Walt Whitman — Song of Myself

It’s been a while. I’ve been wanting to “close” my online journal but time, work, and all those things conspired against me. I’ll do it soon, with some overviews, but just for now, here’s an “inspiration” from the states. One of my favorites: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself: an edited extract from his epic, “Leaves of Grass”. I editied the poem and put the video together, my good friend Dave Muldoon read it (beautifully), and the music is, of course, Once Upon a Time in the West by Ennio Morricone. The words are below (and also in Italian for the benefit of my host-nation nationals).

 

 

 

Song of Myself
I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume, 
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul, 
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

The smoke of my own breath, 
Echoes, ripples in buzz’d whispers; love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine, 
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing 
of blood and air through my lungs, 
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and 
dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,

The sound of the belch’d words of my voice loos’d to the eddies of the wind, 
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms, 
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag, 
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides, 
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising 
from bed and meeting the sun.

 

Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the 
earth much? 
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read? 
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems, 
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,) 
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look 
through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in 
books, 
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, 
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the 
beginning and the end, 
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.

There was never any more inception than there is now, 
Nor any more youth or age than there is now, 
There will never be any more perfection than there is now, 
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

 

I am satisfied – I see, dance, laugh, sing; 
As God comes, a loving bed-fellow, and sleeps at my side all 
night, and withdraws on the peep of the day

And leaves for me baskets cover’d with white towels bulging the house with their plenty, 
Shall I postpone my acceptation and realization and scream at my 
eyes, 
That they turn from gazing after and down the road, 
And forthwith cipher and show me to a cent, 
Exactly the contents of one and exactly the contents of two, and which is ahead?

 

Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am, 
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary, 
Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm to an impalpable certain rest, 
Looks with its side-curved head curious what will come next, 
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.

Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with 
linguists and contenders, 
I have no mockings or arguments, I witness and wait.

 
I believe in my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to 
you, 
And you must not be abased to the other.

 

Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat, 
Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not 
even the best, 
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice.

 

(And, in Italian….)

Il Canto di Me Stesso
Canto me stesso, e celebro me stesso, 
E ciò che assumo voi dovete assumere 
Perché ogni atomo che mi appartiene appartiene anche a voi. 

Io ozio, ed esorto la mia anima, 
Mi chino e indugio ad osservare un filo d’erba estivo. 

Il fumo del mio fiato, 
Echi, gorgoglii, diffusi bisbigli, radice d’amore, 
filamento di seta, inforcatura e viticcio, 
Il mio inspirare ed espirare, il pulsare del cuore, il 
transitare dell’aria e del sangue attraverso i polmoni, 
Il sentore delle foglie verdi e delle foglie secche, della 
spiaggia e degli scogli neri, del fieno nel fienile, 
Il suono delle parole eruttate della mia voce 
abbandonata ai vortici del vento, 
Pochi rapidi baci, pochi abbracci, un tendere a cerchio di braccia, 
Il gioco delle ombre e dei riflessi all’oscillare dei rami 
flessuosi, 
Il godimento da soli o tra la folla nelle strade, o lungo 
i campi o sui fianchi d’una collina, 
La sensazione di salute, il vibrare del pieno mezzogiorno, il canto di me che mi alzo dal letto e vado incontro al sole. 

Hai creduto che mille acri fossero molti? che tutta la 
terra fosse molto? 
Ti sei esercitato così a lungo per imparare a leggere? 
Tanto orgoglio hai sentito perché afferravi il senso dei poemi? 

Fermati con me oggi e questa notte, e ti impadronirai dell’origine di tutti i poemi, 
Ti impadronirai dei beni della terra e del sole (ci sono ancora milioni di soli), 
Non prenderai più le cose di seconda o terza mano, né guarderai con gli occhi dei morti, ne ti nutrirai di fantasmi libreschi, 
E neppure vedrai attraverso i miei occhi o prenderai le cose da me, Ascolterai da ogni parte e le filtrerai da te stesso. 

Ho udito ciò che i parlatori dicevano, il discorso del principio e della fine, 
Ma io non parlo del principio o della fine. 

