Monday, November 30, 2009

Poem for Monday

By Randall Mann

Those who lack a talent for love have come
to walk the long Pier 7. Here at the end
of the imagined world are three low-flying gulls

like lies on the surface; the slow red
of a pilot’s boat; the groan
of a fisherman hacking a small shark—

and our speech like the icy water, a poor
translation that will not carry us across.
What brought us west, anyway? A hunger.

But ours is no Donner Party, we who feed
only on scenery, the safest form
of obfuscation: see how the bay is a gray

deepening into gray, the color of heartbreak.


November is ending the same way most of the month's weekends have gone -- unseasonably warm, absurdly beautiful. We went downtown to the Smithsonian to see exhibits at the Freer and Sackler Galleries and had to avoid stepping on grasshoppers in the parking lot behind the American History museum. The Freer Gallery had a tour of the Peacock Room that also visits several other exhibits, including some of the Japanese scrolls collected by Freer that influenced his aesthetics and several paintings by Whistler that characterize his style and in some cases reflect his interest in Asian art. We walked through the lower-level gift shops and into the Sackler Gallery, which has a current exhibition, Falnama: The Book of Omens, about the art of divination in the Islamic world and how the illustrated Falnama, or Book of Omens, of the 16th century were used to tell fortunes and reflect the culture in the Persian and Ottoman Empires. This exhibit is particularly interesting because many of the stories used as augurs are familiar in Western culture as well (the exile of Adam and Eve, the piety of Abraham, the wisdom of Solomon, the virtue of Mary) but the focus in terms of what's important about the stories is somewhat different particularly in most branches of Christianity.

Whistler's The Princess from the Land of Porcelain -- modeled by the daughter of a Greek ambassador to London -- was always intended by patron Frederick Leyland to be the focal point of the Peacock Room.

Leyland wanted the room to be his family's private dining room and a place to show off his porcelain collection. (None of the porcelain pieces are Leyland's originals; these are meant to be representative, since the porcelain didn't come with the room when Freer bought it.)

Whistler, who first visited Leyland's home to make small improvements to the painting and its display, did not like Leyland's taste and made many changes while Leyland was away...

...including the painting of the peacocks, the gilding of the walnut shelves...

...and the lacquered peacock feather pattern on the ceiling, which Whistler thought would distract from what he considered to be the ugly lamps. Leyland, who hadn't authorized these changes, refused to pay for all of them and then insisted on paying Whistler in pounds rather than guineas.

The woman on the right in Arrangement in White and Black is Maud Franklin, who was Whistler's mistress when he painted her. The man on the left in Arrangement in Black is Leyland, whom Whistler flattered in this painting, including the ruffled shirt front that Leyland favored.

When Whistler became angry with Leyland, he finished the room, but characterized Leyland as a defensive peacock with a white ruffled belly, giving the peacock representing himself a longer, more regal train of feathers.

Freer, who adored Whistler's work and was encouraged to study Asian art by Whistler, bought many of his paintings with Asian themes, including this one (Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony) which shows women in exotic outfits lounging on a balcony in view of industrial London.

We stopped at the Smithsonian Castle briefly, where we had a snack and looked at the representative collection there from all the museums, plus Smithson's crypt. When we left the museum, the Redskins and Eagles were tied, but the Redskins had managed to lose before we crossed the Maryland-DC line. We came home for dinner -- Paul made jambalaya -- and watched the fourth episode of this season's Merlin, "Lancelot And Guinevere," which is definitely my favorite so far this season though people keep telling me the newest one is excellent -- for all the anachronisms and absurdities of this series, its version of Guinevere is so much more interesting than just about any other in pop culture, including Marion Zimmer Bradley's -- I love just about all her women but not Gwenhwyfar is really hard to like -- that I can forgive almost anything. And Merlin and Arthur are delightful. Twice during this episode when Arthur tossed Merlin into a situation that should have been over his head as a non-knight, declaring, "You think of something," I was positive that Arthur knew Merlin could do magic and was counting on it -- of course then Arthur got to tell Merlin he was an idiot, but I'm starting to think that by the time Merlin gets around to revealing his secret, Arthur will merely say, "I know." Now the Ravens and Steelers are in overtime and I'm exhausted!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Poem for Sunday

By Randall Mann

While you wait for the J train, for work, think
of your new boyfriend, who loves apostrophes,
sizzle-pants, and you.
Who pointed out the "Andrew Lloyd Webber" house

and said his feelings have started to "Escalade."
You'll forgive him for now, smarty pants.
(Your last, the crisp progressive, declawed
his cat to save his Ethan Allen chairs.) Besides,

there's such promise, such furniture and new sex!
Look: wildflowers bloom in the streetcar tracks;
a syringe lies in the grass. It isn't
beautiful, of course, this life. It is.


