Thursday, January 29, 2009

Viva Vivaldi!

Last night I went to the most fabulous concert with A-Joz, one of the fiddlers from my band, and another mutual friend. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant, where Richard Bonomo joined us, then we went to the concert, which was Interpreti Veneziani, a group of guys from Vivaldi's hometown of Venice, Italy. (We got free tickets from someone Hardingfele knows.) They played loads of Vivaldi, including my favorite concerto of his, Opus 3 Number 10, the one for four violins from L'Estro Armonico.

I have always felt a special connection to Vivaldi, ever since he taught me to read music as a child. I was taking Suzuki violin lessons in kindergarten and was only in Book 1 but for some reason had the music and records up through Book 4, which contains the concerto for solo violin in A Minor from L'Estro Armonico. I was so enamored of this piece that I would listen to it over and over while following along in the music book, and it didn't take too long to see that when the musical notes went higher, so did the little black dots on the page. After all, I had recently learned to read English, which is not nearly so logical, so reading music was a snap after that.

Around the time I turned 24, I became totally obsessed with L'Estro Armonico and particularly that Concerto 10 for four violins. I would listen to it over and over and over, and it almost seemed as if it were calling my name and trying to tell me something. I learned everything I could about Vivaldi and was fascinated to learn he was a priest. What, I wondered, had he found so compelling about the Church that he had made such a sacrifice? (Or maybe not that much sacrifice; he was widely rumored to have not taken his vow of chastity too seriously, since he lived with a lovely soprano who was his "housekeeper.") A trip several years earlier to some of the earliest churches in Greece, Turkey and Italy had already planted a seed of curiosity in me about Catholicism, and Vivaldi only made me more eager to learn about it. When people ask me why I became Catholic, I mention having gone to Catholic school as a child and various things like that, but rarely do I mention the Vivaldi connection.

In 1997 I was going to Paris for World Youth Day and dreamed I saw Pope John Paul II go by on the street and wave at me; my friends were all very impressed with the dream and felt it meant something important, but I just thought it was excitement over our upcoming trip. Once there, Ethel and I found ourselves so far back in the crowd that we could barely see the giant screen that displayed the Papal festivities, never mind the man himself. However, we didn't really mind because the crowd was so joyous. A fat lady sang, but things weren't over, and I really wanted to go to a Vivaldi concert that had been in Rouen (or Woon, or whatever) while we were there, but we were too busy getting stuck on rooves, etc. (see my post on this subject) to attend it. The concert had followed us to Paris and was going to be held in the glorious St. Chapelle, so Ethel and I slipped away from the World Youth Day festivities and headed toward the concert. However, all the nearby metro stops were closed for security reasons, and then the police stopped us from crossing the road! Just then the Pope drove by, just like in my dream; and just like in my dream, he smiled and waved right at me. (There weren't that many people around.) Just a coincidence? It's hard to say, but I like to think it was a message from Vivaldi to me.

Famous Hat

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Party Planners

Currently Anna Banana 2, Kathbert and I are trying to plan Richard Bonomo's upcoming birthday festivities. (He shares a birthday with Abraham Lincoln.) I have been trying to think of a theme, but it's hard to top some of the past ones we've had. The most outrageous was undoubtedly when The Leprechaun decided that Rich had been living with his house for long enough, it was time they made it official, so he married them in an elaborate if awfully surreal ceremony in which the house said "I do" by having Kathbert flush the toilet, and Rich kissed the bride - a pair of chocolate lips wrapped in red foil sitting on the dining room table. The next year there was a "baby shower" to celebrate the supposed fruit of this bizarre union, a giant dollhouse. We all brought baby gifts which were then donated to pregnancy helplines.

How could I top that? I couldn't, but I have planned some memorable parties for Rich over the years, like the Mardi Gras party (my partner in planning that year made a cake that looked like Our Lady of Perpetual Sobriety); a pseudo-"luau" (since Rich spent time in Hawaii during his childhood) complete with leis and a pig cake T and I made that was so adorable that we had trouble cutting it; and my most successful venture: The Chocolate Brunch! Although a number of people apparently didn't understand the concept of "EVERY course will contain chocolate," so they arrived, looked wistfully at the chicken curry stir fry I had made (my own personal recipe), and said, "I wouldn't have eaten lunch if I'd known! I thought it was only going to be dessert!" Which was a Death by Chocolate cake with seven separate layers of chocolate stuff; T and I had invaded Rich's house the night before the party with chocolate in hand to make it, but it calls for so much that we ended up using every last half-used bag of chocolate chips sitting around the place. (No doubt from cassatas past.) After eating so much chocolate, I felt a little spacy and very, very happy.

