Friday, June 25, 2010

Sylvia Tota

A chance encounter with a stranger on a Vienna-bound Budapest train that I nearly missed, some two decades ago— literally landed me in the lap of a rather irate Hungarian lady. She was disgruntled. I had nearly fallen off the moving train, I had enough adrenalin to lift an elephant so we got off to a rocky start.

Sylvia Tota was returning home to Miami after a fruitless attempt to get two novels published, "Sárga Nárcisz," and "Különös Karnevál," by a famous Hungarian writer, Fedor Ágnes—a challenge as Jewish Holocaust writing was banned in Hungary for so long.

Sylvia told me harrowing stories of her escape from Hungary that made the hairs on my arms stand straight as soldiers. She was a literary agent—and friend of Isaac Bashievs Singer. I was on my way to Russia to marry a pop singer—who loved God more than me. She advised, No. Marriage is a business arrangement.

Then she rescinded once she saw the photo of Valera. She said If I waited I'd rationalize, and spoil it. It took a long while for her yenta advice to settle in—at the eleventh hour as I was about to board that final train from Amsterdam to Helsinki and Moscow. I never got a chance to tell her how it all came out.

We had become fast friends on that fateful train ride, she roundly kissed my goodbye on both cheeks—I felt as if I'd been adopted — and she pressed her address and phone number into my hands and admonished me to call her if I ever was in Miami. I never did. Guilt follows me.

I'm a terrible letter writer—not that I'm a terrible writer—it's just that I write many letters in my head. Some make it to paper—few ever get mailed. So email and the internet's been a godsend for keeping in touch. But in 1991 there was no internet—no email. Faxes were cutting edge technology.

I transcribed one of those letters I never sent—to my friend, poet, Celia Woloch—a piece about Sylvia Tota, called Budapest Nights. I later tried to find Sylvia on the internet as I had long since lost her contact information. I've been to Miami three times since then and still haven't kept my promise. But I think of her often.

When I visited the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach, it was as if Sylvia was by my side—a tour guide in spirit. Maybe it's because I had told her of working with Joe Rapoport and The Holocaust Oral History Project in Sonoma County, CA ("Joe Rapoport, The Life of a Jewish Radical", Temple University Press, 1981.) My friend, the late Marianne Ware, self-professed red-diaper baby, was instrumental in educating me. Whatever the connection, it all coalesced, and became part of my zeitgeist.

I'm quite active on Facebook—it's a great place for writers to keep in touch. I have my own private page and another open to the public "fan" page. Imagine my surprise when I found a note from Sylvia's daughter on my fan page.

Hi Maureen, you don't know me personally but you did meet my mother Sylvia Tota, on the way to Vienna on a train from Budapest! I just read your blog "Budapest Nights" and tears were down my face… Please link to me on facebook so we can chat! Regards.

A flurry of emails ensued and now we're connected and now I have her phone number. I guess Sylvia didn't want us to lose touch after all. I can't wait to find out the backstory. Did anyone ever record Sylvia's story?

Another how many degrees of separation gift from Facebook. The other one was long lost distant cousins from continents apart, finding me out of the blue. But that's another story I'm not ready to write.

To read the original story:
Budapest Nights

Journal fragments Travel re-entry is never easy.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bald Eagle Sighting

Newly re-established bald eagles nesting over Kent Lake, Marin Co., are eating osprey chicks. Osprey nests plummeted from 70 to 30—so says high school classmate, Steve Emery.

I saw bald eagles circling over the Russian River near Cazadero in the early 1990s—the osprey (aka sea eagles—but hawk-sized) all dove for cover. Someone said they were nesting. Or, maybe they were passing through. I wonder if those bald eagle made it south to West Marin to shack up?

The reason I ask is because most bald eagles spend their summers in Canada and Alaska. True "snowbirds," they migrate down to the balmier states and northern Mexico during the winter months. But come spring, bald eagles return to the place where they were born to build their nests. Places like San Juan Island and Saltspring Island where they're so plentiful the look like Christmas tree ornaments.

As a child I saw golden eagles in West Marin—even a lone condor (once) with a very BIG wingspan. Last time I saw a condor in the wild, was at Big Sur in the 1970s. But never a bald eagle. That, I would've remembered.

And yes, even at a young age—I knew my raptors. My grandmother taught me the names of flora and fauna from the time I could keep up with her on early morning hikes.

