Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What do a state dinner at the Obama White House

and dinner chez Let it Bee have in common?

We both serve Local Honey from our own well-tended beehives.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Visiting Vermeer

(Above:Today, a wall full of reproductions of the known Vermeers in the world.)

At 4 this morning I was wide awake with the realization that if I did not go to the Met this very day to see Vermeer's "Milkmaid" then I would have totally missed the opportunity and would rue my bad planning. So I went.

The milkmaid wears a red skirt, a blue apron (note there is a new blue dye just discovered in a lab in Oregon), a yellow laced-up chemise with the sleeves pushed up, and a fetching white wimple.
Admiring her were a redhead in a quilted jacket; an academic older couple in matching tweeds; a Japanese man who had strayed from his group, wearing a Kelly green sweater; an older man with a corona of white hair and a perfectly creased blue suit; a Russian woman (I think) in a trench coat; a woman wearing an embroidered Indian jacket of the same ilk as that last seen on Hillary Clinton as she spoke to the troops in Afghanistan; a priest; a women in a bright red hoodie sweatshirt; a boy with droopy pants, a ski cap and a shockingly bright turquoise tee shirt; a portly woman in a Norwegian ski sweater and a man in a rugby shirt with pastel stripes.

Tomorrow and next year Vermeer’s milkmaid will still be wearing her red skirt, blue apron, yellow chemise and wimple, while all those who saw her today will have scattered across the city and changed their clothes.

Elsewhere in the exhibit I noted that in Vermeer’s “The Maid Asleep” the eponymous maid sits & dozes on a red leather chair with brass knobs. I recognized that chair and immediately the back of my thighs began to ache. Did my mother see this painting before acquiring her beloved red leather dining room chairs with brass knobs, the ones that are so uncomfortable and in which I, for one, would be very unlikely to fall asleep?

Given her fondness for Caucasian carpets (note the table covering) this does not seem unlikely. She admired the beautiful rug and the sleeping maid and made the leap to the (false) assumption that similar red-leather-brass-knobbed chairs would provide comfortable and elegant seating in her dining room.
Maybe you will characterize me as a whiner, complainer and griper (and all of these are occasionally true and I will try to expunge such behavior before our upcoming day of national mandatory gratitude) but I still assert that those chairs are just plain painful on the hamstrings, and my heart goes out to the Dutch maid.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Little did I know

One of my way-smarter-than-me brothers, on reading the blog (see above, or rather below per blog construct) about memories of the Bosporus and in which I referred to telephone bills from the Spanish-American war simply as a way to indicate the distant pant, so-old-that-they-should-have -been-tossed-long-ago, wrote me this:

BTW, it is worth noting that the very steep sales tax on your telephone bill
was originally a "temporary tax" to help pay for the Spanish-American war.
Only the very wealthy had telephones in 1898, so taxing telephony services
was an easy way to tax the rich. (The income tax had not yet been

Lesson: Be wary­very, very wary­of "temporary" taxes or government programs.

But it seems that said smart relative is a few years out of date.

Feds cut off phone tax after 108 years
From USA TODAY 5/26/2006

By Paul Davidson, USA TODAY
A pesky, century-old tax on your phone bill is finally being put to rest.

The Treasury Department said Thursday that it will no longer collect a 3% federal excise tax on long-distance calls and would refund about $15 billion to taxpayers.

The tax was imposed in 1898 to help pay for the Spanish-American War. It was designed as a tax on wealthy Americans, back when phone service was considered a luxury.

"It's not often you get to kill a tax, particularly one that goes back so far in history," Treasury Secretary John Snow said.

Treasury said it was conceding its battle to uphold the tax after five appeals courts declared it illegal because of changes in the way long-distance calls are billed.

Phone companies and cellular carriers must stop billing for the tax Aug. 1. Individuals and businesses can file for refunds next year on their 2006 tax returns for excise taxes paid on long-distance calls since March 1, 2003.

Individuals who don't have phone bill records can seek a standard refund that has yet to be determined.

