The Daughter Unit was a little over two years old when we went to live in Greece, and almost kindergarten age when we left, and during that period we lived in a second-floor apartment in suburban Athens and hardly ever watched television. (I had a television set, but it was 110v, and Greece was a 220v country, and anyway, I was almost never at home in the evenings, the exception being when we went to our neighbors to watch Jewel in the Crown when it aired with subtitles on Greek TV.) This was at a time before wide-spread adoption of video players, before cable, way before streaming video. It was, in bald point of fact, rather like the three to five broadcast channels available when I was growing up. So, no, I didn’t miss TV much, and nor did the Daughter Unit, because we had books.

Heaps and heaps of books; my parents took the opportunity of the Daughter Unit being a military dependent and entitled to have her personal items shipped to Greece gratis to include almost all of the kid-lit that Mom had accumulated for my brothers and sister and I. (Mom and Dad were in the process of moving into a travel trailer parked on the building site of their eventual retirement home, and so took every opportunity to down-size what they didn’t need or want. Like … that part of the personal library.) Off that shipment went to Athens, augmented with new books that I bought through an English mail-order service which offered lovely catalogs aimed mostly at expatriates whiling away the decades in locations devoid of English-language bookstores, and a children’s bookstore in what passed for a mall in Voula or Vouliagmeni, which featured Greek, English and I think German and French-language books. It was a small place, barely one twenty-foot square room in size, with each wall dedicated to a language. I am pretty certain that I bought the Daughter Unit’s favorite comic book series there; the Asterix and Obelix books.

Asterix and Obelix; the series was translated from the French original and available everywhere in Europe; an epic and pun-laden series of books about the heroes; Asterix the canny warrior, his sidekick, the hefty menhir-deliveryman Obelix, and all the residents of the lone Gaulish village holding out against the Roman invaders, thanks to a magical potion brewed up by the Druid Getafix. Asterix and Obelix lived to beat up or out-wile the Romans, have adventures in far exotic lands, and to eat wild boar, presumably nicely roasted, crunchy and with appropriate sauces at a feast to follow their triumphant return. The illustrations were colorful and even surprisingly accurate when it came to Roman art and architecture, and the adventures were easy to follow. They became my daughter’s favorite bedtime story material, mostly because she could follow along. Not for her bland and simplistic materiel like Dr. Seuss; no, not when there were Romans and indomitable Gauls. (True Fact: in the midst of our road-trip through Europe in the autumn of 1985, when I told her that we were about to cross over from Germany into France, which used to be called ‘Gaul’ she perked up and asked if we were going to meet any Indominable Gauls.)

During that wandering journey, she encountered other fans of Asterix; a German teenager in Baden-Baden, who alternated with the Daughter Unit in naming all the cast of reoccurring characters – Getafix the Druid, Vitalstatistix the chieftain, Cacofonix the Bard, Fullyautomatix the blacksmith, Geriatrix the tribe’s senior citizen, and Asterix’s canine pet Dogmatix. In a small town on the edge of the Morvan national park in central France, we walked by a community billboard where there were pictures posted of a recent parade – for Bastille Day, perhaps? Among them was a home-made float on a towed trailer, and an assortment of children and teenagers dressed as characters from the series on the float. The Daughter Unit, of course, recognized them right away. All across Europe, she spotted the series on sale (the covers are very distinctive) and asked for the issues that she hadn’t seen, and of course I had to confess that … I couldn’t buy her those particular volumes, since they were in Italian or French.

And that, my friends – is how the Daughter Unit learned to read. From the English translations of a French comic book series.

16. July 2020 · Comments Off on Letter #1 – From the New WIP · Categories: Uncategorized

Letter – dated 2 April, 1938, Postmarked from Galveston, Texas

Dear Peg; I hope this letter catches up with you, before you and Tommy board the China Clipper for Hawaii. I enclose the clipping from the SA Light newspaper of the wedding. Your Granny Jane cut it out and sent it to me, because of the picture of us, all lined up on the church step outside, with the sun in our eyes and waiting for the photographer to do his duty. It was very impressive, since the editor put it at the very top of the weddings and society pages; your Granny Jane wrote in her note to me. Honestly, as newsprint goes, I think we all look very nice, although Ivy was complaining to me under her breath about how her feet hurt, and I know that Tommy was pinching your behind and saying that now he had the right to do so as a lawfully-married man! Well, really – Ivy is so vain about her tiny feet, so of course she will cram them into shoes a half-size too small. And yes, we both warned her about this.

I was so sorry that I could not see you off on your honeymoon journey, but I simply had to return to Galveston on the afternoon train, so as not to miss any more of my nursing classes than absolutely necessary. I had dispensation, at the pleading of all our kin, especially the Galveston branch to be your bridesmaid, since I don’t know when we will see each other again. I know that we vowed to each other  that year when we were fifteen and summering at the Becker ranch that we would be bridesmaid to each other, but if I marry a handsome doctor-surgeon and you are away on Tommy’s rubber plantation in Malaya and cannot come Home, then I release you from that vow to reciprocate. I shall have to make an effort to make up for what I have missed in the two weeks that I was away from Galveston, but I should let you know that I do not regret this in the least.

It was such a nice time, seeing everyone again and spending time with Ivy, and Daddy, and Granny Jane and Granny Sophie and all, although I did endure the talk from Daddy about how serious was I really, regarding pursuing this training as a nurse, yet one more time! Well, as I haven’t had a handsome and dashing Englishman like Tommy fall absolutely head-over-heels in love with me over one week and the next, I suppose I shall have to go ahead with this nursing qualification. One has to do something, if the inclination or opportunity for marriage doesn’t present itself at once, and I would rather not settle for waiting on tables. Did you know that Granny Sophie did, way back in the day before she met Grandpa Fred? Can you imagine, Granny Sophie, waiting tables? Honestly, the mind simply shudders in disbelief. I’d think this was one of Daddy’s stories, but I asked Granny Sophie about it once, and she said that she had, and then changed the subject almost at once.

She is such a dear, worrying about me, studying in Galveston. Granny was there for the great hurricane in 1900 and was very much against me going to the nursing college there, telling me once and again how horrible it was to endure the hurricane, and most especially afterwards, when most of the city was wrecked. Well, I said, ‘Granny – if it happens again, then I am a nurse and I can do good, and anyway, they raised up everything on the island to fifteen or twenty feet, so it’s not as if we’ll all be swept away, and left knee-deep among bodies when the storm surge finishes.’ And she looked at me very sternly after I said this, and said, ‘Vinnie, don’t be frivolous. I went among bodies in the morgue, afterwards, looking for a dear friend; can you imagine how sickening that was?’ and I replied, ‘Well, I have had to help lay out the bodies of patients who died when I was on shift in the hospital, and no, I was not frivolous and didn’t find it sickening at all.’ Just feeling a bit sad for their friends and loved ones, and if they had been in dreadful pain, then they were relieved of it all. Our dean of nurses says that we should think of this as a kind of sacrament. I didn’t say this last to Granny Sophie, I think she was shocked enough when she lamented that society is now so horribly changed from when she was a girl, and I said, ‘Oh, thank heavens for that, Gran – it must have been positively medieval, back then!’

I really have to begin the habit of biting my tongue when I feel a barbed retort coming on … except that I have had to do so much of it while in training and on the ward that the excess comes foaming out like the fizz from an uncorked bottle of champagne. Anyway, enough about me. You simply must write to me about what you see on your way out east. It’s so exciting that you and Tommy are traveling by airplane! The China Clipper to Hawaii, Manila and points east! You simply must write down every detail that you can, although I fear that the mysterious and exotic east will be somewhat of a let-down after reading ‘Terry and the Pirates’ in the comic pages! You simply must tell me, though, if you encounter any two-fisted ruffian adventurers, a blonde adventuress singing ‘St. Louis Blues’, a wicked pirate queen, or a pair of Chinese gentlemen – one a huge mute and the other a small, English-mangling shrimp.

All my love to you and Tommy,

Your devoted cuz,


Well, now that Luna City #9 is all but done, and That Fateful Lightning is about half-done, what better time to be distracted by another book … and this will be the start. I don’t know if it will be entirely told in letters, as that is quite limiting – but there will be some bits told that way. But it all starts with a newspaper announcement…

Wedding Announcement

From The San Antonio Light – Sunday, May 22, 1938

Becker – Morehouse

Miss Margaret Susan Becker, of this city, was married on Sunday to Thomas St. John Morehouse, in a ceremony at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church performed by the Rector, the Rev. A.R. McKinstry. The bride, 20, is the daughter of Charles and Evelyn Ingram Becker of this city. A reception following the ceremony was held for family, friends and guests at the home of the bride’s paternal grandfather, the notable Western artist, Samuel H. Becker, and his wife, Mrs. Jane Becker. Mr. Morehouse, 28, is the son of the late Major Chadwick Morehouse and Violet Seaton, the present Mrs. Stanley Chalmers, of Brisbane, Australia. The groom is a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, and currently employed by Guthrie & Co. of Malaya. The happy couple will make their home in Ipoh and Singapore, following a honeymoon traveling in Hawaii, Australia and the Far East.

The bride was attended by her sister, Ivy, and cousins Venetia and Charlotte Stoneman, the daughters of Charles H. Stoneman of Deming, New Mexico. She wore a gown of ivory satin adorned with an overlay of Venise lace, and carried a bouquet of white roses, orange blossoms and pale pink carnations, while her attendants wore pale pink gowns with garlands of pink rosebuds in their hair.

12. June 2020 · Comments Off on A Modern Classic · Categories: Uncategorized

As I was working on stuff, I followed a couple of links, and found a performance of Morten Lauridson’s Lux AEturna

28. April 2020 · Comments Off on Lament for a Mall · Categories: Uncategorized

Malls were the latest, trendiest, most oh-there thing in retail development about the time that I was in high school and college. There were a couple of them that I went to, early on, and they were … OK. A nice diversion if one was in the mood or purse for retail therapy. Most of them were enclosed, two or three levels, almost always expensively decorated, adorned with plantings, sometimes with dabs of architectural creativity here and there. All of that made sense in places where the weather was bitterly cold for at least half the year or boiling-hot for three-quarters of it – still does, in the upper mid-west and mountain west, especially in snowy winters. It was, however, a serious and time-burning excursion to go to the mall; finding a place to park nearest an entrance, walking … and walking, and walking, and carrying whatever you had purchased. If there was a nice and varied selection of shops, not wall to wall big chain outlets, exactly the same as every other mall – so much the better.

