30 Oct 2017

Colorful Life of Ken Kesey

Kesey’s impact went far beyond his works of literature. His involvement in psychedelic tests advanced knowledge about mind altering drugs. What began as an experiment to test the effects of the drug led to Kesey and his friends trying out the drug in a more relaxed setting. This sparked the recreational use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD. In addition, his musical career with his band of “Merry Pranksters” has impacted other musicians at the time and influenced some of the music of the 1960’s. In fact, the Oregon Historical Society has called him a “founding father of the 1960s counterculture.” Kesey and his friends created virtually all of the symbols of the hippie generation from the long hair and exotic clothes down to the recreational use of mind altering drugs.

Geneva (née Smith) and Frederick A. Kesey
Kesey’s parents, Geneva Smith and Fred Kesey grew up in the South, and he and his younger brother Chuck were born in Colorado. He was born as Kenneth Elton Kesey on September 17, 1935, in La Junta, CO. Eleven years later, after World War Second the young family moved to Springfield, Oregon where Ken would spend the majority of his life. Fred Kesey found work — and a career — in the creamery business. (Kesey’s brother would stay in the business. Chuck and his wife Sue still own the Springfield Creamery, home of Nancy’s Yogurt products.)

Natural foods pioneers Chuck and Sue Kesey started their Springfield Creamery on a shoestring and built Nancy's Yogurt into a brand sold coast to coast.

A superior athlete, Ken excelled at wresting in both high school and at the University of Oregon. He would probably make a successful career as a wrestler if not for the shoulder injury that made it impossible for him to continue. Passionate about reading and films, Ken showed clear promise as a writer throughout his academic career, but himself was not really interested in becoming a wirter. While still at the University of Oregon, Ken eloped with his childhood sweetheart, Norma “Faye” Haxby, and they remained married for the rest of his life. They had three children together: Jed, Zane, and Shannon. Ken also had another daughter, Sunshine, in 1966 with fellow Prankster, Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Adams.
Norma “Faye” Haxby, with whom he had 3 children: Jed, Zane y Shannon

‘Mountain Girl’ aka Carolyn Garcia, member of the Merry Pranksters and mother of two children with Ken Kesey. She later married the Grateful Dead’s lead singer Jerry Garcia
Ken Kesey and his wife Faye talk with his girlfriend Mountain Girl (center)

Ken Kesey's girlfriend Mountain Girl holds their baby

In his youth, he just wanted to be on stage. According to his wife Faye, who had also been his high-school sweetheart, “He himself wanted to be an actor and his writing was primarily to write parts for himself.” After graduating from the University of Oregon in 1957 with a degree in speech and communication in Kesey and Faye even went to Hollywood in hopes of breaking him into the movie business. But that was not to be.
They moved to Palo Alto, California. He entered the famed graduate writing program at Stanford University, where he studied alongside other future literary superstars — Robert Stone, Peter Beagle, Larry McMurtry and he met numerous people with whom he formed lifelong friendships—Ken Babbs, Ed McClanahan, Wendell Berry, and others. Challenged and inspired in this environment, Kesey made great strides forward in his writing skills.

It was also while at Stanford that he volunteered for experiments being conducted at the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital. Unknown to him at the time, these experiments where he was given psychoactive drugs, including LSD, were part of the CIA’s MKUltra project. Kesey first encountered LSD and other “psychedelics” in 1959. After many experiences with LSD, Ken came to believe the substance had great positive potential. At a time when much of the US was focused on the Space Race, and exploring further and further away, Kesey saw psychoactives as tools for exploring inward, learning more about ourselves and others, and finding new ways to see the world already around us. With this belief at heart, Ken “liberated” some of the LSD from the veterans hospital and shared it with friends. He went on to embrace the “new way to think” that the drugs seemed to represent. He began to share his experiences — and some of the drugs — with other people in the university community.

