Thursday, February 23, 2012

Last of Last Summer's Tennessee Pictures

After reading two especially--to my sensibility--poisonous articles on the internet in near succession the other day, one about the clientele of Sotheby's auction house and the desirable young female employees carefully vetted for their discerning pleasure, and the other about Picasso's sex life, I was a little extra fed up with the whole trajectory of my own social life, and I began to ask myself, what if I just go off the reservation at some point and refuse to be my regular limpid self one minute longer (or at least take a temporary vacation from having to live constantly as that annoyingly constrained and limited gentleman)? To reiterate what is ultimately the only theme of this blog, without great talents, or at the very least intelligence and capabilities developed to a very high degree, personal power and sexual magnetism, life can be pleasant enough, and even amusing enough in places, but can it really be said to be worthwhile? I do believe there is a kind of strong serenity, and perhaps wisdom--though my confidence in this last, at least as regards people of my own time and place, is shaky--to be found in a simple existence given over to committed religious devotion, if one really grasps what that means and is able to live confident in all that would be implied by such an understanding. But I am a long way from being seriously able to undertake anything resembling this manner of life either. I am still to attracted to wealth, power, pretty girls and various epicurean and other aesthetic delights, though the enjoyment and possession of these things have been rare occasions in my life.

1. Posing By the Sign Near the Main Entrance to Great Smoky, etc, National Park, near Gatlinburg

I am aware that there are thousands of pictures on the internet of people doing the same thing. However I like signs and other familiar landmarks as kind of narrative markers or breaks when putting together albums or picture sets. Filmmakers do this, or at least used to do this, all the time. I often find it to be a satisfying technique.

As you can see we were there on an especially bright and verdant day.

I am also aware that I look ridiculous. I am trying to upgrade my wardrobe. Developing an instinct for taste at this late stage of life and the presumption to confidently wear clothes above my wonted social station is more difficult to pull off than one would think.

2. View From Clingman's Dome (The High Elevation Point of the Park)

A clearer day than when we were there the previous year. This is not an arduous or long hike. You drive to an overflowing parking area about a mile from the peak and walk up a steep, but paved path to the top along with several hundred other people at any given time. The children like it--the payoff is a large space age observation tower at the top--and there was sentimentality involved so we took care to go back for a second time.

3. Near the Beginning of the Path to Clingman's Dome

Nothing to say about this, other than that the sight of a bright, clean, organized, not to say open, information center has for me a reassuring quality. Yes, I am that mentally beaten down by contemporary civilization.

4. 2-Yr Old Trapped in Stroller Atop the CCC/WPA Dedication Monument at Newfound Gap.

Newfound Gap is right at the center of the park. There is a huge parking area, as quite a lot is going on there. Besides this monument there is a celebrated view (see picture #6), the geographical boundary commemorated in picture #5, and the Appalachian Trail passes through the midst of this scene as well.

5. What it Says.

There are a lot of pictures of this sign on the internet as well. While I do keep many lists and go see many places that are almost wholly devoid of visitors, and indeed, to take matters to extremes, life at all, I do have in certain things an instinct to go where the people are, especially when to do so does not incur outrageous expense. The picture session at this particular sign with the children (there ended up being 7 or 8 photos snapped, with various combinations of persons) I noted at the time as having more than the usual share of stress. I certainly do not demand that anyone pose for a picture who does not want to, and I am pretty sure it was they who wanted the moment recorded at least as much as I did. Perhaps the obviousness and sense of necessity of the task at hand was the unconscious cause of anxiety.

You may observe that in contrast to other family/tourist bloggers, we have very few pictures of ourselves at table, and none of our food. This is partly because such times are fairly chaotic with us, but even during my time in Europe before I had any children I had not the instinct (perhaps because doing so in a restaurant with an old manual camera would have been fairly conspicuous) for the most part to photograph my dinner.

6. Newfound Gap, View.

The same view that Daniel Boone himself would have looked upon, according to one of my books from the 1960s.

7. Little Girl By the Hotel Pool

My daughter is ten months old now (she was 2 months here). She sits up, and says 'mama' and 'dada' and clearly understands other words ('bottle') but she has not figured out how to crawl yet (my oldest son was walking at 10 months).

