Monday, July 28, 2014

Post Haste?

Gentle Readers:

Having just returned, at this late (early) hour from a family vacation, I have nothing prepared.  Plus, I did not give Madame notice to fill in, as I did not anticipate this delay.  I will therefore have to forego a posting this week.  I will make it up next week by including pictures on the travel blog post I'll write!  And I'll make it a little longer than usual.  Which won't, as you know, be a problem for me! :)

Professor J

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Simplicity




Professor J,

I'm sorry to report that blueberries do need sun for most of the day. It might be enough to grow a healthy plant but I doubt you'd be harvesting many berries.

I enjoyed your story of the Greek woman and her book. Something about your description, your daily observations, and that encounter sound like the beginning of a beautiful story. Like you, I haven't read either of those books you mention though I did read a section of 50 Shades of Gray on Amazon to see what all the fuss was about. It must have had some secret allure later in the book (I wonder what ;)) because the writing was insufferably bad. I wondered --who in the world could be reading this drivel? And I'll join you in feeling a bit snobbish in that but you might remember a quote from the Guernsey book:

Reading good books ruins you for reading bad books.

So here we are reading War and Peace in summer. :)

Thanks for the movie recommendation. I'll make a note to see it. I recently watched The Candidate again and found it remarkable how many of the issues in the film are not only still being discussed today but with the same wording on both sides of things.  42 years later no one even has a new way to frame the problems. Nearly every issue brought up is still relevant today. What does that say, do you think? Besides that we are obviously really lousy problem solvers...

There is something magical about summer that causes our inner child to come out to play. It feels perfectly acceptable to sit in a swing and eat a popcicle (though now it's an organic fruit bar) or blow bubbles at the dogs. While I can't say it's my favorite season I can identify with your daughter about the start of school. I always feel sad for kids when the back to school ads start and the school supplies show up in stores. Leftover emotions from childhood, I guess. Some Saturday mornings I still miss Captain Crunch and Jonny Quest.

If there's anything to love about summer it's a garden and all the little details and creatures that inhabit it. Like mythical baseball fields, if you build it, they will come. Here are a few miracles I captured on a recent morning:

A bumblebee who positively sparkled with pollen. 






 A hummingbird moth, something I'd never seen before until a few weeks ago.


A louffa gourd tendril. Tendril is such a perfectly lovely word.


A rabbit. You can just see his silhouette in the bottom right corner of the gate under the apple tree.


A bundle of apple branches that were pruned in late winter, drying to be used as kindling in those autumn fires.


 Beekeeping supplies through the window of the honey shed.





Sunday, July 20, 2014

Greek Connections AND Forget Chromosomal Differences, There Go Us

Madame M:

I have a patio.  It just doesn’t get much direct sunlight.  Would that work?

What a wonderful hummingbird experience!  The beings of nature seem drawn to one who is symbiotic with their interests.  My daughter has similar experiences.

I traveled to DC again, in July, again.  But this time it was on business, so I have no photos like last year.  I did however observe a woman every morning at breakfast at the hotel.  While the rest of the people around her were engrossed in gorging themselves, she was sipping tea or coffee and reading a book.  There was usually a half eaten container of yogurt near her.  On the last day of the trip, I asked her what she was reading.  She held up a book with D.H. Lawrence as the author and some writing I couldn’t read.  

“It’s in Greek,” she said in an accent.  “Uhm, how do you translate…’The Lover of Lady Chatterly,’” she continued.  Ah, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, I replied, very good.  Enjoy, I said, and walked to my shuttle, not saying what I was thinking, that I suspect it’s a bit more robust than 50 Shades of Grey (which is snobbish to think, and a bit unfair, given that I haven’t read either).

DC is still consumed with itself, if you’re wondering.  Such a skewed and self-created and self-referential world in so many cases!

You know those airline magazines?  I always read through them and see if they have interesting things.  I picked up a phrase out of one:  “Stay long enough to go slow.”  It was from a young couple, traveling through, as coincidence would have it, Greece.  They felt rushed and exhausted while they did all of the usual sights.  Then they talked to a local guide, and he gave them the philosophy just espoused, and also some suggestions on how to do that.  They did, enjoying a view that the locals do, at night.  And a beach they picked out all by themselves, that they had essentially all to themselves.  They enjoyed the pace and contemplation much more.  And, even, came to understand and feel just a small part of what it is to value as a Greek.

