Journeying Toward the Zodiacal Light

Life’s a Journey…

I love this picture from the Astronomy Picture of the Day website. The description of the photo from the website is very technical:

What’s that strange light down the road? Dust orbiting the Sun. At certain times of the year, a band of sun-reflecting dust from the inner Solar System appears prominently just after sunset—or just before sunrise—and is called zodiacal light. Although the origin of this dust is still being researched, a leading hypothesis holds that zodiacal dust originates mostly from faint Jupiter-family comets and slowly spirals into the Sun. Recent analysis of dust emitted by Comet 67P, visited by ESA’s robotic Rosetta spacecraft, bolster this hypothesis. Pictured when climbing a road up to Teide National Park in the Canary Islands of Spain, a bright triangle of zodiacal light appeared in the distance soon after sunset. Captured on June 21, the scene includes bright Regulus, alpha star of Leo, standing above center toward the left. The Beehive Star Cluster (M44) can be spotted below center, closer to the horizon and also immersed in the zodiacal glow.

Actually, the picture means more to me than that. Whenever I travel, I like to leave around sunrise. I imagine the road stretching out before me on the way to my destination. The journey itself is meaningful, almost irrespective of the destination. If I am flying, I make a point to get to the airport hours before the flight, and I make the airport into an intermediate destination, with surprises of its own.

If I am driving, I like the idea of getting out of Los Angeles traffic before most people have woken up. When the sun rises, I like to be in open country, which in the context of Southern California, usually means the desert.

To me, life is travel. It is something of a truism that life’s a journey … but it really is. It is a journey on which we have little notion of the destination. So I resolve to enjoy the journey as much as possible. Who knows what wonders may await us?

 

Pursuing the Uncool #1

Do You Really Want a Trophy Wife?

This post grew out of a conversation between my brother Dan and me. He noted that I tended to distance myself from anything that smacked of the popular and acceptable. Agreeing with him, I thought I would formulate my somewhat strange philosophy of life. Distilled down to its essence, it is to at all times avoid bragging rights—across the board—and avoid the endless search for prestige, wealth, and everything in their train.  Consider this to be the first part in a series. Here goes:

Trophy Wives

Let us say that you want a slim blonde bed mate with whom to spend your life. That works only if your targeted spouse has no desire for bragging rights to a more desirable man than you can ever be. You might light up a party for a few minutes, but your life will be an endless misery if your desires conflict with hers, as they inevitably will. Marry someone you can live with. I find that Martine looks better all the time.

Cars

Hold off on that Tesla! Your car should be chosen for its ability to get you from Point A to Point B in comfort and safety. Once I had to move my boss’s BMW to a different parking space while he was on vacation. No sooner did I turn the key in the ignition than the computer started indicating numerous error conditions. It seems my boss never initialized the system properly. What fun can you have driving around when you are constantly being reminded what a fool you have been?

Do Your Shoes Look Like They’ve Been Stolen from a Smurf?

Fashion

You can choose to follow the latest fashions, but they are constantly changing. And what looks good to you today will probably look pretty lame tomorrow. In fact, they could look pretty lame today.

To Be Continued …

Attenuation of Ethnicity

Picture from the West L.A. Buddhist Temple Obon Festival 2007

I have been attending the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple’s Obon Festival for many years now, going back to the 1970s. Now Martine joins me and takes as much pleasure in the festivities as I do.

One thing that both of us noticed was that the festival was less Japanese. It was also not so well attended, and most of the dancers wore ordinary casual clothes. Only a few of the men and women wore kimonos, where in the past most of the participants were more traditionally dressed.

As a Hungarian-American who was born in a rich ethnic tradition in a Hungarian neighborhood in Cleveland, I am constantly aware that our ethnic traditions are being gradually attenuated over time. When I first came to L.A., there were a number of Hungarian restaurants. Now the count is down to zero. The same thing is happening to other ethnicities, such as the Japanese and even the Mexicans.

I suppose it is only natural that over time we are becoming more homogeneous. Even though the Obon Festival was a bit less Japanese, those of us who were present enjoyed it nonetheless. The Men’s Club udon noodle soup was delicious: This year it even had fish cakes with the barbecued pork.

In a way, one of the reasons I am no longer interested in belonging to a Hungarian group is that, in the long run, it will inevitably become a shadow of what it once was. If there are no Hungarian restaurants in town, I have some old Hungarian cookbooks and can make the dishes myself.

 

 

Who Will Hold Back the Floods of Change?

