Thursday, February 25, 2010

Friendward Bound

Bag packed. Over the last few months plans were made and shifted: weather conditions, birthdays, holidays all needing to be navigated around. And now there's fruition.

"The language of friendship is not words but meanings." -- Henry David Thoreau

Will be offline for a couple of days X

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Carved deep

There are two perfect weathers in which to visit the grave of a loved one.

One is on a calm, clear, sunshiney day, where the view from the grave looks glistening and beautiful, and the fresh flowers you've brought are simply zesty with life and energy and hope; they positively affirm - sing out - that everything continues and heals and grows. And it's all about peace and coming-to-terms and gentle tender pain; all very Simba/Circle of Life stuff.

The other weather is like today: dark, louring clouds, whipping wind that feels like it slices through flesh, shoulders shivering and teeth chattering with cold, freezing rain filling your bones with that damp chill that takes hours of warmth to undo. The whole landscape is dark and morbid, and the flowers - filled with the colours of spring and hope - are already being torn and crushed before your eyes. It's a different experience of grief and loss - I guess Ruskin would be talking about 'pathetic fallacy', about how we recreate in the world a mirror of our own feelings.

The two same-but-different experiences reminded me of 'The Prophet':

Then a woman said, "Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow."

And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that hold your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater." But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced. When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Terrible sights

I still haven't heard back from friends over in Madeira; watching the footage is just surreal and awful.

This was taken in Funchal - it was here we'd wait for the Garajau bus, nip across to the Chinese bazaar if there was time...

The flash floods crashed through homes perched on the mountainside, flipped cars over and dragged them down as they churned channels to the sea; torrents of mud picking up a deadly supply of rocks as they went. Watching video footage of Funchal, seeing the recognisable within the devestation, it's just shocking.

My heart goes out...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Igniting fire

Fantastic, impassioned short talk on overcoming vs embracing adversity, specifically in relation to children, by Aimee Mullins: athlete, model, actor, Olympic record-breaker and all-round activist, who was born without shin bones.

Mullins starts with a thesaurus entry on 'disabled', which points to some of the word's underlying ideology (something that's been famously done with 'black' and 'woman'). It's a startling moment, where you can literally sense the limitations being heaved into place.

Her central point is straightforward: unless repeatedly told otherwise, a child will achieve. Along the way, Aimee quotes a 6-month UK study where A students (and their teachers) were told they were in fact D students; and D students were told they were the school's brightest and best. By the end of the study, they had grown into their expected roles.

Anyhoo, it's a great talk, and important in cultivating the idea that adversity is 'just change that we haven't adapted ourselves to yet'.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pancakes pancakes pancakes

Stuck in a dilemma between thin fragrant crepes and American-style fluffy pancakes?

Have both :-)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Indie Blockbuster

Well, it's all very Avatar.

I suspect Vedanta Resources, an aluminium (well, bauxite) mining company and the Dongria Kondh tribe may become familiar terms over the coming months. The devastating effect of Vedanta's mining was highlighted last week in an Amnesty Report, and the Church of England recently withdrew their investments in the company on human rights grounds. And now there's a powerful short film about the still-unfolding situation, cleverly sent out into the world labelled: This is a message for James Cameron. We've watched your film. Now watch ours.

It's a 10-minute film, narrated by Joanna Lumley, about a tribe, a sacred mountain, a mining company. Sounds familiar, right - even without the blue people?

It's well worth the watch, and if you're so inclined there's further information and an easy letter-writing step on Survival International (or you can paste the letter into an email straight the nice relevant Minister of Environment and Forests here). Baby step by baby step :-)

Friday, February 12, 2010


The kitties rush to the chaise longue to look out of window: it's a thing they do for the arriving postman, and for the kids who stop to wave at them and praise their cuteness.

But it's not the postman, or passers-by. A man is across the road, looking through the debris outside the builders' yard. The kitties watch, super-alert: Max is hunched over, all intent; Dubh is up on hind legs like a meercat.

