Monday, April 30, 2007

Beach Babies

This is one of my most favorite-ever photos that I have taken. This is from Orange Beach, Ala., Thanksgiving Day, 2006. I have so much to be thankful for. Quite a lot of it is in this photo. Hint: none of it is sun, sand or surf.

Many thanks to Erin for helping make this photo better than it was.

Semper Fi

We have out of town company today. Our favorite Marine, just returned from Iraq, and his lovely fiancee are visiting us. This is the Loved One's number one son, and he is a first lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. They'll be with us another couple of days, while the Loved One is home on rotation from the Great White North.

Our lieutenant was deployed to Iraq last October, and returned to his home in Maryland in early April. His unit was stationed in a tense and violent part of Iraq that we've all read and heard about in the news. Every day he was gone was a nail-biter. Dear Daughter would listen to the casualty reports on NPR in the morning and tell me, "Don't worry, Mom. Today it was soldiers who died, not Marines."

Not that the loss of Army personnel instead of Marines made me feel any better. I got in the habit (not the best one, admittedly) of reading the listings of casualties on the Department of Defense website. This site is a real downer, to say the very least. It lists, by name, Americans who have fallen in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you click on the names, you are taken to either the official armed forces release of information, or, in some cases, the hometown newspaper of the deceased. Handy toolbars allow you to sort casualties by branch of service, country of deployment, year of death; and even to search for statistics such as percentage of casualties sustained in what month, of what year, etc. For instance, if you search by Army casualties sustained in Afghanistan in April of 2004, you'll come across the name "Patrick D. Tillman," aged 27, of the United States Army, 75th Rangers Division. By now, hardly anyone in America doesn't know who Pat Tillman was and his sad story.

But if you just scroll through the list, you'll come across a lot of other names you won't recognize--names that don't have any meaning to most people. However, to some people, those names mean the world. Those names are sons, daughters, fathers, husbands, wives, mothers, sisters, hometown heroes, the high school football captain, the guy from the commuter train, the woman who used to clean your teeth, faces in a crowd. Since we as yet have an all-volunteer armed forces, we can surmise these names all have one very important thing in common--they all knew they would eventually end up in the Iraq and/or Afghanistan theaters of war, yet signed on the dotted line anyway. Some hoped for it, some dreaded it. All of them deserve our respect for their courage, integrity and honor.

My friends smile indulgently at me when I say the USMC made an officer out of our Marine, but that he was already a gentleman. I let them. I know I'm right. Welcome home. And thank you for being who you are.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Oh, happy day!

Actually, she's been in the world exactly three months and 14 days already, but today our dear baby Riley was baptized into the faith. Well, she was baptized in the Methodist church, but the point is, her young mother made the conscious choice to have her baptized, and for that, I am exceedingly glad.

She is the granddaughter of the Loved One, which makes me her...uh...well, I'm going for Lalah at this point. It's what my three lovely nieces call me, and it will suffice for this situation as well. Riley is an absolutely dear baby and I love her every bit as much as if we shared DNA.

Dear Daughter painted the baby a very sweet baptismal gift of a sectioned plate with a line from "Monday's Child" on it. I painted her a two-handled cup with scallop shells for the sacrament of Baptism. And we found the tiniest Celtic cross on a brooch, wrought in sterling at the Pauline bookstore.

I always cry at baptisms. What a beautiful way to expand the family. At this particular church, there were six infants baptized today. Oh happy, happy day!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Silent but deadly...

I had an extremely difficult time coming up with a title for this post, so if you're giggling, quit it, or I'll pout. I'm not talking about air biscuits, as Dear Daughter has been known to say, but rather this large and wonderful fellow named Archimedes.

Archimedes lives in the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, where he is part of an educational program that is lively, informative and entertaining. His species is native to Western Europe, specifically Germany, if I recall correctly. He looks as if he is straight out of the Black Forest.

This is not a particularly good photo, but I do love his eyes. He has a way of looking at you that is eerie and powerful. I suppose that's his way of paralyzing his prey with fear. I'm sure if I were a rabbit or a squirrel, I would have been trembling on the spot. The day we saw him, he flew across the audience from the back of the amphitheatre to a perch on the stage. We never heard him, as his feathers are constructed in such a way as to make his flight totally inaudible. Death truly comes on silent wings.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Hemidemisemiquaver in Time

Mstislav Rostropovich has died and the world goes on, although somewhat less than it was before. I’m trying to remember if he was one of the guest performers brought to town by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra in my youth. I used to usher at the performance halls downtown, and thereby saw lots of wonderful concerts, opera shows, Broadway musicals and ballet performances for free. If I did see him, it was obviously lost on me at the time; in retrospect, I guess there's a lot of things I did then I wish remembered better.

Rostropovich played cello, which is, I’m pretty sure, the preferred instrument of heaven. I can’t get my head around the concept that mere humans could have created such a sublime instrument, and then gone on to compose music suitable for it. It just seems beyond our puny reach. I never learned a stringed instrument, and it’s one of the few real regrets I have about my life. I like to think I’m not too old to learn cello, but at the same time, how could I possibly be worthy?

Here is a rather good story about Rostropovich, along with some comments by Lynn Harrell, another master of the cello. He made me weep openly at a concert a few years back.

Are there young people coming up in the ranks of classical performing artist to replace those whom we are losing? Pablo Casals is long gone, and now Rostropovich. Yo-Yo Ma and Lynn Harrell are both 50-something. Who is to follow?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Lake Maurepas Memories

If you take the Manchac exit off of Interstate 55 south, you'll pull off onto a service road that appears to be barely above the water level. At this point, I-55 is up on pilings over the swamplands and lakes just northwest of Kenner and New Orleans.

Turn left off of the service road under the interstate and you'll be in the gravel and oyster shell parking lot of Middendorf's, home of arguably the best fried catfish in the world. Perched on the shores of "beautiful Lake Maurepas," Middendorf's serves two kinds of catfish - thick or thin, alongside fresh homemade slaw, dreamy oyster bisque and some seriously bad-a** hushpuppies, all delivered to your table by a waitress who will smile genuinely and like as not call you "hon" or "cher" at least twice during your stay.

Okay, so you have to stand in line, and on certain days, the crowds might be so big you will have to get out of line and go to the "other" Middendorf's, situated just across the parking lot and built to accommodate the frequent overflow. The wait is worth it and the price is always right. Just don't go on Monday or Tuesday, because they're closed.

This is a view of some rotted out pilings on the edge of the lake from early July 2006. This was taken three weeks after my dad's funeral. He loved Middendorf's. We loved him. We still do.

Say "cheese, Gromit!"

I wonder if Wallace and his trusty sidekick have seen this yet?

I'm feeling a bit peckish...

Are we there yet? Thoughts on Sybil Ludington, the Dark Ages (as seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old) and Guernica

Having to be at work at 7:30 a.m. in the boondocks has its advantages. I'm not talking about the part where I have to get up at 0-dark-thirty to shower, dress, fix breakfast and chivvy along the Dear Daughter, who is definitely NOT a morning person.

Working at a military installation 20 miles north of our town means I have a drive that includes about seven miles of rural highway, past fields, orchards and leaning buildings. I also see a lot of wildlife, such as deer, hawks, turkeys, raccoons, rabbits, opossums, etc.

Before I make it to the outlands, I first have to drop the Dear Daughter at my mom's house, where she visits and waits until time to walk to the neighborhood school at 8 a.m. It's a pretty good situation--DD gets to attend a better elementary school and mom gets the company of DD for about an hour each morning. What I like best about this is that I get about 15 minutes of quality car time (yes, there is such a thing) with her everyday. It's a good time to talk about oh, all kinds of things that pop into her head. As she teeters on the brink of puberty, I realize it's just a matter of time before she'll barely speak to me at all, at least not in polysyllabic words, so I'd best make hay while the sun shines. And some days, the haying is rather interesting, to say the least.

Take yesterday morning for instance. I said something in passing about the Dark ages, I think in jesting relation to when my dad was a boy. She asked what I meant and I explained about the real Dark ages. I explained briefly that it was a time in European history when most people were focused on mere survival, and not too concerned with advancements in art, literature, philosophy and other hallmarks of what is commonly recognized as civilization. Well, she answered back something along the lines of "well, a lot of us aren't all that civilized today, are we?"

Looking back over the past week's news headlines, she's got a good case there, and she knows it. We talked about the world's sufferings - from Virginia Tech to Iraq to the Sudan, to the television commercials depicting American children talking about their lack of health insurance, to local political debacles and the upcoming (?) presidential campaign. She's a pretty smart girl, and listens to the radio with us and picks up on the news with a fairly analytical ear.

On the one hand, it's amazing and delightful to be able to discuss these kinds of things with my fifth-grader. It makes the car ride lively and interesting, and we both get to do a little mental stretching before school and work. On the other hand, it's more than a little depressing that more than 1100 years after Petrarch, we still haven't figured out how to feed, clothe and care for us all without slaughtering those who look different from us or disagree with us on some minute point. And it's even sadder that an 11 year old can point that out.

On this day in 1777, 16 year old Sybil Ludington rode 20-40 through the dark countryside mustering the Fredericksburg, NY militia in response to an attack by English forces on the town of Danbury, CT. Her actions allowed the fledgling rebellion to stop a force of 2,000 well-trained and supplied redcoats. You go, girl.

This day is also the anniversary of the bombing of Guernica, which inspired Pablo Picasso's ground-breaking mural of the same name. In 1937, the Spanish government allowed the German Luftwaffe to conduct "test-bombing" on an unarmed rural village. The town burned for three days. Bombing, fires and the resulting deprivation killed 1,600 defenseless inhabitants. Picasso's painting, which was created for the World's Fair, is one of the most researched and chronicled works of art in history. Though essentially colorless, the work screams the agony of a nation torn by civil war and then betrayed to murderous outsiders by a ruthless and uncaring government.

Interestingly, the German government officially apologized to the town of Guernica in the late 20th century. To date, the Spanish government has yet to utter a word.

I'd say Dear Daughter is about right--as far as we've come, we've still got a long way to go.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A sleepytime photo

I caught this lovely fellow napping at the Memphis Zoo in March 2006. I'd love to be able to crash like this in public!

Namechecking in Cyberspace

I'm so excited! I've been writing in this space for less than 48 hours, and I've already been linked to two other blogs!

Okay, okay, they're both friends -- one brand-new and one rather well-established, but both fine people, good writers, and they understand when I make references to something besides pop culture. In short, they're my favorite kind of people: sensible, well-read, creative, thoughtful and tolerant of my eccentricities. I suspect if we all three found ourselves sitting around a fireplace some night sipping a cool libation, we'd find lots to keep us talking for hours.

Anyway, meet Erin and Sally, both of whom are cleverer than I, in that they know how to properly link to other sites! If this works, I'll be surprised!

Truth, Justice and the boy from Polecat Creek

On this day in Polecat Creek, NC, Egbert Roscoe Murrow came into this world. It was 1908, and his family lived in a small log cabin and supported themselves on the few hundred dollars per year that subsistence farming brought them. Egbert’s family later relocated to Washington state, and it was there during his high school years that he acquired the nickname “Ed.” In college, he would formally change his name to “Edward,” thus becoming Edward R. Murrow. By his death in 1967, the boy from Polecat Creek would become one of the most recognized voices and faces in the world, and would set a standard for journalism that, although still remembered, is rarely emulated today.

In late 2005, George Clooney (whose legendary charm still eludes me) wrote, directed and played a supporting role in “Good Night and Good Luck,” the brilliant ode to Murrow’s fight against the rising taint of McCarthyism. David Straithairn (whose lanky charm leads me to insist on watching “Passionfish” alone so I can concentrate) portrayed Murrow in an Oscar-nominated performance. If you haven’t seen the film, do make a point of it. You’ll be glad you did.

Murrow’s career began in radio with on-the-ground coverage of the Anschluss in the late 1930s. Broadcasting from Vienna, Murrow provided eyewitness accounts of Hitler’s first move into Austria. Later, he covered the aftermath of the Buchenwald liberation, and stunned the world with the description of the suffering and death found there.

Edward Murrow made the jump to the nascent field of television in the 1950s, first guest-appearing on the CBS Evening News and then on his own show, “See It Now,” an updated version of “Hear It Now,” which he and producer Fred Friendly (Clooney’s role in the film) created for CBS radio after the war. In 1954, Murrow and Friendly produced a 30 minute special entitled “A Special Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy.” This well-researched and carefully produced segment highlighted McCarthy’s increasingly upward-spiraling against the so-called “Red Scare” in the American entertainment industry. Murrow and Friendly paid a hard price for exposing the truth about McCarthy. Their hard-hitting approach to news was discomfiting, and turned off viewers who were quickly becoming addicted to the novel game shows and talk shows that were beginning to crop up on the airwaves.

Those who know me know how little television I watch. We have cable at the house, but flipping through the channels leaves me tired and disgusted. Despite 50+ channels (I know, we only have a few!), it gets more and more difficult to find something worth watching, especially when Dear Daughter is around. She’d love to watch the reality shows and pre-teen sit-coms her fifth grade classmates discuss, but the couple of times we’ve actually tuned in, we’ve both quickly realized we just can’t sit through very much of that kind of drivel. At the day’s end, it’s nice to know that we can lead fulfilling lives without knowing the latest scoop on Britney, Brangelina, Sanji-whoosis or Hannah Montana (which is actually fairly tame and less smart-ass than most shows aimed at grade-schoolers).
But the absolute worst is when I try to watch broadcast news –either local or national. It’s sad and disturbing how little we’re willing to settle for in the arena of vital information. Completely overlooking the nauseating level of violence and despair in the news, the reporting itself is too frequently shallow, glib and uncaring. Coupled with Chiron misspellings, perky announcers who can’t read or pronounce names and who make inappropriate comments, the prospect of sitting through an entire 30 minute newscast pretty much sends me into a keening, thumb-sucking fetal position.

And don’t even get me started on the reporters and camera work…

Anyway, today is the birthday of the boy from Polecat Creek. Celebrate by skipping the news and taking a walk around with your eyes, ears and mind wide open.

We miss your work, Egbert. Good night and good luck.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

All beginnings are difficult

Years ago, I read that the first line of the Talmud is "All beginnings are difficult." Coming from a decidedly non-Jewish background, I can't honestly say if it's really how the Talmud starts, but it has been my experience that beginnings can be trying. After reading blogs of friends and strangers for the past few years now, I thought it might be time to try my own hand. It's been quite a while since I wrote anything except memoranda, checks or the occasional note to a teacher. But I've always loved writing, almost as much as I love reading, so I'll give this a whirl, at least for a while.

There's not much to tell about me--I live in a house. I have a job. I love my family and my country, but neither blindly. My life is in the south, but my heart is in the far north. I vote my conscience and urge others to do the same. I don't eat organ meats or anything with tentacles.

There will be more to come, eventually.

Photography is a minor hobby...I don't have any fabulous equipment or training. I just like recording what I see. This first photo was made in a small cemetery in New Orleans in February. I'd gone to visit my sister with the Loved One and Dear Daughter for Mardi Gras. This particular afternoon was stormy and we went out between showers, as the Loved One had never seen the city's unique burial grounds. We went to the BPOE cemetery near City Park and the west end of Canal Street. I've always loved this place--it's not as well-known as the St. Louis Cemeteries, and has managed to avoid being included in the ubiquitous Hotard tours popular among package tourists. Guarding the gate is a larger-than-life monument to the founders of the place, topped by a regal elk that is at least twelve feet tall. At Christmas, the caretakers illuminate the nose of this noble beast with a red light bulb at night. In New Orleans, the dead have a certain droll sense of humor.

Anyway, I love funerary statues. This angel caught my eye as we blinkered in the afternoon sunlight. The contrast between the blue sky and the white stone and the shadows of her face and robe works rather nicely. I hope you like it as much as I do.