Tuesday, August 31, 2010


“Delia! Put that down. It don’t belong to you.”


“It’s not yours, Delia. Go on back yonder by the window…I’m gonna call Baby Clyde. Now go on.”

Mumbling to herself, half English, half Spanish, Delia rolled her chair over to her side of the room, leaving behind the pink sweater that was halfway out of the drawer when Jewel called out.

Delia had been at the Rose of Sharon retirement home for almost a year, but by now unable to recall how long it had been. Time, despite the tick of clocks and calendar squares was a forgotten concept, just another undefined confusion among the names and unnamed objects that swirled in the fog of her days and brought nighttime dreams she swore were real. Delia was eighty-seven years old and the mother of four sons, none of them nearby. It was the eldest who arranged and paid for his mother’s care at Rose of Sharon. Too far away to visit more than two or three times a year, he left that part of it to the youngest, who lived at least within an hour’s drive of the nursing home. Of the other two sons, one lived in Miami and had a new address and telephone number every month. The other son had never left Cuba.

Delia was unwilling to leave the little house in Edgewater after her husband’s death, wouldn’t agree to move away, to leave behind the reminders of Jorge, the rooms still colored by the lingering shades and smells of her husband. She had shaken her head, lips compressed into a straight line, refusing to go and live with Enrique in New York.

But living alone became increasingly difficult and little by little Delia lost her way, lost the will or desire to take care of herself. It was finally the neighbor who called Enrique in New York.

She wasn’t sure when that happened, but one day Enrique arrived, and now she couldn’t find the house in Edgewater, though she looked for it every day. Her son Amado came from Orlando to visit and took her in his car to see the house, but people she didn’t know could be seen through the windows and this upset her. She sat in the car twisting a tissue into shreds, cried and wouldn’t let go of Amado when he held her.

So now, Delia roamed the hallways of the Rose of Sharon nursing home in her wheelchair, her still thick mane of white hair falling in tangles around her face and shoulders. On more than one occasion she entered someone’s room and startled them, ask that they comb her hair or rub her feet. It was usually Baby Clyde, the nurse’s aide who came and collected her. A mention of his name was usually enough to stop Delia, he being the only one in the nursing home who had found some small clear window into her confusion. She responded to none of the other aides.

Last week she returned to the room with a bottle of medicine she had found on a table in another room. Delia was unscrewing the top when Jewel called out.

“Don’t you drink that Delia! That’s somebody’s medicine, not for you.”

“I know it’s my husband’s medicine and he had to take it every day.”

Jewel got herself over to Delia and put a hand over the bottle. “Delia, come on now and give me that medicine so Baby Clyde can take it back. It’s got somebody’s name on it there.”

“It’s probably my husband’s name.”

“Stop now. You want some Graham Crackers and peanut butter?” Jewel knew that her roommate liked the crackers, because just last week she’d stolen a plate full of them off Jewel’s table.

“Well, I might try one. They sound good. Would you rub my feet?”

Jewel slipped the bottle of medicine out of Delia’s hand and said, “I’ll ask the nurse about that when she comes.”


“She’ll be coming to get this medicine after I push the button. Now you sit here while I go over there and get you one or two of my crackers and peanut butter.” She brought the crackers over to Delia on a paper towel. Putting it down in her lap, she said. “You ain’t seen my Bible, have you? I know I had it in that drawer by my bed last night.”

Delia looked at Jewel with eyes that made no connection to Bible or peanut butter crackers. She was quiet again, lost somewhere among the shifting bits of memory that held the house in Edgewater and her husband Jorge, the man who rubbed her feet and combed her hair for all those years. She was sure it was all still there in her house if she could just find it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Montblanc 167

For all the passion I have for fountain pens and ink, the chances are very good that more of my time is spent with a pencil in my hand than with a pen. For letter and journal writing a pen is best, usually a different one, a different ink each day, but for other writing, for rough drafts, it’s always a pencil. Anyone who knows me, anyone familiar with the Scriblets blog can probably tell that I get a thrill out of fountain pens and ink. But because it is my constant companion, and very nearly an extension of my right hand, because it’s a weight that gives balance and rhythm to the movement of my hand across the page, for these reasons my big, heavy pencil deserves some space here.

Not my first mention of the Montblanc Meisterstuck Platinum Le Grand 0.9 mechanical pencil, as it got a brief mention in an earlier post I did last January on the Kuru Toga pencil from Mitsubishi. But for all its good points, comparing the Kuru Toga and the Montblanc is akin to lining up a Mercedes Benz beside a Chevrolet. The difference is better engineering and high quality materials. In the long run, in a hard pushed test drive, the Benz and the Montblanc will win every time.

The first thing that must be said about the Montblanc 167 mechanical pencil is that it is large and heavy. The length, at five and seven-eighths inches is not extreme, but the barrel is slightly larger than that of a Montblanc Meisterstuck fountain pen. In other words, it is a handful. I have no means of determining the weight, though I searched a dozen or more Montblanc websites, and with no real precision can only say it is a heavy pencil weighing about 30 grams.

The barrel and cap are jet-black precious resin, which highlights the platinum plated clip and three rings around the cap. The center ring is embossed with the name, and the clip is embossed with the pencil’s individual serial number. The familiar white star Montblanc emblem is set into the top of the cap. For most users, the outstanding feature is the 0.9mm lead, a thick and hard to ‘snap’ lead, which does away with the common problem of lead breaking in mid-sentence. In almost three years I have never had one occasion when the lead broke as I was writing.

The word meisterstuck is German for ‘masterpiece’ and in the European tradition becomes the most difficult challenge for a young craftsman aiming to attain the status of master craftsman. Montblanc likes to say that any of their products carrying the Meisterstuck label hold the emotions of its maker, and that the completed work has a soul.

I can concur with that thought when I put my Montblanc Meisterstuck to paper and see what it does. I will repeat what I said in the earlier Kuru Toga post…

The Montblanc 167 writes EXACTLY as I want it to, and simply doesn’t present problems. It is one hundred percent dependable, a quality that I suppose is to be expected in fine engineering.


Neither pens nor pencil, but congratulations to the Japanese Little League Baseball team from Tokyo who defeated Hawaii in the final yesterday and are now the 2010 Little League World Champions!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Sum of Man

Though she has published three collections of her poems, Nora Pollard has yet to receive the notice she deserves. I look about some in the shelves of modern poetry at my library and bookstore and never come across her name. As a subscriber to The Writer’s Almanac, it was there I first read something by Nora Pollard. She has been chosen four times to lead off their daily newsletter with one of her poems. Unfortunately, clicking on Amazon won’t work if you want to buy a collection of her poetry. You’ll have better luck at Antrim House.

Nora Pollard is the daughter of Red Pollard, recently brought to our attention by Laura Hillenbrand, author of the bestselling book, Seabiscuit. The poet’s father was the jockey who rode Seabiscuit throughout his glory days on the horse racing circuit. The few available bios of Nora Pollard tell us that even now she earns her living working at a steel company in Connecticut, and has in the past been folksinger, waitress, nanny, teacher, solderer and calligrapher. Her three collections are: Leaning In (2003), Report from the Banana Hospital (2005) and Death & Rapture in the Animal Kingdom (2009). The poem here is from the last.


by Norah Pollard

In autumn,
facing the end of his life,
he moved in with me.
We piled his belongings—
his army-issue boots, knife magazines,
Steely Dan tapes, his grinder, drill press,
sanders, belts and hacksaws—
in a heap all over the living room floor.
For two weeks he walked around the mess.

One night he stood looking down at it all
and said: “The sum total of my existence.”
Emptiness in his voice.

