Thursday, April 27, 2017

'Tokyo: A Biography' (2016). Earthquakes and Crow Goblins

Stephen Mansfield, Tokyo: A Biography. Disasters, Destruction and Renewal: The Story of an Indomitable City (Tokyo: Tuttle, 2016). Pictured above is the same author's Japans's Master Gardens: Lessons in Space and Environment (Tokyo: Tuttle, 2012). 

In the mid-nineteenth century, "[Edo/Tokyo] may have had fewer open spaces and public gardens than the cities of Europe or the New World, but flowers and greenery remained an important part of . . . life. Entranceways often featured a bonsai or potted tree, while the narrow borders of the house served to display morning glories, water plants, and calabashes." (Tokyo, page 57). 
"July 8, 1853, saw the arrival of Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry's kurofune ('black ships'), as the Japanese called the four American steam-powered vessels that sailed into Edo Bay." And thus began the more than 160-year hate-love relationship between the USA and Japan, still ongoing as of this post. Pictured above: a Japanese depiction of Commodore Perry as some sort of kerasu-tengu, or "crow goblin."  (See Tokyo, page 63).

Japan responded as if aliens had landed from another plant. Eventually the shogunate -- the shogun system that had lasted 268 years -- was overturned and the emperor elevated. But in the meantime: "Liberated by the prevailing instabilities, mobs congregated in Edo and other large cities, stirring hysteria by carrying Shinto images, cavorting half-naked in the streets, looting the homes of the wealthy, engaging in frenzied public sex and quasi-religious delirium, shouting out 'Ei-janai ka!' (Why not? Who cares?)."  (Tokyo, page 64). 

There were rice riots, cholera epidemics, earthquakes, fires and floods. More was to come. But first, in 1868, Edo was renamed Tokyo (compare Constantinople and Istanbul in Turkey). 
Between the first arrival of the Americans and their black ships and the early 20th century, Japan took up Western technology and industrialization with a fervor, so much so that by 1905 Japan military forces defeated Russian Imperial forces in the Russo-Japanese War, which started with a surprise attack -- only 37 years before Pearl Harbor. 

Then, on September 1, 1923, a 7.9 magnitude quake and resultant fires devastated the area in and around Tokyo. "Approximately 400,00 buildings were destroyed, and some 63 percent of Tokyo's population was made homeless." (Tokyo, page 105). More than 100,000 people perished. "From the hills of Ueno Park, the imperial capital resembled an extinct city." (Tokyo, page 106).  

But from 1924 until 1943, Tokyo would rise again, until 東京大空襲 -- the Night of the Black Snow -- on March 9-10, 1945, when American bombers devastated the city once again.

Today's Rune: Fertility.  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tosin Otitoju: 'Lovebirds' (2016)

I. Lovebirds. Poems by Tosin Otitoju (2016) in three sections. This is a new book, Tosin’s eighth. Format:

A TRUE STORY (20 poems)
TWO ANGRY BIRDS (10 poems)

From my perspective as a reader, these are some of the vivid tropes and themes in  Lovebirds: technology; social media; business; mirrors; gods; angels; God; marriage; luck.

Permeating Lovebirds, there is a refined testimony of ancient, enduring human themes mixed with contemporary technology and ongoing concerns.

A few poetic samples from longer poems:

“Wishes and Horses”
Everything points to a need for a merger
To save on duplicating auras on twitter . . .

It’s good to be wise, better to be lucky.

(pages 23-24).

I see in you a blur
 instead of your face a ghost
   question-marks, answers,
     hypnotizing laughs.

. . . black-magic or test-the-spirits
       angels here with us.

(pages 26-27).

“Sometimes You Need”
Misery loves company
And gravity needs distance.

(page 42).

“When the Boat Hit the Rocks”
There comes a point
when you start to yearn
for the simple complexity
of city life.

(page 43).

II. Questions & Answers. Q = me. A = Tosin. 

Q: What is it about mirrors?

A: Mirrors for some weird reason. I'd actually meant to do a whole collection of poems either directly about mirrors or indirectly by writing a poem and an opposite or something like that. I later decided on Love and a couple of other collections to come...mirrors are more try to hang a commercial project on mirrors and...I don't know, Nigerians know love and maybe have less time for you to explain that the topic is mirrors - nobody wants the headache. If you want more people to love you(r work), try Arithmetic over Differential Equations. :)

Q: Lovebirds is timeless, but also of the contemporary tech world. What kind of impact does tech have on love and social relationships?

A: In this collection I hoped to do love and romance, but I'm delighted that it also had an interesting setting, namely, tech. So it's romantic, but it's robotic.

Tech is a thing masculine and robot-like, which would seem to be the opposite of romantic. It's physics, chemistry, planets, science, feedback amplification, bits/bytes/packets/cyber, twitter.

By the way, Janelle Monáe did androids too in her music, a whole album titled The ArchAndroid, and that's specifically why I had the guts to choose "Android Love" for the title of the poem I placed first. I think of this as the "overture" introducing the opera, the robot opera.

Q: How does business figure into Lovebirds?  And other systems?

A: Another example of the hard-edged - calculations and robots - in what should be soft and romantic. I mean, in the realm of love, who thinks of mergers and cost-savings, hedges and insurance? Then again, who doesn't - I mean who doesn't among people who think in these terms about almost everything else?

And once you discover that there are planetary systems with multiple suns, won't your love poetry or even your mythology shift to include this image of a "two-sun dance"?

And if your work includes experiencing or understanding positive feedback loops, when you then consider thoughts feeding on similar thoughts, or an image feeding on its mirror image, or two people sharing synchronized feelings, won't you deduce or imagine resonance, system overheating, heightened excitement, or that screeching noise from the microphone-with-speakers?

In summary, at the center of this collection is a love, mystical, old-fashioned, yearning, and poetic. Yet in the poems we find hints of academics, mathematics, technology, science, business, and so on. For example, there is the "Definition" which feels quite formal to me, like something I would do in math and I presume others would do in law for instance - begin a study of a thing with a precise definition and logically go through a proof, examples, corollaries and the rest. I adore this definition of love. I tried to get it in Wikipedia but some gatekeeper kept rejecting it. That was annoying. I'm expert enough to provide a definition of love! I get annoyed with things like this. It would take another page to explore and explain the annoyance.

Q: In several of the poems, there is an interesting interplay between different ways of perceiving reality. For example, gods and God are mentioned, angels, ghosts. Do they all exist simultaneously in some kind of dreamscape?

A: There's a bit I'm not saying about the angels, ghosts, and shall we say more mystical experiences that inspired this love and parts of this collection.

2015 or so, I told my good friend (an ex, naturally) that I was in love with someone online even though it was not an affair and there was no actual talking and how very psychic everything was from day one. I was amazed that he understood.

In public, I won't talk like that for fear that they still lock people up in mental institutions - do they? I also told a very young friend (a veritable cool kid, some sort of art student, teenager, in university abroad) and he understood too. He said, oh, you mean subbing. Apparently, young people did that all the time - relating privately on social media through subliminal but public messages. Then they collectively dumped twitter and moved on to...what was it the youngsters moved on to? Instagram? SnapChat?

Let's just say this: I am very thankful to the muses for this work, and very thankful to one major muse - wink, and thankful to God, and to ... I usually don't write acknowledgement pages because it's so impossible to truly pin down all the major inspirations for a work. I don't feel as psychic today as I did in those days, and I think it's because this work is done?

Aside, there's a child that lives in my compound, who's back today from two weeks away at Grandma's. I wish I had the talent to write about her - the way her voice makes me feel. It rings like a bell. She talks simply all the time, and I simply die of happiness at her enthusiasm. Oh I love the other kids as well - the one that just learned to talk animal talk to invisible friends, startling her mother, and the littler one whose voice I haven't found yet, although sometimes she cries, and now she calls my name when she sees me.

We had a lot of additional kids here for the holidays - some boys for a change hohoho. Anyhow, I pray one day for the talent to explain the beauty that is her excited talking. She was just shouting something now, I think they were making play-food and she was inviting the others to eat.

Q: What’s next?

A: [See this link]: I'm still writing. 

