Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sex shop yields to electric scooters

For years -- decades even -- I cringed every time I walked by the Crystal Massage parlor on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. How often was that, exactly? Well, not infrequently. The establishment sits (sat) between where I live and where I work.

As often as I walked by the place, I only walked into Crystal Massage once. That was to deliver flowers.

I'll get back to that. It's why I always cringed.

So I walked by this weekend and was surprised to notice the shutters have been taken down and the windows now reveal ranks of colorful electric scooters arrayed inside.

Yep. Electric scooters and half-naked mannequins.

Half-naked mannequins because... Um. Well, I don't know, maybe the place is haunted?

So what happened? Turns out that in the middle of last year, according to Natalie Orenstein's report in Berkeleyside, the city decided to Crack down on massage parlors suspected of prostitution. Rather than put up a fight, the business threw in the towel, and the neon went dark sometime in late summer or early fall. I guess I hadn't noticed, I was too busy cringing every time I walked by.

The scooter shop? A new location, apparently, for Green Choice Moto. The scooters are for rent by the hour. The place wasn't open when I walked by, and their web site was a little confusing about the exact hours. Then there are the half-naked mannequins ... but heck ... at least the place doesn't remind me of the most humiliating moment of my life as a flower delivery dude.

It was nineteen eighty something, or maybe it was '79. I was in college, and the afternoon hours offered by University Flowers (at a location that's now a tax preparation place) fit my schedule nicely.

The pay wasn't anything to brag about, but you got to drive around on your own without a boss looking over your shoulder. Once in a blue moon somebody would even give a tip. (OTOH, if I forgot to throw away a candy wrapper dropped in the van I'd get a no-holds-barred scolding from the boss, who seized on any evidence of a detour through a hospital gift shop as grounds for twenty minute lectures on employee malfeasance.)

To whom did University Flowers deliver? Homes, hospitals, mortuaries, and -- yes, you guessed it -- "massage" parlors.

So one afternoon my list includes a delivery in the 2400 block of Shattuck Avenue, a dozen yellow roses in a green glass vase if memory serves, and when I get there I realize -- oh crap, it's this place again.

Crystal Massage, with the shaded windows and the neon sign.

I park the van. I get out of the van. I put up the collar of my jacket. I pull the flowers out of the nice nest of little sandbags we used to make sure the arrangements didn't fall over while driving the van. I look both ways to make sure nobody I recognize from a class is strolling down the sidewalk. I duck into the recessed doorway and I knock.

The previous times I'd delivered to this place someone had come to the door more or less immediately. They'd taken the flowers and I'd been on my way. I was expecting the same that afternoon.

But no.

Nobody came.

I knocked again, harder. Still nobody came. And again.

Finally, gingerly, I tried the door. It was unlocked. I opened it. Slowly. Hoping that somebody, anybody, would jump to it, relieve me of the yellow roses in their green glass vase, and let me get the heck out of there.

I mean, think about it. I'm twenty. I'm carrying flowers. I'm knocking on the door of a "massage" parlor.

What kind of a dork brings flowers to a "massage" appointment?

Nobody, of course. But anybody could have reasonably mistaken me for the dork who was having a twenty year old college dude deliver his yellow roses to a "masseuse" for whom the dork was apparently carrying a big, blazing torch.

I stepped inside.

The place was pretty dark. Yes, there were red velvet curtains. Through the red velvet curtains there was a table, or a desk. I cleared my throat. I called out a soft, "Hello?" Tentatively. I didn't want to ... interrupt anything. I tiptoed further into the red velvet murk, and gently, silently set the dozen yellow roses in their green glass vase on the table.

Then I turned tail and ran for the van.

