Sunday, July 31, 2011

Of all the possible places

Honorable #1 son has decamped for the summer to Paraguay, previously best known as the retirement home of Dr Joseph Mengele & friends; currently best known as the site of the assassination of Anastasio Somoza, by a Sandinista commando team calling themselves Operation Reptile. My son did not allow Paraguay’s reputation to deter him from volunteering for One Laptop/One Child. (Do check out the website; there is a very entertaining interactive map.) Honorable son, being a smart and intrepid young man, anticipated playing soccer in the rain (as it’s the rainy season), dealing with a recalcitrant bureaucracy and eating lots of beef and hard bread. He did not expect to find himself in the home of the gigantic Basilica of Caacupé, where resides the famous little statue of Our Lady of the Miracles.
Her story begins in the early 16th century when a converted Guaraní prayed to the Virgin to save him from certain death at the hands of his enemies. He hid inside a tree trunk and was saved. Afterward, in gratitude for her succor, he carved a statue of the Virgin, featuring blue eyes and blonde hair, for reasons unexplained. Then in 1603 Tapaicuá Lake flooded the surrounding valley, including the statue of the Virgin. When the waters receded the Guaraní Virgin reappeared, and she has been revered by the locals ever since.
Of all the places he might have gone in Paraguay, it seems to me serendipitous that my son has gone to a place where the Conception of the Virgin Mary is annually celebrated (December 8th) with great fanfare.

Full disclosure: After some prodding, my son did enter the basilica; but he evinced little (no) enthusiasm.

The Importance of Jigsaw Puzzles in American Summer Houses

For a while now I have been pondering this cultural trope. It seems fairly obvious that the chief pleasure of a jigsaw puzzle is in creating (arbitrary) Order out of (contrived) Chaos. What could be more satisfying?
You start with an unsorted pile of oddly shaped bits of wood or cardboard.
Hesiod’s world also starts with Chaos, a shapeless, bundled, tangled and inchoate agglomeration of everything and nothing, neither truly solid nor fluid nor gaseous.
You empty the box onto a flat surface. Before you can do anything else you turn the pieces over onto their ‘correct’ side; the assumption of the existence of a ‘correct’ side already being a great leap away from Chaos.
Hesiod tells us how the earth(Gaea), the sky(Ether) and Eros(the creative force), separate and take on form and emerge from Chaos.
(In Book VII of Paradise Lost, Milton describes Chaos as: “… the vast immeasurable abyss. Outrageous as a sea, dark ,wasteful, wild.” It is the use of the word wasteful here that strikes me for its implied harsh judgment.)
Back in the American summer house, you sort through the turned-over pieces to find the Edges, because knowing the periphery of a thing is so helpful in defining it. Where we would be without Limits? Edges or Borders or Fences? (As you can see, we have already ventured far from a ‘simple’ jigsaw puzzle into some fairly ponderous questions.)
In Hesiod’s Theogony, the gods, the Titans and finally mankind develop on earth.
Your hands hover over the random pieces as your eye scans for matching colors and shapes; even so, your mind wanders. This puzzle featuring water birds of North America inexorably leads you to the skeleton of a Great Blue Heron that dangled from a rafter of the screened porch in Marshfield for many years. Your ex/late husband found this prize one day on the salt marsh at low tide. He strung it with fishing line and set it to spin above your heads as you dined and played Risk and painted pictures. When you last inhabited the house on the marsh, the delicate bird bones were already finely swaddled in dust and scented with marijuana and fish. Perhaps it hangs there still, witness to another decade of revelry and discord.
You return to the puzzle and discover that the blue-greenish underbelly of the avocet is similar in shade to a watery frond.
Each completed bird is created out of Chaos; each time the pieces smoothly interlock a small breath of Order enters the room.
All this, and it is only a rainy day in a musty house by a lake, where the loons sing duets in the mornings and the moose are always on the other side.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What a piece of work is man and/or woman

The other evening we went to see The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark at Boscobel, presented by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival with a wonderful young Matthew Amendt as Hamlet, and I could have sworn someone was fooling around with my brain by having inserted the “What a piece of work is Man! How noble in reason!”* speech into Act 2 of Hamlet. You know the speech because it was set to music in “Hair!” and we can all sing it. And I could have sworn, and indeed did swear, that the speech belonged to Caliban in The Tempest. It is the perfect speech for Caliban, poor misshapen & oppressed creature that he is, to express his wonderment at these buff and sweet-talking gentlemen just been washed ashore onto his island.

Then I decided that the director (Terence O’Brien of HVSF) had conceived a clever device to illuminate the plays of Shakespeare: in each play he directed he would insert a speech from another play, but in such a way that it would proceed smoothly and mesh seamlessly with the action. I decided that this was his subtle way to illuminate certain recurring themes. And possibly, so I thought, it was meant as a signature fluke or “error”, in the same way that Native American weavers will deliberately leave one thread awry, so as not to provoke the gods with the perfection of their workmanship.

I may have missed some elegant swordplay in Act V because I was still working out the explanation for this unprecedented insertion of a speech from The Tempest (WS’s final play and a so-called comedy) into Hamlet (tragedy, without a doubt).

But I was wrong. The speech really is in Hamlet. The deeply troubled Hamlet says the words to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, those perfidious friends.
How could I have been so confused? Is it possible that in The Tempest Caliban makes that same speech, that Caliban in fact, quotes Hamlet?

*What a piece of work is a man! How noble in
Reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving
how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! and yet to me, what is
this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no,
nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seeme
to say so

Friday, July 22, 2011

Three Odd Things about

Three Odd Things about Lucian Freud’s Obit
1. The mention of the mooning incident: In 1938, he was expelled from Bryanston, in Dorset, after dropping his trousers on a dare on a street in Bournemouth.
2. The mention of the arson incident along with its refutation: While it is true that the school burned to the ground while he was there, the often repeated story that Mr. Freud accidentally started the fire with a discarded cigarette seems unlikely.
3. The non-naming of his children. He is survived by many children from his first marriage and from a series of romantic relationships.

1.This writer certainly has no objection to mooning; in fact, regards it as a noble tradition. But rarely does it get mentioned in obits. Chances are very good that in their early years several presidents and Supreme Court justices – especially those who benefited from private education – mooned a figure of authority. Yet I defy you to find this delightful fact mentioned in any of their obituaries.
2.I don’t want to quibble, but this seems disingenuous to me. Should we all now fear that our (hitherto-hoped-and-assumed-to-be-reverential) obituaries will contain the following slur: While it is true that Michael Jackson died under mysterious circumstances, the oft-repeated rumor that [your name here] was responsible for his death by means of a voodoo doll seems highly unlikely.
3. Maybe I am imputing the offense I would take were my name omitted from a parental obituary; and maybe it is less offensive since none are singled out for omission. But still. Isn’t it fairly standard for the children to be listed (the survivors, the bereaved, the heirs, the progeny) in an obit? And what is the excuse here? That there are “many”? Are they to be penalized for the paternal proclivity for procreation? (According to Wiki: “Freud is rumored to have fathered as many as 40 children, although this number is generally accepted as an exaggeration.” Then the article goes on to list 13, and they all have names.

Monday, July 18, 2011

WHO's who where?

It feels like ages since I have written in SQD and chances are I have missed it more than you, dear readers, who presumably have more important things to do. But for those rare moments requiring distraction, I am returning with a few vignettes from our recent time in glorious Pleasant Pond in the north woods of Maine.
And closer to home, if you happen to visit the NYC offices of NRDC you need only go next door(Save energy! Be environmentally savvy!) to buy your weekly supply of Fake Blood, Cobwebs, Ice Effects and Mustaches.

Do you ever read the WHO’S WHO in the Playbill, hoping for something to catch your interest, spark your imagination, and tell you something other than the episodes of Law & Order in which this actor supported his or her art? Only to be disappointed. That is probably because you are attending theatre in one of the great metropolitan areas, watching serious artists perform serious plays.
But if you are lucky enough to attend any of this summer’s performances at Lakewood Theatre in Skowhegan, Maine* you will find in the WHO’S WHO a wealth and breadth of biographical detail you had not dared to dream of. I offer here a few selections; to appreciate the full experience you too will have to sit in a Torquemada™ chair and watch the 350 lb. owner of the hardware store in Moscow, Maine tap dance across the stage (and he was great):

NANCY resides in North Anson and likes Mexican food, An Officer and a Gentleman, Judy Garland, Carol Burnett, the color green and Hawaii 5-0”. She is really good at multi-tasking and wishes she had the magical power to lower energy prices.
JUAN’S pets are named Guido, Rosie and Sully. The 150 guppies are unnamed. He claims he is really good at being patient and his hero is Albert Einstein.
IRVING of Stetson lives with wife Jantha, Zeus the dog, and twin cats, Phantom and Ariel.
MIKE was born in England and his family includes Paris, 4 ½ pounds of attitude with a rhinestone collar. He has a degree in rock mechanics and mining, and works as an insurance advisor. Mike claims he is really good at doing a British accent.
GARY is the doting grandparent of Izabel, Madden, Alyuia and Brennan. A Scorpio, Gary likes chocolate, the color green, “Grey’s Anatomy”, and Henry Fonda. He wishes he had the magical power to change his Maine accent. Gary would like to visit the Holy Land.
GREG resides in Hartland and says, “I was born in the wrong era”. Greg’s hero is his wife Dawn and he claims she says he is “really good at everything”. He wishes he had the power to teleport anywhere in the world.
BOBBY claims he is really good at “being kind”. His heroes are Kurt Vonnegut and Daniel Day-Lewis.

*111 years old, and one of the oldest summer theatres in America, on the western shore of Wesserunsett Lake, this Lakewood should not be confused with the Lakewood Center for the Arts in Oswego, Oregon; or the historic Art-Deco Lakewood Theater in East Dallas, Texas; or the Lakewood Theatre Company of Nashville, TN; or the Lakewood Amphitheatre in Atlanta (its formal name is: The HiFi Buys Amphitheatre) or the Lakewood Cultural Center of Lakewood, Colorado, or the Regal Lakewood Cinema of Lakewood, Washington. The Lakewood Theatre in Skowhegan is not only the oldest and hence first Lakewood, but lays claim to the most uncomfortable seats among the Lakewoods, a coveted distinction.

Look for future posts on the Importance of the Jigsaw Puzzle to the American Summer Home; the Social Register at Pleasant Pond; the eternal problem of The Pecking Order; and the Virgin of Caacupé.