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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Musical Art, Happiness And Go Thou

This is one of those days we've been doing our shopping and walking among languages. I wish I understood more of them. On my profile page, years ago, I listed Joe Dassin as a favorite musician.  He was an American, a polyglot, a Frenchman, a doctor of ethnology, a poet and singer. He was a citizen of the world. He was on a tragically tight schedule,  had a bad heart, but left the world with one of the happiest songs I ever heard: The song is about walking on a street, in this case a very famous street and having life jump out at you, cataloguing its wonders in the form of possibilities. Here: Joe Dassin, Les Champs Elysees;
Tu m'as dit : "J'ai rendez-vous
Dans un sous-sol avec des fous
Qui vivent la guitare à la main
Du soir au matin."

My translation: "You told me: 'I have an appointment in a basement of fools who live guitar-in-hand all night."

I like to think the basement was full of guitars because they couldn't fit a piano in it, and the fools combined themselves into the range of notes required for pieces written for heavier artillery. One of my favorite piano pieces is"Farewell To Stromness",, by Peter Maxwell Davies. The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet couldn't do a better job of it even if they were in a basement:
I suppose my western upbringing left me with a fondness for guitars --the preferred instrument of the American cowboy. So I will close with a dance by Oliver Hardy, an American, and Stan Laurel, an Englishman, to a guitar and yodeling version of "Commence To Dancing":
There is a relaxed, happy feel about this dance that finds proof in its imperfections. In fact, none of my three examples of happiness is entirely perfect. They all took some work. Their artists did not accept the archetype of happiness as a force of nature. They approached it with skills and ideas that were artistically limited. Sometimes it is necessary to be masterful and not nervous about details. Go thou and do likewise.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Rainy Day Essay: Fenceline Eucalyptus

Above is a photo taken yesterday either by Norma or by me with my prehensile tail. Now that I am 4 years into retirement, it grows back sometimes. I was busy with loppers and chainsaw, clearing volunteer eucalyptus trees from our fenceline. These trees were introduced to California in the middle of the last century. So was I. But the connection goes further.

In order to follow this reasoning, you must consider some incidental physical changes I have undergone since childhood. I shall use a photo that was mislabeled "Prince Hamlet" in  a prior post (that NOBODY commented on!)  but was really a photo of me in 1949:

1949 marked the beginning of the "Cold War", when the entire world was subject to political re-division, and some militant Australians resorted to sneaking eucalyptus seedlings into California. This may sound harmless enough until one learns the dangers of the tree. A eucalyptus seedling, 2 inches tall, tossed casually and unnoticed upon dry, nitrogen-poor California soil will take root immediately and grow to a height of 300 to 1000 feet in a matter of two or three hours, then, if there is a careless smoker within 20 miles, explode into flame, fall, and destroy several cities.

Fortunately,  the science of diplomacy was well-advanced and the Australia-California border dispute was resolved within a few years. Peace reigned. But the trees were everywhere. Back then, they were all I ate so I did not mind them. But now I am old and nearly human. What can I do? Just what I have done, I suppose. Use the cool dry interstices of late winter to hack the hazards away. And, of course, there's a bright side discernible in the following photos:

Fenceline AFTER summer shade provided by eucalyptus invasion:

Fenceline BEFORE eucalyptus shade:

Charles Dickens wrote, in A Tale Of Two Cities, "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times...", which suggests the quality of the rest of the time is anybody's guess, or what anybody makes of it. Personally, I admire those who pursue sanity in fenceline maintenance and international relations. However, I recently looked up the definition of sanity in the dictionary and its definition had disappeared. This marks the next step, the trend beyond political correctness: political coherence.  It does not indicate any advancement of thought. So if you, like me, find the more you think, the more incoherent you become, we're on the right track.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Romance Books, My Favorite Hot Parts

What is romance really, hah? Having got through another Valentine's week, we still have little idea how it came to represent romance, especially since the saint it is named for didn't have any head --clearly an ostentation of sentimentality. I am more inclined toward the Roman frolic it replaced, Lupercalia, which took place from February 13 through 15 and included the 14th --our modern Valentine's Day-- as a sort of recess reserved for apologizing to relatives and livestock and trying to stand up.

Plutarch described Lupercalia: "At this time many of the noble youths and magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter, striking those they meet with shaggy thongs." The apt pupil of the human pageant has no difficulty understanding the decline of this strenuous recreation and its replacement by "romance books" --a very popular genre in our less aerobic culture.

One of my favorite romance books is The Romance Of Modern Engineering, by Archibald Williams (also author of The Romance Of Modern Inventions, The Romance Of Petroleum, etc.). It was published in 1904 and contains interesting descriptions of the Panama Canal, Niagara Falls Power Co. and the Bermuda Floating Dock. But we cannot life-longly spend our noses in romance books, can we?

No. We must consider for ourselves what truly comprises the most Romantic technological and engineering milestones of all time. I would choose Velcro, gas-driven airplanes, two-sided paper and "even" numbers.

Velcro, although currently in wide use, was invented by the Romans specifically for early horse-drawn elevators. They needed something to keep the horses' hooves stuck to the vertical sides of elevator shafts. It allowed the horses enough traction and mobility to pull elevators up from floor to floor and back them down again.

Unfortunately, Romans failed to solve other modes of automatic ascension. Nothing short of propellers spun by internal combustion could lift the limitations of the horse-drawn airplane, which was confined to very low altitudes and velocities, but elevators are powered by Velcro-climbing horses to this day.

Romans wrote everything important on scrolls, or a single long strip, which they rolled up onto spools and corded on library shelves. If you check a scroll's table of contents, you'll find all subjects, chapters, everything listed on page one. That is because a scroll technically only has one page. It was not until the invention of two-sided paper that modern books appeared and tables of contents made any sense. Mathematicians were called in to decide what to call the back of page one. They suggested "two" and the even number was born.

Now if that isn't Romantic, I give up.



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

False Start Valentine

After agreeing to post in combination with Suze's "False Start Valentine", I feared I might, as a man of little emotional aptitude, stray beyond my area of expertise. But, after absquatulating with her big smiley emblem and absorbing some enthusiasm, I began to see it as an experiment. Men like experiments because sometimes they explode and stink and stuff  (the experiments I mean, not the men -or at least less often). 

Men are often less than forthcoming in regard to strong feelings of affection. They tend to hold a lot back, not from recalcitrance so much as conditioning and the fact that they are emotionally limited by nature. According to a study by the American Institute Of Commentitious Neurology, women have roughly four times the emotional range of men. So, if you are a woman, the average man has no idea what you're feeling 75% of the time. Hence my first selection.  Let's begin with an excerpt from The Rose:

I grew up watching oaters full of strong, silent role models. Drama was left to the female lead, whose difficult job it was to elicit heartfelt responses from Gary-Cooper-quiet heroes who often really were Gary Cooper. It typically went like this:

Rose: Don't go, Tex, oh don't go.

Tex: Gots to go, Rosie.

Rose: But the Driscoll gang'll get you.

Tex: Mehbee....mehbee not.

Rose: But Tex, I...I love you, you big galoot.

Tex: Aw, Rosie.

Rose: Just come back to me.

Tex: Aw Rosie. Yuh give me the goldurned emotions!


This is not to imply that men have no sense of romance. We do. It is simply hard to articulate. We love strongly and it makes us marvel and gag. Sometimes we even fall in love when nobody's around. I have selected two poems written at different stages of  my emotional development. They won't help any but they might furnish some insight on primitive sentiment.

Dark Express

You remember me better
Than I do.
Who I was, under a hat:
Another magician arriving
In station echoes--
A late train, smells
Of cigarettes and steel.
An overcoat
On a cold night,
For an instant seemed
Real, right and just, more
Than invention in
Shadows, dust and years.
Here, you touch glass
That stops a place where
Steam is,
Clear a squeaking
Circle and
Remember me.
This Dance

I leaned down
Nearer your
Heart and
Heard singing.

At this juncture, it is probably best to call upon a poetic specimen of more general appeal. So I will quote Shakespeare, Romeo And Juliet, from memory:

Juliet:  O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
           Deny thy name and I shall refuse mine
           And...uh...Oh won't you be my Valentine?

Although nothing especially exploded or stunk in this experiment, it was instructive. I learned it is really hard to memorize Shakespeare and after a certain point in romantic progress it is impossible for us to get a picture without some portion of a grandchild in it. But we do our best.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Deus Ex Machina

After recently posting  a piece about The Graceful Ghost, I committed myself to hunting up old stuff about Valentine's Day for Thursday. I thought about it and expected a paucity of material but this was not the case. Quite the opposite. Too many items seemed suddenly to have a great deal to do with it, and reviewing them raised another puzzle that I had not intended to address, but will.

There's the mystery of the 12th to deal with. I know Valentine's Day is 14th February but it always seems counter intuitive. I feel it should be the 12th. Probably because it has to do with love, and love is a mystery that forms its own clues. Clues come from within. Here, I have worked it out graphically:
You take 12 forward and backward and get a heart with parallel lines down it. The lines symbolize trajectories, lives doing reality along each other --friends, life partners, kids, parents, grandmas and various persons one loves. One of my San Francisco boys is arriving by train today, which reminded me of a walk he, Norma and I took in his city three years ago.

If I remember accurately, we'd just had lunch on Powell near Beach Blanket Babylon Blvd. when we passed the Washington Square statue and thought of Brautigan. Musee Mecanique is on Pier 45 and, if you head among the warehouses toward Hyde, you have to think of Kerouac. Benevolent ghosts. Inescapable poetry. So I wrote this:


Under oak veneer and
Bevelled glass,
She is sad sometimes.
Complex, an orchestrion
Rattled, buzzing inside:
Something in dark where
Whippens work; something
Stirring in dark over
Pinblock and bridge,
Ridges and racks of
Brass and maple --spruce
Shim slipped from
A soundboard crack,
Lost levers veiled in
Danger and promise.
What dark entails:
Searching after a
Spring fails. I press.
A little felted hammer
Strikes no reply.
Sometimes she is sad
And can't remember why.

At the time, my friend (and Valentine but no cards because we're guys), Willie, remarked, "I like the ghosts that arise for me, too, when I walk through the streets of the City by the Bay. 'Musee Mecanique' gives me those goosebumps!" 

This suggests that love itself is a sort of benevolent possession, stirring equally the actions of human beings and prognostic clockwork grandmothers. And, when I am asked when Valentine's Day is, I suspect the ghost impels me to reply February 12th.  It causes people to give me the same look I get when I wake up shouting because my head is stuck between the mattress and the wall. 

Enough for now. There will be no shortage of stuff to trot out on the 14th but I wanted to give the 12th its due.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Mystery Of The Graceful Ghost

Like most boys and girls, I am no stranger to mysteries. We encounter them and solve them with logical thought. For example, there comes a time when we conclude cats are not animals; they are a fur-bearing liquid. We don't pick them up and put them places so much as pour them.

There are other examples. According to my case-notes, I solved the mystery of The Back Porch Monster by capturing and carefully dismantling it when it hopped and flopped moplike from under the washing machine. I found it was largely made of lint. At its center, I found a very grateful little treefrog which (because I remember how much I enjoyed it when it was done to me), I took outdoors and released into the wild.

However, there are some mysteries by which I confess myself baffled --enigmas I cannot penetrate to any useful depth, no matter how experienced I get, how wizened, gnarled and riven with age...wait, I believe I have just described a dead tree:
I've been bucking it for firewood in the forest. I, on the other hand, am part human. If you ask a tree what borborygmus is, it may tell you it is the Greek term for growling tummy or it may not. I will tell you borborygmus sounds precisely like what it means, or I may not. There are lots of people who are human and don't do anything about it but I am not one of them. The tree may answer correctly but I will not hazard a guess.

But I digress. In order introduce the mystery of The Graceful Ghost, I must ask you to watch and listen to the following YouTube video of two young mediums channeling that particular entity.

This tune has the uncanny ability to get into my head, play itself and cause me to dance loosely and rhythmically from side to side while trying to walk forward. It is not strenuous or taxing, pleasurable actually. It is a friendly sort of possession, carried by the melody itself. I sway, and twirl slowly. My ligaments loosen and even a walk to wheel the garbage bin out becomes a relaxed, fluid experience. I sort of  like it, but if I find myself liquifying, overwhelmed in lint or falling down in the forest, I will definitely consult an exorcist.