Sunday, August 30, 2009

End of Summer, 'End of an Era

Yesterday and today the sky has been leaden. Yesterday it rained all day, today, it was wet off and on. The temperature has dropped to sweatshirt weather. I do not believe this is the end of summer, it is simply a warning that summer is ending. The above sunrise was three days ago, a lovely. The sun will move down the line of trees as winter approaches.

That same sunny day I was working in the living room when I looked out and saw an unusual number of people across the street and some people lining our parking lot. More people came. Then I realized they were gathering to watch Ted Kennedy's hearse and the family cortege of black autos [and finally a Peter Pan bus] pass right here. I joined the crowd when I heard police sirens. Alas, not the official ones. So I stood with many others and waited. By the time the first motorcycle police came by the street was line on both sides as far up and down it as I could see. I have never participated in this way in such a public even before. It seemed a little strange.

This is the end, in a way, of hte Kennedy era. Jack, Bobbie and Teddy are American history now. Of course many other members of the family are public figures but not the same way. Jack was the first president for whom I voted and I am aware of how much I lived through from the '50s through the present. Every era is full of history but it's come at us thick and fast during this period. If I started listing just the big events I'd write two or three times the number of words I've written here already -- when I pause to think of them they march through my memory like a tsunami. Amazing to think about.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sense of Neighborliness

My clock radio comes on about a minute before 6:00 a.m. I hear the concluding bars of a piece of classical music and then the news. The first words I heard this morning was "Ted Kennedy has died." Not a surprise. I knew he had not left his home in the Kennedy compound all summer. As with the death of his sister, Eunice, a few weeks ago, this "celebrity" death feels like a neighbor has died -- a world famous neighbor who I've never even seen. But the awareness that he was only about a mile away feels very different than if I heard, when living in NYC, that some famous New Yorker had died either at home or in a Manhattan hospital even though that might also have been only a mile away.

A small town -- well, Hyannis is a medium sized town, I guess, has a very different feeling. But when I came back from my beach walk and found three neighbors on the lawn consulting about the planting of a couple of trees, Kennedy's death was not mentioned. In a truly small town I think the death of anyone well known would have been immediately talked about. Possibly there is now a level of fame that removes people into a different sphere. We normal people know that the fame bubble sets them apart from the rest of us. Only something unexpected and horrible like JFK's murder will affect us now. We have become blase about that parallel world even when a death like this one marks the end of a kind of era -- the last of a generation in an outstanding family that was both loved and hated [which is usual for political families].

And for those of us who are the oldest in our generation of our own family there is a resonance. He was 77, ouch! I'm not that much younger. The impersonal becomes more personal in that light.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cairn and Prayer Flags

The point of Long Beach, a conservation area where I walk many mornings, is a sandy, stony little spit between a long inlet and a wide bay with the open sea beyond. Over the last couple of months I have noticed that the stones are being piled in cairns, two or three but one is growing steadily larger, plus there is an arrangement that is a peace sign and another that is a heart. I imagine teens coming out there in the evenings, giving in to one of the most ancient impulses of human beings -- to pile rocks on top of one another as a symbol that they have come this way. {Below is the largest cairn as it looked this morning -- two days ago it have even more stones balanced one-on-one on the top, the top 6 or 8 have fallen.

As Rachel pointed out, this is what the first altars of the Hebrew desert tribe was like, just stones, no man-made objects. I have seen cairns, some very, very large, on the passes in the Himalayas and often did a triple clockwise circumambulation because that is what "is done". Those almost always were adorned with Tibetan prayer flag or "wind horses" -- the cotton squares strung together, the five auspicious colors: white, red, blue, yellow and green, and stamped on them a prayer and often a picture of a horse. Some I have seen were weather worn to tatters, softest pastels and words too faded to read -- the prayers seemed to have gradually come off and been carried away as they were meant to be.

