The Dalai Lama and I

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

The circumstances behind my seeing the Dalai Lama in April 1991 are indelibly etched in my memory. I arranged to first meet my friend George Hoole at his girlfriend’s apartment in Santa Maria, and then we would both go to the University of California at Santa Barbara to see the Dalai Lama give a speech.

I had only been driving for six years at the time, and I did something that killed the engine on my 1985 Mitsubishi Montero. Instead of staying on U.S. 101, I decided to take San Marcos Pass to Solvang, where I would have lunch before making my way back to the 101. Unfortunately, I drove up the pass in second gear. By the time I got to the top of the pass, my engine was a smoking ruin. I arranged to have the car towed back to Santa Monica Mitsubishi for repair, which was no easy thing as ’85 Monteros with automatic transmissions were a rarity.

George came to pick me up in Solvang and I was his passenger for the weekend. We heard the Dalai Lama give a great talk in his broken English … and this turned out to be the beginning of a difficult period for me. I teamed up with George to start a new company called Desktop Marketing Corporation, along with several of my co-workers from Urban Decision Systems, where I had been working since 1971.

It never took off, and I had to live on my savings for over a year, Ultimately, I left Desktop Marketing and managed to get a job in a Westwood accountancy firm called Lewis, Joffe & Company. Plus I had to shell out several thousand dollars for a new Montero engine.

Things don’t always tend to go your way. The early 1990s were a time of career change and retrenchment for me. But I never regret seeing the Dalai Lama in person. There is perhaps no religious figure I respected more, not even Pope John Paul II. There was something about the twinkle in his eyes which helped see me through a difficult period in my life.

I’d see him again if I could, but I would definitely avoid San Marcos Pass.

“This Fals World Is But Transitory”

Statue of William Dunbar in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

William Dunbar (ca 1460-1530) was a great Scottish poet who is not much read these days—probably because the language has changed too much since his day. Still, there is power in his verse. Following is his “Lament for the Makers” (Makers meaning Poets):

I THAT in heill was and gladness
 Am trublit now with great sickness
 And feblit with infirmitie:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 Our plesance here is all vain glory,
 This fals world is but transitory,
 The flesh is bruckle, the Feynd is slee:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 The state of man does change and vary,
 Now sound, now sick, now blyth, now sary,
 Now dansand mirry, now like to die:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 No state in Erd here standis sicker;
 As with the wynd wavis the wicker
 So wannis this world's vanitie:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 Unto the Death gois all Estatis,
 Princis, Prelatis, and Potestatis,
 Baith rich and poor of all degree:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 He takis the knichtis in to the field
 Enarmit under helm and scheild;
 Victor he is at all mellie:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 That strong unmerciful tyrand
 Takis, on the motheris breast sowkand,
 The babe full of benignitie:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 He takis the campion in the stour,
 The captain closit in the tour,
 The lady in bour full of bewtie:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 He spairis no lord for his piscence,
 Na clerk for his intelligence;
 His awful straik may no man flee:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 Art-magicianis and astrologgis,
 Rethoris, logicianis, and theologgis,
 Them helpis no conclusionis slee:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 In medecine the most practicianis,
 Leechis, surrigianis, and physicianis,
 Themself from Death may not supplee:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 I see that makaris amang the lave
 Playis here their padyanis, syne gois to grave;
 Sparit is nocht their facultie:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 He has done petuously devour
 The noble Chaucer, of makaris flour,
 The Monk of Bury, and Gower, all three:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 The good Sir Hew of Eglintoun,
 Ettrick, Heriot, and Wintoun,
 He has tane out of this cuntrie:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 That scorpion fell has done infeck
 Maister John Clerk, and James Afflek,
 Fra ballat-making and tragedie:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 Holland and Barbour he has berevit;
 Alas! that he not with us levit
 Sir Mungo Lockart of the Lee:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 Clerk of Tranent eke he has tane,
 That made the anteris of Gawaine;
 Sir Gilbert Hay endit has he:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 He has Blind Harry and Sandy Traill
 Slain with his schour of mortal hail,
 Quhilk Patrick Johnstoun might nought flee:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 He has reft Merseir his endite,
 That did in luve so lively write,
 So short, so quick, of sentence hie:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 He has tane Rowll of Aberdene,
 And gentill Rowll of Corstorphine;
 Two better fallowis did no man see:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 In Dunfermline he has tane Broun
 With Maister Robert Henrysoun;
 Sir John the Ross enbrast has he:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 And he has now tane, last of a,
 Good gentil Stobo and Quintin Shaw,
 Of quhom all wichtis hes pitie:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 Good Maister Walter Kennedy
 In point of Death lies verily;
 Great ruth it were that so suld be:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 Sen he has all my brether tane,
 He will naught let me live alane;
 Of force I man his next prey be:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.
 Since for the Death remeid is none,
 Best is that we for Death dispone,
 After our death that live may we:—
         Timor Mortis conturbat me.

