2000 Notebook: Transition XXV
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23 July 2000
Frying Up a Mess of Onions and Garlic in Olive Oil
I visited Reve and Stebecca’s the other night, and was delighted to discover that Reve was frying up a mess of potatoes, onions, and garlic in olive oil. I was tempted to say, “Mmmm, smells good,” but I didn’t.

One might ask why I failed to pay my host such an obvious compliment. If one did ask, I would answer that such obvious praise was, in fact, so very obvious. Although I’m usually a good host, I have been universally rude to any guest who remarks, “Mmmm, smells good,” when all I’ve done in the early stages of preparing dinner is to fry up a mess of onions and garlic in olive oil.

“Thanks,” I usually reply, “but I believe it’s impossible to generate anything but an appetizing smell during the course of frying up a mess of onions and garlic in olive oil.” (I could have added “unless you’re a vampire,” but since none of my guests have been on the other side of the vampire fence, that’s a disclaimer I’ve never needed.)

I know it’s an impolite remark at best, but it’s almost an involuntary reflex. Almost. Now, if someone came into Vladimir’s apartment when he was frying up some of his notorious ketchup steaks, “Mmmm, smells good,” would be a welcome comment. But, to Vladimir’s eternal frustration, that will never happen, never ever.

24 July 2000
Not Listening to Writers, Mostly
I was half-listening to the radio, and think I may have heard a quote attributed to Duke Ellington: “Take your first idea and throw it away.” That reminded me of another bit of advice from Arthur Quiller-Couch, “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

I ignored this counsel for a couple of reasons. First, if I discarded all my initial ideas as well as the things I thought were good, this notebook would be even emptier than it is now. Second, I’ve found it profitable to only follow advice that suggests that I continue to do more or less what I’ve been doing. This approach stops too many new and unnecessary thoughts from clogging my brain. (It only makes sense that when one new concept enters a full brain, another one has to leave.)

And so it is that when it comes to learning about writing from writers, I like Alexandre Dumas’s position. “If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don’t listen to writers talking about writing or themselves.”

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25 July 2000
Old Rug with Eight Swastikas
Al has a rug on the wall of his studio; American Indians or Native Americans or the People From Whom We Stole the United States (and Quite a Bit of Canada Too) made the floor covering in the 1920s. Only it’s not really a floor covering as such; Al says it’s unlikely that anyone ever walked on it.

The most obvious thing about the rug is the strong graphic design in general and eight swastikas in particular. Five of the swastikas point in the direction of the Nazi swastika; the other three are mirror images of the sign that, for the next century or two, will be most closely associated with the barbarism of the second world war. Of course, none of the swastikas on Al’s rug are Nazi swastikas, since the piece was made years before Hitler and his thugs hijacked this ancient symbol.

After a previous visit with Al, I asked my traveling companion—who just happened to be Jewish—if he had noticed the swastikas on the rug. He said that he had in fact seen them, and wished he had not. (I’m not sure if I’m quoting him correctly; we had this conversation a year or so ago.) I argued that it was an innocent piece since it was made well before the Nazis came to power. He said something to the effect that, “a swastika is a swastika is a swastika is a Nazi emblem.” We agreed to disagree.

I mentioned this conversation to Al; he was surprised. He said no one—including our mutual friend or any of his other Jewish friends—had ever made a critical remark about the rug. The moral of this story is that this story has no moral, at least not an obvious one.

26 July 2000
Back to f64, Briefly
I’m visiting a friend in Carmel by the Sea, California. It’s an interesting place to visit, full of memories. In this case, most of my memories are from a time before I was born, a time when this part of California was more or less headquarters for the f64 boys. (And, for the record, most of those photographers of record were males.)

Almost all of the original f64 boys are dead, but the place is still teeming with third-generation—and, many would argue, third-rate—photographers of the f64 cult. The f64 cult’s still around, but as a lifeless—albeit animated and profitable—cadaver.

I was reminded of this when I ran across a “new” Ansel Adams book, The American Wilderness. This oversized publication, authorized by the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust, is yet another coffee-table book of his famous photographs, rerun in a slightly different sequence than myriad similar offerings. The keepers of Ansel’s flame have accomplished quite a feat in turning a rascally, sometimes passionate, photographer into just another twenty-first century content provider. I’m beginning to understand why I’ve never heard anyone mention the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust without using defamatory language.

The studio where I’m staying is just up the hill from Edward Weston’s last home. When I open the window, I can hear the seals at Point Lobos barking the night away. All this history is so near, but so very far away.

I found a relevant observation by Ovid when I was rummaging through the studio library: “All things change, nothing is extinguished ... There is nothing in the whole world which is permanent. Everything flows onward; all things are brought into being with a changing nature; the ages themselves glide by in constant movement.”

It’s fun to go back in time, but I’m glad I’m not staying here.

27 July 2000
Possibly Three Forms of Sex
I saw the familiar phrase, “recreational sex,” in a magazine, then tried to remember an instance of anyone using the words, “procreational sex,” to describe the alternative. And before I had much of a chance to ponder that for very long, I wondered if recreational sex that accidentally becomes procreational sex is miscreational sex.

I didn’t spend too much time considering such linguistic matters; I knew those words were just a trail of bread crumbs that only lead to the tip of the iceberg.

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28 July 2000
Blame It on the Romans
There’s a reason the railroad tracks between San Francisco and San Jose are so narrow: blame it on the Romans.

Sort of.

According to my sources, once upon a time some Californians hired some contractors to build a railroad between San Francisco and San Jose. The company’s engineers were British, and they built the railroad much narrower than most any other railroad in North America: fifty-six and one half inches. In fact, they simply used the same narrow gauge standard throughout England.

Now here’s the interesting part of this story. Why did the Brits build such a poorly-designed railway in the first place? The answer is the Romans, or, more accurately, their roads. It turns out that the unimaginative Brits just laid their rails in the ruts of the old Roman roads. And those ruts were fifty-six and one half inches apart, a distance not uncoincidentally equal to the distance between the wheels of a Roman chariot.

29 July 2000
A Promising Saturday
I’m finding it hard to get to work this Saturday. Even though I haven’t worked a Monday-to-Friday job in many, many years, I still have an almost vestigial memory of Saturday and Sunday being days of rest.

My mother taught me that I’ll never have a rewarding future without hard work, and I know that’s certainly true. On the other hand, laziness pays off right away. And so it is that I shall savor the immediate gratification of slothfulness.

This promises to be a very rewarding day.

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30 July 2000
Big Beer Truck Deal
There’s a fair outside the laboratory’s east entrance, and the natives are restless. But not for long: this fair has a big beer truck. One of the laboratory agents negotiated a very favorable deal with the beer truck driver: our representative exchanged one of the thingies we produce for all the beer we could drink before the driver took his truck away.

I wasn’t impressed until I got my first glass of beer. One of the laboratory assistants used my 1.15 liter glass coffee pot as an ersatz beer stein. What a clever lad! What value! It will be hard to go back to the little beers tomorrow.

31 July 2000
A Really Moving Book
Inner Crystal Light Press sent me a review copy of Everett deCourt’s book, Sacred Eyes in Holy Places. I will never write about such self-indulgent new age garbage, except to say this: the book was very moving. The silly volume was already traveling pretty fast when I threw it out the window, and the tome was really moving by the time it landed in a puddle twenty meters below.

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©2000 David Glenn Rinehart