Monday, March 28, 2011

R.I.P. Joe Bageant (1946-2011)

Joe Bageant, to his friends and readers, was known as a 'loveable curmudgeon.'

That's a strange word, "curmudgeon." It's generally defined as meaning an  ill-tempered, difficult, cantankerous, 'crusty' kind of person--usually referring to an old man.  Joe wasn't all that old but yes, one could say 'curmudgeon' fits.  His writings were often what you'd call cantankerous; sharply worded grumblings spewed forth in passionate bursts that rattled one's complacency.    But, as Jon Winokur once said, "Perhaps curmudgeons have gotten a bad rap, in  the same way that the messenger is blamed for the message: They have the temerity to comment on the human condition without apology. They not only refuse to applaud mediocrity, they howl it down with morose glee....   Curmudgeons are mockers and debunkers ... Their awareness is a curse...   Their versions of the truth unsettle us, and we hold it against them, even though they soften it with humor."

I admit it, Joe Bageant's writings unsettled me. When I first looked at one of his columns I kind of winced--at the liberal use of the F word (it jarred my eye's ears, so to speak); he called feces: 'shit'; derriere: 'ass' and highly annoyed: 'pissed', spontaneous utterances of the sort that used to get bleeped out on TV, for example) but--damn, what he wrote made sense, was what I myself often suspected or thought or felt but was too timid to tackle writing about, and certainly not that bluntly.

Joe told it like it is,  no holds barred.  I found myself going back, again and again, reading his  take on events and people and issues which helped me sometimes see the story behind the story, and an intriguing analysis from a perspective I'd not considered.  And he made me laugh, out loud.   Joe woke me up with his columns, made me see other sides to a thing, from more than one perspective.

The same things that bothered him about certain matters also bothered me:

The Pentagon and the administration hail depleted uranium shells and armor as a breakthrough in modern warfare. U.S. Representative  Christopher Shays said that any health effects the Iraqis suffer from  depleted uranium -- kidney damage, lung cancer, mounting birth defects  -- "pale in comparison with the benefits of regime change in their  country." Well then! Fry my ass on a plutonium skillet! Bring on the  bunker busters! Iraqi and Afghani mothers seem unimpressed with regime  change, even as they weep over twisted, blind infants. [From a posting by Joe on 5/23/05]

It wasn't just his choice of topics--it was the sustained outrage at and concern about things and the evident passion behind the words that resonated, from this (as Joe once referred to himself) "imperfect synthesis of snot-assed liberal and redneck Southern dirt eater."
[From a posting on 3/11/05.]

News of his passing saddened me.  In "Staring Down the Jackals," one of Bageant's posts from 2004, he wrote "There are still some of us old bastards around who have seen enough in our lifetimes to call things what they really are."  He described, in refreshing clarity, what some of us feared America was turning into but we couldn't say it, at least not in certain venues.  In August of that same year, he wrote about the "repressive stench" in Washington, saying "If the worst does happen in my lifetime, I want history to record and my  grandchildren to know that I gave honest voice to the chill I felt in  the air during my times."

Click here to sample The Best of Joe Bageant essays. 

When I heard about Joe's passing in an email this morning, I started thinking for some reason, about Molly Ivins,  newspaper columnist, political commentator, humorist and author, who died of cancer four years ago.  Like Joe Bageant, Molly used satire as a 'weapon of the powerless against the powerful'. Critic James Thurman said of her, " When Ivins writes, there has to be a jalapeno in every line." She, like Joe Bageant, "raised hell," with her words. 

I like to think maybe they'll somehow connect with each other in the Great Hereafter, as fellow former hell raisers, maybe even get to go deer hunting with Jesus (title of one of Joe's books).

I thought, too, this morning, of an elderly friend, J.F., who passed away some years ago in Vermont. Like Molly Ivins, J.F. too was what they called "feisty" (perhaps the female equivalent of 'curmudgeon'), where 'feisty' is defined both as spirited, spunky, plucky, full of animation, energy or courage (if you like the person); and pushy, ill-tempered, pugnacious, touchy and aggressive (if you don't). There's 'feisty' charming and 'feisty' annoying, apparently, depending on the observer's perception.

My friend J.F., too, was outspoken, that is, she spoke out, and loudly, about stuff that bothered her.  Not just the little stuff (like a poorly cooked, tasteless meal), but larger things--like a caretaker going through her jewelry box and stealing a family heirloom; the outrageous monthly charges for her tiny, rented room; or the determined, stunningly cruel actions of certain family members and sometimes, of mankind in general. She, too, was knowledgeable and articulate ...and funny. She chuckled even at herself, telling me one time that she was tired, she wanted to die--but apparently "Neither God nor the Devil want me.  So here I am, what can I do, ha ha ha ha ha ha," and she'd toss back her head and roar with laughter.

Joe Bageant, on the unwakefulness around us:

Few can truly grasp the fullness of the danger because there is no way they can get their minds around it, no way to see the world in its entirety. The tadpole cannot conceive of the banks of the pond, much less the wooded watershed that feeds it. But old frogs glimpse of it.

Still, there is choice available, even a superior choice -- the moral one. Accept the truth and act upon it. Take direct action to eliminate human suffering, and likewise to eliminate our own comfort. We can say no to scorched babies in Iraq. We can refuse to drive at all and refuse to participate in a dead society gone shopping. We can quit being so addicted to the rationality and embrace the spirit...

This sort of suggestion, I've discovered, isn't all that enthusiastically embraced by most.)

All the green energy sources and eating right and voting right cannot  fix  what has been irretrievably ruined, but only make life amid the  ruination slightly more bearable. Species gluttony is nearly over and  we've eaten the earth and pissed upon its bones. Not because we are  cruel by nature (though a case might be made for stupidity) but because  the existence of consciousness necessarily implies each of us as its  individual center, the individual point of all experience and thus all  knowing. The accumulated personal and collective wounds fester and  become fatal because there is no way to inform the world that we must  surrender our assumptions, even if we wanted to. Which we do not because  assumptions are the unseen cultural glue, the DNA of civilization. If  we did so, the crash would be immediate.

No one yet knows with absolute certainty the outcome of our terrible  common plunge toward truth. But even in the worst of times, there is  glory in the sheer electricity of life ...  Life is never completely joyless...

What could be better than a meaningful life during meaningless times? 

  [Excerpts from The Ants of Gaia: "It's only the end of the world; quit bitching"].
My friend, J. F., was not a writer, yet I remembered the words of our many little conversations, as I have of some of Joe's and Molly's written words. They made an impact.  J.F. taught me that you can depart this life, carrying sadness, yet still look back on life with fondness, as in  "Life was a hoot.  It was .... interesting.  I had my say. Thanks for the ride."

 Molly Ivins reminded me that it's not easy, calling attention to darkness, or to an injustice--sometimes you just have to take to the streets banging pots and pans, if that's what it takes.  She meant that literally, by the way; but one can also bang with words--words that break down barriers of inattention, walls of indifference, words that make you perk up, that seep into your consciousness so you can't ignore them, words that compel you to think, and sometimes to act.

 Joe Bageant's words did that for me.  Paraphrased from the previous long quote:

~ ~ Find the truth and act on it.

~ ~ Do what you can to help others who
      who are suffering.

~ ~ You can say No to something you   
      feel is wrong; don't stay silent.

~ ~ Even if you live in meaningless times, 
      make your life meaningful.

So, thinking of Joe Bageant today, and Molly Ivins, and my friend, J.F.--feisty, funny spirits all (who some people would describe as "characters")--what they have in common, for me especially, is that they've made a difference, made me more aware, unknowingly encouraged me to stand up and fight back, make my words and actions count, find humor in even the darkest situations.  I applaud their indomitable spirit, their gutsy gumption, their wholehearted "Bring-it-on!-no-matter-what involvement in life -- but most of all, their unending resolve, to-the-very-end, to keep stoking that inner fire, still burning, still caring, still 'speaking'.


*Joe Bageant's last book, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir comes out on March 30th and is available for pre-order here

*Remembering Joe Bageant, on Dangerous Minds.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Poetry Can Save the World

Poetry can save the world, by transforming consciousness.*

          Say something no one else is saying, 
          or say something in a new way ... or both.

 Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Illustration by
Akiko Kato, with permission

I am signaling you through the flames.

                    You have to decide if bird cries are cries of ecstasy
                     or cries of despair
                                                         Be subversive!

          Strive to change the world in such a way
                    that there’s no further need to be a dissident.

                                    Read between the lives, and write between the lines.

                    Be committed to something outside yourself.
                                                Be passionate about it.

Speak up, act out! Silence is complicity.

Wake up! The world’s on fire!

 [Excerpts from "Poetry as Insurgent Art", 2007.]

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, today, has 
reached the age of 92!

In 2007, at the age of 88, Ferlinghetti was interviewed by Amy Goodman at Democracy Now.  Here are some excerpts.

Ferlinghetti, on nuclear warfare:

We took a train over to Nagasaki. It was just a few hours away. And I think it must have been about seven weeks after the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. And there had been time to "clean things up" for some time, but still it was a devastating scene. It made me an instant pacifist. There was just three square miles of mulch with human hair and bones sticking out, and on the horizon a sort of—a landscape you’d find in the painting of Anselm Kiefer these days: blackened unrecognizable shapes sticking up on the horizon and teacups full of flesh, teacups with flesh melted onto the teacup. Oh, we had no idea what—no one knew what radiation was.

On the state of the world [four years ago]:

It’s rushing over the cliff... Congress is totally ignoring the ecological crisis fast ascending on us ... people think that, "Oh, the calamities aren’t going to happen in my little corner right now. It might happen fifty years or a hundred years from now. I mean, my house isn’t going to be swept away—or my life isn’t going to change. I’m always going to be able to drive to work." But it could change overnight. The ecosystem is so finely balanced that it could go out of balance overnight and crash like a computer by tomorrow morning.

Ferlinghetti tells Goodman he has written a new poem and "just has to get this out":

"Pity the Nation," after Khalil Gibran.
Pity the nation whose people are sheep,
and whose shepherds mislead them.
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced,
and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice,
except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as hero
and aims to rule the world with force and by torture.
Pity the nation that knows no other language but its own
and no other culture but its own.
Pity the nation whose breath is money
and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.
Pity the nation—oh, pity the people who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away.
My country, tears of thee, sweet land of liberty.

Advice to young poets:

Do you have to be a poet? If you don’t have to be a poet, be a prose writer. You’ll get further faster. Poetry—there’s probably more poetry published today than any time in the history of the world. Nevertheless, there is this—people think they have this blindness when they see a line in the typography of poetry, and it just blocks them. So if you can say the same thing in prose, you’ll probably be better off. For instance, this, my little book, Poetry as Insurgent Art, that’s written in prose, trying to break down the barrier.

[To hear an audio recording of the complete interview (where he talks about Kerouac, Howl, the Beats, and meeting Castro, etc. and reads several of his poems), click here.]


Saturday, March 19, 2011

First Loves, Nostalgia, & Songs That Say "Look!"

"First Song"
From changes that I've been through
and new ones I'm comin' to
You were my first song
and I still ....
At sixteen, I discovered I had very strong feelings for my second cousin, dreamt even of marrying him.  He was from the city, I from a small town in the mountains, to which he'd arrived one season,  to go hunting with his uncle.  I never knew about this cousin before and--it was love at first sight, as they say.  He turned my world upside down.  It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, as if fate had arranged this accidental meeting and this boy, and nobody else, was who I was supposed to be with, forever.  "So this is what Love feels like" I would have said if I could have put it into words. I had read about love in books.  Schoolgirl crushes and fleeting infatuations, those I knew.  But this--this seemed different.

I was so shy I could barely speak to him, let alone figure out how to get to see him again.  I didn't imagine him as simply a hoped-for boyfriend; no, this boy was to be the Love of My Life.  Now not only would this have been a long-distance courtship (had anything come of it), but my family and the Church would have absolutely forbidden it.  

I saw him perhaps only two other times within three years, and always in the company of relatives.  Yet from the moment we met, I was already planning our future life together.  I once asked the priest (not naming names, of course) if in certain circumstances a dispensation could be granted for second cousins to marry, realizing that whatever the answer, I was determined to find a way to make it work (only one of my then-emerging little inner rebellions against the head-shaking, finger-pointing "You Shall Nots" of my youth).  Not that my cousin had any inkling of this, of course; my love for him remained my own deep, dark secret. He was older than me, and when he was stationed overseas, I sent him little care packages of gum and candy and cigarettes and magazines.  He wrote back only once, cousin to cousin: a brief, scribbled thanks to someone he barely remembered.

