Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Welcome Sweet Shrouding Fog of Unknown Futures

Goodnight World,

Rest in the peaceful shroud of unknown tomorrows.  May the languid winds of unformed futures gently smooth your weary brow.  Too long have you worried over the unnamed monsters of the morrow; turning desperately this way and that to thwart them.  Morning's harsh light may part the mist and reveal to you the fearful outlines of Scylla and Charybdis.  But here, now, in these final hours of rest welcome the sweet shrouding fog of unknown futures.  Scylla's slashing teeth cannot steal your slumber from you.  Neither can Charybdis change your course this final night of sightless sleep.  Inevitable fate awaits you, World, one man, or even many being powerless to change it.  Fate, ah The Fates, there is no room for fear in the unfamiliar future they have fixed for you.  Mist will rise, the shroud will part and tomorrow you will stride forth boldly into the fray, the fight, the future.  Tomorrow, deeds having been done, the course of the future will unfurl before you in all its fury.  Scylla and Charybdis will greet you and the terrible consequences of the course set before you will be plain to see.  Tonight, embrace the twilight of unrevealed tribulations.  Lay fear aside, thank all the stars that you were not born into Cassandra's curse and gather the dusk around you in the final slumber in the blissfully unknown future ahead of you.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

History was Made This Very Evening

Most evenings do not find me communing with the collective spirit of sport frenzied enthusiasm.  In fact, most evenings that involve me and sports in the same room usually involve my unbridled invective against the barbarity of this sport or the stupidity of that one.  It's not even that I hate sports.  I simply hate watching other people play them.  I'd so much rather play the sport myself, or do anything actively, rather than watch others play sports.  However, this evening was different.

Now, maybe it's my deep American roots, but I've always had a fondness for a good ballgame.  (Not that I watch baseball often, but I tolerate the odd game here and there because I like the game.)  As a child I remember cheering on my Dad while he played in corporate ballgames.  I remember playing t-ball and Dad teaching us to bat.  My brother and I loved it when he would do the "real pitcher's wind up".  No doubt he went easy on us but we felt like pros when we would hit these real pitches.  As slightly older children we taught our dog to outfield for us so that we could take turns batting and pitching without having to run and get the ball ourselves.

So, this evening found me captivated by the world series game between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians.  Mom, who has always been a die-hard Cubbies fan was too nervous to even sit in the room.  She feared that if she watched the Cubs would lose.  So she hovered in the adjacent doorway, fretting and finding busy work to keep her hands occupied between running in to see a play and running out of the room so as not to jinx her beloved Cubbies.

And there is something special about Cubbies fans.  They've been fans, dedicated fans, for the last 108 years without any world series wins to their credit, not since their last win in 1908.  To be fair, the Indians hadn't won a world series since 1948.  So, the stands were full of tense faces, hands over mouths and distractedly holding nervously onto baseball hats as fans of both teams watched 10 close innings.  And what a game it was.

The enthusiasm was high throughout the game.  It was exciting because it was such a close game.  With the batters who nobody expected anything of sometimes bringing it home.  So, when the Indians hit a ball at the bottom of the tenth the atmosphere was tense up until the moment that the Cubs' first baseman caught the ball and made the final out, winning the world series and delighting Cubbies fans everywhere.  A historic moment, 108 years of bad luck, curse, dryspell or whatever you would like to call it, was finally broken.  Just think about that for a minute.  People worn born Cubbies fans, lived their whole lives and died without seeing the Cubs win a world series.  Almost two generations of people passed while waiting for tonight.  It has been pointed out that the last time the Cubs won the world series, Al Capone, Mark Twain, and Thomas Eddison were alive.  Tonight linked us back to a time a full century ago.  And I was caught up in the magic of the excitement, camaraderie and importance of this moment.  I watched history being made.  What a great feeling, knowing both teams played so well, were so close and wanted it so badly.  What a great game!  What a moment to remember.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Rocky and Shadow's Guide to Street Food

Rocky and Shadow's Guide to Street Food - popcorn
Popcorn is always a fine choice. - Photo via Flickr "face it" by Amancay Maahs

As the air turns chilly and thoughts of pumpkin spice everything floats in our heads, it is time to consider enjoying a pumpkin spice latte on a walk through the freshly chilled air.  A lazy afternoon stroll in the autumn air capped off with the perfect snack from a street food vendor is the recipe for a perfect Saturday afternoon.  And it just so happens that combining walks and street food is a favorite pastime of Rocky and Shadow.  So, it stands to reason that they would know the ins and outs of all the best local street foods.  "Everyone raves about street tacos," says Shadow "but my personal favorite is sidewalk popcorn.  All those delicious little kettle-corn kernels just sprinkled in the cracks of the sidewalk.  They brighten up even the longest most tiring walks."

