction sites in areas of American troop deployment; Jolly; his wife; and now the Mossad agent and god knows how many others were at the party. One must remember, however, all these people are from my generation and the following one. The generations who lived their productive years from the sixties through the eighties, the Spy vs Spy era when anyone who was anyone spied on someone or believed one lived under their bed or were entertained by stories about spies. It was the James Bond era.

Croatia won. The crowd went crazy.
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Croatia scores.

 

The music started. Everyone drank too much. I got kissed by two Young Croat women who I am positive either they only wanted to take a photograph of themselves kissing the old codger staggering around with the cane or they were drunk.

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The next morning we left for Southern Italy and the rest of our trip.

 

B. TO NAPLES AND BEYOND:

 

We left Pula at about 8:30AM and drove south through Italy, getting lost only once until at 5PM we arrived at a surprisingly nice hotel with the improbable name of Hotel Gentiluomo just outside of Arezzo. It was owned by an Indian company and we shared the place with an Indian tour group all saried and caste marked up. While they ate various curries, the smells wafted through the hotel, we dined in good Italian fare that alas I have forgotten so I guess it was good but not particularly notable.

The next morning, we left and arrived at our hotel above the Bay of Naples early in the afternoon after becoming lost in those little towns south of Vesuvius that I have been getting lost in each time I have come here for the past fifty years. The marvelous and inexpensive Hotel Torre Barbara in Vico stands high on the bluff above the bay. We drank some prosecco while sitting on the veranda admiring the view of the volcano looming over the towns clinging to its slopes like barnacles on a ship’s hull. Intending to swim in the pool with a view, I returned to my room but lost myself playing with my computer and dozing until dinner time.
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Pookie with the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius in the background.

 

On the veranda, I had dinner of shrimp risotto accompanied by prosecco and finished off with a chocolate mousse ice cream and grappa while we watched the sun sink into the sea beyond Capri and the lights\ come on and twinkle like a necklace of fireflies around the base of Vesuvius.

The following morning, I arose early and with my cup of cappuccino and a glass of fruit juice I sat alone on the veranda and watched the sun climb above the hills behind me and strike the bay. I tried to understand why in the many years I have been coming to Italy and having so rarely planned to visit Naples, I seem almost always to end up here for at least a day or so. Beautiful the view of the bay and the volcano may be but, I have seen many places more so —although while I sat there, I was hard-pressed to name them.

As I continued to stare at Vesuvius across the bay with its string of buildings encircling its base I began to think about how wretched those buildings and neighborhoods actually were. They began to look to me more and more like a disease creeping up the slopes — as though the volcano suffered from psoriasis and would wake up someday from the itching on his flanks and burn it all off. That’s what Naples signifies, I thought, beauty and horror together — Pompey rich and licentious ending buried in lava, the Bourbon dynasty of the Kings of Naples, squalor, and corruption alongside elegance and art.

Caravaggio spent much of his career here in Naples. A drunkard and a vicious murderer and perhaps the greatest painter that ever lived. His painting of Narcissus gazing at his reflection in the pool of water is beautiful until you think about what the painting is about, someone imprisoned forever.
C. MATERA — A CITY CARVED FROM THE ROCKS.

 

 

The next day we were on the road to Matera in the Province of Basilicata. The drive took only about three hours, a relief after the grind of the past few days.

After leaving the hills of Calabria, we drove through the weary plains of Basilicata. The approach to Matera left much to be desired. We passed from forested mountains and rolling hills green with vineyards, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens, onto a large undulating plain of dry farming almost all of it wheat leaving the land with a bare desolate desiccated look.

Here and there the plain was crisscrossed with steep stone canyons invisible until looking down on them from the bridges spanning them. On the top of a broad rise in the terrain stood a large city, much larger than the small hill towns we had seen in Calabria and Basilicata so far, and much uglier also. I was quite disappointed and contemplated urging Hank to turn the car around and retrace our tracks to Naples.

