Friday, June 27, 2008

Florida, Family

(Photo of cloud to ground lightning from the NOAA)

I drove yesterday from the east coast of (terrible horrible) Florida to Mom's house on the west coast of [t, h] Florida yesterday. The trip was made under a uniformly bruise-colored sky; skeleton fingers of lightning stabbed down at every point on the vast, flat horizon. The neicemobile that I was driving had the presence of a roller skate among the 18-wheelers and flatbeds and SUVs that made it seem as though every person in the state had decided yesterday to take their largest vehicle along same route that I was following. I had to consult my google map print out under cataracts of rain from the sky and spray from the road. By the time I reached Mom's house I was tense and tired. Then was the hard part of seeing Mom for the first time since she had received her cancer diagnosis (in April), had three surgeries, and begun chemotherapy.

Well, let us have faith in tender mercies. Unfolding myself from the neicemobile and hauling the suitcase to the door I was steeling myself for the worst, but that is not what I found. Mom looked good, all things considered. She and her husband had just finished a tidy meal that might have been served by her when I was in 7th grade (corn, mashed and something like Salisbury steak). Though Florida is an easy target, Mom always manages to make her homes look like something from a magazine. That quality has been retained. In fact, she has several new paintings since I was here last (about a year and a half ago). The little patch of ground on which their house sits, among a thousand others of the same 1990s vintage and hue, was neat and blooming. There were no bad smells; no unmade beds.

She has a long way to go, but I can believe now -- now that I have finally seen for myself -- that these last few months will someday be a dark time from which she emerged. I will go with her to today's doctor's appointment and that won't be fun for her or any of us. But actually being here, instead of just talking on the phone or hearing reports from my Florida sister is something of a relief. I don't have to wonder how things are going, I can see for myself. Not great, obviously, not even good but, perhaps, not a catastrophe either.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


M.C. Escher
Dutch, 1898 - 1972
Palm, 1933
wood engraving in black and gray-green, printed from two blocks
Cornelius Van S. Roosevelt Collection (National Gallery of Art)

As I look to my left there are palm trees, I think - maybe they're palmettos? whatever they are they are we don't have them in Vermont and whenever I get down to Florida I am struck in the first few days by their exotic quality. They are moving slightly in the breeze under a grim, white-grey sky. I'll be here visiting with my closest female relatives for a few days. I am in my sister's new house, (a house that I just calculated cost more than I have made in my entire lifetime). Would that the visit were just for fun, so I could enjoy the pool that has the lights that change colors in time to music, and the sitting room in my "guest suite" or maybe go with my charming neices (aged 20 to 9) to Disney World. But the point of this visit comes later today when I borrow the neicemoble and head off to the other side of the state to Mom's house so that I can go with her and her husband to chemotherapy session number 2. The news from that quarter turned bad in April. I may write more about it but maybe not.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Recent Reading; McEwan, Brooks & Mirren; The Good, the Bad and the Guilty Pleasure

In the last couple of weeks, I have been working on four different books. I am still dipping now and again into Roy Jenkins' biography of Churchill. I admire it but it is not, alas, entertainment. I get a few paragraphs down, they are rewarding, but then I fall asleep. I mark this down to my own inadequacies. The book is thorough, disciplined and intelligent. I am less so.

The books I have been really reading lately are recent and made to be consumed; one is naked entertainment, (so to speak) Helen Mirren's autobiographical scrapbook cum valentine to her friends, In the Frame. The other two are serious fiction by serious writers; Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach and Geraldine Brooks' The People of the Book.

In the last three days I have gotten through all of them. With Brooks, admittedly, "getting through it" amounted to abandoning The People of the Book at the last CD (12 CDs in all in the unabridged audio version). I had been driving around with it for weeks, trying to push through to the end, but, even prisoner of the car that I am, I couldn't stand it anymore and I didn't care how it ended. Bad news first and all, so I'll start with this one.

The People of the Book; Buckle On Your Helmet - I'm Comin' Out Swingin'!

I have all kinds of reasons for disliking this wearying story; one that, my views notwithstanding, has proved wildly popular with commentators and critics. Is there a short way to say why? I hate novels that put white hats on some characters and black hats on others. Maybe even pithier, a reader review on the Barnes & Noble website said it was just as good as The DaVinci Code. Need I say more? (Those that have ears to hear...)

The plot revolves around a medieval sacred Jewish prayer book, the Sarajevo Haggadah, and it's conservation in the 1990s by a young Australian woman. Each little stain, spot and hair on the parchment has a story to tell. Though the young woman can't know those stories herself, the reader gets them all, stretching back through the centuries. It turns out that the book was created by absolutely the last sort of person that one would have expected (not Jewish, not a man). Expect the unexpected! That in itself is a dull trope and second rate. The Haggadah has been rescued over and over down the centuries by good people and saved from bad people. These bad people are the usual villains of history and our contemporary world. As I said, black hats, white hats.

Muslims consider Christians and Jews "people of the book"; fellow monotheists who are worthy of some regard, at least, as not being pagans. Brooks gives us an extra helping of good, kind Muslims here. This special regard feels to me like a lesson being administered to Western yobs who have disapproved of this particular group of People of the Book. Setting Snidely Whiplash, Dudley Do-Right and Little Nell in 16th century Venice or 15th century Spain, with all kinds of poetic, womanly literary folderol, still leaves them Father Whiplash, Dudley bin Do-right and Nell Avramovich. Dull (and dishonest).

As this was an audio book, there was also the "performance" of the text with which to contend. The poor Australian actress who read it was confronted with Bosnian, American, English, Spanish, Italian, German, and Hebrew accents. The UN cafeteria at lunchtime has less variety. The poor woman in the end was overwhelmed. The 15th century Venetian, who saved the book from the inquisition, sounds like 1990s Bosnian librarian and curator who saved the book from the Serbs (who bleeds gold, by the way, and provides the love interest to the conservator). In the end I had to abandon ship.

Phew. I am glad I got that off my chest.

On Chesil Beach: "The Good"

I offloaded The People of the Book at the Stowe Library and, desperately needing another audio book, I checked out the unabridged audio version of On Chesil Beach. This is read by McEwan himself and the contrast between this and Brook's audiobook was immediate and apparent. That contrast it mostly what compelled this post.

Over 4 CDs McEwan unfolds the story of the wedding night of a pair of nice 22-year-old English people in 1962. The central fact of their existence at the moment is that they are both virgins. Also, they have grown up in a time and place that completely constrains them from talking about this difficulty. The story goes back and forth from their hotel room, where we get excruciating detail of their attempt at first marital intimacy, to the "backstory: their origins and lives so far. My colleague, after reading this post, pointed out to me that there is a hint that the woman was sexually abused by her father as a child. I had almost missed that but it's true. Since the girl's feelings toward her father seem otherwise equable, and there is next to no discussion of it in her internal monologue, I didn't assume a childhood horror, but it is there as a possiblity.

The interior state of each character is precisely and acutely rendered. McEwan's descriptions of all he touches upon are accurate and economical. He makes an excellent reader as well. The reviewer in the New York Times says McEwan has a "dazzling authority" and I agree. It was this authority that struck me so forcefully when I decamped from The People of the Book and landed On Chesil Beach. "Here I am in the hands of a real master," I thought, before McEwan read through the second paragraph.

As for the story (beware, partial spoilers ahead) Florence, the bride, is convinced that her low libido means there is something wrong with her; she's a freak of nature and it will soon be revealed to her everlasting horror and shame. The boy, Edward, and at 22 he is a boy, is as pent up as he can be, trying to behave well, trying to read the signals rightly. Painful as it all is, I had to laugh.

