Where English Fails

A Word With Too Many Meanings

It is said that the Inuits have some fifty different words for snow, covering snowflakes, frost, fine snow particles, drifting particles, clinging particles, fallen snow, deep snow, and so on almost ad infinitum. And yet, the English language has this one word—love—which covers a whole host of emotions, from liking an inanimate thing, to strong affection for a person, to to attachment to one’s children, to copulation, to a score of zero in tennis, and so on.

When one tells a woman one loves her, it could mean any of a number of things, ranging from a momentary feeling of affection to a lifetime of devotion.

I became more conscious of this lack while reading a fascinating book published in 1942 by Austin Tappan Wright called Islandia. In it, there are four terms for love, with the Greek equivalents in Italics:

  • Apia, sexual attraction (eros)
  • Ania, desire for marriage and commitment (storge)
  • Amia, love of friends (philia)
  • Alia, love of place, family lineage, and the land (heimat)

It is a wonderful book about a nonexistent country called Islandia in the Southern Hemisphere on the remote Karain continent. In it, the hero, an American called John Lang, keeps falling in love with beautiful young Islandian women with numerous misunderstandings due to differences in culture. It is a thousand-page novel of which I have read only some 600 pages thus far,

 

 

The Cancer Deal with the Venusians

Downtown Dallas Skyline

It is the opening of William Burroughs’s Nova Express:

“Listen to my last words anywhere. Listen to my last words any world. Listen all you boards syndicates and governments of the earth. And you powers behind what filth consummated in what lavatory to take what is not yours. To sell the ground from unborn feet forever—

“Don’t let them see us. Don’t tell them what we are doing—

“Are these the words of the all-powerful boards and syndicates of the earth?”

“For God’s sake don’t let that Coca-Cola thing out—”

“Not The Cancer Deal with The Venusians—”

“Not The Green Deal – Don’t show them that—”

“Not The Orgasm Death—”

“Not the ovens—”

Whenever I think of these lines, I think that Burroughs, in his own way, saw the cancerous growth of modern civilization. I have already written of the crazed commercial and residential real estate construction during the coronavirus epidemic.

Almost two hundred years ago, Henry David Thoreau writing in Walden saw where it would all lead, even before the first skyscraper was ever erected (or did the Tower of Babel not count?):

Men have an indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity of joint stocks and spades long enough all will at length ride somewhere, in next to no time, and for nothing; but though a crowd rushes to the depot, and the conductor shouts “All aboard!” when the smoke is blown away and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding, but the rest are run over,—and it will be called, and will be, “A melancholy accident.”

I saw this quote from Thoreau at the end of Joseph Wood Krutch’s The Forgotten Peninsula: A Naturalist in Baja California written in 1961. This was almost sixty years before the massive development of Los Cabos and La Paz changed the state of Baja California Sur forever.

The 190th Rule of Acquisition

The Ferengi Have Begun to Influence Me

The quarantine has resulted in my watching television more than usual. The one show that I like most is Deep Space 9 with its plethora of interesting characters, one of which is Quark (played by Armin Shimerman), shown above. If you are familiar with the series, you may have heard of the Ferengi “Rules of Acquisition” of which there are some 300, which can be viewed here. (Interesting that the website comes from Belgium.)

These Rules of Acquisition would be much loved of Ayn Rand and most Tea Party conservatives. They include such admonitions as:

  • Once you have their money, you never give it back.
  • The best deal is the one that brings the most profit.
  • Never spend more for an acquisition than you have to.
  • A woman wearing clothes is like a man in the kitchen.
  • Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity.
  • Keep your ears open.
  • Small print leads to large risk.
  • Opportunity plus instinct equals profit.
  • Greed is eternal.

My favorite is one of the most simple (and most true):

190. Hear all, trust nothing.

In these days of False News—both real and imagined—that is excellent advice.

Trust Nothing from This Notable Liar

I will continue to watch Deep Space 9 with interest.

 

 

¡Adios Muchachos!

See You All in February!

In the wee hours of tomorrow morning, my flight leaves for Guadalajara, where I will putter around for three hours, and then take another Volaris flight to Mérida. I will drive to the airport with Martine, and Martine will drive back by herself. (She’s not coming with me because she is allergic to anti-malaria medications.)

During my absence, I will not blog. Instead I will go into experiential mode to get something to write about when I return in February.

Incidentally, today is my 75th birthday, which is a milestone for me. My father died at the age of 74, so I had always wondered whether I would outlive his span of years. It appears that I already have, so that is one less morbid imagining. To spend the time after my birthday in a place I love (Yucatán) can only lengthen my life, no?

 

Happy New Year [Insert Year]

The Calendar Is Nothing But an Overlay

In general, I am not big on public holidays. And New Years Day is probably my least favorite. In the past, I have tended to answer the usual enthusiastic “Happy New Year” with the off-putting, “Only a fool celebrates the passing of time.” I am no longer invited to New Years parties, but then none of my friends hold them any more.

Here I am, three weeks away from visiting an ancient society which depended heavily on the calendar (the Maya), while I tend to pooh-pooh the whole idea. I do not read any retrospective articles on the year that was or watch any TV programs that fill the same function; and I most certainly do not stay up past midnight to usher the new year in. I rather think the new year can usher itself in: It knows where the door is. I will not drink any cocktails, and I will probably be abed by 10 pm.

I have no particular feelings about 2019. It had its good points, and it had its bad points. Trump is still in charge of the White House and he hasn’t yet canceled the Bill of Rights. (Maybe this coming year….)

Politics has no magic for me. On one hand, elections involve people who make promises, but really want to exercise power and/or accumulate wealth. And even if my candidate wins, I will likely be disenchanted after a few months—because I forgot this simple fact.

If all this sounds deeply cynical, remember that I am a cynical person. I have seen some three quarters of a century pass by my eyes. There has been love, there has been despair, there has been failure, there has been modest success, there has been hope, there have been disasters. I came close to cashing in my chips in 1966, but I am curiously in fairly good health at the present moment—even if I can’t count on it to last.

So I will still wish you all a Happy New Year, but know that years are all ineluctably mixed. I think Spock had the best greeting: Live long and prosper.

 

Another Xmas Under the Belt

Wishing You a Glorious Etcetera Etcetera

I have seen a lot of Christmases. Like birthdays, they don’t seem to as magical when one is older. I celebrated Christmas Eve by spending five hours putting together a tasty beef stew, served with a crusty artisanal baguette and a bottle of Egri Bikavér (“Bull’s Blood of Eger”) Hungarian red wine. It was the best stew I ever made. I remember sometimes cooking myself a stew (accompanied with red wine) back when I was in my twenties and alone for the holidays. So it is a tradition of sorts for me.

Like my brother—though nowhere as good as him at it—I find cooking to be one of my favorite creative outlets. So I will translate this into a Christmas wish for those of you who come across this post:

May you and your loved ones find joy in what you do and with whom you share it, in the coming year and always.

What may or may not have happened in Bethlehem some two thousand plus years ago has cast a long shadow. I take from it some useful lessons, but not the whole package. I am content with that.

 

 

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.