Sunday, June 27, 2010

USA/Ghana Aftermath

All is right in the football world, it seems. Ghana, upon which a whole continent's hope rests, continues on while the pedestrian squad from the United 50 dissolves back into irrelevancy. And the 'fans' of the Team USA? Well, NASCAR and vampire TV and early summer Major League Baseball are on so adios, Team Amigos.

I'm not sure why but the sight of Bill Clinton partying with Mick Jagger in the VIP Booth struck me the wrong way. Politricks and entertainment, two great deceits.

Friday, June 25, 2010

USA vs Ghana

The karmic collision. An intrinsic sense of solidarity with the American lads, their upbringing on suburban soccer pitches or grade school gravel stone playgrounds similar to my own. Yet the raw cultural baggage of this nation's intercontinental aggression weighs heavily. How root for the Monster?

Ghana. Africa's last hope this 2010 World Cup, this billion strong pageant of sport. The first African World Cup, a competition dominated for decades by Europeans - except for Brazil's periodically puncturing the balloon of plenty.

Landon Donovan might have played soccer with my nephew on Jersey Shore town fields. Youth leagues. Babysitting leagues. The embarrassment of riches. The Corporation - entertainment a-plenty. Where do we go from here? What if the USA wins? How celebrate? How revel in the vanquishing of the last African nation in the first World Cup in Africa?

But this IS sport, and to engage in sport is to compete. So compete we must. Football will never replace warfare  in deciding the globe's conflicts, but such ritualistic engagement does break down cultural barriers. Stadiums of cheering, chanting, singing spectators engaged in the ritual of Sport. Along those lines we pretty much all measure out. It's in the grim minutiae of the Haves and the Have Nots where the poison percolates.

So from the nation of Have, the Monster oil slick nation, the Toxic Nation Apocalypse, I deliberate my allegiance, shrug my red, white, and blue shoulders, muse my black, red, yellow, green solidarity Ital oneness, and decide to embrace whatever outcome emerges from tomorrow's epic clash of Africa and North America on a football pitch at Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg, South Africa.

Biking Martha's Vineyard, Part II

Menemsha feels like some small Portuguese village, or some seaside town in Normandy, a quiet, out-of-the-way place where the fish is fresh and the people guarded, even vaguely suspicious, until you spend a few minutes chatting with them, asking about the daily catch, the nearby sandy cliffs, or commiserating over the Celtics' disappointing loss on the far coast. Then you realize their guardedness is just that understated Yankee reserve and before you know it, you're friends.

But as much as the idea of lingering here appeals, we don't. With the bike ferry behind us, up we ride on North Road, back into the Massif Central, my odometer edging toward 50 miles. The sun still burns hot and bright in the cloudless blue sky and we're feeling the good and honest fatigue that comes from hours in the saddle and the constant absorption of salt air, sun, and island wind. Despite the allure of the relatively shaded Chilmark roads with their massive oaks and maples and scant number of autos, thoughts of a huge fish dinner begin to overtake our enthusiasm for the pedal stroke and in silent mutual agreement we know we're now riding with a destination in mind - the Edgartown Seafood Market.

We ride with purpose along the aforementioned Edgartown-West Tisbury Rd's bike path. It's shady, the surface endearingly toned in places by patches of faded orangey pine needles, and basically bereft of other users. It's always a good thing, too, after a long day of riding when you're tired and perhaps allowing the mind to wander a bit, not to have to worry about car traffic. You're able to find a comfortable pedal pace and lapse, without danger, into meditative calm. So we do and in no time we're back on the outskirts of Edgartown and parking our bikes on the wooden porch of the fish market just before the tony village center.

Everything in the long glass display case looks appealing and fresh: local cod and marlin, thick red tuna steaks,  heaps of littlenecks, bone white haddock filets, a tray packed with olivey-green soft shell crabs, buckets of shrimp. We clomp in our riding shoes back and forth trying to decide what to get, trying to envision how we'd cook this or that and what would be good for starters and how many pounds of haddock and dare we get lobster too? We go with the haddock (to be pan-fried, breadcrumb-coated, in olive oil) and thick marlin steaks (for the grill), smoked mussels (for the salad made from greens growing in Kevin's garden), and, at my insistence, three soft shell crabs (only three as the Leonator balks, unfamiliar with eating these strange creatures - later on, after I've lightly fried them, cut them in half, and placed each half open-faced on toasted bread with mayo and arugula, he devours his share with considerable delight).

