Saturday, November 22, 2014

It's  insurance plan time, and we had a meeting at work on Thursday.  The company is picking up stakes and moving to a new provider, which is fairly disruptive to a lot of the folks at work.  Ironically, not for me, as my current physician, office and so forth was already part of the new network.   Personal pay-in is going up considerably, but it isn't anything I can't handle.  But I found myself giving out my doctor's name for several co-workers looking for a new home as their old primary care physician was left behind in the old network,  or in one case, because he hadn't had a primary care doctor at all, and the new paperwork requires it.

One of the higher-ups, who was a big Obama man, is apparently particularly feeling the pinch, and was less than thrilled.  Although that might have just been the laryngitis.
OK, I don't feel comfortable leaving that on top for long.  What have I been up to recently?  Eh, not much really.  Watching the new WKRP in Cincinnati box set, with most of the original music relicensed.  It's been a real nostalgia trip, apparently we didn't miss a single episode of the first season, and there's just something... homelike about the whole production.  Despite the fact that I've never set foot in Cincinnati.  It's still an Ohio River valley town, perched at the seam between the Midwest and Appalachia.

Ave Maria


The blood stopped flowing
After the dream of angels
And all her promises of
Essene purity will be for 
Naught and worse than
Naught in the eyes of a
Judging censorious world.

Ave Maria
Gratia plena
Maria, gratia plena 
Maria, gratia plena

She had told him, the 
Elder who would have her
Hand without the promise
Of children to honor his
White-haired age or
Posterity or the promise
Of a future grown from
Their common seed sown.

That by the imagined
Grace of a dream-angel
Heralding her courses
Stopped, blooming
Impossibly
Told him all she 
Could offer, the 
Shameful pregnant
Virginal liar befoe the eyes
Of a doubting dubious world.

Growing within her
A new world burning
Every vein afire with
Impossible possibilities
The infinite encompassed
By her fragile human
Mortal womb stretching
Pains upon pains
The walls of the 
Unknowing world within
Her small feeble frame
The ramparts of all
That is and was and
Will be held within her
Flesh straining to hold
All of creation creating
Itself within her 
Created finite self
Infinities distilling into
A tincture of grace
The universe drawn out
Like a camel through
Like a fat man through
Like the world through
The eye of a needle.

And she will be the
Needle-eye of 
A world birthing itself
Into the world existent
And every worlds possibility
By her womb redeemed.
And the angel had told
Her of the myths and
Fantasies to be
The ramparts of legends
To sanctify her frail
Human self by 
Generations of monks
And bookish scholars
And celibate judgmental
Saintly men bound to
Justify her soon to be
Sacred generation as if
There was no blood in
Birth or blood in the
Veins of that which
Was wailing to be 
Born, born in mortal
Fallen flesh.


Ave, ave dominus
Dominus tecum
Benedicta tu in mulieribus
Et benedictus
Et benedictus fructus ventris
Ventris tuae, Jesus
Ave Maria

Immaculate!  Without
Sin or scar or 
Any of the taint
That any daughter of
Eve might carry within
Her moon-caught
Earth-born womanly
worldliness and want.
But what could be the
Point of a divine
Birth without flesh
Or blood or pain or
All the faults of 
Eve-knowing and
Cain's-marked 
Man and woman
Enjoined and born and
Bred.  And she had
Indeed been born and
Bred and descended from
Ten thousand generations
Of quarreling bitter 
Bastards and harridans
And selfish, squabbling
Vicious people, chosen
Or not, pious or not,
Blasphemers, murderers
Whores and whoremongers
Thieves and slavers
Slaves and sinners.
A daughter of Eve was she
Daughter in turn of a son of
Cain, no matter how the 
Stories invented notional
Seth to distance the
Laity from the direct and
Proper conclusion that
They all were born of that
Line that lived, and not that
Of childless simple 
Blameless Abel.

Ave Maria
Mater Dei
Ora pro nobis peccatoribus
Ora pro nobis
Ora, ora pro n obis peccatoribus

The birth was upon them
And she could feel the
Curse of Eve in her
Agony, and worse, could
Feel the infinite agony of
Which her horrible straining
Separation was but a
Distant and mercifully
Shallow echo
The birth-pains of a
Universe opening its
Human eyes for the
First time, and His
First Cry cracking
The firmament like a
Miscast bell struck by
A hammer too hard and
Sharp for the frail
Metal cast by a 
Smith too unsure of
His material and the
Purposes intended.
Infinity compressed
Within one small wailing
Infant and that wailing
Will echo across the
Whole of creation from
The first crack of 
Dawn to the last
Clang fading on
That final, lifeless
Worthless rock. 

