Saturday, February 27, 2010

Photo of the day: First of the Season

I couldn't resist these strawberries in the store today. Not quite sweet enough, but I love having a bowl of strawberries with a light dusting of sugar as my midnight snack.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Wish List
I am not, by nature, an acquisitive person. Aside, that is, from wanting to own every book ever written and every world music CD ever produced. (OK, you can keep Danielle Steele and bad Hawaiian reggae.) But there are random things that I get into my head that I want. For example, ever since I was a little kid I have wanted a carousel horse. A classic one, mind you. Hand carved wood. To be even more specific, I want one from the carousel at the San Francisco Zoo. Of course I could never afford one, nor would I have anyplace to put it if I could. But still...

And also in the cannot afford list, put a Native American rug and/or blanket. I have always wanted one. Doesn't need to be antique, I'd be happy with anything. Provided it was authentic and beautiful. But then the cat would probably claw it up, so perhaps it's best I don't have one.

Then there are things that I don't necessarily care about owning, but I would love to touch or play with. Like a collapsable top hat. I've always thought they were cool. I just want to pop it out, collapse it back. Just once. Don't know why.

A tuning fork. A tuning fork? Yeah, why not. They fascinate me. I cannot sing or play a musical instrument. But I'd like to strike one and feel the note vibrate through my hand. Don't ask me to explain, I can't. I'd also like to strum a harp, just once. And get just one skrill out of a bagpipe.

I'd like to drive a Rolls Royce. Once. I'd like to write one time with an actual quill pen dipped into an actual inkwell. I'd like to use an old fashioned cocktail shaker and one of those delightful 1920's soda syphons. Again, once would be enough. I'd like to strike a pair of symbols and a big kettle drum. I'd like to wear a blonde wig for a day and see if the world is any different.

I want a silver cigarette case. I do not smoke. So why do I want one? Surely I cannot be the only one who has these unexplainably weird desires. What do you want, either to own or to try, that you really can't explain?
Photo of the day: The Bike Rack

Layers of wheels and chain and gears. Stretching on into...well, not infinity....but at least into the parking lot.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Photo of the day: You Are Here

The last of "Solar Biology." Are you sick of it yet? Well, I promise something different tomorrow.

Memo to self -- take pictures tomorrow of something other than this blasted book,

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Husband and I have been glued to the Olympics since the start. We're total Olympic junkies and cannot get enough.

One thing, though, that has struck me time and again is the look of absolute focus certain athletes get before a race/match/event. it's something in the eyes. A sort of "I'll do whatever" look that makes you feel like they're going to give it 110%.

I happen to know for a fact, despite rarely looking myself in the eye, that I have never had that look on my face. I have never in my life had a moment of absolute and total commitment. I've been committed. I've been focused. But I've never had that cold-blooded look of a predator about to eat everyone in the competition.

And perhaps "competition" is the key word here. I'm not a competitive person. I hate playing games with people I love because I always want them to win. Husband will tell you I've been known to cheat in his favor. No. Really. I have.

It's this quality in me, though, that would make me a lousy athlete. I don't have it in me to win at all costs. I have it in me to be dedicated, sure; to give something my best. But not in any area where I'm competing against someone else.

Back when I was an acting major I would definitely find myself getting into character before shows, and would put my mind on my performance. But it wasn't to the exclusion of all else. No matter how focused I was, I would still notice things like the stage manager's beer breath or the fact that the lighting guy was wearing white sneakers. I could never, ever, manage to block everything out of my mind and think about nothing but Shakespeare.

And this quality of focus, which denies me my Olympic gold (that and the total lack of any type of athletic skills) is also responsible for my lack of sleep. I am an insomniac because I cannot shut of my mind. I will lie in bed at night and my mind is racing 95 mph over bills I need to pay, duties I need to take care of. I'll be lying there thinking that I'm trying to sleep, and then realize I've been writing a short story in my head or trying to remember who played Sam in Casablanca. (And yes, I know it's Dooley Wilson.)

I've tried bio feedback and acupuncture. I've tried chiropractic care and meditation. I've tried sleep studies and keeping a dream journal. The only thing that reliably gives me a good night's sleep is Ambien. And as for meditation, I'm a total failure. I do not possess a brain that can be shut off. I've tried for over 40 years and never once been completely quiet, blank, focused. Not on getting down the hill faster than anyone else. Not on pushing out care and focusing on my breathing. Not on shutting it down and getting some sleep.

Like many of my photographs, I am out-of-focus. And I will never be in the Olympics. Or, alas, sleep.
The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz
One of those stories that deserves more exposure. Dennis Avey an amazing man.
Photo of the day: Choose Your Own Adventure

Or let "Solar Biology" choose for you.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

O Canada
With the Olympics on, and the great showing, I had a question about the Canadian national anthem, "O Canada." Aside from the "Star Spangled Banner" this is the national anthem I know the best. As a hockey fan, I have often heard it before a US team played a Canadian team.

