Two Homers, Three Helens and a Sailboat on Blue Water
It may be true that there is no hunting like the hunting of men. But that is a small thing compared to the hunting of one’s ghosts. Or the hunt for one’s self, which is harder still.
I first thought seriously about the hunting of men during the search for newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. I was very young and very green, and I covered the story for the CBS television station in San Francisco. We were all interested in the hunt for Patty and her kidnappers back then. At the time, it was called the story of the century, having surpassed the Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932 in the public mind. That is what happens when four decades pass between notorious events. The public mind shifts. Hardly anyone remembers the past. Fewer still learn from it.
It was not up to me to find the heiress or her abductors. My job was to wear nice clothes and wait in an RV parked outside the Hearst mansion in Hillsborough, California. Sooner or later, the people who were hunting for Patty—the FBI and the police—would find her, dead or alive, and make some kind of statement in front of the family home. All I had to do was appear on camera each night and say something—anything—to keep the story alive.
Except for the extra income and attention that came from an assignment like this, it was the occupational equivalent of a quarantine. One afternoon, in order to pass the time, I picked up a magazine and read a reprint of “On the Blue Water,” Ernest Hemingway’s Gulf Stream Letter of April, 1936. That’s where he talks about the hunting of men. And how once you get a taste for it, you never really care for anything else thereafter.
You have to admire the piece, whether you like this kind of talk or not, because this particular Gulf Stream Letter contains a nugget of something greater than itself, the anecdote that eventually became The Old Man and the Sea.
And if you are a young reporter writing piffle about a rich white girl when hundreds of black and brown girls get raped or go missing every day with nary a thought for their whereabouts or well-being, you realize reading Hemingway that you are wasting your time. And if you don’t do something to change your life, you may wind up with a fair amount of money some day—but no soul.
Did Agatha Christie Steal from Another Writer?
If you were to ask any ten people if they knew who wrote Orient Express, all ten would likely say, "Why Agatha Christie, of course." And they'd be wrong.
That's because two years after Graham Greene published Orient Express, the novel that put him on the map in 1932, Christie published a far more popular novel with a similar name. In the UK, there'd have been no confusion over the two. The original title of Greene's book was Stamboul Train. It was only when his novel was published in the United States that its title was changed in 1934.
I've owned Orient Express for several years but only just got around to reading it. Still in brand new condition, it practically leapt off the shelf demanding to be read. This is one of the nice things about having actual books around. They say things as you pass by to gather dishes or switch off the lamp.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoy my eBooks in part because I can carry ten or twenty of them on a jet without having to pay extra for another bag. It's also nice to look up an unfamiliar word by placing your finger on it. I mean, that's cool. But once an eBook is stored away inside your eReader, it's out of sight and mostly out of mind. It doesn't jump off the shelf, reminding you of the day you made the purchase. The things that were going on in your life at the time. The reason you chose it in the first place. What you hoped to find between its covers. Demanding to be read if not now, when?
Since Greene's book was published first, I wondered if Christie had taken a rib from his novel to create her own. Did she believe, as Picasso did, that it's alright to steal from another artist if you think you can do it better?
There is, for instance, a significant snow delay in both. Each involves a murder. Both include a diverse ensemble of characters. And there is a shared interest in foreign police to one degree or another as the train penetrates the east European hinterland.
But beyond those similarities—and the fact that both stories take place aboard a train—the two books are as unalike as Ice-T and Ice Cube.
Although some would argue that one of these Orient Express novels is superior to the other, I am not here to play that game. My purpose is to say simply that I was deeply affected by Greene's novel. And I want to tell you why.
Nabokov's Nymphet Remains Misunderstood by a Culture that Winks at the Sexualization of Children
I don’t care about Jeffrey Epstein. I care about the girls. I see the term “Lolita Express” in the news alongside passenger logs that include the names of rich and famous men, most of whom are white, and the only relief I feel is that Epstein did not have the audacity to give that name to the aircraft himself. The reference to Nabokov's famous novel came from the press, as did the nickname for the 72-acre island he owns in the Caribbean—"Orgy Island."
Cute, but it's not funny
Lolita is a tragic figure. She is completely undone by the lust of a sophisticated, well-educated adult, who by possessing the object of his desire transforms it into something entirely different, initiating her demise. The novel is a double tragedy. It is the story of Lolita's ruin and that of her putative stepfather and abductor Humbert Humbert.
Consider what it means to call Espstein's airplane "Lolita Express." Especially when the alleged sex trafficking of underage girls is part of the equation and an alleged open secret.
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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