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Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

Papers, please

In Local projects, Ridgewood, RLB trivia, Story material on September 30, 2009 at 7:02 am

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Be it locally or in blogland, the issue of  faulty assumptions is at the forefront of my thinking this morning, as it has been for most of the night. Whether those assumptions are made by me or about me, by others or about others, when they are faulty, they can have huge consequences on people’s lives. I know that from personal experience, both as the victim and as the perp of attacks on other people’s motives or assertions. In some cases I was right, in others I was wrong.

The problem is always the same: we base our assumptions on past experiences, good and bad. It’s not the greatest system but it’s the only one we’ve got. That’s how we figure out  the world we live in, the other people in it and our relationship to it all. It’s the way we do science, art, politics, love  – and even housework, in most instances. We assume something to be true (or false) and then we test – or fail to test – depending on our personality and our motives. Some are more driven to question the ‘evidence’ – at least, in some areas if not in others. I, for one, will never stand accused of overzealousness in housekeeping where I rely on a) the assumption it can wait another day and b) the threat of impending visitors to tidy up my living quarters. However, when it comes to checking sources of news stories or etymologies; or comparing translations of this or that poet; or finding the word that fits in this spot in the story; or discovering why so-and-so  wants me to think ill or well of someone else,  I rarely give up before finding a reasonably logical explanation.

At the local level, the issue is very much a political one – it’s the usual invitation to gang up on the person presently designated as the group’s  scapegoat; it being irrelevant that this same person was a hero last week (and, quite possibly, will be the hero again in a month).  I’ve made some major doozies over the years by accepting to play that game or by letting my emotions cloud my judgment. I’m definitely not claiming a holier-than-anybody status on this one, either in blogland or elsewhere. I’m simply not interested in playing those games. Most of the time, they’re based on unproven assumptions or consensus for the sake of convenience. We’ve all done it: a good friend thinks highly of so-and-so but pulls a face at the mention of such-and-such. The good friend is more important to us than either so-and-so or such-and-such, so we go along and start repeating how so-and-so is great and such-and-such is a stinker. First thing you know, such-and-such is walking under a cloud of suspicion, developing an ailment or otherwise going through a hard time and everybody is saying: we knew he/she didn’t have it in them/was a phony/wasn’t one of ‘us’ – or whatever other justification is suitable to the circumstances. For all we know, our good friend had an insignificant personal issue with such-and-such; out of that, a whole town decides such-and-such seventh generation descendant is an untrustworthy stinker. Crazy, isn’t it? You bet and we do it over and over again.

You can prove or disprove anything on paper. You can also destroy people’s reputations or attack their will to live – all of it based on a one hundred percent certainty that you had gotten the facts straight, or at least, that your good friend couldn’t possibly have been wrong about such-and-such and his phony status (the issue at the local level is about someone’s right to claim residency in this country, after fifteen years of paying his taxes and being an asset to the community.)

More local stuff today: interviewing the local Circus people.   But I’m also hoping to get back into my revision of Ridgewood.Film maker Bertrand Lenclos is offering to make the coffee tomorrow at his place for the interview about his film.

Photo: Place Jean-Moulin at about six pm. The light is a blessing these days.

***

17:35  Re-acquainting myself with the story and the characters. Three days away from a revision is a long time. Things are going to continue to be fast-paced locally so I’m going to have to keep a close watch on the time-eaters – by which I mean stuff that doesn’t really need to get done, or at least, not by me. I definitely don’t consider time spent with the circus crowd in that category  –  it’s the kind of environment that feeds me. Grabbed this photo as I was leaving. How can you not feel better with that kind of light coming in at you?

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best to everyone.

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Another crazy day – week – month…

In Current reading, Film, Local projects on September 29, 2009 at 6:50 am

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The town is playing host to a new class of architectural students – an ongoing project related to urban renewal. The students are exhibiting projects the town will be submitting to the citizenry for discussion; they are also filming interviews with locals for use in their classroom discussions on priorities for the inhabitants vs priorities for the elected reps. The panels are in the exhibition hall above what is going to be the Regional Artists’ home in the former covered market.  So, 1) I’m covering the visit; 2) getting filmed for one of the interviews this afternoon; 3) interviewing my neighbor across the street – no, not the lady with the recycling bin fetish, a filmmaker who just won an award for a short he did on the town and 4) interviewing my buddies at the circus for a feature on them.

These are the scheduled activities for the next two days – plus putting up the community blog since all of this is town-related. Plus attempting to stay in touch with, you know, dreams, personal writing, the rest of what life is all about? Speaking of which, in his Memoirs, Neruda is now talking about the town of Valparaiso: “La nuit de Valparaiso! Un point de la planète s’alluma, minuscule, dans l’univers vide. Les lucioles palpitèrent et l’or d’un fer à cheval commença à flamber au milieu des montagnes.”  “The night of Valparaiso! A tiny dot on the planet lit up in an empty universe. The fireflies thrummed like a heartbeat and the gold of a horseshoe began to burn in the middle of the mountains” – all of which only seems like so much poetic carrying-on until you see where Valparaiso is located in Chili, and the shape of the bay on which it fronts.  And until you read all the rest of it, of course. Myself, I dip into the book, read a few paragraphs and sigh contentedly.

Oh yes, and another link going up: Edward Byrne. I haven’t read any of his poetry yet but I love these excerpts of craft talk, paired with potteries. I’ll have to systematize the links on my blog at some point –  or maybe not, just let people meander at will. Thanks again to the aptly-named ArtSparker.

***

16:25 my neighbor the film maker is out scouting locations for his next production. We’ll be talking this evening to arrange an interview. But just from reading up on his prizewinning film, I know this is going to be great fun. He worked with a well-known French scriptwriter called Jackie Berroyer who started off at the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo – already a clear indication that Bertrand Lenclos’ film will not be a grief-inducing experience. This link to the film festival is in French but the illustrations give something of the flavor – plus, if anyone feels like practicing their French reading skills …

That’s it for me at this end. Off to blogwalk, walk-walk  – and, hopefully, get back to my own stuff soon-ish?

cheers out there.

May you always walk in beauty

In Local projects, Poetry, RLB trivia on September 28, 2009 at 9:09 am

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Scientists are saying there may be oxygen-laden minerals on the moon’s surface and perhaps a ‘monolayer’ of water a few molecules thick in certain areas. Certainly not enough to maintain a thriving community of humans taking a minimum of two hot showers per day, that’s for sure – and isn’t that a relief. A few years ago, an enterprising young friend of one of our  children had visions of carving out advertising slogans on the surface of the moon. I’m happy to say his plan didn’t have the right cost/benefit ratio.  Myself, I’m satisfied with taking a photo of the moon reflected in a round window, as I did on Saturday night at the vernissage. Beauty is good enough for me.

For many people around the world today, one of the main greetings will be: may you be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year. My best to those for whom Yom Kippur is a meaningful and useful experience. For myself, I’ll go with the  Dineh (Navajo) Prayer Song .

May you always walk in beauty.

Much to do at the local level today. This will have to do for now.

“A man said to the Universe…”

In Animals, Artists, I Ching, Local projects, RLB trivia, Story material on September 27, 2009 at 6:56 am

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This is fairly amazing. First, my thanks to the kind one who gave me a head and face massage in my dream last night. It did me a world of good. Second, I start the day by casting I Ching, of course, immediately followed by the Nasa pic of the day. I Ching talks about a winged white horse symbolizing thought that transcends time and space. (It’s in hexagram 22, 6 in fourth line, if anyone’s interested.) Nasa’s Astronomy Picture of the Day happens to be one I’d used on one of my earliest posts on my very first blog, at about this date. I don’t remember the post word for word but I was feeling a bit isolated and used  astronaut Bruce McCandless II’s freefloat to describe the experience as I  addressed a personal query to the universe  – something about establishing contact with one or two of the millions of other  bloggers out there, maybe?  A bit in the spirit of : “A man said to the Universe: “Sir, I exist!” – “However,” replied the Universe, “the fact has not created in me a sense of obligation”  – a quote by Stephen Crane (1871-1900).

O ye humans of little faith:”Well… yes and no, Stephen”, the Universe might have qualified, had Stephen taken a bit more time to listen for an answer. “Perhaps ‘obligation’ isn’t the right word. Think of me as the planet Solaris, dreamed up by Stanislaw Lem,  trying to communicate with the humans exploring it. They go nuts, they kill themselves, they’re scared of me when all I’m trying to do is speak to them in their own language.”

