Monday, March 17, 2014

Overheard, sort of

Last week, as I drove home from work listening to NPR, I heard a man start to recite a poem that resonated with me. This poem belongs to Lloyd Schwartz and is titled "To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like a Death"

In today's paper, a story about our high school drama
teacher evicted from his Carnegie Hall rooftop apartment

made me ache to call you — the only person I know
who'd still remember his talent, his good looks, his self-

absorption. We'd laugh (at what haven't we laughed?), then
not laugh, wondering what became of him. But I can't call,

because I don't know what became of you.
— After sixty years, with no explanation, you're suddenly

not there. Gone. Phone disconnected. I was afraid
you might be dead. But you're not dead.

You've left, your landlord says. He has your new unlisted
number but insists on "respecting your privacy." I located

your oldest son, who refuses to tell me anything except that
you're alive and not ill. Your ex-wife ignores my letters.

What's happened? Are you in trouble? Something
you've done? Something I've done?

We used to tell each other everything: our automatic
reference points to childhood pranks, secret codes,

and sexual experiments. How many decades since we started
singing each other "Happy Birthday" every birthday?

(Your last uninhibited rendition is still on my voice mail.)
How often have we exchanged our mutual gratitude — the easy

unthinking kindnesses of long friendship.
This mysterious silence isn't kind. It keeps me

up at night, bewildered, at some "stage "of grief.
Would your actual death be easier to bear?

I crave your laugh, your quirky takes, your latest
comedy of errors. "When one's friends hate each other,"

Pound wrote near the end of his life, "how can there be
peace in the world?" We loved each other. Why why why

am I dead to you?
Our birthdays are looming. The older I get, the less and less

I understand this world,
and the people in it.

My car was in the driveway before the Schwartz stopped reading, so I sat there, mesmerized. I cannot have any idea how this man feels, but it reminded me so strongly of a friend I had in college, and after college, with whom I'd done a variety of things. She came to my wedding, she stayed with us for New Year's, and took a couple small trips with us, too. Kathy. You know precisely where I live, but for the past twenty years or so, I have no idea where you are.

The last letter I had from you informed me that you were going to live with an aunt in Florida, and that you'd write when you got settled some place. You never did. Since then, I've googled and searched. I sent holiday cards to your old address, hoping they'd be rerouted. I got absolutely no response--nothing ever came back. 

Finally, very recently, your name did come up on a search, and I could tell that it was definitely you--and I'm relieved that you are in fact in Florida, and you are alive. Like Schwartz, though, I can't help but think--was it something I did? 

How are you? What's been going on?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Freak out!

Today was windy and freezing, unlike yesterday and what tomorrow is projected to be. It's bizarre--60F, 30F, 60F. The Thursday Dip. What a strange journey this year has been.

Meanwhile, there's the matter of a Malaysian flight that's gone completely missing since Saturday--six days ago. It sounds like a Twilight Zone story, but it's a for-real tragic mystery.

