Monday, August 13, 2018

Life is tragic

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death--ought to decide, indeed to earn one's death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us. But white Americans do not believe in death, and this is why the darkness of my skin so intimidates them. And this is also why the presence of the Negro in this country can bring about its destruction. It is the responsibility of free men to trust and to celebrate what is constant--birth, struggle, and death are constant, and so is love, though we may not always think so--and to apprehend the nature of change, to be able and willing to change. I speak of change not on the surface but in the depths--change in the sense of renewal. But renewal becomes impossible if one supposes things to be constant that are not--safety, for example, or money, or power. One clings to chimeras, by which one can only be betrayed, and the entire hope--the entire possibility--of freedom disappears. 

 --from pages 91 - 92 of The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin

I'm not sure I understand everything Mr Baldwin is saying in this book, but parts of it truly resonate. And I love his language. Why does no one talk about conundrums and chimeras these days? Riddle me that.

Book Bingo continues to steer me towards books with low page counts and some of those short books fill me with wonder. I call that a good thing.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Beautiful writing and horrific stories, "Silent Spring" 100 pages in

One of the most tragic examples of our unthinking bludgeoning of the landscape is to be seen in the sagebrush lands of the West, where a vast campaign is on to destroy the sages and to substitute grasslands. If ever an enterprise needed to be illuminated with a sense of the history and meaning of the landscape, it is this. For here the natural landscape is eloquent of the interplay of forces that have created it. It is spread before us like the pages of an open book in which we can read why the land is what it is, and why we should preserve its integrity. But the pages lie unread.

The land of the sage is the land of the high western plains and the lower slopes of the mountains that rise above them, a land born of the great uplift of the Rocky Mountain system many millions of years ago. It is a place of harsh extremes of climate: of long winters when blizzards drive down from the mountains and snow lies deep on the plains, of summers whose heat is relieved by only scanty rains, with drought biting deep into the soil, and drying winds stealing moisture from leaf and stem.

As the landscape evolved, there must have been a long period of trial and error in which plants attempted the colonization of this high and windswept land. One after another must have failed. At last one group of plants evolved which combined all the qualities needed to survive. The sage--low-growing and shrubby--could hold its place on the mountain slopes and the plains, and within its small gray leaves it could hold moisture enough to defy the thieving winds. It was no accident, but rather the result of long ages of experimentation by nature, that the great plains of the West became the land of the sage.

Along with the plants, animal life, too, was evolving in harmony with the searching requirements of the land. In time there were two as perfectly adjusted to their habitat as the sage. One was a mammal, the fleet and graceful pronghorn antelope. The other was a bird, the sage grouse--the "cock of the plains" of Lewis and Clark.

The sage and the grouse seem made for each other. The original range of the bird coincided with the range of the sage, and as the sagelands have been reduced, so the populations of the grouse have dwindled. The sage is all things to these birds of the plains. The low sage of the foothill ranges shelters their nests and their young; the denser growths are loafing and roosting areas; at all times the sage provides the staple food of the grouse. Yet is  it a two-way relationship. The spectacular courtship displays of the cocks help loosen the soil beneath and around the sage, aiding invasion by grasses which grow in the shelter of sagebrush.

from pages 64 - 65 of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Oddly, I've never read this book though of course it's been around since I was two years old. The first several chapters were fascinating in a shocking sort of way, but now it's getting a bit more bleak; it seems I can better accept the casual deaths of children who are so foolish as to use an empty bag that once held insecticide (alkyl or organic phosphates) to fix a swing only to die soon thereafter as a result of poisoning--their playmates only became ill--than I am the wholesale death of birds, squirrels, rabbits, and cats after deliberate repeated applications of dieldrin (50 times more toxic than DDT and also cheaper) in Illinois that were intended to deal with Japanese beetles. I am, in fact, deliberately taking a break between chapter 7 ("Needless Havoc") and 8 ("And No Birds Sing") as it is all becoming too much.

 But I expected the horrific stories. What comes as a surprise is how beautifully Ms Carson writes. I can see how this book had the impact it did; while she doesn't hold back on the science and the horror, she also writes such evocative passages. 

