History


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Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936)

What happens when a priest loses his faith? Spanish writer, philosopher, and political activist Miguel de Unamuno provides an inspiring look at the dilemma in his short novel, San Manuel Bueno, Martyr, which I just re-read. The book fascinated me when I took a Spanish-literature class at Stanford, and this prompted me to take a second look some 55 years later.

Unamuno was an early existentialist, and often at the core of his writing is the tension between intellect and emotion, between faith and reason. In San Manuel Bueno, Martyr, Unamuno tells the story of a priest, Don Manuel, struggling with that tension. He is intelligent, hardworking, provides volunteer labor, and is so kind that he inspires the members of his parish to be good to one another. Yet secretly he doesn’t believe everything he preaches.

“The imperturbable joyousness of Don Manuel,” says the fictional narrator Angela Carballino, “was merely the temporal, earthly form of an infinite, eternal sadness which the priest concealed from the eyes and ears of the world with heroic saintliness.”

“The marvel of the man was his voice; a divine voice which bought one close to weeping,” the narrator recalls. “How he did love his people! His life consisted in salvaging wrecked marriages, in forcing unruly sons to submit to their parents, or reconciling parents to their sons, and above all, consoling the embittered and the weary in spirit; meanwhile he helped everyone to die well.”

Ironically, Unamuno was known for standing up for his views.

A key section of the novel describes the death of the devout mother of the narrator, Angela, and Angela’s brother, Lazarus, who was a  nonbeliever. “The peace in which your mother dies will be her eternal life,” Don Manuel tells Angela. He then explains to Lazarus, “Her heaven is to go on seeing you, and it is at this moment that she must be saved. Tell her you will pray for her.” When the nonbeliever starts to object: “But…”, Don Manuel responds,  “But what? … Tell her you will pray for her, to whom you owe your life. And I know that once you promise her, you will pray.”

Lazarus, “his eyes filled with tears, drew near our dying mother and gave his solemn promise to pray for her…. And I, in heaven, will pray for you,” his mother replies. “And then, kissing the crucifix and fixing her eyes on Don Manuel, she gave up her soul to God.”

Lazarus later reveals to his sister that the priest had previously appealed to him “to set a good example, to avoid scandalizing the townspeople, to take part in the religious life of the community, to feign belief even if he did not feel any.” Don Miguel was not trying to convert him, Lazarus explains, “but rather [was feigning his conversion] to protect the peace, the happiness, the illusions perhaps, of his charges. I understood that if he thus deceives them — if it is deceit — it is not for his own advantage…. The people should be allowed to live with their illusion.”

Neither Don Manuel’s deception nor his losing his belief in God ever becomes public, and after he dies, his unsuspecting bishop sets in motion the process for beatifying him, hence the name San Miguel Bueno.

In 1901 Unamuno became rector of the University of Salamanca but lost the post in 1914 for publicly espousing the Allied cause in World War I. His opposition in 1924 to General Miguel Primo de Rivera’s rule in Spain led to his being exiled to the Canary Islands, from which he escaped to France. When Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship fell, Unamuno returned to the University of Salamanca and was reelected rector in 1931, but in October 1936, he denounced the fascism of General Francisco Franco and again lost the post. He was placed under house arrest and within two months died of a heart attack.

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This week’s posting is a gallery of wonderful cartoons from old New Yorker magazines, accompanied by relatively old (1980) Readers Digest jokes.

1930

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“The people upstairs are very annoying,” complained the tenant. Last night they stomped and banged on the floor until midnight.” His landlord then asked, “Did they wake you?” Shaking his head, the tenant replied, “No. Luckily I was up playing the tuba.”

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“Kind of makes one proud to be an American, doesn’t it?”

Making America great back in 1932.

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1932

 Before the ICE Capades got started, the Statue of Liberty welcomed refugees with: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” However, as the cartoon points out, not all Americans in 1932 were welcoming when certain desperate people wanted to come here.

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“I slept there once,” 1967

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July 4 was a unique holiday. Where else but in America can you find people who are paying off a revolving charge account, a home-improvement loan, a 48-month car loan, and a 30-year mortgage — and still celebrating their freedom?

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“Curiosity,” 1991

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A philosopher went into a restaurant and ordered a chicken-salad sandwich and an egg-salad sandwich — to find out which one came first.

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“Mind if I put on the game?” 1986

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A golfer sliced the ball from the tee over the hill into a valley. Hearing a yell, he dashed to the top of the hill to see a man lying unconscious below. When the golfer ran down to the man, the stricken fellow opened one eye and said calmly, “I’m a lawyer and I’m going to sue you for five thousand dollars.” The golfer replied, “I’m so sorry, but I did yell “fore.'” To which the lawyer responded, “I’ll take it.”

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“During the next stage of my development, Dad, I’ll be drawing closer to my mother — I’ll get back to you in my teens.” 1991

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A Little League coach told his young charges after a game, “Don’t take it too hard, fellas. Losing is no disgrace. The important thing is that you played hard and you played clean. You showed a lot of spirit, and your parents can be proud of their sons — just like the parents of the other team can be proud of their daughters.” At this one boy murmured to another, “I knew he was going to rub it in.”

