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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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Days go by like a Cole Porter tune, smooth and easy with the hint of a Latin beat. The weather has been sunny. A slight breeze cools the air forestalling the blistering heat of the coming summer for a few more days. Every day, I drive from the Enchanted Forest into the Golden Hills for breakfast, exercise and my chauffeur duties with the Scooter Gang. HRM leaves for Thailand this weekend so my usual schedule will change somewhat. I plan to depart for Italy on the 17th of June. Professor Hank, who I will be traveling with from Venice to Croatia and on to Calabria, tells me we will be stopping for a few days in Puglia (where I have never been) to attend a party. I look forward to it.

Today it rained. I sat in the house, watched television and listened to Naida play “Sorrento” on the piano. Last evening it was Jerome Kern tunes. I also looked at old photographs of my family.

Memorial Day weekend arrived. The summer season begins. HRM left for Thailand. I am very sad. Two medical students at UC Davis moved into the empty bedrooms of the house in the Enchanted Forest. The women spent Saturday cleaning the two bedrooms to apparent ICU specifications and moved most of their belongings in on Sunday. I also watched innumerable old movies on the Turner Channel as I audited the move in. This seems more like ordinary old age than any adventure. Well, I guess old age is an adventure in itself. Isn’t everything?

In order to avoid terminal boredom, I decided to take the dog on a long walk to explore some of those parts of the Enchanted Forest I had not yet seen. It was mid-afternoon and hot. We soon got lost on the endless pathways. One thing I discovered during the walk was that children lived here. I had thought they were prohibited by the HOA like many other things such as cats, parking cars on the street, and altering the outside of your house. I was surprised, however, to find one of the 10 community pools awash with splashing kidlings. Anyway, we made our way back tired, exhausted (aren’t they the same?) and thirsty. We drank a lot of water and napped. Adventure indeed.

Recently Madelyn asked me where is home for me now. It reminded me of Josiah Bancroft’s observation, “‘Home’ is an exaggeration made true by distance.” In that case, my home may still be in Thailand, or the Golden Hills or the Enchanted Forest or Mendocino. Perhaps, it is the Gypsy in my soul or, I am a Tinker and my home is wherever I can sharpen edges or, perhaps where my heart is or perhaps hearth. Ha, my hearth has been lost to me for many years now (do we even allow hearths today?). I used to carry around with me a little metal statue of a Boar (why a wild pig?) that I had found somewhere when I was a child. I used to tell myself, “Home was where the pig was.” Alas, I lost that too a few years ago. I carry a tent and a sleeping bag in the back of the car. I consider that home also. I guess, a home could be where you keep your stuff out of the rain. You know “stuff” the accumulated detritus of your working life. I used to keep a lot of my stuff in several storage containers. I gave it all away almost 10 years ago now. Home used to be more or less your mailing address. Now it is your internet address — no-place but wherever you happen to be when the router finds you .

I guess the fact is for me now home is where those I love reside. That will do — even when I’m not there — I’m not homeless but multi-homed. Where do I sleep? Now that is a different story.

Today, I drove back into the golden hills. Pookie’s adventures, other than in my mind or with my body, recently seem to be limited to sitting drinking caffe latte in a Starbucks somewhere and then eagerly driving to another Starbucks. In between, I walk around a lake or through some woods for exercise. Nights, however, are quite pleasant — adventures of their own. I’m not complaining. At a certain age, one must take excitement how and where one finds it otherwise it becomes a chore. Even television has its moments. Recently I saw La Dietrich again — in a western this time. She was teamed up with a young John Wayne with Randolph Scott as the villain. I forget its title. Lots of people were shot.

While sitting at Bella Bru this morning I could not find my Smartphone. I suddenly felt as though I did not exist. Well, that’s not quite right. I exist, mostly. I felt more like my cell phone was my home and I was homeless. Perhaps I was lost. So, I returned to the Enchanted Forest and found my phone. Now I was no longer homeless or lost but I was left with a greater existential problem — why would something good for only upsetting me with fake news on Facebook and finding a cheap plumber be considered home? I have to remember to discuss this with Peter. He is very good with existential crises in the Age of Kali.

