Friday, August 29, 2008


Punctuation doesn’t make the man. Typos happen. On the other hand, for the past eight years the Republicans have made a virtue out of stupid, so the political entrepreneurs in the McCain camp may simply have been following the RNC Stylebook, which is hard to misunderestimate.

Then again, maybe they got it right (far right, of course). Maybe they really do mean that this particular student, the one who owns this pen, is for McCain. Could be they could find only one, even after searching through many school’s. Who know’s? I must admit I dont.

Thanks to TPM.

Odors and elegance on the AT

There is an amusing article in the New York Times this morning entitled, “The Unwashed and the Upper Crust in Connecticut.” I often gripe when the Times does a piece about a place or an event I’m personally familiar with (they’ve butchered both Hanover, New Hampshire and my hometown just in the last few months), but I’d have to say that Christopher Percy Collier painted a reasonably accurate picture of the often surreal interaction between AT hikers who have been months on the trail and the locals and tourists in “[r]ural...but pretty high dollar” Kent, about 25 miles north and west of Woodbury. (Note to other walkers: Backcountry Outfitters, which he mentions, is a really good outdoor shop.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Random gibberish

I’ve managed to stupidize myself off Airport again and am back operating on the tether. This doesn’t affect actual writing, of course, but it inhibits those spurts of inspirational genius I so rely on. (Or, as Alan implies in his comment to the previous post, it keeps me from efficiently scanning the web for something actually worthwhile while watching TV from my easy chair. How did he know about that?)

Speaking of TV (and isn’t that a lead-in that just demands you keep reading?), the Democratic Convention is being broadcast by all the cable news networks here. Apparently many people are watching in that way, which means they are having to put up not only with endless commercials, but also—and even more infuriatingly insulting to the average intelligence—the inane bloviations of vapid “experts” (who, I have to assume, are the only people allowed by law to appear on these stations). A quick suggestion to those about to scratch their own eyes out: C-SPAN. No ads, no pundits, just a camera and a mic. In other words, make up your own mind.

Tonight, of course, I’ll be watching the Red Sox and Yankees. With the sound turned off. Modern baseball announcers drive me up the wall even quicker than political commentators, which really bugs me, because their job is so much more important. Bring back Ned Martin!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Lightning strike!

We got back home from Minnesota to discover that our DSL modem had been fried in a thunderstorm. Nearby electronics shops had no modems to sell me...too many others had suffered the same fate and cleaned out every store in a wide radius. Thursday, I scarfed my father’s modem (he no longer uses it), which is newer than ours was. I still couldn’t get on line. I had no choice but to turn to the dreaded, and amusingly named—dramatic organ chords—customer service.

Two dropped calls, 15 minutes on hold listening to canned sales pitches, and an hour or so on the phone with actual (and quite nice, if variably competent) humans, and we were finally back up...on direct Ethernet only. I decided that was enough angst for a day, and left the Airport issue for the weekend. That turned out to be a fatigue error by yours truly, easily fixed this morning, and we’re all set now. Brilliant and illuminating posts will be returning to this space soon.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

“Poetry under the prose”

Ivan Doig is often considered a regional writer. Forget that. He is simply one of the best American writers going. For his last book, 2006’s The Whistling Season, he did an interview for his publisher in which he said: “My eight or nine published poems showed me that I lacked the poet's final skill, the one Yeats called closing a poem with the click of a well-made box. But I still wanted to stretch the craft of writing toward the areas where it mysteriously starts to be art. It was back then that I began working on what my friend Norman Maclean [A River Runs Through It] referred to as the secret of writers like him and me: poetry under the prose. Rhythm, word choice, and premeditated lyrical intent are the elements of this type of writing. In the diary I kept while working on This House of Sky, I vowed to try to have a “trap of poetry” in the book's every sentence. I suppose that inclination is visible in all my books.”

It is.

In his perceptive New York Times review of The Whispering Season, Sven Berkerts ponders Doig’s work in light of “the breakwall of irony...the taint of knowingness, of wised-up cynicism”: “Is a novelist like Doig simply writing past the circumstance of the now, high-tailing it back to a time before the Fall (whichever Fall we prefer, 9/11 being the latest by common consensus), escaping deeper engagement with the cultural now? Or is this in fact a triumphant reclaiming of terrain through a leap of imagination? The care Doig takes with language suggests to me the latter—this is a deeply meditated and achieved art. But I also suspect many readers will have to keep fighting off the ironist's defense, a hip condescension toward what seems just too decent to be real, too good to be true.”

If traps of poetry and deeply meditated and achieved art (and good stories) appeal to you, Doig is your man. Fight off your hip condescension. He’s not too good to be true. He’s just good.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

99th Infantry Battalion (Separate)

The Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, which I wrote about a few days ago, had a display focused on this WWII outfit, which was made up of Norwegian speakers. The idea was that they would be useful in unconventional operations in Norway, as well as an eventual invasion. They trained essentially as mountain troops, partly with the famous 10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale in the Colorado Rockies. They shipped out to Scotland, and were later stationed at Perham Downs Camp between Salisbury and Andover in England, and at Glenusk Park Camp near Crickhowell and Abergavenny in Wales. The poster above shows them during advanced training in either Wales or Scotland.

As things developed, the battalion wound up fighting at Normandy and in the Ardennes, and only got to Norway after V-E Day. But from the bottom of the poster, here’s their mountain-fighting equipment list.

“Carried on the person:
Pistol belt and pouches
Gas mask
Ruck sack

“Carried in the pocket of the parka:
Dark goggles
Ski wax, scraping knife
Extra mittens and wrist warmers
Waterproof box of matches

“Carried on the pack:
Entrenching tool
Emergency snowshoes

“Carried in the ruck sack:
Rations, canteen
Sleeping bag, ground mattress
Winter camouflage pants and mittens
Socks and soles
Green/white reversible mountain tent
Tent poles, tent pegs
Pocket pliers
Ice spurs (pocket size) for skis
Coleman gas stove, cooking pots

“In addition, there were white skies and poles.”

I’m delighted I don’t need to carry an M1 and a gas mask (all Americans, of course, pack a pistol), but the non-soldier part of this isn’t hugely different from what we’d all be carrying in our “ruck sacks.” I’m easily old enough to remember when military surplus stuff formed the core outdoor kit. Ah, the perfume of treated canvas.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A little shuffle

H and I (and Jasper the Wonder Dog) went out for a little VS2 earlier this afternoon. We walked for 10-15 minutes, shuffled for about 5, then walked back home for perhaps 20. This was H’s first, gentle, attempt at running since giving birth two weeks ago, and it was triumphant. Then we came home I and rocked the beautiful B for a couple of hours and just watched her sleep. The yin and yang of joy.

Second-week birthday

We began with B’s first trip to the library. I have a feeling it won’t be her last.

The big celebration though, was in Lake City, 45 minutes or so east of Rochester, on a part of the Mississippi known as Lake Pepin, where we had a highly enjoyable dinner at a place called Nosh. They emphasize the seasonal and local, though their wine list, oddly, is overwhelmingly European. (It includes the Spanish Rueda, Las Brisas, which has been our house white at home for several years—so clearly they know what they’re doing!)

B takes a laid back approach to these events.

This week we toasted her with Brisas, a Vinho Verde, a martini, and a bottle of beer, rather than a bottle of bubbly (which we’ll have at home tonight instead—always a bonus to strrrretch these celebrations out, I think).

After an alfresco meal for B, a quick change, and a stroll along the marina,

we headed home for Rochester.

We’ve been turfed out of our hotel, due to a perfect storm of events here this weekend. Over 30,000 fans are arriving to watch a motocross event somewhere nearby, there are two giant antique shows going on (my guess is that the term “antique” has a very different meaning in Minnesota than it does in Connecticut), and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are back for more convention activities. So we’ll be bunking in with H, A, and B for the next three nights. I will be singing my best songs and telling my best stories, many of which H has heard fewer than a hundred times and A fewer than a dozen. Oh, how they’ll weep when we depart.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hot times in Decorah

We’ve been in Decorah, Iowa, for the past few days. Decorah is home of the Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit that collects, propagates, and sells heirloom vegetable, herb, and flower seeds from all over the world. We wandered around their display garden, had a little picnic, took a look at their orchard (gazillion wonderful old apple types), and made a token purchase of jam at their Amish-built barn of a welcome center. We missed the British White Park Cattle. If you’re interested in growing things your grandmother might have grown, or simply in growing veggies that actually taste, you can become a Seed Savers member, or take a special Flowers and Herbs membership. Of course, you can also just buy seeds or plants.

We also spent most of a whole day enjoying (and I can’t tell you how much that surprised me) the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

Decorah is at the center of an area settled in the 19th century by the Norwegians who have dominated its culture ever since. (I asked the nice lady at the museum if the population was still overwhelmingly Nordic. She told me ruefully that the 2000 Census was the first in which fewer than half the population claimed Norwegian ancestry. But they are still by far the largest single ethnic group.)

“Vesterheim” means “Western Home,” and the museum “embodies the living heritage of Norwegian immigrants to America.” I’ve got to say it does it in great style. The newspaper USA Today calls it one of the top ten places in the country to look at folk art. One of the things I liked most about the place was that its displays are more open and available than things are at most museums. It’s clearly set up, in significant part, to teach the children of the area about their heritage, and it takes children’s natural touchy curiosity into account. That works for me, too.

The museum has moved a number of buildings onto the large site behind its Main Street headquarters. It’s smaller and much less formalized than places like Sturbridge Village or Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts or the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, and I enjoyed that about it. We had a great, wonderfully led tour of a church, a country schoolhouse, five houses, a storehouse, a small mill and a huge one, a drying shed for the barley used in beer, and a smithy, all of which illustrated an element of Norwegian-American life in the 19th century. (Actually, I especially loved the desk/bureau (called a skatoll) in the main museum, the bottom drawer of which is purported at various times to have slept “four boy babies and two girl babies.”

I also learned that beer in Norwegian is Øl.

And, though it’s spelled with a “y,” rather than an “i”, Decorah, like Fairlee, Vermont, has a WhippyDip.

So you know it’s a great town.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More booky excitement

The Friends of the excellent Rochester Public Library have a very good used book store (though I must say that the Friends of the Woodbury Public Library have a bigger and better, if less elegantly housed, one), and we went in to browse the other day. We came away with a grocery bag full of “traveling books” (paperback mysteries and historical novels), but I also made two big scores: Tony Judt’s Postwar, and Taylor Branch’s At Canaan’s Edge. Big expensive books when new, I got them both for well under $10 total. Bliss.

I took the Judt book out of our library months ago, but life intervened and I never got into it (must have been too busy blogging). The Branch book is the final entry in his “America in the King Years” trilogy covering the career of Martin Luther King. The first two, Parting the Waters and Pillar of Fire were superb. (P of F was one of my personal bests of the year—though I can’t remember now which year!)

Speaking of Woodbury’s own Friends bookstore: before we left I snapped up two paperback Alan Fursts for the trip. In one of them, Kingdom of Shadows, he writes about “the ecstatic gray light of a rainy Parisian morning.” It reminded me yet again of why I love his books. He can write.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Orwell Diaries

Does everyone know about these? What a fantastic idea.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Root, root, root for the home team

Last night, on B’s ninth day, her parents and four grandparents dressed her in her special Red Sox shirt and red gDiapers ...

...and took her to her first ballgame. Have I mentioned how smart she is? She learned immediately to emulate her maternal grandfather’s inarticulate sounds of dismay and outrage at bad calls by the umps.

It was, despite the umps—unbelievably bad—a lovely evening at the park.

With a good crowd.

And the home team Honkers came from behind to win.

My job with B has already been assigned. I’m to teach her how to throw a baseball, one of my few competences. But I like to start by teaching children the fundamental concepts first. Have I mentioned how smart B is? By her third or fourth day, she understood the basics: three strikes, four balls, three outs, nine innings, World Series winners since 1903. Simple stuff like that. Last night, although she hasn’t quite got it yet, she was trying to come to grips with the infield fly rule.

Don’t worry. She’ll have it by next week. Have I mentioned how smart she is?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sweet evening

Today was B’s one week birthday—and also her first real outing. We put that good bottle of Champagne on ice, tucked it and the diaper bag in the back of the car, buckled the baby in, and headed east, across the Mississippi to Wisconsin. There, on Thursdays only, this farm offers pizzas made entirely from ingredients produced on the property and baked in a wood-fired brick oven. (This seems to be a happening thing in the cheese state—other farms there are offering their own riffs on the same concept.)

We got there to find what looked much more like a lawn party or a holiday picnic than anything remotely like a restaurant, with adults in lawn chairs chatting and drinking beers or sodas, and what seemed like dozens of fair-haired children running cheerfully around.

We placed our order, and the lady asked us where we were sitting. Well, over there by the little tree. She wrote that down on the ticket: “By the little tree.” And when it was ready, she brought the pie over to us.

Before the pizza came, H and A posed with B, the bottle (an attempt at providing a scale for B’s size), and a card from a friend.

The pizza itself was very good. People in Brooklyn are always going on about how they have the best pizza anywhere. They’re wrong. The best pizza anywhere is in New Haven, Connecticut. This Wisconsin farm pizza wasn’t quite that good, but is isn’t absurd to mention it in the same breath, either.

We offered a toast to a dozy B, singing “Happy Birthday” and tapping her very gently on her sweet little head with our glasses, and another to H, who had just gotten notification that she passed Step II of the national medical boards.

We had a lovely, easy-going meal, watching the goats nibbling in the next field. As dusk came down, the pizza boxes were put to good use starting a campfire that people were beginning to settle their chairs around.

We left just before dark, sending a slightly fussy B back to sleep with the motion of the car. A sweet, sweet evening.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

B is five days old now, and there’s been a lot of bonding going on. This girl will be well-loved, for sure...and probably a big reader, if only in self-defense.

We’ve been keeping H company for the last few days, running the occasional errand, doing a little shopping...and grabbing B for snuggles whenever possible. H and A walk a lot, and B has not put a crimp in that at all. Last night, we were all out, including Jasper the Wonder Dog, who has been a bit confused, occasionally concerned with unfamiliar cries, but essentially his easy-going self.

When we got back, B decided to just kick back.

We’ll be here through the end of the week or so, and after we leave we’ll be counting the days until we can see B in the flesh again. Wonderfully, iChat will let us get together by video whenever we want.

Many thanks to all of those who have sent best wishes. B will be seven days old on Thursday, we’ve got a bottle of bubbly in the fridge for a one-week birthday party, and we’ll toast you all.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Utter joy

Early Wednesday morning we got the call we’d been waiting for, and we were in the car headed for Minnesota by 7:30. Eighteen or so hours later, somewhere north of Chicago, we took a call from A telling us that our first granddaughter had been born: Thursday, August 31, at 12:08 AM (Central time). Giddy with happiness, stupid with fatigue, we stopped for a few hours rest in Madison, Wisconsin, and came on the rest of the way later in the morning.

Despite a difficult labor, H looked glowingly wonderful when we saw her, and she and A introduced us to the tiny, red, soft, and perfect B. The usual holdings, kissing, cooings, and picture-takings brought to our attention the fact that B is beautiful, highly intelligent, and deeply sensitive.

H left the hospital Friday afternoon, and she and A walked home, 10 minutes or so, with B in one of those little cuddly carriers.

Since then, there’s been relatively little sleep at their house. Infatuation? Oh, maybe just a little.