Archive for September, 2009

Kew with Martin

September 18, 2009

An unavoidable extra day in London yields a most pleasant result: a day-trip to Kew Gardens with my friend Martin, Zen priest and master garden designer – he is the author, with his wife Alxe, of Landscape as Spirit (http://www.amazon.com/Landscape-Spirit-Creating-Contemplative-Garden/dp/0834805383/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253279658&sr=1-1). Given his background in designing massive gardens with waterfalls, lakes, and huge stones all over the world, the chance to see Kew – the living result of the Victorian need to collect and categorize, in this case botanicals of every description – through his eyes is not to be missed.

Martin and I go way back to when he was my student in the early 90’s, but our deep friendship dates from the time when he picked me up and gave me a place to recover in the aftermath of my family break-up.  Over these two decades, I have seen him flush and destitute, secure and ass over the edge, 30 employees and none, in the bosom of his family and wracked with grief as tragedy overwhelms – and he always has the same calm demeanor, philosophical attitude, childlike curiosity, and Buddhist detachment that many people claim but so very few inhabit.  My brother, mentor, and friend.

Along with mowing lawns, I have generally ‘graduated’ myself for many years from taking subways whenever and wherever.  As Kew is way south at the suburban end of the District Line, the Tube is likewise unavoidable, but the London Underground has improved in the years since I lived here – the cars cleaner and smoke-free, and on this day there are no delays.  There is “Mind the Gap”.

Martin is dressed in new Zen robes (polyester and wrinkle free), which make him look priestly and striking amid the downdressed Londoners.  His small porkpie hat and large-knobbed walking stick adds to the eye-drawing mix.  His wife Alxe, English by derivation and East Coast by education (and therefore more conservatively attired), is a small but forceful woman who likes big dogs (who have thankfully been left home on this 50th birthday tour of England).  Through the miracle of SMS, we meet without hassle.

The street from the Tube to the park is lined with identical row houses, but they must be pretty pricey given the BMW’s, Mercedes, and even an Aston-Martin in the drives.  First stop inside the gate is the Palm House, a huge white metal and glass arboretum with the largest of the plants – huge palms of every description scrape the ceiling.  It is so humid inside that I shed my sweater and Martin is constantly wiping his camera lens, and it’s a relief to slip outside again to the row of mythical beasts – the Griffin of whatever, the Yale of Broadhurst, the Lion of England – all rampant and holding an heraldic shield passed down through generation from Tudor or Plantagenet titles.  What a lot of nonsense the Queen must have to know!

The waterlilies are next, huge leaves like boats and exquisite blossoms.  The young fella in his waders has a bucket sitting in one of the tray-like leaves, spooning out the duckweed with a net.  Most of these only bloom for a few days, and many only at night, he says, and require a singular beetle to come in and get the pollen when they are open and transfer it to a male plant.  It is one of the best arguments for evolution – God would never have designed something this messy, haphazard, and imperfect.  But then again, God did.

Although it is certainly Kew as I remember it from the 80’s, there is much that is new: the Princess of Wales Conservatory (Augusta, not Diana) replaces temporary greenhouses of succulents in a huge new building of six different climates: Step through a door to enter a desert full of cactuses, another to luxuriate in varieties of orchid, another to wilt with the tropical ferns, another to peer into the carnivorous plants, and another to tiptoe under the vines.

Another new element was the Treetop Walkway, which takes you 100’ or so up into the canopy, making me nervous as it swayed.  I could not keep from looking down through the mesh floor to the forest floor way too far below.

Aside from the new rock garden, which did not meet Martin and Alxe’s design standards (too boxy and unimaginative), and the new Japanese gateway (good, but not up to what I saw in Japan), everything we saw in this Eden was good.  The trees – huge and from all over – were especially welcome.  Kew was hit with a huge windstorm some years ago that took out hundreds of unique trees and left the head gardener in tears, but no damage was in evidence now.

The surprise, that Martin dragged me to unwillingly as I was getting ‘museum feet’ in the late afternoon, was the gallery of botanical art.  Though I was prepared to be bored, the marvelous watercolours and drawings easily straddled the utility-beauty gap, consistently conveying more than any photograph could manage.  Especially amazing was a moss painted onto the reverse side of a windowpane; I had to peer over the top to reassure myself it was not just moss stuffed in behind glass.  Others so captured the essence of the wild grape or fig or magnolia that you could palpably feel the artist’s love.

I am not a gardener or a farmer, though I work in the garden and live on a farm.  I am an urban dweller, even in my town of 600 souls, hooked to the internet and cell phone, with an embarrassing wealth of friends spread over every time zone.  Martin meditates for hours to days on the spot of a new garden before beginning the design.  I admire and even envy him his inner space, but plants move too slowly for me; I like the pace of humans, as destructive as they are.  For several hours, I slow down to Martin’s pace with Martin’s eyes – the slow shaping of the landscape over decades into a vision that matches the setting, the plants, the climate, the people – it’s such a gift, to see through another’s lens!

Federer v Del Potro

September 16, 2009

It is getting later and still later here in England; the hour of the taxi and the long travel tunnel looms, but still we sit mesmerized by the unfolding battle of the US Open finals beamed from New York.  The quality of tennis is the finest I have ever seen – long volleys of terribly fast and perfectly placed shots on the new blue court until someone is outdone and makes a mistake.  Federer had the upper hand the whole way, winning the first set handily, and being only edged out of the second in a tie-break that seemed stacked against him, getting the third with only a little more difficulty, 6-4.  He is angry, though, with Del Potro and the officials – Del Potro is taking too long to make his call challenges, throwing Federer off.

My friends are for Federer (for no better reason than that Del Potro is ‘too swarthy’ – a foreigner – isn’t Federer German?); I take Del Potro’s side (for no better reason than he has the most integrated shoulders I have ever seen). The fourth set was a titanic struggle, in which Federer had a number of break and match points, where he could have put Del Potro away, but the young Argentinian – tired to the point of sometimes looking asleep between the points – always found a way to reach inside and keep himself alive – and the fourth set again went to him in another high-wire tie break.

We are resigned to stay with it until finally in the 5th hyper-dramatic set, with our fingers tingling and our stomachs tight, Del Potro bests the older but petulant Federer.  The Argentinian fell on his back in exhaustion and disbelief that from so far down he has pulled it off – won his first US Open at 20, beating the cold, intemperate, but highly disciplined champion.

Earlier this very day I was railing against the watching of sports, the voyeuristic slump of the observer rather than the total involvement of the player – but this puts paid to my notion: this is a pas de deux that satisfies as much as any dance.

Carillons

September 16, 2009

Walking upt’ the pub of a Monday night, and suddenly the bells on the church next door start a round of bell pulling. At first tentative, then resolving into scales, and then building to a wild burst and flow of peals in the (I think) hexatonic set of harmonies. Apparently Monday night is bell practice night.  At first it sounded pleasantly cacophonous and quintessentially C of E, but then I began hearing melodies and syntactical development within the cascades of notes.

I mention this to my walking companion, an old friend, superb jazz musician with encyclopedic knowledge and a fierce ear: “Isn’t it funny how your ear imposes order on random but related sounds?”

“Not ‘alf” he replies, “But this is choreographed – these sequences are written out – there’s about eight of ‘em in there, and they’re playin’ it.”

“You’re joking! There’s about 5 notes to the second – no way they could be pulling ropes and timing the clapper hitting the bell that precisely.”

“Nevertheless…”

I defer to his knowledge of both music and England, but I am still not sure that what he says is remotely possible. I am sure that we are meaning-making machines, and that we will impose meaning – subtly or foolishly, for better or for worse – on the random series of events we call a life, a relationship, or even a set of ocean waves of sound breaking against our ears. I hear voices in the actual ocean waves when I am sailing, and hear and feel my cell phone ringing when it isn’t – why should I not impose familiar patterns on these happy clanging rolls of sound?

Lascaux – A PIlgrimage

September 14, 2009

Wheeling through the French countryside in a competent car is certainly a cinematically well-established joy.  From the stretching vineyards of the lower Dordogne with its dangerous rotaries swirling with lorries, we climb through the growing hills, ceding le passage on one-lane stone bridges, looping around beautiful farms with languorous suede cows.  Curiously, all sport spanking new tractors –it would be just like France to have a ‘cash-for-clunkers’ program exclusively for farmers.

On advice, we stop in St Eyzies for a meal (not so much), the view (the town is built into a limestone cliff above a river bend), and Museum of Prehistory.  Amid the endless knapped stones and bones are some really great skeletons: a full-scale models of Lucy of Laetoli (we went upright before we got big brains – at nearly 4 million years she is still clearly Jared Diamond’s Third Chimpanzee, compared to the later Turkana boy, whose face is more recognizably human).  The laid out sepulchre of a small ’prince’, buried with beads and ochre a mere 50,000 years ago – the grief is all there in the bones; it doesn’t need the florid language the French find irresistible in their exhibits. We place our feet in the parent and child footsteps through the mud preserved for millions of years (the elder had flat feet).

