In this truly ghastly year of 2020, I sincerely wish all of you a happy—and safe—Halloween. It happens to be one of the more meaningful holidays on my own calendar. Unlike Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, or even Christmas. I mean all of us are on a journey, and the holiday commemorates the destination of that journey, for all of us, even for “billionaires” like Trump.
It’s followed on November 1 by All Saints Day and on November 2 All Souls Day, known in Mexico as the Dia de los Muertos.
Mexican Folk Art with Skeleton
Although no kids have come Trick or Treating at my place for over thirty years, I’ve always liked Halloween. (Kids don’t like to climb stairs, even though I’m only on the second floor.)
Every October, I usually read several novels and short stories in the horror genre. I do not care that much for the current stuff, like Stephen King or Dean Koontz. My preference is for the classics, and those tend to be concentrated in the late 19th century.
The books I read this month were:
Shirley Jackson’s Dark Tales
Joseph Sheridan LeFanu’s In a Glass Darkly, which included the short novels Carmilla and The Room in the Dragon Volant
Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories, a new collection edited by Aaron Worthy
Shirley Jackson is most famous for her short story “The Lottery,” but she also wrote such novels as We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House.
Sheridan LeFanu (1814-1873) was an Irish author who wrote some classic tales of horror, especially Carmilla, a tale of a lesbian vampire who predated Bram Stoker’s Dracula by some twenty years. In 1960, it was made into a film by Roger Vadim entitled Blood and Roses (in France: Et mourir de plaisir). At the time I attended college, it was the most popular film showed by the Dartmouth Film Society.
Welsh Horror Tale Author Arthur Machen
Finally, there was a delightful collection of novellas and tales by Arthur Machen (1863-1947). Most of Machen’s best work was composed up to the late 1920s and included the classic The Great God Pan (1894), which tells of what happened when a young woman who, upon being exposed to the Greek god Pan, created a trail of destruction that spanned several continents.
Today I stopped in at Barnes & Noble at The Grove (adjacent to the original L.A. Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax). I never cease to be amazed at the lack of variety in the cover designs of paperbacks meant for the women’s market. Here are the basic elements:
Women walking away with their faces infrequently shown
Extra points for wearing fashions of bygone days
Or: Back mostly bare
The above photograph shows a montage of women’s titles circa 2013. Now, seven years later, it’s still the same.
This monotony does perform a useful function for me: With rare exceptions, I wouldn’t select one of those “women walking away” books. I would expect to find that their contents are mostly what I call excessively “relationshippy,” and mostly from a parochial feminine perspective.
No offense meant, but most fiction targeted primarily at female readers is not my cup of tea.
Omigosh! Four Women Walking Away—and One Guy!
Elena Ferranate’s My Brilliant Friend was an excellent novel about a girlhood in Naples, Italy. Eventually, I’ll tackle the sequels in the trilogy.
The day before yesterday, I posted a description of driving back to L.A. from the desert in a big wind. In yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, I discovered just how strong those winds were:
The powerful winds, which included gusts that topped 80 mph in at least one location, toppled big rigs in the Inland Empire [San Bernardino and Riverside Counties] and forced officials to briefly close Ontario International Airport. Don Gregorio, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in San Diego, said gusts at the airport on Monday had clocked in as high as 70 mph.
I was just south of Ontario Airport on Archibald Avenue when I encountered the worst of the winds.
This last weekend, I spent a long weekend with my brother and sister-in-law in Palm Desert. Atypically, the weather was perfect. Dan mentioned that until I arrived, the temperature had risen to over 100° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius) for over 100 days in a row. While I was there, the high was closer to 80° (27° Celsius).
It felt good to see my brother again after 7 months of close quarters in West Los Angeles. We went swimming three days in a row, and even re-visited a couple of local sites.
These included the lovely Thousand Palms oasis and the Sunnylands park on the Annenberg Estate in Rancho Mirage.
One of the Cactus Gardens on the Annenberg Estate
Not all the facilities at both locations were open due to the coronavirus outbreak, but seeing anything beautiful these days is a rare pleasure—especially during a particularly ugly election year.
It was L.A. author Joan Didion who said, “The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.”
