Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Where is that red T-shirt?

Dave is coming home a day early so we can build a bonfire for May Day/Beltane. That's a sweet surprise, though I feel a little guilty because I haven't made any plans of my own to mark the day. In previous years I've gone the whole Beltane ritual route, festooning the trees with colored ribbons, dyeing red eggs, and putting out sweets for the faeries--who, by the way, never got rid of the brown recluse spiders, as I asked them to do. (They don't seem to have played any tricks on me either, so I guess I should shut up.)

This year, though, I'm in no mood for the fanciful. My May Day feelings are not much like this:

They're more like this:

Or, to put it in prose: More revolution, less dancing. I'm sure Emma would understand.

May Day, Kate Greenaway (1846-1901). Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Photo of anti-war protest at the Pentagon, 1967(?), from the National Archives. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

One Sentence Perfume Review: Iris Poudre, Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums

Like a pretty girl with a fine education and no sense of humor.

Notes per Basenotes: Bergamot, Orange, Rosewood, Ylang-Ylang, Carnation, Magnolia, Jasmine, Muguet, Violetta-Rose, Aldehydes, Iris, Musk, Amber, Vanilla, Sandalwood, Ebony

The Virgin Reading, Vittore Carpaccio, 1505-1510. Image from Web Gallery of Art.

Monday, April 28, 2008


"Why Moles Live Underground"

Many ages ago there was a man who was in love with a young woman who disliked him and wanted nothing to do with this young man. He tried in every way to win her favor, but with no success. At last he grew discouraged and made himself sick thinking about it.

Then one day as the man sat alone in his despair, Mole came along, and finding the man so low in his mind, asked what the trouble was. The man told him the whole story of the woman he loved, and her dislike of him, and when he had finished, Mole said, "I can help you. Not only will she like you, but she will come to you of her own free will."

The damp spring here has meant a wealth of earthworms, and that means good times for the moles. Their tunnels are all over the place. The trail was criss-crossed with them this morning, and it occurred to me that I know next to nothing about them, even though they're as common as, well, dirt. So I went surfing around the Web this afternoon in search of information, and I was a little shocked to find that there are scads of sites devoted to various methods of mole "control"--the polite term for poisoning, trapping, gassing and otherwise tormenting the harmless critters. I know they're considered pests, but geez, I had no idea of the hatred. The little fable above, supposedly a traditional Cherokee tale, was about the only scrap of admiration I could find. Even most of the wildlife sites discussed them primarily as a problem for lawn-obsessed humans. I did find a fairly neutral page here.

Bats, snakes, spiders, cockroaches--they all have their fans, but the mole seems to have no one. So the next time you see a mole mound, spare a kind thought for the little guy. He needs all the friends he can get.

Photo from Wikipedia

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The fragrant alien

The woods are full of the delicious smell of Japanese honeysuckle right now. The scent is a bittersweet pleasure, since Lonicera japonica is a relentless invader, choking the life out of a host of native plants. If you've ever tried to clear out a well-established vine you'll understand why some people detest the stuff. It's so stubborn, it actually seems to fight back as you cut and pull. Still, it's hard for me to hate anything that smells this good. If I could find a perfume that really captured the scent I'd buy enough to bathe in it.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Friday, April 25, 2008

Missing New Orleans

Jazz Fest begins this weekend. I wish we were going, and I've been getting little reminders of New Orleans all day that make the desire more acute. This morning I spotted a car with a "Make Levees, Not War" bumper sticker--no doubt its driver was one of Nashville's many Katrina exiles. Then I came home to find an email from a friend praising the beauty of Sidney Bechet's "Blackstick." And without even being aware of it, I just wandered over to my perfume shelves and dabbed on Bourbon French's Marguerite, a scent that always brings fond memories of New Orleans. I hope everybody's having a great time down there.

That note you hold, narrowing and rising, shakes
Like New Orleans reflected on the water,
And in all ears appropriate falsehood wakes,

Building for some a legendary Quarter
Of balconies, flower-baskets and quadrilles,
Everyone making love and going shares...

From "For Sidney Bechet" by Philip Larkin, 1964

NPR profile of Sidney Bechet

Photo of a Storyville prostitute by E.J. Bellocq, early 20th century. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ruth Brown, circa 1955

The official Ruth Brown website is here. Check out the photos. Some of them are gorgeous.