Non ci fu mai più inizio di quanto ce n’è ora, 
Ne più gioventù o vecchiaia di quanta ce n’è ora, 
Ne vi sarà più perfezione di quanta ce n’è ora, 
Ne più cielo o più inferno di quanto ce n’è ora. 

lo sono pago: vedo, ballo, rido e canto; 
E Dio diventa l’amato compagno di letto che dorme abbracciato al mio fianco, allo spuntare del giorno si ritira, 
Lasciandomi cesti di bianchi asciugamani che mi riempiono la casa con la loro abbondanza, 
Dovrò posporre la mia accettazione e comprensione e gridare ai miei occhi che si astengano dopo dal guardare giù per la strada, 
E mi mostrino sùbito, calcolato al centesimo, 
L ‘esatto valore di uno e l’esatto valore di due, e chi è in vantaggio? 

Separato da ciò che attira e trascina sta quello che io 
sono, 
Se ne sta divertito, compiacente, compassionevole, 
inattivo, unitario, 
Guarda dall’alto, è eretto, o appoggia un braccio a un 
impalpabile sicuro sostegno, con la testa piegata di Iato, curioso di ciò che verrà dopo, 
Dentro e fuori del gioco, osservandolo e meravigliandosi. 
Ripenso ai giorni passati quando mi affaticavo nella nebbia con linguisti e dialettici, 
Non ho battute o argomenti, io testimonio e attendo. 

Io credo nella mia anima, e l’altro che io sono non deve umiliarsi davanti a te ne tu davanti a lui. 
Ozia con me sopra l’erba, rimuovi il groppo dalla gola, 
Io non chiedo parole, né musica, né rime, né conferenze o patrocini, sia pure i migliori, 

Solo la nenia mi appaga, il mormorio della tua voce dolce.

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Busted!

The Rap

Quiet state highway in California just outside a town called (of all things) Shafter, only a few cars are humming along this beaten, almost empty road. The sun is shining, but light drops of rain are beginning to gather on the windshield. I’m driving down there in our new Ford Mustang, car got in san francisco, and doing around 85-90mph. I hadn’t seen the speed-limit signs.

Suddenly, just like you see in Blues Brothers, a black and white car spins out from behind a roadsign, I watch it in the rear-view mirror, and even before the red and blue party-lights come on I get that horrible sinking feeling in my gut. The cop could have been after any car on the road, but I knew it was me. I pulled over to the side.

A big, shaved-headed cop stops his car behind me, lights still flashing, and comes over to the passenger-side window.

“Good afternoon officer” I greet him as he approaches the window.
“Good afternoon gentlemen, I’ve stopped you for your speed. Can I see you license please?” I hand him my license, but he doesn’t take it; just looks at it, meanwhile I’m thinking about the cigarette I have in my hand and suddenly realizing for the first time that I don’t have an ashtray in the car. “Get rid of that trash!” he orders, and for about three seconds I don’t understand if he’s talking about the cigarette or my European drivers license which he is refusing to take.

I look around frantically for the non-existent ashtray… “Put it out in your drink, anywhere, I don’t care — but if it goes out the window it’ll be a hell of a fine for you.” I didn’t need the warning, I knew it’s a 1000 dollar fine for littering the state highway, but I just couldn’t think of where to put the damn cigarette. I put it out in my Nestlè iced-tea.

I continued to hold out my license for the cop to take, but he just stared at it then looked at me sternly, “what’s your problem?” What, apart from having a cop about to give me a killer fine for speeding? I wasn’t aware of any other problem I had, but I didn’t say anything. I proffered my license once more and again came the question, “what is your problem?!”

The cop was getting visibly more agitated at this juncture. Was there something wrong with my license? The cop had been mostly ok until he saw that I was British, was this the problem? I decided that the conversation wasn’t going anywhere so I took a breath… 
“I’m really sorry officer, but I don’t think I understand what your question means,” I said in my most reverent and subordinate voice and it helped a bit, because the cop went on.
“I don’t want that!”
“Wha… what? My license?” I said, getting more confused by the second. Did he want the car registration? What did he want from me?!
“I. Don’t. Want. That.” It felt like he wanted to add, “You stupid fucking limey,” but he didn’t. I just stared dumbly between my license and the cop. “What’s the speed limit on this road?” Damn it; I hate those trick questions. I felt like I was back in school again with a lame “my dog ate it” absent-homework excuse.
“Erm… well… err… 60?”
“60 what?”
“Miles per hour, sir.”
“NO!”
“Oh, sorry, I meant kilometers per hour! I’m always getting those mixed up….”
“NO!”

Nick had started to smile here, or something, but it was bad news for both of us because the cop turned to him and said, “what’s your problem!?”
“Who? Me? Well… I don’t have a problem. Sir.”
I decided to intercede here as the conversation clearly wasn’t going anywhere good. “Look, officer, I’m real sorry, but you know, we got off to a late start this morning, so we were just trying to…”
“Stop talking!”
“Yes sir.”
“The speed limit on this road is 55 miles per hour. 55! Not 65, or 85 or 105. 55! Do you understand that?”
“Yes sir.”
“You shouldn’t even be driving!”
“I… I…”
“Shut up!” I didn’t say anything, but bowed my head. “It’s about respect! Do you know what that means?
“Yes, sir,” I nodded.
“When you’re over here you need to respect others!” this was said with such clear anger that I really felt quite chastened, but also slightly fearful of a nationalistic bent to the cop’s fervor. But I always have respect for people! Ok, I sometimes drive fast, but I have respect for people and I always drive carefully.
“I’m sorry sir.”
“Remember: respect. now get out of here,” said the cop, and away he walked.

 

Good Cop, Bad Cop?

What? That was it!? No fine? He could’ve had me paying 200 dollars easy. But he didn’t. What was the deal? Why no fine? This cop was one of the most officious people I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet and he was clearly angry and what’s more, he was cool until he saw my British license, so why didn’t he give me a fine? And where did all his anger suddenly come from? And why, at the end, did he let me go away without any punishment? I was doing almost 90 in a 55 zone!

I guess there are two possibilities. Cynics would say that it was too much paperwork for him to bother giving us a fine, plus, we being British meant that we probably wouldn’t have paid it anyhow and he was upset that he couldn’t do anything to us.

I prefer, however, to imagine that he could’ve done whatever he wanted to us, but chose — for some reason (maybe he has sons of his own of our age) and figured that he didn’t want to ruin our holiday and that telling us off would do the job fine.

I definitely drove slower after that (at least for a while), and I remain grateful to our compassionate, angry cop.

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Into The West

And Never The Twain Shall Meet

We arrived in San Francisco and the heat was a real shock to our systems. Canada hadn’t been cold, but very little can prepare you for the heat of California. We had intended to stay in the city for a while, but there was some convention going on and hotels couldn’t be got for love nor money (well, i dare say that if we’d had 500 bucks to spend on accommodation it would have been possible, but we didn’t, so it wasn’t). So we decided to change our plans a little and head out into the great plains and then do San Fran on the way back.

Writing about the west of the USA really hasn’t been easy. In the east there were hundreds of small things, cities, places, historical markers all put together in a relatively compact space. Out here in the west there are fewer points of interest, but they are huuuge, and they are spread far apart. The sheer size of some of the things we have seen beggars belief — the biggest mountains, fields, rivers, canyons: everything is vast; so vast that in writing it down I almost don’t know where to begin describing it. I guess that because this land was far from the great eastern ports and hubs of commerce and politics it doesn’t present a clear historical narrative. There are stories of frontiersmen, indians, territorial battles, but one cannot say the States started here.

The people are different too. There is no sense of urgency here — we’ve stayed in villages where the locals don’t use cell phones and where 4×4 trucks and jeeps are the only way to get around. It seems that the legends of the Great West die hard in this land.

It is beautiful land, that’s for sure. We’ve seen lakes, deserts, mountains, forests — all of nature’s wonder in one place. It’s mesmerizing, breathtaking– adjectives probably can’t do it justice. (Expect a lot of photos!)

 

Yosemite

We took an old-style cabin out in the woods for this adventure. The Yosemite National Park covers an area of over 1000 square miles and, while it is mostly wilderness, it contains some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth. After all the tumult of the cities, this was quite literally a welcome breath of fresh air.

