Friday, January 22, 2021

Knots of a Single


Friday morning ritual to meet up my dad up in the Gunks.  I’d ordered a used book on my dad’s recommendation which I decided to finish off this morning in anticipation of our walk up there: “The Northern Shawangunks, An Ecological Survey” by Erik Kiviat. It’s only a hundred pages long with a lot of pictures and tables.  Written in the eighties, it had a homemade quality that was at one and the same time cumbersome to read and endearingly personal to flip through.  Now I know that those strange looking pines on the tops of the gunks are rare pitch pine barons.  Now I understand there may be some small patches of old growth hemlock to consider by the cliff-sides.  There are other sky-lakes, I’ve never heard of.  And the wonderful naturalist my father introduced me to a few month’s back, Paul Huth, is quoted extensively in this book, on matters of local botany. 

I brought the book along and some plastic flowers my dad said he wanted, a book of Li Shangyin’s poetry that had just arrived and made myself ready around eight to head up to meet him at the Minnewaska upper parking lot.  In the other room I heard my wife, clearing her throat, a morning ritual.  She isn’t normally up this early and I brought her some coffee and invited her, as I had last night,  to join me this morning for a walk around lake Minnewaska.  And without too much fuss, she decided to come along. 

Uncharacteristically early this morning.  I’ve been late eight out of nine times we’ve rendezvoused.  But this time we were ahead of time and with no one save a park ranger in a pickup in the parking lot we sat back and admired the extraordinary view out to the Catskills off in the distance.  Many of the peaks were covered in snow and the sky was bright blue.  It all looked magnificent. 


Dad showed up and we snapped some photos and made our way to the carriage trailhead which was completely covered in ice and snow.  I don’t think it had occurred to any of us that the path would be iced over and impassable.  My father tested the road and wisely piped up that it didn’t seem safe.  My wife needed no further convincing and a quick chat with the ranger confirmed that all the trails were like that and that it would be slow going in any direction.  We enjoyed the guest house bathroom and the diorama of the park they have laid out, some of the stuffed animal representations, the fisher, the twin timber rattlers, the old photos of Wildamere.  But by now it was clear we’d need to  go somewhere else, somewhere down out of the Trapps, where the snow was already long gone. 


Later we parked in the head of the River to Ridge trail, just outside of New Paltz, there by the Wallkill River.  I’d always wanted to see what the river does on this western side, after it vanishes along old Huguenot Street on the eastern shore.  I guessed that all those mighty trees, growing out like knots of a single purpose were those riverside silver maples that you see further down on the trail by the bridge over the Wallkill.  We were three on a broad carriage road and I saw a lady approaching and I bid her good morning.  Her reply was “move over.”  It took me a pregnant pause to realize that she wanted us to give her space on the trail and that she hadn’t asked, she’d demanded.  My father and my wife were oblivious, but I let out an audible “Please!', and vexed about this slight needlessly for the remainder of the walk.

Friday, 01/22/21

Working Day For Him


Got a package the other day that was a well wrapped rectangle, too big, too heavy to be a book.  I could tell from the shipping address that it must have come from my godmother in Vermont.  I opened to find a lovely old Chinese print of two birds on a flowered stem.  My wife confirmed that the calligraphy had to do with birds on an almond tree. Remarkably, my wife regarded the print favorably.  She is often a harsh critic of stereotypical Chinese motifs. Inside though, there was no explanatory note so I resolved to ring her and learn more.


Left her a message and she called me back just as I was heading out to do my evening bike ride.  It was 3:50PM.  It was getting dark.  If I waited much beyond twenty minutes I’d likely have to shorten my ride as it would become too dark.  Still I took the call and relaxed into the warmth of her lovely familiar voice.  This, painting, which now hung there in our dining room, was from the estate of a wonderful priest named Father John, whom she had introduced to us when we lived in Hong Kong many years ago.  We went and visited him on Cheung Chao island where he lived and enjoyed the time chatting idly. 


We never properly discussed religion, as I recall.  I would have been willing, but I was likely obsequious as a curtesy.  I can remember him flashing angry once when he discussed the way Filipinas lived in many houses as maids, as a savagery.  He was right.  And I can recall my wife trying to be polite and suggesting that would love to welcome him to our place the next Sunday.  Um, that’s a working day for him, honey. 


I would have enjoyed learning more about his practice and what he saw and what he believed about his mission and the Chinese and the Filipinos he met and all the foreigners like me who’d passed through the Hong Kong on his watch and developed a rapport that let me ask him more about his faith of conversion and the mighty momentum of Chinese civilization, but we never stayed in touch and I never saw him again, after he returned to Vermont.  But now, a reminder of his work, echoed into my life and now my dining space, from something he found meaningful from China evoking a strange section of life when Hong Kong as my home.  

