Family Plot

The Hungarian Parliament in Budapest

In my family, there was a plot to marry me off to a nice Hungarian girl who would think nothing of giving up her life with me to take care of my aging parents. They had even settled on a distant cousin of mine, one Ilona Vörös (Helen Red in English), a resident of Újpest who worked for MAV, the Hungarian State Railways.

This all happened in the mid-1970s, when my parents brought Ilona to the U.S. to introduce her to me. Mind you, I had nothing against marriage per se; but something about this whole arrangement set all my warning lights blinking and alarms sounding off.

Me in Hungary 1977 on the Shores of Lake Balatón

Why would any self-respecting young woman want to enter into a kind of weird marriage in which would become a slavey to my Mom and Dad, whom I thought were being incredibly naive about the whole thing? When I backed out of the arrangement, my father was furious with me. Why? I had not made any promises to marry Ilona, and then send her to Cleveland to serve as a housekeeper for my parents. I was just going to meet her and see what came of things. (Which was naive on my part, I now see.)

I suspect that what my parents really wanted was for all four of us to live in one household. I had been in Los Angeles for ten years. This was a plot to bring us all together. But I didn’t want to live with my Mom and Dad, as much as I loved them. I rather liked living in California on my own. As for marriage, I preferred to find someone who was not hedged about with all kinds of weird expectations.

Then it came about that Ilona and one of her MAV co-workers had been carrying on a long relationship in Budapest. Then my Mom had words with Ilona’s mother, and within a year or two, Ilona and her family were persona non grata.

Probably just as well.

In Ignatievo Forest

Russian Forest Scene

Today I have made the acquaintance of a major Russian poet named Arseny Tarkovsky. If that last name is more than a little familiar to you, it is because his son Andrei Tarkovsky is one of the greatest postwar Russian filmmakers. Curiously, Arseny’s first published collection came out in 1962, when the poet was 55 years old; and his son Andrei made him famous by quoting his poems in his films Mirror (1974) and Stalker (1979). (And Stalker is one of my favorite films—ever!)

The following poem, “Ignatievo Forest” was written in 1935. According to the notes in the collection I am reading, it deals with the difficult relationship with the poet’s first wife, Maria Ivanovna Vishnyakova (1907-1979), mother of Andrei, whom he divorced in 1937.

Ignatievo Forest

The last leaves in self-immolation
burn and rise to sky. The whole forest here
lives and breathes the same irritation
we lived and breathed in our last year.

In your tear-blurred eyes the path’s a mirror
as the gloomy flood-plain mirrors the shrubs.
Don’t fuss, do not disturb, don’t touch
or threaten the wood’s wet quiet. Here,

the old life breathes. Just listen:
in damp grass, slimy mushrooms appear.
Slugs gnaw their way to the core,
though a damp itch still tingles the skin.

You’ve known how love is like a threat:
when I come back, you’ll wish you were dead.
The sky shivers in reply, holds a maple like a rose.
Let it burn hotter—till it almost reaches our eyes.

The collection I am reading is called I Burned at the Feast. The book is overdue at the L.A. Central Library, and I cannot endure the thought of returning it until I am finished with it, even though it will cost me a few bucks.

“Married Blues”

I Never Had One Myself, But I Could Imagine …

The following poem by Kenneth Rexroth appeared in a poetry collection in Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets entitled Blues Poems. It is entitled “Married Blues.” I know I never had any children (I’m sterile as a result of an old pituitary tumor), never even got married; but I can appreciate Rexroth’s poetic vision.

Married Blues

I didn’t want it, you wanted it.
Now you’ve got it you don’t like it.
You can’t get out of it now.

Pork and beans, diapers to wash,
Too poor for the movies, too tired to love,
There’s nothing we can do.

Hot stenographers on the subway.
The grocery boy’s got a big one.
We can’t do anything about it.

You’re only young once.
You’ve got to go when your time comes.
That’s how it is. Nobody can change it.

Guys in big cars whistle.
Freight trains moan in the night.
We can’t get away with it.

That’s the way life is.
Everybody’s in the same fix.
It will never be any different.




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.



Messing with Mother Nature

Chinese Mass Wedding

Chinese Mass Wedding

China is worried. The all-powerful Communist Party has messed with Mother Nature once too often. For many years, they banned having more than one child per family. That led, not surprisingly, to an excess of male newborns over female newborns. (Accidents sometimes happened to infant girls, when it was boys who were desired.)

Although the Party has eased up on its child restrictions, there are two serious consequences:

  1. The number of marriages is dropping, possibly because many young men cannot find a sufficient number of marriage-age women to wed. I also remember reading stories about suicides of male factory workers because they had no hope of being able to raise a family.
  2. A disconcerting 500,000 elderly have wandered off—most of them suffering from dementia—partly because there are not enough children to bear the burden of their support.

China has been in this type of situation before. One of the decrees during the Great Leap Forward period (1958-1962) was that the “Four Pests” were to be eradicated. The pests in question were rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows. One effect of killing massive numbers of sparrows was that the ecological balance was upset as crops were eaten by insects that were kept under control by the birds.

Maybe having too much power over men and animals is dangerous in the long run.


Slipping Off the Pedestal

Jorge Luis Borges Flanked by His Mother and His Wife Elsa

Jorge Luis Borges Flanked by His Mother and His Wife Elsa

It was bound to happen sooner or later: After worshiping the man for over forty years, I am finally beginning to have my doubts about Jorge Luis Borges the man. But not, by any means, of Borges the poet and writer of short stories and essays. I still think he deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature on merit alone, but I begin to understand why he cheesed off the liberal-minded Nobel Prize Selection Committee.

Perhaps my favorite translator of Borges is Norman Thomas di Giovanni, whose book Georgie and Elsa: Jorge Luis Borges and His Wife, The Untold Story has just recently been published. Di Giovanni worked closely with Borges during the 1960s, shortly after he married Elsa Astete Millán, and through the divorce. What Di Giovanni discovered was that Borges was fatally naive when it came to women, politics, and social life. In fact, he was incredibly feckless in many ways. Di Giovanni writes:

[I]n later years, he travelled to Chile to receive a medal from the hands of Augusto Pinochet. This was one of the worst decisions of his life. But, he maintained, in his digging-his-heels-in mode that no one was going to tell him what he could or could not do. I imagine that it would never have occurred to Borges to question and be horrified by Pinochet’s well-oiled programme of eliminating Communists and other left-wingers. Borges was so universally condemned for his action that I think he came to realize his colossal mistake. But to justify it and himself, when I mentioned his folly to him, he said, ‘But I thought the medal was a gift of the Chilean people.’

Equally, if not more disastrous, was Borges’s marriage to Elsa. Years earlier, he had mooned over her; but, typically, someone else married her. (“Georgie” was not prime marriage material, as he lived with his mother well into his old age.) Then, one day, he met her again and—discovering that she was now widowed—took up with her again. By now, Borges was a famous literary figure; and, Elsa, being a social climber, thought that she was now about to enter the high life.

Her behavior during visits to the United States was execrable. She would steal silverware and other “souvenirs” from Borges’s friends and associates. During a visit to the Rockefellers, she insisted in photographing every room and asking about all the furnishings. It got to the point that people stopped inviting Borges lest Elsa come along. When she accidentally left a nutria coat in Cambridge after one trip, she made the return of the coat into an international incident involving U.S. and Argentinian ambassadorial and consular staffs.

Not that Borges was an ideal husband. He was an elderly blind man who happened to be impotent (which Elsa had known earlier) and incredibly old fashioned, a sort of Anglo-Argentinian who was neither all one thing or all the other. Finally, with di Giovanni’s help, Borges divorced her. He later re-married, with Maria Kodama, who now controls his esate.

Di Giovanni’s book is mandatory reading to supplement all the hagiographical biographies of the author who never quite get at the man’s character.