A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.
It is too late.
—-Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, opening lines.
Machine gun and pinup girl
The doomed flyboys of WWII painted pinup girls on the noses of their B-17s cementing the fusion of sex and bombs, of beautiful women and annihilation from the sky, of danger and love, of longing and luck, of desire and death.
Image from Wikipedia.
This is the (arguably) most famous of all, the “Memphis Belle.”
I give you a reproduction, a homage if you will – painted on a restored old car, a “Rat Rod” – complete with fake machine guns mounted over the exhaust headers.
Rat Rod – Car Show, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas
Sex and power and death and speed, beauty and doom, lust and destruction – a potent cocktail that tastes like licorice and smells like gasoline.
For a goodly period of time now I have been reading short fiction. That is a good thing – I ‘m writing a mess of short fiction and I should read material similar to what I’m working on – plus, I simply don’t have spare time to waste on anything other than a series of wordly aperitifs.
A snack is not a meal, however, and I have felt an irresistible desire to devour a more hearty course of scribbling. There is a heartiness and depth to a long book. There is a feeling of victory as you down the entire thing. And there is meaning of a subtle nature that can only be conveyed over a longer period of time and greater number of pages.
So I opened up a new Collection in my Kindle library called, simply, “big” and have been watching for sales on ebooks. Even the heaviest tome only takes up a few billion bits of electron cloud inside my Kindle – and the price can be surprisingly affordable. There is no better bargain in the entertainment world than a long book. I’ve been working on variety too, from classics to modern, to homegrown to translated – it’s not hard.
Of course, I’m (mostly)leaving out long books I’ve read before (actually, I’m leaving out books I remember reading). The two that come to mind immediately are “Gravity’s Rainbow,” and “Moby Dick.”
Call Me Ishmael
My list so far:
Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon (I’ve read about a third of it in the past – will start over. That seems to be how I read Pynchon… dive in, go as far as I can, then beat a retreat until I can return to the scene and soldier on)
The Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell (I know, not technically a single book. I’ve read the first one in the series, but remember little. Like the Pynchon above, I’ll have to start fresh).
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
Anna Karenina, Tolstoy
Battle Royale, Koushun Takami (saw the film, now I want to read the book. It’s surprisingly long – there must be a lot in there that didn’t make it onto the screen).
The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky (I read this in school. Wrote a paper about it. Don’t remember a single thing. Have to read it again).
The Three Musketeers, Dumas (After reading The Club Dumas, now I want to go over the source material. It’s been filmed to death, of course, so I’m curious about the original)
Cryptomonicon, Neal Stephenson
The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing (Started this years ago, couldn’t get going. We’ll see how it goes this time)
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace (I’m shocked I’ve never read this. Shame on me)
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke (I know nothing about this book. Intend to keep it that way until I start to dig in).
Les Misérables, Victor Hugo (I’m shocked I’ve never read this. Shame on me)
War and Peace, Tolstoy (I’m shocked I’ve never read this. Shame on me)
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, Haruki Murakami (I’m a big fan of Murakami. Time to tackle his Big Book)
There are two I don’t have and am waiting to pick up on sale (I have time):
2666, by Roberto Bolaño (I have this one in hardback – but would like to have an electronic copy before diving in)
Underworld, by Don DeLillo (I’m shocked I’ve never read this. Shame on me)
And finally, I’m starting with:
The War of the End of the World, by Mario Vargas Llosa.
The Kindle gives you running percentage that shows how far you are – a very helpful goal-setting device for devouring something Big. I’m at about sixty-six percent and enjoying the tome. It’s a horrific semi-historical account of an uprising around the previous turn of the last century in a poverty-and-drought-devastated area in Brasil.
I have a method of working my way through big, long, complicated books like this. I keep a pen and paper and carefully sketch out characters as they appear. The kaleidoscope of scenes filled with picaresque folks that comes strolling across the page can get confusing and frustrating without memory aids. This one is especially difficult because many of the protagonists have the same name. Usually, once I get about halfway through, I don’t need the notes anymore, as the characters have become close acquaintances of mine… over time.
