Friday, December 30, 2011

These Things Happen



All of us have experienced inexplicable small incidents. If we're superstitious we may attribute them to good angels, evil spirits, gremlins, leprechauns, or voodoo. Or we may just shrug and shake our heads. The slightly unstable may see signs they are becoming more unstable, the elderly can always blame incipient Alzheimer's.

Such an incident happened to someone I don't know yesterday and only I know that I caused it to happen. It's small, it's unimportant -- unless the person to whom it happened is in the unstable category. It's a small story.

In our town we have aggressive, dueling Honda and Toyota dealerships with an awful lot of both makes of cars on the roads and in the parking lots. I now have a gray Honda Civic. Although silver and white have been big best sellers, lately shades of gray have been strong. Yesterday I went to the town library and parked in one of two or three spaces marked "Library Parking - 1/2 hour". I also went next door to the post office and then came back to my car. When I got in I thought, hmmm, it seems like the steering wheel is awfully close. It must be because I'm wearing this bulky winter jacket. So I moved the seat back a fair amount. Then put the key in and it didn't start. What!? At about that time my eye fell on the side pocket and I saw some papers that weren't mine. I looked around a little more and saw an identical Honda Civic next to me. MY car!

Quickly as possible I got out of that car and into my own and drove away before someone accused me to trying to steal that other car. About a block later I realized that the owner of the other Civic was going to get in, find the seat too far back, wonder how on earth did that happen, have absolutely not a clue and go home feeling befuddle, cursed, or maybe just shrugging it off as not important. To use Kurt Vonnegut's line from Slaughterhouse Five -- so it goes.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holiday Movies

When I lived in NYC and knew every current movie was available to me I didn't go to very many -- rather like being at an "all you can eat" buffet and picking carefully. Here on Cape Cod where not many movies are available [except the Hollywood junk I never have gone to] I go to almost everything and I'm finding it wonderful. [Of course, any reader must remember that I do not have a TV, very much by choice.] So I have seen to holiday movies and enjoyed them very much. Truthfully, only The Artist is truly a holiday movie. And a delightful one. Since it's about a silent film actor it is largely silent [although there's a score] but it is in black and white. The acting and the story and the tap dancing and the dog are all charming. It's not froth, it's a serious movie making idea, but it's truly holiday fare. Enjoyable and I found Penelope Miller very delightful
This afternoon I went to see a more serious movie, The Way, with Martin Sheen and several not well known but very decent actors. The "Way" of the title is the Camino St. James, the pilgrims path over the Pyrennes -- 800 kilometers from France to Santiago, Spain -- which has been traveled for at least 1000 years. Casting was well done, characterization and stories were well told. As a person who loves walking in mountains I loved the scenery, and the shots of individuals on long paths.

While The Artist will be shown widely an has been nominated for Golden Globes, The Way will not be seen widely but it was very worth seeing. On the agenda for next week is The Iron Lady, Meryl Streep's latest coup.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Another Hell in a Hand Basket Observation

Another Hell in a Hand Basket Observation
Talks with my daughter who lives in Marin County, California often hinge on the difficulties of her job which is strongly tied to the state budget. She works in a house where mentally and physically handicapped adult live. Yesterday she spoke of how California is trying to deal with their overcrowded prison system. Much about that seems that justice, especially for young offenders, is really going to hell in a hand basket as many of them will get no legal representation and many will be tried as adults. I am not a Californian so will just state those facts and not comment further. A further bit of information in the newspaper article she had just read states that something over $157,000 a year per prisoner is the cost to the state.

Her observation which is the true subject of this rant is that somehow the state is spending that much per year per prisoner while, she "get a miserable $300 a month, per client with which to feed them three nutritious meals a day." She does the shopping and supervises the cooking and the feeding, which in many cases involves individual dietary needs and/or one-on-one feeding. Something is very out of whack there!

I won't go into the very low pay scale for the workers in the homes or other cuts in services for the handicapped. I don't begin to understand how the prison system can cost that much but I have heard similar numbers for other states. I suspect similar imbalances exist in many other states. I can't give suggested fixes but it seems to me something very elementary in our value system and our priorities as a citizens is very wrong.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day

A respite from the mild insanity of a family opening all the gifts from under the tree, including a not-yet-two-year-old who loves ripping paper off presents. We are not a well-to-do family and these were not the kind of expensive middle-class toys people fight over on Black Friday, but the package were many and the room was a wreck of paper and boxes and ribbons for a while. Books multiplied as did miniature dinosaurs and and lovely things to wear. I am using my new external mouse as I sit here at the computer with it's sticky pad that often irritates me. Everyone is delighted and taking a breather. We had favorite things for brunch and will have a family dinner later when my oldest grandson arrives -- the owner of the only gifts left under the tree.

This scene in many variations is happening all over the country. We are all aware that many homes are not as comfortable as we are. We are aware that other families have fancier gifts -- we care about the ones with less and we don't envy the ones with more, we have enough. I am happy this is not a greedy family. I am happy we are not dissatisfied with our lot in life although it is not as affluent as many of our friends and neighbors. We compare ourselves to those who are less lucky, not to those who have more. That makes us very blessed.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rejoice in the metaphors

I was up at 5:30. Of course it was dark, now it's 7:00 and the sun is just above the trees, far to the south. From my breakfast table I almost always see the sunrise as the slider there is due east. That orange glow over the barren tree tops southeastward will sink no further -- today is the first day of winter. I will enjoy seeing the slow progression northward over the next six months. To me these observations are a lifelong habit but I wonder how many other people feel the cycling of seasons, the tilting of the earth is a stabilizing and important part of their lives. Almost none of my acquaintances now grew up on a farm as I did; few of their parents depended upon the weather to guide their daily lives.

When I think of winter I think of my father who was hardly ever in the house during the day, even in rainy weather, sitting at a card table through much of a winter day putting together a jigsaw puzzle. That was often the extent of his vacations. Of course morning and night there were the barn chores winter as well as other seasons.

Chanukah has begun, a ceremony that, forgetting it's traditional wartime/seige background, make deep intuitive sense to me this time of year. The lighting of Christmas trees is in the same category. The light in the sky has been disappearing, we long for more light, the most beautiful light we can make. I laugh as my daughter has taught her not-yet-two grandson to look at light displays in the yards of houses in our town and say "tacky lights." It's her aesthetic, certainly not his. When I asked him, "do you like tacky lihts?" his answer was a shout, "Yeah!" Of course we have many over enthusiastic lighting displays in town but we also have beautiful and tasteful decorations.

Many things are celebrated in this season, different people, different religions, including the "religion" of too much spending on too many toys and too much food and drink. Underlying all those celebrations, I believe, is the knowledge that darkness has limits. The sun will not disappear -- we can rejoice in all the metaphors that brings to mind.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Two Leaders' Obits



Coincidence of course -- but the mind is a meaning-seeking instrument. an irrational one that wants coincidences to be meaningful. Today's NYTimes had stories about the deaths of Czech Vaclav Havel and North Korean Kim Jong II -- both of whom have just died. Different sides of the world, entirely different men but both leaders of their country. Havel, a playwright and activist, was instrumental in the downfall of Communism in Czechoslovakia and became it's President. He also became president again when the two countries split. He ha written, spoken and helped restore democracy to his country.

