Monday, December 13, 2010

An Epistolary Essay in Defense of Sorrow

         
Dear Professor of Chemistry and Distinguished Physician,
    Dear Claude and John, I feel I must babble some sort of response to your recent concern for me, your devoted old friend who poses as a critic of whatever crosses his mind. We must be off on a stroll, three old “doctors,” hand in hand, talking of many things. Which of you is the Walrus and which the Carpenter I must leave you to decide, but I am stuck in the formula as the simple old oyster: ready to comment on your shoes and ships and sealing wax…  nothing on your cabbages and only a touch or two on a king.
     Is it possible to write to you as in a letter like this and make it do double-duty as a column to blog on The Bouldercreek Angler? We shall see.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

IN MEMORIUM




 Upon the Sudden Death in the Night
 on a Road near Saratoga, Wyoming
on September 3, 2010

 of

 Adrian Bantjes
Distinguished
   Professor of History
   And Historian of Angling
at
 The University of Wyoming

He who learns must suffer.
And even in our sleep,
pain that cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
and in our despair, against our will,
comes wisdom to us
by the awful grace of god.
Aeschylus
Agamemnon  l.179ff
Edith Hamilton, translator

He was my friend and colleague



Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Critique of American Fly Fishing in Two Parts


      
                                PART I
                                    IN THE BEGINNING           
    In the beginning, in colonial America, in that agrarian, rural community, where fauna were still in balance with flora and both reconciled to the vagaries of local geologies and climates, there had to have been an idyllic landscape that offered those early Americans a marvelous promise of fish and game-- of both sport and provender.
    The good and beautiful earth lay at almost every doorstep, easier for those early folks to enter upon than for us today to drive down town.
     And that is what has become of us. We are all down town in the center of things most all the time and doing quite nicely, thank you.
    But, back then, in that once upon a time, fishing was close to home, by foot or by horseback, and intimately connected to the household economy. And it was free.
    A new politics and a new economy in a new land appeared to promise that freedom of access and supply of nature’s bounty in perpetuity. There was no need to hurry and so the technology of the field sports developed but slowly. A solid wood fishing rod with a fixed horsehair line was more than adequate; and two open barrels, side by side with hammer locks, did nicely on bird or beast.
     Once upon a time, in order to enjoy, have success, and advance in the sport, fishermen went fishing close to home, usually for a few hours only. They went casually, and at little expense. A journey to a remote camp in  the  woods was a considerable undertaking and rare.
     Today, our angler regularly finds himself in the air or for days on the road, on the way to distant, often exotic territories to find the same satisfactions, and accomplishment he used to get at home-- now with a new sense of urgency if not anxiety.
     Urbanization is the great villain and moving force fueling this shift. The city has drawn our anglers into its service and some might say “bondage”. It has forced  “nature” and its pleasures farther and farther a-field and kept us in our offices. Kept us starved for fishing.
    So, what have we done? In our hours off, we have joined clubs, certainly Trout Unlimited. We have read the magazines and doted on the videos, in those hours stolen from the urban machine. A bit of “virtual” angling must often suffice.
    Then comes what once was called  “vacation”, today more flexible, less formal than the locked-in conventional two weeks of Julys-past when there were no cell phones or texting, to keep the job vibrating or ringing in our pockets. In any case, there still is time to get away and fish. Half an hour on the computer sets us up with destination and transportation. And off we go to a week in Alaska, or, as I do in my dreams, off to The Rio Grande in Patagonia. We pretty much bet our fishing season on those few days away.
   Where in the past, fishing was more relaxed and easy- going, now it is marked  by a sense of urgency. Angling success becomes urgently necessary in a new, less forgiving, way.
    The dark side of all this is to increase the expense of it. The fishing is no longer free: it costs. Sometimes a lot.  The water is likely to be private and  privileged as once it was for an aristocratically wealthy few. The rest of us have always had to depend on  free and public waters. We have been the undecorated anglers who en masse have paid the bill and kept the sport alive.
   This  en masse, we, the  anglers of the working day, since the burst in popularity of fly fishing in the mid 1980s, have enjoyed more disposable income for recreation and developed keen interest in issues of the environment. And today we are wetting our waders in the finest rivers and lakes in the world, right  along with our aristocratically wealthy betters of  the older tradition.
    And so our fishing has been transformed in our time. It has been driven by an historic irony that what we have always loved, we could readily get at home, we now chase quite cheerfully half way round the world to find it.
    Nor do we do it alone. The adventure to new and uncharted fishing, with the least possible chance of failure, requires help. And so here comes a key factor in the revolution that has overtaken our angling:  The Guide.


                                             PART II
                AND THEN THERE WAS THE GUIDE
    The meteoric rise of the Guide finds us caught in another vexing irony: that now it requires two people to catch any  given trout-- where once we did  it alone, by ourselves, and solitary. Now we do it in the company of an assistant, an instructor, a protector, caterer, and a boss.
     The angler who at one time we looked upon as a self-sufficient, internal sort of person, we now find transformed into a pupil, dependent upon a guide for instruction, landing his fish, selecting his flies, providing safety, lunch, and the conventional conversation of  the facilitator, of one who is paid to be always encouraging. His conversation becomes a lingua franca-- or guide-talk.
    Guides are an interesting lot. They are more often than not, superior young men and women, smart and capable of deep feeling, even delicacy of feeling.  But, their conversation in the service of their profession, made of current slang, and excessive effusion, grows automatic and repetitive,They feel they must keep the client’s spirits buoyed up at all costs. It’s guide-talk talking.
   Guides are often young men and women who have chucked the values of the middle class, what they call the “rat race”, and are content to live quite simply, on not much of a yearly income-- just as long as they can be allowed to fish! Fish a lot.
   They may have had a bit of college, but not enough to spoil their innocense. Instead they tie the finest flies the world has ever seen, cast the farthest, and achieve supremacy in every one of the delicacies that attend on angling skill and gear.
    They live the life that the rest of us dare not. But they depend upon us for alms. Their culture-hero is that unhappy man Thoreau in his shack by Walden Pond.  Their ideology is an uncritical devotion to Catch and Release. All of them were born under the star of Trout Unlimited. They tend to agree with each other on most every issue and so tend to sound alike, think alike, and dress alike-- always on the youthful side of maturity.
     As an occupational class, they tend to identify first with the owners of the water, then the fly shops, and lastly with the fish. The fee-paying client becomes their necessary suppliant.
    Out on the water, the guide becomes the one who “knows” and therefore is the one who “decides”-- and later, back in camp,  it is the guide who most vividly  establishes the  narrative of the day and reports on it. His narrative will often be exploited as an advertisement for his  boss, the owner.
    The guide’s reports are devoured by angling media  and become an extension of it. This becomes the stuff on which the virtual angler feeds.  He becomes a consumer of a product as commercial as any other. The client is voracious, always wanting more of the same and always something  new. He pays and so must be fed.
    Sport has indeed become an industry, business.
   In the end, it is the language of angling that suffers. The distinguished literature of angling takes a drubbing as it becomes amorphous, repetitive, and commercial.
    What is lacking is big personality and a clear voice. Before this contemporary rise in the popularity of angling and all the attendant writing about it, it was not difficult to tell the difference between the writing of giants like Ted Trueblood and Ray Bergman. Both wrote about the same subject, but with a nuanced tracing of personality, imagination, and sensibility that is the hallmark that separates literature from mere word-grubbing. I believe it fair to conclude that the guides as a professional class have absconded with the literature of angling and have made it their own. Our language has been made to pay.
                                                  ~~~
    At a book signing, once, I heard John Gierach say that for him it was the writing that came first and was most important. Then came the fish and the fishing.  Such is the primal way: first an irresistible need and craving to speak and only then to cast about for a congenial subject matter-- like angling.  Were I not writing this essay about fishing, I would surely he haranguing you about something else.
   