Note: We did a Q & A session in 2011 that is available in two parts. One of the topics was the beauty of Yemen, but this is too painful a topic to revive here, given the ongoing war and its catastrophic impact. Maybe we can speak of it down the road, when peace is brokered.

October 10, 2011: Interview with Tosin Otitoju, Part One.

October 11, 2011: Interview with Tosin Otitoju, Part Two.

Today's Rune: Partnership. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

'Tokyo: A Biography' (2016). Edo Period

Stephen Mansfield, Tokyo: A Biography. Disasters, Destruction and Renewal: The Story of an Indomitable City (Tokyo: Tuttle, 2016).

“When you start to think of the past as happening, as opposed to having happened, a new way of conceiving history becomes possible . . . History is time travel.” (Page 8). I couldn’t agree more, as this is exactly how I approach the study of history and the future, which blend together: beyond a brief, flickering moment, there is no real present.
Global spread of rice cultivation: Japan in upper right
Mansfield takes us quickly from prehistoric shell mounds (circa 3,000 B.C.) through the introduction of rice cultivation (300 B.C. – 300 A.D.), metalworking and the creation of formalized burial sites. “When people begin to honor their dead, they have made a significant leap in social development; the remembrance of ancestors is an important act in the establishing of historical time.” (Page 13).  

What is now Tokyo slowly took hold over the centuries. Strange things happened from time to time to keep it going. For example, on March 18, 628 A.D., “Hinokuma Takenari and his brother Hamanari, both fisherman, found a small gold statue of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, tangled in their nets . . .” Subsequently, a temple was built, still in existence. “The origin of the icon remains a mystery, but a possible explanation surfaced in 1945, just after the firebombing of the temple, when the remains of the main hall were excavated” and its possible Korean origins were ascertained. (Page 15).
Edo (“door to the cove” or “bay-entrance”) becomes Tokyo (“east capital” or “eastern capital”), when it’s renamed in 1868.

“. . . history preserved in names, sufficing for the absence of material evidence of the past, was to become a characteristic of a city thoroughly fixated on the present.” (Page 16).

Before Tokyo, in the Edo period, during the mid-1400s(+): “Visiting poets, scribes and members of the literary nobility left short accounts of this first incarnation of the city, but no [physical] trace remains of its earth fortifications or structures.”  (Page 19). Shoguns and emperors, feudal system. Geomancy (akin to feng shui) employed for city planning. (Page 24). Mount Fuji looms, though a hundred kilometers away. (Page 29).
Fires, earthquakes, floods, and outbreaks were recurrent. Consider the Long Sleeves Fire of 1657 when two-thirds of the city was destroyed and one third of the population perished. (Pages 32-33). (Incidentally, the Great London Fire destroyed most of that smaller city in 1666). 

But the Floating World was soon back in action: the pleasure quarters, kabuki, and art: "the center of an alternative culture marked by decadent aestheticism and connoisseurship of taste that were depicted by some of the greatest artists of the city." (Page 39). Books and book lenders expanded into the 19th century: "Little wonder that literacy levels in Edo ranked among the highest in the world . . ." (Page 41).

And let's not forget the eccentric ways of the ruling classes, particularly under the shogun Tsunayoshi, who loved dogs. Under his edict: "Edo citizens were required to address dogs using the form O-ini sama (Honorable Mr. Dog)." (Page 43).
As for cuisine, the Japanese preferred rice and seafood and generally shunned land meat; when they did eat the latter, it was made more palatable by calling it "mountain whale." (Page 44).

Edo, despite more big earthquakes and great fires, grew in population so that by 1700, it was "the most populous city in the world" (and still is, at the dawning of the 21st century, as Tokyo). As for the great disasters, clearly they were caused by the gigantic "earth spider," a "giant catfish" (page 45) or some other frightening creature: with them in mind, could Godzilla and Mothra of the atomic age be far off?

Today's Rune: Partnership.   

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Electronic Envelope

In working at a library with people whose ages range across a span of sixty plus years and whose experiences derive from multiple cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and geographical locations, it's clear that we utilize, to varying degrees, layers of technology, some ancient, some new, some borrowed, some blue. Yet we all are, as much or more than anyone in the greater global society, living within the aura of an electronic envelope, as Marshall McLuhan prophetically observed in the 1960s and 1970s. 

