Voice from the Past: Walt Whitman


During the announcements from the bench of the US Supreme Court yesterday, my thoughts turned to a lesser-known poem by Walt Whitman, written around 1870. Found among his papers after his death, the poem was suppressed from the canon because of its subject, but was well enough known to academics and artists. Bernstein set it to music in 1976.

To what you said, passionately clasping my hand, this is my answer:
Though you have strayed hither, for my sake, you can never belong to me,
nor I to you,
Behold the customary loves and friendships – the cold guards
I am that rough and simple person
I am he who kisses his comrade lightly on the lips at parting,
and I am one who is kissed in return,
I introduce that new American salute
Behold love choked, correct, polite, always suspicious
Behold the received models of the parlors – What are they to me?
What to these young men that travel with me?

One hundred forty three years later, Whitman might be surprised to not only find that he could belong to his beloved, but the “received models of the parlors” have also changed. And for my friends, family and peers who were denied equal justice under the law for so long, I am happy that our constitution has caught up with the body politic, albeit embarrassed that it took so long and sorrowful that such personal expressions  should ever be the subject of public debate.

Whitman Photo credit: Foter.com / Public Domain Mark 1.0


On Telegraph Hill

Coit Tower, San Francisco

I have had enough of the dark winters of the American Midwest—those grey days east of the Mississippi that turn bones into glacial ice and nary a hill to ski upon. Lifting above the gloomy duvet in an airplane, with the intense sunlight blasting through the porthole into the plane cabin, is therapy for the four-season dweller. Some of my best travel has included not only the change in scenery but climate. Removing myself from the cold of December on the East Coast to a place that is perpetually 65 degrees can cause a culture shock in the muscles and mind. But what a welcome culture shock to the system it can be. And to do that well, California in December is the place to be—specifically, San Francisco.

San Francisco on a bad weather day is still somehow a good day. As Larry Geraldi once said, “I prefer a wet San Francisco to a dry Manhattan.” And I agree. Even when you are sick, there is something in the City by the Bay that heals and soothes.

A cousin of mine lived near Telegraph Hill, one of the bedrock fortifications of Old San Francisco—the kind of place you’d want to be if “The Big One” ever hits—safe from the tremors and the liquefaction of the city’s landfill waterfront. I had a work meeting in Monterey on a Monday, but took advantage of a weekend to travel out early to see him, and SanFran. His corner of San Francisco overlooked the Bay, with the Golden Gate on the horizon. The fog sat on top of the goldenrod gateway. December College bowl games on the big screen could not compete with watching a fog roll in from his couch, with the cliché foghorn doing its job.


This view was nearly all that I saw of San Francisco, as I arrived on a Saturday afternoon on an early bird flight from the East Coast. I didn’t hydrate before the flight, and by the fifth hour, had begun to feel exceptionally ill. By the time I landed, I looked like death–the tell-tale signs of airsickness. I became the house guest no one wants, a sickly sack of a man couch surfing on a weekend. I had come to San Francisco to hide from the winter doldrums–now the city would have to cure me of airsickness as well.

Airsickness is inevitable  for the frequent flyer. The symptoms feel like the flu, with cold sweats and disorientation. The inner ear decides to go on a never ending Ferris Wheel ride. The gut suffers from a never ending sucker punch. I was determined to overcome this debilitation. This was my first foray into ‘frisco and I was not going to limit myself to a distant view.

Saturday morning Tai Chi with the seagulls

The cousin walks me down Telegraph Hill to La Boulage, a fine little bistro near Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral. The square is busy with the scenes of San Fransisco–a group of Chinese retirees do their morning tai chi in the park. An intense gentleman in black leans against the brickwork of the bistro, staring intensely toward street level, flicking his ash into the gutter. With no sense of irony, he is wearing a black polo shirt from “The Beat Museum”, the reliquary of the 1950’s era poetry movement. (Movements end when they go on exhibit, in my opinion). The smoke was aggravating my nausea. Hallucinations, nausea, sensitive smell, disorientation. Had I not just disembarked from the airport, one might think I was under other, Haight-Ashbury influences.


Feeding this ailment was a poor choice, the body reacting by heaving, followed by dry heaving. I needed sleep. Perhaps I would be refreshed in a few hours. But before that respite, I would have to march up the steep grade of Telegraph Hill.


Faced with the prospect of playing housenurse to kin, I assured the cousin that I’d be fine–with a gallon of water nearby to force hydration. By the time I awoke from my haze, it was still daylight. I had passed out for a considerable time–it was now Sunday–and I lost a full day of my visit. I still hadn’t eaten much and the sucker punch still lingered. I felt ahead of schedule, on East coast time. It was 10 AM on the West Coast, but Sunday football was already on the screen on the East coast. Another disorientation for the traveler! With no one home, I decided to wander out and see what I could see of San Francisco. The nearest monument was directly above me–Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.

