Archive for August, 2008

The 28th of August

Ah, another good day. Stopped watering the plants in the front this morning to hail Gary and Elle on their walk. Favourite neighbours, who celebrated their 50th anniversary the other day. Remarkably, they still find everyday things to laugh about, pottering in their backyard, or hanging out on our deck. Great guys.

Corky and Mal, other neighbours, reinforced by some relatives in a big SUV, are heading off to Fools Hollow Lake, on Linden, to do some fishing. Their 60th anniversary is coming up soon.

Janice is inside, on the computer, in a labour of love. She is composing lyrics for a Christmas jingle for a company in Guyana. The request comes from a Trini composer now living in Toronto, a talented fellow with whom we worked while we all were in Trinidad not so long ago.

I remember the last time we were in Guyana. We slept, precariously, in a standard hotel bed and the night was remarkable also for the sound of the sea swooshing against the seawall, and the agitated lanyard for the flagpole in the courtyard snapping against metal as the wind kept tormenting it.

Janice eventually broke the back of the assignment and proceeded to Gary and Elle, back of our house, to collect names for the birthday cake to be the centrepiece of Sunday’s gathering.

Then we made a sweep of grocery-buying, first to Safeway for a few special things (not counting the Harper’s, bought because William Gass had a review of Henry James in it) then to Wal+Mart for more basic stuff, since our cupboard was markedly bare.

I took Janice’s careful shopping time to drive to Lakeside-Pinetop, 15 or so minutes away, to the Bookworm. I had ordered “How Fiction Works”, by James Wood, the New Yorker critic, and it came in yesterday. i was also able to catch up with Haruki Murakami and friend, Ed Abbey.

Murakami I wanted to read for some time now, but felt I wasn’t quite up to tackling any of his 10 or so novels. I was lucky, therefore, to set up possibility of an easy entry through his memoir, “What I Talk About when I Talk about Running.” And I found Abbey’s “Down the River,” which I had left behind in Trinidad, and was happy to see again this meditation of a trip down Utah’s Green River woven into an appreciation of Thoreau’s “Walden.” Good stuff.

And so we went to the gym earlier today to keep up the ritual of placating our bods, and were back in time for the the Democratic convention wind-up.

Today is the 45th anniversary of I Have a Dream. Tonight Obama, accepting the nomination, made a serious down payment on that far off dream. Not at all a bad day.


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It was, simply, a box of 60 tea bags of Caribbean flavours; coconut, mango and passion fruit, brought to us by a dutiful daughter, evoking our years in Trinidad. But what immediately struck me was the illustration: five supposedly Caribbean women, in a style of rendering that made them look more like vestal virgins.

And I knew, immediately, that the drawings had to be by Stuart Hahn, the Trinidad artist much influenced by Aubrey Beardsley, the Art Nouveau illustrator. Stuart actually worked briefly for the advertising agency where I worked. So the box of tea turned out to be more than just a gift of Trinite flavours.

The last of the 60 bags, mango, was cleverly used by Janice to brew sun-drawn tea, the jug sitting out on the patio to catch the rays, and moved, as the sun moved, to get the flavours going.

Intrigued by the way Stuart was able to join us here in Show Low I looked him up, and a blog told me he was born in Nevis, educated in Barbados and Trinidad, and worked for 14 years in advertising before devoting his energies full time to fine art work.

Stuart is the illustrator of three books, The Selfish Geni, Tales of the Paria Main Road and Derek Walcott’s Ti-jean and His Brothers. And, of course, the welcome box of Trinite tea that happily found its way to us.

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Latin lovers

The line about music having charms to soothe the savage breast is not, I assure you, lost on the menfolk of San Jose, Costa Rica. Let’s say you’re in some kind of trouble, real or imagined, with your one true love. You’re so deep in trouble, in fact, she won’t even allow you a word of explanation.

Even your impassioned efforts at reconciliation seem to inspire in her a definite wish to have the matter taken up by the Civil Guard. Ah! All is not lost. Quick, to the Cafe Esmeralda, happy haunt of the San Jose Union of Musicians.

You’ll find their songs of love and devotion practically fool-poof in persuading an aggrieved lady love to go easy on you, even to call off the fight.

We stumbled upon this remarkably civilized form of marriage guidance one night, after a quietly spectacular midnight dinner at the nearby Casino Espanol, next door to the Theatro National. Janice and I, walking silently down Avenida Two, came across this overspill of musicians on the sidewalk.

Musicians were inside sitting around shooting the breeze. Some were laughing. Some were plucking at instruments. Some wore what I took to be ceremonial wear, while others were less traditionally dressed.

One small group on the pavement was setting up some kind of slow harmony, and a pretty good tenor was trying out a softy cooing love song. We went to bed that nigh determined to check out the meaning of this midnight rendezvous for strings.

