Facade, Getty Museum - © Robert Sommers 2019

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Can I be Frank?

Robert Frank - Indianapolis, 1956

The great Swiss-American photographer Robert Frank has passed away. There have been many tributes in the media this week. He had a truly amazing eye and vision.

I would have loved to have been able to shoot like Robert Frank. Or Henri Cartier-Bresson. Or Andre Kertesz. Or Diane Arbus. Any of them. Unfortunately they already had their positions filled. I will have to settle for being me.

Robert Sommers - Girl with white shoes on Broadway, Los Angeles
But if I had been a more urban creature, I would certainly have liked to give it my best shot.

Frank was not an equipment snob. Neither was Capa. They shot with basic gear, utilizing their eyes and brains.

Today everybody is a photographer and so nobody is a photographer.

New cameras pump out perfect focus and exposure on request but so many pictures end up saying nothing. That damn vision thing.

The greats like Frank and the rest of the people I mentioned set a very high mark for the rest of us.

One that will be very hard to match and eclipse. No digital photographer will ever ascend to a place next to our iconic film fore bearers.

Andy Williams with Simon & Garfunkel

I am an unabashed fan of Andy William's voice. He took a back seat to no one in that department. Do you notice how nobody steps on each other's part here, how much respect these impeccable sonic craftsmen have for each other? A pity they didn't record more material together, Andy is like a perfect missing part. Like listening to angels from heaven.

Charles Kupperman

Interesting article, well worth reading, about the current acting National Security Advisor, Charles Kupperman. Trump’s Acting National Security Adviser Said Nuclear War With USSR Was Winnable
Questioning “mutual assured destruction,” Charles Kupperman called nuclear conflict “in large part a physics problem.”

A physics problem. Welcome to Doctor Strangelove, folks.
Kupperman, appointed to his new post on Tuesday after Trump fired his John Bolton from the job, argued it was possible to win a nuclear war “in the classical sense,” and that the notion of total destruction stemming from such a superpower conflict was inaccurate. He said that in a scenario in which 20 million people died in the U.S. as opposed to 150 million, the nation could then emerge as the stronger side and prevail in its objectives.
His argument was that with enough planning and civil defense measures, such as “a certain layer of dirt and some reinforced construction materials,” the effects of a nuclear war could be limited and that U.S. would be able to fairly quickly rebuild itself after an all-out conflict with the then-Soviet Union.
It may take 15 years, but geez, look how long it took Europe to recover after the Second World War,” Kupperman said. 
There, you feel better now? I remember it well when he said that in case of a nuclear bomb, you just dig a hole in the back yard, throw some plywood and dirt over the top and you were home free. When the calculations were made over the cubic quantity of earth involved, it was literally tons and it was of course shown to be a totally ridiculous notion.

This is our new National Security Advisor. God help us.

The Boxer

The songs of Simon and Garfunkel have always had a special meaning and importance for me. This song is one of them. I was very poor as a child. When I moved to New York in late 1968 at the age of eleven I had two pairs of pants and they were both full of holes. At that point it was just Buzz and I and our alcoholic stepfather. I took a lot of shit from the other kids over my ragged appearance, as well as quite a few punches from the old man, not always for any particular reason at all.

I moved to the lower east side a few years later with my now single mother, I couldn't afford a coat that first winter, until about mid November anyway. The late October and early November wind and snow was biting cold that year, I can still feel it cutting through me today like a rusty knife. Eventually I obtained a pea coat, don't remember exactly how.

I had an academic scholarship to a prep school but it was sixty three blocks away in the upper east side. Normally I took a subway, the 23rd street IRT was right around the corner, but there were times I couldn't afford it. It was a quarter back then. There were a few times I walked.

The line about the whores on seventh avenue rings true for me because I remember hustling hookers for a subway token in front of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel late one night in order to get home before midnight. I was maybe fourteen at the time. Needless to say, I got street wise very fast. Would often walk the streets of Harlem and Spanish Harlem, taking photographs with my real father's old Voightlander, which I was unfortunately conned out of near Washington Square. Guess I wasn't as streetsmart as I thought I was. Lucky I wasn't killed in retrospect.

Weekends I would sometimes panhandle in Central Park. I wasn't ashamed, I did what I had to do to survive. Eventually I got a job breading chicken for a fast food restaurant. Ghastly work. I would come in at four in the morning and then go to school afterwards. Made a dollar and a nickel an hour, got fired when I asked for an additional nickel raise.

New York is a hell of a city but it is a tough place to be cold, alone, young and poor. Simon and Garfunkel capture the feelings I experienced so vividly as a kid perfectly here.


I get a daily email from Word Genius called word of the day. Feeds you odd words. Today's word was syzygy.

A greek word from the 17th century, Syzygy has two meanings. In a physical, cosmological sense it is the straight alignment of three heavenly bodies as in an eclipse. In a human, interactional sense it describes a situation where two people, ideas or events are confluent or in alignment, either alike or in opposition.

I was not familiar with the term but I find it curious, etymologically speaking. Because rarely would a word be binary in one meaning and ternary or trinary in another. Wonder how that happened?

I looked it up, hoping to find further information.

This definition describes the astronomical relationship as one of conjunction or opposition, basically as a binary proposition.

And I find a different binary meaning in biology, Syzygy, the pairing of chromosomes during meiosis.

Syzygy comes from the greek word syzygos which derives from syn (together) and zygon (to yoke).

I found another astronomical definition of the word that relates to two rather than three - Either of two points in the orbit of a celestial body where the body is in opposition to or in conjunction with the Sun.

I may never figure this one out.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Homeward Bound

Space City

I'm sort of flailing around right now, free spooling, not amounting to much at all. Very hard to focus on anything. Had a myriad of tests yesterday, saw a couple doctors, pre-op, got some blood work, an ekg, sucked up my whole day and left me spent and exhausted. As well as still broke and depressed.

We are double tracking the bladder and the kidney and are set for Wednesday for the bladder operation. There is a possibility of losing the bladder. One of the tumors is big and in a terrible position.

I really don't want that to happen. Doctor mentioned it in earshot to the radiologist yesterday and I let out an involuntary scream of protest, "No!"

Have had cat scans, with and without contrast, as well as a renal ultrasound. Kidney problem is still difficult to read and I need to get an additional MRI to see if we can get more information.

I had always heard that you could live on an eighth of one kidney but the urologist told me yesterday that that is bullshit, you need at least two thirds of one to function. Damn. I fucking hope I am not cutting it too close.

At least the pain in my side has stopped. Probably fortunate I was in pain or I would have never detected this shit and maybe just dropped dead one day. I guess this is better.

Had a strange dream last night, had been to Egypt and received what were apparently ancient Egyptian magical power objects. My psyche is obviously trying to pull out all of the stops.

This is, as I have said, my third bout with cancer. I have learned a fair deal about the disease in the thirty four years I have dealt with it. You make an internal list, who was there for you and who bailed. Or at least I always have, petty person that I am. I swear some people must think it is contagious. Or are too busy, have too much on their plate or are emotionally ill equipped to deal. This phenomenon is nothing new.

Those are the people you possibly have to excise from your life if you get the chance. But then again you get these incredible blessings and gifts from complete strangers and everybody else so I guess life balances out. I appreciate those of you who are there for me and Leslie. Lets keep on keeping on.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Seven Curses

This is one of my favorite Dylan songs. It is based on a centuries old folk song, The maid freed from the gallows and a 1930's Leadbelly song called The Gallis Pole. I went looking for the lyrics and found that they are all wrong online, even on the Bob Dylan site. I transcribed it correctly myself. You ever put a curse on anybody? I did once...

Old Reilly stole a stallion

But they caught him and they brought him back

And they laid him down on the jailhouse ground

With an iron chain around his neck.

Old Reilly's daughter got a message

That her father was goin' to hang.

She rode by night and came by morning

With gold and silver in her hand.

When the judge saw Reilly's daughter

His old eyes deepened in his head,

Sayin' "Gold will never free your father,

The price, my dear, is you instead."

"Oh I'm as good as dead, " cried Reilly,

"It's only you that he does crave

And my skin will surely crawl if he touches you at all.

Get on your horse and ride away."

"Oh father you will surely die

If I don't take the chance and try

To pay the price and not take your advice.

For that reason I will have to stay."

