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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN SICILY — GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN:

Following a delightful breakfast of coffee, brioche and a fried egg with pepper chips, we set off to Cosenza and the train station. After a series of the usual misadventures and annoyances, I boarded the train to Sicily. It was the same cattle car I remember from years ago when I used to take the dolorous train from Sicily to Rome, a train carrying the impoverished Sicilians to jobs in the North (Sicilian Il Norte) — standing room only for the 13-hour trip. This time there were no impoverished workers going north, but many not particularly impoverished people going south for whatever reason. Passengers still were standing in the aisles and sitting on one another’s laps. My reserved seat was among a group of young women and families going somewhere in the same direction I was. They did not appreciate my expropriation of the seat one member of the group occupied. She then continued the trip sitting in the lap of an older man accompanying them or walking up and down the aisles.

I was also disturbed by the loud braying voice of one of the men traveling with that particular group. I could not make up my mind if he was a “cafone” ( loud, ignorant and oblivious) or “pazzo” (crazy). I decided it was a little bit of both. Even those traveling with him seemed to either humor or ignore him. When the women next to me left the train at Messina, I moved into her seat by the window. He sat down next to me and began to fling his arms about, pester me with questions and opinions and generally acted grievously obnoxious. I seriously considered braining him with my cane. But, long checkered experience in dealing with situations like this has taught me to act like I understand nothing about the language, am old and feeble and a little bit addled and confused (which is not too hard to do at my age). Inevitably, they either give up in frustration or some woman comes to my aid and drives them off. It happened like that here. The women in the group began to yell at him and told him to stop bothering me. The high point of the trip other than when he got off the train was the crossing of the Straits of Messina on the train ferry.
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Scylla and Charybdis. (The Straits of Messina)

 

The trains were decoupled and stacked into the hold of the ferry. We disembarked the train and climbed to the top decks where we could sit, walk around, buy snacks and enjoy the half hour or so trip across the straits.

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The train ferry.

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Messina.

 
We disembarked at Messina. They reassembled the cars into several trains depending on their destination. Ours set out for Catania. Along the way, we passed Taormina and Mt, Etna blowing out smoke from its caldera.
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Mt. Etna.

 

I changed trains at Catania, boarding one for Caltanissetta where I expected to change trains once again to take me to my final destination, Canicatti the ancestral home of my mother’s family. Unfortunately, after arriving at Caltanissetta, while attempting to read the train schedule to find out from which track my connection would leave even though there was only one other train at the station, that train, my connection, left with me running after it banging at the side of the cars until it left me standing at the end of the platform forlorn and alone as the train disappeared into the distance.

I was truly alone and forlorn when I realized I was not at the train station in downtown Caltanissetta as I had thought, but in an almost derelict and abandoned station far out in the countryside at the end of an unpaved and weed overgrown dead end road — and the night was descending. It seems that that station was used only for passengers to disembark from the express train to Palermo and catch the now departed train to Caltanissetta Central and Canicatti. So I called up Antonio and asked him to come and save me. He good-naturedly agreed and explained it would take at least 45 minutes for him to get there. So, I stood there in the gloom and watched hoards of swallow type birds flitter through the sky in search of those insects who dare to come out at dusk, while a hawk sat calmly on a phone wire contemplating tonight’s dinner. A group of young men arrived driving a truck containing a jitney type vehicle in the back, They met some other men who came from somewhere I did not notice although one drove up in an old car with cardboard covering a broken window. They took the jitney down from the truck bed and began pushing it up a hill toward an abandoned building. The jitney got away from them and began rolling down the hill sending the men running in every direction. It then tipped over and skidded to the bottom of the hill. I thought I was watching a Buster Keaton silent film. They then all stood around — wondering what to do, I guess. I never found out what happened next because Antonio arrived and drove me to his home.

During the ride, I noticed much of the highway between Caltanissetta and Canicatti that they had been building two or three years ago when I had last been here has been completed. It is exceptionally lavish. Where it is not elevated it is tunneled. To construct the tunnels they first tear down the hill. Then they build the tunnel. Then they put the hill back on top of the tunnel. I’m not kidding.

When I first arrived in Sicily, now about 50 years ago, although the modern technology of the time, telephone, automobiles, television and the like had been well established but much of the social life of the people remained medieval — Marriages were arranged, dowries negotiated, crime of honor legal and common, crime organized, autocrats vicious, noble families if not admired then respected and government remote and rapacious. It was a place for travelers, not tourists, for those that traveled with no schedules expecting discomfort, not those with schedules, sights to see and an expectation of basic comforts. Yet, despite their suspicion of strangers, the people were welcoming when that suspicion waned, the food good, the wines better and the climate benign.

Since then, most of that has changed, the young are more independent (although my female cousins, PHDs all, will not leave the island even for brief periods without their mother’s consent), suspicion lessened, crime diminished, noble families dispersed and the government still corrupt but no longer remote. The food has not yet been completely homogenized to suit the food production industry and the wines are perhaps even better and while tourism has become accepted, old historical sights cleaned up and new ones developed, it is still not as easy to get around, make schedules and enjoy pure luxury (Taormina and a few other places accepted — but it was always like that). On the other hand, there are few places that afford the wanderer such a variety of experience, even ones that are not so good but, on the other hand, rarely so bad either.

My visits to Canicatti and to Antonio’s house are neither as a tourist or a traveler, but is simply returning home. As I grew older, I found, at least for me, there is no one “home,” a principle place of residence perhaps, but many homes identified by the fact that there reside, people, I love and like to be with. In Antonio’s case, there is also the food and the wine.

 

 

 

 

B. ANTONIO’S — THE FIRST NIGHT.

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A view of Canicatti. Antonio’s house is behind the tree on the left.

 

We arrived in Canicatti my mother’s ancestral home and drove on to Antonio’s house at the edge of the town. After getting settled in my room and meeting the new houseboy, a young man from Bangladesh whose name I cannot remember (Friday, the previous houseboy from Nigeria, left to sell shoes in Venice), Antonio suggested a light snack before retiring. I agreed. Here it is:

 

The first course, lamb stew piccante in tomato sauce.
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The second course, arancini con panel.
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The third course, melanzane parmigiana.
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The Fourth course, Pasta Norma.
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The Dessert, local berries, and lemon granita. All accompanied by wonderful red and white local wines and finished off with Limoncello and grappa.

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C. ANTONIO’S — DAY TWO

The next day, following breakfast and a brief nap, I went for a walk. By that time most Sicilians had returned to their beds for their afternoon siesta. Antonio worried about me walking around during the hottest part of the day. He insisted I carry my phone and call him if I passed out from the heat.

It was hot. Antonio’s home stands at the border of the rural area and the commercial-industrial area of the town. I chose to walk into the rural lands. I walked along a mostly white stone covered unpaved road through some olive groves. The sun’s glare reflected off the white road hurt my eyes even though I was wearing dark glasses. Reaching the end of the road I was traveling on and sweating a lot, I decided to return to the house and take a nap until dinner — and so I did.
IMG_5424Through the olive groves.