And--Oscar Pistorius is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steemkamp. His obsession with having a gun on his person at all times is messed up, and I think his story, that he mistook Steemkamp for an intruder is ridiculous. It really sounds like he lost his temper and shot her, but that will probably be very difficult, if not impossible, to prove.  This case will drag on and on, and I hope Pistorius will never again carry a weapon.

~~~~

I've been spending my little life lately reading an Edgar A. Poe biography, and finding it most intriguing. Perhaps, one day soon, I will try to succinctly list some stuff I've learned.

A band called Fitz and The Tantrums has lately caught my fancy, too.

It's getting late here, and I've had a hard time lately, getting up. I actually set three (3) alarms this morning, and did quite well getting up and turning them all off.


Okay, really, I must set the clocks and go to bed....perchance to dream.


Saturday, March 01, 2014

Rabbit rabbit!






Today is The March Hare Day. It is a cold Saturday, 14F, but it looks like it will be a mostly sunny day.  And that is nice, because tomorrow it will rain and snow, and tomorrow night it will snow, and on Monday it will snow. Right now, there's lots of visible grass, the birds are starting to sing, and yet.  We still have eighteen (18) days to survive until spring.

Tomorrow night is the overrated Oscars, which I admit to being strangely drawn to, even though I will not stay up to watch the most popular kids receive their prizes.  If it snows hard enough, I may be home enough the following day to read about it, though.

Good luck in March, everyone!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Yay!!!

It's the last day of February! And yes, we did have fun in February, but it's also been an unusually cold winter with more snow disruptions than I'm used to, and...well, I'm looking forward to spring even more urgently than last year.

That said, it's a bright and sunny day out there. Very cold, but bright, and I finally put on all that great outdoor running gear I've been gifted with over the years and ran outside. If I put that on Facebook, it would be bragging, so I put it here. And I've just realized that I never put my Pirates of Penzance CD on my computer, speaking of the last day of February.

March is going to greet us with more winter, yes, but it'll be easier to take because it can't last long.


AND today is Friday. I'm looking forward to a couple of days of unfettered reading and doing random--stuff. As the late Kurt Vonnegut said, we are here to fart around. And I do.



Oh, here's a short book review:
The Ocean At The End of the Lane is a gem of a book, mostly because it seems to be such a clear window into the experience of being a child. Gaiman's novel is very adult, and yet, it's told very convincingly in the voice of a seven year old boy. This tale has a distinctive, magical atmosphere.

One of my favorite quotes:

Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences. I was a child, which meant that I knew a dozen different ways of getting out of our property and into the lane, ways that would not involve walking down our drive.”

The storyline flows so nicely that it's hard to put down after beginning. And it's not long, so--go ahead, sit down and enjoy this one!
 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~``

So, enjoy the sunshine while it lasts, and happy weekend, even if you must stay inside, as I probably will; we're getting more messy stuff.

Rock on! And now I must get to work...

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Twenty-Five

Mike and I have now been married twenty-five (25) years. Half our lives. I'm not sure which seems stranger--having our silver anniversary, or being fifty (50!) years old. Probably the latter.

And what did we do to celebrate this? We hopped on the train and went to Philadelphia. I know, I know, this doesn't sound like much, we didn't even leave the state, but--Philly is fun. It's worth it, just to visit the pubs. This time, we hit Brownie's and Khyber's Pass, which are both excellent places to have lunch and beer. Brownie's has a menu option called Heart Stopper Fries, but they don't taste that bad for you, really, and of course you normally eat very healthy stuff, so what the heck? Khyber's Pass has excellent nachos and also a bunch of other vegetarian options that sounded intriguing. Both places have amazing beer, and the staff are very friendly and fun. I don't usually want strangers talking to me, but this friendly-thing they have is all good.

