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London July 22

Sunday, September 10th, 2023

We arrived at London’s Heathrow airport a day after leaving California and tried to get off the Underground connection at Gloucester Road, the station right by our hotel. But the train didn’t stop until the next station, South Kensington. After the confinement of the airplane, the walk back in light rain pushing and pulling our rolly suitcases along a street of Edwardian rowhouses, large London Plane trees and a locked private park felt like stimulating exercise rather inconvenience, but also a traveller’s warning to be ready for the unexpected.


The Bailey’s Hotel, a 150 year-old Victorian building almost demolished but recently restored by an international corporation, maintained the unpretentious and (relatively) affordable elegance we were hoping for. The immediate neighborhood offered dozens of restaurants with cuisines from around the world, confirming London’s role, no longer as the heart of Empire, but as magnet for international tourism and foreign investment.


After an early dinner at the Bugis, the hotel’s Singaporean restaurant, with a dish of Dong Po Rou which broke my normal vegetarian diet, I was too excited to go to bed in our compact airshaft-facing room and took a walk, guided by the map posted in front of the shuttered subway station across the road.


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It led me past the Holiday Inn, the one ugly high-rise in the otherwise expensively preserved neighborhood, to some narrow cobbled streets adjoining a partially exposed underground train line.


Their modestly appointed but immaculate residences were fronted by potted plants and trees and tiny outdoor café tables and chairs.


The street signs indicated that these were “Mews,” which I learned later were rows of fashionable flats that once had been the alley-facing carriage houses of larger homes long ago replaced.


At the end of one street I came upon a relic of its former use in a precious auto repair shop.


Then, passing under a grandiose archway I was surrounded by an enclosure of densely decorated five-story mansions.  Another street sign said “Emperor’s Gate,” emphasizing the contrast between the quaint variety of the mews and the imperial symmetry of what seemed like a palace courtyard.



Through a street exit from this opulent square, I approached a gothic style church, partially engulfed by trees and vines, the only person I’d seen so far hunched next to a side door, smoking a cigarette.  After snooping around back, where I found a daycare center’s shabby play yard, I asked if there was an entrance to the church.  He said, “It’s locked, I’m here for an AA meeting in the basement.”  The sign by the front gate identified this as St. Stephens Church Hall, which also functioned as an NHS medical clinic.


Proceeding through another arch out to a normal street I rounded the corner at the rear of the Church Hall and discovered the dishevelled jungle of an adjoining mews.



Satisfied with the neighborhood exploration, I returned to the hotel for my first European night’s sleep.



Europe 2023

Sunday, September 10th, 2023

This was our first trip abroad since we went on a Gate 1 Tour to Spain in 2018. That year, we also traveled to India, Hawaii, New York/Vermont as well as to our homes away from home in Lund B.C. and Sun Valley Idaho—satisfying our prosperous retiree appetites for extending knowledge, connecting with old and new friends, and enjoying fresh pleasures.

At the beginning of 2019 I felt guilty about the continuing indulgence, but by late Fall of a year with no travel, the yen was back. We signed up for a February 2020 tour of China which included a boat trip up the Yangtze River ending at the city of Wuhan.  In January reports arrived about a coronavirus epidemic that started in a Wuhan market and was spreading through the country.  We cancelled our reservations and decided to use the refund to visit Portugal on our own, studying guidebooks and websites, making hotel reservations, arranging meetings in Lisbon with old friends from Cornwall and with my young co-worker and her boyfriend. But by March the epidemic had spread world wide and we were happy to hunker down at home.

By early 2023, two years later, Covid subsided enough for us to shop for another tour, this time a cruise on the Danube River from Budapest to Vienna that would include a visit with a Hungarian Shakespeare scholar we befriended in Stratford in 2020 and attendance at classical concerts in the home of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms.  Ten days before departure, we both came down with Covid and again were able to secure a refund. Once recovered, we determined to give it another try on short notice during what was becoming a record tourist season. Despite the calamitous heat afflicting southern Europe, we reserved hotel rooms, train, theatre, museum and concert tickets in London, Paris and Amsterdam, hungry for some of the high culture delights we knew those cities could offer. Given our age and the state of the world, it might be the last chance.

