Category Archives: books

In honor of all of you who have recently downsized

Perhaps it was the hiking in fresh air yesterday, but today’s the day! I’m sorting the bookshelves in the bedroom.

I so like the trendy style of sorting books by color (as they are at the backroom bar/library at Petworth Citizen) and that’s fine for browsing, but not for retrieving. At home I make my own categories:

‘read and liked it’
‘read it but can’t remember — might try again’
‘meant to read’
‘should have read’

and then the purely esthetic traits — beautiful spine and ‘just the right size for this shelf.’

20171124_092418[1]

 

William’s helping, like this.

20171124_092457[1]

Alas, there are more shelves on the first floor and in the basement.

Advertisements

the long and winding road

CIMG2440

4 January 2015

Haiku for today (a day late):

A got a bit lost
On the wandering road home
By Maryland 28.

But I may have happened on to that abandoned gas station I have been looking for.  In my ear by audio book:  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

 

the white stool — thinking down, not around

white stool

My photo of the white stool, Berkeley Springs, 28 July 2014

Now that I’m not working at a proper day job, I’m spending more time doing manual work, time-consuming, sometimes smelly or otherwise untoward, usually in some way creative – baking bread, pulling weeds, sorting books; the mind has time to wander more deeply. I’m not looking around horizontally — not looking about to see who else is around, wondering why I’m doing the pointless thing at a desk in a cubicle, knowing that it doesn’t matter to me at all, nor much to anyone else either. Instead the thoughts go vertical.

I’m now in the wake of refinishing a piece of furniture, an old stool once owned by partner William’s grandparents, that has been somewhere for all these years, I think with his mother, Sally, who took it up to our Berkeley Springs house when she did some of the initial furnishing there.  It has been sitting in the kitchen or the bathroom there, or traveling between them. I’ve been painting other things here and in Berkeley Springs, and maybe it’s bewitching, because I tend to look around for the next project, so far two chairs on our DC porch (similarly vintage, never upgraded), a canvas ‘rug,’ the kitchen floor. There’s always a little paint left over — or I see where to get more.  I have invested in my own paint can, brushes, roller, so that I don’t have to share with William or suffer through his complaints about my improper cleaning. (I’ve improved at that.)

So I have this odd bench with a strange, u-shaped top shelf.  For sitting?  So that you can set a tall object on the second step, like the vase here?  Was it like a potty chair? It has clearly been painted a few times, so surely it needs to be painted again. First you strip the old paint layers.  For that, I bought that product I knew existed, helpfully called “paint stripper.”  The words on the can suggest that after applying the thick pasty stuff to the surface and waiting a few minutes to an hour, multiple layers of paint, applied even way back when the family had household servants, will just want to jump off the furniture and head out somewhere, job done, leaving bare wood, exposing the tree it once was.

It doesn’t happen that way.  The first application probably cleans the old paint a little, and scraping does little to remove it.  A second application and second scraping reveal that the white stool was once green.  A third application and scraping show some wood.

You see what I mean about the slowness of time and ability to think and ponder. Once you have made such a smelly mess, you cannot stop whenever you feel like it – not like just putting the book down or the knitting aside — because that would mean cleaning it all up and admitting defeat. So you start to observe and wonder, deeper, below the first layers, going vertical instead of horizontal. What is this thing now and what will it be? Who sat here? Who fell off?  Why green? Then why white? It’s not pretty, but sturdy; it wobbles not at all. Was this made by a true craftsperson? Do the screws tell its origin? Why do I care about it?

When will all this paint be gone, if ever?

Bill Nye takes on 4,500 years of crazy

ImageEnjoying a good debate, I confess that I was drawn to spend a couple hours listening to the back-and-forth on creationism vs. evolution between Bill Nye, a creditable scientist, and Ken Ham, who is decidedly not one, though he claims to know some and helpfully included all the ones he knows in his slideshow.

To sum it up, Ken Ham believes what the Bible says, hard-core and literally — like, all manner of stuff that we know of was created in a seven-day work week a few thousand years ago.  In fact, all life on earth actually dates back to the day after every single acre of Earth was inundated about 4,500 years ago. Those time periods were calculated by running the life spans of guys in the Bible — as reported in the Bible.  Evidence to anything contrary, from any other historical source or actual observation, he does not believe.  Tree rings showing individual trees over 6,000 years old? Fossils of creatures that no longer exist? The fact that all that flooding created one Grand Canyon? Ignored.