8. One Version of What a Motel-Cabin in the Smoky Mtns Looks Like!

Because as we know, the learned world whose opinions I care so much about is full of snob types who will never come to a place like this on account of its frightening reputation. This cabin has two rooms like the one above with a small kitchen, visible in the back, connecting them. You can apparently rent just one side and share the kitchen with strangers, but we took up the whole joint.

Children 1 & 3 on Antiquated Swing Set at Antiquated Motor Hotel

You can kind of see the rise of the mountains in the background. This hotel is at least off the main drag but still very close to the park.

10. #'s 1-4, Inclusive, on Swings

Probably a redundant picture, but at least it is from a different angle.

This year I am sure we will definitely go somewhere different, assuming we are fortunate enough to be able to go anywhere at all. Of course I would be a little sad if we never went back to Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains again. I am forever sad at the prospect of never again going anywhere I have liked even a little bit, or that is consistently interesting or lively in some way across time, of being personally done with it forever. It is a mild feeling, but it is also characteristic of the pessimist, and I always have to remind myself that there is no reason to imagine that I won't live out my days in hopeless poverty and squalor or die by some grotesque manner of execution, mainly for the crime of just appearing to somebody to be a sap. So I always have the sense whenever we have a lovely time that we quite possibly may never be so happy again.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Slumbering Jubilation I

I was on vacation for a week. Hence the especially long gap between postings.

I expect my activity here will be light for the foreseeable future--certainly for the rest of this school year. I finally seem to have reached the point where I truly do have too many children of certain ages. Writing has gone from being a futile endeavor to a pretty much impossible one. As well my head these days is still about as clear as the air on a Scottish Isle in November, and there are of course no great doings, no illustrations of virtue, or even any casual domination and terrorizing of any poor saps on my own part to relate, and I haven't the spirit to relate such instances observed in other people even if I were aware of any. If I should be doing anything on this site, it should be going back and editing and even deleting my particularly embarrassing older posts. Yet the urge to complete and publish any new thing whatsoever overcomes all. Not for me the ethos of Lord Macaulay, who "made it a rule for himself to publish nothing which was not carefully planned, strenuously labored, and minutely finished". Though of course no one reads him anymore either. Even me.

I was going to write a commentary about the recent uptick in what was already a deluge of articles circulating through the popular media and internet sites about the various failures of contemporary men, especially as far as their desirability and suitability for marriage to high-achieving modern women are concerned. This subject is already well-covered in the blogosphere, and in addition I don't seem to be up for anything requiring even a modest amount of sweep at present, so I am leaving it alone. This is already one wearisome motif, and as it does not look like the situation being lamented, from any of the various angles from which it is being lamented, is likely to improve any time soon, I am guessing it is not going to go away, and the people of the nation begin to hold our young and even middle-aged men in general admiration again. Obviously I am in many ways a prime example of one of these diminished males in terms of intellectual/career achievement, though I have to this point avoided the video games and the porn addiction (honestly!), so the subject hits close to home, and unhappily so, as it must be; given my current time constraints however any pertinent thoughts I have on the matter will probably continue to come out in little drips and draps instead of in a coherent grand survey of the contemporary scene.

Did you know that Woody Allen and Mia Farrow's natural son is an apparently authentic genius? This guy just won a Rhodes Scholarship and taking it in the flow of his biography this accomplishment strikes the reader as actually a step backward--or at least an interruption--to his already brilliant and active career. Other than his awesome resume (graduated Bard College at 15, admitted to Yale Law at same age, worked for UNICEF as an advisor to the former US Ambassador to the United Nations while still a teenager, 'director of the US government's relationship with non-governmental actors in Afghanistan and Pakistan'--this at age 21--and testimonials about his general brilliance such as those in the New York Times attributed to a former neighbor and local selectman in his home town ("extraordinary in his academic accomplishments'...'off the charts [intellectually] from the beginning'...always...operated at the highest level intellectually'--I don't actually know what these mean, but evidently they are spoken by someone qualified to make such pronouncements) it is hard to pick out the specifics of these mental qualities which repeatedly blew the minds of numerous of the most serious and importantly placed adults in the current world scene, but I guess one has to assume they are there. He does appear to be a bit humorless, which is ironic given his bloodlines, though he has been estranged from his father since he was about five years old, and appears to have adopted a hardened stance towards him.

Several dozen women at least whose pictures indicate that they are of more than acceptable attractiveness have declared him to be cute, and not a few have openly announced that they would be interested in exploring having sex with him. For whatever that is worth.