Rocky and Shadow's Guide to Street Food - popcorn
The finest street popcorn - Photo via Flickr by Nadia Hatoum

Shadow is always on the lookout for tasty morsels left behind by foolish humans.  Rocky is more interested in the walking, but even he agrees that Saturdays are the best for finding street treats.

Rocky and Shadow's Guide to Street Food - popcorn
Photo via Flickr "Sunbathing Popcorn" by Mika
"Saturday evening walks always produce the best smells," Rocky tells us.  "Market day is a big deal here.  Everyone likes it.  Dogs and people abound throughout the morning, and by evening the very best aromas have blended together into a perfect Saturday evening sunset of smells.  There's really nothing like it."

Rocky and Shadow are foodies.  They like to regale their new friends with stories of the best foods they've found in the area.  Gutter apples sprinkled with flakes of perfectly blended autumn leaves sound almost too magical to be real.  But Rocky claims he found one once, and Shadow seems to remember with great pain that he didn't stumble across this find himself.  Also to Rocky's credit is the discovery of several quaint little neighborhood spots that have produced bush leftovers in the form of par-eaten ribs with a hint of earthy soil sauce.  

Lest you think that all the great discoveries are Rocky's, it should be noted that Shadow can claim discovery of the motor-oil infused road crackers that are a new and growing trend in the neighborhood, much to both dogs' continued delight.  While the absolute favorite is still bite-sized bread crusts and a hearty helping of veggies wrapped gently in grease-soaked paper and laid aside in, dare I say, hole-in-the-wall eateries near the sidewalk; they are only for the most discerning of foodies.  

Rocky and Shadow's Guide to Street Food - cupcake wrappers
Aren't these wrappers mouth-wateringly beautiful? - Photo via Flickr "Cupcake wrappers" by Joy

If all of this talk of street food has made you hungry, Rocky and Shadow cannot recommend market day enough.  As a matter of fact, they are always on the lookout for the latest and greatest in food trends in the area.  And don't worry, for those of you who love dessert but are watching waste-lines, be on the lookout for a local rosebush cafe that offers delectable and low-carb candy wrappers with just a hint of chocolate.  With so many irresistible street-food options right around the corner, it's hard to see how life could get any better.

Rocky and Shadow's Guide to Street Food - candy wrapper
Delectable low-carb candy wrappers - Photo via Flickr "laziness" by Leonard J Matthews

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Extremities and Extremism

I think people have underestimated their extremities.  I know, I know, that's an odd thought to have, but think about it.  Everything seems more extreme at your extremities.  Whenever I'm cold, my toes are always the coldest.  Double layers of gloves and socks barely keep up in a freezing NYC winter.  Conversely, on a sweltering, Alabama summer day, while the rest of my body struggles on with the heat, my toes get hot and claustrophobic in shoes.  They demand sandals so that they can breathe.

I know that not everyone shares my opinion on toe shoes, but toe socks and toe shoes are the absolute worst.  It's not just the fact that they create tiny prisons for your toes that bothers me.  No, what bothers me is that they are imprisoning your toes in tiny isolation cells.  They were born together; they've never been apart.  They aren't used to isolation.  Some people might even call it cruel and unusual punishment.  And one should not be cruel to one's toes.  They are sort of the foundation of a person, you know?

So, really, I think people are underestimating their extremities.  By this, I don't just mean that people are not looking out for their extremities when they cram them into high heels and pointy shoes that don't always fit.  I mean, that people don't appreciate how much extremities really feel.  Feeling extremes in heat and cold is just the beginning.

I believe that extremities and extremism go hand in hand.  Popular expressions would support this notion.  When you love a song the first thing that happens is toe tapping.  Your toes either appreciate the music more or first.  They start dancing before you do and then convince the rest of you to follow along.  When you fall for a stranger's charm it is called being "swept off your feet."

The ultimate expression of relaxation is putting one's feet up.  The opposite is also true.  When someone is tired the highest expression for exhaustion is "dead on your feet."  Because feet are the first to relax and the first to tire.

If you're extremely obstinate you "dig in your heels."  The opposite is also true here.  When someone is over eager you can tell them "cool your heels."  There are numerous expressions that express feelings by equating them with extremities.  If you worked hard all day you could say that you ache from "head to toe."  If you feel like you are in a changeable or fast-paced environment you might say that it "keeps you on your toes."  This evokes a feeling of change and surprise all at once.  Rarely would someone try to express this feeling by referring to a body part in the mid-section.  And that's all just feet.

