Thursday, July 28, 2016

Happy Birthday, Tom!

Today is Tom's birthday. It's one of those big ones, but after all, as you can see, Tom is a big guy. Here are our reflections in the water bus stop window from a vaporetto in Venice a couple of months ago. I hope he remembers that the trip was his birthday present. As well as our anniversary present. And come to think of it, it was my birthday present, too. I can't think of a better place to celebrate than Venice! (Except maybe the beach.)

In all seriousness, Tom is the best and most generous person I have ever known. I am so lucky to be married to him. He has always been there for me and for our children.

Now I'm going to stop before I get too mushy. 

Happy Birthday, Tom!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


I was fascinated by this sculpture in the garden at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. It's called Chariot (probably not a big surprise there), by Fritz Koenig, 1957.  You can read about him here. I didn't realize until I read up on him that Koenig is the sculptor who created The Sphere, which stood between the towers at the World Trade Center and, though it was damaged in the 2001 attacks, it was not destroyed and was reinstalled in Battery Park.

I have better photos of the actual sculpture, but I kind of liked this photo for the atmosphere. The slightly out-of-focus chariot is fading away.....

Whenever I see a chariot, I think about the Book of Exodus, about the Egyptians and how God caused their chariots to become stuck in the mud as they chased the Hebrew people into the path created through the Red Sea, and how when the waters rushed back over them, they sank like stones. 

Particularly, I think of the midrash on the story. When the Egyptians are drowning, the angels want to sing, and God says to them, "Are not the Egyptians my children, too? The works of my hands are drowning and you want to sing?"

Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday Poem: Of Politics and Art

Of Politics & Art
(for Allen)

Here, on the farthest point of the peninsula
The winter storm
Off the Atlantic shook the schoolhouse.
Mrs. Whitimore, dying
Of tuberculosis, said it would be after dark
Before the snowplow and bus would reach us.

She read to us from Melville.

How in an almost calamitous moment
Of sea hunting
Some men in an open boat suddenly found themselves
At the still and protected center
Of a great herd of whales
Where all the females floated on their sides
While their young nursed there. The cold frightened whalers
Just stared into what they allowed
Was the ecstatic lapidary pond of a nursing cow's
One visible eyeball.
And they were at peace with themselves.

Today I listened to a woman say
That Melville might
Be taught in the next decade. Another woman asked, "And why not?"
The first responded, "Because there are 
No women in his one novel."

And Mrs. Whitimore was now reading from the Psalms.
Coughing into her handkerchief. Snow above the windows.
There was a blue light on her face, breast, and arms.
Sometimes a whole civilization can be dying
Peacefully in one young woman, in a small heated room
With thirty children
Rapt, confident and listening to the pure
God-rendering voice of a storm.

----Norman Dubie

Sunday, July 24, 2016

For everyone who asks receives

When I was eleven, the animated TV special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” made its debut on CBS, airing on one of the three stations we we able to pick up in our rural North Carolina house. 

I was not a huge fan. For one thing, Halloween was not a big holiday for kids like me who lived outside of town. There weren’t really places to go trick or treating and besides that, despite my current attire, I was not much into costumes.

For another, on that October evening in 1966 I had settled down to watch My Three Sons, a sitcom about three very cute boys named Mike, Robbie, and Chip Douglas who lived with their dad, Fred MacMurray, and grandfather Bub, only to find out that it had been preempted by the Charlie Brown show.

And finally, I just didn’t like the plot. That whole Great Pumpkin thing was dumb to me. And in the end, Charlie Brown and Linus are just left to deal with their disappointment. And to top it off, there was this odd recurring cruelty that seemed gratuitously thrown in. At every house where the kids knocked and shouted “Trick of Treat,” they held out their bags, stuff got thrown in, and then they gathered on the sidewalk to take stock of their loot. “Hey, I got a candy bar!” said one. “I got three cookies!” said another. “I got a package of gum!” said a third. But Charlie Brown said, “I got a rock.” At every door, all the children expected and got goodies, except for Charlie Brown, who always got a rock.

Was that supposed to be funny? What kind of people would give out a rock to trick or treaters? Was everybody in town hating on on this one particular kid, who, granted, had made a mess of his ghost costume so that instead of a sheet with two holes for eyes it had at least a dozen or maybe two dozen holes, but hey. Why should he get a rock every time when all the other kids got sweets?

Jesus said, “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?”

Well, of course not. Except, if you’re the one everybody's hating on, you might get a rock.

Just this week, I heard a story on the radio that really grabbed my attention. A group of friends in Washington DC had gathered under the stars to drink wine and eat cheese and listen to the tree frogs one evening when suddenly a man with a gun appeared in their midst. He pointed it at someone, and said, “Give me your money.” The friends looked around at each other, beginning to panic, and he pointed the gun at another person. “Give me your money or I’m going to start shooting.” The thing is, they didn’t have money on them. They were sitting outside, purses and wallets in the house, just enjoying the evening together. Their fear mounted as seconds ticked by and someone started talking to try to convince the gunman to calm down. “What would your mother think of what you are doing here?” Wrong question. He angrily replied that he didn’t have a mother.

Then, one of the women said, hey, you know, we’re just out here enjoying a glass of wine together. Why don’t you have a glass of wine with us? And someone gave him a glass.

And, according to the woman’s husband, the look on the man’s face changed immediately. Just like that. He accepted the glass, sipped some wine, and pronounced it very good. Then he reached for the offered cheese. He put his gun in his pocket. And they all drank their wine and ate their cheese together.

