Tom Simard

Poetry, Music, and Prose

Archive for the category “Prose”

Sketch 3 (W&S): The Family Cow

Sometimes things take you by surprise. You might have been in a restaurant with a friend and gone to the salad bar only to return to find someone sitting in your spot and wearing your glasses. Or maybe you were traveling and had an unexpected encounter.

I think most people who have done any amount of hitchhiking will tell you that you’re about as unlikely to be picked up by someone who takes their holiday in Martha’s Vineyard as you are by those who spend their summers in the Hamptons. It’s safe to say your rides will come from either the middle or the working classes so it’s probably wise to hide that patrician accent of yours.

We had crossed our way into Wyoming and for the life of us weren’t able to get a ride. When hitchhiking, there are times of scarcity (eight hours and only eight-three miles) and then prosperity (the next ride, one thousand six hundred and sixty-six miles). We’d been on the side of the road for a spell and were just looking to get a little closer to our destination. That is not to say we didn’t periodically slip into the woods for a smoke before returning out again to brave the passing traffic.

When the old school bus pulled over, and the door opened, we were met with a decidedly unpleasant odor. I looked at my cousin with concern. He just said, “We can hardly be turning down rides.”

I took it in all very quickly and this from someone who nearly always take a very long time to register anything. The grinning driver with his Van Dyke. His pregnant wife. The young girl lying on a mattress in a feverish state. Two children playing with toy soldiers. The bus was packed with all of their earthly possessions.

All of us use our experiences to try and make sense of things. That’s why when we heard a sound we thought the kids had one of those toys where after you select the barnyard animal of your choice, you hear a cackle, grunt, or moo as the case may be. However, when we spotted something moving, we realized it was their cow.  To say we were startled would have been an understatement.

Sketch 9: The Unbroken Circle (’76)

Our poem this month, The Unbroken Circle (’76), describes an experience I had during the Bicentennial year. It was late June, and we  were on our way to Yellowstone National Park and had arrived in the city of Cody in the state of Wyoming, a place not known so much for its progressive ideas as for its conservativeness. I mean the last time they voted for a Democrat for president was 1964.  I’m not a big fan of the Democrats or anything although they did have the only candidate in my lifetime on a major ticket I’d have unconditionally supported (George McGovern), who as fate would have it went down to unbelievable electoral defeat, and Tricky Dick was reelected:

Richard_Nixon_greeted_by_children_during_campaign_1972

It’s just the Republicans have gone so far right they’re well off the page and into the margins.

Anyway, we were picked up by a guy who I swear bore an uncanny resemblance to:

436px-John_Wilkes_Booth-portrait

He told us of a concert and invited us to a party in the middle of nowhere where we were surrounded by young people whose appearance cast serious doubt on the notion they had campaigned four year earlier for Dick Nixon.  My problem at first was simple: how to open up a can of Coors.  Before you’re too hard on me, consider Wikipedia’s entry on the contraption:

“In the 1970s, Coors invented the pollution-free push tab can. However, consumers disliked the top and it was discontinued soon afterward.”

It sounds to me like a noble but doomed experiment – a little like introducing the metric system in the U.S.

For a few hours we soaked in the sun and the wide expanse of space. Then we went to see The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

We had a great time. The music was inspiring, and their encore was a stirring rendition of this song:

Patriotism

Samuel Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

I’m inclined to agree with the caveat that the word means many things to many people in the same way Christianity or Socialism does.

To my mind, a true patriot is someone like Marlene Dietrich.  When Hitler came to power, she was living abroad. Some years later she was approached by Nazi officials promising whatever she wanted if she would only return. (And people do make such concessions, consider Klaus Mann’s brilliant Mephisto.) During a wartime interview she said, “Boys, don’t sacrifice yourselves. The war is crap and Hitler’s an idiot.”

During her 1960 tour of Germany she was spat upon by a woman who shouted,  “I hate this woman! She betrayed Germany in the war.”

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, her body was reburied in Berlin next to her mother as was the wish in her will. In 1993 her grave was desecrated.

Listen to her sing.  And remember:

Sketch 8: Descent

This particular poem deals with an image from my grandmother’s funeral. I’ve always thought smell to be my most acute sense so it’s not surprising that incense should be an important part of my memory. A single smell can easily transport me back in time.

My grandmother was Catholic, and Catholicism was very important to her generation, defining them in a way it never did me. But then again, I lived in different times – a Catholic would soon become president of the United States, and it had been a long time since No Irish Need Apply signs were seen. When I visited relatives in Ireland, and they took me to the rubble that remained of my grandmother’s house, they also brought me to a landmark where Catholics used to secretly meet to worship when the religion had been outlawed. I was asked, “How would your parents feel if you married a Protestant?”

Although titles for me are more often than not a necessary evil, I do like this one and the double meaning of descent.

Chapter 1

CHAPTER 1

Lights illuminated the hilltop. Shadows danced across the wide expanse of oceans. The almond trees in full blossom sent out into the night a most luxuriant smell. From certain vantage points, one could make out their various poses through the arches of the aqueduct that stretched across the old cobblestone streets. The impressive structure had been built during the reign of King Urbain, whose public works in the area also included a home for the destitute. Its elevated domed roof edged heavenwards, and the inner garden was meticulously cared for by those thankfully afforded a place to rest. Palm trees towered above, their leaves stretching out as if the king himself was smiling most benevolently upon them.

