It's fast coming to a close. Every year I wonder about the arbitrariness of calendars. But there is little chance of our lives being governed by a different one any time soon. And so today, December 31st, is, in one way, the End. (This post is dated 12/30, but in fact, today is the 31st. I started to write yesterday, but never got past the first sentence.) We are taught to look back, assess the year. I have a suspicion there may be more creative ways to approach this time, but I am feeling this morning particularly uncreative. All I feel capable of is feeling generally grateful. It's been a year with some real challenges, good challenges that have worked out well. A very, very good year, but I am not inclined to go through the 'year in review' routine. In the photo, a fifty million year old spider fossil. This year I turned fifty. And? 2010? Of course, I have lots of hopes, goals, projects, plans... I guess that's the important think, no, looking forward... but just a little, like to the next few minutes. Snow fell last night, and that's next on the agenda: shovel some of it. It's so pretty right now, I hate the idea of touching it. We'll take some pictures...
In today's New York Times (online vesion) you can listen to six writers read brief excerpts from books that are essential to them. These are books they would never get rid of. (This being the end of the year, the notion of culling our bookshelves is present...) I'd never heard of three of the six authors (Frederick Exley, Scott Spencer, and Robert Burton.) And I'd never heard of four of the six writers asked to read. The link is here. In any case, books are books and I am forever plagued by the anxiety that I don't have time to read all the "important" ones. For whatever reason, I was intrigued by one of the selections, and, oh the joys of Google, within a couple of minutes my curiosity was satisfied. The selection was Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes, chosen by David Matthews. Exley was mentally ill and alcoholic, and A Fan's Notes his first, and most successful novel. It's basically an autobiography. I read a review at bookslut.com. I don't think I'll read it. I'm not big on self-obsession, and Exley, from the very little I've read, sounds quite self-obsessed.
These days I've been juggling several different readings, including Daniel Boorstin's The Creators, which has been on my bookshelf for many years. I've picked it up often, never having made it through more than a few chapters at a time. I've had many failed attempts at keeping lists of all my readings. (They often begin in January.) Yesterday it occurred to me that perhaps I need to try a different way of categorizing my lists. Maybe I should make the list first: here are all the books I should read... then go about checking them off one by one. Maybe... In the photo, Frederick Exley. Finally, in looking for the photo, I came across this interesting reflection by writer and journalist Alan Bisbort: I drink...)
Christmas Eve. Morning. Cold with bright sun. Waldo at my feet, snoring away. Asun across the table. Good coffee. Children asleep. Warm house. Lucky, lucky, lucky me... But it could come crashing down at any moment. Ha! That's kind of the theme of the most recent Coen brothers' film we went to see last night. A Serious Man is ok, has some very funny moments, but is not an espeically memorable film. (A plane is flying over. It could suddenly come crashing down on our house...)
I could have a heart attack ten seconds from now. Nine, eight, seven... No, it didn't happen. I could win the lottery and our circumstances would be radically different. And on and on. But the routine usually wins out. We plan around predictability. (Is this getting repetitive?)
Around the world the news is good, bad, tragic, and mundane. Depends on your perspective. And your circumstances. And I'm back to the Spanish expression, estar a la altura de las circunstancias: to be "up to the circumstances", that is, able to meet the needs of the situation. I'm thinking about moral and ethical challenges, which we face at every turn. Cosmic injustices... How can I just sit here, typing away nonsense, when there is so much suffering going on? The same old question... I'd better move my butt. Do something. Whenever I look back, take stock, I see many failings. But I've learned not to be too hard on myself. That doesn't help either. Got to just keep trying.
And talking about chance events... I exist because one of my father's spermatozoa penetrated one of my mother's eggs. An average ejaculation contains tens or hundreds of millions of spermatozoa. So, yes, life is a miracle. Well, not really, not in a supernatural sense. It's all very natural. Just so, so unlikely. And then you multiply the remote likelihood of your particular existence by a factor of tens of millions, since at every moment so many different things could happen, and you can move the equation back eons in the other direction, right back to the beginning (beginning?), oh, I'm getting dizzy... what are the chances of me sitting here at this particular moment in this particular space typing these tedious words? The butterfly...
(The image above: La circunstancia, by Spanish painter Juan Medina.)
Silence plays a very big role in our routines. Well, I guess you could say it plays a central role in life itself. Ourselves as censors. There is so much we don't say! Imagine the chaos if there were a loudspeaker with a direct connection to our brains. That's just part of it. There is another kind of silence that is critical to our well being, the silence that allows for recovery, for tranquility. Right now, for example, there is a very soft thump, thump background noise coming from some kind of aerobics class going on across the street at the YMCA. It's enough to drive me batty. I've got to get away... And this gives me an idea: maybe I could get away today for a little walk in the woods with Waldo. With the big snow fall we had, it will be quiet and beautiful. Maybe without Waldo–he's not much for long walks in the snow.
When you realize you are experiencing the right conditions of silence you have probably just broken the spell. Paradoxes of living.
The Nutcracker season is over. What performances! Daniela was amazing. I think she saved the best for last. Yesterday's show for a full house at the elegant and regal Hershey Theatre was truly splendid. There were many moving moments (no pun intended), both on and off stage. One of my favorites: after one of the shows Daniela is heading back to the lobby for the photo session. A woman approaches her with her young daughter, three or four years old. Oh, can my girl say hello, etc. Of course... Daniela bends over and tries to engage the tot. The little girl is literally, literally speechless. She just stares, unable to get a sound out, overcome, perhaps, at being face to face with this princess/fairy/dream. How does this happen? The beautiful dancing, of course. The lighting, the tutu, crown, shiny jewels... And the music! Without the music none of this is possible. The music creates the narrative, brings sense to the incredible world of childhood imagination. The music makes truth of the fantasy. This morning in the Times there is a very interesting article by Alastair Macaulay on the Nutcracker, not a review, but a reflection on the work itself and its strange place in American ballet. It is, after all, the cash cow and thus easy to criticize as wildly over-performed, often quite poorly. Art moves forward. The Nutcracker is stagnant. So how can ballet advance when we're stuck on the same old ballet, year after year? Sarah Kaufman, reviewing in the Washington Post Pennsylvania Ballet's performance of Balanchine's Nutracker hits the nail on the head: "Despite the expense and the monumental effort ballet troupes take on to produce a run of shows -- however lucrative they may be -- I suspect that the faux snow and candy fantasia don't do as much as we might wish to hook ticketholders on the art form itself. For if that were the case, after all these years of "Nutcrackers," we'd be experiencing a ballet boom to light up the sky." But Macaulay reminds us that this is not the fault of the ballet itself. And I certainly agree with his belief that Tchaikovsky's s score really is a musical masterpiece. And so is Balanchine's choreography. (Macaulay's article is here.) And let's not forget: Central Pennsylvania is the only youth ballet anywhere authorized to perform the Balanchine version of the Nutcracker. (I was going to say non-professional company, but CPYB is pretty darn professional. And speaking of professionals, Jens Weber was magnificent as Daniela's Cavalier. Jens, wherever your are, thank you so much for being such a wonderful dancer! And for not dropping my girl!) Jens has danced with companies around the world.
Most of our existence is routine. We get up, get dressed, do our work, eat, sleep... the same stuff day after day. (But love can't be routine, can it? Love is always fresh.) Many people get depressed by that notion, but not me. Even the routine is fascinating. Every day I get up and make coffee, with only the most minimal variations. Remove coffee pot from coffee maker, rinse; remove previous day's filter and grinds from filter cone; put in trash. Fill pot with fresh water (seven cups), etc. But today does have a slight variation: nine cups. Alma and Cristina got home yesterday. Hooray! As I pour the water into the coffee maker, what am I thinking about? That changes. Maybe I'm thinking that I'm not really awake yet, the brain is sluggish. Caffeine, caffeine... but in fact, there is always something going on in our minds. I might be thinking about politics or sports, love, death, children, parenting, education, morality, astronomy, philosophy...
Last night it snowed and it's snowing now (8:00 am). Close to two inches already. Not so routine. It's quiet and beautiful outside. Hopefully it won't be enough to wreak havoc on today and tomorrow's Nutcracker performances, but who knows. The forecast is not good. The Ohlsten's are supposed to drive down from NY and Jess is hoping to come up from Baltimore. That could be trouble, as the DC area has lots of snow forecast. Oh well, out of our control. Daniela stayed in Hershey last night. Good thing. I hope the shows don't get postponed or cancelled.