I saw other cairns at what seemed random places in Mongolia, most were quite large, they were adorned with some prayer flags but mostly with sky blue katas [ceremonial scarves] or with orange ones. [Sky blue is the favorite color of Mongolia, the color o their enormous sky.] These cairns were called ovoos and were often places where people came to give thanks for good luck and to pray when luck was needed. The grateful might leave crutches or vodka bottles, some people left paper money, some left sheep's horns.

As it happens I have a bundle of prayer flags purchased for me by someone [I cannot now remember who] who asked if I wanted anything from Lhasa. I told him or her that the only thing I regretted not purchasing was a bundle of the prayer flags which are inexpensive and always for sale by venders in the plaza in front of the Jokhang [the holiest shrine in Tibet and center of pre-Chinese Communist Lhasa]. So I had a small bundle, perhaps 3 dozen, all on a ribbon. I searched the house yeeterday trying to remember where I put them when I moved here. finally I found them and cut off a set of five, big enough for the largest cairn. This morning Rachel and i affixed them to the stones. We did not have a strong breeze so I could not photograph them fluttering but they will.

I will be curious to see if they are left there. I think they will be but I do not know the attitudes o the cairn builders. Possibly they don't have a clue what these are. They will see they are written in a strange script. Maybe they will hate that and take them down. Maybe they will think it something wonderful and leave them. And, of course, the wind can be fierce. I don't think it can pull them loose but I might be wrong.

The pictures above are to show the vista toward the open ocean and also toward the houses beyond, along the shore of what I am guessing is Ostervile, one of the ritzier areas here.

A final note. these do not have horses stamped on them but some of the "auspicious signs: of Buddhism, including a conch shell. I would have preferred wind horse although for a long time I could not understand why the mountain people had chosen horses to carry their prayers and not one of the big birds that are more familiar and native to the mountains. But then I learned that the mountains were first settled by people from the steppe of Central Asia who, indeed, are horse people [think of Genghis Khan and his warriors] These prayer flags are pre-Buddhist and have been decorating cairns for thousands of years. Now some decorate a small cairn on a Cape Cod beach.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Vintage dressing

Yesterday writing my other blog I was drawn up short when I realized the bathing suit I had on in a picture ten years ago was the one I had worn the day before. I do save things I like. I have a few cashmere sweaters that I have had for ten years and may have for another twenty. Some things don't go out of style and, as the current fall fashion magazines show, some things come back in style with remarkable rapidity -- like those incredible shoulder padded jackets and coats from the '80s.

What I've been pondering, however, is the "older" women in the NYC building I used to live in. I'm thinking of a couple specifically that I did not know but saw in the elevator and said hello to. Both were single ladies, had had careers in which they dressed in suits and "Office formal" clothing. They still wore that clothing. It was not fashionable, but it was good quality and not in any way ridiculous or unattractive. They had become timeless even as I watched over the years as one grew thinner and thinner and more frail and went for straight backed to a bit bent as she moved hesitantly with her cane. I wondered often if they were timeless or stuck in a certain time. I suppose both had a limited income and that to buy new clothes when they had good quality ones would have been a ridiculous extravagance.

Whether they or any older women eschew modern fashion of necessity or with a conscious choice, knowing they feel good in their familiar clothe, long ago having mastered that art that young women are told by their fashion magazines to acquire, the art of knowing your personal style, I suppose makes no difference. These women have dignity; more dignity than the ones who pull on plus-size blue jeans and attempt to look like younger women.

I've always loved clothes because I love fabric, texture, line, which is why I love quilting too. I've always been fascinated how a flat length of a fabric can become a skirt or a coat. And I've always been fascinated by how women chose to attire themselves. I've just seen the movie Julie and Juila which was full of '50 and '60s clothing, especially in Paris where Julia and her female friends always wore suits. The ladies I was thinking about above were of that era and believed in a certain elegance. I look around and I see the women in their 80s here wearing "nice" dresses with a certain elegance. Everyone younger has a more casual way of dressing. That is pleasing too. This is a subject I will continue to ponder. And I will not throw away clothing without a good reason.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

She Sells Sea Shells...

