English Lit—East

Many people are unaware of the fact that some of the best English literature of the last hundred years or so comes from India. The subcontinent has some 22 officially recognized languages and dialects spoken within its borders. Most people know about Hindi, but what about Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Marathi, Meitel, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu? Actually, what binds all the various peoples of India together is, believe it or not, the English language, a holdover from British colonial days.

In this post, I will mention two writers whom I have read over the years with great pleasure. First, there is Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami, better known as R K Narayan (1906-2001).

Narayan was brought to the attention of the English-speaking world by none other than Graham Greene. Like William Faulkner with his Yoknapatawpha County, Narayan created a fictional town in Tamil Nadhu called Malgudi and wrote numerous novels and short stories about the people who live there. My favorites among his novels are Swami and Friends (1935), The Financial Expert (1952), The Guide (1958), The Man-Eater of Malgudi (1961), and The Vendor of Sweets (1967).

Another excellent Indian writer writing in English is Anita Desai (born 1937), who currently teaches at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Several times, Desai has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Among my favorites of her novels are Clear Light of Day (1980), Baumgartner’s Bombay (1988), Fasting Feasting (1999), and The Artist of Disappearance (2011).

There are others I can name, but I have not read as many works by them as I have from Narayan and Desai. If you are interested in the many worlds of India, I heartily recommend that you give them a try.

A Warning to Urbanites

William S. Burroughs (1914-1997)

Writing in 1959, the Old Junkie had a vision of Trump’s America. The following passages are from William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch:

The Old Court House is located in the town of Pigeon Hole outside the urban zone. The inhabitants of this town and the surrounding area of swamps and heavy timber are people of such great stupidity and such barbarous practices that the Administration has seen fit to quarantine them in a reservation surrounded by a radioactive wall of iron bricks. In retaliation the citizens of Pigeon Hole plaster their town with signs: “Urbanite Don’t Let The Sun Set On You Here,” an unnecessary injunction, since nothing but urgent business would take any urbanite to Pigeon Hole.

Americans have a special horror of giving up control, of letting things happen in their own way without interference. They would like to jump down in their stomachs and digest the food and shovel the shit out.

Tricked Out Caddies

Last Saturday, Martine and I stopped in at the Zimmerman Automobile Driving Museum (newly re-named) to see a show of Cadillacs.on display from private collectors. I am not generally interested in Caddies, but what caught my eye were the cars tricked out with hydraulics and fancy paint jobs.

To me, there was a lot of humor in this, as if the car owners were sharing a joke. I liked them more than the Cadillacs that were, so to speak, mint in box.

I was rather surprised to see so many Caddies on view and so many visitors. I guess they have maintained a level of popularity with aficionados that I never suspected.

Parking

Talk About Something We Take for Granted …

In just about every movie I’ve ever seen, the hero never has any trouble finding a parking spot directly in front of his destination. And, moreover, if there is a parking meter, he never has a problem getting the exact change or running his credit card. As for myself, I usually find that most meters have either been vandalized or never worked right in the first place.

And that’s not the worst of it. To use a meter, I have to make an existential decision. Which is more important to me? Quarters for parking, or quarters for the washer and dryer in my apartment building? Rarely do the meters accept any of my credit cards: I guess it’s more difficult to vandalize the coin reader part of the device.

Today was a rare day for me: When I went to see my doctor, I found a good parking place on the residential street just north of Wilshire Boulevard. Usually, I have to hike from four or five streets away; and even then I have reason to fear getting a parking ticket. Then, when I went to lunch at Gilbert’s El Indio I got the coveted parking space right next to the front door. And I was able to order the excellent Enchiladas Suizas Monday lunch special.

Speaking of parking, I typically avoid parking garages. It’s a quick way to not only empty your wallet but get your car all dinged up. So I have adopted a practice which I abbreviate as PFAW—short for “park far and walk.” I need the exercise anyway, so if I have to walk half a mile from my parking place, it’s probably good for me, no? I always smirk at the drivers who absolutely have to park right in front of their destination, even if it means messing with the flow of traffic. There is a Trader Joe Market near where I live which always has a bunch of “parking playas” jockeying for the ten desirable spots right in front. I just turn on Granville and park about a block away.

Parking is one of those activities that people don’t usually talk about. Yet you will find that the time one spends looking for a parking place (not to mention the money) adds up when you look at a whole year’s time.

Here’s hoping that the magical parking spaces will suddenly be available to you. If not, may you be philosophical about parking far and walking.

Desert Critters

Bighorn Sheep at the Living Desert

It’s always a bit frustrating to look at zoo animals. They seem to be hyper-aware of the human gaze and prefer to avoid it. It reminds me of a former trip to Nova Scotia, where Martine was determined to find a moose. So we went to the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park north of Halifax to see their moose. Well, the moose was there, but didn’t want to be seen; so he hid behind some plants. When we tried to circle around to see him, we found the route closed. Not only closed but guarded by a determined naturalist. So much for that!

I have seen bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) only two or three times in my life: once at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County, and the rest of the time at the Living Desert Zoo in Palm Desert, CA. And not all the time, either. This particular day, they seemed to congregate in full view of park visitors.

Another Bighorn Sheep Right by the Fence

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I wasn’t particularly upset at the animals that were in hiding. I had visited three or four times before, and I was more interested in just taking it easy in the shade during a typically hot desert day. Still, it was nice to see the bighorns come crowding down from the hill.

