Earth — Oaks in the Watershed


Taking in the View of the Watershed, iPhone6, 2016

California oaks from a viewpoint overlooking the Peninsula Watershed off Interstate 280 in San Mateo County between Palo Alto and San Francisco.


California Oaks, Ralph H. Percival Viewpoint, Interstate 280, San Mateo, CA

Percival was a California Highway patrolman killed in the line of duty.


To see other views of Earth visit the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth

Posted in Other, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Admiration — Libraries and Antiquarians


Red Hoop and the Bing Wing of Green Library after a Spring Rain, Stanford, 2016

Admiration: I like a big sprawling library with open stacks, and Green Library is one of my favorites. Thousands and thousands of books on shelves to pull out and browse. There is a light on in the stacks; maybe someone is browsing.

Today I’m reading Anne Carson’s long poem/play red doc > . Reading this strangely titled book is like solving a hard puzzle. I bought it 2 or 3 years ago and am about half-way through.  Ms. Carson said in an interview that she worked 7 years, or so on this book. Perhaps, slow reader and slow writer make a good match.


Sweet Hall is visible from Red Hoop Fountain across Meyer Lawn (former site of Meyer Library)

Red Doc > is about Geryon, who is a red-winged monster. In his youth, Geryon herds magical musk-oxen on a Greek Island that is about to be attacked by that terrible despoiler Herakles. But, Geryon survives the attack and changes his name to G. He fast-forwards in time to the present, goes to war in the mid-east, falls in love with a man very like Herakles, and, ultimately,is heart-broken. Sadly, this poem appears headed towards a tragic ending. Maybe that is a reason for my slow progress in reading.

Rescuing a play from antiquity is a job for a McArthur genius or a mad-woman. Not many would labor so many years to create  a new poem from a fragment of a lost work by an obscure Greek named Stesichoros.

I admire persistence and genius and Anne Carson has both. I recommend her poems, and hope you read faster than I do.

Cheers, Carto

The theme is Admiration — check out this week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge.

Posted in Classics, Poetry, Translation | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Dinnertime — Lemon Tart at the Museum

Lemon Tart and a view, Lunch at the De Young Museum, SF, iPhone6 composite.

Lemon Tart and a view, Lunch at the De Young Museum, SF, iPhone6 composite.

Lunch is Lemon Tart with a coffee chaser. Across the Music Concourse, the California Academy’s roof garden is green and beautiful in the brilliant spring sun. I’m having a snack while I wait to visit the Oscar de la Renta Retrospective at the De Young, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

I can report that the show is beautifully staged, and even the guys (one in a 2016 Warriors basketball shirt) were having fun. It was a cell phone extravaganza because photos were allowed throughout the exhibition.

The show is a must see, if you are in San Francisco on or before May 30..

Cheers, Carto.

Here is a link to Dinnertime at WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge..

Posted in Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Future — Our future is before us


Our future — Looking at San Francisco from Treasure Island in the Bay

Treasure Island Job Corps students ignore the Saturday rain and take selfies of San Francisco.

Today, I grabbed the camera and headed out to take some rainy day photos — the photo above was taken on Treasure Island.

April is poetry month.

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild-plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
— There will come soft rains, Sara Teasdale (1920)

Sara Teasdale was an American lyric poet. She was born Sara Trevor Teasdale in St. Louis, Missouri, and used the name Sara Teasdale Filsinger after her marriage in 1914. Wikipedia

Cheers, Carto

Click the link to read other interpretations of the theme: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Future.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot — A Good Read

Public Art - Eagles in Flight, Palo Alto, CA

Public Art – Postal Service Eagles in Flight, Palo Alto, CA

WTF–the novel introduces the reader to SineCo,  an international digital search company that is planning to kidnap and hold for ransom all the data that you and I have given to social media, banks and governments. The massive SineCo computers are ready to go online and it seems that nothing can stop them. Only an obscure collaborative group of scientists who communicate on a blog called Dear Diary are opposed to SineCo. Doomsday is approaching, and world calamity is at hand.

As the novel opens, the protagonists are scattered about the world, deeply involved in their own problems and unaware of their role in David Shafer’s techno-thriller. But, soon they must come together to help Dear Diary block the SineCo’s nefarious scheme.

Lydia, a Persian American working for a NGO in Mandalay, Myanmar, inadvertently observed a sinister group of men in dark suits when she visited a remote upcountry village. Unfortunately for Linda, the Suits’ bodyguards spotted her, and Lydia’s life quickly turned sour— her driver disappeared, her visa expired without explanation, and back home in LA her father’s computer is hacked. Dad is arrested because child pornography was found (the police were anonymously tipped off). As Lydia gets ready to leave Myanmar, a mysterious email from Dear Diary popped up on her computer screen. It’s an offer of help getting her dad out of jail. Well, if it helps Dad, maybe I could…

Meanwhile, Leo is having a breakdown in Portland, Oregon. Leo is a slacker with a trust fund, and he is weighted down by the troubles of the world. He has just been fired from his job in a daycare center. Moreover, his sisters say he’s incompetent; they demand that he go into rehab, and may push to have him put away in an institution. Leo is a pot head and a global conspiracy nut — his current obsession is a world movement called Dear Diary.

In New York, Mark Devereaux is a down-at-the-heels self-help guru who is the inspirational sidekick of Jack Straw the billionaire owner of SineCo. Jack wants Mark to pitch a new data collection project where people sign-up to wear contact lenses that gather data on the their daily activity. The offer is lucrative and appeals to Marks’ desire to live the luxurious life. Mark is uncertain about joining Jack Straw, but maybe he will talk things over with Leo, who was once, a long time ago, his best friend.

The author of Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot is David Shafer, who lives in Portland and is a fan of all that makes Portland a great place. He was asked about his novel:

“A year ago, I would have resisted the notion that it was a techno-thriller,” Shafer says. “I always wanted it to be seen as a novel of ideas and characters. I’m not as snooty about that right now. The techno-thriller shape, the conspiracy story, brings in a lot of readers. The depressive white guy in Portland story, you can push some of that if you earn your readers’ attention. I’m perfectly comfortable in the techno-thriller as long as the reader finds more than that after the first few chapters.”
Portland Tribune, David Shafer Chuffed by Success, 2014.

This is a well-written book with characters that held my interest. It’s time to take a break from the non-stop political headlines, and escape into a good novel. Let me suggest David Shafer’s 2014 début — Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot (I’m referring to the novel, not the unrelated movie of the same name starring Tina Fey).

Cheers, Carto

P.S. If you want the real skinny about military slang, let me suggest: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: The Real Language of the Modern American Military (Paperback) By Alan Axelrod, which is sold by Kepler’s our local independent book store.

Posted in Fantasy/Adventure | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Wow — Spring Is Early This Year

Feel's like spring, Gamble Garden, Palo Alto

Feel’s like spring, Gamble Garden, Palo Alto

The iPhone camera was overwhelmed by this bed of tulips at Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden in Palo Alto.

Wow is the word of the day. A perfect day to get out of the library, explore the outdoors, read a poem in the park, take a few pictures — anything, but not indoors. Spring fever, I call it.

With me I’m taking Spring Issue 22 of the Two Lines Press Journal, World Writing in Translation. The issue just arrived by mail and I can’t wait to explore the contents.

Eduardo Chirinos is a peruano who teaches at the University of Montana in Missoula— the university campus lies at the foot of Mount Sentinal near the Bitterroot Valley, which recently has been ravaged by forest fires.

Chirinos writes about Autumn, the fire season in Montana:

1 Smoke clouds the September sky, turning
The moon red and blocking the view of the
Mountains. To console myself I think
About the start of autumn, the blazing red
In Titian’s late phase. The radio warns
Of the perils of exercise and venturing
Outside the house. I write about animals
To forget my body, to escape from myself.

2 The smoke blocks the view of the mountains.
Now I understand how much I needed them.
They manage to keep their green in September,
Their hushed and discreet presence. …
— Translated by G. J. Racz, Two Lines Press, 2015

Read more poetry. And take your camera along when you go for a walk.

Photos by Carto at Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, March, 2015. Click any image to start a slide show.

Word Of the Week (WOW) is a weekly meme created by Heena Rathore P. , it’s a fun way to improve one’s vocabulary by learning new words every week.



