My Close Encounter With The (Angry) Master of Magical Realism
It’s October 29, 1982. The master of magical realism – Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez has just won the Nobel Prize. Playboy magazine has in its inventory a recently concluded interview with him, conducted by the veteran journalist, Claudia Dreifus. The interview has been transcribed from hours and hours of time Ms. Dreifus spent talking with García Márquez in his Paris apartment. It has been edited and ready to go – almost. Playboy has promised García Márquez that it would show him the edited version, mainly to check facts and to point out inaccuracies. As a matter of policy and editorial integrity, the magazine does not give the interview subjects right of approval. Normally, Playboy closes most of its issues three to four months in advance. García Márquez would make the trip to Stockholm in December to accept the Prize. The interview must appear as close to the Nobel ceremony as possible. This means, the scheduled February interview had to be pulled and be replaced by García Márquez interview. The problem is; the elusive Nobel laureate is nowhere to be found. Several frenetic phone calls from Playboy editors to his house in Mexico City are answered again and again by his maid. He has gone away on a month long vacation, leaving behind strict instructions that he didn’t wish to be reached.
The executive editor G. Barry Golson has drafted me to hand carry the interview to Mexico and do whatever was necessary in trying to track down the suddenly disappeared author and get his seal of approval. With then editor of Playboy’s Mexican edition, Miguel Arana and I drive over to García Márquez’s home in the ritzy southern suburb of the city. I encounter the maid face-to-face. She is polite, but firm in telling us that she couldn’t indulge to us where we could find the master of the house. After initial conversation, I tell her that I was going to park myself right outside the house in the fashion of passive resistance, until she could tell me his whereabouts. She just couldn’t. But she promises to mention to García Márquez of our being camped out at the front gate of his house, when and if he calls in. An hour or so later, she hands me a piece of paper. Written on it is a phone number of Hotel El Quijote in San Luis Potosi, a dusty town in north-central Mexico, some 225 miles out of Mexico City, reachable only through mostly unpaved country roads. After all day of calling the hotel and leaving messages that are never answered, I finally hear his voice on the other side of the line. He sounds congenial but tired. He agrees to meet with me the next afternoon at his hotel in San Luis Potosi. I leave very early in the morning to make it in time for our rendezvous.
He is not in his room. Not in the hotel restaurant or the lobby bar either. I patiently pace the hotel property. I circle the large swimming pool and admire his shiny BMW parked outside his room. Eventually, I plunk myself down in the lobby bar overlooking the entrance to the hotel. I sit there in excess of four hours, observing every single person entering and leaving the lobby — drowning beer after beer and munching on tortilla chips and salsa. I don’t even once wonder why we had to go through what I am going through, just so our interview subject can look at the transcript. I think to myself that’s one of the many reasons why Playboy Interview and its format and depth have become ultimate yardstick against which all the journalistic efforts in the question and answer format are measured.
It is getting to be late. I am beginning to lose my patience. I am exhausted and have consumed all the beer I could manage that day. And I am absolutely famished! I am trying to decide whether I should order something to eat when I suddenly notice short and stocky frame of Garbriel García Márquez entering the lobby. With him is a young lady I perceive to be in her mid-thirties, who I find out later is Marilise Simons, the Mexican correspondent to The New York Times. I rush to greet him. He apologizes for making me wait so long, while Marilise comes to his aid with “it was all my fault. My car broke down on the way over.” Doesn’t matter. Like an answered prayer, Gabriel García Márquez is standing in front of me face-to-face. He asks me and Marilise to accompany him to his suite. The front room is littered with the magazines, newspapers and loose manuscript pages piled next to a manual typewriter perched atop a cabinet in vertical position. He is in San Luis Potosi to help with the screenplay of his book Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother, being filmed there with Greek actress Irene Papas in the leading role. And also following him on the location is the French television crew, making a documentary of his life. Now at last he has a moment to pause and catch a breath.
As the three of us settle around the large round table in the middle of the room, he still looks harried and exhausted. I hand him the galley. The cover letter from Barry states that we needed to have his comments within three days and that he should restrict his changes to the facts and the possible distortion in translation. As he reads on, I see the congenial expressions of his face slowly turning, first into disgust and then into visible anger.