I really wanted to find a video of Ruth singing "Wild, Wild Young Men," my favorite of her songs. No luck, but I did find an excellent use of the recording. Consider this my nature post for the day.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I'm feeling a little Emma today

"I do not acknowledge laws made to protect the rich and oppress the poor. Who are the law makers? Senators, the great of the land? Capitalists. Capitalists who torture thousands to slow death in their factories, they are people who live in affluence, robbing the workingman of his strength to deprive him of the results of his labor; they are men whose fortunes have been built upon a foundation formed by pyramids of children's corpses.

"The wealth, the luxury, the pomp and glory of power are bought at the price of murdered and disfigured mankind."

Emma Goldman, from a speech she intended to deliver at her sentencing for the crime of unlawful assembly. Quote via Berkely Digital Library sunSITE

Monday, April 21, 2008

One Sentence Perfume Review: Une Fleur de Cassie, Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums

Did you know that Detchema and Le Dix had a baby?

Notes per Bois de Jasmin: bergamot, rose, violet, aldehydes, cassie, mimosa, jasmine, clove, cedarwood, sandalwood, musk.

Das Neugeborene, Karl Heyden (1845-1933).

Agony, and more flowers

It's been a harried few days around here, mainly thanks to a canine crisis. Pearl, our little Aussie Shepherd mix, was obviously feeling miserable Thursday afternoon. I figured I'd just keep an eye on her and take her to the vet Friday afternoon if she didn't perk up. About 2:30 Friday morning I woke to the sound of blood-curdling doggy screams. I ran in the kitchen and there was Pearl, hunkered in the doorway, yelping in agony. Kobi was separated from Pearl by a baby gate, which didn't stop her from trying to attack--Kobi's standard response to any show of weakness in the other dogs. I booted Kobi outside and tried in vain to figure out what the hell was wrong with Pearl.

There was nothing I could do except wait the 6 hours for the vet to open. Pearl eventually settled down a little, although she let out a piercing scream about once every 15 minutes. I felt sorry for her, but I also felt like doing a little screaming of my own. When we finally got to the vet he was almost as mystified as I was, but finally decided that Pearl had a pinched nerve in her neck. Nothing serious. He gave me drugs for her, and by Sunday morning she was in pretty good shape. Unfortunately, I have a highly offended Kobi to cope with now, since loss of kitchen privileges constitutes a profound insult in her universe--and it's clearly Pearl's fault. It's been a constant job of dog wrangling to keep the two of them separated, and everybody semi-satisfied. Sigh.

On a happier note, spring continues to bloom in the most glorious way here.

Our apple tree is always loaded with blossoms, but it's unusually fragrant this year. I've been going out in the warmth of the afternoon just to stand under it, enjoying the perfume and the noisy bees.

Our dogwoods have been late to bloom, but they've made up for it by being especially pretty. We're not expecting any rough weather, so I'm hoping we'll get to enjoy the flowers instead of seeing them blown away, which often happens. This pink dogwood is a favorite with the birds--and other things. A snake once fell out of it onto the pest control guy.

I though the lilac bush had been hopelessly damaged by the drought last summer, but it's blooming very prettily. Oddly, though, it has almost no scent.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Love's mysteries in souls do grow..."

So must pure lovers' souls descend
T' affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies.
To'our bodies turn we then, that so
Weak men on love reveal'd may look;
Love's mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book.

From "The Ecstasy" by John Donne (1572-1631). Full text at Poetry Foundation.

Illustration by Paul-Émile Bécat (1885-1960)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

One Sentence Perfume Review: Sa Majeste la Rose, Serge Lutens

Simply put, it's the Eddie Haskell of rose soliflores.

Notes per Now Smell This: absolute of moroccan rose, blue chamomile, geranium, lychee, clove, honey, vanilla and gaiac wood

Photo from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I was strolling down the pet food aisle at the grocery store yesterday morning, marveling as I always do at the array of doggie junk food ("Yeah, I'm really trying to eat healthy these days. Here, Sparky, want a Pupperoni?"), and I was surprised to see that a chunk of prime shelf space had been given over to a brand of vegan dog food. Ack. I know the whole veggie dog movement has been around a long time, but it's mostly been confined to the fringes of the pet marketplace. I've only seen it in upscale health food stores where much of the customer base has more money than sense. Now here it is staking a claim in a chain supermarket--in Tennessee, of all places, where barbecue is the foundation of the food pyramid. Things are clearly getting out of hand.

