Two of my favorite fish stories are Melville’s MOBY DICK and Hemmingway’s THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. Call me Ishmael, but there is a romantic essence to the dangers of sea faring. And these two authors knew how to spin a good yarn that included hubris and folly. Hemmingway won the Pulitzer for his work in 1953, while Moby Dick is considered one of the finest pieces of American Literature, sometimes given to the moniker, “The Great American Novel”.
Both Ahab and the old man are, in a sense, monomaniacs. They are both so single minded in the pursuit of their objects that they become oblivious to every thing else. It creates pride, which leads to each of the character’s own downfall. Both of them die before ever obtaining what they truly seek. And neither one ever perceives the inherent folly of his own actions.
The Sea is a great equalizer for American writers, because the United States is situated along three shores, the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coasts. Alaska has the most shoreline; and Hawaii is surrounded by the Pacific. The vastness of it creates a canvas upon which a writer can paint many portraits of human travail. And it serves to facilitate the metaphor of how small we are in comparison to nature-that it cannot be tamed… and yet, we can become extinct. This is the overwhelming theme in these two stories. I will begin with Melville here, and then review Hemmingway later.
MOBY DICK By Herman Melville.
“Call me Ishmael”, is one of the great opening lines of any novel, and sets the tone for 1st person narration. This is the account by a new hire of the great whaling vessel, The Pequod and the man who was its captain, the elusive Ahab. The story is rife with Biblical reference, particularly about the wages of sin and the elusiveness of redemption.
Ahab walks the deck alone at night to the sound of his peg leg pounding along the gang boards. It is a reminder to those below who have sailed with him many times, about how he came to lose his leg. The Great White Whale, Moby Dick, a giant albino Sperm whale remains the single occupancy of his consciousness. For it was this whale which caused him to wear a peg. And it is this whale that drives him on each voyage of killing and retrieving whales as a business. So much so, that he hammers a gold doubloon to the main mast and offers it to any scalawag who spots the Great White Whale on each voyage.
The vestigial plot is of the train wreck variety, even though Ahab does not appear before chapter 28 of 135 chapters. There is no conflict moving toward a crisis in Moby Dick, because the crisis is long past, the battle for the soul lost in a summary flashback by the delirium that followed the castrating bite that took off Ahab’s leg. The one emotion that is returned to him is vengeance. Ahab is now shaped in an unalterable mould. The die is cast. All that’s left is the denouement with all the characters-save the narrator, Ishmael -dragged inexorably toward destruction.
Melville reads the captain as a demagogue, blinded by his own profane quest. Ahab manipulates his crew, squandering his investor’s money and his crew’s lives to satisfy his immoral agenda-piloting his ship toward a doomed conflict with a murderous, uncontrollable, unstoppable monster.
The whiteness of the whale is “the pallor of the dead” and the “shroud in which we wrap them”. But it is also the most meaningful symbol of spiritual things. Even Que Qui, the tattooed harpooner from the South Pacific who befriends Ishmael, sees in the rolling of some whale bones, the prophecy of their deaths. He becomes immobilized in a spiritual trance knowing the ultimate fate of the ship.
Eventually, the Pequod rendezvous with the Great White Whale and Ahab takes his vengeance upon it, after the whale broadsides the ship leaving it to sink. He leaps upon the creature with a harpoon and gets caught up in the rope, dragged under by the whale, but not before inflicting it with the harpoon. When he appears on the surface again, his body is tangled in the web of rope, with only a free arm loose. It waves with the motion of the monster, as if beckoning the crew to follow their captain in finishing the job he no longer can. But the ship sinks beneath the waves, leaving only Ishmael as a survivor to tell the story.
To keep the whale oil burning in a rich man’s lap required the delicate maneuvering of a crew whose demographic diversity predicted America’s future. Caucasians, Indians, African Americans, various islanders are all, as Melville would write, “ federated along one keel”. A misdirected melting pot, it sails on under a man divided and seared by the conflagration raging inside him. Its as if Melville is beckoning us to believe that we are a nation, a species, full of diversity and also of greed and pride, Hubris, ever poised on self-destruction. It could be read as a cautionary tale whose ending he saw as unavoidable extinction.
-Resident Philosopher Doug Taylor
-- Mark Russell, humorist
I went far afield this week in my quest become a legend of the cookery world. A brightly colored book caught my eye, please spare me the, “Don’t judge a book by the cover”, because I do! I believe I’ve just got myself in a pickle by stating the former, but that’s fine because this adventure delves into pickling.
Simply Organic: a cookbook for sustainable, seasonal, and local ingredients, by Jesse Ziff Cool, is the book I fancy this week, and it’s not a book primarily about pickling, in fact, there is only one pickling recipe in the book. The cookbook possesses a wonderful connection to seasonal relationships with food it begins with spring recipes and ends with winter recipes. Mindful eating is discussed in the book and not imposing our eating believes on others, being respectful of food choices of others. I would love to spend a year strictly following the recipes in the cookbook. It just has so many great recipes and so much insight to the world of healthy food.
I’ll stop gushing and get down to the nitty-gritty of pickling cauliflower. Yes, I chose the Pickled Cauliflower recipe, orange cauliflower, because we all know “the Dish” must cook with panache! The preparation and ingredients are simple, just steam some cauliflower then add vinegar, garlic, jalapenos and a few other ingredients then your set. The whole deal took about 20 minutes, no problem. The results, the pickled cauliflower will be ready in two weeks or so, I’ll post them next time. I highly recommend this cookbook!
Check out the book at Foster Library, or put a hold on it - we will send it to you!
If there are any cookbooks in Foster Library’s collection that you would like me to try out, please leave the title on our Facebook page and I’ll get cooking.
Mission San Buenaventura is a Spanish mission founded in 1782 by the Franciscan order in present-day Ventura, California. It was the ninth and final Spanish mission established in California by Father Junípero Serra. Named for Saint Bonaventure, the mission is the namesake of the city of Ventura (officially "San Buenaventura") and Ventura County.
In 1793, the first church burned down. In 1893, Father Cyprian Rubio "modernized" the interior of the church, painting over the original artwork; when he finished, almost nothing remained of the old church. New priests restored the church to its original style in 1957. Today all that remains of the original Mission is the church and its garden. Services are still held in the parish church. A small museum sits at the Mission with displays of Chumash Indian artifacts and mission-era items.
Resident Photographer - Aleta Rodriguez
This month's title is: The Sespe Wild: Southern California's Last Free River
by Bradley John Monsma. Refreshments will be served.
For the past seven years we have had help from furry, four legged friends with reading. Yes, you read right, furry, four legged friends.
On just about every Saturday, you can find certified therapy dogs sitting in the library listening to the most interesting stories. School age children come in and can read in a calm, non-pressure environment. Dogs don’t criticize or correct their pronunciation. Doggie “Moms” sit with the dogs and children to give a hand with complex words and encourage timid kids. Paws for Reading is not a tutoring program but a program that encourages children to improve their reading skills and helps to build their self esteem.
As part of their mission statement, Paws for Reading aims to improve the literacy skills of children through the assistance of registered Service teams as literacy advocates. Literacy specialists acknowledge that children reading below their peers in reading skills are often intimidated by reading aloud in a group, frequently have lower self esteem and typically view reading as a chore.
A study at UC Davis (Feb 2010) showed that kids in reading dog programs increase their reading skills by 12% to 20% over kids not in a reading dog program. Because our volunteers are certified as therapy dog teams, they can also visit hospitals, nursing homes and other locations.
Learning to read is often less about intellectual limitation than about overcoming fears. Animals are ideal reading companions because they:
• Help increase relaxation and lower blood pressure
• Listen attentively
• Do not judge, laugh, or criticize
• Allow children to proceed at their own pace
• Are less intimidating than peers
When a dog is listening, the environment is transformed, a child’s dread is replaced by eager anticipation, and learning occurs. The handler is a skilled facilitator, too – shifting performance pressure off the child and providing support, while the child gets the reading practice necessary to build vocabulary, increase understanding of the material, and gain fluency as a reader. Can dogs help kids learn to read better? It seems they can and help turn reading from a chore to fun.
The E.P. Foster Paws for Reading program has also been the beneficiary of a generous grant from Sage Publications that has provided not only dog treats for the hard work the dogs do but also enables us to give a free book to each child participating in our program.
If you are interested in signing up to read to one of our Paws for Reading dogs, call Star Soto at 648-2716.