Tuesday, June 20, 2017

At a University.

A van from the anthropology department pulls into the parking lot and parks.  A driver and passenger leave the van with a package.

“Hey, guys,” an awful woman with long greasy hair and in campus polic uniform called from across the lot, “You can’t park there!”

“It’s just to leave this package in the building here.”

“No!  That’s the President’s place.”

“But it’s just for a minute.”

“I don’t care.  It’s 24 / 7 reserved for the President.  I’m not kidding.  If you don’t move now, I’m writing you a hundred dollar ticket.”

Hail to the Chief.

Notes on Reading.  Nonfiction.  Steven Gdula, The Warmest Room in the House: How the Kitchen Became the Heart of the Twentieth-Century American Home.  Bloomsbury, 2008.

This book is a historic overview of food, food production, kitchen design and decor, dieting, products, influences of economic times, technologies in food production and preparation, influences of the media, personalities.  The index will be useful for future reference; the annotated bibliography is interesting.  I recommend the book as a good social history of the U.S. In the twentieth century.

Notes on Reading.  Short Story.  Sherman Alexi, “Clean Cleaner, Cleanest,” in The New Yorker, June 5 & 12, 2017.  This story is a sympathetic look at the life and work of Marie, a maid in a sleazy motel.  Alexi shows her devotion, her positive attitude (“It helped to think that she was helping other.”), her religious values (a practicing Catholic), her willing acceptance of the foibles of others, as well as her own, and her devotion to her work, despite the attendant physical pain and injuries that come with the job.  The story ends with the day of her retirement.  Her manager’s gift is that she has to clean only one room and receive pay for the entire shift.  She takes her time with the room, returns home to her husband, who retired from a job at a hardware store earlier that year, brings both of them a beer, “kissed her husband on the cheek and waited for the rest of her life to happen.”  Comparison with Flaubert’s “A Simple Heart” are obvious.

Notes on Reading.  Fiction.  E.L. Doctorow, World’s Fair.  Vantage Press International, 1985.

Doctorow is gifted in his ability to illuminate the moment in a memorable way.  He presents daily life to be remarkable.  This is the story of a Russian Jewish immigrant family living in New York City in the 1930’s from the perspectives of three other family members, but primarily from the point of view of a perceptive boy, from his pre-school through fifth grade years.  Favorite episodes: building an igloo, descriptions of shops and markets and their proprietors, days at the beach, emergency surgery and recuperation, the thrill of the parachute drop at the World’s Fair.  This is entertaining and memorable reading, perfect reading for summer.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Alarming Statement from a Waitress.

“Your food is getting ready to come out.”

Recent Realization. 

Shoes are meant to be untied as much as tied.  Belts are meant to be unbuckled as much as buckled.  Buttons are meant to be unbuttoned as much as buttoned.

Celebration of the Full Moon of June, the Strawberry Moon.

A flute of champagne, a small plate of strawberries, a toast to Goddess Diana.  “Ah, Wilderness!”

A Sleep.

The sleep was a rare state of serene, sustained suspension, no lapse into deep sleep or slumber.  A nap the next day was the same.

Bird Droppings.

As I was reading under the shady boughs of the tree in the backyard, suddenly “Ka_SPLAT!”  “Ka-SPAT-TER.”  On my shirt shoulder and sleeve and splatter onto my pants, wet, warm, vile berry-stained bird shit!  It was the first time I had ever been shit upon by a bird.

I was glad that cows don’t fly, and I was glad my shirt was the t-shirt from a Methodist church, not a dress shirt.

I was probably overdue.  Twice in France I’ve been with those thus attacked.

A friend and I were walking down a street somewhere in the Midi on a hot summer day.  We were both grumpy and tired.  The room at the cheap hotel we had checked into had no air conditioning, and we were hot and irritable.  SPLAT!  Onto his shirt.  Insult to misery.

And at Cannes, friends were on the beach.  I was in a park writing.  The French woman on a bench opposite said suddenly, “Ah, les excrements d’oiseau.”  I handed her a handkerchief.  She used it and started to hand it back, saying, “Merci, monsieur.”  I said, “Gardez-le, madame.”  As she left, she tosssed it into a trash container, as I did my t-shirt.

