Monday, March 30, 2009

Trying to Take Advantage of the City

No, this picture isn't new. It's a couple of years old and I'm waiting impatiently for it to recur. These flowering trees are near the Shakespeare Garden in Central Park and they're magnificent ... when they finally bloom.

Meanwhile I've been trying to stick to my goal of going out and enjoying but the city -- well, the weather -- has been fighting against me hard. Yesterday was cold and rainy all day, although Saturday had been nice enough I spent four hours out and about. Then this morning I took my camera and thought I'd go into the park from the post office. It was cool but sunny as I walked to the P.O. But after a short and efficient [glory be!] transaction, I went out and found the clouds had moved in and the wind was brisker and, like a whipped dog, I tucked in my tail and headed for a bagel shop for a "toasted, buttered sesame and small black." Ah well, my heart was willing but my good intentions not reciprocated. Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Taking Advantage of the City

Well, no, the lilies of the valley aren't up quite yet. I'm dreaming. Soon, soon. This morning I walked through Central Park and saw that the forsythia are tinged with gold; just a couple of warm days and they should be clouds of sunshine and the other flowers will follow soon.

When I knew I was going to leave the small, pretty upstate town where I used to live and come to live in terrifying NYC, I made a habit of walking along creek-side path that was the long way to the center of town but very pretty. I also made a point of driving home when I went into the city, not on the usual highway but on two-lane country roads some with wonderful vistas over the rolling hills.

Now I have just decided I will spend my last month living here trying to take a walk every day in Central Park or Riverside Park, going down beside the Hudson past the boat basin. And I'm compiling a list of places to be sure to visit while it's easy to do: Already there are two events I want to attend at the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art.

I want to go to the Brooklyn Museum and see the Chaillabot [I'm sure I'm misspelling that] and whatever else is there. If I get there on a nice day I'll combine it with a walk through the Botanical Garden which is next door.

I want to see the Bonnard at the Met and also the Korean drawings and go visit my favorite statue of Horus in the Egyptian area and Rosa Bonheur's Horse Fair and some of the other Impressionists -- that's a day long visit.

I want to try to get to the Conservatory Garden when the allees of flowering trees are in bloom which I hope happens before I leave.

I want to go to MOMA one free Friday evening to see whatever is there.

I want to see the Museum of Arts and Crafts at its new home at Columbus Circle in what was the Huntington Hartford building which has been redone.

And I want to go to the Whitney because I like the building although so many people don't like it. [I don't feel that way about the Guggenheim. Yes, an architectural masterpiece but I've so rarely seen exhibits there that I like]

I want to have lunch at my neighborhood Chinese restaurant frequently because I know good Chinese food is rare outside cities -- yes, Boston has a few good restaurants in its Chinatown. However fried clams can make up for a lot.

All that and actually sort and pack too? Egad. Can it be done?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Heavy Handed Chinese Government

Today's news is that South Africa will not allow the Dalai Lama to attend a so called "Peace Conference" that is a part of the promotion for the World Cup games next fall. Desmond Tutu has refused to attend if the Dalai Lama is not allowed to come but South Africa is adamant, noting in the news that they have "excellent relations" with China and don't want to jeopardize their prosperity by offending China.

Meanwhile China has sealed off Tibet, cutting off internet service, in some places shutting down cell phone service and filling the streets of Lhasa and the few other cities with military vehicles, snipers on top of buildings and a military state of affairs. Bits of news and even a few short videos have made their way out. Go to for lists ofn the latest available information. It currently includes a smuggled out video of torture in the prisons -- not a new video but one only recently available.

When I was in Tibet a young man in a tiny shrine room in Norbulinka [the summer palace in a garden at the edge of Lhasa] stood watching the door as he told his pain at being unable to live freely and asked that I "tell people in America Tibetans want to be free." I have been trying to do that since then and think of him every time I write a blog like this or talk to people who know almost nothing about Tibet and the destruction of it's culture, the intimiation of its people.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Time for Good Sense and Humanity

For eight years I have despised Dick Cheney and all he stood for, most especially for his home land security paranoiac destruction of civil rights. He criticized Obama for wanting to close Guantanamo and for saying waterboarding is torture, saying the security of the US is in peril because of Obama's stands. And happily today I read that Obama said in rebuttal that we could be far less secure by making the entire Arab world hate us for our unfair practices. So many already hate us and many with good reason; they hated us before 9/11, they hate us more now that we have been so arrogant, imperial and generally paranoid about our security.

