Saturday, August 28, 2010

"Don't sing love songs...

You'll wake my mother,
she's sleeping here right by my side,
and in her right hand
a silver dagger.
she says that I can't be your bride..."

That old tune's been looping plaintively through my quirky mind for weeks... the occasional line escapes, sung aloud, winged into space.

In my experience, Tuneloop Syndrome usually means something's up, it's portentious, as Mr. Kirschner would unfailingly remind us in Junior English class. I wonder if the constant mental replay of old songs well learned, like Silver Dagger above from Joan Baez , tunes I practiced for hours on my guitar and learned by heart in luxurious, lonesome hours of repetition – a young girl often perched, trembling, on the precipice of love's chasm – has some significance at this particular moment in my existence. Is it just the cavalcade of changes unsettling me? I haven't heard these tunes in decades. Yet here they are, fresh in my mind as though I'd just lowered the needle to the disc. It's quite haunting the way a few of them, like a posse come to get me, has lassoed my mind. Especially these by Joan, with an ominous, pleading tone to them. Like there's a shoe about to drop; a wound from which the singer would be spared. Tunes that tell of impending heartache, dread, of naivete, or fulsome deliverance. ... Maybe it's just Oldtimer's. Let's hear the rest of the tune...

"All men are false, says my mother.
they tell you wicked lovin lies,
and the very next evening they'll court another,
leave you alone to pine and sigh.

My daddy is a handsome devil.
He's got a chain five miles long
and on every link a heart does dangle
of another maid he's loved and wronged.

Go court another tender maiden
and hope that she will be your wife,
for i've been warned and i've decided
to sleep alone all of my life..."

I mean, wow, ya know?? and all in a minor creepy key!

The old appalachian tunes, their repetitive, haunting melodies in minor keys, the plainspokeness, the desolation of them. There's something there, trying to get my attention. A swelling of insight. Some lesson, or message, rooted in the past about to resurface. Like a gathering storm over parched land. What could it be? I dunno know but let's take a minute and hie over to iTunes and see if they've got the real McCoy fer sale so I can stop listening to it in my head..... hang on.

YES! The album is simply called Joan Baez ( faded lavender cover now, [original cover above], released 1960), in case you're interested. I'm pretty sure it was her first. If you're reading this and you don't know who she was, well, it was pretty much her and Dylan the leaders of the folksinging pack for the better part of the sixties. I worshipped her long hair and soprano range, learned every song. Played them at every venue I could find, including my own back step on starry nights out in the Junction, me, my guitar, plenty of ironing, and all that longing sent right out there to the infinite... Longing that had nothing really to do with a guy. It went deeper than that, but you couldn't have told me that.

Listening now... this is a really great album. She was so admired. Tremendous artistic honesty. Doubt I still have the LP; glad iTunes had it, not some redone version. This is the original album, just a different cover. Here's East Virginia:

Well in my heart you are my darlin...
If your love I could only win...

When I recall how intensely I pined for love back then, I'm grateful for the major thing college taught me: How to put your mind to a task and keep it there til done, despite whatever psychic pain is threatening to twist your spirit shapeless. You learn then that before you know it, the pain subsides, slips 'into perspective', i.e., its resolution not so deathly important. A troublesome ache, but manageable over time until it's gone for good.

"Oh, fare thee well, I must be gone
And leave you for awhile.
Wherever I go I shall return
If i go Ten Thousand Miles."

House of the Rising Sun way before Eric Burton got his hands on it. Henry Martin, El Preso Numero Nueve. This is Baez at her best, settling, sure of herself. Songs that always sound like they're being sung for the first time – that 's something, isn't it? I listened to some later versions of these tunes by her, and the earnest, pure voice just wasn't there. This is a jewel of an album for anyone curious about the feel, the roots of the new american music in the sixties. She and Dylan turned our heads, along with a host of other folkies. But they were the anointed king and queen, and of course we loved it that they were an "item" as well.

The message always the same, told a hundred different ways and always new: Love will break your heart. Only the brave and honest survive it and manage to feel blessed in the bargain.

"How the winds are laughing,
they laugh with all their might.
Laugh and laugh the whole day through
and half the summer's night.."

(Donna, Donna)

I have no doubt a sixteen year old me sang the following in a heartfelt manner with little clue as to the depth to which the words could ring true...

"I am a Girl of Constant Sorrow,
I've seen trouble all my days.
I'm goin back to California
place where i was born and raised...."

