Adolphe Menjou and Marlene Dietrich in Von Sternberg’s Morocco (1930)
I wonder if I misremember the scene: Marlene Dietrich writes with her lipstick on her vanity mirror, these lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Winning”:
Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne
He travels the fastest who travels alone.
When I searched for the still of the scene, I only came up with a mirror on which was written, again in lipstick, “I changed my mind.” I would obviously have to see the film again to refresh my memory. I know the words are in the film somewhere, and the quote has stuck with me—though sometimes I remembered it as “He travels the farthest who travels alone.”
I like to travel alone, but I think I would much rather travel with Martine or my brother Dan or one of my friends. Unfortunately, Martine thinks I’m much to adventurous in my trips. She claims that anti-malarial medications like Chloroquine or Aralen do not agree with her. Otherwise, she is an ideal travel partner who is genuinely interested in the places I like to visit. The highlight of our travels together was our trip to Argentina and Uruguay in 2011.
My brother is also an excellent travel partner: We tend to agree in advance on the places he wants to see and the places I want to see. Thus far, we have gone on only two trips together: Mexico in 1979 and Ecuador in 2016.
My friends are more problematical in that none of them would dare to visit a Third World country whose language they don’t speak. I always imagine introducing them to Maya ruins or South American volcanoes or Icelandic fjords. But I imagine them as being versions of myself before I started on my travels—all eager to travel to exotic destinations and devil take the risks! Alas, they are not like me. They are irrepressibly themselves. And that’s why they’re my friends.
So I suspect that most of my future travels will be by myself.
The Sunken Garden at Victoria, BC’s Butchart Gardens
I have over twenty thousand photographs stored in the cloud at Yahoo Flickr. Sometimes, when I don’t know what to write about, I just scan through some of my older pictures. This time I decided to look back ten years. My vacation that year was to Seattle and British Columbia. The pictures of me at that time showed me to be much heavier, probably close to 230-240 pounds. Now, thanks to diabetes, I am closing in on 200 pounds.
The pictures of Martine show her to be much happier. Ever since 2013, when she started complaining of back pain, she has been less willing to travel. The last good trip we took together had been in 2011, when we spent three weeks in Argentina and Uruguay. There was a period of several years recently when she has been depressed and made several attempts to live elsewhere on her own. Lately, she has been less depressed and even laughed on occasion. Still, she has let her passport expire and shows no interest in traveling abroad any more.
Probably Canada has been her favorite foreign destination, to Victoria, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec, and particularly New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
My favorite destination in the trip we took ten years ago was Butchart Gardens just north of Victoria. Both Martine and I love botanical gardens, and Butchart is a world-class place for people like us. My favorite part is the Sunken Garden, which used to be a quarry. It took nine years to convert the five acres of disused quarry into a faerie-like collection of beautiful flowers, trees, and shrubs. And, because we are much farther north, the nature of the plants is so different from what we have in Southern California’s Mediterranean climate.
Martine at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo
This morning, as I was watching the movie Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), the doorbell rang. I thought, “Who could that be? Is it the Jehovah’s Witnesses? LDS Missionaries?” I opened the door to find Martine with her suitcase. She had taken buses from South Central LA to Union Station, and from there the 704 bus, which drops her off two short blocks from home.
Martine had stayed at a women’s shelter run of Volunteers of America near Broadway and West 88th Street, in the heart of South Central. The facility contained some forty bunk beds on each of two floors, sleeping some one hundred sixty women. Martine, who is by no means a sound sleeper, had three nights of no sleep on a mattress that was too soft for her bad back. She had no complaints about the way she was treated or the food that was served, but she could not tolerate another sleepless night. Fortunately, I had purchased for her a senior TAP card with a few dollars of stored value which enabled her to take buses at a discount without having to worry about exact change, so she could take a bus virtually anywhere in the county at will.
During her absence, I was less worried about her because I knew she was being well cared for. Plus she called me three times during her three day sojourn at the center, though I was not able to call her. I suspect that most of the women at the shelter were there because they had been abused by husbands and boyfriends. How were the receptionists to know that I was not an abuser?
Martine’s “escapes” are a symptom of her depression. All I can do is demonstrate to her that I continue to love her and that she can trust me. In all her actions, there is no sign of enmity or exasperation with me. As she stood at my doorstep with her luggage, there was a big smile on her face. I can accept that.
Martine at the Automobile Driving Museum
Today Martine left me for the fifth time. It wasn’t really a break-up. We wished each other well, and Martine managed to get a space in a women’s shelter in South Central Los Angeles where she could wallow in her depression. She will lie on her back all day and stare at the wall. This evening, at least, she called me and told me where she was staying and how I could get in contact with her. I can’t see how she would be able to tolerate such a minimalist life, though I’ve seen her go through stretches like that here in the apartment. I still love her and hope she herself will come out of her dudgeon long enough to see that the life she has chosen for herself is too unspeakably grim even in the short term.
In her previous getaways, Martine made it to Sacramento, Truckee, Salt Lake City, and some unspecified point in the California desert. She doesn’t want me to interfere with these getaways, yet she always wants to keep at least a minimal line of communication open. That at least is a good thing.
I have gone through these episodes before and have become slightly inured to them. Still, my thoughts are always with her; and I regard my life alone as being incomplete, as if several vital organs were missing. The two things that keep me on an even keel are my old friends and my books. I hope she comes back and decides that maybe the old man is no longer a sexy beast, but he does love her after his own fashion.
Ruins of the Bank Building in Rhyolite, Nevada
In January 2008, Martine and I spent a few days in Death Valley. It is a totally fascinating place, surrounded by ghost towns (such as Rhyolite, above) and mining shafts. The fascination wears off somewhat if you should try to visit in the summer, as the rangers tell us that German tourists tend to do. When the thermometer hits 130° Fahrenheit (54° Celsius), tourism is secondary to survival. Crawling up the mountain pass of the Panamint Range, your car will pass several water tanks to replenish the fluid in your radiator. Should you not pay attention to your radiator temperature, you had best just pull over and crawl under your car with several gallons of water, preferably cool—at least to start with.
Death Valley was the site of my first ever camping trip, back in 1979. We made it to Furnace Creek campground after midnight. Too weary to pitch our tents, we just lay our sleeping bags over groundcloths and dropped off, only to be awakened by early by a overactive flock of birds that landed in the campground or circled above our heads. The desert was starkly beautiful, and I fell in love with it from the start.
Ubehebe Crater in the Northern Part of Death Valley
I got an altogether different picture of the desert around 1995. Martine was working at the Twentynine Palms Marine Combat Center as a civilian employee. I would visit her several times during the summer, when it was REALLY, REALLY hot. I had to use an oven mitt to open my car door, lest my hand merge with the handle. I don’t know how Martine stuck it out there as long as she did. Eventually, she quit and moved in with me.
Now my brother lives in the desert, in Palm Desert, to be exact. Of course, he has air conditioning and a swimming pool to take some of the sting out of the climate. But I will likely not visit him until the temperature cools.
What Ever Happened to Good Plain Food?
I open this post by splitting a couple of hairs. First of all, this has nothing to do with Anthony Bourdain’s unfortunate demise. I am not familiar either with his work as chef or his book(s) or his television program. Secondly, I am writing this at Martine’s behest. Anyone who knows me well knows that I like ethnic food best. It is Martine whose digestive system shies away from any attempt at fanciness, which she associates with things like raw onions or strong spices. Going to an unfamiliar restaurant is something she associates with an assault on her Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
As the cook in our little household, I try my best to prepare simple dishes without too many exotic ingredients but with a good, clean taste. At times, I am tempted to add hot chilis, as I am a notorious chili-head. But I resist the temptation, or my little girl goes hungry. Restaurants are even more difficult: Martine aims for the tried and true places, like Sevan Chicken and Elena’s Greek and Armenian Restaurant in Glendale; All India Cafe, the Rosemary Grill, and Darya Persian Restaurant in my neighborhood; Label’s Table and Canter’s Deli East of here; and The Main Course in Rancho Park. At each of those places, she will typically order the same dish every time, while I typically skip around the menu. If that one dish doesn’t satisfy, she writes the restaurant off her list as a lost cause.
Several years ago, I wrote a post entitled “Don’t Toque to Me About Chefs!” in which I lambasted the profession for trying too hard to be creative without necessarily serving good food. It almost seems as if many chefs were trying too hard to be original. There used to be a great Hungarian restaurant in the San Fernando Valley called the Hórtobágy owned by a chef called Lászlo. Apparently, the genius in the kitchen at his restaurant was an elderly lady who cooked delicious Hungarian meals that reminded me of my childhood. Then Lászlo opened another restaurant nearby called Maximilian’s at which he was the chef. Every dish was smothered with raw onions. Yeccch!
Martine at 2017 Scottish Festival
I am not used to being on an emotional roller coaster … but perhaps I’d better get used to it. As I was drinking a cup of hot green tea to soothe my laryngitis, I got a collect call from Martine to pick her up at the Greyhound Bus Station.
Within minutes, I was on the road; and Martine was there waiting for me. This was another escape attempt that didn’t quite pan out. It was to some unspecified location in the high desert. That was odd because my little girl hates the desert, ever since she spent two years at Twentynine Palms working at the Naval Hospital at the military base there. But, as usual, she didn’t want to talk about it. I think she is afraid that I’ll track her down and collaborate with police and social workers to have her returned to me. Actually, I wouldn’t do that, as it would erode her trust in me.
I suspect that she things that’s what I did during her Escape #2 to Truckee, California. Actually, it was the authorities in Truckee who contacted me and asked me to send them a Greyhound ticket via e-mail. They were the ones who took the initiative.
Will there be another attempt to leave L.A.? I suspect there will, even though she told me tonight that God apparently is putting up roadblocks in her attempts to get away from L.A.