Friday, June 30, 2006

Get Critical Update

TV Review: Star Trek's "The Ultimate Computer"

Film Review: The Da Vinci Code

Book Review: Rhonda Wilcox's Why Buffy Matters

Interview: John de Lancie

Lyrics for Friday

By Amy Ray

as i drive from your pearly gates
i realize that i just can't stay
all those mountains they kept you locked inside
and hid the truth from my slighted eyes
i came to you with a half-open heart
dreams upon my back illusions of a brand-new start
nashville can't i carry the load
is it my fault i can't reap what i sow?
nashville did you give me half a chance
with your southern style and your hidden dance?
all those voices they whisper through my walls
they talk of falling fast they say i'm losing it all
they say i'm running blind to a love of my own
but i'll be walking proud I'm saving what i still own
i fell on my knees to kiss your land
but you are so far down i can't even see to stand
nashville you forgot the human race
you see with half a mind what colors hide the face
nashville i'd like to know your fate
i'd like to stay awhile but i've seen your lowered state

today i'm leaving but i've got all these debts to pay
we all owe our dues i'll pay in some other place
i never ask that you pay me back
we all arrive with more i left with less than i had
your town is made for people passing through
a last chance for cause well i thought i knew
nashville tell me what you gonna do
with your southern style it'll never pull you through
nashville i can't place no blame
but if you forget my face i'll never call your name again
i fell on my knees to kiss your land
but you are so far down i can't even see to stand
nashville you forgot the human race
you see with half a mind what colors hide the face
nashville i'd like to know your fate
i'd like to stay awhile but i've seen your lowered state
today i'm running away


I guessed the line breaks -- it's very unpoetic all glommed together on the Indigo Girls web site, but it's still stuck in my head despite having heard much Johnny Cash today.

We woke up Thursday and drove from Memphis back to Nashville, which we had passed on the highway from Kentucky but didn't stop. Our first stop in the city was the Parthenon, because how could we resist? Though the building itself and its giant gilded statue of Athena are very neat, I was also pleasantly surprised by the art museum inside -- a decent collection of American landscape artists, Church, Bierstadt, et al, and a special exhibit on a Virginia painter, Elliott Daingerfield, who appears to have been a student of both Hudson River School artists and their peers (Inness, Gifford) and the Pre-Raphaelites, so I found his work very appealing. We had seen most of the originals of the sculpture from the Parthenon -- Tennessee's are copies of pieces in the British Museum for the most part -- but the giant temple is still an amazing sight!

The kids had strongly vetoed the idea of going to the Country Music Hall of Fame and and I were ambivalent -- it's expensive, and while we listen to some country music, there aren't really any musical stars of whom we'd call ourselves real fans except Johnny Cash. So instead of going there, we drove around Music Row, where the studios and publishers are located, and went to the Tennessee State House, which was closed to the public but a guard let us park in one of the handicapped spaces long enough to get out and look at the building and take photos. Then we came to the hotel to check in and let the kids swim so we could go out in the evening.

We ate in Opryland Mills across the street from the Grand Ole Opry House -- an enormous mall with a 20-theater multiplex including an IMAX, a Barnes & Noble, Tower Records and all the expected mall stores from anywhere in the US, and several restaurants including one with live music and the one where we had dinner, which is now younger son's favorite restaurant in the world -- the Aquarium Restaurant. There are two little aquariums in front, including a tunnel like the ones in the Cincinnati Aquarium, but the restaurant's centerpiece is a 200,000 gallon tank with sharks, rays, giant eels, a "guitar shark" named Gibson and dozens of species of fish and coral. Our waiter was extremely knowledgeable both about local music and about the fish in the tank, and the restaurant also has a wandering magician doing card tricks, balloon man twisting balloon animals, and its own arcade with a ray touch-tank and sea-themed arcade games and a carousel, plus a gift shop rather like the Rainforest Cafe's -- there was one of those in this mall too, but the food at the Aquarium Restaurant was vastly better than I've ever had there (we had three different kinds of shrimp, I couldn't bear to eat salmon while looking at a fish tank). Considering that it was a free visit to the aquarium the prices were reasonable and the kids had a wonderful time.

