Saturday, February 28, 2009

New Orleans 6.10.95 and 8.10.95: Cool Breezes and Banana Leaves

In New Orleans for a day’s workshop at LIMEX. That October weather that’s so gentle in New Orleans, but can be so stirring for one who has been wrapped up in technique of survival during the summer. Off with the wraps! On with life.

. . .

Thought as I sat this morning looking at the sunlight on the Alcazar’s swimming pool, banana leaves flapping in a cool, dry west wind: I love those contemplative moments in which thought can slow down and reflect nature. But I’ve had the chance to have such moments so seldom, in my life. It’s not a question of time itself, but of the quality of time. For the oppressed, time is a shivering on the haunches, nose in the air to catch whiff of the hunter. Living time this way permits little contemplative space.

How to go on living, then? . . .

Friday, February 27, 2009

Doughton State Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina 19.8.95: Loping Doe, Night-Rising Mist

On the Blue Ridge, at Doughton State Park. Steve and I arrived here yesterday. I’m now sitting on a porch overlooking a field where I watched a deer slowly lope along a stand of trees yesterday, after the first rain we’ve seen in ages.

The land lies pretty. The field’s full of dried grass, with clumps of trees I can’t see at a distance—some apparently laurel, because the clumps are wide and round, rather than high. As the field slopes down, a twisted sole pine and another small tree, then a large thicket of trees where the field meets the descent of a hill, and where a stream must run, because I saw mist rising in this low land as night fell.

It was there, in a bend the field makes as it goes past the thicket around the stream, that I saw the doe run last evening.

Something about the lay of this land—sloping field, overgrown bottom land, the wind-bare hilltop behind it all, with its patches of purple-lichened rock and brown sedge—is profoundly restful for me. It’s just so right: everything works together, does what it’s supposed to do. There’s a harmony in which the land itself seems to delight.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

New Orleans 28.6.1995: Vistas to the Past, Seeing the Future Amidst Ruins

Driving on Esplanade a few days ago, I saw someone sitting on his screened side-porch, having breakfast. Something about this scene was like a glimpse into the past: so, here, people still do this.

When the artifacts of our past are not eradicated, it’s easier to see through the window between past and present.

(Later in the day): I’m not quite sure why I wrote these things this morning, what I was getting at. It’s that recurring fascination with vistas onto the past. But it’s also what I’ve been teaching about postmodernism. To me, postmodernism is about re-engaging the past amidst the ruins of modernity. That’s easier—the project is more poignant and pressing—amidst those ruins, and not in some glittering nowhere place such as Charlotte.

+ + + + +

I’m wondering why my teaching seems to touch and inspirit students. I don’t think of myself as a good teacher; but I’m told that I have that effect. I see glimpses of it in my students.

And this time at LIM more than ever . . . . Why? I suppose it has something to do with a new (but always precarious) sense of peace about myself—my gay self. It also has something to do with all we’ve gone through at Belmont Abbey. I’m—despite my kicks and screams to the contrary—a kind of symbol to a few people.

Does this mean all the pain’s worth it? Have to think about that. (One reason I write so sparingly in this journal is that I don’t want to write trite crap about things like pain and suffering. I want to speak truth even when it costs.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hot Springs, Arkansas 6.7.1997: Back Rooms and Preening Couples

Hot Springs today with Alcazar family. Looking at some multi-story brick building from the first part of the century, nestled back against the green mountains, only the bottom, storefront, portion now apparently used, I thought, “I wonder about the story of those now unused rooms. Whose lives took place there?” Then I thought, “These are my people—those of the unused back rooms, the stories that embroider the main story, and never quite get told.”

Observing the hideous young couples all over the city, I said to Steve, “Heterosexual coupling’s about so much more than sex. It’s about power, privilege, entitlement, the right to be and remain stupid, and to grow more stupid."

The two flashes of insight are connected. There’s a poem in the connection.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Little Rock, Arkansas 18.5.1997: Polyester Kaftans and Gold Tignons

Now back in Little Rock one month this evening. Sunday dinner (Pentecost) at Franke’s with Anne H. We sat in the smokers’ room because it had a table large enough for us all. At a distance, a grandmother with frizzed short bottle-blonde hair and tight little eyes, having dinner with her grandson and granddaughter. She smoked as she ate, saying in a piercing nasal voice, “Finish your desserts.” Wore a flowing kaftan-like white and green affair made of polyester.

