Showing posts with label mythology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mythology. Show all posts

08 November 2018

California Dreaming

by Eve Fisher
"All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey.
I've been for a walk on a winter's day.
I'd be safe and warm if I lived in L.A.
California dreamin' on such a winter's day..."
     The Mamas and the Papas  
Case Study House No. 22.JPGWell, maybe not safe, and maybe not warm:  a rainy California winter day can soak you to the bone, and as for safety, well, everyone has their own definition.  Some of the scariest moments of my life happened in California, and a few of the best.  But safety isn't always what you really want.  And sometimes I do wax nostalgic for the California of my youth.  The weather, the beaches, the surfers, the food (avocados everywhere), and the mix.  Every kind of music, architecture, food, neighborhood, ethnic / religious / racial / sexual type.  Juicy.  But cool with it.  You can blend in, you can hang out, you can just watch.

And there's a lot to watch in California.  From a woman grocery shopping in a bathing suit and high heels - in 1960 - to Julius Caesar XII in full toga, from the guy who used to drive around in a military tank to the DeLorean contingent, to people riding around in stretch limos, picking up hitchhikers to ask if they've heard their latest song on the radio.  (Which literally happened to me.)  Or meet up with some random person and end up in a three-day poker game in the Hills.  (Which literally happened to me.  One of the participants gave me a guitar.)  Or live on the cheap in a broken-down brick hotel, with hallways from hell, and - (but more on the Blackburn later).  California, a place of empty afternoons, sun-kissed dread, a sense of a past and future being lost... (but more from Jim Gavin later)

This fall, I watched Lodge 49 on AMC, my new favorite show. If you missed it, go to On Demand and catch up.  From the first episode, when ex-surfer Dud (played by a pitch-perfect Wyatt Russell), limping (a snake bit his foot) around Long Beach, finds the magic ring that leads him to Lodge 49 of the Ancient and Benevolent Order of the Lynx, I was in.

Lodge 49
From left, Ernie, sitting, Blaise standing, Dud, sitting,
and, of course, the corpse.
For one thing, the characters are great:

Liz (Sonya Cassidy), Dud's sister and polar opposite, works as Hooters-style waitress even thought she's much smarter than that.  By a quirk and a jerk, she gets into one of those boot-camp-style executive try-outs that you hear about but never get in.  And ends up making the final cut, to her own (and everyone else's) amazement.  Even better, when she finally gets a chance to talk to Chief Executive Janet, who really likes her, Liz throws herself off the executive yacht.  I like people who know a cage when they see one, and run like hell.  (Don't worry - she makes it to shore.)

Blaise (David Pasquesi), resident philosopher and alchemist, bartender, pot-seller, and apothecary dreams of finding the One True Lodge.

Ernie (Brent Jennings), Knight to Dud's Squire, a perpetually exasperated plumbing supplies salesman working for the perpetually exasperating Brian Doyle-Murray.  Ernie is looking for the really big score via the Captain (Bruce Campbell of Bubba Ho-Tep) who, when finally found, frolicking in a blow-up wading pool, is a con being conned while conning other cons - so California.

Image result for lodge 49
Liz, Dud, and Ernie
And Dud, who glues all of these and more together.  He's a lot more than an ex-surfer with a crippled foot.  He's game for anything.  He is, according to Blaise, someone who knows what's going on.  He is, according to Larry, the Leader of the Lodge, "part of the True Lodge.  He's very special."  Of course, Larry (Kenneth Welsh) appears to be crazy as a loon, and it soon turns out that he has pretty much ruined the Lodge's finances by living off the Lodge and spending a vast sum on the True Scrolls which have since been lost.  But what's a little embezzlement when you're trying to save the Sacred Scrolls?  Meanwhile, Dud might be saving Ernie's exasperated, tired, worn-out-with-hoping soul.  And be turning him into a true Knight again.  And vice versa.