I recently received my Northern New England edition of AAA Magazine in the mail (as a studly commentator at a site devoting to gaming women once noted, before returning to the more interesting subject of the various hard-bodied young women he pleasured at will entirely on his own terms while acceding to no unpleasant demands on his side at all, all wretched beta males ought to have the grim expression "I was responsible" carved at the bottom of their tombstones). That cover featured a nighttime picture of a trenchcoated and derby-hatted man shuffling past a half-familiar haunt of mine, the Porthole Fountain diner along the one alley in the old Portland waterfront that apparently has been permitted to retain its 'gritty' look. I have never actually eaten at the Porthole, as in my day its opening hours were from like 5am to 1pm, which did not coincide with my dining schedule, but I used to walk around the atmospheric and abandoned streets surrounding it in the evenings to meditate, usually in lieu of doing schoolwork, as I was too restless at that age to sit around all alone for too long of a stretch. Anyway, after this long introduction, this picture is on the cover of the magazine because this month's main story is about the increasing popularity of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont as settings for crime fiction. Like other prominent milieux in this genre of literature (Sweden, the British upper classes between the wars; I even suspect 1930s and 40s noir-era Los Angeles was pretty sedate on the crime front compared to what it became in later years), the actual crime rate in the region, especially violent crime, is about as low as can be found anywhere in recorded history. Best-selling writer Archer Mayor has recently put out the 22nd volume of his series whose hero is detective Joe Gunther of Brattleboro, Vermont, a city so menacing that if I happen to be walking down Main Street on farmer's market day or during a folk festival I am often realistically in contention for the most threatening looking person on the strip. One of Maine mystery writer Gerry Boyle's main characters is "a rookie cop in Portland with an old cabin cruiser, a girlfriend, and a history"--perhaps one has to have a certain youthful experience of the actual Portland police force to feel a sense of hilarity at the portentousness of this description. I certainly grasp the appeal of the region for writers (bad weather, small cities and old towns, geography at once diverse and compact, largely homogenous population that retains even now something of a common history and identity, though this has eroded noticeably even since the late 80s), much of which is touched on in the article, and the crime genre, while I find I tire of its limits fairly quickly, obviously is one of the more enduring and effective modes of storytelling in modern literature in a broad sense, but--surely there are more interesting stories and subjects to be mined from these attractive locales.

I don't recalling any of the prominent sports pundits noting that in the recent frenzy of conference expansion and league jumping among ambitious and merely desperate schools in college sports that the one league everybody supposedly would be dying to join neither expanded nor lost any members at all. I speak of course of the Ivy League. But let's say the presidents of the member schools wake up one day soon and are overcome with the desire to hold a championship game in football, which would require them to have twelve teams. Who gets added? No school whose faculties, administrators, or students would be too overly eager to receive or self-satisfied at receiving an invitation to this gilded club should be considered, Iwould think--Duke, Georgetown and Northwestern are three who come immediately to mind that will not be tapped. Stanford might seem the most obvious selection, and they essentially already have the exalted status without the affiliation, but in addition to having a really fabulous all around sports program they are also far away in California, which, like Texas, and perhaps Florida, is a country and culture onto itself, and to which Stanford has deep and symbolic ties. They should stay where they are. The first two schools I would thus bring into the Ivy League are the two old academies, Annapolis and West Point (or, in football-speak, Navy and Army). They are an obvious and natural fit, being firmly ensconced on the East Coast, having similar traditions and elegant old campuses hearkening back to the golden age of high collegiate spirit, and in many undeniable ways that of the nation itself. They traditionally have, and I assume still do produce graduates who are active, prominent and accomplished in the highest levels of national life. They should be in. The other school I would put in would be the old University of Chicago, which has been content to follow its own lonely and even anti-social path for the last 75 years, but which I think could use some allies and friendly rivals. Chicago is obviously not the best fit geographically--they'd have to fly to all the games--but they have a venerable intellectual tradition, though I know there is a lot of grumbling that they have let standards slip in recent years (haven't all these places?) and while they have long downgraded their athletic program to the Division III level, they did produce the very first Heisman Trophy winner back in, I think, 1934 or '35. Besides I don't know who else to put there. I can't even come up with an appropriate 12th team. All those good, quasi-Ivy, pretty hard to get in to for the average schlub northeastern liberal arts schools (Colgate, Bucknell, et al) are not really distinguishable enough to me from other to elevate one of them, though who knows if you couldn't subsitute Colgate for Cornell or Bucknell for Penn and have just as cool of a league. There is a missing Ivy League school in Vermont I think (Montpelier would be a really good place for it I bet) which could be formed as an amalgam of all those tiny liberal arts schools that are already there, Middlebury, Bennington, Marlboro, Goddard, etc. You would have the writing, the music, the sexual experimentation, the casual languid wealth, the eccentricity all concentrated in one place. This team would probably fight it out for last in the league in football every year with Brown and Columbia (Chicago would be able to scrounge out enough midwestern talent to win four or five games a year in this league, I think), but it would be chock full of the kinds of groovy girls so many people need but can never find because they are tightly concentrated in a few select places and not widely spread among the general population.

