Vincent

During quarantine, I have started an “Art of the Day” project on my Facebook. I think people enjoy it, and it makes me happy. I find myself spending a lot of time trawling through museum websites to get art. My hope is to have a mix of genres (landscape, portraiture, etc.) and pictures that people have seen as well as art they may not be familiar with. (I didn’t want this to be a “greatest hits” project. True, there is a lot of art that I am familiar with that others may not be…)

I was looking at the Van Gogh Museum collection today. Naturally, I got to thinking about Vincent’s life.

By all accounts, and historical analyses, Vincent was mentally ill. He spent time in institutions, and ended his life with a revolver shot to the chest.

I know all that. You see the madness in the painting. No one bought them because they could not see what the madman saw.

Yet Vincent captured something about life, about color, about form that was more real than mere realism. We gravitate to his paintings because their beauty touches us, and makes us think about the reality we know, and the reality he knew. The intensely yellow sunflowers. The twisting irises. The swirling stars above the black cypresses. The sad faces of the peasants and the townspeople. The deep, deep blue sky above the church with the diverging paths. And yes, in the end, the crows circling above the frantically waving wheat.

I wonder if the convergence killed him, that what he saw in the world was too much for the world. Maybe the difference between what he experienced and what he could communicate to the others that refused to listen became too much. Maybe it simply became unbearable. Death would seem the only way out.

Vincent’s death was a tragedy. Vincent’s life and his art were gifts.

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PSA.

Every parent who whines about their kids being out of school, who posts cutesy videos on YouTube about how hard it is to get by without a lot of wine….

Better damn well be working for better pay for teachers and especially day-care workers. Furthermore…

They damn well better never, ever, ever make fun of or disrespect stay-at-home parents EVER again.

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Empathy.

One of my brothers lives in one of the reddest of red states. He works in an “essential industry” (not healthcare) so he has no option to stay at home. If he stays at home he loses his job (and possible his health insurance). My other brother (who lives in a somewhat red state) likewise works in a field where working from home is simply not possible.

I have heard a bit of snark on the left about how the refusal of some governors to put out shelter in place orders, or the insistence of some fools to ignore or protest those orders, will result in some sort of massive dying off of people who really deserve what they get. (I’ve heard “Getting idiots out of the gene pool” or “Darwinism at work.”)

That’s not how pandemics work. Yes, the failure to put in place SIP orders will result in a larger death toll. But it is not a given that the people who will get sick and die support the governor’s actions. Yes, the people who are protesting are being foolish, but that doesn’t mean that they will feel the brunt of this.

Pandemics don’t care who they hit. Some of these people will be totally asymptomatic, and some will simply shed virus before they get sick. They will infect their parents and their neighbors. If they go to the hospital, they may infect their nurses or doctors. They will infect everyday people.

People like my brothers.

When I was in high school, I learned about the Social Darwinist movement in the late 19th and early to mid 20th century. Death among the poor was simply “survival of the fittest.” The disabled were subjected to forced sterilization lest there be generations of “cripples” or “morons.” The distinguising figure of Social Darwinism was lack of empathy and lack of recognition of shared humanity.

You tell me how what we on the left are doing is any different. You tell me how we are doing anything but celebrating potential death, simply because the people who are acting as death’s angels have political views that differ from ours.

Yes, some of them are abhorrent people. They wear MAGA hats and wave confederate flags. They are being egged on and used by the most corrupt elected official in the history of this country. They are being used by the forces of disruption and hatred.

But we can disagree with them — despise them, even — without wishing death upon them. Let the other side engage in this sort of reprehensible behavior.

We should strive to be better than that.

Believe me, I get how hard it is. Wasn’t I the person who said not ten days ago that I pray for Donald Trump to get coronavirus and die? But I also said, at the time, that I felt that that showed a damaged soul. I am working to do better, be a better person But maybe our collective souls have been hurt enough by these people that we can’t muster the empathy that even they should receive. Maybe empathy is an emotion that arises out of the privilege I have as a white woman in a blue state whose governor took swift action.

