Victor Hugo on Balzac’s Death

How Honoré de Balzac died:

La Comedie Humaine by Balzac

The Death of Balzac
By Victor Hugo

On the 18th of August, 1850, my wife, who had been during the day to see Mme. de Balzac, told me that Balzac was dying. I hurried to him.

M. de Balzac had been suffering for eighteen months from hypertrophy of the heart. After the revolution of February he went to Russia, and there married. Some days before his departure I met him in the boulevard. He was then complaining, and breathing noisily. In May, 1850, he returned to France, married, rich, and dying! When he arrived, his legs were already swollen. Four doctors held a consultation. One of them, M. Louis, told me on the 6th of July, “He has not six weeks to live.” It is the same disease that killed Frederic Soulie.

On August 18th my uncle, General Louis Hugo, was dining with me. As soon as the table was…

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R.I.P. E-Mail

Remember When E-Mail Was Really Great?

Remember When E-Mail Was Really Great?

When I return from Peru, I expect to find approximately 2,000 e-mails on each of three accounts that I have. Approximately 80% will be outright spam, and most of the rest are offers I will have no difficulty in mass deleting. How is it that such a fantastic communication medium has become so spoiled by hackers, hucksters, spammers, and others. When I scan my e-mail, I really am not really interested in enlarging my penis, ordering lookalikes of popular prescription drugs, or taking advantage of 20% sales (when I could save 100% by just deleting the offer).

Thanks to advances in viruses and malware, I find it safer by far to just delete—especially when the e-mail contains links or file attachments. Even some e-mails from my friends are suspicious: They could be used as bots for the distribution of virus payloads. The safest thing is to call the friend before following that link or loading that file.

Even when my inbox is filled with legitimate offers, merchants frequently feel that they need to hit you every day, usually with limited time offers that are invariably extended. Just because I ordered some printer toner from one vendor two years ago, I hear from them every day. Far from being appreciative of being reminded of their existence, I go out of my way to get my toner from other suppliers that don’t bug me to death.

Technology is always that way, it seems: For every three steps forward, there are two or three steps back. And it’s all because of human nature being what it is.

In Search of Lost Restaurants

The Much Lamented Tung Lai Shun Islamic Chinese Restaurant

The Much Lamented Tung Lai Shun Islamic Chinese Restaurant

If one doesn’t have any children, the easiest way to mark the passage of time is by restaurant closings. For example, my favorite used to be the Tung Lai Shun Islamic Chinese Restaurant at 140 W. Valley Blvd. in San Gabriel. One Hawaiian patron wrote on Yelp:

This was my favorite Chinese restaurant for years and years. I loved it so much, I’d fly over from Hawaii then spend 45 minutes on those dreaded L.A. highways driving over. Before my flight back home, I’d drive over again to pick up green onion pancakes and deep fried shrimp balls (okay, stop laughing, I don’t know what else to call them) dipped in salt and pepper to eat on the plane.

There are hundreds of others: Stelvio’s, Mario’s, Asuka, and Carl Andersen’s Chatham in Westwood; Toi on Wilshire and the Broken Drum in Santa Monica; Gorky’s Cafe and Russian Brewery in downtown L.A.; Marco Polo’s and Pepy’s Chili in Culver City; the Hortobagy Hungarian Restaurant in Studio City; Nichols Restaurant* in Marina Del Rey; and the Chung King in West Los Angeles. I could name hundreds more, but what would be the point?

Today, while I ate lunch at the still robust Westwood Thai Restaurant, I was reading an article amount Walter Benjamin in the July 10 issue of The New York Review of Books. Benjamin was a German Jew who committed suicide when he was unable to cross over into Spain from France during the Second World War. The war not only killed much of what he loved, but he felt hunted by the Nazis and couldn’t take the stress of returning to Vichy France and trying on a better day. As Susan Sontag said about him, “He felt that he was living in a time when everything valuable was the last of its kind.”

Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin

In our crazy 21st Century existence, it’s easy to feel that way. I am thinking now of Robin Williams’s suicide because of … whatever it was really because of: We just don’t know for sure. At some point, Robin, like Walter Benjamin, made the decision that there were not enough valuable things in life left to make a go of it.

It seems quite a jump from a closed restaurant one has loved to a decision about life and death, but is it really? Restaurants open and close quickly. There are other things going on in our lives, however, at a much more glacial pace that could affect how we feel about ourselves and life in general. For instance, do we have a fatal illness? Has everyone we have ever loved died (cf. Mark Twain)? Have we lost the ability to see or hear? Are we facing a future of grinding poverty? Do we feel guilt for an evil that we have committed (most school shooters)?

Life wants us to live as much as we can, or dare. I learned early on from having brain surgery in 1966 that things will change, and I would have to change with them. Just because he became deaf, Beethoven did not quit composing great works. I knew early on I could never have children without a pituitary gland, so I became whatever it is I am today, with which I am all right. I feel relatively good in my aging skin.

* – This is a footnote. Don’t be alarmed. The Nichols Restaurant didn’t die: It became a zombie, now called J. Nichols Restaurant, where it serves TSF (thirty-something food) for millennials and others who want an alternative to Cheerios.

Now You, Too, Can Be a Smurf!

Colorful Footwear => Smurfware

Colorful Footwear => Smurfware

Not that I have anything against the Smurfs, except, maybe, that there’s only one female Smurf, namely Smurfette. Now, whether you’re a guy or a gal, you, too, can look like a Smurf. Just wear shoes in neon colors that clash violently with the rest of your outfit. (One hopes that your entire wardrobe is not in matching neon colors: That would go beyond Smurfdom into outright Twee.)

Today, as I walked along the Santa Monica Promenade, I felt curiously muted—even invisible. First of all, my age makes me invisible. Then, too, I was dressed in muted shades of blue and buff with a straw hat to shade against the fierce sun. I guess you’d have to walk right into me to notice my existence at all. Do you suppose it’s because my shoes aren’t bright enough? Hmmmmm.


Great Will Hunting

Poster for State Fair (1933) with Will Rogers

Poster for State Fair (1933) with Will Rogers

Every August around this time, the Will Rogers Ranch Foundation and California State Parks stage an outdoor screening of one of Will’s films. Last night it was the original version of State Fair (1933) directed by Henry King and starring Will and Janet Gaynor, with Lew Ayres and Sally Eilers. The Foundation called it “Movies in Will’s Back Yard”, as it took place on the putting green adjoining the Will Rogers Ranch.

As Lew Ayres said about Will, he’s not really an actor at all: he’s just a character. He would never select a role that would call for anything but allowing him to be himself. The result was a series of great pictures made in the early 1930s before he died in an Alaska plane crash in 1935. My favorites are A Connecticut Yankee (1931), Doctor Bull (1933), Judge Priest (1934), Life Begins at Forty (1935), and Steamboat Round the Bend (1935).

Despite the fact that he “couldn’t act,” Will Rogers was the best-paid actor in Hollywood just before his death. (It must have been because people liked him so much that they couldn’t care whether or not he was a genuine actor.)

He was also America’s number one columnist. Somehow, he managed to pull off the neat trick of having both Republicans and Democrats love him. Now that Robin Williams is gone, who is there alive who can make that claim?

Every year around this time, I write a post about Will Rogers because I admire him so much. Let me leave you with this little quote from one of his talks:

The average citizen knows only too well that it makes no difference to him which side wins. He realizes that the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey have come to resemble each other so closely that it is practically impossible to tell them apart; both of them make the same braying noise, and neither of them ever says anything. The only perceptible difference is that the elephant is somewhat the larger of the two.

No Nuclear Weapons for Ferguson PD!

Also: No Drones or Bombers Have Been Approved

Also: No Drones or Bombers Have Been Approved

President Obama today declared in an impromptu press conference that no drones, bombers, or nuclear warheads would be approved for the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department for riot control.

