Here is a review of a biography of William Golding. I found it worthwhile.
All posts for the month September, 2009
Posted by unknowing on September 30, 2009
Gunpowder Green Tea is $1 for 10 grams here in Colombia. That’s $100 for the 1000 gram boxes we used to buy in Minneapolis.
If you come visit, maybe you can stash some of this away in your luggage.
Posted by unknowing on September 29, 2009
The waters run down the rainy mountains and irrigate Colombia. Through the vegetation flow the rivers, through shadow and through sunlight down to the deeper valleys and out long distances to the sea. A welcome noise: the sound of busy waters descending, circling the gleaming rocks, flowing away like time. And in the intolerable skies between the mountain peaks the vultures wheel in indolent gyrations.
Posted by unknowing on September 29, 2009
Los páramos son espacios de nieblas, lloviznas y arremolineantes nubes adheridas a las rocas y al viento. Lugares encubiertos, sombríos, ignotos, donde los horizontes se multiplican y la totalidad se hace patente.
Returning we ascended: up through the silver-grey Spanish moss hanging from the trees like shrouds. The higher climes ended the moss at the altitude of the narrow alleys of Pamplona. The best scenery is from Pamplona on up: so broad the view from a mile up, endless slopes, glimmering, distant rivers, the clouds above you and below, and the apple cheeked faces of the peasants along the sides of the road.
The highlanders of Colombia have been found to be friendly. Their lives are hard, agrarian and very probably short. The highlands of Santander are some of the highest with plateaus at 3,300 meters, and in the highlands they go about in sweaters and ruanas. Few are concerned with style, let alone foreign fashions. They still wear wide brimmed hats. It is chilly there, every day year-round; a bit bleak too as the tree line seems to have been passed for all but a very few species. A paramo must be 3,000 meters above sea level and in certain equatorial latitudes. Colombia has 70% of the world’s paramos, and they cultivate potatoes, onions and carrots in these highlands. You ride the curves and look over the top of the world at gentle, even mountains. Sometimes you come to an abrupt edge and the world falls away: you see a distant land below, or piled clouds, or just a piece of sky.
It reminded me of Isaiah 58:13 and 14:
If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
What is the meaning of that promise: I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth? Surely it is a reference to the mysticism with which the whole of Scripture glimmers. Holy Scripture is full of an intolerable light which many never find; it is hidden out of their sight because they are blind and unbelieving; they do not search for it. I believe there is a deep, mysterious interpretation to this which I continue to search out, but I do not believe I understand. Some day, if I turn my foot away from the sabbath in this life, I will receive the mystery in the next and ride upon the high places of the earth and be fed with the heritage of Jacob my father. So let me say first that all my interpretations of Scripture are shallow and inadequate, provisional in that they have not an expanded truth but its beginnings.
“Holy Scripture transcends all other sciences by its very style of expression, in that one and the same discourse, while narrating an event, transmits a mystery as well.” —Gregory the Great, and with that attitude come the four senses of the medieval interpretation of Scripture.
According to the allegorical sense, the high places of the earth no doubt signify the Church. What better reward for those who delight to worship the Lord as he commands than to be congregated with God’s people enjoying together and with one accord true worship: the kind God delights in and all his people learn to want. To have that is precious, and a great promise.
According to the tropological sense, the moral sense from which the application comes, we understand that those who turn their foot from the sabbath will have success: God will help them so to do, and they will have their desire, they will ascend the high places of the earth. There is something aristocratic about abandoning all other cares for the exclusive devotion of the Lord’s Day. I watch the iron smith across the road every Sunday when I leave for church: there he is toiling like a slave. Some people think other cares must nevertheless encroach. No doubt life will encroach, but for those who truly delight in offering up the day to the Lord, the Lord will make a way to do so in spite of all the circumstances, and they will live like kings and priests.
The anagogical sense is that which recognizes that Scripture speaks of spiritual realities. The high places of the earth cannot mean anything other than that highest place of Biblical geography, only better: the New Jerusalem which comes down from heaven. Those who delight in the Lord’s ways will be citizens of that city in which God will dwell with men forever. Here mystery glimmers close at hand.
Which leaves the literal meaning, and it makes me think that something is to be learned by actually going to the high places of the earth—let the devil take the commentaries. To go on the high places of the earth is to walk near to the vault of heaven.
To be close to heaven is to have one’s mind and attention fixed above. But it is also to have a proper perspective on the distant, busy cities of the plain below. Distant not because of a physical distance, not by removing us from the flood plains, but because by a spiritual distance we are raised to consider the lusts, passions, aims and pursuits of those citizens as distant; one day when they are visited with wrath and brimstone we will like Abraham look on the smoke which arises like a furnace from a distance, from on high, alive.
The chilly citizens of the highlands of Colombia are removed from the trouble and glamour of life on the plain. No ease of life, no luxury, but rather toil, meager comforts and cold wind. Pero la totalidad se hace patente, says the chap, and there I want to live.
There let me live with them, O Lord!
Posted by unknowing on September 28, 2009
Dulce Señor, mis vanos pensamientos
fundados en el viento me acometen,
pero por más que mi quietud inquieten
no podrán derribar tus fundamentos.
No porque de mi parte mis intentos
seguridad alguna me prometen
para que mi flaqueza no sujeten,
ligera más que los mudables vientos.
Mas porque si a mi voz, Señor, se inclina
tu defensa y piedad, ¿qué humana guerra
contra lo que Tú amparas será fuerte?
Ponme a la sombra de tu cruz divina,
y vengan contra mí fuego, aire, tierra,
mar, yerro, engaño, envidia, infierno y muerte.
—Lope de Vega
Posted by unknowing on September 27, 2009
Hotel Houston in Bucaramanga: the breakfast is the best I’ve had in Colombia: fresh arepa so hot it is almost too hot and slightly cheesy, excellent huevos pericos perfectly executed and cafe con leche. Shabby the premises, but not so shabby as Venezuela, and quite tolerable—shabby in the way of hot climates, shabby in the way of plants rampant and encroaching humidity. Don’t know why they’re against showerheads in these regions.