I am not sure if McEwan intended that particular laughter. Some of it is meant to be comic,surely; Florence thinks of Edward's "early arrival" as so horrific, worse than if he had burst his jugular vein. Did he not mean us to laugh at that? Much ado about nothing? At the end of my audio version McEwan is interviewed briefly. He tells how he read one part of this agonized sex scene to an audience in Surrey (I believe) in England. The audience sat in complete (probably horrified) silence through it all. When he read the same scene to a Palo Atlo, California audience (where Stanford University is), many women in the audience burst into laughter. He attributed this laughter to his having struck a raw nerve, eliciting a kind of hysteria. I think what he actually got was the predictable response of a roomful of educated women remembering their own anxiety and the high drama regarding their passage out of virginity. Years down the road it is hard not to laugh at the ridiculous girl you were. Or maybe some of the Stanford audience just couldn't believe anyone would ever take such a thing so very seriously. I don't think, in any case, that it was nerves that made the women of Palo Alto laugh.

The book was too short for me. (Another contrast from People of the Book). My one complaint is that the ending, after such a true-seeming story, seemed false to me. I won't give it away completely; suffice it to say that Edward and Florence do not do what nervous young people in real life typically manage in the end. This rang a false note. Also, there is a tacked on post-script that focuses only on Edward, after having given equal time to both characters previously. I was sorry about that. In some ways this postscript is what gives the story a point; a sort of "road not taken" final analysis. But this seems banal coming from a talent like McEwan. Still, I admired it immensely and was glad to have stumbled on it.

Helen Mirren's, In The Frame; The Guilty Pleasure

While I was checking out On Chesil Beach I saw Helen Mirren's book on the shelf of recent library acquisitions. Naturally, I grabbed it. Now what chance does Mr. Jenkins and his great, thick, square book about Winston Churchill have against a glossy picture book by one of my favorite movie stars? Not much. I read all of In the Frame inside of 48 hours, not that this was difficult since it is mostly pictures and scraps of theater guides and newspaper articles.

I have written about Mirren and my general admiration for her here before. After I saw The Queen, I was in one my periodic bloggish raptures.

It is interesting to hear from her directly and unmediated. (It feels like she actually wrote this herself and that it was not ghostwritten). The book is not a tell-all, thank goodness. It is an older woman's loving look back at the places and people she remembers - an older woman who has had a remarkable career, obviously. Her manners are too good to bash people or to trumpet herself. What interested me particularly were her Russian origins. Her grandfather was a Russian aristocrat stranded in England by the Russian revolution. There are some striking pictures of her Russian ancestors in the first few pages. She had the most beautiful great aunts...

Also of interest, and a bit of a surprise, was that she was her English hippy phase. I got to know about Mirren only in the 90s with Prime Suspect. I knew, vaguely, that she had been a famous stage actress and had some history as a sex bomb in the sixties but I had no details. It turns out that once upon a time she actually travelled around North Africa with a crew of actors who performed for the locals some kind of experimental dumb-show theater. Even when I was 19 this would have sounded like a complete horror to me. Artsy fartsys from France and England and Japan torturing tiny, bewildered audiences, sleeping in tents, jouncing over bumpy desert roads. Mirren hints that this was not all such a great experience but is also clear it had its rewards. She had a lot of boyfriends; she took off her clothes (there are some topless shots here). Who knew? I think of her as The Queen or Jane Tennison but she had a life those characters would not hint at.

I also found myself wondering, noting her obvious restraint about her own success, what her peers would say about her as she was way back then. I expect the hippies she remembers so fondly would have been jealous of her. I also expect they would have been impressed, maybe even put off by, her ambition. She could not have got where she is without a lot of that.

She writes a little soupily but with feeling at the end of the book about her extended family. She married Taylor Hackford, an American producer, rather late in life. She never wanted marriage and a family as a young woman but she has one now - albeit of the stepson and niece and nephew variety. It seems that they mean a great deal to her.

Though it is an unpopular view I continue to believe that those who have not had and/or raised children have missed out on the essential life experience. Not an essential life experience, the experience. It's not for everyone, of course, but willed childlessness is often (in my experience) simple selfishness or brittleness. And while I don't imagine that Helen Mirren (or anyone else) cares for my judgment on the matter, I'll just say that a great artist - her to be specific- would get a pass from me on this point. The parable of the talents applies.

Well, back to work tomorrow morning. I have nothing to listen to on the drive. And I guess I am back to Mr. Churchill at bedtime tonight.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Fun at the National Gallery of Art

Back on another of my favorite topics, our fabulous National Gallery of Art.
I love just to go to the website and browse the collection, check out the podcasts etc. Tonight, however, the kids and I had a lot of fun playing games on the National Gallery of Art Kids Art Zone. Be warned. You will have to fight your kids off the computer so you can play too. Here's a collage we made together that I call "Our Montreal."

Here's WoolfootKid 1's pastiche of Henri Rousseau.

Motherhood Moment

Sorry, but I have to write this down before it vanishes. It’s summer vacation as of last Friday. I am home today with Kid 1 (girl, 10) and Kid 2 (boy, 7).

Boy, being bored, just brought downstairs a recently emptied chocolate tin and a tin bank a (souvenir from Canada). He was opening a store on the living room floor. Items available for sale: a “plane” he made from Legos; a small plastic car; a page of his math homework (“but I only did one side”) and a few feet of clothesline. This was the total inventory. I came in with 35 cents and selected the clothesline. Lord knows why he has it or what neck it might accidentally find it’s way around if not removed from his possession. He then gave me the option of which fund he should put it in: “for charity” (the Canadian souvenir), or “trips and bills” (the chocolate tin). I picked trips and bills.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Walking on the Mountain - '70s Kids Books - A Budding Affection

Last Sunday I tried out my first hike on Jay Peak with wee Maisy. She did great. In fact, I credit her with walking about twice as far as I did because of her little detours around my feet. Here's some of what we saw.

We didn't walk clear to the top. It gets very steep up there, but I made it as far as the point where the trees get stunted and short. We had a little sit down at that point (mind you it was about 7 AM on Sunday). Just then, I heard this strange engine noise. What? A helicopter? No, two guys in hard hats in some small mountain-climbing vehicle bringing some small beams up the mountain - maybe to the tram house at the top. They were driving up the trail in this picture. (I know it doesn't look steep and it isn't particularly right there but that changes).

It always amazes me that anyone could drive any form of vehicle on a mountain. The snow cats that groom the ski trails in the winter, and the nerve of their drivers, are sources of amazement for me. And what does it say about the hard-working nature of Vermonters that these guys were up and out on the mountain working at that hour on a Sunday? Just after they passed us I looked back up the trail and there was an ENORMOUS moose; the biggest I have ever seen, standing just up the slope. No horns so I guess it was a female. She was staring at me and Maisy and I thought I was best advised to beat it. Maybe she had a baby around and while I haven't heard that female moose are aggressive I didn't want to take a chance, especially if Maisy took it into her head to bark around the moose's ankles. Time to get down the hill. I am actually getting nervous about meeting a bear on my hikes. I have only seen one at a distance once, and not on Jay Peak. They are there, however, and bears around here have been getting more and more public. A mother bear and cub have been stalking garbage cans in the nearby shire town of Newport lately.

A 1970s Kids Book That I Like

I have written before about my affection for children's books from the 1920s and '30s. Ten years ago I would not have been able to imagine myself having any nostalgia for the '70s, despite its growing vogue. I was 5 years old in 1970 so that is the decade of my childhood, which wasn't so bad. Nevertheless, despite my conviction that the decade marked cultural low point (remember sofas made from "herculon" and all the crappy cars?) I am softening on the '70s. Age, I suppose.

A few weeks back I found a copy of a book I had as a kid in a huge box lot of kids books that we bought at auction. I recall looking at this very book my grandparent's farm which was in Mexico, New York, about a half hour north of Syracuse.

The Farm is my all-time favorite childhood memory, so my kind feelings toward this book are partly generated by that association. (My Dad is the eldest of 12 and his youngest sisters were still living at home when I was a kid. We loved to see them, the animals, the whole package). I know my sister and brother and many cousins feel the same way.

This book must have been next door to a freebie. There were lots of grandchildren to be amused and Monster Movie Matinee (remember that all you Syracusans?) was only on the big color TV in the living room once a week. Also, my grandmother was a book lover. I suspect she picked our copy up at the supermarket. It was compiled by the editors Parent's Magazine and is mostly reprints of older nursery books (ones up my pre-war street and probably copyright-expired and so cheap to reprint). Some of the illustrations were more up-to-date however. This copy is inscribed to a little girl exactly my age.