He also used his experiences working at the hospital as the inspiration for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which became immediately successful upon its publication in 1962, providing Ken with fame and the financial freedom to continue to follow his heart—and his art.
One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest' was published in 1962 and he became famous overnight. The success enabled him to move to a log cabin in La Honda, CA in 1963, where he frequently entertained his guests with 'acid test' parties
Ken Kesey‘s La Honda home in April 1965

The La Honda house became the “home base” for the Merry Pranksters, and the site of many Acid Tests. The “house band” was often The Warlocks, who would shortly become the Grateful Dead. It was 1964, while Ken was working on his second novel, 
Sometimes a Great Notion, when Ken got called to New York on work related to the book. He and the Pranksters decided to go together and made it a mission to see the World’s Fair, which was being held in the city that year. They purchased a 1939 International Harvester school bus, gave it the most psychedelic paint job the world had ever seen, and made the trip that would grow to become one of the most famous cultural journeys of modern times. Furthur was born, and become one of the most important historical, artistic, and cultural touchstones of the entire era.

Ken Kesey rides atop the bus Further on April 26, 1967, while holding a flute in San Francisco

Then in 1964, he and his friends, the “Merry Pranksters,” made what would become a legendary cross-country bus trip. They returned to produce a series of boldly-different social events, the Acid Tests. Tom Wolfe’s 
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test recounted all of this, and propelled Kesey and the Pranksters to celebrity status.
The 1960s became a time of “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” and the news media gave Kesey much of the credit. They anointed him “a founding father of the ‘60s counterculture,” though Kesey would claim to have only ridden the wave that brought the changes.
In 1965, Ken ran into legal trouble for marijuana possession, after his return to California. After faking suicide and running away to Mexico, he returned to the Bay Area to face the charges. He served 6 months in the San Mateo County jail, and agreed to publicly denounce LSD. With a wink and a nod, he held the “Acid Test Graduation,” before leaving California and moving back to Oregon, where he settled on his Pleasant Hill farm.

Ken Kesey (rear, second from left) with associates during his trial on a marijuana charge

By the year 1967 and the “Summer of Love,” Kesey and his family had already moved back to a small farm in Oregon. Ken Kesey would forge through his remaining 30-some years as a writer, actor, farmer, family man and all-around character. He kept his Prankster friends and his zany ways.  And he always pursued life with a purpose, as his son Zane explains, “… to get up and do something that makes today different than yesterday.”

In 1975, he was involved in creating the film adaption of his novel ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. But a small tiff with the production house caused him to leave, two weeks into production.

Jack Nicholson and Will Sampson behind the scenes of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

During the 70s, 80s, and 90s, Ken continued to write. In 1984, Ken suffered the loss of his 20-year-old son Jed in a tragic auto accident. Kesey continued to perform, though, often appearing on stage at Grateful Dead concerts. He also made a number of trips with the second version of Furthur—including one to England and another to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in Cleveland—and performed his musical play Twister to numerous audiences on the West Coast. When he wasn’t traveling, performing, or writing, Ken spent his time working on the farm or enjoying the company of his extensive family and friends in the Eugene, OR area.

He underwent a liver surgery to remove a tumor, but passed away due to surgical complications on November 10, 2001.Ken Kesey died of complications from liver surgery on November 10, 2001, leaving behind legions of mourning fans, and a world forever changed for the better because he had been in it.


25 Oct 2017

22 Oct 2017

Adam Zagajewski Meets Spanish Book Clubs

Second year in a row we had an opportunity to participate in book club's meeting with the laureate of Princess of Asturias Literature Award. Our trip was paid by the Princess of Asturias Foundation and, same as in 2016, we spent one day in Oviedo. It actually meant spending many hours in a bus to be back the same night, but as hard as it was, it was totally worth the effort.

This time we were 20 people from Renteria, Donostia, Iurreta, Ermua and Leioa. The journey to Oviedo took us about 5 hours. After a quick lunch we had some time to visit the most emblematic places of the city. Mafalda, the cathedral, la Regenta, Woody Allen...


Architect's medieval "signature" on the cathedral

Woody Allen

At 6 we directed our steps to Palacio de Congresos de Oviedo. Over 1,500 participants of different literary groups came from all over the Spain and were trying to get the best places possible. At 7 the door was open for the general public without the individual tickets, which, by the way, had a form of a unique bookmark with a personalized number each.

A limited edition of bookmark/ticket that all the members of participating book clubs received

The meeting started on time. Adam Zagajewski was interviewed by Juan Manuel Bonet, the director of the Cervantes Institute and a poet himself. Although most of the topics brought by the interviewer were really serious, Zagajewski managed to sneak in some jokes. Below you can see some of the things the awarded poet commented on (you can find more looking on social media for a hashtag #PoeamasAlVuelo).