“I am furious at Playboy.” He is livid as he hurls the pages in his hands on the table with a loud thud. “I feel betrayed because Claudia (Dreifus) had promised that I would have the right to make any changes in the interview before its publication. And that I would be given enough time to be able to thoroughly go through it.” He continues on, telling me that the interview was concluded several months ago, why couldn’t they have sent him the typescript in the interim? In fact, he was given to understand that it was postponed indefinitely. “ Now just because I have won the Nobel Prize, Playboy suddenly wants to have it yesterday! Had I not won the Nobel, they probably would have killed it entirely.”
I am not quite prepared for his emotional outburst and the Latin temper. I am one of his biggest fans, I tell him, and he realizes that it comes from the heart. I tell him that the Nobel or not, he is one of the most important literary figures of our time. If Playboy thought any lesser of him, they wouldn’t have sent a personal emissary to hand carry it to him and to show him our goodwill. And I ask him, were he still reporting for El Tiempo or El Espectador, would he not want to run the interview with himself right now?
“But I don’t need any more publicity!” He says lamely. Still looking quite angry.
“Sr, García Márquez, if I may. This interview is not meant to publicize you. But to give your readers a deeper understanding of your ideas and your philosophy. As you know, Playboy has published many of your fictions. I have read all of them and have also read your books. I read our interview with you on my flight over here, and I must say, as one of your avid fans, it has enlightened me enormously of my understanding of you as a man and of your work, more than ever before. And I am sure, so would your readers around the world.”
I realize I am pontificating, but he could sense that I am being honest. It hits home and seems to calm him down somewhat. He promises to get back to us within the requested time frame of three days. Before I leave, he switches to a conciliatory tone in that we talk about insignificant things for a few minutes and then about the Indian Nobel winner, the poet Rabindranath Tagore. He then apologizes profusely for taking it all out on me, but then concludes with pragmatic “that’s what happens to the messengers!”
On my way over to see him, I had wanted to ask some additional questions to update the interview, but the way things turned out, it just wasn’t in the cards. At the very last minute all I could think of asking him was something I had read in that week’s Time magazine, in which he had said that to accept his award in Stockholm, he intends to wear the traditional Mexican guayabera, a light weight shirt worn outside the trousers. When Time asked, his answer: “To avoid putting on a tuxedo, I’ll stand the cold.” When I referred to it and asked him; why? His answer to me is: “Superstition.” More like it. Something a character of magical realism would say.
Before heading back to Mexico City, I decide to put something in my stomach. All I had all day long was huevos rancheros. I sit down, order another beer and some enchiladas verde and mull over my forty-five some minutes with the man who had just won the most prestigious literary prize in the world. His wrath has me unsettled for a while. But then I think of the interviewer Peter Ross Range and how CNN boss Ted Turner had turned violent during their interview, grabbing his tape recorder and smashing it on the aisle of the first class cabin of an airliner and how he had then snatched his camera bag and practically destroyed the tapes containing their conversation. How the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci would throw temper tantrums at her interviewer Robert Scheer when he turned the tables on her, confronting Fallaci with the questions she didn’t like. And how Alex Haley, the author of Roots endured the overt racism while the “führer” of the American Nazi party, George Lincoln Rockwell, outlined to him his intentions to ship “niggers” back to Africa.
At least, I had the pleasure of having encountered face-to-face one of my most favorite writers, and be able to tell him how much I admired his work. On my way over from Chicago, I had picked up brand new copies of two of his books, recently published in their quality paperback editions — the ones of which he had not yet even gotten author’s copies.
My hunger contained and the euphoric feeling of having mission accomplished, I just couldn’t make myself to get back to the car and head back to Mexico City. With my heart fluttering, I slowly walk back to his room. He himself answers the knock on his door.
“I am sorry, to bother you again, I almost feel like a teenager, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave without asking you to autograph these books for me.” By now he looks like a different person. The interview transcript in form of the galley proofs is spread out all over the table. “Look, I am already working for Playboy,” he says with a wry smile pointing at the strewn pages. Marilise sitting behind his back smiles and flashes the thumb up at me. He sits down and writes in first of the two books I have brought: No One Writes to Colonel, Para Haresh, de su colerico amigo, Gabriel ’82 and in the second: Leaf Storm, he draws an olive branch on the title page inside and writes, “Para Haresh, con un lomo de olivos, and signs it.