Every mother brings
Into the world two
Things: one life and
One death and all
That lies in between
Is out of her hands but
Still her gift given
And Eve bore a Cain
And Eve bore her Abel
And she bore the 
Burden of both
And she?  The new
Born mother, what
Burden for bringing the
Death of God into
A world split asunder
By the birth of that
Which could not be
Contained by that
Which nonetheless
Yet contained it?

The Church which
Was to come would
Remember and sanctify
That death as a
Passion, ritual upon
Ritual, play upon
Play, signifying the
Corn-god triviality of
A man's tortured 
Death as if death
Were something of
Note in our fallen
Failing world, when
All around them death
And pain and misery
March in endless
Serried ranks like
The hosts of hell
On the double-step.

Nuct et in hora mortis
Et in hora mortis nostrae
Et in hora mortis nostrae
Et in Hora mortis nostrae
Ave Maria

For the mother of
The infinite suddenly
And impossibly
Finite the one and
Only - horrible and 
Comprehensive and
Terrible - miracle was
Always
And always will be
That awful birth
Now and forever
The scream of 
Everything 
Aborning
World without end.

November 22, 2014

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The very definition of "voter suppression"?  Some idiot property manager putting up "no trespassing" signs at both entrances to my local voting precinct at Lambert Hall, 03 Bellefonte South.  The officials were just sitting there, doing their ritual rather than doing their job and getting rid of the damn signs.  Who cares how closely the political signs are located to the entrance if you have to break the damn law to set foot in the precinct?

Trying to get a hold of someone w/ the party or the county.

Update: someone from the party called back & got the details, and is going to try and do something about it.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Tending Fires

Life and love are flickering flame
Smoldering futile in the half-rotted muck
Of a thousand years of bog
Or underground
Coal-seam sightless flaring
Or bursting dryrotted pineneedle crown-fire
That sucks up the air from the forest floor
A pyric malestromic inferno
Consuming all in fiery seconds
The annihilation of the woods.

But woodland will need
That passionate hellish harrowing
That bursts the fire-broke seedcone
That tears through the mis-formed
Dead-ended past made Solid
That incinerates that crooked timber
That never made anything straight.

Thus, one advocate
The acolyte of the forest-fire affair
And single-night couplings
And lonely aftermaths and
The fatherless son walking
Under strangers' skies
The flare that comes and goes
Leaving man-child mankind
A scorched chaos of livid wilderness
A patchwork of lightning-struck desolation
And desperate procreation
And regret and uncertainty
And nothing certain.

No! Cries a domestic promethean
And acolyte of another path
And makes her case beside
The opened kitchen-door
Burning brand in hand, 
Thus:

A careful hand wrapping paper
And accelerants in wax and twine
A boxes of matches set to hand
And the twigs tented below
An arranged cage of branches
All within the sturdy hearth
Bound in brick
Bound in iron
Bound in brass
A binding proscenium
Behind glass-door enclosures
And beneath a well-cleaned flue
Place your firestarter.

That ardor, the incinerating
Bursting
Passionate
Consummation
Comes and goes
Lighting the small-wood
Lighting the logs
Lighting the yule-log
Burning the year-log.

That year-log fire
Whose flame steadily glows
Burns what is given it
Burning guttering red-orange flames
In the sap-sweet spring
Burning the rich roaring-fire of
The long-months summer
Burning the steady cherry-red
Warmth of the autumn reaping
And gathering in for the long
Winter days' ember-fire
That fire, fed, that heats
The roof-timbers warm
No matter how heavy
The snows weigh
On the shingles above
The life-long fire
That burns the wood of your years
A prophesy of fire
A life teeming with life
With children grown
And your children's children
In their chaos and youth
The family kept safe
Within the home kept warm

By love's long fire's flame.

9/19/14

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


So,  Byblos is Jbail when it isn't working off its passport - the local name.  This city has been continuously occupied by people for at least nine thousand years, and possibly over ten thousand.   It's definitely the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.  As such, the city has collected names like a social butterfly collects online handles.  It's Byblos to the Greeks, Romans, and those of us who take place-names from classical sources; it's Jbail to the locals and Arabic-speakers, it was Gibelet to the crusaders and Genoans, Gebal to the Phoenicians, Gubal to the ancient Caananites, and Geval to those that wrote the Bible.  The name of the Bible itself is derived from this city, which the archaic Greeks associated with papryus and thus gave the product the name of the city from which they traded it originally; it eventually was associated with the book, and thus "biblos".

The city is mostly Maronite, with some Shia, and at least one street's worth of Armenians, because I took a wrong turn and found myself in the town's small Armenian quarter, which turns out to be a single dead-end cul-de-sac on the bayside south end of the city.  My hotel was about a mile's walk from the tourist centre of Byblos, which I was told was a safe enough walk.  If you walk out where the drivers can see you, and you can see the drivers, it isn't crazy dangerous to walk the roads.  Assuming that you're walking in a place where the fumes won't choke you.  There were clusters of men  waiting for trucks to pick them up - day-labour, as anyone in the American South or Southwest would recognize.   The area was recognizably Marionite - there were the occasional tiny roadside shrine like this one, scattered every five hundred meters or so along the road.  This one was particularly battered, but the better-kept ones were usually of the Virgin Mary.

I got there too early in the day for the Souk to be active - the shop-keepers were just opening their doors when I walked through initially - but you can get an idea of how it looks.  Vaulted corridors separating brick alleys with sailcloth flying overhead to keep off the merciless August sun.  Lots of fossils, food, touristy trinkets, and for some reason, at least three places selling shoes.  I almost stopped to buy a new pair, since my current pair had almost blown out by that point, but I didn't have the energy to really get down to figuring out if they'd have any tennis shoes in my size in a reasonable color - they tended towards bright primary-color flashy trainers, not at all my style.

As I said, this is a Maronite town.  This is L'eglise St. Jean-Marc, a Maronite church with, I think, an attached school for young children.   It was quite a large compound, to the north and east of the souk and the ruins of Byblos of which, much more next time.
The day after the wedding, I decamped from Beirut to less expensive environs, and took a taxi to the Victory Byblos Hotel & Spa outside Byblos.  The drive north took us east through the Christian (I think) suburbs of Beirut and a series of good-sized coastal towns which looked from the road like a semi-continuous strip of flashy malls and high-end shopping districts along the coast, with the usual apartment complexes cresting each heights, except for a couple church complexes here and there.  Judging from the crosses, it was mostly Maronite country.  You couldn't see the old Green Line in Beirut from the highway, I'm not even sure when we passed it.  It seems to have been completely filled in

There is very little greenery on the Lebanese coast, none to be seen from the highway at any rate.  It's mostly very dense-packed housing and commercial districts as far as the eye can see.  As I've said elsewhere, construction cranes are everywhere, but there are precious few places left to build on the limited coastal flatlands available.  The cities and towns climb up the steep hillsides, which in places could credibly be called "mountains" without getting laughed at by actual mountain-state people.  (Don't ever call the Allegheny Mountains that in the hearing of someone from Colorado, btw.  They'll mock you mercilessly.)

When we actually got to Byblos, I discovered my driver had no idea where my hotel was, or even what it was named - I could hear him calling it "Byblos Factory" in otherwise-unintelligible Arabic as he asked every person we came across for directions.  The man had a functioning smartphone with a mapping function, I have no idea why he didn't use it, but still - we stopped at a half-dozen places, asking police, gas station attendants, other taxi drivers - until someone finally pointed us in the right direction and I arrived.  Sigh.

As I said, Victory Byblos.  It's a small hotel well outside Byblos proper, on a dusty exit above the coastal road seaward from the highway itself.  It's across the street from a pair of small beach resorts, which double as dance clubs in the evenings, complete with loud music you can hear from the second story rooms with the doors closed.  They like to conclude their nightly celebrations with fireworks, so don't expect to get to sleep early if you have a seaward view.  Because I showed up early, apparently they scrambled to give me a room and I ended up with a room which had been prepped for some newlyweds, complete with rose petals scattered all over the place.  The hotel cuts costs by including your room key in the room's electrical grid - there's no power until you stick it in the right slot.

