Thursday, December 25, 2008

I've got a feeling this year's for me and you... So happy Christmas

One of my perennial favorites, from The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. This never fails to bring a tear to my eyes.

I'm still waiting for George Bailey to lasso the moon for me, but Merry Christmas anyway, you old broken down Building & Loan! And the same to all of you, three faithful readers!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

O, Pine Tree State!

I don't want to make anyone self-conscious, but it appears I have a very devoted fan in Frenchville, Maine.

I used to have one in Pierrefonds, Québec. I wonder if they're one in the same person.

I have never been to Maine.

Please, dear devoted fan, don't let this recognition chase you away. I need all the readership I can get. It inflates my flaccid ego.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Your future is all used up

One of my favorite scenes from the Orson Welles classic, Touch of Evil, with Marlene Dietrich.

December: Triptych

Pear Upside-Down Cake Sunday

After a weekend of illness, depression-induced sleep, and further gut-wrenching stress about my job and my life, I'll repeat a sentiment I expressed elsewhere:

Do you think I'll feel better if I eat the whole thing at once?

My guess is that the correct answer is "No," so I'll just work on it one sliver at a time. The cake, that is. (As for the other issues, I have no idea how to work on them...)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack

I hope that whereever you were, you were able to witness last night's conjunction of the Moon, Jupiter, and Venus. It was lovely and special, really, in an old-fashioned, Romantic way -- a way that makes one think about the types of things that may have passed for entertainment and surprise in earlier times.

I'm often wistful when witnessing extremely rare occurrences like this one. I remember getting sad and anxious during the US Bicentennial year 1976. We lived very close to one of the "Crossroads of the American Revolution," and there were re-enactments galore of famous battles and historical events for well over a year. My eight-year-old mind didn't look upon these events with even a shred of cynicism, and I'm glad now that my parents made an effort to attend some of them with me.

However, even though I don't think I expressed it outwardly, I remember getting anxious and even sad thinking about the fact that if we skipped or missed any part of the events, that we'd never get a chance to see them again -- ever -- because there wouldn't be another similar celebration until the Tricentennial, one hundred years hence. It may have been one of the first times I pondered some nascent recognition of mortality, because I could relate it to concrete events. I knew what it meant; I knew somehow that there was probably very little chance that I'd live to be 108 years old. At the same moment I must have thought about what that span of a century meant compared to human lives, the lives of me and my family members. There were certain special things -- or so I thought -- that really could only be experienced once in a lifetime.

(And yes, sometime after age eight, I learned about sesquicentennials and also about the crude and somewhat unsophisticated air surrounding historical reenactments.)

So, while not to stir any anxiety in you, I do hope you were able to witness last night's astral event.

Because it's said that the next time it will occur will be after my eighty-fourth birthday.

photo from

Monday, December 01, 2008

HIV, Mon Amour

World AIDS Day 2008

I'd encourage my three readers to give something, either here, or to the charity of your choice.

Above, a cartogram showing territories based on proportions of their HIV-positive populations aged 15-49.

Below, some words from the late poet, Tory Dent, from her book from which I've borrowed the title for this post.
Where I am able to walk unbothered for a while as if along a long, white beach.
Where I am able to stand and contemplate my life, the concept and its definitions.
Where I am able to close my eyes and revel in the memory, the voice and face
the jokes, the silences, the passion, the fights, of someone I loved deeply who died.
Where trapped in the tar gut of solitary confinement I wake and am no longer blind.
Update: I meant to mention that I highly recommend Yesterday, the Zulu-language film from South Africa that deals very poignantly with HIV/AIDS. One of the best films I've seen in years.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I've Loved You So Long

Despite how that title may sound, this is not another paean to a long-lost ex-boyfriend who broke up with me. As a matter of fact, breakups of the romantic sort don't figure at all into Philippe Claudel's French language film, starring Kristin Scott Thomas, which I saw Saturday night.

