Saturday, March 29, 2008

A poem Dar discovered

"planting daffodils"

Listen to Charlotte Boulay read this poem.

*******The Friar tells her, drink this
potion and for a time
you will be
as dead.*
**What? she says,
*Are you kidding? Only the earth
knows that faith. But this love is of the earth,
so when she sleeps, it's in darkness,
******a round weight curled in a papery shroud.

This fall, digging little graves, I can smell
******winter approaching like the war
that already rages, not with drumbeats and shots
but more ominously silent, a great lack
of lucidity and grace.****Too soon,
*******deaths have begun:

fruit clipped by frost, a bird limp
by the mailbox in the morning, the flaming
*leaves—don't be distracted; we're blighting
landscapes one by one.
*******It's hard to believe
that everything resurrects itself in time
***some things with more reliability than others.

So is a rooted bulb a record
of a promise kept through winter. This is the truth we only half
believe:**that each hoary, twinned sprout becomes,
in the moment before she sees him,
*Juliet, waking to a clasp of arms,
*******yellow trumpets crying.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

For a Friend

A Poem for a "Precious Friend, Hid in Death's Dateless Night." (W.S.)

22 Years On

This spring the azaleas are pink cotton
The red-tips are making a come-back
The feral cat keeps squirrels choking
In branches of dangling oak pollen.

Your bones lie still in the dirt of Tulsa
You would love this new Sarah Brightman
Song, I muse. How would we be
Now that New Age is old?

Don't stop thinking about tomorrow
Has become Live one day at a time.
War we thought gone thirty-four years ago
Is again: Mindless mayhem. Blood for oil.

Monarch butterflies flit just as ever
And the springtime birds are singing.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Kesey On the Edge: From Beat to Hip...

Now that the Easter Bunny has hip-hopped away, it's time for a little reminiscing about Ken Kesey (click for Wikipedia's trippy overview), especially with the terrific account of Kesey in Manzanillo, Mexico in the N.Y. Times, yesterday (see below).

Photograph © 1993 Patrice Mackey,

"The answer is never the answer. What's really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you'll always be seeking. I've never seen anybody really find the answer-- they think they have, so they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer."

-- Ken Kesey

Having ventured to Manzanillo, myself, in 1972, when the coastal town was still remote (I arrived by train from Guadalajara), reading about the town, the beach and La Posada, where I too stayed, was itself a trip. Here's the imaginative account:

March 23, 2008

In Mexico, on the Lam With Ken Kesey

I am in the ocean, doing nothing, just bobbing.

I am facing a golden-sugar beach, a low pink hotel, a thatched palapa baking in the heat. To my left, a long crescent stretch of bay, a cradling arm around a basket of blue. To my right, a stone jetty. Beyond it, a port full of oceangoing tankers and the cliff-hugging city of Manzanillo. Behind me, the limitless Pacific. All around, pelicans loitering in the swells, which lift and gently drop me, my arms out, toes brushing velvet sand.

I said I was doing nothing, but I’m actually trying to summon somebody: Ken Kesey, novelist, psychedelic prophet, leader of the Merry Pranksters, hero of “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” It was here, on this beach, that he took to the waves as I did, back in 1966. He was a hunted man then, on the run from the F.B.I. and Mexican federales, but even he, a man of great aplomb, found time for thoughtful bobbing.

“He’s working on his wave theory. This morning for breakfast he brewed and drank enough weed to put a horse in orbit. He’s been out there for three hours with his eyes closed ... imagining that he’s a piece of kelp or a jellyfish.”

The observer is Mountain Girl, one of several Merry Pranksters who followed Kesey to Manzanillo. She watches from the beach while pondering his oracular musings.

“It isn’t by getting out of the world that we become enlightened, but by getting into the world ... by getting so tuned in that we can ride the waves of our existence and never get tossed because we become the waves.”

