Saturday, October 5, 2013

"The Price of Violence Within Ourselves"

This is an essay Murray read on his broadcast and then published in Argus Magazine after President Kennedy's assassination. I read part of it when we dedicated the Murray and Rosa Morgan room at the Tacoma Public Library last September 11. It seemed appropriate to the day and to our times.

Friday, August 9, 2013

to Phyllis and Otto Goldschmid, Brazzavile, April 1957

Dear Phyllis and Otto—
The rain has been falling steadily here today, like a Northwest summer rain. It beats the heat, but the African boys sitting under the banyan tree look sad enough, and I feel sad enough. This country is depressing. There is such an air of permanence about the European colony (not that in itself bothers me) but everybody is here to make money fast, or to start a government career at the very bottom rung; no one has any connection with the town itself.
Poto-Poto, by Congolese photographer
Serge Gatien Sita "Valloni"

As for the native population, which lives in a section of the town called Poto-Poto, which means Mud-Mud, They are docile and gentle and sweet and undemanding, and how they are going to get in position to demand schools and representation and finally independence, I don’t know. Rags might ask, “Are you unhappy because they are happy?”

I get out of here May 1 for Nigeria, and I anticipate a contrast for the British, to the consternation of the other colonial powers, will turn Nigeria loose in less than two years. Not ready, the French tell me. But is any country ever ready? I ask.

“Some more than others.”

“Well then, what has France done to prepare these people for independence? How many colleges are there for the natives? 


“How many high schools?”


“Grade schools?”

“Oh yes. But only to the third grade.”

“And does everyone go?”

“About 40% of the boys in the towns and cities.”

“What about the girls?”

“Almost none. Native women don’t ask schooling.”

And so forth.

The land is beautiful—low mountains in the distance with the broad valley of the Congo in between, the river red brown, unhurried through the city, bursting into wild rapids below. Flowers bloom everywhere. The trees are aflame with bursts of red and orange and pink and yellow. Poinsettias grow fifty feet high, the river itself is choked with water hyacinths. Trees, planted mostly by the missionaries in the last century, line the streets. It’s hard to see how such a pleasant place can be distressing. 

But during a lightning storm the other day, I saw, in a sudden glare, a coral snake swept past my feet in the gutter overwash. Then darkness and it was gone. 



[Congo got its independence in 1960, and Murray’s disquiet about its prospects has been justified by events.]

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jim Faber to Murray and Rosa, 1954

In 1954 we moved to Puerto Vallarta (then a little-known village) to live cheaply while Murray was working on writing projects in the absence of his radio journalism income. He and Jim Faber had been reporting together, and the position was downsized to one person. Murray and Jim's plan had been to take turns on the job, with the Fabers staying at Trout Lake while we were in Mexico.  Shortly after sending this note, Jim got fired for both of them. Although he was not, as claimed, the illegitimate son of Jean Harlow, he was in fact the cousin of Gypsy Rose Lee.

dear turists..

finally got around to bailing out the morgan mailbox today- and found this in it…i took the liberty (as social secretary) in dispatching a letter off to brother moskin saying you were in mexico city attending a bund meeting and that i was forwarding your letter.

The pine boards, unstriped
Otherwise, your mail is most uninteresting. we’ve settled down to enjoying the morgan manse, and all is under control. your suit came back from the cleaners, and I think with a few alterations, it will be ok. drove rosa’s car the other day, and found it most satisfactory, except that I noted a tendency to shimmy whenever it hit 90. ann is a little miffed at me for breaking the bean pot, but I did it in a fit of pique when I found she had painted the front room pine boards in alternate stripes of red and white.

 And we managed to meet a few of the neighbors the other night—it was my first realization that most people out here belong to the volunteer fire department. 

hope you're enjoying yourself. the weather here has been wonderful, and I am the illegitimate son of jean harlow. write when you find work. 

jim und ann

ps…rosa – did you really tell ann to put in a cupful of detergent when operating the dishwashing machine? 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Puerto Vallarta, 16 January 1954

We lived in Puerto Vallarta for about a year. I was four. Murray's report may be a journal entry rather than a letter as there is no salutation. Rosa took the pictures

It is sunset. The wind, which has been strong and troublesome through the day, has died down. I can hear the waves breaking on the bar at the mouth of the thin river but they are washing in, not charging ashore with the deep growl which marks the storm-driven waves.

