selections from Benvenuto Cellini’s autobiography

No matter what sort he is, everyone who has to his credit what are or really seem great achievements, if he cares for truth and goodness, ought to write the story of his own life in his own hand; but no one should venture on such a splendid undertaking before he is over forty. (1)


‘For all the turns of Fortune’s wheel, Virtue remains erect.’ (7)


‘Most men when they grow old grow soft in the head as well.’ (12)


‘No bad tree ever bore good fruit.’ (13)


No one should ever make fun of the predictions of an upright man who has been unjustly abused, because such predictions are not his but those of God, who is speaking through him. (14)


Follow the honest, upright way
In whatever house you stay. (16)


‘If one of you leaves the shop, let the other run for a priest, because there’ll be no need for a doctor.’ (23)


asp (n.)
a small southern European viper with an upturned snout.
So in a furious temper, swelling up like an asp, I made up my mind to do something desperate. (25)


‘Dear Benvenuto, have you ever heard the saying that when the poor give to the rich the devil has a good laugh?’

‘Still,’ I replied, ‘he has a great deal of bad luck and this once I want to see him laugh.’ (30)


jennet (n.)
a female donkey.
Straight away he dug his spurs into his jennet and galloped off as madly as he could. (37)


biretta (n.)
a square cap with three flat projections on top, worn by Roman Catholic clergymen.
I kept telling these two not to come too near me, as their nasty red birettas could be seen a long way off and in consequence we were in great danger from neighbouring buildings like the Torre de’ Bini. (63)


reliquary (n.)
a container for holy relics.
Giulio lost no time in recommending me to the Duke in very warm terms, and as a result I was commissioned to model a reliquary for the blood of Christ, which the Mantuans say was brought to their city by Longinus. (71)


cope (n.)
a long, loose cloak worn by a priest or bishop on ceremonial occasions.

trencher (n.)
a wooden plate or platter for food.

cubit (n.)
an ancient measure of length, approximately equal to the length of a forearm. It was typically about 18 inches or 44 cm, though there was a long cubit of about 21 inches or 52 cm.

This is the button for my cope. I want it to be about as big as a small trencher — a third of a cubit — and just as round. (78)


cornelian (n.)
a semiprecious stone consisting of an orange or orange-red variety of chalcedony.
At the time there was a certain Michele, who was very expert at engraving cornelians, who had come to Rome and been commissioned to repair the Pope’s two tiaras since he was also a very able jeweller and had a fine reputation. (79)


ciborium (n.)
1. a receptacle shaped like a shrine or a cup with an arched cover, used in the Christian Church for the reservation of the Eucharist.
2. a canopy over an altar in a church, standing on four pillars.
‘Now, a ciborium with the same design as Tobbia has shown us will please them very much.’ (105)


‘So, your Holiness, no mistake can be made if, when we have to play a card once and for all, we follow the advice of poor simple men who say that we should mark seven times before cutting once.’ (125)


He said that he could do the job as easily as sucking a fresh egg. (132)


‘Oh, the powers of Nature! She knows what we need, and the doctors know nothing.’ (153)


‘Those men at Florence,’ I said, ‘have set a young fellow up on a splendid horse, then they’ve given him spurs, and put the bridle freely in his hands, and they’ve let him loose in a beautiful meadow, full of fruits and flowers and other delights. Then they’ve told him not to ride beyond the boundaries marked out for him. Now you tell me — who’s going to stop him when he’s made up his mind to cross them? The laws can’t be enforced against the man who is the laws’ master.’ (161)


crupper (n.)
a strap buckled to the back of a saddle and looped under the horse’s tail to prevent the saddle or harness from slipping forward.
I put a bag on the crupper, and I burdened myself with far more lumber than I would otherwise have needed. (172)


‘Only the man who has carried the cross deserves the reward.’ (181)


Let everyone witness how many different cards Fortune has up her sleeve when she wants to ruin a man. (208)


Anyhow, seeing that it was Good Friday I reckoned that, as far as their madness was concerned, madmen would have the day off. (241)


As for death, I knew I had to die some time so whether it was a little sooner or a little later didn’t bother me at all. (257)


To Lionardo, who was screaming for Jesus to rescue him, I said that Jesus would help him if he helped himself. (311)


The power of God is such that no man — no matter who he is — who inflicts injustice and wrong on the innocent is left unpunished. (312)


I had only one or two little apprentice lads, one of whom was very pretty; he was the son of a prostitute called Gambetta. I used this boy as a model, seeing that nature is the only book from which we can learn art. (320)


preen (oneself) (v.)
congratulate or pride oneself.
I was a little boastful and inclined to show off about it, and so I preened myself a little. (351)

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lines written on the return trip from SFMOMA

pull out the sketch pad
and stare at it blankly as
teenage skateboarders race by.
the Fillmore beeps and bops,
cowbells clang, speaking curses,
questions to your ear, bedazzled and browned
by the sun. too many coats for this warm weather,
you think,
wondering where the incessant rain storms
ran to next. the city divides itself in two,
hoarding fine art and filth on one side, while
heating the hearth with wood chips in the other.
seasoning springs upon you often
on this bumpy ride.

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selections from In the Sierra: Mountain Writings by Kenneth Rexroth


Uniformly over the whole countryside
The warm air flows imperceptibly seaward;
The autumn haze drifts in deep bands
Over the pale water;
White egrets stand in the blue marshes;
Tamalpais, Diablo, St. Helena
Float in the air.
Climbing on the cliffs of Hunter’s Hill
We look out over fifty miles of sinuous
Interpenetration of mountains and sea.

Leading up a twisted chimney,
Just as my eyes rise to the level
Of a small cave, two white owls
Fly out, silent, close to my face.
They hover, confused in the sunlight,
And disappear into the recesses of the cliff.

All day I have been watching a new climber,
A young girl with ash blonde hair
And gentle confident eyes.
She climbs slowly, precisely,
With unwasted grace.

While I am coiling the ropes,
Watching the spectacular sunset,
She turns to me and says, quietly,
“It must be very beautiful, the sunset,
On Saturn, with the rings and all the moons.”




The seasons revolve and the years change
With no assistance or supervision.
The moon, without taking thought,
Moves in its cycle, full, crescent, and full.

The white moon enters the heart of the river;
The air is drugged with azalea blossoms;
Deep in the night a pine cone falls;
Our campfire dies out in the empty mountains.

The sharp stars flicker in the tremulous branches;
The lake is black, bottomless in the crystalline night;
High in the sky the Northern Crown
Is cut in half by the dim summit of a snow peak.

O heart, heart, so singularly
Intransigent and corruptible,
Here we lie entranced by the starlit water,
And moments that should each last forever

Slide unconsciously by us like water.




3 AM, the night is absolutely still;
Snow squeals beneath my skis, plumes on the turns.
I stop at the canyon’s edge, stand looking out
Over the Great Valley, over the millions—
In bed, drunk, loving, tending mills, furnaces,
Alone, wakeful, as the world rolls in chaos.
The quarter moon rises in the black heavens—
Over the sharp constellations of the cities
The cold lies, crystalline and silent,
Locked between the mountains.




It is impossible to see anything
In this dark; but I know this is me, Rexroth,
Plunging through the night on a chilling planet.
It is warm and busy in this vegetable
Darkness where invisible deer feed quietly.
The sky is warm and heavy, even the trees
Over my head cannot be distinguished,
But I know they are knobcone pines, that their cones
Endure unopened on the branches, at last
To grow imbedded in the wood, waiting for fire
To open them and reseed the burned forest.
And I am waiting, alone, in the mountains,
In the forest, in the darkness, and the world
Falls swiftly on its measured ellipse.

It is warm tonight and very still.
The stars are hazy and the river—
Vague and monstrous under the fireflies—
Is hardly audible, resonant
And profound at the edge of hearing.
I can just see your eyes and wet lips.
Invisible, solemn, and fragrant,
Your flesh opens to me in secret.
We shall know no further enigma.
After all the years there is nothing
Stranger than this. We who know ourselves
As one doubled thing, and move our limbs
As deft implements of one fused lust,
Are mysteries in each other’s arms.

At the wood’s edge in the moonlight
We dropped our clothes and stood naked,
Swaying, shadow mottled, enclosed
In each other and together
Closed in the night. We did not hear
The whip-poor-will, nor the aspen’s
Whisper; the owl flew silently
Or cried out loud, we did not know.
We could not hear beyond the heart.
We could not see the moving dark
And light, the stars that stood or moved,
The stars that fell. Did they all fall
We had not known. We were falling
Like meteors, dark through black cold
Toward each other, and then compact,
Blazing through air into the earth.

I lie alone in an alien
Bed in a strange house and morning
More cruel than any midnight
Pours its brightness through the window—
Cherry branches with the flowers
Fading, and behind them the gold
Stately baubles of the maple,
And behind them the pure immense
April sky and a white frayed cloud,
And in and behind everything,
The inescapable vacant
Distance of loneliness.





The years have gone. It is spring
Again. Mars and Saturn will
Soon come on, low in the West,
In the dusk. Now the evening
Sunlight makes hazy girders
Over Steep Ravine above
The waterfalls. The winter
Birds from Oregon, robins
And varied thrushes, feast on
Ripe toyon and madrone
Berries. The robins sing as
The dense light falls.
Your ashes
Were scattered in this place. Here
I wrote you a farewell poem,
And long ago another,
A poem of peace and love,
Of the lassitude of a long
Spring evening in youth. Now
It is almost ten years since
You came here to stay. Once more,
The pussy willows that come
After the New Years in this
Outlandish land are blooming.
There are deer and raccoon tracks
In the same places. A few
New sand bars and cobble beds
Have been left where erosion
Has gnawed deep into the hills.
The rounds of life are narrow.
War and peace have passed like ghosts.
The human race sinks towards
Oblivion. A bittern
Calls from the same rushes where
You heard one on our first year
In the West; and where I heard
One again in the year
Of your death.


My sorrow is so wide
I cannot see across it;
And so deep I shall never
Reach the bottom of it.
The moon sinks through deep haze,
As though the Kings River Canyon
Were filled with fine, warm, damp gauze.
Saturn gleams through the thick light
Like a gold, wet eye; nearby
Antares glows faintly,
Without sparkle. Far overhead,
Stone shines darkly in the moonlight—
Lookout Point, where we lay
In another full moon, and first
Peered down into this canyon.
Here we camped, by still autumnal
Pools, all one warm October.
I baked you a bannock birthday cake.
Here you did your best paintings—
Innocent, wondering landscapes.
Very few of them are left
Anywhere. You destroyed them
In the terrible trouble
Of your long sickness. Eighteen years
Have passed since that autumn.
There was no trail here then.
Only a few people knew
How to enter this canyon.
We were all alone, twenty
Miles from anybody;
A young husband and wife,
Closed in and wrapped about
In the quiet autumn,
In the sound of quiet water,
In the turning and falling leaves,
In the wavering of innumerable
Bats from the caves, dipping
Over the odorous pools
Where the great trout drowsed in the evenings.

Eighteen years have been ground
To pieces in the wheels of life.
You are dead. With a thousand
Convicts they have blown a highway
Through Horseshoe Bend. Youth is gone,
That only came once. My hair
Is turning grey and my body
Heavier. I too move on to death.
I think of Henry King’s stilted
But desolate Exequy,
Of Yuan Chen’s great poem,
Unbearably pitiful;
Alone by the Spring river
More alone than I had ever
Imagined I would ever be,
I think of Frieda Lawrence,
Sitting alone in New Mexico,
In the long drought, listening
For the hiss of the milky Isar,
Over the cobbles, in a lost Spring.




(For Mary)


When in your middle years
The great comet comes again
Remember me, a child,
Awake in the summer night,
Standing in my crib and
Watching that long-haired star
So many years ago.
Go out in the dark and see
Its plume over water
Dribbling on the liquid night,
And think that life and glory
Flickered on the rushing
Bloodstream for me once, and for
All who have gone before me,
Vessels of the billion-year-long
River that flows now in your veins.


Your hand in mine, we walk out
To watch the Christmas Eve crowds
On Fillmore Street, the Negro
District. The night is thick with
Frost. The people hurry, wreathed
In their smoky breaths. Before
The shop windows the children
Jump up and down with spangled
Eyes. Santa Clauses ring bells.
Cars stall and honk. Streetcars clang.
Loud speakers on the lampposts
Sing carols, on juke boxes
In the bars Louis Armstrong
Plays “White Christmas.” In the joints
The girls strip and grind and bump
To “Jingle Bells.” Overhead
The neon signs scribble and
Erase and scribble again
Messages of avarice,
Joy, fear, hygiene, and the proud
Names of the middle classes.
The moon beams like a pudding.
We stop at the main corner
And look up, diagonally
Across, at the rising moon,
And the solemn, orderly
Vast winter constellations.
You say, “There’s Orion!”
The most beautiful object
Either of us will ever
Know in the world or in life
Stands in the moonlit empty
Heavens, over the swarming
Men, women, and children, black
And white, joyous and greedy,
Evil and good, buyer and
Seller, master and victim,
Like some immense theorem,
Which, if once solved would forever
Solve the mystery and pain
Under the bells and spangles.
There he is, the man of the
Night before Christmas, spread out
On the sky like a true god
In whom it would only be
Necessary to believe
A little. I am fifty
And you are five. It would do
No good to say this and it
May do no good to write it.
Believe in Orion. Believe
In the night, the moon, the crowded
Earth. Believe in Christmas and
Birthdays and Easter rabbits.
Believe in all those fugitive
Compounds of nature, all doomed
To waste away and go out.
Always be true to these things.
They are all there is. Never
Give up this savage religion
For the blood-drenched civilized
Abstractions of the rascals
Who live by killing you and me.




Glitter of Nausicaä’s
Embroideries, flashing arms,
And heavy hung maiden hair;
Doing the laundry, the wind
Brisk in the bright air
Of the Mediterranean day.
Odysseus, hollow cheeked,
Wild eyed, bursts from the bushes.
Mary sits by the falling
Water reading Homer while
I fish for mottled brook trout
In the sun mottled riffles.
They are small and elusive.
The stream is almost fished out.
Water falls through shimmering
Paneled light between the red
Sequoias, over granite
And limestone, under green ferns
And purple lupin. Time was
I caught huge old trout in these
Pools and eddies. These are three
Years old at the very most.
Mary is seven. Homer
Is her favorite author.
It took me a lifetime of
Shames and wastes to understand
Homer. She says, “Aren’t those gods
Terrible? All they do is
Fight like those angels in Milton,
And play tricks on the poor Greeks
And Trojans. I like Aias
And Odysseus best. They are
Lots better than those silly
Gods.” Like the ability
To paint, she will probably
Outgrow this wisdom. It too
Will wither away as she
Matures and a whole lifetime
Will be spent getting it back.
Now she teaches Katharine
The profound wisdom of seven
And Katharine responds with
The profound nonsense of three.
Grey-haired in granite mountains,
I catch baby fish. Ten fish,
And Homer, and two little
Girls pose for a picture by
The twenty foot wide, cinnamon
Red trunk of a sequoia.
As I snap the camera,
It occurs to me that this
Tree was as big as the pines
Of Olympus, not just before
Homer sang, but before Troy
Ever fell or Odysseus
Ever sailed from home.




How can I love you more than
The silver whistle of the
Coney in the rocks loves you?
How can I love you better
Than the blue of the bluebells
By the waterfall loves you?
Eater of moonlight, drinker
Of brightness, feet of jewels
On the mountain, velvet feet
In the meadow grass, darkness
Braided with wild roses, wild
Mare of all the horizon …
A far away tongue speaks in
The time that fills me like a
Tongue in a bell falling
Out of all the towers of space.
Eyes wide, nostrils distended,
We drown in secret happy
Oceans we trade in broad daylight.
O my girl, mistress of all
Illuminations and all
Commonplaces, I love you
Like the air and the water
And the earth and the fire and
The light love you and love you.




Ch’u Ch’uang I

There is a brook in the mountains,
Nobody I ask knows its name.
It shines on the earth like a piece
Of the sky. It falls away
In waterfalls, with a sound
Like rain. It twists between rocks
And makes deep pools. It divides
Into islands. It flows through
Calm reaches. It goes its way
With no one to mind it. The years
Go by, its clear depths never change.




Han Yu

The path up the mountain is hard
To follow through the tumbled rocks.
When I reach the monastery
The bats are already flying.
I go to the guest room and sit
On the steps. The rain is over.
The banana leaves are broad.
The gardenias are in bloom.
The old guest master tells me
There are ancient paintings on the
Walls. He goes and gets a light.
I see they are incomparably
Beautiful. He spreads my bed
And sweeps the mat. He serves me
Soup and rice. It is simple
Food but nourishing. The night
Goes on as I lie and listen
To the great peace. Insects chirp
And click in the stillness. The
Pure moon rises over the ridge
And shines in my door. At daybreak
I get up alone. I saddle
My horse myself and go my way.
The trails are all washed out.
I go up and down, picking my
Way through storm clouds on the mountain.
Red cliffs, green waterfalls, all
Sparkle in the morning light.
I pass pines and oaks ten men
Could not reach around. I cross
Flooded streams. My bare feet stumble
On the cobbles. The water roars.
My clothes whip in the wind. This
Is the only life where a man
Can find happiness. Why do I
Spend my days bridled like a horse
With a cruel bit in his mouth?
If I only had a few friends
Who agreed with me we’d retire
To the mountains and stay till our lives end.





