Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day!

Seeing as how it's Boxing Day here in Canada I thought that I'd post a music video "Give Me Your Heart" (just click on the link) from The BoxCarBoys, a new group from Brazil.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Love out of mind


Not that the mind
Is out there all alone
Attempting to make
Sense of it!
The mind is many-limbed
It can run and jump,
It can turn a diamond
Slowly in its hands
And hold it to the light
Just as it can peel the pith
Of an orange or smudge
A taut canvas with its blood.
Animal mind that pounces
At philosophy, that tears beliefs
Down to their bare bones,
That longs to be free from the bars
That bind it to all that is rational,
To all that will one day die.
And the mind has ears and eyes
And roams the world
In search of clues as to the guilt
Or innocence of those who speak
Of systems that would betray
The body and forever damn
The soul. Truth is no common soap
And honesty no detergent and the loss
Of one’s good name is nothing compared
To a loss of mind, for within that universe
Unlimited and detailed distances
Unfold, so that in such a river
On such a day in such a summer
Two lovers bathed and exchanged
Vows that had been seeded
In the stars that Dante once observed
From the hills above the doomed city.
All cities are doomed, only
Love will outlive their destruction
In time out of mind.

John Lyons

14 December 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Ten Fingers

Here's a meditation on heat and love from John Lyons


The ten fingers
Of a seven-year old
Holding a semi-transparent
Pebble up to the light
As she tells her father
That she has found
A diamond, a rather
Coarsely polished
Stone picked from
The obscurity
Of the path
We are walking,
A chip of once
Molten rock
That has the hue
Of lightly cooked
Salmon - all nature,
All life being
About heat
And the loss of heat,
And what we
Carelessly take
To be incandescence.
It is close to sunset
And two woodpeckers
Sit idly on the condominium
Wall, wondering perhaps
Whether to call it a day,
To head home
As we all do,
At the end of a long day.
All out of the same
Cosmic soup, the spiral
Of life, the green parrots
With the bright red patch
Beneath their wings,
And their endless
Endless chatter,
The owls lazing
In the palm shade,
The convection of clouds
Gathering in the distance,
The unceasing transfer
Of energy from liquid
To gas, to liquid, and love
Precious love
In all its simplicity
Passing back and forth
between parent and child,
as tactile and as real
as the sample mineral
held in the hand and yet
of a beauty that could
put any flower
by any other name
to shame.

18 November 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Here is another beautiful poem written by John Lyons on the day of his father-in-law's death.


There are names
And there are names,
Drenched in emotion
But free from tears
Names that sail
Freely along the coast
Of Ilhabela
Names that dwell
On the tip of the tongue
Names that are in essence
A kiss
Or a warm embrace
Names that love
The laughter of life
And scoff at death’s
Dismal victory,
names that purr after dark
just as Carol
is purring still
on the stairs
in São Carlos;
there are names
soaked to the core
in honour
in dignity
in respect,
names with a fierce
names that are
essential to the smooth
running of life
and that cause us to stand
to attention
as they pass us by
or as they pause
to spend a few years
with us, names
that charge the memory
with indelible moments,
names that bear
testimony to the stubbornness
of love, to the fact
pure and simple
that love outlives
pedestrian life that ultimately
cannot keep pace, cannot go the distance, life
that empty misnomer!
What’s in a name?
That uncommon denominator
That we carry from
The date of our birth
Up to and beyond
The moment of complete
Release, no longer
The wounded bird
Held in delicate hands,
But a name that soars
In the beating heart,
For ever and ever.

John Lyons

November 2nd 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Real Change

On Tuesday America will elect Barrack Obama as its next president. The corporate media continues to talk of “tight races” in “key states” but I can’t imagine that anyone who knows anything about what is going on in America really believes them. By now it should be obvious even to the most die-hard neocons that John McCain and his born-again sidekick Sarah Palin are about to be wiped off the political map of the United States.

The Republican Party is in serious trouble and the Democrats, under Obama’s leadership, could do much to rectify the obscenities of Bush’s eight years in office. With absolute, filibuster proof majorities in the both the House and the Senate they could change whatever they felt like changing, literally. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal from the start and crimes against humanity, you say? Well, they could end them in one day, simply by voting to cut off the funding to continue W’s massacres. Of course, they could have done that back in 2006 when they defeated the Republicans the first time around, but they didn’t.

Come to think of it, in 2006 they could have also impeached Bush for any one of a number of his crimes against the US constitution, but that too was undoable. “Impeachment is off the table”, said the newly elected House majority leader, Nancy Pelosi (the same woman who later on would so whole-heartedly push for the tax-payer funded bailout of the Wall Street Banksters).

And speaking of Wall Street and the class of thieves that continues to run America, the Democratic controlled Congress and Senate could have passed laws two years ago to re-regulate the investment banks that were selling the toxic “sub-prime” securities that are now wrecking financial havoc across the globe. But they didn’t. They had better things to do, even though many of them, I’m sure, had a very good idea of what was going on and a realistic vision of where the housing bubble and the billions being spent on the Iraq war would lead us. They knew and could have done a lot when there was still time to prevent the disaster, but chose not to.

Instead, when the meltdown began and the stock market was losing an average of five to seven hundred points a day, the Democrats were the most enthusiastic supporters of the initial 700 billion dollar give-away (to the same criminals who had caused the disaster in the first place). The entire Democratic leadership stood behind the most massive wealth transfer from the poor to the filthy rich in the country’s history. “We must save the banks and the bankers to save the people”, they told us. A bit like the US soldiers who used to torch South Vietnamese hamlets with their Zippo lighters to “save” them from the Viet Cong.

In 2007 the US Census reported that roughly 40% of the nation’s wealth was controlled by the richest 1% of the country and that the top 10% owned almost two-thirds of America’s wealth. These are figures that were published last year before the crisis and the bailout and the daily stock market slides, and yet they remind me more of the kind of income disparity you’d expect to find in a Sub-Saharan nation or a Latin-American dictatorship à la Pinochet, not in the United States. And yet that is what we’ve become. An oligarchy where a miniscule minority of the population sets domestic and foreign policy and every four years holds elections so that the rest of us can participate in electing their representative, who will run their property (the United States) for their exclusive use and benefit.

I, however, am sick and tired of this system of lies and terror and hope that sooner or later the people of America will finally rise up against their autocratic rulers and take back what is rightfully theirs. Change is not just necessary, as Obama tells us, it also has to be real.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


More poetry today from John Lyons:-)

On nature

The patience of three birds
Sitting on the garden wall
Surveying their prospects
For the day, their feathers
Ruffled by a gusting wind;
There is preening
and a conversation of sorts,
The contents of which
Do not bear speculation;
Flight is one of nature’s
Boldest gifts and a permanent
Lesson in humility to all
Who are bound to tread
The lowly turf. These birds
Who possess the most
Sophisticated navigation
Systems and an uncanny
Grasp of the mysteries
Attached to human mathematics
As they flock in groups
Of ten or twelve or four
Or three or seven, remnants
Of an age of angels.
There may exist a place
In which nothing is unknown,
In which everything is
Effortlessly explained
But surely wouldn’t we
Soon tire of such ease
Of ignorance? There is
More to the not knowing
That any mere answer
Can supply. Nature
In its wisdom produces
Flaws, imperfections
As though to round
out its genius, the eye
that does not focus
the hand afflicted by
the tremor of self-doubt,
the silence that no word
of genuine love ever filled.

30 October 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Red pumps for Palin

You've got to hand it to America's mass media. No one but no one is as expert as they are in dumbing down the population. With the country's economy teetering on the brink of a financial disaster that will probably make the Great Depression of the 1930s seem like a cake walk, do the New York Times, the Washington Post or any of the other elite news filters ever try to get at the root of this mess and explain to their readers that they have been taken for suckers once again? No, they don’t.

Nor do they ever write about the economic and moral black hole of our wars of conquest in the Middle East. This is a taboo subject in America and it’s a shame because the estimated 1 trillion dollars that is spent every year on the Military/Industrial complex in the United States could easily pay for all the state deficits ballooning out of control from California to Maine, or the mortgages that millions of Americans can no longer afford to pay on their homes, or the public health-care programs that only government employees have ever had. There is, in fact, an enormous and ever-growing list of homegrown emergencies in America that need to be dealt with and fast, but don’t expect anybody in the next administration to get around to it. That money has already been spoken for (by Wall Street and the Pentagon) and no one in the media is writing about this. It just isn’t newsworthy in the USA.

Sarah Palin's "Naughty Monkey Double Dare Pumps" available for $89.95

Instead, they talk about "Joe the plumber", the average guy who is worried about Obama raising his taxes, or about Obama's "radical ex-preacher", Reverend Wright and his “racist views” (he was the one who made the unpardonable mistake of shouting out in one of his sermons, and letting his anger be captured on video, “Goddamn America for what it’s done!” On the other hand, they don’t talk much about McCain’s advanced case of skin cancer or that many melanoma specialists are giving less than a 25% chance of living to the end of his first term should he be elected.

Yet, perhaps the most bizarre news item from last week is the $150,000 that the Republican Party spent on Sarah Palin's campaign wardrobe. She is not, we now discover, the working class, Hockey Mom that we thought she was because she wears designer clothes from Neiman Marcus, and ruby red pumps from Saks Fifth Avenue. No doubt, we’re all supposed to be shocked by this and given the incredible gullibility of Americans many people will in fact see this routine image make-over as a kind of betrayal. In other countries voters tend to understand that politicians are professional liars and that just about everything regarding their media image is contrived, but not in the USA. Subterfuge will not be tolerated in American presidential elections, because a man, or a woman, has to be what he or she was marketed as being. The important thing is “staying on message”, never deviating from the script.

The system may be rotten to the core, corrupt beyond anyone's wildest imagination, full of distorted images and unrealistic expectations, but the farce that is these elections has to be believed. The lies and crimes at the root of our precipitous decline have to be ignored, at least until power can be successfully transferred from one faction of the nation's business party to the other.

It is the American way.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

True love

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has long been an admirer of America and especially of its current leader, George W. Bush. Berlusconi, whose name in the early 1980's was discovered on the lists of the secretive, far-right organization P2 (led by the noted fascist Licio Gelli), is an ideological soul mate of our War Criminal-in-Chief.

At the recent meeting between the two in Washington, Berlusconi could not control himself and gushed: "You will go down in the history books as a hero, George!"

Silvio Berlusconi and George W. Bush at the White House

W then turned to Silvio and said that there was still much to be done in the few months that remained of his presidency. There were the billions, even trillions of dollars to be pillaged from the U.S. Treasury and distributed to Paulson's buddies on Wall Street, so that they would never have to suffer the effects of their risk taking. The Republicans, he sadly admitted to his little Italian friend, would not be in power much longer.

"But the people don't understand you, George, not like I do", whispered Silvio, with a lump in his throat.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Timeless beauty

Here's a poem that John Lyons let me read and that I asked him if I could post because it reminds me a lot of my own little girl.

Chiara on her grandfather's birthday

Beauty has its own melody
speaks with honesty
and spontaneity
has a clear eye
for what is good,
for what is better
for what is best
in human nature;
beauty loves the truth,
and swears
by the power of love;
glows under the skin
and sets the lips
alight with a smile;
beauty is that child
on the road
to adolescent innocence,
never bored with
clumsy perfections,
never eager
to find fault but
content to stretch
the moment shared
into infinity;
beauty is the authentic
kiss of life, number
personified, intuitive
peace lived beyond
the wildest stretch
of the imagination.


John Lyons

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Seven Days That Shook The World

Much has happened in the last week. In seven days I’ve seen the beginning of the end, the mother of all deflationary spirals and the shape of things to come. On Monday, the US Congress at first rejected a 700 billion dollar bailout for Wall Street only to pass that very same bill (with an additional 100 billion in pork to sooth the nerves of some rebellious Republicans representatives) four days later. Then on Thursday there was the surreal debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. Surreal as only a debate between two politicians can be, when both are pledging their support for the working class (the hockey moms and the six-pack Joes) while their respective bosses, John McCain and Barack Obama, are doing everything they can to get the bailout (a bill which gives everything to the mega rich and nothing to the common man) passed.

US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's new hairdo after the Wall Street bailout
Over the weekend the “Sub-prime” tsunami picked up steam and in Europe leaders of the major economies were meeting to see if they couldn’t forestall the inevitable with a coordinated bailout of some of the continents major financial players. Sarkozy, Brown, Berlusconi and Merkel met in Paris and essentially agreed in a quintessentially European way not to agree on anything. It’s every man for himself in the crash of 2008 and bank nationalizations (the Fortis Bank in the Netherlands) and failures (the colossal Hypo Real Estate company of Germany) are the order of the day. Iceland is on the brink of bankruptcy and has seen its once strong currency plummet against the dollar and the Euro. In Ireland rumors of a run on the nation’s banking system forced the government to declare that it would cover all personal deposits, which it probably wouldn’t have the money to do if everyone did try to get their money out, but something had to be said.
Finally, in an effort to calm the markets before they re-open on Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced with her finance minister that the government would, like Ireland, cover all personal accounts in German banks. In doing this she pledged to insure about 500 billion euros, more or less the amount that the US Congress had refused to hand over to Wall Street on Monday. With Merkel having to make that kind of guarantee it’s no wonder that the objective of the Paris meeting (a coordinated, pan-European bailout plan) came to nothing. The Germans know that the worst is yet to come and have decided to first take care of their own. If the banks in Greece, or Italy, or Spain start to fall, it will be up to their governments to save them if they can.
I could be wrong but I can’t help thinking that the world is about to enter a period of prolonged economic depression. The Banksters have bitten off a bit more than they can chew this time. The high priests of “turbo capitalism” have led us all, willingly or not, to the edge of the cliff and over the precipice. And as any truthful economist will tell you, once all the bubbles have been burst there’s really nothing you can do to stop a system from de-leveraging. No bailout will ever hold and the house of cards built with deceit and the purest strains of capitalist greed must fall.
The world as we know it is about to change and whether we are all eventually governed by corporate dictatorships or finally decide to throw off our chains and live as free men has yet to be seen. The choice is ours.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Notes on how to stop the bailout

Here is an email that I received this morning from Larry McGuire regarding the proposed bailout of the Wall Street "banksters" and what we can do to stop it. It's a good example of the kind of activism that I think America and Americans need more of.

Notes on how to stop the bailout:

1) Though there is talk to limit executive pay for CEO's whose companies
have accumulated toxic debt and want your tax dollars to buy that debt,
remember that for years these same executives have been paid millions a year
to package and sell and buy these debt products, and there is no plan to
make them pay back the money they made (stole). Also, just google any of
the names of the executives removed recently after the bailout of AIG, Fanny
, etc. or the bankruptcies of Lehman Bros. etc., or the failure of
Washington Mutual. ALL those executives left with millions of dollars of
severance pay. If you are fired for doing a lousy job, do YOU expect to be
paid millions?

