Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cold Turkey

I've been thinking of deleting the Games folder and all its contents off my computer.

Ever since my first computer, acquired in my second year of theological college in the autumn of 1993, I've given up computer games for Lent. I don't say this to brag on myself; rather, it shows how addictive I've found them. I needed to wrench myself away for a time each year, and I definitely needed Outside Help to do it.

Back then, it was Tetris. I'd get so engrossed in playing it (instead of working on my essays) that during chapel services, while kneeling for the Intercessions, I'd see tetraminos floating down the screen of my closed eyes.

Later, it was Freecell and Spider Solitaire. I came to understand that seven weeks of abstinance was not enough to give me mastery over my obsession, so four or five years ago I began to fast from playing computer games during the four weeks of Advent as well.

But I've been attending a very reformed Presbyterian church this past year (when I'm not preaching, myself), and they're very big on not being bound by purely man-made rules, like the idea one should give things up for Advent and Lent. So this Advent immediately past, I played Spider Solitaire all I jolly well pleased. And sometimes when I didn't really please. I'd get on and start dealing and redealing and keep going and going . . .

And I'm thinking, this has got to stop. I have too much to do to waste whole half hours two or three or four times a day placing one virtual card on another. Which means radical action: Delete!

But why don't I just make a New Year's resolution to control myself and just play a game a day? Or save the fun for Saturday evenings or whenever?

Because if I had any resolve I wouldn't be frying my brain with these toys the way I do now. I need to go cold turkey and get rid of them.

True, if I do that I would miss the enjoyment I get out of playing them. I'd lose the pleasure of knowing that here, at least, something is going where it belongs and staying there. And how else will I while away the minutes while waiting for files to download? And what will I do to allay the truly visceral desire that seizes me to click on the Spider Solitaire icon and play and play? I know that if I delete that file it's going to drive me crazy.

Which is why I gotta stop. That's physical addiction, and it just ain't right.

Then there's the weird state of mind I get into when I play computer games. Some psychologist should study the phenomenon. I could claim they put me into a very creative state, but nothing ever comes of it.

One part of my consciousness will be focussed on playing the game. But in another part of my mind, I often begin to see . . . scenes. Scenes from a play, or maybe a movie. Nothing I've ever seen or heard or read; something original and new. But always seeming to take place in the past, and always with the exchanges in some sort of dialect. Brooklynese or Yiddish or Irish. Trouble is, even though I can make out the drift of the dialog, I can never make out what the characters are actually saying.

A typical episode: Three people, two men and a woman, in the disorderly kitchen of a cheap apartment, probably somewhere in the Bronx. I see it in black and white. The men, both in shirtsleeves, one with a hat on, sit at the kitchen table, intently discussing something. The woman, a bleached blonde, hovers between the table and the stove, bringing coffee when demanded and putting in her 2 cents whether asked for it or no. She is the wife, I think, of the man without the hat. The men seem to be plotting something, I can't tell what. A bank robbery or a hijacking or whatever. At one point, they nearly come to blows. Not over whether to do the job; rather, over how to pull it off. The woman intervenes. She seems to be saying they're both wrong and should listen to her. She's as deep in it as they are, she simply has a more level head. Her advice may well guarantee the success of their plan. Will they listen to her? Do I want them to listen to her and be successful? Who is the hero of this little play? One of these guys, or a detective somewhere? How can I know? That's all I get!

But more often, the effect of a strong dose of computer games isn't so dramatic. More often, the unoccupied part of my brain sends up . . . old songs. I mean, really old songs. From the first part of the 20th century, or before. Songs I haven't thought of for months or years, songs I have no reason to think of.

Songs like "Hello, Ma Baby" (1899). Yesterday, it was "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart" (1934). Today, I channelled "I'll Take Romance" (1937).

Where do they come from? Why do they come when I'm trying to decide whether to use the free space to free up that black four to move it to the five, or to shift that red king? Is this some wondrous facility I'll lose if I delete that file?

Yes, maybe. But what about all those other things I'm losing out on now, like balancing my accounts and writing my novel and stripping the hallway floor?

(I'm thinking . . . I'm thinking . . . )

(Excuse me a minute.)

I . . . I . . . did it. At least, I dumped the folder with the shortcuts in it. Which means those games may still be someplace on the machine, but I can't get to them.


Friday, December 25, 2009

A Happy and Blessed Christmas to You

While I'm waiting for the acorn squash I'm taking to Christmas dinner at my friends' Hannah* and Steve's* house to finish baking, and as I (hopefully!) get my Christmas cards for them and their siblings printed out the right way this time, may I present this year's original carol:

When armies marched and rulers roared,
When Empire knew its golden age;
When noisy Pride bestrode the stage:
Then softly, softly, came the Lord.

When inns no shelter could afford
And hectic crowds were taxed with fear,
When anguish bound this fallen sphere:
Then peacefully, peacefully, came the Lord.

When angels bright, with one accord,
To shepherds midst their lambs and ewes,
Proclaimed the saving gospel news:
So mercif’ly, mercif’ly came the Lord.

When wise men noble gifts outpoured
And worshipped at His infant feet,
Their Sage and King in Him to greet:
Then humbly, humbly came the Lord.

O Jesus, Son of God adored,
In lowliness Your strength is shown,
That we should worship You alone:
So Gloria, gloria, gloria, Lord!

A blessed day to you all, whatever is going on in your life, for Jesus is the Prince of the peace that confounds all human understanding. He shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot comprehend Him.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Why It's Nice to Be Reformed

. . . Admitting at the outset that I'm not as Reformed as some people. Whether that's good or bad, I won't pronounce.

But at this season of the year, it's nice to reflect that Christ is assuredly born, and He most certainly died for my sins and rose from the dead, whether or not I have my Christmas cards written and sent or my tree up or any of the cooking projects I planned completed. I don't have to make Christmas, I only have to receive it.

Which is good, because since subbing at Castellcoch* High School day before yesterday I am still exhausted. I highly suspect Mr. Chummy* the new principal was playing games with me. I got called in at the last minute to fill in for a teacher who had to be out in the morning, but when I arrived Mrs. Berlin* the school secretary said that assignment had been given to someone else. I was sent to sit in for one of the Learning Support teachers while she had a meeting with Mr. Chummy . . . then I cooled my heels in her room the next two periods waiting for the office to give me something real to do. A movie was going, but the kids were talking so loud you couldn't hear the dialog, the two LS teachers talked between themselves, and I sat there bored out of my gourd.

Lunch then, then no sitting down the rest of the day. Mrs. Berlin had me supervise three straight lunch periods, with all their noise. Beginning of 8th period, I'm back in the office, asking her if Mr. Chummy had come up with any class he wanted me to cover. There was a party that period for all the kids who'd escaped getting written up all semester, and they needed, I presumed, coverage for the kids who had to remain in the classrooms while the teachers accompanied the "good" kids to the gym.

"Oh!" says Mrs. Berlin. "Mr. Chummy didn't give you anything to do yet? He's in the gym, at the party. Go there and see where he wants you."

I duly went, and found him personally dishing up the ice cream. I repeated what Mrs. Berlin said, asking, "Where do you want me?"

"Here," he replied. "Mingle." All very nice, but it meant another hour on my feet. With doubled noise since they had a DJ blasting out music (not Christmas music, I remarked).

I was grimly amused to see that at least three kids I'd personally written up were there, all three of them Mr. Chummy's former 7th grade Science students and one of them a boy with a very ominous reputation in the teacher's lounge. I said nothing . . . but had to wonder if the reason he wanted me there was so I could see how little seriously he considers my disciplinary efforts.

But I was a good girl. And mingled. And smiled. And when it was over and I returned to the LS room for my coat, I was so drained I about slid down onto the floor and cried.

Crawled under the covers early Tuesday evening for a short nap and didn't get up till 7:30 yesterday morning. Shaky and nervous all day yesterday, and today I'm not much better. Don't think I'm getting the flu; haven't a scintilla of a fever. But I don't feel up to going out and running errands, I don't want to make candy; I'm just going to address the cards that're going to the friends I'll be seeing tomorrow and get to bed early.

And be glad that as nice as all the trimmings of the season are, they aren't some magic I have to perform to make Jesus live for me or in me.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2009

And You Wondered What's Wrong with America's Public Schools (Part 4)

Part 3 is here.

All day I'd meant to call the Castellcoch district's substitute teacher dispatcher Mrs. Rockslide* as soon as I got home. I meant to find out what the H-E-double-hockey-sticks was going on. Miss Birdsong* told me this morning that Mrs. Rockslide had called her on Wednesday to tell her to come in on Friday. Mrs. Rockslide told me on Tuesday I'd be in all week. Did she just get mixed up?

I called Mrs. Rockslide. And I was nice about it. It's not Christian or pastoral or fair to go ripping on people without cause. So I said, "Mrs. Rockslide, I was wondering what happened today . . . "

And the short version is that the whole thing was the principal Mr. Chummy's* decision. He found out after two days that I (in cahoots with Ms. Haluska--shock!) was actually expecting the students to do some work, be I sub or be I none. And, says Mrs. Rockslide, Mr. Chummy doesn't believe in substitute teachers actually teaching or getting the students to work. He thinks it alienates the kids and makes them think the Administration Is Not Their Friend. And as the new principal, his first goal and intention is that all students should know that The Administration Is Their Friend. So, "He prefers young substitutes who won't stand up to the kids and won't make them do anything."

Said I, "Is he suicidal? I talked to one teacher today who says discipline is so bad at Castellcoch, there'll probably be attacks on teachers by next May!"

"I know," and I could visualize her head shaking in perplexity. "Discipline is the worst it's ever been. A lot of substitutes refuse to come here."

"Does he have a death wish for the school? Does he really want things to get so bad nobody can learn anything?"

"I know! I told Mrs. Berlin when she called Wednesday that you were in the Biology class till Christmas break. And I had Miss Birdsong scheduled in for Mr. Chucovich* [a Social Studies teacher] on Monday. But she said Mr. Chummy wanted it changed, and I couldn't do anything about it."