It's also clear, from direct observation, that many, perhaps most people, shuffling or stumbling around as they stare into flickering mobile devices virtually everywhere they go and regardless of what else they may be hoping to achieve (indeed, if they are hoping to achieve anything at all), take their present state of consciousness for granted. That is, they are used to it -- rather than fresh to this provisional and incomplete state of their reality, nor are they refreshed by their techno-social links and life-perceptions.

The Electronic Envelope: we are all utilizing some kind of technology, but with different expectations and proficiencies and to wildly and widely varying outlooks.

Some adults still write letters, send cards, email (& doesn't it sound more beautiful in French? Courrier électronique, or courriel?). They make voice phone calls, text. Others just post on social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, &c. Click "Like" buttons and emoji icons to express our feelings or lack thereof. 

Some even speak with other people in a three dimensional sense, though if you go to an American post office, the chances are greater that you'll be speaking with a postal worker than a fellow customer. 

For purchasing stuff, you can go online, or use an app, or use a magic card, or use a mobile device, or draw cash from a so-called Automatic Teller Machine (ATM), or interact with a human teller, or negotiate, bid and barter. And I know about all of the above because I engage in all of the above. How about you? 

Marshall McLuhan pointed out that it's good for one's sanity -- and autonomy as a person and human being -- to remain vividly aware of the electronic envelope that surrounds us. This is partly what he meant with his various quips, such as "The Medium is the Message." This is how we perceive, or filter, or translate, social life itself. Which means there are also other ways, so let's not confine ourselves, or box ourselves in, from other means of perception. Seems like a good idea, eh? Oy!

The Electronic Envelope. Some things are quaint, obsolete, art objects, or no longer even in operation -- if so, just barely. Of the first three categories, consider the typewriter, the vinyl record, the fountain pen. Of the fourth type, consider the 8-track, Beta videotapes, telegrams, facsimiles (fax machines) and beepers.

I recently asked student workers about voice recognition services. They were aware of these and laid out the following. Are you?

Amazon: Alexa (via Echo)
Apple: Siri (via iPhone, iPad, iPod, &c.)
Windows: Cortana
Google: Google assistant / Google Home
The Internet of Things

Different workers have different preferences and some don't use any at all. 

I also asked about dictation (speech recognition) systems: you dictate or speak and your device "types" or keys out the words into a text document that you can then edit and refine. I remember using a Dictaphone system in the 1990s, for a temp job: this involved a tiny cassette recording of a boss's voice, played back with foot pedals while listening with headphones and word processing my interpretation. I also remember trying an early version of Dragon speech recognition software to mixed results. 

Google Docs has a function if you have a microphone built in your device, or attached. Google Cloud Speech API (application program interface)
Dragon -- multiple versions
Voice Finger (is this a good image?)

Do you work with or have you tried any of the above? Does any of this "spark joy?" (As Marie Kondo aka KonMari might ask).

When I was working with international documents at Duke University's Perkins Library in the Public Documents and Maps Department, there were a variety of machine translation systems coming out. Now, Google Translate is highly useful for basic translation. But these have a long way to go as far as nuance and slang, &c. Hardly the Universal Translator envisioned on the original Star Trek fifty years ago. 

Do you utilize translation systems?  Why or why not?

Any further thoughts about the Electronic Envelope?

Looking Back but also: Onward!

Today's Rune: Harvest. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mystic Chords of Memory: Scholey Pitcher and Yoko Akiba

They never knew each other, but they were connected. Scholey Pitcher was a publisher at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill; Yoko Akiba was a wizard with maps, a librarian, who worked in the Public Documents and Maps Department at Duke University's Perkins Library. For a few years in my twenties, I worked at both places and came to know them both.