"'Monday' began on a Friday, in April 2007, when I flew to Palm Springs for what I hoped would be a romantic weekend with someone I thought I knew," writes Mann in Poet's Choice. "Well, it was a disaster from the start: He was a lovely specimen, but when leaving the Palm Springs airport, on a little spin around town, he grandly pointed out the 'Andrew Lloyd Webber' house on one block. (He meant Frank Lloyd Wright.) And it went downhill from there...very early Monday, when I returned to San Francisco, I grew more and more dispirited, mostly with myself, with my pettiness and impatience. That morning...prompted me to think, then think again, about this young man's beauty, which was his magnanimity, and my lack thereof. So the poem 'Monday,' like that long weekend, moves from hope to disdain to cruel self-knowledge and then, ultimately, back to hope."

We spent most of Saturday at the Maryland Science Center, which has the phenomenal Da Vinci - The Genius exhibit, an enormous traveling collection of reproductions of machines, artwork, writings, and devices either designed and produced by Da Vinci or proposed in his notebooks. My personal favorite part was a roomful of exhibits concerning the Mona Lisa, which was photographed extensively by a French photographer who designed a camera specifically to take high-resolution images without needing light that would damage the canvas -- he was able to prove, for instance, that the sky was originally painted with lapis lazuli, meaning that when Da Vinci painted it, it would have been a deep, glorious blue. There were reproductions of the painting showing how it looks under infrared and how the colors would have looked during the Renaissance, which makes the painting seem much more contemporary. There's also a reproduction of the back of the painting, which has some inexplicable marks on it, and an entire wall of close-ups of the Mona Lisa's eyes to show how the photographer proved she had eyebrows and eyelashes when she was first painted. But the entire exhibit, which has hands-on machines that kids can try, movies on the Sforza Horse and Vitruvian Man, and a long feature at the end with Mark Rylance playing Da Vinci.

Since we were in the museum, we also went to the planetarium show on dark matter, which talked about new theories about the Big Bang and the Large Hadron Collider's work in figuring out whether we can create particles whose existence we can't yet prove. Then we went up on the roof to the observatory, where the telescope was aimed at the sun, which had visible prominences but no sunspots that we could see. The Science on a Sphere projector was showing a film about the sun too. We visited the Chesapeake Bay exhibit, the dinosaurs, the weather station, and the hands-on science lab on the first floor before leaving for Silver Spring, since Daniel was going to his robotics team's alumni dinner at the Macaroni Grill there. Originally we had planned to drop him off, but we ended up parking in the lot connected to City Place Mall since we arrived early, and we decided we should go to Lebanese Taverna and shop while waiting for him (Burlington Coat Factory is still having a big sale and wasn't very crowded, and the mall has a terrific holiday display with model trains, Santa, and exhibits on Chanukah and Kwanzaa).

Photos were not allowed in the Da Vinci exhibit (indeed, cell phones were not permitted in the exhibit) so this is the only photo I could take -- one of Da Vinci's flying machines based on bat wings and an aerial screw, a concept similar to a helicopter but proposed to be launched by men walking around to turn the shaft.

Adam studies iron filaments reacting to a magnet inserted in a chamber in this cube.

And here Adam examines the sun through the telescope in the observatory.

Both my kids with the dry ice "tornado" in the weather center.

Me beside a reproduction dinosaur leg.

The pose of this dinosaur reminded us of a lazy cat... did this Savannah Monitor, who lives in the dinosaur exhibit as an example of a contemporary reptile with some saurian features.

We got to pet this ball python, who was being introduced by one of the museum staff members.

We missed today's football games entirely but I understand that Maryland lost and Georgia beat Georgia Tech, so no big loss...and Notre Dame lost again! If anything else happened in the world or online, I missed hearing about it. Will try to catch up tomorrow.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Poem for Saturday

By Jason Shinder

Good bye again. Say there is a little song in my head

And because of it I can't sleep or change my mind
About the future. Now the song runs all the way down

To the beach where I sit as if the sky

Were my room now. No one, not even you,
can hear me singing.

As if the music rose from the mouth of the ocean.

Like rain before it reaches us.
Like wind twirling dresses on the clothesline.

Who has no one has
the history of the ocean.

Lord, give me two more days. So that
The last moments may be with someone.


We spent Black Friday as far away from the mall and box stores as possible -- we went hiking along Rock Creek Park and Lake Frank at Meadowside Nature Center. It was pretty chilly when we left home, since it was overcast and windy all day with occasional fits of rain, but the sun came out just as we reached the lake, so we had some gorgeous views of the winter trees and ducks. The park has some building ruins in the woods and some reconstructed cabins near the outdoor education buildings, and we walked the long loop since it was so nice out. We also stopped at the Oriental Market because younger son wanted to get red bean paste for sandwiches -- most of his friends at school are Asian and they all share food, and he prefers their lunches to his own.

White-tail deer near one of the hiking trails at Meadowside Nature Center.

A fallen tree spanning Rock Creek.

Daniel and Adam at the Valieant Bridge, built and named by students in memory of a teacher and environmentalist from a nearby high school.

This may be shaped like a big pine cone but it's actually some kind of colorful fungus.

Adam tried out the whetstone in front of the Brown Cabin...

...built in 1868 by the man for whom Brownstown was named, dismantled and moved here by students at a local middle school.

An injured red-shouldered hawk, a permanent resident of the large flight cages behind the nature center.

The sky all day featured dramatic, extreme contrasts of bright and dark. This is how it looked over Lake Frank as we headed back toward the park buildings.

Fannish5: Name five characters who would throw the best holiday gatherings.
1. Julie McCoy
, cruise director on The Love Boat
2. Will Riker, first officer of Star Trek: The Next Generation
3. Shirley Schmidt, senior partner in Boston Legal
4. Oliver Queen, poor little rich boy of Smallville
5. Jack Harkness, man of no limits in Torchwood

Speaking of holiday gatherings, we had dinner with my parents and my sister's three daughters -- my sister and her husband always go stay in a hotel the day after Thanksgiving, having had enough of family togetherness -- most people had leftover turkey, stuffing, etc., I had half a bagel with tuna fish and sweet potatoes without the melted marshmallows this time. Having watched the end of Auburn's sad late-game loss to Alabama, we opted to skip more football and watched Princess Mononoke instead -- environmental-themed stories with strong women being much more my thing anyway, and my kids never saying no to a movie where wolves, elk, and boars are major characters!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Poem for Friday

By Sarah Arvio

The last thing I ever wanted was to
write again about grief did you think I
would your grief this time not mine oh good

grief enough is enough in my life that is
enough was enough I had all those
grievances all those griefs all engraved

into the wood of my soul but would you
believe it the wood healed I grew up and
grew out and would you believe it I found

your old woody heart sprouting I thought
good new growth good new luxuriant green
leaves leaves on their woody stalks and I said

I'll stake my life on this old stick I'll stick
and we talked into the morning and night
and laughed green leaves and sometimes a flower

oh bower of good new love I would have it
I would bow to the new and the green
and wouldn't you know it you were a stick

yes I know a good stick so often and then
a stick in my ribs in my heart your old
dark wood your old dark gnarled stalk

sprouting havoc and now I have grief again
and now I've stood for what I never should
green leaves of morning dark leaves of night


Another from this week's New Yorker.

Like many U.S. residents, I spent most of the day celebrating Thanksgiving -- Paul's parents arrived at our house early in the afternoon, we spent a few hours with them, then went over to my parents' house where my sister and her family had arrived the day before yesterday. It was a pretty traditional meal -- turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce. I ate only minimal stuffing and potatoes to avoid excess salt -- one thing for which I am profoundly grateful is not having had a migraine for the past six weeks, a situation I did not wish to ruin by overindulging -- not a big sacrifice for me anyway, since roast turkey isn't my favorite, and I made up for it with lots of sweet potatoes, which are my favorite Thanksgiving dish (my mom makes the kind with melted marshmallows on top). Here are some photos of the festivities:

My kids and my sister's kids at the table just before the meal.

Me, my mother and my sister in the kitchen while the turkey was still cooking.

Paul, Daniel and Paul's father just after arriving. Their respective heights are distorted by the angle of the photo -- in fact son is about an inch taller than his father at this point, and his father is two inches taller than he is.

Adam and his cousins in the kitchen.

Ta daaaa!

