Thursday, February 28, 2002

Now I know why Papa used to refer to certain people as harpies. The passage about the harpies was our favorite in the Aeneid, book 3. I still think it's funny that I used Dryden's translation as a crib.

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Almost closed isn't good enough. Given the slightest aperture, the carolina wrens try every year to make a home in the mailbox on our front porch. This year is no exception.

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

I've never outgrown my need for mail. The day the mailbox is empty is the day I'll turn my face to the wall. When there's a letter, when there's a little package, how the day brightens! E-mail is just as wonderful. New Mexico pork stew without the pork is just the ticket for this little return of winter. Just as Monty Python made it impossible for me to view most documentaries (the ones with portentious narrators) with a straight face ever again, I've just read something that confirms for me that I don't ever want to waste my time paying any kind of close attention to Terry Gross on Fresh Air. The few times that I had, it was because she was interviewing people of whom I know something or on a subject of which I have some good knowledge, and it was irritating to listen to her off-topic and dim questions. Now I remember what I was reading; it was in the March Harper's Magazine. The piece a short one, called something like "the middle mind," and wasn't about that show only, but it was followed with a transcription of an interview with Gene Simmons of Kiss.

Monday, February 25, 2002

I'm now receiving the fulminations of Mike Levy (of Texas Monthly fame). I've always wondered how one is added to his list of addressees and would be curious to know how it occurred. Having heard so much about the stuff he circulates, I'm certainly interested in reading it firsthand for myself. Today's NYT had a piece about weblogs; there's been a rash of such articles this past month. This one focused on the Tom Tomorrow log, one of my personal faves.

Sunday, February 24, 2002

It feels as though we're the ones facing mortality or being called to active duty or something--trying to take care of all contingencies, execute all critical documents, vote early, send tax returns, etc., etc., etc. It was not a spirit-lifter to return from errands to find that some blankety-blank idiot just couldn't resist taking a half-dozen Ice Follies. For some reason, I enjoy them more outdoors, seen from a window, more than indoors in a pot or vase. Flowers taken for enjoyment are better than those destroyed on the spot out of pure vandal instincts, I suppose. I'm glad that our great swathe of tulips is not out front; they would certainly be too great a temptation!

Saturday, February 23, 2002

Now it turns out that we won't be able to go hear "La Fanciulla del West", either. We'd already said goodbye to spring break. We're also going to miss the free Tejano concert connected with SXSW. Palomo, the group that's had the big hit with "No me conoces aun," will be playing, along with Grupo Control and La Mafia. So much for what passes for a vacation in this household.

Friday, February 22, 2002

Escape therapy continues. Eloise Jarvis McGraw copyrighted "Mara, Daughter of the Nile"i n 1953. Apparently it remains popular with both boys and girls and has initiated an interest in things Egyptian in many. I was happy to find it still in print, courtesy of Puffin Books, but disappointed not to have found the original hardbound copy, which had a handsome cover and excellent production values. I found it to be as exciting all these decades after as it was when I was in seventh grade. My first interest in Egypt was courtesy of the Bible and also of the 1930-something edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, with its plate of the horse sculpture, now I believe held to be fake, and the famous head of Nefertiti. Somewhere along the line I remember reading a book for young people about Akhenaten and his wife, but I don't know the name. I enjoyed every one of McGraw's books that I ever read. In searching on Google, I find that many of them are great favorites of the home-schooling crowd.

Thursday, February 21, 2002

The light fiction du jour is "The Yakota Officers Club" (Sarah Bird). This morning we found Grand Primo, Avalanche, and leucojums, all a surprise. It's a good thing that people joined by affinity have some natural distance from relatives of the other party.

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

In PCMag, John Dvorak seems to approve of weblogs mostly on the ground that they tend to displace an excess of cat pictures. Whose sites has he been cruising, anyhow? Roling Stone has the best article on the San Francisco case involving a so-called Presa Canario dog. The reporter did some real investigation, concluding that the dogs were in fact who-knows-what. NYT provides daily coverage. Today's piece showed the female defendant's female attorney in a pose that just begs for a caption. Harper's Magazine has a piece focusing on the so-called Dartmouth murders, saying that one of ten Vermont boys of high-school age is either behind bars or under supervision, this in a state with a total population of about 600,000, most of whom seem to live in Burlington these days. The writer's point seemed to be that you can run but you can't hide, speaking of yuppoid-tending parents seeking a "safe" place.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

The Flexible Flyer is 115 years old or so. All stocks are gone. This is from an article in today's Wall Street Journal, hanging it on the "skeleton" event in the Winter Olympics. Production was moved offshore at a certain point and then plastic sleds were made under the name. This is just another way that U.S. manufacturing is going to hell in a handbasket. A Canadian brand just doesn't make it. We had three Flexies, a really short one, mine (which was the fastest sled I was ever on), and the biggest one made, which was shared, and which was rather slow because of its size.

