Total Pageviews

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Observing Sweden - Spring


Spring in Sweden

Tsunami of lawn chairs
Appear without warning
Sun bright golden day
Grass still asleep
Lawnmower waits patiently in garage shadows
Children bounce on trampolines
Sprung up like mushrooms
Days grow long
Life is reborn.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Typhoid Mary


On this day in 1915, Mary Mallon, known as Typhoid Mary, was put into quarantine. Mary worked as a cook in various wealthy households around New York City. Every household she worked in seemed to suffer an outbreak of typhoid fever. A sanitation engineer named George Soper noticed this strange pattern of outbreaks among the wealthy, and eventually realized they had all hired the same cook. When he tracked her down, and questioned her, she didn’t take it well. She swore at him, and threatened him with a meat cleaver when he asked her to provide a stool sample. He finally called in the police and had her arrested. They took urine and stool samples by force, and discovered that she was a healthy carrier of typhoid. They released her on the condition that she would give up working as a cook, but once she was free, she changed her name and went back to cooking. Five years later, they finally tracked her down again, and she was put in quarantine for the rest of her life. She died of pneumonia in 1938.

North Brother Island where Mary was held in isolated quarantine for 26 years.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lawrence Ferlinghetti


Today is Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s birthday – Born in Yonkers, New York (1919). His father died five months before Ferlinghetti was born, and his mother was so devastated by the loss that she had to be committed to the state mental hospital. Young Lawrence was sent to live with his aunt in France.
He didn’t learn English until he was five, when he returned to America. As a teenager, he became an Eagle Scout and was also arrested for petty theft, as part of his involvement with a street gang called the “Parkway Road Pirates.” But shortly after, he was inspired by a copy of Baudelaire poems he was given, and became interested in poetry and literature.

He went to college at the University of North Carolina and then joined the Navy during World War II, where he was the commander of 110-foot ship. He said: “Any smaller than us you weren’t a ship, you were a boat. But we could order anything a battleship could order so we got an entire set of the Modern Library. We had all the classics stacked everywhere all over the ship, including the john. We also got a lot of medicinal brandy the same way.”

After serving in the war, he moved to San Francisco, where he decided to open a bookstore. He named it City Lights after the Charlie Chaplin movie, because he said: “Chaplin’s character represents for me … the very definition of a poet. … A poet, by definition, has to be an enemy of the State. If you look at Chaplin films, he’s always being pursued by the police. That’s why he’s still such a potent symbol in the cinema — the little man against the world.”

In 1958, he also published his own collection of poetry, A Coney Island of the Mind, which shocked everyone by going through 28 printings and selling 700,000 copies in the United States alone. By the end of the 1960s, it was the best-selling book ever published by a living American poet.

Ferlinghetti is one of the few poets in the United States who has never held a job at a university, never received government funding, and never attended an MLA conference. He’s never won a Pulitzer.
So many happy hours browsing City Lights Bookstore, and drinking at Vesuvius, across the alley. Ahh, those 1960′s, San Francisco . . . so long gone.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Seattle Memories - The Crows

                   They go unnoticed overhead
                   Above the supermarket malls and cities
                   Suburban fields and meadows
                   Airborne gangs dressed in black feather jackets
                   Fearless wise guys with a raucous comment
                   For the goings on below.
                                            Published:  Pulsar Poetry (UK) 2011

One of the things I’ve noticed since being retired is that I have more time to notice things. There’s never as much time as I thought there would be, but enough. I’m sitting on the front porch this fine, blue sky, Monday morning, watching crows, a murder of them—eight. A family. This is their neighborhood, they own it, it’s their turf, and air space. I have put a feeder at the edge of  our front yard for them.  

By mid November,  gulls get hungry and fly in from Puget Sound.  A lead gull flies a scanning grid of parallel paths – airborne geometry, serene high flight, an interesting thing to watch. They never miss a feeder contribution, and when such is spotted there’s a screech that brings the other members of its group. Then there’s an air war, with the crows, like fighters, against gulls, the bombers. Gulls most often win, but they are sometimes driven off by crows with higher numbers.

Since I have been observing crows, they’ve been observing me. They know my car, and follow for a block or two before I pull into my driveway. Then they wait on the roof of my house to see if I’ve brought junk food leftovers. French fries are prized, and also pasta. One crow usually hangs around to keep an eye on the feeder while perched on top a lamp post just across the street.
Such interesting birds. Some people are against them. They rob smaller bird’s nests when they find them, eat the young. I cringe while watching them patrol the fence in my back yard, scanning our evergreens for nests. Not nice, but all of us kill something to survive. A Buddhist monk’s remark: “We are all food, and the eaters of food.” All of us part of earth’s biota*

I am quid-pro-crow. They fascinate me, so damn smart—and cautious. After years of being fed, the older ones now to dare to stand their ground as close as twelve or fifteen  feet away. They watch my every move, of course,  poised for a quick escape, a burst of flight. Their mortal enemies are owls and hawks. Crows mass and chase the owls away in daytime, swirling cloud of twenty birds or more. But later on, at night, the owl returns to deftly pluck a sleeping crow from off of its branch.

