Friday, October 30, 2009

Wisdom with Full Moon

Georgia Moon

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water.
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass. 


Monday, October 26, 2009

The Path

The Road
photo by Dar

There is a Buddhist quote that the dog that barks a lot is not therefore a good dog; and that, similarly, a man who is a good talker is not thereby a good man. The path of wisdom, even the simple path to a happy life, has eluded me often-- like a path through a forest overgrown with thickets, brambles, and brush that tear at the skin. It is curious how one can go merrily along for miles, for a long time, on the scenic path, noticing all the lovely vistas, apprecaiting the good things of life and love, only to find the path all of a sudden taking a precipitous downward, rocky and unexpected turn.
The path is mental. It really is no more difficult or treacherous physically-- it is that I have suddenly doubted the path, or done something to make it less than it was, downward, wayward, rather than upward.
Sharing a path with a loved one is doubly dangerous, though it is often more than doubly enjoyable. How much better the vistas are when you share them with someone. But a thoughtless sentence or gesture can, like a sudden storm, wreak havoc on the loveliest of gardens.
There is another wonderful Buddhist quotation that says that when I stop trying to put my patterns of love into your heart, I will at last see you. If we want love in our lives, we have to learn how to accept the other, the other's path, the other's worth, the other's joy. We may have to take turns letting the other lead, to follow the other's path rather than domineering or insisting on any one path.
My own path in this life has been a long one, its conclusion near. The final overlooks and vistas are not far off.
Three score down, and maybe a score to go. There could well be another adventure or two. Yet what I want more than anything is peace of mind and the sort of mindfulness the Buddhists speak of. We cannot change the past, we cannot even change much of anything except the way we accept what occurs. Attitude and awareness are everything. I want to miss no opportunity for joy, in myself and in those I love. I would like to add to the joy in the world-- lord knows the world needs it.
One way it seems to me to have happiness is to focus on the joys one has known-- to recall and to share them, whether in song, art, conversation, photographs, or writing in general. A moment of joy is beautiful forever. That is not to deny sadness or grief, but rather to grow and have a richer life for having experienced them.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Marlowe's Leander

Has ever a poet better written a homoerotic tribute to male beauty than Christopher Marlowe's description of Leander?

Amorous Leander, beautifull and yoong,
(Whose tragedie divine Musaeus soong)
Dwelt at Abidus; since him, dwelt there none,
For whom succeeding times make greater mone.
His dangling tresses that were never shorne,
Had they beene cut, and unto Colchos borne,
Would have allur'd the vent'rous youth of Greece,
To hazard more, than for the golden Fleece.
Faire Cinthia wisht, his armes might be her spheare,
Greefe makes her pale, because she mooves not there.
His bodie was as straight as Circes wand,
Jove might have sipt out Nectar from his hand.
Even as delicious meat is to the tast,
So was his necke in touching, and surpast
The white of Pelops shoulder. I could tell ye,
How smooth his brest was, and how white his bellie,
And whose immortall fingars did imprint,
That heavenly path, with many a curious dint,
That runs along his backe, but my rude pen,
Can hardly blazon foorth the loves of men,
Much lesse of powerfull gods. Let it suffise,
That my slacke muse, sings of Leanders eies,
Those Orient cheekes and lippes, exceeding his
That leapt into the water for a kis
Of his owne shadow, and despising many,
Died ere he could enjoy the love of any.
Had wilde Hippolitus, Leander seene,
Enamoured of his beautie had he beene,
His presence made the rudest paisant melt,
That in the vast uplandish countrie dwelt,
The barbarous Thratian soldier moov'd with nought,
Was moov'd with him, and for his favour sought.
Some swore he was a maid in mans attire,
For in his lookes were all that men desire,
A pleasant smiling cheeke, a speaking eye,
A brow for Love to banquet roiallye,
And such as knew he was a man would say,
Leander, thou art made for amorous play:
Why art thou not in love and lov'd of all?
Though thou be faire, yet be not thine owne thrall.

Had Leander yielded to the seduction of Poseidon rather than Hero, he might have become a demigod, himself.

Photo of the painting from Wikimedia:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Our Man

 LC sings Famous Blue Raincoat:

Leonard Cohen's performance at the Fox was transforming and transcendent. Not only Cohen, but his band, especially Javier Mas on 12 string guitar, and Dino Soldo on sax, flute, and other wind instruments gave us the sublime expression of the soul that Cohen's poetry evokes. At 75, LC was as full of energy, creativity, and power as ever. When he would kneel on the Persian rug on stage, singing his heart out to Javier Mas, whose guitar set off Cohen's deep, sonorous, smooth voice, we were mesmerized, our hearts sacrificed as if to a Mayan Chac Mool. Cohen reached in, caressed our hearts, and brought tears to our eyes.

My friend, Cliff Bostock, found the 4 curtain calls too stagy and obviously planned (though he praised everything else about the performance). On the last curtain call, Cohen sang out, " I tried to leave you" and "Are you satisfied now?"  It was clearly planned and so were the curtain call performances of the band, the Celtic harp number by the sisters backing up Cohen, and a round of the whole band. But I found the handling of the curtain calls to be superb, circumventing the now regular clapping and cheering to bring bands back on stage. It always happens. Every time, and usually goes on far too long. So why not just take control of it and make it entertaining. Cohen was always quick to return, doing a little dance number on and off the stage, dancing us to the end of time. It was three hours plus of as beautiful and sublime song and music as I have ever heard.


Cohen in 2008

from Wikipedia:


Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Since 1985, I've visited the city of Athens three times, including 1999 and 2005. The marble streets of the Plaka, the cafe's, the Acropolis, the retsina all make this metropolis unique. 

The Acropolis, Parthenon, and Darryl
Photo by Jack

Here is what I wrote on my first visit:


Beginning and end, city spreading its white houses and buildings into the haze of the mountains and sea, Athens still lies beneath the two towers of the past: the ancient Acropolis and Mt. Lycabettus, symbol of Byzantium. As I sit sipping a pint of German beer, surrounded by olive old men smoking and drinking the sludge of Greek coffee, as the fumes of Omonia Circle waft into this sad, deteriorating interior of a once grand cafe, I look out at the noise of the city, over the accumulated trash of the election, the tourists, and the indifferent Greeks. Where is the civilization, the wisdom that was worshiped here?