There was no one near me for many miles in any direction. I realized then with complete certainty that this was the place for me. This was the kind of life I liked best. I resolved to live it as much as I could from then on. (114)


All of this had tremendous influence on us. My poetry and philosophy of life became what it’s now fashionable to call ecological. I came to think of myself as a microcosm in a macrocosm, related to chipmunks and bears and pine trees and nebulae and rocks and fossils, as part of an infinitely interrelated complex of being. This I have retained. (119)


I have a strong distaste for group activities in the mountains. I can sympathize with the insane Englishman encountered by one of the Everest expeditions, who set off to climb the mountain alone and was never seen again. (122)


The first thing anybody does when planning a camping trip is to make a list, and probably that is as good a way as any to start a book. (126)


There are two ways of being miserable in the mountains. First, you can go with too little equipment, shiver under inadequate bedding with a fire going all night, eat with your fingers out of the cooking pots, cower under a tree or walk all day soaked with rain, and come home in rags. On the other hand, you can let your imagination run riot in a large outfitting store, weight yourself down with all manner of contraptions and unnecessary clothing, most of which you will probably lose or discard, carry a tent which is too large to pitch on uneven ground and tips over or blows down in the night, sleep beneath twenty pounds of blankets and quilts, and stagger along the trail overladen and gasping. Quite a few ingenious souls manage to combine both methods. Either is guaranteed to bring you home exhausted and ten or more pounds underweight. (129)


As a general rule, the heavier the wood (if it is dry), the more slowly it will burn; the harder the wood, the hotter the coals; the softer the wood, if it be without pitch, the cleaner the flame. Woods rich in pitch will give a fat, quick flame and a bright light. Rotten wood, in the damp, deciduous forest of the East, is poor firewood; it burns slowly, if at all, and makes a punky, smoky fire. Decayed coniferous wood, on the other hand, particularly the firm outer crust of decayed “short-haired” pine logs, makes a fine fire, and the undersides of such logs, if they are clear of the ground, will provide firewood in rainy weather. A small fire, just big enough to do the work required of it, is best. Never build “bonfires” and never build a fire against a tree, log or stump.

If you had an unlimited supply of paper, matches, and time, you could afford to build fires any which way, but since you are not so supplied, it pays to learn how to do it properly. The most difficult fire to build is one in rainy weather. I will describe that and you can simplify the procedure to suit yourself.

Gather an armful of dry branches about as thick, at the butts, as your thumb, from standing timber, another armful of similar branches about two inches to three in diameter and an armful of dry wood chopped from the center or underside of a decayed log. Strip the bark from the branches and split them into four pieces. Take four of the smallest pieces and shave them with your knife, leaving the shavings attached to the stick. Make a little tent of these towards the front of the fireplace with the curls down. If it is raining, shelter them with your hat. Have the rest of the wood piled within reach. Light the shavings, and as the flame catches, add the smallest sticks first, one at a time, adjusting them to the flame and carefully preserving the structure of the tent. Don’t put on too much, give the fire just enough to feed it as it grows. As soon as all the small sticks have caught, add the large ones, crossing them carefully to leave spaces between and beneath them for draught. If you wish to be very precise, you can start the fire in a triangle of medium-sized sticks, each laid with one end on the ground and one end on its neighbor, and add the larger fuel, interlaced in similar fashion, to this base. If you are an inexperienced camper, it is a good idea to build all fires this way, then when you have to you will know how. Take care of your matches, it is practically impossible to strike a hot spark from granite, and a friction-stick fire requires exactly the right wood and lots of experience. (135-136)


Some packers and punchers who affect a Buffalo Bill sophistication without knowing much about their business, malign and belittle the burro. They insist he is stubborn, lazy and prone to kick and bite. What happens is that such men treat the little animal badly, overload him, feed him poorly and kick him around generally. He, with the wisdom of Egypt and the Ancient East from which he comes, stoically accepts his fate, bides his time, and when he gets a chance, returns an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. This alone shows that he is a lot smarter than a horse, who can be hammered by a sadist into neurotic subjection. If you go camping every summer and have a place to keep him over the year, buy a young burro and break him in yourself. If you treat him properly he will be as devoted and intelligent a pet and servant as any dog. In the winter the children can ride him, or you can yourself if you weight 150 pounds or less and don’t overdo it; and in the summer he will carry 75 to 120 pounds up and down steep trails without a murmur. A good burro, not spoiled by bad handling or too old, will get along as fast as you care to walk, but not as fast as a large spry horse. Carrying 75 pounds or less he can make his way over any kind of terrain, short of actual mountain climbing. He will stay in the meadow where you put him and not stray, in fact, if you give him a little barley, salt, sugar or a bit of bread every day, his principal fault will be a tendency to tag around after you like a dog. He can be taught to go ahead of you and stop, if he meets a sign or crosstrail, while you botanize in the hedgerows. He soon learns to sound snow and keep away from pockets and bridges when crossing a pass. He can estimate distances better than a mule, let alone a horse, and seldom gets himself wedged in rocks. Loaded down, he will navigate streams that would sweep you away. (I once almost lost my life by following a burro into a high ford which he crossed with ease.) He is a companionable beast, and if you let him, he likes to come in and lie down near the edge of the firelight at night. If you are traveling alone, this is welcome company, but I wouldn’t advise you to carry on long conversations with him; passing rangers may get the impression that you are a little dotty. I never heard of a house-broken horse, but a burro can be trained to respect the precincts of a camp. He doesn’t have to be shod, he can be trusted to keep away from poison feed, he seldom gets sick, but usually dies of old age, sometime after his thirtieth year, and he flourishes at 14,000 feet. In general, if he could only cook and pack himself, he would be a lot better trail companion than many humans. (137-138)


The trail is what counts. Camp is very well, but too much time is occupied with housekeeping; the daily objectives, peaks, meadows, lakes, beautiful campsites, have the final, brief pleasure of achievement; but nothing can compare with the wonderful sense of freedom, the constantly varied interest, of travel through mountainous country. . . . The mountain landscape is infinitely varied and constantly changing. Movement is free, easy, relaxed; the streams are full of fish, the trees are full of birds, flowers grow by the trail, deer jump from their coverts, even the air is intoxicating. It is the fact that we are on our way that is important, where we are going is a minor detail. (140)


Climbing down is often more difficult than climbing up. (142)


“The Indians liked me,” Hale D. Tharp said, “because I was good to them. I liked the Indians too, for they were honest and kind to each other. I never knew of a theft or murder among them.” (145)


I have always felt I was most myself in the mountains. (147)


Most men are like that fellow Hercules wrestled with, Antaeus. If they can make contact with the earth every once in a while, they keep their strength. Of course, a lot of people don’t know this, and so they wonder what’s wrong with them. (148)


Some day I’ll be too old, but I will still have some wonderful memories to wander in. (149)


Big doings in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite Park, with the dedication of the finally completed new Tioga Pass Road. Plenty of ceremony and celebration and celebrities, but everybody was a little embarrassed. You could smell the twinges of conscience in the air.

Only recently an outstanding spokesman for the Department of the Interior had referred to the project as a serious mistake. Here was a case where recreation and conservation had collided and, in the opinion of the authorities, conservation had been pushed aside, if not totally wrecked.

Is this true? I am by way of being a rabid conservationist myself, but I wonder. What is conservation for? In the final analysis it is always for people. Unless we are sentimentalists, we don’t conserve the bison or the Big Trees for themselves, but for us.


As the population explosion goes on exploding and our environment grows more and more mechanical and man-made we must be ceaselessly vigilant to defend and preserve those remnants of the environment from which we came, the organic web of life that nurtured our ancestors when they first started chipping rocks. However we as a species came to crowd the earth, let’s hope we can always save enough of the prehuman world so that we can at least imagine ourselves as part of the balance of Nature. If we don’t, as the fellow said, I don’t know what will happen to us.

Reverence for life in the abstract is fine, but I am willing to let Albert Schweitzer worry about the spirochetes his injections kill. My reverence is for human life. So I am all for the preservation of wilderness areas, but not just so the bears can look at each other.

Conservation does not mean locking up sections of the natural environment in museum vaults from which the public is effectively excluded. It means careful, intelligent use that disrupts the nonhuman ecology as little as possible.

Careful, reverent use comes from the attitude of a whole people, not from a table of prohibitions thought up by the authorities. Switzerland is a pretty crowded country, and yet a lot of it looks pretty much as it did to Hannibal. England is still more densely and far more uniformly populated. No people has ever had a greater love for their countryside. True, it doesn’t look much like it did to Julius Caesar, it looks much prettier.

The point of all this is that while I am prepared to resist any attempt to build a road over the Sierra through the Kings River Canyon or to turn the Golden Gate Panhandle into parking lots, I don’t see any great virtue in refusing to improve an existing road that the public insists on using anyway. After all, the public have a right to at least one place in the state where they can drive to high mountain meadows and alpine lakes. In this instance they have been voting for the right with 40 years of burning engines and burnt-out bearings.

The real conservation problems in Yosemite are, first, the rescuing of the Valley itself from imminent destruction, and second, the education of the public.

I believe all overnight use of the floor of Yosemite Valley should be abolished within the next 20 years. Perhaps the hotel and a few camps could stay for the use of conventions and conferences and other public activities, something like Asilomar. As it is, the place is an outdoor slum.

On the second point, trails, camps and viewpoints littered with gum and film wrappers and beer cans are far more dangerous than the paving and widening of a few miles of mountain road. Switzerland and England are beautiful because of the taste and sensibility of their people. A nation that doesn’t give a damn how much of a mess it makes wherever it goes can pass all the laws and create all the primitive areas it wants, but it won’t begin to understand the meaning of conservation.

Believe me, this is not just the good old editorial about litterbugs. What we call conservation comes out of a kind of spiritual courtesy. It is a Confucian virtue. Confucius had a word for it, he called it “human-heartedness.” (149-151)


We are still blessed in this country with a vast reservoir of undistorted, genuinely unspoiled, wild country where mankind has so far interfered with nature very little, if at all. This is not just a “wildlife resource,” it is a human resource, a reservoir of recreation, peace and contemplation.

Use which preserves those values is conservation. Use which destroys or inhibits them is not. (151)


What will happen when we stop making bombs and devote the money to life enhancement instead of destruction? (154)


Some of the human race behave quite nicely if given a chance. (155)


It is not everybody whose life can sometimes match the most perfect expressions of art. (163)


People are becoming redundant. There are no jobs for the minorities demanding job equality. The population of a whole state—West Virginia—is in danger of becoming swept under the rug as obsolete. The demands of the automobile take precedence over the amenities of human life in the planning of our cities. The aged are housed like criminals. A Youth Conservation Corps would conserve youth as well as nature, and youth, like old age, stoop labor and locomotive firemen, is in great danger of becoming redundant—and that before it ever gets started. (164-165)


When you read this I will be far away in a tent in the High Sierras with my daughters, Mary and Katharine.


People often speak of going into the wilderness to get away from it all. Maybe that is what I did when I was young, because I remember months together spent alone or with my first wife, Andrée, living out of a rucksack and seldom seeing anybody. The Sierras were less used then and it was easier to do.

We spent our time in meditation and wonder—climbing is an exercise of wonder and fishing is an exercise of meditation—gathering our strength from within ourselves. When we would see people in the distance, we would avoid them, and we were always irritable when we had to come down for supplies and mix briefly with other humans.

I guess that is what age does, what they call maturing, because now my motives seem to me quite the opposite. I go to the mountains not to get away from it, but to get with it. As 11 months roll by I feel myself getting more and more mechanical in my attitude towards other men. Imperceptibly men take on the masks and costumes of causes and tendencies, and classes and forces and ideologies and all the false faces of generalization with which we classify human beings.

The most mortal of sins, said Immanuel Kant, is to consider another man as an instrument or a means and not as an end in himself. Yet our whole society strives, inhumanly and insensibly, to make instruments of us all, one to the other. We are all corrupted by a world in which everything and everyone is a means to something else. I resist it always, but it creeps over me like an infection, the virus that turns each other man, himself an “I” like myself, into a thing in my eyes—and so secretly turns me slowly to a thing likewise.

So if I go away for a little and associate with rocks and stars and flowers and fish, the living perspective comes back. Alice over in Africa, the President in the White House, the murderer on Death Row, the Pope in the Vatican, the people that pass in the street—they cease to represent anything but themselves—human like myself. They aren’t Marxists or Catholics or Democrats or Americans or Eskimos or Negroes. They’re just like me. We’re all here together and we don’t know what’s going to happen next.


It is August, and as I lie under the sky of late summer and watch the Great Nebula of Andromeda swim past overhead—a cloud of millions of stars all as big as our sun—I think of the world down below the mountains. There are over 2 billion men out there. Each one of them is an animal like me, naked under his clothes. Under his skin his body is full of blood and bones and meat and mysterious capsules and sponges which hold his life. Sometimes these things hurt him and one day they stop working and he dies and decays away. He doesn’t represent anything except himself, a self called Barry or Nikolai or Wang or Nkekerere. There will never be another one like him. Each one of him swims by my imagination like the Andromeda Nebula, a 2-billion-fold cloud, and each one of him says to me the word that denies absolutely that he can ever be a thing, the word I call myself—”I.” (165-166)


Last week I was away, in a cabin deep in the woods, recollecting myself. No papers. No radio. No phone number. I go away as often as I can, which is not very often. Sometimes I write. Mostly I don’t even think. I just contemplate — the forest, the world beyond it, myself, or the object of contemplation that comes when the mind empties itself of itself. Sometimes all existence seems to slip into focus. All its violence and tragedy and disorder take on a form and meaning that the mind can grasp briefly. Then the turmoil of existence seems a matter of scarcely perceptible changes of phase, like an ever so slightly varying colored light shifting over an immense diamond.


What holds a civilization together, and makes the difference between creative growth and decay? What is the foundation that underlies and sustains all the activities of a people and energizes and forms that special unity we call culture? Peace. The peace which comes from the habit of contemplation. It is not intellectual knowledge of the unity of human endeavor, nor a philosophical notion of the ultimate meaning of the universe. It is an inward sense and an abiding quality of life, a temper of the soul. It is not rare nor hard to find. It offers itself at moments to everyone, from early childhood on, although less and less often if it is not welcomed. It can be seized and trained and cultivated until it becomes a constant habit in the background of daily life. Without it life is only turbulence, from which eventually meaning and even all intensity of feeling die out in tedium and disorder. (168-169)


With ever-increasing frequency, for the past ten years, in San Francisco, in the Bay Area, in California, and all over the country, the small and embattled forces trying to stave off the destruction of a decently habitable environment have been faced with the technique of the massive, irreversibly accomplished fact, with blitzkrieg, schrecklichkeit and efficient and plausible third column takeover.

Ecology, the relations of living species to one another and their environment, is precisely the field that lends itself best to irreversible processes — except maybe chemistry. The redwood forests of coast and sierra can no more be restored, for instance, than can the firecrackers of Chinatown’s New Year celebration be uncracked.

The rapidity with which we are creating an environment in which the human species as we know it can no longer thrive is astonishing. The resilience of the environment is exhausted, it can no longer recuperate from large-scale destruction in less than many centuries.

The forces that stand to profit from destruction now know this and they have learned to move quickly, on the largest possible scale, and if it can be managed, with an elaborate public relations camouflage which disguises them as “conservationists.”

Once the forest cover of northern California streams is destroyed, flood, fire and erosion quickly create an irreversible situation. The top soil is out in the Pacific Ocean or clogging the larger streams and we are not all that technologically advanced that we can put it back.

The Walt Disney development of Mineral King—far in excess of the Forest Service specifications—will be like a nuclear explosion in the heart of the finest mountain wilderness in California. Disney anticipates two and a half million visitors by 1976.

It was possible to put Nagasaki and Hiroshima back together again—give or take a few dead humans. Once gone, the wilderness is gone forever. (169-170)


Water turns into steam very suddenly; just as suddenly we have been brought face to face with the question, in the words of Lawrence Halprin, “Is man merely a dominant species in a transitional life association or is he the characteristic member of a climax of living things that will endure for a geological epoch or more?” The cockroaches and octopuses are waiting. Perhaps we cannot turn the steam back into water. Perhaps the critical point is gone.


The sudden popularity of ecology is not a craze. It is the response to the deadly crisis caused by a craze called the profit system. Man’s end is in sight. One thing ecology has always taught is that the relationships of living things to each other and their environment are governed by critical points, where catastrophe occurs with great suddenness. (171-172)


In the past, men have planned utopias where life would be better, and they have advocated revolution to get rid of the predators of society and bring about a world where man was no longer wolf to man. Meanwhile, the human race struggled on, crippled and thwarted by exploitation and its side effects, from alcoholism to silicosis, but it survived.

For the last 200 years we have seen the growth of an economic and social system based fundamentally on the extractive industries and with a built-in dynamism that forces it into ever-increasing production at all costs. This competitive system has universalized a morality based on covetousness. For the last 50 years, the benefits, such as they are, of this system have been extended to most of the productive workers of the major industrial countries, the “metropoles.” This is least true of the United States, where about a tenth of the population is redundant—youth, the aged, Negroes, Southern poor whites and others. This is not due to the backwardness of the American economy; quite the contrary.

We have just gone through a long boom period with ever-accumulating surpluses; yet the overall production has never passed 80 percent of capacity. The source of profit is no longer, as it was in Marx’s day, labor power. Every year we need fewer people to produce more. The surplus we lock up in subsidized housing projects, in Aid to Dependent Children or in Garrison State College or toss in the Disposall of Vietnam. Our social-economic structure is itself in a state of civil war. The old extractive, industrial, financial structure based ultimately on the exploitation of labor power applied directly to primary raw materials is at war with the new technological society of computers and transistors and the Keynesian morality of Hugh Hefner’s la vie luxueuse. Meanwhile, outside the metropoles, starvation, disorder, breakdown sweep over the southern three-quarters of the globe.

Twenty-five years ago all the contradictions and conflicts of the present had already come into existence, but they only threatened individual men with war, hunger, and crippled lives. Today, an extractive, accumulative society more than just threatens—makes certain—the extinction of the human species within a comparatively short time.

The carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere can no longer be kept in balance even over the equatorial regions. A dense fog of carcinogens blankets whole areas—the Rhine-Saar, the Upper Po, the Bay of Naples, the Tokyo-Osaka-Nagasaki metropolitan complexes—as well as the major cities. I have crossed the Siskiyus and seen the smog filling the entire Central Valley of California, and I have seen it rise on the warm morning air from around Milan and cover Lake Como in the Alps. Lake Erie is a cesspool. Lake Michigan is unfit for swimming at Milwaukee and Chicago and stinks all summer long so that the grand rich are now abandoning their lakeside stately homes to charitable institutions, dance seminars and apocalyptic Black religious groups. If all the atomic energy installations now planned are built, they will raise the temperatures of the oceans with cataclysmic results. The things we are doing to our environment are changing it far more drastically than the changes necessary to account for the extinction of the great reptiles at the end of the Jurassic Age and incomparably more quickly.

