The Walk to the Dance

John Ford’s Tombstone, Arizona in My Darling Clementine (1946)

I wasn’t feeling all that well late this afternoon, so I switched on the television to Turner Classic Movies (TCM). They were just starting John Ford’s My Darling Clementine, one of the best Westerns ever made. It’s one of those films I’ve seen so often that I could anticipate the actors’ lines and gestures seconds before they appeared on film.

The film contains a whole sequence of what I call privileged moments. These are scenes that send shivers up my spine irrespective of how many times I see the film. The most incredible ones in My Darling Clementine appear in the middle of the film. Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) is lazing in a chair on the porch of his hotel, and Morgan (Ward Bond) and Virgil (Tim Holt) Earp are about to leave to visit the grave of their brother James. The Earp brothers notice a number of buckboards filled with people streaming into town. It turns out there will be a dance commemorating the building of a church.

Wyatt Earp Lazing in His Chair

Clementine Carter is about to leave on the outgoing stage, after having been told off by her old beau Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), but it is late that day. So Wyatt and Clementine walk down the main street of Tombstone to the church dance. This scene is conveyed in four or five shots that are among the best in any film I have ever seen. They arrive at the dance, and the church deacon invites them to dance. The scenes of the dance are again Ford at his best, with Wyatt’s stiff movements with the lovely Clementine in his arms. Folded in his arms during the dance is Clementine’s jacket.

Wyatt and Clementine at the Dance

These privileged moments are de rigeur for a film to be considered one of what I consider to be a great film. In future posts, I will try to sketch some more of these scenes—but only as I see the films again and the scenes are fresh in my memory.

Plotting a Holiday Picnic

Tongva Park Santa Monica from the Air

Now that Governor Newsom of California has come down hard on people doing any kind of celebratory activities, I am plotting a picnic for Saturday (July 4) or Sunday. At some point in the late morning, I will pick up two Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches with French fries, get a couple of cold beverages, and head with Martine to Tongva Park in Santa Monica, where I understand there are some benches and picnic tables. I hope to have a short picnic while we eat our lunch and enjoy the sea air (we will be across the street from the Santa Monica Pier).

If the local constabulary forbids us to use the park for fear of spreading virus to the plants, tables, and benches, we will look for another grassy place—I know several—and head to the alternates. There will just be the two of us. If anyone wants to join us, we will just have to throw rocks at them until they go away. We hardy survivors in the era of coronavirus don’t cotton to strangers.

 

 

 

Pining for the Pyramids

Maya King at Mérida Anthropology and History Museum

With the continuing bad news of the continuing ravages of the coronavirus, I begin to wonder whether I will ever again be able to travel. Of the countries that have encountered the virus, the United States has perhaps been the one nation whose people have been most incompetent at surviving. It doesn’t help that our national leadership seems to be intent on running up the totals of people infected and killed by the virus. I become increasingly furious at people who act as if Covid-19 didn’t exist.

My friend Peter tells me of seeing a wedding rehearsal at a park in San Pedro consisting of some two hundred people, none of whom were wearing face masks. Using the plague’s mortality statistics, it is likely that two of the people present will lose their lives, and possibly more will come down with the virus who are friends and family of the attendees.

There appears to be a large population that couldn’t be bothered with protecting themselves from the coronavirus. Either they see themselves as invincible, or they are resentful of politicians who are trying to enforce the quarantine, or they are f—ing stupid.

Admittedly, I don’t like wearing a face mask. When I am driving or walking outside in such a way that I could swing around people I encounter, I don’t wear a mask. Indoors, however, there is a danger that someone could cough or sneeze or even talk in my direction; so I don my mask and grit my teeth.

On my kitchen table is an old Lonely Planet guide to Mexico that I page through every day. I have found dozens of places that look interesting to me, from Baja California to Sonora to the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad … and the list goes on and on. My fingers are crossed that the stupidity of my fellow Americans does not turn me into an involuntary shut-in.

 

 

 

 

 

South for the Summer

Southern Plantation

For someone who is basically unsympathetic to Trump and his followers, I spend a lot of time reading Southern literature, particularly during the summer. Now that the days are getting warmer, I look forward to reading some more William Faulkner, who is by far my favorite 20th century American author. Joining him will be novels by John D. MacDonald (particularly the Travis McGee series), James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels set in Louisiana, Tennessee Williams, and Charles Portis—to name but a few. To that will be added one or more histories of the Civil War.