In 2001 the city had shut down a different "massage" parlor that was sure-as-death-and-taxes operating as a brothel. The Golden Gypsy on Telegraph Avenue had been in business for a quarter century or so. Here from Will Harper's farewell report of 3 Oct 2001, in the East Bay Express,
In April, Berkeley Police Chief Dash Butler received an anonymous letter from a woman who described herself as being from "a prominent Berkeley family." Her husband, she wrote Butler, was "an executive [at] the Port of Oakland" and he was paying for sex at the Golden Gypsy. She knew that to be a fact because she had hired private investigators to follow him, and her hired gumshoes had gone to the Gypsy and paid for sex themselves. Doctors at the adjacent Berkeley Family Practice Medical Group, which has a parking lot between the two businesses, also were complaining about encounters with clients from the Gypsy. A female employee of the medical clinic wrote zoning officials that Gypsy clients had once asked her and a colleague, "How much did we cost and how much for a 'blow job.'"


On July 27 around noon, Berkeley police detective Stan Libed, dressed in plainclothes, rang the door at the Gypsy after obtaining a search warrant. Unbeknownst to the people inside, another undercover cop had already infiltrated and been escorted to one of the building's private rooms and been asked to shower and disrobe. The door swung open and, according to the police report, the blond greeter directed Libed "toward a half dozen scantily clad women and asked me to chose [sic] one." Libed chose a five-foot, 26-year-old Asian woman using the name "Jennifer."

Shortly after picking out Jennifer, the detective yelled, "Police!" Immediately, nearly twenty cops rushed the building. [...]
Good times, eh?

The Golden Gypsy was a dump, really, and, yes, I'd delivered flowers there too back in the day. The building has since been razed, and the property redeveloped as an apartment with street-level retail. The ground floor is currently occupied by a franchise chiropractic operation.

Why not? You feel better afterward, and there's no need to get tested for STDs.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Bike parking fail
Endeavor's farewell flight over Berkeley
The blurry line between Landlord and Supreme Power

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Nelson Mandela and the death of UC Berkeley's Eshleman Hall

UC Berkeley's Eshleman Hall was built in 1965. It served for decades as the home of student government on the campus, and a dizzying spectrum of student organizations. Last year the building was cleared of student groups, and of the offices of the students' newspaper, the Daily Cal. Hardhat-wearing crews are cleaning it out this spring. Eshleman Hall will be demolished in summer to make way for a new and seismically-safer Lower Sproul Plaza.

Passing by on Sunday I was struck by the sad-sack state the building is in at this stage of its decommissioning: empty, windowless, closed to all comers by an ugly corral of concrete road-barriers and cyclone fencing. Not that Eshleman was ever the most striking building on campus ... but still.

I spent a fair bit of time in Eshleman Hall myself. From 1984-86 an office suite on the sixth floor served as headquarters for the Campaign Against Apartheid, one of the key student organizations then agitating for full divestment of the university portfolio from companies doing business in apartheid South Africa.

613 Eshleman Hall is where CAA and friends made press calls, monitored police radio, raised funds, set up meetings with labor and community groups, and conspired late into the night. We held loooooooooong meetings in the sixth floor lobby, though they weren't as long as the nightly meetings of sit-in participants during the six weeks of April-May 1985 when students, faculty, and community members occupied Sproul Plaza (renamed Biko Plaza in honor of the eponymous South African Black Consciousness martyr) ... a sit-in instigated and sustained by CAA. Those meetings, held from just after dinner until at least three quarters of participants were pulling their hair out, seemed to run on interminably.

The walls of the sixth floor? That's where inspired parties wrote and painted graffiti, natch. The favorite that sticks with me more than a quarter century later:
Who's guarding the van?
R-- W-- came up with that one, if memory serves. It was true, there were those among us who were prone to inflating the Campaign Against Apartheid's role in revolutionary history. R-- was doing his best to keep us honest.

On the other hand, consider this:

Several years after the university's Regents were forced by protest and the tide of history to divest the UC portfolio of companies with investments in South Africa, African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Mandela stopped in Oakland in 1990 as part of his post-prison, pre-presidential world tour, and spoke before a crowd of nearly 60,000 at the Oakland Coliseum. In the course of thanking solidarity organizations for working to end South African apartheid and his own 27-year imprisonment, Mandela acknowledged the Campaign Against Apartheid by name -- yes, our little homegrown campus organization -- as a notable contributor in the struggle to which he and his compatriots had dedicated their lives.