Well, no, I don't sell sea shells. But I think most people who are near the sea have their small stash -- or a larger than small one -- of sea shells. They are beautifully formed, no matter how broken apart the sea and birds have rendered them, their surfaces are wonderful to stroke, whether smooth or ridged or bumpy. And they show wonderful subtle colors until they have been bleached bone white by the sun.

How this beauty happens is a greater mystery to me than beauty of people, plants and animals. That is partly ignorance and partly unfamiliarity, for this is the first time in my 70 years I have been near the ocean for more than a week at a time and I know almost nothing about how these shells are formed to protect the delicate -- and unbeautiful -- creatures that live in them. I do not know their names either. I am ignorant and thus more amazed than I would be if I weren't so ignorant.

No matter how many books we have read, how much we have traveled, how many pieces of music we know, how much art we have seen in museums and books and elsewhere, there will always be areas we know nothing about. Even the great geniuses of the Renaissance era who seemed to be so well versed in everything really weren't. Probably few of them could bake a loaf of bread or forge a poker for the fireplace, let alone name all the birds in their backyard. Ignorance is not shameful unless it's willful arrogance that says some kinds of knowledge are beneath their interest or if the ignorance is the result of a stunted, benumbed curiosity. I cannot name and do not understand these shells, nor do I understand the process by which the enamelled bowl they lie in was made. But their beauty, sitting on my table gives me pleasure.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mall Weather

If you are vacationing at a beach area in August, perhaps have rented a house for a week, what do you do when you wake up to a sixty degree morning with rain dripping from leaden skies and the forecast is that it will rain all day and remain unseasonably cool? You didn't come to go to museums and the ones available are too small to take more than an hour. You don't want to read that book you bought for the beach. If you have kids they will be whining with disappointment by 9:00. What do you do?

What any normal American would do. You go to the mall. The mall has a multiplex, it has a food court, it has a lot of stores which have clearances of summer clothes -- which you don't want because it will soon be back to school/work time. But at least you can eat and wander around and catch one of those "family fun" August movie releases.

I made the really dumb mistake of getting fed up with the gray and decided to go to a movie at the mall. I knew there would be tourists there but I was just as bored as they -- in fact more because at least 60% of the days this summer have been like this -- I think it's closer to 75% but that may not be true. Parking was almost impossible. I'm sure that the week before Christmas can't be a crowded as the parking lot was today. Once I parked very distant from the mutliplex and splashed through a few puddled in the parking lot I found such a line of people and so many kids being restless and noisy that I gave up. When in to find a magazine at Barnes & Noble, which they didn't have, nor did they have any place to sit if I indulged in a Starbucks coffee, so I didn't. So it was not a happy day. I wonder if there really is a sun somewhere above those clouds ...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Neither Rachel nor I had ever been to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. We went today and were enchanted. Yes, it's known for the 2002 theft of art works, the largest theft ever in the US, 3 (I think) Rembrandts, a Vermeer, a Manet and other less well known pieces worth about $300 million. A terrible loss and they remind the visitor by leaving the empty frames hanging as they were.

BUT the Italian villa there on the Fenway enchanted us the minute we walked through the door and totally made us forget the heat and humidity and messy streets around the construction site of a huge addition to the Fine Arts Museum -- which we visited first. What a perfect cloister and interior garden! What lovely marble and tile, what a collection of furniture, artifacts and remaining paintings, including a wasp-waisted [surely corsetted] Isabella painted by John Singer Sargent. A lovely woman who built herself a wonderful home and filled it with asmazing things to look at.

