by Gilles d'Aymery
"Whatever you may be sure of, be sure of this: that you are dreadfully like other people."
—James Russell Lowell, My Study Windows, 1871
(Swans - November 6, 2006) AN ANONYMOUS READER, Mmika1936 AT cs.com, WRITES: "I feel sorry for you. You missed a wonderful life by being so negative." Actually, Mmika, I fee quite good and not at all negative (at present). I do something that I enjoy tremendously -- the publication of Swans Commentary. Thanks to it, I've met or interacted with highly positive and thoughtful contributors and fellow humanists. I take much pleasure in my writing, though I do not do enough of it and am rather undisciplined. I live in an environment that I much appreciate. I've worked a good many years to reach this stage of my life, which would not have happened without the help, emotional and practical, of my companion. Over all, I'd say: Not bad! I'll confess to one and only negative: I'm having an interesting experience but I'm not much paid for it.
NOW, IF YOU FACTOR IN wars without end, the increasing militarization of our society, torture, loss of habeas corpus, a derelict education and health care system, the decrepitude of the infrastructure, ecocide, the disrepair of our delusional democracy, etc., I would submit that there are some legitimate reasons to experience at least a bouquet of negative feelings. Okay, let's attribute these anxieties to intermittent bouts of depression. Hopefully, this explanation will be more satisfying to Mmika1936 AT cs.com.
OTHERWISE, Overtheages AT riseup.net writes laconically and succinctly that, "no one is listening..." Well, Overtheages, so what, then? Should we pack our little belongings and move to a country where people listen? Could you kindly indicate the direction? Should we fold? Darn, it's not like Swans is a successful commercial enterprise (see the donate page). Should this little voice of sanity become silent? You tell me.
MY OLD FRIEND and arch-conservative (of the good kind -- he is a friend, after all), Kevin Cunningham, sent me a link to a re-mastered song by Frank Sinatra, "Strangers in the Night." The lyrics now read (first two stanzas):
Strangers on my flight,
turbans they're packin'.
Wonderin' if they might,
plan a hijacking.
They could pull a stunt,
before this flight is through.
Something's on their minds.
I saw them mutter.
What that in their hands?
Looks like box cutters,
I'm gonna kick some ass,
if they make a move.
What's amazing is the digitalization of the end product. It's like Frank Sinatra is actually singing the new libretto with the same old tune. Again go listen. Just amazing!
TALKING ABOUT AMAZING THINGS and new technologies, this one is simply mind-boggling. First, here is a little secret that my partner in crime, Jan Baughman, asked me to keep under the rug out of embarrassment (or as she puts it, people who've not listened to him don't understand but jump to criticize...). "Tough it out, Janitou," I told her. "This one is getting vented publicly." It happens that Jan is a big -- I mean huge -- fan of Howard Stern (don't ask me why). When the man moved to Sirius satellite radio with a $500 million contract in hand, Jan followed suit and got a subscription. I could not really object to the additional expense since, once I fully paid for the house, she's essentially become the breadwinner in the little family of two (plus the two dogs, the three cats, and the two hens that no longer even produce eggs). Heck, I can barely pay for Swans operating costs ($59.99 a month for satellite, $19.95 a month for land access [through Earthlink], $17 a month or so for Web hosting through pair.com, and the various hardware and software that are required to stay in operation -- hey, would it not be about time you, friendly readers, change the situation and donate your fair share?).
ANYWAY, FRIDAY A WEEK AGO, Jan drove up from San Francisco to our somewhat secluded place in the Anderson Valley with her usual stock of good stuff (food mainly, and my re-supply of vices...). In addition, and for the first time in a year or so, she had the Sirius radio boom box with her. "What's this about," I asked. "Wait till 5:00 o'clock," she answered. "It's a surprise." And what a surprise it was! Came 4:50, Jan placed the box on the deck -- it was one of those Indian summer nights with the temperature around 70 deg. F., or 21 deg, C. -- and played with the antenna until she got the right signal and proper sound. She served me a plate of French olives and cornichons, a bunch of crackers with Roquefort, and a glass of iced Famous Grouse scotch whisky -- talk about bourgeois tastes. "Stand still, and enjoy," she told me.
LIVE AT THE MET: Yep, that's what I heard, right on the clock: Live at the Met, no less, no more. Followed Puccini's Madama Butterfly, LIVE from Lincoln Center in New York City. Let me repeat and emphasize: Madama Butterfly, LIVE from Lincoln Center in New York City. (I can only hope this is not the main reason we are in Iraq...) So, here I am, lost in the boonies of Boonville, in Northern California, sipping scotch and gnawing my rotten teeth on very "civilized" condiments, and listening to a LIVE performance in NYC.
I AM AN OPERA BUFF, or better said, a music buff -- like Louis Proyect is a film buff (which I am not). Music has been an integral part of my life from very early on when my grandmother would play 75 rpm records on a 1930s portable wind-up phonograph. No electricity. You just turned the handle for a while, and you could hear the grainy sound of some magnificent voices -- Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, or Mado Robin, the coloratura soprano for whom Grandma had a particular fondness. Even if god did not exist, you had to believe in the gods and goddesses of music: Such beauty was beyond the beyond of not just imagination, but sheer beliefs themselves. Mado Robin and Enrico Caruso were deities in the ears (and mind) of that little toddler. My mother too had a strong influence in developing my love for music as I related in June 2004, in Ron and Ray, on the occasion of the Genius's passing (Ray Charles). She even sent me to a classical music school for a while.
WHEN I LIVED IN MANHATTAN in the 1980s and worked in the oil & gas industry, I initially rented a furnished apartment. My first purchase? A stereo! I knew no one, worked 15 hours a day, including most Saturdays, and spent my evenings reading and listening to music. A year later, I finally moved to an unfurnished studio apartment on 69th Street and 3rd Avenue. Even bought a small 13" TV monitor. Aside from jogging or bicycling in Central Park and visiting museums, my only other entertainment was -- can you guess? -- to religiously attend almost all performances at the Met: Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, Massenet, Bellini, Donizetti, Wagner, Bizet, Goudod, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Rossini, and on, and on. I can do name-dropping of composers as easily as the fake progressives and intellectuals cite each other to vainly display the company they keep! Let's put it this way, my vanity is more sensorial.
AS THE SIRIUS Web site reveals, "Metropolitan Opera Radio offers up to four live broadcasts weekly during the 2006-2007 season as well as an amazing collection of live recordings, newly restored and re-mastered, from the Met's illustrious radio broadcast history." So, in this 21st century, as we are being besieged by the terrorists of the Islamo-fascist sort, one can enjoy the remaining few, culturally-enriching pleasures of our degenerate culture ensconced in our little paradise (when it does not rain too much) far away from the Iranian nuclear threat and all the brown people of a wretched, uncivilized world who want, we keep being told, to cut our balls and barbeque them for an evening feast in the company of 70 virgins. I wish we had exported opera to pacify the periphery. My fellow Iraqi brothers and sisters would have appreciated the sound of that music more than the thunder occasioned by our bullets, allegedly aimed at instituting democracy in the name of the bible.
THE OTHER DAY, about a month ago, I was driving back from the dump when I spotted a young couple trying to hitchhike a ride. Used to do a lot of it in my youth and tend to stop when I can. They were teenagers with two big and two small backpacks. I stopped. We put the bags in the bed of the truck and they sat up on the right front seat, the young woman uncomfortably sitting on the lap of her male companion. Two young kids. She had a small golden ring in her right nostril. Just two kids on a trip around America. They were heading to about three miles past my place. I said I would drive them to their destination. They were quite thankful. Then they switched to a different language. I could not figure what it was, so I asked. It's Hebrew, one answered. Gosh, I said, and I used to work in Israel and Palestine...forgetting that all the Israelis I interacted with talked to me in either English, mostly, or in French, but never in Hebrew. How could I recognize the language? We did not talk about politics. We did not talk about war. I just asked them what they were doing around here. They'd left Israel three weeks earlier. They were traveling, going from a local commune to a friend's house. They were experiencing. Had the fortune to do so, as I once had. Maybe they'd find a job. Maybe they'd go back to Israel. That was the extent of the exchange in 10 or 15 minutes. I figured they were two kids taking time out of school and exploring California before going back to Israel where they would soon have to enlist in the IDF.
HAD THEY NOT SPOKEN in Hebrew and had I not asked what language they were speaking, I would never have figured out that they were Israelis. Kept me thinking. When in Israel, I stayed one night with an acquaintance of mine. She had just married. The two of them were both friendly and somewhat distant. When I tried to engage them on the issue of the Occupied Territories, she -- I vividly remember -- said she did not care to talk about the Territories. She wanted to talk about life and the future, without war, and bloodshed. She added in the form of a question (I paraphrase): "Gilles, where do you want us to go? We were born here..." I had no answer, but a simple "nowhere. Stay put." With a hint of ire in her eyes, she retorted, "that's easy for you to say."
SO HERE I AM, driving two kids, two very friendly Israeli teens who had the great opportunity to travel away from home, and I asked myself: "They were born there... Where are they to go?" That, in a nutshell, is the Israeli existential question that has besieged their society for almost 60 years. Would their parents and grandparents have the wisdom to negotiate with their Palestinian counterparts, perhaps that existential emotion would in time recede into a quieter corner of the Jewish psyche? These two kids were simply beautiful, as all kids are when treated humanly. Can Israelis treat Palestinian kids humanly, so that in time their psyche is healed and hate recedes?
BOONVILLE NEWS: Ah, ah, David Severn, the great editor of the Anderson Valley Advertiser has finally nixed one of my Letters to the Editor. I've written a few in the past two months and admittedly he appears to fail to understand them. I suggested that the police, instead of arresting kids for driving violations, should offer the offenders a bargain: Clean the trash along the valley's roads one or two weekends in a row or get booked into jail. Severn did not get it. I can't fault him. Americans have been raised on the notion of responsibility and punishment. You've done wrong. You deserve a harsh sentence. Then you can be rehabilitated into society. They cannot fathom another way of dealing with "erreurs de jeunesse." Had I grown up in this culture with the "family" I was granted by total randomness -- I certainly did not choose to be born -- in this country, and in light of my teenage years, I would be living in a maximum security prison today. What an idiotic, destructive culture in a country that has more inmates per capita than anywhere else in the world, and growing.
I also suggested that the Mendocino supervisors -- the big bosses in the county -- look into implementing a county-wide Wi-Fi network. He did not get that one either. Perhaps he does not know what Wi-Fi is...
Regarding an ad-letter informing Valley people that one individual was starting classes to teach the locals to speak Spanish, I suggested that it should be the other way around. Bring English classes to the Latino immigrants so that they can integrate into our society more rapidly. Severn still did not get it. He wrote: "d'Aymery, we still do not understand you" or something like that.
One needs to keep a modicum of humor to stay alive. So, I wrote back:
Franklinly, dear Severn, your lack of understanding surprises me not. Rest assured, however, that it does not paine me. I've long figured out that you were neither Ben nor Tom. Lo essencial es invisible a los ojos, dijo el zorro...
Which he published as:
Franklinly, dear Severn,
your lack of understanding surprises me not. Rest assured, however, that it does not paine [sic] me. I've long figured out that you were neither Ben nor Tom. Lo essencial es invisible a los ojos, dijo el zorro...
Of course, he seems to have missed the reference to Ben Franklin and Tom, which co-editor Jan Baughman, pointed out to him:
Just a quick note from a fellow editor: It appears that you made an error in the publication of Gilles d'Aymery's letter to the October 25 AVA -- or simply missed the nuances -- by inserting a "[sic]" after paine (as in Tom), but not after "Franklinly" (as in Ben). Both "misspellings" would deserve as "[sic]" if the pun was missed; otherwise neither did, as in this case of a play on names.
That said, it does not worry me if you don't understand Gilles, his views, and his Gallic humor. I've lived with the man for close to 20 years and still don't always fathom how his mind functions. Some of late would attribute his intellectual demeanor to a "French thing." I suspect, however, that you would be oblivious to his charms -- a "gender thing." Perhaps you could interview him to understand what he is doing and why he is doing it. By the same token, to address your dwindling readership, you may consider publishing some of Swans original content that we've offered to you free of charge instead of republishing material spread all over the blogosphere...
Finally, back to editing and plays on names, its' Jacques with an "s" and Daniel without an accent. Otherwise, "Jacque Danièl" too deserves a "[sic]." Touché.
This drew the following statement from the great editor:
We don't worry about your perception of our "dwindling readership" (that you and the mari seem to enjoy mentioning so often), so there's no need for you (or le marionette [sic]) to either, thanks.
Err, the [sic] should have been placed before the marionette. It should have read la and not le, but to ask the editor to be an editor would be too much...to ask...from a non-editor! Clever play on words, however...
Meanwhile, a reader responded to my letter regarding the Spanish classes, pointing out that there were many different classes in the Valley, from English speaking to citizenship-taking and other goodies. Standing corrected, I wrote the editor the following:
Please extend my thanks to Barbara Goodell for her informative letter addressed to me through your courteous conduit. Becoming a US citizen being the least of my concerns and interests, I'm afraid the offered classes would do me little good. Woodshop, Big Band (what's that?), and Chorus (err?), will categorically change the fabric of the Valley...I suppose. Computer classes are little appealing to me. I used to be a computer consultant between 1991 and 2000, and got out of the business when I found out that teenagers could do my job in half the time (and cost) it took me to reach a modest result -- and that was before India got into the loop. Hopefully a kid is teaching the AV computer class, though I would not bet my subscription to the AVA that it is the case. Office skills? I love my messy self, thank you. If not I'd move to Kansas, a paragon of cleanliness, I hear. Now, here is a class I could benefit from: how to draw a plot, or structural plan -- not a blueprint, just a structural plan -- for the shop that Dennis Toohey helped build before disappearing from circulation, structural plan left undone, once he had gotten his money? I'll gladly sign for such a class. Fixing shitty-made drip systems is another class I'd join in a hurry. In other words, learning to patch up the nuts and bolts that are so poorly put together by the great people of this Valley would add to a healthy curriculum! Where can I sign? Again, thank Ms. Goodell on my behalf for taking the time to straighten me out of my foreigner-induced ignorance about the great educative programs that take place in the Valley.
This said, I confess to being confused by your link between methamphetamine production and vineyard operators, all the while blaming American blindness, cupidity, self-centeredness, and arrogance, for the conundrum. Correct me if I err but meth is a thriving business in Steinbeck's country, in and around Salinas. That I know grapes are not the culture of choice there. It's more about tomato, lettuce, spinach (rather tainted of late), and other veggies. It would appear then that meth's production is not related to any (mono) culture but to an economic farming system that the good people of this great country applaud on loudly, as they stack their SUVs with goodies from their local Wal*Mart, charged on their maxed-out lines of credit. The cheaper the better, as ol' Don MacQueen (always a pleasure to read his fine remarks and keen comments in these pages) keeps repeating with cogent analysis.
The main problem I have with your demonization of the wine business in the Valley, as though the vineyard owners were responsible for all the ills that assail our idyllic valley (nostalgia anyone?), is that you are not offering any alternative. What would you replace the wine industry with, Severn? You belittle tourism; you harass the wine growers; you consistently ignore the fact that the local businesses, some of them advertisers to your rag, employ illegal immigrants and pay them slave wages, in order to make their own profits from the vineyards they serve dutifully; you decry weekenders and disparage newcomers, etc. Why don't you come up with a few solutions for a change?
Keep in mind, populism for the sake of negativism leads to fascism.
(Note for the record, I do not drink wine -- that's one possible reason the French exiled me to this forsaken land -- and I do not drink "Jacque Daniél" [sic] either.)
That's the letter the great editor chose to bowdlerize. Could any sane individual explain to me the reason?
GOT THE FIRST RAIN of the season and fired up the wood stove listening to another live performance at the Met, not thinking about David Severn! The moon was full. Jan was home. The food was good. A tenor, a soprano, good lighting, and the stage is set... How much is this negative, Mr. Mmika1936 AT cs.com?
Ç'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.