Mountain Gazette has been a free-form, free-spirited favorite publication of many literate free-form, free- spirited Westerners since it was born in the mind of the brilliant editor, Mike Moore, who made it into what many consider the best alternative mountain lifestyle print publication ever seen in America. It lived a vibrant existence from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. There had certainly never been anything remotely like it. Northern Lights, published in Montana, had a similar format to MG and was certainly more literary but not nearly as experimentally counter-culture as MG. Some of the most enjoyable writing about mountains and mountain people (and deserts, fish, coyotes, skis, rivers, mines, dancing, drinking, Buddhism, climbing, the human potential, roads and many other subjects of interest and presence) was printed with an irreverent glee worthy of Ryokan in the original incarnation of Mountain Gazette.
It was a critical success, each issue eagerly anticipated and thoroughly read and then discussed by its small but widely dispersed circle of subscribers. Now that I think about it, many of these discussions took place around tables in local pubs and bars. Alas, it was not a financial success. To give you an idea: Ed Abbey, probably the best known and most financially solvent regular contributor to the original Mountain Gazette, often enclosed a check with his manuscripts. Abbey was that kind of guy.
Mike Moore and Mountain Gazette changed my life and path by offering me a place to develop and regularly publish the kind of writing I most enjoyed and thought most valuable but could not get published elsewhere. Though I had been writing since childhood, little of it ever made it to print, and there is nothing like getting work published somewhat regularly to encourage and inspire a writer. It happened in the winter of 1971 in an odd way. I was working as a coach for the U.S Ski Team and had resigned in the middle of the season in what I considered (and consider) an ethical protest over the self-destructive, obtuse, politically driven, arbitrary, stupid, unfair and wasteful policies and administrators of the U.S. Ski Team. In that particular but by no means unusual case the ski team destroyed the racing career and damaged the life of the best U.S. downhill racer of the time. (Resigning in protest from the U.S Ski Team didn’t do my coaching career or my marriage—my wife was pregnant at the time and I needed the work—much good either, but, though that is another story, it was the right thing to do and I never regretted it, though some of the consequences were heavier than, say, the powder snow of a powder skier’s dreams.)
After my resignation, Bill Tanler, the founder and then editor of Ski Racing, asked me to write a piece explaining my reasons for such a rash, career crippling move. I did. Tanler decided that what I wrote was too “politically sensitive” to print in his publication, but he was good enough to pass it on to Moore who published it in what was then called Skier’s Gazette, the office of which was located in a small room in the basement of the same Denver building that housed Ski Racing. Moore titled it “The Greening of a Ski Coach,” a more palatable designation than the one I had given it, something like “Dinosaurs, Nazis and Cretins of American Ski Racing,” which, perhaps, is indicative of why I was having problems getting my writings published in the mainstream media.
Shortly after that Moore changed the name to Mountain Gazetteto reflect the expanding range of subjects appearing in its pages, skiing being but one area of interest to readers and contributors alike. Skiers were buying Skiers Gazette and complaining that there was nothing about skiing in it, and the publication was growing in ideas and scope if not in profits. “The Greening of a Ski Coach” was well received by skiers and ski racers and ski coaches though not by U.S. Ski Team boosters. Moore asked me to write a piece about a Joan Baez concert I had attended in Berkeley, which is a long way from skiing and even mountains; but it suited the publication and the Vietnam era time of protest and social questioning and change. He liked the Baez concert piece and after that he asked that I write about anything that came to mind as often as I wanted.
