R  A  L  P  H
  The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities 
Winter, 1999 - 2000

RALPH's predecessor magazine, The Fessenden Review, was cited for its wit by media critics at The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, The Whole Earth Review, and on National Public Radio. Due to the relatively high cost of layout, paper, printing, and postage, The Review died and went to magazine heaven but, not long after, RALPH arose in its stead. We have tried to maintain the tradition of honest, testy, and non-nonsense reviews.
What you hold in your hand is The Folio, the print version of RALPH. It comes out each two or three months, and contains what we believe to be some of our best on-line reviews and articles. It is sent to our regular subscribers, and --- on a one-time basis --- to any stray visitors who request a free copy. Reprints are welcome, but should include information that all true seekers can find us at
http://www.ralphmag.org

--- A. W. Allworthy,
Folio Editor
poo@cts.com


Tornado Alley
Monster Storms of
The Great Plains

Howard B. Bluestein
(Oxford)

f you live in the middle of Oklahoma, say in a town like Enid, Yukon, or, God knows, Chickasha --- you'd better get the hell out. You can expect around nine tornadoes a year, the most in the world. Dimmit, Texas, Medicine Lodge, Kansas, and Anadark (Anadark!) Oklahoma are scarcely any better: seven a year, on average. Plant City, Florida, along with Tylertown, Mississippi and Saraland, Alabama can only manage to squeeze out five a year, but for some of us who keep our affection for tornadoes under tight control, this is enough.

The worst months are May and June, and the worst time is just before sunset. The worst place to be is where you look up at it and there it is looking down at you, whistling at you. (Some say that when you are right under it, it may also rattle, whine, or sing You're the Top.)

The clouds associated with tornadoes, Bluestein tells us, have certain characteristics. Our favorite is one called "Mamma." No --- it's not Mumsie but, rather, a weird, delicious set of underhangings of a cloud formation that look --- bless me --- just like a mass of mammaries, a army of breasts just hanging there, waiting to drop something on top of us. Usually it's not milk, but one of those evil looking spirals that, according to the author, may reach in excess of 700 miles an hour.

If you have to have the misfortune to be in, say, Oklahoma City on May 31, 2000, at 5:33 in the afternoon, watch out for shelf clouds, wet microbursts, penetrating tops, and anvils. These all, it is said, are predictive of up-coming tornadoes --- although the author admits that he is sometimes hard pressed to identify any of these formations.

Tornadoes have been studied to a fare-thee-well by the U. S. Government through the aegis of the National Severe Storms Laboratory --- which has a reputation for being quite severe when tornadoes show up without an official government storm permit. Through the aegis of the NSSL, it was found that thunderstorms of a special type (supercells) will produce hail and "are prolific breeders of tornadoes." Pre-tornado characteristics can also be spotted with Radar, and with this, NSSL and its predecessor organizations were able to begin a program of prediction and warnings, giving heart-failure and little comfort to the denizens of what has now come to be called "Tornado Alley."

The author gives us extensive charts and graphs and lovely photographs of tornadoes and their Florida beach-side cousins, waterspouts. In fact, there is a dandy photograph of a spout on page fifty-five which Bluestine casually notes he took from his hotel room balcony in Key, Biscayne, Florida, "while attending his first professional conference." Obviously he loves his subject, and his subject loves him. He is not without a bit of scientific archness, like,

    Fig. 2.5: A comparison of (a) a saturated, buoyant, convective-cloud top with (b) a head of cauliflower...Stare at (or view time-lapse movies or videos of) the top edge of a vigorously growing cumulus cloud or towering cumulus to visualize the turbulent motions at the edge of the bubble. Any resemblance between the buoyant bubble and a head of cauliflower or a human brain (not shown) is purely coincidental.

--- Ignacio Schwartz


Lifestyles of the Blind
and Paralyzed:
Mark O'Brien
nce, at a press conference, someone asked Eleanor Roosevelt if polio had affected her husband's mind. There was a long pause, and she replied, yes, that it had affected his mind --- it had made him more sensitive to the pain of others.

It was an artful response to a difficult question, but the truth of the matter is that polio did and does affect the mind. It made Franklin D. Roosevelt think he could run the United States for four presidential terms, through depression and war, without killing himself. And it made Mark O'Brien think that he --- with scarcely an intact muscle in his whole body --- could live independently, on his own, and at the same time, be a reporter, a baseball fan, a publisher, a journalist, a social critic, and a poet.

He did all these things while living alone in an apartment in Berkeley. Not content with that, he went about town on a Stanford-built electric gurney. That gurney, with Mark lying there on his back, enclosed in a space-city plastic bubble, was forever and a day on the streets, O'Brien guiding the machine with his left foot. He would zoom down the sidewalk, run off the curb, and the whole thing would topple over --- dumping him out on the pavement. Somehow he would dragoon people around him into picking him up and sticking him back on his contraption, inside the cuccoon, and then he would roar off again, ramming into walls and people, oblivious to the strange sight he was making in a city so used to strange sights.

That Mark was out on the streets and not hidden away in some nursing home was a testament to his Irish dander. Remember, this is a man who --- since age six --- had the use of one muscle in his right foot, one muscle in his neck, and one in his jaw. That's it. He made full use of the three. He used the foot muscle to steer his monster machine; he used the other two to bang with a stick on the keys of a computer, to write, cajole, editorialize, storm, cry, laugh, and rage. You tell me he wasn't a nut-case?

They educated him at home the first twenty years of his life, and then stuck him away in a nursing home. He put up with that for awhile, then one day he said, "I'm going to college." He did, too --- moved out on his own, at age thirty, got his degree (in English, at Berkeley) in five years, then started in graduate school.

They should have applauded him --- right? Nonsense. At one point, Social Security administrators tried to take away his benefits because he wasn't keeping "appropriate records" pertaining to his attendants. They made him go through an extended hearing to keep his $400 a month. Your tax dollars at work.

          

O'Brien's special gift, I suspect, was his heart-stopping honesty. He wrote an article for a book of mine about sex and disability, and I felt his personal revelations --- about masturbation --- were dandy but, well, a bit too personal. I asked if he didn't want to use a pseudonym. He wouldn't hear of it.

And when he finally, at age thirty-six, had his first taste of love, with a sex surrogate, he wrote a long article about it which was published in several places, including The Sun of North Carolina. The paragraph about his looking at himself in the mirror always struck me as being one of the most poignant in all of disabled literature:

    After she got off the mattress, she took a large mirror out of her tote bag. It was about two feet long and framed in wood. Holding it so that I could see myself, Cheryl asked what I thought of the man in the mirror. I said that I was surprised I looked so normal, that I wasn't the horribly twisted and cadaverous figure I had always imagined myself to be. I hadn't seen my genitals since I was six years old. That was when polio struck me, shriveling me below my diaphragm in such a way that my view of my lower body had been blocked by my chest. Since then, that part of me had seemed unreal.

He was honest about his sexuality --- and equally honest about his loneliness which, for most of the disabled, is a harsh fact of life. (There will always be something very poignant about the ad he posted on his home-page:

    I am looking for an intelligent, literate woman for companionship and, perhaps, sexual play. (I am, as you see, completely paralyzed, so there will be no walks on the beach.)

          

O'Brien left some fine presents for us. Not the anger, the one that made him write, God damn this wall I cannot punch God damn this bat I cannot swing God damn this eucalyptus leaf I cannot pull down off a tree and hold up to my lover's nose.

No, his gift for us was not rage --- for that's something that runs heavy and fast in the blood of all his disabled brethren.

Nor was it something they call "courage." "Saying a disabled person is courageous," he once wrote me, "is like saying that a Black person has natural rhythm."

Once Brian did an interview with Stephen Hawking. As he was waiting, some ninny from PBS came up and asked Mark if seeing Dr. Hawking gave him hope. He wrote,

    This struck me as an awfully stupid question. Hope for what? Could Dr. Hawking change my life, make me walk, get me a lover? I tried to think of a polite way to answer her. I just didn't want to get sucked into being cast as a Spokesperson for the Disabled in a dreary story headlined 'Disabled Inspired by Dr. Hawking.'

I suspect that the thing we should most value Mark for, outside of his appealing (and sometime appalling) honesty, was his chutzpa. I am thinking about the way the interview with Hawking came about. Mark set the whole thing up, and somehow got his dreadful space-age gurney manuevered into the meeting hall at U C Berkeley where the physicist was appearing. I can almost picture it now. Hawking in his little chair, with his moveless face, and his typing-talking machine; O'Brien laid out flat on his back on his gurney, his face pressed to the side, his voice barely audible:

    O'BRIEN: Do you ever feel frustration, rage at being disabled?
    HAWKING: No.
    O'BRIEN:
    Does your work help you to deal with these feelings?
    HAWKING:
    Yes. I have been lucky. I don't have anything to be angry about.

Pure O'Brien. He wasn't interested in the stars, or in time, or even in the history of time. He was trying to get the Hawking to talk about his feelings --- to talk about this astonishing thing that had happened to his body, and what it did to his psyche. For O'Brien, and I, and all our disabled friends know that there is no one in the world, not even a mental giant like Hawking, who can lose the use of his body without having it resonant powerfully in the soul.

    O'BRIEN: Doctor Hawking, what can you say to all the disabled people who are stuck in nursing homes or living with their parents or in some other untenable situation and who feel that their life is over, that they have no future?

As I heard this long question unravel like an ill-mannered ball of yarn [O'Brien wrote later], Hawking continued to look at me and typed his answer into the voice synthesizer. I couldn't see his right hand, the one he used to type. I waited. All of us waited. Then the silence was cracked by the voice synthesizer's crisp, booming voice.

    HAWKING: It can be very difficult. I know that I was very fortunate. All I can say is that one must do the best one can in the situation in which one finds oneself.

The good doctor left him in the lurch, didn't he? Refused to show even a teeny bit of what they call "emotion" or "feeling." O'Brien blew it, didn't he?

Maybe. Except for the fact that those of us who have long ago penetrated that ghastly myth of Disabled-Courage-Against-All-Odds know that O'Brien was onto something --- something to teach the teacher. Something that (perhaps) Hawking, if he is lucky, has, by now, finally figured out.

That it hurts. And there doesn't have to be any shame in that hurt.

          

If we were to do something silly like try to create an epitaph for Mark, I probably would not dwell on his books, or his angry articles about Kevorkian, or his fine baseball stories, or even the 1997 Oscar --- that wonderful present for him and Jessica Yu and his movie, Breathing Lessons.

I would, rather, choose to engrave, on the stone, a poem --- one he wrote ten years ago, entitled, with typical (and delicious) O'Brien-esque irony, "Lifestyles of the Blind and Paralyzed:"

    The pay is lousy,
    no vacations or sick leave,
    and the compliments...
    You'd rather do without them.

    On the plus side,
    you're exempt from military service,
    get to watch lots of TV
    and pay half price at the movies.

    They're out there, my public,
    dying to ask me what happened to you,
    wondering how I pee
    and using me as proof

    that God is just
    and punishes only the wicked.

--- Lorenzo W. Milam

[This article also appeared in Salon Magazine and New Mobility]


To the question
"What is man?"
we're blindingly ready to answer:
"Man is what he conceals."

--- Andre Malraux


Vampires
The Occult Truth

Kostantinos
(Llewellyn)
he best method to deal with vampires, according to Kostantinos, is not crosses or stakes through the heart --- but salt and incense. The reason: in this day and age, we have modern vampires who aren't into sucking, but, rather, are what he calls "Psychic Vampires." For example, if you feel drowsy, drained of energy around a particular person, you are dealing with a Psychic Vampire, or Al Gore. Or maybe both.

These PVs are divided into two separate categories: unintentional and intentional. It's easy to determine exactly which type you are dealing with by simply observing your attackers traits. Intentional Psychic Vampires typically dress in long, black, flowing capes, have dark, slick-backed hair, large, swirling, hypnotic eyes, and a set of extended fangs. The unintentional variety are more like the rest of us: they shop at Target, eat at Arby's, go to raves, and have large, swirling, hypnotic eyes, with a set of extended fangs...maybe. That's what makes it all so confusing: these vampires may look exactly like your landlord, or Rosie O'Donnell, or Jeb Bush.

Their attacks can be extremely dangerous --- especially when they are boring you to death with tales of their trip to Disneyland, and you begin to feel drowsy. These travelogues must be stopped immediately. You can claim that you have a dental appointment, "Omigod, in ten minutes," and zip out the door. Unfortunately, your dentist may be a PV as well, and while you are having a root canal, blissed out on Laughing Gas, he or she may have at you.

Kostantions instructs the reader how to stop, as well as prevent, these attacks. One suggested way is by launching to an extended description of your son's Little League Team, listing in detail the number of hits, runs, and errors since early last summer. This will put the PV into a hypnotic sleep, and at that point you can steal out the door.

In addition to the chapters on Psychic Vampires, this book also contains letters from those creepy people we see on Sally Jesse Raphael who actually believe they are real, live Vampires. In addition, there is a history of Vampire legends, and brief biographies of some of the most insatiable blood drinkers, such as Newt Gringrich and Donald Trump.


--- Jasmine Worth


The Way of The World
From the Dawn of Civilizations
to the Eve of The 21st Century

David Fromkin
(Knopf)
avid Fromkin has undertaken to present us, in 240 pages, a complete history of the world. He's a brave man. He's at his best when the facts are few --- such as outlining the events up to 5,000 - 10,000 years ago, the coming of what is believed to be the first city:

    The place is ancient Sumer, located in the alluvial plain in the south of what now is Iraq. It used to be called Mesopotamia --- "the land between the rivers," Tigris and Euphrates...

In what was known as the "Uruk period," the Sumerians built a civilization, one of the first, it is believed, with writing. The earliest work of literature --- and one of the most moving --- is the Epic of Gilgamesh, which came from that civilization.

According to Fromkin, if we were to visit Sumer back then, we would find people dressed in "shirts or jackets, skirts, and a headcloth...Men and women would both have covered themselves with cloaks. Both would have employed cosmetics, and would have applied them in front of mirrors." Beer and wine would have been available, along with fresh fruit, game birds, vegetables, and singing and dancing to the local equivalent of Snoop Doggy Dogg. There would, however, probably be no day trading --- at least on-line.

Unfortunately, when Fromkin gets into what we might call modern history, he must edit, elide, and summarize so much that the Industrial Revolution, Colonialism, the First World War, the Russian Revolution --- among others --- must be shoe-horned into a very few pages.

More irritating is the Western bias of the author. If one is going to define "civilization" as building cities, inventing writing --- or the wheel --- and making war (or music), then those of us in the west certainly have no corner on the market. Mayan civilization gets a half-paragraph. The troubles in Bosnia are mentioned, but not the Taiping Rebellion, one of the most appalling wars of the last 150 years (over 20,000,000 killed); Al Capone turns up, but not Mao T'se Tung; the Bible gets five pages, but its Hindu equivalent, the Mahabharata, gets zilch.

The author has occasional moments of wisdom: he sees the western wars of the 20th century as merely one long conflict stretching from 1914 to 1989. Unfortunately, he conjures up some rather silly parallelisms:

    The American Revolution stood for the primacy of the individual; the French, of the nation broadly conceived; the Bolshevik Russian, of the industrial working class; the Italian Fascist, of the state; the Nazi German, of the master race and its one leader.

Or, in describing Eastern vs. Western faith,

    The Middle Eastern faiths offered some kind of consolation or hope to people who desperately desired to live on after death. Uniquely, two of the great religions of India set out to do the opposite: to reassure people that they will not have to live forever.

--- Ignacio Schwartz


 

I don't think they quite understood me the day before yesterday when I battered the officiating priest over the head with the mallet that he was going to use to kill the heifer. Yet it was very simple. I wanted, just for once, to change the order of things --- just to see what happened.

And what I saw was that nothing was changed. The spectators were surprised and a little frightened. Apart from that, the sun went down at the same time. The conclusion which I drew was that it doesn't matter if you change the order of things.

---Caligula, as quoted in
The Notebooks of Albert Camus

 


Conversations with
E. L. Doctorow

Christopher D Morris, Editor
(University Press of Mississippi)
ometimes, we wonder how famous authors have any time to write, surrounded as they are by all these hungry reporters, pasty critics, graduate students, neo-intellectuals, all out for a coup. We're often put in mind of the comment of Ezra Pound: that the pain of being in St. Elizabeth's was not being thought of as crazy, but being at the beck and call of every miserable English major or PhD candidate from Nowheresville State U. for interview. He said that alone could drive a grown man bonkers.

A hundred years ago, a good writer was free of such an army of intellectual locusts. Emily Dickinson could hide out in the upper floors in her white dress, and none of these Amer. Lit. types would be rapping on her door. Nabokov handled it by giving no interviews whatsoever, preferring to pen answers to questions presented in a civilized way --- by mail. For all we know, maybe Hart Crane dove off that boat from Cuba just to get away from some frantic M.A., candidate trying for an inside scoop on his sex life for a final at UC Berkeley.

Be that as it may, this Doctorow comes across as a saint, putting up with interviews from every literary peddler on the planet --- in this case, twenty-two of them, ranging from a hack on assignment for Publishers Weekly to a boor from Budapest, Hungary, with stentorian questions like,

    You majored in philosophy at Kenyon College. To what extent has your training in philosophy helped shape you as a writer?

Despite this onslaught of noodling, Doctorow turns out some fine answers --- always patient, always ready to repeat himself (endlessly), often brilliant, often witty, often self-deprecating, and, every now and again, gently chastising. When some klutz from Heidelberg talks about "the sexual preoccupations" of "Jewish-American writers," Doctorow replies with grace, citing Wilhelm Reich, and closing with the lines, "You have here a particular responsibility to distinguish literary criticism from demonology."

What Conversations with E. L. Doctorow turns out to be, most of all, is a primer for would-be writers. Despite his protestations of ignorance about the roots of inspiration, this author lets us in on the mystery of the writing life. One interviewer asks him about the research he did on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, for The Book of Daniel:

    Once I get going, I find myself looking things up, but not in any systematic way. At a certain point, I think, when your mind is organized and you're attuned to whatever your subconscious is doing, you become a kind of magnet for your own experiences and reading, and things in the air become relevant. On the basis of that, you're led from one thing to another. You see a picture in a newspaper, or you're walking through some stacks in a library and you see a title of a book, and in some peculiar, mystical way, things just happen to come up when you need them. Someone will tell you a story at a dinner party or you'll catch sight of a scene on a street corner, and it will become appropriate to the book. The ongoing book or the creative process, I think, generates a certain kind of energy in the writer which makes him a kind of selective magnet for things in his environment. That's what I would call research.

In all, we are left with a picture of Doctorow as a literate, irreverent, thoughtful soul --- and a fine conversationalist, with such lines as, I realized I was, like Hawthorne, not an exemplar of realism but a writer of romances. I was interested in imagery as a kind of moral data. Or quoting Freud, who said "America is a mistake, a gigantic mistake," I think it's funny to speak of anything that gigantic as 'a mistake.' Or there's the moment when he says to the pesky questioner from Heidelberg,

    You think because I'm wearing a coat and tie, that I'm normal and middle-class? --- Actually, I am an actor employed by Doctorow to represent him.

He's tolerant, he's funny --- and he's a dandy story-teller:

    I have a fantasy about The New York Times and this is what it is: that on a day when Tony Lewis' column is not scheduled to appear, The New York Times is published --- distributed to all of us --- and I have written it all. If I could get Punch Sulzberger to agree to issue the paper as written in its entirety by me, on just one day, I would spend many, many years preparing that particular city edition. And I would consider it --- it would be my life's work.

--- Lolita Lark


Must Waiters Wait?
(Hee hee)

Bald Pat who is bothered mitred the napkins. Pat is a waiter hard of his hearing. Pat is a waiter who waits while you wait. Hee hee hee hee. He waits while you wait. Hee hee. A waiter is he. Hee hee hee hee. He waits while you wait. While you wait if you wait he will wait while you wait. Hee hee hee hee. Hoh. Wait while you wait.

--- Leopold Bloom at lunch,
from
Ulysses


Medieval
Furniture

Plans and Instructions
For Historical Reproductions

Daniel Diehl and
Mark Donnelly
(Stackpole Books)
his stuff may seem a bit heavy, but it's sturdy. And it'll take you back seven- or eight-hundred years. When they could hew an oak trunk to make, for example, a Tax Box.

These lockboxes, the writers tell us, were hauled from village to village. The tax collector was called a "factor," which explains where Max Factor got his name. The citizens would stick their halfpennies or farthings in a slot, and their name would be checked off the tax roll. If you forgot, or hid, the sheriff would come get you.

Given the size of this mother, the authors estimate that it could hold no more than sixty-one pounds sterling, which is equivalent to one hundred dollars. No doubt there was a sign attached to it that said, "The factor does not have a key to this lock-box, and carries no farthings for change."

Elaborate notes are given for the exact construction of this box, including the dimensions, and the type and age of wood required. There is a list of metal parts needed, along with dimensions, and instructions on shaping the exterior (the suggested tools: adze or hatchet.) Detailed instructions for the hasps, hinges, coin slot, lid attachment, catches, and finish follow, with top and side view drawings.