Nearer, two black women, also both smoking as they ate. The one facing me had a gilded scarf tied tignon-style around her hair, a large black rose closing the circle in the idle of her forehead. Gold-rimmed glasses mirrored the gold tignon. As she smoked and ate, she also chatted on a small cellular phone that fit the palm of her hand.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Nova Scotia, Canada 15.8.1983: Gaelic Laments, Fog-Shrouded Mountains

The last weeks of teaching were such a drudgery that I found nothing about which to write—just living for the end of the course.

My students very kind, though. Mrs. M. and her family took me to a lovely lobster supper—lobster, chowder, salad bar, cod in cheese sauce, cakes, and pie. On the last day of class, the class presented me with a painting by Glenda M., a member of the class. The painting is of a house in Emyvale (near Kelly’s Cross), with lupines in front. The lupines were my favorite flower here, so the painting touches me very much. A member of the class made a little speech of thanks on behalf of the class.

Then on Saturday, off. (Today’s Monday.) To my eye, Nova Scotia is far more beautiful than PEI. Has a wildness which attracts more than the tamed domesticity of PEI.

We drove the first day to not far from Antigonish and camped there. Then, on Sunday, through Antigonish, over the Canso Causeway into Cape Breton, and to Chéticamp, where we camped just inside the boundary of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

And in Antigonish, we paid our respects to the birthplace of the Antigonish Movement, the campus of St. F.X. (which Canadians tend to say in a way that sounds like the French évêque, so that, for a long time, I thought the name was St. Bishop).

FX is pretty—struck both Steve and me as Southern in appearance: red brick buildings and white trim, arranged in several squares. Oddly, we saw an Arkansas car parked on the campus and talked to the elderly man in it, a Mr. Foster from Texarkana.

Cape Breton itself is beautiful, forlorn, poor, tragic. The road hugged the coast, and so gave us several spectacular views from the cliff tops. The day was bright, so the water very blue.

The poverty brings to mind the worst pockets of poverty in the mountain South. This seemed particularly true of the road going up the east side of Cape Breton.

We took a back road to a little settlement called Glencoe, and found a cluster of poor little houses (some old trailers) around a little river.

Then on to the Acadian fishing villages, Grand Étang, Petit Étang, Chéticamp. We spent an hour at a Scottish-Acadian festival at the village of St. Joseph du Moine. There was fiddling, step-dancing, some singing. The singing was particularly nice—a Mr. MacDonald sang a Gaelic and English ballad, then a song of lament by an elderly Mr. MacDonald—a cry against the Canso Causeway “of mainland stone and mainland clay, built only to take us away.”

After the concert, we drove down to a beach near Chéticamp and watched the sun set.

Today, because the weather is cool and mizzling, decided not to camp, so we drove from Chéticamp around to Breton Cove. The tip of the park is very mountainous, with deep, narrow valleys. It was impressive and humbling to loop up at the fog-shrouded mountaintops.

Breton Cove seem to be solidly Highland Scots. The Mrs. McLeod, at whose house we’re staying, and a Mr. McGinnis we met on the shore, both speak heavily accented English. Mr. McGinnis is a lobster fisherman, a portly old fellow, very red of face, with prominent red veining and very blue eyes, somewhat faded. He told us that most everyone here once farmed, but no one does now, nor even gardens. Said he went to a school of 62, one of 4 small schools now consolidated to form one school, with only 40 pupils.

The Gaelic accent is very interesting. If I didn’t know that it’s Gaelic, I would put it down as German (emphatic ch-sounding j’s), or Scandinavian (sing-songy, with intakes of breath). The s’s are sharp and strong—where one expects a z sound for s, the s is pronounced strongly.

I wonder if the Irish and Highland Hebridean Scots make a point of never looking one directly in the eyes, or at least only for a moment? I found this among the PEI Irish, and now amongst the Gaelic-speaking Scots of Cape Breton. Could this go back to Celtic superstitions about evil eye, etc.? It’s quite unnerving.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Kelly’s Cross, Prince Edward Island, Canada 27.7.1983: Dramatic Skies, Drawled Speech

Having just drunk a glass of wine on an empty stomach, I’m not sure that I can write coherently. One experiences that seeming lucidity of thought which arises in a state of lassitude transmuted by alcohol to repose, but a lucidity coupled with a divine indifference to communicating any clear idea.