Soon after, as if the sum total
needed to be expanded, he began to place
things around in the closets and spaces I’d
cleared for him, and when he'd finished
setting up his workshop in the cellar, he said,
“I should make as many knives as I can,”
and he began to work.

The months plowed on through a cold winter.
In the evenings, we’d share supper, some tale
of family, some laughs, perhaps a walk in the snow.
Then he’d nip back down into the cellar’s keep
To saw and grind and polish,
creating his beautiful knives
until he grew too weak to work.
But still he’d slip down to stand at his workbench
and touch his woods
and run his hand over his lathe.

One night he came up from the cellar
and stood in the kitchen’s warmth
and, shifting his weight
from one foot to the other, said,
“I love my workshop.”
Then he went up to bed.

He’s gone now.
It’s spring. It’s been raining for weeks.
I go down to his shop and stand in the dust
of ground steel and shavings of wood.
I think on how he’d speak of his dying, so
easily, offhandedly, as if it were
a coming anniversary or
an appointment with the moon.
I touch his leather apron, folded for all time,
and his glasses set upon his work gloves.
I take up an unfinished knife and test its heft,
and feel as well the heft of my grief for
this man, this brother I loved,
the whole of him so much greater
than the sum of his existence.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Border Town Eats

A southwestern flavor in cooking has long been something I jump to the table for. Suppose it’s the legacy of my few trips to Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, where most restaurants apart from Taco Hell offered up great eats during my visits. I still remember with longing food I ate in Sedona, Arizona, Santa Fe and Houston. But as much as I like southwestern cooking, I’ve never had any special skill in preparing it myself. The other day a lady in the supermarket told me how to make a simple hamburger with the distinctive flavor of the southwest.

She called it a green chile burger, which I know doesn’t especially trigger fireworks and lip-licking, but you can call it something else. I kind of like…


Here’s what you need:

1 pound of ground beef

1 package of hamburger buns

3-4 slices of Monterey Jack (or other) cheese

4-5 teaspoons of Old El Paso chopped green chiles

1 package of Southwest ranch salad kit (Et Tu brand)

2 good handfuls of bite-sized mixed greens

Dash of Zatarain’s Creole seasoning

Salt & pepper

Here’s what you do:

Season the ground beef with salt & pepper and a dash of Zatarain’s.

Shape the meat into patties and place them on a medium high grill, or in a frying pan.

Cook them for 3-4 minutes, then add a couple of spoons of the green chile and a slice of cheese.

Combine the two packages from the salad mix with the greens. Add half the dressing and toss.

Place the hamburger patties on the bottom half of a toasted bun; top it with the salad mix.

Add the top bun and there you have it.



1 package of sliced portabella mushrooms (about 12 ounces)

2 eggs

Italian-style breadcrumbs

Grated Parmesan cheese

Olive oil


Pre-heat the oven to 425° F

Spread olive oil on a baking sheet (cookie sheet).

Beat the eggs in a bowl.

Combine about a cup of Parmesan cheese and a cup of the breadcrumbs.

Dip the sliced mushrooms (one by one) into the egg, and then in the cheese-breadcrumb mix. As best you can, coat them evenly.

Place them on the baking sheet and drizzle some olive oil over them.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Turn the mushrooms and bake for another 5-7 minutes.

These are delicious and you might try them dipped in what’s left of the ranch dressing.

I don’t know a southwestern expression, so I’ll use the French and just say, bon appétit!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Taking It for Granted

Probably little question that in many ways I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to live in a wondrous environment here at the beach on the east coast of Florida. Some things we are apt to take for granted, and with what is almost indifference, shade or filter our view of the beauty around us. At times an ‘inland’ friend will ask, “How’s life at the beach?” More than once I’ve answered that everything is pretty much ‘same old, same old.’ And yes, it is possible that the routines I follow and the daily turn of screws and gears is pretty much the same. But then I chance to look out the window, step out on the patio, raise my eyes to the sky.

Only in the broadest sense can anyone say that a given day is the same as the one before it. Take another look. Slow down and let the scene, large and small soak in for a minute. Nine out of ten times you’ll catch something in the water, sky or spread of beach that is not quite like what you’ve seen before. The shifting of the light, the coloring of the sand and its interaction with tide, surf and algae, the awesome palette of blue and green that colors the water. Who knows? You might even come upon a pink flamingo behind a clump of sea oats.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Lore of Wax

In some things I am not too swift. What I mean is, catching on to this or that way of doing something is on occasion slow. Even though I understand the steps or procedures, my hands or fingers won’t move as they should, and I wind up repeating the process more times than should be necessary. This time the repetition and frustration is with a new wax seal.

For a long time I’ve wanted to use a wax seal on my letters, and two weeks ago I bought the Celtic seal and sealing wax from a place in Utah, a disappointing purchase I wrote about here on August 14. Both seal and wax from that purchase have continued to be completely useless; the pewter seal bad, the Ecclesiastical Red sealing wax worse.

So, I contacted Brian at gouletpens.com and ordered a brass seal with my initial, and some J Herbin sealing wax. Two or threes days later the seal and wax arrived and with the excitement I always feel around pens, ink and other letter writing tools, I tore open the package and got to work. But something was wrong. Fifteen minutes and four wax seals later, my attempts all looked like kindergarten arts and crafts. Worse; it was all I could do to make out the initial pressed into the wax.

I sat down down at the iMac and watched several videos by Brian Goulet on how to make a good wax seal. Just to be sure, I watched the videos a second time, even took some notes. Back to my worktable and eager to knock out a few precise, well-done seals, I lined everything up exactly as Brian did and made another attempt… Failure! Total failure. Knowing how agreeable and helpful Brian is, I emailed him for help, attaching a photo of my latest mess. A short while later I got an answer that almost guaranteed improvement in my seal making efforts.

Here are some important points I learned from Brian:

1. Place your seal face down on a small ice pack during the few seconds you are melting the wax.

2. Use a butane lighter to melt the wax. I use one of those long-nosed grill lighters.

3. Once the melted wax is on the paper, waste no time applying the seal; no more than five seconds between melting the wax and impressing the seal.

4. Press down hard on the seal, no longer than three seconds.

My first attempt after reading Brian’s suggestions was an improvement, though not yet what I hoped for. That didn’t bother me because another of Brain’s comments was that it takes some practice to get the hang of. Well, I’ve practiced some (and wasted a lot of expensive wax) and things are definitely getting better. Might take a little more practice, but I’m confident it will come.

I’ve attached photos of the two best impressions (thought still feeble). The seal is in the shape of a scripted W, my first initial, and the two colors of sealing wax are forest green and silver. The third photo is of an earlier attempt where you can see the kind of mess I was making.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

“The board thinks…”

The weeks are stacking up since May 1, the start of this condo living, and I'm learning bit by bit what it means to be a member of a residents’ association, and how ‘community’ issues come to color the atmosphere of my days. Not my intent to imply that every day is governed by a group of owner-board members wielding whips, passing out rules and decrees and telling residents what to do and what not to do. No such thing. If I chose to do so, I could push it all off to the side, out of sight, leaving my days undisturbed and with little awareness of board discussions and decisions.

But I've chosen to be involved, because as one of few owners living full-time in the condominium, my thoughts on problems and conditions have the advantage of daily on-site observation. In other words, I see what’s going on around here more than the majority of owners who live far away, and visit on holidays.

For the most part, the issues at hand are minor matters easily fixed with a little discussion at board meetings. No question, the discussion of ‘pool rules’ has more complications than rocket science, and is an endless cycle of ridiculous, repetitive talk. What escapes most of the debaters is the reality that there is no one waiting around the pool to enforce rules, whatever they are. If there’s no sheriff in town…

But lately a larger question has come up, and this one does strike me as interference and manipulation by the association board. Like homeowners anywhere, once in a while an owner decides to sell his condo and go elsewhere. Nothing new; happens frequently. At the last board meeting—open of course to all owners—a proposition was raised to involve the board in the sale of individual owner condos, to give the board right of veto, to step between owner and prospective buyer and influence the sale.

Objection to that idea came from all corners, including my own voice, but the board has yet to lay the plan aside. I'm confident it will never come to pass, but in the meantime imagine the following owner/board member exchange…

OWNER: I have put my condo up for sale and have an interested buyer. But then someone told me that I need your approval. I mean, hello! Duh! Have I heard right?

BOARD: Well, we’re sorry to see you go, but yes, a committee of three will have to investigate your prospective buyer before any sale can be approved. We don’t want to have any pedophiles buying into our community.

OWNER: Mmm…That’s distressing. I can vouch for the buyer myself because we are friends. But now I suppose I should worry that your decision will be swayed by the fact that my friend and hopeful buyer is a one-legged black Arab lesbian.

BOARD: (choking, clearing his throat) Uh…er…Oh, yeah? Well listen, we’re gonna have to get back to you on that. Meanwhile don’t sign any papers!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rhodia Perfection

For a long time I have happily used for my journal writing a Japanese made ‘notebook’ called Life Noble Note Plain. I like the size of five and a half inches by eight and a quarter inches, as well as the thick unlined ivory pages. I also like the brown cover with its old-fashioned design. Several months earlier, at the time I was living in Japan, but making plans to leave there, I bought five of the Life notebooks to take away with me, certain I would be unable to find the same brand here in the US. But that stack of five has dwindled, and I’ve had my eye out lately for a replacement.

And then came Rhodia. I read a couple of reviews on pen & paper related blogs of the new Rhodia Webnotebook. It looked good and right off impressed me as a likely replacement for my longtime Life notebooks. I’ve had good experience with Brian Goulet at gouletpens.com, so I ordered from him the larger of the two Rhodia Webnotebooks, which just happens to be the exact size of the Japanese Life notebook I’ve always used.

My order arrived amazingly fast, and as is usual with Brian, included a handwritten note of thanks for my order, finished off with a wax seal. To my mind, the note is a special touch. But to the point, the Rhodia ‘Webbie’ as it has come to be called…

I chose the orange (tangerine) cover because I wanted to expand my range of colors, journal-wise. The Rhodia orange is beautiful, but it isn’t until you hold, touch and feel the Italian leatherette cover that the color comes into full bloom. The best way to describe it is to say it is something I want to hold onto. It feels good in my hands, and moving my fingers over the leatherette is almost a soothing sensation. It certainly makes me wonder what exactly this ‘Italian leatherette’ is. The Rhodia logo in the center complements the notebook’s softness.

Another thing I like is the rounded corners. No matter how you turn or hold the Webbie, there are no sharp edges. Everything about it is smooth and silky, and that includes the 90g ivory Clairefontaine pages inside the cover. The Clairefontaine name is enough to tell you that the paper is going to be of superior quality. The Webbie has 96 blank (or lined) sheets, or 192 pages. The paper is acid-free, pH neutral and PEFC-certified.

One add-on at the back is a great idea, one I’ve seen in Japanese notebooks. This is an inner pocket just inside the back cover, perfect for small notes or clippings, maybe business or personal cards, things you want in a journal that aren’t written on the pages.

The notebook also has an attached elastic band which offers protection from other things getting wedged in the pages while in your bag; a simple band that keeps the book closed when you want it closed.

So what about the paper inside, the Clairefontaine 90g? Hard to imagine that anyone could ask for better. For my first bit of writing I chose five different fountain pens and five different inks. Each one proved to be a beautiful marriage of ink and paper. Smooth, clean, no feathering or bleed through, satisfying in all its qualities—what I would call ideal or perfect for pen and ink.