Alas, early on, there actually was a concession to evolution.  It was a little hard to follow exactly, because Ham had to use a concept new to me of “kinds,” stating that some “kinds” of animals were indeed on Noah’s boat, but not all that we know today.  So, for example a couple of dogs were on the ship, and after the flood, they then divided into the many species and breeds of dogs seen today.  But that does not mean that dogs evolved from wolves before that, oh, no.

I thought that acknowledgment of mutations into new life forms would end the show, but I was waaaay wrong.  While Bill Nye went a bit overboard for his audience talking about a range of scientific discoveries — from microscopic to infinite — that contradict the “young earth” notion, as it is called, Ham provided repeated bits from the Bible that prove that the Bible is true.

Troubling is the foundational notion that humans cannot believe in something that they did not witness, such as the beginning of the earth, I guess.  Yet, the story of creation, and one would suppose that hot story about the virgin who becomes pregnant, though that never seems to happen in modern times, are completely true, to Ham.

When Nye’s answer to a question was a truthful “we don’t know,” Ham’s answer was that a book has already been written about that – it’s called the Bible.

ImageI loved that Nye referred to the creationists’ source many times the “American-English translation of the Bible,” a subtle reinforcement of the provincialism and narrowness of the documents selected a few hundred years ago, translated well after that, as the primary Judeo-Christian authority.  (I know, I know – plenty of religious people use the Bible in more sensible ways.)

And by the way, the Bible also apparently frowns upon gay marriage, Ham finds, and a lot of other stuff that isn’t actually in my copy.  How about four wives per husband?  Ham explains this with a dismissive hand wave, saying that some parts of the Bible are merely poetry or stories about actual people, and some of them did bad things.  I’ve read the part he’s talking about, and that’s not what it says.  I like to ask adamant Bible-clutchers whether they eat the pork and lobster forbidden in Genesis, and that usually brings about the same kind of quivering and ‘splainin’ about how Jesus came along later and specifically said that bacon was cool.

I understand that there is real evidence that only about two-thirds of Americans believe in evolution (the believers skew toward the more educated). This may explain the disbelief in human-source global warming, or the holding that a fertilized cell is a full-faith-and-credit human being.

I would not want to chat it up with Ham or his likes – too frustrating for me. I might only envy the simplicity of his tasks on moving day, when instead of spending hours or days sorting through hundreds of beloved books, he would only have to tuck the one volume under his arm.

Helen Hine 1

Image

Helen at our common table, telling about her life, septiembre 2013

This is not a cheery story even when it starts out, so maybe don’t read it. I just saw her about every day so want to note it.  (I moved out of the house described yesterday, as planned.)

Helen Hines was the first person to officially meet us here in Oaxaca.  Her house shares the courtyard with ours, the whole compound owed by her partner Agustino’s daughter, Cathy.  Agostino appeared earlier in these postings, sunning himself outside in a nice hat and a shawl.

Image

Helen at Mercado Sánchez Pascuas, septiembre 2013

She met us when we arrived in early September, gave us keys and a tour of the whole two-room house.

We have gotten small bits out of her, mostly practical information.  She informs where to hide the small plastic-wrapped 5-peso coin for the collector when putting out trash, which restaurants she likes (very similar menus at each of  a consommé, spaghetti, and one kind of meat or another, with a special fondness for fish, conclude with “and for only 40 pesos!”), and where I might find some special thing I have asked about, though maddeningly she can’t recall street names, and “it’s right past that other place” that I have never heard of either.  You know the type.

Helen is apparently quite old, but won’t talk numbers. (She said she once fired a lawyer who disclosed her age to someone.)  Also, every conversation starts with a lot of “What? What?” and a moment or two of firing up the hearing aid before proceeding.

Once in September, I asked her over to the table in the shared patio space, and offered a bit of the wine I had opened.

“Why not?” she said.  And in that quiet one-on-one I heard a bit of her life.  She has been in Mexico, specifically Oaxaca, a long time, more than twenty years, but other versions have put it much longer than that.

She must have been a bit of a seeker — after growing up in New York, there was time in San Francisco, then Guatemala, where she was asked to use her background as a librarian to start a library.  There was a marriage, which ended badly, and Helen has a son in New York City.  “But that was with another guy,” she said, waving her hand loosely at some dismissed relationship.

At some point, she met? fell in love with? hung on to? Agostino, Mexican, once an accomplished archaeologist in Mexico City.  He went to study in the United States, and somehow his career went awry.

So there’s searching, finding, scholarship, romance in the past, now making way for aging, immobility, dementia, deafness and other troubles. Who knows what else.  And you can see from the picture that she was beautiful, with fine features and gestures.

They live in the house behind the gate we share and now owned by Agostino’s daughter in New York.  Helen tries admirably to be the on-site caretaker, but the daily skills don’t come so easily any more.  To use the washing machine, we follow fairly straight-forward instructions, read to us over and over, with the warnings of the bad things that will ensue if we do it wrong.  When the water pump to our house suddenly went out, she yelled increasingly loudly to turn off the pump, ignoring William’s yelling back that it was never on.  And more like that.  Frustration and fear.  Shouting at Agostino and his shouting back.

Her joy remains the Oaxaca Lending Library, a part of her life for all these years.  Through the original and long-time librarian there, Ruth Gonzalez, came her attachment to this house.  Everyone at the OLL has great esteem for Helen, invariably grateful for her volunteer time there and praising her intelligence.  Until recent weeks, she has performed her job there organizing all the periodicals.

Sadly, in the short time we have been here, we cannot help but notice a huge decline.  Daily trips to market, just around the corner, are harder and she needs help with the small package and with clearing the obstructing stairway that’s always been here.

More later.

Native dress takes a road trip

There’s a lot of eye-popping stuff here, lots in the textile category.

A few days ago the zocalo was jammed with activity, including a demonstration by indigenous people at the state capitol, many in traditional dress.  The colors are vibrant and may be from natural sources (the red below may be from cochineal, an insect*); they can be hand-spun fibers, hand-woven cloth, hand-stitched panels, and then hand-embroidered with age-old symbols of rivers, eagles, cactus flowers.** Besides the color and style telegraphing where these women are from (the state, but not the city, of Oaxaca), the colors of the ribbons on these garments indicate whether the wearer is married or single, and I’m sure there is much more meaning to the learned eye.  The menfolk are wearing a uniform as well, of jeans, collared shirts, boots and natural-fiber hats; but with a muted palette, and showing off no handiwork.

ImageZocalo, at a demonstration at the state government building

Later, the same day, I spotted this, and found myself equally fascinated about what this native dress could mean. In this case, the male character is all gussied up while the female is a little plainer, as is the case with so many birds in the wild. (They moved about together, like a mated pair.)

ImageSanto Domingo Plaza

Tribal origin and subtle meaning of this combination are unknown to me. My apologies if you know these people, or if you are these people, since I didn’t ask permission.

Though I have augmented by earlier two-skirt, two-blouse wardrobe with some Mexican shirts that do little to disguise me, I have to realize that I cannot for an instant think that my dress is neutral and doesn’t peg me as the age, sex, nationality, and economic groups of which I am a member.

__

* A great book on this valuable commodity is The Perfect Red, by Amy Butler Greenfield.

** Maybe I could think of these as ‘logos.’

More reading

I’m still reading a lot of books (though not keeping up with William’s pace), with devoted thanks to the Oaxaca Lending Library.  Two that I liked and that are contributing to my picture of Mexico are Stones for Ibarra and Consider This, Senora, both by Harriet Doerr, fiction, but based on her long time in Mexico.  I loved both, maybe especially the first, a series of profiles of interesting characters encountered in her remote village, but fit within a nice, and ultimately sad, story arc.  I have just finished The Final Solution by Michael Chabon, in time for a book discussion with a Jewish theme, for some reason.  It has engaging characters, a nice double plot, long sentences full of dependent clauses, but brevity, and thus was fun to read, because Chabon’s longer works have worn me out in the past.

I usually look up biographies of authors and sometimes contemporary reviews of books read, and both of these authors hold some interest.  Doerr started at Smith College, but left, only finishing college 50 years later.  Could I do that?  Chabon, according to Wikipedia, works from 10 pm to 3 in the morning.  Could I do that?*

I’m happy to see over there on the other side of the bed a big fat volume of Oliver Sacks.  And also in the non-fiction category, we have The Second Brain, about the alternative nervous system, with more nerve endings/transmitters than the brain-operated central nervous system, governing the gut.  I saw a show (60 Minutes?) about this idea a while back and William saw this on the shelves.  This book presents the case for the existence of the enteric nervous system as if it’s a new idea, but it made me think that the curanderas in some of the herbal healing books I’ve looked at here have known all about it for centuries.  If there are any gastroenterologists or neurologists out there, I’d like to know how you like this concept.  You know from previous posts the importance – especially for travelers – of a happy and healthy gut.

Book group people: Purple Hibiscus appears as “in” in the OLL catalog, but sadly is not on the shelves, though I’ve checked repeatedly, like an OCD case. I’ll catch the next one.

*Coincidentally another book on hand in the house is The Insomnia Book.