A Forest of Dead Trees Killed by the Pine Bark Beetle

The following is a reprint from an Autumn 2009 post to my blog site on the late, unlamented Multiply.Com.

I first became aware of the problem in 2003, especially at Bandolero State Monument in northern New Mexico. For mile after mile, Martine and I saw dead forests with dry brown pine needles. When I asked a park ranger what was the matter, I heard for the first time about the pine bark beetle and its many relatives, which has been ravaging the forests of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada.

There are approximately 220 genera comprising some 6,000 species of bark beetle. Trees which are healthy due to normal rain tend to be resistant to beetle attacks; but in areas of prolonged drought, the trees are successfully attacked and end up as tinder dry skeletons, waiting for a spark to set off a giant conflagration.

As weather patterns change, I see bad times coming for the drought areas of North America. We have already seen the worst year in recorded history for brush fires in Southern California—and they are still raging in San Bernardino County [in 2009]. While these are unrelated to the ravages of bark beetles, they are all part of a new pattern that will result in massive changes to the type of vegetation growing in the mountainous areas of the Southwest. Gone will be the giant pines, to be replaced by fast-growing trees that can withstand the increasing heat and dryness of the region. What these forests will look like is anybody’s guess.

I realize as I write this that one result of living a long life is to mourn the changes from the world of our youth. I remember the cathedral-like stateliness of the elms at Dartmouth College—all fallen prey to Dutch Elm Disease. The American South has been overrun by kudzu and other non-native plants. The face of the earth is changing, but, alas, our memory is still there. And with photography, we have a record of the world of the recent past.

But what of the massive forests of the 18th and 19th centuries, with flocks of millions of passenger pigeons and huge herds of bison. Read Chateaubriand’s novels Atala and René and the works of naturalist William Bartram for a picture of America’s interior that you will not recognize today.

Montaigne’s words on mutability in his Apology for Raymond Sebond come to mind as I think about this subject:

And we and our judgment and all mortal things else do uncessantly roll, turn, and pass away. Thus can nothing be certainly established, nor of the one nor of the other, both the judging and the judged being in continual alteration and motion. We have no communication with being, for every human nature is ever in the middle between being born and dying, giving nothing of itself but an obscure appearance and shadow, and an uncertain and weak opinion. And if, perhaps, you fix your thought to take its being, it would be even as if one should go about to prison the water; for how much the more he shall close and press that which, by its own nature, is ever gliding, so much the more he shall loose what he would hold and fasten. Thus, seeing all things are subject to pass from one change to another, reason, which therein seeketh a real subsistence, finds herself deceived as unable to apprehend anything subsistent and permanent, forsomuch as each thing either cometh to a being and is not yet altogether, or beginneth to die before it be born.

Then I ask myself, “Is this as dire as it seems, or is it all just part of life?”

In Tofino, next to Jamie’s Whaling Station on Campbell Street, there is a huge cedar which is buttressed with steel and held standing by massive cables. It is called the Eid Cedar, after an early resident, and is determinedly protected by the ecology-conscious locals. Will this be the fate of the great Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines of the Rockies? Will they be watered by irrigation and protected by a plastic shield from voracious bark beetles? Who will hold back the floods of change?

No one.

The Past Goes Up in Flames

Frederick Catherwood’s Drawing of Maya Ruins at Chichén Itzá

I wanted to write about the Notre Dame de Paris fire yesterday, but I held back. All I could have said at that point is, “What a horrible shame! I am completely aghast!” It needed me to sleep on he news before I was able to put the event in any perspective.

That perspective, as it comes to me now, is that our past is always and everywhere going up in flames, collapsing under the wrecking ball, or being abandoned and overgrown. The City of Los Angeles, for example,  is under the sway of greedy developers who think nothing of bulldozing our history. Much of the history of motion picture production in Hollywood is gone forever, with just a few isolated buildings such as the Chinese and Egyptian Theaters, the Lasky-DeMille Barn, and the Post 43 American Legion Theater standing out from the architectural Kleenex boxes.

Have you ever heard of the seven wonders of the ancient world? They are (or rather were) as follows:

  • The Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt
  • The Colossus of Rhodes
  • The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
  • The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
  • The Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece
  • The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
  • The Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt

How many of these wonders still exist? Only one, the Great Pyramid. All the others were destroyed by natural disasters and other mishaps over the centuries and millennia. All the great cathedrals of Europe are vulnerable to fires, terrorism, floods, and what have you.

