Noilly Prattle: June 2014

Thursday, June 26, 2014

3 Gardenias and a succulent

     I confess that I am in the habit of picking things up when I am out walking. Although my shoplifting days are thankfully over, I can't keep my hands off things just lying around begging to be picked up. I even have some sand from a particularly fine beach in New Caledonia. The jar is labeled 'SAND FROM LUENGONI BEACH, LIFOU'.

      Walks in the neighborhood take me past lots of flowering trees, shrubs and grasses. One such shrub in a public park is full of Gardenia bushes that bloom at this time (June) of the year. After they bloom they sprout new shoots from the cuttings of which you can start new Gardenia plants. Last year we started about a dozen shoots in started pots, most of which rooted. We then transplanted the shoots in various places around the house. By the time winter rolled around they were strong enough to survive. In early spring they began to revive and started new leaf buds, but to my everlasting surprise flower buds appeared about a month ago as well. I wasn't expecting flowers for a few years if at all. Now we have these sensuously beautiful flowers in our own backyard.

      Another flowering plant I picked up from an empty lot is a succulent that produces symmetrical purple pink flowers that I simply dropped and covered with a little dirt. It has taken and is spreading and also producing flowers the first year after transplanting. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Animism is alive. . .

. . . and well in the 21st Century

     Animism, the belief in a kind of universal soul, is, arguably, the oldest form of “religious” or spiritual belief, predating written history. It's earliest expressions can be found in prehistoric burial sites where bodies were carefully arranged and left with baubles and artifacts from when they were living. A reverence for the dead is the earliest known incidence of religious expression.

ceremonial in the village
       My first encounter with animism was during the two and a half years I lived in a jungle village in West Africa. Its artistic expression was in the form of ceremonial masks and carvings of animals and strange creatures with animal features. Its physical expression was in body painting and decorations and all night ceremonies to propitiate or cajole the spirits of nature and ancestors to cure the sick and infertile or to bring down maledictions on enemies and foes. Fire, the compelling rhythms of tom-toms, wild dances, hallucinogenic drugs and powerfully alcoholic palm wine were staples of these occasions. It was compelling and exciting to participate in them and, depleted, wend your way home in the early pre-dawn hours and sleep the rest of the day.

narrow strip of land across the street
       I've run into an interesting expression of animism right here in my neighborhood. Our house is situated on the edge of a housing area with a wooded valley right across the street. There is a narrow strip of presumably public land there before it plunges steeply into the valley that we and some of our neighbors use for small gardens. We have some herbs, one neighbor does flowers and some vegetables and another does some serious though small scale vegetable gardening.

the veggie farmer
       There has been, recently, a somewhat low-grade neighborhood land war over the strip of land across the street. The serious farmer has been extending the length of his strip garden closer and closer to our herb patch, extending it to the area fronting our next-door neighbor who does not use the land for a garden, but resents the encroachment to the front of his door. The vegetable farmer recently cleared some of the land right in front of the neighbor's door and bordering on our herb patch.

young lime tree and barrier branch
with strange heptagon behind
       I was sitting here at my computer last week when I heard the two men arguing, more or less politely but vociferously, in Japanese. When their conversation was over, we went outside and told the farmer that he must not extend his garden any further into our herb patch. He seemed subdued after his chat with the neighbor and assured us that he wouldn't. Just to be certain, however, we planted a lime tree and re-positioned a large cut branch (that the farmer himself had cut and left on the ground) as a not-so-subtle reminder that his garden stops here.

heptagonal tomb for a pet bird
       A few days ago I noticed a strange arrangement on the land that the farmer had cleared. I told my partner about it and we took some photos and discussed what it might signify. I thought it looked like some kind of altar that reminded me of Japanese tomb stones with a place for leaving offerings of food and drink or flowers, etc. She, being a bit superstitious, thought it might be a kind of talisman for protection from curses or even, in reverse, a curse upon the neighbor. Nevertheless, we agreed to ask the farmer what it was.

       This morning he was out there gardening while my partner was in the herb patch and she asked him what it was.

       It is a tomb for a pet bird.

       Animism! It can be beautiful.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Looking Back: 19 – Miami, back to civilian life

     Well, there I was with my separation papers in my hand, my regimented life behind me and an uncertain future before me. Freedom, as they say! I was 21.

pertinent information on my DD-214 separation paper

     I had friends in Miami and thought I would try South Florida on for size as a good place for life as a civilian. A fellow sailor on my last ship, the Kaskaskia, had told me there was a lot of money to be made in hair styling. I certainly needed a way to make “a lot of money” and had no marketable skills other than navigating and steering big ships. Logical thinking suggested getting a marketable skill, so I decided to follow his advice and get into the beauty biz and moved to Miami.

emblem of the
Order of the Eastern Star
     I rented a room, with the help of friends, in the home of Florence H. a kindly elderly lady who was widowed and could use the extra rental income. She was a charming lady with a sharp wit and sense of humor—a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, a Freemason-affiliated fraternal organization and esoteric society open to men and women. Her home was conveniently located in the NW 18 Ave. and 8th Street neighborhood near the Orange Bowl in easy commuting distance to the beauty school that I enrolled in in downtown Miami. It was called the La France School of Cosmetology, capitalizing, I suppose, on the high fashion image of French couture and style.

high fashion design
of the 1960s era
      I graduated after about six months of classes in theory and practical experience and passed the license exam and was ready to make my first million...or so I thought. The image around the beauty school was one of glamour and high fashion hair design with glitzy shows and hair design contests in high profile Miami Beach hotels.

     In the real world, it wasn't so glamorous. Still, a lot depended on image and hype, especially for male operators. I got a job in a new salon that was owned by a Cuban escapee from Castro's Cuba and was managed by a young woman who was the girlfriend of the owner's son, but who, herself, was not a beautician. At any rate, I was billed as a “French designer”. Well, I do have a French name and my ancestry is from somewhere in France, but, hell, I was as American as apple pie. Unfortunately, the shop never caught on (or perhaps I was unconvincing as a “French designer”) and we weren't getting many customers and I wasn't making “a lot of money”.

Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963
      While I was working (or not working) there, the event that, in retrospect, seems to have been a watershed moment in the history of the country exploded, along with the back of the President's head, and seared into the American psyche permanently. November 22, 1963 started out as just another day of hanging around the shop waiting and hoping for customers. At some point I was terminally bored and decided to go out and get a bite to eat. There was an odd silence and atmosphere of shock when I returned to the shop. The owner of the shop and the manager had the TV on and then the sense of, first, incredulity and then shock hit me, too.

      With the assassination of President John F. Kennedy it doesn't seem an exaggeration to me to say that America lost, if not its soul, its innocence—or it may simply have been a reflection of my own mood. I had been living in Miami for almost a year since my separation from active duty, wasn't making “lots of money” and was, in fact, almost broke. It was time to admit defeat and make another decision.

     Soon after that, I left my non-job at the salon and took temporary day labor jobs for minimum and no benefits. These jobs included scrubbing pots and pans after midnight in a filthy third-rate Miami Beach restaurant kitchen and loading heavy cases of bread onto delivery trucks until I earned enough money to buy new retread tires for my old 1955 Ford and drive back north to my home state of Massachusetts.

To be continued...