The Box of Treasures

[A sampling of Mariam’s head shots]

We have something over our heads, above the ceiling in the room where we binge watch Big Little Lies, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Doc Martin.  Some people would call it an attic.  Others might refer to it as a crawl space (one doesn’t need to crawl, really.  You can stand up straight unless you’re 2″ above the U. S. Norm of Healthy Heights.)  It’s accessible by a trap-door in our bedroom which allows folding wooden stairs to drop down.

I hardly ever go up there.  There is, perhaps, a two-week window of survival in our attic.  One is at the end of winter and the other is at the end of summer.  If you need to search for something in December, you’ll need an Arctic Expedition Parka and bib overalls, the kind the skiers wear.  The prowling about must be swift because hypothermia lurks in the corners.

If your needs take you up there in July, be aware that the ambient air temperature can approach the level that can melt lead, a little better than the surface of Mercury.

Like I said, I hardly ever go up there.

But, Mariam is a much stronger person that I am, so she ventures up the wooden stairs when she feels the need to get a box of something down.  We once stored many items in our attic but through the culling process, we have only a few items left there.

A few weeks ago, she decided to ascend into the heat and search for a box that might contain discardable items.  I stood at the bottom of the stairs and accepted the hand-me-downs.

Later, out on the coffee table of our porch, she opened one of the boxes.  What she found was ten pounds of memories.  She spread the items out on the table.  There were Playbills and Reviews of every opera and show she had ever done.  (In case you didn’t know, Mariam was a professional opera singer and performer years before she met me.)  She sang a solo at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.

And then came the head shots.  Dozens of head shots, ready to send to agents.  Of course all were shot by a professional, but that extra touch wasn’t needed to bring out the glamorous features of my wife.

They were awesome.  Her short career was awesome.  The photo of her being hugged by Pavoratti was awesome…sadly, she couldn’t find that picture.

It’s probably in another box in the attic.

[The attic door to the Box of Treasures]

Are You Overly Concerned About Dinoflagellates?

[Bioluminescence at night on a beach. Photo source: Google search.]

You find yourself sitting up in bed at 2:30 am and thinking of dinoflagellates, the Valium hasn’t kicked in, your partner is in REM sleep and softly mumbling Bono Bono and your supply of Sleepy Time Tea has been deleted…you’re not alone.

I, too, suffer the same night terrors.  I feel your pain.  Several nights ago, sleep couldn’t find me nor could I find sleep.  It was 2:17 am.  I picked up a magazine and began reading an article about how to keep mud from getting stuck in the treads of your car’s tires.  I finished the lengthly piece and looked down at my copy of David Copperfield.

Should I pick it up and start where I left it three years ago, on page 346.  But it wasn’t to be.  My mind kept going back to dinoflagellates.

What brought comfort to my restless soul that night, I cannot say for certain.  But I decided to go down to my office and find a copy of a marine science textbook.  I went through book after book.  There it was…The Secret Life of Dinoflagellates.  I brought the heavy glossy-paged book back to bed and began to read.

It was so heavy, it left a strange imprint on my abdomen.

I was vaguely aware of the existence of dinoflagellates when I studied geology in college forty-six years ago.  That’s why I was vaguely aware, I had forgotten most of the facts I once knew.

To put it simply, dinoflagellates are two-edged swords in the form of a single-celled organism.  On the good side, they are responsible for bioluminescence, the strange glow-in-the-dark phenomenon of the oceans.  The eerie blue light is awesome to behold.  [See the lead illustration.] Sailors proclaim that a glowing sea on the darkest of nights is a sight they will never forget…something like seeing the bow of a freighter fifty feet away, coming straight out of the fog bank and straight at your boat.

On the downside of dinoflagellates is that they are the cause of the dreaded red tide.  Yes, the waves are tinted red.  The dinoflagellates are eaten by bivalves (clams and the like).  If you had ordered such a plate of these clams at the Ancient Mariner Restaurant and consumed it you would soon be begging for an appointment with Dr. Kevorkian…cause you’re gonna pay the piper…as the saying goes.

Here some advice about how to live with dinoflagellates:

  • Go sailing at night off some island in the Caribbean and be stricken silent with the beauty of the blue/green bioluminescence.
  • Avoid areas where the red tide is present.  Ask around.  Maybe go for the spaghetti and meatball option.

