Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Isak Dinesen's Africa

Because I am stuck on Isak Dinesen and Martha Gellhorn this summer, I am going to post some photographs from a book called Isak Dinesen's Africa that I found in the library yesterday. I was prompted by litlove's post of a couple of days ago where she wrote of Dinesen's short story, "The Blank Page." I read Out of Africa a couple of months ago and was struck by Dinesen's description of the Kikuru and Masai people as well as the natural beauty of Africa.

This was Dinesen's farm house in the Ngong Hills. Of it she writes: "To the great wanderers amongst my friends, the farm owed its charm, I believe, to the fact that it was stationary and remained the same whenever they came to it."

A Masai warrior (leaning a bit, my fault, not the warriors). "Those young men have, to the utmost extent, that particular form of intelligence which we call chic;--daring, and wildly fantastical as they seem, they are still unswervingly true to their own nature, and to an immanent ideal."

This is a photograph of young Kikurus getting ready for a dance. Dinesen writes of these young dancers: "The real performers, the indefatigable young dancers, brought the glory and luxury of the festivity with them, they were immune to foreign influence, and concentrated upon the sweetness and fire within themselves."

An Elephant: "Here upon the roof of Africa, wandered the heavy, wise, majestic bearer of the ivory. He was deep in his own thoughts and wanted to be left to himself. But he was followed, and shot with poisoned arrows by the little dark Wanderobos, and with long, muzzle-loaded, silver-inlaid guns by the Arabs; he was trapped and thrown into pits all for the sake of his long smooth lightbrown tusks, that they sat and waited for at Zanzibar."

Mount Kilimanjaro, where the famous snows are melting at an irrevocable rate.

"I had time after time watched the progression across the plain of the Giraffe, in their queer, inimitable, vegetative gracefulness, as if it were not a herd of animals but a family of rare, long stemmed, speckled gigantic flowers slowly advancing."

All of these excerpts are taken from Isak Dinesen's Africa: Images of the Wild Continent from the Writer's Life and Words, Introduction by Judith Thurman, Photographs by Yanns Arthus-Bertrnad, Peter Beard, Frank Connor, David C, Fritts, Douglas Kirkland, Galen Rowell and Gunter Ziesler. Published by Sierra Club Books, San Francisco.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cliches of the Day

Martha Gellhorn (bet you're sick of me writing about her) once wrote that one of the difficulties of writing was holding the ever-present insufferable cliche at bay (very loose paraphrase.) Thinking about this has made me self-conscious of my use of cliches lately, and to combat what might turn into an abandonment of any attempts at colorful phrases I've decided to try to categorize some cliches into ones I'm okay with and ones that are truly, as Gellhorn states, insufferable.

10 Clichés I Like:

Gilding the lily
Whatever floats your boat
Preaching to the choir
Master of all he/she surveys
Six and a half dozen the other
Silence is golden
Up the creek without a paddle
Try walking a mile in my shoes
His elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top
Cat got your tongue?

10 Clichés I Don’t Like

Gentle reader
If you’re not with us you’re against us.
What comes around goes around (actually I kind of like this one sometimes)
Put up or shut up
Like, whatever…
The proof’s in the pudding (this is based on personal prejudice, I had a bad Biology teacher who always said it)
You can dish it out but you can’t take it
Get a life
Talk to the hand
So long Suckas

The fact that I like a cliche doesn't mean I will use it, I'll try to avoid them like all the others. But I hope some of them will stick around because there is often, in my mind, no better way to express the sentiment.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Fear Itself

Here’s a big one. I’m going to list some fears. This will be the end of my heart-on-sleeve series of posts for a while. I’m considering writing a big convoluted science fiction blog that is so complicated and impossible that it will have nothing close to the truth in it. Honesty is draining.

So here are some of my fears. Some of them are rational, some of them aren’t, but there’s one thing I know, I’m sure as hell not afraid to admit them.

Fear #1: Writing. I fear writing for all kinds of reason. First of all it just gets harder, not easier. I didn’t think this would be the case but I just spent over an hour going over and rearranging a measly two page paper. Plus I tend to think I suck sometimes. Then there’s the point when you don’t even understand what you are trying to say so how can you expect anyone else to. Then, there’s losing four pages because of the cheap laptops in the library and wanting to yell Goddamn! at the top of your lungs but you can’t because, well, you’re in a library. Then there’s the fact that overnight you have somehow lost the ability to type, even in your hunt-and-peck hackneyed way. I could go on but we need a new fear, there are plenty of them.