I have quoted before the old, now-abandoned slogan of the U.S. Forest Service: “The forest is a crop, not a mine.” Unless we can stop treating the planet as a mine and start treating it as a crop, people now living will see the beginning of the end of the human species.

What can we do about it? Probably very little, because the old order is shutting down with a police state. In the Thirties the Marxists called Fascism and Nazism “forced rationalization” of the German and Italian economies. (Lenin admitted that Bolshevism was precisely forced rationalization.) Today, the state, but most especially the American state, is dedicated to forced irrationalization. Unless this can be halted, there is no hope for the human race. But what does this mean? It means de-mounting the whole structure, rebuilding it and starting in the opposite direction. Growth rates and GNPs and capital expansion have got to be replaced by changing the standard-of-living value system so that the possession of large numbers of commodities becomes a vice, not a virtue.

The extractive industries must be reduced to a minimum. The use of fossil fuels must be brought to a complete stop; coal, oil and gas should be consumed totally with nothing but completely inert residues at the sites and sent out over wires. Atomic plants should be stopped until it can be determined how to destroy the wastes. More and more articles should be made of organic plastics. Chemical fertilizers and insecticides must be replaced by organic manures, which now pollute all our bodies of water instead of being pumped into the fields, and by the ecological management of the health of agricultural crops; for instance, replacing poison sprays with ladybird beetles. There are innumerable ecological maneuvers of this kind now known. Along with this would have to go a complete moral conversion from the acquisitive, competitive, covetous “virtues” of present society to a whole new scale of cooperative mutual aid simplicity value system not unlike the South Sea Islanders of romance. The population growth must not just be stopped, but reversed. The optimum is probably about one billion people to the planet.

You say this sounds like turning the whole world into a national park? Precisely. We must save ourselves as we are trying to save the sandhill crane. All power to David Brower! (172-174)

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selections from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy


All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (1)


There was no answer, except the general answer life gives to all the most complex and insoluble questions. That answer is: one must live for the needs of the day, in other words, become oblivious. (4)


And so the liberal tendency became a habit with Stepan Arkadyich, and he liked his newspaper, as he liked a cigar after dinner, for the slight haze it produced in his head. (7)


chiffonier (n.)
1. N. Amer. a tall chest of drawers, often with a mirror on top.
2. Brit. a low cupboard, sometimes with a raised bookshelf on top.
Darya Alexandrovna, wearing a dressing-jacket, the skimpy braids of her once thick and beautiful hair pinned at the back of her head, her face pinched and thin, her big, frightened eyes protruding on account of that thinness, was standing before an open chiffonier, taking something out of it. (10)


He had heard that women often love unattractive, simple people, but he did not believe it, because he judged by himself, and he could only love beautiful, mysterious and special women. (23)


The discussion was about a fashionable question: is there a borderline between psychological and physiological phenomena in human activity, and where does it lie? (23-24)


He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking. (28)


turbot (n.)
a European flatfish of inshore waters that has large bony tubercles on the body and is prized as food.
‘You do like turbot?’ he said to Levin, as they drove up. (35)


‘Well, of course,’ Stepan Arkadyich picked up. ‘But that’s the aim of civilization: to make everything an enjoyment.’

‘Well, if that’s its aim, I’d rather be wild.’ (36)


Stepan Arkadyich smiled. He knew so well this feeling of Levin’s, knew that for him all the girls in the world were divided into two sorts: one sort was all the girls in the world except her, and these girls had all human weaknesses and were very ordinary girls; the other sort was her alone, with no weaknesses and higher than everything human. (37)


muzhik (n.)
a Russian peasant.
The mother disliked in Levin his strange and sharp judgments, his awkwardness in society (caused, as she supposed, by his pride), and his, in her opinion, wild sort of life in the country, busy with cattle and muzhiks. (43)


‘Nowadays girls are not given in marriage as they used to be,’ all these young girls, and even all the old people, thought and said. But how a girl was to be given in marriage nowadays the princess could not find out from anyone. The French custom – for the parents to decide the children’s fate – was not accepted, and even condemned. The English custom – giving the girl complete freedom – was also not accepted and was impossible in Russian society. The Russian custom of matchmaking was regarded as something outrageous and was laughed at by everyone, the princess included. But how a girl was to get married or be given in marriage, no one knew. (44-45)


‘Ah, no, my dear,’ said the countess, taking her hand. ‘I could go around the world with you and not be bored. You’re one of those sweet women with whom it’s pleasant both to talk and to be silent.’ (63)


‘What a terrible death!’ said some gentleman passing by. ‘Cut in two pieces, they say.’

‘On the contrary, I think it’s the easiest, it’s instantaneous,’ observed another. (65)


Anna obviously admired her beauty and youth, and before Kitty could recover she felt that she was not only under her influence but in love with her, as young girls are capable of being in love with older married ladies. (71)


flounce (n.)
a wide ornamental strip of material gathered and sewn to a piece of fabric, typically on a skirt or dress; a frill.
Something like a game was set up among them, which consisted in sitting as close as possible to her, touching her, holding her small hand, kissing her, playing with her ring or at least touching the flounce of her dress. (72)


guipure (n.)
a heavy lace consisting of embroidered motifs held together by large connecting stitches.
The dress was all trimmed with Venetian guipure lace. (79)


‘He’s being sought by the police, of course, because he’s not a scoundrel.’ (87)


‘You know that capital oppresses the worker – the workers in our country, the muzhiks, bear all the burden of labour, and their position is such that, however much they work, they can never get out of their brutish situation. All the profits earned by their work, with which they might improve their situation, give themselves some leisure and, consequently, education, all surplus earnings are taken from them by the capitalists. And society has developed so that the more they work, the more gain there will be for the merchants and landowners, and they will always remain working brutes. And this order must be changed.’ (88)


cambric (n.)
a lightweight, closely woven white linen or cotton fabric.
‘It’s very stupid, but it passes,’ Anna said quickly and bent her reddened face to the tiny bag into which she was packing a nightcap and some cambric handkerchiefs. (97)


pelerine (n.)
a woman’s cape of lace or silk with pointed ends at the center front, popular in the 19th century.
She stood up in order to come to her senses, threw the rug aside, and removed the pelerine from her warm dress. (101)


nankeen (n.)
a yellowish cotton cloth.
For a moment she recovered and realized that the skinny muzhik coming in, wearing a long nankeen coat with a missing button, was the stoker, that he was looking at the thermometer, that wind and snow had burst in with him through the doorway. (101)




chignon (n.)
a knot or coil of hair arranged on the back of a woman’s head.
‘These stupid chignons!’ (121)


‘Tell us something amusing but not wicked,’ said the ambassador’s wife, a great expert at graceful conversation, called ‘small talk’ in England, turning to the diplomat, who also had no idea how to begin now.

‘They say that’s very difficult, that only wicked things are funny,’ he began with a smile. ‘But I’ll try. Give me a topic. The whole point lies in the topic. Once the topic is given, it’s easy to embroider on it. I often think that the famous talkers of the last century would now find it difficult to talk intelligently. Everything intelligent is so boring . . .’

‘That was said long ago,’ the ambassador’s wife interrupted him, laughing.

The conversation had begun nicely, but precisely because it was much too nice, it stopped again. They had to resort to that sure, never failing remedy – malicious gossip. (133-134)


majolica (n.)
a kind of earthenware made in imitation of Italian maiolica, especially in England during the 19th century.
‘Better if I descend to your level and talk about your majolica and etchings.’ (134)


‘The only happy marriages I know are arranged ones.’ (137)


‘Sir John! Yes, Sir John. I’ve seen him. He speaks well. The Vlasyev girl is completely in love with him.’

‘And is it true that her younger sister is marrying Topov?’

‘Yes, they say it’s quite decided.’

‘I’m surprised at the parents. They say it’s a marriage of passion.’

‘Of passion? What antediluvian thoughts you have! Who talks about passion these days?’ said the ambassador’s wife.

‘What’s to be done? This stupid old fashion hasn’t gone out of use,’ said Vronsky.

‘So much the worse for those who cling to it. The only happy marriages I know are arranged ones.’

‘Yes, but how often the happiness of an arranged marriage scatters like dust, precisely because of the appearance of that very passion which was not acknowledged,’ said Vronsky.

‘But by arranged marriages we mean those in which both have already had their wild times. It’s like scarlet fever, one has to go through it.’

‘Then we should find some artificial inoculation against love, as with smallpox.’

‘When I was young, I was in love with a beadle,’ said Princess Miagky. ‘I don’t know whether that helped me or not.’

‘No, joking aside, I think that in order to know love one must make a mistake and then correct it,’ said Princess Betsy.

‘Even after marriage,’ the ambassador’s wife said jokingly.

‘It’s never too late to repent.’ The diplomat uttered an English proverb.

‘Precisely,’ Betsy picked up, ‘one must make a mistake and then correct oneself. What do you think?’ She turned to Anna, who with a firm, barely noticeable smile on her lips was silently listening to this conversation.

‘I think,’ said Anna, toying with the glove she had taken off, ‘I think . . . if there are as many minds as there are men, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.’ (137-138)


Spring is the time of plans and projects. (153)


meridional (adj.)
of or relating to a meridian.
to plant willows along the meridional lines of all the fields, so that the snow would not stay too long under them. (157)


balk (n.)
a ridge left unplowed between furrows.
The two workers were sitting on a balk, probably taking turns smoking a pipe. (157)


‘Some mathematician said that the pleasure lies not in discovering the truth, but in searching for it.’ (162)


caftan (n.)
a man’s long belted tunic, worn in countries of the Near East.
He himself went back to a double birch at the other end and, leaning his gun against the fork of a dry lower branch, took off his caftan, tightened his belt, and made sure he had freedom to move his arms. (163)


epaulette (n.)
an ornamental shoulder piece on an item of clothing, typically on the coat or jacket of a military uniform.
‘Ah, here he is!’ he cried, slapping him hard on the epaulette with his big hand. (176)


linden (n.)
a deciduous tree with heart-shaped leaves and fragrant yellowish blossoms, native to north temperate regions. The pale soft timber is used for carving and furniture.
The downpour did not last long, and when Vronsky drove up at the full trot of his shaft horse, pulling along the outrunners who rode over the mud with free reins, the sun was already peeking out again, the roofs of the country houses and the old lindens in the gardens on both sides of the main street shone with a wet glitter, and water dripped merrily from the branches and ran off the roofs. (184)


aiguillette (n.)
an ornament on some military and naval uniforms, consisting of braided loops hanging from the shoulder and on dress uniforms ending in points.
Just as all the participants were summoned to the pavilion to receive their prizes and everyone turned there, Vronsky’s older brother, Alexander, a colonel with aiguillettes, of medium height, as stocky as Alexei but more handsome and ruddy, with a red nose and a drunken, open face, came up to him. (193)


pastern (n.)
the sloping part of a horse’s foot between the fetlock and the hoof.
On the right the lean beauty Frou-Frou was brought in, stepping on her supple and rather long pasterns as if on springs. (194)


From Varenka she understood that you had only to forget yourself and love others and you would be calm, happy and beautiful. (224)


‘But time is money, you’re forgetting that,’ said the colonel.

‘Which time! There are times when you’d give a whole month away for fifty kopecks, and others when you wouldn’t give up half an hour for any price.’ (234)




Sergei Ivanovich Koznyshev wanted a rest from intellectual work, and instead of going abroad, as usual, went at the end of May to stay with his brother in the country. He was convinced that country life was the best life. He had now come to enjoy that life at his brother’s. Konstantin Levin was very glad, the more so as he no longer expected his brother Nikolai that summer. But, despite his love and respect for Sergei Ivanovich, Konstantin Levin felt awkward in the country with his brother. It was awkward and even unpleasant for him to see his brother’s attitude towards the country. For Konstantin Levin the country was the place of life, that is, of joy, suffering, labour; for Sergei Ivanovich the country was, on the other hand, a rest from work and, on the other, an effective antidote to corruption, which he took with pleasure and an awareness of its effectiveness. For Konstantin Levin the country was good in that it presented a field for labourer that was unquestionably useful; for Sergei Ivanovich the country was especially good because there one could and should do nothing. (237)


Konstantin Levin did not like talking or hearing about the beauty of nature. For him words took away the beauty of what he saw. (241)


In the midst of his work moments came to him when he forgot what he was doing an began to feel light, and in those moments his swath came out as even and good as Titus’s. But as soon as he remembered what he was doing and started trying to do better, he at once felt how hard the work was and the swath come out badly. (251)


metempsychosis (n.)
the supposed transmigration at death of the soul of a human being or animal into a new body of the same or a different species.
She had her own strange religion of metempsychosis, in which she firmly believed, caring little for the dogmas of the Church. (262)


‘To fall asleep you must work, and to be gay you also must work.’ (301)


‘We’re the same age. You may have known a greater number of women than I have,’ Serpukhovskoy’s smile and gestures told Vronsky that he need not be afraid, that he would touch the sore spot gently and carefully. ‘But I’m married, and believe me, knowing the one wife you love (as someone wrote), you know all women better than if you’d known thousands of them. […] And here is my opinion for you. Women are the main stumbling block in a man’s activity. It’s hard to love a woman and do anything. For that there exists one means of loving conveniently, without hindrance – that is marriage.’ (311-312)


tarantass (n.)
a four-wheeled horse-drawn Russian carriage without springs, mounted on a long flexible wooden chassis.
There was no railway or post road to the Surov district, and Levin drove there with his own horses in the tarantass. (323)


‘I need only persist in going towards my goal and I’ll achieve what I want,’ thought Levin, ‘and so work and effort have their wherefore. This is not my personal affair, it is a question here of the common good. Agriculture as a whole, above all the position of the entire peasantry, must change completely. Instead of poverty – universal wealth, prosperity; instead of hostility – concord and the joining of interests. In short, a revolution, a bloodless but great revolution, first in the small circle of our own region, then the province, Russia, the whole world. Because a correct thought cannot fail to bear fruit. Yes, that is a goal worth working for.’ (344)


‘Why do you confuse them? I’ve never been a communist.’

‘But I have been, and I find that it’s premature but reasonable, and that it has a future, like Christianity in the first centuries.’ (350)




‘One can insult an honest man or an honest woman, but to tell a thief that he is a thief is merely la constatation d’un fait.’*

* The establishing of a fact. (363)


signet (n.)
a small seal, especially one set in a ring, used instead of or with a signature to give authentication to an official document.
[…] one a German banker with a signet ring on his finger […] (365)


They respected each other but were in complete and hopeless disagreement on almost everything – not because they belonged to opposite tendencies, but precisely because they were from the same camp (their enemies mixed them up), but within that camp each had his own shade. And since there is nothing less conducive to agreement than a difference of thinking in half-abstract things, they not only never agreed in their opinions, but had long grown used to chuckling at each other’s incorrigible error without getting angry. (380-381)


trousseau (n.)
the clothes, household linen, and other belongings collected by a bride for her marriage.
‘Mercy!’ said the mother, smiling joyfully at his haste. ‘And the trosseau?’ (306)


galloon (n.)
a narrow ornamental strip of fabric, typically a silk braid or piece of lace, used to trim clothing or finish upholstery.
On entering the front hall, he saw a handsome footman in galloons and a bear-skin cape, holding a white cloak of American dog. (420)




compline (n.)
a service of evening prayers forming part of the Divine Office of the Western Christian Church, traditionally said (or chanted) before retiring for the night.
He stood through the liturgy, vigil and compline, and the next day, getting up earlier than usual, without having tea, went to the church at eight o’clock in the morning to hear the morning prayers and confess. (439)


‘You are about to enter into matrimony, and it may be that God will reward you with offspring, is it not so? Well, then, what sort of upbringing can you give your little ones, if you don’t overcome in yourself the temptation of the devil who is drawing you into unbelief?’ he said in mild reproach. ‘If you love your child, then, being a good father, you will not desire only wealth, luxury and honour for him; you will desire his salvation, his spiritual enlightenment with the light of Truth. Is it not so? What answer will you give when an innocent child asks you: “Papa! Who created everything that delights me in this world – the earth, the waters, the sun, the flowers, the grass?” Will you really say to him, “I don’t know”? You cannot not know, since the Lord God in His great mercy has revealed it to you. Or else your little one will ask you: “What awaits me in the life beyond the grave?” What will you tell him, if you don’t know anything? How will you answer him? Will you leave him to the temptation of the world and the devil? That’s not good!’ he said and stopped, inclining his head to one side and looking at Levin with meek, kindly eyes. (441)


‘A more resolution enemy of marriage than you I’ve never yet seen,’ said Sergei Ivanovich.

‘No, not an enemy. I’m a friend of the division of labour. People who can’t do anything should make people, and the rest should contribute to their enlightenment and happiness. That’s how I understand it. The mixing of these trades is done by hosts of fanciers, of whom I am not one.’ (443)


pomade (n.)
a scented ointment applied to the hair or scalp.

pomade (v., often as adj. pomaded)
apply pomade to.

Darya Alexandrovna still had to go home to pick up her pomaded and curled son, who was to carry the icon for the bride. (446)


lustre (n.)
a prismatic glass pendant on a chandelier or other ornament.
—a cut-glass chandelier or candelabra.
Inside the church itself, both lustres were already lit as well as all the candles by the icons. (447)


surplice (n.)
a loose white linen vestment varying from hip-length to calf-length, worn over a cassock by clergy, acolytes, and choristers at Christian church services.
The handsome, tall protodeacon in a silver surplice, his brushed curled locks standing out on either side, stepped briskly forward and, raising his stole in two fingers with an accustomed gesture, stopped in front of the priest. (451-452)


verger (n.)
an official in a church who acts as a caretaker and attendant.
When the rite of betrothal was finished, a verger spread a piece of pink silk in front of the lectern in the middle of the church, the choir began singing an artful and elaborate psalm in which bass and tenor echoed each other, and the priest, turning, motioned the betrothed to the spread-out piece of pink cloth. (457)


Vronsky meanwhile, despite the full realization of what he had desired for so long, was not fully happy. He soon felt that the realization of his desire had given him only a grain of the mountain of happiness he had expected. It showed him the eternal error people make in imagining that happiness is the realization of desires. (465)


‘It used to be that a freethinker was a man who had been brought up with notions of religion, law, morality, and had arrived at freethinking by himself, through his own toil and struggle. But now a new type of self-made freethinkers has appeared, who grow up and never even hear that there were laws of morality, religion, that there were authorities, but who grow up right into notions of the negation of everything – that is, as wild men. […] You understand, in older times a man who wanted to get educated, a Frenchman, let’s say, would start by studying the classics – theologians, tragedians, historians, philosophers – and you can imagine all the mental labour that confronted him. But with us, now, he comes straight to nihilistic literature, very quickly learns the whole essence of its negative teaching, and there he is. And that’s not all: some twenty years ago he’d have found signs of a struggle with authorities, with age-old views, in this literature, and from this struggle he’d have understood that something else existed; but now he comes straight to a literature that doesn’t even deign to argue with the old views, but says directly: There is nothing, evolution, selection, the struggle for existence – and that’s all.’ (468)


It was impossible to forbid a man to make a big wax doll and kiss it. (478-479)


It is had for a discontented man not to reproach someone else, especially the very one who is closest to him, for his discontent. (486)


Now, among all his acquaintances, there was no one who was close to him. There were many of what are known as connections, but there were no friendly relations. (507)


‘A wife’s a worry, a non-wife’s even worse.’ (544)




poplin (n.)
a plain-woven fabric, typically a lightweight cotton, with a corded surface.
‘Last year, for instance, I bought not poplin exactly but something like it for our Matryona Semyonovna,’ said the princess. (554)


It always happened with Levin that when the first shots were unsuccessful, he would become angry, vexed, and shoot badly all day. (583)


The hunters’ omen proved true, that if the first beast or bird was taken the field would be lucky. (595)


pirozhki (n.)
small Russian pastries or patties, filled with meat or fish and rice.
Coming back from the hunt tired and hungry, Levin had been dreaming so specifically of pirozhki that, as he approached their quarters, he could already feel their smell and taste in his mouth, the way Laska could sense game, and he at once ordered Filipp to serve them. (596)


‘Society’s view would be that he’s behaving as all young men behave. Il fait la cour à une jeune et jolie femme, and a worldly husband should be flattered by it.’

* He’s courting a young and pretty woman. (601)


hale (adj.)
(of a person, especially an elderly one) strong and healthy.
A young, hale, strapping fellow also came over. (610)


‘I have no opinion,’ she said, ‘but I’ve always loved you, and when you love someone, you love the whole person, as they are, and not as you’d like them to be.’ (614)


‘I don’t want to prove anything, I simply want to live; to cause no evil to anyone but myself. I have that right, haven’t I?’ (616)


stentorious (adj.)
(of a person’s voice) loud and powerful.
The secretary announced stentoriously that Captain of the Guards Mikhail Stepanovich Snetkov was standing for provincial marshal. (660)




‘If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.’ (683)


There are no conditions to which a person cannot grow accustomed, especially if he sees that everyone around him lives in the same way. (706)


In order to undertake anything in family life, it is necessary that there be either complete discord between the spouses or loving harmony. But when the relations between spouses are uncertain and there is neither the one nor the other, nothing can be undertaken.

Many families stay for years in the same old places, hateful to both spouses, only because there is neither full discord nor harmony. (739)


‘Is it really possible to tell someone else what one feels?’ (760)




All that spring he was not himself and lived through terrible moments.

‘Without knowing what I am and why I’m here, it is impossible for me to live. And I cannot know that, therefore I cannot live,’ Levin would say to himself.

‘In infinite time, in the infinity of matter, in infinite space, a bubble-organism separates itself, and that bubble holds out for a while and then bursts, and that bubble is – me.’ (788)


When Levin thought about what he was and what he lived for, he found no answer and fell into despair; but when he stopped asking himself about it, he seemed to know what he was and what he lived for, because he acted and lived firmly and definitely; recently he had even lived much more firmly and definitely than before. (789)


‘”You think war is necessary? Fine. Send anyone who preaches war to a special front-line legion – into the assault, into the attack, ahead of everyone!”‘ (808)

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the day after Christmas, i woke up in the early morning to drive my dad to the airport. Taja came along too, hopping in the back of the old SUV and yawning with wonder. approaching SFO in the dark, we reveled in the dazzling holiday lights decorating the airport’s trees and buildings. it looked like such a big job that my dad remarked, “they probably never take them down. easier to leave them up all year and just turn them on in December.” i just shook my head, too sleepy to disagree.

back at the house and still in darkness, i logged into my computer to knock out some last-minute work. i did the bare minimum, and then glanced at Taja on the carpet next to me, sleepily wondering where the night went. her eyes provided all the argument i needed, so we returned to Natalie in bed.

well-rested, my love and i awoke, showered, and cruised to San Mateo for breakfast with my old buddies, Tori and Adam, plus their lovers, Tim and Kelly. we spent about 10% of the triple couple brunch date trying to find a restaurant that would seat the six of us relatively quickly, eventually settling on Nini’s Coffee Shop, a cozy little diner on the corner of a quiet suburban intersection near the freeway. we spent 50% of the date standing on the corner, sipping complimentary coffee and slowly drifting into the empty street. laughing, joking, poking fun, we spent the last 40% of our time struggling over the menu and downing our meals.

in the afternoon, i revisited SFO to take my mom to work. for my part, i did some more work at home. then Natalie and i finished up our last-minute packing, ate a humble dinner, and watched a bizarre documentary on PBS called Seeking Asian Female.


peculiar as its plot may be—following a yellow fever-stricken man’s quest for a Chinese bride—the movie felt even weirder as it took place here in the Bay Area. in fact, the guy lived in Burlingame and worked at SFO, so it’s possible i could have seen him earlier in the day.

finally, midnight approaching, i made my third and final trip of the day to SFO—this time with Natalie instead of Taja. my mom, always eager to take the opportunity to see travelers off, met up with us and offered to treat us to dinner. but what to eat? Japanese, Mexican, American, or Chinese? Natalie quickly decided on the first, but my mom and i circled and circled among the others, trying to find somebody still selling soup. eventually, we settled on something. eventually, we made it to the gate. and, eventually i assume, once we had safely ducked out of sight, my mama headed home.

~ 1 ~

Natalie and i were not headed home. we headed to a place where we knew not a soul.

me being me, i scrolled down my library of albums to find the first album listed where “Jamaica” would be. the result: “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” by Hank Williams With His Drifting Cowboys. well, that decided it, so i put all my Hank on shuffle and closed my eyes.

but i didn’t sleep. while Hank crooned his characteristic honky tonk, the airplane ferrying us across the country rumbled and raged in a dark storm tens of thousands of feet in the air. i dipped in and out of consciousness, at one point peering at the blinding flashlights of flight attendants creeping down the aisle hawking drinks and snacks. United Airlines: a terrible experience from purchase confirmation to final arrival.

the United Club, on the other hand, proved a real pleasure. my mom had gifted us a couple passes granting us two plebeians access to the secret abode of the one percent. we nestled into one corner of the club, occasionally getting up to retrieve plates of free food or complimentary alcoholic beverages from the bar, all while trying to ignore the omnipresent noise of CNN dissecting the U.S. decision to abstain from voting on (and thereby allowing the passage of) a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction. Netenyahu was pissed. Obama was like, dude, don’t act so surprised. Trump was somewhere vomiting on babies. and i floated on the edge of sleep.

speaking of babies, so many flew to Jamaica with us. thankfully, they were already hella chilled out, and the flight was a quick one.

in the broad customs hall at Sangster International Airport, the very first Jamaican woman to speak to me didn’t really speak to me. she mostly just looked in my direction while speaking about me to her colleagues: “it’s not fair,” she said. “he’s not even using it!” referencing my hair. i laughed and laughed, wondering aloud how i could possibly use it anymore aside from wearing it on my head everywhere i went for a decade.

after settling customs with the same, stern face you find behind the counter in every country, we walked through the sliding doors to be instantly accosted by a half dozen taxi drivers. thinking it’d make us seem a bit more cool and confident, i led Natalie across the room as if we weren’t quite ready to go along with just anybody. as if we knew how to pick a good ride. one of the drivers persisted, and yet he also seemed chill, so we followed him. he walked slow as hell out of the building, across the street, toward a line of cars, and yet he told me to speed it up like i was the one lagging.

“we grow up w weed,” he said to us not a minute into our journey. “you let me know if you need any.”

“i thought it was illegal,” i said.

“no, mon,” said the driver. “we grow up with it. it’s a part of life. small amounts are okay. you want me to get you some?”

“you’re not a cop, are you?” asked Natalie.

“no, mon. do i look like a cop?”

Natalie and i looked at each other, both of us imagining what my mom would say when she found out that we’d been arrested within 30 minutes of entering Jamaica after trying to purchase weed from the very first person that propositioned us—our cabbie. as it turned out, his guy was out. tough luck.

not even a 10-minute drive from the airport, we arrived at our home for the night: Caribic House, a dingy little hotel right on the main tourist strip in Montego Bay. the clerk was a true gentleman who guided us to our room on the third floor.


we needed food, so we descended to the street and walked around. tourist strip it was: every five feet stood another souvenir shop owner enticing anyone and everyone inside to survey their wide selection of t-shirts, magnets, and other junk made in China. one of these men, a bit more enterprising than the rest, asked if we needed any weed. after the near-success earlier, i felt emboldened, so i expressed interest. he showed me a little baggy and said it was US$30.

“no way,” i said with clear Californian wisdom. “i wouldn’t pay more than $20 for that.”

“okay, you got it,” he said. i felt nervous about handling the exchange on the street, so he indulged me by inviting us into the comfort of the shop for a safe, clean deal. all the better for him, he could then try to sell me some rum and t-shirts too.

but Natalie and i quickly left, continuing our way down the street, feeling good about not getting arrested. on and on we went, politely acknowledging and yet declining all the men and women that would holler at us from the fronts of their souvenir shops.

“hey mon, come inside, take a look!”


“come on, mon, have a look.”

after we refused to enter her shop, one woman very sweetly asked if she could braid my hair. i declined, but then asked for a food recommendation.

“Pork Pit,” she offered. “and then i’ll braid your hair on the way back.”

we went to the Pork Pit with nothing but American dollars, so the clerk made clear to us that we would be getting a bad conversion rate. but we were too hungry and jet-lagged to care about getting ripped off. those same mental effects led us to only order a 1/4 pound of chicken between the two of us, which vanished in no time at all, so i returned to the counter to order a second round: another 1/4 pound of chicken, fried plantains, and a delicious little treat called “festival” (basically fried dough).

on the way back to our hotel, most shops had closed or were closing, so less people hassled us—except for a random bedraggled vagrant who pleaded that i buy some weed from him. right in the middle of the street, he unwrapped this sad little wad and demanded that i take as much as i wanted and give whatever i could afford. i lied to him that i had so little cash it wouldn’t be worth it, but he insisted. i’d decided that i’d been ripped off by the first dealer, so i paid it forward: for nearly the same amount i paid US$20 for earlier, i gave the vagrant J$200 (a little over US$1). he looked at me in disgust.

at Caribic, Natalie and i smoked on the balcony, and then drifted into the sing-song night.

~~ 2 ~~

in the morning, we packed our bags and strolled to the Mocha Cafe for breakfast. after ordering, i returned solo to Caribic because we’d seen an ATM; i withdrew some Jamaican dollars and then doubled back to the restaurant for my typical American meal.

the $15 cab ride from the airport to the hotel had seemed excessive for the trip duration, so we started a habit of asking locals for approximate cab fares. that’s how we hailed a quick and cheap cab ride (shared with some locals) to the Knutsford Express station in Montego Bay.

Knutsford Express, as we quickly learned, is the best way to get around Jamaica since it conveniently connects most major towns. it’s inexpensive, it’s reliable, and it’s quality. our first trip, from Montego Bay to Negril, took no more than a couple hours.

déjà vu, a slew of taxi drivers immediately accosted us  as we stepped off the bus. we’d done little research, so we didn’t know exactly the distance to the hostel or even the direction, so eventually we conceded to one of the more persistent cabbies. déjà vu, i opened the shoe box sitting beside me in the passenger seat to find three lovely stalks of what the driver dubbed “Blue Cheese.”

“take as much as you like,” he said.

“how much?” i asked. Natalie rolled her eyes.

i broke off a piece about the same size as the first two purchases, and offered the driver US$5. the Goldilocks deal. done and done.

as we strolled into the Yoga Centre—probably less than half a mile from the Knutsford Express Station—Natalie fumed.

“we can’t take taxis everywhere. and you have to stop buying weed!”

“but it’s quality!”

she cooled off quickly thanks to the serenity of the Yoga Centre. the place appeared indifferently arranged—a wide lawn here, a curving path there, a shabby shack here, a humble kitchen there. and yet this indifference lent the place charm. it helped that, though the sun shone brilliantly, the Centre flourished abundantly green in all directions, with tall trees and short huts providing equally ample opportunities for shade. with the warm breeze blowing and the street noise seemingly miles away, the place felt, fittingly, like the perfect spot to practice yoga.


IMG_9372after we’d settled in and eaten a small lunch, Natalie and i went for a walk across the street to Seven Mile Beach, supposedly one of Jamaica’s main tourist attractions. and you could see why. an endless row of restaurants, bars, and hotels behind you, soft white sand to your sides, and pure blue sea ahead. as we strolled the beach, the occasional peddler would stop us, and i still acquiesced too easily. i hadn’t yet learned the firm decline. right before we picked a spot to lounge in, an old man offered me mango. i lied that i had no cash, but he insisted i try a free sample. the Trader Joe’s customer in me, raised on Costco, couldn’t say no: i reached out, ate a piece, and moved on. as with the second weed transaction one day earlier, the old man looked at me baffled.

“you’ll eat my fruit and not purchase any?” he asked in exasperation.

baffled by the rules of engagement, i moved on, joining Natalie in the sand to watch the sunset. as we sat and smoked, a lanky German dude about our age trotted up and squat in the sand next to us, initiating meager conversation. he seemed starved for society, and we soon learned why. he had come to Negril to spend two weeks with his good friend. but they couldn’t do much because his friend couldn’t leave his wheelchair. so, as it was, they had already spent several days on the beach in Negril, and had over a week left of the same. the German seemed somewhat saddened by this purgatory, and yet, ironically, it is the very stuff of Caribbean dreams: leave your weary life for two weeks. sit on the beach. drink a beer. dip in the sea. eat some fruit, eat some meat. drink some rum, dip in the sea. have a smoke. go to sleep. repeat. repeat. repeat.

the German’s disappointment served as reminder that Natalie and i did well not to saturate our trip w beach days. even tropical paradises have more to offer than sea and sand.

our friend went on his way, and so did we. instead of backtracking along the beach and crossing the street straight to our hostel, we went to the street first. a bit on the high side and dropped in an unfamiliar location, my face must’ve expressed pure confusion. cabbies honked incessantly trying to earn our fare, but we didn’t have far to go. still, the contrast between the beach and the street felt stark: one minute you’re chilling on the white sand, breathing in the warm breeze, the next you’re navigating potholes and trying not to get killed. the difference fifty feet makes.

we figured it out: one side of the street (the side further from the beach) actually has a nicely paved sidewalk for bikers and pedestrians, so that’s the place to walk. on the way home, we swung by a corner store to pick up some snacks, a small bottle of rum, and coke.

before snacking though, we changed into workout gear and made our way to the outdoor studio to partake in the center’s namesake. sloping down into the high, Natalie and i were the only two present for evening yoga. the teacher didn’t seem to mind. lovely soul, she took her time with me while letting Natalie easily glide through the poses. at the end of the session, she recommended a restaurant (because, with printed prices, they won’t screw you over), and she also gave a general tip that aided me the rest of the trip:

“do what you wanna do. if someone tries to talk to you, then do what you wanna do. if you wanna talk to them, then stop and talk to them. if you don’t wanna talk, then say no thank you and move on.”

basically, be confident. be direct. know thyself.

refreshed and blessed, we returned to our shack to take a shower and enjoy a couple cocktails. interesting little place our temporary home: large enough for a small family, the single room included two twin beds on the ground floor and a ladder leading up to a slim full bed in the loft. a thin wall separated us from another room under the same roof, and that room happened to house a couple with their infant. Natalie and i would either hear the thing gurgling and laughing or we would be tiptoeing around in deadly fear of waking it.

our cocktails downed, we made our way to the street for a walk to dinner. we walked and walked and walked along that paved sidewalk until we thought maybe we’d walked too far, and then we walked a whole lot more. finally, we asked somebody and confirmed we had walked too far, so we turned back and eventually found the yoga teacher’s recommendation, Alfred’s Ocean Palace. i believe i had the fish of the day, though i can’t quite remember now. i mostly just remember the great vibes. the place brought in a medley of white and black folks, and we all enjoyed our drinks and food right smack on the beach.