Blog Writings.

I will no longer block my week with a Wednesday posting.  Posts will happen when they happen.  Thanks in advance for reading when they do appear.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

This sentence is the writing to share this week.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Walks on Days of Buttermilk Skies.

In case of sunshine, I take a cap.  On a chance of rain, I take an umbrella.  On any given walk I use either, or neither, or both.

I love to look at those skies that some call buttermilk.  I like the changing of the colors of smudgy white and ashen gray.  I like to see whether sun may break, or a rain shower, or whether there will remain the shifting white overcast.

Light from buttermilk skies changes the colors of things, makes even smoother the light brown of the trunks and limbs of crepe myrtle trees, makes milkier the white of magnolia flowers, helps shield the bright orange flower of a solitary day lily.


At Trader Joe’s, as I looked for packaged foods relatively low in carbohydrates, I found Trader Joe’s Parsnip Chips.  The package art features two women in nineteenth century gardening clothes and baskets of parsnips.  “What are we going to do with all of these parsnips?” is the caption, one woman speaking to the other.

They are tasty, earthy-sweet.  With some salt, they make a fine afternoon snack with a glass of cold camomile tea.  I like them on a salad of arugula and shredded lettuce with olive oil and vinegar dressing.  Delicious.

In the Back Yard.

There was a sudden sight of bright yellow as a goldfinch perched acrobatic-like on the wires holding a hanging basket and looked down into the basket.  Why?  So that I could compare the orange-gold of its beak with the gold-orange of the one French marigold planted there?

I bought a potted foxglove and rested it in the clay pot in which I was going to plant it.  After several days of rain, I decided to plant it on a sunny day.  As I carefully pulled the container away from the clay pot, I noticed a host of slugs, beautiful–dark brown with black lines and white underbellies.  As I gently moved them onto the spade I was using, I wondered briefly if people ate them.  They look, after all, like snails without shells.  I gently placed them in another damp and shaded area in the yard.

My intended kindness may have been rewarded a few days later, when I looked out my bedroom window first thing in the morning and saw a slug climbing up the screen.  It seemed to wave good morning with its antennae.

At the North Carolina Museum of Art.  “Glory of Venice: Masterworks of the Renaissance”

I spent an hour in this special exhibit to identify works that I most liked.  There were seven.  After lunch in the museum with a friend, I returned for more than an hour to visit again those seven works: a portrait of a warrior, two portraits of saints, allegories on a panel, and three religious scenes.  My favorite seven:

Sebastiano del Piombo’s Portrait of a Man in Armor (about 1512), an image of handsome self-assurance and virility; Carlo Crivelli’s Saint Nicholas of Bari (1472), the saint in beautiful robes of a bishop and looking grumpy;  Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Dominic (c. 1500), the saint with a beatific expression while reading; Bellini’s Allegories of Fortune/Melancholy and Perseverance (late 1400’s or 1500’s) with its strange symbols and beautiful bodies, human and angelic; Visitation (1505-1510), attributed to de Piombo, a group portrait of Mary and Elizabeth and their husbands; Christ Carrying the Cross (about 1500-1510) by a follower of Bellini, with its haunting expression of somber awareness of Christ’s face and the shadow of his body falling on the cross; and perhaps my favorite, Vincenzo Catina’s The Adoration of the Shepherds (probably after 1520), a springtime nativity with two shepherds, a man and a boy, and a basket of eggs as gift.

There are more famous and popular works in the exhibition, which I enjoyed, but these seven spoke to me, perhaps because I did not know them.  It was a rare soul treat to see this show.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017


A Roadside Killed Skunk.  I don’t mind the smell of skunk, as long as it doesn’t linger. My dog Cujo was twice sprayed by a skunk, and after washes with tomato juice on year and with douche a few years later, the odor gradually went away.

Crows Chased by Mockingbirds.  Twice this week I’ve seen crows fleeing from mockingbirds.  I wonder if it is a sign to me.  I also wonder what a crow has to fear about a mockingbird.

