New York, New York…

“We got rats on the west side, bed bugs uptown.” “Go ahead, bite the big apple, don’t mind the maggots,” and yet Jagger sums it up: “Pile it up, pile it up/pile it high on the platter.”

Shattered, Mick Jagger

“I love New York. You can pop out of the Underworld in Central Park, hail a taxi, head down Fifth Avenue with a giant hellhound loping behind you, and nobody even looks at you funny.”

Rick Riordan

“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”

Tom Wolfe

“What’s the use of a great city having temptations if fellows don’t yield to them?”

P.G. Wodehouse, Carry on, Jeeves

What’s that? You’ve never had a dirty dog? What sort of plebe are you? I suppose we all remember our first. I certainly do. And it was terrific. Sorry, sort of turned down a blind alleyway off memory lane. But New York was one of those fantastic places I had heard of; a place that existed in books. How could such a place exist. Surely it must be down the same ethereal street as Shangri-La, El Dorado, or gasp Camelot. These places have loomed large in my mind since childhood. Peter Maas’ Frank Serpico described living in Brooklyn in such glorious detail, I could taste the fresh mozzarella. It was a place of magic as well. I mean why else would a sea of humanity cram itself out in the freezing cold just to count down to an arbitrary division of time?

These fantasy cities are similar, as memories, they are often disjointed, discreet, pieces of wildly vivid, and familiar, sights, sounds, and importance. Lady Liberty facing the sea, welcoming all. What a wondrous thing to exist. “Can I sell you a bridge?” Ahh, the Brooklyn Bridge. Say no more. (Yet I will.) The first time you went to the top of the Empire State Building has to be a place fixed in multitudes of memories. Or, and this is one of my favorites, watching the face of a Times Square virgin as they come up out of the subway and see the extravagant splendor of a veritable day at night. I’m afraid this post would be much to long-winded if I were to name all these landmarks, but suffice it say, just as with all the mythical places. And indeed the landmarks are fixed places in space and time. Or so it seems. A somber visit to the World Trade Center memorial helps to bring reality home. Unlike true fantasy cities, this city is real. And what makes it real is the tendrils of reality interwoven between them. The seedy sides, the soft sides, the thriving humanity that truly makes this city.

By the glistening bicep of Thor! Yes, Thor’s bicep is indeed glorious, yet it’s nothing without the sinews and ligaments holding it in place, and allowing it to do its superheroing. And as such, how could anyone write about New York without mentioning the sinew that holds it together? The connecting ligaments which give it the strength to do its superheroing? The MTA. The Subway. Is it a blessing, or is it just something to put up with? “The ‘R’, or ‘Rarely’,” every New Yorker has a phrase to sum up his or her love/hate relationship with the subway. “What is this, a local?” Kenneth’s quip had meaning on that elevator, and this aspect of the city follows you everywhere. I have to admit, my visits to the city are infrequent enough that I tend to forget all the little lessons and shortcuts of subway travel. But then that sort of makes the refreshing of the layout even more fun. The subway may be packed, may be smelly (on occasion), and the hawkers can be quaint until they get a little too pushy. But I love it enough to wish this curse on my city. My god if there were a subway, or light-rail, in Nashville, I would definitely make a trip up there frequently. Who knows… it might even be magical.

I’d guess I should just say… it’s my kind of town.

Writing… winnowing out the packing peanuts

 
 
“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing
 
“So many large words, as though syllables will hide the truth” Sharon Mock, She Walks in Shadows
 
“Vigorous writing is concise.” Walter Strunk Jr.
 
As a software person, I try to keep aware of the technologies available to me. Whether I choose to use them or not. Part of my awareness program is reading articles and white papers. One issue I find, more often than not, is superfluous and, often, hyperbolic text jammed around the meat of what I need to consume. For instance, I am reading more and more about something called NoSQL databases. I am aware of what they are, and generally enough of how they work. But I’m trying to make clear to myself when and where one would choose this form of database. Almost every article I read has so much fluff surrounding the core thesis, it makes it difficult to find the “bullet points” I need. Things such as, “in response to the voluminous rise of chaotic data”, or “the original design of relational databases do not meet the exponentially growing needs of scaling and agility of modern applications.” I have purposefully altered the text so no one source will stand out. It is often exasperating to try to find the information inside all this hyperbolic jargon. And yet, I am guilty of the same thing.
 
When I write for pleasure, mostly fiction, I find quite often my eyes straying to the word count. “Cool, almost a thousand words so far in my short story!” Yet after allowing my fevered brain to cool off a bit and re-read the story, I typically find no single thread of my original plot line, and so many tangental strays it’s hard to count them. My dilemma then is, do I just command-a and delete, or spend the time trying to sort the whole mess out. The former is usually the best choice. Hemingway said, “write drunk, and edit sober.” Sadly my sober writing self makes my editor self need a drink.
 
Writers write. Or so my lizard brain tends to think. Therefore if I want to be a writer, then by god I need to write. Words. Lots of them. That there is writing wouldn’t ya’ say? Hmmm. Maybe not. Think of when you get that couch-sized box delivered, and after tearing into it you find a single pen you’ve ordered… buried somewhere in millions of packing peanuts. And you think, *jeez, what a total waste.* That’s the fluff. That’s the purple prose. That’s the useless crap that gets in the way of what you really need. And if I can just sit back for a minute and sip a mint julep (well Ernest, I guess I won’t be editing now) and just remember what it is I love, and have so loved, about reading, I’ll most likely notice it is the “S” word. The story. Oh yeah, I’ve heard of those. Tolkien drew me into a wonderful fantasy world filled with darkness, but then pulled back a curtain to show the spark of joy and hope that can be gleaned from even the darkest of nights. Bradbury, Clark, Heinlein, and so many others blew my mind out of the stratosphere, and showed me the marvels of the universe. And the universe’s perils. Donaldson tripped my brain on other worlds where everything I thought I knew was turned on its head. And a protagonist who often acted as the converse. “Why?!” I’d shout in my head as Halfhand did some other horrible thing. The more words the better? No, not really. Yep, it’s the stories, not the words. Well, sort of. Words are the communication medium writers use to give us the story. But the greatest writers, the ones we want to read anyway, are the ones who tune these worded stories to a razor’s edge (another great story) to slip us into his or her vision. It’s like a radio signal to our brain, and no static at all. So all you writers (including tech writers), take note. Leave out the fluff, tune us in, and we’ll tap our foot to your tune with no static. At all.
 
Peace, love, and light.
 
Marv

Café Culture – The Reminiscence

 

Geneva 2013 Pub

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” – Ernest Hemingway

“Paris is always a good idea.” – Audrey Hepburn

“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.” Thomas Jefferson

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller

It’s been five years since I’ve set foot on the European continent. And I miss it more and more every second of every day. My first trip to Europe, France in 2011, was momentous, mesmerizing, and eye-opening. When I came home to the states, a friend stopped me on the street and marveled at how I’d changed. And I had. The old country of Europe had left its mark on me.

French Farmers Market

I recall marveling at the daily (or at least frequent during my visit) fresh farmers’ markets on the streets of Paris, where folks would by today’s meal. I think it’s funny how in the past decade farmer’s markets have become the “thing” here in the states. But has been a regular thing in Europe. I recall eating something in the airport when I first returned to the states, and I felt ill afterwards. Probably psychosomatic, but I felt it nonetheless. France is known for its culinary prowess, but I feel that extends beyond the “haute cuisine” restaurants, and filters into everyday people’s lives. One of the reasons for my visit to France was to visit my son, who was studying at the Université d’Orléans as part of his French degree. Whilst there he stayed with a host family, and I was privileged enough to be able to stay with them. Meeting his host family was one of the greatest events in my life. I have since remained friends with them, and look forward to visiting them again someday. But during my initial visit, one thing which struck me was the common trend of fresh foods and the “event” of the meal. Several times, we had dinner events which included the quintessential multiple courses, with drink appropriate for each course, including German beer for the sausage and kraut course. This has stayed with me ever since. And though I don’t practice this, it remains such a prominent memory.

I’m a weird cat, in more ways than one, but for each of my visits to France, I’ve focused more on the beers than the wines. Yeah, I know… a missed opportunity. Well, I look at it as a reason to return. But the beers. My beer of choice these days is Stella, and this could possibly stem from my France visits. Beer and coffee, two of my favorite drinks to enjoy as I enjoyed all the France had to offer. You may have thought I’d gotten off topic, and you’re actually right… I did digress a bit with French foods, but here we are. Sipping a nice drink outside a typical French brasserie as I watched life go by was wonderful. And knowing I had the options of delicious French foods waiting was the reason for my digression. And I will not apologize! As I’m typing this missive, I’ve had a gentle epiphany. I’m really a simple fella. I do like haute cuisine, but the basics are more than enough for me. Give me a beer and something like the common French café and brasserie treat of  “steak frites” and I’m happy.

