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Friday, August 01, 2003

“This is the Me-Decade.”

Tom Wolfe –New York Magazine- 1976



Today, 27 years ago; I was visiting Eugene, Oregon, USA. Our party of three: my brother, a friend of ours, and myself had traveled from Seattle, Washington, to meet our cousin, who studied at the University of Oregon. While we were waiting for him to join us for a rendez-vous; I slipped into a bookstore nearby and purchased a book which prompted my current post. The book, still holding the cash receipt of the Lane Community College Bookstore where I bought it; is titled: Contrasts- Essays, short stories, and Poems-. "Contrasts" ; a reader for introductory English, would accompany me for the remainder of our trip which had begun 1 1/2 months earlier in Canada.

The bulk of our stay in Canada was spent picking tobacco in Otterville; near Delhi, Ontario.
Otterville; a speck of civilisation, with its own public swimming pool that saved our life; was situated in the middle of extended farmland. For 5 weeks we had worked for a tough Dutch migrant farmer. The contract and accomodation for our stay in Ontario had been arranged by the Agricultural University of Wageningen, The Netherlands. After an exhaustive period of "limited slavery" during an exceptionally hot season, sustained by 3 hot meals a day, and mostly comatose sleep; paycheck day had finally arrived.

Escorted by our host William VandeVen; we drove to Delhi; the Canadian tobacco capital; where he parked the car right in front of a bank, after which we received our rewards. Delhi, normally a quiet and unassuming little town in the Canadian heartland; excercised a magnetic pull on vagrants, rogue bikers and assorted irregulars in the tobacco season. Most of them were of French Canadian origin, a minority whose services were less sought after by the pan-European agricultural community of Delhi and its hinterland. Earlier our employer had warned us to stay clear off the town until our commitments were done. After our visit to this colonist mirage we could see his point.

A substantial part of our newly acquired, albeit limited riches was spent on a Canadian registered Ford V6; and various supplies. Wasting no time, we packed our gear, and left Otterville behind us. Thus began a journey that would eventually cover 17.000 miles across Canada and the US.

The ensuing experience thoroughly changed my concept of life. I had just graduated from art school; but was unclear which professional adjectives I should pursue. Our travel had introduced us to the Canadian and American cultures, their people, and the vast North American continent. The uncharted course lead us through 24 States, where we were met with great hospitality and openness, by people from every imaginable profession, age, and social background.

Looking back at my resume from the 70s onwards; I can see why 1976 was a crucial and formative year for me. After my return home, my confidence had been boosted. I shaved off my beard, shed my vagabond air, and secured my first job, which provided the spark for my professional career.

Some of the books with accompanied me during my American epic are still in my possession. I looked up “Contrasts” again and made a selection of its contents, which punctuate some of the atmospheres and events that I’ve absorbed; and their aftermath 27 years later.


The She-wolf

She was tall, thin; she had the firm and vigorous breasts of the olive-skinned- and yet she was no longer young; she was pale, as if always plagued by malaria, and in that pallor, two enormous eyes, and fresh red lips which devoured you. In the village they called her the She-wolf, because she never had enough-of anything.
The women made the sign of the cross when they saw her pass, alone as a wild bitch, prowling about suspiciously like a famished wolf; with her red lips she sucked the blood of their sons and husbands in a flash, and pulled them behind her skirt with a single glance of those develish eyes, even if they were before the altar of Saint Agrippina. Fortunately, the She-wolf never went to church, not as Easter, not at Christmas, not to hear Mass, not for confession.- Father Angelino of Saint Mary of Saint Jesus, a true servant of God, had lost his soul on account of her.

Excerpt from THE SHE-WOLF AND OTHER STORIES by Giovanni Verga (1840-1922).
University of California Press



“There are days when everything in the city I live in-the people in the streets, the traffic, trees-awakens in the morning with a strange aspect, the same as always yet unrecognizable. Like the times when you look in the mirror and ask: “Who’s that?” These for me are the loveliest days of the year. On such mornings, whenever I can, I leave the office a little earlier and go into the streets, mingling with the crowd, and I don’t mind staring at all who pass in the very way, I suspect, that some of them look at me, for in truth at these moments, I have a feeling of assurance that makes for another man.
I am convince that I shall obtain from life nothing more precious perhaps than the revelation of how I may stimulate these moments at will. One way of making them longer which I have sometimes found successful is to sit in a new café, glassed-in and bright, and absorb the noise of all the hurry-scurry and the street, the flare of colors and of voices, and the peaceful interior moderating all the tumult.
In only a few years I have suffered keen stabs of disappointment and regret: still, I may say that my most heartfelt prayer is for this peace; this tranquility alone. I am not cut out for storms and struggle: even though there are mornings when I go forth to walk the streets vibrant with life and my stride may be taken for a challenge, I repeat, I ask of life no more than that she let herself be observed.
And yet even this modest pleasure sometimes leaves me with a bitterness which is precisely that of a vice. It wasn’t only yesterday that I realized that in order to live alone one had to exercise cunning with oneself, and only then with others. I envy the people-they are women mostly- who are able to commit a misdeed or an injustice, or merely to indulge a whim, having contrived beforehand a chain of circumstances so as to give their conduct in their own eyes, the appearance of being altogether proper. I do not have serious vices-provided this withdrawal from the struggle from lack of confidence, in search of lone serenity, is not the most serious vice of all-but I do not even know how to handle myself wisely and to hold myself in check when enjoying the little that comes my way.”

