Chicago 977.311

After a couple of months of temporarily misplacing my mind, I am starting to feel more normal in my new surroundings, thank you very much. I’m still not sure I made the right decision, but I feel less unsure when I think about the last place I lived. Yes, I am still disoriented here, but less disoriented than I felt in Boston. I’m happy to report that, after all the time I’ve spent here on visits and now actually living here, the initial appeal of Chicago still has not worn off. That appeal, simply put, is Chicago’s resemblance to Washington, D.C., most notably in the similarity of the flags of these two cities.

Chicago’s flag looks like this.

D.C.’s looks like this.

To me, Chicago feels like a kind of parallel-universe D.C., where Chocolate City has grown to five times its normal size, and the usual mix of blacks, hispanics and Asians has been joined by a sizable influx of eastern Europeans. This is probably totally off the mark, but it gets me through the day. And it beats the hell out of Boston, a kind of parallel nothing where all the people of color had been chased out, rounded up or harassed to the point where they must have felt like aliens from another dimension.

Whibley, Charles. “The Oldest Guide-Book in the World.” Book review of J.G. Frazer’s 1898 translation of Pausanius’s Description of Greece. Review appeared in Vol. LXXVII of MacMillan’s Magazine (No. 462), November 1897 to April 1898, pp. 415-421. Google Books has a PDF file of this magazine available for download.

Genial History Channel and PBS host Tony Perrottet is hardly the first person to stumble across this ancient tome, but his Web site makes it sound as if the Description of Greece, by the Greek author Pausanias, had lain dormant for 1,800 years until Perrottet unearthed it several years ago in the New York Public Library. His Web site also makes it sound as if the guide had been written by a Roman, or at least with Roman tourists in mind. But if you want to read some really savage critiques of Perrottet’s work, check out this Amazon page.

Enough of Mr. Perrottet. He has, no doubt, already laughed his way to the bank, bad reviews or no. And, I suppose, the profits publishers make off titillating, middle-brow pablum like his enables them to produce works of quality that may not turn a profit until the next millennium.

More than 100 years ago, reviewer Charles Whibley said that the Description had already spawned a cottage industry of European scholarship, the results of which “might fill a library.” Whibley takes a look at what was then the latest contribution to that library, J.G. Frazer’s six-volume, heavily annotated English translation of the Description. English majors like me know Frazer as the author of the foundation work on the modern study of folk tales, The Golden Bough. My English professor made it sound as if this earlier work would be harder to find than the Holy Grail, but I snagged a copy from the McKeldin Library without having to face so much as a single rude French castle guard or a trick question on the air-speed velocity of swallows.

Reading The Golden Bough filled in a lot of gaps for me on European history, and from Whibley’s article, it looks as if Frazer’s translation of Pausanias could fill in a few more. Pausanias began collecting accounts of Greek folk customs before Frazer was even a glint in his great-great-great-great…great-grandfather’s eye, and Frazer finds parallels for each account in the Description in cultures around the world, Whibley says.

Frazer’s work also quotes other ancient historians, whose writings indicate that the tradition of travel writing began long before Pausanias set out for the Greek Isles in the second century A.D., and some of them were Greek. One such predecessor practiced his craft with a lot more verve than did Pausanias, Frazer says. Dicaearchus, a contemporary of Aristotle, “was as jaunty a tourist as ever wore a tweed suit or slung a field-glass over his shoulder,” Whibley quotes Frazer as saying. For all its detail, the Description often comes across as dry, lacking a sense of humor or enthusiasm, Frazer says.

Dicaearchus slings barbs at the people of Athens and other Greek city-states with the same panache movie critic Davey Marlin-Jones exhibited in the 1970s when he trashed bad films, in the days before Hollywood’s p.r. juggernaut co-opted the business of reviewing movies, and now, books. Pausanias could never write the way his Greek antecedent did, Whibley says. “[H]e is, in truth, a Baedeker, body and soul.” I just saw A Room with a View on PBS, so I know that that means “a reliable but unadventurous guidebook that all the British tourists took with them to Italy at the turn of the century.”