I cannot comment with any originality or great understanding or even emotional passion about what is happening with the economy or health care or other enormous matters. But i have felt passionately about the insanity of our treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo and about our torture methods -- it has sickened and horrified me. For his humanity in this area alone, I rejoice that we have the President we have.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Caches of Miscellaneous Stuff

Even a small apartment where everything has a place, has little caches of miscellaneous stuff. I have several. I've turned on a mindset that says, I won't save the planet just because I save those socks with the hole almost worn through the heel. This is a luxury and a duty -- in fact a very practical approach -- to moving. I started just now as I was about to get dressed and pulled on a pair of those socks -- 3, 4 years old? -- very nearly all worn through at the heel. No, I commanded myself, take them off, toss them in the wastebasket. Oh, said Miserly Me, they would make adequate dust rags. Fu-gid-about-it, said I, there are worn towels and wash cloths that will serve that purpose.

Furthermore this is a good time to take five minutes, go through all the assorted socks in the drawer and toss, toss, toss. Oh, ouch! That's so harsh! cried Miser Me. Force yourself, I commanded. And so I did. There were singletons stashed in a corner thinking their mates might return from that black hole beyond the drier into which they had been sucked -- out, out, damned sock! And so it went. Believe me, my sock drawer is now a marvel of neatness. A good thing too because flipflop weather is not far away. No need for socks until fall. But in the meantime, I must maintain that neatness after each wash day. I'll do it; I know I can.

There are other nooks and crannies -- oh, yes, I know where they are, I know [sort of] what's hiding there. I know, for instance, there's at least 15 years worth of pennies in Almaden white wine carafes. They weigh far more than they're worth. Just a couple blocks away is a First Republic bank with a coin counter in the lobby, anyone can use it. I suspect I have over $50 of pennies. I've given them to kids by the handful when they came by at Halloween collecting for UNICEF but those copper seem to multiply when I'm not looking. Got to get them out of here. I hardly think the circulation of this hard currency is going to do much for the economy; but I sure don't want to move with the things. I'm on a roll ... it's going to be hard when I get to certain accumulations of papers, but I'll practice on the underwear drawer next and move on to bigger challenges.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring is Here????

"Spring officially started 38 minutes ago," said the radio announcer. I looked out the window and saw white flakes floating, flitting, falling. Hello, Spring! When I went out it was chilly but by the time the flakes reached street level they were spatters of rain, no longer white, just wet.

Now as I am typing the newsman is talking about a decline in the number of bird species on Earth and the decrease of numbers of birds in the world. This resonates not only with the beginning of spring but with the book I finished last night, Nadine Gordimer's Get A Life. This is a relatively short novel and especially held my attention because a character is trying to save the Okavango Delta from a plan to build ten dams. Since I was in the Okavango Delta last month I felt I knew a little of the scenery described. Apparently the dam project got squashed, or maybe is on very long term hold. Gordimer's prose is so sure, her narrator is distant and apparently dispassionate but the story is so concerned and her characters, as usual, are deeply involved in large issues so that the personal issues become reflections and extensions of the larger. I've never read a novel of hers I did not enjoy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Resisting the urge to livei in the future.

This is the first tiny crocus in my daughter's yard in Hyannis, Mass. We were happy to welcome it. On the other coast, in San Rafael where my other daughter works the tulips in front of her "house" excite her handicapped clients no less than they excite her. Spring is coming to those of us in the northern parts and has arrived in the south, as an email from Tennessee told me describing pear trees with dancing white blossoms.

I've just done errands and walked a couple of miles in the sunny 60 degree afternoon. When I returned I realized that many of my thoughts were not about enjoying what I have here and now but thinking ahead to after my move. Thinking of eating breakfast on a patio on summer mornings, listening to birds, and wondering if I would like to get petunias or marigolds or some other flowers in pots for that patio. It's habitual, of course, to think ahead but it's a habit I'd like to break more often than I do.

True there were no flowers and no green at the tips of the twigs on the trees just yet but the street scene on such days is fascinating. Some people are out in shirt sleeves, some still bundled up in coat, boots and scarves. It's the period of often not knowing when you go out the door whether that bright sunshine is going to be warm and wonderful or deceptive because of a chilly breeze. How to dress? However you dress you may well wish you were dressed otherwise. But much of life is like that. Who said we should be comfortable all the time? If anyone did it was the advice of a fool. Discomfort doesn't hurt, whether it's being a bit sweaty or a bit shiver-y.

Every walk now will bring something different. It is time to make an effort to go into Central Park or Riverside Park and watch the changing scene, the trees that bud, the flowers, the grass greening, the people sitting on benches with their faces turned to the sun. it's not time to have summer, first this season, one of the four best seasons we have!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Words to ponder

Wish I'd said that -- I so often read something and think, I wish I had the lyric or thoughtful or aphoristic turn of mind of that writer. I was catching up with some blogs I often read [see side bar links on this and on Calenderpages blog] last night and read Down From the Mountain which is listed in my links as "American in Japan" His name is Bob and he sometimes writers very lyrically and usually very observantly. Yesterday he had written [among other thoughts]:

The elder years are when joy is at last in its prime, when youth is at last enjoyed and fulfilled. How sad it is then, if one has done little to look back on.

