27 January 2006

Happy Birthday, Wolfgang!

There is a God. For all the tragedy and senseless waste cluttering history, every so often beauty and genius are aligned. Mozart didn't have an easy life, but his short time here left us with evidence of the sublime, which lives beyond our quotidian understanding. What a magnificent gift.

23 January 2006

Apologetic make-up bird blog

Illustrations, Louis Aggasiz Fuertes

Mrs. Snowy Owl is diurnal which means she hunts during the daylight hours. She doesn’t say much from her winter perch which will be found close to the ground where the mice are. The snowy owl saves its talk for its breeding grounds in the Artic tundra. Every year a few dip down into the Great Lakes and Cape Cod.

They have the longest wing span of any North American owl and tip the scales at 3.5 pounds on average. Mouse must be fattening, because Charles the cat’s vet observed that he hadn’t missed many meals, and he has an outside gig featuring frequent mouse dinners.

The Michigan statewide bird report for the last three weeks has chronicled snowy owls all over the state. I haven’t heard of the Willet again, but there’s a varied thrush (the robin’s family) in Manistee County, which is in the northern half of the lower peninsula, and male and female Harlequin ducks near me, so I’d better get over there to see if I can’t spot them.

16 January 2006

A little Victoriana

My father acquired this book at an auction about 40 years ago. He was a restaurateur and then ran the dietary department for the local hospital. In the Army he was a medic in a collecting company and doubled as the field chow chief. He knew just about everything about food, not haute cuisine exactly, but I never ate anything he made that wasn’t great.

He loved this book all to pieces. Its shrill admonitions and bald opinions kept us all laughing.  Example:

”But in most American families, the largest amount of waste, probably, takes place in the use of fuel. Heretofore, fuel of all kinds has been comparatively cheap, and very little supervision has been exercised over its use. At present rates however, it is an item of considerable importance, and it is quite time that servants were taught how to employ it to the best advantage.

The general principle of construction upon which American kitchen stoves and ranges is based, renders them either very economical, or very much otherwise, according to the way they are managed. After the fire is first built in an ordinary stove, or range, the dampers ought all to be closed up and not opened again during the day, except while broiling, or something of that sort. If the grate is kept clear, and the fire replenished with a small quantity of coal, before it begins to get low, both the oven and the top of the range will be kept sufficiently hot for any kind of cooking, and it will be done all the better for being done somewhat more slowly, than is customary with the well meaning, but terribly blundering and irresponsible race of wild Irish girls, who officiate as the high priestesses of our domestic altars.”

My father’s mother was Katie O’Connell, 100% Irish and not the least bit wild. I can still hear him laughing at the Victorian presumption of superiority of the Mrs. J. C. Crolys of the world. Anglo racism is nothing new. That’s why Catholic universities were/are considered inferior and the story of the Irish monks in the Dark Ages, keeping learning alive, was suppressed for so long. I keep hoping to find a tie to Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, as my grandmother’s father departed County Kerry, near Castle Island, and the Liberator was a Kerry man.

Here’s another suggestion from the quill of Jennie June:
“Good brooms and brushes will last a long time if care is taken of them. When first bought they should be allowed to stand in cold water for twelve hours, and then thoroughly dried before use. When not in use they should be hung up on a loop of twine or cord so that the weight may not rest on the edge of the splinters and break them. Four large brooms should be provided, one for the kitchen, one for the parlor, one for the sleeping rooms, and one for the family, or “living” room. A whisk will be required for every room in the house, besides one for the hall.

As soon as the kitchen broom is worn down so as to render it unfit to sweep the floor with ease and comfort, take it for the cellar, door steps and back yard; take the one from the sitting room for the kitchen, the one from the parlor to the sitting room, and get a new one for the parlor.”


“Susan B. Anthony’s Apple Tapioca Pudding

Susan B. Anthony is an excellent cook and housekeeper, and it was a proverb at home that when Susan did the housekeeping, the meals were always punctual and well served. She believes in a plain simple diet and the following is her favorite pudding:

Peel and core eight apples, fill them with sugar in which a little nutmeg has been grated. Take a cupful of tapioca, which has been all night soaking in water, Add to it a little milk or water if needed, and pour it around the apples, which have been laid in a buttered dish. Bake slowly one hour, and serve with cream and powdered sugar. It is good hot or cold, the tapioca forming a jelly around the apples”

Jennie June’s Cookbook was published in 1878.

07 January 2006

Miracle on the New Jersey Turnpike

There was another cat in the news this week. Another stowaway. Why do I feel like I am in an echo chamber? Hello? Hello? Hello?

This time the cat was in New Jersey where they have an Animal Welfare League. America, haven’t you had enough of the government stealing your money to give away to lazy fools? They toil not, neither do they spin. An Animal Welfare League? It strains my brain.

They named the sponge Miracle. There’s no miracle here, Folks. There’s been a robbery, though.

My new blog is open and ready for business. I have to share a computer, though. Supposedly management is working on something “serious”. Huh. Every time I look up she’s playing Free Cell or checking her eBay auctions. Don’t hold your breath.

06 January 2006

A Poem for Epiphany

The Camel

do not be displeased.
There is something to be said for pride
against thirst, mirages,
and sandstorms;
and I must say
that, to face and rise above
these arid desert dramas,
two humps
are not too many,
nor an arrogant lip.
Some people criticize
my four flat feet,
the base of my pile of joints,
but what should I do
with high heels
crossing so much country,
such shifting dreams,
while upholding my dignity?
My heart wrung
by the cries of jackals and hyenas,
by the burning silence,
the magnitude of Your cold stars,
I give You thanks, Lord,
for this my realm,
wide as my longings
and the passage of my steps.
Carrying my royalty
in the aristocratic curve of my neck
from oasis to oasis,
one day shall I find again
the caravan of the magi?
And the gates of Your paradise?

~ Carmen Bernos de Gasztold ~
The Creatures’ Choir

03 January 2006

Creature Feature: a better kind of survival

AP photo (Canadian Press)
Everyone has seen this by now, I bet, but it makes me happy to think about it. This was taken on their one-year anniversary.
A year ago I made donations to Doctors without Borders and Oxfam. Both wrote and asked if the contributions, made for tsunami victims, might be directed to another of their programs, because the response for tsunami relief efforts was off the charts. The world's response was unprecedented. The billions in relief dollars, though, cannot blot out the anguish survivors will feel for the rest of their lives. How do humans deal with the loss of everyone they hold closest to their hearts? How do they "rebuild" their lives, their very identities?

This excerpt from an Outlook India.com article entitled "Tsunami relief: the darker side" shows once again how human nature constrains us, but unites us, as well: "Liquor shops and business establishments in Karaikal are witnessing a boom after the tsunami. Many people from Nagapattinam come here to shop for liquor, electronic goods, two wheelers and dress materials," says Kumaraswamy, a textile shop owner in Karaikal."In recent months, there has been a sharp increase of customers from Nagapattinam and Cuddalore, especially the fishermen, with many of them making purchases worth thousands of rupees," Kumaraswamy says. Karaikal is the preferred destination for such tsunami survivors because of two reasons - reduced prices at the Union Territory and anonymity from the prying eyes of local residents in Nagapattinam.

"We have been monitoring such cases and have advised such people to desist from these practices. Though the trend of spending money recklessly is prevalent among our community, we are convincing them to invest it in fixed deposit and in co-operative welfare schemes," says Mathiyazhakan, head of the fishermen's village panchayat in Akkarapettai - one of the worst-hit hamlets in this district."

Modern culture can pretty much be defined by the number and variety of diversions from reality it provides. Escapism. Denial. Are the fishermen of Akkarapettai finding a place at the flat earth table on account of their unspeakable losses? Would David Brooks or Thomas Friedman find a serendipitous angle to the story? Probably.

You note that the spokesman for the fishing village isn't talking interms of cowboy "freedom" and go-it-alone survival. He speaks of a co-operative venture. There is no other way they can hope to rise above the tragedy and try to find any peace at all within themselves. It can come only as a mutual effort and shared recovery.