It’s a fairly amazing world, is all I’m saying. Meanwhile, back in my small  piece of it, I had a very magazine-ish experience last night of the People variety, snapping hoi-polloi and babies alike at a vernissage, then at the muy gala launching of the town’s cultural season where I snapped the above photo. As you can see all the glitterati was in attendance, including one of my favorite local dogs who sometimes travels with the Spanish owner of the community cafe but also travels alone whenever the spirit so moves him. Dog and I both left at the same time and then went our separate ways. But before we did, I established contact with the extremely nice person who did the artwork and layout on the town’s promotional material. He is extremely nice (I insist) and extremely embarrassed by the errors that crept into the material. He didn’t say it in so many words but I got the sense he was under extremely unreasonable deadlines. We’ve agreed to stay in touch at the craftsman level while the glitterati do what they are paid to do.

***

18:00 Not much more to say for myself today except a word of thanks to the two other bloggers who sent me invites to join them on Facebook. Some day, eventually and perhaps, I will break down and accept one or all invitations. For the time being, please consider yourselves part of the very select group of very dear bloggers whom I visit regularly, whose blogs I truly enjoy and with whom I do not meet on Facebook. The group is so select, it even includes my own children – as fine a group of people as you could ever wish to meet.  Truly, you couldn’t  be in better company than that.  In other words, my resistance to Facebook does not extend to the people using that service. At this point, it probably reflects more on my personal choices and biases, communication-wise, than it does on anything else.

Best to one and all.

Civility in an uncivil world

In Artists, RLB trivia on September 26, 2009 at 7:35 am

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I usually post recent photos but chose this two-year old one this morning for several reasons. The first being I felt the need for an antidote. Yesterday was filled with contentiousness over here which carried over to every aspect of my life. Moods and emotions are contagious. You only need watch dogs when they decide they don’t like each other to know when backing away is the best option.

The bit that most got to me was  not necessarily the biggest deal in town. But for me, it was the saddest. When I went out to walk the dog in late afternoon, I passed a bunch of boys standing near my street corner. I didn’t know any of them; the eldest couldn’t have been over fifteen. They’d been ringing at a doorbell  two buildings down from where I live and started milling around nervously as soon as I appeared with Cybèle. We passed through the throng and went about our business.

When I got  back, they were still there, still waiting in front of the same building. Again, they got nervous at the sight of the dog. When we got to their level, the eldest boy said: “That’s a police dog, isn’t it?” I said she was the  same type of dog – a Belgian shepherd (Malinois).”So he can sniff out dope, ” says the boy.  I almost started laughing and almost said something like “you’d be in deep trouble if she could and so would the guy who lives in that building.” Instead I settled for: “What do you think?”   Just then, one of his buddies held a tentative hand toward Cybèle – to pat her or to test her reaction, who knows? All his buddies yelled at him:  “no, no, he’ll grab your arm, he’ll bite you!”

I just shook my head and walked on because what the hell am I going to do? Lecture every bunch of teens on the evils of dope? The cops know who’s living in that appartment. They also know about the other dope dealer on the street. A few weeks ago, they made a series of arrests that busted another ring that covered the towns in this area. Nature hates a vacuum; another supplier has moved in. What can you do?

It’s a beautiful world we live in. It just breaks me up when I see fourteen year-old kids hanging around for the dope man and scared of a sweet, gentle dog for that reason.

So, the photo. The second reason for posting it:  it’s a shot of the river near Briatexte, the neighboring village. Where we’ll be going this afternoon for an exhibition of regional artists, after a run to Lavaur to buy more coffee. The artwork may not be to my personal taste but I’d be happy enough if the kids were splashing colors on canvas or on walls instead of getting their fix from the guy who lives two houses down from mine. ( I can only assume the cops are waiting for the right moment to move in on him as they did on the previous one; as for the other dealer on the street, he seems to be off-limits to the cops. And so it goes.)