Even the Athenians need refuge. It lies in the adjoining parks of the National Gardens and the Zapion. The limbs of Orange trees with as much ripe fruit as leaves weigh over the walks. A dozen species of birds swoop and chirrup through the tall pines. I sit on a carved bench cracking pistachio nuts, watching afternoon strollers: the families, the lovers, the casual businessman taking a siesta. Roses, bougainvillea, and countless flowers I cannot name fill the parks with their fragrances. The parks open to two other worlds: the plaza where a band gathers to play bouzouki music across a space that includes fountains, statues, sculpture, and a view of the Acropolis; and named after Herodes Atticus, the road lined with trees that passes the Royal Palace and the gates of the Parliament, where skirted guards march their odd goosestep, exchange places, and pretend to ignore passersby.

John and I are staying in the old Plaka section at the base of the Acropolis. Less than a block away are the Arch of Hadrian, gateway to the city in the First century, and the temple of Zeus, largest in Hellas, which took 700 years to build. At night, Artemis, Zeus' daughter, gives the Temple her ghostly moonlight. We stand reverently gazing through the Arch at the lost splendor, behind us a rapid river of autos, buses, trolleys, and taxis speed past, reverent only to modernity and to Pluto, god of money.
The base of the Acropolis is my favorite area of the city. Up the steep, narrow streets cars rarely ascend. Rather, there are walls of honeysuckle and bougainvillea, numberless cafes and roof gardens, and quiet views of the Roman ruins, the Agora, and elegant if slightly worn homes, their French windows opening to balconies above untended gardens along the broken towers. It is a world ruled by cats lying on every ledge.

On our last night in Hellas, John and I ascend Mt. Lycabettus. Our walk takes us into Kolonaki Plaza, like a Paris park, a fountainhead in the midst of elegant European boutiques and cafes. Unlike the rest of Athens, Kolonaki is the domain of Athenian aristocrats. I experience again, as I did fifteen years ago in Paris, the grand European manner --the leisurely evening meal or drink, the intelligent conversations, cosmopolitan people of fashion.

Above Kolonaki plaza the street climbs to a dead end where a series of steps recall San Francisco. At the top of the steps we look back over a vista of white city at the foot of the tree-lined street below us. Above is the funicular, a cross between subway and cable-car that lifts us though the rock of Lycabettus to the peak.

Atop the mountain, we watch as Apollo sets over his once adoring city. We sit respectfully as armed guards lower the blue and white flag and goosestep away. Reverently, we tiptoe inside the Byzantine church of St. George, filled with polished silver icons to the dragon slayer. Most impressive, of course, is the view of the expanse of Athens white from sea to mountains. As the day fades, the city becomes a shimmering galaxy of moving, twinkling lights. Athens becomes Mexico City: hideous, awesome, and sublime. Only a brief display of lights on the distant Acropolis below distinguishes Athena.

In Athens, the values of ancient Greece are in the same state as Athena's temple, the Parthenon. The ruin stands as monument to ideal form, to mathematical harmony, to the design and embodiment of reason. Yet it is a ruin, nonetheless -- as much a ruin as the high consciousness of Pericles and Phidias who conceived it. That bright morning when John and I mounted the worn steps of the Acropolis, I felt for a moment the shade of that high consciousness, knew the cosmos of the Timaeus and of Aristotle's De Caelo. How swiftly that shade fled as daylight brought the gesticulating, clicking tourists; and with them, the lizard looks of suspicion from the Parthenon's present guardians.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Delphi revisited

From my first visit to Delphi in 1985:


Temple of Apollo
Photo by Jack

This morning, waking with the sun and the crowing cocks, John and I took our usual bread, cake, and marmalade, then drove to the walkway to sacred Delphi. Few were there when we arrived before eight. An elderly woman opened a gate that could easily have been circumvented. Yet her opening took on ritual feeling as I spoke " Kalimera," and she answered me in French. Following the path on which she forced us, we saw first the gymnasium before arriving upon the temples of Athena. The latter took on the sacred look of early morning as sunlight streamed in shafts through the resurrected columns of the tholos. Wandering alone among the shrines, I found the Castalian spring, drank of it, and anointed my head in its cold cascade. Anemones the color of fresh blood trembled from crevices in the morning air. A tending gardener, cutting the wild grass with an old scythe, paid me a compliment as I left Athena's grounds along the sacred way: he asked me, when I had said good morning to him in Greek, whether I were Greek, myself. From the temples of Athena, from which we had watched the sun move in a clear line to light the mountain shrines above, we climbed to these temples of Apollo and to the center of Delphi, where the Oracle once spoke. Tourists began to arrive: German, French, Spanish, Dutch dominated the few British and Americans. John and I were able to avoid them for the most part, and were able to stop in silence before the shrine of the kings of Argos, the Athenian treasury, and the standing columns of Apollo's temple. The treasury, well preserved, holds only sparrows now, whose cries are those of protesting spirits emerging from holes and crevices of the treasury walls, flying in the face of the tourist onslaught as if to check the armies of Darius.
We climbed on, beyond the amphitheatre, few tourists following. The path rises vertically, dissuading all but the true pilgrims. There, pine trees overhang the path, as does an ancient fig tree whose old limbs reach nearly to the ground. Anemones and other purple and yellow wild flowers color the tranquility, which the choruses of singing birds complete. Beyond a final bend of the upward path, the stadium opens in level expanse beneath the rock peaks of Delphi. From this quiet, highest reach, we gazed back over the ruins below descending in grandeur to the distant gulf of Corinth.

Temple of Athena, Photo by Jack

The sun-- Apollo, as I realized in revelation -- shone warmly upon the navel of the Earth. We returned to the lower temples past the throngs of people pouring through the gates. We visited the chambers of the museum, like a tomb itself, its rooms echoing as if through centuries. I looked longest upon the living face of the charioteer, whose gemstone eyes flashed in the light of the room in which he stood alone; And upon the face and body of Antinoos, last of the gods, lost to the Nile, Hadrian's vision of Beauty and Eros .
Keats' lines from Endymion seem appropriate here,

...Full in the middle of this Pleasantness
There stood a marble altar, with a tress
Of flowers budded newly; and the dew
Had taken fairy phantisies to strew
Daisies upon the sacred sward last eve,
And so the dawned light in pomp receive.
For 'twas the morn: Apollo's upward fire
Made every eastern cloud a silvery pyre
Of brightness so unsullied, that therein
A melancholy spirit well might win
Oblivion, and melt out his essence fine
Into the winds...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Remembering Allen Ginsberg

 Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg on
Royal Street

Photo Copyright:
Jack Miller

Buddha, Dionysus, political activist? Ginsberg was a bad ass poet who could chant and enchant. He sang to kids in the ghetto. He read to the enlightened and the not so. His anger was that of a trickster; his verse went right to the heart and shook it with hard-boiled reality.


Allen and I met on three occasions: First, in New Orleans in 1971. 

We met in October when Allen was invited to read his poetry at a Tulane University Poetry Symposium. I was invited to join the welcoming committee and to take photographs. Allen arrived several days early and we were charged with meeting him at the airport and taking him to his hotel. Tulane had reserved a room for him at the Pontchartrain Hotel on St. Charles. But the place was far too elitist and bourgeois for Allen. For one thing, the desk clerk was appalled to see a band of "hippies" accompanying this denim-clad, beaded poet enter the main lobby. He informed us after pretending not to find the reservation, that only Ginsberg could go to the room and that the rest of us must remain outside. Allen threatened to stage a sit-in protest. When the clerk gave in to Allen for fear of a major scene, Allen demanded that we take him to a more hospitable hotel. Our group returned to the Tulane van and drove to the French Quarter where someone suggested the quaint Olivier, which was not only friendly, but had a lovely courtyard where I took the photograph below. 

For several days, we wined and dined at parties in the homes of English professors and other literary liberals, and at New Orleans' finest restaurants. Allen would complain of the high prices at the famous restaurants, then order the most expensive seafood or French dinners, compliments of Tulane. Right away, Allen had shocked some of our entourage by asking where the boys were, where he could find the "peg houses." I was the only one willing to take Allen on a tour of the Quarter and its most notorious nightclubs. We spent hours visiting Lafitte's in Exile, and the bars along Bourbon that the tourists didn't reach. We even looked in on a particularly popular bath house on Toulouse St.  We ended the night on a balcony overlooking Bourbon, having a midnight breakfast and talking of Allen's travels to India. Allen told me of his love for Peter Orlovsky, of his past friendship with Jack Kerouac, of his interest in Blake and Whitman. I was pleased that the irascible activist we first met had transformed into the compassionate poet.

Ginsberg chanting
Tulane U.
Photo copyright
Jack Miller

During the week we visited schools where Allen chanted and read his poetry, stirring up the younger children who would try to imitate his chanting. Allen walked the streets of the Quarter carrying a long, brass trident from India and wearing beads. He had shaved; so the characteristic beard was missing. But he was otherwise clearly the Beat poet. He chanted on the Quad, drawing a large crowd of onlookers, and on the night of the Symposium he had a group of Hare Krishna followers join him on stage for a lively chant.
All in all, I saw that Allen Ginsberg had many faces and was, like some other famous gadflies, harsh with those he found pompous and self-righteous, while being gentle with those he liked.

Allen Ginsberg and friend
at the Olivier House,
New Orleans
Photo copyright:
Jack Miller

Second, in San Francisco:

It was probably in 1980 when I lived on Russian Hill all summer, but it could have been any summer from 1976-1980 when I spent several weeks each year with my friend Julian. I attended a reading and party at City Lights, hosted by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and featuring a colorful assortment of writers. Another friend of mine named Tess was there and doing her bit socializing and charming Ferlinghetti, among others. There was ample wine; so most people were quite relaxed.
I knew Allen wouldn't remember me, but I walked over to him and asked if he remembered his visit years ago to New Orleans. When I identified myself, he politely pretended to remember the evening we spent together, and remarked how much he liked the French Quarter and its hedonistic delights. Speaking of which, he then lowered his voice, and whispered slyly to me with a grin, " Did we sleep together?"

Third, with Dar in New York at an Aperture opening featuring Ginsberg's photography:

I was with my husband Darryl in New York at an
Aperture opening in 1993 featuring Ginsberg's photography. It was
a bustling, crowded opening-- very New York chic. Allen looked fatigued
and sat on one of the few seats outside the gallery entrance. Darryl
spoke to him and I resisted the urge to remind him of our past
encounters. I enjoyed the photographs-- there were several of William Burroughs, and a nude of Allen and Peter Orlovsky. Allen was proud of the photograph Darryl was asking him about-- a lovely boy on a Greek Island-- or was it that the boy was Greek? I recall the photo-- a beautiful face and torso.

Ginsberg Reading Howl in 1956

So now we have his voice, the photographs from 1971 and, of course, the thousands others have taken and shared. The films and videos bring back his image and his voice to us. His own 
photos give repeatedly his wry humor and heart. And yet, if ever there was a spirit that was likely to be reincarnated, I think the soul of Allen Ginsberg is it. He reminded me always of the Hopi trickster Kokopelli.

Allen Ginsberg, W. S. Merwin, and I

Lunch, New Orleans



Friday, October 16, 2009

The Body is the Garden of the Soul

Golden Gate--
my photo

Though New York City is the setting of most of the play Angels in America, San Francisco is its heaven. Described poetically by Belize to Roy Cohn,

"Belize: Hell or heaven?

[Roy indicates "Heaven" through a glance]

Belize: Like San Francisco.

Roy Cohn: A city. Good. I was worried... it'd be a garden. I hate that shit.

Belize: Mmmm. Big city. Overgrown with weeds, but flowering weeds. On every corner a wrecking crew and something new and crooked going up catty corner to that. Windows missing in every edifice like broken teeth, fierce gusts of gritty wind, and a gray high sky full of ravens.

Roy Cohn: Isaiah.

