Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pleasure of Foreign Films

I rarely got to American films, and when I do they are usually not the ones shown in the big cineplexes but the smaller ones shown in an art cinema that is a couple of towns away from me.  I enjoy films that have something to say and I do not enjoy films that depend on special effects. Mostly I enjoy foreign films and I have the pleasure of attending a film series at Cape Cod Community College which is not actually a course but a kind of gift to the community.  Every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30, in their largest lecture hall they show a foreign film. Often they are ones that have won a Best Foreign Film Oscar.  Many are many years old. They are shown throughout the fall and spring semesters, for fourtreen weeks. 

During the last three weeks I've seen the wonderful series Blue, White and Red which were filmed in 1994. They are a sort of trilogy but the stories are each different and each in a different country.  The director has the difficult to spell and pronounce name, Krzysztof Kieslowski -- obviously Polish. These are three of the most satisfying films I've ever seen because the stories are complex, the people are good although troubled.  Blue was the first about a woman whose composer husband has died and left an important commission unfinished. She is devastated by her loss but others know she has the ability to finish the composition. This movie takes place in Paris, the actress is the beautiful Juliette Binoche. The story has layers of complication I have not gone into.

The second, White, takes place mainly in Poland as a man whose wife has left him returns from Paris where they lived to the hair dressing business he and his brother shared.  He has found a Polish friend who helps him becomes rich (through some shady dealings) and he eventually devises a way to entice his bride back to him. This film has the most humor of the three. I think the Polish people tend to make fun of themselves the way others seem to do.

The third film which I saw yesterday and consider the best of the three takes place in Switzerland  as a model hits a dog that is in the street, delivers the dog to it's owner, a retired and dour judge who is deeply depressed.  The model befriends him while trying to live her not very successful life. The story is more complex than that sounds because each is a fascinating character.

If these sound like stories that lack the usual excitement and fast paced drama of American movies that is exactly their appeal to me. I believe the three can be purchased from Amazon and possibly can be seen on Netflix. The older I become the more I feel that I cannot waste my time simply being entertained by movies or books.  (I have chosen not to have a TV since 1989 -- yes! -- and I miss it very little.) For me stories -- in literature and movies and drama are wonderful and exciting, but only the ones that actually have something to say.  That are well done.  I am very choosy about how I spend my time.  I think that is an important part of staying interested and alive as one ages. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Our hearts

Here's a picture of what your heart doesn't really look like - it's a (probably) plasltic model but it gives you an idea.  Your actual heart could be held in your hand. It's  larger than a big apple and smaller than mango -- and messy, soft, wet and attached to arteries.  I hope never to see my actual heart.  I think most people feel the same.

When she was younger than I now am, my mother had a very major heart attack. The doctors and nurses sent us home from the hospital saying she would not wake up and they'd let us know when she was gone. They didn't.  She revived, had triple by-pass surgery and lived another seven years. Her recovery was difficult and lengthy. Of course, I think about that often and am thankful (this IS Thanksgiving) that I not only had a different lifestyle -- because our circumstances changed -- and have good cardiac care both from doctors and self-administered in the sense of exercise and diet.

This is on my mind today because yesterday a friend, Anna, about my age, emailed me about her heart valve replacement that occurred earlier this week. Now, heart valve replacement is somewhat less drastic than the need for transplant, I only sort of understand all this. What I do understand is that my friend wrote of having her valve replaced without surgery. I somewhat understand the procedure she experienced. About 10 years ago I had a 60% blocked artery, a stent was placed in the artery to keep it open. This replacement was done while I was awake, mildly sedated, as a catheter was threaded from a vein in my groin up into my heart. This still sounds incredible to me but it did not take very long, they were able to watch on a video-ed sort of x-ray and knew exactly what they were doing. I wished I could see the video (I had seen the live video of a root canal operation and found it fascinating) but of course the monitor was where the doctors could see it and not I. The procedure took only a short time. I was rolled out and up to a room in the hospital and instructed to lie absolutely flat on my back and not move for about six hours. 

I write about all this because what Anna described as her valve replacement seemed to be almost the same thing but with a valve instead of a stent. In the intervening ten years a variety of improvements have probably been devised. I can kind of picture a tiny piece of metal being placed in an artery. I cannot picture how a valve could be affixed -- actually I cannot really picture heart valves --  But so it was. Anna, too, wished she could see what was happening. However, after a recovery period -- she didn't say how long  -- she was allowed to leave the hospital with her niece and they were able to go to dinner in the evening and even celebrate with a glass of wine. 