The gallow's shadows shook the evening,

In the night a hound dog bayed,

In the night the grounds were groanin',

In the dark the price was paid.

The next mornin' when she had awoken

She found that the judge had never spoken.

She saw that hangin' branch a-bendin',

She saw her father's body broken.

These be seven curses on a judge so cruel:

That one doctor can not save him,

That two eyes can not see him,

And that three healers cannot heal him.

That four ears can not hear him,

That five walls can not hide him,

That six diggers can not bury him

And that seven deaths shall never kill him.

Bob Dylan © 1963

Hummer reprise

I took this with a lesser lens and a lesser camera yet still, it might be my favorite personal hummingbird shot of all time. My yard, August 26, 2015. I feel like I caught lightning in a bottle with this one. Something about the wings...

Nikon D7200 Sigma 150-600mm C ƒ8 1/1000 iso 3200

Dave Thuleen

I was saddened to hear the news that David Thuleen passed away the day before yesterday, after a long bout with cancer.

Dave was a very intelligent and articulate man, maybe one of the very smartest people I have ever met in Fallbrook. He was a big man with a hearty, genuine laugh.

A long time physics teacher at Fallbrook High, we got acquainted by being fellow acolytes of Warren Bishop's afternoon coffee klatch.

Warren was our pope and after a long coterie of disciples were finished kissing his holy decoder ring, we would sit around and talk about the various issues of the day, which often included a run down of the day's handicap action at the track.

I was not a close friend of David's, I believe he was a private man, but he had many highly redeeming and admirable qualities that showed through his guarded exterior veneer.

I liked him a lot and truth be told, often sought his intellectual approval when in his presence.

He was innately skeptical and was not reluctant to challenge bullshit. He did so in a professorial way that was kind and rarely if ever cutting.

He had, as I have, an admiration for old time radio shows, principally the pinnacle achievement of the genre, Yours TrulyJohnny Dollar, insurance detective. He also had a great passion for a wide range of music.

You had to be on your A- game talking to David, because he usually was and he didn't suffer fools too gladly.

And like many smart people, he played by his own rules and was not a man to be dictated to too much by outside forces.

I think he will be greatly missed. When Warren left his flock in the Sinai and headed south alone and on his own, we lost our lodestone and penchant for congregating.

I have to apologize for the crummy picture but I had borrowed a friend's Leica medium format this particular day and obviously didn't have the first idea of how to use it. Once again, okay is always better than none.

Arrivaderci Dave, your absence will be felt in many hearts.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

So Cal frolic

I had a fun weekend, indulging in a bunch of diversions. I am feeling a little better, for some reason the side pain has abated quite a bit.

We went out whale watching on Sunday with Renee.

We never saw any whales but we quickly ran into a bunch of bottlenose dolphins that were hanging out pretty close to the coast.

Just good to be out on the water.

There was a nice Chaldean family on the boat if a bit hirsute. An eleven year old Chaldean can grow a better mustache than I can and we're not even talking about the male children. They were trying hard to project the hip Southern California surf look but finished it off with an awful lot of gold. The young lady, who was very pretty, was wearing what I believe were Kardashian sandals. I hope that I am wrong.

Because nothing screams bad taste like buying the footware of billionaire reality television stars who are famous for doing and accomplishing absolutely nothing. Will probably take a generation or two more to sink in.

I noticed that a huge number of boats docked in the harbor were sporting Trump 2020 signs or Vote Trump, Cut the bullshit banners.

The last healthy GOP demographic in California, rich sailors.

Dave and Amy are in town for a conference so we all went out and had dinner later that night at my Peruvian joint Panca, which was great as usual.

Yesterday I grabbed BigDave at his hotel and we took a cruise.

First stop was Roxy for a so-so lunch. Then hit Swamis and watched the surf.

It was pretty small but still looked fun. A gull flew by us as we stood on the cliff.

Oh shit, I thought, here my camera is in my hand and that gull was wearing blinkers. I had let an osprey fly by. He parked on a tall aloe far away, just out of range. To taunt me.

Found out that the promoter for my Del Mar show decided it was time to quit, with practically no notice, the show was 59 years old, started by his dad. But he has experienced a lot of health problems and is calling it a day. Go to at least sixty years, dude. And return the deposits. Tin to Tiffany to tough shit.

My promoter friend Rosemary is going to try and resurrect it. Dinosaurs facing extinction, we need every show.

After we left Swamis I took Dave to Pampelmousse so that we could split an appetizer and try the world famous john but it was closed. Another time. We headed down to Torrey Pines for a walk.

Didn't see much of note but stretched the legs and enjoyed the lovely day. Dave is a big Cubs fan and was treating me to a Cubs - Padres game at Petco. We stopped at Lefty's first for a Chicago dog.

Drove through beautiful Balboa Park when we got close.

Got there early and watched some bp. Real game was pretty miserable for a Padres fan with so many Chicago fans representing and then their team kicking our ass ten to two. But I took the defeat rather gracefully.

We stopped at the car wash Mexican food restaurant in Cardiff on the way home and I drowned my sorrows in fish tacos. Didn't get home until late.

orange crowned warbler

Got up early today and met Ken and Penny for birdwatching in Live Oak Park. It was cloudy but I managed to snap a few pictures and see some lovely birds. Like this Wilson's warbler.

Are they not cute as hell?

Watched a lovely Nuttal's Woodpecker peck around on a log, me from a nice vantage.

And caught an Acorn Woodpecker finding a tasty grub.

There are worse ways to start a week.


Saturday, September 7, 2019

Beverson Electric

Anybody in the Fallbrook or Temecula area need a reliable licensed electrician who also understands and can fix air conditioning? Who shows up when he says he will or ten minutes early.

Look no farther than Matt Beverson.

I first heard about him from Chris at Main St. Cafe. He has been working for him for a while and the Greek offered high praise.

Matt came out last year and got my home air back running. Fixed some bad wiring problems as well. Has done electrical work for my wife at Caravan too.

Wonderful guy, inexpensive, could not have been nicer, knowledgable and more caring, competent and accommodating. Matt just fixed and cleaned out my rooftop unit at the store. He was working for another company but has recently quit his regular job and now is full time on his own.

Now is the time when air conditioners are going on the fritz and you can't get anyone to return your call. Matt will. I don't hardly ever do these sorts of recommendations but Matt has been a godsend. If you need anything electrical in nature fixed give him a call. Great work, no attitude. 

Matt Beverson
Beverson Electric
(951) 419-7681

lic. 1053726

Soul Kitchen

I have to repost this every so often.

Sea Squill

Do you remember a few years ago when I wrote about my purchase of a drimia maritima, the magic plant of lore?

The one the ancients put on their door to ward off evil spirits? I of course, had no idea at the time of its historic occultist underpinnings, I just found it a curious plant when I saw it at Serra Gardens and I bought it.

You might revisit the post, I find it interesting.
This plant is thought to be Moly, the plant that Homer considered the most holy of all plants, said to be revealed by the god Hermes himself.
Ulysses was handed a sprig by Hermes to assure him that he would be safe when he wandered into the Palace of Circe. Proteus's daughters were cured by this plant after being driven mad by Dionysus.

The plant is indeed very odd. It dies off and than pops a tall flower stalk out of a strange bulb like base when you least expect it.

In the spring it is equipped with a lovely leaf form but it loses all foliage on the approach of summer.

The flower is something to behold. And the bees are crazy about it.

We could all use a good dose of holy magic right now. Or at least I know I could.

Ulysses foiling the wiles of Circe - Pier Francesco Cittadini (1616-1681)

Friday, September 6, 2019

Mean Old World

Name Game

As I mentioned the other day, I really enjoyed reading the Kati Marton book The Great Escape.

All of the people portrayed were fascinating but perhaps none so captivating as the war photographer Robert Capa (1913-1954.)

Capa was arguably the greatest war photographer the world has ever known. Born Endre Friedmann in Budapest, he made his reputation in the Spanish Civil War.

His capture of the shooting of the Spanish loyalist soldier in 1936 was so perfectly timed that many thought it staged.

In World War II he covered action in Sicily and Africa for Life Magazine. His photographs of the Normandy Invasion were harrowing and groundbreaking. His personal motto was “If your pictures aren’t good enough, then you aren’t close enough.”

