That’s now my goal as well. To be a “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.”
For more on the blog-name connection, see the notes below.
In the meantime:
September 10, 2023 – In my last post, Stevenson Trail – from Le Puy to La Bastide-Puylaurent, I wrote about my upcoming trip to France, to Hike the GR70. (The Robert Louis Stevenson Trail, described in his 1879 book, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.) There I wrote about the first half of the hike. I wanted to do a second post to cover the rest, but alas, the time for doing that has run out: Today’s the day. Meaning later this evening I’ll be on my way, leaving the ATL on a red-eye flight. (And getting to Paris early Monday morning.)
The thing is, while I’m in France I’ll only have a tablet, not a laptop. With every thing I can call my own for a month supposedly weighing 15 pounds or less, all in one pack. So finishing another post while overseas will be problematic to say the least. So I’ll try this: Write up this post beforehand, then update it as I hike the Trail. (After enjoying Paris and Lyon.)
Then I’ll put in updates “on the road,” between these two sets of asterisks:
Then comes a memorable climb to Mont Lozère and Le Pic de Finiels, the highest point in south-central France. “A short and relatively-steep descent is followed by a gentle hike to Finiels. Then follow a picturesque trail into Camisard Country and Le Pont de Montvert.” Heading to Florac we’re supposed to see “memorable views over the ‘blue waves’ of the Cevennes hills,” with alternate views of Mediterranean and Alpine flora, “and back again.”
In the “steep-sided, red rock” Mimente Valley we’ll pass by “menhirs and chestnut groves, the traditional staff of life in the Cevennes.” Which leads to the end of the trip, at Saint-Jean-du-Gard. (After hiking up the Corniche des Cevennes, said to offer 360-degree “last-gasp photos.” See also Cévennes – Wikipedia: “The Corniche des Cévennes (the D 907) is a spectacular road between St-Jean-Gard and Florac. [Or vice-versa.) It was constructed at the beginning of the 18th century to enable the movement of Louis XIV’s troops during his conflict with the Camisards.”)
Anyway, Stevenson reached the town on October 3, 1878. We will reach it – if all goes according to plan – on October 3, 2023. 145 years to the day after Stevenson ended his journey. And sold his faithful donkey Modestine, then took a stagecoach to Alès. We will take a day off from our hikes. (Of four, six and five days hiking in a row, with two days off in between.) Then take a train to Ales, and from there head back to Paris and on home to the States.
In the meantime, if you’re interested check out Walking the GR70 Chemin de Stevenson – I Love Walking In France. I listed some of my own reasons for doing such hikes in prior posts, but mostly I do it for the adventure. And the challenge, and to get away from the rut of ordinary, everyday life. But I’ll probably add more reasons, while I’m hiking, in those updates from France. (Between the two sets of asterisks above.) In the meantime, wish me Happy Hiking!
One pilgrimage that has exploded is the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes in Europe. There are many pathways, but one of the main pathways is the Camino Frances, which is a trail that goes from France to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Santiago, Spain.
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Re: The Israelite. Harry Golden grew up in the Jewish ghetto of New York City, but eventually moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. Thus the “Carolina Israelite.” I on the other hand am a “classic 71-year-old “WASP” – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant – and live in north Georgia. Thus the “Georgia Wasp.”
Anyway, in North Carolina Harry wrote and published the “israelite” from the 1940s through the 1960s. He was a “cigar-smoking, bourbon-loving raconteur.” (He told good stories.) That also means if he was around today, the “Israelite would be done as a blog.” But what made Harry special was his positive outlook on life. As he got older but didn’t turn sour, like many do today. He still got a kick out of life. For more on the blog-name connection, see “Wasp” and/or The blog.
After my last-post rueful meditation on a possible second Trump term, it’s time I turned back to some fun stuff. Like Walking the GR70. (The Robert Louis Stevenson Trail, described in his book, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.) For starters, I’ll meet up with my two hiking companions in Le Puy-en-Velay. (After two days in Paris and two days in Lyon.) Then, after a day spent in Le Puy we’ll start the hike, about which I’ve done some research.
One site said that for the first few days after leaving Le Puy en Velay, “the GR 70 passes through forests and farmlands and the countryside appears deceptively gentle (although your leg muscles will likely disagree!). This is quintessential rural France.” But then, days later, “As the path approaches Mont-Lozère and climbs Col de Finiels (the highest point on the walk), the vegetation – and the livestock – disappears.” Tall rock formations line the edge of the trail and “during the walking season, the path is open and exposed to fierce sunshine and biting winds.”
But that comes after 50 miles of hiking, and 26 miles after Langogne, of which more later.
Then, 16 miles after climbing Col de Finiels, we come to Cévennes National Park. Of which another site said: “Continuing south to the Cévennes National Park, the GR 70 returns to the shelter of the forest with occasional glimpses through the trees to the wooded hills beyond. As you conquer each ridge, you’ll be richly rewarded with panoramic views of a landscape that appears to have been untouched for millennia.” Something to look forward to.
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Our first night after Le Puy is in Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille. That’s where Stevenson met an old man, “Father Adam,” and bought Modestine. He needed a donkey to “carry his sleeping pack, food supplies and other essentials needed for his journey.” When we hike into that town we should first pass by “Le Modestine,” an eatery, then a bit further “Bar Snack le Stevenson.”
After leaving Le Monastier we “commence with a short and relatively steep descent into the Upper Loire Valley. Then climb over 400 metres, through charming hamlets and across volcanic plateau.” On the trail to Pradelles – one of France’s “most beautiful villages” – the ascents and descents are less steep, but the trail is “far from flat… Climb to the volcanic plateau from the Arquejol Viaduct before descending through forest to the granite ‘City of the High Prairies.'”
Whatever that is. Maybe the “camping beyond the clouds,” below.
Which leads to a side note: Some addresses on my brother’s spreadsheet are hard to find on Google Maps. Like, on leaving Le Monastier we hike 11.5 miles to some place I couldn’t find. (Which is why they call such activities “exploring.”) I’m thinking we end up in Landos, on the trail from Le Monastier to Longogne, of which more later. From there we hike 11 miles and end up at Camping Nature Beyond the Clouds. (So named because it’s “located on a volcanic plateau at an altitude of 1100m [3,600 feet] with an unobstructed view of all horizons.”)
So anyway, after “Camping Beyond the Clouds” we hike 9.5 miles to a place on Route de Brugeyrolles, in Langogne. Google Maps shows two routes, the shortest 10.2 miles. (The spreadsheet says 9.5 miles.) Either way, we take our first day off there.
In his book Stevenson described the countryside “but nothing on the town itself,” even though it was the largest town on his route. And speaking of Langogne, I mentioned it in last May’s Gearing up for the Stevenson Trail. I ended the post noting the “infamous Beast of Gévaudan.” The Beast was said to be a “man-eating ogre” prowling the area of Langogne. (“It” first attacked a young woman tending cattle in the Mercoire Forest near Langogne, in the early summer of 1764.) I said I definitely needed to do “more research on that topic.”
Here’s what I learned. Stevenson mentioned itin “Camp in the Dark,” in his Travels. It turns out the Beast terrorized the province of Gévaudan, which we pass through. But as it also turns out, it was apparently shot and killed by a local hunter, Jean Chastel, in 1767. The killings stopped after that. On the other hand, one theory said the attacks were really caused by wolves:
Attacks by wolves were a very serious problem during the era, not only in France but throughout Europe, with thousands of deaths attributed to wolves in the 18th century alone. In the spring of 1765, in the midst of the Gévaudan hysteria, an unrelated series of attacks occurred near the commune of Soissons, northeast of Paris, when an individual wolf killed at least four people over a period of two days before being tracked and killed by a man armed with a pitchfork. Such incidents were fairly typical in rural parts of western and central Europe.
One site said on leaving Langogne we pass through “forest and charming hamlet en route to the medieval village,” Cheylard-l’Évêque, where we’ll spend Friday night. (After hiking 10.5 miles.) From there we go off the trail, the 11.8 miles to Saint-Étienne-de-Lugdarès. (Arriving Saturday afternoon, we hope.) On Sunday we hike a long 13.8 miles to La Bastide-Puylaurent.
Stevenson stayed at a Trappist monastery a mile and a half east of town. He described his stay at Notre-Dame-des-Neiges – “Our Lady of the Snows” – in a chapter of the same name. Nearing it he described the weather as desolate and inclement, and that he experienced a “slavish, superstitious fear.” (For one thing, places to stay were much harder to find back then; thus his “camping”) Aside from the monks – generally sworn to a vow of silence – he encountered only two other boarders, retraitants. (A word that can mean “retreater,” retiree or pensioner.)
