“Beleaguered Cities”

A Poem from My Latest (Re-)Discovery

A Poem from My Latest (Re-)Discovery

On August 4, I wrote a Serendipity posting entitled In Praise of the Short Biography. It was around then that I began reading F. L. Lucas’s In Search of Good Sense: Four Eighteenth Century Characters—Johnson, Chesterfield, Boswell, and Goldsmith. I have now finished the book and fallen quite in love with it. Lucas is the ultimate classicist: There is not even the slightest whiff of the postmodern about him.

I actually find that quite refreshing. Lucas died in 1967. In the early 1960s, he was a name to be reckoned with. I read and loved his book Style while I was in High School, and it had (I hope) a beneficial influence on my own writing style.

Having rediscovered him by sheer chance (scanning the literature stacks of L.A.’s Central Library), I want to read some more of his work in he next year. Below is his most famous poem, entitled “Beleaguered Cities” (1929):

Build your houses, build your houses, build your towns,
Fell the woodland, to a gutter turn the brook,
Pave the meadows, pave the meadows, pave the downs,
Plant your bricks and mortar where the grasses shook,
The wind-swept grasses shook.

Build, build your Babels black against the sky—
But mark yon small green blade, your stones between,
The single spy
Of that uncounted host you have outcast;
For with their tiny pennons waving green
They shall storm your streets at last.

Build your houses, build your houses, build your slums,
Drive your drains where once the rabbits used to lurk,
Let there be no song there save the wind that hums
Through the idle wires while dumb men tramp to work,
Tramp to their idle work,
Silent the siege; none notes it; yet one day
Men from your walls shall watch the woods once more
Close round their prey.

Build, build the ramparts of your giant town;
Yet they shall crumble to the dust before
The battering thistle-down.

As one who has spent many years visiting Mayan and other ruins, I find Lucas’s poetic vision to be profound. He is, after all, a scholar of Classical Greece and Rome who is familiar with many of the ancient sites.

Water, Water Everywhere?

But Wait, Doesn’t It Cover 70% of the Earth’s Surface?

But Wait, Doesn’t It Cover 70% of the Earth’s Surface?

The following item comes from the Astronomy Picture of the Day website, and it sets me to thinking. Even in drought-stricken California, we take water for granted. The picture above takes all the known water on earth and positions it as a single mega-drop over the arid Great Basin of the United States.

According to the text that accompanies it:

How much of planet Earth is made of water? Very little, actually. Although oceans of water cover about 70 percent of Earth’s surface, these oceans are shallow compared to the Earth’s radius. The featured illustration shows what would happen if all of the water on or near the surface of the Earth were bunched up into a ball. The radius of this ball would be only about 700 kilometers, less than half the radius of the Earth’s Moon, but slightly larger than Saturn’s moon Rhea which, like many moons in our outer Solar System, is mostly water ice. How even this much water came to be on the Earth and whether any significant amount is trapped far beneath Earth’s surface remain topics of research.

I’d hate to think that the moonlets around some of the outer planets of our solar system contain more drinking water than Planet Earth.

As the most interesting man on Earth has been known to say, “Stay thirsty, my friends!”

Short Takes: Trump Now Sez Earth DOES Revolve Around Sun

A Handful of Short Stuff to End the Week

A Handful of Short Stuff to End the Week

Prezidenchul Candidate Donald J. Trump has announced that the Earth “definitely” revolves around the sun, so it is okay to think and say that without being roughed up by his jackbooted thugs. Next: Does water “definitely” flow downhill and does the Pope “definitely” shit in the woods? Keep tuned to this channel for more breaking admissions from the campaign.

At the same time Hillary Clinton has been blamed for the earth’s new subsidiary role in the Solar System.

Geography textbooks in the State of California are being re-edited to revise all reference to rivers, lakes, and reservoirs as being essentially mythical.

Both the 2020 and 2024 Prezidenchul campaigns have begun in earnest as of September 1. According to GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, “It’s good for American voters to plan ahead and keep thinking about possible futures, all of which appear to be disastrous.”

The National Civil War Commission has voted to declare the Confederate States of America as the winners of the war, and to retroactively pardon Jefferson Davis, John Wilkes Booth, and Henry Wirz, Commandant of Andersonville Prison. Yes, but will there now follow a period of Reconstruction? Yes, according to the carpetbaggers lining up along the southern border of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Angela Merkel has taken to wearing a pink berka after she changed the name of her country to Germanistan. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden has considered changing the color of the nation’s flag to green and adding a crescent and Koranic verses.

All cars produced since 1956 have been recalled by their manufacturers for various reasons. Traffic is expected to be light next week.

A cruise ship to the Caribbean has returned to Fort Lauderdale with no cases of Legionnaires’ Disease or food poisoning, no plumbing or sewage malfunctions, and no passengers or crew members fallen overboard.



Los Angeles’s Central Library on 5th Street & Hope

Los Angeles’s Central Library on 5th & Flower

On Thursdays, I find myself taking the Expo Line Train into downtown Los Angeles, or as the locals call it, DTLA. Before the free mindful meditation classes at 12:30 (taught by UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center—or MARC), I spend a couple hours reading in the literature and fiction center on the third floor. Then I make my way to lunch at one of several locations: Chinatown, Olvera Street, Little Tokyo, or the Grand Central Market on Broadway. Sometimes I stop at the Last Bookstore at 5th and Spring. When the afternoons are hot, as it was today, I return by the air-conditioned Santa Monica Bus Line Rapid 10 Freeway Flyer, which lets me off a block from home.

Since I started exploring the downtown area, I have gotten a better, more favorable feel for the city in which I live. LADT is nowhere near as white bread as the outlying areas, and there are interesting ethnic enclaves scattered about.

When it gets a little cooler, I hope to wander farther afield, perhaps taking in bits of Koreatown and Filipinotown.




Do You Ever Want to Live There?

Parque El Carmen in Lima’s Pueblo Libre Municipalidad

Parque El Carmen in Lima’s Pueblo Libre Municipalidad

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that I love to travel. The question that many people have asked me is, “Yes, but wouldn’t you like to live there?”

The answer is very simply no. It’s not because I have any great hopes for the United States, but because I know that many of the places I love to visit have or have had insurmountable difficulties which make me think twice.

For instance, I love Iceland; but I dread the idea of six dark months out of every year in which the weak sun comes up for only a few minutes in the middle of the afternoon. And even though virtually everyone speaks English, I would probably have difficulties getting my kennitala (registration number), because officialdom likes to do its business in Icelandic.

Of all the countries I have visited, I would probably like Argentina the best. Even though my Spanish is adequate for travel, however, it would not fare too well dealing with the authorities in matters relating to housing and taxation. Also, all the South American countries I like (including Peru, Uruguay, and Chile) have had problems in the not too distant past with rightist dictators and left wing insurgencies.

We’re not quite there in the U.S.—yet!

As for Hungary, Slovakia, France, England, Scotland, Belgium, and the Netherlands—they’re nice, but I have a feeling they are just at the point of entering a bad time, what with the hoards invading from the Middle East and Africa. I just don’t see a good path around the problems they are just beginning to face.

There’s always Canada, I suppose, and I really like the Canadian people, even the Québecois, but I think I’ll stick it out in the U. S. of A. for the time being.


The Five Year Curse

It Seems That Computers Last for Only About Five Years

It Seems That Computers Last for Only About Five Years

Poor Martine! Every time my computer craps out, she is at the keyboard. And it’s not her fault—though it’s not easy to convince her of that—it’s just that the system just lost track of its hard drive. I hit the on/off switch and held it until the screen went dark. Then it seemed to come up normally when I punched it again.

But my Dell Optiplex 990 is now five years old, and five is a dangerous age for desktops. I’m going to start the replacement process this week and be even more fanatical about backing up my files. It looks as if I’ll have to start using Windows 10, which shouldn’t be much of a problem, as that is what I use at work.

If you see that I do not post for three or four days in a row, it’ll be because I am in transition. Wish me luck!

Favorite Films: La Belle et la Bête

Jean Marais as the Beast and Josette Day as Beauty

Jean Marais as the Beast and Josette Day as Beauty

Today was probably the tenth or fifteenth time I have ever viewed Jean Cocteau’s La belle et la bête (1946). Each time, I was enthralled by the magic; and, today, for the first time I introduced Martine to the film, fearing that she wouldn’t like it. She loved it! So much so that she asked about Cocteau’s other films.

The version Cocteau used was written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and published in 1757 along with other fairy tales. Cocteau seems to have set the story in the 17th century. Riding horseback to town through the forest to inquire about his merchant ships, which were overdue in port. On his way back, he stops at a magical castle, from whose gardens he cuts a rose to give to his daughter Belle. At once, he is confronted by the beast, who demands either his life or that of one of his daughters.

Here the story seems almost to merge with the Cinderella fairy tale, in that Belle’s two sisters  are vain and selfish. But Belle returns (via a magic horse called La Magnifique) to the Beast’s castle. The Beast falls for her and tells her that he requests to have dinner with him once a day at seven o’clock, whereupon he would ask if she would become his wife.

In the end, she falls for the Beast. Once she pledges her troth to him, he is transformed into a resplendent prince who flies away with her through the air.

The strength of the film is Cocteau’s devotion to the magic of the story. In the film prologue, he writes:

Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can bring drama to a family. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he kills a victim, and that this beast will be shamed when confronted by a young girl. They believe in a thousand other simple things. I ask of you a little of this childlike simplicity, and to bring us luck, let me speak four truly magic words, Childhood’s Open Sesame: “Once upon a time…”

Over the last fifty-odd years, this film has become a perennial favorite of mine. The nobility of Jean Marais in the role of the Beast and the loveliness of Josette Day as Belle have become hard-wired in my brain.

I highly recommend seeing this film either on the big screen or the Criterion DVD version (which I saw today). It is one of the evergreen masterpieces of the cinema.