Kim Jong Il was an iron fisted Communist tyrant and passes the leadership of that bleak country behind it's own iron curtain down to his son. This coincidence cannot mean only that the world remains divided. Those are stark contrasts but much else I read in the paper portrays other countries in various shades of murky gray: Myanamr's generals are softening their stance toward the rest of the world, Pakistan is a conundrum, and even great China with it's authoritarian rule from the top, suggests an editorial today, may be largely impotent to maintain the order so precious to them largely because graft is so omnipresent at lower levels the dictates from the top do not get carried out -- and yesterday's paper mentioned several dozen, if not hundreds, of small scale revolt's through out the country every week! We are we to think? For the most part I only read, wonder and make very little sense of it all.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Great-grandparenthood


Once again I think of Stanley Kunitz's line "I am not done with my changes" [see sidebar] which he wrote when he was about my age. Indeed he kept changing his poetry and personal life right into his 100th year. Of course, whether I might look forward to such a long stretch of years remains to be seen, but certainly I know what he was talking about.

Not so very many people have the privilege of being great-grandparents. Standing at the head of such a line of descent is a thought provoking experience. The photo above is my granddaughter with 19 month old Finn an his new little brother, Cole, who was born Wednesday night - just a couple of days past his father's birthday and a few hours ahead of Beethoven's birthday. Seems auspicious to me! At this point I do not have a large role to play in these babies' lives. Finn knows me, of course, knows where I live when he passes, know what play things he will fine at my house. What more would one expect such a little boy to know?

Both babies have four living great-grandparents, I hope we will all survive long enough for them to get to know us and even remember us when they are older. Given a world in which the majority of people do not live so long, a world in which, in fact, it is predicted the life expectancy will decrease [because of both environmental degradation and a population squeeze for future resource] this is an awesome wish and even more awesome that it could come true since we all are, so far as we know, healthy 70-somethings.

Some people who worry about the environmental problems write or speak of fearing what today's children will face as they grow up. I share many of those concerns. I am especially concerned about the constancy of war -- some of it seems arbitrary. Yet I am also aware of increases in movements toward personal peace and deeper awareness that something must be done to change the course the alarmists chart for this century. To get into these considerations is to wade into a great thorny tangle -- the "dark wood" of poetry. I am aware of it but also aware that we must each live as best we can, that what our great-grand children will experience is mostly beyond any power an individual has. So we welcome the spontaneous laughter of the little ones and soothe their crying and try to do the same for all those we meet of whatever age.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

George Clooney's Desccendants


When movies arrive with lots of talk of Oscars, at this time of year, one takes it with a spoonful of salt. However, I think, Oscar nominations are inevitable for George Clooney - who showed more variations of emotion in his close ups than I've seen in a long, long time, and probably for the scriptwriter and directors. It's a family movie with a dying wife, complex discoveries, a batch of cousins eager to get rick off the last remaining wild tract of one o the Hawaiian islands -- they are all descendents of Hawaiian royalty several generations back. It's a pleasure to see a modern drama on Hawaii, and this family is beautifully cast, the daughters are excellent and the awkward boyfriend has his place also, So do aging parents, a vital and feisty grandfather and grandmother with Alzheimer's. It's all there in brilliant tropical paradisical splendor. Golden Globes have already given out nominations to Clooney and the movie. Actually awards are simply trimmings -- it's a well told story with, finally, an emotional equilibrium that is rare on screen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Some of the parts

In the human body, as sometimes around the house, it seems repairs come in bunches. I'm in one of those phases and I feel reluctant to tackle more than one problem at a time. In the past couple of weeks the teeth have demanded attention. A root canal and now I'm living with a temporary crown and avoiding chewing anything crunchy on the left side. Not much pain has been involved, even before the root canal it was only a dull ache but clearly one in need of attention. Another week or so until the permanent crown is ready. Just a matter of time.

I was a bit annoyed at my tooth for deciding to act up just now. I wish it would have waited a few months so I could give it undivided attention. Because I've long planned to take care of another part of my head -- my eyelids. I have an appointment for very early in January to have them lifted enough so that the peripheral vision that they partially obscure will be returned. NO! emphatically NO! this is not considered cosmetic surgery. ...[wee small voice] but if it should improve my appearance when my eyelids are not permanently droopy, I won't complain.

And the dear old ears have been patiently sitting there on either side of my head trying their best. But their best waivers, partly because of water sloshing in with shampooing, partly because of wax and probably more than I want to think about, because years of work as a transcriber of audio recordings and plain old aging have made me somewhat hard of hearing. In fact annoyingly deaf lately so that I'm always saying "sorry?" or "huh?" And I HATE not hearing what's going on. So they have to be taken care of once the teeth and eyes are tended to.

As long as it's the peripheral organs and not the brain back there behind them, I guess I shouldn't complain. They've served me well and time has taken its toll. Such is life after the Big 7-0.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

FAUST simulcast Metropolitan Opera


Classical grand opera stories have very little to do with modern life. A boringly larger percentage feature the worst of a defunct patriarchal society. Even Gounod's Faust, once so highly regarded it was chosen to be the very first production of the Metropolitan Opera in NYC, has a righteous, unloving brother who curses his sister for being pregnant out of wedlock. He joins a vast array of operatic fathers and brothers who care more for a code of honor than for their families -- it raises my hackles to such an uncomfortable level I feel like a stegosaurus trying to lean back in a narrow theatre seat.

That is only a small irritation I felt at today's simulcast of the Met's new production of Gounod's Faust designed by Des Macaluf [perhaps spelled wrong] When stage directors are offered a chance to spend a lot of money on a production of a very aging warhorse they generally decide to set it in a more modern time period irregardless of the ethnos that informs it. So this Faust was set approximately 1930 with a nuclear physics lab, lots of steel framing the stage and a mishmast of costumes from early 20th century. Nothing made any sense. The story is medieval and hasn't been relevant for several hundred years. I hated it from curtain up to the end. There are many glorious arias and dance tunes, voices of the principals were as find as expected -- that was enjoyable.

The pretentiousness of the production was appalling and the lighting was always dim. I can understand the logic for that, as I understood the logic for the dimness of the National Theatre's Collaborator production a week ago. But I think it's grossly arrogant for a director to dim the lighting as a metaphor for the darkness of his subject matter when it means that the audience who paid handsomely to see a live performance, can't see what's going on on stage. This was corroborated by the woman who went with me when she said she had spoken to someone at intermission whose wife had just seen the Collaborators in London and complained of being unable to see the actor's faces. I would vote for retiring this opera from the repetoire.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Elephant and the Dragon

Yesterday I finished a twelve-week discussion course about the book The Elephant and the Dragon, a Pulitzer Prize winning discussion of the rise of China and India as economic powers by Robyn Meridith. The book was well researched, rather ploddingly written and is already dated since it was published in 2007 and most of the research is from 2005.

This was the first time I've taken a current affairs/politics type course at the Academy for Lifelong Learning. As someone pointed out to me, the approximately 750 students fall into camps with little cross over: literary, political and science. I found this roomful of politically minded people thoughtful and some very well read. But I will not be taking another political type course. Politics of all kinds fill me with despair most of the time. In general individuals are ignored and overarching ideas prevail. People give to ideas, of which economics is a weighty one, an importance that overlooks ordinary people, that generalizes the life blood out of public life. I grew especially unhappy the day the emphasis fell on competitiveness and the room was full of people insisting American MUST maintain it's preeminence in the world. "We must dominate," said the woman next to me as military budgets were discussed.

