To mark a year’s passing since my “last” post on this blog, I decided to post an email I just sent to a few friends about this year’s “spring”:
“Pardon my self-indulgence: I want to talk about the season. It’s what current social practice calls “sharing,” a word I could never have brought myself to say in earlier parts of my Oklahoma-inflected life. Probably to my detriment.
Calendar says it is Spring. Bones say: “still winter,” and I know that’s so for many of my addressees. It seems to be the identifier of 2013. As I type I look out my office window to endless monochrome gray sky, leafless gray trees, and clumps and mounds of gray snow on gray earth, bordering the gray asphalt. The weather pundits say we shall be 6-8 weeks behind last year’s pace for Spring’s arrival (which, admittedly, was ridiculously early). I find it hard to accept.
Oh, there are reasons for hope: I’m hearing bird calls that come only in Spring, and some of the old crowd are now at our feeders. There are a few hardy crocus and daffodils snugged against foundation walls on my morning walk. The snow piles are shrinking. There are firm plans for trapping and expatriating the groundhog who has taken up residence in our neighbor’s basement through an entrance tunnel just by Fran’s intended tomato garden. The flowering tree buds are bulking up. The rhododendron leaves are no longer curled into cigarette sized cylinders against single numbers on the garage thermometer.
And there is my own stirring: I am two days into a three-day plan to prune the plum tree (so tempting to say plum the prune tree!). I’ve simplified and opened most of the branches that I can reach, so now I must go buy a pair of long-handled shears to do the top third of the tree. No fruit the last two seasons from our neglect of this ritual. And I refuse to do this job on an unstable ladder. Dreams of plum preserves or cobbler next autumn. Maybe.
Also dreams of escape to warmer climes. I’ve been checking prices for Amtrak and the airlines for an April vacation south. But as usual, driving takes too long, and is too tiring. Amtrak takes much too long for a short vacation. And air fares are ridiculously high, when added to car rental at the southern end. And where? We are tempted to revisit port towns we visited by boat 20+ years ago: Elizabeth City, NC, Beaufort, NC, Beaufort, SC, Charleston, SC, Wilmington, Georgetown and Myrtle Beach, SC, and so many others on the Intracoastal Waterway route south. But the promise of food options and lodging on land in those regions could never resurrect the joys of our original sailing adventure, and so much has changed since the early 90s. Including us.
My hermit side says: “Stay home.” I dream of reading Virgil’s Georgics –the most poetic agricultural manual ever written, and dating from 29 B.C. By the fire. An instruction manual for how to get the gods back into your garden. I’m not big on the Farmer’s Almanac, seed catalogs, and, happily, have no responsibilities involving birthing lambs, castrating male bovines, breaking horses, plowing fields, incubating chicks, or building rabbit hutches. But….there is something in the blood that wants to join the dance of spring, cultivation, renewal. I suppose I’ll settle for the usual lawn care, and Fran-support for her flower and vegetable gardens. And maybe a small trip somewhere for whatever purpose.
I have attached a photo of my grandfather (dad’s dad) and family taken probably around 1905, standing (most barefoot) in front of their sorghum mill (sorghum is a sweet tall grass used for sileage and making sweet syrup like molasses). Oklahoma. My dad is not among the children: he had not yet arrived. My grandfather is in a straw hat at far right. Zooming will reveal that maybe we do share some DNA in facial structure. I would not wish this life, but I’d wager that grandpa, born before Lincoln was president, would understand some of my “stirrings” and discontent on this still-winter day?
“Monday marks the ninth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war and occupation. The rationale for that war was fabricated in the highest reaches of the U.S. leadership.
First came the lies, so many it was impossible to keep up. Then came the shock and awe, the crudely invented Iraqi jubilation, the torture, the renditions, the secret prisons, the indefinite detentions, the deluge of unaccounted-for cash, the no-bid contracts, the flaccid media, the spectacle of “mission accomplished,” the smug claims that there was no insurgency, the lousy armor …
The endless flow of blood.”