Fear #2: Needles. I know, join the club, but it really started when I needed stitches in my hand and the doctor started applying shots of Novocain right into the cut. I can get shots (I won’t faint or anything) but if I see someone shooting up on TV or in a movie I hurriedly avert my eyes. Acupuncture is out.

Fear #3: Being expelled. This is a new one, but the financial aid people sent me a form to fill out that would verify my tax information and I started on this irrational fantasy about them finding a discrepancy in my tax forms and expelling me for fraud. There is no way that this would happen, and I know that, but I’ve only got eight credits left until I can graduate so my mind does this to me sometimes.

Fear #4: Ending up in a cookie-cutter retirement home. No-way ever will I willingly go to one of these places. Why? I’ve worked in one, and I could tell you some things.

Fear#5: That my shower is going to fall through the kitchen ceiling. Every spring a leak develops from the upstairs bathroom that drips into the kitchen. Then it just stops. I have this fear of taking a shower and falling through the floor. What compounds this fear is that sometimes I hear a funny creaking noise when I’m in the shower. Could you imagine what kind of scene the paramedics would find?

Fear #5: Losing my house. This is like the being expelled one, it would take a lot at this point for this to happen, but I have to say, with all its faults and dusty corners and creaking showers, I love my house, so naturally I fear losing it. I better not get too close to this fear, don’t want any self-fulfilling prophecy.

Fear #6: Becoming like DB. This is a guy that I knew who went back to school later in life and graduated but was unable to turn his degree into anything. He drank a lot, and after some years he drank anti-freeze, poor guy. It’s a sad story. He survived thank goodness but there’s a depth of despair in that act that I never want to experience.

Fear #7: Public ridicule. I know I invite it sometimes, but I can’t stand the thought of being singled out and laughed at even at this age. Kind of like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery but of course not as bad as getting stoned to death. By the way, why did they make every American kid read that story in high school? As if the geeky kids who actually read it (like me) didn’t have enough of that kind of thing in real life.

Fear#8: That I won’t be able to play guitar anymore. Having my hands mangled or something would make me automatically think of one thing: “I’ll never play guitar again.” Not, “I’ll never write again,” or “I’ll never cook again,” or “I’ll never hold a woman in my lovin’ arms again,” Okay that’s corny but you get the point. When I used to cut myself at work I would make sure that I hadn’t cut a vital guitar finger. I’m not a great guitar player, but I just need to play every day. When I can’t, I get surly.

That’s it. Here are some things I’m not afraid of: Death: at this point not so much, but then I haven’t given it much thought. Flying: No way, I love to fly. Well, the actual flying, not the hassle of #$%$*& airports. Heights: I grew up in trees, not like Tarzan but close. I was in a tree the other day sawing branches and remembered how cool it is to see your neighborhood this way. Germs: believe me I definitely don’t have this phobia. Strange Food: Bring it on, but it has to be fresh. Sharks: I live way inland so no. I once went swimming in the ocean after a shark attack was reported the day before. Snakes: Nope. Bugs: A little. Maggots: Yuck! Leeches: Yup. Okay that’s enough.

The fact is is that we all fear, it is a survival instinct. I try to remain rational when I feel afraid but sometimes, even now when I’m alone and I hear a strange noise I think, for a second, “Someone’s going to chop me up into a thousand pieces.”

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Shakespeare Challenge

Okay, in keeping with my habit of stealing shamelessly from other bloggers I would like to create a reading challenge for myself. I've been conducting an informal one for the past several weeks that has me reading female authors. This came about because I looked at my reading list for the year and realized that I had only read male authors for the first quarter of 2007. So lately I've read: Out of Africa by Karen Blixen, Caroline Moorehead's biography of Martha Gellhorn, The Russian Revolution by Sheila Fitzpatrick, (this was a required reading but I'm including it anyway) and I am currently reading Gellhorn's Travels with Myself and Another. I have one more to choose to complete the five book cycle and I'm considering taking the plunge and trying Austen. I was bored to distraction by Pride and Prejudice in high school, but I hope, like so many other things that have come to me later in life, that I will now be equipped to understand Austen's contribution to literature. I'm considering Northanger Abbey, but I will be happy to take any suggestions.

