Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘John Steinbeck

Hojarasas (Hurricane): the mass transfer of working people everywhere

Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote this novel when he was 18 and it was published years later, before he expanded on the story in “100 years of Solitude”.

Marquez could Not at this age write an epic story of the phenomena as John Steinbeck did in the Dust Bowl, the thousands who left their land to move to California during the financial crush of 1929.

This mass transfer of people following the trail of multinational companies, carrying them to where is their next exploitation of land and downtrodden people has been practiced in ancient civilizations but started actively and documented in the 19th century. People who learned to live for the “present” and could no longer take roots anywhere.

I figured out that this phenomena started after USA civil war when the urgency of linking East and West with train rails and the mushrooming of temporary villages along the way.

As the the company moves on, the people moves along, and the residents are left with an environment much degraded, in landscape and older people down on their fate, not able survive on their own toil and resigned to State subsidies, if any.

All the colonial powers performed the same “feat”, first with their poorer classes at home and then transferred to their colonies at a vast scale.

The older ugly face of slavery has mutated into a mass moving slavery, transferred everywhere where multinational companies settled for a while.

This phenomenon is the same, , even today, everywhere multinationals decide to exploit an under-developed country, or a country reeling after a civil war, or a pre-emptive war, planned, funded and executed by the colonial powers.

In the Hojarasas, Marquez mentions the Great War. I guess it is the period that started in 1880’s of endless civil wars in Latin America. Panama was part of Columbia and the USA wanted to conquer Panama and fomented most of these civil war. And also to pave the way for its agro-multinationals (Banana companies) to exploit the land and people in Latin America.

Marquez opted Not to give names of his major protagonists. There are the colonel, the doctor, the cleric El Cachorro (the Savage who was a terrible rebel, joined the army, rose to grade of colonel before reverting to be a man of religion). Even the daughter of the colonel has no name, neither his grand son. Names are totally irrelevant in period of calamities.

So many colonels in civil wars and so many captains, even today.

The author even asks questions, repeatedly, and never offer answers.

For examples: the second wife of the colonel, Adelaide, suspected she recognized a resemblance of the doctor with someone when he first visited them. She threw a lavish dinner in his honor. She got totally disappointed when he didn’t match her conservative attitudes or offered any explanation on who he is. The doctor said: “I eat only grass, like what the donkey eats”

The doctor and El Cachorro have many resemblance. So many half brothers and half sisters are generated in civil wars and when the hojarasas are on the move. Martin, the husband of the colonel’s daughter moved away when the Banana company folded, never to return, and left behind a son and his wife.

The doctor and El Cachorro arrived to Macondo on the same day and same hour. I doubt that was a coincidence: Some one must have dispatched them to Macondo, hoping they meet and link up. Probably it was colonel Buendias who was still fighting in Panama and who must have had many illegitimate sons and daughters.

We don’t know anything of the origin of the doctor or how he lived before he arrived to Macondo, as this small village experienced the mass transfer of workers to join the banana company.

The doctor lived in the colonel house for 8 years: he was allocated a room that opened to the street. He practised from his room and ate after the household finished eating. He never paid any dues to his room or the food he ate and waited  Saturday for the maid to come a clean up his filthy room.

The doctor got even more recluse when the company sanitary services robbed him of his clients.

There was a period when he decided to get out on evenings, trying his best to look presentable and smelling of cheap cologne. He sat outside the barber shop. Was he trying to find a hapless girl to marry and follow the trail of the company? Possibly, the doctor must have experienced before the hojarasas phenomenon and was willing to undertake another exodus?

The doctor was unable to explain the complex disaster and calamities of that period to non-educated or cultured people, which also would open wide the reasons for multiple questions on his former life.

Actually, it is the doctor who pronounced the term hojarasas to the colonel, as the village flourished for a while and he expected the coming calamities when the company moves on to “greener pastures”

Meme’, the Indian girl, a guajira, who lived in the colonel household since childhood had secret sexual relationship with the doctor. She got pregnant once and the doctor helped her abort. She got pregnant again and this time she wanted to keep the child.

The colonel demanded explanation and the doctor had to move to the corner house with Meme’ in order to save the “honor” of the colonel, since they were not married. Did Meme’ gave birth? Probably not: the doctor had funded a shop for Meme’ and she was never seen holding a baby to feed for 4 years.