I did. I wrote about coyotes, mutant skis, ski racing, Europe, night driving, hypocrisy in climbing ethics, climbing Half Dome, acid trips, road trips, mind trips, hesitation, Gary Snyder, Buddhism, the Disney Corporation, speed skiing and medicine. Twice I sent Moore hundred page manuscripts which he published. (Most manuscripts to most publications were in the 10 to 20 page range. Today’s literary tastes in most magazines are composed of 5 to 10 page features surrounded (padded) by dozens of 50 to 250 word sound bite featurettes.) Many writers, photographers and artists, including Lito Tejada-Flores, Barry Corbett, Galen Rowell, Edgar Boyles, Bob Chamberlain, Robert Reid, George Sibley, Pudim (cartoonist for the Jackson Hole News), Doug Robinson, Sheridan Anderson, N.E.D., David Roberts, Joe Kelsey, Jeremy Bernstein, Ted Kerasote, Gary Snyder, Bruce Berger, Peter Miller, John Jerome, Rob Schulteis and others made Mountain Gazette into a unique, wonderful and much loved alternative and free (expansive) thinking mostly about the west publication.
Moore was a dark-haired, bearded, soft and deliberate spoken Teddy Bear of a gentle man with a keen intellect, sensitivity and curiosity about people and the rip tides of existence, a finely tuned bullshit detector and a fierce appreciation for the drinking life. One year he taught a course for the alternative community college in Denver. The course was called something like “Literature and Drinking,” and Moore met his students one night a week in a different Denver bar, usually on Colfax Avenue. I visited Mike and his family in Denver sometime in the 1970s (that decade sort of runs together) and went with him to one of his literature and drinking classes of six or eight students. It was held in a western bar with live band, dance floor, and a nearly full house of dancing, drinking buckaroos and buckarettes doing a 1970s Denver wild-west good time drugstore cowboy stomp with enthusiasm and abandon.
For the first hour the group discussed “A Fan’s Notes” by Fredrick Exley and “Under the Volcano” by Malcolm Lowry, both on the all star list of alcoholic writers who wrote like angels about their demons. One critic described Exley’s novel as “…a memoir with a wink—a sort of ‘Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ for self-loathing depressive alcoholics.” Lowry, whose best known work was made into a fine movie, spent several years of his life living, writing and drinking in Mexico, and is the source of the quote, “They tell you that you’ll lose your mind when you grow older. What they don’t tell you is that you won’t miss it very much.” That gives you an idea of the context of the Mike Moore literature class, but the books were discussed with shrewdness, intelligence and insight, and it was a great deal more interesting and fun to me than my university graduate school classes devoted to things like Edmund Spencer’s “The Faerie Queene” had been. And, of course, after the first hour in the western bar it was even more fun, though likely not so interesting to those outside the class. Moore and I had a couple of editing disputes over some of my writing, one of which lasted four years, but 90 percent of the time he was right, including his criticism of “Coyote Song” which after four years of literary disputes reached print.
The tensions between operating a successful artistic and literary publication that was at the same time an economic disaster, kept alive only through financial life support (more on that shortly) contributed to Moore burning out. Editors of alternative publications tend to burn out shortly before their publications. He left MG and went off to wintertime Scotland with his wife, Sandy, the publication’s art editor, and their children, in search of warmth, inspiration, a good night’s sleep and a resolution of family problems. After some adventures in the New York magazine publishing scene, some wandering even so far as Berkeley, a return to Colorado and a failed attempt a few years later to revive MG which had folded in his absence (more on that later) he eventually settled in Vermont (sans family but with a lovely woman who was and is a successful painter) where he edited and published books for several years. Then, as is only fitting for a counter-culture icon, he seems to have dropped out of even the counter culture and rumors are that he neither edits, reads nor even gardens any longer, but has succumbed to an infatuation with golf. Moore is sorely missed by friends and fans in the world of alternative mountain publications. Gaylord Guenin took over from Moore. Guenin moved the Gazette to Boulder, Colorado where he fiercely but gently nursed it through its last issues before the financial angel, Aspen’s George Stranahan who had kept it alive, pulled the plug. Guenin, who has lived in Woody Creek outside Aspen since shortly after the Gazette’s demise, is known as “the erstwhile mayor of Woody Creek,” (as Stranahan is its patriarch) was a friend and chemical enhancement buddy of the late Hunter S. Thompson and was a suitable lifestyle and literary heir to Moore as editor of MG. In the late 1980 and early ‘90s he was a regular feature at the Woody Creek Tavern. Guenin had the smiling, lined (nay, grooved) face of many hard miles in the style of James Baldwin, Jim Bridwell and Fred Beckey, though to my knowledge he was never a climber. Under his leadership the substance of the Gazette didn’t change significantly from what it had been, and during my one visit to the Boulder offices in 1978 Gaylord orchestrated a great eating/drinking soiree at a restaurant that included Barry Corbet. Readers, contributors and staff of the Mountain Gazette mourned its passing with a well attended and raucous, sodden wake in Boulder. Old copies of the Gazette are considered collector’s items in certain circles, and bound copies of all issues are a treasure.