Thursday, 01/21/21

Your Vacuous, Non-Plan


Joe did well today.  I wish you well Joe.  A lot of people do.  Everyone I know is routing for you.  I liked your speech.  It felt like a tonic.  It seemed anchored.  We didn’t need soaring rhetoric.  We needed simple truths.  Just the facts.  Genuine, approachable delivery. I allowed myself to believe that others in the country were also connecting with him in the same way I was.  Seductive, considering our national message of renewal, restart, rebirth, redemption, reconciliation, repetition, manifest. New guy in town, from now on. 

Don?  Shameful, sulking undignified, half message to no one, before boarding his helicopter.  You wouldn’t even mention his successors name.  Be-best Melania.  Stay tan Don.  A fittingly shambolic end to the least impressive attempt at a presidency any living person can remember.  The five people who died at the Capitol that day are your authorship as are the four-hundred thousand lives who passed while you improvised your vacuous, non-plan, lurching from one gut-level impulse to another, ultimately, transparently only really concerned about yourself. 

Amanda Gorman, our national poet, thank you.  You were wonderful.  I don’t believe I watched anyone from that day a second time.  But you, I did.  I liked the way you used your hands and used space when speaking.  I like how you drew from a myriad traditions and made it your own.  I love that you were fiendishly crafting this poem of yours, when you had to adapt and integrate the insurrection-of-the-duped into what it was you had to say.  “The Hill We Climb”, active tense in progress, forever, leading as other’s have led “way up on a hill, let’s try it one-time y’all” as Sly told the crowd.  I’m glad we have poets like Ms. Gorman.  Poets that are just starting out.  Glad the seventy-seven-year-old had the courage to let her go ahead on.


Noble, to see the former presidents on the dais, with no power other than the dignity of their presence.  The man who was till only minutes ago the president, undignified, illegitimate in absence. A ceremony to transfer power that I still believe in.  I now magically agree with most of the nation that Biden is now in power.  Don didn't prove necessary to cast this spell.  He is now out of power and that spell is finally broken.  May Joe get a few base-hits in the coming weeks.  Good luck to you President Biden.  Good luck to you Vice President Harris.  May the wind blow long at your backs. 

Wednesday, 01/20/21

To the Crime Scene


Strange evening last night.  We returned home from an exhausting thirteen hour round trip drive to the border at Niagara Falls and my wife immediately received a distressed call from a friend of hers, in China.  Her daughter, was staying alone at her husbands house in Poughkeepsie and someone had tried to break in to the home.  We called the police as she asked.  They were already aware.  And soon we were suited back up for the outside and on our way to the crime scene across the river.  


We pulled up and there were two or three squad cars and some Vassar College campus security.  I talked to a security team member and he suggested we wait in the car.  Around that time a cop car pulled up behind us and we were effectively stuck there anyway.  Eventually a cop came to inquire and we explained that we were friends of the family.  They said they’d let us in in shortly.  We were worried because the poor girl was only just arrived in the U.S. and didn’t speak English comfortably. 

After watching the cops convene by flashlight and lead a dog around the area we were finally told we could go in and my wife and I introduced ourselves to this frightened young lady.  The kitchen door was smashed.  A large plant pot had been tossed through.  Someone entered and made off with a wallet.  Fortunately no one was hurt.  We’d offered to take the girl to our place so she’d feel safe, but hen her step dad arrived, and surveyed the scene it was clear he wanted privacy which we granted them. 

One more reason to feel shame about my homeland just now.  What a mess.  Someone feels brazen enough to smash a glass door open in a dense suburban, off-campus environment.  Someone watched and discerned that she was alone, and they could probably get away with whatever they wanted quickly.  Someone gone beyond the point of caring. Here’s a young person just a few weeks into America, into Poughkeepsie and they can only surmise that it is a Hobbesian nightmare.    




Tuesday, 01/19/21

The Foreseeable Be Monochrome


Third time now this way, through Liberty, over to Seventeen, up to Binghamton. Instead of staying west on 17, today we continued north to Corning and on to Auburn.  Auburn was not exactly on the way.  But it was the home of the New York Governor, New York Senator and Secretary of State, the man for whom we can thank for Alaska, Mr. William Seward.  My little one is doing a report for history class on the man and though the museum was closed for Covid, I thought we could swing by and take a quick look.  This is how Walter Starhr author of “Seward, Lincoln’s Indispensable Man”, describes Auburn New York, at the time Seward moved there in 1840:  “. . . the many small businesses in and about Auburn, including saw mills, carpenter shops, cabinet makers, flour mills and cloth factories.  Auburn was an eager, expanding entrepreneurial town, just the place for a young lawyer to start life.”