2) The best way to understand 'toxic debt' is to visualize it as a product
built to be sold, a financial widget. The banks created these products
(generally called 'collateralized debt obligations', CDO's) by bundling
together the MORTGAGE DEBT of ordinary people. So they created a faulty
and sold it to people around the world, making millions in the
process, and kept some of this product themselves, and now the product is
worthless, nobody wants to buy it. Do you think if YOU made a faulty
product, a widget of some kind, which nobody wanted to buy, that the
government should step in and buy YOUR faulty product? Or do you think that
if you BOUGHT a faulty product (because you were greedy and wanted a high
profit margin by selling it on down the line), which you subsequently
realized was faulty and could not sell, that the goverment should BUY that
product from you?

3) Note the bipartisan support for giving away your tax dollars to
millionaire bankers. Note that the third party presidential candidates
(Ralph Nader, Independent candidate; Bob Barr, Libertarian; Cynthia
, Green;) and former presidential candidates such as Republican
Senator Ron Paul
and Democratic Senator Dennis Kucinich are all AGANIST the
bailout. As many of us have been saying for years, there is no fundamental
difference between the Democrats and the Republicans at the leadership
CORPORATIONS. The bailout plan shows this clearly.

4) Note that they have already watered down the proposal, because they are
AFRAID of public opinion and AFRAID the voters will punish anyone who votes
for the bailout. If you want to STOP the bailout you must let your
representative know that you will NOT vote for anyone who supports the
bailout. You also need to spread the word to help build resistance. They
want to rush it through because they KNOW resistance is building very
quickly. Don't let the politicians and bankers get away with stealing your
money and your children's money (because the cost will escalate and must be
paid for years).

Various opinions criticising the bailout plan, and actions of resistance,
can be found at the following websites:

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Here's a piece from a very good friend of mine, the Irish poet John Lyons, inspired by Louis Zukofsky.

Louis Zukofsky

Radiation he said
We are consumers of radiation
Of varying wavelengths
But radiation nonetheless
Energy that vibrates
That travels
through space and time
as we too
are bound by those coordinates
for all eternity
unless the mass of the universe
is to disappear:
nitrogen and carbon
omega 3,
and the simplicity
of the title he gave
to his life’s work
A poem
A vitamin
An assault
On the first letter
On the mathematics
of meaning
So much depends
We are told
Upon the creation
Of Henry Adams
And Adam Smith
Upon random specifics
Upon a throw
Of nature’s dice
An emphatically
Musical note
Sounding throughout
The pages
In every sense
Truth enfabled
The tortoise
And the hare
No sop to the cultured
Borges pre-imagined
In the myriad infinities
Of the alphabet
Though it takes objects
To people oblivion
Workers in the vineyard
That most literary
Of parables.
He said
As though he were
Composing pages
Of uranium,
To blow the mind.

John Lyons

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The New Serfs

Debt and peonage from now until kingdom come! On Thursday I was premature and off by at least three or four generations when I said that our grandchildren would still be paying for W’s latest act of abnegazione towards America’s corporate poor. I mean, 85 billion is but a drop in the bucket to what he’s proposing now. This is from Bush’s three-page proposal to Congress:

Sec. 10. Increase in Statutory Limit on the Public Debt.
Subsection (b) of section 3101 of title 31, United States Code, is amended by striking out the dollar limitation contained in such subsection and inserting in lieu thereof $11,315,000,000,000.

WTF???! As the Japanese kamikaze pilot in an old Cheech and Chong routine says to his superior officer (who has just told him that he will soon be bravely killing himself by plowing into a US battleship) “Generalsamo, ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MIND!”

What the [expletive deleted] is going on here? Could someone please explain to me why the 90% of the US population that never had a say in how these Wall Street criminals looted the country now has to bail out these very same crooks?

Why hasn’t even one of our elected leaders stood up to say that this is an outrage and that those who were responsible for this disaster be held accountable for their actions? Where is their courage now? Will none of them stand up for the American people?

Of course, both Obama and McCain are on the same boat again, calling for the usual bi-partisan relief effort in America’s endless struggle to help its super-rich. And you can be sure that none of the many trillions (and God only knows how much something like this will really cost in the end) will go to helping out the common man. Not a penny for the hundreds of thousands who are being kicked out of their foreclosed homes, or for the unemployed or the uninsured. Nothing.

The post-modern era, with its hint of democracy, came to a screeching halt last week, and from now on all of the bad bets and toxic securities of the financial oligarchy will be covered by the rest of us, the new serfs.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Socialism for the rich!

"The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists." Ernest Hemingway, (September 1932)

Is this the big one? The financial meltdown that many have been predicting for the last two years? Well, I'm not an expert but when the US government shells out 85 billion dollars to essentially nationalize the world's largest insurance company (A.I.G.) then you know that fundamental changes are afoot. The purveyors of "shock and awe" capitalism, the conquerors of Baghdad, the destroyers of New Orleans and the conduit to the Almighty himself (through W, God speaks to him) have embraced socialism! At least for the rich.

A soup kitchen for the poor during the Great Depression of the 1930's

In fact, far from being a total idiot in finance, I think that John McCain was correct when he said that the economy is essentially sound. Our system of banks, brokers and insurance firms works to protect those in power. It is owned by and run for the elite of the country (the Fed is not a public bank). It's a self-correcting system wherein profits (when times are good and the latest bubble is growing) are privatized, while losses are socialized. US taxpayers and not the Wall Street "players" who caused the meltdown in the first place will foot the bill. We and our children and grandchildren will be paying for this latest fiasco for generations. Which means: no more money for education, or health care, or for rebuilding our decaying cities or for anything that might improve our lives.

Now that is what the elite would call a sweet deal.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008

David Foster Wallace

Everyone has their limits. This is what I say whenever I’m asked about the suicides of my grandfather, or of Margaux or Leicester or any of the others in my family. When the pain, be it existential or physical, gets to be too much you can’t really blame a person for what they do.

David Foster Wallace’s death is a tragedy. He took his own life and one of the greatest writers of my generation is gone.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Magic Kingdom

When I was a boy in Miami my teachers used to say that anyone could grow up to be President of the United States. Ours, they would tell us, was a democracy where all men were created equal and where even the poorest boy or girl could some day aspire to the nation’s highest office. That was the official propaganda and from time to time this message has been renewed with candidates chosen to make us all believe that it’s still true.

The latest reincarnations of this “rags to riches” myth are Barack Obama and Sarah Palin. Obama is the mixed-race son of an African immigrant, while Palin is the “hockey mom” with barely 19 months experience as governor of Alaska. Both are tangible proof that with just a little luck and determination you can do anything. America, like Disneyland, is sill the place “where dreams come true.”

Disney's Magic Kingdom

The road to the palace in the “Magic Kingdom”, however, is fraught with peril. The campaign is long, sometimes lasting two years or more and the vetting process is severe. The corporate media asks probing and sometimes difficult questions regarding a candidate’s views on abortion and terrorism and taxes, and then there are also the religious questions. A presidential candidate in the US must believe in God and not just any god will do. As a nation at war with Muslim infidels an aspiring President or Vice-President has to show that his god has what it takes to protect America and defeat the forces that would do us harm.

Obama and Wright

Senator Obama’s god almost failed us on this last point. His one time friend and close confident, his minister for over twenty years, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, preached an ecumenical Christianity that was not afraid of delving into the darkest chapters of America’s history in race relations. An ex-Marine, Wright showed how America’s enslavement of Africans and near extermination of its native tribes was not the exception but the rule when it came to defining the country’s murderous soul. Like the old Romans our policy has always been divide et impera, and Wright feels that only by facing this fact and understanding it can we really change as a nation. This, of course, is sacrilege to the elite who run America. Seeing the truth of our history stridently conflicts with the disneyesque fantasy of the US as a peace-loving, multi-racial melting pot where everyone is a winner. Obama would clearly have to atone for his sins of his pastor, and a campaign was mounted in the corporate media to denounce Wright and demand that the senator from Illinois disassociate himself from his old friend. Which of course he did to keep his quest for the White House alive.