I'll never forget the validation that brief mention conferred on our hard work and sleepless nights. Mandela -- who represented the actual vanguard of anti-apartheid struggle -- was telling us that what we'd done had mattered, had substantively contributed to a liberation struggle on the other side of the world.

And we organized it out of 613 Eshleman Hall.

It would be pretty cool if Eshleman were demolished using this stutter-step methodology, reported by Reuters last month:

But in the more likely event that the building is brought down in a single, booming detonation, I hope to be there to bid it farewell.

Correction (15 Jan 2014): In this post I mis-stated (because I misremembered) that Nelson Mandela referred to the UC Berkeley student organization Campaign Against Apartheid specifically, by name. Mandela spoke of the divestment movement on the campus, but did not name CAA. For a full transcript of Mandela's speech in Oakland, see What Nelson Mandela actually said in Oakland on 30 June 1990.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Eshelman Hall demolition: all but history
The Occupy Movement and UC Berkeley's Free Speech Monument
A petulant landlord's agitprop: politics, art, or irony?
When authorities equate disobedience with violence

Thanks to United Nations Photo for the image of Nelson Mandela addressing the U.N. Special Committee Against Apartheid on 22 June 1990, about a week before he spoke at the Oakland Coliseum.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Six ways your electronica owns you

We would like to think that the devices we purchase are things we own and control, and that the accounts we create in social-media space to represent us also belong to us. If schools loan laptops to kids, we assume that they're for the kids' own use and are not going to be used against them by school staff in some nefarious way.

But if you're tracking news on privacy and technology, you probably understand that these beliefs are ... well ... they're fantasy. Or at least they're old-school. Such assumptions are becoming less true over time.

Here are six ways your electronica and social-media providers own you.

FinSpy: who's tracking your every e-mail?

Tinfoil milliners, pay attention, please. Not that a hat would help in this case.

On 30 Aug 2012, the NY Times ran a story Software Meant to Fight Crime Is Used to Spy on Dissidents. The gist is that software is being used to spy on people that governments find ... inconvenient. This despite the software's purported intent: to help police in "a country that obeys the rule of law" to catch nasty people committing nasty crimes. From the NYT article, bold emphasis added:
The software proved to be the stuff of a spy film: it can grab images of computer screens, record Skype chats, turn on cameras and microphones and log keystrokes. The two men [featured in the article] said they discovered mobile versions of the spyware customized for all major mobile phones.

But what made the software especially sophisticated was how well it avoided detection. Its creators specifically engineered it to elude antivirus software made by Kaspersky Lab, Symantec, F-Secure and others.

The software has been identified as FinSpy, one of the more elusive spyware tools sold in the growing market of off-the-shelf computer surveillance technologies that give governments a sophisticated plug-in monitoring operation. Research now links it to servers in more than a dozen countries, including Turkmenistan, Brunei and Bahrain, although no government acknowledges using the software for surveillance purposes.

The market for such technologies has grown to $5 billion a year from "nothing 10 years ago," said Jerry Lucas, president of TeleStrategies, the company behind ISS World, an annual surveillance show where law enforcement agents view the latest computer spyware.

FinSpy is made by the Gamma Group, a British company that says it sells monitoring software to governments solely for criminal investigations.

[...] FinSpy gained notoriety in March 2011 after protesters raided Egypt’s state security headquarters and discovered a document that appeared to be a proposal by the Gamma Group to sell FinSpy to the government of President Hosni Mubarak for $353,000. It is unclear whether that transaction was ever completed.