We marvel at the size of the mastadons and cave bears, on whose canine milk tooth you could serve a good-sized red snapper.  But by far the most evocative presentations are some really excellent films of hands making ancient tools.  You never see anything but the hands, which are convincingly blunt, rough, dirty, and scarred as they drill bone, knap flint, fix a spearhead, or build a cunning little knife for cutting strips of leather.

This is all good preparation for the stunning actuality of Lascaux – the cave that more than any other discovery blows away the mists on our prehistory while simultaneously posing riddles worthy of the Sphinx. Lascaux was recovered late in 1940, as the war bore down on France, by absolute accident.  Four lads were wandering in the hills above Montignac with a dog, Robot (drop the ‘r’ down your throat, purse for both ‘o’s, soften the ‘b’, forget the ‘t’).  Robot was digging at the root of a fallen tree and opened a hole into the earth.  Curious, the boys dropped down the hole and into a cavern of such stunning strangeness that even though they swore to keep the secret, they were back with their teacher 3 days later.

Along the walls and ceiling of this cavern are painted the most convincing animals, far from stick figures or simple line drawings, with expression, dynamic movement, perspective, subtle colouring and even artistic conventions that carry through the whole set of works.

Because of a cap of clay that acted as an umbrella to keep the cave dry and the sealed entrance, the art survived for 17,000 years (quite convincing carbon dating and other confirmations) since deep in the last Ice Age.  You think of Michaelangelo’s frescoes getting grubby after 400 years in the Sistine, or the Mona Lisa or Nightwatch protected by varnishes and lacquers to make it through a few centuries – this well-crafted but rudimentarily prepared art persisted untouched through 170 centuries.  It could not survive its confrontation with modern man, however: first a green fungus (la maladie verte) started to grow on the art, which they were able to clean, but then the carbon dioxide being breathed by the visitors combined to form a calcite coating that choked the whole surface (la maladie verte).  The response was total: the cave was closed in 1963, where it awaits the new technology to clean the calcite without harming the underlying paintings. An entirely new cave, Lascaux II, was built down the hill, a to-the-centimeter exact replica of the old, and then the paintings were copied (it took ten years) using the exact same techniques.

So, yes, it is touristy – buy a ticket and follow the concrete steps with 20 other people – but to step into the cave is to feel the chill of authenticity, to sip on ancient air, the mind rushes forward in recognition and falls back in awe at the same time.  For this is the birth of art.

The Venus of Willendorf is estimated to be more than 20,000 years old, and human fashionings that earn the name of art were undoubtedly around before that.  But Lascaux represents a graduation, a definitive step into the modern consciousness, still millennia in front of agriculture or law, still firmly planted in the hunt.

While the technical skill and dimensionality cannot be disputed, there are still odd anomalies: Why are the beasts’ ears consistently placed behind the horns on the neck?  If these were ‘prayers’ for good hunting, why is the reindeer, the most commonly hunted food in the area at the time, not depicted at all?  No one lived in this cave – one of many in the area; others were inhabited – so how was it used, and how were these figures viewed?

Pollen analysis and archaeological digs have told us quite a bit about the life of the people around Lascaux at this moment in time (the paintings are thought to have been painted over a fairly short time, maybe a few years, maybe as much as 200 years).  Books have been written on all this, and there is no point in recapitulating them here.

The point is that this is a milestone in the development of art.  Who knows how many caves still hide their treasures underground in this and other regions?  Who knows how many have been lost to the depredations of time and water?  How lucky we are to have this, even in replica!

With such art, the separation between Man and the other animals is complete, or as complete as it gets in our animal body. The homo’s who did this are clearly already sapiens sapiens (the man who knows he knows).  That separation and the control over nature that marks it that began with the opposable thumb some 4 million years ago, the control of fire around 100,000 years back, and the ritualization of burial (which implies symbolic thought beyond the animal).  But Lascaux, whatever the practical or conceptual purpose behind this never inhabited but richly decorated cavern, speaks distinctly to us from a past that so often whispers.

It has always been something I wanted to see and it was worth the trip – I offer up a little prayer to the one who was the master painter of these who pre-figured Rembrandt, Michaelangelo, Matisse, Degas, and Picasso.