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“Now, you wait right her while I go and ask my wife for a divorce.” 1985

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When the Browns had a son, they decided they didn’t want a common name for the boy and so named him “Fantastic.” While growing up, their son hated the name, and as an old man on his deathbed, he asked his wife to leave “Fantastic” off the tombstone and just put “Brown.” His wife complied with his request but felt that Brown by itself was too plain, so she added, “During his marriage, he never looked at another woman.” Now, everyone who passes the tombstone murmurs, “Fantastic.”

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I’ll sign off with three New Yorker cartoons parodying some of the various ways that men and women may see things. As should be evident, the magazine’s humor today remains part of that whimsical tradition, which is one reason I subscribe.

1951

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1976

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1952

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Washington High’s mural showing George Washington beside a dead American Indian.

In an April posting about Inverness artist Igor Sazevich’s new memoir, Time in My Coffee,  I noted that 83 years ago Igor’s father, Zygmund, helped artist Victor Arnautoff create the mural at Washington High that San Francisco school leaders have decided to cover over or obliterate. The mural shows George Washington standing over a dead American Indian and includes Washington’s black slaves.

School leaders believe showing the cruelty is offensive to native Americans and blacks. I criticized the proposed removal and quoted a San Francisco Chronicle editorial: “The paintings should stay for several important reasons. They’re hardly a one-sided glorification of the past. Instead they underline the harsh treatment of Indians and slaves. To miss this shot at the Founding Fathers era is to miss the subversive message by muralist Victor Arnautoff, a noted Depression-era leftist.”

Unfortunately, for thousands of years there always have been people ready to destroy the art of past eras on grounds the subject matter isn’t proper for their own era.

The Great Sphinx at Gaza, Egypt, was carved around 2,500 B.C. and survived mostly intact until 1378 A.D. when a Sufi Muslim named Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr destroyed the nose.

By some accounts, Egyptian peasants had been making offerings to the Great Sphinx in hopes of controlling the flood cycle in order to have a successful harvest. Outraged by this blatant show of devotion to a god other than Allah, Sa’im al-Dahr destroyed the nose and was later executed for vandalism.

In the 6th century BC, ancient Greeks erected numerous phallic statues around a temple to the god Dionysus on the island of Delos. The statues survived intact for almost eight centuries until Victorian era explorers found the marble erections and broke them off as indecent.

Another crushing blow to cultural history occurred in March 2001 in Afghanistan. Two giant statues known as the Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban, on grounds they were “anti-Islamic.”

The two Buddhas, which were dynamited, dated back to 544 A.D. and stood 180 feet and 120 feet tall in a religious site. They were carved directly into a cliff and were the largest Buddhist statues in the world.

If Washington High’s murals are painted over, perhaps they can be replaced with a picture of a Buddha blowing up. This would demonstrate that San Francisco Unified School District’s censorship is in line with international practices.

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A Buddhist monk in Mandalay, Burma, admires a classic car back in 1986 when there were no new cars on the road. In 1989, the military government changed the country’s name to Myanmar because Burma was the name the British used when the country was their colony. Some citizens, however, question the military’s right to change their country’s name, and many continue to use the name Burma. The name comes from the name of the country’s largest ethnic group, the Bamar.

As a journalist I’ve always enjoyed photographing unexpected scenes. Here are a few I’ve found in the past 45 years.

A tired maid in Paris heads to work to prepare her employers’ dinner oblivious of the carefree billboard that merrily offers: “My blouse for a beer.” (circa. 1978)

“I clothed her for nine months. Now it’s Cleyeux.” The French company sells clothing for infants. (Paris, circa. 1978)

Enjoying themselves? Salvadoran soldiers in 1982 guard a Coca Cola bottling plant in San Salvador against leftist guerrillas. Ironically the Coca Cola sign looming in the background is headed “Disfrute,” which translates as “Enjoyment.”

Another ironic sign: The “Modern Pharmacy” in rural Guatemala, 1982.

When a high-speed highway from Guatemala City to Antigua was built in the 1970s-80s, Guatemala’s strongman, General Lucas Garcia, saw it as a chance for political propaganda. The sign says “One More Work of the Government of General Lucas.” However many local workers, like this pedestrian, couldn’t afford to drive it.

How a Third World country dealt with refugees. After America’s Southeast Asian wars ended in 1975 and the communist Pathet Lao took full control of Laos, at least 375,000 Laotians (more than a tenth of the country’s population) fled into neighboring Thailand. The Thais working with the UN lined up third countries — including the United States — to provide new homes for 250,000 of them. About 50,000 surreptitiously settled in Thailand, and another 3,000 returned to Laos. The Thai government housed the rest in a variety of camps. This refugee woman is sewing in a camp along the Mekong River, 1986. Many refugee men farmed small plots within the camp.

A Laotian refugee girl keeps an eye out for her mother, who has gone to the camp’s well.

Three other refugee children were clearly having a good time. 