I have no idea how long this will take or whether I’ll stick to it (will probably take breaks). I hope I’m able to live long enough.
I’ll tell you ’bout Texas Radio and the Big Beat
Soft drivin’, slow and mad, like some new language
Now, listen to this, and I’ll tell you ’bout the Texas
I’ll tell you ’bout the Texas Radio
I’ll tell you ’bout the hopeless night
Wandering the Western dream
Tell you ’bout the maiden with wrought iron soul
—-The WASP, Jim Morrison
Revolution Car Show, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas (click to enlarge)
Since the advent of digital photography, the whole rhythm of taking pictures has changed. You shoot, then tilt the camera down to look at what you have.
Sometimes you don’t even think. Shoot, tilt, look, delete, shoot, tilt, look, delete. Repeat until you get what you want.
Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas
I miss the days when you had to wait. These were the days when every statement about a photograph was prefaced with, “If it comes out…”.
There was the excitement of picking up the thick paper envelope of prints at the photography store. Standing on the sidewalk outside, tearing open the packet, and going through the pictures. Usually, there would be one that you knew was the shot you really wanted and you would quickly shuffle until you came to that one. Then you would pause and stare. You would, “If it came out…”.
Or, even more exciting, was the sweet smell of bitter chemicals, the dim yellow/green safelight, and the ghostly image appearing out of nothing on the waving paper drifting in the developing bath. There was a sensual excitement of the whole ritual – from loading film on a reel in the pitch dark – working completely by feel. Then the mixing of chemicals followed by waving your hands in the rays of the enlarger, dodging and burning and trying to get everything just right. Finally the developing, the fixing, the washing and then drying. Only after all that could you turn on the light and see what you had… art, or crap. Or both. Or neither.
“There is darkness inside all of us, though mine is more dangerous than most. Still, we all have it—that part of our soul that is irreparably damaged by the very trials and tribulations of life. We are what we are because of it, or perhaps in spite of it. Some use it as a shield to hide behind, others as an excuse to do unconscionable things. But, truly, the darkness is simply a piece of the whole, neither good nor evil unless you make it so. It took a witch, a war, and a voodoo queen to teach me that.”
― Jenna Maclaine, Bound By Sin
I have been working my way back through some older(er) photographs I have stashed away, intending to process and write something about eventually.
I’m a little disappointed because we had to cancel a vacation trip to New Orleans this October (we simply don’t have the money). I’ve been to the Big Easy many times – for work, for vacation, and because my son goes to college there. Of course, Mardi Gras is something for everyone’s bucket list, but otherwise, I think that Halloween is the best time to visit New Orleans. It’s a party, it’s pretty crazy, but you don’t have the logistical nightmare that Mardi Gras brings.
Last October we went for Tulane’s parent’s weekend and I’ve put up some blog entries from that trip.
Marie Laveau’s Tomb, the XXX marks are for people that want their wishes granted.
From the plaque attached to her tomb:
This Greek revival tomb is reputed burial ground of notorious “Voodoo Queen” . A mystic cult, Voodooism, of African Origin, was brought to this city from Santo Domingo and flourished in 19th century. Marie Laveau was the most widely known of many practitioners of the cult.
I had heard of Marie Laveau, of course – the first time probably from the the old Redbone song, “Witch Queen of New Orleans” – but didn’t know of any details.
Back in Texas, I checked a book out from the library and found the whole story, the real story to be more complicated than the legend.
First, there were two women we now know as Marie Laveau – mother and daughter. The legends of each are mixed up with the other. New Orleans at that time was a dangerous, tough place to live, especially for a woman of mixed race. The book I read portrayed Marie Laveau as a beautiful, brilliant, ruthless woman that would do what it took to live and prosper in the swirl of difficult times. She cultivated her legend and used it to her advantage – both to rise as a leader in her own culture and as a path to reach, frighten, and dominate the upper crust of New Orleans Society.
She was a well-known hairdresser to all the wealthiest women in the city – and from that vantage point learned everybody’s secrets… and was not afraid to use that to her advantage.
