The Things in My Pockets

I Accept G.K. Chesterton’s Challenge, Sort Of

It was in an essay entitled “A Piece of Chalk” that appeared in his collection Tremendous Trifles (1909):

Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about the things in my pockets. But I found it would be too long; and the age of the great epics is past.

As I am not a poet, I will attempt to write an essay, or at least a blog post, about the contents of my pockets.

To begin with, I know it is a fashion among the svelte to wear shirts that have no pockets. (If you have ever seen any pictures of me, you know that “svelte” is not ba word that can be used to describe me.) One pulls one’s head through a hole at the top, and the result is a look that signals that one is in all probability dyspeptic. Fortunately, they haven’t attempted to do the same thing with pants. I suppose that if I had some native bearers, I could afford not to worry about he things I have to carry. But I have no native bearers.

Let’s start with the shirt. I prefer a shirt with two pockets. In the left one is an eyeglass case bearing my reading glasses. Shoved up against it is a Parker Executive ballpoint pen. The other usually contains a pill box for my Metformin HCL, Atorvastatin, Vitamin D3, and Oleuropein.

My pants have four pockets. Let’s start with the front left pocket, which contains my wallet. In my right front pocket are the sets of keys I need for the day’s activities: car keys, house keys, and—if I become employed again—my office keys.

In my back pockets are two handkerchiefs. The left back pocket contains a usually clean hanky used for cleaning the smudges off my eyeglasses. The right back pocket contains what Shakespeare would call my snotrag.

Now that usually is not enough for everything I need. If I step out of the house, I need room for a Ziplock® sandwich bag containing my two types of insulin and a supply of nano-needle nibs. Then, too, I go nowhere without books and/or one of my Kindles. Then, too, one must add bus schedules (on general principle, I do not pay exorbitant parking fees), a floor guide to the Los Angeles Central Library, my cellphone (when I allow myself to be so bothered), and a folded-up plastic bag for carrying books, if necessary. For the items in this paragraph, I use a Magellan travel bag which I see I will have to replace soon if I do not wish to be confused with the homeless.

And that is it. I don’t think it would have made for a good poem. Though, if anyone could do it, it would be G.K. Chesterton.

 

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.

Cities That Are Hard To Read

Los Angeles: A City That Is Hard To Read

The New Yorkers are at it again. In the pages of the New York Times, two reporters—Tim Arango and Adam Nagourney—referred to Los Angeles as “A City That Never Quite Came Together.” That reminds me of that old chestnut about Los Angeles being seventy-five communities in search of a city.

From the time I heard I was accepted by the UCLA Motion Picture History and Criticism graduate program, I scoured the Cleveland Public Library for books about Southern California. One of them wrote at great length about mudslides along the Pacific Coast Highway (California Route 1) in Pacific Palisades and Malibu, and posited a fictional type of super-salesman called a “Pro-Cal,” who regarded L.A. as the best of all places—diametrically opposed to the boo-birds from the East who were intent on digging up dirt about the Golden State.

This kind of thinking negatively affected what I thought about L.A. when I first moved here in 1966. All those stucco apartment buildings painted in pastel colors struck me the wrong way. Why couldn’t they use good red brick, like we had in Ohio? Then I endured my first earthquake in 1971 and understood why they used stucco: It was the brick buildings that collapsed. Only in the 1970s that I began to actually like California. The fact that that coincided with the way I felt about myself was no accident.

My friend Lynette—who was born in California—sent me a reference to a Los Angeles Times article published on February 8, 2018  and written by Christopher Hawthorne. In it, he compares L.A. to Houston, Texas:

If I had to put my finger on what unites Houston and Los Angeles, it is a certain elusiveness as urban object. Both cities are opaque and hard to read. What is Houston? Where does it begin and end? Does it have a center? Does it need one? It’s tough to say, even when you’re there — even when you’re looking directly at it.