I miss my family of crows. Though there are crows in Sweden, I don’t see them very often. Seems they’ve been replaced by magpies that look very much like crows dressed in tuxedos.  Doubt we’ll ever have a close relationship–don’t speak their language.


A well dressed magpie

* Biota: The total collection of organisms of a geographic region or a time period, from local geographic scales and instantaneous temporal scales all the way up to whole-planet and whole-timescale spatiotemporal scales. (Wikipedia)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Bach's Birthday


Today is the birthday of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach – 1685. He was born into a large extended family of Lutheran musicians — most of whom were also named Johann; they were distinguished by their differing middle names. Bach’s parents both died when he was 10, and he went to live with his older brother Johann Christoph, who was a church organist. The younger Johann soon followed in his brother’s footsteps, and held a series of organist jobs in churches all around the region. He also gave lessons to the church choirboys, but he did so reluctantly, refusing to spend much time on rehearsals. Worse, he would sometimes take off for weeks at a time, traveling to meet other musicians and not letting his employers know when he would be back. And he was known to sneak off during the sermon for some hanky-panky with a local girl in the church’s wine cellar. The local girl was most likely his second cousin, whom he would soon marry.

Many of his best-loved pieces, like Toccata and Fugue, and  Joy of Man’s Desirin, were composed while he was an organist in the court of the Duke Wilhelm Ernst in Weimar. The duke was so pleased with Bach that he had him arrested: Bach had accepted another position with Prince Leopold and the duke did not want to let him go. Bach was jailed for several weeks before the duke relented. Leopold was a young man with a consuming passion for music, and Bach grew very fond of him. It was an enjoyable and productive time for the composer. While with Prince Leopold, Bach composed the Brandenburg Concertos, as well as The Well-Tempered Clavier, a set of exercises for students of the harpsichord. 

In 1706, Bach married his second cousin, Maria Barbara Bach. They had seven children together in 14 years of marriage. Along with Maria came her unmarried sister, Friedelena. Maria died in 1720, but Friedelena remained, helping to run the Bach household until her own death in 1729. Bach remarried a year after his first wife died, this time to a singer named Anna Magdalena Wilcke. His patron Leopold married soon after that, and Leopold’s new bride didn’t care much for music, so his support of Bach waned, and Bach moved on to Leipzig. There he became the musical director of Leipzig’s main churches and also Cantor of St. Thomas, a boarding school. He remained in Leipzig for the rest of his life.

Bach and Anna had 13 children, but less than half of them survived past the age of five. Four of Bach’s children — two from his first marriage and two from his second — went on to become musicians and composers in their own right, carrying on the Bach family tradition. Bach was a happy family man and proud of his children. He was also deeply devout, and he once wrote that music “should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul; where this is not kept in mind there is no true music, but only an infernal clamor and ranting.”

By about 1740, Bach’s eyesight had begun to deteriorate. For several years, he was still able to perform and even traveled to Prussia to perform for King Frederick the Great. But by the spring of 1750, it had gotten so bad that he allowed an English surgeon to operate on his eyes. The surgery had disastrous results: he was completely blind, and he developed complications after the surgery that may have contributed to his death of stroke, complicated by pneumonia, a couple of months later.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Beware The Ides of March!


The ambitious Julius had a tense relationship with the Roman Senate. The Senate felt he was a threat to the Republic, and that he had tyrannical leanings. The Senate had the real power, and any titles they gave him were intended to be honorary. They had conferred upon him the title of “dictator in perpetuity,” but when they went to where he sat in the Temple of Venus Genetrix to give him the news, he remained seated, which was considered a mark of disrespect. Thus offended, the Senate became sensitive to any hints that Julius Caesar viewed himself as a king or — worse — a god. The tribunes arrested any citizen who placed laurel crowns on statues of Julius, and Julius in turn censured the tribunes.

Senators Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus formed a group called the Liberators, who met in secret to conspire against Julius. Several assassination plots were put forward and rejected for one reason or another, but finally they settled on attacking him at a meeting of the Senate in the Theater of Pompey. Only senators were allowed to be present, and knives could be easily concealed in the drapery of their togas.

In the days leading up to the assassination, several people warned Caesar not to attend the meeting of the Senate. Even his wife Calpurnia begged him not to go on the basis of a dream she had had, but Brutus convinced him that it would be unmanly to listen to gossip and the pleadings of a mere woman, so Julius set off. According to Plutarch, he passed a seer on his way. The seer had recently told Julius that great harm would come to him on the ides of March. Julius recognized the seer, and quipped, “The ides of March have come.” The seer remarked, “Aye, Caesar; but not gone.” When Julius arrived at the Senate, he was set upon by Brutus, Cassius, and the others who stabbed him dozens of times.

