Before I know it…

…this year will be coming to a close.  Here we are in September and so much has happened since January, 2014. I have been to so many places and done so many things.  January 2nd, we managed to arrive to Philadelphia, along with the storm called, Hercules. Actually, we arrived a few hours before this great storm, just in time to avoid travel in a blizzard.  Comfortably settled into the hotel in the evening, it began to snow.  We decided to venture down the street to a highly recommended restaurant called ‘The White Dog Cafe’, on Sansom Street.  By the time we left the restaurant, the storm was really picking up.  I took some exquisite street scene photos of the lights, the falling snow on the street.  Also, a few of some people, especially of a happy girl drinking a soda or coffee in her hand.  She was all bundled up in her jacket with a furry hood covering her head and framing her face. She posed for me and smiled splendidly.  A lovely example of positive energy.  The whole scene on an old street of brotherly love with picturesque street lamps was beautiful, not only because of the way it looked, but because of the surrounding silence in the night, with the snow falling and the magical tendency snow has to make everything silent, as it blankets the environment.  It softens the earth.

The next day, Philadelphia was an absolute frozen mess, with unplowed streets and subzero temperatures, which kept everyone inside.  I felt like the world had just ended and I was the only one left from humanity, walking around.  That is definitely a ‘forlorn’ sensation.   As I ventured along my way, eager to go to the old town where Independence Hall is located, I soon found out that everything was closed, practically, except for a few coffee shops, here and there, one of which I went into, hoping to thaw out my frozen feet.  I lingered there when I ran into a delightful, middle aged couple who were visiting from, at this moment I can’t recall, but it was somewhere in Europe.  They were very friendly.  They were here for a wedding and quite shocked by the weather.  When the Philadelphians finally got up enough nerve to get out into the streets and open up the major visiting center, and the Liberty Bell, I too departed the café and began walking around the streets, taking photographs of the historic buildings and sites.  There was so much of interest; the old bank turned into a Portrait Gallery, Independence Hall, Ben Franklin museum, which I didn’t care for too much for its overly done approach at resuscitating a man’s character and creating a commercialized hero.  It contained very few authentic artifacts, one reason I like to visit museums.  We do this so much in this country, and mostly for the sake of historical men.  This is not to undermine the importance of historic accomplishment, but to just state my humble opinion of the unrealistic manner in which we place our ancestors on a pedestal, and fail to look at all aspects of their person.  I suppose we are all guilty of it.

In sum, what most impressed me about this visit, was walking around the empty streets of Philadelphia, and taking pictures as I navigated by foot, this very interesting city, of course, always looking for an opportunity to get out of the cold.

Without more ado on this subject, the routine of everyday life is beckoning me to move forward in time.  A new season approaches with mid September and before we know it, 2015 will arrive.  Oh me, oh my!  Without rushing the clock too much, I hope to be back with the events of the present year.  It’s hard to handle the rapid passing of time.

The Girl, with the ~ Hay!

The last couple days have brought me inspiring moments, and situations, where I have discovered people, who were, seemingly reveling in the simple state of being, or utter happiness.  One took place today, and the other yesterday.  I will start with the one from today, since I like to go backwards in my approach, like the Chinese who rise at dawn, and walk with their backs against the morning sun.

Today I went to a garden center to get various items.  While I was pushing the cart around, searching for things I needed, and didn’t need, I saw a young girl, of 16 years or so, also pushing a cart, and on it was a small bundle of hay, all tied up.  Somehow our eyes met. She exuded an undefinable delight,  an energy from within, and without, which united me with her, like a converging of souls in the universe.  While the experience of her energy was flowing through my outer aura, I asked her, “What are you going to do with the hay?” As she smiled, and laughed, and lifted her arms up into the air, bringing them down in a circular motion, she said; “I’m going to do a ‘faaaall thing’!” The Spanish sounding ‘a’s’ resonated, as if cascading, in mid-air, creating a sort of waterfall effect, after which and without explanation, we both let out a hearty laugh, and walked our separate ways.  Before doing so, however, I of course, with practicality in mind, suggested that the hay might come in handy, that is, if she were going to seed the lawn. That made no sense to her whatsoever!  She was young, and had no reason to worry about lawns.