I had scheduled a call and it extended, of course, till the time we drove into Auburn.  About thirty-minutes earlier, I’d handed the driving responsibility over to the Mrs. We drove through some remarkable pine barrens completely covered in many feet of snow, testifying to the completely different climate they have here than we do down state.  As we hit the Auburn main street, heading into town I told the person I was speaking with that I’d need to call them back.  We drove right past the museum the first time and then turned and parked inside.  My little one was only now aware of why it is we’d stopped in this small town.  She exhaled, loudly and reluctantly agreed to walk around the building with me. There were cars but no signs of life inside and after a few pics we drove on.

Why does it always snow and rain and generally wax overcast when I travel up this way?  I have some vaguely sunny memories of our day driving about in Buffalo but all the time en route there and back seems to have been grey.  Today is grey. Any memory I have of Auburn will for the foreseeable be monochrome. 


By the time we reach the Niagara Falls border crossing, the older one informs us that she’ll be at least another thirty minutes.  We’d intended to go and get whatever Buffalo’s best pizza is and chow it on the ride home.  In an instant we decide to zip back into Buffalo and get it now.  Twenty-minutes in and we’re pulling up into Boccee Club Pizza which was well-reviewed.  We loaded up two pies and some mozzarella sticks into the trunk.  The lady at Starbucks next door spilled half my doppio on to the counter and smiled and apologized but didn’t think to refill it until I mentioned to her that this would be nice. 


Back at the boarder, my daughter is still progressing. “I’ll be there soon”, she texts.  Right.  “How soon?  When, exactly?” Wait.  “Twenty-minutes.”  She must be having a very long good bye with her boyfriend.  When she pops out the border I go out in the rain to meet her and help her with her luggage.  It’s wonderful to see her again.  She seems, an adult.  In the car we dive into the two pies.  One is better than the other.  I’d give Boccee and A-.  Still, I eat many slices happily filling myself.  Driving home along 90 it has started to snow, just like last time. 

Monday 01/18/21

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Consider It A Blessing


William Seward was born near what is today Woodburry Common and after some early days as student upstate and then a teacher down in Georgia, where he may have fathered a child, he made his life in state of New York, moving his family up to Auburn New York near Syracuse.  The little one is doing a paper on this member of Lincoln’s team of rivals, his secretary of state and the gent we have to thank for Alaska.  But back in 1855 when she was to write about him it was all about the Kansas and Nebraska Act and the violation of the Missouri Compromise and the repugnant Fugitive Slave Law.  Despite this being a time when Congress people beat one another to within an inch of their lives in the halls of Congress, it was interesting to note that Seward apparently threw Washington D.C. parties in those days that were well attended and enjoyed by the likes of Jefferson Davis. 

We need to drive up to Buffalo again.  Yes.  Buffalo, again.  Someday I’ll wish my older daughter would visit.  Tomorrow she’s asking me to pick her up.  Consider it a blessing.  On the way to Buffalo, you could pass through Auburn.  It isn’t open to the public but you could check it out.  If I ask the little one, she’ll say “not needed.”   But if just show up there, well, there you are.  You can take a photo.  We have also had a look and I think I have identified one of the landmark spots for Buffalo pizza.  It appears to be a thing.  We’ll pick up the older one, and dial in an order and in spite of my wife’s tidiness, we’ll have a feast on the drive back.


Yesterday down the trail towards Gardiner near the McMansion bluff one and then another owl took off above me and the soared around and around over the swamp. I suspect they were barred owls.  I kept hoping they might spy something worth diving down for.  At one point I imagined one of them was flying back, in hopes of returning to the same tree they set off from.  But then, in an instant I imagined she had spied me and this meant she banked another turn as I was still there contaminating things. 

Listening to Trouble’s “This Is the Modern World” show today.  Had it on while I wrote.  Took it out to the kitchen and listened to her spin some Ethiopian reggae and then some Angela Munoz that sounded for all the world like Amy Winehouse while I made everyone veggie tacos.  Today the trail was so crowded.  It’s overcast and cold but people need an egress.  Everyone seemed to want to be outside.  I guess its also a three-day weekend, come to think of it.  Martin Luther King Jnr., indeed.  MLK seems a proper meditation for this cacophonous turning point we're all staring down this week. 

Sunday, 01/17/21

Afterglow of Our Call


The cohesive dynastic narrative, tracing one large continuous period to another, Qin to Han, Tang to Song, leaves a yawning gap for the period between Han and Sui.  The Wei, The Six Dynasties, The Sixteen Kingdoms.  I’ve been interested in this “early medieval” period for while now.  Decentralized, but unlike the fall of Rome, the realm was still intellectually electric, this is when Buddhism for example, properly begins to metastasize throughout the civilization. The Cambridge History of China series, had never published the volume for this period until just recently.  It is during this period, in the Eastern Jin (the second of the Six Dynasties) that Tao Yuan Ming ‘returned home’ and cultivated the life of an aesthetic scholar recluse.