Not the best one-handed bike handler, nonetheless I happily take up the burden of carrying the bounty home (the Virginian's bike satchel already filled with produce purchased up the road at the Morning Glory farmstand). Carefully we wend our way back to the Chappy ferry, wait for the skipper to beckon us aboard, and chug across the cut to the other side. The last stretch, a couple miles on Chappaquiddick Rd, then the long dusty driveway to Camp.

But before setting in to cook, the lure of a plunge into the ocean is impossible to resist. A five minute drive in Kevin's pickup takes us to Dike Bridge and the Trustees of Reservations at East Beach where, unhesitating, we rush down the hot sand and plunge headlong into the chilly surf in diamondy sparkle splashes.

The denouement to an extraordinary day of cycling comes later, in the gathering evening, our plates laden with the sea's bounty, our spirits soaring, our thirst slaked, our bodies humming with fatigue and gratitude. We toast each other and offer thanks and praises to the Most High for the privilege of Being in this wholesome place, and for enduring friendships.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Biking Martha's Vineyard, Part I

Biking Martha’s Vineyard can be vexing at times - intersections clogged with cars and tourists, inexperienced and inattentive bike rental bikers, stiff headwinds – but the rewards of cycling here are many and varied. I had the good fortune of experiencing it firsthand this past weekend.
Two friends and I accepted a standing invitation to visit old friend and musician Kevin Keady who, in addition to writing and performing uniquely insightful folk songs, works on the Pimpney Mouse Farm, “The Last Farm on Chappaquiddick” (which it is and which is also the title of a recent book documenting the farm’s history in the 30s and 40s and written by the farm’s matriarch, Edo Potter).
Pimpney Mouse Farm is a working hay farm encompassing several hundred acres of some of the most beautiful and classic landscape to be found on the eastern seaboard. Kevin happened into employment here nearly two decades ago and in the interim time has become a fixture not only on the farm but on the Vineyard itself. Generous, motivated, a devotee of his art and a tireless promoter of the local music scene, Kevin hosted our three person cycling squad at his small cabin (known simply as “Camp”) on the far end of the farm, the most private area, the section beyond which is nothing but fields and vistas down to Poucha Pond and the Atlantic Ocean beyond East Beach.
Our cycling goal was simple – ride from one end of the Vineyard to the other and explore the back roads in between. Starting at the end of the farm’s long dusty sandy driveway and taking Chappy’s only paved road to the three car ferry across the cut to Edgartown, we set out for the far southwestern headland of Aquinnah (also known as Gay Head) with its cliffs and lighthouse and views across the water to the Elizabeth Islands and Cutty Hunk. It was Saturday, the sun was bright in a cloudless blue sky, and we had the whole day ahead for our cycling meander.
Three main roads head across the island from Edgartown, all with parallel bike paths so that it’s possible, for the most part, to stay clear of roadway traffic. Vineyard Haven Road skirts the seaside congestion of Oak Bluffs but as a result is also one of the island’s busiest thoroughfares, used extensively by the locals. The shore route through Oak Bluffs (Beach Road, New York Ave to Vineyard Haven) is also busy but in a more sightseeing manner with lines of tourist cars snaking through Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven or angling for a parking spots along the beach straightaway across from Sengekontacket Pond. The Edgartown-West Tisbury Road along the southern side of the Vineyard is generally less busy and though not exactly scenic it does have a fine shaded bike path that runs through pine forest (with the result that sections of the path are blanketed with burnished carroty/orange dried pine needles).
But limiting your cycling to the above-mentioned roads and sticking to the fatted center of the Vineyard is not recommended. Instead, head west, southwest actually, to the Massif Central (so I dubbed it in my mind) otherwise known as West Tisbury and Chilmark where we pedaled with enthusiasm along nearly empty rolling byways.Three island roads in particular stand out.

