My Queen

I Prefer to Remember Her as Being Young

I like to think of Elizabeth II’s reign as paralleling most of my life. I remember as a 7-year-old boy watching her coronation in 1952. As I recall, they didn’t yet have the ability to broadcast live from across the Atlantic, so I probably saw it several days later. Even as a kid who looked askance at most of the goopy girls he knew, I thought that the new Queen of England was a real looker.

Today as a 77-year-old, I still see her with the eyes of youth. In her final days, she was a little hunched over lady, shrunken from osteoporosis. But then, at my age I am no dashing Lochinvar—and never was.

Elizabeth lived a long life, and a distinguished one. She has little to regret from her seventy years as queen. Even the Diana episode: I always felt that the Princess of Wales was one of those people who are not comfortable in their own skin and who consequently cannot have a happy marriage. Even had she married Dodi El Fayed, I think the result would have been the same.

Poor Charles III. I can’t see him having a happy, successful, or long reign. I shouldn’t be surprised if he winds up abdicating like Edward VIII.

Don’t Try.

Poet Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)

Whoever ordered the tombstone for poet and counterpuncher Charles Bukowski knew what he (or she) was about. There is a two-word epitaph: “Don’t Try.” Below it is a silhouette drawing of a boxer with his gloves raised.

The poet’s grave is at Green Hills Memorial Park in San Pedro which I have passed scores of times 0on visits to my friend Peter who lives a couple miles further south. Maybe next town, I’ll stop by and pay my last respects.

On Bukowski.Net, there is an explanation by Bukowski’s wife Linda which sheds some light on he meant:

See those big volumes of books? [Points to bookshelf] They’re called Who’s Who In America. It’s everybody, artists, scientists, whatever. So he was in there and they asked him to do a little thing about the books he’s written and duh, duh, duh. At the very end they say, ‘Is there anything you want to say?’, you know, ‘What is your philosophy of life?’, and some people would write a huge long thing. A dissertation, and some people would just go on and on. And Hank just put, “Don’t try.”

I am reminded of Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa in The Book of Disquiet, who sees life as a roadside inn where we all have to stay until the coach from the abyss pulls up:

Night will fall on us all and the coach will pull up. I enjoy the breeze I’m given and the soul I was given to enjoy it with, and I no longer question or seek. If what I write in the book of travellers can, when read by others at some future date, also entertain them on their journey, then fine. If they don’t read it, or are not entertained, that’s fine too.

In the days to come, I plan several more posts about Bukowski and what he means to me.

Stirling Bridge

The William Wallace Monument in Stirling, Scotland

Within walking distance of the great fortified mountain that is Stirling Castle sits a monument to William Wallace, Scotland’s great hero and self-taught military genius. It was at Stirling Bridge in 1297 that William Wallace led a force of around 5,500 men, with only 300 cavalry, against 9,000 men, with 2,000 cavalry led by Hugh Cressingham for Edward Longshanks, King of England.

It was Wallace’s unique skill that he knew how to read a battlefield and make the land help him win. It was only when he was forced to fight a typical large scale battle at Falkirk in 1298 that he lost. After that, things went downhill for the Scot, who was betrayed to Edward and executed in 1305 without an actual trial.

Wallace was the son of a knight, who was knighted by Robert the Bruce only after Stirling Bridge. As such, he was looked down upon by the Scottish nobility, many of whom were more comfortable speaking in Norman French than either English or Gaelic. What the nobles were after was not freedom for Scotland, but more power and more wealth for their families. Relative commoners like Wallace didn’t count.

I have just finished reading Nigel Tranter’s historical novel The Wallace, which was likely more accurate than the considerable mythmaking evident in the film Braveheart. I have visited the Wallace monument twice on my travels and was impressed for the monument’s rare tribute to a person not of noble blood—unthinkable in the Middle Ages.

70 Years Ago

British monarch HM Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth, pictured in 1951. HM is wearing a priceless Cartier necklace, a wedding present from the Nizam of Hyderabad, a king in India. © Yousuf Karsh

The year 2022 represents the 70th anniversary of Elizabeth II ascending the throne of England. In the language of the media, it is her Platinum Jubilee.

I remember watching TV when Princess Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England. I was a seven-year-old boy at the time, and I was amazed that the pretty lady was so high and so mighty. And, no doubt about it, the young Queen Elizabeth II was a “looker.”

Even though now she is weighted down by the intervening years, and the tragedies that inevitably mar any long life. She had to deal with the deaths of Princess Diana and of her husband and consort, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

So I will choose to remember her as a pretty young lady. At the time, I was an avid stamp collector. Because of the young queen’s beauty, I was drawn to British colonial issues, which usually included at least an inset portrait of the queen, unless they went whole hog with the queen and her sister, as in the following South African stamp:

The above stamp actually predated the coronation by five years. Princess Margaret is the royal on the left. More typical is the Bahamas stamp shown below, which looks to be a 1950s issue:

Whatever happens in the next few years. the reign of Elizabeth II has been a real boon for England—even at a time when it was shedding its colonies. Perhaps, in the long run, the massive expense of the royal family will have been worth it for its symbolism alone.

