Monday, August 27, 2012

All the Rest...

Friday night was a fellowship game night at Redeemer's new west side facility.  I played scrabble in a relaxed game with other word nerds.

Saturday was a rafting trip in the Poconos.  This was another self-guided rafting operation; the guides are not in the boat with you, but hang out in their kayaks and give you instructions about how to deal with Class II/III rapids and all the rocks that are lying in wait for you to beach yourself on.  Although one of the guides actually fell out of his kayak at one point -- just a few minutes after telling a young girl who was rather nervous about the whitewater experience that the safest place in the river was on his kayak!!!

Sunday, I watched "Don Giovanni" at Lincoln Center (a high-def movie broadcast outdoors).  When I got there, I was too late to get one of the good seats (there were just a few in the very front rows, well on the side), but found a good perch.  I was glad I brought a blanket to sit on!  Over the course of the opera, however, many people bailed out of the seats -- and the fleet of foot ran in to snag 'em.  So the contest goes to those who endure.

But I digress.  "Don Giovanni" was entirely new to me ... or was it?  Not quite: With a great thrill, I recognized the plot and characters parodied in PDQ Bach's "The Stoned Guest"!  Who can forget the immortal Don Octave ("an itinerant nobleman, bargain counter tenor"), Donna Ribalda ("a high-born lady of the lowlands, mezzanine-soprano"), and Il Commendatoreador ("the stoned guest, basso blotto")?  And, of course, the inimitable tacked-on happy ending, described in this way by the radio host:
P.D.Q. Bach originally intended his opera to end at this point, but the manager of the Wein-am-Rhein Volkstheater, Rudolfo Bingo, persuaded the composer that the gay fun-loving audiences of that town would never accept such an unhappy ending. And so, without any explanation whatsoever, the entire cast suddenly comes to life, and sings the gay fun-loving finale, thereby providing a happy ending for this otherwise miserable opera.
We're talking sheer brilliance here, folks.  Loved it!  But I think I might have to watch "Don Giovanni" again in more favorable conditions, in order to give Mozart his due.  PDQ is a tough act to follow.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hudson River Park: The Videos

I took some videos on the morning's nature walk.  In the first three, I tried to capture the exhilaration of the butterflies swarming all over the bushes:

I love the way some of the cement pieces along the bike path have been painted:

Hudson River Park Wild!

Walter and Michelle led a nature walk this morning in Hudson River Park.  Our first stop was Pier 42, which has been left in place as a thriving mini ecosystem for certain species that like fresh and salt water at different points in their lives. Such as striped bass.
Birds enjoy the pier's ecosystem too!

Bayberries (aka waxberries)
Walter said that most of the berries growing in the park are poisonous to humans and other mammals - but perfectly OK for birds, because they pass through the birds' digestive system too quickly to be broken down into toxins.

He also showed us a "Kentucky coffee tree" (not pictured here) which we should NOT use to make coffee; apparently, the leaves, seeds, seed pods, and bark are all poisonous!

Blanket flowers

Ginko tree, with holes drilled by yellow-bellied sapsuckers
The butterflies I saw last time I was out skating were really a lot of the inspiration for me to go on this walk. I was intrigued (and thrilled) that they'd deliberately created butterfly habitats along the bike path.  (Somewhat less thrilled about the "other insects" part of it - e.g., the golden trumpet flowers are beloved not only by bumblebees [yay!] but also houseflies [boo!].  I guess the park rangers are trying not to discriminate.)

Painted Lady butterflies 

These bushes were alive with them!  Butterflies everywhere!

See if you can count all of them in this picture.  It was so cool.

The butterflies were very photogenic; they did not move when people pointed at them or
brought camera lenses way in close.

I think the plant with purple flowers is officially known as a "butterfly bush", and with good reason.

We did eventually (alas) have to tear ourselves away from the butterflies.  Apparently there are other things to see as well.

I don't remember what Walter said about this plant, but I lingered a little longer when I heard some rustling...