Friday, November 12, 2010

A Test Blog with a Piscatorial Musing



    If you are a subscriber to my blog, I wonder if you received an email alerting you to this trial posting…. In other words, is the system working for you?
     In order that this posting not be altogether without substance, let me report that recently I over-heard Piscator saying to Venator:

   “Contemporary fly tying is ingenious to a fault and superbly skilled: in these respects it has never been equaled. But the new generation of flies,” he said, “are rarely beautiful-- in the old, aesthetic and traditional way of flies.” He went on to say that there can be no doubt but that the new flies are more effective in the water than the older, now antique dressings. But, he sees the new flies as a drab and faintly melancholy spectacle with even duller names. Few if any would he want to rush home to duplicate. He would have to look long and hard to find that rare one, which might be for him like the poet Yeats’s yellow-haired girl whom only God could love for herself alone and not her yellow hair.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Male and Female Created He Them




                     
                    Hamlet and Lisbeth
                                        Caveat
    Whether or not you have read Shakespeare’s Hamlet, you know the character, the man. Hamlet lives in our blood stream. We have all, in one way or another had to cope with his disruptions of our lives. We can’t avoid him; he’s everywhere. He has been elemental on the Periodic Table of our thought since Shakespeare discovered him. Now we have discovered his shadow, Lisbeth.
    You may or may not have read the sensational three Swedish novels about crime and attendant horrors by the late Stieg Larsson and so may want to dodge this diatribe in which I propose to compare and contrast Hamlet with Larsson’s main character, Lisbeth Salander. To know one is, I think, to know the other.
   Like Hamlet, Lisbeth, is also out there among us. Be warned.
                              ~

   As in electricity, there is no value assessment attributed to  the factors, positive and negative, there should be no such values attributed to my suggestion that Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander is the post-modern negative of the early-modern positive Hamlet.  They are opposite sides of the same narrative coin.  Hamlet came first on the waves of a new era:  Lisbeth at the end of one, of what many feel are dark, angry days on the verge of socio-cultural recession. Both these powerful characters are structural markings of our literature and subject of our endless, if lurid, fascination-- and dreaming.
   I should like to suggest a fist-full of comparative qualities that these two important figures of our imagination define. I wish to offer some bit of support for my free-swinging assertion.
                               ~
 ~Hamlet and Lisbeth are preeminently models of the  alienation of young people. One a prince, the other a nobody-- and both Nordic.
 ~Each is a kind of dream-life for the reader-- the same set of dreams over and over again.
 ~The dream of Hamlet is the old dream of the perfection of brilliant, clear youth and all its entitlements.
 ~The dream of Lisbeth Salander is also the old dream, the panic-dream of the dark, dangerous female side of things, the diamond-carbon brilliance of her funereal persona in a minimalist body-- and our frightened male’s attraction to it.
 ~ Both of these “moderns” are badly injured in their life-experience.
 ~ Both emerge from dangerous, unwholesome family circumstances.
  ~Each dreams of  a father, a  father who is playing havoc in their lives.
  ~Hamlet dreams of a great father who appears to demand his self-destruction.
   ~Salander dreams of a monster-father on the prowl to kill her.
   ~Both want to love and be loved, but they cannot trust in it.
   ~And so both become “ironists”. They see the world as a ghastly system of ironies.
   ~They are expert in their particular “modern” technologies: Hamlet in his revolutionary university ideas, Salander as a past-master of the computer and all its extra-legal resources.
   ~ Hamlet has “connections” outside Denmark at the university at Wittenberg; Lisbeth belongs to an international underground of powerful underworld  hackers.
    ~Both are intellectuals on the razor’s edge of their times.
    ~Whatever else they are, both are brilliant.
    ~Both have a “global” consciousness and are at home nowhere.  They are sojourners in the poisonous environments that they once called home.
    ~They know every thing that’s to be known. They know our secrets.
   ~ Each lives in emotional turmoil.
    ~Unimaginably terrible things dog their every step.
    ~Both are cruel and ready for any violence.
    ~Sexual violence is one of them.
    ~They are killers.
    ~They hate categorically, each in his/her own new way.
    ~They are solaced by their crimes.
   ~ By definition, they are vengeful. They prowl about looking for revenge.
    ~They feel that they are at the center of things and appointed “to set it right” with their rough justice.
  ~ The madness attributed to them becomes a real possibility. Madness as strategy, or therapy.
     
                                        ~
     In the end, both Hamlet and Lisbeth Salander work a sort of salvation, a transformation of the horror  of their circumstances.  Hamlet will be “saved” and given new life by his  narrative, the  “story of Hamlet” that  Horatio will  live to tell to the ages.  Salander will live on in her money, on her stiletto heels and under a blonde wig-- in the millions upon millions of kronor she has stolen from an exposed criminal corporate giant she has destroyed, now a suicide.  It is a two-headed coin. Either way we win, with a good story or with the cash.
    But night or day, big or little, they are much the same character. Too dangerous to mess  with. How interesting it is that we are so drawn to them both and yet would find living with either of them unbearable.
                                                                           


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Wagnerism of Recent Note



A report on the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Wagner’s
Das Rheingold, simulcast in high definition to the Cinemark Theatre 
at  Boulder,Colorado on 10/10/10-- 
by Gordon M. Wickstrom who…

   who has lived his life under the spell of this music and this drama, who has collected this stuff throughout the history of his imagination, and has lived to see this day.
   I was more than moved by what I experienced. I was shaken. I am not one to encourage crying: I leave that to television’s evening news. But this production came as close as I want to come to tears-- of joy.
   That great ending, when the gods cross over into Valhalla over the rainbow bridge, the staging of which failed to work on opening night last month (9/27), worked flawlessly yesterday afternoon. I think I have never witnessed a finer effect on any stage anywhere. One could only gasp at the daring and the magic of it. My wife grabbed at me.
    The dangerous mechanics of that wondrous setting: it was not an environment in the ordinary sense of stage scenery, but a machine for acting. It was a machine for our time.
    And there was James Levine getting that great and glorious sound out of that great orchestra, and he grown so frail and physically diminished by his recent surgeries! And those singers, busting a gut, for us, risking everything on that next note, that next phrase, coming at us straight on! One might call the afternoon a perfect riot of superb bass and base-baritone singing, all those accomplished men pouring it out. I have heard many of the great German Alberichs and have admired them immensely. But this American guy, Eric Owens, was phenomenally effective and persuasive.
   I put that word “guy” in italics because that’s what these people were, all regular “guys” for the working day, on a big job of work. Singing Wagner with what feels to me an American clarity and directness. It made me flush with pride. No “Bayreuth barking” here.
   And as if this were not enough, we have a new Wotan on our hands, to rival the international master of the role, James Morris, who must all too soon pass it on to the likes of this young Welshman, Bryn Terfel.
   It has always seemed to me that, after the brilliant orchestral introduction to the opera, the action opens only to drag on too long with the Rheinmaidens (or “dotters”) teasing poor Alberich about what must be his erection, hidden in that costume, and then about the gold itself. But not yesterday, not with these three Rheinmaidens, who were captivating, clever, intelligent and, again, with what I want to call that American clarity, vitality, and precision of voice-- and high  spirits.
   In fact, I want to say that there was a peculiar high spiritedness throughout the production, a certain “lift” and lightness of heart amid the most dire of existential circumstances. Call it “tragic joy”.
   I will never admit and always deny it, but I suspect that it is the very technology of this satellite performance that must contribute hugely to this extraordinary accomplishment.
   This mode of performance, electronic as it may be, manifests a new kind of audience, one readier for the intimacies of acting and singing, an audience who is let in on the  secrets of  production,
   I have always argued for the traditional decorums of performance. I have resisted the contemporary urge to demystify art. I have wanted to preserve, especially in the opera, its glamour, its ceremony, its privileges, and secrets. But I give up. I realize now that I have lived to experience the secularization, the improvisation, the democratization of the opera. I am now all too glad to be let in on the secrets, to see back stage, and to see what I knew all along, that it was not a mystery after all, but hard, hard work accomplished with an efficiency and dedication that is breath-taking.
   I understand now what made the traditional ceremony of opera possible. It was hard-working men and women, all the technical staff and support people, all the singers, even those acrobats who doubled the singers in Rheingold
   If the Met radio broadcasts, beginning in 1940, were the start of this secularization, it must be these HD transmissions to movie theatres everywhere that are accomplishing this cultural transformation. (There are those who feel that these transmissions take a toll on the production’s effectiveness in the theatre. One major reviewer suggests that the production was cast with lighter, inadequate voices in order to record them “easier”. )
    In any case, I am awed with admiration for those hundreds of men and women who worked at such a high level of accomplishment, all of it entirely “hand made”, depending on those theatre workers doing their jobs faithfully and precisely. I get so proud of it that I want to burst. I feel personally involved with them and what they are doing-- and don’t forget: it’s IN REAL TIME,  at the instant that I’m watching them.  Just think! And then wipe the dazzle from your eyes.
   This Rheingold reminds us of the meaning of work, of making something by hand, and for the first time, and knowing that it will have a continuing life in a community as a proclamation of its profoundest values.
    At the curtain-call, as those singers came forward to take their bows, there was gaiety on that stage, a sign of the oneness of performer and audience, of their having been somewhere together that afternoon, where their shared humanity reached its fullness-- in spite of everything. These best of workers for the working day had achieved something greater than any one of them, something in the total service of music and theatre that ennobles us all. Then, after their bows and getting out of costume, they could go out for a good dinner.
    Before this, back in the 80s, I had a seat in the house in New York for the complete Ring Cycle, the Otto Schenk ravishing “naturalistic” cycle. Levine was there, back then, working the pit, making music, and making me hold my breath with that exaltation peculiar to Wagnerites. Sometimes we are chided for our enthusiasm. But, look what we got yesterday: we got this stunning electronic transmission of Das Rheingold to our own local movie palace, live! It was not the old and dear ceremony of opera, but something else, not a substitute for the “real thing”, but a new thing in art and life. I, for one, welcome it.


