Sunday, May 29, 2011

I love French movies

This week I saw two French movies in the same day. I'm not a huge movie buff but the opportunity was irresistible. In the afternoon I saw Queen to Play [Joypuose, in French]. An ordinary maid at a hotel sees a couple playing chess, the scene suggests some romance her life lacks although she's happily married and has a teenage daughter. She learns to play chess, first electronically and then asking an ex-pat MD for whom she cleans house, to teach her. She becomes addicted to the game and has a true aptitude for it. The story's complications are of a quiet sort, the movie has great serenity as we watch chess games or see her bicycling to her jobs. Eventually she enters a local tournament and wins, the negatives her family have felt are forgotten as they share her success. This is not a dramatic story that would appeal to American film makers, there's not even a sex scene, not even the expected romance with the doctor. It's about a woman discovering a talent and expressing herself -- and being supported in that effort. The movie had many long quiet moments, the sort of scenes that get cut in American movies because nothing dramatic is happening. I loved it. And, oh, yes, Kevin Kline, is the doctor and speaks French.

In the evening Rachel and I went to see Of Gods and Men, which has won many accolades at festivals and deserves all of them. Based on the true story of eight Trappist monks in a long established monastery in Algiers in 1995 when Islamic fundamentalists were terrorizing small villages, especially where there were Christians. The monks must decide whether to flee -- as an official tells them to do -- or stay, as the villages ask them to do. They are all at least middle aged, some elderly. We see their soul searching, we see an interaction with the terrorists what averts disaster. And near the end, when they have chosen to stay knowing it may well mean death, we watch for about five minutes as they sit around a table after dinner drinking tiny glasses of wine and listening to music from Swan Lake -- the camera goes from face to face, a few times, as a variety of emotions cross each face. A beautiful scene, an acting tour de force, and utterly unforgettable. This movie also has long periods of quiet, repeated scenes of singing and prayer in chapel. The ending was painful but beautifully done.

These movies are not "entertainment" or "diversion". They are works of art that give the viewer insights into how other people think and feel and live. Seeing this kind of movie is an enriching as reading a good book. By the end of that day I was almost overwhelmed with scenes and feelings. It was hard to fall asleep and that was exactly as it should be.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Dale Chihuly, glass artist

The Dale Chihuly glass art show at the Fine Arts Museum in Boston has been very popular so son-in-law Patrick, who is a glass artisan, [see his work here] and daughter Rachel and I went up to Boston Thursday afternoon to see it. The pieces are enormous and spectacular, they were given sufficient space to be seen to advantage. Chihuly who formerly blew glass had a couple of physical accidents so that now he works with a group of apprentices who help fashion the creations he designs. There are blown glass pieces but most are floral or biological forms, mostly on a very grand scale. At the edge of the restaurant area which is a floor above the exhibit, is a chartreuse "plant" or tree, cactus-like although unlike any actual cactus, a construction of glass spikes about 20 feet tall. The reed-like sculpture on birch logs in the above photograph reminded me also of menorah candles although there are many more of them.

There was a ceiling crowded with flower and leaf forms with a few barely visible mermaid or cherubic figures amongst them. It was called The Persian ceiling, presumably because it reminds one of the mosaic work in the domes of mosques. And there was the Milleforra Garden, a very large arrangement of plant forms which I suddenly realized reminded me of Dr. Seuss drawings -- the same whimsical almost human shapes in the plants and flowers.

In the room with "chandeliers" this blue one was my favorite, hanging down from the ceiling at least ten feet. None of the chandeliers had light inside, the carefully arranged lights that fall on and through the glass made them glow and sparkle. Those are only the rooms that come to mind immediately. The glass dazzled and amazed. Chihuly lives in the Northwest and a museum of his work is being build in the Seattle area. Just getting there to see the exhibit was worth the frustration of heavy traffic, brought to a crawl a couple of times by police at minor accident sites.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Nature of Nature

I grew up at the edge of tornado country. In rural Southern Indiana most springs small tornados touched down somewhere within easy driving distance so that I remember Sunday drives to see areas of damage, in most cases downed threes and a few roofs without their shingles. My impression was that tornadoes were a kind of natural entertainment. In something of that attitude I have been following the posts of a tornado watcher -- see my side bar -- and feeling amazed at the odd beauty of cloud formations and funnels those rather foolish hobbyists photograph.

