dijous, de juny 30, 2005

A Very Good Year (English / Welsh / Cornish / French)

"They lie around did living tread this sacred ground now silent dead"
-inscription on cross on Ynys Llanddwyn, Wales

Why start out a blog entry called "A Very Good Year" with such a morbid quote? Ah, there are many possible answers to that question. Although, it has, indeed, been a very good year, and I have the pictures to prove it. I just received photographs in the mail from T., taken of a dinner I had here at the house nearly a month ago. It was a fun evening; I made traditional Welsh dishes again, notably Bara Claddu, broccoli and cauliflower in a special cheese and cream sauce, and special potatoes au gratin with heavy cream, cheese, leeks and a white onion, then stuffed chicken breasts filled with Welsh Cheddar, various spices and vegetable bits and then wrapped in bacon. For four people I used a pound a half of bacon! For dessert I made pwdin efa. We enbibed gin and tonics as well as three bottles of lovely wine, two white and one "white merlot" which was also quite enjoyable. Decadent and delicious if I don't say so myself!

At any rate, the reception of these pictures quite literally filled the last slots in the photograph album I began last year around this time; it now bears the name "Albwm Haf 2004 - Haf 2005". Looking back over the album, I have enjoyed walking back through this year. Regardless of what quantum physics has to say about the passage of time, our little chemical reality interpreters perceive the past as real and concrete, immutable, hence certain, inasmuch our squishy chemical computers don't begin to rot away at unnatural rates... Thus, looking at the album is comforting and not as unnerving as looking at the equally immutable or supermutable future (depending on where in the grand scheme of things the observer that we think we are really is).

In the album are lovely pictures of the Schenectady Soroptimists Garden Club Tour that I went on with Anna, followed by snaps of Shelburne Farms at the store of which I purchased some lovely cheese and blueberry wine; Anna accompanied me on that journey as well. Then there are pictures from Wales and old friends I saw at Welsh Heritage Week, held last year in the beautiful ravine at Nant Gwrtheyrn, with its steep cliffs and switchback road that seems to spill out over the sea. Next are photos of T. and her sister-in-law H., taken on a brillantly sunny day as we toured Albany and Schenectady. After these come incidental photos of dinners here at my home, shots of the house before the siding went up, snaps of the Jag on her inaugural visit to my driveway, other shots of family gatherings over Christmas and a my trip to New Orleans; near the end there are pictures of a short trip Carolyn and I took to the Grafton Peace Pagoda with its beautiful stupa, and now finally, with exactly the right number of sleeves left, the pictures from June 3rd of the dinner with T., M. and Carolyn.

The pictures evoke the memories of these events and others still at which no photos were taken, of the many wonderful meals I had, the great quanities of gin, vodka, bourbon, scotch, whisky, grappa, beer, wine, champagne and poire I sipped, burbled and chugged with friends, at the same wonderful meals, at bars and clubs. I can then recall other more clandestine events, the lovers both perrenial and temporary who tickled my fancy over the year, the thought of each one brings a smile to my lips. Besides debauching myself and others with rich food, copious alcohol and general lust, I think of the trips, to Vermont, to Massachusetts, to New Orleans, to Wales, to Montreal, to Binghamton, to Pennsylvania and the little valley I used to call home. I think of the valuable moments I passed with friends both close and distant, with Tom, Carolyn, Anna, Annie, Mary, Bill, Marlene, T., M., Jon, Kim, Theresa, my mother and brother, the neighborlady Carol and her daughters, John, Barbara and James, Mary Jones and Olwen, Lynn and Gareth and many many more people who spent time with me (especially an caroryon ha'n nosow tân-both!). So many lovely memories, so many treasures for me to enjoy, it was indeed a very good year.

So why the morbid opener? The answer or answers are not hard to imagine. The chiefest of them being that I know this can't last forever, not as far as my squishy neural net is concerned. Sooner or later the parade will be over and all that will be left is a question mark. To the unknowing, it may appear as though I'm some sort of dour pessimist, always seeing the glass as half empty. It is true that I do rue that so much time has already passed, and I know that no matter how many I have left, the days are dwindling down. You never get more of them, you got as many as you got, 2 or 2 million, fewer or a greater number. On the other hand, I'm not sitting at home with an afghan across my knees wringing my knuckles worrying about it either. However many days I have, I'm making each one as much a bal dans la rue as I can, and I plan to do so until, as my Fulmontese brethren say, I shit the bed.

Nevertheless, one day I won't be able to kick it up like I do now, nor even at all. One day my friends and family will see a candle in the night, and my own will have been snuffed out. Of course this is an old message, one I have, and no doubt will say, many times. Why I should think of death when I have also been thinking of such lovely things is not a surprise when you consider the various factors that have led up to my being where I am now. I grew up with an old family, and as I grew from childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood, I was witness to many deaths and funerals. Also the combination of my Celtic and Pennsylvania German ancestries has led to a certain pragmatic and maudlin way of looking at life and its dance partner death, perhaps even existential bordering on jovial nihilism (I'm not certain that's as much an oxymoron as it may first appear).