I hate divisions in all sports, but with my alignment you could do it very neatly, having the New England teams (plus Chicago) in the one and the Mid-Atlantic teams in the other.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pictures From Tennessee I

After Alabama we went back to Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains park for four or five days (this is all last summer of course). Obviously in spite of all of the grotesque, and mostly depressing, schmaltz that stretches outside the gates of the park for twenty miles, and the circumstance that most of the more accessible trails inside the park are ridiculously crowded compared to almost any other natural preserve in the country, we had a pleasant enough time the year before to want to come back and do more. Given my social and cultural pretensions, I cannot really justify my not reacting to this place with total revulsion on several levels, however--the park and the mountains are beautiful in a way that does uplift the downtrodden spirit, and even in the pancake houses and mini-golf venues down in the town the visitors have a kind of earnest enthusiasm for these modest pleasures that is kind of infectious to be around (I was even almost tempted to pop into the giant "As Seen on TV" outlet store in Pigeon Forge, but having seen on the internet the photo reports of other visitors that it is full of nothing but the worst kind of junk, I am pleased to have resisted that temptation).

1. Along the Trail to a Falls, I Believe Grotto Falls
This first set is mostly nature pictures. Due to my wife's having just had a baby two months previously, we had to stick to the easier, and thus inevitably more popular hikes. These were nonetheless worthy and aesthetically satisfying hikes. The variety of plant life on the trails in this park is extraordinary compared with pretty much anywhere else I have seen in the eastern U.S. One often has the sense of being in an arboretum rather than actually outside in nature itself.

2 & 3. Along the Grotto Falls Trail.

These don't really give the sense of harmony that one experiences among the diffuse elements of the scene there.

As I usually do in instances such as this when I am selecting 20 or so pictures for display out of a selection of about 500 or so, I generate a number of them randomly, just keep the ones that seem acceptable enough, and jettison ones that I don't think are any good. These seemed to say more when they were blown up fairly big.

My procedure of picture generation did happen to generate a picture of me and a few of the children congregating behind the falls at the end of the trail. It was a good picture, except that I looked fatter than I generally like to have known to the greater world, so I suppressed it.

4. Ripley's Amazing Mirror Maze, As Seen From Across the Parkway in Downtown Gatlinburg.

My children are sentimentalists in the same vein as I am, and thus in addition to the new things we intended to do in town, they also wanted to do the same things they had done on their previous visit, which thankfully had only been a couple of things.

5. Inside the Maze.

I managed to get out of the maze by way of bumbling around until I happened upon the curtain which led back to the Willy Wonka-esque candy shop which is attached to the maze. I did not figure out the layout--I was primarily tailing my five year old to make sure he didn't get scared, and not really paying attention to the pattern--but I also reasoned that a clever well-educated father of a past era would not only have noted the pattern but related it to something like a Mozart aria and kept up a banter with the children throughout that elevated the whole experience somewhat above mere sensation.

I did notice on the streets of Gatlinburg more of a rougher, lower class element than I did the first time we went, especially in the evening. People slapping their children and that sort of thing. Hiking for the sake of hiking (as opposed to hiking for the sake of say, fishing, which still draws more of the salt of the earth crowd) seems to attract people and families on the more organized end of the societal scale nowadays, as a general rule. On the hike in the following pictures, there was a cheerful and good-looking group of college kids from Nashville who were going all the way to the top of the mountain and staying at the lodge that was up there overnight as getting up there took the whole day (we did not do this, but that is the sort of thing I would like to do sometime). They were quite friendly and upbeat. Indeed I felt like the professor in Wild Strawberries around them, which was pleasant but a little disturbing as I was 41 at the time and the character in the movie is around 70. I'd better start doing something so I have something to look back on in my life when I am 70.

