books


25
Aug 22

I didn’t know Derdriu and Noisiu either

I sat on the porch for too long this evening, enjoying the stillness of the air. That pushed the rest of the day a little further into the night. Get cleaned up, play with the cats, have a bite to eat, and so on until, finally, it was late and dark by the time I got around to watering the flowers.

I did that in the darkness, because we don’t have lights right over the flowers. Easy enough, though, especially in the dark. Give the spigot a half crank, make sure the sprayer is on mist and then move back and forth a lot. The sound lets you know if you’re on target. I was thinking about different types of leaves and the sound the water makes on them. I was thinking of how this wouldn’t happen to me:

Watering plants, with a gardening hose, being a terribly suspicious activity and all that.

Watering his neighbor’s plants.

The charges against the pastor were rightfully dropped. Seems fairly perverse that they were filed to begin with.

Let’s check in on the Poplars Building, the one too wild to tame, too tough to implode, too slow to be scrapped to death. The cleanup continues on the ground. No tearing down of what’s left of the building today. (Maybe they found the room Elvis stayed in?) Elvis stayed there.

And people know that. It is a remarkable thing for here. It is remarked upon. That’s something to hang your hat on, one supposes. Of course, there’s also a statue honoring the future birth of a fictional war criminal. (The war criminal joke is one of the best in Star Trek. It’s a reliable chuckle. That we have people who put a bust up for a character that’ll be born in 2336? That’s hysterical. There are layers to this, the tongue-in-cheek joke, the get-a-life joke and, finally, this-is-a-remarkable-thing?)

I read this in Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization this evening. It’s one part of a poem in the “Táin Bó Cúailnge,” an epic of Irish mythology. Noisiu was killed by a jealous king, and is lamented by Derdriu. “Though for you the times are sweet with pipers and with trumpeters …”

The whole of it is merely excerpted here by Cahill, and I’ve done it an even greater injustice, but if you pull it out and let it stand on it’s own, it’s just as heartrending as the rest of the lament.

A bit later, he gets to Patricius, the fifth-century missionary and bishop in Ireland, the “Apostle of Ireland,” St. Patrick. The first two paragraphs here, they are drive-by sociology, dangerous and liberating, and good enough for a book that I’ll read.

Fragments of a great papyrus.

The next time I need to name something portentous, that’s on the shortlist.


24
Aug 22

Same same

This was Wednesday, which felt like Thursday, because I thought Tuesday was Wednesday. When I finally came to grips with that and adjusted for chagrin, it made the entire day feel like … Tuesday. Which, just great.

But at least Thursday, tomorrow, will seem a surprise. Even if today, and yesterday, just seemed a repeat. A repeat of every other repeated day that repeats itself. I had one meeting that was more deja vu than meeting, another that was much the same. The same things were resolved as the time(s) before.

I’m even watching the same shows. It’s a weird loop out of time, a long running loop with no end possible. And it’s only a Wednesday. Of August.

There’s one brief moment where my bike points west in the morning, and the sun has cleared the trees and there’s nothing in the road and the pavement is clean and I can take a shadow selfie.

In the evening as I ride back to the house I see different shadows. I’ve been meaning to take a different sort of picture here for some time now, but this one seemed to work in a different kind of way. I like the lines. They, too, repeat.

In between, at the office, the view of the destruction of the Poplars Building shows two good days of scraping. Not sure where the now familiar big orange has been moved to. Maybe there was a more pressing job, or they just moved it out of sight.

But there are some smaller, and no less impressive, heavy machinery tools out there rearranging the debris. I’m hoping they get to that elevator shaft or service core, or whatever it is, soon. In my imagination it’ll crumble like potato chips, or take an intricate and futuristic solution. These are the only possibilities I can picture. It’s empty and air, or a re-discovery of something impossibly strong from the mid-20th century table of elements. The rest is more of the same.

Back to Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization. In the third section he’s finally got to Ireland. And after a very light summary of ancient Celtic texts (which read as hilarious, in parts) Cahill quotes Lord Kenneth Clark’s documentary, Civilisation.

So that’s a 1996 pop history book quoting a 1969 BBC2 series. Still resonates. Maybe they were onto something. Or, perhaps, we haven’t found a better understanding. How could we? We’re in the same paradigm.


22
Aug 22

First day of classes

My legs were tired on Saturday, so I took a bike ride on Saturday. They felt better on Sunday, so I let my legs rest. Today my legs feel only medium, who can figure any of this out? It’s a two-stairs-at-a-time day. Anyway, here’s a little bit of that Saturday ride. I like this portion of the route, because it is easy, and there are trees.

This morning I rode to campus and achieved a goal I’ve had for the last week or so. I wanted to make the trip without having to clip out of the pedals. There are a few tricky intersections to get through, and I benefited this morning from a school bus stopping behind me, and holding up traffic through the first one, a round-about. The second is a busy little intersection for a bicycle, and I timed it right, with a lull in the traffic. Later, I had a red light and a four-lane road to cross. Rather than try to track stand for the whole cycle (which I can’t do for that long) or I wheeled into an empty parking lot and did three donuts at the cell phone store until the light turned green. After that it was easy, a few hills, a left turn, a stop sign, and then … where did all of these people come from?