When I knew him, Scholey (whose muted first name was Charles) was often smoking one of his beloved tobacco pipes and talking in a courtly manner. He was from Charleston, South Carolina, had been a stock broker. I remember one of his stories about World War II. He was an R.O.T.C. (Reserve Officer's Training School) cadet at The Citadel in Charleston at the time of Pearl Harbor, just shy of age eighteen. With the US hurled into the war, The Citadel accelerated graduation, turning out second lieutenants for military service. As a neophyte lieutenant, Scholey was quickly trained and sent to the War in the Pacific. He vividly remembered being crammed into an amphibious assault vehicle heading for the shoreline, under fire from Japanese defenders. The images and feelings had stuck with him like it was yesterday. If I remember right (and it's quite possible that I am mis-remembering this detail of his story), Scholey was with a company of Marines and the battle he described was Tarawa, November 1943, when he was just shy of age twenty. 

Not only was Yoko Akiba a master of the maps, she was also edgy and often cracked me up with her quips. Two of her favorites: "Never tell" and "I'm sick of their faces." The first meant she was going to make a pithy or catty observation, which she herself would proceed to repeat along and down the line, selectively. The second statement was usually aimed at any dull-minded or overly bureaucratic person that annoyed her sense of fairness. She was very much about social fairness and had been a socialist in Japan. Yoko was just shy of six years old at the time of Pearl Harbor, and nine and a half years old when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She remembered them well, and the widespread firebombings beforehand. Late in the war, she and hundreds of thousands of other children were evacuated to the countryside. If I remember right, Akiba was placed in an area near Hiroshima. As a little kid, she had to learn to quickly identify incoming American planes, high-flying bombers and low-flying fighters: B-29s, Wildcats, Hellcats, P-38s, P-51 Mustangs and others as they bombed, strafed, scouted or escorted.  

Scholey Pitcher and Yoko Akiba both experienced the nightmare hell of the War in the Pacific. As adults, both were really cool people who carried a certain sadness with them, masked in part by their playful sense of humor. Scholey died 1998 at the age of seventy-four. Yoko died early in 2004 just shy of age sixty-nine. 

I will always think of Scholey smoking a fine pipe and of Yoko carefully arranging her beautiful maps.  Before she died, Yoko went on to work at the Library of Congress, her field of dreams, which is where she still roams in mine. 

Today's Rune: Wholeness. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Jim Jarmusch: 'Gimme Danger' (2016)

I remember being at a mid-1990s house party for teachers and artists in Newport News, Virginia. It was during my first full-time gig as a librarian and I was serving informally as dj. With the idea of livening things up a little, I put on a vinyl copy of The Stooges’ Funhouse and cued up “Loose” and “TV Eye,” turning up the volume.

In the middle of this grand sonic gesture, a history instructor -- who was deaf in one ear -- turned his working ear into the nearest blasting speaker. Within the first minute, he was jumping back with amazement: “Oh my God! That’s the greatest thing I EVER heard in my WHOLE LIFE!!!!!” He was floored.

Though not everyone would have agreed at the time, this was a perfect response. 

And now, after the induction of The Stooges into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, after the deaths of several of the members of the band, out comes Gimme Danger (2016), “a film by Jim Jarmusch,” “story of the stooges,” Gimme Danger: La historia de The Stooges, Gimme Danger. История Игги и The Stooges, a highly entertaining documentary featuring Iggy Pop, the various (then-)surviving band members, and Michigan.

Some notes are in order. “There goes Iggy into the crowd.” 

Outside of Ann Arbor, he was living in a trailer with his parents (his father was a high school English teacher).

With parental support, he practiced on his drum kit for hours on end. “I was so lucky to live close to my parents.”

He picked up performance ideas from The Howdy Doody Show, Clarabell the Clown (played at one time by Captain Kangaroo), and Soupy Sales (who often had highly influential musicians perform live – including Billie Holiday and Miles Davis).

Soupy would invite fans to write letters, but asked that they keep them to twenty-five words or less each. This impressed Iggy (“real” name Jim Osterberg, Jr. -- born April 21, 1947). When he wrote or co-wrote Stooges songs, he kept them to twenty-five words or less. “I didn’t feel I was Bob Dylan.”

He was also impressed by the industrial sounds at Ford’s River Rouge plant, which he first visited on a school field trip. “I liked the mega-clang.” 
Iggy played drums and did various things, worked in a record store, attended the University of Michigan for a semester. Headed to Chicago for additional hands-on learning in the mid-1960s. “I saw a glimpse of a deeper life,” he notes on film, but also: “I realized I was not black.”

Back in Michigan, Iggy taught Scott Asheton how to pound out the drums. Some of the band members were sons of World War II vets and had that in common. The Asheton brothers took off for an adventure in London and immersed themselves into the Marquee Club until they ran out of money.

After the 1967 riots in Detroit, Iggy decided to move into the city. “I’m going to prepare a house where we can live” as “true communists.” He had very little idea of what he was doing, but somehow it worked (eventually). In Detroit, they gestated.

“Michigan was a key crossroads between San Francisco and New York.” The members of the band tried various altered states and listened to Harry Partch records that highlighted the sounds and noises of various handmade, found or modified instruments.

They became The Psychedelic Stooges, had a gig at the Grand Ballroom featuring Iggy playing a vacuum cleaner. They exhibited the energy and antics of “chimps and baboons.”

Iggy: “In the Asheton brothers I found primitive man.”
The MC5, Fred Sonic Smith and all, took them in. “We joined their circus in many ways.”

Iggy preferred not to become overtly political in the way John Sinclair wanted. He did somersaults and wiggled around as a protest.

The MC5 said to Elektra Records scouts, “Check out our little brother band.” Danny Fields loved them, first hearing their mesmerizing sounds coming from the University of Michigan Student Union. Both bands signed with Elktra on September 22, 1968. The Psychedelic Stooges became “The Stooges plain and simple.”

The droning simplicity of The Velvet Underground thrilled Iggy. John Cale came to help them record their first album, followed by Nico: “Morticia and Gomez.” 

Jac Holzman (who also worked with The Doors) was there and helped make it happen. There weren’t enough songs for an album to begin with, so Iggy and the rest of the band went to the Hotel Chelsea and hurriedly came up with additional songs – twenty-five worlds or less.

Skipping forward a little, The Stooges are sent to Los Angeles to record 1970. Iggy, being interviewed, notes that much of the “California sound” that came out in the 1970s was manufactured under the guidance of record executives. “It still smells,” he notes, true to his Michigan-style phrasing. “Cultural treason” is what it was.

For 1970, Iggy brings in Steve Mackay to lay down some saxophone. He had in mind Miles Davis and James Brown. “Play like Maceo Parker on acid!” Big aural space is there.

Iggy walks by a pet store and notices a beautiful dog collar. He buys it and adds it to his persona.

The Stooges play the Whiskey a Go Go and blow the mellow minds of Californians. “Theatre of the moment.” The band plays deadpan and still in Bill Wyman style while Iggy prances around, dives into the crowd and acts like James Brown and Mick Jagger on speed. Inspired by the Egyptian pharaohs, he performs shirtless.

I could go on, but why?  You can dig it for yourself! Gimme Danger. Raw Power

“All we cared about was what we liked!” 

Iggy gets the final say: “I just wanna be.” Amen, brother.

Today's Rune: Wholeness. 

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Mystic Chords of Memory

"The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." ~ US President Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861. Full text here.

Memory, like dreaming, is often highly emotionally charged. There's the Proustian memory trigger -- a deep memory surfaces due to a scent, a sound, a person who resembles someone from the past (or future, if it's a premonition); or the memory reminder, like a photograph, journal entry, memory-laden discussion, written communication or voice mail. Often just a person's name or thinking about a certain time or place will conjure up a memory, or a slew of them. 

Memories often conflict or prove paradoxical. I recently finished Ian Gibson's Federico García Lorca: A Life (New York: Pantheon Books, 1989) and what was made very clear in it is that different people remembered Lorca differently, even from the same event, based partly on how well they knew him, how they felt about him, how much time had elapsed, and what they wanted to remember about him. 

So I thought I'd post a sampling of remembered people, times and places. If the context of a situation is not viscerally recalled, the details seem vaguer. Let's give it a try, shall we?

When I was a teenager, I met Ariana Bracalente at an amusement park in Virginia -- not randomly but through Marc Pinotti, a mutual friend. She was a little older than I was, an exciting development at the time. She was smart, astute and interesting; her mother was a nurse and they were Catholic. We were close for some time, and wrote lots of letters. The last time I saw her was at a football game, also in Virginia, and she was taking pictures with, if I remember correctly, a Nikon with zoom lens. Ah, youth!

