Off to New Mexico

Ship Rock in Northwest New Mexico

This is my last post until I return a little more than two weeks from now. New Mexico is a wonderful state to visit, as it has its own cuisine (and the best chiles in the world), its own culture (Spanish, not Mexican), fascinating Indian tribes (Navaho, Zuñi, Acoma, plus 20+ other pueblos), fascinating recent history (the A-Bomb), steam trains (the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad), the tomb of Smokey Bear (Capitan) and Billy the Kid (Fort Sumner), and any number of good things.

So I’m signing off for now. Wishing all of you good luck, and don’t let Trumpf bite you!

The Surrealist Lett

“Palacios en Bria”

I owe my acquaintance with the work of Oscar Agustin Alejandro Schulz Solari (better known as Xul Solar) to Jorge Luis Borges. Now why would I accept the artistic judgment of a blind man? Fortunately, Xul Solar’s association with Borges goes back to the early 20th century, when the writer still had his sight. In fact, the painter is referenced by name in one of his greatest stories—“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” On page 23 of the Grove Press edition, we find:

The moon rose over the sea would be written hlör u fang axaxaxas mlö, or, to put it in order: upward beyond the constant flow there was moondling. (Xul Solar translates it succinctly: upward, beyond the onstreaming it mooned.)

Also, Xul Solar illustrated three of Borges’s earlier works: El tamaño de mi esperanza (1926), El idioma de los argentinos (1928), and Un modelo para la muerte (1946). The latter was co-authored by another mutual friend, Adolfo Bioy-Casares.

In Buenos Aires, on Laprida, there is a museum dedicated to Xul Solar, situated in his former home. On my last trip to Argentina, I had the good fortune to visit it. When next I go to Argentina—and I dearly hope I can—I intend to visit it again.

“Fiordo”

What I like most about Xul Solar’s work is its depiction of strangely beautiful and bizarre places. I do not recall many (if any) portraits, but I do remember his many landscapes and cityscapes.

Xul Solar is not widely known outside of Argentina, though I think he is one of the world’s greatest surrealist painters. The painter was born in Latvia in 1887 and died in 1963, just as his friend Jorge’s vision went into an irreparable decline.

Garryowen

Charles Schreyvogel’s “A Sharp Encounter”

There are many stories braided into the history of the American West. There were the settlers, the outlaws, the railroads, the Chinese, the Mexicans—and there were the Indians in their battle against the U.S. Army. I have just finished reading Robert M. Utley’s Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian 1866-1891 (New York: Macmillan, 1973). According to Utley, there were “more than 1,000 combat actions, involving 2,000 military casualties and almost 6,000 Indian casualties.”

And yet, most of us know about the Indian wars from a handful of Hollywood Westerns, such as Raoul Walsh’s They Died with Their Boots On (about Custer) and John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy: Fort Apache, Rio Grande, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (about the Apache wars). In most of these films, we heard the military bands playing “Garryowen,” which was adopted by Custer for his Seventh Cavalry.

From Ford’s films, one would naturally assume that most of the cavalrymen were either Irish or unreconstructed Johnny Rebs. In fact, far more of them were black. Several entire regiments consisted of 100% black enlisted men—and, of course, 100% white officers. (In all fairness, John Ford covered the subject in his little-known Western Sergeant Rutledge.)

Frederic Remington Photo of Black 10th Cavalry Troopers

The Black Troopers, popularly known as Buffalo Soldiers, had a distinguished history, which, today, is largely forgotten. They were every bit as brave as the White troopers, and they were more likely to re-enlist.

If you want to see depictions of the U.S. Army in the West, I recommend to look at the photos and paintings of Frederick Remington and the paintings of Charles Schreyvogel.

Optical Illusion

The So-Called Zollner Illusion


All the long diagonal lines are actually parallel to one another. Measure them if you don’t believe me. The short horizontal and vertical lines just make it look otherwise.

