Tuesday, November 27, 2007


The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd; the longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these half-tones of the soul’s consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are. The sensation we come to have of ourselves is of a deserted field at dusk, sad with reeds next to a river without boats, its glistening waters blackening between wide banks.

-Fernando Pessoa The Book of Disquiet.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

fresno picon

Every time I visit Europe, I am always struck by a difference in quality and pacing of life compared to the US. I have tried to wrap my thoughts about this and to come up with a reasonable theory. Then I read this interview with Julen Abio, vice-president of the New York Basque Club, and what he said, so simply, summed it all up for me:

"Well, here [US] you leave your house, get into your car, put on the radio, get to work and once again back home. Here you live for work, and there [Europe], you work to live."

Oftentimes, here, I feel the pressure to define myself through the projects that I have accomplished, and the projects I have lined up for future accomplishment. Or I feel like a nobody because of my lack of ambition. There is some strange importance placed on what you have done and who you know. It has become the friend-collecting, personality-product era, but these are not my values. What I want out of this life is very straightforward: I want to understand this world that I live in; I want to read great books, look at inspired art and listen to emotionally-deep music; I want to cook well; I want to have conversations with intelligent people; I want to travel to many places; I want to be a good friend; and I want to love.

Anyway, this weekend I went to Fresno, I cannot say that Fresno was ever on my top ten or even top 100 places to visit, but I have never been there, and there's always something worth seeing in a place you've never been to. I learned that Fresno was home to many immigrant Basques in the 1900's and there were a number of hotels and restaurants that catered to these Basque sheep-herders. There are still a few of these places left in Fresno-so of course, we visited one: the Basque Hotel. We tried their famous and cheap Picon and ate their family style dinner. The Picon is an aperitif and you never drink one with a meal. It has a stunning grenadine color, with a slightly spicy- nutty flavour. From this website:
The recipe for Picon Punch is simple: it's basically a liquid parfait built out of layers of grenadine, soda water, amer, and brandy. This recipe was developed in San Francisco by Basque immigrants early in the 20th century and was later exported back to the old Basque country (a stretch of the Pyrenees mountains that spans the border between France and Spain) where it became the celebrated "National Drink" of the Basque people.

The dinner was more food than I usually eat all day, but I soldiered through it. There were seven courses: soup (vegetable), salad, beans, (garbanzo) a beef stew, (yes, I ate it, I had not had beef in over ten years, and yes I survived) potato salad, and the entrée (frog legs). There was also ice-cream at the end, but we sent it back because we could not eat anymore. If I were a real meat eater, I would have had their lamb-chops, which is their famous entrée.

and if you want to visit Fresno

Friday, November 16, 2007


Places I would like to visit in Europe, in no order:
2. Bruges
I first heard about Bruges a couple of years ago when I read the novel by George Rodenbach, Bruges-la-Morte. The Symbolist novel is heavily colored with languid prose about a widower's grief. It prominently features the city and the city's decaying repose.

Bruges (Brugge) was founded in the 9th century by Vikings who settled here at the end of the little river 'de Reie'. The name Bruges is probably derived from the old-Scandinavian word 'Brygga', which means 'harbor, or mooring place'. Because of the proximity of the North Sea, the settlement very quickly became an important international harbor. A sea-arm, called the Zwin, connected Bruges with the North Sea. The young settlement acquired city rights as early as the 12th century. At that time a first protective wall was built around Bruges.

Already in the 13th century Bruges was an important international trading center. Traders from all over the then known world came to the city to sell their products to each other and to buy Flemish cloth, a internationally acclaimed textile product, produced in different Flemish cities (e.g. Gent). In the early 14th century Bruges was the scene of political unrest between the citizens and the count of Flanders. Because of this unrest the French king tried to annex the county of Flanders, but the population managed to kick out the French garisson on May the 18th 1302. Later the Flemish army beat the French army in the 'Battle of the Golden Spurs' on July the 11th in the Flemish city of Kortrijk.

In the 14th century Bruges turned also into an international financial and trading center. Several countries had their own representation in Bruges: the Italians, the Germans, the Scottish, the Spanish made the city into a true European center where different languages could be heard and where the most exotic products could be found.

The decline of Bruges' wealth started in the 15th century : the unstoppable silting up of the Zwin, the competition with the bigger harbor of Antwerp and the crisis in the cloth industry resulted in less commercial activity. The crisis, however, was not immediately noticable. Bruges continued to construct splendid late-gothic buildings and churches, and the Flemish painting school (with e.g. the brothers Van Eyck and Hans Memling ) started to flourish as never before.
By the end of the 16th century the former glory was only a memory and Bruges slipped into a wintersleep that took several centuries. New textile industries were introduced in the 19th century, but to no avail. In the middle of the 1800's Brugge was the poorest city in Belgium.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


picture #1- I don't remember where I found this-
picture #2- from this great website: http://curiousexpeditions.org/2007/09/a_librophiliacs_love_letter_1.html

