GRUBERG: The Papa Bach Story 1

Original (1960s) Bookmark from Papa Bach Books

It was early 1967: I was still exploring my new Los Angeles home on foot and by bus. (It was to be almost twenty years before I began to drive.) On the north side of Santa Monica Boulevard, just west of Sawtelle, sat a big bookstore with a sign that said Papa Bach Paperbacks. Even at that early juncture, I was a bookstore aficionado of long standing, a habitué of Schroeder’s on Public Square in Cleveland and the Dartmouth College Bookstore in Hanover, New Hampshire.

I still have the books I bought that day: It was a two-volume set, the Vintage Turgenev comprising seven of the Russian author’s novels: Smoke, Fathers and Sons, First Love (in Volume 1), On the Eve, Rudin, A Quiet Spot, and Diary of a Superfluous Man (in Volume 2). The two books cost $1.65 and $1.95 respectively.

It wasn’t long before I moved to an apartment near Mississippi and Sawtelle, just four or five blocks south of Papa Bach’s. For the six months or so that I lived there, I had to catch the bus to UCLA across the street from the bookstore. In addition, there was a nifty used bookstore called West L.A. Books just across Sawtelle. During that time, I stopped in at Papa Bach’s at least four times a week, each time coming out with one or more purchases. I was in hog heaven.

The Picture of Bach That Was on the Logo came from a German Stamp

I got to know the original owners, Ted and Eva Riedel, and spent hours talking books with them. They had a quote contest in which, if you guessed the book it came from, you got a copy of the book. The first quote, if I remember rightly, was from Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. Not only was I the all-time winner, but I volunteered to letter the quotes myself with a Magic Marker on a roll of paper that was displayed near the cash register.

Alas, Paradise does not last forever. In the early 1970s, Ted and Eva sold the bookstore and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Ted told me that he planned to start a Papa Bach Bookstore there, but I have found no evidence that that ever happened. I even checked out the Jackson Hole phonebook when I was there in 2008, but found no listing for Papa Bach or the Riedels. I liked them, so I can only hope that things went all right for them.

Tomorrow, I will describe the bookstore under its new owners.

BTW, the GRUBERG on the bookmark is a mnemonic for their phone number at that time, namely 478-2374.

 

The Copán Ruling Dynasty

 

Altar L with God/Kings of Copán

When I first began traveling in Maya lands, the Maya did not appear to have a history. Now that so many of their glyphs have been translated, we see that—particularly in the Classic Period between AD 600 and and some point in the 9th century AD, most of the major archeological sites not only had a history, but a rich one as well.

The first event recorded at Copán in Honduras was in 321 BC on Altar I. There was a founder of a dynasty called K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ who ruled between 416 and 437 AD. Then there were two unnamed rulers before K’altuun Hix dedicated a carved step inside the Papagaya Structure around 480 AD. There were two more unnamed rulers before Balam Nehn (524-532 AD) and Wil Ohl K’inich (532-551 AD).  After an unnamed Ruler 9, we have a filled-chronology that takes us all the way to 822 AD:

  • Moon Jaguar (553-578)
  • K’ak’ Chan Yopaat (578-628)
  • Smoke Imix (628-695)
  • Waxaklajuun Ub’aah K’awiil, better known as 18 Rabbit (695-738)
  • K’ak’ Joplaj Chan K’awiil, better known as Smoke Monkey (738-749)
  • K’ak Yipyaj Chan K’awiil better known as Smoke Shell (749-763)
  • Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat, better known as Yax Pac (763-820)
  • Ukit Took’ (began reign in 822 AD)

It was Ukit Took’, the last known ruler of Copán, who dedicated Altar L, shown above, identifying his predecessors. There are no known dates at Copán after 822 AD.

What happened in 822? The kingship failed for various reasons, as it did around then through most of the adjacent area, for environmental reasons (probably drought), overpopulation, and a change in the form of governance.

As alien as the dynastic names above may seem, the chronology is surer than that of many European dynasties of the period. The calendar was sacred to the Maya, so they were sure to note the exact date that events occurred—and that didn’t even happen in most European countries of the Dark Ages.

 

Favorite Films: They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

The Original Footage Compared with the Restored, Colorized Image

Almost all of the motion picture film shot during the first quarter of the 20th Century was cranked by hand through the camera. Some of it was shot at 10 frames per second (fps), some at 12 fps, some at 18 fps. Projected today, the film has that herky-jerky quality that resulted in the “fractured flickers” shown on  early television. And that was only one of the differences. Much of the film was not properly exposed; it was in black and white; it was silent; much of it was multi-generational dupes; the film stock was different; and most of the film stock has not survived a century of storage in even the most optimal conditions.

Therefore it was a miracle when I saw Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, which was commissioned by Britain’s Imperial War Museum. The Museum gave the New Zealand director (who gave us The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) carte blanche to take 100 hours of original World War I footage and 600 hours of interviews with survivors and make an interesting film of it.

Jackson did more than that. He had the old footage restored and brilliantly colorized. He had lip readers write down what they men were saying and commissioned actors with the exact Lancashire or Dorset or Scots dialect (based on the regimental insignia on the men’s uniforms) to create a dialog track that synced exactly with lip movements.

The End Result: Real People with Real Faces and Realistic Movements

What resulted from the efforts of Jackson and his crew was resuscitating a whole period of history almost exactly as if it were filmed today using current film-making methods. His Tommies in the trenches in France and Belgium were real people with real faces and real voices. They were not isolated by the whole iconography of silent film.

This is a film which has to be seen to be believed. The whole horror of war in the trenches is brought to life in color and sound. The film is not for everyone: There are numerous shots of bodies of the dead covered with flies, rats in the trenches, gaping wounds, and so on. This is all real war footage—not in any way Disneyfied.