I've actually heard it so often I pretty much know it by heart. The English version, anyway. Here are the lyrics:
O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

If you're interested, here are the French lyrics:
Ô Canada!
Terre de nos aïeux,
Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux!
Car ton bras sait porter l'épée,
Il sait porter la croix!
Ton histoire est une épopée
Des plus brillants exploits.
Et ta valeur, de foi trempée,
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.

Now here is where things get interesting. Look at the translation of the French version:
O Canada!
Thy brow is wreathed with a glorious garland of flowers.
As is thine arm ready to wield the sword,
So also is it ready to carry the cross.
Thy history is an epic
Of the most brilliant exploits.
Thy valour steeped in faith
Will protect our homes and our rights
Will protect our homes and our rights.

It's a completely different song! Aside from the phrase "O Canada" (which I always thought was "Oh Canada") there is nothing in common. I wonder if it's the only national anthem where there are two accepted versions that are so different.

Oh, and if you want to impress the hell out of your family the next time Canada wins gold, sing along to the version in Inukituit:
ᐆ ᑲᓇᑕ! ᓇᖕᒥᓂ ᓄᓇᕗᑦ!
ᐱᖁᔭᑏ ᓇᓚᑦᑎᐊᖅᐸᕗᑦ.
ᓇᖏᖅᐳᒍ, ᐆ ᑲᓇᑕ,
ᐆ ᑲᓇᑕ! ᓄᓇᑦᓯᐊ!
ᓇᖏᖅᐳᒍ ᒥᐊᓂᕆᑉᓗᑎ,
ᐆ ᑲᓇᑕ, ᓴᓚᒋᔭᐅᖁᓇ!

Oh, you don't read Inkuit? Here is the transliteration:

Uu Kanata! nangmini nunavut!
Piqujatii nalattiaqpavut.
Nangiqpugu, Uu Kanata,
Uu Kanata! nunatsia!
Nangiqpugu mianiripluti,
Uu Kanata, salagijauquna!

Canada. So cool for so many reasons.
A Step Down for the Big Guy

God really has come down in the world, hasn't He? Used to be when you had a religious experience, the Virgin Mary appeared to you; spoke to you. After all, that's what Bernadette saw. Or a blazing cross, a la Constantine.

Now, however, it's strictly low rent. Jesus appears in a grilled cheese sandwich. Mary on a tortilla. Miraculous appearances on the dirty window of an SUV or a paint stain on a concrete floor. That's what miraculous sightings are referred to. Look, the Virgin Mary on a pancake.

Really? Here we are with the being you believe is the Creator of All Things and you think the best he can come up with is a fromage portrait? The really sad thing is that people pay for these things. One of these things went up on eBay and fetched a few thousand dollars. Money that, if you were truly trying to live a Christian life, could have been much better used to feed the hungry and clothe the poor.

And people wonder why I don't believe in God.
Photo of the day: Solar Biology

More from the book Solar Biology. I'm a Capricorn, for what it's worth.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Photo of the day: Star Signs

From an 1880s book on "Solar Biology."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Great-Aunt and the Titanic

As a postscript to yesterday's piece about my grandmother...

The odd thing about Nan was that her sister, Auntie Clemmie, was exactly her opposite. Where Nan was small and brittle, Clemmie was round and ample. Where Nan was disapproving, Clemmie was the center of the party. Nan never touched alcohol. Clemmie, in tune with our Basque roots, never went a day without pouring a glass from a jug of what she called "Dago Red." She was noted for saying that when she got down to half a case she knew she needed to go shopping.

Clemmie as fun and boisterous; with an innocently naughty sense of humor and a big personality. Nan gave every event attended the air of sanctity. Clemmie was known for cooking meals for dozens of people, specializing in Basque sweetbreads, which personality terrified me. Nan made crepes once. They were delicious. She never made them, or anything else, ever again. Nor would she ever teach me, in spite of my repeated requests.

Clemmie would spice her conversation with bits of French, often a bit risque. Nan rarely spoke French, and then only to criticize. (Her favorite expression was basically a French version of "shut up.")

Clemmie would dance to rock and roll at family parties, moving shaking her ample bosom and having a grand old time -- not caring if she looked a fool (which she didn't). I recall Nan dancing only once, with my father, a slow, sedate, and entirely proper dance at a family wedding.