The whole idea of trying to turn a dog into a vegetarian would be funny if it weren't so cruel. It's true that, in theory, you can keep your dog healthy feeding him soy protein and salad. You can also keep him healthy confined for life to a cage in your basement. As long as you keep it clean and Fido gets a regular run on the treadmill, he'll be fine. But will he be happy? Of course not. Dogs are social, active creatures by nature, and only a stupid or heartless person would ignore that fact.

Likewise, a reasonable owner has to understand that dogs are born predators. They are wired physically and mentally to kill. A little of that has been bred out of domestic dogs, but only a little. I know all my coddled, kibble-fed beasts are more than happy to dispatch any bird, bunny or supersized cockroach that comes within striking range. Given that I do my best to deny them that moment of joy, it seems just plain mean to deprive them of the secondary pleasure of sinking their teeth into something somebody else got to kill.

I'm no BARF purist, mind you. My dogs do plenty of carb-loading. There's a package of cinnamon bagels in their treat bin at this moment. But there's no denying that, given the option, they would always choose goat kidneys or green tripe (don't ask) over the most elegant vegetarian fare available. Why shouldn't they have what they prefer? We rob our pets of so much of their natural lives for our pleasure and convenience, do we have to draft them into our ethical and aesthetic causes as well?

If this website is anything to judge by, the "convert a carnivore" movement has been canny enough to abandon its emphasis on saving your dog's murderous soul in favor of rhetoric about the environmental impact of meat production and supposed dangers of a meat-based diet. I love the fear mongering about pet food recalls, which conveniently ignores the fact that none of those recalls were triggered by the meat in the foods.

As for the environmental problem, it's easy enough to get grass-fed meat for your dog, and the whole argument begs the question of whether it's environmentally responsible to keep "companion animals" in the first place. What's so responsible about maintaining an excess population of animals purely for our pleasure? No matter what you feed them, the fact is that they use up vast quantities of food and other resources. The most sustainable approach would probably be to kill your dog and eat him.

Photo of African Painted Dogs from Wikipedia

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

And also on the bird front...

It seems to be blue jay nookie week. I saw several couples yesterday and today who were working on baby-making. Jays have got to be the most exhibitionistic lovers in the bird world. It's as if they want to be seen getting it on. One spring a pair decided that the rail of my deck was a good spot, and I swear they waited until I looked out the window so they'd have an audience. The male was quite a character, big and dominant, easy to pick out among all the other jays who came to my feeders. I named him Bobo. He bossed everybody around and talked constantly. He had a particularly piercing "squeaky gate" song. (You can hear it at the Cornell Lab page.) I was still trying to manage my feeder birds back in those days, and I was filling one feeder with nothing but safflower seed in order to discourage the starlings. Blue jays dislike safflower, too, but instead of just going to another feeder, Bobo would spend a whole morning flinging the safflower seed onto the ground until he had emptied the bin. He had this slightly scary, "no wire hangers!" intensity about the process. Then he'd perch on the deck rail and yell for a while. He was here for 2 years, and then he disappeared. I miss him.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Enough politics. Let's talk about something important

I saw a rose-breasted grosbeak in the park this morning. He was just stopping off on his way north. They don't nest here, sad to say. I'd love to be able to gaze at them all summer.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Not missing the point

Following up on yesterday's post, here are a few words from Joe Bageant on the Great Diversion:

"In any case, Obama has proven you cannot even use the innocuous word bitterness in conjunction with the national lie of white American culture. In the officially sanctioned media lexicon, Blacks can be angry, disillusioned and even bitter enough to burn down Watts. But the white race, being blessed by a Christian god and divine providence, never harbor bitterness in their hearts. The reason the word bitterness has caused such horror is because what is really going on out there is the sprouting seeds of class animosity. And no candidate or pontificating media mugwump dares touch that one because they are in the class that benefits from our classist society."

Read the full article in today's Counterpunch here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Missing the point

I have mostly stayed clear of the presidential race on this blog because a) I assume everybody's pretty well sick of the subject, and b) I don't really have a dog in this fight. I have and will vote for Obama, but I'm not giving it up out of love. McCain is beneath consideration, and Billary (aka the two-headed beast) would be a lot like four more years of Bush, without the virtue of a quiet, heavily medicated presidential spouse. I can't vote for Nader because certain people would never speak to me again and that's too high a price to pay for a futile use of the franchise.