So I went on my way, looking for mums, and such things, when our paths crossed once again. I noticed that the hay wasn’t there anymore, and so I said: “What happened to your hay?”, to which, she replied, with a slight downward turn of her lips, and a silly frown on her face; “She made me put it back.”  I turned to look at an unsmiling woman next to her, whom I presumed to be her mother, and I said, to her; “but she was going to be creative, and do a faaaall thing”!  And the mother said, “Over my dead body!  I’ll not be picking up bits of hay, all over the place.”  So that was that!  I looked at the girl, who was still smiling, and back at her mother, again, and thought, “Some people just don’t understand.”  I knew it was best not to interfere, and so, with a smile, I bid adieu, and went on my merry way.

Well, there is another story of inspiration, but I think it will suffice to tell another day.  As for now, and later, I await with eagerness, anything, out of the ordinary, something extraordinary, that comes my way.

Struggling to Understand

Thoughts on an article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sunday, August 17, 2014

IGHGrampa writes about ‘struggling to understand issues of Life (and Death)’. He reflects upon the suicide of Robin Williams, saying he had everything a person could possibly want, so how could he possibly want to take his life? Perhaps he has a point, but, many would ask, who is to judge? This point of view reminds me once, when I actually took the attitude, that if someone wants to kill themselves, it is alright. Today, I think twice before making this judgement, and it all stems back to when Someone, somewhere, when I lived in Nebraska, had taken their life. I don’t remember who they were, but it was someone, a coworker of mine and I were talking about one day, at a cafe, or bar. What I do remember, is my conversation with this very attractive blond girl, younger than myself. I really liked this girl a lot.  I think it was her very strong character and the self-confidence, with which she projected herself. In reference to this suicide, I said something to the effect, that it was this person’s decision to do what they wanted with their life, whether it was to continue on, or end it by their own hands. What will never leave my memory, is this girl’s totally unexpected, and strong reaction to my statement. With her steel blue eyes, she looked into, my eyes, and told me point blank; “It’s wrong!” She was adamant and unwavering in her statement, and went on to say that it was a totally selfish act, and that this person had no regard for the feelings of others around him or her. She was so fixed in her opinion that it truly made me stop and think about the act of suicide. To this day, and with utmost respect, I think of the proud and moral position this girl took, and I admire her still, for standing her ground on an issue, about which many people were, and still are, wishy washy. Furthermore, she was young, in the years of the late 70’s, a time when, ‘everything goes’. Today, I shame myself for not having a stronger spine and for following the opinion of the flock.

Going back to the article, IGHGrampa goes on to talk about ‘the struggle’, so to speak. He makes reference to the main character of the movie “Precious”, a woman who seems to have “insurmountable” problems. He writes about the struggle by astronomers to acquire knowledge and an understanding of how the planets and stars are formed, the forces of existence itself.

Pondering these struggles, Grampa remarks on his own trivial struggles, and that ‘sometimes you just have to put the struggles aside for a time.’ He even works on his own little problems in his workshop, to help him forget about the larger struggles of the world. Or, he likes to simply listen to classical music, to escape. His final statement makes so much sense to me, and that is, that perhaps, in order to understand, the key is ‘to make an effort to remove oneself from the struggle’, someway, somehow.

Grampa’s words bring me back to the idea of the struggle, to choose life, or death, between what is right, and what is wrong. In light of these thoughts, it is our duty, to find something that can be done for those, who find themselves alone in a moment of desperation, something to prevent them from hurting themselves, and/or others, whether it be with words, actions, or no action.  The passive-aggressive route. To help them to make an effort to ‘remove themselves from the struggle, and carry on in this world of life and death.  If my blond friend were here today, she would know. She would know what to say, and do.

Presently, I am thankful that this girl stepped into my life, if only for a short time. Like a few people in my life, she is gone, hopefully living, nonetheless, out of my radar.  Yet, the spirit of her hopefulness, has not subsided.  When the question of suicide ever comes up, I think of this girl, who worked by my side, in Lincoln, Nebraska, and, I think twice.

“Águeda”, and What I Did This Morning

‘Readers of Villedieu’, Normandy, France

In the early afternoon, I found myself potting plants eager to get them in their new place to grow and flourish.  The sun was taking its toll on me, in addition to feeling quite tired after a not so good nights sleep and some cold like symptoms mimicking allergies.  As I sat down to read Isabel Allende’s novel, “La isla bajo el mar”, I stopped to think, “how did my day begin?”- for the life of me I could not remember.  Then suddenly, I did an, “Ah yes!” – In the morning I took a detour to the university to pick up the textbook I would be using to teach a new course in the fall – thinking about how to plan and organize the class syllabus, I opened the book and checked the Table of Contents – I say to myself, “aha! – 14 chapters – I will have to ‘cover’ seven. But what should I include?  I have to calculate the number of classes, make up a calendar and decide what’s important – grammar is important,  but I don’t want to kill with the drill, so I will emphasize conversation and culture. All students want to speak and learn about culture.”  Oh, it was all so mind boggling at the moment and I really didn’t want to start a calendar in Word, so I set to reading the text’s first short story, “Águeda”, by Pío Baroja, (1872-1956).

The story has all the makings of a fairy tale without the happy ending, – it goes like this -Águeda is a young Spanish girl with a mother and a couple of sisters.  She is ugly and has a  physical deformity.  While her sisters and her mother go out and seem to be enjoying life, Águeda sits at home, at a window overlooking a plaza in Madrid, doing “encaje”, which is a type of Spanish embroidery done on small pillows with bobbins and thread. Out of courtesy her sisters invite her to the theatre from time to time, but Águeda knows she is a social misfit and politely declines with a smile by saying, ‘maybe some other night’.  The story takes an interesting turn.  A lawyer friend of the family begins to visit the house.  He talks with Águeda and is amazed at how attentive she is to what he has to say.  He comes back again and again to converse with Águeda and she begins to fall in love with him.  One day he asks her if she would like it if he became a member of the family. Águeda becomes so excited with this offer she can’t believe her ears.  Then he says, “I have asked your father for the hand of your sister Luisa”. Águeda’s world crumbles around her – she locks herself in her room and cries all night.  Her sister Luisa tells her of the good news and asks Águeda to embroider the pillows for her matrimonial bed. Águeda of course doesn’t oppose and sets to her task.  As Baroja puts it; ‘Águeda dreamed of having a husband and children but knew she was destined to having a miserable life.  If she didn’t break out crying while she did her embroidery it was because she did not want to leave imprints in the material from her tears.’  As time went on Águeda had moments of hope and thoughts that someday a young man would enter her life and love her, but as she looked down into the plaza and saw the many young men from all walks of life passing by, a scream welled up inside her. Águeda was left only with the memory of her desire for her first and last love. 

 As we hear the story we might think in our day and age, – how ridiculous! Things are never so bad, we all have a place in this world, and there is someone out there for everyone. Today our society is just and takes care of people with special supports. We are a happy people and there is a solution for everything. Yet, “Águeda”, a Cinderella story in reverse – an Ugly Duckling tale, without a happy ending, makes us stop and think of people who never fit in because of this or that abnormality, hidden or overt.    The people around Águeda reveled in their happiness while Águeda sat in silence withholding her tears and appeared seemingly content with her place in life.   Are there people with whom we interact everyday, who don’t fit in, but cover there sadness with so-called happiness?

The story was short and when I finished I was reminded of how dark, sad and morose literature from Spain can be and asked myself, “does it have to be so?”, and the answer was – “Yes!”.  In order for the reader to have empathy for Águeda and learn a lesson, the purpose of all Spanish literature, Baroja had to tell the not so happy truth.  He was not protecting the reader who wants to evade reality by reading fairy tales.   The story’s universality strikes home even in modern times as we live in a society of ultra positive thinking in which an exaggerated sense of elation is a put on to mask the sadness which endures below the surface.  

With the onset of the new semester, I will teach the story of “Águeda”.  My students will read in Spanish and they will struggle with the meaning, so I will explain the words using synonyms and antonyms.  Together, we will make up situations and give examples, draw comparisons and find contrasts, and hopefully, after all that, we will understand and reach out to the Aguedas who roam the world and perhaps, just maybe, realize, we all have some of Águeda within us, at some point in time.

 

 

James Joyce “The Dubliners”

A reading of “The Dubliners” will make you marvel at James Joyce’s poetic prose and caricature of various personages as they roam through the streets of this city.  It makes one want to get on a plane and go to Ireland.  I downloaded these stories gratis on my iphone with ibooks.  Since I always have my phone I am never without a good story to keep me company.

“Looper” A Summary

If you have seen the movie “Looper”, and aren’t quite sure what was going on, perhaps this summary will help to make some sense of it.  Some viewers have criticized it for having too many holes in the plot.  This may be true, but part of the intrigue in watching “Looper” is the challenge of tracking what is going on and trying to figure out, how characters and events relate to each other.  I am rather happy with my synopsis but open to remarks, so if you have already seen the movie, read this and let me know if it sounds about right, or not.  If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t mind a spoiler, I also recommend my summary.

“Looper”, extremely violent, is nonetheless an enlightening film of self- discovery and redemption. The excessive depiction of violent acts and pervasive drug addiction which keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, is necessary for transmitting the ultimate message that mankind must put an end to destruction and replace it with love, kindness and the preservation of innocence. The main character, Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a heartless killer  – a looper, working for an evil leader in control of sending his foes back from the future to be assassinated by his entourage of hired murderers. Joe, like his friend Seth, fails to carry out his duty when he is faced with assassinating himself as he emerges out the ground from the future of 30 years later.  In botching his own assassination, Joe, and his future self, played by Bruce Willis, become fugitives running from the thugs controlled by the leader of the Ring.  When Joe realizes that his older self is out to destroy three young boys born on the same day in the same hospital because one of them could grow up to be the evil Rainmaker, he schemes to thwart the killing of one of these boys.

Bruce Willis, as Joe, tries to prevent the horror facing the future, which would be committed by the little boy Sid, if he’s allowed to grow into being the ultimate evil force in the world. In the final scene he is about to shoot the child’s caregiver, a beautiful intelligent blonde, who is blocking the boy with her body, so he can escape into the sugar stocks.  The younger Joe, arriving at the scene, envisions his older self Willis, shooting the blonde, who is really the sister of the boys mother, and sees the little boy in the future as he escapes through the fields and rides on a train, free to grow up to be a terrorist and assassinator. Instead of shooting his future persona, the younger Joe turns the gun on himself in order to break the vicious cycle and prevent the evil of the future from occurring.  Upon killing himself, the older Joe played by Willis, disappears into thin air and the young woman and the boy are saved. In his sacrifice, evil is restored by goodness and the cycle of destruction ends.  Joe, the heartless killer, in spirit, saves himself from committing future evil deeds and reinstates innocence embodied in the little boy.  For the audience, especially for the girls, he becomes a savior and hero to humanity.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives an Academy Award winning performance.  The humorous and playful actor that we know from Saturday Night Live, shows he is able to portray the evil villain and the loving nature of Levitt-Gordon’s character in 50/50 is again unveiled when Joe finds his true self in “Looper”.

On Doing the Right Thing

The recent discosure of Fareed Zakaria’s plagiarizing makes me think of something which happened a long while back. When I was a freshman in college I had to write a paper for a ‘Theatre History’ class. When Professor Ron Perrier returned it to me, I was shocked and distraught to find I got a big fat “D” with a comment that said; “You have plagiarized and lifted directly from Brockett’s “The Theatre – An Introduction”.” I can honestly say I was totally unaware that I had done what I did and felt horrible for my mistake. This is before we had ‘copy and paste’ and before students were stretched on the rack and expelled for academic inauthenticity. It was an excellent lesson and I am glad I learned it in college, which at that time seemed like the only place I wanted to be.

No one is perfect, nor is there any guarantee we won’t, as hard as we try, but hopefully not, make the same mistake twice. Fareed Zakaria, unlike the young naive college student, should know better, if indeed it was plagiarism. He needs to explain himself. As he does so, I will be reminded to take care and be aware, and do the right thing as I express myself with the written word.  Perhaps he never had a professor who taught him the lesson I was taught in college.

And to help – I still have the book!

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New Britain Museum of American Art

New Britain Museum of American Art

This museum is a little gem in New Britain, Connecticut featuring primarily American Art from the 17th century to the present.  There is American Impressionism, Academic, Hudson River School, Colonial and Early Republic, First Half of the Twentieth Century and Contemporary. “The Weir Family” and “Nelson White” are two exhibits currently on display. Both show works created by three generations of painters from the same family. The evolution from grandfather, and father to son, is in itself, a lesson in art history.

After walking through the museum my friend Sylvia and I stopped for a bite to eat at the museum cafe.  We had a scrumptious lunch consisting of orange chicken on a croissant and a grilled cheese with pulled pork on wheat.  These were accompanied by a garden salad, an orzo salad and for the finishing touch, a salad of cubed watermelon lightly sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and feta cheese, all garnished with pistachio nuts, arugula and bits of delicious pickled beets.  Very gourmet!

Go soon, to see the two new exhibits, the permanent collection and have lunch at the cafe before you leave.  It is time well spent.  Although yesterday was a perfect beach day, you could go on a rainy day, but then you wouldn’t be able to have lunch on the outdoor cafe patio which overlooks a green bucolic park.

A thing of the past

RPR in 1st car – 1917

Why do people chase down their ancestors, pouring through letters and documents with frayed edges, faded ink on sheets of paper which crumble in your hands  and between your fingers?  I guess the answer is in the question.  As we strive  for a paperless society, documents become exceedingly inaccessible, buried in forgotten computer files, the World Wide Web, the Cloud, or Google docs and PhotoShop.  Our memory is also buried in these files – gone! – and the danger of obliterating the personal handwritten accounts which affirm the history of our ancestry, becomes more and more imminent.  Long gone is the autograph book and rapidly disappearing is the hand written letter and journal as witnesses of times past. Whatever primary sources resurface in twenty-five, fifty or seventy five years, will certainly be an anomaly, if they exist at all.

Our pursuit of knowledge and wonder are no longer driven by hiking on trails through wooded hills, along running brooks, or on cobblestone streets in historic towns, villages and countries, but rather, through endless hours with our eyes pasted to a computer screen.  Perhaps the advent of the iThis and iThat, and the capability to transmit and receive information instantly through time and space is our way of staying in tune as we are constantly on the move, whether it’s sitting in a chair in our living room or in the seat of a train.  Yet we need not remember a thing, because all information is at our fingertips through technology, and although we are seemingly more cerebral and introverted in our social exchanges, we pursue, record and process information at a faster pace than we ever did before – only to be forgotten.

We are living in an era of heightened individualism and guarded privacy which has made us less sociable face to face, more suspicious, paranoid and worried about what one knows about us and if it is really an apt description of who we are.  In this state of agitation we are unable  to shift our consciousness into a true state of Carp Diem, or in other words, lose ourselves completely in a moment  of time, in the beauty of a poem, the shapes and forms of a painting, or in the seconds at dusk and dawn when the buds of a flower open and close.

As the Age of Technology spins out of control what legacy will we be leaving for our children which our foremothers and fathers have left for us?  I for one find myself sucked into this technology and forever striving to keep up and constantly learning how to use it – dependent  on the keyboard for my social interaction and to satisfy my wonder and pursuit of information. Yet, I am weary and discerning of the lack of reality and authenticity of technology and unsatisfied with the information it has to offer. I am afraid the layers of facts, or facts posing as the truth which are deeply buried in my computer will be quickly forgotten when I turn off the switch. Yet I am happy to know that this information will never compare with the real photographs, authentic documents and letters which I hold in my hand.  I consider myself fortunate and at the same time saddened to have these papers at my fingertips because I realize that their production is a thing of the past.