Once in a while reminders of age come up and slap me in the face. Today I saw a DVD of the Camille Sans Seans opera, Samson and Delilah with Placido Domingo and Shirley Verrett. [What a couple! vocally speaking.] While I like Sans Seans piano concerts and parts of his symphonies I found the opera mostly boring. It was a 1989 production from San Francisco and the costumer had totally lost his/her head with outfits from fancifully Assyrian to French Empire -- which was very, very distracting. I've never seen Verrett live or on video and she was very wonderful, while Domingo at that period in his life was certainly very virile in the Roman gladiator outfits he was given but he looked like a patient on cortisone with a puffy face and a ridiculous wig. I had time to notice all these annoyances because the opera was a production mad attempt to hide the fact that it started as an oratorio and should have remained so -- except for the extremely sexy ballet dancer in the bacchanale.
Anyway when it was over a little man in the class said to the commentator that he remembered the movie of Samson and Delilah with Victor Mature and, who was Delilah? Without even thinking I said, "Hedy Lammar. I had had a clear flashback of Victor Mature pulling down the temple pillars even as I was watching Domingo do the same. As I walked to the car I thought, Good heavens, that must have been the early '50s -- I've got 60 years of movie history in my memory. How on earth did I get to be so old?
P.S. - at a break in the opera someone said loudly, "Who were the Philistines?" A man reading on his Kindle, after only a few seconds, began reading about Philistinians in Anatolia who were the predecessors of the present day Palestinians. He had simply tapped into his dictionary. Instant information! "Where's Anatolia?" said the first person. I knew that answer to that having traveled there, a much newer memory than the movie.
We thought we had won the abortion battle; we thought the rights and needs of women and children were understood at last and women would have some parity. Not so. The lead editorial in today's NYTImes succinctly says that spending cuts are aimed squarely at the needs of women and children -- the need for contraception, safe abortions, nutrition for newborns for mothers who cannot afford it, one program after another -- all likely to be cut drastically, some axed entirely.
Always the women, the minorities, the handicapped are given short shrift -- and those fat, comfy middle aged men in Congress prefer to bail out banks, help mining company and oil companies and wood products companies destroy our environment instead of putting the money toward the health of women and children. I'm sophisticated enough to know that these budgets are never tit for tat in that way, but from the long view that's what it comes down to. The men say "jobs" and "economy. They believe business will bail us out [and assure they are reelected]. They do not say "human needs." If you've dug up enough money to get elected to Congress, you are not watching your twenty-year old daughter struggle with two babies who are malnourished. You do not even see the mentally and physically handicapped whose day programs are cut for lack of funding, your elderly parents do not eat breakfast cereal two meals a day because they have to choose between meds, rent and food.
Getting up in the morning and reading the paper is a sad way to start the day -- and that's not even thinking about the rest of the world where turmoil roils and people are dieing for a change to try democracy, dieing, I'm sure this very moment as I type these words.
What's on your refrigerator? Someone on a blog asked recently and several people responded. I thought about it and have to say that our refrigerator art gallery can be more intimate and possibly more revealing than the stuff we hang on our walls or the framed photos on the desk or piano top.
Here's my gallery: a photo of my two grown daughters together at Yellowstone. They live on different continents and are rarely together so this is an unusual photo. Since they are grown and so are my grandchildren I have no kiddie drawings. But I do have a post card of Annie Liebowitz' photo of Keith Harring -- you can't see it very well unless you double click the photo. It's like graffiti, but VERY sophisticated in this case, as he's in the middle of it, painted, otherwise nude. There are pictures of two men who never have and never will disappoint me: Beethoven and Schubert. There is a funny little picture someone sent me of three ladies from the '40s in winter coats doing high kicks that seems to say, we're only as old as we think we are and we don't think we're old at all. And then there's a hunk post card -- three Mongolian wrestlers in their skimpy shorts and open jackets and little caps -- because they're hunks and because I really loved traveling in Mongolia.
I am not going to offer further explanation. That's my gallery. What's yours?
As it's said things come in threes, two this week and a week ago I saw a documentary about the children of prostitutes in Calcutta. Three films in a row showing how painful and desperate life can be. I saw the Spanish movie, Biutiful yesterday with Javier Barden as a man struggling with an impossible life who is diagnosed with cancer and given two months to live. He is an in between man -- helping illegal immigrants fit into the local economy -- Sengelese selling knock off goods on the street and Chinese "business" men exploiting illegal Chinese immigrants who work all day and live in a crowded warehouse basement. He has two kids, a boy about 6 and a girl about 9 and is estranged from his bipolar wife who also sleeps with Barden's older brother who is also a go-between in the building trades. The desperation of everyone is reflected in the tiny places in which they live, the cramped quarters kitchens and bedroom, the noise and emotional chaos. Besides his two children, there's a Chinese woman and child who sit for the kids and later a Senegalese woman and baby -- motherly love is the only warmth and the wife only has it in her few good times.
Americans don't make movies like this. The money men in Hollywood know it can't make a lot of money, it's not "entertaining", "feel good" is not part of it, one has to pay attention to see what's happening. The handsome actor probably lost weight for this film, he looks gaunt, haggered and, indeed like a man who is often in pain but can't take time to pay attention to it because he's so mired in all the responsibilities he's taken on just to have enough money to exist himself. All that's beautiful by our standards is the frame of the movie set in a snowy forest -- it's fantasy, an ambiguous metaphor for death where he talks to the father who died before he was born and who's dead body he sees later in the movie. The acting was superb, that almost goes without saying, the man is SUCH a fine actor.
I'm feeling emotionally battered from these three films, but, hey, I've lived a long life and I'd rather see and read about what the real world is than merely fill my mind with comedy and saccharine romance. Oh, I guess it's not three but four, because there was King Lear a couple of weeks ago also, no "feel good" veneer on that story either.
"The greatest documentary of all times," said Robert Coles about Titicut Follies, the 1969 documentary by Frederick Wiseman. A black and white look inside the Bridgewater, Mass. institution for the criminally insane. It was so honest and shocking it was not allowed to be shown to the general public until 1996. The men [all are men] are stripped and kept naked when indoors, locked in empty cells with spy holes in the doors. The burly guards seem unfeeling, the harass some men, they force feed them [the scene couldn't help but make us think of water boarding], some meds are given but the men in this movie are not turned into zombies by heavy doses of sedating drugs, they do not seem violent against anyone, but lost in their own degraded worlds, some shouting, some singing, some babbling some apathetic.
Intake interviews establish criminality, psychiatric interviews are without insight or compassion, discussions of diagnoses are cut and dry. The title "follies" is a show given mostly by staff members, well rehearsed singing and dancing supposedly for the entertainment of the inmates. The director of the establishment is a jovial, show-off MC of the show, a man surely as sick as any of the inmates, maniacal jolly.
The class discussion after the viewing elicited a comment from one man who lived in Bridgewater at that time. He said he often drove past the place and saw inmates outdoors tends gardens and orchards and thought it was an "all right" place. A couple of women who had been in health fields had stories to tell of equally awful institutions they worked in as very young women fifty years ago.
We'd like to think American institutions are much more enlightened and humane today but no one of us knew if that's true. We feel that in many other parts of the world similar places surely exist.
Why watch such films? Why put those images into our memories? Because it ratchets up our awareness of the possibilities, bad and good, of humanity; it makes us more sensitive to what it means to be human. I think that is the final aim of such docmentary film makers.
Bob Brady of PureLandMountain blog -- see sidebar -- tells us young Japanese are losing interest in sex. Furthermore he points out that the youth fads of Japan tend to be the canaries indicating the toxicity of the atmosphere in the world. I can't be alarmed to the extent of worrying that the world population will be in danger. We're racing as a population toward unprecedented and quite dangerous numbers so a bit of falling off in the procreation area would not be a bad thing.
But Bob was not talking about procreation, he was talking about interest in the joys of sex. The photo he posted of the pillow embracing the girl and another at the end of the blog with a pillow shaped like the lap of a kneeling man suggest the young still want some cuddling. I, for one, find those pillows deeply sad. The warmth of human body cannot be replaced by a bit of batting inside a pillow form.
