Monday, October 31, 2005

Teardowns and tenants

Some have died; some have returned to California, leaving their houses rented to groups of people who don't care; some have not yet returned from their summer homes in cooler places, leaving their houses rented to groups of people who don't care; some are on temporary contracts of various kinds and travel to fulfill their terms, leaving their houses vacant; some houses have been demolished, leaving two half-built and yet unoccupied habitations on the lots; some houses have been bought, whether by speculators or by people who intend to live in them but aren't satisfied by their original dimensions, so that the houses are vacant while being overhauled on a grand scale; some houses are for sale and empty. This has happened in the course of one year. So there are gaps between lit-pumpkin establishments where there used to be none.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Favorites no more

We were talking about fashions in female names (the Kimberly fad of a certain time has not resulted in many famous people going by Kimberly, Kimi, Kim, Kimber, or any other variation, so that was not an auspicious name, it seems, no offense intended to bearers of the K-name, and let's not even allude to the Era of Jennifer). We came up with a list of names that will probably never be heard from again in great numbers, but that were very common at one time: Ada, Nada, Ida, Lyda, Hilda, Edna, Adelaide, Muriel, Florence, Flora, Lois, Doris, Lorena, Mildred, Vivian, Avis, Mavis, Mabel, Myrtle, and Isabel. Isabel is seeing a small resurgence, and of course it is the Spanish equivalent of Elizabeth. For each of these names I have personally known at least three people bearing them and for some (Mildred, Doris, Lois, Ada, and Ida jump right to mind) have known almost too many people to count. What made these names popular in their day?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Over the waves

In the weeper episodes of La esposa virgen just completed, the sainted Blanca asks her soon-to-be widower to have the orquesta play Sobre las olas (by Juventino Rosas) so that she can hear it and imagine Marisol, their daughter, and him waltzing to it downstairs at the fiesta quinceanera. This is played a lot at weddings, I think. As I thought I recollected, we do have an instrumental version of this, on a dollar cut-out of Latin music of the Belle Epoque released on a French label. In English, this tune has been used for the song with these lyrics: "Stars twinkle at night; it's the loveliest night of the year," and so on (Mario Lanza in a movie about Caruso). On line, via Amazon, I find a trumpet version by Rafael Mendez. I can't help thinking that we have a vocal version also. The rendition linked from here uses just the main melody but sounds as though it's done on a fancy player piano or band-organ, certainly in some way mechanical or partially synthesized for listening entertainment of a peculiar sort (in a way that's a reminder of those funny little electric organs with the various rhythms that could be set, often demonstrated at the hucksters' alley at fairs). This version has home-made bravura and all the themes. I think that years ago there was a recording by Adolf Hofner on the jukebox at Scholz's. La esposa virgen is yet another story by Caridad Bravo Adams, reworked for these times.

Wrapping it up

So I won't write again about "wrapping" presents in sacks with tissue paper stuffed on top (the truth be told, it appears that I devote way too much thought to wrapping paper in general, if one's to draw any conclusions from a search on "rantomat" and "wrapping paper," but one would prefer not to draw those conclusions). Then again, as certain jazz nobility once observed, "One never knows, do one?" or something like that. At any rate, in keeping with the current inventory-reduction strategy, there's an embargo on buying new gift-wrap and ribbon. Old scraps must go, no matter how fond a person is of the pattern. In the past couple of days, I've noticed that Hallmark for many years put a year next to its copyright symbol. So in wrapping smaller items I've used paper dating back to 1981. Some of the manufacturers print faint grids on the back of their paper as an aid to cutting straight lines and right angles. There seems to be no clue to the designer or manufacturer on the rolls of paper in stock here, but I know that they all came from school gift-wrap fund-raising projects and I still like all the patterns that came from those sources.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Snaths, chines, hafts, nibs, and tangs