So how, my faithful readers, could I possibly top this? I cannot think of a good mid-February theme other than the obvious one of Valentine's Day, a holiday which holds little interest for most of us attending this party. And of course, I've already done Mardi Gras, so what else is there? It's a bit late in the month for a Groundhog Day theme...

If you are wondering how last night went, I can sum it up in one word: better. I only had to go a mile and a half, since I was running a mile and a half for my extremely pregnant coworker. (If she has the baby before her shower this Friday, I also promised to eat a piece of cake for her - after all, she has already worked it off!) This time it only took me 41 minutes to run the whole three miles at a steady pace of 4 miles per hour. Does that work out mathematically? Maybe not, but at the end I tried to boost my pace to 4.6 miles per hour and quickly gave up on that bad idea. For some reason it was harder to actually complete the run this time (and the sitcoms on the TV in the health club were even more painful than the running!), but afterwards I wasn't nearly so dead, so I lifted weights. Also, a fellow busrider suggested that a good exercise for avoiding shin splints (long a bane of mine) is to trace the alphabet with your feet because that stretches your leg muscles. It does seem to work! Today I am hardly sore at all.

Last night made me come to two conclusions:

1. Maybe I can do this triathlon after all!
2. Boy, I am not missing anything by not owning a TV!

Famous Hat

Monday, January 26, 2009

I've Got Herpes AND Tuberculosis!

... and blue-green algae, and now I have a basketball-sized rhinovirus! It is bright blue with big black button eyes - very cute. The other plush viruses I have are the basic size, which is supposed to be one million times life size. They look surprisingly like the actual photos of the microbes they represent, except that they are in cheery colors (herpes is sunshine yellow and TB is lime green) and have bright eyes. I gave my father hepatitis and my mother mad cow disease last year for Christmas, and my niece and two nephews got the small-sized giant microbes that come three in a large "petri dish." They got neurons. This year I gave my brother Black Death (at his request) and my sister-in-law a red blood cell, since she didn't want a nasty disease. Now they have come out with GIANT Giant Microbes, so I took my 20% off coupon and went down to the bookstore to choose a big giant virus. It was a difficult choice between the cold and the flu, but the round shape and vibrant blue color of the rhinovirus won me over. Next time I have a cold, I can cuddle up with my giant cold virus!

Last night I made bread using a bread machine Hardingfele gave me when she upgraded. Since I started this project at 10 pm, I thought my neighbors might shoot me. First it sounded like a helicopter was landing in my kitchen for 45 minutes while the bread machine went through its "knead" cycle. Then it was quiet as the dough rose, except for two brief shakes as it pressed the air out of the dough. I fell asleep as it was baking; just before two in the morning it let off a series of beeps to tell me the bread was done, but I just rolled over and went back to sleep. This morning I took the bread out and made a sandwich for lunch today. It tasted pretty good but was awfully crumbly and messy. I will have to try some more recipes and see if I can find one that stays together better.

Now that I have succeeded in making my own bread, the next frontier is granola. Someone at the Farmer's Market this summer told me it is ridiculously easy to make. Who knows? Maybe with Plant World I can start growing my own wheat and oats and sugar cane and really make all this stuff from scratch! Or why don't I just train for a triathlon? Which goal is more realistic? I'll tell you after I run another three miles tonight...

Famous Hat

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Triathlon, Trischmathlon

So yesterday I went to the health club and ran for three miles. I know what you are thinking - big whoopie, Famous Hat! Tell me when you run THIRTY miles! Here's the most pathetic part: it took me 45 minutes to accomplish this measly goal. And today... I am SORE. Today stairs are not my friends.

I didn't even run the entire three miles; about half of it I power-walked at 3.5 miles an hour, and the other half I ran at 4.6 miles an hour. (Does that come out to 0.75 hours? Math never was my best subject, but as you can see, neither was gym class!) The good news: I have nowhere to go but up from here. The bad news: I have pretty far to go up, if I want to run three miles in a reasonable amount of time, after having swum several hundred yards and biked ten miles.

I am so sore that I didn't even join a group who went snowshoeing today. Of course, considering that the temperature was about 8 degree Fahrenheit today, I might have skipped it even if my legs didn't feel like they were about to fall off. What a bummer... we finally have a snowy winter and it's too cold to enjoy! My pets are reaping the benefits, since I have been spending a lot of time playing with them. And my cleaning addiction continues unabated - thank goodness! - although today I didn't do much cleaning. Too sore...

Famous Hat

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pumkpin Decorating Contest

A couple of years ago, I participated in a pumpkin decorating contest at work. Here is the pumpkin I submitted, which is sort of a golden apple, but resembles a Dumbo octopus:

Figure 1: Gold Pumpkin

Figure 2: Dumbo Octopus

Can you believe that I didn't win? Here is the pumpkin that did.

Figure 3: Winning Pumpkin

Where is the justice??

Famous Hat

Thursday, January 22, 2009

It's as Elementary as ABC!

I have a degree in Linguistics. Why, I don't know, although a lot of it has to do with the diagram I saw in Scientific American my freshman year of college, showing the world's language families, and there was Basque all by itself. At that moment I resolved to learn Basque, and I sure did, if all I ever had to say to someone was, "Hello, friend! How much is the beer?" ("Kaixo, laguna! Zenbat balio dut cerveza hau?") And really, what else do you need to say in any language?

Currently I use my Linguistics degree to have weird dreams, like the one where I was telling A-Fooze that the word "Mafia" comes from the acronym "morte alla francia, italia alene" (death to the French, up with Italy!) or something, which is an actual urban myth but seems to have no basis in reality. Just a few nights ago I dreamed I was asking Richard Bonomo why, if there is the word "advenire" in Latin, to arrive (literally "come to"), shouldn't there be "abire," as in go away? Of course I didn't ask him this in real life, because maybe there is such a word. It's like the Cardinary Issue in English: we have the words "cardinal" and "ordinal," and there's "ordinary" ... so where the heck is "cardinary"? Where did it go? Is it out there somewhere with ruthful and ept? This is what linguists think about.

I swear I once heard somewhere that the word "element" comes from LMN, as in the basics. Why not? The world "alphabet" just comes from the name of the first two Greek letters, "alpha beta." Greek has great names for its letters, like "Big O" and "Little O." (o-mega and o-micron) We only get one O in English. Then why do we call Y "why"? I mean, in Spanish and French it's called "Greek i." (i-griega, i-grec) The only descriptive letter name we have is "double u," which is kind of bizarre (a great word, it comes from Basque!) because it looks more like a double v. It does, however, at least sound like a u. And why doesn't H say its own name? In this country we pronounce it "aitch." The Leprechaun, who is originally from Cork, does pronounce it "haitch," which makes more sense... but then he also pronounces the word "sandwich" as "sangwich."

I am not currently working in the field of Linguistics. In most other ways my life is the one I've always dreamed of - living in my own place filled with animals and plants - but I certainly don't have my fantasy career. Linguist? you may ask, and I'd say of course not! In my dreams I play the timbales for a salsa band. But I do get to pretend to be a "professional" musician sometimes, when I get paid tens of dollars to play the mandolin in public, and I get to pretend to be an author by writing this blog.

Famous Hat

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Valetudinarians United Against Hypochondria!

Last night I was talking to T, and somehow the topic of James Fennimore Cooper came up yet again. Our obsession with this topic started when I read an essay by Mark Twain called "The Literary Crimes of James Fennimore Cooper," which has to be one of the five funniest things I have ever read in my life. I shared it with T and we laughed heartily, then last year for a joke she gave me an enormous tome for my birthday: the collected works of James Fennimore Cooper, which she found for almost nothing. One night when she called, I was all embarrassed when she asked, "So what's up?" I finally admitted that I was actually reading Cooper, and he was every bit as gawdawful as Twain had said.

I foolishly started reading the books in the order of Natty Bumppo Delicatessen Ephraim's Daughter Longstocking's life, not in the order in which they were actually written, so that I nearly abandoned this project, having started with the atrocious Deerslayer when Natty is a youth. Next I read The Last of the Mohicans, written when Cooper was much younger, and found it much more enjoyable, so then I launched into The Pathfinder only to discover it is one of the worst pieces of tripe ever committed to paper. In his old age, Cooper showed a strange predilection for multisyllabic words nobody ever uses (like "valetudinarian," when "hypochondriac" just isn't highfalutin' enough), and he was less into action and more into emotions. Why Natty Bumppo should have any need for an interior life is beyond me. He was perfectly fine as one of many characters in Mohicans, including an insane choir director, an extremely sensible mulatta girl and her horribly whiny younger blonde half-sister [spoiler alert: the COOL sister gets killed and - worse yet - the annoying one survives!], and the Indian Chicago and his son Johnny Unitas, or something like that. [Spoiler alert: Johnny Unitas gets it in the end too, but he's almost as annoying as the blonde sister, so that's fine.] The plot of this book reads like Cooper was smoking a crack pipe, and it moves along at a reasonable pace, and Natty Bumppo is so over-the-top that he comes across like a frontiersman version of James Bond, able to solve any problem. Like James Bond, he has no emotional issues.

