Saturday, September 24, 2011

And Now For Something a Little Different

For two or three years, I've been keeping some of the great links that people have sent me via e-mail--links to humorous, amazing, or particularly picturesque sites.  I've compiled ten of these so that you can enjoy them, too.  They've made the rounds so you may well have seen some or all before. But I figure they're good for a second look. 

The first is a video of the Great Chinese State Circus performing Swan Lake.  Stay with it.  It'll knock your socks off, as they say.  4:29 minutes.  (Link #1)

Perhaps you've seen this virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel.  You should be able to use your mouse to fly around the room.  The +/- in the lower left will let you zoom in or out. (Link #2)

This is a series of 15 color photos showing people in different countries (Yemen, Venezuela, the U.S., etc.) and what they eat in one day.  It's called "Breaking Bread Everywhere" from the people who did the Material World book a few years back with shots of families world-wide standing beside all their material possessions. (Link #3)

Here are some truly beautiful shots of magnified drops of water.  (Link #4)

This one brings tears whenever I listen.  It's a Persian/Iranian group, Chris De Burgh and the Arian Band singing The Words "I Love You."  3:42 minutes.  (Link #5)

Here's a set of still photos showing Russia in color a century ago. (Link #6)

This one tickles me every time I watch it.  :33 seconds.  (Link #7)

Here is another amusing piece that makes me chuckle.  No hint.  Just check it out.  6:49 minutes.  (Link #8)

This is a video of a virtual choir put together from some 2,000 videos sent in from 58 countries, everyone singing the same song.  9:31 minutes.  (Link #9)  Here's a separate explanatory video, if you want to learn more about it.  (Link #9A)

And finally, a picture of the world--its lights lit up at night.  (Link #10)

What makes September September
Heirlooms and others
Tomatoes galore
Apple picking time
A yellowing across the land
Crisp days and nights ... including frost warnings
Promising yourself you won't turn on the furnace until October 1st
   ... you know, the cost of fuel oil
But maybe not sticking to it
Apple picking time

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Few Words

Of course, we've always known that English is a highly creative language that can go just about any way we want.  We don't have the equivalent of the French language's Académie Française to regulate usage, vocabulary, and grammar.  If we want to turn "disconnect" into a noun and set aside "disconnection," we can do it.  Same with "reveal" and "revelation."  You know, The Big Reveal when home improvement programs show off the transformation from a so-so place into one with a wow factor.

Lately, on watching financial and news programs, I've heard some splendidly creative language.  "Vanilla option" for a normal option with no special features.  (Unlike a "rocky road option," I imagine.)  "Kicking the can down the road" for dealing with the debt ceiling later.  "The President needs to go long; he can't small ball" for kicking butt.  Then militaristic language is in vogue.  "The Fed is moving to smaller bullets."  "There's not going to be a nuclear monetary stimulus attack."  "He only has one more bullet in his gun."  And then lots of things are being "deployed" these days.  Other current phrases include "they don't want to open the kimono." "Elevator pitch" or pitching something in the amount of time it takes to ride an elevator.  And though I don't know what it means, what about "a dead cat bounce in the market"?

As these terms seep in, others seep out.  Does anyone use "counterpane," "davenport," or "folderol" anymore?  Or "woppy jawed" if something's off kilter?

There are definitely words that define their times.  I saw a movie not that long ago set in the 1920's in which the heroine said, "Whatever," like in, you know, "What-evah."  Not.  Or these:  Bikini, luncheon meat (the '40s).  Credit card, Freudian slip (the '50s).  Black hole, flower children (the '60s).  Floppy disk, leg warmer ('the '70s).  Walkman, voice mail (the '80s).  DVD, FAQ (the '90s). ( From Twentieth Century Words, Oxford University Press, 1999.)

And today?  How about "Hey!" instead of "Hi."  "No problem" instead of "You're welcome."  "The tweetisphere."  "Couch surfer."  "Webinar" (an internet seminar).

Then "folks" seems to have taken over that good word, "people."  (I muse that Lincoln might have said, "...and that government of the folks, by the folks, and for the folks shall not perish from the earth."  And except for Mother's Day and Mother Nature, "mom" seems to have replaced "mother."  (As "dad" has "father.")  And the pronunciation of that valuable French word, "voilà," has turned into "wallah."

Then, too, meanings get skewed.  "Decimate" for "annihilate" when it really means "to destroy by one-tenth".  (That's the "deci" part.)  "Dastardly" for "terribly" when it more precisely means "cowardly."  "Disinterested" for "uninterested" when it means "to be free of bias or self-interest."  "Fulsome" for "full" when it means "excessive, offensive."

Of course, there are some splendid words that only someone like Simon Winchester OBE comes out with.  "Chamfered" as in "chamfered rectangles."  ("A beveled edge connecting two surfaces.")  "Majuscule" (the opposite of "miniscule").

And my copy of Lawrence Durrell's Justine has words I underlined because I didn't know what they meant.  "Antinomian."  Even as I write that, my spell-check underlines it as if to say, "huh??"  (It means that "faith and grace relieve one from having to adhere to moral law.")  "Ratiocinative" ("reasoning, exact thinking").  "Phthisic" ("wasting away").