So, stop losing sleep over dinoflagellates.  Lose sleep over climate change instead.  That will bring on worse things that any single-celled organism.

[Some of the facts are from the June 22, 2019 issue of The Economist. The rest is just stuff I already knew.]

I Too Can Do Physical Labor

[Me on the steps…working hard.]

As a blogger I get tons of mail.  It’s mostly fan letters, notes of congratulations, invitations to weddings, birthday parties, fundraisers, dedications at mall openings and the occasional bris.  But I also get questions.

“Gee, Pat (I’m an informal kind of guy), what do you do when you’re not working on a blog post?”

“Gosh, Pat, you must spend most of your waking hours living inside your head.  That must be awesome and exciting!”  I didn’t have the heart to tell that fan that living inside my head is no picnic.  There are dark corners in my brain that I try avoid.  I know this because my insomnia forces me to confront the demons.  My nightmares are real and full of things that crawl on the ground and hiss and spit.

“Golly, Pat, your life as a blogger must so exciting and so totally awesome.”  I didn’t have the heart to tell the fan that my blogs often go unnoticed.

But I digress.

I am actually a very active guy.  True, I may spend weeks in bed waiting for the mosquitoes to die off.  But, on cool days when the breeze is steady and strong off the lake, I search for something to do around the house…outside that is.  One of the drawbacks to owning a home in the North Country is that there is never anything to do.  I mowed the lawn a few times last summer.  I stacked wood for about thirty-five minutes.  I swept the floor of the garage.  A couple times each summer, I put the ladder up against the house and I climb onto the roof.  I have Mariam pass up my favorite tool, the leaf-blower.  Then I attack the rain gutter to clear out the muck and pine needles.

Such a feeling of power to send clods of gunk sailing off into the trees.  It gives additional meaning to my life.

A few days ago, I decided it was time to apply a coat of Thompson’s WaterSeal to the railings and steps of our rear deck.  I gathered the rags, sander, the can of Thompson’s, the extension cord, my mask, a pair of ear protecters and a bandanna to keep the dust out of my hair.

The bandanna was orange.

To fully understand how intense this project is, I will simply say that I have fairly serious issues with my lower back.  My L3, L4 and L5 are held together with gossamer threads.

“Gosh, Pat, it’s age appropiate arthritis, said my doctor.”

I fully understood that  once the work was done (it took almost six hours) that I would barely be able to walk across the room without looking like Qusimodo or the Elephant Man.  (Full disclosure: it hurt like bloody hell at the end of the day).

As I was working my way down the stairs, step by step, my hand sander suddenly came apart.  Luckily, I had a spare so the work never stopped.  This was a good thing because it was proof to Mariam that for a skilled laborer such as myself (and for all handymen) that when it comes to tools, one should always have two of everything.

Later that night, after a couple of Ibuprofen, I was able to move about without actually crawling on the carpet.  The railings are good for another two years.

So, that’s how a blogger spends time when not sitting at a laptop.  Although, for me, even hunched over a keyboard can cause pain.

If you read this post and click ‘like’, then I will get better.  That’s the way it works.  My health is actually in your hands.

Use the power wisely.

Languid June

[Languid June As Seen From Our Back Deck.]

Languid June.  Languid June.  The name has a certain ring to it.  Like Lay Down Sally, Calamity JaneBlack-Eyed Susan, Axis Sally, Typhoid Mary and Moaning Myrtle.  I chose the title of this post with care.  I do believe that I saw a Sad-Eyed Lady at the corner stool in a dusty bar in El Paso in 2013.  I do believe I heard the bartender ask: Same again, Languid June?

But, already I digress.

It’s that time of year.  We had a Spring, but I can’t tell you what day that was.  It certainly wasn’t March 21, the Vernal Equinox…there was still snow on the ground.  Now, it’s summer, only a few days before the Summer Solstice.  I sit on the living room sofa and look out toward the lake.  The leaves are out in full now, so we’ve lost nearly all of our view of the water.  It is uncannily still considering the wind storms we’ve been having.  The fresh new maple leaves flicker almost imperceptibly.