Filbert steps

Another staircase! My legs felt full of lead, and the fog of airsickness still affected me. Yet, I was determined to make a memory in this city. I marched up the stairs to see this Art Deco pillar atop the hill. Coit Tower is a curious monument. Not as internationally known as say, the Golden Gate Bridge or the TransAmerica Building, Coit Tower is a landmark for San Franciscans.

lillie coit + her handwriting

The tower was named for its benefactor–Lilly Coit. Coit’s story proves that the eccentricity and charisma of San Francisco is nothing new. Lilly Coit grew up fascinated by the fire brigade. She wanted to be a firefighter, and would follow the brigade on runs. At five years old, she was the mascot of the local brigade and later made an honorary fireman. Coit set the “pantsuits” trend long-before Hillary Clinton, wearing men’s pants so she could sneak into saloons to gamble and smoke cigars.In 1929, Lilly bequeathed $100,000 upon her death to honor the city she adored. And the city reciprocated the honor by making a monument in her name.


On the ascent, a greenish blur shot past my head. I flinched, then looked up. The pleasant weather and fecund landscape make for an excellent home for San Francisco’s feral parrots, who call Telegraph Hill home. The parrots were the subject of a documentary–The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. Their arrival on Telegraph Hill is speculative–many were likely former pets. Numbering the 100’s, the flock has grown into a nuisance for some, and a joy for others. Mark Bittner, a vagabond and subject of the film, lovingly maintains a blog on the birds.

Parrot swarm

The Robbery

I make through the parrot forest, and arrive at the front door of the tower, taking in the bay air and hoping the airsickness is cured. Inside the tower, I find another unexpected distraction. The tower exterior was completed just before the Great Depression. The Works Project Administration was able to put artisans to work on the interior spaces, decorating with frescoes in the “social realism” manner of the 1940’s. Artisans inspired by the socialist murals of Diego Rivera captured the San Franciscan everyman in their murals. The works heave with leftist and Marxist views that were en vogue in San Francisco before Age of McCarthyism. One painting depicts a man reaching for Marx’s Das Kapital from a library bookshelf. Another work —Industries of California–is based on Rivera’s Man at the Center of the Universe. The Rivera work–with Lenin at the center of the mural operating a great machine–was commissioned by the ur-Capitalist Rockefeller family for the Rockefeller Center in New York. John Rockefeller Jr had the work destroyed because of the Lenin inclusion. Much of the work found in Coit Tower is in protest to that event.

Having lived in Washington, DC for so long–where every street corner has a triumphant “great man” of history in bronze or marble–the focus on the nameless Americans from that bygone era made for refreshing public art. Contrasted with the austere limestone facade of the tower, I was reminded more of the spectacle of a cathedral gilt from floor to ceiling rather than the glorious Soviet.

WPA Mural \

One More Lost Soul

Porthole to the City

Peering toward the city through the portholes in the tower, I felt a bit refreshed and ready to tackle Filbert Street for my descent back to the cousin’s pad. Filbert Street is arguably the steepest road in the Western Hemisphere–with portions of the road converted to a pedestrian staircase, meandering through thoroughly secluded spaces on Telegraph Hill. The garden-like atmosphere makes for a pleasant walk, thankfully downhill. The fog lifting not only from the Bay by my head, I thank the whimsy of Coit Tower, its murals and its flying denizens for restoring my health and salvaging my visit.

filbert steps

Leafy street

Parrot Flock Photo credit: aefitzhugh / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Darrell Street Photo credit: James Cridland / Foter.com / CC BY

Filbert Steps Photo credit: foggydave / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Coit Tower  Photo credit: code_martial / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Golden Gate Fog Photo credit: Shiny Things / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Parrots Photo credit: debaird™ / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Mural faces Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Mural robbery Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Coit View Photo credit: Fraser Mummery / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

WPA Mural Photo credit: maisa_nyc / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Lillie Coit Photo credit: B.S. Wise / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Morning Tai Chi Photo credit: jrodmanjr / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Lego Beatnik Photo credit: Dunechaser / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Ohio’s Vacationland

A few years ago, Rick Steves–the travel mogul of PBS and of “Rick Steves’ Europe” tour book fame–offered a competition on his public radio show for listeners to write a travel guide for their hometowns, in fewer than 1000 words. Readers of the Eclectic know that this author is hard pressed to get his pieces down to 1500 words of serviceable copy. I mused about what I could say about my formative hometown–a modest harbor on Lake Erie and to my amazement I did get to 1000 words. What follows is a bit of the original concept.

plane ride: lake erie 1

Summertime has arrived in America! The roads are filled with moms, pops and tots heading off to the Great American Summer Vacation. At least, that is the vision–dad in a fedora captaining the Winnebago, kiddos in ‘coonskin caps and beanies, and mom passing out the PB&J sandwiches and Mr. Pibb from the picnic basket. That era–of the roadtrip vacation–has been consumed by video games, reality television and luxury tourism to exotic locales.  Some areas still boast to be the home of Summer, but they have been overrun by the masses seeking an OBX sticker for the bumper and the facebook selfie.

