On the boat with Bogie

Published 36 years after the film.

Published 36 years after the film.

Having by happenstance seen the classic 1951 film, “The African Queen,” the other night, I began immediately to read a book on one of the living room shelves, “The Making of ‘The African Queen,’ by the actress Katharine Hepburn.

The subtitle, “How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind,” is not completely accurate.  The eccentric Hepburn is in command throughout this book of about 130 pages.  And although the book appeared 36 years after the film’s release, Hepburn’s eye for detail at age 75 is astonishing.

“. . . there are some happenings you can’t forget,” she wrote in circa 1987, or 16  years before she died.  “This happened to me with “The African Queen.”  I remember it in minute detail — I can see every second of its making and of me at the time. . . . ”

Once I became accustomed to Hepburn’s unique writing style — jumping suddenly from past to present and back again along with the unusual punctuation — I began to enjoy the book.  Her eye for the odd behavior of the director John Huston and the daily goings-on of the male lead Humphrey Bogart aka Bogie and Bogart’s wife Betty, who is better known as the actress Lauren Bacall.

For example, she writes about Bogart:

“Bogie was funny.  A generous actor.  And a no-bunk person.  He just did it.  He was an actor who enjoyed acting.  Knew he was good.  Knew his lines.  Always was on time.  Hated anything false.  Hated his hairpiece as he began to need one . . . .”

But much of this book is about Hepburn’s impressions of her first visit to the Dark Continent and how she dealt with the language barriers, the weather, the food and bad water and the bug. bilharzia, which almost brought the film to a halt.

The Riuku River, a tributary of the Congo, served as the primary film location.   In a later location in Uganda, the proper Ms. Hepburn startles the film crew by going on an elephant hunt with Huston.  Bacall wanted her to stay and help the crew prepare food, but, no.

“Live dangerously,” Hepburn wrote about the incident.  “There’s a lot to be said for sinning.”

The film won an Oscar for Bogart and nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress (Hepburn) and Best Director, (Huston).

As for the boat itself, The African Queen, it was discovered in Cairo in the 1970s, purchased, refitted and now is docked at Key Largo, Florida.  Shortly after Hepburn wrote her book, the boat was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.








A scratched camera lens: So what?

I see nothing wrong here.

I see nothing wrong here.

My Canon EFS 18-55 mm macro lens has a scratch.  Actually there are three of them.  I don’t know how they made it there but they did.  I suspect I dropped the camera with the lens cover off and it banged into rock on one of my hikes.  It had to be something like that.  Those lenses are tough.

All are on the lower right quadrant, and I felt horrible.  Horrible because I thought the lens would produce bad photos with zagged streaks of light on the image.  One scratch was 1/2 inch long. Another was 3/16 of an inch and the smallest was 1/16.

If an imperfection exists in this photo, I could not tell.

If an imperfection exists in this photo, I could not tell.

My first reaction was to visit the Internet.  I found one of those zillions of camera websites and read on.  I was astonished to learn that scratches mean very little.  It also said to put some toothpaste on a microcloth and wipe the lens in circles.  Some of the scratches might go away.

I did the toothpaste thing but nothing changed.  The scratches, I guess, were too deep.

Lens appears OK.

Lens appears OK.

The other day I decided to give the injured macro an experimental try.  The photos on this post were taken with that lens.  You be the judge.


The American era of torture

Book Black BannersHaving just read Ali Soufan’s 2011 book, “The Black Banners,” I am more convinced than ever that our government’s era of torturing “terrorists” was not about seeking accurate information.  It was about the Bush administration’s desire to extract faulty information that would suit its agenda.  That is, the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

What better way to get the excuse you need than torture?

I use terrorists in quotes because, as almost every knowledgeable person knows, many of the prisoners held at Guantanamo and some sent to other countries for torture, a practice known as rendition, were never proven guilty of anything.  Yet some have remained there in “Gitmo” for more than a decade.  As “terrorists.”

The book’s title comes from a Muslim hadith, or saying:  “If you see the black banners coming from Khurasan, join that army, even if you have to crawl over ice; no power will be able to stop them and they will finally reach [Jerusalem] where they will erect their flags.”  The saying was used by recruiters for al-Qaeda.

The book’s subtitle, by the way, is “The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda.”

No one knows this better than Soufan, an Arabic-speaking Lebanese who was one of the lead FBI interrogators from the 1990s to the time he resigned in frustration in 2005.

In the coming weeks, I plan to write about various matters regarding torture that Soufan presents in his book.  Some topics include investigation into the bombing of the USS Cole, traditional interrogation techniques v. enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs, or torture), CIA’s interference with FBI interrogations and how 9/11 might have been prevented if the CIA had shared info with the FBI.

Shortly after Barrack Obama’s election in 2008, the EIT program was suspended.  Suspended, yes.  But always a threat to return under a new administration.

Dick Cheney’s name is rarely mentioned in Soufan’s book, but a careful reader will discover the former Vice President’s thumb print on everything that went wrong before and after 9/11.  And why the Bush administration will, or should, go down as the worst in U.S. history.

The condom problem with ‘Wild’

I saw the film “Wild” last weekend with the same annoyance I had in reading the wildly popular book by that title almost two and a half years ago.  The condoms.

Here was the author, Cheryl Strayed, setting out on an arduous trek to purify her soul by hiking part of the Pacific Crest Trail in California and Oregon.  Her life up to the point of departure along Highway 58 near Tehachapi Pass was a disaster.  She was, if we are to believe her, a heavy drug abuser with a major in heroin and a propensity for unprotected sex with numerous male partners.  As portrayed, this was a woman who clearly hated herself, although she blames it all on grief.  Her “beloved” mother died of cancer not long before.

Strayed’s idea, it seems to me, should have been to make this spiritual voyage, at least at the start, drug and sex free.

But, no.  As she put together that giant backpack, dubbed Monster, she slipped in some condoms.  Why would she do that? To start out so half-hearted on such an important venture to cleanse herself?  Or, as she said, to become the perfect person she once was, “strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good.”  Right there, it sounds like someone with an idealized and unrealistic view of self.

It was at that point early on, with the condoms, that I began to lose faith in the author and the honesty of the book.  And for that matter, the film too, since she wrote the screenplay.  The film, by the way, larded on Strayed’s grief from the death of her mother to the point you could slit it with a dull knife.  Flashback, flashback, flashback, to good times with mom, times that did not seem good to me.

Problems abound.

Why did she change her married name to the affected “Strayed?”  She did that soon after the divorce from a husband who of course worshipped her and always saw the good Cheryl.  She seems to glorify her life as a bad girl, straying from the straight and narrow.  And if she so loved her mother, why not keep the original surname to honor her?  But again, no.  I suspect the change was made because she planned to write a book all along and thought it would enhance sales.

Why not start with the PCT at its beginning point at the Mexican border?  And after starting, why skip the most dangerous 450 miles, from Lone Pine, near snowbound Mount Whitney, to Sierra City?

At one point, in self-pity, Strayed describes herself as “the woman with a hole in her heart.”  In checking my reading notes, I wrote she had a “callous” for a heart.  Take her pregnancy.

Strayed was not sure who the potential father was and suddenly followed up with this:  “I got an abortion and learned how to make dehydrated tuna flakes and turkey jerky and took a refresher course on basic first aid and practiced using my water purifier in my kitchen sink.”

While abortion is more a health issue to me than a moral one, my god, shouldn’t you give a little more time and consideration to it than “tuna flakes?”

In the end I did not like Strayed or her book.  She waited almost 17 years to write it after ending her journey at the Bridge of the Gods on the Columbia River at the Oregon-Washington border, a long way from the trail’s end in Canada.  So I believe a lot of what she wrote, because of the way she wrote it, was fiction.

I will give Strayed this.  She made a pile of money from book sales and whatever film deal she made.

The one good thing I see is that “Wild” will encourage a lot of women to set out on spiritual treks alone and find the hikes rewarding — only doing them right.  Though Strayed no doubt suffered physically during her journey, I as a longtime hiker myself, think too often she took the easy way out.


A look back at my 2014

Last year was a good one for me.  I made a little money on the stock market, completed reading 15 books, did 100 hikes and traveled some in the U.S.

I say I made a “little money” with stocks doing my own internet trading.  I should have made more, though.  For much of the year, until September, I was doing much better than my benchmark, the S&P 500.  But suddenly my energy stocks went to the dogs as the price of oil dropped and dropped and dropped.  I owned a solar company which also sank in tandem with the oil market.  Not sure I understand why.  Anyway my gains for the year amounted to 2.6 % and the S&P buried me by the end of December with its gain of 11.4 %.  Ugh.  But since I don’t define myself by money it was OK.  At least I didn’t suffer losses.

On the reading front, my book list jumped threefold from a dismal five in 2013.  Very proud of that.  I give credit to focusing on a single book and setting up a schedule of 15 pages a day.  You can get through a couple of novels a month that way, not that I read a lot of fiction.  The best book I read was “Lawrence in Arabia,” a historical account of T. E. Lawrence’s exploits during WWI.  Think “Lawrence of Arabia.”  I so enjoyed that book, I read another, “The Last Days of T.E. Lawrence,” that followed his military career after the war until a motorcycle accident ended his life.  Of the 15 books, six were fiction.  In rereading Orwell’s “1984,” I found several similarities to today’s America, particularly to the right-wing’s fears and policies that are leading us down a path to ruin.  Most complex of my reading was Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil.”  There were times when I wanted to give up.  There are often numerous words between subject and verb, so many in fact that I started parsing sentences like I did in high school.  But I stayed with it and found in the end the German philosopher was an enjoyable read.  You just have to get into his cadence and sentence structure.  The last book I read, “On Reading the Grapes of Wrath,” made me regret not reading Steinbeck’s classic about Okie migrants coming to California in the Thirties.

While I’m in to high-quality hikes more than quantity, I got swept up late in the year as I approached 100 and made an effort to reach that milestone, the most hikes I’d done a year.  Some were daunting.  In getting to the summits of Maricopa Peak and Orion Peak, there was exposure to steep drop-offs and falling boulders.  That I travel solo 95% of the time and on the latter peak without a cellphone made them a little more risky than needed.  I could have done many more hikes if I had struggled through summer’s horrid heat.

On travel, Nebra and I stayed in-country this year.  In August we flew to Chicago and did a circle around Lake Michigan.  In Chicago we watched a baseball game in storied Wrigley Field during the stadium’s centennial season and took an interesting architecture tour by boat up the Chicago River amid the downtown highrises.  We spent about five days in the lake’s attractive port town of Petoskey, Michigan, best known by me for its connections to the author, Ernest Hemingway.  He and family spent summers at a nearby lake,  and he produced numerous short stories from his experiences there.  As a side trip, we visited Fairmount, Indiana, the hometown of the late actor James Dean, an idol of mine as a teen-ager.  Dean is buried there and his grave has been loved to death with visitors leaving mementoes round the tombstone.  Lipstick “kisses” are all over it.

I have many other interests, too numerous to get into here.  And I have made no resolutions for 2015.  Have my fingers crossed for some nice adventures.