 

There were two couples and me at dinner. One couple from Germany traveling with a two-year-old boy, an inveterate explorer, were staying the week. The other, a delightful older English couple, were only staying the night. What follows is the meal:

 

The first course, four different local goat cheeses with a suitable different (local) fruit preserve on each,

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The second course, ripe fig from Antonio’s garden with speck, local goat ricotta with fruit preserve and fried squash blossoms.
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The Third and fourth courses were the same melanzane parmigiana and arancini as I had the previous night except I learned the parmesan cheese had been replaced with a local cheese.

 

The Fifth course, a soup, the ingredients of which I no longer recall, perhaps seafood
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The Sixth course, mixed fresh local seafood and a vegetable of some sort.
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The Seventh course, local fish, the name of which I missed, cooked in an olive, caper and tomato sauce.
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The Dessert, the same local berries and lemon granita as I enjoyed last night followed by a flute of different local berries and a different granite. I have eliminated the photo here out of pure exhaustion.

We also drank copious amounts of delicious red and white wines from a vineyard located closer to Agrigento (Antonio seems to feel something grown ten or so miles away as not fitting his definition of “local.”) And of course, limoncello and grappa. We all got very drunk and began telling each other our deepest darkest secrets. Ok maybe not our deepest and darkest, we never tell those even when drunk, but we certainly told those that we would otherwise be embarrassed if anyone but our dearest friends knew about them.

I guess I should write a little something about Sicilian cuisine — at least as I understand it. It is not simply indigenous recipes made from fresh local products improved over the centuries by the addition of spices, condiments, and recipes to overcome whatever deficiencies existed in the local agricultural products. It is also a cuisine that requires the reuse of food not consumed the previous day, not by simply reheating leftovers, but as foundational elements in completely new recipes. Another element of the cuisine is its adoption and development of the tremendous variety of deserts and sweets gifted to them by the Muslim community that ruled the island for so many centuries. Finally, the use of sweet liquors in Sicily, like in much of southern Italy, appears to be some sort of a religious ritual to celebrate a meal well cooked and well eaten.

Note: I will no longer post photographs of each course I enjoy since that would extend this issue of T&T beyond tolerable limits.

 

D. ANTONIO’S — DAY THREE:

This morning, I decided to go into Canicatti to walk around, search out places I remembered from when I lived here 50 years ago and also do a little shopping. Antonio drove me to the center of the town and I set off walking.

Canicatti is not a tourist city, there is nothing to see here. Monuments built by the rich and famous are usually reserved for the hilltops where they lived in their grand villas and palaces. Canicatti, set in a broad agricultural valley, has always been a commercial town for the sale and distribution of agricultural products. It looks grubby but is actually more prosperous than it appears.

I found the park where my mother had told me she played in as a child before she was sent off at seven years old to America in the early Twentieth Century version of indentured servitude. It is now a scruffy little park. It was much grander fifty years ago when I first saw it.

I sat on a bench among other old men and listened to the harsh guttural tones of Sicilian that Marlon Brando mimicked in Godfather I. I wish I could say I thought deep thoughts as I sat there, but I didn’t.

I eventually left and walked through back alleys and streets looking for the cafe where I would sit with friends fifty years ago. The cafe with the bullet holes still in the walls. Bullet holes made by American soldiers in WWII in the Canicatti Massacre when the American commander lined up random citizens and had them shot as a punishment for the town harboring the Germans. The fact was, there never were any Germans there.

My friends and I would gather at the cafe and watch the white-suited Mafiosi stride into the place with their jackets draped over their shoulders and the furtive hand gestures among the other customers ringing as loudly as shouts. The cafe where I sat those long afternoons so long ago with Gigi, Piccolo Gaetano, and others. Alas, I think it is no more, swept up by the years like unwanted refuse.

I looked for the Landowner’s Social Club building that, so long ago, I sat in front of one afternoon with the Baron La Lomia, the head of the hereditary ruling family of the town, a fat overdressed little man with a great square beard who was making his annual appearance at his demesne. As each resident of the area would approach to pay their respects to the Baron, he would say to them “And, I would like you to meet my good friend Mr. Petrillo who traveled all the way from America to be with me today.” And, I would shake the hand of each person in that long line as they passed by. I could not find that place either. Did it exist and was eventually blown away as an anachronism like the dust and litter blowing around as I walk or was it simply my imagination? Who cares? There is no difference — imagination, memory, reality — all the same.

I also looked for the tiny park with the statue of the erstwhile patron saint of the town, the Blessed La Lomia, a missionary in Brazil killed by the natives who saw through the baloney he was trying to sell them. I could not find it. So I sat down outside of a little cafe across from the Church where I was to meet Antonio and ordered a coke and a lemon granita. I chose the cafe because the outdoor tables were shaded by a large tree and an awning.

Alas, I soon realized it was probably the place where the dregs of the town congregated. Those young people who lived at home had no job and wanted none. One table was occupied by a boisterous threesome, two young men, and a tiny young woman. One of the men would shout at me and make faces. The other young man and the tiny young woman would every now and then rise from their chairs and chase each other around the table, ending in a brief wrestling match. I do not know why they did it. A very large tattooed man carrying a beer came in, sat on a bench facing me, not more than three feet away, and stared at me for a long time, then declared “Hot isn’t it?” I agreed and responded, “Yes it is.” He continued to stare and sip his beer. Various people who seemed not in complete possession of their mental faculties would enter, wander around, and sometimes stand next to my table and stare at me. I loved it. The chances of anything dangerous happening was minuscule. Yet the frisson of excitement drove away any residual melancholy remaining from my walk around the town.

Dinner was the usual many course affair, a mixture of old and new. The new included a fava bean soup, crawfish and the melanzane parmigiana with capers and other savory items replacing the cheese. Dessert included cassata as well as the berry and granita dish.

At dinner tonight was an Argentine couple, Herman and Christina who live in Florida and run a business finding investment properties in the US for foreigners. They also have started up a treasure hunting business in Columbia to raise several sunken Spanish Galleons. The twist of this effort compared to other treasure hunting schemes is that instead of distributing the treasure to the investors as it is recovered which when attempted by traditional treasure hunts runs into severe legal and political problems, they intend to keep the treasure hoard intact, but use its value base for the creation of a new crypto-currency and pay the investors with the crypto-currency. Crazy perhaps. But, Trump made a career of persuading people to invest in much less and look where he ended up — the bitch for an insecure Russian autocrat who trapped him in a wired Moscow hotel room taking a golden shower.

As coincidence would have it, about twelve years ago, I had a small practice representing treasure hunters, almost all of whom failed. The dream never dies.