National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne La Pierre protested the President’s decision, followed quickly by Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), who stated, “The Second Amendment gives us full authority to pulverize any nigras who threaten public order—by any means possible.” House Speaker John Boehner could not be reached for comment, though it is suspected he was either being briefed by Tea Party representatives or putting a new coat of orange paint on his face.

In the meantime, Vladimir Putin has authorized two hundred white trucks to cross the Mississippi River to give humanitarian aid to the white population of the Saint Louis area. It is suspected, however, that these trucks may contain RPGs and automatic weapons to assist the Robocops of the Ferguson Police Department.



Support Our Troops in Garcinia Cambogia

It’s Somewhere Between Krung Thep and Aguas Calientes

I Think It’s Somewhere Between Krung Thep and Aguas Calientes

It’s all over the internet: You can lose weight, lengthen your dingdong, make the power company mad at you, date luscious Asian women, save money by buying stuff you don’t need, and taking advantage of Obama’s secret super-special refi plan.

The upshot is that, sometime over the last twenty years, we’ve let our brains drain out our ears or accidentally given ourselves lobotomies while on the way to the fridge to get more beer. Bring up any major news website, and you will see links to Motley Fool directing you to a twenty-minute video that purports to (but doesn’t actually) tell you why the Chinese economic miracle is over, or how you can make trillions by investing fifty cents in some odd 3-D printing stock for a company out of Liechtenstein.

Here they all are: everything that everybody really wants. Who cares about ISIS taking Baghdad or the Russian convoy to Ukraine being full of atomic waste? You can never be too rich or too thin—or too sexy, which I guess is a combination of both. (I mean, if an aging, decrepit troll like Donald Sterling can parade around with hot babes, so can you!)

We have become a nation of cheapsters. We don’t care about anything but massaging our pleasure principle, or, better yet, having our pleasure principle massaged by Girls Gone Wild.

What is Garcinia Cambogia anyway? Whatever it is, it sounds as if we should have boots on the ground there.

Tarnmoor’s ABCs: Marcel Proust

He Went As Far As One Could Go with a Cookie

           He Went About As Far As One Could Go with a Cookie

I was so very impressed by Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him. Because his origins were so far away (Lithuania and Poland) and so long ago (1920s and 1930s), there were relatively few entries that resonated personally with me. Except it was sad to see so many fascinating people who, unknown today, died during the war under unknown circumstances.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, and Borges); things associated with my past life (Cleveland and Dartmouth College), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the months to come, you will see a number of postings under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. I don’t guarantee that I will use up all 26 letters of the alphabet, but I’ll do my best. Today, we’re at the letter “M,” for Marcel Proust, whose In Search of Lost Time I am now reading for the third time.

There are many literary giants of the Twentieth Century—writers such as James Joyce, Fernando Pessoa, William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Marquez, Graham Greene, G. K. Chesterton, Ryonosuke Akutagawa, Eugene O’Neill, Bertolt Brecht, Thomas Mann, Italo Svevo, Mikhail Bulgakov … the list stretches on and on. One who has had a particular role to play in my life is Marcel Proust. It seems I cannot let a year pass by without re-reading another installment of his massive In Search of Lost Time, which consists of seven full-sized novels:

  • Swann’s Way
  • In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (originally translated as Within a Budding Grove)
  • The Guermantes Way
  • Sodom and Gomorrah (originally translated as Cities of the Plain)
  • The Prisoner
  • The Fugitive (originally translated as The Sweet Cheat Gone)
  • Finding Time Again (originally translated as The Past Recaptured)

The first four volumes were completely edited by Proust during his lifetime. The last three received their final proofing from others (but are still great).

Quite frankly, it is not easy to read Proust. Some sentences seem to go on for pages. It requires intense concentration not to go astray, even within an individual paragraph. One old friend, who is a high school English teacher, abandoned Swann’s Way in the first section.

Why do I so highly regard a not-particularly-successful gay social climber whose world has so little in common with mine? For one thing, Proust writes about not so much memory as of the shimmering obsessions that monopolize so much of our attention yet, in the long run (the series spans decades), fall by the wayside as life goes on.

