Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Happy Book Club Day!

This past Sunday marked an occasion that comes but once a year: the day it's my turn to host book club.

So, of course, Saturday found Scott and me cleaning. Hoo boy. We were cleaning machines. By Saturday evening, the place looked fabulous. Too bad we can't keep it that way all the time. But clutter will eventually encroach. It always does.

Two unfortunate things happened, though. One: the glass in the back door shattered in the forceful weekend winds and had to be covered with a  piece of cardboard. That looks classy, I can tell you. And two - which was far worse than one: the furnace stopped working.

For a moment, I panicked. I envisioned the book club ladies huddled in their coats, blowing on numb fingers. Should I cancel?! As far as I know, no one has ever canceled book club at the last minute. And - all this cleaning, for nothing! No! Book club would jolly well proceed!

And I'm glad it did, because it was a great one. It wasn't too cold once we had everyone in there and bustling around in the kitchen. Sadly, two members were unavoidably missing, and I was too busy focusing on not forgetting anything that I forgot something really important: calling our New York member for her commentary! I am so sorry, Deryn! However, missing persons, forgotten phone calls, and broken furnaces notwithstanding, it was a success, and I am very pleased with how it all turned out.

We read Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts, which provoked much spirited discussion.

We had all manner of delicious German food (in keeping with the German setting of the book, of course), and I was particularly happy about the lack of anything green or leafy on the table. My kind of meal! ;-)

And - as ever - we enjoyed each other's company.

Thanks for taking these pictures, Liza! And thanks to everyone for bringing such great food and excellent conversation to the table.

Next up: Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. I haven't read it in years, and it's one of the few books I still have from the dog-eared collection I brought with me from Denmark. If I can find it! If not, maybe it's time for a new copy anyway. It's worth it!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Accent sleuthing

The other night, I was watching a re-run of the best thing that was ever on TV: Law and Order. I mean the original Law and Order. The one that was on for 20 years.

And I was listening to Lieutenant Van Buren, one of my favorite characters, delivering a rather annoyed volley of irritated criticism at her detectives.

She's tough, she's sharp, she's New Yorky. Well, New Yorky except for one thing. I suddenly recognized, beyond any reasonable doubt, that she and I share something: a Michigan accent.

I was convinced of it. That flat "a" was suddenly unmistakable to me. "What is the prablem, detective?" "He's a cap-killer!"
People from Michigan famously say, "We have no accent." I don't understand that statement at all. Everyone has an accent of some kind. How can we not? Each place and population is different, and the people of that place and population sound different from those elsewhere - it's as simple as that. And in Michigan, we have an accent that's flat and nasal. "Top" sounds like "tap." "Dawn" sounds like "Dan." Come on, fellow Michiganians - there's no shame in this! I'm always amazed at how annoyed and defensive people get about this stuff. We're nasal! So what? That's not an insult. It's just a regional vocal tendency, for heaven's sake. And I am a student of accents. They interest me. And I have one. A Michigan one!

So - I looked up my girl S. Epatha. It's true. She's from Saginaw.

Oh, my Gad!


I love being right.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ode to a boombox

I'm about to Freecycle an old boombox to a kindergarten teacher who needs a CD player in her classroom.

Which makes me happy - it's only collecting dust - but suddenly I'm nostalgic about it. I mean, we've been together since the 90s. If I remember correctly, my dad got it for me in my twenties during one of the first times his singing group, the Three Royal Tenors, were on tour in the States. It was on a high shelf at the Radio Shack at the mind-bogglingly massive Mall of America in Minnesota. I was thrilled as the box was hoisted down and placed in my arms! Or at least that's how I romantically remember it.

Over the decades, the antenna broke, one side of the tape deck started to stick, and the CD lid developed a habit of occasionally popping open in mid-play. (And yes, I did warn the kindergarten teacher of these these little idiosyncracies.) Ah, but these were merely the injuries of love! It performed loyally for us year after year. Highly-anticipated new CDs twirled for us. Favorite cassettes spun. (I honestly think we listened to cassettes long after others had consigned them to the dinosaur heap.) Languid NPR voices purred and urgent sports broadcasters screeched. We did our part and listened to it all.

Well, farewell, old friend. Prepare for a new life in your dotage. Alas, it will probably a short one. Good luck with a room full of six-year-olds, poor old rickety thing! I should probably have donated you to an old folks' home, really, but I know you will gamely blast "Old MacDonald" for the kiddies until your final note sounds.

I salute you!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The importance of providing visual perspective

My poor mother fell and broke her ankle last week. She was in the hospital for a couple of days and has now returned home, but she's not allowed to leave the house for three weeks, and she must totter about with the use of a walker. I feel awful for her - my mother's very active and energetic. She doesn't like being inert, unlike her lazy daughter. I could spend all day in my 'bassinet,' as I call my loveseat in the living room - and indeed there are a few Sundays where I do just that, accompanied by my three Sunday papers! But my mother tirelessly bicycles all over Copenhagen, darts about the city on errands, visits exhibits, attends events, works out daily, and just doesn't stop. Well - she has stopped, temporarily, and I know how hard that must be for her! Luckily, Dad has been taking wonderful care of her, so I'm not worried. Just sympathetic.

So I decided to order something from a florist to cheer her up. It couldn't be flowers, because Dad is allergic to them, so I looked online and found what I thought was a small, elegant bowl with a small, elegant cactus arrangement in it. Here it is:

Now, I suppose if I knew anything about cacti, I would know the general size of the plants in the picture. But I don't. To me, it looked like a pretty little decorative item, perfect for a tabletop. As you can see, there's nothing in the picture to indicate scale. So - how was I to know?