One should not, however, imagine that it was only a city for the struggling as there was indeed great prosperity, due in large part to the high demand for the Nouvelle almond, whose taste and texture had made it one of the world’s most prized varieties. Businessmen had come from the more prosperous countries of the north to invest and had established an active minority presence. They built for themselves grand houses with fountains and statues. Their children were educated at a school that had been established by the Sisters of Mercy. There was a Catholic church and synagogue, and the local cemetery, which although predominantly Orthodox, had a resting place for Catholics and Jews as well.

Surrounding Nouvelle were mountains dotted with pine trees and villages with stone houses that could only be reached by windy roads and hairpin corners. Here a simple life could still be found, and everything was at a decidedly slower pace. Small stores still catered to individual needs. The seamstress could with a roll of fabric and pattern design a dress one would be proud to wear on the occasion of a baptism, wedding, or name day. The bakery with its freshly baked bread gave the morning air a pleasant scent, although the unmistakable smell of animals was still everywhere. While the huge cows might startle the newcomer, the residents were used to their presence. Goats agilely climbed the rocky hillsides nibbling whatever they could find. Chickens scurried about in a frenzy. Flocks of sheep roamed mountain pastures taking orders from barking sheepdogs and shepherds with their knotty staffs, whose haunting melody could sometimes be heard in the city during the early morning hours.

On clear days, one could see in the distance an island, which had in antiquity been the source of gold that had brought great wealth into the area, and whose marble had been highly praised throughout the realm.

Along the port, a variety of fishing vessels were anchored. Filled or emptied wooden crates were a common sight both on and off the ships. The intense sun brazened the faces of the fishermen smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and threading nets. Different languages could be heard spoken by those who had come hoping for a better life. Ships were named for loved ones and mythical heroes of the past. Fishing was a huge industry, and stalls sold the latest catch.

Cats, forever on the lookout for a meal, stealthily crawled about the streets. Wary of dogs, they always managed to escape their grip by sliding beneath cars. At other times of the day, when the boats had gone out to sea, they frequented the window ledges of houses.

The market was alive again with fresh fruit and vegetables. Young and old alike advertised their wares as though they were chanting the Divine Liturgy: “Oranges, fresh oranges, fresh juicy oranges! Tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, fresh juicy tomatoes!”

Spring seemed to be everywhere. The swallows had returned, and their mud nests were carefully constructed in balcony corners. They swooped about, and the sky was alive with their graceful movements. There was also the sound of the collared dove, whose hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo was a resonant herald of spring; it mingled with the scent of flowers that were everywhere exploding with color and the sun’s renewed strength.

The storks were again in their massive nests, constructed with care atop telephone poles. Their fluttering wings could be heard as they flew in search of food for their young. Dogs scurried about the streets without masters but were more than willing to accept the hospitality of any they might come across for a little something to eat or drink. They were always on some mission or another, usually running at a steady pace, sniffing about and marking territory as their own. People were generally leery of them, and parents had taught their children to avoid them. A young woman might easily freeze in her tracks if one approached. When they gathered in packs, even the large-hipped middle-aged women in colorful skirts peddling intricately woven baskets were frightened. From families that never settled in any one place, the menfolk worked the almond fields or sold whatever goods they happened to obtain. The women gave birth to children at an early age, and their presence near the aqueduct was a familiar sight. Their baskets were much in demand and stood outside many a store.

The young boys scoured them for their favorite pieces of candy. The girls, their hair in ponytails, were much more restrained. But then again they attended classes in piano and ballet. After putting down their jump ropes, they would slowly approach the baskets, commenting on the beautiful design. Delicately lifting the lid, they would gaze inside before deciding what might be to their liking.

Old women wearing the traditional mourning color talked in worried tones of the afflictions presently plaguing them. Elderly men with canes walked slowly down the streets of their youth or sat on the hard wooden chairs at the coffee shops that were exclusively their domain. Sipping their coffee loudly, they wondered what else their eyes would see, eyes that had already seen so much.

Their country was at the crossroads of nations, and the great powers had considered it important strategically, and they had suffered accordingly. War had played a part in their lives ever since they could remember. In the days in which their fathers had trudged through the cold across frontiers in the most horrendous conditions imaginable. When sleet felt as if bullets had again been unleashed by the caprice of a merciless god. For many it was their only experience of the outside world, and it would forever shape their perception. As for their children, they would find themselves in another war. Some were taken for labor, working in factories amongst the splendor of majestic cities like Vienna, which the war had not yet ravaged and whose Danube flowed peacefully, oblivious of the turn of events that were unfolding. Years later, they would receive a tiny pension in Austrian schillings. Soon they would make another kind of journey but to a place from which they would never return.

The cemetery was located on the outskirts of the city. As one passed through the gates there was a chapel with icons hanging to be kissed, white and tan candles to choose from, and a coin box. Scarcely did a day go by that another funeral wasn’t held, a grave opened, and wreaths placed upon the mound of dirt covering the newly deceased. A woman in black, her nose reddened from crying, clutching a handkerchief, stood still after having lit a candle near her husband’s grave, unable to move from the spot.

There were all manner of tombs, and without glancing at the date of birth, one could understand which were old, and it was not just the worn marble that had lost its original luster. Clearly in the present no one would deem a tomb with a wrought iron fence surrounding it and steps leading down into a crypt an appropriate resting place. Yet, others had withstood the passage of time: cemetery columns, on top of which were angels, a cross, or the crucified Savior.

Photos of the deceased were on the gravestone as were lanterns lit. If one passed at night, one would be reminded that the souls of the deceased still lived. Flowers were carefully arranged in vases. Bees, buzzing about, did not have to wait for their paradise in the afterlife: it was in the here and now. In their wake, the marble was dotted with wax. Pollen coming down in clouds from the huge cypress trees also thinly coated the surface.