Apparently she wasn't allowed to call and tell me about the switchover, either. So all yesterday I'm thinking and planning and working--?


She was glad I called, as this has been bothering her. She knows it wasn't fair to me or to the kids. She tries to stand up for the substitutes, but feels she's alone in the battle. And what was she to do with Mr. Chucovich's classes on Monday? Mr. Chummy definitely has said Miss Birdsong is to take the Biology kids that day as well. Could I, would I?

I really wished I could have said, "I'm sorry, no." But, as I admitted to Mrs. Rockslide, I'm on emergency unemployment compensation. And if I miss "any available work," I lose not only the money I would have made, I also lose the same amount in UC benefits. I am poor and struggling. You, Mrs. Rockslide, have just offered me "available work." You have me over a barrel. Yes, I will substitute for Mr. Chucovich on Monday.

"But wait a minute," I said. "If I come in for Mr. Chucovich, I'll make his kids work as well."

"Yes, but the thinking is, it's only for one day."

"Oh, yes, right. Of course. I can't do that much 'damage' in that short a time."

"Yes. He wants the substitutes young and inexperienced."

(Let us pause for grimly ironic laughter.)

Shall I now draw an explicit moral on the egregious state of public schools in these United States? No, you may come to your own conclusions.

And You Wondered What's Wrong with America's Public Schools (Part 3)

Part 2 is here.

I hung up my coat in the Biology room, started to take Homeroom roll, then, oh, crap! in walked the ingenuous Miss Birdsong*, the substitute's substitute. So the ground is lost. I see.

But at least I could save the kids' chance to actually do some thinking during this interim period! I finished taking roll, then went over the research paper handouts with her. Nod, nod, nod from Miss Birdson. And, Miss Birdsong, here's the computer time schedule I've booked for all today's Biology classes. Nod, nod, nod.

Just then, Mrs. Berlin* over the intercom began to lead the school in the Pledge of Allegiance. No way I was going to go on talking during the Pledge; it would set a bad example. I raised my eyes to the flag and saw--

The back of Mr. Chummy*, the Principal, saying the Pledge. What the hell? Did he think I would refuse to leave and come up to throw me out? He approached and said, "You'll be taking Mrs. Evans* classes today. Miss Birdsong will teach Biology." Then he left, as the 1st period students were coming in. Seeing me with my bags and coat ready to leave, one of the kids took in the situation and made loud salaams to his version of the Deity: "You're not in here today? Oh, thank God! Thank God!!"

"Never mind," I told them all. "Your papers are still due on Monday. Miss Birdsong has all the information and will help you with them. See you around!"

As I walked downstairs, I thought, "Mrs. Evans, Mrs. Evans . . . oh, damn and blast [yes, my friends, the preacher cusses. Within good taste and reason]! That's the Choral Music teacher!"

You'd think I'd enjoy that, wouldn't you? But I've subbed for Mrs. Evans' classes before and it was the absolute worst. Combine someone like me who loves music, with a bunch of students who don't give two hoots for it and don't even want to be in there at all, with a big room with risers perfect for running amok in, with a regular teacher who thinks entertainment films and kindergarten-level busywork are enough to keep the kiddies pacified all the long day, and you have the cacophonous full score for Variations on a Disaster. Adventures in substitute teaching? More like adventures in babysitting!

And meanwhile, upstairs in the Biology classroom? I saw some of those kids last period, but didn't ask them what had gone on. Maybe I didn't want to swear in front of them. But I did ask a couple students from the one section of Human Anatomy that I'd also inherited from Ms. Haluska, whether Miss Birdsong had gone on with the Muscle Groups overheads I'd begun teaching yesterday.

"Oh, no," both of them said. "We just worked on our question packets. She didn't teach us anything, she sat back there at the teacher's desk the whole time."

"She didn't teach at all?"


("Good grief!") muttered under my breath.

Now, I have to be fair. These Anatomy students did have those packets to complete for Monday. And maybe Miss Birdsong wanted to look over the Muscle Groups material just in case things are still weird on Monday and she has to come in then, too. Maybe. But if these kids were being honest and she really "sat back there the whole time" and she didn't walk around keeping a close eye on things, that doesn't lend any strength to this possibility. And it gives me very little hope that the Biology students did any research whatsoever on the computers today. Played online games the whole time, more like it.

I was hoping I'd get less fed up as the day went on. But between the chaos of that Chorus room (complete with kids running and tackling one another, kids tipping over their chairs, and near-universal lack of attention), hearing the frustrations of other teachers vented from time to time during the day, and thinking about the chance those sophomores were being cheated out of, by the time I left this afternoon I was beating my dashboard in barely-suppressed rage.

(To be continued)

And You Wondered What's Wrong with America's Public Schools (Part 2)

Part 1 is here.

So here's what happened today:

I arrived at Castellcoch Junior/Senior High early again this morning so I could run off enough sample research paper outlines for all the Biology classes. But when I signed in in the office, Mrs. Berlin*, the school secretary, told me I wasn't to teach Biology again today, I was to go fill in for some other teacher!

Yes, my Facebook friends, it's true, I was doing my own threeping and wailing Tuesday when I got lumbered with those kids. But by today, we were making progress! By today, I had given them some real work to do and they were starting to do it! I was learning their names and who could be relied on and who should be given no slack at all!

"Excuse me," I calmly but firmly said to the secretary. "I was booked to be with those Biology students at least through Monday. We're in the middle of an big assignment. It's due Monday. I need to be there with them to see it through. I've spent time last night coming up with more material to give them."

"Well, you'll have to talk to Mr. Chummy. He's on the phone right now."

"I need to run these pages off," I told her. "They need this handout."

Besides, if I went down the hall it'd give time for Mr. Chummy to finish up on the phone.

So I took care of business in the copy room. When I returned to the office, Mr. Chummy himself was behind the counter. I repeated to him what I'd told Mrs. Berlin. I said, "If we go switching around like that, it will really teach the kids they don't have to listen to subs!" The two of them went into his office. The secretary returned alone and pronounced, "Miss Birdsong* was called in to take the Biology classes."

"But I was supposed to be in there! Couldn't Miss Birdsong take the other class? She wouldn't have any idea what to do with the Biology kids!"

The school secretary was silent, thought a moment, then said simply, "Go on upstairs."

"For the whole day?"

"That's up to Mr. Chummy."

So as the morning release bell rang and the students and I tramped up the stairs, I went to the Biology room, thinking perhaps sanity had prevailed.

(To be continued)

And You Wondered What's Wrong with America's Public Schools (Part 1)

Durdy werdz, durdy werdz, durdy werdz!!!

As I mentioned last post, I probably should have been consistently recording my Adventures in Substitute Teaching. It sure would save work and verbiage now.

First, some background:

1st of December, I got called in to sub in the junior high Science classes at the Castellcoch* Junior/Senior High School. Seems the regular teacher had been kicked upstairs to become the school's principal. I saw the first day that he hadn't left them at all enough to do, so I added to it and yes, the kids did the work. When it became obvious I'd be there until a new permanent Science teacher was hired, I asked the embryo principal to give me some real work for the kids to take on. He did, and with the help of the other junior high Science teacher, we proceeded, even though I have no Science background.

We didn't get on as quickly as I hoped, though, because the classes were thoroughly undisciplined. I soon discovered it was not just Let's Be Rude to the Sub behavior. No. The kids would say, "But Mr. Chummy* always lets us . . . ("eat in class, play our iPods in class, take any seat we want, finish tests the next day if we don't happen to get finished today, use each other's notes and talk out loud during tests"-- you fill in the blank). And when I'd ask him about this, more often than not, they were telling the truth!

Too bad. Mr. Chummy wasn't their teacher any more and their new teacher-to-come wouldn't be interested in that kind of thinking. So we soldiered on, and after the untangling of some bureaucratic red tape and nine class days that seemed like half a year, the new junior high Science teacher came on board.

Ms. Haluska* is not new to Castellcoch School. She'd been teaching high school Biology and had her own reasons for wanting a transfer to the junior high. Finally approved by the school board, she started this past Tuesday.

Oh, good, thought I last Monday night. I will have a well-deserved rest. But I got called to come in anyway, because Ms. Haluska had a doctor's appointment Tuesday afternoon. Oh, all right. I'd come in in the morning to do coverage then take the 7th graders again after she left. And wouldn't it be a hoot to see their faces!

So what happened Tuesday morning? School office tells me I'm to go upstairs and take Ms. Haluska's former Biology classes! Hey, I can fake it with junior high Science, but I've done no Biology since my own high school days!

Worse, Ms. Haluska had thought her replacement would also be on board last Tuesday, and hadn't left all that much material, to give the new teacher a clear field.

But I got on the phone to Ms. H. and between us we arranged that the kids would watch a film depicting the problems with the toxic waste at Love Canal back in 1978, then write a summary of what they'd seen. For credit. That took us through a couple of days.

And having watched the film, I got an Idea. On Wednesday, I decided it'd be good for these sophomores to do a little (2 pages handwritten) research paper on the effect of the environmental chemical of their choice on human health. For a lot more credit. I ran it by Ms. Haluska and she agreed it was just what those students needed to do. And me, I don't know a lot of the details about Biology, but as an Oxford grad, I certainly can teach kids how to do research.

So I typed up and ran off an assignment sheet and gave it to the kids at the beginning of their classes yesterday. There was some threeping and wailing, but once the kids got into the computer lab (I'd also managed to arrange that), most of them actually started to work!! Woot!

Final period yesterday, one young person protested that "We don't know how to dooooo this!" I told me what he needed to do was on the assignment sheet, and I'd help him once that class could get into the computer lab today. But I got to thinking: Maybe they don't know how to write a research paper. So I went home, and on my own time, I composed a sample outline, with examples so outrageous there's no way they could copy them and get away with it.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

For the Sake of Posting

Maybe a month ago I heard a report on the news about some woman up in Canada who was on disability for depression. Her insurance company was planning to end her payouts because they'd come across photos of her on Facebook, attending a party and engaging in whatever other fun and frivolity. The insurance company said, "See! That proves you can get out and have a good time! You're not depressed at all! So get back to work!" The woman herself says her doctor told her to get out and mix and mingle, for the sake of her emotional health.