I understand that I can afford empathy for the Confederate flag wavers and the MAGA hat wearers. But if you can’t have empathy for them, please have empathy for those around them. Have empathy for healthcare workers. Have empathy for grocery clerks. Have empathy for “essential workers,” who are being forced to risk their health and lives and those of their families, even in the reddest of red states, and who are often severely underpaid even. Have empathy for the people in red states who are simply going about their lives.

Have empathy for my brothers.

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Double Features

So, when this all started I was going to write an hour a day. Clearly, this has not happened. But I have not spent all my time binging on Tiger King, which seems to be all the rage. The large number of my friends who are watching it aside, it sounds like a perfectly dreadful show.

No, I have spent hours trawling through Google Arts & Culture Collections, gaining JPEGs for my “Art of the Day” project. At first I simply selected works I was familiar with (the week before my birthday was a “greatest hits” list), but I have decided to show works that neither I nor my FB friends know. (There are quite a number that I know that they do not — my obsession with art museums is coming in handy.) I really would like doing this as long as at least a few people like it.

I have about 250 artworks selected. I have them separated into figurative drawings, landscapes, portraits, still life, etc. I have a few statues and buildings. Some of the art I associate with specific times of years (Van Eyck’s Annunciation will be the picture for the first Sunday of Advent), but beyond that I want to have a mix of different types of art (not have only landscapes during June, e.g.). I want to have modern and Renaissance, Italian and French and Dutch, and so on. I have to confess that I am less than enthralled by Abstract Expressionism or mythological or historical scenes, but I am working on it.

It has been a blast. I probably should stop for a while, or I will end up with more than I need. I can resume later.

In the meantime, I can binge on something… I have a lot of movies DVRd. Let’s see…

A Lerner and Loewe double feature: Gigi and My Fair Lady. (I really wish I could have a Kander and Ebb double feature: Cabaret and Chicago)

An Akira Kurosawa double feature: Rashomon and Throne of Blood

An Alfred Hitchock mini-festival: Rope, Rear Window, The Birds, and Vertigo

I have a bunch of silents by Alice Guy-Blache, as well as a documentary about her.

A Humphrey Bogart double feature: The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca

A “revised version” of a much-loved movie: The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail

The “scare your socks off” double feature: Nosferatu (the 1922 silent version) and The Haunting

The actress I love to hate (Meg Ryan): You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally

Show business: The Producers, Hail Caesar!, and Shakespeare in Love (no, really)

For that matter, Shakespeare: Shakespeare in Love and Much Ado About Nothing

Rock: A Hard Day’s Night and Woodstock

And that covers about half my movies. Citizen Kane, Some Like It Hot, The Princess Bride, Singin’ In the Rain, The Wizard of Oz….

Time to start watching.

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Madame is in house.

(Many years ago, when this blog was on Blogger rather than WordPress, I had a similar post talking about the history of my nom de trivia. I seem to be repeating myself a lot lately. Sorry. Most of you haven’t been reading me for ten years, so would not have seen the earlier post.)

I have started an “Art of the Day” project on my Facebook timeline. Each day I post a different picture — usually, but not always, a painting. (I have, however, shown the Lewis chessmen and a Faberge egg.) This week, since my birthday is on Friday, I am going to show some of my very favorite paintings, the paintings I would be willing to go out of my way to a museum to see. (With two exceptions: I have already posted “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper and “The Milkmaid” by Johannes Vermeer, which may be my favorite painting of all.)

One painting I will post this week is not really one of my favorite paintings — it’s not even my favorite portrait — but a portrait of one my favorite historical figures, and an intellectual hero of mine. Anna Louise Germaine Necker de Stael led an adventurous, fascinating, exciting life, and falls into the category of “why isn’t this woman better known?”

Many people are working to get more recognition of all the women in STEM fields that have been ignored: Rosalind Franklin, Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Lise Meitner, etc. This is a good and very necessary thing. However, women in other fields have not gotten their due, either.

Germaine Necker de Stael — usually referred to as Madame de Stael, was a late eighteenth and early nineteenth century intellectual badass. She influenced political thought for decades, even after her death. She ran the best salons in all of Europe and was friends with the brightest cognoscenti. She furthered the spread of Romanticism. She had three kids who survived to adulthood (as well as two daughters who died in infancy), and it is thought they were by two different lovers. (Gotta love the French.) That’s only a part of her life.

Today, most people remember her (if they remember her at all) for her quite quotable observations of people. Most notably, she once said “The more I see of men, the better I like my dogs.” (To be honest, I don’t speak French, so I am not sure if she meant people or males. Either way, it’s a great quote.)

Two centuries later — the early nineties — AOL came into existence. The Rocket Scientist and I were early adopters: I still remember getting messages saying “We’ve added our 50,000 member!” As a relief from the stress of parenting two young children, I became a host in the Trivia chat room. It was a lot of fun: in addition the actual hosting, I had to write games, which was intellectually challenging. I ran a game named (rather prosaically) Trivia with Pat and one that was dedicated exclusively to history called The Time Machine. (Pro-tip: depending upon how you word the question, everything becomes about history.)

I wanted to run a game on more serious lines. As I define it, trivia are things people might or might not know, but generally speaking are things people really don’t need to know. I wanted to run a game about information, things that people should have already learned, in my opinion. (For example, in my other games I would never ask about the Kristallnacht, but in this game I did, mainly because people need to know about it. I hoped, probably unrealistically, that those who didn’t know what I was talking about would go find out.)

I needed an alter ego. Madame after the indefatigable Madame de Stael–how could I not? I needed an name (after all, Madame is merely an honorific). I had recently watched a miniseries on the life of Guiseppe Verdi. I was taken by his second wife, an opera singer named Guiseppina Strepponi. She did end up marrying him (after they had been living together, much to the consternation of the small Italian town they were living in). After that, she was Signora Verdi.

Thus was Madame Verdi’s Information Parlor born. It ran for a little while, until I was overwhelmed by the stress of caring for a pre-schooler and a toddler, one of which had special needs. I was sad to let the gig go, but writing the games took too much time, and as AOL’s numbers increased it became more difficult to get into the chat room and the regulars were often crowded out.

I kept the name though. I had an email address that incorporated it, and when I started playing trivia, that was the name I played under. (At least when I was playing by myself; I have played under several team names when playing with others.) I even have a t-shirt with my team name and a picture of Madame de Stael on it.

I like her. Madame Verdi is smarter than I am, and tougher, and oftentimes snarkier. She knows what she’s doing — or least seems to. She tries to be nice to people however; no matter what persona I adopt that matters to me a great deal.

I hope she’ll be around a long time.

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Good Friday Prayers.

Today is Good Friday, one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar, the day when, according to Christian theology, Christ was crucified. For the first time in years I opened up the Book of Common Prayer and looked at the Liturgy for Good Friday.

The Anglican tradition has a lengthy set of prayers for this day. Some of them are easier than others: praying for the hungry and homeless, the destitute and oppressed; the sick and wounded; those in loneliness, fear, and anguish; those who face temptation, doubt, and despair; the sorrowful and bereaved; prisoners and captives, and those in mortal danger.

There are a set of prayers about people being called to the church, which I mentally ignore, except for the last one: it is a prayer for those who persecute others in the name of Christ, that God would open their hearts to the truth, and lead them to faith and obedience. This is my favorite prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, although I wish they had an explicit prayer for those who have been persecuted in the name of Christ.

But there is one set of prayers that draws me up short. The Liturgy calls on us to pray

For the President of the United States,

For the Congress and the Supreme Court,

For the Members and Representatives of the United Nations

For all who serve the common good

Whoa. Talk about difficult. Okay, I have no problem praying for the Representatives of the United Nations. May God give them health and wisdom. I have no problem praying for those who serve the common good — there are a lot of them out there.

But Donald Trump? Mike Pence? Mitch McConnell? These men do not serve the common good and have shown themselves impervious to attempts tp correct their corrupt ways. If anything, they have gotten even more brazen in their efforts to continue their unprincipled power grab as time goes on.

My brain keeps praying for Trump and McConnell, though: it keeps praying they get coronavirus and die. In as painful way as possible. I find myself praying for Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch to get coronavirus and die, too, although in a gentle, painless manner.

I keep feeling these are improper prayers, and I think that praying for death for someone shows a damaged soul.

But right now it’s all I can manage about these men.

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Friends.

