WEEK 7

February 12, 2017 – SUNDAY

Girl scout cookies & Doorbell:  There was a knocking at the door, or I thought there might be. I was working in the garage with J. Michael and then a banging, a repeated – desperate, it seemed –  banging of the door.  I ran up the stairs fearing a neighbor in trouble.

There on the porch at the front door two girls, maybe 10 years old.  Perhaps not recognizing the doorbell, the salamander doorbell, they banged instead of ringing.  “Girl Scout Cookies?” they said in unison, “Would you like to buy Girl Scout cookies?”  “Let me see what flavors my husband likes,” I answered and ran down to check out his preference — butter cookies, the ones shaped like a girl scout pin.  They held out a paddle with the choices.  I pointed to JM’s choice.  “No. We’re out of them, but we have everything else. Smores, they are new this year, like the campfire smores.”  I remembered those graham cracker/marshmallow /chocolate confections made around campfires of my youth and thought ‘yuck!!!!  I cannot take that sweetness at my age’ and ordered thin mints and Samoas.  Both have chocolate and JM had found them OK in the past.  Thinking the order would be delivered in a week or two, I gave one girl the delivery information and just as I finished, I saw the second girl running from a red wagon up the sidewalk toward me.  She had gotten the requested cookies from their wagon warehouse and placed them in my hands.  “Two boxes. $5 each. $10 total,” they said.  Into the house I went to get the money and returned with a $20 dollar bill. “$10 for the cookies and $10 for your troop.”   They hollered to an adult near the red wagon, “we got money for our troop[!” and ran away down our sidewalk.

I was never a Girl Scout, though I was a Brownie. I started every day wearing my Brownie pin upside down, turning it over only when I did a good deed.  That activity ‘marked me’ as surely as my church did.

I almost always treat door-to-door sales people kindly because I remember selling seeds and chocolates (ate more than I sold) and nickknacks door to door — most for school. Homemakers answered the doors (when I was a girl, few women worked outside of the home):  a few bought what I was selling; a few were nice, but did not buy; and many were rude — some scolded me for being there, some slammed the door in my face, some were down-right nasty.  Being rudely treated as a child made me think how I wanted to be. I determined that when I was the adult answering the door I’d be mannerly to those who knocked and asked me to buy.  I still smart remembering those slammed doors.  I did not understand the rudeness then (actually it was more than rude, it was unkind) and I do not understand it now.  So Girl Scout cookies I buy out of principle and to support the girls, and to show them that some adults have manners.

February 13, 2017 – MONDAY

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Film archive building, Berkeley, California

What of today?  I have no idea of today, what I’ll see and want to photography, or what will make me want to write. — To Berkeley for a lecture on Hippie Modernism Architecture.

Crazy lady at the bus stop started talking to me while I was looking at recent photos I’d taken, so I shared them as a slide show on the back of my camera.  First a mural on the sides of a Berkeley building, finishing with the end of the film archive building with its giant screen dedicated to ‘a changing slide show’ — my camera, but bigger.  When I was in architecture school I had proposed a similar community screen, but the faculty did not much like it and told me to discard it.  Back when I was in school images would have been projected onto the surface from afar, not graphics on an LED screen – same concept, but how the technology has changed!  The woman seemed to enjoy the photos and settled down a bit.  My bus came.  I rode to my stop, got off and then photographed a couple of houses.

One very much to my liking, the other not so.  One to my liking, terracotta with soft green and yellow trim, the other, once the same color scheme, now painted dark grey with blue trim.

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House of Tongues

When we were in my great-grandfather’s hometown St. Gallen, Switzerland, a year or so ago, a guide took us to the home of a rich 18th century resident.  His house was gray, she said, because, they thought gray represented stone and stone was a more expensive than wood.  By making a building gray, they were saying, I’m building in stone (even when they were not) and I’m better off than you are.  The home in gray, a statement announcing they were rich.  (Who knows if they were relatives of mine. Some became tycoons but not the grandfather who left!)  The fact that color was more expensive than gray (and for that reason was used by the rich and powerful in Medieval times) had been forgotten by rich Europeans a few centuries later. That house, in addition to pretending by use of color that it was made of stone, went one step further.  It had sculptures.  A few near the top of the ‘bay window’ were of men sticking out their tongues.  If the message of the gray was not understood, the sticking out the tongues was saying, “Ha, ha, ha, we have more than you.” Like Donald Trump, it was not subtle.  Subtlety was not the point.  The owners wanted to make sure that passersby understood the message, “I’m better than you. I have money and I’m here to let you know it!”