 

E. ANTONIO’S DAY FOUR:

Following another excellent breakfast, the Argentinian couple invited me to join them on a trip to the beach. They had asked Antonio to suggest a remote and secluded beach and he did — at a very remote and far distant location. We drove at least 40 miles before we turned off the main road and on to an unpaved track that wound its way through farmland with many abandoned farmhouses and a few appearing not so abandoned. We saw three maybe four very old men working in the fields, and a very old and hunchbacked shepherd driving a small flock of undernourished sheep — no-one else. At times, we drove through weed forests with the cane like stalks twice as high as the car cutting off all view. We drove for five or six miles up steep hills and through narrow canyons before we came to a dirt parking lot containing a few cars and a small shack with a somewhat rotund gentleman standing in front. He took our money and announced in very good English that it was at least a two-minute walk to a sandy beach where it was suitable for swimming which he called “Beach One.” “Beach Two,” he said, “was a ten-minute walk up the coast and was good for taking photographs but because it was rocky was not good for swimming but suitable for snorkeling.” Beach three he explained was a twenty-five-minute walk down the coast, but I forget what it was good for. We walked the allotted two minutes and came out of the towering weeds and saw a very attractive sandy beach containing a few bathers but still many more than I thought would ever chance the treacherous drive.
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Pookie at the beach.
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The Beach.

 
After setting up the umbrella in the sand, instead of going swimming, I abruptly announced I was going to hike the ten minutes to the photogenic beach, and then set off. I do not know why. I found a small weed overgrown path that seemed to climb up what appeared to be more than a hill but less than a mountain. After several minutes of climbing, huffing and puffing, and sweating profusely, I realized I was all alone on this steep rocky path that I knew not where it went, without water, becoming rapidly exhausted and convinced I was about to collapse. But like Scott in the Antarctic, foolishly pushing ahead only for the irrational pleasure of beating Amundsen, I went on. Like Scott, I thought I could beat Amundsen too,

I noticed the path was strewn with the bleached shells of snails. I could tell they were not laid down here due to some ancient geological catastrophe, they were strewn around not buried in rock hardened silt. I then imagined massive escargot eating rituals by Sicilian cultists in honor of Diana the Huntress every night of the full moon. But, finally decided they were simply the carcasses of egotistical land snails who believed they could make it across the blazing hot paths in the middle of the day and were fried for their arrogance. I picked up one desiccated bone white shell, put it in my pocket and continued struggling up the slope.

I little later, I came upon a single quill lying on the path. I stopped and stared at it and wondered what sort of quilled creature survived the five thousand year commitment by Sicilians to rid their island of every mammal except those they could domesticate and rats and mice. Unable to reach a conclusion, I picked it up and put it in my pocket too. I also picked up and pocked some interesting small stones and happily contemplated carrying them back home and washing them, not to study but to remind me that it was not a figment of my imagination that I chose to climb this damned path at midday.
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The Treasure.

 

Eventually, I reached the top and found myself on a high bluff overlooking a beach with no way down. I then realized I could have reached that same beach by simply walking a few feet from where I began and wading in ankle deep water around some rocks. Annoyed by this discovery, I began to retrace my steps. I was further annoyed when a family with two young children carrying beach equipment and towels jauntily passed me by having clearly enjoyed their morning at the ten-minute walk rocky photogenic beach.

When I returned to the Argentineans they were just packing up to leave. So, we left, renegotiated the weed jungle and drove another twenty miles or so to Sciacca to have lunch.
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The Photogenic beach?
Sciacca (pronounced Sha – ca) is a fairly large town on a hill near the water with an interesting if arcane history (look it up). At its base was a large working fishing port.
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The Port of Sciacca.
We entered a restaurant directly across the road from the port. It had a great view and served freshly caught fish. We chose our fish and from a comely waitress ordered them grilled and then ate them along with an extremely tasty salad.
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The fish.

 

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The comely waitress and the Argentinians.
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The cooked fish.

 

For dessert, I had cannoli made with local ricotta.
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The sacred cannoli.
On the way home, we came upon a traffic snarl caused by an electrical transmission wire having fallen across the road. There were no police or first responders anywhere so passengers would jump out of their cars hold the wire up over their heads while the driver drove the car through, then drop it and jump back into the car. Thinking I could be as brave and foolhardy as the women in the photograph below, I jumped out of our car, held the wire over my head until Herman drove under it and then jumped back into the car and we sped away. No, I did not die.
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The brave but foolhardy women of Sicily.

 
That night I played my first game of chess in 50 years with the German gentleman and I won. It took the sting out of Croatia’s loss in the World Cup final. There had been no meal prepared. Antonio was gone for the evening so we snitched some sausages he had cooking on the stove for tomorrows meal. I went to bed happy. It was a good day after all.

 

 

F. ANTONIO’S — DAY FIVE:

Today is my last full day here. Tomorrow, I fly to Milano and two days later back to the Enchanted Forest and Naida. I am both sad and eager to go. Sad because I feel so comfortable and relaxed here and eager to go because I feel too comfortable and relaxed here. Too much of a good thing can become irritating if it goes on too long.

After breakfast, I said goodbye to the Argentineans. Then Antonio, the Bangladesh houseboy and I left for Licata, a town on the coast, to buy some fresh fish for tonight’s meal. I pictured a large fish market open to the fishing boats tied up to the wharves, burly men pushing crates around slick cement floors while fishmongers in their stalls lined up their wares with military precision on beds of gleaming ice. It was not like that at all. It was more like a dope deal. First a stop on a remote road on the edge of the city for a telephone call. Then two more stops at gas stations for more calls. Then a wait in a cafe drinking espresso until a man arrived and engaged Antonio in a whispered conversation. Then we get back in the car and follow the man’s car through the back roads of the city until we both come to a stop on the side of the road and Antonio and the man get out of their cars and walk around a building and disappear for a fairly long while. Then Antonio returns with a small plastic bag that I presume contained the fish and we drove off returning the 50 or so kilometers to Canicatti.

Back in town, I asked Antonio to drop me off at the church so I could go to the bank and withdraw the money I would need to pay for my stay. The charges amounted to about $70 per day for the room, breakfast, and dinner and all the wine, grappa and limoncello one can drink. It is not so bad a deal when I consider that I probably drank $20 worth of alcoholic beverages each day.

After, withdrawing the money, I returned to strolling around the town looking for places I knew — no luck there. I then looked for the ice-cream shop I had spotted two days before that made the best ice–cream in the area — but it was closed. I then thought about walking up the hill to where my mother lived in a section of the city called the Borgo, the old center of the town before they filled in the stream from which the town got its name (Cane Brook, for the dense cane like plants that flourished along its banks. Wikipedia, on the other hand, says it comes from the Arabic word meaning “muddy ditch”). I thought it would be good to see my mom’s old house again. But, I looked up at the hill I would have to climb, felt the heat of the sun and concluded it was not going to happen on this trip, so, I chose to sit in a cafe on the main street drinking a very good chilled white wine and nibbling on the little snacky things they brought me. Around me sat a number of young men and women. The men all had beards and the women all had tattoos. In my day, the men all had beards also.

I napped the afternoon away.

That evening, my last here, Antonio made dinner for only him and me. There was a wonderful salad of vegetables picked that day from the garden including sweet onions all in a vinegar, olive oil, and pepper dressing. He also broke out his favorite local white wines from Canicatti. Since he was busy cooking I drank most of the wine.
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He indicated we were going to have a light dinner this evening. For pasta, he prepared a dish with zucchini and mushrooms.
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Zucchini and mushroom pasta.

 
Then came the fish course.
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Antonio with the fish.

 

I do not know if that was the fish we pursued that morning, but it seemed like a lot of fish for two people. It was cooked with oranges, capers, and tomatoes in olive oil. After, deboning and serving the fish, Antonio brought out another bottle of white wine from Canicatti vineyards. “This,” he said, “is the best white in Sicily and perhaps is all of Italy.” While the previous bottle was made from Grillo grapes, this he said was made from a blending of four local grape varieties.
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The Great White.


The white wines from Sicily I have tasted so far on this trip have been very smooth and suitable for drinking with food or alone. They seem to lack that slightly astringent aftertaste of other expensive white wines.

After the fish course and having downed most of two bottles of wine, I was —well drunk or at least well on my way.

Dessert was a cassata followed by an absolute smashing mulberry granita accompanied by limoncello (a lot of it) but no grappa.

I was helped off to bed and woke up the next morning with no hangover.

 
G. DEPARTURE

Breakfast, some puttering around packing and then Antonio drove me into town to catch the bus to the airport. Hugs and kisses all around. Then a two hour or so ride through an ofter relatively bleak and empty Sicilian countryside I arrived at the Airport waited for several hours and flew off to Milano.
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The Sicilian Countryside on the way to Catania.

 

 

 

 

 

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“It’s never treason if you win.’”

Stross, Charles. The Traders’ War: A Merchant Princes Omnibus. Tom Doherty Associates.

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESSICA
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TODAY FROM AMERICA:

 

A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN SACRAMENTO:

It was a balmy warm spring day. I walked around the lakes at Town Center taking photographs of the flowers now in full bloom and reminiscing about things past and present.
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The Roses at Town Center

For all extents and purposes, I live now in the midst of a forest near the Capitol City in the center of the Great Valley and travel every morning back to the Golden Hills to eat breakfast, exercise and discharge my duties to the Scooter Gang (soon to be renamed the Adolescent Bicycle Riders from Purgatory).

I live in the middle of a deep dark seemingly enchanted forest near the center of Capitol City. It is like living in Capital Park except here, tiny little houses are grouped around curving flower-lined pathways snaking beneath the branches of the trees. There is no horizon visible here like there is in the golden hills, only the trunks and branches of the great trees, redwoods, cedars, and pines and the little slip of sky above. Like all forests, it is quiet, only the slight hum of the nearby freeway penetrates the shadows.
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The Enchanted Forest

In the mornings, I still walk around the lakes in Town Center but in the evening, I now return to stroll along the banks of the American River and through the Enchanted Forest.

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The American River at Dusk

Last night after dark, I watched Marlene Dietrich vamp her way through Shanghai Express, feathers flying, eyes flirting and smoke rising from the cigarette clutched between her fingers like an orchestra conductor’s baton.

On Saturday, I helped Naida set up her table at the semi-annual flea market in Campus Commons where she sold some books. Residents of the subdivisions browsed through the unwanted ephemera of their neighbors. Surprisingly, there were a number of bicycles for sale. It seems bicycle thieves strip the bicycles of desired objects (a gear shift, wheel and the like) and toss the remainder into the neighborhood bushes. The derelict cycles are then sold by the HOA at the market.
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Naida (in the hat) in Discussion with a Potential Customer

I took the time while waiting for the market to close to continue my exploration of the Enchanted Forest. This time around the lakes in the center of the Forrest. I sat on a bench and stared at the water. I was soon joined by another elderly retired gentleman who used to work for a local real estate development company that just so happens to have developed both Serrano the major subdivision in El Dorado Hills and most of Campus Commons. We swapped tales of developments past and discussed at some length the many difficulties and few joys of being old.

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The Lake in Campus Commons

That night, we attended a concert in downtown Sacramento that featured a new choral work by a young composer. We believed we were to attend a performance of Tosca but unfortunately had the week wrong. Attributing it all to another example of creeping dementia, we decided to make the best of it and cadged some tickets from a nice couple whose friends could not join them that evening. We enjoyed a presentation of religious-themed music including “Ancient Airs and Dances” by Respighi, Dvorak’s “Te Deum” and “Jubilate Deo” by Dan Forrest (the young composer). The latter contained hymns in Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Mandarin, Zulu and Spanish accompanied by some of their traditional instruments.
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The Concert Finale. (It looks more like the Triumphant March in Aida)

 

B. A BRIEF SOJOURN IN THE BAY AREA:

On Monday, my sister was to be operated on for breast cancer at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley. She urged me not to take the long drive to be there since she would probably be too medicated after the operation to appreciate my effort. I told her that I was not coming to see her but to accompany George who I was sure would be quite distressed waiting for the operation to be completed. When I arrived at the hospital, I found George well attended to by Brendan and Katie.

The operation appeared to be a success. Maryann emerged looking well. After they all left the hospital to spend the night in the hotel, I left for Peter’s house in San Francisco. That evening, Peter’s band, Blind Lemon Pledge, played a gig at Green Tortoise, the well known SF hostel featuring the beginning point for the hippy era cross-country bus trip to NYC. I attended as the band’s temporary roadie. During the performance, the management of the hostel, suspicious I might be some homeless person who slipped into the hostel to get out of San Francisco’s spring cold and snag a free meal, questioned me closely. I managed to persuade them that I really was a roadie so they left me alone.

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Blind Lemon Pledge

 

The following morning Peter and I met with my grandson at Bernie’s for coffee and pastry. Anthony has had what is known as a troubled adolescence that included several convictions for marijuana offenses and the like. For the past few years these offenses have centered on his attempt to develop the technology for distilling the essential ingredients from the cannabis plant, a complex, dangerous, and previously illegal activity. His passion has led him to be hired as laboratory staff by the major (and right now only) approved dealer and developer of cannabis products in SF. The laboratory is virtually indistinguishable from a traditional chemical lab, with gleaming new machines, meters, switches and cautionary signs of the wall. He distills from the plants the various active ingredients that are used to make several products. He replaced two trained college educated chemists. Good luck Anthony.

(JP — Since that meeting I received the following from Anthony:

Thank you, that means a lot. Im happy in this field. And you know.. i have been in this field since i was 13/14 yrs old. Its great to be able to do things legally now.

Remind me, what are your current symptoms now so i can find a cannabis product that will work for you. I remember you said edible maybe 2:1 ratio 2 cbd: 1thc (so higher cbd) are you interested in tinctures and tropicals as well?)

 

C. BACK IN THE GOLDEN HILLS AND THE ENCHANTED FOREST:

One of the more significant problems that arise upon reaching my age is that I often soon forget whatever I may have been recently up to. Like now, I am sitting in a nondescript Starbuck somewhere in Folsom writing this. It is raining outside. I met with my oncologist a few hours ago. He declared me still in remission. Hooray for me. I cannot remember what else I have done since my return to the Great Valley a few days ago. Perhaps, I napped a lot. I recall having a late lunch-early dinner at Subway with HRM a day or so ago. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: How are things going with you?
HRM: Good.
Me: Anything interesting happen in school recently?
HRM: Everything.

And so on — the conversational rhythms of the emerging adolescent.

One evening, we went for dinner at a nearby Ethiopian restaurant. It was enjoyable, especially accompanied by honey wine. That night, I had a dream so loaded with Jungian overtones that to attempt to describe it could lead to madness. I struggled, eventually successfully, to wake myself up but could not get back to sleep again for fear the dream would return.

 

D. AN INVESTIGATION AND AN ADMISSION:

Recently I learned that someone may have investigated my background and concluded that I was somewhat of a libertine. I am incensed. Not because I had been “investigated.” Nor am I upset because privacy in modern society seems to be as outdated as garters. No, what chaps my hide is that they failed to discover or disclose that I am also a “ner’do well,” bipolar, an only partially reformed doper, and am fond of walking sticks, straw hats and Hawaiian shirts. I firmly believe that when my privacy rights are violated, I deserve the right to be assured that those interested be completely informed of as many of my peccadilloes as possible. Otherwise, I feel others will be left believing I am only half as defective as I actually am. I believe that in a free country, we have as much a right to be acknowledged for our defects as for our abilities.

 

E. SEARCHING FOR “SPITFIRE”:

When one loses a word from memory or from a computer-saved document, it can be quite distressful. Especially if like “Spitfire” it is difficult to replace. We recently lost, or perhaps not lost but misplaced, the word “spitfire.” We were understandably upset and spent a considerable amount of time and effort looking for it — alas, to no effect. It did, however, make quite a story. Unfortunately, it was a story with no end. After all, once you’ve lost your Spitfire, what can you do?

Actually, “Spitfire” was what two full grown men called the 14-year-old girl who fought off their attempt to abduct and rape her. Twenty years later another man tried the same thing with the same woman with the same results. She is not a “spitfire,” she a Heroine because none of the men were punished by anyone but her alone.

“Spitfire” is not alone in her experience. As “me too” movement demonstrates, it is a tragic event in the lives of all too many women.

 

F. ENNUI AND ME:

In life, it is a truism that no great euphoria or great misery goes on forever. Sooner or later they all return to the mundane mean. This morning, after yesterday’s emotional roller-coaster, I, once again, sit in Bella Bru Cafe with my cafe latte and toasted cinnamon-raisin bagel with cream cheese trying to decide which exhibit of life’s amusement park I will visit next.

The sky is overcast, not dark — a light covering of clouds, all silvery light, just waiting for the sun to break through — ambivalent. Sort of like my mood. Should I go for a walk, swim or should I stay here, sipping on my quickly cooling coffee and staring off into the distance? I decide to move — not molt in the darkness. So, I drive to a nearby Starbuck’s, get a warm cafe latte, plug in my Mac, and stare off into the distance. Of all human emotions, I like ennui best.

 

G. SAME OLD GRIND:

Had a great morning. Got out of the house at about eleven-thirty singing “Shaboom” and skipping down the path to the car. The day got even better when I found the car’s windshield did not carry a nasty note warning me I risked receiving a ticket for parking there overnight. The sun was shining as I drove the 20 miles or so up Route 50 to Bella Bru. It was too late for my usual breakfast so I ordered a hamburger. While I waited for the burger to be delivered to my table, I thought about how best to take advantage of my current good mood. I decided the best thing to do was to do nothing which is the same thing I do when I am in a bad mood. Ennui and indolence go together like mac and cheese.

After transporting two members of the Scooter Gang from the Skate Park to Zach’s backyard pool, I returned to the Enchanted Forest. A long walk along the levies of the American River and through the university campus followed. Then an evening around the piano singing old show tunes until September Song brought tears to my eyes.

And the days dwindle down
To a precious few
September, November
And these few precious days
I’d spend with you
These precious days I’d spend with you

Ain’t it the truth.

It had been a good day and so I went to bed and hoped for a dreamless sleep.

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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN MENDOCINO:

 

Well, I am off to spend the weekend in Mendocino. While there, I will attend a concert by Patrick Ball a native Californian who is perhaps the greatest Irish harpist and storyteller living today. I am looking forward to it. It should be an interesting evening.

After a pleasant drive to Mendocino on Friday, we attended the Patrick Ball concert. It was mesmerizing. He plays a type of brass stringed Celtic harp that had disappeared for about 200 years until the art of making them was rediscovered by a musician and instrument maker in Santa Rosa California. In between the musical pieces, Ball told the humorous and engaging tale of Jim and Ellie, two elderly married couple who accompanied him on a tour of the Ireland of W. B. Yeates — a magical story interlaced with the poet’s words.
03_ballPatrick Ball and his original Santa Rosa Irish harp with strings of brass and a sound that, even without electronic augmentation, filled the theater.

The following evening we attended an entirely different sort of concert. A local musician running for election to the County Board of Supervisors decided to hold a fundraiser and concert highlighting the music of John Fogarty. The concert was held in a converted old Portuguese Church.
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The woman on the left was not a musician or a singer. She was a comedian. She was not very funny.

The concert featured many local musicians and singers including one of my favorite Druid Sisters, a musician, and member of the Daughters of Albion, a local lesbian community. Proud Mary and Bad Moon Rising were some of the audience favorites. There was also a lot of dancing. Most of the people there were elderly, not old like me but certainly, most had finished their adolescence during the last century, hence the choice of music. A number of elderly women dressed in flowing ancient hippie outfits gyrated in spastic solos in front of the stage. Even I danced.
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Pookie dancing. He was not funny either. Well, maybe he was.

The rest of the weekend we went for long walks through the town and along the bluffs or remained indoors reading, playing with our computers and eating wonderful meals prepared by my sister and George.
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I do not know why everyone has to stop on their walks when someone takes a photograph.

 

 

B. BACK IN EL DORADO HILLS:

Back in the golden hills, the days went by slowly. I did not feel well, tired, my throat swollen, listless. It could have been the beginning of allergy season or something worse. I slept a lot, coughed often and experienced a return of my dizzy spells. The weather did not help. Cold, rainy, and gloomy, I started to worry about my health. It is that time in life when everything starts telling you how little time you have left while your deteriorating faculties limit you from doing many of those things that will make that time enjoyable.