One side effect of this quarantine is how much more I see of my friends on Facebook. Not that I am spending more time on Facebook (if anything a bit less) but they are spending more. (Probably due to to increased time at home, given the quarantine.) And the more I read their posts (including what they link to) the more I realize that…

My friends are awesome.

Not merely in the “Great” or “Terrific” sense of the word but in the deeper “fills me with awe” meaning. They are those other things as well, but what I like about them most is the way they live in the world.

They are variously funny, thoughtful, compassionate, gentle, honest, fascinatingly creative, righteously angry, appropriately sarcastic. Some of them are spiritual, but not the empty spirituality of some (not all) organized religion. Even those who are religious are respectful of those who are not.

They want the world to be a better place.

I can’t think of a better group of people to be friends with.

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Identities

You may notice a slight change in my profile. My good friend from college, Jane*, has been insisting for a while now that I remove the word “former” in front of “lawyer.”

“You think like a lawyer,” she said. “You write like a lawyer. You think and write differently than you did before you went to law school. Face it, you’re going to be a lawyer until the day you die.”

She may be right. In any case, I promised her I would I would change my profile. It’s nice to have people appreciate my writing.

Now If I could only remember to proofread like a lawyer.

*Jane is a litigator. I think she’s wonderful, but I would never want to face her in a courtroom.

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This is war… sort of.

In the first World War people bought war bonds and planted gardens. (Some of those bond drives — especially in Philadelphia — themselves proved fatal to civilians who got the H1N1 flu there.)

In World War II, people went without sugar and stockings and a great many other things and planted gardens.

There have been four wars since then (five if you count Afghanistan and Iraq as separate wars). We’ve have never been asked to sacrifice in any of them — except for the troops and their families, of course.

We’re in a war now, or at least Donald Trump thinks of himself as “war president.” We might as well be in a war; people are hurt, people are dying, people are facing the loss of jobs and businesses. Even people who are fortunate to have a safe income during this emergency are stranded at home, away from friends and family. Our hospitals — especially in New York — are being slammed.

Not all of us are acting like we’re in a war, of course. Of course, there are people hoarding. There is the medical equivalent of war-profiteering. Behind the scenes, the guy running the response thinks that because he has spent a few weeks studying the issue he is more of an expert than doctors and epidemiologists.

One big difference between WW II and now? We have no leadership. With a crisis of this magnitude…

We need Franklin Roosevelt.

We got Donald Trump.

We need Winston Churchill.

We got Donald Trump.

We need John F. Kennedy.

We got Donald Trump.

We could even use Ronald Reagan, and definitely Barack Obama.

We got Donald Trump.

We have a President who, rather than work with the states to mitigate the worst of this crisis and save countless lives, indulges his vanity. He reduces supplies to states such as New York and Michigan, whose governors are critical of him, while giving Florida, a state he favors because the governor is his lackey, all they ask for and more.

We have a President who “leads from behind,” telling states that the federal government is “back-up.”

We have a President who played down or dismissed the pandemic as a hoax even as the first cases were cropping in the US. Whose Administration sent PPEs and masks to China even as it was clear to scientists that we were facing a disaster in the making here at home.

We could use FDR, telling us during the Great Depression that all we have to fear is fear itself. We could use Winston Churchill, urging us to be strong in our fight against the enemy. We could use JFK, telling us to find an answer “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

Instead, we have Donald Trump.

May God have mercy on us all.

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Communication.

This is one of my favorite paintings, the portrait of George Harley Drummond by Sir Henry Raeburn.

It’s not a significant painting. I’m sure if you drew up a list of the top hundred paintings in the world, it wouldn’t be on there. Even on a list of the top thousand. Maybe in the top ten thousand.

The first time I saw it I was wandering the British section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I looked at the museum note next to the painting:

“The foreshortened view of the grazing bay horse is the most complex part of the composition, though not the most important. It is curious, therefore, that the animal’s hindquarters should be so prominently displayed.”

I started giggling, because really, the fact that the horse’s hindquarters are prominent is not curious at all. (I once showed the painting to a fourteen-year-old and asked him what he thought the painter was trying to convey and he answered without hesitation that “the guy was a horse’s ass.”)

