The Centenary of a Hungarian Poet’s Death

Hungarian Poet Endre Ady (1877-1919)

It was a hundred years ago that Endre Ady died of syphilis in Budapest. Like most Hungarian poets, he is virtually unknown in the West. I present here two of his shorter works.

Who Come from Far Away

We are the men who are always late,
we are the men who come from far away.
Our walk is always weary and sad,
we are the men who are always late.
We do not even know how to die in peace.
When the face of distant death appears,
our souls splash into a tam tam of flame.
We do not even know how to die in peace.
We are the men who are always late.
We are never on time with our success,
our dreams, our heaven, or our embrace.
We are the men who are always late.

Also very Hungarian in its bitterness is “The Magyar Messiah.” Hungary was on one of the two invasion paths into Europe from the East. (The other is Poland.) Likewise, it was convenient for invasion from the West, say, from Germany.

The Magyar Messiah

More bitter is our weeping,
different the griefs that try us.
A thousand times Messiahs
are the Magyar Messiahs.
A thousand times they perish,
unblest their crucifixion,
for vain was their affliction,
oh, vain was their affliction.

 

Desert Dreamers: Cabot Yerxa 2

Cabot’s Old Pueblo Museum in Desert Hot Springs

Yesterday I wrote about Cabot Yerxa the writer. Today I turn to his Pueblo Museum on Desert View Avenue in Desert Hot Springs, a city a few miles north of Interstate 10 and Palm Springs. Other than the various spa hotels, the Pueblo Museum is the only real tourist attraction in that community. According to the pamphlet handed out at the museum:

Cabot’s vision is alive and realized in his 35-room, 5,000 square foot Pueblo built entirely of found and repurposed materials. Everyone who wants to see first-hand what can be accomplished with the three R’s—reuse, reduce, and recycle—will be in awe as they walk through the museum and home of Cabot.

In addition to the Pueblo itself, there are a number of outbuildings on the grounds, including a trading post, tool house, and meditation garden, to name just a few. The visitor can take a one-hour docent-led tour of the main Pueblo building, and easily spend another hour looking around the complex.

Cabot built the Pueblo later in his life, starting in the 1940s and continuing for most of his remaining years. Where most architects put together a plan to which they more or less adhere, Cabot did it the other way around. The size of the rooms had more to do with the building materials he had on hand at the time. Many of the windows, doorways, and stairs are unusually narrow or small. He justified his practice by referring to the Venturi Effect, which is usually applied to fluids, but which can also be applied to the movement of cool air in a desert building. In fact, the tour I had last Friday on a hot morning was remarkably cool in this non-air-conditioned structure.

Image of Eagle on Pueblo Wall with Narrow Window

There was no Home Depot or Lowe’s around for Cabot to buy standard windows and doors. Everything was based on found materials, as for instance in the window illustrated below. Usually, comfort on hot days in the desert is achieved by expensive air-conditioning: It is remarkable that Cabot’s Pueblo is actually quite livable. Even in West Los Angeles, where I live in an old uninsulated apartment house, the three windows facing the setting sun can heat the place up to 90º Fahrenheit (35º Celsius) until the middle of the night. Imagine what that would do in the Coachella Valley in August!

Check Out the Crude Bars and Barbed Wire on the Above Window

Although he traveled around the world more than most desert rats, Cabot Yerxa did know the desert from deep personal observation. That’s one of the reasons I am enjoying his book, On the Desert Since 1913.

 

Desert Dreamers: Cabot Yerxa 1

Scene from the Southern California Desert with Joshua Tree (L)

The deserts of Southern California are beautiful, but can be forbidding. I spent the weekend visiting my brother in Palm Desert. On Friday, I took a ride out to Desert Hot Springs to revisit Cabot Yerxa’s Old Indian Pueblo Museum. Simultaneously, I have been reading Yerxa’s collection of newspaper columns for The Desert Sentinel, written, with a few interruptions, between July 1951 and December 1957. They have been published in a book entitled On the Desert Since 1913 by Cabot’s Museum Foundation.

There, I find such gems as the following from December 11, 1952:

The cabin was swept and dusted, beds made up fresh, dishes put through a bath of soap and water. Then holes in the roof were repaired and firewood gathered. Boxes of groceries were opened, and it gave us a great sense of security to see packages of food on the shelf. We, very few of us, would see a store again for seven months, but we cared not. There was flower and yeast to make bread, sugar, salt, dry beans, cornmeal, canned milk, molasses, and a few other items to make many meals. But the greatest overall joy, with a thankful feeling of independence and satisfaction, was the fact that the land under our feet was ours! To no man must we pay rent or tribute for water, gas, electricity, phone, newspapers, or streetcar rides. We were free men in a new, clean, fascinating world.

Back in 1914, he had written:

Yesterday it rained for the first time in nine or ten months, and the desert was drenche. Just a steady, slow rain without any blustering wind. The sandy soil absorbed the welcome moisture completely and none ran off. The greasewood bushes opened their leaves, which are folded close together for protection during dry weather, and the damp air was full of their clean, haunting fragrance. All the sparse desert growh of bunch grass and small plants, usually quite brittle, were as limp and soft as though made of pretty colored rubber.

This post is the first in a series to be called Desert Dreamers. Tomorrow, I will write about his Pueblo Museum and what is to be found there. In future posts, I will write about other California Desert authors, most particularly Mary Austin.

 

 

Z

It Was the Best Movie Channel Ever

It lasted for fifteen years in all, from 1974 to 1989. The Z Channel really took off when Jerry Harvey was hired as program director in 1980. For the next nine years, Z was the best place to study the art of the cinema, from the silents to the present day. I watched it religiously and even created several hundred videotapes of programs that looked interesting. Even though I was no longer studying film history and criticism at UCLA, with the avowed intention of becoming a college professor, I was still—and am still—a lover of the great films.