The last few weeks, and especially the last couple of days, I've realized that tornadoes are definitely anything but entertainment. The devastation in various towns and cities, and now in Joplin, Missouri is truly terrifying. The terror at both the destructive power and the unpredictability, the suddenness of these occurrences. Most of the time we go about our lives grumbling at the inconvenience of a rainy day when we wanted to be outside or the discomfort of winter cold and snow removal. We expect our homes which are often expensive and much loved by us, to shelter us from the majority of physical discomforts nature can bring. When a home -- even a six story hospital -- can be destroyed in a matter of minutes we have to wake up and consider that nature cannot be shut out easily. Being forced out of our complacency is a difficult and uncomfortable thing but sometimes broadening our point of view is a balance we need in order to think about what is truly important and about ourselves as small beings in a great web of nature which can be both wonderfully benign and delightful or suddenly terrifying and able to overpower all of our constructions.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Still here again

I had a great-grandfather who didn't do much in his final years except read the Bible and calculate which would end first, the world or himself. Probably he hoped they would be simultaneous but it didn't work out that way. He lived through his first two doom days, one in the 1930s and one in the 1940s [if I am to believe his daughter who was my grandmother]. But he didn't live to see that his third prediction, in the '50s also didn't come true. As I write I remember a picture of the gaunt cheeked, white mustachio-ed farmer in his overalls. I don't actually remember him. Only the members of his church and a few neighbors knew of his predictions.

Of course, I think of him when I read predictions like the most recent that said the world was ending yesterday. A wonderful riff on the non-event has been posted by Bob Bradly of PureLandMountain blog which can be clicked in my sidebar to your right. Bob has a way with words and ideas which is why I've been reading his blog for quite some time. I recommend you treat yourself with a quick click.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Babuskas of Chernobyl

A fascinating article that I did not expect to find in More Magazine about the babuskas in the Chernobyl area has me wondering about many things. [The picture above is not from the article which has some wonderful pictures of these elderly [in their 70s and 80s] women. Several women returned to their homes in the forbidden area despite having been made aware of the extent of the radiation and most having been told they would be dead within a couple of years. They have been there for some 25 years. They eat food grown in the radioactive soil, they drink milk from cows who eat the radioactive grass and eat the flesh of chickens, deer, rabbits and other animals who roam freely in the area. They are in the homes that mean everything to them. Their husbands, sons and other relatives have mostly died or rarely return. Some women have thyroid cancer but most die of strokes, just as do people in other areas.

The article amazes me. I read it thinking of Japan where a similar disaster has occurred, and thinking of the many nuclear power plants in the US that have finally revealed their own potential weaknesses. I think of the many things we fear to eat, hysterias brought on by news media like the recent fears of reusing plastic bottles water is sold in. And I wonder what do we know about any of this? Our ignorance at least equals, if not greatly outweighs, what we actually know about dangers.

The article in the April issue of More magazine [click link above to read it] seems to me highly unusual for a lifestyle magazine. The writers wisely tell us what they found and do not pose the questions that leap to my mind. These old women seem to be fearless, they also seem content although they have suffered the loss of family and friends, although they live as exiles in the homes that have been the center of their adult lives. What is the secret of their longevity and of their apparent contentment? How many other people [perhaps many Japanese in the near future] are going to have to deal with the same dilemmas? What lessons can we learn about living a meaningful life?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Animal Farm

After our exploration of the Edward Gorey house, we stopped not far away at a small Audubon nature area. The sun was trying to come out and we knew a short walk through a butterfly meadow [no butterflies yet] and a woods that came out at the animal shelters. These are "working animals"-- sheep and goats that are allowed to wander the lawns of the director's house [the area was a private estate that was willed to Audubon Society] where they maintain the lawn by grazing on the grass.

L. gave me a new camera for my upcoming birthday/mother's day just past but I had forgotten to bring it so she and I went back the next morning because I had fallen for Tom the turkey and was pretty well smitten with the haughty ram as well. White turkeys are handsome birds. This one was a true show off who puffed up to become a huge snowball with that incongruous red wattle and his tiny eye daring one to come near and touch him. The first time I visited this place I also saw some fat, happy pigs noisily rooting into a briar patch doing what pigs do while helping clear the land for a future organic garden which is now staked out and ready for roto-tilling.

