So Much for This Rainy Season

I Doubt We’ll See Another Drop for Many Months

The rainy season of 2017-2018 turned out to be something of a bust. Oh, we had one good rain that killed a lot of poor people in Montecito. That whole range of hills that abuts the Coast Highway between Santa Monica and Gaviota is subject to mudslides whenever there is a short period of intense rain. It happened to the pretty little coastal town of La Conchita in 2005, and this time it was Montecito’s turn.

I just looked ahead to the forecast for the next 10 days. On Thursday, April 19, there is a 20% chance of rain—which probably just means a few droplets in the mountains and foothills. Most of Southern California will continue to be bone dry until the end of the year, if not longer.

The term “April Showers” doesn’t have much meaning in a Mediterranean climate zone such as the one I live in. If you were to drive for an hour and a half east of here, you would wind up in the Mohave Desert. Drive eight hours north of here, and you would be in the wetter Northern California zone. There are some 20 climate zones of 24 possible classifications to be found in California. I just happen to occupy one of the drier zones.

 

 

Lawrence Ferlinghetti at Dartmouth

Dartmouth Hall

I was shocked to find that Lawrence Ferlinghetti (born in March 1919) was still alive. Today, I borrowed one of his poetry collections from the L.A. Central Library and remembered with great pleasure running into the poet himself at Dartmouth College around the mid 1960s. He was on campus to read a selection of poems from his collection A Coney Island of the Mind (1958) and to answer questions.

Never in my life had I seen someone with his uncanny ability to deflect questions. My classmates posed the usual bullshit queries that were typical of people who wanted to look very intellectual but didn’t know what they were talking about. I enjoyed the poems, and I liked all the anecdotes of the beatnik poets he published, such as Allen Ginsburg,  Gregory Corso, and Gary Snyder. But I kept my mouth shut lest I be exposed like so many of my classmates were.

Ferlinghetti’s Poetry Collection

I was pleasantly surprised to find that A Coney Island of the Mind is the best-selling poetry collection ever published in the United States, having sold in excess of a million copies.

Letter from Iceland

View Around Mývatn in Northeast Iceland

In the Thirties, two English poets, W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, took a trip to Iceland. Auden wrote a book, published in 1936, called Letters from Iceland, which consisted of mixed prose, poetry, and photographs. The following is from a longer poem in Chapter III entitled “Letter to Graham and Anne Shepard”:

So I came here to the land the Romans missed,
Left for the Irish saint and the Viking colonist.
But what am I doing here? Qu’allais je faire
Among these volcanic rocks and this grey air?
Why go north when Cyprus and Madeira
De jure if not de facto are much nearer?
The reason for hereness seems beyond conjecture,
There are no trees or trains or architecture,
Fruits and greens are insufficient for health
And culture is limited by lack of wealth.
The tourist sites have nothing like Stonehenge,
The literature is all about revenge,
And yet I like it if only because this nation
Enjoys a scarcity of population
And cannot rise to many bores or hacks
Or paupers or poor men paying Super-Tax.
Yet further, if you can stand it, I will set forth
The obscure but powerful ethics of Going North.
*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    *     *
In England one forgets—in each performing troupe
Forgets what one has lost, there is no room to stoop
And look along the ground, one cannot see the ground
For the feet of the crowd, and the lost is never found.
I dropped something, I think, but I am not sure what
And cannot say if it mattered much or not,
So let us get on or we shall be late, for soon
The shops will close and the rush hour be on.

The reference to a “lack of wealth” refers to the relative poverty of Iceland until it became an independent country in 1946. Under the Danes,  the Icelanders were one of the poorest peoples in Europe. No longer.

Going South for the Winter

Novelist and World Traveler Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux has had an immense influence on my life. When I first read The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas in 1981, I knew that I wanted to travel as he did. But I couldn’t: I was stuck in a demanding job, and many of the places I wanted to visit, such as Guatemala, Peru, and Argentina, were undergoing hard times; and travel there was not recommended by our State Department.

But the years have passed, and travel to Latin America is not so problematic any more. (Though, now, parts of Mexico are dangerous—including many cities, such as Veracruz, which I have visited.)

After writing books about traveling by rail through Asia and China, about traveling around the coasts of Britain and the Mediterranean, and about island-hopping in the South Pacific, Theroux spent four winters traveling through the Deep South, concentrating on poor small towns in Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. His book, Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads, opened my eyes to why Trump won in 2016. Theroux’s South was a place where people were more civil to strangers than in other parts of the country. Yet there is a great deal of poverty, and many of its people feel they have been shunted aside by history, large corporations, and general neglect.

Theroux, the world traveler, spent those four winters dealing with people who, for the most part, never traveled abroad. He spent more time with Black Americans than with Whites. Both racists are as far apart as ever, yet there are glimmers of hope. And the hope is not from Washington and New York, where all the money is concentrated, but from local people who bring about incremental improvements rather than global change.

He is older and wiser after his forty-odd years of travel. “The greatest advantage to being an older traveler is being invisible, unregarded, ignored. This allows one to eavesdrop and to see much more of a place or a people. There is a detachment, too, in being older: You’re not looking for a new life, not easily tempted. So you see a place clearly. Perfect for writing.”