Lamy 2000 (M) • Sailor Blood Orange ink

Lamy Safari (M) • Waterman Florida Blue

Pelikan 200 (M) • Sailor Miruai

Pelikan Souverän 600 (M) • Iroshizuku Tsukushi

Pelikan Souverän 1000 (BB) • Montblanc Violet

It’s just a matter of time until I order my next Rhodia Webnotebook. I’m hooked.

My thanks and appreciation to Brian Goulet at gouletpens.com.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Burning in Moonlight

Hachirô Sasaki 1922-1945, was a graduate of the Imperial University of Tokyo, volunteered to be a tokkôtai (kamikaze) pilot in February 1945. He died the following April, a navy ensign. He was 22 years old. His diary was titled, A Testament of the Youth: Diary and Love, in the Absence of Life.

From his diary…

‘Finally I will join the Navy on December 1. In anticipation, I have trained my body by swimming, gymnastics, and target practice. I am confident about my strength. We must now be the shield to protect the eternal life of our nation by going to the front to prevent the enemy’s advance as much as possible…Even if I fall, society does not rely on one individual. I am not concerned and shall eagerly go to the front.

If one thinks of a young life who dies in a state of purity and beauty one even regrets that a human being is essentially a political animal. I know it comes from sentimentalism, but if one must die, one wishes to die beautifully.’

Quoting writer-poet Kenji Miyazawa, Sasaki writes a passage echoing his own thoughts…

‘I don’t know if I am supposed to win this war but I will fight as much as I can, leaving my fate in your hands…I pray that we will see the day as soon as possible when we welcome a world in which we do not have to kill enemies who we cannot hate. For this end, I would not mind my body being ripped innumerable times.’

Tadao Hayashi 1922-1945, attended the Third Higher School and then the Imperial University of Kyoto. He was drafted as a student soldier in December 1943. He died at the age of 23, shot down by an American fighter plane. His diary was titled, My Life Burning in Moonlight.

From the diary…

‘I feel I have to accept the fate of my generation to fight in the war and die. I call it “fate,” since we have to go to the battlefield to die without being able to express our opinions, criticize and argue pros and cons of issues, and behave with principles, that is, after being deprived of my own agency…To die in the war, to die at the demand of the nation—I have no intention whatsoever to praise it; it is a great tragedy.

I do not avoid sacrifice. I do not refuse the sacrifice of my self. However, I cannot tolerate the reduction of the self to nothingness in the process. I cannot approve it. Martyrdom or sacrifice must be done at the height of self-realization. Sacrifice at the end of self-annihilation, the dissolving of the self to nothingness, has no meaning whatsoever.

The hard part is not death, but to live. At the height of life, life is terminated, the curtain goes down. Maybe it is splendid. After the climax the messenger of death arrives without notice. This is a splendid scenario. But it is unbearably miserable if one dies after a life in which one cannot devote oneself to one’s task and one cannot express oneself.’

Norimitsu Takushima 1921-1945, was drafted into the Imperial Navy out of Keio University in September 1943. He died in April 1945, a lieutenant, age 24. After his death, his father titled his son’s diary, The Writing Left Behind: Cape Jasmine—for the Beloved People of My Homeland. The Japanese for cape jasmine translates as “flower without a mouth” or perhaps more aptly, “flower without a voice.”

From his diary…

‘The Japanese are very sentimental. It is quite convenient for the dictators. The idea that one is patriotic and thus would sacrifice oneself is a thought for the stupid masses. It is a type of narcissistic mania…I advocate free contacts and exchange among the peoples of the world. I hate the rise of nationalism…According to my view, the nation now takes absolute control over individuals. Turning around 180 degrees from the Romantic to the Realist, I am looking at the moon and smiling.

With the rise of nationalism, people start to emphasize their superiority. The Germans do so. There is no way to judge the superiority of one people. That is nothing but self-deception or self-indulgence…

To the other world where my mother lives all alone,

I shall bring the honor from the battlefield.’