One was a country parish priest, the other a retired “old soldier.” (He first came as a boarder, then decided to stay on as a novitiate.) At supper the first night the talk turned to politics, which led to a brief flareup. Next morning over coffee they “found out I was a heretic.” (In his 20’s he rejected Christianity and declared himself an atheist.) What followed? “Now the hunt was up.” He tried to defend himself but got instead a long lecture on the “harrowing details of hell.” The haranguing went on until finally Stevenson protested against “this uncivil usage.” That led to a comment that the two had “no other feeling but interest in your soul.” All of which is a reminder: “Never discuss politics, religion or the Great Pumpkin” with people you don’t know.
With that comment, “there ended my conversion.” Stevenson waited until after supper to saddle up Modestine and set off for Chasseradès. That’s a former commune – which merged with Mont Lozère et Goulet in 2017 – some six miles southwest of Le Bastide. And we too will stop at Chasserades, on our way to Le Bleymard, after a “mere” 8.2 mile hike.
I’ll cover that “rest of the hike” in my next post, which I hope will be before I leave for Paris.
Consider Linus, never without his blanket, as he philosophizes: ‘There are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin…” [In discussing] the difference between believing in Santa Claus and believing in the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown observes, “We are obviously separated by denominational differences.”
A head’s up. The punchline for the headline above would be, “At least it wouldn’t be as bad as living in Russia!” That’s the impression I got after starting to read my latest Arkady Renko novel. (Tatiana, one of a series of “life in Russia” novels by Martin Cruz Smith.) There’s more on dealing with a possible second Trump term as president below, but first a word about those Renko novels. They really make me appreciate living in the United States.
I started off years ago reading Gorky Park, the book. Then watched the 1983 film, twice. (With William Hurt as Arkady, along with Lee Marvin and Brian Dennehy). I later bought the DVD and watched it a few more times. (A depressing but fascinating look at life in Russia as it used to be.) The book came out in 1981, the film in 1983, which gives an idea how far back my attachment goes. Some time later I bought the book Polar Star. (Published in 1989.) More on that later.
Then a few days ago, I passed through the Large Print section of a local library. I came across another Renko novel, Tatiana, published in 2013. It tells of Renko having survived “the cultural journey from the Soviet Union to the New Russia, only to find the nation as obsessed with secrecy and brutality as was the old Communist regime.” Apparently things hadn’t changed much.
Which brings us back to a “maybe second Trump:” I must confess – I “do not deny, but confess” – to some sleepless nights about that. Sleepless nights at the thought of him winning the 2024 presidential election. To be sure, that seems far-fetched at this point. Or maybe not. The point is, with a second Trump term America might start looking more like Arkady Renko’s Russia.
Death threats, reporters disappearing, broken legs, riots. At least that’s what some think…
Many Republicans say Trump can’t win, but there are those national polls. Polls showing that even with his baggage and indictments, Trump is running neck and neck with President Biden. And it’s virtually certain he’ll be the Republican nominee. So the choice will be him, or one person running against him. (Not to mention the nightmare possibility of a third-party candidate forcing the election into the House of Representatives.*) And for some reason President Biden remains unpopular. (“Why?”) One recent poll showed him with a 41.2 percent approval rating but a 54.9 percent disapproval rating. All of which means Trump has theoretic 50-50 shot at re-election.
The “gasp” was for the idea that it might have been better if Trump had won back in 2020. (You know, without inciting the January 6 riot and shredding the Constitution.) For one thing, in the years between 2020 and 2024, if he lost, “he might just wreak more havoc to American democracy than he could as president.” Which has certainly been true. He lost, but still manages to wreak havoc to American democracy. The flip side? Massive Trump Fatigue.
At any rate, I asked – back in August 2019 – if it wouldn’t be “better to get it over with?” To look forward to getting rid of Trump once and for all, in 2024? Then too, if he did get re-elected in 2020, he would immediately become a Lame Duck. Such politicians – not eligible to run again – often “lose their credibility and influence” on fellow politicians. Also, “Projects uncompleted may fall to the wayside as their influence is greatly diminished.” (Like “building a wall?”)
On the other hand, since a lame duck president doesn’t need to worry about being re-elected, he can focus more on leaving a a good legacy. (He doesn’t have to worry about “catering to his wacko base.”) One example from history was Ronald Reagan. When he got elected to a second term he signed an arms control treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, “despite his opposition to arms control” during his first term. He changed his hardline stance.
Another example was P.T. Barnum. Famous for saying “there’s a sucker born every minute” – as a circus entrepreneur, if not shyster – he later ran for public office. Surprise of surprises, he became a humane, effective and ethical politician. He served two terms in the Connecticut legislature in 1865, as a Republican.On the subject of slavery and blacks voting…
Barnum spoke before the legislature and said, “A human soul, ‘that God has created and Christ died for,’ is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab or a Hottentot – it is still an immortal spirit.”
Like I said, surprise of surprises. And it’s possible – though I wouldn’t bet the farm on it – that something like that might happen if Trump gets re-elected. Still, even if he did get re-elected things here will still be better than living in Russia. As shown by those Arkady Renko novels.
The thing that first impressed me about Renko was his ability to survive. For example, in Gorky Park he starts out as a dogged – if not quite respected – Moscow homicide investigator. Respected in a sense as the son of famous World War Two General, Stalin‘s Favorite General celebrated as “The Butcher of Ukraine.” But dogged in the sense that he’s made an enemy of the KGB. He “exposes corruption and dishonesty on the part of influential and well-protected members of the elite, regardless of the consequences.”
One such consequence? His partner is shot to death by members of the KGB, during the investigation into three mutilated bodies, found in the aforementioned Gorky Park. (Like Dirty Harry, whose on-screen partners “were famously short-lived,” it can be fatal to be close to Renko.)
Also in that first novel he gets betrayed by the man he trusts and works for, the powerful prosecutor Iamskoy. Iamskoy is really secretly working with Jack Osborne. (A corrupt and corrupting American played to perfection by Lee Marvin.) Renko ends up killing Iamskoy and Osborne’s henchman, but suffers a near-fatal stomach wound. He “recuperates” – in a KGB-run asylum – where he is regularly interrogated, and given various injections to make him talk. (Or just for the pure pleasure of watching him squirm.) State doctors “diagnose” him with Pathoheterodoxy Syndrome, “a fictional mental illness” symptomized by misguided arrogance. A side note, while the syndrome is fictional, “the incident also alludes to the very real Soviet practice of diagnosing dissidents with ‘sluggish schizophrenia,’ and of forcibly treating them with psychotropic drugs.”
He eventually escapes, miraculously, but is forced to flee ever-eastward, to Siberia, staying just one step ahead of the KGB. (The farther east he goes, the fewer thugs get dispatched to hunt him down). In Polar Star, Renko reaches the end of his rope, literally and metaphorically.
After uncovering corruption in high places (in Gorky Park), Renko is dismissed from his job as a Moscow police investigator and is forced to accept a variety of menial jobs in remote parts of the Soviet Union. [Like Siberia.] Finally, he finds himself gutting fish on a factory ship in the Bering Sea, in part to hide from the KGB, who have tried to kill him.
Then there’s a murder on board. Renko is forced – reluctantly – to investigate, but his insistence on learning the truth, “rather than allowing her murder to be covered up as a suicide,” earns him more death threats, by the on-board KGB stooge and all but one or two other workers. But like I said, he manages to survive, in very trying circumstances.
Like we might find useful, if there is a second Trump term.
But from Polar Star we move on to Tatiana, which lists some of his miraculous escapes.
[Renko’s doctor had – so far – treated him] for a gunshot wound, a bullet to the brain that should have killed him and would have if the round had not been degraded by time. Instead of plowing a causeway through Arkady’s head, bits had lodged between the skull and the covering of the brain, and caused bleeding enough to justify drilling drain holes and lifting the lid of his head.” Because of all that the doctor had “taken a proprietary interest in his health.”
And that’s not to mention the stabbing-by-ice pick in Gorky Park, in a virtual cesspool of a Moscow fountain that got him taken to the KGB-run “asylum.” Where a series of “treatments” like painful spinal injections got him diagnosed with “Pathoheterodoxy Syndrome.”
But as interesting as the Tatiana novel has been – so far as I’ve gotten – it’s Polar Star that’s been the more interesting. Mostly because in it, Renko’s world has been turned upside down. Like America will be if Trump gets re-elected in 2024.
As a respected Moscow homicide detective, Renko had long been “on top.” And sent many men to prison. In Polar Star, one of them, Karp Korobetz, is now a Top Dog. A highly respected trawl master, and a favorite of the captain and crew alike. And he swears to kill Renko in revenge. “You’ll never get off this ship alive.” Renko on the other hand is now among the onboard lowest of the low. He works on the slime line, in the lowest bowels of the ship. But survive he does, with tricks and techniques we might all need to learn, possibly starting on Election Day, 2024.