Monday, February 18, 2002

Receipt of a non-dire e-mail goes a way to balance all the bad news lately. A believer in omens might not like it that last night both clocks in the living room stopped, the bulb burned out in the lamp kept on there, and the new nine-day candle just lit yesterday afternoon also went out. Early this morning, the blog entry that this is replacing disappeared. Thanks to the public library, this weekend's light reading has been "Loving Pedro Infante" by Denise Chavez. Though I love the records of Pedro Infante, not all movies are favorites. I did learn a new word, one that I'm not sure I've even seen before, which is hard to believe: "tocayo."

Saturday, February 16, 2002

The incompetents at Wells Fargo have done it again. Every time I hear the new series of WF commercials on KVET I want to upchuck.

Friday, February 15, 2002

Thanks to having bought a couple of drabware items online (now that she's rounded up the U.S. concession for the stuff and has put it back into production), now the Martha Stewart catalogue comes to us. In the spring edition, she sells a wind-up tin toy "Pecking Chicken" from China, just like the one we got from Terra Toys for a buck and a bit more. Hers go three for $14.

Thursday, February 14, 2002

Our kids used to be crazy to go all the way to town to hear Waylon Jennings every time he came through. My two favorite songs are "Lookin' for a Feelin" and "The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don't Want to Get Over You)."

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Somebody else must like "Mi Amor Sincero," because it was requested on KO-OP today and so a Trio Los Panchos version went out.

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

KQQQ played Roberto Pulido y Los Clasicos ("Mi amor sincero") and I was transported to Casita Jorge's on Elmont, with Mr. Margarita in his little booth, sharing it with the giant bags of chips, and the jukebox playing. I used to like to play "Solamente una vez en cada vida," but I don't know whose version--maybe it was even by Javier Solis. This is one of my favorite songs, recorded by everybody at one time or other, even by Nat Cole, and lately by Placido Domingo.

Monday, February 11, 2002

Hearing that Dave van Ronk is dead makes me feel like getting in touch with lots of people! He sure did have a knack for choosing repertory. Caffe Lena is still there on Phila Street.

Sunday, February 10, 2002

Lacking only the fine red sandstone dust, today is very much like spring in New Mexico at 7200 feet above sea level.

Saturday, February 09, 2002

We cut a lot of our Ice Follies to bring indoors, in case somebody had the notion of repeating the theft exploit of last year. The writer of "River Town" found, as we did, that, even with not much pay, there's nothing to spend money on in those situations other than travel.

Friday, February 08, 2002

River Town may be the present I've been seeking for that certain difficult-to-please reader. I'm certainly enjoying it. I'd like to know more about Magnificent Sound cigarettes, the favored local brand in Fuling, where the author is sent as a Peace Corps volunteer to teach English at a college training teachers to go back to the countryside. There are many good pedagogical war-stories, and it's a delight to learn that older men really do adjourn to teahouses with their caged birds, just as they are depicted as doing in so many Hong Kong movies. The author spends a bit too much time on the Three Gorges dam project in general; nothing he says is news to anyone interested in it and those not heretofore interested are unlikely to become so from his account. The author's justified in that Fuling, where he is posted, is at the convergence of the Yangtze and a smaller river, and a part of it is to be inundated as a result. He travels to Sinkiang (that's what it used to be called in my stamp album!), where some think he one of the Uighurs. I believe that a legendary Uighur freedom fighter figures in one of the Flashman books, but I can't remember which one. They've all been passed along to someone else. Anyhow, life for the author as he describes it is in many ways highly reminiscent of life in Ramah: he has a luxury of time--time to read, time to study, time to talk with people, time to savor existence. This is because life is pared down to its simplest elements, bare of the routines and distractions governing most. We feel privileged to have experienced the sort of leisure and community he describes. This in no way implies inattention to the mission at hand; it's just a consequence of being plunged into an isolated environment where in many ways life goes on as it did in the nineteenth century and people rely on their own community resources for amusement. He does report much TV-watching, which was an impossibility in Ramah, but otherwise life is not all that different.

Thursday, February 07, 2002

We received a post card from Bible School Park. It became Bible School Park in 1911 and is the home of the Practical Bible Training Institute, now the Practical Bible College, overlooking the beautiful Susquehanna River. I don't know whether there's still a Bible College Park post office, since the post card's so old. The college site has a link to its on-line HeavenWare bookstore.

