British Colonials

“Richmond, Virginia, USA – June 18th, 2012: Cancelled Stamp From Jamaica Featuring Elizabeth II And The West Indies.”

1958 Jamaican Stamp Honoring the West Indies Federation

As a young lad, I was a devoted collector of stamps. All those countries, colonies, and protectorates fascinated me. And it was around then that the rush to independence began with the Gold Coast becoming Ghana in 1957. But all the newly independent states lacked one thing: The portrait of the young and beautiful monarch of Britain, Queen Elizabeth II.

Oh, I know that the Queen is approaching her 96th birthday, and she looks it, waddled in her neon-colored cloth coats and matching outfits. But at one time, Elizabeth was a real looker, such that I would look for televised broadcasts in which she appeared.

Bechauanaland Protectorate

The Bechuanaland Protectorate morphed into the independent nation of Botswana. When it became independent, it lost not only the queen, but its unpronounceable name.

I regarded Britain as cooler because it had such a cute queen. In contrast, when Germany had several colonies in Africa prior to the First World War, all they could display on their postage stamps was Kaiser Wilhelm’s yacht, the SMY Hohenzollern. B-o-r-i-n-g. I guess that’s why they lost their colonies in the war.

Just to give you an idea of just how cute the young Queen Elizabeth II really was, here is an old Pathé news video from YouTube:

A World Class Art Museum

The Cleveland Museum of Art

One would think that I would praise the Los Angeles Museum of Art to the skies. I don’t. (Too much non-representational modern garbage.) Instead, I think back to the Cleveland Museum of Art as reflected in the lovely lagoon which leads to the main entrance. It was surrounded by two universities which have since joined into one: Case Western Reserve University used to be the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University.

As a high school student, I used to take the bus down to University Circle and take an art appreciation class taught by the museum staff. After each class, I would stroll around the galleries, especially the one dedicated to the French Impressionists. There was a particularly beautiful Van Gogh there. And, as a kid, I loved the medieval armor gallery, the like of which I have never seen in any other art museum.

The Armor Court at the Cleveland Museum of Art

There wasn’t a whole lot of abstract expressionism around, though I suspect there is more now. The closest I came to liking modern art was a moody painting by the American Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917). It was called “Death on a Pale Horse.” I am happy to hear the painting is still there.

“Death on a Pale Horse” by Albert Pinkham Ryder

Each time I went to the museum, I would have lunch at a soda fountain by East 105th Street, always ordering a lime rickey, which was pretty much like a lemonade except it was made with lime. Back then, I thought of lime as an exotic fruit instead of an accompaniment to my tequila.

Places like the Museum meant a great deal to me. It was a way I could get away from home on a Saturday and enjoy myself and learn something at the same time.

A Day in Quarantine

How to Maintain One’s Sanity During Hard Times

To begin with, I have no problem about getting from 9 to 9½ hours of sleep. In fact, during the last year I have slept better than at any other time in my life. I wake at 9 or 9:30 am, stumble out into the living room to say good morning to Martine, who always wakes up before me, and take my pills, give myself a shot of insulin, and perform a finger-prick test for my sugar level. Only then am I ready for breakfast.

Almost all mornings, I make a pot of hot tea, the current choice being Ahmad of London’s Darjeeling. It is usually accompanied by scrambled eggs with chiles, oatmeal, toast, a fried egg sandwich on a muffin, or grits and sausage. While I breakfast, I always read the Los Angeles Times, devoting particular attention to the KenKen and Sudoku puzzles and the comics page.

By the time I am finished, it is close to noon; so I futz around on the computer for a while, either playing chess with the computer at Chess.Com or one of the free games on Arkadium.Com.

Lunch is not usually a big meal for me, so I delay it into the early afternoon, after which I either see a movie on TCM’s website or Amazon Prime Videos, or I read a book. My current read is Paul Theroux’s Sir Vidia’s Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents, which is about the author’s long friendship with V. S. Naipaul (1932-2018). Both are among my favorite authors.

At supper, we usually have a hot home-cooked meal. Today, it was turkey burgers with steamed carrots. Tomorrow, I’ll have to shop for and prepare another meal, about which I must first consult with Martine. She’s the one with the trick digestive system. Last week, we have baked ziti with Italian sausage—one of my better efforts.

After we’ve eaten, Martine washes the dishes while I repair to my library with my current book, where I both read and talk to friends on the phone until about 9 pm. That’s the hour when I write my book reviews for Goodreads.Com and my blogs for WordPress.Com.

By the time I am done, I watch TV until shortly before midnight, concentrating on such shows as Carol Burnett (MeTV), Bill Maher and John Oliver (HBO), Trevor Noah’s “The Daily Social Distancing Show” on Comedy Central, and the opening monologue on Steven Colbert (CBS).

Martine has a much more difficult time of it than I do. She either takes long walks or sleeps while playing an AM talk radio station. She goes to bed for the night much later than I do and wakes up earlier, as she is bedevilled by a bad case of nerves. As I always tell her, nerves are a bad business; so I don’t have any.

Desert Bound

Cabot Yerxa’s Pueblo in Desert Hot Springs

This weekend I will drive out to the Coachella Valley to see my brother. It won’t be long before the temperature goes up to 100° F (37° Celsius) and over each day. Although Dan has air conditioning at his place, I don’t want to step outside only to be instantly dehydrated.

At this time of year, the desert can be beautiful. Alas, it has been a dry year, and thus not a great time for wildflowers. I remember times when I visited the desert in February and March to find it filled with uncounted millions of wildflowers, ranging from tiny blossoms to large cactus flowers.

Consequently, I will not post again until Monday, March 1. I hope to take a lot of pictures to use in next week’s posts.

Buckeye Days

Szent Erzsébet (Saint Elizabeth) Church, Where I Was Baptized

I have written before about my formative years living in Cleveland’s Buckeye Road Hungarian neighborhood. (See the links below.) For some reason, Cleveland was for many years—and still might be, for all I know—the most Hungarian city in America. Well before the Second World War, it became a magnet for Magyar immigrants. On Buckeye Road, there were Hungarian churches, butcher shops, bakeries, bars (Oroszláni’s tavern was at our corner of East 120th and Buckeye), and restaurants. The ,most famous was the Gypsy Cellar, which I never went to because it didn’t cater to children, followed by Settlers’, which I saw only years after I had left Cleveland for good.

The Gypsy Cellar Restaurant on Buckeye Road

In the late 1940s-early 1950s, Buckeye Road was a safe neighborhood and remained so until it was “blockbusted” by unscrupulous realtors in the 1960s trying to precipitate white flight by selling properties to black families. Today, it is a largely black neighborhood. When I visited with my father in the 1960s, a big Irish cop warned us to leave the area before the “niggers started waving their spears.”

We moved out in 1951, the year my brother was born. I had been having trouble in school, because it seems I didn’t understand English very well and caused a ruckus with my friend András by kicking our kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Idell in the ankles. By that time, my Dad felt more financially secure, so he bought a bungalow on East 176th Street in the Lee-Harvard area, just one block away from his twin brother.

I’ve always been afraid to go back to Buckeye Road because I never really finished first grade at Harvey Rice School. I was pulled out after one semester and immediately started Catholic school at Saint Henry’s in second grade. I paid a price for that, being considered something of a dunce and troublemaker until I made it to fourth grade.

This Is a Book I Need to Find

In the above photo, you can see the Regent Theater, where I was taken by my parents to see movies. Actually, I just ran up and down the aisles and messed around with the soda machine. At my age, there I was no way I could sit through an entire movie. That was a few years in the future.

The Dalai Lama and I

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

The circumstances behind my seeing the Dalai Lama in April 1991 are indelibly etched in my memory. I arranged to first meet my friend George Hoole at his girlfriend’s apartment in Santa Maria, and then we would both go to the University of California at Santa Barbara to see the Dalai Lama give a speech.

I had only been driving for six years at the time, and I did something that killed the engine on my 1985 Mitsubishi Montero. Instead of staying on U.S. 101, I decided to take San Marcos Pass to Solvang, where I would have lunch before making my way back to the 101. Unfortunately, I drove up the pass in second gear. By the time I got to the top of the pass, my engine was a smoking ruin. I arranged to have the car towed back to Santa Monica Mitsubishi for repair, which was no easy thing as ’85 Monteros with automatic transmissions were a rarity.

George came to pick me up in Solvang and I was his passenger for the weekend. We heard the Dalai Lama give a great talk in his broken English … and this turned out to be the beginning of a difficult period for me. I teamed up with George to start a new company called Desktop Marketing Corporation, along with several of my co-workers from Urban Decision Systems, where I had been working since 1971.

It never took off, and I had to live on my savings for over a year, Ultimately, I left Desktop Marketing and managed to get a job in a Westwood accountancy firm called Lewis, Joffe & Company. Plus I had to shell out several thousand dollars for a new Montero engine.

Things don’t always tend to go your way. The early 1990s were a time of career change and retrenchment for me. But I never regret seeing the Dalai Lama in person. There is perhaps no religious figure I respected more, not even Pope John Paul II. There was something about the twinkle in his eyes which helped see me through a difficult period in my life.

I’d see him again if I could, but I would definitely avoid San Marcos Pass.

Music and Me

An Alto Saxophone: How It Consumed Ten Years of My Life

It is possible to love music and at the same time be a total incompetent when it came to performing it. It all started with voice after I joined the choir at Saint Henry School. I did not know, but soon found out that I sounded like a crow when singing the great Latin hymns of the Catholic liturgy. At least, it kept me from becoming an altar boy and having to wake up at 5:00 am to help officiate at the 6:00 am Mass, and memorize a ton of Latin in the process.