However, the old-fashioned slow get-away thrives in an unlikely corner of America, preserving that Rockwellian Americana for the 21st century. The Ohio Vacationland developed along Lake Erie in the 1930’s and 40’s with the light rail system shuttling Clevelanders to the lakeside for weekend getaways. The automobile drove people farther out along Lake Erie from the urban core, as city folk sought out secluded spots and private clubs along the lake. The post-World War II boom brought middle class prosperity, and the summer beach house became more accessible to the Everyman. Each Lake Erie town clings to the shoreline, withstanding the temperamental Lake Erie weather of clear skies followed by thunderheads. The region’s inlets and bays stretch for 40 miles, forming the Midwest’s answer to the Italian Cinque Terre. Not quite a Riviera; the region’s charm is in its simplicity. Trailer parks can still be found dotted along the lakeshore Route 6, juxtaposed with large estates. Ice cream shops serve up soft serve and are in walking distance of sandy beaches. Luxury seems slightly out of place here, but the occasional yacht reminds visitors that Ohio’s north shore has economic vitality.


Vermilion lighthouse

The first of the recreational harbors, 35 miles outside of Cleveland, Vermilion has remained a small boating town. Settled by displaced New Englanders after the War of 1812, Vermilion grew to be the home of boat captains. Most of the cottages in the historic Harbourtown district date to the Antebellum period. While the town, like many rust-belt communities, struggles to find a year-long economy, the summer boating and tourism season in its downtown core provides a scenic backdrop to a sleepy summer day—with ice cream socials and the community band playing on the town green. Huron offers similar seclusion as Vermilion, with a major redevelopment of its once-industrial harbor. Huron’s waterfront offers a lakeside estuary where egrets and eagles roost, leading up to Huron’s sentinel lighthouse.  Both communities offer recreational boaters some of the largest harbors in the region to store their catamarans and Sea-Doo’s.

Huron Harbor Light

Flight of the Egret.

The county seat of the region—Sandusky—is home to the world-famous Cedar Point amusement park. The park is a pantheon of roller coaster gods and their history, housing the tallest, fastest, and steepest scream machines on Earth.

2010 Cedar Point - 045

Downtown Sandusky offers the Merry-Go Round Museum of vintage carousel horses, housed in the impressive temple-like old post office. An artist on-site can custom make a stallion-on-a-stick for your foyer. And at the nearby Toft’s Dairy Farm—Ohio’s oldest–ice cream aficionado’s can devour some of the largest cones in the nation—my favorite being the “Moose Tracks” that could easily rival any creation by Ben or Jerry.

Rain at the Marblehead Light

Marblehead retains its status as the landmark and seascape beauty of the region, with its iconic lighthouse keeping watch over the shallow basin. Visitors can pick up ferry boats for the off-shore excursion into the heart of Vacationland—the Lake Erie Islands. The 28-island archipelago makes up some of the largest freshwater islands in the world. Two of the islands, Pelee and Middle Islands, are Canadian. The rest are in American waters, which I will explain further in a moment.

Gibraltar view of Rattlesnake Island

Rattlesnake Island, off of Gibraltar Island, Lake Erie

Some of the islands are large enough to house secluded private estates—such as Rattlesnake Island—research labs and entire communities. Gibralter Island houses a satellite school of Ohio State University’s maritime program in its Stone Laboratory center. South Bass Island is home to the libertine Put-In-Bay, the North’s answer to Key West. The downtown core hugs DeRivera Park with numerous bars, including the world’s longest bar at The Beer Barrel. Liberal drinking laws and an anything goes atmosphere keep the sun worshipers and Bacchae satiated from May until September.

Round House Bar, Put-In-Bay OH

History buffs venture over to the National Park Service-operated Perry’s Victory Monument. The monument celebrates the decisive Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812—the only naval battle fought on the Great Lakes. The battle decided where British America (Canada) would end and the United States would begin. Lake Erie, and many of her islands, were won for the US in that sea battle. The monument stands to represent the modern-day peaceful and open border between the Canadian and American people. The largest Doric Column in the world, the 352-ft monument is also the fourth largest monument in America. On less hazy days, you can see Canada from atop the observation deck. Put-in-Bay in the off season takes on more of a Nantucket quality, when the island diminishes to 130 residents, the bars turn into general stores, and kids are shuttled on bi-planes to the only school in the archipelago. The school has one to two graduates a year, where the whole town gathers to wish the sole graduate onward and upward.

Perry\'s Victory and International Peace Memorial

Put-In-Bay 1987

Kelleys Island, the tranquil big brother to South Bass, offers vineyards in lieu of pubs, a significant state park highlighting the power of glacial ice and examples of petroglyphs left behind by the first nations who called the islands home.  Both Kelleys and South Bass Island have modest wineries, where the islands’ micro-climate made for longer growing seasons into the fall. Those vineyards include Lonz Winery on Middle Bass Island (now operated by Firelands Winery), Kelleys Island Wine Company and Heineman’s Winery on South Bass Island.

2012 ENR 5690 Climate Change Education Fortner

Numbered vines

Watching the sun set over the Lake Erie basin, a glass of island Concord or Catawba wine in hand, you needn’t wonder why the denizens of Ohio keep their Vacationland a secret, albeit an open one. Here, time slows down, and the working guy can reclaim lost days, even years in the restorative rhythm alongside one of the world’s great freshwater lakes.

Vermilion sunset

Getting to the region.  By air, the region is nestled between Detroit International Airport or Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Most tourists will come by car, taking Interstate 90 that runs off and on along the southern shore of Lake Erie.  However, the old state road—Route 6—takes you in and out of the Vacationland communities, with many of the attractions located on the main drag. In addition, Route 6 weaves past plenty of vistas and public spaces—beaches, bays and lighthouses ready for the shutterfly. The most relaxing way of seeing the region is by boat. Boat docking fees are modest, and give you pedestrian access to most ports of call.

Put in Bay Regatta 1987 Photo Credit: chascarper / Foter.com / CC BY

Lake Erie Aerial Photo credit: i eated a cookie / Foter.com / CC BY

Huron Photo credit: cmh2315fl / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Huron Egret Photo credit: thelearnedfoot_ / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Vermilion Sunset Photo credit: soozums / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Vermilion Lighthouse Photo credit: Slideshow Bruce / Foter.com / CC BY

Perry’s Victory Photo credit: NOAA’s National Ocean Service / Foter.com / CC BY

Heineman’s Winery Photo credit: Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Lake Erie Cab Sauv Photo credit: Karen Maraj / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Cedar Point Photo credit: ctk / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Roundhouse Bar Photo credit: AKZOphoto / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Vacationland Map: http://danielebrady.blogspot.com/2010/08/wonderful-world-of-ohio-map-part-2.html

Marblehead Photo credit: Tom Gill. / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Rattlesnake Island Photo credit: Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Istanbul Rising…and Falling


Turkey, by far the most western looking and peaceful country in the Muslim world, has been upended by protestors this past week. Outsiders to this part of the world may be confused by what is happening in Istanbul, thinking that this wave of protest and violent government suppression is just like the “Arab Spring” movement in Egypt or Tunisia. In fact, much of the fuss is an exact opposite–it is a group demanding a separation of religion and politics, not a Muslim Brotherhood confluence.

I have a very soft spot for Turkey. My in-laws made their careers there and my wife called Istanbul and Ankara home for much of her childhood. I have been thoroughly steeped in Turkish culture (and cuisine) ever since. And my own experiences in Turkey left me irrevocably changed, as all good travel does.

Istanbul has always been an international and cosmopolitan city, always simmering with the activity of people and ideas from all over the world, and occasionally boiling over. Its strategic location has been fought over in every century since the time of Christ. As ancient Byzantium, it was an trading town.  As “The City” or “Nova Rome,” it was the capital of the aging Roman Empire. As Constantinople, it was the capital of the Byzantine Empire, the last city of Europe and the first city of the rest of the world. Istanbul became the New York of the Muslim world with its conquest by the Ottoman Empire. And it was the launching point of the modern, nationalist state of Turkey, salvaged from the wreckage of World War I. The rather obnoxious earworm below makes for a better summary of “The City’s” history:

Turkey is a secular nation, much as America is. The separation of mosque and state is an important tenet of Turkish life. Yet, the people are religious in private life. Turkey is nationalist first–proud of its modernization. The tensions in Turkish politics are caused by the balance between secular and sacred life. Like America, Turkey has pockets of “blue states and cities” where most people live. But the “red states” make up most of the political map in Turkey. Those smaller towns and villages are more conservative, and voted into office a party that was interested in “reforming” the old secular model of the country. For ten years, the current ruling party has chipped away at social issues, while enjoying political support for an economic boom time in the country.

The latest Turkish tumult is a study in extremes. The protests began modestly enough with a group of environmentally-friendly and preservation-conscious citizens who opposed the demolition of one of the last remaining green spaces in Istanbul— a city of over 10 million people. Put another way, 1 in 7 Turks live in “The City” and there is no Central Park.  The protests began because local authorities, regional governments, and the courts had halted the planned redevelopment of the square by the national government in Ankara, the country’s capital. However, the Turkish prime minister—Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pronounced Reh-jepp Tie-yip Air-dough-ahn) decided to redevelop the property despite the local ruling by decision makers.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan - Caricature

Erdogan is a polarizing figure in modern Turkey. Depending on your political persuasion, he is either the Ronald Reagan (or FDR) or Putin (or Ronald Reagan) of Turkey. He has brought optimism and economic vitality to Turkey while wielding an oppressive fist against opposition parties. Erdogan was a conservative mayor of Istanbul in the 1990’s, who was sentenced to prison for reading Islamist poetry in public as mayor. At the time, Turkish law had severe restrictions on freedom of expression to assure the separation of mosque and state. This separation is a legacy from the founding father of Turkey—Kemal Ataturk—who founded the country as a secular, nationalist state after World War I. Turkey has been a stable ally in the middle east because of this national secularism. While the majority of Turks are Muslim, they do not desire a theocracy like in the Ottoman days or in neighboring Iran.