Oh, well.  At least I was able to figure out their wifi, which is more than I could say of the Bayview Hotel's rather confusing Internet situation.  I spent a lot of time hanging out in the lobby working through email and checking on news.  Until the second day, when I was informed that there would be another wedding reception in the lobby that afternoon.  Apparently August is marriage season in Lebanon!

Monday, September 01, 2014

Ah, the Corniche.  It's a grand promenade along the north and northwestern shore of Beirut, between Saint George Bay and the coastal highway.  In another city, it would be a boardwalk, with commercial properties and the like, but aside from a few vendors selling fruit and corn on the cob and suchlike, there isn't much for sale here between the marinas every kilometer or two along the shore.  People walk, run, or ride bicycles along the wide pavement, which has more than enough room to not crowd anyone one, at least not when I was there.  There's a place renting bicycles and pedal-driven four-wheel carts about, hmm, two kilometers from the hotel, on the other side of the highway.  As usual, you take your life in your own hands crossing traffic, but that's really the only way to do it.  It isn't really a pedestrian's city.

The bay along the Corniche is a major hang-out for the young men of the city.  They climb down to the rocks below, and go swimming in the waters of the bay.  There isn't any beach to speak of - and that's too mild a way of putting it - it seems to be just knobby brown rocks and ocean down there, of varying depths.  I saw at least one young man with scrapes all across his back from some sort of mishap, but the vast majority of them were just cheerfully splashing about without any concern for, oh, I don't know, being smashed against the rocks by the current or waves.

And it was mostly young men, with some older men thrown in, and some kids here and there.  There was one section with young women in those full-body Muslim swimming suits swimming in a section next to one of the marinas, but that was the exception to the general rule that this was a swimming park just soaked in testosterone.  Some places the swimmers had thrown climbing ropes over the side of the wall, and clambered down to the rocks, and some places there were steps down to the water -

 presumably for the fishermen with their preposterously long pike-length fishing poles.  I'm not sure what they were fishing for - it can't have been for the tiny little baitfish which was all I saw them hauling out of the water.  But in other places there were tall, vertical rings of iron sunk into the rocks, for swimmers to climb in and out of the water, and steps driven into the rocks, so someone had gone to some length to turn the rocky shore into a semblance of a park pool.
There also seemed to be a sort of tradition for the swimmers to haul portable water pipes down to the rocks for a pre-swim smoke before diving into the water.  Here's a fairly good shot of a smoker toking up in the sun.  (I have no reason to not think it's tobacco, pot-heads.  I'm pretty sure pot and hashish are illegal in Lebanon, and I have no reason to think that someone would violate the law in public in a city where the cops carry assault weapons in the streets.)
Lastly, there was the crazy kids diving off of this set of guards along the rail, into a deep water hole between the rocks below.  Someone had wrapped barbed wire around the whole set of rails to *keep* people from doing this, but someone else had cleared the wire away from about a five-six foot section of rail, and the first day I was there, I saw kids climb up, sway precariously as they gathered their courage, and plunged off the rails into the water thirty-thirty five feet below.  The ones I saw emerged from their feat unscathed, but dang...

There are plenty of people out just walking, as well.  There was a local TV film crew doing man-on-the-street interviews.  The reporter came up to me to ask me something or other, but I had to inform her that I spoke no Arabic.  I guess people weren't kidding when they said that I could pass as long as I didn't open my mouth!

So, Beirut.  I stayed at the Bayview Hotel on Zaitunay or Saint George Bay on the north coast of the city.  Jeremy recommended the hotel as being relatively safe and reasonable, and I found it to be so.  The senior staff had enough English to help me navigate in a city where the primary language appeared to be Arabic.  This doesn't seem to be a city where people are eager to come up to you and attempt to practice their English.  As you can see in the background of this picture, there's a lot of construction going on in Beirut, there was a massive high-rise under renovation or construction above the bay to the east of the Bayview, tall enough to put the hotel in its shadow.  Building cranes rise in clusters throughout the city, and as I was to find, the single biggest import of Lebanon may well be construction cranes - they were springing up all over the coast, in clusters of two and three, over high-rises, apartment blocks, office buildings, beach resorts under construction, and in at least one case I saw, as jury-rigged loading rigs for a construction-supplies depot housing, yes, more disassembled construction cranes for transportation elsewhere in the country.  The construction crane could very well replace the cedar as Lebanon's national tree.

This is the view westwards along the Corniche from my hotel room.  The Corniche is a promenade along the side of the bay, between the ocean and the coastal highway, which is a very busy divided highway, and must be a holy terror to drive during the day.  Lebanese drivers are infamous even by third-world standards, but I found their reputation somewhat overblown.  They didn't strike me as all that much worse than, say, Roman drivers, although late in the week I did come across a SUV which someone had driven full-tilt into a two-foot-tall block of concrete, crumpling in its fender and launching it high enough to leave its front hanging in the air, propped up as if a giant had just left it leaning there like a dog leaning on a divan, looking for a treat.  Anyways, Lebanese drivers tend to signal by carhorn, which is something to watch out for, and probably one ought to give everyone a bit more space than you normally would if you were in a more... Teutonic country.  They drive by Mediterranean rules here.

Walking around Beirut, I don't think I ever got to Hamra proper, and I wasn't familiar enough with the neighborhoods to identify where I *did* go, once I got out of the hotel district.  I think I was mostly in the the higher-end district to the east and north of Hamra.  As you can see, there are plenty of high-end shops, and lots of expensive European cars.  Cars are a big deal in Beirut, they're all over the place, and finding places to park them is a serious business.  Every parking lot has at least two attendants, and one of them usually was in something approximating military fatigues, presumably.

Which brings up the subject of the military.  They were all over Beirut when I was there, manning checkpoints, guarding buildings here and there - including a Maronite Church, a cluster of banks, some government buildings (I think) and, for some reason, an entire squad camped out along a street next to this children's park, on the other side from where I took the photo.  Presumably there were government buildings or party headquarters or something over on the other side, because I can't imagine why they'd be out in such force for a park.  A remarkably nice park, mind you, but still a park.  Beirut is very much an Arabic city in that greenery is a private good, locked away behind compound walls.  Some of the only shade from the August sun was to be found from the dense bushy foliage pouring over this wall or that.

The section of Beirut I walked was, I think, Sunni, but honestly I don't know enough about the differences to be able to tell a Shia mosque from a Sunni one.  There were a number of small mosques here and there, but there was a fairly large one across the street from the Bayview which broadcast the muezzin call to prayer via loudspeaker.  Not oppressively loud, but I had been told that this did not happen in Beirut, which obviously was misinformation.  As I said, there's a lot of construction going on, but few parts of this part of Beirut are run-down and slummish.  It's a city sloshing about with a lot of construction money, even now.

 The exception being this relic of the Civil War, the ruins of the old Holiday Inn Beirut, epicenter of the Battle of the Hotels.  It was heavily shot-up, rocketed and shelled during major fighting in the mid-Seventies, and seems to have been one of the few parts of the city which hasn't been torn down and replaced or renovated.  But then, there's so many other active construction sites - I walked past at least a half-dozen in a single morning - that this one could just be the result of ambigious property ownership, lack of interest, or the fact that it's way the heck back from the rest of the hotel district and the active areas of the commercial districts around it.  The city just has developed away from the old Holiday Inn.  But like I said, you have to strain to find signs of the old Civil War wreckage and divisions in Beirut, and this is the exception to that rule.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

So, now that I'm back in the states, I thought I might mention to the world that I've been in Lebanon for the last week.  A co-worker was marrying a local girl, and they were having a ceremony outside of Sidon at the Saida Country Club.  Lebanese weddings are spectacular.   This particular display during the cake-cutting (with a sword, can't believe they let Jeremy have live steel) caught the grass on fire.   But only a little bit.

I have a bunch of photos, but I think I'll be working on organizing them over the next week or so.  I visited Beirut, Byblos, the back country of Sidon, and briefly, a little hill-town between Batroun and Tripoli called Hamat that my Uncle Ron's family comes from.

Good to be back, folks.  Travel is interesting, but draining.

Monday, July 14, 2014

How small those mountains looked from space! Little wrinkles on the skin of a globe he could cover with his hand, all their crushing mass made invisible. Which was illusory, distance or nearness? Distance, Miles decided. Distance was a damned lie.


- "Mountains of Mourning", Lois McMaster Bujold