Two Worlds

Koi in Mulberry Pond, Descanso Gardens

This post originally appeared in November 2008 when I was posting—briefly—on Blog.Com.

I loved this picture I shot at Descanso Gardens a couple of weeks ago. On one hand, the camera is looking at a koi in a shallow pond swimming among the rocks. A scant inch or so above his fins is an entirely different world of air and trees and birds. In one world, you need gills; in the other, either a lung or photosynthesis. Standing by the side of the pond, we can look at the fish. But does the fish look at us? Or are we some distorted image that lies on an irrelevant plane above the surface of the water? Somewhere in that world I am standing with my Nikon Coolpix camera waiting for the right moment to bring both worlds together.

As I look at the koi swimming in Mulberry Pond, I cannot help but think that the patterns they form with respect to one another as they glide by is a form of handwriting employed by the Creator. To communicate with whom? I do not understand this script, though I think it is beautiful in a fluid way. If I could understand it, would I  reach enlightenment? The camera would go back into its case on my belt, and I would reel with a weightless feeling as I was one with everything I saw and felt.

I frequently think that everything around us is a form of writing which we, alas, are too dim to understand. Perhaps, in time….


I Don’t Feel at Home Here, Either

No Brie and Chablis for Me, Thanks … I’ll Just Have a Coke

“Here” is a part of town not far from me, but that I haven’t visited for several years. I decided to take a walk down Main Street in Santa Monica, hopefully ending up at Small World Books in Venice—but I never got that far today. I noticed that a lot of my favorite places, like Röckenwagner’s, were gone. The whole street was thronged with young Liberals. Now, I consider myself a Liberal, but without the cachet that usually comes from belonging to an in group.

For lunch, I stopped in at he Samosa House, a newish Indian Vegetarian place that was quite good. With my masala dosa and Indian tea, I sat at a counter that faced the line of customers coming in. Almost all of them were younger than me, and started flashing smiles of approval at the decrepit old man who was eating the approved Liberal vegetarian diet. After a while, I not only did not seek their approval but wished I had been gnawing on a pig’s knuckle instead.

I walked a little further on to a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Now some of my contrary feeling was still with me, because I ordered their Kale and Quinoa Ice Cream topped with fish eggs. The guy who took my order laughed heartily with me, and made me feel good about it. I settled for a scoop of Chunky Monkey in a dish instead.

It seems funny to me to feel neither part of the Conservative scene (which I have always abhorred) nor now the Santa Monica Brie and Chablis Liberals. Oh, well, I guess I am marching to what Thoreau called a different drummer.

Just to drive home the point, the bus I took back was full of retarded kids attending some institutional sporting event.



The Term Means, Literally, “The End of the World”

The contradiction goes all the way back to 1562, when Spanish Bishop Diego de Landa ordered some 5,000 Maya cult images and a number of codices in Mayan to be burned in the city of Mani in Yucatán (see illustration below).  Yet, four years later, this same Diego de Landa preserved an incredible amount of Maya culture in his book Relación de las Cosas de Yucatán, without which it is doubtful we would have learned to read the Mayan language. So what is the verdict on de Landa? Only history will tell.

In his book Mornings in Mexico, D. H. Lawrence wrote:

The Indian way of consciousness is different from and fatal to our own way of consciousness. Our way of consciousness is different from and fatal to the Indian. The two ways, the two streams are never to be united. They are not even to be reconciled. There is no bridge, no canal of connection…. The sooner we realize, and accept this, the better, and leave off trying, with fulsome sentimentalism, to render the Indian in our own terms.

Yet we cannot seem to ever “leave off trying.” I certainly can’t. In my reading and in my travels I revisit this primitive world. I have been numerous times to the Hopi and Navajo Reservations, and visited many of the Pueblos of New Mexico, from Acoma to Zuñi. I have eaten their food, purchased their crafts, even given rides to their hitchhikers.

Diego de Landa Burning Maya Codices

I have just finished reading Victor Perera and Robert D. Bruce’s The Last Lords of Palenque: The Lacandon Mayas of the Mexican Rain Forest, which tells of the doom in store for the Lacandon Maya of Chiapas. The doom begins with visits from foreigners, continues with ecological disaster (building roads, cutting down or burning forests), and ends with the end of a culture which has survived for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.

The old spiritual leader of the Lacandons, the now deceased Chan K’in, predicted this xu’tan, or end of the world:

“The world is going to die,” he said, with the bright obsessive gaze that overtakes the younger Lacandones when they speak of the world’s end. “It is too old already. The flesh is also old. It is exhausted. The world will burn up soon. The sun will stop, not move in the sky, and it will burn everything down. It will burn everything until the world is naked. It will burn for three weeks. Then it will rain. It will rain for three weeks without stopping, until everything is flooded. Then, above, in the upper heaven of the minor gods all will be dark, and they will cut off the heads of the people and Ts’ibatnah [the god of the graphic arts] will paint the houses with the blood of the good people. Their blood is bright red and smells very good, like nthe tuberose. But the celestial jaguars will eat the people with dark blood, which will be spilled on the ground….”

The details become ever more bizarre and remote from the experience of people like me, however much we like to study primitive civilizations.


In Dubious Terrain

Volcanic Steam Vents Near Þingvellir Iceland

It is almost five years since I last set foot in Iceland. Curiously, most of the vacations I have had since then have been in earthquake and volcanic zones. It is almost as if being in highly dubious terrain has become a metaphor for my life. All those Icelandic steam vents, all those fumaroles—they are a handy symbol for the curve balls that life can throw at you. I am reminded of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, in which Pilgrim must walk a straight and narrow path from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, which is Heaven.

My first memory of Iceland, going back to my first visit in 2001, was of all the steam vents on the Reykjanes Peninsula between Keflavík Airport and Reykjavík. Then, too, there were those fields of geysers where one had to stay on the path if one didn’t want to fall through the crust and end up boiled to death within seconds.

The Volcano Sabancaya in Eruption Near Arequipa, Peru

In my seventy-third year on this earth, I find I must walk on the straight and narrow path lest I fall by the wayside. Living with Martine was a pleasant distraction—one I would gladly suffer again—but on my own, there are more things that can happen to me. I am determined to take good care of myself, insomuch as that is possible.

As you read these little squibs of mine, I should not be surprised if you could tell that something is wrong before I can inform you of the details.

In the meantime, I continue to plan for my vacation later this year in Guatemala, another land of earthquakes and volcanoes.


Bookstores and Greedy Landlords

“Book Window” in Downtown L.A.’s Last Bookstore on 5th and Spring

Sometimes I think the silent movies had it right. The landlord was always a miser who thought nothing of evicting widows and orphans for late payment of rent. Now as bookstores are shutting their doors forever because some landlord was a richer tenant and a more upscale clientele. Let’s face it, selling books is not the easy way to wealth. And, what is more, many bookstores have a scruffy air about them. Not the sort of people who would be invited to Mar-a-Lago or the Trump Tower.

In most bookstores, the top price for an item is usually around $30 for a hardback and $20 for a paperback. Compare that with the money that could be made by selling a fashionable handbag or a stylish outfit to some empty-headed poltroon. Of course, even fashionable boutiques have off days, because there are not enough rich clients around to make owners of commercial real estate happy.


Curiously, I don’t even like to visit a retail establishment unless there is a nearby bookstore to make the trip worthwhile. I used to walk into Santa Monica on Sunday mornings to go to Barnes & Noble. Now that it has closed down, I would not be put off if the whole 3rd Street Promenade slid into the ocean. It is well known that I don’t care for anything fashionable or stylish, and I do not throw money around to buy fancy bling-bling or even gourmet meals.

If more malls had good bookstores, one result would be more sales in the surrounding stores. There is always likely to be some dinosaur like me who disappears into the bookstore while the wives and children exercise their credit cards buying frou-frou.


The Things in My Pockets

I Accept G.K. Chesterton’s Challenge, Sort Of

It was in an essay entitled “A Piece of Chalk” that appeared in his collection Tremendous Trifles (1909):

Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about the things in my pockets. But I found it would be too long; and the age of the great epics is past.

As I am not a poet, I will attempt to write an essay, or at least a blog post, about the contents of my pockets.

To begin with, I know it is a fashion among the svelte to wear shirts that have no pockets. (If you have ever seen any pictures of me, you know that “svelte” is not ba word that can be used to describe me.) One pulls one’s head through a hole at the top, and the result is a look that signals that one is in all probability dyspeptic. Fortunately, they haven’t attempted to do the same thing with pants. I suppose that if I had some native bearers, I could afford not to worry about he things I have to carry. But I have no native bearers.

Let’s start with the shirt. I prefer a shirt with two pockets. In the left one is an eyeglass case bearing my reading glasses. Shoved up against it is a Parker Executive ballpoint pen. The other usually contains a pill box for my Metformin HCL, Atorvastatin, Vitamin D3, and Oleuropein.

My pants have four pockets. Let’s start with the front left pocket, which contains my wallet. In my right front pocket are the sets of keys I need for the day’s activities: car keys, house keys, and—if I become employed again—my office keys.

In my back pockets are two handkerchiefs. The left back pocket contains a usually clean hanky used for cleaning the smudges off my eyeglasses. The right back pocket contains what Shakespeare would call my snotrag.

Now that usually is not enough for everything I need. If I step out of the house, I need room for a Ziplock® sandwich bag containing my two types of insulin and a supply of nano-needle nibs. Then, too, I go nowhere without books and/or one of my Kindles. Then, too, one must add bus schedules (on general principle, I do not pay exorbitant parking fees), a floor guide to the Los Angeles Central Library, my cellphone (when I allow myself to be so bothered), and a folded-up plastic bag for carrying books, if necessary. For the items in this paragraph, I use a Magellan travel bag which I see I will have to replace soon if I do not wish to be confused with the homeless.

And that is it. I don’t think it would have made for a good poem. Though, if anyone could do it, it would be G.K. Chesterton.


Tough Guys

Yeah, Well, It’s Now an Epidemic

What ever happened to the American male? At some point, did everyone get together and decide that they’d be happier if they looked like Roman gladiators? What with all the tattoos and several days’ beard growths, guys are looking as if they can take care of themselves. Even if, really, they are marshmallows.

Even fat guys are wearing those shorts that go down to the ankles so that they resemble gang veteranos. Even if they never belonged to a gang.

What I want to know is this: Is anyone being fooled, really? What do we gain from looking like tough guys, even when we aren’t? Perhaps it’s because of the movies. I just saw the last half of a movie called In a Valley of Violence (2016) starring Ethan Hawke and John Travolta. All the male actors are as scruffy as makeup can make them, even the ones who are actually cowardly. The two women in the film—Taissa Farmiga and Karen Gillan—who play sisters, are actually tougher than their men, and without being scruffy.

I would hate to think that the American Male is a victim of Central Casting.