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


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.