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“Angel’s Truck Stop” by Lt. Colonel Angel Pilato, US Air Force (Ret.) was first published in 2011 and is now in its third edition. It was updated last year to include stories from some of the airmen Pilato writes about in her memoir.

Angelica Pilato at 25 being sworn in at the Air Force’s Detroit recruiting office.

Known as “Angel,”  Lt. Colonel Pilato served five and a half years in the US Air Force at the time of the Vietnam War, the last year (1971-72) at Udorn Air Base in Thailand.

Her memoir is an engaging mix of a personal history, wartime adventure, and a look at the difficulties faced by a woman officer in a male institution.

Pilato attended Officer Training School in San Antonio, where she was taught, among other things, “military protocol, etiquette, and how a WAF [Woman in the Air Force] should conduct herself in formal and informal situations.”

The next stop was Open Mess School in Ft. Lee, Virginia, where the sergeant assigned to assist her “tried everything he could to get me to sleep with him. I kept saying no, which to him seemed to mean, ‘Try again’…. In 1967, no policies existed against sexual harassment or hostile work environments. The unwritten policy was simply, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.'”

Angel Pilato today, living in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

After graduating from Officers Training School as a lieutenant, she was assigned to Offett Air Base in Omaha, and was subsequently assigned to run the officers’ club in Seville, Spain.  However, when she got there, the base commander in Seville took away her club-manager assignment, gave it to a male officer with no food experience, and made her a keypunch operator.

Since Pilato was a Food Management graduate from Rochester Institute of Technology, she questioned the decision, only to have the base commander flatly state, “I’m not going to have any woman run my Officers’ Club. It’s as simple as that.”

Fortunately, the commander’s tour soon came to an end, and a new base commander made her the club officer. Eight months later, she was assigned the post of club officer in Bitburg, Germany.

The F-4 Phantom Fighter jet (such as this one in Bitburg) was “the hottest fighter at the time — the one every fighter pilot wanted to fly,” Pilato writes.

After Lt. Pilato was able to make the Bitburg Officers’ Club more profitable, the wing commander rewarded her by letting her take a flight in an F-4. Once the jet was airborne, she was allowed to take the stick and do a couple of rollovers. Pilato called it “a thrill of a lifetime.”

The Udorn Officers’ Club, which came to be known as Angel’s Truck Stop.

From Germany, Pilato, now a captain, was posted to Udorn Air Base in Thailand where she managed the Officers’ Club. Pressured by the wing commander, the lieutenant managed to add a fancy patio to the club. The project forced her to hire laborers under false pretenses — as if they were parttime cooks and servers — to do the job since no construction-worker positions had been authorized. Nonetheless, the commander was pleased.

Article in the military’s Stars and Stripes newspaper.

Udorn was home base for fighter pilots heading to North Vietnam and Laos. She writes about the “bravado and confidence” felt by pilots “flying the hottest planes on the planet.”

Many of the men had “tealocks,” as lovers were called in Thailand, even if the lovers weren’t Thai. Pilato over time had several, including two wing commanders, and eventually had to reluctantly fly to the Philippines for an abortion when the father-to-be declined to marry her while overseas.

Perhaps the most emotional section of ‘Angel’s Truck Stop’ tells the story of Capt. Roger Locher (center), who was shot down over Laos and hid for 23 days until he could be rescued. The rescued pilot’s arrival back at Udorn was celebrated throughout the air base. Famished and thirsty when found, what he wanted first was a Coors beer and Spam. 

Capt. Marty Cavato made his own moving appearance in the book and for the latest edition contributed an account of his own.

The fighter pilots heading for Communist targets generally gave little thought to the lives they were taking. Getting themselves and their crews home safely was their main concern. Capt. Cavato, however, provided a heartwarming exception.

“The altitudes and speeds we flew and the usual presence of a jungle canopy prevented us from actually seeing the enemy,” the captain wrote. But on one unusual day, “we were startled by what we saw on the road.

“It took a while for it to sink in — there was an enemy column in the middle of the road.” To Capt. Cavato’s surprise, the soldiers took no shots at the aircraft but just kept marching. “Then another thought came to me: they’re marching home.

“In less than a month I’d finally be heading home…. I pulled our F-4E up sharply and turned west. I finally told my [radio operator], ‘They look tired. They’re marching north. They’re going home. I’m tired too. I’ll be going home soon too. Let’s just let them go home….’ As time goes by, I think about that column of soldiers more often. I got home, and I hope they did too.”

“When a man becomes inebriated, any modicum of mild-mannered virtue that he might have had turns into mayhem and mischief.” — Lt. Colonel Pilato

A captain and a lieutenant colonel attempt to dunk Capt. Pilato in a bowl of ice water after losing out in an Officers Club raffle.

The North Vietnamese were using Russian MIGs, and when the US pilots shot one down, it was cause for a major celebration. As a prank, the crews began driving trucks into the lobby of the Udorn Officers’ Club — jamming a truck in the doorway on one occasion. All this led to the club being nicknamed Angel’s Truck Stop. The phrase “Shit Hot!” painted on the truck was a common fighter-pilot expression meaning “wonderful.”