I don't know this woman. I haven't even seen the pictures. I don't know if she really is a party girl greasing off her fellow premiums-payers, or if in the midst of the social whirl she painfully maintains a pasted-on smile, in "Tears of a Clown" fashion. But this story aptly illustrates the hang-up I've fought for years over the issue of depression. The idea is, if I'm depressed about something, I'm obliged to go on feeling depressed about it until the problem is Absolutely, Totally, Thoroughly Solved. So if I go showing any signs of cheerfulness, the bad situation can't be real. But I know in myself that it's very, very real, so I must go around feeling as morose as possible.

Happily, at my age I've gained some perspective, not to mention stronger faith, and for the most part I've outgrown this emotional quirk. Nevertheless, it has really operated in keeping me from posting anything on this blog since early October. After all, the problem of my having to put my architecture license on inactive status is a serious, life-affecting matter. And I haven't solved it yet; at least, not in the sense of getting all the required continuing ed in before the end of the year. So how could I write frivolous posts about fall colors or cooking or what-have-you and still have anybody believe that the license quandary is serious to me?

But it's getting to the point where not posting is a problem in itself: I've had readers (well, maybe one) thinking of organizing a virtual search party.

So here's a post for the sake of posting. Maybe one of these days I'll write more about the rigors and joys of substitute teaching. And about what I've been doing to get ready for Christmas. But right now, one of the thrills of subbing is that it induces me to get up very early in the morning and also to get sleepy in the evening ditto. So before I write total gibberish . . .

Monday, October 05, 2009

Fork in the Road?

I got my renewal papers for my out-of-state architectural license today, and they weren't exactly welcome.

It's not that I mind renewing my license. No, indeed. Just the opposite. The problem wasn't the renewal form, per se, it was the notice that came with it. As I'd read previously in the registration board newsletter, my home state will henceforth be strictly enforcing continuing education requirements, and if you haven't fulfilled yours in the past year, you should go on inactive status and can no longer call yourself or practice as an architect.

I don't want to go on inactive status. I want to keep my license active and current to maintain myself some semblance of marketability. But I haven't been able to gain any continuing ed credits this past year-- it's just too expensive. I mean, here I am, barely scraping by on part time work, and I'm supposed to blow $500 on a one-day conference for a couple of credit hours? That's the typical price for these continuing ed offers I get in the mail.

So I'm stuck. I have till the end of the year to do something about it. Between now and then I could find out how I'd get reactivated, once I put myself on the inactive list. Barring a miracle (like getting a full time job with a lot of Lunch-and-Learn continuing ed sessions where I can fulfill the requirements painlessly and for free), I don't see how it can be avoided.

I see myself heading down a road I don't want to travel. And from here, it looks like a dead end.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Hairy Experience

A couple weeks ago I was substituting in an area junior high school and one of my responsibilities was a study hall. The eighth graders were, um, multitasking at their studies, and besides looking at algebra and geography they had lots of attention left over for chatter and moving around the room. I came back to one boy's desk to get him refocussed on his homework. As I did he piped up, "I really like your glasses! Where did you get them?"

Well, I may be middle-aged in years but I'm young and dumb in public school teaching. Me, I didn't want to seem cold and unfriendly. So I answered him: "At the dollar store."

A little later, same kid calls up to me as I stand at the front of the room: "That's a great skirt you have on? Where did you get it?"

You see how young and dumb I really was, for I took that at face value and answered it, too: "At the Goodwill." I mean, why should I be ashamed to champion reuse and recycling?

Whereat the eighth grader grins impishly, taps his buddy in the seat in front of him, and snerks, "Yeah, I thought so!"

I was alerted to his lack of bona fides now. Awhile later, when I was walking along their row trying to keep things going in the general direction of study, the first kid's buddy pipes up and says, "Hey, I really like your hair! It looks so smooth and shiny! What shampoo do you use?"

All right, that's enough. The glasses I don't really like, they were just the ones I could find that morning that were the right strength. But hey, maybe somebody else might truly like them. The skirt was a classic challis print, not the height of fashion, but a good cut for me. My hair that day, however--! Any references to it being "smooth and shiny" had to be blatant lies. I knew good and well it was a frizzy stack of straw, because I'd had to blow it dry the day before and it was worse than usual. But my hair is naturally wavy, even curly, and what could I do?

Serendipitidous, then, that a few days ago I came across this post on Beauty Tips for Ministers on the trials of coping with naturally curly or wavy hair. In the comments I found a link to a post on the Curly Girls blog, all about how to make the best of your curls. Condition twice if your hair needs it, don't wring out your hair or towel it dry, comb out once but otherwise avoid using brush or comb, apply curl gel or mousse, dry your curls individually at high heat, high speed by laying them in the trough of your blow dryer's big diffuser. Etc., etc.

Hmm, think I, it might be worth taking a shot at that. I waited till today, when I had no summons to come in and teach. That'd give me the extra time.

Okay, hair washed and conditioned twice. Check. Excess water squeezed out only. Check. Combed through, part put in and that's all. Check. Curly hair gel applied. Check. Curls dried individually at high speed and heat in the trough of the blow dryer diffuser?

Not check. Oh so very not check, indeed.

The author of the Curly Girls blog has long hair. Maybe she can get her strands individually into the diffuser. My hair at the moment, however, is chin length. Will you please tell me how I can get any separate strand into that big diffuser? And how can I use the dryer at high heat and speed without it blowing into frizz my entire head of hair?

Maybe she could, but I can't. I reduced the speed to Low and tried a little more, then flipped my head back up. Front was dry-- in all sorts of useless directions, partularly the bangs-- and the back and sides were hanging there flatly in little curvy strands, soon to become frizz.


I've "set" the back and side hair in a scrunchy. I'll take it out when my hair's dry and see how things look then.

And maybe next hair wash I'll try doing everything up to the blowdry point and then just let it airdry, as I was advised by a former hairdresser when I was getting permanents. And take my comb down the basement (where my only shower is) and run it through my hair while it's still hanging upside down, before I even step out onto the bathmat. Just the lag time of going upstairs and getting dressed may have dried some of my hair out too much.

But the blowdryer? Meh. There's a reason I haven't gotten it out for years.

As for those two impudent kids, I chose to be snarky right back. What shampoo did I use? "Same as your mother buys for you!" Not the response most advisable, I now realize. Smart*ss kid doesn't call for smart*ass teacher. No, next time a student asks me personal questions like that, I'm thinking I'll have him look up the meaning of "impertinent" in the classroom dictionary. And make him copy out the entire definition, phonetic markings and all. On the chalkboard. Twenty times.

That'll larn 'im!

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Last night I was at a party, a kickoff for the fall season of a choir I sing in. Sitting farther along the table was a woman who's been a member for a couple or three years, and next to her, a young (or at least, to me, young-looking) man I'd never seen before. I asked him if he were one of our new recruits. He merely grunted something to the effect of "I hope not!" and sat there with his arms crossed over his chest. The woman-- I'll call her Emily*-- said, "He's with me." He himself offered no further comment, so I turned my attention and conversation to other people.

After awhile I got to wondering if the young man was feeling left out. So I turned to that side of the table again and said to Emily, "I'm sorry, I didn't ask who this is." I addressed him, "Are you Emily's son?" I knew she has a young daughter at home, but maybe, I thought, she also has a boy who's been at college.

He was silent, but "Noooooo!" Emily replied.

"Your cousin?" I tried again.


"Your younger brother?"

"Wrong again!" said Emily. "This is my husband. He's got gray in his hair, for goodness sake! You think I'm old enough to have a son with gray hair?"

"Oh! I'm sorry! Mea culpa, mea culpa!"

"Well, I did get carded not long ago," the husband finally put in, with some satisfaction.

"I'm sorry, I didn't notice the gray till just now. And my little sister has dark hair, too, and she started going gray when she was nineteen." I tried to make excuse-- but I couldn't offer an explanation. Because as annoyed as my choir friend is by my miscalculation, telling her what threw me off would make things even worse.

For how could I tell her I was confused by her husband's attitude? By his body language that seemed to reflect his thoughts and feelings? It was not so much young, as adolescent. He'd been sitting there the entire time with those arms crossed over his chest and a look on his face as if to say, "You dragged me to this but you can't make me have any fun here!" Even when the singing started and everyone else was easy and relaxed, his look and stance clearly and petulantly declared, "This is stoopid. Dumb grownups! I don't want to be here! I'm booorrrrrred!!"

Maybe after teaching junior high kids this past Wednesday I was on the alert for that attitude. But I didn't expect to find it in a man in his forties.

I had to repeat my mea culpa on Facebook when Emily recounted my faux pas at mistaking her husband for her son. Hopefully she is not terminally offended at me and I shall escape with being known as one who could make such a silly social error. Let the jokes rain down upon me, for I could never tell Emily what actually caused it. It's not my business to be bringing issues about other women's husbands up to them and fomenting trouble between couples.

But oh! how thrown off I was by his physical attitude! And how thrown off others may be by mine! I say I want to be respected and honored as an accomplished adult, that it's annoying when people half my age patronize me and call me "Hon" and treat me like an incompetent child. But does my stance, my physical attitude, reflect competency? Or am I slouching around like an adolescent? Am I sitting like a confident woman, or like a little girl? Do I keep my head down like I don't want to be noticed?

'Fraid so. The photographs don't lie. In fact, that's why I use the pictures I do on this blog and on my Facebook wall. They're two of the rare depictions of me when I'm carrying myself like an adult.

It's blinking hard after a lifetime of bad attitude, but I need to learn to do that all the time. Maybe I'll get it down before I qualify for Social Security . . .