What's amazing is that one finds so much comfort in these tunes. In the same way that the blues are a comfort. They're so human, the stories they tell. Their simplicity touches our tender self, still there beneath the scarred surface. And for me they soothe rather than contort. That's the mystery of age. Love feels more about depth than sharp pain or outward longing. Maybe it's the relief I feel when I listen to these tunes, that I'm not 16 anymore, that I know whatever agony or disappointment visits me, I will not only survive it, but there is likely to be a joy hidden just beyond the sorrow.

Our stories never really change. Lately I'm not convinced we ever learn our lessons either. We simply learn to understand them better, to put them in perspective some. Perhaps to make use of them. To write stories...
stories about stories about stories... til the end of time.

Que penses-tu?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Walking on Water?

more on this phenom later, but...

A little correction is in order, I feel.
That close encounter with Mars I urged you to be on the lookout for this week?
A total hoax. And curse the swine that perpetrated it!

The approaching "two moons" in the night sky phenomenon I alerted you to recently, supposed to occur on August 27? Mars reportedly passing so close to the earth it will appear in the night sky as a second moon from where we stand, our feet glued to the rolling ball of earth?

N O T !

It's an internet hoax that seems to have made the rounds every year since 2003 when Mars did in fact pass rather close to the earth, but nothing occurred or will occur anything like what's predicted by the proponents of this hoax..

Sorry about that...

But, here's something that is real. Walking on water, no lie. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. It's quite amazing, really. And (IMHO) no sillier than anything else anyone spends their time doing, It's a physics experiment, really. And a pretty cool one.

That's enough fuzzy science for today, kiddies.

If you're a fan of The Bad Plus (I am) or of modern music generally, check out Iverson's blog. Lots of cool interviews with great musicians and composers and he has interesting things to say.

hasta la pasta..

Monday, August 23, 2010

Daddy gets his shoe out... or

Can these Twenty-Somethings ... saved?

I was standing in Micucci's blessedly short checkout line last Saturday afternoon when I overheard a conversation (Quelle Nosy Parker!) between the attractive boomer guy in front of me and the petite forty something gal ringing up his groceries. They were having a mutual kvetch about their respective kids. Both had offspring in their twenties who couldn't seem to just get it together and truly get out on their own in the world. They keep coming home! Always need money! I don't get it, the guy moaned. While the gal at the register nodded her head up and down and back and forth repeatedly lamenting: I know, I know.

.... Ahem! Can I get in on this conversation? They both smiled at me and turned to expand their little improvised den of misery. You too? Uh huh. How many? Two. What's with this anyway?

In the end we all agreed that our gut feeling now was that we had done too much for our kids. That the cumulative effect of years of 'being reliably there' and giving them so much had, somehow, incapacitated them, rendered them incapable of the kind of survival we had all managed by the age of 20 or so. You know, a habitable apartment, full time job to pay for it yourself, bills, etc. roommates or no. But On Our Own. No money from the 'rents and fully responsible for cars, insurance, food, pretty much every aspect of our own lives. Our kids were supposed to have somehow benefitted from all we managed to achieve decades ago, but have they? Well... according to the gang at Micucci's checkout, to many of my friends with twentysomething kids, and to the New York Times , in a word – NO.

According to a psychologist whose work is the main subject of the Times article, there's a new 'phase' in human development: emerging adulthood. A phase kind of like adolescence only older. I personally find the professional arguments cited in the article against this theory more compelling than the theory itself, but that's just me. I base part of my opinion on the young, fully emerged young adults I encountered on a working ranch out West in Wyoming this spring. Young people who simply HAD to show up early every day and do the do, over a long day, and, as I've mentioned before, if they didn't manage, or somehow failed in their appointed tasks, someone loses a leg or arm, or an animal dies. In short, serious shyte ensues.

The important point here is that they all were possessed of a palpable sense of self and place I found amazing. Not to mention refreshingly wholesome. And they weren't sourpusses; this might disappoint the shrink in the Times piece. They were genuinely happy 'kids', fully adult yet youthful and sometimes funny, but confident, polite and damn nice to be around. Modesty was a prized virtue among them Somehow they all grew up in America without becoming accustomed to "Good Job!" every time they blew their nose.

[OMG! I think I've got it! It's the Good Job praise overload that's the cause of the late (or never) blooming twentysomethings! They think they already have jobs, that just getting up in the morning and maybe making the bed and washing a cup is the job. And that we are the ones who should pay them! I really think I'm onto something here...]Italic

You've heard me go on about this before, so I won't repeat myself. but for anyone who is interested, read the Times article and see what you think of all this " theorizing". For my money, the following studies I stumbled upon offer a more interestingly nuanced view of why this generation of twentysomethings can't seem to get it together.