Speaking out loud

In Current reading, Poetry, Story material, Summer Story on September 25, 2009 at 6:21 am

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“We’ll call it the yoga of reaching,” says the voice. It being my own voice doesn’t necessarily make it easier for me to agree with it at all times. But the yoga of reaching appeals, so I buy it. (Depending on one’s point of view, I developed the habit of speaking out loud as a consequence of speechwriting or I took that up  to cover up my tendency to address myself out loud in public. Let’s just say I practiced my first speeches at a young age and never stopped.)

In this particular instance though, I was addressing the sky above my head. Around 5 am by clear weather, I like to hang out at my window and see how Orion’s belt is faring – although I usually address my comments to the large yellowish star to the left of it. So the yellowish star was the true recipient of my comment  – which is a shade more respectable than talking out loud to one’s self.  Said star should receive my words in a few million light-years from now – assuming I’m not addressing the light from a no-longer existent star; one cannot discount this as a real possibility. In any event, the point I was making was: you don’t necessarily reach for something because you think you will attain it. You reach because it makes more sense than not reaching. The way a baby or a cat reaches for the speck of sunlight dancing on the wall. C’est tout.

I’ve rarely read a book as slowly as I’m doing with Neruda’s Memoirs.  Last night, I left him in a grounded canoe, reading Jean-Christophe, Romain Rolland’s ten-volume bildungsroman, and writing La cancion desesperada. Neruda is still young, we are only on page 68 of the book. I was pretty young when I read Jean-Christophe also.

Writing is speaking out loud – in all the voices, including that of the star or the yellow speck of light on the wall, if you are so inclined.

Photo: walking down to le Pont Vieux.

***

17:45 As they would say in the diplomatic corps: September 25 2009  was a ” difficult but remarkably instructive” day. Human nature  will never cease to astound and fascinate.

My best to all.

Local customs

In Ridgewood, RLB trivia, Story material on September 24, 2009 at 6:38 am

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Exceptionally last weekend, l’Hostellerie du Lyon d’or was open to the public. It is the oldest surviving medieval inn in this, the oldest town of the département. This is a yearly event during the fall European Heritage Days – an opportunity for visitors and townspeople alike to see what progress has been made in restoring the building. *

I had to laugh when I headed back home and saw these three women doing one of the things best loved in the area i.e. gabbing. I grabbed a series of photos of them because, as so many other locals do, they were gabbing on the spot where the spirit of the gab struck. As often as not, this happens to be in the street  – you know, you start crossing (outside the crosswalk) and who do you see? Mathilde et Ménie whom you haven’t seen for, oh … at least three hours. So many things have happened in that interval, especially on a market day! With all that catching up to do, who has time to step out of harm’s way? If you look at the background, you’ll notice two cars have swerved down the street behind them. In order to do so, both drivers had to hug the left sidewalk, so as not to disturb the gabbers. Had the drivers been heading in my direction, they would have slowed down and hugged the right hand side of the street for the same reason.  Accidents happen, of course, as accidents are wont to do. Usually, the driver has a lot of explaining to do – did he not see that Mathilde and Ménie were intent on hearing Madeleine’s report on how the cream and cheese man served that unbearable Monique L. before he served her?

There are solid reasons why neither the likes of hotmail or AOL, Twitter, myspace or Facebook is hugely popular in this, the oldest town in the département. You see, we have the local version of peer-to-peer. It’s called Mathilde, Ménie et Madeleine. Not to mention Mathieu, Maurice et Michel; Gaston, Gérard et Gustave; Sylvette, Jeanette et Pierrette. I could go on. Lord knows, I’d love too; as a habit, I find gabbing on the spot  incredibly addictive.

*Sidebar: some of the houses in this part of town date back to the fourteen hundreds. Some still have their deep cellars with intact wells and cisterns. I’ll be visiting and photographing one of these houses soon, after photographing the progress on its outside restoration for close to two years. The owner and his brother have literally unearthed the cellar, removing some thirty cubic meters of accumulated sand and debris  with shovels, buckets, a rope and  a pulley. As soon as they get a decent light source down there, I’ll get first shot at taking some pictures for their personal album. Of course I’ll share some of them here or I wouldn’t even mention it. End of sidebar.

Tea, story, and so on. But first, look at what was happening locally in another European location on September 22 (archived at today’s date, if you click this link after September 24th).

