Thursday, December 12, 2013

Nothing in Common goes South, the Last Day

I would like to tell you about Mississippi, anything and everything about Mississippi, because Mississippi was surprising in a multitude of ways; not that I was surprised that Faulkner was born there and died there, in a sanatorium in Byhalia that has since been razed to make room for a gas station (we were not sure whether it was the Gulf or the Sunoco), or that Eudora Welty was born there and died there and had piles of books on very surface in her house, because I expected those things. But still.
Here it is already the holiday season that traditionally fills some of us – me – with sticky peppermint anxiety and jingle-bell-induced neuralgia, and it seems like a good idea to jump ahead and wrap up the Nothing in Common Southern Road Trip Annals.
So it was our last day. On our second to last day we visited Asheville and got a tiny bit lost in the lovely cemetery where Thomas Wolfe is buried, before visiting the Sliding Rock in the Pisgah National Forest where CSB fondly recalled certain youthful debaucheries, but I won’t go into that because we are jumping ahead to the last day.
On our last day we departed North Carolina and entered Virginia at 7:10 am. For some reason I noted that time, even though I had not done so on previous occasions of entering or exiting a state. CSB’s father was born in Virginia; he was a Branch of Virginia. Having entered Virginia so early no sites of note (neither the Museum of the Confederacy nor the Edgar Allen Poe Museum) were actually open when we arrived in Richmond. This was fine. We drove around and made several U-turns at the behest of Lorelei, our GPS. So it was that we discovered one of CSB’s illustrious ancestors: John Patteson Branch, a man so clean that he wanted the whole city to be clean.
It was definitely time to head north. I realized that while CSB’s forebear was promoting “good public health”, my own ancestor, Auguste (or Gustav) Brancart was busy publishing erotica in Belgium and the Netherlands, promoting another kind of health. It seems unlikely their paths crossed. But then, here we are.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Nothing in Common goes South, Day #4 or 5

It is not something I want to stress to heavily but it must be said: my ignorance of American history turns out to be on a par with my ignorance of Middle Chinese kingdoms. With my ignorance of Bulgarian country music. With my ignorance of phrenology, alchemy, and kymatology. Also Nascar, football (professional and college) and leveraged derivatives.
I should not make light of it.
So there we were driving across Tennessee, which, by the way, is not a small state. Driving across Tennessee is not like driving across Massachusetts, even though they share a certain horizontal rectangularity; hence my conflation of the two. In fact Tennessee is FOUR (4) times the size of Massachusetts. And Tennessee was home to Andrew Jackson, our 7th President (1829-1837). I know that now.
Naturally, as we were driving across Tennessee, it seemed like a good idea to visit the Hermitage, his home outside of Nashville.
Not only is Tennessee not the same size as Massachusetts but also Andrew Jackson the President is not the same person as Stonewall Jackson. Also, the Stonewall riots of 1969, in Greenwich Village, had nothing to do with Stonewall Jackson, who was a Confederate general killed by friendly fire at Chancellorsville.
It was definitely Day #4 or 5 of our road trip. We spent the night at an excellent Comfort Inn (cheap, coffee maker in room, indoor pool) in Mt Juliet, Tennessee, where it turns out there are several apiaries. In the morning we went straight to The Hermitage and signed on for the tour. The tours are given by members of the Ladies Hermitage Association who all dress in period attire. (Let’s just say that I have mixed feelings about period attire.)
In the front hall I am especially admiring of the scenic wallpaper by Zuber; the costumed guide tells us that the scenes of Greek mythology were deemed appropriate for a young democracy, even though the scenes depicted Telemachus searching for the errant Odysseus. Then our guide turns to CSB asks him if he has a $20 bill.
Never pleased to be singled out in a group, CSB rather stone-facedly extracts a bill from his wallet. I am guessing this will have something to do with the face on the bill, nut am otherwise unprepared. The guides makes an elaborate show of examining the bill, then holds it up for the assembled tourists and says to CSB, “Sir, you could work here! You look very much like President Jackson! You would however need to use some hair products.”
CSB mumbles something that could have been: Just get on with the tour. Or, I would never use hair products, thank you very much. Or something not very nice at all.
Meanwhile I am delighted by this newfound Presidential resemblance that CSB has acquired. For many years, he dressed as Abe Lincoln (given his height and demeanor, kind of a shoe-in) when absolutely forced to do so. I also think there is much good to be said about Andrew Jackson’s hairdo, which I suspect he achieved without the help of mousse or gel.
Another happily mismatched couple?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nothing in Common Goes South, Day #3

Who knows why we went to see the Natural Bridge. I must have seen a picture of it somewhere and been enchanted. It seemed like a natural wonder, but an uncomplicated natural wonder. I thought we would drive over, see the wonder of nature, be suitably awed by the wonderfulness of nature, and then head off on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
It didn’t quite happen that way.
You can’t just look at the Natural Bridge because it is privately owned and the owner has devised it so that you cannot even see the Natural Bridge without entering through the gift shop and passing through the gauntlet of gift shop, basement filled with arcade type games (and tragically dubbed “Jefferson’s Playground”). Then, because the Natural Bridge is privately owned and not a National Park as yours truly thinks it should be, you have to pay a rather steep (think exorbitant) fee to see the Natural Bridge. The cheapest ticket you can get is $20.99; the cashier will tell you that this gouging fee includes the Fake Indian Village and the Wax Museum and the “Drama of Creation”. But I do not want to see the Fake Indian Village, the Wax Museum or the “Drama of Creation”; in fact, you would have to pay me to see them. Our fee is not reduced and so, since we have come so far (etc. etc., all sorts of ridiculous rationalizations) we pay and head off.
Past the gift shop, you head downstairs and pass by the previously mentioned tragically named “Jefferson’s Playground”. Yes, Jefferson did once own the Natural Bridge, having bought it from George III for about $9.00. Then you exit the building and descend a paved walkway (You can also take a shuttle bus) to the small structure at the ‘entrance’ to the Natural Bridge. We approached, and the ticket taker emerged.
Ticker taker: How are y’all doing today?
Me: Fine.
CSB: Fine, except that we were a bit shocked to learn that this natural beauty is privately owned and costs money to see.
TT: It costs money to operate.
(What I should have said, my esprit de l'escalier: Operate what? It’s all rocks.)
CSB: We heard up above that it’s for sale.
TT: So it is.
CRL: I think the owner should give it to the National Park system so it could be appreciated by all.
TT: [Harrumph.] The owner offered it to the government but all they wanted to give him was credit for 17 years of back taxes.
(What I should have said: You mean he hasn’t paid his taxes for 17 years? Like the rest of us? And we’re supposed to feel sorry for him?)
TT (continuing): And you can’t give it to the government because the first they would do would be to get rid of the light show, and it’s a religious light show, and you know about government and religion, they just don’t mix.
CRL: Nor should they. That’s the Separation of Church and state. Freedom of religion.
(What I should have said: Something about Jeffersonian ideals.)
TT: Oh, and every religion in the world can get away with everything they want, but not the Christians. Christians can’t get away with anything.
CSB: Ahem. I think we need to go see this Bridge.
At this point- that is, before I get really incensed about the tyranny of the radical Christian right, as well as the “drama of Creation which is all about the seven days according to Genesis, as interpreted by the very literal-minded – CSB tugs at me and we head off to see the actual bridge. Which is lovely. But I am still fuming.
The Natural Bridge, painted by Frederic Church in 1852.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Welcome to Glasgow, Virginia!