Despite periodic rowdiness by pilots in the club that made her job more difficult, Pilato generally retained her poise. Officers could get smokes in the club, which prompted this photo captioned: “Should a gentleman offer a lady a Tiparillo?” The line is from one of the cigar’s commercials.

Pilato had arrived in Thailand excited about her assignment, but the deaths of airmen she knew, her reluctant abortion, and the chaos of her work led ultimately to her hating the war and her role in it.

Angel’s Truck Stop is a must-read for anyone interested in the treatment of women in American society, especially in the military. The memoir is alternately humorous, grim, and uplifting. <http://www.angelstruckstop.com>.

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If you like wildlife, state government wants you to kill some of it.

California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has announced it will try “to recruit new hunters and anglers throughout the state” because hunters provide 60 percent of the funding for fish and wildlife conservation through license fees and taxes on guns and ammunition, The San Francisco Chronicle reported three months ago. 

That funding has been steadily declining. “Only about 5 percent of Americans 16 and older hunt — a 50-percent decline in just five decades,” The Chronicle explained. “The decline is attributable to urbanization, the rise of media entertainment, restricted access to hunting territory, and a lack of free time. Additionally, hunting declines as the population ages, and as the Baby Boomers grow ever older, the number of hunters will continue to plummet.”

Hunting doesn’t appeal to me. As I see it, the state’s encouraging hunting — accompanied by purchases of guns and ammunition — in order to bolster license fees and taxes makes as much sense as it would to encourage double parking in order to collect more in parking fines.

Solar panels.

The curse of solar panels. Solar panels are becoming popular in Afghanistan, The Economist reported last week, but they’re not being used primarily for homes. They’re mostly used for growing opium to make heroin, which “helps fund the Taliban, as well as pro-government warlords who are scarcely better.” The panels provide the electricity for opium farmers to pump water from deep wells, and that’s lowering the water table, the magazine noted. “Shallow wells have gone completely dry.”

Judaism’s Star of David

Still another, but happier, surprise. In a review of the book Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom, the same Economist also reported that in contrast to historic anti-Semitism, “Jews are now the country’s best-liked religious group — but the warm attitudes transcend philo-Semitism.” What’s happened? “By 2010 around half of all Americans had a spouse of a different religious tradition. Neighborhoods, workplaces, and friendships have become more religiously diverse.” It’s clearly counterproductive to be prejudiced against one’s friends and associates.

The Victorian-era poet Robert Browning (1812-1889).

One of the English poet Robert Browning’s most memorable lines is: “God is in His heaven, all’s right with the world,” which is from the poem Pippa Passes. “But,” as the linguist/journalist Bill Bryson points out in his book The Mother Tongue, “it also contains this disconcerting passage: ‘Then owls and bats/ Cowls and twats,/ Monks and nuns in a cloister’s moods,/ Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry.’

“Browning had apparently somewhere come across the word twat — which meant precisely the same then as it does now but pronounced with a flat a — and somehow took it to mean a piece of headgear for nuns. The verse became a source of twittering amusement for generations of schoolboys and a perennial embarrassment to their elders, but the word was never altered, and Browning was allowed to live out his life in wholesome ignorance because no one could think of a suitably delicate way of explaining his mistake to him.”

The rainbow flag of the LGBT movement.

Another racy surprise. Researchers had concluded that gay men tend to have more older brothers than straight men. Harper’s magazine, however, last October reported further research has found that “holds true only for those who are prone to be the receiving partner during anal sex.” Make of that what you will. I won’t hazard a guess.

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Talk about being timely (that’s our name after all), I had no sooner written about several topics in Time in My Coffee, Inverness artist/architect Igor Sazevich’s newly published autobiography, than another topic in the book was suddenly all over Bay Area news.

Igor captioned this collage, “From top: Father’s portrait of Victor Arnautoff; Detail from Victor Arnautoff’s mural at Washington High School; Father in his studio; Me on [a high school friend] Don’s shoulders; Father’s sketch of me.”

Time in My Coffee took on new significance this past week after a public controversy arose over Arnautoff’s mural at Washington High in San Francisco. As the book relates, Victor’s father Zygmund had helped produce the mural.

The muralist had met Igor’s father “at the California School of Fine Arts, become friends, and worked together on a few projects. At Washington Victor had been commissioned to paint large frescos on each side of the grand stairway leading to foyer, and father had helped with mixing the plaster undercoats….

“While the majority of the panels portrayed the struggling working class, one wall depicted Washington pointing the way forward to his troops, a slain Indian warrior at his feet. While I was at the school, this mural was a rendezvous spot: ‘Meet you under the dead Indian.’”

In response to 75 years of such comments, school board members are now talking about getting rid of the mural, possibly by painting it over or moving it somewhere.

Better to teach the history. As The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized on Wednesday: San Francisco school leaders have “taken up an unwinnable argument in deciding what to do about murals at George Washington High School — depicting the first president’s life and times — that some find hurtful and racist.

“The paintings should stay for several important reasons. They’re hardly a one-sided glorification of the past. Instead they underline the harsh treatment of Indians and slaves. To miss this shot at the Founding Fathers era is to miss the subversive message by muralist Victor Arnautoff, a noted Depression-era leftist….

