Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

My Irish Ancestors

(Antrim, County Antrim, Northern Ireland)

My 5th great-grandfather, John McInally, was born in Antrim, County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1760. His father, Owen McInally, was a flax grower. John was a weaver by trade. He married Sarah Dobbin in 1780 and emigrated to Grand Island, Quebec, Canada in 1781. His first son, John, was born aboard ship on the way over.

In Canada, John worked the cattle boats along the St. Lawrence River. One day, in 1827, when he was trying to control the steer, he fell overboard and drowned. His wife, Sarah, prowled the riverbanks, calling his name, unable to accept the possibility of his death. But he was, indeed, drowned and later buried in the cemetery at Notre Dame Catholic Church in Quebec. Sarah was forced by poverty to adopt out her five boys to other families. Although the boys were baptized Catholic, they only found homes in Protestant families and were brought up as such. Broken-hearted by the loss of her family, Sarah soon followed her husband to the grave.

Like America, Canada was colonized by immigrants from France, the British Isles, and other nations. After the American Revolution, many Loyalists to the British Crown emigrated north. Although I live in America, I have a lot of relatives in Canada – mostly around Ontario – from both sides of the family. Before COVID, they held a huge family reunion every year. Although invited, I never went. Maybe one of these days, I’ll get there!

Dawn Pisturino

March 15, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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The Spencer Collection at the New York Public Library

(Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library. (1649 – 1700). Zwölff geistliche Andachten, dari[n]nen gar schöne trostreiche Gebet begriffen Retrieved from https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/22c7e880-8efc-0137-d9aa-73feabfb4c3a)

~

William Augustus Spencer, Esquire (1855-1912) was my seventh cousin, five times removed, who descended from the Honorable Ambrose Spencer. Ambrose served as the Attorney General of New York from 1802 to 1804 and a House Representative in the Twenty-first Congress from 1829 to 1831. William grew up wealthy, collected rare French books, and was eventually disowned by his family for marrying a poor French singer. There are no photos of him, as the story goes, because they were all destroyed by his family in a fit of rage. He married Marie Eugenie Demougeot in London in 1884. They had no children. The other key person in their life was Marie’s French maid, Eugenie Elise Lurette.

William Spencer rubbed shoulders with the Astor family, and his nephew married the sister-in-law of Colonel John Jacob Astor IV. The interesting part of this story is that both William A. Spencer and John Jacob Astor died on the Titanic when it sank on April 14/15, 1912.

William’s wife, Marie, and her maid, Eugenie, managed to escape on Lifeboat Number 6, which was also occupied by the Unsinkable Molly Brown (Margaret Brown), who had made her fortune in the Colorado gold mines. Brown received much public attention for her efforts to save other passengers.

William’s body was never recovered. A cenotaph was created to memorialize his death.

William left all of his books and a large sum of money to the newly-established New York Public Library in his will. Read all about it below:

~

A Passenger to Remember: Introducing the

Spencer Collection

by Kathie Coblentz, Rare Materials Cataloger,

Spencer Collection, Stephen A. Schwarzman

Building, June 4, 2010

“A collection … of the finest illustrated books that can be procured, of any country and in any language … bound in handsome bindings representing the work of the most noted book-binders of all countries…”

* * *

“Sometime in 1910, according to an often-repeated story that has acquired the status of legend, William Augustus Spencer visited the new central building of the New York Public Library, still under construction at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. He was impressed—so impressed that he vowed there and then that he would bequeath his personal collection of fine illustrated books in fine bindings to the Library. He then returned to Paris, where he made his home. For his next visit to New York, in April 1912, he booked passage from Cherbourg, France, on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic.

“Spencer was not among the passengers who were saved on the terrible night of April 14. But he had made good on his promise, and when details of his estate were made public, it was found that he had left the Library “a library composed chiefly of French books,” whose value was appraised at $40,779. But this represented only a part of his bequest to the Library; there was more in cash. Moreover, one clause in his will would soon augment the value of his gift considerably.

William A. Spencer's obituary,published in the New York Times, May 9, 1912

William A. Spencer’s obituary,
published in the New York Times, May 9, 1912

“The Spencer Collection of the New York Public Library was duly established, and its kernel, Spencer’s own books, went on display in the year following their donor’s demise. Details may be found in an article by Henry W. Kent in the Bulletin of the New York Public Library, v. 18, no. 6 (June 1914); a catalog of the collection follows. Images of many of Spencer’s own bindings are available in the Library’s Digital Gallery.

“But Spencer’s own books, though they impressively document a certain era in taste in bookbinding and book illustration, represent only a small part of his legacy. In Chapter 18 of Harry Miller Lydenberg’s History of the New York Public Library (1923), available online in its pre-publication form in the Library’s Bulletin for July 1921, the details of the bequest clause in his will were given. Here’s an excerpt:

[Spencer’s] plans for the development of the collection were set forth at length in the tenth clause of his will. Here he directed his executors to convey to the Library on the death of his wife one half his residuary estate, to be invested as a separate fund, the income of which was to be used for “the purchase of handsomely illustrated books” which were to be handsomely bound if not purchased in this condition. He went on to say: “In short it is my wish, if the Trustees of The New York Public Library accept this bequest, that they form a collection thereby increasing the bequest made in the eighth clause of this my Last Will and Testament, of the finest illustrated books that can be procured, of any country and in any language, and that these books be bound in handsome binding representing the work of the most noted book-binders of all countries, thus constituting a collection representative of the arts of illustration and bookbinding.