I sat on a nearby bench giggling. A very serious couple came by, so I stopped giggling, so as not to disturb them. I still had a huge silly grin on my face. They looked briefly at the picture, and then (although I was not giggling anymore) glared at me. If looks could kill, I would be pushing up daisies. I was breaking the unwritten rule of art museums: always be serious. I know making noise is disruptive to other people, but just sitting there, smiling? They found my mere presence problematic.

I drew two conclusions from this incident:

Lesson One: Art is all about communication.

Art should make you feel, or think, or maybe just observe. It’s not something to be marked off of some list (saw the Mona Lisa, check! Saw the Venus de Milo, check! Saw the Sistine Chapel ceiling, check!). The artist is speaking to you.

Not all art speaks to me, of course. But artists that don’t speak to me (Mark Rothko, say) may speak to you. And some works by artists I normally don’t like draw forth unexpected emotions in me. I am not a Picasso fan, but Guernica made me cry. Salvador Dali’s work, for the most part, I look on with a shrug, but some of his religious paintings make me feel something like reverence. I emphatically dislike Jeff Koontz’s work, except Puppy, which makes me inordinately happy and which is the screen saver on my phone.

I was in the Museum of Modern Art once, during an exhibition of Gerhard Richter’s work. I rounded a corner and came across a series of paintings of black and white newspaper pictures of young women. I read the title, Student Nurses, and didn’t need to read the further description. They were paintings of the newspaper pictures of the young women murdered by Richard Speck in Chicago in 1968. In addition to making me feel sad, it caused me to think about the commodification of tragedy. And about how the victims of mass murder aren’t remembered while the killers become household names. And how these young women had gained a fleeting fame that they would never have had if they had lived.

An older couple came by, looked at the description, shrugged and moved on. I was appalled — how could they not find that moving? — but in retrospect, the paintings didn’t speak to them. That’s okay.

And it’s okay for me to laugh at the portrait of George Harley Drummond, too.

Oh, that second lesson? It was this:

Two large apple martinis at the bar in the Met is probably one large apple martini too many.

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Good things.

The sky is blue — the color of the statice in Fourth of July flower arrangements.

It’s 65F outside, the perfect temperature.

I have homemade empanadas for lunch.

I have Fevertree Ginger Beer in the garage.

I have a functioning car.

I have mini-carnations of a riot of color before me on my table.

I have a cat curled up on the sofa that likes to watch dog shows with me.

I have The Story of Film and Ken Burns’ Country Music and Casablanca and Citizen Kane and Woodstock (the director’s cut) all at my disposal.

I have Trivia on Monday nights.

And so on.

Sometimes I think the only way to survive all of this is to occasionally look around. Yes, we feel like our country is on a precipice. Yes, it hasn’t rained enough this winter in California. Yes, I’m not working, for reasons mostly beyond my control, and I am worried about the effect that has on both my finances and my psyche.

But there is art. There is music. There is friendship.

There is love.

We’re going to get through all of this; we have to believe that. And in the meantime, we have to occasionally be aware of the good.

What’s good in your life?

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John Scalzi has ideas about how people treat books, because, well of course he does.

Looking at his (actually Anne Fadiman’s) grid, I have been all of them from Lawful Good (uses leather or other proper bookmarks) to Chaotic Evil (rips out pages as they uses them). One on occasion, I destroyed a copy of Absolom, Absolom (which I hated — and I do NOT want to hear from all of you who think it’s a great novel) by ripping each page into one-inch strips still attached to the spine, all the while repeating “I don’t hate the South….I don’t hate the South…” (the last line of the book). I was riding on the bus from MIT to Wellesley, and in my defense, I had undiagnosed bronchitis and was running a 102F fever.

Mostly, though, I agree with the commenter on Scalzi’s post that books are tools. Yes, like all tools they should be cared for, but they should not be treated as objects of reverence.

Once, in a Scripture class, the leader ripped a page out of a Bible, accomponied by gasps from several of the students. “It’s the words that matter; not the paper and print. Anything else is idolatry..”

Aside from specific items with historical significance (Gutenberg Bibles, original copies of the Federalist Papers) or personal import (family bibles with births, deaths, and marriages; my signed copy of Alton Brown’s first book, which has personal history tied up in it), I pretty much agree with that statement.