I love the grass of late afternoon in the Andes: the uneven grass, tufted and in ridges with the sun shining on it, all green and slanting down. I wish I could write a poem to express the meaning I sense when I see these sunlit slopes. But the meaning remains a mystery, sensed but not grasped. Something arises inside of me, but to no culmination.
Agua de panela: true sugar from the cane, unrefined and sometimes with bits of the fiber clinging about it, made into brown blocks and melted down in water. Too sweet for most foreigners, it is the delight of Colombians and especially the highland people. Often served with a slice of cheese, and understandably. It has gone so far as to become its own word: agüepanela.
Our guide keenly felt the necessity of helping us foreigners express ourselves fully by exploiting the rich vein of vulgarity available in his native tongue and local idiom. No doubt that without such expressions, he would feel something akin to amputation, and so persons of understanding and sympathy will be ready to tolerate this egregious lapse of judgment on his part. He had a certain exuberance, a zest—the kind that manages to shine through many obscurities. A real relish for anything is something I find hard to resist.
In Santander they eat enormous ants. They take the wings off, take the legs off, maybe even decapitate the buggers. Then: roast and eat! They sell them along the road or as an appetizer in the restaurants: a little bowl full of black, oily, salted ants. They also specialize in goat in those regions.
Tinto everywhere. It is common, I understand, in the fields for the campesinos to make agüepanela and add their coffee to that. Tinto is seldom provided without sugar, especially in the remote areas where they don’t use the big samovars but an aluminum pitcher to cook it in. But tinto is provided anywhere and always in small cups, usually disposable.
Posted by unknowing on September 26, 2009
Colombia, land of winding roads; you go among the scenic Andes only by means of twists and turns. When you are not descending, you are ascending. This does not hold in all the country of course; it has long, flat regions, some of which you can only navigate by boat, but it is a big country, and the obstacle of the mountains makes the distance that much longer. The endless, curving roads have been laid all over the indifferent slopes connecting concentrations of population.
One such concentration is Bucaramanga, a beautiful place in a temperate clime. Bucaramanga has great trees draped in Spanish moss, large parks and fountains and a hot-weather population. Passing through one has to think that Bucaramanga is a place with many charms. Even hot weather has its charms.
But we were passing through, and on, and up and up and up. The way up is filled with vistas of increasing distances. We went at sunset and the valley fell below. We looked out on the mountains ringing it, the clouds, the sunset, the splendor. We climbed till reaching one of those Andean peculiarities: the paramo, a chilly, high plateau of mists and treeless expanses where hot weather is a distant dream.
The highlanders are not the lazy, hot-weather folk of Bucaramanga or of Cucuta. The dirty towns of the paramos are full of dour campesinos all wearing ruanas, hats and riding ancient motorcycles. Hard, peasant folk up there, dim light bulbs in the ill-stocked stores, and bandits.
After hours the buses form caravans, and soldiers with machine guns escort them over the dilapidated highland roads. In the continual fog it is easy for the bandits to escape; in the thin air it is hard for the army helicopters to scramble up. So they fill pick-ups with soldiers or send a couple of motorcycle—a driver and a gunner to each—to accompany those who would cross late at night.
I love the paramo: the chilly weather, the dirty, old town of Berlin, the peasants all in ruanas, the feel of an older way of life. Let that wind knife through me, let me breathe the vapors of its fog—hot weather lies all about it not two hours away.
And then comes the descent, first to Pamplona which is a cool town but not cold, which is above the Spanish moss line but not above the tree line. It is beautiful scenery descending all 3,300 meters: halfway to Pamplona and the other half to Cucuta. Cucuta is well below the Spanish moss line,and the trees all along the way are draped, some stand bare with only shrouds of silver-grey Spanish moss trailing in the wind.
Cucuta had rain and had hot winds. It had broad roads, malls and McDonald’s, long swathes of park, palm trees. We saw not much of Cucuta and had bad service there.
Returning, after Berlin, Bucaramanga and the depth of El Pescadero at the bottom of the Chicamocha canyon, we got to San Gil and went into that old, colonial place. One cannot be tired of narrow streets, of the wooden balconies, the overhanging roofs, the slumped red-tiles, the ancient trees in the plaza even in the hot weather. We ate in San Gil in a balcony of a restaurant with straw roofing, and it rained. The rain ran down the red tiles opposite, dripped from the ferns and relieved the noontime heat in the street below. Very eager, friendly people in San Gil; good service and good food.
I remember going on that road when I was young. I have a memory of looking out over the edge of road and into a long, green valley. On one of the hills of the valley, resting against the greater mountain behind, there was a little town: in my memory I could see the church, the red roofs, the distant dust, the white sides of the houses. That place is in the department of Santander and to this day I think it is one of the most beautiful sights I know. I saw it again, returning to Bogota after San Gil.
I’m not a fan of hot weather but I know it has its pleasures: the sudden air-conditioning upon entering, the lazy pace of life, the delicious shade, the cold drinks, the unexpected breeze. Mornings in hot weather are more languid, arriving slowly and ominous with the approaching noon. The sky is indifferent, the tops of the cathedrals wait, the people stir and shutters are gradually raised. Life begins awaiting and remains that way until it is dark and the heat dissipates reluctantly. In hot climates life moves slowly, like a great, brown river: only children have the energy to run. Hot weather is for ancient, plugged-in fans to spin their propellers, propelling the disinterested air, milling the heat and troubling the contemplations of luxuriating indoor plants. Hot weather is for languid life, for pools and growing slowly fat.
I was glad to be in it; I was glad to leave.
Posted by unknowing on September 25, 2009
Emma Kirkby with a good orchestra sings “Oh! Had I Jubal’s Lyre” from Handel’s Joshua. I love the opera of Handel, the voice of Emma Kirkby, and this orchestra’s not bad. Every once in a while I like to binge on youtube. Right not I’m on an Emma Kirkby binge.