Redwood Camp Lodge

The Log Home My Brother Is Building in Idyllwild, CA

I may have mentioned once or twice that my brother is a home builder. He started building log homes in Minnesota, then moved on to the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, subsequently diversifying his efforts in Paso Robles. Now he lives in Palm Desert (near Palm Springs) and is working on a log home in the San Jacinto Mountains at Idyllwild. What distinguishes his log homes is that they do not employ any kind of mortar, or “chinking” as it is also called, between the logs. Instead, the logs are scribed by chainsaw to fit exactly one on top of another, as shown in the following photograph:

Logs Put Together Without Mortar

To see the realtor’s link to the project, click here. To learn more about Idyllwild, click the city’s tourist website. Dan originally planned to build the house for himself, but found it was more convenient to headquarter himself in Palm Desert.

Below is a picture of my brother Dan which I took in Ecuador. Here, he is examining religious sculptures from the former Cathedral of Cuenca:

My Brother Is the One Leaning to the Left

You could do far worse than live in one of Dan’s superbly built log homes.

The Frogs Who Wanted a King

From Ancient Greece Comes the Story About What We Have Become

In case you are not familiar with this ancient tale by Aesop, here is a retelling from a website called Fables of Aesop:

The Frogs were tired of governing themselves. They had so much freedom that it had spoiled them, and they did nothing but sit around croaking in a bored manner and wishing for a government that could entertain them with the pomp and display of royalty, and rule them in a way to make them know they were being ruled. No milk and water government for them, they declared. So they sent a petition to Jupiter asking for a king.

Jupiter saw what simple and foolish creatures they were, but to keep them quiet and make them think they had a king he threw down a huge log, which fell into the water with a great splash. The Frogs hid themselves among the reeds and grasses, thinking the new king to be some fearful giant. But they soon discovered how tame and peaceable King Log was. In a short time the younger Frogs were using him for a diving platform, while the older Frogs made him a meeting place, where they complained loudly to Jupiter about the government.

To teach the Frogs a lesson the ruler of the gods now sent a Crane to be king of Frogland. The Crane proved to be a very different sort of king from old King Log. He gobbled up the poor Frogs right and left and they soon saw what fools they had been. In mournful croaks they begged Jupiter to take away the cruel tyrant before they should all be destroyed.

“How now!” cried Jupiter “Are you not yet content? You have what you asked for and so you have only yourselves to blame for your misfortunes.”

In the archaic L’Estrange version, the moral is: “The mobile are uneasie without a ruler: they are as restless with one; and the oft’ner they shift, the worse they are; so that government or no government; a king of God’s making, or of the peoples, or none at all; the multitude are never to be satisfied.”

As I sat down reading in the Santa Monica Main Library this morning, I noticed that the people seated around me look as if they had lost their battle with life. One black man alternately wept and swore; and a bearded youth in a hoodie kept calling his family to beg money for his anxiety medications. The coffee shops are full of people with notebook computers, undoubtedly using social media to communicate with people they don’t know or really care about. The natives appear to be restless.

Well, We Got Our King

This restlessness is probably what elected our current President, who is very much like Aesop’s King Stork. He seems to be comfortable only with billionaires and despots. And what can we expect from him? The answer, in one word is covfefe, and lots of it—brown, gooey, and pungent.

Another Day, Another Nationality

Costumed Children Waiting to Dance

Yesterday was Scottish, today was Greek. Every Memorial Day weekend, Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in North Hills puts on a three-day Greek festival with food, dancing, and vendors. It is one of three Southern California Greek festivals that Martine and I attend. For Martine, the main attraction is spanakopita, Greek spinach and cheese pie, the baked goods redolent of honey and nuts, and he beautifully decorated church.

My preference is to see the children dancing. As they go through their steps, members of their family step forward and shower the dancers with one-dollar bills, which are picked up after the performance. And, although I was raised as a Roman Catholic, I have always had a warm spot in my heart for the Greek Church.

I sometimes wonder what will happen in the years to come as the younger generation grows more detached from the values of their parents. Many of the older parishioners still speak to one another in demotic Greek, while the children are just American kids trying to make their own way in the world. When the girls in the above picture grow up, will the old ways matter to their own children? What about the Greek language? the cuisine? even the religion?

Are we seeing the last florescence of children trying to adhere to their parents’ folkways? Perhaps not. Trumpf to the contrary, America is still seeing waves of immigrants, mostly from Asia and Latin America. As a Hungarian, I am closer to the European ethnic ways; though the Central Americans and Koreans and Persians also have a lot to offer.