Excerpt from SUICIDES – Stories From Modern Italy- by Cesare Pavese
Random House


The dream of a ridiculous man

“I am a ridiculous person. Now they call me a madman. That would be a promotion if it were not that I remain as ridiculous in their eyes as before. But now I do not resent it, they are all dear to me now, even when they laugh at me-and, indeed, it is just then that they are particularly dear to me, I could join in their laughter-not exactly at myself, but through affection for them. If I did not feel so sad as I look at them. Sad because they do not know the truth and I do not know it. Oh, how hard it is to be the only one who knows the truth! But they won’t understand that. No, they won’t understand it.
In old days, I used to be miserable at seeming ridiculous. Not seeming, but being. I have always been ridiculous, and I have known it, perhaps, from the hour I was born. Perhaps from the time I was seven years old I knew I was ridiculous.
Afterwards I went to school, studied at the university, and, do you know, the more I learned, the more thoroughly I understood that I was ridiculous. So that it seemed in the end as though all the sciences I studied at the university existed only to prove and make evident to me as I went more deeply into them that I was ridiculous. It was the same with life as it was with science. With every year the same consciousness of the ridiculous figure I cut in every relation grew and strengthened. Everyone always laughed at me. But not one of them knew or guessed that if there were one man on earth who knew better than anybody else that I was absurd, it was myself, and what I resented most of all was that they did not know that.”

Excerpt from THE DREAM OF A RIDICULOUS MAN – The Thief and Other Stories-by Fjodor Dostojevski


The Cybernetic Age: An Optimist’s view

“What we need is a computer that will tell us where all other computers are leading us. We have computers that make up corporation payrolls, review a nation’s tax returns, diagnose diseases, help design, produce, and market new products, control air and auto traffic, operate bakeries, hire and fire, read and write, learn and teach, and even play Cupid-though fortunately not yet to other computers, just among people. But the ultimate computer that can access the significance of all this has yet to be built and programmed. This task is still left to humans.”

Saturday Review


In Dreams begin responsibilities

“I think it’s the year 1909. I feel as if I were in a movie-picture theater, the long arm of light crossing the darkness and spinning, my eyes fixed upon the scree. It is a silent picture, as an old Biograph one, in which the actors are dressed in ridiculously old-fashioned clothes, and one flash succeeds another with sudden jumps, and the actors, too, seem to jump about, walking too fast. The shots are full of rays and dots, as if it had been raining when the picture was photographed. The light is bad.
It is Sunday afternoon, June 12th 1909, and my father is walking down the quiet streets of Brooklyn on his way to visit my mother. His clothes are newly pressed, and his tie is too tight in his high collar. He jingles the coins in his pocket, thinking of the witty things he will say. I feel as if I had by now relaxed entirely in the soft darkness of the theater; the organist peals out the obvious approximate emotions on which the audience rocks unconsciously. I am anonymous. I have forgotten myself: it is always so when one goes to a movie, it is, as they say, a drug.
My father walks from street to street of trees, lawns and houses, once in a while coming to an avenue on which a streetcar skates and yaws, progressing slowly. The motorman, who has a handle-bar mustache, helps a lady wearing a hat like a feathered bowl onto the car. It is obviously Sunday, for everyone is wearing Sunday clothes and the streetcar’s noises emphasize the quiet of the holiday. (Brooklyn is said to be the city of churches). The shops are closed and their shades drawn but for an occasional stationary store or drugstore with great green balls in the window.
My father has chosen to take this long walk because he likes to walk and think. He thinks about himself in the future and so arrives at the place he is to visit in a mild state of exaltation. He pays no attention to the houses he is passing, in which the Sunday dinner is being eaten, nor to the many trees which line each street, now coming to their full green and the time when they will enclose the whole street in leafy shadow. An occasional carriage passes, the horses’ hooves falling like stones in the quiet afternoon, and once in a while a quiet automobile, looking like an enormous upholstered sofa, puffs and passes.
My father thinks of my mother, of how lady-like she is, and of the pride which will be his when he introduces her to his family. They are not yet engaged and he is not yet sure that he loves my mother, so that, once in a while, he becomes panicky about the bond already established. But then he reassures himself by thinking of the big men he admires who are married: William Randolph Hearst and William Howard Taft, who has just become the President of the United States.”