You don't control your expensive iPhone ... Apple controls your expensive iPhone

Also in August of last year -- the very next day following the NYT article excerpted above, in fact -- Devin Coldeway wrote about a new Apple patent for NBCnews.com: Apple patent would disable phone based on location (bold emphasis added below).
Among a bevy of patents awarded to Apple this week was one that would enable or disable certain features of a phone depending on its location. It could be useful, but it also raises serious questions about who really owns your device.

The patent, "Apparatus and methods for enforcement of policies upon a wireless device," was pointed out by Apple Insider Thursday. It's similar to an application made public in 2011 that would use a sensor in the phone to detect whether it was allowed to take pictures or make calls. The new patent relies on GPS, cell tower or Wi-Fi data to determine location, and then "changing one or more functional or operational aspects" of the device.
What kinds of serious questions does this patent raise?

That same news-day, Mark Frauenfelder posted to BoingBoing an item titled Apple granted patent for location-based camera phone disabling. Frauenfelder quoted from the patent application describing the ability to apply "policies" to devices so that their function is limited or disabled in "sensitive locations," then observes (bold emphasis added):
I imagine movie theaters would be the first to use this remote disabling feature (if Apple ever decides to move ahead with this technology; just because they have a patent doesn't mean they'll use it). The paranoid side of me imagines governments using it to prevent citizens from communicating with each other or taking video during protests.
That's interesting, 'cuz that's what the 'paranoid' side of me imagines too. Maybe even the same sorts of governments who would pay six figures or more for the use of FinSpy.

Do you know whether your local school district is spying on your children tonight?

I didn't catch this story when it happened (I learned about it from a webcast I watched last month). The gist: a school district in suburban Pennsylvania loaned laptops to students in 2010, then used software installed on the laptops to spy on them. Yes, you read that right. To spy on children.

"Spy" in this case includes turning on the cameras while the kids were using their laptops at home, including in their bedrooms. Here's the gist from Wikipedia's article about the class action lawsuit brought in the matter, Robbins v. Lower Merion School District, sans extensive links to fascinating footnotes (bold emphasis added):
[...] in what was dubbed the "WebcamGate" scandal, the schools secretly spied on the students while they were in the privacy of their homes. School authorities surreptitiously and remotely activated webcams embedded in school-issued laptops the students were using at home. After the suit was brought, the school district, of which the two high schools are part, revealed that it had secretly snapped more than 66,000 images. The suit charged that in doing so the district infringed on its students' privacy rights. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction, ordering the school district to stop its secret webcam monitoring, and ordered the district to pay the plaintiffs' attorney fees.
The lawsuit was settled 'to protect taxpayers' ... see School settles laptop spying case to "protect taxpayers" on Arstechnica.

Your phone is tracking your movement while shopping?!!

Fast forward to last week, when Quentin Hardy blogged on the NY Times that your phone's WiFi antenna is being used to monitor your movements in certain stores, from when you enter 'til when you leave, capturing where in the store you go (and thus what merchandise you're checking out), and how long you stay. This monitoring happens whether or not you're using your device to connect to the internet, or to make a phone call. Nope. That phone you're carrying, unused, in a pocket or purse or backpack is reporting on you in any case. From 7 March 2013, in Technology Turns to Tracking People Offline (bold emphasis added below):
The big initial use is the so-called bounce rate, or the percentage of people who come into the store who leave without making a purchase. But the technology also helps stores make sure that there is enough sales help or that enough registers are open. By seeing how people move in a store, retailers can also better determine where to place low-profit and high-profit items.


Computers are already recognizing people moving around, both voluntarily and involuntarily. [...] at a conference in Santa Monica, Calif., held by the Montgomery and Company investment firm [...] a company called Omnilink, which makes ankle devices for people under home arrest, talked about plans to expand into monitoring elders, children, workers on their own in the field and the infirm.
So now you can think of that smartphone as the key to having an intimate relationship with Big Brother. But don't worry. They'd never use your own phone to target you in a drone attack. Would they?

Even Deans at Harvard get their e-mail secretly inspected. Why should you be immune?