Your fingers can be lazy "not lifting a finger" or take the brunt of all your hard work when you have "worked your fingers to the bone."  You give people and things you approve of a thumbs up.  People who are clumsy are referred to as "being all thumbs."  And when you feel like you're being oppressed you could call it "being under someone's thumb."

Your heart may just be the center of your emotions but your extremities may experience them in the most extreme manner.  Seeing as I'm in a frivolous mood I'm just going to go out on a limb here (a limb being an extremity as well), and say that my emotions are magnified at my extremities. My fingers are extremely important and my toes are extremists.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

What is my Car squeaking about?

"Chitty squeak, clackety screech" the dashboard in the car sings merrily as we drive about town. It sings like it's someone's Great Aunt Ethel, with a high-pitched voice that is both annoying and familiar; nattering away non-stop as you drive.  Maybe my car is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's stately relative Great Aunt Ethel.  You don't think cars have great aunts and sing?  Well, apparently you haven't met my car.

If my car really is a Great Aunt Ethel type, it is no doubt telling you to "be careful, and slow down, and watch out for that squirrel, and did you know that your cousin three times removed on your father's side had recently bought those horrid foot gloves that masquerade as shoes and I can't see how it's going to improve her appearance any, and don't you just love those red bougainvillea plants they planted in the median?"

Or maybe it's not Great Aunt Ethel after all.  Maybe the car is singing its own song about roads, stoplights and gas tanks and the smell of freshly paved asphalt roads in the morning.  Perhaps, the car is singing a song that goes "every day out of the junk yard is a good day!"

Maybe I'm driving a cheery realist around town.  He knows and accepts his fate with a dash of cheer, realism, and song.  Its squeaky rattling tune tells of its happiness to be living the life of an automobile to the fullest.  I have enough gas and enough working parts to keep driving, so driving I will go.  Three cheers for working motors!

Or maybe my car is plotting mutiny.  It plans to wait til we have set sail on a long journey of enormous importance and break down leaving us stranded in an inhospitable section of shark infested waters.  Maybe its little creaking symphony is the mutinous mumblings of a car that fancies itself abused and overworked that will crash on purpose at the earliest convenience with a raucous shout of "Drink up mechanics yo ho!" right before it careens full sail into a ditch with faulty brakes.  Just maybe.  Of course, I could just be imagining all of this because I have an advanced case of scurvy induced madness, anything is possible, right?

Whatever it is my car sings or mutters about, it certainly does so at a constant rate.  Sometimes the squeaking cacophony is almost soothing while others it's enough to drive you mad in a mere handful of blocks.  Maybe if I roll a window down a bit it will drown out Great Aunt Ethel's helpful nattering.  Or perhaps, I ought to join in with the song... "every day out of the junk yard is goooooooood day!"  Everyone can use a healthy dose of cheery realism once in awhile, right?

Sunday, 6 March 2016

The Sordid History of Couplets

How one line got lonely and started a relationship with another line.  
Photo via Flickr - "Poems" by Pascal Maramis

The Couplet was once just a lonely sentence
Whose thought didn't quite seem ended.
He thought he'd date the following line
Who thought that he looked mighty fine.
But their relationship was quickly ended
the moment the bad poet penned it.
For a lonely couplet is only truly fine
When it's made to be paired in perfect rhyme
Not when it starts a love affair
Out of loneliness and lack of punctuation.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Beards being radical and radically maddening?

This ancient stone figure is looking pretty shady with his curly beard. - Photo via Flickr "Beard" by Quinn Dombrowski
Tajikistan shaves beards to stop radicalization...

Shaving beards to stop radicalization?  You can read the article here.  And you will probably come to the same conclusion that almost any rational person would.  "That's stupid" you'll say.  "Mad," says I.  And we'd be right you know.

This is the maddest thing you've ever heard of.  And it's not just because it's the sort of headline that you can imagine an insane person like myself coming up with.  It's not just that you suspect it will turn out to be a piece written by The Onion.  Oh no.  It's not even the fact that it's true that makes it the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard of.  (Though I don't know what you've heard of, so perhaps it is...)

But the real truth is that this is the maddest thing to happen in the modern world precisely because it's been done before.  You are laughing, I can tell.  You don't believe me.  But it's all perfectly true.  The strangest things in this world are the facts.  No great work of fiction can ever rival the madness of real life.  "But, seriously," you think to yourself.  "It can't have happened before."