The day is coming, and it will come sooner than I like, when I will die. I have no idea what if anything will be left of my collective life experience after the big event, but I do know that my life will have been, in the grand universal scale of time and place, rather meaningless (not necessarily pointless), and quickly forgotten. I'm not Montaigne, nor Chrétien, nor even Gore Vidal. No one will be reading these silly words 500 years from now marvelling at the almost sophisticated thoughts of a hick from the swamplands of the Pocono Plateau. And that's just fine, because that's my place in the world, and it's anyone else's place who reads this as well. Even Montaigne will be forgotten, indeed the whole Earth will someday vanish into our bloated sun as it begins quivering into its own death throes. Relatively speaking, we're all promised the same gift at the end: the embrace of certain temporal oblivion.

What will really prove annoying to anyone reading this is that all the previous text was a preamble to what I really wanted to write, the substance of which will be proportionately short. When I die, I want a great funeral. I want pomp, circumstance, I want it to be more than a little over the top, a little larger than life, and certainly larger than pretty much anyone else's. Why?
As as a young man, before I could venture out on my own, on Saturday nights I was relegated to the darkness of my bedroom. My father was a drunk and irritable man who didn't want to see his family on Saturday nights and stormed and screamed until we all left him in the living room with his beer, cigarettes and remote control. I would listen to music on my "boombox" (hey it was the 80's!) with my headphones on. Sometimes I would play cassette tapes instead, and one of my favorites was the Andrew Lloyd Weber operetta Evita.

In one line the character Che sings, "When they're bringing your curtain down, demand to be buried like Eva Peron." I must have listened to that operetta a thousand times over the years. I could indentify with Eva after all. She had been a nobody from nowhere, and she scratched and fucked her way to the top. What hayseed wouldn't want to take a similar path, albeit journeying along it for a bit longer than she? That line about her funeral stuck with me, and now, decades later, I still want them to bring my curtain down with as much flare as my estate can muster. Indeed, even all my residuals were poured into my funeral, so be it! I have no children to care for, and whatever charities I might give my money to at my departure will still function just as well without the relatively little money I will have at the time of my "ymadawiad."

This is what I envision as my funeral: I want to be cremated. I still am Pagan enough to want my remains to go back to the Earth, sooner rather than later. I would like some of my ashes scattered in the Memorial Garden at First Unitarian here in Schenectady, some in the woods behind the house where I grew up and where we scattered my father's (it is as much my land as his after all), and if possible some on the sides of yr Eifl in Wales, the beautiful three-peeked mountain that rolls down into the sea not far from Tai'n Lôn on which my ancestors built the great hill-fort of Tre'r Ceri millenia ago. The thought that my remains could rest in the three places that have meant the most to me brings me peace even as I still breathe. I would also like a stone placed in my memory in Stroudsburg Cemetery on the plots my family owns. Many of my other people are there and even though my remains may not be, I would like my name to be counted with them, especially my aunts Arwilda and Margaret.

Then for the funeral itself. Assuming that I die here, in Schenectady, I want a funeral procession, old world style, from my house to the First Unitarian Society. My closest friends and any family still alive could come to my house and drink my liquor and then march slowly behind Blodwen my Jaguar (or whatever pretty car I may have at the time of my demise) and the pipe band. I must have a pipe band, and they must learn to play at least one Welsh song, the ever haunting Hiraeth, its title meaning something like "longing." Once at the church, a normal Unitarian memorial service could be held, but I would like songs that were meaningful to me played before the service begins. One day I will have to generate that list of songs or burn the CD. However I want a place reserved for my pretty car right in front, just as though I had driven it to church. Incidentally, inside the pretty car, if my ashes have already been scattered due to logistical reasons, I want a nice photograph of me, and my rose, a deep carnation colored one like grows behind my house in the back seat. Also, a glass and a bottle of my favorite alkie at the time of my demise, along with a my old black, dusty holmburg hat (the hat is significant to my youth). If some or all of my ashes are still present, I want them to be in the back seat as well, not in any fancy vessel, but in the same black box they come from the crematorium in. That is how I received and dispersed my father and my grandfather, and if at all possible it is how I wish my remains to be carried.

On the chancel table at the church tasteful photographs of my life and my friends and my people can be displayed along with any other items the person or people responsible for my arrangements feel is representative, only in the most tasteful way. Additionally, I want to have many roses, vases that stretch the length of the chancel, or if I'm no longer at FUSS, fill the room. I want the deep hued carnation-colored ones for me, peach colored ones for my aunt Arwilda, and pure white ones for my Aunt Margaret, as I have often left these two colors upon their tombstones knowing full well the meaning of these colors accordant to them. Arwilda and Margaret were with me in the beginning, and are still my guiding lights even though they are ghosts now, and I want them to be with me in the end. After the memorial service, if my ashes have not already been interred in the Memorial Garden, I want them to be with the appropriate rites. After that, my closest friends and loved-ones, up to 100 people, I want them to be treated to a meal at a great restaurant, something like Angelos or Daniel's at Ogdens. My only request is that at the head table, a place is left for my rose, my bottle and my glass. I have always been my happiest at lovely meals surrounded by friends and loved-ones, telling stories and enjoying the food and the libation. At the meal I don't want any speeches or grandstanding, I just want a place left for me, as though I had been delayed or simply stepped away for a moment.

People may leave the meal with bellies full and prayfully smiling. Death is not only to be wept for, but also to be embraced, a life, long or short, finds its reward in the question mark. When they're bringing my curtain down, that's how I want to be "buried."

"So what happens now?
"Where am I going to?"

