Thursday, September 27, 2012

Salvatore's Rhenish Trifles

I'm going to get back to trying to write real articles someday. The time I have to do anything is curtailed ever more, but this must be getting close to its peak. Someday I will wake up and actually have hours and days on end stretching out before me in which I can scribble away to my heart's desire. But I probably won't want to by then because I'll be too told and I'll have even less to say than I do now. Though maybe I will be able to pick up something of the habit of dispassionate reflection again, which I have not been able to indulge in for some years now. 

These are more Michigan pictures, from the other day (and a half) on which we did not go to Mackinac Island.

1. Miniature Golf Sign and (nearly empty) Parking Lot, With Lake Huron in the Background, Mackinaw City. Mackinaw City is kind of a sad tourist city--most honest guidebooks describe it as the place where all the people stay who can't afford to stay on the island. I probably could have coughed up enough to stay on the island but I actually didn't have any choice, since we didn't know we were going there definitely until about two weeks beforehand, by which time everything in a remotely reasonable price range on the island (i.e., less than $250) was booked up. Mackinaw City for some reason does not have a proper grocery store (just a dinky IGA) or any pharmacy at all, which I don't understand. You have to go a good 30 miles away to find those things, and if you have to go at night the trip is in complete darkness, because no one lives up there at all. Northern Michigan almost makes Vermont look populated. At least towns with a streetlight or two are somewhat closer together in the Green Mountain State. 

2. Golf. My children don't play properly or keep accurate score. I don't know whether this means anything. Like most modern parents, whenever my children do not immediately do something the exact way they are supposed to, nor immediately show promise of excellence to boot, I panic and assume they are doomed, if not absolutely to prison, than at least a lifetime of social ostracism and inability to ever have any hope of vocation or self-support.

3. Bathhouse/Snack Bar at Petoskey State Park, on Lake Michigan. Lower Peninsula, about 30 miles west of Mackinaw City. The beach was in an attractive spot, and I thought the shapes on this building looked interesting enough to take a picture of it (there was, for the record, also a good-looking college girl working at the counter, which gives any place a kind of instant respectability that it may otherwise have lacked). The town of Petoskey, which we did not make it into, is one of the places where Ernest Hemingway's family used to vacation when he was a kid, and of course Michigan features in many of his short stories. "Up in Michigan"--I just read it in the bathroom, it's only five pages long.

4. The Lake. A Day at the Beach. Hemingway. What do I think of him? He seems pitiless, which is a useful trait, though oddly rare in American writers, or at least good ones. And his style, with its seeming bluntness--though it is not really blunt, it is more like broad strokes that evoke more dimensions of atmosphere and character than is common in such a style--it really is a form of Cubism translated to writing, though Joyce is too, in a different way. And I do think he is important. With Americans, the question is always "How deep? How close to any essential question of life? Is his language, his philosophy of the sort to be part of the foundation of a great national culture?" I don't have a sense of what the right answers to these questions would be for anybody anymore?

5. Entrance to Motel, Mackinaw City. I think this was an America's Best Inn or something like that. Not great obviously but not bad. Three beds in the room. Very cheap. It had a good pool. Family accommodation.

6. The Breakfast Room. This was an island in the middle of the parking lot. The breakfast was not too good. Among other problems the attendant was the sort of unpleasant soul who flew into a rage if you did anything impertinent like say, ask if there was any more packets of butter when the basket was empty. My wife, who has no tolerance for such behavior whether it comes from above or below on the social scale, refused to go down after the first day, but I of course could not stay away.

7. Over the Bridge, and Zipping Along Lake Michigan's North Shore Now. 

A short (one minute) film of the beach at Petoskey. Nothing much happens in it, but it strikes me as having an impressionistic quality such as I like. Since putting up these kinds of movies seems to be easy I think I want to try to occasionally make some short videos for the site. I don't think people will want to watch or listen to me droning on about anything for 15 minutes (while slouched at my desk unshowered and clad exclusively in underwear) but there are things I can try to do to adopt an internet film persona.

The annual book meme is out where you turn to page 52 of some book and read the 5th sentence. I like to do this with my own book(s), to see how they compare with real books. The selection from Volume 1 is taken from dialogue and is fairly pedestrian: "We had it at home." Volume 2's however is a much more characteristic offering: "She happened to smile right at Erlsegaard as she said this, for it had taken but a few seconds for her to pick him out as the man present who was and always would be hopelessly in love with her, even assuming he had just seen her for the first time that instant."

How about the picks from some other books? Hemingway's Short Stories: "'The marvelous thing is that it's painless,' he said." From "The Snows of Kilimanjaro".

The Anatomy of Melancholy: "Never so much cause of laughter as now, never so many fools and madmen."

Rick Steves' Spain: "You'll raft the river of Barcelonan life past a grand opera house, elegant cafes, retread prostitutes, brazen pickpockets, power-dressing con men, artists, street mimes, an outdoor bird market, great shopping, and people looking to charge more for a shoeshine than what you paid for the shoes." Wow.

King Rat: "When Larkin saw it he smiled through his pain."

Lonely Planet Spain: "It's not that other cities don't have these things." Talking about Madrid. I am not going to Spain any time soon, by the way. That is just where I want to go at the moment so I have a bunch of guidebooks for it sitting on my desk.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Chariots of Fire

This was probably my favorite movie when I was a teenager. I know that I said it was in writing on at least one occasion, though this was more an instance of its being what occurred to me at the moment than the result of long and careful meditation. I don't know how many times I saw it--I would guess within the bounds of four and eight--and even at that age I was exposed to enough criticism to be aware that there was a substantial portion of the intelligent population that immediately recognized it as rubbish. I remember one particularly dismissive reviewer calling it a tribute to the human spirit inspired by Barry Manilow (Here is the actual quote, along with a number of other cold assessments I still remember from that increasingly distant time). Such assured evisceration, especially when combined with the suggestion of a tirelessly combative edginess, always makes an impression on me, for such attitude and clear perception are perhaps what I have always most desperately needed, but have never been able to develop. In spite of these persuasive denunciations, and my increased awareness of the lies and false assurances that the movie continues to put over on unreflective audiences, I find that I still like it. These lies and false assurances were certainly of a nature that I had a pointed hunger for in my adolescence, and doubtless still do now, for in matters of taste nothing ever comes to any kind of resolution with me, and thus I never 'move on' from even the most childish affections.

To address first off some of the more common criticisms, namely that the movie plays loose with the historical facts, that it pretends to be critical of the British ruling establishment of the 1920s and the society they lorded over while offering one of the most highly romanticized depictions of it ever to appear on celluloid, and that any depiction of this odious world as at all attractive is offensive to anyone with the most modestly developed moral sensibility, I have to admit that none of these objections has much resonance with me. Most of the alterations to the historical record are decidedly minor and were made in the service of telling a more interesting story. This has only been done thousands of times in biographical dramas and literary works dating back to The Iliad and the Book of Genesis. I suppose it could be argued that the ready availability to writers of much more accurate historical records in modern times renders the practice of expanding liberally from a basic framework in dramatic works archaic, though I think over-adherence to the exact record in small matters is to miss the point of art; though in the case of Chariots of Fire, and probably most movies, most of the critical disapproval in this area is really aimed at the unpalatable (to the critic) aesthetic or political attitude in the service of which the alteration was made. With regard to the second point, it is true that such criticisms of upper class attitudes as are to be found in the movie have more of the air of an intra-fraternal disagreement than an assault from a representative of the legitimately aggrieved. That is the personality of the movie. The two main characters are highly talented and strong-willed, what used to be referred to as 'coming' men. They are certainly developed enough in character, and the society in which they are operating tolerant and flexible enough, that it is impossible they would be entirely crushed by it. The movie depicts a lovely world whose most infuriating quality is not only that not everyone who wants badly to partake of it is able to, but, even more damning, that being left out they are usually unable to reproduce anything resembling its attractive qualities on their own. In a sense the movie serves as a reminder, though I think a pretty gentle one, that some people really are winners, really do make the most of their opportunities and talents, achieve goals and develop into accomplished people who contribute in a positive manner to the character of their society. Though on the other hand perhaps part of the offense is that the movie gives a misleading impression of the glamour of upper class life and the apparent ease, even effortlessness with which the heights of success can be attained, which is one of the primary characteristics distinguishing the second-rate from the first-rate. Nothing that happens in the movie--holding one's one against the snooty elite at Cambridge, leading a serious Christian life that manages to be both noble and unimpeachable, winning gold medals at the Olympics--is presented in a way that seems, or is, inaccessible to the typical middle class audience member, and therein is the film's primary failure, and the reason it cannot hold the interest of sophisticated people who operate at a world class level in at least one area of life (though usually once you attain that status in one pursuit, the difficulty of mastering others appears to be considerably reduced). Great things are hard, they are rare, their secrets are frustrating and obscure. To give the impression that they are otherwise is to misrepresent such real value to the human race as they have. And above all else, the person of middling intelligence and accomplishment must know this, if he is to avoid being an even greater buffoon than he already is.