"Ah," I say knowingly.... "but it did.... many years ago in Russia."

The beard revolts.  Peter the 1st decided that Russia needed to be westernized.  And one of the ways that he thought he should go about this was to dispense with all the beards in his country and ensure that he and his countrymen were all clean shaven.  So he instituted a beard tax and tried to get the populace at large to shave.  Just as the Tajikistan police have been shaving the beards of their male population.  Since, beards in Russia were not just a choice of facial hair, but an ingrained part of the culture, the beard shaving was not met with much favor.  And I'm sure it will not be met with much favor in Tajikistan either.

Now, the article states that Tajik culture is what they are trying to uphold with this, er, practice.  But what it fails to mention is that beard wearing is very much a part of Muslim culture, which constitutes a whopping 99% of their citizens.  So, say what you like about beards being cultural.  Even if you can convincingly argue that beards are not an ingrained part of Tajik culture I still can't see anyone being pleased to be forcibly shaved.  Hair, whether facial or otherwise is rather personal and being forced to shave is not just shocking it's insulting as well.  Having a beard does not make you radical.  However, as the article suggests, having your beard forcibly shaved might make you into a radical.

In Russia, the people weren't having any of the beard shaving.  They revolted.  The beard revolts were large, violent and well, very Russian.  But the point is, forcing someone to shave their beard never solved anything.  It didn't westernize the Russian peasant automatically and it won't de-radicalize anyone automatically either.  It will only incite anger and possibly violence.

And the maddest thing of all is not that it's happening, which I think you and I might both agree is mad, but that it's happened before.

There really is nothing new under the sun.

Sadly, for those of us historians unfortunate enough to be well read, we are doomed to watch history repeating itself.  Slowly unfolding with it's inevitable consequences right before our eyes while we shout and rage in impotent frustration.

Just call me Cassandra.

(In case you aren't up on your ancient history.... ironic considering the post, no?  Anyway, I'm referring to that prophetess of Greek mythology; doomed to know the future but cursed so that nobody would ever believe her.  Yes, you ancient Greeks, thanks a lot for that one.)

And if I've just left you depressed I will give you a peace offering.  I'll leave you with two different articles.  An article on beards that is going in the opposite direction.  Read it here and don't dwell too much on the madness of the world.  And if that isn't enough to raise your spirits I offer you The Onion's take on beards here.  Just to amuse you, or to make you pause and think about how differently beards can be viewed.  Radical?  Conversation tool?  Hipster?

Photo via Flickr "beard" by urban_data

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

On the Beauty of Showers

Sometimes a person just needs a shower.  Maybe you need a nice long shower because your family can get on your nerves but they can't follow you in the shower.  Or maybe it's because warm water just makes everything better.  Or maybe it's really just that you feel antsy because you really desperately need to feel clean.

Whatever, the reason, sometimes you just need a shower.  It refreshes you, cleans you and somehow freshens your mind and attitude.  Sometimes, after a long day of gardening, being slobbered on by dogs and arguing with your family you just need to hop in the shower and clean yourself off and start all over.

It's remarkable how many ailments can be cured by a shower.

  • Headaches - cured
  • That crawly feeling you get if you saw a spider too close to you but can't see it anymore - cured
  • Dry eyes- cured
  • The feeling of being encased in slime after a particularly slobbery dog kiss - cured
  • Dry cough - cured (well at least temporarily) 
  • The "my hands will never be the same again" because I've been gardening all day feeling - cured
  • If you have a cold and your head is stuffed up - temporary cure
  • The "ugh I'm disgusting I can't go anywhere" feeling induced by dirt and dirty hair - cured
  • Exhaustion - cured (at least long enough to make and consume dinner before slowly melting into bed)
  • "I just got a haircut" itchiness - cured
  • Early morning "I hate the world because it's too early" syndrome - almost cured (and that's saying something)
  • Exercising is the worst thing ever I'll never do it again feeling - cured (again impressive)
  • The sand and salt from my beach trip is weighing me down feeling - cured
  • Feeling too cold - cured
  • Muscle soreness - cured
  • The feeling of being encrusted with a sparkly skin disease a.k.a. glitter - cured
  • The "I'm too old for this ****" feeling - cured

Ok, so they aren't really a list of ailments.  But look at how many feelings that masquerade as ailments can be cured by a simple shower.  Really, showers might be the best. 

Ok, lauding of showers complete.  I'm going to go take one and cure my malaise.