At a time when most of the United States and Canada are burning up in the heat, I decided to spend the afternoon at the one place that is always almost preternaturally cool: Burton Chace Park in the middle of Marina Del Rey. No matter how hot it is in Los Angeles, there always seems to be a cool sea breeze at Chace. Today wasn’t particularly warm along the coast, but I was in the mood for a good breeze.
So there I sat at an isolated cement picnic table, finishing a French noir novella by Pascal Garnier entitled Boxes. As I had my new Kindle with me, I decided to sign in to the county park’s wi-fi and check out if Jeff Bezos was actually discounting something I wanted. Well, he wasn’t, but that’s okay.
I took a short walk around the tiny peninsula looking at boats and trying to see where the sea lions were. I had heard them while reading, but they had disappeared by the time I took my walk. I did, however, find these pigeons.
All in all, I spent three hours at Chace, returning home to my apartment, which is infested with fruit flies. Martine and i threw out a lot of the pasta they were feeding on, but somewhere they are being nourished by something else. As I sit here typing this post, they are landing in my hair, and I am reaching up to squeeze their little lives out.
This is a repost from Multiply.Com which I wrote some ten years ago:
Oh, oh! I’ve been thinking about Argentina again, and that means you’re going to hear about some more really obscure (but, IMHO fascinating) stuff.
To begin with, Argentina is such a Catholic country that it had to create additional saints native to its own soil. Let’s begin with La Difunta Correa, which means, literally, the Dead Correa:
According to popular legend, Deolinda Correa was a woman whose husband was forcibly recruited around the year 1840, during the Argentine civil wars. Becoming sick, he was then abandoned by the Montoneras [partisans]. In an attempt to reach her sick husband, Deolinda took her baby child and followed the tracks of the Montoneras through the desert of San Juan Province. When her supplies ran out, she died. Her body was found days later by gauchos that were driving cattle through, and to their astonishment found the baby still alive, feeding from the deceased woman’s “miraculously” ever-full breast. The men buried the body in present-day Vallecito, and took the baby with them. [from Wikipedia] All over the country, there are roadside shrines to La Difunta Correa, many surrounded by gifts left by truck drivers and travelers in a hope for a safe journey to their destination. Remember that Argentina is the eighth largest country on earth, and that distances can be farther than one ever imagines, especially on unpaved ripio roads.
There are two other popular saints with shrines all across the nation: Gauchito Gil (“Little Gaucho Gil”) and El Ángelito Milagroso, a.k.a. Miguel Ángel Gaitán.
Gauchito Gil hails from the state of La Rioja. A farmworker, Gil was seduced by a wealthy widow. When the police chief, who also had a thing for the widow, and her brothers came after Gil, he joined the army in the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay (perhaps the bloodiest war ever fought in the Americas, with the exception of our own Civil War). When he returned home, the Army came after him to join in one of Argentina’s many civil wars. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Gauchito deserted. He was discovered by the police, who wanted to execute him. Whereupon Gil prophesied to the head of the police detail that if he were merciful, the officer’s child, who was gravely ill, would get better. Instead of being shown mercy, Gil was executed.
When he returned home, the police officer found that his son was indeed very ill. So he prayed to Gauchito Gil, and his son got better. It was this police officer who returned to the scene of the execution, gave Gil a proper burial, and built a shrine in his memory. Today there are hundreds of such shrines scattered throughout the country.
By the way, the Gauchito is not the only deserter hero in Argentina’s past. Perhaps the national epic is Martin Fierro by José Hernández, about a gaucho who deserts from the so-called “Conquest of the Desert”—really a war of genocide against the native tribes of the Pampas—and is pursued by the police militia.
The Nineteenth Century in Argentina was unusually bloody, what with civil war, wars against the native peoples, and wars against other countries such as Paraguay and Brazil. So it is not unusual to find deserters as heroes, which is unthinkable in Europe and North America.