Belize: Prophet birds, Roy. Piles of trash, but lapidary like rubies and obsidian, and diamond-colored cowspit streamers in the wind. And voting booths.

Roy Cohn: And a dragon atop a golden horde.

Belize: And everyone in Balencia gowns with red corsages, and big dance palaces full of music and lights and racial impurity and gender confusion. And all the deities are creole, mulatto, brown as the mouths of rivers. Race, taste and history finally overcome. And you ain't there.

Roy Cohn: And Heaven?

Belize: That was Heaven, Roy."

Tony Kushner

If the body is the garden of the soul, as the angel first tells Prior and then Hannah, Mormon mother of, as Prior says, his ex-lover's lover, the angel that gives them both orgasm with revelation, then, despite Roy Cohn's abhorrence of gardens, San Francisco is the city in which to tend the garden. Every single character in Angels is a revelation. In the end all are forgiven (or in the case of Roy Cohn, given Kaddish)-- blessed as Prior is blessed, as Prior blesses us at the play's end. Only Harper flies to San Francisco, freed at last from Joe, Roy's butt boy. But-- they all partake of the higher consciousness San Francisco represents. Is the final scene with Prior, Louis, Belize, and Hannah sitting by the Bethesda Fountain, guarded by the Angel of Bethesda, too optimistic?

My husband resides in San Francisco now. The city has been my Grail Castle since I first saw it in 1976 with Julian. It is a magical place full of the angels in America, fallen and risen alike.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

England (20 years ago)

England, 1989
From my Journal:

May 27, 1989: the Air
Sprawled over two seats, my feet propped up, I am listening to Sibelius as I gaze over the puffs of salmon-colored clouds. I sip dry sherry. The East coast still stretches below us as we head toward Nova Scotia. Mom is settled eleven seats back, puffing Dunhills with a Dutch dandy, chatting away and apparently comfy. How easy it has all been: the airport, the two gin and tonics (Tangere) while awaiting take off, the check-in. Now I pleasantly anticipate the salmon dinner and parade of elixirs.

Atlanta, an hour ago, seems a memory of another day. Time has shifted from the steady line to an arch of which the present is the soothing zenith.

Tuesday, May 30: London

It is almost 7 A.M. The sun rose four hours ago, and I am eager for the ample breakfast the Sandringham provides in the room overlooking its sunny garden.

Two days here have made London familiar. At least I now know how to tube virtually everywhere. We have taken a bright, sunny boat ride up the Thames to Kew gardens, an Elysisian Field of walks, fountains, deep purple rhododendron, such follies and oddities as a tall pagoda, "ancient archway," and tallest flagpole in England. The houses, on a human scale for a change, first of George III, and then the cottage of Queen Charlotte, gave character and perspective to the vast garden. The Victorian greenhouse was a wonder not only of plants and space, but of time as well.

From Kew Steve, David and I took the tube back to the city. Mom and Marilyn, like conspiring little girls, confiding remarks to one another about people and the gardens, Mom stopping to rest her swollen feet and to chat with many of the local Brits, returned on the overflowing boat.

The Killians and I have taken in Westminster, Big Ben, St. James Park, Trafalgar, and Picadilly. When the boat arrived at the wharf below Big Ben, the five of us took a double decker bus to Russell Square for a glimpse of Bloomsbury.

Yesterday, at sunrise, I wandered alone over Hampstead Heath, just beyond the hotel. I was surprised by the sheer open space, the flood of morning sunshine, the glittering pools, and the warm, hearty English people who said good morning as they passed, jogging or walking their variety of dogs.

Somehow making my way back from the path from the Spaniards behind Kenwood, to the ponds, over the viaduct, past hill and dale, I discovered the Vale of Health. There, like a revelation, appeared the tiny red brick house D.H. Lawrence inhabited in 1915. In that small, sturdy house Lawrence must have first thought out what he then called "The Sisters," and what became, years later, The Rainbow and Women In Love. I felt not only empathy for Lawrence and the struggle he must have experienced there on the edge of the heath, but also, a psychic presence such as I felt at Lawrence's ranch in Taos, N.M., which Lee and I visited 16 years ago. All the years immersed in the study of Lawrence returned.

There is much I'd like to record about Mom's reactions to London and her odd protectiveness of Marilyn, treating her like the little sister, etc. They often act like excited children. As expected, Mom loves the pubs, from the Hare and Hound, to the cozy, friendly Horse and Groom on Heath Street and Jack Straw's Castle where we dined on "light fare" and capped a long day and evening with Irish coffee.

Drink led to a night of intimate talk and comradeship as Steve, David, and I finally found a place open that would serve us bitters after hours. It was an Italian restaurant fronting the main street of Hampstead. We were even allowed to buy a good Chianti Classico, at a fair price, to take back with us to our room. There we finished off the wine and the small bottle of cognac I saved from the flight.

Steve and I had a long, soul-baring talk about our lives and longings. David, meanwhile, dozed off, reminding me oddly of Ben on those many occasions when Jim and I would become enthralled in conversation and speculation while Ben sat saying next to nothing and showing no enthusiasm for what was to us exciting and profound ideas.

Steve showed himself to be a thoughtful and open-minded person, taking a genuine interest in points of view different from his own. He shows too a spirit of adventure, wanting a wide range of experience, in spite of a limited education and limited personal relationships. I think he has escaped the Killian/Kraft mold of dependency, uncertainty, and inertia that lead to a passive acceptance of whatever conditions happen to occur. I wouldn't say Steve altogether knows himself, and his needs, but then, such unformed sense of self can also be an asset.

May 30 (night)

We decided to spend an extra day in London, a day of tubing all over town. First we visited the Tate Gallery. I had forgotten how over-whelming the Turner collection is, tracing the complete development of his work. The Turners which we saw later in the day at the National Gallery should be seen with the Tate's collection as well. Before leaving, I paid a visit to the impressive library on the upper floor of the Tate, with views from the offices over the Thames. The librarian was very obliging, telling me how much they like the catalogs we send from the High.