On a slightly different note, Ronni Barrett recently posted about the joys of a 60-something woman looking at naked men's bums and had a video to prove her point and a good many comments in agreement. So maybe the enjoyment of sex as an idea, a fantasy that brings a smile, a present reality as well, has shifted to the increasingly large senior population. We pre- or early-baby boomers were adolescents at a time when sex was a tabu and contraception not readily available. What you must long for and deny yourself until certain conditions are met [like marriage back in those days] retains strength in our memories that apparently these young people will never understand. No, I'm not going to say that's sad but the cliche we often repeat, "youth is wasted on the young" seems to be truer and truer.
"Gray is the new blond," says the wonderful blog Advanced Style which I have come across every now and then and which I'm going to add to my sidebar soon. [Doing these computer caretaking things needs mental working up to -- I think it's like learning to ride a horse, it takes nerve to actually begin when one gets ove a certain age.] The woman in the picture for that particular post has waist length gray hair. But, hey, I'm just as gray so there I am.
Lately I've realized anew, as I realize every now and then, that I no longer can judge age of anyone over, say 11 or 12. Styles change, and the usual messages about hairdos and clothing on people are highly confusing. I was speaking to a woman a few days ago who looks very young to me, perhaps early 40s, as we talked she revealed that she is 57. I was flummoxed. Perhaps one of the best lessons is to simply forget about age to a very large extent and just interact with everyone as individuals. Sounds so totally obvious. But very few people ever shed the habit of categorizing people by their apparent age, even if, like me, they are often wrong about their age guesses. For many gray hair is an indicator but that's iffy too. I was mostly gray at 45, so are many other people. And then there are those who don't go gray -- naturally or artificially.
Anyway, I recommend Advanced Style because the blogger takes fantastic picture of fantastic people on the streets of New York. Prejudiced as I am, I think there's no city with street life like New York -- I miss it.
A twenty-minute video that defines happiness in ways I have not heard before was published by Ronni Barrett on her blog, As Time Goes By, a couple of days ago. click here and watch video As the speaker, Daniel Kahnemann, says, "happiness is big business these days." There are numerous books about it, and numerous counselors eager to have you pay them to help you be happier. But, as Kahnemann says, thinking about happiness and well being is a very big muddle. He makes enormous sense and I would say he barely scratches the surface of what he could say.
He speaks of the experiencing self and the remembering self, which are very different. The remembering self is a story teller and that story is usually based on the whether the ending of the story is a happy or sad one despite what you might have experienced almost right up to the end. He mentions a person reporting about a magnificent musical performance that was ruined by a horrible noise at the very end. The experiencing self enjoyed 95% of the performance, but the remembering self forgets all that and considers the whole experience ruined and terrible because of the awful ending. I think some people may remember differently but certainly many do remember in this way. He begins differentiating about being happy IN your life and being happy WITH your life and at the end about how happiness, for Americans, seems very dependent on whether you make $65,000 a year or less. I believe that could bear a little more looking into also, especially as it's the result of a Gallup poll and all huge polls like this depend on how questions are asked and how statistics are gathered and analyzed.
The speech takes 20 minutes but anyone curious about their own experience of happiness [isn't most everyone curious?] will find things to think about in what is talked about on this little video. Because I'm an Internet ignoramus I don't know how to post it directly on here, so you need one extra click by going to Ronni's blog and then to the video. I recommend it.
Yes, it is Abraham Lincoln's actual birthday. For a good many years I worked several days a week in an older office building in NYC across from Grand Central Station named The Lincoln Building where the rather magnificent marble lobby was graced with one of the bronzes cast from an early model of French's sculpture that is the heart of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington -- the photo above -- that is familiar to almost everyone who ever visited Washington, D.C.
More than the somewhat cold and distant George Washington, I think Lincoln will always be our most beloved President. He was down to earth, he was eloquent, his ideas were grand, he preserved the union and signed the Emancipation Proclamation and he was martyred. At a literary gathering last night one of the men recited from memory, "Lincoln Walks at Midnight." Not a moving recitation in itself but because the man is 70-ish and has held the poem in his memory since boyhood, because it is that meaningful to him.
Today may also go down in Egyptian history as the day they gained democracy. The many who have been on the streets for three weeks, are rejoicing and believe they have won democracy. Those of us who have read newspapers and watched revolutions in many other countries are not so sure -- certainly not when the government is now in the hands of the military. It was not a bloodless coup but far less bloody than it might have been. It is easy to be comfortable here, watching the news unfold and being sanguine about it and not very emotional. We who are comfortable have the habit of letting distant events disappear from our thoughts -- we would not be able to function if we were constantly emotionally involved in what's going on in the world.