Posted in Poetry, Spanish, Translation | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Donna Tartt — The Goldfinch Unchained


The Goldfinch, Carol Fabritius (detail), 1654, Mauritshuis museum, Netherlands

The Goldfinch is a very small oil painting of a finch chained to its perch that is on display in a museum in the Netherlands. It was painted 300 years ago by a student of Rembrandt and is very famous. The artist died in an explosion the year he painted the Goldfinch. The painting and an explosion play a central role in Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer winning novel The Goldfinch, which I took up on Christmas and finished just after New Year’s Day, 2015.

The Goldfinch is Tartt’s third novel, and like her others it is meticulously written. However, it was a long slow read that I’m happy to have finished. I started reading Goldfinch over a year ago, just after it was published in October of 2013, but I stopped reading after only 100 pages. I was in the middle of chapter 3, Park Avenue; the teenaged narrator had survived an explosion in the Met and the painting mentioned above was hidden under his bed. Interesting, but as I read on the plot became vague and the pace slowed — dread and tedium. But, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch opens in a shabby hotel room in Amsterdam. Only one person is in the room, he is a 28 year-old American wanted by the Dutch police in connection with a murder. Theo Decker, our narrator, is feverish with the flu and hallucinating as he flashes back 14 years to reflect on his mother:

THINGS WOULD HAVE TURNED out better if she had lived. As it was, she died when I was a kid; and though everything that’s happened to me since then is thoroughly my own fault, still when I lost her I lost sight of any landmark that might have led me someplace happier, to some more populated or congenial life.

Her death the dividing mark: Before and After. And though it’s a bleak thing to admit all these years later, still I’ve never met anyone who made me feel loved the way she did.
— Theo, The Goldfinch, page 7

This will be a great read,I thought. I liked the setup: thriller, mystery, who knows? Theo has suffered some sort of family tragedy when he was just a kid. Perhaps that set him off on a life of crime. Perhaps he is just feeling sorry for himself (the flu will do that) or maybe he feels responsible and will eventually make up for some evil he has committed. Lots of questions: How did his mother die? What did he do? Why is he an outcast or fugitive?

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, Rembrandt (detail), 1632, Mauritshuis museum, Netherlands

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, Rembrandt (detail), 1632, Mauritshuis museum, Netherlands

Theo continues his narration, telling of being with his mother in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to visit a traveling exhibit on loan from the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, Netherlands. They look at his mother’s favorite painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, a 1632 oil by Rembrandt. His mother stands in front of the painting, but Theo moves on to a less disturbing painting by Rembrandt’s best student Carel Fabritius. The Goldfinch, a small painting of a bird chained to its perch is interesting, Theo’s eyes wander towards a pretty young girl standing across the room.

Suddenly, Theo is distracted by a sudden movement near the exhibit shop:

The girl saw it, too. Her golden- brown eyes met mine: a startled, quizzical look. Suddenly another guard flew out of the museum shop. His arms were up and he was screaming. Heads went up. Someone behind me said, in an odd flat voice: oh! The next instant, a tremendous, earsplitting blast shook the room. The old man— with a blank look on his face— stumbled sideways. His outstretched arm— knotty fingers spread— is the last thing I remember seeing. At almost exactly the same moment there was a black flash, with debris sweeping and twisting around me, and a roar of hot wind slammed into me and threw me across the room. And that was the last thing I knew for a while.
— Goldfinch, Theo, p31.

As Theo rouses himself from the debris of the explosion, he finds himself lying next to an old man who was with the girl. The man says her name, Pippa, and gives Theo a package and as he dies of his injuries gets a pledge from Theo that he will guard the contents, a small painting of a goldfinch. This is powerful narrative; the explosion and Theo’s pledge to a dying man have set Theo on a mission to be shared with the reader in the 730 pages that follow in this long novel.

Theo escapes from the Met and begins to narrate his life story: where he lived in New York, where he went to school (private and expensive), problems at school (smoking, thievery). He relates details about his mother (beautiful, talented, plenty of money), and we are introduced to the doorman Goldie (a hispanic with gold fillings in this teeth). Clearly the plot is going to take a while to develop. I grew impatient, stopped reading The Goldfinch to pick up Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky , which is a V. I. Warshawski detective novel set in Chicago and Vienna. There is plenty of plot and action in this short, fast-pasted thriller.

Weeks later, I’m stubbornly reading The Goldfinch again, but stalled out in the middle of chapter 4, Morphine Lollipop. I abandoned the teen-aged narrator, Theo, in Las Vegas. He is in the clutches of his father, doing drugs with an unusual teenaged Ukrainian criminal named Boris (that may be a fake name). Tartt’s novel is good, and fun to read at times, but the plot is still beyond my grasp and the events being narrated in Las Vegas are disturbing. But, I’m getting ahead of myself again.

The Goldfinch, in spite of my reservations about the book, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. And, wonder of wonders, it won. The citation reads:

For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).
Awarded to “The Goldfinch,” by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown), a beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters that follows a grieving boy’s entanglement with a small famous painting that has eluded destruction, a book that stimulates the mind and touches the heart.
Pulitzer Committee, April 2014

I’m not sure that The Goldfinch is a “coming of age” story, but who wants to quarrel with the Pulitzer Committee. I started collecting the reviews: Stephen King likes it, so did the Huffington Post reviewer. On the other hand, Paris Review, Ditching Dickensian, doesn’t, etc. I decide to go with Stephen King (he knows readers) — I bought the Kindle eBook and vowed to read The Goldfinch over Christmas. I would have to start from scratch as I had forgotten most of the details. Well, maybe on the third reading, if I controlled my impatience and got interested in the characters, I could finish Tartt’s prize winner.

Characters might be the place to start: There is Theo (a NY kid who got derailed by life), Pippa (the girl in the museum), Hobie (Pippa’s guardian and a master furniture restorer) and the Park Avenue Barbours (a very wealthy family, snobbish, shallow, but well-intended). Also, there is the Las Vegas connection: Theo’s evil father Larry (an alcoholic, gambler and thief who so upset me on my second reading), Larry’s girlfriend Xandra ( a Las Vegas woman, good heart, weak to temptations), and Boris (Ukrainian, teenager with connections). No wonder reviewers draw connections between The Goldfinch and Dickens’ novels, especially Great Expectations.

As Christmas approached, I had two copies of The Goldfinch, one digital the other traditional and heavy, and neither one was very well read. The hardback was truly a heavy book, almost 800 pages, pleasant to hold and it was a joy to thumb through the pages. It was near the top of my “books to read” pile, and during Christmas I noticed it there and picked it up. I glanced through the opening pages and then turned to where I had stopped reading several months before. I started reading again, and through force of will finished the Las Vegas years. I was really glad to leave that town and didn’t mind the sad end to the narrator’s father.

Building momentum, I connected with the plot about half-way through the book and that spurred me onward towards the dramatic ending. All in all, it was a pretty good read and seems to me that it is worthy of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. I came away thinking that the Kindle version was helpful to store notes and do searches for names and locations, but the hardbound book was more satisfying to hold and read. Given its weight I had to sit up straight with the book on my lap (no slouching or reading in bed with this 2 lb. Monster),.

The Goldfinch has been reviewed by all the usual suspects: I liked Stephen King’s review in the NY Times, and also Maddie Crum’s review in the Huffington Post, Why You Absolutely Should Read ‘The Goldfinch’. There is also a six-month comprehensive retrospective of The Goldfinch in the Guardian (in particular, they take issue with the negative Vanity Fair review, It’s Tartt—But Is It Art?).

And what do I think? Well, I liked it (despite the disturbing episode in Las Vegas), and I’m glad that I persevered. If you have a copy that you abandoned half-read, pick it up again and give it a try. If you skip the part in Las Vegas that’s OK with me, but let me tell you that Boris will return to become an important character later.

Don’t worry about the fabulous little painting by Fabritius. The painting is very well mounted and safe in the newly rebuilt Mauritshuis museum in the Netherlands. I was fortunate to have seen the painting when on exhibition in the DeYoung museum in San Francisco; it’s beautiful, but the European Goldfinch can’t compare in color to the bright yellow American Goldfinch! The Goldfinch was never on display at the Met; the exhibit was at the equally famous Frick Museum (poetic license on the part of Ms. Tartt, I suppose).

American Goldfinch,  Carol Hermesh,

American Goldfinch, Carol Hermesh,

Happy Reading in 2015


Posted in eBook, Fiction | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments