Monday, December 24, 2012

Book Review: The Cloud Forest

The Cloud Forest, with a sub-title "A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness" is a travel book by Peter Matthiessen written in 1961.  It covers his travels in South America for what seemed like several years as he started at the mouth of the Amazon, went all the way south to Tierra del Fuego, up to Machu Picchu, deep into the jungle and out on the the Pampas.  Can we say poisonous snakes, spiders, piranha, malaria and hostile natives?

Of course he meets some real interesting characters en route, from helpful missionaries and industrialists, to a murderer who has receded so far into the back country that the authorities will not pursue him.  A good portion of the book is given over to the search for an elusive lost city somewhere in Peru.  This expedition was to have been led by Peter Cruz, who disappeared with he authors cash deposit and became almost a figment of his imagination.  Just when we think Cruz has absconded for good he re-appears, but he is the classic tour-guide, bad-tempered and violent one minute, charming the next.

In between, Matthiessen devotes a healthy portion of the book to an incredible raft journey down the hellacious Urubamba River.  The raft is home-made, hewn from balsa and piloted by a few natives, a couple of which are dreadfully inexperienced and ready to bolt into jungle at a moments notice.  Apparently the river had never been run during high water before.  There are literally pages describing the ferocious rapids, whirlpools, eddy's and treacherous rocks.  They survive, just about and are heroes (or fools) for their trip. It is part Deliverance, part The River Wild.

Eventually, the author catches up with Cruz and reminds him of their engagement.  The lost city is never found; however, they do stumble upon a massive fossil, the jaw of some huge extinct crocodile, and proceed to trying bring that back to the US.  Unlike the relics from Machu Picchu that ended up at Yale University (and still not returned) their efforts to remove the fossil were thwarted.

Matthiessen travels read like "what is going to happen next?"  It is a page-turner for sure. Undoubtedly, his exploits and the characters he encountered formed the basis for his 1965 novel "At Play In The Fields of the Lord", which was made into a 1991 movie starring Tom Berenger, Jon Lithgow, Aidan Quinn and Tom Waits!  I vaguely remember it but will look for it on Netflix.

Matthiessen is now 85 years old lives in NYC.  The stories he could tell...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Memories of Sandy Hook

The most direct way to Sandy Hook is to take Exit 10 off of I-84 if you are heading east, Exit 11 if coming west. An anomaly or oddity (or maybe both) is that there is no Exit 12.  We all know hotels have no 13th floor due to triskaidekaphobia but if you really want confuse someone, tell them to get off of I-84 at Exit 12.  Now, how many times has that trick been played on in-laws?  I digress... 

At Exit 10, make a left at the light (unless you are in the mood for the Newtown Diner... in which case go right - and to see the famous Newtown Flagpole, continue up the hill).  The road curves a bit, some real old colonial homes to the left and right (1780's?) and then descends fairly quickly down to the small but vibrant heart of Sandy Hook.  It is no more than a small village.

I first made this drive in July 2004 and can still see the Sandy Hook Diner on the right, the Subway on the left with its outdoor deck overlooking the river and the single stoplight that defines all small American towns straight ahead.

Continue through the light (after fording the mighty Pootatuck River) and up the hill for a mile or so and back in the woods on the left is a tiny one room "cottage" that I rented in the summer of 2004.  Let me say it had a certain charm but it was not for everyone.  Bingo and I liked it, it was rustic and manly.  Once you got past the tea-colored water and the noises in the woods...  Sheila and the kids joined me in October and it was a mite cramped.  At night the boys thought the shadow of the small desk lamp was Darth Vader and it was there they experienced their first real New England snow.   The cold drafts that came in in all directions made us long for Texas.  I remember listening to playoff baseball on static-filled AM radio as the Red Sox made an improbable comeback to beat the Yankees and go on to win the 2004 World Series, retiring the Curse.

