June 17, 2013
I was persuaded to audition for and play the part of SATAN in ‘JB’, a verse drama by Archibald MacLeish. It was a one night production and it turned out very well. People are now telling me I was perfectly cast and may have a career ahead playing the dark one in future productions. I can’t deny that I enjoyed playing the role opposite my friend Dick Norris who was playing God. But, late in life as it is I would not want to get typecast unless there is some material reward involved. SATANIC? Of course!
In the meantime I am now focusing on my readings for the Summer Concert of ViVoce, the Portland revel’s Female Ensemble. I am really impressed with the poems director Antonia Forster has chosen for the two performances. As usual I know that the choir will produce some spine tingling moments singing some music that does not often get an airing in Portland. What poems? What songs? Included are pieces by Simic, Tennyson, and even Irving Berlin! Better come and see.
April 25, 2013
Somehow I got cornered into writing a poem about Rhubarb. You can read the result below. It is less about rhubarb than it is about things passed but easily recalled with the right stimulus.
I learned about Oxalic Acid
When less than anxious for yet more information
More notes on a chalkboard
In a malodorous sulphurous school room.
Furiously copied in pencil
Scribbled first, and required to be transformed,
Later, into copperplate, almost textbook pages.
To be judged as adequate; or not,
By a dyspeptic misanthrope in a black gown.
Oxalic Acid; not as deadly.
But in a close league,
To the clear viscous liquids
Held in dusty skull marked bottles
Within easy reach of any manic schoolboy.
Dusty bottles in a rack
In a rack on a bench
On a bench where I sat
Where I sat wondering why my mind
My sharp juvenile mind would never grasp
Valence Bonding Theory quite as well
As the taste of a girls lips
The smell of her hair
The ring of her laugh
The answer to a question in her eyes.
When that girl had gone
I read that Oxalic Acid is found in Rhubarb leaves.
Pie making always brings such fascinating memories.
March 18, 2013
Sometime in the late 1950’s and halfway through the Sunday roast pork dinner and my Brussels sprouts are mixing nicely with the fresh apple sauce, crackling and a curious mixture of mashed swede, potato and margarine that my Mother often produces as part of this meal. It is a moment to relish in any English schoolboys meal. Still plenty of good stuff left on the plate, and the promise of apple pie for dessert, or ‘afters’ as we called it. And even before we get to the pie there is also a likely fight for my father’s leftovers. He often does not finish what he has on his plate and seems to enjoy watching his three sons jockey for an extra portion whilst my Mother tut-tuts her disapproval of this crude display. But she is outnumbered.
And in case you are wondering, no, we were not cannibals, and did not eat people from Scandinavian countries, however tastily prepared. However, Swede, or Swedish Turnip or what Americans call Rutabaga was and still is a frequent part of my diet, and a recent article in the Food Day section of the Oregonian which while not disrespectful of this fragrant and nutritious vegetable was not as fulsome as it deserves, has prompted me to do a little more research into ’brassica napobrassica’.
I had barely touched the keys and I discovered that in Ithaca, New York, every December there is an International Rutabaga Curling Championship, and closer to home the Advanced Rutabaga Studies Institute in Forest Grove, Oregon. The Wikipedia entry for the Rutabaga let me know, amongst many fascinating pieces of information, that the preparation served by my dear Mother so long ago is called, in Scotland, ‘clapshot’; a delicious schoolboy term. “More clapshot for you, dear? It contains 42% of your daily requirement of Vitamin C!”
From the Wikipedia entry I discovered the physiological reason why many people find Rutabaga intolerably bitter. Poor dears they are cursed with especial sensitivity to the glucosinolates which it contains, as do watercress, mustard greens, turnip, broccoli and horseradish. It is in their DNA. Nothing can be done. Nothing can be done except invent recipes that attenuate or mute that characteristic; which brings me by a circuitous route to a recipe which does just that. I have been making ‘quattro radice purea’ since I was introduced to it at a relatives Thankgiving Dinner some twenty years ago. Their version contained Parsnip, Turnip, and two other mystery roots niether of which were Rutabaga. My version, of course, is a nostalgic nod and homage to my Mothers unwitting Clapshot, and contains constantly variable proportions of the following:-
- The flesh of baked Potato (keep the skins!)
- Roasted Onions
- Roasted Rutabaga
- Roasted Turnip
- Roasted Parsnip
- Roasted Carrot
…all mashed and blended with butter, salt, pepper and occasionaly Parmesan cheese, and then baked in a casserole, or stuff the potato skins and bake.
Of course you have counted the ingredients and are questioning my mathematics. But before you get too critical lets just go through them. A Potato is a seed tuber, a Rutabaga is a swollen stem. Turnips, Parsnips and Carrots are roots and the Onion is a bulb. So, perhaps I should call the dish Three Root Puree?
No matter, it is delicious, nutritious, a wonderful conversation point and economic.
