Thursday, April 28, 2016

Hemingway and the Bulls

It's been a while since I've read anything by Ernest Hemingway, though I have three of his novels on my bookshelf. When I read him in the past, I sometimes had an almost visceral sense of being pummeled, which may have derived in part from his prose style and in part from his themes. This week, however, I finally read The Sun Also Rises, and it all came about because I was reading a novel about his first marriage and his years in Paris. That novel, The Paris Wife, written from the point of view of Mr. Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, tells the story of the complicated personal relationships of the Hemingways and their friends and purportedly hews close to actual events.

The Sun Also Rises is, apparently, a barely disguised version of actual events described in The Paris Wife. As I finished the latter book, Mr. Hemingway's novel was literally sitting across the room from me, directly in my line of vision. It seemed like a good time to find out what he had made of events I'd just read about from someone else's perspective, but I was hesitant. Was I in the mood for literary punches and jabs? No, I wasn't, not really, but my curiosity had been piqued, so I decided to give Mr. Hemingway another try.

As happens to me with fair frequency, I found that I had a different reaction to the author than I'd had in the past. I can't speak to the rights or wrongs of the actual events, but only to the novel, which tells of painful circumstances and tragic characters with a surprising amount of humor. I enjoyed the careful descriptions of landscape, the sharp dialogue, and the vivid sense of place and time. In the time it took to read the novel, I was transported. I can fully appreciate how painful it might have been to be a participant in these events, but the work itself is graceful.

Mr. Hemingway's descriptions of the running of the bulls, the fiesta, and the bull-fighting in Pamplona made me realize something else. I've written before about an alternate outcome for the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, one in which the Minotaur is released from the labyrinth instead of being killed there. My thinking was that if the Minotaur is a disguised version of a sun god, his killing might be the key to the tragic events that follow his death. In the running of the bulls, one sees what this release of the Minotaur looks like in actuality. Though events are still, to some degree, choreographed (as they are in the bull-ring), the strength of the bull is at least celebrated and appreciated by the onlookers. The bull-fighters are judged, in part, against the size and ferocity of the bulls.

Mr. Hemingway made the bull-fights a central image in The Sun Also Rises, and to me, it seems he was very aware of the mythic import of the spectacle, which is also a ritual. Having seen so much death in the war, he must have been acutely alive to the ritualistic conquering of death in the bull-ring, where the bull-fighter "takes on" some of the animal's strength and vitality in the act of defeating it.

It seems to me that though the danger to the bull-fighter is real, the odds are still stacked against the animals. (In the bull-fights, at least as described in the novel, the animal invariably dies.) I don't think this was lost on Mr. Hemingway. Each triumph by a skillful bull-fighter is a temporary triumph, even when repeated many times. But to a character like Jake, shattered by a near-miss with death, the ritual of renewal, even if only temporary and somewhat conditioned, must have been very powerful.

Jake and the others of his generation who survived the war are mirror images of the bull-fighter, though less fortunate. They returned from the labyrinth alive but forever changed, aware of the futility of what they had been through and searching for a way to live with that awareness. As Jake tells it, his central project in life has become an accommodation to facts that cannot be changed. "I did not care what it was all about," he says at one point. "All I wanted to know was how to live in it. Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about."

It may be off the topic, but the metaphor of bull-fighting in The Sun Also Rises has given me an idea. What if, in the future, we settled all conflicts between nations in the bull-ring? Just send down the person or persons responsible for making the call to the ring and let them match wits with the bulls. It would have to be an even fight, though, so no sending in proxies or hiding behind the fences. If they came out of it still thinking that war is a good idea, then let them fight each other, if so inclined. It may sound crude and simplistic, but wouldn't it save everybody else a lot of trouble? If the bull wins, the whole thing is called off, and we have a two-week fiesta instead.

If I finished The Paris Wife feeling a great deal of sympathy for the first Mrs. Hemingway, I finished The Sun Also Rises with a new empathy for Mr. Hemingway. Glamorous and hip they may have been, but they had a lot stacked against them. Even with all the artistic fervor taking place in the Paris of their day, I don't think I would have wanted to be there, because too much of it seems to have resulted from pain and early loss that they could not surmount. Even though the war was over, they still seemed to be fighting it.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Medieval for a Cause

Last year I wrote about Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales in April; this year, in keeping with that same spirit of spring, I read a prose retelling of the work. My online hours may have been spent keeping up with current events, and my walks may have entailed enjoying the flowers while tuning out modern noise, but my mind was in the Middle Ages. I wasn't sorry to absent myself, at least sporadically, from some of this week's sound and fury. Going medieval isn't always bad.

I think you need to read at least some of the tales as Chaucer wrote them to get the flavor of the language, even if it slows down your comprehension. One of the most memorable experiences I had in an English class was hearing Middle English verse read out loud while we mastered pronunciation in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and other works. For the first time, I could hear the underlying rhythms of the English language--hear it clearly as music--with the sense of the words taking second place to the sound. However, if I were teaching The Canterbury Tales, I would also have the students read a modern retelling so that they could enjoy the stories as stories.

To fully appreciate them, it's true: you have to read the entire work, or the bulk of it, and that would probably only take place in a course devoted to Middle English poetry. It's an ambitious project to read them all but worth it. It's not just the stories in themselves, but what they say about the people who tell them, and their listeners, that makes the Tales so much fun. You have, among others, the opening story told by a long-winded knight, a series of unflattering and/or bawdy tales told with the purpose of annoying someone else, the unforgettable forthrightness of the Wife of Bath, the stark morality of the Pardoner's tale of the three wastrels, and the folksy humor of the Nun's Priest's tale of the sprightly Chanticleer who outfoxes the fox.

I haven't been able to stop thinking about "Chaucer's Retractions," which comes at the very end. This is Chaucer, still in character as one of the pilgrims, turning aside, just as the company is approaching its goal, to offer a private speech in defense and/or apology for all his works, including the Tales he has just concluded. In spirit, it's a little like the series finale of some long-running TV show in which of one of the characters wakes up, and you find it was all a dream. After so much irreverence, crudity, and satire, Chaucer in effect takes it all back, just in case there was something in there that might have offended God or man. Of course, his failing to do this until the last dirty joke has been told leads you to question his sincerity, but the seriousness of his prayer also seems to hedge his bets. After all, death could come suddenly, and there was no sense taking any chances. If there's humor in this retraction, it's a dark humor, as I read it, laced with a sense of mortality.

A medieval pilgrim stopping in the woods unavoidably makes me think of Dante's pilgrim, who lost his way in a similar place before seeking his salvation. I'm also jumping ahead a couple of centuries to Shakespeare's Prospero, who, having used the magic arts to regain control of his fate, gives them up in the end, saying, "This rough magic I here abjure." Although Chaucer's purpose, to instruct, seems very different from Prospero's, they are both in effect using their creative power to shape things to their will. All of Chaucer's characters are subject to his whim, just as the inhabitants of Prospero's island are subject to his, until they're released. There's an inevitability to this release, but it's also a little sad, a letting go.

April is a great time to read The Canterbury Tales. You can rest your eyes by looking out the window at the trees leafing out and the flowers budding and put yourself in company with the pilgrims setting out on their journey, which, by the way, begins with crossing a stream. (Is The Canterbury Tales, in some sense, an underworld journey? This is a question I would put to my class of imaginary students, who may someday be actual ones.) I let time elide like that the other day at the coffeehouse while finishing the Tales, and it was as if the fourteenth century and the twenty-first blended together and became one, a Frappuccino of centuries. It was as if no time had passed at all since the pilgrims first gathered at Starbu--, I mean, the Tabard Inn.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Most Foolish People You'll Ever Hope to Meet

Dear ----,

I have said all of this to ----, in writing, without getting a response. I have thought about withholding part of my rent payment until I get a reply to my concerns and may consider doing that in the future, but first I want to relay these complaints directly to you to make sure you’re aware that this situation, which I have brought to your attention before, is ongoing.

I have had noisy and ill-mannered (to say the least) neighbors upstairs dating back to 2010, from approximately the time your company acquired this property. This problem continues with the current tenant. I talked to her (once) about heavy footsteps and miscellaneous noise, and she professed not to know what I was talking about. At first, she was not as consistently noisy as the other tenants have been, so it was easier to ignore, but I was bothered on the evening of Feb. 26 (as on other occasions) by tapping noises directly above my head while I was trying to relax in my living room. There is no reason I can think of why someone would be tapping on the floor unless they wished to annoy someone, an immature exercise at best, but I noted from the young woman's general demeanor that she was no more likely to be a good neighbor than any of her predecessors.

I'm not concerned about ordinary noise and realize that some is unavoidable. In years past, though, I had a rather heavyset neighbor living above me, considerably larger than the young woman in question, and I rarely heard him--just to give you a point of comparison. It’s impossible to escape the conclusion that the noise is deliberate (all of these tenants have been rather odd as well).

Secondly, on the afternoon of March 18, I found some trash (cotton swabs and a coin) on the back floorboard of my car that I definitely didn't put there; the only explanation can be that someone else has been in the vehicle, although it did not appear to have been broken into. I'm meticulous about locking the doors, so I'm not certain how someone could have gotten in. I threw the items away and called the ---- police to report the incident, but I was told that unless something was damaged or missing, I couldn't file a report.

I'm telling you because I think this is most likely to have occurred at the apartments. I rarely take the car anywhere except to the coffeehouse and the grocery store, and I doubt if it happened in broad daylight. It probably happened overnight. There's nothing in the car that anyone would want to steal or that would make it a likely target for thieves. I usually park it underneath the light at the corner of the lot. The last time I had been in the back seat was on the previous Saturday when I put my groceries there, and I didn't notice anything then, so it must have happened sometime that week. I haven't discovered anything missing or broken in the vehicle so far, but that doesn't negate the fact that someone broke in, which I assure you I take quite seriously as a safety concern.

Finally, I never got a response last summer (2015) to my request for someone to service the air conditioner for my unit, which did not work up to par for most of the summer. When that happened, my refrigerator failed to work properly, and I had to throw some food out. I have already requested someone to take a look at it well in advance of the warm weather; I am told now that this will happen, and I hope that's the case.

All of this is to say that I am not really sure what I am paying rent for since I haven’t had proper use and enjoyment of my apartment for the last 5½ years. These issues go beyond mere annoyance, which would be bad enough, to the level of actual health and safety concerns. I am not sure that some of the tenants upstairs haven’t been (or are not now) engaged in criminal activity, based on my observations. I want you to understand that I’m not talking about pranks typical of college students. With previous landlords (I’ve lived here for almost 16 years), we sometimes had tenants who partied or came in late, though most of them lived in the other buildings. Some of them were undoubtedly problem tenants, but I never had an entire string of them living directly above me for years at a time.

I was unable to resolve this issue with the first problem tenants back in 2010 by telling them about it, and though I have introduced myself to subsequent tenants and let them know, more or less politely, about the problems they were causing, it has been to no avail. There has been a pattern to these issues extending over a period of years (and unprecedented in my many years of living in apartments). The least I expect of a landlord is to maintain a safe environment so that I can enjoy my own apartment in peace, and I am not getting that. I do not bother these neighbors, I take care of my own apartment, and I expect my concerns to receive a response.

I will also add that, though you may be unconcerned about your water bill (as evidenced by my inability to get my dripping kitchen faucet properly fixed), I hear water running so frequently above me that I often wonder what people are doing besides playing with the pipes. It seems rather excessive.


Friday, April 8, 2016

Your Life as a Pop Song

It was such a beautiful afternoon in the park, with almost everything blooming, or beginning to, and I practically had the place to myself. There were redbuds, cherry trees, lilacs, viburnum, tulips, and--on the road leading up to the parking lot--a whole bank of daffodils. Although spring came early this year, it has backtracked a little, so that although everything looks like Easter, the air is chilly. Skies were cloudy this afternoon and threatened rain, and I was wearing my down jacket, but still, I have to say, it was lovely in the arboretum. I hummed a couple of show tunes from My Fair Lady.

I guess the big news this week is the Panama Papers, which could even turn out to be the story of the year. Those who worked on the investigation dubbed it the Prometheus project, which seems to acknowledge their sense of its importance. Prometheus, of course, was the god who gave the gift of fire to humanity and then had hell to pay for it from the other gods. I was thinking about that as I walked around this afternoon.

The first thing I noticed about the initial list of countries whose leaders were named was that it didn't include the United States. I'm just not sure that's going to hold up. I was glad to see a couple of U.S. senators calling for the Treasury Department to investigate possible links between U.S. entities and the Mossack Fonseca law firm. Interesting that they didn't seem to feel that the Justice Department probe, which has already begun, was enough--and I suppose they have their reasons. In a letter to the Treasury secretary, they cited the need to investigate individuals or entities with possible links to terrorism or money laundering who may be sanctioned by the Treasury Department. It sounded to me like they had something in mind already.

People sometimes talk about American exceptionalism and America's place in the world as if wrongdoing is something that only happens in other places, but don't you think that people in China, Russia, and other places sometimes shake their heads about things they hear about us? The thing about exceptionalism is that you actually have to be exceptional, not just say you are. It's one thing to live by your principles and another to get by on your looks. When it comes to the heroes and villains of this piece, we may all be surprised. It's also true that some of the people whose names are being thrown around now may end up being exonerated.

I was interested to see the list of news organizations involved in the project and noted that although the McClatchy newspapers were included, others, such as The New York Times, weren't. In my experience as a consumer of news, there do seem to be biases evident in the reporting of many major news sources, including The New York Times. There are people I wouldn't trust with sensitive information, especially in light of the fact that free press in America hasn't thrived under the last two administrations, making any investigative reporting that could expose American players very risky. (The U.S. is ranked 49th in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, a poor showing for a country that should be at the top.)

I think you get a mix of good and bad reporting across the entire range of media, and I wouldn't necessarily exclude McClatchy, the BBC, or anyone else from biased reporting. Perhaps the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists had a sense of which reporters it could trust, or perhaps part of the project was a test to find out. I'd be surprised, too, if attempts hadn't been made to hack the ICIJ servers, which could in itself be revealing. It will probably take this story some time to unwind, and there are undoubtedly many revelations ahead.

Well, that's a pretty heavy topic for an April day, so maybe I should end this post on a lighter note. I hope this isn't too awkward a segue, but I wrote about politics last week, and I've been thinking a lot about the personalities of the presidential candidates. I had some fun trying to pick a song that I associate with each of the five remaining in the race and imagining myself as the campaign manager who decides what gets played as the candidate bounces onstage (a whimsical thought--no campaign manager would ever select some of these songs). None of them are from My Fair Lady, but that doesn't mean anything. I had second thoughts about one or two of them, but I think I'm going to go with my first choice, because you can overthink these things.

Are you on the edge of your seat? Oh, come on, you know you totally are. Here it is, just for fun, as an antidote to the Panama Papers--Your Life as a Pop Song.