ADDENDUM
    This production was haunted. A spook out of the Met’s Golden Age haunted the stage as Froh, and calling himself  Adam Diegel . But  we know better: this guy  is actually the re-incarnation of  the youthful Lauritz Melchior, whom, I bet, we will  one  day soon hear as Siegfried himself,  when he will  remove  the breast-plate of  the sleeping Brunhilde and  sing  out in  consternation, maybe  the funniest  line in all opera, “Das ist kein Mench!”

Monday, September 20, 2010

Walking North with Walton


    Driving the Peloponnese in Greece some years ago, through the countryside of Arcadia-- where myth and tradition locate the Golden Age of pastoral perfection-- I looked everywhere for an Arkadian landscape where shepherds and shepherdesses might tend their flocks under endlessly blue skies, in endless leisure, along crystal brooks, singing their songs of love and peace, with strife and greed unknown, and every need effortlessly satisfied. But I could not find it.
   More recently, turning back to Izaak Walton's Compleat Angler, I thought again of his miles-long walk north out of London to Tottenham and on toward Ware along his beloved River Lea to fish the lovely spotted brown trout and possibly share the day with an agreeable companion. When I think how that great old royalist man of letters and affairs urges me, his reader, to take up my bed and walk out to a country-side of lovely little rivers, gentle fields, intimate village inns, and charming country folk, removed from every anxiety, greed, and resentment; when I understand that he offers me that perfection of the rural life in contrast to the system he so vehemently opposes: the monstrosity of London's mercantilism-- to which he was himself a hardware merchant in Fleet Street-- I just cannot do it. 
   In our terrible times, invited as we are to every tea party, we can’t but see the world through a different system of lenses from those of the pastoral. We think we see more clearly, if bitterly, and are disabused of Arcadian and  Waltonian idealisms.
    Thing  is, I suspect that the poets of Arcadian perfection from Virgil to Walton himself knew well enough that the pastoral ideal of Greek myth and of rural Old England were just that: ideals only. But, then, an ideal is never only an ideal.
   Ideals have life and energy of their own. They can live powerfully inside us. They can cause us to try to live in certain ways.
   If Izaak Walton's ideal or idea of pastoral angling on the Lea or on the Dove in Derbyshire never quite existed, it surely lived inside his head and heart as it can do in ours -- if we can get it there.
   How do we get it? I've not seen it for sale in any fly shop. We may, however, be able to catch it, like a virus, from another angler who has it, as that fellow Venator caught it from Walton himself in the Compleat Angler. Or maybe it will rub off from its archetypal memory in art of all kinds. Maybe we are smart enough to invent it for ourselves out of the combination of deep memory and experience. Perhaps we can dream it.
   This idea, once locked in, completes us as angler-- the compleat angler whom Walton called “contemplative.” After we have acquired every item of tackle, every angling skill imaginable, this idea, this ideal, calls us to try to live without greed and avarice, or morbid striving-- a life in harmony with the ideal landscape of the stream itself. A place to be quiet and grateful-- and as Walton added, to “go a-angling,” and "study to be quiet."
   If this ideal were just that, only an ideal, a literary construct from the imaginatively engaged Walton, if it never did and never will precisely exist, if there are no landscapes of that perfection, if it was all a matter of Walton's all-creating artistic and social dreaming, it was for him, nevertheless, an instrument of his moral and psychological salvation. How terribly urgent, then, it must it be for us now, in our awful predicament, to imagine that ideal as powerfully as we can, and act it out. We need rescue of some sort.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

GUNS


                                  
                       I Sing of Arms and the Man
                                               Virgil,  The Aeneid



    My daughters grew up upon the assumption of guns in the house. They had eaten more wild meat than maybe any school teacher’s kids should have to. And they grew up to want to fire their father’s guns-- and their children too-- in order to know what it’s like and how to be safe with them.
    Now, here comes one of them back from scouting theatres in Palestine and Israel appalled, if not exactly frightened, by the armament she had to face and walk through everywhere. And so now she turns the tables on me and asks something like, “So what do you think of guns now!?
    I let the question pass, held my peace, until now when I can think about what I think of guns. 
                                               ~
    First of all, I like guns. Good guns are beautiful, their mechanisms highly satisfying to operate. I like the smell, the heft, the sound, and the care they require. I like that sense of reaching out so precisely and far with bullet or shot. I own only two guns but want more; for instance, a pistol. But I could never afford guns and fine fishing tackle both. You surmise how I chose.
    And I should admit right up front that I was never a good shot; in fact, it has been a long-running joke among my hunting companions-- and my wife-- that I was apt to stumble-bum along and miss even easy shots.
    But I loved it. Everything about it, even the grief and admiration for the creature I killed. I loved the ceremony of it all. And I have admired the splendid skills that the expert brings to his shooting bench. But it is essential to add that gun and hunting culture has been on a steady decline toward decadence and sheer violence, some of which is, I’m certain, a price we pay for our militarism. I despise it.
    But, I hold myself to be still under oath to kill enemy people in defense of my nation. I swore that oath, long ago and no one has ever released me from it.  So, I am ready to kill people in that defense yet today. I kill, and that is the problem.
                                                  ~
                                  