How Grief Comes in

My self-proclaimed Jewish Mama friend of 30 years died, & 24 hours later, it's hit me—I am incapable of multi- or single-tasking—because I'm ADDled, & I got a huge parking ticket, a flat tire—missed a chance to see a concert with Andy Irving (Planxty) & now I need a Jewish Mama to recover from loss of my Jewish Mama. I'm drinking wine & eating everything chocolate. Wonder how chocolate and bagels and lox would go?

Weird, how grief comes in. I was good for about 12 hours (call it shock)...then every task became impossible to complete. I was absolutely attention-deficit. I've learned to compensate well–and hide it even—until something comes along and unmasks me. Dyslexia coupled with ADD/ADS are a double whammy—that Camus quote I posted about expending extra energy to appear "normal" —or merely comes at a great cost. Ha!

I tried driving in rush hour traffic. OMG! That's why I came home. I was a menace to society behind the wheel. It's like having PTSD. I was like that for a long time after a horrific car accident in 1997. Everything was hard to do—just going to the store was a major event. How grief comes in, on cobbled stepping stones, small islands in the stream.

Memorial info here: Marianne Ware

Please share your stories, poems, photos or leave condolences on Marianne's Memorial blog. I will post updates on it as well. Spread the word. I've lost contact with so many Sonoma County poets: Anne Erickson, Lee Perron, Peggy Ellingson, Gerrye Payne, Laura del Fuego, Simone Wilson, JJ Wilson, Richard Benbrook, Doug Powell, etc. We're adding poems. Do visit her page.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Marianne Ware

Longtime friend—poet, novelist, and grand madame of belles lettres, the epistolary packin' momma and mentor of countless Sonoma County writers, Marianne Ware passed away this morning on June 21. Marianne was co-founder of the Russian River Writers' Guild —an organization I was part of for over 15 years—and she was an English and Creative Writing instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Marianne wanted to hold an "Awake" while she was still living, but her illness took her too soon. She slipped into a coma soon after she made a decision not to receive treatment for a systemic infection that caused the amputation of her right leg. We don't know what her family has planned for a remembrance service, as she didn't want a memorial service.

There's a short bio of her here.

And I've made a blog here for Marianne so people can post their stories.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

An Athena of Owls

Edinburgh's Owl & Lion Gallery and the West Port Book Festival hosted an Illustration challenge for a Twitter collective noun contest

I've been collecting and inventing Collective Nouns for years—ever since I read A Parliament of Birds. My winning entry, "An Athena of Owls" was selected and illustrated by Isabella Ting. (Not clear in the book—it looks like she wrote it). But here's a link to my original entry.

The winning entries are on display at the Owl & Lion Gallery from 15-27th June, 2010. You can purchase an artists’ book featuring all 15 illustrations as well as individual prints at A4 size.

The Owl & Lion is at 15 Grassmarket, Edinburgh, EH1 2HS +44(0)131 220 0900The West Port (street) Book Festival, in Edinburgh's "Soho" district will run from 24th-27th June. Free tickets from

Saturday, June 19, 2010



I'm still in tears after seeing the blackened egrets
majestically standing in the marshes—heart-breaking.
And I was lambasting myself for my fits and jags
of uncontrollable weeping—
Then I realized that there was something
far more wrong with NOT weeping.


Stonehenge summer solstice

Many folks are gathering for the Stonehenge summer solstice. The only time I saw Stonehenge, was when our plane was stuck in a holding pattern over Heathrow in 2008. Around and around we went. I was the only one squealing like a stuck pig every time we passed Stonehenge. So close, I could almost touch it. My eyes were slathering on the window. So I guess you could say I've seen Stonehenge from the air.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Ah, but it's good to be home,
to sleep in one's own bed again.
The couch gets old fast.

Long Way Home—Hiking Loma Alta Ridge

I take the long, long way home via Nicasio.
Hike Loma Alta ridge above George Lucas's place—
the reservoir comes right to the foot of the complex.
But now the creek's dry. How is this a good thing?
Lucas's lordship over the native fish and terrapin:
he liveth here and blithely taketh away
from those who live downstream.
There is water in the creek—at August levels
but it's mid-June and we had a late rainy season.
Already the pond scum is matting the surface—
too warm for the fish who summer over in deep pools.

Mariposa tulip, and Marin dwarf flax

Farewell to Spring (clarkia)

Mariposa tulip

We have an ID! Calycadenia multiglandulosa, aka Sticky western rosinweed !

