Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday, May 15, 2015


She was born in Ireland in during the Merovingian period (very early in the seventh century), the daughter of a pagan king named Damon and a mother who converted to Christianity to ensure Dymphna would be educated under the tutelage of a priest named Gerebern.

Dymphna’s beautiful mother died suddenly.  

Her father, inconsolable, fell into what today we would call clinical depression.  

Courtiers worried that their king’s mental health would further deteriorate unless he took another wife, so they urged him to do so.  

Damon dispatched envoys around Ireland to find a woman as beautiful as the wife he had lost.  When they returned empty-handed, a deranged notion struck the lustful king:  Hmmm, my fourteen year-old daughter, Dymphna-–she looks exactly the same as her mother…

Dymphna was horrified by her father’s proposal.  Each time she refused his advances, the king’s rage grew worse.  

Gerebern, the priest, was also perplexed by this situation, and he plotted an escape for them both.

With assistance from the court jester, Dymphna and Gerebern crossed the English Channel by boat and sailed up the River Schelde to Antwerp.  

Feeling unsafe near a waterway, they made their way inland to Zammel, a small settlement of about fifteen houses and a water well, six miles from what would later become Gheel.

When King Damon realized his daughter and her pesky priest had duped him, he went nuts.  (Also, he no longer had a court jester to help him see the lighter side.)

With a small army of warriors in three boats, the king set sail in search of Dymphna.  

How did he know where to go?  

For two months Damon followed the money.  

Dymphna and Gerebern recklessly left a trail of their native coins as payment for services rendered en route to a new life abroad.  

The final tip came from a woman at an inn called The Kettle, in a village called Westerlo.  She pointed out the direction Dymphna had taken. (Legend suggests arthritis cut in immediately, the woman’s arm remained rigidly outstretched for the rest of her life.)

When Dymphna and Gerebern learned the king and his warriors were near, they fled Zammel.  But not fast enough.  The king caught up with them six miles away.

Blaming the couple’s misadventure on Gerebern, Damon slew the priest without further ado (no trial necessary).  

Then he asked his daughter one last time:  “Will you marry me?”

Dymphna declined.

Damon commanded his warriors to execute his daughter.  

Not one stepped forward. 

So the crazed king raised his mighty sword and severed Dymphna’s head with one blow. (No one knows what he did to the court jester.)  

Adding insult to murder and mayhem, Damon and his warriors left the scene without bothering to bury their victims.

Zammel’s citizens were greatly distressed by the carnage they found at the scene.  They interred Dymphna and Gerebern at the very spot they were slain.

Word of what happened that tragic day in 621 A.D. traveled around Europe.  

Within a few hundred years (word traveled slow back then), the burial site became a shrine for mentally disordered pilgrims.  

Such pilgrims discovered that if they prayed at Dymphna’s burial site to her relics (bones), their mental illnesses gave way to sanity. (It sure beat an Abilify/Zoloft cocktail.)  

After notching up a few such miracles, Dymphna qualified for sainthood.

A whole town grew up around it.  The town of Gheel.

Today, a marble statue marks this site-–diagonally opposite Dymphnakerk:  Demented Damon, under the influence of a demon, poised to decapitate Dymphna–-martyred for her morality.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Illustration:  Thomas Van Stein

A quarter-century before the start of World War II, my grandmother, Adrine Kalfayan, was a young teenager in Trebizond.

Trebizond is a city in northeastern Turkey on the Black Sea.  

In 1915, Turkey was part of the Ottoman Empire.

My grandmother was Armenian.

Through the 1800s and early 1900s, Armenians were treated as second-class citizens in their own historical homeland.

This was because Armenians were Christian, and Moslem Turks outnumbered Armenians, ten-to-one.

The Armenian nation was first to recognize Christianity as a religion, in the year 301.

Armenia’s homeland, Anatolia, had been absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, which was then a world power.

The Ottoman Empire’s rulers did not like progress.

Without progress, the Ottoman Empire’s army could not compete with armies in Europe, where progress was welcomed, especially to modernize armies.

And so the Ottoman Empire fell apart in the late 1800s as Greek, Serb, and Romanian armies fought against Turks to win independence from the oppressive empire.

Illustration: Thomas Van Stein

Armenians did not seek independence from Turks.  

They sough equality.

For instance, they were not allowed to vote in the Ottoman Empire.

And, As Christians, they were forced to pay more tax than Moslems.

In 1895, instead of allowing Armenians to vote in elections and making tax equal for all people, the Ottoman Empire’s leader, Sultan Abdul-Hamid II, created a special army to murder 100,000 Armenians.

For sure, this special army reduced the Armenian minority if Armenians would ever win the right to vote. 

Illustration:  Thomas Van Stein
But perhaps Sultan Abdul-Hamid II forgot it would also result in fewer premium taxpayers.

For reasons that had nothing to do with Armenians, a group of Turks forced a constitutional government on the Sultan in 1908.  

This group was known as Young Turks.

A constitutional government meant that Young Turks would share power with the Sultan.

Young Turks believed in modernizing their country.  They claimed to believe in equality and justice.

Although Armenians supported Young Turks and their progressive thinking, what Young Turks really meant was equality and justice for all Moslems, not Christian Armenians.

In 1913, Young Turks overthrew Sultan Abdul-Hamid II as ruler.  
Three Young Turks—Mehmet Talaat, Ismail Enver, and Ahmed Djemal—became the empire’s new rulers.  

Quickly, Mehmet, Ismail, and Ahmed became bossier than the Sultan they had overthrown for being too bossy.

This trio wanted to create a new Turkish empire with one religion.  

Their religion.  

And they wanted to take over countries to the east.

In between Turkey and countries to the east lay Armenia’s homeland, and two million Christian Armenians.

This did not matter to Young Turks.

And it did not bode well for Armenians.

The Young Turk trio whipped up religious hatred against Christians.  

Perhaps they were jealous that Armenians had always been progressive and open to new ideas.  

And that Armenians were smart and enterprising, educated and skilled, and therefore wealthy compared to most Turks.  

This was because the Sultan had discouraged learning.  

Instead, the Sultan encouraged his subjects to be unskilled peasants so that they would be ignorant and loyal to him.

In 1914, the start of World War I created a cover for Young Turks to answer their “Armenian Question.”

This was not a real question.  

It was a figure of speech for wanting Armenians to vanish.

The Turks sided with Germany and Austria-Hungary during World War I.

While Germany and Austria-Hungary fought France and Great Britain on European battlefields, Young Turks laid the groundwork for Armenians to vanish.

At that time, 40,000 Armenians served in the Turkish army.  

These Armenian soldiers were relieved of their weapons, put to work as slave labor, and eventually shot dead.

Meanwhile, Young Turks ordered all other Armenians to surrender their weapons.

It is never a good sign when a government orders its citizens to surrender their weapons.  

This is why the founders of the United States of America granted Americans the right to bear arms.  

They did this so Americans would be able to defend themselves against a bossy government, and also rise up and overthrow government if its leaders ever became too bossy.

But back to Armenians, who surrendered their weapons.

Armenians began to vanish on April 24th, 1915.

On that date, three hundred prominent Armenians were rounded up by Turks and imprisoned, tortured, and shot or hanged.

Young Turks needed help to ensure that all Armenians in Turkey would vanish.  

So they encouraged other ethnic tribes, such as Kurds, to kill Armenians and steal their possessions.

Young Turks also created a special organization to help Armenians vanish.

This organization was named Special Organization.  

It comprised of criminals who were released from prison in exchange for their willingness to kill Armenians.
These criminals were also encouraged to rape Armenian women, including young girls, and turn them into sex slaves.  

And they were allowed to keep everything they could steal from Armenians.

A favorite Turkish vanishing trick was to march, march, march thousands of Armenians up mountains and over cliffs into a river, which turned red from Armenian blood.

Another Turkish vanishing trick was to march, march, march thousands of Armenians into the hot desert, without water, so they would fry to death.

In all, Young Turks made about 1,500,000 Armenians vanish.

My grandmother Adrine and her family were among 500,000 Armenians who did not vanish.

The Kalfayan family left Trebizond by boat in June 1915.  

They were on the last boat to leave Trebizond before Young Turks and Kurds massacred all of Trebizond’s 14,000 Armenians.

The Kalfayans sailed to Istanbul, Turkey’s capital, which was then called Constantinople, where they had lived before moving to Trebizond.

Adrine’s father, Azarik Kalfayan, designed rugs for Sultan Abdul-Hamid II.

In 1895, Abdul-Hamid II had rewarded Azarik with a Certificate of Personal Satisfaction, signed by the Sultan.
Twenty years later, Azarik used his Certificate of Personal Satisfaction as a Get-out-of-genocide-alive card for himself and his family.

But the wide-scale brutal murder of Armenians scarred Azarik’s family psychologically.  

Five decades later, when Adrine temporarily suffered mental illness, she believed Young Turks were tracking her movements and wanted to make her vanish.

Back to World War I.  

It did not go well for the Ottoman Empire.  

Along with Germany, the Ottoman Empire lost, and the Allied powers occupied Constantinople.

Before troops of the Allied powers arrived, the Young Turk trio did their own vanishing act.

Aided by Germans, Mehmet escaped by submarine to Germany.

Ismail also fled to Germany.

Ahmed also bolted to Germany.

The irony.

Armenians hunted Mehmet and Ahmed, and assassinated them within four years.

Illustration:  Thomas Van Stein
Ismail was last to die, killed in battle by an Armenian.

Years later, Adolph of Germany should have paid attention to what happened to Mehmet, Djemal, and Ismail.

Instead, Adolph tried to solve the “Jewish Question.”

Again, this was not a real question, but a figure of speech for wanting Jews to vanish.

Adolph tried to solve his “question” the same as Mehmet, Ismail, and Ahmed tried to solve their “question.”

And Adolph also died as a consequence.  

Later, Germany accepted responsibility for their genocidal Holocaust of Jews.

But Turkey has never acknowledged their genocidal massacre of Armenians.

Instead, Turks deny that they wanted Armenians to vanish.  

And Turks try to silence anyone that publishes information about their genocide against Armenians.

As if it can be swept under a magic carpet.

Troops from the Allied powers occupied Constantinople after World War I.

Their ranks included a British soldier named Edward Stanley.

Edward and his fellow soldiers liked to visit a necktie shop.  They did not need more neckties after already buying too many.  They wanted to be near a pretty young necktie sales person.   Her name was Adrine.

Adrine spoke little English.  But Edward was smitten.  He asked Adrine to marry him.

Adrine’s family did not want her to marry Edward Stanley because Edward was English.  

Adrine told her family she would become a nun if they would not let her marry Edward.  

Adrine’s family could see that Adrine was serious—and truly in love.  So they said okay, and Adrine married Edward.

When Edward returned to England with his bride, Edward’s family was horrified that he had married an Armenian.

Intolerance everywhere.

Edward and Adrine had a daughter named Sylvia.
Two decades later, Sylvia met Ellis, son of Henry from Wysokie.

Ellis was stationed in England with the U.S. Army, which fought Germany in World War II as Germans tried to answer their “Jewish Question” at Auschwitz.

Ellis and Sylvia married.  

They had children, including me.

Were it not for World War I, my maternal grandparents would not have met.

Were it not for World War II, my parents would not have met.

Which makes me a product of two world wars.  

And a product of grandparents who evaded two genocides.

Around my neck I wear a gold skull with ruby eyes.  

The skull is symbolic of human mortality.  

This skull reminds me to make the most of each day and live life to the fullest, and to be grateful I am here because my grandparents evaded two genocides.  

The skull's ruby red eyes represent two genocides.  

And the blood shed by 7,500,000 Armenians and Jews.

It also reminds me to fight oppression, and bullies, with every ounce of strength in my soul.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


There are more than 20 countries which call it the Armenian genocide includingBelgiumCanadaItalyRussiaArgentinaFrance and Uruguay. The UK andUS as well as Israel do not.

Shame on the USA and UK for not joining the civilized countries of the world that acknowledge Turkey's attempted genocide against their Armenian population.

Misguided U.S. State Department "diplomacy" is a crock of crap.

As for Israel, even more shame.  

Of all people, the Israelis should know better...

The issue is human decency, not strategic interests.

If Turkey cannot face the truth, and come to terms with it, the old base of the Ottoman Empire (which the Turks screwed up) should be shunned by all civilized nations, no matter how much self importance it places upon itself as Europe's gateway to the Middle East.


Monday, April 20, 2015


Painting:  Papa Duke

And now a story about Jim the Rhino, named such because a rhino is a male version of a cougar.  

Sitting in Piatti, I learn of a plan afoot to serve a court summons on Jim for an unpaid debt.  

It is supposed to come down in Piatti, in front of all his drinking buddies.  

I intend a neutral position, not telling Jim, on the basis that whatever happens, happens, without my interference.

But I cannot help myself, and justify this on the basis that Rhino Jim has phoned me on another matter.  

I say, “Don’t ask me how I know this, but someone who knows you hang out at Piatti plans to serve you a summons for some kind of debt.”

Jim starts to explain that he owes money to several parties; that he is slowly but steadily paying off his debts.  

I stop him. “I don’t care about any of that,” I say.  “It’s your business.  I just want you to be forewarned about a plot to serve you at Piatti.”

“Is Andrew is serving me?”

Andrew had become a part-time summons server, working for a couple lawyers in town.  He has a great gambit, laying in wait for a mark, strumming a guitar, looking like a beggar.  The mark wanders past, flips him a quarter—and Andrew smacks him with a summons.

“Andrew would never serve you, even though he could use the forty bucks.  And as you know, he’s eighty-sixed from Piatti.”

Three evenings later, Rhino Jim enters Piatti.  He isn’t drinking: he doesn’t touch a drop of alcohol in February, when he detoxes his liver. 

Cleppy rises and hurriedly ambles outside, frantically tapping his cell phone, a maneuver not lost on Rhino Jim.  

“Is that Judas?” he asks me. 

I nod.

From that point, the Rhino knows what is coming down, and has the opportunity to skedaddle.

But Rhino Jim does not skedaddle.  

He slowly finishes his glass of cheap red and strolls out to smoke a cigar in the forecourt.

Within minutes, a snarly goofus with mousy moustache appears in Piatti, gruffly announces to Cleppy, “The deed’s done.”  

He acts like it’s a big deal, proud of his-self, like, caught that bastard, completely unaware that the Rhino could have evaded him with ease.

After finishing his smoke, Jim strolls into Piatti, pulls up a chair.  He does not lose his legendary temper, as others had hoped.  He just looks at Cleppy with contempt, calmly says, “I knew it was you.”

Cleppy denies it.  

No cajones.

Rhino Jim shakes his head in disgust.   He rises, up, approaches the bar—and inadvertently strikes a chord with the most beautiful woman to venture into Piatti all month.  

On his way out, he stops by our table, smiles and says, “Coming in tonight was worth it.”

And that is the definition of character.

Friday, April 17, 2015


Cold nights come early in mid-December.  

I enter the Wine Bistro in my new rugged shearling vest from First Street Leather in Solvang.  

(Santa Barbara is the only place I know where you have to change clothes three times a day in winter:  in the morning, a flannel shirt with a Patagonia vest and Merrell Jungle Mocs.  By noon, you’re peeling off socks and flannel, switching to cotton.  After the sun sets, bring out the shearling and cowboy boots.)

I amble to the bar.  Putski is usually there before me.

“What am I drinking?” I ask Eddie the barkeep.

Others at the bar chuckle.  It’s a great line.  

But I mean it.

I’ll only drink wine that has been opened that day, none of yesterday’s, thanks.  

And by the look of the un-corked bottles triple-lined up on the bar, some of it goes back a good bit further.

I have a policy about this:  if you’re going to pay twelve-bucks-plus for a glass of wine, it had better be fresh.  If I walk into a bar and the barkeep insists on serving yesterday’s wine, reluctant to open a fresh bottle, I’m gone.

So I ask Eddie, “What am I drinking?” and he runs through it.

Unlike those around me who drink happy-hour plonk (or “CRW” for cheap red wine) at five bucks a pop, I pay premium—fifteen smackers for a glass of wine that would cost $22 a bottle at Vons.  

On this day, the bar, as usual, is chock-a-block with wine uncorked yesterday, the day before, and the day before that…

And so, as usual, I try to work with Eddie the bartender on exactly what I can order that is fresh i.e. a bottle opened, not necessarily in front of me, but on this day.

“Let’s start with chard,” I say.  “Foley or Louis Jadot?”

“I have a half of bottle of each from yesterday.”

“And you can’t pop a fresh one?”

Eddie shakes his head.

“Okay,” I say.  “Let’s try red.  Any Ridge?”

“I have three bottles already open.”

“From yesterday?”

Eddie nods.  “And older.”

“No good.  How about Beringer cab?”


“Anything else I might like?”

“I just opened a bottle of Malbec.”

“I’ll try it.”

Eddie pours a sample.

It tastes like Welch’s grape juice without sugar.  

“You sure you can’t open a new bottle?” I ask.

“I’m sure,” says Eddie. 

I grab my jacket.

“Where are you going?” asks Thom Steinbeck.

“Lucky’s, for a fresh glass of wine.”

On the way out, I run into Putski, just arriving.  “Where are you going?”

“They won’t open a fresh bottle of wine,” I say.  “So I’m going to Lucky’s.  The Casket can screw itself.”

But the Casket was already screwing itself… shut.

At Lucky’s I brood, seething about how a place that calls itself a wine bistro serves wine uncorked for three-days and point blank refuses to open a fresh bottle for a regular customer—for any customer.

Ezra the bartender serves me a cold, fresh glass of Babcock chard.  

My cell phone chimes.  It’s Rhino Jim. “I just had a terrible experience at the Casket,” he says.

“You don’t even want to hear mine.”  

“I walk in,” says Jim.  “I’m standing at the bar for five minutes.  No service, not even a hello I’ll be right with you.  So I sit at a table and when a server passes I demand to see the manager.  A few minutes later the manager comes by, in a big hurry to get somewhere else.  I explain the problem.  He listens impatiently, and says, ‘Oh, sorry,’ and stomps off.”  Rhino Jim pauses.  “Where are you?”


“We’re coming down.”

And soon I have company in my new hangout.

Lucky’s is everything the Casket isn’t:  Lively.  Peopled.  Fresh wine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Illustration:  Thomas Van Stein

My father’s parents were from Wysokie.

Wysokie is a town in eastern Poland.

Poland is a country in Eastern Europe in between two neighbors, Russia and Germany.  

Throughout history, Russia and Germany ravaged, divided and occupied Poland’s territory.

In 1913 my grandparents decided to leave Wysokie for a new life in America.  

Perhaps they’d had enough of Poland’s aggressive neighbors.

Henry and Sarah disembarked from the S.S. Kroonland onto Ellis Island on July 1st, 1913.

The S.S. Kroonland was an ocean liner that cruised between New York and Antwerp (a city in Belgium).

Ellis Island, in New York Harbor, is where immigrants entered the United States, near a great statue, which welcomed them with these words:

Give me your tired, your poor,
 Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
 Send them, the homeless, to me.

Henry and Sarah settled in New York City, started a family, and Henry founded a travel agency in lower Manhattan.

Henry had a premonition that bad things would happen to friends and family left behind in Wysokie.  Most of the people Henry left behind were Jewish.  Henry and Sarah were Jewish by birth but they did not practice any religious faith.

As Henry watched the rise of Nazism in Germany he wrote letters to friends and relatives in Wysokie begging them to leave Poland.

Nazism is an ideology based largely on racism, anti-Semitism and hatred.
Henry offered friends and relatives free transportation, through his travel agency, to leave Poland.

But Wysokie’s Jews were enterprising and had built a decent existence.  So they mostly remained.

In 1937 Wysokie fell victim to a pogrom.

A pogrom is an organized attack on persons of a particular ethnic group.

The particular ethnic group targeted by this pogrom was Jews.  

Many houses belonging to Jews were looted and trashed and destroyed, and many Jews were injured.

Illustration:  Aaron Ernst
On September 1st, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and started World War II.

Nine days later, German soldiers arrived in Wysokie and set much of the town on fire.  

The Germans rounded-up Wysokie’s Jewish men from age seventeen upwards and herded them to a Catholic Church, and refused them food and drink for three days.  

On the fourth day, the Germans marched their herd of Jews to Zambrow, a city twenty miles east, to work as slaves.  

They shot dead all Jews who could not keep up with them.

Perhaps overcome by his prophetic premonition, Henry suffered a heart attack and died, at age 58, three weeks after World War II started.  

Henry had three sons of military age, and he was a worrier.

A few days after Henry died, Germany negotiated a deal with Russia to divide Poland (again).

Under Russian rule, Wysokie’s Jews were allowed to return to their town. 

They re-built Wysokie, though their community had dwindled—through organized murder—from 2,500 to 1,100 Jews.

When Germany and Russia went to war two years later, German soldiers seized Wysokie a second time, on June 23rd, 1941.

This time the Germans did not kid around.   

They did not march Wysokie’s Jews to Zambrow and shoot some of them dead for walking too slow.  

Instead, in late August, the Germans created a ghetto in Wysokie.

Illustration:  Thomas Van Stein
A ghetto is a segregated neighborhood whose inhabitants are squeezed together in cramped conditions.

Wysokie’s ghetto comprised of three streets surrounded by a barrier of barbed wire.
German soldiers marched Jews from other towns into Wysokie’s ghetto. 

Soon, 20,000 Jews were squeezed so tight they could hardly breathe.

When winter arrived, German soldiers marched Jews into the forest to chop down trees for firewood.  

In return, Jews were allowed to keep tree roots to boil as soup.

A year passed.

On November 1st, 1942, three hundred empty wagons, borrowed by Polish police from local farmers, arrived in Wysokie.

Illustration:  Thomas Van Stein
Next day, all Jews were summoned to Wysokie’s main square and ordered to climb aboard the wagons.

A crowd of Polish people stood by, armed with garden tools.  

They did not stand by to defend Jews.  

They stood by to steal all the possessions Jews were forced to leave behind.

Three hundred wagons of weeping Jews rolled to Zambrow.

In Zambrow, Wysokie’s Jews joined 17,500 Jews from other nearby towns in conditions more cramped than Wysokie’s ghetto.

The Germans provided each Jew one quart of water and one slice of bread, daily.  

About one hundred persons—mostly children and the elderly—died, daily.

The arrival of a new year did not warrant celebration.  Two weeks into 1943, the Germans murdered any Jew who suffered ill health.  

Jews who could still stand were marched to Chizev train station.

Illustration:  Thomas Van Stein
Along the way, people who hated Jews beat them, gauntlet-style.

It was winter, and very cold.  Many Jews froze to death before reaching the trains.

Those were the lucky ones.

However bad my grandfather’s premonition, Henry could not have foreseen the horror of Holocaust.

On January 17th, Wysokie’s Jews were forced to board trains that rolled them to Auschwitz.

Painting:  Thomas Van Stein

Auschwitz was a German concentration and extermination camp in southern Poland.

On arrival at Auschwitz, women and children and the elderly were separated from their husbands, fathers and sons and led to a building where they were ordered to undress.  

Naked, they were guided into a special chamber, and the door screwed shut behind them.

They were not told what would happen next.

Inside the special chamber they were introduced to Zyklon B.

Zyklon B is a poison made with cyanide.  

It was invented to kill insects.

Zyklon B pellets were dropped into the special chamber, creating a poison gas.

The Jews inside shouted and screamed for twenty minutes as their mouths foamed and their ears oozed blood.

Then all were dead.

Young Jewish men were spared because the German army needed slave labor.

Auschwitz had a motto:  Arbeit macht frei (“Work brings hope”).

This motto was a hoax.

There was much work, but little hope.

After working as hard as they could, many young Jewish men were also sent to the special chamber, and to an agonizing death by Zyklon B poison gas.

Illustration:  Aaron Ernst
A dictator named Adolph Hitler had ordered this genocide against Jews.

“Who, after all,” Adolph said in 1939, “speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”