     In this matter of gun ownership and use, I don’t want to hear talk of the Second Amendment. I don’t give a damn about all that. Why, in something so fundamental to my experience, so essential to my self-definition, should I care what those Founders thought about guns! As though they ever agreed on much of anything anyway. Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton; et al, yes, even old Washington, each had his own bundle of ideas. They often differed violently with each other and were ready to call each other the vilest of names-- but in the end they accomplished a monument of compromise, of give and take, of rational, enlightened intelligence, to settle on a Constitution that none of them much liked but thought might just work-- and it did. And it has, with cultivation, weeding, and enriching along the way of its history, worked wonders.
    More than the product of their compromise, it is the process of it and the Founders ability to co-operate that should inspire us today. We must envy their education and their discipline and come to a compromise on what to do about guns in our society.
   Rather than doting on the Second Amendment we ought to consider who we are, what we are, we who own and bear arms. The answer lies in anthropology and genetics, not in judicial definitions and decisions. It is not a matter of what a person is allowed to do, but of what a person does, and must have done in the earliest experience of his humanity-- as he stumbled out of Africa carrying fire, flint, and spear.
    I believe that my native human condition is intimately involved with weapons and is genetic.
    I am taken with projectiles of all sorts: bullets, shot, arrows, spears, rocks, apples, fly lines, foot balls, snow balls and base balls-- you name it.  And with their systems of delivery, even a water pistol, potato gun, and my favorite sling shot. As a human being, I have been in love with projecting projectiles. How elegant and beautiful they can be! They can be joyful.
    As a human being, in my genes, I have taken up arms to satisfy my family’s hunger, as well as against the common enemies of man. And I have seen them transmuted into sport and the matter of art.
                         Sing, Arms and the Man!
                                       ~

    Shall we, then, lose our right to bear arms? I think not: bearing them lies too deep in our nature ever to be cut out by any legal or legislative action. But, at the same time, we know and understand that something must be done about all these guns. There are simply too many of them in the hands of exploding populations. Too many of us are too poor and broken. Too many are crippled in family life, soused in TV horror, and these random, presidential wars. We are full of the hatreds of race. 
    There are simply too many guns of the wrong kind among us to stand the strains of our society. They are too easily got, too cheaply bought in the free market we so espouse. Many of them are technically advanced far beyond the needs of ordinary killing-- ugly, brutalist things, good only for murder. Who would want an AK47? --these weapons that have so degenerated into a monstrous companionship with drugs and their  international, criminal traffic!
    The more I write, the farther I feel from the Founders, and Amendment #2. 
                                              ~

    Still, I feel at home in the often shocking violence in literary and dramatic art. I believe knowledge of it to be indispensable to a full human life. I think of Virgil’s Aeneas carrying his father on his back, away from the destruction of Troy. I think of my fingers in Gloucester’s bleeding eye sockets. Or the hands in the current film, Winter’s Bone.
    At the same time I remember those old folks of mine, killing their way out of Africa, but marking their passage with the graves of their dead, left behind with ever more ceremony, until the ceremony of death became the sublimity of art.
    And so, faithful to them and given who we are, I am not willing, in these latter days, to renounce that legacy of arms in the name of any popular, soft-edged sentimentalism. After all, it is the epigraphical violence of our species, recorded in art, with which I have honed my mind and which in the end, defines and comforts me:
            a killer, bearing arms, not by law, but by nature.
    I am utterly opposed to any effort to disarm me. I’m dead set against any court’s attempt to denature the human being in this way.  But I am ready to be reach compromise-- as did the Founders-- and be controlled in my ownership and use of those arms. Just how, I don’t know. I leave it to younger, more flexible minds.
    But, if I am by definition an armed killer, something must be done. I want us to proceed to discussion and debate based on a right definition of what the human animal is-- and in a merciful spirit and clean politics.
    How is my killing properly and humanely to be constrained?  I’m ready to talk-- but not with judges and lawyers in the room, talking Constitutional law at me. I want us to think of our old folks who walked day by day after day out of Africa, improvising their growing humanity, day by day, hoping one day to live safely and at peace, a time to turn their arms to sport and their killing to art.                 









Saturday, July 31, 2010

Last Night, July 30, at Chautauqua



               

   Something happened up at Chautauqua last night.
   There was a break-through-- under all that magnificent timbering. I thought I heard a new orchestra and a new music.
    It seemed to me a break-through into a maturity and authority and capacity for greatness that I have not fully experienced before, and it was for Wagner’s Tristan and Ring with soprano Jane Eaglen, Of course, it might just have been me and my enthusiasm for this music. I was loaded for bear, I admit. But, for me this was one of the finest moments among all the fine moments I have known in Boulder, since I was first taken to Chautauqua, new-born, back in ‘26.
    Conductor Michael Christie, was out of the body as he built, phrased, and defined that great music. He was beautiful in ways he could not himself know, unable, like us, to see himself at work. His ability to sustain himself and his orchestra in so huge a work is remarkable. He is an authorized Wagnerian now--  and one of note.
    Like many others, I went worrying about Jane Eaglen and her Isolde and Brunhilde. But I ought not to have. She was grand, thrilling, in generous control of the music, the hall, and us in the audience. It was fine to see her looking superb and to hear her.  Those big moments that she and Christie built up out of the orchestra and her heroic voice knocked me right up out of my seat.
   I have always wanted to be, in Bernard Shaw’s phrase,  “the Perfect Wagnerite”. And last night I came to my Wagner and heard him fresh, true, immensely powerful and intelligent-- almost with the thrill of that first time so long ago when I heard Flagstad and Melchior with Toscanini beating time.
    And to think we otherwise might not have this magnificent thing, this orchestra, but for the great old Chautauqua hall standing there since 1898, a hall of such acoustic and architectural perfection. Just think! And but for the enlightened vision of the City of Boulder it might have been “scraped off” and we not have this superb Wagnerian orchestra.
   So, I have to tell you that it was some evening of concert-going last night! And now the season must end come Friday with Mahler’s Fifth.
Come one, come all! I know the best seat in the house, but I’m not telling.


   

Sunday, July 25, 2010

That Medallion, there

    There’s that medallion, that logo, that trade-mark, to our left, alongside this article. My esteemed editor, Bob Wells, at Boulder Reporter, stuck it there. I worry that it might puzzle you; so let me explain.
    Three years ago I began to feel that, in order to go on writing this stuff with any semblance of authority and then send it out all over the known world, as a sort of amateur, faux company producing texts of various sorts, I would need a “sign”, a logo by which to be identified. So, with a light heart, I set out to invent one.
    The first element to suggest itself was that fly-- I had tied it and my friend and designer Michael Signorella scanned it nicely. Not just any fly, but a Wickham’s Fancy, a famed dressing devised by the distinguished Dr.T.C. Wickham, an early member of London’s Flyfishers’ Club, who had established the first syndicate of anglers on the famous River Test at Houghton in 1875.
    A Wickham’s Fancy was the first fly that, as a school boy at Winchester College, the pre-eminent G.E.M. Skues bought for himself. I had even gone so far as to plant an imaginary Dr. Wickham, frail and failing , in the last year of his life, in the audience of my THE GREAT DEBATE between Skues and Halford. I wanted proper recognition for the good doctor, to welcome him as a presiding spirit over my entire enterprise. That contest, as I imagined it, over the wet vs. the dry fly took place, in my invention, at The Flyfishers’ Club, 98 years ago. We produced it here in the recital hall of Boulder’s public library in 2006.
    This sprightly fly, with ginger hackle palmered over a gold tinsel body, was originally thought of as a dry fly, but has come down to us on this side of the Atlantic as a standard wet fly. In any case, it is an emblem of a great period in British and American fly fishing-- a fly of the old school, once found in every fly book, now nearly forgotten.
    Next, I have always felt that angling is all of a piece, whether it is with a dry fly or a worm in Boulder Creek, an Eskimo hole in arctic ice, an open boat on the North Sea, Atlantic salmon in Russia, or Indians spearing fish in the Amazon. Nor would I want to forget the women and children who have anxiously waited, since time began, for the return of their fisher-men from dangerous seas. And I include the fishwives endlessly processing the catch at dock-side. I include them all. All in it together.
    Fishing is fishing. It is a whole.
    And it is certainly ancient.
I like to think of anglers as a community of action and thought, a company in the spirit of medieval guilds, where men of like profession bound themselves together in a brotherhood in order to advance in technology, commerce, and fellowship. The trades they professed in common often identified them with the workmen of the Scriptures; and, in this case of fishermen, with Saint Peter himself.
    And so I had a name, a mystique, and a title:
                     The Whole and Ancient Company of Anglers.
 