Shakespeare said simply, "there is a tide in the affairs of men" ... In his day Spain was the richest and most powerful country in Europe. Soon England became an empire and "Britianica ruled"... Until it lost it's jewel in the crown in 1947 and America stepped up to dominate. We've seen the vast USSR crumble, we've seen the vast China puff up like a mushroom after a rain [or a mushroom cloud after an A-Bomb] and we don't want to admit that the tide has turned. I don't want to argue with my colleagues, friends and neighbors about a difference in philosophy about what is important. Oh, they'll all agree that individuals are important and the health of the globe is important, but they are distracted by the news, by their educations, by American political jingoism and think politics are of equal importance. I don't think so.

On a personal level, I loved and admired all the elephants I've encountered both in the wild and tame ones. I found India a beautiful and astonishing country. I've never run into a dragon, I did not like Chinese cities, I passionately hate the Chinese domination of Tibet, but I enjoyed seeing tribal people in Yunnan and deeply admire the Tao and Confucius's commentary on the I Ching which I consider the most useful book of ancient wisdom that exists. These obsevations would not have been appropriate in this class.

Monday, December 5, 2011

HELL IN A HAND BASKET. obsevations

After the Big 7-0, I believe, I have not only a penchant but a right to observe the way the world as I once knew it is going to hell in a hand basket. As of this morning I am going to institute the topic as one to which I will return now and then.

The photo suggests today's topic. I bought a couple of beautiful tangerines a few days ago. I ate one yesterday -- most of it only because I always hate throwing out food that some might consider good. It was sour, somewhat dried out [although it looked perfect[, it had no tangerine flavor.I recently discarded one of two grapefruits I purchased because the first could be eaten only when liberally sprinkled with artificial sweetener. Most people today believe grapefruit are naturally sour. Yes! Before they are ripe all citrus are sour. But only lemons and limes remain sour when they are ripe.

I read a business note in The Times recently{ an entrepreneur who developed an artificial flavoring business wanted to manufacture China but was stymied because the Chinese insisted the secret chemical concoctions of the flavorings must be revealed to the producing plant. The American inventor was unwilling to share his so called "intelectural property." Aren't we going to hell in a hand basket when natural foods -- say strawberries and tomatoes (victims long ago who lost all favor as they became more beautiful in the produce parade for Miss Raw America) now can have their flavor restored artifically? Perhaps some people lack taste memory as I lack musical ear but I have a strong taste memory for the strawberries and tomatoes of my youth -- and for the few truly ripe, sweet grapefruits I've eaten.

Growers, gene splicers, and refrigerated transporters have robbed us of flavor -- now we can add unknown chemicals on top of all kinds of unknown chemicals used to produce and beautify our food, to give it an approximation of the flavor that was once naturally provided by sun and rain. What are all those chemicals doing inside of us? I have inklings when I read about the increases in cancer, autism, asthma and a plethora of undiagnosable ailments.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Collaborators, National Theatre, London


A simulcast yesterday, of a new play, Collaborators, from the National Theatre of London, shown here at 2:00 in the afternoon [it was 8:00 in London] was a very fine play brilliantly acted, especially by the actors who played the novelist, Mihail Bulgakov, and Stalin. The in-the-round production at the Cottesloe, the smaller space in the National Theatre complex was probably seen more completely and even more intimately by the distant audience than by the inhouse audience. I could only imagine as I thought of what I had seen while driving home, that the video work had surely been plotted out by a brilliant editor/director. I have always found live in-the-round interesting but somewhat distracting as no matter where one sits, one misses a portion of the visual impact of the actor's work. When the lighting is purposely dim, as this was, and very appropriately so for the mood and setting, seeing is even more difficult for the inhouse audience.

I felt very sad and annoyed that the event was badly attended, maybe 50 or 60 people, whereas for a performance I found highly mannered and often distasteful of Hamlet the local theatre was very full. People seem to think that a famous old warhorse is a better bet than something new. Very often that is absolutely wrong. When a theatre with the resources of the National -- in terms of actors, designers, directors -- mounts something new it will be done so well that even if it's not destined to be a classic, it will be brilliantly done.

In Collaborators Bulgakov is asked to write a play for Stalin's 60th birthday. He cannot, in good conscience, write something positive about a man he loathes. The playwright's conceit is that Stalin actually writes the play himself while foisting off his pile of official documents for Bulgakov to read and initial for him -- which means Bulgakov is signing orders for murders, mass starvation in the Ukraine, deportation, etc. Bulgakov begins echoing some of Stalin's equivocations. When he finally breaks and refuses to sign more papers Stalin says, "It's man against monster, and the monster always wins." A political truth we've seen time and again in the last 100 years in so many different tyrannical states. Not a happy take home message but certainly one to ponder.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Super plumber at work

A mild discomfort that I ignored for some time finally led to a dental exam, specifically an x-ray that showed clearly -- clearly enough for even the untrained eye like mine to see -- that tooth #18 was in trouble. If I didn't have a root canal it would have to come out leaving a gap in my lower left jaw.

I've had a couple of root canal operations in the hazy past. I remember they caused little pain and cost much money. So it was to be with this one since, when I called the recommended endodontist, he had a cancellation yesterday morning. So it was done quickly and fairly painlessly -- painless after five or six injections. I do not know why, when I am sewing and frequently pick up a pinned piece of fabric, sticking myself, the pain of that pin prick doesn't bother me, but a hypodermic needle injecting novacaine or stuck into a vein to draw blood is a mini trauma.

As I lay back with my mouth open and a rubber dam isolating the tooth for the dentist's drills, I picturedd that x-ray showing the nerves inside the tooth where I knew that drill was aimed. Apparently there was calcification around the nerves that had to be dug out. I knew that what I saw on a screen at least 12x12 was far larger than what the good dentist was working on. I distracted myself by thinking of his work as exquisite plumbing. Cleaning out a tiny conduit of unwanted blockage, and stopping it up when he was done so it could exist there in my mouth available for a kind of passive use, as all teeth are when we chew. The mind after all, has to do something when the body is immobile. I thought of various sinks, kitchen, bathroom, I have had and either unstopped myself or had to have unstopped by a professional. Plumbers are an important group of tradesmen within our world, they are paid well. And endodontists are not necessarily more important but far more delicate in what they do, their instruments are very complex. This particular endodontist was personable, informative and, best of all, worked without causing pain. I wish all people everywhere could have access to such skill when they have the need.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Distant, Nuri Bilge Ceylon


The penultimate foreign film of the fall series -- a series without a lightweight film in the bunch, was Distant by the Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylon. A young man leaves his village where the local factory has shut down to go stay with a relative of some sort in Istanbul. The relative is about 20 years older, a professional [but not very busy and probably not very successful] photographer. The young man can't find work and doesn't try very hard, the older man tolerates the younger. They talk very, very little. The older man's wife has left him and is immigrating to Canada with a new husband. Nothing really happens, the dialog is minimal, there is no background music, we see some attractive scenes of Istanbul but not the touristy ones except for a few instances of the Hagia Sophia through the fog.

This film was likened to another we saw earlier called What I Did Last Summer, a Russian film with only two actors who were alone at a weather station in the Arctic -- but there was dramatic action in the Russian film although the landscape was barren and the men mostly silent. When the film was over a woman near-by said that it reminded her of the only Turkish book she ever tired to read, Orhan Palmuk's Snow. I laughed and said I know several people, myself included, who were unable to finish it and not one person who actually finished it.

And yet, I do not believe the the Turks are a morose and boring lot. I saw another Turkish film, the name of which escapes me, a few years ago that I liked a lot -- it was a sweet romance but I do not mean schmaltz. True I couldn't read Palmuk's Call Me Red either -- and frankly I read a lot of difficult books. However when I traveled in Turkey I liked the people. Our Turkish guide was the very best one I dealt with in four continents. When we were on a gulet for four days along the Turquoise coast, the four-man crew were very personable and talkative guys. Needless to say, the salesmen in the souk's poured on the charm -- the Turks have been master traders for at least 4,000 years. So why this 20th century literary and filmic dourness? I don't know.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Stop and Look - Monday morning


Some mornings, like today, I am focused on email but lift my head just enough to catch a glimpse of brilliance outside the window -- DAWN in all its variety. Unlike any other before. Always different thanks to the clouds.

This was there in these tones for only a few seconds.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Curses on you, Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell ruined many a holiday for me, starting with Thanksgiving. Look at that family, all having a wonderful time together. Look at lovely Grandma and handsome Granddad and the SIZE of that turkey. Look at the "good" china, the silver and the brilliant white damask cloth on the table.

Maybe there are families like that; although I know now Rockwell posed many a scene, took a photo and then painted it for Saturday Evening Post and various other publications. They bear some of the blame too -- yes, you, Henry Luce. Maybe somewhere a family, even as I type more than half a century later, is planning a Thanksgiving just like this. Maybe ... but not many. Many, I hope, are having their own kind of Thanksgiving day. As a very impressionable adolescent I thought that was "how it should be." By then I had only one living grandparent, a very bad cook who lived in a very tiny house where family dinners were never held. No one in the family had good china let alone silver ware. The white table cloths were more likely new vinyl with a flowery pattern. The family was a boring assortment of aunts, uncles, and bratty little cousins. I will say the food was good, much of it was home grown, the turkey was from a near-by poultry grower -- using none of the factory type methods used today. We didn't know there was anything except "free range"

What adolescent appreciates the apple pie she helped make when she knows that once it's all gone she is expected to join her mother and the aunts in the kitchen doing the dishes -- while those irksome little cousins run around outside playing tag and shrieking like banshees. None of the family conversation ever is so humorous that everyone grins with true happiness like those in Rockwell's painting.

Between Rockwell and Luce my brain was imprinted with perfect holidays and the need to acquire china and silver and to regret gravy stains on my white table clothes. Those images were set in concrete, if not marble, in my brain at that age -- an age before [yes, friends there WAS a before] television came to the rural boonies. The damage done took decades to be undone. It took thought, reading, and traveling to many other countries to realize this image of the happy, well accoutered American family with their super sized turkey was all a lie -- except for the super size of any food any time -- but only in America where so many of those people are also now supersized.

I am thankful I have lived long enough to destroy that concrete image and thankful I remember that apple pie, those home grown tomatoes, the other vegetables and fruits that had real flavor and no chemicals -- although often in our kitchen, too much salt and more pepper than necessary was dumped on already delicious food. I am fretful about much that has happened to Thanksgiving in the last half century. I know Norman has been replaced with endless visions on television to unsettle the minds of adolescents perpetually dissatisfied with their families. I knew then and know now that whatever was lacking at our Thanksgiving dinners we loved one another and were that rarity, a "functional" family. Those cousins grew up to be good, honest people with their own functional families. Today I am especially thankful for a dishwasher.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Force of Truth, Satyagraha


The opera, Satyagraha, is as theatrically amazing as this still with puppets suggests. Philip Glass wrote the opera in the 1980s. The Met's new production which was simulcast on Saturday was an astonishing, moving and unforgettable experience. The story, such as it is, shows Gandhi during his years in South Africa -- the formative years during which he began his leadership of nonviolent protest.

Without dialog, but with brilliant staging, program notes and a few date and event subtitle, the story is nevertheless told powerfully to Glass's insistent music which underlies the singing of verses from the Bagavadgita all in Sanskrit. Although the music was never static, it was repetitious but the events moved along, sometimes because the twelve-person special effects group did amazing things with the many puppets, with simple newspaper, cellophane tape, actual fire on state. Robert Croft became Gandhi although he is far from a tiny little Indian man with big ears. Through acting, clothing and the audience's willing suspension of disbelief, Croft and the large chorus became a morality play.

Driving home I thought what a rich, varied, thought provoking, wonderful life I have found here where I thought there would be little compared to the richness of New York City. I planned to see the opera on my own, but, in fact, Rachel was given a pair of tickets by a season subscriber who was possibly afraid to venture into something new. His loss, our gain. It was Rachel's first opera. She enjoyed it. She is both socially conscious and theatrically knowledgeable and open to new music. This was a far cry from my hope to introduce her to opera with, possibly The Barber of Seville or The Magic Flute.

Gandhi's example lives in the current "Occupy" movement that has sprung up and that is currently in danger of being crushed by various municipalities. The needs of the many continue to demand attention in the face of the greed of the 1% just as was true in the beginning of the last century. 4,000 years ago the Bagavadgita spoke of truths that have endured despite all the wars and massive injustices that have characterized what we call civilization. Wisdom exists, but so few look for it and act on it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dire Prediction

Steven Hawking, the astrophysicist who keeps going despite extremely debilitating Lou Gehrig's disease said in an recent interview:

"Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill. But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million."

We could say it metaphorically -- we outgrown the nest that we have fouled terribly. We apparently have no ability to find a way to live sustainably on this planet. He says the only hope for humanity, qua humanity, not individuals specifically, is to colonize another planet. That, of course, leaves the vast, vast majority of humanity on this planet facing, the implication is, extinction in what would be a short ecological time ahead.

It's interesting that he cites our aggressive and selfish genes. Indeed, those are the traits that are causing destruction and wars instead of cooperation and effecient working together to steward the earth's resources and to limit population growth so that this Earth can sustain life.

As we go into the annual consuming frenzy in the US that occurs over the holidays, we enact that selfishness and thoughtlessness that leads to depletion of resources. And we are egged on to do so, of course, by those who stand to reap short term gains at the expense of the future. Hawking is a man with both great intelligence and a personal reason [his almost inconceivably difficult physical condition] to be pessimistic. Often pessimists and depressives are the ones who see most clearly the state of affairs.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Taxi to the Dark Side


This Alex Gibney documentary film begins with an innocent taxi driver being picked up in an Iraqi road block, taken into detention in an infamously horrible prison, tortured, battered, so badly that he died on his fourth day there. The documentary goes on to Abu Ghrabe and to Guantanamo Bay. It puts the responsibility for America's immoral, illegal by Geneva Convention, abuse and torture of prisoners squarely on the shoulders of Dick Cheney and Dick Rumsfield and the top military officers who gave the men in the field neither training or minimal guidance about how to treat prisoners. It's clear that an "anything goes" attitude started with Cheney. If I believed in the Antichrist is would say he is Dick Cheney.