After spending a weekend in the desert with my brother, I drove back to Los Angeles in a veritable windstorm. The worst of it was in Ontario, where I pulled off the freeway to pump gas and use the bathroom, the rest area at Calimesa being closed.
When the wind blows from the north, it whips through Cajon Pass and pummels the communities adjacent to Interstate 15 with an intensity which at times could be frightening.
So it was for me at the Shell Station off California 60 on Archibald Road. I had difficulty opening the driver-side door: It was as if the wind had nailed it shut. I knew better than to try to wear my cap and end up chasing it to San Diego, but little did I suspect that my eyeglasses were in the process of being yanked off my head and sent swirling into the blowing leaves and dust.
As I got back on the road to the freeway on-ramp, I had difficulty keeping my Subaru in my lane, driving as I did between 18-wheelers.
The worst of the wind was there, but it was also pretty wild at Cabazon, which sits on the low pass connecting San Jacinto Peak with Mount San Gorgonio.
My brother made a point of calling me around noon to see whether I was able to navigate the gusts without mishap. He said that it had gotten equally intense in Palm Desert, where he lived.
The area around Palm Springs is dominated by the huge mass of Mount San Jacinto. Nowhere else in California is there such a precipitous ascent from base to peak, 8,000 feet (2,438 meters).
While much of the surrounding landscape is bone dry, there are a number of lush canyons on Indian reservation land around the mountain. The Indians in question are the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, who own a crazy quilt of checkerboarded land in and around Palm Springs.
I have visited Palm and Andreas Canyons, and would welcome a chance to see Tahquitz Canyon (below) which was out of bounds to visitors for decades after having been desecrated by hippies in the 1960s. I have never been to Murray Canyon.
Waterfall at Tahquitz Canyon
There is also a Visitor Center (closed during the coronavirus outbreak) near Palm Canyon, where the Cahuillas sell books and souvenirs. Please note there is an admission charge to visit the Indian Canyons.
Because the area is bone dry most of the year, the tribe requires that visitors come equipped with between 16 and 48 ounces of drinking water.
I present for your enjoyment—and serious consideration—a poem about politics by Joy Harjo, the Poet Laureate of the U.S., who is also a Muscogee Creek Indian whose people have suffered grievously from lying, weaselly politicians of all stripes through their history as the first real Americans.
The poem is from her collection entitled An American Sunrise.
For Those Who Would Govern
First question: Can you first govern yourself?
Second question: What is the state of your own household?
Third question: Do you have a proven record of community service and compassionate acts?
Fourth question: Do you know the history and laws of your principalities?
Fifth question: Do you follow sound principles? Look for fresh vision to lift all the inhabitants of the land, including animals, plants, elements, all who share this earth?
Sixth question: Are you owned by lawyers, bankers, insurance agents, lobbyists, or other politicians, anyone else who would unfairly profit by your decisions?
Seventh question: Do you have authority by the original keepers of the lands, those who obey natural law and are in the service of the lands on which you stand?
I found interesting Joy’s use of the word principalities in the fourth question. She herself is a member of a sovereign nation that is affiliated with the U.S.
In the sixth question, I would have included real estate developers, who are in my book archvillains.
Looking at our current president, he comes off in honest answers to these questions as a suppurating vessel of gangrenous pus.
This next weekend, I will break quarantine for the first time to visit my brother Dan and sister-in-law Lori in Palm Desert, near Palm Springs. It will still be hot as Hades, but for the first time I will have a chance to talk face to face with someone other than just Martine.
She, by the way, will not be coming with me. Having lived and worked for a couple years at Twentynine Palms in the Morongo Valley, about an hour north of Dan, she hates the desert with a passion.
I would not live in the desert, as my brother does, but I enjoy visiting it from time to time—especially when the dead heat of summer begins to let up.
Perhaps I can visit a couple of places that I particularly like, such as the Thousand Palms Oasis or the Indian Canyons south of Palm Springs. More likely, I will be reading some books and taking advantage of Dan’s air conditioning and swimming pool. And, of course, his cooking.
As usual, I will be leaving L.A. before the sun rises. I will stop at Hadley Fruit Orchards In Cabazon to do some shopping before making a beeline to Palm Desert. Right around Cabazon, I will set my car radio dial to MOD-FM 107.3 to listen to their parade of classical 1950s hits with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, and their ilk.