I am astonished by the seeming simplicity of this procedure. I am very happy for Anna. I supposed that being at one of Boston's several very excellent hospitals makes this kind of treatment  probably unavailable to many people who live in other parts of the country.  As a person with  diagnosis of heart disease, I am thankful such advances continue to be made. I am thankful that times  have changed, that so much more is known about how the body works and what we can do to maintain our own health. 

I wish that this kind of care were available for everyone. I know that for the vast majority of people in the world such things are beyond all possibility. On Thanksgiving I can be grateful I am where I am but I cannot forget, as I read the paper, which I did a short time ago, that in many places in the world people are in danger and have almost none of the comforts I have. We really must enjoy the feasts we will have today and the family and friends but never forget we are in a very big world with very many people who are not as lucky as we are.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Why I Don't Like THINGS

That is a picture of an antique iron, I think hot coals were placed in the bottom section.  I've never used an iron like this. I was given an iron, new circa 1956,  to take to college. It was a simple iron, no steam, a bit heavy. I used it until sometime when I already had two children and was living in the second house purchased as a family. Then the cord became so frayed it was a danger and I thought it time to invest in a steam iron. I like irons. They are simple tools with a simple purpose.  They have no real moving parts, they last and give me no trouble.

I do not like many other tools, gadgets and addtions to my household as much as I like irons.  Today I am almost  beside myself trying to put a new toner cartridge in my printer.  I had difficulty getting the used one out although in the past it has been easy to slip these cartidges in and out.  I suspect I've broken something.  I am contemplating taking the thing to a "genius" at Staples to have the cartridge inserted. This should not be happening.  It should not be difficult.  I REALLY, yes, REALLY need to print some things thing morning. As it happens the printer is large and unweildy (yes, there are smaller ones but this office model was given to me and it's a great printer.... most of the time.

I am not very happy with telephones or computers. I suspect they are way beyond my ability to comprehend what is going on in their teeny-tiny little innards. I have, at times, been deeply disgruntled with their glitches. The same goes for my sewing machine. Recently I "fixed" a problem or two on the sewing machine by taking off it's armor and, mostly just dusting out the lint that had accumulated around the bobbin case -- I  have been sewing as long as I have been ironing and I have never had to do that before. I'm not sewing more. The lint is accumulating more. Could it be the fabric?  I don't think so, I use good quality quilting fabric for the most part. Could it be the thread? I suspect so. Thread has many qualities and I pay far more attention to color than to thread material, weight and so on. 

Other things fail to work right that ought to be simple.  I know why the bathroom sink drain gets stopped up -- it's my hair. My hair is long and, in fact, it's a lot of places, like the  brush, the floor, and also the drain of the shower/tub.  At the moment I like it long but it causes these problems and I take responsibility for that.  But the faucet on my kitchen sink has to be turned just so or it will drip.  I have complained to the apartment management and a plumber as made minor adjustments but admitted that I need a whole new faucet and that must be requested with some tone of outrage.  (We won't go into the complications of living in an apartment complex owned by a family who are, as landlords tend to be, irksomely frugal -- we also won't go into my complaints about the exterior painter who left gobs of paint on my windows).  THINGS, as I said -- the word THINGS covers a large area. 

Mostly I'm an easy going person, I cope with the faucet, and the sinks as best I can. I think I'll get that irksome printer cartridge inserted this morning ... maybe after I get dressed and come back to it in a quieter frame of mind.  Or I'll have to go see the "geniuses" who will take pity on the white haired lady and be cheerful when they tell me I ought to get a new printer and save myself some money on the price of toner cartridges (while helping them earn a commission, I suspect).

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Tai Chi, et cetera

First was hatha yoga -- I discovered it at age 29, when fewer than half a dozen yoga teachers existed in the USA. I learned from books and taught it (completely uncredentialed) for a dozen years. Little did I know that in 40 years there would be "yoga studios" in every strip mall in the USA and so many variations on the original even the multi-armed Hindu gods couldn't have done all the positions.

I did yoga very seriously many years and less seriously about the same number of years and then I went to China and, in Shangri-la, (that was its recently acquired name --for touristic purposes) I broke my hip. When it was replaced I recovered quickly, being in good physical shape, but had acquired a fear of straining the new connections in my hip and stopped doing yoga. A mistake!

