When the Patriarch of a large clan passes, the visitation is more in the line of a county fair. Dozens of simultaneous conversations, between relatives, and friends of relatives. Friends, who are there to give support the living and reconnect with other friends, engaged in conversations that are not directly germane to the deceased but often give a deeper meaning to the occasion...
"They were married 50 years..."
"The time of being married should be measured by all the partners you live with.."
"You mean, not just the first, or the longest?"
"Well, it shouldn't matter- if asked, just say, for example: 'I've been married 45 years', you don't have to specify to whom..."
"I guess that makes sense, you could say that the state of being married has its own qualities, regardless of the individuals involved..."
"You could wear a pin, with a number on it?"
"Like a recovering alcoholic?"
Message Found On A Sidewalk
The local "Sidewalk Sale" is held annually on the hottest week of the year, in some sort of a Midwestern Ritual of Masochism. Perhaps it was held in response to the 5 months of winter we must endure each year. The four square blocks of the downtown retail district becomes littered with tents and canopies, underneath which are closeouts, knick-knacks and other items of a "frou-frou" nature. It is a big mother-daughter event, and, with the exception of a few out-of-place men (i.e.: yours truly), a feminine gathering. This is not a bad thing as a glistening epidermis in a summer dress can be a delight to the senses.
All of these conditions made my discovery of the above note more poignant. Was this the final cry for help from some rejected girl? A plea for reconciliation? And what had caused the rift? Why was mom leaving? And why was it written on the back of a Christmas card?
The New Yorker cartoons are much funnier after drinking 2 glasses of white wine while eating a half a bar of bitter-sweet chocolate and sipping on a cup of iced coffee.
Got a package in the mail today. My first camera, or rather, the same model of a camera that I had purchased when I was a mere lad of 17. I spotted it on my recent trip to Seattle. It was in a funky camera store that was more of a museum than a vital retail enterprise. I kept obsessing about all week it until I finally broke down and ordered it last Saturday. It is in good cosmetic condition, although it needs a little work in order to become 100% functional. That doesn't matter, there's a strong possibility that it will never have another roll of film run through it. It's just sitting on my shelf now, joining its comrades-in-obsolescence. In its first incarnation it was used mostly to take pictures of girls. I don't do that so much anymore.
...The white-scrubbed kitchen with its open window had both a kind of a universal dignity and an impersonal warmth, which made you happy in the midst of the adversities and sorrows of life. The friendly rose-patterned plates in the rack, the ladle on the wall, the blue-checked curtains, the woman's knitting on the windowsill, the warmth from the cooking stove, the cat, the aroma of coffee, the moonlight, the sea-it was perhaps not many krónurs' worth if you tried to sell it, but all the same it was the world at its fairest and best.
-Halldór Laxness, World Light
Perhaps not so idyllic as that, nevertheless, our kitchen is, even in this modern age, the center of the house. A good indicator of this is its propensity to attract clutter, keys, mail, leftovers and shopping purchases all end up on the counter or the table, on display, as it were, to be scrutinized and pondered, until "put away."
The kitchen "junk drawer" is a topic too involved for consideration here. The kitchen is also the center for gadgets- for notes on the items seen, click on the photo below:
Recently, the kitchen has been invaded by some new electronic denizens: cell phones and iPods, each with chargers and accessories. We didn't even own a microwave until about ten years ago. Martha Stewart, interviewed in the current issue of Wired magazine, solved the problem with a dedicated room (a digital pantry?) that has her gadgets and their respective "nests."
Are we making any progress? Maybe two steps forward, one step backward, and three steps sideways- I'd hate to slave away in the kitchen for hours as I remember my Grandmother doing, yet I must admit that our meals are usually less memorable than hers were. Of course, that may just be my thoughts as seen through the rose-tinted glasses of memory.
Batty's Pre-Nuptial Counseling Service
...OK, let's move on to intimacy issues. Remember to mark a number on your sheet from 1 to 5 for each question, 1 being the most disagreeable and 5 being the most agreeable, with 0 reserved for "Impossible." First in the list- locations...
Bedroom... 5, 5...all finished? Good. Now for lighting...
Living Room... 4, 3
Den/Study... 4, 4
Laundry Room... 2, 1
Kitchen... 1, 4
Library... 1, 2
Subway... 2, 1
Tropical island... 4, 5
Desert Island... 4, 3
Traffic Island... 1, 0
Gilligan's Island... 5, 0
No light... 2, 2 ...and what kind of mood music?