Donald Trump: The Eagles--"Take It Easy"

Ted Cruz: Peter Gabriel--"Sledgehammer"

John Kasich: Paul Simon--"Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard"

Hillary Clinton: Paul McCartney & Wings--"Live and Let Die"

Bernie Sanders: Steve Miller Band--"The Joker"

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Musing on the Newsing

Are y'all reading the same news I am? I'm just asking, because when I read the stated opinions of pundits, public officials, celebrities, voters, foreign dignitaries, and ordinary folks, I sometimes wonder how all of us can be looking at the same events and drawing such different conclusions. That's if people are being really honest and totally truthful in the things they're saying, because, you know, I sometimes suspect people of being disingenuous. No, really. I sometimes think, from their manner and the way they say things, that there's a certain amount of meta-narrative going on. If so, these folks are apparently going to a lot of trouble for nothing, because I'm not sure how much others are noticing it. Of course, some of that ignorance could be disingenuous, too. (Uh-oh, now we're really going down the rabbit hole.)

Take the election, for example. I've discussed my views on the Democratic candidates before, but I was reluctant to say much about the Republicans because I couldn't make head or tail of what was going on over there. Here at Wordplay, we have a rule that says, "First, do no harm." I was seriously afraid of putting my foot in it if I tried to analyze the situation prematurely--there was obviously something out of the ordinary happening, and it was eluding me. But don't conclude from that that I haven't been watching the candidates and noticing what they've been doing. Far from it. Here at Wordplay, we may have our own point of view on things, but we care about everybody. Believe me.

Someone was talking to me about Donald Trump last summer, telling me his reasons for supporting him, and I was skeptical. This person even expressed some concern over Mr. Trump's safety, to which I replied, "But people like that can take care of themselves." His response was, "Not necessarily." I really wasn't sure what he was talking about. I had, however, been keeping up with the news on Mr. Trump and was surprised to find that I liked his sense of humor, which I first noticed when he gave out Lindsay Graham's telephone number. I am still in stitches over that one (I trust it's OK to say that, because Senator Graham himself seemed to respond in good humor).

I would be laughing over something Mr. Trump said and then find myself alarmed (and puzzled) several hours later by some inflammatory statements he made about immigrants, Muslims, or some other matter. I am not altogether certain what he really means by some of the things he says, and this is what I mean by meta-narrative. It's clear that no one truly serious about becoming president should be quoting Mussolini or talking about punching people. On the other hand, I do not think Mr. Trump is a buffoon. I'm certain he has a motive for the things he does, though it's not easy to say what that might be. I've occasionally had the thought that Mr. Trump says things that other people would never dare to say, though in reality they have probably done much worse. Could he be slyly suggesting that? I don't know.

I don't think Mr. Trump is a saint, but I don't necessarily believe everything that people say about him. I suspect he may be rather different than many people think he is. Take for instance, the whole kerfluffle about Heidi Cruz and Melania Trump. People have been talking about how embarrassing it is and how bad it makes the Republicans look in front of everybody, etc. Call me irresponsible, but I don't believe for an instant that either Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz spoke without realizing how their remarks would sound to people. I'm just not buying the quarreling schoolboys thing.

In trying to "see through" this event, as James Hillman advises us to do, I started looking up information about Melania Trump (I already knew a little about Heidi Cruz). Personally, I find it hard to believe that anyone, including Mr. Trump, was truly shocked that a racy photo of Mrs. Trump in GQ emerged as an issue in the Utah primary. Utah voters tend to have conservative standards, which is fine, and should come as a surprise to nobody. So what was all the yelling about? In reading biographical data about Mrs. Trump, I found out a lot of things I didn't know about her and stumbled across a description of the photo. That was the moment I started to wonder about that picture.

I hadn't seen the picture, but the description said she was photographed in Trump's private jet, stretched out on a rug (to be precise, a bearskin rug) and chained to a briefcase. (I just looked the picture up to verify this. Heck, it's all over Utah, thanks to Ted Cruz or whoever did it (I'm not taking a stance on that), so I don't feel I'm making a bad situation any worse. To tell you the truth, I was bothered from the first time I read the description, though maybe not for the same reason the voters in Utah were. The photo came out in British GQ in 2000, and I'm just thinking it doesn't make for good optics; I dunno, maybe it's just me, but someone chained to a briefcase, in a jet, in a scene speaking of opulence and wealth. Just not good optics, to me.

There are many things in the news I've wondered about recently. (What, you mean you haven't?) I'm just pointing out that sometimes everyone gets really excited about certain aspects of things while possibly missing others. Here are some examples of things I've wondered about:

--What happened to Sarah Palin's husband in that accident?

--Who is really behind the Stop Trump movement?

--What happened in the Arizona election? Are we sure it hasn't happened in other places and just gone unnoticed? (I felt a little sorry for Helen Purcell, the Arizona election official who has taken responsibility for the long lines and other snafus, and I'm not negating the seriousness of what happened at all by saying this--I just feel there's some deeper story here.)

--If Hillary Clinton did so well in the Benghazi hearings, why did Huma Abedin look so ravaged in the photo I saw of her that was taken during the testimony?

--How come Gary Shandling's doctor wouldn't sign that death certificate? (It could turn out to be merely an overabundance of caution on his part, naturally.) Coincidentally, I read another item about the time Gary Shandling attended the Correspondents' Dinner in Washington, "ran into" President George H.W. Bush and Barbara while touring the White House, and got co-opted into speaking during the event. It was kind of a weird little story.

While I'm on the subject, I do wish people would get over this Democratic/Republican split as the primary viewing lens for events. No, no, no! Just stop it. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: I don't think that's where it's at. Really--I don't think that's where it's at.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Latin for Coffee Drinkers

Just for fun, I decided this week to pick up a book I bought many years ago on teaching yourself basic Latin. I did part or all of the course some time ago but didn't retain much of it; thinking it might be useful in the future, I decided to make another go at it.

I've taken the text and a notebook with me to Starbucks a couple of times, and I've got to say that that hasn't been the best environment for conjugating verbs, which is mostly what I've been doing. Reading, making notes, and even writing haven't been much of a problem for me in noisy coffeehouses, but trying to switch from one language to another in your head and on paper is a different story. It obviously draws on a different area of the brain than do reading and staring off into space occasionally, which is what I usually do at Starbucks. This feels more like programming or doing math.

After wrestling around today with such verbs as "dicere," "videre," and "habere," I was ready to throw the notebook down and go for some light summer reading. I was doing pretty well on the translations, except for figuring out which vowel goes before the endings, but it wasn't that much fun. I tell you this in case you ever wondered whether going to Starbucks to do a little Latin grammar might be an easy way to pass the time. It isn't. For this type of study, I think you need a quiet room.

To make it a little more lighthearted, I tried coming up with sentences of my own, which may or may not mean what I think they mean. One of the things I learned the other day was the word "quia," meaning "that." I put together the sentence "quia interrogo," which I was rather proud of, and I hope it means "I question that" (though maybe it doesn't). Today I tried to put together a sentence describing something I saw, but my book isn't really that great on lists of vocabulary words. I can vouch for "video" ("I see"), but my attempts to render "I see an annoying person" fell short. I just couldn't get there.

While all of this was going on, I started thinking of the movie title Quo Vadis. I thought at first that "quo" means "what," but apparently it doesn't: "what" is "quid." I know that "vadis" is the second person singular form of a verb, but what verb? I haven't gotten to it yet in the book, but I know it's a common one, and it seems similar to the French verb "to go." A quick Internet search yields "where" as a possibility for "quo," which I had considered, since "Where are you going?" or "Where do you go?" makes sense. Unable to stand the suspense, I just looked it up. Quo Vadis does indeed mean, "Where are you going?" (From all of this, it's probably obvious that I haven't seen the movie, or if I did, I didn't retain it.)

The other thing that really gave me fits was the right way to conjugate the verb "to give." A drawback to the book I have is that it gives you the first person singular conjugation but forces you to do the others yourself. So I had a lot of trouble with "dare," and just to settle the question, here are the right forms, hot off the Internet: "do," "das," "dat," "damus," "datis," "dant." I was way off on that one, having ended up somehow with an extra syllable in the middle, but at least now I know.