It was a fairly quiet film about psychological interiors and difficult relationships, and I enjoyed it very much. I don't recommend reading a lot about it prior to seeing it (and you should), as there are a couple of narrative turns that are best left as surprises. Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein, who plays her sister, are both incredibly good, even while the story might be said to have a somewhat melodramatic dénouement.

At the heart of this film is a very strong theme of redemption and also an examination of the idea that often none of us really knows anything about the experiences of others, whether they are close to us or strangers. Even when we try to sympathize, we may very well not know the whole story about what motivates anyone and what has shaped his or her demeanor or behavior. I find that exploration very intriguing as I work through my own issues of trying to be compassionate, sympathetic, and nonjudgmental. Ironically, I get most irritated and impatient with people when I feel they're unwilling to look deeper into situations and personalities and instead make snap judgments. I find that type of black-and-white thinking incredibly stupid and, well there you go: a lesson for me about working on my own judgments.

One final issue that keeps coming up for me when I see films or read some works of fiction: I have such a problem with "realism" that I'd call it an impediment. I have trouble taking leaps of faith in otherwise "believable" stories unless the conceit is handled in an exaggerated or highly stylized manner as in magic realism, broad satire, or fable. This is a problem for me -- not in detracting from my enjoyment of a story -- but in thinking that I could never release myself enough to write a story if I didn't feel that every narrative choice was inscrutable. I probably should get over that somehow. Just a thought. (And yes, the film does have a bit of that: a central element that I find not wholly believeable, but upon which the entire premise of the story rests.)

In any case, I highly recommend this film; it's exactly embodies the reasons I love going to the movies.

Sunday Morning

The weekend's been a good one. Dinner at the Canary Hotel with J on Thursday was really nice. The rest of the weekend involved a bit of shopping; reading the morning paper at cafes; going to the Saturday Farmers' Market; gardening; dining on fresh gazpacho, bread, and taleggio cheese; a movie; and enjoying the great sunny weather and mild 68-degree temperatures. Before the weekend's done I may make a pear-ginger upside-down cake, but first I really need to make a dent into cleaning up this house and various piles of clothes that need folding, as well as a mountain of paperwork and unopened mail. And then there's that angst about starting the workweek tomorrow... though things really aren't bad at work, aren't very busy, and may include a two-night business trip to West Los Angeles, followed by a Saturday reunion with college friends in Sacramento and a night in San Francisco.

Why am I having this existential crisis again? Oh yeah... the future. Much as one tries to live -- like a good aspiring Buddhist -- "in the present moment," that pesky future thing can't totally be ignored all the time.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

All these wonders by the Master's hand

The following excerpt from a Los Angeles Times story made me almost cry on Friday, and has been haunting me since then. It's not that I have an illusion that I could ever "save" a child in a situation as bad as this one, but thinking about it reminds me how much I would love to actually raise and nurture a child. Maybe it's a ridiculous concept -- having that wish to nurture a child in ways in which one was not nurtured oneself (I don't think that kind of motive is exactly a successful one for raising a child, since it projects too much of the caregiver's unmet needs onto him or her).

However, that fantasy is still there: the fantasy of being a stay-at-home parent with a co-parent like W. or someone similar. It makes my heart ache because I know it's unlikely that I will ever be living in that type of situation. I supposed it's probably better to cultivate fantasies that have a greater likelihood of being actualized....
Cowburn and her husband had tried unsuccessfully to get their insurance company to pay for mental health treatment for the boy. The difficulty she had keeping him under control had already helped drive her to attempt suicide last year. Now she felt she had only one option: She flew with her child to Nebraska last week and tearfully left him there.
About four years ago, a crack addict in a North Carolina Wal-Mart handed her 16-month-old son to Melyssa Cowburn and promised to return after buying diapers. When the woman didn't come back, Cowburn -- herself adopted -- became the boy's guardian.

