Letter from a Vagabond 15 May 2019 Too beautiful for madness…

May 15, 2019

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It is May and I have arrived on Martha’s Vineyard, where I will be for the summer, selling books at Edgartown Books.  For the first time since I have been here, the sun is out, at least momentarily.  The Vineyard is beautiful and especially so when the sun is shining.

Last night, I started a letter and then hit delete – I was frustrated with the way the words were coming out.

The last time I wrote a letter it was a paean to my friend, Bill, who passed away unexpectedly.  Thank you for all the kind responses.  Inside there is a bucket of tears waiting to fall down my face and they have not come. To be truthful, I am a little afraid of when they might come, hoping it is not sudden and unexpected, though it probably will be.

Another friend is having a heart valve replacement today, probably as I am typing.  Another reminder of the tenuousness of life…

But it is morning.  I am on the Vineyard and I am taking a moment to be grateful for this moment of living because I don’t know what is going to happen in the next moment. It may be filled with inexplicable joy or that proverbial truck may come around the bend.

We all live counting on tomorrow, mostly deflecting the knowledge that the number of tomorrows is limited.  If we dwelt too much on that, we might all go collectively mad and it is too beautiful a day to go mad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter From a Vagabond 05 May 2019 A Paean to Bill

May 5, 2019

A Paean to Bill

 

Definition of paean

1a joyous song or hymn of praise, tribute, thanksgiving, or triumph “unite their voices in a great paean to liberty”— Edward Sackville-West

2a work that praises or honors its subject ENCOMIUMTRIBUTE “wrote a paean to the queen on her 50th birthday.”

Merriam – Webster

 

Friday morning, before even beginning the day’s fight against gravity, I looked at my phone to see what emails might have come in during the night and found one from my friend William Epperson, Ph.D., scholar and charmer, teacher and student, a man who inspired me and whose laugh/giggle delighted me whenever I heard it, his voice a lovely mix of southern Missouri growing and Oklahoma living.

But it was not from Bill, it was from his wife Linda, also my friend, an elegant and gracious lady, born in New Jersey horse country, wife of Bill from the time they first climbed into their twenties.  She was letting me know he had died, succumbed to e-coli, sepsis and the accompanying shutting down of organs.

So, I write what I hope is a paean to my friend, William Epperson, who I met when I was nineteen; he was the best friend of my college roommate, Ron Morris, who was seven or eight years older than I, Ron, a Viet Nam vet, a medic, whose time there coalesced all his traumas and from which he never really recovered.

We went to Tulsa because Ron wanted to see Bill and Linda and I went along, not dreaming in my young mind, they would become lifelong friends from that visit.  They lived in a wonderful, 1920’s Dutch Colonial on Evanston Street in Tulsa, a home of which I have many fond memories.  In that dining room, I first learned to love artichokes and, in their kitchen, laughed my head off when, on one Thanksgiving, bent over to remove something from the oven and could not unbend.

They sheltered me on my way to California, on a journey that was fraught with excitement, hope and fear.  When I finally moved out of my cottage, I surrendered the letters they had written over the years to me, a correspondence that started that nineteenth summer.  At that house, their then youngest, Rachel, a toe head, with Bill’s wide wondering eyes, took me for a walk around the block while everyone else was busy.  There was some drama happening; I remember that but do not recall what it was – it didn’t concern me.  Or Rachel.  So, she took me on a walk to be sure I wasn’t lonely.

She had inherited that generosity of spirit from her parents.  Bill and Linda opened their arms wide and allowed people into their lives.

He kissed us with his incredible kindness and laughter, with hugs to be remembered, and cherished.  If I remember correctly, his dissertation was on American metaphysical poets of the late 17th century and early 18th.

He wrote poetry.  He helped me last year with a poem of my own.

He was a teacher and he was the inspiration for me to go to graduate school and to teach.  I wanted to be like Bill, to be the kind of adult man he was.  He cared for his students and some became lifelong friends

He helped me be honest about my struggles as he was honest about his and he encouraged me to be more daring.  He stood by me, literally holding me up, as I walked down the darkest alley of my life.

A fallen away Catholic, I eventually followed Bill into the Episcopal Church. I believe in God; it is due much to this man.

He had grown up in a rigid, southern fundamental religion. When painting his garage one visit, he told me he would not have been allowed to be my friend when he was growing up because I was Catholic, which caused me dismay, and which resulted in both of us laughing in the hot Oklahoma sun.

In that house in Evanston, one year, I lingered for some weeks after they had left to see Linda’s family because I had been bitten by a brown recluse and spent my time fighting fevers while listening to their collection of classical music.  I camped with them on the banks of an Arkansas river, on land owned by Linda’s parents, sleeping outside, under the stars on a cot, near a town where he fretted about me because I was northern, with longish blonde hair, driving a newish Mustang, and northerners weren’t much liked in that part of the world.

He was a sprite, Puck in “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream,” a prankster, laughing his unique laugh/giggle, who made merry, loved life and the pleasures it can give — good food, good drink, thrilled to be alive and sentient in this mad world, a man who loved to use words and to savor reading words.  He loved a good story and loved telling them.

My heart has broken.  In my stomach there has been a knot since reading the email.  And I feel indescribable joy he was in my life, that we threaded through parts of it together and tethered ourselves to one and another when were not physically proximate.

He was a fully human man.

 

 

Letter From a Vagabond 29 April 2019 As the sun sets…

April 29, 2019

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The rose-colored sunset is gone, and the world is dark.  My friend Larry is on the wraparound porch, conversing with a friend whose call he needed to return.  Jazz is playing; Larry and I have returned from a lovely dinner at Flammerie, an amazing restaurant in Kinderhook, where I had the bratwurst of the day [Oh My God!!!] after an amazing soup with layers of flavor, including pickled onions.

It has been a day of organizing; throwing things away and finding what is needed for the summer.  I thought I had no khaki pants; turns out I have twelve pair.  I thought I was short of t-shirts, black, that’s my color now.  I have fourteen, at least.

The truth is, I don’t track what I have. Never have.  It was a joke one time in my life that every time I went to the grocery store, I came back with ketchup because I didn’t think I had any.  When I had twelve bottles, it finally occurred to me I needed no more ketchup, for a long time.

So, what I am doing is sorting things out to find out what I actually have.  It’s fun and frustrating and amusing.  Because almost everything is done electronically, I had no idea until today what I had done with my checkbooks.  They are now discovered, even if I don’t use them again.

I have more sweaters than I realized.  More of some things I thought I had lots of and less of things I thought I had lots of – whatever happened to all those white socks?  This is my time of finding out.

And, soon, I will be headed to the Vineyard.

Letter from a Vagabond 26 April 2019 Under the raspberry sky…

April 26, 2019

Outside, the sky is a swirl of raspberry and white, portending the predicted rain.  After a day of life maintenance things, a very long conference call, and a quick-ish run to the store, I have put on some jazz, snuggled into my Keene Farm corner and begun tapping out a letter.

It is here that I will refuge mostly until it is time for the Vineyard summer; from here I will stage my departure for the summer, figure out what I need to take and to leave behind, though I have accomplished some of that.

Sunset comes later every evening and I am grateful.  While not here for all of winter, everywhere I went on this sun-kissed day, people told me how grateful they were as the winter had gone on too long.  It had had a wet chill, piercing down to the bone, with a grey shroud, dampening everyone’s spirit, pressing down with a constant reminder of mortality and the fear that spring would not come, that we had descended into the world of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, where it was always winter but never Christmas.

This week I dined with friends, Fred Morris, Claire and Len Behr, at the beloved Red Dot, having so much fun we agreed to meet again next Monday for dinner at Chez Morris, not too far from the Keene Farm. So glad to share laughter with friends in a place that means so much to me.

Easter Sunday was all about trains, planes and automobiles, working my way from Baltimore to upstate New York – a plane from Baltimore to Albany, train from Albany to Hudson, car to Alicia and Larry’s for a traditional Easter dinner.

The last time I wrote, Notre-Dame was burning. Today, I discovered a robot was used by French firefighters to get where they were not able to go; rebuilding will be assisted by 3-D scans created over the last few years.  Technology helps save us though I will stand on my soapbox and say we need to re-train for the age of AI and I don’t think we are.  That’s the rant of the night.

Truly, I don’t have a lot to rant about.  One of the life maintenance things was to have my hearing tested; I am on the cusp of needing “augmentation.”  Another sign I am no longer the youngest person in the room. Sigh! And LOL!

What adventures I have had!  And will have.

A friend’s mother passed away this past week.  We spoke yesterday.  She told me it had been profound for her she had been present when her mother left as her mother had been when she entered.  And that is a yes.

I am falling into a very sweet spot this evening.  The great Julie London is singing in the background, the sun has set over the Catskills, black has enveloped the world and I will curl up with my mystery, “The Risk of Darkness,” by Susan Hill, one of her Simon Serrallier books, very satisfying if you like mysteries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from a Vagabond 15 April 2019 Moloch devours…

April 16, 2019

NotreDame

On a grey, drizzly day in the summer of 1978, I entered the aged greyed walls of Notre Dame de Paris, purchased a slim taper of a candle and lit it, saying a prayer for love, in gratitude, against the backdrop of the loneliness of that time, the only sound the scuffling of shoes on stone floors and the deep breathing of those around me praying. The Cathedral filled me with the sense of ages as did much of Paris; I knew I was in a solemn place, filled with the memories of the long dead and the hopes of the living surrounding me.

For some hours this afternoon, I watch Notre Dame de Paris burn, its spire tumbling into the hungry flames, as if the god Moloch had taken hold of the church, devouring her as he had the human sacrifices thrown to him. My senses numbed, not wanting feeling to overwhelm me.

Every time I have been in Paris, save the last, I have returned to Notre Dame to light a candle, for love, in gratitude, praying for what needed prayers at that moment.  Wandering Paris in October, my feet took me to many churches, in all of which I lit a candle, but my feet did not carry me to Notre Dame.

When I had paused at the Eiffel Tower, I had been startled by all the security, understandable in this destructive time when some have lost respect for the past, good or bad, that brought us here, hating symbols of so many kinds, so perhaps I feared the same thing or felt Notre Dame would be always waiting for me, paused in eternity for me to light another candle when the time came.

There is no regret I did not go and there is grief she is damaged, though perhaps not beyond repair, work that will not, I am sure, be finished in my lifetime and so a spot I counted upon is taken from me and all the others who come year after year in the millions to pay homage to the structure that has stood against wars and time.  She has suffered damage before and been rebuilt; it’s said not much of what burned today was original.  But Notre Dame has stood, started in the 12thcentury, a miracle of faith climbing to the sky, nestled on her island, the Seine flowing all around her, a symbol of her country, a holy place for Christians of any persuasion, a site of historical weight and a place of spiritual rest.

Today’s burning reminds me of the transitory nature of all things, especially we fragile men, who are here a blink of time compared to Notre Dame. She stood in the background when the king and queen of France lost their heads to the guillotine. She saw Napoleon crown himself and Josephine, she saw him leave to exile, return and be exiled once again.  Places like Notre Dame are center points in history, places that bridge time and carry the spirits of the men and women who rest beneath their walls for a moment into the future when they are gone.

Letter from a Vagabond 11 April 2019 Our Lady of Solitude…

April 11, 2019

Once again, the sun is setting over the Catskill Mountains and I am watching the pale pink glow of the sun as it slips behind them, hoping the old adage, “red sun at night, sailor’s delight,” holds true as I have many things to accomplish tomorrow as Saturday, early, I am heading to DC to care for Zoey the cat.

One of the things I must do is replace the tire that went flat yesterday.  I rolled into a tire place just at five and the man said, “See ya!” AAA came forty-five minutes later and found multiple things wrong with the tire.  I went to my usual place as I think the tire might still be under warranty and found them inexplicably closed for the day.  I’ll go back tomorrow.

What is below is a poem, first sketched out in Oaxaca, while sitting in the Church of Our Lady of Solitude.  I don’t often share the poems I write though I thought I would send off this one to you.  Enjoy, or not.  Thanks!

Our Lady of Solitude, March, 2019

Our Lady of Solitude

sees me,

Her eyes pierce.

 

You are known,

She whispers,

All that solitude and loneliness.

 

Weighted by truth,

wanting to flee,

staying out of need,

glued to a pew meant

for believers,

I stay.

 

Yes, lady,

silent words

from the true part of

a once fecund soul.

 

Having conversation

with a statue, signals

madness never far

from

every separate day.

 

Seems fitting,

somehow,

Sebastian is at her side,

nearly naked,

before arrows robbed

him of young life.

 

Letter from a Vagabond 06 April 2019 A pause in Los Angeles…

April 7, 2019

It is evening, the sun is setting over Los Angeles, a steady stream of traffic flows east and west on Beverly Boulevard, the amazing panoply of Los Angeles’ vehicles, from the everyday to exotic brands I am unable to identify.  Last night, outside La Scala, where I was having dinner an enormous Rolls limo waited for someone, with an assortment of Range Rovers, Lamborghinis, Mercedes, and a BMW that was identified to me as a hybrid sportscar from that brand.

Once, June Lockhart’s manager, Pat Newby, said to me, when I lived here, that Los Angelino’s wore their cars like furs, parading status. She was persuading me to buy a Mercedes to up mine; I bought a Saab convertible.  This is a city that has been very good to me and a city in which I would not like to live again; it is now in my life’s wake and, while it is interesting to pause here, I am delighted it is a pause.

Yesterday, Joyce, who is the owner of Edgartown Books, and I got together and began to work out the threads of the summer. Events, staffing, how to order books – who would think ordering books for a bookstore would take an advanced degree? The process is mind boggling! And, to my great delight, three of my favorites from last year will be returning – the stalwart Comrade Vlad, from Romania; the amazing Tea, from Serbia, and the magnificent Alexander, just finishing his first year at Duke.  I am so pleased I could burst!

This morning, I had breakfast with Michael, once a boyfriend, now a friend, happy he is in a grand relationship with another man, whom he deserves.  It makes me smile to see him happy; something he richly deserves.  I was to have dinner tonight with a friend, postponed now to breakfast in the morning, due to a bronchial infection she is fighting.

The little hotel in which I am staying is one where I tarried for two months long ago when I was here on a project and for which I have fond memories.  It has no restaurant but serves a lovely breakfast in the morning and a nice wine reception in the evening and is surrounded by restaurants if you want more. I recommend it, called the Elan, just east of the Beverly Center.

Tomorrow evening I will have dinner with my much-loved godson, who I have not seen in many months and I am looking forward to that with much anticipation,  much to catch up on and his presence always brightens my life.

Monday, I will see my friend Tory, in from Nashville to visit her parents, have lunch with Medora and Meryl, my stalwart friends of long standing; we talk once a week, buttressing each other as the winds of life cause us to sway in its gusts.

Then back east on Tuesday morning, returning to The Keene Farm for a few days of rest and relaxation before a train takes me to DC.

The vagabond life goes on.  More to come. As always.

Letter from a Vagabond 03 April 2019 Coming to peace…

April 4, 2019

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Outside my window, Banderas Bay shimmers with afternoon light while people fish off the concrete pier just down from my hotel and paragliders sail above it; a soft wind blows and cools the 80-degree plus day. Shortly, I will go for a walk, down to the Malecon, the mile-long boardwalk, where I have yet to go.

Unlike in Oaxaca and Mexico City, I have stayed close to my hotel, sitting quietly watching the water, reading endlessly about the chaos that is Brexit, fascinated as one is while watching a train wreck.  Every day seems more unbelievable than the last in this saga but, then, so does every day in politics.  Squeaky clean Trudeau is mired in a business scandal; Macron has his yellow vests, like yellow jackets swarming on his presidency, and we have Donald Trump, who doesn’t seem to know where his father was born. The man who has ruled Algeria for twenty years, Bouteflika,has resigned, I think.  Did he go today or is he going later?  Either way, the mobs that brought him down aren’t satisfied and won’t be until the powerful group around him is also gone.  And, of course, there is Brexit, again and, seemingly, always.

Two nights ago, I went to The Iguana Restaurant and Tequila Bar, housed in what was once the villa of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, an incredible space with equally incredible food; I had sopa de lima and a pork rib so succulent it fell to my fork without a struggle, followed by a chocolate mousse and blueberries!  Divine.

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Less divine was the fact I sat alone in the middle of the room, as it was the only table for one available and everyone seemed to notice me, smiling nicely, if a little pityingly, as I ate alone, reading about, what else, Brexit.

When I ate alone in Oaxaca or in Mexico City I did not feel as on display as I did here in Puerto Vallarta – perhaps because this is a vacation town filled with couples and families, groups of friends.  It took a day of self-therapy to bring me back to my sunny self, a day spent writing and reading and remembering I choose to travel, alone.  If I waited for companions, I would probably still be sitting somewhere, waiting for schedules to align.

It is just that here, I felt a bit vulnerable; caught unaware, and a soupcon of self-pity slipped in unexpectedly and needed to be firmly wrestled back to the mat.  My normal, sprightly self took a bit of a whack amidst all these merry mates. Perhaps, it is because it is a very gay town with lots of couples wandering along.

But I am human and, as Alexander Pope once said, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”  So, being human, hope springs eternal.  Resting on my bed, legs crossed, laptop in lap, watching boats skim Banderas Bay while outside horns bleep and laughter rises up to my balcony, I tap away, merrily. Somewhere, not too far away, I smell cannabis burning as a resort town plays, and I adjust.

 

 

 

Letter from a Vagabond 28 March 2019 — A request for advice…

March 29, 2019

Haydara

Hamid bin Haydara

I am asking everyone I know, from my blog, from Facebook, LinkedIn, everywhere to give me advice.

When I was in Lebanon for the Lokahi Foundation Global Summit, I met a young woman, who I will not name here, because I have no idea that if I do, it will endanger her in anyway.  She lives in the Mideast, works for social justice and appealed to me to help her help a friend of hers, Hamid bin Haydara, a fellow Baha’i.

The Baha’i are not held in high regard anywhere in the Middle East that I know of – they are not Muslim, not Christian.  Here is how Merriam – Webster defines Baha’i:  “an adherent of a religious movement originating in Iran in the 19thcentury and emphasizing the spiritual unity of humankind.”

Doesn’t sound very threatening but Iran, where it originated, is particularly determined to crush it out.  In general, rigid Muslims hate them simply because they are not Muslim, with a fierceness larger than that reserved for Christians.

This young lady has reached out to me to ask me to help save her friend, who was scheduled to die this past January 29th. As far as we know, he still is alive.

And this is bigger than what I generally do with social media.  I told her to get his story told as widely as she could, and she is reaching out to me to help her do that.

In the race from place to place, I think I have pushed it aside a bit as it felt too big for me.

Hereand hereand here are three articles explaining the situation. You can google him; there is lots out there.

So, if you have any words of advice on how to save this man’s life, which seems very worthy of saving, please be in touch.

Thank you.

 

 

Letter from a Vagabond 24 March 2019 In the heart of the Zapotec…

March 25, 2019

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              Not long ago, I rose from a short nap, tired after four hours in the sun at Monte Alban, the vast, mostly unexcavated ruins of the Zapotec Indians; one of the great cities of Mesoamerica.  Around 500 BCE, the Zapotec, if I am remembering what my guide imparted, leveled off the top of the mountain and began building a temple complex and home to the ruling elite and flourished until about 900 CE, when it was apparently abandoned with the Zapotec moving their administrative center to Mitla, about 60 kilometers away at some point in the future.

Speculation is that Monte Alban grew as a fortress against some external threat.

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            They had a written language, among the first in Mesoamerica, and Zapotec is still spoken today in a variety of places, including parts of southern California.

They had a multitude of gods, most of them bloodthirsty from what I have been able to gather.  The first writing happened on the danzantes stones, which have many sacrificed men carved into them.  Like the Maya, they played a game with a rubber ball sent through a metal circle and archeologists are still working out whether the winner or the loser lost their head to appease the rain god.

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The Zapotec created an empire, traded with the Olmec, Teotihuacan and Mayacivilizations and the Teotihuacan and the Zapotecs were particularly close.  There were defined spaces in each of their capitals for the other.

They seemed to have a thing for male genital mutilation. They mutilated the conquered and the priests mutilated themselves for the gods.

In 1930, the greatest treasure in Mesoamerica was discovered by a Mexican archeologist, Alfonso Caso as he began to uncover Monte Alban.

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 They were astronomers, keeping track of when the rain would come, and kept detailed carved records of medical issues, with slabs showing operations, difficult births and painful deaths.

No one knows why they faded away around 900 CE though it corresponds with the decline around then of other Mesoamerican civilizations.

When I stood in the ruins of Tyre, I didn’t feel as foreign as I did today.  Tyre is part of our collective western history; Monte Alban is not.

When I was dropped off, I went immediately to Casa Oaxaca for something to eat as I had had nothing all day, having the most luscious duck tacos in a black mole sauce! OMG!

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Now, despite the nap, I am still weary and will probably have a quiet evening around the hotel and its environs.  Here in Oaxaca, I sleep early, rise early.

While here, I have worked on a long piece of writing I have been avoiding, written a poem and been nurtured by the valley that gave rise to the Zapotecs.