“Mrs. Spencer died on October 13, 1913, and the fund for the development of the Spencer Collection was duly established. The principles set forth in the will of William Augustus Spencer have guided the Collection’s curators ever since in their quest for the crème de la crème of the world’s bibliophiliac treasures, and the result today is a collection of fine illustrated books, fine bindings, and illuminated manuscripts that is perhaps unsurpassed in beauty, breadth, depth and scope in any public institution in the United States, if not the world.

The Spencer Collection, like other special collections of the New York Public Library, is open to the public, but special permission to use it must be requested in advance.

“In blog posts to follow, I will present some of my own personal favorites among the Spencer Collection treasures that have passed through my hands, as one of the lucky people whose job description includes toiling as a cataloger of these volumes.”

View all posts by Kathie Coblentz

About the Spencer Collection

“The Spencer Collection surveys the illustrated word and book bindings of all periods and all countries and cultures, from medieval manuscripts, Japanese scrolls, and Indian miniatures to monuments in Renaissance printing, illustration, and binding to contemporary livres d’artistes.

“Readers wishing to consult the The Library’s Renaissance and Medieval Manuscripts are required to request and receive permission in writing before their research visits. Please see this page for more information.

“Although not administratively part of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, the Spencer Collection materials are available through the Prints and Photographs Study Room (308) with 24 hours notice and a card of admission obtained from the Print Collection. Spencer Collection items catalogued after 1972 can be found in the Library’s online catalog. For pre-1972 holdings, consult the Dictionary Catalog and Shelf List of the Spencer Collection of Illustrated Books and Manuscripts and Fine Bindings (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1971), found at the Print Room Desk in Room 308 and in the General Research Division, Room 315 with the call number Pub. Cat. Z1023 .N572 1971.

“For further information or to request material from the Spencer Collection: 212-930-0817; fax: 212-930-0530; email: prints@nypl.org.”

~ The New York Public Library ~

In commemoration of my distant cousin, William Augustus Spencer, and his beautiful legacy to the New York Public Library and the world of books. May he rest in peace.

Dawn Pisturino

January 6, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, (866) 706-4826.

All photos by Dawn Pisturino.

The owners of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery had a vision to turn a sad, quiet place of rest into a thriving cultural and visitor center. Built in 1899, the cemetery is home to numerous Hollywood stars, directors, and other dignitaries. Visitors flock to the site to view the final resting places of famous people and walk among the beautiful gardens. At the south end of the cemetery can be seen the historic Paramount Studios on the other side of the wall.

During the summer, the cemetery features classic film screenings in association with Cinespia. People bring picnics and lawn chairs and hang out on the Fairbanks Lawn after sunset to enjoy the warm California weather. There’s usually a long line to purchase tickets and to get in.

The cemetery also hosts one of the largest Dia de Los Muertos festivals in America.

Every time I have been to Hollywood Forever Cemetery, I have enjoyed myself immensely. And walking among the headstones and mingling with the crowds is a fun experience and not scary at all – even after dark.

Did you notice the lipstick on Rudolph Valentino’s crypt? He still has a big following of swooning female fans!

Dawn Pisturino

October 6, 2021

Copyright 2008-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Andalusia Spain: The Flower of Islamic Civilization

When Tariq ibn Ziyad and his Berber troops crossed the Straits of Gibraltar into southern Spain in 711 to displace the Visigoths, little did he know that Spain would one day exemplify the Golden Age of Islamic civilization.  The Moorish invasion into Seville, Toledo, Cordoba, Granada, and other Spanish sites brought lasting influences onto Spanish culture, architecture, and knowledge that ultimately benefited Europe as a whole.

In 750, the Umayyad caliphate in Damascus was overthrown by the Abbasids. Abd al-Rahman, an Umayyad prince, escaped to Andalusian Spain.  “In 756, with barely a whimper of opposition from the man who believed himself the emir, the governor, Abd al-Rahman moved into the old city of Cordoba and declared it the new House of the Umayyads, the legitimate continuation of the ruling family that the Abbasids thought they had exterminated and replaced” (Menocal 4).

Al-Rahman set about replicating in Andalusia the splendid culture of the Umayyad caliphate that had existed in Damascus.  The Great Mosque in Cordoba, with its beautiful red arches and intricate ceilings, still stands intact —a lasting testimony to his work.  In 929, Abd al-Rahman III ascended to the throne, ushering in the great Golden Age of Islamic civilization in Spain.  In 1031 the Ummayad caliphate was abandoned in favor of small city-states.  “Seville, Cordoba, Toledo, Badajoz, Saragossa, Valencia, Granada, and others” (Esposito 34) competed with each other economically and militarily, which weakened Islamic Spain and helped the Christians in Northern Spain to reconquer Islamic territories in the south (Esposito 35).

According to Maria Rosa Menocal, Andalusia evolved into a great Islamic civilization because it incorporated three basic elements: “ethnic pluralism, religious tolerance, and a variety of important forms of what we could call cultural secularism—secular poetry and philosophy—that were not understood, by those who pursued them, to be un- or anti-Islamic”.  This tolerance and hunger for knowledge led to the Transmission Movement which would become so important to the preservation of ancient texts and the expansion of Christian Europe.