On Sundays people went to honor their dead. As they made their way to the gravesite, they glanced at the dates stretching back in time. A family whose members held some key to longevity, the earliest dying at eight-six, and the oldest at one hundred and four. And in an area where tall weeds sprouted, funeral shrouds and withered wreaths inexplicably littering the ground, was the grave of a four-month-old still immaculately kept some thirty years after his death.

In the case of the elderly, the death was often preceded by years of hardship faced by the family as they witnessed their loved one’s slow demise. Lost from nearly all contact with the world around him, not realizing that the home in which he was staying was his own, he was still remarkably able to multiply large sums, speak coherently in a foreign language, and understand that he had crossed his Rubicon. At the end, he could not comb his hair or brush his teeth. He was no longer able to recognize his wife, daughter, or even himself. The sea breeze had once blown into the family home, but now the air inside was stale, thick as the blankets used in vain to try to keep his body warm. Well looked after, he was still unable to realize how very fortunate he had been as a person.

But solace would come to the bereaved, and to some extent, the irretrievable loss of their beloved was alleviated by the visit to the graveside and the care and attention spent.

Marie sometimes went to the Catholic cemetery to light a candle for those whom time had forgotten. Occasionally on tiptoes, she glanced over the wall into the Jewish cemetery and saw the headstones with their Hebrew letters, and the pebbles left atop by visitors.


Sketch 5: A Priest of the Faith

Many of the poems I write are only partly autobiographical or factual, if you will.  A Priest of the Faith is one such.

My father lived just up the street from a small Catholic Cemetery, mostly made up of French-Canadian settlers, and being Catholic would with his best friend, help pick weeds and what have you. At the time, the area was rural (as in rural juror). If you saw the location today you would have never guessed there were farm fields all about and that the area was once considered out in the boondocks. My father’s friend would grow up to be a priest.

My dad was quiet, but Father G. was a yapper, and would go on for hours if you’d let him.  One gets the impression that the Apostle Paul was a talker as well, whose fall on the road to Damascus is said by some to be the result of epilepsy. In old Ireland the illness was known as Saint Paul’s disease.

Father G. was, you should know, a collector of mushrooms, a food I love to eat but would honestly prefer to eat okra rather than pick them.  It’s not that I have any aversion toward manual labor (okay, a little), but I’m just concerned I don’t accidentally poison myself.

To be honest, I don’t recall at all where the “cursing the midnight moon” comes from – I suppose my imagination had him picking them at night. Perhaps, I was influenced by Thomas Hardy.

Discomforts

You will likely wait for long periods of time.

The weather will not always be agreeable.

You may have unpleasant encounters with people who although they have never met you believe they understand your complete philosophical and political belief system even if you’re absolutely sure you’re not in possession of either.

Sketch 3: A Light

This will no doubt be my shortest sketch, not quite “Jesus wept.” but still…

My paternal grandfather died of pneumonia at age 33.

While there were some instances of people jumping to their death after the The Crash, such as this one,  the idea that it was widespread is a myth.  This is also a good read.

Jean Desjardins Is Free Today

413px-the_bastille_0231

No, I’m not talking about someone being released from prison.

It’s the title of my novel, you see.

For those who do read it, and like it, a review would be greatly appreciated.

The Neighborhood

The neighborhood where I live isn’t particularly attractive but from my balcony where there are numerous plants and flowers, which should at some point be photographed and shared, there are some quite stunning views. It’s also centrally located, which means my feet do the walking instead of a vehicle, which would just be downright silly. Someone like W. Heath Robinson might have done justice to that. It’s also relatively safe although there have been at least three burglaries too close for comfort, which explains why a few years back we got a security door that will hopefully prevent anyone from breaking in. If burglars were to enter, deceiving what we were told was foolproof technology, they would be sorely disappointed by their inability despite their ransacking to find anything of real material value. However, they would come across shelves and shelves of books of which I expect they would not be tempted.

A Plane to Catch

When I began my journey I wasn’t in possession of a boarding pass for the second leg of my journey. The airline staff had either been unwilling or unable to explain why I couldn’t be given one.

Having dashed through a lengthy maze of corridors I found myself in front of a huge departure board. To my left was a Customer Service counter. I quickly joined the line with hordes of other passengers who were waiting impatiently. The lack of personnel did not facilitate anything being done terribly quickly.

It took longer than you can imagine.  I was seen to and handed something. I saw printed in unmistakable capital letters, STANDBY. I would be given a boarding pass at my gate at the other terminal.

After an escalator or two, I found myself skirted off by train. I wanted to believe things might possibly be reaching their climax. But then I saw I’d have to go through security again And passport control.

As I rushed off, half-dead from not having slept the previous night, my left calf was so tight I was expecting a cramp that would send me writhing on the floor. In earlier times this might have elicited sympathy but in our days it would have probably only meant being surrounded by automatic weapons and being told to step down.

Arriving, I asked for a seat and was told to go to 25A. Nobody was there. Are you sure? I nodded speechless. Then go to 25.

Thankfully, someone was there. Ahead of me were four people holding US Passports. It was obvious from their names they were Arab Americans. Outraged they would have to go through security, they demanded to see the manager. I’m not sure if they ever got the chance since the woman instead was given my passport and in no time at all I had a seat for a flight I ran off to catch.

Respecting Tradition

Tradition demands a break be taken the month one started one’s blog.

Therefore, I will be completely off the radar until July.

Please take the opportunity to look at older posts if you haven’t already.

Have a great month!