“Contemporary views and sensitivities shouldn’t be ignored. An explanation of the artist, his times, and the suggestive power of the mural should be provided for viewers. The sight of a dead Indian or hunched-over slaves cannot be ignored without comment or thought.”

I would add that Arnautoff’s work also deserves to stay because he was a major artist in San Francisco history. Arnautoff was, for example, also responsible for several significant murals in Coit Tower, which were themselves once controversial, as Igor notes. One mural that upset some people during the Red Scares of the McCarthy era included a newsstand selling the Communist Daily Worker but not mainstream newspapers.

‘Time in My Coffee’ is available at Point Reyes Books, Gallery Route One, & Book Passages in Corte Madera

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Inverness artist/architect Igor Sazevich has just published “an art-full autobiography,” and it is indeed a work of art. It describes the joys of architecture, such as designing restaurants for Nordstrom department stores, and the pains, such as doing design work for Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Igor likewise writes candidly about his romantic adventures and his marriage into the Romanov family. His late wife, Natasha, was the niece of Prince Vasili Romanov, the nephew of the last tsar of Russia. She was also a cousin of Andrew Romanov of Inverness.

Igor Sazevich sitting behind Toby’s Coffee Bar.

Igor’s parents were both refugees from post-revolutionary Russia. His father was a sculptor and teacher while his mother designed window displays for San Francisco’s famed City of Paris department store.

At left, a home along the water in Marshall originally designed by Igor for professor/poet Mark Linenthal. At right, Igor’s Cedar Landing building in Inverness. (Photos from Time in My Coffee)

Igor spent much of his adult life working in his San Francisco office and then moving to his Sausalito office. From reading his accounts, one begins to understand just how complicated architecture can be in unexpected ways. For example, after buying what had been a private parking lot, Igor in 1992 built his new office on Sausalito’s Caledonia Street.

When a contractor unearthed human bones, however, it turned out the parking lot had been a Native American burial site some 3,000 to 4,000 years earlier. The discovery prompted the City of Sausalito to halt construction — creating a financial nightmare for Igor. Eventually Igor arranged for a representative of the Native American Commission to conduct a culturally appropriate reburial after which he was allowed to resume construction.

A Mendocino County home Igor designed in the style of a Native American wickiup.

Igor details his problematic dealings with the multimillionaire Cooke, who built the Inglewood arena called the Forum and owned several sports teams, including the Lakers basketball team. While living in Sausalito, Igor received a call one Sunday at sunrise from someone who began, “Good morning, I’m Jack Kent Cooke. You are that famous architect who designed the wickiup I spotted this morning in Sunset magazine?”

“Yes, that’s me,” Igor replied.

“Good. I have just purchased some land next to Sequoia National Park, and you’re the person I need to talk to.”

“Give me a moment,” Igor answered, “I’m just waking up. Are you asking me to be your architect?”

“You heard right, dear boy, and I want you to come down here to Los Angeles and stay at my house to go over the details.” When Igor responded that he’d need to check his schedule, Cooke condescendingly cut him off. “I need you here, dear boy, this coming Tuesday. You’ll be staying the night, but have a bite before you get here. I’ll have my chauffeur pick you up at the airport. Here is my phone number and the office number at the Forum.”

“Give me a moment to talk to my wife,” Igor replied, but Cooke again cut him off: “No time, dear boy. Call with your flight number and the time you’ll be getting in and what you’ll be wearing so the chauffeur can spot you. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you, and I’m looking forward to our meeting.” After saying that, writes Igor, “the man on the phone was gone.”

Igor twice flew south for the project and began to design a lodge for Cooke; the multimillionaire, however, again on a Sunday morning called him at home to cheerily announce, “As much as I love working with you, I’m dropping the project and will be selling the property. I also will not be paying you…. If you want, you are welcome to sue me.”

When Igor told the onetime Point Reyes Station attorney John Burroughs about all this, Burroughs volunteered to sue Cooke for him and charge only 30 percent of the take if they won. Because Burroughs misunderstood where the meeting between Cooke and Igor had taken place, he managed to have the case tried in San Francisco and not L.A. After three years of postponements, with no comment Cooke had his lawyers pay what was owed.

Many of the illustrations in ‘Time in My Coffee’ are vertical collages such as this one, which is captioned, “From top: big John Burroughs, Cedar Landing project, headline from Point Reyes Light, Andrew Romanov.”

Igor’s account of Andrew helping him push a 4-inch pipe under Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from one side to the other is another fascinating story. Igor owned bay-front property in downtown Inverness, but it had no place for a septic system. Igor got permission from a neighbor across the street to put a septic leachfield on his land if Igor could pump the sewage to it. To do this, Igor and Andrew pushed a conduit pipe under the roadway. They almost hit an Inverness Public Utility District water main in doing so, but nothing bad happened, and the septic system worked.

Igor also writes about his time in the military where he seemed particularly good at talking his way into better assignments. And he writes about his romantic and sexual experiences over the years. One brief encounter in particular stands out.