"Don't ask anymore..."

dimecres, de juny 29, 2005

Amusing yet à propos cartoons...

Thanks Tree ;) Couldn't have found this site without you :)

Magic Comes in Funny Moments (English / Welsh)

Magic comes in funny moments
the flavor of a kiss
the glint in a lover's eye
in a million clichés
they are clichés because they are magical

Magic came to me today
a collection of sinew and muscle
fat and synapses
soft lips and shining eyes
"There's daggers in men's smiles."
enough spark to set the embers of my weary dream alight

Why are we doomed to play
over and over again these follies
addiction to our neural peptides?
Monkey see, monkey do
and we all want a godammed banana?
and still I do go on in it merrily!

"Good Night, Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow."

to dream a dead dream
a ghost of a dream
a moribund prospect before it's even planted
how much worse to revile oneself
even as one reproaches one's own idiocy

Ac o hyd, ond oedd ei wyneb yn hardd?
Ond oedd ei gala'n hyfryd
ei flas mor felys
ac ond oedd ei lygaid yn llawn o awen
fel yr hon a chwiliwn i gymaint?
Er mwyn fy ffolineb, oedd!

"The common curse of mankind, - folly and ignorance".

So the magic fades
blurrs like faces of dead family
into daguerrotypes
and is almost forgotten
but even then you can still see old aunty's hat and shawl
just like you can still feel the winge of hope left by foolish dreams....

Mysteries of Bartonsville (Part 1) (English)

So how mysterious could a tiny village in the backwater hills of Pennsylvania really be after all? It's hard to compare it to any other place of course, having now idea how mysterious other places may be of similar size, but the Colonel's little hamlet has had it shares of mysterious goings on, some witnessed by Yours Truly, and others having been recorded in the various and sporadic annals of the place; still others were handed down from generation to generation by words of mouth. In the following entry, I enumerate and elaborate on the ones I recall and have found amid the cobwebs in my mind.

1) The village, while nearly 130 years old, never had a church at its center until the 1990's. The village's two original churchers were actually raised outside, or at the very least, on the extreme periphery of the village; this is a highly atypical arrangement for the time, and led village folk to speculate that it was because there was a curse on the village of come kind, and that curse had to do with the infamous "Pillars in the Woods" (see below). Incidentally, the church that now lies near the center of the village is a mobile chapel parked alongside the Truck Stop.

2) During the tiny village's life, there were several suicides, indeed one was a great great uncle of mine. Then there is the unfortunate death of the black smith due to a large chunk of shrapnel produced when a steam engine blew along the tracks near his shop; rumor has it that his head was completely destroyed in the accident. The Colonel's daughter and the only Barton to remain in the village, Lydia Barton's own death was considered by many to mysterious, and some speculated that she had been murdered by a jealous or unrequited lover (this may seem silly and melodramatic, but such things were more common in the past than we might believe, and indeed even more common then than now. My own great great aunt Arwilda was accosted at gun point and threatened with her life on a train tressel above Stroudsburg by her erstwhile suitor from Roseto; with his revolver barrel in her side, his exact words were, "Marry me, or I'll kill ya!" Needless to say, she did not marry him, and fortunately he didn't have the nerves to pull the trigger...). These sorts of stories may in fact be quite pedestrian in nature; nonetheless, they have served to bolster the sense of mystery in the village.

3) The Bartons left the village and never returned, save Lydia who remained on, presumably the social butterfly at the center of all the village do's; this fact alone has led many to speculate on the qualities of the place. Some have suggested that the Colonel knew that there was bad power in the hills along the valley and decided to leave before trouble befell him. Others speculate that Lydia had turned over to the dark forces in the hills and hence staid behind to maintain her connection with these spirits; they also posit that her connection to this "demonic" presence is what finally killed her.

4) Every small town in America has its clutch of wanting youth who seek solace in the arms of Satan. Before I start to sound like a Bible Belter, let me say that as far as I'm concerned, as a Unitarian Universalist who whole-heartedly worships the question mark, the whole idea of Satanism gains no purchase in my market but for its being one more human expression of religiosity. Nevertheless, the hills were indeed alive with the sound of small animal sacrifice and the incanting of "demonic" verses when I was a teenager. My family owns a fair sized parcel of land, mostly wooded, and I had found, as a young man, the tell-tale signs of the Satanists' passing: chicken bones, black candels and carved torches. While I never caught anyone in the act, in those days I was a pious Fundamentalist (oh how the worm has turned...) and had the reputation of being full of hellfire, brimstone and damnation for anyone who was a sinner. No doubt, the Satanists took some kind of pleasure in performing their rites on my family's land. However, I'm certain that even I were not the reason for their presence, something else on that land was...

5) Next I must recount my experience with the Flute Player and the Forboding in the Woods. Back in the early 1980's, for one whole summer, as evening approached, we could hear this lovely and yet baleful flute music outside our house. It was indeed an eery presence. The instrument I most closely associate it with is the pan flute. In my mind, I can still hear the strains of those notes, and a chill still goes up my back. When the music would begin the play, it was almost as if the temperature would drop a few degrees, that in of itself a miraculous thing given that in the Poconos we had Alabama summers. All summer long that music played from dusk into the wee hours. We spent many hours at dusk searching for its source; it seemed to be coming very clearly from across the Pocono Creek, a mere 100 yards or so from our house. Yet we would go down to the marshlands between Bartonsville Ave (my parent's home is on Beehler Road, a road which branches off Bartonsville Ave and follows the course of the old 'Pike) and the creek. It always seemed as though the music was moving along the creek, as if someone were in a small boat or pirogue gliding along the waters of the creek and playing this baleful music. We never did identify the person or "being" responsible, and many others in the village living on the other side of the creek reported the same experience.

