Monday, May 30, 2005

Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men is a 100 pages story from John Steinbeck. He was born in Salinas, educated in Stanford and worked as a transient worker at farms in California, near Soledad in the 1930's. American Heritage dictionary has a word for this farm worker: a bindle stiff meaning a migrant worker or hobo who carries his own bedroll.

Many years later , in 1962, Stenbeck won the Nobel prize.

Even before the word autistic was invented, the main character is Lennie, an autistic young man with a big soul and unable to care for himself. The only woman in the story, Curly's wife does not have a name. Everyone is very unhappy and thirsty for friendship and love. Everyone works hard, just to be lonelier and lonelier.

Sillicon Valley is an alter ego of the farm near Salinas River a few miles from Soldedad, that Stenbeck describes. We work hard. We came from all over the world. We have ideas, but few dare to hope. We work for large companies and small companies and start ups are fewer and fewer. We know the rule of the the game is today only. We are the bindle stiffs in a modern post-bubble Sillicon Valley.

The title of the story comes from a poem of Robert Burns:

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain
For promis'd joy.

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men, begin to go awry. This is the American dream from a powerful writer, who goes inside the souls, to see it better and describe it.

Life is much better than in the thirties. A friend, born in America , said he wants to move to South Carolina. Do you have any friends there? I asked. No, he said. In San Francisco, we do not have many friends either.

I love America. I love being here. I love my imaginary independence. I can not go back. I read Steinbeck, again and wonder who reads him any more, besides the high school students, who read him because they have to, not because they want to.

Steinbeck make me feel I am normal. California is and is not an infinite El Dorado, be it gold, movies, beaches, hippies or software. Illusory freedom has a price. The secret is to keep trying - not easy to do - even when the best laid schemes o' mice an' men, begin to go awry.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Russian immigrant poet Igor Yevelev

Igor Yevelev is a Senior Test Engineer. But under this guise Igor Yevelev - who arrived ten years ago from Belarus - writes poetry. His son, Gary Yevelev  is an exceptional young man, graduated in Berkeley and works at Google. He mentored my son David

Igor translated the most famous Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai in Russian. I went to a reading of his poetry.
Yehuda Amichai
The room was full of elderly people, mostly women who spoke Russian. Igor read the poems first in English. The audience did not react. Then he read his Russian translations. I speak no Russian, so I look around. A lady next to me had shiny eyes. The audience clapped wildly, with visible pleasure.

When he translates, Igor said, he changes  words day after day. As he discovers more meanings, he replaces the Russian words, and gets more and more exact poetic feelings. A Russian reader must feel the same emotions and the native Hebrew readers.

"What is is my first language?", he asks himself,  repeating a question people love asking him. "It depends. If I speak or write about love, is Russian. If I speak about being laid off at the office, it's English."

Igor works for a large semiconductor company. They outsource jobs to India.
Tonight, I found a love poem of Yehuda Amichai, Once A Great Love:
Once a great love cut my life in two.
The first part goes on twisting
at some other place like a snake cut in two.
The poem goes on:
The passing years have calmed me
and brought healing to my heart and rest to my eyes.
But I stopped after the third verse.  There is no healing yet, here in Silicon Valley.

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