While everyone else walked around the Tower of London, I dashed over to the Whitechapal Art Gallery. Then we bussed past Trafalgar to visit the National Gallery, to have lunch at the gay old Salisbury pub (I also looked in at Brief Encounters), and to shop at the F___ bookstore. Finally, we hurried to Harrad's for a rather disappointing high tea that was "high" mainly in the sense of price. After Harrad's we tubed during the rush hour (Mom amazed at the politeness of all the huddled Brits) to the Avis location. Steve was brave enough to do the driving back to our hotel in Hampstead, like driving in a busy mirror, I thought. Steve, David, and I dined at the now familiar Italian restaurant on Heath St. then took a long stroll to the Vale of Health and through the residential area that includes John Keats' house. Hampstead offers such a personal sense of what London once was.

Notes for May 31- June 1:

On Wednesday, Steve again took the helm and drove us through the nightmare of London traffic into the open, green English countryside. We flew past Windsor Castle, taking narrow highways and the big M Throughways, whipping around the mirror horrors of circles at all major intersections, until we came to Salisbury. We toured the scaffolded medieval cathedral with its high stained glass windows and ominous sculptured tombs. Then we went back in time from the Middle Ages to Prehistory by climbing above the Salisbury plain to Stonehenge. The stones were the color of the cold, grey cloudcover, and stood unimpressively surrounded by fence and rope in a dull grassy field.

Gathering my courage, I took the wheel at stonehenge and made the scenic, but busy, drive through Warminster to Bath. After the confusion and hassle of making reservations in the heart of the town, we found our way to the B&B on Monmouth St. Only then could I fully take in the dazzle of the city itself. Overall, though many periods engulfed me there, I felt that I had stepped into the Renaissance. Mom and M. had high tea, excellent this time, in the famous Pump Room (it could have been better called Pomp room). I walked to the park and bridges over the River Avon. The late afternoon literally bathed everything in gold.

S.,D., and I dined later at the Roundtree Pub along the bridge of shops that crosses the Avon. The pub food, Chicken Kiev with potato and veggies and, of course, bitters, was delicious. We went on to whisky and soda at another quaint old pub.

On Thursday morning, after breakfast (Each morning the proprietor would burst into the breakfast room proclaiming, as if it were the rarest of delights, "Would you like an English Breakfast!"]... (to be continued)

ENGLAND 1989: part 2

S,D, and I spent a couple of hours wandering down into the Roman Baths themselves. The hot spring and the ancient pool of warm water conjured a more pagan and exotic world. I longed to partake of real hot bathes and steam rather than merely viewing it all.

June 1,1989

Leave Bath, drive to


(forgetting Wells Cathedral). Stourhead gardens were a vision of loveliness. Off and on rain gave depth and a sense of changing times to gardens created as homage to Claude Lorrain by Henry Hoare II ( son of the builder of the house). The house itself, home to generations of bankers was of good proportions, the rooms stately and elegant with Chippendale furniture, Worcester Porcelain, Delft jars, and many exquisite paintings depicting the land, the family over the generations, and other classical themes. The library was spacious, light, and contained massive polished wood cabinets and desks.

Mom and Marilyn enjoyed the flowering gardens, the rhododendron, the copper beech trees, the lake, the follies, etc, though they seemed to sulk at times as well. They declined to tour the house, returning to wait in the car. Perhaps Mom's amazing refrain from smoking for 24 hours put her on edge; what an achievement, though! After Stourhead, we drove over breathtaking countryside, pure, green, England, to Lyme Regis, where much of The French Lt.'s Woman was filmed. We lucked into the wonderful Three Cups Hotel, S.D.& I with a vast room with bay windows opening to panoramas of the sea and the town. Sea gull screamed. I had Campari in the bar for 70 p. Followed by dinner up the street consisting of haddock, garlic shrimp, German white wine, and Irish Coffee. And, at last, "Good night, me Lovely..."

Friday, June 2: Lyme Regis

It has been a relaxing day, offering a chance for calm recollection of the trip thus far, and the opportunity for a leisurely stroll through town, including a walk to the end of the famous breakwater on which a hooded, storm swept M. Streep became the French Lt.'s Woman.

As we did the needed chores of laundry, I recalled the charms of Stourhead with its treasures, both natural and man-made. Many details returned, the Sun darting in and out of clouds, the rain and thunder, fields of light and shade coursing over the lake and gardens. The waterfowl and the peacock astride a rooftop of one of the old brick quarters added to the other-worldliness of the place. I felt much more a sense of presences, of spirits, at Stourhead than at Stonehenge. Today's rest has provided a deep, refreshing breath before setting off for Dartmoor and Cornwall.

Sat. June 3,1990:


It has been a long day. We drove across Dartmoor with its mists and its ancient "Tors,"passing the Two Bridges and Tavistock. Several times we stopped to walk the fog-enshrouded hills, to watch sheep or wild ponies, and simply to stretch. After the moors, we rode on to Falmouth, stopping for a hearty lunch at Pandora's Box, a 16th Century pub with thatched roof and dock, from which we took photos, watched swans, and the approach of storm clouds over a bright sun.

At Falmouth, I made a quick tour of P. Castle, built by Henry VIII to defend the coast against Spain. The views of the city below and the harbor were breathtaking. I saw the fort alone because of my British Trust pass. No one else wanted to pay the very reasonable fee.

On we drove to St. Ives where we squeezed through the narrow passageways past the town and beaches, up to the Ivy covered Garrick Hotel. What a site, such splendid views of St. Ives and of the sea.

In the long evening, Steve, David, and I drove round the tip of Cornwall past Zenner (where D.H. Lawrence lived during WWI) to Land's End where we climbed the windy rocks before circling back by way of St. Michael's Mount, floating in a shadowy sunset sea. We arrived back at the Garrick just in time for the sumptuous supper of fish, etc. and in time for an archetypal rainbow that rose high into the sky overhead, bridging with all the colors, the sea on one side and the land behind St. Ives on the other.

The night was completed for me by a spell in the pool and the jokuzi, followed by a walk with Steve into the town with its quaint old cobblestone streets.