Manzanillo now is not nearly as metaphysical as that account, from a trippy Kesey volume called “Over the Border,” would suggest. It’s a tourist town, a cruise destination, one gem in the resort strand of Mexico’s Pacific coast, cousin to Acapulco, Ixtapa, Puerto Vallarta. It’s a city of strip malls and cineplexes, dive shops and all-inclusive resorts where the help wears uniforms.

But Manzanillo then was jungle outpost, a nowhere port town on a two-lane road from Guadalajara. It was a place where a gringo — even a famous novelist gringo accompanied by family and friends, an abundant supply of drugs and an International Harvester school bus covered in Day-Glo paint and blaring music from a sophisticated loudspeaker system — could reasonably expect to hide out for a while.

You probably know most of the back story. Kesey is a promising writer at Stanford, publishes “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” his first novel, in 1962, and a huge deal is made of it. A circle forms in Palo Alto, bound by Kesey’s charisma and brightened by psychoactive chemicals and Day-Glo paint. It moves to the woods of La Honda, Calif., and roams the country in an old school bus. Kesey and the Merry Pranksters stage a journey into life, art, rock-and-roll and experimental drug use that attracts hangers-on, Hell’s Angels, Tom Wolfe and, inevitably, cops.

Kesey is busted for marijuana possession once, twice. Now he faces real time: a bad trip he does not want to take. He parks a truck on a coastal bluff, writes a fake suicide note — Ocean, Ocean, I’ll beat you in the end — then slips into Mexico in a car trunk.

The headline: “LSD GURU SUICIDE!”

He hides in Puerto Vallarta, then Mazatlán, has B-movie escapes from undercover agents, and ends up in dead-end Manzanillo.

There the circle reconnects. Kesey is joined by his wife, Faye, their young children and a squad of Pranksters, including Mountain Girl, a k a Carolyn Adams; Ken Babbs; Mike Hagen; Gretchen Fetchin the Slime Queen; and the Beat legend Neal Cassady, with his parrot, Rubiaco.

Kesey and family and Mountain Girl take a little rented house on the beach. The others hang their hammocks across the road, in an abandoned pet-food factory they called La Casa Purina.

The sun pours off the mountains. The Pranksters soak in it, melting in heat so thick they call it Manzanillo mucus. They swim, they fish, they do laundry, they get stoned. They wait for family and lawyers to wire money. Mountain Girl gives birth to Sunshine, her daughter with Kesey, in the charity ward at the Hospital Civil.

The idyll lasted only into the fall. Kesey went home, did his five months in jail, and got right back to being an author and counterculture icon. His was a well-lived, well-loved, well-documented life, and it ended in rural Oregon in 2001.

I flew into Mexico at the end of August, a late arrival to the Kesey fan club, looking to unearth whatever traces remained of the Manzanillo episode.

I brought my 20-year-old stepson, Zak, who came well qualified because of his skill with a camera and fondness for the Grateful Dead, the Pranksters’ house band. I brought my battered undergraduate copy of “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” and “Mexico on 5 Dollars a Day,” the 1963-64 edition, which reported that Manzanillo’s “prettiest senorita” could be found, along with aspirin and diarrhea treatments, behind the counter of the Farmacia America on Avenida Mexico. I also brought a Hermes 3000 portable typewriter, at which I planned to sit and write in the heat and moonlight, with cold, sweaty beers.

I’m sorry, reader. I did not become a wave and did not find many physical traces of the Kesey interlude, though I came close, much closer than I thought I would.

You can, too, if you go as the Pranksters did, poor and open-minded, and look in the right places. Spend as little money as possible and stick to the far, far southern end of Manzanillo Bay, away from the high-end resorts and close to the jetty and pelicans.

Before I left New York, I had lucked upon Bart Varelmann, who had owned the little Hotel La Posada, one of Manzanillo’s only hotels back then. It’s still there, steps from the beach and that jetty, which borders a channel leading into Mexico’s biggest Pacific port.

Mr. Varelmann told me that the Pranksters had spent the summer next to his hotel, parking their bus beside a huge rock. Mr. Varelmann is now retired to Florida. He said he couldn’t remember Kesey very well, but he remembered the Pranksters and their kids, and the bus.

“The interior of Ken’s bus was a grab-bag cornucopia of strange pills, exotic herbs, magic mushrooms, peyote buttons, LSD, uppers, downers, poppers and of course marijuana,” Mr. Varelmann writes in his self-published memoir, “Innkeeper.” “On a windless day one could get stoned just strolling past the bus. A battery-powered tape machine enhanced the scene with a dreamy, pre-rock music by the likes of Mile Davis, Stan Kenton and the Modern Jazz Quartet. We hung a lot at Ken’s magical bus that summer.”

There’s a problem with Mr. Varelmann’s tantalizing story. He insists that it all happened in 1963, which is impossible. Still, factoring in the memory-glazing effects of time and heavy drug use, it was the best lead I had, so I booked a room at La Posada for a week.

The first night, Zak and I walked through downtown Manzanillo, still bustling near midnight. Sidewalk food stands glowed under bare bulbs; it was a carnival of grease, of chorizo and chilies, roasted corn ears and ice pops. Looking up in the narrow streets, I saw thousands of swallows nestled for the night on telephone lines, evenly spaced, like zipper teeth. We had a late dinner, bistek tacos and pulpo gallego, octopus in olive oil and garlic, soft like butter.

The next morning, Zak sleeping, I slipped onto the beach to await the sunrise. The windy tumult of the day before was gone; it was still but not dark. Klieg lights from hotels cast a prison-camp glare, and development all along the bay cast a pallid wash of light into the sky. The most distant lights shimmered in the heat. The stifling, hushed air, the sand and thumping waves all seemed to be waiting for the sun to rise to ignite the conflagration of another stifling Manzanillo day.

MY other source of Kesey memories was Robert Stone, the novelist, who had been there. Although he listened kindly when I called, he could not answer all my questions about addresses and landmarks. He confessed that it had been 40 years ago, and he too had been stoned a lot of the time. The buildings were already ruins in ’66, he said. “We weren’t much into infrastructure.”

But in his 2007 memoir, “Prime Green,” Mr. Stone shares a stunningly vivid memory of Manzanillo:

“In the moments after dawn, before the sun had reached the peaks of the sierra, the slopes and valleys of the rain forest would explode in green light, erupting inside a silence that seemed barely to contain it. When the sun’s rays spilled over the ridge, they discovered dozens of silvery waterspouts and dissolved them into smokey rainbows. ...

“All of us, stoned or otherwise, caught in the vortex of dawn, would freeze in our tracks and stand to, squinting in the pain of the light, sweating, grinning.

“We called that light Prime Green; it was primal, primary, primo.”

Me, I saw no prime green. I couldn’t see any green from where I was. I watched mountainous container ships heading, I supposed, to China.

Mr. Stone remembers as heartbreaking the morning bugle call from the downtown navy base that echoed across the bay some mornings, when the wind was right.

As if on cue, dozens of young men, recruits from another nearby navy base, flooded onto the beach in formation for daily exercises. Uno, dos, tres, cuatro. They did arm rolls, shoulder shrugs, then took off their T-shirts for a swim.

Zak and I took the Kesey search to downtown Manzanillo, to the Archivo Municipal, to find phone records for a Purina factory or for the Chinese grocer who had been the Pranksters’ landlord — it must have been old Hector Yuen, some people told me, but another old-timer said, no, it was a guy named Sam. A helpful official leafed page by page through the fragile onion-skin pages of the hand-typed 1964 Manzanillo phone book, but found nothing.

Downtown was famous then for the huge jacaranda tree in the central square. Now it is dominated by an immense sculpture, in blue steel, of a leaping sailfish. The shops on the waterfront and the steeply raked slopes behind cater to the sport fishing and cruise ship crowd with T-shirts and tequila.