The park holds some of the largest natural wonders in the world. It’s simply beautiful and almost shocking. The massive granite mountains all have their own history and names; there’s El Capitan, the Half-Dome and Sentinel Rock. We actually missed out on waterfall season, normally there are a few in the Yosemite Valley at the center of the park, but in the summer it gets too dry for them to run.

It was exactly here in May 1903 that Theodore Roosevelt was struck by the wonder of this place and decided to take all of it under state control so as to better protect it. In 1916 it was one of the first properties to be placed in the care of the newly formed National park Service.

It’s not only the mountains which are vast. Yosemite also contains a grove of Giant Sequoias, the largest tree (by volume) in the world. Again… how can I describe these? I can only show the photos.

The one problem with all this enormity surrounding us was the heights. Now, i don’t mind being high up so much, but there were a few very scary moments in the car. You see the signposts counting the height for you: 4000, 5000, 6000 feet above sea-level, the roads are quite fast (people, us included, were moving at about 45-60 miles per hour) and you get very, very, skin-crawlingly close to that edge (no more than a foot away at points) and it’s a looong way down.

You literally are inches away from certain doom. One slip of the wheel, or you turn your eyes away from the road to turn off Maroon 5 who just came on the radio, and it’s a Thelma and Louise ending for everyone in the car. I was scared.

But we got through it all in the end. Nick and I did a bit of hiking, climbed through waterfalls and over rocks, and we discovered some animals. One is a Blue Jay, a bird about the size of a crow and bright blue (understandably), and a new one for us — a Chickeree! Chickerees are like a cross between a mouse, a squirrel, and a raccoon. They live on the Sequoias and actually help the trees to reproduce because they eat the tops of the pine cones, allowing the tree to drop its seeds. It’s a perfect little give-and-take balance from nature which we were very happy to see.

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Victoria And The Elusive Moose

From Seattle we took the “high-speed katamaran service”, the Clipper, into Canada to stay with friends in Victoria, British Colombia. Actually, they’re closer to being family than friends, and we had the chance to take a break from the constant whirl of hotels-driving-traveling-flying and to enjoy some relax time. It was perfect.

This was my second visit to Canada and this time, just like the last time, I failed to see either a mountie or a moose. This was quite disappointing on my first visit, but now I have come to the conclusion that maybe neither of them actually exists — it’s all just a big joke invented with Canadian humour to keep the other people in the world guessing. Check the photos — they’re both smiling… clearly they know something we don’t. Oh yes….

A non-existent mountie

A non-existent mountie

A non-existent moose

A non-existent moose

We spent some really great days there and while Victoria is very tranquil place, there were still loads of cool things to see and do. The city is strikingly British. It has British gardens, old-English style houses and Union Jacks abound: it actually feels more English than England in lots of respects. It has majestic parks, greenery flows around and mountains rise up in the distance; it’s a beautiful place. More than just being pretty, it’s also very “livable”. It has lovely shops and restaurants all enclosed in the smart downtown area.

I really appreciate cities being “human”; that is, made to human proportions with buildings and infrastructure designed for people to use. Cities needn’t necessarily be small to achieve this; often small ones aren’t so human at all. I love places that have something of a center where you can walk around of a Sunday afternoon unassailed by roaring traffic. Or perhaps go out on Saturday night and have bars and pubs in one place, so if you want to change locale you don’t need a designated driver: you can walk! And Victoria is first and foremost, human.

Then of course there are the real humans. The quickest way to upset canadians is to mistake them for their United States neighbors (though probably this is also true vice-versa). They feel that Americans are overwhelming, always in a rush, preoccupied with being a superpower. Canadians are far too chill to even want to be a superpower. They are friendly, polite, low-key, have a very particular sense of humour and are just genuinely nice people. In Victoria people even say hello in the street! How old-school is that!?