Sketch 2: Some Wide Pastoral Spread

I love trains. There is nothing quite like sitting leisurely admiring the landscape rolling out before one’s eyes, talking with fellow passengers, or just being engrossed in a book. I’ve had some good reads over the years including The Glass Bead Game and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

I once had a timetable of train routes throughout the world. I’d lie in bed and calculate my journeys, the longest being the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok.

While I never did make it to Russia, after finishing my B.A. I did get a three-month Eurail pass and spent the summer of 1984 travelling across Europe. It was and will probably remain the longest trip of my life.

Not having much in the way of money, I stayed in cheap hotels or hostels or slept on the train. For food, I usually got bread from a baker’s (is there any better than a French baguette?) and some cheese and lunch meat, and voilà! I found wine in shops incredibly affordable.

Although it was the day before MP3 players, I did have a mini-recorder with songs. Here is one of the ones I brought along:

I got as far west as Sligo where I visited relatives, and as far east as Vienna, which did not, I should say, exactly greet me with open arms. I got as far north as Bergen, and would love to have spent more time in Scandinavia, but the prices drove me southward to Rome.

I fell in love with Italy. I remember the sun, which has always seemed to me the most logical heavenly body to worship, the wonderful gelato, and the noise of Rome.

The poem describes the Italian landscape I saw.  One can read here about the pastoral. Speaking of which, why not listen to Beethoven’s symphony:

William Carlos Williams was the first American poet to really speak to me.  It was likely through him that I became aware of Ezra Pound, who was a friend of his for more than half a century. Pound’s poetry never did much for me. To some, he is known as a champion of Modernism.  Others, myself included, remember him as a raving anti-Semite/fascist, who after spending WWII in Italy broadcasting propaganda over the airways was arrested for treason:

Ezra_Pound_1945_May_26_mug_shot

Security_cages_where_Ezra_Pound_was_held,_Pisa,_Italy,_1945

Jean Desjardins Free on May 14, 15, 2013

lossy-page1-800px-After_midnight_selling_extras._There_were_many_young_boys_selling_very_late_these_nights._Youngest_boy_in_the_group..._-_NARA_-_523536.tif(Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

The Power of One

Education is so important, and the influence of a kind, thoughtful teacher can stay with you an entire lifetime.

That’s the way I feel about Miss B. It was 1970, and on Fridays she would bring in her guitar, and turning on the overhead projector she’d place the transparency with the lyrics of a song she’d written in that beautiful hand of hers. She would start strumming. We would all start singing. Here are 2 of the songs I remember:

Sketch 1: Alongside Twilight

The expansive lawn and black Labrador in the photograph may have very well belonged to another family if it were not for that tall thin man puffing on a cigarette. Considering my age, it is not surprisingly I don’t remember them.

I remember our next house. And our dog. He was a beagle, who just so happened to be named Gaylord, but who did not as far as I know look kind of lazy or act kind of crazy. However, he did go missing one hunting season. My dad always thought he was stolen. Since beagles notoriously follow scents, one will never know.

That my early childhood years were spent on consumer goods is also evident from the fact that I remember the daily pilgrimage to the mail box to check whether the Toucan Sam I had sent in for, presumably with countless Fruit Loop box tops, had arrived.

While my neighborhood was only 12 miles from the downtown of a large city, looking around one never would have imagined this. We lived on a dirt road and across the street was a field where we played baseball. In our backyard ran a creek, and one Easter we got ducklings which we named after the Monkees, and which grew and were healthy until they were most unceremoniously devoured by our neighbor’s dog, Bozo. There was a small pond up the street on the corner of which was the Catholic Church we went to on Sundays and the parochial grade school my siblings attended.

Not 10 minutes away was a very steep hill we would toboggan down in winter. To get there we passed a wooden fenced area with grazing horses and a huge barn. One day it caught fire, and I can still see the clouds of smoke that appeared in the sky and feel the heat of the flames devouring the structure.

Turn! Turn! Turn! and And I Love Her never fail to transport me back to these times:

It’s as if I’m taking a trip in The Time Tunnel:

Latest Review of Jean Desjardins

Thanks to Sol for taking the time to write a review.

Here it is.

Reviews Wanted!

The statistics could be analyzed, but that would mean some sort of mathematical ability on my part and as I no doubt have mentioned along the way my last math class was 10th Grade Geometry, in which I was so bored that my mind had become one of those oddly named shapes, let’s say a concave polygon.

150px-Simple_polygon.svg(What Geometry Did to My Mind)

I won’t bore you with a lot of numbers just to say that although Jean Desjardins is in the possession of 175 people I have only 2 reviews. If you have read it, and liked it, I’d appreciate when you do have time if you’d review it and post it on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Thanks!

Hotcakes

Ignore the Amazon ranking for Jean Desjardins at #431,554 Paid in Kindle Store and just imagine it’s selling like hotcakes.

800px-Hot_cake(Photographer: Potesara)

Would you want to miss out?

Sketches in Prose

At the end of every month I’ll be posting the background of a poem from Watercolors.

Watercolors

I have just published my first collection of poetry, Watercolors.

Review of Jean Desjardins

I appreciate Ms. Smith for taking the time to read and review my book.

Methuselah

For the wine aficionados among you, I’m not talking about the six-liter bottle but rather the man spoken of in Genesis.

Recently I was asked (as you are) if I really believed that Methuselah had lived to the ripe old age of 969.  Using the tried and trued method of answering a question with a question, the effectiveness of which should be evident to anyone who has read Jesus responding to the Pharisees, I asked, “What do you think?”