We did not have the best weather--it is February, and we did recently get snow dumped all over us, and that's just it: of course, if I'd really thought about things, I would have gotten a pair of galoshes. I knew we were headed for an inner city, with cars parked everywhere, which makes snow removal patchy. There were large puddles or snow or both at every intersection. Mike and I made some epic leaps and did not fall anywhere, but alas, we got wet. And the historic district, with all those cobblestones, is slippery and uneven. O, Treacherous Philadelphia! When we went to tour Independence Hall, it rained. And we were waiting outside. Our forebears had it worse, though. I kept that in mind: no galoshes or umbrellas for the colonists. After a fifteen minute wait, the park service let us in to see where The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed. Since it was such a dark day, and we weren't permitted any flash photography--and okay, I also forgot my camera, here is a picture from a sunny day:
The Declaration of Independence was first published as a broadside by John Dunlap of Philadelphia, and it is believed that he printed about 200 of them. Only twenty-five (25!) are known to exist now, and one can be viewed as part of this tour. These printed versions are actually older than the official handwritten version. I'd always had it in my head that this famous penmanship was that of Thomas Jefferson, but actually, the scribe was Timothy Matlack. Sometimes, beautiful handwriting really is important. It was inked on vellum, which brings me to the best part of our trip...


The Philadelphia Free Library. Goodness, why don't we live closer to this wonderful font of everything that is cool and useful and good? We took a fast hike to make it there in time for the 11:30 tour of the rare book room, and despaired of being late, but oho, we were the only ones there. A couple minutes later, one other guy showed up, so it was just the three of us and our enthusiastic tour guide. We got an up-close look at artifacts such as hieroglyphics on papyrus, scrolls, and a book of hours printed on vellum (sheep skin). Seriously fascinating old stuff.

And--this library happens to have the largest and most important Edgar Allan Poe collection in the world. You can even see the very raven that inspired The Raven. Actually, this bird belonged to Charles Dickens, his name was Grip, and he was a minor character in Dickens's first historical novel, Barnaby Rudge. (Probably the least-read Dickens book.)  Edgar Allan Poe, who was known as a book reviewer as well as an author, expressed the opinion that Dickens could have used Grip to better symbolic effect in his novel (Poe's review is over there, and I daresay it's a slog. His remarks about the raven appear in the next-to-last paragraph).  Anyway, Grip's stuffed form is another artifact to be seen at the library.

There was also a Shakespeare exhibit, quite interesting--I had no idea that The Bard had been edited so many times and by so many people for so many purposes. We wandered around, looking at artwork and the vastness of the place...it's hard to leave. And no, it wasn't raining.
 
Another star in our little getaway was The Monaco, a Klimpton hotel in the historical district of Philadelphia. It's a beautiful place, and despite the fact that it was clearly too refined and cool for us, they made us feel extremely welcome.  The rooms include his and her loaner robes--a gray hoodie for him, a leopard print for her, which is hilariously perfect. There is a restaurant there called The Red Owl which is quite good, too. We played Scrabble next to a mondo gas fireplace in the lobby, while drinking complimentary wine. (My tolerance has gone down. Mike beat me badly both nights.)  I am not being paid for this ad :)
 
We went to the Farmicia restaurant for our anniversary dinner, not overly fancy, but perfect. And we had breakfast at Mrs. K's Koffee Shop, a place we just stumbled on, this morning. It was such a charming, old-fashioned diner, full of people who were happy to be there. There was  a group of ladies directly across from us who were from Seattle, and one of them ordered a Philly cheesesteak for breakfast. I, who had french fries or home fries four times in the past two days, am not judging.
 
 
 That picture is almost unrecognizable--who knew the place was ever empty? Perhaps it's photoshopped. And I love Amtrak, too. Such a civilized way to travel.
 
And tomorrow: back to work. It was inevitable.
 
 
 
 




Sunday, February 09, 2014

First Saturday


Saturday morning. First thing I did: got up and finished The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer. I might be weeping for days.

This story is unusually moving and will stick with me for quite awhile. World War II is the backdrop of many novels, and this one follows the lives of Andras Levi and his brothers. Their lives start in Hungary, where they develop their personalities, dreams, and goals. The author draws their young lives in detail, and so we know how they viewed their world before the war--the things they worried about, what they did with their friends, and their romances. Andras was focused on getting a degree in architecture in Paris and struggling with his finances. He'd also fallen in love, and was looking forward to a life with Klara and career in creating buildings. Andras was young, talented, and had a future. This was 1937.

