Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Technical equipment glows with an ominous blue.  The receiver for the internet radio in the music room and the device for the wireless internet and the connection of the computer to the power source in the study seek to impress with their glow of electronic power.  I unplug each as I finish with them.  Nice try, machines.  Dark, yes.

Summer is at full.  There are sometimes cloudy days and an occasional afternoon thunder shower.  Humidity saturated air exhausts labor  Nights are loud with the sounds of frogs and insects.

I weed slowly and meditatively.  I pull grasses and other plants I don’t want in the plot and cut back the plants I want to grow: daisies, lavender, Queen Anne’s lace, yarrow, gardenia.  This fall I will move azaleas and the gardenia and plant two white azaleas.  Helpers dug up the dead Atlas cedar tree and made a plot in which I’ll plant annuals.  It was cloudy and humid and warm, and after three hours I stopped.  Another two or three mornings and things will look good.

The historian lecturing on the relationship between Russia and the Ukraine is an expert on Russian history from a well-known university.  Many came to the lecture hoping to understand the current situation better.  She gave a thousand-year overview of Russia and the Ukraine in fifty minutes.  The information was so dense that it seemed unorganized, and it may have been.  The audience was overwhelmed with names of places and people and events.  She had no idea of appropriate public speaking.  She droned on and on in a monotone, without summaries, pauses, or transitions.  She made no projects about what might occur there, and we were disappointed, since this was the day of the downing of the plane.  We were hoping that she might suggest possibilities from historical precedents or perspectives.  We were wrong.  To such a question, she replied, “I’m a historian.  When things happen, I will explain them.  We don’t know what will happen.”  At the end of the lecture the friend who invited me said, “That was horrible.”  I agreed.

Reading.  Harper’s, July, 2014.  I was drawn by the cover, the picture of a train on voyage and the title of the featured article, “21st Century Limited: The Lost Glory of America’s Railroads” by Kevin Baker.  I had not read Harper’s in  decades, and I enjoyed the issue.  There are interesting articles on various topics, including politics and international concerns, selections from other pieces of contemporary literature, critical articles on books and art.  There is a photograph of James Joyce, with, as the name “Annotation” indicates, signs that Joyce suffered from syphilis.  The “Harper’s Index” gives interesting statistics on our times, and “Findings” tells in single sentences what we are learning from the sciences, including psychology and sociology.  There is a complex puzzle that I did not attempt.  The short story “To the Corner” by Jess Walter is well-done and engaging.  I will buy and read the August issue.  Perhaps I will afford a subscription.

Reading.  Fiction.  Mark Helprin, In Sunshine and in Shadow (2012).  Chapters 1-10.  Helprin is one of my favorite writers.  I enjoyed the short stories and novels I read many years ago, and I was looking forward to making time to read this novel.  I have not been disappointed.  The opening is set in New York City in 1946.  The first ten chapters is the story of the beginning of a romance of a recently returned soldier and a young and wealthy actress.  Helprin interests the reader through rich and extended descriptions of places and people and their feelings and by enlightening moments with an apt insight.  For instance, describing ferry boats which approach too fast:  “In the interest of efficiency and speed the ferries came in too fast, and as a result the wood walls that guided them to their berths always suffered. . . . Time and again they mimicked a drunk trying to park a big car in a little garage.”  AND “. . . the tennis balls that, struck by earnestly wielded rackets, sounded like a continual and uneven popping of corks.”  And an insight about those who avoid situations because of fear of vulnerability:  “. . . the courage to embrace or even to recognize the real, the consequential, the beautiful, because in the end those are the things that lacerate and wound, and make you suffer incomparably, because, in the end, you lose them.”  I cannot read Helprin rapidly.  And I have thirty-seven chapters left to enjoy.

Thank you for reading.  I hope your days are good.

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About billwednesdayblog

Retired high school English and French teacher.
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2 Responses to Wednesday, July 23, 2014

  1. Dave A says:

    Boring historian. Amazingly, Christine and I had a similar experience on 2010 Viking River cruise that included Ukraine. It could have been the same lady lecturer; a mass of historical facts without any projections, insightful or otherwise.

    Harper’s. Hopefully your library’s budget cuts have not too much affected the magazines you like to keep in touch with. I recently gifted my local branch (University Hills) a subscription to “High Country News,” a weekly report on happenings in the American West — not a marijuana-oriented publication! I have an electronic subscription and that’s a suitable subject for my upcoming blog.

    James Joyce. A very long-ago girlfriend at Penn State, a voracious reader and English lit major, admitted that she had never been able to get past page 22 of Ulysses. I have never been tempted.

  2. Margaret McNeely says:

    I think I would like the Mark Helprin book, also.

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