After being told, no, I responded by saying what I found difficult to believe was not his age but that he had been struck down by a taxi cab.

Jean Desjardins Free from February 5-8

It’s free.

The First Interview

I’d like to thank Prospero for taking the time.

For those interested, you can find the interview below.   Please note there are spoilers.

http://exiledprospero.wordpress.com/

Milan

When people think of Rome, this is what might come to mind:

800px-Colosseum_in_Rome-April_2007-1-_copie_2B

Florence:

David_von_Michelangelo

I’d be the last person to say Milan is Florence or Rome, but that is not to say it doesn’t have its own charm.

Milan_Cathedral_from_Piazza_del_Duomo

The Duomo di Milano is impressive. But perhaps you’re a little like me and wonder whether what Dylan Thomas said of death also holds true of cathedrals.  If so, one can still climb the many steps (think of it as that exercise you’ve been putting off), and you’ll be afforded a wonderful view of the city and the Italian Alps in the distance.  Within the church, I found myself enthralled by the stainglass windows.

Here’s one by Paolo Uccello:

631px-Paolo_uccello,_vetrata_della_resurrezione

I had little expectations for The Last Supper, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. After passing through one hermetically sealed room after another, we arrived in the chapel:

Última_Cena_-_Da_Vinci_5

We had 15 minutes. I could have spent hours.

If you like Italian opera as much as me, a visit to the very inconspicous (from the outside at least) Teatro alla Scala is a must. The likes of Maria Callas sang there.

Part of the enjoyment I find in travel is the unexpected.

Did you know they have a canal in Milan? And did you know it was designed by Leonardo da Vinci?

800px-4024_-_Milano_-_Chiuse_del_Naviglio_pavese_-_Foto_Giovanni_Dall'Orto,_7-July-2007

It is a wonderful spot, and there are places to eat and drink.  We were lost (also a favorite activity of mine) and happened to stumble upon a restaurant where we had a wonderful meal with an excellent Gavi wine.

Gelato has a well-deserved reputation, and when I first tried it in Rome nearly thirty years back it was a revelation worthy of St. John the Divine. You will want to taste the ice-cream here as well.

On the subject of food, risotto is a must. But, of course, some risotto is more equal than others. As always the safest rule for eating while travelling is to avoid the restaurants tourists frequent and try to find a place locals visit.  In Milan you will hear beautiful Italian cadences to which your taste buds will be eternally grateful.

Finally, I would be amiss not to mention that Milan is also the perfect spot to use as a base to travel to other locations nearby.  Our excursions brought us to Lake Como, Lugano, and Verona.

Translation

One of the two mentors I was fortunate to study under was a translator. For a while, I played with the idea of becoming one myself. I’ve always been fascinated by translation – the give and take – something added, something lost – the delicate balance necessary to pull it off.

Why such talk? For those who don’t remember, a number of us agreed to read the new Stephen Mitchell translation of The Iliad. Unfortunately, as fate (that’s what I’m calling it anyway) would have it, I ordered the wrong copy and the right one took forever to arrive in my little neck of the woods. In fact, it just got here. Everyone is so far ahead that even if I decided to stop working, and read night and day I would still not be able to catch up. If I were a speed reader it might help, but I can assure you I’m not, and have, in fact, always found the notion of speed and read in the same sentence let alone combined into one word nothing short of sacrilegious.

I have, however, been keeping myself up to date with their posts, and hopefully, through their insights I’ll be better able to appreciate the work.

But in order to do it justice I’ll first finish the books I’m reading as well as one I haven’t started but have had my eyes on. I also really do need to get working again on my second novel, which possibly might come out this year seeing that it’s about 70% finished – like the last one it was started long, long ago…

The idea is to immerse myself in The Iliad, post on it, and perhaps related subjects – depending on if and when the spirit moves.

I claim absolutely no expertise – just an immense love and respect for the written word.

The First Review

I was very pleased to see the first review of Jean Desjardins on Amazon.

I do appreciate outside authority for taking the time to do so.

 

The Year in Review (vis-à-vis the novel)

At present, I have sold 4 books and given 61 books away. The first number is certainly short of what I was expecting, and the latter a little bit better than what I thought. Amazingly enough on the day it was free I rose to 75 in Free Kindle Books for Literary Fiction.

I imagine those who have bought it are going to read it, and I would like to think the same is true of at least the majority of those who got it free. For those who do like it, I’d appreciate if you’d write an honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. At present no one’s reviewed it, and if I am to take what I read as truth, which is perhaps exceedingly foolish, the more reviews one gets the better the sales.

I had read that people were writing their own reviews, but yesterday I was surprised to discover you could also pay for them. The thing a person discovers. Be assured, I’m going to do neither, so if you read someone declaring me to be the next Émile Zola, the guy/gal is certifiably bonkers, and it definitely wasn’t written by me.

 

December 27, 2012 – Free Ebook

For those who are strapped for cash but would still like to read my novel, Jean Desjardins, this is your opportunity as it will be free today.

The Drive for Empty Space – December 27

As you can imagine, it’s difficult to find a picture of empty space so I have improvised accordingly.

 

 

My drive for a Bentley shall we say has crashed. Don’t get me started on that wonderful villa in Lugano that I set my heart upon.

Empty space, however? At present, it still appears to be free. My novel will be as well on December 27. I’m going to begin playing with the price from Monday so be forewarned. If you wonder why a $.99 novel is suddenly priced at $99, you’ll understand. By the way, what would you rather be in possession of an electric chain saw or a novel? Please, don’t answer.

chainsaw

cover

Vanished

Lest you think I’m doing this:

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I’m going to enroll Jean Desjardins in KDP Select and as a result, I’m not supposed to have more than 10% of the novel on my blog. Never having been particularly good at math and not particularly inclined to count percentages, I’ve deleted the extracts I earlier posted on this site. Uncle Joe would be proud of me.

