Monday, August 31, 2009

The answer revealed

To the question posed here a few days ago.
It is Dominick Dunne. Like Farrah Fawcett, vis vis Michael Jackson's death, DD's death was not the front page news it might have, should have, could have been, had Ted Kennedy not died the day before.
DD's family recognized this fact and wanted to delay notice of his death.

Rose and Fiacre, yesterday's

If you have not found yourself disturbed by the mortifications and mutilations that young virgin saints willfully self-inflicted, …well, if you have not, then I really do not know what to say.
But I will point out that today (now yesterday) is the feast of Rose of Lima.
Rose was born in Lima, Peru in 1586, to “decent folks of moderate means”. They were quite pleased with their beautiful daughter, so it must have been rather distressing when young Rose decided that her beauty was an occasion for temptation, and did something about it: she rubbed her face with pepper to produce blotches and rubbed her hands so aggressively with lime that she couldn’t dress herself for a month. Later when she joined the Dominicans, the silver circle she wore on her head had sharp nails on the inside that constantly pricked her, like the crown of thorns. She died at the age of 31.

It is interesting to note, that for all her self- disfigurement, in art she is always represented as beautiful. And for all her adamant virginity, she is most often pictured with a babe. I have found no painting in which her skin is other than lily white, her hands other than fair and graceful; she is never portrayed unadorned by flowers.

Meanwhile, Saint Fiacre is a cheerier sort. This 7th century Irish monk was a gifted gardener and especially wise in the art of healing herbs. He has a particularly interesting and (apparently) random collection of patronages: cabdrivers, gardeners, costermongers, and against hemorrhoids.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Queen

I am worried about the Queen in the observation hive.
But I don't know which Queen I am worried about.
As noted we re-queened the hive a few days ago with a marked (blue dot) queen from Wilbanks Apiary. CSB inserted her traveling trunk (that wire topped wooden box with 3 round connected rooms) into the hive, and we waited. The resident bees did not seem to be releasing her so we did what we are not really supposed to do, and released her ourselves. Then we waited.
A day later we saw her, immobile, and wondered if she was dead.
The next day we noticed that she had moved from the front porch to the bottom frame, and allowed ourselves some guarded optimism.
The following day she was not to be found at all. We did, however sight a Queen. A queen without a blue dot.
So here is the question:
Is she the new queen who has lost her blue dot?
Is she a virgin queen the bees made themselves (highly unlikely given that we saw no cells at any time)?
Is she something else?
And whoever she is, she is not laying eggs, which is the problem.
The Queen is Dead. Long live the Queen.
An analogy question for SATs of the future:

Michael Jackson: Farrah Fawcett::
Ted Kennedy:_____________

Is this too easy?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

a new Queen

We just re-Queened the observation hive. That is, we inserted the wooden Queen box and now we wait for the bees to eat their way through the sugar stopper,and accept her as their monarch. We are of course all aquiver with anticipation. The O-hive lost their Queen a couple of weeks ago and for a while we hoped (somewhat irrrationally since there was no brood to be seen and certainly no queen cells) they might make their own new Queen. Meanwhile, the population has declined precipitously behind their glass walls.
And we wait for her release.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Some mornings start better than others.
This one could have been improved on. I should have been sweetly dreaming of the review in this
Sunday’s Times
of Absent a Miracle. Am I really a “talented humorist”? I hope so. But I must quibble: I do indeed have literary pretensions. Boatloads.
Instead, I answered the telephone.
“Put my husband on the phone you pornographic piece of trash.”
This was of course the unfortunate x-wife of CSB. A few things need to be pointed out:
The Caller ID on our phone system is not working, and the above is a powerful example of why Caller ID is a good idea.
CSB has not been her husband for over a decade.
And now I will spend the day wondering why she has added “pornographic” to her nasty epithets for me? Could she have read the book? Even my most carefully crafted sex scenes could hardly be called pornographic (my father is now reading the book for the second time, having forgotten the first, and he is not bothered). But reality is not a big factor here. If she did read the book, I certainly hope she paid for it. Royalties are royalties.

Meanwhile CSB – who was already out in the garden at 6 AM when the call came – returns with some good news. He caught a raccoon in the Havaheart™ trap. A large raccoon. A raccoon that was in our garden eating our precious corn and broccoli - but not the cucumbers - vegetables we did not grow for the benefit of the scavenging raccoon population (or the woodchucks). That’s the good news.
Then the hard part: what to do with a pissed-off raccoon?
You don’t want to know.

But many thanks to our dear friend Ned who borrowed said Havaheart™ and returned it last night, having caught himself a couple of raccoons, presumably relatives, and effected a couple of very clever adjustments that facilitate trapping and dispatching.

There needs to be a patron saint of Caller ID.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cucumbers - one vegetable's journey

You already know everything there is to know about cod, oysters, coffee, sugar and nutmeg, and more, so it seems to me that the world is ready for vegetables to get their share of the glory and their inches of print.
(And yes, I know that technically cucumbers are fruits - as are tomatoes - but we all think of them as cucumbers and that is what counts.)
Either because of the rain or the honeybees, probably both, we have had a bumper crop of cucumbers this year. Every day we harvest about a dozen, and that is more than any healthy person can or should eat in a day. So I made pickles. I don't even eat pickles, so I won't be the one to tell you whether they are any good or not.
We used to give lots away, but no one answers the doorbell anymore.
That is why I am considering a starring role for cucumbers in my next book, to be called something like:
Cucumbers- One Vegetable's Incredible Journey from the Vines of India to Sex Ed Classrooms across America

Cucumbers originated in in India about 4000 years ago and that is why they are called cucumbers, from the Hindi word "kachumbar", rather than something else. The Spaniards brought them to Haiti in 1496 and since then they have become emblematic of afternoon teas frequented by ladies in white gloves.
Which just goes to show how appearances can fool you. Of my vast acquaintance, which includes many women with and without gloves, the most devoted consumer of cucumber sandwiches is CSB. He likes then on very thin bread, with the crusts removed.
Less well documented is how cucumbers have proven their usefulness in Sex Ed classrooms, when it becomes necessary to demonstrate how to put on a condom.The cucumbers shape is appropriate, and they conveniently come in many sizes. The fact that they are green doesn't matter, nor should it.
If this doesn't seem like enough upon which to base an entire book, don't worry. I have plenty pf recipes and folksy cucumber tales, as well as tangential tales about their family members ( zucchini, kumquats, muskmelons, trolls).

Friday, August 21, 2009

And today is what?

I suppose it was bound to happen. In fact, I'm surprised that it took so long. If we can have Condom Week, Global Orgasm Day, Sleep-In Day and Parental Alienation Awareness Day, then we can certainly have Honeybee Awareness Day. Which is tomorrow, August 22.
It is unlikely that the organizers of Honeybee Awareness Day meant it to coincide with the feast of Blessed John Kemble, martyred in 1679, who delayed his death with a drink and a pipe, such that the last pipe of a condemned man is called a "Kemble pipe".
I don't know how you plan to celebrate Honeybee Awareness Day. I would start with awareness and move on from there. Costumes are always a good idea.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pope hats anyone?

I did not make this up. (I was planning to write about the discovery of the fossil of a 14 million year old North American honeybee and how this changes everything I have thought and expounded about honeybees in the continent of my birth. But that will have to wait.)
I seriously doubt I could have made this up. Though I have been known to sport - very fetchingly - a tea cozy/miter for ceremonial occasions. Occasions for which one might ask, but probably did not, WHAT to wear to see the Pope? And other occasions as well.
My daughter sent me this from Craigslist. God knows how she found it.

