Archive for the ‘O Tempora’ Category

“When you saw the word mask, was your first interpretation protection, covering up, persona, or performance?”

The NaBloPoMo theme for this month is Masks, presumably owing to Halloween at the end of the month.  I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in the USA, Halloween – All Hallows’ Eve – has taken on a life of its own.  When I was young, it was an excuse to shake down your neighbors for all the candy your mother wouldn’t let you eat the rest of the year; when my mother was young, it was an excuse to commit minor mayhem in the neighborhood (if I recall correctly, letting the air out of car tires was a popular prank).

Nowadays, though, there are costume parties for adults, and people seem to go all out for the scariest persona they can dredge up.  Zombies are so ubiquitous that my son has actually declared that he’s sick of them – and there’s a road in South Carolina marked, “Zombie Crossing.”  (I suspect my daughter is responsible for that – zombies figure large in her fiction.)

I myself am one of those cranks who think the whole thing has gotten out of hand, and we don’t participate.  We don’t ever have our porch light on – the signal that a house is open for trick-or-treating – and should someone wander up to our doorstep by mistake, we hand out nickels.  I think the word’s gotten out about the nickels, since no one has come to our door for the past two years.

None of this is where I wanted to go with this post, but I couldn’t resist the detour through the Land of the Cranky Old Broad.  In reality, when I hear the word “mask,” my first thought is of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, “wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door – who is it for?”  What an image:  When you are home alone, you wear your real face, but when someone comes to your door, you reach into a figurative jar and pull out whatever face you think is appropriate to the situation, Welcoming or Polite Inquiry or Take-a-Hike-NOW-If-You-Know-What’s-Good-for-You.  But none of them is really you.

Do we all do this, I wonder?  I do.  Although it’s true that I do truly care about the people I know and love, it doesn’t always register that there are Expectations as to how one shows that one cares.  So, for example, I have to remind myself to send birthday cards, and I have to force myself to send Christmas cards – even though I’m genuinely glad that these people are celebrating another year of life, and I love getting Christmas cards – just not sending them out.  When I meet people in the street, I know how to greet them with the appropriate level of enthusiasm for whatever they have to share about their lives – but it’s all a reaction I’ve learned over many, many years of watching other people and how they handle encounters; it’s nothing I do naturally.  Once my acquaintances go their way, they’re off the radar screen.

So…what face do I wear when I’m by myself?  Darned if I know – it’s usually buried in a book, or a cross-stitch project.  But I can say – and this is all I will say about my true face – when I wear my true face, it’s when I’m at prayer.  No point wearing any other, since God is no respecter of masks!

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“Frank Lloyd Wright said, ‘TV is chewing gum for the eyes.’  What are your favourite shows to chew?”

First:  This should be my last post on the subject of vision, at least under the prompts of NaBloPoMo (National Blog-Posting Month).  Tomorrow, the Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is visiting my parish, and I plan to be on hand for that.  Readers who are Orthodox will know what a Hierarchical visit entails, and I fully expect to be gone all day.  (And for anyone reading this blog who thinks, “Oh, goody, a chance to break in and steal stuff” – nice try. My husband isn’t Orthodox, hates driving in Massachusetts, and won’t be coming with me.)

Frank Lloyd Wright was, as all good architects should be, something of an artist.  He appreciated that all media should have, as its goal, the ability to move a person onto another plane, to make one think beyond one’s usual pathways and parameters, to expand one’s experiences, even if only vicariously.  For him to comment on television as “chewing gum for the eyes” strikes me as a profound statement, for after all, what is chewing gum?  It’s nutritionally devoid.  It’s worse for you than ice cream, which at least has some dairy content in it, in addition to all that sugar and fat.  Chewing gum has nothing.  I guess it stimulates salivary glands, since I see people chewing it everywhere nowadays – I think the last time I had a piece of chewing gum, I was thirteen years old – but I know that when I see people chewing mindlessly, I don’t think much of whatever is going on in their heads.

And the same with television.  It doesn’t have a lot going for it, especially nowadays, especially in the USA.  That said, there’s really only one show I will only give up during Lent:  NCIS.  I got into it because I once worked for someone who had been an investigator with the old Naval Investigation Service (now Naval Criminal Investigation Service).  I’m well aware that the television show bears very little resemblance to the job my old boss did, and not just because of all the high-tech gadgetry; it’s television, it’s supposed to be escapist and unrealistic.

But there are a number of cultural gags that I just can’t resist.  Primary among them is the “family” aspect.  The show is billed as being like “one big dysfunctional family,” and that about describes my family, too.  Abby is my little sister to the life (except for being a goth).  McGee is just like the oldest of my younger brothers, and Tony is definitely my nosy middle brother (the now-retired Treasury agent, so at least his bratty nosiness did serve a useful purpose n his life).  (In case you’re reading this, Donald, that was a compliment.)  Jimmy Palmer, the assistant medical examiner, is a lot like my youngest brother, who also has a very weird sense of humor, and to whom I owe my use of the word “distructions” as a cross between “directions” and “instructions.”  Ziva is me.  Definitely.

One of the other, really funny, aspects of this show is the generation gap.  Every once in so often, they’ll run a show where the electricity goes out in the building, and all the high-tech gadgetry fails.  The young people will start talking about “where will we find a dinosaur to figure out how to do this” – and up pops their boss, who not only knows how to get the job done, but also how to operate the ancient equipment that people of my generation always used.  And in his ability to pop up seemingly out of nowhere, especially just as a young staff member makes a rude observation about him, Gibbs is just like everyone’s dad or mom, with the eyes in the back of his head.  Ducky, the medical examiner, is like a kindly old grandfather with an endless well of stories, all delivered in an inimitable bumbling-old-Scot style – but his job expertise is unparalleled, and his knowledge of and comments on the dark recesses of the human mind, which result in the necessity for his job, are trenchant.

I miss that kind of family, all arguing with each other endlessly, tormenting one another with truly stupid gags, but all pulling together to get the work done.  And caring about one another – that comes through very clearly, episode after episode.  When one has a crisis, all the rest rally around him.  When one is in danger, all the rest go all out to rescue her.  Last season ended darkly, with the destruction of  NCIS headquarters, and this season, the office “mascot,” Abby, is having trouble getting back to her usual upbeat self – I was reminded of the trauma so many of us felt around 9/11, and I wonder if this season will be a way of exploring that and helping people to find ways to slot it into perspective, so that we never forget – but can still go on with living.

So for me, this show has depth and perspective, definitely not chewing-gum material.  It feeds a part of me that would otherwise go neglected, the point in time where my brothers and sister and all our cousins lived within a few blocks of one another, the part where we were Together.

There are other shows I watch – All Creatures Great and Small, primarily, Mystery! occasionally, and I do wish that the British television series around the Miss Read books would be imported, as that would be nourishing in a different way.  But to get back to my Roots – NCIS, every time.

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Like ICare

I’m finally beginning to understand why old people get so fixated on the past:  They have no idea what people are talking about in the present.

Recently I got an e-mail (Mother:  “What’s an e-mail?”) from Consumer Reports, wanting to know about my cell-phone service.  I felt like an idiot answering it; they had all kinds of questions about my SmartPhone and my IPhone and my IPad and my Tablet (I know what Tablets are – Moses came down from Mount Sinai with them.  And the newspaper for the Brooklyn Diocese was named The Tablet).  Really, what is an IPhone or an IPad?!  What’s wrong with just using a cell phone and a laptop!?

My husband and I hear ads on television all the time for these things, along with MP3 players and BlueTooth Capability, and look at each other in bewilderment – and what the heck is a Blue Ray?  Is it any relation to a stingray?  I’m sure that if we still had a Younger-Generation Person living in the house, they’d be only too happy to explain these things to us (eye-rolls included gratis), but the offspring are long gone, and when we do see them – mostly him, she living a thousand miles away – we have more important things to talk about than IShouldn’tUseThatLanguage.

Listen, I don’t even like cell phones.  I have one in case of emergencies, so that if I get stuck on my way to one of my two churches – one is forty miles away, one is fifty miles away – I can call for help.  (Is there an app called OHelp?  What’s an app?)  But I see far too many people glued to their cell phones like it was an umbilical cord or something – and the most pathetic ones of all are the young mothers who are out walking with their little children, gabbing away on their phones, oblivious to the little person right next to them.  And the most painful one was the father and son in a restaurant, the son looking totally miserable while his father gassed on the cell phone, like anybody on a telephone could be more important than the person in front of you.

Actually, if it comes to that – I’m not all that crazy about telephones, either.  Again, they’re good for emergencies, which is why I have one.  And speaking of telephones, when is Congress going to break up Wal-Mart the way they broke up Bell Telephone?!  Wal-Mart on a bad day is a far worse monopoly than Ma Bell ever was.