This evening the air was comfortably warm. We went for a walk along the American River.
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The American River

We found a spot on the bank that was not too damp and sat there watching the geese struggle against the current to get to the island they seemed to be nesting on. Across the way, a large group of adults and children were spending their Memorial Day afternoon splashing in the water or having picnics on the banks under brightly colored umbrellas. In the middle of the river, an old man was gracefully fly casting. We sat there until dusk then returned home.
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A few days later, I visited with my chemo-oncologist. He looked into my mouth for a moment, felt around my neck and declared me still in remission. Good for me. It was the first day that the air was so hot that it was unpleasant to be out and about. Summer’s arrived, I guess. Instead of exercising, I headed off to Starbucks for air-conditioning, coffee, and a breakfast of egg McMuffin with sausage. I stayed there for a few hours, reading my latest novel on Kindle (Red Sparrow) and going through Facebook posts.

On my way back to the Enchanted Forest, I decided to stop for a root-beer float. While ordering, I got an urge for a hot dog and ordered one. Half-way through the dog, a large piece of it got stuck in my throat. I began to spit and spew food and my root-beer all over the booth and the floor, gagging. “Oh my God,” I thought (or something like that), “I’m going to be embarrassed or maybe even die.” I tried to drink more of my root-beer float in hope that it would help. It did not. It just ended up all over the table as brown gunk. I looked around to see if anyone would come to my rescue. Fat chance. Everyone looked away. “Well,” I thought, “thankfully the hospital was nearby.” “But, if I can’t breathe I will be dead before I could get there” I realized. So I tried to breathe. I could. Hooray! “It’s stuck in my throat and not in my esophagus” I rationalized, “therefore I was not going to die right away of anything but terminal embarrassment.” I tried to swallow again — great pain. Suddenly, I felt a lump in my throat move. My throat was clear again. I sat there amidst the dripping bits and pieces of my hot dog spread all over the table and calmly resumed nibbling on what was left of my hot dog and finishing sipping my float. Then, I cleaned up the table and myself the best that I could, got up and walked out of the place with as much dignity as I could muster. Adventure is where you find it. I mean, choking on a hot dog and living is almost a good an adventure as being attacked by a lion and escaping, but is much easier to carry out. Instead of packing for a safari and traveling god knows how far to get to the place where I escape death, I only have to pull into a local fast food joint.

That night I watched an old “Boston Blackie” movie on the TV and then went to bed feeling it had been a day well lived.

The weekend approaches and I am off the Mendocino and the film festival.

 

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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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MENDOCINO ON MY MIND:
On Tuesday morning, I emptied my room and packed up the car. I drove HRM to school. It was a sad parting for both of us. I have no idea when or if I will return to my part-time job as dedicated Uber driver for the Scooter Gang. He said that in my absence he would do his best to arrange transportation for himself and his cohort to the various skateboard parks and fast food restaurants, but I knew he was worried. I said, “I know you can do it, kid.”
He stood for a moment on the sidewalk in front of the school, put the decal laden crash helmet on his head and hopped on to his tricked out scooter. I watched for a moment as he one-legged the scooter up the path to the school and then, I drove off.
I stopped in Sacramento for breakfast and stories with Naida after which I set off on the long exhausting drive to my sister’s house in Mendocino.
After a great dinner of tuna-burger covered in pickled cucumbers and ginger, I went to bed and slept fitfully. The next morning, I sat with my coffee and exhausted myself staring out at the yellow-flowered lawn and the sea and so, went back to bed and took a nap.
IMG_4330    The Morning View from the House on the Mendocino Headlands,