Later in the summer this Audubon center will have weekend farmer's markets. Probably there will be goat cheese for sale but, I think, probably not fresh turkeys.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Three Tall Women, Edward Albee

My daughters and I went to a local production of Edward Albee's play, Three Tall Women lat night given by the Eventide Theatre Company in Dennis, Mass. Frankly, I did not expect much having seen some painfully bad productions locally [not by this company]. And I had seen the off-Broadway original production with Marian Seldes in the main role of the old querulous old lady and could anyone in Cape Cod equal her? Well, yes and no. Seldes was more subtle but Elizabeth Liuzzi, a veteran actor, was very good in the role -- to my great delight. Finding the role of an older woman played with wit and intelligence by an older actress is very rare in community theatre. What a treat!

No, this was not an off-Broadway quality production but it was entirely worth seeing and done with both intelligent acting [by all three women] and generally good direction. I was very sad that the audience was small; finding an audience is a problem for all serious theatre, including off-Broadway and that's sad. I am afraid serious drama has fallen on very hard times -- a great loss to the audience
I came away with the same reaction as I did those several years ago: feeling Albee used too many cliches about a '50s marriage, and has too dour an attitude about life in general and married life specifically. Yes, couples marry and stay married for superficial reasons and there is a fair amount of adultery but we know that. What is best about the play is not what he is trying to say about women or about life in the mid-1900s, but his consumate stage craft. The dialogue is always fascinating and the structure of the play is interestingly constructed.

Friday, May 13, 2011

From One Day to the Next

Something was happening with Blogger yesterday so the post that had the above picture has disappeared. That gives me a chance to show how changeable spring can be here -- and possibly in many other places as well. The above photo was Wednesday at Salt Pond at the National Seashore. It is beautiful even though the day was very gray, a drizzly rain was falling and a chilly, blustery wind made us unhappy. That was about 11:30 in the morning. By midafternoon when my daughters and I had explored a few galleries in Orleans and had lunch at a charming little shop -- a different delicious soup chosen by each of us, and a big shared muffin called a "Dirt Bomb" -- the sun came out so we had a beautiful drive home through residential areas with flowers glorifying more fine homes than seem possible in one small place. [Sometimes the apparent affluence of this area makes me sad a I think about many other parts of the world I have seen, some of the in the United States.]

Yesterday was gray and blustery all day, but it did not rain. A walk in the woods surrounding another pone was pleasant. Then we woke up this morning to a cloudless sky of perfect blue and a mild, warmer breeze.
L. and I had an early walk on our favorite nature reserve beach with only a couple of people in sight. We went out early for fear the weather would change. But when it had not changed by 10:30 we returned to sit in the somewhat sheltered protection of a dune and read for a couple of hours. The second picture is what today looks like.

This happens, especially in the spring, around here. We can only guess what tomorrow will be like -- we'll take as much advantage of it as we can.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Those words that one is asked to type to prove he's not a spam machine when leaving comments on other people's blogs have a name. I've heard it but I can't remember it. Anyway I once made a list of ones and thought I'd attempt a Jabberwocky-type poem or piece of writing using them because some are so nearly like real words that they would seem merely typos until the reader caught on that no one could be as bad a typist as the piece would turn out to be. The idea still appeals to me but for the most part I actually have things to say that I'd rather use my time writing.

I've just left a comment on a blog and the word that came up to type was a real word, grave. I know those configurations are generated by computer without what we call human intelligence creating or monitoring them. So I assume, just as a chimpanzee at a typewriter, r computer, might actually write a few words or even a sentence that makes sense [but never a work to rival Shakespeare, or even the more monosyllabic pages of Gertrude Stein] once in a while a bot will produce a real word -- a very serious one in this case.

Friday, May 6, 2011

On the Beach

Cerulean was the word for the sky this morning, without a cloud in it. The breeze was cool-ish but pleasantly so. I went out early to walk the two mile circuit of Long Beach. The ebb tide was at its most distant so the beach was wide. As I walked along the inlet side I was alone until I noticed someone sitting at on one of the private piers. When I got closer I saw it was a woman who had her back to me. Two little white dogs were sitting quietly near her. I approached and the poodle barked sharply. She was deep into a cell phone conversation although she took a moment to say to the dog, "Alfie!" He stopped barking and I walked on listening to some of the birds. The nesting areas have been marked off as they are each spring. They are probably sitting on their nests, as only a few songs were heard and none were flying around to distract me from their nestlings.