One of my loyal readers (Duke, author of the fabulous blog It's a Noir World) commented that grandparents used to have more personality. I completely agree. Generations ago grandparents were either stereotypically wonderful people who spoiled you at Christmas and baked amazing pies, or they were curmudgeonly characters with eccentric personalities. Today grandparents drive BMWs and play tennis. Hardly the same.

I did, finally, get the wonderful grandmother I'd always wanted though. When I married Husband. His wonderful Mom-Mom was a total character. Strong, brave, totally outrageous and maker of the world's strongest Egg Nog (the recipe of which included an entire bottle of Four Roses). Sadly, Mom-Mom died a few years ago. But we have memories of her all around the house and she will always live in my memory.

I recall be terrified to meet her. Husband and I were already in love and living together when we went to Philadelphia for my first meeting with his mom, stepdad, and grandmother. Husband was the only grandchild and Mom-Mom was, quite naturally, very protective. She knew I was "the one" and if I didn't pass muster, Husband told me that she would make no secret of the fact. I had no nerves meeting his mom, but the prospect of living up to his grandmother's standards filled me with dread. And I don't scare easily.

But honestly within fifteen minutes it seems like she'd sized me up and approved. She wanted the best for her boy and while I still don't think I deserve him, she saw that I loved him and would take care of him. That's all she needed to know.

She was an incredible woman and earning her approval remains one of the proudest achievements of my life.
My Grandmother and the Titanic

Family lore has it that we're only here because of the Titanic.

According to my paternal grandmother her mother hated it in San Francisco. She and her husband had come over from France and she was miserable. After much moaning and complaining, my great-grandfather agreed to return to the old country after a period of five years.

And then the Titanic sank and my great-grandmother was so terrified she vowed never to set foot on a boat again and so the family stayed.

As I said, this is family lore. I also think it's apocryphal. I believe it's the one fanciful lie ever told by my staid and sober grandmother.

She was a tiny, rather bitter, decidedly un-grandmotherly grandmother with strict Catholic values and no sense of humor. She believed in two things: God and the San Francisco Giants. There was nothing cinnamon-scented or welcoming about her. We called her "Nan" and she was the kind of woman who would say the rosary aloud on long road trips up to Lake Tahoe because she firmly believed every trip would end in a fiery accident and she wanted to be prepared.

She was entirely miserly and cashed her Social Security checks every month, got cash, and kept the cash in a WWII ammo case under her bed. Each envelope was carefully totaled in pencil with a slip of paper rubber-banded around the whole thing with a running tab. At any one time she had several thousand dollars in that ammo case, and would give each of us five dollars for Christmas.

Nan smelled of Jean Nate perfume and old roses. She always had a kleenex up the sleeve of her sweater. She would sit in the kitchen, in the dark, and listen to Giants games on AM radio; swearing at the boys in French. She made huge, heavy, hideous quilts out of yo-yos of cloth and then never give them to anyone. She would go to church several times a week and nag us when we didn't go to confession regularly -- although we always had very little to confess. She told me I was going to hell but never told me why.

She had a knack of making you feel guilty for having fun. If we were outside, playing, making too much noise she'd knock loudly on the kitchen window and wag her finger at us. She would tell us to keep down the noise. And when my parents would go away and leave me with her she'd insist on watching The Lawrence Welk Show and would eat Salisbury Steak TV dinners.

If I'm making her sound unpleasant, it's because she was. I don't think she ever truly loved anything or anyone except for her only child, my father. When he died she wailed like a banshee for an hour and then stayed silent for about two weeks. And then, impossible as it may seem, she got even more bitter and cranky.

I tried to love her, because I was told you're supposed to love your grandmother. And she was the only grandparent I ever knew. But I could never connect with her. She held me at emotional arm's length for her whole life and never did anything to invite the work necessary to break through her wall. She seemed to be fonder of my brothers, perhaps because they reminded her of my father and I and my sisters did not. In retrospect I feel sorry for her, but at the time I just felt puzzled.

It's hard to feel affection for someone who never shows affection to you. I think I showed her respect, but never felt more than that. And on the odd times we would hug, I would feel a distinct coldness when I wrapped my arms around her thin, bony frame. As if I were hugging someone who was already dead.

Nan hated spending money, as I said. And in spite of the fact that she had a great deal of it, she dressed in cheap clothes with patches and holes. When she died, we had to go out and buy her a new dress because she hadn't anything decent to be buried in. That remains one of the saddest memories of my life. Not because the occasion was sad, because the situation was.

She lived with us when I was growing up. Eight of us in one house. Two parents. Five kids. One island. I don't know how my siblings felt about her or feel about her today because after she died, she sort of disappeared. She's a photo in an album, and an occasional quirky story about the one time in my life she made us crepes. And the one lie she made up about her mother and the Titanic.
Photo of the day: What the...?

I just like the odd angle of this one. And the color of the wood.