Friday, August 31, 2007

Hi. Are you with somebody?

So, it looks as if Larry Craig is going to resign, and hey, that's fine with me. I'm all for culling the right-wingers by any means necessary. Still, it's a shame that in our happiness at seeing him go, we're kinda missing the point that the law that exposed his hypocrisy shouldn't even be on the books. I mean, there's no reason why adult men shouldn't meet new friends in an airport toilet, is there? Seriously, why should propositioning someone over eighteen, assuming there's no threat or harrassment involved, be a crime?

In fact, it isn't a crime unless it happens between two men. Men hit on women all the time in public places, and nobody, including me, thinks it's a reason to call the police. I've received plenty of offers of intimate friendship from strangers--on the street, the subway, a city bus, in a library and a mall parking lot. There's hardly a woman alive who doesn't have a similar list. Who cares?

And when was the last time you heard about a police stakeout in the ladies lounge at Saks? I know if I wanted to pick up a nice woman that's where I'd go, but the cops don't seem concerned about this potential threat to public decency.

As for the argument that the problem is not the invitation but the act, all I can say is that if you think het and lesbian couples don't have sex in public, you have not been paying attention. I have never heard of anyone other than gay men being arrested for it.

The whole business is just absurd. It would be a better use of tax dollars to pay the cops to hand out condoms.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Was some milk*

Via Wikimedia Commons

For several years I've been buying meat and milk from a couple who run a farm east of Nashville. (The POL contingent has already heard me blather a lot about this. For the rest of you, here's an article I wrote about the farm, and you can see their website here.) The wife, Jenny Drake, has become a friend, and I've spent some time helping out at the farm--or trying to, anyway. Jenny was Nio's original rescuer, so we'll always be grateful to her for his sake.

I like having this little bit of my consumer life that happens off the grid. One of the things that is especially good about it is that it helps wean me away from the habit of instant gratification. The Drake farm operates according to the seasons and the life cycle of the animals. There aren't any eggs in winter, because in the real world chickens don't lay eggs in winter. The lambs are born in the spring and go to slaughter when they reach the right weight. I don't bother hoping for lamb the rest of the year, because there isn't going to be any. Once a month I pick up roughly 20 pounds of whatever's available--plus milk in the summer--and I enjoy what I get. It's a just a nice baby step away from the manufactured, shrink-wrapped world of modern shopping.

But I'm not yet weaned altogether, as I discovered when I learned this week that the Drakes are getting out of the dairy business once this season is over. They've been selling raw cow and goat milk for years on the "gray market"--it's illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption in almost every state. The law is skirted by marketing the stuff as pet food; hence my refrigerator often contains a gallon jug of milk labeled unfit for human consumption. For some reason, that delights me.

Anyway, I've gotten really attached to my summer supply of goat milk. Now that it's about to disappear for good, I find I am extremely disappointed and annoyed. Not at the Drakes. They've got a lot of good reasons for getting out of the milk business, not the least of which is a nationwide crackdown by state ag agencies on small farmers who bend idiotic laws. The regulators operate in the interests of giant agribusiness, which has such a tight grip on our food chain that it's almost impossible for small producers to survive by just selling natural food in its unprocessed state. It's going to be tough for me to find another reliable supplier.

I'm angry about that, but the truth is my inner spoiled consumer is the one who's really fit to be tied. It seems unjust that I should be unable to get this simple thing if I have the money to pay for it. I could, of course, get my own damn goats (I have room for them), but that would involve, you know, work. And I think you all know how I feel about that.

*A friend from my Chicago days liked to tell a story about asking her young son, age 4 or 5, to tell her the earliest thing he could remember. The title of this post was his answer: "Was some milk." I know how he felt.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Husband Dave's dream house

Dave informs me that he wants to live out his days in something like this little Hobbit house. (Yes, it's a real house in Wales, and you can read all about it here.) In theory, I am completely in favor of the idea. The big challenge will be convincing Nio it's not one big urinal.

Some bit of Dave's DNA is always jonesing for the joys of cave dwelling. When we first moved back to Tennessee from Chicago, I was the designated house hunter, and I looked pretty seriously at an earth berm house similar to this one. I never let Dave see it, because I knew he would fall madly in love with the place, even though it was so far out in the sticks we'd be lucky to get our mail delivered once a week. It would have driven us both crazy in the long run. Still, I felt a real pang a few months later when I drove by it and saw the new owners working on it. It could have been our little hole in the ground.

My own goofy dream home is an old church--not some fancy brick thing with stained glass windows, but a simple clapboard church like the one I went to as a kid. I'd leave it all open and plain as possible, just one big, austere room with lots of books. I suppose I'd have to give up wearing a pentacle around my neck, since people might get the wrong idea. But it would be worth it.