Zak and I spent a lot of time hunting in graveyards for Mr. Yuen and looking for ruins with the Purina checkerboard. We found Mr. Yuen but not Sam, and no trace of La Casa Purina or the Polynesian bar where, in Mr. Wolfe’s and Mr. Stone’s accounts, a mysterious Mexican policeman who called himself Agent No. 1 got drunk and bragged about recovering Liz Taylor’s stolen jewelry and shooting American potheads.

We visited the still-dreary Hospital Civil, where Mountain Girl, then 19, gave birth to Sunshine. She remembers one terrifying night when beach crabs, amok under the full moon, climbed into bed with her and her newborn.

One night I saw a crab crossing the highway. It brandished its claws at my headlights before scuttling into the dark.

One of my goals was to recreate the impoverished pleasures of Pranksterish beachside living, so even as my investigation faltered, I relished chilling with Zak. The Posada had a big wooden icebox with beer and soda, and at night we would grab bottles and eat tacos. In the morning I would take my typewriter under the poolside palapa and knock out an account of the previous day’s fruitless search, now and then gazing out through the fronds at the horizon, as if through untrimmed bangs.

One calm morning, with snorkels and fins, Zak and I slid into the womb-warm water and headed for the jetty. The water near shore was sandy-turbid, but it cleared when we reached the rocks. We swam amid silver clouds of fish, little three-inch tuna replicas; needlefish; the occasional sea cucumber; puffer; Technicolor goby.

The microtunas swam in school-fish unison, and I was suddenly struck at the synchronicity of their movements, how their thoughts were wired together across space — hundreds of separate beings, each doing his thing, following his own trip, whatever his freak was, nibbling this, chasing that — and yet moving as if with one brain, darting up, down, across in this riotous liquid carnival, this Day-Glo ocean.

Kesey was fixated on that phenomenon, which he called intersubjectivity, and I wondered if he would have found the snorkeling as mind-altering as I did.

Zak and I figured the best route back in time was probably out of town, up into the mountains of the Sierra Madre del Sur for the primo greenness Mr. Stone wrote about.

We took our rented Nissan Tsuru up the highway to Colima, the state capital, through coconut forests and a roadside district of coconut and mango vendors.

We climbed through road cuts and beside steep mountain ridges, past signs marked “Zona de Derrumbes.”

What’s “derrumbes”? I wondered.

“Death,” said Zak. (The right answer was “rock slides.”)

After Minatitlán, a tiny village, we took a fork to the Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve, a Unesco-recognized park where subsistence farmers coexist with untouched forests, jaguars and orchids. We continued up the volcanic slopes on an increasingly iffy dirt-and-stone road through a landscape of streaky limestone and cow pies.

Up and up we went on the switchback road, into the cloud zone, shrouded by rolling mist, the mountainside slipping in and out of view: a tightly textured green, like low-pile carpet. Butterflies flitted beside the road. Rain-filled tire ruts were thick with tadpoles. The road kept getting more deeply gouged and steeper, so steep as make me worry about falling over backward.

I WONDERED what I would do if the car died or some derrumbes happened. We passed a roadside death shrine as the wind picked up and clouds closed in and it started to rain.

We inched through the mud and prayed silently. The rain grew gentler and the sky cleared, and I stopped the car beside a staggering mountain view, a misty vista laced with shimmering tree branches laden with bromeliads and lichens. Two woodpeckers clambered up a fallen tree trunk. It was green — prime green — all around.

The rain had broken the heat. I got out to savor the coolness, extended my arms and looked up into the droplets, through the branches at the gray backlit sky and, exultant, naked under my clothing, squinting in the light, stood sweating, grinning. It was primal, primary, primo.



Several airlines serve Manzanillo, but the cheapest and most direct for me, from New York, was Continental via Houston. (Other carriers often connect to a Mexican airline in Mexico.) Flights in mid-April were available on for about $535.