And while we’re at it, some of this curious chap C F Händel. Another of the glories of that German genius “Let the Bright Seraphim” interpreted by Renee Fleming.
One more gem: Cecilia Bartoli doing Vivaldi, “Agitata da due venti.” It really makes one wish one did music.
I love youtube bingeing.
And here a poem by Borges, one of my favorites nowadays.
Endimión en Latmos
Yo dormía en la cumbre y era hermoso
Mi cuerpo, que los años han gastado.
Alto en la noche helénica, el centauro
Demoraba su cuádruple carrera
Para atisbar mi sueño. Me placía
Dormir para soñar y para el otro
Sueño lustral que elude la memoria
Y que nos purifica del gravamen
De ser aquel que somos en la tierra.
Diana, la diosa que es también la luna,
Me veía dormir en la montaña
Y lentamente descendió a mis brazos
Oro y amor en la encendida noche.
Yo apretaba los párpados mortales,
Yo quería no ver el rostro bello
Que mis labios de polvo profanaban.
Yo aspiré la fragancia de la luna
Y su infinita voz dijo mi nombre.
Oh las puras mejillas que se buscan,
Oh ríos del amor y de la noche,
Oh el beso humano y la tensión del arco.
No sé cuánto duraron mis venturas;
Hay cosas que no miden los racimos
Ni la flor ni la nieve delicada.
La gente me rehuye. Le da miedo
El hombre que fue amado por la luna.
Los años han pasado. Una zozobra
Da horror a mi vigilia. Me pregunto
Si aquel tumulto de oro en la montaña
Fue verdadero o no fue más que un sueño.
Inútil repetirme que el recuerdo
De ayer un sueño son la misma cosa.
Mi soledad recorre los comunes
Caminos de la tierra, pero siempre
Busco en la antigua noche de los númenes
La indiferente luna, hija de Zeus.
Here is a chap with what looks like a learned blog providing some commentary in Spanish.
Posted by unknowing on September 25, 2009
We of the human race have learned, by means of travel, gracious ways of life and have copied them from better places and other places. And, of course, as time goes one we learn and our own places develop more gracious ways of living over the years. But the way of gracious living comes through time. We stumble on little things gradually, our creative classes grope along by trial and error: it just takes a while, even with ideas you borrow.
In San Antonio, Venezuela we stayed at the Heart o’the City Hotel: on the shabby side—at least our room—with hot, pale-green hallways and an old Italian elevator. Within the dilapidated hotel complex was a very little pool, a wall with moss and plants down which the water dripped, a gentle breeze that waved the palms and boded ill for the temperature of the beginning day.
It was dark by the time we wound out of the mountains nearing Cucuta, the border and Venezuela, and we watched the lightning playing in the east. Rain came as we approached the border. We stopped at a late liquor store where people leaned against shuttered store fronts to drink and blare pestilential music from pimped-out, sub-compact cars. Perhaps because she saw me frown, the woman of the thugs proceeded to go to the trouble of turning up the music, walking back through the rain to where her company stood drinking. She wanted me to know she liked the music, and I did not wonder; it was a squalid scene.
We left that little outpost of hell and headed for DAS—the immigration and counterintelligence arm of Colombian government—with some relief, ironically. We waited for service, received the necessary stamps, assisted the civil servant there in verifying her Ben Franklin was indeed genuine (she wanted to ask us supposing we regularly handled such bills, ha!), and in the downpour rushed to the car to cross the bridge.
A policeman eyed us and jerked his head. Welcome to Venezuela. We had arrived.
San Antonio was deserted, and on a midnight after a downpour it was to be expected. We managed to get the air conditioning started. Some went down to the desolate pool and indulged potations at the midnight—the night clerk turned on the lights but procured no chairs. I looked out on the dark, wet town; went to bed.
In Venezuela they drive the old, big cars—the square ones from the late seventies and eighties: LTDs, Caprice Classics, Novas: in Colombia you see more of the Renault 12s— http://www.r12colombia.com —which are also common in Venezuela, but mostly lots of big, American cars, including the old conversion vans.
Gas is cheaper than water in Venezuela. They fill up the capacious, thirsty tanks of these old cars, drive over to Colombia, siphon the gas out, and voila!: black market. You can buy black market gas right next to the customs offices—not ten meters away. You can buy black market gas from Venezuela in Colombia all the way to Bucaramanga, way on the other side of a mountain 3,500 meters tall.
Viva la revolucion, man! Who’s a Chavista now? Our Uribista driver filled up on amber, black-market gas.
In Venezuela it is hot, the people seem larger and less friendly to me. In Venezuela they have longer, nicer bills than in Colombia, bigger coins, things are cheaper though they don’t produce in Venezuela; things are cheaper because they don’t earn. In Venezuela you can see airbrushed pictures of the beloved leader in government buildings and functionaries working under those conditions like its nothing; you can also get good empanadas and buy liquor really cheap. No wonder the country is going down the toilet.
And Chavez is arming the place to the teeth. Our two British chaps capitalized on the exchange rate and the price of liquor to return with clinking bags. I joined them in capitalizing on the empanadas. One day, when Chavez passes like a bad dream, you’ll be able to capitalize on really cheap rusted tanks and missiles in Venezuela, like the FARC do nowadays. Viva la revolucion!
We had to get copies of the documents we went to procure in Venezuela. 45 minutes. We got them in a fabric store because it was across from the Colombian consulate and the guy had some copiers stashed away. Waiting, I thought of buying fabric for my wife, I thought of buying her some sweet vermouth to cook with, wondered what to bring her back. I brought her back two coins: six hundred old bolo’s—Bolivares. They chopped three zeros off their old currency and started calling it Bolivar Fuerte, but they still use the weak Bolivar coins. One day my wife will be able to go to Venezuela and with that money buy and AK-47; then she’ll be saying: Viva la revolucion!
