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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Amsterdam Diary - Day 1

      I’ve gone to Hunters, my favorite coffee shop. Terry is still dealing at the drug bar, known him for four years now. Every summer I come back. Nice guy – from England, has been living/working here for years. It takes a moment, now he sees me, smiles – a real one. Drug bar’s empty, giving us a chance to exchange telegrams of history, the headlines, then,“What’s good?” I ask.
      “What are you looking for?” he says.
      “Something mid-range. Not too strong. Sativa. I don’t want to get zonked out. Something good, but not too strong. I want to think.”

      He turns and takes two tiny plastic bags from a matrix of small wooden boxes on the wall behind him. “Both of these are good. This one’s something new – Ocean’s Twelve.” He opens it for me to smell, as if I’d know the difference.
      “Whatever you think, Terry.” He hands me the bag. One gram, three buds – twelve Euros. “Do you still sell pipes?”
      “Take this one. People leave them behind.”
      An octet of late teens have arrive. The buyers come like flocks of birds, hover excitedly at the glass-top counter, reading menus, sniffing bags, and chattering to one another, making choices, and comments. “I thought you had the money.”

      I retreat to the far end of a long zinc-topped bar, and take the remaining empty stool next to a couple guys in their mid-thirties, rolling joints. I notice the computers are gone.


      There used to be five coin-fed computes along this wall. I’ve used them a lot. “What happened to the computers?” I ask.
      “Cell phones,” one answers. “Cell phones put them out of business.”
Umm. Not good. I suspect I may be the only person on earth who does not have a cell phone. They seem like an imposition, or an addiction, maybe both . . . whatever. I light the pipe, take a few hits. Nothing. I decide to leave. Once standing I feel weird and realize the pot has hit me. I’m okay, but realize I’ve had enough. I walk outside onto the brick paved street, a bit uncertain. I always carry a notebook in my backpack, in case I think of something interesting, but don’t have it with me. I have a pen. I need paper. Must be a place to buy some near here. I start walking past the endless shops, small restaurants and fast food places, bars and coffee houses . . . body piercings, water pipes, and T-shirts, vibrators, sex toys.

       What am I looking for? Paper, I keep reminding myself, I’m looking for paper. I decide to forget about it, which will be easy. I want to sit down somewhere and relax.


      I find a nice wooden bench with a couple sitting in one section, an uncoupled space next to them, perfect. There’s a black woman sitting on the other side. She looks forty something, maybe older . . . younger? Hard to tell. She’s over weight by maybe forty pounds. Seems young and old at the same time, young and tired, or old and in good shape. We’re sort of separated from each other on this circular bench, facing outward at different angles. I make no attempt at conversation. I just want to sit here, think, and watch the show, a visual kaleidoscope of happy people passing, laughter, conversation. Holland won it’s soccer game today.

      A guy walks by, says something about the game to the black woman, who replies. I’ve no idea what she said, and have no interest. A tour group has arrived, some twenty of them, gray hair, aura of retirement on them. Each wears a square, plastic, device about the size of a billfold, hung by a strap around their neck . . . like those electronic guidebook gizmos they give you at museums.
It seems weird, bazaar. Their leader is telling them history of the Red Light District. It’s been here forever, they are informed. This area was one of the world’s a major seaports. Sailors who came with the ships were looking for a good time, or a good fight. Holland’s leaders were okay with them having some fun, but created this Red Light district to separate their carrying’s on from the rest of the city.

      It’s beautiful here. This courtyard surrounds the ‘Old Church’, a magnificent cathedral that has also been here forever. Rembrandt’s wife is buried here, beneath the slab stone floor with a lot of other important, well to do residents. As I watch, the tour group gathers by a small brass statue of a hooker. There’s a plaque on the pedestal that says, ‘Be nice to hard working hookers’, or something like that. You can barely see the statue in the photo above. It’s just to the left of the no-littering sign.  
      The group listens to their guide and glance furtively at one another.
      A pair of very happy, laughing, teenage girls pass by with foam rubber hands pointing up, on one arm. Shouting about the soccer game.
      “Did you watch the game?” The black lady asks me.
      “Yeah. I caught the second half. I’ve only been here a few hours.” We start to talk, just idle conversation . . . stuff about the game. She moves a bit closer, and we drift into verbal bios. Her name is, Shada. “I have been here thirteen years,” she tells me. She’s from Libya. Something bad happened to her in Libya, something about a house. She has an accent. I’m not sure what she says some of the time, but I don’t mind as I’m the one doing most of the talking, running on about leaving America, and living in Sweden.

