Thursday, May 29, 2014

short -- flip-flop -- rain coat, sweater?

One doesn't know what to expect day to day.  Wednesday was "summer", yesterday could have been March, rain, chilly wind.  Flip-flops, not only on my feet, but a word for the weather day to day. Again the sun is bright, again. Last evening when I settled down to read I wrapped myself in a warm throw.

We have to get used to the changes, day to day, year to year, all over the Earth. We are at the lucky (a questionable word) beginning of it, our great-grandchildren will have much worse to contend with, just what ...?  I don't really want to think about it. This is going to be one very, very difficult century.  The previous century was difficult and very horrible -- one war and then another and another and worse weapons and so on and so on. I am not a Cassandra and cannot see the specifics ahead but I read enough to know that it is not good.

Today I read a headline, "The Word is Eating Itself to Death." The "epidemic" of obesity is astonishing and I was astonished to read that England is the fattest country in the world. American is not far behind. Strangely the traditionally very poor and undernourished India is up there in the highest bracket. China is not far behind.  All the rest of the world is literally weighing in. We eat too much and too much of it is in the form of bad calories, fat and sugar.  And fat brings disease, diabetes, heart disease, pancreatic cancer, also join problems from having to bear all that extra weight.  It goes on and one. It's BAD.  That is only one of many the problems.  

A very large friend of mine needed a ride the other day.  She did not put on the seat belt -- she never does, it's uncomfortable for her -- but the car's warning keep ringing until finally she did put on the seat belt.  I'm sure many other overweight  people don't use seatbelats -- they too will be in auto accidents... one problem leads to another.

I could ramble on and on about the problems we as the population of the USA or of "first countries" or of the troubled planet face. The problems are overwhelming ... as for me, this morning at the end of May, the sun is shining and I will put on my flipflops and go walk on the beautiful beach and breathe deeply of the relatively fresh and clean air from the ocean and turn my thoughts to smaller concerns.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Watching the Woods Awake

Yesterday there was rain all morning but a lovely afternoon, although a bit chillier than I wanted for a walk on the beach.  So I went to Hathaway's Pond and took my camera.  Few people were around, a kayaker, a fisherman who had caught an 8 or 9 inch fish, a woman with her beautiful Irish setter. Peacefully quiet as I expected. 

I watched for signs that spring was returning to this wooded area that still clearly showed the difficult winter that we had -- trees down, limbs broken, long young trees leaning into their neighbor's arms.   The first picture seems to me to have caught some of what I hoped to see.  A weathered older tree -- not very big around but obviously visited with invaders and weather worn, with new shoots in bright green, deepening from the yellow awaiting more clorophyl.

Then I noticed the dead fir tree beside the pond, it will never be green again, but the lichen (if that's what it is) has seemed to frost the limbs with white.  They are still a graceful vision against the clean blue of the pond. The breeze that lightly rippled the water was not strong enough to reach inside the  woods where I walked. The pond, perhaps, is reflecting some of the intense blue of the sky that had appeared after the mornings rain clouds swept away. 

Since it was afternoon the birds were almost all quiet. In fact the whole wooded trail was quiet, dappled with sun through the still sparse leaves. The road not far away was lightly trafficed so I heard almost no motor sounds.  

A lovely reflective walk, less than an hour even though I walked slowly and stopped now and then to look at how the trail and it's offshoot trails looked inviting and serene on such a quiet day.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Peabody Essex Museum

This imposing facade is a relatively new addition to the 1879 Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.  Tuesday was a very overcast gray day when the sky and the grayed concrete of the facade met so it did not seem quite so ostentatious.  The space inside is welcoming in the open and somewhat grand way modern museums have these days.

The original museum is red brick and a fine old fashioned museum.  It was built to celebrate the shipping history of Salem which was so important that the second trading ship to enter Canton harbor after China was opened to trade was from Salem. Thereafter trade flowed in both directions and America developed a taste for "china" which is to say porcelain. The museum has fine displays of the trade ware, as well as how it was used in American homes.

A newer addition to the museum collection is a complete Chinese merchant's home that was dismantled and reconstructed here; it was filled with the furniture and textiles appropriate to the original family (some of whom came to the opening here).

