Here and gone

This past weekend we had everyone under one roof. Cristina arrived Thursday evening on a train, having just returned from her trip to France, with a quick visit to San Sebastian included. Unfortunately, an intense thunder storm left trees fallen on the tracks west of Philadelphia, delaying things a few hours and so she missed that evening's ballet. Alma drove down Friday. We had about thirty-six hours together. What a wonderful feeling! And so fleeting. It's all so fleeting. But we have these cyclical tendencies that keep us going, and thankfully we get to gather again this weekend in Rhode Island. Well, we're not sure yet about Daniela, but I'm hopeful. Very early Sunday morning we drove her up to NY for her summer program at School of American Ballet. This just hours after a very intense two performance day of dancing to finish the June Series. Spectacular! And about the same time we were leaving, Alma and Cristina were heading back to Ithaca. So the house is feeling pretty empty this week.

It was interesting to see how they are set up at School of American Ballet. It's all under one roof on W. 65th St., right next to Alice Tully Hall, where Daniela had her great Swan experience as a nine-year old. Now she is in a double room on the 17th floor, with views of Lincoln Center below and the Hudson River just a few blocks to the west. Her suite mates have come from all over the country– California, Ohio, Florida... and two of her friends from Víctor Ullate's ballet in Madrid are also there. At the same time we were getting Daniela settled in, a ballet legend, Darci Kistler, was giving her farewell performance to bring to a close a long, long career (30 years!) with New York City Ballet. (Walking across Lincoln Center Plaza we ran into one of Daniela's CPYB mates, now an apprentice with the company; she was getting ready to perform as part of the corps de ballet.) In any case, here's part of what Times critic Alastair Macaulay had to say in his summary of Ms Kistler's career: "Since then (1992) her career has been a long, slow fade... Her pale autumn has lasted far longer than her bright spring and summer combined, and I cannot see that since 1992 she has been a good role model for the young. Often her mane of hair has been a mere shtick. Her solo dancing in the Stravinsky ballets was wretched, flicking lightly at steps that require a rigor she lost long ago." Ouch!! Makes you think that maybe fleeting is not so bad! (In the wonderful photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Daniela with her partner, Antonio Anacan, in Raymonda Variations.)



A couple of weeks ago I put a bird feeder in our garden, not far from a dining room window. It quickly became quite pop-ular and I have learned that the little flyers can go through a lot of bird feed in a short time. Just a few minutes ago I was watching a few of them. (I have not yet made a serious attempt at identifying the different species. Most are grey and brown hued and smallish: sparrows, thrushes, an perhaps the red-winged blackbird...) Just as I was thinking to myself, my, these birds are getting bigger and fatter, boom, one of the recently porked up gluttons flew right into the window. Drunk on the seed! Is this a case of too much of a good thing? I was wondering that myself the other day as I spooned up on one of Leo's almond-coconut-chocolate chip ice creams. What happened to those new year's vows to slim down and get in shape? The year had started off so well in that regard... Will I ever get it right?

Is greed universal? Surely we can overcome it to some degree. Maybe the question is, can we overcome it to a sufficient degree? (In the photo, a song sparrow.)



I've been watching a little of the World Cup and have noticed that flopping is still a big embarrassment to the sport. I can imagine it's very difficult for the referee to make these calls. We television viewers have the advantage of instant replay and slow motion. Still, the FIFA people should really tackle this problem. (Like the pun? Yellow card!) I was very pleased to see New Zealand tie Italy, as it's always seemed to me that the Italians are the master floppers. (No flopping in baseball, by the way, which is another reason it is a superior sport.) One thing I have enjoyed greatly is the British commentator on ESPN. I don't recall his name, but his understated humor is wonderful.

And now I just read about the chaos undoing the French team. Oulala! The Spanish translation of the insult apparently hurled by Anelka at his coach was quite graphic. (I did not see a quote of this insult anywhere in the US papers. Ah, the poverty of monolingualism strikes again.) So Anelka suggested his coach shove something into a particular body orifice while commenting on his hygiene and his mother's professional status. Strong stuff, but not very imaginative. The coach could have responded with some comments of his own. It can get tricky. One imagines that no apology was forthcoming from Anelka, and thus his expulsion. If that's the case, good for the coach.