You might opt for making one of the thirteen other objects, including a Church Pew, the lovely "Half-Tester Bed" (with an 500 pound overhang for crowning you or your nighttime guests), a Paneled Coffer, a Barrel Chair, a Settle --- a hard, very hard, wooden pew-like structure, --- or a wheelbarrow. If you are thinking this stuff can be used, forget it. The wheelbarrow looks to be hernia-inducing, and the sitting-room furniture is designed for those who didn't take their sitting very seriously, and were mostly on their knees in prayer, or out in the barley field, or playing the sacbutt with the local Catch-and-Glee Club while blind drunk on bitter.

--- P. P. McFeelie


The Arcimboldo Effect
Transformations of the Face
From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century

(Abbeville Press)
rt lovers are familiar with the tradition of still life as brought to perfection in sixteenth century Holland. The prototypical painting shows a cloth-covered table upon which rests a bowl of fruit, a loaf of bread, a lobster, a bowl of fruit, a slain grouse, and a bowl of fruit, all rendered with such uncanny realism that viewers must be physically restrained from rushing forward and taking a bite out of the canvas.

One of the masters of this form is the great Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1540-1589) whose singular, and unfortunate, accomplishment was to fuse the still life with human portrait painting. A forerunner of minimalism, his portraits made no pretension to grandeur, metaphysical statement, symbolism, sex, or drama, but rather gives the viewer something else --- especially if he missed dinner.

For example, one of Arcimboldo's most famous paintings, executed in 1573, was a portrait commissioned by the tragic Duke of Porcini i Zucchini --- an eminent but impoverished Florentine nobleman who suffered a series of reverses when his vast fettucine holdings slipped through his fingers. The portrait shows a man with a zucchini for a nose, peas in the pod for lips, cherries and figs for eyes, garlic bolls for ears, and hair of strawberries, grape leaves and prickly pear. A wild artichoke is shown growing out of the Duke's navel. The portrait is called "Summer."

The Duke suffered cardiac arrest on his first glimpse of the masterpiece, but at a second viewing, during a wake held in his honor, made no complaint. The Duke's sisters, deeply grateful to Arcimboldo, commissioned him to paint their aged mother, the aged Duchess of Risotto a la Milanese. Giuseppe painted her crimson with chartreuse flecks, adding a second layer of shellac when she refused to stop breathing. Finally, unimpressed with the Duchess, the artist dropped the project in disgust, and the old lady was shattered.

Arcimboldo's fame spread like mayonnaise, giving him the freedom to continue his creative work, stopping only for an occasional sandwich. A succession of masterpieces poured from his easel and his icebox: alluring nude studies of courtesans as cannelloni; a stunning Last Supper tableau comprised entirely of radishes and Milk Duds; a wry and playful rendering of a Bolognese merchant as mortadella on rye. One account tells of the merchant's confusion when first told to assume his pose --- he didn't know what to do with his hands. With characteristic charm, Arcimboldo said, "Hold the mustard" --- and put the old gent at ease.

The origin of Arcimboldo's unique vision is obscure. As a child, he was the apple of his mother's eye, but his father frequently referred to him as "Fruitbat," which may have led to his many complexes. By adolescence, he had developed into something of a nut and his mother's favorite nickname for him was Filiberto. This was deeply resented by his sisters Hazel and Pea and his brother Wal.

He was sent for education to Brussels, where he sprouted, and --- in time --- grew tall and willowy. Then, in 1559, he contracted Dutch Elm Disease. and had to return to Italy. Young Giuseppe slowly recovered his health at home with his parents, his art, and the casaba melon which had become his dearest companion.

It was during this period of convalescence that the artist perfected the revolutionary technique that made his name --- but ultimately caused his downfall. His troubles began after Cosimo de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, commissioned a portrait. The great man expected something in Arcimboldo's botanical style, which by then had become rather fashionable. But the artist was already marching to the beet of a different drummer. He produced a masterpiece in which the Grand Duke was rendered with a periwinkle for one eye and a green wrasse for the other, a cuttlefish for the chin, and hair consisting of oysters, whelks, and goose barnacles, all surmounted by a loggerhead turtle. The painting was entitled "Water". The Grand Duke was appalled, and threatened to vote against any more funding for the NEA.