As for the forboding in the woods, that story is more easily recounted. It was late in the 1980's, and late in a early summer afternoon, just before the Alabama-like days set in. Notwithstanding, the air was thick and heavy because a storm was brewing somewhere to the north, and the sky was darkening. We had a small dog then, a coon hound and beagle mix named Brandy. It was Brandy's nature to go the bathroom around four in the afternoon. I put her leash on her, and walked her down the concrete steps and on the flagstone walk. Strangely, she refused to budge from the walk. I physically picked her up and placed her on the ground, and yet she audibly yelped when I did this, returning to stand on the flagstone. I thought she was just in some kind of peculiar mood, and I took her back inside.

Then my little brother Marc wanted to go for a walk in the woods; we often did this in the afternoon, so I grabbed his hand and began toward the woods behind our house. The storm was approaching now, but I could tell that we had some time yet, enough to get a decent walk in. I could also tell by the sky that it wasn't going to be anything more than a rain storm anyway; when you grow up in the country, you learn to identify things like that. As we approached the opening in the trees, I began to feel this deep and pervasive forboding, as though we shouldn't enter the woods at all. Marc and I crossed the threshold of the woods, and the feeling grew ever more profound...

(to be continued...)

dimarts, de juny 21, 2005

The History of Bartonsville (Part 2) (English)

With Joseph Barton's departure for parts north, leaving on Lydia rather mysteriously behind, another family came to take the Bartons' place as the pre-eminent family of the tiny valley. Arriving sometime in the 1870's the Custard family settled just south of the main village along the Pocono Creek. They established a farm and also built a sawmill. In the coming years, they donated land for a Lutheran church, a cemetery and a school house. All their land was a little south of the village, and this, ironically, the first school and first church of the village were built on its extreme perimeters.

One Custard in particular distinguished himself and became the first minister of Custards' Church. His name was Jeremiah Custard, and he is most distinguished not only because he was the village's first cleric, but also because he was an avid journaler. He kept years and years worth of journals which are now collected in a tome entitled Through a Glass Darkly. In it, he mostly gives a lot of hum-drum information, notes on the weather, the crops, etc. Frequently he also sermonizes, but once in a while he chronicles some strange event, like the death of the blacksmith resulting from a train explosion, or a mysterious supposed sucide in the village (more on these in "The Mysteries of Bartonsville"). For the greater extent of his youth and career, Jeremiah's journals paint a picture of life in tiny, bucolic Bartonsville.

During his life the village grew signifigantly. By the 1890's, the village still had the old hotel built by the Colonel, by then called the Forest Inn. Apparently the Forest Inn had cemented itself nicely into local legend because several travellers who remembered and recorded their stop at the end mentioned that on its sign-post was written "The Forest Inn, founded in 1797 by Joseph Barton." Of course the Colonel would only have been a very young man in 1797 and mostly likely still east of the Delaware River, but the antique date must have led a certain kind of patrimony to the old place. The Custard family themselves were joined by the widow of a certain famous cousin. The Custard family, further west, were known as the Custer family, and Custer's widow is reputed to have journeyed to Bartonsville to spend her golden years with family after the loss of her husband.

The height of Bartonsville's charm would be found in the 30 years between 1890 and 1920. To give a textual description of the map of the village, picture a main north-south road. This would be the Easton-Belmont Turnpike. Crossing it is an east-west road that leads from Stroudsburg across the mountain to Reeders. To the south of the east-west (Reeders) road is the Pocono Creek, crossed along the 'Pike by a beautiful stone bridge. The creek turns just past this bridge from the north east, so the Reeders road also crosses it, but via a covered bridge. More or less following the Reeders road is the New York-Susquehanna and Western railroad line. The small freight station is just south of the stone bridge.

On the northeast side of the main crossroads is the Forest Inn. On the same side of the 'Pike going north would be the latest addition during this time period, the "new" post office built by Bartonsville's third family, the Alegers. Behind that is a small string of homes, most of them attached to adjacent farmland the families worked. Continuing north along the Pike are a number of similar homesteads. About 3/4 a mile from the crossroads on the west side of the Pike is the village dance hall, and just up the road from it on the opposite side a tavern. The Belmont Pike continues and at about a mile along is Pocono Township School number 10, the village's second school. Further along is yet another tavern, and the handsome Pokona House, which by the 1880's had joined the Forest Inn as a place of lodging along the 'Pike.

Returning to the main intersection, across the street from the Forest Inn on the Reeders Road are the bark sheds for the tanneries, quite large warehouse like structures where the tanning bark was dried, treated and stored until needed across the way at the tannery. On the north side of the barksheads would appear to be where the village cobbler keeps shop along the 'Pike. Just in front of the Bark Sheds a small road branches off and follows the Creek along north to Lower Tannersville, along which one finds a number of small farms. On the other side of this small road is the gristmill and the Miller's house just adjacent to the covered Bridge along the Reeders Road (the southwest corner of the crossroads). In the southeast corner are the General Store, the "old" post office and the creamery. The black smith shop is also along this small corner. Like the road north, there are several small farmsteads.