But for some walks along the bluffs and through the town and eating, I spent the next few days mostly asleep. Tomorrow, I pledge myself to either hike through the hills above Big River or visit the Rhododendron exhibit at the Botanical Gardens.
So, off I went for my stroll along the bluffs above the Big River Estuary. I walked further than I planned. I kept walking along a path that appeared to climb constantly upwards. I thought I would walk to the top of the hill hoping I would have a great view of the river from there. But, I never got there. I walked and walked and still, the path climbed upwards, Finally, I gave up. I turned around to head back and noticed the path behind me also curved upwards. How could that be I asked myself? I then realized the upward slope was an optical illusion. All the way back, I would trudge up the hill and after struggling for about a hundred yards or so, I would turn around and see the path behind me also climbing upwards and I would start giggling. And so, I made my way back exhausted but in high spirits (It takes very little to amuse me now).
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Pookie at the Big River
On Friday, I rushed back to Sacramento. A close relative of Naida’s had died in Oregon. I expected to either accompany her to the memorial service or to dog-sit her dog, Boo-Boo. For reason too complex to relate here, neither occurred and so, I spent Saturday in Sacramento. It was one of the happiest days of my life. I have entered it on my calendar as Joey’s Happy Day so that now I will remember and celebrate April 21 for as long as I live.
On Sunday, I returned to Mendocino. On that same evening, we had some friends of Maryann and George over for dinner. I enjoyed it very much. We ate Harissa chicken and talked a lot, told stories, laughed, discussed Mendocino art, politics, and gardens, the benefits, and evils of economic development on rural lifestyles, books we liked and politicians we didn’t, and reviewed the obsessions of our youth.
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George, Maryann, Marilyn, Bill, Nancy, and Duncan.
In many ways, coastal Mendocino County, by virtue of the coastal range making transportation difficult and separating it from the rest of the State, is as remote a community as a village on the Asian steppes. It has developed its own interests and obsessions, cultural identity and way of life. As a result, it resists change to that way of life, its environment, and its beliefs. I have seen this before in other communities and have found that often change is something best done slowly.
The next day I strolled through the town, shopped, took pictures had lunch at the Good Life Cafe with George and Bingo the dog and generally lazed around for most of the day.

 
B. SACRAMENTO AND SAN FRANCISCO ODYSSEY:
An Odyssey is generally considered a voyage or the travelogue that accompanies it— usually including some extraordinary adventure. There is also an odyssey of the mind where the mundane waxes magical like in Joyce’s Ulysses in which the humdrum became enchanting. Then, of course, there is the made-up odyssey, like the one I wrote about in a past issue of T&T where bandy-legged freak Ulysses has to explain to Penelope why he disappeared for twenty years and killed all her boyfriends on his return. As the goddess, Athena said of that short, sly, hirsute Greek, “He is odd I see.” (https://papajoesfables.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/a-lengthy-digression-on-traveling-and-old-greeks/)
Anyway, I intend to approach the next few days as a mini-me-odyssey. Whether, it will be adventure filled, mundane or simply made-up, I am oddly eager to see. (If you cannot see that I had fun writing the above two paragraphs, please skip them.)
On Wednesday morning, I set off for Sacramento. After a brief stop for cheap gas at the Pomo Pumps at the Robinson Rancheria near Clear Lake, I turned onto Route 16 through Cache Creek Canyon (Scylla and Charybdis?) a two-lane road to Woodland that I had never taken before. The road passes through a narrow valley running parallel to California’s great valley. Cache Creek, a pretty little stream, and the canyon it runs through, although not as dramatic as some in the Sierras is pleasantly attractive. The road passes through several tiny towns ( Ramsey, Guinda, Cadenasso, Capay, Esparto) — a few random buildings that would not qualify as a hamlet anywhere else (actually they are officially called, “Census-designated communities” whatever that means).
IMG_4441Cache Creek
At its lower reaches, the canyon broadens into a small valley about a mile or two wide. There amidst the bucolic landscape of farms and ranches looms the monstrous visage of Cache Creek Casino an edifice that would not be out of place in Las Vegas (Cave of Cyclops?). I quickly passed by the giant structure not brave enough to explore the riches that may exist within.
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Cache Creek Resort
I arrived in Sacramento, strolled along the river, listened to some Cole Porter, enjoyed a sleepless night of contentment and delight (Circe?) and left the following morning for El Dorado Hills (The Land of the Lotus Eaters — or is that San Francisco?). After a thoroughly frustrating morning and an afternoon shuttling the Scooter Gang around, I set off for San Francisco and Peter’s house where shortly after my arrival I went to bed.
The next day, Barrie, Peter and I joined my sister and George at the French Restaurant at which Peter and I usually have lunch when I’m in town. My sister had just received news that her cancer had not spread so we celebrated a bit.
Then back to Sacramento, a trip that took more than four hours.
A week of bliss passed — as could be expected memories of those times melt together into an indistinct mass. Joy is a timeless blur, anguish a distinct pulsing image.
After receiving a positive doctor’s report on my cancer recovery, I slipped back into the Golden Hills later in the week to resume my chauffeur and parenting duties, stealing off now and then to assist Naida in the production of her memoir.
The school year is coming to its end and the Scooter Gang members are busily planning their summer vacations as am I.
On Saturday, I attended the Cinco de Mayo party at Campus Commons. I did not speak with the ex-spies who were there, but I did have an interesting conversation with a retired executive of Blue Diamond and managed to down two Margaritas without burning my throat.
One day, I strolled through Capitol Park with Naida. I love it there. We sat on the bench dedicated to B.T. Collins, a friend I had known since we were classmates together at Stepinac HS in White Plains NY. As a Green Beret in Viet Nam, he lost an arm and a leg. Returning to the US, he became Governor Jerry Brown’s chief of staff. He eventually was elected to the legislature. He was a lifelong Republican that every Democrat could support. While we sat there some tourists asked me what had he done to warrant a memorial in Capitol Park. I told them.
Time passes, I do not recall how long or what events transpired other than I have been deliriously happy. This morning the air was delightfully warm as I walked around the lakes at Town Center. It was that time of year where the flowers were the brightest and the leaves of the trees viridescent. It is the time just before the hills turn golden and the heat of the day rises from the ground forcing one to seek the shade of an oak or magnolia tree or an air-conditioned coffee house.
IMG_4465Morning at Town Center Lakes

