A National Day of Mourning

You Have Better Things to Do This Friday

You Have Better Things to Do This Friday

Maybe you’re curious to see how badly Mr. Cheeto-Head blows it on Friday, January 20, when he becomes the 45th and worst President of the United States. Don’t bother: You’ll hear all about it later on. I would prefer that all the stations reporting on this non-event register a big loss. After all, our country will be registering a major loss. For either four years or such time as he is impeached and convicted, we will have had it up to here with his negative tweets and failure to abide by any rule of law.

Move Along! There’s Nothing to See Here

Move Along! There’s Nothing to See Here

If the Orange Demon has any sense of decency, he will bow out the way William Henry Harrison, our 9th President, did in April 1841: Ol’ Tippecanoe died from a cold he got at his inauguration a month earlier.

Camellias Are My Life

Red Camellia Blossom at Descanso Gardens

Red Camellia Blossom at Descanso Gardens

Yesterday, Martine and I visited Descanso Gardens in La Cañada-Flintridge. At this time of year, the garden is still pretty dead—except for the camellias. The blossom above, fo example, caught my eye.

The title of this post refers not only to the flowers, which are stunning, but also to the fact that I am addicted to the Camellia sinensis, which is the scientific name for tea. I do not drink coffee, and I don’t particularly like carbonated beverages. In this cold month of January, I make a pot of Indian black tea every morning. I drink the tea hot for breakfast and iced for dinner and as a snack. Other than water, that’s about all I drink, ever. I might have a beer when it gets really hot, but no more than a dozen or so times a year.

The camellias at Descanso this time of year are Camellia japonicas, though there are a couple of other species, such as reticulata and sasanqua are also to be found. What makes Descanso’s collection unique is that they are protected by a large forest of California Live Oaks (Quercus agrifolia)—protected in the sense that camellias usually do not like direct sunlight.

Some of the Oak Forest at Descanso

Some of the Oak Forest at Descanso

There is talk that many of the oaks at Descanso are centuries old and need to be replaced little by little with some other shade tree that coexists well with camellias. I don’t know how the garden staff will accomplish this, but I am sure that their professionals will be ultra-conservative, in the best meaning of the term.

 

The Original Pantry

Open 24 Hours a Day ... for 92 Years

Open 24 Hours a Day … for 92 Years … with the Usual Line

Yesterday was my birthday, so Martine took me out to lunch today. My choice was a restaurant which I last visited over thirty years ago with my father, who loved the place. The place in question was the Original Pantry at the corner of Figueroa and 9th Street.

Opened in 1928, the Original Pantry serves American comfort food only, with very few concessions to the ethnic diversity of Southern California. My cheeseburger was on toasted sourdough bread, and accompanied by French fries and fresh cole slaw. We had to wait three quarters of an hour for seats, but the crowd was good-natured and gratified by the Pantry’s no-nonsense menu.

One interesting fact: There is no front door lock. The restaurant has literally been open all day and all night since its opening. Even when the building had to move because of a new freeway ramp on the 110, it was open for breakfast at the old location and open for dinner at its present location. And once, a few years back, they were closed for a few hours for a health violation.

If you plan a visit to L.A., I recommend you try the Original Pantry. Good food at a reasonable price—but you can leave your credit cards at the hotel: The Pantry takes cash only.

My Best of 2016

Heavily Weighted Toward 20th Century Fiction

Heavily Weighted Toward 20th Century Fiction

Below is a list of the ten best works of fiction (or near-fiction) that I read in 2016. No re-reads were included, which is probably why the twentieth century is over-represented. Three of the works (the first three listed below) purport to be straight non-fiction, but include fictional elements. They are listed below in alphabetical order by last name of the author:

  • Alexievich, Svetlana. Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War. Powerful stuff. Her concept of literature as interviews works really well because she’s great at getting people to open up.
  • Babitz, Eve. Eve’s Hollywood. Mostly autobiographical essay by the “It Girl” of the 1960s, with some fictional interpolations.
  • Barnes, Julian. Levels of Life. What it really means to lose someone you love.
  • Cohen, Albert. Belle de Seigneur. A thousand-page novel about illicit love in early 20th century France.
  • Flanagan, Richard. The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Probably a more realistic re-telling of the whole Bridge on the River Kwai story by a great Australian writer.
  • Modiano, Patrick. In the Café of Lost Youth. I am liking this French novelist more and more all the time.
  • Saer, Juan José. The Clouds. A tale of madness in Argentina in the 1800s.
  • Simenon, George. The Clockmaker. One of the mystery writer’s romans dur, about a father and his delinquent son.
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis and Lloyd Osbourne. The Ebb-Tide. Recommended by Jorge Luis Borges in one of his interviews, one of RLS’s best.
  • Wells, H G. Tono Bungay. A classical 19th century Victorian novel, decidedly not sci-fi.

The funny thing about this list is its variety. Is it because I’ve read most of the classical fiction repertoire already?

In 2017, I’m continuing my long-range project of reading most of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s work along with Joseph Frank’s five volume biography. And, of course, I’m still casting my nets wide to find the best of world literature.