I'd have loved to have said that. But I can say it's wonderful to have done much and have much to look back on.

On the other hand I read the post of "American lama in Mongolia" who wrote most interestingly about apparently having run into a genuinely malignant force from a "bad" lama or black magic practicing fake lama. One reads such stories in, say, the writing of Alexandra David-Neel but Konchong is a very down to earth man and I think he is totally honest when he tells of his Mongolian experiences -- the previous post was about the Mongolian sport of wolf hunting. Both were thought provoking post, sometimes I like the blogosphere a lot.

The photo is a cactus, as you see, if enlarged a large and interesting flower is obvious, a second flower was on the other side of the plant.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Changes afoot

For a couple of years I've been saying to myself, it's time for the next phase of my life to start. It's starting. I was apartment hunting in Cape Cod and found a couple of great ones and will make a decision in a day or two while making myself anxious about money as well. However, it is time. This is the fourth phase and, of course, I'd have to be irrational not to realize it's also the final phase. So I want to be comfortable, able to do things I enjoy, including such simple things [which I can't do here] as sit outdoors in the sun and eat breakfast during the summer.

So it is a time of decision, a time of balancing being sensible and of making for myself a lifestyle that will be satisfying. I am looking at an adult living complex which offers things I don't have now such as an inhour gym and library and a community of people I can easily come to know. I am not looking for lavishness but I want to be comfortable and after 25 years in a cramped NYC apartment with a kitchen without counter space, with an old refrigerator that is not self-defrosting, tiny cabinets, it would be good to have a real kitchen with dishwasher and modern refrigerator, simple things. A view of the sky which I haven't had never since the damned high rise was built beyond my windows.

Times, as we all know, are tough. My savings are not what they were a year ago but this is the time they were saved for. I heard a possibility of a part time job and I'm sure I'll find something. Many things were suggested that will ease the transition. Still I will have several weeks of interrupted sleep and I will lie awake at 2:30 a.m. and think of Pema Chodrun's advice to accept what is, that it's a transition time and that is always anxiety making. Live it,recognize it [call it by it's name as Confucius would say to do] accept it. It is easier when thought about in that way than if I were to become anxious every time I have a restless night or if I were to tell myself there's no reason to be anxiou. Worry defines problems one can prepare to solve. So ... I'll probably be writing about tension and transtion for some weeks now.

[The photo is the "shell tree" on a beach on Cape Cod, a sight I love to visit].

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Your Tax Dollars at Work

I've seen signs near bridges being built or highway work crews pouring new concrete saying "Your tax dollars at work." This phrase occurred to me yesterday as I sat in a homey waiting room -- good decorating job: nice overstuffed chairs, comfortable settees, attractive lamps with sufficient light for aging eyes to read by, forgettable pictures on the wall, aged but not tattered magazines and eight or ten women much like myself, all wearing stripped cotton wrappers over their bare breasts, mostly gray haired -- not young and sexy like the only photo I could find which you see here. Most were Medicare age, like me, and probably it was Medicare that was paying for most of us to have had a pleasant young woman do a manual beast exam - with just washed and chilly hands -- and to go into the X-ray rooms when our names were called and undergo the body twisting placement against the cold metal of the machine and then the flat plates pressing and flattening our breasts for two views of each breast as we held our breath and tried not to say "Ow!". It was all done in a very professional, pleasant manner. As comfortably impersonal as the waiting room.

I looked up from my magazine as the technicians came in and called names -- the last names reflected a broad ethnic diversity but we all looked much alike, mostly gray haired or white, our bodies well fleshed although none of us were obese, not much make-up, very simple earrings. I was not at all nervous or anxious, I think I saw tension in some postures, or the set of some mouths. I'm sure we all believed, as we've been told by our doctors and all kinds of media that this annual ritual will save lives. I am a skeptic about statistics but these statistics convince me. I expected a negative result and that's what I got. For most there was a wait of five minutes or so while the the technician read the plates and then she came to say, "you may leave" -- the results were negative. For one or two it was "Come with me." I saw those women rise slowly, their lips pressed more tightly together.

"Early detection" is the phrase whether it's breast or prostate or colon cancer. Yes, it does save lives. But all these tests are expensive. Better expensive tests that are negative than the staggering expense of end of life care. This is partly on my mind because I've just had word of the death of one man I graduated from high school with, due to cancer and the diagnosis of untreatable lung cancer in another man in that same small class. At this age the deaths begin to add up. I can't make any comment about the now hot topic of healthcare reform, not based on these experiences. I AM glad Medicare pays for these exams, chances are I would skip them otherwise.