While Europe was enduring devastating invasions by barbaric hordes, “the widespread and rapid translation of Greek philosophical and scientific works into Arabic following the Muslim conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries” (Turner 209) led to the widespread dissemination of this knowledge across the Muslim world.  In Andalusia, under the 10th century caliph Hakam II, “one royal library is said to have amassed four hundred thousand books” (Esposito 175) on a variety of sciences.  Later on, 12th century Andalusian theorists Ibn Rushd (known as Averroes), Ibn Bajja, Jabir ibn Aflah, Ibn Tufayl, and Abu Ishaq al-Bitruji debated the virtues and defects of Ptolemaic astronomy.   “Of these, al-Bitruji was the only one to formulate an alternative . . . proposed model” (Esposito 175).

Ethnically, the Andalusian population included Jews, Celts, Arabs, Visigoths, and Romans.  Religious groups included Muslims and the dhimmi or People of the Book: Jews and Christians.  Christians living under Arab rule were called Mozarabs (Melacon 5; Turner 209; Esposito 318).  Christians were often reluctant to assimilate into Islamic culture (Esposito 34).  Nonetheless, Jews and Christians were protected and welcomed into Andalusia by virtue of their belief in Abraham and the One God.

Jews thrived in Andalusia when they re-discovered Hebrew and used it in the same multipurpose ways “as the Arabic that was the native language of the Andalusian community” (Melacon 7).  Jews began to write poetry in Hebrew, inspired by Arab poets.  Maimonides, the well-remembered Jewish philosopher, wrote works in both Arabic and Hebrew (Esposito 33).

The Islamization of southern Spain was not without difficulties, however.  Under Abd al-Rahman III, Andalusia reached the height of its greatness.  Muslims, Jews, and Christians all contributed to increased knowledge in “the arts, literature, astronomy, medicine, and other cultural and scientific disciplines” (Esposito 318).  Although many Christians did convert or assimilate into Islamic culture, Muslim jurists sometimes felt threatened by this and warned against Christian influence as “contamination and a threat to the faith of  Muslim societies” (Esposito 318).  Jews and Christians were forced to learn Arabic, whether they wanted to or not.  And the loose morals of upper class Muslims often offended Jews, Christians, and Muslim clerics.  Jews and Christians were always regarded as infidels by Muslims, no matter how much they assimilated into Arabic culture.  When Abu Amir al Mansur (Almanzor) became ruler in the late 10th century, he began “a series of ruthless campaigns against Christians, including the plundering of churches and other Christian sites” (Esposito 320).  The gulf between Jews, Christians, and Muslims grew wider.  Muslim rulers, fearing the missionary zeal and influence of Christians, segregated them into isolated communities.  Christian military forces reconquered Cordoba, Valencia, and Seville in the early 13th century.  By the end of 1492 Granada fell, and that was the end of Moorish rule in Spain.

Some of the Moorish contributions which have had a lasting influence on Spanish culture include the importation and cultivation of citrus fruits; the production of paper and olive oil; the invention of the guitar; and “Arabic coffee culture” (Robert Thomas, 2011).  The tourist trade is boosted by the rich architectural heritage left by the Moors. 

The Alhambra in Granada, completed in the 14th century, was erected by the Nasrids.  “It comprises the most extensive remains of a medieval Islamic palace anywhere and is one of the most famous monuments in all Islamic art” (Blair and Bloom, 124).  The Great Mosque of Cordoba, remembered for its beautiful red arches, and completed in 965, boasts carved marble panels decorated with fragile arabesques, whose “popularity lasted until the fourteenth century . . .” (Esposito 239).  After the reconquista, “many mosques were changed into churches.  In Seville, for example, the top of the fifty-meter-high minaret of the Almohed mosque, built from 1184 to 1198, was remodeled and transformed into a cathedral bell tower” (Esposito 305).  The Great Mosque of Cordoba was converted into a Catholic church but still retains Qur’anic quotations and decorations on its interior designs.  Many mosques were demolished or stripped of all Islamic associations.  The distinctive Moorish architectural style remains on both secular and religious buildings, however, throughout southern Spain.    

Andalusian Spain perfected the art of making ceramics (called lusterware), glass mosaics, colorful tiles, and silk textiles (Esposito 254-256). Couscous, a traditional North African food staple, adds a flavorful diversity to Spanish cuisine.  Some experts even believe that flamenco, the exotic Spanish dance, was influenced by the Moors (Robert Thomas, 2011).

Andalusia Spain became a bridge between the Muslim world and Europe.  After the reconquista of southern Spain, Arabic texts were translated into Latin and exported to Europe.  The Muslim contributions to medicine, science, and philosophy were included in those texts and exerted a profound influence on European thought and development.

Modern Muslims are re-discovering their historic contributions to the arts and sciences and gaining a newfound pride in their accomplishments.  The Western world is now more open to giving them credit for those accomplishments.  The historic accomplishments and events of the Moors are celebrated throughout southern Spain with festivals, parades, and other special celebrations.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

February 4, 2019

Copyright 2019-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Blair, Sheila S., and Bloom, Jonathan. The Art and Architecture of Islam, 1250-1800. New

       Haven: 1996.

Esposito, John L. The Oxford History of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Menocal, Maria Rosa. “Culture in the Time of Tolerance: Al-Andalus as a Model for Our Time.”

       Occasional Papers. 2000. Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository. 2000.

       <http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/ylsop_papers/1&gt;.