A bunny hops around the back yard.  Each day sometime around the noon hour, I see it eating in a large area of clover.  So far he has not had to hurry anywhere.  I haven’t noticed cats in the neighborhood, and the fence keeps dogs away.  Hawk?  Owl?  May be mockingbird has found a way to befriend the bunny and keep them chased away.

The bunny reminds me of the name of a colleague at the school in Denver, where I taught.  Bruce Bunny taught freshman math.  It was good to know and work with him.  What’s that?  Did he teach next door to Miss Kitten?  That would be silly, to have a Miss Kitten and a Mr. Bunny teaching next door to one another in a high school.

At the Symphony.

It was good to hear a program of twentieth century and contemporary music:  Prokofiev, Stravinsky, and Tao, whose piece commemorates the assassination of Kennedy.

I had never heard “The Firebird Suite.”  My father’s friend Doc Ed loved classical music and had a small collection of LPs and a good stereo system.  Sometimes in elementary school I’d sleep over with my friend, his son Bernard, at their house, and I remember we spent part of a rainy afternoon with Doc Ed listening to Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto, one of my first experiences with classical music.  He had a recording of “The Firebird,” but he didn’t think it was appropriate for young children.  His wife Della once mentioned, when we wanted to listen to it at bedtime, that it would cause bad dreams, though she didn’t mind scaring us with her rendition of “The English Ghost.”  For whatever reasons, since then I had not heard “The Firebird.”  It’s a fine piece, full of melodies and strains which call for, well, dance, dramatic movement.  I noticed a few rows in front of me a young boy at one place put his hands over his ears.  His parents and he left at intermission.  Maybe Doc Ed and Della were right.

Notes on Reading.  Fiction.  Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance (1852).  In Nathaniel Hawthorne: Collected Novels, The Library of America, 1983.

The novel is a negative criticism of Brook Farm, an attempt at a utopian society of communal living.  It serves as a character study of four major characters, two men and two women, and two mysterious interlopers.  The novel is of interest to those in women’s studies, those who are interested in Hawthorne, and those who are interested in the intellectual life of nineteenth century New England.

Notes on Reading.  Nonfiction.  Francine Jay, The Joy of Less.  Chronicle Books, 2016.

This book is an excellent guide to simplifying and enriching our lives by minimizing our possessions to allow us more freedom in attitude, time, and lifestyle.  The author presents a step-by-step guide through each of the areas in our homes and shows positive effects of adopting simplicity in our personal and global surroundings.

Notes on Reading.  Nonfiction.  Kevin Dann, Expect Great Things: The Life and Search of Henry David Thoreau.  Penguin Random House, 2017.

In the last chapter Dann describes his work as biographer:  “Henry Thoreau, the indefatigable measurer of trees and truth, would ask that our measurement of his life hew to the facts, but that we read those facts with an enlarged sense of meaning. . . . Let us take facts–which admittedly grown exceedingly hazy to us earthbound denizens–and strive toward law.  There are great cosmic rhythms, perennial, eternal rhythms undulating around and through us, which we hear not.  ‘How long?’ this great American spirit asked.  Why not now?”

This excellent biography emphasizes Thoreau’s quest for understanding the spiritual through the physical world, his mysticism.  The title is from his journal: “In the long run, we find what we expect.  We shall be fortunate then if we expect great things.”

Using apt selections from Thoreau’s journal and particularly his poetry, Dann shows Thoreau’s quest in the context of his historical time.  He presents a positive and inspirational view of the character and works of one of my heroes.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Red Car, after more than 245,000 miles and seventeen years of service, recently participated in two events for the first time: valet parking at a hotel and being in a funeral procession.

When I asked for Red Car at the valet station, the attendant said he had already retrieved it.  I saw it by the curb, though I had not asked for it.  “We aren’t very good at driving stick shifts, and so we wanted to get it out before the morning traffic.”

In the short funeral procession, I was glad to notice that cars approaching the procession, both in town and on the highway, pulled to the side and stopped, a sign of respect I had not expected.