The doctor doesn’t lie, and doesn’t respond when he has to lie, kind of observing his right of the “fifth”. The doctor told the colonel that Meme’ had left him, 4 years after she barricaded herself with him in the small house. The municipality broke into his house and dug the garden, hoping to find the body of a “murdered” Meme’ and found nothing.

Militias had entered the village and many residents were injured. The residents deposited the injured in front of the doctor door, but he refused to open or tend to the injured. He said: “I know nothing anymore to care for them and it is no longer my business”.  I guess he was frank and didn’t want to get involved in anything or get in touch with the community.

The community decided not to bury him after he dies and when once they wanted to burn the house, El Cochorro intervened and calmly told them: “No one is to approach this house”.

The doctor finally hanged himself and only the colonel came and did the necessary arrangement to be bury the doctor. The colonel asked his daughter to join him, and the daughter brought along her 8 year-old son to the deceased house.

The colonel had promised the doctor to bury him when the doctor saved his life after he seriously fell and broke his leg. The doctor told him “you cannot bury me if you die before me”

Note 1: The Hojarasas is fraught with repetitions and redundancies. I doubt an 18 year old would use this style: Marquez must have edited his original to mark the repetitious tendency in conversations in Latin America literature, or mainly in Columbia

Note 2: The oldest main colonial powers were Spain, Portugal, then England, France and the USA. Later on Germany abused of the people in Namibia and East Africa, Belgium in the Congo (over 5 million were mutilated for not satisfying the daily quota of rubber collection off the trees), the Netherlands in Indonesia, Italy in Ethiopia and Libya, Japan in Korea and China, and Russia and China with their own citizens.

All these “prosperous” nations got their wealth on the blood, sweat and suffering of the indigenous people and their own downtrodden citizens.  The price of adopting the “Capitalism” system was pretty high for the poorer classes everywhere in the world. And communism refused to be left behind in cruelty and humiliation of its own citizens.

 

John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat is not for ‘literary slummers’

This story of easygoing, thirsty paisanos was an immediate hit with readers who found the characters ‘quaint’, and made the author regret his creation

Tortilla Flat was the book that made John Steinbeck’s name – and his fortune. By the time it was published in May 1935, he’d managed to publish four other books, but they had been poorly received.

He was in his 30s, close to the breadline, living in a house his father had given him and largely dependent on his wife’s paychecks.

And then the reviews started rolling in for Tortilla Flat.

The San Francisco Chronicle called it “exceptionally fine”. “Not since the days of WW Jacobs making his charming characters out of scoundrels has there been a book quite like this one,” said the New Republic.

The Spectator suggested that the book might make “a wet afternoon wetter for its readers”, as they cried both with laughter and sadness. The Saturday Review admired its “facile style and the whimsical humour underlying its sharp and clear-cut presentation of character”.

And so it went on. The book sold in huge quantities, the film rights were bought and Steinbeck was properly launched. Soon he would produce classics including Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath.

Surprisingly, he was also soon regretting writing the story of central character Danny and his bibulous housemates. “When this book was written it did not occur to me that paisanos were curious or quaint, dispossessed or underdoggish. They are people whom I know and like, people who merge successfully with their habitat,” he wrote in a 1937 edition foreword.

“Had I known that these stories and these people would be considered quaint, I think I never should have written them.”

The problem was that the paisano inhabitants were, as Thomas Fensch explains in his introduction to the Penguin Modern Classics edition, judged “to be bums – colourful perhaps, eccentric yes, but bums nonetheless”.

Steinbeck continued: “I wrote these stories because they were true stories and because I liked them. But literary slummers have taken these people up with the vulgarity of duchesses who are amused by and sorry for a peasantry. These stories are out, and I cannot recall them. But I shall never again subject to the vulgar touch of the decent these good people of laughter and kindness, of honest lusts and direct eyes, of courtesy beyond politeness. If I have done them any harm by telling a few of their stories, I am sorry. It will not happen again.” Perhaps mindful of drawing even more attention to the paisanos, Steinbeck soon withdrew that foreword.

His upset seemed strange to me when I read Tortilla Flat last week.

