Sunday, March 30, 2008

Orchid Show - part 2

G-san graciously shared tickets to the orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden. Apparently orchids have been around for over 80 million years. The display was impressively diverse - some reminded me of iris, others of daffodils, or even pansies. They were large and small, striped, spotted, and variegated....

Here's the second half of my pictures from the show.

Note the long, trailing "moustache" of the lower petals:

I liked the twisted ribbons here:

A nice range of yellow/orange:

Light and shadow:

Fine lines on the veins:
Periwinkle with white spots:
Yellow with pink and orange:

Here the blossoms are more like a bird of paradise or lotus:
Pinks against the greenhouse roof:

Iris/star shape:
An inkblot trio:

Elegantly curved:
Purple seed pods....
...and a closeup of their flower:
A series of star shapes:
... frillier...
and more spotted:
These had very long, thin spidery petals:

The coloring here reminds me of coleus:
Overhead against the glorious sunshine on a cold winter-spring day:

The columns of these orchids were kind of cool - it looks like a leopard head closeup:

This one shows the column a bit closer:

An orchid named after Joan Didion - how cool is that?!

Becky's Photo: Engelberg

Thought this was a cool picture from Becky & Bob's excellent adventure to Switzerland:

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Beware the wrath of the subway gods

My journey from home to Fat Cat Billiards took about 30 minutes. The return trip (commenced at 11 p.m.) took 1 hour and 45 minutes. Ugh.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Week in Review

Yoga was exhilarating Monday night, excruciating Wednesday night. (Both with the same teacher, at the same studio, ostensibly the same class though the movements were very different.) The rest of the week has been busy but good.

En route to La Bonne Soupe Tuesday night:

Driving back to the city Friday afternoon:

ESB with construction scene:

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Few Lenten Pictures

On the walls of the school where I volunteer to read to a second grader, a self-portrait by a budding Picasso:

On the way to yoga class:

Inside the yoga center:


Obviously, I had to eat here when I was in the neighborhood:

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Decorations

It was a good crowd for Easter dinner; 14 of us feasted and were merry. Afterward, I took some pictures of the decorations.

This is a fabric Easter bunny my mom made for me:

A hollow fabric-covered egg (also made by my mom) with a picture from Fallingwater:

Easter flowers, with a blown-up Boynton card showing a very small knight looking up at a very big dragon, featuring the slogan "NO GUTS, NO GLORY":

A collection of Easter heads:


Happy Easter to all. This year, I honored the season with a very modest sacrifice during Lent, and also took the opportunity to try to break some bad habits. The core sacrifice I was able to make, but the bad habits (alas) remain - if perhaps a bit weaker than they were before. It is mostly a struggle to replace the bad habits with good habits in the long run.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Quote of the Day

"If you want to see Jesus, look at the naked."

Love Potion No. 9

On Thursday, after details of Client No. 9's out-of-state service provider emerged, M (an attorney who is perhaps in her 50s) expressed resentment and jealousy of the hooker. M focused like a laser beam on the unfairness that a high-priced hooker is able to live in a chi chi neighborhood in Manhattan, while M -- a well-educated and law-abiding citizen -- is struggling to get by in a much less fashionable part of the state.

Even glossing over the question of whether the hooker was really all that financially successful before the publicity sent sales of her song skyrocketing, I still found M's resentment baffling. M may not be able to afford a high-flying lifestyle, but she has the respect and affection of her colleagues, a stable job that is not jeopardized by the aging process and -- very significantly -- the ability to look at herself in the mirror without spitting. That is to say, M can be honestly proud of who she is and what she's accomplished. Regardless of whether it has resulted in material wealth.

It is difficult to be happy if one's basic material needs are not met, including some buffer of security against risk. But beyond a certain level, worldly success does not necessarily indicate inner peace, nor does it necessarily increase happiness. It seems to me that if, in the darkest corners of her conscience, a hooker is ashamed of the way she obtained her success, no amount of money (or drugs or alcohol or other distraction) will fill the hollowness inside. To the contrary, nothing will ever be quite enough. There may be some who actually lack this nagging doubt -- but my guess is that most can only suppress or deny it.

And speaking of material wealth not reflecting one's inherent worth (we were?), M might do well to compare the typical pay scale of teachers with that of attorneys.

Setting aside the Spitzer fiasco, this week has been good. It kicked off with Robert Fu's "original Manhattan French language meetup." The group met at 230 Fifth (on Fifth Avenue), which has spectacular city views, and attempted to mingle and socialize in French. Very challenging for me, but I was really glad I went. It's a nice crowd, with a wide range of French language skills represented -- there was even a Japanese guy who didn't know a word of French but was hoping to learn by osmosis or something.

Thursday, I tried my first "Lotus Flow 2" yoga class, which was tough but exhilarating. On Friday, after two days of yoga in a row, I found myself getting pretty emotional ... but then Saturday I felt such a deep sense of peace. It was fun to connect with everyone for mahjong at Patricia's place, and then go rollerblading in the twilight afterward for my first real taste of spring.

The Surface of Things

A small child this week said to her mom as we passed on the street, "Mommy, that woman is a lot shorter than you." Her mom replied, "Remember what I told you? People come in all shapes and sizes." Coincidentally, the next day a new colleague said to me: "You're a short little thing, aren't you?" It was weird comment in the professional setting, particularly from someone who doesn't know me very well, but I think it was kindly meant. I told her my purpose in life was to make other people feel tall. I was kidding around of course, but it's a good "life purpose" since I accomplish it every day merely by existing and doing whatever I enjoy.

Question of the day, for a guy who says his partner must be "very attractive," but must not be overly concerned with her physical appearance: What are your expectations about how your partner will deal with the aging process?

There but for the grace of God go I?

Someone today suggested we approach the Spitzer debacle from the perspective of "There but for the grace of God go I." In one sense, this is right -- surely we have all, at times, done things we are (or ought to be) ashamed of... and were just lucky enough not to be caught and publicly humiliated or punished.

But in another sense, the sentiment is entirely off-base. Surely it is not really God's grace that keeps millions of married men from structuring complicated financial transactions so that they can clandestinely spend vast sums of money to cheat on their wives. I think it might be something more like a basic sense of decency.

Maybe an "otherwise decent" guy might stray (a debatable point), but the facts would look very different -- an affair might start when he turns a blind eye to the signs that a friendship is transforming into something more, or he might hook up with someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It's a question of whether there is at least an element of fortuity to the misdeed, rather than cold calculation. A guy who deliberately plans how to funnel thousands of dollars to a brothel and books prostitution services in advance to coordinate with his out-of-state trips knows exactly what he is doing and can't even hide behind the fig leaf of being swept away by passion. Somewhere along the path that Spitzer reportedly tread, a man with the slightest shred of decency would bail out because he could not possibly justify these machinations to himself.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Aruba, Arriba!

X, whom I've not seen in 6 months, invited me to go to Aruba with him in April. Very tempting. After all, why shouldn't I fly thousands of miles and spend $1,500 to enjoy a weekend with someone who couldn't find a few hours for me since August? The funniest thing is that -- without my having raised any question whatsoever about his motivations -- he started to assure me that he had no ulterior motives. By way of proof, he informed me that he already had a girlfriend of 2 months, who would (alas) not be on the trip on the advice of counsel. How could I have let this man go? He is truly incredible. I'd have to look a long time, methinks, to find another like him.

I saw a few episodes from Season 5 of Six Feet Under this week. It was really good (though very much soap opera). Between this and The Thin Blue Line, I've got some DVD borrowing/renting to do.

At a restaurant/bar called "Spitzers" in the LES, they only serve beer and wine. Did they think of calling themselves "spritzers" or are they fans of the current governor?


This week, I've been playing hooky in certain respects. It feels good.

My favorite cashmere sweater is one that I have worn only a few times so far - light gray, with a black outline of a cartoon feline. Men seem very pleased with themselves when they correctly identify it as Hello Kitty. It's so cute. But then, guys are very often at their cutest when they do guy things. Like trying to make sense of women doing typical girl things.

I made some progress on cleaning my apartment - I diagnosed the problem with my vacuum cleaner (for the first time in 6 years, the bag needed to be changed), tracked down a dealer that actually sells bags for my idiosyncratic machine, and the rest is history. For some reason. I keep thinking of a phrase from a 1961 essay by Joan Didion, commenting on the ability to "assign unanswered letters their proper weight."

I discovered Joan Didion's essay "On Self-Respect" (published in the collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem) when I was in college. It immediately resonated with me, it had somehow the ring of truth:
[T]o be driven back upon oneself is an uneasy affair at best, rather like trying to cross a border with borrowed credentials..... Most of our platitudes nothwithstanding, self-deception remains the most difficult deception. The tricks that work on others count for nothing in that very well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself.... One shuffles flashily but in vain through one's marked cards -- the kindness done for the wrong reason, the apparent triumph which involved no real effort, the apparently heroic act into which one had been shamed. ... To do without self-respect ... is to be an unwilling audience of one to an interminable documentary that details one's failings, both real and imagined, with fresh footage spliced in for every screening....
Her thought is ultimately that self-respect involves "a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible comforts."

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Next Ministries Service Projects

OK, I'll admit it. I always go in for the social events - skiing, brunch, the occasional happy hour or field trip - but rumor has it the "S" in FOCUS was originally for "service". So I went to a Habitat build and a Bowery Mission service last month.

The Habitat event was pretty fun, though I'm sure it would be a lot more efficient if the Habitat crew did it without our "help". They are so skilled, and so patient with us newbies (especially me). I learned to use a screw gun and a powered circular saw. I was pretty good with the saw right away, but the screw gun took a lot of getting used to, especially with the metal studs close to the ceiling. Half-built houses always bring me back to childhood (not that I'm ever that far away from it in the first place) and I love having the power to walk through walls:

The Bowery Mission service was also nice, especially once we got used to the institutional glare and to the distinctive smell. Claire, the head of our Next Ministries service group, read an opening prayer to the men in the chapel.

The men at the Bowery Mission really do "come as they are". Half the crowd (on the right side of the aisle) is just killing time while fulfilling the Bowery's prerequisite for a hot meal. The other half (on the left side of the aisle) consists of men who have accepted Jesus as their savior. They are there for the worship and the grace as well as the food. Laura Brenneman managed to bridge the gap between them with her music. The men were particularly moved by a bluesy/spiritual she sang about halfway through the service.

Russell, our seminarian, gave the sermon. The topic of the month was "Faith Moves Mountains". Russell faked us out at first by explaining that faith doesn't literally move mountains, which made me wonder if he might want to reconsider his career path. But he quickly moved on to make some good points - for instance, does God want us to ask Him to show off by literally moving mountains around, or zapping a podium from one side of the chapel to another? Of course not. We don't have any need for that (except as "proof" - and we're not supposed to put our God to the test). We have other mountains in our lives, metaphorical mountains that may be every bit as daunting as the Himalayas (especially if they are built grain by grain by a series of bad choices and even worse luck). These mountains can be moved, through faith, with God's help.

One man shared his testimony, which was heartfelt. Others clearly responded to God's call in other ways, or to the music. Two men came forward to help soothe another one who was trying to pick a fight. For a few moments, I could sense what it was like to be in their shoes.

Empathy works in mysterious ways. Today Rev. Dunn's voice caught, it seemed, as she read the list of those beloved of our congregation who have died in the past month - and I was not alone in feeling tears well up in response. We are moved by others' raw emotion, whether or not we know them; and also by the suffering of those we love, whether or not it is displayed for us.

This Week

For no clear reason, an old schoolyard/summer-camp ditty came to mind earlier this week: Ta-rah-rah-BOOM-dee-ay, there is no SCHOOL today, our teacher PASSED away, we shot him YES-ter-day, we threw him IN the bay, he scared the SHARKS away, ta-rah-rah-BOOM-dee-ay, there is no SCHOOL today. Disturbing sentiments, to be sure. But the song was always delivered with gleeful anarchic abandon, and safely enough in the midwest, I suppose, where shark-infested bays are few and far between.

Children love stuff that's right on the edge of forbidden subjects. Come to think of it, I remember another song of that type, which I learned in Kampsville, IL: There was an old kotter who lived by the CRICK, he often watched boys playing their [pause] marbles in springtime and good times of YORE, along came a maiden who looked like a [pause] decent young maiden as she sat on the GRASS, when she rolled over you could see her [pause] bright yellow clothing, she looked like a DUCK, she said she was learning a new way to [pause] bring up her children to sew and to KNIT, while in the barnyard they shoveled the [pause] sweet violets, sweeter than all the roses, covered all over from head to toe, with sweet violets.

At age 10, I was not able to guess many of the "missing" words and thus missed most of the humor of it. (Ah, the frisson of hinting at forbidden words.) However, the missing words were provided to me and defined, thus enriching my vocabulary immeasurably.

This was a week for pushing boundaries in some ways. I took a Scottish dance class which triggered all my massive insecurities, but it was ultimately fun. Yesterday, my aquarium trip was canceled so I was able to take my favorite yoga class ... only to find we had a substitute teacher. Afterward, I went running and then went for dinner and a movie - finally, the U2 3D movie I'd been wanting to see for a while. It was good.

It's strange how little exposure I've had to smokers. I ran into a woman on the elevator the other day, when it was bitter cold, and she said she was not happy about going outside ... but (holding up her unlit cigarette) it was totally worth it.

The gospel of John small group is going well so far, although differently than I imagined. My co-leader and I had thought the group might end up mostly men (it was looking like a 4:3 split for a while). Ironically, it is all women. The guys never showed up; a real pity, as it's nice to have balance.