They might not want to be a superpower but they do have their military jets which gave us a cool display over the Strait of Georgia. The Canadian Snowbirds did a 45 minute show as we watched from a seaside balcony on a glorious day. This wasn’t our only airplane experience; on our way back to Seattle we went on a seaplane! It was an awesome experience, taking off and landing on the water in a plane with only eight people on board, you could smell the airplane fuel, feel the tremors as the plane changed from flying low over the sea to cruising just above the trees when we went over land. I was a little apprehensive about it but it was eye-opening and a ton of fun. And we avoided the sickness you feel after the katamaran voyage, which was even better.

The Snowbirds spread their wings

The Snowbirds spread their wings

Picture of the sea from the wind-battered deck of the Clipper going from Seattle to Victoria

Picture of the sea from the wind-battered deck of the Clipper going from Seattle to Victoria

Our seaplane from Victoria to Seattle

The seaplane that took us from Victoria back to Seattle

The pilot of our plane as seen from my seat

The pilot of our plane as seen from my seat

The view from the airplane window as we approached Seattle

The view from the airplane window as we approached Seattle

And well, I’ve already said it, but I’ll say it again, to our hosts — thank you so much for everything, it was fantastic.

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Strange But Cool

If you think of Washington, typically your mind may flip to DC and its shining white monuments, but you should also remember the state of Washington and its biggest city, Seattle.

It occupies quite a strange place in my view of the States. It’s west coast, but you don’t really visit for the beaches; it’s a huge city, but you never hear so much about it. Probably the only thing I knew about Seattle before going there was that it was Seattle that started the grunge movement and Nirvana (and a host of similar groups) all came from this city in the North West.

Now, I have a lot of pressure on me about this post. I have some good friends in Seattle, and I know that if I say one thing they disagree with then my email box will be full of complaints. That’s not because they are precious (quite the contrary; natives of Seattle are notoriously laid-back) but they don’t want to be misrepresented.

While here we learned that if we don’t have the car then we need to be real close to the town center. We stayed in an area that, while it wasn’t a ghetto, was just one huge long road full with nothing except cheap motels, fast-food dives, and hookers. Just to get to the center cost us 25 dollars in a cab. We actually thought we were close to the center when we booked online — the hotel advertised itself as being in “Midtown”…. “well, ‘Midtown’ sounds kinda like ‘downtown’, doesn’t it? They must be close.” We thought. But no.

However, this is a place with many things to recommend it. Architecture, food, the country-living lifestyle, but most of all the people are the thing you come to see. On my first trip here (about a year ago) I heard somebody say, “that’s sooo Seattle!” But what the hell does that mean? Finding the answer became my mission.

When I asked people they mostly gave me elusive answers, but I’ll try to create a picture. A strange fact to begin with: this is one of the few places around where men frequently have beards. The percentage of men with beards is probably 40% higher than in any other major US city.

The city is probably quite rich (or at least well-off), though the residents choose not to show off their wealth. Everything is very down-to-Earth, and people are also quite “of the Earth”; they are very active in sports generally and the outdoor sports particularly: riding, climbing, cycling, jogging, hiking. Probably a natural consequence of the beautiful land within the reach of a short car drive; mountains, lakes, fields, forests… they have everything.

They are green and seem very liberal; they are open minded and accepting of others: others’ religion, tastes, styles, ways of thinking (they even put up with hordes of really crazy people who roam around the streets), but there is one ingredient to add to the mix. Libertarianism. You get the feeling that people in Seattle, while willing to engage politically, just want to be left alone to get on with their thing. They have their lives and want the government to leave them alone while they get live them. This creates a very middle-ground political situation where there is very little partisanism — in a sense, it is the most open-minded city I’ve been to so far. You could say that all Americans share the “small-state; big-freedom” ethos, but in other places this is tied to one or other political ideals, Democrats in New York don’t want a war, Republicans in Mississippi want less taxes. In Seattle it’s different. They have ideals, sure, but are far more open in terms of who they’ll vote for to represent those ideals. Seeming lefties will vote for the Republicans, and gun enthusiasts will vote for Obama. A real eclectic and individual mix.

I’ve tried hard to avoid talking about politics in this blog so far: it’s not what interests me about the states. It’s strange that a state which is so, not apolitical, but “political-agnostical” should bring me to write about it.