I think that being in Venezuela rubbs off. If you have to go there to get a visa, then hold your nose and do it. Otherwise, man, stay away.
Posted by unknowing on September 24, 2009
The atmosphere of dorm and hostel, where so many take up a transitory residence, is the atmosphere of a neglected place. Much attention is required to keep such places from degenerating entirely, and they collect degeneration like books collect dust. Because they are not cared for, they lack something vital of what makes a house a home. One has to be weary to rest in a hostel, in a cheap hotel.
Backpackers are, in a way, the sort of creatures that haunt and put the imprint of their way of life on hostels and cheap hotels. Backpackers travel for the excitement, the adrenalin and the curiosity. They do not travel for the loneliness or the fatigue, but war against it, learning friendliness, how to get comfortable, how to seek anodynes for the vicissitudes of travel. They become focused in spite of the difficulties and at the same time become indifferent to many of the ravages.
Traveling comes with its inconveniences. Let those who would hazard nothing stay at home.
And give me the adventurous, often feckless, too, too young and inconsiderate, but friendly and interesting, eager and enthusiastic backpackers. . . . at least every once in a while. One day I will be too old for these things—I realize, realizing these are not the realizations of the young.
Another thing: our soundtrack through the Andes was composed too much of the adrenalin bursts of adolescent banality such as Musica Ligera and Borracho y Loco. Too much is contrived, too much is banality, too much is nothing beautiful, but it does describe the life of a backpacker, and whatever else that life is, it can be interesting to make contact once in a while. I don’t listen to popular music, so it was at least a curiosity. I used to get anxious and distressed listening to popular music: now I just get bored.
I don’t wonder that the children of fundamentalists turn to this music. Here is a tonic with none of the deadly love of beauty: some zest for life, some lust for risk instead of the tedious eternal fear of not being entirely safe. And I thought it was bracing and invigorating to be among inconsiderate, cheerful, resigned and restless backpackers demanding amenities, vegetarian meals, enduring ill and yet enduring enough to press on relentlessly. Few domestic virtues among them, but then, no pervasive, cloying domesticity.
Backpackers are not good at every kind of thinking ahead. They live their whole life meeting the oncoming situation, reveling in it when they’re not complaining. It is not the examined life as much as it is the endured life. We have need of endurance. I love the dumb tenacity with which a backpacker climbs back on a bus and I salute it with a cheerful wave goodbye; I listened to the talk about near-death experiences in pleasant places and among shady people, talk about what is missed fecklessly, for it cannot be had under the conditions in which the backpacker presently exists. (“Of England,” Duncan told me, “I miss the comfortable pubs, and I miss the strong, flat, sour, warm ale.”)
The life of the backpacker is a life that lacks the grace of the domestic, and perhaps like other things it starts in an aberrant, cloying, sentimental domesticity or similar conditions. Or it might be the use of custom: they come from undomesticated houses. The backpacker travels the world looking on the domestic arrangements of other people, at the ways of other nations, surfing the surface of other’s hospitality. A backpacker seeks a home like all the rest of us, and provides for himself badly, without the grace of fully retained and practiced customs, without the anchor of remaining in one place.
I went among the backpackers, whose plans are mutable, temporary, vague; whose lives are young and at the point of postponed decisions. They are without the clear identity of a career or a tangible aim. I was with a Canadian, a Californian and two London backpackers: all of them certified English teachers, all of them prepared and came to Bogota around the same time I did. The only difference was that all of them are about ten years younger than I, and I could feel the difference.
It is interesting to grow old. The older one gets, the closer one gets to a true destination: on this earth we are all backpackers. There ought to be a better outgrowing of self-deceits, a clarifying of the understanding, a greater evenness of temperament and reaction as one grows older; not enough with me, but with a yawning void of ten years between, at least I have the consolation of a little. I am no longer young and I am beginning to notice it, especially when around young people. I feel it when they ask my age and then look at me again once they know it.
Not that backpackers are the only young people there are. There are the ambitious and the driven, but whatever else the backpacker may be, he usually is not one to be in that number. Marching out is where he finds himself. Indifference, inconsideration, resignation, restless adventurousness, serial hardship, all these make up the essence of the undomesticated. It is sometimes good for little hobbits to find themselves in the company of dwarves whose eyes gleam with avarice and revenge and feckless planning. Not that recent graduates of universities make good dwarves, but I am hardly what you’d call a hobbit.
The morals of the young are nonexistent, and their convictions have no strength to them. They have an enduring confusion out of which they seek a way; the thing is they are not very good at seeking. They purchase alcohol, they purchase hammocks, they purchase adventures, experiences, music, cigarettes, fruit salads, ice cream and yucca chips. They are right, in a way, not to be content with a home upon the surface of this world. May God give true satisfaction to their restlessness. I admire it, and I enjoyed my time.
Posted by unknowing on September 23, 2009
Bolivar had a country house a short walk from old downtown Bogota. I went to it. You can see his white motorcycle in the picture.
Posted by unknowing on September 23, 2009
“But they can’t prevent every disease!”
“Yes, every disease,” he says.
I sit back in my chair, astonished. This guy knows what he’s talking about. In front of me is a wall full of certifications, at least thirty: the National University degree as a medical surgeon being front and center, but beside that certificates for seminars in every place from the remote town of Sogamoso where we knew each other back when we were young to Dade county, a three-hour plane flight away, to something in German, decidedly more than three hours away. He’s a doctor, has been for years, practices successfully, is qualified, and is working with me to get a new certification which he has to do in English in Gringolandia.
I feel like I’m living in a science fiction story. This is the cure for cancer . . . and more.
The publication is legitimate, the doctor who wrote it could use some help in his use of English, but it all looks legitimate, peer reviewed, sober, scientific writing.
“Yes,” he says. “All our life, everything is conflict. If we are strong, we win.”
That’s his underlying metaphor—I think, watching him closely—conflict.