To his eternal credit, Maine’s representative, Tom Allen, was among those who voted NO on the authorization. Try to remember what life was like under a Republican administration before you vote in November!!
I lived in Los Angeles, France, and New York City during the ’60s and ’70s, and though I was writing my doctoral dissertation on contemporary German and French philosophy, it is fair to say that my passion went overwhelmingly to film (and jazz). I was a regular at the underground film showings at the Midnight Cinema, and was addicted to the art films from Europe (Bergman, Fellini, Godard, Truffaut, Antonioni, Varda, Schlondorff, Wenders, Fassbinder, Herzog, Skolimowski, Malle, Chabrol, Rivette, Akerman, and Rohmer–to name a few of the more prominent.) And this leaves out wonderful films from Czechoslovakia, Spain, Cuba, Africa, and many other places. As a film worshipper, of course I loved Hitchcock, and took pleasure, occasionally, in American Screwball Comedies of the ’30s, as well as ’50s melodramas like Sirk’s. But my tastes were rooted in (my own post-religious) snobbery regarding the “seriousness” of European films (God! Death! Alienation!). A deeper attraction was owed, however, to the easier European standards regarding nudity and sex in mainstream films. Scopophilia ruled my film-going, but my justifications ran towards theory based in French existentialism.
My world was upended in my discovery of ’40s & ’50s film noir, while I was living in New York (there were seminal festivals at the Thalia and Bleeker Street Cinema). I saw immediately that earlier American cinema was great as art–pushed along by my knowledge of Godard’s love of these films, and by the wonderful writing of Manny Farber, who championed the “termite art” of Don Siegel and Hawks, Walsh, and Sam Fuller, against the pompousness of Welles, and other high-gloss Hollywood filmmakers. (Farber died only 4 years ago, age 91, having established himself in a major way as a writer, critic, painter, and professor. American culture is much in his debt.)
This new passion led to a decade of teaching courses in Film Noir, as I collected (alas, Beta format) videotapes of at least a hundred of the best of the noir canon.
What I hadn’t noticed in this little cultural trajectory is that American film was enjoying yet another renaissance. My own little cheat sheet on the history of American film would probably claim that the last great era of American filmmaking ended in 1977–the year that “Rocky” won the Oscar over “Network” and “Taxi Driver,” and immediately before the blockbuster syndrome completely took over the profit-making machinery of Hollywood. American silent film is unsurpassed (’20s). The screwball comedies and social soapers in post-depression ’30s films were unequaled in the world. Films noirs of the ’40s and ’50s were high art AS high entertainment. And the ’60s and ’70s brought us a golden age of American film that seems not to have a name. But it did have its dominant chroniclers and “critics”–namely Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert, who were, in a much diminished sense, the disciples and scribes of this movement in a way similar to the role played by Truffaut and Godard in the explication of the aesthetics of the French New Wave. But with a difference: they did not themselves make movies. They made, or attempted to make, prevailing taste. And unlike most other American critics of the time, they did not pontificate from a distance, but rather based their criticism in unabashed boosterism, enthusiasm, superlatives, and complete conviction about the role that their own personal feelings played in evaluating the films they reviewed.
I’ll take Manny Farber any day over Ebert, Siskel, and Kael, but these critics did preside over America’s introduction to a new “golden age” of world-class film making. Just consider a short list of some of the better films made between, say, 1964 and 1978:
The Apartment, Cape Fear, Bonnie and Clyde, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, The Graduate, Medium Cool, The Wild Bunch, The Godfather series, Blue Collar, The Deer Hunter, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, Dirty Harry, Chinatown, Deliverance, Mean Streets, Badlands, The French Connection, The Conversation, and many more. These cannot be defined by genre, but there was this ferment, excitement, and cultural commitment in a large swath of educated Americans. Films still made a difference. Rather a miracle, when you remember that this was the time of the transition from hippies to disco in pop culture, and the era of the tragedies of Viet Nam.
Of course there were many great films after this period (Scorsese made Goodfellas and Raging Bull later), and I’m sure you can name many other contenders. But there was something special about the way American films appealed to grownup tastes across a wide swath of world film devotees from the mid-’60s to the late ’70s. I rarely go into a movie theater now, and it it not just because I have Netflix, Hulu +, etc.: first-run movies rarely seem worth the time and money I used to give eagerly.
I can’t embed the video, but click here to watch on YouTube: one of the best-edited dance videos ever, using clips from Rita Hayworth movies (plus Astaire, Kelly, and many other greats), doing “Stayin’ Alive” as you never thought you’d see it!!!
Public Service Announcement: I read that the tempo of this song is exactly right for pumping the chest, using CPR…
Bernard Moitessier was perhaps the greatest sailor of the 20th century, and his exploits had a great deal to do with my obsession with sailboats for a couple decades.
He joined the Golden Globe single-handed around-the-world race in 1968, and though leading as he approached the turn north between South America and Africa, he decided that winning the race was not especially important to him, so he kept sailing on past the Cape of Good Hope, and ended up in Tahiti, after sailing 1 2/3 times around the world alone, much of it in the most dangerous sailing latitudes in the world, in the Roaring 40s, and Ferocious 50s latitudes South. He credited yoga with his ability to handle the stress of the journey, and embarked on a long career of sailing exploits, environmental activism, and efforts for peace. He died in 1994 near Paris. He pioneered a method of sailing in the southern oceans that involved driving the boat as fast as possible, and surfing down the face of the waves at just the right angle to avoid being pitch-poled from the following waves. NOT FOR ME! I was a very cowardly sailor, but I am moved by his writings, and by this video he made underway in the giant waves of the South:
As a philosophy teacher, I never passed up a chance to tell my students that college should be used to choose an entire way of life–reading, history, travel destinations, political core beliefs, religious and philosophical commitments and questions, artistic endeavors, and answers to the hardest questions that human beings have asked about what is true, what is real, what is death, and what is a GOOD LIFE. So I’m not surprised by the discontent of these people–our best and brightest–who chose to use their education to make the most money possible, and evolved into predators. Sad.
E. B. White, one of two or three of my favorite writers, wrote “Memorandum,” in his book of essays, One Man‘s Meat, in October, 1941–just a couple weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The title refers to his listing the approximately 200 chores that need to be done before New England winter sets in on his Maine salt-water farm–each sentence beginning with some variant of “Today I ought to…” After a few pages he notes that the sun is going down, and he has spent the afternoon at his typewriter, thus avoiding the work, postponing acceptance of winter. He decides to go into town, since he “ought to get a haircut.”
If you run a large farm in Maine, October is a time of reckoning. Chores not completed will be impossible a month later, and a price will be paid, up to–and maybe including–disaster.
For a city-dweller like me a similar memorandum could be written to myself in October, (I ought to put on the storm windows, clear out the spent tomato vines, shut off the water-line to the outside faucet, put away the hoses, put on snow-tires, have the furnace inspected, take in the outdoor furniture, and so on.) But April involves a much longer list in preparation for putting in the gardens, and preparing for warmer weather, while doing repairs necessitated by winter’s toll on paint, stain, asphalt, and plantings. And this year the list is heavily augmented by other more pressing factors: F. has a photography exhibit to prepare for the month of May, and we have decided to reconfigure in several household categories–vehicles, home improvements, and budgeting strategies, among others.
So this is all in the way of saying that this blog gets shoved aside for a few days, to allow more hours per week to be spent looking for used vehicles, drawing up lists, AND doing what’s needed around the place (new window boxes, new garden plans, painting, and much more.)
I will leave everything online as it is, so feel free to check back from time to time in case I found time to post new entries, or to read older posts that you may have missed. But I will no longer wake each day thinking about what might be fun to write or put online.
Thanks so much for your kind responses and interest, and have a great Spring, which arrives officially in a few days. Having no hair, I will not be going into town to get a haircut, but if you know anyone selling an old 4-cylinder Toyota Tacoma pickup truck, I might be interested, since that garage MUST be cleaned out before gardening season!