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17:50 ouf. Methinks the dog will walk me this evening, and not the other way round. A solid day’s work though, including revision-wise; that’s the main thing. Received a stupendously beautiful present from my daughter yesterday; haven’t had time to play with it yet.  I’m so tired, I’ll probably fall into the thing,  if I stare at the patterns longer than five minutes right now  – but I can think of  much worse places to go, no doubt about it.

Greetings from Graulhet.

Three days into the airport strike

In Animals, Ridgewood, Story material, Theater on September 23, 2009 at 6:51 am

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The title is bound to produce some bizarre misdirected traffic to this website but that’s not why I chose it. It came to me as I was thinking of Samuel Beckett and of my present circumstances.  I was thinking of Beckett for a variety of reasons, some of which include: his love of Dante, his bilingual production, his struggles through bouts of deep depression and, in this specific instance, his play Happy Days. No, The Fonz doesn’t appear in Beckett’s version; although he could appear in Three Days into the Airport Strike, should it ever become something other than a metaphor inspired by my latest travails with l’Administration (note the capitalized A – we’re moving from the specific to the Categorical here, with a passing nod to Franz and to Joseph K).

I settled on the third day of the strike precisely because, in my opinion, Beckett’s absurdist take on the human condition stops somewhere  around the middle of the second day. If you’ve ever been stuck in an airport for a long, long time, you’ll get my drift: after the initial anger, despair, disbelief at the news they won’t be boarding their flight to fame, fortune, love, further hassles with the authorities or a messy divorce, the passengers move on to their favorite coping mechanisms, with occasional peaks of other emotional subsets of their initial reaction – or break-through into insanity, whichever comes first. Then boredom sets in, along with physical discomfort and fulsome hatred for  the PA system, the airline reps and the airport staff.  The bouts of  spontaneous bonding and sympathizing with other stranded passengers turn to active dislike for all of them, including the no-longer-cute babies and their no longer pristine diapers. The mood falls below the deep funk level; some cry, some stare glumly into space, some pace; some hear  Beckett and the final cantos of Dante’s Hell start playing over the PA system in their mind.

Thus do we move on to day three i.e. after two full nights of attempting to sleep either on the molded plastic chairs or directly on the terrazzo floor, and ingestion of airport-grade coffee with attendant variations on the theme of white flour combined with sugar, fat and preservatives. It is at this point that some passengers finally reach the blessed state of Hope  Abandoned  – sometimes described as nirvana by the spiritually-inclined. Yes, on the third day of the airport strike,  a handful of them finally realize they are living a contemporary version of the miracle play – in other words, it is their privilege to be cast in a twenty-first century rendition of  Ship of Fools.  The human condition in all of its breathtaking folly stands revealed before them, in the halls of Heathrow or Charles-de-Gaulle or Atlanta Airport. The mirth may finally begin. End of play.

A last word on Beckett:   the humorous potential inherent in mind-numbing depression is often overlooked – by the depressed one for obvious reasons but also by his friends and relatives, for fear of offending. I contend this is simply  because they haven’t reached Day Three of the airport strike, although I strongly suspect Samuel Beckett to have figured that out for himself by the time he wrote What Where. I just wish somebody would attempt  a Beckett revival in the humorous mode.

Today’s photo: an artificial stork stands guard over an aviary of other artificial birds near the open market in the town where I now live. I will report on any delivery of artificial babies by same.

***

17:25 Through thick and thin, the story moves along;  on the personal front,  l’Administration will receive yet another copy of my marriage certificate by registered mail tomorrow; e la nave va.

My best to those who read my blog. Sometimes, when things feel particularly difficult, it helps simply to move your eyes around and take in something pleasant, or  yet again, to listen to something that makes you feel better about the world and your place in it.

Or, if you’re  lucky, you get to walk with a really fine dog.