Adam ZAgajewski )on the left) with Juan Manuel Bonet (in the right)

About Lviv (natal city):
The loss of the city was a privilege for me as a poet, a treasure”.
The city of Lviv was up to 1945 a Polish territory, when it was ceded to the Soviet Union and Polish families had to relocate leaving their houses behind.

About Cracow, where he studied:
It was a city of my university years. I got there 18 years old from a small town in a province, which I hated, or pretended to hate. Like so many others... I embellished it.”

About travelling:
I wouldn't say I was a tourist-poet. I was the accidental traveller. It wasn't a choice, it wasn't, the majority of it, for pleasure.”
Houston is a nice city, but not pretty. It awoken in me kind of mechanism that rebounced me to Paris. It was an antidote for all that americanism.”
In Paris there were many Polish expatriates, but I was a passerby, a walker in Paris. You see many nameplates there. <<Chopin lived here>> <<Mickiewicz lived here>> Paris is scattered with symbols, with footprints. Chopin, Mickiewicz, Slowacki. Polish passerby. You never felt lonely.”

About solitude:
I liked solitude a lot. The solitude of my room where I was writing.”

About politics:
It wasn't for me. Long meetings with cigarettes. Cigarettes, smoke and talking for many hours. But I am a dissident. (…) I adored Michnik. His sharp sense of humour. He's a friend. Yes, he's a friend of mine.”
/For those of you who would like to know more about Adam Michnik, here is a quote form Wikipedia: <<Michnik became an opponent of Poland's communist regime at the time of the party's anti-Jewish purges. He was imprisoned after the 1968 March Events and again after the imposition of martial law in 1981.
Michnik played a crucial role during the Polish Round Table Talks, as a result of which the communists agreed to call elections in 1989, which were won by Solidarity. Though he has withdrawn from active politics, he has "maintained an influential voice through journalism". He has received many awards and honors, including the Legion of Honour and European of the Year.
Today, he's an editor-in-chief of the Polish newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza.>>/

About Polish poets:
Milosz, Szymborska, Rozewicz. Yes, I knew them all. We were friends and they were splendid people. Witkacy, Bruno Schulz, Witold Gombrowicz were gods of my youth. Later, I distanced myself a bit from the three of them, but they are still a necessary reference. They're strange, almost grotesque.
I'm afraid literature has lost some of its status nowadays.”

About music, painting and poetry:
Music, painting and poetry form One Art with three different facets. The music gives the immediate understanding. The painting needs a bit of translation. The poetry, same as the painting requires an effort, favourable conditions.”

When the talk between Zagajewski and Bonet was finished, the public was up to another surprise: Fernando Beltrán, a poet born in Oviedo but now set in Madrid, read in Spanish 4 poems personally chosen by their author, Zagajewski, who also gave us a small recital of the same titles in Polish.

Fernando Beltrán (on the left) and Adam Zagajewski (on the right)

At the end of the event, quite surprisingly, a few readers managed to get their books signed by the Polish poet, who seemed equally pleased and surprised. 

My signed copy of ensayos de Zagajewski

Try To Praise the Mutilated World
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days, and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.

You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

(translated by Clare Cavanagh) 

18 Oct 2017

Recognize the Writer Part 6

Time for part 6. I'm sorry it's a bit late this week: we've been in Oviedo to see Premio Letras de la Princesa de Asturias yesterday and I dodn't have access to my computer to post it.
In case you are joining in late, here is the explanation and all the rules:


And here is our Writer no. 6:

15 Oct 2017

"The Invisible Guardian" Route in Elizondo

I'm sure many of you have already done this trip, but in case some still haven't: here you have my walk in Elizondo, following the steps of Amaia Salazar in “The Invisible Guardian” by Dolores Redondo.

Firstly, it's a good idea to start at the Tourist Information Office. They have maps dedicated especially to this route and can give you some nice tips on where to go. Luckily enough, it's basically at the same point, where the whole walk starts: on Braulio Iriarte Street (calle Braulio Iriarte), previously called the Sun Street (calle del sol), because it is south oriented and all the houses are illuminated and warmed by the sun during the day. That is where we can see an Amaia's family house, where aunt Engrasi resides (Braulio Iriarte, 38). In reality it is a guesthouse Txarrenea, a typical farmhouse and any fan of the book can spend a night there. The Tourist Information Office is next door in Puriosenea house, which now is also a museum of Baztan.