after dinner, Natalie and i slowly rolled ourselves back to the hostel. in the final stretch, we couldn’t resist a tiny outdoor bar called the Sunrise. we pulled up and ordered a couple drinks while attempting to understand the cricket game on TV. it proved interesting enough to keep us for a second round, and then we went home to sleep.

~~~ 3 ~~~

for breakfast we shared smoothies and traditional Jamaican fare at the Yoga Centre. it was one of just two days in Jamaica where we’d do the typical tourist thing: sit on the beach, drink beer, read books.

two books dominated my trip. the first was Walking in Ice, which Natalie had gifted to me for Christmas because she knew how much i’d fallen in love with Werner Herzog. the short text consisted of diary entries the famous German director wrote while literally walking on foot from Munich to Paris between November and December. his walk, he had hoped, would put off the supposedly impending death of German film historian Lotte H. Eisner. typical of Herzog and appropriate given the circumstances, death and cold enfolded the work.

the second book i’d inherited from Natalie: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. a Nigerian writer, Adichie may be most famous for her TED talk We should all be feminists, but it became immediately clear to me that she’s a fantastic writer of fiction too.

as i traveled around the little island of Jamaica, my mind would bounce between the sweltering heat of Lagos, the sterile calm of academic America, and the grungy, snowy countryside of western Europe. and so i bounced as i lay on Seven Mile Beach in Negril.

one cannot lay too long on the beach in Jamaica without a swim. the sun and humidity demand it. i left Natalie and stepped slowly into the sea. though not cold, it didn’t feel quite as warm as i had expected. i reminded myself that December in Jamaica is still December in North America, and so winter still held court. but compared to the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay, of course, the Caribbean felt like a heated swimming pool. the comparison works another way too: while California waves crash upon their shores in a fury that had inflamed over thousands of miles of ocean, the Caribbean creeps up to the shore like a deferential lake.

whatever aspirations i had for surfing or even boogieboarding quietly dissolved as i drifted deeper into the sea, moving my limbs to stay warm or diving underneath to see what creatures i could spy. the people around me ranged in appearance from black to white and spoke more tongues than i could recognize. like a cosmopolitan city intersection, Seven Mile Beach stirred up a medley of the world.

having read enough, having swum enough, having downed the day’s first Red Stripe, i joined Natalie on a search for a bite before the day’s yoga session. a Vietnamese/Thai restaurant had caught our eye the day before, so we hunted it down.


we split spring rolls and a papaya salad, freshly prepared and delicious. not in a bad way, both items seemed to be infused with the ingredients available in Jamaica. as with the Yoga Centre, the restaurant and the woman running it exuded calm.

sadly, our post-lunch yoga session never happened, as the instructor decided not to show up. curiously, she’d highly encouraged us the day before to attend the morning session; perhaps she had been trying to warn us. uncomplaining, Natalie napped while i continued reading Americanah.


in the evening, Natalie and i repeated our walk down the boulevard of bars, restaurants, and local people yelling “Rastaman!” we had evolved somewhat, could stand firmer ground, though at one point i apparently offended a Jamaican geezer who perhaps had something he really wanted to say to me. i declined to stop, but i nodded humbly and said “respect,” but he scowled at me and said, “no respect for you.”

not all run-ins with people peddling wares (or whatever else) went so roughly. earlier in the day, a guy on a scooter with his lady seated behind him pulled up to us and said, “hey, what’s up, mon?” to which Natalie instantly replied, “no thank you.” the guy, taken off-guard by her natural briskness, said, “what’s wrong?” Natalie, already walking away, turned back and said, “it’s nothing personal!” we all laughed at her aplomb.

the evening confrontation with the geezer i brushed off with a beer at the One Love bar, where the lovely lady running the place had hollered at us the day before. the music sounded good and the vibe felt right, so we had to check it out. it mostly catered to tourists. the white couple to my left looked like a lot of them: either sleepy, stoned, or simply dazed by the sun. the girl gave us a recommendation for dinner but we ignored it because the place seemed overpriced and touristy. instead, we followed some random Jamaican dude on the street who guaranteed to lead us to a “sweet spot.” so it was called. it wasn’t great, but i got to try curried conch (a rubbery shellfish) w peas & rice (basically the Jamaican version of gallo pinto).


~~~~ 4 ~~~~

in the morning, we said goodbye to the Yoga Centre and Negril. at the Knutsford Express station, we boarded the bus heading south out of town and then east to Kingston. for the first hour of the ride, the driver whizzed the juggernaut maniacally down tiny, winding roads, narrowly avoiding steep cliffs and lucky cyclists. i couldn’t believe some of the turns nor the passes he made. he did just fine, but i still savored the short break we took along the way.


the second half of the ride involved climbing over mountain after mountain. Natalie and i kept estimating that this one must be the Blue Mountains, that we would finally be approaching Kingston. but amazingly the ridges kept coming.

at last, after about four hours, we arrived in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital. the big city.

Kingston marked the splurging portion of our trip. even before my mom proposed the idea, i had booked the most expensive hotel in the city as a birthday gift to Natalie. we took a quick taxi from the bus station to the hotel, where concierge served us complimentary rum punch on arrival.

IMG_9419though not especially grandiose, our room featured high ceilings and a massive bathtub. we didn’t mind the ground level view of the parking lot outside the window. i handed Natalie the brochure for the spa and asked her to pick whatever she wanted—happy birthday part two. a simple lady, she just asked for “chic in the city,” a classic mani and pedi. i called up the spa and made the reservation.

with some time to kill before her session, we agreed to walk to Devon House. poor decision that, as we soon found ourselves trudging through a monsoon. and besides, what white people walk around Kingston? we do. and we did fine, though rain-soaked Natalie got a bit angry. we eventually reached the massive property, which had originally been established as residence for George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire. i borrow Wikipedia’s pointed use of the word “black” because the history of North American wealth is crawling with white men who built their millions on the backs of black labor. today, Devon House serves as a monument of a mansion complete with gardens and shops for tourists and locals alike to explore.

Natalie cooled off with a coffee, and then i stood in the long, crowded line for I-Scream, which has won worldwide accolades. we then wandered the gardens briefly, enjoying each other’s company and monitoring the sky for the next set of buckets.




the rain lightened though, so we made our way back to the hotel. then Natalie went off to get chic.

in the evening, we acted as fools do. we’d decided to dine at an Indian restaurant called “Nirvanna,” and i couldn’t help but notice its proximity. so we walked the 1.5 km (about a mile). in the dark. down some questionable streets. halfway, an old woman seated on the curb surrounded by piles of junk asked, with deep concern in her voice, where we were going. as i mentioned earlier, white people don’t walk around Kingston.

in spite of the questionable decision, we made it to the restaurant unscathed, so we celebrated with a massive feast of our favorite, spiciest Indian dishes.

on the way back to the hotel, we fared no better—and no worse. we vainly searched the street for a free taxi but could find none. we walked to a busy intersection nearby, but that did us no better: all the cars there already had passengers. suddenly, a man selling flowers to drivers at the stoplight noticed us and asked if we needed a taxi. thinking he’d help us hail one, we answered in the affirmative. “follow me,” he said, as he led us to a trashed jalopy parked on the sidewalk. he hopped into the driver’s side and we got in the back, too fat and content to think it a big deal.

that 1.5 km drive back to the hotel was one of the wildest rides of our lives—perhaps even more dangerous than the earlier walk. but we made it back in one piece, and cheaply too!


~~~~~ 5 ~~~~~

in the morning, we indulged in a safe, free breakfast at the Spanish Court. i went with a medley of American and Jamaican cuisines, downing scrambled eggs, plantains, festival, bacon, fruit, coffee, and water.

for our only full day in Kingston, Natalie and i immediately ruled out running around trying to do every little thing. we considered the Bob Marley Museum—highly rated on TripAdvisor and the most obvious attraction—but then decided against it as a $20 per person tourist trap. “museum” rang in our heads though, so in our search we discovered the National Gallery of Jamaica.

we took a real taxi to the museum, located in the southern part of the city, the commercial and cultural center on Kingston harbor. our driver conversed freely, telling us how he used to farm yams in the countryside. farming’s hard work, however, and your livelihood depends so much on harvesting good crops every season. making money ferrying people around the city offers a bit more stability.

to our relief, the gallery didn’t close for New Years’ Eve. and yet, we had the whole place to ourselves. nicely sized, the two-story tall gallery features art from pre-colonial Jamaica through the modern day. we received a decent history lesson, starting with pieces by the indigenous Taíno people who populated Jamaica, other Caribbean lands, and Florida before Christopher Columbus ruined everything in 1492. next came art by colonial Europeans and Jamaicans, including some sharply satirical pieces belittling the aristocrats for making slaves do everything for them, down to picking up things they’ve dropped on the floor. the special exhibition focused on “Spiritual Yards,” explained by the Gallery here:

The theme of Spiritual Yards was proposed by Wayne Cox, who co-curated this exhibition, and explores how many of the artists who have been recognized as Intuitives are rooted in popular religious and spiritual practices, especially the Revival religions and also Rastafari. Several produced or contributed to so-called spiritual yards, also known as home ground, or sacred spaces that featured ritual and symbolic objects and images that are meant to engage or represent the spirits, which was either the start of their artistic practice or remained as its main focus.


Natalie and i also fell in love with Barrington Watson:

we purchased a couple small prints, and then emerged into the blazing afternoon sun. with no destination in particular, we wandered north on foot until we found ourselves in a bustling marketplace—downtown Kingston. sidewalks and alley burst with shops and people, cars streaming through the street, and the hot, hot sun beaming its proud heat onto everything and everyone. we walked and walked, dazed and intrigued, until the heat got the better of us. we hailed a taxi back to the Spanish Court.

at the hotel, Natalie went for a run on the treadmill while i spent 15 minutes with concierge—or, rather, the lovely angel named Tashanna spent 15 minutes with me, patiently finding a taxi that would willingly drive Natalie and me up to our New Years’ Eve party that evening. then i walked to Knutsford Express to purchase advance tickets to Ocho Rios.

logistics mostly settled, i changed into my swimsuit and took a few laps in the infinity pool atop the Spanish Court’s roof. rain clouds blocked most of the sky, including the sun, so i mostly froze my ass off swimming back and forth in the pool. but i’ve never been able to visit a hotel without swimming in their pool at least once. afterwards, my love and i took a hot bath. refreshing as hell. privileged and decadent, i then showered after the bath to make sure my hair got a good washing. we dressed decently to inaugurate the new year, and then returned to the Spanish Court’s restaurant for dinner. we struggled to find anything Natalie could eat, but we figured it out.



one more drink to warm us for the night, and then we grabbed our taxi to Dub Club. though it didn’t go quite as smoothly as that. our driver had his doubts every kilometer of the way.

“take Old Hope Road,” i said.

“Old Hope Road,” he said, “this is Old Hope Road. where is the place?”

“keep going—like we’re going to Papine.”

“you’re going to Papine?”

“yes, and then a bit further.”

“here is Papine. where is the place?”

“okay, turn left. we’re going up to Jackshill.”

“Jackshill?! this is not the way to Jackshill.”

“yes, it’s this way. like we’re going to the Blue Mountains.”

“we’re going to the Blue Mountains??!”

“no, no, just that direction. here turn left, this is Skyline Drive.”

he turned, and then turned and turned, up, up, up the hill. true to its name, Skyline etched endless sharp switchbacks into the mountainside, rapidly lifting us hundreds of feet into the air. our driver seemed only slightly fazed, but he pressed on. near our destination, he slowly rolled past a grand view of Kingston, and even he couldn’t hold back his astonishment. one of the cars ahead seemed less satisfied, as a young European woman—pretty and decked in dreads—leaped out and approached us.

“that woman is crazy!” she said. “can i ride with you?”

“you’re going to Dub Club?” i asked.


what the hell else are we doing driving up this suicidal road on the last night of the year? apparently her driver had boiled over in frustration at the route, so i silently gave thanks for our driver’s poise.

a few minutes later, we arrived.


undoing a fraction of the uphill drive, we immediately descended a steep, winding flight of stairs to the heart of the party. towering over the dance floor sat a behemoth of a soundsystem, including fat woofers and tweeters spanning ten feet. but the dance floor existed everywhere, with the massive dub music infiltrating Rastafarians (milling about with their own personal bongs), club regulars dancing slowly and sensually on the sidelines, and even the partygoers further from the system, enjoying the view of Kingston from the balcony.

Natalie and i ordered drinks, and then situated ourselves above the dance floor. we chilled and sipped our drinks, smiling at the company and taking in the smoky dub music in the clouds. behind the speakers, i spotted a mural on the wall, including the quote, “the only good system is a soundsystem.” directly in front of us, an ancient Rastafarian danced ceaselessly to the music, his enormous dreads resting like a towel tied up in a knot. later on he untied the knot, and the dreads dropped down to his ankles. he danced on.

my love and i finished drinking, lit up a spliff, and rocked steady.

as midnight approached, the club swelled. Natalie and i pushed our way to the balcony to see what fireworks would come. we rubbed elbows with Jamaicans and tourists alike: men, women, blacks, whites, Americans, Europeans, Asians, dub lovers, party seekers, vagrants, sinners, lovers, Rastafarians. it felt like a Jamaican twist on Times Square, except instead of dropping a ball on live television while semi-important celebrities counted to us like kindergartners, midnight arrived unannounced.

“is it time?” said a voice, as some small fireworks lit up the city in patches.

i looked at my phone and saw 0:00. Dub Club didn’t give a fuck. Dub Club cared only about keeping the good dub feeling flowing, countdown be damned. nestled in the crowded balcony, Natalie and i kissed. happy new year, happy birthday. in that moment, holding Natalie and taking in the meager fireworks show, i instantly felt something special. the good music, the good people, the realness made me appreciate the stroke of a new midnight more fully than i had ever appreciated prior new years. instead of hype and dismay, we experienced peace and love.

directly above our heads, fireworks went off like popcorn, yellow chaotic sparks making a mad ruckus and then quickly fading. their proximity, plus the size of the crowd crammed into that tiny cliffside balcony made me briefly feel paranoid—especially with the tragic Oakland fire so recent.

i didn’t let it get me down. i just pulled Natalie back to the dance floor, where we spent our remaining time at the club, absorbing as much of that deep, soulful dub as possible.

we climbed the stairs to the makeshift parking lot, and hunted for a ride. in the same predicament, a drunk, bewildered German couple made a deal—a bad, very expensive deal—with a driver because the German had no sense of what a ride should cost. Natalie and i tried to bargain with the driver, but he insisted we pay the same as the Germans. eventually we settled on a somewhat lower fare (still equal between both parties), but the driver didn’t neglect to lecture us about how his was no normal taxi.

whatever. we just sat in the new year glow, eyeing the champagne glass next to the driver’s seat and wondering about the bizarre flask of herb wine in my pocket. slowly, we slithered back to New Kingston in the nighttime of a new day.


~~~~~~ 6 ~~~~~~

in the morning, we revisited the free breakfast. a slight variation on the day before, i devoured a kitchen sink omelet with plantains, festival, fruit, coffee, water, and, in honor of 2017, a mimosa compliments of the lovely Spanish Court.

Robert would be arriving soon to drive us up to his property in the Blue Mountains, where we’d booked three nights. we would need to pay the man in cash, so we walked to a few ATMs. i say a few because ATM after ATM denied my withdrawal requests. i didn’t understand. until then, we had had no trouble withdrawing cash. once we returned to the hotel, mission failed, the concierge informed us that some ATMs only deposited Jamaican dollars, while other particular ATMs could also deposit American dollars. though we’d gone to one of the banks with both ATMs, we’d used the wrong one.

we packed up and waited for Robert, the old black man with a bushy grey beard and a smile that could slay a thousand white-collar anxieties. when we first met him in real life, he looked identical to how he looked in the photo his wife had sent us:


Robert emanated heart and soul. he loaded up our bags and, when we told him about the ATMs, he said “no problem, no problem” in his husky, growling voice. he drove us to the correct ATM, i withdrew cash, and we set off.

the morning after our ascent to the Dub Club, we traced the same route. instead of turning left on Skyline, however, we veered right—to the Blue Mountains. through windy paths, potholes galore, and a sea of green in all directions, we drove for about an hour on the main highway (the B1) before turning onto a crumbling road toward Prince Valley. the B1 had been nothing to acclaim, but the final road looked punishing. with the calm of a man who’d driven the path hundreds of times before, Robert guided his tan bucket of a truck around corners, across potholes, and over sharp, steep hills with ease. windows down, cruising through the village, we turned all heads, and all heads greeted Robert. Robert did the same, often saying “top o’ da mornin'” or nothing more than, “bless, bless” with a hand wave.

at last, we reached the Prince Valley Guest House, our home for the next three nights. and what a home it was. perched at the solitary edge of the village, the compound consisted of five units, including the treehouse we’d reserved. green, green, green, the west-facing valley offered endless feast for the eyes. after showing us to our tree, Robert gave a tour, showing off the numerous, diverse patios for all kinds of chilling, the humble common area (complete with couch, fridge, tiny television, and a huge collection of DVDs), the garden (where Robert grew coffee and other comestibles to be enjoyed by guests), the trails (which Robert called “tracks”), and the pool, fed by fresh, freezing mountain spring water. bless.

around 6, Chef asked us if we’d be up for dinner. the way it worked was that Robert’s chef would make any meals you requested—breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner—as long as you requested them in advance. we’d signed up for breakfast and dinner every day, and were always ready the first time Chef asked.

not too long later, Chef delivered plates of hot food. dinner consisted of the traditional Jamaican dish ackee (a fruit imported to Jamaica from West Africa in the 1700s) and saltfish (dried and salted cod), peas and rice, and some greens (not callaloo, which we’d had earlier in the trip). entirely traditional Jamaican cuisine, and cooked to perfection.

after dinner, we took over the common area (not that Robert had any guests besides us), drinking and reading the evening away. since we’d arrived, loud, solemn songs of prayer had belted from a soundsystem, drowning the valley with music for hours. suddenly, it stopped. slowly getting tired, we crawled under the mosquito net into bed, where we played a game of scrabble until our eyelids drooped.






IMG_9595~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~

we woke up puffy-eyed and well-rested a bit before 9. after a mild rain grazed the valley, i stepped shirtless onto the balcony to be greeted by a rainbow.

Chef stopped by with his wide, omnipresent grin simply to announce breakfast. he brought us coffee, scrambled eggs w veggies, fried plantains, breadfruit (a fruit, not a bread, that resembles dried pineapple), slices of mango, a peeled orange—everything fresh, juicy, lovely. we poured out extra cups of coffee and digested while Bobby and Chef smoked.

Natalie and i flipped through the binder left in our room, and decided we’d like to hike at Holywell, the nearby national park. we dressed, packed a small bag with essentials, and then hopped into Robert’s truck for the short drive to the park. entrance fee paid, we went on a short hike to a wee waterfall, where we smoked and kissed.




high in the mountains, we’d left the Caribbean heat far behind. cool and foggy, the Blue Mountains offered the ideal walking weather, so we resolved to continue our hike on the B1 highway. we walked in the opposite direction of home, heading toward Alex Twyman’s Old Tavern Blue Mountain Coffee Estate. we walked and walked and walked, rounding curves and beholding incredible vistas, increasingly questioning whether we’d gone in the right direction or if we’d passed the place.

at last, we came upon a line of three or four parked cars and a couple Chinese women milling about.