After a full breakfast in the elegant glass dining room of the Garrick, we took a last stroll around the grounds, then reluctantly began the long, long drive up the coast of Cornwall and Devon toward the Cotswolds and Worcester. Our first destination was Tintagel, the supposed site of the castle of King Arthur, of Camelot. There is certainly a ruin of a castle perched high on the cliffs above the sea. The walk threading into and through the castle is as steep as any path I've seen.

The parking area turned out to be a rip-off, we discovered. After making the long hike through a field up to the 11th century church near the 8th century site of the castle, we drove into the town of Tintagel from which we had better views and access to the site. I visited, thanks to my Trust pass, the old slate-roofed postoffice dating from the Fifteenth Century. There was a lovely little garden out back with roses, etc.

Continuing up the coast, then turning inland, we found the M5 and the M6 which took us up towards Worcester. Marilyn suddenly began a little cough, like a small dog, and demanded to leave the freeway for some town in which to find a pharmacy! Why this was needed only after getting on the busy highway, so difficult to leave, was a mystery. When I explained how hard it would be to get off the M6, she pouted and said we would have done it for anyone else. Fortunately, the M6 had shops in the median at various distances. We were able to pull into one of these stations, have a bite to eat, relax, and find cough drops for Marilyn.

After going over 90 mph, Steve and I taking turns at the wheel, we suddenly hit a traffic jam for the last hour or so into Worcester. Fortunately we were able to get off at Powick a tad sooner.

Nancy's home in the tiny community of Powick was a welcome sight, indeed. Nancy was bubbling with energy and friendly warmth, giving us a tour of her lovely brick, two-story house, with its fine furniture and art works, and of the garden circling a pond. Rhododendron and roses stood out among a profusion of June blooms. After a wonderful dinner of lamb and wine, S.,D., and I took the dog for a walk, then headed for the local pub where our presence among the locals was quickly noticed.

Monday, June 5

At 5 A.M. The Killians and I left Powick for a sunrise drive to Oxford. The morning was radiant with a gold sun lighting clouds and hills of the Cotswolds. There was little traffic so early other than a passing truck as we took backroads through Stratford-On-Avon for a drive by Shakespeare's house and other timbered houses of the 16th Century.

Reaching Oxford well before the scheduled bus to Gatwick which the Killians would take, we walked the narrow streets of the University and found our way into the quadrangles of the noble colleges of Magdalene (pronounced maudlin) and Christ. Fountains glittered in the early morning sunlight, and the Medieval buildings were bathed in a golden hue, adding to the effect of other-worldliness.

After dropping Steve and David at the bus depot, I returned to Oxford to spend an hour or so walking the grounds along the gentle Cherwell River. I discovered the quaint, ancient Botanical Garden of Oxford and rested there, listening to the murmur of the Cherwell, and breathing in the fragrant roses, and other profusion of blooms. It was a complete transport to another time and place far removed from the cares of the present.

After Oxford, I drove to nearby Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchhill and home of the Dukes of Marlborough. The grand house is a Baroque masterpiece, with rooms filled with vast tapestries of the family's triumphs, with enormous portrait paintings of the Dukes and their accomplishments and families, with exquisite furniture, porcelains, silver and gold furnishings and Objets d'Art. The dining room was especially grand, with trompe d'oille scenes of galleries of famous people looking down from the walls, high ceilings, and a table set only for the most high. Then, last on the tour, came the library. The vast, oval room, or rather hall, was a vision of light and space, presided over by a white carving of Queen Ann which stood in the center of the room, surrounded by grand bookcases.

After the dazzling look at the first floor of the palace, I wandered the equally impressive and vast gardens. When a sudden dark cloud appeared overhead, I hurried down a walk leading to the lakeside and a shelter. There I met a girl from Maine who was tending the boat which was available for seeing the palace and grounds from the lake. She provided me a solo tour by boat. As we sailed quietly over the water, we talked of our respective travels. I felt rather privileged to have the boat all to myself.

I completed my visit to Blenheim with a stroll through the rose garden and to a small waterfall along a path offering more purple rhododendron and copper beeches as well as stray pheasants, pecking the ground beneath the huge trees. In the gift shop at the gateway, I bought a large Cadburys chocolate to help me on my journey back to Worcester.

The drive back via Broadway and other quaint Cotswold towns was somewhat tiring after so early a rise, and after seeing so much. I was glad to see Nancy's house again. Nancy had made reservations for dinner in Malvern. After a brief rest, I joined Mom, Marilyn and Nancy for the short drive to the restaurant. We had a fine seafood dinner, overlooking the green hills and Golden towers of Malvern.

Tues. June 6: Grasmere

After a full breakfast at Nancy's, Mom, Marilyn and I took to the freeways once again, heading up the M5/6 to Cambria. The roads were crowded, but there were no jams, and I flew along at 80-90 mph. By lunch time we were lakeside at Windermere, and stopped at an old hotel and pub for a quick ploughman's lunch (i.e. with cheese and bread and relish). We then drove on along scenic narrow drives to Ambleside, Rydal, and our destination, Grasmere. After settling in Grasmere, we took an evening drive up the lake country to Keswick. The drive was spectacular with views of mountains and lakes in lush forests and meadows. We visited S. Gardens, aflame with wild azalea and the usual huge rhododendron. Finally, we arrived high up at Castlerigg.

Castelrigg is a sacred space overlooking lakes and mountains between Keswick, Windermere, and Penrith. The holy circle of stones crowns a mountain peak that is itself encircled by green peaks and barren mountains reminding me of the highlands of Norway above the fjords between Oslo and Bergen. Dark clouds swept over the sky above Castlerigg, showering the vistas with brief rains and mist, yet allowing shafts of sunlight to move over the many distant peaks as well.

If Stone age man worshipped Nature, he could not have found a more holy shrine to Nature's grandeur than this space. We arrived when only a few people walked on the sacred ground. But as we departed, a bus load of Germans drew up, depositing loud, camera-clicking defilers. The sheep that sat among the stones showed more reverence and appreciation.