Steak frites Paris

What is it I like about the café culture? Mostly what is missing here in the states. Though there are instances of sidewalk cafés here, they are the exception more than the rule. One exception is a cigar bar here in Murfreesboro, unbelievably they are allowed to have beer and cigars right there on the sidewalk! And I can sit there and watch the small world of Murfreesboro go by. Quite enjoyable. These exceptions here though, are the rule in France/Europe (the parts of Europe I’ve visited). And one of the main reasons I go there.

1664 in Paris

À votre santé!

Paix et aime mes amis !!

The Sun Also Rises

“You know it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch.”
“Yes.”
It’s sort of what we have instead of God.”
“Some people have God,” I said. “Quite a lot.”
“He never worked very well with me.”
“Should we have another martini?” – Lady Ashley and Jake Barnes.

A novel by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway’s “roman à clef” of his post-war years in Paris. Where he mixed with his fellow members of the Lost Generation. I feel Hemingway was juxtaposing the romanticized lifestyle of himself and his fellow expatriates. A wafting energy against the immutable landscape of Europe. A Europe which seemed to be the very picture of the unchanging earth. The fiesta in Spain with its annual celebrants, risking, and sometimes realizing, death for sport in the running of the bulls. Immersed in everlasting tradition, this little group of lost souls, lost to the scene around them and lost to each other, with Jake Barnes being one who can see a bit of both.

The original working title for the story was Fiesta, but after consideration, Hemingway changed the title to The Sun Also Rises, based on a quotation from Ecclesiastes: “What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.”

For my part, there was a feeling of melancholy while reading this book. Many of the characters seemed to act out, but I felt they were doing so because they were indeed trying to find a path. Lost, but for a myriad of reasons. And when they came together there was almost this continual scraping of the veneer of social graces… revealing the true nature beneath.

I greatly enjoyed reading this book. Hemingway has a way of showing us real people; without all the trappings of normalcy, but rather who these people really are.

Wallander

“Police work wouldn’t be possible without coffee,” Wallander said.
“No work would be possible without coffee.”
They pondered the importance of coffee in silence.”
– Henning Mankell, One Step Behind

“People always leave traces. No person is without a shadow.”
– Henning Mankell, The Troubled Man

“‎Not having time for a person, not being able to sit in silence together with somebody, that’s the same as rejecting them, as being scornful about them.”
– Henning Mankell, The White Lioness

“The stories I create are never as awful as reality.”
– Henning Mankell

I have been watching the Wallander series for several years now. I recall, whilst on a British crime drama bent, finding this series, and becoming so enraptured with Kenneth Branagh’s performance as a middle-aged (+) Swedish detective, with whom I could do easily relate. After the first couple of shows, I looked up the  writer, and started reading, voraciously I might add, all of his work. Well, the Wallander work. I was not disappointed by either the novels, nor the BBC’s depictions of the the novels.

One funny thing about the BBC production I noticed is that instead of trying to adapt the production to Sweden, or the setting of the stories to Britain, the production simply compromised: Set in Sweden, but totally in a British language and accent. Yet the signs, newspapers, and documents are in Swedish. I kind of like that.

When I first started the series, it was after I had watched Marvel’s Thor movies, and Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki in the Thor movies, is in the first few series of this show. As a fan of Loki/Hiddleston, that did help to draw me in. Another thing is that since this is a BBC production, there are several British actors whom I see in this. Such as Nicholas Hoult, and more. Much fun to see them in this series.

But to the point, Wallander is a character I can relate to. He is at a point in his life where he has achieved some modicum of success. But he is keenly aware of his faults. His failures. He’s aging, and feeling it, yet he still has the intuition which has guided him in his life. He’s no spring chicken, but he’s certainly not out of the game. An interesting thing with the show is Wallander’s ring tone on his “flip phone”.  In the internet age, it’s a definite throwback. A man struggling to embrace the future, but hanging on the past. In one episode his daughter creates an online dating profile for him, but it seems the best he can do is check the email that comes in. Wallander is a force of nature, yet an anachronism. But, in true dramatic fashion, Wallander finds the way. Wallander solves the  crime. Often haltingly, and definitely not in an elegant fashion, but he does solve the crime. And that… I like.

Series one through three are amazing. I’ve just started series four, and the one episode I’ve seen was good, but I believe there is something missing. I’ll report back my later findings.

Peace and love.

Marv

Life is amazing.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” – Lao Tzu

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

And so it is with mine, Life that is. I have found myself experiencing quite a few “I never would have thought I would be…” moments in the past few years. Most, but not all, have been associated with travel; and what moments of travel I have experienced. During my younger years I had the opportunity to, quite literally, travel around the world. This early travel was all on Uncle Sam’s dime, hell I even got paid. This came with a trade off though: I went where the Navy took me, and sometimes I didn’t get much liberty — time off from work– whilst there. For instance, I was fortunate enough to visit Auckland New Zealand but I only had a day and a half of liberty… and this wasn’t contiguous. Having said all of this, I think the worst part of traveling when I was young, and I’m only speaking for myself here, not all young people, was that I was young and pretty much dumb. Not stupid, I think I’m a reasonably intelligent fellow, but boy was I dumb. With this dumbness was a generally diminished realization of just how awesome it was to be where I was. But I was still there, and I’m happy with that.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still kind of dumb. But I think I am much more aware of some of the awesomeness happening to me. Which leads me to this amazing travel I’ve had the pleasure to experience the past few years. In 2011 I visited Europe, France in particular, for the first time, and it was… dare I say it? Amazing. I made some good friends whilst there, and look forward to going back again. Then in 2013 I went back to Europe. This time I experienced Geneva Switzerland and got to visit CERN. Thank you Jim, and Terrah. What a breath taking experience. (Oh look, a different superlative!) Followed up with a visit to my French Friends and a fun-filled trip to their chalet in southeastern France. Thank you Claude, and Martine. And now, on to this year. In May of 2015 I visited my eldest son, Ethan, who is teaching English in Seoul Korea. One of the great things about visiting someone who lives in the location is that you get an even more in depth, and immersed, experience of the locality. This is what happened in Korea. I was able to stay in the “thick” of the action in Bucheon, near Seoul, and experience the local culture with some wonderful guides. Thank you to Ethan, Hana, and Hyesun. As if that were not enough, this trip also included a nice, though short, trip to Kyoto Japan. I honestly cannot think of a superlative that properly conveys the feeling of awe I have when I reminisce about this trip. Amazing just doesn’t even come close.

All of this rambling has led me to this point. In the past few years I have: mumbled, stammered, whispered (in awe), and otherwise exclaimed, “I never, ever, would have thought I would be here.” While staring off into the, relatively short, distance at the North Korean flag; hiking to the top of a hill (thank you Ethan for cajoling me onward and upward) to find a breathtaking vista at a temple overlooking Kyoto; riding the clean and speedy subway to the Seoul’s city center, and experiencing the juxtaposition of old and new Korea, with the looming mountains of Korea as a backdrop to the beautiful Gyeonbokgung palace adjacent to towering glass and steel buildings showcasing South Korea’s prosperity.

I never would have ever thought that I’d be the places I’ve been. And this leads me to wonder, “oh where oh where shall I go next?!” Where indeed.

Peace and Love to all.

Marv

The Rock Quarry

I have climbed Mount Everest. I have also climbed the Matterhorn. I have fought German Panzers advancing on Patton’s position. I have broken trail with Daniel Boone. And I have parlayed with the leaders of the Sioux nation whilst living amongst them as a mountain man. All within earshot of my mother calling me to dinner.

This place of magic and imagination was “the rock quarry”, a unique and wonderful throwback to a time of growth in the area. It was a place nestled in a juxtaposition of time, born in an era when life was much harder, and the fingerprints of pioneer technology were still evident. Yet this place existed in my modern childhood; a time of television, fast cars, and free-love — which I was too young for dammit.

In the early twentieth century the wave of westward expansion had swept over the area long ago. Knoxville’s river-city heyday had come and gone, and out in the country we were left with mostly just filling in the lines. The county I grew up in was ‘modernizing’ its infrastructure; building new roads, and improving some of the existing secondary roadways. A final gasp of its mule-powered muscles; mules and manpower in lieu of dump trucks and mechanical excavators, and without the means to haul the roadbed materials, the county dug quarries along the way. The use of local resources, both terrestrial and human, was necessary, and gave many of the locals a bit of profit. Sweat equity had a different meaning back then. The original purpose of these quarries was utilitarian, but by the time I came along that original purpose was gone, and for me it was a place of inspiration, challenge, and adventure.

