“It’s a lot easier to stir crap up than to get it to settle.”
Hill, Reginald. Good Morning, Midnight (Dalziel and Pascoe) (p. 224). Harper Paperbacks.
Quote of the year:
“I’m never afraid and I’m rarely surprised.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
May all your new years be better than the last.
TODAY FROM AMERICA:
A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN MENDOCINO:
With a weather report for a week of rain and a steady drizzle slicking the streets and turning the landscape gray, Naida, Boo-boo the Barking Dog and I set off for Mendocino. I have done this trip so many times I no longer either notice or remember much of the drive other than where Naida and I switch driving duties and walk the dog.
I do recall stopping at Williams for lunch at a tourist restaurant that was not too bad, whose name I no longer remember but whose food was not so good that I would spend the time to look up the name on the internet in order to post here. After lunch, at the deli attached to the restaurant, I bought a panettone (Italian holiday bread) and a large jar of beautiful Sicilian olives for the party my sister was having on Sunday. Alas, when we arrived at my sister’s house and I was removing the jar of olives from the paper bag, I dropped the jar on the counter and it broke. I was so upset that I stalked off into a corner and sulked while Naida struggled to save what was left of the olives.
The first evening or perhaps the second, both Naida and George were suffering migraines and went to bed early, so my sister Maryann and I set off for dinner and caroling at the North Coast Brewery Pub and Jazz Club in Fort Bragg. The Club is usually a jazz venue but that evening the jazz had been set aside for a night of caroling. I ordered a delicious plate of sausage and peppers with polenta and washed it down with a glass of the brewery’s stout followed by a special seasonal berry-flavored light beer. Everything was delicious.
The meal was followed by the entertainment. A local guitarist played and sang a few Christmas tunes. He was Followed by the main event, the carolers, a local group dressed in faux 19th Century costumes that spent the rest of the evening singing many of the familiar carols of the season, enthusiastically and slightly off-tune
The next day the sun played hide and seek with the clouds. Naida, Boo-boo the Barking Dog and I went Christmas shopping in Mendocino and Fort Bragg, after which we had an excellent lunch at Maya Fusion in Fort Bragg. She had a mushroom soup to die for and I a sampler that included Arancini.
Arancini, one of my favorite things, originated in 10th Century Sicily when it was under control by the Arabs. It is a deep-fried rice ball usually filled with ragù (meat or mince, slow-cooked at low temperature with tomato sauce and spices), mozzarella and/or caciocavallo cheese, and often peas, and al burro or ô bburru, filled with ham and mozzarella or besciamella. It is a traditional Italian street food ranking right up there with pizza.
Later, at the wonderful Mendocino shop where our friend Maryjane works, Naida purchased a marvelous scarf. It was woven in India out of wool and silk by women who had been sex workers and were now attempting to break away from that life. Maryjane, who usually has a joke for us, when I asked for it said that she did not have one. It must be the season. Christmas season was no laughing matter in the Petrillo family I grew up in.
That evening, after Naida went to bed, Maryann, George and I watched episode two of the television version of Phillip Pullman’s novels in The Golden Compass series. In one of those strange coincidences that have you believing that you may be living in Pullman’s world, at the moment my sister suggested watching the show, I was in the midst of reading the second novel in Pullman’s second series on the same theme.
Another evening, we all piled into Maryann’s car and drove to the Festival of Lights at the Mendocino Botanical Gardens a Christmas event that I always enjoy. The gardens are lit up with thousands of lights arranged in strange and astonishing tableaus that surprise you at every turn along the dark paths.
The four Amigos warming themselves up after viewing the Festival.
Here, I managed to erase about a week’s entries. Given the current state of my memory, erasing what I have written means most of it is lost. This makes me sad — not because anything I had written was either important or memorable but because for me once gone it is gone forever. Worse, I have the vague recollection that what I had written I enjoyed. Anyway, here below is my best recollection of that week.
On Sunday Maryann and George held a Christmas party for a few friends and the staff of WEST Company, the non-profit she runs. The food was delightful, varied and copious. The special egg-nog prepared by Maryann was unusual and delicious. We enjoyed ourselves immensely.
B. OFF TO LAKEPORT AND BEYOND:
Monday we set off for Lakeport where Naida’s brother lives with his son Bob. From Fort Bragg to Willits, the shortest route from that area of the Coast over that portion of the Coastal Range is Route 20, a wickedly curvy road that passes over the Mendocino Ridge portion of the Coast Range on its way to Route 101. This road is a main route from that part of the coast to Ukiah the Mendocino County seat and relatively heavily traveled. As we turned from Highway 101 (Pacific Coast Highway), Naida told me that at the prior evening’s Christmas party one of the guests who drives that road daily told her that she and other similarly situated drivers actually counted the curves on that 35-mile road and numbered them so that as the drive them they could report to each other the nature and location of any problems along the route.
Another thing, perhaps several more things, that I learned while I drove that road was prompted by the fact that I usually drive as fast as I safely could (at least in my opinion). I believed it would get me to where I was going faster, and of course, confirm my manliness by proving that I was the most testosterone poisoned person on that road that day. Naida, however, protested. Actually, it was more than a protest. She screamed and insisted that she drive rather than me.
It seems, she had been in a number of automobile accidents in her life, including, she told me, once while riding in a car filled with her high school cheerleader teammates, it skidded on a curve, spun as it flew through the air and smashed into the ground tires up. These experiences so affected her that she would become ill when sitting in a car going too fast especially on a curvy road. So, I slowed down a lot and discovered not only was the drive time not appreciably longer, it actually appeared shorter to me. It also allowed me to enjoy the drive more — the dark redwood groves, the glimpses of the valleys between the trunks of the trees, the pretty little bottomlands, lakes, and marshes.
In Lakeport, we met with Roger Smith, Naida’s older brother and his son Bob who seems to suffer from Asperger’s syndrome a condition that appears common in the Smith side of her family. Roger is an accomplished artist, set designer, and singer. Now, because he suffers from macular degeneration, he can no longer paint. Nevertheless, he showed me a number of paintings that he had previously done. They ranged from photorealism to modern impressionism. Of the latter, he favored Cezanne like muted hues with a strong dash of red or another vibrant color.
At the bottom of the page, I have posted Roger’s homage to Governor Jerry Brown. He would like to bring it to Jerry’s attention. If anyone has any idea how he can do this, please let me know.
His set design pieces were quite dramatic and fascinating.
A backdrop for the opera Aida.
Naida, Roger and I then went for lunch at Park Place restaurant by the lake. I had gnocchi stuffed with mushrooms. It was as good a meal as I have had in months.
Naida and Roger
After lunch, we drove back home to the Enchanted Forest.
C. A NIGHT OF PROTEST:
The next day, we attended the Indivisible’s Impeach Trump Rally in Sacramento. It was held at the Capital. I had not been to a protest rally in over twenty years. There were between 3 and 5 thousand people there. There was the usual coterie of long-haired, bearded, shabbily dressed men and colorfully attired women carrying signs. We listened to impassioned, inspiring and at times incomprehensible speeches, sang a few songs, and generally had a good time.
A protesting dog attended and some children also.
Unfortunately, especially at this season, Mark’s mother died a few days ago. Mark is the husband of Naida’s daughter Sarah. She had been suffering from severe Alzheimer’s disease for several years now. We attended the memorial. It was a family affair. I suspect I may have been the only non-family member there. Josephine, Naida’s granddaughter sang a splendid version of Ave Maria. Anna’s children each gave a brief eulogy and remembrance of their mother. After a few more recollections and reminisces, a prayer and a joint singing of a Christmas carol, the memorial ended. Most of those who attend left for a reception at Sarah and Mark’s home. For some reason, I felt exhausted and depressed by the ceremony so I had Naida drop me off at home before she went on to the reception.
I dropped exhaustedly onto the bed and slept until the barking of the dog made such a horrible racket it woke me up. Between barks, I could make out the sound of the doorbell. I rushed downstairs and threw open the door and saw a slightly frazzled Naida standing there. She had returned from the reception but had misplaced her keys to the house.
MOPEY JOE’S MEMORIES:
Excerpt from my unpublished and never to be finished mystery novel, Here Comes Dragon.
Sam Spade: “Then the trick from my angle is to make my play strong enough to tie you up, but not make you mad enough to bump me off against your better judgment.”
I watched her disappear around a corner, took a sip of my wine and realized she had not paid for it. “Bitch,” I opined to no one except me. Drank the rest of my Barbera. Began on hers since she had not touched it and I was paying for it and I am opposed to wasting good, or even mediocre wine on religious grounds, being raised Catholic.
Usually tracing a missing person for the price I was being paid warranted about a half hour or so on a computer, a few telephone calls to bulk up the brief final report. A report written in a way that allowed the client to resolve any residual guilt they may be feeling by assuring that he or she had done all that could be done under the circumstances or, if the client is still mired in guilt, suggesting they pay me the rest of my fee and retain me for another week of futility. What the fee did not include, however, was any effort requiring the use of foot protecting composite material or knocking on doors.
Nevertheless, given that the sun was out and it was about as warm as it was going to get in San Francisco; I had just drunk two glasses of wine; the knowledge that the missing Mark’s apartment was only about three blocks away from where I was sitting; and the urgings bubbling out of that dark and defective communication channel that ran between my brain and my groin suggesting that the extra effort could result in my observing Mavis’s tattoos closer up, I decided to knock on his door just in case Missing Mark had decided that Mavis was no longer his playmate and he was hiding from her wrath.
So, I finished the wine, packed the computer in its protective shoulder bag and signaled to Pino to put it all on my tab (which was met with a scowl and a sneer). I then got up, jaywalked across Columbus Avenue and moved on up Green Street toward Telegraph Hill.
I guess I ought to describe how I was dressed so you do not simply picture a dark blob bobbing along the sidewalk. I was dressed like a dark blob. I wore a shapeless grey-brown short overcoat with wool lining, that I picked up at Goodwill, over a yellow sweatshirt with nothing written on it. I do not do advertising. Black slacks below. I don’t do jeans. On my feet are ugly orthotic enhanced shoes to coddle my nonexistent arches. I don’t do sneakers or trainers or whatever those horribly expensive and garishly colored things are now called. Around my neck hung a ratty red and black wool scarf with a fringe on each end.
The sun was shining. The fabled San Francisco fogs of three decades ago a vague memory. It still, however, was about a million degrees colder in the City than in the East Bay but the temperature was still warmer than it had been in times past when one suffered through 12 months of semi-winter. Now, due in all likelihood to global warming, winter in San Francisco lasts only about seven months.
I regretted this change in the weather. Gone were the fogs that cloaked Hammit’s Sam Spade in his daily run from his offices near the Burritt St. ditch to John’s for lunch. You need a real City for mysteries, full of shadows and unhappiness. San Francisco is not a real City. It is too happy.
On the far side of Grant, Telegraph Hill rises. It is capped by that great phallus in the sky memorializing the transcendental virility of San Francisco’s Fire and Rescue personnel. The stunted cement penis also separates the residents of the sunny side of the hill from those fortunate few who really have views of the water. These few live primarily in shacks converted over the years into luxury aeries. These luxury shacks, reachable only by stairs, cling to the side of the cliff like barn swallow nests cling to the eaves of a barn. Among these fortunate few living snug in their aeries live some of the most unpleasant people living on the face of the earth. They are those who fervently believe that their struggles for preservation of their water views and indolent lifestyles benefit the rest of us.
Now do not get me wrong, I hate rapacious developers as much as anyone and believe that most developers should first be boiled in oil and then burnt at the stake in the middle of Union Square, but if these cliff dwellers were so concerned about the rest of us, as they would have us believe, why don’t they turn their happy huts over to the rest of us, say for two days a week, so that the rest of us can sit by the window, smoke a joint, sip some wine and stare slack-jawed at the Bay bridge marching across the water into Angel Island while the ceaseless maritime traffic in the bay passes back and forth under its soaring piers?
On the sunny side of the hill, the streets get steeper as they approach the crest of the peak. The sidewalks change into steps about halfway up the hill. The houses on this side sit cheek by jowl crammed one next to each other. Built about 100 years ago as immigrant tenements, over the years they have been stuccoed, shingled, painted or wood or aluminum siding as fashions dictated. All now painted either white or some pastel shade of pink, blue or green. All except missing Mark’s building located about where the sidewalk changes into steps. Sometime in the late 1950s someone tore down a number of older buildings and replaced them with a dark shake sided five-story apartment in the then fashionable but utterly boring international style. It gave that side of the street the appearance of an ancient bleached jaw bone with a few molars missing.
I knew this building well. In it lived Ann Kennedy who, as serendipity dictated, lived on the same floor as Missing Mark. Ann Kennedy was a masseuse that I visited now and then. She was the type of masseuse that one finds in the back pages of monthly alternative newspapers or on Craig’s List.
Because of the steepness of the hill the entrance to the building was on the second floor, Ann and Missing Mark’s floor. Various stacks of construction materials lay about as they always have as long as I had come here, but no one was ever working.
