Saturday, October 27, 2007

Paris commentary #1

Sorry it's been so long, but first I was in Paris, and then I came back from Paris sick as well as having to catch up. But I am now going to be a total bore and present pictures from my trip along with commentary--not all at once, mind you, as I took photos everywhere, but from time to time and on different themes. Dogs of Paris, for example. Or war memorials. Or food. Or decorative chard. But here, just to get started, is a photo of a wall of a building just across from the Jardin du Luxembourg: (unfortunately, this is not my photo as mine wouldn't stick on the blog, but it looks almost identical)

OK, I realize it doesn't look like much. But talk about revolutionary! This is a meterstick, mounted on the wall. When the meter was announced as the standard of measure during the Revolution (and I want to know how that happened, exactly), people of course had no idea what a meter length was, so they had these standard meters posted all over the city. This is the only one left in its original position.

What is also interesting--to me, at any rate--is that divvying things up by 10 was completely foreign to people. If you had a piece of string for measuring something, you could divide it in half or fourths or eighths--but tenths? I'm not used to thinking of measuring instruments being hard to come by.

It also makes me realize how hard it would be to get the US to change over completely to metric. I think we would have to do it (as we have been doing it) in a very gradual and somewhat underhanded way. Get used to seeing 2 liter bottles, for example. Use metersticks in schools so that kids become more used to that unit of measure than inches. But a complete change will be difficult unless done by fiat with the threat of heads rolling, and I don't see that happening any time soon.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Saint Francis, seriously

A friend of mine died this morning. Another friend of mine was there with him when he died and told me of the experience. He died while she and other friends of his were saying Morning Prayer around his bedside. My friend reports that he was still alive as they read the gospel appointed for the Feast of St. Francis: "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."

My friend who died was a third order Franciscan; he took that seriously. He is the only person I know who truly embraced voluntary poverty while still living as part of the world rather than in a religious order.

What a peculiar and wondrous blessing that he should die today and join St. Francis in the company of saints on this day, the feast of his patron. What a peculiar and wondrous blessing that he died in the presence of the gospel that promises rest to the weary.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

St. Francis, somewhat frivolously

St. Francis and me: worms together. From the Prayers of St. Francis, the 3rd Consideration on the Sacred Stigmata,

"One night, before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross in the year 1224, Brother Leo overheard Francis endlessly repeating the following words:

"Who are you,
O my most sweet God,
and who am I,
most vile worm
and your worthless servant?

"When the astonished brother asked for an explanation, the saint replied, 'I was shown two lights and realized who the Creator is and who I am. I saw the depths of the infinite goodness of God and the deplorable depths of my own nothingness. That is why I said:

'Who are you,
Lord of infinite goodness,
wisdom and power,
who deign to visit me,
a vile and abominable worm?'"

Vile and abominable worm. Not traitorous, though. God knows I have never fully recognized the difference in magnitude between God and myself. St. Francis, help me to recognize my vermisimilitude.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Sharper than a serpent's tooth

I have just been called a "traitorous worm" for admitting I want to see the Cubs and the Indians in the World Series. These Red Sox fans are vicious, I tell you what.

Mostly I wanted to report that I have now seen the play King Lear for the first time in my life and I have this horrible and sneaking suspicion that it's a pretty dumb plot. And we'll see if any ravening Shakespeare scholars come to stab my eyes out.

I had read it before and studied it (and read A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, a terrific book) and so I had expected to enjoy the play, even if I didn't like the production. But the play's the thing--at least I think it's the thing--that ended up rubbing me the wrong way.

Here's the thing: from the get-go, I feel sorry for Regan and Goneril and think Cordelia is not doing herself any favors. Would it hurt her to say, "Dad, you know I love you very much," rather than respond, "Nothing." Ummm...I would wonder, too, and ask for a fuller report. And as Lear promptly kicks her out, I can't help but think that R&G have very good reason for a) dissembling and b) not much caring for the guy. I sympathize with them, too, as he hangs about the house with 100 followers.

And I know everyone will think I am a Philistine when I say the subplot of Edgar caring for his blind father and not saying, "It's me!" really annoyed me. It did not pass the "Would anyone act this way in real life?" test. Yes, yes, yes, drama is not real life but a heightened version of it. Still.