(Does art remove us from the routine? Perhaps it helps us to reconsider our very notion of routine. Science does that as well.) Last night we were at a Christmas party and I was talking to an acquaintance; we were catching up on our children. He repeated a number of times how proud he was of his daughter, a recent college graduate. I was just a little surprised – of course, how obvious. How can parents not be proud of their children? Yes, no doubt that can happen, but in those rare, sad cases, the lack of pride, too, would be fairly evident. Maybe. In any case, I was thinking about that recently. (In the photo: in Cristina's apartment at school.)
Always amazing. This past weekend we had the pleasure of watching Daniela dance in The Nutcracker. On Saturday she danced the role of Dew Drop and on Sunday she was the Sugar Plum. (She also did Snow, and Flowers in one of the shows.) Stunning. She's really got the gift. I could go on and on, but I won't. Grace, speed, energy, beauty. It all combines to create magic. Attendance was great; all three shows were either sold out or very close to it. For Sunday's show they had to add three rows of chairs above the orchestra pit. It always impresses me how hard these kids work: a full dress rehearsal on Thursday, then five performances Friday thru Sunday, but Monday it was right back to work, to prepare for this weekend's performances at Hershey Theatre. (And there's no break from school.) Daniela's partner for the grand pas de deux was 17 year-old Devon Carbone, "on loan" from New York's Ballet Academy East. He did beautifully. (And he didn't drop her!) In Hershey, the Cavalier will be danced by Jens Weber, who has danced with Víctor Ullate in Madrid, in Berlin, and in Monte Carlo with Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. In the photo, the auditorium at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg.
Yesterday I read about Jesús Leonardo in the Times. Jesús has an interesting profession: he collects losing tickets at OTB parlors in Manhattan. People who do this are known as stoopers. (That's one new thing I learned yesterday.) How can you make money from that? It turns out some people throw out winning tickets! He claims he makes over $45,000 a year. Amazing. You can read the story here. Ok, what's the lesson here? It ain't over til it's really over, as in official? Some people are really dumb? Maybe Jesús has discovered how to from from anger mismanagement? (The bettor throws out the ticket in a huff, thinking he's lost. He's so pissed he doesn't even realize there is an official inquiry. Results get changed. I imagine sometimes it's just carelessness. So some garbage is gold, but most of it is just that, garbage.
On Saturday evening in NY we went up to Lincoln Center to see New York City Ballet's annual production of the Nutcracker. The renovations at the State Theater were for the most part not obvious. The biggest changes that I could see were the new seats and the addition of two aisles in the orchestra. Before the show Cristina and I were discussing the ethics of spending over a hundred million dollars on renovating a two thousand seat auditorium. She is very opposed to this kind of spending, even if it is from private donations. I see her point, but it did not prevent me from enjoying the show. We had the added good fortune of getting to see CPYB alum Ashley Bouder dance the role of Sugar Plum Fairy. She is one of the world's truly great ballerinas and on this occasion gave an inspired performance. The other dancers were good, but we did not sense the same excitement that comes through with Bouder. And the kids in the first act were not so great, not as sharp as here at CPYB (really!) Arrangements had been made for Daniela to meet with Ms Bouder after the show, as Daniela will be performing the same role here in Harrisburg and Hershey. The exact same choreography. So after the curtain came down, Asun and Daniela went backstage and Daniela got to compare notes with one of the masters. She also got to say hello to some other dancers from Carlisle who are in the company. A fun evening on the heels of a full day. (More on that in a separate entry.)
No question one of the highlights of our visit to NY this weekend was the exhibit organized around Vermeer's famous painting "The Milkmaid", on exceptional loan to the Met from Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum. It's a marvel to behold, and it was a real treat to be able to see it on its next to last day in New York. The painting was displayed along with the five Vermeers in the Met's collection (of thirty-six total known to have been painted by the master.) It was fun to have Cristina explain the painting to us. I was unaware of its participation in a well established genre tradition rich with sexual allusion. It's not just about the incredible realism. It seems that by the time Vermeer came around the tradition was very well established and he could be quite subtle in how his work participates in it. For example, the very small image of Cupid on a tile, in the lower right part of the canvas, is suggestive of the milkmaid's positive disposition towards romance. Perhaps she's got something on her mind besides baking. Or perhaps the spectator does. I was overwhelmed by the painting's detailed realism, in particular, the illusion of movement created by the milk coming out of the jar. The colors, too, are strking. I'd like to read more about Vermeer's life and work. I'd also like to go back and see the film Girl with a Pearl Earring. There's a lot more to write about this painting, and in another entry I'll get to that and to some of the other wonders contemplated on this visit, but right now I'm just too tired and there is work to be done.
The calendar has completed its inevitable circle again. It's always circling, of course, but on holidays our awareness of circularity is much greater. This year we give thanks for being all together. I just can't find the right words. They all seem inadequate, type, delete... Oh well, as Asun reminds me, obras son amores y no buenas palabras... In any case, the house is warmer, happier, righter, when it's like this. (And to whom, exactly, are we giving thanks? I sure don't know. And I don't trust those whose certainty in this regard is absolute, but that's another matter... So, today I'll direct my thanks to Asun, Alma, Cristina, Daniela, brothers and sisters, in-laws, friends... I love you all.) Last night the house had the splendid warmth of apple pies baking. No turkey in the oven this morning, that will be handled by friends this year. And that is just fine. In a few minutes I'll start making some cole slaw. I think there will be fifteen or sixteen of us this afternoon. We'll give many thanks. This year I also want to give thanks to Charles Darwin, in honor of the 200th anniversary of his birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. Thanks, Chuck, for your insights. And for your bravery. No way I would have gotten on a ship like that. You had a huge impact on the advancement of science and in pushing us a littler further away from superstition.
The news. Mainly it's bad. I keep telling myself I need to modify my morning routine somewhat, pay much less attention to newspapers. There is lots of good news out there. I'm an optimist: for every act of violence we read about there are hundreds, thousands, of acts of love and kindness. Where are those headlines? Anyway, last night I learned from Alma and Cristina of another kind of news. Most unfortunate: a couple of employees at Cornell, both married, are having an affair. They exchange, apparently, steamy emails over the campus network. Not good. Incredibly, a slip of the finger... and the emails suddenly are received by the whole campus! Ouchh! And that led me to a story about an unfortunate incident of this kind that ended in tragedy: a man broke up with his girlfriend in a very mean, offensive fashion by email. The message got forwarded, and forwarded... and ended up all over the internet. They guy ended up committing suicide. Urban legend? Maybe he had other issues. Who knows? We never really know do we? Nevertheless, I believe that's no excuse for not trying. And working to unmask the merchants of disinformation, the huksters of propaganda. Yesterday there was an interesting story about the Iranian governments campaign to crush resistance with a soft war: regaining complete control of education and media. Fear and intimidation. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants control. Complete control.
No doubt we have lots of problems in this country. One of the biggest is our shameful incarceration rate. The country as a whole has become like Texas, where everything is big. This is not good. (We'll leave military spending and murder for another day.) The US has five percent of the world's population living within its borders. Yet, we have 25% of the world's prison population. (NY Times, April, 2008) Shame! We had 2.3 million people behind bars last year. That's 2,300,000 human beings. The number today is no doubt higher. This is madness. (I just found a good blog entry on this topic. Follow this link.) A large percentage of the crimes that got people put into jail are drug related. (I wrote about this a little back in April of this year.) And yet Congress and state legislatures do nothing. Well, occasionally they do–they make the problem worse by coming up with more stupid, self-righteous, populist legislation. Typically there is some horrendous crime and people feel, quite rightly, outraged. Get out the sledge hammer! Let them rot in jail! No one should be in jail for being a drug addict. That's really stupid. Let's legalize. Marihuana: legalize it. Cocaine: legalize it. Heroin: legalize it. And regulate. In Pennsylvania if you want a bottle of wine you have to go to an "official" store run by the state. The state employee makes sure no one under the legal age purchases the wine. Good. And you pay a hefty tax. Good. (The selection is not great, not so good, but that could be improved...) Let's do the same with recreational drugs. Want to smoke a joint? Go to an official, state sponsored "Recreational Drug Distribution Center." There will be lots of brochures on the health risks. You'll have to prove you are over age 21. The product will have quality assurances. And the state will have a hefty cut. States already take advantage of general stupidity with gambling. To not do the same with drugs is hypocrisy. And bad public policy.
