THE MIRACLES OF LOUISE AT LITTLE NO HORSE 12/06

I note that it’s been over a month since my last entry. Not living up to my website’s name, am I? At least as far as the blogging’s concerned. But I’m about to make up for it.

Louise Erdrich’s work is no secret. She’s been one of those rarities among artists–both popular and respected–at least since Love Medicine won the National Book Award around 1993. In ensuing years, she’s built

a universe of and constellation of characters comparable to Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha county. Her marriage to novelist Michael Dorris (Yellow Raft on Blue Water is his best known; their collaboration The Crown of Columbus is a unique piece of historical fiction.) Their good work among Indian victims of alcohol is (See his The Broken Cord, the story of adopting a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.) and the circumstances of his 1997 suicide are worthy of attention both within and outside the literary world. But I’ve just finished The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse and want to use this space to revel in her magic.

The last Erdrich I read was The Painted Drum which disappointed me with its lack of dramatic tension. Little No Horse has no such problem. Every section, virtually every page, has its own story, yet each story is part of a whole in a novel that covers eighty-plus years in the life of Agnes DeWitt, who spends most of her life as the priest Father Damien Modeste serving his/her parishioners on the North Dakota reservation of Little No Horse. (To give you an idea of what a relentless storyteller Erdrich is, even her end notes contain the fascinating story of how the reservation got its name.) Of course, as usual with her, the story spans much more time and space–in both the earthly and spirit worlds–than the lifetime of this sham priest.

Erdrich’s prose is at once grounded in reality, earthy, and spiritual. I opened the book at random and happened on this one passage describing the child Lulu’s attempt to escape from boarding school by hiding under a traveling school bus:

….My teeth chattered at first but then the [exhaust] pipe under me, the middle pipe, grew warm. It ran straight down the center of me, warming me, burning me, although that would be in the end a complete surprise.

All through my life, to the mystery of my devoutest lovers, I have borne that central scorch mark–a think stripe of gold lighter than my skin, a line evenly dividing me, running between my breasts and vanishing between my legs.

And it is Lulu’s nature to embody the essence of both good and evil in her life, yet her inner nature is expressed in a decidedly unmetaphorical event. And so it is with even the smallest details of Erdrich’s writing. A character leans over, brushing her hair, and the hair will brush the ground, then root to it–if only for a moment–and a simple act becomes a metaphor for communing with nature. All in the space of fewer words than I have taken to describe it. And the reader experiences that communion at the same time as wondering what just happened. I guess what’s happened is a shock of connection between the spiritual/physical/emotional planes of existence, which is what we seek always in art. That unity of all the disparate pieces of ourselves that most of the time lie scattered yet always pull toward one another.

And that’s the reason I’m talking about Louise Erdrich’s whole body of work here. Before The Painted Drum for me, there was Tales of Burning Love, which is nearly as exhilarating as Miracles, but includes many of the same characters, or references to them. Each new approach to the Erdrich world, then, widens one’s understanding of the people, their history, their spirit.

Every artist is part of a tradition, of course, and Erdrich includes not only the magical realism of her Native American soul, but a number of distinctly American literary motifs, the most notable one for me in Miracles is the tall tale. The story of Nanapush and the moose as well as his subsequent wake/funeral deserves to be enshrined as right up there with Paul Bunyan–except it’s too risque to get into the children’s stoybooks. Another section is in a category of its own–have you ever read of a nun climaxing while playing Chopin?

One theory of art has it that the greater the volume of reality a work embodies, the more satisfying it is to the audience which experiences it. Erdrich embodies an enormous hunk of reality, and too read her work is to enrich our every aspect.

1.0

TRAVELING THOUGHTS–GREECE, ETC.

Jet lag fog is finally dissipating, so it’s become time to post some thoughts on modern travel. Someone, it might have been Steinbeck, said that the jetliner is transportation, but it’s certainly not travel. Whether it was Steinbeck or not, whoever made the statement certainly had in mind the difference between Travels With Charley, a meandering across the land conducting warm and meaningful conversations with ordinary people, and being slung across thousands of miles in a few hours to join a packaged tour with a few other dilettantes. I’m guilty, but not particularly repentant. We certainly made up in breadth what we missed in depth, and when we return, we won’t have to invest a great deal of time investigating sites we aren’t interested in. The real way to see the Greek isles is probably to use the ferry system, wander from island to island, talk to people, learn what lies around the next corner. However, we won’t need to return to Patmos, for example. We’ve seen John’s cave and soaked up the aura of the generations of monks. We know we need to return to Crete and Mykonos if we’re to plumb the depths of Knossos and the Minoan art which was one of my great discoveries on the journey.