  • Meanwhile, there's a live seal that shows up every time something strange is about to happen.
  • The occasional hallucination (?) of dragons on the part of almost everyone.
  • The sanctum sanctorum turns out to have an even more sanctum sanctorum with a resident reliquam corpus


Plus Jim Gavin, its creator, truly captures the feeling of California:  “Years and years of reading, combined with years and years of working dead end jobs. I wanted to capture the SoCal landscape that I know and love — freeways, strip malls, burger joints — and infuse it with a sense of grandeur and mystery.”  (LALoyolan)

It works because California is all extremes - it's a state where Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown have all been governors.  There are (or were) cults, communes, branches, insurance salesmen and con men everywhere.  There are just as many bogus land developers in California as Florida, it's just that they're better surfers.  Sometimes.  With better music in the background.  Southern California and Northern California have almost nothing in common, and San Francisco is the equivalent of an Italian city state.

And there's the entertainment industry, which looms over everything like the Catholic Church in Italy.  It's why all the beauty pageant / talent show / body builder contest winners go to California, because they know they've got a shot.  And then they run into each other and every other beauty pageant / talent show / body builder contest winner from the last 40 years, and they have to figure out how to stand out.  And make a living.  Porn, physical trainers, child minders, pool boys, escort services, waitstaff, and clerks, are mostly made up of former winners, terrified of becoming losers, willing to do anything to crack into show business and become a winner again.  Often beginning - and, sadly, ending - with plastic surgery.  Since everyone tries to go to the best plastic surgeons, the same best plastic surgeons, sooner or later everyone gets The Look:  whether perky blond(e)s, sharp brunettes, feisty redheads, strong-jawed military, girl/boy next door, Number 12 Looks Just Like You.

Photo by Bengt Nyman
Flickr IMG_3770
Which is why the most interesting people in L.A. are all the other residents:  from the somewhat normal people which keep everything going to the downright crazy people, who all came out because, well, anything can happen, and while you're waiting, there's surfing.

Which brings us to the old Blackburn Hotel, which probably got torn down years ago, but was LA's version of the Chelsea Hotel in NYC, one of the few cheap, cheap, cheap places in a major city.  Because Los Angeles, like New York City, is a Third World country, where the rich and famous hang out cheek by jowl with the street people.  Where you can go from homeless to famous in two degrees of separation.  Or less.  Where anyone can end up as a star, or at least in a movie.  Hell, I woke up one morning at the Blackburn, and came downstairs to find people actually shooting a scene in the lobby.  Cables everywhere, and me with a hangover.

Anyway, I fell in love Lodge 49:  Thankfully it's been renewed for Season 2, so go binge-watch it on AMC On Demand, and wait, with great anticipation, for what happens as Ernie heads to Mexico with "El Confidente" (Cheech Marin)  to find the Sacred Scrolls.  And maybe find out how the reliquiam corpus got dead.  And how can you get from Long Beach Lodge 49 to London Central Lodge so quickly?

Meanwhile, enjoy Season 1.  Like California, like life, it's episodic and irrational, but with an underlying rhythm.  Full of hints and glimpses of a deeper meaning, and very strong on the universal need for a quest.  There are Arthurian legends and old mythology (is Dud a young Achilles, a young Fisher King, or simply Adam?  Or are he and his sister really Apollo and Artemis?).  There's alchemy, magic, hope and dragons.  And a lot of quietly wonderful dialog.


"We both have a background in residential hydronics."
“What’s the use of living forever if you’re all alone on a Sunday?”
“It’s a basic feature of capitalism: You can’t get loose, even on weekends.”
“It was perfect, but I didn’t realize it was perfect until later.”
“People always go looking for unicorns when we’ve got rhinos.”

"Signs and symbols, Ernie."



20 July 2017

The Moon-Eyed People

by Eve Fisher


Fort Mountain, Murray County, Georgia December 2015.JPG
Fort Mountain
photo from Wikipedia
Fort Mountain lies in the Cohutta Mountains, and on Fort Mountain is Fort Mountain State Park.  It's an eerie place.  I went there with a friend of mine - hi, Richard! - on a cold, almost snowy day in early winter.  Fog.  Lots of fog.  Half the time the visibility was down to 20 yards, sometimes 20 feet, which only added to the general frisson of excitement of an unknown mountain trail.  We didn't know what was going to be around the next bend.  In more ways than one.

Part of the Fort on Fort Mountain
You see, there's a ruined stone fort on Fort Mountain, and not only does it predate the arrival of Europeans, but the Cherokee claim that it predates them.  The ruins are an 885-foot long rock wall which zigzags around the peak. The ruins also contain 19-29 pits (depends on who's counting, I guess), as well as what looks like a gateway.  It may date to 500 AD. It might be older.  It might be newer, but not by much.  It's a very strange place, and there are a few strange stories about it.