May I recommend a movie?  Dawn of Planet of the Apes.  It is rare that I agree with a wide range of movie critics, and rarer still that I give a movie an A-.  But I agree with them that the movie has intelligence, emotional resonance, timeless insight and wisdom, and conveys the tragically self-destructive limitations that are the result of legacies from injustice.

My daughter has inherited her father’s love of summer, and unenthusiasm for school to start up again.  Apparently, she grinds at the thought of class blocks of 1.5-2 hours, where she has to drone along at the slowest swimmer’s pace.  Except for Mandarin class.  As one of the few Caucasians in it, she’s one of the slower swimmers, lol.

Back to the movie.  Did you see where a zoologist took two chimps to a screening of the above movie?  They apparently understood the movie very well, and followed who were the villains and who were the good folks.  Some fellow movie goers were concerned, however, that they chimps would get ideas. 


Fear. Fear is a theme in so much of the movie, but the irony was apparently lost on them.   From Thucydides (a Greek!) to now, things just haven’t changed all that much! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Season of More



Professor J, 

This Polar Vortex has me loving summer right now, but only because it reminds me of fall.  Kind of like in Vertigo when Jimmy Stewart's character is drawn to a woman because she reminds him of someone else. My relationship with summer is complicated.  The very best thing about the season to me is daylight at 5 A.M. which is the natural time I wake up. In December I'm up a couple of hours before the sun. It's a daily treat to watch the sun come up with coffee outside. This morning it was chilly!

Today, I don't have to go anywhere. It's my favorite kind of day. I'll weed the garden (a Herculean task after all the rain we've had), pick blueberries and blackberries, check the hives, and sweep the porch. At some point I'll sit in the swing with W&P. In the summer I have "clean" days and "dirty" days. The dirty days are the ones where I can get dirty because I don't have to be anywhere. My inner six year old likes that.

If you have a balcony or rooftop access you could easily grow blueberries in a container. You wouldn't get a lot but there is something wonderful about picking a berry and popping it in your mouth.
Your description of having your laptop but getting little done reminds me of being on vacation at the beach or in an airport with a book. The book merely becomes a prop so that I can people watch, something that I am able to do for hours.

Clearly, I need to increase my intake of green tea!

Looked up the experiment you mentioned. Isn't that disturbing? I recently paid quite a bit of money to go away for 3 days and be in silence. Undisturbed thinking is something I consider to be a luxury. People can't do it for 15 minutes??? You have to wonder what they are afraid of. It might be interesting to know the different types of people chosen, however. I think introverts are much more comfortable with that idea than extroverts, and those who have recently suffered some traumatic event or loss might react negatively. But I'm guessing it really is an indicator of just how much we expect to be constantly entertained and stimulated and how little deep thinking and introspection is going on for most people.

Earlier this morning while I sat in the swing a hummingbird darted around the cedar tree by the patio gathering what I cannot imagine would be very sweet nectar but then I'm sure he knows things I don't. As I watched he suddenly flew down and hovered two feet in front of me at eye level for about 20 seconds. I don't feed them with those plastic containers but have a wide variety of flowering plants in the garden that they love. Perhaps he wanted to say "thank you!" :) Very nice start to the day.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Thoughts From the Summer Grounds

Madame M:

When I checked out War and Peace, which had to be ordered from another library, the librarian was tickled/delighted and all smiles.

Tolstoy was also a famous vegetarian who, so the story goes, responded to a visiting upper class relative’s demand for chicken by tying a live chicken and a knife to her chair.

You would mention blueberries, not only my favorite berry but my favorite fruit!

Earlier this evening I ate outdoors at a restaurant and did some typing and reading on my laptop.  I ordered green tea because this particular Chinese restaurant has a quite exquisite kind of high-mountain organic green they get from the mainland.  The waiter, who was not Asian, remarked that I was a “brave” man to drink hot tea in the summer.  The look on his face conveyed that he actually thought I was “nuts,” but diplomacy (and a desire for a tip) kept him in the diplomatic sphere.

Of course, the tea was so good that I had not just one pot, but two.

Which has now given me insomnia.

Which is why this post is getting posted when it is.