Nothing in the action was able to convince me that people would want to be loyal to Lear. Kent is a faithful retainer indeed, but why? What is the appeal in this man? Certainly it was not clear what he once was or whether he had been anything more than a powerful man.

As the bodies piled up at the end, it made me wonder, "Is Shakespeare just trying to get out of this thing? Is this all about the spectacle of it?"

Was it just a bad production? Perhaps. Have to admit that derisive laughter was probably not the response they were going for. Also have to admit I seemed to be the only one laughing. Still...Lear is going to have to do some very heavy lifting before I see his play again.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Law and the Classroom, part 2

Back in May, I wrote about a woman who had been dismissed from her teaching job because, when asked what she thought about war protesters, she replied, "I honk for peace." She was taking that case to the Supreme Court.

Today, I read an article headlined "Supreme Court denies hearing for fired 'Honk for Peace' teacher."

Yes, indeed, they are denying a hearing. "Mayer, who now teaches sixth grade in Florida, was distraught.

"I don't know why anybody would want to be a teacher if you can be fired for saying four little words," she said Monday. 'I'm supposed to teach the Constitution to my students. I'm supposed to tell them that the Constitution guarantees free speech. How am I going to justify that?'"

The thing that makes me sad about this is, yes, teachers do have a captive audience and yes, students should be protected from some kinds of speech; but at the same time, there's something powerful and important about hearing opinions different from your own. That is what opens MY mind, anyway, to an expanded view of the world. It is beneficial to me when I venture beyond my comfort zone of assumptions.

Besides which, for Pete's sake, "I honk for peace" is about as mild a statement as I can imagine. She didn't say, "and you should too," much less that this war is a shame and a shambles. I still find it hard to fathom that a parent would complain that a teacher prefers peace to war.

And it's terribly distressing that the direction of our educational system is towards a strict separation between the prescribed curriculum and anything else. What could be more deadening to a creative and exciting learning environment.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Talk about eating to live or living to eat!

I'm reading this fabulous book called "Paris in the Fifties" by Stanley Kurnow who has a chapter on Curnonsky, The Prince of Gastronomes, who literally wrote the book on French cooking, "France Gastronomique, which ultimately appeared in twenty-eight volumes late in the 1920's."

"He ate only one full meal a day, always in a restaurant except when he was required to attend a function. Following dinner, he would work at his littered desk until dawn, then bathe, go to sleep, awake at three or four in the afternoon, breakfast on a boiled egg and a glass of warm milk, receive visitors and wait for his acolytes to appear for the nightly ritual."

Alas, eventually by the mid-50's, "His health, once so robust, was failing, and he had been forbidden everything but toast and milk. In 1956, depressed by the gloomy diet, he jumped to his death from his apartment window. Addressing a suicide note to a friend, he cautioned, 'Avoid the left leg of the partridge, since it perches on that limb, which makes the blood circulation sluggish.'"

Now, that is FRENCH!

San Francisco headlines

I'm not saying this could only be in San Francisco, but I'm saying it doesn't hurt that it's in San Francisco:

Left side, above the fold:
Leather and Corsets and Whips, oh my

Right side, beneath the fold:
In S.F., Episcopal
bishop defiantly
backs gay unions

Not sure about the word "defiantly." "Continues to" works better for me, knowing the Presiding Bishop's ongoing calm steadiness. "Defiantly" suggests anger and contention, and that is not her style.

Did like the juxtaposition of the two pieces, though.

Baseball postseason

Baseball season ended yesterday--not that baseball is over, what with all the postseason fun to come. And the season not quite over at that, as San Diego and Colorado (!) duke it out today.

I feel for the Mets fans, I surely do, but I'm glad to see the Phillies in the post-season, just because I like to see the postseason showcase different teams. I'm rooting for the Rockies to get to the playoffs. Of course I'm rooting for the Cubs; it's their turn. I'm pleased that Boston got the division and look forward to seeing the Yankees eliminated by Cleveland. Diamondbacks...well, they won the whole thing not too long ago, but OK. And Angels...I must admit they deserve to be there.

In my heart, I want the Cubs to win. In my head, I suspect the Angels will do very well. But this is baseball, and you never know. I'd love to see a Cleveland/Cubs World Series, which has nothing to do with my own knowledge or love of the teams, and all to do with wanting to see them play.