Sunday, June 29, 2008

living with rabbits

The girls, Penelope and Calamity, still going strong after eight years.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

I'm very glad we went to the Henry Miller Library when we did. The Gallery Fire is burning all around it, and were it not for the hard work of our overworked fire fighters, it may have already gone up in smoke. Los Padres National Forest has been a blazing inferno for some three weeks now, and the smoke-filled skies are starting to resemble Los Angeles and Fresno. Good time to leave town. (Photo by L of the early Indians Fire)

a society founded on protest

The common ancestor of Barak Obama and Dick Cheney turns out to be a French Huguenot named Duvall or Devau who settled in 17th century Maryland... Interestingly the name Cheney itself is of French origin, but since so many Americans don't know the French word for "oak", they fail to make that connection.

Along similar lines it turns out that billionaire Warren Buffett and tropical crooner Jimmy Buffett are distant cousins, although the former is proudly Huguenot whereas the latter was raised deep in the bayou as a Catholic...

It's time to recognize that the dichotomies "French-English" and "Catholic-Protestant" are at least partly illusory... Scratch an Anglo hard enough and you'll find a Frenchman -- usually a Protestant of Edict of Nantes vintage. And Protestants by definition are ex-Catholics... who the hell else are they protesting against?

Unlike ancestry, nationality can be a conscious choice. Just as millions of people for all kinds of reasons chose to emigrate to America, millions of Huguenots emigrated to England, Switzerland, Holland, South Africa and the U.S. to retain their freedom. The fatal flaw of the French Empire was its "Catholics-only" policy, which of course blew up in its face. In a way the whole Anglo-American enterprise could be construed as payback for that bad policy.

So unlike ancestry but more like nationality, to be Protestant -- that is, to protest the Catholic Church -- is a conscious choice. Yes, it's also the cultural proclivity of northern Europeans, but really any thinking person is free to become Protestant. Conversely when societies "fall asleep" -- that is to say, forget how to reflect because they're too busy procreating, dying, and struggling to survive -- they tend to become subsumed in waves of Catholicism. The modern day U.S. is the prime example of this, with its William F. Buckley conservatism, its deification of law enforcement and military service, and sloppy confusion of church and state. But make no mistake: nothing is farther from the original design of the United States as outlined in the owners manual.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

top 100

A swimming pool has got to be one of my top 100 favorite things... especially when it's over 100 degrees out, and wildfires are raging all over the sun-parched land.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

the Hispanic foods section of Pathmark

It was on one of those humid New York summer days, I believe at the time of my last visit, that I went into the Pathmark supermarket, and while my Mom was busy shopping in some other part of the huge air-conditioned store, I chanced upon the Hispanic foods section at the far end of one of the aisles. All the products in that particular section were Hispanic. I began scrutinizing the labels with fascination, partly to test my Spanish translation skills, and partly to determine their origins, which turned out to be Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. In California most of these kinds of products come up from Mexico, but in New York there is a different pipeline that apparently crosses the ocean. These cans of beans and jars of pimentos seemed to embody the spirit of this east coast Hispanic culture as distinct from that of the west coast; the graphics were similar to and consistent with cans of Bustelo coffee, which may or may not have been on the same aisle -- I don't remember. I do know that the foreignness of these products kept me occupied and entertained for a few minutes, and now, a year later, it remains an obscure and warm memory that lingers on.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

rest in peace, Little Bear

You dropped into our lives, and for a few days we almost got to know you. You weathered all the changes and uncertainties with admirable grace and dignity. In a better world, you would have triumphed.

L assures me that we will see you on the other side, tail wagging, full of stories... Until then, your spirit remains in the air, in our house, in our hearts.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

a tale of two blue-blooded cowboys

Having just finished reading Song of Haiti, I can say that everything I wrote on the subject below holds true, and will only add that Larry and Gwen Mellon were great Americans whose work should be better known and more widely honored... Not merely by the Choate alumnae association, but on the American street, on our stamps and our money. We should all be proud to stand on a hilltop and scream, "at least one over-privileged American did the right thing!"

It's interesting to contrast Larry Mellon with George W. Bush, who was born with a similar set of privileges. Both men were products of wealthy northeastern families; both men were drawn to the rugged simplicity of the western cowboy lifestyle as a sort of antidote to the culture of the northeastern establishment.

But the similarities end there. After fulfilling his cowboy phase, Mellon turned the page, studied tropical medicine, and spent over thirty years improving the lives of the people of Haiti. In addition to building a great hospital, he used his ranching knowledge to build wells and irrigation systems throughout the Artibonite Valley. Bush by contrast more or less grew up a cowboy, then applied a certain brand of cowboy thinking to national and international politics.

It's shocking that Mellon's contributions are not better known. Let's hope that every time someone is crazy enough to want to name an airport or freeway after George W. Bush, it gets named instead after Larimer Mellon, the real national hero.