We paid a brief visit to the Grand Ole Opry House which was closed tonight -- there are only performances certain nights of the week, and we didn't try to time our trip around them because again we thought the kids would get restless and it would be a lot of money. So we didn't linger, but went to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, which my in-laws had had seen and told us we might want to check out. The place is beyond description -- it's like a city, with its own indoor river and boat rides in one section, an enormous jungle room with waterfalls in another section, a recreation of a Southern city with little shops and fountains, three swimming pools, indoor and outdoor courtyards, numerous restaurants, all the mall-type stores not in Opryland Mills itself...a convention center, an enclosed theater and a public courtyard where at 8:30 a troupe of Chinese acrobats performed. It was like a Southern Las Vegas without the sleaze (though I must note that for such a Southern Baptist city, there are a lot of porn shops and gentleman's clubs advertising prominently around Nashville!)

Nashville's Parthenon, built for Tennessee's 1897 Centennial Exposition.

The giant gilded Athena in the temple room.

Tennessee State House with First Tennessee Bank building in the background.

The Aquarium Restaurant's centerpiece is a giant salt-water tank.

Younger son loves it because it has two eels.

Outside the Grand Ole Opry House.

Inside the Cascades section of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel...

...and watching an indoor boat launch.

Friday we will be seeing our last group of penguins this trip, at the Knoxville Zoo, and later !

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Lyrics for Thursday

Walking In Memphis
By Marc Cohn

Put on my blue suede shoes
And I boarded the plane
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues
In the middle of the pouring rain
W.C. Handy --
Won't you look down over me
Yeah, I've got a first class ticket
But I'm as blue as a boy can be

Then I'm walking in Memphis
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel

Saw the ghost of Elvis
On Union Avenue
Followed him up to the gates of Graceland
And I watched him walk right through
Now security they did not see him
They just hovered 'round his tomb
But there's a pretty little thing waiting for the King
Down in the Jungle Room

When I was walking in Memphis
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel

They've got catfish on the table
They've got gospel in the air
And Reverend Green be glad to see you
When you haven't got a prayer
But boy you got a prayer in Memphis

Now Muriel plays piano
Every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her
And they asked me if I would
Do a little number
And I sang with all my might
She said, "Tell me, are you a Christian child?"
And I said, "Ma'am, I am tonight"

Walking in Memphis
I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel

Put on my blue suede shoes
And I boarded the plane
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues
In the middle of the pouring rain
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues
In the middle of the pouring rain


Okay, apparently y'all are going to have to content yourselves with song lyrics until we get out of Nashville. And ironically enough it isn't even Elvis or Johnny Cash or BB King who are stuck in my head -- one can hear them around here easily -- but things that remind me of things that I can't listen to because I don't have the CDs with me! We'll be in Nashville in the morning and I'd post the Indigo Girls' lyrics of the same name if I could figure out the punctuation and breaks from the printed music, which Amy Ray has not deigned to post on the web site.

We were in three states on Wednesday, including one I'd never been in before -- Mississippi, where we had lunch specifically so we could say that we had had lunch in Mississippi (I have now been in most of the 48 contiguous states, though I'd have to sit down and look at a map to figure out which I've missed...definitely Alabama and Louisiana). But before that we went to Graceland, on the deluxe tour that includes the car museum, airplanes and all those fun sideshows as well as the mansion. I like Elvis and know a reasonable amount about him, but given that there were people in full Elvis regalia and sniffling at his tomb, I cannot compete.

The house itself was smaller than I was expecting, and unpretentious in a way -- kitchen in the same harvest gold-type colors we had in my house in the '70s, Jungle Room more high tackiness than any reflection of wealth, and he had red shag carpet and a faux fur bed with mirrors and all sorts of other cheesy wonderful stuff! I mean, there are also rooms and rooms of gold records and the like, but given how much he must have been worth, it seems like he could have lived much more like a king...collecting cars notwithstanding, there wasn't a lot of serious affectation of wealth in evidence except on his plane, the Lisa Marie. Sure the guy can have a pool and a pool room among his multiple music rooms! I'd love to know what's in the closed-off upstairs bedrooms. I wonder whether George Bush and the Japanese Ambassador will get to see when they're here in a couple of days.

