Wednesday, January 31, 2024

February Frolic


     Best keep an open mind. February does not have to be the low point of a dismaying year (wars and worry about wars, moral and political). Much else is conspiring to distract your attention.

    For instance, the DC History Center's 'Book Talk" is titled 'The Rise of Uber in DC." How did authors of that book come up with such a seemingly innocuous title when they are, it appears, calling out Uber's success here  as 'a symptom of urban weakness and low expectations of local, city politics.' 

    Take a chance on a free lecture/symposium event and find out. The 23rd of the month at 5 p.m., followed, as noted by the Center's Web site. It's certainly an unusual look at an unusual  city that has no equal in its history and current composition.  And who is to judge anyway? (To ease any disturbing revelations, the Center also recommends that attendees stick around for Apple's 'Friday evening DJ series, 6-7:30, taking place in the same building. (The former Carnegie Library is an historic building set in a welcoming park on one of Washington's most well trafficked areas. And note! The building is easily accessed on the Metro's greenline, Mt. Vernon Square, a few blocks area. Access for disabled patrons is provided everywhere, and broad sidewalks ensure easy circulation for pedestrians.)

    A controversy of sorts but not one recognized by those who favor the ease and convenience of ride sharing/personal control ways of moving around without having to worry about finding a parking space.

    Ah, but this is deceptive because Uber/Lyft/others can be expensive, and the rider has only minimum control - though offered some choices  - of price.

    Another tack might be: Uber's existence also speaks as a mirror of diversity in a city whose popularion and traditions often cited as  having a 'Southern' (read: white) cast. DC also is known as Chocolate City though statistics of late question the relevance as gentrification moves on. Drivers are often from so-called minority states and cultures. Their accents do not often lean 'South.' Was a recent ride going from Dupont Circle to the Navy Yard on a Thursday evening count as typical? 

     The passengers included a woman visitor from Puerto Rico on the last few days of her stay. Her speech was strongly accented - German - reflecting her original home. It was her first time using the Uber App that her host had strongly suggested she  experience for this and any other future trips to cosmopolitan areas where Uber has invariably made inroads. The driver was a friendly Virginia  native with a slight Spanish inflection in his voice. His family had come from a Latin American country before he was born and it turned out in a very few minutes of conversation that he was interested in possibly moving to San Juan - for the climate and for less expensive daily living. He  quizzed his customer on that last point, having heard her  volunteer that she had been in PR for 40 years, first as an employe of an international business and now as a retiree with a grown daughter. She chose to live in a small town on the southwest so was well versed and happy to share information. He asked quickly about the availability of a university and the best modes of travel back and forth to and from the US.

    No names were exchanged but he noted the name of her town and the passenger in turn said she would welcome him if he came.

    Not quite a United Nations moment but perhaps revealing in its own way.  A true cross section of the greater Washington area that can offer much more in quiet ways than  politics in the headlines. Next week a chance to attend a National Archives event - hosted by the NA Foundation - free as many such are not to mention activities in perpetual motion at the fabled Smithsonian buildings on the Mall.  


Monday, January 8, 2024

A January Thaw?

                  Can there be a thaw when there hasn't been a cold snap in months or recent memory, whatever is longer?

    But it is classic to look for one, maybe even to make one up in one's mind (which is the memory part after all). So I chose yesterday the magic number 7, which also happened to be my double digit birthday (yikes, yet again...), to go on a rant.

    What is a rant, exactly?  Perhaps it is whatever a person chooses it to be. I took the sound of the word over any meaning (that, if examined closely, is likely negative). I was embarrassed to be so old in the numbers game and was overcome with guilt. How come I'm still alive and reasonably sound in mind and body when others have met their maker, gone south, whatever.  It was possibly circumstantial that I felt compelled to go social, to make the case for making friends out of strangers if only for a few minutes. I stopped a young woman from reading a book in a bookstore because she had picked up the title of 'Fire' on a bright red jacket.

     How come? I asked her. that is a provocative title and did you reach for it out of some felt need? Fortunately she wasn't taken aback but answered with a small smile: Well I'm majoring in the environment, she said immediately. So this seems pertinent. Aha, a connection. I saw she was with a group and didn't persist. 

    Upstairs in another shop above the bookstore I was waiting for some prints to be made of one of my grandchildren's drawings. I had superimposed on it some words of cheer thinking she might use it as an invite for an upcoming birthday. (Indeed, her father said she would like more of them for just that purpose. Or maybe he suggested that to her, no matter.) I was intent on explaining why I was doing this and wanted the other woman in the room to know it. That began a short discussion on grandchildren, on how and when they learn to speak and interact with the world. Another contact that drew the attention of the sales clerk since I let it be known that my namesake grand was in Montana. Lo and behold, the clerk had lived in the state, knew all about it, was immediately engaged. 

    It's so easy to create conversation if you, the initiator, are at ease with yourself. But that is another story and has nothing to do with birthdays...and a rant, by the way, can be any determined action for any purpose. At least in my book.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

December Descends...


    With a tsunami of Things to challenge our perception of what exactly  is our tolerance of  too much: too much to give and probably too much to get if you are able to participate in such exchanges. Why presents to and fro anyway? Are they thanks, reminders, guilt-reducers? Do they really count in the long run of family and social life? Growing older and thinking this way tends to put one in the category of curmudgeonry. So be it, and long live the 'jerks' who challenge the conventional but often mindless way of doing well, things.

    Well, sure, I can go on - that we are certainly living in changing times and bringing up and following tradition (tree, song, gifts, etc.) is a way of asserting oneself in the face of such troubling but inevitable facts. AI and ChatGBT are roiling our way of life in all ways.  The more things change, the more they stay the same - but the same is what?  We talk glibly of 'reality' and being able to recognize such a seemingly stable factor in our lives.With this new universal promise/threat hanging over us, how are we going to determine what is real and what is not?  How to grasp the concept and still feel stable?  Like challenging currents and high waves in a roiling sea, how do we keep our heads up?

    A rollercoaster ride at least has an endpoint in sight. The ocean seems unlimitless but we can see borders, banks, beaches - barriers on land. Is staying sane, however that is interpreted, ever possible when we live under constantly questioning true vs false and might be lose sight of why that matters?

    If the outcome (whatever that is) looks perilous, each moment is going to count all the more. Living in the moment, aware of others (and other things) around us, surely will help.

    Though unlikely as it is that my sermon will have any impact, maybe I can at least be thankful that I care... So hats off to contemplation, celebration, community and care.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Something about the word nova - as in November

 Looking behind and also ahead: Could the word November have a direct connection to the Latin word 'nova,' meaning new? 

That certainly applies to  current days when we  say goodbye to summer and prepare for  new seasons ahead. And what a dramatic time it's likely to be- in all senses of the word. (Yes to  El Nino snowfalls and to a blizzard of top notch theater productions on local stages.)

Bears know for sure, as they prepare  to hibernate in winter by collecting a food supply that will last through to spring. The bear image is  pertinent in many ways: a portent of hope as well as danger. (After all, bears must count on a fresh supply of fruit and other favorites goodies to be available in spring.)  Which is why a quick silhouette of the animal on a cloudy backdrop  during the latest production at Folger Shakespeare Library's theater  of 'The Winter's Tale' is so effective and meaningful. It's just a quick look, an omen of sorts. Good and bad intertwined. Human folly and humanity's ability to change - to prevail. Art and nature in an uneasy balance -  a constantly evolving relationship.

Which may be something of a stretch when it comes to discussing characters and their actions in one of Shakespeare's seldom seen comedies. Though Folger last put on the show in 2018 when the Library's executive director Michael Witmore declared - surprisingly  - that the play was  his favorite among all of Shakespeare's works. A surprise because to amateur eyes, the script seems a bit uneven and difficult to comprehend overall. The first half is a tragedy (a guy declares his wife an adulterer with almost no evidence, sends her to be killed and, as a consequence, loses his son as well), the second a resolution of sorts (guy repents -  how and why? -  and wins back her favor as well as gaining a daughter). The second part is played out in a sort of comedic celebration, oddly enough.

(Witmore said then 'as an artist you are changing things all the time' - that is the thrust of both art and nature, and the relationship between the two.  He takes this play's theme to be the author's most direct conversation with an audience, but the interpretation is pretty high-minded and might not mean much to anyone not much of Shakespeare scholar, as Witmore is.)

So kudos to the brave cast tackling the work in Washington DC through December 17, a tease to what  is promised  come the new year, 2024. Aha, there is that symbolism again: a sheltered fabled building - home to more of the  first folios (printings)  of Shakespeare's canon than anywhere else - will blossom anew. Make way for a rock star renewal.... it is also the time when Dr. Witmore is scheduled to leave his post and hand it over to the next person to head one of the city's (country's?) most beloved scholarly  institutions. 


An image of a bear stays with me long after seeing the play. I take it to be a sign of strength and perseverance - in whatever seems most valuable: truth, kindness, curiosity. I'm reminded, too of a necessary look-back, through several 'winters of our discontent' during what is now simply labeled the pandemic. What is the paramount memory from those years?   

I tried to capture the feeling of the days in monthly (usually) notes on this blog. It spoke to the pleasure of reading - and my inaccurate count of titles reaching upward to 300 books. What had I gained but the necessary ingredients (see 'bear'!) for a long mostly inward isolating hibernation. Are we now 'free' or is it merely another short period to roam about planning for whatever is the next siege?

Meanwhile, much visiting about and collective memories are possible, more than ever, in Washington DC and environs. Attending a play with a live audience has satisfactions of its own. Even time out in a theater watching a film with strangers. And the rewarding search for public events that affirm companionship and strengthen the imagination.  A notice about a college alumnae book club that will take place in a public space - yes, a downtown city park - for an exchange of actual books. In those surroundings it would seem any strangers could join.

At the perennially misunderstood National Building Museum (no connection to the Smithsonian, sorry), a homage to brick buildings as well as a lecture on the connection between music and architecture. Stay tuned, indeed.


    And a few more words about the magic generated occasionally in a windowless ground floor 'salon inside an equally unusual Washington DC  residential enclave called the Westchester. (The site consists of several apartment buildings near the high-and-mighty Washington Cathedral not far from Georgetown.)

The salon typically caters to men and women (of all ages) who are primarily local - that is, to say, inhabitants of the enclave since no advertising of its services can be found elsewhere. It happened that I made the acquaintance of the salons' primary caretaker and leaseholder through one such impressive person,now deceased, the former owner of two good-size upstairs properties upstairs.   RUmor or fact would have it that many such people never leave or have to leave the coop for years - except, perhaps, to check in at a doctor's office or hospital.

So you don't necessarily expect the wholesome welcome spirit of a place that really has no norms: all ages, cultures, backgrounds are represented in this hideaway. YOu don't expect to sit down while a slim energetic 70-year-old snips away at  the top of your head and quite suddenly, improvises his vision of what life must be after death. "There has got to be something, I've got to believe," and all he knows for sure that he would like to be buried under a tree - or become a tree in some fashion. Earlier W. has been busily trimming - more like harvesting a field  - the busy white locks of a gentleman friend seated in the stylist's chair. They talk about the possibility of going to Cuba, to hiring someone who knows where all the good music is played and touring the country while W. learns a specific instrument either only found or was born there.

W, however, has no US passport. He is Peruvian by birth and never bothered once he married an American woman. He is afraid the US may not want to let him back into the country where he has a good life as a grandfather, a professional guitar player, whose hair grooming methods he learned from, at first, his sister ("because you have to have a job to fall back on," is how I understood her reasoning to be) then later from celebrity stylist London-born Vidal Sassoon. Sassoon had shaken up the industry before he died - at 84, of leukemia,a multimillionaire - with dramatic geometric cuts that undercut the stuffy balloon looks preceding his era.  W. is also worried that, as a cancer survivor, he might not want to be far from his home turf should a relapse occur or anything might happen that would keep him away for a long time. Besides, as he often says, he loves his wife (a semi-retired accountant)  and laughs when he says it - often - as well as loving her resistance to having any artificial color in her hair

All this when I finally - a half hour later- sit down with the  long plastic protective bib and subject myself to the wicked chemicals that will give my unkempt tresses a soft blonde look. W is always full of chat (and always reminds he his wife objects to coloring but he still insists I should have hair color to match my eyebrows and skin, which seems an impossible task since my eyebrows are dyed daily with brush and my skin is objectively white..)  My chat is about the new stove I just had installed and how bewildering digital  dials (not really dials or buttons at all but something akin to finger pressure on a mysterious black surface) can be to a neophyte who is also a Luddite.

"Why did you have to get a new stove?" I hear from a tall think man listening in. He comes from Wheaton, a suburb of DC, and knows the personnel here well, it seems. His hair doesn't look at all neglected but he obviously is the next client. So goes the give and take. Letitia, the Philippine born license holder, and her sister Elizabeth run the place. Tall Man teases her about not taking any time off, asking about her son (a physician in training in Norfolk  - four years to go minimum). She demures, taking a rare minute to sit down before going  moving over to another set of mirrors where she will put a client in tiny rollers and significantly - I've no doubt - brighten the woman's day with a combed out hairstyle.

Letitia is a workhorse, up to to her job at 7 until closing, everyday but Sunday, W only does a turn on Friday so his time  n W insists on a photo before the next nearly hair-bald man moves over to the chair. "He is a famous pianist," W says. No names are exchanged though it's a rigorous challenge trying. Piano man teaches a the Levine school nearby. We never really hear how anyone else came to cherish W's ministrations  we are so engaged in the moment. I learn in the course of a minute how Piano Man learned from a Japanese man (profession?) that to strike your hand on the opposite arm several times daily will alleviate creeping arthritis. Truly I think it works. I say how my Pilates trainer always spends time exercising arms and fingers  in my weekly workout, and how the fabled Taylor Swift is a master of manipulation with her left hand in her recent concert appearances around the globe. I've recently seen the film version, fixated on the way she cajoles, entices, connects with vast audiences this way.

W. questions with a sly laugh about what else such a talent might do...breaking a potentially serious conversation and sending me on my way. A pity, because it turns out that piano man had his childhood debut on the stage of a theater in a town in Montana where y son currently lives - and that I taught once upon a time at the Uof M in Missoula during the same years where he was 'matriculating.' I never learn his name but a solid connection is made. How peculiar such bonds in so few moments. What happened to him after graduation I may never know.

But first: photos, always, each client in turn.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Number Ten Come and Nearly Gone

         Which is what happens when the world erupts in turmoil and a person's everyday life shrinks in comparison.

    How Oct. 7 will be forever marked on the calendar of humankind's indescribable inhumanity to man (women, children, the sick and old, even the unborn). Who knows the consequences beyond whatever the curse of the gods sends down - and allows mere underlings to blame whomever  they chose.

    It may seem to have taken a tremendous  ego drive  this month to want to travel forthwith on a 'trip-for-no-reason' to a Mediterranean country blessedly free at the moment (and for past decades) of strife - beyond, that is, an election to office of Spain's political leader.  To take time off to share in positivity, the attitude of living life to the fullest in a minimalist way. That is - to enjoy each day on its own with no expectations  and no connection to the tragedies taking place elsewhere.

Monday, September 11, 2023

September 'Maybees'....


    So goes hopes for a predictable season when heat has abated and what counts as normal could return...

how banal one's hopes can seem these days.

    Many my thoughts still focus on the uneasy transition between so called rural and urban life - i.e. travel between small town Montana (largest city that is) and the paradoxical place that is Washington DC. How same and how different the two can be. A Native American (Crow) artist named Ben Pease, speaking recently at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, described Billings as a 'border town, ' representing a clash of cultures between the two worlds. His talk was on how much art and culture are related but seldom considered in that light. The importance of images and their influence in our lives. The border, of course, between life then and now, when there is a revival of interest and consternation over the past existence of schools on or near reservations intended to try taking the 'native' out of young children and turning them into what passed as 'regular people, stripped of their cultural background.


    A more than slight change of subject. To wit: the curious palavering involved in getting some straight answers on minor health matters (which, to some in other circumstances, might seem major). A late night barefoot run-in with a very solid chair leg produces a broken baby toe. It wiggles quite a bit and starts to swell. Still, I can sleep and desperately want to do so in spite of the ache that can seem like pain depending on my position in the bed. I forget that I should immediately surround the feckless bone with ice and keep doing so on days to come. But tomorrow I am hosting a neighborhood backyard 'get to know each other' party and by no means can I not be on my toes, so to speak (literally and figuratively).. The event, held during one of the record heat days, goes into twilight to take advantage of the absent sun. A slight breeze comes up. Cleaning up afterwards takes energy and action so the toe is left to worry about itself.   

Online I see little can be done, or so I read: little toe has to be taped to its 'buddy,' neighbor, which doesn't appear very solid itself. Still, I mostly ignore what I now surround with the tightest sandals in my closet. Only later does it occur to me to think there might be complications. Medstar Urgent Care is not far away. I have left  a message for my primary care doc whose nurse repeats what online med web sites tell me: not much can be done unless a metatarsal might be involved. (The slim vital connecting link to the rest of the foot.) But how would I know unless I went for an Xray, and so back and forth. Three days later I'm in the waiting room, then on the X-ray table, then awaiting diagnosis, which  seems not to show terrible news. At least I read it that way: there has been no 'displacement,' I read in between the jargon of health care reporting. Which I take to mean not too complicated and maybe even a clean break. I send a copy off to the portal where I expect my doctor will see it and might even respond. 

No such luck. I buy more tape and even gauze because it looks good - like I should be cosseting the digit more respectfully.  I find that I can easily tear the tape by hand (after struggling with scissors) and can even try this late in the day to soothe it with more ice. Even at night: a cellophane wrapper holding ice that inevitably leaks onto the bed. The Urgent care center calls twice - two different people - reminding me that I have been referred to as osteopedic doc. I hold out for simpler solutions and instead keep a boot on my foot, as it seems I saved this awkward man-size (seemingly too large for my thin foot) device from another such accident several years ago. Yes, Medstar has the record on that. But didn't I manage then not to overdo any invasive action - on the advice of another osteopedic  doc.. And didn't I survive in fine shape, so much so that I am now a walking fool - so that I could survive a pandemic by strolling/hiking miles a day outside?

All of this to say how I was eager to test the latest medical experience - recent CDC advice to sign up for free government Covid tests (noting expiration dates may not be important, depending.) and could do so by ordering them online (as long as I am an individual and not a company) or by calling an 800 number. The latter is what I choose, considering it the ultimate test of this behemoth's efficiency ( and in view of the fact that distribution of the latest CDC recommended vaccine booster is apparently mired in confusion.) Hah - and hooray. I'm delighted to say the robotic voice completed the job by phone, enough so that I have tracking info, expecting the goods in less than a week's time. An (almost) done deal.

Well, what do you  know...

Saturday, August 12, 2023

August is an august transition between our fascination with July and whatever is to come...


    Of course the title makes little sense but it does fill in some time until we can really come to grips with a new month, the harbinger of the future when schools are back in session and Congress wrestles with itself and duties to escape or ignore.

    Meanwhile, vacation troops are moving around everywhere - full flights, errant weather,   unreconciled needs. The grizzled man on my left aboard a short stretch ( $371 for 50 minutes of airtime on Southwest, between Buffalo and BWI) complained how he had had a bad accident recently and how it took several months to get recompense. He lived in Florida, was returning from what I took to be a family visit. He seemed to want me to know why he was bent over, awaiting the wheelchair to speed him onward. On my right was a woman from South Carolina returning from a visit with family  up north where she previously lived and so had been immersed in doctor checkups, with former stalwart helpers. Lupus, she said - and there are two strains. She had great-granddaughters presumably scattered around. A five hour airport stay awaited her until her connection. "Last time I just ate crab cake." Now just why strangers felt the need to dwell on their miseries but I dared assume that each was fully engrossed in his/her physical health to the less interesting subject of the wellbeing of the country at large.

Of struggles elsewhere, a portion of my sympathy goes to the city of New York facing criticism from so many ends. The New York Times recently devoted an entire editorial asking for, it would seem in their word, a 'resurrection of the greatest city in the world.' It opts for 'grit and ingenuity,' two qualities I would guess are the ones most often in short supply. Especially in the summer's heat madness, where escape from the immediate environment is more pressing. So go back to the drawing board, you leaders and developers. We NYC lovers are helpless except to cheer you on.

And back at the ranch figuratively speaking: where I am part of the month is suburbia Montana,  far from the fabled mountain surround, where some residential communities are landscaped with a mix of real grass and stones, pines and aspens, picture perfect. Where the houses all seem constructed of similar materials in a different design but somehow can all seem similar. What unites them is a stone pillar by the curb within which is the mailbox erected just-so to allow a postal truck driver (likely out of the familiar uniform) need not get outside to deliver the paper goods. And the giant trash pickup conveyance has similar  restrictions: cans of uniform size and height that allow the single driver to control a huge mechanical arm to reach up, out, down, around and over dumping contents from the comfort of his seat.

Ah but rural suburbia can be different in so many ways. Conversation styles vary but the custom is to acknowledge strangers while walking or biking on paths built by the town for outdoor exercise. Drivers exercise restraint when backed up in what is considered heavy traffic:  no or little horn beeping. Patience wins the day where, of course, the views are fine so why complain. A 'town ranch' is no surprise to see in those burbs, little or big. Horses grazing in a sublimely wide grassy field. And on some days of mottled weather a mountain can resemble a cloud and vice versa.