After seeing a documentary yesterday about the 1970 strikes at the mines in Kentucky fighting Duke Power [by then already owned by BP] one woman spoke of being stunned that she was ignorant of it. She had been involved in the Civil Rights movement but by the '70s was a contented young wife and mother and so this civil unrest did not penetrate her consciousness. I think one of the reasons Lincoln is so well loved is that events of the Civil War touched everyone in the US, there were no pockets of ignorance or un-involvement. So his leadership became legendary, and beloved. Although he was not universally loved in his life time. Unfortunately, being martyred polishes the gold of the reputation.
Decent winter temperature yesterday, very cold today. Bright sun both days. So tired of feeling trapped by the weather I decided to go for a brisk walk and at least get some Vitamin D from the sun. Besides I just read one of those studies that are forever being printed saying that the half of the study group who walked 40 minutes three times a week compared to those who did tai chi and stretching yoga -- the walkers were mentally sharper. Maybe. These studies keep surfacing; one never knows what to think of them.
What I did know was I felt a cabin fever restlessness. So I put on layers and set out to walk a neighborhood triangle of streets that add up to a bit over a mile. Not much really. The first two legs of the triangle were in thickly residential streets with lots of houses, trees and shrubs all of which baffled the light wind. The 25-ish temperatures were okay because I was soon warm under my layers. The last leg of the triangle, however, was on the commercial thoroughfare with fewer trees and shrubs. A fairway for the wind that seemed to lick my cheekbones and nose with an icicle tongue. I walked faster which didn't help the tingling of my face. But soon I was home, back in the warmth feeling a bit self-righteous, glad to have done something healthy whether I'm smarter or not. Any urge to go out again during the day was squelched thoroughly.
I don't believe I have ever read a strong warning like this in a column in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine: "I now recommend that anyone except advertising executives whose job entails monitoring product monitoring actually block Web MD. It's not only a waste of time, but it's also a disorder in and of itself -- one that preys on the fear and vulnerability of its users to sell them half truths and, eventually, pills." [Italics in quote] Click here for entire article.
This from Virgina Heffernann who writes the "The Medium" weekly column. She points out that the site, WebMD, made $540 million from advertisers last year. She recommends the Mayo Clinic website, MayoClinic.com, as a commercially untainted alternate that will not try to sell you medications and will not try to scare you half into guying prescription drugs when you go to their symptom site. Many of you have also seen the WebMD magazine in your doctor's waiting rooms. Your doctors do not subscribe to the magazine, it arrives free every month. Medicine and commerce have long sold a panicked public all kinds of snake oil -- until the last century the stuff was not so much snake oil as alcohol and various other sedatives including large amounts of opiates. At least people felt better [while they slept off the dose] when they took those concoctions. Today people feel they need expensive prescription drugs for everything and they do not ask about side effects [alone or in combination with whatever else is being taken]. Big Pharma rakes in the profits, often insurance companies and Medicare pay.
A small example of the way we have been trained to panic when some medical problem arises is that one student at the Cape Cod Community College has been diagnosed with swine flu, as of yesterday. Today the college has a free flu shot program installed in the cafeteria for anyone who is frightened about swine flu whether or not he or she knows who the student is and has had any contact with the person. Fear and panic are among the major emotions of the early 21st century in the US.
Most of us know snow shoveling can be difficult. The most recent stats available [from '99 to 2006] showed average yearly ER visits caused by shoveling were 11,500, the majority were lower back problems. There were, on average, 1647 deaths due to heart attacks. Given the fierceness of this year's storms I imagine we can up those figures by maybe 25%.
More statistics: only 15% of the Wikipedia contributors are women, this seems to be because young men are more likely to be computer geeks and the subjects are skewed towards areas and subjects that interest men more than women.
And another celestial statistic: So far 1235 planets in various solar systems have been defined as hospitable to life as we know it; as searches for such planets continue the numbers will certainly grow. So far, no communications from Out There have been received -- well, that's a matter of opinion because the UFO believers are many although we seem to be in a fairly quiet period just not, news-wise.
The US Government has issued a health statement asking Americans to eat less and exercise more. It's a gesture, there are no specifics attached to it. It sounds about as effective as grandmothers telling us to give up the four lettered words and always be polite to one another.