Have walked the last two days—weather so fine. Yesterday, as I returned, I saw the sky literally transformed as a storm, first contained in a little V of sky and hill, overtook a good half the sky. Perfectly clear blue to the east, and total darkness to the west. The island allows observation of such dramatic changes in weather.

On yesterday’s walk, I thought of several distinctive speech patterns I’ve noticed hear. One hears a drawling akin to New England—a drawled “yi-ess,” which ends on an interrogative—as well as the intrusive “r” of New England (“warsh”), and the phrase “hear tell.” If “yiess” is not used, then an inhaled sort of “yeah” is used—yeah said as one gasps. Would it be far-fetched to think that this comes ultimately from Scandinavia, where my brother tells me people speak this way? From Scandinavia via Scotland to PEI? Another phrase often used (New England, again?) is “betimes.”

Today a-berrying. Picked a nice lot of raspberries, very sweet and juicy. Some were very large, others tiny. All “wild.” Some of the nicest ones, though, were of a variety which clung to the inner core, so that to detach the berry was virtually to destroy it.

And now, tired, to bed and to read.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Kelly’s Cross, Prince Edward Island, Canada 25.7.1983: Surly Students, Yawing Tombstones

Another (just another?) day marred by a scene in class today. To a question (so long with me, and still not see?) about the “devil” and then about Jesus’s references to the devil, I attempted to explicate the temptation narratives. At which point, a woman in the class who is headstrong and thoughtless put her head down and pounded the table. Was very upset—presumably at the notion that a literalist reading of the Bible does not necessarily lead us where we need to go.

I’m of several minds about what to do with the scene. Guess I must just play it by ear.

The sunset is beautiful. I sit in a chair looking out a western-facing window. The sun sets behind a ridge topped by spruce; in fact, the entire little dale between the house (which is on a hill) and the ridge is scattered with spruce. At points they’re so thick that one can’t breach them. In the foreground is an old (the original?) parish graveyard, with stones yawing in all directions. A meadowlark (or lark of some sort) gives its descending call as the sun slowly sinks behind the hill, leaving the clouds aglow.

The past two evenings, I’ve sat out in a chair under the trees till dusk. A healing experience.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Kelly’s Cross, Prince Edward Island, Canada 24.7.1983: Pewter Ornaments and Yarrow

A beautiful day, after several very difficult ones which found me quite low of spirits: the weather, . . . , the sense of futility about communicating theology to resistant students, and a book which is turning me inside out. Original Sins, by Lisa Alther. One of the best books I’ve read in a very long time.

Today: the winter of discontent made glorious summer—sunny, after a miserable, mizzling day yesterday. I walked and renewed my sunburn. Gathered wild caraway, and armsful of flowers, including black-eyed Susan, a white flower like goatsbeard, yarrow, purple clover, a small silvery lilac-type of clover which looks to be an everlasting, and a lovely purple flower like a small hollyhock. Made purple and gold arrangements.

I saw a funny thing—goldenrod covered with several types of flies and moths, all of various sizes, busily extracting nectar side by side. One was a curious moth with a striking azure triangle behind its head.

Another reason today was pleasant: had a nice talk with Philip. This gives me the sense that home is still home.

Yesterday, I drove through the mizzling rain to Georgetown, to a crafts fair. It was quite a disappointment, though I did buy some pewter Christmas tree ornaments—one for Ben’s wedding gift, one for Philip’s and Penny’s birthday, and one for Luke’s Christmas.

I talked to Steve yesterday as well. He seemed in good spirits if somewhat distant. Or is he always so, and I only realize it when’s not around?

My dissertation work drags—slow, slow. I am not the scholar I should be; I work far too sporadically, and exhaust my energy through enthusiasm. I need more self-control, but fear that I can’t live with myself, controlled.

And so to bed. May Mary the gentle Mother watch over my days in nights, in Jesus’s name.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Kelly’s Cross, Prince Edward Island, Canada 20.7.1983: Bright Oats, Summer's Corner

Despondent these days, with occasional higher spirits—and bone-tired. Which precedes the other (the fatigue or the despondency), I don’t know.

Consequently, I haven’t written anything in this journal in days, because nothing seemed of consequence to write.