Or is that more bad attitude?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wherein St. Blogwen Pinch Hits and Tries to Herd Cats

Yesterday I had my first go ever at substitute teaching at an area public school. And it was, well . . .

Actually, it was well.

We know how it's supposed to be with substitute teachers. You, as the student, are supposed to give them grief Just Because. Cut up and throw them off their game. Say outrageous things to embarrass them. Conspire for everyone to push his or her books off the desk at 2:00 PM to see how high you can make the sub jump. When I was doing the non-violent self-defense training class this past May, some of my fellow students, who had already started substitute teaching, told me how scared and shaky they were the first couple of times they got up before a class. Whoa! formidable bidznezz, subbing!

Tuesday, I got my call to come in at the crack of dawn yesterday morning. I didn't waste energy being scared about being in front of the class. I was more afraid of not being out of bed and ready so I'd arrive at the school in time to fill out the paperwork and then make it to the classroom before the students did.

Because I had to, had to go over the lesson plans for the day before the first class began. Aaaagh! What if the regular teacher had forgotten to leave them on the desk, or there was too much to read, or I wouldn't be able to comprehend it all? I knew I'd be filling in for a special ed ("Learning Support") teacher; what subject I'd be expected to tackle with the kids, the district secretary who called me had no idea.

But shock and amazement! I did get up in time. And found a handy parking place. And I didn't have to fill out the paperwork right away; I could take it away and do it later. And what do you know, the regular special ed. teacher wasn't sick or absent, she was just taking a day or two to write student evaluations. She was waiting for me in the classroom and went over the day's lesson plan with me.

Too funny: The subject was 7th and 8th grade Pre-Algebra lab. Me, I nearly flunked Algebra as a 7th grader. But this was the early, basic part, and the answers were all in the book.

The homeroom kids cleared out, the Pre-Algebra lab Learning Support students filed in, the regular teacher introduced me, then gave the eight or nine students some warnings and admonitions. Then she cleared out and the classroom was mine.

And you know, standing up in front of that chalkboard presenting the material, asking questions, and soliciting answers, it hit me, I've done this before. It doesn't matter that my previous experience with junior high kids was with confirmation class or Sunday School, I'm not really new to this, I've got experience here, and I'm ready to rock and roll!

As it turned out, these were Learning Support pupils who needed extra help for various reasons, but apparently don't suffer from clinical intellectual deficiencies. I was pleased to see how well they were grasping at least the basic algebraic concepts, and even more pleased to find how well they could do arithmetic in their heads (the only calculators in the room were on the teacher's desk).

As I hit my stride, I was aware of a certain spirit of rebellion-- in me, not in the students. Before the regular teacher left, she was calling out particular pupils as "having a bad attitude" or as being "certain to cause trouble." Yeah, I know there are kids like that; I've had them before in church settings. But I also know that you get the behavior you expect and that if you go looking for kids to be a pain, they'll oblige you. Besides, it's only the second week of school, good grief already! What you want to go labelling kids like that for so early in the year?!

So I made a point of asking these kids in particular to contribute and encouraging them when they did. Youcandoityoucandoityoucandoit! And asking and remembering everyone's name. And trying to make sure everyone got called on, not just the eager beavers with their hands up all the time.

And so, woot! first period went very well. I can do this! Even with Algebra!

I wish I felt as good about the rest of the day. First period was the only chance I had to do sustained front-of-the-room teaching. Two other periods I was in with the another, regular, Algebra teacher, observing and giving assistance. I think-- I'm not sure-- I was supposed to confine my attention to the handful of kids I'd be seeing later back in the Learning Support Algebra lab. But I didn't know who they were and besides, this teacher spent most of both of these periods going over the class rules and regs. I watched for kids who weren't looking at the material and floated over to get them back on task, but otherwise I didn't have a hell of a lot to do. Which was a letdown.

The other three periods I had back in the math lab were just glorified study halls with many of the same students returning two or three times. Whether it was the kids I'd had first period or the Learning Support pupils whom I'd first seen in the other teacher's class, they had the same Pre-Algebra homework and I was there to help them with it. But it was hard to keep them on task when I couldn't fix all of them with my eye. As I was at one student's desk, two or three others would be up wandering around. And it was always for some ostensibly good reason. I need to sharpen my pencil! I need the pass to go to the bathroom! Teacher! I need to go to the nurse! If I say No, am I being needlessly strict? If I say Yes to everything, am I being a pushover?

It was grimly amusing 4th period to have one of the kids from the 1st period accuse me of being "mean," unlike their regular Learning Support teacher. Yeah, the same teacher who had jumped on kids earlier before they'd done anything wrong. Oh, yeah, I recognised that for the emotional blackmail it was. I wasn't falling for it, or for the temptation to contradict him with my impression of their regular teacher's "meanness." Solidarity, solidarity.

Still, I was sorry that she and I hadn't had the time to go over what was or wasn't permissible. It felt like going on a childminding job and having the parents forget to go over the rules. Such as, is it really ok for the kids to toss around the Math Ball when they say they're done with their book work? I knew any kid had to have a medical pass to go to the Nurse's office; where the dickens were they? And that if a pupil misbehaves and disregards an initial warning, the next step in discipline is an after-school teacher conference with the child. But as a substitute, how could I do that? I wasn't about to send my particular problem children (two boys from the other math teacher's room) to the Principal's office; how lame is that? So all I could do is try to distract and channel the annoying behavior, and write a note to the regular teacher when the day was over.

For that matter, shouldn't there be a Batphone button on the class telephone to connect me to the Principal's office directly? Final period, it was essential we come up with some medical passes (one young lady had ripped her feet to shreds with some new shoes, and the bandaids I supplied her 1st period weren't making it). One of the students had to find me the phone list, and the blinking Principal's office wasn't even on it!

Last period, all the kids insisted their homework was done and I gave permission for them to play with the Math Ball, as long as they left the teacher's swivel chairs out of the game. But I'm not satisfied that we used the time as well as we might have.

From talk I heard, the Learning Support teacher may be taking tomorrow off as well. If I am called in again, I've got some ideas on how to get some more structure in the later periods. I imagine she imposes it, and I need to, too. Kittehs is nice, but I don't want to have to herd them.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Practice of Architecture as Benedictine Monasticism

This afternoon I picked up a phone message from the client for the little drawing I did, per the last post. The fabricators, he says, want to know the deflection and the loading for the new beam that's going in.

Fine, I tell him, I can work that out.

What I didn't mention was, hey, um, this wasn't in the original scope of work. The fabricators were supposed to take care of that themselves, given the info supplied. I finished the drawing I was asked to do, and he's paid me for it. Which is good. But the invoice I handed him last week was already discounted to reflect what he was willing to pay.

So now do I tell my EP that doing these calcs will be extra?

Golly Moses, no. I'm going to revert to the style of my past employers going back to the '70s and '80s and eat the fee to retain the good will.

I have to wonder, had they not beaten it into our heads in architecture school that we'd better not be in it to enrich ourselves and that becoming an architect was equivalent to taking a vow of poverty, chastity,* and obedience; if my early architectural practice role models had had harder heads for business; if I didn't have a neurotic attitude towards money such that I believed and accepted this bs, I'd be a Rich and Successful Architect by now. But back then, Architecture wasn't about making money, it was about Serving the Public and/or Doing Beautiful Design. Good grief, we practically paid the clients for giving us the privilege!

And now the concrete has hardened in the form and it's too bloody late for me to change.
*Well, sorta, but mainly because we'd be too busy cranking out drawings to indulge in any such frivolity.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Graphite Fingers

Congratulate me. I've just nearly-finished my first bit of architecture work in over two years.

"Bit" is the operative word. It is the slightest, the lightest of projects. A whim, a wisp, a trifle. A mere scribble done to edify the fabricators of a new structural beam, that will be installed to replace an existing bearing wall in a local residence. No design, no actual calculations on my part, just documentation of existing conditions with notes on the distance to be spanned by the new support.

Nevertheless, it might prove important for me, since it's for the Executive Presbyter of my presbytery, and if any of our churches need renovation work, it would be nice to be referred.

I did the drawing by hand. Even if my AutoCAD program hadn't expired last December, I wouldn't have used it for this project, since it was a student version and everything you printed out from it bore the scarlet letter of "PRODUCED BY AN AUTODESK EDUCATIONAL PRODUCT." In other words, "Naughty, naughty, you've used this relatively-cheap student version for your professional work, instead of paying us for the full version that costs ten times more!" Nope, that'd look bad.

There are free computer drafting programs available on line. But I've already learned AutoCAD and why do I want to confuse myself learning a different one? At least, a different one that nobody uses in any professional office.

So it's drawn in my old pencil-on-vellum style, barring a couple of things on which I need more information from the owners. On things like this, hand-drafting can be faster in some ways.

Still, it'd be nice to have my own full version of AutoCAD, even without 3-D. But at well over $1,000 for an individual license, how can I manage that?

Well, maybe, by way of eBay . . . I'm watching an auction for a full version of AutoCAD LT . . . which ends tomorrow at 12:51 my time . . . which is ten minutes before I'm due at the final planning meeting for the local committee for the North American Festival of Wales that's taking place here in Pittsburgh over Labor Day weekend . . . a meeting that's fifty minutes away and that I must attend . . .

Hmm. I guess I'll watch it till I have to leave, throw in a bid if the spirit moves me, and let the results take care of themselves.

Monday, August 03, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Thirty-two: Epilogue

Friday, 6 January, 1989 (concluded)
Back in Oxford

I was set down on the Banbury Road a bit before 6:00. Thought I was going to be balked at the last minute, when I stood at the bus stop across from Coverdale*and could not find a break in the traffic. Once across, though, I had no trouble getting in . . .

Yes, yours truly hadn’t even considered that she was supposed to turn in her keys when she left.

My room was used over break; the furniture was rearranged just enough to make the place look uncanny when I walked in. It was too clean, too.