So, Obama is my only option, which is why I hate to see him being beaten up over his "guns and religion" remarks last week. (See and hear them in their proper context here.) I'm a native of this little corner of the redneck world, and I'd say he was right on target. Most of the poor and working class white folks I know are angry and resentful. And yes, that anger fuels both the gun fetish and the hateful, warped version of Christianity that has spread like rabies via the megachurches. (Dave Lindorff makes similar observations about another region here.)

What's funny about all this howling over Obama's armchair social analysis is that the same sort of sweeping generalizations are made all the time about the "pathology" of the black community, and everyone seems to think that's just fine. In fact, it's not possible to have a discussion in the mainstream media about race that does not include some pundit--often a white male with a six figure income--who bloviates at length about what's wrong with black people, and how poverty and discrimination made them that way. This is considered liberal and enlightened. But when Obama does it to whites, it's called snobbery.

What's sad here--and this is where I part company with Lindorff--is that Obama's blather and its fallout are as close as we can get to talking about the economic war being waged against working people in this country. The accusations of elitism against Obama are a diversionary tactic to avoid any real debate about workers' rights and how to combat the increasing gap between rich and poor.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Defending my inner flibbertigibbet

Like all the perfume crowd, I was sorry to read that Leopoldo has decided to put away his blogging pen, at least for a while. He writes brilliant, funny riffs on all things scented, and anything else that takes his fancy. I’ll miss his Wednesday posts, but I feel complete sympathy with his need to move away from a pursuit that has lost its excitement. There’s nothing worse than slogging on at something that has come to seem trivial.

Still, I find it’s tough to leave a passion behind, even temporarily. Like most people, I have a notion that life should be linear in all its aspects. Our goal is to get it right, find the perfect spouse, job, hobby, political stance, etc. Any change of heart screws up the narrative. It’s an admission of failure. I look around my house at the remnants of past enthusiasms—antique porcelain, books in Greek and Russian, a boatload of herbs, tinctures and texts from my herbal medicine phase—and I can’t help thinking, “Loser.” Metamorphosis is painful. That’s why I hold onto relics. Chucking them means renouncing a dream.

I’m trying to get over that idiotic idea. Isn't it okay to have a restless mind (or heart) that roams over a lot of territory in the brief span of a life? Dilettantes may get less accomplished than more single-minded folk, but we keep things lively.

Photo of dragonfly metamorphosis from Wikipedia.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

"I have heard the mermaids singing ..."

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

From "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," T.S. Eliot, 1915. Complete text here.

Illustration by Paul Avril from De Figuris Veneris, Friedrich Karl Forberg, 1824.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

First Hummingbird

It figures that the hummer would be too much of a prima donna to show up on the same day as all those other spring creatures. April 8 has actually been hummingbird arrival day on at least 2 of the 11 years we've been here, but my first hummer was obviously waiting to make a grand entrance. She buzzed up to the feeder while I was washing my dinner dishes around 6:00 this evening. She was very hungry. I'm sure her friends will be along soon.

Color plate illustration from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur, 1904. Image via Wikipedia.

One Sentence Perfume Review: Palisander, Ava Luxe

Sensual and surprising, like a sudden, passionate kiss from a woodcarver.

Notes per Ava Luxe: Palisander wood (from renewable sources), Japanese Hiba wood, Amber, Incense, Musk, Pink Pepper, Cinnamon, Vetiver

Photo of wood carving of Krishna from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Time's short today

So much to do: read, practice, feed the pets. I'll blog tomorrow, I promise.

Music, Hans Baldung Grien, 1529. Image from Web Gallery of Art.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

First things

All the springtime firsts delight me. In fact, they seem like more of a miracle every year. When I'm 90 I'll probably be howling in ecstasy when the crocuses bloom. (Nice image, huh?) Today brought a succession of entrances by various flora and fauna, including:

First Toad

He was sitting in the middle of the trail when I came along, and hopped away with that disgruntled air toads always have, that "Why must you bother me?" look. Toads inspire my pity. They're so fragile, so ugly, so utterly harmless, they seem like a mistake. What a hopelessly anthropocentric response that is--it'd get me blackballed by the ID kooks and the Darwin fan club. But I can't help it. Poor toad.