 A couple of years ago I took six weeks of tai chi at a senior center. Short form, long form -- it just didn't work for me although the teacher was a nice young woman. My feet wouldn't coordinate with arm and hand movements. Then I found Tai Chi Easy, a trade marked system being taught at the community college by a psychologist. It is perfectly named: EASY. Feet are planted firmly, upper body moves, weight shifts, breathing is coordinated. It's mediative and can be done in ten minutes or stretched out longer.  It feels good and is both relaxing and invigorating. I found, in the summer, when there are no classes, that I can find a quiet place on a somewhat secluded beach and practice this routine enjoying the sun and breeze and sparkle on the water and breathing the fresh ocean-scented air 

Last Saturday I went to a tai chi "demonstration" by a 70+ year old man who has begun teaching tai chi chih. (It seems tai chi, like yoga, is morphing into a variety of systems. I seems Americans can't ever take up something Asian without putting their stamp on it.) He will be teaching at the gym I belong to and also doing free hours at the local senior center. It's somewhat different from the "Easy" version but without the complex foot movements of the other one I tried. After the beginning of next month I'm going to go to his classes and learn his form.

I joined that gym, to which my daughter has belonged for years, to take yoga. I find myself weekly in a class that is labeled yoga but which has more Feldenkraist movements than yoga, plus a routine created by the teacher, a woman over 80 - she includes lots of free movement, dancing, some ki gong and a long relaxation period. She's a character, small, wiry, kind and has done just about every kind of exercise invented, I think. She is an example of "use it so you won't lose it."  And I couldn't agree more. Feldenkraist was a Jewish/Austrian man who developed a set of gentle movements that are to be repeated "to break down old holding patterns" and open joints.  Most of them are comfortable and subtle.  The spine and shoulders are special targets.  My shoulders are tight although my spine has always been strong.  My back rarely aches.

I've never enjoyed sports or any of the "equipment" exercises. I walked miles most days the thirty years I lived in NYC and love hiking (and trekking) and now am delighted to have a beautiful beach on which to walk and other paths nearby. I don't like the yoga that is being offered so many places -- I'll admit that's partly because in several years of not doing it, I've lost flexibility and strength. So I turn to the gentler Chinese/Asian systems.  They're ideal for an older body.  I'll be learning more in the next several months.  Happily, I need no equipment and they can be done in the living room when it's cold and snowy outside.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Word for Everything

I just received a word that is so wonderful I have to share it before I write about the super moon:


(kak-i-STOK-ruh-see, kah-ki-)
noun: Government by the least qualified or worst persons.

From Greek kakistos (worst), superlative of kakos (bad) + -cracy (rule). Ultimately from the Indo-European root kakka-/kaka- (to defecate), which also gave us poppycock, cacophony. Earliest documented use: 1829. 
The word would not exist if it had not been needed in the past. It is welcome to day! That is not much consolation. Since 1829 we, specifically, and the world, not only in general but in gigantic proportion, has suffered seriously due to terrible leaders (many of them with diagnosable mental diseases) although, I'm glad to say, with a share of good ones.  'nuff said.
I saw this great moon last night, as it was heading towards its greatest splendor which, I'm told came about in the wee hours this morning when it was at its perigee, (closest to the earth--30,000 miles closer than it is at its apogree). At something like 4:00 a.m. it was at its closest and seeming brightest. Actually I awoke (a fairly frequent occurrence, especially since the ritual clock adjustment). I got up to go to the bathroom (more reflex than necessity).  I didn't think of looking at the moon. Since all my windows look east, I would have had to go out into the parking lot to look up to see the western sky.  I wish I'd thought to do it but I was groggy enough to slip back into bed and sleep another hour and a half.  

Via the Old Farmers' Almanac I've learned it was called the "Beaver" moon by the Natives of this part of the country. Supposedly they hunted beavers before the critters got settled in their dams for the winter.  I have come to distrust a good bit of what I read about Indian life and habits.  I just read an academic book called The Ecological Indian by Shepherd Krech who emphasizes how the fur traders who wandered Northeastern US and Eastern Canada , inspired greed in the Indians who slaughtered the beavers nearly to extinction in the 1800s as beaver fur became prized in Europe. I have seen only one beaver in the wild (in Yellowstone) although they were once plentiful in New England. Mr. Krech also takes on deer and, of course, bison. It was a depressing book but enlightening. Yes, I find enlightenment can be a good thing but it also is very, very often depressing.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Spreading the seeds

Two photos of exploded milkweed pods.  The seeds which were attached to similar feathery bits of the pds in the top picture, have been blown away by the wind -- which is exactly what always happens. 

These photos are actually of the same plant -- two different stalks of it. The lower photo shows seeds still clinging -- those pods are lower down, have suffered less battering by the wind.

Like a few other formerly rural people, I remember at age 5 or 6, walking thorough weedy patches with a paper bag or maybe a pillow case, collecting the silky part of dry milkweed plants. It seems the fibers were used during WWII instead of silk for making parachutes.  At least that's what we were told. I supposed it kept us kids occupied for a couple of hours. I remember it was more fun to blow on the fluffy white bits and watch them waft away, than it was to put them in a container where they immediately seemed utterly inconsequential.