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No words. NO WORDS.

Sometimes you can see it. You can see the car running the red-light, the truck hydroplaning as its semi-trailer jackknifes its way through all the lanes of the freeway, the train as it starts to derail. You can see; nevertheless you feel powerless and horrified. Knowing doesn’t make it better; does not ease the grief and pain.

Our democracy has slid along a terrible, terrible road. I look at the senators who voted to acquit Donald Trump and I want to scream “How?!? Why?!?” Especially those who admitted he was guilty but opined that “the voters should decide.”

That’s not the voters’ job; it was YOURS. You took an oath to protect the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. The Constitution that said that a president should be removed for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” You listened and accepted an argument that the President can do ANYTHING while in office. God only know what he will do next. He’s talking about finding a way to charge John Bolton — the man who stood up to him — with a crime. How long before he goes after Nancy Pelosi? Or Adam Schiff, who so ably prosecuted the case against him?

And God bless Mitt Romney. He took his oath seriously. There are some on the left that are downplaying Romney’s action, saying he did nothing other than what he should have done. They’re wrong; unlike Democrats who voted to convict, Romney can expect payback from his party, and I would be very surprised if he were not receiving serious death threats. For the Republicans who viewed this as a partisan exercise, Romney stabbed them in the back.

I know that I — we — will rise from this determined to take our country back. We will fight — we may not win — but by God we’re not going down quietly.

But right now, I grieve.

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Revisiting caucuses, and accessability.

In 2016, I wrote about caucuses, and how they are an undemocratic anomaly. I believe every word I wrote then, and it seems redundant to restate the case.

One issue I did not address in that post — mainly because I hadn’t thought of it — is disability access. Requiring people to participate in person means that individuals who are disabled have to find transport, and have to spend hours participating in a long drawn out process. I have friends for whom this would be difficult, to say the least. Speaking from my own experience, if I were in a fibromyalgia flare, when I am in great pain, participating in a caucus would be impossible.

We, as the Democratic Party, need to do better. All of us need to be able to participate. Primaries allow for such participation.

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“He’s a Harvard undergraduate. It’s almost justifiable homocide.”

Today I came down with a migraine. I took the migraine meds, and then, because I am not working* (which provides distraction), I decided to watch my favorite Hitchcock film, Rope.

Whenever I hear people talk about Hitchcock’s greatest, Rope doesn’t get mentioned. Psycho does, or Vertigo (my second favorite Hitchcock film), or sometimes North by Northwest (which bores me). But it’s as though people have forgotten about Rope.

It’s a taut little thriller, about two young men who set out to commit the perfect murder, and how one of them decides to gloat about it. It’s not “who-done-it” but “will they get away with it.” They gamble with discovery every step of the way, deliberately, as a way to prove their superiority to “ordinary people.” Jimmy Stewart is wonderful as the cat to John Dall and Farley Granger’s mice.

Every time I see it get something new. Today, as I was watching Dall leading — almost browbeating — Granger through the cover-up (and, one suspects, through the murder), I was reminded what I had read about the Columbine killers, that Eric Harris was a psychopath and Dylan Klebold a depressive who fell under his sway. The same dynamic was at work here.

Fascinating. Check it out if you have a chance.

*Yeah… not working. Long story.

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Lady of the storms

I am currently reading Laurell K. Hamilton’s Merry Gentry series, which can best be described as…Fairy Porn. Maybe I’m exaggerating — maybe it’s just Fairy Erotica.

At any rate, several of the tall, statuesque fairies with silken hair down to their feet are described as gods, or former gods. Merry herself says she is descended from five different fertility deities.

It got me to wondering… if I were a deity, what would be my bailiwick?

The answer came to me almost immediately: I would be a goddess of the weather.

Not all weather, though. Not the brilliant sparkling days of fall, with the cornflower blue sky and air crisper than a Granny Smith apple. Not the golden days of summer, which tempts out the cold-resistant (or people with wet suits) into the frigid Pacific.

Those days are controlled by that other god. The bronzed, golden, surfer type from SoCal, with his carefully draped hair over one eye that is meant to be cool and casual and is anything but.