Lamberts Cove Rd is on the right off State Road coming out of Vineyard Haven. It’s a beautifully paved, winding country road in West Tisbury that takes you by old property and woodland idylls – hoary old dignified stone walls demarcating fields and wood edges, stalwart and massive oaks growing for a century and more, ancient fresh water ponds (Seth’s and Duarte’s), mown fields, road shoulder thickets. Very little traffic. 
The second must-ride street is Middle Road through Chilmark – the “Chilmark Alps” I joke with Leonator and the Virginian, my estimable riding companions. Even more up and down than Lamberts Cove, this longish (3 – 4 miles) road bypasses the far busier South Road, the preferred way for auto traffic to get to Aquinnah. Middle Road is flawlessly paved too and runs through some of the same gorgeous countryside as Lamberts Cove except in Chilmark there seems to be more open space, more farm fields and stone walls. Toward the far end it becomes visually apparent that Middle Road unfolds along the higher spine of the peninsula that marks the southern geography of the Vineyard. Off to the left we catch glimpses of the sea.

The third and final must-ride road is Moshup Trail, another little-traffic’d route that allows you to bypass the more congested State Rd in the run up to the Aquinnah headland. “Mash It Up Road!” we joke, doing our best Rasta imitations while cruising along one more finely surfaced roadway, this one going down to sea level and running through the dunes and sandy landscape hills that separate the road from the ocean to the south.
But those are specific roads. I offer a blanket endorsement of the Menemsha Pond basin, also on the Aquinnah peninsula. Take Lighthouse Rd down to Lobsterville Beach and then along West Basin Road to the Bike Ferry. Yes, a bike ferry that, for $5 per person, takes you across the cut that separates the traveler on West Basin Road from the small fishing village of Menemsha. Fantastic dune landscape, flat beachscape, faded fishing shack grays and washed out pinks and blues, scrub green sand soil hillocks, the ocean.
In Menemsha, we ride down the port road and pass several fish markets, behind which, on the salty-gray plank docks, hungry diners sit on creaky picnic benches eating something I can only assume is fresh, hot, and delicious. Mental note taken – return to this little hamlet for outstanding fresh seafood!

Take North Road out of Menemsha – it parallels aforementioned Middle Road and, while not quite as transcendent as Middle Road, still manages to conjure images of Languedoc in rural southern France. In fact, all along this extraordinary ride I think of France, of the upcoming Tour, of the simple joy and unadulterated sense of goodness that comes from riding a bicycle through new and remarkable places.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Don't Cling

When Allen Ginsberg traveled in India in the early 1960s, he met a guru holy man who offered him a pearl of wisdom: 'If something good happens, don't cling to it. If something bad happens, don't cling to it.'
Such advice serves well the sports enthusiast. To avoid emotional devastation, fits of rage, and the bitter taste of disappointment, a sports fan must cherish as a gift the joy that comes with victory but must also abandon as unworthy of honor the hurt of defeat. In other words, embrace joy but don't cling to disappointment.
Game 7. Celtics 79. Lakers 83.
And this morning? Birds singing sweetly at 4:30 a.m., the soft sun rising into a clear sky and bathing the verdant landscape with life force. AH. Onward. With peace, humility, and enthusiasm.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Series Tied

I overcame my previous game's wardrobe faux pas by donning an All Star green mesh tanktop with the number 33 on the back (a leftover souvenir from younger days playing on a men's rec basketbal team). It seems that Plimpton may have been looking on from the architectural ghost of the old Boston Garden, I sensed him nodding in approval at my retro attire. Whatever, the shirt change seemed to work.

The Celtics overcame horrid first half shooting to rally in the second half behind the brawny determination of Shrek, otherwise known as Glen Davis. He bulled and lunged and ran and finally, after one particularly aggressive foray to the basket during which he was fouled, bellowed like an enraged hippopotamus. Quite a prodigious, not to say inelegant, sight to behold. Especially the drool and the fact that Nate Robinson, the diminutive back-up point guard, was piggybacking him at the time. His game was truly amazing, it was like driving in a car that would never break down because there was an unending stream of Miles Davis cool jazz playing, every cut from Kind of Blue, and the car itself performed with elan and hugged the corners and eased over rough tarmac and exuded an irie calm in the midst of rush hour angst and congestion, and there was nothing smoother, the steering wheel responding like, well, a well-oiled cog, the horse power humming a cat's purr aria and every motion imbued with certainty and trust. The result? This series is wide open once again, Shrek's heroic spittle hanging over all.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sports Jinx

The sports jinx is a debatable proposition but belief in it, among sports fans, is widespread and inescapable. For example, I take partial blame for the Celtics' unfortunate defeat in Game 3 of the NBA Finals last night. Why? Because at half time I was horrified to realize that I was wearing a Watts Tower T shirt that I bought in Los Angeles four years ago. Wearing a T shirt from LA while watching the Celtics battle the Lakers in Boston?! Heresy.