Overgrown Maya Ruins at Copán, Honduras

My visits to Maya ruins in Guatemala and Honduras in January brought home to me in the most vivid way the fragility of the past. I keep thinking of Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias”:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

How many other cultural landmarks will disappear during our lifetimes? I have visited Notre Dame twice and marveled at the sheer artistry and magnificence of the place. I hope that the French succeed in reconstructing the interior, the roof, and the spire that were destroyed in the conflagration.

The Threat of Calamity

Volcán Agua Seen from Antigua

One thing my visit to Guatemala in January convinced me of is that certain places—perhaps all places—are susceptible to calamity. These include floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, hurricanes, avalanches, and typhoons. In the highlands of Guatemala, there were several times that I was within sight of three volcanoes. One of them, Fuego, had erupted twice in 2018, causing 159 deaths and 256 missing persons, not to mention thousands of evacuations.

I frequently think back to the Sylmar Earthquake of 1971 and the Northridge Earthquake of 1994 and to the fear that both events caused me to feel. After the 1971 quake, we were screening Alfred Hitchcock’s 1936 film Sabotage at UCLA’s Melnitz Hall showing a London power plant being attacked by a terrorist. At the same time, we felt an aftershock of the main quake followed by a power outage. The entire audience erupted in nervous laughter, with some feeling genuine alarm.

Although I have complained numerous times of drought in California, a bigger danger is a hundred year flood. In December-January 1861-62, there was a massive flood which, if repeated, woulod cause death and destruction on a scale large enough to challenge California’s aura of prosperity:

Beginning on December 24, 1861, and lasting for 45 days, the largest flood in California’s recorded history occurred, reaching full flood stage in different areas between January 9–12, 1862. The entire Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys were inundated for an extent of 300 miles (480 km), averaging 20 miles (32 km) in breadth. State government was forced to relocate from the capital in Sacramento for 18 months in San Francisco. The rain created an inland sea in Orange County, lasting about three weeks with water standing 4 feet (1.2 m) deep up to 4 miles (6 km) from the river The Los Angeles basin was flooded from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, at variable depths, excluding the higher lands which became islands until the waters receded. The Los Angeles basin lost 200,000 cattle by way of drowning, as well as homes, ranches, farm crops & vineyards being swept-away. [Wikipedia]

Me Atop the Icelandic Glacier Vatnajökull, the Largest in Europe, Under Which Sits the Volcano Grimsvötn

Iceland is one country I have visited which has come close to being destroyed several times in the last thousand years. The Vatnajökull glacier sits atop a massive volcano which, when it erupts, causes a massive flood rushing to the North Atlantic. That’s in addition to the lava, of course. Nearby Lakagigar erupted over an eight-month period beginning in June 1783, pouring out some 42 billion tons of poisonous hydrofluoric acid and sulfur dioxide that led to a famine in which a quarter of the island’s population lost their lives.

We all live under the threat of calamity of some sort, much of it caused by our fellow man. Sometimes it feels like a bloody miracle that we survive at all.

 

Everything Changes

Try to Get Your Kids Interested in This!

This year for the first time in many years I have not attended the films at Cinecon. I did, however, go with Martine to the memorabilia dealers’ rooms. In the past, when my friend Norman Witty was alive, Martine enjoyed acting as his assistant; and she made a number of friendships with the other dealers. So while she chatted with her old friends and acquaintances, I found a comfortable chair and read a book. Also I devoted some time to thinking about what was happening to the dealers and members of Cinecon.

In short, they were getting older and passing on. I saw few people under the age of sixty at the dealers’ tables.

Why did I not go to the movies this year? Simply put, I remain an auteurist; and there were few films this year made by the directors whose work I follow. I am not interested in the films of William Seiter, Norman Panama, Archie Mayo, George Archainbaud, Alan Crosland, Alfred L. Werker, and any number of studio hacks who never signed their names to a great film. They were for the most part competent film makers whose work was light and entertaining; but I was after bigger game.

Then I thought,“Wait a sec! How many auteurists are around these days?” The answer is: damned few, and fewer every year. Instead people go to see superhero films intended for very young males, starring powerful guys and gals who like to wear their Underoos over their street clothes. Then there are the numerous independent productions, about the problems of young people who are altogether too full of themselves. What do I care about Hipster man with his man-bun and immaculately trimmed beard and all his digital toys?

Many of my posts have not been kind to the younger generation—mostly because the things they value are nothing to me, and the things I value, nothing to them. For how long will Cinecon be around to commemorate films of the 1920s and 1930s? I mean, people, we are talking about films that are not even in color!

After my generation leaves the scene, many whole worlds will disappear as if in a puff of cosmic dust.