So I've decided to make the next challenge more formal and take on a subject that has eluded me for all these years, William Shakespeare. Once again my main experience of Shakespeare comes from high school where we read the prerequisite Romeo and Juliet (ninth grade), Julius Caesar (tenth grade), and King Lear (twelfth grade). I was indifferent to Shakespeare throughout these readings, but it wasn't until two semesters ago, with the reading of Richard III, when I started to develop an irrational prejudice against the writer. I found myself asking, none to sanctimoniously, why do we hold this man up as the ultimate master of western literary tradition. Questioning Shakespeare in this way, I know, is tantamount to high treason, especially for an English major, and I just won't allow myself to reject his writing wholesale. I am ashamed to admit that I have not read Hamlet. This will be the first play I read in the challenge and the rest, I plan to read five, are up for grabs. I'm open to suggestions but I want to read at least one comedy and possibly two histories.

I hope Shakespeare and I find some common ground. I know I'm being naive in my opinion of him, and I hope to rectify this with a better appreciation of his work.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Psychoanalysis Here I Come

I’ve had two very strange dreams in the past week, and because I don’t keep a dream journal I will use my blog as a way to try to interpret them, or at least record them for posterity. I should have done this the day after I had the dreams, because already I am getting a less vivid picture of them in my mind. Hearing about someone’s dreams can sometimes be tedious, (I once new a girl who would recite the previous nights dreams to me in complicated detail lasting, what seemed to be, longer than the time she was asleep) so I will get to the point of the dream as quickly as possible. Both of them occurred while I was finishing up the book about Chef Gordon Ramsay, and they are both food related, which is interesting because I believe that reading the book awoke something from my subconscious which manifested itself into these dreams.

In the first dream I was cooking with my mother. (I feel red flags going up from the Freudians already.) This is not so unusual a scenario because I cook with my mother quite often, especially during the holidays. The location was odd however, we were neither at my house or hers but at the house of some old friends my parents have known since my sisters and I were very young. This isn’t surprising either because I had recently visited this house. But what happened next has me baffled. We were both very involved in the dish we were cooking, and while we were examining the recipe we realized that it called for cat. At that time there was a cat purring at our feet. I found myself picking the cat up and putting it on the cutting board. (read on, it doesn’t end like you think).

This was a dilemma, to make this dish properly I would have to do away with this cat. Now I know there are enough cat haters out there who would be fine with this prospect but I happen to like cats, I have two, and I’m the kind of flake who would rather put a cricket outside in the yard than squish it. But I’m a chef, or I was one, and if this recipe called for cat I would have to do this. This is the part that kind of freaks me out; I actually started thinking about, how, after the cat had met its fate, I would go about quartering the carcass to use in the recipe. This must have been a fricassee, or maybe a cat au vin.

My compassion won out and I put the cat back on the floor, but for that instant, when I was considering the other option, I realized that I had become a complete technician, putting aside my regard for life because of my duty to my skill. If I had actually killed the cat in the dream, I would have thrown myself on the nearest psychotherapy couch and stayed there until the right prescription was administered.

Just now, while I was writing this, I realized that there was another factor that may have influenced this dream. Two weeks ago I watched the Ang Lee film Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. This is the story of a Taiwanese master chef, and much of the film is of the main character cooking unprecedented dishes. In some cases he has to kill his ingredients on the spot, going out to catch and kill a chicken or having a carp meet its end with the help of some chopsticks. Some of this movie must have filtered into my mental file-cabinet appearing later in the form of the dream about the cat. I think at a deeper level the dream is about my leaving the cooking profession for other pursuits, something about the sacrifice being too high for me to remain. Killing the cat was just too much for me, and if it meant abandoning the recipe, it was worth it to keep my peace of mind.

In the second dream I didn’t have to play so much the role of Solomon. It was just one of your run of the mill “school’s started and I haven’t done my homework” type of dream. But this wasn’t at school; it was in Chef Ramsay’s kitchen! And it wasn’t really a kitchen; it was this market on the upper west-side of Manhattan where my sister and brother-in-law took me a couple of years ago. I had just shown up for work right when service was beginning.