Routier

September 12, 2009

Not wanting to stay near the airport, we dive off the motorway near St Emilion, un region de vignobles – wine country.  I spotted the dilapidated hotel/bar just up from the exit, where the Holiday Inn would be in America, but we sped on toward what we hoped would be picturesque little towns between les Chateau de this and that.  We wind among the vines, heavy with purple grapes hanging like dark udders beneath the torsos of green leaves, surely about to be picked.  The occasional villages, however, were strangely deserted, shut up tight with no hotels, so we turned back to the old routier.

Tiles were falling off the roof, the shutters peeling and haphazard, the parking lot potholed – we knew we were in for an adventure.  Stepping past the couple of outside smokers into the bar (which had been unfortunately remodeled in, I would guess, the early 70’s – does avocado formica speak to you?), we inquire about a room.  Clearly used to truck drivers, the trim barmaid with the Wal-Mart clothes, tight curly hair, and machine-gun delivery shows us a dusty room with two beds tiredly sagging in the middle, covered in cheap souvenir blankets.  We take it.

Though we have a sink in the room, the toilet’s down the hall.  I stop to take advantage of the facilities on the way back down – when I pull the handle water intended to flush spurts up and over the edge.  I warn Misty that if she should have to use the bathroom she should be prepared for a bidet  (and bring her own paper), but she can read the sign that I cannot (roughly): Pull the handle gently or you will be … arrosé (sprinkled like a flower).  Only the French…

In the bar, I discover a Gottlieb pinball machine (they’re the best).  I love pinball, but who, in this era of video games, can find them any more?  Crash your electronic car and live to drive again, blast aliens or bad guys all you want; I like the precise measure of the initial skill shot, the satisfying chung of the bumpers, the careening silver ball either poised momentarily on the flippers or sped on with a shove with the heel of a hand to the corner of the machine, knocking down the targets, ringing the bells, or, alas, slipping down the side lane, and, if you’re lucky or been at it long enough, the thrilling definitive ‘tok’ of a free game.  Stupid, I know, but if you grew up with it – the occasionally changed-out pinball games in the bowling alley were the most exciting thing in my tiny Maine town.  Unfortunately, this one – the board and runners patina’d in black from long years – has lost the scoring function, so the general uselessness is piled onto by utter pointlessness.  Even though I bought 3 games, one fulfills the nostalgie.

Meanwhile, Misty has negotiated a fine bottle of red wine for a ridiculously low price from the barkeep, who looks like a cheerful cowboy in a paid shirt and a neckerchief, but this turns out to be a cover for a tracheotomy.  A knot of questionable characters sits drinking and watching France vs. Serbia on the tellie; Note to self: make sure the Audi is locked for the night.  A woman in a full skirt and long gray hair that she holds protectively across her mouth is anxiously waiting for someone to arrive.  She watches me playing pinball and reads judgment in my eyes (I do not intend it, but she is not the first).

Misty and I sit outside at a wobbly plastic table to enjoy the wine in the fading light.  This woman paces back and forth, looking down the road casting us menacing glances from behind her hair.  From the doorway, she unexpectedly launches herself forward, she spits at us, revealing the missing and rotted teeth she was hiding with her hair.  Fortunately most of it hits the glass door by our table, but the venom of her look is even worse, belied by a flashing grimace at Misty that could have been glee or apology or just plain craziness.  The barkeep and the brunette, clearly she is a tolerated local, react in horror and drag her safely away, “Non, ces sonts les clients!”.  This has the unexpected effect of putting everyone else on our side, and the atmosphere, sans la folie, warms considerably.

Dinner at a routier can be marvelous or dispiriting, and ours is a mixture – richly-sauced coq au vin, but with a tired buffet of mixed salads, measly olives, overcooked haricots verts, fatty terrines, and packaged crab sticks.  This is followed by flan from a package, and capped off with such fabulous local cheeses that even I, generally not a fan of the cheese course, cannot resist.

Throughout the meal, Misty has been recapping her year in terms of friendships won and lost, and lessons learned about loyalty and betrayal – and self-loyalty and self-betrayal that these days often get clumped under the heading of ‘boundary issues’.  Would that I could have been so self-aware at 22 – what humiliations and useless twists and turns I might have avoided!

The beds await, and after consuming Joss Whedon’s short Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (Misty and I are both Whedon dorks, and can to our horror identify a moment from the 10 hours of Firefly with no more than a snippet of music), the creaking beds, the wild splashing of the toilet down the hall, or the unidentified electrical buzz – any of which could have led to insomnia – are not enough to keep us from the welcoming arms of Morpheus.