While still in high school, Igor was asked by an art student named Virginia to come to her mother’s apartment and sketch her for a class she was taking. After he’d drawn half a dozen sketches and was finishing, Virginia surprised him by uncovering her breasts and then her new lace panties. Igor was worried that Virginia’s mother would come home, but the girl suddenly straddled his lap and began rubbing herself against him. Then, just as Igor thought he would soon experience his “coming of age,” she surprised him again.

“Suddenly she stopped and raised herself slightly, reached under her skirt, and thrust her hand down into the foamy floral lace. What followed was Virginia’s total immersion in satisfying her body. Hers alone; I was only an observer. When she arched back, exhaling, and her spasms pulsed against my leg, I knew our time together was over….

“As we parted by the door, Virginia begged me to forgive her. She was sincerely embarrassed and said she had been afraid of going all the way with me.”

Sexual exhibitionism in order to preserve innocence, wow! That’s a new one.

The first home Igor built for himself and Natasha in Inverness burned in the 1995 Inverness Ridge fire, and he subsequently built another on the same site.

The grandparents of Igor’s wife, Natasha, were forced to flee Russia after the 1917 revolution and moved to the United States. Although she was born and raised in Los Angeles, Natasha spoke Russian. She also played guitar, sang folksongs, and had an interest in art and design.

Igor met Natasha when he was asked to drive her home to Berkeley after a party. They hit it off, but Igor was drafted into the Army and shipped overseas. When he returned, he briefly dated a woman named Cathy and almost married her. Cathy, however, was an alcoholic, and after seeing the movie Anastasia, Igor broke off their engagement and sped off to L.A. to spend Easter with Natasha’s family.

Natasha as a young woman in her parents’ Los Angeles home.

Natasha too was dating other people, but they reconnected when Igor arrived in Los Angeles. The family all went to a Russian Orthodox church for Easter, and Igor writes that “from some hidden corner, my heritage gripped me.” On the spur of the moment, he suggested to Natasha that they go outside into the church’s garden.  He recalls that “as a soaring chant from within the church, verifying that Christ had risen, arose, I appealed to Natasha to become my wife…. I expected her to laugh it off, but she accepted.”

Natasha in the window seat of the old Inverness house.

The couple lived happily in Sausalito and then Inverness and became the parents of two daughters, Katia and Nina. Natasha, however, died in 2000 of cancer, and Igor’s account of her passing is both moving and eloquent. When her family was present shortly before she died at home, Natasha rose from her bed “and holding onto it declared, ‘Someone bring some glasses and the white wine. I need to make a toast.’

“As we stood there with glasses in hand, Natasha raised her glass too. ‘I just want to toast my family for all the wonderful times we shared, and Igor, without you I wouldn’t be able to stand here to bless you for making our life such an incredible adventure; I love you.’ Glasses clinked, wine drunk, tears shed, I assisted Natasha back into bed.”

The author beside the bay.

“A few years after Natasha’s death, Katia ran into a friend from London whom she had known in India; I met her once at a dinner party. She suggested that Katia introduce me to Marna Clarke, a mutual friend from the ashram — she had been a professional photographer until she sold her equipment and most of her possessions to travel…. I agreed, and Katia arranged for the three of us to take a walk along the beach at Point Reyes National Seashore.

“When Marna and I began dating, we experienced a closeness and eventually a desire to be together. Within two years, she moved up to Inverness Ridge to join me and be my partner.

“We have shaped our lives to blend her artistry as a photographer and my functioning as a painter. We have exhibited together and separately at different local galleries and are members of our community showroom, Gallery Route One, on the main street of Point Reyes Station.

“I still drive down there to have my cup of coffee and glance at the steaming ripples while I contemplate what the day holds for me.” Igor will turn 90 in June.

‘Time in My Coffee’ is available at Point Reyes Books, Gallery Route One, & Book Passages in Corte Madera

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

An impressive exhibition of Point Reyes Station photographer Art Rogers’ black-and-white portraits are on display until the end of April in the gallery at Toby’s Feed Barn. The display opened last weekend.

Bob Borello in the 1970s holding Stan Marsi’s dog, Buster, in front of the Western Saloon, which Bob owned. The two men, both now deceased, had just gotten off work at Bob’s rock quarry near Millerton Point, which accounts for their grime.

Art, as his website notes, “is widely known for his portraits of families, children and babies, large groups, and rural scenes and landscapes of West Marin.  He is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and has also received fellowships from The National Endowment of the Arts and The Marin Arts Council and the SECA Art Award from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art….

Art and his wife, Laura Rogers.

“His background includes stints as a baby photographer, a photojournalist and as a teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute and Indian Valley College. His photographs are included among the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the International Center of Photography, New York; the Center for Creative Photography Archive, Tucson; Le Musée de l’Elysée, Switzerland; and the de Young, San Francisco….

“He has produced a series entitled ‘Yesterday and Today’ in which the same subjects have been photographed in the same place after a time span of as much as 30 years….

A cow belonging to Point Reyes rancher George Nunes (pictured) produced triplets, which is very rare, one in a million births.

“He has documented the agricultural community on the North Coast for over 35 years….