6. On the Way to Alum Cave Bluffs

This is a wonderful trail. Alum Cave Bluffs are about halfway up the 6,000+ foot Mt Lecomte, though the walk gets much harder and steeper apparently after the bluffs, which are a worthy attraction in themselves. This hike starts out along a river among thickets of rhododendron bushes, some of which happened to still be in flower, there is a cavelike portion of the walk, lots of water, above is part of one of the vistas seen when one gets higher up on the trail. I recommend it highly.

7. Approaching the Bluffs

We have beautiful nature, but if we do not generate beautiful art or greater intelligence from it, what good does it really do us?

8. Arrival at the Bluffs

This is halfway up a mountain. I made the joke at the time that this is what America is supposed to look like, at least in part. It isn't Manhattan--what is?--but it is great after its own manner.

9. Jellyfish Tank at Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg
This place is first and foremost a money making extravaganza, and the corporation that owns it is supposedly about as sinister as they come, but it isn't a bad aquarium, especially for children, and the children for whatever reason really wanted to go to it, and they often talked about it during the year, so I took them. I found at the end that I was quite emotionally spent by the visit. It was strange. I had not expected it. Kind of as if I were to suddenly--well, do anything I often think about doing but never actually do, though I can only imagine what that would take out of me. I bought myself a souvenir tumbler which I frequently drink my morning Coca-Cola in as well as the occasional stiffer drink.

10. I Don't Even Know What Kind of Fish These Are, But I am Fond of the Picture
I would put some further anecdote here, but I think I'd like to get this post up tonight and I have to go to bed now.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Anatomy of Melancholy VI

Since the site is essentially dead as far as both readership and creativity goes, I was going to open this entry by indulging myself in an examination of the forms favored by my romantic imagination, which I suppose is more generally called fantasy, because for most people that is what being alive and attuned to the manifold physical possibilities of life is. An open-ended essay proved to be too difficult for me to rein in in my current sleep-deprived and mentally unfocused state, so I am going to present my findings in the form of categories.

Imaginative Scenarios Which Do Not Figure In My Fancy, and For the Most Part Do Not Appeal to Me: Hot tubs/scenes generally requiring me to be shirtless during the courtship phase of the relationship. Far-fetched scenarios (shipwreck onto abandoned island for long period of time with no or insignificant male competition, unlikely displays of domination on my part, etc). Very expensive or prestigious settings where my personal wealth or breeding would have to carry the day. Any time of life after about the age of 3o. I think it is actually criminal for most people to imagine themselves as a sensual being after that age; enough so that I seem to make a pointed and largely succesful effort to avoid doing so.

Scenarios Which Do Appeal to me, But Which I am Incapable of Bringing Myself to Imagine. People in movies who are supposed to be kind of dangerous are always persuading women to get it on with them in stairwells and closets and other semi-public places, frequently on a casual acquaintance. This image is a stand-in for all the relaxed, casual, routine type of encounters that most people actually never have, though it many instances the idea of it consumes thousands of precious hours of their lives, including so much of their youth as to seriously impinge upon and curtail their education. I have been able to incorporate aspects of this type of encounter into my dream-life, but always in a more surreptitous form. I cannot plausibly envision myself plunking anybody in the stairwell, however much I might want to do so.

What Does This Leave? Obviously high school and especially college scenarios, in which I am essentially myself--just slightly cooler enough to make things happen a little. Maybe a small harem of regular visitors to whom I can avoid getting overly emotionally attached. Maybe I study my math or my ancients a little harder and can offer such assistance or tutoring which leads to admiration and unforeseen escapades. The Christmas vacation fantasy has always been especially strong, suits my sensibility perfectly. This is where you are sitting around the house either the week before or the week after Christmas when out of idle boredom you decide to call up some person from your college who lives in your general area or someone from your old high school whom you did not know particularly well (or perhaps they call up you), and you make vague plans to meet, one thing leads to another, etc, etc. I heard of several instances where something along the lines of this scenario took place, and it seemed quite wonderful to me. I began to write a short story about such an encounter (happening to somebody else) once. The idea quite obsesses me. In addition to school, I also can call up a whole set of travel-related possibilities, as well as many at lower-class jobs full of sassy working-class girls who are good to go; even though I also hold these low-status jobs in these scenarios, I am somehow understood by everyone to be above them--I dress better than everyone else, am obviously smarter, my circumstances are less desperate, etc. I am really just there to amuse myself, and bring some excitement into the girls' lives, I guess.

