California Nightmares

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March 1, 2015 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground · Comment 

 

Honey

NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)

The Tenderloin is a neighborhood in downtown San Francisco between the Union Square shopping district to the northeast and the Civic Center office district to the southwest. It encompasses about 50 square blocks. It overlaps the theater district. By the 1920s, the neighborhood was famous for speakeasies, billiard halls, boxing gyms – background for the fiction of Dashiell Hammett, who lived at 891 Post Street. Both the movie and the book The Maltese Falcon were set in the Tenderloin.

Squalid conditions, homelessness, crime, illegal drug trade, prostitution, dive bars and liquor stores give the neighborhood a seedy reputation.   Violent crimes and thefts from parked vehicles are common.

The densest cluster of human dung in San Francisco is in the notoriously filthy North of Market-Tenderloin Community Benefit District. BART escalators on Market close from time to time to remove human excrement. The Mission District, Chinatown and western Haight-Ashbury host significant shit deposits. You have to watch your step as well South of Market between Fifth and Seventh Streets. Read more

California’s Coyote Jesters

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February 1, 2015 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground · Comment 

Honey

NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)

California’s radio, film and television comedies grew out of vaudeville, which largely grew out of earlier European traditions and paralleled the jester traditions in Native American, Middle-Eastern, Asian and African oral literature. Vaudeville, like baseball, was a vehicle of assimilation to American life, and then that amalgamated new American vision spread to the rest of the world.

Within the vaudevillian traditions has always been a sub-category of humor: the coyote jester. The coyote marches to his own drummer. He is difficult. He takes no shit and construes shit broadly.

The art of jesters and fools appeared in hieroglyphics in Egypt’s 5th Dynasty about 2500 BC and surfaced in Tarot cards. Roaming gypsies introduced tarot cards to Europe at the time of the Renaissance, and appeared throughout medieval history. The Harlequin on stage was an acrobatic trickster wearing a black domino mask and carrying a bat or noisy slapstick with which he frequently spanked his victims. That was the origin of the term “slapstick.”

The fool in Tarot cards symbolized a chance to live in the present moment. The fool represents the spirit of adventure and infinite possibility. Clowns and jesters also played an important role in the religions and lives of Asian societies. Clowns in ancient Greece were bald headed and padded to appear larger than normal. They performed as secondary figures in farces and mimes parodying the actions of more serious characters and at times threw nuts at the spectators. The Roman mime clown wore a pointed hat and a patchwork colorful robe. Read more

The grandmothers

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January 1, 2015 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground · Comment 

Honey

 

 

 

 

NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)

In July of 1888, one ten-year old girl and one eight-year old girl rode their horses over prairie and steppe grasslands that flowed under their horses’ hooves. The horses’ manes flew out wildly. The girls’ hair loosened from pins and billowed like clouds – one black, one brown – around the children’s heads and then streamed like flags of independence behind them.   A rider less than twenty percent of the horse’s weight can encourage her horse to go twenty miles so perhaps each went twenty miles. At dusk, each child and her horse stopped to rest. Each girl fell asleep near her horse – one in Minnesota, one west of Warsaw — and returned to her home more slowly the next day.

In a photograph taken on her return to her home, Blanche Stanford wore a torn soiled white dress and leather boots and loosely held a little leather whip with a wooden handle in one hand, a whip she was to give to me when she was an old woman.   She held her horse’s reins in her other hand. Her hair hung in uneven scraps. Flat Minnesota land extends behind her forever, land I was only to see through the glass of a stereopticon when I was three.

I imagine that on the day of Justyna’s ride she wore a long skirt with an apron embroidered by her mother Luisa, a tight fitting vest with ribbons sewn down the front, a white blouse and boots. Read more

Honey in Inyo County

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November 30, 2014 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground · Comment 

Honey

 

 

 

 

NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)

Inyo County contains the Owens River Valley; it is between the Sierra Nevada and the White Mountains and the Inyo Mountains. Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the Continental United States, is on Inyo County’s western border. The Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, the lowest place in North America, is in eastern Inyo County. Owens Valley is the deepest valley on the American continents. The largest escarpment in the United States rises from the floor of Death Valley to the top of Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range.

This extraordinary geography provided the filming locations for Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, many Western films, Gunga Din (where the Alabama Hills substituted for the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan), two Star Trek movies and a couple of noir films, the best of which is Robert Mitchum’s Out of the Past (1947). Inyo County was one of the locations for a fake version of Charlie Chaplin’s life but Chaplin stars Robert Downey, Jr., which makes up for a lot that’s crummy about the movie.

The second significant conflict over water in the Owens Valley inspired Roman Polanski’s fiction film Chinatown (1974). No one made a movie about the first conflict: the driving of native people into Lake Owen and shooting them. Read more

Honey on the loose in northern California

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October 31, 2014 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground · Comment 

 

Honey

 

NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)

California was once an exotic place for people “in the states.” Those people who called everywhere they had come from as “in the states” had not brought themselves to understand California was “in the states.”

They arrived until 1869 by trekking through the Panama Canal, or going “overland” in covered wagons, and both were hard and dangerous routes. They may have come “around the horn,” and people died in some of those ships as well. They then came by stagecoach, which was miserable rocky unpleasant way to travel.

In 1847, Dr. Robert Semple, the founder of Benicia, established ferry services across the Carquinez Straight. The first boats were small sail and oar-powered scows. From the mid 1850s until the early 1960s, various ferries operated intermittently between the two cities until 1962, when the Martinez-Benicia Bridge was completed.

Harris Newmark, who was to write at the end of his life, Sixty Years in Southern California, 1853-1915, (https://openlibrary.org/books/OL6589719M/Sixty_years_in_Southern_California_1853-1913) arrived in Los Angeles to a cluster of houses around the plaza. “Graded streets and sidewalks were unknown; hence, after heavy winter rains mud was from six inches to two feet deep, while during the summer dust piled up to about the same extent….” No one obeyed any city ordinances. People threw all of their trash, including used clothing, into the streets. Read more

Honey talks about Helen Jackson’s Ramona

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September 30, 2014 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground · Comment 

Honey

NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)

In a voiceover to Billy Wilder’s noir film classic Double Indemnity (1944), adapted by Raymond Chandler from a James M. Cain novel, insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) describes the house where psychopathic killer Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) lives as: “It was one of those California Spanish houses everyone was nuts about 10 or 15 years ago. This one must have cost someone about 30,000 bucks – that is, if he ever finished paying for it.”

Cain’s joke or note in his book was that architect Wallace Neff designed a great many of Southern California’s “Spanish” houses, drawing on styles that evoked the Spanish missions.

Art historian Rexford Newcomb described the genesis of then- contemporary (1937) Spanish architecture:

“….Spanish blood, Spanish institutions and consequently Spanish architecture was of necessity cosmopolitan. But the primitive Iberians were not great architects; therefore the real beginnings of architecture in Spain may be said to date from the period of Roman domination. The Moors contributed a certain oriental quality, many effects of which are to be detected in the provincial expressions of Texas, Arizona and California.” Read more

Helen Hunt’s visit to Northern California

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September 1, 2014 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground · Comment 

 

Honey

 

 

 

 

 

NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)

“… the river is everywhere at once, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the sea, in the mountains, everywhere at once, and that there is only the present time for it, not the shadow of the past, not the shadow of the future.” – Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha (1922)

Helen Hunt Jackson’s life spanned the years between 1830 and 1885. She first visited California in 1872, twenty-six years after the entrapment of the Donner Party in a pass near Truckee. Samuel Clemens (1835-1910) spent a few years, off and on, in the 1860s in California. He wrote about his expedition with his older brother to Lake Tahoe, also near Truckee. Clemens and Hunt did not meet, of course, because their visits were a decade apart.   Jackson did not meet Jack London (1876-1916. He was not to be born until four years after her first visit. When he was a teenager, Jack London rode on the top of the train to Truckee.