As I mentioned before the tannery was between the Reeders Road and the stream, and here also one finds the Peg Factory, and by 1915, the Model-T ford dealership. The Custards' property is across the creek from the tannery, with their sawmill facing it, more or less cross the stream. The church, the cemetery and the school lay a bit futher south along the 'Pike. Heading east along the Reeders road toward Stroudsburg, one also sees sporadic farmsteads and eventually, about a mile and half east of the main crossroads, the village's second church, a Wesleyan chapel (more on why there were no churches in the middle of the village in "The Mysteries of Bartonsville").

In a very real sense, here is a description of the "village primeval", an accadian portrait of the American village, set along a stream, church bells ringing in the distance, nearly all the land along the valley cleared and cultivated. Besides the village dance hall, the local people entertained themselves with a local baseball team and a local brass band. Sadly it wouldn't last forever. The first Forest Inn burned to the ground sometime in the early 1900's, to be rebuilt and enlarged, only to burn down again sometime in the 1930's, never to rise again. By 1930 the Peg Mill and the Tannery were has-beens, and even the gristmill was a a moribund reminder of more primitive times. In the years following, it would serve as general store, vegetable stand, gas station, and junk store. Its final insult would come when the historical Millbrook Village in New Jersey lost their own mill to a fire, and the Bartonsville mill's last owner willed it to them. It was disassembled piece by piece to be reconstructed there.

The village itself remained unicoporated, straddling the boundaries of four townships, Stroud, Pocono, Hamilton and Jackson, and this municipal division never gave the village the official cohesion it needed to think of itself as a self-contained unit and developing beyond its 19th century charm. Its future was doomed to be a "dot on the map."

Photo by Mike Mikowsky as found on www.njskylands.com
Slowly the farms failed and the fields grew back in with the same mixed forest that had been there when the Colonel opened his hotel and post-office a century before. Only now there were paved roads. The old 'Pike was only sporadically followed by the new paved roads, and the village had no use for its dance hall, its creamery, its black smith shop, nor even the freight station in the fullness of time. Many of the remains of these old places were washed away in the Flood of '55 and so by the time I was born, Bartonsville was a sleepy backwater, mostly forgotten by everyone...

dilluns, de juny 20, 2005

The History of Bartonsville (Part 1) (English)

Inspite of its mediocre present, and surely no more inspiring future, once upon a time, Bartonsville was a real place, a place that meant something to more folks than just one lone little hayseed who eventually left Bartonsville for much different pastures wening his little picaresque way to "bigger and better things."

The official History of Monroe County, Pennsylvania mentions on page 31 that Joseph Barton "gave his name to Bartonsville when he opened a hotel and post office there." The date give in the History is 1833, but I used to work at the Monroe County Historical Association, and I had access to other documentation apparently not in the hands of the committee who wrote the History. Pouring through reams of onion paper and barely deciperable xeroxes, I came across the Barton family history, not by itself, but spliced in with another family into which some of them had married. I knew from that research that in fact Joseph Barton, his full name was Colonel Joseph Benjamin Barton, came to the Poconos from New Jersey, and he was quite an entrepreneur. Besides his hotel and post office in the would-be Bartonsville, he also owned and ice-cream parlour in East Stroudsburg.

Of course today, the thought of an ice-cream parlour is fairly tame, give the century of electrical refrigeration we have just lived through. In the first half of the 19th century however, owning an ice-cream parlour would have been tantamount to owning a luxury Scotch bar today, with 20 and 30 year old single malts lining the walls. Ice-cream was a luxury in those days, and quite a refined treat. The Colonel, as I like to call him, was therefor a man of some means and breeding.

It is unclear from the scant record remains whether he opened his epicurian enterprise in East Stroudsburg before coming west and north to open his hotel and post office, or after. In any case, the record is very clear: he came to found his tiny village in 1831, not 1833. He chose a good spot for his endeavor. He built his original hotel not far from the Pocono Creek just where it was crossed by the earliest manifestation of Route 611, the Belmont-Easton Turnpike, one of the old early American "'pikes" that ran from the colonial city of Easton, Pennsylvania to Scranton, then called Belmont. His hotel quickly became a needful stage coach stop on the path north, a journey which in the day from Easton to Belmont probably took the better part of a week with a heavily laden coach. Likewise his post-office became important to local hunters, trappers and the then rare hearty farmer who was making his life in what was then, realistically the wild west of post-colonial America.

Poised as it was, Bartonsville did not stay in the periphery for long, in the coming 60 years, many changes would come to the tiny hamlet the Colonel founded along the Pocono Creek, and the frontier of America would make its bed with Manifest Destiny in a succession of additions which would take less than a century to complete. Apparently the Colonel wasn't content staying put for long either; by the 1850's he had sold his interest in his property in Bartonsville and left his eponymous hamlet to found another small village further to the north, a town now called Waymart near Scranton. Perhaps one day he decided to head north and see where the Belmont 'Pike ended and liked what he saw, or maybe he didn't like the mass civilization that was careening down on the rustic village he had founded. Certainly even in the scant decades after he came to his stagecoach stop on the 'Pike the very nature of the land around him had begun to change. More and more farmers arrived and cleared more land, changing Bartonsville from a dark stagecoach stop to a bucolic American village with corn fields and cows.