“If the cells are strong you do not get sick.”
“So every time you get sick it is because something is attacking a weakness in your cells?”
Here is the theory: It all begins with telomeres which are like wrappers at the end of a chromosome. Your chromosomes have a certain length of telomere, and when some of your cells die, which happens all the time, they are replaced by the usual method of cell reproduction: a cell divides, copying itself. But here is the thing: the telomere, the wrapper at the end of the chromosomes is not identically reproduced. It is actually shortened, and as time goes by, your telomeres are growing shorter.
“When your telomeres finish, then you die.”
As your telomere shortens, the DNA sequence in your genes is eventually affected and this in turn affects the functioning of your cells. Cells reach a limit, called the Hayflick limit: it is the point at which they can’t go on. Approaching the limit is called senescence, and is what we more commonly know as ageing. Biologically, this is the fundamental explanation for why human beings grow old and die: their telomeres grow shorter, like the sand draining out of an hourglass. Why do people get the diseases of old age, arteriosclerosis, alzheimers, heart failure, cancer, etc.? Because their cells are weak. We die of old age, when we die of old age, because our cells are feeble, because the telomeres at the end of our chromosomes have been reduced.
Cancer? People who smoke get lung cancer because their smoking harms their cells. The cells have to replace themselves more than in non-smokers, and the result is that the precious lengths of telomere get shortened faster (think of that next time you watch your cigarette turning to ash and dropping away). At one point the shortness of the telomere affects the cell, and the cell grows weak. When our cells anywhere in our body are weak enough, the cancer cells can attack and prevail.
Conflict; strong vs. weak: it is always going on. The cancer cells are after you all the time, all your life, but your cells are stronger than they are and can resist. You have an amazing immune system that makes the US department of defense look like the military outfit of a third-world government. But the clock is ticking, and as the telomeres shorten your genes’ ability to express the things that stock your arsenals and recruit your soldiers, the budget, if you will, of your personal department of defense, is shrinking; that of your enemies is not.
Cancer cells are immortal, you see. Their telomeres do not shorten.
Bad guys always win!
No fair! It’s like death and taxes.
I want to join the dark side and evolve into some kind of cancer-cell based life form!
No you don’t. But it would make for interesting speculative fiction . . . Actually, I think some kind of cancer-cell based life form would find itself looking a lot like a giant cockroach, for some reason. Don’t cockroaches seem like the zoological analog for cancer? Return of the Killer Roaches. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? The Roach Star approaches!
But cancer cells are not the only biological immortal cells. Germ cells, otherwise known as stem cells, are also capable of keeping their complete telomeres when they reproduce. Actually, all cells have the potential, but not all cells do it. They do not express the RNA that does this, which in turn produces the enzyme that actually carries out the faithful reproduction. This valuable and crucial enzyme which has the power of making cells immortal is called telomerase.
The ugly, bloated star cruiser of the Killer Roaches hovered in orbit behind the moon, bristling with weaponry. Against it, from the shining blue-green planet rose the hope of the human race, the sleek, needle pointed starship Telomerase. Inside the Roach Star all the grotesque super-cancer roaches [SCRs] gnashed their mandibles, waved their antennae, and worked themselves into a mindless frenzy for battle. The Roach Star rocked, troubled from within. Serenely, the Telomerase streaked through the atmosphere and entered into the single orbital trajectory that would send it hurtling like a projectile directly at the Roach Star. The fate of mankind was poised on the tip of that needle.
“If the genes that express whatever it is that produces telomerase could be stimulated . . . ?”
“That is anti-ageing,” my friend tells me. “And anti-ageing is the future.”
Back to now. I help him with English because I’m a native English speaker and such services are much in demand here in Bogotá, Colombia. Because of the way Latin culture is, his services—aesthetic medicine—much in demand in the rest of the world are also greatly in demand here in Bogotá—lets just say that the exposure considered moderate here makes it rather difficult for prostitutes, who have to up the ante. And because aesthetic medicine is so preoccupied with keeping people looking like their reproductive capacities are at their peak—I don’t need no doctor to tell me what is at the heart of aesthetic medicine—it is naturally concerned with anti-ageing: the fountain of youth.
The spirit of the conquistadors who dreamed of gold and immortality is alive and well in the parts of America first explored and conquered by them. (Did you know that Bogotá, as a Spanish city, goes all the way back to 1537?)
It is perhaps no coincidence that in Bogotá I should find not only the material of science fiction, but also the atmosphere of science fiction. Bogotá is in many ways a city still stuck in the 1970′s, and there is no atmosphere more conducive to paranoid SF than that in which Philip K. Dick lived and moved and had his being. Drugs, riots, militarization, horse-drawn carts and luxury Mercedes-Benz are all here, along with botox.
I mention this because the writer of one of the articles in the book we are reading said that the effects this kind of medicine, which he believes will be available within two decades, will be unprecedented.
Unprecedented? . . . no kidding!!! Ironically, anti-ageing might not have the effect of making humans more fertile, but the consequences ought to be a fountain of youth to speculative fiction.
No wonder then, sitting in that consultation room beside my friend, reading this book and having the science explained, I have the feeling I am living inside of a science fiction story.
I still need to run this by him to consult for accuracy, but you can check the biological stuff out on telomeres.net. As for the Chronicles of the Roach Star . . . stay tuned. For those of you put off by the tone of the article, I’m going to try to publish the final version in a Science Fiction magazine; enough said.
Posted by unknowing on September 19, 2009
Here’s an interesting article in the Washington Monthly telling the grisly tale of what happens when you cross pizza and religion.
I got it from Owen the Ochlophobist’s blog. If the notion of a grisly tale of crossing pizza and religion doesn’t interest you, take a glance at his introduction. You should at least look at the picture.
Posted by unknowing on September 18, 2009
I’m drinking strawberry juice in Bogota. They pulp it and then mix the pulp with water. It is a really good way to do your mango, guanabana and strawberry as the first two can be stringy and hard to handle ex natura, and the latter would not be something you might think of enjoying in the state of juice. I had a glass of it yesterday and another today, and it is good.
Best is Guanabana.
Least acceptable, though still very interesting, is the mango.
What we don’t drink much: the juice of orange.
* * *
It rained all day the day after I posted my complaint. It was wonderful, approaching slowly from the south and lingering even unto the next day. The rain came down, weakened, renewed itself, weakened and renewed itself again twice more. I was sated.
My neighbor, the one who keeps six white chickens on his roof, emerged unto the roof with two green parrots on a stick. He placed them on a ledge and there they stretched their wings to the wind and enjoyed the rain. Much delighted seemed those two.
Curious, isn’t it?
This house I mention is the neatest house in view, with none of the sloven brickword or truly disgraceful roofing of, say, the people two houses east. Strange it should be the haunt of so many fowl.
Returning to the rain, we give thanks to God from whom—as it is properly said—all bessings flow.
* * *
The skies of Bogota are usually full of elaborate, large, baroque white clouds on blue. The chearful [sic., fyi] sun shines through the midst thereof quite brilliant on the territories where the lives of the citizens unfold [se desarollan] regardless of the weather. Like the busy, swollen cherubim of old the clouds drift: lazy in the splendor of the heavens, full of that chubby eagerness characteristic of large things swimming a great and languid space. They cry to me for adjectives in slow, distant voices like those of whales; it is their vast vanity, and it appeals to me, standing on the balcony–to dangle something.
The serious clouds brood on the tops of the ridge of mountains in the east, haunting the high places where the gods used to abide and now abide the immemorial pines and the cell-phone towers which deserve and will have no memory.
* * *
One giant step for mankind—as the chap allegedly said. I do not believe, at the time, that I was born, but the rumor is that he said just that. I also took a giant step today: I read successfully in bed. Wordsworth, if you care to know. It is gratifying, as I was beginning to wonder if here I ever would.
Read in bed, that is, not Wordswoth, whom I intend to read under all circumstances.
This was after lunch today. I have to rise at 4:30 and usually do not read in bed subsequently.
Our bed is bigger: they make a double bigger here, so one can have more room for great days of reading in bed. This bed is nothing like our old bed with all the pillows, wool blankets and the featherbed, but it will improve as time and money permit.
I like to talk about great days of reading in bed to people afficted with the protestant work ethic.
I am afflicted with the protestant work ethic in the sense that it bothers me that people think man was made to be busy doing something. It is a formal precursor to the utilitarian mentality, in service to the cult of ugliness, and the enemy of all interesting work. Take Dr. Samuel Johnson, for instance: a man not afflicted with the protestant work ethic, I understand, and who accomplished a great deal of work while loathing to get out of bed, or dreading it, or something. I think about these things, sometimes, lying in bed and also missing that ingenious adaptation of the Roman habit of cleanliness so successful in the British Isles: the bathtub.
Sometimes, like now, I plan never to do anything again.
* * *
I miss the bathtub, I miss the big restaurants like Applebee’s of which my wife was never fond, I miss having lamps especially. I no longer miss good curtains as ours have progressed, thanks to the labors of Katrina, a long way toward being decent curtains. Curtains are important, as all things are, but especially in lending character to a space. Without proper curtains a place seems brisk and sterile, like the protestant work ethic. Curtains lend buildings a welcoming and indolent air. Thankfully, we don’t have any plastic hangings on the windows. I do not miss the plastic blinds with which every apartment in Minnesota we had was cursed.
But back to the bathtub, in a way. One of the first things we are going to buy, if we have money at the end of the month, is a shower head or two. We have truly cheap ones, and we are going to have better ones. The ones we have function a lot better without rocks in them as far as the water pressure goes. The thing is, the water pressure is so good we need them to mitigate the streams thereof somewhat, which is perhaps why some ingenious person introduced rocks to begin with. At present these streams do not make glad, however much they make clean. But it is a matter of great gratitude that living as we do on the fifth floor, the problem of the water pressure is one of excess and not contrariwise.
* * *
Enough; back to some labors.
I thought you would enjoy a glimpse, though I am afflicted, from time to time, with the protestant work ethic.
Posted by unknowing on September 18, 2009
I need to tell you something about the characters populating the story of my life nowadays. I will tell you about my most recent student because I’m still glowing with the happiness of finding out he lives out in the country and has cultivated an orchard. He knows the names of all the trees.
He knows the names of all the trees! Wonderful lore.
He’s the kind of chap that steals acorns from the botanical gardens because he thinks their oak is beautiful. He stole 70 acorns and has planted six on his property and the rest elsewhere.
He’s a doctor, and now I have three students in medical areas: the guy who runs the maintenance department in the medical division at Siemens, the old friend who drives an extremely expensive Mercedes with whom I read about telemeres, chromosomes and anti-ageing (truly astonishing, science-fictional material, and he explains everything I don’t understand), and this new Ent chap who is, apparently, a general practitioner. He wants to go to Houston to practice, and I suppose he wants to leave his land and orchard because his daughters are all studying in the USA.
I’m going to learn the art of talking to people as a result of this.
Better, I think I’ve already sold the middle guy on the importance of studying poetry.
This morning, because a transformer failed in Lima, Peru, I learned about how they use paper to insulate the various coils, and oil to saturate the paper. I never thought I’d enjoy listening to Engineers, but it is turning out pretty good.
I’m going to start aspiring to hard science-fiction before long.
Posted by unknowing on September 17, 2009
Is not autumn the season when
our valedictions fill the air
like leaves that ride the gusts of wind?
Like the dead hastening through Sheol.
It is the portal through which all
the wisdom of the world must go.
The elms already seem to have
a weary, seedy look to them.
The ashes hang among their green
surprising yellow bursts of leaf.
The cottonwoods have similar
bright yellow patches high above.
I’ve noticed that some of the pines
have sprinkled all their lawns beneath—
The oaks, the old, tightfisted oaks
continue crooked, unperturbed.
Some maples are far gone
and some appear confused,
and some serenely blush,
and some still unaffected green,
still dense and dark and calm.
The river birches now begin
to turn a dirty yellow, dull
and spotted with a rotten brown,
of withering without splendor.
Shingle Creek flows high
and mostly clear of scum.
The secret fish are waiting in
their underwater ranks
with purpose and weird patience
standing still against the stream
as if it were the stream of time.
The lawns around the creek are deep
and green. The lawless cattails brown
and the wild growth of summer brush
becoming frail is failing.
The tamed lawns, though,
are green, bright with their
new grass and even show
the mocking, imitation ghosts
of autumn dandelions.
Here we are in the midst of life,
a life that is all ours. A life
that is for every person great
or small. A life where every life
is dignified by being, pinned
into existence by the love
of God and given everything
longing for the death of fall
in intimations of another world.
The sun shines on us and the trees
in all their mitigated splendor
fading as the year declines.
The sinking sun lights up a sky
made consequential with great clouds,
clouds from the west in soaring fleets
that half obscure and half disclose
the many shades of blue beyond.
Then later, when the sun has dropped,
the western sky is dappled all
with clouds like windows on a wall
of light. The retrospective east
is rippled with pale fringes drawn
on the assimilating dark.
I see directly overhead
a star. If my desire then
could overcome my gravity
I would rise soaring swiftly and
in one eternal instant seize,
and with the speed of journey grown,
be with the star and holding it
to look into undying fire
like a jewel, while long below
my body crumples with the leaves
in sidewalks in the distant,
sinking autumn night.
Posted by unknowing on September 16, 2009
The book is an extended monologue delivered by a teacher to his pupils. In a sense, it is like a Platonic dialogue in that it has a setting in which the main personage speaks, but is unlike a dialogue in that there is no give and take. So we may call it a platonical monologue.
The nature of the work is contemplative and philosophical. Rodó lived at the end of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth. At that time he saw the achievements of western civilization threatened in his country by the industrialized materialism emanating from the United States. Against the encroaching materialism, and especially the admiration of the young in South America for such dominating materialism, he offers this essay: an attempt to win hearts and minds toward more spiritual, lofty, nobler ideals than those of the cult of utility and material prosperity with no regard for the good, the true and the beautiful.
Prospero, the teacher who speaks to the students, admires none of the cultures of the world as much as that of classical Greece. Classical Greece, he tells us, came as the smile of history. The ideals which raised ancient Greece to eternal memory in the consciousness of the world he finds represented in the figure of Ariel, from The Tempest. Ariel represents all that is noble: reason and sentiment. For him, disinterested motives are the highest: the disinterested contemplation of beauty, of goodness, of truth; and the pursuit, not of that which is practical, but of that which is characterized by grace and intelligence is that which he wants his students to aspire toward. He wants them to see and to love and search after the permanent things.
His polemic against the United States is considered and informed. He has read Tocqueville, he has read Herbert Spencer, he has read Franklin, he has even read Edgar Allan Poe and The Federalist. While he does not make a list of his reading material, from his quotation and allusion it is evident that no meager study has gone into the formation of this character in general, and his consideration of the dangerous utilitarian materialism emanating from the USA.
When he comes to that chapter that brings the accusation, he is careful first to list the strengths of the North Americans, to salute the achievement of the USA. He finds them a people strong on having discovered and shown to the world the dignity of labor. In the USA, he asserts, they made inactivity opprobrious, and having exalted individual effort, have crowned it with a genius for association with unprecedented success. Having insatiable curiosity they have made education an institution of greater worth esteem than prosperity, and by their ingenuity and labor have mastered means which in turn they have bestowed on the rest of the world. In the midst of civilization they have venerated the robust pagan virtues of health, deftness and strength.
Y, obligados por su aspiración insaciable de dominio a cultivar la energía de todas las actividades humanas, modelan el torso del atleta para el corazón del hombre libre.
Compelled by their insaciable will to dominace to cultivate the energy of all human activity, they model the chest of the athlete for the heart of free men. (A bit of an ambiguious construction, but I think Rodó means to say they exemplify the chest in which beats the heart of a truly free man: the sort of chest all free men should aspire to.)
For Rodó, the USA is like Feanor, who in the early strength of his race crafted the Silmarills. The people of the USA present an admirable respect for work and a shrewd ability that ought to be practiced by all true men. So—he concludes—while I do not love them, I certainly admire.
Nevertheless, he has this against the USA: it is a people with no talent for noble leisure (leisure can be translated as ocio, which means sloth as well as leisure, hence the adjective which I retain). In other words, while the USA has mastered means, it has neglected ends. It exists like a provisional civilization, like the preliminaries for culture, resting in utility as in some finality. This results in a disordering of ideals, an inablity to choose because it lacks the sensibility, intelligence and customs to make a proper selection between the best and the worst, being stuck on the concept of quantity exclusively.
La idealidad de lo hermoso no apasiona al descendiente de los austeros puritanos.
How true! And how good he is on the Puritans, and on heirs of theirs such as Ben Franklin. The utilitarian searches and inquires, but in order to use, not in order to understand for appreciation, for contemplation.
What mitigates the utilitarian impulse is a strong religious tradition. But this tradition emphasizes morality in a way that finds its most common expression, at its highest, in the mediocre morality of Benjamin Franklin, from which it has declined considerably. It staves off decadence, but at the expense of ideals. It banishes depths of evil by proscribing heights of goodness. They have preached a morality of restraint rather than positive virtue, and the virtue of moderation has withered into sentimental attachment to a palid, diluted wickedness.
Is this anything different from what Richard Weaver said some forty years later than did Rodó?
