11.23.2008

Louisiana Bound

So I forgot to mention that we're going to Louisiana for Thanksgiving. All of B's family hails from this murky Southern state, and the stories are legion: like the one about the baby alligators that crawled their way up the culvert from the Tangipahoa River into an uncle's pond. So of course he raised them as pets. And it was an amicable relationship until one of the puppies went missing.

I have a feeling Louisiana is full of this sort of thing: quirky, semi-brutal stories in which I laugh and then secretly thank God that I am only visiting. I know that sounds awfully cynical, and I really loved the last visit B & I made 10 (!) years ago. All of B's family are sweet Southern folk, very comfortable in their own skins, very welcoming and full of recipes for ice box lemon pie and fresh pork cracklins. Last time we were there I learned to play the Gut Bucket, and met the town's pet alligator, Old Hardhide. He lives in a cement pond, (behind bars) on the main street. From time to time Old Hardhide will die, and the locals parade him up and down the street in what is known as a jazz funeral, and then they get another alligator, and name him Old Hardhide. Sort of like Menudo.

We're spending one night in New Orleans, and I am rubbing my hands in anticipation of our visit to the legendary Cafe Du Monde, where the menu is: 1) chickory coffee 2) beignets (French doughnuts covered with powdered sugar.
The old trolley cars in the Garden District, the muffaleta sandwiches, I'm doing it all. I picked up a copy of Anne Rice's new spiritual biography Out of Darkness to read along the way, she's a New Orleans native. Ummm....anything else? I'm planning on drawing heavily on the pregnancy excuse when it comes to the local food. I don't know why Louisiana is so known for its bottom-feeder cuisine. Shrimp gumbo, seafood jambalaya, crawfish pie, fried catfish, I personally think these people need to eat a little higher on the food chain.....I am really looking forward to the big pile of cousins that G will get to play with as well as the pleasant jumble of folk that gather each Thanksgiving on Larpenter Lane.
I'll try to write some whilst we're there, otherwise I'll see y'all in a week!

11.19.2008

PS22 Chorus covering 'There' by the Innocence Mission

It's the little things in life. And this week it's a cover of the Innocence Mission's 'There', a little jem off one of their earlier albums, 'Glow'. It made me so happy......


11.15.2008

DowntownTM Versus The Organic Experience

Today we found ourselves in another universe: the East Bay. B had to pick up something in Concord for his boss and we ended up in Pleasant Hill, which we renamed Unnatural Hill. Not Unpleasant Hill, we settled on Unnatural. We were directed to what sounded like the downtown shopping district, but upon closer sniff turned out to be the latest incarnation of the strip mall, the Downtown _________(fill in town name here.) It looked like a downtown/city centre, street parking, sidewalks, restaurants, coffee shops and planter boxes. But I first noticed something was amiss when I realized that our footsteps were echoing as we walked along the clean, wide cement sidewalks. Although it was a lovely Saturday afternoon, and there were plenty of people around, it was oddly quiet. No, silent. No street musicians, drunks, preachers, petitioners, dreadies, Hari Krishnas or someone imploring you for a dollar. Besides that, the people all around us seemed to be talking in low, subdued voices, neatly licking their frozen yogurts and glancing silently around. All the stores were chains.We got some ice cream and perched on one of the grey concrete blocks that I can only assume were meant to be benches, but instead looked like inverted ice cube trays. It was pretty, pleasant even, we ate our ice cream in the warm autumn sun and watched G's chocolate mustache turn into a goatee. But it was eerie. Unnatural. I realized that all the banners up everywhere that urged everyone to "Shop Downtown!" were not in order to save the local businesses from the big bad mall, it was advertising for the updated version of the big bad mall.
The Organic Experience
Earlier that day we had a delicious & distended breakfast with family at the Palo Alto Creamery and then mosied over to the farmer's market. A string trio was playing silly songs for a gaggle of children who were dancing on the sidewalk and giggling. G bashfully joined in, and I stood back, watching and drinking in the moment. The flower stall down the street was brimming with Ammi majus and that lovely orange straw flower that I see this time of year, and can never remember the name of. Maple and liquidambar leaves spun lazy leaf circles on the cracked pavement, and a building across the street was all but engulfed in an elaborate tracery of vines.
The smell of basil and fresh baked bread was at once beguiling and comforting-(although I am still feeling a bit queasy over certain foods-sorry, tomatoes & leafy greens!) It was so utterly organic and infinitely familiar; I stood there, toe-tapping to the music, feeling happy and full of good food. Later that day, as we drove away from Pleasant Hill, I decided that in the end I was glad that its DowntownTM exists for those who want it, everyone should feel the way I felt at the farmer's market-like I was in my skin & could move adeptly through time and space in that environment. Like my cultural proprioception was regulated; I was at home and at peace.