How was I to know that it would arrive looking like - this?

Look at it! It's huge! For one thing, that is a tub! Not a decorative little pot. For another, what on earth are those tall triangles sticking out of it? And those big, knobbly - what are they, branches? And - I'll say it again... it's huge!

I mean, of course it's fine, and Mum is smiling, as you see, and she says she likes it, which I hope is true. I'm sure it is (thank you, Mum!)... I just wish there had been some item in the picture to give the thing a little perspective, that's all.

In any case, the whole thing is sort of funny, which is why I am sharing it here.

Behold the importance of providing visual perspective!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

An exercise in psychology

Is free too free? I may be about to find out!

My friend Wendy gave me two pretty pieces of furniture a couple of years ago when she moved, and now, for the sole reason that I'm ready for a change, I'm passing them along to the next lucky person. There's nothing wrong with them except for one slightly wobbly leg on the coffee table, which we could do something about if we had an Allen wrench.

They're lovely. I mean, look at this picture of several of the book club gang gathered around the coffee table at Wendy's old condo back in February of 2008. It's a great table.

So - thinking to provide joy to my Ypsilanti neighbors - I decided to put both items on the Ypsilanti Freecycle site.
No one even wrote to request a photo.
I mean - are the denizens of Ypsilanti better off than I thought? No one needs attractive, matching, free furniture? Really?

So - I put them on the Ann Arbor Freecycle site, too.

No response.

Well, I did receive one completely blank mystery e-mail. I wrote back and sent a photo, just in case it was an inquiry, but I never heard back. No one else responded.

I mean... really? Free furniture. Cute free furniture.

So then I thought, okay. Maybe I need to charge money for them. And maybe I need to say they need to come get it within the week or lose their chance. Maybe it's all about psychology. Make it urgent. Gotta make people want them!

So here's the Craig's List listing. I'm asking eight bucks for both! If someone does come to get them, I'll tell them I'll take five.

Think it'll work out? Is free too free? Stay tuned.

Oh - and if you happen to want a cute pair of tables - come get them! They're yours! :-)

Update, two days later: Guess what? I'm eight dollars richer! :-D Yep, I got a hit on the Craig's List post right away and made arrangements with a nice U.M. graduate student to come get them, which she did. Now, to be completely honest, I did get two responses from Freecycle after the Craig's List arrangement has been made. But still, where were they when I posted the tables two or three days before? This is Freecycle, people! Chop, chop! Make your move!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Indian summer in Ann Arbor

Well, normally I'm a grump about warm weather in October, but, okay, fine, sometimes it's undeniably pleasant.

Take last night, for instance.

A crisp signature cocktail and dinner at Sava's with Christine and Liza was followed by a leisurely stroll up to the Power Center, where we saw Vienna Teng perform a rare and exciting show. As a grad student at U.M., she doesn't play much, so this was a special opportunity. (I Spotified her all week in preparation, so I was ready!)

Click here to visit Vienna's site and listen to a few of her super-catchy ditties. In particular, check out "Whatever You Want" and "Harbor." And here's a video.

Then we sauntered back to Sava's in the balmy evening, where Liza and I had another glass or two of wine - sitting outside, no less, and enjoying the people-watching.


So - okay. Fine.

This whole Indian summer thing has its good points.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Farewell, Bert Jansch

In memory of the great Scottish folk singer Bert Jansch, who died today, I'm urging you to read the lyrics to his beautiful song "The January Man." I posted them here back in February of 2010 and they are the more poignant on this sad day.

I first heard Bert's distinctive voice when I became a Pentangle fan in about 1990. Over time, I came to prefer his interesting, introspective solo songs.

Spotify him, Rhapsody him, or watch this video of his distinctive, haunting version of the Irish folk song "Blackwaterside."

Sigh. Goodbye, Mr. Jansch.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

There is no please in Danish!

I just read something tonight in an amusing little book my mother sent me, The Xenophobe's Guide to the Danes. It says, "The word 'please' simply doesn't exist in Danish."

I was completely floored by this. This fact has never occurred to me. The word 'please' simply doesn't exist in Danish! Think about that. There is no 's'il vous plaît.' There is no 'bitte.' How is this possible? I grew up there and yet I never once realized this significant linguistic omission.

Of course, when I shrieked Jeg vil ha' is! in kindergarten ('I want ice cream!'), I was sternly encouraged to rephrase this as Må jeg bede om is? ('May I request ice cream?'). I suppose that sort of counts.

But - wow. It seems like such a major element of everyday language never to have noticed. All those times in life when we automatically throw 'please' into a situation simply don't apply in Danish. If you're in a car hurtling toward a precipice or a tree or whatever on slippery ice, and you start muttering Oh please please please, what do Danes say?

How did I miss that?

Sometimes I worry about my powers of linguistic observation!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Kneeling trees

Wow. Look at this.

Apparently, somewhere in western Poland, there are about 400 pine trees that appear to kneel on the ground. They're surrounded by a forest of normal (straight-growing) pine trees. They were planted in the early 1930s and were allowed to grow normally for a decade or so before someone, somewhere, for some reason, purposely altered their growth. No one knows why.

There's something very dramatic about these kneeling trees that fires up my imagination somehow!

Thought I'd share them.