In my early twenties, I met a handful of much older German fellows at Normandy, in France. They were celebrating their "alive day." On June 6-7, 1944, then draftees in the Wehrmacht, they rather wisely surrendered to Canadian assault forces as fast as they could and, obviously, survived the war. With some college friends from Chapel Hill, we shared bottles of wine and were all singing by the end of the night. Though we only saw them over a period of two days, they made a lasting impression. Three names stick with me: Willi Wiederstein from near Düsseldorf, Karl and Helmut. Luckily, I'm still excellent friends with one of the American college students who also experienced this exchange firsthand.

When I was living in Philadelphia, while a graduate student at Temple University, I came to know a number of intelligent and fun people from Vietnam, China, India, Germany, Russia, Canada, England, France, Spain, Italy and Thailand, among other places. One of the many, Nga Mai, an edgy (and rather striking in appearance) entrepreneur and restaurateur, hired me occasionally to cover her Diva Café, right across the way from my apartment at 1225 Spruce Street; sometimes we'd play chess and talk about Hannah Arendt or Camille Paglia, who was teaching nearby at the University of the Arts. Nga and her two sisters had come to the USA with their Catholic mother, starting in Omaha, Nebraska; their father remained in Vietnam after the Americans departed. We stayed in touch for a while after I left the city, after she closed Diva and opened up a couple of new places over by Rittenhouse Square. At Diva, she would explain to people how to remember conceptualizing and spelling her first name: "like National Golf Association." (Which in turn reminds me of Stuart Basefsky, a librarian mentor from Duke University, now at Cornell University's School of Industry and Labor Relations, who would say his last name to newcomers and explain, "like Base and Sky with an F in the middle." Like I sometimes say, when people ask, "Erik with a k.")

Also in Philadelphia, I unexpectedly came to know Lu Ping from the People's Republic of China in a history class. She was an English teacher when back in China. Her stories about her father, who was very old by then, and his experiences during the Long March were remarkable. Only later did I realize that her name could be better understood in reverse, as Ping Lu.

When I moved to Detroit, there were additional new waves of people to meet. Like mustard seeds, some took hold and some didn't. I remember early on, upon the first occasion of meeting David J. Thompson, an English instructor then and a wandering poet and photographer now. This is primarily because of the specific context: I was seated at his flimsy card table, slowly sinking into wet clay, enclosed within a Japanese-style courtyard designed in the 1950s by Minoru Yamasaki. Thompson had on the table a 1995 book, which I asked about: Dennis Covington's Salvation on Sand Mountain, a fascinating memoir about snake-handlers and old time religion in the American South. (Side memory: for some reason Thompson hated Abraham Lincoln). The last time I saw him was at Steve's Back Room, a Middle Eastern Restaurant in Saint Clair Shores. By this time, several years after the first introductions, we both were working on laptops at separate tables, and I was moving to Texas; outside, there was snow on the ground.  

Also in metro Detroit, there was another English instructor (among many) on another occasion -- a regular bar night for artists and educators -- that I recall, from a couple years later. In this case, it was the unusual name that stuck: Carroll Louis Goossen, Jr. I wondered why whoever was in charge of given names in the Goossen clan flipped the name from a literary salute to Lewis Carroll, author of Through the Looking Glass, to such an awful appendage? This to me was as strange as the Lu Ping/Ping Lu flip or Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue." Then again, the "real" name of Lewis Carroll was actually Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. 

The last time I saw Cal was probably at Macomb Community College, where for a while I taught Writing, English, Poetry and the (International) Novel as an adjunct -- (I was working full time as a librarian elsewhere). 

For now, I'll end with a relevant snippet about people's names from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871), Chapter Six:

'"My name is Alice, but — "
"It's a stupid name enough!" Humpty Dumpty interrupted impatiently. "What does it mean?"
"Must a name mean something?" Alice asked doubtfully.
"Of course it must," Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: "my name means the shape I am — and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost."' Indeed.

Dear reader, how do you remember people and their names? 

Today's Rune: Strength.