 

Speed Bumps

A Poor Man’s Speed Bump: Just Stretch a Thick Rope Across the Road

It’s not unusual to find speed bumps or humps on suburban residential streets in the U.S., but Mexico and other Latin American countries put their speed bumps on major roads that cut through populated areas. In Mexico they were called topes; in, Guatemala, tumulos. It was in Honduras that I first encountered speed bumps that were thick ropes stretched across the highway. In the above photo, the rope is on the main street through Rio Dulce (a.k.a. Fronteras).

On the route I took from Copán, Honduras, to Rio Dulce, it seems that we went over a hundred or more speed bumps. Every community seemed to have them on the main highway from Zacapa to Puerto Barrios and the Petén.

 

 

Jungle Bus

Bathroom Break at Poptún

There I was in Rio Dulce. I spent one day on a boat ride to and from Livingston, and another day trying to get information on how to get to Flores in the Petén. One of my guidebooks named two travel agencies that were on a street just north of Bruno’s, where I was staying. I spent hours going up and down streets and not finding anything that looked like a travel agency, let alone a shuttle bus service. Besides, I had the feeling that the type of people who hung out in Rio Dulce weren’t all that interested in visiting Tikal.

Finally, I decided to take a public bus to Flores. Litegua didn’t go there. I saw no office for Dorado. Fortunately, the Fuente del Norte (FDN) office was very helpful. There was a 9:30 AM bus for Flores for only 65 quetzales ($8.30 in dollars). The bus started in Guatemala City around midnight and wound up, some fifteen hours later in Flores. Technically, it was a first class bus; but I had been warned that Fuente del Norte was less than cream of the crop.

The next morning, I showed up at the FDN office just as it was opening around 9 AM. I sat down in the waiting room. Fortunately, the bus arrived just after 9:30. Being a de paso bus (i.e., filled with passengers from earlier points on the route). Sometimes, a de paso bus arrives filled to capacity with passengers; this one had space for all the passengers who were waiting at the Rio Dulce office. Among the passengers who a British and a German couple. Other than myself, the rest of the passengers were Maya.

I had been prepared for a grueling ride, and it was that. I was wearing an adult diaper in case the ride lasted long without any restroom breaks. (Fortunately, there was a bathroom break in Poptún, midway along the route.) The ride was fiercely uncomfortable because all the bus seats appeared to be broken in different ways. And, as the bus barreled down the highway at high speed, I felt I was being shaken, not stirred.

At least the bus got me there in one piece.

 

 

The Happiness Trap

Ernest Hemingway Poses with a Water Buffalo in Africa, 1953-1954

Having just read Ernest Hemingway’s The Green Hills of Africa, I begin to understand why he shot himself in 1961. I had not read any Hemingway for over thirty years, and I realize now there was a reason for this. There was Papa H in Africa, frequently asserting how he loved the place and the people. Yet he is envious of another member of his hunting party, Karl, who is more successful in grabbing the big trophies. Even when he kills a kudu, which he has been trying to do for the whole length of the book, he has this dialog with Pop, the leader of the group, conscious that Karl has bagged a bigger kudu:

“We have very primitive emotions,” [Pop] said. “It’s impossible not to be competitive. Spoils everything, though.”

“I’m all through with that,” said. “I’m all right again. I had quite a trip, you know.”

The only problem is that I didn’t believe him. Again and again, Hemingway is hyper-conscious of competing, of looking good in the eyes of his fellow hunters and his native assistants. He talks about Droopy, a native tracker:

M’Cola [another tracker] was not jealous of Droopy. He simply knew that Droop was a better man than he was. more of a hunter, a faster and cleaner tracker, and a great stylist in everything he did.

At another point, Papa talks of his “wanting to make a shot to impress Droopy.”

Hemingway, too, was a great stylist—in his own way. The prose of The Green Hills of Africa at times rises to the level of poetry. In this, he falls victim to the happiness trap, of always wanting to be happy, of always overcoming hurdles and progressing from one triumph to another. But life is not like that. One must appreciate the little things, to behave prayerfully and thankfully when he has taken the life of some splendid game, to grab at the moments of happiness that are fleeting and resolve to slog manfully through all the merde with which a life is interlarded.

 

 

The Flip Side

Lago de Atitlán at Night

My type of vacation is not all beer and skittles. Sometimes it’s downright anxiety provoking, especially when it comes to transportation issues. I wanted very much to see the market at Chichicastenango, but the ATITrans shuttle from Panajachel left only at 8:00 AM on Thursdays and Sundays. But I was staying at Santiago Atitlán, which is connected to Pana pretty much only via boat. (There is a road, but it is susceptible to hijacking.) I got sweats in the middle of the night worrying about whether I could make the connection.

So I arranged at the Posada de Santiago for a launch to pick me up at the hotel’s private dock at 6:00 AM, which gave me two hours to get to the ATITrans office via fast launch and tuk-tuk. The hotel assured me that the deal was done, for a mere 250 quetzales (roughly $32.00). At 5:15 AM, without my breakfast (the restaurant opened at 7:00 AM), I wended my way in the dark down the trail to the dock, which was fortunately well lit. At six sharp, I heard the launch and saw the headlights growing larger.

The ATITrans Office in Panajachel with List of Shuttle Destinations

They were right on time. We headed out before sunrise at high speed. It seemed we spent as much time in the air as on the surface of the lake. It was my bad luck that all four launch rides on the lake were on windy days with many whitecaps in evidence. But we made it to the public dock in Pana in three quarters of an hour. Fortunately, the tuk-tuks were already up and about, so I got to ATITrans with an hour to spare.

Fortunately, there was a fresh orange juice vendor setting up right across Calle Santander from me, so I had something of a breakfast after all. And in the end, I got to Chichicastenango in good time.