I know that all of you are either getting ready for some serious cosplay or stockpiling candy for the ravenous hordes preparing to descend onto your doorstep. Be sure to read some scary books (see my post entitled Thirteen More Horrors for a reading list) and see some scary movies (see my post entitled Thirteen Horrors for a list of my faves from last year).
Monthly Archives: October 2014
It’s Good To Be King
After a lifetime of hating Stephen King—not that I ever gave him much of a chance—I picked up Joyland chiefly because I thought the cover illustration by Glenn Orbik (above) was hot. It showed a scene that was not even in the book: a red-headed Erin Cook (a co-worker of the book’s hero) screaming in fear while casually wielding a Speed Graphic camera which, if she had ever made a regular practice of doing so, would have left her with a forearm like Popeye’s.
So, what did I think? Actually, I liked the book. Partly because I am drawn to the whole carny world after reading William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley, and partly because I thought King exercised admirable restraint in crafting the novel. I wasn’t quite sure about the action scenes at the end, and there were a couple of connections I never quite understood, but I liked the tone of the whole thing.
Devin Jones is a twenty-one-year-old college student who spends a summer working for a North Carolina amusement park called Joyland. He is a man who has been discarded by his apathetic girlfriend Wendy, who, once she parts from him, consigns him to oblivion posthaste. He likes the carny lifestyle, makes friends easily, discovers he has a talent for entertaining “zamps” (small children), and doesn’t object to some of the less desirable tasks around the midway.
He is drawn by the mystery of a young woman named Linda Gray who had been killed by an unknown assailant in the scary funhouse. In fact, he drops out of college and hangs on into the fall, when the only work is preparing the park for the next summer. During that time, he makes the acquaintance of a young mother with a severely disabled son—one who can foretell the future. You can bet this figures in the plot. Devin finally loses his virginity—to Annie Ross, the mother—and becomes a favorite of her son.
Finally, it all comes together for Devin. The killer is … someone Devin knows who calls him at home minutes after his discovery and lures him to the park, where King suddenly goes into overt mode. Perhaps one of the reasons I haven’t liked King all these years is that I thought he was too overt and not sufficiently psychological. But Joyland strikes a nice balance.
Also, I loved all the carny slang, which King took from this website. Maybe, I’ll read some more King: I always liked Kubrick’s film version of The Shining. Perhaps I’ll read that, or Dolores Claiborne, as suggested by my friend Lynette.
Day of the Condor
As I promised you, here is one of my photos of the condors at Cruz del Condor in the State of Arequipa. We were standing on the south side of Colca Canyon at a place that is famous for its thermals, which the condor population uses in the mornings as if it were an elevator to reach maximum altitude with minimum effort.
Because I do not have a super-telephoto lens that weighs half a ton, I had to enlarge the condor in this image. Even when they’re rising on a thermal, condors are lightning fast—at the same time that they are gigantic. The Andean condor has a wingspan of up to 10½ feet. Curiously, there are larger birds: the Southern Royal Albatross and the Dalmatian and Great White Pelicans, whose span can be as much as a foot longer.
Still, it is the condor that captures the imagination of South Americans. I’ll never forget seeing my first ones in Argentina in 2011, while Martine and I were taking a bus from El Calafate to Puerto Banderas to see the glaciers on Lago Argentino. Then, too, there is that most pervasive of songs, “El Condor Pasa,” a zarzuela composed by the Peruvian Daniel Alomia Robles in 1913 and popularized by Simon and Garfunkel in their Bridge Over Troubled Water album. If you’re not familiar with the tune, click here. In Lima, at the Palacio de Gobierno, I even saw a Peruvian military band goose-stepping to the music as they played it.
Paintings of archangels done by the Quechua painters of the Cusco School of Art are wearing the wings of mature condors, which are two-toned.
We in California have our own condors, which we are trying desperately to save from extinction. I saw a couple of them once at the Santa Barbara Zoo (below) looking very disconsolate from their extended captivity.
God knows they are not the most beautiful of creatures, but they come close to being among the most magnificent.
The Deepest Canyon?
Even before my plane ever landed in Peru, I knew that there was a lot more to see than Machu Picchu. In fact, some of the sights were probably more interesting than Machu Picchu—and a whole lot easier to get to.
It could very well be that the most interesting place I visited on my travels was Colca Canyon in the State of Arequipa. It is, together with nearby Cotohuasi Canyon, the deepest on earth—at points more than twice as deep as our Grand Canyon (though certainly not in the above photo). It was interesting not only from a cultural point of view, but for the range of activities available, the quality of services, and the outstanding scenery.
Two native groups dwell in the area, often interspersed: the Collaguas and the Cabanas. From the time one approaches the altiplano at Patapampa (altitude 15,000 feet or 4,600 meters), one encounters them selling their handicrafts by the side of the road. One could buy quality alpaca sweaters, scarves, and other handmade objects for a few dollars. Around the canyon are a number of villages, including Chivay (the largest), Coporaque, and Maca.