Thursday morning distracted, I read “In Reply to Aide P’ang”” and thought immediately of a friend with whom I’d spoke on the phone, not so long before. The client call faded in importance as my eyes read once and then again, this fearless attestation to friendship.  Transcribing it in full, I shot it off to my chum suggesting the afterglow of our call:


"I read the poem with which you presented me over and over and could not stop even if I had wished.  Since you became my neighbour, winter has a second time merged into spring.  Sincerely we have formed an excellent relationship, swiftly we have become old friends.   There is a common saying: 'Several meetings create friendship'.  How much our feeling surpasses this!   Yet human affairs are prone to go awry, and so we have to speak of parting.  Over what Master Yang sighed at, surely I have no ordinary grief.  I have been ill for many years and no longer write.  From the first I was not gifted and now I am old and sick as well.  Yet since I always follow the Chou rites' principle of reciprocation, I shall rely on my affection for you after our parting.  


Why should it need an old friend to appreciate one?

A 'lowered canopy' can do away with previous words.

There is a guest who approves my tastes;

Always he admires my woods and garden.

In our talk and accord there are no common modes;

What we discuss are the books of the sages.

Sometimes we have several gallons of wine

Which drinking at leisure, we enjoy ourselves.

Truly I am a scholar in retirement

And no longer involved with going to and fro

'In things the new, with men it is the old'

So with a feeble brush much may be conveyed.

Our feelings may reach beyond ten thousand li.

While our bodies are barred by rivers and hills.

May you be careful of yourself!

When will our next meeting be?


The spring of 423 AD


This morning, Saturday morning, I allowed myself the luxury of just reading.  I finished off the two volumes of Tao’s poetry.  Compiled by the late A. R. Davis, much of his commentary tends to be about dismissing arguments for one or another date for the particular poems. He must have been an angular professor. Though he does rise to wonder in his commentary on this particular piece, stating: “This poem may indeed rank as an outstanding poem of friendship in a literature which is very rich in examples of this categories.” My wife informs me that the very mention of the poet’s name invokes a feeling of withdrawal from the coils of public life to quiet resignation of a simple life in the country to any educated Chinese person.  And there are many wonderful invocations of this sentiment to consider and reflect upon personally.  Happily there is also a racy, erotically charged side of the recluse, also on display in “Quieting the Affections” that reads more like “Gypsy Woman” than the following of the Dao. 

"She lifts the red curtain and seats her self correctly;

Lightly touches the shirll cithern for her own pleasure. 

She releases the abundandt loveliness of her sldender fingers

And stirs the dancing of her wihite sleeves

She flashes her beautiful eyes in a circling glance

One acannot tell weather she is smiling or not

The tune is almost half over. 

Tha sun sinks by the wester room . . . "

A. R. Davis comments:  "The incongruity of the pice among T'ao's surviving work has been apparent not merely to modern Western readers.  It drew a mild reproach from T'al's early biographer and editor, Hsiao T'ung, who described it in his preface to the collected works as the only 'slight flaw in the white jade' . . . "

Looking over the stack on my desk.  I’ve lined up ten or so China titles I’ve gobbled up recently. To left are sixteen or so titles that await being read.  Chronologically?  Perhaps I should proceed that way.  In which case the earliest title I should move to is “The Four Books – The Great Learning, The Analects, Mencius and Maintaining Perfect Balance.”  Written nearly eight hundred years before Tao Yuan Ming, these fundamental classics are arranged in this volume to illustrate some of the great Song scholar Zhu Xi’s (1130 – 1200) study notes.  These became the must read, orthodox interpretation for all the subsequent exam students during the Ming and the Qing.  Holding this little volume, I’m reminded that scholars spent decades trying to memorize the contents, and later Zhu Xi’s critique.  To think of all the eyes that have gazed upon these words.

Saturday, 01/16/20

Saturday, January 16, 2021

From Brownsville to Canarsie

My mom’s worried about getting the vaccine.  I’m worried about her getting the vaccine.  Sounds like the place where my dad and stepmom live has them covered.  Sounds like my stepdad who is a spritely 91 can get it through the Veterans Administration.  But my mom is getting the run around.  If it was China you’d know what to do, even though everyone else would be doing the same, you’d start working your network to ask people in your circle to perhaps help you out somehow. And one assumes people do the same over here as well, if they can.  

Apparently, the original messaging about availability considered providing for a pool of people seventy-five and older.  And then, just recently the Trump administration, the font of so much sagacity, has now decreed that the pool for first shots should be larger by tens of millions, lowering the threshold to people sixty-five and older without increasing the supply.  I don’t begrudge anyone getting the shot who knows precisely what it is the Trump administration does that isn’t ultimately self-serving, but here we are with too many people and not enough doses.  Sure enough, there was piece in today’s paper explaining that New York was facing a crisis in this regard. 