Do you have a dream house?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Core programming

Via Project Gutenberg

I was reading this article the other day by David Pratt (who wrote the book on the Intifada I blogged about a while ago), and it got me thinking about how the same themes keep echoing in our lives in spite of our efforts to escape them. Pratt talks about the books and action comics that shaped his fantasies, giving him an image of himself that eventually led him to wandering around real-life war zones. Thinking back, I certainly had books that I was passionate about, and that helped form my ideas of who I ought to be.

When I was 10 or 11, my favorite books were Jane Eyre, Black Beauty, The Once and Future King, and Rouse's Gods, Heroes and Men of Ancient Greece--all of them, in different ways, books of moral philosophy. Arguably, I guess, most children's books are concerned with moral philosphy, since we always think children are especially in need of ethical instruction--a theory not really supported by the evidence, but one to which we seem irrevocably attached. But books come at the teaching task from different directions, and I think my list of middle school faves all share a particular tendency of encouraging a child to look past the surface of things. The first two are all about finding a truer morality than the one presented by society. They're subversive in favoring empathy over authority.

The White book and the Greek myths, of course, are all about moral dilemmas, but they're also concerned with the unseen and unknowable forces that shape our lives, and how those must be taken into account. They're about mystery, in other words. They're filled with the clash of good and evil, but every hero has a weakness, every villain has a wound. Nothing is simple.

Looking past what's right in front of me, refusing to believe anything is simple, always questioning the ethics of a situation--those are probably my most marked habits of mind. Sometimes that's good. It means I don't run roughshod over people very often. Often, though, it's just pointless, and exasperating to everyone around me. Look how annoyed some of you got at my moral anxiety over rescuing stray dogs. But even when I know I'm being tedious, I can't seem to stop myself. It's a core bit of programming, my prime directive. No matter how many times I've tried to throw off that tendency to overthink things, it always overwhelms me.

So did those books make me this way? I don't know. They certainly had an influence, but I'm more inclined to think I latched onto those books because I already was a little moralist. I know I always had that sense of things being more complicated than they seemed, and if I could somehow get hold of the secret under the surface, it would guide me someplace good and right. My very first memory is of climbing out of my crib early in the morning--I was very small--and wandering around the house marvelling at the sunlight streaming through the windows. We lived in the country and didn't lock our doors, so I eventually found my way outside, where my horrified mother found me. (I think she started latching the door after that.)

I was so tiny, and my memory is dreamlike, but I know I had the sense of looking for something out there in the trees and the sunshine. It's exactly the same feeling I have now when I go tromping in the woods. I have a sense there's some vast goodness and wisdom out there, and I might get a glimpse of it in the course of fighting off the gnats and avoiding the poison ivy. I also get that feeling when I start drilling down into mundane life, looking for more complexity, for what's hidden. It's like a job I feel compelled to do--a cushy, but not terribly useful job. I can't decide if it's troubling or comforting to think I didn't choose it. But then, I'm not one for being decisive, am I?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Ah, the '80s

This was my theme song the year I finished college. (Yeah, that's right, I am that old.) The first line is especially descriptive of my life at the time. I should be embarrassed to admit that this tune still moves me, but I'm not. And I love the freakin' accordion.

Eve's Diary

Have you ever read Eve's Diary by Mark Twain? For some reason it popped into my head today--another one of those "stuck in the mental drain" moments--and I went digging through the random piles of books here looking for it. No luck, but thanks to Project Gutenberg, I found this nice illustrated edition online.

It's not really Twain at his best--it's soft-headed, and just hopelessly precious at times, especially in the beginning. Fortunately, the strained wit slowly gives way to a sweet tenderness that I find irresistible. I always have a little catch in my throat at the end. If you can't bear the romance, you can read it as an interesting expression of what passed for progressive ideas about gender in Twain's day. But I bet it gets to you.

If I ask myself why I love him, I find I do not know, and do not really much care to know; so I suppose that this kind of love is not a product of reasoning and statistics, like one's love for other reptiles and animals. I think that this must be so. I love certain birds because of their song; but I do not love Adam on account of his singing—no, it is not that; the more he sings the more I do not get reconciled to it. Yet I ask him to sing, because I wish to learn to like everything he is interested in. I am sure I can learn, because at first I could not stand it, but now I can. It sours the milk, but it doesn't matter; I can get used to that kind of milk.

From Eve's Diary by Mark Twain, Harper & Brothers, 1906. Illustrated by Lester Ralph.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Don't say this blog isn't educational

Euphronios, c. 520-510 B.C.E.

"The Greeks obviously attached great importance to attainable ideals of physical beauty. Expressions of physical pride stand as one of the hallmarks of their literature and art. Judging by the way they depicted themselves in their figurative art, and taking into account the general use of the kynodesme and its accompanying ethos that exalted the well-proportioned, sleek, tapered, protective, beautifying, and propriety-preserving akroposthion, one may surmise that they would have agreed with a recent commentator in the British Journal of Urology who wrote: "One can never be too rich or too thin or have too much foreskin."

From "The Ideal Prepuce in Ancient Greece and Rome" by Frederick M. Hodges, The Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Volume 75, pp. 375-405, Fall 2001. You can read the entire article by clicking over to The Circumcision Reference Library. Seriously, go look. It's very edifying. You'll at least learn what kynodesme and akroposthion mean.

Let's have a '70s moment, shall we?

Some friends from New Orleans are in town this weekend, so in their honor here's Dr. John in serious gris gris mode. Stay to the end for the full flashback.

Friday, August 24, 2007

So, what are we doing?

Phydeaux, my favorite Tar Heel blogger, has a fine post today about the strange passivity that afflicts us. Click here to read the bearded one.

Local sex

The paper I write for, the Nashville Scene, has a funny/raunchy cover story this week about the city's odd laws governing the sex trade. Click over to the website to check it out. Somehow I suspect you will find it more amusing if you know that the reporter, P.J. Tobia, is young and male. (BTW, I had absolutely nothing to do with this story. My only contribution to the paper this week is a sober review of an earnest book about free speech in the workplace.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Witnessing the struggle

Via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to the heat and the drought, the woods are eerily still these days. I never see a turtle or a toad. Most of the deer have wandered from the parched trails and the dry creek to the river about a mile away. The squirrels and chipmunks are around, but they're too busy looking for food to keep up their usual chatter. The cicadas do make their racket, but the normal birdsong of dawn is missing. No point in getting up early if there's no worm to get--and there isn't. The earthworms are buried deep below the dusty ground. The mosquitoes and gnats are scarce, too. Even the spiders seem to be getting less industrious.

The ants are the only bug community that seems busy as ever. As I ambled along this morning (did I mention that it's hot?), I saw a line of ants moving across the trail, most of them carrying a load as big as themselves. I knelt down to see what they were carrying and realized each of them had the carcass of a dead ant. Most of the corpses were curled up tidily, as they had been murdered in their sleep, and maybe they had. I don't know much about ant behavior, but this looked like the result of a nest raid.

It made me a little sad for some reason, and reminded me of the "battle of the ants" from Walden. Even in high school I thought Thoreau was a pompous pain in the ass, but I liked the ant war passage. It lurks in the back of my mind every time I see an ant. Of course, it has a particular resonance these days.

" I took up the chip on which the three I have particularly described were struggling, carried it into my house, and placed it under a tumbler on my window-sill, in order to see the issue. Holding a microscope to the first-mentioned red ant, I saw that, though he was assiduously gnawing at the near fore leg of his enemy, having severed his remaining feeler, his own breast was all torn away, exposing what vitals he had there to the jaws of the black warrior, whose breastplate was apparently too thick for him to pierce; and the dark carbuncles of the sufferer's eyes shone with ferocity such as war only could excite. They struggled half an hour longer under the tumbler, and when I looked again the black soldier had severed the heads of his foes from their bodies, and the still living heads were hanging on either side of him like ghastly trophies at his saddle-bow, still apparently as firmly fastened as ever, and he was endeavoring with feeble struggles, being without feelers and with only the remnant of a leg, and I know not how many other wounds, to divest himself of them; which at length, after half an hour more, he accomplished. I raised the glass, and he went off over the window-sill in that crippled state. Whether he finally survived that combat, and spent the remainder of his days in some Hotel des Invalides, I do not know; but I thought that his industry would not be worth much thereafter. I never learned which party was victorious, nor the cause of the war; but I felt for the rest of that day as if I had had my feelings excited and harrowed by witnessing the struggle, the ferocity and carnage, of a human battle before my door."

From "Brute Neighbors," Chapter 12 of Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Click here for the full text.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Everybody here loves dogs

Courtesy of Kamat's Potpourri, a huge and eccentric site devoted to all things Indian. I could wander around there for weeks...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cruel to be kind

Nio says Hi. For those of you who don’t know Mr. Nio, he’s the youngest member of the pack around here--rescued (as we self-congratulating animal lovers like to say) a couple of years ago in mighty poor shape. He’s quite the handsome guy now, don’t you think?

My entire family is hopelessly addicted to adopting stray critters. Virtually all the pets we had when I was growing up—and there were a lot of them—were strays or cast-offs, and my parents were as likely to bring them home as my brothers and I were. My mother still gets teary-eyed over Calvin, a black Lab who was exiled with us in lieu of being executed for killing his previous owner’s chickens; and my father was passionately attached to a golden retriever named Rufus that he found in the parking lot at work. Rufus liked to accompany Dad on his frequent outings to the tavern and became a local celebrity. He got a memorial complete with photo in the paper when he died—which, come to think of it, was more than Dad got.