I marched up to Ann’s door first, because I thought she may have some information about her neighbor. Also, I contemplated the possibility of spending some of my fee on relaxation and release before embarking on my job. Knocked on the door and rang the bell which buzzed with that grinding sound that I hate almost more than anything I could think of.
The door opened about a foot wide. Now, if one were expecting that curvaceous, cleavage exposing, lingerie wearing, red-lipped, dark-eyed beauty in the photographs that often accompany the ads, it was not Ann. Ann more resembled a reject from a model call for a Dorothea Lange photo shoot on the ravages of the Great Depression, right down to her shapeless house dress.
“Yes,” she said?
“Hi, Ann,” I said with a big smile.
I was met with a grey-eyed, pupil-less stare of non-recognition.
“Do you have an appointment?” she asked?
Thought she was either stoned or my belief in the memorability of my presence was overrated. Decided I would save some money and later resolve by hand any uncontrollable urgings I still may have. Said, “Do you know Mark Holland?”
Long stare. “No.”
“He lives on this floor. He is your neighbor,” and I gestured toward the other end of the hall.
She slowly turned her head and looked in that direction, which made no sense since she was standing inside her apartment and could not see down the hall. Slowly turned back to me.
“No,” and she closed the door in my face.
Stood there wondering if I should kick the door in frustration. Decided I would only hurt my foot. Turned went to the other end of the floor to stand in front of Missing Mark’s apartment door. Looked down at the doorknob. Saw scratches and splintered wood. Thought, “Uh-oh, run!”
However, like touching just to see if a sign announcing “wet paint” means what it says, I reached down to turn the doorknob just to see if what I knew to be true really was.
A. Naida and Joe’s marvelous adventures in the Pacific Northwest on Top:
This is a continuation of the story of my trip with Naida through the Pacific Northwest in what may be her final opportunity to experience the place of her birth and childhood and to visit her relatives who still lived there.
Into the Big Hole
We left Julie Miller and Alder Montana and drove along the path of Lewis and Clark on their voyage of discovery and the later migration of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce nation as they fled their ancestral homes to seek freedom in Canada and avoid annihilation at the hands of the American Army.
On our way to the Big Hole Valley the Land of 10,000 haystacks, we passed through Wisdom Montana. The town takes its name from the Lewis and Clark’s expedition’s naming or the nearby river the Wisdom River (now the Big Hole River). It is considered one of the coldest places in the continental US and home to 98 people.
Beautiful downtown Wisdom Montana
A few miles later we passed the spot where the Lewis and Clark expedition almost gave up and turned back but was saved by Sacagawea who recognized the solitary mesa (Beaverhead Rock) near which her people would camp during that time of the year. She directed the expedition towards it and discovered nearby her brother leading a party of Shoshone rounding up horses.
We then passed onto the ridge overlooking the Big Hole Valley.
The Big Hole Valley
Further on we came to the Big Hole battlefield site. Here the 750 Nez Perce including about 200 warriors (basically the young men of the tribe) set up camp to rest for a few days before continuing on their trek to join Sitting Bull’s people in Canada and escape the genocide threatened by troops of the American government. They did not believe they were at risk because they thought the American army was far behind. Unknown by them, a second army had been dispatched to deal with them. In the night, that army arrived and hid in the trees and bushes by the Nez Perce encampment. As was the usual strategy of the American Army in the Indian Wars, they waited for morning and for the women and children to leave the teepees in order to begin preparing the morning meal. They poured gunfire into the camp in hope that the slaughter of their women and children would so dismay the warriors they would give up. Contrary to the army’s expectation, the Nez Perce warriors rallied, launched a counter-attack, destroyed the army’s cannon, drove the army off with significant casualties and allowed the remainder of the tribe time to withdraw in relatively good order.
The Big Hole Battlefield Site. The Nez Perce were camped in the field a little right of the center of the photograph. The soldiers were hidden in the trees and bushes that appear slightly reddish. The cannon was placed on the large hill just below the tree line on the left.
B. Trenz Pruca’s Observations:
It is interesting to note how much easier it is today for a government to abandon its promises to its people but not to its creditors.