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow! Praise Him, all creatures here below! Praise Him above, ye heavenly host-Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!*

*Known by G as the Soxdology.

11.08.2008

Rosa's Memoirs:3-4

G spends a lot of time checking out kids when we are in public. On Tuesday we were at the neighborhood taqueria after voting and she couldn't stop looking at a boy over the top of her quesadilla. He was older than her, in grade school. She started big-arm waving at him as he passed by, eyes round and solemn. The way her head swivels around when she sees people her size reminds me a little of finding a fellow ex-pat whilst traveling abroad.
She seems to crave interaction with her peers, and talks endlessly of them: friends from church, preschool, the neighborhood. I don't know if I was like this, it's hard to remember being 3 1/2. But I think it was around this age that I began to notice the children around me. I remember Christopher Caspar, on whom I had a little preschool crush, at Mrs. Jaffee's Scary Preschool on the westside of Santa Cruz. I remember the girl with brown hair and fat pigtail curls who was my friend, and who loved Christopher Caspar as well. Maybe it was the aliteration. I have no idea.

There were some mean kids in our neighborhood, older boys who tricked me into walking on the red & white rock landscaped hell known as our next door neighbor's front yard.
This man was legendary on Getchell St. for being a gruesome old meanie, but the only evidence I remember of this is that he dared not to be at home on Halloween, his porch light off & the windows dark. I think these mean older kids were friends with my older brother and would play his Planet of the Apes game in the back shed, it's brown-grey weathered wood almost completely covered in nasturtiums and glistening snail trails.

This was the house we lived in when I decided to eat a snail. My mom found me with the snail in my mouth (it seemed like a good idea at the time) and quickly fished it out (still alive?). She also quickly washed my mouth out with soap (she told me later she was afraid that I ate some snail poision)- at Mrs. Jaffee's, however, kid's mouths would routinely get washed out for using 'potty language'; consequently I took this mouth washing as a punishment, and was mortally crushed.
Mrs. Jaffee's Terrifying Preschool (the official name, really) also holds the following ignominious distinction.................
Our preschool planned a field trip to near-by Natural Bridges State Park which hosts hundreds of migrating monarch butterflies each year. I was very excited to go; it was most likely my first school outing. I had a special lunch packed, clean clothes, special backpack, everything I needed. The morning of the field trip I woke up with my stomach churning with excitement. By the time I got to preschool, my stomach was in such knots from the excitement and anticipation that I got a horrible stomach ache and had to stay back at the preschool with one of the teachers while the rest of the school went on the field trip. I was the only kid. It was a sad, sad day.
Sorry, Mum, this post isn't meant to engender guilt! But it's still hard to drive down Fair Ave., and my stomach has a momentary little clench whenever I drive by
Mrs. Jaffee's Mean Lil' Preschool...