Anyway, here I am well into middle age and still bringing home strays, but questioning more and more what the real motivation is for doing it. It seems selfless and loving to give a home to an essentially useless creature. (A few pets work, of course—guarding, herding, killing vermin—but most spend their lives in stultifying leisure.) I know nothing makes me happier than feeding my crew when they’re hungry, or nursing a sick stray back to health. It makes me feel like a good person. That's what we all aspire to be, right?

But really, what’s so good about it? From the animal’s point of view, rising from stray to pet involves a questionable trade-off. In exchange for a cozy place to sleep and plenty to eat, the dog or cat surrenders pretty much everything else that makes life worth living. Pets (the ones who have "responsible” owners, that is) don’t get to fuck, or kill things, or even stage raids on the neighbors’ trash. It’s true, they do seem to enjoy our love and attention—but that’s not surprising given the paucity of other pleasures in their lives. If you spent a lot of your time being hauled around on a leash, you’d probably be grateful for the occasional ear rub or game of catch, too.

That’s not a new insight, of course. Think of Lady and the Tramp. But if I recall correctly, ol’ Tramp eventually opts for pet status. It wouldn’t have been a happy ending otherwise, not in the Disney universe. And Disney values still seem to carry the day in the world of animal welfare. There’s a massive network of shelters and rescue organizations devoted to creating more people like me, who leash up our ex-junkyard dogs and take them shopping in PetSmart. (Where we stock up on treats made from factory-farmed meat--but that’s an issue for another post.)

Indeed, at this point it’s impossible to disentangle the charity from the consumerism. The same people who rail against puppy mills will go halfway across the country to adopt the purebred of their choice via a "breed rescue”—simultaneously clothing themselves in virtue and acquiring a stylish furry accessory. This is a bit of self-deception on a par with driving a hybrid SUV, or berating somebody in a fur coat while wearing leather shoes.

Leaving that kind of indulgent silliness aside, it’s worth pondering exactly what our relationship is to the creatures we think we save. I’ve got a family of feral cats hanging out on my porch right now, and I have to admit that I feel very guilty about not trying harder to re-domesticate them. I know from past experience that it’s almost impossible to do, but I feel guilty just the same. Why? I see them out there playing, hunting, having a great time. Do I really think they’d be happier in here with me, eating gunk from a can and shitting in a box? My desire to rescue those cats has very little to do with their welfare, and everything to do with some need I have to be their rescuer.

I’m not saying it’s some kind of crime against nature to haul a critter off the street and teach it to be your friend. On the contrary, I suspect it is in our nature to do it—part of our innate drive to dominate, most likely. What could be more gratifying to the power-hungry human soul than making a predator your love slave? In any case, I don’t plan to stop doing it. I’m just gonna try not to feel too smug about it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Fuzzy and sweet

I'm working on a proper post, but in the meatime, click over to this video of a Great Horned Owl chick doing his thing--whatever it is. I think it's adorable. Thanks to Counterpunch for the link to Bird Cinema.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


That's the word for me. Mulish. You can't tell me anything. You never could. Just ask my mother, or my husband. Sometime during my fourth decade on the planet, I finally figured out that ignoring advice from smart people was a bad habit I should overcome. But I haven't yet.

Case in point: I spent all those years hanging out at POL, hearing wonderful things about Ava Luxe scents from perfume freaks known to have impeccable taste, and I never tried a single one. All I had to do was pop over to the website and throw down some small change for a few samps, but I couldn't be bothered. I was too busy chasing lost loves on ebay, or snatching up dubious bargains at Scentiments, I guess.

So now Chaya (in the nicest possible way) has shown me the error of my ways by introducing me to "Moss," an Ava Luxe creation that belongs in my chypre pantheon along with vintage Ma Griffe and Mitsouko. Really, it's that good, and it rebukes me every time I wear it--"Think of all the years you missed with me, baby. Just because you wouldn't give my niche label a second glance."

"Moss" lacks the floralcy of Ma Griffe and the rich fruitiness of Mitsouko (both qualities I love), but it more than compensates with a musky, resinous drydown that is sexier and sweeter than either of my old favorites. It's a chypre of unusual warmth--a cozy chypre, if there can be such a thing. It's like a walk in the woods on a warm October morning, when the fallen leaves take on a faint caramel smell that softens the dryness of autumn.* I get little aldehydic fizz from "Moss"--normally something I would miss, fizzaholic that I am. But the ambery drydown would make a loud opening...well, loud. It would ruin the pensive purity of the scent.

Now that I've found her, I hope "Moss" and I enjoy many happy years together. Thanks again to Chaya. And apologies to all you perfumistas whose sage advice I mulishly ignored.