That also goes for Southern cooking. I love grits and sausage, and tomorrow I will prepare some jambalaya for Martine and me. (It won’t be authentic, as I do not use roux as a base, but it will be recognizable.) In fact, I may share the recipe in a future post.

Tomorrow, I begin reading Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury for perhaps the third or fourth time. I will have at my side several reference books that will help me track down some of the author’s more obscure references. Difficult as the book is, I will enjoy it immensely, just as I did before.

Some day, when travel once again becomes possible, I would love to visit New Orleans—preferably for the two or three days of the year when the weather verges on the tolerable. It would be fun visiting some of the better Cajun restaurants and the sights of a city that has flown so many flags during its history.

 

 

 

Somewhere To Go

Chewy the Bulldog at the Automobile Driving Museum

The coronavirus outbreak has affected me mostly in two ways:

  1. There has been no place to go. We could take walks to nowhere, of course, but that palls quickly.
  2. We haven’t been able to see our friends in person.

In the last two weeks or so, some destinations have become available. This weekend, we availed ourselves of two of them. Yesterday, we went to the Cruise-In show at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo. Martine has become particularly enamored of the museum, so much so that she donated $300.00 to them to help them out of the plaguey times.

There, we met the bulldog Chewy (picture above), who showed himself to be a real cool customer. Also, my favorite caterer, the Taco Taxi, was there with their super-great Mexican street tacos.

Neon Signs from the SFV Yesteryear

Today we showed up at the Valley Relics Museum in Lake Balboa to see their displays of pop culture hearkening back to the glory days of the San Fernando Valley back in the 1960s and 1970s. Most impressive was a large warehouse (above) filled with neon and other signs of businesses that are no longer. Back around 1970, I used to go to Pioneer Take-Out on Westwood Boulevard near Pico for a bucket of their chicken livers. That’s not an item that can be found at most chicken restaurants.

We had visited the museum once before, but didn’t enjoy it as much because it isn’t air conditioned, and in the Valley the heat can be formidable. Fortunately, today was on the cool side; and we were comfortable.

Manny, Moe and Jack from the Pep Boys

We ended by driving to a late lunch at Lancers Restaurant in Burbank. It’s one of Martine’s favorite sources of American coffee shoppe chow.

 

Plain Things

The Poems of Borges Have Always Moved Me

Whenever I feel out of sorts, nothing brings me back faster than re-reading Jorge Luis Borges, particularly his poems. Here is a sonnet from his 1974 collection In Praise of Darkness, translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni:

Plain Things

A walking stick, a bunch of keys, some coins,
a lock that turns with ease, useless jottings
at the back of books that in the few days left
me won’t be read again, cards and chessboard,
an album in whose leaves a withered flower
lies pressed—the monument of an evening
doubtless unforgettable, now forgotten—
and in the west the mirror burning red
of an illusory dawn. So many things—
a file, an atlas, doorways, nails, the glass
from which we drink—serve us like silent slaves.
How dumb and strangely secretive they are!
Past our oblivion, they will live on,
familiar, blind, not knowing we have gone.

The thing that confused me at first was the poet seeing in the western sky a strange mirror of an “illusory” dawn, which, of course, is rising in the east. That sort of thing is so typical of Borges, who delights to introduce mirrors into his works. So he looks west to see signs of an approaching dawn. Yes, I suppose that is possible. A bit tricky for Borges, though, who, by this time, was quite blind.

Although he was not to die yet for some twenty years, the thought of death was never a stranger to Borges.

Computer Hell

My Computer

Since last Friday, my computer has tended to present me with the Black Screen of Death (BSoD) at odd times. Whereupon I would shut down and the computer and try for a cold start. I would get the Dell Computer logo, followed by the screen that indicated the system was attempting to load Windows 10. Then, most times, I got the BSoD again.

After all my best efforts failed utterly, I called my friend Mike, whose knowledge of hardware and system software far exceeds mine. After a couple hours of going back and forth on the phone, it seems that the Dell Optiplex 9010 had system software that did not match some of the more recent application software. So we upgraded the system software, and suddenly the BSoD was a thing of the past.