In the course of her ongoing genealogical research Jan was exploring leads about my paternal ancestry in the Alsatian area of France and Germany. Googling “Bodersweier,” the tiny village outside the town of Kehl, Germany, and across the Rhine from the hallowed city of Strasbourg, she came across Karl and Hannah Britz, a couple our age living there and engaged in a lifelong quest for information about members of its historic Jewish community, all of whom had fled or been murdered by the Nazis. I knew that as a child before WWI my father had lived in Strasbourg and remembered my grandmother talking about growing up in Bodersweier and Kehl before later moving to Stuttgart. Having in recent years relinquished my aversion to thinking about ancestors since I experienced myself becoming one, I agreed that we should spend a few days between London and Amsterdam exploring that area. A phone conversation with Karl in my broken German produced a warm invitation, followed up by email correspondence revealing that their son Wolfram was mayor of Kehl eager to meet Jan, the present vice-mayor and past mayor of San Luis Obispo.





Buddhist Shakespeare

Monday, February 6th, 2023

An Address to the White Heron Sangha
February 5, 2023

Good evening fellow White Heron Sangha members and visitors. Thank you for once again inviting me to give a Sunday night Dharma Talk.In some previous ones I’ve explored ways that American literary writers I admire, specifically, Henry David Thoreau, Jack Kerouac and Leonard Cohen, were influenced by Buddhist texts and incorporated them into their own unorthodox experiences and writings.

Tonight, I want to examine ways that the works of William Shakespeare connect with my understanding of Buddhist principles. There’s no evidence that this sixteenth and seventeenth century British writer had any exposure to Buddhist teachings. Nevertheless, I find in his works many ideas in common with what’s called “the Dharma,” identifiable with what Joseph Campbell called The Perennial Philosophy.

In the immense body of Shakespeare literary criticism since 1948, I’ve found only two items, both quite recent, that treat this subject: The Buddha and the Bard by Lauren Shufran (May 2022) and Shakespeare Meets the Buddha by Edward Dickey (October 2021).

My own interest in the subject arises from an academic career that included teaching, directing and writing about Shakespeare—including a book which argued that Shakespeare read the Bible as literature and construed its varied depictions of God as personifications of the theatrical roles of author, director and actor.

In this talk I will align six Buddhist doctrines with recurrent Shakespearean themes1 Emptiness and Form,

1 Prajnaparamita –The World as Stage
2 The First Noble Truth, Dukkha–Tragic Suffering
3 Dependent Co-arising, Ptratityasamutpada–Motivation and Causality
4 Impermanence, Anicca–Time
5 Delusion, Avidya–Error
6 No-self, Anatta–The Person as Actor

Separating, labelling and numbering these ideas is somewhat misleading, since they often overlap or blend. However, this kind of schematic analysis is typical both in Buddhist texts and in literary criticism because it opens new ways of understanding. (more…)

Halloween 2022

Monday, November 7th, 2022

On Friday the 28, Jan and I visited the Reis Family Mortuary on Nipomo Street to complete the pre-arrangements for “immediate burial” in the gravesites we purchased last June in the SLO Cemetery. This is the bottom of the line selection. It includes transport and storage of the remains until the grave is dug, delivery to the cemetery, cotton shroud, cardboard box and death certificate for $1845 each, in keeping with our choice of green burial.  One option we added was permission to have a witness at the interment for an additional $250. Had we gone with the mortuary affiliated with the cemetery, the price would have been $3250.

The mortuary is located near the center of town in an attractive neo-colonial building.

LisaMae, the amiable Salesperson, made the lengthy process of filling out forms, upbeat and casual.  As it concluded, we were greeted by a gentleman in jeans and suspenders with a missing lower tooth, who introduced himself as Kirk, the son of the former owner. Though we both felt heavily in need of afternoon naps, Kirk insisted we tour  the museum his father had created. He led us down two flights of stairs, not into a dark crypt but  a riotous display of memorabilia–newspaper front pages going back to the 1930’s glued to the walls, collections of hash pipes, dolls, model trains, and bumper stickers–stored in three rooms connected by vault-like refrigeration doors, relics of the dairy operation which had occupied the site in the early 20th century.