Gradually, the political climate becomes scary, and Andras's carefully constructed life in Paris begins to fall apart. First, his scholarship is cancelled because he is Jewish, but he finds work and survives this. However, a couple years later, he finds that his visa is suddenly no good--he is told that he needs to return to Budapest to renew it. However, upon arrival in Budapest, Andras learns that this is not possible. His dream of finishing school in Paris is over.

This is crushing, but as the story proceeds, things get gradually worse for all of them. Andras and his brothers are called up to serve in the Munkaszolgálat, or Hungarian work service, which meant hard, forced labor. They were separated from their new wives and families, called up at different times and sent to different places. After a period of time, the men were sent home and told that their service was over, but would later be called up again. Each time, the separation from their families is heartbreaking, and each time, it gets more dangerous, their chances of survival getting slimmer.

Julie Orringer's characters are real people. Andras's brothers, parents, wife, friends--all of them are characters the reader is compelled to care about. Orringer has created some unforgettable scenes in this remarkable novel.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It would seem that being reminded of such dark times and events, and realizing that I have never had to live through anything like that, would have a cheering effect on me. Look, I'm so lucky! My least enjoyable times have had nothing to do with starvation, torture, or watching my loved ones being murdered. And yet, it happened--and is happening--to so many people, as I sit here feeling sorry.

And uncertainty. During war, not knowing is a great mental foe. Do most of us, right now, live with uncertainty? To some extent, but the uncertainty in my life is negligible. Sure, accidents happen every day, but there is no reason to think that I will suddenly not have any right to move around, hold a job, or own a home. The government is not going to seize all that I own and march me down the road to live somewhere else. I expect to grow old in this house, should I choose to do so.  I take our plans for granted, and just hope for good health.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Enough, already, sorry about that.  Time to cheer up, enjoy today.  There are reasons to be optimistic about the world today, people to celebrate.
 



...and now I need to go read something on the light side!
 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Welcome to the second half of January

I'm looking forward to February.

A couple days ago, I actually finished Focault's Pendulum (Umberto Eco), and consider it an accomplishment. It's probably the most difficult novel I've ever managed to finish. A bunch of years ago, I read the unabridged version of Les Miserables, in which Victor Hugo would periodically abandon his riveting storyline to go off on some tangent, the most memorable one about the Paris sewer system. Well, guess what? Those underground passageways figure in this tome, too.  The good news is that this time, I did not endure one hundred pages on their history, since this novel concerns itself with the history, speculations, and conspiracy theories surrounding the Templar Knights.

I do hope that we actually discuss this novel a bit in the reading group, even though I know a few of us will have given up on it. Life is short. Honestly, though, I'd like to hear others' speculations concerning what we are to believe about the events at the end of the novel. It's hard to really know, since the main characters have all lost touch with reality. I declared Casaubon Officially Insane on page 451, and while fellow editor Belbo had issues all along, he is obviously mad by page 531. This is just my opinion. During this time, the third editor, Diotellevi, dies of cancer, convinced that the cells in his body are reacting to the poisonous work they are doing.

But I do now know that a bombardon is a large brass instrument, much like a tuba. Even if spell check doesn't like it, it does exist. For awhile, during the middle stages of my latest reading venture, I entertained the possibility of picking out a readable history of the Templar Knights, but alas, I no longer have that fever. I confess, I'm tired of them and do not have the brain to contemplate some of these esoteric subjects.

I've also seen a couple of  movies lately, most notably American Hustle, which is very loosely based on a scandal I only vaguely remember. Every single cast member plays his or her part to perfection, and I actually cared about what happened to them.

In Netflix news, we've seen The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which boils down to a 9/11 story, starring a very innocent, America-loving young Pakistani man named Changez (hard g). It's based on the novel by Mohsin Hamid, and at some point, I will read it.  We've also seen 42, a biopic of Jackie Robinson. It's a pretty good movie, and I liked Chadwick Boseman in his lead role. The film focuses on baseball, and does not tell us much more about Jackie Robinson, but the film does clearly communicate how hard and scary it was to be Jackie Robinson. And yes, that's two films about American prejudice and injustice in a row. Oh, wait, I'm wrong! We saw The Bling Ring between these two. It was entertaining, but obviously, it pales in comparison.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Enough about movies, I am back to my reading list, and I've started with the shortest one, a novella by one of my favorite authors....Nate in Venice.

