Thursday, July 24, 2008

Travels with Charley. John Steinbeck (2)

New York: The Viking Press

Ideas and Quotes for Discussion:
“When you decide you want to get away from Here, you first have to find a reason.”

“…a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

“Next, I was told that a stranger’s purpose in moving about the country might cause inquiry or even suspicion. For this reason I racked a shotgun, two rifles, and couple of fishing rods in my truck, for it is my experience that if a man is going hunting or fishing his purpose is understood and even applauded.”

“A dog…is a bond between strangers. Many conversations en route began with ‘What degree [“kind?”] of dog is that?’ ”

“I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation—a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here…not toward something but away from something.”

“I also knew from thirty years of my profession that I cannot write hot on an event. It has to ferment. I must do what a friend calls ‘mull it over’ for a time before it goes down.”

“American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash—all of them—surrounded by piles of wrecked and rusting automobiles, and almost smothered with rubbish. Everything we use comes in boxes, cartons, bins, the so-called packaging we love so much. The mountain of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use.”
“The dairy man had a Ph.D. in mathematics…. He liked what he was doing and he didn’t want to be somewhere else—one of the very few contented people I met in my whole journey.”

“It seems to me that coffee smells even better when the frost is in.”

“I soon discovered that if a wayfaring stranger wants to eavesdrop on a local population the places for him to slip in and hold his peace are bars and churches. But some New England towns don’t have bars and church is only on Sunday. A good alternative is the roadside restaurant where men gather for breakfast before going to work or going hunting.”

“I have found many readers more interested in what I (a writer) wear than in what I think, more avid to know how I do it than in what I do. In regarding my work, some readers profess greater feelings for what it makes than for what it says.”

“It might have been caused by the season with a quality of light, or the autumn clarity. Everything stood out separate from everything else, a rock, a rounded lump of sea-polished driftwood on a beach, a roof line. Each pine tree was itself and separate even if it was part of a forest…. The people have the same quality…. Surely I never met such ardent individuals.”

“A farmer in upper New York State painted the word cow in big black letters on both sides of his white bossy, but the hunters shot it anyway.”

“In establishing contact with strange people, Charley [my French poodle] is my ambassador…. A child can do the same thing, but a dog is better.”

Four lady mooses. Pressed the lever on the cattle caller and they all turned and came at me with romance in their eyes. “Four romances, each weighing well over a thousand pounds! And much as I favor love in all its aspects, I trod my accelerator and got the hell out of there fast.”

“I feel that there are too many realities. What I set down here is true until someone else passes that way and rearranges the world in his own style.”

“Those great roads are wonderful for moving goods but not for inspection of a countryside. You are bound to the wheel and your eyes to the car ahead and to the rear-view mirror for the car behind and the side-mirror for the car or truck about to pass, and at the same time you must read all the signs for fear you may miss instructions or orders.”

“There’s one thing you can say about cars, there’s nearly always something wrong with them that got to be fixed.”

“It seems to me that regional speech is in the process of disappearing, not gone but going. Forty years of radio and twenty years of television must have this impact. Communications must destroy localness, by a slow, inevitable process.”

“I who love words and the endless possibility of words am saddened by this inevitability. For with local accent will disappear local tempo. The idioms, the figures of speech that make language rich and full of the poetry of place and time must go. And in their place will be a national speech, wrapped and packaged, standard and tasteless. Localness is not gone but it is going.”

“You know when show people come into what they call the sticks, they have a contempt for the yokels. It took me a little time, but when I learned that there aren’t any yokels I began to get on fine. I learned respect for my audience. They feel that and they work with me, and not against me. Once you respect them, they can understand anything you can tell them.”

“…a profession older than writing [acting] and one that will probably survive when the written word has disappeared. And all the sterile wonders of movies and television and radio will fail to wipe it out—a living man in communication with a living audience.”

The one-thousand mile retreat of the Nez Perces before the U.S. Army. Charles Erskine Scott Wood: “If they hadn’t had their families with them we could never have caught them…. And if we had been evenly matched in men and weapons, we couldn’t have beaten them. They were men…real men.”

“Again it might have been the American tendency in travel. One goes, not so much to see, but to tell afterward.”

“And that ancient law went into effect which says that when you need towns [on a trip] they are very far apart.”

“To me dawn and dusk are quiet times, and here in the Redwoods nearly the whole of daylight is a quiet time.”

“Sometimes the view of change is distorted by a change in oneself.”

“Civil war is supposed to be the bitterest of wars, and surely family politics are the most vehement and venomous.”

“My return caused only confusion and uneasiness. Although they could not say it, my old friends wanted me gone so that I could take my proper place in the pattern of remembrance—and I wanted to go for the same reason.”

“And the desert, the dry and sun-lashed desert, is a good school in which to observe the cleverness and the infinite variety of techniques of survival under pitiless opposition. Life could not change the sun or water the desert, so it changed itself.”

Black man avoids helping a drunken woman who has fallen flat on her face on an icy New York City sidewalk. He was afraid that she would yell rape if he helped her. “I’ve been practicing to be a Negro a long time.”

“I want to be very clear about one thing. I have not intended to present, nor do I think I have presented, any kind of cross-section so that a reader can say, ‘He thinks he has presented a true picture of the South.’ I don’t. I’ve only told what a few people said to me and what I saw. I don’t know whether they were typical or whether any conclusion can be drawn. But I do know it is a troubled place….”

“My own journey started long before I left, and was over before I returned. I know exactly where and when it was over. Near Abingdon, in the dog-leg of Virginia, at four o’clock of a windy afternoon, without warning or good-by or kiss my foot, my journey went away and left me stranded far from home. I tried to call it back, to catch it up—a foolish and hopeless matter, because it was definitely and permanently over and finished.”

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