And speaking of the professions exercised by some women, how about that Lady Gaga. If the news reports are accurate, she's got one lame act: acting like a slut (and certainly looking like one) while visibly drunk is pretty pathetic. More pathetic the people who buy into it.


Summer Approaches

It's a beautiful morning in Carlisle. Summer is here, even if the calendar would have us wait a few more days. The bright light and green grass made me think of a favorite poem of mine, just three beautiful lines from Walt Whitman. It was first published in 1865 in Drum Taps, but, I just learned, as a mere two line poem. The third, crucial line was added in 1870:

A Farm-Picture

Through the ample open door of the peaceful country barn,
A sun-lit pasture field, with cattle and horses feeding;
And haze, and vista, and the far horizon, fading away.

Just listen to the wonderful rhythms of the first line, so nicely divided into two symmetrical halves of trochaic tetrameter. And he keeps changing it up. So the attractive sound qualities really contribute to the pastoral tranquility. It's summer, it's good, and we see an attractive, productive landscape. But the fading horizon is a touch ambiguous. A receding picture. Infinite? In any case, consider the perspective: this picture is described from inside the barn. We see out through the open barn door, which suggests a very "pictorial" frame. To me, that's one half of what the title is about. Our frame of reference is a peaceful country barn, and we are in it. Not a bad place to be on a hot summer day!

Sometimes these peaceful places may lead us to excessive pondering. I think I'd like my horizon to always be fading, but I fear it's coming closer. And sometimes the best I can manage is "it's o.k." Walt makes it easier.



This morning I was at the supermarket and during my stroll I was assisted by a curious individual. This man seemed angry and had a noticeably brusque manner. At first he struck me as quite rude. But I was wrong: he was actually quite nice, pointed out a couple of helpful details and wished me a nice day. Rarely do I come across such extreme disjunction. People are interesting that way.

More disjunction: last night I watched the film A Beautiful Mind, about mathematician John Nash. Asun insisted that I had seen the film with her years ago. I was certain I hadn't. And as the film went on nothing seemed familiar, zero recollection. And yet, Asun is pretty good about these things and I suspect she's right. If that's the case, it's not good for me. How could I forget something so completely? In any case, it was an ok film. The story is certainly interesting.

Lots to think about, much to do. Here's a question: is it important to remember? (I just can't get excited about World Cup Soccer.)



Last week there was an interesting article in the New York Times about some kids from the US who have gone to Moscow to study ballet at the school of the famed Bolshoi ballet. (Read the article here.) How times have changed! But in fact, these kids are not the first to do this. Way back in 1996 CPYB student Vanessa Zahorian left Carlisle to go study at the Kirov. She has gone on to have a stellar career at San Francisco ballet. I am always intrigued by people with particularly strong passions. One kid, Joy, put it quite plainly, "I want to be Russian." I can't identify with that one, but I definitely could identify when I read that she burst into tears the first time she saw Natalia Osipova on video. Sometimes beauty is just that powerful. (Osipova is currently in New York for a stint with American Ballet Theatre. Read Alistair MacCaulay's rave review of her performance Tuesday night here.) In any case, regarding Daniela's passion, it seems like really good luck that we are in Carlisle, where the passion is so conveniently engaged. Nonetheless, it can get complicated. I just read a marvelous essay by yet another CPYB dancer from Carlisle, Abi Stafford, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet. She writes in Pointe Magazine about competitiveness, professional anxieties, and how she's learned to manage it all. And I feel confirmed: from the very beginning I've tried to impress upon Daniela that it's about having fun. (She's also taught me the very same lesson.) Fun can be very serious business, can involve hardship, sacrifice, and a lot of pain, but we need to keep coming back to that joy and, I think, to the sharing.

(Luck is tricky to define. Well, perhaps not, but it is complicated when we try to determine how it applies in our lives. Sometimes just about everything can seem like chance. At the other extreme, I often hear said "there are absolutely no coincidences." It's usually affirmed by people who believe in an all-powerful, participatory God. God as Director. I don't believe in that one.)

I don't know if this constitutes a passion, but it sure could be fun: we make an obscenely huge paella, then get a crowd, all nicely equipped with thick oven mitts, and we hoist the paella/throne and procession it to... to some huge cathedral? We've had the bread and the fish, now it's time for a paella miracle. (In the image, above, the making of the world's largest paella, near Madrid. Paella for 110,000! Check out the big equipment!) If I could manage to make a very large paella, maybe not for hundreds of thousands, but, let's say, maybe for a thousand (I've reached 100), and got several people to help parade it in a sacred culinary procession, would that be luck? I don't know, but it would certainly be lucky.


Blessed Imperfection

What a memorable baseball season! Last night more exceptionality: Detroit Tigers' pitcher Armando Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game when the first base umpire made what will surely go down as one of the most infamous bad calls in baseball history. Poor Jim Joyce, the umpire who blew the call. It will be with him for the rest of his life: he cost the kid a joyous moment! And changed his place in history. Regardless of what happens from here on out, Galarraga will forever be associated with Jim Joyce. In this story there are lots of bad guys and at least one good guy. Let's start with the good guy: Armando Galarraga. He didn't scream at Joyce, didn't berate him, and accepted the ump's post-game apology with grace. He's got some perspective. And I just read that in a short time, Galarraga will walk out of the dugout before today's game and present the lineup card to Joyce, who declined to take the day off, and will be working behind the plate. That's courage! Folks, it's just a game. Everyone needs to lighten up! The bad guys: everyone who's been giving Joyce such a hard time, including Jim Sutton, the stupid ESPN announcer who called Joyce's missed call "unforgivable". No Don, it's not unforgivable at all. Well, that's what everyone's talking about today.



Graduations are for the most part joyous events, but typically involve conflicting emotions, especially for the protagonists, the graduates. For Asun and I the emotions (joy, pride, etc.) were fairly uncomplicated. It was also, for us, another first: attending a college graduation as parents. Not surprisingly, the weekend offered a rich supply of clichés, and it requires effort to stay free of them in reflecting back on the festivities and ceremonies. It was certainly a lot of fun celebrating one of these big milestones with the family all together, including brother Stephen (!), accompanied by beautiful weather and lots of happy young people. The Ohlstens were again our superhosts and that really made it possible for us to enjoy everything in a relaxed and stress-free fashion. Thank you Jay and Karen! And kudos again to Jay, my culinary assistant extraordinaire!

More than once over the course of the weekend I found myself comparing what I was observing and experiencing to my own college graduation. The differences are stark on every level. At my own graduation, I had not a single event to attend that involved me being recognized in any way for any kind of achievement. Alma had several. Looking back now, I can only conclude that what was most characteristic of my college experience was its perfect combination of mediocrity and disengagement. I did learn a lot and made significant progress in terms of understanding some of the basic goals of a liberal arts education, advances that I believe have served me well in the long run. But my experiences then were perhaps inwardly directed in excessive fashion. I imagine that someone tried to communicate the same lesson Cornell's president, David Skorton, insisted on in his commencement address to the graduates: stay connected! I may have been listening, but not closely. While listening to Skorton (I am now, thirty years down the line, a better listener), I found myself nodding in agreement, but also thinking, surely you get more than this for $200,000! Of course! (Of course? The cost of higher education and its relative worth will be endlessly debated, but I'm not going to return to that one today. Suffice to say, I'm confident that the resources we dedicate to private higher education are a good investment.) As for the particular case of our oldest daughter, I'm most confident. As we like to say here at Dickinson, this student is "fully engaged." And very accomplished, if I do say so myself.

In her marvelous address to her classmates, Alma alluded to the irony of calling graduation "commencement": there is no question that students are celebrating the end of something. But maybe that's how we justify such a heavy investment in education: feeling like maybe you haven't learned so much? Hey, not to worry, it's just the beginning. You'll see the benefits later. Without this education you may be at greater risk of false starts. Maybe, maybe not. I really don't know; I, too, feel like I'm just getting started.

Well, who knows what is about to commence. It looks like West Africa for the graduate. Another story for another day. In the photo: why I get up every morning.