The gunman then said, “I think I came to the wrong place.” “Sure, yeah, we understand,” was the kind response. And then he had another request. “Can I get a hug?” So, the people beside him hugged him. Then he asked for a group hug. So they all got up and stood in a circle around him, and they all hugged him. He looked around at them, said he was sorry, and he took his glass of wine and walked away. Later, the hosts found the wine glass returned, carefully placed in the alley next to the house.

For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?

It seems like every few days, something comes on the news that is disheartening and even frightening. Events in our community, in our nation, in the world just keep coming at us, disturbing our peace and distressing us. Many of us are also dealing with personal angst or worries. What’s going to happen to me, to us, to the world? What should I - what can I - do in the face of all this?

In response, some withdraw: Turn off the TV, take a Facebook break, extend the cocktail hour. Some deny or deflect: I don't believe this. Others deflate and descend into depression: The world is a terrible place and we are doomed. 

Others of us get angry, and that anger causes us to turn on each other. Some go so far as to basically declare war: announcing which “side” we are on and engaging in blunt attacks of the other “side.” Some of those attacks turn physically violent. Sometimes people die, and so it is like war. Others are “merely” verbally vicious, ranging from grumbling disapproval to ridicule and cruel putdowns and name calling.

But hey, even Lucy, who often referred to Charlie Brown as a blockhead and never hesitated to call her brother Linus stupid, asked for an additional piece of candy for Linus while trick or treating because he was missing the fun while he sat in the pumpkin patch waiting in vain hope that his crazy dream would come true. Sure, she complained of the embarrassment this caused her, having to ask for an extra treat for her stupid brother chasing his stupid dream. But she asked, and she received, and when it turned out that Linus was indeed disappointed, she went to get him and took him home and gently tucked him and his blanket into his bed.

It may be hard to recognize what people are really asking for, especially when they are shouting demands or scaring us. But I think mostly people are asking for love and acceptance. I think they are mostly asking for kindness. The armed man said he wanted money, but really, it turns out that he wanted hugs. He had a funny way of showing it, sure. But he changed when someone offered a fish instead of a snake, saying, how about having a glass of wine with us? We are together out here; how about you be together with us? Simple kindness in the face of hostility transformed him.

So yes, there’s stuff going on out there that makes us feel vulnerable and afraid. And I know that there is great evil in the world. And frankly, there are also those who want us to feel afraid and want us to stock up on rocks and scorpions and snakes, because keeping us in a state of fear benefits them.

But really, what if we responded to the things that make us afraid with an invitation? What if we responded to the demand to hand something that we have (and they don't) over, responded even to the threat of harm, with kindness, with an invitation to join the circle, with an egg instead of a scorpion, with a glass of wine and some cheese? 

And what if we asked for an extra piece of the candy we get to share with the one who choose a different (and maybe to us a dumb) path?

What if we responded to everyone as if they were asking for love and kindness? Because deep down, I think that’s what everyone really is asking for. All those people out there are human beings, just like us. Even the loud ones and the scary ones and the ones on the other “side.” However clumsy and rough their approach may be, they’re asking to be loved and to be included in the circle.

Jesus said: “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Responding with kindness can change the world. When the knock comes at our door, lets give out love, and not rocks.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Music: Think Too Hard

The dB's were a Winston-Salem NC band (I lived there off and on during the 70's and early 80's) that had a lot of talent but didn't make it very big with the general public. The two principals were Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey, who did make it pretty big with other musicians. This song is representative of the 1980's "jangle pop" music that was probably most identified with R.E.M. (with whom Holsapple played for a few years) We danced to those songs in the clubs by basically jumping up and down. 

This song was covered by Syd Straw (of the Golden Palominos) and it got a little more play, but the videos of her singing it on Letterman focus way too much on her swinging her hair around. So, although I usually prefer not to post music videos that don't feature anything but a still picture to go with the audio, here for your Friday morning is the recording of the dB's (decibels) playing Think Too Hard, something I am often guilty of doing. Enjoy.


You think too hard, you blow yourself in two

It can happen to you
It can happen to you
You wish too much, your wishes will come true
I wouldn't wish that on you

In the short haul, love conquers all

In the long run, you gotta have your fun
In between the two, there stand me and you

You want it all, you want it all right now

And you'll get it somehow
'Cause you swear you know how
You wish too much, your wishes will come true
I wouldn't wish that on you

When the day comes, you'll look around

On the good times shattered on the ground
Having no clue, then what do you do

You think about the past

And how it didn't last
You think of what's to come
And the battles to be won
You're thinking all the time
And you'll probably lose your mind
In the same way
In the same way
In the same way
As you did before

You think too hard...

You'll blow yourself in two...
You wish too much...
And your wishes will come true

You think too hard, you blow yourself in two

It can happen to you
It can happen to you
You wish too much, your wishes will come true
I wouldn't wish that on you
I wouldn't wish that on you

You think too hard

You think too hard
Too hard
Too hard

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thursday's bird is camouflaged

This pigeon nearly disappears against the old wooden shutters
in this old building in Volterra.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tuesday Quiz: Lion or Dog?

Behind the church of San Miniato Al Monte, up on a steep hill overlooking Florence, there is a huge city of graves. Many fabulous mausoleums stand on little streets like miniature houses in miniature neighborhoods. Many of the monuments are adorned with sculpture, while others feature small mosaic decoration. Anyway, I loved this creature on one just behind the church, but I can't decide: dog or lion?

What do you think?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Monday Poem: Dirge without music

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.  Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.  I know.  But I do not approve. 
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

- Edna St. Vincent Millay


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