Down Two Muses

Christmas 2021 was going to see Los Angeles minus two of her muses. We just lost Joan Didion (above) to Parkinson’s disease; and six days ago, we lost Eve Babitz (photo below) to Huntington’s disease. Didion and Babitz were, to my mind, the leading writers about life in Southern California over the last half century or so.

I remember when I was first introduced to Didion by my friend Stephanie Hanna, who recommended back around 1970 that I read her great collection of essays entitled Slouching Toward Bethlehem. Since then, I have read at least eight other volumes of her fiction and nonfiction.

Eve Babitz was a more recent discovery, thanks mainly to the New York Review of Books (NYRB), which brought out most of her work in the last few years. I consider Eve’s Hollywood and Slow Days, Fast Company to be among the best works written about life in Southern California.

Joan Didion died in her 80s, and Eve Babitz at the age of 78. That makes me feel vulnerable, as I am a male who is about to reach his 77th year next month. In many ways, my acceptance of women as a source of outstanding literature about the local scene is due to these two powerful figures.

Now, as I look around me, who is there to take their places? No one that I can recognize at this point. I am just going to have to start looking….

My First Poet

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021) As He Looked When I Met Him

It was my freshman year at Dartmouth College. When I heard that beatnik poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti was going to visit the campus, give a poetry reading from his recently published collection A Coney Island of the Mind, and answer questions, I decided to show up. In all, there were about twenty-five students in the audience, plus a few professors.

I really enjoyed the poems, such as this one, which is called “I Am Waiting”:

I am waiting for my case to come up  
and I am waiting 
for a rebirth of wonder  
and I am waiting          
          for someone to really discover America  
and wail 
and I am waiting  
for the discovery 
of a new symbolic western frontier  
and I am waiting 
for the American Eagle  
to really spread its wings  
and straighten up and fly right  
and I am waiting 
for the Age of Anxiety  
to drop dead  
and I am waiting  
for the war to be fought 
which will make the world safe  
for anarchy 
and I am waiting  
for the final withering away  
of all governments  
and I am perpetually awaiting  
a rebirth of wonder 
 
I am waiting for the Second Coming  
and I am waiting 
for a religious revival 
to sweep through the state of Arizona  
and I am waiting 
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored  
and I am waiting 
for them to prove  
that God is really American  
and I am waiting 
to see God on television  
piped’ onto church altars  
if only they can find  
the right channel  
to tune in on  
and I am waiting 
for the Last Supper to be served again  
with a strange new appetizer  
and I am perpetually awaiting  
a rebirth of wonder 
 
I am waiting for my number to be called  
and I am waiting 
for the Salvation Army to take over  
and I am waiting 
for the meek to be blessed 
and inherit the earth  
without taxes and I am waiting  
for forests and animals  
to reclaim the earth as theirs  
and I am waiting  
for a way to be devised  
to destroy all nationalisms  
without killing anybody 
and I am waiting 
for linnets and planets to fall like rain  
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers  
to lie down together again 
in a new rebirth of wonder 
 
I am waiting for the Great Divide to ‘be crossed  
and I am anxiously waiting 
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered  
by an obscure general practitioner  
and I am waiting 
for the storms of life  
to be over  
and I am waiting  
to set sail for happiness  
and I am waiting  
for a reconstructed Mayflower  
to reach America  
with its picture story and tv rights  
sold in advance to the natives  
and I am waiting  
for the lost music to sound again  
in the Lost Continent  
in a new rebirth of wonder 
 
I am waiting for the day  
that maketh all things clear  
and I am awaiting retribution  
for what America did 
to Tom Sawyer  
and I am waiting  
for the American Boy  
to take off Beauty’s clothes  
and get on top of her  
and I am waiting  
for Alice in Wonderland  
to retransmit to me  
her total dream of innocence  
and I am waiting  
for Childe Roland to come  
to the final darkest tower  
and I am waiting  
for Aphrodite 
to grow live arms  
at a final disarmament conference  
in a new rebirth of wonder 
 
I am waiting  
to get some intimations  
of immortality  
by recollecting my early childhood  
and I am waiting  
for the green mornings to come again  
youth’s dumb green fields come back again  
and I am waiting  
for some strains of unpremeditated art  
to shake my typewriter  
and I am waiting to write 
the great indelible poem 
and I am waiting 
for the last long careless rapture  
and I am perpetually waiting  
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn  
to catch each other up at last  
and embrace 
and I am waiting  
perpetually and forever  
a renaissance of wonder            

Lawrence Ferlinghetti died on Monday, February 22, which is Washington’s birthday, at the ripe old age of 101, just a month shy of his 102nd.

I was too shy to ask the poet any questions, being a detested freshman. But I did enjoy seeing him handle the know-it-alls that asked questions only to make themselves look good. Ferlinghetti may have been a poet, but he knew how to handle wise asses.