A Botanical Garden Plus …

The big tourist attraction in the city of Palm Desert is the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. On my last day in the desert, while the male members of my family hiked Andreas Canyon, I decided to re-visit the Living Desert. Instead of frantically trying to see all the animals—many of whom, typically, were in hiding—I concentrated on the gardens, which are restful and lovely.

So I spent some time in the shade of a palm tree reading Philip K. Dick’s The Zap Gun, with a bag of popcorn and a bottle of water at my side.

There have been changes since my last visit. For one thing, there is a whole Australian section; and, in future, there will be a major rhinoceros exhibit in the African section.

Shown above is a Boojum Tree or Cirio from Baja California’s central desert. The scientific name is Fouquieria columaris, but the English name is taken from Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Hunting of the Snark”:

“But if ever I meet with a Boojum, that day,
⁠In a moment (of this I am sure),
I shall softly and suddenly vanish away—
⁠And the notion I cannot endure!” 

Tomorrow, I will describe some of the animals I saw at the Living Desert.

Two Generations

Me with My Niece’s Oldest Son, Ollie

While many of my family members cavorted in the pool at a rental house in Indio, I sat reading James Boswell’s Boswell in Holland, 1763-1764. I had had a vicious siege of blepharitis that lasted for the better part of a year, so I was not about to subject my eyes to pool chemicals.

As I was eating my sister-in-law’s excellent orzo salad with olives, orange bell peppers, and feta cheese, my niece Hilary’s son Oliver came and sat down next to me. He had matured considerably since the time when, while rough-housing, he kicked me in the head. (Fortunately he was barefoot at the time.) Since that time, I have resolved never to rough-house with children. I could get hurt. Or worse, I can turn into my father and deliver an angry swat.

When my brother proposed I look after three children while their parents went elsewhere, I answered “No effing way!” Some people are not meant to be parents: I am one of that number. But then he knew, and he was only jesting with me.

In the Bosom of the Fambly

The Extended Paris/Moorman/Duche Family in Indio

Crouching: Oliver Moorman and Hilary Paris Moorman
Standing: Jennifer Duche, Me, Lori Paris, Ely Moorman, Dan Paris, Joseph Moorman

Just to get the relationships straight:

  • Dan Paris is my younger brother. He is married to Lori Paris.
  • Jennifer Duche is Lori’s daughter from an earlier marriage.
  • Dan’s daughter from an earlier marriage is Hilary Paris (and therefore my niece).
  • Hilary Paris is married to Joseph Moorman with two sons, Oliver and Ely.
  • I just happened to wander into the picture.

Ours is a widely diverse family, including anti-vaxxers, a Trump supporter, a Yoga instructor, a Seattle Parks & Recreation employee, two Hungarians, a Master Builder, a travel specialist, and me—perhaps the strangest one of all.

Joe and Hilary rented an Air B&B house in Indio, California, where most of the get-togethers were held.

In addition to family stuff, I saw the new James Bond film (No Time to Die) and liked it, and I visited the Living Desert Zoo in Palm Desert, where I took pictures (which you will sample in the coming days).

The weather was a bit on the cool side, with a wild and windy rain squall on my final evening in the desert.


Good Bad But Not Ugly

José Ferrer, Sting, and Sian Phillips in David Lynch’s Dune (1984)

There are movies which one likes but almost no one considers to be really good. Yet one watches them hungrily every time they appear on television. In that category for me are the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski, both parts of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls, Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, and—last but not least—David Lynch’s Dune.

I have read Frank Herbert’s novel Dune several times, and all the sequels at least once, even the over-long God Emperor of Dune. I love the mythology that Herbert created and could hardly wait for it to be turned into film, though I knew the story was so vast that it was virtually unfilmable.

Arch-Villain Sting as Feyd Rautha in an Expansive Mood

I could easily enumerate the flaws of David Lynch’s film version as well as anyone: Kyle MacLachlan was his usual wooden self. The story was too big to be filmed. There was too much dreamy interior monologue about the sleeper awakening. Some characters, like Chani (Sean Young), Duncan Idaho (Richard Jordan), Gurney Halleck (Patrick Stewart), and the Shadout Mapes (Linda Hunt) were wasted. And so on ad infinitum.

But the first hour of the film is outstanding, featuring some of the most outrageous steampunk set designs. The villains, the Harkonnens, are truly horrible, especially the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. It’s only when Paul and his Bene Gesserit mother are among the Fremen natives of Planet Arrakis that things get a tad sketchy.

I still love the film, having seen it about a dozen times.

Later this month, another version, covering only the first half of the novel, is to be released. I will review it after I’ve seen it.

The Shmoo

Somehow Al Capp Understood What “The Zuckerface” Was All About

The Shmoos first made their appearance in the Li’l Abner comic strip in 1948. I cannot help but think they were the original forerunner of The Zuckerface, CEO of FaceBook. According to Wikipedia:

A shmoo is shaped like a plump bowling pin with stubby legs. It has smooth skin, eyebrows, and sparse whiskers—but no arms, nose, or ears. Its feet are short and round, but dexterous, as the shmoo’s comic book adventures make clear. It has a rich gamut of facial expressions and often expresses love by exuding hearts over its head.

Of course, there isn’t exactly a one-to-one correspondence between all the attributes of the Shmoo and those of the CEO of FaceBook. But isn’t there clearly a resemblance?

Uncanny, Isn’t it?

It’s such a pity that FaceBook has turned into a force for evil, especially among the young and feeble-minded, and that the company’s management persists in ignoring that fact.