Other items of curiosity about Seattle: the original Starbucks — small and unlike what you’re used to with the chain, but cool; and directly across from there is the Pike Place Fish Market, which is famous for fish-throwing! You order a fish, the counter-clerk calls for the fish you want, another guy throws the fish through the air, where it’s caught and wrapped and given to you to take home. Strange, but cool. That’s Seattle.

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The Bronx Bombers Say Goodbye

Our Night At The Ballpark

Either it’s our own good fortune to be around at epoch-marking moments or else history is happening everywhere and at all times. Either way, we were in New York not only for the seventh anniversary of 9/11, but also for the final games at the Yankees’ old stadium.

Ever since I saw Field of Dreams (old Kevin Costner movie where a guy builds his own baseball field after hearing voices in his head — great film) it has been a dream to go see a game and we were lucky enough to arrive in New York at just the right moment: as we understood from the film, the magic that surrounds baseball has as much to do with the ground as what goes on inside of it.

Thanks to my friend Greg (lives in Connecticut, supports Yankees) we got tickets to see the game against the Chicago White Sox. We were in the bleachers (the “stands” in UK English) which made us part of the immortal, but oft-derided grouping, the Bleacher Creatures. Membership of this group meant we had to sing all the songs, rail against the decisions, and cheer and shout louder than anybody else — and, naturally, we did our best (Bleacher Creatures are also the ones that get into fights, but luckily we didn’t see any of that.)

For me it was a wonderful night. We had a hotdog, soaked up the atmosphere of the game, I learned how baseball works (it’s simple, but complex at the same time), the Yankees won, we felt the roar and emotion of the crowds, we sang the 7th-innings song, and we drove like crazy New Yorkers through the Bronx. I couldn’t have asked for more.

In Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones’ character says at the end, “Baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again”. Magic before our eyes.

 

A Field Of Dreams

We knew it was no ordinary ball game that we were watching that night — this was something special. The reason why had to do with the stadium. Yesterday they played the final game inside so now the mourning officially begins. One doesn’t need to be a baseball fan to be sorry about the Yankee Stadium’s end; read through the following and see.

1) The Greats Were Here

The Yankee Stadium was built in 1923, and in its 85 year history its walls have held the Yankees, John Philip Sousa, Joe Louis, Muhammed Ali, Pink Floyd, Nelson Mandela and JFK to name a few.

 

2) The Babe

 

George Herman Ruth Junior has been voted the greatest ball player of all time in more surveys than anyone can remember. He played for the Yankees from 1920 til 1935, during which time he reached his lifetime total of 714 home runs, a record that was not to be broken for 39 years, and he set various batting records that still have not been broken. On the day of its inauguration the Babe declared, “I’d give a year of my life if I can hit a home run in this first game in this new ball park”. And he did just that. After he hit that home run the stadium was known ever after as “the house that Ruth built”.

On August 16th, 1948 Babe Ruth died. He was 53 years old. His body was lain in the Yankee Stadium and in two days over 200,000 people had filed by to pay him their respects.

 

3) A Catalogue Of Firsts

In October 1965, Pope Paul VI said the first mass on US soil at the Yankee Stadium; it was the first three-tier stadium in the baseball league; it was the first stadium to use an electronic scoreboard; when the New York Giants American football team borrowed it in 1958 it was the first time ever that an NFL game went into sudden-death overtime — the match became known as “the greatest game ever”; in its construction it was the first time that a special cement (invented partly by Thomas Edison) was used. It was the scene of many a groundbreaking moment.

 

4) The Sam Rice Mystery

He didn’t play for the Yankees, but he often played in their stadium. In 1925, when playing against the Pittsburgh Pirates he jumped over a wall to make a catch. He disappeared and so did the ball, and then, after a couple of moments had passed, up he popped with the ball in his hand. No one could tell if he had actually caught the ball or not, but the catch was allowed to stand and the batter was out.

For the rest of his life Sam Rice wouldn’t tell anybody, not even his family, whether or not he had actually caught the ball. All he did was put the truth in a letter, to be opened upon his death. After 49 years, Rice died and the wait for the truth was over. In his letter he explained that he had caught the ball.

