Double Whammy

Martine at Captain Kidd’s Fish Market in 2006

Troubles, when they occur, rarely occur in isolation. Today, I was inundated. First of all, Martine has decided to leave me two weeks from today. We have been together for thirty years—not actually married—but man and wife for all intents and purposes. My little French girl, like her mother before her, has a tête Normande, a so-called “Norman head,” famous for stubbornness. Around the same time, she got tired of Los Angeles, my apartment in Los Angeles, and me. I know she is initially headed for Sacramento, where she lived when I first met her, but where she goes from there is anyone’s guess.

I still love her and would give anything to continue our relationship, but that does not seem to be enough for her at this point. Once before, in 2005, she left me for several months. But that was to take care of her mother, who was not being well cared for in the institution where she was housed. She came back then; and I hope she will come back again. If not, my life must go on.

Every day, I see large numbers of crumpled-looking old people who can barely get around to do the basic chores of their life. I have no intention of succumbing to that condition. As Dylan Thomas wrote:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I still have places to go and things to do. And books to read.

A second trouble also hit me between the eyes today. You may recall I wrote about an accident I had last Saturday. Today, Mercury Insurance declared my car a total loss, which it really isn’t. Although my 1994 Nissan Pathfinder is twenty-three years old, it is still a gem of a car, with relatively new tires. But I may have to give it up, because, once it is declared a total loss, I get nothing but Blue Book value (plus or minus). Perhaps it would be cheaper to lease a new car than to deal with upcoming major repairs, such as a replacement engine or transmission. So it goes.

I loved both my girl and my car and must say good-bye to both of them around the same time.

 

 

Poems that Shock and Awe

Harold Pinter in a Photo by Eamonn McCann

It was during the Presidency of George W. Bush, who at the time was putting together the so-called “Coalition of the Willing” to combat the evil Saddam Hussein. Playwright and poet Harold Pinter had given a speech at a “No War on Iraq” Liaison meeting in Parliament. He ended his speech indicating that we all add “a clear obligation, which is to resist.” The following two poems were written by Pinter with that spirit in mind:

God Bless America

Here they go again,
The Yanks in their armoured parade
Chanting their ballads of joy
As they gallop across the big world
Praising America’s God.

The gutters are clogged with the dead
The ones who couldn’t join in
The others refusing to sing
The ones who are losing their voice
The ones who’ve forgotten the tune.

The riders have whips which cut.
Your head rolls onto the sand
Your head is a pool in he dirt
Your head is a stain in the dust
Your eyes have gone out and your nose
Sniffs only the pong of the dead
And all the dead air is alive
With the smell of America’s God.

Democracy

There’s no escape.
The big pricks are out.
They’ll fuck everything in sight.
Watch your back.

It’s always interesting to see oneself as the villain of the piece. But then, of course, we put ourselves all too willingly in that role. It didn’t take long before the “Coalition of the Willing” was down to us all by our lonesomes.

 

It Eventually Had to Happen

My Right Front Headlight

I have been twenty-two years without an auto accident. It had to happen eventually, and fortunately no one was hurt.

On Saturday, Martine and I went to the Greek Festival at Santa Sophia Cathedral near downtown. It was a hot day with temperatures going up to 90° (32º Celsius) or more. We spent most of the time in their air-conditioned parish hall sampling the Greek goodies. When it was time to go, we went to our car, which was parked at Saint Ignatius High School’s parking lot and headed north on Dewey Street. Just as we approached Pico Boulevard, a driver in a parked car opened his door, which my Nissan slammed into, wedging his driver’s side door hard against my passenger side door. Martine was seated about three inches from the impact.

My Nissan Pathfinder is now having some body work done. It appears that I will have no blame in this particular incident, as my car was parallel to his when I hit his car door.

The driver was a Latino who didn’t quite understand how accidents are handled in the United States. I felt sorry for him. Luckily, he was insured. He wanted to call the police in. I encouraged him to and offered to wait. He was disappointed when, upon calling them a second time, they told him they weren’t coming out unless someone was injured. He shook his head and said he didn’t understand how this country worked. That’s OK: Neither do I. In the end, we wound up shaking hands. I didn’t turn out to be the Gringo pig he expected (at least I hope).

Damaged were to my front bumper, right headlight, a gash on the panel to the right of the engine, and my right rear-view mirror, which hangs on two thin wires.

Two Disasters

Close-Up of Beer

This is a tale of two disasters, separated from each other by a little more than a century, and oddly representative of the countries in which they took place. After the horrendous hurricanes that destroyed so much of Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean—and the earthquakes that devastated parts of Mexico—I began to think of some of the strangers disasters that have befallen man. My source for both is FutilityCloset.Com, one of my favorite sources for odd facts.

The first disaster occurred on October 17, 1814, in London during the Napoleonic Wars. That’s when a giant vat bull of beer at the St. Giles brewery ruptured with such force that it ruptured many of the adjoining vats. Within minutes, some 323,000 gallons of the stuff that makes Englishmen happy flowed into the West End. That day, it turns out there was little happiness: Eight people were killed “by drowning, injury, poisoning by porter fumes, or drunkenness.” Basements were flooded, and several tenements collapsed from the onslaught of the brew.

What Can One Say?

It is a hundred five years later across the ocean in Boston, Massachusetts. The date is Wednesday, January 15, 1919. As Wikipedia describes the event:

“A muffled roar burst suddenly upon the air,” wrote the Boston Herald. “Mingled with the roar was the clangor of steel against steel and the clash of rending wood.”