Floodlight... 5, 1
Candles... 4, 5
Daylight... 4, 2
Starlight... 3, 5
Moonlight... 2, 2
Hope to see the ghost tonight... 1, 1
The sound of silence... 3, 2 .. and which positions?
Barry White... 1, 5
Frank Black... 3, 1
New Age... 1, 3
Oldies... 2, 2
Disco... 1, 5
Hip-Hop... 1, 1
Polka... 0, 5
Thrash Metal... 5, 0
Liberace... 1, 5
Missionary... 3, 3 ... just about finished... frequency?
Pagan... 4, 2
Horsey... 4, 1
Doggy... 3, 3
Dromedary... 2, 1
Virgin Mary... 0, 5
Wheelbarrow... 5, 0
Twice a day... 5, 1 ... and the last category, "What is the most important part of intimacy?
Once a day... 5, 2
Twice a week... 3, 3
Once a week... 2, 4
Once a month... 1, 4
Once a year... 1, 4
Once every leap year... 1, 4
Once... 0, 5
"What is the frequency Kenneth?"... 6, 9
A mutual expression of love... 3, 5 ... After checking your results, I see that you two are well within the normal range. And always remember- if things don't work out, I do divorces as well, 20% discount in the first six months...
A way to create children... 2, 4
A release of pent-up tensions... 4, 2
Avoiding the wet spot.... 1, 5
Scenes From A Seattle Saturday
As if yesterday's exertions weren't enough, we decided to climb the other side of the mountain. We drove up most of the way, here there was still deep snow covering part of the lower parking lot. It had been raining, but by the time we stopped and got out it had let up. The snow was misting from the rain, but within a half an hour the sun was out again and the temp began to climb.
Although the upper road was gated, it had been partially cleared and we could walk up most of the way between huge snow drifts. The eldest and I went even higher, over the snow to a rocky knoll where we could see both Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan, and the Canadian Cascade Mountains in the distance (they had the Red Maple-leaf flags on them.)
We went back down to the parking level and had another glorious outdoor meal, in the cedars and pines with the snowy peaks all around. Pausing at Picture Lake on the way down, we took the "Calendar Shot" of Mount Shuksan before going back to Bellingham:
Then it was back to Seattle via a 90 mile traffic jam on I-90. We arrived at our B&B and then, after a light meal at a local brew pub we returned to our rooms and collapsed. I had wanted to catch the Icelandic band Benni Hemm Hemm which was playing downtown that night, but the willing spirit was overcome by my weak flesh.
Strange Moment of Time
Oft heyrist um ófreska menn að sál þeirra fari úr líkamanum. Það kemur ekki fyrir jökulinn. En næst þegar manni verður litið til, þá hefur líkaminn farið úr jöklinum og ekkert eftir nema sálin iklædd lofti. -Halldor Laxness
After our morning absolutions we consulted the local ranger as to hiking conditions in the area. She recommended "Heliotrope Ridge" a hike of about two hours, which would take us above the tree-line and into an alpine meadow, with Mount Baker looming above us and excellent views of the glacier. We drove up to the trail-head, and began our journey on a rickety bridge over a rushing stream, one of many we would cross, but this was the only one that could afford us a dry passage:
The day was quite warm (in the mid-eighties) and we were ascending at a rapid pace, when suddenly relief, in the form of a small waterfall, welcomed us in its cooling embrace:
Then it was back to work; onward and upward, fording several wild streams, clambering over rocks and, finally, breaking through to the alpine meadow, with an unobstructed view of Mount Baker and its attendant glacier:
The scene was terrific, the air clear (although still quite warm!) as we took our midday repast amidst the glorious wildflowers:
We spent the rest of the day exploring and cavorting in this rarefied atmosphere until we were all quite spent; then, after a fine dinner on the patio of Milano's restaurant in Glacier, we arrived back at our the cabin after dark, where an inviting hot tub awaited:
After a half an hour soak and a glass of wine later, I had become thoroughly cooked; feeling somewhat light-headed I stepped out and began to towel off. I was in a delightful reverie, thinking about a warm shower I once shared in the Hotel Borg in Reykjavík; every muscle in my body was absolutely relaxed.
"ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?"
It was the Weaver. I was lying flat on my back on the pine-needle covered ground.