Photo: Female students waving blooming cherry blossoms as tokkôtai planes take off, April 1945.

The diary entries and photos (yesterday and today) all come from the outstanding book by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2006.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Point of No Return

October 25, 1944, off the coast of Saman Island in the Philippine Sea, the American escort carrier, St. Lo had a flight deck full of just landed planes, with more being loaded out for flight. For a few minutes captain and crew were confident they had remained invisible to Japanese planes. Their optimism was premature. Five hundred yards out, coming in low as if for a landing, kamikaze pilot Yukio Seki released a bomb that smashed into the St. Lo’s flight deck a few seconds before his plane made a slow roll and plowed into the ship. Forty minutes later what remained of the St. Lo disappeared beneath the water, reverberating still with underwater explosions. That October morning was merely a prelude to the horror the US Navy would face from Japanese kamikaze pilots over the next ten months.

During the last year of the war in the Pacific, Japan struggled in a last ditch effort to halt the American advance, an ever tightening noose around the islands of Japan. The concept of a special suicide attack force was the brainchild of navy vice-admiral, Takijirô Ônishi. First presented to officer graduates of the military academies, not a single officer volunteered, all of them knowing well that such tactics would be meaningless, ending in death. The necessary manpower was therefore sought among student soldiers drafted from higher secondary schools and universities. The candidates were all well-educated young men, the intellectual elite of modern Japan, men more comfortable with poetry and philosophy than bombs and self-sacrifice. All were extremely well-read, with an idealism that included a determination to combat the egotism growing out of capitalism and modernity. Asking them to volunteer to crash a plane into enemy ships was calculated to appeal to their moral principles and their sense of comradeship.

Americans were puzzled over what kind of society, education and culture produced not only the tactics of kamikaze attacks, but produced fighting men to carry out these suicide missions. Some of the answers to this question have been found in the diaries of kamikaze pilots.

Life for the tokkôtai (special attack unit) in the final ten months of World War II was a time of living life at its most intense, and during these last weeks of life, the young pilots filled their diaries with anguished confessions of fear and profound ambivalence toward the war and their nation’s imperialism. None of these diaries reflect the caricatures that paint them as reckless people, fanatical patriots and untrustworthy suicide bombers, but rather provide great insight into the minds of young men under the extreme conditions of warfare. The diaries reveal young soldiers who could not resist volunteering because they could not bear to embrace their own lives while watching friends and comrades offering theirs. Quoting lines from a famous poem about falling cherry blossoms, 23 year-old navy ensign, Yasuo Ichijima believed that like other pilots who had fallen, so would he—the falling cherry blossoms symbolic of life’s transience.

Ichizô Hayashi 1922-1945, was a graduate of the Imperial University of Kyoto, drafted as a student soldier in November 1943, assigned to be a tokkôtai pilot in February 1945. He died in April of that year off the coast of Okinawa, with the rank of navy ensign. He was 23 years old. His diary was titled, A Sun and Shield: Diary and Letters to Mother, Writings Left by Hayashi Ichizô. The Sun and Shield part of this title was taken from Psalm 84:11, ‘For the Lord God is a sun and shield.’

From his diary…

‘It is easy to talk about death in the abstract, as the ancient philosophers discussed. But it is real death I fear, and I don’t know if I can overcome the fear.

Even for a short life there are many memories. For someone who had a good life, it is very difficult to part with it. But I reached a point of no return. I must plunge into an enemy vessel.

To be honest, I cannot say that the wish to die for the emperor is genuine, coming from my heart. However, it is decided for me that I die for the emperor.’

Photo: kamikaze pilot, Kazuyo Umezawa, April 1945


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Flea Market Hell

Despite the camera ready iPhone in my pocket, I took no photos. There was a feeling that nothing on film or memory card could sufficiently convey the cheap nightmare quality of my outing to Daytona’s huge weekend flea market.