"canis ad vomitum (like a dog to his vomit), 'tis so pleasant he cannot refrain." Great saying. Refers to melancholy.

On to the Second Partition:

St Hilary's (a male saint, by the way) bed was on display in the church in his hometown of Poitiers in western France for many centuries, and was said to cure madness in those who lay in it. It does not appear to be on display anymore. I cannot find any information as to why this is the case, though perhaps at some point it ceased to work its former effect on madness.

There is a discussion about the purity of water: "The waters in hotter countries, as in Turkey, Persia, India, within the tropics, are frequently purer than ours in the north, more subtile, thin, and lighter, as our merchants observe, by four ounces in a pound, pleasanter to drink, as good as our beer, and some of them, as Choapses in Persia, preferred by the Persian kings before wine itself." The residents of Bohemia, in particular the area around Plzen, frequently touted the unusual softness of the local water as one of the keys to the country's world-famous beer. I have noted at various times in my life that the tap water in Portland, Maine and in New York City struck me as superlative compared to that of other municipalities. These may have been sentimental impressions based upon some giddiness I was experiencing at the time, but I recall seeing my opinion as regards the surprisingly excellent taste of New York City water back up in the New Yorker magazine or some similar publication sometime back in the 90s.

"By overmuch eating and continual feasts they stifle nature, and choke up themselves; which, had they lived coarsely, or like galley-slaves been tied to an oar, might have happily prolonged many fair years." Worth considering?

"Tiberius, in Tacitus, did laugh at all such, that after thirty years of age would ask counsel of others concerning matters of diet; I say the same." O.K, that settles it. I'll stop obsessing.

I am so far behind in my book reports that in my notes the transition from considering myself as a real literary person to the vegetable I am conscious of being now has not yet been fully completed. It is almost touching to see these remnant of my old self. I would say my old earnest or naive self, but I'm sure I am still earnest and naive compared to what I need to be.

"Ficinus and Marsilius Cognatus put Venus one of the five mortal enemies of a student: 'It consumes the spirits and weakeneth the brain'." This is certainly true, but who are the other four? Later on in the same paragraph Aristotle is invoked as having determined that sparrows were short-lived due to their salacity, which makes an impression, but I am not sure it is really to the point even if true.

"I would see those inner parts of America, whether there be any such great city of Manoa or Eldorado in that golden empire, where the highways are as much beaten (one reports) as between Madrid and Valladolid..." Oh Spain, you ancient country. Little as I dare to protrude myself into experiences that should be reserved for more deserving people going forward, I would still really like to go to Spain sometime when I still have some stamina for walking long distances and staying up after dark. I am also still excited by the thought of going to the Prado, of seeing windmills, of going to Salamanca, of doing the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. I am even somewhat tempted to want to go to a bullfight. The idea of my having any capacity for being affected by these things I know is ludicrous at this point to anyone with a real education or artistic sensibility, or who is even physically attractive, but we all need something ludicrous to look forward to and keep us going through the dreary grind of middle age.

"I Munster doth of cranes and storks; whither they come, whence they go, as yet we know not. We see them here, some in summer, some in winter; 'their coming and going is sure in the night; in the plains of Asia' (saith he) 'the storks meet on such a set day, he that comes last is torn in pieces, and so they get them gone." Eh? Yet I can picture this scene and the general impression of the world which the book gives quite vividly. The thought process at work in it is in sync with the way the imagination seems to operate.

"...or Delos, as the fabulous Greeks feigned (to be the center of the world): because when Jupiter let two eagles loose, to fly from the world's ends east and west, they met at Delos." I never heard this story before. I thought the Greeks regarded the oracle of Delphi to be the center of the world, energy and spirit-wise. That is what I took the idea of omphalos to mean anyway.

"Why so many thousand strange birds and beasts proper to America alone, as Acosta demands? Were they created in the six days, or ever in Noah's ark? if there, why are they not dispersed and found in other countries?..." Uh-oh.

Are lice really instantly consumed in the Azores and other warm places by a secret virtue in the air?

There is a charming section on the restorative qualities of views of beautiful vistas that I am tempted to reproduce in full, with its myriad examples. Since I am currently in great need of spiritual restoration and uplift myself, I think I will do this:

"The citizens of Barcino, saith (Gomesius), otherwise penned in, melancholy, and stirring little abroad, are much delighted with that pleasant prospect their city hath into the sea, which, like that of old Athens, besides Aegina, Salamis, and many pleasant islands, had all the variety of delicious objects; so are those Neapolitans, and inhabtants of Genoa, to see the ships, boats, and passengers go by, out of their windows, their whole cities being cited on the side of a hill, like Pera by Constantinople, so that each house almost hath a free prospect to the sea, as some part of London to the Thames: or to have a free prospect all over the city at once, as at Granada in Spain or Fez in Africa, the river running betwixt two declining hills, the steepness causing each house, almost, as well to oversee as to be overseen of the rest. Every country is full of such delightsome prospects, as well within land as by sea, as Hermon and Ramah in Palestine, Collalto in Italy, the top of Taygetus or Acrocorinthus, that old decayed castle in Corinth, from which Peloponnessus, Greece, the Ionian and Aegean Seas were at one view to be taken. In Egypt the square top of the Great Pyramid, three hundred yards in height, and so the Sultan's palace in Grand Cairo, the country being plain, hath a marvellous fair prospect as well over Nilus as that great city, five Italian miles long, and two broad, by the river-side: from Mount Sion in Jerusalem, the Holy Land is of all sides to be seen: such high places are infinite: with us those of the best note are Glastonbury tower, Box Hill in Surrey, Bever Castle, Rodway Grange, Walsby in Lincolnshire, where I lately received a real kindness by the munificence of the right honourable my noble lady and patroness, the Lady Frances, Countess Dowager of Exeter; and two amongst the rest, which I may not admit for vicinity's sake: Oldbury in the confines of Warwickshire, where I have often looked about me with great delight, at the foot of which hill I was born; and Hanbury in Staffordshire, contiguous to which is Falde, a pleasant village, and an ancient patrimony belonging to our family, now in the possession of mine elder brother, William Burton, Esquire. Barclay the Scot commends that of Greenwich tower for one of the best prospects in Europe, to see London on the one side, the Thames, ships, and pleasant meadows on the other. There be those that say as much and more of St Mark's steeple in Venice. Yet these are at too great a distance..."

"They know not how to spend their our modern Frenchmen, that had rather lose a pound of blood in a single combat than a drop of sweat in any honest labour."

The last one is supposed to be funny.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Old Neighborhood

The New York Times a few months back ran an article accompanied by some maps of the greater Philadelphia area in 1970, 1990, and 2007 with the intent of demonstrating the growth of income inequality over that period (Link gear, King Lear). On the maps the areas colored darkest green represent affluent municipalities or neighborhoods, those colored darkest purple poor ones, etc. The most striking impression one gets, no doubt intentionally, is how overwhelmingly poor the city of Philadelphia has become even since 1990. I have noticed this to an extent on my increasingly rare visits back there, in that neighborhoods on the edges of the city near where I used to live and in which I used to walk around quite frequently, such as Olney and the neighborhoods in the northeast around Cottman and Rising Sun Avenues, have gone markedly downscale in the last 15 years. Most of the local businesses, restaurants and drugstores and so on that I was formerly familiar with appear to be long gone, and the chain stores in these neighborhoods, the Rite Aids and KFCs, have grown decidedly scuzzier. The main revelation of the graphs that seized my interest was that my own ancestral stomping grounds--the Cheltenham-Abington-Jenkintown area, the exact location of which on these unlabeled maps is roughly the corner niche right on the north and west border of the city--were designated as affluent in 1970, largely affluent in 1990, and drifting downwards towards merely upper middle and even middle-middle income in 2007. Among the numerous reasons for my finding this interesting are that the area did not seem particularly affluent in the 1970s, certainly by the standards we would apply to that term today, while today it has, like so many places, seemingly become more expensive and competitive and difficult to maintain either one's former social position or even one's household; yet at the same time one senses that there is some truth in these designations. There are more highly educated and professional people, more and more of whom have no previous familial connection to the area than was common when I was growing up, but there also more seem to be a lot more people of an extremely low quality of education and culture--numerous of my own extended family members fall into this latter category as well now--then there used to be. Indeed, I can think of several families where either the ascent or descent from a common 1950s middle class origin is growing increasingly marked with each succeeding generation; and of course those individuals who have fancier educations and serious professional pursuits are much more likely to have left the area permanently.