Elimination of the tax will cost Treasury about $46 billion in refunds, lost revenue and administrative expenses in the next five years. That should be offset by higher tax revenue from a strong economy, Snow said.

Phone companies hailed the move. "This is a good first step in alleviating consumers' telephone tax burden, which currently accounts for more than 18% of the average bill," Verizon Vice President Tom Tauke said.

Callers will still pay a 3% excise tax on local phone calls. But that tax will no longer be levied on services that don't distinguish local calls, such as cellular, all-distance landline plans and Internet-based offerings. Consumers with those services can seek refunds on their full excise-tax payments.

Snow urged Congress to repeal the local-phone excise tax, as well.

I do not recall getting a refund.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Yet another catastrophe averted

You start out in one place – today it is a dusty and random hidden room – and then you end up in some very other place far away, in another time – which today was Greece and Turkey in 1972.

Because a niece is moving into Tristram’s room this evening (he is newly married and living on the shores of Lake Michigan, but it is and will always be his room) I thought it might be a good idea to clean up the tiny, slanty adjacent closet-slash-study. Though Tristram is hardly the packrat that his mother is, it seems that he too has managed to accumulate a random assortment of stuff: baseball figurines, incense, gifts he never bothered to open, philosophy books, a homemade xylophone, a stuffed parrot, an inflatable globe, a political poster for Dotty “Stanky” Stankovich, a didgeridoo, about 20 baseball caps, 2 sleeping bags, out of date guidebooks and Cuban currency. These I left largely untouched. I did however remove the mustard yellow, black and white Greek rug that was under his computer table and home to more dead bees than seemed appropriate. I threw out the ratty decomposing rug pad, possibly made with Leigh fibers materials. I washed the rug in cold water. Now it is outside, draped over the tree stump.
I remember buying that rug in 1972 when we made a family trip to Greece and Turkey (2 parents, 5 offspring). I bought the rug on a Greek island and I was so pleased with myself, because I had never bought a rug before and I planned to bring it back to college with me. It’s a smallish woven rug and I would never buy it if I saw it now. Really its only place in my life is as a mnemonic.
Also in Greece we visited Knossos, home to the labyrinth that housed the misunderstood Minotaur. Sometime after that I developed a terrible case of vertigo and dizziness, and when we visited a doctor at an American military base in Turkey and he diagnosed labyrinthitis, I knew exactly where I had caught it. The doctor said the labyrinth referred to was in my ear, but I knew otherwise.
In Istanbul we went sightseeing with my mother while my father made business calls. Lots of cotton was still grown in Turkey back then, which meant there was lots of cotton waste. One night we were to have dinner with some old customers of his at a waterfront restaurant on the Bosporus. Mom and Dad got in a taxi with their friend, and the five of us were in another taxi. Within minutes we had lost sight of our parents and none of us had any idea where we were going, and none of us spoke Turkish, and in no time at all I was convinced that we were all five blonde & dimwitted Yankees being kidnapped and taken to a hidden cove where we would be loaded onto a rusty, leaky tanker and transported to Saudi Arabia and sold into white slavery. I remember wondering whether they would separate us by gender – leaving me with my much younger sister apart from my three younger brothers, and I debated whether we would be better off thus separated, or whether it would be better to stay together so I would have help defending my little sister, the virgin among us, the dimpled child, and obviously the prize - the white-slavery-poster-girl.
When hours (so it seemed) later we were delivered to the waterfront restaurant, pulling in mere seconds after my parents’ taxi, I tried to tell them that we had been at terrible risk & that their negligence had almost lost them all of their progeny in one fell swoop. They were unimpressed, and not remotely worried.

These days I am of a mind to clear out stuff and purge whatever is not being used; to give away those treasures from a flea market in Goleta in 1973 and recycle all the telephone bills dating back to the Spanish-American War. Then I find something that reminds me of somewhere else.
I don’t know if I will return the Greek rug – now clean and presumably bug-free - to the hidden room. But what else would I do with a not very lovely rug that conjures up the Bosporus in twilight?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Trees, seeds, trees

If you happen to go to Fort Bragg, California you can drive on a road adopted by the MEDICAL MARIJUANA PATIENTS UNION, on your way to the only Virgin Redwood Ballroom anywhere.
Alas, I am a not a user of marijuana, medically or otherwise, but I like to think that MM patients have a union that is interested in keeping this section of the highway litter-free.

In Fort Bragg you will of course want to stay at the Weller House Inn. Unlike the usual B&B, it is a potpourri-free zone, with no overstuffed pillows or animals and lots of good books. The inn is managed by my friend Vivien, linguist, filmmaker, medieval chef and tangoista extraordinaire. While there, you can breakfast in the dining room under the benign gaze of Viv’s Danish grandfather, who at the age of 19 was made the Danish consul in Egypt. You can tango in the third floor redwood ballroom; or hear young Stephen practice his trumpet (or not); or visit the very special Ladies’ Room. There is also an elephant shaped commode but my picture does not do it justice.
Here I am hoping for a good review of Absent a Miracle from the Golden Sexlink and the Black astralorps.

Fort Bragg is way up north in the land of the redwoods, and I can say unequivocally that I have fallen in love with the towering redwoods. As I drove south I kept stopping to walk among them on the bright orange pine needle carpet and get that cathedral-feeling. Feeling short is not exactly a new thing for me (q.v.) but next to a redwood we are all puny. At the far end of one fallen hollow tree I happened upon the complete carcass of a deer. At first I thought he (antlers, hence male) had been burned, but then I realized that he had probably just died there and rotted, leaving his blacked pelt stretcehd across his skeleton. But how did he die? Bout 50 miles later I started thinking about this dead deer and really regretted that I had not extracted the skull and antlers to bring home. Thought that might have altered my plans for having only carry-on for the red-eye flight.

Later that day, and hundreds of miles of tall trees and ravishing coastline later, found me in Pescadero, a town of 2000 with orchards, artichoke fields and goat farms. Liz and I were enjoying a pre-prandial cocktail when my cousin Chris walked in from the office. He proceeded to lay several large black garbage bags flat on the rectangular dining room table. At each of three places he set out a pair of blue latex gloves and a kitchen knife. In the center of the table he emptied out a large bag filled with black walnut seeds.
Now I claim a certain intimacy with Juglans nigra. There is a large black walnut tree next to our house which means that in the autumn when the fruits start to fall, they land on our back porch and stain it black (these nuts were used as a dye by early settlers) or they drop onto the driveway and in a windstorm it sounds like someone has a machinegun out there. Any car that has ever spent time in our driveway has a roof and hood scarified by falling walnuts. We hand out hardhats to guests. Also, the nuts and roots of the black walnut are not friendly to neighbors. They secrete Juglone into the soil and even the air in their vicinity, and woe betide any plant that has the temerity to grow there.
But the shade is lovely, and the wood is beautiful and valuable. Just do not plant them near your house.
Meanwhile my cousin is fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a walnut forester. We donned our latex gloves and cut open the walnuts, removed the green husk and pith, and then scraped the nuts to make them readier to sprout. We probably did a few hundred before dinner. Later Chris would store the husked nuts in peat moss and then plant them. And the world will be a better place for having more trees.

Tomorrow I will continue (briefly) with the tree theme and tell you about the Tree Circus of Santa Cruz.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The other coast

In case you’ve been wondering how much I stood on my head last weekend, the answer is not very much. Why would I have stood on my head at all? My friend Lis and I went up to Mt Madonna for a yoga retreat. Mt Madonna is south of Santa Cruz and beautiful. It is home to towering redwoods and flying monkeys. The redwoods are very real, the monkeys (Hanuman) are representations but very endearing.
I am told that redwoods grow in circles.

Mt Madonna was founded by (or for) Baba Hari Dass (known to his followers as Baba-ji) who took a vow of silence in 1952. Oddly enough, that was the year of my birth. I am not implying there is any connection. Three times a week he comes up to Mt Madonna and sits on a raised chair at the center of a huge room adjacent to the dining hall, and people sit in his presence. He is dressed in white and has a long beard, not that those characteristics would help you find him in a room filled with Indian gurus. Sometimes the people ask him questions and he responds on his chalkboard. I could not think of a single question that seemed worthy, though I considered several that were definitely unworthy. But who knows what is worthy?

I love the people I meet on yoga retreats. (This may be a leap of sorts, given I have only been on 2. But so far, so good.)
In Tulum there was a Tennessee politician who sat on the Mexican beach listening to a CD of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. This was to psyche herself up for a coming election. (I am sad to say she lost.) There was also a brilliant bio-informatician who lay naked on the beach with her laptop and did not seem at all worried about getting sand on her keyboard.
In Mt Madonna there was a charming couple from Woodside, with whom I discussed poison oak, enneagrams, memoirs & memory. I plan to mention to CSB the benefit of doing yoga with one’s spouse in one’s 70’s: you can pose together- each in tree pose- and it will make for a great Christmas card. (Better than my bee costume? Than naked grandchild draped in Xmas lights? Ask again in a couple of decades.)

In 2 days I went to 5 yoga classes, which is a lifetime record for me. As previously mentioned, I grew very fond of the flying monkeys adorning the balustrade leading up to the temple. Hanuman is the 11th incarnation or avatar of Shiva, and is the most intelligent of the Hindu gods. He led the monkey army against the demon king. I also remember a bridge of monkeys across the water to Sri Lanka. (Don’t take my word for any of this.)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that certain diets (heavy on legumes, short on protein) give rise to flatulence; such was the much-extolled diet of Mt. Madonna.

In other news, a local son won the COLDWATER CLASSIC in Santa Cruz. So-called because the water is very cold. I watched the heats on Friday before we went to calmer pursuits at Mt Madonna, and it was impressive. Then the waves got much bigger over the weekend.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On running

Sunday morning (blessed extra hour of sleep) my cousin and I swilled quarts of caffeinated beverages and drove from Boston to Hastings, hopped on a metro north train, walked north to Central Park and watched her daughter run (4:31:52, but I'm not bragging) the 40th NYC marathon, along with 40,000 others, including at least 2 men in kilts, several men in drag and women in ballgowns; runners tattoo'd, painted, bedecked and bedazzled and bonneted, lithe Frenchman in matching outfits and berets running side by side; several couples holding hands; women in bikinis and a man in full camouflage carrying a knapsack; Italians, Scandinavians, Africans and South Americans, barefoot runners, and runners in wheelchairs, runners with their causes or beloved’s name emblazoned upon their bodies…. They were one and all fleet of foot, or fleet in some way.
And afterward, having crossed the finish line in glory and then stopped short to say hello to their sore bodies and feel the chill in the air, all over Central Park the runners draped themselves in tin foil space blankets advertising every possible sponsor (Dr. Frog’s Liniments; Atalanta’s Ache-Prevention; Susie’s Steroids and Flubber Emporium…)
Since running is not my strong suit what else could I do but look for a patron saint of running?
And I am dismayed and disheartened to report there is not one. Running water has a patron: St John Nepomucene (Why? Because there are lots of statues of him on bridges?) And runaways have several patron saints: Dymphna, Eulalia of Merida & Alodia.
Petronilla is the patron of travelers in the mountains; she was running away from the man her father wanted her to marry: Flaccus. She heard the name and headed for the hills?
It is hard to believe the sport of running has not appropriated a saint.(There are so many.) On TV we watched Derartu Tulu burst through the finish line; the first thing she did was to cross herself. Since I feel confident she was not enacting my father’s old mantra for leaving the house prepared for all eventualities: Spectacles (forehead), testicles (obvious), wallet (Left shoulder), watch (Right shoulder). So to whom exactly was she praying?