 

5) Mickey Mantle

He was no good boy, but Mickey Mantle, who still holds the record for longest ever home run (575 feet) was a hero. He played all his career in a Yankees shirt and during the various World Series tournaments he played in, he set six records which still stand today. The old stadium will remember him well.

An alcoholic and local boy from Oklahoma, he was given a rough ride by the press during his initial Yankees years; he was never consistent, and at one point was the highest-paid active player in the league. However, when he died in 1995, the Yankees played the rest of the season wearing black armbands and his number (seven) embossed on their shirt-sleeves. A hell of a turnaround by the man who said, “Am I a role-model? Sure: don’t be like me.”

 

6) The Fans

They’ve seen good times and bad times, but they always came. This stadium saw over four million fans a year enter its doors. Not all of them were bleacher creatures…. Ozzy Osbourne, Jack Nicholson, Meatloaf, Henry Kissinger, Bob Dylan and Denzel Washington are among the more famous of the Yankees fans.

 

7) Thurman Munsen’s Locker

He played with the Yankees for ten years and while doing so became the only Yankees player ever to win both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards. He rose to be one of the most famous captains of the club. He famously sported the handlebar moustache which is actually at the limits of what Yankees players are allowed to wear (the Yankees are one of the only clubs that still enforce the decades-old “no long hair or beards” rules that all baseball clubs once subscribed to).

He was originally from Ohio and learned to pilot his own plane so he could return home to visit his family when not playing. Then, in 1979 when he was only 32 years old, his personal plane crashed during test flights and he was killed. His locker remains in the old stadium with just his number 15 shirt hanging inside. The number will never be worn by another Yankees player.

 

8) Joltin’ Joe

Joe DiMaggio played his whole career for the Yankees and became one of the world’s most famous sportsmen. He was selected for baseball’s All-Star game every season he played, and achieved a legendary 56-game hitting streak (where a player has to make a hit in every game he plays in). The boy who only started playing baseball to get out of poverty, and only stopped when injuries meant he couldn’t take a step without pain, was voted baseballs greatest living player in 1969.

He married Marilyn Monroe in 1954, but divorce came only 274 days later. Sombody said at the time, “a man can’t be a success in two pastimes”. But DiMaggio was never to remarry, and after Marilyn’s death he had red roses delivered to her grave, three times a week for twenty years.

After he died in 1999 the Yankee Stadium had a monument dedicated to him and the team wore little number fives, Joltin’ Joe’s number, on their uniforms for the rest of the season.

 

A Word Of Thanks

I could say so many thanks to so many people on this trip, and most of them I’ll make personally. But there is one I’d like to make: we had to leave so quickly the next day that I never really got the chance to do it before now. To Greg, my buddy who took us to the game and explained how it all worked, and his family who had us stay in there house and did a thousand small things to make us feel like kings, thank you very, very much.

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A New England

North And South

We came a long way these last days. No more for us the swamps of Georgia and the country guitars of Nashville; we have come to the historic foundations of this country: New England.

It’s known as the cradle of the nation, and it is true that the first clamorings of revolution were heard here, but it is not the war of independence which first grabs your attention as you move up here from the deep south but another war; the civil war.

The soldiers of the Confederacy were known as the rebels in that war and it’s striking how much sympathy the rebels still command down south even today. The state of Mississippi staunchly bears the stars and bars on its flag and in shops and boutiques — even at attractions which had nothing to do with the civil war — still stock figurines of rebel soldiers, belt buckles of the flag, and even replica costumes of the Confederacy. They have roads and places named after Confederate generals and even at sites run by the (national) Parks Association the civil war is presented as a war of equals, with no side really right or wrong. People don’t really talk about it with outsiders, but there are common assumptions shared by the locals about who really “should’ve won that war”.

Somewhat surprisingly, happily, this doesn’t seem to have too much to do with race. We haven’t seen any prejudiced opinions or displays of bigotry; instead we’ve seen lots of open-mindedness and understanding; hell, we’ve even seen black cowboys at rodeo events getting cheered by the crowds. I’d guess the hoisting of that rebel banner has more to do with local pride than anything — anti-government rather than anti-equality.