Chinese soldier - Robert Capa
Ken and I saw many of his iconic photos at an exhibition at the Annenberg Center a few years ago and they were incredibly powerful. He ended up dying covering the war in Indochina, killed by a land mine. Guess the way these types would want to go, not sitting in an easy chair somewhere.

Capa fled his native Hungary during some very tough times for Jewish people. He ended up in Berlin and then fled to Paris where he shared a darkroom with Henri Cartier Bresson. In Paris, Capa started collaborating and had a romantic relationship with Gerta Pohorylle, who changed her name to Gerda Taro. Taro lost her life horrifically in the Spanish Civil War.

The name Capa was derived from Friedmann's Budapest street nickname "Cápa", which means "Shark" in Hungarian.  Pohorylle adopted the professional name of "Gerda Taro" after the Japanese artist Tarō Okamoto and the Swedish actress Greta Garbo.

Although he sometimes used a Leica, much of his war photography was captured with Zeiss's Contax II. On an odd note, Capa was born with an extra finger on one hand, one of which was surgically removed. An essay on the photographer by his brother here.

Why did he change his name?
In a radio interview in 1947, Robert Capa explains why he made up this fake persona:
“I had a name which was a little bit different from Bob Capa. The real name of mine was not too good. I was just as foolish as I am now but younger. I couldn’t get an assignment. I needed a new name badly” So Capa came up the idea of making up a fake name– and shares why he chose the name “Robert Capa”: “I was figuring on a new one… Robert would sound very American because that was how somebody had to sound. Capa sounded American and it’s easy to pronounce. So Bob Capa sounds like a good name. And then I invented that Bob Capa was a famous American photographer who came over to Europe and did not want to bore the French editors because they didn’t pay enough.. So I just moved in with my little Leica, took some pictures, and wrote Bob Capa on it which sold four double prices.”
The issue of changing your name and morphing your identity is an interesting one and something both sides of my family engaged in. They lived in far more troubling times than we do today. There was a huge stigma and need to assimilate at a certain time for Jewish people. Hey Winona Ryder picked her last name out of a book, Winona Horowitz lacked a certain cachet or might have caused her some trouble getting parts. No problem with me.

But I would like to show you a painting in my gallery by the great French Impressionist Andre Gisson.

Andre could paint like a son of a bitch. But his name wasn't really Andre Gisson. And he wasn't a Frenchman. His name was Anders Gittelson and he was from Brooklyn. Born in 1921 and raised poor and basically destitute, he was a struggling artist but he had an idea. After graduating from Pratt and serving as a captain in Europe in World War II he reinvented himself and got older. Not only did Andy become Andre, he put eleven years on his age on his identity papers so that he could position himself as a period French impressionist.

Now that is dedication.

It reminds me of an old joke: A Jewish immigrant landed at Ellis Island in New York. The procedures were confusing, and he was overwhelmed by the commotion. When one of the officials asked him “What is your name?” he replied, “Shayn fergessen,” which in Yiddish means “I’ve already forgotten.” The official then recorded his name as Sean Ferguson. Oy.

David Bromberg

Joker, toker, midnight smoker...

Job papers - Jules Cheret
I will level with you, not like it is earthshaking news. Like many other Americans, I have been a marijuana smoker, in my case for over fifty years.

I don't smoke that often or anywhere near what I used to, but I believe that I am one of the many millions of people who both get high and got high on occasion and managed to still live respectable responsible and productive lives.

I never got into the vape thing, never trusted my ability to regulate the hit properly, always had concerns about what was in the stuff. When it comes to pot I am not very trusting.

I favor organic outdoor weed and I want to know what has happened to it every step of the way. Sun and soil. If you partake, grow your own or find somebody that does that you can trust.

Never use dabs or waxes, I've seen too many people turn into complete idiots. And if the butane isn't extracted there is a real risk of brain lesions. That's stupid.

Indoor pot has long been scary for me, growers often use heavy chemicals and fertilizers like mite spray and often don't adequately flush their product.

I tip my hat to the dispensaries that are now being much more resolute in their testing for mold and pesticide. In any case, the recent problems hitting the news about vaping do not surprise me in the least. Strangely the nasty culprit appears in many cases to be vitamin e, which is showing up in high concentrations in the cartridges and seriously damaging peoples' lungs and even killing them.