Prostitution is another sad, very sad, reality. (And closely tied to the world of illegal drugs.) Police are not going to make it go away. Legalizing prostitution doesn't mean we think it's a good thing. It's not. It's horribly sad. But let's get prostitutes the medical care and social services they need and stop treating them like criminals. I'll write more about this in another entry...
Overall I'm not much for "virtual travel". I have met people, especially in Spain, who have become real experts on certain countries or cities without ever having visited the particular place of interest. Typically I'm not interested in acquiring greatly detailed familiarity with the geography, history and customs of specific places by surfing the web. It's a curious phenomenon. Well, now I have an exception: Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City. I can add it to my list of "must" do peregrinations. Until I do get there, however, I will continue to read about this fascinating plaza, most famous as the epicenter of mariachi music. OK, so in some regards it's just a tourist trap. But it still seems like a compelling place, rich in history, architecturally interesting, and culturally significant. We'll get there before too long. And don't ask me where this interest came from, it's just one of those little mysteries. One detail for today: if I were still a drinking man, I'd head for the corner of Plaza Garibaldi where you find La Hermosa Hortensia, a famous watering hole for pulque, the traditional, pre colombian Mexican drink made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant. Well, we'll go there anyway, but I will pass on the pulque. (In the photo, inside the pulquería La Hermosa Hortensia.)
Recently it's been classic Carlisle weather: grey! Then more grey. As I walked to work this morning I felt somewhat trapped, closed in by a horizonless sky. Fortunately it's only my physical surroundings that are dark. The real world, in spite of it all, is wonderful. Life or death. I'll take my chances with life, as death doesn't look too promising. And before leaving for work this morning I had this mundane thought: routine, morning routine, how nice indeed. So many mornings I get up at the same time, follow the exact same steps in making the coffee, then the carrot/apple juice... I don't have a problem with that, because the rest of the day is going to bring plenty of unpredictability. (Mary Oliver's poem "Morning" ends with the line, "I stand in the cold kitchen, everything wonderful around me." Yes, indeed. AND, I get wonderful company around me in the kitchen. Cats are ok, but I prefer people, especially family. It's good both ways. Two plus two is still four (beautiful!), but who knows, the laws of nature could suddenly shift tonight... All is contingent. Well, we don't know that for sure, but I prefer to live as if that were the case. The sun will come out again. Meanwhile, I can continue to be amazed by... by just about everything. Rush Limbaugh said that he thought Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, "was a shoe-shine guy". Brilliant. And then we've got the "birthers". More brilliance. (In the photo, Mary Oliver.)
On Sunday the NYT magazine had a profile on former House majority leader Dick Armey. In the article he is quoted as saying the following at a public talk in North Carolina: "“Nearly every important office in Washington, D.C., today is occupied by someone with an aggressive dislike for our heritage, our freedom, our history and our Constitution.” That is not just political hyperbole. It's an intentional, mean spirited lie. Shame on him! Such nonsense. The right's cynicism, its pandering to the know-nothing fringe is fascinating. And it's not going to win them many elections. The article contains several gems, including his belief that Lawrence Summers is not "a real economist." Armey reveals himself to be a political philosopher of profound intellect: “Europe is governed by a concern for the well-being of the collective. That’s what they care about. What makes us different is we begin with the liberty of the individual. We got it right, and they got it wrong." This nonsense is repeated often by the American right and exemplifies how they so often conflate "freedom", "individual liberty", etc. with a regulation-free business environment. Ok, well, I guess it's true that buying a semi-automatic weapon may be just a tad more complicated in Europe than in the US, but that's one freedom Europeans are happy to sacrifice. Freedom of the press? Just as well defended in Europe. Freedom of assembly. The same. Freedom of religion? The same. Rights? How about the right to access health care? Score one for Europe! Dick Armey is the leader of the right wing group FreedomWorks.
Getting sick is no fun. (Brilliant observation!) Slowly I'm coming out of the fog. The next week will be spent trying to catch up. Just taking note here, for no particular reason, to no particular end: it was cold last night, our first night of the autumn below freezing. Waldo is not happy. Unless there's a fire going, in which case he's quite content to make himself comfortable in front of the fireplace. Jumping around: I just learned about the YMCA's plan to abandon their current locale across the street and build a new place over in Thornwald Park. This is going to be a very contentious issue, no doubt. Down in Cuba: Yoani Sánchez was the victim of police brutality and intimidation yesterday, briefly detained by Castro's thugs. See her blog. Poor Alma is fed up with the hassles caused by the car accident. We all plod on...
Semana Poética VIII is history. It was tiring, but also a lot of fun. There were some excellent readings, memorable conversations, new friendships... overall I feel really good about it. We had poets with tremendously different works and backgrounds together here at Dickinson... They met us, one another, met with our students... There was one moment on Wednesday night that captured this organized chaos beautifully. Isabel Pérez Montalbán (Spain) and Lev Rubinstein (Russia) had just finished their reading in front of a big audience (over 150 people, that's a lot for a poetry reading). Neither Isabel nor Lev speak English. A student asks a question directed at both of them. The interpreters jump in. There was a funny moment, the poets huddled at the ends of a long table with their interpreters. Muffled mumbling. Smiles. Spanish. English. Russian. English. Back and forth... For many students simply hearing a language they don't understand is a new experience. To sit through a reading, following the translations in the printed booklet or up on the big screen I'm sure gets some of them thinking about language. They've opened up the possibility of learning not taking language for granted. That is, to consider (again, always...) that language needs to be challenged. More importantly: how we use language must always be challenged. Is that really what me mean? Can we say it better? More precisely? Is there any thought there or is it just mumbo jumbo? Does this person know what he/she is talking about? We finished Thursday night with a big paella. (Thank you, Mike, Chris, Tsveti, and Dan!) I made it for close to sixty and there were not more than 45 guests, but they didn't leave anything behind. Nothin'. I guess they like it. In any case, we had lots of fun.
Just one last reading tonight, a big dinner party here, and we're done. Attendance the past two nights has been fantastic. Last night over a hundred and fifty. Isabel was wonderful. Too tired and with too little time right now to reflect, but more later...
(In the photo, Isabel Pérez Montalbán.)
It's been a wonderful weekend. Alma and Cristina drove down from Ithaca Friday night. It was so great to see them! Asun and I were both feeling a little down after they left. But Elizabeth is here, Murphy is here... Antonio and Maria del Mar are here... Isabel got in late, late last night. (Well, more like early this morning...) A fun dinner last night. Paella. About twenty or twenty-five of us. Peter Pan was wonderful. Daniela has some serious stage presence. Well, now it's time to get ready for a lot of activity related to Semana Poética. In the photo: Neptune.
Writing as exercise. Therapy? Just whatever... just write. Doesn't have to make sense. Waldo barks. What sense does that make? A car horn toots. Daniela rushes out the door. Clouds hover. Baseball. News. Coffee. No stopping. Don't stop the keyboard, that is. Exercise the fingers. The mind. Not whatever, something. Some words. Any words. Beautiful. Ugly. A cloudy day after a beautiful day. A film, The Partner. It all goes by. Stories. A few remembered, most forgotten. A sip of coffee. Not particularly good coffee. Need to do something about that. Coffee in the morning should be superlative. The leaves are turning, falling. More apples. For eating, for carrot juice. For pies. And work. Not the apples. New words, dumb words. Put them together, mix them up. Up and down, back and forth. Big and small. What's going on here? A to do list. Can't remember so well. Run errands. Walk errands? Get blood taken. Routine. We hope. Why any of this? Don't ask. It's Tuesday morning and we are just getting started. Correct. Correct? Communicate, read. Keep trying. Someday it will make sense.
Ok, I got that out of my system. In the photo, a butcher stand in a market in Madrid. Now it's time to start thinking about being productive...