First Snake

Now snakes, on the other hand, I kinda envy. Even when they're harmless--which is almost always--they scare the shit out of people. And unlike toads, they are unfailingly beautiful. I was walking by the pond today, and a photographer was there getting some early morning shots. I tried to be polite and give him a wide berth, so as not to disturb whatever he was chasing with the camera, but he waved me over. "Want to see a northern water snake?" I guess he knew a fellow snake freak when he saw one. She was a big fat girl (the photog seemed certain of her sex, and I'll take his word for it), and she was just hanging out in the water, with her head resting on a chunk of algae. Beautiful. As was the

First Trout Lily, aka Dogtooth Violet

I would have expected to see these earlier. Maybe they were around and I missed them, but I stumbled on a big patch of them today. They grow in deep shade, and they are the most graceful, delicate flower imaginable, perfectly fairy-like. Sexy, too, as all lilies are. I was very happy to see them, unlike the

First Tick

Ugh. I actually picked two of these off me today, and I've been investigating phantom itches ever since. Ticks love me. I swear I could stand in the middle of a creek and they would swim to me. Their cousins the chiggers also find me irresistible. I am a virtual arachnid magnet, it seems, because today also brought the

First Brown Recluse Spider

My old blog friends know that the brown recluses feel my home is theirs. Or vice versa. I see them occasionally all year round, but spring usually brings babies, and sure enough, I saw a tiny biter crawling up the side of the toilet this afternoon. For those of you who don't know what a brown recluse is and what it does, consider yourself lucky. Don't google it, you'll just distress yourself.


Since I'm obsessing about spring, May Day/Beltane is coming up and I'm trying to think of something fun and different to do. If any of you have favorite May Day rituals, please share. I'd love to hear 'em.

Northern water snake photo from Wikimedia Commons, all others public domain via

Monday, April 7, 2008

Cuba, and other good things

Way back on Valentine's Day, the nice people at Czech & Speake sent me an email asking if I'd like a free sample of one of their fragrances to review. I know exactly nothing about Czech & Speake, except that they sell pricey furniture and fixtures in the UK. I was vaguely aware that they had a fragrance line, but was never sufficiently intrigued to investigate. However, refusing free perfume is a serious violation of the perfumista bylaws, so I said yeah, sure, send me some Cuba. Some of the others--especially Neroli--sounded pleasing, but I was lured by the combination of notes for Cuba: "... top notes of bergamot, lime, peppermint and a hint of rum ... Layered with a melange of spicy and floral middle notes, mainly rose, clove and bay, Tonka beans add a subtle softness ... base notes of tobacco mixed with the richness of frankincense, cedar wood and vetiver round off this striking fragrance." Sounds good, no? For some reason, I got the idea that Cuba would be similar to Balenciaga's Rumba, minus the plummy fruit, and with the welcome addition of tobacco. I like Rumba, but I've always thought it would be better if it was a tad less feminine. Since Cuba was described as unisex, it seemed promising.

Well, no. Cuba is absolutely nothing like Rumba. It is, however, a rich, interesting fragrance, not at all the insipid juice I expected from a housewares store, even one that sells $4,000 mirrors. The bergamot and peppermint really dominate the top. I don't get a lot of lime, and the rum plays hide and seek. The heart is confounding. It goes a different direction on me with every wearing. Sometimes it's mostly soft tonka and rose, other times it's all clove, all the time. The former is very, very good. I love tonka and rose. The latter, not good at all--a little clove is fab, but too much is a deal breaker for me. The tobacco in the base is sweet and subtle, definitely subordinate to the cedar and vetiver. I get very little frankincense--which is just as well, since it generally gives me trouble.

The verdict? I'd give it a B+ overall, and an A for truth in advertising. It's a dandy match for its name--a classic, refined masculine scent with a distinctly tropical character. Not "fresh," thank god, and not the least bit funky. It's smooth and medium sweet, with just the slightest hint of an edge, provided by the clove/cedar pairing. The first few times I tested it, it seemed way too butch for me. That's not saying much--Ysatis is too butch for me--but I thought the unisex label was stretching things a bit. However, I've got a dab on my arm as I write this, and I have to say it smells damn good. Maybe I'm just feeling a little more tomboy at the moment, maybe it just didn't agree with the cold, wet weather we were having during my first test drives. In any case, I can imagine enjoying this as a nighttime summer scent, something to wear for an evening out, but it's got too much oomph to be a casual daytime frag for me.