February 28, 2013
Last night I saw a short film by Haydn Reiss, ‘Every War Has Two Losers’, which was a tribute of sorts to the pacifism of William Stafford. Even at my age I remain uncertain as to how I should react if something I loved was attacked. The event where I saw the film was a Poetry meeting organised by Tom Hogan in Milwaukie, Oregon. There was a small crowd. After the film an open mike was run and I read two poems. The first by the war poet Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est, and the second, my own, a work in progress. Here it is, I welcome any comments politely delivered.
Con Trails, or Hitler Owes Me A Suit!
A young boy is on his back in the damp ferns of a Kentish wood
Sucking a stem of grass, applying a dock leaf to the nettle rash
Watching the con trails of the peaceful silver aeroplanes
Droning from London to Paris and back in the peaceful blue summer sky
Innocent and unaware how busy this same summer sky had once been
With so many trails knitted with the smoke and flames
of falling machinery and screams of dying young men.
And at nightfall came more machines with death
Undiscriminating death, dropping, whistling, from their bellies.
And later still rockets came out of that sky.
Two failed to kill his parents, coming so close,
But did destroy his Fathers new pinstripe suit
The reward of hoarded ration coupons
“Hitler owes me a suit!”
He said now and then.
Now and then when it seemed
A joke about the war would be let go.
The boy gets up and waves to the silver aeroplanes
Droning across the peaceful blue sky.
February 13, 2013
And here is another almost useless message from the bowels of Microsoft…
An error has occurred in the script on this page
Error: unable to get value of the property ‘msie’: object is null or undefined
Do you want to continue running scripts on this page?
…and whether I hit yes or no the same thing happens; the web-site that was loading reappears. Please write in very PLAIN ENGLISH your suggestions as to why I get this message, what can it possibly mean, and what can a relatively sane person do with this cryptic nonsense on the back of a fifty dollar bill and send it to an address I will give you later.
January 17, 2013
We should not expect our sports heroes to be nice people. Not if we want them to be singled minded, focused, dedicated, machine-like beings willing to set aside any other life to win. Winners at this level have to be people we would not want as friends.
Doping in cycling does not guarantee that you will win. In stage after stage in the Tour de France, in the Giro d’Italia, the Vuelta d’Espana and other high profile races, scores of men who doped came nowhere and last. The idea that there is a drug that will turn you from nothing to superman overnight in one dose is ludicrous, but many believe it. The doping that modern cyclists use gives them an edge of performance over a long period. But it means they have to dope over a long period. This is why the drug screening system in place now should be dismantled. It does not work because those in charge were complicit.
Cycle racing at this level is the most grueling mind bending undertaking in sport. If you think you could ride a bike at an average speed of 25 mph or more every day for three weeks up and down two major mountain ranges in temperatures ranging from cool to blistering, in humidity ranging from desert to jungle, in the company of others who either hate you or only like you as a temporary teammate, without thinking you could use a little help, without losing your mind, you are not a cyclist, and you don’t know cycle racing.
Lance Armstrong’s ‘crime’ is lying, serially lying, to a large number of people over a long period of time. But doping or not, flawed person or worse, he was one of the greatest racing cyclists to get on a bike. He focused on one race, the Tour de France and so does not rank as high in my estimation as Eddy Merckx or Jacques Anquetil or even Louison Bobet, all of whom won many different races over their careers.
I don’t have to like Armstrong or approve his lifestyle to admire his grit. I do not approve of his decision to take PEDs but my gamblers instinct says he could have won most of those TDF’s even if he had not. And therein lays some shame.
January 12, 2013
I do not share the current mania for Downton Abbey. Wonderfully produced and acted it remains as much an upper class soap opera as its predecessor, Upstairs Downstairs. And further for me it represents the world of privilege into which my parents were not born, but from which they and their parents suffered. A twisted and deplorable world of class distinction and snobbery only exceeded in bizarre and revolting effects by the Indian caste system. I suppose the series might illustrate some of these social injustices clearly, but the overall impression is of a somewhat desirable gilded age. Gilded for a few, indeed, a very few. And there is resonance with some analyses of current dispositions of wealth and favor in our own time, here in the land of the free. The flight of wealth upwards in the last twenty years shows a less than favorable adherence to the ideals of Thomas Paine, our illustrious Founding Fathers, and more of an utter indifference to anyone but ones self. Why, there is even a magazine called, Self! Sure, it is less about money than about self-esteem, dieting and better sex; as most glossy mags are; but what the name implies is really rather sad. And did I say soap opera? Yes, Downton Abbey is a soap opera. Very good for Public Broadcasting, an institution I support fervently, and for this reason I ask you to watch it with some care and acknowledgement of the real history of the times, support your local public broadcasting station, but don’t ask me to watch it with you.
January 11, 2013
I know that many believe we’re on the wrong planet. There is some compelling evidence. We are destroying the place forest by forest, river by river, desert by desert, mountain by mountain, glacier by glacier and we are filling our air with poisons and gases that will eventually suffocate every living thing. No other animal does this to its home. We suffer from hundreds of diseases and are more and are becoming more allergic to formerly harmless substances. The planet is sending a strong message; go away!