Nostalgia, that gnawing ache for what was or wistful wish that what was had been different. I wish, for example, sometimes when I revisit that old memory, that that boy cousin could have known how I felt about him--and reciprocated.  But on second thought, I might have ended up married to him today, and oh  what different paths my life would have taken!  How she suffered, that poor girl, for this unrequited love.  "Take heart," I whisper to the then-me in the memory film.  "He is not 'the one.'"  She, of course, won't listen.  No one can take that dream from her.  I won't even try.  He will, for all time and eternity remain her first 'one true love', a dark-haired, Slavic boy with beautiful eyes whose adult counterpart would probably roar with laughter at this telling.

Apropos the final line of that song above, it is not my second cousin I "still love".  I don't know him and the boy he was no longer exists.  It's not even the immortalized version of him in my memory.  What I love--is the memory itself, and the wave of emotion it still brings when I run the little mental film.  It takes me There again, to that one moment, and I feel again what I felt then, this enormous, exhilarating, overwhelming rush of feeling that I've been swept up in something so wonderful, so magnificent, so special, just being in the loved one's presence.  "So this is what "Love" is!"  A favorite, private memory,  locked in the heart, till death do us part.  My adult me finds this hopelessly sentimental.  But "I still ...

 "Streets of London"

McTell's more well-known song, "Streets of London":  At 4:08 minutes in the video, a now much-older McTell responds to a sidewalk interviewer in Paris who asks how he feels about this song (which was written when McTell was part of an alternative culture), in that i has since gone on to achieve such massive appeal.

McTell:  "A little bit weird, actually," he laughs.  "But if you're going to issue something as a pop song," he says, "let's hope it's a pop song that makes people have a think--because there's a wonderful world of music and words out there that are not just what they sound like when you first hear them.  They're worth looking at again."

I first heard McTell sing in a little dive in Davis Square, Somerville (Mass.), and remember that every single person in attendance knew all the words to every song, and sang along with him.  When I listened to "Streets of London"  that night, I didn't see the homeless people he sings about--the picture that popped into my mind was of a rainy, empty, darkened London street in fog, images sliding out from an imagined scene from one of Arthur Conan Doyle's novels, maybe--because the melody, sound of the singer's voice and cozy atmosphere of the 30 or so people there (some of whom had come a great distance to hear McTell sing), obscured the meaning of the lyrics.  McTell tells the interviewer that poverty and homelessness (in Paris, where he was made aware of it, and in London, the setting for his song) that  "This situation is not just confined to this city--it's everywhere."

When a song outlives its composer/performer (also touched on in the interview) ... topic for another time.  I'm enjoying a little melancholic respite listening to two old, remembered songs as the TV news excitedly warns that "Particles from radioactive plumes from Japan arrive in California!!!"  I'm 'having a think', as McTell calls it, and thinking maybe one cannot live in a constant state of Fear. (That's Fear with a capital F, as opposed to the more common, little-bitty fears.)  Horror over the suddenly homeless in Japan (Africa, Haiti, and elsewhere) grabbing attention, while in our own towns and cities, some are into their 8th, 9th, 10th season of homelessness; an ongoing, seemingly permanent state of living--there, here--"outside," being "with out."  Re-listening to McTell's 2nd song made me think of that again this morning.

Out my window this morning, the sky so brilliant blue it sings, sunlight spreading everywhere.  The snow's begun its slow, slow descent into oblivion.  Thin patches of browny-green grass inch out from under the softened snowpile across the street, along the shed out back, near the walk by the fence.  More birds.  The air's different.

Spring is coming!!!!  Enfin!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

After the Quake

So many uprooted, displaced, devasted, suffering people--not just in Japan but all around the world.  That you could lose everything, all at once, including all the members of your family and--no time to grieve because 100% of your attention now goes to merely surviving. 

I am again struck by the utter unpredictability, and sheer fragility, of life.  (And the amazing stories of courage and will--for example, the 83-year old Japanese woman who outran the tsunami, by getting on her bicycle and determindedly peddling away.) 

In these days the "after" of the enormity of what happened on March 11 is still sinking in. Every single day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It's Time for You to Go Now. PLEASE.

What I said to the snow a few days ago.  It's been a month since I posted the "No Place to Put It" pictures.  Then we got more.

The backyard piles got higher.

Underneath--the front steps, walkway to house,
and street sidewalk all wait for spring thaw.

From the kitchen window

 No path to next door neighbor

 View from other kitchen window

 Our yards not passable at the moment.

 At the back door, Pepé & Moog

Path to shed

I am happy to report that after a day and a half of rain by the weekend, the snow is gone from the roads and some sidewalks have begun to be not only visible, but actually now walkable.  The icycles melted.  Our street got all slushy, slippery and sloppy.  Then it got colder and everything froze again.  The piled-up snow, only an inch or so less high, alas, remains.  It should all be gone by mid-April (though one year there was still a stubborn patch of it still around on April 17th).  Little by little.  Meanwhile, time to start getting the trays and saved seeds from last year ready for indoor planting for this summer's garden.  I hope the bees come back this year.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fun with Harmony #4

What if you were

        feigning artness ...

just you and some fat tree limb
        (which thinks it's a distant mountain),
the page itself
struggling to 
        align ...

Would Mr Doob say you had



*Experimenting again with Mr. Doob's  Harmony Drawing Program.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fear, Wisdom, Honor, Humility

Mural on side of a wall, downtown Trois-Rivières

On the lower left side, a passage from Proverbs 15: 33: "The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility" (King James version).  This is, I discovered, one of 11 "Fear of the Lord" biblical  pronouncements listed on the Internet regarding "End Times" prophecies.  I don't know if those thin orange spikes at earth's edge are meant to be souls being transported to heaven or missiles incinerating the planet (they could be fireworks or starbursts), or if the back of the man's head exploding out what looks like elongated, pointy blue pen-nibs, thin loopy wires and tiny crucifixes represents fear, wisdom, honor or humility.  Everybody who looks at it sees something different.  He doesn't look afraid to me. He meets the graphic disintegration of his skull with stoicism and resolve, exhibiting  no more than a grimace or gritty flinch. Whatever, this warrior can take it. 

Must art be interpreted? Absent the (explanatory?) reference scripted at the bottom of the mural, viewers, it seems come to entirely different impressions.  One bystander, who could not decipher the English words, thought it had something to do with racism. He saw "a red man running".  (Disclaimer: That I saw what looked like elongated, oddly formed pen nibs is only because I spent half an hour recently looking at pen nibs, all sizes and shapes, but none as uneven or exaggerated as those emanating from this painted man's head.  I did not make this connection when I first took this photo two years ago.  Which confirms that how we look at a thing, and what we see (of the same image or object, imagined or real) can change, over time.  And not just objects or images, but people, ideas, beliefs, even ourselves.)  Is that what they call 'evolving perception'? Perception that "grows", "matures", "evolves".  So if someone's perception is closer to the truth of a thing, does that mean another's (less-than close) is less 'evolved'?  And how, if at all, would that apply to the world of art? 

The words of that proverb could apply, not just to the painting itself but to the response to this artist's creation: i.e., out of someone's need to reference Fear, comes Wisdom; out of a painted face on a wall, a hint of what Pride (which is not the same thing as Honor) might feel like; out of amazement at the unexpected insights a stumbled-upon created work of art can bring, Humility.  (But somebody named Anonymous once said "When you become aware of your humility, you've lost it."  I meant to say that the impact random resonances of images have on us is sometimes humbling.  Hmmm ... Humility and humbling both start with a hum ... interesting.)  

In the painting a bald man's head spews forth a gush of steely rods (or pen nibs), tiny crosses and thin steely loops heading West. My fingers stumble over keyboarded sentences to express this perception.  Neither  the annotated biblical reference the artist appended as a possible guide to the 'meaning' of his brush-stroked mural  nor my probably quirky, very personal impressions have anything to do with evolution or truth, in the way most people think of those words.  It is what it is. Period.  (Why am I suddenly reminded of former Pres. Bill Clinton on the witness stand trying to debate what the word "is" is, ha ha.)  

I like art that makes me wonder, that invites connections, that appeals to the ongoing dialogues in my head, that expands my perceptions.  That draws me back to take a second, third, or fourth look at it.  This is one such example.  It is, if you're walking down the sidewalk in that part of town and hadn't seen it before, really very compelling.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Time: The New Social Currency

Meet the accordeurs, a group of people with accounts in a time bank, where their currency is not money but hours.  An hour is worth an hour, and it's the same for everyone.  At L'Accorderie de Trois-Rivières, (and Québec city, in the video above), you can buy an hour's worth of someone's time by providing an hour's worth of your time.

It is an economic system to fight poverty and social exclusion--marketable but not monetary--based on a network of trade services.

Need your hair cut,  kitchen floor tiled, taxes done, or upstairs painted? You pay however long it takes to do those tasks with hours you've saved in an "hour bank".  Can you cook, do carpentry, set up a person's website, teach someone to dance?  How about speak Italian, repair a car, sew a hem, accompany someone to a doctor's appointment or provide babysitting services?   Someone will pay you, in exchangeable hours, for those kinds of services.

Think of swapping, or bartering, on an individual level (I'll let you use my car if I can borrow your golf clubs Saturday; I'll give you my old file cabinet for two quarts of your preserves). But what if a whole group of people got together and did this--bartered and swapped not objects, but Time?  What if that group offered to help you in other ways as well?  Such as giving you a loan to buy a refrigerator if you don't have a credit card and the bank won't lend you the money.  Wouldn't it be great, too, if they had a local food co-op program where you could buy produce for less than at the supermarket?  Service-exchange organizations such as the ones mentioned above could fulfill that wish.

It's called social microcredit, a creative response to globalization, decreased employment opportunities, poverty, and isolation.   A service economy where not only expertise and craftsmanship are shared but respect for each person's contribution, with membership open to everyone regardless of age, nationality, income or social class. Where skills are acknowledged, talents appreciated, resources pooled; and solidarity felt with those in your community in these difficult economic times. (Did I mention the community suppers, summer picnics, holiday festivities, and occasional language, dance, exercise, computer and cooking classes?)  As models go (for innovative projects to alleviate expenses and build a sense of community), this one seems a winner.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Down and Back: Changes, Samenesses

A week away, back to the homeland, land of the once home, though home is not a place--where you're born may not be where you end up and home could be a place you've never been but only dreamed about, a place unmarked by time, where you go sometimes in your head ...   The thought of seeing those mountains again, then reality intervenes  ...

We were kept back at the Vermont border, the entire bus load of us, held for two and a half hours because of something found at the back of the bus. Must have been serious, judging by the level of concern, all those uniformed officers rushing to and fro, the dogs coming out (three times), questioning all of us one by one, after we had already passed through being individually identified and then told to drop everything we were carrying: coats, bags, books, lunches, purses, on the floor and go to a holding area. All one's belongings, not just your luggage underneath the bus but laptops, jackets, and pocketbooks or wallets containing personal papers, family photographs, address book, receipts, business cards, notebook jottings, can be demanded and searched without your being present, all in the name of national security.

Even after having been cleared and reboarding the bus, some passengers were called back again for further questioning.  Eventually, having been declared worthy of proceeding, they let us continue on to our destination. All were perplexed, some fearful; most, however, a bit irritated, especially those having to catch a plane or make a bus connection.  On our way again, the mountains were waiting, snow-clad sentinels rolling across Vermont, it was like embracing old friends again.

Mr. Chiroptera here, suspended from the ceiling of a room in Harvard's Museum of Natural History (home of the world’s only mounted Kronosaurus, a 42-foot-long prehistoric marine reptile). My father was an avid hunter/fisherman and when my mother died, the question of who should get the mounted deer head was discussed.  I'd always had difficulty looking at what was left of that once magnificent creature--or any stuffed and mounted former-living animal, for that matter, with those sad or astonished glass eyes.  This bat, if it could talk, I wonder what it would say. I've never seen a real bat up close, dead or alive, but he seems to be trying to say something to us, which I failed to notice until I retrieved the photo out of my camera.

The colors were so much more impressive in person!  My mother's cousin--a priest who worked in a prison, --collected butterflies.  Those beauties, pressed and immortalized under framed glass, were also passed along to a family member at one point.  But these--!!! The colors seemed like songs rolling off each wing.  You had to have been there.Silent bursts of light, but "singing."

Going from room to room, looking at dinosaur bones, giant crabs, tiny beetles, a 1,600- pound amethyst geode from Brazil, the hall of mammals, one grandbub is wowed by the sheer size of a prehistoric fossil, another is using a magnifying glass to examine the eye of an insect, and I'm reading a wall plaque about French astronomer/naturalist Leopold Trouvelot who in 1868 attempted to breed a better silkworm using imported Gypsy moths. Some of the moths escaped from the tree in his backyard in Medford (Massachusetts) where he'd been culturing them and within ten years, the vegetation in the neighborhood was completedly denuded by them.  Gypsy moths then spread all over North America.  Oops.

Some native masks on the wall of a room where the children got to try on thick gloves made from caribou fur and hear a talk on ancient hunting practices. This being school winter-vacation week,  the museum was bursting with curious little beings oooing and ahhhing at the wonders of preserved life from millions of years ago--as well as the glass pendants, arrowheads, lab kits, books, games and toys in the gift shop near the exit. A fun and informative afternoon, then a walk about eight or nine blocks back to where we had parked the car. Finding parking space in Cambridge is nearly impossible--unless you have a resident parking permit or can grab a space before someone else gets to it first.

On March 7 the American Repertory Theater will host a "Theater of War" on Brattle Street, free and open to the public where (according to the flyer I saw posted), they'll "present readings of Sophocles's Ajax and Philoctetes as a catalyst for town hall discussions about the challenges faced by soldiers, veterans and their families and caregivers today."  An interesting project, inviting open discussion of the impact of war rather than the seeming necessity for it.  Lots of discussion in various circles about how much we should or should not spend on weapons, books galore on the "art" of war, on how best to strategize, fight war, etc.; not a heck of a lot, though, on the impact of war on those who have to fight it and those whose lives are destroyed because of it.  Bravo, A.R.T. for calling attention to that.

Lots of snow down Massachusetts way, almost as much as back home in Quebec. Except it melts faster and is gone quicker there.  Each new snowfall (or the threat of it) was met with a collective groan and the wish for it all to just Go Away, and for Spring to get here.  At least that was the chorus I heard there and I had to agree, one does get tired of the cold.  But the snow?  Never.  Or at least, almost never.  I've not yet tired of it.  (Ask me again around mid-April if I still feel the same.)

 Always a pleasure to visit the old environs, as they say; see old friends, re-walk favorite streets, discover new delights.  Like the little Tibetan cafe on Elm Street in Davis Square. I have never been able to stomach Tibetan tea (tea blended with butter, salt and milk) but I love just about everything else of their food.  So much going on (good films, plays, lectures, concerts, art exhibits, poetry readings--and folk dancing, practically every night of the week) and I always return home wishing I'd planned in advance or factored in more time.

 I no longer have a library card there but I'd love to spend a few hours again in Widener, among the stacks, doing some research.  A researcher's dream place. I remember lunch hours spent descending four levels down those clunky metal stairs to poke through dusty archives, boxes of documents, scanning microfiches, taking notes, finding information unavailable elsewhere; it opened up whole other worlds for me, not unlike being adrift in history, with a fresh set of eyes.  Or something like that.  So many, many books that are never being read anymore, that can tell you so much! Whatever my particular inquiry at the time, it always led to more equally compelling and  interesting 'finds' and I confess to missing that happy sense of discovery, like finding some buried treasure.

Widener (the library) was named for a young book lover who went down with the Titanic. It holds more than 15 million volumes and is second in size only to the Library of Congress. It has six floors above ground and four stories below ground (with two other levels attached by underground tunnel)  It was down in these 'underground' shelves where I spent most of my time. Ah, those were the days.  And of course, lunch hours were simply not enough time, so I'd come back again, later.

One of my (other) favorite places was a stationery store called Bob Slate's, in Porter Square. I say "was" because it is slated to close this month. This store has been in existence for 78 years.  I bought my ink and pens and pencils and paper there.  News of its closing hit me like a ton of bricks.  I stopped by and a salesperson I hadn't seen in 15 years remembered me.  "I haven't seen you in here lately," she said, as if it were only last week or so that I'd been there. I gazed longingly at the rapidographs lined up inside a glass case, tried out an extra-fine, thin brown marker, bought a sketching tablet and watercolors & some brushes.  The next time I pass by there it will probably be a boutique where Bob Slate's used to be, or a pizza place, or an empty storefront with a For Rent sign on it. The owners have been trying to sell all three of its stores for some time, with no luck. :(

Also visited some Tibetan friends and asked about the situation in Lahasa from someone who would know. Not good, they told me.  The Tibetan language is not taught in schools; pictures of the Dalai Lama are still forbidden; you have to be careful what you say. For example, if you're calling someone in Tibet and you begin with the word "Hello", or "Hi", the phone will suddenly disconnect (because you're speaking English. They apparently listen in on International phone calls).  "Everything has changed there," I was told.  New buildings are going up, but the Tibetan culture is slowly being ... erased.  Tibetan Autonomous Region is not autonomous for Tibetans.  I don't know, shouldn't "Autonomy" mean not having to plead for your culture to be allowed to survive?

In the hallway outside a classroom at the grandbubs' elementary school, two bronze statues on a bench, encourage the reading of books.  The last day before school winter-vacation was "Pajama Day", kind of like a kid version of Casual Fridays in some business offices, where you can "dress down", wear jeans instead of a suit.  We ran into one of the teachers outside the classroom, who also wore her jammies.  (It had little bunnies on it.) But it was actually, a fundraising activity to help buy pajamas for poor children, hence the theme, "Pajama Day."

All too quickly the week ends with no more time to do all the things we'd hoped to.  In April, then; we'll try again in April.  The snow will be gone, the weather better, a birthday to celebrate, more news to catch up on.

Getting out of the U.S. was a breeze (compared to coming into it) and it was back through the snowy farmfields up into Montreal again, to catch another bus and ride past more snowy fields and finally home.  The next day it snowed some more (all day) and I re-shoveled the path out back and driveway, made supper and it's like I never left.  Two worlds--there, and here.  When I'm here, I'm sometimes There; when I'm there, I miss Here.  And when elsewhere, both--or neither, depending on the elsewhere.  What a thing.

And the mountains, always the mountains, the ones in Vermont, in Pennsylvania, in the Alps, but strangely, even those dull, flat, show-covered, flat field after field after field in the dark of the night passing by the bus window, a settled familiarity. Someone said to me recently, wondering where to move to if circumstances were right, "I don't know where I belong."  As if--again--as if it's a place.  But places change, or rather one's relation to a place changes. Or maybe the place remains the same and it's we who change.  How everything can change, from one day to the next, simply by the presence (or absence) of someone close to you.  When that happens, you look at everything differently. Going away, on brief, occasional, long trips, does that sometimes, in a way not ever going can't.

Anyway, I come home to a kazillion unfinished projects, a tweaking of perception, the hint of a new direction in certain endeavors.  "Are you writing?" a friend called to ask this morning, remembering I said I'd finish one such project "this year"--and I had to answer No.  (Blogging doesn't count, is in a different category, a different kind of emptying forth.)  On the bus en route I re-read half a Jessica Anderson novel about a quirky Australian family and coming back lugged along an enormously fat and heavy new Mark Twain tome autobiographied 100 years after his death, which took up more than half the suitcase, everything else had to be scrunched and rolled and carefully folded so as to make room for it.  Three other poetry books and 2 novels had to be squeezed in as well.  How to pack a suitcase without busting the seams, a true art.

Final photo: from the museum, in a hallway between floors, a single window with a waterpot on the sill.  Not sure what it was doing there, but I like windows, and this one--like Sir Chiroptera the bat, 'spoke' to me. Or rather, the scene did. It reminded me of a window I once saw in Belgium many years ago, only what sat on the sill then was a black cat and the view from the window included a piece of sky over a kind of steeple tower. Here there is only a boring security grill (and miniature announcement that the area is protected by ADT).  Still, it beckoned.