A lobster feed at the harbor
Looking out the window I can see, over a clump of palms down by the shore, the triangular sail of a fishing boat, coming slowly back. These boats are about 25 or 30 feet long and are usually manned by three fishermen. On the outward journey two row and one uses a paddle as a tiller. Mornings they go south, pausing off the mouth of the river to fish, then going out into the wide bay to fish deep. The evening wind helps them to come back. Tonight I can see only one boat. Perhaps the strong winds of the earlier hours kept the others at home, though it was hardly stormy enough for that.

The sunset is a strong pastel, not as vivid as the good ones at home but delicate and languid. Below the window an old woman is sweeping the steep cobblestoned street which slants down the hill past the house, breaking, a few yards away, into a series of wide, downward sloping steps which must form the basis of a waterfall in the summer rainy season. The sound of her broom is harsh. Somewhere a burro is protesting. A radio in the wood-walled, tile-roofed shack across the street is playing popular Mexican music. All male Mexican singers sound exactly alike on the radio; you almost never hear a woman vocalist. I don’t know why.

The best singing we have heard here has been that of the amateurs. One night walking along the Malecón—the broad, waterfront promenade stretching from the Hotel Rosita to the Hotel Paraiso, we heard a strong voice coming from a second story window. I thought it was an old record of Caruso. When the song ended the people we were with applauded. A man stood up, waved a glass at us in an upward gesture, and, pointing at the outline of a figure on a hammock, said “Mario Lanza.” He certainly wasn’t Lanza but also he wasn’t bad.

And on our first night in the house we were awakened at four ayem by a blare of music under our window. My first thought was that I had left a radio on somehow. (This is absurd: we still don’t have the electricity hooked up to the house[…]) I next that one of our friends from the hotel had arranged a practical joke. The music went on for half an hour: a band of four or five pieces and a singer with a pleasant, versatile voice. Later we learned that they were serenading the nubile daughter of our next-door neighbor; four ayem is the customary hour for these concerts and we were assured they would not be infrequent. I look forward to the next one. 

The family next door promises to be one of the delights. A big family in a big house. The mother is big and animated; the father is big and slow; and the children big and numerous: three girls and six boys. They are also big-hearted. The boys have solved some of the problems with our Coleman stove; the mother has showed up with an old-fashioned wick which makes the two-burner kerosene stove that came with the house burn instead of smolder. She loaned us boiled water when we ran out. This afternoon she asked Rosa if she wouldn’t like a “refresco” and when Rosa went down to their patio handed her a huge pitcher of water with papaya and some other fruit cut up in it: cool and wonderful. Rosa brought the picture to the house and we nearly finished it, only later realizing that she was just passing the pitcher for Rosa to have a glass. Rosa went down to apologize and was assured that the Señora remains “always at your orders.” Later, without orders, she showed up with a papaya for Lane and a quarter of a cake and the stove wicks. She’s going to help us get a charcoal burner and the boys are hunting for a wick for the Coleman lantern. All this in the easiest sort of way without the hint of show-off generosity. And we don’t even know their names. 

Lane has been quite sick. She got sick Thursday afternoon, vomiting at the beach. I thought she had just swallowed some salt water, and though we did not go back in swimming I took her for quite a walk along the beach, looking on the rocks for limpets. We’ve made up a song about Sally the Limpet (“Sally the Limpet was spawned in the sea; in a manner not so different from you and me. The waves carried Sally to and fro; she went wherever they wanted her to go…and so on.”) At dinner though, on one of the little hotels off the Malecón, she vomited again, and I took her home. She was terribly sick all night, vomiting almost steadily, wailing afterwards and then napping off, momentarily, in the post-bilious calm but waking shortly, sick. Rosa was off in Guadalajara, picking up some of our baggage and doing some shopping, and I spent the longest, most worried night of my life. Early the next morning—Friday—I went down and found a doctor and got him to promise to climb the hill to our house. Rosa arrived before he did (a day early) and when the doctor came we stood wanly around through his examination, fumbling our Spanish even more than usual and feeling nearly as miserable as Lane. How sick a heavy tan can make someone look: clay gray. It’s apparently something she ate. Today her fever is gone and while she is not over it, she is apparently getting over it. Great relief. I’ll be a long time forgetting the lonesomeness of that first night, wondering (as I still do) where and when she had eaten the wrong food or taken the wrong water, wondering if we should have come. 