The tank collapsed, sending a giant wave of molasses sweeping through the North End. Even in the January cold, the wave would have been 8 to 15 feet high and traveled at 35 mph. It broke the girders of the elevated railway, lifted a train off its tracks, and tore a firehouse from its foundation. Twenty-one people stickily drowned, and 150 were injured. Cleanup took six months; one victim wasn’t found for 11 days.

The 2.3 million gallons of molasses that caused the flood was being used to convert it to grain alcohol. Maybe so, but it kind of stands to reason that the American disaster involved a whole lot of sticky, sweet stuff.

Living with Azuma Hikari

Azumi Hikari Is Gatebox’s Initial Release of a Personal Miniature Robot

It was my friend Bill Korn who told me about Gatebox. In today’s Japan, there are fewer marriages, fewer births, and a larger population of the aged as time goes on. You can read about it in an Economist article entitled “I Don’t: Most Japanese Want to Be Married but Are Fining It Hard.” To help young Japanese salarymen hold themselves together while waiting for what may or may not occur, Gatebox has released a personal robot for $3,000 about as big as a coffeemaker.

You can see the introductory character, Azumi Hikari, at work in this two-minute video:

What disturbs me is that Miss Azumi is a manga character with a child’s body, such that it reminds me of pedophilia more than anything else. When its owner walks in the door, she does a little dance of joy like a child. She even calls him on his cell phone and tries to wheedle him into coming home from work early. I don’t know whether I want to be the master of a child slave who is a projected figure several inches high in a glass tube.

Of course, sex is completely out of the question, unless you want to turn yourself into some sort of manga projection. I’m sure Gatebox will have to field a few thousand queries about that.

You can read a review of the product in this PC Magazine review entitled “Gatebox Virtual Home Robot Wants You to Be Her Master.

 

 

The Conversationalist

Jorge Luis Borges and His Books

Blindness was a curse in Jorge Luis Borges’s family. Not only his father, but his grandfather and great-grandfather all died blind. Fortunately for us, Borges had lived for more than fifty years before the gathering darkness prevented him from picking a book from his shelf and reading it. Because he lived on for thirty-five years or so longer, the Argentinian writer and poet managed to find a role for himself that would help keep his amazing erudition alive and produce works of interest to a worldwide public that was just beginning to discover him.

Enter Borges the interviewee. I first experienced this in Paul Theroux’s The Old Patagonian Express, when the American author describes a meeting with Borges in Buenos Aires. It began with Borges requesting that Theroux read some passages from Kipling to him and went on from there. From this point on, I continued finding published interviews, and I started collecting them alongside his original poems and stories, whose output diminished as he aged.

In a brief interview with Amelia Barili,  he is asked about the meaning of life:

If life’s meaning were explained to us, we probably wouldn’t understand it. To think that a man can find it is absurd. We can live without understanding what the world is or who we are. The important things are the ethical instinct and the intellectual instinct, are they not? The intellectual instinct is the one that makes us search while knowing that we are never going to find the answer. I think Lessing said that if God were to declare that in His right hand He had the truth and in his left hand He had the investigation of the truth, Lessing would ask God to open His left hand—he would want God to give him the investigation of the truth, not the truth itself. Of course he would want that, because the investigation permits infinite hypotheses, and the truth is only one, and that does not suit the intellect, because the intellect needs curiosity. In the past, I tried to believe in a personal God, but I do not think I try anymore. I remember in that respect an admirable expression of Bernard Shaw: “God is in the making.”

Willis Barnstone’s Borges at 80: Conversations has this little gem. When asked about the wrong women he has loved and the wrong days he has spent, Borges replied:

All those things, the wrong women, the wrong actions, the wrong circumstances, all those are tools to the poet. A poet should think of all things as being given him, even misfortune. Misfortune, defeat, humiliation, failure, those are our tools. You don’t suppose that when you are happy, you can produce anything. Happiness is its own aim.

As one who has personally suffered from dictators—Juan Perón made him a poultry inspector for the markets of Buenos Aires—Borges describes what he thinks of them:

It really seems a childish idea, don’t you think? I believe the idea of giving orders and being obeyed is more to be associated with a child’s mind than that of a man. I don’t think dictators generally are very intelligent people. Fanaticism can lead to it too. Take Cromwell’s case, for example: I think he was a Puritan; he was a Calvinist and believed he had every right. But in the case of more recent dictators, I don’t think they’ve been motivated by fanaticism. I think they were impelled by histrionic zeal, by the desire for applause, for being obeyed, and perhaps by the mere childish craving for publicity, which is a craving I don’t understand. [Sounds a lot like Trumpf, no?]

This last comes from Fernando Sorrentino’s Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges, one of the better collections of interviews with Borges.

Jorge Luis Borges was, fortunately, a great conversationalist. I still like to pick up one or other of his interviews and re-read it just for the pleasure of the man’s company.

 

 

 

Me and Anne Thistlewaite, Countess of Chesterfield

Thomas Gainsborough’s “Portrait of Anne, Countess of Chesterfield” (1777-1778)

First, leave the portrait subject out of the painting and notice the quick brush strokes that form the tree, the stone wall, the landscape to the right, and the dark background. Now put in their midst this serene, quite beautiful, long-necked beauty that is Anne Thistlewaite, Countess of Chesterfield. It always amazes me to see women in paintings from other times that make my heart flutter. And it is most particularly the English protraitists of the 18th century that succeed the most in making me feel this way.

When I go to the Huntington Museum in San Marino, there is a large two-story gallery devoted solely to English paintings. So many of the women portrayed are so ethereal that I am in transports of admiration. I can almost begin to understand the way the French were in awe of English milords and miladies.