Aunt Engrasi's House

A little bit up the street is the Muniartea Bridge, one of Amaia's favourite spots. From there you can admire the view of Salazar's family house, the whole Braulio Iriarte Street and, on the other side, Txokoto dam.

“Dense curtains of rain doused the street from one end to the other, as if someone were randomly wielding a gigantic watering can in the hope of washing away evil, or memory. The surface of the river was choppy, as if thousands of small fish had all decided to come to the surface at once. And the stones of both the bridge and the facades of the houses were soaked, with water bouncing off them and forming small pools that emptied themselves back into the river, pouring down the artificial walls along its edge.” (p.350)

Before you cross the bridge, you might want to go up the street towards Menditurri street, where you can see take Foral Police Headquarters. That's where Amaia was leading her investigation. The word on the street is that inside the building you have the nameplate dedicated to Salazar, but about that you would have to ask people working there.... It's quite curious that when Dolores Redondo was writing the first part of the trilogy, the building was still under construction. You would have never guessed it reading the book and that's because she had an access to the architect's plans.

Let's get back towards the Muniarte Bridge. On our way we pass next to the bakery, or better said its workshop, so important in the book. It's the one that appears in the book and in reality is a private house. It is well marked on the map you took from the Tourist Information, so you won't miss it for sure. The workshop from the film we will see very soon too.

Just before crossing the bridge, take a good look at the bar on the corner. It's Txokoto Bar frequented by a few of the book's characters. It's even part of an alibi for one of the suspects:

“They played on a PlayStation, went to Bar Txokoto to pick up a few sandwiches and watched a film. He didn't leave the house.” (p. 48)

You can stop here for a moment for a pintxo and something to drink.

OK, now you can cross. Although I'm sure you'll stop to look at the Txokoto Dam again. I don't blame you. It looks amazing. The building that you see just over it is a Municipal Library. Once on the other side, turn left into Jaime Urrutia Street and go all the way straight to the City Hall with it's Botil Harri Stone, a stone used in the game of laxoa, a variation of pelota. It's Salazar's personal ritual to touch the stone each time she crosses the square.

From here we go directly to the patisserie Malkorra to try txantxigorri. To those who haven't read the book yet, it looks very innocent, but those of you who have, know that eating it may seem a bit sinister. The curious thing is, that traditional cake was almost forgotten and made only on special occasions, but thanks to the novel it is now sold all year long.

“'It's a txantxigorri,' Amaia interrupted him. 'It's a local speciality made to a traditional recipe, although this one´s smaller than normal. It's definitely a txantxigorri though.'” (p. 9)

From here it's just a few steps to the church, where the funeral mass for most of the victims takes place. It's a beautiful building reconstructed stone by stone between 1916 and 1925, replacing the old church from the XVIth century that was located next to the City Hall. That relocation was mostly caused by the heavy flooding in June 1913 and the damaged it provoked.

We have only two more places to visit: the bakery that appears in the film and the cemetery. The first is a huge building where the real bakery was located long before the book and the film. Now it has an enormous green sign saying “Mantecadas Salazar”. You can enter and buy there a box of txantxigorris. They look differently than the ones from Malkorra, less impressive, maybe, but the box is the one we can see in the film. I have to confess I didn't like any of the cakes, but if I had to decide which one was better, this one would win.

And our final stop: the cemetery. We have to go up the road that leads us out of the town towards France. Don't worry, it's not a long walk and the views are great. And here, on the right is a big, iron gate. The cementary is not big. Don't miss the Arbizu family grave with an angel figure: it is described in the book (obviously, in reality, it's not Arbizu family, but the tomb is the one that inspired the author).
“The Arbizu family tomb was right at the start of one of the paths. On top of the pantheon rested an angel with an expression of indolence and boredom. Indifferent to human sadness he seemed to be watching the gravediggers who had used some iron bars to roll the stone aside.” (p.133)

And that's the end of our trip to Elizondo. If you still have some time and strength, you can visit Xorroxin cascade, the place where you can encounter mythological creatures like lamias. On your way there you will pass next to a few places that might have been the set up for the film scene where they find the first victim.

I hope you enjoyed that route! In case you would like to read about it in Spanish, there are multiple blogs that have already written about it:

All the quotes come from “The Invisible Guardian”, paperback edition 2016 from HarperCollins.