The Book of Chilam Balam of Malibu

Southern California Brush Fire

Ten years ago at approximately this time, I was blogging on the Yahoo-360, which I liked and was saddened to see snuffed out. Around this time in 2007, there were extensive brush fires in Southern California. Here is what I wrote on October 23 of that year.

The brush fires that are devouring Southern California bring to mind another catastrophe: The Mayans, trying to cope with the Spanish invasions and the attendant diseases and persecutions, produced a series of prophetic books called the Books of Chilam Balam, the most famous of which is the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. A copy of the Roys translation is available on the Internet by clicking here.

Here is a brief apocalyptic meditation on the fires and several other disastrous “signs and portents” brought to mind by them in the style of (and incorporating some of the words of) the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel:

October 21, 2007 at dawn

When our rulers increased in depravity and stupidity
Following the words of their evangelical swineherds
That which came was a drought, according to their words,
When the hoofs of the animals burned,
When the seashore burned,
A sea of misery.

Then the face of the sun was eaten,
Then the face of the sun was darkened,
Then its face was extinguished.

Smoke covered the land
Darkened the clothes hanging on the line
Bringing an acrid stench to the nostrils
And dissatisfaction to the gorges of men.

They awoke in the morning
Restless
With the lining of their noses crusted with ashes
They took ashes with their coffee
Ashes with their water
Until the smell of burning was all that was.

Far out in space
The crystalline sphere of the gods
The smoke was visible
As that which was once alive and green
Now turned dark brown and black
And acrid.

How long will the gods let this continue?
May they abate their devil winds
And waft clouds heavy with rain
Over the blasted hillsides.

May they restore the beauty that was was there.
May men walk in this beauty
And appreciate it as a gift to be cherished.

 

Serendipity: How Rat’s Family Got Rich

How to Make the Best of a Bad Lot

This weekend, I read Haruki Murakami’s first novel, Hear the Wind Sing. While it was not quite the level of his more recent work, it had some choice moments. The unnamed narrator has a friend called Rat, who comes from a wealthy family. It was amusing to find out how his family made its fortune:

Rumor had it that Rat’s father had been penniless before the war. On the eve of hostilities, though, he had managed, after much difficulty, to lay his hands on a small chemical factory, where he began producing insect repellent cream. There was considerable doubt as to its effectiveness, but, fortunately for him, the war spread to the South Pacific at that juncture, and the stuff flew off the shelves.

When the war ended, the Rat’s father moved his stock of ointment into warehouses and began marketing a sketchy health tonic; then, toward the end of the Korean War, in an abrupt move, he shifted to household cleaners. Rumor has it that the ingredients were identical in all cases. Not inconceivable.

In other words, the same ointment slathered on the heaped bodies of Japanese soldiers in the jungles of JNew Guinea twenty-five years ago can today be found, with the same trademark, gracing the toilets of the nation as a drain cleaner.

Thus did the Rat’s father join the ranks of the wealthy.

 

 

 

Revisiting the Cold War

Entrance to the Wende museum in Culver City

Today, Martine and I visited the Wende Museum of the Cold War in Culver City. Located in an old armory building, the museum specialized in the Soviet Union and its satellite nations in the period between the end of the Second World War and the collapse of Communism around 1989.

Although I was not born under Communism, I am an American of mixed Slovak and Hungarian parentage. From my earliest days, I remember my mother putting together packets of clothing to send to our relatives in Hungary. They were packaged in strong white sackcloth, buttressed with rope, and addressed in indelible blue ink.

I had heard of the Wende Museum before. Only within the last few weeks has it moved to its present site on Culver Boulevard just west of Overland. Admission is free, and there is a gift shop.

In 1977 I visited Hungary and then People’s Republic of Czechoslovakia. My parents had flown there separately and met me at Ferihegy Airport in Budapest. We traveled by train to see a festival in Szeged (featuring the opera Aïda), and then went by rail to Kosiče . We were picked up there by my father’s relatives and driven to Prešov-Solivar, where Imre Hrasko and family lived.

Bust of V. I. Lenin

The Wende Museum consisted of several rooms with Soviet and other Cold War memorabilia, including statuary, photographs, posters, models, toys, electronic equipment, thousands of books, and a few videos. Among the videos was a cute East German cartoon about Santa Claus trying to understand what Sputnik (the Soviet satellite launched in 1957) was because it was on so many childrens’ wish lists. So he goes back to the moon, where the Man in the Moon sends him back to Earth. There, at a scientific institute, he finds his answer and looks at a model of the satellite. There were a number of exhibits relating to Russia’s early accomplishments in space.

Hungarian Farm Girl Operating Tractor

It takes about an hour to visit the museum, and guided tours are available. It was interesting to see how clueless the younger visitors were about the Cold War era. Maybe that’s why Trumpf is president today.

 

Monetize This!

