Why should an accident of birth determine your right to a decent life? Why should the random fact of your parents’ location give you the possibility of pursuing happiness, the right to life and liberty? What did any US passport holder do to deserve a more privileged life than a Guatemalan or a Honduran for example?
Growing up, my maternal grandfather, Poppa, slept nights in a tent on the smallholding of his parents.
“All through the winters?” I said. (Canterbury, New Zealand has frigid winters.)
“It was a nice tent,” he assured me, “with a wood floor built in.”
During the depression, he was lucky enough to land a job at age 14 as a photo engraver for a daily paper. Lucky again a few years later, he landed a better job in Invercargill – likely the rainiest, most remote provincial city in the world. His girlfriend from Christchurch married him and joined him there, but soon after the birth of their second child, Poppa’s luck changed.
In 1939, dog-faithful New Zealand declared war against Germany from the opposite side of the globe, and soon enough, Poppa found himself in a uniform with the lowly insignia of corporal and shipped off to Egypt. (A British colony provides men to keep Britain’s other colonies in line during the supposed fight against fascism. Go figure.)
Now, if you must contract typhoid fever, as Poppa did, a canny time would be a day or so before your battalion is sent off from Cairo to actual and very deadly battle in Cassino, Italy. Poppa’s health was touch and go for a bit, but luck had his back again. He recovered and spent the duration of the war as a driver for the “muckety-mucks” – officers of the Australian, New Zealand and British forces. He drove across a large swath of Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria and had the time of his life. Recently, a few of his letters home were found, and my cousin kindly transcribed them.
He visited Tel Aviv, “the largest city in Palestine” and his tour guide also took him on “a quick run through the poorest part of Jaffa”, the Palestinian city next to Tel Aviv. “It was hardly a fair comparison,” Poppa wrote, “when one has been built recently and the other dates back to the days of Jonah and his whale.” But another tour guide noticed his curiosity and offered him a stay on a Kibbutz in Nisharot. He was fascinated by the communal eating, childcare and finances, and by the “scientifically fed” fowls.
In Lebanon, he stopped at Baalbek, named for the sun god of the Phoenicians, and marveled at the 400-ton blocks of slave-hauled stone of the Roman temple to Jupiter, which was built on the ruins of the Phoenician temple, and was in turn later partially destroyed by Christians to build their churches.
He swam once in the Dead Sea and frequently in the Mediterranean. In Palestine, he wished he’d been a better bible student.
So the New Zealand country boy who lived in a tent and milked his dad’s cows by hand was yanked by global forces out of his small pocket of contentment — to watch the moon rise over the pyramids from his army tent in Egypt, and milk cows by hand on a Jewish kibbutz in then Palestine.
When the war was over, he returned to Invercargill (he liked that damp, distant city until the day he died), quietly built a photography business, joined Rotary, gardened, and played golf. Generally, Poppa was a conservative man, but I believe that Syria, Lebanon, the Mediterranean, Palestine and Egypt fired his dreams. That involuntary overseas trip gave him experiences he never asked for, but which opened doors in his mind that would otherwise have remained, not only locked, but completely unnoticed.
Poppa returned to the Middle East on a trip with my grandmother in his sixties, and then again to the Mediterranean alone at age 93. Had he not died last year, yesterday would have been his 100th birthday. — What a life, what a world. and how strange the junction of the two.
Expensive gin definitely works better.
Sometimes everything is just a bit much. Stress entwines so silkily amongst your selfness that you hardly notice it’s there. Until you have to cold call someone about an event you love, and find your tongue lolling like a dead sow in your mouth, and your chest has tightened in an unhealthy way, by which I mean in the pre-heart-attack sense of the word. Knock on wood. And you look at your life and your five-page to-do list, and think about your daily schedule, and your knuckles for some reason are still compulsively knocking on your wooden skull, and that state of mind twists another half-turn, moving it from entwining to strangling. And you think – like you are the first person in the whole wondrous wide world to think this: Damn the paleo diet, isn’t this something a gin could help?