“Rogers’ work has appeared in The Point Reyes Light for 45 years in his column titled “The Point Reyes Family Album.” It features a photograph every week of people and events in the community and is an ongoing historical documentation of these West Marin towns and villages.”

In addition, the Marin County Cultural Commission has named Art a Cultural Treasure of Marin.

The staff of The Point Reyes Light back when the newspaper was in the building now occupied by Coastal Marin Real Estate, Epicenter, and Rob Janes tax services. In 1984, The Light moved to the Old Creamery Building. It would later move again, this time to Inverness.

‘Puppies’

Art shot this portrait of Mary and Jim Scanlon of the San Geronimo Valley in 1980 only to have pop artist Jeff Koons produce a painted parody of it, which a court found to be a copyright violation. Koons settled a lawsuit with Rogers in 1986 for an undisclosed amount.

That same year Italian porno actress Ilona Staller, better known as Cicciolina, was elected to parliament in Italy and went on to marry Koons in 1991. The couple split up in 1994; to Koons’ chagrin, Cicciolina didn’t want to give up her porn career.

Restaurateur Pat Healy in 1975, four years after she bought the Station House Café. During the 1980s, Pat relocated the restaurant to the former Two Ball Inn building down the street. That bar had been owned by George and Shirley Ball, and their sign out front featured a No. 2 pool ball.

Art Rogers’ exhibition consists almost entirely of West Marin subject matter, several landscapes but mostly people, presented with affection. On just this wall there are 64 portraits of different West Marin babies.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

For Valentine’s Day my wife Lynn gave me a book with an intriguing title. It’s Lust on Trial by Amy Werbel (Columbia University Press, 2018).

Dr. Werbel is associate professor of  the history of art at New York State University’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Her book explains how 40 years of misguided attempts to maintain New England Calvinism as America’s culture made it possible for almost any works showing a naked body — from fine art, to erotica, to medical texts — to be prosecuted as obscene. Unfortunately, some laws shaped by that era still haunt parts of our country today.

           Professor Amy Werbel 

At the center of her account is a Puritanical, anti-vice crusader from New Canaan, Connecticut, Anthony Comstock (1844-1915). He for 40 years wielded so much clout that the 1873 federal anti-obscenity law was named the Comstock Act.                                                  

Comstock helped found the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Working with police in the state, the NYSSV seized tons of supposed obscenities, which even included pictures from Paris that were regarded as fine art in France. 

“The leaders of the NYSSV all presumed the existence of a ‘racio-cultural hierarchy,’ with ‘Teutonic/Anglo Saxons at the top,'” Werbel writes. “Given their belief that Anglo-Americans already possessed the greatest culture on earth, it seemed natural to view French influences generally as a form of pollution.”

French Catholicism, in NYSSV eyes, failed to condemn all public exhibition of nude art whereas American Protestantism recognized a social need for enforcing Calvinistic standards of morality.

 

Anthony Comstock in his New York office around 1900. (All photos in posting from ‘Lust on Trial’)

For 40 years as an inspector in the post office department, Comstock “vigorously asserted his power to serve as a Christian censor of morals within a supposedly secular government position,” Werbel writes. Among the “obscenities” Comstock also sought to suppress as supposed threats to morality were condoms, dildos, and birth-control information. He also fought in court to prohibit abortion. Ironically, his opposition to birth control and abortion was largely to insure that couples indulging in illicit sex would pay the penalty of having a baby.

‘Nymphs and Satyr’ by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1873.

In Bouguereau’s “playful” painting, Werbel explains, “the satyr had been caught spying on a group of nymphs who are now taking their vengeance by dragging him into a nearby pond. Satyrs can’t swim, and so his lust has been swiftly transferred into mortal terror.”

The Grand Saloon in the Hoffman House.

Although photos of the painting were ruled obscene in New York in 1883, they continued to circulate. The original painting of Nymphs and Satyr meanwhile hung on the wall of “the Grand Saloon” in the Hoffman House Hotel. The large painting had remained in place despite Comstock telling the hotel’s owner in 1885 to remove it. This was an expensive establishment geared to the wealthy upper class, and Comstock would soon learn that such people could not be successfully prosecuted.

An 1896 cigar label was considered an example of yet another medium being used for disseminating “obscenity.”

Comstock’s primary goal in suppressing all erotic images seems odd today. In his mind, the greatest danger they posed was to inspire lust which, in the case of boys, could lead to masturbation, and he considered self-gratification the worst of sins. We know his thoughts on this because Comstock at the age of 19 made an apparent reference in his diary to masturbating: “I debased myself in my own eyes today by my own weakness and sinfulness, was strongly tempted today, and oh! I yielded…. What suffering I have undergone since, no one knows.”

A year later having joined Connecticut’s Company H in the Union Army, Comstock saw the pornography that other soldiers had ordered through the mail, and he “again recorded giving into the same vices that plagued him in New Canaan.” His diary, two other biographers have noted, was “filled with confessions of guilt and outbursts of bitter remorse during these years.” Nor did “Comstock’s obsession with lust and masturbation” ever change, the book notes.