The later books, however, feature this character as the protagonist, and he is not the kind of guy you want to make a main character. Worse, they delve into his emotions for no apparent reason, because Natty Bumppo may come across as cool when he's dressed in a bear costume to rescue fair damsels, but he just comes across as creepy when he's pining for said damsels. Ew! And of course, even though he is no looker to begin with and is, you know, kind of rough around the edges from decades of living outside, the babes are all attracted to his inner decency. Yeesh! Who wants a protagonist oozing with inner decency? He's much more endearing when he's pretending to be a bear. When you have to keep talking about how good and decent and generous and honest your character is, at best you bore your readers and at worst you make them begin to doubt it. (Methinks the writer doth protest too much!) I don't know why Cooper couldn't leave well enough alone (but I can guess: money), but he wouldn't be the only one to ruin a perfectly good character by "delving into what makes him tick." Why? Do we care why Natty Bumppo lives outside and never got married? I felt the same way about Darth Vader when George Lucas had to go and show us his childhood as the worst child actor ever, and the Force wasn't something spiritual but just how many mitochondria were in his blood. Huh??? Way to ruin a perfectly enjoyable villain! Sometimes the less you know about a character's motives, the more enjoyable he is. Why does everything have to be explained?

Famous Hat

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

De Trinitate

One advantage of living in a college town is that there are plenty of overeducated people around, and some of them are willing to teach theology classes at Our Lady of Perpetual Sobriety. One such person is Mr. Nawlins, the man who gave me a five-page list of all the places I needed to see in the Crescent City back in August of 2005. (True story: when Katrina hit and I got my money back for the train fare and the hotel, I donated it to the relief effort, and then T suggested we go to Vegas, so I ended up sort of paying for two vacations. When I told Mr. Nawlins about our alternate plans, he said, "You couldn't go to Sodom so you're going to Gomorrah.") Mr. Nawlins is currently teaching a class on Augustine's De Trinitate, but I missed the first few classes and have been too intimidated to attend it since then.

However, last night I did meet up with the class at an Italian restaurant for Mr. Nawlins' birthday. (Have you ever noticed that, whenever you least want to go to parties and eat cake, suddenly everyone has a birthday? The first year I seriously gave up chocolate for Lent, suddenly everyone I knew was a Pisces and all offended if I wouldn't eat their birthday cake. I don't remember ever knowing so many fellow Capricorns before, but of course now that I am in "training" I had TWO parties for myself, then the Leprechaun and his wife, and now Mr. Nawlins! And now they're going to have a luncheon for all us January birthdays at work!!)

Speaking of training, at dinner everyone was talking about how things in the world tend to divide up naturally in threes, so I offhandedly mentioned the triathlon and - oops! Now I HAVE to do it because one other lady is really serious about doing it with me, and Anna Banana 2 might be interested as well! (She and I had long ago planned to attempt a baby triathlon, but we both kept getting injured or something, so it never happened.) We discussed how maybe this time of year a biathlon (skiing and shooting) would be a better option, and someone mentioned putting them together to do a pentathlon, and someone else said didn't that already exist? So we came up with our own pentathlon:

1. Swinging on a vine over a deep chasm.
2. Jumping into the river in the chasm and swimming out to sea.
3. Scaling a cliff rising out of the sea.
4. Jumping over the crater of an active volcano.

And wouldn't you know that I've already forgotten #5! Unless #4 was #5 and there was another one in there somewhere... If you have any suggestions for an appropriate #5, feel free to let me know. Nothing could be crazier than what the one-fourth Basque guy who was there last night told us about, an extreme marathon in Death Valley, which entails running 100 miles. RUNNING 100 miles?!?!? I've never even biked that far in one day! I've only barely made it 75 miles in six hours. That extreme marathon would take me three weeks to do!

Guess I'd better start training now!

Famous Hat

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Best Addiction Ever!!

Figure 1: The Mothership

Currently I am at Richard Bonomo's house, and he is talking to the Mothership while Kathbert is searching for the possibility of having a Sunday paper sent to her parents up in the North Woods, so I am seizing the chance to blog. I will keep this very short. Basically, I have finally developed the addiction I have always longed for - cleaning! It started as a way to work off some anger, but I enjoyed it so much that I just kept doing it. I have never been much of a housekeeper to begin with, and between being very busy and suffering a bout of anemia that sapped all my energy, I had really let things get out of hand recently. But here's the thing - once you start, the results are so rewarding that it becomes a positive feedback loop.