He slowly bled to death, and for several hours afterward his body was left where it fell.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Growing Old


Listen – By Wendell Berry. From his book, Leavings

I know I am getting old and I say so,
but I don’t think of myself as an old man.
I think of myself as a young man
with unforeseen debilities. Time is neither
young nor old, but simply new, always
counting, the only apocalypse. And the clouds
—no mere measure or geometry, no cubism,
can account for clouds or, satisfactorily, for bodies.
There is no science for this, or art either.
Even the old body is new—who has known it
before?—and no sooner new than gone, to be
replaced by a body yet older and again new.
The clouds are rarely absent from our sky
over this humid valley, and there is a sycamore
that I watch as, growing on the riverbank,
it forecloses the horizon, like the years
of an old man. And you, who are as old
almost as I am, I love as I loved you
young, except that, old, I am astonished
at such a possibility, and am duly grateful.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Observing Sweden - Language Class

I'm finally in a Swedish class. Meets once a week, tonight was my fourth.
Teacher is on left. At right is the only other student besides myself. It's going very slowly for me, but at least it's going.

Swed Class-A 
Å     Ӧ     Ӓ

These  funny letters are so strange,
Depends on how they are arranged
Might be an ahh, or eew, or ē
I think they’ll be the death of me.
The teacher thinks it is amusing
I find Swedish words confusing.
Swedes write an old fashioned way
But  speak more modern every day.

  A View From The Other Side


Jack Kerouac


Today is the birthday of Jack Kerouac, born Jean-Louis Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts (1922). He was from a working-class French-Canadian family; he grew up speaking French, and he wasn't fluent in English until he was a teenager. Kerouac was a star football player, and after an impressive performance in the Thanksgiving Day game his senior year, he was offered a scholarship to Columbia University. In New York City, he met a group of friends who would eventually be known as the Beat Generation — Allen Ginsberg, William S. Boroughs, Neal Cassady, and others. Kerouac wrote his novel On the Road (1957) about Cassady.

Kerouac famously wrote On the Road in just 20 days, during a coffee-fueled writing spree in the spring of April 1951. He typed it on translucent draft paper that he found in a closet at a friend's apartment — he cut the paper to size and taped it together so it would work in his typewriter. It's true that Kerouac produced that version of On the Road in just a few weeks, but the novel itself was a long time in the making. In 1947, Kerouac began collecting material for a new novel. In 1948, he described it in his journal: "Two guys hitch-hiking to California in search of something they don't really find, and losing themselves on the road, and coming all the way back hopeful of something else." Notes and ideas for the novel filled hundreds of pages of journals, letters, and notebooks. In a letter to a friend, he wrote: "These ideas and plans obsess me so much that I can't conceal them [...] they overflow out of me, even in bars with perfect strangers." Throughout those years of writing Kerouac continued to take cross-country trips with Neal Cassady, and recorded their adventures and conversations.

In late March of 1951, his friend John Clellon Holmes had just finished a novel about the Beats, and he showed Kerouac the manuscript. Kerouac was angry, convinced that Holmes had stolen his subject matter. Kerouac's wife convinced her husband that instead of stewing about it, he should go ahead and get his own novel written. He began writing on April 2nd and finished on the 22nd. He wrote to Cassady: "Story deals with you and me and the road [...] Plot, if any, is devoted to your development from young jailkid of early days to later (present) W.C. Fields saintliness ... step by step in all I saw. [...] I've telled all the road now. Went fast because the road is fast ... wrote whole thing on strip of paper 120 foot long (tracing paper that belonged to Cannastra) — just rolled it through typewriter and in fact no paragraphs ... rolled it out on floor and it looks like a road."

Once Kerouac finished that draft, he rewrote it, typing it up on normal paper. Then he tried to get it published, but it was rejected again and again. In 1957, On the Road was finally published by Viking, who had previously turned it down. They offered Kerouac a $900 advance, which his agent managed to negotiate to $1,000, but the publishers paid it out in $100 increments because they didn't trust that Kerouac would use the money well. Viking editors insisted that Kerouac change the names of real people so they couldn't be sued for libel, so Neal Cassady became Dean Moriarty.

When it was published, On the Road got mixed reviews, but its success made Kerouac famous — and uncomfortable. He wrote to a friend: "I really wanta dig into my art like a maniac and pay no attention to promotion (which everybody wants me to do ... what a waste of sweet life!)" But now that he was famous; he was able to publish the previously rejected novels that he had written before On the Road. Kerouac considered all of his novels as parts of a whole cycle, which he called The Duluoz Legend. He told his editor: "When I'm done, in about 10, 15 years, it will cover all the years of my life, like Proust, but done on the run, a Running Proust."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Late Winter Poem


Below are first two paragraphs of:   Walking Alone In Late Winter  

 (From Jane Kenyon’s, Boat of Quiet Hours)

How long the winter has lasted—like a Mahler
symphony, or an hour in the dentist's chair.
In the fields the grasses are matted
and gray, making me think of June, when hay
and vetch burgeon in the heat, and warm rain
swells the globed buds of the peony.

Ice on the pond breaks into huge planes. One
sticks like a barge gone awry at the neck
of the bridge....The reeds
and shrubby brush along the shore
gleam with ice that shatters when the breeze
moves them. From beyond the bog
the sound of water rushing over trees
felled by the zealous beavers,
who bring them crashing down.... Sometimes
it seems they do it just for fun.