Thomas, Robert, Dir. Andalusia: The Legacy of the Moors. Perf. Robert Elms. Alpha Television

       Production, 2011.

Turner, Howard R. Science in Medieval Islam: An Illustrated Introduction. Austin: 1997.

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Easy Rider: The Movie

Easy Rider

Easy Rider: The Movie

by

Dawn Pisturino

Any analysis of Dennis Hopper’s 1969 movie, Easy Rider, must be made within the context of the 1960s, or the analysis may become distorted. The 1960s were a turbulent and unique period in American history (this writer was fourteen years old in 1969). Under the influence of the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights Movement, the country was at war with itself. Fear of nuclear holocaust drove much of the “live for today” counterculture rebellion. After all, if humans are going to die anyway, why go to work? Why conform to the established social order? It’s much better to have fun and do what you want while you still have time.

Easy Rider has been described as a modern hippie road trip movie, but more than anything else, it is a biker movie — and hardcore bikers still try to follow the route taken in the movie. There are numerous websites and blogs on the Internet describing this route. Some of the locations used in the movie (such as the cafe) no longer exist. But the Spirit of Route 66 is alive and well, and enough stretches of that famous and infamous road still exist to bring Easy Rider back to life.

Peter Fonda (Wyatt, after Wyatt Earp) conceived Easy Rider as a western (Seitz 2-3; Schneider 1). The characters ride their choppers (metal horses) through the southwest, camp out in Indian ruins, and make occasional references to cowboys and Indians. (Peter Fonda may have been giving a nod to his father, Henry Fonda, who starred in a number of westerns). Wyatt and his cohort, Billy (after Billy the Kid, played by Dennis Hopper), are motorcycle-stuntmen-bikers-turned-drug-dealers who score a big cocaine deal and use their ill-gotten riches to travel across the country to New Orleans. (In a real Hollywood western, they might have been performers in an Old West Show who turned outlaw, struck it rich, and turned into aimless drifters).

The classic Hollywood western celebrates American freedom, expansion, and rugged independence (Lewis 247-248; Barsam and Monahan, 103). But as civilization spreads across the western wilderness, the heroes in these movies become the alienated outsiders. Easy Rider celebrates this freedom and rugged independence and decries the loss of personal freedom and individuality found in an urbanized and commercialized society.

The movie was billed as a story about a man who “went looking for America and couldn’t find it” (Dirks 1). The problem with this obvious hype is that there is no indication in the movie that this is their goal. The characters always confirm that their goal is to get to the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans in order to have a good time. In fact, Billy gets pretty hostile when it looks like his plans will be delayed. The people they meet, and the events they experience along the way, are completely random and unplanned.

The characters complain throughout the movie about the hostile reactions they receive to their long hair and grubby clothes. (In most westerns, the established town folk snub the outlaws, gamblers, drifters, and prostitutes in their towns, to the point of violence). As the movie progresses, the long hair becomes a symbol for people who are different, alienated, and marginalized from mainstream America.

Dennis Hopper is remembered now as one of the auteur directors of the New Hollywood era (Lewis 289). “Made for a mere $375,000 and earning an astonishing $19 million in its initial release in 1969, Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider made clear just how important the youth audience would be to a Hollywood recovery” (Lewis 289). Another $1 million was spent on licensing the music for Donn Cambern’s contemporary rock and pop score (Fisher 3), the first movie to incorporate culturally popular music (Ebert 2003 2; Schneider 2). This established a standard that moviemakers have used ever since.

The movie was born out of the low-budget motorcycle movies that appealed to young people in the 1960s (Ebert 2004 2; Ebert 1969 2). Roger Corman’s 1966 movie, The Wild Angels, also starring Peter Fonda, used some of the same creative devices, such as nondiegetic sound, that were later used in Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969). The LSD-trip cemetery scene in New Orleans, which uses “super-fast edits, jarring sound effects, Catholic prayers, and shots of the Virgin Mary” (Schneider 3), shows a young girl reciting the rosary and parallels the rape scene in The Wild Angels (Roger Corman, 1966), where the audience hears a young girl singing a Christian hymn. By combining elements “of the teen biker picture . . . , the French New Wave . . . , and cinema verite” (Lewis 290), Dennis Hopper brought the nonconformist counterculture onto the big screen while remaining independent of Hollywood interference and conformity.

Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs revealed that Dennis Hopper wanted to use natural lighting as much as possible (Seitz 3), but portable halogen lights were used at night, especially for the campfire scenes (Fisher 2). The campfires and the flicker were simulated, using “a stick with a little flicker effect” (Fisher 2-3). To shoot the  motorcycle travel scenes, an Arri camera, using 50-speed Kodak film, was mounted on a 1968 Chevy Impala (Fisher 2). The Mardi Gras scene was filmed using Bolex 16 mm hand-held cameras, creating a disorienting and psychedelic effect (Fisher 3). The entire movie was filmed in a loose style to convey a “feeling of freedom” (Fisher 4). The shooting was largely improvised, shot according to what felt right to Kovacs at the time (Fisher 2). “Rapid flashback/flash forward transitions” (Seitz 3) are used frequently between sequences. “Long, slow establishing shots transition the environment from nature to city over the course of the movie” (Seale 1). The pacing is uneven, reflecting an improvisational style, and jump cuts create a jarring effect (Dirks 1). Very little make-up is used, there are few meaningful props, and the costumes are natural and realistic, incorporating “traditional patriotic symbols with emblems of loneliness, criminality, and alienation — the American flag, cowboy decorations, long hair, and drugs” (Dirk 1). Much of the dialogue is improvised, especially in the cafe scene (Lewis 290).

“The rough cut of the movie reportedly ran over three hours, and Hopper edited it to a reasonable length by throwing out the story details and keeping the rest” (Ebert 1969 3; Seitz 3). The result is a movie that often seems disjointed and disconnected. After George dies, the excessive editing makes it appear that Wyatt and Billy are completely indifferent to his death. Questions arise, such as: What did they do with the body? Did they just leave the poor guy there? This is why, when watching the movie, the viewer scratches his head and wonders: Who are these guys? What is their backstory? Why are they doing all of this? The beginning of the film, which explains all of this, was cut from the movie. It’s the outtakes which reveal that Wyatt and Billy are motorcycle stuntmen who turn drug dealers and end up in a thrilling confrontation with “helicopters and police chasing Hopper and Fonda over mountains and across the Mexican border” Birnbaum 1). If this sequence had been included in the movie, Wyatt and Billy would be seen as nothing more than common criminals.

As it is, Wyatt and Billy are superficial characters whose lives appear aimless, lacking in any worthwhile goals. Wyatt is the more philosophical and thoughtful of the two. He is open to new people and new experiences. He smokes pot, sits back, and ruminates about life. Billy, on the other hand, is emotionally reactive, sometimes hostile, and “lives for today.” He is unconcerned about learning anything. When Wyatt and Billy are camped out in the Indian ruins with the hitchhiker, Billy shows total disrespect for the Indians who built them and appears indifferent when the hitchhiker reprimands him for it. Billy is anti-social, selfish, and self-absorbed. He smokes pot constantly as if he lives for nothing else. But while Wyatt is the idealistic dreamer, Billy is the down-to-earth realist. When he points out to the hippies at the commune that the soil is not fertile enough to grow anything, he is simply telling the truth as he sees it. When he refutes George’s conspiracy theory about aliens, he is revealing his own lack of imagination. While Wyatt sits quietly by and tells the prostitute at the Tinker Toys brothel that he bought her because of Billy, Billy drinks and carries on like a man coming out of the desert after 40 days. Wyatt examines the artwork and philosophical quotes on the walls, focusing on one quote in particular: “Death only closes a man’s reputation and determines it as good or bad” (Joseph Addison). Billy could care less. He doesn’t seem to believe in anything at all.

Here is where Wyatt has the flash forward vision of a fire by the side of the road. He seems more subdued after this, as if carrying the burden of his whole life on his shoulders. The LSD trip in the cemetery produces a profound religious experience that nobody wants. When Wyatt announces to Billy that “we blew it,” Billy’s response is that money buys freedom, and that’s what it’s all about. He cannot understand what Wyatt is talking about.

Hopper uses a lot of contrasts and juxtapositions to instill meaning into the movie. While the rancher has a solid, stable (although poor) life, the hippies at the commune seem like unstable, flighty dreamers who are barely surviving. While Wyatt and Billy are riding around minding their own business, other people react to their appearance, call them animals, and threaten violence. George, the goofy alcoholic lawyer, has a powerful father and is, therefore, protected by the town. When he leaves his home turf, however, he is ill-equipped to survive in the larger world. Wyatt and Billy camp outdoors in the elements, live rough, and feel confident that they can take care of themselves.

The movie also incorporates a lot of religious symbolism. The dead lamb at the side of the road clearly symbolizes the sacrificial lamb. The rancher and his family pray at meal times, thanking God for what they have. So do the hippies at the commune, but their prayers seem less confident and more like a plea for help. The LSD trip is full of religious iconography about death and redemption. The brothel displays much religious art, reminding the viewer to repent of his sins. The message is clear: no matter how free a person is, he or she still answers to a higher authority.

Further symbolism includes the use of the term “gorilla” to denote people who live outside of society. The hippies’ mime troupe stage is called Gorilla Theater. The rednecks in the cafe refer to Wyatt, Billy, and George as “gorillas.” This dehumanization of the characters makes it easy for the rednecks in the truck to shoot Wyatt and Billy in cold blood without batting an eye or feeling any remorse.

And here is where we find the existential heart of the movie: “we blew it.” When the rednecks kill Wyatt and Billy in a senseless drive-by shooting, they wipe them out forever. The two freedom-loving boys disappear suddenly from history with nothing to show for their lives — no property, no wives, no children, no reputations, no legacies, and no signs that they ever lived. And this is what Wyatt realizes after George dies and he reads the quote on the wall. Freedom is great, but it cannot buy immortality in any meaningful form.

STUDENTS: DO NOT PLAGIARIZE MY WORK. It will show up on Turnitin.com.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

American Cinema, Film 110

January 29, 2018

Copyright 2018 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Please contact author for sources.

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THE GIRL WHO HATED THE SUN

drought

she hated the sun

how it filled up heaven

with energy and light

too hot and bright . . .

The poem popped into Katie’s head as she stood on the front porch, eyes closed, arms wide open, daring the Sun to kill her. Kill me, she urged, like you spoiled our farm, drove away my father, and wasted my mother. Go ahead. Do it!

The Sun swallowed her whole, dissolving her in his fiery belly.

Now that she was part of the Sun, Katie could ride through the heavens and visualize everything that happened down below.