The Flower Moon.  Since tall city buildings prevented our view of the full moon of May, we strolled down a street until our view was unobstructed.  There was the moon, bright in a cloudless sky, onlooking the city.

Being a pall bearer was essentially lonely work.  I met three of the other bearers just before leaving the church; the other two I had met only once before.  I focused on the idea that the six of us were honored for some relationship we had had with the deceased.

Traditions of the funeral: the embalmed corpse, the fragrant spray of flowers, and the beautiful cherry-wood casket lowered into the ground, confirmed my wish to be cremated, my ashes scattered.

Notes on Reading.  Fiction.  John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces.  Grove Press, 1980.

The protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly, is a character from Rabelais or Swift, a self-proclaimed genius at odds with the world.  His adventures, written as a well-constructed farce, serve to satirize business, Freudian psychology, the police force, intellectuals, and various other colorful character types of twentieth century New Orleans.  The writing is fast-paced, and the characterizations are vivid.  It’s an enjoyable book.

Notes on Reading.  Nonfiction.  Holly Tucker, City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic and the First Police Chief of Paris.  W.W. Norton and Company, 2017.

Holly Tucker presents the details of, as she puts it, “arguably the greatest social and political scandal in early French history,” the Affairs of the Poisons in 1667-1682.  Louis XIV has appointed Nicolas de La Reynie as the first chief of police.  To deter crime, he installs lighting in Paris.  He also uncovers groups of poisoners, witches, and priests practicing dark rites.  Investigations lead to involvement of mistresses of the King.  The details provide insights into frivolity of life at Versailles, methods of police investigations, brutal treatment of suspects and the accused, and actions of absolute power of the King.  There are extensive notes and bibliography, a summary of the events, and a useful index.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sign at a Veterinary Clinic. 

“To Flea Or Not To Flea?”

School Rivalry.

On Franklin Street, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I stopped by Trolly Stop Hot Dogs to read the menu.  It offers various tempting options, with appropriate names and descriptions, such as North Carolina Dog (deli mustard, chili slaw), Tar Heel Dog (deli mustard, chili, onions, slaw), Old Well Dog (deli mustard, mild salsa, onions, diced tomatoes), Bell Tower Dog (mayonnaise and melted cheese).  Near the bottom of the list is Duke Dog (totally plain.)

At the Mount Olive Pickle Festival.

I saw a tent advertising “Shipwreck Seasonings” and stopped.  I tried the Captain’s Blend, appropriate to me, for in college I was called the Captain, and I have always fancied the sea.  I liked it and bought a bottle.  The vendor enclosed a business card “so you can order down to Wilmington and we’ll mail you some more.”  I’ve tried it on fired and scrambled eggs.  It’s delicious.

At the Local Mall.

Some mannequins, in shiny orange, black, white, or red, lack facial features.  They are heads, necks, torso, arms, and legs.  Some have no heads.  Some have a screw instead of a head on which to put a hat.

Two old men sit at a table in the food court.  One wears a veteran’s baseball cap.  He is fat.  The other has long grey hair.  He is thin.  They do not eat or drink.  They watch people pass by and talk.  They look grumpy.  Although I would not not want to sit and talk with them, I like them.

In the store window of the Build-a-Bear Workshop, there are cats, dogs, a lion, a rabbit, a duck, a dinosaur, and two bears, all in spring attire.  I would name the shop Build-a-Creature Workshop.

Notes on Reading.  Nonfiction.  Pete Hamill, Downtown.  Little, Brown and Company, 2004.

Hamill presents an interesting tour of lower Manhattan, a place he knows and loves well.  He presents information and insights about places, people, and happenings from the settlement through the early 2000’s.  Topics include architecture, art, music, history, business, journalism, and life styles.  He narrates all with the relaxed manner of a knowledgeable, entertaining, informal tour guide.  It’s one of my favorite books.  This is my second reading of it, and I look forward to the next.

Writer’s Holiday.

Thank you for reading.  I will not post next Wednesday, May 10.  I plan to resume on Wednesday, May 17.

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