When life support was removed and Mountain Gazette died in 1979, it left a vacuum in mountain/western publishing. There was no place to publish 100 page manuscripts, no place to counter the perspective found in the slick outdoor/outside/manly macho journals and magazines that cater to image rather than substance and to the advertising dollars of the industry of recreation above all else rather than to the soul and heart of mountain living, mountain recreation, mountains walking for those with the eyes to see. It was a bleak time for writers, readers, poets and photographers who had become accustomed to being on either side of the eclectic pages of the west’s freest mountain journal.
One free-form, free-spirited, devotee of both Moore and MG decided to do something about it. Don Bachman a legendary Colorado based avalanche consultant, a ferocious environmental activist, skier, wanderer over peaks and through woods, avid reader and sometime writer and ex-owner/operator of a Crested Butte bar, put together his life savings and Mike Moore and the three of them set out to resurrect Mountain Gazette. Though I had followed the story at the time it unfolded and heard about it later I was a bit hazy on the details of that adventure, so I asked him to fill me in. Bachman, who at 6’6” towers over the many meetings/forums/demonstrations/marches he regularly attends on behalf of the biological and social environment of earth, now lives a more sedate life in Bozeman, Montana with his wife, the leading mycologist in Montana, replied:
“Your request sent me down a nostalgic dive into some diary notes. For what it is worth, I first discussed the MG revival with Nan Babb in the fall of 1982, and secured use of the MG name on 12/15/82 (my 44th birthday – old enough to know better). Moore consented to help with the launch (ha, we thought we could launch – but could only push off the edge into a heap) the following year in September of ’83.
“We met on November 14, 1983 in Oakland, CA – stayed with my cousins in Berkeley and visited Will Hearst III at the Examiner the next day. No luck, but free lunch.
“On to Seattle via Medford in the rain (what else) to meet with Darrell Oldham of the Seattle Weekly for lots of good, and again free, advice. From there it was on to Missoula – can’t remember who we tried to meet with, but couldn’t for some reason and thence to Livingston. Here we stayed at Tim Cahill’s place and, yes, debauchery seemed to have reigned (since I have a cryptic “drunk” notation in my notes). I do remember early in the evening remaining at the Livingston Bar & Grill after dinner and buying into a football pool to finance the rest of the way home; and, sure enough, winning $100 which I promptly had to reinvest for a round of drinks, lest I lose at least a limb at the hands (and boots) of the attendant cowboy clientele. After crawling back to Cahill’s, I couldn’t remember what I/we/they did. …on to Rock Springs the next day and back to Crested Butte after the 10 day trip of futility.
“But not to be deterred, I somehow lured Mike and the artist, Susan, back to Colorado in early December. We did a fundraiser in Aspen at Chamberlain’s, visited Stranahan and at some point spent the evening in some dowager’s condo next to Chair One, maybe all in the same trip – I can’t remember – maybe you can. We worked damn hard that winter, at spread sheets, writer and donor contacts (Abbey was both – he submitted an essay along with $100), and concept (we’d service the Empty Quarter; viz. The Nine Nations of North America). They left on 3/1/84 and the last notation I made was disconnecting the MG phone the next day. I went back to avalanche consulting and speed skiing prep (at A-Basin this time – wiped out the course w/a fine avalanche which dusted the Avalauncher platform we shot from, and buried the timing tent). Fortunately there was also a fairly lucrative legal case I worked on that spring which helped replace the nearly $5,000 I contributed to this aborted effort. I also drove for CB Taxi in the odd moments.