Richard Russo's novella about a just-retired English professor is an engaging page-turner. The simple title had me expecting a coming-of-age story, which I suppose it is, but not the kind I was expecting. Nate is sixty, not twenty, but in some important ways, he still needs to find his way. It feels good to read a story promoting the idea that it's never too late.  

Nate in Venice is a very short piece of fiction, so I hate to say too much, except that the narrative ended before I was ready. That's okay, though, I can let it go--always good advice. This was a good read for me right now, because I've had a case of the blues. It's probably a January thing.



After all, it's not like anything is wrong with me. I'm healthy.  I did not make any resolutions, but the one thing I should do is make myself run more often. I've slacked off so badly that that could very well be my blues problem. That's a vicious cycle, that not wanting to get up and then the moody result of not getting up. And I have no excuse--if I can't face the treadmill in this cold weather, I have the clothing for this cold weather. Been collecting clothes for years, and this year, Mike's parents got me a nifty new warm shirt for Christmas--it's a thumb hole shirt:



(This is a random, googled picture) See what a great little idea this is? It's an extra layer for the back of your hands, plus it keeps your shirt tucked into your mittens! The shirt is form-fitting, so your watch can be worn with no bunching. I'm spoiled now, and may have to perform surgery on a couple older shirts. So. I shall get out there most mornings, and do whatever I have time to do. There is no cone on my head, no injuries to report, not even a head cold right now.

The new year would start on a happier note for me, if it weren't always so cold. But that's just me.

How are YOU bearing up?

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Happy New Year

It is so natural, at the beginning of another year, to think of making changes, to start sentences with, "from now on..."  And of course there are endless articles popping up on news sites: 14 ways to slash your expenses in 2014, slim down with these recipes, 7 things you can do right now to make yourself happier....

I make and break a dozen resolutions throughout the year, so I don't usually start now.
 I must say that I enjoy the zeugma involved in "My New Year's resolution is to clean up my apartment and my life."  It's vague, though, one must be more specific.

Right now, I resolve to finish Foucault's Pendulum, by Umberto Eco. I did not choose to read this. I belong to a book discussion group that meets just four times a year, which means that I read just four books a year that are not necessarily on my radar at all. At this point, there are about twelve (12) days to go until we meet, and I am roughly halfway through this 641-page opus. Also, I know that at least three people in the group will not have read this, and no one would fault me for putting it down. However, surprisingly, I can't.

Here's a plot summary, lifted off Amazon:

Bored with their work, three Milanese editors cook up "the Plan," a hoax that connects the medieval Knights Templar with other occult groups from ancient to modern times. This produces a map indicating the geographical point from which all the powers of the earth can be controlled—a point located in Paris, France, at Foucault’s Pendulum. But in a fateful turn the joke becomes all too real, and when occult groups, including Satanists, get wind of the Plan, they go so far as to kill one of the editors in their quest to gain control of the earth.

Orchestrating these and other diverse characters into his multilayered semiotic adventure, Eco has created a superb cerebral entertainment.

So, I am currently on page 329, and I still have not come to the part where these three editors cook up with their fun little plan. In other words, I might have, in my hands, the novel with the longest, most well-developed background ever in novel history.  The characters are intriguing and their conversations are not like anything I've ever read before. Belbo (not a hobbit), Causabon (why the name from Middlemarch? I must figure this out), Diotellevi, Amparo, Lorenza, and the rest of the crowd have gotten under my skin. And besides, I've come this far! It was very hard to start reading, but at this point, it would be very hard to stop.

Still, though, I look forward to getting back to MY reading list. Better get reading...





Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Final Weekend

I never know how to start a journal entry, so I'll just start rambling...