The Stars and Bars of the Confederate rebels

The Stars and Bars of the Confederate rebels

This view, however, doesn’t hold in New England. The yankees speak with disgust about those who waved the rebel flag and have a very clear idea in their mind about what it stands for. For New Englanders, the civil war and the independence war were fought (and won) by them for freedom. The passion with which they say that word should strike anyone to the core. As long as Boston stands, so shall Liberty.

 

Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death

Boston is a supreme mix of the old and the new. It has beautifully conceived modern architecture, renovation, and — as it is surrounded by rivers and estuaries — curvatious bridges. It boasts Georgian, Federalist, Modern and Liberty styles and they all fit gracefully into a light and spacious city which seems made to measure for its inhabitants.

The best way to get to see all the most important sites is to take the Freedom Trail. It’s a two-mile walk (painted and paved in red) which takes you on the meandering path through Boston’s giddy history and puts you right in the middle of some of the nations most important heritage.

Now, not wanting to be typical tourists, we did the tour backwards. We started off with a walk around the USS Constitution, the US Navy’s oldest commissioned vessel afloat. The ship saw heavy battles in its day and is nicknamed “old ironsides”, an affectionate moniker due to its solidity in the face of repeated cannon attack.

We then crossed over a small iron bridge into town where we were led through winding streets, through a small graveyard with headstones dating back to the 1600s — final resting place of the sons of Liberty, and upto the Old North Church. This is where Paul Revere caused the famous lantern signal “one if by land; two if by sea” to be sent.

Revere, a wealthy craftsman, was involved in revolutionary activities along with such heroes as John Hancock and Sam Adams. He was chosen as a messenger to bring the news of the British army’s movements as an attack on the towns of Concord and Lexington was anticpated. On discovering that the British were coming across the river, he rode all through the night from Charleston to Lexington to inform fellow patriots while two lanterns hung from that church steeple. It was only after his death that his role in the revolution was fully appreciated, but now his name is synonymous with the fight for freedom.

 

We went past Paul Revere’s house and then to the Fanueil Hall, where Sam Adams spoke in the upstairs meeting place and roused the temper of the Bostonian people in the days leading upto the Boston Tea Party.

You could really feel the history on your skin, and it didn’t take much effort to imagine yourself there in those days as the rallying cries of Freedom were raised and Tom Paine was publishing Common Sense.

 

How Pure?

After Boston, we continued up the coast to a town with a much darker history: Salem. It may have been home to such splendid writers as Nathanial Hawthorne, and to adventurous pirates (we actually visited the pirate museum), but it is famous for its killing of “witches”.

Despite the name being loaded with the more malign kind of fame associated with Stephen King books, the place is actually one of the most picturesque towns you could hope to find. Settled on the harbor with cosy cottages and white-picket fencing it is a wonderful place to spend a day or so. I believe that this apparent tranquility and feeling of safety is what gives an extra twist to the tales of horror associated with this place: it seems safe and friendly, but even in the midst of such idealistic beauty, terror can lurk…. It sounds like the narration at the start of a Nightmare on Elm Street flick.

But it was here that, between February 1692 and May 1693, over 150 people were tried for witchcraft, 19 of them (14 women and five men) were hung for the offense. The Puritans who founded the village (ironically, to escape persecution in their native Europe) held that the church should be the final arbiter in the administering of justice (including the death penalty) and given the hard socio-economic climate of the times, scapegoats were sought and the mystical was soon brought into the judicial realm. Rumours about certain people’s behavior soon led to hysteria and witch-hunting.

Anyone who was a little different or strange, especially old women, those who shied away from society or those who were involved in unusual activities such as practising homeopathy were immediately subject to accusations, and also anyone who had upset a more upstanding member of society could meet with suspicion. The tests used to establish someone’s guilt included the accused having to touch their accusers (and then seeing if the accusers had any strange effects, fits, tremors, etc.); and “spectral evidence” where all an accuser had to do was to claim to “see” ghostly images of the person they were accusing. If someone had a grudge against you it was very bad news indeed in those bleak times.

It was so long ago that the tragedy loses some of its power, yet memorials stand to this day in rememberance of those unfairly killed.

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