The title of the 2007 movie by Joel & Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men, is an allusion to the poem "Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats (1865–1939). The poet finds where he is "No country for old men" in part because, "Caught in that sensual music all neglect, Monuments of unageing intellect." Indeed, for most of the Middle Ages, if one wanted a thorough Classical education, including Greek as well as Latin literature, one would need to go to Constantinople, the capital of what was well understood then as the suriviving Roman Empire -- Romania -- but which now tends to be forgotten as such, obscured by the neologism "Byzantine Empire" -- something no contemporary ever heard of.
As it happened, there was another reason for Englishmen to travel to Constantinople. After 1066, dispossessed Saxon nobility began to join the Varangian Guard, previously composed of "Varangians," i.e. the Vikings who had come down the rivers of Russia. These were initially provided by St. Vladimir of Russia, when he converted to Christianity and married the sister of the Emperor Basil II. But in short order recruits arrived from all of Scandinavia -- Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and even Iceland. Slavic Russians also joined in. And then we start getting the Englishmen. They kept arriving in Constantinople for more than three centuries, and so became known by their own designation, the "English Varangians," , Egklinováraggoi (singular , Egklinováraggos) in Greek or Enklinobarangi (sing. Enklinobarangus) in Latin.
The last reference to such Englishmen is from 1404. The banner of "Byzantium" or Romania at right contains specifically Constantinopolitan motifs quartered with the simple red cross of St. George. I suspect that this part was contributed by Genoa, the ally of Romania after 1267, which used it. It is also, as it happens, used even now as the flag of England. I doubt that the Cross of St. George here originated with an English reference, but I can also imagine the satisfaction of the later English Varangians fighting with its presence and protection.
All this has resonated with me as I get older and now retire. I will be leaving Los Angeles and moving to Princeton. It is not, to be sure, like joining the Varangian Guard, and Princeton is not a unique repository of knowledge the way Constantinople was -- though I have discovered some helpful material in the Firestone Library over the years. I don't find the Mediaeval World very attractive in its own right, but I have always been curiously drawn to Constantinople as for many centuries the redoubt of Classical Civilization -- ever since as a child I read a book, The Fall of Constantinople by Bernardine Kielty [World Landmark Books, Random House, 1957]. What Constantinople really was and meant in its day is now obscured and forgotten, not the least by "Byzantinists" who insensibly and unintentionally cooperate in the misconstruction of public perceptions.
However different the circumstances, my retirement is certainly a change in my own life of perhaps a comparably profound degree. Moving to Princeton specifically is also reminiscent of such a move by Albert Einstein (1879–1955). I have little hope or prospect, of course, of equalling Einstein's accomplishments or fame, but he did move to Princeton at 54 years of age (in the Fall of 1933). I'm already 61. What I would hope for is at least to live as much longer. Einstein never left the United States again after settling in Princeton and survived until 1955. If I have another 22 years to develop the project of The Proceedings of the Friesian School, I will have no complaint.
But I also have come to feel a particular affection for Einstein. I think that his use of geometry to reconstruct physics is one of the most brilliant ideas in the history of science, with profound implications for metaphysics and cosmology, as I have examined elsewhere. It dawned on me a couple of years ago how difficult it is to avoid talking about him when I was teaching a once-a-week night class in Modern Philosophy, and I realized after several weeks that I had discussed something about Einstein in every class session. Of course, part of the story of Einstein's years in Princeton, at the Institute for Advanced Study, is that he accomplished very little. Mathematicians and physicists notoriously do all their best work when young, and Einstein was no exception. Nevertheless, one feature of Einstein's years were philosophical discussions. Every day he would walk to work with Kurt Gödel, and evidently their talks were frequently on philosophical issues. This focus was particularly acute in one venue related by Palle Yourgrau:
While at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Gödel was for a time a member of an elite -- a very elite -- discussion group, consisting of himself, Einstein, the German physicist Wolfgang Pauli, and Bertrand Russell, one of the founders of modern "analytical" philosophy. Russell reacted badly to the discussions, finding them too philosophical in the "old fashioned sense." (The failings of an entire century are crystallized in this fact.) In an unpleasant aside he vented his frustration: "All three of the others were Jews and exiles, and in intention, cosmopolitans," he wrote later, "[who shared] a German bias for metaphysics." [A World Without Time, The Forgotten Legacy of Gödel and Einstein, Basic Books, 2005, p.13]
I read this with great frustration myself. Someone like Bertrand Russell was not the person to be discussing metaphysics, or even science, with Kurt Gödel and Albert Einstein! It is hard to know who, at the time, would have been, but Karl Popper, at least, would have represented a more sensible philosophical perspective -- and with Popper they all would have had a first language in common, German. I might have little hope that I could have made Kant, Fries, or Nelson more appealing to Gödel or Einstein, but I walk around Princeton conscious that the opportunity, wasted by Russell, is now long gone. I can, however, continue this project in this place whether they are still here or not. The problem of age for mathematicians and physicists does not apply to philosophers, and as Einstein was entering his last, relatively unproductive years, at 54, Immanuel Kant was just finishing the Critique of Pure Reason at that age and was just entering his most productive period, continuing for about the next twenty years in his own life.
Sailing to Byzantium, Los Angeles as no country for old men, joining the English Varangians, retiring to Princeton: somehow it all goes together for me.
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|0||New Otani Hotel, Los Angeles,|
Morro Bay, Big Sur,
San Francisco, California
|3||Big Bear, California||1994|
|4||Niagara Falls, New York,
|5||Las Vegas, Nevada||1996|
Newport, Rhode Island
|7||Lake Placid, New York,
|10||Santa Barbara, California||2001|
|11||New York City, New York||2002|
|12||Grand Canyon, Flagstaff,
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Dover, Oxford, England
|15||Montauk, New York||2006|
|17||Princeton, New Jersey||2008|
|19||New York City, New York||2010|
|20||Montréal, Québec, Northampton, Massachusetts, Saratoga Springs, New York||2011|
|21||Charlottesville, Williamsburg, Virginia, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Harper's Ferry, West Virginia||2012|
The photo is after a hot air balloon trip on June 22, 1988, outside Lancaster, California. This was on the wedding anniversary of my cousin Cheryl and her hot air balloon flying husband, Dave (so is the balloon hot, or Dave?). Cheryl had met Dave when she got a balloon ride as a birthday present, so for some years they celebrated by taking everyone up. Exactly three years later to the day Jackie and I would get married ourselves. Later Dave got out of the business, I think just because of the cost of insurance in the Workers' Paradise, the People's Republic of California; and we've never been back up.
Our 2011 anniversary in Montreal was our 20th. A 20th anniversary present is supposed to be china, so I developed a personalized design for some anniversary plates, which is displayed here in the table. The saying in Chinese, "Those destined to be married to each other, though a thousand li apart, are drawn together by a single thread," has been appropriate to our situation, where we have long been separated by our jobs. The translation is directly from Mathews' Chinese-English Dictionary [Harvard University Press, 1972], where it is actually given for the expression , "the cause which produces effects in a future life (Budd.)" [character 7407:40, p.1109]. On the other hand, the expression is defined in Mathews' as "the fate or influence which brings lovers together" [character 7408:5]. The latter looks more appropriate for the translation given to the former. Indeed, the ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary [John DeFrancis, Hawai'i, 2003], has a separate entry for the whole saying, using [p.710].
Our history here has a heavenly component. At the time of our actual wedding, there was a triple conjunction of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. Venus () and Mars () were, appropriately, very close to transiting. In the field at right we see nearby some interesting asteriods (minor planets). There is Parthenópê, which means "virgin face." This may be a reference to Athena Parthenos, Athena the Virgin -- but it was also the name of a Siren who attempted to lure Odysseus, and the original name of Naples, Italy. Terpsichore is the Muse of Dance.
Hekate is a goddess we can associate with Artemis and Selene in the three stages of female life. Since both Artemis and Selene are Moon goddesses (Selênê, the name of the lovely Kate Beckinsale in the "Underworld" movies, actually means "Moon"), we see the goddesses at left associated with the phases of the Moon. The diagram is read from right to left, like Hebrew and Arabic, because, facing South at sunset, the waxing Crescent Moon is on the right, in the West, while the waning Crescent Moon, before sunrise, is on the left. Sometimes novelists, and others, writing about the Moon, don't realize that particular phases of the Moon, at particular times of the day, must be placed in specific locations in the sky.
Although the minor planets were invisible, this conjunction of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter was extraordinarily bright and conspicuous in the sky on our wedding day. We could see them as we came out of our wedding reception at the Sportsmen's Lodge at Ventura and Coldwater in Sherman Oaks.
I did not notice another conspicuous alignment until 2007. When we arrived in Hawaii on June 20th, there was a row of bright objects in the sky. One of these was simply the star Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo. The others were the planets Venus and Saturn. Regulus, Venus, and Saturn made a bright line in the sky. By the 21st (the date of the diagram), the moon had moved past them. Mercury was also in the area, but I think it was too close to the horizon for me to notice it.
As noted above, these anniversary trips, like some other trips, have sometimes been associated with recent Hollywood movies. Such an inspiration was behind the trip to Montauk, New York, in 2006. This was because of the movie reviewed at this site, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Here Jackie can be seen at the Montauk train station, featured in the movie. Indeed, the Montauk scenes in the movie were generally filmed in or near Montauk. I was surprised at the generally poor accommodations for tourists in the area. Travelocity and the AAA only listed two lodgings, the Yacht Club, which was booked, and an old motel, where we stayed. There were several other motels or hotels in town, but they apparently didn't rate. Our motel was nice enough; but it must have been really nice in the 50's. As it was, there were good dinner restaurants by the Yacht Harbor, and we enjoyed exploring the area. We had one breakfast in a restaurant featured in Eternal Sunshine and otherwise discovered a local preference for corned beef hash for that meal. My impression was that while Montauk was indeed a popular tourist destination, it may have mainly attracted people from New York City and Long Island rather than more distant visitors. Indeed, getting through New York City out to Long Island was a bit of a battle. The Hamptons, which we passed on the way, probably handle the higher end trade.
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Over the years, I've noticed a wide range of treatment in hotel accommodations for reading in bed. At first, all one could expect would be lamps on bedside tables. Usually, but not always, there would be a table on each side of the bed. This was not very good light, but I had often (in my youth) put up with or gotten by with nothing better in my own homes and apartments. Sometimes I would encounter hotels or motels that were saving money by using really dim bulbs. These could be low wattage bulbs, or they could be bulbs that were rated high wattage but were designed to be dim in order to be long lasting, thereby saving the hotel money. This sort of thing was easily remedied by buying, or even bringing, more appropriate light bulbs. Usually the shades of the bedside lamps could be tilted to project light more directly towards the bed, but sometimes they were too tight or too loose (as when they are not screwed in place) for this to be done.
It was therefore a revelation in 2004 to go into a room in the Hilton in Atlantic City and find, not only bedside lamps, but spotlights in the ceiling, directly over the bed, that were separately controlled reading lights. This was an astonishing revelation, and I am still perplexed by it. Hotels in gambling cities don't want you hanging out in your room. They want you out losing money. Excellent provisions for reading in bed are not conducive to spending more time in the casino. Nevertheless, I have found the same thing in Las Vegas hotels, the Venetian and the Bellagio, both with special ceiling lights for reading.
