bonhomie and brutality !

Fortunatus, that versatile, gentle, genial, boot-licking gourmet, who somehow managed to write two of the most magnificent hymns of the Christian church, came from Italy on a visit to Gaul in 565 and never left it again. He traveled all over the Frankish lands, in what had been Germania as well as in what had been Gaul. From Trier to Toulouse he made his way with ease by river and by road, and it might be Ausonius again. Fortunatus too writes a poem on the Moselle; and there is the same smiling countryside with terraced vineyards sloping down to the quiet stream and the smoke of villas rising from the woods. Fortunatus too made the round of the country houses, especially of the sumptuous villages belonging to Leontius bishop of Bordeaux, a great Gallo-Roman aristocrat, whose grandfather had been a friend of Sidonius. The hot baths, the pillared porticos, the lawns sloping to the river, are all there; the feasts are even more magnificent (they upset Fortunatus’s digestion badly) and the talk is still of literature…

But when you look again you realize that it is not the same. It is not merely because we know that even these remnants of the social and material civilization of Rome would soon themselves die away that the tragedy of the sixth century looms so dark. It is because when we look below the surface we see that the life has gone out of it all, the soul that inflamed it is dead, nothing is now left but the empty shell. These men welcome Fortunatus just because he comes from Italy, where the rot has gone less far, where there still survives some reputation for learning and for culture. They slake their nostalgia a little in the presence of that enfant perdue of a lost civilization…

Why did they not realize the magnitude of the disaster that was befalling them?…

In the first place the process of disintegration was a slow one, for the whole tempo of life was slow and what might take decades in our own time took centuries then. It is only because we can look back from the vantage point of a much later age that we can see the inexorable pattern which events are forming, so that we long to cry to these dead people down the corridor of the ages, warning them to make a stand before it is too late, hearing no answering echo, ‘Physician, heal thyself!’ They suffered from the fatal myopia of contemporaries. It was the affairs of the moment that occupied them; for them it was the danger of the moment that must be averted and they did not recognize that each compromise and each defeat was a link in the chain dragging them over the abyss…

The fact is that the Romans were blinded to what was happening to them by the very perfection of the material culture which they had created. All around them was solidity and comfort, a material existence which was the very antithesis of barbarism. How could they foresee the day when the Norman chronicler would marvel over the broken hypocausts of Caerleon? How could they imagine that anything so solid might conceivably disappear? Their roads grew better as their statesmanship grew worse and central heating triumphed as civilization fell.

But still more responsible for their unawareness was the education system in which they were reared… and it would be difficult to imagine an education more entirely out of touch with contemporary life, or less suited to inculcate the qualities which might have enabled men to deal with it. The fatal study of rhetoric, its links with reality long since severed, concentrated the whole attention of men of intellect on form rather than on matter. The things they learned in their schools had no relation to the things that were going on in the world outside and bred in them the fatal illusion that tomorrow would be as yesterday, that everything was the same, whereas everything was so different.”

-Eileen Power
Medieval People
1924

la peste

‘Paneloux is a man of learning, a scholar. He hasn’t come in contact with death; that’s why he can speak with such assurance of the truth—with a capital T. But every county priest who visits his parishioners and has heard a man gasping for breath on his deathbed thinks as I do. He’d try to relieve human suffering before trying to point out its excellence.’”