Whibley admits he doesn’t know much about this elderly Greek (these links may help broaden our understanding), but he does know that Pausanias “belonged to that class which is born middle-aged…. Were he alive today he would tramp around Europe with a kodak and a green butterfly net, and if he were persuaded to write a book, the book would have to be hidden away for two or three hundred years before it attained its proper value.”

That’s pretty much what I’m hoping for with my work. I’m probably more like Pausanias than Dicaearchus. Somehow, somewhere at some future date some clever Tony Perrottet type may get rich and famous off my intellectual property, while I spend the rest of my life wearing the same pair of white Nikes I’ve had since 1998. I don’t care. I just want what I write to be good. Don’t get me wrong; I’d like the money, but I already have a nice wife, a nice house, a nice cat, and a nice family. Someday, I may even have a nice job again, in which case I’ll probably have to stop blogging.

813.52 American fiction 1900-1945

At this point in S.T. Joshi’s Lord of a Visible World, Lovecraft’s mother has just died. Depression hits him so hard he can hardly move. Before long, however, he recovers. At his aunt’s urging, he attends some meetings of the United Amateur Press Association and quickly rises to the top of the group’s leadership structure. Membership in the group not only brings him out of his funk, but also out of himself: he begins to come in contact with the world beyond Providence. Even if it repulses him at first, the change may do him good in the long run.

Lovecraft was not unique in his open, unashamed bigotry. Ezra Pound was a world-class anti-Semite. Actually, Abraham Lincoln was no great fan of non-whites, either. Sometimes it seems hard to believe that things have changed as much as they have, even if it’s not very much.

85—HPL writes about suicide. He put it off while mother was alive—now he wants to go through with it

says only his mother understood him, maybe Galpin
he admired her for speaking French, playing music and painting

2nd graf—depressed—no interest in things because he can’t talk about them with his mother
postmodern—“This bereavement decentralizes existence—”
no one pays attention to him now

86—never displays emotion
for a time, couldn’t even get dressed
at little, had trouble walking, but still no emotion—somaticized his pain
met with UAPA member at aunt’s urging

87—spirits seem lifted
fond of Sonia Greene, a Russian Jew who recently immigrated to New York City and joined the UAPA

88—shows her around Providence
89—she’s not Anglo
she meets his aunt—they hit it off
has to apologize to aunt for amateur journalism’s “extreme democracy and occasional heterogeneity”
has dinner with Sonia at hotel
more sightseeing

[If I ever write this story, I will have HPL saying stuff like “nigger” and “chinaman” a lot, just throwing words like that into everyday conversation without a second thought. I will try to find examples of HPL and contemporaries using words that would be totally unacceptable today. To my Protestant (Lutheran? Methodist? Presbyterian? Who the fuck knows) grandmother, even my nice, white wife took a little getting used to because she’s Catholic.]

90—Sonia is smart, sophisticated and hard-working, even though she’s a non-Aryan

91—she is “certainly due to make the greatest stir in amateurdom of any recent recruit; for unlike the majority, she takes the institution seriously enough to put real cash into it . . . ”

typical New Englander—At this point, he hasn’t traveled further from his home base than Hampstead, N.H.

Sonia gets along with HPL’s aunts despite “racial and social chasm”
She seems to have $

[My impression, baste on one of the HPL books at the Newton Free Library, is that of a nervous man, someone who has a hard time keeping still, and not in a good way. Yes, he has a lot of energy, which explains all the writing, but he doesn’t display emotion, and so his anguish (which I’m not necessarily sympathetic to) comes through in other ways—shaking, nervous tics, difficulty making eye contact (this is all supposition which should be supported with more documentation). He is sympathetic because he is trying to keep it under control, always minding his manners. Never phony—not sophisticated enough for that. Less Vincent Price, more Boris Karloff, but even more genuine, no cliché. Youthful enthusiasm fighting for dear life.]

H may have found SG’s independence intimidating and threatening, and certainly alien to his culture

93—goes to NYC for 1st time in April ’22
meets SG in Penn Station
they meet Loveman
H reads “Hypnos” to warm reception


95—loves MOMA—Greece, Rome, Egypt

98—infatuated with NYC like I was with Boston 20 years ago—cool little green trains on the T. Ten punishing years here has taken that out of me.

[Here’s where he starts to get really objectionable, offensive and unsympathetic; is he beyond redemption?]