The main church in St. Gallen had dark murals, dark because they were meant to be like Sistine Chapel.  They thought Michelangelo’s chapel painted dark and did not understand that the grayness of the painting, the result of soot, candle soot.  The church, filled with wonderful bright light that fell onto dull frescos.

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St. Gallen Switzerland: City Center

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St. Gallen: Biker in Rain

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St. Gallen: Parking

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St. Gallen: Designated Parking

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St. Gallen: Bike Parking

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St. Gallen: Boy @ Pool

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St. Gallen: Walking in the Rain

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St. Gallen: Chairs in Rain

In spite of the gray rich man’s house, much of St. Gallen is bright, with brightly painted shutters, buildings, and ‘bay windows.’  The part of St. Gallen that I love the most is its City’s center (in spite of its gray buildings).  It is done in my favorite color RED.  It is RED, all RED.  RED for blocks.  And, it is fun.  Life is more than just about money.  Life is about sorrow, but, as much as possible, life should be about FUN and JOY and CELEBRATION, so St. Gallen’s city center RED! RED! RED!!!!!  It is FUN.  It celebrates vibrancy, life and even on gray, rainy days a joy to walk on a carpet of red, the red carpet, not just for celebrities, the rich, but for all to tread.

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St. Gallen, Switzerland:   Children Playing in the City’s Center

February 14, 2017 – TUESDAY

Be mine:  I don’t like hearts (exception those of a city or beating in a breast).  Roses hold little appeal (save wild ones).  Diamonds I find of no interest, perhaps those of yellow or blue?  The word ‘LOVE’ I’m leery of because I’ve seen so many terrible things done in the name of love.  And here it is Valentine’s Day, the ‘day of romance’ and I do not like the ‘hallmarks’ of the holiday.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA     Tin heart

I had a boyfriend who bought me a ‘drugstore heart’ box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day, a red box with a fake rose affixed to the lid.  I understood that it was the most he could afford, but if one is going to show ‘attraction’ using a clichéd symbol, why not make it a huge box of cheap chocolates, like the one the comic book character Veronica was given or why not a small box of chocolates that actually taste good?  So the nice gesture of my long-ago boyfriend, not appreciated, perhaps because of my arrogance and my finding that particular cultural symbol ‘tacky.’  He meant well, but even as I thought it kind, at the same time I found it a little off-putting.

I’ve generously been given boxes of long-stemmed roses.  I understood the gesture, but wished I could have, in any way, found them delightful.  Roses, to me, are an over-bred flower.  I prefer wild.  I like unusual flowers, flowers whose names I do not know, nor will ever know.  Is it the fact that roses are so over-used as a symbol of ‘you have made it,’ or ‘romance’ that repulses me?   Is it the fact that I prefer the unique to the ordinary?  I don’t know, but I know that I find the sight of a new leaf budding on a tree inherently more interesting than a rose.  “A rose is a rose is a rose…” as Gertrude Stein of Oakland, California, wrote.  I like buttercups and quince and the blossoms of apple trees, all Roseace, all roses, yet, except for the colors of long-stemmed roses, or the smell of a tea rose, they arouse little emotion in me.

And then there is the crystalline cut diamond.  I don’t even like them.  I remember my childhood girlfriends getting engaged and the holding of their hands in a certain way after they received the ring, holding it forth for so others could see their new status (engaged to be married & you are not) and the flashing of the ring so others might be impressed with its size (engaged to a prosperous dude) and hearing the private comments about how their diamonds were bigger or more perfect or had a more impressive cut or were more costly. ‘Who cares,’ I thought.  ‘It looks like every other diamond in the world!’  Who wants what everyone else has?  Perhaps if those stones had been set in an artistic way, I would have envied even one, but I did not.  Diamonds leave me cold, but I love the deep green of an emerald, or the red of a ruby or the glittering of an opal (none of which I own).  It is almost certain that tonight, while Michael and I dine overlooking our beautiful Lake Merritt, that I’ll not be given a diamond, nor will I give one.  We are not big on giving symbolic gifts to each other, although we do not hesitate to give gifts to others.  JM did once give me a blue topaz heart for my birthday.  “Oh,” I said and being a romantic, “I like the color of the stone, but I hate the shape.  I find hearts clichéd.  Would you mind if I exchange it for a different shape?”  “No,” he said.  I exchanged it for a teardrop.