It could be Marin dwarf flax (Hesperolinon congestum) but there's also California dwarf-flax (Hesperolinon californicum). Anybody want to make a guess? Botanist Brett McDougall says it's California dwarf-flax. 1) Leaves are alternate and threadlike with well developed stipule glands, 2) Pedicels are short, 3) Flowers are white to partly pink, 4) Anthers white to rose, 5) Ovary chambers are white, 6) Correct range for plant on coastal ranges of serpentine base. He gave me the same link I had used: Jepson herbarium
Itherial's spears (brodiaea)

As I ascend the ridge, ravens circle & greet,
tree swallows flit amid godeta,
Mariposa lilies & Itheriel's spears—
I chant Blake's Tyger Tyger with each step.

Invasive milk thistle

The sky draws a little nearer to the earth.
Elephant Mountain is a Ukiyo-e of mist and fog.
A tiny brush-covered spring nourishes
late spring flowers banded in yellow,
magenta & lavender, along the seepage—
a painted band of tidytips, clarkia & poppies.

Bush monkeyflower and scarlet ribbons (clarkia).

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?

From the ridge above Big Rock,
I see a a worker leaving the compound—
a pickup stalls at the guardhouse—
to live in Lucas' walled city
nestled in our childhood hills,
is a sacrilege.

* *

See also Hiking up Big Rock Ridge


When I walked in the oak-lined meadow
below the dam, a redtail hawk keened a warning.
the sky fell silent & all the small birds
pelted to earth like a hard rain.

Soda Rock Lane


The fog rolls in along San Pablo Bay,
right to where I'm heading,
obliterating Mt Diablo in a marine haze.

Freeway is jammed—glinting sinew of light
so I drive the long way home
obliquely through Golden Gate Fields parking lot,
& savor the last glimmer of sun on the bay,
I take photos of the marsh.
Watch an egret skim the shore.

As I make to leave,
a fat golden lab named Stella,
dripping wet from the bay,
takes a shine to me—
greets me like a long lost relative.

Her owner apologizes—says:
I don't know why, but my dog seems to like you.
She was whining to see you.

What was I, a dog in a past life, or what?
Maybe it's the neighbor's dog of my childhood
reincarnated several times over.
She does seem to know me. Gives me a lick.

The dog shakes a little more of the bay on me.
A baptism of sorts. Perhaps for the solstice.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


When I walked in the oak-lined meadow below the dam, a redtail hawk keened a warning & all the small birds pelted to earth like a hard rain.

They say Rickard Dibenkorn lived in the white house on Soda Rock Lane. They say his wife still lives there—all shuttered in—from the future or the past?

No cell reception in Alexander Valley—I can't call out but I can pick up messages if I stand just so in the vineyards at the bottom of the driveway. But do I even want to? Tureeda calls asking for a teacher evaluation. There is no Make it So button here. No internet. I've stepped back in time. Mt St Helena is brooding in purple and mauve shawls.

* * *

A tree sparrow miscalculates the boundaries between glass and air. Staggers off mid-flight, nearly paying for that metaphor with his life. The cat is ever hopeful. I have seen him leap mid-air and launch himself off the balcony—a silly wingless angel.

I water the plants & gather lettuce and radishes for dinner. Booker the cat observes my every move and calculates the distance to the table for a flying passage, does an about-face kitty courbette when I yell NO! He is so desperate for attention and food, even radishes will do.

The cat has left me a small present—a tick tries to burrow in the middle of my back. In deep summer, the ticks climb higher in the trees so they can launch onto their victims. Luckily I caught him working the skin on my back, but not before he burrowed in. Will I grow a biological target practice on my back? A bull's eye looking back to where I came from?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I read Ulysses 3 times—once when I was a child (stolen from my grandmother's bookshelf), when I was in college, and when I went to Hawaii—myself, alone in Waikiki with a massive sunburn.

Roger Ebert @ebertchicago wrote: "The key to "Ulysses" for me was an audiobook with an Irish accent. Then reading the prose felt natural."

I had my own Irish accent firmly implanted in my head—I imagined my Corkonian grandmother reading to me. It was a bit scandalous imagining her—a straight-laced Victorian woman mouthing the words of Molly Bloom.

Monday, June 14, 2010



When she was a little girl,
she washed all her father's shoelaces
& hung them on the clothes line to dry.
But a night bird came down
& mistook them for worms…
How would she explain their loss?
Would he lose his job
for a profound lack of shoelaces?


(If I was from a traditional American mom & pop family, maybe I could explain this dream, but I was raised in the wilds of west Marin by my Corkonian Irish grandmother. So the obvious father shoehorn doesn't fit.