All that acknowledged, whenever I come back to thinking about the actual film it seems to me to have something in it more than a bunch of pretty but empty gestures designed to manipulate the anglophilic and conservative tendencies of half-educated people. There is a good deal in it that suggests how to live a more vital life, how to maximize one's potential, what kind of people to seek out and surround oneself with, if possible, how to offer something to society on your own behalf. The movie covers a short time in the early part of much longer lives of two dead and, were it not for this movie, largely forgotten men who lived now close to a century ago, culminating in a pair of races that lasted 10 and 47 seconds, respectively, but every life depicted in any detail in the film is presented as purposeful and worth having lived, and I have always found that very reassuring, even though by the standards of the most rigorous modern thought this is almost certainly a lie.

Some footage of the real Liddell and Abrahams in their gold-medal winning races in 1924:

I haven't been able to make the case for it that I wanted to, but I also think a week is enough time to put into the effort.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

You Don't Even Want to Know What This Post is About

The Right Stuff (1983)

I had not seen this previously. I confess to finding it passably entertaining. Americans in the pursuit of grand and heroic achievements. For an almost 30 year old movie, it looks as though it could have come out last week, which suggests that it has been more influential than is usually acknowledged. Its narrative language, its fastidious concern with clothing and interior design, its reliance on cultural iconography, its attitude towards history, that is with fitting characters within the historical framework rather than having the historical setting serving as a background or added interest, are in line with what is still prevalent today. Its stylized depiction of the 50s is very much the same 50s we have all come to know and love over the intervening thirty years, though it is a departure from the usual way that decade had been presented theretofore. This has doubtless been a reflection of the prevalent zeitgeist, which is often skeptical of the possibility of autonomy and is obsessed with institutional power, media manipulation, the engines of bureaucracy and the like.

The early astronauts, it is noted in passing in the film, for all their remarkable efforts and sacrifices and risks, were not paid anything beyond their normal modest military salaries. Nor does it seem to have been much of an issue.

I've never read the book by the famous author Tom Wolfe, nor any of his other books. He is considered a great, or at least important writer by some people--with himself, it seems, often occupying the vanguard of this faction--though the official intelligentsia does its best to tamper any encroachment of this strident enthusiasm into those areas of literary taste over which it wields the most influence. Excerpts from Wolfe's books and interviews frequently appear in the popular press. He does come across to me as more pleased with himself than most of his purported insights, satire, iconoclasm, and so forth, would merit. I know he has been industrious and successful, and that cannot be taken away from him.Still, he does strike me as for the most part tiresome and not particularly revelatory. Given the theme of the movie I was anticipating a more obnoxious, in-your-face brand of machismo to be ascendant in it, but for the most part the swagger was depicted as contributing to healthy competition among men of near equal strength in the pursuit of noble ends, which even I do not have a problem with. Any such totally inferior contenders as were destroyed, dismissed and humiliated in the course of this process were left out of the film; I think this was for the best.

There was a actress in this I took a liking to, named Pamela Reed--that's a kind of name I like too--who played one of the wives. I think she has been in a lot of TV-movie type things over the years. I don't like any of the photographs of her that I could put up here though. She may be one of those people who looks better in motion.