After the group moved on, I heard a little rustling in the shrubbery.  It was this guy.
We saw two kinds of oaks - one had an amazing super-sized acorn.  The other had ridges on the branches, and normal-sized acorns that were about 3/4 covered by a fuzzy cap.

The limber pine was pretty cool.  It's a native, cold-weather plant, with pliable (limber) limbs and needles.  Apparently, this allows the snow to fall off rather than breaking the branches (clever design, eh?).  Walter said the pine cones have a 2-year life-cycle.  The new ones (foreground) are a warm light brown, small and tight; last year's (middle-ground) are green and sticky with white resin to keep them sealed; the ones from two years ago and longer are the stereotypical dead pinecones, dry, fully opened, and a dull gray-brown.

Limber Pine, with this year's cones (front) and last year's (back).

Closeup of the new growth 
Walter showed us these caterpillar sacs on the limber pine.  Apparently, this is the work of the evergreen bag-worm moth.  They don't get out much.  He said the female is little more than a womb (no eyes, etc) and never leaves the cocoon at all.  The male pupates and leaves the cocoon only to seek out the female by pheromones, enter into her sac, impregnate her, and die.  She then lays a bunch of eggs, and dies.

Cocoons of the evergreen bag-worm moth

Alas, the tour eventually ended.  On my way back, I stopped for more butterfly pictures:

Painted Lady patiently posing on the ground.  How polite and considerate!

Is this inspired by the twitter bird?

Beautifully painted concrete dividers...

One of the first things we looked at on the nature walk was a spiderweb, so I thought it was fitting to end with this image:

(Incidentally, I had not realized until today that the daddy long-legs is not a spider. ) 
I had brunch (quinoa salad and a watermelon lemonade) at Au Bon Pain on my way home.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pig Roast Weekend!

I had a lovely long weekend with family.  Part One involved a museum visit:

Don't get your hopes up; the sign on the door says "NO VACANCY."
(On the other hand, fear not; the seagull perched overhead is a mere toy.)
We also watched an episode of "I, CLAVDIVS," which I'd heard of before (my dad commented on Livia as the "power behind the throne") but purchased and watched only recently, after a colleague who is close to my age raved about the program.  Apparently, she pops this in to watch when she is sick and needs to be distracted and awake, without undue strain on her mental faculties.

In any event, it proved sufficiently entertaining for post-dinner amusement, and my parents enjoyed seeing it again after many years.

For Part Two, after some delicious waffles, we headed west for my first-ever pig roast.  In an inadvertently Seussian manner,† folks in NYC had asked me whether the pig would be roasted in a covered pit rather than in the open air on a spit.  Given the location of the event, I thought it unlikely that anyone would dig a pit for the occasion.  But given that all the New Yorkers assured me that the pit option produced a far tastier result, I thought it equally unlikely that anyone would go for the spit option.  So I didn't know what to expect.  

If truth be told (as they* say), the pig roasting was done in a manner that combined the best of all worlds - the delicious cookery of a covered pit, combined with the ease and convenience of a spit.  Yes, apparently there is a third way: the smoke box.

This was a community event, complete with a live concert (featuring a local musician and his merry band who played both Latin beats and cool jazz), a home-made dance floor (featuring hot-spot locations marked with instructions such as "spin around" or "dance with a partner" or "have fun"), home-made salsas with home-grown vegetables (including a beet salsa and a cucumber salsa, among others), and even a photographer from a local newspaper who photographed folks leaping about happily on the dance floor.

I don't think the reporter managed to capture a picture of this activity, however, in which children explored certain alternative, environmentally-friendly forms of transportation: 

I think someone earned extra dessert here.  
All in all, a delightful evening which brought the whole community together.  The feeling was really that of a 4th of July picnic, but with more temperate weather and no fireworks display. 

More waffles (hooray!) kicked off Part Three, when we went blueberry-picking.  It turns out that there are some important differences between picking wild blueberries (as I've done before) and farm blueberries (as we did today) -- besides price, and the convenience of picking blueberries from high bushes rather than low scrubs.  I am thinking, in particular, of the blueberry baskets provided for our use.  These were white plastic, lined with white plastic bags, to be belted on to our waists.  It was certainly convenient, but hardly the attire favored by the fashion-forward.  And no, there is no photographic evidence of our visit and thus no proof that I or others in the group actually donned this infernal get-up.