The Chef was nowhere to be seen but I felt that he would inevitably come out of nowhere and start barking at me like a rottweiler. In the meantime my immediate supervisor was Charlie Trotter, the brilliant a-hole chef from Chicago. He had neglected to tell me what I was supposed to prep and yelled at me for not knowing, and I remember thinking to myself, “oh lord here we go again.” Luckily this dream ended shortly after this incident and I had that great rush of relief when you wake to find yourself in your own bed and four more hours until the alarm goes off.

I believe that this second dream is again an indication of how glad I am to be out of that world. But what’s strange is that the further I get away from living in that world, the more voyeuristic I get about keeping up with it from the outside. I watched a marathon of a chef competition reality show called Top Chef on Sunday, and, try as I might, I couldn’t stop watching. I disliked these shows when I was actually in that world, and even now I wouldn’t want to watch them with anyone present because I am very vocal throughout. I’m like that obnoxious fan who sits behind you at the football game who second guesses the coach, the referee, and the quarterback loudly in your ear for three hours. “Why the hell would you make a watermelon gratin you bozo?” or, “You are the most vapid, grasping, falsely-confident woman I’ve ever seen, it’s obvious that the producers picked you only because you look good on camera.” This last remark was about a judge on the show.

I might need to take a step back from these shows. My cable went out on Monday night, the night that Hell’s Kitchen airs, and I was despondent. But I took Booker out on the porch and listened to some music instead, and forgot about the fact that somewhere someone was probable throwing something at someone else while screaming insults at another. The porch, at that moment, seemed like a very peaceful place.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Places I've Had Sex (this post is humorous, not creepy, so don't let the title freak you out:)

I was on Danny Miller's blog today and he included a link to communicatrix who did the 8 random things meme. One of the items on her list was a link to a Google map to all of the places where she has had sex. I didn't know if this is somehow a way for her to see the world or what, but it made me jealous for all of the places she'd been and all the sex she's had. (Although I don't know if I'd brag about having sex in Cleveland.) But then I started to think, I've had sex in some pretty interesting places too. Take a look. (Don't worry, its not that bad.)

I've had sex here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here.

I need to remember what a wild guy I was back in the day, can't say which was the best place, those days were such a blur, but I'm thinking the tar pit.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

New Songs

At Linday's request I've uploaded this song. Lindsay, I tried and tried to upload the original recording, but couldn't make it happen for some reason. I hastily recorded this version. It is a little sloppy and flawed, but its the best I can do for the time being, until I can get a copy of the original from you. Note the absence of the cowbell (!) from the opening measures.

The Lounge Lizard Blues

This one is for Emily. She and her husband turned me on to this album by the Cowboy Junkies and this is my version of one of those songs.

Horse in the Country

This one is Joan Armatrading in London, I believe. A great song by a great vocalist.

Down to Zero

Saturday, June 9, 2007

I’m going to do a quick post today. A couple of weeks ago there was meme going around that was like “eight strange things that people don’t know about me,” or something to that effect. I want to give this a try.

1. I talk to my dog like he is a person who can understand me, and kind of believe that he can, especially when he looks bored.

2. I suffer from mild road-rage. And more-than-mild George W. Bush-rage.

3. I am irrationally superstitious and get nervous when I see the number 13 (even now).

4. Every time I say God d*mn, I say the Lord’s Prayer to myself.

5. I love the movie “Tommy Boy.”

6. I think I’m a pretty good dancer, but that doesn’t mean I am.

7. I like vienna sausages, still, to this day. Had some the day-before-yesterday.

8. The other day I was driving home and singing Frankie Valley’s “Oh What a Night” at the top of my lungs.

9. I often go over the allotted number in a meme, just to push the envelope a bit.

10. Hmmm…….

11. Oh yea, If it weren’t for spell-check, my blog would be even more of an illegible mess.

So there you go, pretty freaky huh? But don’t judge, I couldn’t bear to be ostracized for my idiosyncrasies.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Ramsay the Terrible

So yesterday I posted about one of the two books I am currently reading. Today I will write about the second book, one that is a little easier and a lot more fun to read, although the Gellhorn book is fascinating. I’m finally getting around to reading Gordon Ramsay’s book Roasting in Hell’s Kitchen which is unselfconsciously hilarious, a little disturbing, and has swayed me over to this guy despite myself. Ramsay is perhaps the most driven S.O.B. I’ve ever read about, and, unfortunately, his drive is motivated not in small part to desperation. Or at least it was, by this time, I believe, Chef Ramsay never has to be desperate for approval ever again.