My sixth-grade teacher claimed to be Chuck Yeager's cousin. This is not apropos of anything, since I don't know how tight their connection was or what, if any, similar qualities she benefited from. She was kind of the tough old broad type, and she did not favor me, as most of my early teachers did, so I did not like her. Obviously, seeing that Chuck Yeager was her cousin, she could probably tell I was not made of the good sort of stuff that the film celebrates. Alan Shepard, the first American in space, was from New Hampshire, though that is not mentioned in the movie. I only note this because it is very unusual for anybody born and bred in New Hampshire (or Maine, or Vermont), to attain elite status in any nationally or internationally hypercompetitive field, especially one involving any extreme degree of physicality. (Chuck Yeager was from West Virginia, which is also, nowadays at least, an unusual place of origin for world class talent.)

Entre Nous (1983)

Written and directed by a woman (Diane Kurys), and based on her own memoir, about a pair of friends who  reject the stifling bourgeois life of 1950s France which, as artists are fond of reminding us, was a pretty staid and rigid period in that country's social history, in contrast with our usual image of a land awash in sophisticated and hedonistic intrigue from one end to the other. This started well, and for the first half I thought we might be getting somewhere interesting, but I didn't like how the movie played out. The Isabelle Huppert character and that of her husband I did not think developed in a way consistent with what I came to expect through the first half of the movie. The husband especially got an unnecessarily bad rap. It is perhaps true that she never loved him, though it is not clear to me why she should never have liked him, or felt any loyalty to him. The presentation of him is that he is not especially cultured or sensitive, but he is not a weakling. He runs a prosperous business--a garage, which I guess has prolish connotations, which obviously we are intended to feel sympathy with his put upon wife about. He is very personable socially, and can get along with other men. He is certainly a doting father by the standards of 1950s France that I have heard about. He also by marrying her in the first place saved her from going to Auschwitz--granted they did not know each other and he doubtless only made the offer because he found her pretty. But her character as developed was not especially dynamic or so blatantly superior to his that one felt she had a good reason for abandoning him and breaking up their family to take up with her unstable female artist friend. Also the Isabelle Huppert  husband character begins to act in violent and inappropriate ways, presumably to show she is justified in leaving him, which are however completely inconsistent with everything else we are shown about this man in the movie. So in my opinion there is that weakness in it.

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Perhaps the ultimate false nostalgia movie, though I do love it. I am going to give it its own post to sort out all the middlebrow traps I know are coming at me from the beginning of the picture, and my powerlessness to avoid falling into them.

Jaws (1975)

I had never seen Jaws until the other day, because I am a wuss and I didn't want to be scared. I grew up well acquainted with the tales of theatergoers having to run out into the lobby and vomit during the middle of the film and of grown men who were terrified to climb into bathtubs for several years after seeing the movie and my reaction was always, Do I need this in my life? Thus I was disheartened when this legendary film turned up on my list. As I plowed inexorably back towards the 70s I began to dread its approach. Finally it arrived in the mail. My wife assured me there was no pressing need for me to watch this movie. Yes, but the sanctity of my system...and also the experts it seemed had slowly begun, in recent years, to treat it not merely as a historically important summer blockbuster but worthy of respect as a work of art. The New Yorker just published such a piece within the last few weeks. My trusty video guide had rated it 5 stars. Everybody and his grandmother has seen it twenty times, and it was even, to my admitted astonishment, rated PG, so how bad could it possibly be? Everything seemed to be indicating that I ought to see it. I was ready.

The good news was that it was not as terrifying as I expected. Obviously we have become accustomed to much higher degrees of gruesomeness since 1975. Most of the scariness comes from the anticipation of something about to happen in an alarming, terrifying and unforeseeable way that however does not come about most of the time; this is I think a trademark technique of Steven Spielberg's, though in middle age I find it rather tiresome.