First let's look at jobs. The Youth Labor Market in Thirteen Developed Countries, over the last 27 years for example. This one's a doozy. Puts to rest some myths.

And here's something you might want to take note of if you're thinking of not attending or graduating from college: "The Recession Is Accelerating the Shift to Jobs Requiring Postsecondary Education." Hmmm.. This conclusion comes from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce Report of June 2010. Just chock full of interesting facts pointing to a pressing need for "youth" to have a college degree in the coming decade(s) of recession if they plan on being able to put food on the table and pay the rent, what those degrees should be related to, which industries to focus on, etc. And if, as the report states," Our Postsecondary System Will Not Produce Enough Graduates" to run the show, where will they come from? And what will those without that education do? And will be the result of not enough tertiary level (post high school) education graduates?

Who's likely to start and finish college? Which countries spend more seeing to it that their students have access to higher ed? What factors are more likely to make young people believe they're more likely to go to college? Which subject test scores are likely to reveal those expectations? How does family income affect this? The OECD 30 country report 2007 Education at a Glance may surprise you. (There are more recent ones but this one caught my eye.)

[By the way, all of these studies either directly or indirectly found funding through the good ol US government. And if all these shrink- the- government- Bush- expanded right wing congressfolk and their fans would only do their homework, they'd see that government actually produces some useful studies like these with our tax monies. Trouble is they never read them! They way they go on about it you'd think they're trying to cover up the fact they can't read!]

All this adds fuel to the firestorm around "Why isn't our children learning" to get it together, as W so eloquently queried. Read the executive summaries and see what you think.

I know one thing, and this may just be anecdotal, but I've heard it so many times it's started to take on a viral frequency, and it strikes me every time i see yet another smug, saggy pants, know nothing, "young adult" flaunting their ignorance along with their plastic water bottle, cancer defying ciggy, and latest God- what- a- waste- of- good-money, look-at-me!, no- thought- for- the= future tattoo. I have now witnessed more times than I care to count that many a twentysomething, when backed into a corner about their failure to step up, will lash out with "your generation screwed everything up for us!" Yup. Heard that just one too many times now. From several young sources, some angry, some just bitter or desperate. All cowardly. Lame excuse, that one. For doing nothing in the face of so much that needs doing.

Lazy? Lazy, scared, whatev. Exhausted with VEO, voluntary electronic overload. What's a good excuse?

Like they say in AA: any excuse will do.

That shrink in the Times might want to step out of his ivory tower and take a look at why some young folks are managing their lives just fine and others not, rather than offer the slackers a highfalutin excuse for slacking, for surrender to despair. No one ever said life was supposed to be easy. Or did they? I guess 'they' did. But anyone who's experienced it can tell you one of life's true joys is the satisfaction that comes with the dignity of hard work and a job well done. No pat on the back needed... a reward in itself. It's part of learning who you are and what you're made of. It's a humility of sorts that keeps you honest.

I remember how my dad always told us his generation had it so much harder, and they did! And we knew it. It's a bit harder for us to make the 'I worked after school through the Depression, ate dirt, and liked it' argument. Dad knew 'spoiled' when he saw it! But I also know that, like me, it gave him pleasure to spoil us now and then. Sometimes I wonder what he'd say about all this 'emerging adult' stuff.

One thing's for sure –

he'd have his shoe out while he said it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

First of all, a big birthday shoutout to Ms. Margie. Many happy returns to the gal who, along with Ms. Tee, shares the title of World's Best Laugh! May all your troubles be small ones and your joys plentiful...

And speaking of anniversaries, The Times reminds us we're comin up on one in September and that someone's makin a buck off it. (A moment of silence, or should that be 'turn it up'?) for Jimi, SVP. All along the hippie end of Tucson's Fourth Avenue was dead quiet the day he died. No one could believe it. He can't be gone... And so, a shoutout to How, that most excellent Princeton artist, for taking me on my birthday to see him at Philharmonic Hall in NYC many moons ago. What a mellifluous show of stunning masculine artistry he was. Gorgeous silk scarves tied to and flowing around every joint in his body... a vision in music.


Carryin on...
What the Sam Hill is that?