* * * *
Well, I did try to link up those Renko novels to how a second Trump terms as president could still be tolerable. Or at least better than living in Russia!
But at this point – still thrashing around more of Arkady’s hair-breadth escapes – I haven’t made much progress. And this post has gone on far too long. I’m still stuck in the middle of Tatiana, but have to confess, I just took a sneak peek at the last chapter. And learned that most of the novel’s good people survive. They too “made it through to the other side.”
Which I guess is as good a metaphor as any to wrap up this post. If we can sneak a look at America, once Trump is out of the way for good – one way or another – we’ll see that things turn out okay as well. There may be a blood bath (hopefully metaphoric) if he gets re-elected. And lots of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. But in the end we’ve gotten through worse, and will again. Then too, since we’ve gone through one Trump term, we’ve built up a certain Herd immunity. An indirect protection; “Once the herd immunity has been reached, disease gradually disappears from a population and may result in eradication or permanent reduction.”
Here’s hoping all that happens without a second Trump term.
On the Arkady books, see for example Arkady Renko – Book Series In Order. References to “Tatiana” are from the Center Point Large Print edition, Thorndike, Maine, 2014. Page 63 details Arkady’s doctor listing his various bullet wounds. At page 119, Tatiana, speaking on tape, says Russia is and has always been a “drunken bear.” Sometimes, curled in another corner is such a journalist as Tatiana, whose arms and legs have been systematically broken:
The thugs who do such work are meticulous. We don’t have to go to Chechnya to find such men. We recruit them and train them and call them patriots. And when they find an honest journalist, they let the bear loose… Sooner or later, I will be poisoned or nudged off a cliff or shot by a stranger…
Pages 127-129 tells of Renko’s wife Irina, his love-hate interest in Gorky Park, dying trying to get an antibiotic for a minor infection. From a “local polyclinic.” She is highly allergic to penicillin, which is just what she got thanks to an inattentive nurse. And the incompetent doctor could have saved her with a counter-injection of adrenaline, but “snapped off the key to the pharmacy cabinet, sealing her fate.”
Pages 157-58 tell of a thug trying to get Tatiana’s indecipherable notebook. He traps Renko in a barge ballast. A large concrete pad squeezes him, gently at first, as he is “laid out like a canape … in effect, entombed with less room than a coffin.” The thug – Alexi – keeps lowering the concrete ballast and Renko wonders, “what would be crushed first, rib cage or skull?” Then the thug’s pug, a pet dog, discovers Renko “and crawled up his chest to lick his face.” When Alexi reaches in to get the dog, Renko grabs his arm and dislocates Alexi’s shoulder, in desperation.
Like I said, Renko has an uncanny ability to survive.
Re: “Forcing the election into the House of Representatives.” For example, if a third-party candidate got enough Electoral College votes to deny both Trump and Biden the 270 needed to win.
On paper, the Biden administration has racked up some impressive achievements: more than 6 million new jobs were created, a single-year record. Unemployment dropped from 6.2% to 3.9%, another single-year first. Childhood poverty and hunger are down while average wages went up. Biden has the first majority non-white Cabinet in history and presides over the most diverse administration in history. He passed a massive COVID-19 relief bill and an expansive infrastructure package many previous presidents tried and failed to achieve.
…people are tired of hearing about Trump’s actions and have been for several years. “A part of the reason Trump lost the 2020 election is people were tired of it,” Carter said, referring to Trump’s continuous scandals. “It’s exhausting, for journalists and the public to be constantly having this guy living in their minds.”
(The “Carter” in question was Jared Carter, Vermont Law and Graduate School law professor.)
July 24, 2023 – It won’t be long now. Next mid-September, two companions and I will hike the Stevenson Trail in France, starting in Le Puy-en-Velay. But first I’ll have to get there, through Paris, then by train some 280 miles southeast to Lyon. (A place I’ve never been.) I’ll stay two nights in each place, then take a train-and-bus combo some 84 miles southwest to Le Puy. (Oddly enough, getting to Le Puy from Lyon will take about as long as from Paris to Lyon.)
Those two nights each – Paris and Lyon – mean I’ll have some time for sightseeing. But that also means I have to plan carefully, to get the biggest bang for my buck. (So to speak.)
But first, Paris. After arriving at De Gaulle airport – early in the morning – I’ll take the RER Train B to the Gare du Nord. (18 Rue de Dunkerque.) Then (as I wrote about the 2021 trip), “out the exit past the Starbucks, and take a left and onto Rue la Fayette.” That’s assuming I can find the exit. In 2021 I had a heck of a time finding how to get from the lower level up to the ground floor and then out into the sunshine. (And a sidewalk cafe.) Here’s hoping experience is a good teacher.
In Paris I booked a room near the swanky Hipotel Paris Voltaire Bastille. It’s about a two-mile hike from Gare du Nord, but I’ll have some time to kill. Check-in isn’t until 2:00. From there – barring jet lag – I’ll have some sights to see. In 2021 I wanted to visit a place on the outskirts, Choisy-le-Roi. On my first visit in 1979, a young lady-friend and I camped at a youth hostel there. In a little tent, “very romantic,” between the Seine and Marne Rivers. (“Is the hostel still there?”)
Shown at the top of the page, the Basilica is “at the summit of the butte of Montmartre.” Said to be visible from most parts of Paris, it also offers a great panorama of the city itself. Plus it would be nice to visit Montmartre, interested as I am in Impressionist painting and painters. But to get to either Choisy-le-Roi or Montmartre I’ll have to take the Métro, said to be the haunt of numerous Pickpockets and Scams. I’ll let you know how that works out. Or I may just say the hell with it and confine myself to walking tours based around the Île de la Cité.
On that note, it turns out my room is less than a mile from the Père Lachaise Cemetery, where notables like Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde are buried. Plus it’s a nice shady place for a walk – without a pack – through its wooded 106 acres. And when it’s time to leave Paris, the room is a mere mile hike to Gare Lyon, for my train down for two nights in Lyon.
Speaking of Lyon, I once wrote that – as I once thought – hotels were cheaper there than in Paris. That turns out not to be true. For some reason, most places I checked added on either a hefty “cleaning fee,” or a hefty damage deposit. (Supposedly refundable but I hate paying “deposits.”) That routinely doubled the price of what I thought at first was an affordable room. I ended up paying more for two nights in Lyon than two nights in Paris.
I finally booked a do-able room just across the Rhone River from “Presqu’île,” the peninsula center-of-the-city formed by the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers. As in Paris, I’ll get to Lyon before noon, some hours before check-in. But the room is only another two-mile, 45-minute hike, from the Gare de Lyon-Perrache. And on the way is the Damn Fine Bookstore.
It’s billed as one of the few places to get books in English outside Paris. Plus it has a cafe, where I’ll spend some time between arrival and check-in. Then too, once it’s time to head down to Le Puy, it’s only a little over a mile hike from the room to the Lyon Part Dieu station, where I head southwest. Getting there on time won’t be a problem. I don’t leave Lyon until early afternoon.
Back to that room in Lyon. It’s less than a mile to Place Bellecour, third-largest public square in France. More important for me is it’s less than two miles to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. Like the Paris Basilique du Sacré Cœur, it too is said to offer a spectacular view of the city. And speaking of those two church towers – Paris and Lyon – the dome of the Basilica of the Sacréd Heart of Montmartre is said to have 300 steps to the top. The dome of the Basilica of “Our Lady” (the Virgin Mary) is said to have 287 steps to the top. With the other walking tours I’ll make in both cities, climbing those 587 stairs all the way to the top – and back down again – will be good training. Good training for that 15-day, 150-mile hike on the Stevenson Trail.
July 10, 2023 – In Gearing up … Stevenson Trail I noted that in September – a mere two months from now – I’ll fly back to Paris. From there I’ll join my two hiking companions and start the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail. (In Le Puy-en-Velay, 340 miles southeast of Paris.) Which brings up a post I did some time ago, on why an old guy like me would keep on doing things, like a multi-day 150-mile hike in a far-away foreign country. (Like Italy’s Way of St. Francis last year, and before that three separate hikes on the Camino de Santiago.)
John Steinbeck explained it pretty well. He began Part Two of Travels with Charley by noting the many men his age who – told to slow down – “pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood.” (They “trade their violence for a small increase in life span.”) But that wasn’t his way:
I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage… If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway. I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage. It’s bad theater as well as bad living.
In plain words he didn’t want to turn into just another old fart, and neither do I. (I.e., an older person, typically male, who holds “old-fashioned views.”) By the way, that Free Dictionary definition has a disclaimer, that the page “may contain content that is offensive or inappropriate for some readers.” To which I would say, “Get over it, Nancy!”
And speaking of old farts, Steinbeck was 60 years old when he wrote Travels, including that stuff about Old Age. To which I would say, “Punk! And young punk at that!” (Oh to be 60 again… Not!)
But we were talking about 150-mile hikes in foreign countries, and why an old guy would still do them. Partly because they are pilgrimages, giving us a break from “real life,” from the rat race. That last part doesn’t really apply to me; I’m retired and can enjoy life. But as we started to say on the Way of St. Francis last year, “It sure beats playing bingo at the Senior Center!” Aside from that, a pilgrimage can be “‘one of the most liberating of personal experiences.” And on a Camino hike that hot shower, warm bed and cold beer at the end of each day helps too.
Beyond that, I wouldn’t want to be guilty of Bad Theater. Then too, my brother Tom – one hiking companion next September – reacted to a past-pilgrimage blog-post and had this to say:
Read your blog on the trip and I think there is one point where you give [undue] credence to the view of the “pat-pat” people of the world. The issue is the idea that only people, “not in their right minds,” would go to places (or do things) that are unique experiences – ones that most others never have. In my mind, this is exactly what people in their right mind should be doing. I pity those who don’t.
Which mirrors what Stevenson said in Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. (On his 12-day, 120-mile solo hike through sparsely populated, impoverished Cévennes in south-central France.) He described one night setting up camp in a place “black as a pit, but admirably sheltered.” He ate a crude dinner – a tin of bologna and some cake, washed down by brandy – then settled in, despite the tempest around him. As he put it, “The wind among the trees was my lullaby.” He woke in the morning “surprised to find how easy and pleasant it had been … even in this tempestuous weather.” He then waxed poetic, in part about seeking such adventure all his life:
Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting, who can annoy himself about the future?
On a Camino hike today you focus, you concentrate solely on getting up in the morning and reaching that day’s down-the-road destination. On how good the fresh-squeezed orange juice and Café Crème taste now, and how good that first cold beer at the end of the day’s hike will taste. You are mindful. You experience the eternal now. In plain words you don’t give a rat’s ass about the future and what problems it might bring. That in itself is liberating.
These days we have plenty of future to worry about. (Things that might happen but hopefully won’t.) So it’s rewarding to take a break from the nowaday sleepless nights and concentrate on reaching today’s destination, everything you own on your back, and looking forward to that hot shower, warm bed and cold beer. Or it could come down to this basic lesson in life: “To have a mountaintop experience, you have to climb the &^*@$# mountain!”
I dread the day when I have no more mountains to climb…
Re: Curmudgeon. Per Wiktionary, an ill-tempered person, usually old, full of stubborn opinions or ideas.
Re: “Nancy.” I was thinking of “walk it off Nancy,” something like “rub some dirt on it” in a sport setting. Meaning to “be strong,” “be tough” or “stop complaining,” as when you suffer and injury. See also Urban Dictionary: Negative Nancy, referring to a killjoy, someone constantly negative about everything in life, and also referring to “Nancy boy” as an effete male. Or someone “uncomfortable in their own skin,” in the world around them or with social situations around them. Who knew?
June 25, 2023 – I last posted on May 27, 2023. Partly because I just got back from four days last week on a family stay-cation down in Panama City Beach. (21st floor, Ocean Ritz, very limited parking.) Which was fun, but marred by high winds, high waves and rip tides. For example:
Then too, he’s a Conservative With a Conscience. (These days an endangered species.) His conscience led Will to Confirm Nixon’s Treason. (Nixon scuttled the Paris Peace Talks, designed to end the war in Vietnam. He used secret information passed on from President Johnson, to make sure he – Nixon – got elected in 1968. If the talks had succeeded before the election, Nixon would have lost.)
Will also went head to head with fellow conservatives George W. Bush and – most recently – Donald Trump. (See Enemy of enemy is friend.) But mostly I admire his column-writing.
I fancy myself a columnist, or what columnists have become in this age of weblogs. And About the blog (above) tells about how I remembered some advice George gave years ago: “As I recall,” I wrote, Will “defined a columnist as a writer with three seductive skills: ‘be pleasurable, be concise, and be gifted at changing the subject frequently.'” A side note: I’ve learned to change the subject so frequently that my family says my writing “goes all over the place.” To which I can only respond, “Have you read the Book of Isaiah? That guy ‘goes all over the place!'”
The line-spacing may seem strange – it looked even stranger in Will’s book – but that’s the best I could do. Back to the book: After starting to read it, on a lark I looked up “Trump” in the Index. I only found one reference, on page 257, as part of Will’s May 1998 column, “In Need of Another Moses.” The Other Moses was Robert Moses, “American urban planner and public official who worked in the New York metropolitan area during the early to mid 20th century.” The Need had to so with Governors Island, in New York Harbor, some 800 yards south of Manhattan. Will wondered why this “perfectly good island” was going to waste.
He reviewed the island’s history – including that “George Patton played polo there” – and wondered why no one, including the federal government, wanted to own and improve it:
It is passing strange that a congested city with a shortage of housing, green space, and Revolutionary War landmarks cannot find a moneymaking use for an island that is going to waste within hailing distance of the capital of money-making, Wall Street.
Which brings back the one-page reference to “The Donald,” in 367 total pages. (When was the last time we saw that ratio?) On why buyers were scarce, “‘Ferries don’t work,’ says developer Donald Trump.” (He cited the “long struggle toward profitability of Fisher Island in Miami.”)
Trump added that in 1998 Americans were “too antsy to wait on even good ferry service,” and said that even Staten Island didn’t prosper until the ferry-to-Manhattan service “was supplemented by the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge.” Then there was the general business rule of thumb – as he tweaked it – for projects with potential high yields but also high risks. That rule normally: The first investor will go broke, while the “second guy in will make money.” As adjusted in the 1998 Trump-tweak, in the case of Governor’s Island, “The third guy in will make money.”
A big problem, he says, is the government is chock full of blocking mechanisms. Environmentalists are particularly nimble at litigating development to a money-eating standstill.
And some side notes. I used Governor’s Island as a secondary objective in June, 2022, when I tried to kayak across New York Harbor, from Statue of Liberty park to Manhattan. (My visit to The Big Apple – June 2022.) And in September 2016 I kayaked across the Verrazzano Narrows from Staten Island to Brooklyn. (Looking back on “the summer of ’16,” and links therein.) Fortunately the tide was just right in September 2016. It neither swept me back into New York Harbor nor swept me out to sea, past Sandy Hook. I didn’t have that luck in June 2022. After an hour’s paddling I got no closer to either Manhattan or Governor’s Island, so I turned back.
But we were talking about looking to the future with both a “happy eye” and sober perspective. Which brings up Donald Trump and his possibly getting a second term on Election Day – 2024. (November 5.) And the fact that to many, the thought of such a second term would be a true nightmare, illustrated below. Thus the question: “Will we still be able to look to the future with a Happy Eye – even if Trump gets elected to a second term in 2024?”
I reflected on such a second term in “Why it might be better…” (Gasp!) That was in August 2019, well before the 2020 election. (I worried a lot, even that long before Election Day.) I thought it might not be too bad, for reasons including that he’d immediately become a political lame duck, and that such lame-duck presidents both lose power but often become more concerned with their legacy. (Like President Reagan signing an arms control treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during his second term, despite opposing such a treaty in his first term.)
I also asked, “Wouldn’t it be better to get it over with? To get rid of Trump once and for all, in 2024?” (Rather than having these two, three or four years of suspense, wondering if there will really be that many stupid Americans? And who knows how he’d handle the crises Biden faced, or what might have happened otherwise.) But on whether we can look to the future with Happy Eye if he does get that second term: Here’s hoping we never get the chance to find out…
See the Amazon version of Will’s book at With a Happy Eye, but…: America and the World, 1997–2002.It’s review began: “The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Newsweek columnist takes on the presidents Bush, Mr. and Mrs. Clinton, Y2K, 9/11, trickle-down economics, Brooks Brothers suits, the essence of golf, and of course, those damn Yankees.”(Will is a Chicago Cubs fan. On that note he once wrote, in 2001, “It has taken me sixty years to identify the three keys to a happy life… A flourishing family, hearty friends, and a strong bullpen.”)
As noted above, I like his column-writing style, but see WITH A HAPPY EYE BUT… by George F. Will | Kirkus Reviews. It ended: “The gold standard among conservative columnists remains William F. Buckley Jr., who can be enjoyed as literature even if you don’t agree with him; the same cannot be said of Will.” (To which I say, “I beg to differ.”) Also, this review pegged Will as a Contrarian, as in: “Will, however, has always been better as a contrarian than an insider.”