It is spread over a vast area, probably five or six acres of merchandise that in my opinion would make an excellent bonfire. I suppose it really shouldn’t surprise me what people will buy. Ashtrays molded out of beer cans, keychains in the shape of names spelled out in pink and aqua plastic, baseball caps completely covered in sequins, cut rate make up and perfume, bundles and bundles of ugly socks, embarrassing sea shell “art” and other countless tables of rubbish. At each intersection are stalls selling funnel cake, corn dogs, curly-Q French fries and Coca Cola.

Off in one corner—a relatively small area compared to the acres of carnival goods—is a meager offering of fresh fruit and vegetables. But look at the prices and you’d think you had just crossed over to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Why would anyone buy a basket of bruised peaches for $24.00?

I located the information booth to ask about fountain pens and books, but I might have gotten more information about spacemen and life on Mars had I asked. The lady didn't know what a fountain pen is, but said I might try Edna’s Jewelry Art on aisle D2.

Did I mention the heat? Within ten minutes my shirt was sweat soaked and perspiration dripping from my face. There are huge fans all about, but they do little more than blow hot air and spread the smell of popcorn and cotton candy. Add to that the generously proportioned people filling plastic shopping bags with funnel cake and painted seashell ashtrays, pushing a baby carriage and trailed by four juniors. You would think that people shopping for a tattoo would opt for an air conditioned place, but I noticed four different open-air tattoo stands.

I could take no more after forty-five minutes and turned for the exit. It took me another thirty minutes to locate my parking area and walk to my sun baked car. On the way I passed a man playing show tunes on an amplified electric violin.

Try to imagine hell.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Outlaw Painter, Caravaggio

Much of his life remains a mystery, but it has been suggested that Michelangelo Merisi of Caravaggio—the painter we know as Caravaggio—had a troubled childhood and adolescence. By his early twenties he had already become and outright villain, arrested and imprisoned repeatedly. Cardinal del Monte a powerful man and patron of Caravaggio proved unequal to the painter’s repeated brushes with the law. At age 39, a persecuted outlaw, he was finally murdered on a beach south of Rome.

Caravaggio is the quintessence of what came to be called “Baroque.” Coming on the cusp of the 16th and 17th centuries, it was a time of fury, ecstasy and excess, and each of Caravaggio’s paintings created a scandal. He name was lost, forgotten for three hundred years. Not until the 1920s was his name revived, his work reevaluated, thanks to the research and enthusiasm of Italian art critic, Roberto Lohghi. The painter’s contemporaries could not know of the influence that the scandalous artist would have on later painters, Rembrandt, Delacroix, Géricault, Courbet and Manet. One American critic declared, “With the exception of Michelangelo, no other Italian painter exercised so great an influence.” The influence that these critics speak of was a far-reaching refinement of the emotional/intellectual relation between artist and subject. But during his lifetime Caravaggio was considered provocative and unacceptable. His work was seen as a display of obese, vulgar models posed sacrilegiously as Christ or Apostle, severed heads, men and women in ignoble, drunken postures, and young rogues playing dice or cheating at cards.

This description is to some extent accurate, but the technical facility, or drawing, paired with the chiaroscuro, the light and dark of a Caravaggio canvas attests to his genius. He worked at great speed without first sketching out the main figures, so sure was his drafting. In his compositions, the painter created a theatrical realism, using player-models chosen from the street. Monteverdi had just invented the operatic form, which Caravaggio translated to canvas. Still, whatever he painted, precedence was always given to nature and truth.

Genius or debauched sensualist, perhaps both, Caravaggio’s paintings are now in their rightful place in museums around the world.


1. The Musicians, 1595-1596—The singer, second from the right is a self-portrait of the artist.

2. The Crucifixion of Saint peter, 1601

3. Victorious Cupid, 1602-1603

4. The Cardsharps, 1594-1595

About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America