Did have a nice evening walk. Left in a little shower. The herbage displayed that seeming inner luminescence which it has when the skies are overcast and light rain is falling. A field of oats was particularly bright, and some purple flowers in the ditches I’m tempted to call phlox, but I know they’re not.

The abundance of early flowers has given way to only a few, and those already fall-like purples and golds. Could the shortness of summer here mean that fall flowers bloom in July? I saw goldenrod, and a yellow flower similar to what we know as bitterweed. Doesn’t seem to be quite the same, though—when crushed, it has a much pleasanter, almost resinous, smell, albeit a bitter taste. I’m sure our variety at home is a variety of chrysanthemum. I recall my mother telling me that when their cow ate of it, she gave bitter milk.

What few daisies are left are seedy and bedraggled.

In truth, the feel of the air and light and look of the land say that summer has turned the corner leading into fall. The fields (pastures, that is) already wear a rusty-colored look—from a grass which seeds to red. And the hay is everywhere cut and gathered in, leaving strips of golden stubble. The most beautiful views are from hilltops where one can overlook several fields, with their gold, light and dark green, and red hues. And over all the constantly changing sky of this Atlantic island.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Kelly’s Cross, Prince Edward Island, Canada 12.7.1983: Gloomy Skies, Low Spirits

Rather pallid of spirit this evening. Partly just mid-week fatigue, when fancy’s airy castle dissolves before one’s eyes. (And what an astonishingly silly thing to write.) Actually, I know I’m hovering on the verge of a pit of melancholy, and could let myself slide into it if I wished, but I don’t dare indulge myself. Melancholy of the self-indulgent sort can be a balm to the spirit: a shifting of the burden of personal existence to Fata.

I suppose I’m at that point when I’ve settled in here, my course is underway and going well, I have resumed dissertation work—and I’m simply experiencing the humdrum of a too-ordered existence. Not to mention the fact that I’m pushing myself with the dissertation. And that the skies are gloomy these three days. And that, push as I will, I still accomplish little. And that my landlord, Fr. K.: well, the best said about him, the better.

And what, after all, is love?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kelly’s Cross, Prince Edward Island, Canada 10.7.1983: Hay Making and Spruce Shade

These past few days busy. Friday, one thing after another. Went early in the day to see if any mail for me was in the mail room. No; none. Later, recalled that I was promised the check for travel expenses by Friday. Phoned to ask about it, was told it had been sent to the mail room. Went to mail room, the mail room manager, who had told me earlier that there was no mail, looked in the box, and sure enough, there was a letter for me—but not the check. He called the business office, they told him it had been sent c/o religious studies, and we finally found it in the extension box.

This seems typical of how things work in PEI. The letter in the box was a second library card; I had been asked three times at circulation desk for my name, etc., for the card. Friday also discovered that the library had not put a two-volume work I wanted on reserve for student reading—only volume two.

After all that, a seven-mile walk restored my soul—through hilly land, all pasture, potato fields, and buckwheat with its pleasant-unpleasant odor that is just this side of rank in the nostrils. A flock of sheep pasturing were, typically stupid, all clumped along the fence. A herd of cattle ran madly to meet me, heads cocked expectantly. As it was evening, I’m sure the one who was leading all the rest mistook me for her feeder. She mooed in puzzled inquiry as I passed.

I also flushed what I took to be a quail—a bird really like a miniature turkey, with black and white fan tail, and brown body. It appeared to be a bird that struts as much as flies. But I have a nagging recollection that quails don’t have fan tails. Must have been a partridge?

A rabbit also came into the road about ten yards ahead of me. Was fat, and seemed quite tame. It stopped, pulled itself more or less erect, and waited. I stood still. After a minute or so, it hopped on, and I dared to try to move closer. That didn’t startle it, curiously. I was upwind, so perhaps that explains its lack of timidity.

The great benison of the walk was a stretch running between spruce on either side, with fern and bracken in the verges. This was cool and pleasant-scented, and, because spruce doesn’t branch horizontally to a great extent, left the blue sky open.

I also enjoyed seeing the hay-making. Farm machinery here is all old and small—no need for gargantuan machines in these small fields. I passed an old haymaker on his little tractor pulling a wain full, and passed the time of day with him. The tractor broke down just at that time, so I jestingly said, “Better find some binder twine to tie it up”—then saw that part of the tractor was tied together in just that fashion.

Saturday best left unrecorded—gray, gloomy, lonely, and filled with interminable chores.