With five small animals in my condo, this addiction couldn't have come at a better time! (Unless it had started before my parents came to visit... but that would probably be too much to ask, and then what would my poor mother have to complain about?) Plus it has been miserable weather here in the Upper Midwest, with plenty of snow but too cold and windy to ski. (I was hoping to get some skiing in today, as part of my training for the mythical triathlon I plan to attempt, but Rich and Kathbert don't seem too enthused.) (Maybe tomorrow, since we all get Martin Luther King Jr. day off.)

Speaking of people named Martin Luther, remember that this is National Unity Week, so do your part for ecumenism. I did my part by singing at Our Lady of Perpetual Sobriety AND the Lutheran church down the road this morning. (Which was quite a sacrifice, since our Irish pal and his Catalonian wife, who live on the East Coast, are in town visiting, and I missed brunch with them to sing with the Prots.) I did get to see the Leprechaun, whose birthday is today (and his wife's was last week, and of course mine was three weeks ago), so it wasn't a complete sacrifice for the cause of Christian Unity, but it was something. Let's all do our part!

Famous Hat

Friday, January 16, 2009

Gazing at Infinity

Like so many people, I suffered from the affliction of myopia in my youth. I refused to wear my glasses and walked around blind until my parents relented and let me get contact lenses in junior high. A few years ago I gave myself a very special birthday present: LASIK surgery. And to say it changed my outlook on life is an understatement.

Immediately after the surgery, and for about two weeks thereafter, I did not enjoy reading. It was the first time I remember having suffered this affliction since having learned to read, and it led to me spending a lot of time gazing at infinity. At that time I worked in a windowless basement, so every chance I got, I would find a window and gaze out of it. This got me to thinking about how man was made to gaze at infinity. While I have long since gone back to my love of reading, I find that many of my happiest memories were those times when I spent hours gazing at infinity, like when T and I just sat on Deck 10 of the cruise ship and watched the horizon, or when we drove along the northern edge of the state of New York. The jobs I have been most content at were ones where I had a window. (A BIG part of the reason I took my current job!!) And I tend to believe I am not alone in this, that we all grow depressed if the furthest we can see in front of us for hours and months and years on end is our cubicle wall ten feet away. No wonder so many people are gloomy! I have never heard anyone say that the problem is a lack of ability to gaze at infinity, but studying this problem would certainly make a wonderful grant proposal!

I will be looking into infinity quite a bit more in the future, since I have been - don't laugh - asked to participate in a triathlon. (OK, go ahead and laugh - I did!) This is by no means the Iron Man or anything of that caliber, and the several hundred yards of swimming and ten miles of biking don't frighten me at all, but those three miles of running sure do! I'm not sure if I could run that far if something were chasing me! But I have six months to work up to it, and those six months should involve lots of gazing far into the distance while attempting to run at least a few feet before calling it quits. At least, as soon as the temperature gets into the positive numbers Fahrenheit...

Famous Hat

Monday, January 12, 2009

Visual Acuity Quiz

Here is the first Famous Hat Visual Acuity Quiz: What is the object pictured below?

a. mouse neural cell
b. a piece of modern art
c. pure evil

What your answers reveal about you:

a. You may think you are a scientific nerd, but you are fooling only yourself. What kind of cell has a giant red organelle in the center? You spend a lot of time trying to impress others by reading People magazine hidden inside A Brief History of Time.

b. You are either very creative or, more likely, extremely pretentious. I could easily sell you a pile of dirt with a shovel stuck into it for a cool 35K, as long as I called it The Tribulations of Mankind. On second thought, you are a WONDERFUL individual. You should stop by sometime and see the vast art collection I keep in my basement storage unit.

c. You are obviously a person of great intelligence and good taste. Why would anyone eat something in the nightshade family, which also includes the deadly belladonna? It's fine to cook these with oregano, or dice them up and mix them with cilantro and hot peppers, but how incredibly vile to simply slice one up and stick it on a sandwich, where its slimy little seeds will stick to the lettuce and impart its hideous flavor long after the offending piece of vegetal matter has been safely removed. And if you are one of those wackadoos who eat these things like apples, there's simply no hope for you.

Just another culinary service message from Famous Hat

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Smackdown: Ancient Cacaphony vs. Modern Worship Space!