Over the years, her story has grown… but even in the day it was something. From her Obituary in the 1881 New York Times (Read the whole thing):
THE DEAD VOODOO QUEEN
The New York Times
June 23, 1881 MARIE LAVEAU’S PLACE IN THE HISTORY OF NEW ORLEANS The early life of the beautiful young Creole – the prominent men who sought her advice and society – her charitable work – how she became an object of mystery.
New-Orleans, Jun 21 – Marie Laveau, the “Queen of the Voudous” died last Wednesday at the advanced age of 98 years. To the superstitious Creoles Marie appeared as a dealer in the black arts and a person to be dreaded and avoided. Strange stories were told of the rites performed by the sect of which Marie was the acknowledged sovereign. Many old residents asserted that on St. John’s night, the 24th of June, the Voudou clan had been seen in deserted places joining in wild, weird dances, all the participants in which were perfectly nude. The Voudous were thought to be invested with supernatural powers, and men sought them to find means to be rid of their enemies, while others asked for love powders to instill affection into the bosoms of their unwilling or unsuspecting sweethearts. Whether there ever was any such sect, and whether Marie was ever its Queen, her life was one to render such a belief possible. Besides knowing the secret healing qualities of the various herbs that grow in abundance in the woods and fields, she was endowed with more than the usual share of common sense, and her advice was oft-times really valuable and her penetration remarkable. Adding to these qualities the gift of great beauty, no wonder that she possessed a large influence in her youth and attracted the attention of Louisiana’s greatest men and most distinguished visitors. She was the creature of that peculiar state of society in which there was no marrying or giving in marriage; yet they were not like the angels in heaven.
Marie Laveau, one of the most wonderful women who ever lived, passed peaceably away. Her daughter Mme. Philomel Legendre, the only survivor of all Capt. Glapion’s children, who possessed many of the characteristics of her mother, Mme. Legendre two pretty daughters, ministered to the old lady’s last wants. She died without a struggle, with a smile lighting up her shriveled features. She was interred in her family tomb, by the side of Capt. Glapion. In the old St. Louis Cemetery, and with her is buried the most thrilling portion of the unwritten records of Louisiana. Although Marie Laveau’s history has been very much sought after, it has never been published. Cable has endeavored to portray her in the character of Palmyre in his novel of the “Grandissimes.” The secrets of her life, however, could only be obtained from the old lady herself, but she would never tell the smallest part of what she knew, and now her lips are closed forever and, as she could neither read nor write, not a scrap is left to chronicle the events of her exciting life.
We were seeing her (purported) tomb on the day after Halloween, and it was obvious there had been many visitors the day before. Not only was the crypt freshly festooned with a thick collection of triple XXXs (if you scratch three Xs into the stone, your wish will be granted) but there was a healthy pile of offerings to the Voodoo Queen piled up at the foot of the crypt. Empty liquor bottles, Mardi Gras Beads, money, hotel key cards, cigarettes, candles, plastic skulls, flowers, apples, golf balls, lipsticks, travel sized shampoo, partially unwrapped (but unbit) candy bars… on and on.
It was such a motley assortment – I can only guess at the desperate desires of some of the people that left the stuff behind – what is it that they need? Or want?
I hope that the Voodoo Queen’s spirit has enough Mojo left to help at least some of them… at least a little bit.
Halloween Offerings at Marie Laveau’s tomb. New Orleans. (click to enlarge)
Halloween Offerings at Marie Laveau’s tomb. New Orleans.
Marie Laveau’s Tomb
Offerings to Marie Laveau
“The Earth is beautiful, and bright, and kindly, but that is not all. The Earth is also terrible, and dark, and cruel. The rabbit shrieks dying in the green meadows. The mountains clench their great hands full of hidden fire. There are sharks in the sea, and there is cruelty in men’s eyes.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Tombs of Atuan
A while back we were driving down to the Cedars with a couple friends in the car, looking for something to do. We thought we’d stop by Lee Harvey’s for a beer and maybe a burger, but when we arrived there wasn’t a parking spot in blocks and the beer garden was packed. We weren’t looking for that kind of a crowd – we wanted more of a mellow scene – so we passed by. I was wondering what had attracted that many people so I looked it up later. It was a band called Naked Lunch – a Steely Dan tribute band.
