Tarnmoor’s ABCs: Zsófi, Elek and the Two Boys

Our Family Around 1962

Our Family Around 1962

All the blog posts in this series are based on Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland, Yucatán), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, Borges, and Shakespeare); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland, Dartmouth College, and UCLA), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives and Tea), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This is my last entry in the series, having gone through the entire alphabet from A to Z, including even the difficult letters like J, Q, and X.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the series, which you can review by hitting the tag ABC’s at the bottom of this post.

Above you can see a picture of our little family taken around 1962. I was about to enter college, while my brother was in the 6th grade at Saint Henry School on Harvard Avenue in Cleveland, from which I graduated in 1958. My mother is Sophie—Zsófi in Hungarian—and my father is Alex—Elek in Slovak and Hungarian.

This was a difficult time for the family, as my father was under suspicion of conducting an extramarital affair with a married woman. With the tense atmosphere at home, I was eager to attend college in New Hampshire, some 600 miles east, where I would be out of the fray. Although there were some bad times around then, my mother and father stayed together. They loved Dan and me, and in the end that kept them together.

For the next twenty years, Mom had few good words to say about Dad. Except, when Alex died in 1985 at the age of of 74, he became a saint. I went along with that, because all my life I tried to please him.

Dad never understood where I was going in life. I wanted to be a professor of film history in criticism at the university level. One day, I made the mistake of calling the profession “cinematology.” Ever afterward, Dad pronounced it as if I had said “cosmetology.”

Although Dan was more like Dad in being an athlete, Dad was harder on him. When Dan was at Macalaster College in St. Paul, Minnesota, he took some time off to travel around Europe and North Africa, thus delaying getting his college diploma. (He did eventually, but Dad kept riding him for his gap year.)

I like the above picture. It shows a normal family in which all the stresses are carefully kept hidden. But the fold lines over time come out as if they were fault lines along which our family could fracture.

Fortunately, it never did.

 

Tarnmoor’s ABCs: Yucatán

Temple of the Dwarf at Uxmal

Temple of the Dwarf at Uxmal

All the blog posts in this series are based on Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, Borges, and Shakespeare); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland, Dartmouth College, and UCLA), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives and Tea), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, in the next couple of weeks, you will see one remaining posting under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs.” To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. We are approaching the end of the alphabet today with “Y” for “Yucatán.”

It was the start of my travels: November 1975. Before then, all my traveling was at the behest of my parents or schools. That year, I suddenly decided I wanted to see Mayan ruins—on my own. My parents were appalled. They were sure I would be captured by bandidos, roasted and eaten. It didn’t turn out that way: I had the time of my life. Over a period of two and a half weeks, I saw the ruins at Dzibilchaltún, Uxmal, Chichén Itzá, Kabah, Acanceh, and Mayapan. I went to a Mexican tourist agency called Turistica Yucateca and arranged, in Spanish, for tour guides. (When did I ever learn Spanish? I just winged it and have been winging it ever since.)

From the moment I landed at Manuel Crescencio Rejón Airport in Merida, I was in a world of wonders. It was a warm evening, and I saw shops open to the street and people sitting outside drinking beer and sodas and chatting with their friends and neighbors. I had great food at places like the Restaurant Express on Calle 60 and Alberto’s Continental Patio and Los Tulipanes. I stayed at fascinating hotels, including the crumbling old Gran Hotel, which dated back to the late 1800s when Yucatán was the hemp (rope fiber, not marijuana) capital of the world.

I was hooked. So hooked that, ever since, I insisted on people saying just Yucatán, not “the” Yucatán. I knew. I was there. And not once, but many times.I would no more say “the” Yucatán than I would say “the” California or “the” Poughkeepsie.

I loved the tropical ambiance of Merida and the surrounding country. And people were friendly, probably more friendly then than they are now.

So that’s when I caught in travel bug. The next year, I went to England, Scotland, and Wales. Then on to Hungary and Czechoslovakia. But during the 1980s, at several points I returned to Mexico and Yucatán, sometimes for a month at a time. I rode the rickety old buses, held babies for overwrought young mothers, snacked on strange foods, and felt myself growing as a person, and perhaps as a citizen of the world.

 

Tarnmoor’s ABCs: Xul Solar

Surreal Cities ...

Surreal Cities …

All the blog posts in this series are based on Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, Borges, and Shakespeare); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland, Dartmouth College, and UCLA), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives and Tea), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the next couple of weeks (there are now only two letters left in the alphabet: Y and Z), you will see a number of postings under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. Today is X for—no, not X-Ray—but Xul Solar.

I generally do not like modern art, but I have a strange affinity for many surreal artists like Salvador Dalí, Giorgio di Chirico, and Xul Solar.