How Catholic a church is tends to be inversely proportional to its name; for example, my parish is not really called Our Lady of Perpetual Sobriety but instead has a name so generic that people are always thinking it's a Lutheran church. However, upon entering it you would see a tabernacle in the middle of the reredos, numerous candles burning for the souls of the departed, lots of statues of Mary and other saints, people praying the rosary, and sometimes even the old Tridentine Mass. Downstairs there is a Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration chapel, or PEA. (They are always looking for someone to PEA in the 3:00 am time slot, if you aren't busy. I personally am sleeping at that time and cannot take a PEA in the middle of the night.)

On the other hand, in my town there is a church with one of those names like Our Holy Mother, Queen of Penitents, or QOP for short. (Pronounced "kwopp.") It is a typical ugly suburban parish that has - I'm not making this up - a blueprint in the "gathering area" with each area labeled. So instead of a narthex, a nave, a sanctuary, etc., it has a gathering space and a worship space. The tabernacle is relegated to a little chapel off the gathering space. Yes, Jesus has been sent to his room! The music is hideous and the theology is generic feel-good nonsense. I once taught Catechism at QOP, where I took no prisoners (see my post on Catechism Captive), and more than once I thought, "Why would anybody be this religion, the way they teach it here?" Jesus was just some nice guy who wandered around healing people. Eventually I gave up on the textbook and just taught the basics: you know, the Trinity, Original Sin, the Passion and Resurrection, little things like that. I have used this parish as a benchmark to measure all other bad parishes against, so we will discuss the level of Qopitude in a given parish. Our Lady of Perpetual Sobriety has almost no Qopitude, though there are certainly those trying to change that!

Because of its odd setup (being round, having carpeted pews, etc.), QOP has lousy acoustics, as opposed to the wonderful acoustics at OLPS. Once I sang there with the Lutherans in a joint Catholic/Lutheran service, and we could barely hear each other so it was difficult to stick together. (Because QOP has no choir loft, we were sitting in the pews on one end of the arena-shaped worship space.) Years ago, an acquaintance of mine died at a tragically young age, and they brought in a bagpiper for his funeral at OLPS. We wondered how that would work out, since the acoustics there are so good, and bagpipes are built to be heard five miles away, but it turned out to be wonderful, and very moving. So that got me thinking... if you had bagpipes in QOP, would you be able to hear them, or would the building's squishy acoustics manage to suck five miles' worth of sound away to a barely audible whisper? Maybe you'd have to mic the bagpipes! I've always wondered who would take this smackdown, but so far as I know, it has never occurred.

Famous Hat

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Cat Is the Hat

Last night for Epiphany we did exactly nothing at Our Lady of Perpetual Sobriety because "Epiphany" was moved to last Sunday, so I was forced to celebrate with the Lutherans. As they always do, the Lutherans marked the occasion with a potluck and then singing. Being ultra-polite (or as they say, "Minnesota nice" although this is not Minnesota), nobody would eat the last bite of anything at the potluck so we all had one scoop of food left in our serving dishes. That made cleaning up quite interesting!

Then I went home and played with my menagerie. For footage of Aimee and Allie, watch this:

(That is Hardingfele, not me, making the un-PC crack about them!)

I know a woman who was once in the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and she said it was like living in a Dr. Seuss book. The people in Lesotho (which is pronounced "Lesootoo") are called the Besotho (pronounced "Besootoo") and speak Sesotho (pronounced - how else? - "Sesootoo"). Then there are the giant aloe vera trees everywhere, which she says look like the bizarre vegetation in Dr. Seuss's tomes. To top it all off (so to speak), her cat disappeared one day, and not long after that she saw a man wearing a hat that looked oddly familiar. At that she decided she should write a Seussian book of her adventures in Lesotho, and of course the title would be The Cat Is the Hat. So far as I know, however, she has not done so, thus depriving the world of this moving story until this very moment.

In case you were wondering what a cat as a hat looked like, here is a picture of my office mate's kitten sleeping on her husband's head. (It's my officemate's husband, not the kitten's.)

Famous Hat

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I'm Growing ePlushtrated!

Hardingfele sent me the Unitarian Jihad's Manifesto:

This is some scary stuff. Maybe it's time to stop telling all those Unitarian jokes, like what do you get if you cross a Unitarian with a Jehovah's Witness? Someone who knocks on your door but they aren't sure why. Or this one: what do you get if you cross a Unitarian with a Ku Klux Klansman? Someone who burns a question mark on your front lawn! Yes, the Unitarians mean business and so the time to mock them may soon be at an end.

