Monday, June 30, 2008

Gone to the Dogs

In Madrid I wandered into a little used book store and bought Alexandra Fuller's "Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight" for three euros. Just what I needed. It chronicles Fuller's family during the last days of Rhodesia and onto Zambia and farms in other African spots. They were tobacco farmers during the dying days of the empire. Fuller pulls no punches - she says she wrote at least eight or nine novel manuscripts trying to justify and expunge the guilt and deal with the truth about her mother's racism, and the hard truths of family life. She states: "The novels felt like lies, because in them I tried to soften the voices of the whites and write into full life the voices of the black men silenced by years of oppression. These works of fiction I realized were the writings of a woman who was csared to look the world in the face - so I made the decision to write my life exactly as it had been...passionate, wonderful, troubled, oppressive, chaotic, beautiful. It is not a political story or the story of the is the story of how one African came to terms with her family's troubled history. It is a love song for the continent.
Here's the last sentence of the book: "This is not a full circle. It's life carrying on. It's the next breath we take. It's the choice we make to get on with it."
It seems to me Fuller struck at the heart of what most writers cannot penetrate...because we've been crippled by political correctness in the way we talk about race, sex, politics, animals, food, family and all of human experience. She hits the note. It takes me back to my year in Nigeria but also deepens my undertsanding of the odd shaped nature of families and family hardships...Fuller does not put soft words in anyone's mouth. Her mother is a "hard living, glamorous, intemperate, intelligent, rascist who introduced us all to the works of Shaekspeare before we could walk."
"Don't let's go to the dogs tonight,
for mother will be there........"
TR Switzerland

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Madrid has at least four great museums (where infinity "goes up on trial") and I picked La Reina Sofia because you have to be in a serious mood to tackle The Prado with all it's Goya's and Bosch's....dark paint. But the Sofia Reina has some Miro and Picasso and there in one large room sits Picasso's giant black and white "Guernica" with it's horses howling at the moon and bulls roaring and human fists raised in agony.... and bombs raining destruction and blood down on the town of Gernika during the Spanish Civil War.
I watched the people passing by, and they were shocked and amazed and sorrow-filled. Somehow I thought of the song "Desolation Row" and then I backed up into the hallway and looked into a glass display case of a Calder sculpture....and peering through the case I could see a film being shown in a room across the hall from the "Guernica," a black and white film documenting the attack and bombing of Gernika, and if you peer the right way through the glass you can see Picasso's "Guernica" superimposed over the real bombing of the town in the movie. Chilling. You want conceptual art? Here it finally was.....I don't know if it was all intended to be that way, but that's what I saw. Art and truth meeting life. A moment in time.
Picasso once said that his mother wanted him to be a pianist who would grow up to be a famous composer. "But I became a painter," he said, "and I grew up to be Picasso."
TR Switzerland

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Oldest Restaraunt in the World

(Yes, the answer to our last blog-saloon quiz was Hemingway's "Death in the Afternoon," last chapter, where he sums up everything he left out of the book. His best writing. )

With that in mind I just staggered back to the hotel from "The Oldest Restaraunt in the World," in Madrid, Espana. It's "Botin" on the "Avenue of the Knife Makers," just off the Plaza Mayor. I was here five years ago after my friend Allen Josephs recommended I show up and drop his name. He wrote "The White Wall of Spain" and a great bullfight book on Cesar Rincon. The cafe is mentioned in a thousand books, including "The Sun Also Rises."That night I dined with the ambassador from Brazil and his lovely wife and daughters. Tonight I dined alone on the menu of the day: Andalusian Gazpacho, Roast Suckling Pig, White Rioja wine and the bread of the region. This sits on a street where muleteers and traders rumbled through in the year 1561. The walls seem to curve and wave and molt, and the tile came in on the backs or Moorish mules. Back then even the women had scars on their cheeks. A sign of integrity. Deep song. Cante hondo. The waiter notices I don't touch the ice cream and to compensate, brings lemon sorbet and a very large glass of Spanish Brandy. I heard Lorca and Leonard Cohen ringing in my ears as I wandered out among the throng and called for a coach and horses. Drifting back to the hotel.....singing "Take this Waltz, this waltz, this waltz....with it's very own breath of brandy and death..."
"It's okay to leave some wine in the bottle," said my friend Eric Hillestad. Abrazos to all. TR

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Who wrote it? What Book? What Chapter?

"We've seen it all go, and we'll watch it go again.
The great thing is to last and get your work done.
And see and hear and learn and understand; and write
when there is something that you know, and not before;
And not too damned much after. Let those who want to
save the world. If you can see it clear and as a whole, then
any part you make will represent the whole if it's made truly.
The thing is to work and learn to make it."

There's your quiz for today. It sums it all up for the writer, young and
old. Speaks to learning your craft and keeping your mouth
shut until you do.

We're off to Spain, Italy and Switzerland. That should serve as
a clue to the above quote. I concocted a pitcher of sangria last
night to get me in the spirit. Beaujalais, oranges, strawberry
juice. Strauss waltzes and salmon stuffed with goat cheese.

"The garbled moil of whatever it is," Bukwoski wrote on a
recorded album of his poetry he gave me in 1969.

From inside the garbled moil.

"If you're going through hell, keep walking."
Shakespeare, as quoted by Winston Churchhill.

adios. adieu. onward towards

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Four Folk Tales for the Modern Age

1. I met Utaph Phillips (R.I.P) at the Kate Wolf Festival last year. I told him to wait around, I was going to sing him a song. I opened up with his great tune "Rock, Salt and Nails." After I'd sung one line he turned his golf cart around and sped away with an angry look on his mug. What the hell? Six monthes later somebody wrote me an anonymous email: "Utah hates that song! He wrote it about his ex-wife." Solved.

2. Rain Perry, who wrote the great little song "Yosemite," has a folk opera out about growing up with "bohemian nomad" parents. It's called "Cinderblock Bookshelves" and it's out on her own label, produced by Mark Hallman. Check it out at or Quiet masterwork.

3. Penny Lang's "Stone+Sand+Sea+Sky" has tracks that haunt me - like John Herald's "High Muddy Water." Chilling - especially knowing John killed himself a few years ago in upstate New York. This song is worth the price of admission. She also does Dylan's "One too Many Mornings."

4. And speaking of Dylan, I just finished Suze Rotolo's "Freewheelling" book about her days as Dylan's girlfriend in Greenwich Village. Interesting, but no new revelations. I think so many hundreds of people (like John Herald) were marked and moved by their association with Dylan - but they never quite knew what hit them. And they never recovered. She seems to still be searching for her "artiste soul"...well, you know what somebody told me once? "The store is open where you can buy the same colors that Van Gogh used...ya know?" Get with it. Get to work.
There is one revelation: she claims Ian Tyson turned Dylan on to Marijuana. Well, then if Dylan went on to turn on the Beatles to weed...that makes Ian Tyson a cultural (or cult) icon of the 20th century. The rise of the poetic lyric. He's coming here tomorrow to hang out so I'll ask him.
All the news that fits. TR