Can you imagine a more august and privileged group of individuals, a group of individuals to whom more deference is paid, than the faculty of Harvard University? I mean, okay: short of England's royal family, or Donald Trump when he's surrounded by trembling toadies.

Well, deference didn't stop Harvard's administrators from secretly spying on 16 faculty members who hold the role of "resident deans" ... nope, those nosy administrators wormed their way into the professors' e-mail accounts, looking to unmask a suspected 'culprit' who shared information with the press about a cheating scandal. From the NY Times, dateline 10 March 2013, Harvard E-Mail Search Stuns Its Faculty Members:
"I think what the administration did was creepy," said Mary C. Waters, a sociology professor, adding that "this action violates the trust I once had that Harvard would never do such a thing."

[...] Though some professors were disinclined to speak to a reporter, they showed less restraint online, where sites were buzzing with the news, and several professors said the topic dominated the faculty’s private conversations.

On his blog, which is closely followed by many people at Harvard, Dr. [Harry R.] Lewis[, a professor and former dean of Harvard College,] called the administration’s handling of the search "dishonorable," and, like some of his colleagues, said the episode would prompt him to do less of his communication through his Harvard e-mail account, and more through a private account.
I hope Professor Lewis's idea of "a private account" isn't one provisioned by a behemoth like Google or Microsoft. You've got to figure that these companies are going to pay even less deference to Harvard faculty than the administrators at Harvard University. And it's pretty hard to imagine that all the Harvard faculty who follow Lewis' example are going to read the fine-print Terms of Service that pretty much nobody but the folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation reads anyway.

Google Glass: Who's Watching Whom???

Everybody from CNN to CNET to TechCrunch is gushing over the latest news about Google Glass, a wearable interface to the greatest data farm on Earth, livestreaming data to and from your eyeglasses to ... wherever. At the SXSW show yesterday, Google spoke to developers about the interface -- the Mirror API -- that programmers will use to build apps for Google Glass.

The hype from Google's Timothy Jordan, as reported on TechCrunch, in a story with a very long headline:
As part of today’s presentation, Jordan also detailed some Glass apps Google has been working on itself, and apps that some of its partners have created. The New York Times app, for example, shows headlines and then lets you listen to the full article by telling Glass to “read aloud.” Google’s own Gmail app uses voice recognition to answer emails (and it obviously shows you incoming mail, as well). Evernote’s Skitch can be used to take and share photos, and Jordan also showed a demo of social network Path running on Glass to share your location.
But it doesn't take much imagination to visualize sidewalks full of people using their glasses to snap photos and shoot video of whatever they find interesting ... including you. James Kendrick wrote yesterday for ZDNet's Mobile News, an article titled Google Glass: Expect widespread usage bans over privacy concerns. Yes indeed. Excerpting:
A bar in Seattle has already generated buzz in tech communities with a preemptive strike against Google Glass. The proprietor doesn't want patrons to have to worry that someone with Google Glasses might be snapping photos. His patrons come in for privacy and he wants to keep it that way.

That may have been nothing more than a publicity stunt but it portends a greater problem for Google Glass. When the general public becomes aware of Google Glass and exactly what it does, expect to see a lot of reactions similar to that of the Seattle bar owner.
Is this a matter of your devices owning you, or of someone else's devices owning you? Well, both actually. When that Google Glass wearing minions pass you on the sidewalk, you're the data being streamed to Google and ... wherever. But once s/he has passed? Everything the glass-wearer does, everywhere she goes, whatever she says to whomever: combine that with FinSpy or the WebcamGate software and everything about that glass-wearer is tracked and analyzed, by agents and for reasons over which s/he has zero control.

Google Glass is expected to begin rolling out to software developers and others later this year.

Are you feeling like somebody's looking over your shoulder?

Bottom line: Today somebody just might be peeking out of your pocket. Next year, warnings to beware the evil eye will begin to take on whole new data dimensions of meaning.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:

Pimped by our own devices: electronica, the cloud, and privacy piracy
Four eyes: 4 ways Google Glass might change the world
It’s new, but is it improved?