In the case of girls, as he saw it, the main danger of any lust resulting from obscenities was not that it would lead to masturbation but that it tended to make the girls indecent. When a short-lived American Student of Art magazine published nude pictures of both men and women, Comstock put it on trial for influencing girls to “turn to lives of shame,” insinuating that the arousal of girls “might lead them to prostitution.”

Although Comstock seized hundreds of dildos, they confused him. He believed respectable women were “passionless” and that for any female, arousal depended on “male impetus.” When his investigations turned up a dildo which was somewhat expensive by standards of the times, he wondered who the customers were? “Prostitutes don’t use them,” he reasoned. “The married do not. Their cost being about $6 would seem to preclude their use by the poor and the low.” Werbel writes that Comstock was “entirely unable to fathom that an unmarried woman of means might want to take pleasure from masturbation using an artificial penis.”

Ironically, as the author notes, “one of the most common diseases serious doctors diagnosed among women in the mid-nineteenth century was ‘female hysteria’…. Many recommended curing the problem with induced orgasms, either produced by physicians who massaged the vulva by hand, often on a weekly basis, or hydrotherapy that directed a strong stream of water onto the clitoris.” This was time-consuming, Werbel adds, and ultimately led to doctors inventing the electric vibrator.

 

Figure in Motion by Robert Henri.

Since the reason displays of nude bodies were obscene, as Comstock saw it, was that they inspired lust, arousal was his personal test for obscenity; if something turned him on, it was obscene. When it came time for his defendants to go on trial, juries for their own protection were for years not allowed to see the “vile” evidence that had been seized, and even when defendants were acquitted, they often didn’t get their goods back.

By 1900, however, Comstock’s judgment was being increasingly challenged. After he led a string of raids on “vendors of improper photographs” in Philadelphia in 1886, the vendors argued in court that the photos were high art or were pictures to be used by artists who couldn’t afford a live model.

Even though Comstock argued that the New York Court of Errors and Appeals had found the same pictures to be obscene, the Philadelphia judge quickly threw out the cases. “It seems absurd for New York detectives to come over here and try to demonstrate that recognized works of art are obscene,” he remarked.

When the American Society of Artists publicly protested seizures of art, it declared, “We believe that the study of the nude in art is not only innocent, but is refining and ennobling.”

After Comstock seized art from the Knoedler gallery in New York, The Evening Telegram responded by printing on Page 1 the pictures that he didn’t want the public to see. Comstock then tried to get the district attorney to indict The Telegram but was abruptly turned down.

Other newspapers were also beginning to mock Comstock’s censorship.  Commenting on all this, The New York Times wrote that Comstock exemplified “persons of a low grade of intelligence and a prurient turn of mind.” The Springfield Republican called him “the most preposterous ass that walks on two legs.”

‘Anthony Comstock: The Village Nuisance’ by Louis Glackens was published as a cartoon in a humor magazine called Puck. “While he holds up his hands in protest, Comstock at the same time fixes his gaze firmly at his enticement,” Werbel points out. “The scene is a clear reference to his ineffective campaign to rid shop windows of such suggestive displays.

“At the upper left, Comstock leads clothed horses down a park path, and below that he attempts to serve a warrant on ‘a shameless French poodle.’  On the right… we see Comstock bathing fully clothed and, finally, in the last scene he ‘gets what is coming to him,’ tormented by winged devils in the fiery abyss of hell — in which he wears only a peek-a-boo carnival mask across his ample posterior.”

In his prosecutions, Comstock typically cited England’s Hicklin test for obscenity. If something erotic could disturb even the most vulnerable people, such as small children, it was considered obscene. Not until 1957 did the U.S. Supreme Court finally stop the use of the Hicklin test for determining obscenity. From now on, it ruled, Congress could ban only material “utterly without redeeming social importance.” What mattered was “whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest.”

It seems significant that when Comstock died in 1915, there was far more sexual material in the country than when he began his anti-vice campaign. Indeed, he “had helped to make figure painters, sculptors, and nude models extremely sexy,” the author observes. Moreover, his prosecutions frequently proved to be valuable publicity for whatever was on trial.

By our standards, some of Comstock’s own standards would be considered immoral. For example, “he viewed child sex trafficking as largely the fault of the victims,” according to the author. He “placed the blame for ‘White Slavers’ squarely on the girls who had ‘already been dragged down to perdition by the perverted imagination.'”

Over several weeks in 1899 alone, a series of girls, who were caught in the nets of traffickers, out of desperation committed suicide (using poison) in one particular tavern, McGurk’s saloon in the Bowery. “Comstock,” the book says, “ascribed their deaths to ‘reading light novels.'”

Werbel quotes Christine Stansell, who also writes about art, as saying one of Comstock’s great unintended accomplishments was to make the opposition coalesce: “The battle to protect free speech linked artists, writers, and professionals of  progressive bent to working-class militants.” These factions Werbel adds, “disagreed on many subjects, but they all wanted the opportunity to be heard, to be read.

“In the following decades, that right waxed and waned both in law and custom, but it has never again been as diminished as during the reign of Anthony Comstock.”

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