Today, an eleven-mile walk which began nice and ended miserable. I began by walking through a dirt road, wooded along the road, but fields on the side. This emerged into a paved section and on a hill overlooking the sea to the south (or is sea the correct term? strait?). Was very beautiful; even with the slatey skies, the water seemed to glow with more light than the sky could give. In the distance I could see the land across the water—Nova Scotia? To the left, right on the hillside, looking out the six miles or so to the sea, was a lovely house—the front all covered porch facing the water. The owners have sensibly screened the house from view with a hedge that included mock orange. In a way, the house looked very Southern, with its porch and what appeared to be a large central hall.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kelly’s Cross, Prince Edward Island, Canada 5.7.1983: Clericalism and Insularity

Heard more s—t today about Gregory B. Since I’ve been here, I’ve have not heard a single good remark about him. All remarks, all from clerics, are of that entre nous variety of club chat which completely dismisses the person from consideration.

First remark: Fr. M. tells me that he once met some European clerics who told him a term (forgotten by M.) used in Europe for a Jew who “infiltrates” the church to wreak havoc from within. I pointed out that this remark, opprobrious enough on its own terms, is also anti-Semitic. Fr. M. didn’t seem to hear.

Second remark: a cleric-sociologist said that, when B. was a peritus at Vatican II, Cardinal McGuigan of blessed PEI memory once, at an intimate gathering, leaned back and said, “I give him about five years.” The sociologist-cleric seemed to revel in the fact that B. “left” the priesthood shortly after five years. I pointed out that B. was asked to leave, was driven out by Machiavellian measures that gave him no other choice. Didn’t seem to matter.

I’ve heard other remarks, but can’t recall them at the moment.

Weather intensely warm for these two busy days, and very hazy-humid, so must turn in early.

Class began. Predominantly Catholic, worried about some new “Family Life” program for the schools. The school system used to be, I understand, nominally public, but actually church-oriented. Consolidation has occurred in the past five years, and Catholics appear to fight it, of course—“our schools” don’t belong to us anymore. So the introduction of family life courses only exacerbates the situation, because “we” are sure “they” want to use this as a forum for Godless secularism.

Was told by some students that, a few years ago, the Roman Catholic and public hospitals in Charlottetown amalgamated. Prior to that time, the public hospital performed abortions and had a board to supervise this; the R.C. hospital didn’t. when amalgamation occurred, the Right to Life bunch created a hullabaloo, got anyone on their side to join the hospital board by paying $1.00, and now attend every hospital board meting to vote the “abortion board” down. Consequently, no abortions performed now.

I’m angry, as all this shows—am fed up with smug complacency; with a mask of piety concealing an interior of deceit, spite, authoritarianism; with the way priests here manipulate ignorance and gullibility and have nothing at all for those seeking learning.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Kelly’s Cross, Prince Edward Island, Canada 4.7.1983: Insularity and Nostalgia

Spent the day at the university preparing for the course. Fr. M. is a very amiable fellow, and gives one the impression of being naturally forthright and plain-dealing (in marked contrast to Fr. K.).

Theologically he is, as with almost everyone I’ve talked to here at this level, rather intransigent. PEI Catholicism partakes of the parochial nature of island life in general—small world, perceiving itself threatened by large world, and powerless to do anything but draw inside its boundaries.

They all hanker for the Faith that was: when life was rural and defined by that fact; when Catholics were Catholics; when you knew you ought to marry and have a large family; and on and on. It never seems to occur to them that a religion that can only hanker for this lost world is a religion that must be marginalized in the future of Island society.

And rightly so: it served its purpose. And now it positively seems to cultivate mental sickness . . . . I know about the halt and the blind, and I don’t deny that the sick have a special role. But is Christianity or Catholicism a creature that battens on sickness like a parasite? Is our only answer to modern secular existence this withdrawal into fearful, inbred, sick little worlds?

Another thing: the two priests I’ve talked to here both know this and that high muckety-muck in church politics and live as if that world is the world. One tells me that a high official in the Vatican from French Canada tells him that Rahner publicly professes that all he has written is wrong! Exegesis of Vatican official: Rahner can be ignored. What blindness.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Kelly’s Cross, Prince Edward Island, Canada 3.7.1983: Wild Caraway, Cawing Crows

Took a 10- or 12-mile walk yesterday in a vain attempt to reach the coast. Fr. K. had told me that one could take a certain road south and thus arrive there.