Leafing through it I realized that I actually liked some of the obviously postwar (50s, 60s, 70s) illustrations for their own intrinisic merit - not just because they reminded me of a happy time. I read once that anything that is true to its times [and executed with some heart] may fall out of fashion but will eventually reveal its merit. I am paraphrasing but that's the idea. I guess this provides some proof of that proposition.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Rescued from Obscurity Part III "Handsome Books"

It was Gladys Peto's books (have a look at the sidebar for some Peto art and click through to Jeanette Payne's web site for a real satisfying wallow) that got me started on collecting old children's books about 10 years ago.

I bought her books because I loved the illustrations. The stories are, shall we say, less memorable. This isn't to say that she was a bad writer; some of her poems in particular were very good, but I find her stories were just typical ephemera of the day. An exception is her travel book for Egypt (The Egypt of the Sojourner 1926). It is written in a witty and breezy tone that I like (although hopelessly politically incorrect). The point is that I have a lot of her books because I like to look at them, not so much to read them. In my Peto collecting I was also lured into some sidestreets, particularly the children's annuals that were once so wildly popular. Mostly I love these for the cover art. The Joy Street annuals, about which I recently wrote here, are stand outs for being both beautiful to look at and genuinely literary. I think of them as the Rolls Royce of the annuals genre. I don't know what the Joy Street dust jackets looked like because I haven't see one complete. The cloth covered boards beneath them are, shall we say, restrained. The Blackie's children's annuals, for girls, boys, "little ones", what have you, really work their cover art and it is printed on the boards. This seems to be the case with most of the others I have seen (e.g. the Monster (meaning "big") Books for girls and boys, Rupert books etc.)

The cover, then as now, of course, was the main adverstisement for the book. The cover had to catch the eyes of aunts, uncles, Sunday School teachers, parents and children naturally. (Well behaved as I imagine our grandparents were, I am sure they pleaded for things in shops once upon a time). I am particularly drawn to the aesthetics of the 20s and 30s. This is my favorite era for book cover art.

It doesn't seem quite right to love a book only for how it looks, and I always read at least part of each book that I get out of curiosity but also a sense of obligation. I usually find at least something to like. My favorite article in the 1920s Empire Annual for Girls (that I bought mostly because it included an interview of Gladys Peto) was "Advice for the Family Failure." No one broaches subjects like that in such frank terms with adolescent girls today! Still, the reason I love these books best is for something to look at on the shelf. That always struck me as a bit of a guilty pleasure but I see I am not alone. Just before drafting this up I found a great-looking resource for people who love books for their wonderful quality as objects; a place in California called Handsome Books. They have a fabulous selection of children's annuals that are right up my street and it looks like all kinds of other beautiful things too. Just having a look at the scans there is a fun little trip. No, I am not on their pay roll. It looks like a great job though.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sunshine, Flowers a Puppy and a Barn - Get Your Toothbrush!

Life along the Vermont/Quebec border does not feature many days where the weather is spectacularly good. Today, however, was such a day. This is because no relatives from far away are visiting. If someone had just arrived from Texas or Florida or Wisconsin, it would have rained, or something worse. Maybe we would have had a hatch of mosquitoes. There ought to be a name for this phenomenon. People drive for hours to visit during leaf season and the night before they arrive there's a near-hurricane strips the leaves from every branch or a freeze that turns all them all brown. Oh well. I'll take what I can get. I can share today with you readers maybe, if not with my parents, siblings and in-laws.

I was home today with Maisy and having accomplished about half of my to-do list I felt compelled to get my camera and blog about this weather. I was hoping I had gotten a shot of Maisy McTavish that suggested Christina's World,the famous painting by Andrew Wyeth, just so I had something to offer that was not a complete Vermont cliche or so twee it would make your teeth ache. I wasn't very successful, but here's the original and my little effort.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I'm Cheating...

The picture above, and the banner for today (June 11, 2008)and a few days to come, is not actually the view from our house. I wish! It is instead the view from the porch main lodge of the famous Basin Harbor Club in Vergennes, Vermont.

I have lived in Vermont since 1995 and yesterday was the first time I ever set foot on the property of the BHC, despite knowing its location and passing the sign for years. Remember ol' John Denver, "born in the summer of his 27th year, comin' home to place he'd never been before"? I experienced a moment of that feeling yesterday when I arrived at the BHC. I was there early, around 8 AM, for a meeting of the Vermont State's Attorneys (aka "prosecutors"). After I parked my car and found the room for the seminars, I asked in the Main Lodge where I could find a cup of coffee. A pretty young girl in the dining room sent me out to the porch, where I snapped the picture that I have posted, temporarily, above. Sigh.

Guests can stay in cottages sprinkled around the grounds, in the main Lodge or in a few other out buildings. Bring your wallet if you come. ($$$) I won't be checking in anytime soon but it was great to check it out. Here are couple of the cabins that I found particularly fetching.

I had the sense, for a little while at least, that "this" was where I was meant to spend my summers. I sometimes wonder if I didn't have a past life in the 1930s. If so, I sense that old-time summer resorts like BHC would have been my milieu. The place is beguiling and nearly a complete throw-back to east coast summers for the privileged classes of the fin de siecle to the 1950s. There was a photograph on the wall of the Lodge of a reunion in a New York Hotel (the Roosevelt?) in 1947 of the Basin Harbor Club residents. Evening gowns and tuxedos; stockbrokers, old-time power brokers and their wives. The picture was spookily reminiscent of the ending shot in the film version of The Shining(The creepiest movie ever?), where Jack Nicholson's character appears in the photo of some long ago party in that mountain Hotel that also happens to be a doorway to hell. Yikes.

Other than that little frisson, however, the vibe at the BHC was great. In addition to a lot of cheerful lawyers (a day out of the office in a beautiful place and lunch to boot!) there were lots of families from all over the country (the guest list is posted in the lobby). It was lively and beautiful - and how about that view! Summer really arrived this week in Vermont, whatever the calendar says. It got to about 90 degrees these last three days. Today is cooler. It was a beautiful morning here at the old house too and I will leave you with a few pictures of the real view from the last house around 5 AM this morning.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Ms. Charisma Poses and Cavorts! Also Remembering The Petershams and Children's Book House

Here's our Maisy disporting herself with her people. The black bits on her tongue are some ashes from a burned up Wall Street Journal. She still has a lot to learn but she has adjusted wonderfully well so far. We are now beginning Week 2 as her people. Dog ownership seemed a lot harder when I was kid. We had a dog like Santa's Little Helper on The Simpsons. (I.e., stupid and hyper). He kept escaping our suburban subdivision home to chase cars on the highway. When he bit neighbor kids, a brother and a sister in one family, he had to go. (Luckily he was adopted by an animal lover friend of my mother's and lived out his days on a farm). Having had to care for some human infants in the interim has made this puppy thing a breeze. OK, maybe the puppy's personality has something to do with that too.

Rescued from Obscurity Part II
Maud and Miska Petersham and My Travelship.

A couple of posts back, in a curatorial mood, I blogged about the nearly forgotten Joy Street Annuals (q.v.) These make up a big part of my smallish collection of pre-war (World War II, that is) children's books. While I had them down from the shelf I couldn't resist pulling down this volume:

Isn't that cover gorgeous? The illustrations are by Maud and Miska Petersham. A husband and wife team who have not really faded into obscurity - but they aren't exactly household names either. The illustrations are so bright and beautiful, it hardly matters that they accompany English-language versions of (now) nearly unreadable Dutch fables, stories and poems. Perhaps they were inspired by all those brilliant old Dutch Masters.

Tales Told in Holland is one of three books in the "My Travelship" collection. The set was published in Chicago by the Book House for Children beginning in the Mid 1920s. It was reprinted many times at least into the 1950s and maybe beyond.

The Petersham's also illustrated another volume in the set, Nursery Friends from France. It's also beautiful. The third volume is Little Pictures of Japan. That one is very elegant and illustrated by Katherine Sturges. The set was edited by someone called Olive Beaupre Miller. I believe that when they were first sold they were boxed with six other Book House volumes in a wooden box shaped like a house (someone is trying to sell such a set online for about $2,000). I bought these three in first editions, as cheaply as possible. The French one came smelling like it had spent generations on the desk of a smoker and the Japanese one had some ripped pages. Still they are all beautifully illustrated and an interesting effort to introduce American children to the stories and songs of children beyond the sea. The Petershams were extremely prolific and if you have any interest in children's book illustration you might want to have a look at their work. Your efforts in that direction will certainly be repaid.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

That Ear is Gone and It Ain't Comin Back - Reflections of an Otosclerotic

(Ear image courtesy of Wikimedia)
I'm just in from a session on the Cub Cadet, grooming the Country Club-like acres of grass around the Last House that W-Husband as decided we need to cut. I was also listening to my iPod - or trying to listen. The lawn mower makes for a poor audio environment, naturally. Worse, I am just about completely deaf in my right ear. If you haven't tried listening to Eleanor Rigby or Peggy Lee singing You Gotta Have Heart on your headphones when only one of your ears works you have missed one of life's odder experiences. Not that I recommend hearing loss but, it does make a person think from time to time about, hmmm, failing and eventually dying - an ever present memento mori. It also makes a person say, "Eh?" and "What?" and "What did you say?"

This failure to hear annoys other people. Mostly they are too polite to admit annoyance, but not so with spouses. WHusband keeps saying in loud tones, and with false pity, (every time I don't answer some unheard question or respond to an unheard comment) that I am getting more deaf and ought to wear "my trumpet." By "trumpet" he means the $900 low-end hearing aid I bought three years ago and lost two years ago. (I haven't shared that last information with him because it would lead to a lecture on carelessness that I have heard and would just as soon skip).

Fortunately, he is wrong. I am not getting more deaf. By the time I had Otosclerosis diagnosed in '02, it was about as bad as it was going to get. From the NIH website: Otosclerosis is the abnormal growth of bone of the middle ear. This bone prevents structures within the ear from working properly and causes hearing loss. What causes otosclerosis? You ask.

The cause of otosclerosis is not fully understood, although research has shown that otosclerosis tends to run in families and may be hereditary, or passed down from parent to child. People who have a family history of otosclerosis are more likely to develop the disorder. On average, a person who has one parent with otosclerosis has a 25 percent chance of developing the disorder. If both parents have otosclerosis, the risk goes up to 50 percent. Research shows that white, middle-aged women are most at risk.

Well, I guess at 36 I was "middle aged" when my ear started to go on me. Dad and one of his brothers have it. My uncle had surgery and it really worked well for him. The audiologist I consulted a couple of years ago wasn't sure it would help me and Dad is reluctant to try it. I got a hearing aid, uh, for a while.

It was not much help anyway. The audiologist said it might not be. Funny thing about that. I wear glasses too. Glasses, in my experience, just fix what's wrong. Put them on, you can see. The hearing aid was not like that. It helped, but it didn't give me back my ear. And wearing something jammed into your ear is just not for me. I have never been able to wear barettes or headbands; how could I manage a hearing aid for cripes sake? Everytime I got hot it worked loose; I had to fiddle with it like some nursing home gomer with that horrible feedback turning heads. A hearing aid doesn't work with headphones anyway; and its music that I would really love to get in stereo. A year or so I bought some wireless headphones from Sennheiser for the TV and DVD player. These headphones have individual volume controls so I can pump up the volume in my right ear. It still sounds a little like I am listening through cotton batting but stereo is still a treat. Unfortunately, they don't work with an iPod. I actually wrote an email to the Sennheiser last year and recommeded that they manufacture dual control earphones for MP3 players for us half-deaf folk. No response.

I read somewhere that Stephen Colbert is also half deaf. I wonder if otosclerosis is correalated with a good sense of humor? My father is a funny guy.

Periodically I plug my good ear and have my kids yell into the dead one, to see how much I hearing I have left. It isn't good. As noted, depending which way I flip my head phones, I can hear about "Father McKenzie preaching the words of a sermon that no one will hear" or just the bass line. Or, I get Peggy Lee: "Oh it's fine to be a genius of course, but don't put that old horse before the cart" or her back up singers intoning "Corazon, Corazon" but not both.