Over time I kept hearing, here and there, how good Naked Lunch was. They were scheduled to play Friday Evening and I thought about going, but the week had been brutal, I was feeling my age, and decided I needed to stay home. Luckily, powerful thunderstorms tore through the Metroplex and the show (semi outdoors) was moved to Sunday afternoon.
I was checking the time out on Lee Harvey’s Facebook Page – and noticed their free food contest. Most days, the fifth commenter on their daily post gets a free drink and entree. I usually never paid attention, but this time I couldn’t help but notice that the post only had two comments. I counted to thirty… then typed “Can’t Buy A Thrill” into the comment line and was surprised to find out I had timed it right and was the winner.
So now we had to go.
Which was extra good because the weather was beautiful (there is no better weather… not even California weather… than late-summer Texas a day or two after a big storm) and the band was most excellent.
Naked Lunch has been playing Steely Dan for fifteen years now… and they have got it about figured out. At one point I was sitting at a picnic table, eating a bit and had my back turned to the band. I remember thinking, “If I didn’t know that was a tribute band playing, I would think someone was spinning some Steely Dan vinyl behind me.”
Of course, to put on a Steely Dan show you need a whale of a band (a lot more than you need for, say, Simon and Garfunkel). Three piece sax/horn section, two guitars, base, drums, xylophone/percussion, keyboards, and a couple of female backup singers. It makes for a big sound.
Since it was a rescheduled afternoon show it wasn’t quite as big a crowd as the time we had driven by. Still, there were a lot of folks, a very diverse crowd, and everybody had a great time.
At a show like this, with so much music over so long of a time, you have to think about what your favorite Steely Dan song is. For someone my age, “Reeling in the Years,” has to be the iconic piece of music, with its rambunctious guitars… or is it “Do it Again”? – man that one brings back memories, but in this, the second decade of the twenty-first century, neither are my favorite. The one I like best is “My Old School” and that amazing horn line. I’ve always had a weakness for instrumentals.
The only downside is that they didn’t do “Dirty Work” – Candy’s favorite.
Naked Lunch at Lee Harvey’s
They may be called “Backup Singers” but they’re pretty important, if you ask me.
Sax and trumpet.
Xylophone and percussion.
Naked Lunch at Lee Harvey’s
Another reason we like to go to Lee Harvey’s on Sundays is that they usually hold benefits for animal rescue groups and there are a lot of dogs in the garden. Candy likes that. Today, Dallas Pets Alive was having their anniversary party. They were selling raffle tickets and Candy, to support the group, bought a handful. Our luck held and we won a 50 buck gift certificate for Lee Harvey’s.
There is that very well known giant sculpture of a bigger-than-life cattle drive in downtown Dallas. You know the one – the one with all the tourists taking photographs.
But those aren’t the only bronze steers in the Metroplex. Out in Frisco, in a sort-of-hard-to-find spot called Central Park, they have a few put in.
Bronze cattle drive, Central Park, Frisco, Texas
The stone is strong, but the bronze is stronger. The cattle burst through the rocks piled into a wall – they explode with power – an irresistible force meets a strong, yet moveable object.
But at the moment they escape the stockade – exactly when they erupt into freedom… they are frozen. Suddenly motionless in space, trapped in static time – helpless. For what better prison than the polished and tranquil passage of silent, lifeless time. Time passed is more powerful than any corral of stone, the only inescapable confinement.
Like the bronze steers we are all given an eternal sentence in the slammer of time, trapped in a single moment, the eternal present.
The 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination is this November and Dallas is bracing for the event. When you live in Dallas, the assassination is an odd thing. It is the most famous historical event that has occurred here and it is what most people still think about when they think about Dallas. When the television show became wildly popular back in the day the people here were relieved because they figured that people would associate Dallas with J. R. Ewing, rather than the assassination. Same thing when the Cowboys are winning.
But those things have faded and with the half-century mark coming up, it’s time to live in infamy again. Dallas and most of the people that live here wish that the memory that horrible event occurred here – well, we wish that would be forgotten.
