Thursday, December 6, 2012
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Monday, September 3, 2012
Saturday, August 11, 2012
“Well, we all had to do television listings,” she said, laughing.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Friday, May 25, 2012
The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection is the latest in McCall Smith's series which began with The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. In Mma Ramotswe's Botswana, nobody dies; they instead may become late. An orphan farm figures prominently in the stories, but the thing which has created so many African orphans is never named. Instead, we hear how house mothers try to take care of all these children of late parents and how Precious steps in to solve the mystery of a board member who wants to replace the households with a dormitory to save money...and get a kickback from the contractor.
The books are full of quiet courtesies, kindness, good versus evil, sanity and wisdom.
Preparing to go out into the bush in search of the orphan farm matron who, despairing, has gone back to her lands after being fired by the crooked board member, Precious tries to reassure her husband, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, that she will be fine despite the dangers of driving her ancient little van to the edge of the Kalahari desert.
"I have known many cars that have died out in the bush," Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni says. "And that has meant a very long walk for their drivers."
"That is a risk we shall take," Precious replies. "It is the same with people. People can become late at any time--just like that. But that does not mean that we should not do anything and not go anywhere just because there is a possibility that we may suddenly become late."
Thursday, May 10, 2012
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Chickens, when they first begin to get their feathers, are awkward, ugly, oily, vulnerable and more or less useless. They are something like middle-school girls.
If you have a pre-teen or know one, you understand that this is an age of vast confusion and nameless dissatisfaction. Being a middle-schooler is a bit like the view from the window of an airplane at 30,000 feet. All the particulars are lost in a vague wash of neutral color and cloud.
I must have learned something in sixth and seventh grades, but I am at a loss to say what it was. In sixth grade, we tried to get Mrs. Cochran started on the subject of Mexico so that she would forget about arithmetic or English. In seventh, we were all aghast that Mrs. Diggs hadn’t heard of the New Look and wore her skirts too short. Only piano lessons were exempt from criticism. Mrs. Pack was a cool deity and everything she had to say was Received Wisdom.
My poor mother sewed pretty clothes for me, only to have colorful little dresses hang in the closet in favor of whatever was dumpy, gray or brown. She cooked meals which were pushed about on the plate. She took me to hairdressers to try to do something about my looks. Photographs from that time show an unhappy girl with pink glasses and a permanent.
I mostly lived in a dogwood tree in the back yard, even after my father built me a playhouse so I could get out of the rain. I played Tarzan, picked blackberries, hid under the bed and sang to myself. I was not turning out to be the genteel little lady Mother had hoped for.
She signed me up for the Girl Scouts. She sprang for the full uniform, beret, belt, scarf, pin, probably in place of a winter coat for herself. She bought me a Girl Scout knife and put my name on the list for Camp Trefoil. I got my tree finder’s badge and put it in a cigar box with my treasures. Up in the dogwood tree, I whittled kite sticks, bows and arrows with my Girl Scout knife.
When we were moving Mother to the rest home a few years ago, I found the Girl Scout uniform hanging in a closet. The hem had been let out. I had grown taller during my brief tenure with the Troop, but the troop leader had quit and no replacement could be found. The uniform went unworn and unhemmed, but there it was in the closet after all those years.
I liked being a Girl Scout as well as I liked anything in those days, and I was sorry the troop disbanded for lack of a supervising adult. I’m sure it wasn’t much fun trying to interest a bunch of middle-school girls in anything besides finding fault.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Today is the feast day of the Fifth Century monk Gerasimos, who had a lion as companion and servant.
Gerasimos was a desert hermit who, while meditating, encountered a hurt lion near the banks of the Jordan River. After he doctored the lion, the beast refused to leave him. It accompanied the saint back to the monastery and was put to work guarding the community’s donkey, which fetched and carried water for the monks.
Apparently Gerasimos and the lion have been written about extensively (possibly even inspiring George Bernard Shaw’s tale of Andronicus and the Lion), but I first made their acquaintance in this morning’s church bulletin. The story is based on the writing of the Byzantine chronicler Sophronios of Jerusalem, himself observed as a saint by Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
A passing trader stole the donkey while the lion was sleeping. The lion, after searching far and wide, returned alone to the monastery. The monks concluded that the lion had eaten the donkey, so they gave the lion the donkey’s job of carrying the saddle pack with four earthen jars to and from the river.
When later the thieving trader passed by with the stolen donkey and three camels, the lion recognized the donkey and, roaring, frightened the trader away, returning to the monastery with the four beasts. “Knocking with his tail on the door of the saint’s cell, he acted as if to show that he was offering them to the elder as game,” the church bulletin said. Gerasimos then named the lion for the first time: Jordanes.