The silver lining is that it makes it a lot easier to sleep in noisy places (as in near a snorer) and to block out what I don't want to hear. It can be handy to have a dead ear. As I write now, this little advantage is asserting itself. PBS is doing its begathon, showing 60s pop-music-has beens - by the way, have you noticed that PBS always panders to the musical sweet tooth of the (late) middle aged and old when it comes time to raise funds? Three Tenors, Doo wop etc.? Bill Moyers, that pompous druid, and his ilk, are nowhere in sight. I know I could turn the TV down, but the remote is who knows where; someplace on the other end of the room. As I need to focus, I close the good ear and I can write without the distraction of Michelle Phillips nattering on about how great the 60s were (isn't she the mother of Mackenzie Phillips, the actress whose life was pretty much a druggy train wreck thanks to those 60s values?) Oh, but then comes the Fifth Dimension singing Marry Me Bill (aka Wedding Bell Blues). I love that song... Darn I wish I could hear it better.

Speaking of Julie Andrews

In other news, I just finished a new biography of Julie Andrews. Julie Andrews An Intimate Biography by Richard Stirling. She is irresistible, isn't she? I saw the book on the "new arrivals" shelf at the Stowe Library and just gave in. Funny about all those lawsuits she's filed down the years; that I hadn't much considered as characteristic of her, but that's why we read biographies. "Intimate" I don't know. That word has been so debased by women's products that I get a little queasy just typing it.

I was reminded of a the book just now by the Fifth Dimension. The woman in Marry Me Bill does all the singing and the guy just stands there smiling and rhytmically bobbing his microphone and doing a little back up ooooing. Stirling reports that when Rex Harrison and Julie were putting together My Fair Lady for Broadway, Harrison early on refused to stay on stage during Julie's final song, "Without You." He informed Moss Hart that he was not "going to stand up there and make a c___ of myself while this young girl sings at me." I had to laugh. One does get the picture... The solution devised by Lerner and Lowe was a revision of the song to allow Harrison to interject his number "You Did It." Stirlng writes, "With the focus diverted from Eliza back to Higgins, Harrison was happy once again." No smiling and ooing and microphone bobbing for Rex Harrison.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Do You Have 7 Minutes and Some Headphones?

If so, it's your lucky day. If you don't have headphones I hope you've got some decent speakers because, you guessed it, I have some music for you!

I was working away on a legal brief the other day in the office and wanting to hear some new music. The speakers on my office computer don't work and, since it's an office speakers are contra-indicated (as the MDs say) anyway. So, I plugged my headphones into the ol' CPU and searched Youtube for Gavin Bryars (about whom I recently blogged) and my old favorite Joe Hisaishi, who is a Japanese composer most famous for his symphonic movie music.

When one goes hippity-hopping through the blogosphere I know that one does not want to be tied down to a long video. But you don't actually have to look at this video (its a symphony orchestra, "you've seen one," etc.) Once the music starts you can look at something else; perhaps at the other pictures in this post? I took these this morning on my walk along one of my favorite haunts, the Stowe Rec Path.

As you can see, here in Vermont, everything has really gone GREEN.

Or perhaps you would care to divert yourself for a few moments in that Aladdin's Cave of pearls of wisdom, flashing insight, rapier wit - what have you, the archives, just to your right?

I hope for those who aren't familiar with JH, that this will be a happy discovery for you. For fellow fans, well, here's a treat.

I picked just one of several great Hisaishi pieces available on Youtube to share here. This is the theme from Castle in the Sky which is a very good Hayao Miyazaki movie. As for Mr. Bryars, I found more to love about his work as well, but I don't want to try your patience. More on him another day.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Sunday on My Holy Mountain

The old blog is back on my recurring subject of Jay Peak. It's been awhile since I made it up to the mountain for one of my early morning weekend walks and I have missed them. Today I took a proper hike and really wore my middle-aged self out. Here's a little of what I saw; a world known only to maintenance crew members and hikers.