"Did I fall?" I must have, as I was standing only a few seconds ago. I had evidently fainted (not passed out, for I was at least semi-conscious) and, as I sat up, still light headed. That sensation soon left as the cool night air revived me completely and, with the exception of my bruised ego, I was none the worse for the experience.
With yesterday's travails behind us (was my bad luck somehow transfered to the hapless gent who drove into the drugstore?), we regrouped with our eldest son and headed north toward Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. Stopping in Bellingham, a port city about ninety miles north of Seattle, we wandered about in the manner of Mad Dogs and Englishmen- out in the noon-day sun- in an all-time record heat (it was only 97°.) We explored the marina, with its acres of "dinghies", then returned to the downtown area to enjoy sandwiches, pastries and coffee at a charming French Bakery. Suitably refreshed, then it was onward to the towns of Maple Falls and Glacier. We'd explore the real glacier tomorrow, but this night we would dine at Graham's, a restaurant which Clark Gable frequented while shooting the movie Call of the Wild in the 1930's. We then set up a "base camp" in a cute little cottage, complete with an outdoor hot tub under the towering western red cedars. As dusk approached we undertook a short jaunt to Nooksak Falls, which was raging with the snow-melt waters. Tomorrow we would hike up past the tree-line, to meet the source of this torrent:
The trip to Washington started off poorly and went downhill from there. Waking at 4:30 a.m. in order to get to the airport two hours early (thanks Osama!) we drove in darkness. Upon arrival I discovered that the park 'n fly lot had moved- somewhere. We had an address and a good city atlas, but the street listed wasn't in it. Driving around a bit, as long as we dared, we finally gave up and went to the regular long-term parking ($116, ouch!) We checked in and got through security- thank goodness we didn't need a strip search! Starving, I grabbed a pastry from a terminal vendor and as we headed for the gate I had just enough time to choke it down. It tasted as if it were made of cardboard. Thinking I may have gotten the display by mistake, I entertained the idea about returning it but boarding had already commenced. The line stopped when a slacker-boy tried to take his Himalayan-Expedition-size backpack in as carry on luggage. It was TWICE as big as the sample box. Once on the plane we were serenaded by Kenny G on the intercom, played at earsplitting volume in an endless loop. After about the twelfth iteration, we received the announcement that we are delayed due to "a late luggage arrival." Thanks again, slacker-boy! Finally Kenny G stops and we take off. My sinuses go into spasms from some unknown irritant. My shirt, which was hot in the morning humidity, is now no match for the freezing jet.
We landed at Sea-Tac, the Weaver grabbed our luggage while I dealt with a chirpy rental-car clerk who grilled me about my sons' procreational activities(?!). I decline the comprehensive insurance, finding out later that she added it anyway ($150!) The shuttle bus takes about forty-five minutes to arrive and hauls us to another county to pick up our "car": A Suzuki L7 SUV (they must have a good sense of humor in their marketing department.) We drove off in this boat, wallowing our way downtown and parking in the most expensive ($5 an hour) ramp I could find. We go out, explore Pikes Place Market, and then realize that it is HOT! As in all-time record breaking HOT! A fish market is not the best place to be when the temps approach 100°. Still, we persevere. "Perhaps there is some shade in the SAM sculpture garden?" I suggested. On the map it seems that the "Garden" is only a few blocks away. Very long blocks as it turns out. The park is brand new, the only foliage consists of knee-high shrubs. There was a tree, however: AN ALUMINUM TREE! We gave up on downtown Seattle, and went back to the monster-a-go-go vehicle. I checked for my credit card to pay for the parking, but both it and my DL were gone! Frantic, I retraced my actions, all the while thinking: without my cards I can't get back on the plane, I can't get my car back, I shouldn't drive, I-YI-YI... and then I spot them (I had to place my wallet on the console earlier when we entered the ramp- I had unbuckled my seat belt and opened the door to be able to get down low enough reach the ticket dispenser.) The missing cards had fallen in a 1/4 inch wide slot between the console and the parking brake! I made a paper "scoop" and managed to get the License out, but the credit card went UNDER the console. We moved the seats back and forth, tried to fish something under the console (the parking brake certainly wasn't moving!) but to no avail. On the plus side, we found a bunch of stuff from previous people who had the same problem, including a CD. On the minus side, it was by The Ramones. By this time I "wanted to be sedated", so we went to our motel. There we met our son for dinner and afterwards, as he and The Weaver returned to the Motel, I walked over to a nearby drugstore to buy a screwdriver- hopefully it would allow me to remove the console's cover. As I waited in line, a loud CRASH startled everyone:
An elderly man had evidently misjudged his parking space and ended up in the store. Perhaps he thought it was a "Drive-Thru".
And then my luck changed.
Circumstances conspire against your desires. - Fortune cookie proverb
Sometimes that the way it is. Your lover is absent (or non-existent), your friends are elsewhere or otherwise occupied, and you are alone. Is that our natural state, and the time spent with others an aberration, or are we meant to be always surrounded with others? Some of each? How much of each? Are our genes in a restless search to unite with others, all of our socialization merely a facade to prevent us from that horrible/glorious truth?
Things aren't usually so bleak, but being alone can make it hard to see the nuances of existence. That is one reason people seek out partners. (Although it seems that some couples exist only to fight- I've never figured that one out.) When I was young and romantic (and alone) there was a pop song by Dick and Dee Dee that became my personal anthem:
The mountain's high and the valleys so deep
Can't get across to the other side
Don't ya give up baby, don't you cry
Don't ya give up till I reach the other side
Later on, Björk gave this idea an absurd twist:
I miss you- but I haven't met you yet
so special- but it hasn't happened yet
you are gorgeous- but I haven't met you yet
I remember- but it hasn't happened yet
and if you believe in dreams
or what is more important
that a dream can come true
I will meet you
And I miss you.
Hot Fun In The Summer Time
Eight hours of painting on a holiday is not much fun but it should be worth it when the job is finally done. The brush used for painting the house is a bit bigger than those used on canvas- I really did some labor today (Hey! Where is everybody else? I thought I was management!) Now if someone could only invent paint you apply in the winter that would take care of the cabin and cabin fever. Back to my regular work tomorrow, where I'll push pixels instead of primer, making the world safe for photography. Where are my coveralls?
In A Mist
Went for a drive.
In a mist.
All the summer smells of decay and growth, in suspended animation during the recent dry spell, have emerged; co-mingled essences, heady stuff, almost cloying.
Bringing me back, back to a crazy bike ride, on my 30th birthday. 80 miles, almost straight north, leaving downtown at 10 p.m., picking up highway 65 in Northeast Minneapolis... a straight shot to Mora, Minnesota, and then five miles north of that to a log cabin on an old homestead. We had been renting it for the summer; the Weaver and me and baby makes three. I had been stuck in town all week working but this was Friday. A storm had preceded me- a big light show in the northern sky, but I wouldn't catch up to it. Around Ham Lake the air became calm, a miasma from the swamps of was seeping onto the road, like Dracula entering a window in an old horror movie. It felt good.
In Cambridge I stopped at a road house, the drunken band was plodding its way through a Creedence medley, I had a Coke and headed back out on the road. It was midnight. I was feeling a bit chafed, I had a long-tailed shirt on, so I thought I'd stow the shorts for a while. The old leather Brooks saddle had molded itself to my anatomy years ago, this was a closer type of intimacy.
About ten miles of this "commando cycling" dropped my core temperature enough so that
it seemed prudent to regroup, as it were. Redonning the shorts, I pedaled alone, not even a bar-closer drove by. I finally pulled into the cabin about 3 a.m., wiped myself down and crawled into bed. It was dead still, and silent, save for the gentle sounds of the sleeping weaver and, in the crib, the baby. Outside, the dew covered the grass and all was still.
A Mirror Of Nature
Lake Keitele, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, 1905
More culture this week-end, in the form of an art exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, featuring Nordic landscape painting, 1840-1910. A warm summer's day is a good time to chill out with some cool Scandinavian Art. With over one hundred paintings from all the Nordic countries, there was a definite sense of restraint and naturalism on display- counter to the romantic styles often seen from this era. There were even a couple of small works by Thórarinn Thorláksson from Iceland. This kind of art grows on you slowly, there were few "theatrical" pieces, but overall there was a very subdued approach on display, with just a hint of drama beneath the surface. There were some, however, that definitely had a definite psycholgical undercurrent:
Stetind in Fog, Peder Balke, 1864
This is the only non-Scandinavian stop in the exhibit's schedule, and a most welcome contrast to the Picassco exhibit, currently showing at the Walker Art Center.