Like other “literary slummers” before me, I worried about those innocent and honest saints, their strange moral code and their lack of ambition. Perhaps I even saw “bums”.

These weren’t such big concerns for me when I first read the book in my early 20s.

I remember delighting in the paisanos’ ignorance of the scourge of work, their heroic dedication to sharing ever more wine together, and their ability to live under the same roof in simple harmony.

This time around, I found myself worrying about their hygiene and their livers and how they were going to support themselves in retirement. I still laughed at the episode where a woman proudly pushes around a vacuum cleaner that isn’t attached to any electrical circuits. I enjoyed the eventual revelation that the machine didn’t even have a motor.

I took Steinbeck’s point about the absurdity of overvaluing material possessions. But I also worried about the dust in the house and the fact that the woman still had to tidy by hand.

Through such concerns, I realised that the book held up a mirror to my own ageing.

I wasn’t entirely delighted. It was hard not to feel a pang for the younger man who would have enjoyed staying up all night with Steinbeck’s paisanos – and who also would have been as receptive to the pleasures of the world.

Would I still be able to let an afternoon grow on me “as gradually as hair grows”? Would I be as overcome by the simple beauty of my surroundings as these men often are – and count seeing other people going about their business as fulfilment enough for a day?

But the second reading also brought its compensations.

I wasn’t as spellbound as I was before: sometimes the book seemed crude and silly. And I wouldn’t be a Guardian journalist if I hadn’t worried about its sexual politics, and the few horrible moments of casual racism. But I also saw new depths.

Then, I mainly saw the book as a funny celebration of life outside the mainstream; now, I couldn’t help thinking that while Steinbeck wanted to deny that his characters were bums, he doesn’t celebrate their lives quite as wholeheartedly as he suggests in that 1937 foreword.

Similarly, while the book may (as Thomas Fensch says) have offered “escapism and entertainment” during the Great Depression, it also has sadness at its heart. It is not, as some have suggested, a happy book with a surprisingly tragic ending.

It’s one that pushes inevitably towards darkness. Right from the start, Danny is on the run from responsibility, horrified by the idea of house ownership, settling down, or even living within the constraints of the law.

His friends help distract and shelter him from reality, but cannot keep him from it for ever. Clocks may be eschewed in Tortilla Flat, but time marches on. Danny is still ageing. And now I’ve gone through more of my own journey into adulthood, I saw his fears more clearly.

I also felt I had a better understanding of his tragedy. As a younger reader, I understood the sadness of the book’s final chapters and Danny’s decision to fly roaring into the depths of the gulch near his house. But my older self also knows what he’d be missing thanks to that decision. It gave the book a poignancy I hadn’t felt before. Even if Danny is a bum, he’s also a complex and haunted man.

 

The dark side of success?

“It is so hard to know anything.

So impossible to trust oneself.

Even to know what there is to trust.”

As much as we may aspire to adopt Thoreau’s luminous definition of success and seek to reap the intrinsic rewards of creative labor rather than its extrinsic material manifestations, we live in an era where creativity and commerce are harder and harder to disentangle.

And yet, as Amanda Palmer aptly observed in considering the sticky question of success, “part of the struggle of actually finding happiness as an artist is the daily fight to not define success the way the rest of the world defines success.”

But this is hardly a modern problem.

Wedged in time between Thoreau and Palmer, and a generation before Joni Mitchell bemoaned the dark side of success, another icon of creative culture brushed up against the harsh reality of how personally and creatively trying public and commercial triumph can be.

Having just attained significant critical acclaim, financial profit, and public recognition for the 1937 novella Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck (February 27, 1902–December 20, 1968) found himself in an unfamiliar and surprisingly uncomfortable position.

“I beat poverty for a good many years and I’ll be damned if I’ll go down at the first little whiff of success,” he wrote in an extraordinary letter of creative courage as he all but destroyed a manuscript that didn’t live up to his standards of style and integrity, setting out to rework it into what became The Grapes of Wrath — the novel that earned Steinbeck a Pulitzer in 1940 and paved the way for his Nobel Prize two decades later.

But even as he labored at his masterpiece, the demons of fame, publicity, and commercial success kept beckoning from the sidelines.

