On the Day the World Ends

“On the Day the World Ends/A Bee Circles a Clover”

One of my favorite Eastern European poets of the 20th Century is Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004). A winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature, Milosz lived for many years in California; consequently, he poems have a special meaning for me. Here is one of my favorites:

A Song on the End of the World

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.


Happy New Year!

Yet Another Year...

Yet Another Year…

Okay, so we’re all poised to dive off this Fiscal Cliff. And now I hear that Warren Jeffs, the imprisoned FLDS leader is saying that the world will end before the New Year. Is he plotting some kind of remote control Jim Jones type of Götterdammerung to astonish and sicken us all with tomorrow morning’s coffee?

Yes, both craziness and sanity exist side by side in this most imperfect of all worlds. Some are preparing for the worst, others are calmly trying to get on with their lives while alarms are ringing all around them. House Speaker John Boehner and his Tea Party minions are pretending that nothing bad will happen if they jerk our chains so bad that we are strangled by them. And Barack Obama is laughing as if he knew something we didn’t.

The earth is heating up rapidly, and the land is ravaged by superstorms of increasing intensity. We continue to assume that peak gasoline will never arrive: After all, can’t we just ramp up the fracking?

In 2013, life will continue to change at a frumious [sic] pace. Little by little, some of us will fall off the jet-powered skateboards we are on and refuse to get back on. Suddenly, we will start remembering things—little things—that are no more, even if they are as innocuous as Twinkies or a favorite brand of hair shampoo or spicy cookies shaped like Dutch windmills or bookstores or Westerns or Moderate Republicans. Inevitably, they are replaced with new things, some of which are worthy replacements, others of which are strictly blow lunch, to use an old Dartmouth expression.

We will struggle on. Some of us will fall by the wayside, only to replaced by new people, people who are different but undoubtedly have many things to recommend them.

In the New Year, some horrible things will happen. Crazy people will shoot up innocents and turn their guns on themselves, thinking they will go to hell with plenty of company. Sports teams will break records. Individual athletes will break records, sometimes without the help of performing-enhancing drugs.

How will we keep our sanity? In the novel I am reading, Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, there is a quote I particularly like: “The world has progressed no further than the truth spoken by a sixth-century Christian: ‘Condemn the sin and forgive the sinner.’”


Down Time

Palm Springs

Palm Springs

In a couple of hours, Martine and I will be heading to Palm Springs, where my brother and his family have rented a house for the holiday season. Because I do not happen to have a laptop computer. you will probably not hear from me until we return in a few days.

I plan to spend some quality time with my brother and his family, and to see some films and read some books. I will continue with my least likely Christmas book ever—Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege 1942-1943, as well as some other reading interspersed.

We hope to visit one of our favorite zoos, The Living Desert in Palm Desert, which is also a botanical garden. (That, of course, depends on the weather, which is always dicey this time of year.)

So far the world has not ended yet, and it shows signs of persisting through the holidays. I’m sure a lot of people will end the day with egg on their faces, which is only right. As Monty Python warned us, “NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!”


Nope, Not Quite the End of the World

Nope, Not Quite the End of the World

I hope you’re enjoying all the craziness about the upcoming end of the world on December 21, 2012—according to the (snicker) Mayan Calendar. On that day, Martine and I will be driving to Palm Springs, where we will stand in flowing white robes, holding hands, on top of Mount San Jacinto. No, wait, actually we’ll be spending time with my brother Dan and his family, who are renting a house in PS for the holidays.

After my extensive travels to the Mayan area between 1975 and 1992—about eight trips in all—I managed to learn something about the Mayans and their calendar. The most important thing to note is that it recycles at the end of every 5,125-year cycle. According to some interpretations, one of those periods ends on Friday, though there is widespread disagreement among archaeologists on correlating the date to our own calendar.

The Mayans have already gone through a good deal more than twelve of those cycles, which they call baktuns. There are even longer cycles, called piktuns. The next piktun ends around October 13, 4772. There are even larger cycles called kalabtuns, kinchiltuns, and alautuns, which stretch millions of years into the future.

It looks to me as if the Mayans were planning to be around for a long, long time. A good deal longer than the morons who think the whole shooting match is over.

So let me be the first to wish you a happy 13th baktun of the current piktun. I hope all of you have a great

You can read more about the Mayan calendar at Wikipedia (here and here) and at Tikalpark.Com. Just remember that this is just another Moronic Divergence, or should I say Harmonic Convergence?



Celebrating the End of the World

The 2nd Volume of Jack Vance’s “The Dying Earth” Series

This was my reading choice to commemorate the upcoming end of the world on Friday, December 21, 2012, the so-called end of the Mayan calendar according to conspiracy theorists and gullible fools. What better choice than one of Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth series of stories, in this case the second volume of the series, The Eyes of the Overworld.

According to Wikipedia, “The stories of the Dying Earth series are set in the distant future, at a point when the sun is almost exhausted and magic has reasserted itself as a dominant force. The Moon has disappeared and the Sun is in danger of burning out at any time, often flickering as if about to go out, before shining again. The various civilizations of Earth have collapsed for the most part into decadence and its inhabitants overcome with a fatalistic outlook. The Earth is mostly barren and cold, and has become infested with various predatory monsters (possibly created by a magician in a former age).”

Cugel the Clever is our hero, who finds himself in deep trouble when he is trapped by Iucounu the Laughing Magician attempting to burgle his manse. He is sent to find a certain magical eye cusp in a distant land to complete a matched set. To ensure Cugel’s cooperation, Iucounu uses magic to wrap a creature named Firx around his liver to prod it with sharp barbs whenever its bearer appears dilatory about returning to Azenomei and Iucounu.

The Eyes of the Overworld is a record of Cugel’s travels to return to Azenomei and use his cleverness to avoid being felled by magical spells and to use the people he encounters along the way.

Vance goes out of his way to imagine interesting peoples and situations:

The spell known as the Inside Out and Over was of derivation so remote as to be forgotten. An unknown Cloud-rider of the Twenty-first Eon had construed an archaic version; the half-legendary Basile Blackweb had refined its contours, a process continued by Veronifer the Bland, who had added a reinforcing resonance. Archemand of Glaere had annotated fourteen of its provulsions; Phandaal had listed it in the ‘A,’ as ‘Perfected,’ category of his monumental catalogue. In this fashion it had reached the workbook of Zaraides the Sage, where Cugel, immured under a hillock, had found it and spoken it forth.

While no one can truly admire Cugel’s selfish, immoral ways unless to his extreme social detriment, the book is an incredibly humorous introduction to the end of days and worthy of being read.
The volumes in the series are The Dying Earth (1950), The Eyes of the Overworld (1966), Cugel’s Saga (1983), and Rhialto the Marvelous (1984). If you like fantasy, this is highly recommended.