Story #1:  European Version 1:  The Welsh Prince.  Madoc, son of Owain Gwynedd, King of Gwynedd in north Wales, had to flee a fight over succession after Owain died in 1170.  He fled to America, (300 years before Columbus), and wandered the continent, building and breeding lavishly wherever he went,  leaving lost tribes of Welsh Indians, white Indians, etc., everywhere he went.  So naturally at some point he arrived in Georgia and built a fort to protect himself from the marauding tribes around him.

Saint brendan german manuscript.jpg
St. Brendan the Navigator, 15th C. ms.
The Madoc legend is based on a medieval tradition - and I mean a tradition, not a story or even a poem - about a Welsh hero's sea voyage.  To be honest, we have more evidence of Brendan the Navigator than Madoc.  Nonetheless, this was a hugely popular legend during the Elizabethan era, because it gave Elizabethan England a foundation for claiming title to North America.  All of it:  after all, Madoc was said to have landed at "Mobile, Alabama; Florida; Newfoundland; Newport, Rhode Island; Yarmouth, Nova Scotia; Virginia; points in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean including the mouth of the Mississippi River; the Yucatan; the isthmus of Tehuantepec, Panama; the Caribbean coast of South America; various islands in the West Indies and the Bahamas along with Bermuda; and the mouth of the Amazon River" (Fritze, Ronald H. (1993). Legend and lore of the Americas before 1492: an encyclopedia of visitors, explorers, and immigrants). Sounds like he conquered the continent, doesn't it?  So of course Madoc was given credit for building everything and anything that Europeans couldn't believe the indigenous peoples built, from natural formations like Devil's Backbone in Kentucky to man-made buildings like Fort Mountain in Georgia and the Pueblos of New Mexico. And he was given credit for fathering every tribe later European settlers liked, from the Mandan to the Zunis, Hopis, and Navajos.

Story #2:  European Version #2:  The Moon-Eyed People are one of the lost tribes of Israel, per the Book of Mormon.

Story #3:  The Cherokee Version:  The Moon-Eyed People.  The Cherokee are an Iroquois-language family tribe, who moved south, slowly from the Great Lakes.  (Why they moved, no one knows.)  Some time after the 1540s, they reached the Appalachian mountains.  When they came to the area around Fort Mountain, they found the moon-eyed people already there, living in the Fort. The moon-eyed people were very small, pale, and couldn't see well by day, so they moved around mostly at night.  (Why that sounded Jewish or Welsh I have no idea.)

BTW:  The Cherokee County Historical Museum in Murphy, North Carolina has what is supposedly an effigy of The Moon-Eyed People.  (I tried to post it, but it just doesn't want to, so check out the link HERE, at Roadside America.


Anyway, the Cherokee and the moon-eyed people fought a great war, and at the end of it, the moon-eyed people were killed and/or dispersed.  (Benjamin Smith Barton, 1797)  The Cherokee may or may not have used the fort.  In any case, the story says that the fort was destroyed in a massive earthquake which shook the whole world - or at least the entire area - and caused the stone walls to collapse.

  • One version of the earthquake says it took place after the Cherokee-moon-eyed people war, because the Cherokee who were living in the fort were killed, while the Cherokee who were living in wooden houses weren't.  
  • Another version is that it was the earthquake that allowed the Cherokee to win the war, and that afterwards, the moon-eyed people went underground and in caves.  

So, we have a pale tribe that couldn't see well at night.  Albinos or Madoc?  Personally, I plump for albinos.  The Kuna people of Panama and Columbia "have a very high incidence rate of albinism. And, whereas in many cultures albinos are subject to everything from ridicule to persecution to murder, in Kuna mythology, albinos (or sipus) were given a special place. Albinos in Kuna culture are considered a special race of people, and have the specific duty of defending the Moon against a dragon which tries to eat it on occasion during a lunar eclipse. Only they are allowed to go outside on the night of a lunar eclipse and to use specially made bows and arrows to shoot down the dragon." (Wikipedia)  And, the Zuni and Hopi nations also have high rates of albinism. It's not Welshmen, it's genetics.