So far as I know, every blade that's set in a handle or haft of any kind has a tang, and most blades have a chine, but only a scythe has a snath. Scythes are to be seen in many depictions at this time of year, slung over the shoulder of the Grim Reaper. Yesterday I mentioned my maternal great-grandfathers; last night, Gramp C. was in my dreams, just as he appeared in life as I knew him. He was cutting knee-high grass with a scythe and finishing off clumps near trees with a sickle. It was the small field between the house and the cemetery. This was his most characteristic activity. To the end, he kept a cow and his last draft team, Dolly and Bess, on whose backs I can remember sitting. Every household I knew had at least one scythe and sickle, and used them. K. used one as a kid for cutting the grass. The frequently sharpened blade might be considered to be a dangerous instrument, I suppose, but a scythe presents no part of the hazards of the power tools of today, with the damage they cause to hearing and with the thrown objects and particulate matter. This site touts the virtues of a European scythe, and the handle does appear to be slimmer and lighter, but not so beautifully curved. I've never heard anyone pronounce this tool in any other way but as a homonym for "sigh." The verb, though, was spoken as "scything," to rhyme with "tithing." Two words that belong with "snath" are "swath" and "stook."

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Hoary humor

"Summer's over; winter drawers on." This is the saying appropriate to the season. And we thought it was so funny when we were kids. It comes down from one of my mother's grandfathers. I can't remember whether it's from Gramp T. or from Gramp C., both born in 1862. Other ancient wheezes that we thought were sidesplitting back then were, besides the song of the bulldog and the bullfrog ("mean old water fool"), (1) the story of the squirrel, the tree, and the corn crib; (2) "ABCD goldfish? LMNO goldfish. OSAR"; (3) the doggerel that ended "now drinkin' beer won't kill a man, but an old tomato can" (4) the joke with the punchline "It's a long way to tip a raree [Tipperary]"; (5) the talking dog in the bar ("What's over our head?" "Roof" Who's the greatest ballplayer?" "Ruth" and so on); and (6) "Brothers and sisters have I none, but this man's father is my father's son. Who is this man?"

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Lines of the future?

We were reading in the NYT or the WSJ or somewhere that there are "improvements" proposed for the ordeal of airport security procedures. "They" are thinking that perhaps nail-clippers and scissors and Leatherman tools and the like may not be so terrible for passengers to possess after all. "They" are considering making the wait in line less onerous by (horrors!) having television screens available and on for the "entertainment" of the waiting victims, adding to the hubbub and ambient noise that are so unendurable in bad acoustics anyhow. K. suggests that there should be a corps of mimes on the government payroll (or perhaps these days outsourced and under contract) to entertain and distract people silently. Would they wear government uniforms? Be in whiteface? Then we envisioned them backstage or (as at the downtown hotels) loitering outdoors near an inconspicuous door, out of sight of children who might be disillusioned, talking very loudly and smoking like crazy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Wonders of the cool weather

In the more utilitarian sphere, we're seeing blooms on the tomato, squash, cucumber, melon, and chile plants. On the scale of beauty, I'd place the tomato at the low end and the pepper blooms of many varieties at the high end, but that's just because I think that pepper plants are beautiful in and of themselves and used to grow them indoors in pots on windowsills in the winter for their aesthetic qualities. Also beautifying their surroundings by blooming right now are rosemary, thyme, clockvine (thunbergia alata), cypress vine, morning glories (Grandpa Ott and pink flying saucer right now), geraniums like crazy, zinnias, cosmos, Turk's cap, lantana, plumbago, pink oxalis, and asclepias. Where are those hyacinth-bean flowers?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Follow your what? to do what?