“Aie, yes,” Alfonso told us the following day, enroute to the Cariari Country Club. “You ask them to play, yes, when there is a party. Or if there is a little problem with your girl friend when she is, how you say it, mad at you.” Alfonso was taking us around San Jose in a loving introduction to his city.

The Union of Musicians, while giving love the occasional helping hand, constitutes, as well, a kind of living repository of traditional Costa Rican melodies.

They are proud of their professional status — a status attested to by their style, as well as the permits issued by the government, and they are none too happy to be mistaken for what they consider the amateur talent making the rounds of the San Jose bars.

When not involved in wooing by proxy, the musicians come together as the Rondalla Costa Rica, under which name they’ve recorded albums of folk songs.

If, therefore, you have a mind to score a few points while in Costa Rica, get Jose Lopez and some of the boys at the Cafe Esmeralda to serenade your lady. Especially if you don’t have cocoa in the sun!

And whether she understands what they’re saying or not — you’ll be down in her books as one hell of a Latin lover. All for a song or two.

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Do unto others

You saw a lot of it in the Primaries, and now it is showing up, dramatically, in the General Elections: one arrow in the quiver to take down your opponent is to accuse him, repeatedly and righteously, of doing what in fact you are doing to him!

And even the lion in the fable knew about this: remember? The lion, drinking upstream, spotted a fat lamb downstream. “Hey, you down there,” roared the crafty fellow, “you are muddying my drinking water. Stop it, or else…”

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Morning glory

Talk about watching the grass grow! The Morning Glory has caught, and is thriving and I go out on the porch, at intervals, to gaze at the spectacle, not exactly hoping to spot increments in their upward twirl, but thrilled, nonetheless, at their hopefulness.

Janice couldn’t picture our home without, somewhere, a cascade of Morning Glory and its punctuation of blue. But unbelievably we found no seeds at the shops in Show Low and the dream was held in abeyance. Then a year late, this July, Mel came from San Diego for Janice’s birthday, bringing with her packets of seed.

Following instructions Janice soaked them in water the night before, then hopefully set them in the tub of earth at the corner of the house. They caught and, after a brief period to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings, amazingly began their characteristic upward reach. I was thrilled to help them; carefully lifting a tendril one morning and resting it on the trellis, repeating the exercise the following day.

That was all they needed. And now they avidly reach upwards in what I hope will be a race before arrival of winter frost. Perhaps they will not bloom this year, but their enthusiasm makes me feel so good about the days!

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As the natives do

Americanization continues, but slowly, with Janice’s purchase on my behalf of a baseball cap (made in Vietnam, incidentalIy). I am, in this respect, blending in with my environment here in the White Mountains of Arizona.

Guys around here love caps, and pick-up trucks. Quite a few of them step out of their cabs in cowboy boots, and some of the more native-looking natives affect boots that point aggressively upwards at the tips and, not satisfied with this distinction, heighten the effect by opting for gaily coloured boots, preferably with ostrich-like textured leather.

We haven’t gone all the way with my cap, though; it not being red, nor does it carry the escutcheon of the Arizona Diamondbacks, since I’m still uncertain whether D-backs signify baseball or basketball.

But I have successfully taken to the cap, though not to th extent, as appears to be the norm, of wearing it in public while eating.

I recognize that the overall process takes time, and I’ll begin to get an inkling of my progress as the garage gets progressively overwhelmed by detritus, and when such leftovers reach the point where, inevitably, a garage sale is called for.

Meanwhile, I try to wear my cap at a certain angle, hoping that even the casual observer might come to the conclusion that I, like them, have the obligatory hunting license, and that my other car is definitely a pick-up.

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We were on the porch sharing a bowl of Bing cherries with two neighbours when the name of Larry King came up and his interview of the previous night on the powers of mind.

This prompted Janice to recall the morning in West Virginia and the extraordinary conjunction that still amazes us.

In school in Arima the headmaster was reviewing essays and he singled out Cecil Rousseau and me. Our essays were too good, he thought, leading him to feel certain we had lifted them from some book or magazine.

For this seeming infraction he roundly excoriated us, promising heavy licks for what he saw as a shameless deception. But my essay was indeed of my own devising, wrought from my own usually unreliable mind.

I had related the story to Janice, remembering the shame I was made unfairly to endure that morning in Arima.

And there we were, this other morning, driving along the hills of West Virginia, more concerned with the curiosity of crosses, in threes, that commanded many a hillside along the winding road.

“I wonder,” Janice said, out of the blue, “if that teacher ever found out that you later earned a living writing… the teacher who didn’t believe you had written that essay.”

Her query came as a thunderous surprise. For one thing, we had never spoken of the incident since that day, long go. For another, and without any reason to do so, my own mind had also flickered back, at that very moment, to the same incident!

Our minds, without a discernible prompt, had locked on to an incident of my long ago school days; Arima and West Virginia simply telescoping into one, through an impromptu, and improbable, double feat of mind!

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