Serendipity: The Flip Side of Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp (Center) in Nome

I’ve been reading a fair number of books about Alaska lately and surprised to come across the following about famed lawman Wyatt Earp’s time in Nome. My assumption was that Wyatt Earp was a pretty straight arrow. After all, hadn’t Henry Fonda played him in John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946), and didn’t his pallbearers include William S. Hart and Tom Mix? Then I read this passage in Brian Keenan’s Four Quarters of Light: An Alaskan Journey (New York: Broadway Books, 2004):

“That’s Wyatt Earp’s old home,” Mike informed us. I knew from some background reading that the famous frontier marshal had amassed a fortune in Nome [worth $3 million in 2017 dollars] and had headed back to the States. I was surprised the cottage was in such a state and wondered why. “Image isn’t everything,” Mike replied, “and a lot of folk up here don’t look too kindly on Mr. Earp. The truth is, he arrived here in 1898, a bald, bespectacled, paunchy man in his fifties. Well past his prime. He was mean, tightfisted and malicious, and his wife was as ugly in looks as he was in personality. [Not so: See picture below.]  He built the Dextor [actually, Dexter] Saloon in town and he sucked the life’s blood out of the 20,000 miners and their families who shivered and died in tents trying to scrape a few ounces of gold off the beach. He bailed out after two years with an absolute fortune. If Nome was ever a seedy, ruthless and ugly place to be in, it was because of professional con men like Wyatt Earp and many like him.”

Josephine Marcus, Mrs. Wyatt Earp

Below is a picture of Dexter’s Saloon, which Earp ran in partnership with C. E. Hoxsie:

The Dexter Saloon Owned and Operated by Earp and Hoxsie

There is an interesting article about Earp in Nome entitled “Wyatt Earp’s Alaskan Adventure” that appeared in True West Magazine in 2014. You can find it by clicking here. Apparently, Earp also ran a brothel on the premises. Below is another picture of Josephine Earp, which leds me to suspect that her services could have been used in this other venture as well”

Josephine Earp—At Wyatt’s Brothel?

Butchart Gardens on a Rainy Day

This Used To Be a Quarry

Everyone knows that gardens always look their best under bright sunlight. There is, however, one garden that looks great even on a rainy day. I am referring to Butchart Gardens, near Victoria, British Columbia. There is something about the plants there that shine in all weathers. When in Los Angeles, I love to hang out at Descanso Gardens, Huntington Gardens, the Los Angeles Arboretum, and the South Coast Botanical Gardens—but none of them hold a candle to Butchart Gardens.

The only garden in North America that I could conceive of as competing with Butchart is in Nova Scotia at Annapolis Royal: The Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens. Perhaps it has something to do with both gardens being more in the temperate climatic zone. In Los Angeles, at certain times of the year, even the most beautiful plants can look a little dusty and bedraggled.

Sign at the Garden Entrance

I have visited both gardens twice, and I love both of them. But then, I wouldn’t be at all surprised that there are other great botanical gardens of whose existence I am not aware. As much as I have traveled, I have seen only little bits here and there. Martine and I went to Annapolis Royal to see the citadel, not even knowing of the garden’s existence. The citadel is nice, but the gardens are spectacular.

 

Spy Vs. Spy

Could It Be That I Miss the Cold War?

Last year, during tax season, I started falling in love with spy novels. To be more specific, I started reading the spy novels of Len Deighton, starting with the “Harry Palmer” titles, of which I read the first four. (There are three more in the series.) Then I moved on to the Bernard Samson titles, where I am now, wending my way through London Match. Of course, I am also very fond of Eric Ambler, Paul Furst, and the inimitable John Le Carré.

Perhaps I subconsciously think that the Soviets were a more admirable enemy than, say, Sunni Arab Jihadists. There was a certain rationalism to the Russians, which seems to be lacking in the Arab world. I have always loved Russian literature, even more than American literature. Don’t worry: I have no intention of toeing the Marxist-Leninist line any time soon. The fact that, as a Hungarian, I lost a number of relatives in 1956 when the Russian tanks invaded, makes it difficult for me to be Pro-Communist.