I soon solved that. Mrs. Smythe* [the housekeeper] was in for who knows what reason this evening and let me have the key to the storeroom. I liberated my possessions and by 3:00 AM had put them all back in order. That work included sorting out papers from last term, so the lateness of that hour isn’t as bad as it looks.

I’d intended to do the wash this evening; had it all bagged up and ready, but found I didn’t have enough 20p pieces for the dryer. Which perhaps was a good excuse to go find something to eat and get change at the same time.

I knew Lukas* was coming back today, too, and so when I saw the light under his door I had the temerity to knock.

Well, I don’t know what his problem had been in Switzerland, but he seemed all right again. He invited me in, gave me some tea, and we talked for a half hour or more.

And just as it had in Olten at the train station, his appearance affected me in a most troublesome way. His hair has gotten longer and it looks quite well on him. I shan’t tell him that; else when he gets it cut I’ll be thinking he’s done it to spite me. Tonight, despite the extreme casualness of his dress (he had on some old slacks and a magenta T-shirt), I found him more attractive than he has any business to be, especially considering our differences on liturgical matters.

Though maybe those needn’t have anything to do with one another.

He’d already eaten and around 8:00 I went out. Tried the Lamb & Flag and the Eagle & Child, but the former was too crowded and the latter had stopped serving. Pity. The food people were eating looked quite good.

Ended up at the Fasta Pasta on Little Clarendon and spent entirely too much for a plate of tortellini. Took the half I couldn’t eat home with me and put it in the fridge in the little kitchen. I’ll finish it off sometime this weekend.

And that really is the end. Due to my indolence I don't have any more complete trip diaries, but may have a vignette to share here or there, of Oxford life or various short excursions. We'll see!

Friday, July 31, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Thirty-two

Friday, 6 January, 1989
Oostende to Dover to London to Oxford

The day dawned clear, bright, and beautiful. And me, not only was I up and ready in time to catch the ferry, I had time to take pictures of the ferry port with its new and old buildings, its piers, and its ships while I waited for my boat to come in.

We were underway around 8:00 AM. We cleared the harbor bars and set out into the Strait of Dover, which today was blue and calm, with an equally blue sky overhead. I spent most all of the time up on deck, watching the sunlight sparkling on the little waves and the occasional other craft that sailed past at a distance.

As we approached Albion’s yet-unseen shore, I came to understand that something has happened to me on this European trip, though maybe it started to happen when I came to Oxford last October: I was homesick for England.

Not just for Oxford or Coverdale* or Nigel* or the other people there. For England.

After awhile a horizontal strip of white began to sunder the medium blue of the sea and the pale blue of the sky . . .

Dover. It was the White Cliffs of Dover. Oh, God! It was England there on the horizon, with every nautical mile travelled growing grander and higher and more and more clear and substantial to my hungry, staring eyes. But not fast enough, not soon enough. I took in those cliffs, that shore, and I couldn’t help it-- I wept with homesickness and joy. It was England, it was home, I was coming home!

I wept, and I didn’t care. When we landed and disembarked at the Dover ferry port, I would have precipitously knelt down and kissed the tarmac, I was so glad to be back on British soil. But I was in a herd of other travellers being ushered towards the Customs station, and it would have been hard to explain my behaviour if a fellow-passenger had hurt himself tripping over me. Especially hard, considering I’m an American.

Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to get through Customs without making a fool of myself, and onto the train for London.

The train from Dover stops at Charing Cross. When I got there I discovered I’d made a false assumption: No, you can’t get a train to Oxford from there. You have to go to Paddington Station, by Underground. Okay! Got myself and my lugguge down to the Tube, and I was happy at least to note that compared to how hard it was to carry it all when I first set out a month ago, now I’m much stronger and able to manage it well, even with all the guidebooks and souvenirs I bought.

My sanguinity about this was demolished, however, when I got to Paddington Station. When I got off the Tube I had ten minutes or less to make the train for Oxford. But just as I was heading for the escalator up to the platforms, one of the straps on my canvas Boy Scout backpack broke! No way I could carry another piece in my hands, so I slung it over my shoulder by the other strap and kept running, with the bag full of books and maps bang, bang, banging away at my poor back.

Aaaghh! I hope I can find a place in Oxford to fix it! I’ve depended on that backpack since I bought it in April of 1972!

By dint of total exhaustion I managed to catch the Oxford train. Not a direct route, of course. Stops in Reading. But we got to Oxford uneventfully and in good time, and I boarded a City bus for the final leg of my journey to Coverdale College* and home.

When the bus stopped on Cornmarket, I noticed something, something linked to how I felt earlier today approaching Dover. It was dark, but I could still see the Oxford women young and old waiting there on the pavement to get on. I could see how badly they were dressed, how frowsily and dumpily they arrayed themselves, especially compared with the Frenchwomen I’d seen, urban or provincial.

And I was ashamed. I took it personally. My initial thought was, "Oh, gosh, don’t we dress horribly!" I identified with those woman, dowdy as they were. They were my townswomen, my countrywomen, even, and I wished we could all do better.

But there it is: "We." Damn, I am getting tied up in this place . . .

Friday, July 24, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Thirty-one

Thursday, 5 January, 1989
Frankfurt am Main to Oostende

FRANKFURT-AM-MAIN-- The object in coming to
Frankfurt was to visit Richard Meier’s Kunsthandwerk Museum and its contents. And happily, it was quite within walking distance, across the river via the Friedensbrucke, along the Main on the Schaumainkai, and there you are.

Weather was gray and misty again today, but Mr. Meier’s pure white building showed itself well in it, regardless. The communicating spaces-- ramps, hallways, stairs-- are all lavishly equipped with large windows and skylights, so it seemed light inside in spite of the weather.

The exhibition galleries have to exclude the natural light, of course, in order to protect the artifacts. And they were worth protecting. Eric* would kill to see all those furniture pieces by
Van de Velde, Josef Hoffmann, and Rietveld! Me, I wished it were a shop and I were a millionaire: I’d be saying, "I want that one, and that one, and that one . . . "

As well as the early 20th Century work, there was also a modern gallery with ceramics and glass. Of course I think of the Art Institute of Kansas City and its
ceramics program . . .

After I’d seen the Kunsthandwerk exhibits I took the time to go back outside around the museum and photograph the exterior some more, including its relationship with the original Villa Metzler. Very nicely done.

I didn’t have a lot more time in Frankfurt, since I had to catch the train for Belgium and Oostende around 2:30 PM, in order to get the ferry for Dover first thing tomorrow. But I squeezed in a bit more pleasure crossing the Eisener Steg (the Iron Footbridge), which I liked very much, and walking into town to the
Römerberg Platz. Beautiful half-timbered townhouses and shops, with beautiful things.

I grabbed myself something to eat at a Koffeehaus. After that, looking in the window of a stationer’s, I saw something I simply had to have. It was a 1989 wall calendar, and the decoration for each month was a photographic recreation of an
English Arts and Crafts wall tile. Not only that, but these images were printed on semi-gloss vinyl sheets and anchored to the calendar pages only along the top, so they could be pulled off, their backing removed, and then stuck to your bathroom wall or wherever you preferred.

I dashed in and bought it. Then, still dashing, I did something that due and heartfelt devotion to Art demanded I do before leaving Frankfurt: I passed out the top of the Römerberg, through Paulsplatz with its great domed Kirche, through the little streets, and around to the Großer Hirschgraben to the birthplace home and museum of Johan Wolfgang von Goethe. Had time to do no more than to kiss my hand to the author of so many poems set to music by Schubert and others . . .

Then it was on by and continuing my counterclockwise career back to the hotel to pick up my bags and get me and them over to the Hauptbahnhof on time for the train.

ON THE TRAIN-- It’s a lovely journey. A ways out of Frankfurt, the Main runs into the Rhine and the train tracks run alongside the river. Not exactly your classic Rhine River boat cruise, but I got some of the same views of villages and Kirchen in the valley and castles and Weingarten on the hills.

Annoying, then, that I couldn’t remember the words of that poem I learned in Latin class back in Philadelphia, the one that starts

Quis color illa vadis

and goes on to say something about the "monte Mosellam,"† how the vineyards were reflected in the mirror of the river. This river wasn’t the Mosel, but it felt appropriate anyway.

The train stopped for a goodish while in both Bonn and Köln. From what I saw of it from the window, Beethoven’s birthplace looks like it’d be a beautiful city to visit.

Probably should’ve been catching up on my travel journal, but I spent most of the ride staring out the window at the scenery, even when that was only people’s back gardens and German factories and supermarkets. The rest of the time I was mentally spinning out a romantic fantasy in which I magically go back in time and end up lost and confused in the woods near La Côte St. Andre, and one of Hector’s sisters finds me and takes me back to chez Berlioz, where the (currently-unmarried) eldest son of the family just happens to be visiting from Paris, and well, hey, it was very relaxing and entertaining . . .

When we pulled into Bruges I was really, really wishing I had a day or two more on my EurailPass. Seems a pity to go through Belgium and effectively skip it altogether. But I’ve checked, and all my train travel has to be completed by midnight.

So it was on to the ferry port of
Oostende, where I was directed to a small hotel across a bridge, not far from the train station.

OOSTENDE-- Here I am at the Hotel Capricorne at Vindictivelaan 31, which boasts a bar and a restaurant, too. I didn’t feel like exploring whatever there might be of the town-- it was dark by the time I checked in, I was tired, and it’s rather confusing here, with the piers and bridges and canals and inlets and so on. So I stayed put and marked the end of my Europe tour with a dinner in the hotel restaurant.

The meal looked more towards England than back towards Belgium or any part of the Continent. Steak frites and chips, the most promising option on a menu obviously aimed towards Britons who have no interest in "that forrin muck." Boring, familiar, tasteless, and tough. Reminded me of what I ate on the ferry coming over.

The service, however, reminded me of the café in Lyons. I was the last one in the restaurant and the waitress (who may also have been the hotel owner or one of them) disappeared into the kitchen after bringing me my food. She may have gone on out the back door and jumped off the dock for all I knew, for it got later and later and I never saw her more.