The film makes me all but physically sick. It serves to emphasize my long term feelings about the culture of fear that was taught the American people after 9/11 -- the ugly recourse to the most primitive, childlike reactions, irrational, extreme and ineffectual, not to say unjust, inhumane and too ugly, disgusting and stomach churning to be borne. If there were justice in the world, and mostly there isn't, Cheney and gang would be in The Hague in detention for crimes against humanity. They deserve to be brought to justice as surely as Adolph Eichmann. 9/11 was a horrible atrocity but the reaction of America's top executives [puppet mouth GWB an puppet master Cheney] was so psychotically irrational, that I have been repulsed by even a photo of Cheney in the same way I am by a close up of a poisonous snake. This is a movie that is probably seen only by those like me who don't have to be convinced.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pictures of that which cannot be seen

What is this picture? It is inside the heart -- seen from the outside. Impossible? Not. It boggles my mind. This is one picture from an ultrasound scan of the inside of the heart... some specific heart. Not mine.

But I had many pictures taken today of my carotid arteries and heart. They were taken by different instruments, not only ultrasound -- which in process of doing its job growls, squeeks, whoozhes and sometimes sounds like angry territorial monkeys. Also silent pictuees taken of my blood glowing with radioactive isotopes taken by a moving machine that poised itself over my chest and inched it's way up, like a dragon opening its mouth having found me a most unappetizing morsel.

All this high tech imagining is done in order to see if my arteries are open and clear of plaque which is the result of accumulations of cholesterol -- to put it in the plainest and least precise way. Except for the placement of a IV in a vein in my inner elbow -- and the technician was so skilled I didn't feel the needle pierce my skin -- nothing is invasive. Since the women in my family die of congestive heart disease and I had a partially blocked artery six years ago and a stent was placed in one artery of my heart, I qualify for these high tech very expensive exams.

I do not like medical interventions, I feel fine although there is a shortness of breath when I climb many steps. But I welcome these tests which have become biannual; I am happy that the state of my arteries can be ascertained. Chances are the plaque will not build up suddenly so that I would have a heart attack as my mother and aunt did. Times have changed. They had no such tests; my mother had radical heart surgery two days after the doctors had thought she would die within the hour. She lived another seven years. I sincerely believe too many tests are ordered today and freely admit that I am happy these are done on me. And I am doing my part: I exercise, I avoid fats [reasonably, not fanatically] eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Often I think of my grandmother who also died of congestive heart disease who, at my age, could not walk fifty feet without wheezing and gasping. It's possible I will die of a heart attack, but I believe it's equally possibly I will avoid it and live long enough to get some form of cancer since so many environmental pollutants exist against which I have very little recourse. I am old enough to think often about dying. The certainly that it will happen in one way or another is a constant reminder to enjoy every day. I try and largely I succeed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Confucius say ... huh?

The Confucius Peace Prize was awarded by the Chinese to Vladimir Putin. Why Putin? What's he done for peace? Well, the NYTime today reports that it was for his decision to go to war with Chechnyea in 1999. The citation read, in translation by the Times as "His iron hand and toughness revealed in this war impressed the Russians a lot, he was regarded as being capable of bring safety and stability to Russia." This is a peace prize, remember. Is anyone else made more than a wee bit woozy about this line of thinking?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Seeing Angels

Angels are appearing in the streets of Cuidad Juarez, on the blocks, on the corners where drug world murders have taken place. These white robed, ten foot tall angels carry cards saying [in Spanish] Murderers Repent according to an article in today's New York Times. They are actually teenage boys from an evangelical church carrying the angel figures and placards. This is a very brave thing for them to do, and they well know it, but they persevere.

I find this a moving and very brave thing for them to do. It may be foolhardy, they are young. Like most young men they do not fully comprehend their own mortality, akso their religious faith is important in making them so fearless. We human beings create art by our metaphoric acts. I would rarely be one to say angels walk among us, but in this instance, yes, they do.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sky, sea, rocks


This ring of stones is one of the enduring artifacts spontaneously build at the end of the mile long spit of land where I like to walk. This photo was taken a year or so ago; over the last few months the ring has become more distinctly architected (if that's a word). The outer larger stones are more even and the inside is "paved" with smaller stones, the majority of them white or light gray.

Today was a gift of Indian summer, mid-60s, a perfect blue sky, a calm sea, a few boats near the horizon. I walked out to the end of the spit and sat on the edge of the ring of stones. In such a place, even with a few others walking about, I feel in touch with archetypal peace in nature. I have no enemies to fear there. A gull stood at the edge of the water possibly contemplating me, possibly oblivious. I'm told in a class with a psychologist that even infants at 4 months have a sense of numerosity. I think all people respond to circles, be they stone, glens in the forest, wooden corrals or other structures. The impulse to make the circle of stones and the nearby cairn of which I've written several times, is very basic. A circle, of course is a metaphor for completeness ... I am, thanks to the course, unsure of the difference between a literal thing and a conceptual metaphor. The circle is literal, of course, but I think the conceptual part has to do with the feeling engendered sitting there.

I noticed that the stones were various, six or eight different kinds. All of Cape Cod is glacier-built, its composition is a composite of debris gathered and dumped by the last ice age so these stones came from a variety of places. They are probably different ages, differences of a millions of years. I only know enough to know they weren't originally all mixed together; that they are is a gift -- the circle a kind of jewel box of the history of the earth. While I sit on a fairly recent and certainly fragile small bit of land. I, of course, am far more fragile than the land. But I can touch vast history in my circle of stones, while beyond I am encircled by blue sea and sky. A lovely, lovely day to remember when the gray rains and snows of winter discourage me from walking that mile to the circle of stones.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Contant Change


Biannual clock adjustments have stopped annoying me as they once did. I think it takes my aging internal clock a bit longer to adjust than it used to but that's not important. I rarely have a hard and fast schedule anyway these days.

What the changes mean is that, now that I live in an apartment with a fine view toward the east, I see the sunrises every day ... every day of course when the sky is at least partly clear. A few clouds reflecting orange or pink on their undersides adds to the drama. And, of course, every dawn is different as is every day. I am not a person given to rituals, but I believe in paying attention so I take time to look at the changing colors and the gradual emergence of the Aton, the golden disk worshiped by the ancient Egyptians. At this moment it's behind a tree [well, it seems to be behind a tree] its edges scalloped with leaf and branch obstructions.

Noting the start of every new day should not become a formula. The variability of each dawn reminds us that predictable as night and day are, within the sameness is constant variability. The only constant, as the I Ching long ago recognized is change. "Constant change", an oxymoron that governs our lives.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Movie Overload?

My diet of visual entertainment is much more restricted than most people's. I do not own a television and I choose the movies I see with care -- which includes the documentary film class I am taking which I have chosen as a potpourri with individual films selected by the coordinator whose taste I trust. I chose art films, some old, some new. I am rarely disappointed and usually somewhat stunned for several hours afterward.

