Anniversary in the City

Monday Morning Musings

“A day spent with you is my favourite day. So today is my new favourite day.”

Winnie the Pooh

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Part I

It was not a day of romance and roses—

And we missed the parade of

Tall ships

With Mama Duck–

Who sprang a leak.

I later discovered.

But we saw great art,

And we talked and walked.

And glimpsed a different view

Of the city.

First,

In the morning

“Discovering the Impressionists”

At the Museum of Art.

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So strange that Degas’s little dancer

And the rest

Were considered shocking.

Collected by Paul Durand-Ruel

A conservative Catholic father of five—

Who embraced the art of those who became known as

The Impressionists.

The critics scorned and ridiculed their work.

I guess he had the last laugh.

A visionary in a time of rapid change,

Inventions like steam engines and railroads–

Changes occurring as quickly and regularly

As Monet’s Poplars changed their color and shape,

Through the seasons.

Transnational and transatlantic collaborations

French artists meeting in London,

American artist Mary Cassatt–

A conduit between the European art world

And the newly rich American millionaires

Who wanted fine art to grace the

Walls of their

New mansions.

Industry and art,

Dancing together like

Renoir’s couples,

Twirling and swaying,

The city couple and the country couple

Both enjoying that moment in time.

And we enjoyed the sight

Of them,

Arms entwined

We see their smiles

And hear the rhythm of the music

As they glide.

Over one hundred years later.

They still live.

Part 2

Up to the medieval galleries.

We looked at the swords

And the mounted knight

In the center of the room

On his armored horse.

Leonard the guard

Spoke to us

With great enthusiasm—

if not total historical accuracy–

Throwing himself to the ground

To demonstrate a knight

Thrown off his horse.

And then following us

To the next room.

To provide a

Somewhat fanciful account

Of how knights cooked their food.

But again,

With great eagerness.

There’s a man who loves his job.

Part 3

We walked to Fairmount

Near the Penitentiary

That looms over the area

A testament to an earlier time

And the zeal to reform

Sometimes harshly.

“Let them think about their crimes,”

The reformers said.

And built the Penitentiary

With single cells

And no talking allowed.

The ghosts linger there,

But not for us today.

Instead

We ate sandwiches

At Ry Bread.

We sat outside in the small back patio.

Opposite each other at the little table,

Opposite tastes, too.

His New York, a corned beef Panini,

Me with the Hollywood,

Whole wheat bread with hummus and vegetables,

I added avocado and cheese,

Because seriously,

Why wouldn’t you?

Then a stroll to the Rodin Museum—

We think with the thinker,

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We empathize with Eve,

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We’re giddy with Eternal Spring,

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And move with The Three Shades.

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Then another walk to the Mutter Museum—

A bit farther than we thought,

But well worth it because

Nothing says happy anniversary

Like seeing a giant colon, right?

And who doesn’t want to be disturbingly informed?

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Part 4

Dinner at Tria,

The rain mostly holding off

Till the end of our meal.

My husband moves his chair closer

To get under the umbrella

But we stay dry,

Well, almost,

Although the menu on its clipboard

Is soaked.

The sky is violet gray

And the air misty

Like an Impressionist painting,

The city swirls about us—

The Impressionists saw

Railroads,

But didn’t have to worry

About cars driving

past sidewalk cafes,

Horns honking,

People walking,

Life going past.

Sometimes too quickly.

But the wine was good,

And the cheese even better.

Part 5

We went to a show next.

It was not Shakespeare,

Or Stoppard.

It was ridiculous fun.

Sometimes just what you need.

Murder for Two

Two actors

Thirteen roles,

And the piano,

That both play—

Sometimes together.

Ballet moves

And silly step dancing,

The actors make it look

So effortless.

They seem to enjoy their work

As much as Leonard does his,

But they’re actors,

So who knows?

And then we go home

To feed the cats

“Where were you

At dinnertime?”

They say.

And we sleep

After our long day of walking.

Impressions of the city

Impressions of Impressionists,

Of life,

Of love,

Fill my dreams.

But thankfully

There are no giant colons

Or surgical instruments

To mar my slumber.

The next day we find that

All across America

It is no longer straight marriage or gay marriage

It is simply marriage,

And other couples will now get to celebrate 37 years together

As we have.

Here are links to the places we visited:

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Rodin Museum

Mutter Museum

Philadelphia Theatre Company

RyBread Café

Tria Café

We didn’t go to Eastern State Penitentiary, but we’ve been there a few times. It’s a very cool place to visit.

Tall Ships

Teach Your Children Well

Monday Morning Musings

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”

–Umberto Eco

“Peace is always beautiful,

The myth of heaven indicates peace and night.”

–Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Yesterday was Father’s Day. It was hot and steamy. The sun struggled to peek out from behind the clouds for much of the day that, despite the gloom, was also the summer solstice. I baked my husband’s favorite cookies, Welsh Cookies. One daughter called, and the other was here for our dinner of total pig-out killer nachos. My husband is retiring from teaching in a few days; our daughter is a new teacher. Father’s Day is different when you no longer have a father and your children are grown. Being a parent is different, too—not better or worse—just different.

Father's Day of the past.

Father’s Day of the past.

When my father was alive, he often treated us to dinner at a restaurant on holidays such as this. We frequently went to his favorite Chinese restaurant, but whenever he found a new favorite restaurant, we would go there. When he found a new restaurant he liked, he visited it all the time. He knew the names of the owner and the servers. He enjoyed the role of patriarch, treating us–and sometimes our friends, too. We would eat vast quantities of food, talk, and laugh.

Wedding dance with my dad.

Wedding dance with my dad.

Last night I did my best to follow the tradition of lots of food and conversation. It was not a big holiday meal, but really, those nachos were pretty amazing. As regular readers know, food and family are important themes in my life.

It’s well over a decade since my father died. My sisters and I sat vigil at his hospital bed, knowing it would be his last night. Death hovered in the background, understanding that we waited for the dawn, not wanting our father to die in the blackness of night. When Death finally came to carry my father away, my father fought him. Oh, how he fought! His death rattle was his final, terrible and terrifying battle cry, but he was vanquished by Death, as we all are.

I miss my father. Not in an every moment of every day type of sorrow, but at certain moments. Often it’s sudden and unexpected. I’ll think, “Dad would have liked this show or this restaurant.” I wonder if he would have finally bought a computer, and if he would have been on Facebook. I think he would have loved to stream Netflix–if he could figure it out. I wish he could have seen our daughters grow up. He would have been so proud to see them graduate from college. He would have attended all of their shows. He would have loved to have been at our older daughter’s wedding last year, my sister’s wedding last fall, and our younger daughter’s wedding soon-to-be. But it was time for him to go.

It is sad when someone dies of disease. We might say, “Why him? Why her? Why now?” But somehow we understand that the body can turn traitor, and we don’t have the answers.

When someone dies as an act of random, senseless violence—well, how do you cope? Who imagines that when their mother/father/daughter/son/friend goes to a prayer meeting they will not come home? Accidents happen, yes, but who would expect a loved one to be killed because someone decided he would murder people with their skin color that night?

I don’t know how I would have reacted.

The families of the 9 victims of the Charleston shooting have exhibited the values that many other professed Christians never display—chiefly forgiveness and love instead of hate. Even as they mourn, they, or at least some of them, have expressed the wish to forgive the shooter. Forgiving is not condoning. Forgiving is not forgetting, but according to research, it may help both individuals and communities heal. I hope it does.

Yesterday, the congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, “Mother Emanuel,” welcomed strangers, black and white, into their church to begin the healing process. Racism exists in the US, a legacy of slavery, euphemistically called “the peculiar institution” in the 19th century. The very founding of this church has its roots in racism and slavery when black men and women, slave or free, were not welcomed by white congregations. It is the church attended by Denmark Vesey, an enslaved man who bought his own freedom after winning a lottery. Imagine having to buy your own freedom. In what world is this OK? Vesey planned a slave revolt in Charleston that was foiled by informants. As a result, Charleston passed and enforced stricter slave codes, and built a large fortified armory to guard the city. The Confederate flag still flies in Charleston, and throughout much of the South. Images of the Confederate flag appear on hats and bumper stickers—and not only in the South. Some people insist that the flag is a symbol of southern pride, but I suspect that few of them are black. This is a flag of racism.

America. Sweet land of liberty. Our nation was founded with the sound of those demanding freedom from tyranny and the cries of those who remained in shackles. We are a land of contradictions, but we are also a land of hope and change.

“Teach your children well.” What are the scraps of wisdom they will learn from you? “Feed them on your dreams.” Make them good ones.

My dad was not a perfect man. I’m sure the victims of this hate crime were not perfect either. His life ended too soon, but he died of natural causes. There is nothing natural about being gunned down in a church.

I don’t believe in Heaven, but if there is a heaven, I hope my dad is playing with our dog Zipper there. I hope he gets to eat huge sardine and onion sandwiches and big bowls of ice cream. I hope he has stacks of books at his feet with lots of little note cards sticking out of them, as he decides to learn about a new subject. I hope he gets to play pinochle with his friends, who argue loudly with him, tell jokes, and enjoy meals together.