It’s quiet, so much so that you can hear the blood rushing in your ears (or maybe it’s my tinnitus again).  A man and a woman talk quietly as they kayak past our dock.  The crickets buzz on occasion.  The crows squawk away in the near-by woods.  The bullfrogs down at the lake never seem to tire of their amorous croaking.  Okay, sounds like a noisy place…but it’s not.  It’s quiet.  It’s lonely.  It’s languid.

I was a science teacher so I know that just beyond the frequency of our hearing range, there is a riot of activity, in our yard, in the nearby woods and down by the lakeside.  But, speaking only for myself, I can’t report a “riot” of anything going on in my brain.

When I look out at the motionless trees, the only term that comes to mind is Dog Day Afternoon, then I remember that’s a 1975 movie with Al Pacino. It feels like the Dog Days of Summer, but I think that happens sometime in July or August; I can’t remember and it’s not on my wall calendar.

Maybe I should ask Alexa.

To Bob With Thanks

[Source: Google search.]

I think we can consider the fact that Bob Dylan is a Renaissance Man for our times.  He is a master welder of artistic forms.  He can write poetry and songs that are confusing, subtle and ultimately profound.  He earned the Nobel Prize in Literature.  He is an accomplished painter, owner of his own Whiskey Brand (Heaven’s Door), master of the harmonica, piano and guitar.  He tours over 100 hundred days a year…the Never-Ending Tour.  If there is a country he has not visited, I can’t think of it.  His range of musical interests span gospel, folk, rock, protest, Sinatra-style crooning, blues and country.  I may have missed a few genres.

He supports an entire industry of Dylanologists.

And he says about himself: “I’m only a song and dance man.”

You’re more than that, Bob.  I’ve used your lyrics to inspire my children, make sense of my blogs…and, yes, even in attempts to seduce.

But one thing that Bob Dylan cannot do is to stay forever young.

He will be 78 on May 24th.

I’ll light a candle for you on Friday night.  Thanks for all you’ve given to me…and to the world.

Happy Birthday, Bob !

The Statue

This post is not about anything that happened on our most recent trip.  This goes back to a time, over a year ago when we were having dinner at an outdoor restaurant In Brussels.  At the end of the final course, I excused myself to go to the loo.  On the way to the back of the building I discovered another dining area, a garden and a fountain.  And a few statues.  One of them caught my eye.  I took several photos of her from various angles.

I was seduced by one in particular.  It’s the one shown above.  There was something about her smile, the placement of her arm and her figure.  But it was the gaze on her face and her obvious grace that captured me.  She was looking to her right.  I’ve seen that smile before.  She’s a bit coquettish and sexy and seductive, but that wasn’t the focus of my attention.

I’ve seen that look before.  I saw it in my wife’s face shortly after we met.  I’ve seen it in my past, from the delicate faces of the girls and women I thought I loved…and perhaps I did at the time.  But it’s a universal profile.  A glance that says “Maybe it’s you I love” or “Come up and see me sometime”.

My self-image leaves much to be desired.  I wish others could perceive me as I wish, not as I am.  I also know that this is a symptom of one who feels the loss of youth and is facing old age.  It’s odd, but change occurs slowly…every day and you don’t notice it until you see an old photo of yourself.  I knew when I lost my youth…it wasn’t that many years ago.  It took a clean mirror. A mirror that was honest with me.  Coming to grips with that has been hard for me.  What happened to the last thirty years?  I’ve no idea.

I gaze into the mirror and see white hair and bags under my eyes.  It seems like every joint in my body from my waist down could use a shot of Valium.

However, I feel in my heart, that at a distant time in the past, the young woman above would have gone for a walk with me.  But I have to live with the fact that she will never age, unlike me, save for weathering and lichen and moss that will someday grow on her ankles, shoulders and all that hair.

[The photo is mine]

Journey’s End

Pick a window…any window.  There’s nothing to see, only white.  We entered a fog bank.  Fog as thick as whole milk.  We’re sailing due west, nearing Long Island.

Visibility from our deck window is about ten feet.

The end of our three-month journey is about to end.  Nothing left, except to get through customs and get a taxi and get to our hotel.

Written on board the Queen Mary 2 at 7 pm on April 20.

 

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.

–Jacques Yves Cousteau

Travelling shouldn’t be just a tour, it should be a tale.

–Amit Kalantri

True wealth is…Places you go…People you meet…stories you tell.  Thank you for traveling to see us.  For being such wonderful people we meet…and for sharing and being in our stories.  Our paths will cross again soon.

–Tim Ovendon

 

[All photos are mine.]

 

In The Land of Pooh, The Badger, King Arthur and Beyond: The Excursionist XIII Finale

magic (n) A mysterious quality of enchantment.

 

England is a land of mystery, magic and myth.  It is a land of legends of kings and villains of all sorts.

Consider this quote:

As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, and can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty of it, the beauty!

This line is from The Wind in the Willows by A.A. Milne.  It’s from the chapter titled “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”.  To me, that chapter is one of the most beautifully written prose I’ve ever read.

[A country church in South Dorset]

Over the years I’ve walked dozens of footpaths.  At first in Thomas Hardy country in south Dorset, a place he called Wessex.  I’ve sneezed and sweated through fields of ragweed, cleaned my boots of the mud and manure, and sat in a remote hay shed to keep dry in the driving rain.  I feel as though I’ve been through the 100 Acre Wood of Pooh.  I believe I’ve seen Badger and Mole alongside a river.  I stood over the cliffs of Tintagel, Cornwall and gazed down at the cave where Merlin was born.  Watching the moonlight from the Glastonbury Tor, I sipped a bit of wine and listened for Arthur’s faint heartbeat.  I walked naked into the English Channel and nearly froze.

[St. Michael’s Tower atop the Glastonbury Tor]

I loved every moment when I was able to do these things.  Now, my back and feet are making walking painful, but the most pain is that I am unable to do what I most love about this country…walking.

And that makes me sad.  To be prevented from doing what you most love is an exquisite torture.

It’s time to begin sorting our belongings and start packing.

While we were here, since mid-February, I sat in pubs and listened to folk songs. One local pub, The Buffalo welcomed us with such warmth.  Thank you Kate, Amy, Massimo and Jenny. Whenever I would bring home a copy of The Guardian, there were bold headlines about the chaos and confusion over Brexit.  It fills the evening news on ITV.  So there was the experience of the old and traditional pub society and the quiet of the countryside contrasted with marches in London to demand another vote and to remain in the EU.

[A pub in St. Ives]

It’s a time of turmoil here…and we are leaving in the middle of it all.

We are truly are thankful for the hospitality of our hosts, Tim and Jo Ovenden.  We have shared their lives for three months and have grown even more fond of them than we were before.  Their son, Thomas is a quiet and thoughtful young man, always ready for a conversation.  Daughter Anna and her often-present friend Felicity are talented dancers (ballet).  They are bouncing on a trampoline in the backyard as I type this.  Their giggles brighten our days.

[Jo, Thomas and Tim with Anna in their arms]

[Anna, left, and Felicity]

Regrets?  Always.  I’ll never get over my deflated mood every time we drove past a Public Footpath.  So many missed opportunities.  I’ve walked many paths over the many visits to England but the sheer number of those untrodden by me would fill a lifetime of roaming pleasures.

[My own personalized OS Map]

Who has that long a lifetime?  I certainly wish I did.

But one cannot sail forever on an endless sea because no sea is really endless.  There must be a port somewhere.  Our time in this country can now be counted in days (I’m writing this on Wednesday and we leave for Southampton on Saturday).  Soon it will be a matter of mere hours.

In the end, I guess it’s time to go home.

When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.

–Kenneth Grahame The Wind in the Willows

[All photos are mine]

 

 

 

 

The Circus: The Excursionist XI

Really great adventures always start with a sign taped to a window of a shop or to a wooden pole along the curb.  At least that’s how I found out about the circus.  We’re not talking about Barnum & Bailey here or even the Big Apple Circus that visits Lincoln Center every winter.  No, this is a small one-ring affair, very European, very English and very entertaining.

Once upon a time I saw a small circus just outside of Bruges, Belgium.  It should go without saying that I fell in love with the trapeze artist…a dark and beautiful being that floated, back and forth, over my head.  If you’re interested in the consequences that can come of having your heart stolen by a woman flying in the air fifty feet above you, then find a copy of the classic movie Wings of Desire.  You’ll get the point.

But I digress.

The Jay Miller Circus doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is.  A small traveling circus that winds its way through rural England.

After entering the Big Top from the bright day, I found myself greeted by forms that were indistinct to me…my eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness.  But I did notice a bright red jacket.  After we were shown to our chairs…set up in the grass. (Someone had scattered a bucket or two of sawdust on the green field to remind you that you were at a circus)

I went back to the red jacket.  “May I take your picture outside?  I’m going to write a blog about all this and you’re very colorful (and pretty, I thought).

Here is Charlotte:

[Thank you, Charlotte]

A 5:00 PM, the lights went down.  And, as the cotton candy continued to be devoured by the many children, the Ring Master appeared.

[The Irish Ring Master. Total disclosure: this was taken half-way through the show, after the fog machine had been on for twenty minutes.]

What followed was a truly unique display of roller-skaters, jugglers, a state-of-the-art laser show, fire-eating women, ball rolling, magic and a woman who was spun in air above my head from a clamp attached to her hair!

Here are some of the visuals I took:

[Sand art projected onto a screen. It read Life Is A Circus]

[The finale]

So, it was over.  I quite enjoyed the talent (the hula-hoop woman was sensational) and the effort, but my mind always drifted from the action, to the life beyond the show.  During the intermission, I went outside to get some fresh air.  I looked over at all the RV’s that housed the cast and crew.  What were their lives like after the Big Top came down?  Were any of them married?  Lovers?  Were they happy on the road?  Did they sleep well at night after they failed in an attempt at something?

The woman, early in the show, sat atop a very tall unicycle.  She put a little hat on.  She put a saucer on her toes and flipped it to her hat. She repeated this with a cup, then again, and again until there were four cups & saucers on her head.  She failed three times to get a small cube of ‘sugar’ into the last cup.  Finally the assistant handed her the sugar and she simply placed it in the top cup…without flipping it off her toe.  I wonder if she relives her mistakes at night.  Did she fret over her inability to finish her act successfully?  I wonder about these things.

I hope she will sleep well tonight.

Inside Gaudi’s Dream: The Excursionist VIII

 

You find yourself in sunny Barcelona…on the south coast of Spain.

You have massive amounts of wax so you do what you’re expected to do with massive amounts of wax.  You sculpt the facade of a cathedral.  You include all the alcoves for the saints and the angels and the biblical scenes of the Old Testament.  You include images of the New Testament because you are a God-loving person and a visionary mystic.

Then you stand and view your waxen model of the cathedral.  Standing back, you turn a hot hair dryer on the wax.  It begins to drip.  When the drops solidify you’re happy.

I agree, it’s a bit of a long lead-in to the impression I had when I stood outside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  But it’s hard to find words to describe the architectural style that made Antoni Gaudi such a visionary…breaking the rules of traditional church architectural style.  Things seemed to drip, and drip into the right place.

When I entered the Basilica, the interior was something I may have dreamt about in another lifetime.  I’ve been in dozens of English Cathedrals and Anglican churches.  I’ve been in Russian Orthodox churches and the great mosques of Istanbul.  Many hours have been spent in Notre Dame in Paris.  I don’t mention these things to boast–only to put things into some kind of perspective.  Nothing prepared me for the sights inside the Sagrada Familia.  My eye had too many places to look.  The neck had too many angles to cover.  The colors, the fluid shapes…the uneven nave, the Christ, hanging above the Altar.

I had to sit down.  I had to try to take this in— a tiny bit at a time.

It was not going to work.  I needed more than a few hours.  I needed days, weeks, months…maybe longer…to fully grasp even a bit of what Gaudi was striving for.

I left.  I looked back and imagined the melting wax.  I was deeply moved, not so much by the religious aspects, but by the mind that had such a vision…such a vision that I failed to grasp its true meaning.

Maybe only Gaudi knew.  Legend has it that he was walking backward, looking at the early stages of his creation, the Basilica , when he was hit by a tram and died in a nearby hospital…at the age of seventy-four.

Perhaps he had a new thought about how to solve a problem in the construction.  Perhaps he was lost in a vision.

Perhaps he wanted to talk to his God and get some final instructions.

[All photos are mine}