How to better explain Ray Allen's curious debacle of a night? One game after setting an NBA Finals record for most three pointers in a game, Allen goes 0-13 from the field and scores only 2 points in the Celtics 91-84 defeat. Even though I took the shirt off and buried it at the bottom of the dirty clothes hamper at half time, the damage was done. The Celtics dug themselves a 17 point hole in the first half while I was wearing it. Shame on me!

Interestingly, last night the Lakers narrowly avoided one of the dependable 'scoring' jinxes, the dreaded 10-4 score early on. Nine times out of ten, the team that finds itself down 10-4 goes on to lose the game. It's almost science. It was 8-4 at one point last night but the Celtics were unable to score the all important basket that would have made it 10-4. Would that have been enough to overcome my LA T shirt folly? We'll never know.

Game 4 now looms like a nuclear power plant cooling tower. Any cracks in the structure and New England is looking at an environmental sports disaster. Proper anti-sports-jinx measures WILL be taken. We may have to summon the spirit of George Plimpton for advice in the matter.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


With no disrespect to Peter Orlovsky, a far more towering poet died last week, a poet loosely connected to Orlovsky and not so loosely to Allen Ginsberg. I refer to Andrei Voznesensky, a heroic figure in 20th century Soviet/Russian verse.

In repressive times, Voznesensky pushed back. A gifted orator, an iconoclast of verse, a warrior against censorship, Voznesensky shared some of the same Beat-infused spotlight that shone on Ginsberg. In the dreary Breshnevian years, the youth embraced him, chanted his name at poetry stadium readings, passed his work around in samizdat. He's surely in the pantheon of 20th century Russian poets, right there with Brodsky, Pasternak, Ahkmotova, Akhmadulina, Mandelstam. The other titan of contemporary Russian verse, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, lives on.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Orlovsky's New York Times Obituary

The New York Times published Peter Orlovsky's obituary today, June 3, 2010, Allen Ginsberg's birthday (he would have been eight-four). Um, happy birthday, Allen? Was the Times editorial people just having a little wink wink nod nod with Ginsberg, their old nemesis? The Washington Post, perhaps being less clued-in to Beat nuance and with no apparent appreciation for the insignificant coincidence, published their Orlovsky obituary two days ago.

Both pieces are respectful when in another day and age they might not have been. But of course, in citing the books Peter wrote, both omit mention of Clean Asshole Poems and Smiling Vegetable Songs (Pocket Poets,  City Lights).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Peter Orlovsky

Allen Ginsberg's longtime companion, Peter Orlovsky, died in Vermont on Saturday, May 30, 2010. Ginsberg's muse, friend of Jack Kerouac (who portrayed him in several of his novels), eccentric poet organic farmer Buddhist, Orlovsky was one of the last of the Beat Generation's 'core' members, those friends who knew and inspired each other in the 1950s and who were there for the explosion of Howl and On the Road - William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso and, peripherally (because each has declined to accept the mantle 'member of the Beat Generation' but who nonetheless were close friends and significant characters in the 1950s San Francisco Renaissance), Gary Snyder and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

I met Peter Orlovsky just once. Oddly, I was with my parents and we were visiting Allen Ginsberg's apartment on East 12th St in the Lower East Side (Allen was actually out of town). Peter lived in the adjoining apartment and he was coming out of his as we topped the stairs. I introduced myself and my parents and he was very polite and offered a sunny smile and a friendly handshake to Mom and Dad and myself. This encounter contrasts sharply with how Peter was at other moments during those mid '80s years. In those difficult days he was troubled by alcohol and crack addiction and was at times wildly erratic, violent, and wholly unpredictable.

Peter's struggles with his addictions and with bouts of mental illness weighed heavily on Allen who wavered between being tolerant, denying there was a problem, and enforcing tough love (like cutting him off financially,  or calling the police when Orlovksy threatened violence). In the end, when Allen died and his estate sold at auction, the proceeds of the sale went to Orlovsky. I attended that auction and wrote a poem afterwards. In it, I described Peter as "...shambling cannonball-bellied wild-haired unkempt Peter Orlovsky," and noted that...

"The last 'fair warning' announcement echoed from the auctioneer’s gavel, the last hammer blow struck, Orlovsky has stumbled away, pockets stuffed once again by Allen’s unfaltering generosity ... "