A Tribute, Sort Of

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

Sometimes I think that David Foster Wallace was the type of writer I should have decided to dislike. Even though I have not ventured into his fiction masterpiece, Infinite Jest, I find myself so liking his essays and speeches that I am consciously rationing his work as if it were a delicacy that was doomed to disappear. Doomed like its author, who after years of depression and unhappiness hanged himself from one of the rafters of his house at the age of 46.

Just because much of his life was a horror story does not invalidated his brilliance or his humor, even though it could not save him.

I have just finished reading his book of essays entitled A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. The title essay runs for about a hundred pages and contains some 137 footnotes which are priceless about 7NC (7 Night Caribbean) passenger cruises and the people who taken them, as well as the people who conduct them. Many of DFW’s pieces are footnoted, though I suspect the magazines in which the essays originally appeared probably excised them with editorial exasperation.

My favorites of the seven essays were about tennis, the films of David Lynch, the Illinois State Fair, and, of course, the Caribbean cruises. I have also read his later collection, Consider the Lobster, which I also loved.

Over the next several months, god willing, I will tackle his fiction.

 

 

Beauty and Brains

Actress and Inventor Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)

One of the most beautiful actresses ever to appear on the silver screen was also a brilliant inventor whose work—for which she did not receive a dime—is used by most Americans on a daily basis.

Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, better known as Hedy Lamarr, was an Austrian actress from a Jewish family that fled to the United States on the brink of World War Two. She was slightly notorious for having appeared in the nude in Gustav Machaty’s Czech film Ecstasy (1933). Not only was she unclothed, but was photographed in a tight facial shot simulating an orgasm. As a result, the sanctimonious studio boss of MGM, Louis B. Mayer, put her in films, but never in the big productions.

Poster for Ecstasy (1933)

Still, Hedy did her best, starring in many films, but also making a unique contribution to the war effort. Working with music composer George Antheil, she developed an invention for producing an unjammable system for communicating with a torpedo that has been released. The method involved hopping across a broad spectrum of frequencies. In 1942, her invention was granted a patent, but never used during the war because the Navy thought they knew better. But by the time the patent expired in 1957, it was being used and is used today in Bluetooth technology and on legacy versions of WiFi.

Because Miss Lamarr did not renew the patent, she did not receive any remuneration for her invention. I just saw a thoughtful documentary by Alexandra Dean entitled Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017). Perhaps, in the end, Hedy was too smart for Hollywood—and Hollywood did not tend to reward actresses for their brains. She drifted through several marriages and several bouts of plastic surgery. But looks were never her problem. This woman had a brain, and that was unforgivable.

 

 

A Light Goes Out

Anna Karina in Jean-Luc Godard’s ALPHAVILLE (1965). Courtesy: Rialto Pictures

I keep returning to a transitional point in my life that followed my pituitary tumor operation and my moving to Los Angeles at the tail end of 1966 to begin the rest of my life. My hero during that period was French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, who was married to the lovely Anna Karina. In all, she acted in seven of Godard’s features, most notably Pierrot le Fou and Alphaville (both 1965).

The latter film, one of my favorites, could only be described as Science Fiction Film Noir. In it, she plays Natacha von Braun, daughter of the notorious Leonard Nosferatu (alias Professor von Braun), chief administrator of Alpha 60, the all-powerful computer that rules the city of Alphaville.

On December 14, the Danish/French film actress died of cancer in a Paris hospital. It was hard to see an actress whose loveliness I revered when I was young come to an end.

Jean-Paul Belmondo Kisses Karina in Godard’s Pierrot le Fou (1965)

I have several of the Godard/Karina films on DVD and will probably be viewing them again in the weeks to come. Somewhere, in those almond eyes, my own past is looking back at me. The most apt expression? The lines Karina says in Alphaville:: “Joli sphinx.”

It would be nice if all the people we have loved from near or afar can continue on with us as if in a cloud around our persons. But it is not to be.

 

His 455th Birthday

Portrait of William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Today is the 455th anniversary of the birth of dramatist William Shakespeare. To honor his birthday, I picked up my old Penguin edition of Hamlet and started to re-read it for the nth time. It has been a couple of decades since my last reading. I was shocked to the extent that the Bard’s language had become so familiar to me that I almost regarded it as my own. From Act I alone, I had adopted into my own language such expressions as:

Before my God, I might not this believe
Without the sensible and true avouch
Of mine own eyes. (I,i,56-58)

A little more than kin, and less than kind! (I,ii,65)

’A was a ma, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again. (I,ii,187-188)

In the dead waste and middle of the night. II,ii,198)

I do not set my life at a pin’s fee (I,iv,65)

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (I,iv,90)

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. (I,v,166-167)

The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite
That ever was I born to set it right! (I,v,188-189)

If these short quotes are familiar to you, it is because they have become a part of our language. Shakespeare actually changed the way we think about things. Within the next day or so, I want to write about how Hamlet changed forever the straightforward revenge tragedy that was such a part of Elizabethan and Jacobean dramaturgy.