Nothing in Common Goes South, Day #2

I expected Palladian elegance and the separation of church and state; what we found in Charlottesville was an extraordinary preponderance of orange. A whole lot of orange. I do not refer to pumpkins or foliage, but orange finery, orange flags, orange banners, and orange clothes of every persuasion.
This was because Charlottesville, home to UVA and Jefferson’s elegant home & garden, was in the grip of college football frenzy; and it turns out that I have spent my entire life ignorant of the American tradition known as college football, and its attendant noises, rituals, apparel and processions. We arrived in Charlottesville on the eve of a major football game with Clemson U. I was shocked to learn that the UVA team was sure to lose; yet that fact did not seem to dampen anyone’s spirits. Revelry was general over Charlottesville.
I don’t think that both teams purposefully both had orange as their school color, but this synchronicity certainly permeated the town. Maybe if you follow college football you will tell me that it often happens that two teams with the same color will play other, making it hard to distinguish them on the field, at least for the uninitiated. I just found it odd, and rather challenging, and spent too much time in Charlottesville trying to perceive subtle differences of hue and tone in the orange accouterments being sported all over town.

But no, it was not all orange and football. We did indeed tour Monticello, the Palladian home of Jefferson and a major tourist attraction. The Visitor Center – with café, gift store and theater – is larger than the actual house.
Our guide at Monticello was a lovely woman of a certain age who kept looking pointedly, almost quizzically, at CSB. Now if I had been the one to point out that she kept looking at him, as if she knew him, or had known him, then perhaps you might say I was imagining this. But CSB was equally certain that our guide, Peggy M, was eyeing him, and he became increasingly uncomfortable with her attentions as we made our way through the mansion. Did I increase his discomfort by gaily nudging him and asking if they had perhaps dated in some former life? Or by mentioning that she seemed quite nice and perhaps he should engage her in conversation and try to figure out what was what? Should I have alluded to the fact that he was a head taller than anyone else in the room, and hence made a handsome focal point? Poor CSB.
I should have been paying less attention to the guide’s ogling and more attention to what she said about Jefferson’s homemade copying machine and the Rumford fireplace. Yet something about the Rumford fireplace stuck with me, and once we departed Monticello I went straight to Google and learned a little about the checkered career of Count Rumford, née Benjamin Thompson in Woburn, Massachusetts. So little that on getting home I sought a biography of this odd duck – via the excellent auspices of Inter-Library Loan.
Benjamin Thompson was born in 1753 in Woburn, Massachusetts, where his childhood home still stands and is owned by the Rumford Historical Society. They have on display a copy of the portrait of Rumford done by Gainsborough, though the location of the original appears to be unknown.
I feel confident that you don’t want to know all the lurid details of Rumford’s life, but here are a few salient ones:
His taste for scientific experiment was early evidenced when he and his boyhood BFF Loammi Baldwin flew kites during electrical storms, and performed surgery on pigs.
He had a lifelong fascination with fireworks.
At the age of 20, Benjamin wisely married a somewhat older and much richer woman in New Hampshire, by whom he had a daughter. Then he chose the wrong side in the Revolutionary War, acted as a spy for the British, and ultimately had to flee across the ocean, leaving behind his wife and daughter.
In England he found favor with the king, pursued his scientific interests and had numerous affairs.
Later Benjamin went to Bavaria and the court of Elector Carl Theodore, to whom he became indispensable. So indispensable that he was made a Count of the Holy Roman Empire. (I was shocked to learn that the HRE still existed at this late date.) For his Count-ish title, Thompson chose Rumford, the New Hampshire hometown of his abandoned wife. While in Bavaria Count Rumford had numerous affairs, founded an exemplary Institute for the poor, and designed the English Gardens. (Through which I once strolled with beloved #1 son, and was shocked - operative sensation here - to espy an entirely naked family picnic, in the middle of the very lovely Englischer Garten, in the middle of Munich. We also saw surfers. Surfing on the smallest wave possible.)
Back in England, Rumford engaged in the experiments that would result in his excellent design for the Rumford fireplace. But otherwise, England grew too hot for him and he returned to the continent.
At age 50, he remarried (this entailed getting his previously abandoned daughter in the USA to send him a copy of his first wife’s death certificate) Marie-Anne Lavoisier, the 43-year-old widow of Antoine Lavoisier, the great French chemist who was separated from his head by the Revolution. But yet again, marriage did not suit, and they divorced within two years. Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, died of ‘nervous fever’ in 1814 at Auteuil. The funeral was ‘a lonely affair.’

One of the very first things I did upon getting back home was to assail certain dear friends with my newfound knowledge re the Rumford fireplace: so efficient, such a godsend for the chilly folk. Their response? Well, duh. Of course they knew all about the Rumford fireplace. The Rumford fireplace was/is, for the cognoscenti, right up there with the Franklin stove as the industry standard. The fireplaces in our house are – yes, - Rumford fireplaces.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Nothing in Common goes South, Day #1

How long has it been since we first mooted this brilliant idea of a southern road trip? All I know is that since that initial glimmer of a trip that would include literary shrines, Nascar races, country music and Civil War battlefields, the trip was delayed, postponed, and postponed again; and always for a reason: it was planting season, or bee season, or too hot or too cold, or one of the dogs was ill, or a relative was dying. Since that initial glimmer I managed to forget much of the reading I did in preparation for the trip. (The annals of Yoknapatawpha County; Look Home Sweet Homeward; A Good Man is Harder than Ever to Find; Delta Gay Wedding; and Carl Carmer’s Stars Fell off Alabama.) CSB was in better shape, since he made the wise decision to engage in no preparatory reading.
First we had to clear the dates with the chicken sitters and the dog sitters, because we are blessed with most excellent chicken sitters and dog sitters. And then we had to be fairly sure that no one was likely to be born or get very ill while we were away. And of course the garden had to be more or less finished for the season.
Then it was Halloween - and we never get trick-or-treaters here at Let it Bee Farm because it is rather lonely and there is a long driveway and in every way it is ideally suited to scare small children in the dark - and we set off. The first adventure was getting lost in New Jersey. How can you get lost heading straight south on a highway in New Jersey? It’s not as if I have not driven into or through New Jersey before. But while CSB was reading the Times, I managed to get on I-95 instead of the NJ Turnpike, or something like that. I was afraid that we might miss the Walt Whitman rest area. I didn’t actually plan to stop at the Walt Whitman rest area but I just like to consider the delightful randomness of a thruway service plaza named for a radical, freethinking, tree hugging poet. Otherwise, the rest areas/service plazas in New Jersey are a great opportunity to use Google while driving. You want to know the real story of Molly Pitcher? Google her and you will learn that she may not be an actual person, but a composite. But if she was a real person, her name was probably Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, whose husband fought with the Continental Army at Valley Forge, and Mary traveled along with them and brought water (pitchers of water) to the soldiers. You will also learn that Fort Bragg holds an annual “Molly Pitcher Day” when they demonstrate weapon systems for the whole family.
In quick succession, we traversed New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. That morning and afternoon of traversing whole states was tantalizing and deceptive, and reinforced my skewed notion of the size of the rest of the states of the United States. If where I live is the center of the universe, the apex of civilization, and the Omphalos of the world, (and is it not?) then surely everything else is smaller and ancillary. How very wrong. Our first day would be the last day when we would get across any state in less than a day.
The excitement of day one involved neither a literary shrine nor a battlefield or even country music. They were bears. Bears high in a tree. Very high in a tall oak tree. On the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park we encountered a mother bear and a cub collecting and munching on acorns. (Sadly, the photographic evidence is more like evidence of my sub-par camera skills.)) It was a rather skinny oak tree, and they were about fifty feet high and incredibly agile. I feel confident that had I ever gotten that high up in a tree I would not have scampered from limb to limb and managed to gather acorns at the same time. I feel even more confident that if my cub were on the limb just below me I would have been apoplectic with worry lest he fall. The wind was blowing, and the oak tree was swaying in the wind, and the bears on the limbs were swaying, and still they collected acorns.
Of course I was entranced. How many times have I not seen a moose in Maine? Close to a thousand times. Yet here I had just barely entered the Shenandoah and I saw bears. Not suburban bears scavenging in garbage. But happy National Park protected bears bulking up for the winter.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A few selected (redacted) Weekend Highlights