Back in Sandy Hook I availed of the laundromat, the barbershop and whatever other amenities were on offer.  Every evening I would take Bingo for a walk at Fairfield Hills in Newtown (a) because it had wide open lawns for dog business and (b) it had good cell service for calling back to Round Rock.  The irony of ironies is that Fairfield Hills was once a major psychiatric hospital with over 4,000 patients.  It closed in 1995, some seventeen years before the ghastly events of December 14, 2012.

Back in the "Hook", if you headed north along Glen Road about 1/3 of a mile you will encounter a small machine shop on the right.  It was here that a beagle Mom & Dad consummated their love and Tex was the progeny.  So our courageous little canine is Sandy Hooker.  Continue along Glen Road and  towards the metal bridge, you would be rewarded with a beautiful view if the Housatonic River and pretty wooded hills in every direction.

On Riverside Road and nestled in the woods near the firehouse (almost everything in CT is hidden in the woods) was a small ball field, charmingly under-developed, where Kevin once played baseball.  If a ball was fouled off, it was gone.  The woods were the backstop and we were loathe to challenge the poison ivy.  A Big Papi home-run away (through the woods of course) is Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I drove by it at least twice every day for three months and never gave it a second thought.  It is now on the lips of every American and indeed most of the world. 

It will become synonymous with many of the issues that ravage / define our society: gun safety, mental health, divorce, video games, the Second Amendment, absentee parents, not knowing your neighbor, drugs, alienation, hatred... the list goes on.  Quiet little Sandy Hook has joined Columbine, Aurora, Utoya (Norway), Hungerford and Dunblane.

Our hearts are filled with sadness and we pray for the kids and teachers who died so tragically last week.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

604 Elsbeth Street

The crumbling apartment building that Lee Harvey Oswald called home for four months in the winter of 1962-63 is no more.  The City of Dallas has ordered it torn down, just a year short of the 50th anniversary of the death of JFK.  The building was deemed an  "urban nuisance" by Judge Victor Lander, a man of no vision.

For those who see the historical connection, many salvaged items are available on eBay. One intrepid seller has a brick, a bathtub, a closet and a staircase, all from the apartment, for sale. Whether considered macabre, no longer nostalgic or a sign of tough economic times, none of the items have bids and "jane2559" will have some interesting items in her attic.

The potential Oswald Reality Tour has one less stop.

Oswald's former home - photo from the Dallas Morning News

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dragon Football Update

2011 was a special year for the Southlake Carroll H.S. football team, going undefeated and winning an eighth State title and the fifth in the last ten years.  To say the Dragons are a football powerhouse is an understatement.

Our 2012 season started with a marquee match-up with the Allen Eagles in their new $65MM, 18,000 seater stadium.  We were flat, they were powerful and beat Carroll soundly.

From then on, we absolutely annihilated the opposition, reeling off nine straight wins and scoring 511 points and conceding only 48.  The onslaught continued into the first two rounds of the playoff's: beating Haltom 56-17 at Cowboy's Stadium (I hate that place) and El Paso El Dorado 73-23.

On Saturday Dec 1, we made the quick trip to Bedford to see the Dragons take on the mighty Euless Trinity Trojans.  They had two losses all season but are renowned for the size, especially their contingent of Samoans, Tongan's etc.  Indeed they like to roll out the Haka prior to the game but we were not intimidated.  The Dragons took the field mid-Haka and the 7,000 or so Southlakers's in attendance drowned out the Euless faithful.

The game was a battle.  The Trojans were much heavier and taller but we countered with speed and some stout defence, including an MVP performance by Junior Steven Bergmark who blocked a field goal, scored our only TD, recorded a sack and an interception.  Not a bad day at the office.  The game went down to the last few minutes and Carroll prevailed 16 to 7.

Next up, the Eagles of DeSoto, who are undefeated (13 wins) and are ranked # 1 in Texas and # 3 in the nation.  Maybe our run will come to an end but I get the feeling we might eke out another victory.  The game is at Ford Stadium at SMU, which between the monsoon game and the fox bowl in 2011, is a happy hunting ground for us.

Saturday Night Lights - Half Time Show as the Sun Sets in Texas
Packed Stadium, Perfect Weather