The Latin refrain means “Fear of death disturbs me.” Sorry to spring something so tricky on you, but however much the language has changed, the greatness shines through.

Mickle Overspeech

I Am Currently Reading the Strangest Book

England has produced a rich crop of fantasy writers who have latched onto the brilliantly coruscating speech of the Middle Ages and the Elizabethan Era. Their styles are at times midway between poetic and overblown. There is a framing story in which a narrator is escorted by a strange bird to the planet Mercury (?!), where there is a war between the Demons and the Witches. BTW, our narrator is dropped in the second chapter and is not heard from again.

Who are the good guys? Well, E. R. Eddison, the author of The Worm Ourobouros (1922) is content to follow both sides. Unlike Tolkien, there is no clear cut good or evil. In fact, good and evil seem to be intermixed. Here is a sample of the language:

Juss, Goldry, and Spitfire, and ye other Demons, I come before you as the Ambassador of Gorice XI., most glorious King of Witchland, Lord and great Duke of Buteny and Estremerine, Commander of Shulan, Thramnë, Mingos, and Permio, and High Warden of the Esamocian Marches, Great Duke of Trace, King Paramount of Beshtria and Nevria and Prince of Ar, Great Lord over the country of Ojedia, Maltraeny, and of Baltary and Toribia, and Lord of many other countries, most glorious and most great, whose power and glory is over all the world and whose name shall endure for all generations. And first I bid you be bound by that reverence for my sacred office of envoy from the King, which is accorded by all people and potentates, save such as be utterly barbarous, to ambassadors and envoys.

I am still in the beginning chapters of The Worm Ourobouros, so I have not made up my mind about the book—yet. Will I be enthralled by the poetic language, or slightly nauseated by the endless archaisms? Time will tell. On the plus side, my copy of the book has introductions by Orville Prescott and James Stephens (who wrote the truly poetic The Crock of Gold). His work is also admired by the likes of James Branch Cabell, J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert Silverberg, and C. S. Lewis.

There is to be a wrestling match to the death between Gorice XI of Witchland and Lord Goldry Bluszko of Demonland in lieu of an outright war (at least for the time being):

My hippogriff travelleth as well in time as in space. Days and weeks have been left behind by us, in what seemeth to thee but the twinkling of an eye, and thou standest in the Foliot Isles, a land happy under the mild regiment of a peaceful prince, on the day appointed by King Gorice to wrastle with Lord Goldry Bluszco. Terrible must be the wrastling betwixt two such champions, and dark the issue thereof. And my heart is afraid for Goldry Bluszco, big and strong though he be and unconquered in war; for there hath not arisen in all the ages such a wrastler as this Gorice, and strong he is, and hard and unwearying, and skilled in every art of attack and defence, and subtle withal, and cruel and fell like a serpent.

I have had this book on my shelves since the late 1960s, when I bought it from the famed sci-fi/fantasy bookstore called A Change of Hobbit while it was still located in Westwood. The bookstore is no more, but it left behind fond memories by many sci-fi writers, including Harlan Ellison, who once wrote an original story while sitting in the display window of the store with a typewriter.

Ah, those were the days.

21-Gun Salute

Trumpie Wants a 21-Gun Salute, Which Gives Me an Idea

Because he was naturally the greatest president we’ve ever had, Donald Trump wants a 21-gun salute upon leaving the White House. I concur, with the following condition: Aim low and right on target. That way, we could kill two birds with one stone.

How Not To Be Mistaken for an American Tourist

Second Class Buses in Antigua Guatemala

If you actually want to look like an American tourist, stay the hell away from me. When you look at me as if I were a fellow gringo, I will answer you in my rather coarse Hungarian. I don’t want to be anywhere near you with your flip flops, fanny packs, baseball caps, and selfie sticks. You will be the target for anyone who can rip you off in broken English, and I don’t want to be a witness to that.

I remember my friend Janice. Her ex-boyfriend took her to Europe, but they didn’t really see anything. He was what I call an “experiential traveler”: “Hey, look at me. I’m walking on the Champs-Elysées” or “Hey, we’re in Amsterdam. Isn’t this cool?” They took pictures of each other in front of various famous locations which they didn’t take the time to visit. If I were her, I would have dumped his inert corpse into the canal.

