Sunday, August 31, 2014

Summer Translations

Madame,

Quite the set of homeless experiences—and reactions—you have chronicled!  I am intrigued by each of them!

That video making the rounds could be the updated and abbreviated equivalent of Steinbeck’s Great Depression tale.

School in August is indeed a travesty, for many reasons.  Ever notice how many decisions we as a society make that are worse than decisions of previous years?  It’s not all rose-colored glasses and the selective memories of the experienced.

My favorite summer memory?  Oh my [why do I hear George Takei, every time I see those two words? :)], there are so many, including some of those you had!  If I had to focus on just one favorite, I would say it was riding my bike FAR out on the country road that was close to our city housing edition, enjoying the sun and warmth, and then sitting with my pepsi bottle and comic book under a tree and leisurely reading.  Afterwards, I would sometimes even walk the bike back, because I enjoyed the time to think.

My reading of War and Peace goes at a leisurely pace, and an enjoyable one.  I am not immune to endless distractions and obligations!

The translation I started to read was from 2008 or so, from a husband and wife team—he a American specialist in Russian literature, she a Russian.  They included a great notes section and left a lot of the original French in (with notes at the bottom to translate that).  But it was a borrowed copy from the library, and its edges of the cover started to get very worn, so I knew it wasn’t going to make it.  I therefore bought the latest translation e-version, also by the same couple.  They have removed (well, translated and incorporated) most of the French in this 2014 version.  I do enjoy this translation of the book, as it is much better than the torturous one I read previously many years ago.  To read W&P too early in life, and especially an unrobust translation—folly.

Of course, a Russian friend of mine, with pity, said I would never fully understand Tolstoy or Tolstoy’s works, especially War and Peace, unless I read them in Russian, as some feeling especially is not translatable to English.  Wonder if that is what Isaac Rabel meant when he said “if the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy.”

I admire Tolstoy’s independent observance of the world and his saying that “My hero is truth.”

I’m thinking that were he an American today, he would comment on the bitter ironies of Labor Day: 1) That it is a merely a day off for most and they make no connection to its meaning, and 2) that we have a holiday ostensibly to celebrate Labor/The Worker, yet in all the times since Labor Day became a federal holiday, Labor/The Worker have rarely been so little valued.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dragging My Summer Heels

Professor,

If you had moved a bit to the left to take that group picture, you could have caught your reflection in the glass. But I know how those things work. Everyone's just happy that they remembered to take a photo at all, but no one wants to sit there very long while the photographer seeks perfection.

The dilemma of giving money to the homeless is one we encounter fairly frequently. My son in law cuts them off before they finish a sentence. His police background has jaded him a bit. My husband routinely listens to their tale of woe and gives them something. Mr. Snarky recently returned to a woman who asked him for money and gave her five bucks after sitting in his car and asking himself what he was going to spend it on that would be more important than food if that's really what she was using it for. If my daughter and I are alone when we're approached, we have the added idea of safety in the back of our minds, as all women do, all the time. So then, we're not only sad about not giving (if the situation makes us uncomfortable), but that we live in a society where we have to be so wary.

There is a video making the rounds of a guy at a food court in a mall asking people who are eating, for food. They all say no. Later when he approaches homeless people they are willing to share food and money with him, no questions asked.

But alas, I am tempted to veer off of our attempt at a light summer of nonsense and relaxation.

How goes your reading of War and Peace? You probably finished. I'm slogging through like French troops in a harsh Russian winter. The distractions are unending!

A friend's daughter is teaching me to knit in exchange for my teaching her about beekeeping. We think something called a Knowledge Exchange between people who are passionate about various activities could catch on. Maybe during your long national holiday when people have more time. It's all coming together (if only in my mind).

Our super hot summer finally arrived. Boo. I'm dreaming of falling leaves, open windows, and fires in the evening.  And sweaters, maybe even one I could eventually knit for myself!

All my great summer memories are from childhood. The photo above is one such moment. I think I was doing...nothing! Lying on a blanket on the hood of our family car with my dad, watching fireworks. Catching frogs and putting them in my older sister's bed. Going to the drive-in, in my pajamas with my blanket and pillow. Root beer in a frosty mug, with a hot dog. Remember how the tray used to hang on the window? Remember when summer lasted until after Labor Day? School in August is a travesty. Well, great. Now I feel old.

Okay, what's your favorite childhood summer memory, Prof?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Chicago Ironic

Madame:

Sounds like there’s been a lot of work and transition on your plate in what is the usually slower paced summer.  I have felt some of that too, although I’m not sure if some of it for me is just that internally I really, Really, REALLY need the whole summer  to be non-work and that native American experience I described last week, just applied in the summer instead of the winter. :)

My own son has headed off to college (with some moving help from dad), living away for the first time.  It’s a strange experience for him, but it will be good for him.  Although I have enjoyed the DPS movie a few times, I am embarrassed to say that I have not shown it to my children.  Thank you for the good prompt to do so, for it is extraordinarily good, and particularly poignant given recent events.

Ironically, I am in Chicago again so soon, but this time, it is business, and there will be little opportunity to experience much of the city, alas.  However, also ironically, I have the last installment of last month’s Chicago travel diary to share (even though I think we could fill up more than a few posts discussing Ferguson, etc.):

7/27/14

Task-master (me), let the younglings sleep while I explored the town a bit.  I ran into a guy who said he was homeless.  He showed me his veteran’s card.  Not sure if he was, and not sure whether this is a new common scam or an indication of how much we’ve let our veterans down and also seeing the second and third order effects of our disastrous recent wars, but I’d run into the same thing on the streets back home.  This guy didn’t look like he was doing all that well, and as I listened to him, I was hearing all the while in my head the two brothers.  What two brothers?  My father and my uncle.  My uncle, although a pretty solidly nice guy, would say that I, if I doled out get-by money to a panhandler,  was either agreeing to be ripped off, or giving drinking or other addiction money, or just being an enabler and preventing the proper decisions and proper avenues for help.  My father would tell me that there but for grace—unmerited favor—could go us all, and therefore it is not ours to decide on whether it is legitimate or not, or whether  it is best for the person or not, but on the persons themselves and their spirits to work out. 

My father still, 10 years after his departure from this mortal existence, runs strong in me.  I gave the man a little money.  We talked for a little bit, and then he looked like he was needing to talk to/solicit some folks that were obviously walking to church.  As I walked down the street, I started to think about the structural homeless, the categories where most homeless fall under (veterans, mentally ill no longer institutionalized, substance addicts, and the displaced—lost jobs, divorced, etc.), and how we as a society now accept it as an “unavoidable background feature” where once it wasn’t all that acceptable, even just 30 years ago. 

Not sure if I was affected by the above or not, but I stumbled upon a church that looked interesting, so I stopped in and did a little revering.

I came back to check out of the B&B and the four were ready. We drove to a lighthouse, but it wasn’t open yet, although I was intrigued by the engraved marker and what that meant about that lighthouse/site unless the POTUS says otherwise!






We then met an old friend of mine who lives in Chicago (and his wife) for lunch.  It was good to catch up.  My daughter was much engrossed with the wife, because the wife travels regularly to China on business, and my daughter, who is fascinated by many things, has China as one of the top things on her list. 

It turned out to be a long lunch.  When we finally took pictures and said our goodbyes, I knew it was going to mean getting in very late (early in the morning).  It was worth it though to see him; it had been too long.   Before life scattered us, we had been very close buddies.





Did I mention that relationships were high on the list of matters that many native Americans got to invest in and renew over those three months every year?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Best Back to School Movie



 Professor J,

What a hectic summer. I moved my mother to assisted living. Cleaned out her apartment. Am in the process of cleaning out the MIL wing after my husband's mother passed away. My daughter and son-in-law sold their house and moved to a loft, Mr. Snarky graduated, we've had two yard sales, and have completed lots of projects around the house. Our son moved back home post graduation to get ready for the next six months.

He's about to move to Flagstaff, Arizona  to volunteer for the American Conservation Experience.  He'll be camping in and around the Grand Canyon and other national parks for 8 days at a time doing things like repairing trails and clearing underbrush. He plans to use days off to travel the southwest. I'm  a little very jealous.

While he's home finishing up at work planning his big adventure we are spending a lot of time together. Over the weekend we caught Dead Poets Society. He'd never seen it (clearly I've been remiss in his cultural education). When it ended he looked at me and said "Wow. That is just applicable on so many levels!" That lead to a discussion of parenting styles, education, free thinking, and a host of other things. When a movie sparks that kind of discussion you know it's a good one. Here are some of the most memorable quotes:

"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for."

"No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world."



"There's a time for daring and there's a time for caution, and a wise man understands which is called for."

"Now we all have a great need for acceptance, but you must trust that your beliefs are unique, your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular, even though the herd may go (imitating a goat) “that’s baaaaad”. Robert Frost said, "Two roads diverged in the wood and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."

"I always thought the idea of education was to learn to think for yourself."

"Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." Don't be resigned to that. Break out!"

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Logging In The Travel!

Madame:

Your post about fearful parenting, and society’s punishment of those who aren’t irrationally fearful, would normally incense me to much comment.  But I will move that to the edge of the hibachi grill for now.  Btw, that picture is terrific.  On to more travel journaling!

7/26

Breakfast was good, made fresh on the spot at this Bed & Breakfast: turkey and cheese croissants, blueberries and grapes, cinnamon rolls, cranberry juice, pineapple, and green tea.  Took some oat bars and an apple for later.

Today we went to the Field Museum of Natural History.  It had a great 3D film about Waking the T Rex, an examination and CDI projection of the T Rex skeleton found by archaeologists and in display at that very museum. They also had an exhibit on Ancient Egypt, ancient Egyptian culture, market life, etc., as well as, of course, mummies.  

It had a below ground mockup that was interesting:


The boys enjoyed the Biomechanics exhibit quite a lot.  The sustainable, local area food at the cafĂ© was very good.  There was also a hall of gems which was visually very appealing.  I enjoyed most, however, the Pawnee Earth Lodge.  As I sat on the buffalo blanket bed and contemplated the quite big and airy lodge, I was reminded of how much we hurt ourselves when we don’t try to learn from other cultures.  While the European settlers in the Americas were breaking their backs working year round, trying to impose their foreign plants, foreign animals, foreign practices and wills on a land, all the while disdaining the practices of the natives, the Native Americans would have three or more months a year where they would take TIME to:

Rest.

Renew.

Learn.

Contemplate.

Discuss.

Enrich relationships.

Respect.

Revere.

We would have invested more hours at the Field Museum, but we hustled out to go to the Shedd Aquarium, only to be quite disappointed that the aquarium was going to close early for some unexplained reason.  Always wanting to have a Plan B for such vacation snags, we caught the L back to Evanston (technically, north of there, in Wilmette), where we walked to the Baha’i Temple.  A quiet and serene place, it is the Baha’i House of Worship for North America, and one of only seven such in the world (one on each continent, soon to be more).  



It is a faith that stresses oneness of humanity and belief that different faiths worship or aspire in different ways the same one God.  They have been persecuted in many intolerant places, primarily Islamic dominated countries, and hundreds have been killed, some by execution, even though practitioners are typically non-violent and even pacifist.

The temple, built under the same principles at the Pantheon in Rome (remember?), is quite simple and conducive to contemplation.  It has sayings engraved in the walls or on mountings:



We tried to go to the beach, but were frustrated at how much had been privatized and was off limits.  So we came back to Evanston and ate Chicago deep dish pizza at Lou Malanati’s, a Chicago chain.  It was good stuff, and being outdoors eating was even better!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Free the Kids



Professor J,

Really am enjoying these summer travel posts of yours. You reference to being spoiled by German bakeries reminded me of being in one in Wismar and seeing several honeybees in the case. No one seemed to mind, least of all me! :)

I turned on the news and remembered why I haven't done that in a while. It looks as though the world has gone mad. But then thinking back over history it would have always looked like that if CNN was, say, 4.000 years old. I heard a sermon recently where the pastor said the world was "unraveling." I wondered if he'd read a history book.

Bringing things closer to home, this summer there has been a rash of parents being arrested for their parenting style. Namely, allowing children to walk to the park alone, or leaving a 4 year old in a car while a parent does a super quick errand, like dashing in and out of a small business. In other words, parents are now in danger of being reported (and worse) for the way everyone our age was brought up. Since it's summer when kids are supposed to be experiencing freedom, here's  a list of things I was allowed to do as a child.

Go into a store and buy cigarettes for my mother (my kids think I'm making that up). Get up at dawn, get dressed, and leave the house without telling anyone where I was going. Go into the houses of neighborhood kids I met even if my parents didn't know them. Drink from the garden hose. Play outside from dawn to dusk, unsupervised. Play games without uniforms and where no adult was calling the shots. Explore woods and fields on my own without a phone. Ride a bike and skateboard without a helmet. Go trick-or-treating on Halloween without adults to ruin it. Meet other kids and play without parent scheduling. Run around barefooted and dirty as long as my mother didn't have to take us anywhere.

It was awesome.

There's a movement to stem some of the nonsensical hyper fearful parenting that is going on today. There's even a blog called Free Range Kids . If you visit it you can even see video from a Japanese television show called, “My First Errand/ Hajimete no otsukai.”   where parents send children as young as TWO (!) into the world to perform small errands. Watch the video. It's charming and delightful.

 The 24 hour news cycle has made it seem as though the moment you take your eyes off your child they'll be abducted or molested. So much damage is being done to the psyches of parents and we are robbing children of self reliance in the process. Then we wonder why they seem so dependent for so long.

Over scheduling the little darlings in another issue I have with modern parenting, but you could probably refer to last week"s post to figure out why.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Chicago, Not the Musical

Madame,

I enjoyed greatly your finely spun recounting! :)  And the reflection process as well! 


The travel diary continues:

7/25

Today we changed hotels, so after breakfast we drove to Evanston IL, just north of Chicago, and checked into the European style bed and breakfast there.  Both the boys and girls were tickled at the place, from its door that you open to get to the  sliding cage elevator, to its large drawing room, to its quaint library, to its patio, and the very spacious suite-like rooms. 

Once there, we walked to the subway station and caught a train to Chinatown.  I’d scouted out electronically a popular authentic restaurant, MinHin, that served things Cantonese style, that appeared to augment its basic fare with a few other suitable Asian foods, and was reasonable.  It didn’t disappoint.  While crowded, it was a huge place, and they found us a large round table.  Potted green tea came complimentary, as much as you wanted, which was a big hit with me.  We ordered fifteen dishes, all served in shallow bamboo mini-baskets.  Home made fish balls, dumplings, stuffed lotus leaf with sticky rice, pan fried water chestnut cake (very gelatin like), Malay sponge cake, sweet custard rolls, crab meat and seaweed rolls, pan fried green chive cake, vegetable crepes, lotus seed paste buns, fish paste congee (a type of soup), puffy egg custard tart, mango pudding, and coconut pudding (both in jello type configurations), were some of the more notable dishes. 

My daughter, who is taking Mandarin in high school, loved walking around and going into the stores at Chinatown.  Cash only at a lot of places! Some liked to demonstrate that the fish were fresh:



I did not find the bakeries we sampled very remarkable, but once you’ve been spoiled by German bakeries, perhaps the comparison is unfair!  Two guys got into a picture I was taking of the Chinatown entryway:



The girls were keen to go shopping at the famous areas we’d heard about, so we went to State Street and began the process.  I went into the 9 story Macy’s building (former Marshall Field building, I believe) and took a picture where I was told a lot of movies have filmed parts.  



Of all the famous stores along that area, the girls seemed to like the three story Target store (also located in a historical structure) and The Body Shop the best.  The boys and I had tea and soup outside at some plush hotel and watched the crowds go by.  With the high concentration of single women, the boys had no shortage of eye candy.  The chronicler is silent on whether the older gentleman with them enjoyed things as well. :)

From there, we headed up to the Magnificent Mile of more shops (including the Apple Store and Microsoft stores, both popular with the boys), and the Water Tower Mall, a busy place, with some good architecture along the way:







The boys discussed the merits of living in a big metropolis, with my son espousing all the benefits, from not having a car (he dislikes driving), to all the cultural offerings and excitement, plus all the people.  His friend was a little more torn: he wanted all the culturalities and excitement of the big city, but also liked the feel of a medium-sized town.  They did not resolve the dilemma. :)

After a bite at the gourmet food court at the mall, we then went to Oak Beach, where the girls put their feet in Lake Michigan.  They were a little saddened, however, by how much trash and pollution there was. 

It was well dark by the time the L subway train took us back to Evanston.  Made for a great picture of the bed and breakfast with its hanging flags signifying all its international visitors:




I went to the front desk to get the key to the second room which hadn’t quite been ready that morning.  While I was waiting in line, there was a guy several inches taller than me waiting to see if he and his family could get a room.  It is rare that I run into someone with bigger feet than me, so our feet took a picture together:




My son’s friend was exhausted and went to sleep.  My son and I watched a James Bond documentary which was quite interesting.  Had a lot on Ian Fleming, the actors, the directors, the producers, etc.  One of those things that is so interesting that you stay up watching it when you know you shouldn’t because you have an early day the next day.  A particularly bad habit of mine, squeezing the marrow out of life just a little too often.  We’ll see if I can avoid getting sleepy during the day tomorrow… :)
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