11.05.2008

Rosa's Political Analysis


We Shall Overcome
I was in high school during the first Iraq War. On that January day when the U.S. invaded Iraq, 3 of our city's high schools spontaneously marched out of class, wearing black-arm bands, mourning the violence and loss of life; protesting our country's involvement in a war that seemed dubious at best. We ended up in a student-led rally downtown, holding hands and singing all the old protest songs. I remember feeling imbued with a sense of power, that we were 'the people', and that we could make a difference. A few days later, some friends and I joined the massive peace march in San Francisco, carrying an enormous (and de rigeour) tie dye peace-sign flag.
Rock the Vote(?)
Not long after I graduated from high school I was swept up in the whole 1993 Bush/Clinton election. I was a new voter, freshly registered with the Socialist Party-I had just read Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle-and I carried into the election that same belief that I could make a difference; ready to vote out George Bush, eager for change. MTV had that 'Rock the Vote' campaign, heavily endorsed by all my favorite bands. I am embarrassed by how much this influenced me. And then when Clinton won, I sat gleefully in front of the TV watching U2, REM & 10,000 Maniacs playing at Clinton's Inaugural Ball. I video-taped it, watching again and again Natalie Merchant & Michael Stipe singing "To Sir With Love"; it felt like a fresh (brave)new world.
Burned & Beleaguered
Well, most of the whole Clinton administration left a bad taste in my mouth, with the hinkey dealings, slippery words, multiple Whatever-gates & ultimate impeachment. My youthful political optimism was burned, and I was left feeling wary & beleaguered. And I've been in this place for the last however many elections, wistfully re-reading Jimmy Carter's books, choosing to write-in candidates rather than having on my conscience the guilt of voting for someone I didn't trust.
Under-represented
But I've always felt under-represented, more conservative than most Democrats but far too leftie to be a Republican. And I haven't come close with any of the other parties either, most feel so fringey & wild-eyed that I'd need a bunker, a shot-gun and a year's supply of emergency rations just to join.
Why I'm Not a Joiner
I was brought up in a non-denominational church, with independent-voting parents, in a liberal state (CA), in Santa Cruz, a town where 'organized religion' was generally not looked upon with a friendly eye. It's the sort of place where it's hard to walk downtown without being 1) handed sheaths of fliers for upcoming demonstrations/marches/rallies, 2) asked to sign several petitions, or 3) swept up in a Hari Krishna tambourine parade. And somehow I love it, it's my hometown. More importantly, Santa Cruz holds these two ideas at once: 1) progressive politics are in the majority, and 2) don't trust those in power. I've always found this a little ridiculous, with the bumper stickers that at once tout every liberal policy of the city council and also include, 'Subvert the Dominant Paradigm!' I don't know why but I find it endearing-maybe because it's so near-sighted.

Being a Christian has made me recognize this even more because often it seems that to 'subvert the dominant paradigm' means to follow Jesus. (I see a future bumper sticker!) And I think that's how it should be. I am nervous with the Religious Right, and political lobbies with lots of power and money in the name of Jesus, (who always disassociated himself with worldly systems of power.) It feels too much like Rome. Dr. Dobson makes me nervous at times. The American Family Association makes me nervous (and embarrassed.)
Citizen of Another Country
At church this Sunday, Josh Fox spoke about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the political arena, reminding us that we are first citizens of a heavenly country and that our eyes need to be on the One who will ultimately right all wrongs. This calms me, and speaks to that place that doesn't feel at home with any one ideology of the world.

So, it's been interesting with this election. I'd already decided to vote for Obama, mostly because I was heartily sick of the Bush administration, and Obama was interesting: a converted Christian with an inner-city social justice background, and a good author to boot. I liked that my friends saw him at a Swell Season concert in Chicago. I liked that he sounded like a normal person. But mainly I was 1) very tired of Bush's politics, and 2) willing to give the other version of 'The Man' (aka the Democratic Party) a chance. And he won.