      “This is weird,” I tell her.
      “Just talking to you like I’ve been. I never talk this much.”
      But its’ easy with her. She seems to be truly caring, interested and intelligent . . . knowing. I find myself telling her my most innermost thoughts, my hopes and fears, my wife, my life – leaving America. Some interesting stuff is coming up as I ramble into myself. Not all that new, but a few thoughts I didn’t know I had. I’ve found that pot, for me, is very introspective. I am fairly blabbing now, having a good time talking about stuff I would never discuss with someone I might meet again.
      “You want a smoke?” she asks.
      “Yeah, sure. I guess so.”
      Shada passes me a bag of cigarette tobacco and a rolling paper. I’m relieved to see it isn’t marijuana. “I cannot roll cigarettes,” I tell her. “Never learned.” I’ve noticed a lot of people roll their cigarettes here, I guess because they’re so expensive, about eight bucks for a pack of Marlboros. I don’t smoke cigarettes – a pipe sometimes.

      “Is okay. I will roll,” she says. She makes two cigarettes. They’re absolutely perfect, seamless, slightly tapered. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen somebody roll. We light ‘em up. It’s a pleasant, puffing on them – mild. “You should smoke there.” Shada points to a small coffee house. High Time, a sign proclaims. “Is nice place,” she says warmly. “They let you alone. Sit all you want.”
      “I’ll take a look tomorrow.” I go back to my life history. I’m on my Army days. She continues to listen attentively, without making a show of it, encouraging, and caring. There’s a silent moment as    I’m shifting mental gears, move on to my first marriage – San Francisco. Another tour group’s passing by. These dudes are geriatric – old, with snow white hair. Two are in wheelchairs, some have canes. They creep along. Oh, god. Is that my future? Happens to all of us. How many more years will I be able to travel alone?

      “We should go High Time,” Shada says. “Nice place. We can sit, and talk, long as you want.”
      “I don’t know.” I still remember coming out of Hunters, that weird feeling – gone now. I feel normal, sort of, but do not want more. We leave the bench. I let her lead me to High Time. Inside the door, and to the left, a steep, winding stairway goes up into semi darkness. There’s a guy sitting at a table next to the first steps. Shada bends over to say something to him. He nods, and we move to the drug bar in the rear. A couple guys are taking up the space at a short counter, but soon they leave with cups of coffee, and something to smoke.

        We take the space they’ve left, and Shada passes me a drug menu. “I don’t want anything,” I tell her. “Get something for yourself. Maybe I’ll take a puff or two.” I’m feeling just a little bit uneasy.
“I do not smoke pot,” she tells me. “But it’s nice upstairs. You can talk all you want. No one will bother us.”
      “Not now. Maybe tomorrow. I was fine on the bench,” I tell her.
      “That’s okay,” she says. “We can go back to the bench.”
      We start back, but something’s changed. A subtle shift of moment. “Time for me to leave.” I check my watch, as if the time has something to do with my decision. “I’m heading back to my hotel.”
      “I’ll walk with you,” she says. I’m starting to feel like she is with me. Sticking like glue.
      “We can go to your hotel room and talk,” she says.
      “No. That would not be good,” I say. “I need to call my wife.”
      Shada looks hurt. “But please, some money. I’m so hungry.”

      Hungry might be good for her. She weighs a good deal more than I do, and looks very healthy.      
      “Please,” She’s holding out an upturned hand. I feel like I’ve been conned, but find a two euro coin, worth about three U.S. dollars. Not bad for an hour of therapy.
       The next day I see her again, just standing against a brick wall, watching people pass by. She sees me. I wave goodbye, and she looks hurt again. I turn to go the other way.
*        *        *
Below: Rare photo of the artist posing behind a Drug Bar.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Amsterdam Diary


Saw this rather disconcerting graffiti. At first I thought it was a Banksy, but his stuff always seems to have a humorous aspect to it.      I’ve thought a lot about this image and am still not sure what the intended message is. I would be interested if any of you have an answer or opinion.

Below is a ‘for sure’ Banksy in case you have never heard of him.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

B & A Suitcase 

Vacation time again. I can’t believe it. They’re going to leave us here with nothing to do but sleep and eat. They never take us anywhere. Who’s going to do my nails, and hair, when they’re away? Not that dog loving neighbor who comes over. I mean, really!

Observing Sweden - Summer Solstice

Summer solstice is the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. For those of us in the north, today will be the longest day of the year and tonight will be the shortest night. The entire Earth is about 3 million miles farther from the sun at this time of the year. The difference in the temperature is due to the fact that our planet is tilted on its axis, and at this time of year, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, receiving more direct radiation for longer periods of time each day. It is that slight tilt, only 23 1/2 degrees, that makes the difference between winter and summer. The rise in temperature allows most of the plants we eat to germinate. Wheat and many other plants require an average temperature of at least 40° F to grow. Corn needs a temperature of 50° F, and rice needs a temperature of 68° F.

Postcard From Sweden
This sans sunset day
twilight til dawn
another summer solstice
endless clock of seasons.

Magic hours when animals can talk
and humans dream of lovers
dress the maypole
join in celebration
gatherings of thousands
celebrate until the early morning mist.

Another day is born.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Trans-Alaska Pipeline

Today is the day the Trans-Alaska Pipeline began to pump oil for the first time. It was the largest private construction project ever completed in United States history.

Oil companies had been drilling for oil in Alaska for years, without much luck. Then the company that would become Exxon decided to drill one more hole before giving up, and they struck what turned out to be the largest oil discovery in North America. The only problem was that the oil field was 800 miles away from the nearest harbor where oil tankers could pick up the oil and transport it to the rest of the world.

So the oil companies decided to build a pipeline to transport that oil across the state of Alaska, 48-inches in diameter, stretching 800 miles, zigzagging over three mountain ranges and crossing 34 major rivers, including the Yukon. Once it began pumping, about 1.9 million barrels of crude oil began flowing through the pipe every day, traveling at about 7 miles an hour to the port of Valdez.
U.S. refineries decided the oil was ‘too heavy’ for their crackers. Most of the oil was shipped to Japan.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Postcard from Buzios, Brazil

Postcard From Brazil


At night in Buzios
warm sea breeze comes ashore
caressing . . . sultry breath of oceans.
Fishing boats rock gently on the dark horizon
flashlights blinking in the distance from on board
as crews make ready for the coming day.

They call the sea Yemanjá here
she is alive
a personality with changing moods that beckon those on land
with playfulness
the promise of adventure
rolls within the sound of crashing waves.

      Do not forsake me
      there is no good reason for a man to leave the sea
      I’m everything you want
      your greatest love
      both life and death
      all things between.

Her implorations spill from arms that want to hold

Published: Page & Spine - 2013

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Postcard From Benares, India

BENARES 1 - Name


early morning
sun comes pale pink
rising out of dust horizon
long warm days before monsoon.

Stone and concrete reflect the day’s new light
gold temple tops cast
daytime stars onto this timeless river
people bathing, praying

Dugouts float past
barely moving
oars creak
temple bells toll
voices over water . . . hushed.

A trail of laundrymen beat shirts, and sheets and saris
against rocks worn smooth
so many lives ago
no one remembers
songs and whopping
echo down the holy river
Krishna! Whop! Om Shanti! Whop! Jai Rama! Whop!

Vultures soar patiently above us
without effort
gliding above blue fog mist
mingling with smoke from burning ghats
along the shore.

The end and the beginning.

                                     Burning Ghat

Published: Foreign & Far Away - 2013

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Amber's Swedish History - Chapter 6


1400 A.D.

King Eric and Marageta were still running the show. After she died Erik continued his war with the Germans and created a toll for Germans passing through the sound. They responded by blockading all of Sweden. War taxes were created. By 1430 Swedes were pretty much fed up with the king and royalty in general.

Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson was a short guy with a long name. His grandfather was German. Engelbrekt wanted to limit the power of the king and remove the blockade. He was appointed as spokesman for dissatisfied miners and peasants who stormed a castle in what is now the town of Börlange. A few months later they were closing in on Stockholm, so the king gave Engelbrekt a castle and a lot of land. Things were peaceful for a couple years, but then a new rebellion started. The peasants were successful again, but Engelbrekt got murdered while on his way to Stockholm.

In the nineteenth century politically minded scholars started calling Engelbrekt the first Swedish hero to fight for freedom, but they were tripping. Nationalism had not been invented yet, and there was no country in Europe where people all spoke the same language.

King Erik was finally deposed and went to Gotland where he became a pirate, but he wasn’t very good at it. He ran out of money and tried to sell Gotland to Sweden, but they weren’t buying. He finally moved to Pomerania, (on the Baltic coast of what is now Germany and Poland) and managed to live a long time without getting murdered.
The new Swedish King was Kristopher of Bavaria, a twenty-four-year old whose mother was King Erik’s sister. Kristoffer was already a king in Denmark, and the Swedish Councilors of the Realm liked him because he dressed like a fop. They thought he would be easy to manipulate.

Krisoffer of Bavaria 

Kristoffer had a predilection for pointed shoes and wore lampshades on his head. He didn’t get much done as king, probably because he died eight years later. I think it might have been the shoes that did him in.

After Kristopher died things went up for grabs again. There were a lot of people grabbing: Lords, bishops, knights – pretty much anybody who had horse.
Karl Knutsson Bonde

Karl Knutsson Bonde was the most merciless of these, and managed to be crowned king three different times. The last was in 1467 when he managed to stay on the throne until he died, three years later.

The University of Uppsala was opened a decade after that, and is still in business. Sweden’s first book press was created a few years later, but the most Swedes think the most important creation of that time was made by Kurt Flaskedragare (affectionately known in the day as, Kurt the Bottlepuller). Kurt invented Aquavit which was previously used as a medicine, and for making gunpowder. Book reading and drinking aquavit are still popular Swedish pastimes.
Aquavit is distilled from grain, or potatoes, and spiced with caraway and other flavors like dill, anise, fennel, coriander and cardamom. The drink is served chilled in small, stemmed glasses. You’re supposed to drink it in one gulp. Swedes burst into song before downing a shot, and often keep on singing, before, during and after each round with increasing enthusiasm. I usually leave the room at this time. More than 9,000 drinking songs are recorded at Sweden’s Historical Museum of Wines. Two thousand of them have to do with aquavit.

Coming Next: The Stockholm Bloodbath

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Bus Tripping - San Francisco Sixties

7 Haight

Bus Tripping - San Francisco Sixties.

Blind Howard and The Drunk

I'm on the 7 Haight this morning, on my way to work. The pale-blue sky is streaked with pastel colors borrowed from a rainbow. Golden crosses glitter from cathedrals drenched in early morning sunlight. Stately mansions from the San Francisco past drift by. I love this city, and am hopelessly addicted to its infinite variety of forms: the hills and architecture, crooked streets, the bay.
            Blind Howard's on the bus today. He's standing halfway down the aisle, near the back door. I see him every week or so aboard these buses. Soon he will engage some unsuspecting passenger in conversation.
            "Uh, excuse me," he will say. "Could you please tell when we've come to Market Street?"
            That said, he'll try to get a conversation going. "My name's Howard Smith. What's yours? It's certainly a lovely day. Don't you agree? I work at the Emporium," he tells them. "Where do you work . . . ? Oh, how interesting." Once engaged in conversation he'll attempt to sell some candy bars. "The money's not for me," he will explain. "It goes to the Foundation For The Blind." He always scores a buck or two.
We make a stop at Haight and Fillmore, and a drunk gets on. He stands unsteadily before the coin box by the driver, trying to get some change out of his pants. The bus makes a jackrabbit start and he goes hurtling towards the back with one hand still inside his pocket, but he grabs a pole and makes an almost graceful, swing halfway around it before slipping off and stumbling backwards into Howard.
            "Well, hello there. My name's Howard. What is yours?"
            "Harraaggh," the wino answers.
            Howard is confused and wary, listening carefully for further clues, but now the drunk is making his way back toward the front by grabbing onto seats as he goes by them, pulling himself forward as the driver hits the brakes to miss a yellow Volkswagen that's leapt out of a side street. Drunk goes flying frontward, crashing into the glass coin box and a rail that's put there to protect the thing.
            "You tryin' to kill me?" he berates the driver. He deposits change and then staggers down the aisle again, stopping a yard or two from Howard. He's grasps the safety bar above him, hanging like a soused King Kong beside a young, attractive Japanese girl.
            "Uh, hub ubba flubba wubba." He attempts a bit of conversation, but she isn't having any and abandons her aisle seat in favor of the standing room still left . . . as far away from him as she can get. The other seats have all been taken.
            "Hey, ubbbaaa . . . Lady. . . I don't need no seat," he says, then drops into it like a bag of Jell-O, eyes closed, drifting off into another world.
By this time Howard senses we're about halfway downtown and makes his move, nudging bearded man that's standing on his right. "Hello, my name is Howard."
            There is no response to Howard's introduction.
            "Uh, excuse me," he continues. "Could you tell me if we're getting close to Market Street?"
            The bearded man ignores him, and Blind Howard asks again but gets the same result. "Why don't you answer me!" He's getting loud and people start to look around to see what's going on.
            "Because I do not like you.”
            "Because you take advantage. Will you please leave me alone?”
            "How do I take advantage?" Howard asks. "I want to know."
The beard's not answering. He tries to move away, but there is no space left.
"Just tell me!" Howard pushes up against the guy. "You hate blind people don't you?"       Now the bearded man's embarrassed and attempts to get around him. Howard will not let him pass. "Why won't you tell me?"
            "Wumfih!" The wino wakes up, unaware of what's been going on. "Got to get off," he mumbles. "Wubba. Get off here." He rises awkwardly and starts to squeeze behind Blind Howard as the bearded man attempts to get by on the other side. Beard makes a lunge that's worthy of a Dallas lineman, glancing off of Howard, who falls back and knocks the drunk into the lap of a black woman who’s been reading a computer manual.
            "Son of a bitch!" she shrieks. "Get off me, damn you! Off!" She swats him with her book.
            The wino makes it to his feet, but Howard's been confused in the commotion and believes the drunk to be his man.
            "Why won't you tell me!"

            "Humma . . . uuhhhma."

            Howard jams his shoulder squarely into the disoriented wino's chest. He's knocked off balance and falls back into the woman's lap again.    
            "Get off, you pig!" She catches him a good one with the manual. As he tries to gain his feet she shoves him from behind.  
            By now Blind Howard knows that something is amiss, and has moved back enough so that the drunk goes lurching past him, into a bespectacled executive dressed in a smart black suit. The bus now makes a stop. The doors hiss open and the businessman stiff-arms the wino into several others who are trying to get off. The drunk goes with them, stumbling down the steps, onto the sidewalk.
            "Wubba! "
            The back doors hiss shut and we move on. A man tells Howard there's an empty place beside him, where the drunk was sitting.
            "Thanks. That's very kind of you. My name is Howard Smith. What's yours?"
            "Jack Tuttle. Looked like you were having just a bit of difficulty there."

            "Some people hate the blind. I don't know why. Just sick I guess."

            "I guess so," Jack agrees as Howard takes a couple chocolate  bars from his coat pocket.
            "I sell candy for the blind," he says "Do you think that you might take these off my hands? I don't keep any of the money for myself. It goes to the Foundation For The Blind.
Published - Northern Liberties Review  - Issue 6  - July 2013

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bucks Looks at Modern Art

Bucks Start Photo 

I’ve been checking out some more contemporary paintings and am happy to see many artists are devoting their lives to painting cats.

This one is by Celia Pike. She’s more of a realist, but does very nice work. She lives in the UK and does mostly cat painting. She also does cats on dishes and other stuff. You can find her website on Google.


Debbie Crawford also does a lot of cats. This one captures the way I feel after snorting too much catnip. Debbie also paints dogs sometimes. I don’t know why, but whatever.


Franz Marc was a German expressionist who had a lot of interest in animals. He did this one in 1910. Reminds me of Van Gough, who never got around to painting cats because he died too young.


Tracy Allyn Green is another famous cat artist. She also does commissioned work if you’re interested. I’m thinking of having my portrait done in the near future.

Totally cool!

This will probably be the last of my art reviews for the time being. I have decided to go back to my philosophic and cosmological pursuits which require serious nap time and out-of-the-house thinking.


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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Allen Ginsberg - Birthday

Photo taken San Francisco  1970s I think.

Allen Ginsberg was born this day in Newark, New Jersey -1926. His father, Louis, was a poet and high school teacher; his mother, Naomi, was a communist and a paranoid schizophrenic. Naomi and Allen were very close; when she was in the grip of her delusions, he was the only one she trusted, and he often accompanied her to her therapy appointments. She spent much of his childhood institutionalized. Ginsberg spent eight months in a mental institution himself in the late 1940s, when he was arrested for harboring stolen goods; he chose to plead insanity.

He went to Columbia University, first intending to study law, but during his freshman year he met Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and William S. Burroughs. He later said, “I think it was when I ran into Kerouac and Burroughs — when I was 17 — that I realized I was talking through an empty skull … I wasn’t thinking my own thoughts or saying my own thoughts.” Ginsberg left Columbia in 1948, traveled, and worked some odd jobs, and in 1954, he moved to San Francisco. He met poet Peter Orlovsky there; they fell in love and were partners until Ginsberg’s death. In October 1955, Ginsberg read his poem “Howl” at the Six Gallery. The next day, bookstore owner and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti sent him a telegram quoting Emerson’s letter to Whitman: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career.” “Howl,” which was written to be read aloud, revived oral poetry. Ginsberg said that it, along with the rest of his work, was autobiographical, and that at its core was his pain at dealing with his mother’s schizophrenia.

He said, “Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.”