A visit with Dr Guimberteau

September 9, 2009

Passac, on the ring road around Bordeaux, is unremarkable (except that every possible bit of earth between the streets and tiled-roof houses is replete with vines) until the taxi drops us at the pillared gate at the entrance to Dr Guimberteau’s house.  ‘House’ will do; ‘chateau’ would be too grand – but Misty (my daughter, 22 and bilingual) and I both spontaneously lift our small wheelie’d suitcases up off the gravel driveway to carry them rather than make any grating noise in this haven of quiet.

The drive curves gracefully among fragrant, rough-barked pines – although this is the Atlantic coast, it feels more like the Cote d’Azur or Provence within these cream-coloured walls.  The house is slowly revealed, proportioned for the ages and dark with ivy vines. (I was told it has foundations that go back 1000 years, but in its current form, a mere 700 years ago, it was owned by Bertrand de Got, who left here in 1299 to become Clement V, one of the few popes who reigned when the papacy lived in Avignon rather than Rome.  These poor popes knuckled under to France’s King Phillip IV, and Clement allowed Phillip’s soldiers to obliterate the Cathars, a sad tale of the death of an interesting heresy told in Holy Blood, Holy Grail, supplying grist for a host of potboilers for our time, including the execrable The Da Vinci Code.)

Tall and expansive, informally dressed but courtly of face, with wire rims and a dramatically curling moustache, Jean-Claude comes out through the large French doors to greet us, with his wife Danielle just behind.  We introduce each other in a confusion of Franglais, and then step from the hot and sticky afternoon into the cool atmosphere only a thick stone house can impose on summer air.

The interior is done in a more Italian style, with intricate stencils painted on the tall off-white panels.  The furniture is pure French – baroque fabrics on the stuffed chairs and couches, wonderful rickety-looking wood tables – and the decoration is pure whimsy: Jean-Claude and Danielle have traveled the world – often by car with their two sons, on the cheap – and brought back glass from Murano, sculptures from Hungary, Babylonian panels from Iran (1981, just after the revolution), Byzantine icons from Russia (1985, Brezhnev), dragons from Hanoi (operated there for months in the early 90’s).  They have not just seen the world, they have lived it.

The boys are gone now, living in Paris, and Danielle has retired from teaching English (though ‘retired English teacher’ would not evoke this petite but muscular brunette (like Michelle Obama, she has earned her right to bare arms), who looks at you squarely from her dark eyes, and will brook no nonsense beyond Jean-Claude’s flights of inspiration – a perfect companion for a genius: practical, dynamic, feisty, and game – chic on the outside, but don’t miss the steel in the middle.)

After dropping our things in the capacious bedrooms up the worn stone stairs, we tour the grounds.  Not large, nor overly cared for, but beautiful and organic – a row of gnarly trees probably 200 years old line the path to the bottom of the garden.  We have had all their rain – the fountain is dry, its lion head spout dusty, its pool ankle deep in leaves.  Behind a screen of bamboo and dogwood, the vineyards stretch to the real chateau perched on a knoll in the distance.

We hop in Jean-Claude’s large Volvo to zip back to the airport to pick up a rental car. While we drive, we deal with our out-of-kilter business with his DVD – and here Misty earns her keep as a translator.  Neither he nor I are really business people, so we are uncomfortable with the details, which spill out of him in a rush of French and English.  I hasten to reassure him, but it seems I will not get the deal I want either, so I subside – I vastly prefer having good contact to this pioneer over making a few more euros.

It’s Avis, but it’s still French – they take their own sweet time coming up with a car while we talk some more in the waves of heat from the tarmac.  But then it turns out that they are all out of their ‘deal’ VW’s so they give us an Audi A5 (VW? Audi? In France? Where’s Citroen and Renault? The war is really over.) for the same price.  I am almost embarrassed – this low, growling sports car has every amenity known to the automobile – but I get over it and slide onto the enveloping leather seat.  Jean-Claude drives like a madman for his hospital, and we follow, me getting used to the car’s grip on the narrow French roads, Misty fooling avec la systeme de navigation.

