Saturday, June 25, 2011

How I Happened to Name This Blog

I was going to call it "Exotic Orchid or Decrepit Cat."  When last year's calendar was filling with visits to one health practitioner after another--you know, for the B12 shots, trigger-point massage sessions, tinctures and herbals, acupuncture fixes, various test results--I got the following e-mail:
Bonjour.  Hope you are feeling better today.  I was listening to an interesting program recently that was saying how studies show that "seniors" (not their word, but easier as description) who have something else to take care of, like a pet or even a plant, have fewer physical problems than those who don't.  I was wondering if maybe you got a decrepit cat, perhaps with dental problems or something, that it might be good for YOUR health.  Or perhaps an exotic orchid that requires special drops and misting and attention--that might be more your style.  Otherwise one's system starts to turn on itself if it doesn't have an outside thing to worry about and nurture.
When the e-mailer later suggested that I might start a blog (not for my health but because she kept one and enjoyed it and because I was always writing about something or other), I hit on the name "Exotic Orchid or Decrepit Cat" and considered using one of my orchid photos from Hawaii as a background shot.  But then "Door Number 8" came to mind.  It was, after all, where I was in my life.  And keeping a blog seemed a good way to put down those very interests, concerns, opinions, appreciations that reflected this process of watching the once-was evolve into the now-is.  (So, instead, I used my photo of the two Adirondack chairs, as if they're ready for you and me to sit down for a good conversation.)

The "Door Number 8" name, you see, stands for this, my 8th, decade which I entered when I turned 70 two-plus years ago.  And so this blog reflects the life of one septuagenarian.  Me.

And one thing I've noticed lately in this getting older process is that I tend to slide over things I read or hear. A bit like grazing:  I anticipate the text as I immediately go on to what's next.  Only to realize I've misread or misheard.  For instance:
  •  A New Yorker article wrote about a girl "emaciated from foster care."  Looking again, I saw it said, "emancipated from foster care."
  • At Google news, I saw a headline that read, "Antibiotics for Middle East Infection."  (If it were only so easy.)  Then I realized it said "Middle Ear."
  • Listening to a program about people going off to Greece, I heard "agri-terrorism" when it was really "agri-tourism."
  • When my tour bus pulled into the Hilton Hawaiian Village, I heard the driver call out the jolly-sounding, Hilton Wine Village.
  • Then there was the time, car keys in hand, I said to myself:  "I'll go to the gas and then get some post office."
Well, after that initial e-mail, I did buy my first orchid, a white phalaenopsis, which elicited this reply:
Hooray for the orchid!  Your new pet and delicate creature to nurture and love!  I hope you invest in lots of arcane equipment (antique misters?) and chemicals (special fertilizer?  I really have no idea what's involved) so that you can transfer your mindfulness its way!  ... I'm excited to meet your orchid!  I hope that you talk to it, maybe even give it a name!?  I think it is a cool thing to do.

 I didn't name the orchid.  But I did name this blog.  For me, at least, this is what an 8th decade is like.

What makes June June (around here, at least)

Good weather at last
But then yucky weather (chilly, wet, gloomy) almost daily
Green, green everywhere
Lots of trips to the garden center
Renovation and fix-it time
Local strawberries for sale
Bicyclists on the road
Cars with kayaks on the roof

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Gallery of Reflections

I bought a new film scanner recently and so can transfer old color slides onto a tiny chip, stick that in my computer, and archive them there.  If I want, I can high-light one and shoot it off by e-mail.  Or I can select a batch, click "Slide Show," and watch them on my computer.  Or, if I had the smarts to convey them to my TV (downstairs), I could presumably gather an audience of real live people and let them in on the goodies.  In the old days, we'd put these slides in a slide tray, get out the Kodak projector, set it on the coffee table, adjust its height just-so, haul out the silver-beaded screen, unfold its tripod legs, and set that in the middle of the living room.  We'd cozy up in chairs around the room, maybe make some hot chocolate, and re-live some trip we'd taken.

So now I've scanned the best of the best into my computer, a process that--together with my decidedly very recent digital shots--reveals the possibility of several thematic shows.  Dramatic cloud formations.  Raggedy bus rides through raggedy countries.  And here's one that I call "Reflections."  So, virtual audience that we are (without benefit of that hot chocolate or such shared comments, as, "Ohhh, I remember that place!"), let's sit back and take a look at new and old reflections in pools, glass, and even (just below), a shiny floor.