The museum has serendipitously added some modern art and artifacts among the older displays and the new section contains exhibits that are often interactive, especially to appeal to younger people's curiosity and ways of learning.  My trip there with a group of the Academy for Lifelong Learning was  a pleasant surprise, as I expected the ponderousness of a older museum.  I was sorry the weather was unpleasant and that there was not much time, in any case, for exploring Salem a bit.  It will be worth a visit in better weather.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Spring .. for a while

It's walking barefoot on the beach time ... today.  For the past three days it's been real, beautiful spring, up to 75 today.  Wonderful.  The prediction is for a high of 55 tomorrow.  That would not be an unusual fluctuation.  One must enjoy the wonderful days because spring is a fickle season here.  The leaves are popping out on the trees. Rachel and I stopped at the excellent gelato place just off Main Street yesterday.  We had celebrated mother's day on Saturday but we took an uncharacteristic stroll on Main Street, noting that surely not all the people eating at sidewalk cafe tables are locals.  The invasion of the tourists must have begun. We browsed some favorite stores and I ventured into that den of temptation that I try to stay away from: Tim's Used Books. It's where I can find all kinds of things I didn't know existed but suddenly want to read. I came home with three, which was serious self-discipline. I have my annual Mother's Day gift -- pots of bright pink geranimums for the two holders on my mini patio.  Also I have a table and chair there, so I'm all set for late afternoon, early evening -- or any time -- reading.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Cenorentola, (aka) Cinderella,

This spring did not bring wonderful simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera for me to see. In fact, I saw only the first act of Rusalka by Dvorak and left bored. I'm truly sorry I missed Prince Igor because of some  scheduling problem.  Yesterday I went to Rossini's Cenorentola, which is his retelling of Cinderella -- much changed, and not for the better.

I cannot understand the popularity of the slow, repetitive, opera. Yes, it has some nice bel canto arias and Joyce DeDonato was very fine and so was Juan Diego Flores.  But the Rossini music sounds like all other Rossini music, repeated and  repeated. The man had only a few tunes in him and a few musical tricks.  He knew it. He was a great hit, wrote himself out and took early retirement on his earnings. Good for him - he could have retired sooner and the opera world would be no worse for it.  I believe The Barber of Seville is THE best comic opera, the story is told  concisely with much confusion  included and wonderful arias for every character. Cenorentola was anything but concise and the design, sort of 1920s with the male chorus all like London bankers made next to no sense.  The comic roles were so overblown I wondered if the sisters and the assinine father were actually having fun being so extreme. A three-legged sofa became a lame joke very quickly.  Our Cinderella's costumes were all terrible except her housemaid's dress.  In short I'm sorry I went. 

Their preview of next season sounds better.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Tai chi easy (trademarked)

I discovered tai chi easy (with a trademark symbol) 18 months ago.  I decided I had flunked regular tai chi in classes at a senior center.  The instructor was good at tai chi but not very good at teaching. My feet did not want to work in rhythm with my arms; I was very frustrated.  (I've never had dance lessons and danced very, very little anytime in my life so my feet want to say put.) The classes came at fee, not a large one but I wasn't getting my money's worth.

Then I discovered the free weekly session in Tai Chi Easy taught by a psychologist at the community college. Just right for me. The feet stay planted. As I tell others, it's mainly waving the arms around. That's not really true. It is mostly arm movements but they are to be accompanied by rhythmic deep breathing, good posture and focus at all times. The latter three elements are deeply satisfying because they were crucial to the yoga I have done since I was pushing 30 and knew I needed to do something physical. 

Whereas the regular tai chi has "forms" to learn that are very beautiful to watch, I was not about to learn them with my leaden feet. Tai chi easy is a simple series of movements, about 15 different ones (I haven't counted).  It took most of the first year of classes (only on the college schedule, none during the summer) for me to learn the  progression and be able to practice a nice flowing set. I have learned although I always think I've left out something or changed the order a little. But not to worry, it's okay.

I thought last summer I would practice tai chi during my beach walks but I was not certain enough of the sequence and felt self-conscious. Now I am certain enough and this early in the season I have the beach to myself. It's lovely to stand at the margin of sand and dune grass, facing the calm bay with it's lapping tide and very distantly on the horizon maybe a black shape or two that are boats near Martha's Vineyard. The air is fresh, the lapping waves are quiet, nothing disturbs my concentration. The deep breaths are wonderful. I plan to do this every day that the weather allows. By the time the beach is busier with sunbathers and tourists, I will have lost all self-consciousness ... I think.

A couple of friends have been taking the class with me the last couple of months. We plan to meet during the summer about once a week, go to a beach near where one lives and do the routine. We have talked about taking a lunch and having a picnic after ... we'll see if that works out. I like the very early morning and, as the weather gets warmer the hour will get earlier.  I love yoga but some of the positions are too demanding for my replaced hip. However I include a few yoga asanas with my tai chi. It may not be the trademarked form, but what works for me is simply what works for me.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Reifenstahl

Many people do not know who Leni Reifennstahl was.  She was probably the most innovative film maker of the first half of the 20th century, and probably the most reviled (unjustly, I think) film maker of the second half of the 20th century.  Before she was a film maker, she was a dancer, an actress and an jaw droppingly brave mountain climber.  She acted in a very early movie climbing pinnacles in the Dolomites barefooted, wearing a dress, with no rope.  I find that unbelievable but it's on film. Today we would know it was  special effects; there were no special effects in the early 1930s.

I saw the 3-1/2 hour documentary, The Wonderful, Horrible Life...  Friday and I may never get over it.  She became interested in film making, and got a chance to show her stuff during the early Hitler years when 90% of Germany was falling in love with the man who would pull them out of the post-WWI economic slump and (said he) bring them peace.  She was asked to make a film about big gatherings at Nuremberg. She didn't want to but she was convinced to spend five days filming, and could use every kind of technique she could imagine.  She was challenged and she was inspired by hope for Germany.  She filmed for five days and edited for five months. SHE did all her own editing, making an art film, modeling it on the structure symphonic music. The film became Triumph of the Will which won many awards and is today still considered the unequal propaganda film of all time. I saw it ten days ago and was stunned by its power even though I found Hitler utterly hateful as he made his impassioned speeches. After that she was asked to film the 1938 Olympics in Berlin.  She trained a cadre of cameramen, she used techniques never before imagined. Again she edited it herself -- for two years. She concentrated on the perfection of athletic achievement as did the Greeks. Olympia (I saw it two years ago) has marvelously beautiful scenes of accomplishment.

Soon the war started, Reifenstahl tried to become an actress in Hollywood but her rival, Marlene Deitrich out did her.  So she escaped the war in Bavaria where she spent years trying to make an opera movie starring herself. The biographical film was made up of clips from her work and long, inteviews, mostly done when she was in her 80s.  By that time she had lived through the "horrible" part of the title: being questioned at the Nuremberg trials since she had certainly helped Hitler's rise.  In the interviews she talked with pride and much animation about her film making. It's clear she was an enormously talented creative person.  Perhaps she equivocated about her early involvement with Hitler and Goebbels, but she never joined the party, insulated herself against most of the war and did not become disillusioned until she finally discovered all that she had managed not to know. She could not work and was broadly vilified for many years.

At last she pulled herself together and went to Africa where she lived with two different Nubian tribes, took still photos and filmed. That lead to a book of amazing photographs but she never made her many films into one documentary. Then she met a man named Horst, 30 or 40 years her junior who became her companion and cameraman and they began to explore and film underwater. She was scuba diving (and petting a giant sting ray) in her 90s and glowing with excitement about it.

I have never heard a more articulate interviewee or seen a more amazing woman on film.  I do not think the people who insist she was evil for making "Triumph" have any conception of what it is to be  an artist given complete freedom to create. She truly believed in the German people and that Hitler would be their savior at that time. In retrospect we cannot fault her for that belief or for doing her very best to create a paeon to the idea she thought was being put forth -- that she did it so brilliantly is not evil, reprehensible or hellish -- it is amazing and beautiful no matter that it's use was perverted to an end she could foresee.  I have never seen a film about a woman who lived such a brilliantly creative life and seemed to enjoy it so very much despite the "horrible" portion and the pain it brought.