My little one and I were all set on ordering pizza this evening.  But when it came time to call Rino Pizza and I considered the online menu, I was disappointed to see that they would be closed through the weekend.  I remembered this from last year.  We’ve had this place for a decade, but last year was the first time we lived here through the winter and, as this is a college town, many places close down during winter break.  There are, we discovered, many other pizzerias in town.  And soon a Sicilian pie, a calzone, an eggplant parm, and a two-liter bottle of Diet Pepsi were on their way over. 

Ehh.  I won’t get that Sicilian again.  No.  Too bready.  Sorry.  The little one and my wife said they liked it.  I felt the way my wife must do when we say positive things about very bad jianbingguozi in Beijing.  With far-away eyes I told them of driving from Brownsville to Canarsie in 1989 to get a slice at the little pizzeria there that served the most extraordinary Sicilian slices.  The tomato cuts they draped the top with must have been grown fresh and the dough had just the right crunch.  Back in the summer of 1984, I worked at Paragon Pool Supply in Pleasantville, and one of the guys used to go out to a pizzeria in Hawthorn and bring back calzones that made the world stop when you bit into them, and, and . . . the search continues.  We’ll try another local place next week.

Friday, 01/15/21

Thursday, January 14, 2021

You Obfuscate And Try

Oooh.  I’m enjoying this version of “Yesterdays.”  The bassist Sam Jones and the worthy counterpart, also on bass Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, (NHOP) are gently coaxing each other along on this track from the 1977 album “Double Bass.”  Unlike some of the other cuts, which have Billy Higgins and Albert Heath on percussion and Philip Catherine on guitar, this is strictly the two mournful stand-up bass, calling responding.  It came to an end as I was typing this and I immediately put it on again and though I’m not sure, I think I can necessarily tell the lyrical NHOP from the sullen Philips. 


Are those flakes out there in the predawn dark?  My first glance at suggested there was no such precipitation.  Refreshing the page, there is, in fact rain forecast for the next few hours with the temperature just above freezing.  We won’t get any accumulation, certainly but it can’t help but change your mood, to what, I’m not quite sure, when you gaze into the dark and see flakes slowly drifting downward.   Now that I lean up and consider the grass, I can see there is a light, white covering.

Impeached again.  No one wants to be associated with you any longer, Donald.  Sulking, pouting, raging, lonely, punished, sanctioned, indicted, one imagines that you’ll continue thrashing till you're through.  Blood, cop-blood, supporter-blood, American blood most assuredly on your hands and even though you fly to Texas, even though you fly to Florida, even though you obfuscate and try to change the channel and create a new distraction, these people will follow you around like so many Banquo-ghosts, ensuring that no one will ever be comfortable around you again.  They will always be there, hovering over your stooped shoulders.   

I’m staring over at the pillow on the floor.  When I have completed writing this paragraph I will turn out the lights and sit there and breathe in and out and count from one to ten over and over and do my best to think about nothing, except perhaps one to ten and the willful effort to slow my heart rate.  But I’ve already had a strong cup of coffee and then some.  I suspect my aorta will be confused by these mixed messages. 




Thursday, 01/14/21

Find A New Morsel

My morning attention focus is not unlike the little grey squirrels down there in front of me going looking here and there for a sunflower seed to grasp, crack, open and consume.  Then, look around, check for owls, check for foxes and reach out and repeat this process.  I am not eating.  I was up from three in the morning on one call and then another and I’ve read all the relevant articles concerning the aftermath of the riot in the Washington Post, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Politico and Slate. And now, I keep returning to one or another web site expecting to see new “news.”  There are many other things I should be working on.  But I can’t help returning, expecting to find a new morsel. 

Cloudy day, but it should clear up.  I’ve got the master bop bass player Sam Philips “Something in Common” on which we have Blue Mitchell, Cedar Walton and the ferocious Bob Berg on this 1977 release.  When I went to check who had written the title track, the Washington Post homepage appeared when I toggled to the Chrome browser.  I noticed there was a live update on the Washington Post home page, in red.  Yes, I’m going now to shuck that sunflower seed.  Ahh, but it is only reporting that a new poll finds a majority of Americans favor impeachment, which had already been reported over on Politico about an hour ago. 


I had a call with one old friend today.  A tease.  We have had one, two and then a third false start call.  He left a message for me.  I left a message for him.  He called the other night when we were driving into town to pick up some take-out.  Broadcast aloud in the car, he got to say “hi” to my wife.  I don’t suppose they’ve spoken for ten years or so.  I steered the conversation to the construction of his house which I figured my wife would enjoy. But within minutes we were home and needed to put these Vietnamese bahn mi on the table.