The promotion of this as a great movie is a stretch. There is nothing about it that I can discern that would be interesting to a intelligent person above the age of about twelve, and there aren't even any pretty girls in it, though the main character's (too little seen) wife is decidedly MILFy in the best way. The recent critical reassessments in the direction of greater praise strike me as similar to the arguments put forth for A Hard Day's Night being in fact underrated as work of cinema. Both of these films were monuments of popular culture, made a lot of people in the entertainment industry rich on a scale that evidently is difficult to duplicate, emotionally if not in terms of strict cold finance, nowadays, they remind both writers and Hollywood players of a certain age of the golden years of life, when work was joyous, the world overflowed with 19 year old white girls in memory more beautiful and gettable than what it offers now, substance abuse was socially acceptable anyplace anybody would want to be, art mattered, money was not the be all and end all of every aspect of existence...but let's not get carried away. Also the mechanical shark, which Spielberg and other people have admitted they never achieved perfect mastery, looks really fake. All my swaggering aside, had I seen the movie as a 16 year old in the summer of '75, I'm sure I would have screamed in terror and run out of the theater with my high cut shorts soaked through, and guaranteed myself at least two more long years without getting a sniff of the wild 70s free love raging all around me, putting all my hope into College...

Baby Boomer Magic Moments: Besides the opening scene where a top-heavy blonde at a beach party spontaneously flings all her clothes off while running into the ocean, the big one of course is at the end when the World War II vet and survivor of the USS Indianapolis disaster who has spent his entire life dedicated to killing animals on the water gets his comeuppance for mocking Richard Dreyfuss's Phd by becoming Jaws's last meal. I'm going to cut them a little slack on this one, because the old salt also brought up the soft hands issue, which was a particular obsession of grandfather and numerous other old guys of his generation, where they would disparage the feminine hands of the younger men because of course they had not spent any good number of years, or not enough, doing manual labor to have that coarse effect. To me as a 10-year old I was anxious about growing up to have womanly hands though I was also anxious about there being an expectation I should be spending a considerable part of my youth slaving away on a farm or in some industrial place, because of course I did not really want to do that; but if you were 30 and had to listen to old guys constantly passing commentaries about the manliness of your hands, it must have been annoying as hell. In my grandfather's case, and that of most of his friends, while many of them grew up on farms and were in World War II, after they were about 23 they all worked in offices and lived the suburban lifestyle themselves. But I guess they still had their hands to prove that they had been serious men once, and you didn't. Anyway, having rough hands doesn't seem to confer much status in current society; at least I never hear anyone bringing it up anymore.     

Monday, September 10, 2012

Anatomy of Melancholy Part X

You have to know I would stop doing this if I could. Do you think I like being a figure of fun to real art people (by which I mean the general idea of my type)? Of course I do not. (And before it can be countered that I flatter myself that real art people could ever be bothered to give the likes of me any consideration at all, I do not even mean the people at the absolute heights of the creative life, but those who have managed to find employment as sort of the gatekeepers to that exalted world; professors, critics, agents, editors and people of that ilk. It is they who will find the greatest delight in thinking on my true station). Would I could think of anything else the successful execution of which could both be a possibility and a source of real contentment. I would take it up at once. How I envy  those people whose lives have an order, a purpose, a theme, a governing aesthetic about them. They may not always have a lot of sexual tension in their day-to-day lives but they probably could have even that if they made it a priority. For me, every positive thought or feeling ultimately has to emanate from my literary output and status, which have been themselves been scant in the most recent years. There is scarcely even any foundation left on which to attempt to reconstruct a man, should a master psychiatrist desire to do so.

This should be the last book report post for a while. I would stop doing those too--I am working to modify my notes on future reports--but as in most areas of my life, they form a kind of support from the greater world to my endeavors.

After examining symptoms and examples of love-melancholy in part IX, we have moved on now to possible cures, the easiest and most obvious of which is the possibility of your desires being fulfilled. "Petrarch, that had so magnified his Laura in several poems, when by the Pope's means she was offered onto him, would not accept of her." Doubtless because he knew himself, and knew he was not really man enough to fulfill her needs as a lover or a husband. If he had been, he obviously would have taken her for one or the other long before.

Another good cure recommended, provided you can swing it, is the old trick of stringing along two girls at once, as "he that goes from a good fire in cold weather is loath to depart from it, though in the next room there be a better which will refresh him as much..." Indeed! Of course in most instances the choice is not between two robust fires, but between kneeling and rubbing one's numb hands over a tiny space heater that it is hard to tell whether it is working or not or being confined to the unheated woodshed with a bed of straw and a dirty wool blanket that only covers about three quarters of your body. Though if you are a man who has some things to offer it is good advice.

Montaigne fans will be pleased to know that that master had a remedy of his own for this affliction, though it seems a rather odd one, as it involves seeing the object of one's love naked. It is not that this is not effective in certain circumstances, but it is usually not a practicable option for the class of men that would stand to benefit the most from its implementation. It is true that men who actually see a variety of naked women--in person and on the woman's eager volition with regard to the individual man's pleasure--on a regular basis are rarely the dupes of passion. But this level of experience unfortunately cannot be replicated beyond the top 10-15% or so of the male population.  

There is a long catalog of body parts and other endowments that would be used in the construction of the perfect woman, whom you would still tire of after a few years of being with. I liked the portion of the catalog that took a geographical turn: "...let her head be from Prague, paps out of Austria, belly from France, back from Brabant (Southern Netherlands & Northern Belgium; Antwerp, Brussels, Leuven), hands out of England, feet from Rhine, buttocks from Switzerland, let her have the Spanish gait, the Venetian tire (attire), Italian component and endowments..."

"I am to be married to-day, which sounds to me like saying, 'go home and hang yourself!'" This is quoted from a Roman author (Ter. And.--probably Terence someone or other, but I don't remember). I hate to pass up an ancient marriage joke. Here's another one: "...a mouse in a trap lives as merrily, we are in a purgatory some of us, if not hell itself."

Sample of Austrian beauties. This sort of view is what populates the typical evenings of a lot of guys'--most of those whose lives count for something I imagine--youthful travels on the continent. If I were not for various forms of media, I probably would never have been aware that life existed in such a form anywhere. And as it is, I know very little of what goes on in such scenes; such glimpses as are occasionally afforded those of us on the outside of this heaven that is the possession of a potent sensualism are usually astounding enough to crush the spirit for several days afterwards.

"...Pope Gregory, when he saw 6,000 skulls and bones of his infants taken out of a fishpond near a nunnery, thereupon retracted that decree of priests' marriages, which was the cause of such a slaughter, was much grieved at it, and purged himself by repentance." This shocking--on account of the extremely high number of corpses cited--story is repeated in other places. I cannot readily make out which Pope Gregory is referred to, but I am guessing it is the First, who held the position from 590-604, was famous as a reformer, and has generally a high reputation in the history of the church, however much stock you want to put in that. I cannot readily find confirmation regarding his repealing the edict requiring priestly celibacy, though it appears another Gregory, the 7th, found it necessary to reinstate it as official policy in the 11th century. I have no further comment on it, I guess.

"...James Rossa, nephew to the King of Portugal, and then elect Archbishop of Lisbon, being very sick at Florence, "when his physicians told him that his disease was such, he must either lie with a wench, marry, or die, cheerfully chose to die." What kind of disease, pray tell, was this? And if he had picked 'lie with a wench', would the doctor have then had one wheeled into the room for him?

Off topic, but I always like being reminded of these once-great names and offices and lives. I tend to forget about groups like the medieval Portuguese aristocracy (the James Rossa anecdote is dated 1419), but they were no doubt a meticulously civilized crew after their fashion, and each of their membership a giant in the world they inhabited with the backing of a familial lineage and mythology already dating back centuries. And the extent to which they are remembered now is all dependent on how interesting their depictions in books and artworks are.

"...for scarce shall you find three priests of three thousand, that are not troubled with burning lust." Of course priestly lust is not a subject of mirth, because of the forms it must take. It seems not to consist of the same harmless quality that makes nerd-lust so comical.

On page 948 I wrote: "I am glad I read it, but I couldn't comfortably recommend it. You have to know if you need to read it or not."

"For to what end is a man born? why lives he, but to increase the world? and how shall he do that well, if he do not marry?" Paging 'Ol Dirty Bastard?