Because of this terrible economy, I'm having to shut down my business. I have OVER 1300 Pope hats (replicas) that I REALLY need to get rid of. The pope hats came from China and are a little too small for most adult heads and are also irritating to the skin, so you would need to have long hair or wear a smaller hat underneath (just like the REAL POPE). Dogs do not like to wear these pope hats, but maybe a large cat or maybe a nice dog would wear one. My dogs will not but they are not very nice and always hate being dressed up like for Halloween when we tried to dress them up like batman but they became very very agitated and bit a neighbors kid. I will lock the dogs up when you come get all of these pope hats. My wife is a devout catholic and she finds the presence of all of these pope hats all over the house to be blasphemous. I have pope hats in every closet, pope hats under the sing, pope hats full of other pope hats. She will not stop talking to me about getting rid of the pope hats and has started lighting candles all over the house for my soul but these pope hats are extremely flammable so its a problem in my house (there are pope hats everywhere) I payed 10x what I'm asking for when I bought these pope hats. I still think there is a market for them maybe when the economy turns around. Act NOW! Don't miss this great deal! I have 1,325 total (I counted this morning). 3 of them have some dog bites and one of them is burnt to a crisp, but you can take that one or leave it. Bring 2-3 strong friends.
  • Location: Tempe
  • it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
(Bold face is mine.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What to do in Cuttyhunk when it is not exactly raining, but overcast and cool, and also when it really is raining

• Learn to Moonwalk. (If I’ve got it right, this is the one where the late Michael Jackson appears to walk on a moving sidewalk. I think.) It turns out that my niece C has mastered this dance and she endeavors to teach H and me. We are diligent students but perhaps not yet ready for prime time.

• Drink champagne while C reads us our horoscopes and exclaim about the extent to which they are wrong and do not describe our salient characteristics in any way. Except when they do.

• Cajole, persuade, hector, coerce, inveigle and wheedle my cousin H into kayaking with me in Cuttyhunk harbor. Of course she enjoys it more than expected. We watch the cormorants on piers, and they ignore us. We admire sea lavender on the opposite shore.

• Go to the shortest Church Fair ever, from 2 PM to 2:30. Do not buy the excellent fax machine perfect for a slow phone system donated by my cousin, but do buy for 50 cents a mystery titled The Sting of the Honeybee. For obvious reasons.

• Think about honeybees on the island. I have heard rumors of a hive somewhere, but I have only seen bumblebees and sweat bees. Every year I come here and think what a lovely spot for honeybees this is – consider the sea lavender - and then I depart.

• This is neither the time nor the place for a
complete history of Cuttyhunk Island
but it should be said that there are some who believe Cuttyhunk should bear the honor -and onus -of being the first landfall of the so-called Pilgrims, as Bartholomew Gosnold landed here in 1602 so that Shakespeare would have an island upon which to base Prospero’s island in The Tempest. Sadly, Gosnold's colony here did not last, unless you count the rabbits, and he died of malaria in 1607. Not on Cuttyhunk.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Olfactory hallucinations, and more

I thought I smelled something horrid.
I thought I was losing my mind.
I was smelling something.
You probably already know this but just in case, you should know that if you Google ‘olfactory hallucinations’ you will find that there already exists that Googling category. (If “Googling category” is what you call the words that appear, unbidden, mysteriously and miraculously, as you type your hesitant search into the Google box.)
You probably also know that Googling one’s self-diagnosed symptoms can lead to dire diagnoses of exotic, deadly diseases that you probably do not have.
In the case of olfactory hallucinations - until CSB relented and admitted that he too smelled the strange, acrid and rather horrid smell that was afflicting my nose -I Googled and quickly panicked that I was experiencing a temporal brain lobe seizure. I also learned that there is a lovely word for olfactory hallucinations: Phantosmia, which is not to be confused with Parosmia, which means the smell exists but is distorted.

It turns out the offending smell in question was Milorganite™, a fertilizer often used as a deer repellent on account of its aforementioned vile smell, and it seems our neighbors had just applied large amounts of Milorganite™ and the wind was blowing in our direction. And why does Milorganite™ smell so badly? Because it is dried pelletized sewage solids. From the Milwaukee Municipal wastewater Treatment plant. I had no idea. Of course I use manure on my garden, and I compost, but somehow the idea that this well-known and much lauded fertilizer was nothing more than dried feces in a bag surprised me. To learn more about the brilliant thinking that took an unpleasant human waste product and turned it into a valuable commodity, go here.

So, relieved of the worry that I was afflicted with a temporal lobe seizure and would be smelling strange things in perpetuity, I sat down to read this magazine that shows up everything month for free, Aramco World. Because many decades ago in Egypt my grandfather, Bon-Papa, worked for Cal Tex, which became Texaco, which became Aramco, I receive this glossy magazine about the Arab world. The photographs are lovely and you can be guaranteed that there is never a whiff of anything controversial or offensive – to anyone. It is, after all, a large advertisement designed to make us feel good about pumping oil from the desert countries whose cultures are therein extolled.
So, in Aramco World I learned about asafoetida, a resin and spice that, if the descriptions are correct, smells even worse than Milorganite™ – “a sulfurous blend of manure and overcooked cabbage; redolent of a summer dumpster.” Its more colloquial name is “Devil’s Dung”. This resin is an exudate produced by the exposed roots of the asafoetida plant, or the fennel & carrot family, and comes only from Iran, Afghanistan and Kashmir. The trick is that once cooked, sautéed in oil say, it smells liked onions and taste delicious and is added to lentil dishes because it has the remarkable characteristic of reducing flatulence.
Is that enough about things that smell?
Now off to Cuttyhunk, and sea breezes. Word has reached me of a honeybee (Apis mellifera) experiment being conducted on Cuttyhunk, about which I am deeply curious. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Today's geography

It’s after 5 pm and only just now, while reading Butler’s re BB. Agathangelo and Cassian and their evangelical trip to Abyssinia (which ended in a bizarre martyrdom) did I realize that today is the 7th and that today, with zero fanfare, my book (Absent a Miracle – have I mentioned this before?) is officially published. Agathangelo was born in Vendôme, France in 1598. About 300 years later the luxurious Vendôme Hotel was built on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, and 101 years later it burned down in the “worst firefighting tragedy in Boston history”. My paternal grandmother (she of the inscrutable horoscope and the countless abstract watercolors) lived at the Vendôme Hotel in the 1950’s and 1960’s. She lived in a suite with Mrs. Downey, her companion, who disappeared one day without a trace. Nana wore long dressing gowns and painted all day long in her Grumbacher sketchbooks. (Are they no longer made?) She was pathologically averse to cutting her toenails and she rarely wore shoes, so her long yellowing toenails were a source of wonder to her 10 grandchildren. (Recent research has taught me that toenails grow at a quarter the rate of fingernails, making long toenails a far more remarkable feat than long fingernails. People can reasonably differ on which is more revolting.) Nana was not living in the Vendôme when it burned down in 1972, but she was there in the 1960’s when it caught fire, and she was being evacuated – in her silk dressing gown – onto Commonwealth Avenue late one night when a friend of mine(Jeannie Nicholson, a tall redhead) emerged from a local bar, saw Nana, and took her in.
As a young priest Agathangelo went to Aleppo where he learned to speak Arabic and was friendly with Moslems and Christians alike. When I was a child, my father travelled to Aleppo 3 or 4 times every year to buy cotton waste because there used to be lots of cotton grown in Syria, and where there is cotton, there is cotton waste. When my mother and I went to Aleppo we took a cab out of the city because I insisted we visit the ruins of the shrine of Saint Simeon Stylites, the 5th century ascetic who lived on top of a pillar for 37 years. We saw a lot of rocks and used our imaginations.
From Aleppo, Agathangelo went to Cairo, where my mother attended high school and my other grandmother – Bonne Maman – attended costume parties. They both loved Cairo.
Having become well acquainted with the Coptic bishops, and his companion Cassian having learned Amharic, the friars Agathangelo and Cassian went south to Ethiopia. Amharic is an ancient and beautiful language, but not easy to learn. Once I was in Washington DC in a taxicab on my way to a funeral and the language being spoken on the radio was incomprehensible but strangely familiar. I finally asked the driver what it was he said it was Amharic. He said there were 4 Amharic radio station in DC; that’s how many Ethiopians lived there. When my sister and I were in Ethiopia in the 90’s we spent a lot of time speculating about the location of the Arc of the Covenant. But Agathangelo and Cassian were preceded in Ethiopia by a Lutheran missionary with a special aversion to Catholics, so with his encouragement, King Basilides decided to execute the 2 friars. They were taken out to the tree from which they were to be hanged, but there was no rope. Everyone had to wait around while the executioner sent for rope. “But wait,” said the friars, “we have ropes right here on our habits.” So they did. And they were hung by their own rope belts.
And their feast is today, August 7th. Which just so happens to be the publication day of my novel, Absent a Miracle.