Much of this desperation stemmed from his relationship with his abusive father, an aspiring musician and an alcoholic who beat his children for lying and instilled in his eldest son a hatred for dishonesty. The relationship was brutal and heartrending but the lessons about lying seemed to have bored deep into Ramsay’s nature. Ramsay repeatedly holds up lies as the vilest poison in a kitchen, and berates and humiliates anyone he catches out on a lie. I’ve seen this kind of brow-beating before and it is disturbing to watch—and Ramsay is a master at drawing it out of a person and cornering them mercilessly. But there is a point to it that I recognize now, if the person who lies is allowed to get away with it he will continue to do it, and may become duplicitous, which is another fatal but all too common characteristic in a professsional kitchen.

But then there are the critics. I used to be one of them, feeling nauseas every time he chewed out a whimpering line cook or chucked a dish at the wall. “There’s no need for that,” I would think, intimidation only makes people more nervous and unable to concentrate. But Ramsay’s rise in the kitchen was repeatedly marked by people treating him in just the same way, and if there is a justification for this type of behavior, it is that to survive in the best restaurants in the world one has to develop a Calphanon shell. Ramsay tells stories that may be shocking to some, but are mixed with amusing honesty, about having scalding hot dishes hurled at him and having to stand there, straight faced, with spaghetti hanging off his ear. At times, he, like any sane human being, bolted from abusive chefs, but they often ran him down and implored him to stay, probably for his inhuman capacity for work and for what he calls, “good hands.”

While reading this book I find myself doing a kind of mental gaping. I marvel at the all of the abuse that Ramsay withstands, and as he now takes more abuse from critics—read this article in the New Yorker about his recently opened New York restaurant—he forges on despite it all. Of course by now he could retire and be assured that, if someone handles his money correctly, his great-grand-children would never want for anything in their lives. But he admits to being a person who can never sit still so retirement seems unlikely. He also comes across as a bit of a dodger at times, ducking out if things get a little too rough. A survival instinct I suppose, and one that has served him well.

Often I’ll read a passage and think, “wow, I saw some things in my time in the kitchen but never like that,” and then I’ll realize that, well, yes I had. I worked for a sadistic chef for two years who was part barbarian, part courtroom-shark (his father had been a defense attorney in the redneck town of Martinsville, Virginia). This guy was always looking for a way to back you into a corner and force you into the unforgivable position of being “in the weeds,” which means being behind on the line. Really, the guy was merciless, and at that time I had yet to step up and get a fire lit under my ass about working at the club. In the first three months of the Chef’s hiring, three employees quit, including the garde-manger chef and the pastry chef, who wrote a long indictment of the chef and slipped it under the general manager’s door early one morning. I was on my way out as well, and spent many sleepless nights planning my next move. I would drive to work everyday with tornadoes ravishing the pit of my stomach and try to remain calm as I prepared for the day, but it was one of those instances where every time the guy walked into the room you would just feel automatically defeated. He sensed this, and played on it, and I never understood what he stood to gain by wrecking a person’s self-confidence in this way, and yes I did see him make someone cry, not me thank God. To see someone cry in the work-place is so sadly surreal that it difficult to bring that memory back.

I tried to quit. I had been offered a job at a competing club by the former chef, but when I put in my notice the sado-chef wouldn’t let me go. He took me out on the loading dock several times and made a case true to his legal upbringing. The other club would eat me alive, he claimed, that I was just beginning to make progress under his “guidance.” This went on for the period of my notice, but in the end the cliché endured, money did indeed talk. They offered me a substantial raise and a promotion and I relented.

But now how would I survive this guy? My foray into leverage bargaining had not changed the chef’s attitude toward me or his staff one iota. I still was marked as backwater scum, although by this time he knew that my family had a legal background as well, owning the publishing company that published North Carolina's statutes for years and years. I still felt exhausted in his presence, and I remained very miserable at the job. As I watched the other staff members get berated on a daily basis I often asked myself, “Is it really worth it.”