"The Follow-Your-Bliss List" of suggested winter travel destinations in the October 24 issue of New York Magazine is billed as "fifty euphoria-inducing destinations that will make you forget about crummy weather, bad traffic, and just about anything else" and "50 destinations dreamy enough to turn your world upside-down." Were the authors merely out of inspiration when they arrived at destination number 50? Or are the other destinations as wrongheaded as this?
(50) Ramah, New Mexico
Take the family back to the old, old days.
In the early morning, when the desert cool hasn’t yet burned away, it only takes about 25 minutes to walk from the visitors’ center of Ramah’s El Morro National Monument park out to Inscription Rock. There, you can explain to the kids that the 2,000-plus birds, stars, hands, bighorn sheep, and maps that purportedly lead to a hidden pond were drawn seven centuries ago by Puebloan tribes. While you’ve got their attention, point out the various signatures and “I was here” scrawls left by passing Spaniards, settlers, and other travelers since, and then tempt them up the more strenuous Mesa Top Trail with promises of a Martian landscape (the otherworldly Chain of Craters). Reward them with a Navajo fry-bread taco with Anasazi beans at the Ancient Way Café and Outpost.
El Morro is not in Ramah. Ramah is several miles west. El Morro is part of a National Monument surrounded on all sides by the Ramah Navajo reservation. A bit east and south of Ramah is the Navajo land; a bit west of Ramah is the Zuni reservation; a bit north of it is a part of the Cibola National Forest. The eating-spot mentioned is near the ice caves and also not in Ramah, although it, too, has a Ramah mailing address; the ice caves were historically a private profit-making attraction near the lava beds or malpais area. All of these are on 53, a road that swings south between Grants and Gallup, crossing the Great Divide. It is extremely treacherous in the winter and not to be lightly driven by anyone not familiar with it. The terrain is not desert; it is the pinyon-juniper ecosystem for the most part, with aspens and ponderosas a bit north at slightly higher elevations. The general elevation in this entire area is about 7,500 feet above sea level, and winter temperatures have been known to sink to thirty, forty, almost fifty degrees below zero. A Navajo taco customarily contains mutton, and not of the best quality. One suspects that this area was not visited by the New York travel writers, at least not during the winter.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Skrip and Quink

I preferred Sheaffer Skrip Washable Blue, not Parker Quink or Carter's. People always used Carter's for dip pens. I think it was Carter's that used the advertising with kittens of different colors that people sometimes framed for children's rooms (I just found some by one Albert Staehle, who also did SatEvePost covers; the Carter kittens on this page are at the bottom quarter of the page; the ones with which I'm familiar, however, are in a much earlier style). Right now I have a bottle of Pelikan blue and one of Lamy. The other day I found a Berol Fontaine disposable fountain pen that wrote immediately without any need to wet the nib. It must be at least a dozen years old. This is not a good-looking pen, with an ugly clear plastic cap, but it's no longer available, apparently, and much lamented. A Pilot Varsity disposable found in the same cache also wrote at once, and these are still available, in seven colors, one of which for some reason is pink.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

FIFO and limas

In keeping with the using-up project and the first-in-first-out principle of inventory management, last night it was the turn of a plastic sack of frozen baby lima beans from Albertson's. Surprisingly there was no flavor of plastic. The beans, although not uniform in size, were fresh-tasting and of good color and texture. K.'s portion went to augment a can of Senate bean soup, also parr of the project. Mine were eaten naked, but for a dab or two of Falfurrias. They tasted so good that they'll need to be replenished immediately, if possible. It's becoming more difficult to find limas of any sort, not just baby limas but also Fordhooks or butterbeans. They've declined so in popularity that now most frozen packets of mixed vegetables do not include them in any proportion, which spoils my personal quick and lazy pasta primavera (long fusilli, also getting tough to find), into which at the very last minute a small box of frozen mixed vegetables including limas is dumped, unfrozen, heated, and cooked as much as I like them instantaneously, or at least by the time the entire contents of the pot is dumped into the colander and then dumped out into a soup plate and ready for a bit of butter or chopped fresh tomato or the like. Seabrook Farms still grows limas, at least for the institutional market. Seabrook, Snow Crop, and Birdseye (of Clarence fame) were the earliest brands of frozen vegetables that I remember. John Seabrook once wrote in The New Yorker about limas and his family business, the farm, the story of the wartime labor force, and much else. I wonder how many years ago. Found it!: 1995 ("The Spinach King"). Now I'm craving succotash, including corn cut off the cob and a few drops of cream or milk.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Spawn of suburbia in super-large vehicles