Sarah Palin’s god, on the other hand, is much more in tune with the times, and as a result has received scant coverage by the corporate media. She has spent more than twenty-five years of her life as a member of church in Wasilla Alaska, which is part of a fanatical Christian cult that is sweeping across America. The Governor, in fact, hails from the most radical stream of US Born-Again Evangelism known as “Joel’s Army,” an offshoot of “Dominionism” or what is sometimes also referred to as the “Latter Rain” cult or the “Manifest Sons of God”. These committed soldiers of Joel’s Army (including Sarah Palin) have pledged their lives to Jesus and to the fight against evil in what they call the “end times” (the period before Judgment Day when the Lord will slug it out with the Devil to see who wins). As Joel's Army's Canadian leader, Todd Bentley, explains, “An end-time army has one common purpose -- to aggressively take ground for the kingdom of God under the authority of Jesus Christ, the Dread Champion…The trumpet is sounding, calling on-fire, revolutionary believers to enlist in Joel's Army. ... Many are now ready to be mobilized to establish and advance God's kingdom on earth.”

Joel's Army "General", right-wing evangelist Todd Bently

An army of mobilized religious fanatics, exactly what’s needed if your country’s end goal is the total domination of the world’s dwindling natural resources. Think of all the oil rich nations that have yet to be subdued! Indeed, America’s corporate rulers couldn’t have asked for a better representative than Sarah Palin, and none of them will ever ask her the difficult questions that were put to Obama or his pastor. It’s best to keep that kind of information under wraps, lest anyone discover the truth before its too late.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

President Palin

Recent polls say that Obama and McCain are neck and neck and that who will win in November is anyone’s guess. Still I find it hard to believe that any intelligent American, after eight years of the Bush administration’s “slash and burn” approach to politics, could find it in themselves to vote for another four with John McCain.

Fundamentally there isn’t that much difference between the two. Both support the War on Terror (Obama even praises Bush’s surge in Iraq, saying that it "has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams"). Both are beholden to the major corporations and banks that brought on the current economic crisis in the States. Neither is in favor of a “single-payer” national health insurance plan, similar to the Canadian and European models. Of course, being successful politicians, they long ago learned that you don’t bite the hand that feeds you, and that means the Health Management Organizations and all the defense contractors who will continue to rack in their obscene profits no matter who ends up in the White House.

The real difference lies in their choice of vice-presidential running mates. Obama picked Joe Biden, who is about as “insider” as you can get in Washington. He is also connected by the umbilical to the country’s largest credit card companies. He spearheaded S-256, the “Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005”. It is a law which essentially strips people of the kind of protection they used to have, leaving at the mercy of their creditors, almost always the credit card companies. He is a man who has been bought and paid for by these corporations and America being America there is nothing exceptional in this. It’s just the way things are done.

McCain’s choice, however, is a reminder, should anyone need one, of how nasty the elite of America can be when the chips are down. When the Democrats finished their convention in Denver with Obama’s nomination in a stadium filled with 80,000 spectators from all over the country and the world, the Republicans were in trouble. Their candidate was trailing in some polls by almost ten percentage points and all you had to do was look at Obama’s bombastic speaking style and compare it to the mousy McCain whenever he spoke and know that the jig was up. McCain was old (and full of cancer) while Obama was young and in his prime. The choice was clear, but that’s when McCain decided to throw the Democrats a screwball and he unveiled Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska.

Govenor Sarah Palin

Palin is a Jacobin. A radical fundamentalist Christian who believes that the US invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq is “God’s war” and who thinks that all young Americans should be over there fighting Islam, just as one of her sons is. She also thinks that homosexuals should be jailed (and perhaps even burned at the stake) and that “creationism” (a pseudo-science that preaches the world was created in just seven days) should be taught in all public schools. So convinced is she of the satanic properties of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” that she tried to have the book banned from the library of the small town where she was mayor, and when that didn’t work she tried to fire the librarian.

She is, as everyone knows, against abortion and proudly announced before the republican convention began that her pregnant seventeen year old daughter was going to keep her baby and that the “father” had been convinced to marry his girlfriend, even though he was quoted in one interview as saying that he didn’t “want to have anything to do with children”.

Palin is in favor of unlimited oil drilling in her state (even in nature preserves) and says that she is an avid hunter and eater of moose meat. What many people don’t know is that she is also in favor of aerial hunting of apex predators such as bears and wolves and has signed laws in Alaska making this unsportsmanlike and cowardly killing easier.

So why would McCain choose such an anti-environment, gay-bashing imperialist like Palin when over 70% of Americans are against the war in Iraq and are worried about the effects of global warming? Simple, because the Republican Party is not longer a democratic organization but a theocracy whose members for the most part believe, as the Bible teaches, in the Second Coming, the reign of the Beast and the number 666. They are Dominionists one and all and are preparing the world for that day when Christianity will triumph over evil.

A hardcore Christian Fascist just a heartbeat away from the presidency. What a comforting thought.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Katrina redux

Hopefully hurricane Gustav will veer off at the last moment and spare the city of New Orleans a second catastrophic storm in just over three years. It would be a bit of good luck for a city that has had more than its fair share of misfortune. But US meteorologists are predicting that Gustav will make landfall Monday morning close to where Katrina hit in 2005, and the mayor of New Orleans has ordered a citywide evacuation calling the approaching hurricane “the storm of the century.”

New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, August 2005

In August of 2005 over 1,800 people were killed when the levee system of New Orleans failed and eighty percent of the city was flooded. In the days that followed the world witnessed the plight of the many survivors who were stranded on rooftops, bridges, and in the Superdome. There was even a video of prisoners, who had been abandoned in their jail, screaming for help and frantically waving from behind metal bars as flood waters threatened to drown them. Bodies were seen floating down streets and were left to decompose in the hot sun for days before any effort was made to retrieve them.

It was a Dante-like panorama of pain and of absolute disregard for human suffering on the part of the Federal government that few in the United States were accustomed to seeing. The America that could spend a billion dollars every week on its foreign wars was incapable of taking care of its own. Yet, not everyone was displeased with what had happened. For the Bush administration the hurricane was an opportunity of sorts. It was a disaster, just as 9/11 had been, that would wipe the slate clean and would allow them to experiment with ideas and policies that under normal circumstances wouldn’t have been tolerated. Blackwater (a paramilitary company based in North Carolina, and with strong ties to the administration) sent its soldiers of fortune, the same mercenaries that were being massively used in Iraq against the local population, to New Orleans with orders to shoot to kill any of its hungry and increasingly desperate citizens who dared to oppose them. The Blackwater soldiers were allowed into the city almost immediately after the storm ended, while Red Cross workers with medical and relief supplies were kept from entering the disaster area for days.

The Red Cross said that they were told by the government that they couldn’t come in because that would be a sign to the residents who had left that they could return and begin rebuilding. Which, of course, was the last thing that the Bush Administration wanted. Whole sections of the city, the predominantly black and poor ones, had to be cleared. Nothing short of a North American “ethnic cleansing” of the Big Easy would do. This is what the Neocons wanted and what they got. New Orleans lost a third of its population and to this day entire neighborhoods are uninhabitable. The Federal money that had been promised to help people rebuild their lives and homes never arrived.

In this way, the priorities of the oligarchy that rules America were clear. The foreign wars would continue, whatever the cost, while New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz and a integral part of America’s soul, would become just another test site for experiments in social control and corporate plunder.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Castles made of sand

“And so castles made of sand slips into the sea, eventually” Jimi Hendrix

Saturday morning I met a man who makes sand castles for a living. His name was Mark and I saw him when he was setting up the perimeter of his latest creation on Huntington Beach. He’d been hired by the hotel that we were staying at, and he told me that in the summer he was out there almost every weekend. He asked if we were from California and when I told him that we weren’t, that we were visiting from Montreal, he said that we could help him if we wanted. He gave both my daughter and my son a plastic chisel and he put them to work carving a passageway into one of the four towers of the perimeter.

Sand castle

Mark was very serious about his job but extremely patient and gentle when it came to explaining the finer points of his art. We were the first people there that morning and he said that he liked the way my kids worked. “You know,” he told me, “with the economic problems we’re having now we get a lot more foreign tourists than Americans at the hotel and I’ve noticed that the foreign kids are more independent and not as aggressive as the Americans.”

I tried to make light of the situation and told him that my children were far from being little angels, but he insisted and said “I don’t know, maybe we’re doing something wrong.”

I didn’t know what to tell him. I could only speak for my own children. I hadn’t lived in the U.S. since 1985, but I suspected that he was probably right. Aggression has become an American trademark. We are the hoodlums of the planet and I asked him what the people in Huntington Beach thought about the war in Iraq. He said that he and his friends were against it and looking at him I could tell that he felt the same way that I did. That we were both helpless to change anything, and that voting for one candidate or the other in the next election wouldn’t stop the war or our country’s imperial arrogance. The system was rigged and anyone in favor of peace and creating a different world would never get close to the presidency. It was a fact and you didn’t have to be a genius to see how far our democracy had deteriorated. With our “war on terror” and the hundreds of thousands that we’ve killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, we had permanently disgraced ourselves. The American Empire would have to fall, as all empires eventually do, before we could even begin to make up for the damage that we’d done.

The only consolation, I thought to myself, was that not everyone had fallen for the regime’s propaganda and that creative people like Mark would be there to pick up the pieces when the time came.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Twenty-three years ago today my girlfriend and I arrived in San Diego with very little money and a stolen red Subaru that belonged to my father. We’d left Missoula two days before and after having driven through the Mojave Desert in the middle of August we were hot, sunburned and happy to have finally made it to the west coast. We stayed at my friend’s house on Crown Point Drive and now that I’m back in California again, this time with my family, I just wanted to thank Henry for his incredible generosity and kindness. A truer friend would be hard to find.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


There’s a lot to be said for flying on a new airplane. Generally they’re more fuel efficient and quieter, more comfortable, and excluding acts of God and pilot error, a guarantee that you will get to where you’re going in one piece. Still, being fresh off the assembly line isn’t everything.

Up until recently, anyone who wanted to fly the old-fashioned way, with lots of noise, popping ears and serious jolts when the weather got bad, could take a Chalk’s seaplane from Miami to Bimini in the Bahamas. These were vintage Grummans, most of them built in 1947, and they took off and landed in the shipping channel of the city. Chalk’s had been around forever and when I first climbed aboard one in the early 1960’s the airline had already been in service for over thirty years. The owner and founder, Arthur “Pappy” Chalk, was an ex-aviator from the First World War and when I was a boy he was almost always at the ticket counter in the hut next to the water that doubled as a terminal for the tiny airline. My father, Gregory, knew him well, as did my great-uncle Les, and whenever we went to Bimini for a weekend of fishing Pappy would help us with our bags and close the rear door of the Grumman when we were all on board.

My grandmother Pauline and father Gregory leaving a Chalk's seaplane in Bimini harbor, 1930's

I don’t know how many times I flew to Bimini, hundreds perhaps, but I never got tired of it. There was nothing quite like the sensation of being in a plane that could float into a channel, turn to the left and then soar out over the Gulf Stream. In some of the earlier Grummans there were only seven or eight seats and I remember the view from the small windows, that were actually more like the portholes of a boat, turning white for a minute or two with all the water from the wind and the speed and wondering if we would ever make it.

My father had learned to fly when he lived in Africa in the 1950’s and sometimes when we were airborne and had reached our cruising altitude the co-pilot would let him sit in his seat and take the controls of the plane for a couple of minutes. It was the kind of thing that you weren’t supposed to do and that in today’s post 9/11 world would definitely cost a pilot his job, or worse, but that back then was possible. My dad knew everyone who worked for Chalk’s and even though he had his own fishing boat that he took from Miami to Alice Town on North Bimini he liked to fly and liked the Grumman Mallards in particular.

These planes were incredibly sturdy and would fly in almost any kind of weather. Once in December of 1973, when my parents were divorced and my father had taken the three of us to the island for the weekend, we were getting ready to go back to Miami but a bad storm was approaching and we didn’t know if the plane that was scheduled to land would make it. I remember that it seemed to bounce over the heavy chop in the bay between the north and the south island and when it was still in the shipping channel and where it would have to turn ramp next to the customs house the wind was so strong that the tip of the right wing was under water and one of the engines was flaming from the strain. In the end it made it up the ramp and the pilot didn’t seem to think that it was anything unusual. My dad asked him if he was still going to fly back to Miami that afternoon and he told us that it wouldn't be a problem.

A Grumman leaving Bimini a few days before the December 2005 crash

So, we climbed up the stairs and took our seats and once airborne we found out that there would be another, unscheduled, stop at a Cat Kay, an island to the south of Bimini. The landing there was smooth enough, but the take off was hellish. The Grumman was heading straight into the wind and the waves were enormous. We smashed into about ten crests until finally we were airborne, and even my father was impressed by the pilot’s ability and the plane’s strength.

That was the kind of outfit that Pappy Chalk ran, but nothing lasts forever and when he sold the airline in 1975 it passed from one financial group to another. The old Grummans continued to fly in the thirty years that followed but in this age of deregulation and cost cutting, maintenance is often overlooked, sometimes with tragic consequences. On December 19th, 2005 one of the Mallards crashed just off the coast of Miami Beach when its right wing separated from the fuselage due to metal fatigue. All 20 people aboard perished. It was Chalk’s first and only fatal crash.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Heart to heart and heavy artillery

Don’t you love it? Don’t you love the supreme irony of it all? Just as the Olympic Games are opening in Beijing, the pro-western, US backed government of Georgia decides to launch an offensive against its in-everything-but-name independent “province” of South Ossetia. Claiming that its troops were shelling the Ossetian capital city to “restore constitutional order” the Georgian Army killed over 1,500 people and essentially leveled Tskhinvali. Among those who died as the world watched a British soprano in Beijing sing “you and me, from one world, heart to heart, we are one family” were ten Russian soldiers manning a “peace observation” post in the breakaway province.

Opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics

Moscow was not amused and columns of tanks and heavy artillery were soon rolling across the border in defense of the largely Russian population. Georgia has now declared war against Russia and is begging the USA and the European Union to intervene in some way. The Georgian president declared that his country was “looking with hope” to the US. The armed confrontation with Russia, he claimed, “is not about Georgia anymore. It’s about America, its values... America stands up for those freedom-loving nations and supports them. That’s what America is all about.” But it’s unlikely that anyone will come to their aid. Apart from the usual calls for a cease-fire, the Georgians can expect little else from their NATO friends.

Opening salvos of the Russian-Georgian war

In America’s new cold war against Russia, Georgia and its army are but pawns in the Great Game. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s, US administrations have fostered regional tensions in the Caucasus and beyond in an effort to gain control of the area’s strategic petroleum resources. Promoting Georgia’s admission as a full member of the NATO alliance was a part of this plan. Just as encouraging and then recognizing the unilateral declaration of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia sent a very clear message to the world and especially to Russia. “We’re still the rulers of the world”, the Neocons seem to be saying to Putin, “and we can surround you with client states like Georgia or create ‘independent protectorates’ in Kosovo and Afghanistan and there isn’t a damn thing that you can do about it.”

The risk, of course, is that the Russians would eventually strike back. Everyone has their limits and while it’s easy to start a war, once the killing begins, you never know where it will end.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Yoshi Nagasaka is a talented artist and a good friend of mine, and I thought that today, as a way of introducing him, I’d reprint the piece that I wrote in 2005 for the catalog of one of his exhibitions.

Nagasaka and Hemingway

I met Yoshi in the summer of 2001. He was living in the center of Milan not too far from the Duomo in a two-bedroom apartment that was literally packed with his paintings.
An uncle of mine had 'discovered' him while vacationing on Lago Maggiore. He was so impressed with the work of this Japanese expatriate that he gave me his number and said that I should scout him out in Milan and find out if he would be interested in doing the poster for the Ernest Hemingway Society's bi-annual meeting in Stresa. He was convinced that Yoshi's minimalist portrayals of the landscape surrounding the lake and the own of Stresa would be perfect.

Lago Maggiore Isola Bella nel blu, Yoshi Nagasaka

And indeed they were. They captured perfectly the romanticism and essential beauty of an area that my grandfather had once defined as one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
In one painting you could almost imagine Frederick Henry rowing silently across the waters towards Switzerland. In the twilight of a summer evening the mist was obscuring the mountain range in the distance beyond Isola Bella.

Tarda Primavera al Parco Sempione Milano, Yoshi Nagasaka

Many other paintings were of Milan. People sitting on the steps of the Duomo or passing through the Galleria not far from the hospital where shrapnel was removed from my grandfather's legs. Intimate views of a city that Yoshi knew well and that had been fundamental in Ernest's life.

After leaving his house I kept thinking how amazing it was to find this kind of talent hidden so carefully in a run-down building in the center of postindustrial Milan. The Milanese, it's true, have a habit of thinking of their city as the cultural capital of the country and yet here was a jewel in the midst that they'd virtually ignored. An ignorance, I was sure, that wouldn't last forever.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Big Lie

When Robert Stevens became the first confirmed death in the American Anthrax attacks of 2001, I was still in Miami attending my father’s funeral. Stevens had worked at the National Enquirer’s offices in Boca Raton, just up the coast from where I was staying, and my wife, back in Italy, thought that that was a little too close for comfort. Talking to her over the phone I told her that I didn’t think that I was in any danger, but she wanted me home and the sooner the better.

Cleaning up Capital Hill after the attacks

The anthrax letters, which had been mailed to two high ranking Democratic senators, a prominent TV journalist and the National Enquirer, were spooking a lot of people in the States. Coming just two weeks after September 11th, they seemed to confirm the idea terrorism was in America to stay. Indeed, as Glenn Greenwald convincingly writes in his blog on, the Anthrax attacks were perhaps even more important in securing popular support for the Bush Administration’s “War on terror” and its eventual invasion of Iraq than the suicide attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon had been.

Soon after Steven’s death, sources inside the US government were leaking information to ABC news about a probable connection between the attacks and the government of Iraq, saying that “initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.” Betonite was a signature element closely associated with the Iraqi bio-weapons program and the kind of “smoking gun” that according to the late ABC anchorman Peter Jennings the Bush administration was looking for, in part, he explained “because there's been a lot of pressure on the Bush administration inside and out to go after Saddam Hussein.”

Which is exactly, as everyone knows, what the Neocons did. They went after Saddam, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and effectively destroying the country. Searching for Hussein’s biological “weapons of mass destruction” was one of the primary reasons given for our preventive blitzkreig. The weapons, of course, were never found, but it didn’t matter, the claim that the Iraqi dictator was behind the anthrax letters and that he still had enormous stockpiles of chemical and biological horrors that were just waiting to be used on other innocent Americans was more than enough.

What many people didn’t know at the time, and are probably still unaware of, is that there were never any tests done at Ft. Detrick showing the presence of betonite in the anthrax letters. ABC News finally admitted as much in 2007, but they won't budge when it comes to naming those in the government who had given them the false information in the first place. They say they are “protecting their sources” but in fact are just continuing their cover-up of one of the many lies floated by this administration over an extremely gullible American public.

Worse still, the recent suicide on Tuesday of Bruce E. Ivins, a top anthrax researcher at Ft. Detrick, confirms what many have suspected for a long time, that not only did the anthrax letters have nothing to do with Islamic terrorism, but that they came from the Army’s own bio-weapons research facility. Ivins killed himself soon after he was told by the FBI that he would be indicted on five accounts of murder stemming from the anthrax attacks. The FBI was sure, albeit after seven years, that they had found their man.

Greenwald in his blog connects the dots: the letters were sent by a top government anthrax researcher, there was a clear intent in the letters to link the attacks to Islamic fundamentalism, ABC News was given false information by government sources linking the anthrax used in the letters to Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration repeatedly used this “link” to ramp up public support for its invasion of Iraq in the months prior to March, 2003.

I’d say the facts speak for themselves.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Photograph from 1924 Encierro in Pamplona

Here’s the photo that inspired the film being made about my grandfather by Sergio Oksman and Carlos Muguiro.

The photograph, as I mention in my post El Doble, was taken on the 13th of July, 1924 in Calle Estafeta in Pamplona, just a few moments before Estaban Domeño was mortally wounded, the first ever recorded death in an encierro. The man lying on the corner of the street, Pablo Guerendiain, was also wounded by one of the bulls. My grandfather would have been on the opposite side of the street, further ahead, looking down at the dying and injured runners from the balcony of his room at the Hotel La Perla.

Special thanks to Sergio Muguiro for sending me this photograph!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Solidarity for Ronaldo and Hemingway

Living in Milan for as many years as I did, I learned a lot about “Ronaldo” or The Phenomenon as he is commonly referred to in Europe and in Brazil. Soccer is religion in Italy and when one of the two professional teams in the city, F.C. Internazionale Milano (Inter, for short), bought the Brazilian player in the summer of 1997 from F.C Barcelona the media barrage that covered the trade, and thereafter everything about Ronaldo’s life on and off the field, was intense.


Yet, as famous as Ronaldo was, and continues to be, I never thought I’d see the day when he would be compared to my grandfather. Then in May a friend suggested that I have a look at a column on the Folha de Sao Paulo. The article, “Solidarity for Ronaldo and Hemingway”, was written by Contardo Calligaris, an Italian psychoanalyst and novelist. Calligaris (who lives in Brazil) said that he was surprised to see a message spray-painted at the entrance to a tunnel near a favela in Rio, Ronaldo’s hometown. Some of the soccer player’s fans had written that they “believed in his innocence” and that he would always remain their “phenomenon.” At the time, Ronaldo was at the center of a scandal involving three transvestite prostitutes who had spent a night with him in a hotel. He claimed that he had been tricked and that he had no idea that they were men. They retorted that he was just trying to get out of paying them.

Calligaris asked “but what kind of innocence are we talking about here?” Ronaldo hadn’t committed any crime and his status as a “phenomenon”, strictly speaking, was related to his performance on the playing field and not with anything he might have done in one of the city’s lesser-known hotels. Calligaris reasoned that for his fans Ronaldo wasn’t just a soccer player but also a “macho ideal” and that as such it was necessary for them to continue believing in his “innocence.”

He then said that he’d read my memoir, Strange Tribe, and pointed out to his readers that Ernest Hemingway, another macho ideal, was perhaps not entirely the man that everyone believed him to be and that he may have struggled as much as Ronaldo has recently in dealing with the contradictions between his public image and an infinitely more complex private reality.

Ernest in the 1950's

Of course, I hardly needed to be convinced. It was my book that he was talking about, but more than that I had seen what my father had gone through trying to live up to the macho image that Ernest had helped to create. Gregory had done all the things that people generally associate with being a Hemingway; hunting, fishing, drinking and womanizing, and there were times when he had even surpassed his father. At the age of eleven he tied for first place in a national skeet-shooting contest in Cuba, against adults. Gregory was an incredible shot and a chip off the old block, as far as Ernest was concerned. Any kid who could handle a gun that well had to be a real Hemingway. But there was more to being a member of this club of sharpshooters than met the eye. My grandfather and father shared a fascination with androgyny, or as Ernest had the protagonist of his posthumous novel the "Garden of Eden” put it, a search for “a more African sexuality, beyond all tribal law.” They were machos, but with a twist. Men more interested in finding a union of the sexes, than in living on just one side of the gender divide.

It was similarity that united them and which, at the same time, complicated their relationship tremendously. They were mirror images of each other, but being a real man has never been easy.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Calm After the Storm

My friend Ed Steinhardt sent me this translation by Charles Guenther of Giacomo Leopardi’s poem “La quiete dopo la tempesta.” It’s being published next month in a collection of other translations by Guenther of Leopardi’s poetry. It is one of the Italian poet’s most famous works and I think that this translation captures perfectly the haunting, almost desperate quality of the original.

Calm After the Storm

The storm has passed.
I hear the birds singing, and the hen,
Gone on her way again,
Repeats her song. See the bright sky
Break through there from the west,
toward the mountain;
The countryside is clear
And the river sparkles brightly in the valley.
Each heart rejoices, everywhere
Sounds rise again,
The usual work resumes.
The craftsman comes to his door,
Singing with work in hand,
To look at the humid sky; with friends
A girl comes out to collect water
From the new-fallen rain;
And the vegetable vendor renews
His daily cry
From street to street.
Look, now the sun returns, see how it smiles
On hills and villages. Families open balconies,
Terraces and cascades:
And far away from the main stream we hear
Tinkling of bells, the screeching cart
Of the traveler who continues on his way.
Each heart rejoices.
When else, as now,
Is life so pleasant and so sweet?
When else does man
Turn to his studies with such love,
Or to his work or begin something new?
When does he remember his misfortune less?
Pleasure’s a child of anxiety:
A useless joy, the fruit
Of some past fear
Where he who abhorred life
Was induced to be afraid of death;
Where in long suffering,
Cold, silent, pale,
People sweated and trembled at the sight
Of lightning, clouds and wind.
O kindly nature,
These are your gifts.
These are the delights
You offer mortals. It’s a pleasure
For us to be relieved of pain,
You spread pain freely; grief
Rises spontaneously; and that bit of joy
Which by miracle and prodigy sometimes
Is born of anxiety, is a great gain. A human
Progeny dear to those eternal ones!
You’re lucky
Indeed if you can breathe again
After some grief: and blessed
If death heals every sorrow.

La quiete dopo la tempesta

Passata è la tempesta:
Odo augelli far festa, e la gallina,
Tornata in su la via,
Che ripete il suo verso. Ecco il sereno
Rompe là da ponente, alla montagna;
Sgombrasi la campagna,
E chiaro nella valle il fiume appare.
Ogni cor si rallegra, in ogni lato
Risorge il romorio
Torna il lavoro usato.
L’artigiano a mirar l’umido cielo,
Con l’opra in man, cantando,
Fassi in su l’uscio; a prova
Vien fuor la femminetta a còr dell’acqua
Della novella piova;
E l’erbaiuol rinnova
Di sentiero in sentiero
Il grido giornaliero.
Ecco il Sol che ritorna, ecco sorride
Per li poggi e le ville. Apre i balconi,
Apre terrazzi e logge la famiglia:
E, dalla via corrente, odi lontano
Tintinnio di sonagli; il carro stride
Del passegger che il suo cammin ripiglia.

Si rallegra ogni core.
Sì dolce, sì gradita
Quand’è, com’or, la vita?
Quando con tanto amore
L’uomo a’ suoi studi intende?
O torna all’opre? o cosa nova imprende?
Quando de’ mali suoi men si ricorda?
Piacer figlio d’affanno;
Gioia vana, ch’è frutto
Del passato timore, onde si scosse
E paventò la morte
Chi la vita abborria;
Onde in lungo tormento,
Fredde, tacite, smorte,
Sudàr le genti e palpitàr, vedendo
Mossi alle nostre offese
Folgori, nembi e vento.

O natura cortese,
Son questi i doni tuoi,
Questi i diletti sono
Che tu porgi ai mortali. Uscir di pena
È diletto fra noi.
Pene tu spargi a larga mano; il duolo
Spontaneo sorge: e di piacer, quel tanto
Che per mostro e miracolo talvolta
Nasce d’affanno, è gran guadagno. Umana
Prole cara agli eterni! assai felice
Se respirar ti lice
D’alcun dolor: beata
Se te d’ogni dolor morte risana

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Charles Guenther, an American poet

A great American poet and translator, Charles Guenther, has passed away. A good friend of mine, Ed Steinhardt, knew Charles well and wrote his obituary, which I’m posting below. I never met Charles, but as a writer and a translator myself I cannot feel anything but profound admiration for his many accomplishments.

Le mie condoglianze alla sua famiglia e a quelli che erano i suoi amici.

Poetry’s Prince of Poets,
Charles Guenther, dies at 88

"It is the work, not the prize or the honor,
that matters most. The work endures."
—Charles Guenther

Charles Guenther, 88, who moved in the circles of E.E. Cummings, Marianne Moore, Howard Nemerov, Ezra Pound and many others, died Thursday in St. Louis of cancer. He is survived by his wife Esther, three children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
His only son, Charles Guenther Jr., told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Friday that "Poetry and his family were his life." Richard Wilbur said Friday that "he had my esteem and admiration."

Guenther, a renowned American translator, poet and critic, was the author of some 10 books, including Moving the Seasons, Phrase/Paraphrase, The Hippopotamus: Selected Translations 1945-1985, The Complete Love Sonnets of Garcilaso de la Vega and the recent Three Faces of Autumn: A Charles Guenther Retrospective.

The St. Louis-born Guenther worked tirelessly to bring foreign poetry into the English language, while at the same time creating original work such as "Missouri Woods," "Snow Country" and "Union Station." He was also well-known for his personal encouragement of new and emerging writers, and was a frequent correspondent.

He was a prolific translator, almost unequaled in his field. The nation of Italy in 1973 bestowed upon Guenther its highest award, (Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, rank of Knight Commander) for his many translations of Italian poetry into English and his "long and valuable work permeating two cultures."

Other awards included election to the Academie d’Alsace, a several decades run as Regional (Midwest) Vice-president of the American Poetry Society (succeeding John G. Neihardt) and the 2002 Emmanuel Robles International Award in Poetry.

Guenther began writing poetry at age 15 while a student at Kirkwood High School in Missouri. In high school he began translating French and then Italian poetry, looking up the words in a dictionary and writing the definitions in the margins. "It’s hard to say why I started," Guenther recalled in 2006. "In a great poem, there is something magic, a haunting spirit. It’s so rare that you keep looking for it."