Wednesday, June 7

A day for walking. Passing Dove cottage, I hiked up Brackenfell to Lord Crag. With a sky deep blue, puffed with passing cumulus, I had clear, awesome views of Grasmere below, of Rydal Water, and even of distant Lake Windermere. Hearty, nature-loving Brits appeared here and there on the upward path. Often they were quite elderly, with walking sticks in hand. It was refreshing to meet and speak with such devoted Pantheists. On the way back I visited a second time Wordsworth's lovely home, Rydal Mount with its fine garden and well-proportioned rooms decorated with simple, well-made furniture, and giving views of the garden and Windermere beyond. I felt something of the inspiration that Wordsworth must have known here.

After my hikes above Grasmere, I drove alone to Coniston Water, another gorgeous, long lake, and site of John Ruskin's home, Brantwood. I walked through the unkempt gardens behind the house and toured the elegant rooms within. Finally, I made the too long drive up along Ullswater toward Keswick with the majestic views of that lake and mountains. Here for the first time I saw the blight of a mining company.

When I finally got back to Grasmere, Mom and I dined alone, then walked around the town to Tweedies pub for an evening brew. I had my usual favorite, Bitters.

England, 1989 part 3

Thurs. June 8:


After a long drive on curving, narrow roads across the Yorkshire Dales on the rural A684, and after negotiating the horrendous traffic on the A1, we arrived at last in York. Not having reservations, it took a few stops and phonecalls before we found the spacious and rather grand 19th Century Byron Hotel. The owner/hostess was charming and helpful. She got us settled in, then gave us information that had us taxiing quickly into the old city to catch a walking tour.

The tour was the perfect introduction to a city literally built upon history. We saw Roman walls and fortifications, we saw the ruin of an abbey sacked by Henry VIII, and we walked on the high medieval wall of the city with views of gardens, the grand York Minster, and famous houses dating back to the 16th and 17th C. One of the fascinating details of the walled city is the "Bars" which are the main Medieval gate/towers that provided entrance to the city. We were able to walk through these and to hear details of the history involved with each.

After the tour, we were left to wander the narrow stone streets, to take in shops and restaurants located in timbered houses 4-500 years old. I also visited the somewhat hokey Viking Museum which reconstructed the Viking village at York on an archaeological site.

I was moved especially by York Minster. When we entered the vast cathedral, music was playing; a choir and some organ music conjured up a distant past that once existed in this glorious interior.

We took a taxi back to the hotel since we had walked all afternoon. However, after resting at the hotel and having a drink in the pleasant bar with Mom, I decided to walk back to the walled city. The evening stroll was easy, and I was soon crossing the River Ouse, entering the main "Bar" to the old city, and walking again the quaint streets. I had a beer in one of the old pubs, talked for a while with one of the locals, walked to the famous Monk Bar, then made the walk back to the hotel. I slept well after so much hiking.

Saturday, June 10:


For once, I have a moment of leisure to reflect on my travels. My aunt has departed for Washington, and both Mom and I feel relieved to be free of her long-suffering complaints about food, accommodations, and her health, not to mention her financial woes, as if either Mom or I were better off.

Cambridge has not been a friendly place, to say the least. I had always thought I would prefer Cambridge to Oxford; yet my first impressions are the reverse. I was moved by the solemn atmosphere, the coherence, the other-worldliness of Oxford. Once in the domain of Oxford, the outside world vanished and seemed irrelevant. Here, by contrast, noise and the chaos of the present penetrates, often overwhelms, the University. The separate colleges seem more separate than at Oxford, and appear like guarded fortresses, protecting what precious privacy remains within each quadrangle. The "Backs" are lovely, of course. The Cam also far surpasses the humble Cherwell. The gates are more ornate and imposing, signalling the influence of Henry VIII and Tudor grandeur. The Chapel of King's College is a harmony of light, color, arching space, and stone that seems weightless. For all its splendor, though, there is here a feeling of mean- spiritedness, a dissatisfaction and resentment that I did not sense at Oxford. The chaos of the town, with its countless cyclists competing for narrow street space with endless autos, and with all the hurried commotion, must aggravate the tension, making those who work here crave solitude and quiet.

Today, I hope to find such quiet in the large botanical garden and in the


It is now the evening of the same day. My mother and I walked through the bounteous gardens this morning, refreshed by roses of every variety, fragrance gardens, vast trees from sycamore to fir trees, and a wealth of rare flowers, hedges, rock gardens, fen plant life and pond plants. The botanical garden went far in restoring a favorable impression of Cambridge.

The Fitzwilliam went further still. The building itself awes the spectator, from its broad staircases to the high ceilings lit by domed skylights. There is a superb collection of Impressionist paintings, as well as Post- Impressionist, including some lovely Pissaros and Cezannes. Of course the major artists of the past five centuries are well represented, especially Rubens, Reynolds, and Rembrandt. Rembrandt's Lady With A Fan is a sumptuous work, glistening as if just completed.

Mom studied the collection of manuscripts, from the medieval illuminated works to the elegant books from the fine presses of the 1920's. The book written in William Morris' script was stunning. There is also a generous collection of Greek, Egyptian, and other ancient art, and an overwhelming collection of porcelain. The interplay of period furniture, including gorgeous old clocks, with the paintings is effective.

After the museum, we walked again to the "Backs" and stopped for Cornish pasties and beer at the Anchor Pub overlooking the Cam. The pub completed my feeling of reconciliation with Cambridge. There, with good food, we sat watching the variety of punters on the river. Later, we had tea and crumpets at Aunties, and I climbed old St. Mary's Tower for the view.

June 11:

Royal Tunbridge Wells

"Evening spreads out against the sky..." A half moon glows an ever deeper white, suspended in a sky as clear as English windows. Dashes of cirrus cloud catch the pink, gold, and red of a sun that seems reluctant to set. Twilight continues as birds sing a chorus of what has to be sheer content. It is my last evening in England. I, like the sun, am reluctant to depart. Today was a veritable story of spring profusion... After breakfast, the owners curiously absent as the nephew and stepson attempted to organize service, Mom and I made the rather easy Sunday drive around London via the D Tunnel to Kent. We stopped at


spring's triumph in every flower imaginable. I climbed the Elizabethan tower for an overview of the gardens, took photos, and gazed into the Bohemian rooms where Vita Sackville-West dwelled. What a transformation of Nature into Art her gardens are. This afternoon, we drove on to Knowle, the Elizabethan home in which Vita was born. The contrast, from cozy simplicity and intimate Nature to imposing formality and antique splendor was fascinating. A charming guide told us intimate details of the history of the bedrooms and the gifts of silver and gold. At tea time we arrived at Ravenwood Road, hidden atop a maze of roads crisscrossing Tunbridge Wells. We had dinner at an Indian restaurant in the Pantiles, a curious anachronism, quaintly reminding one of the gaiety of 18th and 19th C. spas. The town though is filled with parks and gardens.