In the afternoon we went to the Memphis Zoo, which is beautifully put together: their pandas, for instance, are housed in a Chinese pavilion with architecture and art from China, and a lot of other animals live in enclosures designed with artificial artifacts from the part of the world they're from. Of course our first mission was to see the penguins, which we did -- African penguins here in an outdoor exhibit along with cormorants and cranky pelicans who tried to bite the other birds to get their fish because the pelicans don't move as quickly. There's also an excellent tropical bird house, herpetorium and a seasonal exhibit on arachnids with some really impressive spiders! We didn't spend a huge amount of time at the zoo, as we wanted to see Beale Street before the evening dinner crowd started to arrive (we figured the kids would never last through a meal and a set of the blues at that point).

We had been warned that the neighborhood right off Beale was very questionable, which proved to be the case -- there were some decidedly scary people in the parking lot and a number of others begging for food and money between the lot and the corner where B.B. King's blues club and company store stand. There was live blues in W.C. Handy Park and another trio playing on the street between two restaurants, several of which also had acts warming up inside. We didn't stay long as we were all very hot and tired, and had promised to let the kids swim for awhile if they agreed to be schlepped around, but we did stop to take photos at Sun Studio, where Elvis got started!

Graceland, Graceland, in Memphis Tennessee.

The front parlor and music room. Flash photography was not allowed indoors in any of the buildings.

It is difficult to come up with adjectives for some of the decor. The Jungle Room, for instance...which I somehow expected to be bigger, and did not expect Lisa Marie's teddy bear in such a prominent position.

One of Elvis' innumerable fabulous outfits. It is really difficult to pick a favorite.

Pilgrims at the graves of Elvis, his parents and grandmother.

The penguin photo for the day: as these African penguins eat, a pelican prepares to bite a cormorant in vain hope of getting fish.

Looking down Beale Street at the blues clubs.

And to come full circle back to Elvis, here on Union Avenue is Sun Studio where it all began.

Sounds like things are very scary on the east coast. We caught a bit of Larry King Live about the flooding around DC, MD and VA and older son freaked out a bit. Hope everyone is all right and keeping dry! We've had lots of heat but other than that one storm in Ohio, blue skies. We drove over the Mississippi flood plain in Arkansas earlier, but it was mostly dry.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Poem for Wednesday

By Paul Simon

The Mississippi Delta was shining
Like a National Guitar
I am following the river down the highway
Through the cradle of the Civil War

I'm going to Graceland, Graceland
In Memphis, Tennessee
I'm going to Graceland
Poorboys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

My traveling companion
Is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
But I've reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland

She comes back to tell me she's gone
As if I didn't know that
As if I didn't know my own bed
As if I'd never noticed
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead

And she said losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you're blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

I'm going to Graceland
Memphis Tennessee
I'm going to Graceland
Poorboys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

And my traveling companions
Are ghosts and empty sockets
I'm looking at ghosts and empties
But I've reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I'm falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Woah, so this is what she means
She means we're bouncing into Graceland

And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you're blown apart
Everybody feels the wind blow

In Graceland, in Graceland
I'm going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There's some part of me
Wants to see Graceland

And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there's no obligations now
Maybe I've a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland


Yeah, you get lyrics two days in a row but these happen to be by one of the great English-speaking poets of the twentieth century; I taught this poem once in a contemporary poetry class and believe me it explicates a lot better than some of the crap foisted upon us by the Beat Poets. "The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National Guitar" was one of my favorite lines ever even before I realized that National was an instrument manufacturer; just the idea of the map of the US having a national guitar, which of course would run through the birthplaces of jazz and the blues -- the slave states, the South, the cradle of the Civil War -- never fails to make me smile. And since I went walking today across a giant scale model of the Mississippi which WAS shining like a National Guitar when it reached the wide branch headed toward the Gulf of Mexico, and I am going to Graceland in the morning, it seems perfectly appropriate.