The people who rented their establishment for six months will return in three or four weeks, along with their untrained dog that barks incessantly every time it's left outside; nevertheless, that will be a welcome exchange for the ouster of their tenants. These people, and all their friends and acquaintances, of whom there are scores, coming and going around the clock, get behind the wheels of parent-furnished vehicles in which they find it impossible to make U-turns, despite the wideness of the street. They have never heard of driving around the block, evidently, either, apparently knowing only the accursed culs-de-sac of suburbia, or else they're just plain too lazy. So they like to use the nearest convenient curb-cut (ours) to make a sloppy turn-around. The curbs and pavement were never meant to bear the weight of such behemoths (and they do run over the curbs). Now everything's cracked, scraped, and broken up. Each and every one of these people is never without a cell-phone at the ear, whether the person's behind the wheel or devoting attention alternately to his companion who's present and to the telephone conversation. The stupid xenon headlights glare into every room of the house. Plastic, metal, and glass containers of all sorts constitute just some of the litter for which we thank them daily. Lately they've been amusing themselves under cover of darkness by removing the yellow-ribbon magnets from the vehicles belonging to another household and affixing them to neighbors' vehicles. This morning we found ourselves to be among the lucky recipients. Mommie and Daddy must be paying their rent since they don't seem to be gainfully employed. I know exactly how many days remain of their tenancy, and I'm counting, counting, counting.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Just what is that lapel pin?

And isn't this the strangest booking photo ever? For the possible future benefit of identikit programs and sketch artists, the subject is customarily directed not to smile. Too bad the profile shot or shots cannot be found on line. Does the pin urge people to vote against prop 2 in the constitutional-amendment portion of the coming election? Does it say "I posed for my portrait and all they gave me was this stupid pin"? Something about this photo tends to bring out the Rottweiler in certain people.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Is this what's going on?

In the "about" blurb somewhere for this writer, it was reported that she has a book forthcoming in the new year, entitled Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping. She must have purchased necessities (food and business consumables, for instance); in any case, I'll be on the watch for this book. We do have pumpkins bought to carve but they're in a good cause; otherwise, I personally have no shopping urges right now, not even for necessities, preferring to draw down the squirrel shelf. What's not in use is being discarded outright or, where applicable, passed along so that it may in some way useful elsewhere. There are reports in the business press that the federal government is counting on consumer activity to brighten the outlook for the national economy. We're not alone in our household (non-)purchasing behavior right now. Here we are, buying food, but otherwise using the library, listening to old vinyl, re-reading books on hand, mending this and that, and not even planning to do much garden investment, beyond the cheapie and inferior bulb selections left for sale when most people think it's too late to put them in the ground. Any sort of acquisition much beyond the truly necessary does, for whatever reason, strike a note of the unseemly.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Changing of the guard

Saturday (15 October) marked the final day of the last blooms of rhodophiala bifida (oxblood lily), the last to appear having been a squirrel planting on the big oak motte by the old playhouse. Leaves are up everywhere; last year they went all through the winter and a good part of the summer, probably accounting for the vigor and profusion of flowers this year. In some yards, where it all began later than it did for us, flowers are still opening. Sunday (16 October) out of nowhere shot up a six-stem clump of lycoris radiata (spider lily). The stems, of course, are naked. Elsewhere in the yard the leaves are appearing and we're assuming that there'll be no flowers from those clumps, since the leaves usually arrive after the flowers do. Whether because their part of the yard is more shady than it used to be or for some other reason, these haven't been doing much blooming the past couple of years or so. Now that it's cooler we have morning glory and cypress vine flowers every day. We're still looking for hyacinth bean blossoms, though.

