Don’t Read Me! Watch the Video!

Be Even More Passive! Sit Back and Watch Us! NOW!

We are beautiful people with all the right cultural traits. And we are all naked below the waist. So stop reading the news right now and watch us interact with each other. It’s more fun. We know you can read the text twenty times faster than we stumble our way through it all coked and boozed up. So what if your Internet is as fast as a snail going backwards. Just be patient: Sit and wait for the little whirligig to stop rotating and return with us in glorious motion. It’ll be worth it. It won’t do anything for you, but we’ll be even bigger celebrities than before. And, after all, what you read isn’t as glittering as having a celebrity mouth it for you and titter complicitly.

It seems as if all the news websites are intent on ramming videos down your throat—even when your browser is set to exclude videos. It doesn’t help matters that we are forced to watch an ad of indeterminate length for starters, always beginning with loud voices assuming a corporate tone that only vaguely resembles human discourse.

My reaction is to start by turning the sound all the way down and then hitting the STOP button on the lower left. For good measure, I scroll down past the video so it disappears from view. Some websites like CNN have gone one better: They put a miniature video screen off to the side in case we want to return to the Blah Blah Bling Bling.

All I can say is Double Ugh!

Serendipity: The Broken Prism

The Blessed Virgin Mary

You could be a million miles away when, quite suddenly, you can be confronted with what you believe—and what you don’t believe. Today, I was sitting in the Santa Monica Library reading Tim Cahill’s Hold the Enlightenment: More Travel, Less Bliss, ostensibly a book of adventure travel essays, when the following paragraph hit me smack between the eyes:

My own background is Catholic. I suppose my current status in that Church can best be described as long-lapsed. Even so, no one who has suffered a Catholic education is ever entirely free of the belief, or at least the discipline. Quaint notions, punitive and medieval, color my perception of the physical world. I tend to see the wilderness through the broken prism of my faith.

That holds true for me as much as it does for Tim Cahill, one of the founders of Outside magazine. The only change I would make is that I never “suffered” a Catholic education: I merely “experienced” it, and not unwillingly. My grade school, Saint Henry in Cleveland, Ohio, was staffed by Dominican sisters; and my high school, St. Peter Chanel in Bedford, Ohio, was taught by Marist priests. At Dartmouth College, I was an active participant in Catholic services at the Newman Club under Monsignor William Nolan.

When asked whether I believe in God, my answer is always, Yes. I quickly add that I have no idea what God is like or what He/She/It wants. I only know that the Godhead manifests itself in some very curious ways to the peoples of this planet. I cannot pretend to be an atheist with any degree of certitude, nor do I wish to. There is enough left of the shards of my faith to see me through the day.

What will I believe a year from now? I don’t know. It’s all subject to change.

A Look Back at Ecuador

Native Otavaleños Entering Church

There are few places I have visited to which I would not like to return. I am speaking particularly of my travels in Europe, Canada, Mexico, and South America. There are a fairly large number of cities in the United States that, I hope, will never see my shadow again. On the other hand, there are parts of the U.S., particularly in the Southwest, that I love. New Mexico, for instance. My mouth is watering for those red and green chile peppers, the best in the world.

Last year at this time, I was planning for the trip that my brother and I took to Ecuador. I loved the places that we chose to visit, particularly Quito, Otavalo, Mindo, and Cuenca. The only problem was that traveling by automobile through the larger Ecuadoran cities required the tracking skills of a scout: Street signs around the periphery of every city were practically nonexistent. We finally got into the habit of following what looked to us like intercity buses, which were pretty easy to distinguish from the local rat-traps.

Otavalo was perhaps my favorite place. That was mostly because the inhabitants were mostly Otavaleños. Gringos stood out like sore thumbs. That’s okay, because sometimes it’s fun to be lost in a crowd of indigenous people, even if they didn’t speak a word of Spanish. (Their language was mostly Quechua.) Just taking a walk through their marketplace was like being in another world.

My problem is a simple one. If I were to go back to all the places I loved, I would be alive for several more decades—and no man knows how much time is left to him.

You Can Start Celebrating Now!

Mark April 25 on Your Calendar!

I love penguins. So much so that I traveled over 6,000 miles to see them in Argentina. Oh, not the big Emperor Penguins of Antarctica—though they were only about 600 miles farther south. No, Martine and I visited with the Magellanic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) in two places the Isla Martillo in Tierra del Fuego, and Punta Tombo in the State of Chubut.

Why do I like penguins so much? They lead such strange lives. Months at a time in the icy waters of the South Atlantic, then return to the same old rookery to find a mate and try to raise a family of little penguins. As it happens, we were at Punta Tombo in November 2011, right when their eggs were hatching. We saw the penguins look on helplessly while ravenous gulls pushed them aside and devoured their progeny. Their wings were great for swimming, but helpless to defend their eggs against more aggressive shore birds.

Penguins on Isla Martillo in Tierro del Fuego’s Beagle Channel

In the above picture by Berkeley Breathed for World Penguin Day, the middle penguin is my hero, Opus. You can see his adventures by going to Breathed’s Facebook page at Bloom County.