“If you detect a pattern of debauchery in this narrative – go for it. We had the determination of the righteous but with impaired ability – I guess – for whatever reason, and of course it was fun and just another stumble along the flagstone path of life. “I’ll look forward to the article – and the New MG, if one emerges.”
Not only is there a fine Mountain Gazette style piece of writing lurking in Bachman’s notebooks of his and Moore’s travels and tribulations during the attempted resuscitation of the publication, but, in my opinion, he captured perfectly (I’ve long thought Bachman should do more writing) the ethos and operating manual for the original MG: “If you detect a pattern of debauchery in this narrative – go for it. We had the determination of the righteous but with impaired ability—I guess—for whatever reason, and of course it was fun and just another stumble along the flagstone path of life.
Those of us who shared the determination of the righteous also shared Bachman and Moore’s disappointment, and, possibly truthfully, probably impaired ability as well. We missed MG and collected old copies when we could find them. My own writing went in a different direction. Life, literature, and all pursuits along the flagstone path went on, grateful for the time and lessons of MG, applying them to the present and using them to be attentive and ready for future challenges and lessons. So far, they still do.
And then in 2000 I received a letter from someone named John Fayhee, who I had never heard of, and he was making the first steps toward resurrecting Mountain Gazette and he wanted to know if I had any ideas, suggestions, input, and was I interested in contributing some writing if it happened. I did and I was and we started a correspondence and within six months or so Fayhee had secured financing and a staff and an office in Frisco, Colorado and put out the first Mountain Gazette in nearly 20 years. Fayhee, a bearded man of seemingly continuous movement, it turns out, was a worthy successor to Moore and Guenin. He was as energetic and even manic as Moore was deliberate, a serious and experienced journalist, a mountain person searcher for whatever it is that mountain people are searching for, and an aficionado of the bars of Summit County, Colorado, or, in truth, those of whatever county he happened to be in. Four years after he got MG back on its feet he dedicated an entire issue of the Gazette to bars. He called it the “bar issue” and he explained it in these words:
“Mountain people are flat-out bar pros. In most parts of the country, not the world, if you find yourself in a bar three, four, nine times a week, you’d be a social pariah, the card-carrying town drunk, a citizen who serves as a justified poster child for the kind of person you tell your kids to yell for help if they so much as walk by. And justifiably so. In most parts of the country, people go to bars for all the wrong reasons, and only for the wrong reasons: to slump over a bottle of Bud, bitching at the world. And, worse, they come out for all the wrong reasons.
“In mountain country, people go to bars to celebrate life, after a day of skiing or working fence or kayaking. Mountain people go to watering holes and pubs and saloons and clubs to make connections, to pick up the latest gossip, to tell tall tales that, unlike the tales told in most lowland locales, are often updated; in the mountains, new stories are told at our bars. Bars are where we huddle when we look out the window and wonder, probably subconsciously, just what we’re doing out here on the edge of civilization, up in the cold hidden valleys, far from our people, far from the ways we know.
“There is vibrancy to our bars and our bar life that you’d be hard pressed to equal in the bars of lesser lands. And that vibrancy thematically and culturally lends itself to what we hope will become an annual Mountain Gazette Bar Issue.
“I understand there are a lot of people who are going to recoil at the thought of dedicating an entire issue of Mountain Gazette to mountain bars. Of course, it’s my guess that few of those people are Gazette regulars, but, just in case one or two strayed their way over from Backpacker or Outside, let me caveat this whole thing: You’re either a bar person or you’re not, and mountain country has a high percentage of people who are bonafide, card-carrying bar people, and a high percentage of our readers are bar people.”
Fayhee resurrected Mountain Gazette with the right intention and great spirit and his own brand of frenzied energy, and it looked and acted and felt much like it did more than 20 years earlier. Not exactly, but close, and MG was still free form and spirited and provided both outlet and input for those who see and seek in the mountains that which can’t be found in the pages of slicker, more commercial and ahhhhhhh sanitized and more solvent mountain publications. Times had changed in the 20 plus years that Mountain Gazette had been out of commission. Mountain towns had changed. The ‘60s and ‘70s, in my opinion, were a great and valuable time for America and the mountain people of the west, but they were gone and could not and should not be revived or emulated. Abbey was dead and most of the old MG guard, me included, did not view or live life the same as we had in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Or, at least, those who did couldn’t remember why.