Perhaps we were dropped here, as some sci-fi fantasists have written, for some long forgotten and unknown penal reason. There are those who suppose that the Pyramids and some strange markings in South American deserts are unearthly signs that we come from and will return to our home planet. Our Mother ship should surely come for us one day, but there are few signs that our original civilization gives a toss for its old penal colony.
Something that I feel is a more logical indication of hope, care and maybe a sort of rescue is to be found on the corner of Burnside and 10th Avenue in Portland. Possibly an attempt to distribute the scarce intelligence that had developed on Earth since we were abandoned here so long ago, Powell’s Books does seem to attract humans with open minds and thirst for more than can be found through the other rather gruesome media our cultures have produced. A city block of books; not very big for an interplanetary vehicle, but the contents of this unlikely looking building might do a better job of saving us than any starship rescue fantasy.
January 1, 2013
New Years Day. An approximate calendarial construction. Not like the solstice, which is fixed, planetary, or even galactic. At the instant of the solstice our tired helium warrior begins to find it in himself to regain his former strength. Day by day a few more lingering minutes of faltering illumination bless a darkened landscape. And even if the thermal mood remains frigid and forbidding and the Pacific Ocean extends a somber blanket across our skies, our hearts slowly rise and acknowledge a hope that is always there.
These are days to get through in the Pacific North West. No bright frosty Currier and Ives New England scenes for us; only the dull leaden weight of an aerial ocean hanging always on the verge of falling. We find our path to brighter times, still moist, with games and jokes that acknowledge the drippy truth and point either forward to the dry time or relish the other side of rain. The good side. Our forests, rivers and fields are superlatives of their kind and feed hungrily this dark wet time to stay that way.
I glimpsed our tired warrior today, peering wanly between folds of the suspended ocean looking for his old burning fields. I raised my hand in salute to the force I know that rules my days, though masked and muted a while he will as ever burn us once more.
December 27, 2012
Blogs around this time are full of reflections on the meaning of Christmas, the passage of time, the spirituality of the solstice, and recipes for eggnog. I eschew these subjects for a recollection and question around a much used phrase.
I had not been in the United States very long before I heard new and creative ways to insult someone with whom you may have serious issues. In the fall of 1973 I was working in a bar in Union City NJ. The job required me to dress in a scratchy polyester imitation monk’s habit. My shift started at 7 PM and finished when the place closed at around 2 AM. In those hours I would serve wine, onion soup and cheese platters to the not so sophisticated clientele sitting on hard wooden seats in what pretended to be a monk’s wine cellar; an imitation of an original venture in New York City. Among my rough and ready customers was a rotund red headed American Irishman, Dave. Dave was intrigued with the first Englishman he had ever met in the flesh. He took me under his wing in a strictly unofficial way and introduced me to some fascinating bars on Tonnelle Avenue in Jersey City and North Bergen, and more on Second Avenue in New York City. Chinatown was also part of his introduction to food and much drinking in the NY Metro area and we often ate there around 3.30 AM after my shift. It was only twenty minutes away from the bar via the Holland Tunnel.
It was during our transit to one of these dining experiences that I heard the first of many new to my ears American insults. Dave had a flamboyant driving style that involved a lot of loud shouting to any other driver he judged lacking in his level of skill. Most of this shouting took place in the safety of his car, a beat up Ford Galaxie. On this occasion however he actually rolled down his window to pass on his advice and commentary more clearly to a pedestrian who thought it was safe to cross Canal Street at the same time Dave was using it to get to 21 Mott Street where our favorite restaurant, Hop Kee Club 66, was waiting for us. Dave began the dialogue saying, “Hey, Mother F****r! where in hell are you goin’?” An equally inflammatory response was returned rapidly to which Dave replied, “..and your Mother Sucks Elephants!” in a tone and volume he was sure would clinch the exchange in his favor. I could see that the unlucky pedestrian was genuinely insulted and began walking in a menacing way toward the car to continue the conversation physically. Dave solved this new development by flooring the gas and we shot off toward our dinner. I was mightily interested and over our fried oysters quizzed Dave on the etymology of the phrase. Dave’s command of the English language was sketchy at best and involved a lot of grunting and stock phrases. For example; to express indifference Dave would growl, “The f*** I care!” To show contempt he would hiss “f*****g ass-hole” and so on. And so it took a while to find that the new insult was meant to imply that the receivers Mother was such a low life, such an awful human being, that she would even fellate pachyderms. Over the Moo Goo Gai Pan I also discovered that there were alternate abbreviated forms. E.g. “Ya Motha sucks” and “You suck!” It was obvious to me that this insult should be limited in use to mostly impolite male company, and so it proved.
It was with a shock some twenty years later that I found the phrase, “That Sucks” being used by high school friends of my children, and probably my children too behind my back. Did they know the likely source, the probable etymology of the phrase they used to express not so much a revolting insult but an opinion on unfavorable circumstances? Did they know anything of the pachydermic connection and the deviant, not to mention impossible sexual practice from which this seemingly harmless comment could have been derived?
The Elephants are saying nothing.