The Death of a Salesman

With apologies to Arthur Miller, whose play The Crucible should be required reading everywhere.

I’ve done any number of things to support myself through the years, and feel lucky to have spent only a minority of my working life hoeing beans, washing dishes, and standing on an assembly line. But there was nothing dishonorable in any of the jobs I had.

What was I thinking? To apply for a job as a salesman? I couldn’t sell myself out of a paper bag.

My profile, which surely did not match the one advertised, might have read: He doesn’t feel the need to convince someone of buying something they may not want, need, or be able to afford; he doesn’t think anyone should be harassed until they give in out of desperation.

With regards to the latter point, I do wish someone would break the news to the mobile phone companies as I’m about ready to rid myself of my cell phone, and retreat to a cabin in Massachusetts.

The place was packed. Standing room only. A hum of voices. Young people gathered hoping to find employment. One might have thought that it was offering a hefty salary or great benefits. (They were once actually available, believe it or not. Even the less than lucrative jobs I had, nearly all of them, provided one with some semblance of health care. Alas, a thing of the past.  Swim or sink. Dog eat dog.  What a society has become ours.)

A handsome, well-dressed man appears. Using all the charisma at his disposal, which by the look of the audience was considerable indeed, he began giving a job description in rather hazy terms. Periodically, however, he would be interrupted by the phone that rang in his office. He excused himself to answer it:

“Is that so? And remind me how many weeks you’ve been in the field? Unbelievable. You’re doing great work. Yes, it helps if you’ve got a great product. But don’t undercut yourself. Fantastic. Better than you could ever have imagined? I was straight with you, wasn’t I? No, thank you!”

When he reappeared, his face wore such transcendence that I could probably be forgiven for thinking he must be uniquely familiar with the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

He told us of a Mr K. who had been in the field only a short while and had already been making incredible sales.

As he sketched out more and more of the job, it was still not clear exactly what we would be selling and how.

Then I heard, “They won’t notice. That’s the beauty.”

It dawned on me. We would be delivering products to companies that had not ordered them.

I myself saw a beast, and looked around to see the reaction on other people’s faces, and seeing none, rose, and made my way to the door, which was being blocked by a heavy-set man who could have easily been David Crosby’s twin brother.

“I’m leaving.”

“The gentleman has not finished his talk.”

I gave him a look that must have given the idea that the gentleman might be very well displeased if I happened to cause a scene.

As he unlocked the door, and I slipped out into the hall, one could hear the death knell of my life as a salesman.

Jean Desjardins is Available

For those of you who are interested, Jean Desjardins, is now available for purchase at $.99. With the great profits I plan to reap a whirlwind of hard cash that will allow me to quit my day job and live out the rest of my years in Lugano with a Bentley.

Pandora’s Box

I had made the final changes to the novel, still not perfect, but probably as good as it will ever be and was planning to look through it one more time and push the publish button today, when lo and behold, the buzzer doesn’t ring, and I find myself signing for my new computer or rather the three-month-old computer, which is now in possession of a new hard drive whose life I hope is longer than one of those nuclear materials that unfortunately haunt rather than illuminate desert areas. At the time, I had to make a decision – carry on using the old computer, or open the box, and see what in the world I was in possession of.

Crash

It’s not the end of the world when your computer crashes, but it is a tad bid inconvenient when you’re about ready to publish a book and all your latest revisions are on it.

I’m using my old computer at present and am beginning to piece together the revisions that were made with the use of a printout I have of the novel and an older copy saved to a memory stick. Will my three-month-old computer ever start up again? Will the novel be out on November 29? Unfortunately, these are questions of which I have no answer.

I expect to be very scarce until I can get things in order.

Wand’rin’ Star

From this Wednesday until perhaps the End of Time, I’ll be posting excerpts from my novel, Jean Desjardins, which should, barring some weird alignment of the planets, be available on November 29.  If interested, click here.

For those of you like I, who were born on Thursday, and have far to go, take a listen to Lee Marvin crooning Wand’rin’ Star.

Wednesday’s Child

Wednesday’s child is full of woe. That’s what we’re told anyway. It reminds me a little of the 5 days in the Aztec calendar in which if a child was born, it was considered unlucky. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy, eh?

From Wednesday on I’ll be posting an excerpt from Jean Desjardins, which should, barring some weird alignment of the planets, be available on November 29.

By the way, I was born on Thursday and have far to go.

The Blurb

The Sacred Wall is the last remaining vestige of a temple built in antiquity by those who hearkening to the whisper of the wind fled northward from devastating flames that threatened to engulf the entire world. It is now the resting place of Paul Boulard, celebrated archaeologist and linguist, who stunned a country on the point of revolution by unearthing ancient lost cities long thought to have been a myth. Jean Desjardins, a university student, lives with the consequences of this discovery. Nearing graduation, he watches with concern as his professors fall into disfavor with the harsh nationalist government of François Régimbal. As strict legislation is enacted and freedom of speech curtailed, he falls in love with Marie, an art school graduate with a passion for Dutch still lifes. When his wealthy bumbling landlord takes a mysterious trip abroad leaving him in charge of his affairs, the lucrative contract Jean signs is not everything it seems. But then neither are Enoch and Elijah, the two extraordinary dogs who have befriended the young couple.