From jail, Erdogan founded a political party—the “Justice and Development Party”— to oppose the secular Kemalist party, and his party won a majority in the national parliament in 2002. His friend, Abdullah Gul, became prime minister, and he stepped down in favor of Erdogan in 2003. Since then, Erdogan has won three national elections with a majority. Erdogan is the most popular elected official since the country’s founder–Ataturk. And like Ataturk, he has been as polarizing.

Erdogan’s winning coalition is based on two pillars—Turkey’s economy, and Turkey’s countryside. The Turks have enjoyed an economic boom in the past decade. Erdogan has led Turkey’s renewed interest in joining the European Union. And Erdogan has overseen vast infrastructure improvements. Erdogan has calmed the conflict between Turks and Kurds, welcomed the return of Kurdish language and culture on TV and in the streets and negotiated the self-deportation of the anarchist Kurdish Workers’ Party. However, like all politicians, he has used that political capital to cash in on social issues. He forced through constitutional revisions that helped improve freedom of expression—the sorts of laws that landed him in jail. However, he persecuted generals and military personnel loyal to the secularist party. He made pronouncements seeking a “pious generation” in Turkey, pitting the conservatives and the devout of the countryside against cosmopolitan Istanbul. He has pushed hard to severely limit alcohol sales, has been friendly with Iran, has been vocally antagonistic against Israel and held sympathy with the resurgent Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, Eqypt and Palestine.

The protests come on the heels of an economic slowdown that is leaving many Turks frustrated with the Erdogan “Economic Miracle”. Without the economy masking the social change in Turkey, Erdogan’s social conservative efforts have been exposed.

That brings us back to the little park in Istanbul. That park—Taksim Square and Gezi Park—is very symbolic to the Kemalists. The monument to the Republic, with massive statues of Kemal Ataturk—sits at the center of the square. Erdogan has proposed the demolition of the “Ataturk Cultural Center”—a western-style operahouse, theatre and museum, in favor of a “restoration project” involving the rebuilding of an Ottoman-era fortress to house a theatre, mosque and food court of a kind. The project is masked as “economic development” but is a bit more symbolic than that. As Ataturk (war hero, atheist, libertine, boozer) represents everything that Erdogan is not (politician, devout Muslim, conservative, tee-totaller), many in Turkey view this latest effort as an affront to the country’s founder, who they have been raised from birth to revere.

Atatürk in Stone


Erdogan has decided to take his lessons from Putin or more fittingly, a Sultan instead. By denouncing the student protests, and the wide variety of protesters (from Kemalists to Communists), Erdogan is representing the worst in democracy—the tyranny of the majority. Minority opinions have rights in a democracy, and compromise happens in between the two forces. Rather than allowing for peaceful protests, Erdogan has used police brutality. And in a wily manner, he apologized for that brutality, only to double down on it weeks later. He also agreed to meet with select protestors, then scrounged the square with an even more massive response. And now the protestors are expected to kiss the ring of their Sultan.

Erdogan is term-limited as PM, but it is clear he has no intention of leaving public life. He has tried for amendments to the Turkish constitution to give more power to the Presidency, held by his friend Abdullah Gul. Many expect a Putin-esque switcheroo, with Erdogan preparing for a presidency putting him in power for another five to ten years.

Each action in Taksim Square has been in extremes. The redevelopment was an extreme move, the student protests turned into an massive rebuke of the Erdogan era. Erdogan responded not as a democratically-elected ruler but as a oppressor. The narrative plays well in the countryside, but the city slickers are not taking to the heavy handed treatment. And the tensions are high, not only between secularists and the devout, the city and the country, but economic interests as well. Istanbul is in the running to host the 2020 Olympics. Istanbul has been massively and quickly redeveloping land to improve their bid. And these protests might cost Istanbul the honor of hosting the first Olympics in the Muslim world.

The Turkish question is not the same as the Arab Spring. In Turkey, the conservative majority rules. It is the secularists that are trying to claw back their republic. And with the tumult in their corner of the world, Turkish secularists fear the Muslim Brotherhood and theocracy as much as westerners do. Turks are still seeking balance in their lives. Nearly the entire population are Muslim adherents, but they also embrace modernity. They do not evangelize their faith in the ways that other citizens do in other corners of the Muslim world. Members of Erdogan’s party seek religious tolerance but also seek to impose conservative laws–such as the prohibitions on alcohol–on a cosmopolitan city. Istanbul boils over today, but it remains an eternal city, where change is measured in epochs and eras, not days and decades.


