The Healing Power of Chicken

Chicken, Rice, and Hummus at Sevan Chicken in Glendale

Martine has been feeling depressed for some time now. It has affected her eating, the way she spends her time, and the way she interacts with me. Today, there was some clearing. We usually attend the Three Stooges Festival at the Alex Theater the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Martine actually suggested we go. (Yes, there are some women who love the Stooges.) On the way, we stopped at Sevan Chicken, an Armenian rotisserie chicken restaurant at the corner of Glenoaks and Kensington in Glendale. It was always Martine’s favorite place, and chicken has always been her meat of choice. It did me good to see her tear into it.

Then we went over to the Alex Theater on Brand Avenue, purchased tickets, and waited in line to see six Stooges film—in 35mm studio prints yet—including “A Plumbing We Will Go” (1940), as shown in the photo below.

Curly Trapped in His Plumbing

After the films, it was time for … more chicken! We drove to Elena’s Greek and Armenian Restaurant on Glendale Blvd. and Acacia. I had my favorite lamb kebab, while Martine had chicken kebab. I myself am not a great aficionado of poultry, but it made me happy to see Martine come out of her blue funk for however short a time. It means that, maybe, there’s hope.

 

Salar de Uyuni

Southwest Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni

The day before yesterday, I wrote about two things I wanted to see in Bolivia. I mentioned the Salar de Uyuni in passing and concentrated on the “Death Road” linking La Paz and Coroico. The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat (over 10,500 square kilometers and 4,000 square miles).

On a couple of occasions, I have seen one of the largest salt flats in the United States: the so-called “Devil’s Golf Course,” located adjacent to the lowest point in the continental United States, Badwater in California’s Death Valley.

There is something about the Salar de Uyuni, however, which is even more spectacular. The flats are frequently covered with a shallow sheet of water that reflects the sky above (as in the photo).

Another View of the Salar de Uyuni, When Dry

It is supposed to be difficult to reach the salt flats except on a jeep tour from Uyuni or Tupiza in Bolivia or San Pedro de Atacama in nearby Chile. If I went, I’d probably need a sleeping bag and a whole lot of other things that I rarely travel with. But it does look like an awesome place.

Interestingly, beneath the salt flats is the world’s largest supply of lithium, as much as 50-70% of the world’s total reserves. The current government doesn’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs (that is, tourism) in return for destroying one of the world’s most incredible beauty spots and extracting all the lithium.

Bolivia’s Death Road

Map of Bolivia’s Death Road Connecting La Paz with Coroico

I have always wanted to go to Bolivia. I was close to it in 2014, but I got sick in Puno, near the border, and decided to head on to Cuzco directly instead.The two things I am most interested in seeing in Bolivia are the Salar de Uyuni—giant salt flats in the southwest of the country—and the so-called World’s Most Dangerous Road, connecting La Cumbre (near La Paz) at 4,670 meters, or 15,260 feet, all the way down to Coroico in the Yungas Valley rain forest at 1,525 meters, or 5,003 feet. That’s a drop of almost two miles.

The “Death Road” portion, shown as a red dash line in the map above, is largely a single lane unpaved highway subject to frequent landslides. Vehicles traveling uphill have the right of way, which means that downhill vehicles must sidle within inches of a drop of potentially thousands of feet. During rainy season from November to March, rain and fog could be deadly. In the dry season, the problem is rock slides and dust. The highway is dotted with frequent crosses where vehicles have gone over the side, killing 200-300 travelers a year.

Passing on the Death Road

Now there is a paved road to Coroico that is much safer. The only problem is that the new road is frequently closed because of landslides. Today, the Death Road is mostly used by cyclists going downhill. Even then, eighteen have plunged to their deaths since 1998.

Eighteen-Wheeler on the Edge

Needless to say, I think that having any alcohol before venturing on this road is tantamount to suicide.

Why do I want to see the road? The key word here is “see.” There is no way I would drive the road. I wouldn’t mind just going to a good vantage point and then turning around. I’m not altogether sure I would even trust another driver to conduct me down this road. Besides, I’m not all that interested in going to Coroico. Rain forests mean mosquitoes, and that would scare me even more.

Favorite Films: Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Mike Hammer Watches Lily Carver Go Up the Stairs of Her Fleabag Hotel

There are few films as hard-boiled as Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, based on the Mickey Spillane novel of the same name (but with a comma after “Kiss Me”). Ralph Meeker’s Mike Hammer is a handsome young thug who does not shrink at dispensing excruciating pain or administering summary execution. The movie is fairly close to the spirit of the novel, with one major difference. What Spillane’s private eye is looking for is some kind of drug; Aldrich instead made it some kind of radioactive material that explodes when mixed with air. Also, the film is set in Los Angeles rather than New York; and it uses the change of scene to advantage.

As the villainous Dr. Soberin (Albert Dekker) says to Hammer as he is tied to a bed:

Lie still. Why torment yourself? Who would you see? Someone you do not know, a stranger. What is it we are seeking? Diamonds, rubies, gold? Perhaps narcotics? How civilized this earth used to be. But as the world becomes more primitive, its treasures become more fabulous [italics mine]. Perhaps sentiment will succeed where greed failed. You will die, Mr. Hammer. But your friend, you can save her. Yes you can. The young lady you picked up on the highway. She wrote you a letter. In it were two words: ‘Remember Me.’ She asks you to remember. What is it you must remember? [he injects Hammer with a hypodermic needle full of sodium pentothal] And while you sleep, your subconscious will provide the answer. And you will cry out what it is that you must remember. Pleasant dreams, Mr. Hammer.