I used to have a little blue notebook in which I wrote words I didn't know.  My hope was that on looking them up and writing down the meaning, I might be able to actually incorporate them into my speech.  Or at least recognize them the next time I saw them.  Alas, neither occurred.  Many didn't really fit into everyday language.  Some I totally forgot I'd ever seen before.  One day the little notebook got tossed.

I did keep a listing of collective nouns which originally came from The Book of St. Albans, 1486.  To wit:

a rascal of boys
a goring of butchers
a blast of hunters
a foresight of housekeepers
a diligence of messengers
a converting of preachers
a blackening of shoemakers
a proud showing of tailors
a worship of writers

This is from the Waikiki Zoo.  I discovered the collective noun for flamingos is "stand."

Okay, let's be a little imaginative here.
What about a sunburn of vacationers?
What do you think?  An apertif or a café-crème of café-goers? 
This seems obvious:  a weaving of baskets.  (I took this photo in Sommieres, France, the last town where Lawrence Durrell lived.)

Et, voilà.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

That Can-Do Spirit

An L.A. friend mentioned it in a post-storm email.  She spoke of "can-do Vermonters."  A good term.  People around here have been busy!  Hurricane--no, Tropical Storm--Irene crashed and thrashed about, but for us, at least, our down-town is almost cleaned up, our streets are re-opening, and our farmers market (which seemed a total loss) is up and running.

It's true that we in the northern latitudes have honed our can-do skills contending with all the long, bitter winters that invade these parts.  But after any emergency, you hear about the locals anywhere speaking with pride in their resilience.  No matter the community, the state, the region, people like to help, work together, get things back to the way they were ... or even make them better than they were.

We're fortunate to have a viable on-line community site which has proven to be highly effective--such postings as, "Who needs help this weekend?" with info about a bucket brigade ("wear mud boots").  Or a notice from a senior who can't shovel out her mud.  Or an offer for free gravel from someone who thought he might now have a hundred wheelbarrows-full in his yard.  Or a link to a new map (to be updated daily) of flood-caused road closures/openings.  Or a reminder to follow safe clean-up procedures with warnings about molds and environmental contaminants.  And, my favorite, a 2-minute video showing a horseback rider braving vigorous flowing waters to deliver medication.  (All this, of course, interspersed with notices about choral rehearsals, a tobacco cessation workshop, etc.)

So, I should not have been so utterly surprised at what I found when I visited our local farmers market on market day.  It hadn't skipped a beat.  The week before, it had been there in all its vitality even hours before the storm hit.  Then there it was again after only a week--though the flood waters had swept through, the structures had toppled, the picnic tables had washed away, great gashes had appeared in the parking lot.

But, as one vendor told me when I looked around and literally shook my head at how the new market so closely resembled the old (except the grass was gone), "It shows what a good bull-dozer can do ... and the help of a lot of people."  In fact, some hundred people (including children) had come out with their shovels and rakes to help level the land, set up new picnic tables, and construct another sandbox for the little ones.  They'd made new parking signs, seeded grass which they covered with straw, set out new trash and compost centers.  Others had brought them coffee and fresh muffins.
Sunlight on the new sandbox

"Thank you" sign on a tree

Then, market day, with the exception of a vendor or two still off in isolated towns, everyone was back in their old spots, making dim sum, selling pots of chrysanthemums, setting out maple syrup and pints of berries, chatting while making coffee, putting out pottery, and posting such signs as"These vegetables were not flooded."  One vendor lost half his crop when (contaminated) flood waters filled his fields, but he was there, too, with what he could salvage.  And flooding all this in a totally different way were people like me who came to support them--to buy their bread, cucumbers, flowers.  To offer them our blessings and wish them well.

Overheard bits of conversation:

" road washed out ..."

"We're up on a hill and didn't even know about the flood until later ..."

"I don't know if they had flood insurance but you know the deductibles are so high, maybe $30,000 ... or even $15,000 is a lot ..."

" ... if that tree had come down any closer ..."

"...everyone helped out..."

Gotta admit.  I was pretty proud to be associated with these can-do Vermonters (though I'm a Southern Californian like the friend who emailed me).  I didn't bring shovel and rake, but I do make a point of going each Saturday morning and buying their produce.  Thank you!

From Trouble-maker back to being Little Miss Babbling Brook

Thursday, September 1, 2011

When Irene Came to Call

Before Irene hit, I was going to write this week's posting about prepping for a hurricane in a Southern Vermont town on the Connecticut River with a brief afterword about how we fared, thinking, really, there would be little to report other than some power outage.  But it turned out to be another story entirely.  Or, as one youthful resident said when scanning the damage, "It's something else."

Earlier in the week, we realized we were smack in the middle of Irene's track.  When I checked and re-checked the cognoscenti sites, there it was--scheduled to come barreling through, as one local said, "in my front door and out my back."  Then there was the Weather Channel notice that said "Irene poses an extraordinary threat that is one no one has yet experienced from North Carolina ... to New England."

So what I did was freak out for awhile.  Then, like that saying, "Trust in God but tie up your camel," I set to work getting ready.  I figured a main problem might be downed trees since a handsome collection of enormous white pines surround all the houses up here on my little hill.  I'd fortunately had one rotted-out oak taken out this summer but, otherwise, all I could do was go out before the storm and tell my trees how perfect they looked standing right where they were and please don't move.  My next problem would be power outage.  That was pretty much a given.  But I could cook since my stove was on propane.  I had city water which didn't require an electric pump.  I had plenty of food.  Manual can-opener.  Candles, batteries, flashlights.  After that, my next problem would be a degree of run-off flowing through my cellar.  (No other flooding since I'm on that hill I mentioned.)  Having experienced several Nor'easters, I'd long since put my cellar stuff up on blocks.  I only had to roll up some carpeting.  Finally, if we got strong winds, my garden furniture would tumble downhill into the poison ivy, so I took things indoors.  I wondered about getting duct tape in case something knocked out a window and I needed to put up plastic sheeting, but I thought I'd wing that one.
A few of my glorious trees

It finally started to rain 8 PM Saturday.  I felt prepared; I'd done all I knew to do.  I went to bed.  It rained through the night; there were no high winds.  Then Sunday, it rained and rained and rained, sometimes in sheets, no surcease.  My trees were happily staying put.  I checked online and turned on the TV to see what was going on.  And if the track had shifted.  It hadn't.  The reporters were all solidly positioned beside coastal surf and in city streets.  Then the power went out--which incidentally meant I couldn't open my garage door and get out my car, but I wasn't going anywhere.  I'd been watching the new Top Chef "Just Desserts" program ... but now got out my book.  All I could hear with the house closed up was the rain  As I sat reading, I felt as if I were in an airplane, stuck in one of those reclining seats, feeling a bit anxious, just waiting "to get there."  I also realized anew how rather grim it is not to have electricity and how we as a society may one day wonder that we had anything as primitive as above-ground wires.

Then, after some 17 or 18 hours, the rain let up.  I opened my front door to poke my head out, hoping the brunt of the storm was over.  Thanks to low winds, the trees were okay; no branches covered the road.  But as I was going back in the house, I heard something that I could not identify.  It sounded like an inordinate amount of traffic on the road just down the hill.  Except no one much was out.  Or, it sounded like a river.  Except there was no river there.  Curious, I put on my rain coat and walked out, careful to keep an eye out for possible downed wires.  The road at the bottom of the hill was, indeed, empty ... except for a police car turning cars away because, as it turned out, there was such extensive damage on up ahead that the road was closed for the next 40 miles--all the way across the entire southern part of the state.  It was then I discovered what the noise was. 

Bear with me here.  News reporters like to speak of Vermont with this sort of language.  "Sweet sleepy towns."  "Babbling brooks."  All story-book stuff.  Well, while they were so heavily concentrating on the fact that New York City had actually made it through the hurricane and, oh yes, by the way, Irene was now off in New England, IRENE WAS NOW OFF IN NEW ENGLAND.  Hello, out there!  Anyone paying attention?  In this land of hills and valleys, all of our state's little babblers (already saturated from a summer of rain) had turned into raging torrents, creating flash floods no one around here had ever seen before.  That noise I heard was our local brook now crashing down, eroding its banks, brimming over, making its way toward the Connecticut River, taking out mobile homes, chunks of pavement, whole trees, picnic tables, propane tanks still hissing gas, and our local farmers market.  Then when it got down-town, it raged across streets and parking lots, into shops, offices, and a hotel lobby as it wreaked havoc with roads and bridges on the way.  It didn't take an ocean surge to destroy things; it was built right there into our mountainy story-book setting.
The "brook" next day, greatly subdued

That woke up the reporters who then came here for their aftermath stories.  Irene is now gone, I and mine (including my trees) are fine, power came back on, but our town (as many) got creamed.  I've read that in some of the small towns, country inns have been turned into emergency command centers ... money donation jars have been filling up ... people have been picking up other people's family photos along brook banks.  Here, the flood waters have subsided and bulldozers are out scraping up the mud.  Then there's that spontaneous exchange that occurs after something like this--with a postal clerk, the take-out coffee guy, the car dealership fellow who schedules your oil change.

"Everything okay with you?"
"Yeah.  You?"
"Yeah.  It was something, though."

I have to admit that one image in all this rather amuses me:  a shot I saw (but don't have) of our town's wooden Loch-Ness monster--usually propped out in the water near the marina--last seen, finally free, bobbing down the Connecticut on its way to Long Island Sound.

The town's Nessie when still stationed at the local marina
Other images:
1) Try this YouTube link here by a fine videographer I happen to know.

2) Here's a good CNN series of still photos of the region.  The middle one is especially dramatic.  (Click here.)

As a P.S., a few Vermont statistics from The New York Times might be of interest though I don't know what one can do with them. 
  • 13 towns isolated (all have now been accessed)
  • 35 bridges taken out including 4 historic covered bridges
  • A portion of every highway in the state closed, except I-91 and I-89
  • Amtrak service suspended indefinitely; 4 railway bridges impassable
  • 260 roads fully or partly closed
  • 30 bridges fully or partly closed