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

Here's the tale of two customer-service departments--rant warning. Wells Fargo has a long voicemail hell and finally one reaches a somewhat grudgine customer-service rep, who admits that a shorter call is a better one. Finally, with a little prodding, she consults someone else, who consults someone else. As always, there are discrepancies in what the caller is told. If these people don't do what they promised, it's bye-bye. I've about had enough; and I'm sure not going to settle for going from a totally free checking account, one that earns interest and returns checks (inherited from a predecessor bank, and I've never been foolish enough to fall for their inducements to change the terms and am sure not going to settle for a unilateral change), to something that charges $2.50 per month or else truncates the checks, charging an outrageous amount for a copy of any individual check. The positive contrast is the Chase outfit, which always has cheerful, peppy voices on the line. It sounds as though the Chase call center is somewhere in the New York-New Jersey area; where the call-center from hell of WF is, I don't want to guess. Chase has a sensible punch-in tree plus, mirabile mirabilis, one of those stupendous systems that lets the caller enter information by voice, thereby saving users of rotary telephones from voicemail hell. All was taken care of immediately, even though referral to a supervisor was required. The only minus point here, is that the monthly statement no longer carries that wonderful toll-free number, but--hah!--I have it from last year. I'm surprised that more people do not ask for waiver of their annual fee. Somebody in Canada cares about the touch-tone scam.

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

Somebody really wants to photograph Enron tchotchkes, but I don't know where my paperweight is!

Monday, February 04, 2002

The Festival of Junk Reading continues--Elizabeth George, Death in Holy Orders, Bene Moore Campbell "A Traitor to Memory" has the redeeming feature of being fat, but lots of psychobabble, silliness about music, and a copout end. P. D. James provides great atmosphere, but the end was no surprise and neither was the point upon which the case turned. Nobody can deny that she has a realistic view of people's foibles. "What You Owe Me is superior entertainment of its kind, the wish-fulfillment genre! I've enjoyed Campbell's other books, also, and loved it that she mentioned Madam C.J. Walker. Thank you, Austin Public Library, for stocking these escape mechanisms.

Sunday, February 03, 2002

I h*a*t*e leafblowers. The electric ones sound no better than the gasoline-powered ones, although it's just possible that the dB emission is lower, the frequency is much more maddening.

Saturday, February 02, 2002

Marriage of Figaro was the radio treat from New York today. The applause went mostly for the soprano, but speaking as someone who prefers baritone to tenor, it should all have gone to Juan Diego Florez. His singing was agile and beautiful, with every word understandable. I'm so glad I heard it. My favorite performance, though, is still the one at the Capitol Playhouse, now Ruta Maya, a performance in the round mostly by students, playing to an audience on bleachers, and sparsely accompanied, by two pianos, I think, though perhaps just by one. The Times Literary Supplement has a letter from Austin by its former editor, now conducting research to be used in a book about V. S. Pritchett. The piece immediately catches the eye because it's accompanied by a photograph of the colored-cup flag set in a fence near Kash Karry/FreshPlus.

Friday, February 01, 2002

The meter readers take all the care in the world not to trample our glorious bed of tulips; it's easy to see that they graciously comply with our request. On the other hand, there's a goon who feels free to drive his pit bull right through the midst of each segment of our front garden. After last year's depredations out front, we don't feel inclined to devote any more attention to that lost cause. Yesterday I happened for the first time to check my on-line library account. Much to my surprise I found that a book returned just this past Saturday was shown as not having been checked in. When I sent e-mail to this effect to the anomymous library e-mail address, I got a reply immediately mentioning the Library's Contested Overdue Process. It's a good thing that before I read that I received and read a very nice letter from the branch in question reporting the book returned to the shelf. Apparently this process involves having the library report that it tried to find the book and didn't. "If it still is not located the patron is asked to pay for the book." It's truly sad that there are so few new books of any kind and that many of the ones worth reading again have been deaccessioned (case in point--Pamela Hansford Johnson, whose novels are stirring interest again). When an author's works have gone out of print but are worthy, where else but in a library would one expect to find them? The cases of Sybille Bedford and Sylvia Townsend Warner are similar, though I believe that a small press (Counterpoint?) has just reissued one of them. Whenever I see the word "withdrawn" in the catalogue, it's my bet that that's what's happened. I do love the remote-access feature, though, and it's certain that being able to check my account kept me from having been accused of keeping a book out until overdue. Thank goodness for the TexShare card!.