In 1988, Jerry Harvey murdered his wife and shot himself. The new owners, SportsChannel, decided to add sports to the program. Almost overnight, movies started playing second fiddle to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Out of a fit of rage, I called the cable network to cancel what I called “the hockey channel.” Evidently, I was not the only one, because the representative who took my call knew exactly what I was talking about without my mentioning the name of the service I was canceling.

Last week, I saw a wonderful documentary directed by Xan Cassavetes, daughter of actor/director John Cassavetes. It was called Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004). It brought back to me that golden decade, the Eighties, when great films were regularly screened on cable.

Today, by way of contrast, the cable movie channels tend to concentrate on sequels, many of mediocre originals. When HBO or Showtime or Cinemax show a good film, it is an accident.

Jerry Harvey, the Genius Behind Z Channel’s Success

As I watched the Cassavetes documentary, I felt a keen sense of loss. Jerry Harvey had been a genius. Although Z Channel’s subscribers were concentrated in the West Los Angeles area, that is where the movers and shakers in the film industry are concentrated. And they were all, almost to a man, subscribers to Z. It is as if, when those hockey games started showing up on Z,  there were a massive disturbance in the Force. One that has never been reversed or even ameliorated. Years later, I still miss seeing the cinema classics that I have always loved on television.

 

A Budding Artist

My Oldest Surviving Kid Drawing

The notation at the top right was written by my Mom in Hungarian: “Jimmy drew this 1949 March.” I was a little over four years old at the time. I had not yet entered school only to find that I was a retard who couldn’t speak English. (Of course, now I would prefer to think I was smart because I could speak a foreign language.) In fact, this ratty little pencil drawing is probably the oldest thing I have, and the only thing dating from my early years in the Hungarian neighborhood on Buckeye Road.

At the time, Mom liked to take me to the library on East 116th Street and pick a book to read to me. As the children’s books were all in English, she would pick something with nice illustrations and make up her own stories in Hungarian to fit the pictures, more or less. I have fond memories of that library. Was it perhaps because there was a great doughnut shop next door?

I just checked a map. Not only is the library no longer there; but Harvey Rice Elementary School, where I had my traumatic introduction to the American educational system, is likewise gone. They seem to have been replaced by healthcare facilities, which makes sense as St. Luke’s Medical Center is nearby. That’s where I was taken a year later because my parents thought I was too skinny. The doctors there told my parents, “Don’t worry: He’ll wind up eating you out of house and home.”

My memories of life at 2814 East 120th Street were for the most part good ones. I had good friends, like András and Joycey—Hungarians like me. We had not yet been introduced to television: That was to come a year later. And it was probably television that taught me English as much as anything else. I remember the TV station started broadcasting around 4 PM with the Kate Smith Hour, followed at 5 PM by the Howdy Doody Show, which I dearly loved.

 

Ancient History

My Sixth Grade Class at St. Henry School in Cleveland 1956

This evening I came across this picture of my Sixth Grade class at St. Henry School. Mrs. Joyce, our teacher, stands in the third row at the left. I can identify only three of my classmates—all boys. (By this time, my Fourth Grade sweetheart, Laura Sowinski, was no longer in my class.) The really tall kid in the last row center is my good friend Fred Nickel, with whom I used to play chess and devise explosives made from match heads. Two persons to the left of him is Anthony Braidic, not my friend but I just remember his face. The same goes for James Oliver, who is the boy in the third row three persons in from Mrs. Joyce.

And where am I? You’ll find me at the far right in the second row.

By the sixth grade, I was already a star pupil. It took me several years to overcome my Hungarian upbringing and become more conversant with the English language. In the second grade, Sister Francis Martin used to pull my ears and call me “cabbagehead.” I had finally gotten past the vegetable world.

The Cross of St. Henry Church, Behind Which Stood My School


Over the sixty-three intervening years, I have lost touch with all my Sixth Grade classmates. It seems a pity, because I spent a lot of time with these kids and had some good times. It is likely that the pituitary tumor that was finally operated on in September 1966 was already causing me excruciating frontal headaches. Being a little kid, I didn’t know how bad off I was.
 

Geographies: Real

A More Recent Edition of This Invaluable City Atlas Than Mine

This is one of two posts by an inveterate map freak. I will start with real geographies that inspired some of my more fantastic fictional ones. I have read two novels this month which inspired me to dig up my copy of Paris Pratique Par Arrondissement Édition 2005. The first was Cara Black’s Murder in Clichy; and the second, Georges Simenon’s masterful Maigret and the Bum.

Ever since I was a grade school boy, I loved maps and atlases. It became even more pronounced when, at the same time, I collected stamps from such strange corners of the world as Tannu Touva, Bechuanaland, Liechtenstein, and Nejd. Naturally, I had to know where these geographic entities were, their principal cities, and some knowledge of their economies (if any).

No, I Don’t Wear Nail Polish

The best city street atlas I have ever seen is the abovementioned Paris Pratique Par Arrondissement. Each of the twenty arrondissements (districts) of the city gets either two facing pages, or, if required, two sets of two facing pages. In addition, there are maps of the metro, the RER (suburban rail routes), major bus lines, the Bois de Boulogne, the Bois de Vincennes, and La Défense. Throughout, it is organized so logically that I cannot imagine using any other map to follow the action in novels set in the City of Lights.

Absent from this handy atlas are the suburban banlieus which tourists are not likely to visit unless they are in the market for recreational drugs or a bit of the old ultra-violence. Unlike American cities, which tend to be hollowed-out at their core and liveable only in the outlying suburbs, Paris reserves the center for historical buildings and the wealthy, while the areas beyond the peripheral highway are strictly for slumming.