Excerpt from IN DREAMS BEGIN RESPONSIBILITIES – The World is a Wedding-by Delmore Schwartz
New Directions Publishing Corporation


The Judgement

“In the writings which preface the Law that particular delusion is described thus: before the Law stands a doorkeeper. To this doorkeeper there comes a man from the country who begs for admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he cannot admit the man at the moment. The man, on reflection, asks if he will be allowed, then, to enter later. “its is possible,” answers the doorkeeper, “but not at this moment.” Since the door leading to the Law stands open as ususal and the doorkeeper steps to one side, the man bends down to peer through the entrance. When the doorkeeper sees that, he laughs and says: ”If you are so strongly tempted, try to get in without my permission. But note that I am powerful. And I am only the lowest doorkeeper. From hall to hall, doorkeepers stand at every door, one more powerful than the other. And the sight of the third man is already more than even I can stand.” These are difficulties which the man from the country ha s not expected to meet, the Law, he thinks, should be accessible to every man and at all times, but when he looks more closely at the doorkeeper in his furred robe, with his huge pointed nose and long thin Tartar beard. He decides that he had better wait until he gets permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at the side of the door. There he sits waiting for days and years.”

An excerpt from THE JUDGEMENT –The Trial- by Franz Kafka
Alfred. A. Knopf


The lake isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin built there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There’s midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening is full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavement gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

THE LAKE ISLE OF INNISFREE –Collected Poems- by W.B.Yeats


All excerpts from – CONTRASTS Essays, Short Stories and Poems - by Dennis DeNitto and Daniel J.Leary © 1969 MacMillan


posted by Walter at 8/01/2003

Tuesday, July 29, 2003



“I am so old; my bloodgroup has been discontinued.”

Bob Hope

“It’s hard for me to imagine a world without Bob Hope in it.”

Woody Allen


After the final departure of an Eltham native son; a flashback from the Greenwich2000 website:

A Brief History of The Bob Hope Theatre (Eltham, England)

Eltham Little Theatre (now The Bob Hope Theatre) was formed on 12th November 1943 to promote drama, music and allied arts in Eltham and its immediate vicinity.

During the early years it was without a permanent home but early in 1946, by arrangement with the Parochial Church Council, ELT found a home in Eltham Parish Hall (the current Theatre) on an annual lease basis.

In May 1946 Eltham Little Theatre was registered as a Company, limited by guarantee. The first production, "Hedda Gabler", was staged by an affiliated society, The Kerwin Players, in 1946.

During the period from 1946 to 1950 there were some 600 individual members and 25 affiliated societies, and a production was staged every other weekend throughout the season.

The Theatre's management endeavoured to purchase the building. However, in 1957 it became clear that the asking price was beyond reach despite constant fund-raising efforts.

By 1979 funds were low. The Theatre membership was almost resigned to closure. The lease was not renewed, the premises were up for sale........

.......and then Bob Hope stepped in !!




posted by Walter at 7/29/2003

Sunday, July 27, 2003

“Life has a practice of living you, if you don’t live it.”

Philip Larkin


"Philip Larkin was not an inescapable presence in America, as he was in England; and to some extent you can see America's point. His Englishness was so desolate and inhospitable that even the English were scandalised by it.Certainly, you won't find his work on the Personal Growth or Self-Improvement shelves in your local bookstore. "Get out as early as you can," as he once put it."And don't have any kids yourself."

-Martin Amis, discussing Philip Larkin in the year of Larkin’s death (1985)



Last Saturday night I watched the BBC drama “Love Again”; an adaptation of the last 30 years of the life of Philip Larkin (1922-1985); renowned British poet, Jazz critic, and librarian at Hull University.

Larkin’s life was permeated by a deep sense of existential ennui and emotional dualism, coupled with a grim, non-sentimental observation of human solitude. Larkin’s (the misogynist) personal life; portrayed in the film as cyclic and uneventful, is mirrored by four women who shaped his emotional sounding board: his bewailing, but inspirational mother Eva; and three other muses: Monica Jones; a fellow lecturer who was instrumental to his first collection of poems, Maeve Brennan, his library assistant; and Betty Mackereth, his secretary.

Actor Hugh Bonneville’s representation of Philip Larkin is both monumental and aloof. He portrays a man unable to commit to personal relationships; intermittently blunt and starved for recognition, yet deeply averse to social compromise. The BBC adaptation though focuses mainly on his personal relationships, and only skims the surface of Larkin’s complex, reactionary personality, which is still being debated across the literary spectre to date.

Philip Larkin distilled quintessential human insights both from an apparently dreary position as a University librarian in Hull, as from his strained and exploitative relationships with three women in his life. Later in his career his poetry hit a popular mark, being immense readable without becoming populist. Larkin was a prolific writer of letters, but hardly so as a poet; during his entire life he produced a mere 4 volumes of poetry

“Love Again” is the first in a BBC series of three films which will continue with a two-part drama about Byron, starring Johnny Lee Miller, and a film about Samuel Pepys.


“You know I was never a child: my life begins at 21, or 31 more likely.”

The quote above defines Philip Larkin, the crypto-misantropist; in a letter to his friend Anthony Thwaite. It precedes the sarcastical and uncompromising tone in one of his crucial poems, featured below. Followed by an “epilogue” that summons the fate of any man.



They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

Philip Larkin



This is the first thing
I have understood:
Time is the echo of an axe
Within a wood.

Philip Larkin


posted by Walter at 7/27/2003