There’s gold at the end of Gravity’s Rainbow … I think

Tommaso Pincio’s “Nova et accuratissima Gravity’s Rainbow tabula.” Details here, in Italian. https://tommasopincio.net/2013/02/10/gravitys-rainbow-nova-et-accuratissima-tabula/

It wasn’t pretty, but after six months of following Slothrop through the debris of post World War II Europe, I’ve finally arrived at the end of Gravity’s Rainbow. Our attempted reading group crashed and burned as members, including me, were pulled away by their respective realities. There was a solid 8 weeks or so where I was hunkered down on my teaching gig and didn’t even open GR. But when I found a block of several days where I could focus, I kept going, alternating between passages from Pynchon’s text and “A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon’s Novel” by Steven C. Weisenburger. The companion book was invaluable in helping me get my head around how expansive and sweeping the novel is. Before each section of GR, I read Weisenburger’s intro to that section. Then after reading the relevant GR passage, I went back to read the detailed notes and textual explications.

After I finished, I read another critical work, the more succinct but still useful “Gravity’s Rainbow Handbook: A Key to the Thomas Pynchon Novel” by Robert Crayola. It was a great way to review the entire thing when all was said and done, making the work whole in my mind after spending much time sussing out fragments of it.

Viking Press First Edition of Gravity’s Rainbow, 1973. Jacket design by Marc Getter.

And the payoff? It definitely was worthwhile. My biggest surprise was how accessible the book is. Despite some brutal sections, it’s generally very readable and approachable, even hilarious. At times it’s a picaresque farce that’s incredibly funny. It’s also appallingly offensive, gross and rude. And there are passages where the writing is nothing short of dazzling in its incendiary flourishes. Part of me felt as disembodied as Tyrone Slothrop at the novel’s close. But the key themes have been cycling nonstop through my mind for the past several weeks, particularly the trials and tribulations of the Herero/Schwarzkommando. I was ignorant of Germany’s colonial genocide against the Herero, but thanks to GR I’m now quick to click when stories like this pop up in my news feed, detailing current-day efforts to atone for this shameful tuneup for larger-scale atrocities.

As the novel drifts off into cosmic diaspora, there’s a passage where Jessica Swanlake emerges from The White Visitation, scene of all manner of strange psycho/Pavlovian experimentation during the war. It’s now “a loony bin again,” and among the post-war entropy around her she also sees signs of the eternal.

The barrage-balloon cables lay rusting across the sodden meadows, going to flakes, to ions and earth—tendons that sang in the violent nights, among the sirens wailing in thirds smooth as distant wind, among the drumbeats of bombs, now lying slack, old, in hard twists of metal ash. Forget -me-nots boil everywhere underfoot, and ants crowd, bustling with a sense of kingdom. Commas, brimstones, painted ladies coast on the thermoclines among the cliffs.

That passage made me think immediately of Robert Bly’s “Johnson’s Cabinet Watched By Ants,” particularly the final stanza:

Ants are gathered around an old tree.
In a choir they sing,
in harsh and gravelly voices,
Old Etruscan songs on tyranny.
Toads nearby clap their small hands,
and join the fiery songs,
their five long toes trembling
in the soaked earth.

 

Posted in Assorted Bob, Bookworm Bob, Gravity's Rainbow | 1 Comment

Back for seconds at Pho Peace Ranch

John Hurl (left) and Jorma Kaukonen play for the lunchtime crowd at Fur Peace Ranch

We enjoyed last week’s pho and music so much we went back to Fur Peace Ranch  for seconds today. John and Jorma were awesome (nice versions of All Along the Watchtower, I Shall Be Released, Sugaree and other great tunes, but This Land Is Your Land really resonated with me as 2016 lurches to a close). Occasionally, a big old cat or two would strut around on the porch behind them while they were playing. The pho was delicious, and I tried the bahn mi sandwich this time around. Also fantastic. We had to a chance to talk to both John and Jorma for a bit. Great guys. Great place. Hope to catch more than a few shows down there in 2017 …

Posted in Assorted Bob, Music Bob, Restaurant Bob | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Back for seconds at Pho Peace Ranch

Winter solstice sunset from Radar Hill, Athens, OH

Posted in Assorted Bob, Transcendental Bob, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Winter solstice sunset from Radar Hill, Athens, OH

The opioid scourge, brought to you by big pharma

I’ve read several great pieces on the opioid epidemic recently. It’s good to see this getting the coverage it deserves, but I can’t help but wonder how it would differ if the victims were minorities instead of poor whites. Somehow I suspect we’d be (wrongly) blaming it on their lack of work ethic, etc.

Regardless, this story in the Wall Street Journal was eye-opening, essentially asking what happens to the children of these addicts as they become too addled to parent or, worse, they die of overdoses. It’s created a nightmare for the foster care system.

This quote had me choking back tears:

When he speaks about his father’s drug use, he sometimes mixes it up with imagery from horror films he watched on television while his father got high. “Ben will say, ‘When he got really sick and passed out, a man stuck his hand through our door with a knife.’ And to him that’s a real memory,” Ms. Horton says.

And  this piece from the Charleston Gazette-Mail is just mind boggling. Big pharma pumped 780m doses into West Virginia as this crisis was in full flail. What the fuck? That’s more than one pain killer per day for EVERY resident of West Virginia (assuming WV has a population of about 1.8m).

But wait. There’s more. And it doesn’t get any better. The Washington Post took a look at a family that has been devastated by opioid abuse. It’s hard to imagine how these children won’t struggle with this experience for the rest of their lives …

Posted in Assorted Bob | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on The opioid scourge, brought to you by big pharma

Because he’s a businessman …

“But that’s just what you folks need,” Bloody Chiclitz interjects. “Get some business people in there to run it right, instead of having the government run everything. Your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand’s doing! You know that?”
— Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Posted in Assorted Bob, Bookworm Bob, Cool quotes, Gravity's Rainbow | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Because he’s a businessman …

Io Saturnalia!

Detail of the right side of the altar dedicated to the god of Malakbel and gods of Palmyra decorated with a bas-relief depicting the god Saturnus with a scythe (Roman artwork).

Detail of the right side of the altar dedicated to the god of Malakbel and gods of Palmyra decorated with a bas-relief depicting the god Saturnus with a scythe (Roman artwork). (From Wikipedia)

Remove the wool that binds Saturn’s feet. It’s time to party.

Saturnalia has fascinated me since 9th grade Latin class at St. Anselm’s, when Magister Switalla would tell us about the Roman holiday that Christians coopted for their Christmas holiday. For some reason, one of the details that stuck with me was the idea of gift giving, specifically the idea of giving a pencil to the magister (teacher) in honor of the holiday (humble gifts were considered to be an inverse reflection of the importance of the friendship between giver and receiver). Magister also demanded that for that day we students would teach and he would be the student in the type of role reversal common during the Roman holiday where masters would serve their slaves.

An excellent Wikipedia entry on Saturnalia notes that parrots sometimes were among the Saturnalia presents. So watch out for your Saturnalia Cockatoo. It will be arriving in the mail. It’ll be the squawking box with  air holes …

“It is now the month of December, when the greatest part of the city is in a bustle. Loose reins are given to public dissipation; everywhere you may hear the sound of great preparations, as if there were some real difference between the days devoted to Saturn and those for transacting business. … Were you here, I would willingly confer with you as to the plan of our conduct; whether we should eve in our usual way, or, to avoid singularity, both take a better supper and throw off the toga.”
— Seneca (as quoted in Wikipedia entry)

So from today through Dec. 23, io Saturnalia, y’all. Do whatever it takes to bring light to these darkest days bracketing the winter solstice.

 

Saturnalia

Posted in Assorted Bob | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Io Saturnalia!

Chowing down at Pho Peace Ranch …

John Hurl (left) and Jorma Kaukonen sing and play while diners discover that pho is a great way to fend off freezing temperatures.

One of the many advantages to living in southeast Ohio is being neighbors with Jorma Kaukonen, the guitarist who fueled the musical explorations of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. He and his wife, Vanessa, created an oasis about 20 miles outside Athens that they’ve dubbed Fur Peace Ranch.

The ranch is mostly a guitar camp, which draws incredible guitarists to town to serve as instructors. This results in great shows at their intimate concert venue (a few hundred seats, at most). They also boast the Psylodelic Gallery, a collection of ’60s art and memorabilia that’s in silo.

But it’s their most recent endeavor that prompted me to jump in the car on a 10-degree day and drive out there: Pho Peace Ranch. Apparently, Jorma is a pho fanatic. Me too. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the ranch offers chicken, beef or vegetable pho out of its kitchen. I had the beef. Lara the chicken. Great stuff. Even better: Jorma and the incredible John Hurl serenaded us during lunch.

As a side note, I was wearing my favorite Steelers Your Face hoodie, and Vanessa instantly booed me, just as she had when she spotted me wearing the hoodie during a show about a year ago. I assumed she was a hapless Browns fan, but she’s a Patriots fan. We talked football a bit during lunch, and she confided that Jorma roots for the Steelers.

Another reason to love this place.

Lara enjoys the chicken pho before Jorma and John start playing.

Posted in Assorted Bob, Restaurant Bob | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Chowing down at Pho Peace Ranch …

The end-of-the-semester-head-clearing hike

Map of the hike. Athens in in the lower left; Dow Lake/Strouds Run in the in the upper right

Map of the hike. Athens in in the lower left; Dow Lake/Strouds Run is right of the hike outline.

As the semester grinds down, I catch myself looking intently at any stand of trees I encounter. For 16 weeks, I’ve allowed my urge to hike, bike or kayak be suppressed by teaching duties. It’s bullshit, really. I could easily carve out time to spend in the woods during the semester. But I don’t, leaning on this convenient crutch to indulge my sloth.

And then it’s over. No bang. A few whimpers. Grades submitted. Crutch splintered. Time to go hiking.

The bridge over Cucumbertree Run on Rockhouse Trail

The bridge over Cucumbertree Run on Rockhouse Trail

As Fall 2016 fell into the rearview mirror, I set off for Sells Park, a short drive from my house that I’d bike in warmer weather. From Sells, I can hit the Athens Trail and create several interesting little loops to get my hiking mojo back.

The Rockhouse Trail blaze

The Rockhouse Trail blaze

I headed out Rockhouse Trail to Turtlehead Cave, where I shot a few 360 photos, then picked up Athens Trail, Finger Rock Trail and Trace Trail to do a big loop around the ridge that slices between Athens’ east-side strip-mall hell and Dow Lake. It’s a wonderful contrast. Half the hike snakes above east Athens and all it has to offer — Walmart, Lowe’s, Kroger, McDonalds, a confederacy of cars and lots and lots of asphalt. The buzz of traffic on East State Street rises up into the leafless woods, tires squeal, and dogs bark in the buffer zone subdivision between my sylvan retreat and the chaos of East State.

Benz selfie on Rockhouse trail

Benz selfie on Rockhouse trail

The trail zags north, a dog threading its owner through rabbit-infested fields, until it turns north, following the ridgeline toward Dow Lake. It enters Strouds Run and gets quieter and quieter and … bird sounds. A random tumbling branch finding the leaf-strewn forest floor in a muffled snap. Solitude.

This is two separate hikes.

First, the urban hike, one of my favorites, wherein I get to smugly float above city sprawl. My life has been filled with variations on this hike. A bucolic stroll through Denver’s Washington Park, enjoying green space and lakes in the Mile High City. A romp with Ozzy through D.C.’s Rock Creek Park, a wonderful green knife that slices into the heart of the District. Commuter cycling along the daybreak arroyos of Albuquerque, watching dawn traffic on the Big I,  pedaling cloudlike above it all, troubled only by potential encounters with the occasional passed-out homeless person strewn across the bike path.

Second is the remote ramble. Sometimes, I need to get farther from the exhaust and crush and cacophony of civilization. I retreat to Big South Fork, Mount Charleston, the Buckeye Trail. Or the second half of this hike.

Moss-covered boulders along Rockhouse Trail

Moss-covered boulders along Rockhouse Trail

The trick now will be to keep going. I always close the semester with an orgy of activity only to sink back into my day-to-day sloth. A head cold already is conspiring to lead me in that direction. But I’m determined to make the most of this intellectual cease-fire between semesters. Aside from my other goal: to finish off the wily, elusive Gravity’s Rainbow.

Here’s a 360 photo I shot at Turtlehead Cave:

Topo map of my hike

Topo map of my hike

One of the coolest things about hiking in and around Stroud's Run is the informational signs along the way. i always stop to read them, even if I've already done so multiple times. This one is for Turtlehead Cave, a key sight along the Rockouse Trail

One of the coolest things about hiking in and around Stroud’s Run is the informational signs along the way. i always stop to read them, even if I’ve already done so multiple times. This one is for Turtlehead Cave, a key sight along the Rockouse Trail

This sign is on a stretch of Trace Trail that I hadn't hiked before. Love these informational signs.

This sign is on a stretch of Trace Trail that I hadn’t hiked before. Love these informational signs.

Posted in Assorted Bob, Fitness Bob, Gravity's Rainbow, Uncategorized, VR Bob | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on The end-of-the-semester-head-clearing hike

To only connect?

Well. What happens when paranoid meets paranoid? A crossing of solipsisms. Clearly. The two patterns create a third: a moiré, a new world of flowing shadows, interferences. . . .

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Posted in Bookworm Bob, Cool quotes, Gravity's Rainbow | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on To only connect?

Merry Christmas in 360

I shot this Christmas card with my Theta S VR/360 camera. And I’m testing a WordPress plugin that allows me to display them on this site.  So use your mouse to scroll around and you can see the decorations in our back room, the infamous pink tree, Lara, Sydney and me.

We’ve been holding our tree decorating party for 27 years, and this year’s event was a blast. Here’s a 360 video of the tree. Same drill as above. Scroll around to see the tree and room, and you can see me stealthily using the selfie stick to shoot.

And here are a few more 360 photos of our orgy of Christmas excess.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Merry Christmas in 360