Sunday, October 26, 2008

Taken for granted.

On my recent business trip to New York, I was able to meet up with a dearly missed Ithica urban family member, whom I had not seen in over ten years. When the ever-fashionable Donna, who lives in Manhattan, found out that I was coming, she offered to shepherd me around during my stay. It was wonderful to be able to meet up with her and shoe-baru around the town on foot. At one point, she proclaimed that she felt she took her beloved city for granted some times, but that seeing NY through my eyes was making her appreciate it again. What’s not to love and appreciate about NY? It is easily one of the most well-laid out cities, and has some of the most famous architecture, restaurants, museums and people contained within a very small radius. I was quite shocked at how, if one really wanted to, everything could be reached on foot. Ah, to walk in a city again…

Donna and I covered as much ground as we could, from The Village (Greenwich-which is where we spent a wonderful couple of hours and some serious money at the Blue Ribbon Wine Bar, one of NY’s smallest bars), to SoHo (where we saw a movie being filmed-no one famous), the edge of Tribeca (former home of my deceased ex-boyfriend, John Kennedy, Jr.), Little Italy (smelled terrific, but too full of hipsters), the Bowery (which is the home of the famously loud, former apartment of Donna’s boyfriend, the Russian), St. Mark’s (haven for young runaways), the Chelsea neighborhood (which was my temporary neighborhood for the weekend), and Upper Manhattan (pure pulse of traffic, museums, and Broadway). One evening was spent at Mario Battali’s restaurant Otto, which was located in The Village, just a stone’s throw from Washington Square Park. There we shared the most delicate thin crust margarita pizza, a beautiful arugula salad, and a fabulously tasty vanilla gelato with a shot of espresso poured over the top (you know me and coffee poured over ice cream…yum). I was also able to finally meet the illusive Russian boyfriend, a handsome and graceful charmer who sported a perfectly tailored pinstriped suit-jacket, jeans and a man bag…and perfectly coiffed hair. He was only in for a moment, but for that entire moment, I knew that I was in the presence of a well-manscaped European man…he looked every bit the part. Immediately following our Italian meal, we hoofed it to the Brooklyn Bridge and, surrounded by the magic of a perfectly breezy autumn evening and lit up by the lights of the city (and the fine spirits we had consumed with dinner), we walked across the bridge and back. It was a moment to remember. Words of Whitman’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry carried on the breeze:
“And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence
are more to me, and more in my meditations, than
you might suppose.”
So Walt had been thinking of Donna and me all those years ago!?!

Donna and I ended our sadly short time together only hours before I was to be at the airport for my return flight. I met her outside MoMA, and she whisked me past the queing line of tourists, in the doors like a VIP. You see, Donna had a special privilege pass via her employer, a pass that would allow her and a guest free admission to almost all of the museums in NY. I had witnessed the full power of this pass only two days earlier when she had rather quickly gotten us into the International Center of Photography to see the frighteningly in-your-face and incredibly moving works of photojournalists Susan Meiselas, Cornell Capa and Eugene Smith. Getting us into MoMA was nothing for Donna. She sashayed up to the desk, flashed her ID, and bam! we were in. For the next hour and a half, I felt Warhol, Pollock, Duchamp, Monet, Picasso, Chagall, Klimpt, and Giacometti pumping through my blood like drugs. And not long after, I found myself on a plane, returning to the South. I left NY feeling invigorated by the good food, the good company and the healthy dose of art. And I left Donna seeing her city in a different light. It’s sometimes good to be a tourist in your own neck of the woods…

So yesterday, a friend and I found ourselves playing tourists in Birmingham…off on mini-holiday to see the Leonardo’s at the Birmingham Museum of Art. All the way from Turin, Italy, this particular collection of sketches was something that neither of us wanted to miss…it was possibly a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit. I have to say that it was a spectacular day, and not just because of the Leonardo’s. The museum was also hosting a collection of New Deal Farm Security Administration photos taken by Marion Post Wolcott. Her photos captured the social and economic extremes of life in the rural South during that time. An old share cropper sitting in a cane chair, railroad tracks of mending on his pants, fingers missing from his time in the field or mill; jars and jars of fruits and vegetables, canned and shelved, a poor woman’s pantry art installation; a row of well-dressed race spectators off-set by a row of legs clad in trousers made of down-on-your-luck, standing in line for…food? What a glorious collection of photos to see. And it was all free of charge. Imagine having such a beautifully cared for museum, a museum that tastefully houses meaningful art, and exist just down the road about an hour away…amazing that it took so long for us to make our way down there…no excuse. Mustn’t take such things for granted.