   I believed in it and was in business. Then, Signorella designed it into this magic circle of a sign with the hook at the center, sharply barbed, not de-barbed to impotence in the popular modern manner. In any system of symbols, the hook is surely a potent, simple, and ancient member. It is a beautiful object in its own right.
    Here it is as the epigraph to my second book, Late in an Angler’s Life:

Every Where in Every Time
There Work
The Whole and Ancient Company of Anglers,
The Order of the Desperate,
Who Let Down Nets and Lines to Fish,
From the Bottom to the Top
From the Beginning to the End
Let Me Be Counted in That Number!

   With a logo and a motto, I felt justified to broadcast my gazette to the public. It has stubbornly resisted dealing exclusively with fishing, and has insisted on slipping off into all the heart-breaking stuff of which my life-- and I assume that of my readers-- is made.
    So, there you have it: there’s that medallion.

Friday, July 2, 2010

KING LEAR TONIGHT

 

                                   
     Tonight I shall attend a performance of King Lear. I shall see it for the manyeth time-- of a life-time of teaching it, worrying about it, and acting the damned old king three times. Probably the greatest of all plays. Staged once again at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.
     Tonight  I shall attend an opening night ceremony of food and drink. There will be the customary speeches thanking almost everyone-- except actors and acting, Amid the polite applause, I’ll be off somewhere in reveries of my own King Lear. I’ve appeared in it twice in this very CU Mary Rippon Theatre. First, in my nonage as Kent. Many years later as the king himself-- and nearly as tormented an actor as He a king.
    Tonight the title role will be taken by an excellent professional actor of middle years who is bound to turn in a workman-like performance through which I shall try not to fiddle experimentally with my hearing aids; but why bother at all as I shall reflexively lip the words right along with the actors-- I am that perilously close to knowing the play by heart.
   Ah! those words! To have been allowed  to speak them in pubic! The immense privilege of it!
   What will that actor, the poor devil, do with that first line of his tonight? “Attend the Lords of France and Burgundy, Gloster”. It’s a life and death decision that the actor must make; because all that is to come depends on how he reads that short first short, throw-away line. There can be no going back. It will determine what kind of man this Lear is. For better or worse.   
   And then, some three hours later, it will determine his death. Actors never get a second chance once the curtain is up. But, and I rejoice in this, at the end, by bringing the curtain down, amid audience applause, the miracle of the theatre takes place: the “dead” actor rises up to take his bow and live to act another day! It is the resurrection of the body and glorious.
  My fantasy is that something will go terribly wrong with Lear’s performance tonight and I will be hauled up out of the audience, a script thrust into my hand with orders to get on with it, on with the play. But I’m now just too old to be out there doing that sort of thing, playing “His” play, seeking redemption from “His” folly, “His” madness, “His” love, Why can’t that crazy old man take care of himself? I’ve got enough trouble of my own. I wonder that Shakespeare should have written such a play in which the protagonist is too old to play in his own play!  It’s like living through your own funeral.
    Three Lears:  1975, 1979, 1995.
     The first was probably best, the most vivid and true. The last probably the most significant by virtue of its being a break-through in the whole process of producing Shakespeare. The middle one, here in Mary Rippon, was a painful flop for me. An obdurately misguided director who would suggest to his cast that the death of John Wayne was a fitting way for us to understand Lear’s tragedy-- to me who daily, hourly, waited every rehearsal for word of my mother’s death who had struggled to breathe for ten years out of love for her children. John Wayne!  Some ideas are sheerest shit.
    So here I am, every bit as old, probably older than He at His  “four score and upward”. I’m four score and a lot “upward”--old enough at last to have some direct sense of what is going on in this monstrous-magnificent play, but without the stamina to do anything about it. I’ll do well to sit through it tonight. I don’t think I want to go….
  Tonight’s director says that, with her younger, vigorous actor, she will play down Lear’s old age. That is sure to be a comfort to an audience  scared to death of old age anyway.
   That long first scene of the play is in fact a one-act play in itself and plays like one. It completes its satisfactions in some twenty minutes. And again, so, long ago, I did it, did it for a one-act play festival competition. It carried the day and played like a house-afire-- those Wyoming  high school kids!
    Peter Brook  speaks of Theatre Temperature, where suddenly, in spite  of  every possible drawback, every limitation, somehow the action catches fire and life is lived in all its terrible intensity on stage before our very eyes. Somehow those kids of mine raised the theatre temperature of the first scene of Lear to the flash point, altogether unaware of the impossibility, even the  absurdity, of what they were trying to do. Nothing that happens tonight will match that for me.
    So, three times I did it, and, like my own certain death, I feel I know nothing about His-- not for all my academic saying. I feel that I have not contributed anything much to the play, not moved very far beyond a very first reading, so long ago, when, over a long night in a cabin up on Sugarloaf Mountain, with a blizzard howling outside, Betty and I pulled the sofa up close to  the fire and there, by its light, read the play together. Never was there a moment like that:
                                 Thou’lt come no more,
                    Never, never, never, never, never.
                                                King Lear V, iii,  309.





Thursday, June 17, 2010

I Say We Will Have No More Saluting

                             Hamlet declared that we will have  no more marriage,  while I....   