To the north in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, the first American railroad was well underway with the now world-famous Stourbridge Lion shuttling freight and coal around. In just another forty years Bartonsville would have it's own rail line with the opening of a branch of the New York Susquehanna and Western. Sometime in the 1840's a massive grist mill was built across the way from the Colonel's hotel, its races and dams constructed in a lattice work of water and stone than criss-crossed the valley, some of the races extending for miles beyond the village.

The most ironic part of the Colonel's influence on Bartonsville is that he never staid in the place that he was obviously known for. Indeed, the only Barton to be buried in the Custard's Bartonsville Cemetery is one Lydia Barton, apparently a spinster daughter who never wanted to leave her family's namesake.

(to be continued with "The History of Bartonsville, Part 2)"

dissabte, de juny 18, 2005

Bartonsville, Pennsylvania: mi patria chica (English)

As my friend Anna was driving me home from her house tonight, for some reason, I began thinking about the tiny village where I grew up in Pennsylvania. We had just finished watching Kinsey, the fictionalized biography of the famous sex doctor. Perhaps seeing on the old-timey things in the film made me think of old times in my own life, and stories the old people in my family used to tell. Moreover, it wasn't as though old-time things have been so far from my mind the past couples days.

Last night, Carolyn, Tom and I joined Leslie at the Holistic Studies Institute (a modern manifestation of the Spiritualist Church) for a séance. A student-medium in the room called across the pitch-black of the séance room to me with a message, and part of that message beseeched me to return to the country, and get away from city life. These two apparently dissimilar associations playing in my mind, it's little wonder that I began to muse on my little Bartonsville.

In other blogs, I have talked about my Aunt Arwilda, and how we shared so much in the social context of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania; often times I will refer to it as our town, our world. Very much so that was the case; my aunt and her family had always lived in Stroudsburg and vicinity, for more than a hundred years even when she was born in 1908. Her uncle had been a county commisioner and her father had been a well-respected tradesmen in town in days when being a man with a trade was prestigious. I have so many stories about her that we shared together and others still that she told me, and I have written them down in a book hitherto unpublished called A Rose for Arwilda.

This blog, however, is not about Stroudsburg, and my aunt shares very little with the social space of Bartonsville, although it does, quixotically, play none-to-small a role in her story as well. As for Bartonsville, I claim it as my little village, my little world. There is, and the distinction is certainly a dubious one at best, most likely no one in the world except for a small handful of Aleger descendants who know more about Bartonsville than I do. As a child, I hated the tiny village where I was growing up; as a teen I began devling into the records and stories I could find about it, and fell in love. I spent hours in the wooded glens and on the steep hillsides of the tiny Pocono Creek valley where the village lies. In the years since I have left it, I have to come realize my deep connection to the land, its primeval importance to me.

I really don't think that anyone else should care about the place though. Why should they? It is not the land that nourished them, where a thousand loves blossomed for one insignificant country bumpkin, and where a million of his tears were shed. It is not for other various people a place of history, of family connection running back almost to its own origins. Its wooded glens do not remind so many other people of deep charnal yearnings and youthful fulfillments of the same. Its deep musky nature, massive ferns and trails of lilly pads and skunk cabbage sagging under lead-like humidity under a canopy of sundry conifers and broad-leaf trees on long July days do not invoke in them a profound fondness; its ramble bushes and thorny swamp blueberries are nothing to them. To me they are my very origins. Tiny, insignificant Bartonsville, Pennsylvania, awash in the social stigma of being in a backwater's provinces, is my land, my home; I am as steeped in it, as it is in my kin and me.

When I was a young child, Bartonsville had barely one iota of whatever former glory it may have had. A massive flood, more important to us in Monroe County than the Biblical Flood, washed through our region in 1955, killing many people and destroying even more property. I can remember my grandparents recounting at length on many occasions about the night of the flood; they had built their little salt-box on the hill above the older parts of Stroudsburg in 1953. As the flood tore through the narrow valleys along the sides of the Pocono Plateau, ripping up homes and lives, they could hear the screams of the drowning in the valley below. Much of what had been the old quaint village of Bartonsville was also washed out in the infamous Flood of '55. My mother was returning from Canada with her grandparents in the days after the devastation, and Bartonsville was as far south as they could come; from there down to town the roads were washed out.

Twenty years later when I was a small boy in that tiny slip of a valley, all I knew of Bartonsville was a rag-tag collection of small, old farmhouses clustered around the blinker (a blinking light - Bartonsville was not then important enough to warrant a full-function traffic light) at Route 611 and Bartonsville Avenue. Bartonsville Avenue was even then a sick joke. The original Route 611, linking Philadelphia (it actually started right behind Philadelphia City Hall and headed north) and Scranton was curvier in the 1920's when they first paved it. Then, according to my grandfather in the 1930's, PennDOT decided it was too curvey and straightened it out adding its famous three-lane traffic system that promised to end all traffic congested forever. Its curvier remains that coursed through the middle of pokey little villages were not infrequently named for the self-same villages with the grandiose title of "avenue."

Besides these few houses, the Bartonsville of the mid-1970's had two small resorts - it was the Poconos after all - called Countryside Cottages and the Pocohantas. It also had, straddling the length of 611, a Tri-Del Truck Wash, a Union 76 Truck Stop, a Holiday Inn and one other small motel. At the main crossroads, embraced hapharzardly between the paucity of houses, were two gas stations (a Gulf and a Pargas), the old grist mill which variously sold groceries, vegetables and Sunoco gas depending on the year, the so-called Bradley's Bartonsville Inn (really a converted 1915 Model-T Ford dealership), and to everyone's chagrin, an "adult bookstore."

Along the slopes of the hills that cuddled the tiny four-corners were two subdivisions, harbingers of the massive development to come in the 1980's and 90's, called Barton Glen and Pocono Laurel Lake; Barton Glen sounds much more charming than it ever was, the the so-called lake of the eponymous Laurel Lake was in fact a tiny brook meandering through swamplands dammed and stocked with big-mouth bass to lure the rubes in from New York City and Philadelphia. Additionally the actor Richard Chamberlin own and operated another tiny resort on the road to Snydersville called Rim Rock Cottages. I will broach the subject of churches in a future blog called "The Mysteries of Bartonsville."

For a small, bored boy, fascinated with relative civility of town, of Stroudsburg and my aunts' seemingly worldly life of department stores and lunch counters, Bartonsville was a rural prison, a hot and stiffling gulag removed from anything fun or interesting, a dark and wooded place besotted with farm animals and frequently drunken teenagers who listened to Kiss.

How was I to know that as I grew older I would come to cherish this little non-lieu and its quirks and characters, realizing too late to evoke any significant gratitude that it made me what I am today, and helped me begin my very own picaresque journey...

(to be continued with "The History of Bartonsville")

dimarts, de juny 14, 2005

Mary Jones Tai'n Lôn (English / Welsh)

Some seventy years, Mary Jones Tai'n Lôn
has lived in the vastness
the wilderness
(it's all relative, we're talking about Britain)
of northwest Wales.

She is the perfect study
in what it means to be Welsh
what it means for Wales simply to be
what it means to be an everyday person
whose first language is Welsh

She is not a politician
a crusader, member of Cymdeithas yr Iaith
she carries no cards in her wallet for Plaid
nor for Cymuned
She even, gods help us, likes the Queen

Yet she is only Welsh
she enjoys her smôcs in Welsh
watches Coronation Street thinking in Welsh
her dog responds only to yr hen iaith
and she is a member of Merched y Wawr, chwarae teg

When she was baby
Wales was a land without a capital
worse than a colony
a poor cousin to English shiredom
a ragtag collection of Saxon subdivions, subjected

When she was a young lady
the Queen whom she admires
decreed with stroke of scepter
that a small coal harbour
would be Capital

The Prime Minister of the day
set up a colonial government in Cardiff
The Welsh Office
The Secretary of State for Wales
in other words, Governor General
and all loyal to London who appointed them

As she toiled through her working years
gweithiodd fel nyrs yn y Cottage
taking care of old people
until, eventually,
she, herself, was fairly old

The government in Westminster
colluding with the Governer General
that is Secretary of State for Wales
rearranged the local government structure
three times

From shires
to counties
to new counties
to unitary authorities
the map was hard to read between the erasures

Then, about to retire daeth y refferendwm
yr etholiad dros rywbeth yn pennu at Gymru rydd
and then for the first time since Glyndwr
an elected national government met in Cardiff
little old coal harbour turned World Heritage City

Some seventy years and Mary Jones Tai'n Lôn
the most Welsh of women
watched as her country grew from teetering Celtic has been
to something like a modern nation
some seventy years saw seven hundred almost melt away

dilluns, de juny 06, 2005

Which Theme Party Am I, and Which Flavor Am I?

Which Theme Party Are You?

Robert, you're a Hollywood Bash!

Ever get called a classic? We bet you have. You've got a great sense of style, and we bet you always know what looks good on you. You probably like the finer things in life and don't mind paying a little extra to get exactly what you want. And that's why a fancy and fabulous Hollywood bash would be an award-winning event. Cheers to that!

What's Your Flavor?

Mmm ... mocha! Strong and rich — but not too sweet — you're the flavor of late nights and early mornings. A coffeehouse regular, you've cornered the market on deep thoughts and probably have a little more than your fair share of brains. In fact, those who know you may even consider you an intellectual, a label that suits you just fine. Deep and thoughtful, you love the academic life — or at least the structured pursuit of knowledge. And, since hitting the books often means all-nighters, what better flavor than mocha to keep you company? Chocolaty and intense, you're a truly tasty treat.

from tickle.com

diumenge, de juny 05, 2005

Isho 'fory (English / French / Welsh / Cornish)

Dwi isho 'fory
I want tomorrow, all the tomorrows
tous les matins du monde
I want them all
"Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have Immortal longings in me."