It happens every once in a long while. And last night, in the predawn hours I got hit by it in a moment of restless half-sleep: where has the time gone? Where did my life go? Wasn't I just eighteen a moment ago? But it sure feels different now. Answers abound. Lament anything? Don't even think about it... Yes, our time here is fleeting, fleeting. But if I can just put aside cosmology for a moment, and center on how much can be experienced in a single day, all is good, even if it is dark and rainy. Nothing new here. But old stories keep getting told in new ways... (In the photo, a Basque goat.)
This year's Nobel Prize for Literature was certainly a surprising choice. It seems they almost always are, especially in recent years. I met Hera Müller when she came to Dickinson for a residency back in 1996. Very quiet. And, happy coincidence, we are publishing some of her poems in the upcoming issue of SIRENA, which should have been out this week. (It did arrive, just now: beautiful! And we use one of Müller's poems, a cut-and-paste word collage, for the cover art; quite lovely.) Anway, Jorge Sagastume and I were asked for an article for the Harrisburg Patriot News. Here's the link to the article on the Romanian-born writer.
Wonderful to be back in Malaga! Towards the end of a very quick visit. The conference in Antequera was interesting; there were some excellent presentations. My paper went well, but towards the end I realized I had gone past my alloted time. My conclusion was a little abrupt; not my best ending, but overall it was fine. Was sorry I couldn't spend more time with some of the other participants. Very warm weather! This kind of travel is a little tiring. Wow! Last night I followed the Sox one-strike-away meltdown on Yahoo. Now I just read about it. Baseball is great fun in its unpredictability. It's not over until it's over. Ain't it the truth! It's also true that Papelbon had given many indications this year that his dominance is not what it was in the past few years. Oh well, let's be happy for the Angels.
Pre-departure madness. Tomorrow morning I leave for Malaga, and I 'm not ready. This is not an infrequent feeling for me: Wait. Not yet! Perhaps this is common to us winter babies born far from the equator. Hold on! Well, it will be a fun few days and with the brief voice mail left by María del Mar I can't help but feel more eager to go: make no plans for Friday night... everyone's coming over for dinner... On the other hand, the news last week that José Antonio Muñoz Rojas has died just one week short of his hundredth birthday was quite sad. I was so looking forward to finally meeting him. I guess it wasn't meant to be. But the conference/ homage goes on, and I think my talk will be fun, even though I'm not quite ready. I'll be talking about reading Muñoz Rojas in a wider, English-speaking context (I propose that being attuned to his interest in the relationship between poetry and philosophy will be quite helpful, as it's the best available path, I believe, for contextualizing his work), and will finish with a discussion of some of my ideas about translating his poetry. Yesterday I was finishing up translations of poems by Isabel Pérez Montalbán and Claudia Aburto Guzmán for our Semana Poética. I hope to see Isabel in Malaga. Too much translating in one day: ugghh, it got into my sleep (language!) and so here I am, not even five A.M. and up and at it...
On the home front: Daniela came out of ballet last night tired (a private class at 2:30, then class and rehearsals until 9:30, on a Monday, after a dozen hours of dancing over the weekend!), but oh so happy. And it wasn't about rehearsal. No, she is now the proud owner of seven or eight pairs of pointe shoes from... Ashley Bouder, star of New York City Ballet. (Top professional ballerinas get their shoes custom made and I guess these were trials. I don't know, but Bouder sent them here and they fit Daniela.) In any case, those are some serious shoes to fill! Did Yaz ever send me a glove or one of his bats? Did Bill Russell ever send me a signed basketball? Oh well, I'm happy for Daniela, and happy for me: hey, that's some serious money we just saved. I see the table in the back hall piled high with "old" pointe shoes and think, damn, get me some stock in one of those companies.
Speaking of money, on Saturday night CPYB had its first ever fundraising gala. It was a very nice and, I trust, successful event. Silent auction, live auction... food and drink... dancing... Daniela and some of the others did a brief scene from Peter Pan and then there was a short piece choreographed by Lazlo Bardo. Beautiful. Someone paid over $1500 for a one hour class with Marcia Dale Weary. Show the respect! Want some serious silliness: someone bid $500 for one of my paellas. OK, this is Carlisle, not the big city. No million dollar pledges, which is what the school could really use, but the spirit was right and the appreciation for what CPYB does, and Marcia in particular, was heartfelt and sincere.
And apples! A kitchen full of apples is a wonderful sight.
I don't know how the arabesque position in ballet came to be called such, but it makes perfect sense to me. The word means "in the Arabic style" and is most commonly used to refer to the repetition of geometric forms commonly observed in Islamic art. Think of the Alhambra! (The photo above is an image from a ceramic tile in the Alhambra. Star of David?) Well, I don't know that it makes any dance sense, but it sure makes metaphysical sense. Me explico: it seems to me that Islamic artists, in their insistent repetition of form, express a desire for infinity. It is, of course, an illusion. Or not? Here's the paradox: can we, if only for an instant, experience infinity? Which is to say, of course, immortality. It would certainly seem that the briefer the instant, the further we get from infinity. Alas, perhaps this is our error. Some instants are very, very intense, for lack of a better word. Transcendent? We transcend time. Our limits. After all, isn't this what happens in love? We experience, oh so fleetingly, atemporality, an intimation of immortality? (Billy baby, Oh Joy! Yes, there is a time when we are "Apparell'd in celestial light.") Such is life: these celestial dances are but brief, but we want more, and so we wish to see the dance go and on. I fear my ridiculous yearning for the never-ending tie ball game is related to this madness. Back to the ballet arabesque. There is a famous one at the end of the grand pas de deux in The Nutcracker. It's the culminating moment of that grand adagio when the music goes up, up, up... and stops. Hold it right there. The arabesque! It can only be a moment, but it's an instant I want to be held forever. The brief pause in the music, the ballerina transcending space in a flash of generous, gravity-defying equilibrium. (In the narrative, it's the moment when she screams: yes, I'm in love, all is good!) Plenitude? (I'm pretty illiterate when it comes to music, but if you ask me, Ravel's Bolero is an early example of the Post Modern sensibility: the self-conscious repetition takes this illusion to an extreme, leading to its inevitable crescendo of chaos...) But back to our world: the sun comes up over the Mediterranean. For a second it hovers, a beautiful globe, en pointe, bowing on the horizon. (Welcome to the universe, life goes on...) Hold it right there! Islamic artists: I share your pain. Let's pretend: repeat, repeat, repeat... on, and on, and on... Late, very late, one fall night Carlton Fisk, a big New Englander with an Islamic sensibility, hit a high, high fly ball (not really clobbered because he came around a little too fast and didn't completely center the fat part of the bat on the ball, but that's not important), this is it, the game, it seems everything, here... is it going to stay fair or go foul? The Question! Fair or foul, fair or foul... forever and ever. It's only a moment. Who cares! (Well, Carlton cared, he waved the damn thing fair, but that's another story...) For that too brief an instant father and son are absolutely tuned in to the same purpose, the same emotion, the same, shared anticipation of joy. Why does it end?
Today I've been reading a couple of essays by philosopher María Zambrano, who was from Malaga. She uses the metaphor of a clearing in a forest-this is what we must search for. Now there's a metaphor I can appreciate. The forest is uncertain, mutable. We need to come out into a clearing now and then. Another metaphor she uses in one of her essays is quite interesting, and perhaps unsurprising for someone who grew up in Malaga. She is talking about history. Here's a spontaneous translation: "If time, which conditions human life, were to flow without projecting its own shadow back on itself, if it were not curved, as it seems that all is on this earth, history would be a transparent mirror, like those calm bends in rivers that reflect earth and sky, and some cities, where such a privilege can be enjoyed" Certainly no rivers in Malaga! And so we must suffer an existence in time. And a little further on: "And so, more than onto an embracing and sustaining earth, man seems to have been deposited into waters from which he can barely emerge, like a nascent sun, even though he thinks he has a complete face, his face." But Zambrano is actually a fairly optimistic thinker. And a beautiful writer. More on her soon...
A post datum: this past weekend I noticed something rather curious regarding this blog. I've observed that the blog seems to get about 10-12 hits a day. 8, 12, 16, are typical numbers. I think one day there were twenty something hits. So I was quite surprised to see on Friday or Saturday, 87. What happened? I was curious so I looked again the following day: 54. I imagined maybe someone somewhere had created a link. But now it's back to the typical numbers: 10, 12... Quite odd.
