Wednesday, November 23, 2016

deserting the village

The title of this post is an allusion to The Deserted Village, a poem by  Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74).  I would never have read this poem if it had not been assigned to me in college. The poem is 430 lines long -- all written in rhymed 'heroic' couplets of iambic pentameter. I do not expect you to read it,* but if you dip into Wikipedia's article on Goldsmith you will get an inkling of how it bemoaned the social and economic consequences of enclosure, a procedure which destroyed the concept of common lands and enabled the amassing of huge estates by wealthy landowners.

Goldsmith was an Irish-born novelist, playwright and poet who, in his day, was part of London's influential inner circle. These included Dr. Samuel Johnson and his biographer James Boswell, the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, actor David Garrick, musician Charles Burney, and poet laureate Thomas Warton. In other words, Goldsmith became what we would now call a cultural icon, much as Marshall McLuhan became in the 1960s and 1970s in the U.S. and Canada. McLuhan famously appeared playing himself in Annie Halla film by Woody Allen (another cultural icon). McLuhan coined the term Global Villageto which my title alludes.

You may not be old enough to remember when everyone was talking about the global village concept. I am certainly no authority on it, but what I remember is that it had to do with a cultural bond based on people's being drawn to their television screens like campers around a campfire. In those days, television was dominated by three commercial networks, so everyone shared the same knowledge base, such as it was. ABC, NBC, and CBS gave us I Love Lucy, The Lone Ranger, Ed Sullivan, Walter Cronkite, etc.

McLuhan himself predicted that the Internet would greatly change our culture and that video would increasingly become an art form. I think he was right on both counts. The cultural change involves people deserting the village -- walking away from the campfire in droves, each with an individual video screen embedded in a smartphone. It's like carrying a candle (possibly lighted from the village fire) which, magically, brings each of us all the info we used to receive from television, plus much more.

Am I alarmed that the village is being deserted? Yes and no. 
While I rely on many of the features of my Android phone, I find it to be a hindrance to personal interaction. 

One example will suffice: a post-concert reception in the spring of 2014 where I sat at a table for eight or ten people who had either sung in or attended a concert at New York's Carnegie Hall. Only three people at the table were not talking on smartphones throughout the reception: a gentleman in his early eighties (member of the chorale), his young grandson (who had attended the concert with his grandmother and parents), and myself (member of the chorale). The three of us attempted 'live' conversation but, unfortunately, had little in common. Indeed, we came from different villages. The memory of this dysfunctional event was brought back to me recently when one of the persons who had been at that table told me how happy she was to have been able to talk on the phone to a former co-worker while she was in New York for the concert. 

Well, hey! I had friends in New York (and Los Angeles, and the U.K., and Pasadena, and Boise!) and could have called any or all of them, but I had chosen to be socially present at the occasion where my body and smartphone happened to be physically located. Disgruntled, I stomped back to our group's hotel and tried to talk to my roommate, who has never owned a smartphone but who was feeling too ill to communicate in any meaningful way.

I had TOO MUCH privacy at that reception, but lately I've been noticing how LITTLE privacy I have when I'm on my smartphone, which knows my age and location, what I've shopped for recently, and what pictures I have taken. Being 75 years old, I get what on-line marketers deem to be 'age-appropriate' ads (incontinent aids, beepers for when I've "fallen and can't get up," etc.). Oh, yes! The village is coming back to me in the form of a shopping mall.

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 * In fact, I am not fond of The Deserted Village or any work of Oliver Goldsmith except his novel The Vicar of Wakefield, but I do not regret having studied 18th century literature in college and graduate school. I am grateful that I learned to appreciate the poets Alexander Pope, Thomas Gray, and Christopher Smart, along with seminal novelists including Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Daniel Defoe, and even Aphra Behn.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

is that what you're wearing?

Back in March 2010, I first wrote a blog post about family language rituals. Since then, I have often thought about writing more on that topic. Less often (like: twice or three times), I have even done so. Today, more than six years later, I want to write about something that Steve and I ask each other almost every day:
 "Is THAT what you're wearing?" 
Depending on our schedules, we sometimes ask it several times a day. Most people would be insulted by that question, but we are always amused by it. Yes, we're easily amused, and that may be one of the reasons we're still married after 53 years.

In a sense, "Is THAT what you're wearing?" can only be answered in the affirmative: "Yes, this clothing is what I HAVE ON at this moment!" By contrast, it's said that "Are you asleep?" can only be answered in the negative. Generally, though, our answers are not a simple negative or positive.

Steve will ask me, "Is THAT what you're wearing?" to call attention to the fact that I'm not ready to go somewhere. He's likely to BE ready, and I'm likely to be wearing my nightgown or gardening attire caked with mud. In this case, my answer would be "No!" or "Just hang on a few minutes."

I tend to ask Steve, "Is THAT what you're wearing?" to call attention to a color-coordination* problem or other wardrobe malfunction,** usually when he's getting ready for a rehearsal or performance. In this case, I make sure he's presentable before he leaves.