The world makes less and less sense to me, so I guess that means I’m officially Old.  And to prove it, there are days when I wake up with three men in my bed:  Will Power gets me out of bed despite Arthur Itis and Charley Horse.  But the first man I see in the morning is John, and the man I go to bed with is Ben Gay.  Sorry, I had to find a way to work that oldie in; it has become embarrassingly relevant in recent years.

But, as I’m always telling people – getting old is better than the alternative.  Meanwhile, I don’t suppose there’s an app for IAche??

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“Do you prefer to have still photographs or videos from important moments?”

That’s a no-brainer:  stills, every time.

Sure, they’re posed, and they aren’t “spontaneous,” like that’s a virtue.  But let me tell you about photos.

My Aunt Mary, whom I’ve mentioned a few times in this blog, was the de facto Family Archivist.  If there was an important event in my mother’s family, Aunt Mary kept a record of it.  She must have had a photo album for every year of each of her children’s existences:  Birthday parties, graduations, First Communions and Confirmations, and then she had pictures of all the wedding and baby showers she hosted over many, many years.  If relatives came into town to visit, she had photos of those visits.  Every photo was put into an album, with those black gummed tricorner thingies that were once ubiquitous – you could buy them at any stationer’s – and the black pages, the consistency of blotter paper (for any of you that use fountain pens), had the name of the event and the names of the people photographed written in in special white ink that wouldn’t bleed on the paper.

They were works of art, those photo albums, and on rainy summer days, when we kids had nothing better to do and my mother and her sister didn’t want to have us underfoot, Aunt Mary would take out those photo albums and we’d sit poring over them for hours, reminiscing about the happy times we’d had.

Seven years ago, Aunt Mary died.  My sister, who cared for her in her last illness, was one of the ones to clean out the house.  We knew that the photo albums properly should go to her sons; what we didn’t know was what would become of them, and of the memories in them.  So she took one, filled with the events and people she remembered, and I took one, filled with the events and people I remembered.  Since we are literally a generation apart, there being fifteen years between us, we felt we had a fair representation of family history; and the other albums went to the people they properly belonged to, her sons and their children.

Now I look at those albums and remember.  “There’s Aunt Clara!” who’s been dead for nearly 50 years.  And, “Oh, my goodness, there’s Grandma Carey!” – my great-grandmother, surrounded by her four great-grandchildren.  And, “I remember when Aunt Loretta and Uncle Bob came in from Buffalo,” or, “…when Aunt Gerry and Uncle Richie got married.”  I even found a photograph of my cousin’s first military ball, him in his Junior ROTC uniform with his date – me – at his side.  Hey, when you’re fourteen years old and Catholic, girlfriends are in short supply.

Our own photographs are not nearly in such good order, mostly because I just can’t stand the thought of putting them into those soulless plastic albums.  Recently a local craft store began carrying scrap-booking supplies.  I like the dedicated pages – you know, the ones that have “Generations” watermarked onto them, or “School Daze,” stuff like that – and the fact that you can put together a unique document of your own memories.  I even like the funky little decals you can buy to decorate the pages.

And it was in among the funky little decals that I found them:  tricorner photograph thingies.  They aren’t gummed anymore; they have backing that you can peel off, and they’re self-stick, which is a vast improvement over that vile-tasting gummy stuff.  And they come in a variety of colors, not just black.  But – tricorner photograph thingies.  And pens in many more hues than white.

I think I know what I want to do, come winter.

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This has not been an easy week for me.  In another post, I mentioned that we are having some major renovations done to our house, both badly needed:  a new roof (think of the sound of nails being pounded overhead, all day long), and a new bathroom, which will be lovely when finished, but is most disconcerting just at present:  Where do we keep our toothbrushes? where did we put the toothpaste? where’s the shaving tackle? where’s that box of Unmentionable Personal-Care Products?  You get the idea.  Not to mention that during the day, the toilet is disconnected so that the contractor can work on the walls.  My hairdresser wanted to know if we were getting a whirlpool tub, and I had to say no, we aren’t; we’re pretty minimalist people.  But the concern with this project was that the caulking kept pulling away from the old tub, and we were concerned that there was water damage to the walls; so we really needed to have the whole  room redone.  Thankfully, no water damage, and the new bathtub has a raised lip that precludes the necessity of caulking.  A clever solution to a common problem; wish we’d known about it years ago.