In March of last year, I already wrote a post about the Latvian-Argentinean painter, whose real name is Oscar Agustín Alejandro Schulz Solari, but since that “X” is a difficult letter to account for in any alphabetical scheme such as this one, and because I plan to visit his museum in Buenos Aires in November, I decided to write more about his work, which is filled with strange cities and desolate landscapes populated with strolling characters of a vaguely human appearance.

“Paisaje Bunti”

“Paisaje Bunti”

As I wrote in my previous post, it was Jorge Luis Borges who turned me on to his work. As he wrote on one occasion, “His paintings are documents of the unearthly world, of the metaphysical world in which the gods take the forms of imagination, dreams. Passionate architecture, happy colors, many circumstantial details, labyrinths, homunculi and angels unforgettably define this delicate and monumental art.” Soon after he wrote those words, Borges lost his eyesight and was unable to enjoy any paintings, save what visual fragments remained in his memory.

Below is Xul Solar’s take on a cathedral:

“Cathedral”

“Cathedral”

My hotel in Buenos Aires will be within walking distance of the Xul Solar Museum, which is situated at Laprida 1212, a short walk down Pueyrredón from Recoleta. You can visit the museum’s website and view a nice selection of his paintings done over some fifty years. Never mind that the text is in Spanish.

 

Tarnmoor’s ABCs: William Shakespeare

The Famous Droeshout Portrait of the Bard

The Famous Droeshout Portrait of the Bard

All the blog posts in this series are based on Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, and Borges); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland, Dartmouth College, and UCLA), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives and Tea), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the weeks to come (there are only three letters left in the alphabet: X, Y, and Z), you will see a number of postings under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. Today is W for William Shakespeare.

On one hand, it is pretty easy to make fun of the Immortal Bard. The following is from Jonathan Miller’s On Further Reflection: 60 Years of Writing:

Take this my hand, and you fair Essex this
And with this bond we’ll cry anon
And shout Jack Cock o’London to the foe.

Or: “Is it botched up then, Master Puke?” Or: “Now is steel ’twixt gut and bladder interposed.”

If one is not in the habit of reading difficult or old works, tackling Shakespeare can be a chore. His rich, even overripe, use of language goes against everything we have been taught about written communication. And yet, and yet, there are many complex thoughts and emotions that have never been better expressed before or since.

Over the last six months, I have been reading the “tetralogy” of Henry VI Parts 1, 2, and 3, followed by Richard III. Not too many people venture to read Henry VI, but from them come some great thoughts, such as this from Part 2, scene 3:

What stronger breast-plate than a heart untainted!
Thrice is he arm’d, that hath his quarrel just;
And he but naked, though lock’d up in steel,
Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted.

Also from Henry VI comes such phrases as “main chance,” “let’s kill all the lawyers,” “I owe him little duty and less love,” “O, tiger’s heart, wrapped in a woman’s hide!,” and “hasty marriage seldom proveth well.”

And yet these are all in a minor key when you compare them to the four great tragedies—Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, and Othello—which will shake the world of whoever reads, hears, or sees the plays. Take this from the wretched Lear in Act IV:

Ay, every inch a king:
When I do stare, see how the subject quakes.
I pardon that man’s life. — What was thy cause? —
Adultery? —
Thou shalt not die: die for adultery! No:
The wren goes to’t, and the small gilded fly
Does lecher in my sight.
Let copulation thrive; for Gloster’s bastard son
Was kinder to his father than my daughters
Got ’tween the lawful sheets.
To’t, luxury, pell-mell! for I lack soldiers. —
Behold yond simpering dame,
Whose face between her forks presages snow;
That minces virtue, and does shake the head
To hear of pleasure’s name; —
The fitchew nor the soiled horse goes to’t
With a more riotous appetite
Down from the waist they are centaurs,
Though women all above.
But to the girdle do the gods inherit,
Beneath is all the fiend’s; there’s hell, there’s darkness,
There is the sulphurous pit; burning, scalding, stench, consumption! — fie, fie, fie! pah, pah! Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination: there’s money for thee.

I will continue reading the history plays, and then I’ll tackle the tragedies and comedies again. Shakespeare just gets deeper as you continue reading. One is never done with him.

 

 

 

Tarnmoor’s ABCs: Venice

A Million Miles from St. Mark’s

A Million Miles from the Adriatic

All the blog posts in this series are based on Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, and Borges); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland, Dartmouth College, and UCLA), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives and Tea), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the weeks to come, you will see a number of postings under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. I don’t guarantee that I will use up all 26 letters of the alphabet, but I’ll do my best. The fact that I made it as far as the letter “V” makes me wonder sometimes.

Los Angeles has been described as a varying number (depending on who’s doing the quoting) of suburbs in search of a city. After all, what is the real difference between Sherman Oaks and Encino, Mar Vista and Palms, or Rancho Park and West L.A.? Some of the communities in the county are distinctive because of their ethnicity, such as Monterey Park (Chinese), East L.A. (Mexican), Gardena (Japanese), Pico-Union (Central American), and Glendale (Armenian).

One neighborhood that is known more for its culture than its ethnicity is Venice. When Abbot Kinney first thought of the idea of artificial canals in a community bordering the ocean in 1905, naturally, the name “Venice” popped into his head. In the 1960s, the area was known as Los Angeles’s answer to Haight-Ashbury. Charles Manson and his gang hung around the area. Jim Morrison and the Doors advertised itself at first as a Venice band.

At the same time that the Hippies became the predominant population, some prominent artists also set up shop in the area, such as Charles and Ray Eames. Others associated with Venice included Charles Arnoldi, Jean-Michel Basquiat, John Baldessari, Larry Bell, Dennis Hopper, and Ed Ruscha. Abbot Kinney Boulevard is dotted with art galleries.

You can get your name on a grain of rice, buy any number of T-shirts with funny sayings, eat funnel cakes (whatever those are), or order sausages from Jody Maroni’s Sausage Kingdom.

I frequently walk along the Boardwalk where it begins just south of Venice Boulevard to Small World Books, one of the best remaining independent bookstores in Southern California. Frankly, I enjoy the sleaziness of the area—perhaps not enough to hang out there after the sun sets.

 

 

 

 

Tarnmoor’s ABCs: UCLA

Royce Hall on the Campus of the University of California at Los Angeles

Royce Hall on the Campus of the University of California at Los Angeles

All the blog posts in this series are based on Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, and Borges); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland and Dartmouth College), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives and Tea), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the weeks to come, you will see a number of postings under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. I don’t guarantee that I will use up all 26 letters of the alphabet, but I’ll do my best. The fact that I made it as far as the letter  “U” is a major surprise to me.

I came out to California at the tail end of December 1966 to attend graduate school at UCLA. My original intention was to become a Professor of Film History and Criticism. Well, I didn’t. Instead I ran into dirty politics as personified by one Professor Howard Suber who waged a kind of dirty war on those of his students who loved film. Out of an inborn cussedness, he made it difficult to sign up for classes; and he appointed himself chairman of my thesis committee over my personal choice of the late Bob Epstein. I knew at once that my chances of a Masters degree based on a study of the Westerns of John Ford was a goner.

It was around this time that Governor Ronald Reagan began making deep cuts in the budget of California’s universities. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, I made a sidestep into computer programming at System Development Corporation in Santa Monica, which led, by a commodius vicus of recirculation, into my present profession in accounting.

My quandary was that I loved film, but was not willing to immolate myself for he sake of principle. I kept my hand in film, writing articles and chapters of books even after I was out of the program. I even wrote a humorous article for the UCLA Daily Bruin entitled “Confessions of an Ex-Filmfreak: Or, Slow Death 24 Times a Second.”

My apartment is a scant three miles from the UCLA campus, which I still visit from time to time for various cultural events. It’s always interesting to look back at the decisions that led me to where I am today.

Do I have any regrets? Not really.

 

Tarnmoor’s ABCs: Tea

Looks Good: I Think I’ll Have Three Cups

Looks Good: I Think I’ll Have Three Cups

All the blog posts in this series are based on Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, and Borges); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland and Dartmouth College), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the weeks to come, you will see a number of postings under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. I don’t guarantee that I will use up all 26 letters of the alphabet, but I’ll do my best. Today the letter is “T” for Tea.

Ever since I was a small child, I have preferred tea to coffee. I don’t even like the smell or even the look of coffee, let alone its taste. You won’t find me asking for a Venti anything at Starbuck’s. Barristas would have a difficult time making a living if they had to depend on people like me. What they do at their place of work, I could do more satisfactorily in my kitchen. And then, as my pot of tea cools, I have several additional glasses of iced tea.

While my favorite variety is Darjeeling, I will occasionally switch to Ceylon or Assam for variety. I also love green tea and several non Camellia sinensis local varieties, such as Té Manzanilla (chamomile) in Mexico or Yerba Mate in Argentina. People talk about herb teas as if tea is not an herb, but it is. I generally avoid more flowery teas, though a good Chinese jasmine is not bad on occasion.

While others spend many hundreds of dollars a year on coffee, my total expenditure on tea is considerably less than fifty dollars for far more tea than I can drink. A pound of loose tea leaves makes 240 cups of tea. By contrast, how many cups of coffee does a pound of beans make? Nowhere near, I’d wager.

Tonight, as I finish reading a book of Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulić ’s essays, I will have a tall glass of unsweetened iced tea made of Ahmad of London’s loose Ceylon blend.