I would be the goddess of the mist and the rain. The gentle warm rain falling on the corn fields in Iowa. The soft mist that rolls in off the ocean, condensing and dripping on the redwoods. The drizzly annoying rain that lasts for days (I have my moods, just like any other deity) that forces parents and teachers to figure novel ways to entertain small children. The fog that hides the deer from the hunter.

The dark clouds that mass and mass until they cannot contain themselves anymore, sending sheets cascading from the heavens, accompanied by the wild magic of the lightning and thunder.

If I were a god, I would be the Lady of the Storm.

Probably a good thing I’m not.

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So, I’m back.

I have been back for a week now. My blood pressure has gone up several points since my return.

It is easy to forget the trauma a country may be going through when you’re a tourist. Especially when you’re in a UNESCO World Heritage Site like the Galapagos. You return to your own country and see how quickly everything has gone to hell in a very large hand basket.

I don’t want to write about the impeachment. It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and I don’t want to start crying. I don’t care who wins this (I’m not a 49ers fan) since whoever it is, it won’t be the Patriots. It’s all good.

A couple of final notes about travel:

Ecuador is smart. Unlike other countries that might peg their currency to the U.S. dollar, Ecuador simply uses U.S. currency. Which a) saves them all the costs of minting and printing and b) means U.S. tourists don’t have to muck around with currency conversion. (Not that the last is smart, per se, it just makes travel easier for people like me.) They tend do favor dollar coins — especially odd Presidents. Therefore I own (in addition to Sacajaweas) a James Monroe (not that odd) and a Franklin Pierce (really, pretty odd). I was hoping for a Milliard Fillmore or Chester Alan Arthur, but no such luck.

I have been reminded how exhausting moving through water is. After snorkeling on the boat trip, I needed several wonderful deck hands to move back onto the boat. The water holds me up — gravity not so much. Since my current plan to start exercising involves water walking (I have found a warm pool that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg), I need to remember that.

I tended think of UNESCO World Heritage Sites as being properly developed and “Western.” The Galapagos is not, although there are streets on San Cristobal that are. I worry about the economic well-being of the people. Especially as tourism is a major industry and the country is trying to reduce tourism to the islands.

Their reasons make sense: like National Parks in the U.S., the islands are being loved to death. Ecuador is talking about doubling the access fee for the islands. It make sense, but tends to place the islands beyond the reach of the less-than-wealthy. People who are shelling out large sums for cruises won’t feel it — much — but others might. Personally, I think they should have a lottery for each islands. Give the cruise companies a certain number for each island, and place the rest in a lottery.

I wish I had been in Quito during the daylight. I imagine it is interesting. We did go into town during our massive layover on our way home to see a pretty student production at the Ballet Folklorico. Oh, and on our way to the Galapagos we stayed at the Quito airport Westin which is my favorite (non-historic) hotel not called Ritz-Carleton.

So, I have returned. I kind of wish I hadn’t.

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Yesterday

I spent yesterday on a boat.

I saw the frigate birds and Nazca boobies soar and wheel over Kicker Rock, and a blue-footed booby perch precariously on a nest halfway up its nearly sheer cliff-face.

I saw the maelstrom churning through the honeycomb of rocks at its base.

I saw sea lions: sleek and elegant in the water, not the clumsy clowns they are on land.

I rode over dark navy waves, the color of the Pacific near my home.

I snorkeled and swam in waters as turquoise as those of the Caribbean at Key West, and saw parrot fish and damsel fish dart and scatter below me.

I saw a sea turtle pop its head out of the water a dozen feet away from me, take a look around, and slide back under the waves.

I dozed on a bed of ice-plant, and sand soft as fine sugar and pale gold as morning sunshine.

I saw dolphins cavorting in the boat’s wake, and shearwaters forming an avian honor guard as their flocks escorted us.

I swam in the ocean for the first time in far too long — I had forgotten the feel of the silky water on my skin, and the briny aromas on my nose. (I had forgotten too, if I ever knew, the unforgiving nature of lava rocks.)

I grew up a creature of the ocean, of wind and wave. I live now in cities of metal and glass, not even visiting the sea that lies ninety minutes from me. Yesterday was coming home.

Yesterday was a very good day.