Early Morning on Laugarvegur in Reykjavík, Iceland

The best way to enjoy strange places is to explore them—and not in large groups. I keep thinking of Rudyard Kipling, no mean traveler himself, who wrote in “The Winner”:

Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne,
He travels the fastest who travels alone.

I have on occasion been tempted to replace the word “fastest” with “farthest.” I have done most of my traveling alone, especially as Martine thinks I am too adventurous for her comfort. On the other hand, I have enjoyed traveling with her and on two separate occasions with my brother. But as soon as I find myself in a large group of Americans, I quickly search for the nearest exit.

When I was in Mexico last year, I frequently hired guides by myself at the various Maya ruins I visited. Rather than joining a group that sauntered around absentmindedly, I enjoyed asking questions of the guides, who invariably knew their stuff. As opposed to the tour guide the parents of one of my friends had in Yucatán: He told his boat people tourists that the Maya ruins were built by Egyptians.

I know I must come across like a horrible grump sometimes, but I have had numerous bad encounters in foreign countries with my fellow Americans. And yet, in 2013, when I went to Iceland for a second time, I helped a couple of French tourists find a hotel in Höfn in the Hornstrandir, where no one spoke their language.

Two Types of Travel Books

The Blue City of Samarkand in Uzbekistan

Constantinople, Trebizond, Tbilisi, Baku, Samarkand, Bukhara, Tashkent, Lhasa—these are cities I would dearly love to know more about. So when I read Kate Harris’s Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road, I looked forward to learning more about these magical places. Alas, I was disappointed: The book was more about a bicycle trip with little attention paid to destinations, and most of the attention paid to the roads connecting the destinations.

I had to remind myself that there are two types of travel books. First, there was my preferred kind, which combines personal experiences with history, literature, art, cuisine, and culture—the whole ball of wax! But there is another kind of travel book as well. Call it adventure travel or experiential travel. All mountain-climbing books fall into this category. They can be excellent reads, such as Jon Kracauer’s Into Thin Air, Alfred Alvarez’s Feeding the Rat, or any of Eric Shipton’s great books on mountains he has climbed.

Tibetan Monastery

Kate Harris and her companion Melissa Yule concentrated all their efforts in surviving a multiple-thousand-mile journey involving multiple mountain ranges and passes. It was quite an accomplishment, but it just left me hungry to learn more about Constantinople, Trebizond, Tbilisi, Baku, Samarkand, Bukhara, Tashkent, Lhasa, and points between.

Oh, well, as long as the quarantine and my health last, I’ll have the time to make up that deficit.

Acton Bell

The Three Brontë Sisters from Left to Right: Anne, Emily, and Charlotte

No family anywhere had three such eminent novelists, though they wrote at a time when women novelists were looked down upon. Consequently, they published under the names of Acton Bell (Anne), Ellis Bell (Emily), and Currer Bell (Charlotte).

I have read and enjoyed the work of the two elder sisters, but until this week I had never read anything by Anne Brontë. I was delighted to find that she was as competent a writer as her sisters and perhaps a bit more modern in her outlook. Her novel Agnes Grey tells the story of a young governess dealing with the spoiled children of the well-to-do.

When one of her former charges (Rosalie) denigrates her eminent husband in front of a footman, she shows Agnes exactly what she thinks of servants:

Oh, no matter! I never care about the footmen; they’re mere automatons: it’s nothing to them what their superiors say or do; they won’t dare to repeat it; and as to what they think—if they presume to think at all—of course, nobody cares for that. It would be a pretty thing indeed, it we were to be tongue-tied by our servants!

Four Images of Anne Brontë Drawn by Her Brother Branwell

Rosalie is nothing, however, compared to the little monsters of her first experience as a governess:

My task of instruction and surveillance, instead of becoming easier as my charges and I got better accustomed to each other, became more arduous as their characters unfolded. The name of governess, I soon found, was a mere mockery as applied to me: my pupils had no more notion of obedience than a wild, unbroken colt. The habitual fear of their father’s peevish temper, and the dread of the punishments he was wont to inflict when irritated, kept them generally within bounds in his immediate presence. The girls, too, had some fear of their mother’s anger; and the boy might occasionally be bribed to do as she bid him by the hope of reward; but I had no rewards to offer; and as for punishments, I was given to understand, the parents reserved that privilege to themselves; and yet they expected me to keep my pupils in order. Other children might be guided by the fear of anger and the desire of approbation; but neither the one nor the other had any effect upon these.