Yesterday Hardingfele bought me another ePlush animal for my birthday, this one a little black puppy. She is very cute, but Hardingfele refused to let me name her Aethelflad after the Anglo-Saxon queen, so I had to think of another name for her. Rock Star Tailor had many suggestions, as she always does (she suggested "Gallipoo" for Bellamy), and Hardingfele liked Onyx when I tossed it out, but I wanted to call her Josquin after my hero, Josquin de Prez. Not only could he compose incredible sacred music, he also often wrote the lyrics and incorporated acrostics into them, so that the first letter of each line would spell something out. (In at least one case, a naughty expression!) His secular pieces are as hilarious as his sacred pieces are transcendent. Some are suggestive, and one is a shout-out to all his drinking buddies followed by his assurance that he can outdrink them all. Also, he was renowned for being able to sing a very low F. One of his pieces is a clever canon written in a circle, with a poem in Latin giving the oblique instructions in how to sing it, and then it's just gorgeous. Why are people not so smart and well-rounded today? Two letters: TV.

So I decided to name my ePlush puppy Josquin d'Onyx, but wouldn't you know that ePlush does not let you use an apostrophe in your animal's name? (Would that real human names were so strict! Then children would not be saddled with atrocities like Z'Xayla and X'Zavier, actual names I have seen at, not a website for the weak of heart.) Apparently a hyphen is allowed, which seems sort of random, so I could have named my puppy Josquin-Onyx or even just mushed the two names together into something worthy of Big Bad Baby Names: Josquonyx. But I ended up naming her the rather awkward Josquin de Onyx. So now she joins Sylvia the Pseudo-Hedgehog and Bellamy the Horse online, and many other stuffies in my house offline. (No TV, either. Maybe I'll be the next Josquin de Prez! Or at least the next Tolkein, since he and I share a birthday.) I suppose Josquin de Onyx isn't so bad, maybe just a little pretentious. I know of ePlush animals named Little Moo (guess what species she is), Popsicle, and potentially a tiger named Oskeer. (If I am even spelling that correctly. Hardingfele will probably let me know.)

So here's a little poem for my new puppy:

Just a puppy
Onyx black, it's
Soft and cuddly
Quite a racket!
Unless you are
In thrall to cute
New animals,
Don't chase this loot!
One's not enough;
Next thing you do,
You'll have your own
X-tra soft little zoo!

Famous Hat

Monday, January 5, 2009

Gamelon and On

How does this trucking company know me so well? Although shouldn't that be "Putzmistress"?

Here is what T gave me for my birthday. It's a necklace. Isn't it lovely? It's Capricorn the Mergoat, or as I said in a previous post, the same thing as a Chi'wara. That's how I prefer to think of myself: Capricorn the Chi'wara!

Last night on the community radio station (the one where all women are represented unless they are prolife), I heard the weirdest thing: a solo violin playing with a gamelon. Talk about opposites! A solo violinist shows off his skill, while a gamelon is a bunch of people playing together in unison. To add to their insignificance, there are usually dancers during a gamelon concert, but I watch the gamelon players. As if the music weren't hypnotic enough, they move together in a mesmerizing synchronicity as they play. The gamelon is way cool, but is it an instrument or an orchestra? Perhaps the closest Western analogy is a handbell concert, where the individual members must work together as a system.

Stephen Jay Gould once wrote a fantastic essay on the question of when a system becomes an individual, using the Portuguese Man O' War as an example. Some consider it a colony of individual animals, but each animal has a function, such as protection, flotation, digestion, or reproduction, so in a sense they act like organs. Like a single gamelon player or a single handbell player, they could not function alone. That got me thinking: at what point does a society cease to be a collection of individuals and start to become a single system in which no individual member can exist alone? One bacteria cell exists on its own, like a person who grows her own food; but I only take care of one function in society, just like my cells only perform one function. I don't know how to produce my own food, although at this point I still could learn how. In a few centuries, will we become so differentiated that society will be a giant Portuguese Man O' War?

Famous Hat

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Zorionak Niretako!

Today I, Famous Hat, am celebrating the anniversary of my 29th birthday! As often happens on one's birthday, I was feeling slightly reflective and thought about my great-aunt Josephine. I never knew her, since my grandfather was the second-youngest of thirteen children while she was the second-oldest, and he did not marry young, so she was long dead by the time I came along. Grandpa always told me that I was "beautiful" and "the spittin' image" of his sister Josephine, so I was saying to T and Richard Bonomo over lunch that I imagined she was already a young woman by the time my grandfather was old enough to remember her, so she probably just dropped in now and then and brought him presents. T said maybe she was a flapper, so that really sent my imagination flying.

The place: Broad Channel, a small island in Jamaica Bay, Queens, New York. The time: The Roaring 20's. Josie, a young girl with a stylish blonde bob and a hat with elaborate feathers, is heading to the streets of Harlem, on her way to see Cab Calloway at the Cotton Club. As a small girl she was very poor, since her parents had just come over from Ireland, but Prohibition has been good to them. Her uncle Marty Ganigan has a cousin in Canada who meets him in Jamaica Bay with a boatload of booze, which he then sells in the city. Her father works at Tammany Hall for the city's Democratic machine. (Daley, eat your heart out!) So Josephine Mary O'Hat is now solidly middle-class, and after she goes out to the speakeasies with her girlfriends on Saturday night, she will meet her family for Mass and bring a small present to her baby brother Alfie, who is her particular favorite. After all, with her job she can afford to give him little trinkets.

How much of this is truth? Does it matter? As my grandfather would say, a good story is better than a true one. God rest his soul, he would have been 106 or so in a few days. We were very similar, being two Capricorns, but apparently I looked just like Josephine, so she must have been breathtakingly gorgeous.

Yesterday T and I made a pilgrimage to "Svedish Söperstår," the Swedish home furnishings store. Everything there was very cute and had little Swedish names, like you could buy a stuffed soccer ball named Sparka, a set of drawers called Andy, or his smaller brother Erik. My favorite thing about Svedish Söperstår is that, as you go down the escalator, your shopping cart can travel alongside you on the shopping cart escalator. There is even a cafe where you can get Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce, natch. Then we went to a Medieval-themed restaurant, let's call it the Middle Rages, on a whim when we saw the giant cement castle from the highway. I said I had always been curious about the Middle Rages, and T admitted she had too, so we entered the heavy wooden doors. The guy behind us in line said you were supposed to buy tickets online ahead of time, but when we got up to the front, not only did they sell us tickets, they even let me in free for my birthday! (Technically it was my birthday eve, but I pointed out that in the Middle Ages they were very into Eves, like Christmas Eve and Easter Eve.) I had brought in a couple sprigs of "lucky bamboo" (which is technically a dracaena) from Svedish Söperstår, and one of the characters from the Middle Rages said in an extravagant British accent (to sound as if he were from Medieval Spain, since that's how they talked back then), "She has brought her own plants." I said they were for my birthday, and he said, "Oh, that explains everything!" and every time he saw me, he made some comment about my birthday bamboo.

We actually upgraded to the Royal Treatment at the Middle Rages for a nominal fee, so we got front row seats to watch the "knights" fight with each other. Sparks literally flew during the swordplay, and lances shattered during the jousting. The horses were beautiful Andalucians, and one of them did a very cool dance in which he pranced, went sideways and backwards, and did fancy jumps, all to music. There was also a falconer who got his falcon to do tricks. T and I were put in the Medieval kingdom of Navarre, which seemed appropriate since I can speak (about five words of) Basque. There were no utensils, so we had to drink our soup out of bowls and tear our fowl apart with our bare hands. The authentic Medieval laser light show, rock music, and fog machine were nice touches. Dessert was "pastries of the castle," which were apple pies which looked suspiciously like those peddled by a well-known fast food restaurant. Meanwhile, vendors wandered the crowds selling Medieval light-up sticks. I asked our serving wench if she were a monkey wench or a crescent wench, but she just blinked at me and replied that she was a regular wench. She did, however, bring a cup of water for me to put the bamboo into. (In New Orleans I remember fondly walking into Jean Lafitte's with Nola the Papyrus, setting her on the counter, and saying, "I'll have a Hurricane and the plant will have a water," and the waitress complied cheerfully. Waitresses are, in my experience, very kind to plants. They are not disruptive, but I doubt if they are generous tippers.) We got commemorative paper crowns and "cheering banners" (Navarre is #1!), and I rescued a couple of commemorative plastic goblets shaped like horses which the people next to us had abandoned. When I saw the guy from in line and he said, "Good for you! You got in!" I told him that it was free for my birthday, and his jaw about hit the floor. I would highly recommend the Middle Rages for your next birthday if you are jonesin' for a truly authentic commercial Medieval experience. Just tell 'em Birthday Bamboo Lady sent you. (I did not go for the Knighting, a common birthday treat for an additional fee which gets you a commemorative photo of yourself being knighted by the King and a shout-out during the feast.)

Here is a little movie of Gertie and Eva, two girl robots who moonlight (or should I say sunlight since these are their day jobs?) as a bottle opener and a can opener, singing me happy birthday in both English and Basque. (The subject of this post should translate as "Happy birthday to me" in Basque if I am remembering correctly from my time in the Basque country back when I was twenty, nine years ago, give or take eight years.)

Famous Hat