There was a certain sameness to almost all big-city malls, though – which is why I believe that all but one merged into a bland beige same-ness in my memory, no matter if they were in Burbank, Albuquerque or the Newgate Mall in South Ogden. Pretty much the same set of stores, the same look, the same amenities, and many of them hanging on by a thread at present. I suppose the reasons for this are as varied as the malls eventually weren’t. The inconvenience of the mall experience, a preference among the shopping public for on-line ordering, the fact that interesting one-off merchants were pretty much priced out of even setting up in a mall in the first place, that some malls became notorious for lawless behavior, and even something as other formats in large-scale retail becoming fashionable among the movers and shakers in our civic planners. In the city where I live now and of the four malls that I know the best, only one seems to be doing pretty well in the upscale carriage trade; expensive clothes, shoes, jewelry and household goods eventually replaced a more varied set of shops within. The second closed entirely and was transformed into Rackspace’s HQ and operating location. A third closed and was almost entirely demolished and remade into a shopping center of free-standing mercantile outlets, restaurants, a small hotel and a Drafthouse Cinema. A fourth keeps going, zombie-like; a nearly empty dead mall walking. It’s been that way for the twenty years that I have lived here. I have no idea how it remains open.

I was unexpectedly depressed and grieved by hearing that the one mall which vividly lives in mine and my daughter’s memory as the most fantastic and memorable shopping environment ever created in the heart of an urban downtown closed a couple of years ago (after a slow decline) and is now in the process of being transformed into an urban office complex with a bit of park attached. This was San Diego’s Horton Plaza … which opened in a formerly blighted set of city blocks in the mid-1980s, according to this potted history. Obviously, the designer had won the contest for creating the most colorful, confusing, exuberant and off-kilter open-air mall on the face of the earth. The central mall avenue ran diagonally, from one corner of the bloc of shops and parking to the opposite corner, zigging and zagging, so it was almost like walking the twisty lanes in a medieval European city. (and we had experienced shopping in a good few cities of that nature, so we would know.) The various levels in Horton Plaza were staggered; ramps, bridges, arcades and stairways went up and down between them. There were pavilions, bump-outs, ornamental domes and yet more arcades, a little plaza with a massive ornamental clock on the mezzanine level, colorful streaming banners, lush and well-tended plantings everywhere.

My daughter and I first visited it late in 1988, in between tours at Zaragoza AB, Spain. Because I had signed on to a second tour, the military footed the bill for a return trip to my home of record, and offered a month of leave, (IIRC) because my doing so saved them a bundle. And we were charmed and enthralled, after more than a decade away from the United States. The sky was blue overhead, from the top levels there were occasional views out over San Diego all the way to the ocean. The parking structures – and there were two, one each side of the diagonal. The one had every level named after fruits and the other named for vegetables. So, one had to remember if you were parked on the Avocado Level, or the Plum Level. We sampled the bookstores – there were two at that time, a Walden’s on an upper level and a large Brentano’s on the mezzanine. There was a Laura Ashley’s, a tiny toy store with games and puzzles, a cinema multiplex on the top level, and an Italian restaurant opposite it, with a spectacular view all the way over the downtown rooftops to Coronado Island. The usual mall outlets, of course and a couple of big department stores – but other oddball stores, such as a gourmet grocery at street level on one end of the concourse, and a yardage store at street level on the other – the only place in the US where I found lengths of silk printed to make scarves. (The pictures here give an idea of how eccentric the design was.) Yes, we thoroughly enjoyed that visit, and again some three years later when we came home from Europe for good. For the three years we were in Utah, I drove home to Mom and Dad’s for the Christmas holidays – and we made subsequent visits to Horton Plaza then as well. By 1995 I took an assignment in Texas; a much longer drive than from Utah, so we didn’t spend Christmas at Mom and Dad’s quite as often.

I think that our last visit to Horton Plaza must have been in 2008 or ’09 and it was clear that the place had declined. The Brentanos’ was closed, many of the unique stores that we remembered had been replaced by the usual outlets in malls everywhere else. The colorful banners and flags were gone as well, and all of the landscape plantings. The place looked grimy, rundown, and a bit tatty. There was no special reason to go there, really, and we left, vaguely disappointed. Mom said that all the really upscale stores had moved to Fashion Valley, north of downtown anyway.
So passed the retail glory of downtown San Diego; sad to me personally, because I remember it so fondly and so very well, much better than malls that I shopped at much more frequently. It looks from the potted history on Wikipedia that first one big anchor outlet bailed out, then the other, the cinema multiplex also closed, the specialty stores shuttered one by one as shoppers went elsewhere – nothing is more depressing than a dying mall – and soon all that was left was the faded but still colorful walls and architectural features, empty walkways and blank spaces where display windows had once been.