Monday, March 9, 2009

50th anniversary - remember

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the invasion by the Chinese Communist Party into Lhasa. Tibet. They fought and killed their way across the country and into the city. They plotted to kill the 19 year old Dalai Lama. The Tibetan people made a living fence around the walls of Norbuinka, the summer residence where the Dalai Lama was, and his advisers said, "You must flee." And all hell broke loose. And continued, and continued and continues to this day.

The Chinese are saying all is well and quiet in Tibet on this anniversary -- but visitors are forbidden. There was a march in London yesterday, there will be other remembrances. But what does the West care as we all worry about our dwindling 401Ks and lost jobs? The Chinese have made Lhasa a Chinese city; they have invited tour operators to fly in and give their clients 3 or 4 days of "Tibetan culture". They have allowed restoration of some of the monasteries -- window dressing. They have allowed more young men to become monks, but they have planted spies among them.

Maybe tourists don't look up very often, just as they don't look around here in NYC streets and recognize that they are almost always on surveillance cameras. The picture below is a recent one of a Chinese sniper on a building near the Jokhang which is the most holy shrine in Tibet, an ancient building from the twelfth century in the center of the city, a place every Tibetan pilgrim wants to visit just as all Catholic pilgrims have wanted to visit St. Peters in Rome.

Prayer flags still fly all over Tibet and all over the Himalayas, the wind horses pictured on them carry prayers for peace among all people, all beings. Will there be confrontations and riots tomorrow? The Chinese will not want us to know; but if we watch the papers and the blogs news will be told. Will we care? I care. Many care. Many don't. I can only hope a few people read this and think about 50 years of repression of a culture, 50 years of prisons where those who want to practice a religion of nonviolence and peace are tortured. Fifty years that the world has turned a cold shoulder.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Writer's Truth

I'm still mulling truths and falsehoods in memoir writing -- or other writing. My background is hardcore WASP and truth is truth. Of course, as I wrote, I know it's flexible and subject to mis-remembering. But I think writers have a responsibility to tell truth as they know it in what purports to be factual writing, as ub memoirs, or autobiographies. A certain rigidity in that sense inspired the previous post. -- Oh, I know about the, shall we say confabulations people post on Face Book or My Space -- blogs too, I'm sure.

Years ago I was in a poetry workshop where the group leader discussed a poem she was writing about her relationship to her mother. She said she was hung up for a long time describing a incident when she gave her mother a clock for a birthday. Eventually, said she, she realized it didn't have to be a clock in the poem, she could change it to something else. So she did and finished the poem to her satisfaction. Her lesson to us was that if a detail doesn't "work" you don't have to keep it just because it was the fact. That always tickled my conscience. It seemed to me giving someone a clock as a birthday gift is so loaded with metaphor it has to be dealt with. It may sometimes be unimportant whether your boyfriend wore a blue or green sweatshirt - or it may not. But I think the poet had trouble because she wasn't getting to the truth of what giving her mother a clock for her birthday meant to both.

Does this matter to me because of the truth involved? Or does it matter because I studied English under "New Critics" who emphasized such details in literature? Or both? In everyday life changing the details or telling out-and=out lies is sometimes the thing to do. I'm not a nut about all truth and falsehood. But literature, whether something grand by a major writer or something small like an incidental telling of past remembered [in writing] seems to me most truly worth writing and reading when the author strives to tell the truth as s/he knows it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Tenzin Palmo movie

Few people are true heroes to me; Tenzin Palmo is one. She is a Buddhist nun, born to a working class English family. She went to northern India, found her teacher, Khamtrul Rimpoche, lived six years as the only woman in a monastery. She was treated politely but never given the teachings and opportunities any lama was given. Then she went into the mountains and spent 12 years in a cave alone, meditating, buried alive by a blizzard [but dug herself out]. One day a policeman arrived to tell her she had overstayed her visa by three years and must leave within 72 hours.

She was faced then with a choice, to go back to retreat or to deal with the situation of other nuns and try to make changed in the heavy-handed patriarchal attitudes solidified by centuries of inequality. She chose the latter and decided to start a nunnery and to work on whatever front possible to acquire equality for women. She has worked to raise money while raising consciousnesses. she has built the nunnery. First a book was written that I found in a W.H. Smith Bookstore in Singapore Airport about five years ago. Now it has been made into movie with Tenzin Palmo walking and smiling, laughing and crying on screen. She is wonderful! She is SO alive and dedicated!! She is a hero if ever I've seen one.

The movie was at the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art this afternoon. On this snowy and very cold day the audience was small. I wish it could have been much larger. Paradoxically outside the screening room is an exhibition of photographs from Inner Mongolia showing life as it is for the nomads of the far western steppe. The photographer emphasizes women and notes in more than one caption that the women are the ones who do the hard work and maintain the way of life. Always the inequality!