Looks like suspended glass, doesn't it? But it's strips of recycled plastic tarps sewn and taped together to make a giant net three stories high at the Portland Museum of Art, in Portland, Maine by artist Anna Hepler. It's called The Great Haul (as in a fisherman's net catch of garbage). Watch the way cool video about it here. I went in to see the show of works on paper (American Moderns) currently at the Museum; one of the best art shows I've ever seen. No lie. check it out til Sept. 12. Free on Friday evenings.

So! What else is new, hanging around my desktop and slowing down the workings of Mr. Mac? (Speaking of Mr. Mac! I saw ol' John McEnroe play Andy Roddick the other night on the Tennis Channel and he nearly whupped Roddick! At 50! You go, girl!)

Here's a BBC story lingering about since early August, but it's so inspiring I had to pass it along. Seems that sisters in Namibia are doin it for themselves again – and leavin the boys at home in the bargain. (We'll want to keep an eye on this one.) Witness the story of Johanna Kwedhi, Namibia's first trawler captain. Nice little video too. I'd work for her in a heartbeat!

So while she's out fishin, and we're dumpin an easy $ 2 million large a week (remember, that's how much that Bridge Hawker Rumsfeld told us the entire escapade would cost – pulleese!) into nonessential makework wars in the middle east, parents of public school students all over the country are being asked to foot the bill for classroom supplies ('scuse me – aren't they already paying school taxes on their property tax bill, most of them?) and while they're at it, to come on in, bring a mop, and clean the place up! What is the custodian doing? [Custodian: A useful non PC term of old, implying far too much accountability for this blameless century.] Oh, he's laid off, downsized, along with the art teacher, music teacher, gym teacher, french teacher, and school nurse {that dinosaur of cool handed comfort most schools lost decades ago).

Say whut?

(Where is my f*&#in shoe?)

Please just tell me, people: Why are we not on national strike? Why have we not all just stopped the machine until something reasonable is done? Like outlawing donations to political campaigns; take back the airwaves and demand three month election cycles the networks have to cover fairly (a word the meaning of which is shamelessly obscured by political cant). The Rethugs love to rant about reining in spending. Yet their legislative history spells it "reign"; as they have indeed 'reigned in spending' for decades, while shamelessly hawking media cant to the contrary. So, great! Rein away!! Bring all the troops and equipment home, today, not just 'combat' troops – do i look that dumb? Cut Pentagon funding in half and spend it on Medicare for everybody and school nurses and custodians and art history and music classes, on math teachers who majored in calculus. Therein might be hope for the economy to crawl out of its morass. The one we are likely to be slogging through for decades barring major changes.

And if you think you know how Washington works (or doesn't work), check out the article in the latest Vanity Fair about the mess the Obama gang faced when they check into the Bates WhiteHouse No-Tell Motel. Everyone knows I'm no Obama fan, but I detest what the Bushies and their Raygunite predecessors (including some Dems) set in motion to deliberately dismantle our government, effectively paralyzing its ability to perform its duty to the American people, to protect us from corporate Shylocks raiding our pockets and the US Treasury, our treasury. Take the time to read Purdum's piece. Bad day if you don't learn something, and there's much to learn there.

Are you in the habit of posting pictures of your fascinating life hither and yon without regard to what information you thought was hidden they might reveal to nefarious characters you might not even know? Are you Twittering, Facebooking or sending pictures from your phone to friends? Do you know what a geotag is? You probably ought to find out before you send any more pics. At the very least learn to be more careful about how you send them. Creepy, this one. Sometimes I really wish Orwell was still alive.

Here's one I really love. How did the QWERTY (wasn't that just so easy to type? Just rolled off my hand like a Hanon piano exercise!) keyboard come to be? Think about it: it's weird, and it's been around forever. Who in the world came up with this fairly universal method of transcription we all use every day? BBC thought we needed to know the answer, bless them.

It would appear that Americans are catching on to a simple philosophy that made the rounds in the sixties – Less is More. From Tiny Houses to cars that run on air to just spending less, people – (but probably not the 24% who believe Obama was born in Kenya, or the additional 28% who suspect he was born in a foreign country. OK – question: IS Hawaii a foreign country in their book? The answer to that may have frightening implications for the midterm elections) – people are figuring out that – surprise! –money does not (yea, CAN not) buy happiness. High time.