“The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” by Tom Wolfe, is still the indispensable guide to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. Mr. Wolfe was on the trail of “Young Novelist Real-Life Fugitive” for Esquire, but Kesey had returned from Mexico by the time Mr. Wolfe tracked him down. The Manzanillo section, recreated through interviews, is powerful: “Stranded in a up-tight town; no roads leading north and

no roads leading south; nine or ten hours of hell by bus to Guadalajara the only way to git back to the rest of the world. ...”

Kesey’s Garage Sale,” a deeply strange 1973 book by Kesey and others, has a section about called “Over the Border.” It’s a hallucinatory memoir in screenplay form, with the names changed: Kesey is Devlin Deboree and Manzanillo is Puerto Sancto. But it’s all in there, the Casa Purina, the hammocks, waves and roaches (insects), the zonked-out conversations, the amazing tales of survival and resilience while stoned. And unlike “Acid Test,” it has doodly drawings in the margins. Try Amazon.

“Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties” is Robert Stone’s memoir, and its Manzanillo section is burnished by wisdom, distance and lovely writing. “We were an unstable gathering, difficult to define,” he writes. Their landlord called them “existencialistas,” but Mr. Stone says they were more like “a cross between a Stanford fraternity party and an underfunded libertine writers’ conference.”

“Innkeeper” is the self-published autobiography of Bart Varelmann, who bought the hurricane-damaged Hotel La Posada in Manzanillo in 1960 and ran it for decades. Mr. Varelmann’s life has apparently been so eventful that Kesey has to fight for attention with Bing Crosby, Bo Derek, Lee Marvin, a sunken treasure ship, hurricanes and lots and lots of adoring women. Go to

“Manzanillo and the State of Colima: Facts, Tips and Day Trips,” by Susan Dearing, an sunbaked expatriate American who runs a Manzanillo dive shop, tells you everything you need to know about where to go, eat, stay and play in and around her adopted city. A spiral-bound necessity available through her information-packed Web site,


Hotel La Posada (Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas 201; 52-314-333-1899;, on the beach at the end of the road in Las Brisas section, has 23 simple rooms, a pool and a breezy sala full of comfortable chairs and old paperbacks. A double room is $78 from Dec. 15 to April 14, $58 other times, including breakfast.


Tacos Ramón is a short walk from La Posada, on the far (nonbeach) side of Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas, near the traffic circle. Open very late.

LAWRENCE DOWNES is an editorial writer at The Times.

Hasta Luego,


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Springtime and Easter Baskets

Today is the first day of spring, the Vernal Equinox, and March winds are ringing our chimes and our Cosanti Bell (click).
Jack at Easter

The full moon is at hand --which means Easter is this coming Sunday (Jesus rose on the first Sunday after the full moon following the Vernal Equinox. And he was born right after the Winter Solstice on the same day as Mithra.)

Pantheists and Pagans know best.


Monday, March 17, 2008

When Johnny Comes Marching...

John Adams almost single-handedly started the Revolutionary War after defending the British officers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre. Or so the HBO version of David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning book would have us believe. Only cousin Sam Adams seems more passionately in favor of war with England. Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine are MIA. Still, the acting is stunning, especially in the characters of Abigail Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Adams himself.

The newspaper reviews of this show are many and varied.

John Adams

John Adams
Critic Score
Metascore: 78 Metascore out of 100

based on 27 reviews
read critic reviews

Here are three reviews I found thought provoking:

1) Revolutionary role

Paul Giamatti plays emotional, law-loving John Adams
By Tenley Woodman | Sunday, March 16, 2008

| |


John Adams’ face might not be plastered on beer bottles like his second cousin Sam Adams, but that doesn’t mean he was any less a patriot.

Paul Giamatti (“Sideways”) plays the Braintree-born revolutionary and second president of the United States in the HBO miniseries “John Adams,” starting March 18.

Giamatti, himself a native New Englander (New Haven, Conn.), said he hopes to bring understanding to the complicated and often overlooked political figure.