In my case, while I still organized my life around skiing, climbing, writing, wandering, reading and being attentive and ready for whatever the next adventure might become, I was sitting on a zafu every morning rather than on a bar stool at night and had limited my intake of mood, mind and consciousness altering chemicals to nothing stronger or socially/physically controversial than caffeine. Still, over the next six years I sent Fayhee several manuscripts of varying lengths, often longer than he really wanted, though none of them up to 100 pages. It took a couple of years to convince him to publish one or two of them, and one of my favorites he never did publish; but I wrote about and MG published works about vegetarianism, revisiting Yosemite, the joy of skiing, instinct, Arnold Schwarzenegger, climbing in the Yukon, backcountry skiing, Fred Beckey, a life of skiing on Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain, the Prusik, ski instruction in America, DickDurrance and several book reviews. Mountain Gazette remained my favorite venue for my own favorite work.
As a contributor and local delivery boy for MG I could make an educated guess about the current fiscal health of MG at any time by how hard it was and how long it took to get paid. My guess was that it had its 21st century financial ups and downs and that Fayhee was a better editor and writer than he was a businessman/administrator, just like his two predecessors had been in the 20th century.
Eventually Fayhee and his partners sold MG and Fayhee stayed on as editor, but he moved from Colorado to New Mexico. MG was sold again, and again. And in due time Fayhee was no longer editor and MG no longer a print publication. It is, after all, the 21st century. MG is found on the web, not on the streets or bars and newsstands of the Mountain West. MG was based in Boulder, Colorado (again) under the able editorship of Doug Schnitzspahn, part of the Virginia based Summit Publishing. Mountain Gazette continues to be a unique, wonderful and much loved alternative and free (expansive) thinking mostly about the west online publication.
I was in Gabo’s barrio, San Diego, in Cartagena last week. Had a mojito in the colonial courtyard of the Hotel Santa Clara. The hotel was originally built as a convent in 1621. Gabo’s house is next door to the hotel. They talk about ghosts in the hotel…..fantasmas.
If you are a Marquez fan you have to see his life story. You can find it on Amazon Prime.
‘Gabo, The Magic of Reality’ is a story about the incredible power of human imagination, which follows the interwoven threads of Gabriel García Márquez’s life and work – “Gabo” to all of Latin America – with the narrative tension of an investigation.
More than three decades later, shortly after his eightieth birthday, Miller wrote a beautiful essay on the subject of aging and the key to living a full life. It was published in 1972 in an ultra-limited-edition chapbook titled On Turning Eighty (public library), alongside two other essays. Only 200 copies were printed, numbered and signed by the author.
Miller begins by considering the true measure of youthfulness:
If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power. If you are young in years but already weary in spirit, already on the way to becoming an automaton, it may do you good to say to your boss — under your breath, of course — “Fuck you, Jack! You don’t own me!” … If you can fall in love again and again, if you can forgive your parents for the crime of bringing you into the world, if you are content to get nowhere, just take each day as it comes, if you can forgive as well as forget, if you can keep from growing sour, surly, bitter and cynical, man you’ve got it half licked.
He later adds:
I have very few friends or acquaintances my own age or near it. Though I am usually ill at ease in the company of elderly people I have the greatest respect and admiration for two very old men who seem to remain eternally young and creative. I mean [the Catalan cellist and conductor] Pablo Casals and Pablo Picasso, both over ninety now. Such youthful nonagenarians put the young to shame. Those who are truly decrepit, living corpses, so to speak, are the middle-aged, middleclass men and women who are stuck in their comfortable grooves and imagine that the status quo will last forever or else are so frightened it won’t that they have retreated into their mental bomb shelters to wait it out.
If you have had a successful career, as presumably I have had, the late years may not be the happiest time of your life. (Unless you’ve learned to swallow your own shit.) Success, from the worldly standpoint, is like the plague for a writer who still has something to say. Now, when he should be enjoying a little leisure, he finds himself more occupied than ever. Now he is the victim of his fans and well wishers, of all those who desire to exploit his name. Now it is a different kind of struggle that one has to wage. The problem now is how to keep free, how to do only what one wants to do.