*I took this pic 2 days ago. This is how it should look well into fall. In August it should be choked with snakeroot and other greenery. At least the spiders seem to be thriving.

And also on the subject of Gitmo, etc.

Have a look at this interview with activist/lawyer Clive Stafford Smith about representing Guantánamo detainees and death row inmates. It's an unhappy cause, but he's a very engaging guy. Even if he does have questionable taste in music.

Occasionally, something intelligent appears...

...even in the New York Times. There are couple of brief goodies in today's Book Review. One is *this letter from Howard Zinn, shedding a little righteous light on the idiotic assumptions we make about the morality of war. (You'll find a link in his letter to the review in question.)

And then there's Dan Chiasson's clear-eyed review of Poems From Guatánamo: The Detainees Speak, which is a great example of a critic usefully looking past the book. Referring to the heavy censorship of the poems for "security" considerations, Chiasson writes:

"Given these constraints, a better subtitle might have been “The Detainees Do Not Speak” or perhaps “The Detainees Are Not Allowed to Speak.” But the best subtitle, I fear, would have been “The Pentagon Speaks.” To be sure, it’s hard to imagine a straightforward propagandistic use for the lines “America sucks, America chills, / While d’ blood of d’ Muslims is forever getting spilled”; but you can’t help suspecting that this entire production is some kind of public relations psych-out, “proof” that dissent thrives even in the cells of Guantánamo. (Does that sound paranoid? Can you think of another good reason the Pentagon would have selected these lines out of thousands for publication?)"

You can read the full review (it's worth it) by clicking here.

*You have to register to look at the NYT online, but it's free, and worth the nuisance just to keep an eye on the mindfuckers.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

In case you think I'm just whining

via Wikimedia Commons

NOAA has officially declared this an exceptionally nasty summer:

939 AM CDT THU AUG 16 2007


1952 AND 1954.



And of course, August is only half over. The weather elves go on to say that it's the driest summer on record. Not that we didn't already know, but it's nice that it's official. (Thanks to the friendly lurker who emailed me the report.)

If I were a different sort of witch, I'd be trying to round up warm bodies to help wake the Spirits of the West (or East, depending on which tradition you belong to)--but I'm the solitary, fatalistic sort. I think my job is to accept what nature does, and bring consciousness to the suffering. Giving the garden to the critters and putting out buckets of water is a good idea, too.

(Click here for a special alert to all you non-lovers of the serpent.)

"An investment in peace"

This makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Just look at how well that $450 billion investment in peace in Iraq is working out so far.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hey, Mom, look what I found

I know I promised something perverse and unwholesome (i.e., smutty), but my inner 9-year-old boy just can't wait to show you this really cool snakeskin that we brought home from the woods today. My inner 12-year-old boy, who is in charge of dirty pictures, will have to wait his turn.

I'm pretty sure this is from a plain ol' rat snake, utterly harmless and unexotic. It's fairly big, nearly 30 inches long. I don't often see them this size, all in one piece, but it's not unusual to see small ones along the trail. Sometimes they're still slightly moist. (Am I grossing you out?) Nothing's moist around here right now, but I'm sure this skin was just shed, because I was on the same trail yesterday.

I have a weakness for all nature's relics of transformation. I love finding cicada shells, old cocoons, wasp's nests. The downside of being a mammal is that our growth lacks drama. We shed a few teeth, and that's about it.

If snakes make you shudder, consider this: Snake bites kill about a dozen people in the US every year. Dog attacks kill about twice that many. (Don't tell Kobi.) Snake hatred is pure bigotry and superstition.

I could preach on that a while, but I'll spare you. There are actually plenty of snake lovers out there, always have been. Here's a snippet of Ben Franklin's famous paean to the rattlesnake. (Click here to read it all.)

"I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds 'till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her."

And for your viewing pleasure, here's Fluffy the Python, taking it all off. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


As I hope you can see from this really lousy photo I took, I've got a more respectable number of hummers freeloading right now. But I don't think these guys are local. I suspect they are early migrators, stopping in for a drink as they get the hell out of Dodge. The drought and heat continue to be brutal. I can't remember the last time it rained.

This miserable weather is sapping my energy, but I swear I'll rally and have a proper post tomorrow. Maybe something perverse and unwholesome. Stay tuned...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Afternoon of a Faun

The wonderful video of Gillian Murphy as Odette that Mary posted on her blog a couple of days ago got me hunting around for Youtube for ballet treasures. Click here to see a long clip of Jacques D'Amboise and Tanaquil LeClercq in Jerome Robbins' version of Afternoon of a Faun. The less-than-perfect video quality can't obscure how beautiful they were.

The Wisdom of Archy

Counterpunch just put up a slightly hysterical yet troubling column by that borderline wacko Paul Craig Roberts, all about how the neocons have put us on a path to nuclear war and "the hegemony of the cockroach." I have to admit it seems a little sad to think of my species overthrown as apex despoiler of the planet, but cockroach rule might not be so bad. Just imagine how much better off we'd all be if GWB had taken this bit of poetic advice from the sagacious Archy.


i do not think a prudent one
will ever aim too high
a cockroach seldom whips a dog
and seldom should he try

and should a locust take a vow
to eat a pyramid
he likely would wear out his teeth
before he ever did

i do not think the prudent one
hastes to initiate
a sequence of events which he
lacks power to terminate

for should i kick the woolworth tower
so hard i laid it low
it probably might injure me
if it fell on my toe

i do not think the prudent one
will be inclined to boast
lest circumstances unforseen
should get him goat and ghost

for should I tell my friends i d drink
the hudson river dry
a tidal wave might come and turn
my statements to a lie

From The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis, edited with notes and introduction by Michael Sims, Penguin Books, 2006.

(Click here on the off chance you want to be subjected to my bloviation about Archy.)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Beautiful Roma (no, not the perfume)

Part of Chaya's care package from a couple weeks back was a CD of wonderful Gypsy music. It's yet another example of her mystical intuition and foresight, because if I hadn't enjoyed that CD so much, I might have declined my violin teacher's suggestion that we go see Gypsy Caravan last night. What a mistake that would have been. This is a terrific film. It's a nice little crash course on modern-day Romani culture, but it's also just about the best portrayal I've ever seen of musicians' lives. And it's (mostly) tremendous fun. There's one incredibly sad passage, a true tear-jerker that hits very hard because the rest of the movie has been so funny and joyful. The movie's major flaw is that it indulges in a little too much preachy narration about persecution of the Roma. (That persecution is very real, of course, and is essential to the story of the performers, but the Roma in the film do a perfectly good job of telling their story themselves. They don't need Johnny Depp, who has an overlong cameo, to do it for them. )

The film moves back and forth between the musicians' lives on tour, and their lives back home, so there are scenes in Spain, Romania and India, as well as the US. Albert Maysles was in charge of the camera work, and there are some truly stunning scenes, especially in Rajasthan. Oh, and some serious eye candy in the form of a Spanish flamenco dancer named Antonio. If you're not one of those lucky people who've had the chance to see it already at Tribeca and other film festivals, click here for a calendar of upcoming screenings worldwide. And there's another site devoted to the film here.

L'Origine du monde, Gustave Courbet, 1866

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Mamie Smith

Isn't this picture of Mamie Smith wonderful? I'm not sure what it is exactly--maybe it's the way she's holding her body, or the way she's all tangled up with the beads--but I think the image is very sexy in an innocent, happy way. I was wandering around the net looking for old blues recordings (one of my many time-sucking habits) and found a nice MP3 of Mamie singing "Crazy Blues." The quality is surprisingly good, considering that the recording dates from 1920. Bessie Smith usurped Mamie's place as the queen of the blues, and probably rightfully so, but it's clear from this song that Mamie had a much prettier, more polished voice.

Whoever put the clip below on Youtube didn't bother to give its source, but I assume it's "Jailhouse Blues," made in 1929. Complete with French subtitles, in case you need 'em.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A. Van Jordan

The nice thing about having a blog is that it provides a forum where I can rave shamelessly about things I like; for instance, A. Van Jordan’s M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A. It’s a collection of poems inspired by the life of MacNolia Cox, an Ohio girl who, in 1936, became the first African American to reach the final round of the National Spelling Bee. The judges cheated her out of winning, and that injustice set the trajectory for her life. She was a bright, ambitious child who wound up cleaning rich white people’s houses, and suffering through a long, unhappy marriage.

Sounds grim, I know. It is grim. There aren’t a lot of pretty stories to tell about what it was like to be black in America in the 30s and 40s. The miracle of these poems is that they capture the ugliness of those times very powerfully, and yet they’re ultimately joyful. They celebrate the genius of a child, the magic of language, and the beauty of African American culture. There are lines so poignant they take my breath away, and word-drunk passages that make me giddy.

Jordan uses a wealth of forms and voices, and hauls in everybody from Josephine Baker to Richard Pryor to help tell MacNolia’s story. The disparate rhythms somehow mesh together to create a lusty aria on a child’s pride in her gift, and the way some glimmer of that pride endures through a hard life. Jordan never gets very far away from Macnolia’s communion with words, which he captures especially well in "Practice."

You know how a word comes
To you like a face that’s familiar
But without a name to which you can
Attach—not a complete stranger,
But not a friend either?

You stare into the features of this word,
Hoping the letters will find you—
You know they will find you;
You repeat the word to yourself
As if tasting it will help.

Jordan, of course, shares MacNolia's devotion to the power of words—even the ones nobody loves. He includes a series of prose poem riffs about prepositions. Here’s a snippet of his take on “to”:

...8. Used before a verb to indicate the infinitive: There are women who will never get to know their fathers and won’t get over it. There are women who have had to know their fathers and won’t get over it. There are women who know what it is to live with a man, but who will never know what it is to marry a man; and there are women who know what it is to marry a man, but who will never know what it is to live.

The poems inspired by MacNolia's adult years are sensual, but sometimes as harsh as her life. Here's one in its entirety, reprinted with permission of the author:


Deep in my pores
Lies the secret
Evidence of faith,

A black-licorice world
Beneath these everyday clothes,
Where men walk in silence

With dilated mouths.
Have you ever fallen
Into the vowels on a dark

Woman's lips as she blew
A simple phrase like
"Good Morning"
To a man she's just met?

Nothing, maybe, to the naked ear,
But close your eyes and listen
To the dark sounds rounded

Off in the shadows of her mouth--
There lies the secret to end
All wars. In her throat,

Lives a lump of coal, which does not aspire
To emerge as a diamond. I know how
Her darkness, how her dark wake,

Sways in inverse light behind a man's
Eyelids as he reaches his hand
Toward the hint of her body.

copyright (c) 2004 by A. Van Jordan.

Now, if that doesn't make you feel something, you need to check for a pulse. Jordan has a new collection out, Quantum Lyrics, which I'm very eager to read. There are a couple of poems from it, as well as more of M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, on his page at Norton's site

Monday, August 6, 2007

The big yellow ball of crazy*

Not only is it still dry here (we’ve officially entered “extreme drought” as of July 31), but now it’s hot as hell, too. High temps are supposed to hover around 100 degrees all week.

I don’t really mind the heat that much—though I have to admit that living through the Chicago heat wave of 1995 in an old building with no AC was not so nice. These days we own a house with the standard environment-ravaging central air system. It is effectively defying Mother Nature as I type this, so all I suffer from the heat is guilt—actually, guilt and the constant presence of my insane dog, Kobi.

Normally all my dogs spend the day outside in the fenced yard and only come in at night, but when the heat is really brutal they get to come in and loll around the kitchen. Sounds pleasant, doesn’t it? Loyal four-legged companions waiting patiently for food and affection, gazing at me adoringly as I go about my household chores or tap away at the keyboard...Well, maybe in my next life.

In this one they are constantly underfoot, begging for treats and deciding that dinner is due hours ahead of schedule. Occasionally they take a break from lobbying to fight over who gets to lie down closest to me. This is a serious issue. Blood has been shed over it.

That’s par for the course of dog ownership, I guess, but Kobi (full name Miss Kobiashi, a.k.a. the Kobes, Yellow Dog, Crazy Kobi, Your Problem Child, etc.) takes being a doggy nuisance to new heights. Kobi’s part Chow—specifically, the high-strung hypervigilant part. Anything she perceives as a threat will instantly send her into a barking, whimpering frenzy. Threats include, but are not limited to:

The sound of the vacuum cleaner, the dryer, the paper shredder, or any power tool
Hammers, or anything else making a percussive noise
Opening the linen closet (the door squeaks)
Turning on the outdoor faucet (the handle squeaks)
Turning on the hall light
Opening the door to the attic (more squeaking)
Moving furniture
Opening the front door.

Actually, she’s calmed down a lot from the days when she would go into hysterics if I cracked an egg or boiled water. (I’m not kidding. The splutter of boiling water freaked her out completely.)

It’s incredibly exasperating putting up with this canine control freak. She has basically been the Dog From Hell ever since the day I found her in my front yard, abandoned at all of 8 weeks old, and covered with hundreds—really, hundreds--of ticks.

So why have I put up with her? Well, for starters, because I am her god, and have been since we first met. The other two love me, but Kobi worships me with all her heart and soul. She would die defending me, I’m certain of it. Not that she doesn’t occasionally defy me, but when she does it’s usually in the course of guarding my well being. (“I must kill the UPS man, despite your objections. It’s for your own good.”) Almost all her nutty behavior is misdirected protectiveness—at least, that’s what I tell myself in those moments when I think about throttling her.

It’s closer to the truth, though, to say that I put up with her because I just can’t help myself. I love this dog. Something in her slightly warped spirit has touched me so deeply that I can’t imagine giving her up. I suspect the fact that she is so oddly tilted to her universe is the very thing that makes her impossible for me to resist. Call that projection, psychoanalyze it any way you want, but that doesn’t make my feeling for her any less powerful.

She’s not a very sturdy specimen, and isn’t likely to have a long life. When she dies it will break my heart. But I wouldn’t have missed my years with her for anything in the world.

*This post is dedicated to Leo. And Matt.

Hey, perfume people...

Lou has a wonderful riff on Allure Sensuelle at her blog today. Don't miss it.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Sleep, Gustav Courbet, 1866

(Busy weekend here, trying to get an article written. I have to earn enough money to buy up most of the Ava Luxe line--it's all Chaya's fault. See y'all Monday. Take it easy.)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Excuse me while I rant

"The situation in Darfur is the worst humanitarian disaster the world faces today." Gordon Brown in his speech to the UN, July 31, 2007

Really? Well, you could have fooled me. I guess the ones we initiate don't count. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for doing something to stop the horror in Darfur. I'm not saying the situation there doesn't need to be addressed just because there's a massive humanitarian catastrophe happening in Iraq. But the Bush administration has been hauling out the Darfur crisis for years now, exploiting a fictional concern for Africa as political camouflage.**

It's disheartening to hear Brown, for all his declared intent to be the Unpoodle, mouthing blather so agreeable to Washington, but this rant isn't really about Brown or Bush. It's about churches. Specifically, it's about the heavy involvement of affluent churches here in the Bible Belt in the Not On Our Watch campaign for Darfur. West Nashville--largely rich and white--is sprouting the green and white Save Darfur signs like crazy. They pockmark the pricey landscaping all over the 'hood, and a number of the churches have big banners on their front lawns. It has obviously become quite the fashionable cause among the well-heeled Christians in town, especially those of a mainstream liberal bent.

Good works are good works, I suppose, and I ought to be glad to see that crowd putting their attention on something so obviously worthy--but the whole business just makes me want to scream. Go cruising around that site in the last link and you'll read lots of righteous snippets about everything from capital punishment to fair trade coffee--but if there's anything there about the ongoing atrocity we're overseeing in Iraq, I couldn't find it.

Isn't it astonishing that institutions which profess such devotion to principles of peace and justice, and which don't hesitate to lobby on behalf of Darfur, could turn away from a much larger crime in which every citizen of the United States is implicated? I'm sure that many, probably most, of the people in the "Save Darfur" churches are vigorously opposed to the war in Iraq. So why aren't there any banners exhorting us to end the war and help Iraqi refugees?

Husband Dave is an elder in a liberal Presbyterian denomination (not a "Save Darfur" church, but the same cohort), and the two of us periodically tie it up over what I call the cowardice and hypocrisy of such churches. The debate never gets very far because: a) Dave is too civilized to fight about it--I am the brawler in this house; and b) I think he has yet to come up with a decent rebuttal. Maybe because there isn't one.

It wouldn't matter if the Jesus contingent wasn't so powerful in this part of the country--but they are tremendously powerful in mobilizing people on issues across the political spectrum. People in the red states like to have the divine stamp of approval on their opinions. (I'm not saying I like that fact, but it isn't going to change any time soon.) It's true that the right-wing Christians push their agenda through more often, but that's largely because they're willing to scream louder. The liberal churches could put their God cred to use in the same way, but for some reason they won't. If they had had the guts to come out in full voice against the war years ago, it would have made a difference. It would make a difference now.

**It has used its anti-AIDS program in just the same cynical way. For a quick overview of what's wrong with the US AIDS intitiative in Africa, see this report from Africa Action. If you feel like wading through some more, check out See this article by Alex de Waal in The Nation for a very good rundown on Darfur.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Merlin and Nimue

The Beguiling of Merlin, Edward Burne-Jones, c.1874

First, a happy Lammas to you all. Mary has a wonderful post for the day. Go visit her blog and enjoy.

In the Arthurian legends, this day is associated with the imprisonment of Merlin by Nimue. It's a myth any seeker should contemplate.

"Nimue, the daughter of Dionas, was a maiden of great skill, having the blessing of Diana and the wisdom of the Lady of the Lake's realm within her. The combination of her beauty and otherworldly skills drew the love of Merlin, who knew no maiden of his own kind. Merlin taught her many wondrous things, for she was an insatiable student of enchantment. Her only desire was to learn Merlin's deep wisdom, yet he was sparing of his study and busy in affairs of state. One day she asked how to make a tower without walls and Merlin, unthinking, taught her. While he lay sleeping, Nimue made a circle of her wimple about him and, walking nine times about it, raised up a tower of glass. When he awoke, he protested: 'Sweet love, why have you done this?' Nimue smiled, 'Now you will do my bidding and teach me all you know, for you cannot leave here unless I will it.' 'That will never be,' said Merlin, 'for I will not teach you any more, lest you wreak enchantment upon the kingdom.' And so it was that Merlin remained a prisoner in the glass castle. And though Nimue frequently entered to entreat his tutoring, Merlin ever refused her."

From The Arthurian Book of Days, Caitlin and John Matthews, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1990.