Here's an only-possible-in-Australia note: The Principality of Hutt River was created by Leonard Crasley 40 years ago. He is owner of a 18,500 acre farm. He was tired of paying taxes so seceded from Australia and became a Principality. Of course he's the prince. He issues his own money and requires visas of tourists wishing to five the 20-person town where they rarely stay over night because there are no motels/hotels, although among the tourists are many back packers who, possibly sleep under the stars. He pays no taxes, but he gets no benefits from Australian government either.
Lotteries in the US are a $70 billion industry. They have been around since early in our history. Lotteries were used in the initial building of both Yale and Harvard, as well as in funding the transcontinental railroads of the US. At present 43 states and all Canadian provinces have lotteries. The majority of the tickets are purchased by people in the lower 20% of the income scale in the US. Lotteries are often seen as a reverse tax -- because the people with the least pay the most. A Toronto mathematician/computer expert says the majority of the scratch-off cards have flawed programs and it's fairly easy to figure out which ones will have a pay off. Some Canadian lottery card printers have taken his warnings seriously and made changes. American lottery card printers have generally insisted their programs are too good to be cracked by a causal mathematician. Maybe ... maybe not. The Canadian guy has said even though he could crack the system the pay offs are not enough even to spend full time trying to live on the lottery; he does better at his current job, plus it's more interesting.
Simulcasts are wonderful 21st century inventions! Today I saw a performance from the wee Donmar Theatre in London with Sir Derek Jocobi playing King Lear -- directed by the Donmar's artistic director Michale Grandage [at right in above photo]. As TV hostess, Esther Freud said "tens and tens of thousands of people around the world watched the performance IN REAL TIME." Which means the 8 o'clock performance in London began at 2:00 here on the US East Coast.
One cannot just go to a simulcast of a Shakespearean play and expect to get the most our of the play. I was very remiss in not rereading the play in the last week. For most of the first act I was confused about who the various Dukes were -- there are so many in the royal plays! The sisters were clear enough, of course. In the second act I was and am still confused about when Lear actually died and what was fantasy and what real. I never thought there were fantasy scenes but in this production there were. I have to talk to someone with a better grasp of the play than I have after quite of few years of not having read it. I do not understand how people [and I think it's most theatre goers] who haven't very recently immersed themselves in the play can keep up with what's happening and who's who. I wonder what do most people get out of such an afternoon.
Intimate knoweldge of te play is important but the actors are so consummately fine in their roles it's possible to just admire their acting. Kent and Edmund, the fool, Edgar and, of course the sisters were always perfect. And Jacobi was marvelous at every step, in every mood and moment. Fortunately I think I can get some clarification tomorrow as I'm seeing someone who was also there and who, I think, is more deeply steeped in the play than I am.
There was a technological problem in the second act; they had said at the beginning this was the first simulcast from the Donmar's tiny theatre. I think they actually stopped the performance for a few minutes and then restarted a minute or so back. In this particular filming there were very few close ups, the video was less sophisticated than was the video of the Nevertheless, I could not have imagined fifty years ago when I used to spend Saturday afternoons listening to Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts that eventually both opera and theatre would be broadcast in video literally all over the world in real time. I know it's not magic but it certainly seems magical to me.
The news is full of the rioting in Egypt. As always Nicholas Kristoff, a NYTimes columnist, is paying attention to ordinary people. Today he writes of watching pro- and anti-government mobs facing off in the main square of Cairo, blood, nasty weapons, like straight razor, shouting all around. Kristoff tells of seeing two women, sisters, walk into the square. The angry mob on the anti-government side made a little space for them to advance toward the pro-government mob. No one touched them, shouting continued all around but the women walked together to the very middle of the square where they faced the pro-government mob. They seemed very ordinary, rather timid, very plain. They came face to face with some of the pro-government mob and stopped to talk in ordinary voices to some of the angry men who listened and did not touch them. After a while the pro-government mob moved away from the women who walked out of the square, apparently, thought Kristoff, the rioters wanted to hold onto their anger and to continue the violence against those on the other side.
Kristoff approached them, asked their names, and asked what they had said. They said they simply explained that the country needs democracy now, that it's been undemocratic much too long and people have suffered greatly. They said what they came to say, they were heard even if their words seemed to have no impact.