After dinner my mother had a treasure hunt for the kids...

...which involved making them run all over the house. Since it was raining most of the day and they got very little exercise, this was a fine idea.

There was also a piƱata filled with candy and tchotchkes in the basement.

Paul's annual cookie cake.

Here's the family around the table before the cookie cake and apple pie arrived.

We missed the beginning of the Paul McCartney concert, which was very abbreviated anyway due to all the commercials and interview clips -- I am planning to buy the DVD, since it's the same set he did in D.C. minus "Michelle" and with the addition of Billy Joel singing on "I Saw Her Standing There." His voice didn't sound as good at Citi Field as it did at FedEx Field -- maybe he gets better the more he plays. He sure didn't sound like he planned to retire any time soon, which makes me happy! On Friday the funeral for the owner of the Washington Wizards will take place at my synagogue. I met Abe Pollin once when I was a kid, when the Washington Bullets won the championship -- he walked around letting people see his championship ring. He was one of the good-guy team owners, and he will be missed in Washington.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Poem for Thursday

By Ralph Waldo Emerson

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.


My kids had a half-day of school, so I didn't get a lot accomplished on Wednesday -- by the time I finished reading the paper, buying the SPP Scottish sheep farm for myself and Adam, figuring out where I saved last year's holiday address label file, talking to the vet (who said that if Rosie's appetite had returned, she was probably fine through Thanksgiving...and her appetite has returned with a vengeance), and talking to my doctor (who said my liver on the ultrasound was normal, huzzah!), Adam was already home. Both kids were in and out during the afternoon playing with friends. I still don't have printed address labels, but I haven't bought stamps either, so I need to do both next week! I had no time to fiddle with photos either, so here are some older pics from Seneca Creek State Park a couple of weeks ago...

Musically, this week's were my favorite episodes of both Glee and Eastwick, though I remain utterly unmoved by the characters on the former -- there are the ones I don't like very much, and the ones I totally can't stand, with the ones I like best (Mercedes, Artie) getting very little air time, and the ones who most make me want to smash something (Terri) doing the same stupid things over and over. Spoilers: Then there's Puck, who one minute seems far more mature than Quinn even deserves and the next acts like an incomprehensible moron...I have read certain viewers squeeing about how we're supposed to like these characters because they're so flawed and real, but this is joke-real, with everyone behaving either badly or ridiculously so when the next episode comes along and makes him or her look like a jerk, we feel like everyone has it coming.

So the fact that Kurt is sad because he can't get the most popular boy in the school is supposed to excuse him acting like an asshole to Rachel, and jerking Quinn around is supposed to be okay because she's jerking Finn and Puck around, and Will is getting what he deserves because he's an oblivious moron? There's a mean-spiritedness toward everyone that isn't amusing to me at all. Yes, the "Imagine" number was inspiring and beautifully done, and "Papa Don't Preach" was absolutely made for Quinn, but Good Sue vs. Evil Sue is getting very tiresome, and I find myself relieved any time Emma and Ken are not around. If my kids didn't like the show (they say "fail" every five minutes -- I think the students on Glee are actually nastier to each other than the popular kids at their schools), I am not sure I'd still be watching.

As for Eastwick, I still can't warm up to Joanna, but Roxie more than makes up for that, and I'm so glad Penny is playing a bigger role though I'm also sad because how far can it go with so few episodes left? My big accidental revelation, though, is that the guy playing Jamie, Jack Huston, is Anjelica's nephew, John's grandson! How did I not know that! Spoilers: I'm sorry that I found this out the same day that his character crossed one of my personal lines -- trying to kill Darryl for what Darryl did to his mother is excusable, but testing magical poison on an animal, then killing an innocent woman (which he had to know was a risk in Darryl's bed, why not put it in his shoes or on his clothing?) -- no way, Jamie must go. Even if Darryl is the devil, I can forgive him for a lot just because he keeps striking out with Roxie -- when she said in the preview that she thought she was going to have sex with Darryl, I thought that was in a letting-go-of-dead-lovers, living-wild sense, and I like that instead it's her reiterating a prophecy about which she's decidedly ambivalent.