The Legs of Christina Bailey—All That We See After She Has Been Tortured to Death

The film came under some scrutiny by the Kefauver Commission, which described it as “designed to ruin young viewers.” Well, Martine and I allowed our minds to be ruined by the Criterion Collection DVD we watched on this muggy Los Angeles afternoon.

Mickey Spillane has not fared well with the critics, although his Mike Hammer novels were wildly popular. Over 225 million copies in paperback were sold around the world, far outstripping the sales of works by more literary writers as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ross Macdonald. I think I will re-read some of his more popular titles in the next few months. Why not? There is something enduring about his work, though I do not think it will ever received the sanction of the Library of America.

“Lily Carver” (Gabrielle) Opens the Briefcase, Setting Off a Nuclear Explosion


This is not a film to which you should expose your young children. Like the Spillane books, it is clearly adult. But by the same token, it is worth seeing multiple times—if you can take it.

 

Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War

Billy the Kid

The town of Lincoln, New Mexico, looks very much today the way it did in 1876 when the Lincoln County War flared up. On one hand were Dolan and Murphy, who ran a store on the main drag, when another store operated by Tunstall and McSween opened up down the street. One of the key figures in the conflict between the two sides was a young man who has come to be known as Billy the Kid. He was known to be handy with a gun and was blamed for several murders.

He tried to exonerate himself, but the governor of the territory at the time, General Lew Wallace (author of Ben-Hur), weaseled out of his promise to support him. Billy was holed up in the courthouse which had been the Dolan store and held for trial.

The Lincoln Courthouse, Formerly the Dolan Store

Billy managed to get a gun and shoot the two deputies who were guarding him, J. W. Bell and Bob Ollinger. He managed to escape from Lincoln, but was finally gunned down in Fort Sumner by Sheriff Pat Garrett. (We didn’t make it to Fort Sumner, but I’m saving it for a future trip.)

Below is a bullet hole supposedly from Billy’s gun while he was trying to escape from the Lincoln Courthouse.

A Bullet Hole from Billy’s Gun?

Martine and I enjoyed Lincoln. The whole town is more or less devoted to the legend of Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War.

Kilroy Was Here

El Morro National Monument in Ramah, NM

One place I have visited several times in my travels through New Mexico is El Morro National Monument, known for bearing “graffiti” from the Anasazi, the Spanish Conquistadores with Oñate and Coronado, and American scouting parties of the 1850s. There they all are, along the east bluff of the butte. And if that’s not enough, you could climb to the top (only a couple hundred feet) to see the ruins of Atsinna, the ruins of a well defended Anasazi pueblo with long views in every direction.

The day we went, there was an interesting ranger presentation on the United States Camel Corps, which came into existence at the behest of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis in 1853. Many of the names signed on the wall of El Morro was from members of this short-lived army unit. Eventually, the idea was abandoned; and many of the camels were sold into zoos, and some even ended up at Fort Tejon on the Grapevine between Los Angeles and Bakersfield.

Anasazi Petroglyphs at El Morro

El Morro is just one of the many attractions along New Mexico Highway 53, which runs through the Zuñi Reservation, near Ramah’s Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, El Morro, and El Malpais National Monument ending up at Grants and I-40. If you are traveling between Gallup and Grants, it is far better to go out of your way and spend some time along this fascinating route.

 

Out of This World

At the Roswell UFO Museum

One of the highlights of our recent New Mexico trip was a visit to the Roswell UFO Museum, where Martine and I cavorted with certain other out-of-state visitors. We had been there briefly in 2003, but we had to be in Albuquerque before nightfall, and it was several hundred miles of hard driving. This time, we spent more time and were royally entertained.

Whether or not UFOs landed in Roswell on a July night seventy years ago almost doesn’t matter. There are so many millions and billions and trillions of stars that there must be life of some sort out there. Whether we will ever see it is a matter of conjecture. Martine believes it really happened and that the military put a lid on it. But then, she was a civilian military employee in New Jersey and California for some eighteen years and would not put such behavior past them.

Martine Carefully Reading the Displays

There is plenty to read in the numerous displays about the Roswell incident—enough to fill a 500-page thickly packed volume. Much of the information is from the next door neighbor of the guy who witnessed it, or his nephew seven times removed. It doesn’t altogether invalidate the information, but it does make my antennae twitch a bit.

I myself have never seen any UFOs or constructed any sculpture out of mashed potatoes. Still, I can take a tolerant view of all this—if for no other reason that it is enjoyable. I regularly read science fiction (I am now reading Harry Harrison’s Deathworld 3), and am an aficionado of sci-fi movies. I’m even a bit of a Trekkie, though I prefer the original series and its sequel with Jean-Luc Picard. Let me loose in a place like the UFO Museum, and I will have a good time, irrespective of any assaults on my credibility.

Will Trumpf’s Wall Keep These Aliens Out? I Fear Not

If you find yourself in the wilds of Southeastern New Mexico, you could do worse than visit Roswell. And you can justify it by attaching to it a visit to nearby Carlsbad Caverns National Park.