Last night I saw The Mill and the Cross a recent film by the Polish film maker whose name I cannot at the moment pronounce or spell. The film is a technical tour de force. He has brought alive Peter Bruegel's painting by that name both by using the actual location and via new cinematic magic that I cannot hope to understand. He gives Bruegel himself [looks very true to life] the role of narrator. There is very little dialogue, most of the scenes are spacious outdoor ones and the many indoor scenes have hardly any speech. There is some music, but little, and children shouting, animals making their noises. But the action which has the soldier of the Spanish Inquisition arriving to root out heretics and finally to enact, almost silently, but very completely the crucifixion, with the miller on his mill high on a hill looking down, apparently unperturbed by the violent as if he were an uninvolved God. If the story were being dramatized in a more usual way it would have been unbearable to watch but as it was, although the people were very real, the viewer remained detached in a way, intellectualizing the allegory and the horror, almost as uninvolved as many of the citizens of the town who continued to go about their daily life as, indeed, the citizens of Jerusalem must have done when the event actually happened. It is visually unforgettable, as If H traveled to 15-- whatever Flanders.
On Tuesday of this week, I saw the film Mephisto, which won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1981, by a Hungarian director but very much a German film with the central character (almost always on screen) as an actor known for playing Mephisto [in white face) although he is the one who actually sells his soul to the devil in order to continue working and rising in his profession at the beginning of the Nazi era, pre-war but when Nazism was taking control. The film was full of the glitz and grotesques of the German theatre of that period, full of beautiful blond women (and the actor's beautiful black German mistress). It was a very in-you-face story of compromise and ego.

I am feel somewhat overwhelmed. Saturday the local movie theatre is showing a simulcast from the Metrpoloitan Opera of Seigfried. I think that is more Germanic/ Eropean culture than I can handle in one week.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

7,000,,000 -- Wow or Ow?

Seven Billion people now exist upon this little "third rock from the sun". Is that cause for amazement and wonder? Or is it cause for alarm?

Most of us reading bogs are comfortable people, but we're only a very tiny fraction. At least 80% of that huge number live in poverty. They are hungry, often sick, often too cold or too hot or covered with insect bits, they are ill educated and wonder what struggles they must face tomorrow, they have little hope ... but some because those without any hope commit suicide so there is or has been something of worth and pleasure in their lives. Ponder this huge number of people who have so much less than you have. Ponder how it is that you have so much to eat, so many clothes to wear and they have almost nothing. Ponder what it means to the forests, rivers, oceans, animals and birds of this work that so many people now live on it.

To me this is awesome and very, very scary.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Everything is in flux

Luckily, the long-to-be remembered snow storm of October '11 was apparently deflected from Cape Cod and the Boston area by the relatively warm waters of the Atlantic. Now I sit looking at still green leaves tossing in what I know to be a very chilly wind but beneath a sky of slightly dirty looking cotton clouds with snippets of blue in between while 75 or so miles to west and north heavy deep snow has brought down limbs and turned off electricity and caused consternation and havoc. The second highly unusual storm in two months, counting hurricane Irene, for those parts of New England. Yes, the climate is in flux.

Reading the newspaper I find that the whole world is in flux, politically. Things seem rather quiet down in Australia and New Zealand and those Pacific island nations although it may just be that their quieter flux is ignored by the news because so much else is happening. Not only has the Occupy Wall Street movement spread to other US cities and to cities in Europe, but we've just seen the paroxysms of the "Arab spring". I read today that middle class Indians are shedding their usual political apathy and both demonstrating and voting to stop the endemic bureaucratic corruption. China is terrified by their own almost daily demonstrations which, with current media communications, could grow massively, so they are cracking down on both Internet and television. Things are always unsettled in various parts of Africa, Mexico is in the throes of serious drug wars, parts of South America are unsettled ... and so it goes ... everything in flux. A period of instability physically and politically.

I am a watcher, I've learned that knowing is a good thing, being aware is grounding, but worrying in a waste of time when I could be quietly finding the good and creative things I can do to be happy with my life and perhaps contribute a bit to the small world around me. An hour spent wringing my hands about global warming or the greed begotten by capitalism is an hour I cannot enjoy the limited hours that remain in my life -- which I hope are a great many but when you've hit the Big 7-0 you're an ostrich with her head in the sand if you don't give a little thought most days to the limits of life. But if you're reasonably balanced, you use the time as consciously as possible.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

Uploading videos is something I haven't learned to do so I will direct you to the sidebar on the right and the blog called Time Goes By. Today's post includes a video from an Occupy Wall Street gathering at Columbus Circle in NYC last night. It's dark so it's hard to tell how big the crowd is but it's big. The video features Pete Seeger [age 92 and going strong], Arlo Guthrie and Tom Chapin and many others, playing guitars, flutes, etc and all singing "The Little Light of Mine, I'm going to let it shine>"

And I have a fit of nostalgia for protests I didn't take part in back in the '70s because I was on my Mommy track in a staid small town in upstate New York. But I had been with the civil rights people in the '60s and was with the anti-Vietnam people in the '70s. Watching this four minute clip and hearing the familiar song, I'm once again with a protest in my heart.

Yesterday's documentary movie was Food, Inc. which emphasizes the hydra-like reach of big corporations controlling what we American eat -- what is in our supermarkets and why junk food is actually cheaper that "real" food [the answer is partly government subsidies that benefit the big corporations].

While the "serious"people complain that the Occupy Wall Street people don't have an agenda and don't stand for anything concrete, they are wrong. The movement stands for the extent to which our choices, even of what we have available to eat in this richest of nations, is controlled, what we see on television and read in papers, what we are charged for for health care, how our schools are run, on and on and on ... are all controlled by corporations who are now defined as "People" by the Supreme Court. But these "people" are essentially robot without a heart or even a head, merely a counting system ruled by bottom line numbers. Many of the most basic choices humans have always had are severely limited by what Wall Street stands for. No, it's not as simple as saying "stop this war" or "give black people equal rights" -- it's become too invidious to define in a few words. We know we are controlled, we are constantly spied on, we are overcharged for inferior services and goods and we are being milked like docile cattle of our savings so that a few rich people can grow richer and richer.

Friday, October 28, 2011

When the Frost is on the Punkin


This giant pumpkin is 1810.5 pounds and was grown in Stillwater, Minnesota I've never seen one this big but in the part of Indiana where I grew up, we had an annual Pumpkin Show [a month ago this year and I wasn't there]. I think of jack-o-lanterns second, really third, after thinking of that annual Pumpkin Show [which was the only event in our area that offered carnival rides]. I couldn't have cared less about the pumpkins.

Second, I think of James Whitcomb Riley [1851-1916] a Hoosier poet who wrote in dialect and wrote a poem that was probably taught much more enthusiastically in Indiana than elsewhere in the US. This is it:

"When the Frost is on the Punkin"

WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it's then the time a feller is a-feelin' at his best, 5
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here— 10
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock— 15
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin' of the tangled leaves as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries—kindo' lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin' sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill; 20
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover overhead!—
O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps 25
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps;
And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!...
I don't know how to tell it—but ef such a thing could be

[Sorry I cut off the last line but I think you've had quite enough by now]

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fun Fashion in L.L. Bean Land

At my quilt guild's meeting yesterday I had an opportunity to sit and watch the 130 or so women chatting and finding seats before the meeting and during the break between speaker and business meeting. Here on Cape Cod we are mostly in the casual Friday every day of the week mode -- I speak not of working people, that is an area I've graduated out of. I mean, for the most part, the senior population intertwined somewhat with young mothers. Casual, of course, is heavy on denim but here in New England a lot of khaki is worn and other quiet colors, especially in the winter. I overheard a woman in a old rose colored corduroy shirt jacket say to another who was wearing dusty blue -- "mine's L.L. Bean, yours is the same, right?" Right.