The study of history may sometimes seem to be a series of static photographs of great and small events. There was no photography before the nineteenth century. So before photography – paintings, myths, handprints on cave walls.

History is more like a movie of a voyage on a boat on a river. The river moves, the boat moves along the surface of the river. Insect life begins and ends and begins and ends.   Riverine life beneath the boat changes, the water fills with debris from logging, mining and industrial pollutants, the landscape on the shore changes – the riparian forest thins, the native American villages vanish, churches, temples, houses and stores appear, disappear, new trees are planted, new buildings go up. Irish and Chinese workers cut through the mountains to lay track for the train that unites California with the rest of the United States. The seasons bring blizzards, wind soughing in pines, wild flowers first yellow bloomed, then red, then purple, the California Redbud bursts into raspberry color, and the spring submerges into green summer days, then tawny. The sycamore and oak leaves rust. The California Buckeye – that in early spring looks as if set with flowering candles – drops all of its leaves. Migrating birds move above the boat. Egrets stand in the water with their long necks and small heads. The many personal human stories the boat passengers tell each other or write in letters home or in books reflect moments in the journey through time. Read more

Honey begins a three-part series on Helen Hunt Jackson

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August 1, 2014 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground · Comment 

 

 

NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)

 During the Victorian era on the east coast of the United States, the terrible voluminous roar of skirts worn over stockings, drawers, chemises, corsets strengthened with steel or whalebone, over as well the flexible cages of steel that supported the skirts and the layers of petticoats filled the rooms of houses.

The “angel in the house” ideal for Victorian women represented the ideology of gender: men dominated work outside the home and owned the political and legal system.  Women were to raise virtuous children.  Women were to be pure.

East coast privileged girls learned reading, writing and arithmetic but most people believed “important subjects” such as Latin, Greek or higher mathematics overtaxed women whose reasoning powers were too defective for such “masculine mysteries.”

Out of this white upper class female domestic milieu stepped a fleshy, very short upper middle class white woman writer with an unusually assured and balanced expression born Helen Maria Fiske in 1830 in Massachusetts. Read more

Honey Receives A Copy Of Dear Mad’m

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June 1, 2014 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground · Comment 

 

 

NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)

A package arrived in the mail with my cousin Little Barbara’s address in the top left hand corner.   I found a note inside the book in the package.  Little Barbara wrote she and her sister Daina thought I would enjoy reading a book about an eighty-year old woman who begins a new chapter in her life in the mountains of Trinity County, near where our Aunt Big Barbara taught in Blanchard Flat School in Hoosimbim Mountain during the Great Depression. 

I’m approaching seventy, and my cousins approach eighty.  This book seemed like it would be just the ticket to a new way to look at growing old.

What reading the book — and then following up with some research —  turned out to be was the revelation of a life that vividly soared without a safety net over a ranch in Stockton, literary San Francisco and a remote cabin near Happy Camp in Trinity County.   The author was not an eighty-year old; she was close to ninety when she finished writing it. Read more

Honey Tracks Down Ina Coolbrith’s One True Love

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May 1, 2014 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground · Comment 

 

NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)

The life of a forgotten poet reveals a pageant of changes in California consciousness, about the place of women in society, about forbidden love, about the emergence of California literature, and about the transition from the Mexican era in Los Angeles.  

Ben Tarnoff’s The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature (2014) describes the contributions of four iconoclastic writers set against the background of bohemian San Francisco, an era that began with their work for the Golden Era in the last years of the American Civil War, and which continued with their creation of the Overland Monthly.

Nigey Lennon in The Sagebrush Bohemian (1990) conjectures there was a romantic relationship between Twain and Coolbrith and Harte and Coolbrith. If there had been such a three-way relationship, gossip about it would have knocked San Francisco society off its heels.

Brett Harte, one of the four, referred to Ina in 1870 as a “dark-eyed Sapphic divinity.”  Coolbrith’s good friend John Muir attempted to introduce her to eligible men.  The circle of writers, poets and artists she influenced called her the Virgin Poetess. Read more

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