Bosphorus Photo Credit: Stéphane Gaudry / Foter.com / CC BY

Taksim Square Protest Photo credit: Fotomovimiento / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Ataturk Photo credit: Sr. Samolo / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Erdogan Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Ataturks Children Photo credit: olive eyes / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Police: http://www.nationalturk.com/en/police-violence-in-istanbul-may-1-protests-turkey-news-37230

In N Out of LA

In-n-Out Burger

Walter Sobchak: He lives in North Hollywood on Radford, near the In-N-Out Burger…

The Dude: The In-N-Out Burger is on Camrose.

Walter Sobchak: Near the In-N-Out Burger…

Donny: Those are good burgers, Walter.

Walter Sobchak: Shut the fuck up, Donny.

The Big Lebowski

Los Angeles is one of the great city-states of the world–a metropolis that could be its own country. Cities like this are impossible to conquer in a single weekend. Like New York and London, LA is a place that will re-invent itself in every visit. For my first trip to LA, I had a bit of a traveler’s crisis. Do I attempt the 405, sitting in traffic between my base in Orange County, to see Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard? Do I make the sojourn down to the ultramodern Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall? Should I take in the sunset at Griffith Observatory? And what about MacArthur Park and Long Beach? I would try for all of those things–and experience the legendary traffic of the LA rush hour.

But for cuisine, my mind was set. I would take my pointers from “The Big Lebowski”–the 90’s era cult classic celebrating idleness, Southern California, and the writing style of Raymond Chandler (as conceived by the Coen Brothers). If I was going to spend hours in my rental car, how could I not take up the Dude’s friend Donny’s recommendation, and test whether the In N Out Burger in fact has good burgers. For better or worse, In N Out was going to be my ambrosia and nectar.


And why not take advice from a cult classic? While many movies have been called a “cult classic,” in my mind the only true measure of such a claim is whether or not fans have developed a culture around the original film. Trekkies have their conventions that have produced millions in revenue not only for Gene Roddenberry’s estate, but the second market of Star Trek ephemera and bric-a-brac collectors, bedecked fanboys and sci-fi geeks. Because of their efforts, Klingon is more widely spoken than Navajo. The Rocky Horror Picture Show devotees indoctrinate each generation anew to the antics of Dr. Frankenfurter, at midnight showings that allow the straightest of men to dabble in the Doctor’s signature drag. And The Big Lebowski? Cities around America have Lebowskifests—where the cultists emulate ‘The Dude” in dress and drink—even believing that the Dude’s observations (“The Dude Abides”) are like Zen koans. The Dude is the Slacker Buddha of Los Angeles.

Before my LA trip, I asked one of my native Californian co-workers what the story was at In N Out.

“You know about the secret menu?” she said

“No, of course not. If it is secret, how would I know if it is a secret.”

“You don’t have to order off of the menu. You can order a burger however you want….4×4 for a four patty, four cheese burger.”

“So, I have to do algebra to order a burger–whereby meat x cheese gets me a 4×4?”

Miss California looked at me, dismissing my lame joke, and continued.

“Then there are the styles.”


“Animal Style, Protein style…”

How Californian, I thought. The secret menu sounded more like a surfer’s moves on the waves, or a skateboarding maneuver, or some other horizontal pastime. Ordering “Animal Style” sounds like using the Kama Sutra for a menu. However, it is nothing more than pickles, extra sauce, grilled onions, and mustard fried onto each meat patty. As for protein style? Low-carb. And to my surprise, there is a “Flying Dutchman”–which is just meat and cheese. Paleolithic. And a mess.

In-N-Out Burger Las Vegas

So, what is the allure of yet another burger joint in America? The allure is in its heritage. In N Out was born during those post WWII glory years. With war was over, GIs came home to build the American Century and they were hungry. Relatively unscathed in the war, America was the remaining producer of everything for the globe. The middle class achieved enough pocket change to splurge on a quick meal. This was the era of the drive-in, cheap gas, sock-hops and the birth of rock and roll. And in Southern California, the fast food concept was born and franchised. Consider that McDonalds, Carl’s Jr., and In N Out were all founded in California in the late 1940’s. Copycats in Florida (Burger King) and Ohio (Wendy’s) would follow. While McDonalds would become a multinational juggernaut and would sacrifice taste for capitalization, smaller chains have stayed fairly regional—and In N Out is one of them. For the east coaster—In N Out seems adventure-worthy. But to the SoCal denizen, is it not just another burger joint?

I arrived at my first In N Out a block or so south of Hollywood High School, in walking distance from Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Disneyfication of Tinseltown. On this first encounter, I skipped the “Animal Style” and stuck with the script. Screenwriters must hate when the talent improvises with the lines. In N Out maintains their simple menu and the appearance of the bygone era of drive-ins and sock hops. The staff behind the counter wear their paper hats. The menu is kept simple.

The burger itself is set aside from the McWendyKing variety. Elements are distinct. Crisp lettuce, short-order cooked patties off a griddle, goopy cheese. Fresh cut fries. New east coast chains—like Elevation Burger and Five Guys—are trying for the same formula of shakes, hand cut fries and crisp burgers, but they do not quite match the original. The In N Out has the basics down. Not as flavorful as the Whataburger of Texas, but In N Out is about as close to what you could do at home with the same ingredients at your disposal. American Cheese, buns by the dozen, ketchup. Admittedly, the grilled-in mustard between the patties seems superfluous.

Satiated, I decided not to change up a good thing, thinking that this might be my last trip to LA for a bit. I set myself on an all In N Out burger diet for the remainder of my trip. As I would be spending much of my time in the car, and LA’s notorious traffic, In N Out made for excellent road food.

the summit

On my last evening in LA, I did take up some of those sites. Driving up the winding canyon road like James Dean (except older, less cool and in a sedan) to the Griffith Observatory, overlooking the valley toward the Pacific, the iconic Hollywood sign a pink hue from a summer sunset, and an Animal Style in hand, I cranked up the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the radio and took in Southern California in one final fast-food gulp.

The Dude Photo credit: Schill / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Sign Photo credit: Davidag / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Burger Tray Photo credit: adamwilson / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Protein Style Photo credit: Brave Heart / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Griffith Observatory Photo credit: dirtinmypocket / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

The Adams Enigma


Pardon me, dear reader, for punning the atrocious naming device that both Robert Ludlum and Dan Brown employ for their book titles (The Cassandra Compact, The Ambler Warning, The Bourne Supremacy, The Da Vinci Code, ad nauseam). However, in this instance, the vehicle works. Nestled in the ambling necropolis of Washington DC’s Rock Creek Cemetery, a masterwork of Augustus Saint Gaudens remains undisturbed as a nameless tribute–from a mourning and brooding husband to his unhappy wife. And that memorial—commonly known as “the Adams Memorial”–is among the most intriguing, contemplative and inspiring places in Washington, DC.

I had long known of Henry Adams’ grave and its statue in DC as well as the man who conceived it. Henry Adams was the descendent of the Presidents Adams—John and John Quincy. He found his own path as a society man—a write, commentator and brooding bon vivant in Gilded Age Washington. He invented the anonymous tell all political novel—Democracy— well before Joe Klein’s Primary Colors. Adams most famous and enduring work—The Education of Henry Adams—remains among the best autobiographies ever conceived.

Adams married Marian “Clover” Hooper, a socialite and gifted photographer. While every indication showed their DC life to be happy and vivacious, Clover had a dark side. Three years into her own acclaim as a shutterfly, she poisoned herself with chemicals that she used to touch up her portraits. Adams commissioned the memorial to honor his wife after her suicide. And while Henry Adams put much thought into her memorial, he refused to mention her name in public after her death. Her grave does not bear her name–or any. And  she is never mentioned in his autobiography.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Henry Adams

 Above  Saint Gaudens, Below: Henry Adams

By the 1890’s, Adams was a global citizen. He had traveled the world, and the experience left him a mystic. Adams was deeply influenced by eastern philosophy and art at a time when most Americans had never heard of the Buddha. Adams was also alive at the apex of Victorian aesthetic, where mourning was a high art itself. The confluence of those circumstances inspired Adams to commission a wholly unique memorial to his wife, and for the place where he too would repose.

The Boston Brahmin commissioned New England sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens to design a statue that would fully challenge the viewer’s sensibilities about life and death. Saint Gaudens had enjoyed fame as an American Michelangelo, his most famous work being the Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial on Boston Common.

Boston - Boston Common: Shaw Memorial

Adams had the work installed on a marble plinth designed by Stanford White. The large grave marker was surrounded by bushes, with a modest pathway leading up to the hexagonal patio. A stone bench faces the statue, providing a contemplative oasis amidst the tombstones in Rock Creek Cemetery.

The cemetery’s off-the-beaten path locale makes its visit by out-of-townees a bit impractical. (However, it is a two-mile residential walk from the Fort Totten Green Line METRO station.) To improve the tourist’s access to this work, the Smithsonian commissioned a cast reproduction of the work for its American Art Museum. I first saw the work there, in an alcove at the end of a bland marble corridor. The wall was dressed in outdoor-print wallpaper to attempt to create the mood of the cemetery. The statue sat on a reproduced platform on a marble floor with a museum bench before it.  While the art itself was well-rendered, the piece lost all meaning, antiseptically preserved within the museum. Ripped from its deathly context, I felt nothing of the intention of the work coming through. If I wanted to experience what Adams and Saint Gaudens were trying to express in this work, I would need to go to Rock Creek Cemetery, and experience the memorial in situ.