However, since I had no idea of the distance, I didn’t know how long to persist, so stopped just short of the coast, at a little placed called Desable, which I see by the map is right on a little inlet.

The walk was nice—sky overcast, drizzling a bit, and this brought out the greens of the fields. I spotted some wild caraway and chewed this as I went along (kept plucking seeds)—a refreshing taste. Also picked and ate some wild strawberries. Somehow I can’t be too enthusiastic over strawberries. I suppose that when they were the first fruit of summer, they would have tasted different. (I mean, when one had very little access to other fruit.) Now, however, many other fruits can displace the humble strawberry—at least, for me.

I am preoccupied by several things, and this has robbed the past two days of peace for me . . . . Today has been more placid. Went to Mass in the little church—very rural feeling. The people were Irish- and Scots-looking, bluff faces and farm manners. The Mass was unexpectedly formal, with six or so altar boys processing with a priest and lector—all this in a tiny little church. Not to mention a choir and sung responses. Dragged on an hour, too. I shouldn’t mind, but I suspect the priest does this on principle—“Can you not watch one hour with me?” etc.

There’s something hard-bitten—intransigent and unyielding—about Irish Catholicism, as, I daresay, about the Irish character. If there ever was a time when I found this attractive, I now find it repugnant. Were it a determination to stand staunch in the face of diversity, I could find it perhaps understandable. But it has a defensive, aggressive quality. Even learning seems to be simply an apologetic tool among Irish Catholics, rather than a curiosity to see and know more.

The sun is westering now atop a dark line of spruce, which everywhere here outline the small fields. Crows there are aplenty—one outside the window cawing away: an annoying sound. I saw a bird yesterday I couldn’t place—dark with white head, white markings on black wings. I would be tempted to call it a meadowlark, since it was (they were, rather—lots of them) in a meadow and seemed to sound like a meadowlark. But, for some reason, I think of larks as gliding, whereas these birds beat their wings (short, in proportion to body) with a will. One led me along the road, scolding all the while: I suspect, a female diverting me from her young.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Kelly’s Cross, Prince Edward Island, Canada 2.7.1983 (2): Lupine-Filled Ditches, Lobster Suppers

As to my trip: I left Toronto at 6:30 A.M. on the 28th. Couldn’t sleep, so awakened at 4 A.M., then again at 5:30, and got up. I drove that day without mishap to Rivière du Loup, Québec. Was lost briefly in Montréal, where I ate an apple—my one stop for food.

The stretch between Québec City and Rivière du Loup was gorgeous—or, I should say, part of this stretch was beautiful. The road ran along a river (I suppose the St. Laurent), with little villages and farms all along the valley, and a ridge of mountains in the background. It was very European-seeming—the farms are unusual to me, because long and narrow. I’m told this is so that each landholder can have a river landing, but I suspect it is as much due to a desire for conviviality, since this arrangement places the houses almost as close together as would be the case in a village. Frankly, I think that one loses in this way the chief advantage of country living, that is, seclusion. Must be my British roots. I feel “observed” even in the Québecois towns, where everyone sits on his porch and stares unabashedly.

Rivière du Loup was not a pretty town—or what I saw of it wasn’t. Yet its exoticness made it attractive—narrow winding streets, with houses butt onto them. Churches everywhere, ringing bells constantly.

Was so tired that all I did was eat and sleep. Walked down to a little café that had a menu of cabbage soup, poulet à l’estragon avec riz, and dessert (gateau à la carotte). The place had a nouvelle-cuisineish air, but the chicken was good, tender, and a nice-sized plate. Rude teens on a balcony near the café who peered over as I walked past, making mocking comments in a French they must not have known I could understand.

The second day, I was up again at 5:30, and on my way to PEI. For several miles into New Brunswick, one was still in Québec—villages clustered around a church, poverty, general clutter. With what seems in retrospect a dramatic suddenness, these gave way to exceptionally tidy farms, with houses built in the Maine style (continuous from house to barn). All this both attractive and frightening, because so pristine—I wonder what kind of people can paint and sweep and cut with such manic thoroughness. The French area had been not at all intimidating in this way, though strange to me.

