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Potpourri

Ernest Cassara


No Place to Hide

As one who keeps a pack of Kools handy, for old time's sake - that is, I smoke about one a month - I am interested in the campaign to make the life of smokers pure hell.  Okay, it probably makes sense to protect waiters/waitresses from second hand smoke in restaurants and bars, but, now, for goodness' sake, some communities are banning smoking in the open air!  And, now, our Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that communities may ban smoking in PRIVATE clubs.

Which brings to mind that a few years ago, during a conference in Little Falls, New York, as I strolled around town, I noticed a smokers club, which, in the window, had a sign indicating that that was exactly what it is.

Now, let's see what happens if the blue noses in Little Falls get the urge to persecute that crowd, who, after all, are only guilty of inhaling their own and their fellow members' smoke!

Which reminds me of Boston in 1842!  When I was doing research for my two mystery novels, Murder on Beacon Hill, and Murder on Boston Common, both with the subtitle A Father Ballou and His Dog Spot Mystery, I learned that one was not allowed to smoke in public.  Except, that is, on a spot on Boston Common referred to as "Smokers' Knoll."  One of the pictorial magazines of the day carried a perfectly marvelous illustration of gentlemen in their top hats lolling on the grass, puffing their pipes, and blowing smoke rings from their cheroots!

What keeps coming to mind is a walk along Congress Street in Boston on a cold, blustery day not long ago.  As I passed a huge business building, I noticed two women, in flimsy attire, huddled against the wall, puffing on cigarettes.  They could not do it indoors.  Just the opposite of Boston in 1842!


The Price of Conversion

Well, now, President Bush and his coterie are scurrying around, seeking to convince President Hamid Karzai to put a stop to a court trial of Abdul Rahman, who was converted from Islam to Christianity eighteen years ago.  His apostasy came to light recently, when members of his own family ratted on him.  If Mr. Bush, and, indeed, Mr. Karzai, do not succeed in halting the trial, with the possible punishment of death by beheading - well, that will put a whole new light on our "liberation" of Afghanistan.

Now, I do not claim to be an expert on Islam, but, I did read through the Koran again recently, in preparation for a talk I delivered at the Ethical Society of Boston, with the title "Religion and Hate."  After years of not having picked it off my book shelf, I was amazed at the number of references to Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and allusions to other figures in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.  I was again reminded of why Muslims are referred to as "people of the Book."  So, which book are the imams who are calling for the execution of Mr. Rahman reading?


The Territorial Imperative

After forty years of insurrection, the militants in the Basque region in northwest Spain have called for a truce with the Spanish government.  One never knows, of course, how many of the residents of that area are actually in favor of separation from Spain, but, then again, that is often the way.  Even in our celebrated American Revolution - some historians have claimed - the greater number of colonists did not favor separation from Great Britain.  When the revolutionaries took control of the colonies, the outspoken loyalists, of course, headed for Canada, preferring to leave rather than being tarred and feathered.  To this day, I gather, they celebrate their adherence to the crown as the "United Empire Loyalists."  I first became aware of these descendants when lecturing in New (Nouveau) Brunswick a number of years ago.

Which makes one wonder why, exactly, is the Russian Federation determined to slaughter so many in Chechnya? Obviously, in order to hold onto land.

They say that birds mark out their territory, but, one would think that human beings are more capable than our feathered friends of a more universal view.  If we human beings destroy ourselves, still it is comforting to know - we are told - that ants will survive.


Reading Ulysses

Observing the celebration of St. Patrick's Day across the Charles River in South Boston, I was reminded of my reading of the great novel by James Joyce.  Midway through the book, I was interrupted by duties that kept me from returning to that masterpiece for several weeks.  When I picked it up again, at the place I had carefully marked, I thought, "Wow!" what they say about the eccentric Joyce is true.  For, I found myself reading again several chapters that he appeared to be repeating - sly dog!  Then, it occurred to me to examine the book more carefully.  What did I discover?  It was not Joyce, but the bookbinder!  Chapters were repeated all right, but only because it was a defective copy!

I bought another copy, and started again.  Sometime later, I joined a group of folks who gathered weekly to discuss books.  When, I suggested Ulysses, they went along with it - to their misery.  They hated it.  It was as a result of this experience that I have since recommended to friends that they read the first couple of chapters, and, then, skip the many pages of theological speculation by Stephen Dedalus, and pick up again where Leopold Bloom first appears.  Then, the book becomes a great joy!

It was that book that was responsible for our two trips to the Emerald Isle.  First trip, north from Shannon Airport to W.B. Yeats country, County Sligo.  There, Aengus Cantwell, the secretary of the Yeats Society, whom we had met the previous year at a conference in Rio, sat in the back seat of our rented car, directed us to the sites that had inspired Yeats's poems, which we gazed on as he read the poems to us. And, then, to Yeats's grave at Drumcliffe.  The inscription on his grave:

"Cast a cold eye
On Life, on Death
Horseman, pass by!"

And, in the distance, Benbulben mountain.

Just before we left on the second trip, a friend told us that he had heard on television a story about some Boston investors, who, having visited and fallen in love with Dingle, had  bought a share of the Benner Hotel there. Benner being the name of my wife's family, at Shannon we inquired how one might travel to Dingle.  The answer was that, if we were ready in twelve minutes, we could make connections all the way.  The bus trip over the mountains and the view of Dingle down on the coast was glorious.  There we found the Benner Hotel, with a portrait of Mrs. Benner in the lobby.  We were told by the retired manager that she was "from the north" - that is, Ulster - and that there was another Benner Hotel in Tralee. So, we decided to stop at Tralee on our way to Dublin.  The staff was delighted when I wrote my wife's maiden name in the register.

The "Rose of Tralee," by the way, is not just a song.  There is a contest each year, to  chose a young lady as the "Rose" of the city.  (The Cantwells, by the way, told us of the controversy one year when an American was chosen!)  In addition, the city maintains a garden with every conceivable type of rose.

This trip we determined to become better acquainted with Dublin.  And, it goes without saying, to quaff as much Guinness as we had the stomach for.  Which was a great deal!

The tower on the coast, where Ulysses begins, with Buck Mulligan with mirror and razor shaving at the top of the structure; Trinity College; the National Gallery of Ireland; watching a performance of Shakespeare's The Tempest on St. Stephen's Green (in the rain!) made that trip particularly memorable.

Our only regret: We have never managed to arrange to be in Dublin on 16 June, "Bloomsday."  (You recall that all of the action in Ulysses occurs on that day.)

One other note.  There are so many Irish, and descendants, in Boston and Cambridge that one feels very much at home among the people of the Emerald Isle.



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