Favorite Films: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)

Kris Kristofferson as Billy the Kid and James Coburn as Pat Garrett

Film is an art form that involves the work of teams of people: producers, directors, writers, crew, and actors. As a result, virtually no film is perfect. That is particularly the case when directors like Sam Peckinpah are at odds with studio heads like MGM’s James Aubrey. Aubrey didn’t give Peckinpah anywhere near the resources he requested, partly because his attention was turned to completing the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.

And yet Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (PG&BK) is a wonderful film. It is certainly a violent one: Martine left the theater at the Autry Center about a half hour into the film. There is a lot of swearing, a number of characters die bloody deaths; and yet … there are scenes of such beauty that one rarely encounters. I am thinking particularly when Slim Pickens as Sheriff Baker is gut-shot, and his wife, played by the splendid Katy Jurado, throws away her rifle and follows him to the side of a pond where he has gone to die. In the background, the lovely song “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is playing.

The sound track is by none other than Bob Dylan, who wrote and performed all the music—and who also had a minor part in the cast, playing the part of Alias. (It is quite evident that Dylan never acted before, but the film is great enough to encompass a host of minor flaws.)

PG&BK plays with the whole Billy the Kid legend. James Coburn as Pat Garrett is the unwitting tool of the Santa Fe politicians, led by General Lew Wallace, author of the novel Ben Hur. In the past, Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson) had been a lawman, and Pat Garrett the outlaw. Now the roles have been reversed.

Martine Going Down the Stairs at the Lincoln County, NM Courthouse Which Billy the Kid Used to Escape

In June, Martine and I visited the town of Lincoln, New Mexico. Pat Garrett was the sheriff of Lincoln County. Peckinpah did a wonderful job of recreating the courthouse room where Billy was held prisoner and guarded by deputies J. W. Bell and Bob Olinger, both of whom were shot during his escape. In the photo above, Martine is obscuring with her left shoulder a bullet hole which Billy may have created when he shot his way out of captivity.

There is a strange quality to PG&BK. It seems as if Billy and Pat spend most of the film avoiding each other. Only at the end does Pat seem to feel pushed to catch up with his old pal Billy at Fort Sumner and kill him. Even there, there is a certain delicacy on his part as he waits for Billy to finish making love to Maria (played by Kristofferson’s wife, Rita Coolidge) before making his presence known and killing him.

 

Together Again

Martine and I in the Coachella Valley

Martine called me this morning from Sacramento and said she was returning home. Apparently her trip was marred by a combination of a bad cold and uncomfortable travel. Whatever the reason, I am happy to welcome her back. I hope she doesn’t plan any more of these departures (this was her third).  I just got back from the Greyhound Depot in downtown L.A., so I don’t have time for any further details at this time.

 

The End?

My Most Recent Picture of Martine

This morning, I dropped Martine off at Union Station, from where she was to take a train to a destination she wouldn’t divulge to me (lest I try to stop her). My guess it was someplace in the Pacific Northwest. Starting in July, she decided she wanted to leave Los Angeles. She had been having problems with depression, and perhaps by some magical reasoning process decided changing venue would make her feel better. At no time did I ever feel she was leaving me and our relationship together as much as she was leaving a place.

I hope she comes back. She doesn’t have very much money, and she doesn’t have any friends that I know of that she would go to—not on the West Coast, at any rate.

Martine left late in October 2017, but she was hospitalized for observation in Truckee, California when she led a social worker to think that she came to Truckee to do away with herself. I personally do not think she would do that, or at least I hope she wouldn’t do that.

All I could do was to let her know that she was welcome to return, without preconditions, even though I would hope she received some care for her depression.

Martine Withdrawing Her Money from the Bank

Yes, I know she is a troubled person. I also know that she has always been sweet to me and unrelentingly honest. You see, I am used to having gone out with women before I met Martine who thought nothing of lying to me.

I hope she calls me so I can reassure her that I still feel the same way about her.

 

Beliefs—Rigid and Lite

Yes, He Certainly Looks Rigid

What is C-3PO doing in this blog? I put his picture here because the actor who played the robot in all the Star Wars films was named Anthony Daniels, but he is not to be confused with the writer Anthony Daniels. I guess the confusion was so much for the latter that he now goes by the name Theodore Dalrymple.

By now, I have read quite a few books about Guatemala, my next trip destination, and he is the first writer who checked his beliefs at the door. At first glance, I thought his sympathies lay with the hounds, in this case the dictators/army generals who were responsible for some two hundred thousand deaths in the period of the Civil War, roughly 1960-1996. But then I saw that he was giving equal ink to both sides of the war and making cogent arguments that showed he was a good listener. He spent several days in Nicaragua talking to Sandinistas and Sandinista sympathizers. As both a travel writer and a physician, he even spent a couple weeks serving as a doctor on an isolated coffee finca that could be reached only by airplane.