Over the weekend, Jan’s brother stayed with us, two weeks after the memorial in Long Beach for his wife, who died recently after a year’s ordeal with brain cancer. I drove him to the RR Station at 5:00 am on the 31st and then went to the farm to tend the new lambs.  I came back home with a pumpkin and felt an unexpected need creeping over me to do something for the holiday. I emailed friends living nearby with an invitation to stop by for a drink while trick-or-treating with their kids and  set to work carving the pumpkin with the saw on my Leatherman, stuffing a warty squash in the hole for a nose.

As the afternoon darkened, I felt an urge to visit our burial plots just across the freeway. Since I expected she’d never been there, I invited my co-worker, K., to join me for a Halloween excursion. Hesitantly she agreed.

On the way, I delivered what had become my spiel about the place: its location between Central Coast Brewery and the Sunset Drive-In adjacent to a littered hobo highway, its use extending back to the Civil War, its inclusion of many SLO City notables, its Jewish and Muslim sections. We parked on Elks Lane and walked down the main thoroughfare toward the bizarre Dorn pyramid. I pointed out the sites close to it that Jan and I had purchased in January.

At the top of the serpentine outcrop on which it perched, I recounted the tale of  the husband who built it as a memorial for his wife and daughter after they died in childbirth with the intention of eventually joining them but soon afterward moved to San Francisco, started a new family and never returned.  I recollected being there 30 years earlier with students in my Shakespeare class who had chosen it for the location to video their performance of the tomb scene in Romeo and Juliet.

Walking back to the car, I declared that this place felt comfortable to me because at my age death seemed  a natural and sometimes welcome prospect rather than the tragedy of dying young.  I’ve had the time to live out my opportunities and choices.

On the return drive, K. was quiet. I worried that my pressuring her to go there might have awakened the pain I remembered in her voice when she spoke about her father, who died when she was a teenager.

Back at Citrus Court the setting sun put on a florescent pink lightshow. I set the jack o’lantern onto the transformer in the front yard, moved up the slider bench for a ringside seat and poured wine for Jan and me.  As the streetlights came on, the Court awakened with costumed revelers.  First were our immediate neighbors, dressed as ’70s hippies, carrying their 2 year old, severely autistic child, who made an instant of smiling eye-contact, then turned away.  Then a group of costumed young couples and children paraded by carrying their own drinks. Other families, including a laughing grandma in a wheelchair, stopped to say hello.  Older kids dressed as media characters I couldn’t recognize, filled both sidewalks. The joyful street life recalled trick-or-treating in the poor New York district we lived in until I was eight.

Next morning at the Farm I was greeted by Miss J., the Waldorf outdoor school’s teacher. She asked me to look at the altar she’d created inside their little geodesic dome to observe November 1, Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead.

Her bright display of flowers and food, colored cutouts, and photographs of departed family members brought a shock of recognition. I’d forgotten that this was the holiday of jolly mourning, the mood which  stirred me into activity yesterday afternoon.  I’d forgotten that in the corner of my study I kept such an altar year-round on an antique washstand containing the ashes of my parents.

The 1950’s wedding portrait of Miss Jewel’s grandmother and and grandfather completed the epiphany:  combining festivity and grief, we find a bit of what’s beyond our grasp.


Thanksgiving Day morning November 24.

Getting up early after a wakeful night, I look for something to do before it gets light enough for my holiday farm chores and randomly browse this blog.  Noticing “Lund Retreat 2007,” an unremembered occasion, I open the 7-entry set, and take some pleasure in the prose and the awakened reminiscence of that autumnal solo excursion to the place which, fifteen years ago, I still regarded as my true home.  The third entry is dated October 31 and chronicles a visit to the Uhlman’s house, where Ronnie said she assumed I knew the answer to her question about the proper Jewish ritual for unveiling a gravestone the first year after interment.  Slightly shamed I told her I had no idea and changed the subject.

Back at Knoll House I happily answered Jan’s phone call.  She mentioned she’d been grieving for Henry on this Jahrzeit of his death in 1995.  With a flash it came back: Halloween in the nursing home, the staff in costume, the arrival of the mortuary attendant who identified himself as “Neptune,” and all that followed– an event recorded twelve years earlier so as not to be forgotten, but nevertheless forgotten on that very day.

Reading that as the light comes up this morning, there’s another flash.  The memory that was lost a few weeks ago, despite the mysterious impulse and visit to the cemetery and contemplation at the shrine behind me and despite the next day’s surprise recollection–that purpose of the Jahrzeit was still unrealized…until now.