And so, just like it was a business engagement we scheduled a slot in each other’s calendar for today and hopped on zoom together. He looked great with his Covid facial hair and he noting my Covid pony tail.  Interesting to organize the narrative of the last twelve months or so with someone who understands much of the arc of your life.  I’m not ashamed to share what was painful.  I don’t need to make excuses for what was wonderful. Business gnawed at the periphery for both of us though and it wasn’t long till we were talking about when we could schedule a time to continue.

Later that evening after, after I got an employment agreement out and reworked a proposal, all of which took much longer than expected and along with a cacophonous board call ate through the time that was to have been spent on a bike ride, I gazed again at the front page of the Times, the Washington Post, and Politico, noticing now that our president had definitively, been impeached a second time, and another old friend with whom I’ve been playing phone-tag called. When I heard the ring, I was anxious.  Who is calling me?  I’ve no time for interruptions.  And I saw his name on my phone.  And I breathed.  And I heard my wife cooking.  And I took the call, and pivoting swiftly, I sat on the couch and enjoyed another fragment of a conversation with another extraordinary friend out there in the Bay Area until my wife suggested that the dinner was on the table. 

Wednesday, 01/13/21

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Nothing But The Lawn

Odd yell out in the forest.  Five-twenty in the morning and its pitch black.  It was an animal I suspect.  But it could have been a woman.  Unnerving, I was frightened suddenly.  It didn’t sound like my daughter, though I walked out in the hall to be sure.  It didn’t sound like me wife, either.  I thought of my older daughter.  But she isn’t here right now.  I put on the back yard flood lights.  Nothing but the lawn and the cedar tree out there to consider.  And now I am on two conference calls at once.  Both muted, turned down low. 


A book of Wang Anshi’s poems arrived yesterday.  David Hinton writes with brio about Chinese spirituality, about medieval poetry and in the introduction to this collection he points out that the great prime minister, who’d done so much to change Chinese state craft, took up a wondering life of Chan Buddhist reflection, meandering around, unkempt, writing immortal poetry form the age of fifty-five, which of course made me reflect upon my own fifty-four years of life.  I put down the book and sat there on the can thinking about that for a moment before commencing these calls.

My wife and I had a nice walk out on the trail yesterday afternoon.  I proposed trying to learn a classical Chinese poem, one from Wang Wei, one from Tao Yuan Ming, one from Du Fu.  I could memorize them and try to recite them at dinner.  But my real objective was for being able to use them in the wild, when I have my next Beijing cab ride, whenever that might be.  The poems chosen, therefore can’t be obscure.  I’m looking for “four score and twenty years ago . . .” -type familiarity.  Maybe more appropriately familiar for my homeland would be “Flintstones, meet the Flintstones . . .”

I tried to recite the Wang Wei poem a "On the Mountain Holiday Thinking of my Brothers in Shandong" (九月九日忆山东兄弟) over lunch just now.  I'd finished my bowl of papaya and banana and the Mrs. asked me to read one aloud.  It always sounds a bit absurd when you read along with tonal markers and inadvertently exaggerate the rising and the falling.  My little one speaks well, but I’m never quite sure how well she reads in Chinese.  Certainly, better than I but that’s not saying so much.  She only flubbed two or three of the fifty characters in Tao Yuan Ming’s “Drinking Wine, Number 5.”  She’d left “Chinese” middle school after grade six and literacy is less firmly anchored than for her older sister who left at the beginning of high school.  I'll let you know when I'm able to do one of these from memory.  

Tuesday, 01/12/21

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Clay Pellet Hemorrhaged


My younger daughter’s New Year’s resolution was to go veg for six months.  On the first day of her new regimen we visited a deli and I got a tuna salad sandwich and she an eggplant parm.  But ever since, I’ve been preparing vegie meals and joining along, abstaining from flesh.  I’d spent ten years as a vegetarian once, from the age of seventeen to twenty-seven.  And when I moved to Shanghai for what was to be a one-year assignment at the age of twenty-seven and sat down to stewed cabbage and white rice while the lazy-susan spun around with half a dozen enticing delicacies, night after night, at the table where everyone in our facility ate, I caved after day ten or so.  What a wonderful year of eating that turned out to be. 


The older daughter has been a veg or years.  When she’s here I necessarily make a veg version of whatever it is I’m cooking.  She’s been up in Toronto with her boyfriend this past week.  My wife made a “creative” veg entry for us all last Wednesday, and the sideways glance my younger one shot me made clear that it wasn’t working for her.  “Can you make dinner tomorrow?  Sure.  Italian one night.  Indian the next.  I attempted vegie burgers on Saturday.  And tonight, running out of new cuisines, I tried to make some sucaide Chinese dishes. 

Most things, like the broccoli and garlic or the sweet and sour brussels sprouts are things I’ve tried before.  I got it in my head to try madoufu, which, unless you’ve spent some time in Beijing you are probably not familiar with.  Made from fermented soybeans with a thick, funky taste, it isn’t at all like tofu.  I had to find a recipe online in Chinese and translate it.  Close.  But my madofu was a failed experiment.  I didn’t have all the proper ingredients (cooking in 'lamb oil' kinda renders the veg assignation null anyway, doesn't it?) and my creation ended up more like salty soy-mush.   My mapo doufu proved a closer approximation.  

If you want to buy a wrist-rocket, you can’t in the State of New York.  They’ve got them there on Amazon, but I was prohibited from sending one to my home.  I opted for the smaller toy one they have that is permitted for sale.  It arrived yesterday.  I’ve had it with the surly dear family that return over and over and over again all day long after being yelled at to leave.  I was just starting to get the hang of it when the small hole in the leather patch you pinch around the clay pellet hemorrhaged into a large whole.  Really?  Broken on the second day?  There is a spare patch and now I can’t get the rubber bands back in after taking them out to swap in the new one.  It’s lying there on my desk now with a chopstick on top that isn’t working as a means to push the band through.  The deer have returned.  They are smirking. 




Monday, 01/11/21

Return Our Greeting Odd

I usually miss him.  I only ever usually see the aftermath of his run down over the yard, where I lay out seed.  Today, I caught sight of the barred owl swooping below my window in tandem with rapid evacuation of everyone else who’d been enjoying a meal; mourning doves, squirrels, blue jays.  From what I could tell, the owl left hungry.  Later out on the porch I marveled how abruptly he either turned or landed, coming in at that speed, to have avoided smacking into the house. 


I’ve been heading up to the Trapps most Fridays with my dad for the last few months.  We had a lovely walk along Peter’s Kill the day before last and marveled at how the rushing stream had cut through eons of stone.  The snow still thick up in the hills and we didn’t get far but it was uninhabited and pristine and that was all that really mattered.  Descending from the hills I generally go on and on about how lovely it all is up there with the rest of the family. 

Today, the Mrs. suggested that we head out for a walk somewhere.  She’d suggested the Mills Estate over in Hyde Park, which she’d been reading about, but I reminded her that places like that were unlikely to be welcoming any guests during the pandemic.  I suggested we head up to the Gunks and she liked the idea and our younger one sullenly agreed. 

We’d need something modest.  Something without many people.  Something not too far away.  And I pitched her on a cool walk that was only a few hundred yards after which there would be a great view.  We made our way up over Mohonk and down towards Clove Chapel where I’d been before and after some creative parking we were out amidst the hemlocks.  A family coming our way wouldn’t return our greeting.  Odd.  One hundred yards further along we came upon a solitary young fellow around eight years old.  He was able to answer our “hello” and I suspected he was pouting or at least distancing himself from the grumpy family we’d just passed.  My little one was not interested in taking one step further beyond the view I’d promised on the trail and soon we were back in the car, heading home. 




Sunday 01/10/11

Gut Laughs With Friends


A fine talk this morning with my best pal.  We’ve traded places and he’s living in a hutong in Beijing while I’m back “home” in the state of New York.  He’s got a new job there and all seems to be going well for him, there in the land of hope and optimism.  It was good to unpack the insanity of this past week with someone who shares all the same mile-markers as me, understands the same references.  Murky thoughts I’d felt more than grok-ed were things I could now explore rather than shy away from. 


And we laughed.  It occurred to me in that moment where we were conjuring up some absurd scene where our mutual friend was feasting on something inappropriate with virtual reality goggles on, that gut laughs with friends was certainly one of the Covid casualties I’d endured this past year was the enjoyment of deep laughter with old friends. That isn’t easily or convincingly replicated talking to the just anyone. 


Not sure why but I’ve been listening to one Ron Carter album after another today.  I’ve something on with him, Tony Williams and Tommy Flanagan. Just now and they are playing a convincing, aching “Angel Eyes.”  There is a bottle of wine in my bedroom that was signed by Ron Carter when we saw him play the Blue Note in Beijing and the manager, who hails from the same home town as my wife had him sign ot he bottle for her, as we were attending, on her birthday. 

I’m going to go out for a bike ride in a moment.  And when I come back I have a whole lot of blog posting to do.  I’ve written everything and today, at last, am caught up.  To my side is a glass of Pheasants Tears white, which hails from Sighnahghi, Georgia.  The wine is made in amphora like qvevri, the Georgian vessel used to ferment and store wine.  The wine is white with grape skin and bees wax that they line the walls of the qvevri, with.  A thick consistency my gal didn’t like the look of it.  I think its pretty wonderful, myself. 