We had seen some memorable and fascinating paintings in the MFA, again many Singer Sargents and a great variety from early Italian to some very modern works. It is a graciously laid out museum. We did not look at many piece from other cultures. Rachel spent a long day at the Smithsonian in Washington in July and, of course, I have had many lengthy visits to the Met in NYC and the fine Brooklyn Art Museum. We knew what we wanted to look at and had a sense of what will expand our knowledge and provide us with experiences to remember. What we will most remember about today, I'm sure, is the grace and serene beauty of the courtyard and cloister at the Gardner. We both feel enriched for the entire day but especially for that new experience.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Doggie Joy

I am dog/cat/house sitting this week. Molly and I go to walk on the beach early each morning while it's still possible to let a dog run free -- I'm talking 7:00 a.m. The no dogs signs are posted but I've seen others out that early, some are even earlier and I only see the foot prints. Molly is a big black part-shepherd, in dog years about my age. She knows where we're going, she know the territory because Rachel walks her there too although not at all every day.

When we get well along the boardwalk through the trees and are about to reach the Y where we can decide, inlet side or ocean side of this long spit of land, I unhook the leash. Molly takes off at a trot that is soon a lope. A lope is a very happy pace -- like a child skipping. Molly is getting playful with me after a couple days of this. Instead of the little short cut from boardwalk to sandy beach, she loped the long way, turned and looked back at me as if to say, Are you coming? No I was going the short way. She didn't care. She disappeared behind a patch of beach roses, then caught up with me when I reached the sand and went dashing ahead again. Everything about her body language said HAPPY. Now and then she paused, nose nearly on the ground, sniffing out another dog or maybe a rabbit that had paused there during the night. A few times she dashed onto sandbars and chased the sandpipers into the air.

Paths from the inlet side to the ocean side are frequent, up through the dune grass. I let Molly choose the path she wanted to take, a little over half way to the end of the mile long beach. Once on the broader beach she ran ahead for the sheer joy of running I think. I have never been a runner, I am more the contemplative stroller especially beside the ocean. Molly's herding instinct sometimes asserted itself even as she was clearly enjoying freedom and her sense of leadership. She paused to look and make sure I was coming along, then she took off again.

I tried to call her to me to put on the leash when I reached the boardwalk. She had already dashed ahead and disappeared around the first turn. I called, she paused occasionally, gave me a Ha! Look at me! glance and ran ahead. She did the same thing yesterday but then came up and let me put the leash on when I stopped to chat a moment with a woman who told me about chasing her lab all over the Town of Dennis the day before -- that same playful, willful doggie attitude!

The entrance to the beach is in a long cul de sac of McMansions, beautifully landscaped whose owners I never see I was not afraid Molly would get hit by a car but did not appreciate her teasing when she ran right around the older, smaller house right at the entry way. Worse, she then decided to explore the side garden of the next, bigger house with a red BIMer convertible in the drive. A dormer window was open, I didn't want to call Molly and wake anyone. Enough, she knew we were close to the parking lot and had had her game. She came trotting around the BIMer and let me attach the leash. We drove home, she went straight to the water bowl. She was hot and tired and ready for a day's rest until I return in the late afternoon for a leash-on walk around the neighborhood. We aging ladies all have our own kinds of fun.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Fresh Produce

This is a purchased tomato which looks wonderful. It was not wonderful; it's barely adequate in taste. Too bad taste buds can't be trumped by eye appeal. Alas! No way. I have given up in the search for a tomato that tastes like those of my girlhood.
These are only one bunch of three bunches and more flowers promising more little tomatoes on my once tiny plant. They are either cherry or plum tomatoes not fat round ones like their hothouse cousin above but I despair that they will ever be red. Today is August 1, the sun is bright, it finally feels like summer. June and July were more like May should have been only wetter and much grayer even than, say, March. So the plant grew big, attractive in its way like a hunk with a gym-made body; but whatever goodness [brains for the hunk] has yet to be seen.

Should have made the picture below larger -- it's a sign I loved a Coonamesset Farm where Rachel and I went to see what their system is. Can one come and pick fruit and vegetables? Is the price good? Yes, one can for an $8 entry fee and then the cost per pound of the fruit or veggies is not much different than grocery store. No bargain though it's probably fresh and delicious. However the sign brought a smile -- a vegetarian buffet ... good, with pulled pork ... huh?