Thursday, May 18, 2006

Calm Palms

I have not been blogging much recently and am in Dublin on a brief, stressful visit. Here are some calming palms from Edinburgh's Botanical Gardens. I can fair feel the fronds on my face!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Monday, May 15, 2006

Jack Holland, 1947-2004


Yesterday was the second anniversary of my friend Jack Holland's death in New York City. He had a nosebleed on St Patrick's Day 2004, and a cursory examination by his doctor revealed a tumor. He was gone within three months.

I first met Jack when I started a new job in New York in 2001. We shared an office at our place of work. He was from Belfast and had covered the Northern Irish Troubles as a reporter from their grim start through to their tawdry ending.

We started hanging out after work in New York, dodging from this watering hole to that, talking about this and that. This quickly became our routine and soon it extended to meeting up on Saturdays as well, for a brief couple of drinks around 6pm. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Troubles and matched this with a sense of humor that meant no conversation could ever drift into darkness.

As a writer he grasped early in life that the rather pathetic and ancient conflict which we from Northern Ireland call "our wee situation," was a prism through which one could see and illuminate humans at their worst and occasionally, at their best.

His interests beyond the frustrations of Northern Ireland included Roman history, astronomy, wine and drinking, books, poetry (we had a shared interest in John Berryman), Austin Powers and most of all, New York City.

One day he mentioned that he liked Thomas Paine and I suggested we visit a bar in Greenwich Village, one of the first bars I ever sat foot in, in New York: Marie's Crisis Cafe, a gay piano bar with terrible everything, but especially the piano and the alcoholics who played it or roared things like "West Side Story" songs tunelessly beside it.

Long before the bar opened, Thomas Paine had lived upstairs in the same building. This information sealed the deal for Jack and Marie's became our Saturday afternoon hang-out for a few months. We tutted at the terrible tunes that occasionally drowned out all conversation. We giggled at the stories told by Matt, an elderly retired B-movie actor, who claimed to have been killed off in more movies than he could ever remember: crucified as one of the two thieves; eaten by Moby Dick; burned at the stake as Joan of Arc; tortured by Henry VIII; strangled by space monsters.

On Fifth Avenue one lunchtime, I stood transfixed, staring through Jack's new solar telescope, its dark-tinted special lenses allowing us to look directly at the blazing early afternoon sun. His interest in astronomy came partly from an understanding of the massive distances and forces of the natural world and universe dwarfed any of the puny concerns of mankind throughout our brief history. He enjoyed baiting the religious by suggesting they should pray not to God but to one of the 'holy asteroids' which scientists have argued struck the earth millions of years ago, exterminating the dinosaurs and allowing the evolution of our contemporary scene.

There is so much more I could remember and relate about Jack but I'd blather on all night. His last book will be published posthumously this summer, and a memorial web site was started by his wife Mary and daughter Jenny last year.

He nothing common did or mean

Upon that memorable scene,

But bow'd his comely head

Down, as upon a bed.

Sunday, May 14, 2006