I love spy fiction. It is so devious. Sometimes I wonder why the British are so good at it. There are American CIA novels of the Tom Clancy variety, but I never quite fit that groove. The British operatives of MI-5 and MI-6, have won some battles; and they suffered some serious defections, especially the Cambridge Five. The British seemed to have more at stake. I remember a British friend at Dartmouth College who told me that he felt uncomfortably close, geographically, to the Iron Curtain.

At some point, I will print a list of my favorite spy novels. But for now, I am going under cover.

 

 

Favorite Cities: Québec

View of Quebec Skyline from La Citadelle

One of my favorite cities in North America is French-speaking Québec. Martine and I have visited it twice, once staying in the city itself and once at Lévis, a short ferry ride across the St. Lawrence. It is a wonderfully walkable place, with spectacular views, fascinating little museums such as the old Ursulines’ Convent, and delicious French Canadian food. It is surrounded by 17th century ramparts which can be walked in several hours.

Many of the buildings along the St. Lawrence waterfront are built to resemble 17th century buildings, though they were built much later. There is even a funicular to take one from the waterfront up to the level of the city.

My Favorite Restaurant in Canada

To enjoy Québec to the fullest, it helps to be able to speak some French. Like the Parisians, the Québecoises appreciate it when visitors try to meet them at least halfway. Even when they speak perfect English, some of the residents will pretend not to, especially if they have reason to think that tourists are being ugly Americans.

One of my favorite restaurants in Canada is Aux Anciens Canadiens in the Old Town. Check out the menu, which comes in French and English. And enjoy your caribou and Canadian maple syrup tartine with cream. If you don’t mind having dinner late in the afternoon, lunch prices prevail until 5 pm.

In the weeks to come, I will name some of my other favorite cities around the world.

An Encounter in the Desert

Acoma Sky City

It was our third day in Albuquerque. Martine and I were visiting the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. While Martine wandered around looking at the exhibits, I stopped in front of a table covered with dozens of pieces of pottery that caught my eye. The artist was an Acoma Indian named Larry.

Now I had visited Acoma twice, and Martine, once. The Sky City pueblo shared with Old Oraibi on Third Mesa on the Hopi Reservation the distinction of being the two oldest continuously inhabited towns in North America. It sits atop a mesa closed to all but reservation traffic. One must take a bus from the Sky City Cultural Center and Ha’aku Museum to get to the top. Then, after taking the tour, one can take the bus back down or walk down a relatively easy trail.

I told Larry that we planned to visit Sky City in about a week or so, and that we had seen it before. I saw a pottery seed container bearing an image of a horned toad. Even though it was not cheap, I bought it because it was elegant. I explained to Larry that I liked to collect turtles and frogs because I, too, lived in the desert (9 inches of rain in a typical year); and turtles and frogs made me think of rain.

Horned Toad

This caught Larry’s attention. He recommended that when we next visited Sky City a week hence, we try to get a guide named Turtle.

As it turned out, Martine and I could not visit Sky City that next week: It was closed for a tribal religious ceremony. We were staying at the Sky City Casino on the Acoma Reservation, where I became ill. Martine had to drive me to the Indian Health Service clinic on the reservation, where I was fitted up with an IV with Solu-Cortef added. I got well quickly, as I wrote earlier.

Although we did not get to see Sky City during that trip, I felt in a strange way that I received a blessing of sorts while we stayed at the Casino. I even won a small amount of money.

 

Favorite Films: Paris Belongs to Us (1961)

Production Shot from Jacques Rivette’s Film with Françoise Prevost and Giani Esposito

They called it “The New Wave” as if half a century more would not pass and make a mockery of the term. It’s like those terms such as modernism and post-modernism. What’s next? Postpostmodernism? YetAgainModernism? It was definitely a new movement, breaking away from the stagy studio and going off into the streets of Paris. There were a whole slew of great directors, such as Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Alain Resnais, Eric Rohmer, Agnes Varda, Louis Malle, and let us not forget Jacques Rivette.

Rivette spent three years in making Paris Belongs to Us (Paris nous appartient). I saw it several times in the 1960s and early 1970s, and I loved the film anew with each viewing. Then the film dropped out of sight. Today, I watched the Criterion Collection version and once again fell for it. Except, now I think I understand the film whereas before I was merely dumbly enthralled by it.

This is the ultimate conspiracy film. Betty Schneider (Anne) goes to a cocktail party where the suicide of a talented musician named Juan is discussed. The people we meet at this party will continue to play a part in the film. Anne next attends a rehearsal of a production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre directed by Giani Esposito (Gérard). She is offered the part of Marina, the daughter of Pericles; and Gérard begins to fall for her. Gérard’s girlfriend is the Sphinxlike Terry, who seems to ward off everyone. Anne goes in search of a tape that Juan had recorded for Pericles, and runs into several people who knew Juan. One of them is played by director Jean-Luc Godard (below).

Betty Schneider and Jean-Luc Godard at a Café

Other people begin to die mysteriously, including Gérard and even Anne’s brother Pierre. There is talk of a worldwide Fascist conspiracy, a theory fomented especially by Daniel Crohem as Philip Kaufman, an American fleeing the McCarthy hearings in the United States. How did Gérard die? Was it suicide, or was he murdered. It appears that Pierre was gunned down by Terry. Why? There are no clear-cut answers. There is only the persistent Betty, making the rounds of people who might know of Juan’s tape in the labyrinth that is Paris.

In the opening credits sequence of Paris Belongs to Us, there is a quote from the poet Charles Péguy: “Paris belongs to no one.” Now, as I write about this film, I want to see it again.

 

Elagabalus

Elagabalus (AD 203-222)

It is generally accepted that the worst of the Roman emperors was Elagabalus, also known as Heliogabalus, who reigned from 218 to 222, when he was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard at the tender age of eighteen. My thoughts tend to turn in his direction when I consider the current occupant of the White House and various other Trumpf properties. Read what Edward Gibbon has to say about him in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

A rational voluptuary adheres with invariable respect to the temperate dictates of nature, and improves the gratifications of sense by social intercourse, endearing connections, and the soft coloring of taste and the imagination. But Elagabalus, (I speak of the emperor of that name,) corrupted by his youth, his country, and his fortune, abandoned himself to the grossest pleasures with ungoverned fury [Italics mine], and soon found disgust and satiety in the midst of his enjoyments. The inflammatory powers of art were summoned to his aid: the confused multitude of women, of wines, and of dishes, and the studied variety of attitude and sauces, served to revive his languid appetites. New terms and new inventions in these sciences, the only ones cultivated and patronized by the monarch, signalized his reign, and transmitted his infamy to succeeding times. A capricious prodigality supplied the want of taste and elegance; and whilst Elagabalus lavished away the treasures of his people in the wildest extravagance, his own voice and that of his flatterers applauded a spirit of magnificence unknown to the tameness of his predecessors. To confound the order of seasons and climates, to sport with the passions and prejudices of his subjects, and to subvert every law of nature and decency, were in the number of his most delicious amusements. A long train of concubines, and a rapid succession of wives, among whom was a vestal virgin, ravished by force from her sacred asylum, were insufficient to satisfy the impotence of his passions. The master of the Roman world affected to copy the dress and manners of the female sex, preferred the distaff to the sceptre, and dishonored the principal dignities of the empire by distributing them among his numerous lovers; one of whom was publicly invested with the title and authority of the emperor’s, or, as he more properly styled himself, of the empress’s husband.

Perhaps what this country needs is a Praetorian Guard detachment.