Call me old school but I am fine with the most archaic delivery system of cannabis, the tried and true joint. And I would like to share with you from my vast reservoir of knowledge regarding at least the second major component of the joint, the rolling paper.

As far as I can tell, the first commercial rolling paper was manufactured in Spain in the 1703, the Pay - Pay. A century before that, a man named Alexandro Rizlette de Cramptone Lacroix saw that French sailors were bringing crude papers back from Spain to roll their tobacco in. It has been written that they were once traded for cotton and other commodities.

Lacroix formed a company that became Riz-La, another one of the earliest papers that exists to this day. This rolling paper was made from rice, which burned clean.

Following Rizla in France in the 1840's was the Abadie rolling paper, in its tasteful yet slightly patrician pink chintz cover. Then the beautiful Job paper appeared with their lovely art nouveau illustrations, like this one by Alphonse Mucha.

A long time favorite with its iconic cover character, a North African regimental soldier, Zig Zag was created in France by the Braunstein Brothers in 1882. This was the first paper with "interleaving" leaves.

Still found in near every 7-11 in the country, I believe that this might be the best selling rolling paper of all time.

There were many other papers of course and some have disappeared in the ash bin of history. Buglers and Tops were favored by criminals and the underclass, more of a jailhouse paper.

But this is all ancient history. I want to talk about my lifetime. The hippy and post hippy smoking culture.

The first papers that I personally remember (having an older hippy sister) in the 1960's were Stellas and Alphas. They were heavy and over sweet.

Papers of the late sixties were often colored garish pink and flavored with things like cherry or licorice.  This is prior to the "bud" era and much of the marijuana of the time was near unpalatable.

This was mostly due to it being packaged before being properly dried and cured with too much moisture in the wrap before importation. It quickly ammoniated and soured.

Think five finger "cans" or "lids" of bad mexican pot, honestly mostly stems and seeds. A flavored paper helped kill the harsh aftertaste of the funky hemp.

The late sixties was also a political time and American flag rolling papers started showing up as did Richard Nixon rolling papers.

A lot of goofy stuff, they tended to be heavy papers that were harsh on the lungs.

Around 1970 a new contender came on the scene, Bambu, helped no doubt by Cheech and Chong. They really dominated their time as a high quality alternative to Zig Zag for the doper cognoscenti.

Bambu were made in Spain and their rice paper was a more pleasant alternative to the wood/flax paper marketed by Zig Zag. If I remember correctly, they had a slightly squarer shape and a slightly yellower tone.

After that I remember Club and Easy Wider making a dent, the latter less so. Club was made in Italy but later production switched to Argentina. Clubs came in around the time of sinsemilla and the better marijuana renaissance in the mid seventies. The thing we liked about them is that they were the first paper to forgo the adhesive edge, which was probably a healthy move.

Club was the early "bud" smokers first choice. Losing the seeds changed everything and we needed our own paper, which was larger and lended itself beautifully to fat doobers.

Easy Wider were also bigger than the norm and even came in rolls so you could roll foot long joints if you had enough dope and were so inclined. I remember one catchy ad slogan where they were marketed as "toilet paper for midgets." The paper was not as user friendly as Club, it was too stiff.
My history lesson pretty much stops here, I stopped paying attention somewhere along the way and really don't know what people are still using. I see Elements used in some of the better homes and gardens I frequent.

Not too sure about the paper du jour. Probably a new one arrives fairly regularly and everybody is doing those stupid vapes. I know many have gone to clear papers, made of cellulose material.

I will say that one of my first marijuana experiences was in Brooklyn, many moons ago, with mom's biker boyfriend Sal. Standing on the corner of Worth and ?

We bought a nickel bag of something that tasted truly awful from some "dealer" and it was a "pinner" rolled in a harsh straw colored paper. Came in a little manilla envelope. If there was any actual "herb" in the joint I would be surprised because it tasted like all paper.

And speaking of joints do you know that I once was pictured in Time magazine with me marching a twenty foot joint up Fifth avenue with David Peel and a host of other yippies to Martha and Attorney General John Mitchell's Central Park apartment?

Hope that you've enjoyed my stoner's trip down memory lane. Please let me know what I may have forgotten on the paper trail.