“He’s not iconic like those other guys are,” Giamatti said of Adams’ contemporaries George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. “He was almost too honest and blunt about himself.”

While Samuel Adams stirred up public protests against English rule as a leader of the Sons of Liberty, John Adams represented and won aquittal for the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre.

“Logic and fact, to his detriment, he was so married to the idea. That affected him all over the place in his life. He idolized the law. That’s a hard place to occupy in the world,” said Giamatti.

The actor is no stranger to playing difficult men. His role as a depressed wine snob in “Sideways” earned him critical praise and he won laughs as Howard Stern’s cantankerous boss in Private Parts.”

“As little known as he seems to be, (Adams) is better known than the other historic guys I have played,” said Giamatti, who has starred in other biopics such as “Man on the Moon” and “Cinderella Man.”

“I had to make a character out of him. I had more freedom playing him than Jefferson or Washington, because he is not so well known,” he said.

John Adams occupied some of the most influential positions in America’s fledgling government. He was a delegate to the first and second Continental Congress and acted as an ambassador overseas to lobby foreign support for the revolution.

But today, Giamatti said, John Adams would be left out of the political fold.

“(To) what extent can somebody be honest in political life? He wasn’t a failure, but his political life was complicated,” he said.

“He was just emotional publically. I don’t know if he could curtail himself. You can’t do that (in today’s political world). I was so amazed about this thing, that Hilary (Clinton) cried. Then I watched it and you can barely see it. You cannot show emotion. You are a psychopath if you show emotion publically,” said Giamatti. Back then, “they probably could get away with more.”

Article URL:


Ideas triumph in compelling series 'John Adams'

HBO's 'John Adams' proves that American history and intellectual dialogue can also be compelling drama

By David Zurawik

Sun Television Critic

March 16, 2008

The leading man is a short, bald, pot-bellied lawyer with a passion for reading Latin and a habit of making enemies. The leading lady quotes Shakespeare, dresses modestly and seldom looks like she's having fun.

The opening hour unfolds against a backdrop of mud, snow and the endless gray of a New England winter. And all seven hours are filled with talk in historically accurate English accents about big ideas from the 18th century like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

This is not exactly the stuff of which TV miniseries are usually made.

And yet, John Adams, a $100 million-plus production about the life and times of America's second president, is one of the most compelling miniseries of the decade. The HBO program, starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, has the dramatic sweep of such old-time TV epics as Winds of War, but it also hews absolutely to the Pulitzer Prize-winning work written by David McCullough about Adams and the first 50 years of American life.

Produced by Tom Hanks and directed by Emmy Award-winner Tom Hooper, John Adams proves that true-to-life American history can make for inspired prime-time entertainment. That daring proposition from TV's most acclaimed channel is all the more remarkable coming at a time when many school systems have abandoned teaching students about the national past for fear that it might be deemed boring.

"John Adams is about ideas and it's about one man's political education - and that's rare for television," says Paul Giamatti, who plays Adams. "The language alone was something that made it hard for me to believe that somebody was actually going to put this on television. To have people talking at this high level and with this amount of intelligence is just utterly unique for commercial TV."

Rarer yet is the commitment that Hanks and HBO made to a truthful rendering of the past - rather than one cut to fit the flashy fashion of prime-time entertainment, McCullough says.

"What Tom Hanks and the people at HBO did in making this miniseries is phenomenal," he says. "Aside from an enormous amount of money, what they invested in this project is a desire to do something right about the founding time of our country and the secular faith on which our whole way of life is based. And they accomplished that - they never compromised and they never cheapened the history."

Trusted Tom Hanks
Few have mastered the craft of making authentic history come alive for a mass audience like McCullough.

Perhaps most widely known as host of the PBS series American Experience and narrator of Ken Burns documentary The Civil War, McCullough is twice a winner of each of the three most prestigious awards for historical writing - the Pulitzer and Parkman Prizes and the National Book Award. Furthermore, he has managed to rack up eye-popping sales, with his work on Adams now in its 65th printing with 2.7 million sales and 149 weeks on The New York Times best-seller lists.