It got so late, it was past 10:00 PM and I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to get to bed to get up early to catch the Dover ferry. So I did the rude but effective thing and presented myself at the kitchen door to ask for the check. Got it, paid, and returned to my room for my last night on the Continent-- at least for awhile.
†By Decimus Magnus Ausonius (A.D. 310-395); part of a larger work called "Mosella":

Quis color ille vadis, seras quum protulit umbras
Hesperus, et viridi perfundit monte Mosellam?
Tota natant crispis juga motibus: et tremit absens
Pampinus, et vitreis vindemia turget in undis.
Adnumerat virides derisus nauita vites,
Navita caudiceo fluitans super aequora lembo
Per medium, qua sese amni confundit imago
Collis et umbrarum confinia conserit amnis.

Obviously, though, I’d forgotten not only the words, but also the grammar. If I should locate the translation I did in class, I'll append it. Seems like cheating to use someone else's.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Thirty

Wednesday, 4 January, 1989
Karlsfelden* to Saßenberg*, Bebenhausen, and Tübingen;
to Stuttgart and on to Frankfurt

Friedl* and Anni* did us the honors of the region this morning. First stop, Friedl’s church in Saßenberg. The others were ahead of us and by the time Friedl, Theo*, Phoebe*, and I got to the church, Anni, Chrissie*, and Pete* were already waiting there.

The church building, which I think is dedicated to St. Michael, is a small stucco structure with stone facings and a half-timbered cupola. They’ve recently redone the interior and renewed the Scripture passages inscribed around the edges of the wooden balcony. They had a big Christmas tree, with electric candles, set up by the elevated pulpit, with a smaller tree and a creche arranged at the pulpit’s base.

Friedl’s vicar was there and took pictures of us all with our own cameras.

After that, we drove over to the old Cistercian monastery at
Bebenhausen. It struck me how different German Medieval architecture is from English or French. Much more blocky, less intricate or decorated or pointed.

Though I guess you couldn’t say that of the great tall roof of the monastery. It seemed to reach two or three storeys high, all pierced with little windows. Friedl said that’s where the monks slept.

The other thing that hit me was how different it was visiting the church here from how it was when I visited all those cathedrals and abbeys in France and Italy. In those churches, by myself, they were churches first and foremost. I was impelled first to offer an act of worship, to pray, before I did the architectural tourist thing.

But here, in a group of my friends, it was sightseeing and rubbernecking all the way. It made no difference that Chrissie, Friedl, and Theo are all theological students, or that Pete, Anni, and Phoebe are or might soon be theological students’ spouses. The dynamic was totally different, and I couldn’t influence it in the least. Losing the sense of holiness was the price I had to give for having good company.

For lunch Friedl took us all to his theological college at the
University of Tübingen. We ate in the Mensa with the other students who were still hanging around in the vacation, and I had a cabbage dish (Kohl) which for the first time in my life I found appetizing and good.

I had to be getting on, since I’m pretty sure my train pass expires Friday and I’ve got a thing or two yet to see before then. So Friedl left the others at the Uni while he drove me and my luggage (already stowed in his trunk-- the bags, I mean!) back to Stuttgart. I insisted he didn’t have to park the car to carry my things into the Bahnhof for me, so I thanked him and we said our farewells at the curb.

Having stashed the bags in a locker, I got out my Stadtplan and found my way on foot to James Stirling’s Neue Staatsgalerie.

Something funny on the walk over. I was standing at a corner, waiting to cross, when the driver of the approaching car saw me and stopped to let me go ahead. If he’s a typical German driver, they’re the most polite I’ve encountered so far. In Paris it seemed like a challenge game-- if you could get the Parisian driver to meet your eye, he’d concede and you, the pedestrian, could pass. While in Oxford--!? They’re vicious. They won’t meet your eye if their lives depended on it. They won’t even stop if you’re in the crosswalk. I’ve had to jump back on the curb more than once at that corner at Parks Road. This here is much better!

The Staatsgalerie turned out to be a double delight, both for the art and even more for the architecture. I didn’t like the look of the building all that much when I saw it published in Architectural Record a few years ago. Seemed like Stirling was being gimmicky for the sake of being gimmicky. But now that I’ve seen it in person, I can see how its curves and dips, its ramps and its terraces and its striped stonework echo, reflect, and bow to the great vineyard-girdled Weinberg outside the city. The sun was out this afternoon, gelobt sei Gott! shining full on the mellow stonework. Duty became pleasure as I spent more time exploring and photographing the building as a building than I did actually looking at the exhibits.

I had to cut my visit shorter than I would have liked because I still had to catch the train for Frankfurt late this afternoon. Didn’t want to arrive too terribly late.

Returned to the Hauptbahnhof, retrieved my luggage, and checked the Departures board. Hurray! A train to Frankfurt-am-Main on Gleis 8 a little after 4:00 PM, ten minutes from now! Got out to the platform where the train was waiting, got on, and deposited myself and my luggage in a compartment otherwise occupied by three businessmen.

The train got on its way and after a little time, the conductor appeared to check our tickets. The businessmen presented theirs and I showed my EurailPass.

At once the conductor seemed to be asking me where I was going! I say "seemed" because of course he said it in German and it didn’t make sense-- after all, the EurailPass is good anywhere in continental Europe, why did he care where I was going?

He repeated the question and I guess I was looking pretty daft, because one of the businessmen said in English, "He wants to know where you are going."

"To Frankfurt," I told the conductor.

To which he replied something like, "Nein, nein, meine Fraulein! Das ist nichts die Zug zu Frankfurt, es ist die Zug zu Nürnberg!"

Between him and the English-speaking businessman I was given to know that not only was this the train for Nuremberg, Nuremberg was also about two and a half hours east of Frankfurt. Nein, nein, Fraulein, you do not want this train.

I was a little nonplussed-- I mean, how did he know I wasn’t a history student going to Nuremberg to study the famous Nazi war crimes trials right on the site? Besides, I hear they’ve got a very fine castle there, very worth seeing!

I suppose, though, that the conductor’s conviction that no tourist in her right mind would go to Nuremberg of her own volition served me well. I think day after tomorrow’s the last day on my rail pass, but I could be wrong, I haven’t counted lately. So I couldn’t exactly say, Hey, long as I’m on this train, I think I’ll go see Nürnberg anyway! I could return to Oxford on Saturday or Sunday if I liked, true, but it’d mean buying extra train tickets for the last legs. And more food and lodging. No. Can’t afford that.

The conductor saw that I was put down at the next stop, the first one out of Stuttgart, and pointed to the Gleis that would return me to the Hauptbahnhof where I could start over. It was a commuter rail station, starting to fill up with workers returning from their jobs in the city. I liked being there this sunny late winter afternoon. It was another view of the city and everyday German life, and as I waited for my train I could pretend I lived there and went through there every day, myself. Fun, like trying on someone else’s clothes for dress up.

Once I got back to the Hauptbahnhof, I again checked the Departures board. Oh, golly. There was my mistake. I’d read a 5 for an 8!

This time I made it to the correct Gleis and onto the correct train. The one I caught got me to Frankfurt after dark, sometime after 8:00 PM.

Picked up my bags and walked out the front entrance of the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to get my bearings. Standing there on the sidewalk looking into the darkness, it came over me how tired I was. No, I was not up to walking off into town (lugging the luggage) trying to find an interesting hotel from the Frommer guide. I turned around, went back in, and found the Tourist Information Desk.

Turns out Frankfurt is very full tonight. There’s some convention in town. But look, here is the Hotel Tourist just a few metres away from the Hauptbahnhof, for the equivalent of $40 US per night! Would I allow the Information clerk to book me in there?

Well, you know me. Confront me anything with the word "Tourist" in it and I run like hell the other way.

On the other hand, it was dark, it was late, it was trying to rain, I was in a strange city dark and late and in the rain, and I was tired. So I conceded and let him call.

Then having been shown on the Stadtplan where the
Hotel Tourist was, I shouldered my load, went down the street, presented myself at the check-in desk, and was shown to my room.

It could have been worse . . . I guess . . . the really annoying and awkward thing was that the heating was going full blast and there was no way to turn it down, and my room gave directly out onto the fire escape. How safe in case of fire! but I opened the window and looked out and saw that anybody could climb right up it. No ventilation stop on the window, either. So I had a choice between suffocating or burning up with the window closed and locked, or opening the window for relieving air and risk being invaded.

In the end I went to bed in my underpants and a sleeveless undershirt, cracked the window about four inches, and prayed.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Twenty-nine

Tuesday, 3 January, 1989
Wien to Stuttgart to Karlsfelden*

WIEN-- Came down around 7:20 and asked the clerk at the desk if he could call me a cab. But it doesn’t work that way here. What you do, you leave your luggage in the lobby then walk up the street to the cabstand. You bring a cab back with you, or it brings you, rather, you pack in the luggage, and you’re off.

I checked the route to the West Bahnhof on the map last night and it seems to me that the cabbie took the scenic route today . . . He didn’t take a single major street until the very last. It wasn’t only the money I was worried about, it was the time.

But maybe he was trying to avoid rush-hour congestion. Made it with fifteen minutes to spare, which with a EurailPass is plenty. I suppose if I’d missed the 8:00 AM train I could’ve got the next one, that left at 10:00 or so, and stopped in Munich after all. But I’d pretty much decided not to do that and to go straight through to Stuttgart.

ON THE TRAIN-- It’s a long ride; but happily the sun was out and it was a nice day to gape out the window at the Austrian and German countryside.

Listened to my music on the headphones . . . while I was listening to my tape of Bach’s Wachet auf it came to me that it’s rather odd, that here I am, what you’d call a visual artist, but visual art doesn’t move me the way music does.

STUTTGART-- I probably shouldn’t’ve been, but I was surprised to see how Stuttgart is all bulwarked with great high hills, almost mountains, all terraced for vineyards.