We checked into an attractive newly built hotel that seemed to have a swimming pool with stepped smaller pools cascading into it. Excited, I put on my swim trunks, strode through the lobby and out to the pool. Alas, when I got there I found it was only a decorative fountain built to serve as a background for photos of lavish nuptial celebrations that seemed to be the main reason for the existence of the hotel. Dejected, I changed back into touring clothing and we set off to the town to see what the travel brochures raved about.

After a lot of aimless driving about the modern town looking for the rock city, we parked and followed the signs and suddenly came upon the amazing city carved from the rocks and perched upon the largest of the steep stone canyons, the smaller versions of which we had crossed while driving here.
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Matera — almost every building in the photograph of a facade covering the cave which provided at least 80% of the building’s interior.

 

We decided then that we could not fully appreciate the city without a guide so Hank asked the driver of a small tuk-tuk style tour vehicle how we could find a guide, “Wait here for Vito” he advised. So, we waited there for Vito. While waiting, Camille and I explored a nearby church containing another church buried underneath containing fascinating frescoes on the walls.
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The mosaics painted on the walls of the cave church.

 

And, one of the more bizarre statues I have ever come across.
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The Saint who steps on naked fat women.

 

It is a statue of Saint something or other (I do not remember his name) with his foot on the back of a naked woman. Finding this odd, I moved closer in order to read the information card. I translated it as either Saint what’s-his-name with his foot on a fat woman or, Saint whoever driving out fatness from women or maybe something else. Perhaps, he is the Patron Saint of diet scammers.

Vito arrived in his bitchin red tuk-tuk (as far as I could tell the only red one in town). He turned out to be a delightful young man who entertained us during the tour.
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Vito and his bitchin red tuk-tuk with Hank and Camille.

 

(if you should travel there an want pleasant knowledgeable guide call Vito at +39 3931772506)

I could go on about the wonders of the town, but T&T is not the place for it. I will mention that Matera is the third oldest continuously occupied town in the world. Across the canyon stands the neolithic caves in which the ancestors of the townspeople lived before crossing the canyon to settle the current site when agricultural technology reached the area.
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The Neolithic caves.
Matera, despite being almost abandoned 30 years ago when the government forcibly relocated the penniless agricultural workers living in the rock homes, had experienced a rebound when that policy was abandoned and the original residents, artists, and others were allowed to move back in. Next year, according to Vito, the UN will declare the town the World Artistic Capital (or something pompous like that).

That evening we dined in what Vito declared was among the oldest and finest restaurants in town and was the favorite eating place of Mel Gibson who dined there often during the filming of the “Passion of Christ” (the crucifixion scene was filmed on top of the rock outcropping in the above photograph). While we felt that last was a dubious recommendation we dined there anyway and found it excellent and well worth it.

The next day we set off for Altamonte back in Calabria.
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D. A PLEASANT DAY IN ALTAMONTE.

 

Altamonte a pleasant little hill town in Calabria, remote from just about anywhere with little to recommend it other than the Hotel Barbieri. Started by the patriarch of clan Barbieri a hotelier and master chef he has built up a small industry here and in the US selling regional Calabrian foods and folk art at the hotel and at a string of elegant delicatessens in Philadelphia and Pittsburg owned and operated by the family whose members have been sent to the US to manage their interests.
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The view from my room.

 

The hotel started small on a hill with a great view of the town and the countryside around it, grew in a comely hodgepodge of rooms, verandas and a pool and a spa. Members of the family still run it day by day. “It serves the best Calabrian food in Italy,” Hank claimed.
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The pool and newly built terrace (we ate dinner on the terrace to the right)

 

We had a snack that included a local specialty, chips made from the local long red sweet peppers dipped momentarily in hot olive oil until they become puffed and brittle. Marvelous. We ate them and washed them down with prosecco under the trees on one of the verandas with a view of the town, a cool breeze and three children of the family playing and running around the tables.
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Hank, the daughter of the Patriarch, Hank and a bowl of sweet pepper chips.
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Camille and Hank on the terrace waiting for lunch.

 

I then took my much-delayed swim in the pool, napped and had dinner on one of the more formal terraces. We ate a variety of traditional Calabrian dishes and ended with a delicious homemade fusilli in a sauce of tomatoes and eggplant. The noodles are freshly hand rolled into long curving pasta with a hollow center and were delightfully chewy and went perfectly with the sauce. Grappa and dessert ended the meal. It was everything Hank said it would be.
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First course.

 

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Second course.

 

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Fresh-made Fusilli.

 

The next morning, after another great breakfast we said goodbye to the patriarch and his daughter who came by to see us off. And so I left for Sicily and a week ar Antonio’s.

 

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On Pythonism

Interesting chronological confluence: Recently finished reading “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern” by Stephen Greenblatt. It’s about the rediscovery of Lucretius”s poem “On The Nature of Things”, after over a thousand years, by Poggio Bracciolini around 1417, who was a former pope’s secretary and enthusiast for ancient Greek and Roman manuscripts, and the poem’s contribution to and impact on Renaissance and later thinking. Lucretius was a disciple of Epicurus. the poem articulated the radical (for the late middle ages) view that the universe and all things, human and otherwise, consist solely of atoms and the void, that there is no afterlife or resurrection or heaven and hell, God doesn’t exist let alone run things, and after all the right approach to life is to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Find joy in what you can now, ‘cause there ain’t no heaven. Works for me. Monte Python in a Roman toga.

 
On coffee get-togethers in the Enchanted Forest

Sounds more intriguing than Leisure World or stumbling down Collins Avenue sidestepping doggie do. Do they wear purple hair in the Enchanted Forest? Boy toy sounds like some exotic Asian dish (just watched Anthony Bourdain in Viet Nam eating some fabulous soup in Hue); but cannibals probably wouldn’t eat geriatric boy toy.

 
On the contention, that beauty can bore

Interesting: Suggests that wandering is a cure for the ennui or boredom of salubrious settlement. Thus, commuting from Heaven to Purgatory to Hell and back, and onward. Or at least to New York and Sacile. Forever seeking beatitude or a good pastry. Unless, of course, one is totally absorbed in one’s obsession, whatever it is: Putin’s grabbing and disrupting others, Van Gogh’s painting and agonizing, Scrooge McDuck’s diving into his money bin….

 
On negative news about negative people

Years ago I read something about news, and how history shows that people always want to hear/read/see the bad news, disaster news, negative stuff. What I read referred back to news and pamphlets. And whatever back two-three hundred years. So there’s a psychological basis to take advantage of for slanting the news.

Given US history, as shown e. g by “Fantasyland,” the US is both a testing ground for new corporate-driven forms of domination and, together with its predilection for violence and fantasy, a retrograde movement backward toward more primitive and difficult times.

 
On corporations and oligarchs

Ultimately, the world corporate oligarchical/dictatorial concentration and continued climate change impacts will result in continued and enhanced mass migrations and consequent population redistributions, and as a byproduct, a reduction of “guns in America” as counter-productive. The beauty of the Veneto will provide an oasis in which the “ho-hum, another day in paradise” ennui will be reluctantly deemed the tolerable alternative to hemlock or standing on line at the Louvre to gape at the Mona Lisa or joining a futile, isolated white-armed resistance cell whose membership includes — by that time — a senile Michael Caine, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Sean Penn, Samuel L. Jackson, Benicio Del Toro, Russell Crowe, and Angelina Joli.

 

 

On “the cradle of civilization”

Now, China’s new Road (whatever they call that) essentially recreates the old Silk Road by rail and highway from China to the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. The Russians are already building up Kazakhstan with their space program (and even Trump was trying to get some business there!). Iran will be a key, as it was back then, in spite of the Saudi/Sunnis. The US will have a lot to learn from the Italians’ sense of history via “Catch-22”

 

 

Wisdom from the Kabbala

“Travels With Epicurus”. Has its benefits.

Do the swallows return to Compostello?*

Thus the wheel of Karma turns; what’s new?

How do you spell Medicare in Italian?

 

Note: The T&T referred to can be found in: https://wordpress.com/view/josephpetrillo.wordpress.com

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