"I was 24," said Cowburn, who asked that the boy not be named in this article. "I just thought, 'I'm going to love this little guy, and it's just going to make everything better.' "

That wasn't the case. The child screamed for hours on end and kicked at her. As he grew, he learned how to rip molding off doorways in their rented houses and stab Cowburn's cat. He was routinely expelled from day-care programs for violence.

Cowburn said she took him to a hospital after one violent episode, and doctors diagnosed him with reactive attachment disorder, a rare condition that warps a child's personal relationships and stems from early abandonment. She later learned that the boy's birth mother was schizophrenic.

Cowburn's husband, Adam, an ex-Marine, rejoined the military to pay for the child's medications. He was deployed to Afghanistan last year. Melyssa Cowburn returned to Omaha, where her mother lives. At wit's end, she swallowed prescription pills one night and was rushed to the hospital. Her 79-year-old mother was unable to care for the boy while Cowburn recovered. The child was placed into Nebraska foster care for several months.

The state said the child seemed to improve, but Cowburn said he simply returned with a new roster of curse words. Cowburn's husband was deployed to Washington state, where the couple struggled to get insurance to cover medications. Social workers there said they could not take the child unless the parents were abusing him.

In despair after the assault on a friend's infant, the fire and the flood, Cowburn took her boy back to Omaha and drove him to Immanuel Medical Center the night of Nov. 13. She told him she was taking him to the hospital so he could get better.

"Maybe," the child said, according to Cowburn, "you can find a little boy who's better."

"I don't want anyone better," Cowburn said. "I want you."

She cried the entire drive back to her mother's home.

     ~ from “Parents' despair is left at Nebraska's doorstep” by Nicholas Riccardi
     Los Angeles Times; November 21, 2008

Tierra del Fuego

It's been well over a week now since flames were racing up and down the foothills a mere two miles from the house I live in. The strangeness of the experience has all but dissipated now, and the only people I know who were directly affected are mere acquaintances.

That Thursday night was an exercise in putting "impermanence" into practice, though. J and I had been driving home from work and immediately saw flames in the distance from the freeway, but it was hard to tell exactly where they were located. As we flipped around the all-news AM radio stations and got closer to town, it was apparent that the fire was up in the foothills, but definitely somewhat close to Santa Barbara. We weren't particularly alarmed and did an errand or two downtown, which by then smelled fairly smoky and had a few flurries of ash raining down.

We parted ways and when I arrived home I found my upstairs neighbor loading an armful of clothes into her car. Although I had talked to J about the possibility of packing up some stuff and spending the night at her place, it wasn't until I saw my neighbor that I thought things might be kind of serious. Not urgent, but serious -- at least for our neighborhood.

Since I knew some parts of the city were without electricity due to the proximity of the fire to some power lines, I decided I'd rather pack up some stuff before the power outage spread to our area. I live in the lower part of the foothills, and figured that there was only a slim chance of the fire coming this far. Even without a sense of "real" urgency, the exercise of packing up belongings "just in case" the place might burn down was an interesting exercise.

What would you pack up and take? I had a good couple hours to pack in a leisurely way, but what if I had only had mere minutes?

In ended up taking a few days' worth of clothes. A large shoe box of photos and negatives, some photo albums, and a couple of framed photos. A small framed lithograph I bought in Venice. Several wooden carvings from my time in Africa. Cameras. A box of blank checks. My passports. Eyeglasses. A toiletry case and all my supplies of medications. An entire box of colognes and perfumes (don't laugh: it's become a hobby and the entire collection is worth an amount of money that I'm almost embarrassed to admit).

My scrapbook from Africa and several old handwritten journals were packed up also. I had to dig around in a couple of boxes for some of the journals, and even then there were some that I just couldn't find (and I still haven't figured out where they are). I've made a mental note that I really should collect all of those journals and have them in one place. In this digital age, it would be nice if I had a scanner and could digitize all of them; I've also thought of transcribing them into some kind of online repository, but who knows how long before I get around to something like that.

The only book I grabbed was an exhibition catalogue inscribed for me by a former boyfriend (he had helped curate the exhibition).

So in the end: impermanence. I had to consider what would happen if I lost it all. My friend, J, seemed quite upset at the idea of losing all her objects -- even though her place was much further from the fire than mine, we both imagined what would happen if winds blew the fire Armageddon-like through the city. Although I could say it certainly bothers me, I don't know that I would be crushed to lose my possessions. There's part of me that feels that it would be great to have everything wiped clean and make a fresh start from nothing. However, without renter's insurance, that might actually be a heartbreaking (and budget breaking) situation.

I still haven't unpacked and put back in place everything I threw together that Thursday night. I also really need to go through my closet and the boxes of possessions that are stored all over this apartment and get rid of so much stuff. I have a hard time parting with many things, but part of me really hates "stuff" and has grown to hate it even more as time passes.

There was a time when almost everything I had was able to be transported in a single carload across the country. That time seems so carefree and exciting now. It's not that I have expensive pieces of furniture that I can't part with (though there are a couple nice pieces I wouldn't want to just pitch in a dumpster). I still find it hard to part with certain items of clothing, even when I haven't worn them for years (or in some cases, over a decade). I've saved almost every handwritten letter I've ever received, and many greeting cards as well, if they have significant inscriptions. There is one overflowing shoebox of programs, handouts, and flyers for performances I've attended.

Coincidentally, This American Life replayed an episode today about people who have to clean up the belongings of those who die with no next of kin. It's worth thinking about: What will happen to all our "stuff" when we're gone, whether we die unexpectedly in a bus crash tomorrow or if we live another twenty or thirty years? Isn't it worth doing a little winnowing ourselves now to spare some poor soul the job of having to figure out what to do with that Pikachu bath toy that looked so cute years ago when we just had to buy it?

Maybe that's why it might be a good idea to move residences more often -- and not just haul all the same boxes of junk to the new address, but to use moving as an opportunity to pare down and clean out.

Which brings me to my next topic (although I feel like I've written more than I wanted to at this point and maybe I should wrap things up): I really feel like leaving California more than ever lately.

Not that I really want to leave, but I've been in an indecisive limbo about how and where to live my life for so long now. It will break my heart to leave California whenever that happens, but I feel such a strong pull back to the Northeast (mainly because of my grandmother's advancing age) that I know I can't just keep feeling this tug indefinitely without some possibly tragic psychic consequences.

In addition, developments at work have conspired to make me entirely fed up and depressed about the situation there. Without elaborating, I'll just say that I'm pretty much being moved to another affiliated unit against my will, and while it's being spun as an "opportunity!" by some, what I really feel is that it's an opportunity for my direct supervisors not to have to deal with me challenging them or making them uncomfortable now and then. Seriously, I'm just disgusted, but as I said, also depressed because at times like this I really start to think about other job options and I seriously have NO IDEA what my qualifications are, if any. They're so generic, in my mind, as to be meaningless.

In truth, all I want to do lately is sleep because I'm so depressed, and while I'm not really actively thinking of suicide (honestly, I'm way too afraid of death), the thought does cross my mind about how such an act might play out. Sleep is so enjoyable that eternal sleep doesn't seem like much stretch or hardship. Seriously, though, I don't view suicide as something that might happen in the near term, but I do wonder if that's ultimately going to be one of the most likely options in the far-off future. My health is declining and will only continue to do so. I have, essentially, no career, and the thought of trying to "sell oneself" to prospective employers as age advances and one is less likely to be perky enough to pull it off with enthusiasm alone (especially when one doesn't really have a "profession") just seems more and more ridiculous. And the carnage of a few disastrous relationships recedes into the more and more distant past with nothing promising on the horizon to replace them.

I want to sell off all my things and pack it all up by April for a retreat to New Jersey. That also plays into a childish fantasy of "sticking it to" my employers by leaving at an inopportune time. Silly, but it feels good to have that fantasy right now.