The lion was freed, but returned once a week to the monastery to visit Gerasimos. When finally the lion returned to find only Gerasimos’ grave, he lay down on the grave and died.
Scripture from earliest days is full of lions, and it is not much of a stretch for a cat-lover to imagine a solitary male attaching itself to a community of monks, making friends with the only other beast in the area, or taking a nap while the donkey grazed.
I don’t know about the part where the lion knocked on the door with his tail. St. Sophronios didn’t write about the lion until the next generation, by which time a wonderful tale probably had become even more wonderful. However, very old paintings show Gerasimos with, not angels, but a lion and camels. There is little doubt that there was a Gerasimos who founded a monastery, Deir Hijla, in 455 A.D. The monastery still stands on the north side of the Dead Sea, and there is statue of a a lion in the yard.
And all of us cat-lovers know about twitching tails.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
My friend Wylie once said it would be good if we had some sort of report cards or signposts in our lives, such as “Leaving Adolescence, B-plus” or “Approaching Maturity, credit/no credit class.” My friend Marc, handing over the baby he lovingly fostered to its adoptive parents, said “I guess I should give them some kind of owners’ manual.”
What I wanted to be when I grew up was some sort of explainer, a person who might make that sort of sign or give that sort of report card or owners’ manual to myself or anybody who asked. Sort of a Talking Bridge. A kind of interpreter.
Just what form this career might take was not clear to me, but certainly I enjoyed pointing out this or that, so I started writing and playing the piano. It didn’t matter that I was entering a crowded field filled with people more skilled than I. I figured that it was one of those areas where one might find useful work almost anywhere, something like giving a tourist directions to the beach.
As for my own cosmic report card, I gave myself an A in Childhood, but a D-minus in my awkward and unkind adolescence and purblind twenties.
I went back to school and constructed a thematic major titled “Music As a Therapeutic and Tutorial Tool,” something San Francisco State would allow Liberal Studies majors to do in those days. We chose our own classes and defended the curriculum before a committee.
And I tried to be a good Talking Bridge, passing along information and observations which seemed useful to me under the umbrella of writing and teaching.
Sometimes the report cards come from outside. After I published The Phoenician Sailor, a book of poetry, in the sixties, a woman got my address from the printer and walked a mile to my house to thank me. That was an A, even if the woman was my only reader. My piano teacher said sometimes I belonged to the Mr. Magoo School of Piano Playing. Grope and hope. D-minus. But he added that I had so many technical problems, he thought I might be a helpful teacher to people with the same problems. B-plus.
When I retired from teaching piano at Skyline College, a woman only a little younger than I, weeping, said “How can we go on without you? You cared about us.” I took that as an A. And when the boys said “The dads came and went, but Mom was always there,” that was a definite A-plus. One I needed badly.
We have these landmarks in our lives, whether they come from inside or outside. When I turned fifty, I hand-copied all 81verses of the Tao Te Ching, which certainly took less time than hand-copying the New Testament or the Koran. At sixty, I went back to Greece with my mother and sister and sought an oracle at Delphi. Which I found: “Get the trash off the mountain.” At seventy, it was back to Greece again and to Delphi again, and it was a humbling lesson about the dangers of romanticizing anything.
Now I am at an age where we begin to lose our spare parts (starting with the gall bladder in two weeks). I suppose the signpost should quote Itzhak Perlman: “Do the best you can with what you’ve got left.”
Monday, January 23, 2012
They want to remove my gall bladder.
The specialists who have made this decision have not actually examined me. They have looked at the reports of an extravagant number of imaging procedures and have given their advice from a distance of four feet in a period of five minutes or less.
Everything else having to do with this advice is delegated to receptionists and physicians’ assistants, paramedical personnel whose duty apparently is to be pleasant.
“I’m a sick man...a mean man,” Dostoyevsky writes in Notes From Underground. “There’s nothing attractive about me. I think there’s something wrong with my liver.”
The gall bladder, as you may know, is where the liver stores bile, something which assists digestion. Apparently my gall bladder is full of stones which cause a great deal of discomfort and, according to literary wisdom, a bad disposition.
I could almost diagnose myself with Webster’s synonyms for the word bilious: Peevish, bearish, ill-tempered, cantankerous, disagreeable, dyspeptic, ill-humored, ill-natured, ornery, surly, petulant, cranky, cross, grumpy, huffy, irascible, peevish, testy and waspy.
Not true, you say? You believe I am cheerful and nice?
It’s an act. Webster has me pegged.
What I wonder is whether this bad nature will change if and when my gall bladder is gone. There are lots of synonyms for the word bilious, but not too many antonyms: amiable, good-humored, good-natured, good-tempered.