I am afraid of ‘LOVE’ and did not want that word said to me, but since I’ve not found a good substitute, I now accept it.  Words do have value, but actions speak more forcefully than most words.  So in our day to day life when Michael brings me my coffee with cream, or when he informs me of something I might find of interest, or when he loads my bike on the bike rack or helps clear the table after a meal, I see love in those gestures.  If ‘LOVE’ is passion, we have plenty of that and in the poems he has written me, I read what I ‘perceive’ as love.  We have in our relationship a pleasure with being together, intensity, a commitment I will, for lack of a better word, call ‘LOVE.’  But I do not like to think of what we have together as ‘LOVE.’  I don’t want it to be something so generic.  Maybe the word “JOY” or “HAPPINESS” or “BLISS?”

And so, not a serious poem written by JM, but a little ‘rhyming ditty.’

 

Love we like the porcupine

Who gets it done in spite of spine?

Or love we like the antelope

In fear of lion, long love mere hope

Or turtle-like so slow and steady

Heart far more than body ready

Or like the gnat or like the cat

Like snake of fragile thermostat

Or like them all or none at all

For metaphor is folderol.

 

Let you love me as I love you

Both to both as equal true.

 

Let you and I become the mark

The light that shineth in the dark

For youth to set as their intent

As past we shuffle gray and bent.

Us, you say? As if our lives would shadow cast

A lesson forth from out our past?

(Which is just this: Let you love me as I love you

Both to both as equal true.)

Not sure that that achieves description

Much less for lovers’ hearts prescription.

And if a truth, much as in quantum

(Some say obscure? Well, let it daunt’em)

That pricks its ears when at it’s looked.

Where is it now? It’s gone. It’s spooked.

For there are mysteries of fact

Of hearts and minds that interact

That those who love cannot reduce

To list or guide or rules of use.

 

Yes. We have loved. There is no doubt

I am not shy. I’m glad to shout.

But people much more sage than us

Have loved their dozens without fuss

While on we go with long adoring —

I know I know it’s oh so boring.

All you thank god that I decline

To urge you live by our design.

For I am no pamphleteer

No people’s vox, no chanticleer

Who’ll beat his lips just for the noise

And nonsense spew with equipoise

And hide my honest ignorance

With guiles and smiles and nonchalance.

 

Oh, knew I why sure I would share it

Some rare sex trick? I’d gladly bare it.

Though maybe…. Luck. What some call chance,

As traits select and genes advance.

A thousand monkeys type through time

And somehow stumble into rhyme

So probabilities dictate

In ways we cannot estimate

That cells mutate and there must be

Somewhere in time my perfect she

The very best, the only one

Most excellent since time begun

Her only flaw that she might be

Inclined to think the same of me.

That’s our secret – live let live.

That small a flaw I can forgive.

And friends have noted once or twice, sir.

Really, she is the one who’s nicer.

And it would not be indirection

To call her perfect imperfection

 

We started there…. And now we’re here.

What wisdom lies beneath veneer?

My rhyme is dumb my meter rough

For simple thoughts quite good enough

Let you love me as I love you

Both to both as equal true.

 

February 15, 2017 – WEDNESDAY

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Okavango delta

Painting on water:   Our friend Nancy lived near us in Oakland a block from Lake Merritt.  She said of herself, “I need to physically live near the water.”  She moved from Oakland to the small town of Crockett at the point where the Sacramento River Delta meets San Pablo Bay.  She looks down from her home onto the broad high river and huge boats making their way through the waterway.

Again today JM and I rode our bikes along the bay just as the tide came in.  I wanted to linger and watch the water.  In the clear overcast early morning sky, the water was colored deep dark blue with parts reflecting light seeming baby blue.  On one cove, the tide eased in, arch following arch, each arch lifted a mere fraction of an inch above the water before and water after.  A Western Grebe riding low in the water etched a ‘V’ (Kelvin’s Wake, the v-shape trailing an object moving through liquid / air and named after Lord Kelvin who worked out its mathematics) in its surface and a duck near the shore created ring upon ring as it dabbled.  It seemed to me as if the tide and the birds were painting on the water; water upon water.