This band of pristine farms did not persist all the way east, however. Gradually, the houses became shabbier, the farms more sprawling, etc. I felt very much at home from this point all the way east in Nova Scotia. My guess is that the neat area represents a band of Yankee intrusion, whereas the area east of this was settled by Loyalists, and is older and more run-down, thin-blooded. Had that feel, for sure.

I reached the Cape Tormentine-Borden ferry at just 4 P.M., and was directed aboard almost immediately. As with any long-expected moment about which one has fantasized, the ferry trip was something of a letdown. The suburban tourists with their raucous voices and undisciplined children were depressing. The brochures advertising waxwork museums, lobster suppers, replica castles, African safari reserves, were appalling. The blight of suburban American unreality has reached even here, and with a vengeance, it seems.

The only interesting feature of the ferry trip was the sea itself. The water was full of jellyfish straggling long tentacles; heard a wife tell her husband, “Look at the jellyfish, dear,” and he, in simulated black leather jacket and tight jeans, authoritatively informed her that they were seaweed, not jellyfish.

The water was very clear—a kind of brown-blue. I thought of all the tragic history this sea has seen, the boatloads of suffering people who have come across it—truly waters incarnadine.

PEI—well, it’s all they say: rolling green hills with tiny patches of fields, red dirt, glimpses of the sea everywhere. The people have an Irish sound, but not so pronounced as Newfoundlanders. They say “oice” for “ice,” and “lawv” for “love.”

The little community, Kelly’s Cross, seems to be all Irish. It’s strange how oppressive I find Irish Catholicism (strange in that I wouldn’t have done so some years back). The priest is a big high muck-muck, to whom all defer, and whom all seek out in the most childish manner.

Have had some sword-crossing with Fr. Kelly already over natural law and relativism. He sees natural law as the presence of the church’s trans-historical word. Won’t go into this.

Since I’ve been here: I’ve spent a hot afternoon in Charlottetown; have walked in the woods and fields behind the house, where I find daisies aplenty, bracken, clover, yarrow; have driven with Fr. Kelly and a friend to the easternmost point of the Island, where Fr. Kelly’s family have a cottage; have picked and eaten wild strawberries. The ditches are full of lupine in every shade of blue, purple, pink, white. I’ve hardly ever seen a lovelier sight.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Kelly’s Cross, Prince Edward Island, Canada 2.7.1983: Mustard Pickle and Haunted Houses

I arrived Wednesday evening to find the house locked. Since there was confusion between Fr. Kelly and me over my arrival date, he was not expecting me, so I walked across the churchyard to the house of a neighbor.

As I approached, I could hear the sound of a fiddle. An elderly, but spry, lady came to the door. One could see that she hesitated between an innate hospitality and a fear of strangers—a natural enough fear, in a small island community overwhelmed by tourists.

She invited me in, and turned out to be a Mrs. Kelly, 85 or 86 years old. Her husband, Joe Kelly, 92, was the fiddler. After a bit of conversation, she fed me a tea of homemade bread (white, but with a chewy, tough crust, as I’ve found much of the bread here so far to be), canned pressed ham, some preserved mustard pickle and strawberry jam, and homemade cookies. Since I had eaten only an egg and toast in Moncton, NB, that morning, this stood me in good stead.

As we realized that Fr. Kelly might be late (he was at a Charlottetown wake), I asked if we might try the key they had mentioned to me. We did, it worked, so I went into the house.

It’s a large old country rectory—I would imagine late 19th-century. It sits facing south, where one may see a tuck of seacoast, if one climbs the hill north of and behind the house.

It’s a huge old place—gloomy, with many windows covered by shades, and staircases and doors appearing, it seems, at every turn. Mrs. Kelly had alluded to some tragic murder of a priest. I discovered yesterday that a Fr. Roche was murdered here two years back, by three men (two teenagers and a young man, actually) who broke in at night. I gather that the murder was gruesome. I don’t want to know the details because, frankly, I’m jumpy and nervous in the house—spent a sleepless night after hearing of the murder, in fact, with dreadful visions going through my mind.

I hope to God—and pray devoutly—that these fears will be allayed. Most of all, I fear that I’ll be alone here some night, but must cross that bridge when I come to it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New Orleans 9.7.1987: Fireworks Displays and River Breezes

On the Fourth, we sat on Don’s upstairs balcony in Bywater and watched the city fireworks display—or what we could see of it, which wasn’t a lot. The balcony is well-appointed with tastefully displayed plants and wicker furniture with comfortable flowered cushions. In the background, Don had on the soundtrack from the movie “The Mission”—that heavenly chorus of Indian children and the eerie native instruments.

There was a wonderful breeze from the river. (This is the coolest summer I ever recall in New Orleans, though some of this may have to do with my illness.) The talk was pleasant if banal. All was enchanting.

Yet I felt curiously detached, curiously alienated, as if looking onto a vista of gay culture that repulses me, because it is so sybaritic and so preoccupied with aesthetic details, with having just the right fabric, with saying just the right mot juste. When we went to our house for watermelon after the fireworks display, that feeling deepened.

Don and Landrum had not seen Steve’s latest renovations. Though both made polite noises about what he had accomplished and about the furnishings we’d picked up here and there, I had the distinct impression that they were straining to be polite about what actually strikes them as tacky in comparison to their own houses and furnishings. And so the evening ended.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

New Orleans 7.7.1987: Beautiful Detritus, Gifts of the Marginal

Steve and I spent Saturday and Sunday almost entirely (and with no intent for this to happen) in the company of gay men. This is extraordinary, in view of the fact that I have previously spent hardly any time with any avowedly gay persons, let alone discussed the topic with anyone openly gay.

On Saturday, we had seen in the paper that a garage sale with tantalizing items was taking place in the Faubourg Marigny. Since we have found serendipitous treasures in the Quarter, Marigny, or Bywater, and since garage sales in those locations don’t seem dominated by bourgeois lust for the top dollar, off we went. The sale turned out to be at the house of a gay couple. The house (which they own, and are selling; they live in an apartment in it) is beautiful—surely antebellum, but much altered (and not for the worse) at a variety of later periods.

What was refreshing (and challenging to me) is the couple’s ability to live cheerfully and gracefully on the margins of society—in short, to make something, something beautiful and meaningful, of the effluvia of a society that discards so much in the name of fashion, progress.

All this is not clear, I know. I suppose what I’m saying is that I admire the ability of many gay people to turn the liability of social marginalization into pleasure, celebration of the small, beautiful, inexpensive, often ugly things and events of non-bourgeois, non-suburban society. (Not that by any means all gays live this way, but many do.)

Here is where I see a gift dimension to gayness. There is giftedness first of all in the ability to see the possibility of retrieving and celebrating what is otherwise overlooked and discarded by mainstream society. And this is not a gift of gay people alone, of course, but of many marginal groups—African Americans have the same abilities, in many cases.

There is also giftedness in being able to transform the discards that one retrieves into the beautiful and the graceful. New Orleans owes a huge debt of gratitude, as a city, to its gay community for having retrieved and restored many of the abandoned historic sections of the city. The French Quarter was a slum headed for demolition at the hands of urban “renewers” before it was discovered and retrieved by courageous artists and writers, many of them gay.

Now the same thing is happening to the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater. Few middle-class young straight couples who have grown up in New Orleans would dream of buying these wonderful houses and raising their families in them. They prefer to move to the “parish” or across the lake. And so a city with some of the most consistently stunning architecture in the country is decaying from within . . . .

The gay community is making a tremendous contribution to local culture by preserving these historic areas of the city, and that contribution should be more widely recognized. This contribution is all the more to be cherished when beauty is restored or created, life celebrated, by people who bear the stigma of social disapproval (and who are sometimes psychically wounded—can I say moi?—by that experience).

Monday, February 2, 2009

New Orleans 27.3.1984: Singing Mockingbirds, Tawdry Quarter

A cool evening, after an afternoon heating shower. I’m sitting on the patio listening to the mockingbirds. Towards sundown they love to sit atop trees and sing. I have been watching one as its throat catches the now horizontal light. I can smell the cedars around the patio. . . .

Yesterday I went to town and shopped. The French Quarter is even tawdrier on Saturday—not the Quarter itself, but the way it presents itself for a summer weekday during holiday time, like a lonely old dame plying her wares, decking herself out as an American commercial seductress. Not much in our culture remains untainted by commercialism: to wit, I went to town to shop because the thrift stores have only polyester clothes. In this climate, wearing spun plastic seems crazy. Yet in the heart of one of the richest cotton-growing areas in the world, we wear petroleum-based clothes, and cotton is priced out of sight. In the height of Louisiana strawberry season, I could buy only jumbo, and tasteless, California berries. Why? All profit, all market.