Early Tuesday morning we drove from Kentucky over the line into Tennessee, a state I had never visited before. I wasn't expecting it to be so lush with forests, somehow, nor so hilly -- we passed the Nashville skyline on the way to Memphis and it was beautiful. We stopped for lunch at a rest stop dedicated to Patsy Cline on the Country Music Highway and arrived in the city in the early afternoon. We took the monorail over to Mud Island; younger son had his doubts about this at first, citing his fear of heights, but he ended up enjoying it a lot once did not contradict older son's declaration that the monorail car probably had a parachute in case of emergency (the monorail is less than 30 years old and has never had an emergency) and we got an interesting partial-aerial view of the city and the river.

Mud Island has a Mississippi River Museum which is fantastic: not only does it have the expected artifacts and historical displays about how the Native Americans, Spanish, French and English used the river, plus a history of slave life and a long section on the Civil War with recreations of both a Union battleship and a Confederate battery complete with cannons, but it has a partial recreation of a steamboat complete with music parlor, dock ramps and steering cabin and an exhibit on the history of music from early field work songs and spirituals through the blues to Elvis. Outside is a scale model of the Mississippi River from its source in Minnesota through all the states and major cities it traverses, leading to a big pool with ducks representing the Gulf of Mexico. The model fills with rainwater like the actual river, so it reflects at least the local flood points; water rises when it's very wet and subsides when it's drier. There were people walking barefoot in the water (older son managed to step in wearing sneakers) and many red-winged blackbirds ducking in for a quick bath.

Late in the afternoon we took a riverboat ride between the bridges that mark the boundaries of Memphis (and technically were in Arkansas waters at one point, so I have now been in that state too!) The tour guide was very knowledgeable about local history, particularly Native American and African-American history, and since I know next to nothing about Memphis proper -- I certainly did not know about the nightmare of the sinking of the riverboat Sultana, which killed 1500 people, nor the 1878 yellow fever epidemic and the African-Americans who figured out that the mosquito infestation in the sewage system and not the wrath of God was killing people. We are probably not going to have time to visit Elmwood Cemetery or the Chucalissa Archaeological Site, so it was nice to get this overview.

Memphis from the river. Note the Pyramid Arena to the left.

The monorail over the river from Memphis to Mud Island.

Inside the Mississippi River Museum, a Civil War Union steam battleship...

...and, through a riverboat wheel on display, a view of a working riverboat on the Mississippi.

By a very small section of the scale model of the Mississippi River -- somewhere south of Memphis on this map.

Boarding the Island Queen for a cruise.

The flags of Spain, France, North Carolina, the United States, the Confederate States...the various places that controlled Memphis at one time.

Swallows were diving around the outside of the ship the entire time we were cruising -- we weren't sure where they were landing!

We had dinner at the home of The Artist Formerly Known As Captain Kate -- some of you know whom I mean, she did the covers for several issues of Now Voyager back in the day and bears a passing resemblance to a certain Star Trek captain. I had never met her in the flesh despite having known her for nearly nine years! She lives in a house on a lake with her husband who was regrettably out of town, two dogs and her nine-month-old son who was probably scarred for life by exposure to my children, but it was so great to get to meet her after all this time! We arrived very late at our hotel and promptly had a flood in our room because the people upstairs didn't use their shower curtain properly -- the hotel is completely full, no chance of moving -- but the kids got to swim, which is all they cared about!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Lyrics for Tuesday

Run for the Roses
By Dan Fogelberg

Born in the valley and raised in the trees
Of western Kentucky on wobbly knees
With Momma beside you to help you along
You'll soon be a-growin' up strong

All the long, lazy mornings in pastures of green
The sun on your withers, the wind in your mane
Could never prepare you for what lies ahead
The run for the roses so red

For it's run for the roses as fast as you can
Your fate is delivered, your moment's at hand
It's the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance
And it's high time you joined in the dance

From sire to sire it's born in the blood
The fire of a mare and the strength of a stud
It's breeding and it's training and it's something unknown
That drives you and carries you home