Getting started

In Current reading, Local projects, Ridgewood, RLB trivia on September 22, 2009 at 7:32 am

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Is this ever a slow starting day. I’ve been  up for two hours. The head is going in all directions but the body isn’t following. Can’t choose a photo. Can’t choose a topic. Can’t decide if I follow impulse A vs impulse B. It’s not even a question of choosing between a good vs a bad thing – that’s kindergarden stuff. No, I’m experiencing a logjam of good intentions.  I hate those. Usually, the fastest way out of them is to do something particularly inappropriate. But the sun isn’t even up yet. How inappropriate can you get at 7 am in a small French town? I’d pop the cork on good champagne, if I had some.  You know: pretend I’m Holly Golightly reading this while sipping the stuff and taking notes. I’d explode a firecracker but I don’t have any.  (By the way: the trick to exploding firecrackers in pouring rain? Empty tin cans. Remember: You didn’t hear it from me. )

On a rising Inapropriateness Scale of 1 to 10, the rained-out Tahitian bathing beauty doesn’t even rate a 0.5 but she’s the best I’ve got this morning. All right, a Neruda story about  identities, then – whether real, borrowed or mistaken.  Pablo is in Buenos Aires where an Argentinian writer by the name of  Omar Vignole invites him to the restaurant.  The place is packed and as they approach their table, his host shows him to his seat, yelling at the top of his lungs: “Omar Vignole, my dear friend, please sit down!” Neruda sits. Fairly embarrassed he asks why the charade and Vignole answers: “Several people in this restaurant know me by name only. As they have sworn to tan my hide, I’d rather they took you to be me.”  It’s in his Memoirs.  Neruda also records that, except on this specific occasion, Vignole rarely went anywhere without his cow.  The participants at the first Pen Club meeting in Buenos Aires were so worried  the man would show up with his muse  they had the police seal off the hotel where they were meeting. Omar and consort showed up anyway. He had loaded the cow in a sealed truck no one thought of checking. According to Neruda, the cow voiced loud opinions on the role of classical Greek poetry in shaping contemporary views on history. (But he fails to record said opinions for posterity; a regrettable oversight.)

OK. I’ll get started now. Remember: if it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t. If it does, it does. All I can say is:  gracias, Pablo, and wade into another day. Local projects, story, etc.

Rain and firecrackers

In Games, Music, Ridgewood on September 21, 2009 at 7:54 am

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El Senor Presidente of the Regional Artists’ Federation grabbed several excellent shots  at the Horseshow yesterday – both before, during and after the rains came. Given the context, I will wait an extra day before posting one of my favorites. The piece of context to which I refer being Eid ul-Fitr – the Feast Day marking the end of Ramadan which is today.  One of the less amusing aspects of religious creeds is the fact some believers  react violently to even the most imaginary slights on their practices aimed at promoting peace, love and understanding. Given these epidermal considerations, I leave  the rained-out Tahitian bathing beauty for another day. Please consider the above photograph a typical displacement activity – although I swear on all I hold most sacred I had not noticed the reference to Eliette Abécassis’ novel Sépharade while photographing Le petit Nicolas.  As my five-year old nephew once told me: “La vie, c’est trop compliqué.” (Life is too complicated).  The message on the petit Nicolas folder reads: “Moi, je serais la plus belle de toutes et toi, tu m’apporterais des fleurs.” (Me, I would be the most beautiful of them all and you, you would bring me flowers.)

In this neighborhood, the Eid is being celebrated under pouring rain -truly a blessing, given how serious the water shortage was becoming. When I closed the shutters last night, I saw the firecracker brigades preparing the celebration. I’ll have to commend them this morning on the remarkable feats of ingenuity they displayed all night long – getting firecrackers to explode in such weather conditions? It’s the sort of story they’ll be telling each other, forty years from now. Loca juventud – crazy youth. But tell me: People who complain about the crazy kids, is it because they weren’t crazy themselves?  Or because they won’t admit how much they regret those days of never thinking further than the next laugh?

Tea, story, and all the usual etcs.

8:20 Oh man. I’d missed this, sent to me by my daughter: Mark Vincent, remember that name.

***

17:15 Good work this pm. When a character surprises me and makes be break out laughing,  how can I call it anything else? Leva’s Polka is hereby dedicated to a dentist with an aging drill and a nasty temper. May he and all the other characters in the story step as lively as their personalities will allow (in the case of the dentist in the story, ‘lively’ is probably the wrong word but that’s ok, I was kind enough to leave him   with one of his White Owl cigars, so who is he to  argue with me? )

Best to you and you and the rest of the yous. ’tis a strange world we live in, anybody ever notice ?

Cheers.