All of Giuseppe's friends and relatives sensed that he had gone too far this time, and begged him to return to the good old days of painting banana noses, passion-fruit eyes, and navel-orange navels. Who could blame them? But a true artist hearkens to no voice but the Voice from Within, and Arcimboldo went blithely on his way. After "Water," he painted the Doge of Venice as Pressed Duck with Green Peppercorn Sauce. Then, he crossed the line entirely by doing Pope Gregory XIII as a side-dish of Flageolets au Pissenlit. The ensuing scandal could not be contained, and Arcimboldo was seized and brought before the Court of Assizes.

The court sentenced him to be sauteed in extra virgin olive oil with a pinch of Rosemary. However, even though it was Italy, Rosemary took exception to being pinched, and petitioned for a reduced sentence. The Court accepted the petition and decreed that Giuseppe should be flambeed and then reduced. It looked as if his days were numbered, though not necessarily in sequence.

Fortunately, the world Arts community rallied to Guiseppe's defense. There were petition drives, walks, demonstrations, rock concerts, and --- finally --- the Brooklyn Museum replaced its cafeteria entirely by a retrospective show of Arcimboldo's wurst work. At length, the authorities relented, and released Arcimboldo into the custody of his casaba melon. When the gaol doors swung open, the artist stepped blinking into the sunlight, fell to his knees, and cried: la speranza e il pan de' miseri. Nobody knew what he meant, but they realized that it would be best to hustle him out of Italy. Although penniless, Arcimboldo managed to work his way to the New World by painting pictures of chicken teriyaki on the insides of little white cardboard boxes for the airlines.

He ended up in Gilroy, California where he founded the Garlic Festival, took to consuming Gallo red by the gallon, and went into a slow decline. He spent the last days of his life riding around with a potato chip his shoulder, buttonholing strangers on the street, and singing songs like Yes, We Have No Bananas Today, Orange You Sad You Left Me, and Canteloupe Today My Honeydew. Passersby would occasionally shake their heads sadly and toss a few coppers into his colander. The exact place and time of his passing is not recorded. Somewhere in Gilroy, he passed out of our lives and into History, where he remains, fitfully remaindered, to this day.


--- Dr. Phage


Mama Dip's Kitchen
With More Than 250
Traditional Southern Recipes

Mildred Council
(University of North Carolina)
have always known myself as Mildred Edna Cotton Council," says Mama Dip in the charming introduction to "A Life of Cooking." She grew up on a farm in Baldwin Township, Chatham County:

    I grew up and lived in poverty most of my life without knowing it. My children, too, grew up in poverty never knowing that they were poor. Our house just leaked. No screen doors. An outdoor bathroom and little money.

They called her "Dip" because she was tall --- six feet, one inch --- "and had such long arms that I could reach way down the rain barrel to scoop up a big dipperful of water when the level was low." She learned how to cook in the style of the south called dump cooking --- "Just measure by eye and feel and taste and testing."

In 1976, a friend helped her take over a failing restaurant on Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill (home of the famous Sun Magazine), and on her first day, she spent the last of her money, $64, to buy the makings for breakfast. She made enough to buy the food for lunch, then used the proceeds from lunch for supper --- and then she was in business to stay.

We have here five sections, from "Bread and Breakfast" to "Desserts and Party Dishes." Her "Oven-Friend Green Tomatoes" taste delicious even when we just read the ingredients on the page and her "Pole Beans" are cooked --- as all string beans in the south must be cooked --- with "country side meat" (we used to call it fatback). She doesn't cut up basil to put in her "Summer Squash with Onions" and uses garlic salt in her spinach rather than fresh minced garlic --- but then again, she still has a way of making everything taste perfect. It's called "Mama Dip's Patio Cooler:"

    • 4 ounces of Southern Comfort
    • 4 ounces Creme de Almond
    • 2 ounces Triple Sec
    • 2 ounces brandy
    • 4 ounces pineapple juice
    • 4 ounces orange juice
    • 4 ounces sweet and sour mixer

    Combine all the ingredients and pour over ice; garnish each glass with a lemon slice and a maraschino cherry, with stem. Serves 6.

With stem indeed!

--- Lolita Lark


The History Teacher
By Billy Collins

Trying to protect his students' innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
where everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
"How far is it from here to Madrid?"
"What do you call the matador's hat?"

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom
on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.

--- From Learning By Heart
Contemporary American Poetry About School

(University of Iowa Press)

 

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