And then today as I took G to the doctor (ear infection) I tuned into the BBC's 'World Have Your Say'. It was incredible. People calling in from all over the world, giddy and excited for my country. A woman from Bahrain called in to 'congratulate the American people on their vote'. Kenya has declared a public holiday. People from all over Africa were calling in, commending the US for the ability of both 'blacks and whites' to elect an African-American president, citing us an example to their tribe-torn nations. All over the world, the calls & texts poured in, people celebrating because of something that 'the American people' had done. And I was astounded.
Me: Stupid American
I guess I didn't realize how heavily I carry the guilt of being an American. I suppose living internationally during the first flush of the Iraq War, seeing the protests and near-riots as my president was all but booed out of London and hearing again and again the phrase "stupid American" really began to wear on me. I agreed with everyone mostly, but somehow that didn't help. To hear congratulations and 'well-done' from different people all over the world was surprisingly uplifting, and I spent the rest of the day with a dopey grin on my face. I was happy that for one day, my country wasn't the international whipping boy, and that a guy in Nairobi was having a celebratory pint because of something that I (in a small way) helped bring about.
Hopeful, Finally
Today I read a transcript of Obama preaching at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia (where Dr. King was pastor) & it was outstanding. I am suddenly imbued with that initial sense of hope, not because I think that Obama is going to solve all our problems, but because he is out there, a follower of Jesus, working for the kingdom of God, trying to bring justice to the poor, speaking up for those who can't speak up for themselves. I admire him, and didn't think I could admire another president. I don't know what will happen next, but for the first time in a long time, I am (dare I say it?) hopeful.

11.02.2008

Etymology


The other day G was dancing around singing the word butterfly to herself. After a little while, true to family genes, she asked me why it was called butterfly. "What does the butter part mean?" she asked. I hied me hence to Walter Skeat's Concise Dictionary of English Etymology. This is what I found.

butterfly (E.) A.S. buttor-fleorge, lit. butter-fly. So called from its excrement resembling butter, as shewn by the O. Du. boter-schijte, a butterfly, lit. butter-voider.

I was dumbfounded. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that the butterfly was so called because of its scatological contributions. I never conceived that it would be named after anything other than its amazing beauty and lyrical flight. Even a nod to it's transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis to adult would be in order, one would assume.
Wingedfairy, Flower-sipper, Jewelwing, and that's just off the top of my head. Anything, actually, other than The Buttercrapper. How did this happen? Not to malign the Scandinavians, but this scene is all I can picture-done, of course with Basil Fawlty's accent from Fawlty Tower's hilarious episode, 'The Germans'-

"Hans Fritz, did you see zaat insect flying in ze air?"
"You mean ze little red one with ze black spots?"
"No, no-the one whose excrement looks like butter."
"O ya, ya. Now I know who you mean-ze little boter-schijte!"

The Divine "Doah!"
I can almost picture God in heaven doing a Homer Simpson impersonation, smacking His forehead with open Palm. Somehow it seems like we fell just a little short of our Adamic calling as Steward & Official Namer on that one...at least our language did......
So many other Indo-European languages have managed to capture the lilting & fluttering quality of the butterfly without once alluding to the color of its...leavings.
Here are some of my favorites:

flutura (Albanian)
papilio/onis (Latin) As in ancient Greek, the soul of a dead person is associated with a butterfly. The word 'pavilion' comes from this word as well, a tent or canopy referring to the spreading out of wings.
petaloudia (modern Greek) relating to the words 'petal', 'leaf', 'spreading out.'
mariposa (Spanish) from the expression 'Mari, alight!' Which apparently is present in children's songs and games. It might be from "Santa Maria, posa" Which translates, "The Virgin Mary alights" I suppose Mary had to sit down sometime, after chasing toddler Jesus around all day.

But see how great etymology is? It's all stories, and sends my narrative-driven mind off on a thousand rabbit-trails. An English etymology dictionary is far more inveigling than any internet search engine; and I don't come away from it stiff-backed & feeling like hours of my life have been irrevocably sapped.
Okay, Okay.....
I should add that the more research I did, the more I discovered various sources pooh-poohing (sorry) the butter-excrement theory. I found other explanations like that butterflies and butter-churning are both harbingers of spring, that many butterflies have wings the color of butter, or that the name derives from the old stories about fairies and witches stealing butter or milk at night in the form of butterflies. But I still think all these name definitions are pretty insipid, and miss the point entirely. Where do I write a letter of protest?

(And many thanks to pdphoto.org for the exceptional and-might I add-officially free butterfly photo, and thanks as well to Mr. Matthew Rabuzzi, armchair etymologist from Cupertino, CA for his outstanding article on the butterfly in Indo-European languages. Very comprehensive and well-written, and that's hard to find in internet articles these days.....)

Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.