Monday, October 17, 2005

More on D&H 302

Though additional personal photographs of D&H 302 as tricked out to celebrate the 1973 sesquicentennial have not been found, here are some on-line photographs from that same year, minus the frog-eye lamps.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

More on Miers

This is as much a story of Texas politics as it is of anything else, including forgotten female history (the dog-and-pony show and photo op that included John Hill and many others exemplifies this). Here's a page of links compiled by the Michigan law school library that continues to be updated, containing vita, cases in which HM served as counsel, Texas Bar Journal monthly letters, and more.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Coal and big iron

For John McPhee, the two-parter in the October 3 and October 10 New Yorker is very short and condensed. One can't help wondering what has been edited out. Even so, for anybody who's fascinated by that sort of thing, it's a treat. It'll all eventually be in a book, to be called Uncommon Carriers, along with the fascinating article on UPS and supply-chain management that appeared earlier. He's writing about U.P. trains hauling coal from the Montana fields and how incredibly long and heavy these are to manage (plus about lots of other, related things, including, in passing, the Beacon incline railway, which I've also been fortunate enough to ride). Coincidentally, I found this somewhat faded photograph, taken during the course of the D&H sesquicentennial run in 1973 along the Laurentian route, all the way up to Montreal. I think this is somewhere between Whitehall and Fort Ti (Ticonderoga). I'd like to find my better photographs, especially the one of the driving wheels. This isn't the real D&H 302, but a locomotive from another line tricked out with "ears" to look like it. This was in April, and there was still snow on the ground in some places, with skunk cabbages and marsh marigolds in bloom. In the NYT or somewhere was recently an article about the last steam-powered rail operations in, perhaps, Mongolia. Wherever the location, the illustration was of an eared locomotive originally from the U.S. that certainly looked like this one.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Speaking of shisha

This is shisha, the mirrors, not shisha, tobacco smoked using a water-pipe. This work is mostly chainstitch (all stitches may be seen in much greater detail by clicking on the image to view it in enlarged form). The shisha-work is done using straight stitches to hold the pieces of mirrored glass, about eight of them, a square of them and then another square of these stiches done at points between the first four. These were then pulled back into a sort of circle using blanket-stitch all the way around. This was done in DMC pearl cotton. The colors haven't faded much after all this time. I used a compass holding a piece of chalk to lay out the circle and then scribe some points. It's too bad that all this work wasn't put onto a garment of better quality. Scanning this made me wonder whether Jack cut out and saved the wonderful French-knot sheep that he embroidered onto a pair of dungarees. I was just reading a piece the other day about knitting as an activity by men, who are now beginning to do more of it in public. Embroidery was kind of a craze for everybody back then, just because of all the available time, and like knitting or crochet-work, it can be a convivial activity, carried out while people are gathered just to be sociable and converse. I'm remembering RVH making his woolen braided rugs and also doing bargello work.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


I like it that in Spanish a search-engine is a "buscador" (searcher). I've always liked it that wanted posters say "se buscan" ([being] sought). From time to time it's fun to see what search terms bring people to this site. Here are some from the past few days:

"green old water fool"
"circo hermanos vazquez"
"shisha mirrors"
"keemo kimo"
"washer pitching"
"at your earliest convenience" (this one is popular every week; why?)
"pine brothers cough drops"
"extreme pumpkin carving"
"duke of plaza toro"
"jolly rancher founder"
"church subgenius"
"mewling puking"
"bamboo salt"
"boys home sheet music" somebody's offering sheet music for this song on line ("When the Boys Come Home, by Speaks & Hay) probably for the graphics, at a price of $18.70
"euphrates wafer"
"oxblood lily"

It makes a person feel eclectic.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

How soon people forget

There's no telling what the jurisprudence of Harriet Miers would be, but to fault her nomination as some reporters and columnists have, describing her and her career as mediocre, is nonsense. Her undergraduate degree was conferred in 1967, in mathematics. Few indeed were the women who dared to aspire to earning a law degree and fewer still were those who were admitted to law school and thereafter succeeded in making a career in the law for themselves. Law schools had quotas that discriminated against women; if an entering class was 6% female, that was high. The number of female federal judges was infinitesimal; the number of male federal judges who would appoint a female clerk probably even smaller. She was one of those very few who did clerk for a federal judge and has been several times a female "first."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Somebody's hoarding