Don’t Worry: I Have No Intention of Succumbing

At least once a day, I get a spampost asking why I don’t attempt to “monetize” my website and make tons of money. Give me a break! If I give in and allow advertising here, then I am no longer in charge of its contents. The advertisers would be.

These days, whenever I go to a news website like CNN or NBC (Fox was never on my list), I am not only surrounded by ads: I also have to close the ones that pop up in the middle of the screen or encroach from the sides. I hate having to close or minimize all the ads that prevent me from getting at the news. What is worse is that interspersed with the news is so-called “sponsored content,” which is nothing but advertising that attempts to fool you into thinking it’s news instead of mere clickbait.

I hate that! Advertising is becoming so all-pervasive that I have given up on many websites where it is particularly intrusive. When you come here to watch me rant and rave, that’s all you get. No links to what Phoebe Cates looks like now or why you should stop taking Metformin. Then there’s “12 Smart Travel Hacks” or free shipping with some CPAP mask, whatever that is.

So if you’re more interested in some huckster’s false promises than what I provide here, I have a great bridge for sale that might be right up your alley!

 

Midnight in Iceland

My Room on the Top Floor of the Guesthouse Óðinn at Midnight in June 2013

Now that we are fast approaching the darkest time of the year, my mind turns to my visit to Iceland in June 2013. In that Land of the Midnight Sun, I stayed out until midnight. When I returned to the Guesthouse Óðinn in Reykjavík around midnight, I snapped this picture. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to sleep with all the light, but fortunately the guesthouse had good blackout curtains (which you can see on the upper left of the third floor in the above photo).

My first day in Reykjavík was a long one. My Icelandair flight from Toronto arrived early in the morning. I had to busy myself for eighteen straight hours before turning in. Otherwise, I would have awakened in the middle of the night—rarin’ to go. That way I managed to minimize the jet lag which otherwise would have bedeviled me. It was a good thing, too, because the next day I had an all day tour of the Golden Circle (Þingvellir, Gullfoss, Geyser, and the geothermal power plant at Hellisheiði on the return to Reykjavík.).

 

Tophet

Sky Full of Ash: The View from My Front Door

The wildfires to the north of us have filled the sky with ashes. When I wake up in the morning, I have to blow my nose to lessen the irritation. The air smells burnt.

According to Wikipedia:

In the Hebrew Bible Tophet or Topheth (Hebrew: תוֹפֶת‎; Greek: Ταφεθ; Latin: Topheth) was a location in Jerusalem in the Gehinnom where worshipers influenced by the ancient Canaanite religion engaged in the human sacrifice of children to the gods Moloch and Baal by burning them alive. Tophet became a theological or poetic synonym for hell within Christendom.

The traditional explanation that a burning rubbish heap in the Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem gave rise to the idea of a fiery Gehenna of judgment is attributed to Rabbi David Kimhi’s commentary on Psalm 27:13. He maintained that in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it.

In any case, it doesn’t sound very appetizing. There are times when Los Angeles is beautiful and fresh, but that’s only after a rare rain. Other times, it’s like a slow oven. And it could even be cold. When there’s a major earthquake, it feels that you can slide at any moment into a deep crevice near to the fires at the center of the earth.

But, still, it’s better than Cleveland.

 

You’ll Wonder Where the Yellow Went…

Can a Nation Ban a Color? Catalan Demonstrators in Barcelona.

Decades ago, I remember a stirring film about the Regime of the Colonels in Greece. The film, called Z (1969) and directed by Costa Gavras, ended with the announcement that the rightist Colonels had banned the use of the letter “Z” because it was used to signify that Grigoris Lambrakis, who had been assassinated in 1963 for the protests he had organized, was still alive.

Now, in a stunning repetition, Spain has banned the use of the color yellow, because it was used by Catalans to symbolize their aspirations for independence. They couldn’t altogether ban the color, because it’s one of the colors of the Spanish flag. You can read all about it on the BBC News website.

The Catalans Want to Be Independent of Spain

It’s interesting to me that Europe continues to fragment into ever smaller pieces. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the “segmentation” of the former Yugoslavia, we have a host of new countries: Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Slovakia. As the countries become smaller, they become ever more appetizing targets to be reabsorbed by some larger nearby power. This is what seems to be happening to Belarus and Crimea (formerly part of Ukraine).

I am part Slovak: My father was born near Prešov. For its long history, Slovakia was never independent; but it became so under the presidency of Václav Havel after the Slovaks and the Czechs came to blows over the governing of Czechoslovakia. Now there’s the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.

How much farther will nationalism go? The states of the Confederacy are threatening to secede again from the Union. Canada continues to have problems governing Québec and other French-speaking areas. On a more local level, several rightist-leaning counties in California want to secede from the state and form their own state, to be called Jefferson. Oh, yeah, like we need more conservative senators in Congress!