Though my childhood was an amazing slice of time compared to the era when the rock quarry was born, it was pretty antiquated compared to life today. We had television, but could receive only two of Knoxville’s three stations. We received the third station, the station that broadcast Batman had just enough to barely make out Adam West as he pondered whatever superheroes ponder; this was a tease that bothered me to no end. I recall once during a futile attempt at adjusting the little flags of aluminum foil wrapped strategically around the rabbit ears I was able to make out “to the bat cave Robin”; which totally made my day. I believe I commanded my family *to the bat cave* for the next two weeks. Even with just two stations, there was still plenty of fodder for my imagination: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; Lost in Space; Davy Crockett; and the updates to the Apollo missions amongst many. I did mention that regardless of my lack of television I did grow up in an amazing time didn’t I? Television and space exploration not withstanding, my solace and recreation was in comic books, and the  forest around my house.

My family lived in the ‘holler’. I have to be honest, it just sounds funny to call it the hollow even though geologically it is a hollow depression in the ridge, probably caused by the collapse of some ancient limestone cavern long ago. Still yet it was the holler to me, and to everyone I knew. At the time, our gravel driveway left the main roadway through a small meadow — beautiful, but prone to flooding — and across a homemade wooden bridge. This was the sort of bridge with broad braces on angled support poles with planks perpendicular to the braces creating runners for your tires. I can’t tell you how many people would take one look at that bridge and give a hearty “hell no.” (Most likely a “heck no”, we were in a good Baptist community after all.) Across the bridge, the driveway followed a brook, the “branch”, whose violent past had likely cut an easy path out of the holler and down into the valley. The driveway curved left and ascended up into the hollow… uh, I mean holler, and a couple dozen yards up, the quarry appeared on the left like a gaping cavity in the hillside. This cavity sloped slightly downward into a crescent-shaped cutout, and the floor of this cutout was carpeted with fine gravel – obviously these were the tailings of the quarrying operation. Though the quarry wasn’t actually very tall, maybe thirty feet at its zenith, still, the deeper you went into the cutout, the more you had to crane your neck to see the top of the quarry. Because of the topography of the hillside, the contours of the quarry’s height followed a sharp parabola. A wizened climber would have chosen one of the side routes to easily scamper up, but not the thrill-seeking adventurer such as I. No, for me it would be straight up the middle, with only the slightest meander around a protruding boulder and then latching onto the cedar tree that grew from a crack in a boulder face and up to the top of this escarpment I would spring. Sir Edmund Hillary himself could not have been more proud than I was on any of my many successful climbs. Standing at the top of the quarry my gaze was unhindered of the main road in the valley below. And it was here that I was indeed ‘King’ of my mountain. And it was here that my imagination would soar.

You may recall that the woods, and the quarry in the woods, were the place I could unleash my imagination, and the television shows I watched gave me inspiration, but so did comic books. I recall reading war comics like Sgt. Fury, and the Howling Commandos, I would devour these stories and then reenact them as soon as daylight came. A tobacco stick, or some other ‘mostly’ straight piece of wood served as my M1 carbine; or perhaps I’d break the stick a bit smaller and it would be my ‘Tommy gun’. For me it didn’t matter what story I was reliving, nor its source: comics, television shows, or even the encyclopedias I read with great enthusiasm, I could always find some place in the quarry to relive it. The large cracks in the rocks were my Crystal Cave, and I would either be the modern Floyd Collins (who met his death while exploring Mammoth Caves), or the fictional Merlin experiencing his historic visions in his Crystal Cave, or Sgt. Fury savoring his victory whilst chomping on a stogie. The rock quarry was everything and anything to my growing imagination.

Though my Everest was not so tall, and the Panzers and Germans were only in my mind, my imagination paved the way for many facets of my life; most of my successes, when thoughtfully analyzed, clearly show among their sources the spark of creativity that the rock quarry gave me. Erosion, encroaching development, and kudzu will slowly render my rock quarry into little more than a steeply sloped gravel pile, but it will remain a bastion of adventure for me. And for this I am eternally grateful.

Peace and Love.

Marv