First off, we had a visit from Jerry H., Librarian of the Northern Nutgrowers Association and passionate advocate for nut trees. He came by with our new industrial strength nutcracker – capable of cracking the black walnuts that fall on the back porch and on the driveway, and dent the roof of any car parked beneath. It turns out that, after all these years of thinking otherwise, the black walnuts are actually edible. In order to derive an edible walnut, all you have to do is:
1. Gather the fallen black walnuts. They will be soft and mushy. They will stain your fingers and anything else they touch.
2. Step on them with shoes you don’t mind discoloring and roll them around on the driveway to remove the outer green skin and pulp, leaving the nutshell. Do not do this if you suffer from vertigo, dizziness or labyrinthitis.
3. Soak the partially cleaned nutshells in a bucket of water and scrape them clean with a wire brush. OR, if you happen to have a washing machine you have no other use for, you can put the nuts in that. Do not under any circumstances wash the walnuts in the same washing machine you will use for your clothes, as the nuts will dent the drum and stain everything else.
4. Lay out the cleaned nutshells on a screen and allow them to dry for 2 to 3 weeks in a cool dry place.
They should now be edible.
5. Bring out your industrial strength nutcracker to open them, but be careful of flying bits of nutshell that can be very sharp and could pierce your eyeball.
6. Enjoy the nuts.

I particularly liked Jerry’s jacket.

Next, I went to see CINDERELLA on Broadway with Numero Uno Granddaughter, Leda G.G.H.B. I expected every little girl in the audience to be dolled up in colorful and slightly tacky versions of Cinderella attire, and was somewhat disappointed at the preponderance of blue jeans. Though not on Numero Uno granddaughter, whose version of Cinderella Attire included: a long gown apparently from the 1970’s, a tasteful sweater with a deer (faun?) on it, a glitter headband and missing front teeth. We loved Cinderella. I appreciated that the stepsister with wanderlust and political leanings wore glasses.
Updated fairy tale was followed by a Sushi picnic on Metro North. Numero Uno granddaughter loves sushi. Not photographically documented was the miso soup spillage, which made rather a large mess but did not dampen our good spirits.

Then on Sunday, we walked out back to appreciate the 13-FOOT AFRICAN PYTHON SKIN. (I wanted CSB to lie down next to the python skin, for scale, but his dignity forbade such a ridiculous performance. My dignity would not have minded, but this was not suggested.) This was not our python skin, I regret to say, but our friend Merrill’s python skin. This python skin required the application of glycerin to soften it, and she thought our backyard would be an excellent place to accomplish this. We agreed, naturally. I did not learn if live pythons, that is pythons attached to their 13 feet of snakeskin, like to be rubbed all over with glycerin. But this snakeskin certainly gleamed after the application.

I could include in the highlights last night’s dinner chez Camilla and Aldo. But in the interests of brevity I will simply say: Antipasti by Aldo; Gnocchi a la Romana by Camilla, Rabbit stew (there must be a better word than stew) and caramelized onions by Aldo, Plum tart made with Zinfandel grapes by Camilla. Honey tasting by the bees of Montenegro, Rwanda, Southern Colorado, Bolivia, Block Island, Ontario and Hastings on Hudson.
Also of great interest was the ensuing discussion of the difference between and meaning of CHEF and COOK.

Monday, October 14, 2013

From Parthenogenesis to the Cinema

Last week I went to the Cloisters for their Annual Garden Day. I could have stayed home and worked in our garden here, which needs weeding, pruning - massive amounts of pruning, harvesting and also hoeing and raking, but there was a lecture on Beekeeping in the Middle Ages that beckoned. I could have stayed home to nurse my visiting sister who was laid low with a very nasty case of poison ivy. I could have ushered her into her oatmeal bath. I could also have stayed home to make some baked item to serve my stepson’s new in-laws who were dropping by in order to rhapsodize about the recently transpired wedding. (But I don’t bake.)
Of course I went the Cloisters to learn about medieval beekeeping. In many significant ways, beekeeping in the Middle Ages was not so different from current beekeeping, except there were no varroa mites, no pesticides and especially no neonicotinoids and the hives were such that in order to harvest honey, the hive and often the bees themselves had to be destroyed. But still, the bees made honey and wax, and humans availed themselves of their bounty.
No, the real difference between then and now is what we believe, or know, about honeybees and honeybee societies.
In History of the Animals, Aristotle enumerates some of the extant theories, circa 350 BCE, regarding the parthenogenic origin of bees: the babes spring from the honeysuckle flower; the young are brought forth from olive trees; bees emit their progeny through their mouths. Aristotle eschews mentioning bougonia, the commonly held belief that bees occurred spontaneously from the rotting carcass of a cow or oxen. But Virgil, in his Georgics, elegantly describes this birthing process of bees: a young bullock is smothered and beaten to death, then its body is strewn with rosemary and thyme, and once the Westerly winds start to blow, a swarm of bees emerges. So it was that the ancients believed that bees propagated asexually: parthenogenesis.
For Medieval Christians the great story of parthenogenesis was the Virgin Birth, whereby Mary – without benefit of sexual congress – gives birth to Jesus Christ. (I won’t go near the Immaculate Conception in this short space.) Hence medieval Christians associated the Virgin Birth with the parthenogenesis of bees, and further extrapolated an analogous relationship between monastic communities, full of virgins & ruled by a virgin/chaste abbot or mother superior, with beehives.
This somewhat essential misreading of the gender and procreative process of the bees contributed to the symbolism that surrounded the use of beeswax candles in Christian churches. Many people kept bees in the Middle Ages, but the monasteries were in the forefront of beekeeping because of the importance of beeswax to the rites of the Christian church. Not only did beeswax burn brightly and smell sweetly, unlike the smoky & smelly tallow that was used by the peasantry, but also beeswax had the cachet of being produced by virgins.
In Christian iconography, the beeswax candle represented Jesus Christ: the pure wax being his flesh and the wick his human soul. We can read from the Exultet, a portion of the liturgy recited during the Easter season, this magnificent Ode to the Candle:
If indeed the bees, while they conceive by mouth, so they give birth by mouth; it is with a chaste body, not from foul desire, that they copulate.
Finally, preserving their virginity, they generate offspring; they are glad with progeny; they are called mothers; they remain untouched; they generate sons, and they do not know husbands.
They use the flower as a husband; with the flower they furnish offspring; with the flower they build their houses; with the flower they gather riches; with the flower they fashion wax.
O admirable ardor of the bees!