 

 

Beware of Gaslighting

A Warning to Protect Your Sanity

A Warning to Protect Your Sanity

Newscasters are in the business of delivering the news that is approved by their corporate masters for your delectation. Please note that the news being delivered is, as often as not, false. A news anchor could say anything with a straight face. If there are two takes on a news story, regardless if one of them is flat out wrong and stupid, both will be given equal weight. Some examples:

  • 2016 has been the hottest year on record vs. There is no global warming.
  • A small minority of Arabs are jihadists vs. All Arabs are terrorists.
  • Coal is a major pollutant vs. We need to put more coal miners to work.
  • We don’t need to import more oil if we develop wind and solar power sources vs. We need to drill, Baby, drill!

This elevation to respectability of crackpot points of view is usually referred to as Fair and Balanced Reporting. I prefer to think of it as abrogation of responsibility to discriminate between what is true and what is considered desirable by the lunatic fringe.

I have posted many blogs recommending that people do not watch or listen to news programing, especially if they are easily influenced by what appears to be blatant attempts to influence your thinking. During the upcoming Trump presidency, Americans will be told blatant lies, frequently self-contradictory. The strategy is known as gaslighting, in which an alternative reality is created to neutralize potential opposition.

Most at risk are people who tune in on the same news program every night.

L. A. Writers: Ry Cooder (?!)

Master of the Slide Guitar and ... Writer?

Master of the Slide Guitar and … Noir Writer?

So you think I’m kidding, do you? You think I don’t know that Ry Cooder is a musician? Aha, but in 2011 that same Ry Cooder wrote a book of short stories published by City Lights, entitled Los Angeles Stories. These stories, set between 1940 and the 1950s, are not only great L. A. Noir, but they sing with their own unique brand of chicken skin music. John Lee Hooker puts in an appearance, as does Charlie Parker. And the stories are rife with musical references:

Four Chinese girls were sitting at the corner table laughing and drinking. They were all excited about the dance hall where they’d been and the swing band they saw and the musicians they liked. I knew the place, the Zenda Ballroom, on Seventh and Figueroa. Tetsu Bessho and his Nisei Serenaders played there every Monday night. Jimmy Araki, the sax player, he was sharp. Joe Sakai was cute. The girls spoke English with a lot of hip slang, like musicians use, and as far as I could tell they were no different from any other American girls, except they were Chinese.

In fact, Cooder has a real ear for the race and ethnicity of his characters, from black musicians to Mexican Pachucos to white trailer trash to Chinese cooks.

Born in Santa Monica, he also has a great sense of place. We see Chavez Ravine before Dodger Stadium was built, the old Bunker Hill neighborhood, Playa Del Rey, Venice, and even Santa Monica.

Los Angeles Stories consists of eight tales, one better than the other. Insofar as I know, this is the only fiction he ever wrote; but I hope it is not the last. He has a great turn of phrase, as in “I am happy to have a little luck once and [sic] a while…. Too much, and fate pays a call. La Visita, my grandmother called it.”

There’s even nifty song lyrics:

Too many Johnnys, ’bout to drive me out of my mind
Yes, too many Johnnys, ’bout to drive me out of my mind
It have wrecked my life an’ ruint my happy home

When I first got in town, I was walkin’ down Central Avenue
I heard people talkin’ about the Club Rendezvous
I decided to drop in there that night, and when I got there
I said yes, people, man they was really havin’ a ball, yes I know!
Boogie!

I might cut you, I might shoot you, I jus’ don’ know
Yes, Johnny, I might cut you, I might shoot you, but I jus’ don’ know
Gonna break up this signifyin’,
’Cause somebody got to bottle up and go

I know that they gave the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan. In my humble opinion, Ry Cooder is even a better writer. Believe it!

 

Does This Remind You of Anyone?

An Amazing Coincidence

An Amazing Coincidence

When I read Teffi’s essay on Rasputin in Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi, couldn’t help comparing the dread Siberian starets to an American political figure in the news. Here are three instances, from which you can draw your own conclusions:

The Black Automobile

According to Teffi:

The “Black Automobile” remains a mystery to this day. Several nights running this car had roared across the vField of Mars, sped over the Palace Bridge, and disappeared into the unknown. Shots had been fired from inside the car. Passers-by had been wounded.

“It’s Rasputin’s doing,” people were saying, “Who else?”

Dealings with Women

Teffi was seated next to Rasputin, who tried to get her to have some wine:

Rasputin was drinking a great deal and very quickly. Suddenly he leaned towards me and whispered, “Why aren’t you drinking, eh? God will forgive you. Drink.”

He kept trying to get her to drink and to come to his place, but she wisely refused.

He “Sows Discord and Panic”

Finally, Teffi writes:

He profits from everything black, evil and incomprehensible. Everything that sows discord and panic. And there’s nothing he can’t explain to his own advantage when he needs to.

Now I could add that he tweets nasty, ad hominem attacks in the middle of the night, but that would be giving it away, wouldn’t it?