Computers are complicated. Fortunately, I do not mind spending the money to get really good advice. Otherwise, I would be one of those millions of people who lose all their files when they unnecessarily migrate from one computer to another.

 

 

Plague Diary 28: The Great MAGA Virus

Does Trump Really Want to Kill Off His Supporters?

With the coronavirus rising again, especially in the Southern states that have formed the core of the president’s base, I seriously wonder if the Donald is trying to kill off his staunchest supporters? While eating lunch, I happened upon an article by Fintan O’Toole in the May 14, 2020 issue of the New York Review of Books entitled “Vector in Chief” from which this quote is excerpted:

We must bear in mind that Trump’s “real people,” the ones who make up his electoral base, are disproportionately prone to the chronic illnesses (“the underlying conditions”) that make Covid-19 more likely to prove fatal. A 2018 Massachusetts General Hospital study of more than three thousand counties in the US reported that

poor public health was significantly associated with the additional Republican presidential votes cast in 2016 over those from 2012. A substantial association was seen between poor health and a switch in political parties in the last [presidential] election.

For every marker of the prevalence of poor health (such as diabetes, obesity, days of illness, and mortality rates), there as a marked shift roward voting for Trump. Trump has acted in relation to Covid-19 like the God who tells the Jews to mark their homes with a sign so that the plague he is inflicting on Egypt will pass by their doors—with the malign twist that he has marked out his own chosen people for special harm.

How ironic! Following the example of their Great White Hope in the Whitest of White Houses, the voters attending his rallies in Tulsa and Phoenix are mostly not masked, and sneezing and coughing and shouting streams of coronavirus throughout the crowd. So far, Trump appears to be immune, but that is helped by the fact that he is a germaphobe who washes his hands incessantly with hand sanitizer.

The Camels of Fort Tejon

For a Few Years, There Were Camels as Well as Horses at Fort Tejon

One thing I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post about Fort Tejon was that the outpost took part in the ill-fated attempt to introduce dromedary camels to the U.S. Cavalry. It didn’t work out too well because the horses and other livestock couldn’t be controlled when they caught a whiff of the Sahara in their midst. The following commemorative plaque is from Fort Tejon State Historical Park:

An Experiment That Didn’t Pan Out

Finally, below is a cloth patch honoring the camels of Fort Tejon:

The Camels Were There for Only a Short While

Martine and I didn’t really see any trace of the camel presence at Fort Tejon, though I do not doubt that they occasionally appear in the military re-enactments that occasionally take place there.

 

Fort Tejon

Reconstructed Enlisted Men’s Barracks at Fort Tejon

Near the top of the Grapevine along Interstate 5 is an old fort constructed soon after California joined the Union. Beginning in 1854, the fort was occupied by the U.S. 1st Dragoons to protect Southern California from the North and vice versa. Martine and I had been there a couple times before, but we were starved for some sort of destination. Although the Fort Tejon State Historical Park was open, all the buildings and their exhibits were closed in the interest of social distancing. Semi-open as it was, it was still interesting to wander around the premises looking at the reconstructed buildings.

First we drove to the mountain community of Frazier Park on the route to Mount Piños, at 8,847 feet (2,697 meters) the tallest mountain in nearby Ventura County. There, we ate at a little Mexican restaurant before doubling back to the I-5.

Entrance to Fort Tejon

There were never any real battles fought at Tejon—other than sham affairs involving re-enactors—and, what is more, as soon as Fort Sumter was fired upon, the 1st Dragoons were all shipped east, to be replaced by three companies of the 2nd California Volunteer Cavalry. There was some secessionist feeling in Southern California, but there was the staunchly Union Drum Barracks in Wilmington to keep Los Angeles in line. By September 1864, the Fort was decommissioned.

It was blisteringly hot at the Fort, despite the fact that we were a 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) altitude. The temperature was around 90° Fahrenheit (32° Celsius), but dropped down considerably as we returned to the Coast with its “June Gloom” marine layer.

The Buildings at Fort Tejon Looked to Be Made with Adobe Bricks

Most of the reconstructed buildings at Fort Tejon looked very authentic, being made with adobe bricks.

It was nice once again to have places to go, even with all the coronavirus restrictions in place.