And for the writers out there, here's a little gem from the same issue of Vanity Fair mentioned above. I don't know about you, but it really cheered me up to read it, and at bottom there was a link to a good site about finding agents, etc. I put that blog link to the right here as well. Also has very good info on writing the dreaded query letter...I thought Eat, Pray, Love was a lightweight, stupid book by a woman who was bold, but not brave enough to simply go out and 'get lost in the world somewhere' rather than predestine where she would find her eating, prayer and love thangs. Sheesh, I can do that. Plan a trip.... eat good food, meet cool people, even a hunk or two.. big deal... I found the Eat part enjoyable, but that was cuz of the fooood... I've known people who buy one of those round the world tickets and just, you know, GO. No plan... Now that takes cajones. And is worth reading about. I sometimes feel my own novel is a little 'spiritually preachy' ..... sometimes.... but even so... yuck! ....and as soon as i get some time I'm gonna fix that. Which will more than likely make it less marketable.

Oh well.... Like the Beach Boys say, You gotta be true to your school...

I'll be back before the week is out with plans for a trip overseas and a classroom experience there.

It's nice to be back. Thanks for reading. Please sign in as a follower. It's easy to do and makes me look good to agents.

later, taters.

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are:
"I'm a republican and I'm here to emasculate the government" by salmobytes

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Birthdays and bustles...

Women March for Suffrage, 1913, New York City

On this, the 60th anniversary of my dear brother's birth, I offer this recent gem of a NY Times op ed from Gail Collins – who is always a treat, her eyes ever on the prize – on the 75th anniversary of American women being granted the right to cast their votes for the very folks who determine the laws that govern their futures and future of their country. I've just cut and pasted the whole thing, as it's such an inspiring reminder of how hard it can to get a group of supposedly intelligent men to take a small, albeit obvious to any thinking person, step in the direction of progressive, liberal thought. Remember, it only passed the TN House by one vote, and he needed his momma's note to back him up.

My Favorite August

The story in American history I most like to tell is the one about how women got the right to vote 90 years ago this month. It has everything. Adventure! Suspense! Treachery! Drunken legislators!

But, first, there was a 70-year slog.

Which is really the important part. We always need to remember that behind almost every great moment in history, there are heroic people doing really boring and frustrating things for a prolonged period of time.

That great suffragist and excellent counter, Carrie Chapman Catt, estimated that the struggle had involved 56 referendum campaigns directed at male voters, plus “480 campaigns to get Legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters, 47 campaigns to get constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into state constitutions; 277 campaigns to get State party conventions to include woman suffrage planks, 30 campaigns to get presidential party campaigns to include woman suffrage planks in party platforms and 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses.”

And you thought health care reform was a drawn-out battle.

The great, thundering roadblock to progress was — wait for the surprise — the U.S. Senate. All through the last part of the 19th century and into the 20th, attempts to amend the U.S. Constitution ran up against a wall of conservative Southern senators.

So the women decided to win the vote by amending every single state constitution, one by one. [an MO adopted more recently by the anti-gay marriage crowd]]

There were five referenda in South Dakota alone. Susan B. Anthony spent more time there than a wheat farmer. But she never lost hope. The great day was coming, she promised: “It’s coming sooner than most people think.” I love this remark even more because she made it in 1895.

Sometimes I fantasize about traveling back through time and telling my historical heroes and heroines how well things worked out in the end. I particularly enjoy the part where I find Vincent van Gogh and inform him that one of the unsold paintings piled up over in the corner will eventually go for $80 million. But I never imagine telling Susan B. Anthony how well American women are doing in the 21st century because her faith in her country and her cause was so strong that she wouldn’t be surprised.

The constitutional amendment that finally did pass Congress bore Anthony’s name. It came up before the House of Representatives in 1918 with the two-thirds votes needed for passage barely within reach. One congressman who had been in the hospital for six months had himself carted to the floor so he could support suffrage. Another, who had just broken his shoulder, refused to have it set for fear he’d be too late to be counted. Representative Frederick Hicks of New York had been at the bedside of his dying wife but left at her urging to support the cause. He provided the final, crucial vote, and then returned home for her funeral.

The Senate failed to follow suit. But Woodrow Wilson, a president who had the winning quality of being very vulnerable to nagging by women, pushed the amendment through the next year. The states started ratifying. Then things stalled just one state short of success.

Ninety years ago this month, all eyes turned to Tennessee, the only state yet to ratify with its Legislature still in session. The resolution sailed through the Tennessee Senate. As it moved on to the House, the most vigorous opposition came from the liquor industry, which was pretty sure that if women got the vote, they’d use it to pass Prohibition. Distillery lobbyists came to fight, bearing samples.