"I had a certain talent for friendship, but I never had any friends, either because they simply didn't turn up, or because the friendship I had imagined was an error of my dreams. I've always lived alone, and ever more alone as I become more self-aware. "
-Fernando Pessoa Book of Disquiet

"…recordings seemed to become a kind of phantasmagoria, a virtual reality that threatened to replace concert life." -Alex Ross (New Yorker)

"Le Chants de Maldoror is full of the familiar ferocities and blasphemies, the familiar somber confessions of uncommon and magnificent sins, carried, however, to unprecedented lengths by a young writer who evidently felt that his predecessors had set him a high standard to surpass; but the images of his nightmares and tirades have that peculiar phantasmagoric quality which was to be characteristic of Symbolism." -Edmund Wilson Axel's Castle

Sunday, November 11, 2007

more Oakland

"Art is the dark wish for all things. They want to be the image of our secrets,...concealed and revealed at once" - R.M. Rilke

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Places I would like to visit in Europe, in no order:

1. Dubrovnik

picture #1 from this site:
picture #2 from this site:

Dubrovnik is an historic city on the Adriatic Sea coast in the extreme south of Croatia, positioned at the terminal end of the Isthmus of Dubrovnik. It is a seaport and the centre of Dubrovnik-Neretva county.

Since 1979, the historic centre of Dubrovnik has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

The prosperity of the city of Dubrovnik has always been based on maritime trade. In the Middle Ages, as the Republic of Ragusa, it became the only eastern Adriatic city-state to rival Venice. Supported by its wealth and skilled diplomacy, the city achieved a remarkable level of development, particularly during the 15th and 16th centuries. Ragusa was one of the centres of the development of the Croatian language and literature, home to many notable poets, playwrights, painters, mathematicians, physicists and other scholars.

from Wiki.

and from an article in the Smithsonian Magazine.

History resides everywhere here. “I was a child during the Italian occupation of parts of Croatia in World War II, and I still remember when the Partisans won that war,” the 71-yearold helmsman said. “Today, Tito’s communism seems to have vanished in the wind. I think it’s easier for people who have a past to put their lives in perspective.”

“In many respects, the 4,000 people living within Dubrovnik’s old city walls function as they did hundreds of years ago,” said Nikola Obuljen, 64, president of Dubrovnik’s city council, as he ambled across a limestone thoroughfare polished by centuries of foot traffic. “Venice has palazzos and the RialtoBridge, but Dubrovnik is a functioning Renaissance city where people live in the houses and shop at the markets.”

I first came to Dubrovnik in 1999 as a visitor searching for an eye in the Balkan storm. Kosovo then was in flames; Belgrade under siege. Bosnia remained intact only by force of international fiat. I needed a respite from Sarajevo, where, working as a journalism instructor, I happened to live a mile from a mass grave. That devastated city was recovering from the war that had ended there only the previous year. But as I drove south from Sarajevo toward Dalmatia, Bosnia’s once-fertile farmland offered only a succession of ghostly hamlets ethnically cleansed of inhabitants. Mostar, the last major stop before the Dinaric Alps, had been reduced to rubble. The Ottoman bridge that for centuries had spanned the Neretva River was destroyed, a casualty of the malignant xenophobia then infecting Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But as I traveled down the coastal highway beyond the mountains, the air began to warm, scenes of destruction grew less frequent and police actually began to smile. At the village of Ston, gateway to the Peljesac Peninsula, I entered the old, 530-square-mile Republic of Dubrovnik, which enjoyed an independent status for a millennium, to 1808. For the next hour, I meandered past fishing villages nestled beneath foothills verdant with vineyards. In the distance, an archipelago seemed to float in the mist. And then it appeared in the twilight: a walled city rising from the rocky coast like an Adriatic Camelot.

Monday, November 05, 2007


picture: The Lovers, Remedios Varo

from this book review:
But Robert Trivers was not interested in biology; he wanted to be a lawyer, and it would take a tragic breakdown (a mania that took the form of staying up all night, night after night, reading Wittgenstein and finally collapsing) to bring him closer to the animal world. [...]
His mentor was Bill Drury, an ornithologist whom the young Trivers learned to love and revere. "Bill and I were walking in the woods one day," Trivers once told a reporter, "and I told him that my first breakdown had been so painful that I had resolved that if I ever felt another one coming on, I would kill myself. Lately, however, I had changed my mind, and drawn up a list of ten people I would kill first in that event. I wanted to know if this was going forwards or backwards. He thought for a while, then he said, 'Can I add three names to that list?' That was his only comment." With Drury's encouragement, Trivers signed up for a doctorate in zoology armed with a plan to study monkeys. But his adviser was a herpetologist, and pointed Trivers to Jamaica and lizards instead. "When we flew to Jamaica," Trivers remembers, "I took one look at the women and one look at the island and decided to become a lizard man if that's what it took to go back there." Thus was born the career of the man who would pretend to explain altruism.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Oakland Autumn

"Become a mariner in the seas of one's self." -Lawrence Weschler