Monday, July 24, 2017

Dog Days.

Mornings are heavy with dew.  The air is saturated.  Spider webs are irritating.

The day changes to humid heat, often reaching mid-to-high 90’s in the afternoon.  Car interiors become like ovens.  The steering wheel burns the hands.

Late afternoon thunderstorms are common.  They bring sharp lightning, booming thunder, high winds, and driving downpours of rain.  On a recent short, intense storm there was hail, and limbs and trees were knocked down.  On this morning’s walk I noticed piles of cut branches and wood taken to curbs.

People are tired, less patient, grumpier.  The change from air-conditioned buildings to outside exhausts the body and spirit.

I walk and work outside only between 7 and 8 am and 7 and 8 pm.

An afternoon nap is always in order.


Notes on Reading.  Nonfiction.  Two books by George Howe Colt:

The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer House.  Scribner, 2003.

There are accounts of summer activities:  swimming, sailing, fishing, tennis, board games, pool tournaments, and a hide-and-seek game called Sardines.  There are interesting and sympathetic character sketches of family members of this and of other generations.  One chapter, “Old Money,” is a thoughtful consideration of the challenges of being a wealthy, upper-class New England family.  Colt does not draw back from the darker sides of experiences, and he writes with an engaging, simple, and effective prose style.

November of the Soul: The Enigma of Suicide.  Scribner, 2006.

At 536 pages and an additional 92 pages of notes, bibliography, and index, this book is an interesting and comprehensive exploration of the subject.  It covers teen suicides, the history of attitudes about suicides from primitive cultures to today, the range of suicidal behaviors, efforts at prevention, discussions about the right to die (including physician-assisted suicide), and effects on loved ones.  Colt involves the reader directly by detailing the lives of those in suicidal situations and thus evokes sympathy and attempts at understanding.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Toy Street.

Toy Street, in a designated city historic area, is only two long blocks.  There is a mixture of private homes and professional offices.  A handsome old brick school with large windows is being developed into condos.

A lot on one of the blocks was for a couple of years a formative place for me.  I started school, housed in a large two-story house set back from the street, with a sidewalk sheltered by huge, old oak trees, leading to the front door.

The house, no longer there, was Haynsworth Private School, which I attended in first and second grades.  There I learned to read, to print, to spell, to add and subtract and measure, and to get along with classmates and teachers.  My friend Danny and I ruled at the kiddie park on one of the corners, where we walked at recess.  Frequent field trips taught us about the community as we experienced the fire station, the police station, the zoo, the airport, and the downtown stores.  In an upstairs hallway I received a polio vaccination.

I learned the 3 R’s with the kind and patient Mrs. Nell Hewell and the beautiful and enthusiastic Miss Betty Isbell; I learned group singing, toy band, marching, and dancing the Virginia Reel, with its dos-si-dos and Grand Promande, with the elderly, temperamental, fussy Miss Blanche Deschamps, who also read to us stories from Pooh and mythology.  There were occasional talks in small groups with Mrs. Madelyn Haynsworth, the school’s founder and director.  It was a place I began to love learning.

Everything is gone, surely all who taught, and many who learned there.  Newer houses have been built closer to the street; one lot has become a vacant, paved place.  There are no old oaks.

The walk down the street was pleasant: a blooming, fragrant gardenia greeted me in the yard at the head of the street.  There were blooming hydrangeas and crepe myrtle trees, dogwood trees heavy with summer leaves, blossoming and fragrant hedges, a slight breeze at times, and the singing of a mockingbird; these enhanced the nostalgia.

The River Park.

A river runs through the city and reaches gentle falls.  The city has made a park on both sides.  There are benches and walls on which to sit.  Children wade and splash by the shore.  Singles and couples walk along the paths, some walking dogs, and many of the couples holding hands.  I walk down paths, look down at the river from a suspension bridge, find a French bistro on a terrace by the river and sip a cafe au lait as I watch people passing, enjoying the long summer late afternoon.  I approach the amphitheater and sit on a wall to watch the rehearsal of a couple of scenes of Titus Andronicus .  Just as the sun sets and the full moon begins to rise, I leave, looking forward to being there again.

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017


I approached the periodicals display at the bookstore with the same anticipation I felt as a child when I went to the room Santa Claus had visited or when I now go to a window or door to see if the sound I heard was the arrival of guests.

Are they here yet?  Yes!  The quarterlies The American Scholar and Lapham’s Quarterly have arrived, the summer editions.  I buy them, assured of blessings for the mind and spirit.

A sweet, ironic moment.

I was TSA pre-approved for my flight, but after I passed through the detector I was asked to step aside for a “random electronics check.”  An official saw only my wallet, keys, cell phone (a flip phone with no texting), and bag with yellow pad, crossword puzzle book, nonfiction book, pencil, and eraser.

“No smart phone, sir?”


“No lap-top or iPad?”

“No.  I’m low tech Bill.”

“Works for me,” he said.  “Have a good flight.”

At the Driehaus Museum.

The house is the restored Samuel Nickerson House (1883), the mansion of a wealthy banker.  It is lavish in expensive detail and furnishings, typical of the houses of the wealthy of the time.  Its purpose, as indicated by guide material, is to show to the public the status and wealth of the owners, and in every sense it is made to impress the guests.  Now I understand better Emily Dickinson’s poem from 1861, “I’m Nobody!” :  “How dreary–to be–Somebody! / How public–like a Frog– / To tell’s one’s name–the livelong June / To an admiring Bog!”


Objects with which I work let me know their names:  my push mower, Trrsk; my weed eater, Wally; my hedge trimmer, Carleton; my vacuum cleaner, Velma.  When I get a garden hose, I bet it will be named Sue Henrietta.

Trrsk, Wally, Carleton, and I make an awesome yard-work team.  And Velma and I work right well together, too.


We are in the Dog Days of Summer now.  This Sunday night (July 9) will be the Full Moon of July, the Buck Moon.


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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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