When my father, Erven, would leave to go grocery shopping, my mother, Charlotte, would often say, "Don't pinch the tomatoes!" Married couples need ways of gently checking up on each other. It helps make our worlds go 'round.
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* Color coordination seems to be more difficult for men than for women. Geneticists see this as a chromosome issue, but Steve's brother Phil attributes it to the fact that little boys are typically given the eight-color box of crayons, while little girls tend to be given a higher multiple of the basic eight. Today's mega-box holds ninety-six colors.

** This famous euphemism was coined by Justin Timberlake to describe a semi-decent exposure he inflicted on Janet Jackson during a half-time show at Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. Steve's wardrobe malfunctions tend to involve misalignment of buttons with buttonholes or uneven tucking in of shirt tails.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

easter? cactus?

Easter Sunday this year fell on March 27, three days after Steve and I returned from our spring visit to Idaho. At that time our Easter Cactus was covered with buds, but they showed no sign of opening until Monday April 18, in time to develop full bloom by the first day of Passover on April 22. Hence the question mark after easter in the title of this post.

I must admit that I'm not especially fond of container gardening. I much prefer to grow plants in the ground, but two or three years ago we put up a broad shelf that's an obvious place to display potted plants along the front of the house. 

When we moved here in 1975, the space under what is now the potted-plant shelf was a sturdy brick planter with an old split-leaf philodendron entrenched in it. The split-leaf philodendron, in my not-so-humble opinion, is a cliché of the plant world. It was wildly popular as a gift plant during the 1950s, when this house was built. Its rather oxymoronic scientific name, Monstera deliciosa, refers to the fruit which, according to wikipedia, tastes like fruit salad. I never noticed any fruit on ours, and probably wouldn't have tasted it if I did.

It took me a long time to get rid of that monstrous old philodendron. Its thick, fleshy roots were trying to penetrate the foundation of the house and needed to be pried loose. I resolved not to plant anything in the old brick planter, and for several years tried using it for a bench. The problem there was that it was simply too uncomfortable for anything but emergency seating.

I've kept this particular Easter Cactus alive for several years. In some years it's squeezed out a few spring blossoms. What is different this year? Two years ago I replanted it in a glazed ceramic pot along with a scoop of balanced plant food, and set it in a place where it doesn't need to be moved. Upon reflection, I realize that must have been when I was populating the new shelf with (mostly) newly repotted plants. I've also been more consistent with watering. Reclaiming laundry water on a regular basis means USING the water on a regular basis, though sometimes I don't think about the potted plants until everything else has had its generous allotment,

It was because I thought I knew how to take care of cacti that I failed to give the Easter Cactus enough water. Rather than question my methods, however, I began to question whether it was really a cactus (hence the question mark after cactus in my title). A quick foray into wikipedia and some rare-plant nursery websites assured me that it is indeed a cactus, its spines having evolved into little hairy tufts appearing at regular intervals along the edges of its flat leaves. A native of the rainforests of southern Brazil, it belongs to the huge rhipsalideae tribe which also includes Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus (new to me), and the broader leaved epiphyllums which have been having a hard time under my care in recent years.

I foresee happier days ahead for my rhipsalideae.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

new kid on the block

This past Sunday I wrote about two new colors of sweet pea blooming among the volunteer plants growing in our parking strip. I thought I had covered the subject pretty well when I described a blossom that was bright pink streaked with white as well as one showing a very subtle shading of light pink and white. 

Preoccupied with other activities including a major offensive against weeds in our neglected back patio, I did not look at the parking strip for three or four days. Thus I was totally surprised yesterday afternoon to find that streaky purple and white blossoms had started to appear on two of the vines sprawling around there. I tried to take a picture then, but the sea breeze made focus too difficult. Here is this morning's effort, shown larger than life so that you can see the stripes quite clearly:

I tried a little research on sweet pea viruses before starting to write this morning's posting, but found nothing like this. Moreover, the fancy seeds being advertised as producing variegated blossoms do not show this kind of bold pattern. 

My first thought was to make this picture a post-script to the previous posting, but found it so striking that it deserves its own coverage.

What will the rest of this unusual spring bring to our increasingly wild parking strip? I'll try to watch more carefully so's not to miss anything.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

variegated volunteers

I haven't planted a sweet pea since 2011, and yet I've had some lovely specimens in the front garden and parking strip. You can see a history of my sweet-pea struggles (and triumphs!) in a post from 2013, where I focus on the genetics of pea blossoms and speculate about whether there will be changes (mutations?) in color among my volunteer sweet peas from year to year. I would especially like to see some all white blossoms;** these were fairly common when I planted from seed packets labeled as  'mixed' colors, but they have been totally absent from their naturalized progeny.

Due to stranger-than-usual weather in the fall-winter of 2015-16, volunteer sweet peas sprouted in early October but did not bloom until March. Steve and I returned from a spring visit to Idaho on March 24 to find that spring had actually come on schedule to our SoCal location. (It usually comes in October or November, when I delight in calling it 'Fring.') California poppies, freesias, hyacinths, azaleas, and nasturtiums were in vibrant bloom, and buds were fattening on the Texas sundrops. But the sweet peas were what caught my eye.

Examining the sweet peas closely, I observed two specimens that were like nothing I'd ever seen before among my volunteers:


The upper image shows STREAKING of bright pink on white (or vice versa), and the lower one shows the WHITEST petals I've seen on volunteer sweet peas. Plain bright pink blossoms have appeared every year, and there have been plenty of light pink with white, but none where the white part of the petal has predominated. If I were a more dedicated follower of Gregor Mendel, I would save seed from these two to see what they would do next year, but it's more fun to wait and be surprised.

To paraphrase the old saw about art: I don't know anything about plant genetics, but I know what I like!*
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* I do know enough about horticultural history to recall that streaking (most notably in tulips) can be the result of a virus. Going wild does have its risks.

** P.S. All-white blossoms have finally appeared on one of my volunteers. They're not in the parking strip, but in a bed devoted mostly to bulbs. This little vine is reaching out onto the sidewalk. Trying to get to the parking strip? When it dries out, I'll scatter its seed there. It could stay where it is, but I have ambitious plans to dig up and separate all my bulbs in August or September.

Friday, February 19, 2016

music hall

Here's another reminiscence of performing as a flutist accompanied on piano by my mother, Charlotte. This one happened while I was in junior high or high school.

In addition to her regular jobs as a church organist and choir director during my formative years, Charlotte was often called upon to accompany singers and instrumentalists at community meetings and special events. 'Mrs. M',* a violinist, was one of these performers. On the occasion I want to describe, it was evidently Mrs. M's turn to play a solo for her music sorority's alumnae group. She wanted Charlotte to accompany her. Various issues were at stake, and as I try to reconstruct the scene I think they stemmed mostly from the fact that Mrs. M wouldn't have wanted to pay Charlotte's fee.

There were and still are two major fraternal organizations for women studying music in U.S. colleges and universities -- Delta Omicron (DO) and Mu Phi Epsilon (Mu Phi) -- and the competition between these can become fairly intense from time to time. Charlotte had been a DO and Mrs. M had been a Mu Phi.** Mrs. M would have tried to convince Charlotte that playing gratis for Mu Phi was actually a contribution to DO. I wouldn't wonder that Mrs. M offered to play gratis for Charlotte's DO group in return. However, Charlotte -- a deeply anti-social person -- didn't have a DO group and wouldn't have wanted Mrs. M to be seen or heard there anyway.

In retrospect, I think Charlotte insisted that I must play with her and Mrs. M because I would benefit from the experience and thus bring some kind of recompense to our family. This argument, of course, was totally bogus. Charlotte and I had recently played with Mrs. M for a mother-daughter fashion show at our church. Mrs. M had complained to Charlotte that it was difficult to play with me because I kept a too-rigid beat. She felt that she was "playing in a marching band," an indignity to which she had never before been subjected. Besides her penchant for rubato, Mrs. M had the habit of sniffing noisily on the upbeat when she raised her violin to her chin. This was anathema to me. I had spent years learning to breathe deeply but silently on upbeats and, to this day, am proud of that skill.

Thus a troika of mismatched and unwilling players appeared on the appointed evening at the gracious home of a Mu Phi alumna in our upscale suburb. Upon entering the living room, we noticed right away that there was no piano, though Mrs. M had been assured that the hostess had a wonderful grand piano. Alas! The piano was in the den, separated from the living room by a hallway of about 12 to 15 feet in length.

Charlotte played piano in the den, Mrs. M played violin in the living room, and I played flute in the hallway. Mrs. M and Charlotte could both see me, but they could not see each other, and so I acted as conductor. I have no memory of what we played, though I know that I must have played the second part. Charlotte had instructed me that "No violinist wants to play 'second fiddle' to a flutist." It was probably something like Dvořák's Humoresque or a Haydn Serenade (or both). Charlotte would have written out a 'second fiddle' part for flute, and none of us would have needed to spend much time rehearsing with each other.

The Mu Phi's loved us, of course, and plied us with punch and cookies. Charlotte's compliment to me was that my tone sounded great because I was standing in front of the open bathroom door and getting resonance from all the tile work. We laughed for years about the 'music hall' performance

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* In those days (the mid- to late-1950s, adults were always called 'Mr.', 'Mrs.,' or 'Miss' even if they were close friends. I once got in a lot of trouble for calling Judy's mother 'Doris' instead of 'Mrs. C.' It seemed so natural after hearing Charlotte refer to her regularly as 'Doris' for so many years.

** Years later, I became an honorary Mu Phi alumna, but that's another story.
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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License