Ken Hartke

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I'm retired and living solo "out west" in the New Mexico desert. I've been an observer and blogger for years and usually have four or five blogs going but wrote for myself or for friends. A lot of it was travel stories or daily random postings -- but it was a good experience. Red Room allowed me to share things on a wider scale and with its demise, I (maybe) found a more public voice.

The Clock Tells the Time – the Bells tell the Century

Umbria, 2010

It seems like a timeless place. But in the old town in the hills, the bells count the hours and the quarter hours, as they have for generations -- for five or six centuries. The broad cobbled Corso winds through the town. The main drag we might say. It passes through the centuries old city gate, much older even than the bells, goes through the piazzas and past the market stalls and the sidewalk cafes. Past the worn and repurposed palazzos. The town folk enjoy their evening stroll. They meet old friends and relations and pause for a glass of wine, an espresso, or a grappa and share stories or the news of the day. There are those obligatory kisses, and near misses. Much of the business of the place passes in the evening hours on the Corso.

The old clock in the town hall sounds its bell -- a dull clanging sound. Not a sonorous or pleasant tone. It was meant for business: get up -- get out -- take alarm. The old city fathers were a most frugal lot and knew not to spend scarce city money on a large bell. A long minute later, after the clanging has died away, the great bell in the cathedral rings out its time. That is where the tithe money went, centuries ago, to call attention to the cathedral. Mostly to impress.

The clocks have been slightly off for generations. They just are, but don't have to be. They could be timed better and synchronized… or they could settle on one. But there is a purpose and an intent to the minor discrepancy. It is an ageless dialogue. A slight discord but the Church has the last word. This place was once part of the Papal States. The town hall may clang away at the precise and proper time, but the church bell responds and commands attention.  There is a certain stubbornness to this old rivalry that marks the quaint and timeless character of these hill towns. Such is Italy.



Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
Sounds, charming.
Saturday, 14 May 2022 20:22
Rosy Cole
Bells are so atmospheric and evoke layers of history, putting us instantly in touch with the past without a single word being utte... Read More
Wednesday, 18 May 2022 16:34
305 Hits

Cusco by Starlight

It was a golden evening and Barrio San Blas was charming.
We were well fed on the local version of Ají de Gallina
and a favorite local pilsener followed by Pisco Sours.
It was sunset when we arrived, but we lingered long,
sobremesa, talking and sipping our drinks.
What’s the rush?

We needed to walk, and it was dark as we left the café.
It was pleasant for the hour. At this elevation, Cusco
can be cool in the evening.  The stars were out.
There were others strolling along the calles leading
out from the plaza. Couples out enjoying the night
or heading back to hotels.

We strolled downhill, heading to the Plaza de Armas.
It’s not a long walk and the ancient cobblestones and
polished Inca stone walls glinted in the reflected light
showing us the way.  There were a few young people
laughing and hurrying toward the backpackers’ hostel.
Maybe late arrivals.

We heard music as we passed the Irish pub,
so out of place in the Incas’ capital city. We passed
the old archbishop’s place piled high atop its Inca
palace foundations. The ancient city and its footings
survived earthquakes but barely survived the Spanish.
We are wrapped in history.

We wandered out into the Plaza de Armas,
flooded with light and flanked by the massive Cathedral,
Jesuit churches and Spanish colonnades.  The lighted
fountain in the plaza dominates the scene, topped by a
larger-than-life gold fiberglass Inca Emperor.
He points toward the mountain heights.

It was at the fountain, today or yesterday - I forget now,
that we watched a wedding party come out of the
Cathedral to pose for photos in front of the Emperor.
The bride and groom, tied together with the traditional
lariat, seemed shy with all the attention. Children played
while the tourists snapped pictures.

But the night scene is etched in my memory. Cusco,
already at great height, is surrounded by even higher hills,
dark and almost invisible at night. The slopes are punctuated
by a thousand points of light marking the homes of people with
little more than a million-dollar view. The lights merge
with the sparkling stars…unforgettable.


Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Atmospheric and compelling. In the present day when we tend to skim the surface of life, what remains of any culture can be so tel... Read More
Wednesday, 23 March 2022 14:04
Monika Schott PhD
Beautiful, gorgeous, felt every word. Thanks for sharing.
Wednesday, 23 March 2022 20:00
1835 Hits