I want the morning
cool and damp
darkness yielding to day break
the perfume of fading dewfall
the filtered texture of first light

I want the afternoon
sultry and sweat soaked
grimey hands and body smells
the yielding to exhaustion
after a day of progress

I want the evening
its gin and bourbon soaked edges
its steak and morbier glutted hours
the coffee, the conversation, the laughter
the cool breezes of languid and long summer days

Je désire la nuit
les parfums de l'amour
les sentiers des maltentendus
de la vérité cachée
Tout ça je désire avec chaque soupir chaleureux

I would cheat death a thousand times
for one more sip of dowr tomm
one more taste of flesh on my tongue
for the warmth of my fellow monkeys in my ancestral tree
for one more sunrise and one more sunset

God is in the details
Wisdom does come from strange places, Ludwig
God is in the ice cubes awash in my bourbon
God is in the roses in my front yard
God is in the strains of Calon Lan

Each day dawns I do pray
that God is in the day after tomorrow
each days dies and I wish the same
because I want tomorrow
Dwi isho 'fory

dissabte, de juny 04, 2005

Reflections on Cornish (English / Cornish)

In response to a long running thread on yahoo's Kernewek group entitled "Kemmyn is a religion."

It is very interesting to sit by as the "omniscient" (yes, this is meant sarcastically...) outsider and watch these debates ensue time and time again and imagine what they actually produce in the grand scheme of things.

I can posit several ideas from the several different camps with which I share points of view. At the end of the day my mind is still not made up about how I feel in a unified way about Cornish, or a common way, oh never mind, I'll stop with that bit of ad hominem before I get carried away.

Here are my points for what they're worth as a person who speaks Welsh, teaches three foreign languages (Spanish, French and German) professionally and Welsh semi-pro, who has a background in linguistics and sociology (my doctoral program had a three pronged approach, literature, linguistics and society and culture - alas I'm one more of thoses dreadful and baleful lifelong ABD's), and someone with a literary background in French Arthuriana. After each one of my points I offer my own mental POV - point of view....

1) These debates demonstrate a passion about the language, that interest hasn't waned in Cornish, rather people feel very strongly about leaving the most Cornish legacy behind, the best kind of Cornish, the most pure, etc. They obviously serve a higher purpose than just wasting bandwidth! (POV: American Celto-maniac)

2) There never was a pure Cornish. Don't bother looking for it, and for godsakes, don't lose sleep over maintaining a certain veneer of authenticity. It's out of the academics' hands. Cornish is, while still in rehabilitation, a living language now, again, still, depending on how you view things. As a living language it will grow and change in the mouths of its speakers, as language is want to do and most of its speakers won't care too much about being absolutely correct all the time; come to America and listen to us speaking English, especially people from Newark, NJ, oy vey.... (POV: part time linguist).

3) My observation is that as Cornish has moved toward official recognition, the orthography questions become more and more moot. Sooner, rather than later, they will cease to have any relevance whatsoever. Nature will, and is taking its course in this. (POV: part time linguist and Welsh teacher concerned about other Celtic languages).

4) Cornish must reinvent itself constantly in order to remain relevant, new forms, borrowed forms, they're all good; some will stick, some will vanish and older more "Cornish" forms will return, no need to get wickedly twisted over these things. (POV: part time linguist)

5) Outside of the direct proponents of these intriguing pedanticisms, no one drinking a pint cares a whole hell of a lot about Nance, Lhuyd, Williams, and certainly not about Meriasek or his bewnans, or whether they have arghans or mona in their pocket, or whether they went to the aghantti, banc or monaji to get it. They want to be able to ask their mate for some dough to buy another beer. If Cornish comes to both speakers first, then any currently used form that will fulfill the desired communicative intent will suffice. (POV: part time linguist mixed with cautiously hopeful pragmatic realist who's concerned both for future of all endangered languages and with getting a pint of beer).

6) These debates also show, perhaps, a real need for a homegrown Cornish speaking academe in Cornwall, a country without a full fledged university. These electronic fora are nice to chewing the fat, but they don't lead to a whole lot of institutionalization of protocols, standards, etc. A Cornish speaking academy could help form compromises, standards, etc, that could then be accepted or rejected by the everyday speakers of the language. It would at least give a basis for education in the language, a point which come closer and closer to the crisis level in the coming years as Cornish does move into a wider audience. (POV: American professor concerned with a lack of universally accepted standards, especially when thinking about how dreadful it would be to try and teach a whole class in Cornish)

7) The Medieval Era was great, makes for interesting and bloody bed time reading; digging around in dusty old manuscripts for sexual symbolism has always been a favorite passtime of mine, can't beat those gay knights after all. Moreover it is important to all Celtic nations 'cos it was one of "our" (I feel Celtic-ish most days and have spoken Welsh more than half my life, so I will latch on to a certain degree of posession, like it or not) epic moments, if not the time period for all current Celtic national epics. Still, we can't live in the past. It's no longer acceptable to talk about bathing our spear tips in the blood the Saxons... Mind you, I have used that line from time to time just to watch English people blanche a little bit... hehehe (POV: part time French Medievalist with a bumper sticker on his car that reads: Ask me about Yvain and his lion.)

8) Just don't forget bois bach (and isn't it funny so few women (are there any??) in the throes of this online debate...), people like me who are fond of Cornish, even study it from time to time (hell, I had a bunch of Intermediate French students this semester so interested in Cornish I taught them some. I actually had a student from Japan who would ask me "Fat'l osta?" or shout, "Dohajydh da!" when walking past me in the hallway), have nothing invested in all these debates. What we want is a language we can learn, can use, and periodically swear at strangers in at the grocery store. At the end of the day, don't forget you have a public to whom you, as the self appointed guardians of Cornishdom, must answer. (POV: someone who likes to swear at strangers in foreign languages)