And more:
O splendid examples of virginity […..]
Let us proclaim the favor of this candle.
Whose odor is sweet, and whose flame cheerful; its fat does not exude a foul odor, but a most joyful sweetness, which is not tainted by foreign colorings, but is illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
Which when it is lit feeds on the fabric of its own body, this weeps tears bound together in rivulets of drops.
And which disperses
as a yellow vein the half-consumed portions as a divine blood, as the flame absorbs the received fluid.

Since earliest times the Queen Bee has consistently been addressed as a King. As a powerful female, she was not alone in being regarded as necessarily male. She rules the hive? Well, then of course she is a guy. Because guys rule! Poor Joan of Arc dressed as a male in order to lead the French soldiers out of their slump and into victory over the English, and it was her cross-dressing that most incensed the clerics who interrogated her and condemned her to the flames. History and legend are replete with tales of young girls who dressed as boys in order to travel safely or enter restricted areas. Likewise history is full of powerful women – and sometimes simply energetic women - who have been condemned for their unwomanly behavior, for being mannish, tomboyish, butch, and unladylike (a favorite word of my mother’s, back when).
No such name-calling occurs in the beehive. The worker bees, all female, know the queen and they know their very survival as a hive depends upon her. Their survival depends upon the virgin queen embarking on her mating flight, high up into the drone space, where she will mate with as many drones as possible; the worker bees know their survival depends on the queen bee then returning to the hive, filled with enough sperm to lay 2000 eggs a day for the next two or three years.
It was not until Jan Swammerdam (1637-1680), a Swiss entomologist, looked at the queen bee under the newly discovered microscope, and identified her ovaries, that we came to know – and believe – a single queen was the mother of all the bees in he hive.
Even then, it would be a while before it was understood that drones inseminate the virgin queen. And further understood that inseminating virgin queens is the one and only purpose of the drones, who otherwise do not gather nectar, nor sting, nor create honeycomb. All they do is fly up to the “drone space” and hover all day long waiting for a virgin queen to show up.
Into the 20th century, the prejudices of human mores colored our understanding of the insemination of the queen. It was accepted that yes, it was not a virgin queen who lays 2000 eggs a day, but we clung – moralistically? - to a belief in her essential monogamy. Only in the 1940’s did scientists verify that queens on their nuptial flights mate with multiple drones. To really appreciate this startling fact, we can read E.B. White’s brilliant Song of the Queen Bee, from the New Yorker of 1945, which he wrote in response to this bulletin from the US Dept. of Agriculture: “The breeding of the bee has always been handicapped by the fact that the queen mates in the air with whatever drone she encounters.” You really should read in its entirety E.B. White’s poem, which ends thus:
For I am a queen and I am a bee,
I'm devil-may-care and I'm fancy-free,
Love-in-air is the thing for me,
Oh, it's simply rare
In the beautiful air,
And I wish to state
That I'll always mate
With whatever drone I encounter.

(I have found so-called science books for children, published in the 1950’s and 1960’s, stating categorically that the queen bee mates with one and only one drone. I tried to contact the publishers and express my outrage at this promulgation of false science, but was rebuffed.)

So with such thoughts of bee procreation in my head, we went a few days later to see a wonderful new movie, More than Honey, by the Swiss filmmaker Markus Imhoof. (We saw it at Jacob Burns in Pleasantville, and I hope it will get widely shown. I highly recommend it.)

Imhoof was moved to create this documentary by the environmental crisis affecting the honeybees. He charts the paths of several different beekeepers, from a picaresque Swiss who keeps the native European black bees much as did his grandfather and great-grandfather before him, to his (Imhoof’s) daughter-in-law researching honeybee genetics in Australia (the only place on earth with no varroa mites), to an American migratory beekeeper, trucking thousands of hives to the almond groves of California and to the apple orchards of the Pacific northwest and back to the Dakotas to make honey. Perhaps one aspect of the brilliance of this movie is that even this migratory beekeeper - whom we first meet as he is listening to the buzzing din of bees pollinating the almonds, saying, “That is the sound of money” – is not vilified, but allowed to tell his story in a humane and nuanced way. Later he will say, referring to the loss of his hives to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD): “I’m getting real comfortable with death of an epic scale”.
Along the way, Imhoof captured on film something I never thought I would see: a drone mating with a virgin queen, midair. The process takes a few seconds, and only when it was over, and the camera captures the drone pulling out of the queen and then plummeting to the ground as he dies, bereft of his inner organs, did I cotton to what I had just witnessed: way up in the beautiful air, where it’s simply rare, I saw a drone and a queen starting the process that would result in tens of thousands of more bees.
Of course I had no idea how feat was accomplished, but I have learned. Imhoof and his crew learned where the ‘drone space’ was. They built a 10-meter high platform for their camera and cameraperson. The drones, however, congregate even high than that. So in order to lure to drones down to their altitude, the filmmakers emitted pheromones. Then they filmed, and filmed, for ten days, and for that they have 30 seconds of amazing footage.
“O admirable ardor of the bees!” Indeed.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Flossing at BAM

So last night Reine (favorite daughter) and I went to BAM to pick up the tickets for Ethel’s DOCUMERICA and then we realized the show started at 7:30 instead of 7 which meant we had time to get something to eat. Reine led us to La Caye which I thought was Jamaican the entire time we were there (not entirely idiotically, because Reine did allude to the prevalence of Jamaica/West Indian cuisine in Fort Greene, so I just inferred…), but I should have realized it was Haitian because the menu was in French. Since we only had about 30 minutes we ordered a salad (it had beets, but I was wearing a black dress so it seemed safe to eat beets, which it would not have been had I been wearing anything white) and Shiktay(cod fish mixed with onions, peppers, garlic and parsley - served with French bread) to share. The Shiktay was tasty, but early on I realized that shreds of codfish were becoming lodged in my teeth and that my teeth had a vice-like hold on shreds of this Shiktay. In fact, I have never known a vice to hold on so tightly or to so persistently resist dislodgment, as did my teeth last night. Still, we finished most of the food, tossed back our glasses of Pinot Noir, and then headed back to BAM where I went straight to the ladies’ room in order to floss. I proudly pulled from my purse a credit card sized FLOSSCARD® Compliments of Irwin Miller, Donald Salomon & Joseph Esposito, DMDs & DDSs, my dentists. Although Miller has been retired for at least three years now and plays golf in Arizona full time. I figure that the two remaining partners kept his name on the FLOSSCARD® to be nice, or because it is cheaper than making any changes to the printing on the card, or it could just be that this FLOSSCARD® has been in my purse for several years, and hence predates Dr. Miller’s (“Miller the Driller”) retirement. Whatever the reason for Miller’s name on the FLOSSCARD®, Reine was impressed that I had this with me. She wasn’t about to waste time checking to see the names of the generous dentists, the dentists of her youth. I pulled out a length of floss for Reine, and then one for myself. She flossed and departed. I flossed and flossed, and kept flossing. I succeeded in dislodging the shred of codfish from between my upper left molars, but then – was I feeling cocky? – I proceeded to keep flossing in places where there was no lodged codfish. I tried flossing between the upper right molars, molars that are impossibly tight. So tight that the very floss got stuck between them, and then shredded. No amount of subsequent flossing could dislodge that shredded piece of floss, and in fact all attempts to dislodge floss with floss were abject failures. Because the floss on the FLOSSCARD®, while a freebie, was unwaxed, or deficiently waxed. And if I didn’t know it before, I know now that the tightness of my teeth requires HIGHLY WAXED FLOSS.
While I was fruitlessly trying to floss out the shredded floss, Lorraine F* came into the ladies' room and we greeted each other, and she even proceeded to introduce me to a friend who she said I may or may not have met at an earlier occasion at her house, and I tried to be gracious but my tongue was probing my upper right molars and the shredded floss that still dangled from between them. So I just said that I really needed to finish flossing, which was not entirely true because I am guessing (hindsight?) it was already clear, even to me, that no amount of flossing with the unwaxed floss was going to solve the situation and was probably going to make it worse. I don’t need to describe the unpleasant feelings of having stuff, anything, floss or food, jammed between two already tightly jammed together teeth. You all know that feeling, unless you are blessed with teeth sufficiently spaced apart, and then nothing I can say can possibly evoke the feeling. It is sui generis.
And also, it seemed just a bit uncanny that in less than a week I had two awkward encounters in ladies' rooms, though this one at BAM was certainly the lesser, in awkwardness. The first awkward – the most awkward – ladies’ room encounter was in a country club on Long Island, with CSB’s ex-wife, at the wedding of CSB’s son. Post-divorce civility has not been achieved with this particular ex-wife – nothing approaching it – and so there I was at my stepson’s wedding, and yet have never actually laid eyes on his mother. Had I met her in the ladies’ room at Grand Central Station prior to that wedding, I would not have known who she was. I would have been clueless when she hurled invective my way. Because she would recognize me, since she has made a point of it, and anyway I am fairly easy to find. (Even on FB:)
But I did see her at the wedding, since we sat catty-corner within ten feet of each during the ceremony, and now at least I knew what she looked like. At the wedding, at this first opportunity in years, the ex-wife clearly was disinclined to be civil to any of her former in-laws, never mind me. So later on, during the dinner & dancing portion of the evening, there I was washing my hands in the ladies’ room, and just as I turned around, CSB’s ex-wife walked in, saw me, spat out “ O F#%@ ing Christ” and marched out. That was it. In over ten years, that now qualifies as our only face-to-face encounter. For a second I considered dashing after her and saying, “This is such a happy occasion, let’s try to be friendly….” Or something similarly smarmy.
But I wasn’t wearing a bulletproof dress, and I knew the last thing she wanted was to converse with me that night; what occurred in the ladies room, stayed in the ladies’ room.
I spent the first hour of Ethel’s DOCUMERICA trying to ignore the shredded unwaxed floss that was stuck between my molars and filaments of which dangled in my mouth, and failing to ignore any of it. Meanwhile, the technological portion of the evening failed. The middle screen of the three screens for displaying the DOCUMERICA photographs went black. At first I thought this might be on purpose, but after being black for a really long time, it was clear. Midway though the program, the performers stopped, and over the loudspeaker we heard that they would try to fix the technological problem. Five minutes later we heard on the loudspeaker that the technological problems had proved intractable, and so they would continue sans visuals. Reine and I departed for her home, where she assured me I would find very WAXY FLOSS. And I did. So that problem was solved.
Some problems** are more easily solved than others. All it takes is very WAXY FLOSS.

* A friend and also host to some of our NYC bees and very gracious and most likely someone who would never floss in a public rest room.
** BAM has since fixed the technological glitch, so you can now see DOCUMERICA in all its glory.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The I-could-not-have-made-this-up department.

I bring in the mail. None of it is very interesting. Most of it goes straight into the recycling bin. As per my custom, I remove the slip of paper with the Geography Quiz that comes monthly along with the National Geographic and quickly fold over the upside-down answers, to prevent cheating. Though given the fact that my slim ability to read anything upside-down seems to have completely disappeared, this may now be unnecessary. Still, I do it. And then I take the geography quiz, under the illusion that this sort of thing will prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s. (Also known as magical thinking, yes, I know.) I ace it. (“Berkner Island is located between Ellsworth Land and Coast Land on which continent?” I think you will agree that this month’s questions were easy.) I recycle more papers. There is a fat catalogue, for CSB, called Nasco Farm & Ranch. As it flops onto my desk, the catalog opens to this page, and only this page:

What can I say? My eye is instantly, irrevocably, gravitationally pulled to a certain item on offer, as if it were printed in bold & extra large type: the Disposable Artificial Vagina. Yes, I know animal husbandry is not funny and who am I to be amused, but we have to take our jollies where we can, and where I take them today is on this page, relishing all the accessories for the Disposable Artificial Vagina, including an A.V. Scrubber Brush and A.V. Antibacterial Scrubber Gel, and the A.V. Hanger.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Why it is (almost) impossible to work at home, if home is here, and a farm

It is 9:16 in the morning, CSB has gone to work, I am drinking tea and working at my computer on a new story about two people on an airplane, and funerals. Although I should be finishing the horseshoe crab novel, at least I am working on something, and the day seems to be progressing properly.

“Honey, can you open the door for me?” It is Jorge the painter, and he is standing outside my office window. (First thought: at least I am not in pajamas, because the possibility of wearing pajamas well best midday is one of the dubious perks of working at home.) I don’t like it when Jorge calls me Honey and I am also annoyed with him because he comes and paints for half a day, then disappears for two weeks to South Carolina (once) and other places, unknown, and so the job (painting the western side of the house, theoretically a week-long job) has been unfinished for a long time, weeks, many weeks, and that is the sort of thing that can make an already slightly OCD person get worse. Plus, he started calling me Honey when he started the job and I didn’t bother to correct him at that time (which would have been the correct time) by saying something like: “I am not your Honey. Honey is a product of the Bees. Only one person gets to call me Honey.” But I was too lazy or polite to set the record straight at the proper time, and now it seems that it would capricious and nasty to do so. But the truth is, every time he calls me Honey it grates on my nerves a little bit more, because now I have only myself to blame.
So I go & open the guest room door (because Jorge needs to get inside and open certain windows that need painting, painting that should have been finished weeks ago), and then I realize that the guest room is quite untidy, and since CSB’s son, Colby (just in from Nicaragua) and a girl who may or may not be his girlfriend are staying there tonight, I feel compelled to tidy the room a bit. This involves moving stacks of Bee Culture into a cabinet, and also moving stacks of Fine Woodworking into the same cabinet. And moving the collapsible beach chairs out of the guest room and into the shed. And gathering up random items such as drill bits, beehive mouse guards, tape measures and loose change.
Then I note that with all the boxes of honey jars are stacked up in the hallway, and it will be challenging to vacuum up all the dust bunnies and dead bugs that are guaranteed to be lurking there. So I move all the honey jar boxes into the basement hearth room – where they more or less belong, assuming they belong anywhere. Except for the 12 boxes of small jars that we bring upstairs to the kitchen because we need to bottle this week for Charlie’s wedding.
And since I am already in the kitchen I scrape all the oven-dried tomatoes off the racks and put them in a container, and label it. And since I am there, I also put 3 eggplants in the oven to bake them, in order to make the rissoles later, because rissoles seem to be the best thing to do with vast amounts of eggplants, which we tend to have this time of year. And also, because they are quite delicious. To my immense satisfaction, I have fooled several people (two) who claimed to never eat/loathe eggplant into eating and enjoying eggplant through the medium of these rissoles. Having put them in the oven, I check to make sure I have the other ingredients for rissoles: cheese, breadcrumbs, parsley – that will have to be picked. And since I am already in the kitchen I eat the half of a melon that CSB grew and is rather ripe, because I haven’t had breakfast – I was so happily working away in my office mere minutes, or hours, ago - and then I see the compost is full again – of course it is since here are loads of squishy tomatoes in there – but I don’t go out to empty the compost and check the eggs. I come back here instead. And write about why it is impossible to efficiently work at home. No, not if you are me.
And now it is 10:27.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On being bi-coastal