And it's run for the roses as fast as you can
Your fate is delivered, your moment's at hand
It's the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance
And it's high time you joined in the dance
It's high time you joined in the dance


That song has been stuck in my head all freakin' day since visiting Churchill Downs early in the morning and since I'm in Kentucky and my Dan Fogelberg CDs are at home with who hopefully has not been swept away in all the flash flooding in my county, I can't listen to it. And since I am in a hotel with a crappy phone connection to AOL -- when I get home I must look into dial-up alternatives where you can pay as you go instead of monthly -- I didn't even want to waste the online time to look up the lyrics, so I wrote them out from memory; there may be errors. (There was a time when I could write out the lyrics to every song on The Innocent Age, one of the best albums ever...maybe the best double album since The White Album.)

We made four major stops on Monday: Churchill Downs, the Louisville Zoo, Lincoln's birthplace in Hodgenville and Mammoth Cave National Park. One was more awesome than the next. We got to the racetrack just too late to watch the horses being put through their paces -- they don't race Mondays and Tuesdays -- but we took the tour of the track and museum and met the resident thoroughbred, Phantom on Tour. I have a strange and ambivalent relationship with horse racing: on the one hand, I agree with everyone who believes that animals should not be exploited in that manner, and on the other hand I find it competely thrilling and absolutely loved the 360-degree movie and all the exhibits on the champions. From Churchill Downs we went to the zoo, where we had a picnic surrounded by adult and baby geese trying to mooch food from us, then went to see what we considered to be the critical exhibits given our limited time: the African animals and gorilla exhibit, the herpetology house including the albino alligator *thinks affectionately of Viggo Mortensen* and of course the penguins, which in this case were Rockhoppers...and not entirely behind glass, so the exhibit was lovely and cool and it was possible to take photos without either blur or flashbulb glare!

The Lincoln birthplace was pretty much on the way between Louisville (dominated by its university sports teams, the Cardinals, whose logos were everywhere) and Mammoth Cave, so we stopped long enough to see the log cabin replica preserved inside a monument that resembles the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC and to walk through the visitor's center exhibits, though we didn't stay for the movie. We had reservations for a 4:30 tour at Mammoth Cave and despite crossing the timeline knew our timing would be tight. We did a walking tour of the part of the cave system with Frozen Niagara and the Drapery Room, and we also walked down to the original cave entrance -- Mammoth Cave National Park was originally two privately run, competitive entertainment complexes which the federal government did not control until the Depression, when the entrepreneur determined to find his own piece of the fortune who kept blasting into sinkholes until he found one he could purchase sold out his share. The parts of the cave I saw reminded me of Shenandoah and Luray Caverns -- it is hard to fathom that there are likely 800 miles of underground paths!

Near the "ceiling" of the Drapery Room formation in Mammoth Cave.

A section near the Frozen Niagara Falls formation.

Older son said this should be named the Prairie Dog formation; younger son said it should be named the Dalek formation.

On the outskirts of the national park, a deer, a robin and one of the old trains.

The memorial on the spot and containing a replica of the log cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born, with the reflection of the giant American flag in the glass front doors. There are 56 steps to mark each of the 56 years of his life.

The Louisville Zoo's famous albino alligator.

Your daily dose of penguins! The dirt is on the wall behind these Rockhoppers, as there is no glass in front of them.

Phantom on Tour, who finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby as a three-year-old.

And to complete my day in reverse, the Winner's Circle at Churchill Downs racetrack.

We didn't get to the grungy Quality Inn until nearly 8 local time, had a very late dinner after letting the boys take a quick swim (and believe me, if I notice the grunge, it's pretty grungy). There is no cable or wireless anywhere around, just a phone line plugged into the laptop at 2400 bps or something, so rather than run up minutes on AOL's 800 number to avoid local long distance charges I am just going to post this quickly and get offline -- will try to answer comments, tags, etc. tomorrow! Sorry, again!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Poem for Monday

No Worst, There Is None
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing--
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked "No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief".
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.


Another from Poet's Choice by Robert Pinsky in The Washington Post Book World, a poem that the critic says "illustrate[s] how poetry has resources that resemble -- and create -- the expressive tones of voice that people use every day."

We spent nearly all of Sunday at the Cincinnati Zoo, which has a wide variety of penguins -- Rockhopper, King and Magellanic inside the bird exhibit Little Blue outside and African in the bird show, so it was our largest single-day total of penguins. At 10 a.m. they had a feeding and Q&A with a zookeeper, so we had to get up earlier than I would have liked, but we had the place practically to ourselves and unlike other zoos and aquariums we've been at, these penguins are fed live fish for which they must dive in the water, so it was entertaining getting to watch them hunt! Cincinnati's zoo is enormous, and there are botanic gardens as well, so we were there for a long time -- we went before lunch to a bird show that was part comedy routine as the parrots showed off that they had been trained to steal water bottles, talk, pull on ropes, etc., and part display of how the hawks and eagles (all injured and unable to survive in the wild) have been trained to fly within the arena without trying to escape. There was an African penguin trained to run across the stage and dive into the water, and an alligator trained to chase one of the keepers that had a rubber baby alligator with which he teased one of the birds, so we all enjyed this a lot.

This zoo also has manatees, koalas, kangaroos and some of the more exotic animals that we don't have at the National Zoo, plus a lorikeet landing, a petting zoo with little goats and sheep, several excellent Great Ape enclosures, a reptile house, a superb houseful of Great Cats including many varieties of the smaller ones we don't have in DC, an Amazon exhibit, a nocturnal exhibit, several varieties of bats and an awesome insect display. It was very nice early in the day since we got there at about 9:15 in the morning, though by the time we left at 3:30 it was both hot and more crowded. We drove to Louisville and cooked spaghetti in our hotel room.

In the evening we had intended to go to a free outdoor performance of As You Like It in a Louisville park, but younger son -- who had already had a long day, six hours walking around a zoo -- broke his penguin squishy and was beside himself after dinner so we ended up deciding just to go swimming at the hotel's pool. This Quality Inn is by far the grungiest hotel we've stayed in (has one of those showers that wavers between "DAMN that's cold!" and "SHIT that's hot!") but ironically it has the best pool, heated and large and empty save ourselves for nearly the entire time we were there. We read nearly to the end of Over Sea, Under Stone and did some necessary laundry.

Little Blue penguins taking a rest in the shade at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Inside the bird house, a pair of Rockhopper penguins...

...and one in a crowd of King penguins (all of whom had names like BB King, Burger King, et al).

Big beautiful fruit bats.

Fluffy gray baby flamingos behind the pink parents.

Monkeys showing off their Tarzan skills.

Meanwhile an orangutan has found a way to beat the heat.

Siegfried and Roy, the zoo's gay lions. Er, or maybe it was that Siegfried and Roy gave the lions to the zoo and the licking one another was incidental.

I actually had so many penguin pictures that I posted more to than I did here! Monday we're going to Churchill Downs and the Louisville Zoo, then Mammoth Cave National Park, so another nature and animal-ful day! I owe about 100 comments; it's hopeless!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Poem for Sunday

Night Dances
By Sally Ball

I thought I lived outside such music,
watching my beloved, yes, sure, gripped
or loosened, loosening and tightening his grip--

but there are darks into which
I find myself unloosed, pitched.
The chords thrumming in my chest a sick

careen from settled to unloosed.
It seems serene enough at first.
Fine to be wakeful and attentive, lost

at heart inside some song, aroused,
sentient in each swelling little vesicle--
then that knowledge goes all sour, soured

by anxiety and lust, anxiety not tamed by lust,
the self its own thick frame and limit,
and the soul at play against those walls, a ghost.


From Poet's Choice by Robert Pinsky in The Washington Post Book World, this week on how poetry gives voice to feelings. "When we grunt in surprise, or yell with the crowd watching a game, or curse at a bad driver, or coo at a baby...that vocal, expressive action goes beyond merely defining the feeling: The meaning depends not just upon the words but also upon how they sound, literally and figuratively." In Ball's first book of poems, Annus Mirabilis, writes Pinsky, "the haunted agitation and desire are made clear and forceful largely by the sounds, with end-rhyme only part of the pattern...'lost' and 'loosed' and 'lust' at the ends of those lines are significant, but so is the energy of like sounds in 'sentient in each swelling little vesicle.'"

Saturday was our Cincinnati day -- after a huge breakfast at the hotel buffet, we went first the art museum, which is in beautiful Eden Park on a hillside above the city. Since we had kids with us impatient to go see penguins, we only saw about half of the museum -- most of the major European galleries, the Baroque, Renaissance, Dutch Masters, 19th Century British and Impressionist galleries, plus the American portrait and landscape artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Cincinnati artists' display, the Egyptian, Greek and Roman collection and a wonderful exhibit of decorative musical instruments. There's a great display of local African-American art and a huge Dale Chihuly chandelier as well.

Then we went to the Newport Aquarium across the river in Kentucky, very near the place where I first visited the state -- the last (and only other) time I was in Cincinnati, for a Redskins-Bengals game in 1992, when we walked over the bridge to cross the Mason-Dixon line and ended up near the riverboats in Covington. The aquarium is wonderful -- after an initial installation with fish and animals from local rivers, followed by exhibits on rivers around the world, there are two big tunnels that go over and under fish from rainforest rivers and the deep sea, so that unlike Baltimore and Boston where the fish are generally below or beside viewers, these were all around -- at one point there was a goliath grouper under our feet, rays on either side of us and a shark overhead. There was also a lorikeet landing like the one we visited at the Maryland Zoo last weekend -- this one is permanent and also has a kookaburra -- a big otter tank with parents and ten children, two big touch tanks (one with crustaceans, one with little sharks) and an overhead view of the massive tank through which the tunnels run.

But our main reason for visiting, as usual, was penguins, and there were many -- a colony of Gentoo and King penguins, including two big fluffy brown babies plus an older one that looks like the parents now but they still can't tell the sex so it doesn't have a name. We went to both the otter feeding (an affair that involves a lot of rolling over one's siblings, wrestling, throwing fish into the water and other antics as well as conditioning performance for the feeder/trainer) and the penguin feeding (which involved throwing lots of little fish into the water for the Gentoos to dive after so that the King penguins could waddle over and get their own fish, which they apparently demand to be hand-fed so they can go regurgitate for the babies). It was adorable and a lot of fun, and I suppose I should consider it perverse that we then went out for excellent seafood at Mitchell's Fish Market with , who then had to go back home. We stopped at Target and Best Buy for trip necessities like Mini DV tapes for the camcorder, extra underwear and socks for boys and Eight Below on DVD, then came back to the hotel to swim. Cinderella Man was on HBO, and Russell Crowe always makes for a lovely evening diversion.

A Gentoo penguin waddles in front of two King penguin babies and two adults at the Newport Aquarium in Kentucky. Apologies for the spattered glass here and in the otter pictures, and for the flashbulbs in various shots.

A shark swims overhead from the perspective of one of the tunnels in the big tank.

And another: it's coming right at us!

A ray seen through a hole in a passage under another part of the big tank.

Otter feeding time...

...while one eats a fish after performing, another must sit and stand on its haunches first.

And this is penguin feeding time: while the Gentoo swim for their fish, the adult Kings waddle over for theirs.

At the Cincinnati Art Museum, Chihuly glass slithers from this chandelier.

Watching the news, trying to keep up with what's going on in the world (World Cup hopeless here, Ohio still having floods). Sad to hear about Aaron Spelling (I am sure it is clear to people that I watched The Love Boat and Fantasy Island faithfully and am conversant in Starsky and Hutch, even if I was not a Beverly Hills 90210 or Melrose Place fan). Sunday we are going to Louisville to Churchill Downs; we have not seen any actual blue Kentucky grass so we are hoping there will be some on the way!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Poem for Saturday

Ars Poetica
By Blaga Dimitrova
Translated by Ludmilla G. Popova-Wightman

Write each of your poems
as if it were your last.
In this century, saturated with strontium,
charged with terrorism,
flying with supersonic speed,
death comes with terrifying suddenness.
Send each of your words
like a last letter before execution,
a call carved on a prison wall.
You have no right to lie,
no right to play pretty little games.
You simply won't have time
to correct your mistakes.
Write each of your poems,
tersely, mercilessly,
with blood -- as if it were your last.