It’s also surprising to find how bloody tired you can get, just sitting on your can for eight hours or so. Having disembarked, I lugged the bags downstairs from where the trains come into the Hauptbahnhof to a kind of subterranean shopping mall. Got to where the info place was supposed to be, and it turned out to be only a bulletin board. The place with informative people and maps and things was farther on down.


Stood in line and got my Stadtplan. But the Wechsel, the money changing place, was back up at the track level.


Hauled myself and my bags back up there, cashed in the rest of the Schillings and got some Marks in exchange for a traveller’s cheque. Made it known I wanted some loose change for the phone but the man said, No, you get that up on a mezzanine, at the post office branch.

Oh, God.

I picked up my luggage again, found the stairs, and arrived at the Bahnhof post office. Up there I stood and waited my turn in a nice long line. When I got to the guichet I encountered a clerk who, between his deficient English and my next-to-nonexistent German, only managed to communicate to me that you have to buy a card to use the payphones.

Oh, God damn!!

I just about lost it. I couldn’t help it, I started crying. Happily, the postal worker recognised the problem and sent me over to speak with a man with a bit more English.

He clarified that it was the long distance service phones, there in the room, that required the cards. The local call phones were out in the hall, and here was the change I required.


I called the number Friedhelm* gave me for his home and got his mother.

"Friedl is not here," she said in her charming accented English. "He is in town, at the Bahnhof. He will be back around 10:00. You call back then."

That seemed a little late to me, so I said, "Well, please tell him that Blogwen X--* called and that I am here in Stuttgart. He knows me from Coverdale*."

"Oh, Coverdale!" Friedl’s mother exclaimed. "He’s at the Bahnhof to pick up some people from Coverdale! They are from Canada, I think."

"Oh, Chrissie* and Pete*!"

"Yes, Chrissie and Pete. They are coming from Köln at 5:30 or 6:30, I don’t remember. They will come back here. You call in the evening."

I tried to make her understand that I was at the Bahnhof, too, but decided at last that it wasn’t important. For now I had a clear idea of what I could do. Signed off with Frau Schneider*, trotted the bags down to the lockers, stashed them, and headed for the nearest Arrivals chart to check for trains from Köln.

Ah, yes, here was one at 5:35. It was about 5:20 by now, so I remarked the Gleis number and went back to the trains.

I’d recognise that aqua and navy blue anorak anywhere. His back was turned to me and I came up behind and said brightly, "Guten Tag, Herr Schneider*!"

This is one of the smarter things I’ve done in awhile. He turned around, said, "Hello, Blogwen!" and gave me a hug. It was like a little homecoming.

Said Friedl, "Do you have a hotel yet?"

"Well, I was going to ask you if you know of any nice cheap ones."

"You come to us."

There it was, simple as that.

And guess what, not only were Chrissie and Pete expected any minute, but Theo Smyth* [a Coverdale student from South Africa] and his fianceé Phoebe* would be flying in from London this evening! Talk about Providence!

Chrissie and Pete were duly debouched from the Köln train and greetings exchanged all round. I collected my bags from the locker-- Friedl insisted on carrying the blue one-- and we went back down through the shopping mall thing and through to a parking garage, where Friedl packed us all into his car and we headed off to Karlsfelden*, where he lives.

KARLSFELDEN-- It was dark by now, if a very starry night, so I couldn’t tell you what the route looks like. But he lives with his parents in a garden-type apartment, very nice with a living room, kitchen and dinette, three bedrooms, and a bath.

His mother didn’t seem at all disconcerted to find she had an additional guest. She speaks much more English than his father, who basically just smiled and nodded and went back to his paper.

Their Christmas tree, standing in the living room, had both candles and electric lights on it. Kind of a compromise.

The plan was that Chrissie and Pete would stay over at Anni Breitbart’s*, Friedl’s girlfriend, and Theo and Phoebe, and now I, would sleep over at Friedl’s. So now we got back in the car and drove over to Anni’s, to talk and have supper until 9:00 PM and time for Friedl to fetch the South African contingent.

Anni’s mother had laid out the German version of charcuterie and once again, it was much better than in France. Anni, at my request, was helping me conjugate the German version of "to be" and pretty soon her father came and joined the festivities.

After supper we all sat in the living room and had a rather odd, but very effective conversation. Both Anni and Friedl have pretty good English, and her mother also. But Herr Breitbart’s English is next to nil. I have a smattering of literary German and Pete knows Dutch as well as English. So the talk was a kind of round robin of translating, with somehow or other everyone eventually coming to know what was being said.

Found out that Germans are as conscious of regional differences as Americans are (maybe more so!), and to humorous effect. Stuttgart, et al. is in Swabia, and you should have heard Friedl and Anni go after the Bavarians (Bayreusche [sp?] [Bayrische]) and the Hessians! I got the feeling that Bavarians are considered the hicks of the German people, and at any rate they have execrable accents. The controversy between the Hessians and the Swabians seems more to be over which of these groups, alone, speaks proper German.

Herr Breitbart is interested in music and showed me some sheet music pieces he’s working on (I’m not sure for what instrument). I told him I’m a Berlioz lover and that I’d visited the town where Hector was born. Somehow I knew the word for that was "geboren" and was very pleased when I discovered I was right and had got my idea across.

We stayed for awhile after Friedl left for the airport, then Anni took all of us back to Friedl’s place. To our surprise he was already there with Theo and Phoebe, sitting at the kitchen table eating a pizza. Their plane came in early.

I was too excited to do more than pick at a piece. We all sat up talking till nearly midnight.

Phoebe, I learned, flew up to England from the RSA just a week or so ago. Theo spent Christmas Day at Dunstan Oak’s* [one of the college tutors], where he and his family had assembled the Coverdale "orphans." Theo said the weather had been nice and sunny in England the past couple weeks. Very unlike France.

Anni, to whom Friedl is not engaged (at least not yet) took Chrissie and Pete away with her and we all eventually turned in. I shared a room with Phoebe but we didn’t really talk because it was so late and so much was planned for the morning.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Living Exegesis

The other day, in my regular rota of Bible reading, the Old Testament passage happened to be Proverbs 3, which includes the verses

5Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

A couple days later, the Psalm selection was No. 37, which in part says

3Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4Delight yourself in the Lord
and he will give you the desires of your heart.


25I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.

I've pursued my current plan of Bible reading since the year 2000 or so. So I've read these passages repeatedly the past nine and a half years. I've read them with openness, with edification, with acceptance.

But this past week when these verses came up, they evoked feelings of resentment, rejection, and fear.

For why?

Because given my situation in these economically-parlous times, they swept me back to the financially-strapped late '70s when I was subsisting as a newly-minted Bachelor of Architecture in the beautiful but heedless city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In that town and that economy I was unemployed more often than not. Frequently I had no idea where money for groceries was coming from, let alone the rent for my studio apartment. And acquaintances from the church I was attending, people who knew the paucity of my resources, would bombard me with these verses. It was their way of "ministering" to me. These verses were supposed to make everything All Better.

But they didn't. They made me feel alienated, excluded, and condemned.

Why should they? I was a Christian, after all. They should have filled me with hope and confidence in the Lord. Was I just hard of heart? Maybe a little, yes. But there was more to my desolation than than that.

These verses fell flat because they came alone. They weren't accompanied by the exegesis of my acquaintances' lives. How these people related to me did nothing to show me the true meaning of these texts or to discover to me the goodness and grace of Almighty God. They were too busy to be my friends, to just sit around and talk about everyday stuff as we got to know one another. No, I'd have chapter and verse references given to me at the last minute at the end of a Bible study. Or I'd find the text scotch-taped to my apartment door with no sign that the visit was about anything else.

These people had not yet earned the right to drop random exhortatory verses on me. I wanted friends and conversation and relationships, and what I got was Proverbs and Psalms used like robot arms to keep me at a distance. I needed information and referrals and connections on possible jobs, and they gave me Biblical magic formulas about how if I was righteous and godly enough, the positions and pay would simply come.

It felt like what it says in the Letter from James,

2:15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

James could have added "emotional needs" as well. There is a time and a place to feed a Christian brother or sister from the Word, but it must never come alone. It's possible that a non-believer can also gain comfort from a quotation from the Scriptures, but there it's even more crucial that it be accompanied by the exegesis of our lives.

I've been thinking since last week on how that living exegesis would "read," about the overall love and grace of a Christian friend's conduct that would guarantee that Scripture snippets were received as the comfort they were meant to be. I need to contemplate further before I could venture to say anything about it, but I know that sort of "love with skin on" is vitally essential.

By today, I can again read the Proverbs 3 and Psalm 37 passages and see and feel their assurance and hope. My upset last week wasn't really about the verses per se, it was frustration and anger at myself that here it is thirty years later and I'm again in the same stinky financial position. But that's a different subject, and going and doing something useful now might have go some ways towards maybe getting myself out of it . . .

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Twenty-eight

Monday, 2 January, 1989

WIEN-- Got up for the Kaiser rolls and jam. I asked for my tee "ohne Milch" but apparently my accent is really lousy-- the waitress brought the pitcher anyway.

Caught the streetcar that heads southeast from the central part of the city, to the Zentral Friedhof. It goes along the Simmeringer Hauptstraße. I don’t know why, but it felt very homely, in a good sort of way, to see this other part of Vienna, as well as the touristed places. The buildings and shops reminded me of places in Kansas City, like along Troost (though not so rundown) or up at 63rd and Brookside. One thinks of all these people going about their lives here, where Vienna isn’t important because it’s a world-famous city, but because it’s where they live.

The object of the morning was another musical pilgrimage . . . Not as easy to accomplish as at the
Cimetiere au Montmartre. The Zentral Friedhof seems pretty orderly, in that there’s a monumental avenue leading from the entrance, to a great green-domed church. But as for finding anything . . . I asked a uniformed attendant, in my best fractured German, where Beethoven’s grave was located. He said, or at least I think he did, that it was along the first (or was it the second?) avenue "links" past where a white car was parked. All this in German, of course, so I wasn’t sure if I’d understood correctly.