Since I have lately returned from the other coast I feel qualified to expatiate on some of the vast differences between that coast and this one.
Which coast has colder ocean water?
Where do artichokes grow?
Where was the epicenter of the Financial Crisis?
How do you feel about poisonous snakes?
All answers are correct.

I can also tell you several things they have in Bernal Heights (a neighborhood of San Francisco also known as Maternal Heights; you can easily imagine why) that we do not have in Hastings-on-Hudson, things you may be surprised to learn Hastings lacks, given its soi-disant identity as Hipsturbia. In Bernal Heights they have a Nepali restaurant, a Peruvian restaurant, an Ethiopian restaurant, a truly excellent independent bookstore and two vegan nail salons. In Hastings we have four and a half pizza parlors, two ordinary nail salons, at least three tchotchke stores and a quite good felafel place.

Bernal Heights of San Francisco, most importantly, is home to Auben, my newest grandson, also known as Perfect Child. *
You probably assume I am writing hyperbolically; you may even accuse me of being partial. But I assure you I am not. No less an expert on infantile beauty than Michael Claude Lehner has said that Auben represents the Platonic Ideal of Babyness. So, yes, once again, my grandchild is the most delightful, lovely, charming and intelligent infant on this continent, if not the entire planet, and for the rest of you new grandparents, I can only say,Nyah, Nyah. Whoever said that Best-Grandchildren-Ever does not comprise a Competitive Event?
Auben can already suckle, smile, burp, hiccup, soil his diapers, stretch his arms and his legs – often simultaneously; he can make interesting and mysterious noises, enjoy his grandmother’s atonal lullabies, sleep through the evening news and wake up in time to demand feeding at the exact moment when the parental units are about to eat their own dinner. You don’t get more platonically ideal than that.
But as I have mentioned, there is a slight problem. Auben is in San Francisco along with the Vegan Nail Salons, and I am here in Hastings where we have plain old Geranium, Hot Stuff and Fifth Avenue, all made with meat and dairy.

*This über-stylish shark robe arrived one day last week for Auben, without any card identifying the sender. If you are the sender, or know the sender, please accept most sincere gratitude from parents, grandmother & Auben.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Some great things about Maine you may not know

It's not a gaggle of geese. It's a book club of loons. More loons discussing literature than I have ever before seen in one place at one time.

The outliers. They preferred Moby Dick. They always prefer Moby Dick.

In case you are considering religion. Or perhaps you are seeking a new denomination that meets your needs.

The Windsor County Fair. We bet on the harness races. We lost.

South Solon Meetinghouse, South Solon (Seriously, do click on this. It's amazing.)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What you did in Georgian Bay

First you crossed the border at the Thousand Islands Bridge, in the company of friends you have known for 44 years, 34 years and 10 years, respectively; each of you were transporting the allowed two bottles of wine each, and then some.
You took long walks and took pictures of dead sea gulls on the beach. You do not recall ever seeing quite so many seagulls, dead or otherwise, on the beach.

Upon arriving at the cottage at the end of the long sandy road off the fourteenth concession, the first order of business was to organize the disposal of organic kitchen waste. Various methods prevailed in the past, including the collecting of organic waste and putting it at the end of the road for weekly collection, or tossing the organic waste into the general waste bin which is then putting at the end of the road for weekly collection, or collecting the organic waste and then tossing it into the woods which surround the cottage. This last was proscribed by Becky’s sister because the food scraps in the woods attracted bears and other mammals. Not among the previous methods was the gathering of organic waste and incorporating it in a compost bin to be used in the fertilization of a garden. This is because the area is sandy and wooded, and besides, no one stays long enough at the cottage to tend a garden. But it seems important to allude to that fourth possibility to make clear that fourth path was briefly considered, before its outright rejection.
In order to decide on the method of organic waste disposal to be rigorously followed by every inhabitant of Addison Beach in the township of Tiny, a meeting of the Addison Beach Property Association was been convened, and this took place in Becky’s cottage on the second day of your group visit. Meanwhile, a fifth friend has arrived separately, driving herself and the plenty of her vegetable garden all the way from south of the Mason-Dixon line.
As this is the first time in her entire lifetime history of coming to the cottage she has hosted such a meeting, and also because has a self-diagnosed social anxiety disorder, Becky is in what is variously described as a tizzy, a lather, a froth and a flap. In order to allay the ravages of the soi-disant S.A.D., four of you - which is exactly three more than necessary - proceed to climb the attic ladder, remove the trapdoor that rests flush with the ceiling, admire the wooden boxes in the attic, bring down a sufficient number of matching mugs and then struggle to replace the attic’s trap door in its allotted slot. (The word struggle here is not used cavalierly.) You place napkins and spoons in a wicker basket specifically designed for that purpose. You arrange a selection of tea bags in a bowl. You artfully arrange Peek Freen cookies on a blue platter. You rinse grapes and put them in another bowl. You search every cabinet for the sugar bowl, and then fill it with sugar. You rearrange chairs inside the house as well as on the deck. Becky is unsure whether the assembled residents will want to sit inside or outside and so she wishes to be prepared for either eventuality. It does not occur to her that, as hostess, she is quite within her rights to make that determination. Then the four of you are exiled to distant parts while the meeting transpires.
Two and half hours later you reconvened, and learned of the group’s hard won decision. Identical matching green buckets, emblazoned with the slogan Simcoe County, For the Greater Good, have been procured for every household of Addison Beach in the township of Tiny, in order that every household will gather all their organic waste in plastic bags of the correct size, and every Monday morning that waste will be collected by township employees. If Monday falls on a holiday, the waste will still be collected, and the township employees will be paid time and a half. A pressing question was whether animal bones were to be included with the organic waste, and you were a little surprised to learn that yes, they are to be included.
Only three of the freshly-washed-and-matching mugs were used by the assembled cottagers, and the artfully arranged cookies were not touched. But they will not go to waste.
As jointly decided by the group, you read the “assigned reading”: Edna O’Brien’s memoir, Country Girl. The book lurches from lyrical evocations of her childhood in Ireland, her mother’s love and fury, her first marriage and the end of her first marriage to tedious chapters stumbling from one party full of dropped names to another party full of dropped names. And you discover that, while you like gossip, especially lurid gossip, as much as the next dirty-minded individual, this stuff is actually boring.
You argued about Jamaica Kincaid’s novel, See Then Now, which may as well have been a memoir. While some of you enjoy her writing style more than others (you, for instance, love it), the argument centered on the assertion that hate could be the obverse of love in a marriage gone wrong. Some of you felt that such an assertion was altogether too harsh and forwent finishing the book.
You cooked fresh vegetables from your gardens in Hastings and Lexington, Virginia. You ate fresh corn and wild blueberries from the fields of Ontario.
Just once you crossed the sandy verge and went onto the neighbor’s porch and logged onto their Wi-Fi in order to look up the depth of Georgian Bay (maximum depth= 540 feet, average was impossible to find) and Lake Huron. (Maximum depth=750 feet; average depth=195 feet)
You read about the Group of Seven and tried to imitate them. Unsuccessfully.

Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay 1921 by F. H. Varley

The Island no longer an Island, by me,not Group of Seven, 2013
In The Art of Landscape Painting, 1941, which belonged to Becky’s maternal grandmother, Rebecca Kynoch, you read about the correct way to paint clouds: “There is nothing more unsatisfactory than a picture of clouds in a landscape where the subject has not been under the technical control of the student who painted them. Clouds need as much designing as a good carpet pattern.” You also read that: “It is not advisable to paint a naturalistic picture of clouds on a sky where the tone value is the same all over.”
You admired Sarah’s photographs of objects in nature that resemble hearts: rocks, knots in trees, rivulets along the sand, pieces of driftwood. It comes to you like a coup de foudre that she used to write romance novels for hire, and only a genuine romantic could write readable romance novels, and that Sarah must be a genuine romantic.

Becky shared with you several of he Six-word memoirs she created to describe some of the men she encountered during her brief adventures on One example: “Not toned, not trim, Not sixty-four.
At lunch one day you parsed the French recipe on the packet of spices Lilla had brought with her from France. What does it mean to “Faites revenir les courgettes”? Lilla lives in Burgundy and you spoke French as a child with your grandmother, but neither of you can figure this out. Do something to the zucchini? Bring them back? From the dead? Even sans translation, the Tatin de legumes au chevre frais was quite delicious. You take back every unpleasant thing you ever said about English cooking. (You have since availed yourself of Google Translate and not too shockingly, Faites revenir les courgettes means Sauté zucchini.)

You walked up and down Addison beach taking pictures on your cell phone of clouds and the aforementioned dead seagulls, and listened – often several times to the same passage – to The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. You were thrilled, awed, flummoxed and compulsive. You pondered from every angle how it was possible, brilliantly and exuberantly possible, to write an exhilarating novel about the Internal Revenue Service. You considered that if such a thing is possible – admittedly by a genius – perhaps you (not a genius but a bulldog) should be able to write a moderately interesting and occasionally tragi-comic novel based on the demise of the American textile industry.
In the evenings you all drank copious amounts of wine and read aloud, though nothing about the American textile industry.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Tale of Two Pigs

If we actually thought about it, it would be obvious that of all the porcine related tasks, the hardest by far would be persuading two 300+ pound pigs (Hamlet and Hamlette) to leave their happy home - full of delicious food scraps and silky smooth mud puddles, in the shade of several sassafras trees and with views of the Palisades – and walk into a wooden crate built for the sole purpose of transporting them to the place of their ending.
Perhaps we had not thought about it.
So how did we accomplish this daunting task?

First CSB built a wooden crate large enough to comfortably accommodate both pigs, yet compact enough to make them feel safe and to fit on a U-Haul trailer.
Then he hitched the trailer to his truck and backed it up to the gate of the pig pen. So far so good.
Early this morning CSB installed plywood barriers on both sides of the trailer ramp, and opened the gate. (It should be noted that in a trial run last night, both Hamlets walked in and out of the crate with no complaints.) Then we said encouraging words to the pigs, hoping they would, once again, walk up the ramp and into the crate.
Not this morning, no, they did not.
Meanwhile, our friend Steve came to help. Because he was raised a Mennonite, we expect him to have to be a repository of ancestral agricultural knowledge. He is also well-versed in all aspects of medieval heresies, and there are few subjects I find more entertaining than medieval heresies. (Manicheans, Cathars, Waldensians – I love them all.) To say he is a raging liberal does not do justice to his daughters’ efforts to persuade him to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at their high school functions, and not embarrass them.
Once it became clear that the Hamlets were not going to enter the crate on their own, we resorted to the first – and often last - line of parental persuasion: bribery. CSB placed some yummy organic swine pellets at the far end of the crate. They turned up their muddy piggy snouts.
Then I went to the garden for arugula and cucumbers, since CSB claims they love arugula beyond all other greens. Sadly, I did not have any garlic French fries on hand, and I know for a fact that they will scarf up garlic French fries.
But still, they were not interested.
Next thing I knew, CSB was reclining inside the crate, cooing sweet nothings to the Hamlets, and suggestively dangling a sprig of arugula. While this was very amusing to watch – at least for Steve and myself – the pigs were blasé. They gamboled some more in their mud puddles.
Our next effort featured the Pavlovian theme. We rattled and clanged their metal feeder at the back of the crate, and hoped for the appropriate response. And it worked, for one of them: Hamlet (the male). He meandered into the crate and with great relief we shut the door.
Then arose a new problem: Assuming we could entice Hamlette to go up the ramp to join her sibling, could we risks opening the crate door and having Hamlet abscond? We practiced opening and closing the crate very quickly. But Hamlette was getting the idea, and she was not inclined to cooperate.
I am sorry to report that I do not have photographic documentation of CSB, splattered with mud, chasing Hamlette around her pen. While he was doing this, I had, so I thought, improved on the food bribe: hot dogs. Organic Beef hot dogs. I held the hot dog to Hameltte's snout, I wiggled the hot dog and sang “This little piggy”. She mostly ignored me. I too was getting rather muddy.
Time was passing, and we were getting nervous that we might conceivably fail to accomplish our task. CSB telephoned the butcher who suggested roping the pig’s hind legs. CSB tried – valiantly – to rope her hind legs. Maybe if you are a cowboy or a horse rustler or a rodeo-type-individual, roping a slippery pig’s hind legs is child’s play. But please take my word for it, that for we mere mortals, it is really hard. Especially if you are doing it inside a slippery muddy pig pen. CSB tried laying out the lasso and then yanking when Hamlette was – for mere nanoseconds – appropriately placed. Mostly this failed. One time he managed to rope one of her legs and the screeching was epic. We were sure the local constabulary would soon be alerted that gruesome deeds were being perpetrated chez Let it Bee. Hamlette got herself free. And happily there were no sirens or blue lights.
(I am going to skip a few intermediary steps, as they were frustrating and increasingly muddy.)
Then Steve – as you will see, I was not wrong about the ancestral husbandry wisdom of Mennonites – suggested creating a kind of chute or funnel. Yes, we channeled Temple Grandin, and it worked.
Using more plywood we created a narrow passageway leading to the ramp, and then made it narrower and narrower until, voilà, Hamlette was snugly in the crate along with Hamlet.
Soon, after hosing down, CSB was on his way to the holistic and very nice slaughterhouse. Quiet descended.