I also do a lot of people watching at the Academy for Lifelong Learning at the community college and have decided that by and large those in this semi [sometimes demi] intellectual atmosphere dress a bit more stylishly and brightly. They are more apt to add a nice scarf, a brighter color. This is a long, long way from the ladies I love looking at at the advanced style blog, those ladies are in NYC and would certainly be conspicuous here on Cape Cod. The woman in the photo was the only person at yesterday's meeting whose clothing was memorable - a bit of an Eloise-grows-up attitude. Good for her.

This, of course, is the place where the Pilgrims first settled and they were plain dressers, certainly. I find a bit of that attitude still pertains here. Other parts of the country have their special styles too. Florida brings out the bright colors even when they are pastels, California has its own variation of that Florida feeling. The West is a land of cowboy boots and Stetsons (sometimes on women as well as men) and the South still has a bit more formality about clothing than the rest of the country. Wherever I am, I am a dedicated people watcher. (Sometimes I deeply miss the streets of NYC)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Autum's touches


Just now, and until the clock gets reset in a week or two, the dawn comes up in full view from my patio doors while I am eating breakfast. On clear days it is magnificent and changes colors, catching different cloud groups minute by minutes. Maybe I will have to start getting up a bit earlier for a while to continue to have coffee and toast with sunset on the side. Gradually it will become later until the end of December.

Here on Cape Cod autumn is parsimonious and later than on the "mainland" -- the ocean keeps us a bit warmer and I have no quarrel with that. I have in my memory bank some upstate New York autumns when whole hillsides were so brilliantly colored under the purest of blue skies that I could hardly breathe, so awed was I. Sometimes I stopped a car on the shoulder of a country road to sit and gaze.

Having had those autumn scenes, I do not feel deprived by our little touches of color and the late occasional blaze among the browns and fir tree greens. One of the rewards of living in awareness as I have mostly tried to do is that, just as I have collections of rings, bracelets, earrings, [none precious stones but mostly semiprecious] which I collected on travels, I have heaps and reams and collections of memories -- a richness I enjoyed at the time and can continue to enjoy many years later as I'm reminded by a little bunch of leaves or a spreading sunrise.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

That Old House


This little house in Woods Hole, on Cape Cod was across the harbor from a portion of the Oceanographic Institute. The town was originally a whaling village. Many old houses from that era still exist there. This three story one with it steep pitched roof looked, on a gray misty day from a fair distance away, like a fairy tale house. I felt that if it were in a forest Hansel and Gretel might live there. I know absolutely nothing more about it but I was enchanted.

Monday, October 17, 2011

October poem


An October dawn seen from my breakfast table.

Since the beginning of April I have been writing, instead of a diary entry, something that vaguely (sometimes more closely) resembles a poem. This is one about a dawn I wrote a few days ago.


The precious Indian summer days

slipped away under cover of a near full moon night

leaving behind a gray morning

without

the peach, orange, tangerine dawn

clouds

of my last few breakfasts.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Woods Hole, Massachusetts


Wood's Hole, on "lower" i.e,the southwest end, Cape Cod began as a whaling town. today it is world famous in particular for two institutions: the Wood Hole Oceanographic Institution, a foremost center for the study of the all things marine where the depths of the oceans are studied both by manned crafts and by a variety of robots -- all of which are one-of-a-kind, all of which are designed and manufactured and maintained right there. The harbor, even on a very drizzly, gray day is a lovely sight.
The Marine Biology Labs is an independent institution which has the world's finest laboratories for the study of marine life with the goal being contributing to the understanding and betterment of human life. This institution has provided workspace for 54 Nobel Prize scientists as well as hundreds of others. The numbers of scientific papers published are vast.

A group of 55 seniors from the Academy for Lifelong Learning were given tours of both institutions with lectures by well trained volunteers. Some had been on such a tour previously, I had not. I had merely spent a couple of hours in the town and had no overview at all so I learned a lot. Below is the manned capsule from Alvin, the deep sea going sphere designed to hold three scientists, sitting very close together. It has made 4600 plunges to the bottom of the ocean. At the moment the capsule and the structure that allows it to be lowered and raised are being reconstructed in a somewhat larger size. As can be seen in the photograph, the two people standing in front of it would barely fit inside. I get claustrophobia just looking at it.

One of the most renown accomplishments of a WHOI scientist was the discovery of the location of the Titanic. That was news making but the ongoing and extensive data gathering about the sea, the underwater volcanoes, the sea creatures unknown before being discovered by WHOI scientists is far important. The enormous amount of information that has flowed out of this small town over the past 50 or so years as more and more instruments have been designed, contributes enormously to our understanding of life on earth.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Two Movies in less than 24 hours


Two movies in 24 hours. I have an openness to stories, especially visual stories makes this a heavy trip along with what I'm reading. Now and then I've read of movie lovers who go to three or four movies ion a kind of orgy, say on a dreary Sunday in NYC -- with many theaters close together in some areas and showings running from about 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. that is entirely possible with time out for a meal somewhere in the middle. Those film lovers are not people who go to every bit of drek, they try to see decent movies. Doesn't work that way for me. Two in less than 24 hours makes me feel somewhat bludgeoned, largely by myself.

Last night's movie was Mozart's Sister, in French at the nearest art film theatre. I always go to movies that have something to do with classical music. Of course, I knew that Nannerl was very talented and denigrated by Papa Leopold who used the two children like performing ponies to earn his living. This movie focuses on Nannerl's relationship with members of the Sun King's family, a princess and the Delphine, both of whom are enchanted by Nannerl. The story seems to be mainly fictional. The actress looks too old for the role but she is the daughter of the director. Most scenes were mediocre and the story light. But I loved a scene in which Nannerl starts singing one morning, Woflie joins in, they begin singing counterpoint. "A keyboard!" Wolfie cries. They run to a harpsichord, she playing the lower keyboard and he the higher. They compose together, apparently reading one another's minds as jazz musicians do, and both in a state of contained ecstasy. Beautiful!
Today's movie was made in Belgium called Illegal. It was about a Russian woman who is an illegal alien and is picked up on the street in a routine document search. She is put in a detention camp and won't talk. She has a 12 year old son who is being taken care of by a friend -- sort of. She's spunky and determined and she's befriended by a black woman who regularly gets beaten up by the guards [unpreachy reference to racism, of course]. When our heroine is to be deported she fights hard and causes a riot on the airplane, then is beaten badly, but sneaks out of the hospital ward and managed to get home to her son.

Such detention camps exist, not only in most European countries for illegal aliens, they exist in America also. People all over the world are moving from country to country seeking safety, work, a better way of life and countries are handling it with bureaucratic ugliness everywhere. This movie won a major prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The consensus was that it won not because it is fine film making [the critics think it's too much like an American TV special] but because this is a political problem that needs to be addressed.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hello, Indian Summer


After looking at a show of 51 small quilts at the National Seashore visitor's center in Eastham, Rachel and I walked on the one good trail that starts from that center. The first third or so was beside what is called Salt Pond, a graceful inlet pond. Twelve swans were swimming on it. I don't believe I've ever seen twelve all at the same time before. Here are a couple of pictures -- they were spread over the fairly large pond, but four or five were gathered in one little inlet area. They are so elegant and seem so serene.