And on top of all this chaos – our favorite radio station has signed off the air.  As of 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, WBACH has disconnected its Southern Maine transmitter; its frequency was sold at a bankruptcy auction to a group that has replaced classical programming with yet more rock ‘n’ roll, as if, you know, the cultural scene of southern Maine is going to fall apart if we don’t have one more venue for angry screaming.  All is not quite lost, as we can still access programming on our computer (and thank goodness for that – I can still remember the emptiness when New York’s WNCN went off the air the first time, in 1974), but our computer is in the office, and the office is nowhere near the living room.  We’re looking into getting a wireless router (or something along those lines) that will allow us to pick up the signal off the computer.

In light of the events of this past week – I refer, of course, to Libya – these concerns seem almost insultingly trivial.  And there are people out there, people whom I love and care about deeply, who are suffering real tragedies and crises, so if your reaction is, “You’re in mourning over a classical-music station?!  Get real!” that’s understandable.  But I’m not sure the two are entirely unconnected.

Just this past week, I wrote about classical music under the topic of beauty being in the eye of the beholder, and I noted that classical music’s reputation began to take a hit when “searching-for-the-lost-chord” compositions came into vogue.  Thinking about it further, I’m not entirely sure that that’s the actual cause; on another level, I think it might (also) have something to do with an American trait that suspects anything Intellectual.  When I was growing up – and certainly when my parents were growing up – classical music was firmly associated with the College Crowd.  In those years, college was only for the wealthy, or for people who were going into High Finance; they came out of college smoking pipes, if male, or wearing twinsets and pearls, if female, voting Republican and listening to classical music.  Then came the 1960s, and since then, the College Crowd seems to wear denim and eschew bathing and vote Democrat.  Listening to classical music is still associated with Rich People, and as any student with loans up the wazoo can tell you, college students are by and large not Rich.  (Nor are they educated to the standards formerly set by colleges, but that’s another story.)

A college education used to include mandatory music-appreciation courses, and the music on offer was exclusively classical.  That’s no longer the case – even where music appreciation is offered (as an elective), the music studied is only marginally classical – so lovers of classical music continue to dwindle.  And so does intellectual life, the life of the mind – dare I say, the life of the soul?  My point, if there is one, is that people who like classical music not only are suspected of being slightly weird, but have always been suspected of being – well, not like the rest of mankind, anyway.  Do they even know what hard work is?  (Only someone who has never tried to master a musical instrument can ask this question with a straight face.)  What kind of a brain actually likes that stuff?!  What does any of it have to do with Real Life, you know, that place where people get their fingernails filthy with embedded grime and their hands are cracked and bleeding from hard work?

I first encountered the term “philistine” when WNCN went off the air and was replaced by a rock station.  It seems to be a term describing anti-intellectualism, a dumbing-down of the prevalent culture to some level of lowest-common-denominator, a lack of appreciation for making the effort to become more than one step above Animal.  Think about that, an animal’s purely visceral reaction to what goes on around it.  Eat or be eaten.

Then think of the images out of Libya.

Then ask yourself what was refined about anything you saw in the news.

Then tell me that the loss of a classical-music radio station – of one more level of refinement – of being human – of being more than Animal – is trivial.

This week, the Philistines triumphed.

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Goodness, a whole week without having posted.  For awhile there, I felt as if I was shooting for a whole year.  Anyway, “back to our sheep,” as I’m told they say in Russia:

What is the best thing you ever had for dessert?”

Let’s see, I’m in my seventh decade of life, and the question is, what is the very best dessert I’ve ever had?!  Scanning…scanning…scanning (back over 60+ years)…  Got it.  Believe it or not.

A banana split.

Nobody in my mother’s family was very demonstrative, but her older sister was especially close to my mother and to all us kids.  Mind you, I’m sure my brothers would have been very happy to have her farther away:  She lived around the corner from us when I was growing up, and my mother babysat her kids while my aunt went out to work, so on the rare occasions when my mother needed a babysitter, Aunt Mary was It.  And when it came to concocting scenarios of disaster, Aunt Mary had an imagination that made the legendary Jewish Mother look like a rank amateur.  My brothers still talk about the day she tied them into chairs – I find that hard to believe, but it is just possible, considering that my aunt’s explanation was that she was afraid Something Would Happen to Them.

I myself never experienced this side of her personality.  On the other hand, I could be relied upon to disappear into my cousin’s bedroom and not come out till it was time to come home, due to the fact that my cousin, her older son, had the largest collection of comic books in our entire town.  I think he had a charter subscription to Mad Magazine.