Oh yeah, classes. Today’s the first day of classes.

This did not sneak up on me. I am sure it snuck on some.

Oh, look, the itchy and scratchy crew are back for more work on the Poplars Building. They’re making good progress, too. You write one thing about them on Friday, and they’re pulling down more mid-20th century … whatever style of building that is all day Monday.

That 1960s dust and debris is probably what the big curtain is for, though today I’ve come to think that the crew is shielding the Poplars Garage from having to see what’s happening to the Poplars Building.

The parking deck will stay. It is currently closed, but — and here I will once again try flexing the power of this blog — we need it to re-open sooner than later.

Hear that, everybody?

It is time once again for the biggest hit of the site, the weekly visit with the kitties. They’re doing great. They just want all the pets. At least they take turns demanding attention, I’m not sure how they schedule that, but it is fairly considerate of them, alternating their neediness.

Phoebe will not share her toys.

Poseidon, meanwhile wants to come outside. Or wants me to come inside. Probably the former, but he’ll begrudgingly accept the latter.

It’s a funny thing, watching that loudmouth meow without being able to hear him because of the glass between. He will be heard, but I will not hear him.

I read Cartman Gareth’s We Rode All Day this weekend. It was a quick read, two short sittings got the job done. It’s about the 1919 Tour de France, the first Tour after the Great War. I don’t know anything of substance about the racing of the era, and then along came this most unconventional book.

It’s told in the first person. Gareth is writing for the voices of four racers and two organizers.

It isn’t my style of book, generally, but I found it growing on me because he kept it moving. Mostly, I want to learn more about those old races — this one was the second longest Tour ever, if I’m not mistaken. It was a different type of racing than the modern version, and in this book Gareth twice makes a point of saying the 1919 race was also altogether different than the rougher in the 19-oughts. An Englishmen writing, in English, for French cyclists using modern English colloquialisms. This must drive the French and Francophiles crazy.

It is interesting, and maybe worth reading, but I’m not sure if it was entirely satisfying.

Last night I started Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization. After Rome fell came the Middle Ages. And in this pop history book we’re going to study some of the crossover between those times. Should be fun because, as Cahill points out, historians are experts in a period, but not in the transitions.

The idea is that some people on an island off Ireland saved literacy, the church, western culture and so on. Monks with silly haircuts living in stone huts, not too long after they’d figured out the written word themselves, really. It’s a part of the Irish mythos, but not talked about in the wider world, so here’s Cahill.

To understand what happened in the fifth century, and why Rome fell, he asks why the Romans didn’t notice the problems. What were they doing? To answer that series of questions, Cahill goes back a further century, introducing us to the poet and teacher Decimius Magnus Ausonious for reasons that aren’t yet clear to me. He says his verse is no more fresh than the modern day sympathy card. I’m not sure why it is important to pick apart a man that’s been dead for 16 centuries, but he’s having fun doing it.

So it’s a personal anecdote as microcosm. They did because they could. Resources and needs and distractions and all of that. Cultivation of crops allows for a social evolution, rather than foraging and hunting for your every meal. Cultures can emerge and can flourish and, apparently, write bad poetry.

Ausonious winds up tutoring the heirs to power, and that increasing his status a bit, as well. In times past, being named to one of the two consulships positions was a huge and important honor. By his time, though, it was all coming undone. It was civics, not suddenness.

At least so far. I’ll learn more tonight. Cahill has made this great point about Rome’s notable historians — Augustine, Petrarch, Machiavelli and Gibbon specifically — tending to view things through the lens of their time. (All different, all correct insofar as they go, proving once again that there aren’t often simple answers to complex longitudinal questions.) With that in mind it should be no surprise that something written at the end of the 20th century would see the fall of Rome as taking place with not a little ennui.

Which is precisely when you need some Irish people to show up. And I’m sure they will arrive in this book this evening.


18
Aug 22

An early night, a long tomorrow

It is official. This building has sort of pox. They haven’t torn down any more of the Poplars Building within the last week. Though work is going on at the rubble level, today.

I’m sure there’s a reason. I’m sure it makes sense right away, but I can only see the cost of non-working heavy machinery. (Where they really make their money!) Perhaps next week they’ll be back at it. Maybe the big crane operator is on vacation this week. Whatever it is, this is slowing down the reopening of the parking deck, which is going to be a problem starting Monday.

And that eyesore will still be here on Monday, as well.

Elvis stayed there once, you know, in the dilapidated administration building’s first life as a hotel. He was booked for two nights. He skipped out on the joint.

Maybe the work crews have, too.

I am contemplating the undertaking of a new project at the house. Here is a hint.

If it all works out it should probably take about two hours. Which means it would take me two weeks, because these things never go to plan.

And just when you have built a rhythm, you make some foolish mistake that makes you second-guess everything. And there might not even be enough of this project to build a rhythm anyway. Many utterances will be uttered. Oaths may be taken. No new skills will be learned. Pride will not be established.

Splinters may be avoided.

That’s worth two weeks, if you ask me.

Watering the flowers. I did this just after dinner.

Dinner tonight was one of those nights where you push up the routine, because I was hungry, and then making a deal with yourself. “OK, 6:30, we heat up dinner.”

And then, “Hey, look, 6:27. Close enough. And then you’re going to eat and go to sleep.”

So I’m that old now.

Oh, look at how that salvia holds on to the water droplets! So long as you have the wonder of small things, how old you are, or how old you feel, might not matter all that much.

That’s what I say, out loud, to drown out the sound my knees can make.

I finished this book this evening. Lighter fare, but I read slowly, savoring words and sentence structures, especially of talented writers.

May Sarton wrote 50-something books, 34 of them were novels or nonfiction, 17 were poetry. This one, if you’ve been here the last few days, is about when she bought her home. Her parents had just died. She decided on a remote lifestyle so she could concentrate on her work, and she settled on a place in a small New Hampshire village. And over the course of the 188 pages of this book she looks back on her first eight years in the home, taming the property, meeting her neighbors, constructing her gardens. She goes on at some length about her gardens. The book is about the people, and the work, and from that she’s drawing the lessons and points she wants to make. She has an incredibly compact style, a great economy of words.

Here she’s talking about a winter of drought, when she was simultaneously being dismissed from a teaching job, and getting a book rejection from a publisher. Then, all on the same day, the artesian well diggers finally hit water, she got a letter with another job offer, and a letter getting that book accepted.

She celebrated by taking a nap.

That nap made a lot of sense today. It’ll take some time to figure out the part about making myths of our lives.

The book concludes a chapter or two later. She talks about the two days of the year that the whole community comes together. Once in March, and again in August. The first is for the big meeting to manage the village, the second is Old Home Day. It looks exactly as you’d imagine. People who have at any time been connected with the village come back. There’s a band, speeches, games. There’s a dance at the end of the evening.

Over the course of the book she has shared her friends, and now she’s showing them at play. And then, in the last two pages, after this admiration for her new neighbors, she shares an anecdote that sours the place. It’s two paragraphs. It seems obvious to anyone that’s ever been a visitor or a transplant to a place and, thus, the complaint is petty. Somehow, though, May Sarton manages to turn that into a part of her love letter. That’s a writer for you.


16
Aug 22

Unconcerned as the deer

I got a decent shot of the fawn on the lawn as I rode through one of the campus neighborhoods. Three or four seem to sit there every evening. It’s a grassy, wooded lot that sits next to an odd rental, and just down from a Civil War-era home. They’re on a slight hill, in the shade, munching clover.

I just saw two of them on this pass. Last time I spied three. Next time, maybe zero. Who knows the schedules urban deer keep.

That’s a standard width sidewalk, and I was passing by close to it, on the two-lane road. The deer were not at all concerned with me, or the occasional passing car.

There are five houses on that block, and the one small stand of trees. One block down there’s a more densely wooded stand. I suppose that’s where they live.

Back to Sarton. I’ve worked my way through about two thirds of the book. She’s telling the story of her house. She bought it in her mid-40s after her parents died, and the memoir, written eight years later, is about the experience, the hidden New Hampshire village and, now, her neighbors.

I bought this book used, and I was pleased to see someone had underlined a few bits here and there. I probably haven’t always felt this way, but now I like idea of happening on someone else’s notes, but people seldom write in the margins anymore, it seems.

I think about a version of her support and freedom of a routine once in a while. I think it’s really about efficiencies. A routine gets done and redone, and you get better and better at it. So you become faster and so on.

Isn’t that the point of rote work? It’d be different, of course, if you were talking about true craftsmanship, which she does a fair amount. From time to time she tries to compare the craft work of others to her own craft.

And here she is at her craft, jamming an incredible amount of work into two pages. It is masterful, really. This is not the full story of her neighbor, Albert Quigley. (Even more about what is an interesting measureIt is not she includes about the man, but consider how much information is contained in these two short, clear pages.

The Quigley home is now Nelson’s library.

I’m still waiting on all of the context clues to flesh out where Sarton’s house is. I have a guess, and I could definitively figure this out online, Googlefu being a craft of a sort, but that seems to be against the spirit of the book.

Slow going across the way. The big crane didn’t move today. Perhaps it has developed an affinity for the Poplars Building, which would be the only one. Crews were doing some work among the rubble below.

We have learned that the adjacent parking garage, just seen to the left in our view and separated by a narrow alley, will remain closed until the razing is completed. They need to move faster, then. Parking is a consideration, which explains why they waited until the end of summer — and the beginning of a return to a “normal semester” — to undertake the project. I’m sure there were reasons.

Unconcerned as the deer.