From the pond, we briefly had panoramic view out to a sand bar with the ocean beyond. The view was a little ruined because there were a dozen or more all terrain vehicles out there, so the natural grace was compromised. The remainder of the trail wound through a mixed forest. The shade was actually quite welcome on this very, very warm Indian summer day. Happily Rachel knew of a wonderful ice cream place in Orleans -- what better way to end such a lovely day?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Serious Things on my Mind

So many serious things are on my mind tonight I almost don't know where to start -- in a sense none of it is personal, and in a sense all of it is personal. I will only mention three.

To begin with the ugliest: I say the documentary film about Emmett Till this afternoon. I had known the story that was a catalyst in the civil rights movement but this documentary showed a picture of him in his casket after his mother was heard describing many of his wounds. The extreme brutality was shocking. I know brutality goes on at all times somewhere in the world but my imagination cannot manage to understand how anyone can so mutilate another person. His murderers did not even know the boy. What they did was from some blood lust, some massive perversion of humanity. And they were acquitted by the jury and eventually died "natural" deaths of cancer. I find some consolation in knowing that the civil rights movement gained many victories although prejudice still exists in this country even in this liberal area as some people in the audience recounted.

The most exciting is that I just watched the You Tube video reading of the statement of the protesters in the park on Wall Street. I signed the solidarity petition yesterday for what tiny bit that is worth. I am delighted a movement has begun to protest and hope it will be picked up all across the country. The statement is very inclusive; I'd be happy if this turned into a movement as big as the anti-Vietnam war movement of the '60s. It's way past time to push back at the corporations and financial institutions.

The saddest was Steve Job's death at such a young age. Almost since I have began working on a PC I have been aware that Mac computers inspired a special fanatical devotion among their users. I did not get one until about five years ago but I have become a dedicated fan as well. I copied a part of the address Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005. I don't know if he already knew he was fighting cancer, perhaps not, but he was a serious man, focused on individuality. This is some of what he said:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.

“And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Elephant and the Dragon


I am taking a discussion class based on the book The Elephant and the Dragon by Robyn Meridith, a writer on economics. The subject is the economic rise of India and China, with China predominant. Economists make me profoundly uneasy. They see the world in terms of money, and I realize that money is powerful. But economic discussions are always abstract and these discussions talk only about manufacturing and trade balances. Economists concentrate on that portion of the population who work for big corporations whatever country they're talking about. But the truth is only a small percentage of the people in any country actually work for big corporations. Furthermore everything else is generalized. Saying that 4% of Americans control over 40% of America's wealth means nothing. The same is true in China or India. I have a deep distrust of thinkers who don't factor 96% of the people into an equation. The statements that people make in the class are essentially meaningless to me.

As a product of a "fly over" state [Indiana] where no one I knew worked for a large corporation, or had a bank account in excess of $10,000 [if ever that!] or an education much above high school, I think of the vastness of China [and India] and all the "fly over" land there and the millions of people who are not taken into the abstract patterns of economists except when they mention that rural people are moving to the cities at greater rates than ever because they hope to find jobs in those factories. But that is so simplistic, so inhuman and finally so meaningless. I am frustrated as I read the book -- which was published in 2007 and so is already five years out of date -- and I'm even more frustrated in the class as a room full of well meaning, curious, intelligent senior citizens tries to understand something about the world they hear about on TV and read about in newspapers. It seems to me they haven't the tools to understand another country if they have only economic abstractions. I'll revisit this subject in a couple of weeks when I have an opportunity to speak to the class about what I know and feel about China having been there more often than anyone else in the class [4 times although two of those times, to me, were not to China but to Tibet -- no matter what my passport says.]

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A panoramic view


Just thought I'd do a panoramic view of the beach I walk on. Above is looking east which goes on for about two miles at the very tip [on the right] is the Kennedy Compound which is really not visible from where I was standing.

Below is the beach I walk on. The picture is a little deceiving because the end is a blend of another land mass across a small inlet area


The whole thing is very peaceful -- especially in the quiet hours of morning when I sometimes see only one or two other people, and perhaps a dog or two. Then it feels like my private world with nice wide perspectives. On the watery horizon I can see something tall on Martha's Vineyard and at night a lighted beacon. Often I see the ferries cross the eastern horizon going or from the Vineyard. And of course many smaller craft, from kayaks and rowboats [like the one in the picture, to graceful sail boars and all sizes of motor boats. Lately there have been quite a few fishermen out there and I was told they are catching tuna -- smallish, but, surprisingly, tuna.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Word Play, a film about cross word puzzles

Today's documentary was the delightful film about New York Times crossword puzzles and the annual contest for puzzle solvers, Word Play. I saw the movie three or four years ago when it was first out in NYC because I have been a puzzle addict for a very long time and feel deeply deprived if for some reason I don't get my Sunday Times magazine with the puzzle. I rarely want to watch a film twice but this one was so much fun I totally enjoyed watching it again.

Not surprisingly many people in the documentary class were also puzzle addicts. I especially loved the part of the conversation afterwards that talked about Howard Gardner's book about different kinds of intelligence. Within verbal intelligence Gardner describes 3 or 4 subsets, as he does within musical intelligence and scientific intelligence. Clearly puzzle solvers have some of that verbal intelligence and using it gives them great pleasure. A man brought up the subject but a woman who has been taking the class several years, actually knows Gardner personally and suggested that, since writing his book 25 or so years ago, he has added a couple of other "intelligences." The woman suggested that he should also add culinary intelligence for the people who can cook anything without recipes and it's always delicious. I love when the conversation ranges so freely from the original topic.

In fact, it was a day of connecting with people's ideas which has left me in a great mood this evening. In my writing class we had some brief but thoughtful/thought provoking discussions and at lunch with three of the writers, more discussion. Then in the late afternoon a friend stopped by and we had a good conversation ranging over a number of topics. At least for me, at this stage of life, my greatest and most satisfying experiences are discussions. It's been a most satisfying day.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Horseshoe Crab remains


Last summer especially and this summer less so, I have habitually picked up the horseshoe crab shells, some young and small, 3 to 5 inches, others ancient, 10 to 12 inches and much darker than the young ones, and lay them in groups high up above the tide line because I feel such ancient creatures deserved reverence.

About the first of August there was a huge die off. One morning I counted over 65 shells washed up along the mile long beach, mostly relatively young crabs. [It might have been a molting instead of a die off. I hope so. I'm ignorant bout how to tell the difference.] After that the numbers have decreased, and are fewer than last year. A few times I've come across huge shells that I think of as the remnants of Methusalahs, perhaps 50, 60 years old, often with a covering of barnacles, and very dark in color. Those I've put in prominent places high up on the shore so others can see them and be amazed as I am.

The last two week there have been a scattering of shells, mostly within a fairly short stretch of the beach, perhaps where the tide comes in at a different angle than elsewhere. I noticed that someone else had taken my hint and gathered a great many together in one group, 17 shells one day, over 20 another. The picture shows them one morning this week. The tide may reach them, perhaps walkers come by paying no attention, or dogs being walked nose around among them. But I was touched to see that my respect for the shells, which I always turn up so the messy, semi-empty internal structure is covered, is shared by others. Perhaps they only need a small hint -- or perhaps it was an original impulse of their own.

Horseshoe crabs were around when the dinosaurs were, they have persevered through enormous geological changes. They deserve respect as do all living creatures but they deserve an extra degree of respect for the connection that goes back to such an early part of earth's history.