On the other hand, my dreams have been florid. Last night, I dreamt I married an Italian spinster named Annalisa at a wonderful wedding. This was interesting because I hated all my real weddings. Nikki, who for some reason was there, said that it was the first time he ever heard me talk as though I was truly in love. Only in my dreams.

Speaking of grumpy old folks, I hate hearing about 105 year old marathon runners, or 85 year old champion weightlifters or 92 year old ballerinas or reading stories of some oldie with galloping halitosis who cheerfully accepts the news that he or she with die from it within two weeks and yet continues to go on washing the sores of lepers. What really makes we Vecchi grumpy is spending all day with little bits of unexplained pains hopping willy nilly about our body while feeling like we need to vomit all the time, our noses running from no discernible cause, and for some reason our glasses make the world appear even more blurry while our hearing aids are screaming a high pitched sound like an insane dentist drill and suddenly some woman’s voice intones “low battery, low battery.” All of which makes you supremely disinterested in running, lifting, dancing or washing leper’s sores. And then, some sot with a smiling face and a concerned frown says to you, “Are you OK old timer?” Grumpy indeed.

Another weekend has rolled around. It has been cold and rainy and I have been tired and under the weather if that is even possible with weather like this. Bitching a lot. Then, I received the following as a comment on one of my Facebook posts:

Neal Fishman: It’s not an uncaring universe if we care for each other. I don’t need a god to care for me. A friendly note, a kiss on the forehead, some good pot, maybe a 3D head set so I can die flying around….I’m ready to go, and happy to have been here. God isn’t supposed to give you more, except for that living forever in heaven nonsense. The universe is just fine without God.”

Petaluma Jewish, communist, chicken farmers, one of the world’s great treasures.

The next week passed in quantum time. That is, there is no time between what you recall except for a vague feeling that something must have happened. In fact, most of our lives are spent in quantum time wondering if perhaps we missed something — then after a certain amount of reflection, we relax in the not so firm belief that if we cannot remember it, it must not have happened.

Anyway, on Saturday, we went to a movie at Tower Theatre in Sacramento. We saw “Lady Bird,” a film about a young woman coming of age in Sacramento. It was one of the more enjoyable movies I have seen in years. Well, the years haven’t been that enjoyable either. I could not help thinking that it does for Sacramento in the early 2000s what “American Graffiti” did for Modesto in the early 60s except that was about boys becoming men and this was about girls becoming women. During my adolescence I probably would have been satisfied becoming anything — maybe an amphibian — that would have been nice.

It’s directing was impressive. Greta Gerwig takes her otherwise light story and makes it riveting on the screen. No scene better shows this than the one in which Lady Bird’s ex-boyfriend breaks down in her arms in agony over coming out to his family as a homosexual. Gerwig could have dragged the scene out to milk its pathos but instead, she immediately cut to an unrelated scene leaving the audience with a fleeting sad memory in Lady Bird’s rush through adolescence and me wondering if him going to an all boys school had anything to do with it. I went to an all boys Catholic High School. A number of the priests were gay. We really did not know what gay meant back then. The great gay scare had not yet begun. We only knew some of the priests used to like touching us a lot or vigorously rubbing their thighs while talking to us. We felt sorry for them but avoided them anyway.

While all the acting was great especially the leads, Saoirse (pronounced Sur-sha) Ronan as Lady Bird was magnificent. The opening close-up of this long-faced, large-eyed woman with acne scars marring her face told me I was in for a special bit of acting. Later, I read that she refused to wear makeup in order to accentuate another problem besides sex, schooling, and parents adolescents must deal with as they stumble their way into adulthood. We all were terrorized by zits growing up. I know I was. Would I be forever scarred like Father Grogan and have to join the priesthood because I could never get laid? God those were tough times.

It is Tuesday. Tomorrow is HRM’s 13th Birthday. He now passes from loved and loving to annoyed and annoying. Adrian just arrived and Nikki is expected tomorrow. All the putative fathers will have gathered. HRM did not want presents only the money. He had a clear idea how he planned to spend it and had already ordered online what he wanted. He also insisted on baking his own birthday cake. We the four fathers put on fake smiles and rolled our eyes at each other. On the weekend, he will go with a few of his friends to a skateboard park in the Sierras. He was promised that if he got B’s or higher on his report card this semester.

Bunny McGarry lives!

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I am at that point in my life where, I suppose like many people, I begin to contemplate that ineffable question, “Who am I?” — Or perhaps “Why?”— then again maybe not. Who cares?

Lets cut to the chase. I have always thought of myself as… Well, in a quantum world “always” does not exist or matter. So let me instead begin with — As I write this, I think of myself as an ascetic hedonist. That makes no sense you may say. How can one be both ascetic and a hedonist at the same time? (I guess, a person who gets pleasure out of self-flagellation can be described that way. But, that is beyond what I can handle right now.)

Anyway, let me explain the image I have about myself by using an analogy. I picture myself as a hermit living in a remote cave in the middle of a great desert somewhere. Every morning I get up just before sunrise, go out to some miserable rocky place, contort myself into an unpleasant and uncomfortable pose and contemplate or hum or something else all day.

I would contemplate life’s meaning, real meaning like, “Why was I doing this in the first place?” “Am I just a sick human being?” “What happens after this, whatever this is ?”

If I may digress from my digression, let me discuss my problem with what some large groups of people say comes after this, whatever this is?

There are, for example, a large group of people who believe that if you are male and an efficient killer after you die you get to be locked up forever with a bunch of young virgin women who probably will not remain virgins for long. Everyone else, other than other killers locked up like you, gets to sit on the outside doing nothing apparently except wondering what you guys are doing inside. I think I would prefer to be with the outsiders, at least we probably get to shrug our shoulders and roll our eyes now and then.

Another large group seems to believe that if in your life you get to avoid people who disagree with you, or force them to agree with you, or kill them if they don’t or they get too close to you, you then get to spend all eternity staring at some self-important serial killer surrounded by armed hermaphrodite thugs and listening to Gregorian Chant. Those not so lucky get to spend their time boiled in flaming vats of sulfur and oil. Now I have nothing against Gregorian Chant, but I think I prefer being boiled in sulfur and oil if I could not hear something else now and then — even country and western. Well, maybe not that.

Then, there are those that believe if you do nothing but not hard enough or if you do something during life, after you die you return as a maggot. If you’re lucky, you get eaten by a crow before you do anything and if you come back again, say a thousand times, doing nothing you may get to be good enough at doing nothing other than thinking about yourself so that after you die you then get to come back as… well, nothing, forever. What’s the point?