As much as I love watching Paul Gross make out, I hope none of the women succumb to his charms in the short weeks left to this series. Though better him than the insipid, I hope Joanna comes to her senses and dates her hot replacement, since she seems incapable of defining herself outside a relationship, a crush, or some other situation vis a vis a man, even though she has more female friends than anyone else. I heartily approve of the music at Darryl's party ("Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," "Call Me") and of the necklace he gives Roxie, though I also really appreciated her speech about how honesty and integrity are so much more important to her than fame and acclaim. I don't think these three would have to kill Darryl because they're all so much stronger than the women in any previous Witches of Eastwick incarnation.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Poem for Wednesday

The Big Sleep
By Philip Schultz

    The only thing that consoles us for our miseries is
    diversion, and yet it is the greatest of our miseries.

On Turner Classic Movies Philip Marlowe
is grimacing at the slinky beauty
of the woman who will become
the wife of the actor playing him.
The man playing me, up at three this morning,
worrying about the cost of private school,
health insurance, and the slow grinding
away of his savings, is wearing
bleaching molds because a stain chart
listed his smile as second to worst.
On CNN quaint dioramas of Baghdad,
the Sudan, and Gaza depict recent forms
of human misery. Is there a chart
that measures our ignorance and vanity?
On PBS philosophers are debating what
Nietzsche meant by our desire to create
beyond ourselves the purest will.
The sexual fire in the amber eyes
of the woman Lauren Bacall is playing,
perhaps? On the Western Channel
the whiteness of Joel McCrae's teeth
has survived dust storms, chewing tobacco,
and his character's nostalgia for
the brutality of his tiny moment. Some believe
we've consumed our originality,
that our diorama will depict nothing.
On the Disney Channel all fifty-six signers
of the Declaration of Independence
are shouting about the indignity of domination
for everyone except perhaps those
tending their fields and children.
Did the man playing Nietzsche grow weary
of trying to grow happiness out of pure will?
Hat over heart, the man playing my father
stood perpendicular to his exhausted,
uneducated, immigrant shadow, weeping
to our national anthem. A man stood for something,
he said. Did the actor playing Marlowe
understand that Marlowe stood for nothing?
On the History Channel men and beasts
are being slaughtered by machetes, explosions,
and hangings, their swollen, mystified bodies
falling into ravines, dropping to their knees
screaming for their mothers and God to save them.
It's three in the morning and everywhere
around me the silence stands for nothing
and even the god playing God wants to sleep.


From this week's New Yorker. Sometimes several weeks go by where I think all the poems they publish are very mediocre and I don't know why I bother with them, but then the come out with one that really rings my bells like this one.

I had lots of plans for Monday, but Rosie was sick from 3 a.m. on, so I got very little sleep and then decided around 10 a.m. that it was time to call the vet, since she not only hadn't eaten her food but was showing no interest in trying to steal Cinnamon and Daisy's food (usually she heads in the kitchen to look for more food mere seconds after throwing up). So I took her to the vet, who wanted me to leave her for a couple of hours so they could get some fluids into her and do a more thorough exam than merely concluding that she yowled when someone pressed on her belly -- something I could have told them anyway. They said she would probably be ready to go home by 6 unless they found some reason she needed to stay, so I ran out to Office Depot to get address labels for holiday cards, then came home and spent the rest of the afternoon working on our family 2010 calendar now that Shutterfly is finally having a buy one, get the rest for half price with free shipping sale.

The vet said she thinks Rosie has pancreatitis, though apparently it's hard to diagnose without a sonogram, which is both expensive and time-consuming (they couldn't work it in today, though they'll do one tomorrow if she isn't keeping food down by then). Her CBC was normal except for an elevated liver enzyme which the vet suspected was from the pancreas pressing on the liver. She gave her antibiotics and an anti-nausea medicine, and sent us home with more medicine that we must give her twice a day orally (joy). Since Daisy was due for her rabies shot, we brought her with us to pick Rosie up, so now we have two cats who think we are evil and cruel. Meanwhile I have not heard back from my doctor about my tests, but the calendars have been ordered and the holiday address labels are a work in progress, so I will just try to catch up on everything else over the long weekend.

Some of the last color of autumn was visible over the weekend at Huntley Meadows Park.

There's still some green in the water, but the trees, cattails and grasses are mostly a dull brown.

Cattail fluff was blowing off the plants to seed the ground (and in some cases the water).

Most of the red we saw came from berries rather than leaves.

The warm weather had brought fish to the surface, however...

...and we've seen woolly bears sunning themselves nearly everywhere we've gone this fall.

Adam rescues caterpillars when he finds them on walkways so they don't get stepped on.

The beavers were not out while we were there, but evidence of their handiwork was all around us.