Everyone my age or older remembers where they were when they found out about the assassination. I was in third grade, in New York (state, a little up the Hudson from the city) and I remember going out to catch the bus home, and the bus was not there. I guess we were sent home from school early. We were waiting with our teacher with us and someone came up to talk to her, both women were very upset. We didn’t know what was going on and all I heard was “shot and killed.”
At that age, the world looks different. I put the phrase “shot and killed” together with our missing bus and assumed that our bus driver had been murdered. Later, when I found out it was the president, I was sort-of relieved. I knew my bus driver personally, after all.
At any rate, the tour was inexpensive and looked like fun – I am always up for learning about my city – so we signed up. It started, not surprisingly, at Lee Harvey’s – a beer garden/restaurant/live music spot/dive bar – in the Cedars. We met there, piled into an air-conditioned coach, and set off.
Our first stop was Dealey Plaza. There are always a lot of tourists there, and a lot of tours, guides and sellers of conspiracy theory books and materials. Our guide was really good. He was Jerry Dealey, the great grand-nephew of George Dealey – the guy that Dealey Plaza was named after. He said he was from the poor branch of the family.
Our tour in front of the Texas School Book Depository
Our tour in Dealey Plaza.
What was nice was that he gave a “fair” tour – as far as all the conspiracy theories go. He said something that makes sense to me, “We will never know for certain exactly what happened, and anyone that thinks they know is wrong.” So he covered a lot of the more well-known theories… but also did point out those that are clearly completely impossible or flat out wrong (many having to do with Oliver Stone’s film).
For a rare moment, the area cleared. This is the spot of the fatal shot, marked by the X. Abraham Zapruder was standing on that white concrete pillar in the foreground when he made his famous film.
I remember when I first moved to Dallas, I lived in Oak Cliff and worked downtown. My bus would go through Dealey Plaza twice a day – it was a month before I realized that was the assassination site.
The Texas School Book Depository from Dealey Plaza.
Then we drove over to Oak Cliff to see where Oswald lived, then visited the site where Officer Tippit was murdered, and then on to the Texas Theater where Oswald was arrested (for shooting Tippit). That was surreal, because I spend so much time in Oak Cliff, especially on my bicycle, that I am very familiar with the streets and hadn’t really thought about the web of history that is overlain on such familiar turf. I have ridden my bike past Oswald’s rooming house, for example, a dozen times in the last few months, without knowing its infamy.
Then we headed out west, to Fort Worth to visit Oswald’s grave. It’s a fairly isolated spot, and hard to find (the cemetery will not give directions or help locating it). We parked the bus on a side street and then trudged over to the grave. It was more interesting than you would think… not because of Oswald per se. It’s especially interesting because of the mystery of NICK BEEF.
Oswald and NICK BEEF
Lee Harvey Oswald’s original tombstone was stolen and replaced with a simple marker that says, “Oswald.” Then, in 1997, right next to his grave appeared a mysterious stone, the same size and type that said, simply, “NICK BEEF.”
Of course, that mysterious stone supplied fodder for all sorts of wild stories. It wasn’t until this year that the New York Times finally was able to run it to ground. No wild conspiracy, simply an eccentric New Yorker – nonperforming performance artist with a morbid artistic sensibility – that as a child saw Kennedy at Carswell Air Force Base the day before he died. It left a lifelong impression and when he found out that nobody wanted to buy the plot next to Oswald… well, NICK BEEF was, umm born.
We headed back to Dallas to see some spots related to Jack Ruby and his killing of Oswald. Then we returned to Lee Harvey’s for a couple beers and hamburgers.
It was a fun day. They are going to do some more tours – a Haunted Dallas tour around Halloween, a “Dirty Dallas” about the history of the city’s seamy side, and (the one that I am really interested in) a Bonnie and Clyde tour.
Sounds like a plan.
There was a famous person on our tour. They announced that the music artist/rapper MC 900 Ft Jesus was a member of the company. They wouldn’t say which person he was, but… after a bit of looking and thinking, I figured it out.
Dallashenge from the triple underpass in Dealey Plaza. This is an HDR image – three shots taken at different exposures and combined with software.