It did feel a bit like I was channeling, though. Somehow the oil slick is tied into it‚ shoes are sexual imagery, right? Laces-ties, what ties us, holds onto us? Child, innocence.

Bird—flight, night, subconscious...not water (emotions/s unconscious), but washing—and the nightbird is a heron. Like a crane. Crane bag, magic bag, writing. Worms, food/decay.

I was reading Gallego mythology—or trying to as it's in Gallego-Portuguese. I was obsessed with the parallels of women washers at the ford, prevalent in all Celtic archetypes. Limnal boundaries.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Andrei Voznesensky obituary

So sad to hear Andrei passed away—he was a wonderful poet—one of the Russian great post-Stalin futurist poets, friend of Akhmadulina and Yevtushenko— and a warm, unassuming man. Will have to dig up my old Tri-X negatives from ca. 1992 when he was in SF.

"And death speaks: Away with you! /Aren't you all alone? /Who are you kicking against? /Against four millionfivehundredfortysevenandtwentythreesquaremiles of a monster." —Andrei Voznesensky, May 12, 1933 – June 1, 2010

Andrei Voznesensky obituary Remembering Andrei Voznesensky

Red Queen Madness on Facebook

I am feeling very Red Queen tonight.
As in "Off with their heads!!!
Off with they tiny feckin' heads!

I'm not seeing News Feed wall posts from many friends—I've not blocked anyone either (Well, maybe you. Haha.) It seems FB arbitrarily decides who's posts appear in our News Feed. I sleuthed it out & at the bottom of this page is an edit button that suggests how many friends—it was set at 100, but I only get posts from 15-20 people on my wall—plenty enough to read...but I thought others might have noticed it too.

I thought everybody left FB! I found that you have to choose which friends feeds you want to see:

First choose how many: mine was set at 100. Number of Friends Control how many friends you want shown in Live Feed. A higher number means you will see ne
w posts more frequently. Maximum number of friends shown in Live Feed, And this one: you have to actually click on who you want to see: there were about 20 people chosen.

I didn't choose it so FB must've chosen for me. But I've only been seeing a few people's feeds—especially since the new privacy links were established. I realized something was up when a friend said I wasn't reading the posts—I almost missed a party invite. 
I think FB choses my friends based upon who responds to each other's posts.
FWIW: I do hide all games. I hates 'em, I do.Ya, and now iPhone 4 has Farmville. Excuse me while I barf on my left foot.

Like I said, I block them all. Do you know how to block applications from friends? Hover mouse on right side of name and hit the button, you'll be given a choice of the game or the person.

 Off with they tiny little heads!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Happy Environment Day! Brought to you by BP

Sign at BP gas station: "Do not leave pumps unattended. You are responsible for spills."

The oil isn't the only mess BP is trying to clean up. Early on, BP executive Hayward made comments that didn't sit well with coastal residents.
On the Today Show in the beginning of May, Hayward said, "Well, it wasn't our accident, but we are absolutely responsible for the oil, for cleaning it up."
Four weeks later on the same program, he attempted an apology. "I'm sorry — we're sorry — for the massive disruption this has caused their lives. And there's no one who wants this over more than I do. You know, I want my life back."

Yeah, we all want our lives back—especially the creatures of the Gulf of Mexico.
In Florida, Escambia County Commission Chairman Grover Robinson has also lost confidence in BP after being blindsided by reports that oil was nearing the Pensacola shoreline.
"No one from unified command called us to tell us this," he says. "We absolutely found that out essentially through actually a captain who had sent it to a private citizen. We got a text message. We trusted someone would tell us before it came up."
Apologetic BP ads get criticism, not sympathy. BP exec. Hayward narrates over images of clear water, uncontaminated marshes and healthy pelicans. Cleanup crews comb white sand beaches as he touts the oil giant's response efforts: 2 million feet of boom, 30 planes and 1,300 boats deployed, along with thousands of workers at no cost to taxpayers. BP's ad imagery clashes with disturbing news photographs of pelicans coated in oil, gunk dripping from their beaks. But what's missing is a concrete plan or vision for what they plan to do next.