I posted this one before, in 2003, but it's worth a second look and I love the science crossed with politics crossed with poetry.

We spent most of Friday in Columbus, beginning with COSI, the wonderful science museum by the river. Our original plan had been to stop in Canton at the Football Hall of Fame on Thursday and then see the Columbus Zoo Friday, but the kids had little interest in football and then we discovered that the Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit would be at COSI so the plan seemed obvious. The biggest revelation was that we actually enjoyed the rest of the museum as much as the wonderful Star Wars exhibit, which had a smattering of costumes and props but unlike the Lord of the Rings exhibit also had a lot of accessible, hands-on science, from building magnetic Lego speeders to see what sort of balance was necessary for them to run suspended above the ground like Luke's speeder to programming little R2-D2 models to follow simple commands. The kids were far more interested in that than in Princess Leia's costume, though I was surprised at how small Han Solo's seemed and conversely how much taller Ewan McGregor must be than I thought. It was a lot of fun getting to see my childhood nightmare the interrogation droid in person, complete with injection needle.

But the museum also has many wonderful permanent exhibits -- a recreation of a city street from the 1860s and 1960s to show the changes in technology and commerce, an "ocean" area with water pistols, building with wet sand and pipes, singing bowls, a "shipwreck" and the like, plus a little submarine that kids could board, a life science exhibit with a soundproofed room, optical tricks, etc., a gadget area where kids could build with gears, study how electricity operates and all that, "Rat Basketball" where two rats conditioned to throw a little ball through a hoop compete for Cheerios, and the kids' favorite -- one of those rooms with a big spinning wheel that you walk through on a platform and feel like you're falling over. And there was a pendulum, an electricity demonstration where a man made Rice Krispies fly out of a girl's hand into the audience, a unicycle on a wire overhead in the lobby...I am sure I am forgetting a lot, but I highly recommend this museum for anyone with kids within driving distance of Ohio (they also have an IMAX theater and exchange with other science museums, so we would have gotten in free had it not been for the Star Wars exhibit)!

Then we walked over the bridge across the river to the replica of the Santa Maria built by the city of Columbus in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the original Santa Maria's voyage from Spain. This is a replica of the oldest ship we've been on -- the decks curve much more steeply than the ones on the Mayflower or later ships and the masts are a very different configuration. The Santa Maria has an enormous, thick mainmast, which required the ship to be sailed across the river from where it was constructed because the mast couldn't be taken down to go beneath the bridges, and a sterncastle as well as a forecastle. The tour went down into the hold, though it is filled with modern brick ballast and there's a flat floor and room to walk. Even though it's entirely a replica -- supposedly the most accurate one in existence, though the original sank on Columbus' first voyage so it isn't like anyone could compare -- it was a neat ship to visit!

We drove in the evening to Cincinnati -- well, actually Hebron, Kentucky, across the river, since we could get a huge two-room suite here for the same price as a little room in the city. We met who had driven in from Bloomington and had dinner at an Appleby's which had a surprisingly excellent and inexpensive pecan chicken salad. The plan for Saturday morning is to go to the art museum, then the Newport Aquarium in the afternoon in time for the 3 p.m. penguin show!

The replica Santa Maria in downtown Columbus, Ohio.

She was built in honor of the 500th anniversary of the voyage to America.

One of the Muppet Yodas and the Jedi training remote next to Mace Windu's costume in the Star Wars exhibit at Columbus' science museum, COSI.

Han Solo's costume and a good blaster at his side.

Darth Vader's costume as worn by David Prowse, for . *g*

Kids aiming water jets at the giant fake urns beneath Poseidon in the ocean exhibit.

While Thelma eats her Cheerios, Louise scores the winning basket in Rat Basketball.