Friday, December 26, 2008

Miscellaneous: Christmas Tree Bedhead

I stood this evening admiring our Christmas tree, a nicely proportioned noble fir. It has old-fashioned lights on it and many old-fashioned ornaments. I'm especially fond of the German glass birds we have from the late 1950s (my mother was in the habit of labeling each ornament with the date and place it was acquired, a custom my family continues) and the delicately scratched and patinated glass balls made by Shiny Brite (see photo), but I also like the quirky assortment of newer ornaments and other things we put on our tree.

The oddest are from my early years in Tokyo when I had little money. We made do with paper pinwheels and amulets from shrines, with plastic animals that the drugstores gave away to advertise products, and with other worthless trinkets we've kept and hang each year with the same reverence accorded ornaments passed down from my grandmother's generation and before--well, almost the same reverence. The room was dark, lit only by the lights on the tree, the glow softly reflected in the polished maple floor. My son came into the room a little after me--we were both on our way up to bed--and I said to him (with satisfaction in my voice) "A pretty good tree this year, huh? It's very nicely shaped." He stood beside me, examining the tree. Then I said "Except for that one branch on the left there that's sticking out a bit too far...." I pointed. He thought for a moment and said "Yeah, it looks like my hair in the morning." He was right.

It was sunny and clear today in Northern California (if cold), but news reports are full of storms--snow and ice--throughout the country, with many people stranded in airports from the nation's capital to Covington, to Dallas, to the West Coast. I wonder who made it home this year and who didn't?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Miscellaneous: Holidays

It is my considered opinion that holidays are often more trouble than they're worth.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Miscellaneous: Another Perfect Rainbow

Another perfect rainbow this evening. Santa Rosa is charmed. If anything, this one is better than the one of two days ago. Sadly, the charm is likely to last only a few days more.

Today the rainbow was again complete and double. I had time to take a proper photograph--with a camera, rather than my iPhone. You can easily see the secondary bow, the inverted colors in the outer bow, and the way the sky is brighter within the main rainbow than without (although the latter is less obvious in the photo than it was in actuality). Very cool. 

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Books I'm Reading: Gardens and Music

In the middle of Michael Pollan's Second Nature (1991, Grove Press). So far, interesting. On gardens and man's relationship to them in contrast with natural landscapes. More a collection of essays than an extended argument of any kind. A bit lacking in cultural breadth (exclusively the Western point of view here), but a good read nevertheless. More when I've finished it.

Just finished This Is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel J. Levitin (Plume, 2006). Although the author's conclusions are never startling, they are always interesting. He has a lot to say about why the music of our youth stays with us the way it does--a subject much on my mind in the past year. The power certain songs have to immediately bring back a moment in time, a specific place, or a specific person, can be astonishing.

To this day, hearing Petula Clark's Downtown transports me to a small apartment in Brooklyn, New York. I'm in the kitchen/utility area. The song is on the radio--a portable, blue, marine band model in a leather case that my father bought because we had a small sailboat at the time. There is a fold-up clothes drying rack in the room. The horizontal metal rods are sheathed in bright yellow plastic with longitudinal ridges. Atop the yellow rack sits a tiny calico kitten--we called her Marimekko because of her coloring--batting at my fingers. I would have been about four at the time, the cat about four weeks. The year, 1964.

Joni Mitchell's Rainy Night House, from the live Miles of Aisles album is as powerful, transporting me equally vividly to another place (Ohio), another time (1975 or so), another cast of characters. Certain lines resonate especially strongly. "You sat up all night and watched me/Just to see, who in the world I might be" is one. The high notes Mitchell hits after the line "I sing in the upstairs choir" literally give me goose bumps every time I hear them. I remember the day I first heard it, upstairs in my room in my mother's house in Dayton, a house that had been her mother's. The music had arrived in a letter from a friend, on a Memorex cassette tape. Coincidentally, it's raining in Santa Rosa tonight and this book mentions Joni Mitchell in a number of places.
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