Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Song of the year?

It's not gonna get any better than this in 2010... If you haven't heard Cee-lo's newest little ditty - a cross between a bubblegum pop riff and everyone's favorite four-letter-word - listen to this:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A man, a plan a... gnu?

I've mentioned that Uncle Shane has a cool job that forces him to see places near and far, right? 

Enter South Africa, which from all but his last two days appeared as a magical generic urban landscape.  Apparently Pretoria isn't all that.  The animal parks surrounding Johannesberg are, however, all that.  Shaner saw lions and tigers and bears zebras and rhinos (and wildebeests, cheetahs, warthogs and more) oh my!

On the other - or at least AN other - end of the earth, he saw the Panama Canal.  Which praise be to my favorite President is apparently still an engineering feat to awe and inspire.

Note to Shane: we noticed that these were both sent from their countries of origin.  Thanks!  And, bonus: cool stamps! 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Death Comes for the Archbishop

It's probably been 20 years since I last read a book by Willa Cather: My Antonia, which I absolutely loved.  I can't say why it has taken me so long to pick up another of her novels, but I recently finished the acclaimed Death Comes for the Archbishop

This book has a great deal of appeal to me.  I am fascinated with stories about pioneers, and about the Navajo and Apache nations (as well as the Sioux and the Comanche and the Arapaho and so on...).  I love the flat desert lands of the American Southwest.  I've seen Shiprock, been to Santa Fe and stood in awe of the sand dunes and mountains and canyons.  So again, it's a puzzle why I haven't read it sooner.

The protagonist is Father Jean Marie Latour, a French priest who has spent several years living in Ohio before being named to the newly-created post of Bishop of New Mexico.  He comes to the sparsely-populated territory, bringing his lifelong friend Father Joseph Vaillant, to find a brutal and breathtaking land.  The Mexican citizens are generally quite devout, the Indians range from tolerant to hostile and the Americans either embrace these wild lands or try to take advantage of the indigenous people. 

Bishop Latour and Father Vaillant represent everything that is admirable about the Church.  They are tough guys who ride on horseback for weeks at a time, sleeping under the stars, to care for (and bring the Word to) the people within their Bishopric.  They are kind and smart and resourceful.  They respect the beliefs of the Indians and insist that every local priest does the same. 

The main theme of this book is not the taming of the American West, and there is actually very little conflict throughout.  It is about friendship and loyalty, and about human relationships.  It is written so beautifully that Cather's language is to be savored.  There are a few pages near the end of the book where Cather describes the respect of the Navajo for nature; the words made me catch my breath.  In the end, Bishop Latour dies "of having lived," leaving an indelible mark on both the landscape and on the reader.

Next up: A reread of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, this time in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: this book is amazing, wonderful, can't-miss... Join me!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Minnesota loons

Aunt Jessie sent this super cool wooden postcard to the Bunny and the Bug, from a camping and canoeing trip to the Minnesota/Canada boundary waters.  A careful review shows that the Mommy Loon in the foreground is carrying her two little babies on her back, while the Daddy Loon is watching baseball on the couch. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fearless Readers: The Brothers K

Great, fun conversation about Things Fall Apart last night, including comparisons to literature and film from all over the map: Heart of Darkness, of course, plus Gone With the Wind, Apocalypse Now and more.  We nearly landed on a couple of different books for next time, before launching into a booze-fueled discussion of what it meant to be a truly fearless reader.

So... next up is my all-time favorite book, The Brothers Karamazov by  Fyodor Dostoevsky.  I'm recommending the Pevear/Volokonsky translation, which I have not read myself but am undertaking for this re-read; in my opinion, no other translators come close.  The meeting will be on September 29 in Manhattan, location TBD.  If you have never read this amazing book, now is the time!

For what it's worth, our discussion queued up Ulysses and Gravity's Rainbow after Brothers K.  Now when we say "fearless," we ain't kidding.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Experiencing art as a family

Mark Di Suvero, from left: Pyramidian, 1987/1998, Mozart's Birthday, 1989, Mon Pere, Mon Pere, 1973-75
Saturday we spent the beautiful day at the superior Storm King Art Center, a sculpture museum that celebrates the relationship between art and nature.  It was founded in 1960, and in addition to its permanent collection, it's featuring a special exhibit to celebrate its 50th anniversary.  The museum is situated on more than 500 acres in the Hudson Valley, and the meadows, lakes, rolling hills and woods are as much a part of the experience as the works of art themselves.

The entire family thoroughly enjoyed the day.  It is truly a stunning place - a fabulous day-trip that's just 50 miles from NYC.  I'd recommend bringing a picnic; there are nice shaded tables, and a bottle of wine would be totally appropriate.  We couldn't have walked the entire grounds with the kids, but they've got a terrific tram that provides a view of some of their most famous works.

Since we were technically in an art museum, and since the Bug absolutely loves creating art herself, we talked a lot about the sculptures.  I explained to her that most of these works were "designs" - the artists didn't necessarily make them look "like" anything, but rather, the viewer should try to figure out what he or she intended to convey.  The Bug really got into it.  She thought this one, for example, looked like a spider web:

Kenneth Snelson, Free Ride Home, 1974

And she thought this one was Mommy, presumably because of her prominent thumbs-up:

Emilio Greco, Large Bather No. 1, 1956

And this one was a T-Rex:

George Sugarman, One, 1975-77

This super-cool floating one was at the bottom of a hill that Joker and the Bug rolled down. Try doing that at your typical art museum!

Menashe Kadishman, Suspended, 1977

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Juvenile swans

Despite my grand plans to closely follow the hatching and growth of the baby swans, our summer schedule has had us out and about or in the pool, keeping the swan family out of sight more than I'd expected.

In late May, two of the eggs hatched.  They've been doing well, growing like little gray weeds.  The family still spends its time together - the two adult swans and the two cygnets are rarely seen far from each other.  The Bug and I managed to sneak down to the boardwalk for an evening feeding on Friday.  Here are a couple of pictures:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Senegal and Serbia

Uncle Shane has a pretty cool job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  At least, it seems pretty cool based on the amazing places he visits for work.  In the last month, he has been to Serbia and to Senegal!

In Senegal he worked his tail off, but stayed on the coast and enjoyed the local seafood.  I've seen a few of his photos, and it looks like a pretty amazing place.

This picture is of a massive fortress on the banks of two rivers - the Sava and the Danube, the latter of which I've seen upriver in Budapest.  Happy trails, Shaner - and keep the post cards coming... we love them!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Golden Gate

Dear friends and readers, I suggest
You give this book in verse a chance
To show what Vikram Seth does best:
'Tween friends and lovers, the cautious dance
That opens up a heart to joy
While risking heartache.  John, a boy
Is unable to find a girl
Until he gives the personals a whirl.
He finds real happiness with Liz,
While John's friend Phil meets her bro Ed
And for a while they share a bed.
But like old soda loses fizz
Their passions could not hold the spark
They started with, and things turned dark.

For John and Liz 'twas politics -
And her old house cat Charlemagne -
Which caused the rent they could not fix
In their bliss, and which led to pain.
While in the case of Ed and Phil,
Religion proved the poison pill.
Other themes the book did cover:
Nuclear power, the death of a lover,
Single parenthood, loss and grief.
Though a series of sonnets it was not
Difficult, pretentious, or a hard lot
To get through.  But what a relief
To have this review finally written;
With the poetry bug I've not been bitten.

Next up: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather.