Saturday, June 30, 2012

More basement archeology

I certainly do not want to suggest that this comprises the weirdest list of random items dredged from the parental basement and barn; nothing has yet topped, for sheer delight, the shelf of dusty, moldy & empty wine bottles, labeled “Empty Bottles with Good Memories”. But still, there are nuggets to be gleaned here:

• An Ethiopian one-dollar bill featuring a lovely portrait of Haile Selassie, the original Rasta (Who went to Ethiopia? And when? And why? That is to say, I know why I went - long story - but why did the procurer of this dollar?)

• Typed school reports my father and his brother, from Brush Hill School, Spring 1934. Given that we were raised to think that my father, from his earliest years, was brilliant, tri-lingual and able to perform calculus in his sleep, it is rather shocking to read this from Dad’s science teacher: “Philip has shown little progress through the year in extending his interest. Is interested in the things we do without caring to know why we do them.” (Hmmm.)
Or this from his PhysEd teacher: “Philip is keenly interested in baseball…He responds more accurately in rhythms. He is over-critical of others.” (Okay, that last bit does seem more like the Dad we know & love.)
However, this from his music teacher seems apt, then and now: “He still uses only one or two tones in his voice, and he ought to have one or two minutes of daily work to overcome this handicap.
• A collection of certificates certifying the bearer to have circumnavigated the world, crossed the International Date Line, or the Equator, or some other landmark, imaginary or otherwise, issued by assorted airlines, such as the International Date Line Club, Northwest Orient Airlines (last name misspelled); Jupiter Rex/Pan American-Grace Airways/Panagra; Neptune Rex, TWA; Domain of Phoebus Apollo (first name misspelled).
• The House Beautiful Climate Control Project, printed in 1951 by the American Institute of Architects
• Among several items attesting to my wasted youth (all those A+’s in religion), a report made by yours truly when a student in parochial school, in which the sacraments are defined AND illustrated. As this example of genuine contrition:

But what I find most compelling is a brown manila accordion folder, the kind with attached matching ribbons, labeled in my grandmother’s unmistakable perfect convent script: Hans Lehner. That is my grandfather, my father’s father. The script is that of my mother’s mother. Inside this manila envelope I found:
• Hans Lehner’s passports for the years, 1947, 1951, 1955 and 1959
• A program of my Uncle Claude’s marriage to Nancy Mansfield in Seekonk, Massachusetts
• Several photographs of my father and uncle and their father, with lots of dead fish hanging from a string, somewhere
• Lists (both typed and handwritten) of the guests who came to my grandfather (Hans Lehner’s) funeral in January 1965. The lists are long, and only the male member of a couple is named.
• A catalog for machinery and supplies for carding, combing and weaving (50,000 spindles)
• An ink stained handwritten family tree, entirely in German, hence incomprehensible to me
• Three fond birthday cards from Reine (mother’s mother) to Hans (father’s father)

What was not found in the basement or anywhere else, what cannot be quantified or labeled, what is worth all the dredging, the inhaling of old dust, and the grimy fingers, are the stories that get retold, and sometimes, just sometimes, they are even stories I have never heard before.
Thus, peripherally related to the subject of having all this junk in the basement, my mother explained to CSB that when she and her brother and mother left Indochina in 1940, they left in a VERY BIG RUSH. Specifically, European women and children had exactly 24 hours to pack and get on the boat heading east, if they wanted to evade the Japanese army as it scorch-earthed its way south. My grandmother backed up her children, their toys & clothes & books, and left everything else behind. And among that everything else was her collection of Chinese jade.
I always knew that my grandmother loved jade, and I suppose I always knew that my mother’s father was color-blind, because all three of my brothers are color blind, and color blindness is a recessive trait carried by the female. But here is the part I never knew. As he traveled throughout Indochina, my grandfather Arnold, known to me as Bon Papa, often bought jade for his wife, but being color blind he could not distinguish between green jade and pink jade, and he bought numerous pieces of pink jade jewelry and carved pink jade figures, thinking they were green jade. Because he actually had no idea that jade came in many different hues and colors. And Reine, my grandmother of the convent script, known as Bonne Maman, did not want to disillusion her husband, so she gratefully accepted the pink jade, which was lovely, but it was not green.
According to my mother, that pink jade would be very very valuable now, but what do we know? We do not have it in our basement; it is in some Japanese general’s basement – or so said Bonne Maman – although I don’t think of Japanese houses as having basements, and we hope they are enjoying it, pink or green.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Re-moving the Whitney Bees - a performance piece