I once had lunch with a very successful writer -- an Author. You would recognize the name instantly. The problem was that we were sitting at different tables. Two tables, separated only by an aisle in a nearly empty restaurant, for a lazy mid-afternoon lunch in a nice Italian restaurant. I didn't pay much attention at first until my lunch partner whispered and did an amazing eye thing to direct my attention. My wife was a champion eavesdropper, but I never perfected the skill because she was so good and would always share what she heard. In this instance I was on my own. The nearby conversation was loud enough that it was easy to overhear what was being said. The Author has a distinctive voice and sound carried in the mostly empty room. Our own conversation was disjointed and lagged because we were now zoned in to the neighboring table. I used to mildly scold my wife for not paying attention to my important table comments in this kind of situation but all that was out the window. It turns out that the conversation of interest was between the Author and his financial advisor, and the discussion was about whether he should buy a Ferrari or a Maserati. I almost choked which would have given away the supposed secrecy of our interest. I tried to ignore the conversation -- really, I did. We continued in our own peasant small talk for a few minutes. We tried to be virtuous and pretend that there was nothing going on. That lasted for a few minutes until I heard him say "...I like round numbers, go ahead and put another $800,000 in the pot." My head swiveled involuntarily. The financial guy was looking a little flustered for a second or two but recovered nicely. A nice round numbered investment -- somebody was going to have a very good day. I was finished eating but ordered a coffee and was considering dessert. This was too much to leave behind.

I had a similar late lunch one time with singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman. She was gorgeous in a very relaxed and casual way but sadly, she was in the restaurant booth directly behind me facing the opposite direction. We were inches apart, surely closer than her friends at the table. I was engaged in a business meeting lunch and could not hear what was going on behind me. From the laughter and the voices, it was simply a friends' time together. No Ferrari or Maserati involved.

Recent comment in this post
Rosy Cole
An imaginative bargaining chip, though I suppose posh wheels might be an actual investment :-) When I was a publisher's reader, i... Read More
Monday, 13 September 2021 17:23
365 Hits
1 Comment

Kiowa Ranch 2018 — Waiting for D.H. Lawrence

Our thoughts bewitch us at times. A certain rough edge
of our perception snags an errant and unsettled
hint of trespass.  Like time is standing still. Such was
the case on my visit to the Kiowa Ranch.


The old throne chair, now in ruins, sits on the porch
as if waiting for some wandering king’s return.
That was his chair, back then, and it saw a lot of use
almost a century ago.


Every day the current cat comes from somewhere
and sits on the arm of the chair and waits.
He is of the present generation of cats. It’s his job now.
Passed down. It is his chair now. He waits.


He has a spot worn into the arm of that old chair.
He listens and surveys the view, near and far;
to the somber hills and to the distant peaks:
to the Sangre de Cristos — the Blood of Christ.


The “master” left in 1925. He returned only once – to be
finally laid to rest. This was the only place that Lawrence
and his wife, Freida (the Baroness von Richthofen),
ever owned. It was called Kiowa Ranch, back then.


It seems fitting as a resting place for a restless soul.
This small ranch, near the village of San Cristobal,
a mere fly spec, was his treasured home.  But
San Cristobal is the patron saint of wanderers.


Frieda lived on at the ranch into the 1950s.
The cats knew her. Georgia O’Keefe was here.
Aldous Huxley was here.  A constellation of stars
once graced this old porch.


Accommodations were challenging and rude, at best.
But this place stood in opposition to the “roaring 1920s”
and I think that was the deliberate point of it –
a point of departure – of escape.


Lawrence was contrary if he was anything at all,
and as remote as the ranch. Getting there, even today,
is a challenge. It was far different from what he knew
before, in England and Europe.


How was he viewed by the local Hispanos?
He was the stranger on the hill. He was a writer.
Some days they might have faintly heard him hammering,
trying to fix the barn or the fence for Susan, the lone cow.


Lawrence liked to write outside under a huge Ponderosa Pine.
He would drag a table outside and write in the open air.
He remembered: “One goes out of the door and the
 tree-trunk is there, like a guardian angel.”


The tree is still there, waiting too, a guardian angel
along with the cat and the chair and the porch and
the house,  just as it was when it shaded the writer
at his table. It still drops pinecones where he worked.


Georgia O’Keefe made a painting of the old tree —
lying on her back during her time at the ranch.
It is tall and strong and could likely endure and
wait another hundred years.


New Mexico agreed with him and offered a cure
for his soul and his ever-weakening affliction.
He completed five novels and several short stories,
and a collection of travel essays, all under his tree.


Wanderlust returned and he headed back to Europe.
He stayed near Florence and in France. Soon years passed.
His affliction returned. He died in France in 1930.
He never again saw the ranch.


Years later Frieda had his ashes brought back to the ranch
and interred in a small shrine that sits on the hillside
above the old cabin with the porch and the chair
and the cat and the tree all patiently waiting.



The Home Place – 2021

Recent comment in this post
Stephen Evans
Wonderful portrait, Ken.
Sunday, 22 August 2021 15:20
2473 Hits
1 Comment

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