At age 17 he began work as a copy boy for the St. Louis Star-Times. By adulthood (and the emergence of World War II) Guenther had earned a college degree and went to work for what would become the Aeronautical Chart and Information Center in St. Louis. His translation duties there, while "not as interesting as translating poetry," were critical to the war effort and later flight safety.

Even though Guenther had vowed that he would stop translating by age 25, he wryly admitted he "never did stop." Evenings and weekends he began a relentless enterprise of translation, largely translating from "raw text" or work that had as of yet not been translated into English.

"In 1940, for instance," Guenther recalled, "I read that Superveille was considered the ‘greatest living French poet.’ "I wrote him for permission to translate ‘Les Amis inconnus.’ When he told me I had done a "polishing job" on his poems, I was elated. But I soon realized that one doesn’t "polish" Supervielle; his strength is in his simplicity."

Other luminaries who would become friends included Ezra Pound, who Guenther met in 1951. After sending one of his translations to Pound (while Pound was incarcerated at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital) Guenther received back, "almost immediately, a postcard with this scrawled message, ‘I don’t write letters; I receive them.’ It was the start of a lively correspondence with this fascinating, obstinate poet who had put new vigor into American Literature."

By 1953 Guenther was putting his own vigor into something new: that of reviewing books for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "When that first review appeared," Guenther later recalled, "I considered reviewing a ‘civic honor. I still do."

Guenther’s reviews became a virtual Who’s Who of American Literature. Names such as Stafford, Jarrell, Lowell, Hughes, Van Duyn, Cummings and Eliot graced his newsprint. There were other names, too, like Pablo Neruda, Jean Wahl and Salvatore Quasimodo.

Guenther’s work as reviewer also dove-tailed with his own work as poet and translator. "The Post-Dispatch gave Guenther a wider readership than many poets have," said Jane Henderson, that paper’s book editor. By 2003, with his retirement from the Post-Dispatch, Guenther had amassed an unparalleled half-century of reviews.

Even in retirement, Guenther maintained a tireless regimen of work and an occasional review. His last book, Guardian of Grief, (selected translations of the 19th century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi) will be released in August. In characteristic Guenther-style, he expressed in his introduction to Guardian of Grief his ardent hope that "the poems may bring a renewed interest in, and appreciation of, Leopardi, his life, his times and his work."

"Past and present and future are not disjoined but joined," Walt Whitman wrote. "The greatest poet forms the consistence of what is to be from what has been and is. He drags the dead out of their coffins and stands them again on their feet."

For the work of poets he translated, living or dead, Guenther bestowed a certain element of immortality. "My own pratice," said Guenther, "When translating early poets is to place them in their own time, with a hint of antiquity, avoiding the grossly archaic language of their contemporaries." He summed up the process as, "My purpose is to make a poem from a poem."

A poem by Jose Agustin Goytisolo (entitled "The Difficult Poem"), which Guenther translated and is the last selection in The Hippopatamus, (1986) seems to sum-up the translation process.

The poem is inside
and doesn’t want to get out.

It pounds in my head
and doesn’t want to get out.

I shout, I tremble,
and it doesn’t want to get out.

I call it by name
and it doesn’t want to get out.

Later down the street
it stands before me.

Edward Steinhardt

Friday, July 25, 2008

Che ti dice la patria?

Hard times in “Il Bel Paese.” This morning I read an article in the Corriere della Sera, which said that the Italian government has now declared a national “State of Emergency” because of illegal immigration. The official communiqué from the Council of Ministers explains the decision as an attempt to deal with the “persistent and exceptional inflow of non-EU citizens”, most of whom have been washing up on the shores of southern Italian beaches, some alive but many of them dead.

Illegal immigrants in a boat off the Italian coast

Of course, without knowing anything about Italy or its present government a reader might think, “well, yes, that is a problem.” Every country has a right to its own immigration policy and rules are rules. You can’t just float up on a beach, half dead from the sun and the salt, and perhaps even after having seen your friends and family drown and expect to be welcomed by the local authorities. Bruttissima figura (very bad form) as the Italians would say.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

Order will be maintained and Silvio Berlusconi, being the savvy politician that he is, knows that in economically difficult times one of the best ways to distract voters and keep them in a state of fear is to persecute those who are different or disadvantaged. It works in the USA, where we’re building a reinforced concrete wall between ourselves and Mexico, and it’ll work in Italy, too. In fact, not only has the government decided to zero in on illegal immigration, they’ve also singled out the Rom or “gypsies” for special attention. Another government law, this one from the 11th of July, decreed that there would be a national census of all the Rom, children included, living in the outskirts of major Italian cities. This decree, according to the Berlusconi government would finally deal with the “gypsy question”, enhancing the security of all of Italy’s citizens.

The fact that at least a quarter of the Rom in Italy are Italian citizens, and have been for generations, and as such have the right to go wherever they please in the country doesn’t seem to bother anyone in the government. The equation, gypsy = thief (or worse) has been not so subtly reinforced in people’s minds and that’s all that matters. A convenient scapegoat has been found, and if the cost of living in Italy is sky high and families are finding it harder and harder to save or even make it to the end of the month, well, then at least they know that there’s someone below them in the social pecking order.

Having lived and worked in Italy for over twenty years, I am sad to see this happening, but it's not totally unexpected. Berlusconi’s pogrom against i diversi (the different) is a part of a worldwide trend, a planetary disease pitting the rich against the poor.

Of course, you could say that this isn’t the first time that the Italians have led the rest of the planet boldly into the future. Back in the 1920’s they were at the forefront of another social trend, but then history never repeats itself, right?

Carnage and Mayhem

Perhaps not everyone caught the recent video clip of the President where, in an effort to explain America’s current economic doldrums, he says that “Wall Street got drunk and now it has a hangover.” As yet another example of Bush’s finesse and intellect in dealing with complex problems it’s not bad. Millions of people are being kicked out of their homes, the cost of everything from gasoline to food is skyrocketing and this guy just laughs.

WPA poster from 1930's

My grandfather used to complain about FDR back in the 1930’s, saying that Roosevelt was destroying Key West and turning it into a tourist trap with his “Work Progress Administration,” but I can’t even imagine what he’d have to say about Bush. FDR may have hastened the island’s demise, in Ernest’s eyes, as a good place to live, but most historians view Roosevelt as a man who strengthened America, not weakened it.

Yet, were my grandfather alive today, who would he vote for? Side with John McCain (who is apparently quite a fan of Ernest) and you get “another 100 years” of war in Iraq, and Ernest, in spite of his experiences on the Italian front in WWI and his work as a correspondent in Spain during the Civil War and later on in France, was not a fan of genocide. He hated it, as anyone who’s ever read his dispatches from Anatolia for the Toronto Star can attest.

Senator Obama, however, is hardly what you could call a “peace” candidate. It’s true that he wants to pull out most combat troops from Iraq, but only to “better” use them fighting terrorism in Afghanistan. But no western power has ever managed to completely subdue the tribes in Afghanistan. The British Empire couldn’t do it, nor could the Soviets, who were literally kicked out of the country, and I doubt that Obama will be able to do it either. Once elected (and I don’t think that there’s any doubt that he will be the next US president) he’ll continue to spend billions of dollars (that in truth America doesn’t have) on a war that can’t be won. Thousands of soldiers on both sides will die, along with an even greater number of civilians and for what? What will we have accomplished in the end? Carnage and mayhem or untold suffering, what kind of choice is that?