Wandering through a boneyard is not for everyone in every city. Yet most tourists to DC will find their way to Arlington National Cemetery to gaze over its historic pantheon of Americans—JFK, L’Enfant, and thousands of others. DC’s other cemeteries—for the civilians–offer a similar experience. Old Congressional Cemetery houses vice-presidents, J. Edgar Hoover and John Philip Sousa. And Rock Creek Cemetery, in northeastern DC, became in some ways the reward of the literati and high society of DC—with Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Gore Vidal and Henry Adams. Rock Creek captures the aesthetic of the Victorian age, where cemeteries were designed to feel like a park, with arboretums and funerary art becoming haute couture. Artists as varied as Louis Comfort Tiffany, Gutzom Borglum (of Mt. Rushmore fame), and others designed works that at the time, would have been appreciated by many a visitor to these remembering places.

One hundred years later, the American public’s relationship with death has changed. Death is not a constant companion. Death is sanitized, commercialized even. Tombstones are uniform. Modern “memory gardens” are corporate enterprises, with cheap art among the bronze plates. Places like Rock Creek are themselves a memorial not to individuals, but to an entire ethos. Cemeteries like Rock Creek house powerful art within their stone walls and wrought-iron fences. Those places provide an opportunity to step back in time to a different era, preserved, quiet and serene.

I am more Epicurean on those matters–as I imagine most Americans are. Death is not an American’s constant companion. It is an annoying neighbor on the other side of the fence. We will tolerate Death in mixed company, but have nothing to do with on a daily basis. Modern Americans focus on things livingly–in the now. Boneyards are on the other side of the fence.

I decided to visit Adams in the spring, that resurrecting time of year so apt for an avatar of Buddha among the reposing fields. I had no idea where the statue was among the thousands of memorials in the cemetery. I allowed myself first to wander through, allowing the names on the granite to surprise me as I searched. Nearly giving up, I went to the cemetery’s office, where I asked the clerk where I might find the Adams Memorial. Offering up a map of the famous—akin to the maps that celebrity hunters might use in Hollywood—the clerk pointed to the spot. I found my coordinates quickly. As an aside, I asked about a missing name:

“Where’s Gore Vidal?” (who died in 2012)

“He’s not here yet,” the clerk replied.

“Not here yet? He died a year ago!”

Wondering in what purgatory the remains of Gore Vidal might reside, I left that thought to go back to my main goal, to find the statue.

March Feef Gone Old Cam 2008 052

The Adams Memorial was a trendsetter at Rock Creek. Other DC upper crust wanted something similar to Saint Gaudens achievement. Artists also took advantage to add their interpretation of high funerary art to the collection. I found other works that expanded upon the idea of allegorical grief.



After a modest search, there before me was the copse of bushes where the statue hid from plain view. No names are on the memorial. I imagine what the casual ambler might think of this memorial, hundreds of years from now. In acres filled with names carved on rock, here was a blank slate. No information. Only your senses will be your guide from this point onward. The experience is one of confusion. I took the footpath into the memorial and came face to face with the Saint Gaudens.

The allegorical statue is based on motifs that appealed to both Adams and Saint Gaudens. Adams was particularly fond of Kannon, or Guan Yin—the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The statue has no official name, however to the consternation of Adams, the public called the statue “Grief.” The statue has no gender either. It is designed to answer nothing, to give no solution to the question of death. The statue only begs more questions.

Many in DC have sought counsel from this work. Eleanor Roosevelt used to sit here and gaze into the face of the avatar. I took a seat on the bench, knowing that many have done so, and sat with the statue. I know that I came to find this work with a lot of information in hand. What of the lay visitor with no knowledge of Henry Adams, of Buddha, of the master Saint Gaudens? What was the message that Adams and Saint Gaudens trying to convey beyond this grave? Is there hope? Is there justice? Is this just a monument to materialism—the excess of a wealthy man? Or, like Epicurus, does the statue admonish “that death should not concern us, for as long we exist, death is not here. And when death does come, we no longer exist to know it?”

Perhaps all of those things. In fields adorned with Christian motifs, this monument is revolutionary. It is also ironic—Clover Adams didn’t much care for monumental art. Why would her husband go to great lengths to create a monument? Did he use her demise as pretext for his own monument building? Then again, the monument isn’t of her or even about her. It isn’t about Henry Adams either really, save for his aesthetic.

March Feef Gone Old Cam 2008 044

Parting company with the statue, I feel not confusion, but calm. I am reminded of the first verse of the Chinese Tao Te Ching:

The Tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

March Feef Gone Old Cam 2008 049

Adams Memorial Shrouded Photo Credit: Photo credit: A.M. Kuchling / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Adams Memorial In Situ Photo Credit: The Author, 2008

Shaw Memorial Photo Credit: wallyg / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Saint Gaudens Photo Credit  Smithsonian Institution / Foter.com

Henry Adams Photo Credit: Foter.com / Public Domain Mark 1.0

Funerary Art of Rock Creek Photo credit: Night Heron / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND, Photo credit: IntangibleArts / Foter.com / CC BY

Adams Memorial Out of Place Photo Credit:Isara / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA