Yay! Hooray! Yawn….

Who Celebrates the Passing of Time?

Who Celebrates the Passing of Time?

First of all, don’t make any New Year’s resolutions. It’s a wasted effort, usually leading to broken resolutions before the month of January is over. Sure, everybody wants to be rich, healthy, and thin; but that just may not be your path. (It’s certainly not mine.)

Don’t go to any New Year celebrations. That would only embolden the terrorists. (Come to think of it, is there anything that doesn’t embolden the terrorists?)

It’s not a terribly good idea to get drunk. That’ll make you feel maudlin and resentful, just what you’re trying to avoid, isn’t it? Ditto for recreational drugs. There are no happy dopers.

That doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea to see your friends. Just make sure you show them how much you appreciate them. You may need their help in the coming year.

Remember that time will pass whether you celebrate it or not. As those calendar pages fly off, stick to the things that count, like love. Everything else is pretty much frou-frou.




Tarnmoor’s ABCs: Zsófi, Elek and the Two Boys

Our Family Around 1962

Our Family Around 1962

All the blog posts in this series are based on 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.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland, Yucatán), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, Borges, and Shakespeare); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland, Dartmouth College, and UCLA), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives and Tea), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This is my last entry in the series, having gone through the entire alphabet from A to Z, including even the difficult letters like J, Q, and X.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the series, which you can review by hitting the tag ABC’s at the bottom of this post.

Above you can see a picture of our little family taken around 1962. I was about to enter college, while my brother was in the 6th grade at Saint Henry School on Harvard Avenue in Cleveland, from which I graduated in 1958. My mother is Sophie—Zsófi in Hungarian—and my father is Alex—Elek in Slovak and Hungarian.

This was a difficult time for the family, as my father was under suspicion of conducting an extramarital affair with a married woman. With the tense atmosphere at home, I was eager to attend college in New Hampshire, some 600 miles east, where I would be out of the fray. Although there were some bad times around then, my mother and father stayed together. They loved Dan and me, and in the end that kept them together.

For the next twenty years, Mom had few good words to say about Dad. Except, when Alex died in 1985 at the age of of 74, he became a saint. I went along with that, because all my life I tried to please him.

Dad never understood where I was going in life. I wanted to be a professor of film history in criticism at the university level. One day, I made the mistake of calling the profession “cinematology.” Ever afterward, Dad pronounced it as if I had said “cosmetology.”

Although Dan was more like Dad in being an athlete, Dad was harder on him. When Dan was at Macalaster College in St. Paul, Minnesota, he took some time off to travel around Europe and North Africa, thus delaying getting his college diploma. (He did eventually, but Dad kept riding him for his gap year.)

I like the above picture. It shows a normal family in which all the stresses are carefully kept hidden. But the fold lines over time come out as if they were fault lines along which our family could fracture.

Fortunately, it never did.


Heart’s Desire

My Father’s Side of the Family Around 1918

My Father’s Side of the Family Around 1918

When I visited my brother a week and a half ago, he brought out two boxes of old pictures and papers relating to my past—except it was his past, too. From left to right, the pictures are of:

  • My Uncle Emil (twin of Alex)
  • “Mama” or my paternal grandmother Margit
  • Margitka, my Aunt Margit
  • Stará (Old) M., clearly a member of the family, possibly the same as my Father’s kindly Aunt Valera
  • My Father, various called Ellek, Elek, or Alex (twin of Emil)

Shortly after this picture was taken, Grandma Margit and her husband Emil Sr. abandoned their children in Prešov-Solivar while they went off to the United States. Little Emil, Elek, and Margitka were cared for by Valera. My father tells me stories of picking mushrooms in the Tatra Mountains and hunting for frog legs to feed his brother, sister, and aunt. All three children made it to Cleveland some ten years later.

As a result of fending for himself in the mountains of Slovakia during the postwar famine, my father always had an insatiable craving for meat. When he came to America, he and his brother indulged in that craving—and that’s what killed them. Sometimes it’s best NOT to have your heart’s desire.

I visited Czechoslovakia with my parents in 1977 and met Valera. She was the only Slovak in the family who could still speak Hungarian, so I was able to communicate with her. I would like to think she was the pleasant looking Stará M. in the above photo.


“Things That Might Have Been”

Saint Bede

Saint Bede the Venerable

In the waning days of 2015, here is a simple poem by Jorge Luis Borges entitled “Things That Might Have Been.” Think of them as a head start for your New Year’s Resolutions.

Things That Might Have Been

I think of things that weren’t, but might have been.
The treatise on Saxon myths Bede never wrote.
The inconceivable work Dante might have had a glimpse of,
As soon as he’d corrected the Comedy’s last verse.
History without the afternoons of the Cross and the hemlock.
History without the face of Helen.
Man without the eyes that gave us the moon.
On Gettysburg’s three days, victory for the South.
The love we never shared.
The wide empire the Vikings chose not to found.
The world without the wheel or the rose.
The view John Donne held of Shakespeare.
The other horn of the Unicorn.
The fabled Irish bird that lights on two trees at once.
The child I never had.

Serendipity: Documents of the Ultra-Terrain World

“Blue Harbor” by Xul Solar

“Blue Harbor” by Xul Solar

While in Buenos Aires last month, I visited the museum of painter Xul Solar, friend of Jorge Luis Borges. It was Borges who wrote the prologue to the museum’s catalog, which is reproduced here in its entirety:

Man versed in all disciplines, curious of all enigmas, father of writings, languages, utopias, mythologies, guest of hell and heavens, chessplayer author and astrologist, perfect in indulgent irony and friendly generosity, Xul Solar is one of the most outstanding events of our epoch. There are minds which profess the truth, others indiscriminate abundance: the large creativity of Xul Solar does not exclude the strict honesty. His paintings are documents of ultra-terrain world, of metaphysical world in which gods take the form of the imagination of the ones dreaming. The passionate architecture, the happy colours, the many circumstantial details, the labyrinths, the dwarves and angels unforgettably define this delicate and monumental art.

The taste of our time vacillates between the more lineal preference, the emotive transcription and the realism of wall painters: Xul Solar renews, in his ambitious way of being modest, the mystic painting of the ones who do not see with physical eyes in the sacred world of Blake, Swedenborg, yogis and bards.


Flying Tigers

The Sharks of the Air

The Sharks of the Air

If you should find yourself in the Coachella Valley, one of the best places to visit is the Palm Springs Air Museum. There are flying museums all across the country, including one within walking distance of me in Santa Monica. But none I have visited could hold a candle to the one alongside the Palm Springs International Airport.

One would think you can do justice to such a museum in an hour or so. Well … not exactly! There are not only three large hangars full of WWII warbirds, but several dozen planes are also scattered outside on the tarmac. Along the walls of the hangars are numerous exhibits, some with videos on a loop, about selected topics.

What interested me the most was a unit called the Flying Tigers. In 1941-1942, there were pilots from all three air services recruited and organized as the 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force (probably because they were originally constituted before the United States entered the war). Included also were also a number of Chinese pilots trained by the Americans. All were led by General Claire Lee Chennault.

The mission of the Flying Tigers was to defend China from the Japanese Air Force. And this they did with a vengeance using a hundred-odd fighters painted with a fierce shark face as in the photo above.

Their success was stunning. The Japanese planes were not well-armored against fighter attacks, with the result that the Japanese lost some 296 planes to the Flying Tigers’ 14. In time, the Japanese had come to fear the sharks’ teeth aimed at their throats.

Tea with Mary Ellen

William S. Hart, Silent Star of Westerns

William S. Hart, Silent Star of Westerns

Martine and I usually visit the William S. Hart house in Newhall at least twice a year. It is operated by the Los Angeles Natural History Museum and receives numerous visitors, most of whom have little idea of who Hart was. I have seen many of his silent Westerns, such as Hell’s Hinges (1916), Blue Blazes Rawden (1918), and Tumbleweeds (1925).

Moreover, I knew his son William S. Hart, Jr., who taught classes in real estate at Cal State Northridge. I spoke as an expert in demographic data for site location to his classes several times in the early 1980s.

For a three month period in 1922, William S. Hart, Sr. was married to Hollywood actress Winifred Westover. During this time, William, Jr. was conceived. Several years later their divorce was finalized.

William, Sr., lived out the rest of his life at La Loma de los Vientos, his hilltop house in Newhall, with his sister Mary Ellen, who had to move about in a wheelchair. She assisted her brother in writing and publishing a series of novels with Western themes.

The Door to Mary Ellen’s Little Tea House

The Door to Mary Ellen’s Little Tea House

Mary Ellen’s brother never married again. They lived together until 1943, when Mary Ellen died. William followed her three years later. They are both buried in Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

There was a strain of loneliness in the family. Once, when Bill Hart, Jr., offered me a ride after lecturing to one of his classes, he told me he married a single mother with a child and suggested I do so as well as a means of staving off isolation. Bill died in 2004.


My Christmas Place



At Christmas time, my thoughts turn to Reykjavik, Iceland. I always think of the small city—the world’s northernmost capital—as my special Christmas place.

Not that I have ever been there at Christmas, which at that latitude is dark twenty-two hours a day around the winter solstice. No, like most of the other tourists, I have only been here in the summer. Then why do I think of Reykjavik when I think of Christmas? Is it the warmth of its people in that freezing seasonal darkness? Is it the thirteen Yule Lads of Icelandic lore that have woven their spell on me?

Here is a photo of the port of Reykjavik taken by Páll Stefánsson of The Iceland Review. His photographs have a way of keeping his little land foremost in my mind.

As for the “real” meaning of Christmas, I give you this comic strip by Berkeley Breathed:

A Merry Christmas to All!

A Merry Christmas to All!

Thousand Palms

At the Thousand Palms Oasis

At the Thousand Palms Oasis

There are strange and beautiful corners of this country that take one by surprise. One such was the Thousand Palms Oasis, to which my brother introduced Martine and me last Friday. Not far from the usual desolation of the Coachella Valley was a large concentration of California Fan Palms, the Washingtonia filifera. Most of the palms in the California desert are Arabian imports, such as the date palms of Indio; but the California Fan Palms are native to the state.

As we walked into the oasis, the temperature dropped by several degrees; and there was a whiff of sulfur in the air from springs that bubbled up from the ground.

Natural Spring in the Oasis

Natural Spring in the Oasis

The oasis was not very large, and there was even a subsidiary oasis about a quarter of a mile farther on. But while we were in the shadow of the palms, we were transported far from the barren rocks, dirt and succulents of the desert floor. The effect was magical.

The Only Way to Survive in the Jungle

Having a Beer in Puerto Iguazu

Having a Beer in Puerto Iguazu

When I went to Iguazu Falls last month, it was the first time I had ever been in what I call a “monkey jungle.” There isn’t much jungle in Argentina, but the northeasterly states of Corrientes and Misiones readily qualify. Many of the trees have been cleared to make room for the Yerba Mate crop, of which most is consumed within Argentina itself (and sometimes in the United States by strange people like me).

Although I had Yerba Mate even for breakfast in the jungle—in the form of teabags, usually referred to as mate cocido—the drink which kept me going during the day was ice cold beer. In the above picture, I am enjoying a Quilmes, which is as popular down there as the various Anheuser-Busch productoids are here. You can see the edge of the pool at the Posada la Sorgente on Avenida Córdoba in Puerto Iguazu. In the late afternoon, I enjoyed having a cool one by the outdoor bar while reading my Kindle.

My overwhelming impression of the selva was that it was hot and humid, especially as it was getting ready to unleash a Biblical thunderstorm on the evening of the day the above picture was taken.

Bananas on the Bar at Posada la Sórgente

Bananas on the Bar at Posada la Sorgente

Here is another view of the bar, which had a handy basket of home-grown bananas at its edge.

I don’t know if I will ever find myself in the jungle again. For the Iguazu Falls, though, it was worth it. My greatest fear going there was the possibility of getting bitten by disease-carrying mosquitoes. Not too far north, in Brazil, the Zika fever (carried by the same Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry malaria, dengue, and chikungunya) is so prevalent that residents of the State of Pernambuco and surrounding areas are being urged to avoid getting pregnant. The danger? The children are in danger of being born with microcephaly.

Fortunately, not only was I not bitten: I did not even see any mosquitoes.