The same has been said of Los Angeles since its earliest days. Something Carey McWilliams noted about L.A. in 1946 — that it is a place fundamentally ad hoc in spirit, “a gigantic improvisation” — is perhaps even more true of Houston. Before you can pin either city down, you notice that it’s wriggled out of your grasp.

People who are accustomed to making quick sense of the world, to ordering it into neat and sharply defined categories, tend to be flummoxed by both places. And reporters at the New York Times are certainly used to making quick sense of the world. If there’s one reason the paper keeps getting Los Angeles so spectacularly wrong, I think that’s it. Smart, accomplished people don’t like being made to feel out of their depth. Los Angeles makes out-of-town reporters feel out of their depth from their first day here.

This is not a city on a hill, such as can be found in Tuscany. You can’t just take it in at a glance and say, “Yeah, this is Los Angeles, all right!” I like to surprise visitors with forays to ethnic enclaves like Koreatown, Little Tokyo, and East Los Angeles (or “East Los”). Then there are mountains within the county boundaries that are two miles high. The fact that there are mountains here at all is a surprise to most people.

L.A. no longer wriggles out of my grasp. I recognize it as a conglomeration of landscapes, cultures, and even architectures. So don’t think you can spend an afternoon on the Sunset Strip or the Bel Air Hotel and think you’ve scoped out the city: You haven’t even begun.

 

 

No Respecter of Values

… And That Is the Problem!

We as a country have always prided ourselves on our values. But to me, that is a major problem. It’s not only why we elected a narcissistic boob to be our President, but why a sickeningly large percentage of the voter base continue to support him. In an article for Think, Derek Newton writes:

But the back of the Trump base is not likely to break any time soon, because Trump’s supporters aren’t beholden to politics or logic. Instead, they are creatures of a group psychology dynamic more commonly seen in religious and fraternal organizations.

In the “communion mode” authority structure, described by Andrew Gray, people’s recognition of legitimate authority is “based on an appeal to common values and creeds.”

“In this mode,” added Gray, “the legitimacy for actions lies in consistency with the understandings, protocols, and guiding values of shared frames of reference.”

Is this why Evangelical Christians tend to be so forgiving of infamy? In the news today, a man in Spartansburg, PA who was convicted of a felony sex crime against a 4-year-old girl was elected to a second term as chief of the town’s volunteer fire department. And look at our president’s sexual transgressions. He was probably right when, during the campaign, he said he could kill someone in cold blood on the streets of Manhattan and get away with it. (There is a certain feral wiliness to the man.)

Do I have values? Yes—but all my values are subject to revision If my choice for political office starts putting Jews in concentration camps or claiming there is a doctors’ plot against him or shooting down Rohingya or their families, I would in fact revise them. Yes, I would shitcan my values in an instant if I thought they left room for any sort of infamy.

Newton continues:

Communion governance structures rely on regular in-person meetings, call and response rituals (witness the continued usefulness of “Lock her up!” chants at Trump rallies, despite Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss) and faith in shared values and experiences. Groups built around communion authority are tightly connected and very strong in part because, research shows, they display “homophily and parochialism directed to those outside the group.” (That is a scholarly way of saying that those in communion groups tend to associate and bond with people that are similar to themselves and view those who are not with suspicion and hostility.)

Perhaps our president’s supporters should be sent to other countries to do some research on why their values need to be changed. Preferably during election time.

 

 

 

 

Valentino’s Voisin et al

1932 Pierce-Arrow V12 Model 52 Sedan

On this cool and cloudy Saturday, Martine and I paid another visit to the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar. We saw many of the same cars as on previous visits, but were newly impressed with the variety and beauty of automobiles manufactured in the 1920s and 1930s. The 1932 Pierce-Arrow practically called me by name as I walked by it. Like all the cars at the Nethercutt, it shone like a jewel. Even the tires look bran new. And yes, that is an old fire engine in the left background.

When I compare today’s cars with what was available a hundred years ago, we have lost individuality. (It looks like all the car bodies today were tested in the same wind tunnel, whether from Mercedes, Range Rover, or BMW.) Do you think the Toyota Prius is a new concept? Not so, there were hybrids a hundred years ago—and they looked better, too.