One day, and this is the only way to describe it, I had a revelation. I was so annoyed by this chef that I decided that I was just going to silently mock him all day. I would mirror his characteristics, all but the berating of my co-workers, I never have been or never will be good at that, it just isn’t in my character. For all of his faults, this guy could really move in the kitchen. I estimate that he was about 250 pounds, but he was agile and could knock out a prep-list (long complicated ones for banquets) extremely quickly. Part of what made it uncomfortable to have him around was that he was so big and he seemed to be everywhere. So that’s how I started to work too, in a mocking way, at first. By the end of the first day I realized that I had finished the entire next day’s prep list. This is a great way to work, a day ahead, because as the day’s parties go out, everything is done and all you have to do is prepare the hot food, and get going on the next day's prep. By the third day I had given up on the mocking part of my plan and just started busting-ass like this, all day, every day. As we went into the holiday season it was being noticed how fast I had become, and compliments and glowing after-action reports were accumulating.

One day the chef took me aside and said very quietly, so no-one would hear, “Man, you’re kicking ass.” I was truthfully able to say, “It really hasn’t been that bad.”

The chef and I had more scrapes, but as long as I continued to “mock” him, I was able to maintain quality in my work and build the department. We knocked out a humongous amount of parties, and our business continued to grow, making the catering department the club’s cash cow—after golf; golf ruled at that place.

My humble story is hard to compare with Ramsay’s experience in London, an epicurean center that had finally arrived in the nineties after literally centuries of derision, mainly from Frenchmen who called English chefs, according to Ramsay, “rosbifs.” Ramsay’s scrappy rise, and his battles with rivals, most notably Marco White, culminated in him becoming the only Michelin three star chef in England. There is just no way I can dispute this accomplishment, even though I feel bad for a sous chef that Ramsay might make cry. If I believe that Ramsay’s style is destructive, and then see how he forces his underlings to rise to the occasion (or perish) as he has, I may have to reconsider my opinion of his methods.

As for me, I know that after all was said and done, the sado-chef forced me to step up. I don’t give him the credit for making me a better chef though, I give that credit to myself for not giving up. But the great ones, like Ramsay, know that being at his level means finding the deepest part of yourself and using it to go on. Anger, such a constant problem in the kitchen, may be just the very emotion that is needed to drive a chef to excellence.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Gellhorn in Gastonia

Recently I’ve been reading two books at the same time. There are so many books I want to read, and I just keep getting more recommendations every day, that I need to do this kind of juggling. I may soon be one of those people who have several books going at once. I could honestly say that about my reading list now, but I’m not going to count reading for school, for some reason it doesn’t seem right.

The first book is Caroline Moorehead’s 2003 biography of Martha Gellhorn. I’m not very far in, but I can see already that this is the story of a person who obsessively tried to put herself where the action was at all times. After only a hundred pages Gellhorn has: become the mistress of Bertrand de Jouvenel, an influential and married French journalist, broken off her affair, become estranged from her parents, seen most of Western Europe and the United States, signed on with Harry Hopkins’ rural relief effort, been accused of being a communist and sacked, published a novel (What Mad Pursuit) and become a trusted confidant of Eleanor Roosevelt. Hemingway Shmemingway I say. Being Earnest Hemingway’s third wife for four years might rank down there with winning her third-grade spelling-bee. Still, I can’t wait to get to the part about their marriage.

One part that I found interesting is that in 1934 Harry Hopkins, FDR’s domestic-advisor for lack of a better title, recruited writers to travel to the country’s most impoverished areas and write succinct accounts of what they found there. Gellhorn was recruited and assigned the textile regions of New England and the Carolinas. She traveled to Gaston County which is southeast of where I live, probably about an hours drive. In areas like Gastonia, and all over the rural United States, she and her fellow writers found what Moorehead calls, “a haunting picture of despair.”