The man picks something up and turns: it's a hefty hunk of concrete. He walks - towards my car at first, which gets my full attention - and then turns onto the pavement, past my house, and goes in next door. My new neighbour.

Maybe he doesn't have a copy of War and Peace to use as a yoga block. I expect that's it...

Have a scrumptious weekend, all!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Let freedom reign

An ideal day to watch some old breaking news, courtesy of Moira Stewart:

Can't embed that one for some reason, so here is another variation:

"I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

On the road again...

Me and the kitties have our little bags packed and ready to go; off to see the Birthday Girl :-)

Obviously I've had my high-maintenance travel mug in pre-use preparation since last night. Should be just about ready to keep some coffee warm...

Better hit the road!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Imagining the unwritten

People like to receive information in different ways.

Let's say you're moving offices. You tell some members of your team "the new place is gonna be great - light, spacious, easier for us to communicate; our work life will be enhanced in myriad ways" - and you'll have some of your team right there, from hello. For others, those words are the verbal equivalent of one of those weird entities that the Enterprise was always running into: a nebulous cloud spouting gobbeldeygook. You're not sure yet if it's evil, but it's not encouraging a fuzzy warm feeling.**

If you approach it from the other end of the spectrum: with maps and architects' charts and little dotted lines leading to transport connections, toilets, the stationery cupboard - you'll win other people over straight away. But those nebulous cloud folk will wonder how they ended up working for a loopy fascist crazy person who probably counts paperclips, since she seems so concerned with the whereabouts of the bleedin' stationery.

Which brings me to writing the synopsis of a novel. Little sigh. You get 500-1000 words (the book itself will be 100k-120k) in which to sum up everything. The length necessitates that it's Big Brush Stroke land, but do the brush strokes represent the feel, the tone, the atmosphere of the book, or do they suggest its hefty cast of characters, its twistey-turney plot...

I'm guessing it's both, but it takes some finessing. It feels a bit like sweeping from an epic landscape shot to tiny fine detail, and can produce a Writerly equivalent of seasickness.

I wonder if Absolut is like the Writers' Dramamine...

**Unless it's a tribble. Tribbles are, of course, all about the fuzziness.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Candles and Hedgehogs and Demons, oh my

Well it's Candlemas Day, again.

And since Punxsutawney Phil is predicting the continuation of Winter for a time (and who knows, in what-was-Saxony, some hedgehogs may have been dragged out to reenact the original Groundhog/Hedgehog tradition), it seems most appropriate to light some candles, enjoy the shimmering light in the gloom. However, some base their prediction on the weather rather than indigenous wildlife:

If Candlemas Day be dry and fair
The half o' winter's to come and mair
If Candlemas Day be wet and foul
The half o' winter's gone at Yule

Which would mean that for Baltimore, the worst of the winter is over :-)

Anyhoo, with Candlemas in mind, I was looking at some manuscript illuminations this morning. The Morgan Library & Museum (cue: reverential pause) opened an exhibition recently: Demons and Devotion: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves. It's a lavish feast for the senses, even online, where you can view the whole digital facsimile of the prayer book (for the real-life exhibition, the book has been disbound - a daring decision).

As illuminated manuscripts go, this one is a treat, filled with unusual marginalia (butterflies, flowers - to be expected - but mussels? peas?) and glorious suites of miniatures. You can glimpse the Holy Family at home: Mary weaving, Joseph on a woodworking project, and the baby zipping around in a walker.

And of course, demons and hell mouths abound!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sunday projects

Yesterday was bright and sunny and Springfull (okay, that last one may not be a real word). And where better to stroll along and enjoy the white gold light than Lough Ine... Oighin, Aidhean, Hyne - however you spell it, it's a beautiful spot :-)

And on my return, I found that the kitties had made a valiant effort to prove Type IIB Superstring Theory: