Sunday, June 16, 2013

1421, did the Chinese do it first

1421 by Gavin Menzies is a controversial book.  It reads entirely believably; he does not sound like a nutcase. The thesis is that the Chinese sent huge "treasure fleets" out to map the entire world in the years 1421-23 and, indeed, they did just that. Menzies offers ample evidence, including extant and very accurate maps.  This thesis made quite a splash several years ago when the book first came out. I remember articles it Nantional Geographic.

I didn't read the book until just now because it's very big but I am always curious about ideas that set the given  history on its heels. I am inclined to believe the Eurocentric view of history is flawed. The books, and a couple of subsequent books by Menzies have caused a lot of controversey and the popular opinion from what I gather looking at Google is that many commentators think he is flakey. The feats he ascribes to four Chinese admirals, each in charge of a huge fleet, become so encompassing that skepticism sets in.  Yet, his "evidence" seems convincing.  At this point in our political thinking we begrudge the Chinese superiority in almost anything.  (I personally despise many policies of the current leaders.)

I think Menzies' book is worth reading and pondering. Few of us have the historical background to make an informed judgement about the historical accuracy; but it sounds reasonable to me. He grasps at many incidental archeological tidbits and pulls them together to make his case--that is suspiciously like some of the  "far out" books I read in the '60s and '70s.  But I am convinced that much, much more is to be known about pre-modern civilizations. 

Only this week, I'm reading of a huge city in Cambodia now "discovered" because of laser mapping from helicopters.  Similar lost cities have been found in the Amazon and Central America.  Technology is beginning to eat away at the hubris of the colonial period that still is a part of European and American history. The Europeans did not come to a savage, uncivilized pair of continents and bring superior cultures. They came to plunder and pillage.  If the Chinese came out of curiosity and perhaps to set up colonies we should make a place for their feats in out history. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Queen Elizabeth II, aka Helen Mirran

Two sold out showing of the simulcast (or near-simultaneous) of Helen Mirran in yet another role as Queen Elizabeth II by the same writer, Peter Morgan.  She was The Queen in the movie a few years ago and now, again The Queen in the stage play, The Audience. The movie was the more successful, at least in America because we Americans don't have enough history of British prime ministers to get anything like all the references and political situations that were discussed although the writer tried to make them very straight forward and clear.  As expected Mirran was superb -- and the stage craft was wonderful (also as expected)-- amazingly quick costume changes-- often including wig changes. 

The casting of the various prime ministers was problemmatic for us with our stereotyped mental picture of Winston Churchill (the actor didn't resemble that near mythological figure at all) or of Margaret Thatcher who was so brilliantly played in the American bio-pic by Meryl Streep -- the actress seemed a giantress approriately dressed but looking nothing like Thatcher herself or Streep. The portrait of the queen was sympathetic, nuanced and believable -- the man ought to have that right and he was convincing.

In an intermision interview Morgan disappointed me. The dialog had to be entirely invented since the meetings were entirely private and no one spoke of what they discussed except when a few prime ministers wrote autobiographies and in those cases were circumspect. So Morgan invented all the dialog pure and simple. He had the historic facts right, he had the characters clear. When asked about how he wrote it he talked about truth and accuracy -- he hoped to portray the truth of the meetings by being accurate to the facts of the situation.  But he never came right out and said that writing is an act of the imagination and an art and that a writer with enough research and information, with understanding of human character can write imaginary conversations with the patina of truth --which the play had.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Generations of Women

One of my favorite photos is four generations of women which I have  turned into an art quilt - in fact, that art quilt also shows the fifth generation.  At the top you see me as  bundle-of-baby in my mother's lap at about 2 months, I guess.  Behind my mother is her mother -- who had a lifelong bonnet wearing habit, -- and her mother who I don't remember except for this photograph.  Lower down in the quilt is my mother, me and my oldest daugther, Leslie.  Leslie has chosen not to have children but all the women in the quilt  photos are first daughters.  I don't know if that has psychological significance. I tend to think it must.

In the contemporary photo, actually taken last night, I am obviously the gray haired one. In my lap is Stella who is almost six months old, along with her grandmother, Rachel, and mother, Cory, is behind us, the young very pretty one.  So we have a total of seven generations of women in these two photographs. I find that staggering.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Very Nice Surprise

I am susceptible to the stereotypes in the popular media although I think I'm on-to the shallowness and inaccuracy of them.  That's true for what skirt length is flattering and which hair-do is modern and what the car you drive says about you.  So I guess I had, on various levels, bought into the stereotypes about various ages.  I started this  blog to get over the "embarrasment" of being in the seventh decade of my life. To my surprise, as that decade has unfolded I've felt more and more open and, actually proud, of being "in my seventies."

So, today I'm 75 and I'm surprised.  I don't feel much older than I did ten years ago.  I look somewhat older, but not a lot.  And while we're assessing, I've gained about 20 pounds which I alternately despise and say, "what the hell?" about. I look around and most women have lost most of their waistlines on the way to seventy. There's a little more difficulty climbing hills and stairs - breath rather than muscle. That's a fair assessment. Physical appearance is important to me as it is to most women, especially those who did not feel "pretty" back at 12 of 13 when we were forming our egos.  That insecurity doesn't disappear even after most of a lifetime of actually looking pretty darned good. 

But this decade has brought so much else to fruition,  the sense of who I always wanted to be, the feeling that I've finally made up for the inadequacy of my education, the ripening of self-confidence in many areas, including making mistakes and not feeling embarrassed by them.  I have strong feelings about words -- the more so as I've been writing more poetry -- and I still cannot dispel the nastiness of the word "crone" and will not accept that as a part of my definition. After a period of reading the "aging" self-help, rah-rah, books I've grown tired of all that boosterism and want only to  live my days as they offer themselves. I have so many interests that I have no "time to kill" even if I indulge myself not infrequently with a half hour over a Starbucks coffee just reading a magazine -- often at Barnes & Noble where I can fill the time with eye candy and not feel obliged to purchase it.

I ramble, this is not a well formed essay about what it means to have a 75th birthday, to be in good physical health, involved in a community, embraced by family and working toward small and large goals of artistic achievement.  It's a good thing and I would wish it for anyone I know.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Creating a habit

I've read that it takes a month to create a new habit. And only three or four days to erase it.  I don't know if that's true.  But I'm trying to create a new habit that I'd like to have all summer and then find an alternate when autumn comes. 

This dying tree is at the end of  the conservation area beach where I like to walk in the summer, especially early in the morning --  about 8 am. The tree is at the end of the beach which is a mile from the entry point -- very nice walk on a nice day such as today was.  Once this tree had leaves but two years with hurricanes have torn out the earth into which most of the roots had sunk and from which it was getting it's nourishment.  Now the beach and its sand has advanced about three feet and the tree is, as far as I can see, dead. But people festoon it with broken shells -- I've added a few too.  (At the bottom is a circlet of horseshoe crab shells -- washed away months ago.) For the last three years I have I have gone to this beach s early as I could managed and usually walked this far and back, a nice two miles. This habit is fairly well formed. It's quite, peaceful and, that early, I often feel I have the beach almost to myself- at least for the first half hour.

The new habit?  I did it today: walked to the tree, stopped and did 15 or 20 minutes of tai chi with a couple of yoga stretches at the end for good measure. That early this end of the beach is private.  I had a strong need for privacy when practicing yoga or tai chi. I don't really like classes --although I'm taking tai chi classes in order to learn the routine. I don't want to seem to be showing off and I don't want to feel I am being watched. I want to breathe and move and pay attention to nothing but what my body is doing.  If I am in a beautiful place with warm sun and fresh air off the water and the quiet sounds of tide and a few birds, so much the better. But I don't want other humans sharing this time with me.  A man walked by as I was in the middle of the routine but I don't think he watched me; as far as I could tell, he plodded along at his slow jog, minding his own exercise and gave me the privacy I felt I needed.

The walk is wonderful, the peace of the tide is just right.  If I can get myself out of the house between 7:00 and 8:00 in the morning I should have the privacy I require, perhaps not on the busiest tourist weekends. Except the tourists, in the past, have settled themselves near the walkways to the beach and do not walk out to the end very often.  I hope this can be a routine from now through the early part of September at least.  It's not impossible later on, but hurricane season brings nasty rain and chilly winds.  Then I'll have to find a different routine, probably just indoors at home. I hope for a really nice summer. I never imagined that at this age, I would find myself  with a beach to walk and a festooned "shell tree" to watch my exercises.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Rhodie time

Our flowers here on Cape Cod march through the seasons.  Right now it's rhododendrum times everywhere, great masses of them, sometimes seeming to be random like these at the border of my apartment complex, mixed in with assorted trees, stones and twigs.  They serve, to a small extent, as a sound baffle too.  Other bushes against the sides of the building seem to have been planned but these look a if they've been here since before the building was built and simply were left.  Good!

Driving around it seems nearly every home home has a few rhodies.  But then, there were two weeks in April when it seemed every home was several forsythia bushes -- and all in glorious yellow bloom.  Then came the flowering trees, including, lastly lilacs.  I know that in a few weeks the rhodies will be all green leaves and the hydrangeas will be everywhere.  Roses are starting to bloom -- the rugosa at the beaches are now starting their pink and white show.  I even saw a round little patch of mini dandelions in the lawn today and thought "here today, mown tomorrow."  Should I try to think of a poem on that theme/?