The travels that went into the making of this book took place before the electoral debacle of 2016, but one could see the widespread willingness to try something new, to talk to somehow who promised to “Make America Great Again.” Not that this administration will anything to help them. A trade war with China would hurt voters in Trump country far more than voters in the Northeast and West.

 

Old Man …

… Who Doesn’t Realize He’s Getting Old

Unless one has children of one’s own, and if one is in reasonable health, one doesn’t really know one is getting old. Yesterday, my friend Bill Korn told me his own interpretation of my posting from a couple days ago, I Don’t Feel at Home Here, Either. The young, when they acknowledge my existence at all, seem surprised to see such a spry oldster doing approved things. Several weeks ago, I was about to enter a Trader Joe’s market when a younger woman flashed a delighted look at me, as if here was a decrepit old man doing the right thing. What was my reaction? I gave her the stink-eye, at maximum volume. She looked infuriated, as if I had stomped on her Yorkie or slipped her smart phone into a sewer grating.

What my reaction was saying was: “Don’t patronize me, you stupid beeyotch! I do not require your approval.”

But then, that’s me all over. I don’t cotton to strangers. When I am traveling in a foreign country and am approached by American tourists, I answer back in Hungarian. I think I’m taking after my Great Grandmother Lidia Toth (born in 1876), who could make a longshoreman blush with her swearing. She was one of those, “Who’re you looking at, Punk?” type of people, except her language was ever so much more colorful.

As a result, I am not likely to initiate contacts with strangers—with several exceptions. When I travel, I try hard to communicate with the locals and generally get good responses. I do not … ever … make … friends …. with …. American … tourists. Does that mean that I am anti-American? Not really, I just find it’s a waste of time. I even go out of my way to help foreign tourists who are obviously stuck in Los Angeles, which is not the easiest place in the world to get around in.

 

Favorite Films: Grizzly Man (2005)

Timothy Treadwell in Alaska’s Katmai National Park

Over the last thirty years, some of my favorite movies were directed by Werner Herzog. So when I screened his Grizzly Man for myself, I was not surprised to find that it was nothing short of amazing. Its subject, Timothy Treadwell as to grizzly bears what Aussie Steve Irwin was to crocodiles and other dangerous denizens of the wild. In the end, both men died because they were exposed to one too many dangers. In the case of Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard, they were eaten by a bear that Treadwell failed to charm.

There was always something strange about Treadwell with his Prince Valiant blonde mop. (He had failed to win the role of Woody Boyd in Cheers that was filled by Woody Harrelson.) He spent his summers in Alaska’s Katmai National Park trying to convince us that grizzlies were like warm and fuzzy Teddy Bears. He even camped with a favorite Teddy Bear, as well as a girlfriend.

After Treadwell and Huguenard’s death, German filmmaker Werner Herzog made Grizzly Man, but probably not as Treadwell would have liked. Much of the footage was actually from Treadwell himself, and showed him in his various moods—including defiance at the National Park Service. He did not like to be reminded by them that what he was doing was dangerous. Unlike Steve Irwin, he downplayed the dangers of closeness with the bears. What amazes me was not that he was eventually attacked and devoured by them than that he survived as long as he did.

Grizzly Bear

In his and his girlfriend’s last few minutes on earth, Treadwell was actually filming. Because of the circumstances, he did not have a chance to remove the lens cap, so all he had was an audio track. In Grizzly Man, we see Herzog listening to this track in the presence of one of his associates, Jewel Palovak. Upon finishing, he hands the tape to Palovak and recommends that she destroy it. She did the next best thing: Instead of listening to it, she had it placed in a bank vault. Nobody wants to have his or her dreams turn into nightmares from listening to the death of someone they had loved.

Herzog believes that Treadwell was a disturbed individual with a death wish. Treadwell’s own footage, much of which appears in the Herzog film, bears this out. In fact, I was so disturbed that I had disturbing nightmares the night after I saw the film.\

 

I Don’t Feel at Home Here, Either

No Brie and Chablis for Me, Thanks … I’ll Just Have a Coke

“Here” is a part of town not far from me, but that I haven’t visited for several years. I decided to take a walk down Main Street in Santa Monica, hopefully ending up at Small World Books in Venice—but I never got that far today. I noticed that a lot of my favorite places, like Röckenwagner’s, were gone. The whole street was thronged with young Liberals. Now, I consider myself a Liberal, but without the cachet that usually comes from belonging to an in group.

For lunch, I stopped in at he Samosa House, a newish Indian Vegetarian place that was quite good. With my masala dosa and Indian tea, I sat at a counter that faced the line of customers coming in. Almost all of them were younger than me, and started flashing smiles of approval at the decrepit old man who was eating the approved Liberal vegetarian diet. After a while, I not only did not seek their approval but wished I had been gnawing on a pig’s knuckle instead.

I walked a little further on to a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Now some of my contrary feeling was still with me, because I ordered their Kale and Quinoa Ice Cream topped with fish eggs. The guy who took my order laughed heartily with me, and made me feel good about it. I settled for a scoop of Chunky Monkey in a dish instead.

It seems funny to me to feel neither part of the Conservative scene (which I have always abhorred) nor now the Santa Monica Brie and Chablis Liberals. Oh, well, I guess I am marching to what Thoreau called a different drummer.

Just to drive home the point, the bus I took back was full of retarded kids attending some institutional sporting event.