"When you turn your work - your book - over to someone, you're putting your faith in their interpretation of your text," McCullough says of the transition from print to screen. "Two hours into our first meeting, I knew Tom Hanks was someone who was keenly interested in American history and totally committed to getting it right. And I must say, Tom Hanks never, ever let me down."

Hanks, Hooper and screenwriter Kirk Ellis made dozens of daring choices in their adaptation of McCullough's book, and the reward for their dedication to historical accuracy and detail is an immediate and gripping sense of verisimilitude.

The opening sequence is representative of the way in which the series successfully pulls viewers out of the present and transports them to 18th-century life as it was brutally lived on the ground - rather than in the prettified portraits of Founding Fathers that hang in schools.

Instead of the color and pageantry often used to open historical costume dramas in hopes of grabbing viewer attention, John Adams begins in 1770 with a solitary man on a horse that is gingerly trying to find its way along an icy road in a snowstorm. At least, it looks like a man on the horse. All one can see is a bundle of gray wool sitting in the saddle.

At the risk of tune-out, director Hooper ( Elizabeth I) holds the desolate image until the viewer can almost feel the icy ruts under the horse's hooves and the snow tearing into the face of the man on its back.

The rider is Adams, making his way from his farm outside of Boston to Philadelphia for the gathering that would ultimately draft the Declaration of Independence.

Forget forming a government and founding a nation, just making it from Boston to Philadelphia on horseback in the winter seems a monumental achievement.

Hard realities
"You hear people say of days gone by, 'Oh, that was a simpler time,'" McCullough says. "That's nonsense. Life was hard, harder than we have any idea. Because John Adams was stout, people often think of him as pudgy and soft.

"One of the reasons I began my book as I did - with Adams heading off to Philadelphia in the dead of winter on horseback for nearly 400 miles - was to show what he was made of. No softie does that."

There are several other moments during the miniseries when sticking to accurate depictions of the brutish reality of Colonial life makes for stunningly vivid drama.

One involves a graphic rendering of the horrific pain and degradation inflicted on a victim who was tarred and feathered and carried on a rail.

The second comes when Abigail Adams, at home alone with three children as her husband serves as one of the new nation's first ambassadors to France, decides to have her family inoculated against small pox - a gory and highly unpredictable process at the time.

A warning: Watching the wounds on a smallpox victim being lanced so that the fluid from within can be placed into cuts made into the arms of Abigail and her children may be too intense for the tastes of some viewers. On the other hand, no better testimony could be given to the courage and strength of this extraordinary woman.

"In her supposedly simpler time, Abigail had to keep the farm going, find hired help, cope with inflation and shortages of all kind, all on her own while John was away for months, eventually years, at a stretch," McCullough says."The shadow of death loomed everywhere. Epidemic disease, dysentery and smallpox could and did sweep in any time, taking hundreds of lives. Nobody knew where these horrors came from or how to stop them or when they would be over."

'A great love story'
In the miniseries that will anchor the next six Sunday nights for HBO, the pain and darkness of such moments are redeemed by an inspirational core narrative celebrating the love of Abigail and John Adams and the triumph of the big ideas that came to define our national identity. McCullough's primary source: the thousands of letters between John and Abigail.

"It is a great love story," McCullough says, "It's a cliffhanger of a story about a man and a woman caught up in one of the most dangerous, tumultuous periods in the whole larger story of our country. Together they were at the heart of what was then called the 'Glorious Cause of America.' They saw themselves as taking part in one of the surpassing dramas in history - which indeed it was."

For his part, Giamatti says he's just happy that the producers and writers "allowed these two characters to be as intelligent as they were."

Such a commitment to intellect, after all, is not exactly what prime-time TV is known for in this era of reality TV.