I remembered our trip to Africa, mother to all humans.  Our first stay was in Botswana — the Okavango Delta, shallow water, the surface of which, in spite of the gorgeous colors, seemed not to be painted as our bay is today but to be carved.  That water had dimples. Dimples like in a sweet child’s cheeks, and I’ve seen it only there.  I sat just above the water low in my mokoro canoe as it was poled through the delta.  I spent days floating through the delta, in another world, a sculpted world of liquid, of color, of light.  The wildlife was all about: reeds and papyrus and acacia and elephants and hippopotamus and birds and wart hogs, but it was the water, that magical water I could not see enough of.  The setting was one worthy of Ophelia going down with her garland of flowers.  The water surface itself as beautiful as any bouquet. So today at the edge of the bay, beautiful liquid curve following curve following curve of water in the rising bay, I remember the most glorious water I have ever seen, that of the Okavango Delta.  I recall Nancy’s physical need to live near water and what my architectural professor said of building to look out at the water.  “It is not the water that is compelling, but it is where water meets the land that draws the eye.”  My eyes are drawn out and touch the magical edge of water meeting land and I think of baby Moses in his reed cradle, rocking gently as he sleeps and realize why water is at the heart of many myths . If the earth is our mother, water is the mother of earth and we are descendants of water, pure water, and as the children of water we return to our maker, the generator of life.

February 16, 2017 – THURSDAY

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Morning Coffee Cups

Cup it:   JM starts most days with coffee and I drink coffee on weekends. Because of my need to drink it with cream I limit its intake. Today he made a full pot, so a cup for me too. One of our morning rituals is selecting a cup from which to drink.  JM for some unknown reason prefers his coffee in a yellow cup, so most often chooses a yellow cup.  I sometimes choose a cup for color, or pattern, or for heft or for delicacy.  This morning my coffee in our new German china cup.  For JM, coffee in his yellow cat cup we bought in Paris this past summer.  Coffee is a matter of habit; the choice of drinking vessel becomes the adventure.

We buy our coffee from Peerless, an Oakland company that has been roasting coffee for almost 100 years. T hey are not a national brand, but here in the San Francisco Bay area they are well regarded.  Many upscale restaurants purchase coffee from them, but more than that, Peerless works with each chef to develop her/his own unique coffee blend to make their coffee unlike any other.  We enjoy buying our coffee at Peerless’ roasting facility on Oak Street, near San Francisco Bay.  Sons have inherited the establishment from their mother (third or fourth generation of the family roasting coffee in the same spot).  The mother’s taste was expansive.  She had high-end espresso machines, as well as easily affordable brightly painted cups and saucers.  We often bought a cup or a teapot or an infuser simply because we enjoyed her bountiful exuberance and diversity of ‘taste.’ Mother’s sensibility has been ‘phased out,’ and the sober restrained taste of her Republican sons exhibited, exhibited by culling, by removing all but a few items.  As an architect who likes mid-century modern, I suppose I should be glad for the restraint, but I miss the pleasure of seeing what new the mother had in the shop.  Just as there is a place for restraint, there is a place for exuberance.  Buying one’s special coffee may call for good taste, but the product is one thing and the experience of buying quite another.

February 17, 2017 – FRIDAY

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Japanese Lantern

Windy City:  The wind came up and drove our blue patterned Japanese lantern across the road.  JM looked out the window at the very moment a gust of wind unhooked it from its stake.  We had thought it securely fastened, but wind untied its tether.  Had JM not been at the window when he was, lost forever and we’d never known the wind the thief.

Rain continues and the California is less desperate for it, but water brings its own threats: mud slides; dam in danger of collapse; flooding, erosion… In the afternoon we ventured out thinking light rain possible, but we were surprised by nature.  As we shopped for flowers at our local nursery, a downpour.  The plants looked happy in the rain.  We were the only customers among the flowers . Our shopping list was too wet to read, disintegrated in my hands.  We had more items to buy, but cold rain truncated our visit. Another day we’ll buy bark and fertilizer and stakes and succulents.  The flowers remain in the car, waiting for a sunny tomorrow.