-Albert Camus
The Plague

Grandmother

GloriaBaseballmom.jpg

This is my grandma Gloria in a photoshoot for the Daily Breeze newspaper in Redondo. A Little League story. She was born in South Central LA in 1922 as Gladys Esther Tremain, but later changed her name to Gloria and added the ‘e’ to Tremaine, a Cornish, French-given name meaning ‘Three Hands.’ She altered many things, apparently she even fibbed about her age to slice a few years. I like to imagine her reshaping reality in all sorts of little ways, in an LA still pouring its concrete. An LA that too was reimagining its vision of the future. I see her driving a rectangle along the Esplanade, a car like a boat, wearing cat-eye sunglasses, feeding her pet tarantula, skinny-dipping in Big Bear, eating eclairs my grandpa brought for her office breaks in Malaga Cove, taking the ferry to Catalina, spiraling around the kitchen in big skirts, calling in her boys for dinner, collecting deliveries of fresh Wonder Bread at the door. Her nephew drove that polka-dotted van all his life. Wonder what they’d think about my sourdough-eating ass. I never met her, she died in 1974 of ovarian cancer. My dad and uncle were just teenagers. But her forward outlook remains. I think about her all the time—especially when I see my cousin Amber—and like to imagine, as she would’ve, that we are very close.

The truth is that there are two ways in which the future can become obsolete. One is through the inability to imagine the New: in this model, the idea of building a Tower never occurs to us; we are content to stay on the ground. The other happens when the New becomes so perpetual and unrelenting, when the construction of the Tower becomes so consuming, that we no longer have the luxury or the inclination to look up… You cannot have a future without a sense of the past, and there is no quicker way to make both obsolete than by insisting on the urgency and the singularity of the present.”

Meghan O’Gieblyn on deep time
and Long Now’s 10,000-year clock

West

Three hundred years ago he moved from Bern and changed his name from Aebi to Avey to sound a bit more neutral, a bit more American. I’ve been thinking more about what it means to be American. Who, how, why. I have some reference points. It was easy to move to Germany. Music I know is everywhere I go. My Colombian father-in-law told me to hide my passport because it might get stolen. I underestimate that blue cover. The public schools and libraries. Hiding a heritage of human sorrow and potential. Somehow still allergic to this land. Poison oak forms a resistance on the trails we blaze. Oozing with red bumps, making me question the way. I’m the non-native species. Make it more American. But how? From the jazz to the mundane. Paint the spectrum black or white. The distance between what you know and want to know lies in what you create. Between places you’ve been and places you can’t imagine. How could it be so hard to write under your parents’ roof when they gave you every neuron? Drive north on the 1. A loud bed and breakfast might be awkward. Let’s take a quarter and go explore. Another pioneer couple walking on a boneyard of tree branches. Looks like beach cheese. Sitting halfway up a Monterey cypress. Staring at the setting sun with the moon to our back. This place makes me sleepless. I heard a man inside the wall with a pickaxe. Crumbling down the structure from the inside out. But then the mother of slumber blacked out my vision with her placement of fill-in-the-box. I’m home. Horace Greeley might have told you to “Go west, young man,” but I’m called by the wild poppies and cortaderia. Those here before us. Junipero Serra paved the way, killing with faith. Priests on a mission overlook young women. Left out of the literature. I’m pulled in by the Pacific, the way redwoods hold on to their neighbors’ roots. Prioritizing nourishment. A church turned grocery store. Looking at another “All Are Welcome Here” sign made Sam ask what that says about other places. A bold statement against a dark reality. But damn this place is hard to reach.

Mist

You struggled to park an invisible car on Fillmore because your piercing was stuck to a fire hydrant. Stuck like the rest of us. Under another spell of moral authority. Believing real emotions drawn from deceptive acts. A medium slips voodoo bags in all the right places. A spiritual advisor advises a touch. A guru reaches too far. The priest hides it all. Power seeks vulnerability, speaking in silence. Those who can’t afford buy lotto tickets. Talking to God, never hearing back. Hoping and hopeless for another chance. Anything to divert attention and responsibility from this current mess. Enters the magician. Playing with projection to manipulate. To create a feeling of awe, allure, amazement. Shock value. And we love to feel, even fear. The heightened pulses and rising temperatures. Cranking up fields. Just the way the man behind the curtain likes it: wrapped in a mist of confusion. Divine delirium quiets. Shh, don’t question it. No reason to reason with fog. But what really happened? Pure deception and perception. Hinging until it breaks and you see the truth underneath the pain, the shame, the neglect, the harm. A universal craving for psychological attention. Falling into traps and release.