He goes on to reflect on how success affects people’s quintessence:
One thing seems more and more evident to me now — people’s basic character does not change over the years… Far from improving them, success usually accentuates their faults or short-comings. The brilliant guys at school often turn out to be not so brilliant once they are out in the world. If you disliked or despised certain lads in your class you will dislike them even more when they become financiers, statesmen or five star generals. Life forces us to learn a few lessons, but not necessarily to grow.
Miller returns to youth and the young as a kind of rearview mirror for one’s own journey:
You observe your children or your children’s children, making the same absurd mistakes, heart-rending mistakes often, which you made at their age. And there is nothing you can say or do to prevent it. It’s by observing the young, indeed, that you eventually understand the sort of idiot you yourself were once upon a time — and perhaps still are.
At eighty I believe I am a far more cheerful person than I was at twenty or thirty. I most definitely would not want to be a teenager again. Youth may be glorious, but it is also painful to endure…
I was cursed or blessed with a prolonged adolescence; I arrived at some seeming maturity when I was past thirty. It was only in my forties that I really began to feel young. By then I was ready for it. (Picasso once said: “One starts to get young at the age of sixty, and then it’s too late.”) By this time I had lost many illusions, but fortunately not my enthusiasm, nor the joy of living, nor my unquenchable curiosity.
And therein lies Miller’s spiritual center — the life-force that stoked his ageless inner engine:
Perhaps it is curiosity — about anything and everything — that made me the writer I am. It has never left me…
With this attribute goes another which I prize above everything else, and that is the sense of wonder. No matter how restricted my world may become I cannot imagine it leaving me void of wonder. In a sense I suppose it might be called my religion. I do not ask how it came about, this creation in which we swim, but only to enjoy and appreciate it.
Two years later, Miller would come to articulate this with even more exquisite clarity in contemplating the meaning of life, but here he contradicts Henry James’s assertion that seriousness preserves one’s youth and turns to his other saving grace — the capacity for light-heartedness as an antidote to life’s often stifling solemnity:
Perhaps the most comforting thing about growing old gracefully is the increasing ability not to take things too seriously. One of the big differences between a genuine sage and a preacher is gaiety. When the sage laughs it is a belly laugh; when the preacher laughs, which is all too seldom, it is on the wrong side of the face.
Equally important, Miller argues, is countering the human compulsion for self-righteousness. In a sentiment Malcolm Gladwell would come to complement nearly half a century later in advocating for the importance of changing one’s mind regularly, Miller writes:
With advancing age my ideals, which I usually deny possessing, have definitely altered. My ideal is to be free of ideals, free of principles, free of isms and ideologies. I want to take to the ocean of life like a fish takes to the sea…
I no longer try to convert people to my view of things, nor to heal them. Neither do I feel superior because they appear to be lacking in intelligence.
Miller goes on to consider the brute ways in which we often behave out of self-righteousness and deformed idealism:
One can fight evil but against stupidity one is helpless… I have accepted the fact, hard as it may be, that human beings are inclined to behave in ways that would make animals blush. The ironic, the tragic thing is that we often behave in ignoble fashion from what we consider the highest motives. The animal makes no excuse for killing his prey; the human animal, on the other hand, can invoke God’s blessing when massacring his fellow men. He forgets that God is not on his side but at his side.
But despite observing these lamentable human tendencies, Miller remains an optimist at heart. He concludes by returning to the vital merriment at the root of his life-force:
My motto has always been: “Always merry and bright.” Perhaps that is why I never tire of quoting Rabelais: “For all your ills I give you laughter.” As I look back on my life, which has been full of tragic moments, I see it more as a comedy than a tragedy. One of those comedies in which while laughing your guts out you feel your inner heart breaking. What better comedy could there be? The man who takes himself seriously is doomed…
There is nothing wrong with life itself. It is the ocean in which we swim and we either adapt to it or sink to the bottom. But it is in our power as human beings not to pollute the waters of life, not to destroy the spirit which animates us.
The most difficult thing for a creative individual is to refrain from the effort to make the world to his liking and to accept his fellow man for what he is, whether good, bad or indifferent.