The 'affluent' 1970 neighborhood, into which I was born, as I have noted, didn't seem all that affluent. I suppose there were a high number of professionals, a substantial Jewish population, lots of people who never went to college but were still smarter than most people with master's degrees seem to be today who worked in insurance and advertising and things like that, just like on Mad Men. In retrospect, everybody was quite comfortable, they had the finished basement with the bar and the extra fridge and four televisions and all of that, but of course that was made fun of by sophisticated people, and if you were smart you were supposed to be ashamed if you came from this kind of vulgar environment. Now it is increasingly difficult to afford to live there and make any sort of decent income without highly specialized training, at the same time that the overall quality of the population appears to be declining, and this declining segment of the population to be growing. It seems to be easier to follow a pseudo-bohemian lifestyle, provided one has some sense of how to do that, which I was never able to develop; this no longer seems to depend exclusively on social access to somewhat elite artistically and politically active groups in major cities and college towns and select rural outposts. The market has found a way to bring certain aspects of this particular need to the suburbs.

(I could only get the 2007 map to transfer to my page. See the link above for the other two) While I am on the subject, I have a few more anecdotal stories about the old economy, so many aspects of which are fascinating in the light of our current situation, where scarcely anybody is deemed to be adequate for the job he has, let alone to be hired for any new one.

In 1971, my grandmother, 50 years old and out of the labor force since the end of World War II, having no schooling beyond high school of any kind, decided, her children being grown and it having I suppose become dull hanging around the house by herself all day, decided to get a job. She was able to get a position with "the Township" in their offices. I don't remember exactly what her position was, but she used to dress up to go to it, and at Christmas she would get a bottle of booze each from the police chief and the controller and all the other local bigwigs, so I took it to be a pretty grown-up job. She worked there for fifteen years and got a pension, heaven forfend, and they probably would have given her health insurance too but my grandfather worked for Blue Cross for 39 years so he had about the best health insurance you could possibly have when he retired.

When I was a child there was this enormous house in Jenkintown that we used to drive by on occasion which my father was fond of saying he could have gotten for $11,000 in 1969 if only his in-laws, whom he liked to recount as having been hostile to him (with good reason, as it later turned out) from the day they laid eyes on him, had been willing to lend him the money for the down payment, which evidently they had not (people did used to be quite harsh that way. Nowadays no one actually has the money to lend, but back in the day they did have it, and wouldn't give it up). He developed, or at least claimed to have developed, the belief, that our lives, which were evidently less than they might have been, would have turned out completely different had we been able to live in that house. I did used to wonder if indeed this might really have been the case...but I doubt it. I wonder if the bit about the house costing $11,000 is even accurate. Probably not, as my father is fond of embellishing and telling fantastic stories. But even if it was $25,000, that still would have been a pretty good deal. The place must be worth 400 today at least.

Given all of this talk about real estate, I looked up the house we eventually did live in on the internet, and I see that it was caught up full bore in the house flipping craze. The price history, which goes back to August, 2004, shows that it was sold at that time for $197,000. This is pretty crazy, considering that this is just a typical little semi-detached house in the kind of neighborhood where Archie Bunker lived. My parents I know paid $30,000 for it in 1977, and I don't remember exactly how much they sold it for in 1985, when they had to offload it rather quickly due to their impending divroce, but I think it was probably around $60,000. Anyway, March, 2005, seven months after the previous sale: Sold, for $250,000! And it gets worse! December, 2005, sold again, to some lunkhead for $300,000! You've got to be kidding me. Whoever this was got left holding the bag. The place went on the market in May, 2008 for $300,000, and the price kept going down, down, down until it was sold in August 2010 for a $130,000, which still sounds like too much to me. The great question regarding this house, which all the real estate sights seem unable to answer, is whether the wallpaper I had in my room featuring 1910s-1930s baseball cards is still there. Something tells me it probably is not.