There are also those who believe that, if you spend your life running around killing people and you get to be so good at it that other people make up songs about how efficient you were at mayhem, or they erect statues to you, you then get to spend all eternity with homicidal maniacs like yourself in a sunny place with a lot of grass playing something like football and drinking warm beer. Everyone else gets to live in a cold dreary place weeping and crying forever, except for one or two who get to push rocks up hills or have their liver torn out every day by hawks. Given the choice of eternal football and warm beer or weeping and crying in a cold dreary place, I’ll take the latter. It seems more like life, doesn’t it?

Well, enough of that. Let’s get back on topic, “Who am I?”

On the Hedonist side, I would want my cave to have a nice bed, internet connection, food delivery, maid service, a sauna and of course hot water. Even at a minimum, I could tolerate a well-padded sleeping bag as long as all the other things were included especially hot water preferably in a tub or a pool and in my espresso.

Once a week, I would travel to nearby podunk town, go to a loud crowded bar (if loud and crowded were unavailable any bar would do) order a beer, take it to a table in a far corner or the far edge of the bar and sit quietly nursing my beer and watching everything or if there is no one but an old drunk sitting at the other end of the bar then staring at my beer wishing I were back in my cave tucked warmly in my bed. Later, I would return to my cave and, after a warm bath and a joint, crawl into bed, spend a few moments of what is euphemistically called self-love and then drift off to sleep contemplating the pleasures of crouching on the stony ground pondering “what’s it all about?”

What’s it all about? Well, it’s not existentialism. After all, I think I have meaning even if you don’t. It’s not about, oh,… say solipsism. When you think about it, when you’re deaf dumb and blind crawling face down through a sea of mud and you strike something else, it is not just you alone, is it? There are other isms too, a lot of them, but I think they all end up in more or less the same place— usually not someplace I want to end up. As for a Supreme Being who actually cares for you, I think we’ve disposed of that above.

So what is there? There’s you and there’s me. We may never meet or be the same, but I think that’s the way it should be, don’t you?

And that is who I think I am —then again, maybe not.

 

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On this Christmas Day, Molly had a baby. I was not there at the birth, but I had been there over 20 years ago at Molly’s birth. Stood with her father Maurice a dear friend and a kind gentle man when the nurse brought her out into the nursery and showed her to us. For a long, long time, Maurice stared through the glass at her with a wonder and love that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Molly soon became the child of all of us, our family and friends. She was a quiet waif of a child. She usually sat silently at the edge of things – an innocent in a cynical world. She wore large round glasses and had a shy smile. Often, she babysat my grandchildren, traveled with them and at lived with them in their house when Maurice worked. Now, all grown up, she sometimes appears in local comedy clubs as a stand-up comedian telling gentle funny stories of the life she observed while she was sitting so quietly.

When we awoke on Christmas Day, we learned she had given birth — to a boy, a Christmas baby she named Amir, Emmanuel, Duncan Trad (Prince, Messiah, Dark Warrior Trad) a fitting name for someone born on this day. A few years ago, Molly wrote a poem that she shared with me. Read it slowly.

A New Years Poem
I have a desperate attraction to new beginnings
Sometimes the numbers on the calendar look so beautiful
I think
Today’s the day I drink less and run more
No smoking, all veggies
Honesty, integrity, self-reliance, perseverance, creativity,
No fear, live large,
Dream big, be bright, believe in love and believe in yourself!
And I do
Today is an auspicious day
Today is my new beginning
Sometimes I just feel it, on a Tuesday
Today’s the day I keep doing yoga
I don’t back down when I’m right
I go to bed at a reasonable hour, pay my bills on time
Clean out the toe jam, learn all those languages
All the little steps start here and I’m climbing
I can feel it now, right now, and I won’t look back
This is it!
Today is an auspicious day
Today is my new beginning
Then I find myself making the same mistakes
Who manufactured the grooves in my record?
How would it feel if the dj scratched me across the turntable?
The dissonant rip, like a zipper coming undone
A cut away from the 4/4 time that I was trying so hard to hold
But this is why the crowd came to the club
To hear the sound of the universe tearing into a new song
The maligned has become music
We throw our hands up and we dance
I am scratched across the turntable and the crowd is screaming
We are scratched and screaming
And the dj takes it back, and the song plays
All of it is beautiful
Every moment new
Every moment auspicious
Every moment beginning
Molly Trad

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Molly and Amir Emmanuel Duncan Trad

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I just finished a John Gresham short story about a lawyer who gets fed up practicing law, rips off a few clients and runs off to a tropical paradise and lives happily ever after. While I like Gresham, he is no Sheldon Siegel. Once a week I trundle the two miles to the outskirts of hell, where the English language bookstore is located, to check for Sheldon’s latest publication. While his mystery and courtroom scenes are great, it is the latest doings of his main characters Mike and Rosie that I look forward to. They are more real to me than my life here.

Two of my favorite authors are Sheldon Siegel and William Kotzwinkle. At least Sheldon Siegel sounds like and author. Kotzwinkle sounds like a character in Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

Speaking of Pee Wee, I am waiting for a revival of Pee Wee Herman and Soupy Sales’ great performances. In case you do not recall (or are not old enough to recall) one of Soupy’s more memorable bits was to tell his juvenile audience to go into mommy and daddy’s room while they were asleep and go into daddy’s pants, take out his wallet, extract a dollar and mail it to Soupy. While most 5 to 10-year-olds got the joke, their parents had Soupy thrown off television.

Pee Wee, on the other hand, is the metaphor for our generation, a happy life in a children’s playhouse exposed in the dark theater of history. Pee Wee’s comeback was in one of my all time favorite movies “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (the original) where he plays a vampire’s assistant. You should see it. There are memorable performances in it by Rutger Hauer as the chief Vampire and Donald Sutherland as Buffy’s instructor in vampire slaying.

One of my ex-clients, Danny Elfman, the oscar winning musician, got his start in movies by writing the theme songs for the Pee Wee playhouse movies. Danny told me once that he was an “Artist,” not a doped up guitar player. I wonder if Willie Nelson considers himself and artist.

Danny’s brother Rick was also a client. Rick is the director of some of the worst movies ever made. Movies so bad that they appear in the cult movie section of video stores. Movies so bad they use a pseudonym for the director’s name. He directed such classics as “Forbidden Zone,” “Shrunken Heads,” “Streets of Rage” (Wherein he uses the pseudonym of “Aristide Pierre Laffite Sumatra of the Ton Ton Macoute”) and “Modern Vampires.”

The last of which, I made my film acting debut in a walk-on role and crossed off item one of my bucket list. The movie was about a war in Los Angeles between the Vampires and the Mafia, one of the last movies in which Rod Steiger appeared (and justly so). I of course played a Mafia Don who, in my one scene, holds open the trunk of a black limousine into which my two mafia henchman, dump the “Queen of the Vampires”(played by Kim Cattrell in one of her earliest and most regretted roles) tightly wrapped in strings of garlic to keep her comatose (I kid you not). Sic Transit Gloria.