I like to think we learned something from this muddy adventure: more heresy, skip the food bribes.
Adieu dear Hamlet and Hamlette, you had a good life and we will enjoy you in the future.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pope sand sculpture

Just in case you missed this - a sand sculpture of the new Pope, on a beach in Rio de Janeiro. (Thank you, Boston Globe, a newspaper which, according to my mother, has more papal coverage than any other major US paper.) I could make some allusion to the Virgin of Guadalupe's image on a tortilla or Jesus on tree bark, but I will eschew the obvious.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I went to the Hudson River Museum in order to show my friend, Vivien, the Eastlake furniture and the Arts & Crafts wallpaper at the Glenview mansion, because she has an Arts & Crafts inn in Fort Bragg, California – which town CSB insisted on referring to as Fort Knox and actually got my friend’s 14 year old son to crack a smile. Given that the HRM is 10 minutes from our house I have seen this mansion more times than I can count, with visitors from several states and countries. Some like it better than others. Everyone admires the view of the Palisades.
I was not expecting to be surprised by anything; I thought I might daydream in the presence of stuffed Victorian birds under glass. (The Victorian fondness for stuffed animals under glass strikes me as a PhD thesis topic just waiting to be grabbed up.)
Upon exiting the mansion – not through the proper front door but through what used to be a library window – and reentering the museum we discovered this strange and remarkably cheerful exhibit. I don’t know the last time I used the word cheerful to describe anything in an art museum; it is entirely possible that I never have. But Federico Uribe’s Fantasy River struck me as cheerful. To explain that it is comprised of flora and fauna made of pencils and sneakers and flip flops, garden hoses and spigots, paint brush handles, trowels, spades, bullet casings, screws, rakes, shoelaces, plastic forks and books does not do the trick.
How many times in one afternoon can you think: what a brilliant thing to do with old curly telephone cords (or flip-flops or fake fingernails...). Why didn’t I think of it?
Many times.

It's her day again, Christina the Astonishing

I could not let today slide into tomorrow without noting that it - this day, July 24 - is the feast of Saint Christina the Astonishing. She is not an official saint, but unlike many official saints, she did actually exist.
She was born in 1150 in the region of Liège, which until September 1946 was written as Liége. It is unknown, at least to me, why the change was made from acute to grave. More recently, King Albert II (“Love-Daddy”) of Belgium was in Liège bidding fond farewell to his subjects on the eve of his abdication.
Back in the 12th century, Christina was an orphaned peasant girl with pathological tendencies. At the age of 22, she appeared to die, but most likely had a cataleptic fit. As was the normal course of events, her open coffin was taken to the church for the requiem mass; but just after the singing of the Agnus Dei, Christina sat up in her coffin and soared to the rafters “like a bird” and stayed there for the rest of the mass. All the mourners fled except for her sister, who stayed right until the end. With some cajoling, the priest then persuaded Christina to come down. She told him that she had in fact been dead, and had visited Hell, where she saw many friends, and Purgatory, where she saw many more friends. She also went to Heaven but apparently knew no one there. Christina chose to return to earth in order to liberate the purgatorial souls through her prayers. But back on earth she was often forced into uncomfortable situations in order to get away from the terrible smell of humans: she climbed trees, crawled into ovens, and dove into freezing water. The tales of her adventures (escaping from chains, praying on one foot atop a hurdle, surviving a millrace) and misadventures are legion, and remarkably well documented for the era. After several years of living on the edge, she climbed into a baptismal font and sat in the water, and moved into a convent and lived to be 74.
Despite her not being an official saint, Christina is variously categorized with the Levitating Saints and the Epileptic Saints. Putting saints into categories is something I find appealing. Other categories of interest are Virgin-Mystics, Virgin-Anorexics, Virgin-Hysterics, Married-Couples-who-Never-Consummate-Their-Marriage, Saints who Compiled Alphabets and/or Dictionaries of Hitherto Undocumented Languages, Saints Related to Other Saints, Bilocating Saints and my all-time favorite, the Cephalophores.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Telegrams, adieu!

Until I learned there would be no more, that in fact there had been no telegrams in the U.S. for seven years, I had no idea how attached I was to telegrams, or the idea of telegrams, or the possibility of telegrams.
This past Sunday the last telegrams were sent in India, the last stronghold of telegrams; they announced births and deaths and offered congratulations. And then the Indian telegraph shut down for good.
Western Union, based in Colorado, ceased sending telegrams back in 2006 and I am chagrined that I never noted its passing. I would like to rectify that.
One of the more cumbersome (and hence delightful) methods of long distance communication I learned about was an electrochemical telegraph devised by Samuel Thomas von Sömmering in 1809. The process involved physically laying as many as 35 wires from one place to another, and submerging each end of the wires in a glass vial of acid, next to a card indicating which letter or number it represents. The transmitter applied eclectic current to his end of the wire, which caused the wire at the receiver’s end to release hydrogen bubbles. Then all you do is match up the bubbles to the letters and voilà, a message: Does your wife like aubergines?

But back to telegrams: Most of us consider Samuel Morse the progenitor of those filmy pieces of paper with words pasted onto them. In 1837 Morse patented an electrical telegraph capable of sending long and short signals (dits and dahs) across several miles of wire. That eponymous code was still considered a useful thing to learn when I was a kid; an uncle of ours once promised that he would give $5 to whichever of we cousins first learned Morse code one summer, and no, I was not the grand prize winner. But I am sure that in one of the Nancy Drew mysteries our heroine, trapped inside the trunk of a car by a wicked villain, was able to pound out the Morse code to signal her plight, and was rescued. Or maybe it was another plucky heroine.
Then came Tesla and Marconi and wireless telegraphy, and the terse but potent messages in what we recognize as telegraphese. In their brevity telegrams can be compared to Tweets, with their 140-character limit. Brevity was important because telegraph companies charged by the word and the beauty of that is the burden of making every word earn its keep. Though I was surprised to learn that the word STOP was free, while punctuation of any kind cost extra, hence the punctuation-less messages with their frequent STOPS.
Like our email and telephone communications (viz. Snowden’s NSA leakage) telegrams were easily intercepted and not exactly secure. So codes were developed, like the one used in this telegram of 1920 I discovered in the parental basement, dating to the days when my grandfather was a cotton merchant in Boston traveling often to Europe. And this one upon which someone, presumably a secretary, has kindly typed the translation. Also in the dusty piles of papers was a key to the code. There is much to wonder about: had my grandfather memorized this list of randomized letters? Did he carry the key secreted on his person, in some hidden pocket or the false bottom of his valise? Just how cutthroat was the cotton business in the 1920’s such that these precautions were deemed necessary?

Also in a cabinet in the parental basement, in a pile mercifully left un-nibbled by the mice, was a stack of congratulatory telegrams sent on the occasion of my parents’ betrothal. Many of them were sent from friends in Cairo to my mother, then a student at Smith, care of the home of her husband to be, the home she still lives in. The best thing about these telegrams is that on each one my beloved grandmother wrote the name and address of the sender, presumably so that my mother could send a proper thank you note. Just to see my Bonne-Maman’s unmistakable Belgian convent script fills me with longing.For the time I am holding these perishable pieces of old paper, she is entirely present: lovely, kind and toujours well-organized.

And now, all relics.