In case you did not know, the Whitney Museum, home to the happy hives of Let it Bee, is re-doing the entire roof its Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue, and this means that the bees will have to vacate.
In case you thought this was a simple process, I am here to tell you otherwise.

This is how it went: First CSB had to build a bunch of new nuc boxes. Then we lugged them and plastic bins for honey supers and all our gear up to the roof. Then we suit up – but as we will discover, not enough suiting up for Chucker, as the bees stung him through his socks, and crawled all over the trapezoid of exposed back between the top of his jeans and the bottom of the jacket as it rode up while he worked.
Then he un-stacked hive #1. Once he started this process the bees became agitated, and then they became more agitated, and so they were flying all around us with more than their usual interest in our bodies. And once a bee stings you, she leaves behind her pheromones to alert her sister bees to this prime-and-ready-to-be-stung flesh. So imagine all that follows amidst thousands of flying and agitated bees.
CSB took out each deep frame, looked for the queen & then passed it to me to place into a nuc. We repeated this process about 30 times, filling up about 6 nuc boxes. Once each nuc was filled, I put the wire lid back over, and then CSB - barehanded in order to better manipulate the cordless drill – screwed the wire on to ensure no bee escapees. About 20-30 screws per nuc. I labeled each nuc with an X, except the one with the queen, which got a double XX.
Then the honey supers: CSB removed the honey supers, shook off the bees, and passed them down to me; I then brushed off the remaining bees and slid the sweet honey-filled frame into the plastic bin which I then covered with a Red Sox beach towel (ca. 1987), so the bees would not all return to reclaim their honey. This process was repeated 10 times for each bin, after which I put the lid on and taped the lid as tightly as possible.
We did this with 2 hives, of 2 deeps each, and about 4 honey supers full of 10 frames each. The plastic bins with the honey supers weighed about 40 pounds each, or 50, or maybe 60 pounds. A lot.

Then we carried everything from the hive location to the roof door on the other side of the roof, so we wouldn’t have to go through the utility room with its vents, AC’s, furnaces, pipes, knobs, valves, gadgets, and maintenance men who, despite our many cheerful and chirpy appearances, have not yet found a way to enjoy the presence of the bees on the roof.
We lugged everything to the roof door, but we didn’t open the roof door, because it is alarmed, and for this we had to call Delano, the chief of Whitney’s Physical Plant and the guy we see most every time we come in to see the bees. (Among his other talents, Delano is a painter and he just got married at about the coolest venue ever: The Housing Works Café) So poor Delano had to leave whatever else he was doing and hustle up a key for the roof door and then come up to the fifth floor and unlock and de-alarm the door so we can move everything from the outside (the roof) to the inside – very carefully. I cannot exaggerate just how insanely careful and frankly, a little OCD, CSB is about this, his determination that not one single bee should escape and enter the hallowed sanctum of the WMA. Then we carry everything down a flight of stairs – have I made it clear that we are talking about a few 100 pounds of bees and honey in aggregate? No? Well, then let me say again: these things are heavy, and I, for one, am a weakling. And finally, finally, we load everything onto the dolly and roll it out into the gallery featuring four mannequins dressed in museum guard uniforms (Guarded View, by Fred Wilson) and onto the elevator. Then we go down four floors, and roll everything out that we had just rolled in, we traverse the Whitney lobby, past the bookstore and the coat check, silenced on this Monday or Tuesday, since those are the days the museum is closed and when we service the Whitney bees.
Then we load everything in the back of our car, which already smells wonderfully of wax and honey and dogs, and return to Hastings, where we unload and install the bees in their new home for the rest of the season.
In case I have not flogged this dead horse enough, this was quite a lengthy and exhausting process, and needed to be repeated the following day with the remaining hives. So I had the brilliant idea of enlisting the aid of young hipster musician nephew to come and help, which he did, coming from Brooklyn to meet us at the loading dock, dressed in beekeeper whites and ready to document the adventure for his legions of FB fans. He may look like a hipster, but he is strong and did much of the heavy lifting and got his first bee sting ever, a badge of honor.
So for the next few months, the roof of the Whitney will be sadly bee-less. But the early season was a good one, hence the many, heavy, pounds of honey supers.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

SQD Wedding and Pig Roast FAQs

Before you flood us with questions, clog the cyber wires and cause a national security breach of the likes unseen since the Flagrant Mouse Chewing Apostrophe of 1952, please refer to this convenient list of FAQs, answered:

Q: Why did you and CSB get married last week?
A: Because it was the night before the Pig Roast.

Q: Let me re-phrase, why did you get married at all?
A: Because I had exhausted all the possibilities for referring to CSB (boyfriend, partner, POSSLQ, mate, main squeeze, old man, better/taller/much taller half, consort, emergency contact) and found them all wanting.

Q: What’s with the Pig Roast anyway?
A: We wanted to have a joint 60th birthday party, and we had exhausted all the possible fun party themes in previous years, such as the guanaco and ostrich rides in the back 40; the parachuting clowns - this was an unqualified failure as it turns out there are more coulrophobes in the general population than there are clowns, hence clowns jumping out of the sky precipitated many trips to the ER and a run on certain drugs from the local apothecary; the opium poppy piñata; pin the tail on the hybrid car; and Exquisite Corpse meets the local Police Blotter. So CSB came up with the pig roast idea, which is a delicious one.

Q: Did you guys raise the pig?
A: We did not. We raised Hamlette last year, but she grew very fast and very large before we noticed. We were novices in the pig-raising field, which is not to say that we are now experts. So we hired two very nice young men from Brooklyn (Off the Hook Catering) who went to a very good school (Fieldston) and specialize in “whole animal cookery” and they did an excellent job roasting two piglets.

Q: But were the piglets as happy as Hamlette?
A: Despite the much-vaunted intelligence of pigs, we cannot answer that question. But they did grow up on a bucolic organic farm in Pennsylvania, a state notoriously founded by peace-loving Quakers.

Q: Would you recommend getting married the day before hosting a Pig Roast?
A: Are you insane?

Q: Please elaborate.
A: It seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, we had secured the attendance of most of our beloved family members for the Pig Roast when CSB suggested we make double use of the tent and get married. Naturally, I leapt at the idea, as visions of veils, Transylvanian oligarch brides, and French meringues danced in my head. It was the later introduction of reality, in the shape of folding & ironing napkins beyond count, sticking yellow and black ribbons onto bee-themed place-cards, worrying about whether there would be enough food for our families after the wedding, worrying about the weather, worrying about the champagne, worrying if our respective families would like each other, or even talk to each other, worrying if I would break out in a disfiguring rash the night before (the sort of thing almost guaranteed to precipitate said rash), worrying if the poison ivy on my left shoulder and armpit would spread all over my body & I would end up getting married with pus filled poison ivy blisters, worrying about the scuzz exuding from Daisy and Bruno’s eyes, worrying about the bees and if they would swarm, worrying more about the weather, the food and the tent falling down.

Q: Was there anything you did not worry about that you should have?
A: Iggy’s bowels, pre-ceremony. Also, what to do when I open the refrigerator door and a bottle of excellent champagne leaps out and crashes to the floor, sending fine glass shards and champagne everywhere, including all over my wedding dress. Also, sleep.

Q: Whose dress was more bridal, yours or your granddaughter, Leda’s?
A: Leda’s, of course. (Mine had a black sash). We also had matching bouquets.

Q: Who made Christine’s wedding ring?
A: Funny you should ask. A very nice elderly Zoroastrian who, with his elderly Zoroastrian wife, has a small jewelry store in town.

Q: Do you know any Zoroastrian jokes now?
A: As it happens, we do. But they are not funny unless you already know the Zoroastrian rituals regarding what to do with dead bodies.

Q: Do all Belgian women wear saris to weddings and parties, or just your mother?
A: As far as I know, only my mother.

Q: Could you have picked a more arcane reading from the Song of Solomon for Tristram to read at the church? From his iPhone.
A: Doubtful.

Q: What is spikenard anyway?
A: It’s a member of the Valerian family, has small pink flowers, and grows at altitudes over 3000 meters. They say it helps with insomnia, and also has anti-fungal qualities.

Q: What about calamus?
A: It’s a member of the palm family, Arecaceae. The Australian variety is called ‘hairy mary’.

Q: Are you changing your name?
A: I have always hankered for Wilhemina, but no, I will stick with Christine.

Q: --?
A: Sorry, no more questions.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Perhaps we will see the Transit of Venus today, perhaps not. It depends on the clouds. But Venus will transit across the sun whether we see it or not. This is a rare, but very predictable event. Transits occur in pairs, 8 years apart (the last one was in 2004), and then we must wait another 105 years, which is why most of us will never see another one in our lifetimes. The planet Venus (2nd closest to the sun, as you know from your mnemonic: My Very Existential Mother Just Served Us Noodles – no more pizzas since the demotion off Pluto.) transits between the Sun and the Earth, and we see it as a black dot against the yellow-orange-red solar disk. Do not look directly into the sun!

I read Shirley Hazzard’s Transit of Venus long before I had a clue what the astronomical event was. I loved the book so much I wrote a fan letter to Ms. Hazzard, my first.
I visited the Transit Room at the Observatory Cottage next door and thought it was a very wonderful room, but I still had no idea what it was for.
Now I do. The room is peninsular, and at its end are two tall narrow casement windows facing each other. There used to be an opening in the ceiling as well. When the room served its intended function, a telescope and camera could track the transit – or other celestial movement - from one window, through the ceiling and down the other window, for long enough time to get a good exposure.
And this is a good thing to know, because over a century ago Henry Draper (1837-1882) lived in this house and looked at the skies from his observatory next door.
Draper was a doctor and an astronomer, the son of John William Draper who bought this house in 1849 and was the first person to photograph the moon through a telescope, in 1839. John Draper married Antonia Coetana de Paiva Pereira Gardner, daughter of the personal physician to the Emperor Pedro II of Brazil, known as The Magnanimous. But even though he left us historic photos of the moon and his sister Dorothy, John Draper apparently never took a picture of his Brazilian wife, mother to Henry. I find that troubling.
Henry Draper was a pioneer in astrophotography. In 1874 he organized the eight US expeditions to the Far East to photograph the transit of Venus of December 9, for which he was granted a Congressional Medal of Honor.
He was still a young man, seeking to photograph the Orion nebula, when he became ill with pleurisy, and died in November 1882. He missed seeing the next transit, on December 6, by less than a month.
If you can see the sun later today, make a point of l viewing the Transit of Venus (safely, through welders glasses or a pinhole camera) because you never know when pleurisy will strike.

Meanwhile, CSB is rebuilding the lamellar structure to roof the blueberry houses, as the previous lamellar structures were crushed and then collapsed from the weight of the snow during last year's freak Halloween snowstorm. Will this one survive the next climatic weirdness? Will anything? A lamellar structure, like the blueberry houses, only different -->