Here are some facts about my friends, the Magellanic Penguins:

  • Magellanic Penguins can reach 24 to 28 inches in height and 9 to 11 pounds of weight.
  • They have black plumage on the back and white plumage with broad, black, horseshoe-like marking on the breast. They have a white band on the head that stretches from the eyes to the throat. Skin around the the eyes and bill become featherless and intensely pink during the breeding season.
  • The diet of Magellanic Penguins concentrates on small fish, crustaceans, and squid.
  • They are excellent swimmers. They can travel 620 miles from shore and dive to a depth of over 150 feet to find food. They usually hunt in groups.
  • Natural enemies of the Magellanic Penguin are sea lions, leopard seals, killer whales, and patagonian foxes.
  • Magellanic Penguins are monogamous birds. The male circles around the female and pats her with his flippers during the courtship. Formed couples last for a lifetime.

If you’re interested and want to read more, click here.

The L.A. Times Book Festival

Hitting the Books on Earth Day

I used to go every year to the Los Angeles Times Book Festival, back when it was held on the nearby UCLA Campus. Then I went to the first festival at USC and decided that they didn’t know how to handle it right. For one thing, they haven’t yet realized that the temperature that far inland is generally ten degrees warmer; and the need for shade correspondingly greater. This year, things were better—but I still wish it moved back to UCLA.

I picked up five books at the festival:

  • Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Reputations, by an up and coming Colombian novelist
  • Joan Didion, South and West: From a Notebook
  • Yukio Mishima, Five Modern Nō Plays
  • Irène Némirovsky, Suite Française
  • Dashiell Hammett, The Big Knockover

Some of the prices were great, others were at the publisher’s suggested price. No matter: I plan to read them all, and will probably enjoy them all.

Fortunately the temperature wasn’t too hot today, and we didn’t make the mistake of driving. It cost us only 35¢ each to take the Expo Line train, which let us off right at the back gate of the festival. Else, I would have had to pay $15.00 and walk several blocks each way.

 

Mental or Dental, I Say It’s Spinach!

Right After Tax Season, My Mouth Fell Apart!

There I was, just outside the Grand Central Market on Broadway, munching on a chewy Mexican cocada, when I suddenly felt there were a couple of dental crowns moving around with the coconuts. Fortunately, I was able to pick out the crowns, wash them, and slip them in a plastic bag. This morning, I had an appointment with my dentist, who, with her assistant, worked the better part of two hours trying to fix my upper left molars. The job was made more difficult by my swallowing one of the gold crowns that had come loose: She had placed it in my mouth to determine whether it would still fit well in my mouth. Well, that’s a moot point now.

In addition, she discovered the beginnings of an abscess in my far left upper molar. That means a root canal. Oh yummy!

 

L. A. Writers: Michael Connelly

Why Is It That So Many L. A. Writers Are Mystery Writers?

I read five of his novels before deciding that, yes, Michael Connelly is indeed an L. A. writer. It bothers me that so many of the writers I see as L. A. writers are into the mystery genre. That was true of Raymond Chandler, certainly, and also James Ellroy and Tyler Dilts. If I wanted to, and I may in the future, I could add Joseph Wambaugh and a handful of others.

Perhaps there’s something about Los Angeles itself that brings forth so many fictional investigations into the dark heart of the place. When one things of the noir genre, one could just as easily think of New York or Chicago or Miami or—for heaven’s sake—even my own home town, Cleveland, Ohio. But there is something about Los Angeles that is different. I think I put my finger on it when writing about the film version of The Big Sleep in Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward’s Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style: “Los Angeles adds a horizontal dimension to film noir. In place of the looming monoliths and endless urban alleyways of the Eastern cityscape, there is a physical and moral sprawl, a chain of suburbs full of legal and illegal activities linked by wide boulevards and expressways.”

The Concrete Blonde, which I have just finished reading, is about one (or possibly two?) murderers who prey on porno stars and prostitutes. Connelly’s homicide detective Harry (short for Heironymus) Bosch shoots one killer at the start of the novel, and winds up in a long civil suit for having killed an “innocent man” according to the widow and her attorney. And, when the killings continue, it looks as if Bosch could be in the wrong. While attempting to defend himself, the homicide detective concludes that there is a second killer, whom the LAPD christens “The Follower,” who is responsible for these other killings. Bosch frantically attempts to pin the tail on the right perpetrator.

Unlike Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe or Tyler Dilts’s Danny Beckett, Harry Bosch comes from a troubled background. In Viet Nam, he blew up Viet Cong tunnels. While he was still young, his mother was murdered. He has had difficulty hanging on to girlfriends, because at a certain point they become frightened of  the “black heart” of Los Angeles that he must fight on a regular basis.

To date, I have read the following Connelly titles, all of which I recommend:

  • The Black Echo (1992)
  • The Black Ice (1993)
  • The Concrete Blonde (1994)
  • Trunk Music (1997)
  • The Lincoln Lawyer (2005)