The doctor I found is a pleasant young graduate of the University of Mexico. His name is Mañuel Baumgarten Jova, and he looks like an athletic Oscar Levant. He has considerable reserve. I suspect he doesn’t like Americans in general, though I have no grounds on which to base the assumption. When I asked if he was native to the town he said yes; I remarked that the town was beautiful, he said nothing at all, just looked pained. Whether this was an intelligent man’s awareness of his home town’s limitations, or whether it was inspired by the fact that the town is changing under the impact of the Yankee invasion is hard to tell.

One change is unfortunate, certainly. A few of the children are beginning to ask tourists for money. I’ve been approached three times now, twice by the same boy. …

Actually there seems little need to beg here. The land is bountiful and the sea generous beyond belief. I went out fishing with a small party the other day and with questionable equipment and no skill we boated three huge torros, a gallo, a bonita, an albacore and nine sierras in about four hours. One man at the Rosita took 53 sierras and ten larger fish in four hours one morning. Another caught 21 torros and had a heart attack. …

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

from Wilmott Ragsdale, 5 March 1951

As their 13th Anniversary present to themselves, Murray and Rosa called Rags and Ellie in New York City. 

Dear Murray and Rosa—

Eleanor is still talking and if I begin to write now I can feel I’m going on with the conversation, if one-sidedly. Calling like that, so calmly and lavishly about the time, gives a fine illusion that we have rich or foolish friends.
Eleanor has just hung up.

Now I think of the questions I forgot to ask. When is Skid Road coming out?

Do I understand that the Canwell Committee is going again? And is the Committee for Academic Freedom also going again? 
Martin edited the New Statesmen
and clashed with George Orwell.

Are we to expect a copy of the New Statesman and Nation? Are you a regular subscriber? I knew Kingsley Martin and he’s a surly type.

I’m glad you’re going somewhere next year. In spite of our current position of mild but deepening debt and all the spent money, I’m satisfied it was the best thing. Even the year at Johns Hopkins was good whether I ever become a teacher or not. One dinner with inlaws and I know the “wasted years” were good ones. “You are pink and now you’ve made Eleanor pink” my brother-in-law said to me, when drunk, adding, “You should get sound.” Sic. I am resolved to go to the sweet end without giving up anything now, even poetry.

It was just that Allen Tate who teaches at NYU (He is a leader of the “new critics”) saw ten poems I wrote, and gave me a letter to Auden, saying, he had not done this for anybody in two years. Auden and I sat for an hour drinking coffee, and I handed over the poems, and am waiting for a reaction. My most secret thought is that if I got a few published, I might bluff myself into another teacher job. However I would prefer to wait until something is published, if ever, before posing as a poet. After that, you can, when we are mentioned, say, “oh yes, the poet. I knew he was very fond of Robert Service.”
I am resolved to go to the sweet end without giving up anything now, even poetry.  -- Rags

I’m glad you feel you can travel with Lane. That’s the test. You will always be holding her up to see things that you know she will never remember seeing.

England or Mexico? What a decision. [We went to Mexico] A couple named Dilys and Alexander Laing just came through and stopped with us on their way to Mexico. He teaches at Dartmouth—the great issues course. Both are poets, both are novelists. They have their eight year old son with them. 
Sidney Hook

I have sat at the feet of Sidney Hook. That is I asked him to let me visit one of this seminars. He was the only teacher who didn’t replay immediately, “Fine, come ahead.” He was slightly suspicious, but he agreed. And he was very good as a teacher. It was on American theology. [Hook, a philosopher and historian, lived long enough to be bewildered by his grandson, Jon-Jon Goulian, author of Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt]

We have been to quite a few plays. We haven’t been able to go together, because a sitter would cost more than the plays. But we go separately to Lady’s Not for Burning, Member of the Wedding, Affairs of State. $1.20 Movies we cut down on this year. But saw fine Bicycle Thief and Kind Hearts and Coronets.
The job at the New School for Social Research is in teacher the Analysis of the Press or the Wayward Press. They didn’t have such a course and I sold them into it. But now I see it will take quite a lot of research and am worried. I feel that after the first class I will have exhausted all I know. And there are two, two hour classes each week.

Dilys Laing

New Yorker, 28 January 1950

We have just been talking about your moonlit clearing with two inches of snow. And we were both remembering very vividly meeting you at the Little Theater, Rosa in her leather coat, and something brass brought in Greenwich Village, and that wonderful time when the ferries didn’t run. In fact just this afternoon I was remembering some kind of very warm army jacket that I wore when we walked down the beach to the point toward the gravel pit. And then the Mallomars, and the sponge mop and the mountain right across the bay at Dash Point. In fact it was an act of great impulse to give away your anniversary gift by telephoning us all the way from Trout Lake to New York City.