This will be my third time back, actually. I first visited the City of Light in 1979, in the company of a young co-ed named Janine. When she finished a semester abroad in London, we toured Europe via Eurail Pass. (Including two days in Paris.) The second time was in 2021, when I met up with three hiking companions. They were going to hike the full Camino de Santiago, starting from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees. I only hiked as far as Burgos, in Spain, for reasons explained in Countdown to Paris – 2021. (I’d already hiked to Santiago twice, but hadn’t hiked over the Pyrenees. And felt guilty about missing that.)
Next September, 2023, two of those hiking companions* and I will hike the Stevenson Trail, starting in Le Puy-en-Velay, 340 miles southeast of Paris. But first comes Paris. More specifically, first comes the half-hour train ride from De Gaulle airport to the Gare du Nord. As noted in the ’21 post, “I’ll take the RER Train B to the Gare du Nord. (18 Rue de Dunkerque.) Then out the exit past the Starbucks, and take a left and onto Rue la Fayette.” And by the way, in 2021 I had a heck of a time just getting out of the Gare du Nord, up one flight to the streets of Paris. I didn’t see any clear exit signs, but hopefully this time “experiencewill bethe best teacher.”
In 2021 I had a list of things to do in two days on my own, including a visit to Notre-Dame:
But there is one place on the outskirts that I definitely want to visit… As I recently learned, Choisy-le-Roi is where Henry Kissinger conducted secret negotiations … to end the Vietnam war, in 1972. But back in 1979 it was also home to a youth hostel, and on the grounds of that hostel [Janine and I] camped in a little tent, between the Seine and Marne Rivers. With the moonlight shining through the tent flap… (Can you say, “romantic interlude?”)
Back to the September trip. Early on, getting ready for that hike, I thought of visiting Arles. (In the south of France, of Vincent van Gogh fame?) I checked and saw a Grande Vitesse high-speed train connection for $43.87, from Paris to Arles. (Second class, Senior discount. A first-class ticket is $50.80, as best I can tell. Paris to Arles by Train from € 25.70 | TGV Tickets & Times.) But the trip from Arles to Le Puy-en-Velay cost almost the same, $48.60. And while it’s 471 miles from Paris to Arles, it’s 132 from Arles to Le Puy-en-Velay, where the hike starts. (Go figure.)
Or I may just take a Grande Vitesse from Paris to Lyon, for a couple of days there. I’ve never been to Lyon, and besides, hotels are a lot cheaper there than in Paris.
Another note to get out of the way. This next hike may have been “preordained before the beginning of time.” Or at least strongly foreshadowed by a post I did in February 2015, On donkey travel – and sluts. (A heads up: Stevenson’s word “sluts” had a different meaning in 1879, explained in the notes.) The post started off saying Stevenson’s 1879 book inspired the theme and title of John Steinbeck‘s 1962 travelog, Travels with Charley. (Steinbeck called Stevenson’s 1879 book “One of the single greatest works of English literature.”) But mostly the Sluts post talked about why Stevenson, Steinbeck and other “old people” like us would put ourselves through such ordeals. (Mostly it’s because it “beats playing Bingo at the Senior Center!”)
So anyway, Travels with a Donkey recounted a “12-day, 120-mile solo hiking journey through the sparsely populated and impoverished areas of the Cévennes mountains in south-central France in 1878.” The book itself – considered a pioneering classic of outdoor literature – describes some of Stevenson’s trials and tribulations. (Which seem part and parcel of pioneering: “One of the first people to do something.”) One such trial involved what a pain it was to get the donkey – “Modestine” – to move at anything more than a virtual crawl. (She was, said Wikipedia, “a stubborn, manipulative donkey [Stevenson] could never quite master.”) Incidentally, hikers today can rent a donkey, for something like $1,000, but we chose to forego that option.
Another trial? The whole idea of “camping” – especially while hiking – was totally new:
[Travels with a Donkey] is one of the earliest accounts to present hiking and camping outdoors as a recreational activity. It also tells of commissioning one of the first sleeping bags, large and heavy enough to require a donkey to carry. Stevenson is several times mistaken for a peddler, the usual occupation of someone traveling in his fashion. Some locals are horrified that he would sleep outdoors … because of wolves or robbers.
But here’s a news flash. Wolves and robbers aren’t such a problem any more. (I hope.) Plus, the area is no longer sparsely populated, hikers aren’t seen as strange “peddlers,” and you don’t have to camp outside as Stevenson did. See Walking the GR70 Chemin de Stevenson – I Love Walking In France. Stevenson “could not have imagined that one hundred years later, thousands of walkers would be inspired to follow in his footsteps.” Also, “There are plenty of options for overnight accommodation* on a long-distance walk along the Chemin de Stevenson.”
Getting back to the sluts. In the part, “Upper Gevaudan – A Camp in the Dark,” Stevenson wrote of trying to get to Le Cheylard l’Évêque, “a place on the borders of the forest of Mercoire.” There was no direct route, and it was “two o’clock in the afternoon before I got my journal written up and my knapsack repaired.” Besides – he was told – it would only take an hour and a half to get there. But he got lost, and finally “rejoiced” when he found Sagne-Rousse.
He went on his way “rejoicing in a sure point of departure.” (He knew where he was on the map.) In the meantime it rained and hailed alternately, and the wind kicked up. Two hours later he ended up“tacking through” a bog when he finally found a village and a crowd of locals, including children. But when he moved toward them to ask directions, “children and cattle began to disperse, until only a pair of [12-year-old] girls remained behind.” The local peasants were – he said – “but little disposed to counsel a wayfarer,” and one “old devil simply retired into his house, and barricaded the door.” That left only one source of guidance, but:
As for these two girls, they were a pair of impudent sly sluts, with not a thought but mischief. One put out her tongue at me, the other bade me follow the cows; and they both giggled and jogged each other’s elbows.
So he proceeded on. He finally found another village, but no one answered when he knocked on doors seeking shelter for the night. Finally he had to set up camp in the pitch-black night:
All the other houses in the village were both dark and silent; and though I knocked at here and there a door, my knocking was unanswered. It was a bad business; I gave up Fouzilhac with my curses. The rain had stopped, and the wind, which still kept rising, began to dry my coat and trousers. ‘Very well,’ thought I, ‘water or no water, I must camp.’
So much for being a pioneer. And incidentally, at the end of “Camp in the Dark,” Stevenson brings up “the infamous Beast of Gévaudan,” a man-eating ogre said to prowl the area. (“Gévaudan, 48700 Monts-de-Randon” is 54 miles southeast of Le Puy-en-Velay.)
I definitely need to do more research on that topic before starting the hike, and maybe for my next gearing-up post. But in the meantime, “First comes Paris – Again!”
Re: Companions. In September 2021, the hiking companions were my brother Tom, his wife Carol, and Carol’s brother Ray. I hiked over the Pyrenees with them, and through Pamplona to Burgos in Spain.The full Camino route they took was the French Way. In September 2022, Tom, Carol and I did a 15-day hike in Italy. See Some highlights – Way of St. Francis 2022.
There are plenty of options for overnight accommodation on a long-distance walk along the Chemin de Stevenson… The longest section, from Le Pont-de-Montvert to Bédouès-Cocurès, requires a walk of 23.5 kilometres (14.7 miles) or, if you wish to spend the following night in Florac, you will need to cover an additional five kilometres (three miles) of walking. To avoid this, a shortcut along the GR 68 will allow you to reduce the walk by six kilometres.
(Click the link to see the full list of possible places to stay for the night along the Trail.)
As noted, this blog honors Harry Golden and his Carolina Israelite. At the top of this page you’ll see ABOUT THAT “WASP” NAME and ABOUT THE BLOG. That’s where I set out what kind of posts I hoped to do. (To honor Harry.) The categories on the right side include Politics, but the last politics post I did was back on November 28, 2022. (Just after the mid-term elections. “After the election 2022…”) So it’s about time for a new post on today’s politics.
In part this post will include a review of past posts to see how any predictions turned out.
“A conspiracy like this … a conspiracy investigation … the rope has to tighten slowly around everyone’s neck. You build convincingly from the outer edges in, you get ten times the evidence you need against the Hunts and Liddys. They feel hopelessly finished – they may not talk right away, but the grip is on them. Then you move up and do the same thing to the next level. If you shoot too high and miss, then everybody feels more secure. Lawyers work this way. I’m sure smart reporters do too. You’ve put the investigation back months. It puts everybody on the defensive – editors, FBI agents, everybody has to go into a crouch after this.”
The book added, “Woodward swallowed hard. He deserved the lecture.”
And speaking of slow wheels of justice, “Did they have to grind this slow?” Meaning it’s only now – three years after he left office – that Trump finally got “convicted” of something. Specifically, the May 9, 2023 jury verdict saying he’s Liable for Sexual Abuse and Defamation. (And must pay $5 million in damages.) Back in June 2018 I wrote that the federal Mueller Investigation might end – and it did, without accountability – but that wouldn’t be the end of the story. The Mueller investigation would be followed by “a whole new series ofstate criminal proceedings.” (As in a state like New York, “where ‘The Donald’ or his minions have done business.”) And then, I said, “the ‘noose-tightening’ would start all over again.” And it did, and it continues.
Yet it remains true that from 1973 to 2023, Trump dodged all legal accountability for his actions. (For an analysis of his tactics – “deny, deflect, delay” – How Trump Survived Decades of Legal Trouble.) But even with the sex-abuse and defamation verdicts, he remains for many people “Teflon Don.” See for example the recent poll saying Biden trails Trump in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election. I’ll address that bombshell in a future post – including a reference to polls showing a “red wave” in the 2022 mid-terms – but for now I’ll say that’s hardly surprising. In November 2021 I posted Donald Trump – the newest “Undead Revenant?”
Trump seem[s] to rise from the political ashes, not unlike the proverbial Phoenix. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say rising again, like a &^%$ Zombie. (Which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as a frightening creature, a seemingly dead person “brought back to life, but without humanqualities.”
On the other hand, the Undead Revenant post did mention one good reason Trump might not run in 2024. Call it the “Adlai Stevenson effect.” Some of his advisers – back in November 2021 – had a plan to dissuade him. They pointed out that if Trump ran but lost again in 2024, “he would join Stevenson as one of history’s serial losers,” and Trump “hates losers.” (See also Donald Trump can’t stand being called a “loser.”) Maybe that will turn out to be true.
Wikipedia noted, “While seemingly a blessing, the expression is normally used ironically.” The irony is that to many, “life is better in ‘uninteresting times’ of peace and tranquility than in ‘interesting’ ones, which are usually times of trouble.” (The way I heard it the curse went, “May your children live in interesting times.” Meaning somebody must have told our parents that.)
Anyway, I’d say “time of trouble” aptly describes today’s political climate in Washington. Or as another Chinese saying goes, “Better to be a dog in times of tranquility than a human in times of chaos.” That chaos too could describe today’s politics in Washington. Which means that as interesting as it’s been since 2016, it’s about to get a whole lot more interesting.
Who knows, with a few more convictions that “Adlai Stevenson effect” may yet kick in.
Today we’re quick to banish presidential losers… Yet one White House loser—a serial loser, at that—still haunts the political landscape: Adlai Stevenson. Every political season the pundits find some reason to resurrect him, invariably in a flattering light… Stevenson not only lost nobly; he made losing seem noble in and of itself.
I noted, “It’s hard to imagine Trump making a second-run loss seem ‘noble in and of itself.’”
His son confirmed his death to The Chicago Sun-Times… “He just faded away,” Adlai Stevenson IV told the newspaper. Stevenson [III], a member of a dynastic family in Illinois politics, spent 11 years in the Senate and unsuccessfully ran for governor of his home state twice. The former senator was the son of former Gov. Adlai Stevenson II and great grandson of former Vice President Adlai Stevenson.
The lower image is courtesy Adlai Stevenson II – Wikipedia. Caption: “A poster from the 1952 campaign.” I originally planned to use the image at left, courtesy of Trump As Zombie Images – Image Results. It accompanies a set of notes from Mind Over Media. Their slogan: “PROPAGANDA IS ALL AROUND US. Do you know how to recognize and respond to it?” A related note: “Propaganda education for a Digital Age.” As to the image, the article provides Background information: “This is an artistic piece relating Donald Trump to the film ‘They Live.’ It was created by someone called Hefner for personal expression, and serves to show how Trump is just another media based demagogue trying to shape your views for you.” Technique used: “Attack Opponents.” It’s propaganda because: “It attacks Trump and is trying to wake people up to the idea that they are being controlled.” (Good luck on that one.)
One final note about the “so-called old Chinese curse, May you live in interesting times. According to Wikipedia, it’s actually “an English expression that is claimed to be a translation of a traditional Chinesecurse.” The article added that despite being so well known in English, “no actual Chinese source has ever been produced.” The saying “better to be a dog in times of tranquility” is the closest parallel that’s been found.
Once upon a time, I said this blog would focus mostly on movie reviews:
Those reviews – when they happen – are a throwback to my time at the University of South Florida, in 1976. I reviewed movies for the student newspaper, The Oracle. (Before it got all famous and well-known.) I liked films enough to make that my minor.
It all started when I was 10 or 12 and first saw the film. (In the early 1960s.) The scene I remember most was Walter Brennan getting bitten on the cheek by a smiling – and sinister – water moccasin. (As he knelt over to part some bulrushes, to get a drink of “swamp water.”)
I’ve been fascinated ever since…
Which brings up how different the real Okefenokee is, compared to how it got portrayed by Hollywood. (In the film especially.) It seems like every person I talked to about canoeing into the Swamp last February had the same response. “Are you crazy? It’s dangerous in there!” In short the Okefenokee has a terrible reputation, and I think it started with Hollywood and Swamp Water. I’ll focus on that in this review, the difference between “Hollywood” and reality.
The movie starts with opening credits rolling against what seems a view of the Suwanee Canal. There’s dramatic, heart-pounding music, followed some time later by a calming version of “Red River Valley.” (To dramatize the dangers of the Swamp, compared to life in the “civilized” world?) The film itself begins with a graphic, saying those people who live around the edge of the Okefenokee know “that its sluggish waters were filled with alligators and that its boggy forests harbored the deadly cottonmouth snake. They feared these creatures, but much more they feared the unexplored vastness in which a man might disappear, never to be seen again.”
Which leads to the first question: Are the waters really “sluggish?” Later on that.
After the graphic comes a cross, formed by two pieces of tree branch, shown at the top of the page. The “cross” is topped with a human skull and draped with Spanish moss. The camera pans left, to show a group of flat-bottomed boats poled by standing men. (Again, poling up what seems to be the Suwanee Canal.) Dana Andrews, as “Ben,” is in his boat with his dog. He stops in front of the cross-and-skull to blow a hunting horn. Other boats come up, and the men see – off in the distance – what may be what they’re looking for, two trappers who had disappeared in the Swamp. The camera switches to a huge bull gator, lurking on the shore, menacing. The men pole over and find what they’ve been looking for, another boat, flat bottom up.
Finding the boat, one man says, “No need to look no fu’ther.” Another adds, “No, they was gator-et.” (Eaten by gators.) All they find is a hat. As they paddle away, a sneaky, shadowy head looks out from the bushes. (It’s Walter Brennan, as Tom Keefer, a fugitive from a trumped-up murder conviction.) On the way home Ben’s dog sees a deer, jumps in the water and disappears after it. After they get back to civilization, Ben decides he has to go back in, to find his dog.
But first he has to tell his father of his plans. His father yells, “You be careful, and stay clear of that swamp!” After more argument he yells again, “stay clear of that swamp!” Ben says that’s where his dog jumped out of the boat, so he has to go back in. A big fight follows. His father says to be back tomorrow night and a third time, “stay clear of that swamp!” After yet more argument the father yells, “You be here tomorrow night or don’t come back at all!”
Before going back into the Swamp, Ben stops by a general store to get shells for his shotgun. Asked where he’s headed, he says, “Okefenokee.” The men in the store all turn around and look at him in stunned silence. The clerk says, “You mean you’re goin’ in alone?” (I went in alone three times.) Various insults follow. One man makes a production of checking out Ben’s hat. He says he wants to see if it’ll fit him, because “that’s all they’re going to find of you.”
There’s more in the scene with Tom Keefer’s daughter and a sackful of cats two men are supposed to drown, but that’s not relevant here. I have to focus on that unity-and-coherence “stuff” that real writers are supposed to do, so back to Ben heading into the dreaded Okefenokee. He poles down what appears to be a side channel, and the camera shows a gator slinking into the water, menacing. He poles into some thick trees and brush, blows his horn, and hears his dog off in the distance. He jumps in the water, leaving his boat and supplies and goes floundering toward the sound of his dog. The first thought that came to me: “What are you, an idiot?”
Meaning: No one in his right mind in the Okefenokee would jump out of his boat and go floundering around in the water, looking for some lost dog. Sure enough, Ben soon finds himself in a predicament. After what seems an eternity of floundering around in the muck, he finds dry ground. (Relatively speaking.) In the next scene night has fallen.