Thanks to Paterm via Wikimedia Commons for the image of Big Brother graffiti on the other side of the pond.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ursula Le Guin visits UC Berkeley

Ursula K. Le Guin, the prolific and much-admired author of ethnographically rich speculative fiction, visited her hometown last week for an interview with UC Berkeley French and Comparative Literature Professor Michael Lucey.

Sibley Auditorium, posted capacity 240, was packed to the gills. The fire marshal would have been shocked -- shocked! -- to find dozens sitting in the aisles and in the space in front of the stage, while perhaps a hundred more watched via closed-circuit TV from the auditorium's lobby. Many more, disappointed they couldn't squeeze into the free event to see the author live, simply drifted away.

The interview, titled What Can Novels Do?, was sponsored by the campus's Townsend Center, through which Le Guin holds the 2012-2013 Avenali Chair in the Humanities.

Le Guin, 83, was a towering figure in my high school reading life. The Left Hand of Darkness explored social relations in a world on which gender is ambiguous; in The Dispossessed Le Guin imagined her way into a society in which anarchism had blossomed -- and then ossified -- over the course of a couple of hundred years. The five novels of Earthsea conjure a magical world of wizards and dragons. All told, Le Guin has published twenty-one novels and half-again as many volumes of short stories, not to mention her poetry and children's books.

Outside Sibley Auditorium last Tuesday evening, before the doors were opened, the crowd buzzed as if we were about to see the Rolling Stones. For free, mind you. In addition to Berkeley's and the Bay Area's general affinities for ambiguous gender, anarchism, and Wiccan-leaning wizardry, the author's middle initial stands for Kroeber, giving away her deep and longstanding kinship to the campus. From Thursday's Daily Cal:
Le Guin's father, Alfred Kroeber, for whom Kroeber Hall bears its name, established the campus's department of anthropology in 1901. Le Guin said that her father had an incredible influence on her and that, whether by "osmosis or similarity of nature," they were both interested in ethnography and learning behaviors in a social context.

"(Anthropology) hints interests in concrete details, which is very important equipment for fantasists, because fantasy can so easily drift into the gaga," Le Guin said at the event. "But if you tie it down to things, you make it real."
Le Guin spoke of the Napa Valley as overrun with the wine industry's monoculture (the author spent summers there as a child, and still owns the Kroeber family summer home). Of the vineyard sprawl that has smothered the Napa Valley's tule marshes, sloughs, and oak savannas she said, "We're not using this beautiful place quite right." Referring to our current century's deep crises of ecology, explicitly and by implication, Le Guin observed that "we live in a time of great loss"; and, taking note of the "many young faces in the room," that "this is a tough time to be young."

As a writer and (in my day-job guise) an information technology dude, the most striking note Le Guin sounded had to do with books. "Literature is not information," Le Guin insisted. To claim as much "is a sentiment I deplore."

O, yes indeed. I thought immediately of the postcard tacked above my desk at work these last fifteen years or so. It's actually an ad for Fortune magazine that I picked up once upon a time in a laundromat, and reads simply: Information isn't knowledge. Lest I forget. I'm right there with Le Guin in the deploring department when it comes to treating literature as 'information' or 'content.' I wonder if she caught that Betsy Morais piece on Digital Book World that I riffed on last month, in Should Technology Shape Art?

When she drew the line between information and literature, Le Guin was speaking of her belief that books are mortal, that they exist in time, that they have lifespans, that they form a relationship between an author and her readers ... a relationship that may well reach beyond the lifespan of the author herself: "This is Tolstoy offering me a book ... wow ... I better take that," she remarked at one point.

Le Guin's ideas reminded me of a fine article Daniel Mendelsohn published in The New Yorker earlier this year: "The American Boy,"  in which he recounts an epistolary relationship with author Mary Renault. In the mid-1970s, Mendelsohn corresponded with Renault as a teenage reader of her novels of classical Greece. Renault led her response to Mendelsohn's first letter, in which he confessed his then-secret longings for other boys because he found his desire portrayed in Renault's Greeks and Persians, with this: "I wonder whoever told you I'd send you a 'form letter' if you wrote to me. Are there really writers who do that?"

Relationship, relationship, relationship.

The two continued to correspond, and Mendelsohn learned years after Renault's death that she spoke of him to her friends in South Africa, where she lived, as her "American boy." Hence the title of the article in The New Yorker.

It turned out Le Guin provided another link between herself and Mendelsohn, at least in my mental map. I'll explain:

Mendelsohn lectured for some years in Princeton's Classics department and now teaches at Bard College. He first came to my attention when I chanced upon a celebratory reading at Cooper Union of his freshly- and simultaneously-published editions The Collected Poems and The Unfinished Poems by C.P. Cavafy, in English translation (I happened to be visiting New York the month these editions were published ... the actress Olympia Dukakis was among the luminaries who read at the event).

I've admired Cavafy's work since a friend shared a book of translations in the early 1980s. His poem Ithaka stands in my literary experience as the best travel / how-to-live advice anyone ever gave; I've passed it along more than a few times. Matter of fact, I'll include it below ... but first here's a poem that Le Guin read last week at Sibley Auditorium, Initiation Song from the Finders Lodge, one of many poems found in the author's novel Always Coming Home:
Please bring strange things.
Please come bringing new things.
Let very old things come into your hands.
Let what you do not know come into your eyes.
Let desert sands harden your feet.
Let the arch of your feet be the mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
and the ways you go be the lines on your palms.
Let there be deep snow in your inbreathing
and your outbreath be the shining of ice.
May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food-cooking you have not eaten.
May the spring of a foreign river be your navel.
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well loved one,
walk mindfully, well loved one,
walk fearlessly, well loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
be always coming home.

- Ursula Le Guin (1985)
I had never come across this poem before I heard Le Guin read it aloud last week. Yet stories (and poems) tend to echo their archetypes -- and stories of journey and return are by leagues and leagues the most compelling archetype to me. So I was deeply moved, but not surprised, to recognize an echo of Homer's Odysseus in Le Guin's speculatively-drawn Napa Valley of a very distant future, by way of Cavafy's explicitly-intended echo in melancholy and evocative verse of the early-twentieth century.

Here is Ithaka in the Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard 1975 translation through which I first came to know the poem:
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon - you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind -
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

- C.P. Cavafy (1910)

Still gives me shivers ... and I don't think I need to belabor the threads common to Le Guin's and Cavafy's counsel.

Another of Le Guin's revelations (to me, at least; more devoted fans have probably heard or read this before) came in answer to the last question from the audience, at the end of the program:

A young woman asked about the Earthsea series, wondering what Le Guin might say about the significant change in the novel's voice and focus between the third and fourth books. The first three books of the series orbit the (male) protagonist, Ged; while the fourth and fifth novels feature female characters Tenar and Therru as focal points.

Le Guin noted that there were seventeen years separating The Farthest Shore (1972) from Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea (1990). What happened in-between, she explained, was feminism. Feminism, Le Guin said, taught her "to write like a women instead of a pretend-man."

And there it is again: books-in-time. Books as a venue for relationship between an author being shaped by feminism in the 1970s, and a university student standing on the shoulders of her foremothers in the 21st century.

Thank you, Ms. Le Guin, for your work, and for spending the evening with several hundred of your admiring readers.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Should Technology Shape Art?
A speculative-fiction spectrum: Clifford D. Simak to David Mitchell
Art as long as history, time beyond memory
Time, History, and Human Forgetting

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the image of Ursula K. Le Guin, photographed by Hajor; of Vineyards in Napa Valley, photographed by Brocken Inaglory; and of the entrance to the harbor of Vathy, Ithaca, photographed by KMan.