 The book should be required reading for anyone who thinks that the EPA should be abolished or that we should make America great again by getting rid of those pesky regulations. Hell, everyone should read it just because it is an amazing book.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Very fleeting - Book Bingo Update

It's practically the end of July and my last post was a quick bunch of links relating to housiversary in mid-June. I'm continuing my trend of not really writing anything here and yet pretending not to have dropped blogging entirely--god knows why. But on looking at my in-progress summer reading bingo card earlier this evening, I observed to Scott that I seemed to be doing my best to fill as many squares as possible without getting a bingo. I share the evidence here:

I have plans for some of the remaining squares (I swear that I am starting Silent Spring for the "environment" square tomorrow and that one of these days I'll get a copy of Jonathan Evison's Lawn Boy for "local author") but many of them (author or character with a disability, history . . . ) are still TBD. I welcome suggestions.

 Thus far, Wolf Hollow, Jane Eyre, and Diary of a Provincial Lady have been my favorites. Death at the Chateau Bremont has possibly edged out Notes of a Crocodile for least engaging while The Only Story, Warlight, and A Fairly Good Time are fighting it out for most forgettable.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Looking back on housiversaries past

As we were having the traditional sparkling and Doritos and looking over the Moleskin(TM) diary on the front lawn yesterday evening, Scott and I found we were vague on our activities on previous housiversaries. That was just a warm-up to getting serious about mudding and taping, which I swear I'll be recording later. But this evening, it's all about documentation so here, dedicated blahdeblah readers, are links to the online descriptions of years past. I can only say, we used to be slackers:

Housiversary 2010: Ordered bulbs!

Houseiversary 2011: Went to the beach; made one low-grade screen

Housiversary 2012: Got serious about things; cork flooring installed 

Housiversary 2013: Door by the patio, round I

Housiversary 2014: Seriously serious; replacing the second porch column

Housiversary 2015: Quarter round, furniture shifting, and revisions to the patio door

Housiversary 2016: The start of the proper screens

Housiversary 2017: Drywalling, round II upstairs

Friday, June 8, 2018

Let's not make a charity about it

It seems that all of May came and went without me writing a single post. No great loss, perhaps, to the greater world but still a little disquieting to me. And it's not like I've got so much I intend to record here tonight; it's more a waving-not-drowning sort of fly-by visit.

 I finished The Girl Who Smiled Beads a few nights ago; it is, for now, my "outside your bubble" book for this year's Seattle Public Library/Seattle Arts & Lectures book bingo. Possibly if this year included the "book you bought for its cover" square it would be going there; I really like the cover design. It's one of the books I bought at Magnolia's Bookstore on bookstore day. In fact, I've just realized, that I've read all three books I bought there and the Julian Barnes picked up at Queen Anne Book Company just before; I'm practically working my way through those stacks in chronological order. Of course, the Mavis Gallant I read just before The Only Story was from Ravenna/Third Place Books, which we reached at twilight on bookstore day so, on reflection, it all falls apart. Never mind. 

 None of which is what I meant to put here. No, I have sort of mixed feelings about The Girl Who Smiled Beads; the acknowledgments are so gushing and fulsome while the Clemantine in the body of the book is angry and frequently confrontational. She also knows how to appear to be whatever the person in front of her wants her to be so one wonders who wanted those school girl acknowledgments. But possibly feeling a little knocked off balance is the least I can do after vicariously experiencing the hell of the refugee existence. So, I donno about the book as a whole. But I know that some parts resonated a great deal including this bit:

I've seen enough to know that you can be human with a mountain of resources and you can be human with nothing, and you can be a monster either way. Everywhere, and especially at both extremes, you can find monsters. It's at the extremes that people are most scared--scared of deprivation, on one end; and scared of their privilege, on the other. With privilege comes nearly unavoidable egoism and so much shame, and often the coping mechanism is to give. This is great and necessary, but giving, as a framework, creates problems. You give, I take; you take, I give--both structures create a hierarchy. Both instill entitlement. 
     The only  road to equality--a sense of common humanity; peace--is sharing, my mother's orange. When we share, you are not using your privilege to get me to line up behind you. When we share, you are not insisting on being my savior. Claire and I always looked for the sharers, the people who just said, "I have sugar. I have water. Let's share water. Let's not make charity about it."

 from pp 177 - 178 of The Girl Who Smiled Beads

So I'm not fussed by Samantha Bee's use of "cunt" because that sort of drama is just manufactured nonsense. But people who can see and express the nuances between "giving" and "sharing" (sort of like the bit in Brighton Rock about the difference between "good and evil" and "right and wrong.") -- now they are onto something meaningful. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Independent Bookstore Day, Seattle Edition

Yesterday was Independent Bookstore Day across the United States (and possibly in Canada as well; I can't remember offhand if they synchronized this year; the UK is having an entire week!). #SEABookstoreDay is a pretty big deal, or so it seems if you're in the book business. Then again, I ran into an acquaintance I hadn't seen in years at Elliott Bay Book Company (our last stop and I was pretty fried by then) and asked if that was why she was there. No, she'd been for a reading. "I guess I heard something about that," she said. And this morning when I mentioned it to the Farmers Market woman from whom we buy pastries, she just looked a bit blank and said, no, she hadn't heard about that. So, perhaps, the nice folks behind IBD need to work on their outreach a bit more.

Or not, because pretty much all of the nine stores we got to yesterday were doing a pretty hopping business, and certainly Scott and I did our best to contribute to their continued well-being. We did not, obviously, get to all 23 participating shops nor even the 19 that were required to qualify as a finisher. (For stores with multiple branches, you only had to visit one location to get your passport stamped.) Sadly, we didn't manage to reach my own, seemingly more reasonable goal of hitting every shop within the Seattle city limits. Fantagraphics, in Georgetown, defeated us by opening fairly late but, really, by being in the wrong direction. And, okay, not getting out the door until 10:30 didn't help us any, though since we didn't get home until after 9:30 (aka 11 hours later), I'm not sure we could have survived an earlier start.

But out we got, despite the slight rain, on our bikes. Scott wisely put only one pannier on his bike so that I wouldn't load him down quite so much. (The bag that he insisted weighed 60 pounds by our last stop in reality was scarcely 25 pounds. But still.) It was a multi-modal sort of day, with us biking downtown where we caught a bus to the top of Queen Anne (the bus driver commented on our slackdom).

After collecting our passports and first couple of books at Queen Anne Book Company, we stopped next door at La Reve (which has an incredibly tempting display case: I so want to go back when I have more leisure) for the day's meal and a review of the Seattle Bike Map (circa 2013), cross-referencing it with Google maps, to work out our route to Magnolia's Bookstore in, ovvies*, Magnolia. Happily, Scott was pretty good at understanding the best route and we made it there with minimal trouble, though there was more uphill than expected.

I loved this little bookshop and had a hard time restraining myself there; that they also had a number of Mountaineers' titles on display was also nice. I allowed myself to be sold on a couple of utterly-unknown-to-me titles; I'm hoping I'll like them! There was also a bakery next door which, alas, we were far too full to even consider. Next time.
Once more Scott had a clear idea of the best route and we rode across (mercifully flat south-north) Magnolia towards Ballard. I was very excited when I heard a train as we approached the pedestrian overpass between Magnolia and Ballard. Oh! The thrill of having two long freight trains race through (especially since that overpass meant that we didn't really have to wait for them).

Although we were still stuffed from breakfast, I am incapable of not stopping at Besalu if I'm in Ballard when it's open so we detoured slightly so I could pick up some ginger biscuits to go. (Mmmmm . . . ginger biscuits.)

We swung around the block to Secret Garden Books where, against all expectation, they came up with a copy of The Disappearing Spoon (in, sadly, a different cover) for me. I'd jotted the title down months ago; fingers crossed it lives up to my expectations. A customer raved about Wolf Hollow when I reached across her to pick it up, so I opted to buy it as well.

It was after Secret Garden that I voted for multi-moding once more since, well, we could. A 44 was coming along momentarily so we avoided the climb out of Ballard by putting the bikes on the bus and riding in luxurious comfort to Open Books, the poetry bookshop. I admit I was little uncertain about finding something here because I don't so much read poetry. I was surprised, therefore, when I found myself with three books and a button in my hands. One sort of felt that the three people behind the register were a bit bemused as well. I'd love to know about their inventory/accounting system: one woman laboriously wrote out the full titles (and more?) in a spiralbound notebook before the purchases were entered into the iPad register.

(It was also at Open Books that I first really noticed people going into a store to get their stamp and leaving immediately. Which is, I suppose, one way of getting to 19 stores spread across 130 miles**, in the allotted time but it does seem sort of self-absorbed and, well, just rude.)

From Open Books (truly some of the friendliest sales people of the day) we headed back west, riding some roads parallel to 45th to backtrack to Fremont and Book Larder. Book Larder, was packed. They had a day full of demonstrations scheduled which, I suppose, helps guarantee a lot of visitors. While we were locking up the bikes, a passport-bearing woman recommended the cheese puffs and it *had* been some hours by then, so I grabbed one off the demo counter and popped it in my mouth. It was, indeed, pretty good. Book Larder was another store that was a little challenging: I don't really buy all that many cookbooks. Before I ended up buying a towel, however, I saw a book with the note "Proceeds will be donated to the ACLU" and a second one that seemed suited to the Day (The Culinary Cyclist); both were small and lightweight (which was becoming a consideration) so I snapped them up just like they were cheese puffs.

Then we headed north to Phinney Books which is not so big a store and they were also drawing a crowd. I ended up shifting the snack table a foot or so over so I could get at my favorite shelf in that particular store, the section where they put all the New York Review Books classics. The volume I actually bought was from the "Recommended" shelf--but it was still NYRB. While I was wedged into that corner, they replenished the snack table with huge wedges of three lovely cheeses. Alas; we had places to go.

There is no photo for Phinney Books because it was at that point that I realized it was 4:40, and I was hoping to catch Jonathan Evison at University Bookstore at 5:00. We rode as fast and as hard as we could, routefinding on the fly, but it was still after 5:00 by the time we were locking up outside of UBS. And, as it happened, his event had been at 3:00 so he was long gone, as I learned when I asked a woman at the store. "Oh yeah, he was here with a crowd in the cafe drinking beer," she said. I don't know if it was envy in her voice. So that was disappointing, especially as I'd planned Lawn Boy for my UBS purchase. I instead picked up a couple of books from the sale tables and a NYRB that I'd resisted at Phinney Books. Because UBS' signage is so dull--and it was a bit wet--we opted to skip the photo op there.

Due to the wet it felt dark and dreary despite being not yet 6:00 p.m. Nonetheless, we persisted, riding north to the Third Place in Ravenna. This was the very ride we did not manage last year so I was particularly pleased that neither of us hesitated this time around. And it wasn't so bad a ride; a lot of the route has a dedicated bike lane, and  traffic was pretty light on the Ave. At Third Place we locked up the bikes, went around the corner to discover some more sheltered bike racks near the door, and unlocked and shifted the bikes (for a much nicer backdrop for the semi-required snap).

The Ravenna Third Place is pretty much new for me; I think I ducked in once to drop off some galleys for Craig Romano who was doing a reading there. It's an interesting place with a decent selection--another shop I wouldn't mind spending more time browsing. I broke down and bought the Proust Letters to his Neighbor there, despite it appearing to be a fair amount of padding. I may be a Proust (in translation) completionist. It was while waiting in line at Third Place that I overheard the man in front of me say, gesturing at a display of new books, "I heard he drank a six-pack at his signing; he's going to be on Mercer Island this week." As it happens, Lawn Boy was on that table and Mr Evison has a reading at Island Books on Thursday. Coincidence?

From Third Place we (oh, so sadly) cruised by Bagel Oasis and Sod House Bakery without stopping (in truth, I didn't even see them but I know they were there), and then enjoyed a long easy coast (aside from traffic worries) down 25th to an intersection with the Burke-Gilman which we took to the University light rail station. It was lovely to be on the Burke, where the cross traffic was robins rather than distracted drivers; it's lucky that we didn't reach it until late in the day or we'd have been too spoiled for the reality of bookshop-hopping by bike. (Speaking of which, Scott's pannier maxed out at Third Place and I had to start worrying about keeping books dry in Bessie's basket.)

It was on the light rail that I remembered I'd packed jelly beans and chocolate eggs so we were somewhat reenergized by the time we reached Capitol Hill. The climb to Ada's Technical Books was still a little more challenging than I'd expected so I think, yes, we were getting a bit tired by then. I sort of love Ada's, though their selection is pretty limited (and they carry no Mountaineers' titles); it's all the lab glass. They did have Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, which I've been meaning to read, and I may have picked up an older Margaret Atwood there too.

 How fine it was to have an easy downhill cruise to Elliott Bay Book Company, our last shop (because by then Fantagraphics was closed and Scott likely would have killed me had I suggested it anyway). Elliott Bay has a big glittery "FINISH" sign and tequila shots for finishers. I appreciate celebrating those who manage to hit bookshops on the peninsula and on the eastside as well as in Seattle (and north to Edmonds), but it also felt like there was a big party going on to which those who had only been to nine shops hadn't been invited. And, based on some of the "getting all 19" people I'd seen throughout the day, those people were doing sodfuckingall to actually support the stores. They were scurrying in, getting a stamp, and running out again, not buying anything and not even pausing long enough to determine if the store was someplace they'd want to return to later. Despite this slightly sour taste, I found a book or two to buy, and--because our cycling was done for the day--I bought a poster. (I really wanted one last year and was glad to see they were selling them this year.) I took the opportunity to consolidate the four (!) EBBC loyalty cards I had so while I'm all about supporting the plucky independents, I wasn't sad when my debit card charge at the final shop was just $6--and I was left with one full stamp card and was starting on a new one.

 A quick but careful (I had that poster in a handle-bag dangling from my handlebars after all) ride to the Capitol Hill train station, a transfer to a bus downtown, a pushing of the bikes up the hill, and our adventure was done. There were cocktails, yes.

*A highlight of the day was overhearing a woman walking on Capitol Hill say to her friend, "Ovvies!" as in "how obvious that your new leather jacket is super cute." Kids these days. Whatever happened to "Obvs," asks Scott.

**The "130 miles" figure comes from a conversation with a woman in line at Elliott Bay Book Company who said that she had considered attempting the day by bike, but in planning her route she had realized it would be 130 miles. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Pre-Earth-Day Tea

Cake service at the tea table. Despite having each filled and emptied our plates half a  dozen times, we managed to worry down healthy slices of cake too.
After far, far too long (and a bit of gentle nagging), we finally hosted a tea at our house again. The group is reduced from the olden days, but somehow that didn't stop me from making the same number of sandwiches--or possibly *more* sandwiches than normal as I realized late yesterday that I'd forgotten all about getting crumpets. That's just how out of practice I am. It was, I believe, a good time during which we all ate far too much, drank gallons of tea, interrupted each other's stories, and laughed about things like owls riding motorcycles. The wider world was largely ignored which, you know, is sometimes a good thing. The weather teased about being nice enough to set up outside earlier in the day, but by the time 2:00 rolled around, it was clear that we'd be staying inside. There were a few brief interludes during which we could take turns in the garden.

 The purpose of this post is to share photos, so that's what I'm going to do, pausing only long enough to note that tea with old friends should happen more often.

The consensus was that tulips that look like they are growing wild is a fine look.
I call this an homage to Old Dutch Masters. I'm sure they enjoyed a well-catered tea.

What can I say? I can never resist a shot of post-party dishes.
The amazing Earth Day cake Christine created. I like the way the umbrellas on the curtains look like they're part of the bouquet.