November Has Thirty-One Days

Of course it doesn’t. But since announcing that Jean Desjardins is coming out in November, I kind of wish it had.

Be assured, progress is being made, and I do hope by the time I have proofread and edited* it for the thousandth time that it hasn’t turned into a short story. I also hope there aren’t any typos.

For those who haven’t visited my other blog, you should know that I have decided to price it at $.99. I had originally planned on asking $1.99 thinking it would entitle me to the 70% royalty option.  (Come to find out that requires it be priced at $2.99.)  In the future I  may raise the price so as to take advantage of the higher royalty but this is not going to be in the near future, and if I do decide to do  so, I’ll let everyone know way ahead of time.

*As far as I’m concerned the following is the greatest tongue twister ever: Ed had edited it.

Out of Commission

I know it sounds as if I’m a machine, but if in doubt I can only say that in the future scenario pitting robots against humanity I will not be on the side of the robots.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting Chapter One on my other blog. For the next few weeks while continually keeping that proverbial wolf from the door (I actually like wolves, and think they’ve been given a bum rap.) I’ll be trying to get the formatting done. As Ringo, the most loveable of the Beatles sang, It Don’t Come Easy.

In the meantime, take a look at the first chapter or look through some of the poems you haven’t yet read.

An Immodest Proposal

Unlike Jonathan Swift in A Modest Proposal, I’m deadly serious.

Consider this a heads-up for those considering parting with their hard-earned cash or ill-gotten gains.

Jean Desjardins is short. At just over 40,000 words, it might be better classified a novella. However, it’s said to be a word in bad repute these days, and besides I’ve never much liked the term myself

If you like literary fiction and/or magic realism, the book might be of interest. If you’re interested in lots of action of the bomb-blowing variety, it’s not for you.

The first chapter, which I’ll be posting next week, will probably give you the best indication of whether it’s something you’d like to read in its entirety.

I’m in the final stages of formatting, having spent more time than I care to admit on proofreading.

Vive la France! Vive la République!

America never was America to me. Bear this in mind as you read. Ideals may not always be realized, but few would choose to live in a world where they did not exist.

My paternal grandfather died when my dad was young so he grew up on the farm where his mother had been raised. The Great Depression had just begun, and they were fortunate to have land that gave them all they needed at a time in which so many had so very little. Since my grandmother worked, he was looked after by his French Canadian grandparents.

French was spoken, and on the balcony during the summer, it was sung. My father had a French first name, and the meals served were traditional Quebec cuisine.

His grandfather must have been an important role model for him so it’s easy to understand why it was with such sadness that he told me the story of his death.  Among the many people who came to pay final respects was a French Métis, who worked for him as a handyman. Once he had left, my great-grandfather asked for water to cleanse his hands. He felt defiled.

It’s hard to say how instrumental this experience was in shaping my father’s perceptions of the world. I do know I was fortunate never to have heard a racist comment from him, which was decidedly different from the wider environment where I heard people routinely categorized in ways in which I’m sure you are all too familiar.

As he grew he was fascinated with the French Revolution, whose ideals he admired – before, of course, it started eating its children.  And, of course, as a  young man there was France and the battle in Europe against Nazism.

The only memory I have of him crying is when he heard La Marseillaise.

Jean Desjardins

In the next month or so my short novel, Jean Desjardins, should be out.

Click on the painting on the right-hand sidebar, and you’ll be taken to the synopsis.  Once it’s published, you’ll find the first chapter at the same location. For those interested in reading more, the book will be available at the ridiculously high price of $1.99.

Compel Them

I can assure you I’m not lazy, but certainly there were times in my youth when my mom might have thought I was. If you meet her, you’ll find her very pleasant to be around as long as you don’t mention anything about Tom taking out the garbage.

I just don’t like being pushed into doing things.

When I am watching my favorite sitcom, the laugh track seems to be vying for attention. It attempts to put me in the socially awkward position of watching TV with a straight face while the person next to me is laughing so hard that their sides are aching. The principle at work is that when you’re with a group of friends and someone tells a joke you may very well laugh even if you don’t get it, find it funny, or if you’re like me, have never understood the point of jokes to begin with.

Certainly no relationship exists between us and a laugh track, does it?

But then again is there a connection between the success or failure, happiness or sadness of a person and the car they drive, the beverage they drink, or the shampoo they use? If I wash my hair with Ultrex, will I play like Ronaldo without having to train? Being a supporter of FC BarcelonaI’d prefer to have dandruff.  Rather watch as I open a pack of Lay’s Potato Chips and metamorphose faster than Gregor Samsa into Lionel Messi before your very eyes.

A Cynic

If I have any prophetic powers, and in fact, at present I am surrounded by a group of rather menacing looking men and women clutching onto large stones who are more than ready to cast them in my direction if I get this wrong, the image in your mind is of a snide, dismissive type, not a lot of fun to be around unless, of course, you’re someone who thinks Nausea was more entertaining than Catch-22.

I was actually thinking of Diogenes.

I would definitely not recommend defacing currency. I do, however, remember in the 1960s my brother drilling a hole through a Liberty Dollar to make a necklace. I hope an arrest warrant for him will not be forthcoming. But they were different times. When I was young we used to walk into stores without shoes and t-shirts. This is before they started putting up announcements of No Shoes, No Shirts, No Service. And I can assure some of the more incredulous among you that I was living in a metropolitan area at the time.

Here are some excerpts from The Life of Diogenes:

“Plato defined man thus: ‘Man is a two-footed, featherless animal;’ and was much praised for the definition; so Diogenes plucked a cock and brought it into his school, and said, ‘This is Plato’s man.'”

