This short poem is representative of the turbulent life of its author, Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950). Until an auto accident left her in deep pain and dependent on morphine, Millay had lived an interesting and often promiscuous life.
Figs from Thistles: First Fig
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
I have spent half of the last week recovering from Covid-19, and half reading a superb novel about Bosnia in the early 19th century written by a Bosnian Serb named Ivo Andrić. Bosnian Chronicle describes life in the North Bosnian backwater town of Travnik when France opens a consulate there, and Austria follows suit, around 1807.
Described in loving detail by Andrić are the staffs of the two consulates and their families and aides; the three Ottoman Pashas in charge during the period covered and their aides; the local begs (first families) of the town; the religious leaders of the Islamic, Catholic, Jewish, and Orthodox Christian factions; the local doctors; and various peasants. The net result is a layered picture of Bosnian society and various French and Austrian “interlopers” during the height of the Napoleonic Era.
The book ends with Napoleon’s capture and exile on Elba, necessitating the closing of the French consulate, followed in short order by the closing of the Austrian consulate.
My Hungarian upbringing tends to make me more interested in Central and Eastern Europe than most other Americans. Fortunately, there is no lack of great literature east of Vienna: Ivo Andrić, for instance, a native of Travnik and a Bosniak himself, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961 for The Bridge of the Drina. I have also read his Omar Pasha Latas: Marshal to the Sultan, which is available in a New York Review edition.
I turn to the East to look for literary treasures, and I have not been disappointed.
Was this the same Russia that manhandled the Nazi menace at Stalingrad, Kursk, and all the way back to Berlin? Stalin was no more a sweetheart than Vladimir Putin, but I feel that—after some initial losses—he made better wartime decisions.
In an interview with Salon.Com, Colin Clarke had the following assessment of the war in Ukraine:
One of the big stories I see, in terms of international relations and diplomacy and statecraft, is the concept of great power competition. With that language we are thinking about the United States, China and Russia. The war in Ukraine shows us that Russia does not belong in that conversation anymore. Russia is not a great power, it’s essentially a gas station with nuclear weapons. The Russian military has performed so poorly, far worse than anyone could have expected, including many defense planners in the United States, who built the Russians up to be 10 feet tall.
We must never forget, however, all those nuclear weapons. Granted that most of their ICBMs may be pretty dodgy, but even one or two direct hits on a major U.S. population center would be truly horrifying. Living in Southern California as I do, I am sure that L.A. would probably be one of major targets of the Russian nuclear warheads.
I fought long and hard, but Covid-19 finally caught up with me last Friday. I was super tired and couldn’t get up from bed without effort. At the same time, I had developed a wicked sore throat and a racking cough. At the time, I thought I had just developed a bad cold; so—lacking a pituitary gland—I upped my normal dose of hydrocortisone to help me fight the illness. (Without a pituitary gland, I have no adrenaline.)
On Saturday night, I got a call from a nurse friend of mine who suggested I get tested for Covid-19. Fortunately, I had sent away for free test kits, so I administered the test to myself. Sure enough, I had contracted the coronavirus.
I have no idea how I could have caught it, unless one of my vaccinated friends had it without presenting any symptoms. Or it could have just been a wild fluke, something in the air that suddenly took hold.
Fortunately, I have been vaccinated and boosted, so that by now (Tuesday), my symptoms have grown less; and I even had the energy to read again. Unfortunately, Martine caught the virus from me and has more severe symptoms. She, too, has been vaccinated and is not likely to wind up requiring medical care.
It’s a good thing that vaccines were quickly developed to fight the virus. Else both of us could easily have been at risk of a severe respiratory response.
No doubt you’ve heard of those one-of-a-kind words in English that just won’t rhyme with any other words. Well, it seems that the Futility Closet has punked three of those unrhymable words: month, orange, and oblige. Let’s have a look-see at Willard R. Espy’s poem on the subject:
It is unth- inkable to find A rhyme for month Except this special kind.
The four eng- ineers Wore orange Brassieres.
Love’s lost its glow? No need to lie; j- ust tell me “go!” And I’ll oblige.
In the meantime, I’ll go searching for those four engineers wearing orange brassieres.
Yesterday, Martine and I drove to the L.A. Police Department Museum in Highland Park. When we were in Vancouver some years back, we visited the local police museum and were enthralled with what it said about the differences in Canadian vs. U.S. culture (or lack of same).
The 2½ floors of exhibits covered a wide range of subjects, but the best exhibits were all on the second floor:
The 1997 robbery of a Bank of America branch and the ensuing gunfight with the two well-armed burglars
In the summer after my junior year at Dartmouth College, I felt I had to make a decision as to which graduate school I would attend. My top two choices were New York University (NYU) and UCLA. The University of Southern California (USC) also had a good program, but I was told by one of my classmates that it was in a bad part of town. (The Watts riots were to take place in August of that year, and decided me against the place.)
So the whole family packed up and drove to Passaic, NJ, where my father had some relatives. We stayed at the Hotel Lincoln in Passaic and took the bus through the Lincoln Tunnel to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. While my parents and brother went to some tourist place, I took the subway to NYU and managed to find Haig P. Manoogian, who apparently was the whole film department, in his office.
Although Martin Scorsese idolized Manoogian, I received an entirely different impression. I was interested, not in film production, but film history and criticism. Manoogian was not, and made no bones about it. The result: Scratch NYU.
This trip turned out to be fun in an entirely different way. It was the second (and last) year of the New York World’s Fair, which we all attended. My memories of the Fair are twofold. First, upon entering, I was so struck by the place that I tripped over a small child. Second, it was the first time I had ever eaten a taco, from a no less authentic place than the Mexico Pavilion.
The final upshot of the trip was that I applied for admission to the UCLA Film Department, which accepted me and led to my moving out to Los Angeles, where I have lived ever since.
If your prime source for news is the boob tube, prepare to be not only misinformed but bored out of your skull. Under the pretext of imparting late-breaking news, you will have to put up with endless repetition—to such an extent that you will be unsure that this is an entirely new mass shooting or the same old one that everyone is deploring. Those bodies in the streets in the Ukraine—are they new, or the same old bodies? I mean, how can you tell?
This is particularly a problem when there is a BIG STORY, such as the Ukraine War, the January 6 Insurrection, the New York subway shooting, or Donald J. Trump’s latest con.
I am going to propose something radical to prevent you from not only wasting your time but getting so tense that you can’t sleep. It consists of one word: WAIT.
Avoid being tied to the 24/7 news circle jerk from the corporations that run the major news channels. WAIT and READ when the news becomes available in newspapers, or, even better, weekly or biweekly or monthly periodicals. The best news stories I ever read were typically in The New Yorker or The New York Review of Books. By the time the story reaches the print media, some of the dross that takes up so much time is shaken out and you are able to better understand what is happening.
Avoid getting your news from YouTube, FaceBook, or most other Internet sources. There, the news is more frequently coated with a thick, indigestible layer of opinion like a fried chicken leg that is all breading. You want to understand what is happening, not what some Internet influencer wants you to think. Avoid getting stuck in some Internet news bubble. You’re here to learn, not to get force-fed by someone who has an axe to grind.
The old building in the center is where I lived from 1968 to 1971. The address was 1322-D 12th Street in Santa Monica. You can see two windows on the second floor: The one on the right in mine. When one walked in to the apartment, there were four rooms in the sequence living room, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom.
It was fun living there until February 9, 1971. At 6 o’clock in the morning, I heard all the dogs in the area howling. It was followed within seconds by the Sylmar Earthquake, which registered 6.5 on the Richter scale. I was literally shaken to the floor and scared out of my mind. When the noise and shaking subsided, my kitchen was in shambles. I had to throw out several large garbage bagfulls of food.
Within days, I bid the kindly owners, A. J. and Birdie Olliff, farewell and found an apartment on Barrington Avenue in West Los Angeles. I was afraid that, in a hypothetically more severe earthquake, I would not be able to make it to the exit. Looking back, I don’t think that would in fact have been much of a problem. I was afraid and not thinking right at the time. Of course, in an earthquake, the worst thing you can do is run out of the building and be clobbered by falling debris.
The building is still there: The Google Maps picture was taken in August 2007. I am sure that the Olliffs have passed on in the intervening years. Old A. J. was something of a visionary. He talked of seeing items made of “chiROME steel” in his visions. I guess he could not pronounce the word “chrome.”
When I traveled back and forth from Cleveland to Dartmouth College (in Hanover, NH) from 1962 to 1966, I had to take an involved route that involved one train and two different bus companies:
The New York Central Cleveland Limited, Train #58, connected Cleveland to New York City by way of Albany. Westbound, it was Train #57.
The Vermont Transit bus picked me up in front of Albany’s Union Station and dropped me off it Rutland, VT.
A White River Coach Company bus picked me up in Rutland and drove me to White River Junction, VT, where I transferred to another White River bus to Hanover.
In September, the family made a vacation of driving the 609 miles (977 km) to Hanover and staying at the Chieftain Motel for a few days while they enjoyed the New England countryside. Also, when I graduated, the family drove me and my gear home. All other times, I had to take the train and buses.
A year or two after I graduated, the New York Central, as such, was no more; and the Albany train station, which I described in a pretentious poem I wrote as a student as “oldgold in decrepitude,” was turned into an office building; and the trains stopped across the river at a new Albany-Rensselaer Station.
Typically, I was the only Dartmouth student to take the Cleveland Limited. Most of the others were bound for Chicago and points west and took the New York Central Wolverine, which bypassed Cleveland by going through Canada between Buffalo and Detroit.
The train was grotesquely uncomfortable. The cars were either too hot or too cold, sometimes both on the same trip. Once I made the mistake by buying over-the-counter sleeping pills (I think it was Sominex), which kept my eyes propped open all night. Only once did I get a sleeping compartment: It was too expensive, but it was rather nice.
Once, I transferred to another train in Albany and got off at Springfield, MA. There I waited for several hours for a Boston & Maine passenger train to White River Junction.