The whole thing became moot, though, when the white car’s owner drove it away and I lost my point of reference before I got close enough to ascertain where it had been.

Went up and inspected the outside of the church and its flanking wings. There’s a kind of gallery along there, with memorial tablets along the wall. I wonder how one rates that, since I didn’t recognise any famous names.

One interesting feature near there is a plot set off for the graves of Red Army soldiers. It looked, from the dates, that these men hadn’t died in the war but rather were stationed here afterwards (as an army of occupation? Oops!) and it hadn’t been possible to ship their bodies back to Russia. The really sad thing was the near-certainty that most if not all of these men would’ve died as atheists. What a terrible thing, to have no hope!

I knew Beethoven’s grave was supposed to be east of the church, so I tried again to ask someone. Seems they should have section numbers or something. And I think they do, except my German isn’t anywhere close to being able to understand numbers (except for "zwanzig"-- 20-- on the streetcars when they call out the stops. I’ve gotten really good at that). And I could not make the man understand my request to write the number of the row and section down. So I was in for another hour or so of blind wandering.

Found Arnold Schönberg’s grave, though. It’s kind of a Cubist marble monument, very apt. And I came across
Josef Hoffmann’s. He and his wife Karoline have a plain tall shaft with their names and dates inscribed in tall gothic lettering.

Finally, after more blundering about, I found what I was looking for. They have a kind of musicians’ Poets’ Corner there, with Brahms, a Strauss or two, little Franz Schubert, and Beethoven all interred in kind of a horseshoe arrangement, with a monument to poor Mozart in the center. Von Suppe had sneaked into the formation, too, though how I don’t know.

I’d been wondering if I should’ve brought Beethoven some flowers but I saw that plenty of other people had adequately supplied the gesture. And it really wasn’t the same as it was at Montmartre. Here, with Beethoven, I was paying my respects to a great man who lived a long time ago. But there, with Hector, it was like visiting the tomb of a dear and sorely-missed friend.

A gaggle of Japanese tourists were marshalled through as I stood in the little clearing. They disturbed my contemplations to a degree, but not to the extent they would’ve with Hector in Paris.

I sang "An die Musik" for Franz. But other than that, I hadn’t much time to tarry. Though I’d arrived at the Friedhof around 10:00 AM it was nearly 12:30 by now, and my Wien transport pass had expired at 12:00. And I still hadn’t figured out how or to whom pay paid your streetcar fare if you were using money.

So feeling rather guilty about it, I bootlegged the streetcar ride back to the Ring. Wasn’t made any more comfortable by the stickers in the windows that said, in German I could understand, that the transport inspectors would be around checking passes today and that yours had better be in order. I suppose I could’ve put some money in the little box, but I didn’t have the correct change and was feeling too straitened to overpay.

So I sat tight, deciding that those stickers probably are on the streetcar windows all the time-- I can’t see them sticking them on and scraping them all off just for one day’s worth of warning.

However it is, as soon as I got back to the Schwarzenberg Platz I walked down to the Stadtpark station and bought a fresh two-day transit pass. And the fact that I’ll only be able to use one day of it should amply make up for my contraband trip of the past half hour.

Went back to shoot a picture of the Konzert Haus where I heard the Beethoven last night, but returned to the Stadtpark U-Bahn station to catch the train for Heiligenstadt. One might suppose I was going to see the house where Beethoven wrote his Heiligenstadt Testament, and someday perhaps I shall. But the afternoon was to be devoted to Architecture, specifically Hoffmann’s Sonja Knips house.

Heiligenstadt is the end of the line. I made myself a satisfying and highly nutritious lunch of pastries there in the station, then set out to find Nußwaldgasse.

Very near the station is a housing project which interested me for a number of reasons, most all connected with its name. It’s called the Karl Marx-Hof (!) and has all these heroic Soviet-Realism-style statues over the major entrances. The amusing thing is that these figures are still enchained. The other irony was that, in the wide front garden of this memorial to the progenitor of Communism, two small boys, on this second day of January, were playing the good old American game of baseball. It was great.

To get to the
Sonja Knips house you have a good long pull up the Barawitzka street before Nußwaldgasse veers off to the left. One can’t go into the house, of course, it being a private residence. But the gray exterior is all studded with a regular pattern of diamond-shaped castings, which look as if they should be structural, like the star-shaped tie rod heads on houses in Lawrence. Probably aren’t, though. These are set off by the diagonal mullions in the windows and the diamond coursing of the slates on the roof and the three chimneys. It’s deceptively simple but rife with subtle details like the scooped-in embrasures of the windows.

I managed to catch a bus back down to the station but had no intention of getting the train back just yet. Something important to do first. Made my way down the very warehousey-looking Mooslacken street to the Nußdorfer Lande, which runs along the Donau Kanal.

But canals don’t make it. I wanted the real river. And after awhile of getting mucked up in a small spaghetti-bowl of an interchange I found myself on the Nordbrücke, crossing the actual
schöne blaue Donau.

There’s a lovely view of the church on the Kahlenberg from there. And I’ll have you know that in this afternoon’s bright sunny weather the Danube really was blue, if with a slight grayish tinge to it.

The river there splits into two parallel streams, with a long narrow island or something between. There’s a way down to it from the bridge, so you can stroll along the paths as many others were. It was so nice to see the people out enjoying their river on this bright January day: This taking, in the case of some young boys, the form of skateboarding (on their tails) down the smooth pavement.

I walked along the river awhile myself, admiring the fishing boats and the ducks and the views of the city far away to the south. I sometimes wonder what sort of travelling companion I’d be: I’m such a fiend for rivers and tops of towers and hills and things. Would anyone else understand? But it seems to me that if you’ve got a town on a famous river, you haven’t been there properly until you’ve visited the river as well.

Left there around 4:30 and caught the train back to the city. Changed at Schwedenplatz and ended up once more at the Stephensdom. You should see the absurdity that Hans Holler is putting up opposite it on the Platz. It’s called the Haas Haus (Rabbit Hotel?) and looks like a series of cans with their lids half off. Took a picture for Myron Davidman’s* [architectural employer back in the States] benefit.

Near there is a shop that sells some Wienerwerkstätte type things; I bought a deck of cards in that style as a Christmas present for Lynne* [my elder sister].

I saw a coffee mug at a shop along my route to Beethoven’s flat on the Mölkier Bastei the other day, one I thought might be fun to get for Daddy. Went back now but that shop was closed. But as long as I was along there, I stopped at one bakery-deli for something to do for supper, then went to Julius Meinl’s to stock up on bread and cheese and other provisions for the long train ride tomorrow. Stuck it on my Visa and probably spent a fortune.

Though I was cutting it close I tarried in the Opernpassage trying to find the shop where I saw those needlepoint-topped pill boxes. I thought it’d be a nice gift for Janie* [friend who was subleasing my Kansas City apartment]. But I couldn’t find the place again. Gave it up and dashed back to the hotel to change for the opera.

Wiener Volksoper is the Viennese equivalent of Kansas City’s Lyric, meaning the works are done in the local vernacular; in this case, Deutsch. German, Italian-- in the case of Don Giovanni, it made no difference to me, especially as I’ve heard it in English at the Lyric and basically know the plot.

As I approached the theatre along with many others, I heard a boy of eight or nine a little way ahead of me notice the posters and cry out to his parents something like, "Oh, gut! Ist Don Giovanni!" I couldn’t tell if he was glad it was that opera in particular or if he was simply relieved to see the play was going on as advertised. Either way, it was charming to see the child’s enthusiasm.

I had been told day before yesterday that I’d been sold the last seat in the house. And now I could see why. It was a little stool in the corner of one of the stage right boxes. To see anything at all I had to balance on the very edge of my stool and crane my neck around the lefthand frame of the box. The other people there had real chairs.

But I noticed that there were plenty of empty seats in the balcony center and resolved to employ a little of my
Folly Theatre ushering chutzpah during intermission and move.

It’s really hard not to compare this performance with the one I saw at the Lyric in ’79, so why try? In that one, Stanley Wexler played the Don as an overwhelmingly attractive cuss, the kind of man who wouldn’t need to seduce women, he’d have them lining up in the street of their own volition. The Giovanni tonight, a Boje Skovhus, played the role as a dark-minded cynic. You got the idea he seduced women not for the physical pleasure of it but for the vile sake of dehumanising them and messing up their lives. A valid approach, and I don’t think it was to blame for the fact that the performance of the ensemble as a whole never did catch fire. It all seemed rather secondhand.

There were some interesting pieces of business, though-- e.g., Giovanni and Leporello escaped from the avengers at the party by lowering a ladder into the orchestra pit, scrambling over the musicians, and out the other side. And they came back the same way, ladder and all, at the start of Act II. The backlit scene at the graveyard was very effective (and yes, I could see it decently since I did move between the acts). And Giovanni slid into Hell on his own supper table, which went into the depths with him.

I noticed that, as with last night, people were taking pictures all over. So I ventured to follow suit, not using a flash, of course, and waiting for loud portions of the music to cover the shutter noise.

Afterwards, it was truly a strange sensation, standing at the streetcar stop, waiting there at the Währinger Gurtel for the #40 streetcar to take me back to the U-Bahn at Schottentor . . . and over the street one could see signs directing drivers to the highways for Budapest, Prague (Praha), and Brno . . . my God, those cities are all in Warsaw Pact countries! Am I really that far east?† It seemed very mysterious and exotic, as if I were brushing shoulders with something I hadn’t quite believed in up to now. But those cities certainly exist and could be announced by something as straightforward and prosaic as blue and white highway signs!

Back at the hotel, the idea was to get packed up and in bed as soon as possible. 8:00 AM train out of the West Bahnhof tomorrow.
†Yes, I'm aware now that my geography was shaky and that Czechoslovakia (as it was called then) is just to the north of Austria. But the point is the same.