102—horrified at Lower East Side

“We walked—at my suggestion—in the middle of the street, for contact with the heterogeneous sidewalk denizens, spilled out of their bulging brick kennels as if by a spawning beyond the capacity of the places, was not by any means to be sought.”


“ . . . a bastard mass of stewing mongrel flesh without intellect, repellent to eye, nose, and imagination.”

104—Poe house

105—knows Cyrillic alphabet

106—goes to Cleveland Aug. ’22
visits Loveman, Galpin
meets Hart Crane, bookseller Geo. Kirk
(then to NYC)

107—Loveman collects antiques, rare books

108—hideous drawings of Clark Ashton Smith—“grotesque, unutterable things”

109—no headaches or depression

114—loves Marblehead—that figures, fucking hellhole

115—announces his support for Mussolini

116—ready to accept anything as long as it’s true

“democracy . . . is a false idol”

“there is no earthly reason why the masses should not be kept down for the benefit of the strong, since every man is for himself in the last analysis”

This and the following quote really give a sense of what drives HPL. His every-man-for-himself nihilism probably springs from at least the following three sources:

1) His interest in science, which leads him to reject religion and an Earth-centered view of the universe. Rejecting those beliefs probably put him at odds with the Classical poets and philosophers he loved, as well as his family.

2) His ignorance. He may have been thoroughly modern in rejecting belief in God and belief that the universe revolves around the Earth, but he was also thoroughly New England in not knowing or caring much about the rest of the world. (The success of any story I write, at least artistically speaking, hinges on whether he comes to care more about the world beyond these six tiny states.)

3) Family problems: His family’s financial setbacks following the death of his father, the cause of which still stirs up debate more than 100 years later. His mother’s death causes HPL to go into a deep depression.

4) Personal setbacks in school, career and relationships.

118—“the blood of a million men is well shed in producing one glorious legend”—this is HPL’s thinking in a nutshell—a proto-neocon ideology. Every time I wonder under what rock the Bushes, Cheneys and Rumsfelds of this world crawled out from, I think of this quote.

[Again, the key thing to look for, the frame on which the rest of this story hangs, is whether this thinking changes, how much, and why. If the change is not that deep or lasting, you may not have much of a story.]

“Freedom of press and speech sound well—but these vague principles cannot be allowed to interfere with the fight of a race for the values which are its only solid possessions.”

No wonder he was depressed. He was delusional. People want to live, even if they don’t look like you. When you push them down, they push back. WWII should have proved that, but there are still and probably always will be people out there who think their race or religion or economic system is better than someone else’s race or religion or economic system.

If HPL had ever bothered to speak to any of the immigrants he avoided on the streets of NYC, he might have found many of them were just as conservative as he was.

119—“Ease, amusement . . .”—that’s all that really matters.

119-120—writes cover letter to Frank Baird to Weird Tales—says he doesn’t care if his stuff gets published. He even denigrates (or damns with faint praise) the magazine—gets published anyway

Loveman edited 21 Letters of Ambrose Bierce.

121—paraphrase: “I don’t expect much from the likes of Weird Tales. Only Machen can write scary stuff.”

“true art is obtainable only by rejecting normality and conventionality in toto”

122—“Only a cynic can create horror—for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving daemonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them.” [That’s why I thought Alien worked.]


Yep, that’s what it is.


Street scene in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro, September 2004

Kinda tired of writing, and this is a visual medium anyway, so here’s a coupla pix we took on a trip to Rio back in 2004.

In Rio, one of the tours you can go on takes you through the “favela” of Rocinha. Pretty weird, but I was glad I did it. The quintessential “holiday in other peoples’ misery.”

Brazil is getting ready to kick our ass economically, anyway.

I’ll post more photos later, now that I’ve finally figured out how.

A “beijo-flores” in Rocinha

A picture I took with a crappy disposable camera from CVS, when we went to Brazil in September 2004. Look close and you can see the hummingbird, which they call a “beijo-flores” down there.

Rocinha (pronounced “ho-SEEN-ya”) is one of the “favelas” in Rio de Janeiro. They’re like cities within a city, violent, struggling but trying. A lot of artists live there.

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