At one point in Sweet Waist of America: Journeys Around Guatemala, Daniels (or Dalrymple) writes:

In fact, Guatemala is not a country for those who want the world to be neatly divisible into good and evil. Perhaps such countries do not exist. But to restore my confidence in my ability to recognize evil when I encountered it, I sought an interview with General Benedicto Lucas García. I had tried to contact his brother, General Romeo Lucas García [the worst of the recent Guatemalan dictators], but he was never at home….

He also interviewed General Efrain Ríos Montt, who was one of the worst recent rulers and who is now an evangelical preacher. Naturally, he did not fess up to having authorized any massacres.

Around this time, I started getting interested in Daniels/Dalrymple. On Wikipedia, there was an interesting summary of the recurring themes in his writing. These include:

  • The cause of much contemporary misery in Western countries – criminality,domestic violence, drug addiction, aggressive youths, hooliganism, broken families – is the nihilistic, decadent and/or self-destructive behaviour of people who do not know how to live. Both the smoothing over of this behaviour, and the medicalisation of the problems that emerge as a corollary of this behaviour, are forms of indifference. Someone has to tell those people, patiently and with understanding for the particulars of the case, that they have to live differently.
  • Poverty does not explain aggressive, criminal and self-destructive behaviour. In an African slum you will find among the very poor, living in dreadful circumstances, dignity and decency in abundance, which are painfully lacking in an average English suburb, although its inhabitants are much wealthier.
  • An attitude characterised by gratefulness and having obligations towards others has been replaced – with awful consequences – by an awareness of “rights” and a sense of entitlement, without responsibilities. This leads to resentment as the rights become violated by parents, authorities, bureaucracies and others in general.
  • One of the things that make Islam attractive to young westernised Muslim men is the opportunity it gives them to dominate women.
  • Technocratic or bureaucratic solutions to the problems of mankind produce disasters in cases where the nature of man is the root cause of those problems.
  • It is a myth, when going “cold turkey” from an opiate such as heroin, that the withdrawal symptoms are virtually unbearable; they are in fact hardly worse than flu. [Remember, Daniels is a physician.]

Anthony Daniels/Theodore Dalrymple

  • Criminality is much more often the cause of drug addiction than its consequence.
  • Sentimentality, which is becoming entrenched in British society, is “the progenitor, the godparent, the midwife of brutality.”
  • High culture and refined aesthetic tastes are worth defending, and despite the protestations of non-judgmentalists who say all expression is equal, they are superior to popular culture.
  • The ideology of the Welfare State is used to diminish personal responsibility. Erosion of personal responsibility makes people dependent on institutions and favours the existence of a threatening and vulnerable underclass.
  • Moral relativism can easily be a trick of an egotistical mind to silence the voice of conscience.
  • Multiculturalism and cultural relativism are at odds with common sense. [I don’t altogether agree with this one.]
  • The decline of civilised behaviour – self-restraint, modesty, zeal, humility, irony, detachment – ruins social and personal life.
  • The root cause of our contemporary cultural poverty is intellectual dishonesty. First, the intellectuals (more specifically, left-wing ones) have destroyed the foundation of culture, and second, they refuse to acknowledge it by resorting to the caves of political correctness.

Now this is a largely conservative set of beliefs that do not coincide with mine, but I like the man’s even-handedness, especially in his Guatemala book. The man makes me think, and it helps me to understand in some way the Trumpf revolution of 2016.

 

Not a Fair Exchange

Malaria Mosquito

The New World gave the European conquerors many gifts, including potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, tobacco, corn, vanilla, chili peppers, bell peppers, pumpkins, avocados, peanuts, cashews, pecans, quinine, wild rice, quinine, squash, and many types of beans. They were richly rewarded with such European gifts as measles, smallpox, and malaria. The mortality rate in Mexico alone was in the millions in the 16th century alone.

Most people do not realize that the malaria mosquito was a stowaway on ships that brought slaves from Africa. Mayan records make no reference to malaria, and many jungle areas in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico were inhabited which over the last several hundred years have been abandoned. The Petén region of Guatemala has hundreds of Mayan archeological sites, and more are being discovered each year. Where Mayan cities used to be connected by sacbés, or ceremonial roads, today they are connected by shoulder-deep mud.  Much of the Yucatán Peninsula is now sparsely populated thanks to the devastation wrought by the malaria mosquito.

According to the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement in France:

A large international study recently published in the PNAS by scientists from the UMR Migevec and their partners has shown that P[lasmodium] falciparum crossed the ocean on slave ships which crossed the Atlantic between the 16th and the 19th century, some 500 to 200 years ago. The research team has indeed just demonstrated that the parasite which is now found in America has African origins.