Saturday, 01/09/21




Handymen From the Meatheads


Webber Plumbing visited last night.  Nice guy.  Immediately forgot his name. He was here to help with something simple.  I’d researched how to change a water filter.  We have well water and you need to change the filter every now and then.  Mine was way overdue.  And the nice guy I met on Youtube had kindly demonstrated to me, again and again, how to turn off the water and let off the pressure in a drain and make sure I had a bucket for runoff and then simply turn the big blue wrench and loosen the glass vessel that holds the filter.  Ah, but it wouldn’t turn.  That’s an issue.  I’m strong enough, I suppose to make it turn, but this is what separates the handymen from the meatheads.  Having broken my share of things that way I’d reached out to my dad, who is a handyman who came by, reviewed all, pulled on it just the same as I did and said, “you’d better call the plumber.”  If we goofed, we could flood the basement and we’d need to call him anyway. 


The gent showed up late.  That was good because at 1:30PM in the afternoon I went for lovely bike ride.  The dispatcher had suggested that he’d be by around 2:00Pm . . . but it cold be later.  I discounted this immediately and assumed, rightly that I could enjoy by regular fifty-minute bike ride and unlikely be disturbed by the guy calling me mid ride to say he was in the driveway.  As it was, I had plenty of time for a shower, some busy work and the preparation of half the dinner before he arrived. 


Down in the basement he confirmed that all that I’d prepped and all that was assembled from my Youtube preview was all correct.  And he too pulled on the big blue plastic wrench and got nowhere.  I asked him if he wanted me to brace the brass pipes while he pulled so that none of the joints snapped and blessed with the confidence that comes from having done this countless times and knowing that if he fucked up, he had the skills to address it, he exerted the fullness of his strength and the calcified thread finally gave way.   He waived the delivery fee and it was “only” one-hundred-and-forty dollars.  No.  He wasn’t familiar with the broken U.V. light I had and no, he didn’t think the faulty grounding wire would stop the rest of the box from lighting up when plugged in.  But that will need to wait for another day.

An awkward moment when he was finishing up:  I asked him and he said the cost was $130.00, to which I said, OK.  I’ll give you one-forty and you can keep the change.  “Oh, that will be fine.  With the tax it's $139.00.”   Now I’d already suggested a tip.  I ought to give him something.  But there were nothing but twenties in my wallet.  I did the sort of calculation I might do with a waiter and a bill in a restaurant and reluctantly gave the guy a twenty and in as much as he accepted the second time I asked, a glass of pulpy orange juice, as well. 




Friday 01/08/21

Be Great For Me


Somber, as I suppose everyone in America is today.  What a terrible scene yesterday.  The fabulous news that the Democrats had flipped the Senate by winning both of the must-win contests in Georgia, completely overshadowed by the Trump-led insurrection in Washington.  Now, finally, the rats are jumping from the ship.  Mick Mulvaney, Eileen Chao, Betsy Devos . . . what a low thing it will always remain for anyone to have been associated with the administration of Donald Trump.  Rub your hands, change your clothes and murmur “out damned spot,” for the rest of your days. 


I find it hard to do much of anything else but toggle between news outlets.  The call for a second impeachment and the invocation of the 25th Amendment growing every hour today.  Only thirteen days left of his administration and finally it seems that, as David Brooks noted in his column, it appears that the fever has broken and people realize the fullness of the shame that Trump enablement has engendered. 

I think we are fortunate that Trump was ultimately devoid any consistent ideology, beyond narcissism.   “I’m great.  You’re great if you think I’m great.  Go be great for me.”  People like Lenin, Hitler, Mao, and certainly Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette and Oliver Cromwell, were all revolutionaries, who were familiar with the rough, raw power of mobs.  And they watched and they studied, and they theorized how to seize control of that energy for one purpose or another, with ideology.  If Trump had been a higher order of thinker, someone possessed with a plan, this wound, wrought by his uncanny ability to incite, could have been mortal. 

One important call after another as the morning turned to the afternoon.  “No honey.  I can’t be the one to take you and the lizard to the vet.  Mom will have to do that.  I’m on a call.”  When they returned, I learned that Barack, the gecko has developed an infection in his mouth.  The vet has provided my little one with about a dozen syringes.  We will need to inject an antidote into his armpit area, every three days.  This, or drive back down the thirty minutes away and let the vet do it for $10.00.  Apparently one of us needs to hold the poor reptile down, (But not by holding the tail!  It might fall off.)  And the other person do the injection.   I don’t know how to inject things.  I’m certain my sixteen-year-old, nor my wife has any idea either.  The older one, who is up visiting her boyfriend in Toronto would normally be the lead on all this, but we’ll have to figure something out in her absence for the first few shots or so.  Typing this, I think the only smart thing to do is return to the vet and see if they can teach us how to do it the first time.  Too risky for the poor dinosaur otherwise.  The syringe is nearly as big as he is. 

Thursday 01/07/2