Story #4:  European Version #3:  Reptilians, or David Ickes Strikes Again:  Of course, in this day and age, the moon-eyed people have become part of the whole "Ancient Aliens" mythos. Some people have speculated that the moon-eyed people were actually vampires. The legendary David Ickes has decided they're a sub-species of the reptilians who are dwelling among us (mostly in public office).  Thus the moon-eyed people are still among us (because you can't kill them), and speaking of reptilians, did you know that the TV series "People to Earth" (about a support group for people who claim to have been abducted by aliens) is coming back to TBS on Monday, July 24th?  I, for one, can hardly wait.


Fort mountain, Georgia wall 2016.JPG
Anyway, if you ever get a chance to go to Fort Mountain, go, and hike around it.  Preferably on a day with heavy weather.  Rain or snow, sleet or mist, or just thick fog will do nicely.  And I can tell you that, walking around it in a thick fog on a cold day, those 885 wandering feet seem like a long, long way, and the pits seem like they might hold something, have buried something, that might be waiting for you to pass (or not) in order to come out again...

Walk slowly.  Look around.  With any luck, yours will be the only footsteps, the only breath, the only...

Then again, maybe not.









16 November 2016

The Night The Old Nostalgia Burned Down, Again

by Robert Lopresti

Last month I wrote about books I dug up recently  because I remembered them from my childhood.  I ended by saying "Maybe next time I will talk about childhood favorites I bought my daughter when she was a kid."  But instead I talked about my non-conversation with a taxi driver.  So here we go.

If you are familiar with Crockett Johnson it is probably because of his wonderful books about Harold and the Purple Crayon which have inspired children's imagination (and the occasional wall-scribble spanking) for many years. Bill Watterson, the creator of the marvelous Calvin and Hobbes comic strip,  also said that Harold was all he knew of Johnson.

The reason he was asked about Johnson is that Calvin bears a certain resemblance to Ellen's Lion.  Both feature a young kid (Ellen is a preschooler, a bit younger than Calvin) whose best friend is  a stuffed animal.  In both cases the beastie has a completely different personality than the kid, but the animal can't speak if the kid's mouth is covered.  (And now that I think about it, it sounds like both artists were describing a child having a psychotic break.  But put that out of your mind.  Sorry I brought it up.)

What I like best about Johnson's stories is that the imaginary friend, so to speak, is the realist in the pair.  When Ellen asks the Lion about his life before they met she wants to hear about steaming hot jungles, but all he remembers is a department store.

By the way, Johnson also created one of the most brilliant comic strips of all time. Barnaby ran during the early forties and featured another preschooler who, in the first episode, wishes for a fairy godmother.  Due to wartime shortages he was instead assigned Jackeen J. O'Malley, a three-foot-tall fairy godfather with a grubby raincoat, magenta wings, and a malfunctioning magic cigar.  Mr. O'Malley introduces Barnaby to such characters as Atlas, a three-foot-tall giant (he's a mental giant), some Republican ghosts, and a talking dog who will not shut up.











The other book I hunted down for my kiddo has nothing to do with Crockett Johnson but does mention Atlas.  The original one.

d'Auliare's Book of Greek Myths, written and illustrated by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire, started me on my lifelong love of mythology.  Not only are the pictures unforgettable but the writing is very well done.

One thing I love about it is how cleverly they slip around, well, the naughty bits that you might not want to explain to an eight-year-old.  In the chapter on Theseus they explain that Poseidon, god of the sea, sent a white bull to the island of Crete, which King Minos was supposed to sacrifice to him:

But Queen Pasiphaë was so taken by the beauty of the white bull that she persuaded the king to let it live.  She admired the bull so much that she ordered Daedalus to construct a hollow wooden cow, so she could hide inside it and enjoy the beauty of the bull at close range....

To punish the king and queen, Poseidon caused Pasiphaë to give birth to a monster, the Minotaur.  He was half man,, half bull...

Every adult, I imagine, understands exactly what the dAulaires said that the Greeks were saying about Pasiphaë, but it goes right over a kid's head.  (Did mine, anyway.)

The book is still in print.  Unfortunately the binding is not as long-lasting as the text and pictures.  I have had to replace it about once a decade.

Ah well, no mysteries this week, unless you count the mystery religions.  Or Mr. O'Malley's encounter with the fur coat thieves...