Institut Aquitain de la Main – we have to don the full regalia to enter the operating area – silly hair caps, scrubs, socks outside our shoes, masks.  The hand part of the hospital is open, and green-clad nurses holding charts bustle between patients with bandaged arms tucked on gurneys in every nook. The camera J-C uses to get such fabulous images of our working fascia sits in the middle.  It is a simple but expensive affair (do you think $10,000 is expensive?  I do) on a thin rod that he can insert through a small incision and have a look around.  He shows us the equipment – not much to look at, the usual metal boxes of electronica, switches, and wires; I wish we could see it in action but it is not to be.

We stand around it in a fast-moving discussion of how he gets his footage.  I am glad Misty is there, for the more excited J-C gets, the more his English deserts him.  She falters on the scientific words, but I impatiently wave her on – these words I know, the terms easily transferred in my brain.  It is the small words I miss and need to hear, the adverbs, subjunctive modifiers, and most of all the images – for J-C may be a scientist in his head, but he is a poet in his heart.

So we are wailing away on issues close to us both – the differences he observes from individual to individual (some are dark in their fascia and nothing can be seen) / hours of filming are necessary for 10-seconds of useful images / the limbs must be shut down with a tourniquet or you see nothing but blood / the curious near-absence of fibroblasts or mast cells in his films – with Misty doing her level best to keep up.  Behind him a colleague is operating, and we are talking over the buzz of the saw and the gabble of the team bent over a woman’s swollen arm, but when the smell of burning bone wafts under our noses, we abandon the hospital and our priestly garb for the more easy-going ambience of his consulting rooms.

Surrounded by a welter of ‘hand art’ donated by grateful patients, we meet the thin, gentle osteopath who is attached to the clinic (small world – Jim Jealous is his mentor [he waxes lyrical about Jim’s talents; I bite my tongue] and Dr Frank Willard, to whom I just showed my dissection videos, is coming here next summer for a seminar).  Then Louise and Pierre arrive, two French-Canadian practitioners of the Bowen Technique (I met her when I gave a talk for the Ossie Rentsch Bowen group at Yale a few years ago), who, like me, have shown up to sit at the feet and give thanks to the one surgeon who has given fascial workers such a boost.

Louise and Pierre in hand, we repair back to the house to see J-C’s new DVD, now in the last stages of production.  In it – I will need a couple of more viewings – he extends the original concept up from the subcutaneous fascia up through the dermal layers to the very skin itself – showing why the skin is arranged in polygons and how the collagenous connections work all the way down.  On first viewing, I suspect it will be of more interest to dermatologists than bodyworkers (and indeed, he is off this week to show his work to the research end of Armani and Oreal), but it has the same neat holism, tensegrity, and satisfying feeling of internal logic that his first film did.

I did a bit of ‘show-and-tell’ on my dissections and the Harvard ‘Lives of a Cell’ video, and then we all repaired outside for an aperitif.  Tucked into a corner (behind Clement’s dovecote) is a perfect wrought iron pergola, its graceful Victorian curves covered in grape vines.  Here we sip on Martini or Pastis 51 (refined ouzo, as far as I am concerned) as the sun goes down, turning all the world the colour of Italian blood orange – the fields of vines, the house, the trees, our very animated faces – unused to drink I am feeling it already, embarrassing Misty by speaking English with a phony French accent.

And here follows one of those long European dinners I so love, but in fact am glad happen only every so often in my life, as one is seated for far too long and consumes far too much.  From Parma ham and melon through to Danielle’s special fruit compote, the discussion ranged far and wide.  We passed easily between stretches that held the whole table, then falling into bits that involved just two or three talking across each other, with me fracturing French and throwing in a bit of German (to quizzical looks) as the second bottle of wine took its toll.

Just before bed, I focused my swirling eyes to again take on the business of DVD’s with Jean-Claude, but it’s no use: neither of us have much interest in the details of distribution or percentages, and soon we are soaring into the poetry again.  It is clear we like each other, are more enamoured of the ideas than the recognition, and the whole thing about any product is just to get the word out to as many people as may be interested.  For the moment, cela suffit – that is enough.

Thatcher

September 6, 2009

In the villages of Oxfordshire, there are still old Cotswold stone houses topped with thatched roofs.  The thatchers (which becomes a job-related name – like Smith, Cooper, Miller, or Wainwright – attached to the Iron Lady Margaret) often build a trademark little animal of bound thatching reeds to sit atop the even thicker layers that cap the roof. Most often these little signature animals – if there is one at all – are birds, recognizable as a pigeon, a duck or, at their most elaborate, a swan.

But never have I seen one as large or startling as this.  We pass it each morning on our way to class.  It might purport to be a dog, but we have named this chimera the “Komodo Baboon”.