Aside from this, my experience has been uneven. In London, I've had two hotels with reading lights in the ceiling, but they were not always properly adjusted to shine appropriately at the top of the bed. In New York, the Hilton on 6th Avenue had the interesting device of wall lights that contained separate reading lamps. I hope something of the sort catches on. Most interesting was the Marriott in Waikiki, which had a small reading light on a metal snake and so could be turned and aimed as desired and was so focused that one could read while one's partner could sleep in virtually complete darkness. At the same time, the Hyatt in Waikiki had no reading lights, and sometimes the rooms were designed with only the poorest of bedside lighting. Certainly, Hawaiian hotels may expect guests to be lying on the beach rather than reading in bed; but, unlike the gambling cities, it is not necessarily in their positive self-interest to get guests out of their rooms.
Recently, I've seen some interesting contrasts. The Best Western Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) Hotel only had bedside lamps, but they both had bright bulbs and easily directed shades. This contrasted with the Double Tree by Hilton in Charlottesville, Virginia, which, with dim bulbs and loose shades, made only the poorest provision for reading. I had to ask the hotel to change the light bulbs, but they were not able to provide anything truly appropriate. Our final stop on this particular trip was a Hampton Inn in Williamsburg, Virginia, which had wall lights between two beds, leaving the far side of each bed with no light whatsoever. Perhaps they expected couples to be sleeping in separate beds -- a totally unwarranted assumption on which to design the lighting of a hotel room.
It therefore seems to be largely a matter of chance how well a hotel or motel is going to accommodate people who read in bed. This should be something listed by websites and travel agencies among the services and benefits provided by hotels. Of course, to the extent that people may come to read mainly from things like iPads, perhaps the provision of appropriate lights will become moot.
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There used to be an excellent German restaurant on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. This was "The Shadows," which supposedly referred to the shadows of artists' models on the window shades of the studios on the Hill. I don't know if there ever have been many artists working on Telegraph Hill in my lifetime, but the restaurant dated back to 1932. Internet sources say that in the 1920's it was a "Bohemian" area that local artists wanted to turn into a San Francisco version of Montmarte. Today it is very upscale houses.
I was introduced to the restaurant as a child in the 1950's. My parents began eating there when they visited San Francisco. I never learned how they heard about the place. It always struck me as strange and magical. Strange because I didn't know anything about German food. I did like the Sauerbraten and really liked the potato pancakes. But the place was magical because, plastered on the mountainside and decorated like a Swiss chalet, it was just a very fun building and location.
At the time, dining out well in San Francisco meant dressing up. So I was always in my little pre-teen suit and tie. One of the few times I can even remember wearing such things as a child. I did love the old cufflinks and the pin through the collar. But I might add my own touches. In the '50's people didn't worry much about toy guns, even very realistic ones. One of my favorites was a snub-nose .38, such as used to be commonly carried by police. This toy gun was not only realistic, but it what it actually carried were little plastic bullets snapped into spring loaded cartridges. With a round cap on the end, the gun could thus shoot the plastic bullets with a cap pistol bang. I could carry it in a shoulder holster under my suit. This toy now strikes me as rather dangerous. Indeed, at the time I was reluctant to shoot it, especially at playmates, since I was concerned about the damage that flying plastic bullets might do ("You could put out an eye," was a common caution from parents in the old days) -- or just that the bullets might get lost. Now, of course, even a child carrying anything looking like a realistic gun would immediate throw everyone into a panic. The police would be called. It is certainly a shame that such fears and reactions reflect the experience with real shootings. There was nothing like that to worry about in my childhood.
After I grew up and ceased visiting San Francisco with my parents, I began, of course, visiting on my own. The Shadows was still there, and I began going back, with different friends or dates. I ate there several times during the 1970's. Parking had always been a problem at its location, 1349 Montgomery Street. I remember my father trying to get there on what must have been our first visit. Streets that on the maps looked like they might go through, like Montgomery itself, actually dead-ended at steep cliffs on the hillside. So my father, figuring that you just drive up Montgomery Street to get to a Montgomery address, found himself stopped short. The only way to get there was by way of Union Street. I might not have remembered the occasion without that misadventure. But I do remember my parents actually parking in the neighborhood. In 1970, I could still park in the neighborhood (in my 1959 Triumph TR3). Later in the '70's, however, the neighbors were objecting to this. On one occasion, we were directed to park in a parking structure down the hill, with a shuttle going up to the restaurant. Later, there were simply valets who took the cars, as valets usually do, at the front of the restaurant. I have no idea where they then put the cars.
As an adult, I discovered a particularly appealing feature of The Shadows. On the third floor, there was a bar set under the large east window. This meant that you could sit at the bar and look out the window onto San Francisco Bay, with the Bay Bridge prominent to the right. This made the place like a particularly intimate Top of the Mark. I just loved it. Also, although I knew that there were steps going up the Hill next to the restaurant, I don't think I had ever actually gone up them until I was there with a woman I had meet in Beirut (and who turned out to be from South San Francisco). So on this occasion we walked up to Coit Tower and looked out over the City lights. On a current map, I now see that the steps next to The Shadows are apparently called the "Filbert Steps," since they continue the route of Filbert Street. Towards the end of Montgomery are the Greenwich Steps, which also go up to the summit.
The last time I ate at the old Shadows might have been about 1982. Then some years went by before I had occasion to return to the restaurant. The occasion came, happily, on my honeymoon in 1991. The Shadows was still in business, but when I eagerly made a reservation for my wife and myself, I was in for a rude surprise. The building was outwardly the same, but when we entered, the decor was radically different. Pink. Not very German. Indeed, the Swiss Chalet, and the German cuisine, was gone. So was the third floor bar. We did eat on the third floor, but it had simply been converted into extra dining. On some kind of Nouvelle Cuisine. I asked the waiter what had happened. He said that the old owners (internet sources say Carl and Mariza Rebmann) had died and that their son had a "dream" about how to update the restaurant. Not a dream, a nightmare.
I've been back to San Francisco a number of times since 1991. For years I didn't even bother checking on what had happened to The Shadows. Then my wife and I were in town for a day on April 27th in 2008. We drove up to Coit Tower. While there, I thought about walking down the Hill to see what had happened to the restaurant. Evidently not a happy story. It was closed. Its final incarnation had not even been as The Shadows, since the name on the building was the D'Alla Torre, an Italian restaurant. That does sound a little more like San Francisco, but it was not a success anyway. There seemed to be some work going on to the building, so there is no telling what will happen next. The place could easily be turned into a residence, like most of the rest of the neighborhood. We shall see. But The old Shadows is long gone, and with it some of the magic of my childhood.
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On several visits to Manhattan the last few years, my wife and I began to come across a Bolivian band playing on the street. We liked the music a lot, and they were selling CD's of their albums. The group called itself Ch'uwa Yacu Bolivia and this is a clip from a song, "Muchacha de Ojos Tristes", from the first CD we bought, Clear Water, Volume IV.
The second time we saw them it was on a Sunday, and they were on 6th Avenue right by 49th Steet. There weren't many people around, and they looked a little forlorn. Last year however, August 2003, we found them on a busier day on 7th Avenue, just above 49th Street again. They had a larger and flashier operation, drawing large crowds. Although they had made (and were selling) a number of CD's beyond their Volume IV, they were actually, when we were there, playing the music from that album.
This year , we found them on Saturday, August 21, playing right in Times Square. They seemed to be moving up in the world and were selling Volume VIII. They seem to have adopted an environmentalist theme -- Vol. VIII is called "Save Our Planet," and I do hope that they are not sending money to something like the Sendaro Luminoso; but it is marvelous music.
More recently, we had not been noticing this band, or any others, in Manhattan. Nevertheless, in the 12th season of South Park (2008) on Comedy Central, they had a two part episode involving "Peruvian flute bands" ("Pandemic," 22 October 2008, and "Pandemic 2: The Startling," 29 October 2008). The premise was that these were performing all over the country. If so, I was really not aware of it. Ch'uwa Yacu Bolivia is the only band we ever saw.
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