     I woke in the night, in ready-made anger, generated by a television news image left over from the earlier evening, an image of a bunch of nameless, faceless subalterns of government in suits, saluting in every direction along with a squalid squad of hapless, Pentagonic generals, of which there seems to be an endless supply to send out into the field, foreign and domestic, to fail relentlessly to do what they were charged to do.
     All that damned saluting, especially by those guys in business suits! Decorum is all shot to hell. Even in the darkest days of World War II, the Navy found time to teach us boots military decorum. We learned that only personnel in uniform saluted or were saluted. Out of doors, an officer, only if covered (wearing a hat), was to be saluted. Nor did one ever salute a civilian, for God’s sake. And I say, by extension, that those civilian operatives should keep their hands in their pockets if they can’t learn to stand properly at attention.
     These are the times that try men’s souls: wasn't that the way Tom Paine put it long ago? And isn’t it so now?
     Here we are with the most promising Presidency of our era crashing on the rocks of the worst batch of bad luck in memory-- and all to the gleeful spite of the worst of people in the body politic.
     Just think: a great and enlightened nation held helpless and hostage to the global empire of BP and its multiple oily billions. If in doubt, reread “Beowulf” about monsters in our depths. Think about those who would presume to do our thinking for us-- and sink us.
     I had thought that we were all set for something new in the affairs of men and women. I have been arguing that we are into a New Period in the history of American fly fishing and made my argument out of signs that I thought I saw of more humane intellectual, political, social, and economic forces rising around us. Now all that appears to be going down the drain, the more fool I.
     The bankers and would-be bankers have ruined everything. The American genius for business turns villainous. The stubborn darkness of the recession has given rise to political factionalism, in which the shrillest and ugliest strike out from the dark caves of ignorance, fear, and hate, and care for nothing beyond the accumulation and protection of private wealth-- guarding their golden hoard. Above all else, in the dynamics of human consciousness, they lust for the rawest sort of power and hate taxes most of all.
     They cry the Constitution as their authority for an America of the dark ages. This mindless shouting of The Constitution depends on their insistent ignorance of the document itself, the conditions of its origin, and its continued growth over our history.
     Taxes! Here I am, an eighty-five year old, retired school teacher, a veteran, now a scribbler of blogs. And I live in luxury! I am hard-pressed to think of a single thing that I treasure, enjoy, and am grateful for that does not eventually root itself from taxation. Taxation is the cost of our privilege and our luxury. Bring it on! say I.
     We should worry ourselves sick about American education. What do we make of ourselves as a nation, alone in the family of nations, where the operative principle of life, evolution , is held in doubt, more often in out-right rejection by so many.
     The religious right, hand in hand with poverty, stands in the way of proper education in the United States of America. Think how a state like Texas, in the body of its legislature, can determine what nonsense and error children are required to be taught. Think of how these legislators pander and pimp for their primitive religious literalisms of race, class, sex, and gender. Only in America!
    And those guys go on saluting, saluting, and ever more saluting. I wish the President would stop it. (At least there was comic relief when Bush saluted)
     What, after all, does a salute signify if not acceptance? And what should we be accepting today? BP? Bankers? Religionists? Tea Partiers? Moral and political scheisters of any stripe? Must we accept, acquiesce, in all this?
     In my youthful days in the Navy, I prided myself on the style of my salute. I did it right. I thought I knew what I was saluting as recognition of my right and proper responsibility as a citizen of this great nation. But that was another time-- long ago-- when our souls were tried to great and just purpose.
     I am troubled by these guys in their suits and am beginning to understand what young people today mean when they speak idiomatically of “a suit”, those identical, interchangeable operatives with their spread collars and Windsor knots. All black suits.
     I was raised to a careful standard of linen and cravat. I love neck ties and feel at my best only when wearing one. But what shall I do now, when that suit and tie, that perfectly knotted bit of the finest Italian silk, has come to suggest something quite other than it used to? What shall I do now?
     Shall I dress in the trash mode of the multitudes and become one of them? At my age! I need a New Style for this New Period that I keep plugging. That is, if there is to be any New Period.
     My soul is being tried. Out of uniform, as I am, I can salute no one and no thing. I have lived too long, a victim of my excellent physicians and their ministrations. I think I am living beyond my moral means…. Again, in a luxury that borders on the obscene given a world of such immense and pervasive suffering-- and the rampant resources for destruction of BP.
     While I despise the religionists and their silly “end times”, I have to wonder if I ought to just come down off my high-horse, quit looking for New Periods and just accept, salute, what might well be The End, finis, of all that I understand and has been given me… I suspect that there is not enough in Google to save us. And Mozart cannot last forever.
     Still, maybe there is something for me to salute after all. I am bound on my own special wheel, bound to the continued effort to try to encourage and assist young people. Young people distract me from my miseries of mind and heart and remind me once again of life and art. They inspire me simply by their being young. But for them, I should be in despair. I salute them-- at full attention.
                                                  L'envoi
     Is this the way to use the privilege of a blog? As a sort of antacid for a burning spirit? I had thought that my blogs ought to be a series of carefully wrought essays, written, revised, and rewritten. They ought to be on matters of common interest and concern with the reader-- a place where we might meet in mutual pleasure.
     Now here’s this piece, burning and indigestible. Shall I be forgiven ?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sleepless in the Gulf

Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Not all the drowsy syrups of the world
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou ow’dst yesterday. Othello, III,iii

    It will be years before the bosses at British Petroleum, its ancillaries like Halliburton, and the undesirables at Interior’s mineral management can once again sleep easily as once they did on that “yesterday”-- for which today they must so yearn. Courts will wrangle for years over what are “legitimate” claims and over personal responsibility for lost lives, livelihoods, homes, a way of life.      Some talk of indictments in the case of the eleven dead. Others keep pushing the long narrative of corporation neglect, malpractice, dishonesty, and profiteering coming forth from whistleblowers who were on the spot. And those wretches in the offices of MMS, where can they go now?
      No, there will be precious little “sweet sleep” for any of them in the face of charges for their malfeasance. They must toss and turn the nights away thinking how bitterly ironic it is that, had they only, many yesterdays ago, cooperated with and not fought off regulations and supervisions from federal authority, this thing might never have happened. The right-wing, single-minded as it is in its effort to “get” the President for anything and everything, is now crying out against the failure of government to fix the mess-- a “mess” that their opposition to regulation of corporate culture has brought down on all our heads.
     Surely it must be clear to some sober conservatives that government intervention into any emergency like this must move them closer to just what they most fear and now call European democratic socialism.
     Year by year, day by day, almost by the hour, the public is moving closer, in spite of protestations to the contrary, to acceptance of the need for greater governmental regulation of American business, industry and finance. Government is, after all, the means by which we save ourselves from ourselves.
     Surely there are thinkers on the Right who must realize how much bigger this disaster in the Gulf must now make the federal government? Don’t they hear the public demand for a bigger government intervention? At what point might public consciousness turn to the possibility of out-right public ownership of the oil industry for rescue from its product?
     And the industry has only itself to blame. It has fouled, quite literally, its own waters. Corporate capitalism, foreign and domestic, has taken a body blow and might never be the same again in the United States of America.
     Who among us would want to walk in the pajamas of the management of BP and face the miseries of those sleepless nights, imagining papers of indictment, writs of restitution, threats of corporate collapse, possibly even the loss of private millions?
                                                               ~~
      Where is the great man, jaunty with a cigarette and a martini-- or that plain, hard-boiled Missourian with a plain bourbon and water-- where is that man of whom I have dreamed to lead me through these late days of my life? Where is he who will raise holy hell, cleanse the temple, and restore the beauty of American life?
      Well, you can’t fool me: I know where he is. I want him to rise to the full height of his excellence and lay about, as it were, with the jaw-bone of an ass to call an end to this nightmare of corporate malfeasance. “Yesterday” is a lost cause. A livable tomorrow can still be cried in the streets.
                                                           ~~~~~

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Two New Houses in the Neighborhood


                  
   On this south side of Lover’s Hill, just down the street from us, on Mesa Drive, are two new houses, built into the hillside, side by side, with almost  identical foot-prints. They are just finished and up for sale-- in the millions. And they are extra-ordinary, suggesting, as they do, almost the last gasp of classic modernism. One is in shades of carbon stucco, the other, of which I write, is a sunny tan or beige stucco. Like night and day, the one to the east is the agitated dark shadow of the other, beaming bright in the west.
  Be assured that I like both the houses. They are wonderful works of art, each one justifying and pointing the other, sororial opposites, yet twins, each impossible to imagine one standing there without the other. As I drive and walk by their construction, they make me feel good. I admire their daring, their glass gaze out over Boulder, their powerful presence. I try to imagine living in one of them and am seduced.
    The westerly beige house was entirely prefabricated in Germany, it's many parts shipped over to Houston and trucked in great containers up to Boulder. German technicians and builders came along to snap together the bits and pieces of its interlocking, complex and esoteric technology. And now it’s been opened to us neighbors-- with wine and good things to eat. I am taken with its Germanism-- its severe elegance: it’s like having a bit of Bauhaus on Mesa Drive.
   Years ago I read an essay-- I forget where or in what-- in which the author suggested what might well be the origin of all architecture. In his anthropological imagination, early, wandering human-like ancestors of us all took refuge for the night, for their safety, under a rock large enough to cover them. The author referred to this little retreat under a roof of rock as a little aedicule, a little house. It was in point of structural fact a lintel roof propped up or supported by posts of more rock at the sides. This little aedicule, this little house, might have resembled one of the ancient dolmens on the western Irish landscape-- numinous, sacral structures that were the little houses of the dead.
   Doubtless our wandering ancestors may have sometimes taken up longer residence in one of these little houses of post and lintel stone. They would have hauled stuff in with them, the necessities of their life. And, sure as you’re alive, they would have decorated some of that stuff and invented art itself.
   Secure as they were from the elements and their enemies in their little aedicule, they could have been almost cozy and, in the leisure of their security, made something beautiful for the house.
   Should you want to test this profound impulse to get inside, into a little  aedicule,  just ask a child  playing house under a card-table. The child will show you these posts and lintels. There cannot be much of anything more persistent or basic to  life than this compulsion to get a lintel overhead  with two good lusty posts at the side for support of a little roof over head. One need only improvise a bit on this principle to build a proper room-- or house.
   This need and its impulse must surely be genetic.
   Of course, we well know how the architects of Antiquity took the post and lintel idea and made The Parthenon out of it-- and all the other glories of the Classical world. Nor are we independent of it today. We use it in a thousand ways and depend upon its security. When we come home, at day’s end, most of us are welcomed by a familiar doorway of post and lintel that we know so well and depend upon for both structural and spiritual support.