“Both suffrage and anti-suffrage men were reeling through the hall in an advanced state of intoxication,” Carrie Catt reported.

The women and their allies knew they had a one-vote margin of support in the House. Then the speaker, whom they had counted on as a “yes,” changed his mind.

(I love this moment. Women’s suffrage is tied to the railroad track and the train is bearing down fast when suddenly. ...)

Suddenly, Harry Burn, the youngest member of the House, a 24-year-old “no” vote from East Tennessee, got up and announced that he had received a letter from his mother telling him to “be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt.”

“I know that a mother’s advice is always the safest for a boy to follow,” Burn said, switching sides.

We celebrate Women’s Suffrage Day on Aug. 26, which is when the amendment officially became part of the Constitution. But I like Aug. 18, which is the day that Harry Burn jumped up in the Tennessee Legislature, waving his mom’s note from home. I told the story once in Atlanta, and a woman in the audience said that when she was visiting her relatives in East Tennessee, she had gone to put a yellow rose on Harry Burn’s grave.

I got a little teary.

“Well, actually,” she added, “it was because I couldn’t find his mother.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 14, 2010

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the House of Representatives was composed of only men in 1918. Jeannette Rankin, a female representative from Montana, served from 1917 to 1919

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I'm taking a little break from the blog for a week or so – be back sooner if anything strikes me, but I need a little time to regroup again and develop some kind of plan for the next few months. So here are some pictures of which I'm fond for you to ponder...

Abandoned house south of Farmington, Maine.... wistful afternoon rays lighting a field of tansy and loosestrife...

A stunning photo below by Marjorie Mills... Note her intuitively perfect balance of primary colors! click to enlarge and pretend you're a bee..

In the Uh-Oh News ...

A giant sheet of ice measuring 260 sq km (100 sq miles) has broken off a glacier in Greenland, according to researchers at a US university.

The block of ice separated from the Petermann Glacier, on the north-west coast of Greenland.

It is the largest Arctic iceberg to calve since 1962, said Prof Andreas Muenchow of the University of Delaware.

The first six months of 2010 have been the hottest on record globally, scientists have said.

Thousands of icebergs calve off Greenland's glaciers annually, but they are seldom so large.

Enjoy the last days of summer, everyone. There's a chill in the night air again here in Maine. Time to get your wood in...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Back in Maine safe and sound. Huge bouquet of thanks to all the lovely Quebecois who helped me get down the road as painlessly as possible and helped to keep a smile of gratitude on my face.

Je me souviens!! Merci!!

AND on top of all that, it barely rained at all on the six hour drive home! Now how lucky can a girl get?

With regard to the question I posited earlier this morning regarding the Great National Nasal Bilking, here's some interesting info regarding what Our Nose Knows and keeps secret more often than we acknowledge, and the subtle ways in which our sense of smell affects our thinking and emotional responses, which then determine our choices and have long lasting effects on our lives.

[Below: Someone's idea of ' a bluenose crowd' I found today searching for pics of noses. Just food for (somewhat nauseating) thought. the scary thing is that it isn't so far fetched, or even surprising, is it?]

Are we 'Paying through the nose'?

“To pay through the nose means,” as I’m sure all of us living on Planet Shopalot know, to pay an exorbitant (from the Latin for, I kid you not, “jumped the track”) price or to be gnose08.pngrossly overcharged. The exact logic of the phrase, which first appeared in English in the 17th century, is unknown. But it may well be rooted in likening being overcharged to being punched and given a bad nosebleed. This theory is strengthened by the use of “bleed” during the same period to mean “cheat or defraud.”

From The English Spot, a resource for learners of English

So here I sit on the bed in the motel. It's raining cats and dogs and sky seems fairly set on continuing in that mode for days. Can't complain, really, had plenty of gorgeous weather of late, and the breakdown did happen before rain began, so there's that. The lovely waitress at the Dame Tartine cafe this morning was tres sympa. I took the opportunity of dashing over there during a break in the rain and had a really lovely breakfast consisting of a poached egg, English muffin, homemade applesauce, cottage cheese, a platter full of seven different fresh, sweet fruits (three of each) , homefries and tea, all for ten bucks, followed by a bol du cafe au lait.

Oh ... thunder now. Swell.

Anyway, the waitress asked why I was here. I explained about the car, and we postulated awhile on why it may have chosen this particular moment to break down on me, rather than , say, in the middle of the Arizona desert, and she suggested that maybe my car just didn't want to leave Quebec. She may be onto something there.

