• Thoughts and Stories
  • ALCOHOL, WATER, AND DRUGS

    JUST A THOUGHT Christians in the Middle Ages may have lived in a prolonged state of inebriation because they mixed alcohol with water to kill the bacteria in their polluted water. The Romans were famous for building a complex aqueduct system which brought pristine water from the mountains to the cities, but when their empire […]

  • The World Up Close
  • An Indian Wedding

    India-wedding-2

    When my nephew Ethan sent me a wedding announcement, I was so happy. Weddings are automatically a source of rejoicing. The couple picked late September for the celebration.

    Then I read the wedding venue: Kerala, the long thin state at the bottom of India. He and his fiancée Meghana live in the Bay Area. Meghana was born in Hyderabad but is as American as any Bay Area Millennial. So I immediately started making plans. By a stroke of luck, my girl Kathe had scheduled to take off the entire month of September. She’s a doctor and had made those plans long in advance. She was going with a girlfriend of hers to bicycle the Camino de Santiago de Compostela the early part of September, so we made plans to spend the second half of the month first at the wedding and then traveling around Kerala a bit.

  • Thoughts and Stories
  • Slander or Salvation? How Poe’s Harshest Critic May Have Also Been His Best Publicist.

    Edgar Allan Poe

    On the morning of Edgar Allen Poe’s funeral in 1849 a long obituary appeared in the New York Tribune slandering the deceased. The obituary, signed Ludwig, claimed that Poe was a drunk, opium addict, and womanizer. Ludwig wrote, Poe “Walked the streets in madness…lips moving in indistinct curses.” His “heart gnawed with anguish, his face shrouded in gloom.” As Poe’s body was being lowered into the earth, Ludwig was beginning a massive, calculated deception that involved altering documents relating to Poe’s life, deliberately lying and misquoting Poe, a fraud so strong that to this day Poe’s personality is associated with drunkeness, madness, drug addiction, and perversity.

  • Thoughts and Stories
  • Massenet’s Opera Thais

    Massenets-Opera-Thais

    The myth of a harlot named Thais goes back at least to Alexander the Great. She supposedly got Alexander and his officers drunk one night and persuaded them to torch King Xerxes palace to avenge Athens. The tale is probably untrue but celebrated in Dryden’s Ode on St. Cecilia’s Day in which he compares Thais with Helen of Troy. Handel made an oratorio of it. The Roman playwright Terence, whose six plays feature pimps, prostitutes, and parasites—the essentials of opera—presents the beautiful Thais in his most popular play The Eunuch (161BC). Terence, a former North African slave, was sympathetic to marginal people, and the courtesan Thais is the play’s most sincere and admirable character.

  • Thoughts and Stories
  • Can You Name that Suburb?

    Chicago

    Lake Forest and Forest Lake, Forest Park and Park Forest, the names of four Chicago suburbs. There isn’t a forest in all of Illinois. Another dozen Chicago suburbs are called hills or heights Harwood Heights, Glendale Heights, Hickory Hills, Vernon Hills. You can’t see a hill for a hundred miles around Chicago. The highest peak in Mount Prospect (not to be confused with Prospect Heights) is an overpass.

    The Indians knew how to name this country. They used original, bold sounds to describe the land‑‑Waukegan, Mettawa, Winnetka‑‑unmistakable names of substance and meaning. Chicago, for example, means the land of the onion, and the name evoked for the Prairie Indians the onion smell. We took their land, and now we’re crowding it with Highlake–neither high nor near a lake–Bridgeview–without either a bridge or a view–and Valley View–since there are no mountains neither are there valleys.