I have already had my fourth reading of Swann’s Way. When I return from Peru, I plan to re-read In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower for the third time. If God is good to me, there will be a fourth and—who knows—maybe even a fifth reading of the series in the time that remains to me.

Ring of Fire

The Volcano Sabancay: Erupting Again

The Volcano Sabancaya: Erupting Again

The Pacific Ring of Fire stretches from Indonesia and the Southwest Pacific in a massive arc around Asia, North America, down to the West Coast of South America. According to Peru This Week, this zone “is the site of 85% of global seismic activity caused by friction between shifting tectonic plates.”

In South America, the culprit is the Nazca Plate, which borders the Pacific side of the continent, and which features a convergent boundary subduction zone and the South American Plate, which action has formed the Andes. Hardly a day passes by when I don’t hear of another earthquake in Peru (usually in the Richter 4.0-5.5 range); and hardly a month passes by without a new volcanic eruption. Today, it is reported that Sabancaya (see above) in the State of Arequipa has begun to spew ash. If it continues, I will probably be there to see it in person next month at this time.

Below is an illustration of how the Nazca Plate (in light brown) subducts the South America Plate (in green), thereby causing all these dire events (and, by the way, over the millennia, causing much of the beauty of the Andes as well):

The Nazca Plate Takes a Dive, Wrinkling the Face of the Earth

The Nazca Plate Takes a Dive, Wrinkling the Face of the Earth

Last year, I visited Iceland, through which runs the boundary between the Eurasian Plate and the North American Plate, resulting in several dozen active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes. In fact, the boundary runs right through the middle of Thingvellir National Park, where it is expanding the size of Iceland (and the park) year by year.

What is it with me and volcanoes? Is it because I live in multiply cross-faulted Southern California with its own history of earthquakes? Maybe in future I should visit Krakatoa and Mount Vesuvius?


Letting Entertainers Control Your Thinking?

They Make Money from Your Indecision

They Make Money from Your Indecision

We live in a country in which we increasingly let paid entertainers do our thinking for us. As a result, we are advocating our favorite stand-ins against the entertainers we don’t like. It could be as simple as watching Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, laughing, and leaving the whole argument as, “What you said!” Or it could be as nefarious as chewing our fingernails in fear listening to Glenn Beck (above) or Sean Hannity and going to bed angry.

Remember: These people are all well-paid entertainers. They aim at a particular demographic and work on them so as to keep them coming back for more.

I used to be very upset with these fake pundits, particularly those on the right. If you go back and look at my earlier postings are the tags “conservatives,” “republicans,” or “tea-party,” you will find that I had spent a lot of time getting exercised by people who were just doing what they were paid to do. Rush Limbaugh doesn’t care whether I hate his guts, no more than the actors who played James Bond villains like Auric Goldfinger or Ernst Stavro Blofeld care whether audiences detested them. These guys are all paid villains. It’s what they do for a living.

To uneducated yokels who have been “left behind” in dying rural areas, they are calls to action coming as if from the mouths of angels. Scores of our fellow Americans have been killed because people with a tenuous grasp on their sanity have decided to pick up their guns and take direct action. Rush didn’t tell them to shoot anybody. Glenn didn’t do it, nor did Sean. Even Wayne La Pierre of the NRA didn’t give his blessing. They’re innocent of all wrongdoing, while these poor loonies are surprised that people not only hate and fear them (instead of showering them with candy and flowers) but want to see them receive the maximum punishment.

The danger of using stand-ins to do all our thinking for us is that we could make the mistake of thinking the whole world believes in what their particular set of entertainers say. When they suddenly discover how divided we are, it could come as a serious shock.

So, Democrats, watch Faux News for a while just to see the snake oil that is being sold to the feeble-minded. And wingnuts, stay up late and watch Stephen Colbert or Bill Maher just to see that people may think differently from you.

Take away those blinders, and see the mess we’re in!