We adjourned to a local pub:

Good heavens, what is that mysterious clear liquid?
Could it be ... dihydrogen monoxide?  Served to an underage patron?!  
At the pub, I enjoyed appreciated this lovely mural:

An homage to Magritte's "La trahison des images" and possibly "Golconda" etc.

Close-up: "Ceci n'est pas une fenêtre" (which of course it isn't)

Part Four included another episode of I, Claudius, another delicious home-cooked dinner, and a walk in the soft twilight:

A coastal scene

Local flora
All in all, a lovely weekend filled with laughter and good company.

FN†: "Will they cook it /On a spit? /Will they cook it /In a pit?" cf. Green Eggs and Ham.
FN*: In this case, "they" means a precocious 8-year-old who has not only picked up this expression from parts unknown, but also used it to break the news to her parents that she "[was]n't missing [them] as much as [she] thought [she] would" when she spent a few days visiting other relatives.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I Am Four.

"Even during my father's 1984 gubernatorial campaign, it was, 'Do you want to grow up and be governor one day?'  No.  I am four." -- Chelsea Clinton

Such a delightful mental image:  A perfectly poised 4-year-old politely explains to a gaggle of grown-ups why she is not running for governor of Arkansas.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Week & Weekend In Review

This summer, I failed to subscribe to the Mostly Mozart Festival, so I didn't get my cool on-stage seats.  (How I love looking over the musician's shoulders at their music!!)  But I got invited to attend MMF concerts on Tuesday and Friday, which was fun.

Saturday, I went to Constitution Island for their Garden Day.  It was a little underwhelming (since it's not even a real island and the "hiking trails" are minimal indeed), but it was a nice excursion and I was able to go on a little boat ride up the Hudson and back - some pretty scenery.

Then Saturday night, I caught a performance of Richard III.  The actress who played Anne really brought home the horror of Anne's position, and I teared up a bit at some of the scenes.  But throughout the show, I kept hearing sounds of cheering from the park behind and below me.  At first I thought it was a political rally ... but really, who would keep up the cheering for 2 solid hours?  Surely, no candidate is worth it!

So, after the actors took their final bows, I went down to check it out... and it was a race!  I cheered on the runners a bit, with no idea what kind of race this was or how long the course was or anything.  Then, still cheering, I headed toward the finish line, and eventually I started to see explanatory signs: it was an Ironman competition!  Apparently, NYC's first-ever.  (Unfortunately, I heard the next day that one of the swimmers died.  But I don't think that information had filtered to the crowd; the mood was upbeat and very encouraging.)

Sunday, I went back to Trinity Wall Street and then headed up to SoHo to get a few items.  I almost bought a light fixture with a dragon silhouette at Pearl River Imports... Maybe next time.  (Oddly, my apartment has good natural light, but very poor artificial light.)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dance Motifs

The first two I think of often, but the third I was just reminded of recently in connection with the motto "Laeta in chorea magna."

"Seeing you made her think of the children, poor thing -- dear, dear, they're all dead but the youngest.  But banish care, it's no time for it now -- on with the dance, let joy be unconfined is my motto, whether there's any dance to dance, or any joy to unconfine -- you'll be the healthier for it every time -- every time, Washington -- it's my experience, and I've seen a good deal of this world." 
Colonel Sellers in The American Claimant, by Mark Twain.

Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
William Butler Yeats, Among School Children, VIII

"Circling round and round the dancers was a ring of Dwarfs, all dressed in their finest clothes; mostly scarlet with fur-lined hoods and golden tassels and big furry top-boots. As they circled round they were all diligently throwing snowballs. ...  They were throwing them through the dance in such perfect time with the music and with such perfect aim that if all the dancers were in exactly the right places at exactly the right moments, no one would be hit. This is called the Great Snow Dance and it is done every year in Narnia on the first moonlit night when there is snow on the ground. Of course it is a kind of game as well as a dance, because every now and then some dancer will be the least little bit wrong and get a snowball in the face, and then everyone laughs. But a good team of dancers, Dwarfs, and musicians will keep it up for hours without a single hit."
C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Adventures in Nutrition and Satiety

This morning, I had steel-cut oatmeal with a few almonds.  Half a banana.  A chocolate almond biscotti Balance bar.   And a small cup of cappuccino.

A reasonable breakfast, methinks.

But my usual lunch time came and went, and I hardly noticed.  Even at the end of the workday, I wasn't hungry.  Finally, I cooked and ate some corn on the cob -- but I can't imagine having anything more substantial for diner.

Not quite sure what to make of this, but it was clearly a VERY satisfying breakfast.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Laeta in Chorea Magna (Mythcon 43)

A gang of six or eight Mythgard folks* descended on Mythcon 43 this year.  Five of us were presenting papers; all but one of us were first-time attendees of the conference and had little idea what we were in for!

The most thrilling part of the weekend, of course, was meeting the extended Mythgard Mythcon gang.  You could not ask for a nicer group of people.  One student, who flew in from New Zealand for the occasion, even brought with her a few amulets to bring us good luck in our presentations.  We all attended each other's presentations, bringing extra-friendly faces front and center (amidst an already friendly crowd).†  All of our papers were well-received, and one actually won an award!!

The two guests of honor gave interesting talks, although I particularly liked Father Ron Murphy, a very engaging speaker who talked about how the Christian myth was successfully translated and adapted to accommodate the pre-existing Norse myths.  He contrasted one missionary's rather high-handed and deeply offensive approach ("You heathens worship a tree?! Cut it down!!") with a more nuanced approach that started with an appreciation of the salvation myth of the tree Yggdrasil.  He showed us how the nuanced, synergistic approach of more astute and sympathetic missionaries affected the architecture and designs of churches in the area -- and how these designs have been misinterpreted by folks who seek to impose Mediterranean ideas and imagery on the Norse landscape.  Amazing.  The lecture was nicely illustrated, although my favorite image was of Christ crucified in tangled vines; I really liked how he had "rescued" it from the usual interpretation simply by having what he thinks are vines on Yggdrasil colored in green.‡

There were concerts and movies (as well as general socializing) every night, which I enjoyed. Among the particular highlights for me:

  • From the film series, I found "Momotaro's Sea Eagles" (Japan 1942) of particular interest.  Our host described it as an animated wartime propaganda film "in which the Peach Boy from Japanese folklore makes a surprise attack on Demon Island."  Basically, it is a mythologization of the attack on Pearl Harbor from a deeply Japanese sensibility -- the bombers are very cute little bunny rabbits, birds (supposedly pheasants, though they looked woodpeckers to me), and monkeys, as well as at least one dog.  Apparently, it was intended for children; according to the Nishikata Film Review, "the ads proclaim that the film is not only sponsored by the Naval Ministry but recommended by the Ministry of Education “as a living textbook for your children.”
I couldn't help thinking of a book of Japanese cartoons which I bought in Tokyo many moons ago.  I ultimately gave it to a friend, but had looked through it first and was really struck by how different the cartoons were throughout the book.  To western eyes, they could seem jarringly eclectic, for instance, an innocently childish cartoon might be followed by a rather graphic S&M cartoon.  (The book was quite large -- perhaps as thick as a traditional phonebook -- and I believe, although I am not certain, that this was a compilation of entirely unrelated cartoons.)ξ
  • The highlight of the concerts for me was a taiko drum concert Saturday night. I arrived late, but just in time to accept the invitation to join them on stage for a lesson!  Perhaps 10 mild-mannered Mythcon attendees took up the challenge -- and the drumsticks.  Before an admiring audience we learned a few different drumstrokes in a simple rhythm pattern: L1, R1, L2, R2; L1, R1, L2, L2, R2 R2; L1, R1, L2, L2, L2, R2, R2, R2.  
The L1 and R1 were the same steady "neutral" stroke throughout, while the L2 and R2 phased through several iterations.  In the first iteration, L2/R2 were twice as fast as L1/R1.  In the second iteration, L2/R2 were super-soft.  In the third iteration, L2/R2 were rim-hits at 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock.  In the fourth iteration, we were supposed to throw and catch the drumsticks in turn for L2/R2 - that (ahem) didn't go so well for me! 
So after we'd tried each sequence individually, we then performed what we'd learned forward and backward.  It was very fun, although it was easy to lose focus and start doing things out of sequence.  I found there was a sweet spot of mindfulness, where I was focused ("in the zone") but not worried about getting it right, that allowed me to tap out the pattern properly.  One of the regular drummers congratulated me afterward, which was very nice of him (though he was probably just trying to recruit students for their taiko drumming classes!).   
  • Sunday night, I joined the Bardic Circle, where folks went around a circle to read, sing or recite poetry or songs.  I hadn't prepared for it, but I was able to recite a few poems off the top of my head (popular favorites were Sonnet 116, which I misidentified as #105, and Ozymandius).  I left the singing and original poetry to others who were more talented in those areas.  Very fun.  And although I haven't committed to attending next year's Mythcon, I've already started mentally picking out poems I'd like to share...  Oh, yeah!  
I must confess that the Mythgard Mythcon gang was temporarily stymied by the motto "Laeta in Chorea Magna" on the Mythopoeic Society banner, which features two words that Professor Walsh apparently has not introduced yet.

But according to Google Translate, it means "great joy in the dance." I hope that's correct, because it's a wonderful and very fitting motto.

For we did experience great joy in the amazing dance of academia and fandom that is Mythcon.



FN * We had with us one Mythgard teaching assistant, five registered Mythgard students, and two siblings of Mythgard students who have been ruthlessly subjected to Mythgard lectures by dint of their residence in the same household.

FN † I was pretty nervous about my first-ever presentation of an academic paper at my first-ever academic conference, but it went well -- with plenty of assistance and support from friendly folks both inside and outside the Mythgard community.  I'd written the paper originally for a Mythgard class, and my preceptor gave me extensive comments on it (as well as a good grade) after Mythcon accepted my abstract.  Professor Olsen graciously held a mythmoot for those of us presenting papers, to help us understand what to expect, and one of last year's presenters also provided insight and reassurance.  Two of my friends from church very kindly humored me by listening to me read the paper, and a few other friends and relatives agreed to read it themselves and didn't say anything mean about it afterward.  At the conference, one audience member helped me draw a dragon on the chalkboard before my presentation (I figured it would be nice for people to have something to look at besides me), and my Mythgard Mythcon gang was right up front doing a good impersonation of people who are interested in the dramatic reading of a paper about dragons.  Afterward, folks said nice things about it, and two audience members actually asked for copies of my paper!  So I felt really good about the experience and highly recommend it to others.

FN ‡ As an example of the coolness of Father Murphy, he apparently spent 3 hours talking to a Druid (one of our Mythgardians) and then went out and bought Trader Joe's Druid Circle cookies for him.  Of course, this also reflects well on the coolness of the Druid.  There is a mutual coolness factor here which cannot be ignored.

FN ξ I also thought of my great-uncle Edwin, who was at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack.  He declined to speak about his experience even 40+ years later (the one time I met him).  My understanding, however, is that he remained bitter toward the Japanese his entire life.  His lingering hatred is very difficult for me to understand, given my friends and experience, and the emphasis on compassion, redemption and forgiveness in my upbringing.  (And what about those who were born long after the war was over??)   But I suppose those were different days, so he grew up with different assumptions and different cultural indoctrination.  And I certainly cannot pretend to have had any experience like his: he was presumably one of the few survivors of a close-knit group, soldiers in a nation that was not at war, who were the officially sanctioned, specifically intended military target of another country's government.  That is, there may be something particularly horrific (from a soldier's perspective) when Military X attacks Military Y in an organized manner without warning, without provocation, and without any declaration of war.