Thursday, September 14, 2017

Something wondrous: Mozart's Starling

There is another world," Paul Eluard wrote, "but it is in this one." One world is marked by bland forgetfulness, where we do not permit ourselves an openness to the simple, graced beauty that is always with us. The other is marked by attentiveness, aliveness, love. This is the state of wonder, which is commonly treated as a passive phenomenon--a kind of visitation or feeling that overcomes us in the face of something wondrous. But the ground of the word, the Old English wundrian, is very active, meaning "to be affected by one's own astonishment." We decide, moment by moment, if we will allow ourselves to be affected by the presence of this brighter world in our everyday lives. Certainly we get no encouragement from what Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls the "overculture." It cannot be assessed by the standardized cultural criteria of worth--measures that can be labeled with a sum or a statistic or even, perhaps, a word. Receptivity to wonder is not economically productive, marketable, quantifiable. The rewards, also, stand beyond such calculation. But it is in such receptivity that we discover what draws us, and along with it our originality, our creativity, our soulfulness, our gladness, our art. Mozart found inspiration in the presence of a common bird. For us, too, the song of the world so often rises in places we had not thought to look.

--from pp 74 - 75 of Lyanda Lynn Haupt's Mozart's Starling 

Three chapters in, this book has me reconsidering my attitude towards starlings.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Ever since the eclipse . . .

The sun and the moon haven't quite been themselves . . 
This morning's sun (in the east)
This evening's moon, about the same place in the sky

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Blackout!

And not in a "I shouldn't have had that third Paradigm Shift and all those shots of absinthe" sort of way either:

Finished Stones of Venice (the abridged version, of course)!

Monday, August 21, 2017

That's my moon

Scott looks into the bright new future (Green Man looks somewhat stern)
I am curious as to whether any other Cancers found themselves rooting for the moon during this morning's eclipse because I assuredly did. When I was telling Scott about it he said, "I didn't see it as a competition," and truly I didn't either. And yet I found myself spontaneously calling out, "Go, moon GO!" Which of course it did. In Seattle it was only 92% (or was it 93?), but I found that pretty damned fine as did pretty much everyone else who bothered to look. The capacity for high-powered executives and delivery guys and dull old editorial sorts to feel wonder is, I think, a good thing. I stop short of "awe." Maybe you needed totality for awe, or maybe I think that wonder is a more admirable and desirable response. I don't know. I'm going with wonder. It was cool and I'm glad the weather obliged locally.

Three books, two glasses, one bottle
Another bit of pleasure over the last few days was having three of my favorite Spring 2017 titles come into the warehouse. I felt it called for a little celebration. We toasted with prosecco because, you know, editorial salary. And also, we're pretty fond of prosecco. I shall now briefly go into advertising mode, to pad this brief post as much as anything else:

Colors of the West contains scores of gorgeous watercolors by Molly Hashimoto. It also, if you are more practically and artistically inclined, offers quite a bit of instruction so that you too can create lovely watercolors. I confess I continue to doubt my ability to create anything but mud on paper, but Molly very nearly inspires me to try.

Fall of Heaven, Messner's telling of Whymper's destructive obsession with the Matterhorn, is a book that has been added to the Legends and Lore series in large part because Scott read the German original and raved about it. Which tells the discerning reader that it's not a book only for climbers and that the writing must be pretty good. I defy you not choke up at Carrel's death scene. Who is Carrel, you ask? You must read this book!

A Sideways Look at Clouds by Maria Mudd Ruth is a book I love so much that I know I can't describe it adequately or, really, at all. Maria is about the most charming narrator you will ever meet, and she shares her fascination with (and confusion about) clouds in an utterly irresistible manner. Can I reliably differentiate one cloud type from another after working on this book? Not so much. But I certainly see clouds more frequently (they are everywhere once you become aware of them; no art gallery will ever be the same) and sort of know more about their inner workings.

Testing the glasses Scott purchased from B&H Photo


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Conspiracy of Librarians

So close!
I'm down to the final square on my bingo card: "about art or an artist," and the book I want from the Seattle Public Library, a biography of Vermeer and his times, is still checked out. Doing a little biblio-stalking, I have discovered that the copy I am waiting for was due back July 12th. I am not feeling particularly sanguine about it coming in any time soon. So now I'm thinking I may give the abridged version of Ruskin's Stones of Venice, which we have in the house, a shot. I was, I confess, hoping for something a little less mentally challenging now that we're in the hot and smoky dog days of August. Or, really, ever. I admit it: Ruskin intimidates me. I wonder if there's a graphic novel version of Stones of Venice.

Today I finished I Am Number Four, a book Scott has told me came out of James Frey's literary sweatshop. My response to the news was that if the actual writer was paid $250 for the text, he was overpaid because it was pretty bad, but apparently that didn't stop it from selling a gazillion copies and getting a movie deal. One way or another, I'm glad I got my copy from the SPL. You want to know what's wrong with the world of books? I Am Number Four sells like hotcakes while Marley Youman's truly beautiful and thought-provoking Thaliad does not.

Before my foray into Young Adult I read the final (sniff) Stuart McLean, Vinyl Cafe Turns The Page as my "collection of essays or short stories" entry. I swear I've read some of these in other collections, but I will begrudge the late Mr McLean nothing; they are sweet and funny stories, well worth revisiting and, yes, even paying for over again under a new title. If you've not read any of the Vinyl Cafe books, you really should. I think you can get podcasts from old shows on iTunes, should that be more to your taste.

Finally, there's the "you've been meaning to read" category. I filled that one with Graham Greene's Our Man In Havana which I picked up, I think, on bookstore day a few months ago. It's quite a different sort of thing from the author of Brighton Rock; very light, frothy, and silly. Oh, there's violent and sudden death, sure, but there are no Pinkie Browns, no observation about the difference between "right and wrong" and "good and evil." I am not complaining, while also being glad that I came to this particular Greene title after some of his others.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Less Holland, more books

 It's the last evening of my month sabbatical which is the sort of thing that should, possibly, make me reflective. Instead I find myself wondering if "reflective" is the word I want. You'd think I'd be better with words because I've spent a lot of the last month--or, more accurately, the last couple of weeks, reading. The Seattle Arts & Lectures Summer Reading Bingo apparently appealed to my competitive nature. Oh, I read next to nothing for the two weeks we were in Holland, and I squandered all the prime reading time on the flights watching movies instead. I'll ease in to writing about books, if that's what I'm going to do, by saying that The Queen of Katwe was a fine film, as was If Cats Disappeared From the World, though the cat movie (Japanese, with subtitles) was a bit more subtle. And I didn't watch that one until I was on the homeward trip because I'm not crazy. (Nor did I know, on the outward journey, that I would meet quite so many cats in Holland. But that's another post.) Quite deserving of all its public acclaim was Manchester by the Sea, while I found Bridget Jones's Baby to be laugh-out-loud funny. The Girl on the Train featured a fine red herring. I know that I saw one or two other films (seriously, I binge-watched on that tiny screen) but I've no memory of what those might have been. Forgettable, apparently.

Books though. I need to read only four books before Labor Day to get a blackout on my bingo card and, by gum, I think I should be able to accomplish that so go me! I used to read this way--sort of chain-reading, though I don't so much light the next book with the final chapter of the previous one--but it's been quite some time. I'd forgotten how pleasant it is to read just for pleasure. (And, it's just occurred to me, that I finally dropped the tendency to note bad breaks and such in the layout. I guess that will all come back soon enough.)

 Happily, pretty much everything I've read has been good, too--some things surprisingly so. I've just finished The Underground Railroad (the "fiction" square) which has a Pulitzer and an endorsement from Mr Obama so, really, it's pretty fatuous for me to note "it's good," but it is. Engrossingly and horrifyingly so. Harriet the Spy (banned) was maybe more of a surprise; it's a children's book I've heard of probably all my life so you'd think I'd have read it before but I hadn't; it turned out to be a pretty remarkable book. With all due respect to the Potterverse, I sort of feel like the 1960s were a golden age for children's literature. I may be mistaken, of course. The Secret Garden (filling the "made into a movie" square) was written a lot earlier and it's pretty darned fine as well. Fahrenheit 451 (science or science fiction) was one of the few clunkers; it seemed overly preachy and simplistic to me. Possibly that's why sci-fi and I parted company quite a few years ago. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (SAL speaker) felt somehow distant throughout; it might have been better to have read that one more slowly.

I feel that the graphic novel of Remembrance of Times Past: Swann's Way (graphic novel) would have been pretty incomprehensible had I not fairly recently reread the actual book; no matter what the creators might say, I don't see the graphic novel leading anyone to read the text book. (Scott also took issue, over my shoulder, with the depiction of M. Swann; apparently he should have curly red hair.) The Astrologer (Washington author) was, as ever, a delight though it is a book with irritating typesetting. Still, any book with Tycho Brahe in it is well worth a few bad breaks. A young woman with a lemonade and baked good stand happened to declare that Common Sense was her favorite 18th-century book so, oddly, that is my "recommended by a young person" entry; it was interesting to see how influential it must have been for the founding fathers--and just how obsessed Mr Paine was with property rights. What the Mouth Wants (LGBTQIA author or character) was so much more than its category--another surprise bit of brilliance and it naturally leads me to remember My Life in France (recommended by a bookseller). I liked that one so much that I asked for Mastering the Art of French Cooking for my birthday.

And now we're firmly into those books I read pre-Holland and it's all a bit hazier. True Grit (book in a category you haven't read before) thrilled me less than it did Scott (I still hope that he enjoys Beverley Nichols when he reads one of his books). The Penelopiad (set in a different country) definitely had its moments but was really a bit slight for something by Ms Atwood. Black Boy (memoir) I started before I was aware of the bingo (but not before the start of the reading period) and I didn't realize it wasn't fiction for the first fifty or so pages; it was another book that took me by surprise. What struck me most about Go Tell It On the Mountain (by a person of color) may have been the respect shown for mothers which, I am sure, was not necessarily the author's intent. Persuasion (a book you read in school) appealed to me no more than it did close to forty years ago; I am consistent if nothing else, while I rather enjoyed Lady Susan (read in a day) though it is so short that I feel like I sort of cheated there.

 What am I forgetting? Oh, my one library book (thus far, anyway, I have holds for two of my final four) was The Sellout (recommended by a librarian) which won the Man Booker a few years back and, really, it only reinforced my low opinion of the Man Booker. Highland Fling (published the year one of your parents was born) was also pretty wretched; happily Nancy Mitford went on to do better things (and, happily, I had read them before this one, her first). Crime de Luxe (chosen for its cover) was a mighty weak mystery so I have to assume that the final book (that I'm not remembering) was pretty bad as well.

And yet, now that I look at my bingo card I see that such was not the case at all. The missing book is Thaliad (poetry) and I inhaled that one in surprise and wonder. It was pretty darned fabulous in its creativity and execution. That's the thing that I have appreciated most about the summer bingo project; it has led me not only to read obsessively, it has caused me to read a lot of stuff that has been on the shelves for months or years. (The only challenge with the "you've been meaning to read" is going to be deciding which of the books piled up around the house to choose. I'm feeling like it could be a Graham Greene novel or, if time allows, Mozart's Starling.)

I don't think I intended to spend so much of my sabbatical with a book in my hands but I can't say that I'm complaining. No, I didn't get the back side of the fence painted, and the garden beds are still pretty overgrown and in need of weeding. I haven't had any massive epiphanies about the meaning of life or even cleared all the crap off the ping pong table. But I've been someone else over and over and over again and that, in my world, is enough.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Vogels van Nederland

 Can you believe the size of this pile of onions?
As I explained to Alex, it's extra challenging to write about the birds we saw in Holland because we ended up buying a Dutch-language guide while in Amsterdam and, well, it's just that much more complicated to share our sighting of a krooneend, aka Netta rufina, aka red-crested pochard, when I have to give three names for it. That's only half the difficulty, of course; there's also the challenge of shifting photos from the iPad to Myrna. But maybe I've been badmouthing the iPad for long enough, and I should just list some birds, post what photos I can, and call it good.

So then. The krooneend was a lovely bird (far less scary than the photo below makes it look) that we saw in the Zuider zee, according to the note Scott added to Zakgids Vogels van Nederland en Belgie which fine book we bought at Architectura & Natura Books in Amsterdam early on. Flipping through that book I see we also saw a family of knobbelzwaan (Cygnus olor, aka mute swans) while cycling across some reclaimed lands north of Amsterdam; brandgans (Branta leucopsis, aka barnacle geese) on the island of Texel; grauwe gans (Anser anser, greylag geese) all over the place; dwerggans (Anser erythropus, lesser whitefronted goose) on those waterlands and nijlgans (Alopochen aegytiaca, Egyptian geese) in Amsterdam. I remember being pleased to see the brilduiker (Bucephala clangula) on a small lake outside Amsterdam as I could say, with confidence, "Hey! It's a common goldeneye," and sometimes when traveling one likes to encounter the familiar. This does not mean I was pleased to see Starbucks in Amsterdam, however.

Continuing the list which is of interest, I fear, to very few, I note that the kuifeend (Aythya fuligula, known locally as a tufted duck) and the ever-delightful wilde eend (Anas platyrhynchos, aka mallard) were both spotted. More surprisingly, as we paused on a bench before leaving the natural area by De Koog, we saw a fazant (phasianus colchicus, ring-necked pheasant) who was pretty insistent on getting his photo taken. I think we saw the fuut (podiceps cristatus, great crested grebe) on a couple of different parts of the Zuider Zee;  the waterhoen (Gallinula chloropus, or common moorhen) in Amsterdam's Vondelpark; meerkoet (Fulica atra . . . coots!) and blauwe reiger (Ardea cinerea . . . great blue herons) everywhere. Aalscholver (Phalacrocorax carbo--great cormorants) were also pretty common, and we got used to seeing scholeksters (Haematopus ostralegus, the Eurasian oystercatcher) pretty regularly as well, though that didn't stop me from snapping their photos because they are darned attractive birds. A more exciting sighting was of the kievit (Vanellus vanellus) which translates to northern lapwing; we saw only a couple of those, on a mudflat and at a great distance, as we were biking to a beach on Texel. The regenwulp (Numenius phaeopus) took off every time I tried to take its photo, but we were still able to positively identify it as, sigh, a whimbrel. Lovely bird, if not new; the same can be said of the steenloper (Arenaria interpres) which turns out to be a ruddy turnstone. I saw one lepelaar (Platalea leucorodia) from a moving Texelhopper; the single Eurasian spoonbill of the trip. Despite repeated attempts to reach them, we saw no bluethroats. I'm going back.

We saw a ton of raptors, including grauwe kiekendief (Circus pygargus, Montagu's harrier); torenvalk (Falco tinnunculus) which Scott recognized as a common kestrel; and the surely-doesn't-really-belong-there halsbandparkiet (Psittacula krameri, rose-ringed parakeet) that makes a racket all over Amsterdam's Vondelpark. Back in the world of songbirds we saw pimpelmees (Cyanistes caeruleus) and koolmees (Parus major) off the patio of our apartment in Amsterdam, as well as korsnaelboomkruiper (Certhia familiaris macrodactyla) and merels (Turdus merula); those would be the Eurasian blue tit, great tit, Eurasian treecreeper, and Eurasian blackbirds. We saw one young roodborst (Erithacus rubecula, aka European robin) in Amsterdam while the witte kwikstaart (Motacilla alba)--white wagtail--favored bicycle paths on the mainland and Texel alike. In the swallow category we saw a number of boerenzwaluw (Hirundo rustica) best known as the barn swallow. And there were crows, pigeons, doves, gulls, and terns which I'm just too tired to detail here, so instead I'm going to post what photos I can and call it good.

Egyptian geese on a family outing
Not listed above: a magpie
Moorhen
Young European robin
Fleeing whimbrel
Ruddy turnstone
Also not specifically listed above, a kokmeeuw or black headed gull
Great crested grebes
Red-crested pochard
Blue tit
Happy merel couple
One of a couple just-not-sure birds
Rose-ringed parakeet
Happy mute swan family
People feed the gulls on the Texel ferry. Which leads to this sort of thing.

A couple of kestrels, I think, on a barn

Ring-necked pheasant
Second mystery bird

Distant lapwing
White wagtail