February 18, 2017 – SATURDAY

Air Show Bombs Out without Blue Angels:

Me and my Camera

QUEST:  Another seminar, another class. I take classes like some people take pills? eat candy?? I can’t get enough of them. I can’t get a wide enough variety. I wish I had many lives to live in this one. There are so many things to learn, so many possible paths to take and one lifetime, for me, has not been enough to master any one thing or to learn any one thing to the degree I’d like. I’d like to master one thing, or actually many things, but there is not time enough to do so.

 

I’m glad for good teachers. This morning a young woman presented information about my camera (Olympus OM series) that I’ve been trying to learn for at least four years. I’ve read the manual. I’ve read books. I’ve searched the Internet and looked at Youtube and found no clear explanation to most of my questions. The young woman presented camera material succinctly and clearly.  I wish I would have had the class just after I purchased the camera, because it helped me understand what books and on-line research had not.  As much information as there is in libraries or on line, nothing beats a knowledgeable person communicating well in the flesh.  That’s why there is nothing like a good teacher! Somehow the physical presence, the spoken word, the pointing to this or that, makes clear what hours of lone study does not.

What would I have changed about the presentation?  I would have had the young woman learn to speak from her diaphragm and not from her throat out through her nose.  A ‘good voice’ would have made the presentation even better and much more polished.  The tone of the speaker was a bit high-pitched and nasal, but at least she did not have upspeak (where every sentence ends in an up-pitch, making everything said a question????) or voice fry (where each syllable reverberates in the throat as if the vocal cords are old and failing – vibrations out of control).  The content and the presentation was clear, and I was able to tolerate the woman’s voice, which I am sometimes unable to do.  I blame the new bad voices to young girls trying to emulate southern California girls, ‘Valley Girls,’ especially the Kardashian women (including Bruce / Kaitlin Jenner).  Could any one family have had a more negative impact on the sound of the English language coming out of the mouths of young women than they do?  I doubt it.  How anyone can live with someone who speaks with those high-pitched, squealing, nasal voices that sound if they are coming from a person lacking a brain is beyond me.  One woman I know recently spent time in a local hospital.  She said of that experience, “the voices of the young nurses drove me crazy.” The screeching was bad enough, but she found it difficult to understand them not only because of the terrible sounds their faces emitted (it was near the screaming of a child in pain), but also because she had difficulty deciphering what they were saying.  Were they asking her a question or were they were making a statement?  She never knew.  For example, when they said, “It’s a beautiful day?”  Was it a question and should she answer, “Is it ?  But what if it was a statement and they were saying, “It is a beautiful day!” And she should answer, “It is!”  She did not understand how to decipher what the nurses were saying because everything they said was a question.  They may not have meant all as question, but it was to her, the listener.  I fear dying a long slow death and having to listen to voices like that ringing in my ears.  Hell before purgatory?  What these young women are saying might look wonderful on a written page, but hearing what they say, for me, is pure torture!

Today’s young teacher, for this day and age, had a tolerable voice.  I hear few ‘quality’ voices in young women.  Did they not take singing lessons?  Did they not listen to the beautiful women’s voices on NPR?   Did no one ever explain to them the difference between a statement and a question?  My older sister Mary took me aside, corrected me when I was about 12 years old.  I had not noticed that I spoke in question marks.  She counseled me to raise my voice at the end of a sentence if I meant what I said to be a question and to lower the pitch if I were making a statement.  That single pointer helped me to listen to what my voice (not the words) were saying and to understand better what others were saying to me.  My mother had a gorgeous voice (speaking as well as singing) and she had a richness of tone, of rhythm, and like those speaking French, she could have said nonsense and made it sound wonderful.  She had a ‘grown-up’ voice.  Many, many of the young women who talk today have voices of children, of girls 6 or 8, the voices of children one might hear on the playground.  JM said that he loved Lauren Bacall’s voice.  It was the voice of a real woman, a complete woman, a woman who was in every aspect a woman.  Her voice showed sensuality, intelligence and as it engaged with others it communicated meaning beyond words and, beyond that, it was commanding, one wanted to listen to it!