I Know Those People

road

As I was making my way through On the Road I came across this:

He was a tall, gangly, shy satirist who mumbled to you with his head turned away and always said funny things. His wife and baby were with him the dobe house, a small one that his Indian stepfather had built. His mother lived across the yard in her own house. She was an excited American woman who loved pottery, beads, and books.

The character’s name was Hingham, and he lived in Tucson where Sal and Dean and Marylou go to borrow five dollars.

Something clicked – I said Hingham = Harrington as in Alan Harrington whose mother had married and divorced a Navajo (turned out it was a Papago). I knew Alan Harrington because after he divorced the wife Kerouac mentions, she and her son moved to Old Saybrook and lived first next door to us, then around the corner, and finally across the street.

Alan (he insisted even the littlest of kids address him by his first name at a time when that was unthinkable) came to visit on occasion, bringing wife No. 2 and later wife No. 3 and children. These visits were also the occasion for long sessions between Alan and John Clellon Holmes, who lived down the street from our pharmacy. All I remember about those visits were chasing a “Pluto Platter” (early Frisbee) around in the twilight. Mother was supposed to be part of the discussions but rarely spoke and we left early.

I didn’t know about the shy part, but Alan certainly was tall and gangly. Mother thought he had double-joined ankles and knees. And his books were acerbic. The Revelations of Dr. Modesto as I recall was a take-down of the world of salesmanship.

I had only a vague recollection of his mother, not enough to  to verify Kerouac’s observations.

Before I verified any of this online, I made one more connection. Hal Hingham is the protagonist of Dr. Modesto. It is also an upscale town in Massachusetts, about an hour from Newtown, Massachusetts, where Alan was born. Jack Kerouac, son of working-class Lowell, would have known both. Dig or compliment?

A Quick Revisit on Reading

food

Having finished The Language of Food, I have add a few observations. Dan Jurafsky keeps up the momentum till the end:

  • dishing up fantastic humor along with fabulous and outrageous recipes written in old English
  • calling out his wife for testing his perception of the smell asparagus in urine
  • taking me back to the years of Screaming Yellow Zonkers
  • explaining why the Chinese don’t eat dessert
  • adoring M.F.K. Fisher
  • letting his readers hear his mother’s New York accent without audio

The big message is this. Without the free flow of people and goods, none of us would be eating the variety we do. We owe great swaths of our food to Muslims and other inhabitants of the Middle East: sherbet, ice cream etc., also fish and chips, and anything starting with macar-, including pasta and almond-flavored cookies. Asia, specifically China, Africa, and Latin America make similar contributions. Jurafsky shows that food can bring us together.

Best of all, The Language of Food offers a terrific education in food, and language.

What I’m Reading Now

dunceAnother in the series, another on Bowie’s list, and another that has me thinking, “What took so long?”

I’ve known about A Confederacy of Dunces since it appeared more than twenty years ago. When I saw it on Bowie’s list, the only thing I could remember was that people thought it was a Borges-style hoax. That is, someone famous wrote a book under a pseudonym and had a woman posing as his mother doggedly pursuing Walker Percy to get it published.

But John Kennedy Toole was a real person who wrote a real tour-de-force and took his own life before it launched. Confederacy has continued to assault its readers’ senses with outrage, humor, and  a sense of impending ruination.

I’m only a few pages in, but Toole has left Kerouac in the dust. It’s because of the horror/humor. His plodding repetition about traveling all the long way from New Orleans to Baton Rouge engages everyone – except his mother/chauffeur who is slugging down  beers at a bar and doesn’t want to hear the hundredth retelling again. Kerouac wouldn’t have blinked at that little blip on the map.

Toole gives that journey (an hour by car these days, somewhat more by bus) the weight of the Trail of Tears or the Israelites’ passage out of Egypt. He is the only one who can’t see that a lummox with OCD dressed in a hunting cap with earflaps and an odd coat would be the object of laughter. Chaucer’s pilgrims he ain’t.

The bar scene is preceded by a telling scenario of a threatened arrest. He nails the racial divide without overt commentary, but the message is clear.

I need a laugh or five right now, and Ignatius J. Reilly is delivering the goods.

Healing

zen

In an effort to overcome the depression, anxiety, frustration, and anger of these past days, I revisited some websites and links for spiritual restoration. Here’s what I found:

  • St. James Labyrinth: There are a number of these around the country.
  • Chakra meditation: the Fourth with a focus on the heart.
  • Zen Peacemakers . These folks need to visit every place in the United States that’s hurting right now.
  • Continue with Calm or enroll in Headspace.
  • Recite the Buddhist prayer of loving-kindness

Buddhist prayer of loving-kindness:

May I be happy,

May I be safe,

May I be peaceful and at ease.

May you be happy,

May you be safe,

May you be peaceful and at ease.

May all beings be happy,

May all beings be safe,

May all beings be peaceful and at ease.

Reading/Watching

road

Two more in the series. I read most of Geek Sublime but closed it after Vikram Chandra went deep into the arcana of Sanskrit/Indian lit. I’m still enjoying The Language of Food. It’s a series of non-fiction mystery stories with each solution creating more mysteries. Plus it’s got terrific, if arcane, recipes. But of course I had to forge ahead.

So I watched, and am now reading, On the Road. The breathless and severely truncated film offers decent performances by Sam Riley as the Jack Kerouac surrogate Sal Paradise and Garrett Hedlund as the demented  Neal Cassady aka Dean Moriarty with serviceable showings by Kristen Stewart, Elizabeth Moss, and Viggo Mortensen as the William S. Burroughs stand-in Old Bull Lee. The film solves the problem of writerly inaction (no one wants to watch someone scribbling in a notebook or pounding on a typewriter) with few scenes of Sal actually writing. And of course each one is accompanied by chain smoking and frequent gulps from a glass of whiskey. The real star of the film is the road – long stretches of open space beautifully filmed. These scenes of course showcase Kerouac’s poetry.

So then I borrowed the book, which I read years ago. Part of the motive: it’s on Bowie’s top 100 list. The print version is more breathless than the film. Kerouac’s language is searing, capturing the rhythms of the blues and hard bop in New York, along with the drawn-out languor of the men on the truck who take him across the mid-West to Cheyenne. In the book version, the road plays a supporting role to the power of the people that Sal encounters on his voyages and captures in molten amber before it hardens around the flies.

What I’m Reading Now

food

Another in the series. I had to take a break and eat dinner before I could proceed. Dan Jurafsky ventures into the delicious, amusing, and deeply historical in The Language of Food. The opening pages give the history of tomato ketchup — why the label includes the word “tomato” and why we have to thank the Chinese for this ubiquitous condiment. It was the story of what was originally fish sauce that sent me to the kitchen.

What grabbed me next was this: “The language of food helps us understand the interconnectedness of civilization and the vast globalization that happened, not recently, as we might think, but centuries or millennia ago, … You might call this aspect of the book ‘EATymology.’ ”

Stay tuned for good stories and great food.

 

Classical Error?

 

cpr

I listen to classical music when I’m writing. My first choice is Colorado Public Radio because it provides a quiet background and lets me keep up with doings where my dear friend Marcia lives. When vocal music appears, I either silence it or change stations – Seattle, Portland, and WSHU in Connecticut are all likely options. I also listen to Pandora but dislike interrupting my train of thought to like or dislike the music. If one stays silent too long, it cuts out.

Generally I have no quarrel with the selections on any of these stations. They play the heavy-hitters the three “Bs,” Mozart, Dvořák. I’ve come to love the music of Philip Glass, Telemann, Respighi (love the sound of that name!), and Mendelssohn.

The selections yesterday resurrected a question that I’ve pondered on and off since I began listening. That is: What makes a piece “classical”? CPR played all American music in honor of the Fourth.  Are these classical?

  • Star Wars – no
  •  ditto other John Williams music
  •  West Side Story – no
  • ditto most of Lenny Bernstein
  • “Rhapsody in Blue” – borderline but can be included
  •  ditto “American in Paris”
  • “Summertime” from Porgy & Bess – no
  • “My Country ’Tis of Thee” – absolutely not
  •  “Stars and Stripes Forever” – absolutely not
  • music of William Grant Still – mostly yes
  • “Solace” (Scott Joplin) – no
  • “Rodeo” – borderline
  • “Black, Brown and Beige” (Duke Ellington) – no
  • “The Entertainer” (Scott Joplin) – no

I suppose I shouldn’t complain and should be grateful that I didn’t have to listen to the “1812 Overture” – again.

What I’m Reading Now

susan

Bluehost is cropping my images. What gives?

Another in the series. When Susan Allison had her office hours as poet laureate, I bought a copy of Down by the Riverside Ways . The poems are gems – layered and magical. Sometimes subtle: “I read the spring and hope that by gazing in my rapture, I will align, inspired./It is spring and world-joy bursts from every bloom…” from “Wife Reading.” Sometimes in-your-face: “Skirting Disaster”: “Wake up sisters, hos, mothers and other irrational women to our wildest ideas. We are needed at this time.” And sometimes she upends a story, as in “The Myth of Sisyphus.” What a glorious narrative!

As John Basinger said, “Susan Allison has create poems that seem to have become naturally what they are as diamonds emerge from carbon under pressure, not laid out on black velvet, but set in mother earth.”

I marvel at the breadth and depth of Susan’s perception. We have seen the same people and places – Tommy Moses, Rapallo Avenue, Indian Hill, the river, but only she perceives them with such clarity. Riverside is a collection to dip into at random – or to read straight through. Most of all, these are poems to be savored – to be read and read again. They restored something in me I didn’t know was missling.

Thank you, Susan!

What I’m Reading Now

geek

Another in the series. I have no idea where I learned of it. Vikram Chandra is a novelist who writes code. With Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty, he steps into the world of nonfiction as he explores the connection between the arcane worlds of computer code and art.

Even though I can’t code beyond http, I loved the logic gates, especially the computer made of Legos. In “Histories and Mythologies,” we encounter the Hero on the Quest to write or break code. These narratives fit the classic seven plots and add to them.

The section that indicts Silicon Valley for sexism and racism had me cheering. Chandra includes his own people, referred to as the “Indian Mafia.” He quotes some material with vicious stereotyping, but the people making the point are his fellow countrymen who say that Indians stop learning when they get a job, while Americans continue to grow and change.

I’m now deep into “The Code of Beauty: Anandavardhana” in which Chandra uses poetry to explain the ancient theory of Sangam. This concept divides the world into the interior and exterior (another logic gate). The interior life is pleasure and pain as we experience them. The exterior, Chandra says, involves politics and “obligations.”

Like the American coders, I’m experiencing a whole new world here, and it’s exciting.