Ciao…

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One day while at my sister’s house in Mendocino recovering from a serious illness, I decided I felt well enough to spend the afternoon out on the deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As I sat bundled up on a bright red Adirondack Chair, my mind wandered into contemplating stories that I might write someday — or not.

Feeling a little better the next day, I drove to Ft. Bragg, a somewhat larger town than Mendocino up the coast a few miles. I parked the car and went for a walk along Ten Mile Dunes, a California State Park containing huge sand dunes and a long broad beach. I liked walking there along the beach because I rarely ran into other hikers and enjoyed the solitude.

Becoming tired, I sat on a flattened grass tussock with my walking stick propped on my knees and stared at the ocean. The fog had moved in shrouding the place in pearlescent mist, the ocean placid and dark. I noticed a seal or sea lion playing in the waves not far offshore. It seemed almost like it was performing a dance of some sort. I smiled, delighted by its exuberance. It stopped its play for a moment and stared at me with a liquid dark eye. I waved and it plunged back into the surf.

Then, suddenly, I saw a shadow and a fin of what I thought was a shark rippling through the waters heading toward the seal. I jumped up, ran across the sand and shouted, “Look out! Get away!” I even threw my beloved walking stick at the shadow in the hope it would drive it away. The exertion of getting to my feet so quickly brought back the fainting spells I had been suffering recently. The world started to go black. I began to spasm as I fought against the sudden loss of muscle control. I felt terrible, not because of the panic of losing control of my body but because I knew I could not help to save the seal. I settled back on my haunches onto the wet sand and passed out.

I do not know how long I sat there hunched over, but the next thing I became aware of was a hand on my arm pulling me up and someone saying, “Are you OK mister.” The darkness receded. I looked for the seal in the water or for blood but saw neither. I then noticed the person holding my arm. She was a slight young woman, short not slender having that soft layer of fatty tissue that can round off the hard edges of a woman’s body. I guess she was beautiful in her own way. She looked slightly Asian or Amerindian, perhaps Intuit. She seemed to be about 30 years old and wore what appeared to be leather clothing, a light fawn color. Her hair was thick dark brown that hung down in wet strings below her shoulders.

As she took my hand, a sudden warmth flowed through me. I felt much better. Better than I had felt for quite some time now. She said, “Thank you for what you tried to do,” and handed me back my walking stick.

She accompanied me back to my car. Holding my arm to help my balance should I become dizzy again.

I drove her to her house and spent several hours there talking, having a simple dinner of cheese fruit and wine.

We saw each other every day thereafter. One evening, about a week after we first met, I learned she was a Selkie. Although I was not surprised that there was something strange about her, I was incredulous that she believed she was one of these legendary creatures.

She explained that many years ago the Selkies, recognizing the threat from the far more populous and aggressive Humans, like many of the spirit creatures, decided to hide among us rather than fleeing deeper into nature. Although Selkies were extremely long-lived, they still could be killed. So, they tried to live wherever they could avoid becoming the objects of violence. She, for example, lived in the isolated house on the banks of the Navarro River in which we now sat as the darkness gathered. She chose it because she could secretly slip into the water whenever she wanted and change into her Selkie self.

The Selkie elders, worried about the long-term welfare of their tribe at the very beginning, presciently established an investment program that over the past 400 years made the few remaining Selkies quite wealthy, despite their usually modest living arrangements.

There are many things I could tell about those first few days after we met and thereafter, but that is for another time. I should mention, however, that one day I asked her why she, a young woman, was so interested in a friendship with me, an old man. After mentioning her gratitude for my actions on the beach when we first met, she added that she also saw I was one of the spirit ones.

It seems, many years ago, in the Apennines of Italy and especially near Mt Vergine, there lived a group of mountain and forest spirits. When not in their human shape, they cavorted among the peaks as large black bears. With the movement into the mountains by men, they knew their times were ending. So they bred with humans when they could and their sons and daughters lived among them eventually forgetting what they were.

After a lengthy process, she enabled me to reassume my identity. Unfortunately, in my human form, I would always be an old man. Nonetheless, I began traveling to the tundra of Alaska where I built a tiny remote cabin. There I would change into my bear form. I loved standing up on my hind legs, feet planted in the muck, front paws flapping at my sides and roaring my head off at the other bears in the area. I had to be careful, though. I could mix it up all right, but one of the massive paws of those big boys and girls could tear your head off. I also liked getting drunk on the spring berries and rolling around in the mud. Sometimes, I would spend most of the day standing ankle deep in a crashing stream batting salmon onto the banks. That was fun.

I hated hunters, though. Not all hunters. I ignored the other hermits living in the wilderness hunting for food. Trophy hunters, however, would enrage me. Sometimes I would bring a rifle with me. If I discovered hunters lurking about, I would resume my human shape, hunt them in turn, and kill them. Now and then, in my human shape, I would join up with the hunters and just when they would get ready to shoot a bear or an elk I would turn back into a bear grab them and throw them off a cliff or something like that. I liked to see the fear in their eyes. Once, I came upon hunters who had just killed a magnificent elk. I grabbed them, one in each arm. I called a herd of elk over and allowed some of the bigger and stronger bucks to drive their antlers into them and carry them off screaming and bloody into the woods.

I also hated that in my bear shape I was addicted to honey. I despised sitting there with a silly grin on my mouth stoned on honey, all sticky with honey covering my paws, snout, and fur while angry bees crawled all over me. I’d then fall asleep and wake up all groggy and promise myself I would never do it again.

I felt my sister shake my arm. “Hey,” she said. “It is getting late. You have been sitting here dozing all afternoon. It’s time you come inside.”

A few days later, feeling better, I decided to visit 10 Mile Dunes the site of the Selkie story I dreamed about. The parking lot was a bit of a hike from the dunes and the beach, but I managed to shamble along the path and across the dunes to the kelp littered beach. I walked along the beach searching for a tussock on which to sit. I did not find one. But I did find some suitable rocks beside a spooky sculpture someone made out of a kelp stalk.

The mist was not quite so pearlescent as in my story, the ocean not so placid and dark. Nevertheless, I sat there on the rock stared out at the waves and waited. I wanted to see if a seal would appear dancing in the waves. I know, silly — but being silly is a prerogative of the very old and the very young.

After about a half an hour, I got bored. As I slowly rose from my rock, I noticed something light brown twisting among the waves. “Oh my God,” I thought. “I don’t believe this sort of shit.” I tottered toward the water. My heart beating so hard it was almost painful. Alas, when I looked again, it was gone — probably just a piece of kelp torn from its mooring and tossed about by the waves. As I slowly walked back along the beach, I stopped for a moment, looked out at the ocean, and shouted, “Selkie” — not too loud because I would be too embarrassed if anyone heard me — Also, I felt stupid. But after, I shouted I felt a lot better. I don’t know why.

Back in the car, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if people who lived adventuresome lives could live one last adventure when they get old — this time with the supernatural.” They could, of course, always make it up. That would be almost as good, I think.

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