                                         ~

   You may well wonder where all this aedicule business of post and lintel is getting us amid the pleasures of this German masterwork of domestic architecture. I want to argue that it is precisely the comforts, the snug, cozy security of a little aedicule that is missing from this  structure.
    Nowhere in this beige German house can I see and feel that intimacy of support of post and lintel. I see and admire the straight running elegant lines and sharply cut angles of everything. I admire the rule of reason and fine, clean design that I see everywhere around me. As I love geometry, I could love this house. But I cannot find any place to snuggle into, not even in the lovely glass enclosed bedroom. There must be posts and lintels in the structure somewhere, but they are hidden, masked in steel, aluminum  and faux stone. Nowhere do I feel cozy and protected.
  For the purposes of my argument, there are two kinds of houses. One is designed and built for the resident  to furnish and define as an expression of her personality. These houses acquire character from the accumulation of d├ęcor, of stuff-- by the processes of addition.
    Another  kind, the kind we have here newly on Mesa Drive, is so  rigorously designed, so militantly “finished” as to allow little or no contribution from the resident, little or no identification with his imagination.  Architectural purity is maintained by the processes of subtraction. The resident becomes a sojourner, not quite at home.
    Curiously enough, it is often maligned post-modernism that has recognized the compulsive  need in humans for a local habitation, a personal home. And, in its sometimes outrageous architectural expression of the idea of home, it has nevertheless recognized the primordial human need for intimate enclosure and the sensation of being protected and comforted within a deeply personal place. Think for a moment of one of these post-modern “mansions.”  Think of all those small, crazy spaces, those nooks and crannies, towers and turrets, dormers and bays in which to go hide and be safe with one’s laptop, or maybe even a book.
                                                   ~
  Were I in position to do so, I would have placed between the two houses, between their garages fronting on Mesa Drive, the de facto point at which both houses define themselves-- I would have placed an heroic sculpture of a human being, at least in the scale of Michelangelo’s  “David”, all naked and defiant. A statue that would announce to all the world that, “I, this human being, of unlimited consciousness, imagination, and soul, did build these two houses as homes for creatures like me.”
   This late-modern “david” would be stunning placed just there to advise that these houses are in no wise robotic. They need only us, regular human beings, to occupy them and discover ways in which to make them uniquely our own, make them into convincing narratives of our imagination, our experience, and our dreams for the future.
                                                         ~~~~~







Wednesday, May 12, 2010

An Apology for an Essay Just Below This

    Friends to this blog, following these words of introduction is an essay that you may feel is too strange to bother with. It has almost nothing at all to do with angling and is exactly three times the length of the standard newspaper column of 800 words. Be warned.
    It might look like an article for a travel magazine; though I don’t think any self-respecting travel magazine would touch it. Therefore I’m blogging it to you good readers.
    A couple decades ago, I got seriously hooked (Ha! Note the angling metaphor that sneaked in) on Spain, the home stomping-ground of my much admired Don Quixote. He had read all those old books of great adventure and went mad in the pursuit of his own adventures and their dangerous enchantments. He was hooked on old chivalry and I was hooked on old him.
    I have a hunch that reading old books makes us all a little crazy. We do this insane thing of believing what we read and so enter worlds that never were and never will be. Worlds that makes us do irrational things for love, for a poetics of love and life that might be. We fall helplessly under their enchantment.
    Until, in the end, like Don Quixote we dwindle toward disenchantment which can be cruel and destructive-- or a beatitude of love’s memory. My reading of Don Quixote’s final disenchantment and return to the sanity and absolute reality of death is as a beatitude.
    I recommend Spain to you with its wild Spanish dons, Quixote best of all, and the terrible intensity of their crazy lives. Please consider reading below....

