Stoic mill Hunkies, Medieval monsters and the Grapes of Wrath

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Tuesday, September 4

Treehouse selfie before setting off to explore Uvita.

I awoke at 2 a.m. to kettledrumming thunder and rain pinging the metal roof. That might explain the odd dreams I had. Nothing frightening. Just a series of non sequiturs related to people and events I was pondering yesterday.

I spent yesterday morning plowing through info on the Homestead strike that I downloaded from Archive.org, an incredible resource for materials in the public domain. The one I spent the most time with was “’Fort Frick,’ or the Siege of Homestead,” published in 1893 by Myron R. Stowell. The strike had occurred a year earlier and Stowell was present for many of the events he describes. Strangely, I couldn’t find much trace of him otherwise when I started Googling around for more info.

There are a lot of fascinating details here. He clearly sympathizes with the strikers, but he calls out their excesses, too, and I wouldn’t say he portrays Frick as a villain. His summary of the congressional investigation into the Pinkertons is great. I downloaded that document from Archive.org too. It’s dense and circuitous. Congress hasn’t changed much.

Stowell does indulge the stereotyping of the day, as in this passage where he describes the funeral of one of the slain strikers:

They were typical Hungarians—stoical, morose and silent, but their countenances reflected their feelings and left an impression upon the keen observer that the bitter experiences of the recent past would never be forgotten. Aye, and the sins of their enemies would never be forgiven! Stoically, morosely and silently they drank in the words of the man in the pulpit, and then, when it was time for them to sing, they chanted a weird dirge, which harmonized with the tragic circumstances. There were but eight women in the audience, and eight women among three hundred brawny men who were burying a comrade thus, could not be expected to exert that gentle influence which softens hearts of steel and causes men to forget they have been injured. When the minister denounced the Pinkertons as a lawless mob, there was no audible expression—the Hungarians’ glares grew fiercer and they set their teeth together more firmly. That was all.


I hiked into town around 11 a.m. By lunchtime, I was looking for a place to eat and spotted the shady seating at House of Ginger. And they have wireless. Overall, I was underwhelmed on all counts. The food was OK but certainly didn’t fulfill the 4.5 star online reviews I’d read. It reminded me of the Chinese food you’d get at the food court at a mall. And the wireless was slow, but that’s pretty much par for the course here in Uvita.

After grabbing a handful of colones at the bank, I made my way to the beach to watch the waves for a while. I easily logged 6 miles on the excursion, raising new blisters as I went.

Back at PurUvita I showered and dug into John Gardner’s “The Art of Fiction,” which is packed with gems reminding me why I love his writing.

Where lumps and infelicities occur in fiction, the sensitive reader shrinks away a little, as we do when an interesting conversationalist picks his nose.

The real reason I’m studying him, though, is for his critical prowess. He ruffled a lot of feathers, calling out writers and writing he found inferior. I am particularly taking the following passage on John Steinbeck, whom I love, to heart:

Witness John Steinbeck’s failure in The Grapes of Wrath. It should have been one of America’s great books. But while Steinbeck knew all there was to know about Okies and the countless sorrows of their move to California to find work, he knew nothing about the California ranchers who employed and exploited them; he had no clue to, or interest in, their reasons for behaving as they did; and the result is that Steinbeck wrote not a great and firm novel but a disappointing melodrama in which complex good is pitted against unmitigated, unbelievable evil.


Sunset from the third floor of the kitchen/bar building at PurUvita.

I almost canceled evening vespers last night. A light rain was falling, so I went up to the third-floor deck of the kitchen/bar area, which has a nice view of the Pacific and the sunset. But when it became clear the rain was not going to become a torrent, I scampered up the hill in time to catch the view from the shack. Two for the price of one.

And sunset from the shack after I raced up there …

In the afterglow, I listened to the latest installment of Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast, which was on the Mexican leader Porfirio Díaz. The Porfiriato era sets up the revolutionary tumult to come in 1910. Duncan dropped this quote from Díaz, which seems as relevant today as it did in his time:

Poor Mexico, so far from god, so close to the United States.

I closed the night with another episode of the History of English podcast, where Kevin Stroud discussed “The Birth of English Song.” I’ve enjoyed this podcast so much I purchased his “Beowulf Deconstructed: The Old English of Beowulf.” It’s in the queue, along with Maria Dahvana Headley’s “The Mere Wife,” a contemporary retelling of Beowulf with feminist themes, and Seamus Heaney’s beautiful translation of the epic into modern English. (I listen to or read the Heaney translation at least once a year.) While I’m at it, maybe I’ll download and reread Gardner’s Grendel, which casts the story from the monster’s perspective. I’ve exposed another obsession, I suppose …

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