This scene is worthy of contemplation. A time comes when reason is not enough, a time comes when riled passions and the expression of anger is too overwhelming to be damped by rationality. At least the time has not come when calm can't happen, however briefly in however a small puddle in the ocean irrationally hyped angers. I'm grateful to Kristoff for writing about this tiny scene instead of using his pulpit for descriptions of slashings and beating and the insanity of pent up emotions once they have been unbottled.
I just want to point readers to the sidebar and the blog called Pure Land Mountain. Bill Bradley is a wonderful writer, his observations are always beautifully worded. His take on his bit of the world -- a mountainside in Japan -- is always insightful, witty and can be downright wise. Reading his blog is a habit I urge on anyone who likes good writing.
My addictions to blogs wax and wane, I've noticed. Lately I've been more often, than previously, attracted to Ronni Bennett's Time Goes By [also on the side bar]. The subject this week has been the things we older women have stopped doing -- like wearing high heels and nylons. She's talking about it today and many comments support her point of view. I too have given up much but I was wondering this morning as I folded laundry and thought of my utilitarian night clothes that it's not necessarily good when we give up at least a touch of glamor. Right now it's too cold to be impractical and wear silky pajamas as I used to do. But in the nice weather I had begun wearing oversize tee shirts instead of something prettier and sexier. True, there's no one I'm sharing my bed with and so no one to entice with what little glamor might remain. But one of the mottoes of women getting older is "I dress to please myself, not for fashion." Tee shirts are easy to wear and wash. But so are pretty little nightgowns. Something deeper is going on and I think I don't like it much. It's a matter of self-image, not just convenience. This is taking some pondering.
Two feet of snow! Is that clever or what? I'm a photo snatcher and I feel certain moral compunctions about it. This came from The Selvage Blog which got it from Two Beans Inc, another quilting blog. You see quilters are really a bunch of fun people and most have a great sense of humor. I love these feet.
I was thinking a bit about them this morning when I decided that the air was full enough of fluffy white stuff and it was accumulating quickly enough that maybe this would be a serious snow storm, in contrast to the piffling little accumulations we've had in the previous so-called blizzards. [We have our own weather here on Cape Cod that differs from the "main land"]. I thought of making bread, which, in fact I love to do and probably should have done, or going to the store before I got snowed in. I did the lazy thing and went to the store, lured there partly because Rachel had mentioned a sale on brownie mix. [So, that's my little guilty secret. But I haven't made the brownies yet.] I just wasn't in the baking mood today.
As I was brushing snow off my car -- we have a big lot, not a garage -- a man I've seen often but not chatted with before, was brushing off his van that was near by. In that hearty way men have of chatting, he called out, "Are we having fun?" I answered semi-ironically, "Oh, I just love snow." "We've had plenty," said he. I answered that we had but I have yet to see a good snowman this year -- which is true. We haven't had the good sticky snow of which snow men are build and in my various peregrinations around town I haven't seen a single snowman. Then I told him about the above two feet of snow. He liked it. I hope you like it too.
What would friendly strangers/neighbors talk about if we didn't have weather?
Yesterday was Franz Schubert's birthday. People don't usually name him along with Mozart and Beethoven -- and all the other greats before and after the period during which those three lived in Vienna. He was as talented as either but had his own distinct style. More romantic than Mozart, not as grand and deep as Beethoven. He lived only to his early 30 but must have done nothing but write music -- his output was as almost as prolific as Mozart's.
I heard his Trout Quintet just before I fell asleep last night -- so beautiful, so joyous. I love his 9th symphony almost as much as Beethoven's. Last spring I saw one of his rarely performed operas. The music was as heavenly as his lieder but the story was ridiculous and the staging and design equally ridiculous. Never mind. He apparently did nothing dramatic -- no heavy handed father, no mysterious death, no deafness or secret romance. He just wrote music and made so little money at it he had to go play at soirees to earn a bit. The world is a more beautiful place because of Franz Schubert.
The mid-70s are a surprise! Part of me remains in the 50s -- age, I mean, not decade of 20th century. It's a joy ride, new experiences land in my lap and I've become a better quilter, poet, writer than I expected. It's a rich life for a person never rich financially. Hey, this is what the mid-70s are like!