Everyone I've encountered in this area (Montreal), almost without exception, has been helpful, tres sympa, offering me sincere smiles and assistance I didn't even have to ask for. I mean, the littlest things! They have anticipated my needs. In my experience, this is something only the well to do in the states experience with any regularity (and it's generally offered with a dollop of affected obsequiousness as well). Here a desire to be genuinely and thoroughly helpful seems more commonplace, more de riguer. People seem happy to be doing what they do for the most part, even in adversity. This is not to say they don't have their down times. As an 'outsider' how would I know? But there is a definite upliftedness to the general population. They seem quite happy to just be. They do seem to walk, bike, traverse on foot, hang outside a lot. (Don't get me wrong, I've seen the odd miscreants lounging bleary eyed on the sidewalk or digging through the trash at ATMs. But that's rare, and I've walked a lot of the city now.) People are 'willingly, eagerly helpful' is probably the best way I can describe it. I don't get that treatment in the states generally, at least in Maine. What I get most places in Maine is more often than not a general reluctance, truculence even, when I need more information or to be waited on.

As I sat by the window gazing out at the water enjoying my breakfast this morning, I couldn't help but wonder if it was me or them, this attitude difference. It's a chicken and egg phenomenon ... or is it? Am I more open and friendly here, thus inviting warmth from whomever I'm speaking to? That would imply a certain bias on my part which I don't really think I entertain. It's my conclusion, based on socioeconomic indicators and anecdotal evidence, that by almost any measurement, the quality of life is simply better here for the majority of people. Free health care alone could account for that - why do you think the US Medicare crowd is such a feisty bunch? – but there's more. (And don't think that as I write corporate power brokers aren't trying to undermine that quality of life in Canada in the name of a free market. In England too!) People tell me education is more affordable here. Average (even retail) jobs are plentiful and pay decent (from the horse's mouth). Such a reassuring quality of life would make anyone more open and willing when it comes to sharing what they have, information, being helpful, etc. because, unlike the average american these days, they don't feel pressed quite so hard to simply survive .

Not to mention, the average food options are just so much better here. I mean, find me an average small town (not a tourist town) in the states (I've just been through quite a few and was hard pressed to find ANY little cafes or diners to eat in, and I always ask the locals) where a decent meal (not processed food, but healthy and tasty and made with an eye to care) is available for a reasonable price normal people can afford. Generally speaking, you won't. That industry is dead. Once again: Is it the chicken or the egg? Is it because Americans demand only fast and processed formulaic food? Or has that mega-industry (second largest private employer in the US is McDonald's) simply put the diners and cafes out of business with their two dollar meals... meals of what though? Here in Canada all the McDos serve only Canadian beef. Or so they say on the telly. And bovine growth hormones, etc., are not permitted in ANY milk here.


The little choices and opportunities you're presented with on a daily basis, things most people take for granted or are unaware they lack, are the foundation on which you build your day, your outlook, the way you respond to life. If those choices suck, what do you have ? If you're aware that those choices are limited to limp compromises of the real thing or something viably better (because you know what that is), doesn't every low quality compromise you make present a challenge to your spirit to stay perky and hopeful? To maintain some standard of dignity? If not, why are we working so hard ? Have we as a nation become slaves to a downtrodden mentality?

Of course all this speculation takes place in context – the context of a US that sits on a ball of water and other land masses spinning around in space and heating up. Not sure if I were in Mali I'd cast any form of judgment on whatever coffee I was offered. Judgment would then come down to the smile (or not, and if not, why not) on the face of the person offering it. And why is that? Because here we KNOW what's good. It's just plain laziness or greed that offers us less for our money. And that riles me. And a riled me wants to either escape to gentler pastures or open another cafe so I'll have a place to eat things I like.

So maybe the waitress is right. Maybe my car just doesn't wanna go back to the land where there is no place to enjoy a nice bol du cafe au lait for the simple reason of either ignorance or sloth – or both. Anecdotally speaking, this is why we're headed down the economic ladder. Because we settle for 'inadequate' and pay for it in money and spirit through the nose.

Sorry no photos. I've taken some but left the chord to laptop in car. Will post some later.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The charming hameau of Chambly, Quebec on the bassin of the Riviere Richelieu. Great people (except the bar crowd, not as friendly there; I hear tell Canadian beer is 5% alcohol. Maybe that accounts for all the red noses and bleary-eyed looks, and the bottles are huge as well.)

click pics to enlarge
Salade of fresh greens, artichoke and calamatas. soooo good.

boat bench

Well! You just never know what life has in store for ya, and dass da trufe. so sayeth Buckwheat, or someone...

Here I am stranded at the Mon Repos Motel in Chambly, Quebec, not 30 miles east of Montreal. I just wanna

give a huge shoutout to the young man, Stephan Renard, who rescued me by the side of the road, whose job, by the way, it is to do that very thing for stranded motorists (and you wonder why their economy is doing fine?), when my friggin alternator decided it had had enough of travel in the middle of hot, bumper to bumper traffic on Autoroute 10 East today. Yes, the very thing that keeps your battery juiced, dead as a doornail. And just when I was really feelin the ol On The Road Again groove pulsing through my veins. The car died, get this, right in front of Stephan, who was pulled over on the shoulder, apparently waiting for my car to die . [FYI, if you try to recharge your battery and and alternator reads over 16 volts (in a Volvo anyway) you'll fry the rest of the electrical system. ] So Stephan sends me and the tow truck to darling Monsieur Bazinet at the Voie Rapide repair shop in Richelieu and WAALAA, my new alternator will be in tomorrow and repaired by 11 a.m.


I am so very grateful. Here's a little rule of thumb for travelers who complain about how mean "foreigners" are to them in other countries and but who don't bother to try and speak the native language at all (travel makes us, the visitors, the foreigners, non?): Make sure when you travel in countries whose native tongue isn't American English that you can speak at least as much of their language as they speak of English. Then you'll be treated well. Make the effort. That's all they ask: acknowledgment that when you're in their country, your native tongue isn't their native tongue.

Kind of a no brainer, but I've heard many an American complain when people in other countries seem to resent their demands and don't speak English, as if there was any friggin reason they should if you can't be bothered to try and learn their language as well. You are after all in their country...

OK, sun's back out, Rain stopped. Gonna go exploring Chambly on the riviere Richelieu.

PS... I will NEVER go anywhere out of country again without getting a local SIM card.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

So, come sit under the umbrella with me for a last, creamy bol of cafe au lait, done just right, rich, hot and lovely. Who cares that the waitress is an airhead? It's a glorious day and that's enough. Sad to be leaving, glad to be moving once more. When I got my hair done the other day, the coiffeuse asked me what I was doing in Montreal and I said I was housesitting, having sold my house, etc., maybe on to Europe ... Immediately she replies, "You're a Sagittarius!" Why yes, said I. How did you know? "Because you love to travel!" Well, yes, I have loved the idea of that all my life but haven't really been able to do much of that until now.. .. and so

La Croissanterie cafe near the house..

... I bid farewell to Montreal, new acquaintances, and the Toi, Moi cafe tomorrow... It's been an interesting experience. But I am in travel mode and must carry on to whatever tomorrow has in store for me.. . Scandalous isn't it, at my age, to be so 'rootless'. So irresponsible! I who have put down such tenacious, green, sincere, and glorious roots in the earth and nurtured them to fruition for the enjoyment of all. So I leave it a little better than I find it. Not a bad legacy. Part Cherokee, that's what that instinct is about I bet... Begs the question of course "What is 'better'?"
It's just intuitive I think .
It's in your jeans.
Recently discovered Rue Labadie

Front yard water features are common here...

Tai Chi in the parc

“You know ... it is a hard world for poets.”
Luciano Barbera -- Italian maker of fine fabrics and bespoke suits in today's NY Times.

before and after [anyone see an attitude difference besides me?]

I'm not going to spoil my last day here with a tirade about the trivia awaiting commentary on my desktop: like whether or not we should build schools in afghanistan instead of paying soldiers; or the bizarre incidence of maternal infanticide in France; or whether or not we really are a nation of homeowners (I think Ewe Reinhardt is a brainy doll); or why women are choosing not to have bebes; or frankly, even though my late sister Peanut's favorite pit stop made the front page of the NY Times this week, whether or not traffic in Wiscasset is backed up for miles (cuz I know how to get around it now); or how to find a nanny or sitter; or why the US is lagging so badly in college graduation stats compared to other developed countries. In fact, unless something manages to get a rise out of me in the next few days, I think I'll take a break from this page and see if I can't work on some other pages. Backatcha in a week or so...

Au revoir, Quebec! A la prochaine.... Merci pour la gentillesse. Je me souviens. Je reviendrai.