This is quite different from the angelic Victorian children depicted in most novels, especially in those of Charles Dickens. So I was quite pleased to see that the youngest Brontë has some sand in her, and she was an excellent writer to boot—as good as her older siblings.

There Will Be No Return to the Same Normal

And That’s Not Necessarily Bad

I am not only thinking about Covid-19, but also four years of egregiously bad government and a badly divided populace that has replaced reason with gonzo conspiracy theories.

There will be a lot of fast growth once the plague tocsin has stopped ringing, but the economy is not the only thing that needs to be rebuilt. For one thing, the younger generation (whatever we choose to call it) must have more to look forward to than ill-paid temporary gigs while a college loan Sword of Damocles hangs over its head. This is just one of several things that have to change.

I strongly suspect that one change will be a continuing diminution of the influence of Christianity on our lives. And very soon, we have to come to our senses about the fact that the weather is changing. Maybe not permanently, but remember we have come out of a mini ice age that began in the 18th century. And the earth will, for the time being, continue to warm up.

Look for It To Re-Open Soon

Will we continue to be a beef and potatoes nation? I don’t think so. I think we are headed toward plant-based substances that are a substitute for red meat.

The one thing we can depend on is change. Edmund Spenser had it right when he wrote:

Mutability

 When I bethink me on that speech whilere,
 Of Mutability, and well it weigh:
 Me seems,that though she all unworthy were
 Of the Heav’ns Rule; yet very sooth to say,
 In all things else she bears the greatest sway.
 Which makes me loathe this state of life so tickle,
 And love of things so vain to cast away;
 Whose flow’ring pride, so fading and so fickle,
 Short Time shall soon cut down with his consuming sickle.
 
Then gin I think on that which Nature said.
 Of that same time when no more Change shall be,
 But steadfast rest of all things firmly stayed
 Upon the pillars of Eternity,
 That is contrare to Mutability:
 For, all that moveth, doth in Change delight:
 But thence-forth all shall rest eternally
 With Him that is the God of Sabbaoth hight:
 O that great Sabbaoth God, grant me that Sabbaoth’s sight.

The Man Without a Country

The USS Constitution at Sea

As we suddenly find ourselves in the position of fending off sedition and insurrection by a mob of moronic yokels, I find myself in the position of wanting to make a modest proposal. I am irked that these clowns who stormed the Capitol on January 6 were waving the American flag and wearing red, white, and blue even as if they tried to overthrow the government in favor of a criminal president who is about to leave Washington under a cloud.

My proposal is this: There is an 1863 story by Edward Everett Hale called “The Man Without a Country.” It is about a stubborn criminal convicted of treason who is forced to spend the rest of his life aboard American ships on which no officer or crewman is allowed to mention anything about the United States. Perhaps Trump could be joined on such a ship with the would-be insurgents who have been convicted.

What with the global coronavirus epidemic, I am sure there are a lot of substandard passenger ships that could be used for ferrying such prisoners around the world without setting foot back on American soil. It would probably be cheaper than sending them to a Federal prison, and no effort need be made to have fancy food and cocktails or entertainment of any sort.

Hale’s story made an impression on me when I was young. I even remember having a Classic Comic Book based on it.

Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909)

This would a a fitting fate for adherents of QAnon, the “Proud Boys,” and other troublemakers who have forgotten what a good deal they had in living in a democracy—one which they intended to wantonly destroy.

Library-To-Go

The Flower Street Entrance to the Los Angeles Central Library

The Central Library still looks like this, though most of the buildings around it have changed. What is more, after a devastating 1986 fire, the building was expanded on the Grand Avenue side and remodeled. Fortunately, the murals on the second floor rotunda were saved, leaving some of the old library highlights still intact.

Because of the coronavirus lockdown, patrons of the library may not enter the building. If I want access to the library’s holdings, however, I can access the Library-To-Go service. It involves four steps:

  • Select the books I want to read using the library’s website
  • Place a hold on those books and check the status every few days
  • When the books are marked as being available, use the library website to make an appointment for pickup
  • Show up at the approximate appointment time at the 5th street entrance, phone the librarians inside, and wait until they deliver the books to you in a brown paper bag

I am currently set to go downtown on Thursday morning to pick up four books: Jamyang Khyentse’s What Makes You NOT a Buddhist; Ma Jian’s Red Dust: A Path Through China; Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers: A Novel; and Olga Grushin’s The Dream Life of Sukhanov. As I am still working on my Januarius Project. this month I am reading only books by authors I have not previously read.

Thanks to the library’s vast holdings, I can easily reserve books that are out of print and difficult to find.