Both of my parents wished that their parents had let them play musical instruments. So they asked me what I would like to play. I quickly answered that I wanted a trombone. Mom and Dad took me to a music store at Prospect and Ontario in downtown Cleveland. The salesman agreed with my them that I did not have the right teeth for either a trombone or a trumpet, but that an alto saxophone was “very nice.”

Well, “very nice” translated into a whole new set of responsibilities, such as joining the band in high school and practicing for 30-60 minutes every day. All four years in high school, I played the sax in concerts and marched in formation during halftime at Chanel High’s games football games. It’s kind of hard to march in formations when there are only twenty or so members of the band, but we were game.

The only problem was that I didn’t much like playing the sax. There is something mucky about what happens to your saliva as it accumulates on the underside of a reed. Plus, I was pre-asthmatic, which probably should have disqualified me from any wind instruments. My parents, however, were determined to recover their $100+ dollar investment in the instrument by forcing me to play against my will.

Although I took my sax to college and even joined the Dartmouth College band, I saw that I was in with a group that was so much advanced over me in musical ability that I was only too happy to retire the sax and forego any further practice after only a couple of sessions. (Yay!)

Santa’s On His Way

On Dasher, On Lancer, On Thrasher Or Whatever Your Names Are

On this Christmas Eve, I wish all of you as Happy a Holiday as is consonant with both your safety and desires. As you may know, I am no great believer in Christmas or New Years or Arbor Day or Columbus Day. Nonetheless, I hope for the best for all of you and the people in your lives.

I will take tomorrow off from posting here. In all likelihood, I will be watching movies and reading books. You can be fairly certain that I will not be watching any parades (are there still any?) or Xmas specials on TV.

So, as we Hungarians say: Boldog karácsonyt! (Don’t even try to pronounce it!)

Reinventing Thanksgiving

This Is Not What My Thanksgiving Will Look Like

In a way, the coronavirus seems to wreak the most damage on people who are intent on going on with their lives the way they were before. The big danger points come around the major holidays, when people risk everything for the appearance of normalcy.

But what if, like me, you don’t really give a hang about the holidays? No, I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness: I just don’t like the idea of holiday-induced stress. Whenever I think of Christmas and Thanksgiving, in particular, I think of a custom among certain Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest of “an opulent ceremonial feast at which possessions are given away or destroyed to display wealth or enhance prestige.”

Plus I don’t really like turkey. For the most part it is a dry bird that has to be well-greased before imbibing. For my Thanksgiving, Martine and I will have a more simple feast (though, in her heart of hearts, I know Martine would prefer the turkey): A good beef stew accompanied by a bottle of Egri Bikavér, or Bull’s Blood of Eger, a pleasant Hungarian red wine.

Knowing how much I prefer to avoid poultry, Martine can understand that it wouldn’t help to have me cook something I don’t like—and I do all the cooking in the household.

We will probably do something similar for Christmas. Why not? We are not afraid of offending the Yuletide Police.

A Fragmented Life

Our Lives Are Not Quite an Uninterrupted Triumphal March

I have just finished reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography, which she wrote in 1928. Actually, it is not the biography of a real character, but of a highly fictional one. Not only does Orlando live for upwards of 400 years, but the character physically changes gender at some point in the early 18th century. And he/she manages the change swimmingly.

As Woolf wrote about her Orlando:

For she had a great variety of selves to call upon, far more than we have been able to find room for, since a biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves, whereas a person may well have as many thousand.

Tilda Swinton as the Male Orlando in the 1992 Sally Potter Film

There was an excellent film version of Orlando released in 1992, with Tilda Swinton playing both the male and female lead.

Both the book and the film set me to thinking of my own fragmented life, which included the following scenes:

  • The 5-year-old sent home from kindergarten for not being able to speak in English (my native language is Hungarian).
  • The teenager who has turned sickly with punishing frontal headaches.
  • The high school valedictorian who has won a four-year scholarship to an Ivy League college.
  • The college graduate, within days of leaving for graduate study at UCLA, goes into a coma and subsequent brain surgery. My pituitary gland was destroyed by a tumor that was causing the headaches and making me, at 21, look like an 11-year old.
  • The young man in his 20s who feels as if he were from Mars, looks absurdly young, and can’t get girls interested in him.
  • The same young man in a few years learning that alienation is part of the human condition.
  • In his 40s, he finds love with a cute woman born in France, who doesn’t mind that he can’t father a child.

… and so on.

Tilda Swinton as the Female Orlando from the Film

I guess I managed all those years without once having to change my gender. Of course, there is little chance that I will reach the ripe old age of 400.