“is this Twyman’s Coffee?” i asked one of the women.

“down,” she said, nodding and smiling as if she didn’t speak any English but understood my question perfectly.

we followed two Chinese kids down a windy, weathered flight of stony stairs to a small cottage perched on the side of the mountain. two dogs, large and loafing, stood up lazily to sniff out the newcomers.

hearing voices inside, we crossed the threshold. we’d found the place. a few Americans and a large Chinese family shuffled inside the close quarters of the small, wooden cabin. nobody seemed to know quite what to do with themselves. the Americans handled various items on the nearest table, including bags of coffee for sale, while the Chinese exchanged binoculars, peering out the far windows at a magnificent view of the valley.


IMG_9650visiting the estate—with its unique yet subdued prosperity, its cavalcade of dissimilar strangers, and the attraction of a single intoxicating substance—felt the way i imagine it would be to visit a cocaine plantation in South America. supporting my theory, David Twyman (son of Alex) played the part of coffee lord. deeply darkened by the sun yet profoundly enlightened by endless cups of coffee, David appeared undeniably high on his own supply, yet not to the point of abuse. he simply breathed arabica. in our brief conversations, often interrupted by a transaction or a kettle going off, he spoke with the sophisticated indifference of a man whose home serves as turnstile to the world’s travelers. he listened attentively, asked a pointed question about yourself or your home, sipped his coffee, and then wheeled himself around the house once more.

when he served us our first cup of coffee, the lord urged with quiet zeal that we try the coffee straight—no cream, no sugar. if we did absolutely require added sweetness, he suggested a single drop of honey. Natalie and i required not even the honey; the coffee tasted like the nectar Athena sips before a long day of slashing down ingrates. we swallowed cup after cup of complimentary coffee directly from the pour of David’s hand, and he gave us a brief primer on each one: this one a light roast, that a medium-dark, etc.

alas, we could not stay long. as late afternoon approached, we needed to head home to have the light last throughout our walk. so we bid adieu to David, the man who’d said a thousand goodbyes, and retraced our steps on the B1. silly Natalie realized five or ten minutes later that she’d left her fleece behind, so she left me lingering on the side of the highway while she ran there and back again.



we walked and walked and walked. we passed the Gap Cafe, too fancy for us. we walked and walked and walked, passing through the military yard. we walked and walked and walked, getting close to home once we reached the Bubbles stop, where we picked up a flask of clear rum, water, cheese puffs, and chocolates. just a few snacks to get us home.

at home, i took a cold shower while listening to Ginger Baker’s drum solo, and then joined Natalie for WiFi and dinner while we listened to the beginning of the same Fela album.

Chef had already begun dinner, and so it didn’t take long for him to deliver bowls of soup. the long walk had whetted my appetite, so i quickly devoured the pureed soup, and wondered whether that was all. but Robert asked if i wanted more, so i quickly found myself downing a second large bowl imagining that would be the end. not so. Natalie and i realized the soup had merely been the first course when Chef arrived with heaping plates seafish, fried carrots and greens, potatoes, yams, and plantains. my goodness, and how i polished it off even after the soup. after dinner, fat like a king, we smoked a greasy cigarette.

we drank, we read, we loved. then we slept.

~~~~~~~~ 8 ~~~~~~~~

our second morning in the treehouse, we woke up earlier—around 830. for a change of scenery, we took coffee and breakfast (ackee and saltfish, breadfruit, fried plantains, papaya, and orange) on the higher balcony.

then we read, read, read in sunny, post-meal bliss.

once again we requested a ride from Robert, this time down the hill to the Craighton Coffee Estate, a Japanese operation run largely for the benefit of the wealthy Japanese coffee connoisseurs 8,000 miles west of Jamaica. much to our dismay, we learned the tour would cost $25 each, but no matter.

our tour guide, a young Jamaican named Jerome, walked us around the plantation, showing us live coffee plants and inviting us to taste some of the bitter beans still ripening. Jerome imparted a ton of information, and i did my best to take note of the most important parts: 280,000 coffee plants grown at Craighton—arabica not robusta—the latter 52% of the world coffee, the former 48%—though like the world’s #1 most traded good (oil), the #2 (coffee) is often adulterated as there’s no standard nor authority—Blue Mountain arabica is something special, with 70% of its sales going to wealthy Japanese—Jamaicans themselves drink instant coffee—unless they’re like lucky, mountain-thriving men like Robert—usually arabica ripens in 5-7 months, in Blue Mountains it takes 9-11—so it’s juicier, sweeter—Twyman and other north side farmers receive less sun so their harvest takes less long.

after the crash course in coffee, we sat in the veranda drinking cup after cup.






suitably souped up, we left the estate in the direction of home. first we walked through Red Light, a village with (i believe) no relation to the internationally understood name of a prostitution district. near the end of town, we sidled up to a roadside shack to ask a rasta about taxis up the hill. just hitchhike, he said. we smiled because that’s what we wanted to hear, and left the shop with bananas and coconut snacks.

up we walked, stopping once on the side of the road for a drink of water. Natalie tilted her head back to draw deep from the bottle, and in the process heard her shades fall down, down, down the deep ravine.

a little further we came upon a dingy little bar, entirely empty except for the bartender and a kitten on its last legs. the middle-aged woman served us a couple drinks, but soon had better company in the form of two men eager to play dominoes. like old chums, they  sat around the table laughing and slamming the pieces as if you scored more points the harder you hit the table. we smiled in thanks, and continued on.



as we walked, we stuck our thumb at every passing car until finally an SUV stopped for us. we happily accepted the ride from a gang of friends heading to EITS Cafe. sitting shotgun, the slender 33-year-old woman told us that she’d spent 20 years living in Kingston before moving to London. though she returns to visit family every xmas, i sensed she shared more in common with Londoners than people of the Blue Mountains when she warned us of the dangers of hitchhiking.

briefly, we explored the Cafe with its multiple stories and grand views, but we soon moved on up the hill. thumb out again (in spite of the nice lady’s warning), we quickly hailed another ride with a man named David, a cousin of Robert’s. he brought us just nearly home, but we still had some walking to do. David pointed across the valley.

“Prince Valley is over there,” he said. “do you think you can make it?”

it was possible, but the deep valley and a hundred trees of a dozen different species stood in the way.

“we could probably make it… but we’ll take the long way.”

Natalie and i walked through town, making it home to discover we were no longer the sole guests of Prince Valley. Omero, a hefty African-American in shorts and sandals had arrived with his Jamaican friend, Tazia. Tazia was from Kingston and Omero, to our collective surprise and delight, was from Oakland. after introductions, we soon broke into laughter and conversation, bound by shared smokes and drinks. for dinner, we ate beans, greens, and pumpkin rice.

the sun set as we drank beer, and then Natalie and i said our good nights.

~~~~~~~~~ 9 ~~~~~~~~~

our third morning in the treehouse, we woke up around 815. well, Natalie still slept, so i stepped on the balcony to read Ovid.

once Natalie rose, we took coffee and breakfast in the usual spot, savoring our last plate of ackee and saltfish, plantains, and coco bread cooked up by Chef. then we packed and paid up.

peace to the Valley.






all the way down the mountain, Robert blessed us with his free laughter and wisdom while DJ Dale spun in the deck.

we had plenty of time to kill in Kingston, so instead of going directly to Knutsford Express we had Robert drop us off at the Bob Marley Museum. with little fanfare, on the side of a busy road, we emptied the truck of our bags and said goodbye.

still uninterested in paying $50 to tour the museum, Natalie and i contented ourselves with surveying the outside of the property and visiting the gift shop. i spent a little too long trying to find the right gifts for Danny, eventually settling on a beach towel, a pint glass, and stickers. then we returned to the outdoor cafe and ordered smoothies to cool us off in the low-altitude heat. at last, we grabbed a taxi, cruised over to the bus station, and caught our ride to Ocho Rios.



a north-south trip across the island (instead of east-west), the bus ride to Ocho Rios took half as long as the one from Negril to Kingston. no pit stops necessary. not even enough time to see the thrilling conclusion to Daddy’s Little Girls, a 2007 romance about a father fighting his psychotic, drug dealer-dating ex for custody of their three daughters. yes, beautiful view on those brand new highways through the Jamaican countryside, but that movie!

we got a taste of things to come at the station in Ocho because it wasn’t clear how to contact Marcia, our host for the next two nights. over email, she had said to simply ask a Knutsford employee to borrow a phone, but they turned us down. so we stepped outside, looking forlorn. thankfully, a taxi driver asked us if we needed a ride.

“actually, someone is supposed to pick us up. but we have no way to call them.”

he sized us up, and then offered his mobile. boom. we rang Marcia, but of course she didn’t pick up, so we called her husband Richard. he said his wife would be right over. after almost half an hour, Marcia rolled up in a sedan. we connected, but she didn’t seem too interested in us. just load up, get in the car, let’s go.

we’d booked with this middle-aged couple, Marcia and Richard, through an online site where they advertised their place as the chance to “LIVE LIKE A LOCAL.” cruising through downtown Ocho, onto the highway, right turn into Content Garden, left to the play field, right at the field, another right still hugging the field, up to the beautiful house overlooking the humble neighborhood, i wondered whether locals expect late pickups and cold greetings.

“here’s your room,” Marcia said, showing us the large bedroom and attached bathroom. “if you need anything, let me know.”

and just like that, she retreated upstairs.

what we needed most was a shower, so we took care of that in the lukewarm water with a dwindling supply of shampoo and conditioner. at least we had clean towels. while washing up, we not only heard but saw Richard come home, as he pulled his massive van into the garage adjoining the shower. sounded like dinner.

Marcia had said to let her know if we needed anything, but did that mean we could just waltz upstairs? or should we knock? or just yell at the balcony from the driveway? these questions hounded me, but Natalie and i needed to eat so we mostly just emanated waves of energy until the couple noticed. Richard, with indifference equal to his wife’s and possibly a dash of irritation, said he could drive us to pick up food.

we boarded the van, the vehicle Richard used to taxi passengers for work, and drove silently through the neighborhood. a few minutes later, we pulled up to a grungy eatery, nondescript as if an afterthought: someone realized they could put their extra large patio and kitchen to use. sticking out like snow white thumbs we walked up to the grating to place our orders. the young woman taking our orders didn’t want to deal with us, but we kept it simple, ordering quickly as if we’d done it a hundred times. because i’d seen several of them kicking around the neighborhood, i ordered the curried goat. Natalie got the beef stew. food in hand, we swung by the gas station to pick up some rum to go with dinner.

back at home, we vanquished our meals with gusto while watching back-to-back wedding episodes of Friends. somehow Natalie had never seen them. i gasped, and then we fell asleep fat and happy.


~~~~~~~~~~ 10 ~~~~~~~~~~

in the morning, we again faced the challenge of getting Marcia’s attention. she’d promised us coffee and a light breakfast in the morning, and we damn well weren’t going anywhere until we cashed in.

once again, we lingered on the porch, looked up at the balcony, knocked meekly at the door leading upstairs, and mostly just prayed she would feel our energy. at last, she did, and she invited us upstairs, through the kitchen, and to the balcony. as if we had entered an alternate universe (living like ordinary locals in the neighborhood instead of privileged tourists in the mountains), we drank instant coffee (instead of Blue Mountain nectar), white bread with margarine (neither real food), and fruit (likely imported from another continent). but we appreciated and wiped clean every last bit, chatting a bit w Marcia and gleaning any tidbits we could about the best beaches to visit.

she recommended Mahogany Beach as the place with the least tourists, so after eating we left the property and didn’t make one block before hailing a cab.

a sign at the entrance to Mahogany Beach read “PRIVATE BEACH — NO ENTRY,” which we ignored as Marcia had instructed. we walked toward the tiny strip of beach, flanked by a couple souvenir shops and a bar. a couple people asked if we wanted to rent beach chairs for a few bucks, but we declined because we didn’t mind lying in the sand. yet the sand was strange. where on an ordinary beach you can imagine truckloads of sand underneath your feet, the sand on Mahogany felt inch-deep. someone had even raked it. i assumed you could start digging and reach the concrete parking lot in a few seconds, but i didn’t try it. instead i accepted the strange hardness of the beach, smiled at my love, and popped open a notebook to do some writing.

Ziggy Marley, catchy as hell, drifted from the bar speakers:


after a brief swim, Natalie and i dried and smoked in the sun. then we left.

we walked up to Main St, and made our way west toward downtown. soon enough, the small, dingy shops morphed into larger, more crowded marketplaces, and then the road broadened to a bustling rotunda with cars and people streaming in all directions. seeing us overwhelmed, a man loitering on the corner asked if we needed a taxi, but we said no, thanks. what we needed was lunch, so he guided us off Main St onto James Ave.

he led us to a small restaurant with a menu identical to the one from dinner the night before. perfect, we thought. we thanked him with a few Jamaican dollars, ordered, and dove into soup and other delicious entrees.

leaving the joint, we noticed bars in every direction, some on the second story with balconies suggesting wild night life. we entered the loneliest one—nobody there except the bartender. she served us rum cocktails, and then we all sat entranced by the television, showing off a crazy dance party on a boat. you couldn’t turn away. the camera work slowly moved about the party, usually lingering on the women, moving the lens up and down their bodies somewhat creepily. but not entirely: you got the sense this camera guy wasn’t just searching for jerkoff material. he actually seemed to be invested in exploring the diverse range of attire.

“everyone’s style is so unique,” said Natalie.

once again, the bell struck beach o’clock, so we paid our tab, returned to Main, and continued west to Turtle Beach. though it required a small entrance fee, the place killed Mahogany. the sand felt good. the shore went on for a mile. and it wasn’t just washed up white people; families and friends of Jamaicans had set up camp on the beach, enjoying the lovely day.




well-beached, we packed our things and headed back east on Main, taking a few moments to dip into the open-air market that reminded me of the Huembes in Managua. every stall featured the same cheap souvenirs and aggressive, middle-aged woman, desperate to sell her wares. we quickly dipped out with promises to return.

back to James we went, lured into a tiny dive bar by its glowing purple lights and blasting Michael Jackson. the lady tending the bar charged us as if we were locals, and we chilled as though it were true. at one point, a man joined us at the lonely bar. he’d just finished work in the neighborhood, and more than anyone else he seemed eager to talk to us. we talked about Jamaica, we talked about our trip, we talked about the world.

“what do you think of Trump?” he asked with a smile.

we just groaned, so he understood. i tried to make excuses, saying many countries have crazy leaders, and then i asked about Jamaican politics. but the way he told it, America seems to have it a lot shittier.



we said our goodbyes, and then Natalie and i weaved through Main and the rotunda to a highly recommended restaurant called Mom’s. i ordered the fish stew, and loved it.

back at home, we flipped through the tube before eventually landing on music videos. some stuff we recognized, some stuff we didn’t, and then—when i wasn’t paying attention—Natalie asked, “is that the Dub Club?”

sure enough, the Rastafarian singing his soulful song on the TV had wisely selected the Dub Club as the main site for his music video. it was all there: the sweet views, the lovely balcony, the incredible soundsystem. i laughed in love.