Monday, June 12, 1990:


Hell is an airport. The three levels are getting there, getting to the right terminal, and finding the check-in point for the car rental. What made this car return particularly hellish was Avis: first, I had to go back outside the airport to fill the car to full with gas. 15 Quid. Then, I was over-charged for insurance I specifically rejected, since I was covered by VISA. I did not discover this mistake, hidden in fine print and obscure costs, until after boarding the plane. Then there is the plane itself: well over 100 degrees because the engine had to be shut down. We sit, packed like cooked chickens ready to be canned. Hot, the plane will not go, or will it? The piped music slurs, the tapes are melting, and so am I. Heaven is two rum and cokes With lime and lots of ice, Being in flight, ahead of schedule, With cool, cool air wafting through the plane, And the prospect of cooler than normal Weather in Atlanta.

Later: The Air

It is 1 P.M., Atlanta time, and I have just seen the film "Rain Man." My neck is cramped from staring straight up from a seat in front of the screen. I know I am fatigued because the film brought tears and conjured up feelings about Jim and about my own brother, as well. There seemed to be several implausibilities in the film, making it difficult to suspend disbelief. Yet under all the specific unlikelihood and contrivances, Hoffman and Cruise conveyed the essential connection which the film was about, genuine love that defies logic and comprehension. In my mellow, melancholic mood, I know that such love must ultimately be connected to God. God is not the insufferable father "out there" that today's Christians more or less worship. God is our heart, our deepest connection with others, the core of meaning, love, feeling or whatever that sustains us when all other superficial horror and emptiness of everyday life fail.

Another drink arrives. The stewardesses are sheer pleasantry, their faces are masks of good will and care. There is the English perseverance in their every move, the determination to "make do," to endure. That stoicism is missing in me. I'm afraid that what I have is the worst of English traits, a sense of privilege, of feeling superior to the bulk of mankind; only without a sense of "noblesse oblige." I expect privilege solely because I have intelligence, because I appreciate and am moved by such things as art, music, even history and ideas, when most people look on blankly. I use to find most people contemptible for their insensitivity. Now, I just want to be free of their importunity, as Lawrence would put it. In England I have visited many gardens, from Stourhead and Kew to Sissinghurst. Seeing Vita Sackville- West's and Harold Nicholson's home, the cozy tower, their lovely library decorated with cobalt glass and a lapis lazuli table, I felt myself projected into the magical Garden of Epicurus I have always desired. As I fly back to Atlanta, to my little abode in Virginia-Highlands, I doubt that I shall ever have such a garden. I have only a curious fabric woven of memories and fantasies, memories of sacred moments of joy and fantasies built upon real experiences such as the bright morning at Sissinghurst.


Friday, October 09, 2009

Noble Obama

Portrait of Barack Obama

Today The Nobel Committee awarded Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize. It was pure inspiration. There could hardly be a more controversial pronouncement. The decision raised the ire of Obama's opponents and the spirits of his supporters. What amazes me is the number of comments on the left and on the right claiming the award comes too early.

Is this not the very purpose of the Nobel Prize, to encourage, to initiate, to promote peace in all its forms, not just in the ending of active wars, but in making the planet a healthier, more harmonious home for all people? President Obama has taken up the cause of acceptance, diversity, and global consciousness from the beginning of his campaign. Look at the reaction of the rest of the world to the announcement. President Sarkozy's remarks are especially apropos;

Sarkozy congratulated Obama and said the Nobel Committee had recognized his "determined commitment to human rights, justice and the promotion of peace in the world, in accordance with the will of founder Albert Nobel".

The prize also "does justice to your vision of tolerance and dialogue between states, cultures and civilizations," said Sarkozy in a letter to Obama, released by his office.

"It confirms, finally, America's return to the hearts of the people of the world."

Saturday, October 03, 2009


By way of a snapshot from the past, here is a journal entry I wrote:

Saturday, June 10, 1979 (Full Moon). Savannah.

Peacock blue morning spreads open another hot day.  I have returned from a Jean Genet night at Tybee where I played life observer as usual-- the outsider, the snap shooter. A chicken queen young enough to be my son, painted face, dyed hair, earring sore in his ear, made over me in the parking lot of Who's Who, as I eyed his companion, a shy Brunswick lad. Queen Michael raved over my beard until I admitted my interest in Scott. By that time, Scott, who had responded to my glance, had another admirer, Bobby: sometimes lover of Chris, with whom Joe-Michael went home form the bookstore weeks ago. Bobby was more than match for me-- a similar type-- but with excellent physique and with smooth know-how.

Good fortune tossed us about in cars, took us to Sambo's (we now were six), and on to Tybee en route to which I had Scott, since Bobby drove. Queen Mary had picked up a friendly lad who once had a  knife fight which nearly killed him and scarred him in several places for life. They smooched and caressed. I did likewise with Scott.

Tybee paired us differently. I declined to pair with #6-- a delicate, effeminate guy whose feelings I undoubtedly hurt. Queen Mary and friend wound together; Bobby and Scott took fire and fucked on a blanket in the dunes. I walked to the sea edge and watched the sunrise.

Beer and fritos and friendly exchange made the morning. Scott phoned his parents in Brunswick. Queen Mary raved in satisfaction-- talked of living in upper Manhattan, of how he became a queen at 14 (4 years ago). He has an impeccable boy's body-- however much he contorts it.

So now I am home. Joni Mitchell sings poetry. Her guitar is soothing. How glad I am to have music in my weird life, and am glad too that last night I only took snapshots.