President Obama reeled off a ream of statistics to show the scale of the response so far. He said that more than 20,000 people are at work protecting the coastlines, and that he had authorized the deployment of 17,500 National Guard troops to help in the response. He said that 1,900 boats were in the Gulf working on the clean up, and that more than 4.3 million feet of boom had been deployed to try to keep oil from reaching the coastline. —NYT

President Barack Obama sends e-mail blast about his Friday visit to Grand Isle:
"Here, this spill has not just damaged livelihoods. It has upended whole communities. And the fury people feel is not just about the money they have lost. It is about the wrenching recognition that this time their lives may never be the same."
"We have also ordered BP to pay economic injury claims, and this week, the federal government sent BP a preliminary bill for $69 million to pay back American taxpayers for some of the costs of the response so far. In addition, after an emergency safety review, we are putting in place aggressive new operating standards for offshore drilling." —NOLA

As poet Martin Dickinson said:

Gulf: Stop calling it a "spill" We'd be lucky it that's all it was. It's a horrendous nonstop explosion of oil in a fragile ecosystem.

*        *        *

A look at the aftereffects of the 1989's Exxon Valdez spill—it's still with us. It didn't go away or morph into benign clumps. Alaska and Exxon never cleaned up the lethal mess. It's as toxic now as it was 16 years ago.

In Alaskan coastal zones fouled by the Exxon Valdez in 1989, scientists discovered oil, scarcely changed, 16 years later. In some areas, its composition had not altered much from the toxic clumps and goo that had formed just weeks after the spill.
Contrary to early expectations, oil still oozes from Alaska’s beaches, toxins intact, and is expected to remain — perhaps even for centuries.  NYT

*        *        *

From 1960s to 1992, Texaco (now Chevron) trashed the Ecuadorian rainforest worse than this BP spill and were let off the hook—scot free. The region still hasn't recovered.

I remember being in Quito and sitting behind a group of oil execs in an restaurant—hearing them talk, raised my hackles—there were rumors in the early 1980s something was terribly amiss—but tourists/travellers couldn't get into the region to verify. It was about the time the (downstream) Amazon freshwater pink dolphin began to disappear.

*        *        *

Happy Environment Day? Ironic. Happy Mass Extinction Day In Requiem. Brought to you by BP.

Facebook Typos

Facebook pages laden with typos make me cranky.

David G. Dinsmore Ya, me to.

Maureen Hurley Aw, go eat some feckin' fish food!

Malcolm Carden U gys no eech oter?

Genevieve Lim Yeah, for an ol' spelling bee champ, it's irksome to see how spelling's degenerated.

Lin Marie DeVincent ha ha, you set yourself up on this one, Maureen! I used to get annoyed, now I do it 2!

Maureen Hurley I don't mind creative spelling or numbers for letters; what rilly get's my goat are exces's a'postrophe's and your for you're, etc.... as in "Hope your well." What about my fecking well? Want me to shove you down it? Of course, you know Malcolm's got a well in his basement where he shoves unwanted dinner guests if they don't eat all their Ps & Qs! 

And Dave, well, we're related. However I can always post some sans-diaper shots of him swigging a beer bottle & eating cigarette butts if needs be.  

Genny, I too was a spelling bee champ—the big breaker word was antidisestablishmentarianism—piece a cake in 3rd grade!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Hypnotizing a Wild Duck

Apparently I can hypnotize wild ducks: can you see it on the resume? At Lake Temescal we found a rather irate wild mallard with fishing line wrapped around his foot. Leah stepped on the line, I grabbed the shocked duck. Luckily, I fished out my penknife beforehand as I had my hands and arms full of a vigorously protesting wild duck.

I thought he was going to beat me to death with his wings. Then I remembered the old chicken hypnotizing trick, I flipped the drake over on his back and he lay comatose in my arms, as Leah cut away the line. He was tracking my feet, watching every step I took. Wrestling with him and his long wingspan—I thought to myself—Leda and the Duck?

What a canard he was, playing dead like that. I could feel his wildly pounding heart. I thought it would burst in its cage. I'm surprised he didn't faint, considering how everyone was coughing up recipes on how to roast him in orange glaze sauce.

Then I let the bird go–he took off for open water swearing up a proper storm. Ungrateful foul-mouthed fowl.

Close encounters of the quacky kind? Someone said: Send him the bill. Nah, I didn't take his bill, he needed it more than I. Besides, it was so yellow and shiny as the sun. Without a bill he couldn't quack & curse a cacacoughany in the bulltail reeds.

Today is Dead Duck Day—'splains a lot. I let him go, really. Though there was plenty of talk about how to prepare wild duck. Enjoy the final hours of Dead Duck Day. Quack!

Think I need a shot of Wild Turkey.

from Facebook
added & rev. 6/17