She saw the grim black hearse pull up to the farm, and wept, as two men in plain black suits carried her mother away on a gurney. She sailed freely over the dusty brown fields that no longer yielded crops. She mourned the beds of sunflowers whose heads sagged, like dying children, out by the barn. And she said good-bye to the rusty old truck that sat, without tires, in a patch of yellow weeds.

Soon, the Pacific Ocean sparkled down below. Dolphins leaped among the waves. Throngs of people crowded the streets of Beijing, scurrying around like busy mice. Katie soared above the icy peaks of the Himalayas and swooped down to burn the white sands of Arabia. She waved at the Statue of Liberty, rejoicing that she finally got to see it.

And then she was home again, viewing the crumbling barn in pinkish light that gradually turned to yellow. She counted the shingles missing from the roof of the old house and peeked through the windows of her shabby bedroom.

And the journey repeated itself as the earth slowly turned, like a giant spit — repeated itself, day after day, until Katie cried with weariness and pain.

Now, she hovered over the old farm, shining brightly against a piece of broken glass lying in the withered grass, until one small yellow flame burst forth, catching the grass on fire. A passing breeze nudged the fire toward the house. The splintered wood burned brightly, throwing sparks into the sky. The old barn caught the sparks and exploded, fueled by old cans of paint. Showers of burning wood and straw ignited the patch of weeds. The ripped out upholstery in the old truck burst into flame. The oil pan smoldered, sending black smoke into the sky. And finally, with one burst of energy, the fuel tank exploded.

With grim satisfaction Katie cried, “I’ve killed it! I’ve killed my past life!” She snuggled up to the Sun, melting deeper into his fiery depths . . . while down below, a tiny piece of the world disappeared forever.

Dawn Pisturino

November 14, 2012

Copyright 2012-2015 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Reflections on My Visit to Cuba 2000

Havana Cuba

I did not know much about Cuba; in fact, I never really thought about it until I had an opportunity to go there as a U.S. Delegate in 2000. Prior to leaving, I did research into Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and the Cuban Revolution — fascinating stuff!

I did not know, for example, that Che Guevara was a medical doctor who suffered from severe asthmatic attacks. Fidel Castro came from a land-owning family and studied to be a lawyer. Cuba had been marked by political upheaval for about 75 years prior to the Cuban Revolution. The final insult came with the Batista dictatorship, which was fully supported by the U.S. government and U.S. companies, who owned large amounts of land, industries, and other resources in Cuba.

Poverty was widespread among Cuban workers. The Batista government tortured and murdered huge numbers of Cuban citizens. A wide gap existed between rich and poor. Political elections were rigged to favor Batista and his cohorts.

Fidel Castro was a charismatic young man who became a major critic of the Batista government. He led a successful military campaign, along with Che Guevara and other guerilla fighters, which ultimately forced Batista and his supporters to flee the country.

With the Agrarian Reform Act, agricultural tracts were seized and divided up among the peasants who had worked the land and suffered great deprivations at the hands of large companies and land owners.

In retaliation, the U.S. government imposed an immediate economic blockade against Cuba. The blockade has been successfully kept in place for decades at the behest of Cuban-Americans living in the U.S., right-wing conservatives, and companies such as the Bacardi Rum Company.

Over 4,000 people attended the 5-day conference, representing more than 115 countries around the world.

The first two days were devoted to speeches by government officials who explained the blockade, how it was hurting the Cuban economy, and what steps were being taken to adapt to the continued sanctions.

The next two days involved participation in various committees and listening to speeches by delegates.

One afternoon, we were encouraged to visit various medical and educational facilities. I chose to tour the Latin American School of Medical Sciences. In the evening, we were treated to cultural events and a neighborhood block party.

On the last day, we participated in an outdoor rally attended by Fidel Castro. Speeches by delegates and performances by Cuban artists were featured. That evening, we attended a five-hour speech given in person by Fidel Castro.

He explained how loans by the IMF and the World Bank impose harsh conditions on Third World countries,which gives power over these countries to larger, prosperous countries like the United States. He adamantly reinforced that Cuba and the Cuban people would not bow down to these conditions. They would prefer to remain poor and continue to fight the blockade rather than give up their independence to a foreign power. Although the speech was long and tedious, quoting lots of statistics, the information he gave was very valuable.

We were told we could not leave Cuba the next day, so some of us participated in various tours. Some people drove out to the countryside to visit the Che Guevara Memorial and to investigate the agricultural industry. Others chose to visit a cigar factory. I went with some others to Old Havana to explore the Museum of the Revolution and the Floridito Bar, where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out. We also saw the beautiful old Bacardi Rum building, which is now used for other purposes.

We were never restricted from going anywhere or talking to anyone. The only limitation was language, since most Havanans do not speak English, and most delegates did not speak Spanish.

It was fascinating to be part of such a multi-cultural experience. There were many people from Latin America and Africa. Many delegates came from India and Bangladesh. Six hundred Americans participated in the event. My group donated a large supply of antibiotics, antifungals, and medical journals. Quite a large number of Canadians were present, as well as a few people from Australia and Great Britain. One delegate from Israel spoke about the atrocities being committed by his country against Palestine. About ten Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon represented Palestine and received great rounds of applause. Other delegates came from Italy, Germany, Spain, Norway, Russia, China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Iran.

Delegates represented all adult ages and socioeconomic groups. There were laborers, students, ministers, teachers, doctors, nurses, and retired folks. Disabled people included a 91-year old gentleman, a blind man who brought his seeing-eye dog, a man bound to a wheelchair, and a young man who could only communicate through sign language.

We were all required to wear special badges and could not attend events without showing them. These badges also identified us to the general population as participants in the conference. People would stop us on the streets and thank us. Children would cheer us and clap their hands. We were always treated like VIPs.

Delegates visited the homes of local Cubans and were hosted for dinner and lodging. One American girl lived with a family for three days.

During the conference, delegates were provided with transistor radios and earphones which could be set to receive the English translation.

Transportation and lodging were provided by the Cuban government, but delegates were free to walk around Havana at any time of the day or night. Although there were scores of police, most of them only carried a night stick. They did not hassle delegates. Their main function was to provide security and control the flow of traffic.

 My delegation stayed at the beautifully-restored Copacabana Hotel, which was a famous luxury hotel and yacht club prior to the Cuban Revolution. It was also one of the hotels controlled by the Sicilian Mafia, which was kicked out of Cuba by Fidel Castro after the Revolution.

Local Cubans were very open about their poverty and devotion to Fidel Castro. In their minds, the Cuban Revolution is on-going. They are very proud of what they have accomplished under difficult conditions. They reiterated over and over again that they would defend Cuba to the death.

There was a great deal of hatred expressed among delegates and by Cubans themselves toward the U.S. government, and the presidential election of 2000 became a hot topic when the possibility of election fraud came up. We watched the news coverage daily on CNN.

The Cubans have created a very stable society based on solidarity and mutual cooperation. The basic unit is the family. Families are assigned to neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are assigned to a district. Each district boasts a health clinic, schools, senior center, and police force. A committee elected by the people oversees the district. Committee members ensure that children are vaccinated, seniors are cared for, and families receive adequate housing and food.

Food is rationed, with pregnant and nursing women, children, and senior citizens required to receive an adequate amount of calories everyday. There is a ratio of one doctor to 170 residents. In the schools, classroom size is limited to 10-20 students.

Education and healthcare are free. 85% of Cubans own their own home, and there is no property tax. Rents are kept very low. The prices on basic commodities are kept at 1960s prices. The average wages are ten to thirty American dollars per month, and there is no income tax.

Travel is limited by a shortage of oil and gasoline. Tourists from Canada and Germany are commonplace.

November 20, 2000

Dawn Pisturino, RN

Copyright 2000-2015 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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I WENT TO CUBA

copacabana Copacabana Hotel, Havana, Cuba

In 2000, I went to Havana, Cuba with a group of activists seeking to end the U.S. embargo. This is the letter I wrote to the State Department, U.S. Senators, and several newspapers after my return to the U.S.:

“In a global economy, the U.S. sanctions against Cuba make no sense. They were imposed 41 years ago in defiance of the Cuban Revolution, which toppled the U.S.-supported Batista dictatorship and robbed American companies of great tracts of land and other valuable resources.

“The fear of a Soviet influence so close to home made it reasonable to impose such sanctions; but that threat no longer exists. The United States can no longer justify these radical measures.

“For four decades, the Cuban population has struggled with severe poverty and the great weight of bringing an idealistic social experiment to fruition.

“While the spirit of the Cuban Revolution continues to motivate and inspire the general population, the Cuban government has been forced to adapt the economy to the conditions imposed by the U.S. sanctions. According to Carlos Lage, vice-president of the Council of State, there is a new movement toward opening Cuba’s borders to tourism and commercial exchange. This year alone, 1.8 million tourists (including 100,000 U.S. citizens) are expected to visit, and this number is expected to rise by 19 percent annually.

“Cuba is now accepting foreign investments, with restrictions; entering into joint ventures with private companies; and contracting with private foreign companies to manage state-owned enterprises.

“Representatives of the Cuban government freely admit that the country lacks the knowledge and technology necessary to create profitable enterprises. Over the last few years, they have accepted $4.5 billion in foreign investments of capital, technology, and marketing expertise.

“While publicly upholding the ideals of socialism, the Cubans are gradually leaning toward the realities of capitalism. They prefer to use their own resources, if possible, and privatization at this time has been condemned. But they are realizing the need to market their products in a global economy.

“The current trend is to create associations (Rum Association, Tobacco Association, Nickel Association, etc.) with foreign companies that agree to market the designated product in exchange for cash or social services (doctors, teachers, etc.)

“Tourism is now being touted as the No.1 revenue-producing enterprise in the country so there is much new construction and restoration taking place. The government has mandated a dual economy that freely accepts and circulates both American dollars and Cuban pesos.

“The Cuban government openly acknowledges that inequalities exist and that complete equality between people is not possible. To pacify the anxiety of the Cuban people, prices on basic commodities are deliberately kept low and wages are being raised, especially in the revenue-producing sectors of the economy (such as tourism). There is no underlying feeling among the general population of widespread discontent; in fact, it is estimated that 80 percent of the population supports Fidel Castro as a leader and national hero.

“Fidel Castro is Cuba, and there is concern among the Cuban people that when Fidel Castro dies, Cuba, as they know it now, will also die.

“Ordinary Cubans do not understand why the U.S. government hates them and deprives them of necessary food and medicines. It is not surprising that the U.S. government is generally characterized as “an evil capitalist monster” that seeks to destroy the Cuban people.

“Like people everywhere, the Cuban people want to be recognized as a legitimate society within the global economy. They want to sell their products in the global marketplace and raise their standard of living. Therefore, the Cuban government is negotiating with other countries to create a Latin American-Caribbean Trading Bloc.

“The embargo has not stopped Cuba from procuring American brand-name products for resale to the general public. Familiar tobacco products such as Salem, Winston, and Marlboro cigarettes sit openly on vendor shelves. Coca-Cola and Sprite are sold freely in restaurants and stores. Kellogg’s cereals are proudly served in hotels and restaurants. Famous brand-name candies like Snickers and M&Ms are sold in shops. These products come into the country through private companies in Panama and Mexico.

“Even relatively new Dodge Caravans can occasionally be seen on the streets of Havana. Some of the corporations doing business in the United States that also have offices in Havana are DHL Worldwide Express and Benetton.

“The real losers in this political game are the American companies that are prevented by the U.S. government from negotiating lucrative contracts with the Cuban government for trade and commerce. Increased foreign investment into the country can only lead to widespread economic and social change.

“The recent vote in the United Nations (167-3) condemning the U.S. sanctions against Cuba prove that the U.S. government does not receive worldwide support.

“As a man from the United Kingdom expressed it, “It is America that is in the darkness . . . While Cuba is economically blockaded, America is morally blockaded and out of step with the rest of the world.”

Dawn Pisturino, RN

Member of U.S. Delegation to Cuba,

November 10-14, 2000

Copyright 2000-2015 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Published in the Kingman Daily Miner on December 1, 2000

Published in The Standard on November 29, 2000 

Published in New Unionist, January 2001 issue

Senators who responded to my letter:

Senator Jesse Helms and Senator Jon Kyl

Closing Thoughts: Other countries have been doing business with Cuba for decades. Obama’s push to ease sanctions may or may not benefit Cuba and the United States. As long as the Castro family remains in power, the possibility of democratization of Cuba seems remote.

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My Salem Roots

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WITCH HOUSE — SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS

(click to enlarge)

I’ve always felt a strong pull towards Salem, Massachusetts, but I didn’t understand why until I began researching my family history. As it turns out, my 12th great-grandfather was Reverend Samuel Skelton, the first Pastor of the Puritan First Church of Salem. The church, established as part of the Anglican Church, later split off and became the Second Independent Congregational Church in New England. This split enabled the Pilgrims and Puritans to unite as one colony — the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Reverend Skelton died in 1634, so he missed the Salem Witch Trials. His daughter Mary and her husband, Nathaniel Felton, spoke out against the trials and signed petitions of innocence in favor of John Proctor, George Jacobs, and Rebecca Nurse. In spite of their efforts, nineteen people hanged, unjustly convicted of witchcraft. I think of these people every Halloween and admire the courage they showed in the face of such intense hysteria.

CLICK PHOTOS TO ENLARGE

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SALEM WITCH TRIALS (HAWTHORNE)

First Church of Salem marker

 PURITAN FIRST CHURCH OF SALEM MARKER

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PURITAN FIRST CHURCH OF SALEM – NOW A UNITARIAN CHURCH

John Proctor Petition

PETITION TO FREE JOHN PROCTOR

Rebecca Nurse Petition

PETITION TO FREE REBECCA NURSE

Text copyright 2013 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Cheap Wine, Dried Salame, and You

 My husband was one of those “bad boys” that girls fall in love with and parents deplore. With his black jacket and black leather cap, he looked like a Sicilian gangster out on a hit.

His pent-up anger spilled out of him in dangerous ways. For example, he mapped out a plan whereby every bank in the city of San Francisco could be robbed on the same day.

His dark nature captivated me, and soon, I was hooked for life.

We fought like cats and dogs, but oh, the fun we had! We went treasure hunting in crazy, out-of-the-way places, finding cold hard cash lying in the sand in a cave. We drove up and down the Pacific Coast Highway  in his green Fiat X-19, enjoying the sun on our faces, the wind in our hair. We hiked through the redwoods on Mt. Tamalpais and watched the ocean tides under a full moon at Ocean Beach.

One day, singing at the top of his lungs, my husband suddenly stripped down and drove naked with the top of his car open along the 92 over to Half Moon Bay. Thrilled and excited, I watched for the cops, laughing all the way.

On cool, foggy nights, we slipped away into the darkness and made love on sandy beaches. On warm afternoons, we packed a picnic snack: a bottle of Riunite Lambrusco and a link of dried salame. Sun, warmth, ocean air, sand, green grass, and a hazy glow of love and darkness and friendship between us.

After our daughter was born, we included her in our crazy life. Archery at the range on King’s Mountain, afternoon tea at Agatha’s, strolling the malls, tramping through the sand at Half Moon Bay, riding the carousel at the San Francisco Zoo, flying kites down on the Marina.

Those days are over now. Our daughter is grown, and we’re not as skinny as we used to be. We live in the desert in Arizona, work, walk the dog, watch TV, and complain about the heat, wind, and dust. But whenever I go back to California, I relive those glory days of sunshine and salt air. Whenever I spot a bottle of Riunite or a link of dried salame at the grocery store, I remember foggy nights and making love in the sand.

So let me fill my plastic cup with cheap red wine, arrange slices of salame and cheese on a paper plate, and offer this toast to the man I love:

I LOVE YOU, DEAR HEART, MY LOVER, MY BEST FRIEND, MY MENTOR, MY DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, MY DARK KNIGHT — AND I ALWAYS WILL.

Dawn

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