As a post script: I now own some Ras-el hanout, therefore I will be making some pork brochettes soon. I also have some other treats... And, if anyone cares to know, Turkish Delight really is delightful in a strange chocolate-covered-jelly sort of way. And as its packaging alludes, it really is full of Eastern Promise.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Thermodynamics of Hell

In light of the Milton 400 Paradise Lost Pub Crawl in November, I wanted to reprint this favorite urban university myth. Supposedly, this was an actual question given on a chemistry mid term at the University of Washington:

Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?
Most of the chemistry majors wrote proofs using Boyle's Law, (gas cools off when it expands and heats up when it is compressed) or some variant. One student, however, wrote the following:

First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate that souls are moving into Hell and the rate they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for how many souls are entering Hell, let’s look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.

This leaves two possibilities:

If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until All Hell Breaks Loose.

If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell Freezes Over.

So which is it? If we accept the postulate given to me by Ms. Teresa Banyan during my Freshman year,"... it will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you," and take into account the fact that I still have not succeeded in sleeping with her, then #2 cannot be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is Exothermic and will not freeze.

The student received the only "A" given.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

On the road, and through Gadsden, Alabama…

A quote from Uncle Walt, this one from Song 48 of Song of Myself:

“Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that where-soe-er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.”

On September 24, he came walking up to the library, like a modern Whitman, or Kerouac, or Jesus, on his way from San Francisco to Boston, not yet favoring his bloody Achillies tendons (not figuratively or Britishly bloody, but literally bloody from his new high-topped trail boots). Like so many profits through the ages before him, he was carrying a message with him, many messages really. But they were not messages from his own voice, they were messages from the people he had met along his way. You see, B. J. Hill was walking across America to “bring the voice of the people to our next president,” and he was coming to collect messages (big and small, those whispered and those shouted) from people in Gadsden. And in his well-traveled book, he collected our messages.

Now, unless you’ve found yourself in the position of having no choice but to sleep outside (and some of you out there are saying, “But Carol, he made the choice to walk across America, so he knew he’d have to sleep outside…” yes, I understand that, but nonetheless, play along with me for a minute), you don’t know how happy the offering of a room for the evening can make a person (the thought of a hot shower, a place to wash your clothing, an actual bed to sleep in is almost too good to be true). When Gadsden Times reporter Andy Powell mentioned to library director Amanda Jackson and Councilman Ben Reed, “Wouldn’t it be nice if B.J. could stay at a cabin at the Falls…,” it was done. Had it been me instead of B.J., I would’ve thought myself Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and spent the evening comparing the cabin at Noccalula Falls to Xanadu, and Black Creek to Alph, that sacred river that “ran through caverns measureless to man,” as I am a firm believer in entertaining hyperbole (Mr. Hill may have been doing just that later that evening, we’ll never know for sure unless he fesses up one day).

The cabin must have been a success, for the next morning B.J. arrived refreshed back at the library to resume his trek at the point he left off the day before (no cheating allowed when you’re the Walk America 2008 Guy, you see). Last I saw of him, he, several messages heavier, was heading out our back door, having just eaten a piece of sweet potato pie (courtesy of the Ebony Enchantress), and walking in the direction of the Pitman Theatre on Broad Street.

BJ, we want to thank you for making Gadsden a stop on your route across America, and good luck on the remainder of your journey. We will be thinking of you as you eventually head back north, and as the weather begins to change. We hope that all those miles and all those words do not weigh heavy upon you. We wish you many comfortable sofas upon which to surf, and lots of communion along the way with interesting and kind people.

You may follow B.J. Hill’s journey yourself through his website at Walk America 2008.

Another journey…

I want to mention the passing of a friend, Jennifer Pritchett. Jennifer was a mate to my sis back in high school, a popular girl who would be friends with you whether you were popular or not. Jennifer was what a lot of people should be, someone who was optimistic, funny, caring, and kind. She and my sis supported each other through their battles with cancer. We will miss Jennifer.

About to read: one of the many books borrowed from E (and hoping that he forgives the marginalia I leave behind like rabbit poop…d’oh! At least it’s in pencil)
Listening to: Frank Sinatra, the Reprise Collection.
Cooking: Salmon with roasted red pepper cream sauce from my new tapas cookbook (I hope I don’t eff it up).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Word of the day...

After seeing Kris and Ben riding along Walnut to day care, they rolled up (whilst honking that especially manly old-school bike horn of theirs) in the back parking lot of the liberry to say good morning. Ben was so very sunny in his special way, and was characteristically oozing charm from every pore. When Tami came out to go about her business, Kris and Ben began chatting good morning with her too. It was discovered by Tami and myself that, according to Team Catoe, today’s Word of the Day was Gooder (as in, “Wow, that grant you just wrote could have been gooder.”), and that yesterday’s Word of the Day was Wiener. Our task was to use our Word of the Day many times as we possibly could (and, I’m sure, as naturally as we could).

As we watched Team Catoe ride off down 7th, Ben blowing kisses and waving goodbye, Tami queried, “Do you think they would mind stopping by every morning with a Word of the Day…”