Ben sits hunched over. He has his shotgun, but nothing else. (He has however been able to light a fire.) He hears fierce growling in the not-too-distant. (Something I never heard.) He tries to stay awake, but soon falls asleep and Tom Keefer sneaks up behind and bops him on the head. In the morning he sees his dog barking and whining, happy to see Ben. He also sees that his hands are tied behind him. He sees a man with his back to him and asks, ‘Who are you?” The man slowly turns and for the first time we see Walter Brennan’s face full on.
In the dialog that follows, we learn what happened to the two missing trappers. Tom tells Ben, “Them was cottonmouth bit.” He also tells Ben, “You’re in the Okefenokee for good.” With his conviction for murder – trumped up or not – Tom can’t afford to let Ben go free, despite Ben’s promise not to tell anyone that Keefer is still alive. Tom also says that without his help, Ben could never find his way out of the Swamp. (Of course, if Ben hadn’t left his boat?)
Tom turns his back on Ben, to get some coffee. Ben gets a big stick and sneaks up, but in the ensuing confrontation Tom tosses the hot coffee in Ben’s face, then throws him to the ground with a judo throw. He talks again about how hard it is to find your way out of the Swamp, then says. “You’re in here for life.” Then comes the really creepy part.
That night Tom goes to get a drink of water. As shown in the image below, the camera shows a lit-up cottonmouth off to the viewer’s left, coiling and smiling. (Evilly?) After the snake bites Tom on the cheek, he recoils, eventually stumbles back to the campsite, and falls to the ground.
Next morning, we see Ben digging a grave. He gets up and prays, looking up, before going back to the campsite to get the body. He arrives only to find Tom alive, well and sipping a cup of coffee. Explanations follow. For one thing Tom says, “Just made up my mind to get well.” More to the point, “I bet I been cottonmouth-bit a dozen times.” (And apparently built up an immunity.) Ben has Tom’s knife, which he used in part to clear brush and help dig the grave. But he adds, “I cut that snake bite, to make it bleed.” Tom thanks Ben and says, “You can have your gun back.”
In other words, Tom is grateful that Ben helped save his life, and Ben starts to believe that Tom is innocent. To see the rest of the story you can check various reviews, but that’s as far as I watched. (To the part where Walter gets “cottonmouth bit,” and a bit beyond.)
Wikipedia has a short review, with all but the first sentence dealing with the movie after Tom and Ben “form a partnership in which Ben sells the animals hunted and trapped by both until townsfolk become suspicious.” For a smorgasbord of reviews, see Swamp Water (1941) … User Reviews – IMDb. One such review – “Old classic, May 29, 2001 – sounded familiar to me:
I can remember seeing this movie as a kid and getting the bejesus scared out of me. The darkness and uncertainty of the swamp terrified my young imagination and the image of the skull atop a cross touched all my Roman Catholic primal fears. My impression of the swamp, i.e., crocs, gaters and snakes, topped with a dark image of the fugitive played by Walter Brennan, lasted for years.
Which brings us back to that glaring difference between Hollywood and reality. On the first question – Are the waters of the Okefenokee really “sluggish?” – the answer is a resounding No. The city of Jacksonville once proposed a “40-mile pipeline be constructed from the Okefenokee Swamp to the city for drinking water. Natural, pure water from the Okefenokee Swamp is highly valuable and has been sought after for centuries.” Further, old time sailing vessels – called “tramps” – sailed hundreds of miles out of their way to get the water. “This water was found to be healthful and pure, and lasted a long time in wood barrels used by earlier mariners.”
And from personal experience I can say there’s a definite current in the the Okefenokee, sometimes quite strong. That certainly helps to keep the water “healthful and pure.”
As for the movie’s other claims, in a total of four trips into the Swamp – 10 days all told – I didn’t see a single snake of any kind, let alone a cottonmouth. As to people getting gator et, “No alligator attacks on humans in the swamp have been recorded in the last 80 years.” (When they started keeping records.) That’s according to the University of Georgia’s River Basin Center, which adds: “It is important, however, not to feed gators or try to touch them. Habituating gators to human contact makes them dangerous.” No attacks, let alone fatal attacks.
Which brings us to the Fatal alligator attacks in the United States – Wikipedia. One thing to note is that the number of fatal gator attacks has increased dramatically, from one in the 1950’s to eight in the 2010’s. That’s the last full decade, but since 2020 there have been seven such fatal attacks, with seven years left in this decade. Another thing to notice is that most of the attacks are in Florida, followed by Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina. And near ponds close to retirement communities and golf courses. So, with those statistics there’s one logical conclusion:
You’re safer from gator attacks INSIDE the Okefenokee than out in the “civilized world.”
Happy canoeing. And take that Hollywood hype with a grain of salt. (Or maybe a bushel.)
Devoted to mystery and detective fiction – the books, the films, the authors, and those who read, watch, collect and make annotated lists of them.
The lower image is also courtesy of the Image Results site.I clicked on a photo of a big, hulking bull gator, which accompanied a page linked to California Herps.com. I clicked on “View Page,” and went to a “Snakes in Movies” page with eight photos. The first four showed Walter Brennan’s infamous scene where he got bitten on the right cheek by a Cottonmouth. The photo above is the third of the four.The “Herps” site is a “Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of California.”
Re: Joseph Welch dying at 69. “Born in 1890, he played in Anatomy of a Murder in 1959, and died not long after that. ‘Sixteen days before his 70th birthday, and fifteen months after the release of Anatomy of a Murder, Welch suffered a heart attack and died on October 6, 1960.’” My 69th birthday was in mid-July, and mid-October would be three months after that.
Re: “It all started when I was 10 or 12.” For starters see 2015’s Operation Pogo.
The Okefenokee Swamp produces “black water,” which looks like tea. Organic plant material decomposing in the swamp brews under sunlight releasing tannins that color the water. The “black water” flows to the Atlantic Ocean passing through Cumberland Sound, just north of Amelia Island. This water was found to be healthful and pure, and lasted a long time in wood barrels used by earlier mariners. Old sailing vessels called “tramps” would come hundreds of miles off their course for St. Marys River water. Vessels that docked in the port city of Fernandina could procure barrels of “swamp water” for voyages. Many years later, the city of Jacksonville proposed a 40-mile pipeline be constructed from the Okefenokee Swamp to the city for drinking water. Natural, pure water from the Okefenokee Swamp is highly valuable and has been sought after for centuries.
Another article called the Swamp “the kidneys of the earth, filtering contaminants from the water flowing from the Suwanee and St. Mary’s Rivers.” From the February 5, 2023, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, B5, “Okefenokee: ‘This Earth is us, we just can’t let it get away.'” It reviewed “Sacred Waters: The Okefenokee in Peril.” For more options Google “sacred waters okefenokee in peril.”My local – oldest – brother handed me the article a few days before I headed south to the Swamp.
In Part One I wrote about finally bisecting the Okefenokee Swamp, eight long years after I first got the idea. I wanted to paddle a kayak – or canoe – all the way across, from east to west. From the east entrance at the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area, near Folkston, then from the west entrance at Foster State Park, near Fargo, Georgia. And “meet in the middle.*”
Part One included background, like how I got so fascinated by the Swamp in the first place. It went on to describe my brother Tom and I starting the trip. We put in at the SCRA east entrance last February 14, a Tuesday. (And Valentine’s Day.) We made it down to Monkey Lake camping shelter. But that Tuesday is pretty much as far as I got in the post. I told of the first day’s paddling, and how I “slooshed” the dinner dishes that night, leaning over into the water. (With an eye out for lurking gators, lest I be “surprised”) And of closing the day with a shot or two of O-be-joyful, which itself has a fair amount of American historical precedent.
Briefly, in my first attempt in 2015 – paddling an eight-foot kayak, towing a small “tag-along” rubber dinghy – I got as far west as Coffee Bay shelter. In my second try – in the same kayak and tag-along – I made it as far east as the Canal Run shelter. For this last try Tom and I each had a canoe, which gave us a lot more room for traveling supplies. My goal – at least – was to close that wide gap between the Coffee Bay and Canal Run shelters.
And with that, to finally say I’d paddled all the way across the Okefenokee, east to west.
Moving on, to Wednesday, February 15 – On this second day of the trip we paddled the seven water miles from Monkey Lake back up to the Cedar Hammock shelter. That’s the shelter where I camped, alone, eight years before, my first overnight trip into the Swamp. We saw a local gator lurking, looking for handouts, but I doubt it was the same one I’d seen back in 2015. Plus, back in 2015 I had a small “two-man” tent, along with a camp chair and two beers in a cooler. But the mosquitoes were so bad – that 2015 October – that I didn’t get a chance to enjoy the camp chair much. I had to retreat to that tiny tent way early in the evening.