This is the airport in Seoul, South Korea, where I was in transit to Bali.  Although it was already January 20th (the day of President Obama's inauguration), the Christmas decorations were still up.

I love this wobbly reflection from Montpellier, France

Here's a store on Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki, Hawaii ...

... and another close by

Below is some palimpsest-like figure back there taking a photo ...

... at the Waikiki Aquarium

Here are reflections on two buildings:
This one is in the heart of Honolulu...

... and here's the curved surface of Toronto's Hydro building
And in two pools:

One in Tangiers, Morocco ...

... and the other in Rockefeller Center, New York City

Finally, here are reflections in two more windows:

A Canyon Road art gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with a bouquet in the window

And here, through the glass, is a squirrel on a bird feeder

 So now we'll fold up the screen until next time...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Thousand and One Tales (Plus Some): Keeping a "Books Read" Journal

I didn't start out as a reader.  That word better described my brother who could sit under a tree totally absorbed in Kidnapped or The Scottish Chiefs.  I preferred dawdling in our California sunshine, smelling the eucalyptus, and pretending I was a Scheherazade-like movie star as I harked back to some Sinbad film I'd just seen.  It was only later, on discovering the Travel and Adventure section of our public library, that I did more than read an occasional book.  I was maybe thirteen and longed to see the world so gobbled up Ginger and Dana Lamb's Enchanted Vagabonds about their canoe trip from California to Panama ... Lowell Thomas's journey from India to Lhasa via Sikkim rather than Nepal (because it was still a closed country).  By the time I started college, I was hooked on books.

"What are you going to major in?" some relative would ask.

"English Lit.  ...  I like to read."  In fact, I might have added that though I was already familiar with Brontë, Twain, Dickens, and I don't remember who-all, I figured it was time to familiarize myself with an expanded list:  Woolf, Wharton, Dreiser, James ... and on and on.

So, as a way of continuing my English Lit momentum, the day I got my B.A. (it was June 10, 1960), I decided to start a journal and list every book that I would read from that day on.  I wouldn't include those I merely skimmed.  Or those I didn't finish (like, just recently, Annie Proulx's Bird Cloud).  And there were a few years when--finally doing some adventuring of my own--I didn't keep proper records.  Or, raising a child, I read very little.  But though I didn't record books I didn't complete, I did double- or triple-note a book I re-read.  (The three I read the most--four times--turned out to be Lawrence Durrell's A Smile in the Mind's Eye, Rumer Godden's The River, and Marian Mountain's The Zen Environment.  One about Taoism, one with a taste of Hinduism, and one about Zen.)

I also started a new page with each new year.  And I habitually wrote out a very short description.  For example, Stories by Elizabeth Bowen, yielded this comment in 1965:  "Short stories of hedge-rows and chicken livers for lunch."  Or The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James:  "What a waste of a good lady!"

Then last June--fifty years since graduation--I typed up a master list.  Or, rather, two master lists.  One was alphabetical by author with the title and the year read.  The other was a listing by category:  biography, fiction, memoir and autobiography, misc. (including art, food, health), general non-fiction, poetry and plays, spirituality, travel and travel memoir, and books on writing.  I found that from June 10, 1960, to June 10, 2010, I'd read 1,023 books.  (With another 61 to date.)  (2010, incidentally, was my record-year with 65 books read.)

I like the orderliness of this sort of project.  I also like the historical aspect--might someone in, say, the 22nd century enjoy knowing the reading habits of someone in the 20th?  Then, too, if I have a vague recollection of a book, I can go back and check it out.  (A few now seem so obscure I barely remember reading them.)  I can also come up with various tallies that amuse me.  For instance, it turns out that I've read 7 books each by Jane Austen, Anita Brookner, and Natalie Goldberg.  8 each by Henry James and W. Somerset Maugham.  10 by Barbara Pym.  13 by Rumer Godden.  And 20 by Alexander McCall Smith.  (As some pursue Simenon or Agatha Christie, I've latched onto this Zimbabwean-Botswanaean-Scot.)

And though fiction and biography take up a good chunk, my favorite category seems to be memoir.  Just last year I read about a Tibetan rinpoche's escape in 1959, the flight of a member of Marie Antoinette's court to Albany, New York (of all places), Paul Theroux's journey by sea and train around the Mediterranean, an Australian family's hunt for an apartment in Paris, plus the tales of American women living in Cairo, Yemen, Damascus, and rural Japan.

If, in all this, anyone were to ask what my absolute favorite book is, I'd come up with two:  To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.  Beautifully structured, highly intelligent, with a brilliant description of the impact of the mother's death on the family by detailing how their now-vacant summer house began falling apart over the years.

My Books-Read journal, master list, plus Woolf and Dinesen

And, Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa.  This is a pastoral, not a chronicle.  Her canvas is not herself but favorite topics--her servants, her bushbuck, her neighbors, Denys.  She speaks of the land, the Africans, the animals, much as if they were all part of a foreign court that she was privileged to visit for a time.  (Rather like life itself.)  Her writing is generous.  She does not indulge in complaint about herself or others.  She is the narrator, not the central character.  She hands that role to Africa.

As Scherherazade engaged her listener with woven tales and bits of fantasy, Dinesen draws her reader in with stories of djinns, Fata Morgana mirages, the Roc.  And beautiful language.  When labeling "the loveliest dyes of Arabia and Somaliland," she calls them "carmoisin, prune pure, Sudan brown, rose bengale and Saffranine."  And describing an evening on the Masai Reserve, she writes:  "... and over our heads, to the West, a single star which was to grow big and radiant in the course of the night was now just visible, like a silver point in the sky of citrine topaz.  The air was cold to the lungs, the long grass dripping wet, and the herbs on it gave out their spiced astringent scent.  In a little while on all sides the Cicada would begin to sing.  The grass was me, and the air, the distant invisible mountains were me, the tired oxen were me." 

Think about starting a Books Read journal.  It's easy, fun, and informative.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

"A Chinese Whistle Tied to a Pigeon's Wing"

I am fortunate to live in a quiet neighborhood.  No loud music.  Not that many cars coming up the hill.  But, other than, say, hearing the Battle of Austerlitz some distance off, I'm wondering what people used to hear.  Harvesters singing in neighboring fields?  (Like that scene in the BBC's "Lark Rise to Candleford.")  Ox-carts rumbling down the road?  Someone chopping wood? 

Out walking along a trail beside a river recently, I could hear rock music penetrating the otherwise silent scene.  Later, back home, much like a cinematic version of Roman legions beating their shields in rhythm as they marched off to war--the metallic sound reverberating across the land--I heard the now-daily *thump*ing* *pound*ing* from the interstate bridge reconstruction only blocks away.  With May, we began The Power Mower Take-Over.  With June, we have Bikers Going to Their Annual Gathering.  Two- or three-hundred thousand meet in our neighboring state with a goodly number coming through our little town to connect to the interstate.  As I sit in my garden (or even inside my house), I can hear them accelerate when they make the turn.

I've read many of M.F.K. Fisher's books, reveling in her descriptions of life in France as well as California's wine region.  As she got older, she described the increasing need for silence.  In Last House, she said:  "I admit without perturbation the possibility that if I live long enough, my spiritual ear may reshape itself to such a point that it will tolerate only the sound of a flute, or a Chinese whistle tied to a pigeon's wing."

I'm finding myself almost approaching a similar frame of mind.  Sometimes, I'll put on Bach as a morning raga.  But I often prefer to fill my day with silence.  (I had to smile recently when following a car with that great bumper sticker, "Honk If You Love Silence.")

I spent part of this past winter in Honolulu.  Waikiki, to be exact, since that's where the condo rentals are.  Having been there the year before, I knew enough not to take something on Ala Wai Boulevard, Kuhio or Kalakaua Avenues since they are the main (and totally noisy) thoroughfares.
Traffic out the window of one place I stayed on Ala Wai Boulevard the year before, beating a fast retreat next morning

So this time I found a pleasant spot on a side street.  The building was quiet.  But to amuse myself one day, I noted all the sounds that came in from outside, often several at once.

Garbage trucks
Back-up beeps
Car alarms
Power mowers
Power blowers
Power trimmers
Police sirens
Fire engines
Car radios
Night-time shouting
Muffler-less motorcycles

Plus fireworks every Friday night.  A pleasant enough sound ... but I always jumped with the initial explosions because I wasn't expecting them.

Except for the fireworks, these have all now entered Our General Background Noise Scene. But, in addition (and no matter where I went), there was one sound that totally enchanted me--the soft cooings of the Zebra Doves.  Coo coo COO coo coo COO co COO co COO co COO.  They were gentle little things with long tails and zebra-striped markings.  I often sought them out and stood listening to their song.  Not unlike a Chinese flute on a pigeon's wing, you might say.