Actually, after eating, I spent little time on the computer, but a lot of time instead sipping tea, watching people, and thinking.  Chinese monks were famous for sipping copious amounts of green tea, for its simultaneous calming and mental sharpening properties that allowed them to meditate for long periods.

I could see why.  The serenity and clarity after two pots of good green tea were amazing.  I have thought about many things, including your words about clutter and the material flotsam of life.  And I’ve also thought about how much I don’t like working in the summer.  At my core, I’ll always be a summer months off fellow, lol.

Speaking of thinking, did you see the experiment they did?  They gave people time alone with their thoughts in a spare room.  The people could, at any time, hit a button which would deliver an electric shock to them.  Most people, within a few minutes, pressed the button.


What, in your view, is that saying?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

More Summer Lightness, Sort Of



Professor J,

I think it's really funny that we meant to keep it light for summer and now are reading War and Peace. 

 Well okay, then. Something to discuss! It's been about 25 years since I read Anna Karenina and a collection of short stories by Tolstoy. I'm about 75 pages in so the characters and their situations are still being revealed. One of the things I love about Tolstoy is his ability to describe those emotions we have that are hard to recognize even when they are our own. Mixed emotions and bittersweet things are presented in paragraphs that make us feel as if he understands us. Brilliant way to make us care about the characters. By making them painfully human. I remember in AK I thought that his insight about that was his great gift. You may not know how you feel, but LT did. ;)

While doing a quick Wiki search on him I noticed that it said "His teachers described him as "both unable and unwilling to learn." More education fodder for Sir Ken!

I had no idea LT had such an influence on Ghandi, though I was aware of some of his rather strange religious ideas.

As for your Independence Week concept: I noticed that over the weekend everyone was far more relaxed than normal. The lake I walk around was crowded with people fishing on Saturday morning. Clearly we all need at least one day to settle into real time off.  

This summer is a bit overwhelming in many ways. There is lot of change going on so several things are in limbo. One of the problems overwhelming me is having to deal with the things that older relatives have accumulated that must then be dealt with when they no longer need them. You can cram an amazing amount of stuff in a small one bedroom apartment. I'm rethinking all my own possessions. I have a personal blog post coming up about that on Friday.  Scandinavian design looks better all the time.

Just after my posts where I've complained about the heat, we had unseasonably cool temps and low humidity here for the holiday weekend. Sitting on the porch swing drinking my morning coffee and feeling "chilly" is a rarity around here in July.  I stayed outdoors as much as I could for several days to make the most of it.

A few more things I like about summer:

Summer movies like Jaws, The Long Hot Summer, Mr. Hobbes Takes a Vacation, The Seven Year Itch, The Sandlot, and Summertime.

The Beach Boys.

Mojitos on the porch. And the occasional mint julep, of course!

Cooking with fresh herbs.

Going barefoot.

Blueberries.

Spring honey.

Fresh flowers in the house.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Read Alongside

Madame:

It has been decades (jiminy, has it really been so long?) since W&P was read by me during my LT fascination period.  I have forgotten many specifics.  I believe I will read along.  I will not comment until you comment though (if I am ahead, I don’t want to be perceived as prodding, and if I am behind, I will be spurred to catch up!).  I will have to go secure my own copy though (or get one from the library).

There are a few other things of summer that I may not have mentioned in detail:

The bonfires of summer.

Swimming, skiing, boating, paddleboating, canoeing, floating, tubing.  Lots of "ings."

And fireworks, and the joy on kids’ faces (at least when done safely!).

And lightning bugs above the corn.

Blue hazy moons.

Strong breezes to keep the bugs away.

And no one feels any strong burden or responsibility to cook—any that is done is usually by the on-the-scene grillers!

Of course, the just passed July 4th holiday prompted me to think and appreciate.  It seems to me to be the only true holiday that Americans ever nearly completely relax. 

Ever notice how that relaxation is deeper and more satisfying when July 4th is on a Friday or Saturday?  When people can celebrate with a bit more abandon and less care and concern about getting up the next day?  That they seem to get more enjoyment (not to mention more rest and relaxation) by having it be on a Friday or Saturday?  It’s never been clear to me what genius thought that Monday was a good day to have holidays. 


All this is fitting into my continued refinement of thoughts and words on National Independence Week.  I may discuss more with you privately, but I believe I am ready to splash it onto the national stage fairly soon.
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