Dave, on the other hand, can wear it any time he wants. It smells incredibly good on him, clean but cuddly. For some reason, the lime and rum are very obvious on his skin, so he sorta turns into a giant boy daiquiri. I like that.

And now for something completely different...

I just want to say a happy word about Tigerflag Natural Perfumery. I have no affiliation with TNP whatsoever, except as a contented customer. A lot of you are probably already familiar with the Tigerflag site, but I had never visited it until I wandered in while searching for the Madini oils that have been my recent obsession. Amrit Kaur, who owns Tigerflag, is a cancer survivor and MCS sufferer who started the business to provide people with a variety of natural alternatives to synthetic fragrances. She carries a selection of the Madinis, some attars, and a line of aromatherapy perfumes made from essential oils. (Other stuff, too--candles, diffusers, etc.) The aromatherapy scents are very simple, but they're inexpensive and the ones I've sampled have been quite nice. The Dervish Dance is wonderful if you are a ylang-ylang fan. Her attars are on the affordable side, too, and she sells sample vials for just a few bucks. I've placed 3 or 4 orders with her recently, and the service has been lightning fast. There are always some extra sniffs tucked in with the orders--what more could you ask for?

Photo of sunrise in Havana from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Just a little spring

Just thought I'd post a few of my typically lousy photos so you can see what pretty spring blooms we've got here. The pic above is a weeping cherry that sits right next to my house. Actually, it's kinda menacing my house. The previous owners planted it, and I'm sure they thought it wouldn't get more than 15 feet high. It's closer to 25 feet now, and it's still growing. It looms over the roof and beats up the gutter when there's a storm. Eventually, it'll probably have to go, but in the meantime it puts on a show every spring. Right now it's literally humming with bees, both bumblebees and feral honeybees. I can hear them without even opening the storm door. There's a big magnolia right next to this tree, and together they make a bird playground. The robins hang out there, and it's a favorite spot for mockingbird battles. The hummingbirds like to do acrobatics among the branches.

This is a rosemary bush that Dave planted years ago. It was a spindly little thing for the longest time, not helped by the fact that the guy who mowed our lawn could not be convinced that it wasn't a weed. He must have cut it down half a dozen times. But last year it suddenly got happy and took off. It's been blooming like crazy for a month.

This redbud tree sits at the edge of our front yard. Redbuds are the nicest thing about a Tennessee spring, if you ask me. People here are very sentimental about dogwoods, but the redbuds bloom much earlier, and their wonderful splash of pink is a pleasure in the gray days of March. Unlike the dogwoods, they are rugged little trees and will thrive almost anywhere.

I hope it's beautiful where you are.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The hamster wheel

We've had 48 solid hours of rain, which the weather elves promise will end tonight. There's been no serious flooding hereabouts but everything is sodden, including the dogs, who have deposited a rich layer of topsoil on my kitchen floor. I'm debating whether to clean it up or just go ahead and plant some zucchini.

I got out and slogged through the mud for my walk yesterday morning, but it just didn't seem worth braving the downpour--not to mention the lightning--this morning, so I skipped it. I always think I won't miss the outing, but I always do. It's as if my body is addicted to that 90 minutes of motion, and if it doesn't happen I get horribly restless--"weaselly," as my brother would say.

I had to go up to Nashville for my violin lesson and I had some time to kill, so I thought I'd go over to the fancy mall and walk for a little while. Mall walking isn't exactly a trail hike, but I figured at least it'd be movement, and it wouldn't leave me looking like I'd been dunked in a pond. And after all, I am an aging female. I'm supposed to do lame stuff like mall walking. How bad could it be?

Ack. Pretty bad. The mall is a palace, and it wasn't crowded, but I lasted all of 30 minutes before I had to make a break for the parking lot. Honestly, I don't know how people can do that every day. It's not just that it's I-think-I-can-hear-my-brain-cells-dying dull, but it's physically unpleasant, too. The air is stale and doesn't move, so I began to feel uncomfortably hot almost immediately. My bruises from the fall haven't been bothering me on the trail, but stepping on the hard marble floor had them aching in no time. I tried to break up the monotony of walking by climbing up and down the escalators, but stepping onto a moving conveyor just made me feel even more like a hamster in a wheel.

I looked around at the other walkers. Some of them, mostly solo, were charging around purposefully, while others were ambling along in little groups and talking non-stop. None of them appeared to be having any more fun than I was. In fact, they all looked as if they couldn't wait to get their exercise done and flee. Most of them were past retirement age, and I doubt they had anyplace they urgently needed to be. They were just doing a chore, fulfilling an obligation to guard their health, and if there was any joy in it, it didn't show in their faces. They were grim.

This is supposed to be good for you? I don't see how.

It struck me as a perfect (and perfectly set) pantomime of the absurdity of a consumer society. We fill our time with joyless chores in order to buy a "better" life, or in this case, a longer one. We chase money to buy things that we have no time to enjoy, and that fill us with the anxiety of attachment to boot. In our pursuit, we lose the very thing we are pursuing. What a plush hell. Better that most other kinds of hell, of course, but hell all the same.

Interior con columnas, Amelia Peláez, 1951. Image from

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Eco-porn (yes, really)

Dave's brother sent us a link to this story about Fuck for Forest, an organization whose members are devoted to...well, fucking for forest. They make porn to raise money for environmental projects. They've got an elaborate website (adults only, please) which you can check out here. I vaguely remember reading about these guys a couple of years ago when they got busted for having sex onstage at a rock concert, but I had no idea they were still doing this bit--and with considerable success. Apparently, there are plenty of hounds with a social conscience out there.

This Bitch magazine article by Rebecca Onion hates on the whole enterprise pretty seriously, but I have to say I find the idea funny and charming. Yes, it exploits the sexuality of pretty young things, but so what? The PYTs seem to be having a good time doing something they'd be doing anyway. If they earn a few bucks for a worthy cause in the process, I fail to see the harm. The argument that any sexual imagery of women somehow reduces all women to sex objects is just mindless prudery. As one of the fun-loving Norwegians says, "We think it is kind of scary when, in the modern society, the innocence of sex is not tolerated while industrialization of the world is generally accepted." Yeah.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Love, death, etc.

I've done a slew of reviews lately, and two came out today in the Scene. One's that trashy novel from Eric Jerome Dickey I mentioned last week. Like I said, it's not my idea of heaven, but I did have a little fun writing about it. You'll find the review here.

The other book is an altogether different critter, though not necessarily a more worthy one. Truth at Last is an account of the Martin Luther King assassination by John Larry Ray, James Earl Ray's brother. For those of you not up on your assassination lore, James Earl Ray initially pleaded guilty to shooting King, recanted almost immediately, and steadfastly maintained his innocence until he died in prison 10 years ago. Virtually no one who was close to King believes the official scenario, which says Ray was the lone assassin. Neither do I, so I was pretty interested to see what this book would be like. Unfortunately, it's a self-serving mess, and doesn't do anything to explain the facts of King's murder. Still, it's an interesting document, if only because it gives you a sense of what James Earl Ray--and the rest of the Ray clan, for that matter--was really like. It certainly reinforced my own impression that Ray just didn't have the initiative and single-mindedness required to stalk King and kill him without assistance. Go here to read my review.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

"I have seen these ways of God ..."


He brays humanity in a mortar to bring the savor
From the bruised root: a man having bad dreams, who invents victims, is only the ape of that God.
He washes it out with tears and many waters, calcines it with fire in the red crucible,
Deforms it, makes it horrible to itself: the spirit flies out and stands naked, he sees the spirit,
He takes it in the naked ecstasy; it breaks in his hand, the atom is broken, the power that massed it
Cries to the power that moves the stars, “I have come home to myself, behold me.
I bruised myself in the flint mortar and burnt me
In the red shell, I tortured myself, I flew forth,
Stood naked of myself and broke me in fragments,
And here am I moving the stars that are me.”
I have seen these ways of God: I know of no reason
For fire and change and torture and the old returnings.
He being sufficient might be still. I think they admit no reason; they are the ways of my love.
Unmeasured power, incredible passion, enormous craft: no thought apparent but burns darkly
Smothered with its own smoke in the human brain-vault: no thought outside: a certain measure in phenomena:
The fountains of the boiling stars, the flowers on the foreland, the ever-returning roses of dawn.

From "Apology for Bad Dreams," by Robinson Jeffers, (The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, 2001).
Read the complete poem here. (I hope you will click over to see it, since Blogger's template will not permit me to present it as it should appear on the page.) Be warned, it's pretty harrowing--but since we have to endure the moronic boosterism of National Poetry Month, it's good to be reminded that great poetry is not for weaklings.

The Dream of Raphael, Marcantonio Raimondi (1480-1534). Image from Web Gallery of Art.