This time I had a new, bigger “six-person” tent. Big enough to fit a cot, camp chair and all my five days’ supplies inside. Also on that Wednesday paddle up from Monkey Lake, Tom tried paddling while standing up in the canoe. I never tried that; for much-needed “butt breaks” I’d paddle while kneeling in the bottom of the canoe. Incidentally, the next Thursday, February 16, paddling over to Canal Run, we saw a guy coming the other way. He paddled standing up, with his long white hair and long white beard. He and the canoe looked “as one,” as if it was a part of him. And they both looked like they’d been in the Swamp a long, long time.
Which brings up a word about the Okefenokee type of swamp. The Suwanee Canal – where we started on Tuesday and spent all day Saturday on, heading back – runs through the swamp, east to northwest. It’s lined with lots of trees – cypress, mostly – along with downed trees, underbrush and lots of developed “trembling earth.” (Okefenokee means “Trembling Earth.”)
Along the Suwanee Canal there there are some places to stop and get out, if you check those places carefully and wear rubber boots. (At least up to the knees.) But most of the rest of the swamp – including the way up from Monkey Lake – is made up of “prairies.” Unlike the Canal and its tree-lined banks, the prairies offer no place to stop for a butt-break. (Unless you stand up in your canoe.) And they have nothing to block the wind.
We learned that lesson on a windy Thursday, February 16. We “played bumper cars.” The wind bounced us from one side of the eight-foot channel to the other. (And tangled us up in water lilies, small bushes or swamp muck.) The prairies also have lots of swamp grass, for lack of a better term. It looks very dry, even though it’s rooted in water – and that muck. But the gators love it; they love to sun themselves on the matted-up grass that lines most prairie channels.
Thursday, February 16 – This was our first long day, 11 miles paddling to get up to the Round Top shelter. Probably for that reason I didn’t write anything in my journal that evening, after our first day of paddling 11 miles. (Instead of the previous seven miles each, Tuesday and Wednesday.) But that gap gives me a chance to explore the issue, Why? “Why would anyone in his right mind paddle into the Okefenokee Swamp for five days?”
I offered some ideas in March 2015’s “I pity the fool!” Starting with a combo-quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Mr. T: “I pity the fool who doesn’t do pilgrimages and otherwise push the envelope,” even at the ripe old age of 71. (In my case.) Also in my case, a quote from when I paddled my kayak miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, to achieve some much-needed closure:
Every once in a while I’d pause, turn off my stop-watch and just enjoy the feeling “of being somewhere, someplace that no one else in his right mind would ever be.” I imagine the explorers back in the olden days had something of the same feeling.
I had other quotes from Emerson and John Steinbeck, on how most people give up and slow down as they age. (While a limited, feisty few don’t.) But maybe the best answer came from our hike on the Way of St. Francis 2022. We’d say, “It beats playing Bingo at the Senior Center!”
Back to Friday, February 17 – Our original plan for today was another 11-mile paddle, ending up over at the Canal Run shelter. The actual distance from Round Top shelter to Canal Run would make a very short day, so we planned a scenic detour. We’d paddle up to Floyd’s Island and then back down to Canal Run. But some time on Thursday afternoon – paddling those 11 miles – we came up with a Plan B. “The heck with Floyd Island, let’s just paddle straight over to Canal Run.” (“Straight” being relative, as in “relatively straight.”)
I say “relatively” because the National Geographic map shows open water straight west from Round Top over to Canal Run. But the touristy canoe trail – the one you’re supposed to use – shunts way up to the northwest, then trickles back down southwest. (Effectively doubling the paddle-time.) But since discretion is the better part of valor – so they say – we decided to follow the boring canoe trail. Which turned out to be not so boring, and brings up the fact that it’s actually pretty hard to get lost in the Okefenokee. The Suwanee Canal is well marked, as are the canoe trails leading off from it. (Mostly, except for one exception detailed in the notes.)
In other news, tonight the local gator at Canal Run got a bit too close, so Tom whacked him on the head with a paddle. He still hung around, but stayed just out of paddle-whacking distance.
Saturday, February 18 – This morning came after the coldest night of the trip. It got down to 38 degrees. I had the same sleeping bag I used canoeing 440 miles down the Yukon River,* but it was still hard to sleep. In the morning, first getting up, I stumbled around like the proverbial drunken sailor. I wasn’t drunk. My feet were just that numb from 12 hours of cold. But we started that cold morning knowing that at the end of the day we’d have a hot shower, a cold beer and a warm bed to look forward to. (“Straight” down the Suwanee Canal.)
This was the second-longest day, 10 miles from Canal Run back to the SCRA east entrance.
We made it to the Coffee Bay shelter for lunch, and there ran across a Scout troop. Five adults and seven teenage boys, with lots of horse-assing around. (By the teenage boys.) They eventually left, but we kept running into them on the way back. The last time was almost back to the SCRA take-out. As shown in the picture at the top of the page, that’s where two young Scouts managed to capsize their canoe. This was 15 or 20 minutes after I’d taken the picture of the gator shown at the bottom of the page. (15 or 20 minutes earlier, I think.)
But seriously, that brings up the question: “How did the Okefenokee get such a lousy reputation?” Is it a Haven of Serenity or a “Deadly Swamp?” Some Okefenokee devotees “swear by its ability to envelope visitors in a haven of serenity.” So there aredevotees of the Swamp, and I count myself one of them. I found it a haven of serenity, even with the gators, mosquitoes, and butt-numbing paddling. But offsetting that was the peace and quiet, and a chance to get away from the phone and internet agitations that are so big a part of modern life. Then too:
Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting, who can annoy himself about the future?
On the other hand there’s the negative image from that 1941 movie Swamp Water. I’ve noted how watching it back when I was 11 or 12 got me so fascinated by The Swamp in the first place. Especially watching in horror the scene where Walter Brennan gets bitten in the face by a smiling, evil-looking Cottonmouth. And I think a lot of the Okefenokee’s bad reputation stems from that movie. So “what I’m gonna did” – as Justin Wilson used to say – is review that movie in my next post. I’ll also explore how “Hollywood” can often distort reality.
“Meet in the middle.” Coming from the west, to get to the shelter I’d reached heading in from the east.
Re: “Two-man” tent. I put the term in quotes because one person can barely fit into a two-person tent. As far as the “six-person” tent, Tom and I shared mine after his tent got trashed by the 80-mph windstorm on the Missouri River. It was a tight squeeze with two people, along with their cots.
Re: The second (2016) trip in, to the CANAL RUN shelter, nine miles in from Foster State Park. Among other things I saw 50 alligators in the first hour of paddling. After that I stopped counting.
“O-be-joyful” is a code-word for ardent spirits. We brothers – originally four of us – started packing samples in past canoe trips, like down the Missouri River from Fort Benton, MT. That was a way of following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, and other American pioneers. Back in the old days of our country, whiskey – for example – was used instead of hard currency:
One of the first media of exchange in the United States was classic whiskey. For men and women of the day, the alcohol did more than put “song in their hearts and laughter on their lips.” Whiskey was currency. Most forms of money were extremely scarce in our country after the Revolutionary War, making monetary innovation the key to success.
Re: “Trembling earth.” See Floating Peat Islands: The Land of Trembling Earth: “Methane gas under decomposed organic peat causes peat blowups, forming mud peat batteries where herbs and grasses grow. Okefenokee means trembling earth, because of these peat islands.” The article quoted a book on the Swamp, with its “mass of floating vegetable forms, intermingled with moss drift and slime.” The mass formed a “compact floor,” capable of sustaining one character’s weight. But he saw that although the mass “did not at once break through beneath him, could be seen to sink and rise at every step for twenty feet around.”
Re: “Mostly,” as “detailed in the notes.” And on it being hard to get lost in The Swamp. It’s well marked, including the canoe trails that go off from Suwanee Canal. But there was one time when we got near the Suwanee Canal, heading to Canal Run. It looked like the powers-that-be had cut off access to the shelter I was aiming for, “just to piss me off.” I paddled a ways up past the “area closed” sign but didn’t see any way through. When I got back Tom had checked his map, always a good thing to do. The lesson? In my case don’t over-react and assume people are out to piss you off for no good reason. And by the way, I kept this out of the main text in the interest of UCC, “that unity and coherence crap.” My family tells me my writing “goes all over the place,” and I’m trying to fix that.Also, the episode was mostly just embarrassing to me, though it did provide a bit of extra exercise.
The Okefenokee quote about its being a “haven of serenity” is from an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sunday, February 5, 2023, page B5. My brother Bill gave me that story a week or so before I left to head down to Folkston.