Anyway, back to dessert.  When I was sixteen, I met my aunt on the main street of town for a reason long lost to the mists of Time, and she invited me into a local candy store for a banana split.  I had heard of these concoctions, but had never had one; they were expensive treats, and I had more important uses for my allowance, like books and classical-music records, which were also expensive.  So I said I’d love to, more out of curiosity than for any other reason.

WOW.  That’s all I can say about it, just – WOW.  All that whipped cream!  All that ice cream!!  Bananas, and a cherry atop each peak of whipped cream!!!  And I didn’t even have to share it; my aunt bought one for herself, and a whole ‘nother one just for me.  If I had been hit by a car on the way home, I’d have died a happy girl:  I’d finally had the famous, infamously caloric, legendary Banana Split.

I had one other banana split in my lifetime, interestingly also in my aunt’s company, and I was somewhere in my forties at the time.  My girlish figure was long gone, due not to an excess of banana splits but to early-onset menopause, and I probably should not have been indulging.  But my mother, my aunt, and I had gone out to lunch, my aunt had seen it on the menu and pounced – it turned out it was her favorite dessert – and as she did so, it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t enjoyed that treat since that long-ago winter day when I was 16, so I joined her.  And it was just as good the second time around.

I haven’t had one since.  At this point in my life, I doubt my elderly insides would be able to handle all that richness.  But the memory of that slushy winter day, all holed up in a candy store on the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and 78th Street, with my favorite relative, spooning up a banana split all to myself – that still stands out as the best dessert I ever had.

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“What candy did you eat once that you wish you could get again?” is the prompt from NaBloPoMo, and in the meantime, WordPress’s Daily Post has issued a challenge:  Going from Mundane to Meaningful.  Goodness, two tasks.

As strange as it sounds to me – I can’t think of a single candy I would wish to eat again.  Not even the handmade chocolate bunnies that my mother used to buy at Easter, from a candy shop owned by an in-law of her father’s.  I’m sure it was excellent candy, but like pearls cast before swine, we little piglets just wolfed it down (so to speak), and I can’t even remember what it tasted like anymore.

Not even the fruit bonbons that my grandmother kept in a dish on her coffee table, desirably mainly because if we had touched them, we would probably have lost a hand – my mother somehow had this idea that Other People’s Candy was out for show only.  Maybe it was.  But over the decades, the appeal of hardened sugar water, or whatever candy consists of, has waned.

No, wait a minute.  Come to think of it…I actually do have a good candidate.  The year I was fifteen, my grandfather came to New Hampshire to visit his son, and I was spending the summer with that same son, who happened to be my godfather.  My grandfather, a great lover of walks, invited me for a walk with him, and as I also loved a good long walk (before arthritis caught up with me, anyway), I accepted gladly.  We ambled down Central Avenue together until we came to a candy shop – not one of those places where they sold candy like Snickers and Three Musketeers, but the kind of place just like where my mother used to get those Easter bunnies.  All their candy was home-made.  He bought a couple of pounds of good milk chocolate, then said to me, “How about some white barque?”  I expressed my ignorance on the subject, and was I surprised to learn that it was white chocolate.  White chocolate?!  Who ever heard of such a thing?  But he bought a pound, and I had a sample, and – yeah, I was hooked.  It was really good.  It had almonds in it, and even though it was high summer, that chocolate hardly melted at all.

For years and years afterward, I lusted after the memory of that chocolate.  Shortly after that visit, the candy shop closed for good; it’s now a bar.  How things change…I mean, the juxtaposition of the innocence of candy versus the kinds of things that go on in bars just seems to smack me in the face, as I’m thinking about it.  And to top it all off, the Food Police have us all convinced that Candy is Bad, and they’re strangely silent on the subject of booze.  The FPI – Food Police Investigators – do give a grudging nod to dark chocolate for its reputed Health Benefits, but I think they’d be just as happy if it too disappeared off the planet.  People tend to feel too darn good after chocolate.

Recently, I’ve discovered that there are producers of candy who offer white chocolate.  These tend to be either smaller manufacturers of “organic chocolate,” or manufacturers of high-end chocolates, like Lindt; in any case, the chocolate is mass-produced, and it doesn’t include almonds (from what I can tell, nuts are what set barque apart from plain ol’ white chocolate).  I’ve tried it; it’s good.  But it’s not homemade.

And it’s not the gift of a grandfather who wasn’t all that affectionate and not at all good with words, but who understood very well what children, even teenagers, like.

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