A couple of weeks ago we read a horrible story about the young woman in NY who reported she had been gang raped. A horrific nightmare. Some young men were quickly arrested and vilified. This took place at Hofstra University. But it turns out the young woman, only 18, had fabricated the story. A sad, sordid mess. I didn't want to write about this, it's too yukky, too pathetic. The whole scenario was just so awful. But I write about it because I just read that the young woman is not going to be prosecuted for knowingly, and extremely cruelly, signing a false written statement regarding what happened. (She has been ordered to get counseling and to perform 250 hours of community service.) What is the DA thinking?
Maybe there's a cautionary tale here. It turns out one of the guys involved filmed some of what happened, in a dormitory bathroom, with his cellphone. Who knows how much drugs and/or booze played a role. In any case, after this encounter the girl headed back to her dorm room, where she found her boyfriend waiting for her. He was worried, as the girl hadn't been answering her cellphone. He was suspicious regarding the condition his girlfriend was in. What's been going on? She got worried. Tell your boyfriend you'd just had a sex romp with a bunch of guys in the bathroom? Not good. Oh, I was raped. No big deal. Yes, big deal. So the guys get arrested. They are dead meat. Life is over. Go rot in jail. Except for the little detail that it wasn't a rape, as the girl ended up confessing.
Consenting adults? As far as the legal system is concerned, yes. Just kids having fun, right? Hardly. One little problem is that emotions are involved. Like the small detail that the boyfriend might be a little upset about the girl's idea of a good time. She knows it, so to avoid that scenario she makes up the story about the gang rape. Now, how degraded can we get? No, you can't do that. There are consequences to reckless behavior. The guys spent two days in jail and they will never, never escape this story. Their behavior, too, was reprehensible. Innocent of rape, but that's about it. They knew they were taking advantage of a disturbed young woman. Or should have. That's their idea of a good time? Yes, all involved need lots of counseling. I pray they get it. But the girl should spend a little time in jail. Lying is a big, big deal.
Well, on second thought, apparently lying isn't such a big deal. George Bush lied and nothing happened to him. Oh, as a result of his lies we simply invaded a country, killed thousands and thousands of innocent civilians and thousands of our own soldiers. But that's their problem. Vaya mierda de tío.
Last night we went to see the film "Food, Inc." Strong. Some of the images from inside the slaughterhouses made me feel sick to my stomach. The food industry really has become diabolical. They've managed to get a whole society to happily poison itself. I exaggerate? Maybe not much. Just look at ourselves. We are in the midst of an unprecedented epidemic of obesity and its attendant problems. Breweries let the public in for tours. Cool! Some chocolate factories do the same. Neat-o! Meat processing? Not a chance. You might become a vegetarian. Hooray for Daniela, she's leading our family in the right direction. Oh, the poor children who have diets consisting mainly of chicken Mcnuggets, potato chips, hot dogs, Coca-Cola... Eat your spinach! And hope it's not contaminated with E Coli! High fructose corn syrup. Yummy. What is it not in?
As a kid Daniela often expressed a desire to go live on a farm. (This was after the stage she went through when she insisted that she wanted to be a seal when she grew up.) Maybe she was on to something. Brother Peter: get some black Iberian pigs on that land of yours! Get rid of the motorcycles and I'll help you salt and hang the legs in that big garage.
Could you live without going to a big supermarket? In Malaga it's easily done. Not so easy here.
It was another beautiful weekend in Central PA, and so on Saturday morning Asun and I decided to go take a hike with Waldo and get some apples at Irvin Orchards. We were really enjoying the drive along the ridge road in Micheaux State Forest when all of a sudden we come around a bend and there's a uniformed guy telling us to stop. And not just a uniformed guy, but someone dressed up in WW II garb standing next to an old motorcycle with a sidecar. What the heck is going on? He explained that there was a WW II reenactment going on, "Escape from Normandy", and that we'd have to turn around. Can we watch?, I asked. No, no spectators, it's just for us. Wild. It turns out a bunch of guys had "rented" a part of the forest for their game (drama?) and they just do it for the heck of it. They had a small tank, a couple of jeeps, a cannon, bazooka... I had never come across such a crazy thing. So we turned around, took the long route to our trail head and could hear the gunfire (blanks, we had been reassured) during the first part of our hike. No doubt these guys were out there having a good time and engaging their interest in military history. Nonetheless, it strikes me there is something rather perverse about this kind of activity. The invasion of Normandy resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of individuals and viewed in its entirety, tens of millions of people lost their lives as a result of the conflict. Can you imagine a reenactment of 9/11? Yes, much time has passed, many decades. I don't know, maybe I'm too serious?
In any case, this odd sight reminded me of another very strange experience we had many years ago in Spain, driving back to Malaga along the coast. We were right by the beach on a small road, somewhere in the province of Cadiz, and there were some military exercises going on, with boats a few hundred yards out firing shells right over us. We were driving through a military firing range and no one had turned us back! No kidding. It was rather terrifying.)
After our hike, which was wonderful, we headed back to the ridge road. This time, further down, we could get by, but we did come across some of the "actors", including a few dressed as Nazis. We stopped to say hello, and one guy, perhaps seeing that we were eying his outfit rather nervously, quickly explained that when he does civil war reenactments he's on the Union side. "Sometimes you're a good guy, and sometimes you're a bad guy," he said. I guess that's true.
Well, we did make it to Irvin Orchards and brought home a large quantity of wonderful apples. Yesterday I made an apple pie, but something about is not just right. It's good, but falls well short of the ideal. I guess with some iconic dishes one can't help being somewhat of a perfectionist. One problem was the apples simply didn't soften up enough during baking. I don't know if that has to do with the variety of apple used or not.
This morning at breakfast we were going over schedules and plans for the next couple of days and Daniela's plans, unsurprisingly, include activities with other ballerinas. This led to Asun and I briefly reminiscing about some of the many young dancers who have come and gone over the past several years. Some were very talented girls who, for one reason or another, stopped dancing. And that got me thinking about how improbable the course of our lives are, regardless of the direction they take. Is a life ever really predictable? Our time here can unfold in so many different ways, or so it seems. Yes, no doubt one can quickly slide into fruitless ponderations on fate, will, etc. How do we end up where we end up? Yesterday a former professional dancer who I recently met asked me if Daniela was going to be a professional ballerina. How should I know? How can she know? First, other interests, other passions, may emerge. Current passions can fade. And even if the goal remains, our most hoped for results very often do not materialize. And as Daniela pointed out recently, status and success at CPYB is not, as the investment people warn us, "a guarantee of future performance." Or something like that. This is certainly true. On the other hand, yesterday I received the Winter Season brochure from NY City Ballet and glancing at the page that lists the company members I found myself checking off some of the names, "CPYB, CPYB, CPYB, CPYB..." There are several. More interestingly, and an endearing example of how, sometimes, an improbable path can play out in a hoped for way, was the story I read about ballerina Tina LeBlanc, a CPYB alumna, on the occasion of her farewell gala at San Francisco Ballet. What a career! And what a ballerina: she visited CPYB a few years ago and Daniela got to perform before her on the same program. So I got to see her dance for five or ten minutes, but that was enough: sometimes beauty is such that it can just about make you faint if you have not already been overcome by tears. There's a word for that... Anyway, she is no doubt one of the world's great ballerinas, and a real inspiration for Daniela. And a beautiful story. Read the article from the LA Times. (In the photo, a final curtain call from Tina LeBlanc.)
It's getting harder to keep up with the blog. At the same time, the routine is good. But it's not all routine. This weekend we had a wonderful hike up at King's Gap, and it was extremely gratifying to see Waldo can still do it. He seems to love the woods almost as much as I do. Wonderful weather. Alma got more scholarship money this week and Daniela got a big scholarship from CPYB. So, Cristina, deary, I'm waiting... and as I wait I'm watching the Sox lose to the Angels. Looks like a chilly night in Boston. Poor Joe Saunders! The Angels' pitcher is going through an inning from hell. He's given up three runs and there's only one out. And only one ball has been hard hit. The Sox are getting a five or six out inning. Who said life was fair?
Thursday morning: Yes, talking about unfair. First the Angels toture their own pitcher with shoddy defense. Then the umpires torture the Angels with two non-calls that help the Sox pull out a most improbable 9-8 win. Crazy. It's supposed to be three strikes and you're out, but Nick Green got five. And, consequently, walked, forcing in the tying run. And why hasn't anyone commented on why Angel's left fielder Juan Rivera didn't make a better effort to try to grab Alex Gonzalez's soft fly ball to left. Run faster, man. Get a jump. Bad defense. Well, this is crazy, spending time on baseball when there's so much work to be done. And back to an earlier comment: Cristina, you don't need to get any more scholarships, you are la bomba, AND, after all, you did walk clear across England. I look foward to the day when I can donate real money to scholarship funds at Dickinson, Cornell, and CPYB. (In the photo, this summer in Bidania, Pili's place up high in the Basque country; another great day there. Daniel, Daniela, Cristina and Noah.)
It's been a very busy week, but I guess they all are. There won't be any let up until I get through Semana Poética at the end of October. At the moment my mind is on the relationship between poetry and painting. We'll be considering this in my literature course soon, mainly in the context of the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath. So we'll talk about some poems by Rafael Alberti dedicated to Velázquez, Goya, and Picasso, and we'll talk about Guernica and some of what has been written about that iconic work. If I can help my students become more aware of some of the multitude of dialogues a work invites them to participate in, between artists, between artists and other works of art, between the work and what readers/viewers have already experienced in other works of art, etc., then I will feel I've been successful. Of course, I can only be aware of their awareness if they are able to articulate something about the dialogues they are hearing. I hope I can help them in that regard.
I guess I was thinking about something similar this morning when I was considering what I have observed regarding the development of ballerinas. In the process I've learned a little, very little, but a little, about ballet as an art form. Good dialogues require that the participants speak the same language, and preferably with a high degree of proficiency. The language of ballet is a demanding one and is acquired only after many years of extremely rigorous training. It was in that context that I read a policy statement in the CPYB student handbook titled "CPYB's Rising Stars Philosophy." The text outlines quite succinctly, no doubt mainly for parents, the school's philosophy regarding student progress and how that progress may relate to performance opportunities. Ability, hard work, dedication, and perseverance are essential prerequisites. But they are no guarantee that they will result in the hoped for performance opportunities! In our touchy-feely, don't tread on my self-esteem society, this is a bold statement. And a refreshingly honest one! The artistic director has many, many considerations to make, and, let's not forget, decisions regarding individual casting are made in the context of what is best for the work. In short, it's not about individuals. Learning to deal with disappointment is a hard lesson. I was reminded of this when Asun related to me how she witnessed a sad moment: a young student in bitter tears after learning she had not been promoted to the next level. Oouch! But if that little girl can recover, and understand that the dialogue she wants to be a part of simply demands more training, then she'll have acquired an invaluable lesson. She may conclude the effort is not worth it--that's fine, and is in no way a defeat. The defeat comes when you stop dreaming. (But, as Antonio Machado so beautifully shows us, over and over: dream awake!) There are an awful lot of big dreams in the heads of those young dancers. Every day they see the photos of the ones who made it adorning the walls. The stars! The big names. Inspiring. And maybe intimidating. It can be a harsh place sometimes, no doubt, just as Víctor Ullate's school in Madrid can be an unforgiving environment. And so the faculty at CPYB make, I believe, quite commendable efforts to be honest: no false promises, the dream is not going to work out for everyone. But the effort expended, the invaluable discipline acquired, may just help more than one kid realize bigger, more important dreams.
Maybe we're all just tilting at windmills. And let's remember: Don Quixote's victory came late in life, very late, when he put his feet on the ground and realized it was fine, indeed a blessing, just to be Alonso Quijano.
(Above, a photo I took this past spring; a couple of windmills in La Mancha that were likely around in Cervantes' day.)
The Senators played their last game of the year on City Island Thursday, a beautiful, moonlit evening. There was a big crowd, but fortunately, over half of them left by the end of the sixth inning. I'm not against crowds, but I guess "intolerant" would not be an inaccurate description of my attitude regarding groups who display blaring ignorance regarding the behavior that is expected of them so as not to impinge on my enjoyment. Hah! It seemed that crowd had it all backwards from the start. As it was the last game of the year, and the last game in the stadium's current incarnation, there were some pregame ceremonies, words from the mayor (STILL Stephen Reed, after all these years, BUT, he has been perhaps the greatest mayor in the history of Harrisburg), etc. So for the national anthem a Knights of Columbus 4th degree honor guard decked out in their silly garb with the big chapeaus marched out to the field. Very serious. They brought along the Vatican flag, crucifix included. Everyone gets all pious. Ok, ok, patience... then the game starts and no one pays attention. It's as if six thousand people had just paid five or ten bucks a head for the privilege of paying more money for greasy funnel cakes, awful hot dogs, and frozen pizza while they enthusiastically obey the commands of a big screen telling them to make noise on cue. Well, why the hell don't they go to an amusement park instead and let me enjoy the ball game! The game, now that's sacred. You want proof that not everyone is on the same page as me? Imagine this: towards the end of the game I was standing behind the box seats along the third baseline. A guy come up and stands next to me. We chat a little, nice evening, nice catch, etc. Then he turns to me and says, "Have you tried Jesus?" I choked on my coffee. He had this beatific smile, as if really expecting I was going to fall down to my knees and give eternal thanks for having been finally saved. Doing my best to suppress laughter, I explained that I really wanted to focus on the game. Then I left. But the game: as Manolo says about the bull fights, there's always something interesting to see, regardless of how mundane or otherwise disappointing the proceedings. And Thursday night no doubt I found interest in watching Atahaulpa Severino. This guy looked very good. He's only 5'9'', but he brings some serious heat. I think you'll be seeing him in a major league uniform before the end of the 2010 season. He's clearly on an upward trajectory, unlike the larger part of this group of Senators. It was a long game and I was sorry to see it end. And, by the way, it ended with the Senator's scoring a run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to break a 3-3 tie.
Every year around this time I receive an invitation to a reception for the "International Fellows" who are spending a year at the Army War College here in town. They tend to be mid-level officers who have promising careers ahead of them. This year they come from forty-nine different countries. Asun and I have gone sometimes in the past, mainly to meet the Spanish speaking officers. There's always someone from Spain, and usually from a few other Spanish speaking countries. But I'm wondering, should I go? After all, some of these individuals represent institutions with very dubious human rights records. And this not to mention our own role in trampling on human rights in recent years. I haven't thought it through, but I probably will go. I tend to be practical about these things: by not going my "protest" is strictly an issue of conscience. There is no consequence beyond that which it may have for my own mental health. If I do go at least there may be the opportunity to express concern. For example, if there's a Mexican officer this year, I could ask him how it can be that not a single uniformed person in Mexico has been found guilty by a military tribunal of committing any of the alleged cases of abuse against civilians (including rape, torture, and murder) committed by the Mexican military in recent years. (See the recent Human Rights Watch report: http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/mexico0409web_0.pdf) This is not to underestimate the importance of conscience! Recently my bedtime reading has been the Socratic dialogues, including "Meno", which includes fascinating reflections of the nature of virtue, and "Phaedo", which could be read today as a primer on "doing the right thing", whatever the cost. To Socrates, the cost was death, but to the greater glory of his insistence on maintaining his defense of certain principles. So, if I go schmooze with some military types am I compromising my principles? Back to Mexico: how ironic that the Mexican government, which appears not have control of its own military, should have awarded with such high distinction Roberto Martínez, the great human rights advocate. Martínez died this year. That's him, in the photo, before the wall of shame.
If you have a friend you have a treasure. So the saying goes. Certainly. How many treasures can one have? True treasures, not so many. Or they wouldn't be treasures. I'm thinking about this having just read a little of an article in today's El País about some guy in Spain who is described as a really intimate friend of lots and lots of famous people. But he remains anonymous. Can you have hundreds of intimate friends? Maybe you can. I feel blessed to have a good handful. The intimates. Maybe a friend is someone who can share silences with you. Silence is not an easily shared thing and unless we're with real friends, it's better experienced in solitude. Carlisle affords some pretty good opportunities for silence, but not yesterday: Corvettes in Carlisle. We noticed that there seemed to be many fewer cars than in previous years. The recession? The photo above was taken in July in Little Compton. You don't get silence at the beach, but the sound of the waves can be hypnotic. And it's one of the great losses in leaving Malaga. In Carlisle we have the hypnotic buzzing of crickets. I feel reassured knowing I have a few friends with whom I can talk about crickets, waves, and silence.
When I take Waldo for his bedtime walk, we usually go right across the street to sniff out the rabbits that hang out at the Y. Waldo loves to chase rabbits, but it has been a little sad to observe that this behavior sure isn't what it used to be. Some chase! And to add insult to injury, our neighbor bunnies seem to know when it's Waldo coming. They let him get real close, knowing that he poses no threat. Last night the largest rabbit I've seen this summer was happily feeding in plain view when we crossed the street. Waldo is not too good at spotting the bunnies anymore, and so I had to help him out, but when he did get it in his sights, boy did those genes kick in. You'd think my buddy had been hired to make an instructional video: How to Look Like a Very Serious Hunting Dog in Three Easy Lessons. Forepaw bent at right angle, ears cocked back, shoulders low... creep forward one step at a time. Someone call Wild America! The hunt is on! 20 feet, 15 feet... easy does it boy. 10 feet? The rabbit is letting this mass of canine masculinity within ten measly feet? One more step, and the bunny scoots off. Go! Waldo trots in the general direction of the rabbit for about three seconds. Three seconds! That's it. Ufff. No, that's not much fun. Rabbit gone. And for a minute or so after that little fiasco Waldo seems to be avoiding me. Is he embarrassed? That's it? Yes, that's it. Who needs to chase rabbits, anyway? After all, Waldo never was a hunting dog, and his chase is the scent. There's a lesson in this, lurking somewhere around the Y, but I sense, indeed I hope, it will be many, many more walks before I figure it out.
On our way back from Ithaca yesterday we took the slower route, coming down route 14, which parallels the interstate-like 15 a little to the east. Beautiful! A seemingly endless green valley, with the classic Pennsylvania ridges to our sides, running on and on. Along the way we stopped and bought some good Paula Red apples. We passed through some interesting little towns: Alba, Ralston, Roaring Branch... I can imagine that people from these (disappearing?) communities have a very strong sense of place, and feeling the enchantment of the valley, I was reminded of an observation of Washington Irving's that I read when we visited Sunnyside a couple of weeks ago: Irving wrote of the importance of growing up in the shadow of a major natural wonder, and believed in the advantages of having a connectedness to a shore, a mountain, a lake, etc. Perhaps this is a significant deficit many of us suffer, a weak or non-existent relationship to a major natural feature. I grew up in the suburbs, with no natural wonders anywhere in sight. Little by little, however, I did develop a feeling of connectedness to "the woods". That might just be my "natural" environment, a New England woods. Shadowy, cool, inviting. You can smell it. Hear the murmur of a small stream. Our poets and essayists have so defined it that one easily becomes trapped in the idealized version of it. Another of my many, many bits of good fortune: the natural feature most dearly connected to my imaginary Arcadia is hardly disappearing; to the contrary, the woods are expanding and here in Pennsylvania there is a miraculous abundance. Lots of space to get lost in!
And incredibly, these seas of green have some impressive islands. Cayuga Lake, for example. Our paella picnic on the water's edge was great fun. Jay and Karen brought a big salad to accompany the rice. Fortunately, there was a very large bush to protect us from the breeze coming in off the water. It would have been impossible to keep the gas going without that shield. More good fortune: Alma and Cristina brought friends with appetites, so a paella that could have served 25 people was almost completely consumed by just 16. It was really a lovely evening.
For the first time since being back in Carlisle I woke up feeling momentarily confused. Where's the sea? The sun? Maybe it's because yesterday I saw Fernando and Luis, who are in town for a brief visit. But it's ok: looking out the window at our little garden, the quiet neighborhood... this is a good place to be. We've been in NY twice in recent weeks and the excitement of Manhattan is an experience I enjoy tremendously, but I'm not complaining about being here. Walking through the Dickinson library yesterday afternoon with Fernando and Luis reminded me just how lucky I am. (And curious to think that Steve and Noah were walking through the same library just hours earlier. It was great to see them here, even though it was so briefly.) Places... what an incredible luxury to have the time to even consider the advantages of one over another. And how about all those expansive, mainly-empty-of-human forests between here and Ithaca! (Good luck finding anything remotely like that in Europe!) Every time we drive up there I get such an urge to just veer off to the west a little, spend a few days exploring the great Pennsylvania wilderness. One of these days... As Asun and I were driving back to Carlisle, having dropped off Cristina and visited too briefly with the Ohlstens (Arcadia north!), we talked about how lucky Alma and Cristina are: the opportunities! Yes, they are fortunate indeed. Higher education in this country is quite a universe. It's so easy to criticize! True, many of us have had the experience of speaking with a college graduate and thinking, wait a minute, a college graduate? Did this person learn anything? Etc, etc. And it's so easy to make fun of college course catalogues. And we pay good money so they can study... this? But, the opportunities are truly fantastic. Young people, but certainly not just the young, in this country have spectacular opportunities, and you sure don't need to go to Cornell or other elite schools to get them. Even community colleges can be impressive gateways. I guess what I'm getting at is the notion that we live in a society that is impressively fluid in terms of socioeconomic mobility. Elites are not predetermined. Well, we talked about that for a while and it helped overcome the sadness of saying bye to Cristina.
(Last night I saw Peg and Mac for the first time in two years. Poor Mac had a major stroke ten months ago, but he seems to be recovering well. He's walking, talking, and it was just great to see him. Mac, you're right, in spite of it all, it keeps getting gooder and gooder!)
Prednisone is a powerful drug and even very low dose treatments can have significant effects. Yesterday I started a modest course of the drug to treat the symptoms of poison ivy. After six days of worsening symptoms, I decided it was time for more dramatic measures. The results became noticeable within three hours, as the sores on my left arm were starting to dry and the itiching was noticably diminished. I am eagerly awaiting my second dose! It's true, I can't be 100% certain the improvement is due exclusively to the prednisone, but it seems pretty clear that is the case. I had tried Benadryl, Cortisone cream, caladryl, baking soda, etc., all to little effect. And the rashes were steadily spreading, which is what alarmed me a little yesterday. I went to the doctor on Monday afternoon because my left arm was looking pretty gross. Yesterday it spread to my legs and no end seemed in sight. Initially I turned down my doctor's idea of the prednisone treatment on the general feeling that letting the immune system do it's slow but effective work on its own would be the wiser choice. But yesterday I woke up quite miserable and called the doctor's office to tell them I had reconsidered. Baseball's ban on steroids does not apply to me! (In the photo, after the prednisone has worked some magic--it was worse!)
A week ago I took Daniela and Elisa to Washington for a quick visit. Our first stop was the Lincoln Memorial. I've been there at least a dozen times, but it never fails to move me. In general I'm very leery of grand memorials or monuments of any kind, but I've always admired Lincoln and his way with words, so I feel tolerant as I look up at the massive figure in his big armchair. The Gettysburg Address is a real gem, a marvel of concision. On the other hand, when I look out from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument and, way back there, Congress, I feel it's unfortunate that some of the more intellectually interesting figures of our past get such short shrift in the capital, and in our collective memory generally. Where's the monument to Thomas Paine? Benjamin Rush? Hamilton? After paying homage to Abe we went by a very different kind of memorial: the one dedicated to those who died in Viet Nam (and Southeast Asia generally). Always sobering. Then it was a superficial museum tour: Air and Space, the new Native American museum, and Natural History. Impressive places, that's for sure. On the way home we stopped by Gettysburg and so Elisa got an extra dose of US history and was able to connect the words inscribed inside on the right hand wall of the Lincoln Memorial to the place where they were pronounced.
Yesterday a different kind of memorial: the funeral service for Rod Hough. Lots and lots of people. Rod died quite unexpectedly, so I was a little surprised at what a "festive" atmosphere seemed to dominate. I stood in line for over an hour to make my way to the family to offer condolences and during the wait got to greet lots and lots of folks, mainly from AA, who I hadn't seen in a couple of years.
And today it's up to New York to bring the young malagueña to JFK. Another little detail for my memory: as I write my forearms feel on fire: the itching of poison ivy. Oh man, am I stupid! Know your weeds!
Last week when we went to the ball game I had an "interesting" moment, kind of a flashback to one of my favorite alcoholic fantasies: drinking endless amounts of beer while watching an endless baseball game on an endless summer evening when the sun is setting but never quite set. What happened? We were walking along the new 'boardwalk' that wraps around the outfield. The bar style seats facing the field look most inviting. Lots of people drinking beer. Damn, wouldn't I like to join them! An understatement: for a second I'm thinking I'd do anything, give anything to join them. It was just a moment or two, but for that brief instant I was seeing one of my great fantasies right before me: perfect summer evening, starched white uniforms against a backdrop of deep, lush green grass. Balls being tossed. And the beer stand not ten steps away. Perfect! 9, 18, 27 innings, play on! One beer, two beer, sixty thousand beers! I don't care if I ever get back! Unfortunately for my addiction, reality intruded in two ways. First, I recalled that my attempts back in the nineties to actually live this fantasy right there at City Island were doomed to failure and ended up filling me with dissatisfaction, anxiety, and a handful of nasty hangovers. Here's how it would go: drive to the game (alone! God forbid some reasonable person interfere with my meditations), drink, enjoy, drink, drink, drink. WAIT: I've got to drive home and they're going to close the beer stand anyway. One more! Or two... Then drink coffee! Make many trips to restroom. Pray that my blood/alcohol level has returned to a level that isn't too far above the legal limit. Walk to parking lot slowly. No hurry. Drive carefully, take back route home. Nuts!
Get home, celebrate successful return with a few more beers! Go to bed. There'd be fleeting moments when it was just right, but it always ended in frustration. Back to the present and the second intrusion, the clincher: I had promised myself in the morning that I wasn't going to drink that day. (Blessed routine, indeed!) It would have to wait, so there went that fantasy. Briefly, very briefly, I'm feeling the weight of a grand, cosmic injustice. No fair! For about thirty seconds I felt resentful of my own stupid promise, but that too passed quite quickly. But, oh those thirty seconds, really like being on an island, a miserable, stinking little pisshole of solitude. Luckily for me there are millions upon millions of swim instructors and it's easy, and essential, to get off. Fast. In a flash it's all gone, the notion of injustice turns out to be hysterically funny. So I want to join them? Be my guest, step right up. I think about it. Nope. Maybe another day, for another ball game. Experiences of this kind are quite infrequent for me, but it does happen every once in a while.
I write this entry in memory of Dr. Rodney Hough, who died last week at age 65. Rod recovered from hardship and addiction with great determination, usually with good cheer, and always with an unbeatable sense of humor. Rod, baby, you did good! Oh man, will we miss ya!
Yesterday we took Daniela's friend Elisa to see a Senators' game on City Island. It was a beautiful evening and we all had fun. (And the Susquehanna looked gorgeous! Not sure I've ever seen it with this much water in August.) I hadn't been to a game in some years and was very pleasantly surprised. The last time I went I remember being bitterly disappointed with the changes that had evolved: too much loud music, treating the fans like morons who needed to be constantly distracted by idiotic "entertainment". Well, either they've toned down the nonsense or I've simply been dumb-downed myself. I hope, and believe, it's the former. The stadium looks beautiful and they've made some nice improvements, including a wonderful "boardwalk" that wraps around the outfield, complete with bar-style seating. Very impressive. And for five bucks. Unbeatable! The game, won by the Binghamton Mets, was interesting. The Senator's starting pitcher, Erik Arneson, has been having a great year and was recently featured in Baseball America. But he looked like a dud last night. The Mets' hitters were really smashing the ball around. On the other hand, the Mets' starter, Dylan Owen, with very mediocre season numbers, pitched six and a third innings of shutout ball. I hope I can take in another game or two before the season is over. Another surprise: OK, so you assume that these double A players are really itching to move up and achieve their dream of playng in the big leagues. So what's with the half-assed efforts? There were at least two, maybe more, rather eye-popping instances of lack of hustle. (Maybe there's still too much prosperity.. ayy, I just can't kill that Calvinist streak in me; not that I'd ever dream of letting that ethic interfere with my own enjoyment. Ha!) And an amazingly bone-headed base running error when a Senators' player got caught too far off of third on a grounder to a drawn-in infield. Bush league! But it did lead to a pretty good pickle! Score that 4 to 2 to 5 to 2 to 5 to 2 to 6! But yes, I do identify with the runner. Which way I am going? Is there any escape? Aldrich, you knucklehead! I guess I wasn't paying attention.
In the photo: you can see that it takes many bridges to sustain a tear drop.
These days it seems mainly about trying to catch up. In many ways, including with regard to this blog. Catching up and undoing. And redoing. Undoing an overgrown garden, undoing boxes. Redoing connections, offices, accounts... Maybe the most delightful moments right now are spent puttering around in the garden, pruning back plants in my unartful and somewhat brutish way. I wish I had been here the past few months to experience this incredible growth. Water! It's also a delight just to be recentered with the family. Before Alma and Cristina head back to Cornell, we hope to have a few days all together. It's frustrating how little time there is to be all together.
Last night Manny DelCarmen pitched out of a bases loaded, no out jam. But for naught: the sox had blown their opportunity in the tenth and the Rays went on to win in thirteen. Longhoria, of course, with a game-winning homer. That guy is a real Sox killer. Sox. I just bought myself some new socks, so I'm feeling pretty good. And remembering that I'm not really a sox "fan", I feel even better. I can "follow" the sox and get great enjoyment from the unfolding of their adventures, but I don't suffer like a fan anymore. I gave that up after the 1986 fiasco. And I was reminded of that at the conclusion of the game we took in last week at Fenway. Right after the game ended, I found myself next to a little boy on our way out of the stadium He must have been around eleven or twelve years old. The sox had blown a three run lead in the ninth and gone on to lose. This kid was really distraught. Angry. I felt bad for him. Sonny, I feel your pain! Some adults never really move beyond that kind of childish reaction to sporting events. Maybe I didn't until 1986. Neuman had it right: what, me worry? None of this makes too much sense, but I know I enjoy watching Pedroia. And any ball game for that matter.
Yesterday Asun, Daniela and I drove up to Little Compton from Carlisle. We stopped in Manhattan and had lunch with Alma and Jake. Very heavy traffic on 95. Peter and Widgie prepared us a wonderful dinner. Peter grilled swordfish and chicken and there was salad, fresh peas, and corn on the cob. And rasberry crunch for dessert! All wonderful! During the dinner conversation our little "Western Leone" adventure came up and Peter said I had to write about it, as it was like a transition experience for our return to the US. True! On the way back from Almeria we took the interior route, as opposed to going along the coast. Soler, Maria del Mar and Murphy were in one car; Daniela, Asun and I in another. In the middle of the Almeria desert we stopped at a classic tourist trap: "Western Leone". This is an area where many spaghetti westerns were filmed in the sixties and seventies. You can visit some of the sets, but I doubt the place we visited, right off the highway, was an actual set. Maybe. It seemed more like a mini-theme park built specifically for tourists. Just like in the movies: bank, saloon, general store, sheriff's office... even a stand for public hangings right in the square! Well, the theme park had clearly gone out of business and now four locals were trying to make a go of it. Well, it was four guys and a woman (girlfriend?) who sold the tickets at the entrance. We were accompanied by about a dozen other tourists, all of us looking pretty stupid being outdoors in the 100+ degree heat. We were just in time for the 'big show'. The four guys running the place did a standard scene on horseback: the bad guy comes and robs the bank, the sheriff and his trusty but none too bright assistant put on the chase, and it all ends with a classic shoot out. The good guys, of course, win. Audience participation encouraged! How many times can you be threatened with a gun in twenty-five minutes! It was all very silly, but these guys had a good sense of humor and everyone seemed to laugh off the fact that we'd just been had. Well, that's what the old west was all about, no? But all for a good cause: keeping five people gainfully employed. We had signed up for lunch before the show, so after pictures with the 'stars' we trudged over to the restaurant. The actors got mainly out of character and morfed into restaurateurs. The ticket taker doubled as the cook, the sheriff became our waiter, etc. The food was pretty bad, but what else could be expected? After lunch we drove off, but not quite into the sunset. It was still scorching hot. That night, good food in Pedregalejo, where Julián and Fernando joined us. Good byes. Bittersweet.