For the purposes of his essay, his analysis strikes me as sufficiently nuanced. Were one to write a volume on the characteristics of the North American people (excluding Canada and Mexico) one would have to traffic in more nuanced understandings, in influential undercurrents, in the tradition of conservative thought which Russell Kirk brought to light. The influences against which Rodó militates might better be described as Anglo-American, but in his place and time this might have appeared otherwise. Nevertheles all these are nuances, and nuances were not what Rodó feared would influence the young of South America.
It is a good book. It is a part of a trilogy which I intend to read and re-read. Let me urge you, if you know Spanish, to find and read. There are many provoking ideas, much of interesting consideration, good advice, broad learning, and a love above all things for that which is beautiful and full of grace. It is to be regretted that Rodó did not succeed more with South Americans. But to the extent that a few take up this lay sermon, now 100 years old but still in print in many editions, and read and consider, to that extent Rodó has succeeded in bringing permanent things to the attention of the changing generations. And that is sufficient.
—Mientras la muchedumbre pasa, yo observo que, aunque ella no mira el cielo, el cielo la mira. Sobre su masa indiferente y oscura, como tierra del surco, algo desciende de lo alto. La vibración de las estrellas se parece al movimiento de unas manos de sembrador.
Posted by unknowing on September 15, 2009
Well, we have the apartment, it is livable innable if not the lap of luxury (going down from the cluttered apartment in which we had squirreled away, over the years, everything necessary for a civilized life to our present situation in which we barely have enough blankets for ourselves and not a stick of furniture extra is an experience I needed to have—no wool blankets here yet, no silver coffee pots, no useless floppy disks or extra pillows, no surplus of extension cords or closets full of towels and table cloth and NO CLOTH NAPKINS, yet); I should have a visa before long, I have employment and just acquired another private student for three hours a week at a very decent time of the day. Katrina has a kitchen with all the basics, soon will have curtains, has two students and very reasonable times, mostly, and the possibility of a few more.
All we will lack will be a visa for Katrina and her medical insurance. Those might come in the form of some sort of job: it is a consideration for her to help out at one of the Christian schools around here. We’ll have to see.
But that is a consideration that might have other options with more income. More income = a few more sticks of furniture, some other amenities, the books perhaps, and, of course, pizza and medical insurance. And travel to see this great country.
Hey, I’m going to Cucuta! Cucuta is away from the coast and at sea-level more or less. In these regions it means amazing heat—heat like Minnesota’s cold in January. And the way lies through my beloved Boyaca, through Santander from which good people come, over the chilly Paramo de Pisba, and through the amazing Chicamocha canyon. Should be an interesting 16 hour overland ordeal . . . each way. And I get to see the land of el Loco Chavez! Here you see M-16′s all the time, perhaps there I’ll see AK-47′s.
Things are falling into place after a month or so of trying uncertainties and protracted delays. The only thing not falling is the rain.
And why doesn’t it rain? When I go to Ireland, it quits raining till my last day. When I come to Bogota, the clouds hurry over us all day, going to rain elsewhere. I sometimes feel that I’m a drought god who upon taking on human shape forgot his real supernature and lives under a curse of rainlessness. But if it were raining I’d be so very gruntled, having rain, income, amenities, books, coffee and travel to exotic locations.
Posted by unknowing on September 14, 2009
I have a long history of being fond of the tomato. I love the soup, I love the slices in a sandwich, I love to have him in a salad—on the rare occasions that I love to have the salad, I love him with breakfast, in salsas and sauces, and especially I love him toasted on some bread with cheese, or on a pizza.
I had a slice of what they call Neapolitan pizza last night and it was good: most satisfactory. It will probably replace Mexican pizza as the standard variety. Neapolitan shall be my autumn, and occasionally Mexican shall be my spring.
One of the nice things about having our own apartment is the improvement of the coffee. We make it in smaller quantities, but it is better as a result. Really, the only way to make it is in a coffee press, and I was using a stove-top percolator at the other place. I had the little press, but did not think it would be enough, and there is always the trouble of the grounds.
The grounds, you see, I do not want to send down the drain. It isn’t a garbage disposal type of thing as these things they don’t do here. What I do is pour the grounds into an empty plastic bottle, and then pour out the water when that settles, and so on till the bottle is full.
But it is a bit wrong of me to suggest the lack of a garbage disposal thing in the sink is the problem. I never used it before; I would tap the grounds out into the trash. I guess the real issue here is that we have a different kind of trash can with a swinging lid that does not lend itself to the kinds of activities I want to pursue with respect to the grounds.
* * *
Speaking of coffee, the Juan Valdez is very satisfactory, and with the little coffee press it lasts enormously. We have a set of four coffee cups to use also, and one pressful neatly fills two of the little cups. These little cups, now, are brown and yellow, with an interesting part where the yellow and brown come together in froth, bubbles and paralyzed drips—I’m sure you’ve seen something like it, a common technique of ceramic decoration. These little cups with their saucers please me well, and work fine with my new style of drinking coffee ever since I found out I had the cholesterol: black. Not suitable, this style, to inferior coffee, which makes me grateful for Juan Valdez. I am really pleased with the volcán variety: fuerte.
But as with many things in life, it is good to have seasons, a regular, repeating variety. I have tried the OMA coffee. OMA, as I have had occasion to mention before, is a rival to Juan Valdez when it comes to cafes. OMA is really more like a restaurant, and therefore leaves the paper cuppery, tables, chairs and umbrellas of Juan Valdez in the dust. But the coffee they sell under their label in the grocery stores leaves something to be desired. It is better than the run of the mill Café Sello Rojo, but not quite altogether up to the level of my acceptance. Café Leyenda, therefore, which roasts their own and has very acceptable, pleasant stores, I think, is going to play winter to the autumn of my Juan Valdez volcán.
Posted by unknowing on September 12, 2009
Visa next week.
I had already cancelled my classes and everything.
I ought to be used to it.
I still love this country, IT’S THE PEOPLE DRIVE ME NUTS.
Right. Back to more useful blogging.
Posted by unknowing on September 11, 2009