In Espagna, Mille e Tre



  A list of Spanish things

   This man had somehow lost his wife in the intricacies of the Alcazar of Segovia. I got caught by his worry and so joined the search for her. Up and down the spiral stone staircase of the fortress tower I went, looking for the lost woman.  Atop the tower, glancing out between the castellations to the west, out on to a vast, rolling, and golden plain, in that emptiness, I saw Quixote astride poor, broken down Rocinante. The great crazy Don in ancient, rusty plate, his beaver up, his lance held forward at that perfect 15 degrees off vertical. Bringing up the rear was Sancho on his beloved Dapple, faithful to the end, wondering what madness lay next ahead.
    I forgot the lost wife and thought of that most enchanting, exquisite, immaterial Dulcinea, she who does or does not exist, Quixote’s lady. I poked my camera at that vista between the crenellations, out onto that gorgeous plain with Don Quixote, in his every splendor, riding by. That photograph hangs where I can see him now, The Knight of the Woeful Countenance, who so powerfully recommends to me his books, his madness, his enchantment, and his broken heart.
 Dulcinea, Oh, Dulcinea!  Might she be held somewhere in this tower?
                                                                 ~~~
    A couple centuries later, another Spanish Don rode by ravishing women, any woman he could get his hands on, of  whatever  description, anywhere he could. Riding along was his man-servant, Leporello, who might as well have been Sancho Panza’s citified cousin. Leporello kept careful book on his  master’s seductions, his “catalog”, he called it: women classified by the hundreds as to the countries where they fell prey to this ravishing Don Juan.  Ah, but in Spain, “In Ispagna,” Mozart has him sing, “in ispagna, mille e tre.”  In Spain he seduced one thousand and three.
    Well, I want to turn Giovanni’s erotic violence around and say that Spain has ravished me by the count of at least 1003. And, like Leporello, on location with his master, in Seville, his catalog under his arm, I want to sing my own incoherent catalog of the dark joys of Spain-- of all that which ravished me.
                                                              ~~~~
    I would like to imagine myself, a proper pilgrim, with an eye on the heavens, to follow the Milky Way, The Way of Saint James, to Campostela, there to worship what I do not believe. But I shall have made that long walk out of the everyday conventions of secular Europe-major into the black Catholic mystery of Spain. I’m silly enough to imagine that a saint as powerful as James may look after me and help me to get even older and sillier, doing this sort of thing.
   I feel under assault from every quarter of Spain’s (I dislike the word) magic,  dark, violent, morbidly and sexually estranged-- all that a cold-blooded Swede like me cannot fathom.
   There’s the great  Quixote, the madman,  riding past Segovia  to God knows where in his search for the sublimities of adventure to lay at the feet of his beloved Dulcinea-- to  honor and love her perfectly-- if only he can find her-- perhaps in that tower, anywhere.
    I finished reading  Cervantes for the first time within the shadows of the  Alhambra, the exact locus-- that 1492-- of those immense shifts between Muslim, Christian Goth, and Jew. You hear that gypsy music full of Islamic yearning and you want to sit and cry. I think of the most admirable Washington Irving on embassy to Spain and living in the Alhambra, studying and loving it, He must have got that Moorish music of love pure and raw.
   Good God, just outside that small presence chamber where Columbus made his proposition of immense treasure to Isabella, amid  all that  exquisite stone, I thought  I was a goner. Stone and plaster and water, so beautiful as to steal all breath away toward a metabolism of fluid joy. There I came to understand the meaning of streams of cool, pure water purling down out of the mountains to these exquisite palace  fountains.  I think, as for the first time, what these waters meant to a desert people, these lovely waters. No wonder their paradise promised to be full of them. I love the resident golden fish, and catch myself imagining a  trout living there, suspended in such a watery heaven of the spirit.
   Just to be there at midnight! Listening to Taregga’s guitar in the near distance. So close to where Lorca-- here in his Granada-- was born and murdered-- he who taught me, my first lessons of Spain in his plays and poems, and his tragic death  “at five in the afternoon.“ He sang that refrain for the death of the toreador Mejias. Beautiful, tragic Lorca, singing, acting, loving, dying. At five, maybe, in the afternoon. Daring and fearing the regime.  Who could measure how Franco’s gang hated him!  “Degenerate”, they cried, when what they most feared was that this poet carried the Spanish people in his poems. He was too dangerous to live. Think of that: the honor of having his poems making him too dangerous to live.
   Much about Spain is too dangerous to live,
   Maybe it’s this afternoon as I try to find a voice for, a rhythm, and an authority in all this-- like Bernard Shaw’s John Tanner,  motoring  along the Way of Saint James, through the Pyrenees to Spain, beset  by bandits,  near where Roland blew his horn to tell his Uncle Charlemagne that he had been faithful to the end and died.
    In that numinous mountain place, Shaw’s John, “Jack” Tanner dreams away the night. He becomes the original, Spanish Don Juan Tenorio gone to hell to debate the Devil. This Shavian Juan must foreclose on Mozart’s Giovanni and his idea of a good “sex story”-- in Italian!  Juan-Tanner sets out to demystify the mystic nonsense of the Devil, all that romantic tosh about sinful man in the everlasting fires of his sensual fun-- or perhaps all-consuming Spanish love and hate. Shaw’s Juan has no interest in sex qua sex, but rather he imagines the Superman who with pure intellect hitched to a newReality can fathom and regulate himself, and the world. It is a passion far greater and more sustainable than the Devil’s ordinary, prurient sex. Shaw’s-Juan’s passion is for the free, working, visionary, super-conscious intellect. It may be another as yet untried way of being Spanish… all that passion, I don’t know.
  All these Dons, these wild caballeros. Only Quixote can hold my heart forever. There’s little sign of him in Seville where all the operas are set. Why is that so, in this beautiful city on the  Guadalquivir?  Was life imagined to be more dramatic in Seville during the great age of both classical and romantic opera. Is it because Giovanni  could  prey upon all the cigarette girls who with Carmen  made “smokes” in their famous factory? So  many operas are set in Seville, where “at five in the afternoon” we watch the bulls being killed so precisely and beautifully. Those bulls, in the sun-drenched arena, too dangerous to live. I thank my lucky stars that it was given to me to see this great ceremony of death.
    I kissed the hem of the Virgin of Guadalupe at her church in her remote monastery, but nothing  happened-- other than that I am still safely here. She was strange: I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Me and the Virgin-- kissing the one, true, and real Her!
   The olives at the bar in the monastery garden and the dryness of the sherry were exquisite, perhaps a blessing from the world-renowned Virgin…. I wanted that afternoon to last forever.
   Here you can rent an medieval monastery room for the night. I should liked to have rented a dozen and then hiked out to hug a cork oak tree, get its feeling into me, in honor of the fine cork grips on my fishing rods. Cork, like bamboo, is heaven-sent stuff.
    And silk! Cork, bamboo-- and gut from the silk worm, Bombyx mori, worked  by the ladies of Murcia, cutting out, pulling to length that gland of fluid silk, cut from the giant larva’s belly so that fishermen can fish and bulls die.  
    Beloved Cork! I wanted to run loose and crazy and see it all, and hear that Moorish music and feel the pounding drums of Islam. All this Andalusian other-worldliness. It permeates everything, everywhere.
    Up in Madrid, things are harder, crisper, clearer, more sullen, and impersonal.  But I had my revenge. I picked up three or four dozen molted flight quills  from the wings of the famous white doves, La Paloma, of the  gardens of the Prado where the Goyas hang !  The presence, the presence, of those dangerous pictures!
      I smuggled the feathers home, past the Goyas, past customs and immigration in my inner coat pocket, to use them here at home on Rio Grande  Kings and Royal Coachmen. And I got a lot of  fourOclock seed by scrambling on my knees in the gardens of the Alhambra--to the dismay of honest tourists. Rare and moon-driven white fourOclocks.
     Finally! A statue of Cervantes at a busy Madrid intersection. How had he managed to escape from slavery to the Moors to write this best of all stories while Shakespeare was making our theatre  in London and Montaigne, inventing essays and dying of “the stone”  in Bordeaux ? What kept the earth from spinning out of control given that triangulation of genius?
   Cordoba boiled me in oil, whatever that means. But I saw where Maimonidies lived and thought-- and I wondered what, but for him, I might I be thinking today? It is said of Maimonidies that he may have had the most powerful intelligence in all the history of the species.
    Toledo, Holy Jesus Christ! He was everywhere-- shot through the agonizing glories of El Greco. The view of the city from across the great river ravine, from where, as though to “memorize another Golgotha,” he painted it into our unconscious. To think that I could be allowed to see this as item in my mille e tre!
   But I forget. Back in Granada, in the Chapel Royal, in huge majesty, there lay their majesties Ferdinand and Isabella themselves. It seemed too much to hold on to. And for that matter in the cathedral at Seville, in the south transept, is the quite overwhelming tomb of Columbus. I never would have believed that I could have cared that much about him-- or his bones. But I did, and his spectacular tomb haunts me still.
     It is the fashion of the day to think of Columbus as a most dangerous man, which he was, no doubt. But for dangerous men of Spain, I am most deeply shaken, first, by the dictator, Generalissimo Franco and his fascist suppression of Spain in our last terrible century. On the road out of Madrid to the Escorial, suddenly looms Franco’s monstrous  basilica at The Valley of the Fallen, carved from the living rock of the  mountain, too huge, like St, Peter’s in Rome, too huge to take in. I glance around, worried, almost in fear of its brutal, sterile grandeur. There, beneath me, Franco lies. He built this place in his own honor and memory-- and to draw people, even like me, too him even yet. I want to get the hell out of there-- clear this place out of my head, and on to that next super-monument, the Escorial Monastery.
     Philip II built it, this gigantic square structure, where he lived, worked, and died. Where everything else is huge, this tiny room was his office-study-retreat, like a hidey-hole, just off the chancel of the inner great church. From here the gout-stricken king could slip quite privately into the sanctuary for consolation and the sacraments. This little office-study, for a king of that magnitude, from which he managed all of Catholic Spain and its dominions!  He made all of Spain into an auto de fe.
   Then down the difficult stairs into the “Pantheon” room below the chancel where the Hapsburg  kings and who knows who else, lie  racked and stacked up on the side walls. Among all that royalty, who got dead for their pains, is Philip II, King of Spain, and much of Europe, by right of his father, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Down in  this chamber of the dead, Philip is nothing special. He must have been a tiny little man to require so small a coffin. I imagine that I hear Verdi’s Don Carlo, that music of death shrouded in Spanish black and gold.
    Again, I thank my lucky anglophiliac stars that our Elizabeth would have nothing to do with this most dangerous Spaniard-- beyond sinking his invincible Armada, in that great storm of 1588. He was given the terrible news while at prayer in his church right here. I was shown the exact spot and trembled with the terrors of history. To think that someday, some nobody like me would trample the spot that his suffering had sanctified!
   What’s at the root of it all? How should I know! It’s too much for me, and I’ve lost count of my 1003. It may have to do with Quixote’s invention of Dulcinea and our search for her, our Virgin. It may have to do with cork, and olives, and sherry, songs, and that unhappy dancing. Maybe it’s silkworms and Seville oranges. Or perhaps it’s the searing pain at Philip’s heart, the heart of Spain, all morbid black and gold and Catholic, that can approach the mystery? In any case, it’s ravishing, in one thousand and three ways.