However, the stress of worrying about health insurance, possibly buying a car, trying to come close to earning my current salary... and the chances of working at something I love and that would satisfy me on a molecular level.... it's all too much, so here I sit contemplating crawling into bed at 9:40pm (and here I was intending to soak in a bath tonight).

“Television in India is so uplifting!”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Never Can Be Broken

No earthly church has ever blessed our union
No state has ever granted us permission
No family bond has ever made us two
No company has ever earned commission

No debt was paid no dowry to be gained
No treaty over border land or power
No semblance of the world outside remained
To stain the beauty of this nuptial hour

The secret marriage vow is never spoken
The secret marriage never can be broken

          ~Sting (from “Nothing Like the Sun”)

This song has been haunting me for the last week; it and I go way back.

Listen here. Bring Kleenex if so inclined.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands,
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For a new beginning.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out and upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, and into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope --
Good morning.

          ~Maya Angelou

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Los Muertos

I decided to set up a little ofrenda on my mantel tonight to commemorate Día de los Muertos. I was introduced to this tradition in practice when I stayed with my friend B at his house in San Miguel de Allende back in 2006 (see some photos here.)

The photos I put up are of my grandfather and my friends Chris and Dianne, who are really the only significant people I've lost in my life (though there are some great aunts and uncles I could include as well). Chris, of course, was sadly added to this group just last summer. Note the small glass of whiskey, which I know all three of these people I love would heartily enjoy.

Spending Día de los Muertos in Mexico made me realize what a nice tradition it is -- and in many ways, an important one that we all should probably learn from. I think connecting back with our dead loved ones is a form of respect, a recognition of the love we shared, and (maybe most importantly, at least for me) a clear reminder of our own mortality and to not take one minute of life for granted. I also like the fact that in Mexico it seems to be a fairly joyous and lighthearted holiday, a time for people to enjoy themselves as well as a time to come together and trek to cemeteries to decorate the resting places of their dead.

In a similar vein, a non-Jewish friend of mine has taken to observing the Jewish tradition of Yahrtzeit, lighting a candle and setting up a small shrine on the anniversaries of her parents' deaths.

I believe we still carry on relationships with those we love, even after they've passed... and that they carry on relationships with us. Some of my most beloved and tender dreams are those in which the three people I've commemorated in this altar have appeared. I especially remember a dream in which Dianne and I shared a beautiful and heartfelt hug, during which I was able to say to her, very sincerely, "Oh, I've missed you." That dream-hug was as real as any I've experienced in my waking hours.
“One by one we are all becoming shades. Better to pass boldly into that other world in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age... Think of all those who ever were, back to that start of time, and me transient as they flickering out as well into their grey world, like everything around me, this solid world itself which they reared and lived in is dwindling and dissolving. Snow is falling....”
     ~James Joyce, “The Dead”

Persimmon Sunday

I haven't yet sunk my teeth into one of these crunchy delights, but I will soon. The thing is, I don't exactly love persimmons (or kaki, their Japanese name). If anything, I'm indifferent. Their flavor is very subtle, and reminds me of something almost as bland as sugarwater: pleasant enough, but nothing that makes me crave them as I do some other fruits and foods. They're always far too beautiful to pass up buying a few, though, and I'm determined to try to enjoy them once again and maybe discover some hidden ambrosia quality that has thus far eluded me.
Tell them
I was a persimmon eater
who liked haiku
     ~Masaoka Shiki, 1897

Sunday, October 26, 2008

“Not all good things come to an end now... only a chosen few”

Far and wide I'll search for my baby
I won't let pride stand in my way
This heart inside will always love him
And somewhere some night among the neon lights
I'll find my baby

Alone tonight I see from my window
Those city lights you left me for
Are they still bright? Or have they faded?
Well, give up the lights and come back tonight
I need you, baby

My only plan is to search again
Each night when lights are blue
I'd let him go but my heart knows it's one thing I can't do
And somewhere some night among the neon lights
I'll find my baby

       ~Laura Cantrell

Sunday, October 12, 2008

μουσακάς Sunday

That's Mr. Moussaka to you. One thing is certain: I will never waste away from lack of eating due to depression.

Actually, I've been both feeling great mood-wise and also more sanguine about my not-really-a-weight-problem weight problem.

Although I probably weigh more than I ever have in my life and could stand to lose ten pounds to close in on my ideal weight, the other day I realized that I don't feel as self-conscious about my body as I sometimes have felt. In fact, the other day, I felt pretty damn good, and as I walked down the street with a smirk on my face, a very silly realization came to mind: I was thinking, "If I weren't on these damn meds, I know I'd be a lot thinner."

And then, just seconds later, I thought, "Yeah, if I weren't on these meds, I bet I'd most DEFINITELY be a LOT thinner... 'skeletal,' you might say."

That, ladies and gentlemen, is my way of putting things into context.

And for some brief recommendations on the culture front:

· I still have to watch the final two (of six) hours of La Meglio Gioventù, but I highly recommend it for those of you looking for worthwhile additions to your Netflix queue (I believe my queue is approaching 450 titles, which probably includes no more than 25 titles that I've already seen).

· Last weekend I discovered (thanks to KCRW) the Swedish music group Detektivbyrån (link to their MySpace page where you can have a listen) and immediately downloaded one of their albums. I find their instrumental music sweet like children's lullabies and at the same time intensely melancholy. It's a bit like a mashup of cheesy 1970s science-fiction television show soundtracks and merry-go-round or jack-in-the-box music. One review I read said their music is much like the Yann Tiersen's music for the film Amélie, and upon relistening to a bit of that, I'd agree. I also need to look up who did the music for Pan's Labyrinth, because I recall similarities to some of that film's score as well.

A good friend of mine, by the way, has commented many times that she is almost totally oblivious to the music in films.

Anyway, that's what passes for my idea of excitement lately. The days are getting shorter, and our version of a cold snap descended late last week with wild winds on Friday afternoon and evening. The chill was perfect for hunkering down, alone but content, under the comforter.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

“I had not always bleared eyes and red eyelids; neither did my nose always touch my chin...”

Were you ever told that people don't want to be around someone who is moody?

I'm not sure I've ever been given that advice directly, in so many words, but let's face it, it's advice like that that makes the world go round -- and sure, often the sentiment itself is true enough.

But you know, sometimes you just have to say, "Screw it," and be moody anyway.

I am happy to report that the week is going better, for no reason perhaps, other than that time has elapsed.

And with that, I leave you with the inimitable words of Marge Simpson:
“ doesn't matter how you feel inside, you know? It's what shows up on the surface that counts. That's what my mother taught me. Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down, past your knees until you're almost walking on them. And then you'll fit in, and you'll be invited to parties, and boys will like you, and happiness will follow.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

“I give you leave to throw me headforemost into the sea.”

“This ridiculous foible is perhaps one of our most fatal characteristics; for is there anything more absurd than to wish to carry continually a burden which one can always throw down? to detest existence and yet to cling to one's existence? in brief, to caress the serpent which devours us, till he has eaten our very heart?”

Thursday, September 18, 2008

“While he was thus lamenting his fate, he went on eating.”

I find myself regularly remembering a line from Cunningham's The Hours:
He was the person she loved at her most optimistic moment.
Romantic love's not necessarily even the primary issue these days, though it — or its absence — is a major thematic thread. I'm having trouble remembering what my most optimistic moment was, or if I ever had one.

I think I had one, because I know that there was a time when life seemed full of possibilities, even if I didn't know what they were. There was still excitement and discovery somewhere around the bend, and it's what prodded me on toward California and Africa once upon a time, without caring whether I had a plan or if I really knew what I was doing.

At some point, those undefined possibilities became unfocused dreams and maybe too many questions. They also ran headlong into financial and other practical realities, which now, more critically, include the non-negotiable requirements of comprehensive health insurance and an eternal (truly) regimen of expensive medications.

I've spent a lot of time learning (or unlearning) how to avoid getting stuck in the whirlpool of dissatisfaction. Buddhist philosophy and meditation experience (though not nearly enough of the latter) have helped substantially in that regard, but I still get stuck in this dilemma, which is maybe really more of a cliche: "Is that all there is?"

About a month ago, my answer to that would have been that it really didn't matter, and that I was ready for "this" or "that" to be all there is. This week, I'm not so sure.

I feel like I need to figure out something to look forward to other than more of the same. I don't believe in the hamster-wheel of discontent, but what's the answer?

Why do I sometimes feel this emptiness or this desire for something I can't even define... feel it so strongly that I want to thrash and scream until I figure out the answer?

Why haven't I grown up? What would that even feel like? Will I ever really be content?

Does anyone else feel this way?

What defines a whiny, lazy, loser?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Seven Thirty Three

The back garden of my grandparents' house. I once grew things here, mowed the grass, sat reading on many warm evenings.

Lightning bugs at dusk: I didn't take any pictures of them, but I was thrilled at seeing them for the first time in probably well over a decade.

I think I almost forgot about their existence.
An old man next door is dreaming over a sheen that sits
     in a cherry tree in his back yard.
The clocks say I must go--I stay here sitting on the
     back porch drinking white thoughts you rain down.

                                                                ~Carl Sandburg

Friday, September 12, 2008

Salubrity of the climate

"Recommended by the salubrity of the climate as by its many other advantages it is not surprising that New Jersey was soon celebrated by the early writers with higher commendations than any other of the colonies. The proprietaries stimulated by the hope of a rich revenue industriously proclaimed its advantages in Europe and America and from time to time despatched from England vessels freighted with settlers and stores to reinforce the numbers and supply the wants of their people."
~The History of New Jersey From Its Discovery by Europeans, to the Adoption of the Federal Constitution
(Thomas Francis Gordon, 1834)

July 11. The SEPTA R1-R7 trip from Philadelphia International to Trenton. Images include:
* Philadelphia 30th Street Station
* 30th Street Hoagie
* Tacony station stop (very Third World, non?)
* Bristol station stop with Grundy Mills visible
* Scene near Bristol
* Delaware River crossing
* Delaware River with view of "Trenton Makes" bridge (image from July 15)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Het gat

That literally means "the hole" but can also, I believe, mean "the inlet" in a geographic sense (where is SK?). The previous post got me thinking about the origin of the name Barnegat, and I think I'd heard way back in seventh-grade "Social Studies" class that it was derived from something Dutch (and I think around that time I was in the nascency of my nederlandophilia). A memorable class went something like this: "What are some local Indian place names?" Mantoloking, Manalapan, Assunpink... "What are some local Dutch place names?" Kill Van Kull, Schuylkill, Hoboken.

Well, apparently, Barnegat comes from the phrase barnde gat or barende gat (see here and here). I even found an example of a Barnde Gat that still exists in Nederland:

Noorder IJplas
Locatie: Ten noordwesten van Amsterdam, staat ook bekend als Barnde Gat.

[NB: greater detail of the 1878 map above can be seen here and here.]

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Zonsondergang = Sunset

Better late than never: I'm finally getting around to posting photos from my trip to New Jersey in mid-July. It was the first time in many years -- perhaps since the mid-1990s -- that I've been able to visit there during the height of summer, and it was glorious and bittersweet. In some ways, it always feels as if I never left, but of course I know that I have and that visits like this one are somewhat rare.

I spent time at the family beach bungalow on Long Beach Island with my mother, grandmother, uncle, brothers and their significant others -- and in the case of my youngest brother, his stepdaughter and my 13-month old nephew. Writing about it now, it seems like it was so much longer than two months ago. Summer vacations have often been like that for me: dreamlike in their intensity and the way they're carried forward into memories.

After the age of about eleven, I grew up in a town that wasn't on the ocean, but was located in Ocean County nonetheless. This meant that the water was never much more than a thirty-minute drive away or so, to towns with names like Point Pleasant and Seaside Heights. But summer vacation was further south, in Surf City on Long Beach Island, and as cliched as that name sounds, nowhere else evokes summer and the beach for me more.

Here are just a couple of the many pictures I took there this summer. I chose to title this zonsondergang due to the fact that I often remember my art teacher in high school telling us that he was enamored of Dutch landscape paintings because their sweeping renderings of sky and flat marshland reminded him a lot of our landscape along the New Jersey coast (he lived much closer to those beach towns, one of the towns on the bays, inlets, and creeks). It may seem like a silly comparison, but I can see it easily -- the incredibly flat land, the tiny sliver of marshy bog beneath a tumultuous and colorful sky... this is sunset over the Barnegat Bay:

Monday, September 08, 2008

Den vackra söndagen

I think every week should end with (or begin with?) a three-day weekend. It may be the next best thing to not working at all, and we know that that option's not coming into play anytime soon. I may try to adjust my schedule for a few months later in fall so that I either leave at noon every Friday or take every other Monday off; that's a ten percent reduction in time, which the esteemed Institution for which I work seems to be encouraging people to do in these uncertain times. My department seems to be "flush" enough, as our budget doesn't change with the wind as so many do. Still, since we're not so busy after September, I may run this by Those Who Wield Control and see how it goes over. I just need to figure out if and for how many months I might be able to deal with a reduction in net pay. I may need to learn to reduce the amount of money I fritter away on various trifles; perhaps not a bad strategy.

In the meantime, the following photos sum up my dinner and dessert -- eaten after attending a string concert at the neighborhood Episcopal Church -- on what was a really incredible Sunday.

First up was Green Beans with Pork and Tofu (Thai Prik Khing style, with garlic, fresh green chile, red chile paste, and shrimp paste), lest you think that all I ever cook and eat are desserts. Of course, it was followed up with the next-to-last piece of Peach Custard Pie, because the pâtissier in me just can't be kept down.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido...

Happy Birthday!
... He visto desde mi ventana
la fiesta del poniente en los cerros lejanos.

A veces como una moneda
se encendía un pedazo de sol entre mis manos.

Yo te recordaba con el alma apretada
de esa tristeza que tú me conoces.

Entonces, dónde estabas?
Entre qué gentes?
Diciendo qué palabras?
Por qué se me vendrá todo el amor de golpe
cuando me siento triste, y te siento lejana?


... I have seen from my window
the fiesta of sunset in the distant mountain tops.

Sometimes a piece of sun
burned like a coin in my hand.

I remembered you with my soul clenched
in that sadness of mine that you know.

Where were you then?
Who else was there?
Saying what?
Why will the whole of love come on me suddenly
when I am sad and feel you are far away?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Ginger-Rhubarb Loaf Monday

So, I figured out that the way to really get comments out of you folks is to turn this into a food blog. Serve the people! [Oh, and FYI, this tastes ok, but it's really nothing special; I keep trying with the rhubarb, but I think I'm going to stick to just turning it into a basic compote from now on... maybe with variations on the compote... which is better than applesauce, in case you wondered...]

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Black Mission Fig Saturday

Stuffed with Danish blue cheese

The secret of magic is that the world is made of words

"... you always have the power to create heaven or hell through the words you choose, Pisces, but right now is a potential turning point when you could form good habits."

Timely advice, perhaps, from Rob Brezsny's weekly pearls of wisdom.

Sarah Palin: Trojan Horse in an Up-Do

Mark my words.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Questions we don't really want answers to...

Today, someone from Eugene, Oregon, happened upon this here blog by Googling the following text (without quotes): f***ing my 73 year old mother in law

I am grateful that my page was only the 25th result returned: a post entitled "73-Year-Old HIV+ Texas Lay Chaplain Arrested for Needle Exchanges."

No idea....