Rudolph Valentino’s 1923 Voisin

Many of the automobiles on display have fascinating histories. For instance, there were only eighteen Rolls-Royce Silver Phantom IVs manufactured, and they were all sold tom heads of state. The Nethercutt has one of the two that belonged to the Sheikh of Kuwait. At the time he owned them, there were only twenty miles of paved road in the whole country.

And then there is the gray 1923 Voisin that belonged to Rudolph Valentino. He purchased three of them, and brought one of them back with him to Hollywood. The hood ornament is a custom-made cobra head which was given him by fellow actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

There is even a Duesenberg Twenty Grand that cost … twenty grand. It was the only one manufactured, a special order made for the 1933-34 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago.

Will I ever get tired of seeing these beauties? Not bloody likely.

 

A Great Travel Resource

In Australia, Travelers Posted Notes on the Thorns

A few years ago, I was an active member of Bootsnall.Com, which had great postings on travel to every corner of the Earth. Of late, Bootsnall has yielded pride of place to Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree (though I have hopes they’ll make a comeback). According to Lonely Planet:

Lonely Planet’s travel forum (Thorn Tree) has been a leading online destination for travel enthusiasts and thrill seekers since 1996. It was created as a place for travelers to exchange travel advice, hints, hacks, and tips in order to help them get to the heart of a destination.

Thorn Tree is by travelers, for travelers, and covers every place on the planet including places we don’t have guidebooks for (yet). More than 2 million members have joined the community since its inception and have engaged in conversation with others, while making countless connections, over the past 20+ years.

To get there, click here.

You may recall that, a few days ago, I wrote a post entitled “You Can’t Get There from Here … Not Easily, Anyhow.” I was researching how to visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal, Copán, and Quiriguá, which are not too far from one another as the crow flies—but, alas, I have to take the roads, not crows, to get there. I checked out Thorn Tree, and found out how to get to Copán and Quiriguá easily enough . (Tikal will have to be a separate trip.) This is what the poster wrote:

If you are coming back to Antigua, there are tourist shuttles that stop by Quirigua, another Maya site with the largest stelae in the Maya world. It is small compared to Copan, but if you are already in the area, it is worth the stop. There are no shuttles that stop there on the way to Copan, only on the return.

Thank you, CraigAdkins! I found a number of helpful posts. If you are interested in solving any knotty travel problems, I suggest you give the Thorn Tree a look. And check out Bootsnall.Com as well.

“Perhaps the Most Interesting Book of Travel Ever Published”

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

As soon as I saw that one of the fans of travel writer John Lloyd Stephens was none other than Edgar Allan Poe, I was intrigued. Although I have the lengthy Library of America collection of Poe’s Essays and Reviews, I could not find any mention of Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán among the reviews, I did find this intriguing note on the Internet. It is from an 1841 issue of Graham’s Magazine:

We are not prepared to say that misunderstandings of this character will be found in the present “Incidents of Travel.” Of Central America and her antiquities Mr. Stephens may know, and no doubt does know, as much as the most learned antiquarian. Here all is darkness. We have not yet received from the Messieurs Harper a copy of the book, and can only speak of its merits from general report and from the cursory perusal which has been afforded us by the politeness of a friend. The work is certainly a magnificent one — perhaps the most interesting book of travel ever published. An idea has gone abroad that the narrative is confined to descriptions and drawings of Palenque; but this is very far from the case. Mr. S. explored no less than six ruined cities. The “incidents,” moreover, are numerous and highly amusing. The traveller visited these regions at a momentous time, during the civil war, in which Carrera and Morazan were participants. He encountered many dangers, and his hair-breadth escapes are particularly exciting.

I find it interesting that Poe committed himself so far without actually having a copy of the book in hand. Perhaps he saw the proofs or an advanced copy, as he hints above. I will continue to search to see whether Poe actually did write a more comprehensive review of the book.