Through a global international scientific collaboration, biologists have collected several hundred samples of infected human blood from 17 countries representing the parasite’s entire distribution area. It is one of the largest sets of P. falciparum genetic data ever collected. The analysis of genetic material extracted from those samples has taught the scientists several things. First of all, the American pathogen is genetically distant from its Asian cousin, thus precluding an Asian origin. It is, however, close to the African parasite.

The IRD further concludes that the culprit were slaves who were brought into the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, partly, ironically, because blacks were more resistant to malaria.

When I go to Guatemala and Honduras later this year, I will spend part of the time in malarial jungles, which means I will be taking chloroquine and traveling with a mosquito net to place over my bed.

I hate mosquitoes, but I would dearly love to see the Mayan ruins, which are now in areas that are sparsely developed. The city of Tikal once had a population of 300,000 during Europe’s Dark Ages. Today, the entire Petén Department has a population under 700,000, mostly around La Libertad, San Luis, and Sayaxché.

Kale and Turnips—Not!

The Bombay Frankie Company’s Aloo Gobi Matar Wrap

Last week, I ran into a rabid vegetarian at the Ralph’s Supermarket in Santa Monica. She had her groceries in two piles, momentarily confusing the checker, who asked me if her second pile was mine.

I answered him: “Hmm, kale and turnips. Nope, that doesn’t look like what I’d eat.”

This angered the customer, who turned to me and started critiquing the groceries I was purchasing, much of which was for Martine, who has been ill with a bad cold. I stayed silent until she slunk away with a sour look on her face—a look that could only be the result of eating a diet of kale and turnips.

Actually, I consider myself a part-time vegetarian. The one difference between me and the other customer is that I refuse to eat bland, tasteless food, regarding it as an insult. I was raised on Hungarian food, some of which was vegetarian, especially when times were bad and we couldn’t afford meat. But it was good food and tasted great!

I cannot for the life of me stomach American vegetarian cuisine, which I find objectionable in the extreme. Hungarians have good vegetarian dishes, as do Italians and Persians. The best vegetarian chow, in my opinion, is from the Indian subcontinent. Indian curries are the epitome of a great vegetarian cuisine, such that I prefer to cook vegetarian when I make curry.

In preparation, I visit an Indian specialty food store, such as India Sweets & Spices in Culver City, where I can buy curry leaves, black mustard seeds, good turmeric, cumin, and coriander—and where the owner usually gives me a cup of chai masala for free. In fact, if Martine were not still hitting the soup trail for her cold, I would cook a potato and spinach curry this week.

One of the oldest books I own is Monica Dutt’s The Art of Indian Cooking, which has been my guide to learning how to cook curries. Today I had an Aloo Gobi Matar wrap (as illustrated above) at the Bombay Frankie Company in West L.A., which is located at one end of a Chevron Station at the Santa Monica Boulevard exit on the I-405.

Chichicastenango

Shades of Religious Syncretism!

Here I sit in sunny Los Angeles. A strong Santa Ana wind is blowing in from the desert, and the humidity is rapidly sinking, giving millions of people in Southern California a bad hair day. (But then, it seems I am living a bad hair lifetime.)

A year ago, I was fantasizing about a New Mexico vacation as I was entering another tax season. Even though it was my last tax season—as I am now fully retired—I am still dreaming about making another vacation getaway, this time to Guatemala. It would be my first stay among the Maya since my many Mexico trips between 1975 and 1992.

The scene above reminds me of my trips to Highland Mayan villages in the State of Chiapas, especially Chamula and Zinacantán. In those villages, the Mayans worshiped in what once were Catholic churches, but after the 19th century expulsion of the priests, were turned into the worship of the Mayan guides. Here is a description of a scene from the church in Chamula, where one is forbidden to take pictures upon pain of violence or death:

A live chicken with its feet bound was removed from a burlap sack and laid down upon the church’s floor. Three rows of perhaps a dozen candles each were placed in front of the chicken, all were fully blazing. A bottle of Coca-Cola sat to the right. A heavy set matured woman in a long dress emblazoned with a purple flower pattern was kneeling behind the offerings, sitting on her heels. A young man was kneeling next to the woman, and an older man with a mustache took up the same position on the other side. All three adults were rocking back and forth, chanting prayers in Tzotzil. The woman then withdrew a kitchen knife, and with a quick flick of her wrist the chicken was sacrificed.

I suspect that the Mayans of Chichicastenango in the Guatemalan Highlands is not too diferent, except that the dialect spoken is not Tzotzil, but Kaqchikel. The town is famous for its handicrafts market and for the devoutness of campesinos visiting Santo Tomás church, shown above. I’ll bet that, as in Chamula, one is forbidden to take a camera into the church.