My memory of doing introductory Latin the last time is that things really got complicated once you left the present tense. There may or may not be a future in trying to make that leap at Starbucks, but at least I got past the "quo vadis" thing, and I know that "ignoramus" is the first person plural form of "ignorare" (to not know). I was practicing the conjugations aloud in the parking lot at the grocery store the other night, and though it turns out I had the infinitive wrong (I was working backwards from conjugations), there was some fun to be had from saying the words "ignorant" and "ignoramus" aloud--and to have a perfectly innocent reason for doing so. They'll tell you in school that there are many benefits to be had from studying languages, and they could be right.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Forgetting to Be Irish

I can never quite get off the ground with St. Patrick's Day. I know a lot of people love it, but for some reason I nearly always forget to wear green, and the holiday ends up as sort of a nonstarter for me. It happened again today: ahead of time I was thinking, "I'll bet I forget to wear green again." By the time I got dressed, I forgot I'd been thinking that, but I also forgot to wear anything green. Maybe it's just that I'm not overly fond of corned beef, cabbage, and green glitter, but for whatever reason, the day usually slips by me.

There have been a few St. Patrick's Days that were more memorable than others. For several years, I was in the habit of taking a vacation in March that often led me to NoCal so that I was in San Francisco for St. Paddy's. The first time it happened I actually went to a restaurant for an Irish meal; my friend Jot and I somehow ended up at this place in the Mission that was celebrating the day with traditional Irish food. I don't remember what I had, but considering my cooked cabbage phobia, I'm thinking it must have been something more like stew or potatoes. I do recall that we were regaled non-stop by a character seated near us who just could not stop talking. I've met some overly chatty strangers in my time, but this man was the very King of Chat, bar none.

You do meet some personalities in San Francisco, and sometimes you just have to roll with it, but I've never before or since met anyone so determined to insert himself into the conversation of complete strangers (and few people more immune to hints). As Jot and I were walking down the street afterward, I said to him, "I guess that's what you call the gift of the gab." And he said, "I think it's more like a curse."

I was in San Francisco for St. Patrick's Day the next year, too, though I had been in Sonoma most of the week and only drove into the City that day. I'd been intending to meet people, but they were called out of town, so I spent the afternoon and evening in North Beach. I had stopped by the Tosca Cafe, which didn't seem to have a lot going on, and then soaked up the street life on my way back to my hotel. My most vivid memory is of passing, on Columbus Avenue, a young, laughing man--definitely of Asian heritage--sporting the loudest Top-to-Toe All-Green leprechaun attire I have ever witnessed. I didn't even know they made outfits like that. He was well pleased with himself, and I don't blame him: the whole street was gaping at him. Well, there was no topping that in the Irish sweepstakes, and I finished the evening with pasta and panna cotta in the Italian restaurant next to my hotel. It was a very San Francisco St. Patrick's Day.

Then there was the time many years ago when I was passing through Chicago on the Saturday before St. Patrick's, and while walking by the river (in between trains), saw that it was dyed green. This is evidently a tradition in Chicago, as is their St. Patrick's Day parade, which had been held earlier in the day. I don't know if it was then that someone told me they'd been filming a movie or if I found out later, but it turns out that a scene in The Fugitive was filmed during Chicago's St. Patrick's Day parade (Harrison Ford, on the run, blending in with the marchers). I was never for sure if it was this film or another, but I always assumed The Fugitive because it came out the following year. So I count that as the time I just missed seeing a movie being made and Harrison Ford in a green hat but got to see what a river looks like with a bunch of green dye dropped in.

Today was nowhere near that exciting, but it was sunny, which makes a pleasant change in this place at this time of year. I didn't do anything in particular to celebrate St. Patrick, but I did have a hobbity sort of dinner that included potatoes and onions. Contrary to the pattern of the last several years, spring seems to be arriving early this year, with things already greening up outdoors and the trees beginning to blossom. That's celebration enough for me. And may the road rise to meet you.