Along the south bank of the canyon west of Chivay is the famous Cruz del Condor, where one can see condors riding on the thermals in groups of two or three. (Look for a separate post on this later in the week.) The scene above is on the way to Cruz del Condor. Visible on the other side of the canyon are agricultural terraces designed by the Incas. The Collaguas and Cabanas maintain them faithfully. This picture was taken at 12,000 feet altitude or 3,650 meters.
I actually took a guided tour to Colca with Giardino Tours of Arequipa. I don’t usually do this sort of thing, but I had no cause to regret it. Our tour guide, Luis, was funny and intelligent, and I deliberately arranged not to participate in some of the strenuous uphill hikes (at high altitude) that were part of the program. (As I would frequently say, my intention was not to be buried at Colca Canyon). One useful feature of the tour was that we were dropped off in Puno, eliminating the need for a separate bus.
I Only Have Eyes for You
Yesterday’s visit to the Grier Musser Museum near downtown L.A. put Martine and me into the holiday spirit. We discovered the museum and its fabulous collection of holiday-related antiques and displays as a result of watching Huell Howser’s shows on KCET. In all, he did two shows on the museum, so we decided it was a place we should get to know better. Although the museum has displays all year round, curator Susan Tejada puts together a special show around Halloween, Christmas, and Valentines Day—with the best show being around Halloween.
Martine particularly enjoys talking with Ray and Susan Tejada over a snack of punch and cookies afterwards, one of the advantages of attending the museum’s holiday Sunday exhibits.
If you want to visit the Grier Musser Museum, you have to make an appointment by calling (213) 413-1814. It is located at 403 South Bonnie Brae Street in the Pico-Union Area, which is near some excellent dining such as Langer’s Delicatessen-Restaurant with its great hand-cut pastrami, Papa Christo’s Greek Restaurant and Market, and a host of world class Korean restaurants.
Somehow, the Grier Musser always puts Martine and me in a holiday mood.
K-Rails and Steel Plates
One of the problems with California’s apocalyptic drought of 2014 is that virtually every street is under construction—without fear of rain.Today, Martine and I visited the Grier-Musser Museum near downtown. On the way home, we must have run over two hundred steel plates on Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Drive, Fairfax Boulevard, and Santa Monica Boulevard. These were accompanied by perhaps a mile or two of K-Rails (known in the East as Jersey Barriers).
Now that California is beginning to recover from the Great Recession of 2008, driving the streets of Los Angeles is like going back to the early days of motor cars, with the roads being in a constant state of disrepair.
Every October, in honor of Halloween, I love to read classic horror stories. This last week, I read Hugh Lamb’s Dover collection of rare finds entitled A Bottomless Grave and Other Victorian Tales of Terror. Last year at this time, I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but this year I ventured on Shirley Jackson’s other famous novel, The Haunting of Hill House, which is equally spellbinding. (What I do not bother to read are the Stephen King and Dean Koontz type of novels that go in strictly for crude shocks.)
Usually, haunted house novels like to go in for crude effects. In contrast Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is delicately nuanced. Does this haunted house really do any damage with all its noise and strange writing on the walls and apparent destruction of one lady’s wardrobe? Actually, it does only one thing: It recognizes in Eleanor Vance, a spinster who is one of the party investigating the house, a kindred spirit. And it wants her. Badly.
The real terror is not external, it resides within the human breast. Eleanor had spent her adult life as a nursemaid to her mother, who has died before the action of the story begins. She has, as the saying goes, no life of her own. The one line that keeps running through her mind during the course of the book is, “Journeys end in lovers meeting.”
For Shirley Jackson to see into the tortured heart of Eleanor Vance—and through all the flummery of haunted houses and planchettes—makes her one of the great writers of horror fiction. And this after Eleanor’s initial response to the house, which is one of horror and loathing. At the risk of giving the whole shooting match away, I will continue the quote that ends the last paragraph:
Journeys end in lovers meeting; I have spent an all but sleepless night, I have told lies and made a fool of myself, and the very air tastes like wine. I have been frightened half out of my foolish wits, but I have somehow earned this joy; I have been waiting for it for so long.
This book deserves on the same shelf with that other great psychological story of haunting, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.
It’s been a long time since I posted a blog about poetry. Today’s poem goes back over thirteen hundred years, from A.D. 766 to be exact. China’s Tang dynasty gave us two of the greatest poets who ever lived, Li Po and Tu Fu. The following is from the latter. It is called “Ballad of the Ancient Cypresses.”
Before Kongming’s shrine stands an ancient cypress,
Its branches are like green bronze, its roots just like stone.
The frosted bark, slippery with rain, is forty spans around,
Its blackness blends into the sky two thousand feet above.
Master and servant have each already reached their time’s end,
The tree, however, still remains, receiving men’s devotion.