Writing in Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath (public library) — his magnificent testament to the power of the diary as a tool of discipline and a hedge against self-doubt — Steinbeck laments in an entry from early 1938:

People I liked have changed. Thinking there is money, they want it. And even if they don’t want anything, they watch me and they aren’t natural any more…

I’m tired of the struggle against all the forces that this miserable success has brought against me. I don’t know whether I could write a decent book now.

That is the greatest fear of all. I’m working at it but I can’t tell. Something is poisoned in me.

So animated is Steinbeck by this inner tumult that he addresses his pages directly, casting them at once as the sin and the salvation:

You pages — ten of you — you are the dribble cup — you are the cloth to wipe up the vomit. Maybe I can get these fears and disgusts on you and then burn you up. Then maybe I won’t be so haunted. Have to pretend it’s that way anyhow.

When Of Mice and Men became a bestseller, Hollywood approached Steinbeck for a film adaptation — but he wasn’t without ambivalence about an offer the payoff of which would have dazzled most.

If anything, he viewed it with double disgust, for he felt that the superficiality of such commercial courtship took him away from the deeper problems at the heart of his work: his profound concern with the fate of the destitute migrant workers who inspired The Grapes of Wrath.

Over and over, Steinbeck makes clear that he sees working for profit as a failure of the imagination on behalf of the artist — a smallness of ambition that distracts from the larger human concerns that creative work ought to address.

(That was the position of Steve Job: If you don’t focus on the motivation of the designers for their products, marketing and profit will disintegrate your company)

In the same diary entry, he winces at the gaping disconnect between Hollywood’s motives and his, underpinned by the vulnerable trepidation that engaging with such commercial work might gradually poison his own reasons for creating:

I really don’t care about the moving picture. Really don’t — but those people who are starving — what can be done?

And the people with panaceas of all kinds. Will you lend your name to this and to this? What do I care about my name?

It is battered and completely out of shape anyway. It hasn’t any meaning and I haven’t any meaning.

“Seen about your luck.” I got no luck. “Send one hundred dollars.” Luck! He thinks it is luck. He is poor and he thinks I am rich. And he seen about my luck. In the cheap welter, he seen about my luck.

He seen about my destruction only he couldn’t understand that. The Greeks seem to have known about this dark relationship between luck and destruction. (Not only the Greek authors: It is a universal observation)

It is so hard to know anything. So impossible to trust oneself. Even to know what there is to trust.

Although Steinbeck seems gladdened, however self-consciously, at the perks of fame — “Got the iron gate [in exchange] for an autograph,” he notes in one diary entry — by the fall he observes with contemptuous fascination the effect his public success has on his private life.

In an entry from October 11, he writes:

Letter from my cousin Grace — first in 22 years… And the interest is solely because of the publicity. Seems to affect every one. She’ll be denying the relationship before long now. Every one will. To work.

A couple of days later, in an entry that calls to mind Susan Sontag’s admonition that “publicity in general is a very destructive thing, for any artist,” Steinbeck resolves with disgruntlement on par with Kierkegaard’s:

The mail this morning — just a mass of requests. Driving me crazy…

It becomes increasingly apparent that I must make a stand against joining things as I have against speaking. The mail is full of requests to use my name.

Another request to be a clay pigeon. I won’t do any of these public things. Can’t. It isn’t my nature and I won’t be stampeded.

And so the stand must be made and I must keep out of politics. Now these two things are constantly working at me.

It’s hard not to think of C.S. Lewis who, in contemplating the ideal daily routine, pointed his warm wit at the issue and observed: “It is essential of the happy life that a man would have almost no mail.”

But for Steinbeck this became less a matter of happiness than one of spiritual survival.

In a supreme twist of irony, the very pestilence of publicity requests he so bemoaned as a distraction during the months he spent writing The Grapes of Wrath swelled to towering proportions once the novel was published — it sold feverishly, bringing the author fame and notoriety beyond his wildest expectations.

“I don’t think I ever saw so much [money] in one place before,” he wrote to his friend Elizabeth Otis during the initial wave of excitement as he witnessed the fruition of a dream he had dreamt, however warily.

But then excitement festered into resentment as the dream darkened into a nightmare.

So Sisyphean was the barrage of requests — invitations to countless committees, speaking offers, strangers asking for money — that it prompted Steinbeck to exclaim in an Associated Press interview a few months after the book’s publication:

Why do they think a writer, just because he can write, will make a good after-dinner speaker, or club committeeman, or even a public speaker?

I’m no public speaker and I don’t want to be. I’m not even a finished writer yet, I haven’t learned my craft.

This, perhaps, is what Sontag meant in her admonition

1. — that extraneous engagements of any kind are invariably at the expense of the very craft which rendered the artist desirable for whatever is being requested in the first place;

2. that every yes to such publicity requests ripples into a thousand little no’s to the daily demands of the dogged labor upon which all great art is built.

It takes enormous clarity of conviction and creative purpose to recognize that busy is a decision and remember that “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Steinbeck’s Working Days remains the immensely inspiring record of how an artist of rare genius and integrity chose to spend his days — fighting self-doubt with discipline and finding joy not in extrinsic acclaim but in rewards as intimate as the pleasure of the perfect pen.

Complement it with Steinbeck’s equally elevating and idealistic wisdom on falling in love and his meditation on the creative spirit and the meaning of life.

San Francisco: Soothing recollections May 31, 2009

The trip to San Francisco from Oklahoma to attend the Human Factors convention lasted almost 3 days and I spent my money on junk food. This is a period I’m still not ready to face much less to write about but I finally came around to tell it. Suffice to admit that I roomed with my adviser in the hotel and that he woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me that my snoring was loud.

After the convention was over, I was on the verge of joining the file of the homeless. I stayed at the studio of a referral that I got in Norman for one night in Ashbury Heights. I had later many occasions to walk this famous street during the period when the hippies selected it as headquarter for their movement.

The next morning I was feeling sick because of too much nervous tension. I called my cousin Nassif in Vancouver and all that I got was a reprimand “Adonis, you are always in trouble”. I called Ali who was working in Canada but he had no referrals in San Francisco to stay over. I used an old number of Ali’s in Houston and it seems that this number connect him everywhere he relocates.

I know that I slept one night at an Algerian student who was the manager of the restaurant “Marrakech” that served Moroccan dishes; it was one of the longest nights and the most nerve wracking wait for this Algerian student to show up and pick me up.

It was a cold night and I waited for over three hours sitting on my suitcase wondering if he is ever going to show up. I had nowhere to go and no money for any decent lodging facility.  The next day I slept at a hostel for foreign student visitors for two nights in Downtown San Francisco.

The Algerian student referred me to two Spanish students living in a foggy neighborhood; the fog enveloped this quarter 20 hours a day. I had shelter for a week at the foreign students from Spain and they were very nice.

I managed to be hired in a full-service retirement hotel, for room and board in exchange of 4 hours work a day. The Spanish students could not believe that I landed a job that quickly. I accepted all the overtime I could get in all the departments, until I was offered the job of assistant to the manager three weeks later.  I was fooled by the offer of $1,200 a month which turned out to be less than $900 after all kinds of deductions but I fulfilled my “word” to stay a whole year in that position.

My cousin Patrick visited me once when he was attending a conference in San Francisco for the anesthesiologists. I enjoyed my stay in this lovely city of San Francisco and visited frequently all its parks and waterfronts and beaches, carrying a book with me.

I had also located a nearby covered swimming pool that I patronized three times a week.  I had the opportunity to tour the neighboring towns around San Francisco with co-workers and a French older woman called Michelle that I helped secure a part-time position at the Hotel.  The red headed Michelle carried all her belonging in the trunk of her small beat up car and she invited me on her many excursions out of town.

I saw many famous locations because I was responsible for arranging tours to the elder residents and I was to be part of the trip for supervision purposes.  The City offered a van with a driver and we toured San Francisco once a week and I took pictures and described the tour in the monthly promotional brochure along with the monthly events in the Hotel.

I was caring for elder persons, mostly ladies, but in my state of confusion for my future and frustration in not finding within my spirit of what I loved to do for a job didn’t leave much space in my soul for sincere compassion.  Practically, I cared better than most of the managerial staff because I was new to this environment of human spiritual misery and I was highly respected by the “clients”.

The retirees knew of my higher education but never asked me “why are you working in such an institution with your degree?”; it is as people in the US are accustomed to seeing all kinds of individuals working temporary jobs that turned out to be more permanent than proclaimed.

One elder man of over 80 of age, tall and of powerful constitution, committed suicide a week after his “incarceration” by falling in a stairwell from the eighth floor.  Many of the elder ladies whom I cared for passed away during my job but I was not shaken emotionally, or that what I thought at the time.

I think that I read most of the famous authors who lived in and around San Francisco. I had a Mexican girlfriend. (You may read my post in the addendum to my introspection “Chica Lupita”)

I have toured Marin County, the forest of the highest Red trees, ventured to Monterrey, Big Sur, Little Sur, Carmel, and all the environs.  There was old Jake who was a gambling addict; he used to receive invitations from the casinos for free rooms in Reno.  I joined him twice because he needed company.

I played little and ate a lot; food and drinks were cheap and in abundance, and enjoyed looking at pretty servers too.  We traveled on two occasions as a group in a van belonging to an employee and spent glorious days up north and tasted wine in wine counties and farmhouses.

I recall that I had an interview for a job in statistical analysis and had to board several ferries to reach destination; luckily, I didn’t get the job but it was a good exposure for various transport facilities. All in all, my stay in San Francisco was the loveliest and most enriching experience in the US.

During my stay in San Francisco I took the bus Greyhound to Boulder because my adviser sent me a letter that he was to deliver part of my dissertation to the convention of Human Factors Society and I wanted to attend it. It was a long trip of two days and we passed through Salt Lake City and I visited the temple of the Mormons.

There was snow and the University of Boulder was lovely. During the second day of the convention my advisor failed to show up and I had no copy of my dissertation and I felt frustrated for not being prepared to deliver anything even though I was invited by the chairperson of the session to do it.  I had the opportunity to tour Denver by night and boarded the spacious and large bus that crosses Main Street.

The return trip was long. A week later I was to battle a discrimination case.  There was this girl who claimed that I harassed her sexually and the case was dropped after weeks of hassles; she had no one to testify on her behalf.  The girl was pissed off that I got the position of assistant to the manager. I had no hints of the power struggle that went on before I arrived to this hotel.  I wanted to resign but the manager convinced me that when I finish the whole year then I would be eligible for unemployment benefits of around $450 a month.

I finished the year and started to look for a steady job commensurate to my education.  I thus patronized an office on Van Ness Road that was funded by the City and aided with unemployment cases, such as writing CVs and how to tailor make your resume, and checking on the latest openings for work.  In one of my posts titled “Are you searching for a job?” I wrote:

“I recall that in 1991 the US was in serious recession during the Bush Sr. Administration and jobs were frighteningly scarce.  I had graduated with a PhD degree in Industrial/Human Factors engineering and missed better periods for hiring academicians.

I was working as assistant to manager at a retirement community in Downtown San Francisco and visited an employment center on Van ness Road. It was a center meant to help you out rewrite your CV for the nth time anytime you wanted to apply for the scarce job announcements posted in the center.

People swarmed this center just to feel busy and serious about searching for a job but not that hot for finding one.  I guess the center was one of the hundreds of facilities with the sole purpose to blaming the citizens for failure to doing their due diligence and compete since no one is about to beg you to work for them.  If you failed to re-write your CV and spent more money on useless stamps per day then you are not making good use of this “valuable” help facility.

This was the period when ridiculous denials were the custom of the land. For example, this custodian at NASA who claims that he is contributing to sending astronauts to the moon; or redefining their jobs as sanitation “engineering”.  I recall that I was forced to accept a job cleaning and vacuuming the main library while working on my dissertation.

I fooled my spirit into believing that as long as I am doing my job perfectly and with excitement then I am learning the value of a job well done, sort as a training period for toughening my character.  A state of denial is not a bad reaction; it is successive states of denials that can be deleterious to your development”.

I was very curious and enjoyed being among crowds; I attended the public events such as Shakespeare in the park, the free open concerts, joined the homosexual yearly celebrations, and the Latinos Days of Independence.  Unfortunately, I was mugged on a wonderful evening 50 feet from my hotel and I was hospitalized.  I never believed that I might be a statistics. Nobody in the hotel heard anything or even noticed what happened when I returned from the hospital.

I refrained from going out for three weeks.  Walking in San Francisco even during the day was no pleasure anymore: there were too many beggars along the streets and they were not a peaceful lot.  I was glad to move to Washington DC for a change but no city compares to San Fran in variety, beauty, and recreational facilities.

I never walked as much as my two years stay in San Fran.  This was a wonderful period when I devoured all kinds of books on a daily basis; I had the pleasure to be acquainted with most of the famous Bay Areas authors from Henry Miller, to John Steinbeck, to Jack London, and the Beatnik movement.

“Farewell Beirut”, by Mai Ghoussoub (Part 3, November 16, 2008)

Note: Paragraphs in parentheses are my own interjections.

The third part of my review was hard and I delayed it too long because the demons that Mai is battling with are spread throughout the book.

I decided not to try to have a coherent or logical links among the different emotions that were troubling Mai and I will leave it to the readers to do their own homework and reflections.

The main theme in “Farewell Beirut” is “revenge” and the associated concepts of honor, genocides, nationalism, heroes, traitors, denouncers, martyrdom, punishment, hate, love and the fundamental human emotions that might be interpreted differently through the ages, and civilizations but where the moral values of wrong and right should not be left to personal matters of point of views.

There are cases of transient insanity such as degraded human values, mocked tradition, and disobedience of State laws and rules.

For example, why we tend to be more lenient toward the rotten moral values of officials simply because they didn’t show rigidity in the mind?  If we admit that “traitors” are the product of dictatorship and wars and that this breed of people are present in locations fraught with danger (then most of us might have played the role of traitors under the right conditions).

People have the tendency to be more lenient with deficiency in morality than with extremist positions in ideologies and religious beliefs.

For example, burning witches is related to extreme social and religious dogmatism as a reaction for seeking consensus in an established social order.  Heroes are not necessarily that honorable; take the case of this child who denounced his father who helped a few Gulag prisoners to escape to the soviet authorities and in return was awarded a medal of honor and much propaganda.

Take for example the French women who had sexual relationship with German officers during WWII and many of them begot offspring; they had their head shaven since hair is the most representative of female pride.

These head shaven ladies were the scapegoats to releasing the emotions for frustration and rage among the hungry Parisians. The worst part is that the mothers brought their kids with them to watch the dishonoring ritual. The women watchers are badly dressed which reflect a bad conscience in being part of the ceremony.

While the German used modern techniques to hide their genocide, the French “victors” adopted medieval means to humiliate and get revenge on the traitors and informers.

John Steinbeck said “We cannot take pictures of war because war is fundamentally emotions“.

In our back head, we always have fears for the reaction of those we have persecuted. The French star singer Arlettie reacted furiously and said “What! Are they also meddling in how we use our sex parts?”   Many women had to survive under siege and everyone according to his potentials and skills.

The Argentinean navy officer Adolfo Silingo said:

“I was responsible for killing 30 people with my own hands and I do not feel remorse or repentance because I was following orders and I got used after the initial shock surprise. We knew that we were killing humans but we kept killing them!  The civilians were in a semi comatose state from torture and we threw them out of the airplane like puppy dolls.

Most of the navy contingents participated in these mass killings” Adolfo is spending his life drunk on the streets trying to forget the “dirty war” during the dictatorship against his own people.

General Paul Tibits who dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima is not penitent.  These kinds of people were once considered heroes: how do you view them now?

Hanna Arndt would like to comprehend “Why these people did chose to stop thinking?

Brecht screamed in one of his plays “Woo to the nations that count too many heroes!

Simone Veil didn’t take it personal that she was incarcerated because she was Jew; she was interested to know “how people are propelled into a climate of condemning and defaming others

This question is pertinent “Is it legitimate to hide truth in order to secure social peace?

How can we manage to forget and yet not take chances for the recurrence of the same sorts of atrocities?”

It is most difficult to find common denominators among the concepts of justice, moral values, and politics when judging cases of genocides.

Bertolt Brecht said: “Tragedies is about human suffering expressed in less seriousness than comedies. The perpetrators of genocides are not great criminal politiciasns but simple people who allowed horrifying political crimes to pass”


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

August 2020
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