In a personal e-mail, someone reports hearing from relatives in Beaumont and Port Arthur that store shelves are stripped of baking soda. It's simply in extremely short supply. People are using it to scrub and deodorize refrigerators and freezers that they hope to salvage. The stink and goo remaining when stored food got too hot for too many days after electricity failed are almost beyond imagining. Thousands of refrigerators must be on their way to landfills, and that will create all sorts of processing and disposal bottlenecks and problems. In fact, the Beaumont Enterprise has done some reporting on the subject of fridges [10/15: the story's down]. The Enterprise has reported throughout on a part of the storm-affected region that hasn't been much heard from.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Caught up

The backlog is gone. Over 2,500 e-mail to the major address have finally been opened, read, and disposed of. It's terrible to get to far behind on these, several of which should properly have had a response long before now.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Where are the unsalted ones?

El Galindo chips are the nonpareil. But you can't always find them. At H-E-B there were only salted ones. The same was true at the Farm to Market Grocery, so we settled for El Milagro. They're fine, but a bit too thin and underdone. But this isn't a complaint. And it's sad to see 7 gone.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Brevity and Leonora, Manrico, Azucena, et al.

The orchestra was excellent, the chorus was good, the sets were not missed, and all sounded fine or better at all times, except the poor tenor who had his moments (not bad intonation, just difficulty with sound). In view of everything, it seemed as though some codas were skipped, and so all finished at a very reasonable hour. We received more than our money's worth in Beauty and without subjecting ourselves to an endurance trial. It's been a while since we've attended a Trovatore. I've never thought that the sets add a thing.

Friday, October 07, 2005

After weeding

The Readerware feature that offers search, select, and automatic port to HTML doesn't produce what's likely to stay up there unchanged, but a catalogue of the residual books after a sort-of house-cleaning is on line and available for consultation when we're away from home (only author and title information). When there's time, it will be good to try exporting data in CSV form and then to produce something that requires less scrolling.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The same

Even though legislators like to employ one of these words in connection with efforts to control the manufacture of controlled substances, forerunner and precursor are identical in meaning. Having seen them both in a single sentence in a newspaper story, I was struck by the notion that they are synonyms, and so they are, as the dictionary confirms. One is of Latin derivation and the other comes from the Anglo-Saxon, both in the prefix and in the core meaning. I wonder whether the additional current usage for precursor will survive for any extended period of time.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


There were three more monarch butterflies around suppertime, on the asclepias.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Parody, junior division, with malt

A musical item like this is not a jump-rope rhyme, not a camp song, and not really a jingle (although sometimes it's a variant of one, as this is). It belongs to kids and never leaves the brain once in it. An example is the Bosco song:

I hate Bosco
It's full of TNT
Mommie puts it in my milk
To try to poison me

But I fooled Mommie
I put it in her cup
Then I told her
"Mommie, you'd better drink it up."

Yes, I fooled Mommie
I put it in her tea
Now there's no more Mommie
To try to poison me.

The real song begain with "I love Bosco." In our house, the syrup was Hershey's, for topping ice cream. But hot fudge sauce was made quite frequently from scratch. Bosco is malty and more like Nestle Quik than like any Hershey product. For some reason, malt-flavored this and that went into those horrid mixtures of raw milk, beaten raw eggs, and blackstrap molasses that were supposed to fatten people up. Did Horlick's have a rival? I think so, but can't remember what it was called. It must be Ovaltine.

Monday, October 03, 2005

In the vanguard

We saw our first two monarch butterflies of the season, both on lantana.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

With flourishes

The admissions clerk at the reception desk said it was his first night working there. We admired his eclat. He'd just flip a pen up behind his ear when he wasn't using it. His movements among the various screens and printers were graceful and efficient, almost balletic. He said that before this job he'd been working "as a mixologist," not "tending bar" or "as a bartender." He must have brought that certain something to fanning out the napkins on the bar and making a swirl of the toothpicks and straws in their holders, not to mention to pouring and shaking.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Conspicuous non-consumption

With all due respect to Thorstein Veblen, it seems that people are conspicuously not consuming. They're making do, wasting not, wearing out, and using up. Even purchases that truly need to be made one of these times are being postponed.