And we did meet fascinating people, even though most of them are merchants or guides, talking to us as clients or potential customers, they’re still real people as interested in us as we are in them when we got a bit below the patina of the commercial relationships. We noticed now as before that national dress is bygone. You can’t tell where you are by looking at clothes, haircuts, or anything else visual. The world has been homogenized in that way. And people travel now. Many Greeks have not only been to the States, but have lived there. Or in Australia. Or Canada. You’d think all this communication and commonality would reduce war. But no such luck.

As for Tunisia, our first venture (aside from the brief pass-through of Kusidasi in Turkey) into a Moslem country, we found a people economically on the rise, full of energy and hope. But, particularly since we were there during Ramadan, a real strangeness. From simple oddities such as the Hookahs you could buy in the shops or rent at the cafe’s (you bring your own mouthpiece.) to the driving, to the incessant and (I was surprised to find) irritating calls to prayer (it depended a little on the Imam’s singing voice. Many really grated.), to the architecture and the decorations, we were well aware we were not in the western world. There were DVD rental stores, but the stores had made the copies themselves. Not that there weren’t plenty of warm interactions. My nephew and niece have some good friends. But it’s still and exotic place and a fascinating one.

Read “E-mails From Across the Great Waters” for the unedited, unproofed versions of cybermissives I sent to family and friends during the trip for a more immediate, less contemplative version of the journey.

 

 

THESE ARE E-MAILS I COMPOSED IN A HURRIED AND PRESSURED MANNER AND SENT TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY DURING OUR RECENT JOURNEY. THEY’RE INTENTIONALLY IN THEIR RAW STATE, SANS PROOFREADING OR EDITING.

E-MAILS FROM ACROSS THE GREAT WATERS 11/06

OCT. 8

 

Hi, all

This will be brief since I’m on an expensive hotel connection, but we leave on the ship tomorrow and don’t know when my next opportunity will be.

Trip over was pretty uneventful, which is okay, but doesn’t make for good stories because stories are all about trouble. The best I can do is that Nyla gave us some little gizmos to keep the seat of the person in front of you from leaning back into your face. We left them home, of course, so I was engaged in knee-to-back combat with the person in front of me. acutally, even when things go well on a trip we build up our hostilities, and the silent, unacknowledge extended combat did a lot to relieve frustrations.

We did an Athens drive around on the bus today–hit the main stuff. The Acropolis was unbelieveably crowded and because of excess cruise ships in port. I was surprised to see how little of the Parthenon was actually left. Much of it has been taken away for restoration, and it’s taken a lot of hits over the years from bombing to pollution, so it’s not in great shape. But is it worth it? Oh, you bet. Even more testimony to its power that it can still have such an effect crippled as it is. The most butterflies for me were at the theater of dionysius at the foot of the Acropolis. Birthplace of western theater and all. Treading the marble where Sophocles, etc. worked. Worth coming halfway around the world for. At least. Food is great. Prices are awful, even in the flea markets. There are some unique goods, though, so we’ll just pay up, I guess. They say the bargaining is much better in Turkey, so we’ll probably do most of our buying there.

Hope all is well with you all.

Cheers and Love,

Mom and Carl

 

OCT. 10

From on board the Sea Diamond between Patmos and Ephesus. I have little to add from my last missive re Athens and the regular sights most of you already know about–the Parthenons and other 2500-3000 year old sites that are in all the history and guide books. Here are a couple of tidbits you might not know. Despite its renowned architecture, Athens seems to have been bedeviled by a 1950-1970 architectural demon who scattered ice-cube tray buildings all over the hillsides. Bit of a shame. Still, there are forests of olive trees and acres and acres of vineyards right around the city. The countryside I suppose is similar. I expected the landscape to be essentially the same as coastal California, and it is. You wouldn’t know if you didn’t know where you were.

Perhaps the neatest odd fact we’ve discovered are the dogs of Athens. What’s up, we would ask, with all these stray dogs on the streets? Lying down on the marble (which is everywhere and apparently the cheapest building material around, since it’s even used for curbstones and storm drain covers.)  scratching, moseying. No collars, no licenses, now apparent owners? People just walk up and pet them and walk away. And they’re everywhere. Well you’re about to find out the answer to the question. These feral animals are protected by the city. Have their own territories, which they will defend against other dogs, but they don’t bite people, who feed them randomly. They’re all mutts, and they all look healthy. It’s all quite unAmerican. Which is dandy.

We had no museum time, but hope to catch up when we return later. Already complained about the shoppoing. We”ve about decided that our future travels will have to avoid the euro for a while.

We dined last night on Mykonos. They archtypal whitewashed, picturesque Greek Island. I’ve nothing much to add about the visuals. The people seem very Italian-like. Loud, always seem to be arguing even when they’re agreeing. Very friendly. Of course they see money walking toward them when we arrive off a cruise ship, so you’d be friendly too. But it seems more or less genuine.

This morning it was Patmos. The monestary of St. John (named after, but not founded by St. John the Divine who wrote Revelations.) The monastery was built as a fortress against those pesky Barbary Coast pirates about 1, 000 years after John had his visions. HIs cave where he had his revelations and wrote the book is now a chapel/tourist attraction. It’s really a cave, and has a great view overlooking the Aegean. A fine place for an inspiration from the heavens. The place has been a beehive of iconographers and frescoists for a long time now. There’s still an operating group of monks. Quite a holy place. Not quite as holy as nearby Delos, a prophecy center since way pre-Christianity which was so sacred that no one was allowed to die or to be born there. Interesting prohibiitions.

Continuing the animal theme–there are about 3000 people on Patmos, about 10, 000 goats. How many dogs I can’t tell you.

This afternoon, we move on to Turkey. By the way, Rachel, it turns out that since we are in transit on the ship, we don’t have to pay the $75  visa fee.

Till next time,

C arl

 

OCT. 11

Backfilling Athens:

 

Below the Acropolis is a large rock where Paul preached to the Athenians. More on that later.

The driving is surprisingly sane. I don’t understand that.

Athens has a population of about 5 mil, almost half of the 11 mil pop. of Greece. But huge Greek populations areside in such cities as Melbourne and Winnipeg. Greeks just love to get out, they say. And we’ve met many who have lived in the states at various times and vow they’re going back.

Lord Byron is still remembered and revered as an honorary Greek.

Teachers are about to go on strike, and huge hand-lettered signs dominate the front of the university. Elections are Sunday, and voting is mandatory. Don’t vote, pay a fine. How’s that sound?

Apropos of the the dog situation–if you’re considering your future incarnations, you could do worse than an Athenian dog.

 

Backfilling Patmos:

Lots of goats, but no water except what they get from cisterns and a water boat once a week. Tough life. There was little vegetation, but someone got the bright idea of planting eucalyptus and monterey pines. Sound familiar?  No torching yet, but look for a bit fire sometime.

 

And then there was Turkey–

We had no idea what to expect of Ephesus, so were enourmously impressed, even stunned. This was a city of about 250, 000 people at its height around the ad/bc. Wonderful Greco-Roman buildings, streets of marble, a great library second only to Alexander’s, right across the marble avenue from the official brothel.  Also in the neighborhood, a large open public latrine. About 40 holes, no partitions, water running through the ditch to carry things away. In a toga, you could safely sit down without exposure, however, no one knows what they did about the noise and odor. Wander a little farther down, and you come to the 25, 000 seat ampitheater where concerts (not rock–that makes the monument come apart) still happen. Also the place where Paul tried to preach, was hooted offstage and thrown in jail. Also, however, where he began baptising gentiles, much to the consternation of early Christians who thought only the circumcised should qualify. He wrote letters to the Ephesians from prison.

So why the ruins? Ephesus sat on the edge of a wonderful bay at the mouth of the river Meander. Meander made a delta, it silted in the bay. Lead poison from the city system started ruining everyone’s health.

This was worth the trip in itself. but it’s not all, of course.

On to Kasidusi. Shopping on the new bay that appeared after the meander disappeared. Now a Turkish resort and bazaar. Finally some good shopping. Best way I can convey it is to give you some dialogue:

 

Re Susanne after a particuarly intense bargaining session–“what does she do in California, sell cars?”

Lady outside a jewelry shop to me: “Mister, tell your wife that her earrings, I have the necklace she should come back if she’s interesting.”

Listen, I lower the price if when you go back you promise me to do some advertising from me.

“Mr., Mr. Mr.” (yelled as we passed a carpet store). I turn around. “yES?” “You forgot your carpet”

 

And so it went. Fun Day.

 

MOre later.

I’m nervious to ask, but how did the Cal/Ore game go?

Love,

Carl and Susanne

OCT. 13

 

Backfilling Ephesus:

 

Neglected to add that after the bay silted in and folks got sick with lead poisoning, there was a big earthquake about 700 a.d., and that was the end of Ephesus.  makes a fine ruin, though, as the poet said.

 

It was from Turkey to Rhodes, whose name I was glad to find out has nothing to do with Cecil Rhodes, Rhodesia, or the Oxford fellowship of a certain past president. The place had only the vaguest place in my consiciousness, but was a big time player in the history of the whole region. It’s 12 nautical miles from Turkish coast to Rhodes, so a strategic point between east/west/middle east, etc. On one end of the island are the ruins of an ancient city and an acropolis (highest fortified point in a city) with an Athene temple, etc. Overrun by the Venetians (who occupied Greece for a couple of hundred years. In fact, Greece has been occupied more often or not since around 0 a.d. romans, Venetians, Turks (300 years) Italians, etc. Finally a nation after 1948 (familiar year, eh?), but somehow never gave up their Grecianess, whatever that is.) The Venetians built a huge walled city–three walls, three moats, gates staggered so you couldn’t just rush your army through. It still stands as it was and is damned impressive. Mostly it’s tourist now, though. Great water for swimming and beaches, lots of bartering for high prices, etc. That’s been a theme. Finally overrun by suleman the magnificent after a 6 month seige with 200,000 soldiers, but they sure could hold out. Like every other island, no water. They collect the rain and hope for the best.

Paul was here after being blown off course in a storm. He found haven in a little bay that’s called Paul’s place or something like that. he didn’d do any convincing here, but it is interesting to me to note what an eastern religion early christianity was. Paul was all over Asia minor in such places a Ephesus. The greeks are more east than one thinks. They were always fighting the Persians (Iranians). So the early church barely made it to Rome, and that was as far west as it was in the beginning.

From Rhodes to Crete and Knossos, the famous palace that was the source of the legend of the minotaur, Daedalus, Icarus, etc. Look it up. It’s too expensive for me to retell it. However, the Minoan palace was truly and intentionally a labyrinth and quite beautiful. The art is very egyptian looking, but much more flowing. Very beautiful stuff.

Finally, first there were three islands, then came a volcano, then there was one island, then came a volcano, and now there are three islands again, all ridges of the rim of the caldera the volcano created. This is Santorini (Saint Irene via those Venetians again), from whence, along with Mykonos, come most of those wonderful pictures of white houses with colored doors and shutters spilling down the hillsides. And it’s like being in a post card. But there were way too many people, which compromised the fun. But not much.

We’re now back in Athens, awaiting our flight to Tunisia and we’ll reunite with Geoff and Rachel tomorrow night. Break out the beer, guys, here we come.

Carl and syusanne

 

Oct. 15

Left Athens with semi-regrets yesterday evening. We will return to try to fill  in some blanks. Our last hours were a museum blitz. The Archeological Museum is one of the 7 wonders. So much gold. The mask of Agamemmnon. 8,000 year old beautiful artifacts. Stuff from around the time of Christ seems new after a while. The art is stunning as well as hold. And not so static. Some of you may know about the ancient art of bull leaping. Makes the run for the bulls and/or the rodeo look quite tame, y’all. The athlete rushes head on to the bull, jumps over the head, places hands on the bull’s back as he leaps, then ends up standing at the bull’s tale looking in the opposite way he started. Very ancient art. It’s no wonder it became extinct, eh? NOt to mention the whole Minoan civilization.

Also, a fact undoculmented in any theater history book I’ve ever read.  At the theater or Dionysis, the bench seats in the ampitheater are for various levels of common citizens, and marble chairs are arranged around the lower stage area for dignitaries. Near the front of the seat of each chair a hole has been bored. Can you guess what was happening under the togas?

Thoughts on Athens==

A clean, busy city with good food and friendly people. I recommend and like it, but somehow do not love it. It doesn’t have the throb that Paris, London, NYC have. But come on. Maybe it will be there for you. I’ve met people who don’t love Paris, but don/t understand them either.

 

Our flight to Tunis went through Milan through some routing mystery only the airline gods could explain if you could read the oracle in Kitty Hawk. Had nice wine and cheese and tiramisou in the airport==good food in the airport? Yes, you bet.

Some further examples of the difficulty (impossibility?) of really learning alnother language.

 

–Have a good appetite (Uh, that’s not reallly wrong, but we don’t say it. We prefer Bon Apetite or chow down.)

==From an Alitalia staffer to us on boarding the plane==Have a nice ride.

==Fro the pilot==We will now continue our flight into the adriatic sea.

 

It’s cool and a little Rainy in Tunis, and I am on Geoff’s computer, not under pressure from the hotel cash clock. Nice. Geoff and Rachel have a very nice place here. Lots of marble and bougainvellia SP? We jumped right up at 8 after our 3 (aTHENS TIME) arrival and drove off to the ancient ruins at Dougga (Me, neither. Carthage, I was prepared for, but Dougga. We all know the Romans conquered most of the known world, and we’ve seen only a fragment of the evidence and are preparted to believe it. This is another magnificent community on a hill drawing water from  a nearby spring. Complete with ampitheater, forum, capital, baths and brothel The baths are in particularly good shape, and we could see the pipes that carried the hot water from the slave=fed fires up through the walls to the steam room. Marble and mosaics throughout. And this is a minor site that no one’s ever heard of.

NOrth Africa is a nicely situated place. You can drive your car on to a ferry and be dropped off in Italy and from thence all over the world, I suppose. Or you can do it the other way around. My cognitive geography is smashed to smithereens, and I love it all.

It’s Ramadan here, but nothing too heavy. Just some inconveniences of closed shops, etc., which will open up after dark, we’re told. Tunis is definitely more third world than Greece. Burros and carts, etc. Driving definitly crazy The left turn lanes serve mostly to get aggressive drivers to the front of the pack. They have no intention of turning left.

Great as the tour was, It’s wonderful to be back with those we know and love and to not have a schedule to meet. Those 5:45 a.m.wakeup calls are too much like work stupendious as the results may be.

Cheers and Love, you all.

More from the Mediterranean anon.

Carl and Susanne

 

OCT. 18

 

What would you expect from Tunisia? We didn’t know, really. We were subject to Every kind of image from HOllywood fantasies blowing sand to verdant oases to French Legionnaires–or was that supposed to be Algeria? Or maybe Morrocco?–to well-heeled sultans and sitting with their harems by the oil wells–or wait. Was that Kuwait?  Come to find out–

We are in the presence of a benevolent dictator named Ben Ali. There are mosques everywhere, and especially now during Ramadan they issue their calls regularly. However, there is no Sahara. It’s a land of pomegranates and palms and melons. We have seen a few camels (dromedaries, actually–one hump), but burros are much more common. There are really, in the countryside, shepherds with sticks wandering the plain. And of course the people are the swarthy folks you’d expect. Good-sized folks, and very friendly. We have visited a second-century Roman Coliseum to the south. (in El-Jem, in case anyone’s curious. Not to be confused with Jem-el, which we did briefly, and nearly drove well out of our way and into who knows where) Very well preserved. A luxurious seaside resort also to the south (Hammamet, in case anyone’s curious) which boasts a real Casbah (Means “fort” Sorry to say there’s not just one, just as there’s not just one Acropolis.) It’s a place of warm waters and golden sands and red sunsets.

Yesterday, it was Carthage. The ruins you can see are scattered here and there among posh suburbs. The modern buildings are the fourth or fifth layer of civilizations beginning with the Phoenecians. continuing with the Romans, on to the Byzantine, then us–or them. It was good that we saw so many other sites before carthage because it helped to give us the imaganitive power to fill in some blanks. The sites here have not been generally as restored. Except for the ampitheater, 3500 seats, which is still used and boasted a recent Mariah Carey concert, and what’s bigger than that?

Wonderful dinner last night with Geoff and Rachel, who cannot be topped for hosting. They’ve turned over every rock to show us good times and a complete picture of this place. It takes great courage, I think, for people like G and R and Erin and Sean to leave native soil and stake outposts in foreign places. It’s exciting and challenging to make your way among those with whom you have little in comon, at least in the beginning. But it also means a certain amount of isolation and loneliness I’m sure. Hats off to them and I wish I’d had the guts.

Geoff met us at a hotel coming straight from the office, looking so much like a banker you didn’t know whether to make a deposit or take out a loan. On the taxi ride to the restaurant, I was able to understand enough of the French to pick up that the driver thought he spoke French like a European. Geoff says his Parisian accent has been corrupted somewhat by working with so many French speakers from other lands, but it’s obviously still pretty impressive. Rachel is elegant and sophisticated and hands-on competent managing her business and us andthe animals and the household. Beyond impressive.

The restaurant was in the middle of a downtown, narrow-streeted district. There was a huge blue door with a big knocker, which was answered by a fez-adorned factotum. We were in what looked like a converted mansion with all the tiles and carvings you might expect. A Sitar player who had a go at The Saints Go Marching IN when he found out we were Americans. And, by the way, the food was delicious and only moderately expensive.

The taxi ride home was worthy of any amusement park ride anywhere, about which more later.

It’s on into the day, now, and we’ll see you later.

 

OCT. 19

 

Hi and bye, all.

This is likely the final missive of the trip. We return to AThens early tomorrow, then home on Sunday morning. So, cramming in everything you need but didn’t want to know about Tunisia and our place in the scheme of things–

 

Driving here is like nowhere else, and I’ve driven many places. Except when the gas blockades in Bolivia forced people to cross into opposing traffic, it was no worse than most places. The traffic lights were more or less observed in a loose sort of way. There was the thing about making three lanes of two and four of three, etc. However, things were not particularly exciting or dangerous except as mentioned above. Tunisia, however. That’s different. The Tunisian, as I mentioned earlier, will use the left turn lane not to turn left but to get a jump on the other lanes. If there’s no space where he wants to go, he creates one. If he wants to cross the street, whatever the color of the light, he steps out and goes. We’re guaranteed never to forget the guy with the disabled moped who at dusk crossed four lanes of freeway traffic going 45-55 mph. Whether he survived or not, we do not know. It seemed unlikely, but he was upright when we last saw him.

If a Tunisian passes you, he must, by rule, cut you off. Even if he has miles of clear road in front of him to complete the job. If he wants to to pass you, he must, by rule, honk his horn and flash his lights, even if you are paralleling and passing a truck full of cattle. If a Tunisian wants to turn right and is in the left or middle lane, he must by rule, cut in front of the interdeceding lanes to complete his destination. Many of these maneuvers are executed at speeds of 50+ mph. Rachel is not prone to extreme measures, but she is right in there with the best of them when it comes to bumper-to-horn combat. She’ll miss a jaywalker by a whisker, horn at full volume and cut off a 12-passenger van without a qualm. All in a day’s drive for her.

 

Tunis is spread out L.A. like for a long ways. For a city of a million and a half, it covers it seems half the territory of L.A. sometimes. This isn’t true, just seems that way. I mentioned the lack of blowing sands. Turns out I was wrong.Abut 25 per cent of the country is desert and there are sandstorms in Tunis, though not of the Lawrence of Arabia Drama. The country is so small–maybe the size of Massachussetts?–that it’s a wonder it’s as prosperous as it is with so much non-arable land. However, we can testify that it draws cruise ships and that the resorts and museums draw plenty of europeans. Even our dollar seems strong, so the Euro-spenders must find it a paradise.

 

Like nearly every country and culture, it seems the light=skinned folks are the elilte. There are few black Africans here, and they are subject to the same kinds of prejudice (I may have mentioned this earlier. If so, apologies) you might expect. Everyone seems to need someone to step on. However, the plumbing isn’t bad. There are many autos and satellite dishes. Many people seem to earn a living as police, standing around everywhere in their white patent leather gloves with elbow-lenght cuffs. The holsters are white patent leather too, but they’re mostly empty. The few people who are truly epowered carry rifles. The police sometimes randomly direct traffic. Sometimes step out and stop a car, but only to check papers. All the traffic violations I’ve described above happen in full view of police who take no action. There are many female cops, so it’s equal opportunity do-nothingness.

 

In sum, It’s a country on the way up but in a very uneven way. It’s’ got great tourist attractions, fine ruins and history which it’s restoring slowly but surely, but the picture I’ll take away is one that must be a good 10, 000 years old–similar to the Old lady in China cutting rice with a scythe outside the microprocessor plant or the woman in La Paz breaking cobblestones with a chisel and a rock–the picture of a boy or woman with a scarf on the head herding a flock of goats or sheep with a stick. Welcome to 21 A.D. or 8000 b.c. Your pick.

Cheers and farewell,

THAT FEEDBACK THING AGAIN

 

I worked hard on that story for a long time, put a lot of juice and hope into it. So what? Everyone does. It’s the result that matters, not the effort. My protagonist was supposed to be not-so-likable, a user who never understood why he came off as such a jerk when all he wanted was to live an entrepreneurial and independent life. He had a big smile and a ready joke that endeared him to people till they got to know how self-absorbed and selfish he was. Despite my numerous revisions and attempts to soften the edges, he came off to virtually everyone who read the piece as cruelly sarcastic instead of humorous. When he got in trouble, reader response ranged from indifference to satisfaction. I did such a good job of creating a jerk that he alienated not only those on the page but off it as well.

So I’ve accepted the verdict and decided to deep-six the piece–at least for now. Maybe I’ll be able to re-imagine it later as something different. At the moment, Even I don’t feel like spending more time with the guy. It’s too bad I haven’t been able to reshape it yet, because I think there’s much worth saving. Haven’t been able to pull it off yet, though. A protagonist can draw hostility–Like Jack in Louise Erdrich’s Tales of Burning Love, for example–and still work. But disgust is too much, although William T. Vollmann seems to bring it off with Henry Tyler in The Royal Family. But then Vollmann gets away with stuff no one else can even try.

But it’s on to other projects, new efforts, new hopes, new successes and disappointments. I’m tempted to post the abortion and see what more of you think, but for the present I can’t stand any more feedback.

TRAVELING MUSIC

Among the greatest gifts of retirement is discretionary time, and Susanne and I are about to exercise our discretion again. We’ll be off for a cruise of the Greek Islands tomorrow, thence to Tunis to visit relatives. The Tunis landing will give us another continent to scratch off our list (Hey, it’s not very far into Africa, but it’s still Africa.), leaving only Australia and Antarctica to go. Not bad for a couple of middling professionals who never hit Europe till after the age of forty.

All that time among antiquities, goats, lamb, and feta should be a great source of inspiration. Another Salammbo anyone?

See you in a couple of weeks.

TOURING

 

I’ve been blessed recently with a plethora of out-of-town guests, all of them hungry for an insider look at San Francisco and the bay area. I have an interest in and some knowledge of the city’s history (click on the “Writing” page of the “Writer Working” website and see the first chapter of The Maxwell Vendetta.), so I enjoy showing folks around. it takes some time, and the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park began to get a little tedious about the tenth time through, but I generally get much more than I give; and I’m reflecting this morning about how much the process resembles that of writing, which is after all nothing more than an inside tour of the artist.

Like every character and plot and outline of every story I’ve ever started, no matter how much I plan and think I know, unplumbed depths remained. And I’ve heard the same from many other writers. Sometimes it’s my own explorations that open new horizons. Sometimes it’s a reader/visitor’s question that sets me off in a new direction. I thought I

‘s about finished The Maxwell Vendetta, was ready to set down the final turn of plot and move into the denoument. It turned out I was like the kid in the back seat asking “Are we there yet?” When I came to what I thought was the last intersection,  I saw not my destination, but more miles, more twists and turns to navigate before I reached the end of a road I thought I’d planned all by myself. Just so as I was descending the section of Lombard Street billed as “the crookedst street in the world” with its brick paving and splendid view of Telegraph Hill, Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, et al, did one of my passengers ask how the street came to be. I’d always assumed it was just part of an old wagon road whose switchbacks made it possible for horse-drawn vehicles to navigate the steep slope. But San Francisco has plenty of other–steeper–streets that drop and rise plumbline-straight up and down other hills, so why would this be different? Google, of course, led me to the answer quickly. The crookedst street in the world was a chamber of commerce gimmick constructed in 1923 as a tourist attraction. There is actually one other street in S.F. that has more turns and a steeper drop, but –location, location, location–has no views and is in a relatively isolated part of the city. So image trumps substance once again, and we need to question even the most obvious aspects of our characters and plots and to pay attention to the observations of that most valuable of creatures–the naive reader whose innocent questions lead us to new assumptions.

And then there are the renegades who have no wish to visit the fabled urban wonders, who find the city dirty, fast, and noisy, But who love tall redwoods, rocky shores, and raw oysters with horseradish. For them, it’s on to Point Bonita, Muir Woods, Point Reyes, Stinson Beach, Bolinas. That tour, too, is part of who I am and what I do, just as my contemporary flash fiction (Again, see the “Writing” page of Writer Working.) is as much a part of my interior as the historical narrative that fascinates me so. And each journey leads to more discoveries, more questions, whose answers lead to . . .