"The one thing I kept praying after I took the job is that I hope to God they don't chicken out and start rewriting it and trying to dumb it down," Giamatti says. "Aside from the character, aside from the story, aside from everything, it was just the intelligence of this miniseries that I found so exciting."

3) and a bit more critical piece from Chicago:

Entertaining 'Adams' is no history lesson

TV REVIEW | HBO miniseries takes liberties

March 16, 2008

John Adams would no doubt have been pleased to know that he was right.

Granted, Adams was expressing in that 1790 letter his fear that he might be written out of history in favor of a better tale that included beefier parts for Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, but he was right when he felt that facts often are altered or omitted when telling a good story.

Just take a look at Adams' namesake HBO miniseries (the first two parts of which air at 7 tonight), in which colonial buildings, clothes, wigs, weapons and toys were painstakingly recreated so the story could be told as authentically as possible.

Too bad Kirk Ellis' script (based on David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning book) wasn't as meticulous with historic details. While "John Adams" succeeds as entertainment, it utterly fails as a history lesson.

"Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence," Adams (Paul Giamatti) utters during a pivotal scene in which he is making his closing arguments in the trial of the English soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre.

The trial is played out as an 18th century version of "Law and Order," with Adams successfully securing acquittals for all the British soldiers involved.

Judging from the first four episodes of the series, which follow Adams from the Boston Massacre to George Washington's inauguration, "John Adams" is well-acted, well-scripted, entertaining television. Unfortunately, Ellis is all too willing to sacrifice truths the moment they get in the way of plot or pacing.

I wonder why. Yes, the truth is a bit more complicated, but it's often equally engaging: Capt. Thomas Preston (played by Ritchie Coster), who commanded the British men involved in the Massacre, was tried and acquitted in a separate trial. Adams did represent the other eight soldiers, but unlike in the HBO series, two of the eight actually were found guilty of murder. Thanks to Adams' superior skills in the courtroom, he was able to argue the plea down to manslaughter based on a technicality.

Giamatti spends the first two episodes playing Adams as an aloof, lovable, misunderstood statesman. It's only in later episodes that he grows impatient and impolite (particularly when trying to secure the naval assistance of France during our bloody march toward independence). His record of being both pushy and abrasive is well documented. But playing Adams as such would have denied Giamatti any sort of character arc.

Character is the least of the concerns here. If one knew little or nothing about the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, you would be inclined to believe based on this teleplay that Adams did everything but pluck the goose feather for the quill to write the Declaration.

His complex, on-again-off-again friendship with Thomas Jefferson (Stephen Dillane) comes almost as an afterthought in the first four episodes. Jefferson is first portrayed as a sensitive artist who watches Franklin (the always wonderful Tom Wilkinson) and Adams take knives to his first draft of the Declaration of Independence as if it were written by a first-time hack. Later, on a diplomatic mission to Paris after the death of his wife and daughter, he is seemingly inconsolable and melancholy (this Jefferson in Paris is in much need of some Prozac).

Adams' wife is treated the most accurately. Laura Linney, one of the most underappreciated actresses of our time, turns in another powerhouse performance as the headstrong Abigail Adams. Though they spend more time apart than they do together, their relationship is the core of the miniseries; Linney plays her as his intellectual equal.

Adams was wedded more to his sense of duty to country than to his wife. For her part, she raised their children and took care of the farm without any help, but even she had her limits. "Remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors," she tells him. "If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation."

Related Blog Posts
Watch Paul Giammati as John Adams on HBO

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Vernal Equinox and the celebration of Saint Patrick's Day are here again. Only this year, because Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week are on Sunday, March 16, Bishops have asked that the revelry be held today or tomorrow.

Here's the latest from Savannah:

Savannah Morning News

Last Year's celebration:

Mar 17, 2007

Keep chasing the snakes....


Monday, March 10, 2008

In the Sierra of Mexico

Mexico 08

What made our stay in Mexico especially rich was the library of Casa Sally which included the works of Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, and Garcia-Marquez.

Here is
by Octavio Paz,

Viva Mexico