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If it was good enough for Darwin…

Notes from San Cristobal, Galapagos:

San Cristobal was the first island Darwin landed on in the archipelago. That almost makes up for not being able to see more penguins, since the penguins live on other islands that are at least a two-hour ride over generally very choppy seas. According to the Rocket Scientist, who has seen the penguins, they’re pretty much like Magellanic penguins. Therefore, I shall not pout.

Because I have seen giant tortoises! We visited the center that is working to preserve them and saw tortoises from huge monsters that a person could ride and that were over a century old down to one-year-old babies the size of a box turtle at the pet store. Birds may be modern day dinosaurs, but giant tortoises look like dinosaurs.

Which brings me to the question… if you are somewhat mobility impaired, is it worth forcing yourself up a steep hillside along a path of lava boulders, so slick that your guide held your arm most of the way so you wouldn’t fall, through two miles of pain, to see baby Galapagos turtles? Damn straight it’s worth it. (We tipped the guide well.)

And the first night we were here I saw frigate birds flying, and a striated heron walked past so close I could have stepped on it. There were also sea lions, who are nature’s equivalent of spoiled teenagers.

We were sitting on a bench looking at the rocks when we noticed a sea lion had hauled itself onto the sidewalk. A man with a camera started taking pictures and that animal posed. There is no other words for it. Head straight ahead, body still? Check. Head up, showing length of neck? Check. Lying on side with one flipper over face? Check.

The photographer didn’t feed it, or reward it with anything other than attention, and this animal stayed put for a good ten minutes until the photographer left. Until he did, it was a bit like watching a sea lion at Sea World.

Speaking of photos, I haven’t yet gotten mine loaded from my phone, so there will not be any wildlife pictures in this post.

In preparation for going around the island, I have been reading up on Galapagos bird life. I have seen a finch already, although Darwin’s finches are not in fact true finches. It was a pretty nondescript bird with a large beak for its size.

I have never been a passerine fancier: my heart belong to seabirds and wading and shorebirds and especially to raptors. So every time someone mentioned the finches I would smile and shrug. But turns out the Galapagos finches include the bad-ass Vampire Finch. When other food supplies get low they peck on boobies (get your mind out of the gutter, people) and drink their blood. (At the other end of the scale is the rather prosaically named Vegetarian Finch. It would be great if the Vampire Finch preyed on the Vegetarian Finch, but alas, life does not always follow a movie script. On the other hand, the Vampire Finches exist on only two islands, which coincidentally do not have Vegetarian Finches. Hmmm…) I am not going to be seeing Vampire Finches; they live on Darwin and Wolf Island, while I am on San Cristobal.

The one thing about San Cristobal finches: they are fearless. At one stop on our “highlands” tour, our taxi driver/tour guide Ricardo ignored the carefully placed sign that explained exactly why it was bad to feed the birds and put out his hand with bread crumbs. He literally had the birds eating out of his hand. And once one had food, a flock came and settled expectantly around his feet. It was like a scene from The Birds except less frightening, since finches don’t look like they’ll peck your eyes out, unlike seagulls or ravens.

Ans then there are the mocking birds. The Galapagos Mockingbird drinks blood from iguanas; the Espanola Mockingbird drinks the blood of sea lions. The San Cristobal Mockingbird is less impressive — it’s diet only includes eggs and carrion. Compared to that, the mockingbirds back home seem pretty boring. I’ve seen several mockingbirds here and… they’re mockingbirds.

On a non-bird note….

I don’t generally post food pictures, but I’ll make an exception for this morning’s coffee:

Yes I know, they probably use a stencil. Whatever. It’s still adorable.

And the pastries were pretty good, too. And the bananas on this island are very small, and very sweet. And the pineapple we bought tasted fantastic.

Tomorrow? A boat tour around the islands, so I won’t be posting. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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It’s rough out there, right now. Would a couple of penguin pictures help?

Although I have a bunch of pictures taken by the ship’s photographer (which I am having trouble loading), the Rocket Scientist took these.

Or just maybe scenery?

There is a glacier up there, but you can’t see it because it is the same color as the clouds. Stupid clouds.

At any rate, hang in there. As the Doctor said in the second show of this season, “Darkness never sustains, even though sometimes seems it will.”

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