If there is a heaven and the victims of the Charleston shooting are watching their families and our nation from it, I hope they will see healing. I hope that one day they will see an end to racism.

Hold your loved ones close. Cherish your memories. Dream of a better world.

“Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.”

–Graham Nash, “Teach Your Children”

Passion: Part Two–A Bit More Chill

Monday Morning Musings–Part 2

My first post this morning might have been a bit too intense—too passionate?—, so I’ll chill a little by talking about ice cream.

My dad loved ice cream. My dad loved food. He loved eating and he liked socializing around a table. But for many years, his vice of choice was ice cream. When my younger sister and I were little, he would buy several pints, perhaps 8 or maybe more, of hand-packed ice cream in the freezer—you know the type you get from an ice cream store or fountain, not the supermarket freezer section?

I don’t share his passion for ice cream, but I do like ice cream. OK. Sometimes I love it.

After seeing Passion at the Arden, (see previous post) my husband and I walked to Spruce Street Harbor Park. This is the second summer for this popup venture. There is a shady area with trees and flowers, hammocks hang from the trees, and there is a wading pool and fountain.

These ornaments hanging from the trees change color. Spruce Street Harbor Park

These ornaments hanging from the trees change color.
Spruce Street Harbor Park

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Along the river, there is a boardwalk with shuffleboard, ping pong, a café/beer garden, a food trucks—including a Franklin Fountain truck.

“Let’s have ice cream,” I said to my husband. “We can have ice cream for dinner tonight.” He agreed.

And so we did.

I had chocolate; he had strawberry. Sometimes we’re so predictable.

Not sorry. It was delicious.

Husband eating strawberry ice cream.

Husband eating strawberry ice cream.

Me enjoying chocolate ice cream.

Me enjoying chocolate ice cream.

Sometimes we're cute eating ice cream in a park.

Sometimes we’re cute eating ice cream in a park.

Passion: Love and a Bit of a Rant

Monday Morning Musings

“Just another love story, that’s what they would claim.
Another simple love story – aren’t all of them the same?”

“Loving you is not a choice, it’s who I am.”

–Stephen Sondheim, Passion

On Saturday, we saw Passion, a musical by Stephen Sondheim that explores what it means to love and be loved. What is romantic love? What is passion? What is obsession? How and why do dreams and desires change? These are questions that Sondheim explores in the story of the nineteenth-century Italian army officer Giorgio who is having an affair with a married woman, Clara. The show opens with the lovers in bed singing of their happiness, but then Giorgio reveals that he has received a transfer to a remote military outpost. Shortly after his arrival there, Giorgio learns of Fosca, his commanding officer’s sister whose place is set at the table, but who seldom appears there. Before long, Fosca, declares her love to Giorgio, a man she barely knows. In fact Fosca, who suffers from a vague and debilitating illness, is obsessed with Giorgio. This production at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia had a cast with wonderful voices, but it also featured a great set and lighting design: Clara was lovely and beguiling in pink-hued gowns, and bathed in golden sunshine whenever the shutters in their Milan hotel room were opened. (The lovers could only meet in the afternoon because of her husband.) Clara loves Giorgio, but perhaps her love is a diversion from her humdrum life. Fosca appears in drab gowns with the gray and dreary view of the outpost in the background. Fosca suffers from a disease of the mind and spirit, as well as her physical ailments. Or perhaps they are all one and the same. They consume her, and her obsession consumes Giorgio.

The show is based on the novel Fosca, by Ignio Ugo Tarchetti. Tarchetti was dying of tuberculosis–also called consumption–as he wrote the book, which was inspired by events in his own life. The book was turned into a movie, Passione d’Amore (1983).

What does passion mean? Passion is an intense feeling. Long ago it was associated with pain and suffering, as in the passion of Christ, or the suffering endured by martyrs who were tortured for their beliefs. Passion is often seen as an emotion that is barely controllable because of its intensity. People are often depicted as crazed with passion. Passionate love then can be both good and bad. One can have a passion for a cause that is admirable, or that becomes obsessive.

I’ve been thinking about all this because of events in the news. There is a couple in Australia, Nick and Sarah Jensen, who have vowed to divorce if a gay marriage law is passed there. (See this article.) They are entitled to their beliefs, but I don’t understand how the marriages of same sex couples affect their own union at all. And just as a matter of logic, I don’t understand why if they reject the state’s definition of marriage—if the law passes—they then believe the state has the power to grant them a divorce. I guess it’s passion, and not logic that is in play here.

In the US, evangelist Franklin Graham, called for a boycott of Wells Fargo Bank after the bank began airing a TV advertisement that featured a lesbian couple adopting a child. (The commercial is incredibly sweet.) Well, economic boycotts have a long tradition in the US. My inclinations would be not to support a business that discriminates against a group rather than one that is supporting diversity. Again, Graham has the right to his own beliefs, and he does say businesses should be “gay friendly.” However, he also apparently believes that an organization should not support a position that he feels is contrary to his views–which are based on his interpretation of the bible. Do no harm to others–just don’t allow them all the same rights, I guess. Fortunately, we do not live in a theocracy. (See this.)

Neither Graham nor the Jensens advocate violence. But there are true haters, people passionate in their hatred of others. I saw this article yesterday about a young man who has been beaten and tortured—ostensibly because he is gay. His family and their business have also suffered.

You know what? Sondheim was right that every love story is the same–and every love story is different. But I believe in love. Love is love. I believe love is good. I believe love is good for families and nations. When two people who are in love—consenting adults–want to get married, it does not harm society, even if they are gay, and even if they want to have a family. “Gay marriage” is no different from straight marriage in terms of love and commitment. Couples love and share passion. This is not immoral.

You know what is immoral?

People living in extreme poverty.

People starving.

Women—and children—kidnapped and raped as tools of war.

Slavery.

Sex trafficking.

Depriving people of medical care and education.

It seems to me that if people are truly concerned with the wellbeing of their societies, those are just a few things they might focus on—not who people love. But hey, that’s just me.

As far as those filled with hate for others, I don’t know. I don’t think a hate-filled mind can love, although it can be filled with passion.

Showers of Memories

Monday Morning Musings

It was a weekend of memories and dreams, of laughter and tears, of toasts and roasts, and of introductions and farewells. It was a weekend of closing well-used doors and opening new ones, of hugging and kissing family and friends, of unwrapping gifts, and of feeling thankful.

Part 1—Retirement Celebration

Remember thirty-seven years ago when we drove miles and miles—

(Are we there yet?)

to a new high school set in a field

and surrounded by farmland

and nothing else?

It seemed like the middle of nowhere,

and it kind of was,

it kind of still is.

“This is where I’m teaching,”

you said.

And that is where you stayed,

your home away from home.

I heard you lauded—

toasted

and roasted.

There were tales of you “borrowing”

the grade books of other teachers–

right before an administrator came for an observation.

In retaliation, some teachers pooled their funds

and had your car towed from the high school lot—

as you watched.

Teaching requires creativity.

And improvisation.

You will be missed,

but our daughter now teaches in the same district.

She will not take other’s grade books—even if they still existed—

(everything is electronic now)

But she has already made her mark with her Hello Kitty socks—

and daily dance parties in her classroom.

Teaching is hard work, but it can also be fun.

Our daughter will continue the tradition of educating

young minds,

of helping them to think and learn.

Now it is time for you, my husband, to do new things.

Retirement Celebration

Retirement Celebration

Part 2—The Bridal Shower

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Picking up my mom and her cousin,

we traveled to Manayunk,

the Lenape word for “river,”

or “place to drink.”

Or so I’m told.

It is a former industrial area, just northwest

of Philadelphia,

But now there are many trendy restaurants,

and we went to one.

Set on the canal.

Picturesque.

Getting my mom down the steps,

and into the event space

took some time,

but it was worth the effort.

Last summer at another restaurant

younger daughter hosted a shower for her sister.

This year their roles are switched.

Sister love

Sister hugs

Sister gestures and sister speak

I gaze at them with love,

awed that they are mine.

We will not cry.

Nope.

Maybe a little.

The guests swirl around,

the young ones like freshly-picked flowers.

We older women, more like—

No.

Not going there.

The young women like young wines,

delightful and full of promise.

We older ones,

robust, but still velvety—

elegant, but still playful,

aren’t we?

We have aged well.

Delicious brunch.

Perhaps a bit more.

Must try some dessert–

of course.

Chocolate.

Games played.

Laughter.

Presents opened.

We depart.

The young ones will

continue to celebrate

late into the nights.

Bachelorette night.

Cousin Sali amusing

on the ride home—

“Your mother was the good girl.”

‘Why can’t you be like Sylvia?’”

She said the aunts told her.

There were many aunts.

“They pointed out my faults

so they could improve me.”

“But your mother was always kind to me

she always let me tag along–

even though she’s older.”

Part 3—Baby Shower

Two days of seeing some special friends!

Yay!

For the past few years

we’ve been attending the showers and weddings

of our children.

Wasn’t it only yesterday that we were having baby showers for

one another?

Remember the one at the lake?

And remember when Pat punched a hole

in the wall?