Clouds come and bring the air of Wuxia gorge’s vastness,
The moon comes out, along with the cold of snowy mountain whiteness.
I think back to the winding road, east of Brocade Pavilion,
Where the military master and his lord of old share a hidden temple.
Towering that trunk, those branches, on the ancient plain,
Hidden paintings, red and black, doors and windows empty.
Spreading wide, coiling down, though it holds the earth,
In the dim and distant heights are many violent winds.
That which gives it its support must be heaven’s strength,
The reason for its uprightness, the creator’s skill.
If a great hall should teeter, wanting rafters and beams,
Ten thousand oxen would turn their heads towards its mountain’s weight.
Its potential unrevealed, the world’s already amazed,
Nothing would stop it being felled, but what man could handle it?
Its bitter heart cannot avoid the entry of the ants,
Its fragrant leaves have always given shelter to the phoenix.
Ambitious scholars, reclusive hermits—neither needs to sigh;
Always it’s the greatest timber that’s hardest to put to use.
Kongming (Zhuge Liang) was the chief minister of Liu Bei, one of the imperial claimants in the Three Kingdoms period. The poem shifts between the tree at the shrine to Kongming near Wuxia gorge (one of the Three Gorges); another tree at the shrine to Kongming and Liu Bei in Chengdu; and the allegorical equation of timber and talent – 材 and 才 (cái) – etymologically the same word. The Brocade Pavilion was built by Tu Fu near his house in Chengdu.
In talking about old trees, the poet is also talking about old age. I love the line “Its bitter heart cannot avoid the entry of the ants.”
Riding the News Cycle Without a Helmet
In yesterday’s post (“Terrorism Made Easy”), I suggested that the news orgies indulged in my the media—especially cable news—make it extraordinarily easy for terrorists to get us all in a dither with a minimum amount of effort.Today, I plan to go one step further: Stay away from the news as much as possible. It’ll only mess you up.
Now there were times when the news affected my travel plans: I would not go to Guatemala during the dictatorship of Efraín Ríos Montt in the 1980s, I would not visit Peru during the Sendero Luminoso insurgency of the 1980s and early 1990s, and I would not go to El Salvador today because of the Mara Salvatrucha criminal gang. Oh, and there’s some parts of Mexico I would shy away from because of the narcotraficantes (namely the states of Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Sonora, Monterrey, and Michoacán).
That said, I lose track of Middle East skulduggery because there is so much of it that I confuse the incidents one with the other. Nor is it important to know the number of car bombs in Baghdad, the casualties at Kobani, the Hamas-Israel pissing match, the piracy and banditry of Somalia, the endless repercussions of Benghazi, or even the weirdness of North Korea’s non-interaction with the world. Because I read the paper, I have a rough idea of what is happening. The details are just a tad excessive.
I work with a really nice bookkeeper who listens to the news and all the pundits on her long drive to work. All the badness, of which there is an endless amount, has the effect of making her depressed. I suggest that she listen to nice music instead, either the classics at KUSC or new wave at KTWV.
Remember one thing about the news: They are trying to make you hooked on all this global negativity so you keep coming back for more, and maybe even buy all the crapola the sponsors want to unload on you. Skip a few news cycles. Maybe read the paper instead, or a weekly news magazine (if there still is one), or even the Internet. When things get too bad, I’d rather put on some J. S. Bach or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
As my old hero Ghoulardi (about whom I will write more in the next week or so) said, “Cool it with the Boom-Booms!”
Terrorism Made Easy
What if I were one of the black hats for ISIS, ISIL, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week, I would have the world gelid with fear at relatively little cost to myself. Let’s face it, the “Dark Side” is a powerful draw for disaffected young people around the world. One can get an almost endless supply of young Arabs, Americans, Europeans, and Canadians who would be willing to blow themselves up—and take any number of innocent victims with them.
Given the way the news media around the world operate, any single incident is multiplied as if with endless mirrors for weeks at a time. Look at Benghazi: It’s still going strong for over two years. Then there’s the occasional beheading of an American or a European, interspersed with car bombs at Shia shrines. It doesn’t take much to have Faux News and their imitators spinning their heads in unison with a warning siren at max volume. One dire incident shades into another, and with relatively little effort, the whole thing looks like its continuous dripping evil spreading all over the world.
I’m not telling the terrorists what they don’t already know. The reach of our media stretches around the globe, so the bad guys know exactly how frightened, ill-informed, and chickenshit we are. I would not be surprised if the world spends ten trillion dollars in the next couple of months trying to eliminate ISIS or some other terrorist group de jour. In the process we are actually arming them.
Isn’t that what judo is all about—using your opponents’ strength against them? Hijacking their weapons while deciding on the next terrorist incident to occupy the news media, their anchors, pundits, and wingnut entertainers.
I must say: It’s really quite elegant.
You must be logged in to post a comment.