~~~~~~~~~~~ 11 ~~~~~~~~~~~

the second morning, we had less trouble getting Marcia’s attention. for the last time, we lived like locals, delighting in instant coffee, white bread, and fruit on the balcony while watching a few goats amble across the field.

we caught a taxi to town, where we revisited the market to pick up souvenirs for family and friends. a Harley Davidson shirt for my dad, a Snoopy shirt (which we had the entire community of saleswomen hunting for in the right size) for my mom, bracelets, and more. exhausted by capitalism, we embarked on a long, arduous passage to a restaurant called Passage to India. eventually we found the place, so we treated ourselves to naan and chicken tikka masala.

afternoon approaching, we returned home to pack up and then caught another taxi (this one shared) to Knutsford Express, saying our silent goodbyes to Content Garden.


a bit shorter than the ride east across the island, the ride to Montego Bay only took us a couple hours. we arrived at El Greco, an extensive resort perched on the hill above Caribic House, the dingy hotel we’d reserved our first night on the island. amazingly, i’d snagged the Greco room for the same price as the Caribic one.

i say amazing because, as with the Spanish Court, we were greeted with a cocktail on arrival. a bellboy helped carried our bags and guided us to our room, which was actually a two-story apartment complete with bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room, and balcony. the bellboy locked one of the extra bedrooms belonging to the unit, but i took note of the place’s excellent possibilities for partying.

we had a drink and smoke on the balcony, and then ventured out to the skybridge and elevator to take us down to the street. we hit up the old ATM near Caribic and then walked the old walk to the Pork Pit. we had advanced so much since our last time there. we declined aggressive shopkeepers with ease, and then ordered a 1/2 pound of ribs with the perfect amount of sides.

satisfied, we walked home perfectly at ease, shared another round, and then slept.

~~~~~~~~~~~~ 12 ~~~~~~~~~~~~

i woke up around 8 in the morning, left Natalie in bed, and descended to the living room to finish reading Herzog. i’d planned it perfectly so that, reading two of his journal entries per day, i reached the very end of his walk right at the end of our trip. poor, dark soul that Herzog. at least his heroine survived.

our stay included breakfast, so Natalie and i wandered over to the dining hall, where a waitress seated us and gave us two options. Natalie chose the American breakfast, i chose the Jamaican breakfast. no complaints, but that plate of fried fish, greens, banana, yucca, and dumpling didn’t live up to Chef’s masterpieces.

everywhere we looked, old white retired people looked restless. resort life, i suppose. predictably, the black people seemed to be opting for the Jamaican breakfast while the white people went American. but who knows, maybe they all switched their choices from day to day.

for a final round of shopping, we took the elevator down the street and bought a ton of rum at the local liquor store. back up in the room, we packed while listening to the album of the week (Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners) and then checked out.

for one final act, we walked to the resort’s cliffside, smoked a bit, and took in the view.



when we returned to the lobby and checked our phones, we learned that our flight had been delayed a couple hours. apparently the weather in the eastern U.S. didn’t look quite as pretty as it did in the Caribbean.

so we returned to the main drag and walked to the park, where it seemed all the locals hung out. in fact, it was one of the few places you didn’t see a bunch of clueless tourists trudging around with bewildered looks on their faces. we carved out a chill, private spot in the shade of a tree. reminded me of the time we lay in the grass while waiting for our flight to take us away from Amsterdam.

at last, it was time to go. we scooped up fries from burger king and then caught our ride to the airport, where we encountered lines, lines, lines, lines. we ate at the food court. i played hearts. we waited and waited to board our delayed plane, feeling pretty sure we’d miss our connection in Charlotte.

luckily, we earned exit row seats. unluckily, Charlotte was chaos. our flight flew to San Francisco without us, and so Natalie and i waited in a long line to rebook for a morning flight. then we raced through the airport in search of dinner before all the restaurants closed. California Pizza Kitchen saves the day. after dinner, Natalie went to sleep on a heat vent while i finished reading the second half of Americanah, not sleeping a wink.

at dawn, red-eyed and ready for home, we boarded our plane.

the flight went so nicely until we reached the Bay Area, where high winds from the latest storm system tossed our scrap of metal around the skies like a plaything. a dozen people vomited, and i nearly did too.

but it’s always nice to kiss Ithaca.

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selections from Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly. Philadelphia had the musty scent of history. New Haven smelled of neglect. Baltimore smelled of brine, and Brooklyn of sun-warmed garbage. But Princeton had no smell. She liked taking deep breaths here. (3)


“Why?” he asked. He taught ideas of nuance and complexity in his classes and yet he was asking her for a single reason, the cause. (8)


espadrille (n.)
a light canvas shoe with a plaited fiber sole.
Not that Dike would ever wear those shoes that looked like espadrilles. (9)


histrionics (n.)
exaggerated dramatic behavior designed to attract attention.
Ifemelu thought little of Nollywood films, with their exaggerated histrionics and their improbable plots, but she nodded in agreement because to hear “Nigeria” and “good” in the same sentence was a luxury, even coming from this strange Senegalese woman, and she chose to see in this an augury of her return home. (16)


“Don’t worry,” she said, and touched his shoulder. “God will bring Shell. We will be okay, darling.” (27)


“But you know these men, the one woman that says no to them is the one that they don’t forget.” (29)


Big Men and Big Women, Obinze would later learn, did not talk to people, they instead talked at people, and that evening Chief had talked and talked, pontificating about politics, while his guests crowed, “Exactly! You are correct, Chief! Thank you!” (30)


To have money, it seemed, was to be consumed by money. (31)


There was something immodest about her modesty: it announced itself. (34)


For Yemi, a book did not quality as literature unless it had polysyllabic words and incomprehensible passages.

“The problem is that the novel is too simple, the man does not even use any big words,” Yemi said. (38)




catarrh (n.)
excessive discharge or buildup of mucus in the nose or throat, associated with inflammation of the mucous membrane.
“I had catarrh this morning,” she would start. (53)


She had always got along with Ifemelu’s mother, the easy relationship between two people who carefully avoided conversations of any depth. (64)


“I bet I speak Igbo better than you.”

“Impossible,” he said, and switched to Igbo. “Ama m atu inu. I even know proverbs.”

“Yes. The basic one everybody knows. A frog does not run in the afternoon for nothing.”

“No. I know serious proverbs. Akota ife ka ubi, e lee oba. If something bigger than the farm is dug up, the barn is sold.”

“Ah, you want to try me?” she asked, laughing. “Acho afu adi ako n’akpa dibia. The medicine man’s bag has all kinds of things.”

“Not bad,” he said. “E gbuo dike n’ogu uno, e luo na ogu agu, e lote ya. If you kill a warrior in a local fight, you’ll remember him when fighting enemies.” (74)


“She’ll come back and be a serious Americanah like Bisi,” Ranyinudo said.

They roared with laughter, at that word “Americanah,” wreathed in glee, the fourth syllable extended, and at the thought of Bisi, a girl in the form below them, who had come back from a short trip to America with odd affectations, pretending she no longer understood Yoruba, adding a slurred r to every English word she spoke. (78)


“Just be yourself,” Aunty Uju told her and Ifemelu replied, “How can I just be myself? What does that even mean?” (82)


“If anything happens between you and Obinze, you are both responsible. But Nature is unfair to women. An act is done by two people, but if there are any consequences, one person carries it alone. Do you understand me?” (87)


Obinze wanted to go to the University of Ibadan because of a poem.

He read the poem to her, J. P. Clark’s “Ibadan,” and he lingered on the words “running splash of rust and gold.”

“Are you serious?” she asked him. “Because of this poem.?”

“It’s so beautiful.” (107)


harmattan (n.)
a dry, dusty easterly or northeasterly wind on the West African coast, occurring from December to February.
It surprised Ifemelu, how much she had missed Nsukka itself, the routines of unhurried pace, friends gathered in her room until past midnight, the inconsequential gossip told and retold, the stairs climbed slowly up and down as though in a gradual awakening, and each morning whitened by the harmattan. In Lagos, the harmattan was a mere veil of haze, but in Nsukka, it was a raging, mercurial presence; the mornings were crisp, the afternoons ashen with heat, and the nights unknown. Dust whirls would start in the far distance, very pretty to look at as long as they were far away, and swirl until they coated everything brown. Even eyelashes. Everywhere, moisture would be greedily sucked up; the wood laminate on tables would peel off and curl, pages of exercise books would crackle, clothes would dry minutes after being hung out, lips would crack and bleed, and Robb and Mentholatum kept within reach, in pockets and handbags. Skin would be shined with Vaseline, while the forgotten bits—between the fingers or at the elbows—turned a dull ash. The tree branches would be stark and, with their leaves fallen, wear a kind of proud desolation. The church bazaars would leave the air redolent, smoky from mass cooking. Some nights, the heat lay thick like a towel. Other nights, a sharp cold wind would descend, and Ifemelu would abandon her hostel room and, snuggled next to Obinze on his mattress, listen to the whistling pines howling outside, in a world suddenly fragile and breakable. (112-113)


“You should never ever let the boy be in charge of your own protection. If he does not want to use it, then he does not care enough about you and you should not be there.” (118)


Aunty Uju’s cell phone rang. “Yes, this is Uju.” She pronounced it you-joo instead of oo-joo.

“Is that how you pronounce your name now?” Ifemelu asked afterwards.

“It’s what they call me.”

Ifemelu swallowed the words “Well, that isn’t your name.” (128)


If Ifemelu had met Alma in Lagos, she would have thought of her as white, but she would learn that Alma was Hispanic, an American category that was, confusingly, both an ethnicity and a race, and she would remember Alma when years later, she wrote a blog post titled “Understanding America for the Non-American Black: What Hispanic Means.”

Hispanic means the frequent companions of American blacks in poverty rankings, Hispanic means a slight step above American blacks in the American race ladder, Hispanic means the chocolate-skinned woman from Peru, Hispanic means the indigenous people of Mexico. Hispanic means the biracial-looking folks from the Dominican Republic. Hispanic means the paler folks from Puerto Rico. Hispanic also means the blond, blue-eyed guy from Argentina. All you need to be is Spanish-speaking but not from Spain and voilà, you’re a race called Hispanic. (128-129)


“They are not sausages, they are hot dogs.”

“It’s like saying that a bikini is not the same thing as underwear. Would a visitor from space know the difference?” (132)


At the grocery store, Aunty Uju never bought what she needed; instead she bought what was on sale and made herself need it. (133)


Once, she asked Dike what he had done in school before summer, and he said, “Circles.” They would sit on the floor in a circle and share their favorite things.

She was appalled. “Can you do division?”

He looked at her strangely. “I’m only in first grade, Coz.”

“When I was your age I could do simple division.” (138)


Years later, a blog post would read: When it comes to dressing well, American culture is so self-fulfilled that it has not only disregarded this courtesy of self-presentation, but has turned that disregard into a virtue. “We are too superior/busy/cool/not-uptight to bother about how we look to other people, and so we can wear pajamas to school and underwear to the mall.” (157-158)


School in America was easy, assignments sent in by e-mail, classrooms air-conditioned, professors willing to give makeup tests. But she was uncomfortable with what the professors called “participation,” and did not see why it should be part of the final grade; it merely made students talk and talk, class time wasted on obvious words, hollow words, sometimes meaningless words. It had to be that Americans were taught, from elementary school, to always say something in class, no matter what. And so she sat stiff-tongued, surrounded by students who were all folded easily on their seats, all flush with knowledge, not of the subject of the classes, but of how to be in the classes. They never said “I don’t know.” They said, instead, “I’m not sure,” which did not give any information but still suggested the possibility of knowledge. And they ambled, these Americans, they walked without rhythm. They avoided giving direct instructions: they did not say “Ask somebody upstairs”; they said “You might want to ask somebody upstairs.” When you tripped and fell, when you choked, when misfortune befell you, they did not say “Sorry.” They said “Are you okay?” when it was obvious that you were not. And when you said “Sorry” to them when they choked or tripped or encountered misfortune, they replied, eyes wide with surprise, “Oh, it’s not your fault.” And they overused the word “excited,” a professor excited about a new book, a student excited about a class, a politician on TV excited about a law; it was altogether too much excitement. Some of the expressions she heard every day astonished her, jarred her, and she wondered what Obinze’s mother would make of them. You shouldn’t of done that. There is three things. I had a apple. A couple days. I want to lay down. “These Americans cannot speak English o,” she told Obinze. On her first day at school, she had visited the health center, and had stared a little too long at the bin filled with free condoms in the corner. After her physical, the receptionist told her, “You’re all set!” and she, blank, wondered what “You’re all set” meant until she assumed it had to mean that she had done all she needed to. (164-165)


She hungered to understand everything about America, to wear a new, knowing skin right away: to support a team at the Super Bowl, understand what a Twinkie was and what sports “lockouts” meant, measure in ounces and square feet, order a “muffin” without thinking that it really was a cake, and say “I ‘scored’ a deal” without feeling silly. (166)


“Please do not go to Kmart and buy twenty pairs of jeans because each costs five dollars. The jeans are not running away. They will be there tomorrow at an even more reduced price. You are now in America: do not expect to have hot food for lunch. That African taste must be abolished. When you visit the home of an American with some money, they will offer to show you their house. Forget that in your house back home, your father would throw a fit if anyone came close to his bedroom. We all know that the living room was where it stopped and, if absolutely necessary, then the toilet. But please smile and follow the American and see the house and make sure you say you like everything. And do not be shocked by the indiscriminate touching of American couples. Standing in line at the cafeteria, the girl will touch the boy’s arm and the boy will put his arm around her shoulder and they will rub shoulders and back and rub rub rub, but please do not imitate this behavior.” (171-172)


He looked people in the eye not because he was interested in them but because he knew it made them feel that he was interested in them. (184)


She walked to the train, feeling heavy and slow, her mind choked with mud, and, seated by the window, she began to cry. She felt like a small ball, adrift and alone. The world was a big, big place and she was so tiny, so insignificant, rattling around emptily. Back in her apartment, she washed her hands with water so hot that it scalded her fingers, and a small soft welt flowered on her thumb. She took off all her clothes, and squashed them into a rumpled ball that she threw at a corner, staring at it for a while. She would never again wear those clothes, never even touch them. She sat naked on her bed and looked at her life, in this tiny room with the moldy carpet, the hundred-dollar bill on the table, her body rising with loathing. She should never have gone there. She should have walked away. She wanted to shower, to scrub herself, but she could not bear the thought of touching her own body, and so she put on her nightdress, gingerly, to touch as little of herself as possible. She imagined packing her things, somehow buying a ticket, and going back to Lagos. She curled on her bed and cried, wishing she could reach into herself and yank out the memory of what had just happened. (190)


Did things begin to exist only when they were named? (195)


In the den, Athena began to cry. Laura went to her and, soon enough, a string of negotiations followed: “Do you want this one, sweetheart? The yellow or the blue or the red? Which do you want?”

Just give her one, Ifemelu thought. To overwhelm a child of four with choices, to lay on her the burden of making a decision, was to deprive her of the bliss of childhood. Adulthood, after all, already loomed, where she would have to make grimmer and grimmer decisions. (206)


One morning, Aunty Uju woke up and went to the bathroom. Bartholemew had just brushed his teeth. Aunty Uju reached for her toothbrush and saw, inside the sink, a thick blob of toothpaste. Thick enough for a full mouth-cleaning. It sat there, far from the drain, soft and melting. It disgusted her. How exactly did a person clean their teeth and end up leaving so much toothpaste in the sink? Had he not seen it? Had he, when it fell into the sink, pressed more onto his toothbrush? Or did he just go ahead and brush anyway with an almost-dry brush? Which meant his teeth were not clean. But his teeth did not concern Aunty Uju. The blob of toothpaste left in the sink did. On so many other mornings, she had cleaned off toothpaste, rinsed out the sink. But not this morning. This morning, she was done. She shouted his name, again and again. He asked her what was wrong. She told him the toothpaste in the sink was wrong. He looked at her and mumbled that he had been in a hurry, he was already late for work, and she told him that she, too, had work to go to, and she earned more than he did, in case he had forgotten. She was paying for his car, after all. He stormed off and went downstairs. (272)




“There was a feeling I wanted to feel that I did not feel.” (355)


The most unforgettable dinner parties happened when guests said unexpected, and potentially offensive, things. (360)


They tell us race is an invention, that there is more genetic variation between two black people than there is between a black person and a white person. Then they tell us black people have a worse kind of breast cancer and get more fibroids. And white folk get cystic fibrosis and osteoporosis. So what’s the deal, doctors in the house? Is race an invention or not? (374)


epicene (adj.)
having characteristics of both sexes or no characteristics of either sex; of indeterminate sex.
There was something fluid, almost epicene, about his lean body, and it made her remember that he had told her he did yoga. (382)


“Ifemelu, can I just say how happy I am that you’re not an academic? Have you heard his friends talk? Nothing is just what it is. Everything has to mean something else. It’s ridiculous. The other day Marcia was talking about how black women are fat because their bodies are sites of anti-slavery resistance. Yes, that’s true, if burgers and sodas are anti-slavery resistance.” (385)


In America, racism exists but racists are all gone. Racists belong to the past. Racists are the thin-lipped mean white people in the movies about the civil rights era. (390)


“We humans are not supposed to eat with utensils,” she said. (402)


So after this listing of don’ts, what’s the do? I’m not sure. Try listening, maybe. Hear what is being said. And remember that it’s not about you. American Blacks are not telling you that you are to blame. They are just telling you what is. If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding. (406)


cowrie (n.)
a marine mollusk that has a smooth, glossy, domed shell with a long narrow opening, typically brightly patterned and popular with collectors.
She was a vision in cowries, they rattled from her wrists, were strung through her curled dreadlocks, and looped around her neck. (415)


What Academics Mean by White Privilege, or Yes It Sucks to Be Poor and White but Try Being Poor and Non-White (429)


“Although if he wins, he will no longer be black, just as Oprah is no longer black, she’s Oprah,” Grace said. “So she can go where black people are loathed and be fine. He’ll no longer be black, he’ll just be Obama.” (442)




He had discovered that grief did not dim with time, it was instead a volatile state of being. (458)




Her parents liked to talk about their visit to Baltimore, her mother about the sales, her father about how he could not understand the news because Americans now used expressions like “divvy up” and “nuke” in serious news.

“It is the final infantilization and informalization of America! It portends the end of the American empire, and they are killing themselves from within!” he pronounced. (489)


“That girl never understood the first rule of life in this Lagos. You do not marry the man you love. You marry the man who can best maintain you.” (492)


The Nigerpolitan Club meeting: a small cluster of people drinking champagne in paper cups, at the poolside of a home in Osborne Estate, chic people, all dripping with savoir faire, each nursing a self-styled quirkiness—a ginger-colored Afro, a T-shirt with a graphic of Thomas Sankara, oversize handmade earrings that hung like pieces of modern art. Their voices burred with foreign accents. You can’t find a decent smoothie in this city! Oh my God, were you at that conference? What this country needs is an active civil society.


Other people joined them, all encircled by a familiarity, because they could reach so easily for the same references. Soon they were laughing and listing the things they missed about America.

“Low-fat soy milk, NPR, fast Internet,” Ifemelu said.

“Good customer service, good customer service, good customer service,” Bisola said. “Folks here behave as if they are doing you a favor by serving you. The high-end places are okay, not great, but the regular restaurants? Forget it. The other day I asked a waiter if I could get boiled yam with a different sauce than was on the menu and he just looked at me and said no. Hilarious.” (501-502)


Later, Ranyinudo told her, “I don’t understand how a fine boy like Dike would want to kill himself. A boy living in America with everything. How can? That is very foreign behavior.”

“Foreign behavior? What the fuck are you talking about? Foreign behavior? Have you read Things Fall Apart?” Ifemelu asked, wishing she had not told Ranyinudo about Dike. (524)


“When I was babysitting in undergrad, one day I heard myself telling the kid I was babysitting, ‘You’re such a trouper!’ Is there another word more American than ‘trouper’?” (534)


“The best thing about America is that it gives you space. I like that. I like that you buy into the dream, it’s a lie but you buy into it and that’s all that matters.” (536)


“When I started in real estate, I considered renovating old houses instead of tearing them down, but it didn’t make sense. Nigerians don’t buy houses because they’re old. A renovated two-hundred-year-old mill granary, you know, the kind of thing Europeans like. It doesn’t work here at all. But of course it makes sense because we are Third Worlders and Third Worlders are forward-looking, we like things to be new, because our best is still ahead, while in the West their best is already past and so they have to make a fetish of that past.” (538-539)


She remembered how she had always wanted to beat him, even though he was the school champion, and how he would tell her, teasingly, “Try more strategy and less force. Passion never wins any game, never mind what they say.” He said something similar now: “Excuses don’t win a game. You should try strategy.” (544)


“How very American, complaining about smoke,” Obinze said, and she could not tell whether he meant it as a rebuke or not. (548)


This was love, to be eager for tomorrow. (553)


They were talking about American politics once when she said, “I like America. It’s really the only place else where I could live apart from here. But one day a bunch of Blaine’s friends and I were talking about kids and I realized that if I ever have children, I don’t want them to have American childhoods. I don’t want them to say ‘Hi’ to adults, I want them to say ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good afternoon.’ I don’t want them to mumble ‘Good’ when somebody says ‘How are you?’ to them. Or to raise five fingers when asked how old they are. I want them to say ‘I’m fine, thank you’ and ‘I’m five years old.’ I don’t want a child who feeds on praise and expects a star for effort and talks back to adults in the name of self-expression. Is that terribly conservative? Blaine’s friends said it was and for them, ‘conservative’ is the worst insult you can get.” (563-564)


And it struck Obinze that, a few years ago, they were attending weddings, now it was christenings and soon it would be funerals. (574)


Okwudiba took a deep breath and exhaled, as though to brush aside the alcohol. “Look, The Zed, many of us didn’t marry the woman we truly loved. We married the woman that was around when we were ready to marry. So forget this thing. You can keep seeing her, but no need for this kind of white-people behavior. If your wife has a child for somebody else or if you beat her, that is a reason for divorce. But to get up and say you have no problem with your wife but you are leaving for another woman? Haba. We don’t behave like that, please.”

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Hafner at El Rio

20170318 Hafner

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selections from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

These girls formed the Brodie set. That was what they had been called even before the headmistress had given them the name, in scorn, when they had moved from the Junior to the Senior school at the age of twelve. At that time they had been immediately recognisable as Miss Brodie’s pupils, being vastly informed on a lot of subjects irrelevant to the authorised curriculum, as the headmistress said, and useless to the school as a school. These girls were discovered to have heard of the Buchmanites and Mussolini, the Italian Renaissance painters, the advantages to the skin of cleansing cream and witch‐hazel over honest soap and water, and the word “menarche”; the interior decoration of the London house of the author of Winnie the Pooh had been described to them, as had the love lives of Charlotte Brontë and of Miss Brodie herself. They were aware of the existence of Einstein and the arguments of those who considered the Bible to be untrue. They knew the rudiments of astrology but not the date of the Battle of Flodden or the capital of Finland. All of the Brodie set, save one, counted on its fingers, as had Miss Brodie, with accurate results more or less. (1-2)


“O where shall I find a virtuous woman, for her price is above rubies.” (2)


“Where there is no vision,” Miss Brodie had assured them, “the people perish.” (4)


“I am putting old heads on your young shoulders,” Miss Brodie had told them at that time, “and all my pupils are the crème de la crème.” (5)


“These years are still the years of my prime. It is important to recognise the years of one’s prime, always remember that.” (6)


“This is Stanley Baldwin who got in as Prime Minister and got out again ere long,” said Miss Brodie. “Miss Mackay retains him on the wall because she believes in the slogan ‘Safety First.’ But Safety does not come first. Goodness, Truth and Beauty come first.” (7)


“I have frequently told you, and the holidays just past have convinced me, that my prime has truly begun. One’s prime is elusive. You little girls, when you grow up, must be on the alert to recognise your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur. You must then live it to the full.” (8)


“I won’t have to do with girls who roll up the sleeves of their blouses, however fine the weather. Roll them down at once, we are civilized beings.” (9)


“You did well,” said Miss Brodie to the class, when Miss Mackay had gone, “not to answer the question put to you. It is well, when in difficulties, to say never a word, neither black nor white. Speech is silver but silence is golden.” (10)


“I wouldn’t like to have sexual intercourse,” Sandy said.

“Neither would I. I’m going to marry a pure person.” (18)


It was well-known that millionaires led double lives. (19)


tussore (n.)
coarse silk from the larvae of the tussore moth and related species.
“Go to the science room and have the stain removed; but remember it is very bad for the tussore.” (22)


“Art is greater than science. Art comes first, and then science.” (24)


velour (n.)
a plush woven fabric resembling velvet, chiefly used for soft furnishings, casual clothing, and hats.
It is time now to speak of the long walk through the old parts of Edinburgh where Miss Brodie took her set, dressed in their deep violet coats and black velour hats with the green and white crest, one Friday in March when the school’s central heating system had broken down and everyone else had been muffled up and sent home. (26-27)


“For those who like that sort of thing,” said Miss Brodie in her best Edinburgh voice, “that is the sort of thing they like.” (31)


Sandy, Rose Stanley and Monica Douglas were of believing though not church‐going families. Jenny Gray and Mary Macgregor were Presbyterians and went to Sunday School. Eunice Gardiner was Episcopalian and claimed that she did not believe in Jesus, but in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Sandy, who believed in ghosts, felt that the Holy Ghost was a feasible proposition. The whole question was, during this winter term, being laid open by Miss Brodie who, at the same time as adhering to the strict Church of Scotland habits of her youth, and keeping the Sabbath, was now, in her prime, attending evening classes in comparative religion at the University. So her pupils heard all about it, and learned for the first time that some honest people did not believe in God, nor even Allah. But the girls were set to study the Gospels with diligence for their truth and goodness, and to read them aloud for their beauty. (35-36)


“The word ‘education’ comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul. To Miss Mackay it is a putting in of something that is not there,and that is not what I call education, I call it intrusion, from the Latin root prefix in meaning in and the stem trudo, I thrust. Miss Mackay’s method is to thrust a lot of information into the pupil’s head; mine is a leading out of knowledge, and that is true education as is proved by the root meaning. Now Miss Mackay has accused me of putting ideas into my girls’ heads, but in fact that is her practice and mine is quite the opposite.


“So I intend simply to point out to Miss Mackay that there is a radical difference in our principles of education. Radical is a word pertaining to roots—Latin radix, a root. We differ at root, the headmistress and I, upon the question whether we are employed to educate the minds of girls or to intrude upon them. We have had this argument before, but Miss Mackay is not, I may say, an outstanding logician. A logician is one skilled in logic. Logic is the art of reasoning.” (36-38)


It is not to be supposed that Miss Brodie was unique at this point of her prime; or that (since such things are relative) she was in any way off her head. She was alone, merely, in that she taught in a school like Marcia Blaine’s. There were legions of her kind during the nineteen‐thirties, women from the age of thirty and upward, who crowded their war‐bereaved spinsterhood with voyages of discovery into new ideas and energetic practices in art or social welfare,education or religion. The progressive spinsters of Edinburgh did not teach in schools, especially in schools of traditional character like Marcia Blaine’s School for Girls. It was in this that Miss Brodie was, as the rest of the staff spinsterhood put it, a trifle out of place. But she was not out of place amongst her own kind,the vigorous daughters of dead or enfeebled merchants, of ministers of religion, University professors, doctors, big warehouse owners of the past, or the owners of fisheries who had endowed these daughters with shrewd wits, high‐coloured cheeks, constitutions like horses, logical educations, hearty spirits and private means. They could be seen leaning over the democratic counters of Edinburgh grocers’ shops arguing with the Manager at three in the afternoon on every subject from the authenticity of the Scriptures to the question what the word “guaranteed” on a jam‐jar really meant. They went to lectures, tried living on honey and nuts, took lessons in German and then went walking in Germany; they bought caravans and went off with them into the hills among the lochs; they played the guitar, they supported all the new little theatre companies; they took lodgings in the slums and, distributing pots of paint, taught their neighbours the arts of simple interior decoration; they preached the inventions of Marie Stopes; they attended the meetings of the Oxford Group and put Spiritualism to their hawk‐eyed test. Some assisted in the Scottish Nationalist Movement; others, like Miss Brodie, called themselves Europeans and Edinburgh a European capital, the city of Hume and Boswell.

They were not, however, committee women. They were not school‐teachers. The committee spinsters were less enterprising and not at all rebellious, they were sober churchgoers and quiet workers. The school‐mistresses were of a still more orderly type, earning their keep, living with aged parents and taking walks on the hills and holidays at North Berwick.

But those of Miss Brodie’s kind were great talkers and feminists and, like most feminists, talked to men as man‐to‐man. (43-44)


kirk (n.)
1. a church.
2. (the Kirk or the Kirk of Scotland) the Church of Scotland as distinct from the Church of England or from the Episcopal Church in Scotland.
“Mr. Logan, Elder though you are, I am a woman in my prime of life, so you can take it from me that you get a sight more religion out of Professor Tovey’s Sunday concerts than you do out of your kirk services.” (44-45)


The summer holidays of nineteen‐thirty‐one marked the first anniversary of the launching of Miss Brodie’s prime. The year to come was in many ways the most sexual year of the Brodie set, who were now turned eleven and twelve; it was a crowded year of stirring revelations. In later years, sex was only one of the things in life. That year it was everything. (45)


“As you know, I don’t believe in talking down to children, you are capable of grasping more than is generally appreciated by your elders.” (47)


“Whoever has opened the window has opened it too wide,” said Miss Brodie. “Six inches is perfectly adequate. More is vulgar. One should have an innate sense of these things.” (47)


The question of whether Miss Brodie was actually capable of being kissed and of kissing occupied the Brodie set till Christmas. (55)


Towards the end of the Easter holidays, to crown the sex‐laden year, Jenny, out walking alone, was accosted by a man joyfully exposing himself beside the Water of Leith. He said, “Come and look at this.”

“At what?” said Jenny, moving closer, thinking to herself he had picked up a fallen nestling from the ground or had discovered a strange plant. Having perceived the truth, she escaped unharmed and unpursued though breathless, and was presently surrounded by solicitous, horrified relations and was coaxed to sip tea well sugared against the shock. (70)


I love to hear you singing “Hey Johnnie Cope.” But were I to receive a proposal of marriage tomorrow from the Lord Lyon King of Arms I would decline it.

Allow me, in conclusion, to congratulate you warmly upon your sexual intercourse, as well as your singing.

With fondest joy,
Jean Brodie (78)


Miss Mackay laid another scheme and the scheme undid her. There was a highly competitive house system in the Senior school, whose four houses were named Holyrood, Melrose, Argyll and Biggar. Miss Mackay saw to it that the Brodie girls were as far as possible placed indifferent houses. Jenny was put in Holyrood, Sandy with Mary Macgregor in Melrose, Monica and Eunice went into Argyll and Rose Stanley into Biggar. They were therefore obliged to compete with each other in every walk of life within the school and on the wind‐swept hockey fields which lay like the graves of the martyrs exposed to the weather in an outer suburb. It was the team spirit, they were told, that counted now, every house must go all out for the Shield and turn up on Saturday mornings to yell encouragement to the house. Interhouse friendships must not suffer, of course, but the team spirit . . .

This phrase was enough for the Brodie set who, after two years at Miss Brodie’s, had been well directed as to its meaning.

“Phrases like ‘the team spirit’ are always employed to cut across individualism, love and personal loyalties,” she had said. “Ideas like ‘the team spirit,'” she said, “ought not to be enjoined on the female sex, especially if they are of that dedicated nature whose virtues from time immemorial have been utterly opposed to the concept. Florence Nightingale knew nothing of the team spirit, her mission was to save life regardless of the team to which it belonged. Cleopatra knew nothing of the team spirit if you read your Shakespeare. Take Helen of Troy. And the Queen of England, it is true she attends international sport, but she has to, it is all empty show, she is concerned only with the King’s health and antiques. Where would the team spirit have got Sybil Thorndike?—She is the great actress and the rest of the cast have got the team spirit. Pavlova . ..” (82-83)


On Saturday afternoons an hour was spent on her Greek lessons, for she had insisted that Jenny and Sandy should teach her Greek at the same time as they learned it. “There is an old tradition for this practice,” said Miss Brodie. “Many families in the olden days could afford to send but one child to school, whereupon that one scholar of the family imparted to the others in the evening what he had learned in the morning. I have long wanted to know the Greek language, and this scheme will also serve to impress your knowledge on your own minds. John Stuart Mill used to rise at dawn to learn Greek at the age of five, and what John Stuart Mill could do as an infant at dawn, I too can do on a Saturday afternoon in my prime.”

She progressed in Greek, although she was somewhat muddled about the accents, being differently informed by Jenny and Sandy who took turns to impart to her their weekly intake of the language. But she was determined to enter and share the new life of her special girls, and what she did not regard as humane of their new concerns, or what was not within the scope of her influence, she scorned.

She said: “It is witty to say that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, or that a circle is a plane figure bounded by one line, every point of which is equidistant from a fixed centre. It is plain witty. Everyone knows what a straight line and a circle are.”

When, after the examinations at the end of the first term, she looked at the papers they had been set, she read some of the more vulnerable of the questions aloud with the greatest contempt: “A window cleaner carries a uniform 60‐lb. ladder 15 ft. long, at one end of which a bucket of water weighing 40 lb. is hung. At what point must he support the ladder to carry it horizontally? Where is the c.g. of his load?” Miss Brodie looked at the paper, after reading out this question as if to indicate that she could not believe her eyes. Many a time she gave the girls to understand that the solution to such problems would be quite useless to Sybil Thorndike, Anna Pavlova and the late Helen of Troy. (86-87)


rota (n.)
1. chiefly Brit. a list showing when each of a number of people has to do a particular job. Compare with “roster.”
2. (the Rota) the supreme ecclesiastical and secular court of the Roman Catholic Church.
She always went to church on Sunday mornings, she had a rota of different denominations and sects which included the Free Churches of Scotland, the Established Church of Scotland, the Methodist and the Episcopalian churches and any other church outside the Roman Catholic pale which she might discover. (90)


Her disapproval of the Church of Rome was based on her assertions that it was a church of superstition, and that only people who did not want to think for themselves were Roman Catholics. (90)


“It is impossible to persuade a man who does not disagree, but smiles.” (92)


Miss Brodie was easily the equal of both sisters together, she was the square on the hypotenuse of a right‐angled triangle and they were only the squares on the other two sides. (92)


“How many children?” said Miss Brodie, her teapot poised.

“Five, I think,” said Sandy.

“Six, I think,” said Jenny, “counting the baby.”

“There are lots of babies,” said Sandy.

“Roman Catholics, of course,” said Miss Brodie, addressing this to Mr. Lowther. (97)


“How do you know the nightdress was Miss Brodie’s?” demanded Miss Mackay, the sharp‐minded woman, who smelt her prey very near and yet saw it very far. (99)


There was a wonderful sunset across the distant sky, reflected in the sea, streaked with blood and puffed with avenging purple and gold as if the end of the world had come without intruding on every‐day life. (101)


It always seemed afterwards to Sandy that where there was a choice of various courses, the most economical was the best, and that the course to be taken was the most expedient and most suitable at the time for all the objects in hand. (108)


The Lloyds were Catholics and so were made to have a lot of children by force. (108)


“Nothing infuriates people more than their own lack of spiritual insight, Sandy, that is why the Moslems are so placid, they are full of spiritual insight.” (113)


Everyone likes to visit a nun, it provides a spiritual sensation,, a catharsis to go home with, especially if the nun clutches the bars of the grille. (129)


Miss Brodie was forced to retire at the end of the summer term of nineteen‐thirty‐nine, on the grounds that she had been teaching Fascism. Sandy, when she heard of it, thought of the marching troops of black shirts in the pictures on the wall. By now she had entered the Catholic Church, in whose ranks she had found quite a number of Fascists much less agreeable than Miss Brodie. (134)


“It’s only possible to betray where loyalty is due,” said Sandy. (136)

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selections from Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

solarium (n.)
a room fitted with extensive areas of glass to admit sunlight.
His wife, who had been most excited to see the Floating Market, slept even through dinner, for he remembered a meal in the hotel with only Romi and Ruma, in a solarium overlooking a garden, tasting the spiciest food he’d ever had in his life as mosquitoes swarmed angrily behind his children’s faces. (8)


cruet (n.)
a small container for salt, pepper, oil, or vinegar for use at a dining table.
There was a handpainted cruet that had the word “olio” on its side for Ruma, and a marbled box for Adam, the sort of thing one might use for storing paper clips. (18)


amnio (n.)
informal term for amniocentesis—the sampling of amniotic fluid using a hollow needle inserted into the uterus, to screen for developmental abnormalities in a fetus.
It would be another four weeks until the amnio, allowing them to learn the sex. (43)


With the birth of Akash, in his sudden, perfect presence, Ruma had felt awe for the first time in her life. He still had the power to stagger her at times—simply the fact that he was breathing, that all his organs were in their proper places, that blood flowed quietly and effectively through his small, sturdy limbs. He was her flesh and blood, her mother had told her in the hospital the day Akash was born. Only the words her mother used were more literal, enriching the tired phrase with meaning: “He is made from your meat and bone.” It had caused Ruma to acknowledge the supernatural in everyday life. But death, too, had the power to awe, she knew this now—that a human being could be alive for years and years, thinking and breathing and eating, full of a million worries and feelings and thoughts, taking up space in the world, and then, in an instant, become absent, invisible. (46)


I fell in love with Deborah, the way young girls often fall in love with women who are not their mothers. (69)


barrette (n.)
a typically bar-shaped clip or ornament for the hair.
My mother insisted whenever there was a gathering that I wear one of my ankle-length, faintly Victorian dresses, which she referred to as maxis, and have party hair, which meant taking a strand from either side of my head and joining them with a barrette at the back. (69)


“You never know,” Megan said. “A lot of women do things that are out of character on their wedding day.” (88)


“That’s the problem with this country,” her mother said. “Too many freedoms, too much having fun. When we were young, life wasn’t always about fun.” (143)


ayah (n.)
a native maid or nursemaid employed by Europeans in India.
Her ashes were tossed from a boat off the Gloucester coast that a coworker of my father’s, Jim Skillings, had arranged for, but her gold went back to Calcutta, distributed to poor women who had worked for my extended family as ayahs or cooks or maids. (257)


He was reminded of his family’s moves every time he visited another refugee camp, every time he watched a family combing through rubble for their possessions. In the end, that was life: a few plates, a favorite comb, a pair of slippers, a child’s string of beads. (309)

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