Since Burton always argues forcefully on both sides of every issue, it is to be expected that he devotes ten pages to strongly insistent arguments on the necessity of marriage and procreation, though these lean heavily on a kind of supposition that man is the measure of all things:

"Earth, air, sea, land eftsoon would come to naught,
The world itself should be to ruin brought."

This if man did not marry and fill the earth with human children. The poignancy that can be surmised from such discredited conceits still resonates with me.

The next topic taken up is jealousy. I love this story:

"R.T.(?), in his Blazon (?) of Jealousy, telleth a story of a swan about Windsor, that finding a strange cock with his mate, did swim I know not how many miles after to kill him, and when he had so done, came back and killed his hen; a certain truth, he saith, done upon Thames, as many watermen and neighbour gentlemen can tell."

"England is a paradise for women, and hell for horses: Italy a paradise for horses, hell for women, as the diverb (an antithetical saying or proverb) goes."

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A (Sub?) Bourgeois in Michigan

So I never got around to putting up pictures from Florida this year; and in April I went to New York City for three days, to mark which event I had planned an elaborate post in which I laid out the logistic planning and expenses necessary to bring all of my children to town and carry it off smoothly even for so brief a visit. Of course we were limited in what we could do even more than usual, but I had not been to town in a couple of years and I have now reached an age where the number of times left me of ever going there, given my past record, is probably dwindled to a disturbingly small number, so it was still well worth it to me to go. All of the pictures from these occasions are stored in another place which I am not able at this time to access. Which is good, because it is past time I abandoned putting up photo albums altogether, and returned to writing literary generalist essays from an original point of view on a wide variety of topics of universal interest...

So I went to the upper Midwest for my big summer trip this year. It has doubtless reached the point of overkill for me with the road trips, but when you are one of those people who doesn't have any job or entrepreneurial skills, or at least finds it mildly embarrassing to have to tout such meager ones as one does have as the sum of a life's achievement--in other words, you cannot positively state that you will have always even one source of income, let alone multitudes of them, going forward--the possibility that someday all opportunity for even such modest travel will be gone inclines you to think you had better go while you can. 

We went to Michigan first. I had never been there. Michigan is supposed to be in a woeful condition, the very heart of the bad times. We bypassed the Detroit area, going up through Ann Arbor, where we stopped to have lunch. Ann Arbor obviously is a big university town, and I suppose still insulated to a degree from the worst effects of Rust Belt de-industrialization. There were at least plenty of people visible who were not completely downtrodden. Once you get past Bay City the state is largely uninhabited. Obviously you don't see much from the road. The landscape and the people you see in gas stations don't emit as obvious an air of poverty and hopelessness as comparable locales do in the south in my opinion. Again, I saw a sliver of the state, but I was expecting much worse. 

It is also true that I went to Mackinac Island, which is one of the swankier places in Michigan. This place is famous, I know now, but I did not know anything about it until I began reading up for this trip, and I thought it sounded interesting. It is interesting, and I think the older children liked it. I liked it, though again with so many young children you cannot do a lot of the things that you might like to do, such as sit calmly for twenty minutes and nurse a drink. But I would still rather go and eat ice cream and carry people up hills than stay home.

The lighthouse above is one of the iconic Great Lakes lighthouses. It is not on Mackinac Island, but on another, larger island next to it that is preserved land. These places here, in case you did not know, are in a busy little space where the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan (connected by a famous and pretty majestic five mile long bridge) and Lakes Michigan and Huron meet.

The approach to the dock. Believe it or not as I get older I do question the value of site-seeing without any more defined purpose than being in a certain place and hoping to absorb something of its value simply by being present. It doesn't work much. Perhaps it is slightly better if there is some mildly strenuous aspect to it, such as walking or bicycling, or doing research, and I do think for young people there is often some real stimulation. But for me, it is all like everything else now. I am clearly not going to change very much, and the qualities that people flatter me as having and claim to be admirable are not such as I am able to hold in any high value, so pretty much anything I do is going to be, and seem to me to be, rather flat. But for all of that, I am speaking now from the vantage point of the end of a busy summer; by February I am sure I will be eager to go anywhere. Also I have not flown or gone to any foreign country other than Canada in eleven years, so maybe that would seem invigorating after a fashion. That would be very expensive though.