“A certain person was admiring the offerings in the temple at Samothrace, and he said to him, “They would have been much more numerous, if those who were lost had offered them instead of those who were saved;” but some attribute this speech to Diagoras the Thelian.”

” The question was put to him what countryman he was, and he replied, ‘Citizen of the world'”

“Once, while he was sitting in the sun in the Craneum, Alexander was standing by, and said to him, ‘Ask any favour you choose of me.’ And he replied, ‘Cease to shade me from the sun.'”

Giovanni Castiglione’s etching shows Diogenes in search of an honest man:

This entry from Wikipedia gives one a picture of Cynicism:

“Their philosophy was that the purpose of life was to live a life of Virtue in agreement with Nature. This meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, sex, and fame, and by living a simple life free from all possessions. As reasoning creatures, people could gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which was natural for humans. They believed that the world belonged equally to everyone, and that suffering was caused by false judgments of what was valuable and by the worthless customs and conventions which surrounded society.”

They were strong believers in free speech and opposed war and slavery.

Barcelona

Metros are not famous for their civility. Eyes rarely meet. The only unifying factor seems to be distance. While above ground one might be charmed by a flowing Renoir dress or enraptured by a Viennese delicacy, underground things are rather pedestrian. Not so in Barcelona. During our week there I have never been offered more seats by complete strangers, smiled at by workers coming home from a long shift at work or just felt perfectly at home with a people whose tongue I did not share but whose spirit I admired.

Street musicians play superbly, but then again considering that those licensed to do so have to pass exams, it probably makes sense. The mimes on Las Ramblas are delightful. Park Güell and Casa Batlló are enchanting. The interior of Sagrada Familia is breathtaking.

As you pass from one room to another of the Picasso Museum, each dedicated to particular years of the artist’s life, his experimentation and mastery of different styles will be evident. Clearly he was looking for his own unique style.

I’ve never eaten better food than the tapas in the Santa Caterina Market: grilled/breaded calamari, asparagus tempura with Romesco sauce, marinated/salted anchovies, cod canape topped with Samfaina, crusty bread topped with La Pena sardines.

One late evening, on our way back from tapas, we looked up at the sky above the Barcelona Cathedral, and I swear it was something out of El Greco.

Maggie’s Farm

As Dylan put it, “I got a head full of ideas/That are drivin’ me insane/It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor.”

I’ve scrubbed floors. It’s back-breaking work. (Caillebotte’s painting is of floor scraping, but one gets the idea.)

I’ve also worked on a farm and will confess it’s very hard work. Waking up early, one finds oneself in the back of a pickup driven down long dirt roads with others who are as half asleep as you are. As dawn breaks, fields appear in all directions. You’re handed a hoe and given brief instructions. At that time of the day, my head was hardly full of ideas, but I can say that my runny nose, itchy eyes, and constant sneezing nearly drove me insane. Years later when I subjected my back to a tic-tac-toe of pinpricks to see what I was allergic to, it ended up being just about everything. Jokingly, the allergy specialist remarked, “I hope you’re not interested in a job in the outdoors.”

Working on a farm is only one of many jobs I’ve had. When in the mood I might just list them like Whitman did but without so much panache.

During high school I was a dishwasher at a restaurant. Considering I could have asked my parents for money, and they would have happily obliged, it appears I was properly imbued with the work ethic. When I wasn’t slaving away rinsing plates or loading them into the huge machine that belched out steam, I had free rein of the soda pop dispenser, which meant I was constantly wired with all that sugar and caffeine running through my veins. I thought it was a great deal, but then again I was being paid $2.20 an hour. Please take my age into consideration.

One evening while waiting for the waitresses to bring me more plates, I was fooling around with the radio dial and chanced upon a silver-smooth voice introducing The Modern Jazz Quartet. Jazz was found in the most unlikely of places.

Roll Over

The Beatles were on the radio constantly as a child, and whenever I hear one of their early songs I’m transported back magically as if I were Tony on that old TV series, The Time Tunnel. The Byrds’ Turn! Turn! Turn! does it as well.

For a long time as the youngest in the family, I didn’t own but was permitted to play albums provided I was careful.

If rock music was in the foreground, classical music was in the background. My dad listened to it constantly. He was also a big fan of Beverly Sills and would occasionally play opera, which was incomprehensible to me as a child but made for some very childish antics, which amused everyone and offended no-one. His feelings for opera could be summed up succinctly: The Italians understand opera. Most of the time, however,when his stereo wasn’t being used for ill purposes, symphonies were heard.

My dad and I had a shtick going: I’d make fun of Beethoven, whom he considered a master, and he would distort his perfectly good singing voice to sound like Dylan, the man I considered master.

It would be years before I would be able to appreciate classical music.

The turning point came when at sixteen my brothers walked in on me listening to Days of Future Passed. “It’s classical music,” my oldest brother said with all the scorn he could muster.

The unintended consequence of his comment was the beginning of a discovery that continues until this day.

Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously

I first read of Noam Chomsky in my Introduction to Linguistics class in connection with his “colorless green ideas sleep furiously.”   It is a semantically meaningless sentence that is nevertheless syntactically correct.

My professors, anthropological linguists with interests decidedly different from Chomksy’s, always spoke in awe of the man’s revolutionary contributions to the field.

What I read of his was never easy.  There was a lot I didn’t understand.  Although I was aware at the time of his political writings, assuming they would be written in a similar manner, I decided against even trying.

I could not have been more wrong.  When I began to read him, I found him remarkably approachable.

For those interested, here is his website:

http://www.chomsky.info/

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