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I have just completed reading a mystery novel entitled “Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions” by Mario Giordano. Surprisingly, the author is not Sicilian. He is German. A descendant of a Sicilian laborer who had left the Island seeking work and a better life in the Colossus of the North. The novel itself is no classic work of literature. In fact, it barely makes it as light summer reading. I liked it, however, because of the kind-hearted way it plunges into the history, landscape, and foibles of the people and places that I have grown to love.

 

The main conceit of the novel lies in the author’s alter ego, a young struggling writer recording, at the behest of his Auntie Poldi, her adventures, and misadventures in Sicily. Auntie Poldi a dipsomaniac, over-sexed, bi-polar, caftan-wearing, overweight, sixty year old widow from Bavaria who, after the death of her Sicilian born husband, buys a home in a small coastal village in Sicily in the shadow of Mt Etna where she intends to “drink herself to death with a view of the sea.” Unfortunately for everyone, Auntie Poldi is also loud, pushy, nosy and her father was chief of detectives in some city in Germany. As a result, when she discovers, on the beach, the dead body of her part-time handyman, the handsome young Valentino, she drafts her dead husband’s three sisters and goes on a hunt for the murderer. Along the way, she also shags the handsome but mature local detective with the improbable name of Vito Montana.

 

Pookie says, “Check it out”

 

“[T]he worst thing that can happen to any Italian male, especially a Sicilian. Economic crises, volcanic eruptions, corrupt politicians, emigration, the Mafia, uncollected rubbish and overfishing of the Mediterranean—he can endure anything with fatalism and a bella figura. The main thing is never to present a brutta figura, a figuraccia. Bella figura is the Italian credo. The basic equipment for this includes a well-groomed, unostentatiously fashionable appearance, a pair of good shoes and the right make of sunglasses. Above all, though, bella figura means always looking good, never foolish. For an Italian this is a must, not an option, and quite indispensable. It also means you don’t embarrass your fellow men. Impatience is unacceptable and direct confrontations are taboo. You share restaurant bills with your friends, don’t put your foot in it, never receive guests in a dirty or untidy home, ask no intimate questions, address anyone with a university degree as dottore, bring some dessert with you when invited to dinner and—even at the risk of rupturing your abdomen—finish everything on your plate. You put your faith in beauty and proportionality and try to make the world a better place. Sometimes you even succeed.”
Giordano, Mario. Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions (An Auntie Poldi Adventure). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

 

Note: The Sicilian language has no future tense. It is scary to think about a culture that lacks the ability to express the future. It does have a special tense to express the remote past that has ended. Sicilians use it a lot in their conversations — Everything is in the present or the far past and there is no future.)

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