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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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

At Random.

“When something or someone you love troubles your conscience–when your everyday relationships are political acts–do you try to be a moderating force, or are you obligated to make a break entirely?”  (Lauren Collins, “Secrets in the Sauce: The Politics of Barbecue and the Legacy of a White Supremacist,” The New Yorker, April 24, 2017)

In the latter choice above, especially when we try the former option and it doesn’t work,  we choose the greater love, the love and respect for self.

I poured salt and pepper into bowls from their shakers so that I could wash the shakers.  I had not noticed salt and pepper in bowls before.  The pepper, a color of dark brown and black, made the air smell pungent and good.

I did not feel well, and so I slept.  A day planned  for cleaning the house became a day of rest and reading.

Decades ago a friend told me that she thought that colored neon lights were ugly.  I’ve been more aware of neon lights since then,, trying to see ugliness.  I don’t.  I like them.

I like westerns: movies, short stories, novels.  When friends find out, they are sometimes surprised and ask “Why?”  A better question is, “What do you like about them?”  I’ve not thought about it, but I will begin to do so.

Wall colors to consider.  Green: frosted pine, sage pond, pine forest green.  Blue: polar sky, under the big top, Hudson Bay.  Yellow:  Pernod, hay stack, Viking yellow.  To my sight “Gentleman’s gray” looks dark blue.  Is the name a joke on the idea that men don’t see colors well?  Who makes up these names?

Notes on Reading.  Fiction.  Ernest Hemingway, Winner Take Nothing (1933).  Scribner.

Most of these fourteen short stories lack plot.  They are slice-of-life depictions of characters in precarious or mundane situations.

I particularly liked “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio” because I realized that the characters are those which Steinbeck would use, but the setting and writing style are not.  It would be interesting to take the characters and re-write the story using a Steinbeck setting and style.  Will I do so?  No.

Three other stories are of note.  “A Natural History of the Dead” is a catalogue of the horrors of war.  “A Day’s Wait,” one of my favorite stories, depicts nine-year-old Schatz as a typical Hemingway hero, exemplifying the famous descriptor, “grace under pressure.”  The masterpiece “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is in this collection, with the famous existential viewpoint represented in the prayer, “Our nada who are in nada, nada be thy name they kingdom nada they will be nada in nada as it is in nada . . . Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hyperboles I Heard as a Child, Before I Knew They Were Hyperboles

“Lord, Estelle, you’ve cooked enough to feed Pharaoh’s Army,” my mom said when we visited her for Sunday dinner.

“If you boys don’t quit drinking so much before bedtime, you’re going to flood the Creation,” said Della almost every time I spent the night at her house.

“My nose is about to itch off,” my mom often said during meals.

“If I eat any more, I’ll be as big as the side of the house,” said Aunt Ada, as she refused dessert.

The mockingbird that has claimed my place as part of his territory has had consort with a parakeet.  I am amused at how the mockingbird incorporates the sounds of the parakeet in its fifteen-to-twenty-minute recital.  Sometimes it’s at the beginning, sometimes at the middle, and often at the end.

Late one afternoon, after I had finished yard work and was relaxing on the patio with a glass of Perrier,  the mocking bird perched at the top of the apple tree to sing.  I became involved in the music.  I was startled by the silence when it left.  I felt like the speaker of Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale.”  “Fled is that music: –Do I wake or sleep?”

Notes on Reading.  Nonfiction.  Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola, Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind.  Pitchstone, 2015.

This is a sociological study of men and women of religious vocations who have become atheists or agnostics and how their private and professional lives have changed.  The book consists of interviews, comments, and summaries by the authors.  Although I generally do not like to read such studies, I enjoyed how some participants felt blessings and freedom when facing their disbeliefs and acting on them.  Dennett, a proud atheist, present challenges for those involved in organized religions and for religions as institutions.

Notes on Reading.  Fiction.  Kent Haruff, Plainsong.  Knopf, 1999.

Set in a small town and the surrounding rural areas of the high plains of eastern Colorado, this novel centers on several characters: a high school teacher, his severely depressed wife and two sons (aged 9 and 10), a pregnant, unwed teenaged girl, and two elderly bachelor brother ranchers.  There are minor roles of a lonely, grieving woman, an out-of-control teenaged boy, a loving and giving woman teacher.  The book gives insight into characters and their situations, especially in the growing awareness of the young boys.  There is quiet humor in the situation of the two bachelor ranchers when the pregnant teenager comes to live with them.  The title is reflected in the writing style: simple, unadorned.  There is no use of quotations marks with the dialogue.  I read in the book in 1999, and I enjoyed and admired it even more on this re-reading.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

From the Past.  When I was in my twenties, I developed three ideas which enabled me to have courage to face challenges.  Just this week I reviewed them before undertaking a project.  There are three rules and one corollary, named for a friend who often told said it.   Ollie’s Three Rules:  (1) There’s nothing to it but to do it.  (2) Admit ignorance; yell for help.  (3) When in doubt, leave it out.  Frankie’s Corollary:  You don’t have to like it.

This week at a documentary film, I chatted with the man sitting next to me.  He was ten years my senior.  He said that he majored in philosophy at my alma mater.  Three hours later, I was talking with a young woman decades my junior at a New Age shop.  She was the owner and a practicing shaman.  She told me that she majored in philosophy at my alma mater.  In three hours I met two philosophy major from my alma mater.  Coincidence?  A wink from God?

In a drawing by Amy Hwang in The New Yorker, April 10, 2016, a doctor tells a patient, “You will live a long and healthy life if you abstain from anything that brings you joy.”  The caption causes pause.  There are many things in life that are unhealthy for us but which bring us joy.  Should we eliminate them from our lives?  Can we find things which are healthful for us that can provide us joy?  A couple of weeks ago, I was looking for foods low in carbohydrates.  I found strawberries.  Now strawberries bring me joy at breakfast almost every day.

Notes on Reading.  Fiction.  Six mystery stories by Edgar Allan Poe:  “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” “The Purloined Letter,” “The Gold Bug,” “‘Thou Art the Man,'” and “The Man in the Crowd” in The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, Modern Library.

The Edgar Award, named for Poe, is given to the best mystery story of the year.  Poe invented the detective story.  I had never read all of the original stories.  I got the names of the six stories from an internet source, and enjoyed re-reading the three I had read and reading for the first time the three I had not read (“The Mystery of Marie Roget,” “‘Thou Art the Man’,” and “The Man of the Crowd”).

Details in these stories provide the conventions of modern detective fiction, conventions about which you can read in the given internet source.  Dupin, Poe’s detective, narrators, and character William LeGrand amaze the reader at their understanding of physical clues and human nature.  My favorite story: “‘Thou Art the Man.'”  The tone is uncharacteristically genial and the ending optimistic.

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