Baby Big Hair.

Baby No Hair.

Now our babies are having babies.

Irene bravely driving,

Chris navigating.

“Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike,”

We don’t have to look for America.

We’ve found it

in our daily lives

and with our family and friends.

Showers, memories–

and dreams of moments

still to come.

Simple Pleasures: Sun and Clouds

Monday Morning Musings

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

–Albert Einstein

“Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.”
― Mark Twain

Today is stormy; yesterday was bright and sunny. Such is life.

I had intended to write about another topic today, but sometimes I need to remind myself how fortunate I am. Sometimes I feel like I should pause. Freeze. Stop. Bookmark this day on a site in my brain. It’s just an ordinary day of simple pleasures, and one of many, but one I would like to take out of a memory box to reexamine someday.

My husband and I took a walk yesterday morning. We went to the park in our town. I left my phone at home. We were living in the moment. We walked on a path and gazed out at the Delaware River. Yup, Philadelphia is still there. The sun was shining, the river lapped the shore, and a steady breeze kept the heat down. It was beautiful. A grandfather taught his young grandchildren how to fish from the stony beach. Mothers wheeled their babies in carriages. A little girl carried a bunch of colorful balloons. A church group held a service in a pavilion. My husband and I walked and talked. He watched while I did an occasional sprint and ran up the stairs to the battlefield site and did tricep dips on a park bench. We saw a friend who was getting her exercise in, and we stopped to chat for a few minutes. I told my husband we must do this again because we are lucky to have such a place nearby. I am fortunate because my husband agreed to stop what he was doing to walk with me in the park. He is a good man.

After the park, we both worked and did household chores. My husband took a nap. Our daughter and her fiancé stopped by late in the afternoon to tell us about a house they thought they were going to rent. We drank coffee, and my daughter ate a piece of the banana chocolate chip cake I had made the day before. (“See, this is why I won’t fit into my wedding gown,” she said laughingly to her boyfriend. She does not have to worry. She has youth on her side.) We laughed at the antics of one of the cats who positioned himself on the table.

After they left, my husband and I ate homemade pizza for dinner. I had some wine. We watched Orphan Black. I did not do all the work I intended to do. But there’s today, right?

The day got cloudy. My daughter texted me to say the landlord had changed his mind and would not allow pets. So now they must find a new place to rent, and quickly. I feel for them. In fact, I was nearly as upset as my daughter was. I’m hoping they will be able to find someplace that is better. It is difficult to find a rental house that permits pets.

We had thunderstorms during the night.

Yesterday was an ordinary day. It was bright and sunny; it got grey and stormy. But somehow it was special.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead–And So Are Many Others: Memorial Day

Monday Morning Musings

“Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago”

–Pete Seeger, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”

(For a history of the song, see this article.)

Today is Memorial Day. In the US, this is a holiday that pays tribute to the millions of service men and women who have died in the nation’s wars. (For details see the Congressional Research Services, American War and Military Operations Casualties: List and Statistics and Department of Veterans Affairs, “America’s Wars,”).

The history of Memorial Day is disputed. It was first known as “Decoration Day,” a day to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers and mourn their loss. Most histories give former US Civil War General John A. Logan the credit for declaring May 30, 1868 Decoration Day. The date was chosen deliberately because no battle was fought on that date. It is now the last Monday in May. Michael W. Twitty’s insightful Guardian article, however, argues that “the first people who used ritual to honor this country’s war dead were the formerly enslaved black community of Charleston, South Carolina in May 1865 – with a tribute to the fallen dead and to the gift of freedom.” This is a fascinating brief article that explores West African mourning customs that continued in the traditions of the Gullah people of Charleston.

The Library of Congress blog has Memorial Day images from various eras, as Decoration Day became Memorial Day.

Yesterday my husband and I attended a performance of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead . (Wilma Theater in Philadelphia.) The play is an absurdist piece that owes much to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It is both funny and tragic. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor characters in Hamlet. Imagine an episode of Star Trek from the viewpoint of two “Red Shirts,” the characters who appear in an episode and always die, most of the time without realizing what is going on or that they were merely cogs to Stoppard says, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the most expendable people of all time. Their very facelessness makes them dramatic; the fact that they die without ever really understanding why they lived makes them somehow cosmic.” They are so faceless and ordinary, that it is a running joke throughout the play that no one knows which is Guildenstern and which is Rosencrantz–even they get confused. Guildenstern (I think) says in his final moment, “There must have been a moment, at the beginning, when we could have said—no. But somehow we missed it.”

Although it was a coincidence that we saw this play on Memorial Day weekend, this idea of ordinary citizens caught up in events beyond their control is at the heart of every war ever. Was there a moment that they, or someone, could have said, “no?”

Although I want to honor the men and women who have served the country, I do not want to glorify war. In any war, good people—and bad people–on both sides die. It seems to me the best way to honor those who have fought for freedom is to honor that freedom by learning about history, voting, and working for equality. After the American Revolution, when it became clear that the Articles of Confederation were ineffective, representatives from the states met and hammered out what became the US Constitution. A Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments, was added to enumerate explicitly such freedoms as freedom of speech and religion, the right to a speedy trial, the right to trial by a jury, and prohibitions against quartering of soldiers in private homes in times of peace, against unlawful search and seizures, and against being compelled to testify against oneself. Over time, many more amendments have been added to clarify law, begin and end practices (that whole Prohibition debacle), and attempt to right injustice and bring equality (the abolition of slavery, the right of black men to vote, the right of women to vote). The loss of lives on a battlefield and the wounds of body and soul do not mean anything, if people do not continue to work for justice and equality in peacetime.

I know it is not appropriate to say “Happy Memorial Day,” especially to a veteran. There is nothing happy about it. At the same time, I do not think it’s wrong to celebrate life on this day, whether it’s getting together with family, going to the beach, or seeing a play. Perhaps I–or you–might pause to think, “Some people died to protect our freedom to do these things.” Maybe someday there will be peace on earth; maybe someday the Star Trek red shirts will not die. Maybe someone–maybe everyone–will just say no, and war will become ancient history that children will learn about in school. I can dream.

After theater wine and cheese.

After theater wine and cheese, Tria Cafe, Philadelphia.

Finding My Words

Monday Morning Musings:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”

–T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding” (lines 118-119)

“He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world. She was the book thief without the words. Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”

–Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

I’m at a loss for them today, so I decided to write about words. Unlike Eliza Doolittle in the musical, My Fair Lady, who sings:

“Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?
Don’t talk of stars burning above;
If you’re in love, Show me!”

–“Show Me” From My Fair Lady, Lerner and Lowe

I am never sick of words. I love words. I didn’t know—or more likely did not remember—that it was Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass who first explained that a portmanteau word was like the suitcase called a portmanteau: “Well, “slithy” means “lithe and slimy”. “Lithe” is the same as “active”. You see it’s like a portmanteau — there are two meanings packed up into one word.” (You can read more about it here.)

One of my favorite Carroll portmanteaus is “chortle,” a word that has entered everyday vocabulary. I love it because it sounds exactly like what it is, and it makes me laugh to even hear the word in my head. You can find some new portmanteaus here. I think “Internest” is a great word because I’ve seen my daughter do it. It means “the cocoon of blankets and pillows you gather around yourself whilst spending long periods of time on the Internet.” Another favorite is “epiphanot”: “ an idea that seems like an amazing insight to the conceiver but is in fact pointless, mundane, stupid, or incorrect.” I’m not judging anyone here. I think I’ve had plenty of epiphanots myself—although I do picture Cliff Clavin from the old TV series, Cheers, when I hear the word.

This weekend my husband and I saw two very different movies—hey, it was movie catch-up weekend—Far From the Madding Crowd and Ex Machina.

In Far From the Madding Crowd, Bathsheba Everdeen (isn’t that a great name?) says in a line from Hardy’s novel: “It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.” It seems to me that it is not so much the language of the time, as it was the moral constraints imposed on women that prevented them from speaking. Bathsheba could not talk of sexual passion and desire. But the men, too, talked around it. They discussed marriage in economic terms, not in words of love. Much cannot be said, and perhaps was not even thought. Perhaps then there were no words to describe what they felt. Actions, however, have consequences in this story. Women who give in to desire are punished with death or debts. Women who use words thoughtlessly—as in sending a Valentine’s card—must also pay a price. The movie is beautiful—you will want to move to Dorset, England. The acting is wonderful, too. (I found this short article that discusses the movie and book, if you want more information.)

In Ex Machina language becomes not so much a means of defining or limiting gender, but rather, it becomes a method testing what it means to be fully alive. Reclusive billionaire and definite alpha male Nathan Bateman (a bulked-up Oscar Isaac) brings nerdy but cute programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleason) to his estate to Turing-test his A.I. Ava (Alicia Vikander). We all know that computers can use words and can be programmed to talk and write, but can they do more? The movie is exciting and thought provoking in its exploration of what it means to be human. Does an A.I. have feelings? Can an A.I. pretend? Can it feel pleasure or desire? And would a human know?

Humans seem to be hardwired to use words and form languages. We like to name things. It would be an epiphanot to say that languages evolve over time. (See what I did there?) I think most people know that whatever language we speak is different from that same language spoken centuries ago. Cultural and technological changes and inventions fuel the desire to create new words.

The creativity of novelists, poets, and other artists has also led to the invention of new words. Who can forget the scary terms coined by George Orwell in 1984? Orwell deliberately invented new words, such as thoughtcrime, newspeak, and of course, doublethink. He wrote, “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” English author and former spy, John Le Carré has also created words, such as mole, meaning someone who infiltrates an organization. You can find some others here. Words can bring goodness and light; they can incite evil, too. They can be used to deliberately obfuscate, or to enlighten.

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”
–Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Custom House”

Words. I was at a loss, but now I seem to have used 939 of them. I’ve finished the job, but I don’t think it’s complete. What is a word for that?

Mother’s Day: Celebrating as a Mother and as a Daughter

 I had eight birds hatcht in one nest,

Four cocks were there, and Hens the rest.

I nurst them up with pain and care,

No cost nor labour did I spare

Till a the last they felt their wing,

Mounted the Trees and learned to sing.

–Anne Bradstreet (ca. 1612-1672), “In Reference to Her Children, 23 June 1659,” Full text here.

 Monday Morning Musings

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, at least here in the US. The holiday began as efforts to help poor mothers, fight injustice, and oppose war. Anna Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia fought to bring sanitation facilities and clean water to people in parts of Appalachia. In 1858, she organized Mother’s Work Days. After the Civil War she gathered mothers and soldiers from both sides of the conflict in a Mother’s Friendship Day. Her daughter–also Anna–wanted to continue her mother’s fight. After Anna Jarvis, the mother, died in 1905, her daughter wanted to organize a Mother’s Day celebration to honor all mothers and the sacrifices they make for their children. She lobbied politicians and wrote letters to newspapers, and finally President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation in 1914 that established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Jarvis became outraged by the flowers, candy, and greeting card commercialism that the holiday assumed. She ultimately disowned the holiday entirely. (Historian Ruth Rosen discusses the activism and antiwar origins of the Mother’s Day here.)

I certainly understand those who decry the artificiality and commercialism of the holiday. At the same time, I like it. I recently thought about my very first mother’s day as a mother. On my way to my mother’s, my husband and I stopped at a friend’s house to show off our new daughter, who was about 3 months old. I, of course, was madly in love with my little girl, and I thought she was the most beautiful creature in existence, bald head and all. Our friend’s mother, made a big fuss, told me to sit down and waited on me. She said to me, “This is your first mother’s day, and you should feel special.” All these years later, I still remember that. And I did feel special.

Over the past few years, our mother’s day tradition has been to gather at my sister’s house. We have brunch or lunch, and then take my mom clothes shopping. Last Mother’s Day, she wanted to buy an outfit to wear for my older daughter’s wedding; this year, she wanted to buy an outfit to wear for my younger’s daughter wedding. It is a bit of an ordeal to take my mom shopping—she can’t move or see very well—but with four of us, my younger daughter, my sister-niece, and my sister—we got the job done. We had to help dress her in the dressing room, which actually led to many laughs. When I think about it, it seems only fair that we help her dress. After all, how many times did she do it for all of us? Happily, she did find an outfit to wear.

My mom and me. I'm about 3 years old.

My mom and me. I’m about 3 years old.

Before we left for the mall, my sister and sister-in-law fortified us with pasta, salad, and bread—all delicious. My sister-in-law, “the men,” and children remained behind at the house. After we returned from our long shopping expedition, we had dessert—a chocolate extravaganza. Did you doubt this? I get my love of chocolate from my mom—so I baked a flourless chocolate cake topped with chocolate glaze and sea salt and my Mandelbrot cookies, which are called “Mommy Cookies” at my house. (I have several posts dedicated to this, my favorite cookie. Just do a search.) I kind of had to bake those, didn’t I? My sister added 2 boxes of chocolate to the dessert feast, just in case we didn’t have enough. We sat outside on my sister and sister-in-law’s deck and enjoyed the warm weather and evening breeze.

During dessert we attempted to FaceTime chat with my older daughter, but it didn’t work too well. Still, I did get to talk to her a bit. My younger daughter made me a wonderful Super Momma card that made me feel special—and some baking pans. Chocolate and baking genes run through the generations in my family!

When my mom is no longer with us, Mother’s Day will certainly be different. My siblings and I will no longer have a reason to get together for it, just as we no longer get together on Father’s Day. Although we might grumble about taking my mom shopping, I will miss that tradition and the crazy dressing room antics.

Mothers and Daughters

Mothers and Daughters

Rough Winds of May

Monday Morning Musings

“Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.”
William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 18”

(Full text here.)

It’s been a week of horror and hope; a week of unforeseen occurrences and unexpected miracles. Rough winds have shaken the darling buds of May.

In Nepal, the death toll from last week’s earthquake has climbed to over 7,000. Thousands more are injured or unaccounted for. The death toll will no doubt rise, as people succumb to their injuries and diseases spread through contaminated food and water in makeshift camps. (BBC news article.)

In the midst of the tragedy, there have been all too few briefs glimpses of hope. A 5-month old baby pulled from the rubble after 22 hours. And a 101-year old man was rescued a week after the earthquake. It is unlikely now over a week after the tragedy that survivors will be found buried under rubble, although rescue attempts continue. Worldwide support is still needed. Rebuilding Nepal is going take time and money.

In other news, some of the women captured by Boko Haram were rescued. Survivors have told of the horrors they’ve experienced, the abuse and the deaths from malnutrition. So far, it does not appear that any of the Chibok schoolgirls who were abducted last year were among the rescued women. But the world rejoices that some of these women have been rescued. Horror and hope.

As the weather gets warmer, people flock outside to celebrate–and to protest. Here in the US, the nation watched the ignition of rage and flames in Baltimore, following the death of Freddie Gray, now ruled a homicide. Six police officers have been charged. For days, Baltimore was under a curfew, which has now been lifted.

For many, the protests, riots, and rage in Baltimore brought back memories of the 1960s. But May has often been a time of protests. May Day is designated International Workers’ Day. In the US, this appellation goes back to May 1, 1886, when workers sought an 8-hour working day, and over 300,000 workers across the country walked off their jobs. Chicago was the center of this movement. The strike started off peacefully, but workers continued to strike, and by May 3, almost 100, 000 Chicago workers had joined the strike. At the McCormick Reaper Works, violence broke out between armed Pinkerton guards and police and steelworkers who had been locked out. Tensions there had been escalating for 6 months. Police beat workers who retaliated by throwing rocks. Police fired and killed at least 2 workers. The next day, a rally was held at Haymarket Square. Once again, violence broke out, after detectives accused the speakers of using inflammatory speech and prevailed upon police to go after them. Later the mayor testified that the speakers had used no incendiary language. Someone set off a bomb—it is not known who it was. Some believe it could have been an agent provocateur who worked for the police. Police then fired into the crowd. Civilians and police officers died, and many more were injured. Eight anarchists were arrested, tried, and later hanged. Six years afterwards, the governor pardoned some of the organizers and publicly criticized the judge for his mockery of justice in the trial that convicted them. (This is a really brief summary. There’s a nice digital narrative with photos here.

Older than May protests, however, are traditions of May celebrations: Beltane, fertility festivals—the day to bring in the flowers, to go “a-maying, dance around a Maypole, and crown a May Queen. Bryn Mawr College has a May Day celebration every year. (I know because one of my daughters was an undergraduate there.)

Come, let us go while we are in our prime ;
And take the harmless folly of the time.
We shall grow old apace, and die
Before we know our liberty.
Our life is short, and our days run
As fast away as does the sun ;
And, as a vapour or a drop of rain
Once lost, can ne’er be found again,
So when or you or I are made
A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
All love, all liking, all delight
Lies drowned with us in endless night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.

Robert Herrick, last stanza of “Corinna’s Going A-Maying”

Full text illustrated here with “Village Scene with Dance Around the May Pole.”
Pieter Brueghel, the Elder, 1634.

Robert Herrick (1591-1674) is best known for his carpe diem poems. (Is that a thing? I’m going to say it is.) In another poem, perhaps his most famous, he offered this advice (to virgins) to “gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” However, Herrick was a clergyman who lost his post during the English Civil War, but Charles II restored him to his position during the Restoration. Herrick also wrote religious poems. Perhaps he saw life from several perspectives—the beauty and rhythms of the rural areas, religious beliefs, the excesses and turmoil of war and the effect it has on a society, and the various ups and downs of life. He never married, and some believe the women he wrote of existed only in his imagination. Perhaps he imagined his life going a different way. In his 83 years he must have seen and experienced many changes. Nevertheless, there is truth—and value—to the idea that people should not postpone living and enjoying life because we might never know what will happen. At the same time, most people have friends, family, and coworkers–communities that depend upon us. So help others, help yourself, stand up against injustice, and be a good citizen of the world, but be moved by miracles, and take some time, if you can, to enjoy the flowers and life itself. Gather ye rosebuds and stop to smell them. Come, though rough winds blow, let’s go a-Maying.