Aral, my out-of-state sister came to town on Christmas night, truly surprising my mother, who had expected her sometime the following day. As usual, we visited, talking about disparate topics, eating, drinking, and eventually moving on to The Game. You know, the one where everyone brings a small or random gag gift, and then picks a number...that's always fun, as we unfurl the funny mystery presents  and then vie for the best one. The person who picks lucky number one not only picks first (that's not such a big deal), but also gets to trade with anyone, once everyone has opened a gift.

This year, there was a leg lamp, a mooning gnome (perfect for your lawn on April 1st, in my opinion), a B movie about Elvis impersonators that sounds like a hoot, a funny bling clock, a travel cup, a pair of texting gloves, poo pouri (the things I learn from this crowd...), a yellow angry birds ear flap hat, and canned opossum roadkill meat. Mom found that gem of an appetite suppressant at a storytelling festival in Tennessee.  My nieces, who are now well into their twenties, are still afraid of opening up anything Mom has contributed, and it's all about that Z cup bra Mom wrapped up, years and years ago. You see, no one but Mom knows where it is, and gifts that are rejected just might make an appearance....later on. Mom has a storied history, when it comes to wicked pranks, but I'll save that for another time.

And then I had to go back to work for two very tiring, hectic days. The day after Christmas, three (3) people called off. Enough said. Needless to say, this weekend was a bright and shiny oasis. Yesterday (Saturday), Aral and I met for coffee and then decided to take a walk around the ol' stomping grounds. It had turned into a beautiful day, and it's somehow more appealing and relaxing to talk while strolling around. Quite a lot has changed, really.

We visited the topic of our old elementary school, which is now closed. The building is so quaint, it seems a crying shame to raze it, and enough people feel this way that its future is uncertain. We went on to reminisce about things that happened in that building, and Aral particularly brought up my first year there, or my first half year there--I moved into the district in January. It was the third fourth grade class I'd attend, and I landed in the realm of Mrs. B, who became legendary for her behavior.  On my very first day there, she paddled a boy in front of the entire class. I'll call this boy M. Mrs. B tortured M all year, and I cannot remember a single thing M ever did to deserve it.  His parents were never around, never complained. Whenever my mother would come to the school, M's face would light up and he would greet her by name. Such a polite, charming boy. Mom would be very distressed to see him sitting on the floor of the hallway, copying paragraphs. When M was assigned to write for punishment, it was never mere sentences. M has always been a topic with all of us: Where were his parents? How did Mrs. B get away with this? And he wasn't the first to be abused. Parents had complained. My mother complained. Why were the adults so afraid of her? All the boys in the class took a big step away from him, too. M seemed to always have the nicest stuff, and he always shared. The boys in our class would certainly take advantage of this fact, but as soon as we were back in the classroom--he was shunned again. It was disgusting. Rich Girl told me that this was M's fault for allowing himself be used. His fault. M died young. I don't know what happened.

Even in good times, taking a rare walk with my sister, sad memories surface. Some people say that we can't appreciate the good without the bad, that acknowledging the contrast between hard times and happy ones is part of what makes us human.  One thing is for certain: there are past events we all need to talk about, and I'm thankful to have that opportunity. And to admit that for me, that old elementary school may be a quaint building, but I do not particularly cherish any memories of my time inside it.

And today, Mike and I will play Scrabble before heading over to watch football with the rest of the family.  I'm not sure who's popping up, but it'll be one of those elusive, fun evenings that make up the misty aura of contentment in my mind.



Ah, I always wish that the weekend were one day longer--to read more, enjoy more music, play one more game. Someday.







Friday, December 20, 2013

TGIF

This is the end of my first week of work after taking off seven work days for a cruise. It's been exhausting, and the last couple days I was feeling really lousy, too. When a couple coworkers called in sick yesterday, I was scared, but--I'm feeling much much better today! (I've used up ALL my time this year, so I would've had to suck. it. up.)

Hurray for the weekend! Do you have your tree up? Shopping done, gifts wrapped, huh, huh? Good luck with the traffic out there, everyone, be patient, and drive safely.





(I have vacation pics on my other blog, which do not show any talent with a camera, I'm afraid.)