Wellfleets. Yum.

I like raw oysters.  Only since moving to Boston did I realize I like them.  In Indiana, oysters just aren’t as prevalent, and while I like seafood, somehow I never got around to trying them.  Now I love to hop up to Summer Shack after a long week and grab a pitcher of Fisherman’s Brew and a nice little selection of oozy goodness.  I generally try what they have on hand, learning the names of different types and maybe even something about the part of the coast a particular oyster comes from.

Wellfleets are pretty good.  The Wellfleet Oyster Fest describes them as ‘long and strong-shelled. Experienced tasters know that they are plump and clean with a distinctively good balance of creamy sweetness and brine.’  But I’ve never been to Wellfleet, MA, and didn’t even know they had a lighthouse, until now.

It is interesting to me the way local legend grows up around a particular event or circumstance.  It must have been true that someone in Wellfleet knew the fate of the lighthouse at the time it was moved.  The amount of effort it must take to move a lighthouse from one coast to another, even disassembled as some think it was, must have meant the local population was well aware of the movement, even if they were unaware that the lighthouse would eventually end up on Point Montara, CA.  Someone must have written the letters that are now coming to light as evidence of the movement of the lighthouse.  Local rumor may have eventually spewed forth the idea that the lighthouse was merely disassembled and not transported, but what of those ‘in the know’?  Is there some reason they would not want the town to know that their lighthouse was still being used (and is still being used today) somewhere else?  Or did the townspeople themselves simply prefer to allow the truth to fade into past and legend.

It is odd the ways truth and story blur in local tradition.  In Talcott, WV, it is often said that after his titanic battle with the steam engine, John Henry came home to his wife, had a quiet dinner, and passed softly in his sleep, his big heart finally giving out from the strain of that struggle.  In Ireland, Oisin lives to tell his tale to the future, perhaps even to Saint Patrick.  We are drawn to the poetry of the moment, and who would rather not see their beacon of light sinking slowly beneath the waves forever, rather than used for purposes not their own on some distant shore?


Publisher’s Clearinghouse icon? FORECLOSED.

The stock market crash of ’29 was a social leveler specifically because the richies got poorer, too.  Now with the whole subprime slam-bang, we could be seeing the same kind of re-leveling.  Case in point: Ed McMahon, ‘best known as Johnny Carson’s sidekick on “The Tonight Show”‘ but that us young kids know only from his ads for Publisher’s Clearinghouse, is 644 thou in arrears for his Beverly Hills home.  Of course, he’s trying to sell the house and this isn’t really a market for selling, but still.  If old rich guy is belly-up, that doesn’t bode well for those with smaller incomes.

I am a moral person.  I’m also a person who’s worked in a bank and knows just how far she could get snatching a check worth more than I may ever make.  Still, I wonder if Ed, in his little van with balloons and his giant cardboard checks, was ever tempted to just drive away?

The Wilderless.

In the past, the United States was a country of edgeless borders.  Thousands struggled to make a new life on ‘the frontier’, wherever that was and whatever it meant.  We fell in love with the romance of the cowboy.  We dreamed of riches and desolation in the Yukon.  Our hearts followed the young men still challenging the wilderness of the deserts, the high places, and the swamps.  As we ran out of space to explore in our own country, many of us longed for something we thought we’d lost – an innocence of the uncivilized world, or a fierce Mother Nature to pit our strength and determination against.

However, all has not been lost.  There are still some few remaining tribes in odd little corners of the world, in the mountain places or the rainforest of Brazil and Peru, that have little to no contact with the outside world.  I say ‘little to no’ because I feel some contact is evident in our observation and tracking of these tribes.  If we are flying above them in small planes and taking pictures, that’s contact 9especially when they respond by drawing bows).  True, there are efforts to protect these tribes and their traditional land areas from deforestation and illegal logging, and efforts to prevent direct contact that might spread disease.  But even with the awareness and indirect observation of these groups, we are having an effect on them which we cannot predict or change.
I am not saying such tracking is wrong.  I just can’t help but wonder if our best intentions will be realized, or if we will lose once and for all the the wilderness we at one time dreamed of by caring for the last dwellers in those remote places.  I wonder if we can help but change things, as teh toolmakers and dreamers we are.

What can you buy for two beaver hats?

This morning, i bought a Nantucket Nectars Half and Half.  It was delicious, as well as educational.  For example, I learned from the cap that Nantucket was purchased in 1692 for 30 pounds sterling and two beaver hats.  It makes me wonder who amongst the crazy islanders (aka English, who I assume are the ones most likely to traffic in English pounds) would buy an island or sell one using money AND beaver hats.  How much worth does a beaver hat really have?  It’s no longer a highly profitable pelt, and it’s nowhere near as fashionable or as warm as a coon skin cap.  What does a beaver hat even look like?

Evidently it was not so much the pelt of the beaver itself that was valuable, but the felt that could be made from it.  This felt was in vogue at the time, and versatile, being molded into a variety of shapes.  So a beaver hat could be a top hat, or a brown derby, or even a cowboy hat, depending on your inclination.  I wonder which shape was worth an island?  Eventually silk hats became popular and replaced beaver felt as the hat making material of the time.  Today, on eBay, such hats can range from $10-100 in a variety of shapes and styles.  So be sure to ask your local spinsterish haberdasher if the latest style is made of real, 100% beaver.

Today sucks

Typically I get into work, sit down, and take about an hour or two to get settled and into the swing of things.  Then I start blogging away to occupy my time, meaning I usually have a post by 9:45 or 10:30 at the latest.  Today, I am writing this at 11:55 am, which means it’s the first day of one of the busiest weeks of my year.  It’s going t be generally disagreeable here until about next Thursday, when I can quit worrying about other people not doing their jobs, and get back to the business of having nothing much to do.  For most people, having to work until noon but getting paid for work until 5 would not be a bad thing.  For me, it’s not really a bad thing either.  I enjoy occasionally having things that need to get done.  What I hate is that I go from trying to occupy my time with something, a dull 2% on the stress meter, all the way up to a 95-96% on days like this.  Everything was supposed to be done yesterday, and I’m helping 20 people on 50 tasks that they are all freaking out about.  Admin. Assists. should not get ulcers!  No that I have one.  Yet.

The world seems to agree with me.  Headlines range across major accidents (train crash in China, wildfire engulfing a wedding party, earthquakes in Mexico) to pure human wretchedness (a man locking up his daughter and fathering children on her, a student beating another student to critical condition).  Life today, as well as every day in our mixed-up and confusing lives, is full of strife.  I listened to a provocative hotel recording about five times this morning, greeting me with a sexy “well, hello there”, and guaranteeing me whatever I want, whenever I want it, and assuring me that a hotel representative would be with me shortly to ‘provide for your every desire’.  It was creepy.  And how did we get to this state?

We may look back at the past and want to say it was better then.  Look at the 50s – all that boom of an economy, people first learning how to buy lots of household stuff, appliances made to last.  But then you have to take into account the rampant prejudices that led to the revolts of the 60s, and the stultifying conformism of the times.  Then what about something earlier, the time of the Revolution and the birth of our country?  It was a time of war and privation, yes, but also of fighting for a just cause.  But truly, should ‘our’ rights have prevailed?  Were not all Europeans invaders?  Well then, what about a more primitive time, the agriculture or hunter-gatherer lifestyles of the Native Americans?  Was that not a better time?  Shorter lifespans, less nutrition, more infant mortality – I suppose you could say it was better.  I would rather say that we have a nostalgic longing for the past, as if it were childhood.

When I was growing up, there was a show on Nickelodeon called “Today’s Special”.  The meanings of the phrase could be various, and currently I’m perplexed as to what it had to do with the show itself.  The show was live action and puppets, involving a mannequin (male) that turned alive at night and interacted with the night watchman and other people in the store when it was closed.  Was the ‘special’ a sale on goods at the store the next day?  Was it a product only carried for a limited time?  Was it some new clothing item the mannequin always wore in order to promote it?  When i was a child, there was no such doubt in my mind.  ‘Today’ was not possessive – it was part of a contraction.  It was obvious – I knew today is special.

Owing the Taliban

In recent history, anger and revolution have destroyed a number of great monuments to the work and beliefs of mankind. The Cultural Revolution comes to mind, and its destruction and defacement of a variety of religious monuments, including some of the early Buddhist temples along the Silk Road. The book burning in Nazi Germany is another example. The symbolic burning of Old Glory to support a specific cause is an example of representative destruction, as was done during the Vietnam War. The Taliban and their destruction of various non-Muslim religious spaces is another example.

But all is not lost with these acts of violence. The monuments that were destroyed are often held in even more reverence at later times. The calls to destruction can attract new attention to significant historical locations and even sometimes lead to renewed study and preservation concerns for the past. Take the recent discovery that Buddhists near Bamiyan used oil-based paints in the 7th century for example. If the Taliban hadn’t attempted to destroy the caves and the two Buddha statues outside, conservationists would have been reluctant to study the composition of the painting materials. From restoration processes after the Taliban’s reign, we now know that people in the area were using oils centuries before the advent of oil painting in Europe.

What debt, then, do we have to those who attempt to destroy culture and end up preserving it even more firmly? Does it say something more about them, or about us, that we study only those things that are most endangered or at risk. What does it mean that a high percentage of the archaeological study taking place in North America only happens as a result of land development? What does it mean that we only have the resources to discover the past when the physical presence of that past is threatened?

Patriot’s Day

There are few holidays in the US that are celebrated only at a state level.  Of course there are always local and municipal celebrations, but rarely do businesses close for them, especially in larger cities.  The only semi-local holiday I know of is the Massachusetts-wide celebration of Patriot’s Day, which corresponds to the Boston marathon.  It is for this holiday that I am typing at home today.

Other than allowing those thin little champions of the marathon a day to run, what is this holiday for?  Are there more patriots in Mass than other places?  Does the history of the area, in particular in relationship to its history during the Revolutionary War, give it the special status of an additional holiday that other less historical regions do not deserve?

According to Wikipedia, the holiday is a celebration of the start of the Revolutionary War in the battles of Lexington and Concord.  It is also celebrated in Maine, because Maine was once part of Massachusetts.  I suppose that’s a valid celebration of history, even though the actual battles took place considerably further south.  However, no explanation is given for the fact that public schools in Wisconsin also take this day as a holiday.  Perhaps it’s another name for teacher’s in-service there, or the public school students are just unusually cheesy.  Yum.

Anyway, regardless of the reason, I plan on holding this holiday of mine in style and cheer.

St. Patrick’s Day

There are many famous myths about Saint Patrick.  There are stories of him driving the snakes out of Ireland, of him getting rid of the last monsters, and of him proselytizing so long to one particularly stubborn group of Irish that his ash walking stick rooted itself and grew into a giant tree.  While these stories are amusing, and may have fit with early are subsequent understandings of how stories should be told, they further distort the truth of the life and works of one of the patron saints of Ireland.  Acutally, there are pretty popular theories that the patron saint as celebrated later was actually the combination of the lives and works of two individuals, niether of which was Irish.  Go figure.

The questions that really come to mind to me today, on ‘his day’, really come from traditions and celebrations associated with him.  Why the green?  Just because of the shamrock and its three-in-one illustration of the Trinity?  Why lepruchans and booze?  Just cause it’s Ireland?  There’s no heavily boozy celebrations worldwide for St. Brigid who, unlike Patrick, was actually canonized by the Pope.

Despite my questions on the randomness of the holiday and all the commercialism that has sprung up around it (when else am I going to wear shamrock sunglasses and a green feather boa?) , I still had a good time yesterday at the parade in South Boston.  Besides, who wouldn’t applaud a man who gets kidnapped and is made a slave at the age of six and then doesn’t hold a grudge?  I’m not sure I could go back to help people who took me from my family as a child, even if i did manage to escape on my own.  That’s more the sort of heart I want to have – the kind that always helps people – no matter the possible political and religious implications of St. Patrick’s actions.

The tree of life

I was reading this blog post today about the rediscovery of an ancient Iranian goblet as one of the earliest (perhaps the earliest) cartoons, illustrating a goat in several different positions around the bowl. There’s a short video of the ‘animation’ on the post which shows the goat leaping twice and eventually reaching the leaves of a plant in front of him. There’s some early theory that the plant represents the Assyrian Tree of Life, despite the fact that the artifact itself predates Assyrian civilization.

As I was reading this, I was first drawn to the tree of life reference, perhaps because of my Christian background. My first assumption was that the Biblical tree of life (the one in Genesis that’s not the apple, aka not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) preceded the Assyrian one.  After all, the Assyrians are part of later books of the Bible and the history of the Jewish people.  Evidently, this is not necessarily true: 2/3 of Assyrian history preceded the supposed initial writing of the Genesis tales.  So, though oral history may have carried one or both at the same time, it’s difficult to say who borrowed from whom.

Perhaps a more accurate summary would simply state that the Tree of Life, or World Tree, could be peeking out from this goblet as it  peeks out in a wide variety of myths and stories around the globe.  Take the peach immortality tree of the Taoist, or early Chinese depictions of trees including both the dragon (immortality) and the phoenix (balance).  Take the pomegranate of the Greeks or Yggdrasil of the Norse, or the ceiba tree of the Maya.  Take any old tree you know personally – its power to lift the eyes;  its strong, deep roots and its dancing green lights.  What can such a tree tell you about age, death, and growth?

The point’s the thing (or, the end justifies the means)

 I am reading a fiction book I found in the bargain bin at my local bookstore – to protect the innocent, I will not mention its title here.  And there’s nothing wrong with being in the bargain bin – the classics are often there.  I recently picked up a hardcover Eco book there for a dollar.  It was The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, so arguably not one of his best works, but still.  And if I can get that for a dollar, anything I’m getting for $3.65 has some kind of worth.

It is more of an enjoyable quick read, but I still appreciate that type of fiction.  The thing that I don’t value about it is the way it portrays writers.  You see, it’s a frame story in places.  One of the characters is a writer who we see writing within the tale.  We even get to read some of her story.  The point of contention with me is that the writer of the frame story (who happens to be male) has the female writer in his work write the perfect story a chapter at a time with no revision.  None.

Now, the female writer inside the story is writing a children’s book, it’s true.  And while this does mean less  actual words to edit, and perhaps a different standard of writing, to believe this woman just writes and then sets aside her ‘perfect manuscript’ threatens my credulity.  Does the male author expect us to believe anyone can just slop it down for children’s fiction?  Did he, in writing the frame as well as the innards, do that children’s book section in one easy sitting?  I certainly hope not.

Perhaps I’m being to harsh.  Perhaps this particular work of fiction is driven to one specific message, and the details of realism occasionally slip aside.   Perhaps the superb rough-draft of this female writer is a firmer implication of the idea that she was ‘meant’ to write that story.  Perhaps it’s simply a case of the main point, the main end of the tale, overshadowing the smaller details.  However, at the end of the day, I would not consider Cesare Borgia in my friendship circle.  And I doubly don’t trust Machiavelli.  For that reason, I am hesitant to embrace their particular credo, even if skewed to fit a very different time and a very different set of circumstances.

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