C. Today’s Poem:
“O sanctissima” (O most holy) is a Roman Catholic hymn in Latin, seeking the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and often sung in various languages on her feast days. The earliest known publication was from London in 1792, presenting it as a traditional song from Sicily; but no original source or date has been confirmed for the simple melody or the poetic text. The tune is often called “Sicilian Mariners Hymn” or similar titles, referring to the seafarers’ nightly invocation of Mary as their maternal protector. (Wikipedia)
“Travellers all agree in their account of the effects of the simple air called ‘The Virgin’s Hymn,’ sung in unison by the whole crew of the Sicilian seamen on board their ships when the sun sets, or when it is the twenty-fourth hour of Italy.”
William Seward 1792.
Imagine if you will, a calm evening on the black waters of the Mediterranean. A group of small fishing boats bobbing gently in the swells, a few lights twinkling like the stars above. Then from the boats the rough voices of the fishermen rising in uniform with the solemn strains of the hymn.
Also, note the interesting rhyming pattern in the Latin version.
O sanctissima, o piissima,
dulcis Virgo Maria!
Mater amata, intemerata,
ora, ora pro nobis.
Tu solatium et refugium,
Virgo Mater Maria.
Quidquid optamus, per te speramus;
ora, ora pro nobis.
Ecce debiles, perquam flebiles;
salva nos, o Maria!
Tolle languores, sana dolores;
ora, ora pro nobis.
Virgo, respice, Mater, aspice;
audi nos, o Maria!
Tu medicinam portas divinam;
ora, ora pro nobis.
O most holy, o most loving,
sweet Virgin Mary!
Beloved Mother, undefiled,
pray, pray for us.
You are solace and refuge,
Virgin, Mother Mary.
Whatever we wish, we hope it through you;
pray, pray for us.
Look, we are weak and deeply deplorable;
save us, o Mary!
Take away our lassitude, heal our pains;
pray, pray for us.
Virgin, look at us, Mother, care for us;
hear us, o Mary!
You bring divine medicine;
pray, pray for us.
Many, many years ago, I was a mere callow lad and altar boy in the Italian-American Parish Assumption Church in Tuckahoe New York. The parish and church existed mainly because at the time Italians were discouraged from attending the much larger so-called American Church nearby. At morning mass most of the worshippers were black-clothed vecchiadelli (Old Women). I would often listen to them singing this hymn in that strange reedy nasal voice that characterizes Sicilian singing. It has remained a fond memory of mine, even until now 70 years later.
I cannot resist reposting this quote from the great and irrepressible Terry Pratchett. If one would re-read my many ruminations on memory here in T&T, one could consider me a disciple of Wen.
Wen the Eternally Surprised.
“Why was he eternally surprised?” And they are told: “Wen considered the nature of time and understood that the universe is, instant by instant, re-created anew. Therefore, he understood, there is, in truth, no Past, only a memory of the Past. Blink your eyes, and the world you see next did not exist when you closed them. Therefore, he said, the only appropriate state of the mind is surprise. The only appropriate state of the heart is joy. The sky you see now, you have never seen before. The perfect moment is now. Be glad of it.”
Pratchett, Terry. Thief of Time: A Novel of Discworld (p. 31). HarperCollins.
In addition to the Golden Rule, one could very well take as one’s guide to living good and moral life Wen’s almost biblical exhortation “the only appropriate state of the mind is surprise. The only appropriate state of the heart is joy. The sky you see now, you have never seen before. The perfect moment is now. Be glad of it.” So, be surprised always, be always joyful, and always be glad you are alive.
Roger Smith’s portrait of Jerry Brown, California’s recent governor.
Roger also is the artist who produced the painting behind the bar in Oakland’s Jack London Square’s “ Fat Lady Restaurant.” The Restaurant’s brochure explains the genesis of the name and the painting:
Why the Fat Lady? People always ask, “How did the Fat Lady get its name?” Well, there are two stories. Fact and legend. Fact has it that when Louis Shaterian owned the original Overland House, a superior court judge told him about a nude painting his son had painted of a pleasingly plump lady.
This aroused Lou’s curiosity. He was taken to view the painting and upon seeing it, he decided it was definitely unique but he wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. The judge suggested it should hang in the new restaurant Lou and his wife, Patricia, were about to open and thus became the namesake of the Fat Lady Bar and Restaurant. Now maybe this story is too mundane so we’ve created a legend. Factual history has it that the Fat Lady building (built in 1884) was once a house of ill repute and who could have been its madame? Our very own Fat Lady, of course! Rumors also say that Jack London slept here. Considering he lived within walking distance, maybe . . . just maybe he did know the infamous Fat Lady. We’ll let you decide.”
Roger also painted the portrait of the Yeti that hangs in The Yeti restaurant in Davis.