In her report titled “Dear Mister Hopkins” Gellhorn claims, “I suppose Gaston County is a concentration of all evils,” and strongly criticized the initial relief efforts by FDR’s administration. She complains of a lack of motivation in the residents, claiming that the social workers sent to the area are only looked upon as suppliers of handouts. In a point about labor she states:

A sense of insecurity grows; these workers fear hunger and cold; fear the loss
of jobs or the shutting down of the mill. The labor troubles add to this state
of fear; it is really an extraordinary mess. When I go into workers houses to
talk to them, it takes some time before they will trust me; dare to say that
they are union men; dare to discuss their problems. They live in terror of being
penalized for joining unions; and the employers live in a state of mingled rage
and fear against this imported monstrosity; organized labor. A kind of
underground warfare which will flare up from time to time, stupidly, doing no
one any good. I think this labor business must be considered in our field, if
one tries to gauge the mental state of these people. I find all the union
presidents eager to maintain order, eager to avoid rioting, bloodshed, which
they realize will only react to the detriment of the worker. But the leaders,
curiously enough, are more moderate than the led. And the workers, themselves,
living in overcrowded houses, nervously overwrought, undernourished, frightened,
are apt to strike even though they realize they can only lose.

But it was the health of the population that seemed to have the largest impact on Gellhorn. She found repeated cases of syphilis, even in children, and called it an epidemic on the scale of smallpox. She provides the gravity of Gaston County’s health problems with these words:

The medical set-up in this area is non-existent; and I think my last report
adequately stressed the terrific health conditions. Syphilis uncured and
unchecked; spread by ignorant people who have no conception of the disease, and
no special interest in getting cured. One doctor in Gastonia, who handles our
relief cases, said "syphilis has reached the point of being an epidemic here."
The doctors all talk of malnutrition and fear the present and future effects.
Birth control is needed here almost more than in any other area I have ever
seen; there is one mill village where half the population is pathologic, and
reproducing half wits and with alarming vigor. None of this is surprising;
Gaston County has one health office and that's all in the way of public
medicine. He himself is a total loss. The private doctors do what they can which
isn't much. And all are appalled by what the future holds for these people, who
are absolutely unequipped for life.

Finally, she sums up her impression of Gaston County in terms that suit her penchant for novelizing:

Gaston County is my idea of a place to go to acquire melancholia. The only ray
of hope is the grand work which our own office is doing; it's a kind of
desperate job like getting the wounded off the battlefield so that they can die
quietly at a base hospital.

It is probable that she had read Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms by this time, (whose hero is in fact someone who transports the wounded to field hospitals); she had quoted it in other writings, and her allusion to the nobility of battlefield relief seems strangely coincidental and prophetic.

I agree with Gellhorn that Gaston County is a place to go to acquire melancholia, although she saw it in a much worse state than I ever have. It is flat and non-distinct, with scrub-pines being the most prominent natural feature, and it is filled with people who view NASCAR as a religion and religion as an excuse to despise anyone with an open-mind. The fact that Gellhorn lived there and reported on its condition before moving on to The Spanish Civil War and her highly regarded reporting of the Second World War is a strange one to me, because the closer her reporting comes to my world, albeit seventy-odd years later, the more easily I can believe in the world in which these lions roamed.

Gellhorn was sacked from Hopkins' team. Her suggestion to workers in Idaho to break windows of the relief office was not met kindly by the FBI. She was labeled a communist, although I suspect mainly by her own hand, and recalled. The Roosevelts made a concession to her by offering her a place to stay. Talk about landing on your feat.

So far I like Gellhorn and Moorehead, who was a friend, although at times I feel both writers a bit superior. At this early stage in the book, Gellhorn comes off as slightly tortured, but I like the way she pursues her calling and throws off the ties of conventional gender-roles (ughh, hate that term, although not its meaning) of the time. She keeps moving, and perhaps, in her day, that was one way of becoming an individual in a world where men seemed to only want to make women partners.

Friday, June 1, 2007


These are some new audio files that I recently uploaded. This post can only stay on my blog temporarily because I only have so much audio sharespace, but I may work on getting more MBs to work with.

This is an original by me. The lyrics are pretty stream of conscience. The Journey of Unlimited Light

This is my version of a Dylan song. I recorded it years ago.
It's All Over Now Baby Blue

This is another original. Please forgive the singing, it was an unnatural key. Also, the name was inspired by the Clint Eastwood movie Unforgiven.
Big Whiskey Woman