At the far corner of the spit of land I saw a man fishing a little distance out and then I saw a rowboat pulled upon the sand and held by an anchor dug into the higher sand. There were no oars as far as I could see. I saw barefoot prints going into the scrub of marsh grass. The sea has changed the end of the spit over the winter, carrying off some of the battered low shrubs after tearing away the sand they were growing in. Further around, where the shrubs remain, on the ocean side, but in a spot that was protected from the breeze, sat a man in a half lotus position, meditating. He wore no shirt, he was possibly 60 or 65, had a paunchy belly and jowly face with a bristly white mustache and thinning white hair on his head. His eyes were peacefully closed and his hands clasped each other loosely in his lap. I don't believe he saw me, some six feet away. I was nearly abreast his place before I saw him because he was quite near the shrubs. So I did not stop to stare in case some sense would tell him a person was disturbing his solitude. I just walked on down the ocean side watching the gulls, mostly floating a short distance out, one with a crab in its mouth walked up the beach away from me.

I thought the three of us in the one area each stood for something very 21st century-ish. Three uses for a piece of nature, three different ways of living that one beautiful morning.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thousands, Millions,

"I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." -- Martin Luther King Jr.

I am saddened by the public orgy of rejoicing.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

No TV -- Hurray

I am SO glad I don't have a TV. Watching people gloat about a death reminds me of the crowds watching the guillotine, the crowds who went to witch burnings and the ghastly kinds of killings [drawn and quarter-ing] and so on that are among the lowest points of human history. Public killings are thought to be a thing of the past and there are various headlines about the lethal dose injections, and so on as if we have some sense of humanity. But we do not. This revelry, this insane rejoicing over Bin Laden's death turns my stomach. At least I don't have it in my face every time I turn on the tube. No tube! Hurray.

As a species we have been what we call "civilized" only a few thousand years compared to a few million years we were supposedly no better than animals and uncivilized. Whatever we've accomplished in technology we haven't come very far morally.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Return to the Past

I took a nostalgia trip in the afternoon as I wrote some 1200 words about the first house I remember, which is the house I was born in and lived in until I was 10. The 1940s was a world only we rural born and bred people remember: horses pulling plows, the coming of electricity and telephone and tractor. I remember that little house with great vividness so I had a lot to say and will probably add yet more details when I go over it again. My visual memories were not mixed with television images. Only a few movies, only a few books dilute the pictures of my every day world.

At about 5:30 as I was almost done cooking dinner the electricity went off in this apartment complex -- indeed, I soon found out, in a 2 or 3 block area. "It's being worked on" I was told and expected the radio to remind me with music when that happened as I ate dinner. I was mindful not to open the refrigerator, I realized I couldn't reheat my coffee in the microwave. Outages rarely last an hour, especially when it's a sunny day with a gusty but not vicious wind to down a tree on the lines. For a reason I have not yet heard, that outage lasted until 12:30 -- about 7 hours. During the whole time I trusted implicitly that "They" would fix it. My world is cared for by people I don't know whose job it is to keep the infrastructure working. I have never experienced something like the awful tornadoes of this past week nor the conditions of war -- major catastrophies that interrupt life in serious ways.

At first it didn't interrupt me much. I had dinner, I talked with a few of my neighbors, I sat down and read in the still strong evening light. But it got dusky and then dark. I could see at a diagonal across the road the little strip mall had electricity. As it became too dark to read comfortably, I lit a couple of candles and did some cutting of quilting pieces. That little job done, it was still only 8:00 and I did not want to go to sleep, in fact, I knew I wouldn't go to sleep that early. Then I remembered purchasing a large print Ian McEwan novel at a book sale -- not because I need the large print but because I wanted to read it. In the dimness of candlelight the large print was easy on my aging eyes so I read until I was sleepy.

I left my beside lamp "on" so it would wake me when the electricity came on -- and it did. I had had plenty of time to think about my parents living a third of their lives without electricity, using kerosene lamps at night, briefly in the summer, long hours in the winter. Having, those first ten years, no refrigerator, no electric stove, no electric light out in the barn or on tall flood lights as they would later that illuminated the drives between house and barn. So many other things that simply were not invented back then - which was not so very, very long ago -- after all it was in my lifetime. While I admit I've hit the big 7-0, I often look at the progress of history from early civilizations to today - all without electricity until just a few years before I was born. Even old eyes adjust somewhat to candle light, it's harder to adjust our habits.