And so you have four gins in rapid succession, and you’re like, double damn! Alcohol really is some kind of Carlos Castenada miracle! That would be your first inspired thought. Like wow, man, this feels a LOT better than that there before. But then
you have other thoughts, others perhaps more singular, less shared by the entire drinking public. You might also be less driven to write them down in this state, but at least you have them. Every fiber and sinew is not roping you to the sane world, the workaday world.
It’s not so risky to extol the virtues of alcohol, as compared to cocaine say, or heroin, or crystal meth. But the motivation to use must be the same. Anything to escape the strangulation of *life* with a very, very small “L”. I’m not here to talk about the destructive side effects. I know that a goodly proportion of my friends and forebears have (or should have) foresworn the demon drink because of them, and frankly, I sympathize.
But there are other escapes from the working-Josephine world. One of them is the dream state, which cannot be planned, though personally, I know when to expect it, and I try to prepare for it – turn off the alarm if I don’t have a class to teach, get a notebook and pen ready by the bed. Connected to that is the writing flow state, the joy of all writers, but I have not learned to predict that at all, though large swaths of unscripted time are very conducive.
Thirdly, there is a physical extreme that can transport you to different mental place, whether it be extreme fatigue or illness. Neither of these is comfortable, but what an unexpected ecstasy comes with it! An escape from deadly normality. (See HRH Virginia Woolf’s On Being Ill for a wonderful elaboration on this.)
The final escape state that comes to mind is something I have not fully experienced, that of a religious trance, always occurring in a group situation, often with drums, music and dancing. Sometimes the escapees are said to be “possessed” whether for good or not. I was reminded of it when reading a short story from the collection, Haiti Noir, edited by Edwidge Danticat. At the end of Madison Smartt Bell’s Twenty Dollars, the white guy, Charlie, is envious of the Haitian guy, Magloire, who “was nowhere
behind those eyes”, Charlie thinking, “If only I could see, could be, the face of a living god.” This state was also said to be the initiation (at Bwa Kayiman) of the victorious Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) which eventually made Haiti the first Black republic in this hemisphere.
Good enough reason to celebrate.
Cheers!, Gambay!, Salud! Et cetera!
I am witness this morning to a daily triumph of cultural indoctrination. Products with a list of untested chemical ingredients as long as your arm, not to mention sweeteners that cause massive insulin production and inflammation, are delivered to hospitals by the truckload. Why are the doctors and nurses not picketing the loading docks?
A truckload of Coke products is dropped off at Mt. Sinai’s Fifth Avenue entrance. Meanwhile, Pepsi delivers their diabetes/heart/cancer treatments to Mt. Sinai’s receiving department around the corner.
“Is there a problem?” said some manager guy seeing me take the photo.
“Nah, nothing,” I say. “Just it’s kinda crazy to give soda to sick people.” And I rush off, stuffing my camera in my bag.
The last few days have seen the ripening and falling of the stinky ginko fruit in New York City. In city parks, you’ll see older Chinese men and women collecting them–they tell me they’re after the pit inside, which they cook.
Many U.S. websites warn of the toxic even fatal effects, but clearly these annual ginko collectors know something about it since they’re still alive to tell the tale.
Chinese medicine uses ginko for everything from mental clarity to respiratory and digestive harmony.
Meanwhile, in Germany, mainstream doctors prefer ginko leaf extract over other treatments for dementia.
Central Park at 7:30 am this morning.
One of the oldest tree species, Ginko Biloba is a living link to the age of the dinosaurs. It’s also very beautiful.
Likely a male tree since there’s no fallen fruit. Frederick Douglas Circle NW corner of Central Park.
June 22, 2013
A fine establishment not far from Skippers Canyon, symbolizing my rough ‘n ready online home
- A thousand mile journey begins with a single step…
- A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it…
- So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember
that life’s A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will,
indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you’ll move mountains…
- Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.
Lao Tzu, John Steinbeck, Dr. Seuss, Oscar Wilde
I think that about covers the Hallmark quotations for the day.