Finally, there is another La Rioja “saint” named Miguel Ángel Gaitán, El Ángelito Milagroso, who died at the tender age of one in 1967. When his body didn’t rot, the locals thought that meant it was supposed to be exposed for veneration—and so it was.
Chasing the White Whale in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick
I think that Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is the Great American Novel. There are a handful of other claimants, but the search for the White Whale—I think—knocks them all into a cocked hat.
Yet it was not always thus. Published in 1851, it took decades before it was recognized for the masterpiece it was. In his Conversations 1 with Osvaldo Ferrari, Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges makes an interesting observation:
I believe that [Moby-Dick], upon publication, remained invisible for some time. I have an old an excellent edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the eleventh edition published in 1912. In it, there’s a not-too-long paragraph about Melville, describing him as a writer of travel novels. And though it mentions Moby-Dick, it is not distinguished from the rest of his books. It’s on the list but there is no mention that Moby-Dick is far more than a traveller’s tale or a book about the sea.
This makes me wonder how many American books written in the last sixty years will suddenly emerge to future generations as the *new* Great American Novel. Will it be something that we now regard as second-rate stuff? We may never know: The future is a closed book.
Yesterday, Martine and I visited the Autry Museum of the American West in Griffith Park. Many of the galleries were still closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak, but what there was, was choice. I am specifically referring to the exhibit of California Indian art entitled “When I Remember I See Red: American Indian Art and Activism in California.” What impressed me the most was work from a Nontipom Wintu artist from Northern California named Frank LaPeña (1937-2019).
Artist Frank LaPeña
What draws me to American Indian art is its spirituality and brilliant imagery—both qualities notably lacking in so many academic artists. These are not works to decorate a corporate boardroom: Instead, they are works to make you feel grounded in a separate reality, one that is part of the world from which the artist comes.
Frank LaPeña’s Dream Song
In a strange coincidence, there is an accused murderer with the same name who is totally unrelated to the artist. This other Frank LaPeña was recently released from prison in Nevada where he was wrongfully incarcerated for hiring a hit man to kill the wife of a Caesars Palace in 1974.
I will try in the week ahead to highlight some more California Indian artists from the Autry show.
I am currently reading Chrétien de Troyes’s Arthurian tale Eric and Enide. I fell in love with this picturesque list of the Knights of the Round Table as detailed by this 12th century French author:
Before all the excellent knights, Gawain ought to be named the first, and second Erec the son of Lac, and third Lancelot of the Lake. Gornemant of Gohort was fourth, and the fifth was the Handsome Coward. The sixth was the Ugly Brave, the seventh Meliant of Liz, the eighth Mauduit the Wise, and the ninth Dodinel the Wild. Let Gandelu be named the tenth, for he was a goodly man. The others I shall mention without order, because the numbers bother me. Eslit was there with Briien, and Yvain the son of Uriien. And Yvain of Loenel was there, as well as Yvain the Adulterer. Beside Yvain of Cavaliot was Garravain of Estrangot. After the Knight with the Horn was the Youth with the Golden Ring. And Tristan who never laughed sat beside Bliobleheris, and beside Brun of Piciez was his brother Gru the Sullen. The Armourer sat next, who preferred war to peace. Next sat Karadues the Shortarmed, a knight of good cheer; and Caveron of Robendic, and the son of King Quenedic and the Youth of Quintareus and Yder of the Dolorous Mount. Gaheriet and Kay of Estraus, Amauguin and Gales the Bald, Grain, Gornevain, and Carabes, and Tor the son of King Aras, Girflet the son of Do, and Taulas, who never wearied of arms: and a young man of great merit, Loholt the son of King Arthur, and Sagremor the Impetuous, who should not be forgotten, nor Bedoiier the Master of the Horse, who was skilled at chess and trictrac, nor Bravain, nor King Lot, nor Galegantin of Wales, nor Gronosis, versed in evil, who was son of Kay the Seneschal, nor Labigodes the Courteous, nor Count Cadorcaniois, nor Letron of Prepelesant, whose manners were so excellent, nor Breon the son of Canodan, nor the Count of Honolan who had such a head of fine fair hair; he it was who received the King’s horn in an evil day; he never had any care for truth.
I Would Always Add the Word Szamár, Donkey in Hungarian
Time for you to learn a little Hungarian. This post is about what I was like as a little boy. I was never considered to be a smiling, happy-go-lucky kid. I would describe myself with the Hungarian word szomorú, which, according to my Órszagh Magyar dictionary meant “sad, woeful, sorrowful, doleful, melancholy, gloomy …”—you get the picture. Then, to cap it off, I would follow it with the word szamár, meaning donkey or ass. Szomorú szamár. (In Hungarian, the “sz” diphthong is pronounced like an English sibilant “s.”) I could summarize it better with the character Eeyore in the Winnie the Pu stories by A.A. Milne. But then, I didn’t know about Eeyore until decades later.
Before you start thinking this sounds unrelievedly grim, there was another size to me as well, one in which I was considerably happier—but only in private. When I was enjoying a book, or drawing imaginary maps, or playing with my friends, I was a different person. It was only among adults and people who were not close to me that I was a melancholy ass.
You see, I was always the shortest and youngest-looking kid in class, and the most unathletic. That hurts when you are the son and nephew of the terrible Paris twins, semi-professional soccer players in Europe and America. Even when I was a senior at Dartmouth College, I was picked on by the local high school kids who thought I was one of them. By then I had my pituitary tumor that accounted for my slow or even non-, growth.
At St. Henry Elementary School in Cleveland, we had to attend daily Mass. You’ll never believe what I prayed for: In place of happiness, I requested wisdom. Well, I never got either, really, so it was a bit of a wasted effort.
I am no longer a melancholy ass, though my friends will probably admit I can be an ass at times. But that doesn’t bother me unduly.
Today was a strange day. Around 5 PM, there was a sharp (Richter 3.4) but brief temblor centered in El Segundo. It seems that our part of Southern California is continuing its inexorable millenias-long journey northward. As an odd punctuation to the quake, I noticed two large military helicopters at low altitude heading toward the ocean minutes later.
But my main Northern contribution today was completing Chauncey C. Loomis’s Weird and Tragic Shores: The Story of Charles Francis Hall, Explorer. Chauncey was my favorite English professor at Dartmouth. He, without a doubt, the coolest member of that distinguished faculty. What I did not know at the time was that he was such an adventurous traveler. His bailiwick went far beyond the Eighteenth Century English Novel, to places like Peru and the Arctic.
Chauncey C. Loomis (1930-2009)
Why, despite my admiration for the man, did I wait more than twenty years to seek out and read his book? I knew Chauncey when he was in his thirties (long before the above photo), a young English prof sitting in his office with a hunting dog curcled around his feet. Terminally cool!
I love the conclusion to his book after he discovered that the body of Arctic Explorer Charles Francis Hall was poisoned with arsenic:
Anyway, I didn’t write the book as a murder mystery. In fact, the idea of going to northern Greenland and performing an autopsy occurred to me only late in my research, after I read the transcript of the [Naval] Board of Inquiry’s interrogations. What first had my interest was the Arctic itself (the actual Arctic and the Arctic in the nineteenth-century imagination), the whole saga of nineteenth-century Arctic exploration, and Hall as a characteristic nineteenth-century American of a particular type. The book was intended to be more of a period piece than a murder mystery. Mostly it was meant to be a study of the Arctic conceived as a “challenge” by nineteenth-century western man, a challenge that aroused both the noble and the reprehensible in him: pety and pugnacity, visionary idealism and gross ambition, genuine heroism and macho posturing, self-sacrifice and self-aggrandizement…. I cannot make up my own mind as to whether these nineteenth-century explorers, including Hall, was heroes or fools. My waffling, I suspect, indicates humankind’s general ambivalence about heroism; we yearn for heroes, but we mock them when we have them, and then, having mocked them, we yearn for them again. We know that our world is complex, but heroes often at least seem outwardly simple: they cut through the Gordian knot of complexity with apparent abandon.
Combination Bus/Self-Propelled Railroad Car in Alausi, Ecuador
Last night I had a vivid but inconclusive dream, which I would like to summarize here. I was waiting in a suburban area for a train to pick me up. There were two tracks, for trains going in either direction. I was uncertain that the train to Sacramento would stop for me, as I was not sure where I was standing was a station. I was thinking that I should have caught the train in downtown Los Angeles, where it originated.
So, with several other people who were in the same situation, I walked southward through a railroad tunnel to what I hoped was a legitimate station. I noticed that, inside the tunnel, the two tracks had merged into one, and that there were only a few widely scattered indentations in the wall of the tunnel to avoid being crushed by any oncoming trains. I noticed that the walls of the tunnel were covered by what looked like tall pieces of perfectly straight bamboo.
Fortunately, no trains came while we were in the tunnel. On emerging, I noticed an area of large broken stones, like an abandoned quarry in which many others were waiting for trains. I was told this was the station for Newhall. (Actually, in real life, Newhall has a rather nice and very proper station.)
Suddenly, several adults were marshaling high school students, who were looped around with a large chain to keep them together. With equal suddenness, a number of self-propelled railroad cars painted yellow/orange and shaped like school buses showed up to take them to their destinations.
I continued to wait, but was cheered when tickets were being collected and shoved through slots cut into a large rock; and there were signs that my train was approaching.
Did the train stop for me? Did I board it? I’ll never know, because I woke up noticing that I had forgotten to set the alarm to wake me at 7:30 AM.
When one takes an international flight to Iceland, one usually lands at Keflavík Airport on the Reykjanes Peninsula. From there, it is a From there it is 30 miles (50 km) to Reykjavík. Those 30 miles contain some of the most desolate volcanic badlands that I have ever seen. It is south of that road, on the way to Grindavík that a fissure in the earth started belching out lava on March 19, 2021. It is still going strong, and it looks like it will destroy the road to Grindavík, forcing the locals to take a more roundabout route to the capital.
The area of the eruption is part of the Krýsuvík-Trölladyngja volcanic system on the Reykjanes Peninsula, a scene of active rifting between two major tectonic plates: the Eurasian and North American. The boundary between these two plates cuts north/south right through the west of Iceland. This is the first eruption on the Peninsula in over 800 years. You can read about the eruption at Hit Iceland and Wikipedia.
The Desolate Reykjanes Peninsula Terrain Seen from the Airport Bus to Reykjavík
I took the above picture from my bus to Reykjavík in June 2013. It amazed me on both my trips to Iceland that the road to the capital was so desolate, so uninhabited, for so many miles. At places, one could see geyser activity marked with little steam clouds. I can only speculate that the Icelanders knew this place was going to blow at some point, so they decided to stay away in droves.
Now, of course, tourists are flocking to the scene of the eruption, but they are warned that things can get ugly fast. In 1783, there was a major eruption along a 27 km fissure called Laki, killing some 9,000 Icelanders with the lava and poison gases associated with the event. You can read about it on the Scientific American website.
No one knows how long the eruption at Geldingadalir will continue, and how much the Peninsula will change as the result of the massive amounts of lava being pumped out.
There Is Something Classy About the Logos of British Sports Cars
As Martine and I attended a British car show at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo, I became acutely conscious of the snazzy sports car logos—far more sophisticated than most American and Japanese equivalents. Here are just a few of the hood ornaments I snapped at the show. They reminded me of the medieval art of heraldry.
You Can See My Reflection on the Hood
I Had Never Even Heard of This Make
I Don’t Quite Understand the Letters Above the Name “Lotus”
I feel almost Chestertonian in my seeing this heraldic connection, but I really think it is not all that far fetched.