Mackinac Island is famous for having banned cars a very long time ago (1898), which law has never been rescinded. I thought the carless atmosphere would be more striking, like it is in Venice, but here the effect was merely like that of being in an open-air amusement park or historical village, because the island is quite small and any sense of a local population is completely overwhelmed by the touristic apparatus. While Venice is also overwhelmed with tourists, it is still a city of some size, it is very old and different from anything to which we are accustomed, and one can still stumble occasionally, out of high season at least, on a few pockets of workaday local life. Or perhaps I just happened to be in Venice when I was younger and was more attuned to my surrounding environment.

My sons wanted a picture of the vintage water fountain with a foot pedal to draw the water. The lad in the sunglasses is not one of my children by the way. One thing I did observe, was that in both Michigan and Wisconsin, to which we went afterwards, every drinking fountain we came upon had cold, and usually ice cold water. This is almost the direct opposite of the situation on the east coast, where finding a water fountain dispensing cold water can be a more elusive quest than finding free parking. I should add that for most of this trip the temperature was 95-100 degrees, and in Wisconsin they were having a terrible drought. It was a little  cooler way up here in the middle of the actual lake. Probably the high 80s. 

My poor daughter, who has no idea where she is or what is going on, suffering in the heat. Intelligent little girl, though. She may have a chance.

View of Lake Huron some high point on the island, I forget exactly which. Despite what I just said a couple of minutes ago, the Great Lakes are, considering them in themselves and separate from my presence among them, a defining part of our country, and I would like to see more of them. I was especially obsessed when I was out there with going some day to Isle Royale National Park, which is a huge island in Lake Superior, part of Michigan but much closer to Minnesota and Ontario, which is the least-visited National Park in the lower 48. You have to be a serious person to go there. Apart from one lodge at the island's far east end, you are on your own as far as sleeping and food and water goes. All the modern guidebooks present it as utterly daunting, real adventure travel. Your bones will ache, you'll be dirty, the mosquitoes are the size of flying mice. In my 1962 guidebooks, they have photographs of smiling suburban families grilling some whitefish they have caught outside their little pitched tents, with their rowboats pulled safely up onto the shore; but to go there nowadays they recommend you undertake intensive training for a year or two beforehand, and the underlying tone is that children who are not very experienced in this type of high-intensity travel shouldn't be brought there at all.

Nice picture of one of the boys. That's all. The two older ones are only a few years probably from not wanting to go on trips anymore. Another grasping excuse to keep taking them.

Outside the fort at the high point of the island. Lake Huron in the background.

Another child, this time on the wall near the famous Arch Rock.

The famous Arch Rock. Sightseers have been making their may up here for a long time. It's a decent walk from the town, 45 minutes or so. Enough to make most people, and certainly me, feel that the drinks they'll have back at the hotel bar when they return were well-earned.

The place to stay on Mackinac is the 1880s era Grand Hotel, which has that archaic elegance and program of meals and dances and events that you can't really put a price on, which is why double rooms without much in the way of 21st century amenities start at $330 or so a night. We, alas, did not stay there, though it is one of the few hotels I have come across in my travels where I do feel I would like to stay some day, because on Mackinac Island it does seem like if you aren't staying at the Grand Hotel you are kind of missing half the point. They must allow children to stay there, though I believe there are etiquette standards, and I don't think they're allowed in the restaurant at dinner and that sort of thing.

The old fort, which kept the island in American hands over the course of more than a century. A little expensive, but, if you are going to go all that way, you shouldn't skimp on too many things--we had already bailed on the Grand Hotel., and, as well the activities and space and displays in the complex are pretty extensive, though we don't really take, or have, the opportunity to study everything in these places with the depth they deserve.

Though this looks like we are all earnestly learning about life while being stationed at this remote outpost in the 1880s (though the posting was coveted compared with being on Indian duty in Arizona or New Mexico), I assure you nobody is learning or retaining anything, me least of all.